american in palestine

Monday, December 11, 2006

why would you want to live in....PALESTINE??!!

sometimes people ask me, or wonder, why I would choose to live in palestine, given the violence and occupation.....why would anyone want to live in a place like that?? they ask....

but i think in such a question there is something missing - the value of the culture of the palestinian people is utterly negated when one equates the whole reality of palestine with the fact of the israeli occupation and ongoing illegal seizure of the land. and in fact, it is a rich, deep and beautiful culture, with a long history and a deep connectedness to this land.

i wake up in the mornings and open my door to the view of an ancient olive grove. occasionally a shepherd is there, grazing his sheep, in permanent timeless peace, in the midst of this war. if i look a little further, i can glimpse the church that is built on the spot where the shepherds were reputed to have seen the star of bethlehem some 2000 years ago.....it's easy to be transported to that time, with the ancient stone buildings, the shepherds and the olive trees.....how much has really changed in this spot since that time?

it's amazing to experience the kind of historical continuity that exists in a place like this, where people are connected to their land and to their ancestors, who are buried in the same ground that is now giving their children their roots.

it's something we don't really have in the US -- some native americans are making noble and somewhat desperate attempts to retain their continuity in ancestry and connection to the land -- but their efforts are often brutalized, beaten down and discarded by the federal government that now controls 99% of what was once their ancestors' land.

there is a kind of peace in this feeling of historical continuity. it's beautiful here, and ancient. all around me are my husbands' family - layers and layers of them - from the innermost circle, within the family's multi-layered home, where his brothers live, and his parents, each in their own section, but connected.....to the surrounding circle of uncles, aunts and cousins, and outward to the extended family that stretches on for kilometers. the family elders have a traditional governing system, which in many ways resembles the tribal system i saw and experienced when i lived in africa. if there is any disagreement or incident involving members of different families, the elders of those families will meet together with those involved to try to get to the bottom of the problem, and come to a fair resolution that is acceptable to all.

family is very important here - people usually live among their extended family, and siblings tend to be close with each other through adulthood. every day there are visits - i don't think a day has gone by without at least one relative or friend visiting. and there doesn't have to be a reason to visit, either.....if someone is passing in the area, they will inevitably stop by to say hello and have a cup of coffee.

there are lots of subtle, nuanced traditions in palestinian culture -- and LOTS of feasts (ie. celebrations/traditional holidays), and feasts leading up to feasts.....any excuse to get together with family....in a palestinian wedding, for example, there are traditionally five parties (sometimes more), and that's just for the wedding, it doesn't count the 2 or 3 parties that accompany an engagement! each of the wedding parties has a specific traditional significance -- there is the gathering at the groom's home, with the close relatives, in which there is drumming and singing, traditional song and dance. then a more formal, larger family party, usually in a hall.....there is the henna ceremony, in which the women gather at the bride's home in traditional dresses, perch the girl up on a table and sing traditional songs while they paint her hands with henna dye (a plant-based dye, used in the US for hair coloring). and for the groom, there is a ceremony where the men put him on a table and cut his hair and give him a shave, in preparation for the big day (which usually ends up in a big mess of shaving cream sprayed and smeared on the groom and all his friends). and the big post-wedding party is itself full of nuanced traditions - from the stop at the groom's home between the ceremony in the party, at which time relatives beat the man with sticks (symbolically of course), and the couple enters their home for the first time, with a sprig of basil stuck into bread dough stuck on the side of the door for good luck, to the brandishing of a sword to cut the wedding cake, to a candle ceremony where all the young women accompany the bride in a dance holding candles, while the bride herself holds two.

and it is not just in weddings and formal occasions that subtle and complex traditions exist. in the wearing of the kaffia (traditional headscarf, which most americans tend to associate with the late yassar arafat), there are a number of traditions. one that i find interesting is that if someone is in trouble, if they have made a problem with someone and are on the run, they can enter a household and tie a knot in the corner of the house elder's kaffia. if the man on the run manages to do that, he is then under that family's protection, and they will be obligated to take his case to the council of elders.

there are lots of small things like this - and many that are unknown to me, I'm sure. the culture of palestine is rich and dynamic. traditional dancing, dabke, is popular among young people, and is a beautiful and complex foot-stamping dance that is amazing to watch. traditional music, in the form of the oud (the precursor to the guitar) and flute, abounds as well.

palestinian culture is a trust culture, that is, relationships are built on trust -- another refreshing difference from the fear culture which characterizes the U.S. (although there are some subcultures within the U.S. that vary from this norm). In the U.S., relationships are based on fear - fear of being betrayed, fear of losing - people come up with complex contracts in order to protect themselves from loss, complex systems of laws and regulations that are all based on the basic premise that other people, and their motives, are to be feared and not trusted. small-town america is a bastion of the 'fear of the outsider' -- if you are _in_, then great, you're accepted and etc. .....but if an 'outsider' comes in, they are immediately suspect....and it takes a lot of work and time for that outsider to be accepted, and even when they are accepted, if something bad happens in that town, it is the 'outsider' who will be the first suspect -- no matter how long they've been in town and how well they have proven themselves.

here it is different. an outsider is a welcome sight -- people welcome the outsider into their homes, and consider it an honor for that person to drink coffee or tea, or eat food with them in their home. people trust each other (and in many cases, in the current circumstances, _have_ to trust each other, having been surrounded by this prison wall and forced into extraordinary suffering by the occupying force).

there are so many examples of the way this culture of trust differs from the culture of fear that permeates life in the US. today, for example, i had the rather annoying experience of having my bank card get eaten by the atm machine in ramallah. of course, it happened on a sunday evening, when the bank was closed. this is something that could easily happen in the united states. but here's what happened next, and how i believe this culture differs from that of the states. standing next to the machine, trying to get it to eject the card, other people who wanted to use the machine approached, and i told them what happened, pointing out the screen saying 'this machine is currently out of service'. they didn't just walk away when i showed them this, as people would have done in the states, they immediately tried to help me get my card out. and one of the guys who was nearby said, "hang on, i have a friend who works at the bank here, let me call him." so he got on his cell phone and within a few minutes, his friend the bank employee showed up to help. he wasn't able to get the card out either, and since it was a sunday, wouldn't be able to retrieve it until the bank opened monday morning. but he didn't just leave it at that. he withdrew money from his own account and gave it to me, with only his account number and name written on a piece of paper (so i could transfer it to his account monday morning) as assurance that he would get the money back. i never met the man before, and he didn't know me either. but he trusted that the situation was what i said it was, and lent me the money i was trying to withdraw from the machine, and i trusted that i would find him in the bank come monday morning, and get his assistance in retrieving the card from the machine.

