Monday, November 26, 2012 3:33 PM
To read about what Americans can do about human rights abuses in Palestine, check out "Can We Hold Israel Accountable," by Stephen Zunes.
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
“There is no
country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from
outside its borders,” President Barack Obama said at a press conference last
week. He drew on this general observation in order to justify Operation Pillar
of Defense, Israel’s
most recent military campaign in the Gaza Strip. In describing the situation
this way, he assumes, like many others, that Gaza
is a political entity external and independent of Israel. This is not so. It is true
officially disengaged from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, withdrawing its
ground troops and evacuating the Israeli settlements there. But despite the
absence of a permanent ground presence, Israel
has maintained a crushing control over Gaza
from that moment until today.
of Israeli army veterans expose the truth of that “disengagement.” Before
Operation Pillar of Defense, after all, Israel launched Operations Summer
Rains and Autumn Clouds in 2006, and Hot Winter and Cast Lead in 2008 -- all
involving ground invasions. In one testimony, a veteran speaks of “a battalion
operation” in Gaza
that lasted for five months, where the soldiers were ordered to shoot “to draw
out terrorists” so they “could kill a few.”
Israeli naval blockades stop Gazans from fishing, a main source of food in
the Strip. Air blockades prevent freedom of movement. Israel does not allow building materials into
the area, forbids exports to the West Bank and Israel,
and (other than emergency humanitarian cases) prohibits movement between the
Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It controls the
Palestinian economy by periodically withholding import taxes. Its restrictions
have impeded the expansion and upgrading of the Strip’s woeful sewage
infrastructure, which could render life in Gaza untenable within a decade. The blocking
of seawater desalination has turned the water supply into a health hazard. Israel has repeatedly demolished small power
plants in Gaza,
ensuring that the Strip would have to continue to rely on the Israeli
electricity supply. Daily power shortages have been the norm for several years
presence is felt everywhere, militarily and otherwise.
By relying on
factual misconceptions, political leaders, deliberately or not, conceal
information that is critical to our understanding of events. Among the people best
qualified to correct those misconceptions are the individuals who have been
charged with executing a state’s policies -- in this case, Israeli soldiers
themselves, an authoritative source of information about their government’s
actions. I am a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and I know that
our first-hand experiences refute the assumption, accepted by many, including
President Obama, that Gaza is an independent
political entity that exists wholly outside Israel. If Gaza
is outside Israel,
how come we were stationed there? If Gaza is
how come we control it? Oded Na’aman
testimonies by Israeli veterans that follow are taken from 145 collected by the
nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence and published in Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies From the
Occupied Territories, 2000-2010. Those in the book represent every
division in the IDF and all locations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.]
Location: Nablus district
During your service in the territories, what shook you up the most?
The searches we
did in Hares. They said there are sixty houses that have to be searched. I
thought there must have been some information from intelligence. I tried to
justify it to myself.
out as a patrol?
It was a
battalion operation. They spread out over the whole village, took over the
school, smashed the locks, the classrooms. One was used as the investigation
room for the Shin Bet, one room for detainees, one for the soldiers to rest. We
went in house by house, banging on the door at two in the morning. The family’s
dying of fear, the girls are peeing in their pants with fear. We go into the
house and turn everything upside down.
family in a certain room, put a guard there, tell the guard to aim his gun at
them, and then search the rest of the house. We got another order that everyone
born after 1980... everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine, doesn’t matter
who, bring them in cuffed and blindfolded. They yelled at old people, one of
them had an epileptic seizure but they carried on yelling at him. Every house
we went into, we brought everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine to the
school. They sat tied up in the schoolyard.
tell you the purpose of all this?
To locate weapons. But we didn’t find any weapons. They confiscated kitchen
knives. There was also stealing. One guy took twenty shekels. Guys went into
the houses and looked for things to steal. This was a very poor village. The
guys were saying, “What a bummer, there’s nothing to steal.”
said in a conversation among the soldiers?
enjoyed seeing the misery, the guys were happy talking about it. There was a
moment someone yelled at the soldiers. They knew he was mentally ill, but one
of the soldiers decided that he’d beat him up anyway, so they smashed him. They
hit him in the head with the butt of the gun, he was bleeding, then they
brought him to the school along with everyone else. There were a pile of arrest
orders signed by the battalion commander, ready, with one area left blank.
They’d fill in that the person was detained on suspicion of disturbing the
peace. They just filled in the name and the reason for arrest. There were
people with plastic handcuffs that had been put on really tight. I got to speak
with the people there. One of them had been brought into Israel to work
for a settler and after two months the guy didn’t pay him and handed him over
to the police.
people came from that one village?
else you remember from that night?
A small thing,
but it bothered me -- one house that they just destroyed. They have a dog for
weapons searches, but they didn’t bring him; they just wrecked the house. The
mother watched from the side and cried. Her kids sat with her and stroked her.
What do you
mean, they just destroyed the house?
the floors, turned over sofas, threw plants and pictures, turned over beds,
smashed the closets, the tiles. There were other things -- the look on the
people’s faces when you go into their house. And after all that, they were left
tied up and blindfolded in the school for hours. The order came to free them at
four in the afternoon. So that was more than twelve hours. There were
investigators from the security services there who interrogated them one by
been a terrorist attack in the area?
No. We didn’t
even find any weapons. The brigade commander claimed that the Shin Bet did find
some intelligence, that there were a lot of guys there who throw stones.
Location: Gaza Strip
punishment. I hate that: “They did this to us, so we’ll do that to them.” Do
you know what a naval blockade means for the people in Gaza? There’s no food for a few days. For
example, suppose there’s an attack in Netanya, so they impose a naval blockade
for four days on the entire Strip. No seagoing vessel can leave. A Dabur patrol
boat is stationed at the entrance to the port, if they try to go out, within
seconds the soldiers shoot at the bow and even deploy attack helicopters to
scare them. We did a lot of operations with attack helicopters -- they don’t
shoot much because they prefer to let us deal with that, but they’re there to
scare people, they circle over their heads. All of a sudden there’s a Cobra
right over your head, stirring up the wind and throwing everything around.
frequent were the blockades?
Very. It could
be three times one month, and then three months of nothing. It depends.
blockade goes on for a day, two days, three days, four, or more than that?
remember anything longer than four days. If it was longer than that, they’d die
there, and I think the IDF knows that. Seventy percent of Gaza lives on fishing -- they have no other
choice. For them it means not eating. There are whole families who don’t eat
for a few days because of the blockade. They eat bread and water.
Shoot to Kill
operations in Gaza,
anyone walking around in the street, you shoot at the torso. In one operation
in the Philadelphi corridor, anyone walking around at night, you shoot at the
were the operations?
Daily. In the
Philadelphi corridor, every day.
searching for tunnels, how do people manage to get around -- I mean, they live
in the area.
It’s like this:
You bring one force up to the third or fourth floor of a building. Another
group does the search below. They know that while they’re doing the search
there’ll be people trying to attack them. So they put the force up high, so
they can shoot at anyone down in the street.
shooting was there?
there, I’m up on the third floor. I shoot at anyone I see?
But it’s in
Gaza, it’s a
street, it’s the most crowded place in the world.
No, no, I’m
talking about the Philadelphi corridor.
So that’s a
there’s a road, it’s like the suburbs, not the center. During operations in the
neighborhoods it’s the same thing. Shooting, during night operations --
any kind of announcement telling people to stay indoors?
actually shot people?
anyone walking around in the street. It always ended with, “We killed six
terrorists today.” Whoever you shot in the street is “a terrorist.”
they say at the briefings?
The goal is to
the rules of engagement?
walking around at night, shoot to kill.
about that in the briefings: whoever’s walking around during the day, look for
something suspicious. But something suspicious could be a cane.
Location: Gaza Strip
There was a
period at the beginning of the Intifada where they assassinated people using
This was at
the beginning of the Second Intifada?
Yes. But it was
a huge mess because there were mistakes and other people were killed, so they
told us we were now going to be doing a ground elimination operation.
Is that the
terminology they used? “Ground elimination operation”?
remember. But we knew it was going to be the first one of the Intifada. That
was very important for the commanders and we started to train for it. The plan
was to catch a terrorist on his way to Rafah, trap him in the middle of the
road, and eliminate him.
elimination. Targeted. But that operation was canceled, and then a few days
later they told us that we’re going on an arrest operation. I remember the
disappointment. We were going to arrest the guy instead of doing something
groundbreaking, changing the terms. So the operation was planned...
waiting inside the APC [armored personnel carrier], there are Shin Bet agents
with us, and we can hear the updates from intelligence. It was amazing, like,
“He’s sitting in his house drinking coffee, he’s going downstairs, saying hi to
the neighbor” -- stuff like that. “He’s going back up, coming down again,
saying this and that, opening the trunk now, picking up a friend” -- really
detailed stuff. He didn’t drive, someone else drove, and they told us his
weapon was in the trunk. So we knew he didn’t have the weapon with him in the
car, which would make the arrest easier. At least it relieved my stress,
because I knew that if he ran to get the weapon, they’d shoot at him.
the Shin Bet agent sit?
With me. In the
APC. We were in contact with command and they told us he’d arrive in another
five minutes, four minutes, one minute. And then there was a change in the
orders, apparently from the brigade commander: elimination operation. A minute
ahead of time. They hadn’t prepared us for that. A minute to go and it’s an elimination
Why do you
say “apparently from the brigade commander”?
I think it was
the brigade commander. Looking back, the whole thing seems like a political
ploy by the commander, trying to get bonus points for doing the first
elimination operation, and the brigade commander trying, too. . . everyone
wanted it, everyone was hot for it. The car arrives, and it’s not according to
plan: their car stops here, and there’s another car in front of it, here. From
what I remember, we had to shoot, he was three meters away. We had to shoot.
After they stopped the cars, I fired through the scope and the gunfire made an
insane amount of noise, just crazy. And then the car, the moment we started
shooting, started speeding in this direction.
The car in
terrorist’s car -- apparently when they shot the driver his leg was stuck on
the gas, and they started flying. The gunfire increased, and the commander next
to me is yelling “Stop, stop, hold your fire,” but they don’t stop shooting.
Our guys get out and start running, away from the jeep and the armored truck,
shoot a few rounds, and then go back. Insane bullets flying around for a few
minutes. “Stop, stop, hold your fire,” and then they stop. They fired dozens if
not hundreds of bullets into the car in front.
saying this because you checked afterward?
carried out the bodies. There were three people in that car. Nothing happened
to the person in the back. He got out, looked around like this, put his hands
in the air. But the two bodies in the front were hacked to pieces...
counted how many bullets I had left -- I’d shot ten bullets. The whole thing
was terrifying -- more and more and more noise. It all took about a second and
a half. And then they took out the bodies, carried the bodies. We went to a
debriefing. I’ll never forget when they brought the bodies out at the base. We
were standing two meters away in a semicircle, the bodies were covered in
flies, and we had the debriefing. It was, “Great job, a success. Someone shot
the wrong car, and we’ll talk about the rest back on the base.” I was in total
shock from all the bullets, from the crazy noise. We saw it on the video, it
was all documented on video for the debriefing. I saw all the things that I
told you, the people running, the minute of gunfire, I don’t know if it’s
twenty seconds or a minute, but it was hundreds of bullets and it was clear
that the people had been killed, but the gunfire went on and the soldiers were
running from the armored truck. What I saw was a bunch of bloodthirsty guys
firing an insane amount of bullets, and at the wrong car, too. The video was
just awful, and then the unit commander got up. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot
What do you
That he’ll be a
regional commanding officer or the chief of staff one day. He said, “The
operation wasn’t carried out perfectly, but the mission was accomplished, and
we got calls from the chief of staff, the defense minister, the prime minister”
-- everyone was happy, it’s good for the unit, and the operation was like, you
know, just: “Great job.” The debriefing was just a cover-up.
