Sunday, August 3, 2014

Evanston Public Library Cancels Ali Abunimah, saying issue is "complex"

This post originally appeared in Mondoweiss on August 3.

I am life-long member of the Evanston Public Library. I was raised on library story-times and I wrote my first book reports within those walls. The librarians helped teach me how to research and write papers on revolutions, colonialism, the civil rights movement.

I was shocked and angered to hear the news this morning that the Evanston Public Library, my library, cancelled a scheduled talk on August 11 by Ali Abunimah about his book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

Mr. Abunimah is a Palestinian-American journalist and a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. His book discusses the failure of the two-state solution and explores the future of the movement for justice in Palestine.

I immediately called to inquire as to why the event was cancelled. I was told that the director of the library had determined that, since they were unable to schedule a pro-Israeli author to speak this fall, they would not move forward with Mr. Abunimah’s talk.

This decision reveals a nasty truth of how Palestine and Israel are discussed in the United States. The issue of Palestinian human rights is seen as not just political, but taboo. It is viewed, as the Evanston Public Library tweeted this morning, as a “complex issue”. Too complex, it would appear, to discuss.

The library chose to silence Mr. Abunimah’s opinion based on a simplistic notion of ‘balance’. I wonder if it would have cancelled a talk from someone who wrote a book on global warming if they couldn’t also schedule someone who would argue that it doesn’t exist. Or if they would prevent someone from speaking on the need for gun control if they couldn’t also have a pro-NRA author on the calendar.

I am ashamed that my library has denied Mr. Abunimah, and his audience, the opportunity for public conversation. Mr. Abunimah’s talk would have undoubtedly drawn people who both agree and disagree with his point of view. The resulting discussion would have been a healthy opportunity for the Evanston community to engage with one another. Now, more than ever, we should be encouraging one another to speak openly about our opinions on this issue, not to stay huddled in the shadows for fear of how our neighbors will respond.

It is not too late for the library to reverse this disappointing decision. I sincerely hope that they will.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

To My Fellow American Jews

This post originally appeared in Mondoweiss on July 17, 2014.

I am writing this to my fellow American Jews. Well, to some of them. For a specific type of American Jew, actually. To those whose parents or grandparents were socialists and started unions before marching with Dr. King in Alabama. To those who despised George W. Bush and marched against the invasion of Iraq. To those who knocked on doors for causes they believed in while telling their children “be the change you want to see in the world”. To those who read poems at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs about “first they came for the…and I did not speak out because I was not a…” To those who instilled in me the unshakeable conviction that we must always stand on the side of the oppressed, even when no one else will.

Because of you, I am loud and I shout. But I’ve noticed you are growing quiet – almost silent – as an injustice is taking place in Palestine. I think that I know why. I think that as Operation Protective Edge marches onward, you feel your convictions clashing. You, more so than me, were raised to believe that Israel is something it is not: a democracy, with values just like yours, amidst a sea of aggressors. But with each passing day, it becomes harder and harder to close your eyes to a glaring reality.

I want to share with you the way I see things. Maybe it will be helpful, maybe not.

Let’s start with Gaza. Since July 8, least 230 Palestinians have been massacred (what else can you call it when one of the world’s most powerful militaries drops bombs all day and all night on a population and locks down the borders so that they cannot flee?). Eighty percent of those killed were civilians, including at least 34 children. Israel consistently strikes non-military targets including mosques, hospitals, rehabilitation centers for the disabled, schools, UN compounds and beaches where children play.  During Operation Cast Lead they targeted these places when they knew hundreds of Palestinians had fled there to take shelter after Israel shot missiles at their homes. Since the beginning of this recent crisis/escalation/renewed cycle of violence/massacre only one Israeli has died.

Israel likes to claim that it is acting in self-defense. Putting aside the fact that, according to laws of armed conflict, Israel does not actually have the right to self-defense against a population that it militarily occupies, I still find this a hard pill to swallow. While Netanyahu claims that Hamas has disrupted the ‘calm’ of the last few years, I’ve lived in Palestine and I can tell you that there was no calm. At least not for Palestinians. There is a constant, nagging, never-ending violence. This didn’t start with three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped while hitchhiking home from their schools in settlements through an Israeli military controlled area . Before there were those Israeli teenagers, there were two Palestinian teenagers who were shot in the chest and in the back as they milled around in front of a store in the West Bank. Their murders were caught on camera and yet there was no justice. And there was the systematic and institutionalized arrest and detention of approximately 8,000 Palestinian children since 2000. And there was Israel’s torture and mistreatment of hundreds of Palestinians who went on hunger strike to protest their detention without charge or trial. And there were Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, sewage water, rubber coated steel bullets and live ammunition at weekly non-violent Palestinian demonstrations against settlements. And before that there was the construction of a Wall that cuts through Palestinian land and isolates families from one another.