now, even if something like this happened in the states, i'm afraid that i would be untrusting enough to consider it some kind of elaborate scam -- that somehow these guys had rigged the machine, and were giving me some money in order to rip me off for more......but here, that is not the way things work, and, whether cynical americans believe it or not (it took me awhile to get it through my own thick skull), most people here genuinely want to help, and are willing to help each other in this way, and many, many others.

sometimes american women ask me if i am not bothered by the sexism in the mainly muslim culture here. now, i will not deny that there is sexism, but it is a very different form of sexism than in the U.S. instead of being harassed by hoots and whistles, and glaring, hungry looks while walking down the city streets (as women in the U.S. often are), women here tend to be put on a pedestal by men -- you know, men opening doors for women, 'ladies first' in lines and etc., stepping back when a woman is approaching in the street to allow her to pass with dignity, looking down in deference when she goes by....that kind of thing. which for some reason doesn't bother me as much as the hooting and whistling. and, in my opinion at least, it is actually quite nice to not be surrounded by thousands of billboards that are all using women's bodies, usually scantily clad and looking lusty, to sell one product or another. women's bodies just aren't used in ads in that way here. and i appreciate that.

the rates of violence against women, and of rape, are much lower here than in the U.S., and there is no prostitution (and virtually no drug abuse, very little alcoholism -- which is quite an accomplishment, given the desperate poverty of much of the population). that said, of course, no misogynistic violence against women is justified, and there have been cases where women were killed by their spouses or brothers in horribly twisted logic that blamed the woman for being raped (when, in one case at least, the woman blamed for being raped proved to be a virgin, in the autopsy report). each time some horribly twisted sick incident like that occurs, it makes major media, and is publicized all over the world as an example of how sexist arab societies are. and yes, these men are sick, their actions irreparably reprehensible, disgusting and unspeakably cruel. but, unlike in the US, where 1 in 4 women are abused by their spouse during their lifetime, and 1 in 3 women are raped at least once in their lifetime (according to the department of justice statistics), here, these sick and sordid incidents of violence against women are rare, and are widely reported.

i'm not trying to over-glorify the culture of palestine, or other arab countries. i just want to point out that yes, believe it or not, there are many positive aspects to life here. there is a rich and beautiful culture, a deep connection to the land, uncommon respect for women, trust between strangers and a profound love for the family, all of which are rare in many other parts of the world.

Monday, November 13, 2006

post-election commentary: the lame duck massacres

soooo...while the lame-duck congress in the US goes ahead with passing some of the most draconian laws yet, like the one they passed yesterday that makes protesting animal cruelty at a circus or an animal lab a terrorist act (!) -- which, by the way, goes right along with their stated priorities of 'who is a threat'......ie. not bin laden or the saudis who fund him.... but instead, as the FBI has stated publicly on multiple occasions, their 'Number One Domestic Terrorist Threat' is the 'animal liberation front', an organization that has never ever been charged with killing or hurting anyone, but whose only purpose is to rescue animals from cruel conditions (!)....

and while a bunch of afghanis who were swept up in U.S. raids during the brutal U.S. invasion of their country in 2002 sit rotting away, forgotten by the world, in Guantanamo Bay prison -- a prison built on foreign soil by the U.S. military explicitly so that torture could be practiced there.......most of those prisoners probably civilians, and even if not, still subject to international regulations regarding the treatment of prisoners-of-war.....

while the american public 'looks the other way', considering they've done their part by electing the democrats, despite the fact that it was the democrats that voted to give the executive branch unprecedented power, the democrats who voted to allow torture, the democrats who voted for the draconian 'PATRIOT' Act in direct violation of the Bill of Rights......a _democratic_ president (bill clinton) who signed the NAFTA free trade agreement into law (NAFTA, if you recall, being the impetus for the zapatista revolution....they called the agreement 'death to indigenous peoples')...

while the congress pushes through their U.S.-mexico border wall plan, which will result in the deaths of many more than the 3-400 who already die each year while crossing the border in a desperate search for jobs, as their local economy has been wiped out by free trade agreements like NAFTA....

while all this is going on north of the border, south of the border another lame-duck president, vicente fox in mexico, is using his last days in office to implement a massive crackdown on dissent. a massacre took place just two days ago, in the indigenous community of montes azules in chiapas. 3 children, 4 women, 2 men.....killed by paramilitaries, with mexican military weapons, and strangely enough, despite the presence of no less than one hundred forty (!) military bases in the immediate area, none of them seem to have any idea who might have carried out the massacre....

and in chiapas, the peaceful uprising of indigenous farmers, workers, and teachers in the indigenous communities is being violently repressed in the guise of 'law and order', using the murder of my friend brad as an excuse to further brutally repress the uprising.....and his murderers, positively identified as the local chief of police and other off-duty police officers, remain at large, with the federal government unwilling to take them in (although everyone knows where they are).....instead once again blaming the victims, and coming in with massive military force to violently repress a just and non-violent people's protest.

my question to the mexican government and millionaires (ultimately one and the same) is the same as my question to the israeli government in regard to the palestinians: How hard can it be to give these people equal rights and self-determination? I mean, how hard can it really be?

what have you got to lose?

i mean, ok, in mexico, the indigenous population, stripped of their rights and their land, become an easily-exploitable cheap labor force used by the industrial machine to produce cheap goods at slave wages for consumers in the U.S.A. ......so, ok, by giving them equal rights you lose the slave-like cheap labor force........instead you get a population who are willing to work for fair, negotiated wages, and to produce from their own land, on their own terms......

is that really so bad?

and in palestine, by giving the palestinians equal rights, you'd lose the justification for the massive military machine that makes up fully half of the israeli economy.......

but you'd end up with the next generation being fed, educated and trained in crafts and skills for life......instead of living inside the prison of occupation, with their resentment growing and growing, until some among them feel so resentful they are willing to blow you up for putting them in this prison since birth.

i mean.......is that really such a bad thing?

but the fear in israeli society is so pervasive -- ultimately, it reminds me of the fear of white south africans in south africa. knowing, deep down, what they'd done to the africans, they were so desperately afraid of taking their boot off the neck of the african people, for fear that the one held under the boot so long would sieze the opportunity to jump up and cut their throat in revenge.

it was a combination of that fear and their racism that kept apartheid going for so long.

but ultimately, in throwing off the yoke of their oppression, the african people in south africa showed their true colors of patience, forgiveness and a desire for peace and coexistence with the white south africans who had been oppressing them for so long.

and palestinians will do the same. having lived among them for several years now, on and off, i can say that these are truly the most patient people I have ever known. it's amazing, just how patient they are. if the world steps up to challenge israeli apartheid against the palestinians, demanding a truth and reconciliation commission like that in south africa, providing a mechanism for compensation for losses and for the right of return, i truly believe israel and palestine can resolve this in the way of south africa (though yes, I know, they are still working on it there).

the bloodbath can end. but it is up to israel, the occupier, to lift their boot from the neck of the occupied, and to give them equal rights.

it is NOT, as israel so often claims, up to the palestinians to 'choose to recognize israel', when in fact, Hamas (the majority Palestinian party) already did that, back in june, before the latest offensive, that killed 350 palestinians, began.

it is up to israel to decide to give palestinians equal rights......
is that really such a hard thing to do?