Meaning no one
stopped to say, “Three innocent people died.” Maybe with the driver there was
no other way, but who were the others?
they, in fact?
At that time I
had a friend training with the Shin Bet, he told me about the jokes going
around that the terrorist was a nobody. He’d probably taken part in some
shooting and the other two had nothing to do with anything. What shocked me was
that the day after the operation, the newspapers said that “a secret unit
killed four terrorists,” and there was a whole story on each one, where he came
from, who he’d been involved with, the operations he’d done. But I know that on
the Shin Bet base they’re joking about how we killed a nobody and the other two
weren’t even connected, and at the debriefing itself they didn’t even mention
Who did the
commander. The first thing I expected to hear was that something bad happened,
that we did the operation to eliminate one person and ended up eliminating
four. I expected that he’d say, “I want to know who shot at the first car. I
want to know why A-B-C ran to join in the big bullet-fest.” But that didn’t
happen, and I understood that they just didn’t care. These people do what they
do. They don’t care.
guys talk about it?
Yes. There were
two I could talk to. One of them was really shocked but it didn’t stop him. It
didn’t stop me, either. It was only after I came out of the army that I
understood. No, even when I was in the army I understood that something really
bad had happened. But the Shin Bet agents were as happy as kids at a summer
high-fiving and hugging. Really pleased with themselves. They didn’t join in
the debriefing, it was of no interest to them. But what was the politics of the
operation? How come my commanders, not one of them, admitted that the operation
had failed? And failed so badly with the shooting all over the place that the
guys sitting in the truck got hit with shrapnel from the bullets. It’s a
miracle we didn’t kill each other.
limbs were smeared on the wall
One company told me they did an operation where a woman was blown up and
smeared all over the wall. They kept knocking on her door and there was no
answer, so they decided to open it with explosives. They placed them at the
door and right at that moment the woman came to open it. Then her kids came
down and saw her. I heard about it after the operation at dinner. Someone said
it was funny that the kids saw their mother smeared on the wall and everyone
cracked up. Another time I got screamed at by my platoon when I went to give
the detainees some water from our field kit canteen. They said, “What, are you
crazy?” I couldn’t see what their problem was, so they said, “Come on, germs.”
In Nahal Oz, there was an incident with kids who’d been sent by their parents
to try to get into Israel to find food, because their families were hungry.
They were fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boys, I think. I remember one of them
sitting blindfolded and then someone came and hit him, here.
And poured oil
on him, the stuff we use to clean weapons.
shot at fishermen
There’s an area
bordering Gaza that’s under the navy’s control. Even after Israel disengaged
from the Strip, nothing changed in the sea sector. I remember that near Area K,
which divided Israel and Gaza, there were kids as young as four or six, who’d
get up early in the morning to fish, in the areas that were off-limits. They’d
go there because the other areas were crowded with fishermen. The kids always
tried to cross, and every morning we’d shoot in their direction to scare them
off. It got to the point of shooting at the kids’ feet where they were standing
on the beach or at the ones on surfboards. We had Druze police officers on
board who’d scream at them in Arabic. We’d see the poor kids crying.
What do you
mean, “shoot in their direction”?
It starts with
shooting in the air, then it shifts to shooting close by, and in extreme cases
it becomes shooting toward their legs.
Five or six
hundred meters, with a Rafael heavy machine gun, it’s all automatic.
perspective. On the screen, there’s a measure for height and a one for width,
and you mark where you want the bullet to go with the cursor. It cancels out
the effect of the waves and hits where it’s supposed to, it’s precise.
You aim a
meter away from the surfboard?
More like five
or six meters. I heard about cases where they actually hit the surfboards, but
I didn’t see it. There were other things that bothered me, this thing with
Palestinian fishing nets. The nets cost around four thousand shekels, which is
like a million dollars for them. When they wouldn’t do what we said too many
times, we’d sink their nets. They leave their nets in the water for something
like six hours. The Dabur patrol boat comes along and cuts their nets.
didn’t do what we said. Let’s say a boat drifts over to an area that’s
off-limits, so a Dabur comes, circles, shoots in the air, and goes back. Then
an hour later, the boat comes back and so does the Dabur. The third time
around, the Dabur starts shooting at the nets, at the boat, and then shoots to
off-limits area close to Israel?
area close to Israel
and another along the Israeli-Egyptian border… Israel’s
sea border is twelve miles out, and Gaza’s
is only three. They’ve only got those three miles, and that’s because of one
reason, which is that Israel
wants its gas, and there’s an offshore drilling rig something like three and a
half miles out facing the Gaza Strip, which should be Palestinian, except that
it’s ours… the Navy Special Forces unit provides security for the rig. A bird
comes near the area, they shoot it. There’s an insane amount of security for
that thing. One time there were Egyptian fishing nets over the three-mile
limit, and we dealt with them. A total disaster.
They were in
international waters, we don’t have jurisdiction there, but we’d shoot at them.
we’re at peace with Egypt.
Na’aman is co-editor of
Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the
Occupied Territories, 2000–2010
(Metropolitan Books, 2012). He is also
a founder of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization dedicated to
collecting the testimonies of Israel
Defense Force soldiers, and a member of the Israeli Opposition Network. He
served in the IDF as a first sergeant and crew commander in the artillery corps
between 2000 and 2003 and is now working on his PhD in philosophy at Harvard University. The testimonies in this
piece from Our Harsh Logic have been adapted and shortened.
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Breaking the Silence
Image by David Masters, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, November 26, 2012 2:24 PM
To read Breaking the Silence testimonies by Israeli soldiers on the ongoing occupation and blockade of Palestine, check out "It's Mostly Punishment," by Oded Na'aman.
of this article appeared at YesMagazine.org.
The great wish of the early Zionist leader
Theodor Herzl was that Israel
would be treated like “any other state.” Were that the case, there might be
more rational and productive discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, which is particularly critical in light of Israel launching yet
another devastating attack against civilian-populated areas of nearby Arab
There are certainly those who do unfairly
single out Israel,
the world’s only predominantly Jewish state, for criticism. There is a tendency
by some to minimize Israel’s
legitimate security concerns and place inordinate attention on the Israeli
government’s transgressions, relative to other governments that abuse human
rights. There are also those who, in light of the five-year siege of the Gaza
Strip and the enormous suffering of the Palestinian
people, try to rationalize terrorism and other crimes by Hamas, the reactionary
Islamist group currently in control there.
What we recently witnessed from the Obama
administration, however—as Hamas rainedrockets
into Israel and Israel rained bombs, missiles, and mortars into
the crowded and besieged Gaza Strip—was the similarly unfair phenomenon of
from criticism. While most of the international community has criticized both Hamas and Israel for
their attacks on areas populated by civilians, the Obama administration has
restricted its condemnation to the Palestinian side.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice—widely
considered to be the president’s first choice to succeed Hillary Clinton as
Secretary of State—correctly noted that there is “no justification for the
violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the
people of Israel.”
However, she had absolutely no criticism of Israel’s
far more devastating attacks against the people of the Gaza Strip, simply
saying that "Israel,
like any nation, has the right to defend itself against such vicious attacks.”
The real issue, however, is not Israel’s
right to self-defense but its attacks on crowded residential neighborhoods,
which killed 103 Palestinian civilians (as compared with four Israeli civilians
killed by Hamas rockets). The Obama administration’s position is ironic given
that, while both sides share the blame for the tragedy, it appears that it is Israel which
has been primarily responsible for breaking the recent fragile ceasefires,
through acts such as its assassination of a leading Hamas official and attacks
that killed a number of boys playing soccer.
In the face of growing calls from throughout
the world for both sides to de-escalate the violence, the White House said on November
17 that it would leave
it to Israel to decide whether it is appropriate to launch a ground
invasion. Similarly, in response to the outcry at the growing number of
civilian casualties from the Israeli bombardment of civilian areas of the Gaza
Strip, Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes insisted, “The
Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and
On November 15, both the U.S. Senate
passed, by unanimous voice votes, resolutions defending Israel's ongoing war on the Gaza
Strip. Unlike some of the statements from the Obama administration supporting
attacks, these resolutions failed to call on both sides to exercise restraint
or to express any regret at the resulting casualties.
This position is not a new one among U.S. elected
officials. Back in February 2009, following the devastating three-week war
between Israeli and Hamas forces—named “Operation Cast Lead” by the Israelis—in
which three Israeli civilians and more than 800 Palestinian civilians were
killed, Amnesty International called for an international arms embargo on both
Israel and Hamas to prevent the kind of tragic attacks on civilians in which
both sides are currently engaging. President Barack Obama, who had just taken
office, categorically rejected Amnesty's proposal, and instead increased U.S. military aid to Israel to record
Israel was no doubt emboldened in launching its 2012offensive as a result of the strong
support it received from the United
States in 2009. For example, the U.S. House
of Representatives—in a direct challenge to the credibility of Amnesty
International, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross, and other reputable
humanitarian organizations—passed a resolution
in January of 2009 declaring that the Israeli armed forces bore no
responsibility for the large numbers of civilian casualties from their assault
on the Gaza Strip.
The resolution put forward a disturbing
interpretation of international humanitarian law: that, by allegedly breaking
the cease-fire, Hamas was responsible for all subsequent deaths, and that the
presence of Hamas officials or militia members in mosques, hospitals, or
residential areas made those locations legitimate targets.
Human rights reports comdemned
Unusual interpretations of international
law have long played a role in the special treatment Israel
receives from the United
States. In the fall of 2009, when a
blue-ribbon panel of prominent international jurists—veterans of human rights
investigations in Sudan, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia—led a meticulously
detailed U.N.-sponsored investigation that confirmed previous human rights
reports by documenting possible war crimes on both sides, Congress passed
another lopsided bipartisan
resolution condemning the investigation for failing to absolve Israel of
any responsibility. The Obama administration succeeded in blocking the United
Nations from acting on the report’s recommendations that both sides be
investigated for possible war crimes.
The human rights investigations from 2009
and earlier examined Israeli claims that Hamas’ alleged use of “human shields”
was responsible for the large number of civilian casualties. While these probes
criticized Hamas for at times having men and materiel too close to
civilian-populated areas, they were unable to find even one incident of Hamas
deliberately holding civilians against their will in an effort to deter Israeli
The Obama administration and Congressional
leaders, however, insisted that they knew more about what happened inside the
Gaza Strip than these on-the-ground investigations by expert human rights
monitors and respected international jurists. As a renewed round of attacks is
unleashed upon this small and heavily populated Palestinian enclave, they are
now making similar claims to justify the ongoing Israeli attacks on civilian
As Amnesty and other human rights groups
have observed, however, even if Hamas were using human shields, it would still
not justify Israel
killing Palestinian civilians.