I know that you were raised to believe that Israel exists to protect Jews and Judaism. But Israel is killing my Judaism. It is killing the Judaism you raised me with. How can I reconcile “stand with the oppressed” with supporting an army that drops white phosphorous gas on children? How can I “question everything” while believing New York Times headlines that blame Gazans for their own deaths? “To remain neutral is to side with the oppressor” - you taught me that. To grow silent is to turn my back on our Judaism – a Judaism that speaks of community and love and healing the world. I refuse to do that. I hope you will too. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Remembering Reality

The following post was published on Mondoweiss on April 10, 2013.

Back in 2011, I lived in Aida Refugee Camp for nine months before moving to work in Ramallah. For me, Aida Camp was a safe place. A place where I recognized almost everyone's face, and where most people recognized me. Aida was safe for me because it provided that sense of being in a small town that I never really had growing up. I was never alone. I knew and loved my landlords. Kids played football in the street...You get the picture. 

This is how I remember Aida Camp. It's what I told my parents about Aida Camp. 

But Aida Camp is not a 'safe place'. Well, perhaps it was for me and all the other young, idealistic internationals staying there. But for the Palestinians who are born, live and die there, it is a home in which they are vulnerable to attack. The truth is, that while I slept safe in my bed at night, young men and boys were arrested. That while I slept, IDF tanks rolled in through the gates of the Wall, through the narrow streets of the camp. I would wake up in the morning and hear of the two or three teenagers who were arrested, how their families were awoken in the middle of the night by a banging on the door. How the families were kept in the living room while the boys were beaten and taken away. How their parents were never told where they were being taken. Or why. Perhaps the boy threw a stone at a soldier. Or an armored truck. Or the Wall. Perhaps he did absolutely nothing at all. Did it even matter at that point? At the point when the men and women came with guns to take him from his bed? 

Why am I writing about this now, now that I'm far away in London, studying about Security Council Resolutions and writing essays about how to legally classify various international armed conflicts?  I'm writing now because sometimes you hear a piece of news that jolts you back to reality. That's what happened to me this morning. Sitting down at my desk with a fresh cup of coffee, I saw that yesterday, Mohammad al-Azza was shot in the face. Mohammad (or Mousa) is a photographer who works at a youth center in Aida Camp. I cannot claim to know Mousa well. I’ve only ever met him a few times. But he's a close relative of my old landlords, and is known in Aida for being kind, outgoing, and funny. Mousa was shot by the IDF with a rubber-coated steel bullet. He was shot because he photographed them as they entered the camp. According to +972 (where you can read more details about the attack), Mousa is now in the hospital, recovering.

Over the last few months, things in Aida Camp have been heating up. More clashes, more tear gas, more sound grenades, and more shootings. Two kids have been shot over the past two months. One of them died. I suppose that, for most residents of Aida, these incidents aren't new. Anyone alive during the first years of the new millennium remembers the pain and violence of the Second Intifada, during which the IDF fully occupied the camp. Many buildings around the camp still bear bullet wounds. So do many people. It's all just part and parcel of that pesky Occupation, I guess. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Rabbit Hole

10:49 AM, Wednesday morning. And I've gone and had another one of those moments. One of those moments where I feel as though...I've accidentally opted for the Red Pill and now I'm seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Sitting at my desk, headphones in, Arabic coffee grounds going cold in the cup sitting by my elbow, editing a monthly violations report. The woman who comes in every other afternoon to clean up the office pops her head in with a box full of mini Mars Bars and Snickers.

You see that, what do you think? Well, I think: "Birthday!" Or maybe..."Wedding!" Or...I don't know..."A baby's been born!" "My son got into college!" Whatever. I definitely view it as an insert good news here situation.

I gratefully snatch a Snickers Bar and ask, smiling and in Arabic, what's the reason? She responds in a rapid mumble. I catch the words "My husband" and "the Wall." Okay. So now I'm using my logic skills to figure this one out. Her a permit to come into Jerusalem? Makes sense to me. So I smile and nod, that's great!