Friday, October 27, 2006

another fallen friend: brad will

27 october 2006

three people were shot and killed in the streets of oaxaca mexico today. one of them was an old friend of mine, brad will, a videojournalist from new york. he was standing at the barricade filming the protest, when paramilitary troops in civilian clothes began firing, and hit him with a bullet right in the middle of his chest. he was killed.
(http://chiapas.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=137182)

another friend, another witness to injustice, becoming another victim to the violence. when will it end? and how many friends must i lose?

i sit in palestine, where my tears for my friend brad join a river of tears for the thousands of victims of violence here in this supposedly holy land. i am across the world from mexico, but my memories of oaxaca stand out strongly as i think of brad with his camera, the only 'weapon' he ever carried, standing there casual and relaxed, as always, prepared to face those who would kill him with a smile and a shrug, prepared to take on powerful empires armed only with his camera and his songs.

but the camera and the songs weren't enough to keep you safe this time, my friend.......the camera couldn't protect you from the forces wishing to restore their version of "order" upon the oppressed people of oaxaca......just as rachel corrie's american passport couldn't protect her from the israeli armored bulldozer and the forces behind it - forces prepared to rob the palestinians of their land at any cost...

i haven't seen brad since i was last in new york.....at a protest, of course. he was at every protest, big or small, he _had_ to be there. it wouldn't be a protest without him. when i met him we were part of a small group that determined to make new york indymedia a reality. we lived, breathed, sweated and slept indymedia. every second of our time was devoted to it....day and night, recording everything we could...brad....john tarleton, warcry, justin, madhava, ana, josh breitbart, arun, lee, madhava....devoting ourselves with such fury to the idea that 'all voices should be heard'. and brad was just about the most devoted devotee to that idea, that vision.

i hear his voice now, in my head, so matter-of-fact, so ready to face any force...but not to be a hero! no! just because (hear brad's voice now), well hey, there are people being oppressed, so _of Course_ we're gonna stand up and be there with them. of Course we're gonna tell their story, capture their struggle on our cameras, broadcast their voices to the world. i mean, that's what any reasonable person would do in such a circumstance.

and of course, he made sense.....it is reasonable, it is in fact the only logical and human way to respond to the forces of oppression. so why does he have to die a hero? why? why another martyr? is this what it will take to bring justice? more dead bodies?

in the american south there were 41 martyrs of the non-violent struggle for civil rights. if there had been a violent revolution, said one aging civil rights activist to me last year, there would have been many more deaths. 750,000 died in the civil war to end slavery....had there been another civil war, there would have been even more than that.

so now, in the movement for global justice, against corporate globalization, against colonialism....now we have our martyrs.....carlo giuliani killed by police in genoa, Lee Kyung-hae, who sacrificed himself in cancun at a protest against the world trade organization....
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/wto/article/0,2763,1039709,00.html)...and the thousands of unnamed campesino farmers killed by paramilitaries, or dying of starvation, the hundreds, if not thousands of indian, bangladeshi and south korean farmers who commit suicide when they see their land, their life's work, sold off for the profits of the global profiteers....

and now brad, whose commitment to giving a voice to the voiceless never wavered....even as they shot him down today in southern mexico.....with his video camera in his hand.

as bush & co. are pushing for world war III (or IV, depending on how you're counting), there is another movement growing, a movement of nonviolent, passionate resistance to oppression.

brad felt it, in his last missive from mexico, written october 17th, he felt it so strongly...
".... it is clear that this is more than a strike, more than expulsion of a governor, more than a blockade, more than a coalition of fragments -- it is a genuine peoples revolt -- and after
decades of pri rule by bribe, fraud, and bullet the people are tired -- they call him the tyrant -- they talk of destroying this authoritarianism -- you cannot mistake the whisper of the lancandon jungle in the streets -- in every street corner deciding together to hold -- you see it their faces -- indigenous, women, children -- so brave -- watchful at night -- proud and resolute"
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/10/17/18321064.php

...and now he has given his life for this struggle. the global struggle, not just in oaxaca...as one of the striking teachers in oaxaca said, 'this is not just for oaxaca, this is beyond oaxaca, beyond mexico....this is a challenge to the entrenched class system everywhere.'

it's the same story as here in palestine, the same as anywhere in the world where people choose to say ya basta! (enough already!) to the powers that oppress and keep them down.

oaxaca is a neighboring province to the region of chiapas, made famous by the zapatista revolt that has been building autonomous communities based on consensus since 1994, oaxaca is home to mountains, plains and beaches (read: coffee, cattle, and tourism). control over these markets has long been a colonial and post-colonial exercise in power, with the poor, indigenous, laborers and farmers getting treated like dirt for too long.

the popular resistance in oaxaca followed in the spirit of the indigenous rebellion in chiapas, with one important distinction: while in chiapas the people rising up were mainly farmers, in oaxaca it began with a teacher's strike. this was in may and june of this year, and when the governor brutally attacked the teachers in june, the people of oaxaca responded with a wide-scale popular movement in which they initiated a referendum voting out the corrupt, colonial-style governor in july, and shaming him and his party (the PRI) that have held power there since 1910.

but the governor wouldn't listen to the peoples' vote. so in august, the teachers and their supporters and compatriots decided to take over the corrupt, state-run media:
"On August 1, more than 3,000 women—all members of APPO (the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca)—marched through town, banging on pots and pans with spoons and meat tenderizers, chanting into the blanket of sound: “Whether he wants to go or not, Ulises is out of here!” The women went to the studio of the state television station, CORTV, and demanded an hour of live transmission to tell their version of what happened on June 14. The director of the station denied their request. But the women walked right past her, pots and pans in hand, took over the station, and broadcast live for over an hour. And they are still there, showing documentaries and broadcasting live daily."
http://www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/2795/

professor salzman in oaxaca explains:
"The real news consists of two salient facts: 1) the popular movement, which developed immediately following the attack on the striking education workers on 14 June 2006 has become a vast coalition of many different groups within Oaxacan society; and 2), which may be even more significant, nearly all adherent groups are strongly committed to a non-violent struggle based on militant civil disobedience. Of course, civil disobedience means ‘breaking the law’, as the perpetrators of the deadly ‘law ‘n order’ regime of the state governor and of the federal government are claiming while they prepare to crush the rebellion by military and para-military attacks. They [the governor and his paramilitaries] are itching to launch a ‘real clean-up operation’, a ‘clean sweep’ throughout the state of all ‘subversives’ who adhere to and support Section 22 of the Education Workers Union and/or APPO."