States has not been hesitant to criticize Russia in its attacks on Chechnya and Georgia,
in its more recent attacks against its own people. Yet both Congress and the
administration seem willing to bend over backwards to rationalize for Israel when it
The administration’s criticism of Hamas
rocket attacks would also have more credibility if they didn’t also oppose
nonviolent means of challenging the siege of Gaza and the occupation and
colonization of West Bank lands, such as boycotts and divestment against
companies supporting the occupation, UN recognition of Palestinian statehood,
humanitarian aid flotillas to Gaza, and targeted sanctions against Israeli
violations of international humanitarian law
Fair application of universal principles
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
certainly has unique aspects, it is critical for those supportive of peace and
human rights to underscore universal principles,
such as those enshrined in international humanitarian law.
The fact that Israel
is perceived as an important strategic ally of the United States does not mean we
should ignore its violations of well-established legal norms any more than
those committed by a perceived adversary like Hamas. Those of us in the peace
movement should challenge elected officials who currently support unconditional
U.S. military aid to the
Israeli government and rationalize its attacks on civilians just as vigorously
as we did those who in earlier years supported unconditional U.S. military aid to El
and other repressive Cold War allies of the United States.
And while it is important to recognize the
special sensitivity some people have regarding the subject of Israel, this
should not deter those who care about human rights from speaking out. Indeed,
even putting aside the important moral and legal critiques of Israel’s recent offensive against the Gaza
Strip and the ongoing siege of the crowded enclave, such policies ultimately
by encouraging extremism among Palestinians struggling for the right of
It is also important to recognize that,
while both sides have committed great wrongs against the other’s people, there
exists a gross asymmetry in power. Israel—the occupying power, which possesses
by far the strongest military in the region, one of the world’s higher
standards of living, and the backing of the world’s one remaining
superpower—has a huge advantage over the impoverished Gaza Strip, with its weak
and isolated Hamas government struggling under a five-year air, land, and sea
blockade, and without an air force, navy, or standing army.
Fortunately, thousands of Israelis have
taken to the streets in protest of their government’s attacks on the Gaza
Strip. Israeli peace and human rights activists have called on the Obama
administration to end its support for Netanyahu’s militarism. As citizens of
the country that has provided Israel with the military, financial, and
diplomatic support that has made the renewed killing possible, those of us in
the United States have a special obligation to challenge the administration and
Congress to end its unconscionable support for the ongoing destruction.
As we would such policies toward any other
Zunes wrote this article for
, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas
with practical actions. Stephen is a professor of Politics and International
Studies at the University of San Francisco and chairs the academic advisory
committee of the International
Center on Nonviolent
Voice for Peace, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 26, 2012 2:56 PM
The humanitarian crisis in
not something you hear much about these days. It didn’t come up in the presidential
policy debate on Monday, though of course Obama and Romney spent a long
time talking about Netanyahu’s “red line” with Iran. G8 nations were similarly
silent on Palestine during the group’s
conference back in May, although Israel’s
ongoing blockade of Gaza
was a major
G8 talking point just two years ago, as was the peace
process a year later.
When we do see Palestine in the news, it’s
mostly about why and how the two-state solution is dead—a theme that’s been
driven home repeatedly over the last year by the likes of Jimmy
Carter, Atlantic senior editor Robert
Wright, and Haaretz journalist Gideon
Levy. Not that there’s much reason to believe otherwise. In fact, the
crisis there only seems to be getting worse.
For one thing, Jews are
now a minority in Israel and
the Occupied Territories, raising serious questions about
minority rule and apartheid. Last week, Israel
officially declared that of the 12 million people living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean,
Israeli Jews represent about 5.9 million (a fact Israeli demography expert
Sergio Della Pergola had already
pointed out in 2010). “Apartheid
is here,” says Haaretz columnist
Akiva Eldar. “The Jewish majority is history.”
And apartheid is not
a subjective term, says UC Irvine professor Mark LeVine at Al-Jazeera. Since its formal
implementation in 1948 in South
Africa, a series of international treaties like
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination of 1966 and the 2002 Rome Statute have defined apartheid
in no uncertain terms. Despite cosmetic differences in how it’s implemented, Israel’s policies toward Palestine
fit the international definition—as Rome
calls it, an “institutionalised
regime of systematic oppression and domination”—to a bill, says LeVine. Arabs in Israel may have some basic political rights like voting and holding office, he says, but it's hard to ignore the widespread economic discrimination they face, "as well as in access to land and most components of social citizenship
(education, healthcare, language and access to upper echelons of political
life)." Not to mention the entangling maze of checkpoints, settlements, and walls dotting and dominating Palestinian territory.
Of course, the charge has been raised
before, most famously by Jimmy Carter in 2006. A year later, John Dugard, a South African international law professor and UN human
rights envoy to the Occupied
Territories, echoed the same concern. “It
is difficult to resist the conclusion that many of Israel's laws and practices violate
the 1966 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination,”
he wrote at the time. And late last year, Dugard reiterated his
point, writing in Al-Jazeera that,
“Most South Africans who visit the West Bank are struck by the similarities
between apartheid and Israel's
But whatever we choose to call it, human
rights abuses in Palestine
are only escalating, whether our political leaders discuss it or not. Last
week, Israel released its “red lines” document,
which spells out some of the tactical specifics of the Gaza blockade, and their intended impact on
Palestinians living there. (The revelation was almost totally ignored in the U.S. media.) The
idea, reports Amira Hass in Haaretz,
was to allow Gazans access to only the minimum
number of calories each day to avoid outright starvation. Despite the fact
that the blockaded Gaza is almost entirely
dependent on outside resources, Israeli government attorneys defended such “economic
warfare” as entirely within Israel’s
rights, while also attempting to prevent the document’s disclosure.
So what’s the minimum number? 2,279 calories
each day for each person, or 131 truckloads entering Gaza, says Hass. (To put that in perspective, the average American has access to about 3,800 calories each day.) But, says Hass, UN data show the
actual number entering the territory has been far less. And Israeli prohibitions
on seeds and agricultural technology served to make food insecurity even more
of a serious problem for Gaza’s
1.7 million residents.
Though the specific policies outlined
in the “red lines” document officially ended in 2010, the blockade continues to
enforce a real and growing hunger crisis in Gaza. A report by the United Nations Relief
and Works Agency, released in August of this year, finds that in a territory where
a majority are under 18, three
out of five families face, or are at risk of facing, food insecurity. The report
went on: With unemployment now nearing 30 percent, and Palestinians there
already facing a severe shortage of schools and medical care, Gaza’s future looks grim unless serious
changes can be made. By 2020, it concluded, by which time Gaza will grow by half a million residents, the
territory may be completely uninhabitable, unless serious steps are taken to
reverse the humanitarian crisis.
This is a bleak portrait, but a more
humane future for Palestine
is certainly possible. The work the Middle
East Children’s Alliance has been doing for 25 years gives us an inspiring
vision of what that humane future could look like, as do the flotilla movement's ongoing efforts to break the Gaza siege. If a two-state solution is
indeed finished, writes Gideon Levy, the real fight is for human rights. And
that fight has much to do with us: because crimes like the blockade are so
dependent on U.S.
aid and support, Americans have enormous influence on the future of the crisis.
Human rights in Palestine
may not be a campaign issue this year, but neither was South African apartheid
in 1984. It was only through popular struggle—here and in South Africa—that
more humane alternatives became politically possible.
Image by Paolo Cuttitta, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, February 10, 2011 9:44 AM
Why are the letters 'z' and 'y' so popular in drug names? BMJ investigates.
A bit of scientific humor from the wags at The Journal of Irreproducible Results: Candidate for a Pullet Surprise.
Readings from Flyover Country.
Oh yeah, baby, rend those garments. Two authors argue that the Bible can be sexy.
By sending you this link, we’re violating the first two rules of Geek Fight Club: Don’t talk about Geek Fight Club.
Mark Dowie (written about at Utne here, here, and here) has a new podcast at Guernica. In the first installment he talks to Todd Gitlin, who argues that the relationship between America and Israel is steeped in the belief that both nations were “chosen” by God.
Never one to mince words, Robert Reich tells us why the Republicans attack on “job-killing regulations” is dumb.
Brooklyn artist Olek is turning the craft of crochet into a renegade art form. She’s on a mission to cover the world with yarn, from people to bicycles to Wall Street’s Charging Bull.
Will technology help save the world or ultimately abolish our freedom?
Farewell, Open Left, and thanks for being a hotbed of whip-smart progressive commentary and debate since 2007.
Monday, July 19, 2010 12:39 PM
What will the end of the world be like? The question has intrigued humankind since, well, the beginning of the world. Evangelical Christians offer a unique and problematic interpretation of the apocalyptic scenario. And that’s exactly what the people behind the documentary Waiting for Armageddon set out to understand. Directors Franco Sacchi, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner capture the apocalypse-obsessed wing of the evangelical Christian community in scenes of plainspoken faith, theological collision, and hubristic tourism.
The film opens with a statistic set to ominous music: Roughly one-sixth of Americans are evangelical Christians. It is less specific about just how many of those evangelicals are anticipating Armageddon. It would be absurd to assume that every sixth person you run into in the grocery store has Rapture on the brain. The filmmakers only say that “many” evangelicals are end-timers. But it’s a financially and politically powerful group, which makes scrutiny of their beliefs a worthwhile exercise.
American evangelical Dr. H. Wayne House performs a baptism in the River Jordan.
Just like any other distinct community, evangelical Christians are victims of stereotypes. Calling on pastors, suburban housewives, a former ghostwriter for televangelist Jerry Falwell, and a reformed atheist, the film breaks down those stereotypes and presents its subjects’ apocalyptic worldviews candidly. Unpleasant as the end times may seem, many evangelicals are mentally and spiritually prepared.
Most of the evangelicals profiled in the film express a sense of urgency—that the apocalypse is right around the corner. “The rapture in my view will happen very, very soon,” Oklahoma-resident Devonna Edwards said. “And do I believe that I’ll hold a grandchild? No. I just don’t think we have that much time left.” Edwards’ children don’t share this same preoccupation. “It could happen . . . I mean, it will happen,” says her daughter Kristen. “But it just may not happen before my birthday.”
Israel's holy city Jerusalem.
The Promised Land
Even more frightening than the apocalypse, the documentary draws links between the American evangelical community and American relations in the Middle East, especially Israel.
Israel is a homing beacon for many evangelicals. The filmmakers follow Dr. H. Wayne House as he leads twenty-some evangelicals on a tour of the Israel and parts of the West Bank. The film portrays House and his tour as a busload of indignant, anti-Muslim and selectively naïve foreigners. On a boat tour of the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, they fly the American flag and pump “The Star-Spangled Banner” from loud speakers. Standing on the plateau of Megiddo, where the battle of Armageddon is prophesied to take place, House wears a Disney World t-shirt. These religious tourists bumble around like so many Clark Griswolds in hotly disputed religious geography.