I get a familiar look. It's the look I get when someone is onto the fact that I've only just pretended  to have understood their Arabic. (I guess "smile and nod" isn't always a sure thing). She tells me she's going to get a co-worker who speaks English to explain. "Tayeb, okay!" I smile and bit into the caramel goodness of the Snickers, sit back, and wait.

Our co-worker comes in, Mars Bar in hand and says, "This is for her husband. He fell off of the Wall."

Wait. What?

"He fell off the the Wall?"

What does that even mean?

"Is he okay?"

"Inshallah yes, I think maybe he is in the Hospital now."

"So....he of the Wall?  Like, off of the Wall? That wall?" I point outside the office window from which we have a perfect view of the Ugliest Wall In The World. "How? What was he like...climbing over it?"

"Maybe, yes, I think so? I don't know. Maybe. Probably. But so, that's why the candy." And she leaves.

"It would be so nice if something made sense for a change." - Alice.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

it's not normal and you don't get it.*

*apologies fo the mess that this is.

A few days before my parents flew into Ben Gurion airport we had a final Skype conversation. Best way to get to the hotel from the airport. Where we'd meet. When we'd meet. Airport protocol. What color shirt I wanted my mom to buy me from H&M. The important stuff.

Then I said something along the lines of, "Also, you should know what's been happening the past few weeks." What followed was my version of the events of late February. Repeated Israeli incursions into Al Aqsa Mosque, threats from extremist Jewish groups to "re-claim" the Mosque for the Jews, clashes at the Mosque, clashes in Gaza, clashes at Qalandiya. Khader Adnan's 66 day hunger strike brought to an odd and strange halt when his lawyer made an agreement with the Israelis in which more "secret evidence" could be brought against him at any point as he served the rest of his administrative detention sentence. Clashes at Qalandiya. The death of a young man at Qalandiya - shot in the chest. Sewage water and tear gas sprayed at his funeral procession the next day. Crazy settler march through Hebron, celebrating the massacre of Palestinians at Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994. A Palestinian youth activist brutally arrested in Hebron. Hana Shalabi, re-arrested after being released during the Shalit prisoner swap, embarking on her own hunger strike. 

"But don't worry. Come. It's fine. A little tense, but really, no big deal. I know where we can go and not go and when we can go and not go. This stuff happens. Not a big deal."

After we hung up there was a moment - the briefest of moments - in which I thought, "'Not a big deal.' What the hell does did that mean?" But only for a moment. Because my parents were coming. And my sister was coming. And my new shirt from H&M was, most definitely, coming. 

And then they arrived and I began...explainingkindof? I told them this and pointed out that and recalled this one time when... 

On the way to Nablus: "See that? On the hill? Settlement... Over there...that huuuuge group of houses? Settlement...See over there, where all the houses look exactly the same? Settlement....Oh wait, don't go that way, that's a barrier. Hold on, I think we can go through DCO...wait...can we? Whatever, let's try...Those are tents, but see how they look? They always get demolished...That pipe there, that funnels the water over there to those houses in that settlement....This is the checkpoint where that kid I wrote about that one time got arrested....This is this junction where it's always really tense. Earlier this year this settler threw a rock into a Palestinian car and hit this little kid in the head..."

And walking to the hotel in East Jerusalem: "That house there, the front half was taken by settlers. See that guard?...She that house? Taken by settlers...The Silwan demonstrations are the most violent. Those are on the other side of the Old City..."

And driving by Qalandiya: "This is where my roommate was when this 15 year old kid got shot in the eye with a rubber bullet during a demonstration....that's Khader Adnan's face stenciled on that storefront...this is where the guy was shot last week..." And when I sent my sister through Qalandiya without my company: "It's not as scary as it looks, just go!"

And where I lived in Aida Camp: "That's where the Israeli jeeps roll in at night and they arrest young men....That tower sometimes has soldiers in it who yell at people...These are bullet holes....This is where they camped out when they invaded during the second Intifada..."

And as we walked and as we drove and as we rode: "And there's the Separation Wall....that fence is part of the Separation Wall...See over there? That's the Wall again....Over in the distance you can see the Separation Wall....See here along the highway? That's also the Wall.....See how this starts and stops over there? That's the Separation Wall....See how this wall kind of curves in along this olive tree grove....?"

And in Hebron. 