the professor wrote on october 18th that the governor was preparing for a bloodbath, and pleaded, just 10 days ago, for _someone_ to do _something_ to stop it. on that day he wrote, from oaxaca:
"As I walked in the bright sunshine into Sanchez Pasques Market and drank in with my eyes and ears the animated throngs of shoppers and vendors, children playing with little toys, the life of the market, the life of the people, I thought of other markets, of how everyday people pursue our lives as though normalcy, day after day, was what we could expect, other people in Sarajevo, in Beirut, in Baghdad. One can only hope that the confluence of social forces and consciousness in Oaxaca, in Mexico and in the world is such that there won't be a bloodbath, either large or small, and that a true milagro méxicano, a Mexican miracle, will begin to show the world how to move from an anti-civilization of death to a true civilization of life."
(see: http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-10-09.htm
http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=2006101818495496&mode=print
http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-08-29.htm)

i'm sorry professor salzman, but it seems power is too entrenched....as is apathy....and the bloodbath, it seems, is beginning.

oh.....one other thing i just have to say....i just watched video footage of brad's death on a spanish satellite channel......and i know everyone was scared and just trying to help, but please!! don't ever pick up and start running with a severely injured person, jiggling their body all over the place. if you are ever in a situation where someone near you is shot or injured badly, especially in their midsection or back, do not move them. apply pressure, try to stop the bleeding....cpr if necessary, but don't move them until a medical team with a backboard who knows how to move them into the ambulance arrives to do it. when rachel corrie was run over by an israeli bulldozer three years ago, her last words were "my back is broken". she was conscious when she died. my husband, who was shot with eight bullets in his back and side in 1991, is sure he would have died if a bunch of people ran up and grabbed him and tried to carry him to the ambulance. i doubt that it would have helped brad, with the severity of his wound he probably would have died no matter what medical care he received. but i just have to say it....it hurts me whenever i see injured people being carried in that way by their comrades and friends who are trying to help, but are nearly always just making the injuries worse.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

just married

i just got married to the person i love...this is supposed to be a joyful moment.......the happiest in my life, right? ..but instead of feeling all the joy that occasion should bring, i feel dread, worry, uncertainty, fear.

not because of the marriage, no, that part is great....but because of the fact that our future together is in the hands of powers outside of our control. not knowing whether we will be able to live together, or for how long, due to visa restrictions, is an extremely worrisome thing.

our journey through visa-land is a long and frustrating story, and the source of all our worries can be summed up in a single word: israel.

in all my years of travelling, through dozens of countries throughout the world, i have never EVER seen a process so circular and confusing, so constantly changing, and so set up for failure as the Israeli process.

i feel like a rat in a cage. like everywhere i turn the options are cut off, the walls around me are growing higher and higher, and no one can give me any information as to what to do or how to respond to this situation i'm in.

we applied for a visa for my husband to come to the US, but that process takes several months. in the meantime, my 3-month tourist visa for israel was due to expire, and we had to either figure out how to get it renewed or leave the country and come back, as we did in july.

we opted to apply for renewal, but for a territory that is under complete military occupation by the neighboring country, and whose infrastructure is totally and completely non-operational since government workers stopped working in march due to a complete cutoff of the aid money that was meant to pay their salaries, well, such a thing is easier said than done.

i went to jerusalem (waking up at 5 am, because I had to pass through the checkpoint with all its uncertainty) with all my paperwork filled out, went through the massive security systems, multiple metal detectors, long lines behind concrete barriers and israeli soldiers with guns shouting orders in hebrew (this was the ministry of interior for 'arabs' in jerusalem - very different from the one in west jerusalem, for jewish israelis), i took a number and waited for my turn. well, i thought, there are only 20 numbers until mine, this shouldn't take long. five hours later, i finally had my turn, and was immediately told that I could not file for renewal at this office, I had to go through the palestinian authority, because my husband is palestinian.

well, i tried to explain to the woman that since israel has cut off relations with the palestinian authority, and choked their source of income, there IS no palestinian authority.....but she wasn't hearing it. when I asked for details on how to proceed with this process, specifically written instructions, or a written policy, she told me, "ask the palestinians, they will tell you how they do it" -- a common refrain i have heard many times from israelis in positions of power, who apparently consider the palestinian rumor-mill of 'he-said-she-said' and stories about so-and-so's aunt mary and what she did when she had to renew her visa, a more reliable source of information than any official policy issued by the israeli government. but there's a simple explanation, which is that the israeli government doesn't HAVE a set policy - that allows them the flexibility to change the rules quickly if they don't like your face, and never have to back it up with written documentation, they just make up rules on the spot and that is what governs your life if you happen to be a palestinian (I'll get back to this theme later).

so i left the fortressed high-security building and paid the taxi driver sixty dollars to get me back to bethlehem, blinking back tears of frustration as we passed back through the checkpoint (much easier to get IN to the west bank than to get OUT, I thought ironically, as the israeli soldiers waved us through with our israeli-license-plated taxi and my foreign face....).

and set about the arduous, and ultimately impossible process, of 'ask the palestinians how they do it'. we began this journey at the palestinian ministry of interior, which was, of course, closed. not just partly closed, but completely, totally, dust-on-the-shelves closed. the gates were welded shut (so no renegade employees would dare to go to work during the strike), and in the most classic and complete sense, we were S.O.L.

after a week of calling around, we finally managed to get the phone number of an employee of the interior ministry in ramallah, who agreed to come in for one hour the next day to help us and a couple other people in the same situation. so we got up at 5 and headed for ramallah.

i should point out here that ramallah is directly north of jerusalem, while bethlehem is directly south. so the quickest route would, of course, be to go through jerusalem. which is what palestinians have always done. until, that is, the last five years, when israel has declared jerusalem 'off-limits' to palestinians (despite the fact that 250,000 palestinians LIVE in jerusalem), and has systematically gone about closing off all access to jerusalem, splitting neighborhoods by the Wall, expanding 'jewish-only' settlements in east jerusalem, and cutting apart families, friends and neighbors in a blatant attempt to unilaterally SEIZE all of jerusalem to make it part of israel. since no international body has attempted to stop israel, this illegal takeover has progressed quite quickly, and palestinians caught in the middle have had no one to turn to for help.