Another stop on the tour is the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is situated next to the golden Dome of the Rock, the spot where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven. To Jews it is the Temple Mount, site of the first two Jewish Temples. Regardless of what type of worship house stands there, it is an especially sacred location for Jews and Muslims alike. The site also has potent spiritual significance to evangelical Christians. As author Gershom Gorenberg says in film, the site is a “blasting cap of religious conflict.”
The Dome of the Rock.
The evangelical account of the apocalypse, based on a rigid reading of apocalyptic books of the Bible like Daniel and Revelation, depends upon the continued survival of the state of Israel and its ability to rebuild the Temple. “I don’t know exactly how it is going to be removed, but it is not a part of the end times as far as the Bible or Christianity are concerned, and I don’t think in Judaism either,” said one member of House’s tour. “There’s no place for that mosque. It has to be removed.” At a Pre-Tribulation conference, in which hundreds of evangelicals gather to discuss the state of Israel and the end of days, House proudly shows off a photoshopped image of Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock is missing from the cityscape and an artist’s rendition of the rebuilt Jewish Temple stands in its place. The crowd goes wild.
Justus N. Baird, director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary, clearly articulates the overarching message of the documentary in one of the DVD’s bonus features, a roundtable discussion from the night of the film screening. “Good theology does not instrumentalize other people,” he said. “And so when Israel, either as a nation or as a people, or Jews as a people, are a pawn in someone else’s theology, then we get into dangerous territory.”
Israel’s hot sands are a long way from the white, evangelical churches of America’s heartland, but that doesn’t mean that evangelicals’ intriguing apocalyptic beliefs are free from global significance. Whether making small donations to the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry or decrying the ascent of multiculturalism and Islamofascism, as Pastor John Hagee does at the Pre-Tribulation conference, evangelicals are on the front lines of an age-old spiritual conflict.
Images courtesy of First Run Features.
Monday, June 07, 2010 1:44 PM
Either Israel's blockade of Gaza is a blunt and vile form of collective punishment or Amnesty International, Oxfam, and the World Health Organization are staffed by pathological liars. Writing for Foreign Policy, Yousef Munayyer has assembled a vital fact sheet called What exactly is the blockade of Gaza? In it, Munayyer shares data from human rights organizations and aid agencies to present a crisp and chilling picture of Gaza under under siege.
Source: Foreign Policy
Thursday, April 29, 2010 2:55 PM
Farmers in the developing world use Fair Trade certification as a gateway to an international market of conscientious consumers. For shoppers in wealthy countries, it’s an educational tool: describing why fair trade exists is the quickest critique of a draconian “free trade” system.
The next frontier for Fair Trade is conflict zones. “UNICEF says that half of the children who die before their fifth birthday also lives in conflict-affected countries and ‘failed states,’ as do half of all young children not in primary school.” reports Ethical Consumer. “Developing trust-based structures can help to restore social stability, and selling fairly traded products ... can help to raise awareness of conflict situations overseas.”
Consider Afghanistan. No, we’re not talking Fair Trade opium. “Some people in the United Kingdom dried fruit business we’ve spoken to have been really excited about seeing Afghan raisins come back,” says Kate Sebag of the justice-minded import company Tropical Wholefoods. “With the volumes that Afghanistan could produce, we could see whole communities self-sufficient in terms of building schools and rebuilding infrastructure.”
Advocates point to Palestinian olive oil as a case study of all the things that can go right and wrong. American and European activists have been selling olive oil sourced from the olive groves of the West Bank for more than a decade. It only won certification last year. Even with certification, exports are limited along with the movement of Palestinians, who struggle to make any trip that involves passage through Israel's travel restrictions and infinite checkpoints.
Here, from Ethical Consumer, are a few more potential trade opportunities in conflict zones around the world:
Gourmet coffee, sold in Sainsburys, is now being sourced from war-torn regions on the border with Rwanda where until now most coffee has been smuggled across Lake Kuvu, resulting in up to a thousand deaths a year.
Tropical Wholefoods sells Fairtrade certified dried apricots and roasted kernels from the precarious North. Apricot kernel shells and oil also appear in Boots Fairtrade and Neal’s Yard beauty products.
Several importers are working on organic and fair trade standards with semi-nomadic communities where women supplement family incomes by collecting frankincense resin from desert trees. “Frankincense and myrrh represent one of the greatest challenges in our supply chain as this is not an easy place to visit,” says Louise Green of Neal’s Yard, which is taking a keen interest.
Source: Ethical Consumer
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 12:38 PM
The Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington DC funded in part by major defense contractors, has released a report exploring the issue of an international peacekeeping force in Palestine. Coverage of the report has followed a familiar pattern: dwell on what this would mean for Israel while failing to consider the question of what it would mean for the Palestinians. The Washington Independent's coverage is typical: "One of the studies’ authors lists a short host of reasons why Israel shouldn’t have a problem with such a force while—at least in the introduction—glossing over the fact that it does."
The Boston Review's Helena Cobban has an early dissent at her blog Just World News. Here are a few excerpts to keep in mind if you bump into coverage of the report:
The report is titled “Security for Peace: Setting the Conditions for a Palestinian State.” Note that: “Security for Peace”—not “Land for Peace.” And amazingly, as you read through this report you will find not a single map of where the Palestinian state will actually be.
+ + +
The authors studiously avoid dealing with the governance framework of any peacekeeping force. Would it be a U.N. force, acting under a mandate from UNSC? Or would it be a NATO force? Or would it be something else entirely, like the US-led “Multinational Force and Observers” (MFO) that monitors compliance of both sides with the terms of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty of 1979? This makes a huge difference.
+ + +
I don't want to write much more about the CNAS study, most of which is unworthy of our attention. (The chapters on Timor Leste and Kosovo are of some interest, but limited relevance. The chapter on Lebanon is riddled with very elementary mistakes, some of them very serious.) … The people who worked on the Middle East sections of it … really need to go back and do a bit of elementary homework on the subjects they're writing about.
In a sense there is nothing remarkable about this report or its shortcomings. It's one in lineage of reports and studies that treat Palestine like an intellectual exercise, rather than the festering human rights issue that it is.
Source: Just World News
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 9:53 AM
Archbishop Desmond Tuto has written a letter of support to students at the University of California in Berkeley who have been working to get the school to divest from "companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights." The student senate recently voted 16-4 in support of the measure, but that decision was vetoed by the President of the Senate.
Here's an excerpt from the letter:
It was with great joy that I learned of your recent 16-4 vote in support of divesting your university’s money from companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights. Principled stands like this, supported by a fast growing number of US civil society organizations and people of conscience, including prominent Jewish groups, are essential for a better world in the making, and it is always an inspiration when young people lead the way and speak truth to power.
I am writing to tell you that, despite what detractors may allege, you are doing the right thing. You are doing the moral thing. You are doing that which is incumbent on you as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings. I have been to the Ocupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.
In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to your school, Berkeley, for its pioneering role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid. I visited your campus in the 1980’s and was touched to find students sitting out in the baking sunshine to demonstrate for the University’s disvestment in companies supporting the South African regime.
Today the senate will vote again on divestment.
Source: Salem News
Friday, April 02, 2010 1:43 PM
Passover Seders traditionally end with the phrase, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” On Killing the Buddha, Rachel Leven explains why she won’t be saying it this year.
Jerusalem, this Passover, is not a city of peace, but a violent mess. Jews today need to find a way to understand this, to separate a holy ideal from an unholy reality. I don’t care whether you hope for a two-state or a one state solution, or whether you think Israel should extend from Jordan to the sea. All I ask is that we remove the ritual film from our eyes, look at the facts, and see the real city for what it is.
Source: Killing the Buddha
Wednesday, March 31, 2010 10:44 AM
In February, Picador released an English translation of A Wall in Palestine, French journalist René Backmann's beautifully written study of Israel's West Bank barrier wall. I'm always in search of writers who can give voice to the endless nuances of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians and Backmann nails it. What follows is the illuminating prologue to his book, adapted for Thousand Yard Stare. Enjoy! —Jeff Severns Guntzel
Prologue to A Wall in Palestine
by René Backmann
“You have family in Israel?”
For nearly twenty-five years I’ve heard this question each time I’ve shown my passport to security at Ben- Gurion Airport, in Tel Aviv. For nearly twenty-five years I’ve answered,
“No, I don’t have any family in Israel.”
“But your name . . .”
“My name comes from eastern France.”
“You have friends in Israel?”
Yes, I have friends in Israel. I also have friends in that “country to come,” Palestine. Through a quarter of a century, one has time to make a lot of friends—and some enemies—in this corner of the Middle East where people have so much trouble living together.
Thanks to these friends, and perhaps those enemies, I gradually learned to decipher the codes, the countless codes that make daily life in Israel so complex and difficult to comprehend. And so I discovered, for example, that the cars with yellow license plates (Israeli) can drive anywhere— with the exception of some places strictly forbidden by the army (black plates) or the police (red plates). And that cars with white or green plates (Palestinian) are not authorized to enter Israel; nor can they travel in the West Bank, except in zones for which the drivers have obtained a permit.
I also came to understand that the use—or the refusal to use—certain words often revealed covert beliefs. Take, for example, the words “West Bank.” To geographers, these words refer to a territory to the west of Jordan, occupied by Israel since June 1967. These politically “neutral” words, which appear in official international documents, are generally used by journalists, diplomats, and observers. Palestinians, too, commonly call this area the “West Bank,” but some use the phrase “occupied territory,” which reflects a more militant vocabulary common among Islamists. In everyday conversations with Israelis, the use of the words “West Bank”—rare—expresses a desire to stick with geography, even an implicit critique of the occupation. More disturbing, but perhaps more revealing, is the widespread habit of saying, “the territories.” It’s impossible to trace the disappearance of the adjective “occupied.” Perhaps it caused discomfort to those who may themselves have lived under occupying regimes. Or perhaps they simply wish to save time—everyone knows the territories to which they are referring. Official Israeli documents refer to the land as Judea-Samaria—a distinctly unmysterious reference to the bible—as do many people within the settlements, and their supporters.
“Colonists” and “colony”: two more words that are, to put it lightly, debated. They are never used by the people living in the colonies, or by those who support them. Israelis living in the West Bank say that they live in the “Jewish localities of Judea and Samaria.” Those who live in the colonies on the outskirts of Jerusalem built to the east of the armistice line of 1967 (geo graphically, in the West Bank) say that they live in the “Jewish neighborhoods” of Jerusalem. In designating the “colonies,” English- speaking Israelis who don’t believe in the biblical justification of this enterprise use the word “settlements,” a word that carries fewer negative connotations.
The phrase “Civil Administration” is another example of coded language, a form of semantic camouflage. At first glance, there’s nothing remarkable or troubling in these two seemingly technocratic words. But what is the Civil Administration? It is the branch of the army in charge of relations with people living in the Occupied Territories. It is they who, for example, give out—and in most cases refuse to give out—travel permits to Palestinians. It is difficult to imagine an administration less civil than this uniformed military unit, whose mission consists of imposing the rules of the armed occupation on civilians.