And I got so frustrated when they didn't understand something. When they didn't understand what was East or West Jerusalem. Where the Wall was or how its path twisted and turned and stopped and started. Or why this could happen out in the open, surely there must be something else I wasn't explaining. My poor mother had to deal with so many of my outbursts: "That's it! That's all there is! You're not missing anything, its just what I said!"

And then I heard myself. Talking like tt was all normal.  That I understood it at all, or pretended to. But it was good they didn't understand it. Nothing is logical and nothing makes sense and everything deserves to be questioned. Why did I not get that they didn't get....A settlement, a settler, a wall a checkpoint a settler an arrest asettlerasettlementwallrefugeecampdemolishedbedouintentgreenlinesewagewaterteargas wallsettlementsettlercheckpointcheckpointarabichebrewhungerstrikesettlementrefugeecampteargaswallwallwallcheckpointcheckpointcheckpointsoldiereastjerusalemwestjerusaleminvasionjeepsnighttimearrestwallcheckpointwallcheckpointsettlementsettlementsettlementsettlementsettlement.

They were horrified. And I was satisfied. They got it, finally they got it, right? Great! They're on my team now. 

Somewhere in the great shuffle of the last year in Palestine I got a little bit used to it all. Oh, well cause  I commute through a checkpoint each day. No big deal. I recognize that soldier, he looks like Stevo from Jackass. Or that one who always flirts with the girls on duty. Ma'ale Adummim was a landmark for me. A way for me to realize my parents and I were driving in the wrong direction to Jericho rather than one of the most blatant chunks of stolen land in the West Bank.

Quite nauseating. How did I let myself get even a little bit used to something like...this? That makes me the problem, right? This is not something to get used to. This is something to be constantly shocked and confused by.

So really, this is my inarticulate and messy reminder to myself and my plea to any and all who read this puzzle piece of a blog post: If I'm not making it clear that what's happening here is fucked, or I sound like I think I 'get it'....I'd a appreciate a solid smack. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Are you a Jew?" (Checking Points, part III)

Updates since I last wrote: I have moved to Ramallah and begun a new internship in East Jerusalem. This means two things: 1) I am hunkering down for another half year or so in Palestine, and 2) I get to commute through Qalandia twice a day.

Qalandia is the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Here's how you get through:

1. Board a number 18 bus in downtown Ramallah. It will take you all the way into Jerusalem. (Recommended iPod listening: NPR's This American Life.)

2. When the bus approaches the checkpoint almost all Palestinians will get off. If you want, you can try to stay on with the elderly and the pregnant. An armed (male) Israeli soldier will board the bus and check that the remaining passengers (the elderly, the pregnant, you and Ira Glass) don't appear too threatening. He will be followed by another soldier (more often than not a bored-looking girl wearing a lot of makeup) who will check everyone's ID's. Sometimes the soldier will let you stay on the bus but normally she'll take your passport and walk away with it. This is their friendly way of asking you to get off and walk through the checkpoint like everyone else. Obey.

3. As a foreigner, you can go through the slightly shorter line of Jerusalem residents, rather than entering into the large terminal of people who have various permits to enter the city. At this point, things might get a little bit tense because, like you, everyone wants to get to work. Keeping your headphones in at this point will prevent you from having to hear the soldiers barking in Hebrew through the intercom. There's a bit of a bottleneck here, as the soldiers will only let two to three people through at a time.  Don't be afraid to get a little bit pushy. (Recommended iPod listening: The Final Countdown or Eye of the Tiger).

4. Once through, place belongings on the security belt and walk through the metal detector. Show your passport to the soldiers behind the sound and bulletproof glass. If so directed, place your passport on the scanner. When you're waved on, continue down the path and get back on your bus.

Today - I still don't know why - I set off the metal detector. Repeatedly. The roundfaced male soldier behind the glass began mouthing instructions to me. "Coffee." (I had a travel coffee mug in my hand. I put it through the security belt. It spilled a little. This is why there shouldn't be checkpoints on the way to work). Metal detector went off again. "Show me your shoes."  (New leather boots. Eat your heart out, buddy). "Belt? Belt?" It continued like this until he finally motioned for me to scan my passport.

He and his female companion peered at the screen. I saw her mouth "Mi-ller" and then look at him. He looked at me and at the screen and then at her and then at me and then the screen. I felt like I was watching an episode of Looney Toons. (Except for that I was now late for a new internship and this was holding up an entire line of people who needed to be somewhere). He motioned me to come closer and mouthed, "....Jew?"