Israel has always claimed that the 'question of Jerusalem' should be left to 'final-status negotiations' of any peace talk. whereas the palestinians have always demanded that jerusalem is a key issue that should be FIRST on the agenda of any peace talks. since there are no peace talks currently in the works, israel has seized the opportunity to take over east jerusalem (in violation of every signed agreement and UN resolution) and make it a de facto part of israel, so that if and when 'peace talks' ever start up again, they will use the fact of the existence of 140,000 israeli settlers recently moved into east jerusalem (with more construction being done every day) as a 'fact-on-the-ground' that indicates the 'jewish character' of east jerusalem, and demand that it be made part of israel. with no one on the palestinian side to argue (at least not from any type of position of power -- instead of 'bargaining' during peace talks, palestinians end up 'begging', because they have no bargaining power - no economic power, no political power, no social or societal power, they don't even have sovereignty, and certainly don't have military power)......well, israel will end up getting what they want.

for us, this meant that instead of a fifteen-minute drive (which is what it would take an israeli settler driving on 'jewish-only' highways), it took us three hours......driving over a one-lane road along cliffs and up and down canyons in the middle of the driest desert - a road called Wadi-Nar, which has become an infamous symbol among palestinians of their forced relocation by israel. the road is of course, full of traffic - massive trucks delivering goods, service taxis stuffed full of people.....no private cars are allowed (apart from the 200 'businessmen' licensed by israel to be able to drive between the different parts of the west bank).....precariously swinging around the curves of this dangerous road, honking, bouncing through potholes....eventually we make it to the first checkpoint, perched on the edge of a cliff in the middle of nowhere. it's known as the 'container' checkpoint to palestinians, as it was originally just a shipping container from a truck, with a few soldiers stopping traffic along the road. now it's a full-blown terminal, with metal detectors and a military building, huge concrete barriers and razor wire. and lots of palestinian taxis and trucks (no private cars) waiting, on both sides, to be allowed through.

i'll spare you the details of the rest of the trip - suffice to say that being forced to drive through residential neighborhoods (with over fifty speedbumps in one three-mile stretch), when there are perfectly good highways speeading by overhead, that you are not allowed to drive on because they are for 'jews only'......well, it's enough to make a person feel sick.

finally in ramallah, we discovered we had to drive from one office to another, to a bank and back again, to get a stamp then go to another office, get a signature and back to the original office -- all of these offices and banks of course being on opposite ends of town....and with it being, ironically enough, the day that condoleeza rice was meeting with the palestinian president in ramallah, well, the traffic was impossible, and half the roads were closed. but we finally managed to get through this dizzying array of stamps and forms and made it back to the original office just before our lone employee took off.

but lo and behold, all of our work was in vain.....one look at the form and my husband's id, and the employee told us that the visa renewal application would not be accepted by israel, because our marriage had not been added to my husband's (israeli-issued) id card.

and of course, id cards were a separate department altogether, and one which did not have a lone employee willing to step in and break the strike for an hour to help us through this.

discouraged and frustrated again, we headed back through the checkpoints and the long and winding wadi-Nar back to bethlehem. it was dark by the time we returned, and we were exhausted.

just a sidenote about the palestinian identity cards - every palestinian is issued one at birth by israel, and the card goes inside a plastic cover, and _must_ be carried at all times by palestinians (reminds me of south africa and the 'pass laws'). it used to be that anyone who had been to prison (that is, nearly half of all palestinian adult males) had to keep their id in a green cover, while palestinians who had not been to jail had an orange cover. so when there were round-ups of all men in a town or neighborhood (as there often are), those with green id cards were pulled aside and put in jail again. so once you were taken prisoner once, no matter if you were guilty or innocent (there's no court system for palestinians to argue their side, anyway, so no way to prove one's innocence), well, you were screwed for life. now, ALL palestinians have a green cover.....which strikes me as rather ironic, being that, with the apartheid wall now almost completed, all palestinians are in fact in an open-air jail.

so with our efforts for visa renewal at an impasse, we began making plans to go to jordan (the neighboring country) and return back again so I could get a new visa. recently, however, israel has been implementing a policy of denying entry to anyone with a foreign passport who they suspect will be visiting the palestinian territories (israel controls all palestinian borders). this possibility, that i would not be allowed back in, and would be stuck in jordan, is extremely worrisome, and very possible.
here's a washington post article about the issue:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/22/AR2006102200853.html
(sorry their stupid ad blocks the first paragraph. it is:
"Stricter Policy Splits West Bank Families By Scott Wilson
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The last time Adel Samara saw his wife, Enayeh, was the morning in late May when she pulled away from their home in Beit Ur in a taxi bound for the border. Her trips to Jordan had become routine, never lasting more than a few days.")

a number of other articles and accounts of denials of entry are listed here:
http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/443.shtml

if you want to get involved in trying to change this outrageous new policy that is essentially emptying palestine of foreigners, see:
http://www.righttoenter.ps

and sign the petition here:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/226243893


in any case, we went through a process equally as harrowing as the visa-renewal process in order to get permission for my husband to go with me to jordan (we didn't want to be separated, with the strong possibility that I wouldn't be allowed back in). but when the application came back, there, handwritten on it in some 18-year old Israeli soldier's handwriting: the dreaded words.....Mamnua Shabak (in hebrew - by the way, all forms filled out by palestinians must be in hebrew -- which means paying someone to fill it out for you, in most cases, as most palestinians don't know hebrew).

Mamnua Shabak = Forbidden by the Israeli Secret Service.

words that are very easy to have added to one's ID number, and very, very hard to have removed. my husband's cousin found out, after being denied passage a number of times at west bank checkpoints, that she had had these dreaded words added to her ID.....this was three years ago. she hired an israeli lawyer and has been working since then to have the dreaded words removed.....but to no avail. no reason was ever given, no accusation was made, she's never been arrested, shot or anything, but the words are now attached to her ID number....impossible to remove.

in a militarily-occupied territory that is ruled only by the arbitrary and always-changing flow of 18-year old draft soldiers, there is no legal procedure or process that one can turn to....there is only the latest whim of the latest shift of soldiers (half of whom, it seems, are incompetent, the rest either willfully aggressive or simply do not care).

in talking to an israeli activist from the group Machsom Watch (Machsom = Checkpoint in Hebrew), she revealed to us that through their research, they have found (though the military will not admit this openly) that every palestinian who has been shot or injured by the israeli military, under any circumstances, becomes 'mamnua shabak' for the rest of their lives (my husband, you may recall, was shot in 1991 in his spine). the victim cannot sue or hold his shooters accountable in any way, but instead, the person who is now handicapped for life is also punished with the dreaded words, which will pop up on any israeli military computer in connection to their ID number, for the rest of their lives. Not only that, the activist told us, but their family members are also punished, with their brothers, sisters, parents and children also receiving the dreaded words 'mamnua shabak' on their ID numbers as well.

which explains why my husband's brother was denied permission last year to visit their other brother who lives in germany, despite the fact that the german consulate had issued him a visa to visit. and also explains why my husband's mother was denied permission to go to jerusalem to pray at the church of the holy sepulchre (in accordance with her religious tradition as a christian) last christmas.

and now, to top it all off.....we just received a letter from the american consulate in jerusalem that my husband has an appointment for his visa........at the american consulate in jerusalem (yes, that's right, jerusalem, which is now 'off-limits' to palestinians). we applied to the israelis for a permit for him to be allowed to go to jerusalem for the appointment, expecting that it would be denied. it was.

the americans are complicit with israel in the unjust israeli restrictions on palestinians. they could easily set up an office in the west bank, and one in gaza, to allow palestinians to have access to their consulate. instead, due to politics, they refuse, and palestinians end up having to risk their lives crossing illegally into jerusalem in order to reach their appointments at the consulate. i asked at the consulate how they expect palestinians to reach them, and the response was, "some get permits, and some come over the hills and we don't know how" -- !!! that is to say, the _official_ line from the US consulate is "we refuse to provide a way for palestinians to reach their appointments with us. instead, we expect them to sneak past the military occupying forces, risking their lives, in order to reach their appointments."

