american in palestine

Monday, September 18, 2006

dancing dabke in taybeh, hip hop and the pope 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 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 is essentially, and at its core, an _urban_ 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 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:,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:

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:

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 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:

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

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.


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