I pretended not to have understood the question so that I could think. I cupped my hand to me ear and mouthed back, "What??" this moment in time...coming from Ramallah at 8:00 am on a it a good or bad thing that I'm Jewish?

"Are. You. A. Jew?" You can't really dodge a question from an armed soldier for too long. So I nodded. He looked at me like I was an idiot. Then he looked back at the long line of people. "What were you doing there?" He waved his hand, encompassing...Palestine, I guess.

So now I'm standing there with two conflicting emotions. One is an urge to breathe fire. Who the hell is this guy? How dare he ask me about my religion? What's it to him if I'm Jewish or not? This is the part of me that's ripping up my bus ticket in my pocket. The other is my overwhelming desire to just get out of this. This is also the part of me that has a deepseated need to please people in a position of authority. Luckily, the second half won out. I shrugged and smiled. "Visiting." He stared. "Visiting?"

I point to my passport. Could I take it out of the scanner yet? He looked at me for another moment. Screw this. I removed the passport. He nodded and waved me on.

Back on the bus I had a two minute ride before arriving at the office, during which I realized the following: not only are Jewish-Israelis the only people here who make me feel uncomfortable for saying that I'm Jewish, but they are the only people who have ever even asked if I am.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'll Trade You My ______ For Your _____, or Haniya and Netanyahu Play Pokemon

In the first stage of the swap, 477 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli military prisons.

In the first stage of the swap, 477 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli military prisons and 218 returned to their homes.

In the first stage of the swap, 477 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli military prisons and 218 returned to their homes and 55 were released on "Security Arrangments." No one knows exactly what the Israeli military means by that (not even the prisoners to whom it applies).

In the first stage of the swap, 477 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli military prisons and 218 returned to their homes and 55 were released on "Security Arrangments" and 18 were "relocated" to Gaza for three years.

In the first stage of the swap, 477 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli military prisons and 218 returned to their homes and 55 were released on "Security Arrangments" and 18 were "relocated" to Gaza for three years and 146 were "relocated" to Gaza forever.

In the first stage of the swap, 477 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli military prisons and 218 returned to their homes and 55 were released on "Security Arrangments" and 18 were "relocated" to Gaza for three years and 146 were "relocated" to Gaza forever and 40 were "relocated abroad" (were exiled).

In the first stage of the swap, 477 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli military prisons and 218 returned to their homes and 55 were released on "Security Arrangments" and 18 were "relocated" to Gaza for three years and 146 were "relocated" to Gaza forever and 40 were "relocated abroad"and one Israeli soldier, whose namefacevoicefathermotherpainjoyfearweightlossclothesmentalhealth the whole world knows, returned to his home in the north.

Chad gadyaaaaa, chad gadya.

My neighbors prepare for their son to return from prison.

Full disclosure: I was one of the many glued to their computer screens yesterday, analyzing Gilad's every move. Why was he breathing so heavily in the (horribly botched and messy) interview in Egypt? What was the last thing his captors said to him before he was finally released? What did he say to them? Was it hateful? Loving? How did he feel about seeing his family again? What was the first thing he was going to eat when he got home? Probably some specialty that was already cooked and ready, waiting for him. Probably he was thinking about girls too. Maybe he would enroll in university now that he's out? Thinking about how happy he must be to finally be free.

Without losing any happiness for Gilad, ask yourself the same questions again 477 times over. Yesterday's was not a swap of one noble and tortured Israeli for over 1,000 cruel faceless,  Palestinian terrorists. There are thousands of real moms-dads-brothers-sisters-cousins-sons-daughters that cried just as hard as Noam Shalit when the loved one(s) they thought they would never see again reappeared on their doorstep.

So...I've actually written more, but I've deleted it. I'll stop here. The rest was turning preachy, patronizing and cringe-worthy. It would have given Aaron Sorkin's 9/11 episode of the West Wing a run for its money. I've learned that when I start directly addressing Ethan Bronner (grrr), it's time to stop writing.

So here is how I end this post. It's how I end most other posts: in an extremely unsatisfying and inarticulate manner.

Good. Bad. Fine. Epic. Good for the Palestinians but not the Israelis. Good for the Israeli's but not the Palestinians. Good for the prisoners but not the peace talks. Good for Netanyahu but not Hamas. Good for Hamas but not Abu Mazen. Heart wrenching and beautiful (Palestinian and Israeli families reunited). Enraging (Netanyahu's smirk). Spooky (what happens now?).