I wrote a letter to the consulate, saying, in part,
"I must admit that I am rather surprised that the Israeli military should be allowed in this way to intervene in U.S. affairs - the Israeli military are, in this way, the de facto determinants of who is and who is not allowed to receive a U.S. visa."

so now we are stuck.... in indecision and uncertainty....like millions of others of palestinians and their spouses....who live without legal status in a world where sovereignty is everything, without recognized property rights for land they have lived on for centuries, and with no power to change their condition (no political, economic or legal power).....in the largest open-air prison on earth.


depressed yet? if you need more fuel for your depression, here are some links:

an op-ed i wrote about a poll showing that over half of israelis believe torture is acceptable:
http://www.imemc.org/content/view/22171/117/

---------------

israeli use of experimental 'mystery weapons' on palestinian civilians:
http://www.palestinechronicle.com/story-101906113427.htm
"Doctors in Gaza have reported previously unseen injuries from Israeli weapons that cause severe burning and leave deep internal wounds, often resulting in amputations or death."

----------------

Top CIA expert on radical Islam slams Bush 'anti-terror' program
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=34825
"Nakhleh said that the Bush administration's tactics had 'lost a generation of goodwill in the Muslim world' and its Middle East democratisation programme 'has all but disappeared, except for official rhetoric'."

----------------

Civilian deaths soar to record high in Iraq
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1878474,00.html
"Manfred Nowak, the UN's special investigator, said torture was 'totally out of hand' and might even be worse now than under Saddam Hussein. 'You have terrorist groups, you have the military, you have police, you have these militias. There are so many people who are abducted, seriously tortured and finally killed,' he told reporters at the UN's Geneva headquarters. "The US military had initially claimed a dramatic drop in the Iraqi death toll for August, but the estimate was revised sharply upwards after it revealed that it had inexplicably left out figures for people killed by bombs, mortars, rockets and other mass attacks."

So what did the UN find in their investigation? Seven THOUSAND civilians killed in the last two months, and that doesn't include the most violent regions, Ramadi and Falluja, where they were unable to get accurate counts.

--------------

After September 11, the U.S. threatened to 'bomb Pakistan to the stone ages' if they did not do exactly what the U.S. told them to do
http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,,1878619,00.html
---------------

Saturday, October 07, 2006

a vision of a better world

today, i feel like a little prose, or poetry...call it what you will. it's fiction, anyway (some would say, impossible)....

a vision of another world that's possible:

two kids spot each other across the ridge

the ridge where the wall used to stand

their eyes hold suspicion, fear....but it's the fear born from parental 'guidance', and kids are wont to ignore such things

one disappears from sight a moment

the other child looks around and

there, the child reappears again much closer

holding a lizard in his hand

the lizard suddenly becomes much more compelling than the parental-born notions of fear

and the child sidles closer, interested, studying

the little creature is quick, he knows, and hard to catch

that other child must be quite fast to have caught one like that

he wants to ask him how he did it

but he doesn't know the words

they don't speak the same language, see....

but the other boy hears the question anyway, and motions a distance away, trotting off

the boy follows, and in a small dusty gulley, sees the trick.....

a trap, made of a loop of string, to catch the lizard when he's lazing in the sun

ingenious! he thinks, and laughs aloud

the other boy joins in

they set about catching lizards

and soon they are joined by a couple of other kids....

this is the beginning, see.....

they don't speak the same language

yet

but they both speak the language of kids

they stay at it all afternoon

catching lizards

and letting them go

returning at dusk to their parents, whose faces are aghast when they find out where their children have been

but they're ready

they gulp, and try to swallow their fear

they are ready

to move on

from the fear

and the hate

that has governed their lives

for too long.

Friday, September 29, 2006

warrantless wiretaps, habeas corpus and terror..

ok....i'm really concerned now. first i hear the news item that congress just passed a bill suspending habeas corpus -- essentially taking away the right of a prisoner to challenge their imprisonment. this means that people can be held without charge, tortured, and essentially 'disappeared', legally, in the U.S. people who are innocent!! people who have done nothing wrong. and there will be no trial, no day in court where they can prove their innocence. and no way for them to challenge their imprisonment.
here's an oped from the new york times: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/28/opinion/28thu1.html

and now i hear that today the house has passed the 'warrantless wiretapping' act, and the senate is likely to soon follow. in this bill, the government can listen to anyone's phone, read anyone's email, demand records from telecom companies, and here, too, there is no legal way to appeal.

umm....now, i'm no legal expert (nor am i a big fan of a so-called 'democracy' built on genocide and slavery), but isn't there supposed to be something called 'checks and balances' in the american government? you know, that thing that I learned way back in grade school was 'the basis of american democracy'.

as a bumper sticker i once read said: "the constitution ain't perfect, but it's better than what we have now".

some american congressmen apparently have also just accused the United Nations Refugee and Works Association, currently the only provider of food and drinking water to over 80,000 Palestinian refugees, of somehow 'sponsoring terrorism'.......I guess because they give food and water to a starving civilian population that is a civilian population considered 'terrorists' by these guys.
http://www.ramattan.com/news/details.asp?Id_News=21534

I wonder......is every palestinian a terrorist? is that the reasoning behind this?

i guess that some people believe that.

it's strange though.....the population in palestine is a young population - nearly 40% of the population is under 18.....and so mainly what i see here is kids -- kids riding bikes, kids playing basketball, babies laughing and gurgling adorably in their mothers' arms.....toddlers waddling after their brothers to try to join in their games....young girls skipping down the street hand in hand to the neighborhood shop.....

and i wonder to myself, how could anyone look at the palestinian people, almost half of them kids, and see nothing but terrorists?

yes, there have been some isolated incidents of violence by palestinians against israeli civilians. but far more palestinian civilians have been killed by israelis than vice versa. so who is the terrorist? and what is terrorism really?