And the wall? Is it, to begin with, a wall or a barrier? Both. Along most of its path, it’s essentially a fifteen-foot electric fence and a security zone between 135 and 300 feet wide at varying points. Within the security zone are barbed wire, an anti-vehicle ditch, one or two intrusion-detection pathways, and at least one patrol route, all under constant surveillance by remote- control cameras and other detection systems. For about twenty-five miles, a concrete wall about sixteen inches thick and twenty-three to thirty feet high replaces the barrier. Whether it is called a barrier or a wall is determined officially by the army.
According to official Israeli documents and the military, it is a “security barrier.” To the Palestinians, it’s an “annexation wall.” Israeli organizations who oppose its construction call it a “separation barrier.” Several Palestinian organizations have christened it an “apartheid wall.” In its advisory opinion of July 2004, the International Court of Justice of the United Nations decided to use the word “wall” for the whole of the wall/barrier.
Israel is a small country; the West Bank, an even smaller territory. In little more than an hour, you can drive from Tel Aviv to Jericho; in two hours, you can reach any town in the West Bank from Jerusalem. This allows one to travel easily between Israelis and Palestinians, and to contrast mere words with reality; to separate lies from propaganda, and the myths of militant discourse from fact. Thankfully, among both Israelis and Palestinians, there is no lack of competent journalists, serious intellectuals, or men and women of good faith, who are open to dialogue and disposed to hope, and who are willing to make that short but arduous journey across.
BIO: René Backmann is an international affairs columnist at the Le Nouvel Observateur foreign desk. In 1991 he was awarded the Prix Mumm, France's highest honor for journalism.
Reprinted with permission from A Wall in Palestine (Picador, February 2010).
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010 2:39 PM
For his latest book, Footnotes in Gaza, Joe Sacco traveled to Gaza to find eyewitnesses to an Israeli army massacre of Palestinians in 1956. The book took him more than six years to complete. I interviewed Sacco for the UtneCast. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation:
First, I asked why he makes himself such a prominent character in his books:
Joe Sacco: When I was younger I would read books where people went to these interesting places and it was all such a mystery to me. It didn’t feel like something I could do, so it’s always been important for me to show the process; to completely or as much as possible demystify it; to show the fallibility of the process and the scenes in a story.
Jeff Severns Guntzel: Once you’re finished with the reporting and research phases—I know you spent months in Gaza, you were looking up documents at the United Nations archives in New York City, and you hired Israeli researchers to go through Israeli archives—once you’re done with all of that, what comes next?
JS: I spend quite a long period transcribing tapes and indexing notes. I have hundreds of pages of journal entries and then hundreds of pages of interviews and I make a relatively thorough index of all the stuff and then I start writing. I write the whole script and then I start drawing. If you’re talking about writing and drawing the story, it was about six and a half years [to do Footnotes in Gaza].
JSG: Is there anything you’ve learned about drawing Gaza and Palestine?
JS: Well, I'm always impressed by the number of kids. In my journal I will sometimes write notes to myself, "don’t forget to draw lots of kids." I’m always reminding myself that kids are following you around. They’re curious. There’s shooting and kids are going to show up because little boys want to see what’s going on. That’s the striking visual thing that sticks in my mind when I’m drawing any scene in Palestine.
JSG: Speaking of children, there’s a really powerful passage in your book. You’re interviewing a mother whose son was injured in the Intifada; he lost a hand. She says, “We say the boys who have been killed are martyrs, but when you’ve seen your son crippled, then what? When you see your son with one hand cut off and he’s trying to pull up his pants, you die little by little. And then when someone goes to make a suicide attack, the whole world turns upside down.” It does seem that while children are everywhere in Gaza and in Palestine while things are going on, they’re not really a part of the story we get here. Especially the children—and victims generally—who are injured, not killed.
JS: It's not just there, but almost everywhere. That kind of thing is airbrushed out of historical accounts. It’s almost easier to talk about those who are killed. But those who have to live out the rest of their lives with some debilitating injury, that’s a real hard thing to face, so we don’t face it. We try to avoid the subject.
JSG: There’s another passage in the book where a young boy had gone to throw stones at a military position and an Israeli soldier shot him in the head. You were asked if you’d like to go and take a photo of the corpse, and you said no. You write: “After all, what right do I have to intimacy with the poor kid’s corpse? Only time, history, the bone-bleaching years can strip the dead of their privacy and make them sufficiently decent for viewing.” Was this the only time you were invited to go to a morgue?
JS: What was interesting was later on in the book, you’ll see that I do go to a morgue.
JSG: To see Rachel Corrie’s corpse.
JS: Yeah. And it’s interesting because I’ve thought about that line. And I really meant the line as I wrote it about that young boy in the morgue. But in the end, if you’re there for a long enough period it’s just thrust on you. In the end it’s not about distance—you can’t get that sort of distance from death. I was trying to get a distance from death in a way. But death is thrust upon you and you have to deal with it. There’s no time for the sun to dry the bones. If you’re there long enough, it’s going to be thrust in your face.
JSG: And in the case of Rachel Corrie—the American activist from Olympia Washington who was crushed under an Israeli bulldozer when she and other international activists were protesting home demolitions in Gaza—you went to the morgue when you heard the news and when you arrived there, you found her friends in a state of shock. What was that experience for you?
JS: I guess I haven’t said this to anyone, but I was really shaken up by that. I thought to myself, “OK, now is the time. Are you here to confront what happens, or are you going to not confront it?” And on the way to the morgue, I just couldn’t imagine the whole scene or what had happened really. I was very uncomfortable, frankly. But then I thought, "You know what? You put yourself in this position, you cannot hide from it now. Why are you here? are you going to take up space or are you going to confront this?"
JSG: When you are finished telling a story like this, is there a sense of closure or do these stories still kind of just bounce around in your head and haunt you?
JS: I think it was almost easier while I was doing it. It was very difficult, especially drawing the bodies—I got very sick of drawing the bodies. And now, for some reason, I’m even more exhausted thinking about it than I was drawing it. There’s something purging about just drawing—even though I don’t like what I’m drawing, I’m drawing it, so I’m sort of purging it out of my system. What I've realized is that it hasn’t really purged and I’m no longer drawing. I feel maybe a little less comfortable with all that stuff now.
JSG: Could you talk about what it’s like to draw the bodies? There are so many people who are either dead, dying, or badly injured in this book. Is there a point where you say, “I just don’t want to do this anymore?”
JS: Yeah—and I can’t. I’m obviously not trying to relate this as the experience of someone who’s witnessed these things, but as an artist who’s trying to interpret it. But what you try to interpret is you start to think about, ok, what does a body feel like? What is the weight of a body? How does it slump? You’re starting to think about all this sort of stuff, and when you’re drawing something—not just a body, but almost any figure—you try to inhabit it somehow. And just putting yourself in that frame of mind over and over again, it’s just not a pleasant thing to do. And this is a mass event. We’re talking about a lot of bodies, and what do I do? Do I not draw them, or do I draw them once and leave it alone? I thought, you know what, this is what happened. You just have to draw it the way it is. You don’t have to make it spectacular. You just have to draw a lot of bodies in these scenes, and just draw it as it probably looked and leave it at that—don’t even try to be artistic about it.
JSG: Do you have a sense of what your next project will be? Do you talk about that?
JS: I’m doing some illustrations about Camden, NJ.
JSG: This is magazine work?
JS: Yeah, this is for Harper's magazine. I’m only doing illustrations; Chris Hedges is doing the article.
JSG: Who you originally went to Gaza with?
JS: Yes, that’s right. And probably in February I’m going to India to do a story about poverty there. So I’m still keeping my hand in journalism, obviously, but I think I’d like to step away from journalism for a while. I think this book really exhausted me, and I kind of need a creative break from the world’s troubles.
JSG: What would that look like?
JS: Maybe some fiction, maybe some history, something about theology, something about philosophy, something about ideas, perhaps. I’d like to do something like that. And maybe some funny work too, just some humor. I think I need it.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010 12:07 PM
It used to be that Middle East reporting was the domain of newspaper and magazine correspondents. Joe Sacco changed all of that when his depictions of Palestinian life first appeared in comic book form in the early ’90s. Today his painstaking portraits of war are revered by comics freaks and journalists alike.
For his latest book, Footnotes in Gaza, Sacco traveled to Gaza to find eyewitnesses to an Israeli army massacre of Palestinians in 1956. To get the story, Sacco also had to confront the history being written minute by minute in Gaza.
He draws it all: the killings in 1956 and the violence happening there today. Any fan of Sacco’s work will not be surprised to find Sacco himself a character in the story as dodges bullets and struggles to parse fact from fiction.
In this episode of the UtneCast, Sacco talks about how he created his new book, which took him six years to complete.
Listen Now: Interview with Joe Sacco
Download the podcast from the UtneCast blog.
Read an excerpt from Footnotes in Gaza.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009 5:04 PM
Today alone, there are reports of suicide bombings in Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, and Pakistan. Tomorrow probably won't be much different. Scanning the headlines, I keep thinking back to a piece by Marcello Di Cintio, published in Maisonneuve. Di Cintio tells the story of an Israeli literary landmark in Jerusalem—a bookstore cafe called Tmol Shilsom and it's located in a part of town that has seen its share of attacks. The American author Nathan Englander was in the cafe when a triple suicide bombing nearby "set the cafe's chandeliers swaying," according to Di Cinto.
Swaying chandeliers are far from the trauma we imagine when we hear of these bombings, but Englander captures something of the horrible chaos and stopped time we hear in the testimonies of survivors of these kinds of blasts. Di Cinto excerpts from Englander's reflection on his experience, which stands in sharp contrast to the dry daily reports that obscure human suffering even as they attempt to document it:
Three blasts. Like birds. They come through the window. Wild and lost. They are trapped under the high-domed ceiling of the café, darting round between us, striking the walls and glass, knocking the dishes from the shelves. And we know, until they stop their terrible motion, until they cease swooping and darting and banging into walls, until they alight, come to rest, exhausted, spent, there is nothing at all to do.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009 9:54 AM
In November of 2008, the backup batteries unexpectedly failed at a power plant in the Gaza Strip. Almost anywhere else, the incident would have been a blip, forgotten a week later. But this is Gaza—blockaded by Israel and Egypt and cut off from the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank. It’s a place where more than a million and a half people inhabit a strip of land not even one-third the size of the city of Los Angeles… and where there is only one power plant.
That is what any self-respecting professor of the journalism would call an airtight lead. Perhaps it would surprise you to learn that a tightly-written, historically astute, and compassionate piece about the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip found a home in the official magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. If so, you don’t know IEEE Spectrum. It’s an Utne Reader favorite and stories like Sharon Weinberger’s Powerless in Gaza are the reason.