if living as palestinians do, under curfew, locked in one's home 24 hours a day for months on end, with electricity cuts that invariably mean aerial bombardments occurring night after night, with tanks invading one's neighborhood on a daily basis, with one's kids getting shot for coming too close to the 30-foot high concrete wall that surrounds their town -- if that is not living in utter terror, then I don't know what is.

but i guess that is what the new 'american dream' looks like. that's what it's beginning to look like in afghanistan and iraq anyway, the latest conquests of the american empire.

with these new laws (which it appears are being rushed through before the midterm elections), the u.s.a. (or, to begin with, its prisons) is very quickly going to look the same way.

and this new terror regime is not coming from some fetishized islamic culture that many americans seem to have developed a stupefied stereotyped view of.......no, this is a home-grown american regime of "look the other way and don't notice when they take your neighbor away".....a regime of "why would you refuse to let your government read your email, tap your phone, or install cameras in your bedroom? ...unless you've got something to hide. what are you hiding, hmm?" a regime of secret government lists and a mafia-run government waging resource wars throughout the globe to 'preserve the american way of life', while americans get microchipped and racially profiled, retinal scanned and blacklisted, and blindly put their faith in their consumer economics and the power of their property to protect them from the undercurrent of fear that is rapidly surpassing all other dreams they might have had.....ignoring the secret prisons and rumors of torture (rumors which are vehemently ignored by a media which prefers to focus on hollywood weddings and which star got a nosejob, while furiously feeding the frenzy of fear that keeps people suspecting their neighbors and scared to go out alone).....
because after all, as sinclair lewis so succinctly put it back in 1935: "it can't happen here". (or....... can it.................?)

you can buy his book (called, you guessed it: _it can't happen here_):
http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-045121658x-0

....or borrow it from your local library. if it is indeed worthy of being called a library, it will have this book......
here's a review:
"Surprisingly, Sinclair Lewis' darkly humorous tale of a fascist takeover in the US, "It Can't Happen Here," is not merely out-of-print, but also quite hard to find. As dated as it is (1935), its themes will be quite familiar to Americans today. It starts with the highly contested election of an oafish yet strangely charismatic president, who talks like a "reformer" but is really in the pocket of big business, who claims to be a home-spun "humanist," while appealing to religious extremists, and who speaks of "liberating" women and minorities, as he gradually strips them of all their rights. One character, when describing him, says, "I can't tell if he's a crook or a religious fanatic." After he becomes elected, he puts the media - at that time, radio and newspapers - under the supervision of the military and slowly begins buying up or closing down media outlets. William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his times, directs his newspapers to heap unqualified praise upon the president and his policies, and gradually comes to develop a special relationship with the government. The president, taking advantage of an economic crisis, strong-arms Congress into signing blank checks over to the military and passing stringent and possibly unconstitutional laws, e.g. punishing universities when they don't permit military recruiting or are not vociferous enough in their approval of his policies. Eventually, he takes advantage of the crisis to convene military tribunals for civilians, and denounce all of his detractors as unpatriotic and possibly treasonous. I'll stop here, as I don't want to ruin the story -- I can imagine that you can see where all this is going."

Monday, September 18, 2006

dancing dabke in taybeh, hip hop and the pope

well....here i am, still in this prison known as the west bank. we went to ramallah this weekend, and to a christian village outside ramallah called Taybeh, where there was an 'Octoberfest'.....the festival was well-attended (despite the anger among muslims over the pope's comments about islam last week, the festival in the christian town went fine...no christians in palestine have been attacked, but some churches were burned in a couple of places). at the festival, we watched young kids and teenagers performing the palestinian traditional dance known as 'dabke' - they were great! it reminded me of irish step dancing with the fancy footwork and stamping on the wooden stage. and the kids were all really excited about it, they loved doing it (unlike some of the kids in the irish step i used to do -- especially the boys -- who were just doing it because their parents made them).

then there was a performance by a palestinian hip-hop group from Lud, a town inside Israel.....and watching the villagers' reaction to the hip-hop - interested, entertained, but not really _jamming_ (like they were with the traditional music and dance), it made me think about the origins of hip-hop.....it is essentially, and at its core, an _urban_ music.....it began in the states, of course, but has been popularized as a form of expression in urban centers throughout the world - i've heard rappers from johannesburg, paris, london, hamburg with tons of talent, at least as much as many of the US-based rappers.....but it is a type of music that springs out of a people desperate to hold onto an identity that they feel being lost in the anonymous centralizing process of cities. kids from the village, stuck behind the israeli wall, but still strong in their culture and traditions, simply don't have the same type of experience as the kids from the villages-turned-urban-ghettoes that have come to typify the experience of palestinians inside israel. hip-hop just doesn't resonate as strongly for the villagers as it does for the kids lost in urban centers throughout the world.

in israel, the so-called 'arab-israeli' communities (which make up 20% of the population of israel) have a very different set of problems from palestinians in the west bank and gaza.

and those in the city of jerusalem have even a different set of problems than the other two groups. all of their problems are related, and all stemming from the same source (the state of israel), but the oppression takes different forms in the different communities.

Jack Persekian, a Palestinian with a 'Jerusalem ID' (this ID is different, btw, from a 'Palestinian-Israeli' with Israeli citizenship....it allows the bearer access only to the confines of the city of Jerusalem) writes of the three main areas in which Palestinians are discriminated against in Jerusalem.

"1) The law. Any Jew from anywhere on this earth can come, reside in Jerusalem and become a citizen of the State, while if the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants of the city move out of the city for any reason (except for study and for a limited period) for more than three years they’ll never be able to go back and reside there. The only way they would be permitted to come back is as tourists, that is if given a visa. We are technically 'permanent residents' of our own birthplace, our own hometown, our own piece of land and property, until further notice. There is a stranglehold on building permits on the Palestinian side of the city with vast areas designated as either a ‘green zone’ or not part of the planning zone, not to mention of course the extremely costly process of construction on the Palestinian side in contrast with the readily available government sponsored housing on the Jewish side.


"2) The economy. The closure of Jerusalem has left its Palestinian inhabitants in dire straits, since they’re totally tied to the Palestinian standard of living of the West Bank, which stands at around $3,000 per capita income, on the one hand, and the fact that they’re completely entrapped by the Israeli economy, which stands at around $20,000 per capita income, on the other. Since more than ten years ago Israel has become the only supplier of goods and services to the Palestinian residents of the city, which means very low income linked to the Palestinian economy in comparison to very high prices linked to the Israeli standard of living. In addition to that, the scarcity of jobs in the city coupled with the imposed closure and the fear of losing one’s resident status if a move out of the city in pursuit of a job is opted for, is creating a desperate dead end and a kind of “you’re-better-off-if-you-leave” situation especially for the future of one’s kids. Well yes, this might be true. What kind of jobs are there for the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem? Not being able to work in the Palestinian territories and not able to get integrated into the Israeli system - not being a citizen and not having served in the army (which is clearly unthinkable) make it impossible to get into the system. The jobs that are available are very few and hardly ever inspiring (working for foreign aid or diplomatic missions as a driver, security personnel or clerk) or the easiest, least demanding of jobs: a taxi driver, a cleaner in west Jerusalem or tending a falafel stand.

"3) Society. The divide is so deep and the differences are so rooted that it is impossible to imagine that there could ever be any kind of social integration between the two sides. Israel was established as an extension of Europe and the Palestinians are part of the Middle Eastern culture. The Israelis saw, and up till now many see, that all the people from the third world, so to speak, are culturally inferior to them. Israel was since its establishment and for many years dominated and controlled by Ashkenazi Jews who defined the cultural face of Israel as Euro-western and obstructed any other form of cultural expression, particularly that from Arab/Middle Eastern/North African origins. Until the late seventies no oriental music would be heard on Israel’s radio or TV. Amy Horowitz who studied Israeli oriental music’s emergence and proliferation dubbed it “bus station music,” for only there, in bus stations, where workers and the lower middle class met, their kind of music was played, and not on the elite state-sanctioned airwaves, which in a way dictated the kind of music people should listen to and that which reflects Israel’s cultural identity and origins. No need to go further down this track. All I want to say is that Israel knew from the beginning the kind of society it wanted to be, and more-or-less the kind of mix between cultures it would tolerate. One thing is clear, and will be as long as Israel exists: its Jewish exclusivity.

"Palestine, on the other hand, is a mixture of backgrounds of those who happen to be there and/or want to be there. It does not prefer any religion over another and would rather be inclusive of all. Exclusivity is nice and has its advantages, but on the long run it is prone to deficiencies and breakdown. Rather than be left to the very end of negotiations, Jerusalem at this difficult moment in time can set an example for coexistence. Its liminal position can be transformed to an archetypal zone of tolerance."

------------
in other news....

mahmoud ahmadenijad, the president of iran, had an interview with time magazine in which he clarified some of his (oft-misquoted) positions on issues:
http://www.ynetnews.com/Ext/Comp/ArticleLayout/CdaArticlePrintPreview/1,2506,L-3305123,00.html

and a jewish rabbi living in a settlement on stolen palestinian land made a statement that all palestinian males should be killed, while israeli politicians call for ethnic 'transfer' of palestinians to other countries:
http://www.imemc.org/content/view/21527/1/

so the wagons are circling, the outright racism becoming less hidden and more blatant.....
palestinians are desperate for food and water, while the israelis use 'divide and conquer' tactics of giving palestinian christians more privileges and freedoms than they give to palestinian muslims (not much, and not often, but it does happen occasionally). ultimately, the christians and muslims are all in the same boat, and they know it.....but israel has tried hard to exacerbate the small differences.

and in the midst of all this, the pope has to come along and make some stupid comment that Islam was spread through violence, and was 'evil and inhuman', but that Christianity was not spread through violence. come on!!! how provocative can you get!! (despite the fact that christianity has at least as much violent 'crusading' in its history as does Islam)

It seems that Ratzinger went from hating Jews in his youth (as a Nazi youth, an association he has never publicly come out and disassociated himself from), to hating Muslims as an adult. ultimately, it is the same - hating a group of people based on their system of beliefs, their religion.

to those who are busy giving excuses for the man, saying 'he was referring to how spreading any religion through violence is evil', well, here is the full text of his speech:
http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=46474

why does he take it on himself to suddenly become a scholar of islam, interpreting the texts of the Qu'ran and the many debates and theological discussions about their meaning, without giving any recognition or critique of his own religion's culpability in the massive 'spread of religion by force'?

yes, there should be a dialogue between muslim scholars and christian scholars. yes, there are many many things the two religions have in common. and yes, anyone can use either holy book to justify whatever he or she wants to justify, by taking it out of context. but let the muslim scholars, those who have spent their lives studying that religion, begin the critique (as many have) of that religion. the christian church should be looking within itself and its own history, getting its own house in order, before deigning to critique another religion, islam, which ultimately has a much less violent history than christianity.

what the pope has done, by presenting a speech that severely critiques islam at its base with no equivalent critique of christianity, which has a much more violent history than islam, is to demonize islam and tell the world, in as many words, that the stance of the catholic church is one that is against islam.

such a statement can only serve to burn bridges and increase tension. why not go the other direction.......build bridges, work toward peace and co-existence?

------------
while i was in ramallah, i read a book, a fiction book, about a boy in ramallah, written from his perspective as a 12-year old. it was called "a little piece of ground", and it is really wonderfully written, and, based on my experience here, i would say it is extremely accurate. the way the boy views the world, his aspirations (to be the world's greatest footballer, to be taller than his brother, to be the inventor of an acid formula that can dissolve the steel of israeli tanks), his daily life, his thoughts, really bring the reader into the life of a 12-year old in ramallah. I hope everyone can read it, to see what life is like under occupation for a kid:
http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-1931859388-0

after i finished the book, a friend said to me, "you know, there was a big attempt to ban that book in the US when it came out three years ago." I didn't know that, but the thought of it made me feel angry - that people would try to ban this perspective, simply because they disagreed with it. attempts to ban books, to me, come out of fear and ignorance.

The 'Chronology of Censorship' for 2003 said, about Elizabeth Laird, the author:
"Ms. Laird, who spent years in Palestine, was also quoted as saying, 'If anybody would like to write a book about the effects of suicide bombing on Israeli children, or what it's like for an Israeli child, I would very much welcome that. I think that would be an excellent thing to do. Because I think that all aspects of this truth should be understood.' So Ms. Laird, at least, seems to uphold the principle that the answer to free speech is more free speech."

if you're interested in an excellent book from an israeli perspective, try this one:
"picnic grounds: a novel in fragments" by oz shellach
http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-0872864197-0

a reviewer says: "The stories take place in modern Israel, but reflect back on the Palestinians who were displaced, the villages that were bulldozed, the hillsides that were razed, and the history that remains largely ignored. Through these stories, a picture of a modern state superimposed over the historical Palestine emerges. Furthermore, we begin to sense how modern Israel avoids this recent history, covers it over. A family picnic on the grounds of a former Palestinian village, or the dense pine forests covering the hillsides outside Jerusalem that once were covered with olive orchards - the stories all speak to the way modern Israel manages to exist in a state of near denial."

this denial is what must be overcome now, if there is to be peace in this land. no more burning bridges, no more building walls. it may be painful for some people move from denial into knowledge into acceptance, but it is the only way for justice to occur.