At Gaza’s only power station, which has been bombed and blockaded by the Israelis, engineers are in permanent MacGyver mode. When the plant’s turbines suddenly cease to function, workers kick start them with 170 twelve-volt car batteries patched together. Damaged steel poles are replaced with wooden ones. Even if they were to convince Israel to allow the steel replacements in, Weinberger explains, the concrete they would need to secure the poles in the ground is banned under the Israeli blockade.
The piece has everything an electrical engineer needs to stay hooked, and there is the chilling humanitarian angle, too. We are, after all, talking about electricity. Without it, hospitals go dark and food rots in retail and home refrigerators. And there has been an awful lot of darkness for Gaza residents:
If anything, it’s remarkable that Gaza’s grid isn’t in worse shape… Israel bombed the power plant in late 2006, destroying six transformers and halting operations… the Israeli military described the strike as a military blow aimed at Hamas. The bombing left thousands of Gazans in the dark and pushed the sewage and water systems, which rely on electricity, to the brink of collapse.
The power plant sputtered back to life in 2007… But the plant had barely been resuscitated when another setback hit. Israel, declaring Hamas a “hostile entity,” sharply curtailed electricity and fuel supplies to Gaza, setting off the first of what would be periodic energy crises that continue to this day.
The most recent war, which began on 27 December 2008, brought yet another catastrophe to Gaza. Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a three-week military offensive retaliating against Hamas for a series of rocket attacks that fell on civilian areas in southern Israel. The military operations, which combined strikes from the air and sea with a ground assault, damaged transformers and several of the transmission lines that brought power from Israel. Gaza also lost a line from Egypt during the offensive. Lacking fuel, the power plant shut down completely. Vast swaths of Gaza were left once again to fend for themselves in massive blackouts.
The timeline of the power plants existence is like a metaphor for the situation in Gaza generally, something cartoonist and reporter Joe Sacco describes succinctly in his book about Gaza: “Palestinians never seem to have the luxury of digesting one tragedy before the next one is upon them.”
Source: IEEE Spectrum
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Image by Rami Almeghari.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009 1:29 PM
Friday, July 10, 2009 11:59 AM
When the BBC published its series of interviews with Gaza residents talking about Hamas, they pushed the most compelling conversation (and the only comments by a woman) to the bottom of the page. It’s a conversation with Tihani Abed Rabbu. Her teenage son Mustafa, her brother and her closest friend were killed during Israel's January assault, codenamed "Operation Cast Lead."
Journalist and Middle East analyst Helena Cobban took issue with the placement of Abed Rabbu’s story. On her blog, Just World News, she protests the placement of this woman’s story:
Too frequently decision makers in the [mainstream media] simply marginalize women's experiences. But women's work in holding families together in very tough times lies at the heart of the social resiliency that can either save or break a community that's in conflict. So it is not only a compelling 'human interest' story—it is also at the heart of the big 'political' story regarding whether, for example, the people of Gaza or South Lebanon end up bowing to Israel's very lethally pursued political demands, or not. Maybe the BBC could, at the very least, elevate Ms. Abed-Rabbu's story to the top of that page?
Here’s a profoundly unsettling excerpt from the interview with Abed-Rabbu:
"I'm afraid that after I have lost Mostafa, that I will lose somebody else as well. When my children go to sleep, and I look at them, I start to think 'who is next—is it Ahmad's turn, or his brother?'
"What worries me is the safety of my family, my sons and my husband. My husband is going through a difficult time, a crazy time. He wants to affiliate with Hamas, he wants to get revenge after what they have done to us.
"How do you expect us to be peaceful after they have killed my son and turned my family into angry people—as they refer to us, "terrorists". I cannot calm my family down.
Sources: BBC, Just World News
Amir Farshad Ebrahimi
, licensed under
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 1:53 PM
Much has been said about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first meeting with Barack Obama, yet little attention has fallen on Netanyahu’s gift to the president: a copy of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, a satirized account of the author’s 1867 visit to Palestine.
Though Twain’s book is satire—of the noxious Western tourist trudging through unfamiliar lands with inauthentic reverence and deep contempt for local customs—it’s difficult to separate Twain’s actual observations from his vicious spoof. So much so that some Israeli historians and politicians have used Innocents Abroad as evidence that Israel was created atop a land without people—populated only by tribes living backwards lives.
Gifted into the hands of a U.S. leader, Innocents Abroad is a barely coded message about the history and inherent value of the land and culture Palestinians have fought and died for since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Here, in Twain’s words, is the historiography that Netanyahu offered to Obama:
On pilgrim claims that they could not tear themselves away from the Holy Land: “It does not stand to reason that men are reluctant to leave places where the very life is almost badgered out of them by importunate swarms of beggars and peddlers who hang in strings to one’s sleeves and coat-tails and shriek and shout in his ears and horrify his vision with the ghastly sores and malformations they exhibit. One is glad to get away. I have heard shameless people say they were glad to get away from Ladies’ Festivals where they were importuned to buy by bevies of lovely young ladies. Transform those houris into dusky hags and ragged savages, and replace their rounded forms with shrunken and knotted distortions, their soft hands with scarred and hideous deformities, and the persuasive music of their voices with the discordant din of a hated language, and then see how much lingering reluctance to leave could be mustered” (p. 386)
On beautiful Arab men and their repulsive women: “Arab men are often fine looking, but Arab women are not. We can all believe that the Virgin Mary was beautiful; it is not natural to think otherwise; but does it follow that it is our duty to find beauty in these present women of Nazareth?” (p. 297)
On Arabs as savages (a theme Twain returns to again and again): “We rode a little way up a hill and found ourselves at Endor, famous for its witch. Her descendents are there yet. They were the wildest horde of half-naked savages we have found thus far.” (p. 306)
On the “hopeless, dreary, heart-broken” landscape: “Of all the places there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. . . . It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.” (p. 391)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 2:09 PM
If you believe her most fervent critics, Palestinian journalist Taghreed El-Khodary's primary professional accomplishment is "vomiting Israeli propaganda" onto the front-page of the New York Times, her employer since 2001. As a passionate and talented journalist from Gaza employed by an American newspaper often accused of marginalizing or ignoring the issue of Palestinian rights, El-Khodary walks a near-impossible line. In a piece for Columbia Journalism Review, El-Khodary writes about her struggles to walk that treacherous tightrope during the recent Israeli attack on the people and infrastructure of Gaza:
Israel did not let any international journalists into Gaza, so I feel the weight of responsibility, the need to explain to the world what is happening. And that is one of several kinds of pressure: I want to maintain my credibility, so I work hard not to exclude any element of the story. I deal with Hamas watchers and fighters, which I know how to do. I feel the pressure and possible death from Israeli drones, F16s, helicopters, and tanks.
The piece (only available online to subscribers) is also a catalog of the horrors she witnessed and reported:
I enter a location that has been hit five times by Israeli bombs. I worry that the drones could hit at any moment, but try to focus on the story. I attend a funeral for more than thirty people, and talk to a father while staring into his dead daughter's brown eyes. "From now on," he says, "I'm Hamas."
At the height of the Israeli attacks—which Israel dubbed "Operation Cast Lead"—El-Khodary gave a gripping television interview that makes a fool of any critic who declares her to be anything other than what she most certainly is: a journalist prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to share the tragedy and complexities of the Palestinian story. Here she is:
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
Monday, May 11, 2009 11:31 AM
The issue of Palestinian statehood rode the Pope’s robe into the headlines this week. The pope opted to speak of a “homeland” for Palestinians, avoiding the word “state” like it was a dirty word. It’s the kind of acute linguistic caution that has poisoned the entire debate around Palestinian rights. As an antidote, straight-talking Middle East analyst and historian Juan Cole confronts the statehood issue with blunt force in a post at his Informed Comment blog.
“The contemporary world is a world of states,” explains Cole, “and falling between the cracks because you lack citizenship in any state is a guarantee of marginality and oppression.”
Cole folds the stateless status of Palestinians into its proper historical context, and then makes his argument with a clarity that is all too rare in this notoriously contentious debate: “Statelessness was an attribute of slaves in premodern times. The Jews of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s were the primary victims of the crime of stripping people of their citizenship in a state. Make no mistake; it is Israel that deprived them of statehood, which the 1939 British White Paper pledged to them, and which other League of Nations Mandates, such as French Syria and Lebanon and British Iraq, achieved. Apologists try to shift the blame for Palestinian statelessness from Israel to someone else. But it won't work.”
Friday, March 06, 2009 10:38 AM
"Rashid Khalidi" ranked ninth among Google's most-serched political buzzwords in 2008—sandwiched between "hockey mom" and "that one." Khalidi holds the Edward Said Chair in Modern Arab Studies at Columbia and has bee no stranger to controversy since taking position in 2003. Last year Republicans tried to use Barack Obama's friendship with the Palestinian scholar and activist to dull the front-runner's shine. A Chronicle Review profile picks up some of that mud for examination and, more importantly, provides a sober history and assessment of the field of Middle Eastern Studies, which Khalidi has made his home for decades.
And in the middle of all of this-—actually at the very end-—Khalidi provides a few short sentences on the topic he has given his career to: Palestine.
"Sitting in his office last month, the professor looks back on his career ... 'It has long been considered an offense against good manners to say the word 'Palestine' in certain quarters. Israel was established in 1948, a source of great joy for some people. Fine, that is well and good. But for Palestinians, that was a disaster in terms of their own history.'
"The Palestinians' national trauma, Khalidi says, has been subordinated to another people's joy: 'I wouldn't ask an Israeli to feel misery at the establishment of his state, so I don't see why a Palestinian should be asked to feel joy about the destruction of his society.'"
Source: Chronicle Review
Monday, February 16, 2009 5:05 PM
While rocket attacks in Gaza have subsided since a ceasefire was brokered in late January, the devastation for those living in the war zone has hardly ebbed.
Writing for the New Statesman, Sami Abdel-Shafi describes post-ceasefire Gaza as “almost exactly as it was before the war.” Abdel-Shafi continues that, “[d]esperation and hopelessness are now soaring to new levels,” and despite the death and destruction incurred by the fighting, “[t]here seems to be no victor in this war.”
Blogging for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s Untold Stories, Elliott Woods, an American reporter, describes a state of persistent fear that continues to shroud Gaza:
When I first arrived, my Gazan hosts practically wet their pants laughing when they saw how I shuddered at the sound of nearby explosions. But one of them—middle-aged, thick-necked Mahdi—later admitted to me, "We're all scared, all the time."
Now that I have been here for almost a month—mostly during the so-called cease-fire—I can feel the continual threat in my bones. It's an ever present unease, like a headache or a hangover that doesn't keep you in bed, but keeps you conscious of the fact that something isn't quite right.
Israeli attacks aren’t the only source of that “ever present unease.” According to the Guardian, Hamas has been conducting a “new and violent crackdown” on “all perceived internal opponents,” supposedly out of concern that the war weakened its grip on power in the Gaza Strip. Amnesty International alleges dozens have been murdered, beaten, or shot, though not killed.
“People are afraid to live normal lives, to express their opinions freely,” one activist told the Guardian. “There is no freedom of speech, of movement, of travelling or having real healthcare. Hamas is raising George Bush's policy: those not with us are against us.”
The United Nations reports that, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Israeli attacks killed 1,440 (pdf), injured 5,380, and displaced hundreds of thousands in Gaza. Additionally, some one million Israelis had their lives “disrupted” in some way by Hamas attacks. But post-ceasefire, getting aid to Gaza—where it’s desperately needed—has been particularly difficult (pdf) due to restrictive and inconsistent access.
Image by Al Jazeera, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sources: New Statesman, Untold Stories, Guardian, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday, January 19, 2009 11:41 AM
In a fog of photographs and video footage showing Palestinians bloodied and bandaged in Gaza, the arts community of Gaza has effectively been disappeared with countless other indicators of a thriving human community interrupted by unthinkable violence. Maymanah Farhat specializes in modern and contemporary Arab art and has written a compelling piece about Gaza's artists which we've reprinted here with the permission of Electronic Intifada.
"I am working under the voices of fire, Israeli warplanes ... I still breathe, take some pictures everyday"
- Shareef Sarhan, Palestinian artist, 12 January 2009
Israel's vicious attack on Gaza has already claimed more than 1,200 lives and has injured thousands while destroying the infrastructure of the tiny coastal territory, including the handful of nonprofit venues that make cultural life possible. Even before the invasion, the combination of 41 years of Israeli occupation, frequent military incursions and attacks, infighting among Palestinian factions, and a dwindling economy created a difficult, if not impossible, environment to sustain an art scene. Yet, with the determination that has defined Palestinian art for decades, artists in Gaza have continued to create and organize, including establishing artistic associations and collectives and organizing frequent exhibitions both at home and abroad. A look at some of Gaza's seminal artists reveals an artistic tradition that has survived years of conflict while contributing greatly to Arab culture.
Born in Lydda in 1930 and forced to live in a refugee camp in Khan Younis in 1948, Ismail Shammout was one of Palestine's leading modernist painters. He organized his first exhibition in Khan Younis in 1953 and lived in exile throughout most of his career, residing in Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon with his wife and colleague, Palestinian painter Tamam al-Akhal. Often incorporating local folklore and history in portraits of women and children amidst scenes of expulsion and conflict, his monumental compositions and expressionist style became an important part of Palestinian visual culture, influencing generations of artists seeking to articulate their collective narrative. In addition to creating an impressive body of work and exhibiting across the region, Shammout produced Art in Palestine (1989), one of the first English-language texts on Palestinian art.
Returning to Lydda after a 50 year absence, Shammout found his ancestral home occupied by Israeli settlers. The experience launched him into creating a large-scale series of paintings with the hope of having it on permanent display in Palestine. "Palestine: the Exodus and the Odyssey" (1997-2000) contains some of his most memorable work -- several mural-size canvases chronicling the Palestinian existence from the Nakba, or expulsion in 1948, to the first and second Palestinian intifadas with the visual prowess and historical magnitude found in the work of those he admired such as the Mexican Muralists. In "Life Prevails" (1999), a woman stands as an anthropomorphic representation of the Palestinian spirit -- defiant and stoic above dozens of children while the mosques and churches of Jerusalem and shores of Gaza are shown in the background. In an inscription accompanying the work Shammout stated that "The Israeli occupation was oppressive and ruthless. But we struggled to survive, to assert our presence, to preserve our traditions, and sustain our dreams." He died in 2006, just days before Israel's assault on Gaza and Lebanon, which devastated the neighborhoods near his Beirut home.
The pen and ink drawings of Abdel Rahmen al-Mozayen have become synonymous with Palestinian liberation struggles. Born in Kubyba in 1943, al-Mozayen's mother was an expert in the art of embroidery and while serving as a resistance fighter with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) he produced a number of political posters in the 1970s and 1980s, iconic works that incorporate a unique combination of embroidery, ancient history, and stylized figures. Using the complex symbolism found in Palestinian embroidery to communicate steadfastness, his references to Canaanite heritage testify to the ancestral roots and longevity of Palestinian art, an element that is paramount to combating the co-option of local culture by Israelis and the near erasure of historical evidence by the occupation. Simultaneously, his employment of embroidery is significant -- with occupational forces often clamping down on the displaying of flags or material related to the resistance, the art form evolved into an intricate coded language of signifiers used as an act of defiance.
In "Children of the Intifada" (1988), al-Moyzen depicts two young children dressed in traditional Palestinian garb sitting atop a horse. The horse is adorned with an embroidered tapestry that reads "December" in Arabic and "1987" in English -- the month during which the first Palestinian intifada erupted. From the horse's bridle hangs a key, a familiar symbol for Palestinians, as many took the keys to their homes when forced out by Zionist militias in 1948, expecting their expulsion to be temporary. The children have slingshots in their hands and a supply of stones nearby, a reference to the rock-throwing youth that were essential to the protests of the uprising. In mid-journey, the horse takes the children over a bed of rocks, perhaps suggesting the Jordan River as they enter to liberate Palestine or a metaphorical road that is paved with the very tools needed for their resistance.
In contrast, the pensive and morose paintings of Fayez Sersawi underscore the psychological and physical effects of the Israeli occupation. Working to document the brutal tactics used by Israeli forces, he paints images capturing the daily experiences of Palestinians under widespread violence. Concurrently, he has created such works as "Two Men" (2001), an introspective portrait of two figures, presumably a father and son. The positioning of the men, as they lean against each other, occupies the foreground and center of the composition, leaving little room for an identifiable setting. Instead, the same expressionist brushstrokes that detail the age and wear of their faces appear in the background, unifying the figures with their surroundings. Rendered with aggressive markings that suggest chaos, the violence of the background continues on the bodies of the figures as though consuming their entire beings. The intimate posturing of Sersawi's subjects is also of interest, as it resembles that of Christian icon painting. Tracing its roots to early examples of icon painting near pilgrimage sites such as Jerusalem -- an observation brought to light by painter and scholar Kamal Boullata -- much of contemporary Palestinian art can be viewed within this artistic practice. Resembling compositions of the holy mother and child, the artist's iconification of Palestinian men under siege is a bold take on the tradition with weighty political inferences.
Sersawi has also greatly contributed to art education in Gaza. Using a YMCA facility equipped with the workings of a university-level classroom, he taught dozens of artists, many of who are now actively taking the reigns of the cultural scene. Today this new generation continues the movement formed by these visionaries. Unlike the Western model, in which commercial venues and public and private institutions shape artistic output or at least determine what is shown, the Palestinian art scene, which transcends Israeli checkpoints, Israel's wall in the West Bank and the continuous annexation of land, has relied on a dynamic community-based system of nonprofit galleries and art spaces that remains in line with the everyday political realities of its surroundings.
Artist organizations play an important role in providing a much-needed environment for creation and the furthering of art through public events and education. Two leading Gaza organizations comprised of young and emerging artists are Eltiqa Group and Windows From Gaza. Boasting a variety of artists working in photography, sculpture, new media and painting, these groups regularly produce exhibitions and workshops open to the public.
Among its eleven members, Eltiqa Group includes painters Rima al-Muzayen and Mohamed Dabous. Al-Muzayen's colorful compositions explore the experiences of Palestinian women. Dabous teaches visual arts at Gaza's al-Aqsa University and creates striking abstract ink and pastel works on paper. In 2008, Eltiqa hosted a number of noteworthy events for its members including the solo exhibitions of al-Muzayen and Dina Matar at the French Cultural Centre and a group show of Palestinian art featuring Abdel Nasser Amer, at the Rashad Shawwa Cultural Center. Outside of Gaza, Eltiqa was part of an impressive lineup of events such as Without Preparing -- From Gaza, a joint exhibition with artists from Windows From Gaza at Makkan House gallery in Amman, Jordan and Morceaux Choisis Gaza, a group show at the Universite Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France.
A number of Windows From Gaza members concurrently work in video, installation, photography and painting such as Basel al-Maqousy, an art instructor at the Jabalia Rehabilitation Centre who was recently featured in the AM Qattan Foundation's inaugural London exhibition Occupied Spaces, and Shareef Sarhan, whose art comments on the destruction of Palestine under the Israeli occupation. Sarhan has been photographing the damage, turmoil and civilian toll of Israel's current assault on Gaza.
The impact of Israel's latest act of barbarity on Gaza's cultural infrastructure has yet to be fully assessed. Reports have circulated that the Rashad Shawwa Cultural Centre has been bombed and the Institute for Palestine Studies has confirmed the destruction of the newly founded Gaza Music School, which taught children aged seven to 11, the majority of whom were girls. Located in a building owned by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, the Music School was hit in the first wave of shelling on 27 December. The fate of such important venues as the French Cultural Centre, the Municipality of Gaza's Arts and Crafts Village, al-Karam Center for Cultural Arts or the YMCA in Gaza City is unknown. Even if these centers were to sustain little or no structural damage, their futures are still uncertain as the cultural workers whose dedication they depend on are sure to be facing dire circumstances.
Images: Ismail Shammout, "Life Prevails" (1999). (Image courtesy of Al Jisser Group); Abdel Rahman al Mozayen, "Children of the Intifada" (1988). (Collection of Souha Xochitl Shayota, New York)
Tuesday, January 13, 2009 12:31 PM
The Israeli-Palestinian war has spread to the Internet, where hackers loyal to both sides are “defacing” websites to spread information and photos from the battlefield, Jon Gordon reports for Future Tense.
Jart Armin, who Gordon describes as a “cyber warfare researcher,” says the hackers have been fighting since 2001, but recently stepped up their efforts by attacking websites in Europe. Palestinian hackers have been particularly active, says Armin, breaking into websites to post photos of dead or injured people. Turkish hackers have enlisted too, which could spell trouble, according to Armin, because they’re among the best in the world. One Turk claims the world record for bringing down 20,000 websites in a single hour.
Indeed, the famed Turkish hackers are already living up to their reputation. According to the Sofia News Agency, “Two websites maintained by NATO and the US Army have been defaced by the Turkish group Agd_Scorp/Peace Crew as a protest against the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.”
Photo by gutter, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 09, 2009 12:48 PM
Coverage of the conflict in Israel and Gaza rarely has a nuanced human face. But citizens from both sides of the border are working to change that.
Peace Man and Hope Man, for instance, are friends who maintain a blog about the violence and their daily lives. Peace Man is a Palestinian, living in a refugee camp in Gaza, and Hope Man is an Israeli living in Sderot. Though the two live only about 10 miles from each other, Hope Man, whose real name is Eric Yellin, told NPR’s Melissa Block that they both knew virtually no one across the border before the blog.
“But as soon as I started meeting people,” Yellin said, “it created a real connection and understanding that on the other side of the border, there are people exactly like us who are suffering. We are suffering, too, through this conflict. But the only way to end this was through some kind of connection and dialogue.”
“Gaza Sderot: Life in Spite of Everything” is an online video project similarly aimed at fostering dialogue and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. For two months, two two-minute videos—one following a resident of Gaza, the other an Israeli from Sderot—were posted to the site every day. The videos depict scenes of everyday life as its lived by normal people.
“When you realize that people have the same issues about work or about love, about raising your kids, in places where you don’t first think in these terms, well then I get the feeling that we’re doing good work. And that happened quite a few times,” the project’s executive producer, Serge Gordey, told The World’s Carol Zall.
These alternative lenses not only initiate dialogue, they effectively communicate the weight of the situation for both sides, a particularly important function given the lack of on-the-ground reporting from Gaza. In a recent post, Hope Man writes, "Many people of our region have left it for good over the years. Bringing up children in such a reality seems almost abusive and certainly irresponsible." Just above that, Peace Man's latest post from Gaza ends with this reflection: "I hope I will have the chance to write you again."
Image by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 11:29 AM
While Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn clash with their neighbors over traffic codes, ultra-Orthodox groups in Jerusalem are taking things to extremes, violently lashing out at people whose behavior contradicts their moral code.
Bands of vigilantes dubbing themselves “modesty squads” have been accused of attacking citizens who violate the groups' ultra-Orthodoxy, Breitbart reports. A divorced woman alleges that one such squad beat her, tied her down, and threatened to kill her if she did not move out of their conservative neighborhood. A clothing store selling “indecent” clothing was recently torched, with one person taken into custody. One group has protested outside an electronics store that sell satellite dishes, MP4 video players, and other devices that transmit “immoral” entertainment. Another squad is accused of throwing acid on a 14-year-old girl because she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
Heeb HQ calls the groups "Joogs," after the sadistic gang of Droogs in A Clockwork Orange, and suggests that “even pinning their eyes open and forcing them to watch Yentl without sleep for days on end would not be sufficient punishment for these guys.”
Monday, July 21, 2008 5:38 PM
Time made note last week that Obama is bringing along adviser Dennis Ross when he stops in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan during his current global jaunt. Ross was the chief Mideast envoy under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Also on his resume is a gig as a commentator for FOX News.
Ross is a controversial figure among those parsing the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians (but really, who isn’t?), and he’s often put in the conservative camp as a hawkish Israel-backer. Time parses the decision to have Ross in tow as, in part, a calculated play for the Jewish vote and foreign policy cred:
Israelis and some Jewish Americans distrust Obama's commitment to Israel — a recent Israeli newspaper poll found 27% of Israelis surveyed support him, compared to 36% for John McCain. And Obama's readiness to hold unconditional talks with Iran also makes him vulnerable among some voters to charges of being soft on Tehran. Both issues count in swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania where they could hurt Obama's support among Jewish voters and Reagan Democrats. But Ross is a reassuring presence on both counts.
There’s likely some truth to that. But the article notes that the Obama campaign reached out to Ross 15 months ago. That’s long before all the guffawing about Obama’s Jewish troubles and right around the time that Ross’s book, Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World, started making the rounds.
I spoke to Ross back then about what it would take to redeem the United States in the eyes of the world. Looking back, I’m struck by the pragmatic course Ross strikes. Here, for example, is Ross’s take on what the next president has to do:
The most important thing is to strike a different posture and a different tone from day one. Make it clear that the United States has important interests in the world and that it's mindful that achieving those interests often means having to work with others. Whether it's global warming, nuclear proliferation, threats from nonstate actors, health pandemics, or failed states—these are not challenges we're going to be able to resolve on our own.
Obama’s been a punching bag among his supporters of late for allegedly scurrying toward the center in an unabashed and shameful voter grab initiative, but perhaps there’s a different way to look at his shift: as a move away from his appealing but comfortably vague rhetoric and as a step toward the pragmatic, give-and-take that’s necessary to execute his professed ideals.
Monday, June 23, 2008 9:36 AM
Israel has finally chosen a national bird, 60 years after its founding. (Americans should respect the delay; if we had too hastily selected our own national emblem, we might now have turkeys tattooed on every patriotic bicep.) Israel’s selection process was a feathered frenzy, the New Republic reports, unavoidable in a country that attracts 540 avian species (that’s 500 million specimens) during semi-annual migrations. “We are at the junction of three continents,” says Israeli ornithologist Yossi Leshem. “From a political point of view, this is disastrous, but for birds it is magnificent.”
The bird that ascended to state symbolism is the hoopoe, which served as the messenger between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, according to the New York Times. (The hoopoe is not kosher, Reuters reports, so the national bird won’t face the disgrace of becoming any Jewish citizen’s dinner.) “It’s a good choice, all in all, a gorgeous bird with a crown-like crest,” writes the New Republic. “Any country would be proud to have it on its telephone cards.”
Wednesday, May 14, 2008 5:47 PM
The Israel Defense Forces conscript both women and men. Last fall marked the first time the Israeli Air Force appointed a woman as deputy squadron commander.
For Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, this doesn't represent progress. As Ynetnews reports, the influential Zionist leader has ruled that it is against Torah laws for women to enlist in the IDF. “We need you to function as a pure and clean woman,” he admonished in a published open letter, “not to undermine your mental foundation.”
Wednesday, May 14, 2008 1:15 PM
For Israel’s 60th birthday, Rachel Barenblat penned an eloquent birthday card on the God’s Politics blog, expressing the conflicted feelings that many Jews feel towards the Jewish state. “To your detractors, I want to defend you fiercely,” Barenblat writes, “to your defenders, I want to point out every way in which you fail to live up to my hopes and dreams.” Barenblat, who blogs at the Velveteen Rabbi, writes about Israel like a distant family member in who feelings of love and disagreement mix into a confusing mess.
Friday, February 08, 2008 8:24 AM
Two unlikely foes have been trading barbs of late: the feminist magazine Ms. and the American Jewish Congress. The AJCongress, whose mission is to “defend Jewish interests at home and abroad,” took the first public swing by harshly criticizing Ms. for its refusal to run an AJCongress ad (PDF) featuring photos of three women who occupy high-level positions in the Israeli government. In a statement on the AJCongress website, Richard Gordon, president of the AJCongress, accused the magazine’s publishers of being “hostile” to Israel; similar charges of anti-Israel bias soon popped up across the blogosphere. “For a publication that holds itself out to be in the forefront of the Women’s Movement,” Gordon said, “this is nothing short of disgusting and despicable.”
Ms. responded to the organization’s criticism with its own strongly worded statement, explaining that the ad was rejected for being “inconsistent” with the magazine’s ad policy, which accepts “only mission-driven advertisements from primarily non-profit, non-partisan organizations that promote women’s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence.” She also points out that the Winter 2008 issue of Ms., which hit newsstands a few weeks ago, includes a profile (PDF) of Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, one of the women pictured in the AJCongress ad. And Clare Kinberg, the editor of Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal, defended Ms. in a letter to the Forward a few weeks ago, accusing the AJCongress of “playing on fears of antisemitism.”
On the other hand, it’s possible that Ms. is vetting its ads too cautiously. The magazine’s editors should expect that their readers can differentiate the viewpoint of the magazine from those presented in advertisements. Or Ms. should simply establish an “accept all” policy to avoid these types of traps, as Katha Pollitt suggests in a column for the Nation. Pollitt writes that by accepting all ads, as the Nation does, “You don’t have to explain why you rejected this ad last week when you accepted that one three years ago, you don’t get embroiled in ideological flash fires over words you didn’t write, and you don't get enmeshed in other people’s agendas.”
(Thanks, New York Sun.)
Monday, January 28, 2008 2:39 PM
For those who find the authority of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money insufficiently Biblical, the Jan.-Feb. issue of Mother Jones provides a financial narrative that hinges more squarely on the Good Book. Mariah Blake reports on apocalypse-minded evangelicals defrauded by Ness Energy International, a company claiming access to untapped Israeli oil fields. Faithful investors believed the tall tales of unknown reserves because of Biblical hints that the discovery of Israeli oil signals Armageddon. The prophesized oil was never found, and many investors were swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still, some continue to display a strange optimism. James Cojanis, an early investor who lost over $100,000 and may invest $100,000 more, emphasizes his sunny outlook:
“I’m glad the stock price is in the tank,” he says. “When they hit oil and the stock goes sky-high, that means Armageddon is around the corner.”
Friday, January 18, 2008 5:27 PM
The idea is pretty simple, but the message isn’t. Pay 30 Euros (around $45) to Send a Message and a group of Palestinians will spray paint your personal message on the security wall that closes off the West Bank. According to the website, the Palestinians want to show people beyond their cement borders that “We are human beings, just like you, with sense of humor and lust for life.” Most of the funds go to supporting various Palestinian NGO projects, with the remainder covering Send a Message’s expenses.
Behind the newspaper stories and the political wrangling, there are human lives obscured by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While the project, which was developed in a Ramallah workshop by Dutch advertising professionals and Palestinian youths, might seem too light-hearted, I think that the levity is message enough: Something can come from this conflict that does more than make you throw up your hands in frustration.
Thursday, January 17, 2008 4:05 PM
President Bush just returned from a weeklong tour of the Middle East, which included his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories since becoming president. For such an important visit—one that Bush hopes might establish his legacy as a diplomatic peacemaker—a mere press release just wouldn’t do. So the White House tried something new, in the form of what looks to be a blog, aptly titled “Trip Notes from the Middle East.” But don’t get too excited: The Trip Notes, written by various White House staffers over the course of the visit, are anything but substantial. Posts from Bush’s January 8-16 visit include descriptions of the weather, lodging conditions, how the staff kept busy on the airplane, and the array of animals on King Abdullah’s ranch. But cheers to the White House for attempting to embrace modern technology.
(Thanks, Columbia Journalism Review.)
Monday, December 10, 2007 2:08 PM
Accompanied by only a computer-generated backing track run through a 12-track amplifier, Hosam Abu Abdu leads his band through its regular practice at a police station in Gaza City. Protectors of the Homeland, as they call themselves, aren’t the typical boy band. Abu Abdu is 40 years old, and his five bandmates don’t appear to be regular heartthrobs either. But Protectors of the Homeland do carry on the long tradition of singers providing inspiration in a time of need.
According to Britain’s Telegraph, the group pays homage to the party and its leaders with songs such as “Change” and “Reform”—and with lines like “By the shrouds of the dead we are inspired.” Abu Abdu and five others formed the group last summer as part of an arts initiative of Hamas’ domestic security service, the Executive Force. “It is our job to inspire the foot soldiers,” Abu Abdu told the Telegraph. “We want to urge the soldiers and officers to push on, to make the effort needed in the struggle to end the occupation.”
The group hopes to release an album, as well as build a theater and support public dancing. Successful or not, the band members said making music beats what they were doing in June: fighting rival faction Fatah in the streets.
Thanks, the Kicker! —Eric Kelsey
Monday, November 05, 2007 4:56 PM
In a recent post on Commentary magazine’s arts blog, the Horizon, Benjamin Ivry reports that a scholar at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel, has uncovered a new text by the Italian writer Primo Levi.
Levi, a holocaust survivor and chemist who died in 1987, is best known for his memoir, Survival in Auschwitz. Ivry reports that this new essay, which was discovered in the archives at Yad Vashem and first reported on by the Israeli daily Haaretz, is a deposition solicited in 1960 for the prosecution of the German SS officer Adolf Eichmann.
The text, however, was never brought forth during the trial and had since gone unnoticed. The 850-word statement has yet to be translated, but the Italian magazine, L'Espresso has published it in the original.
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