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Bridges

bridge-footbridge-path-2257

A Muslim-American journalist has recently been the target of serious anger and hostility by some other Muslim-Americans who claim he was wrong to visit the West Bank and sit down with Jewish settlers to hear their side of the story, the Zionists’ perspective. They claim he was a stooge for the Zionists, manipulated into presenting the two sides (Israel and Palestine) as equal and equally justified. The term of art is a “false equivalency”.

Wajahat AliWahajat Ali’s article in June 2018 issue of The Atlantic is long, but well worth the time to read carefully before delving into the controversy. I read it two times and was starting on my third time around when my attention was redirected elsewhere. Maybe I’ll go back to it.

 

I found his story interesting, illuminating and nuanced. I’ve heard that some pro-Palestine activists on the other hand consider Ali’s article “problematic,” one-sided (the Zionists’ side), normalizing the occupation, and promoting false equivalencies. Read the article for yourself and be the judge.

(I first heard that term “false equivalency” from a Zionist family member in 2001, complaining about something I said about Palestinians. I came to realize that people who hear two very disparate perspectives/sides discussed in the same breath might be offended because they don’t believe the other perspective deserves to be included or they believe their side was unfairly treated in the discussion.)

The unintentional beauty of this current ‘controversy’ — Muslims attacking a Muslim for meeting and writing about Jewish settlers in the West Bank — is that it highlights the challenge of understanding the ‘other’ (whether the ‘other’ is a Jewish settler, a white nationalist, a refugee or a migrant).

If half the energy expended by many who are dissecting The Atlantic article was directed, instead, to building bridges with the ‘other’ (whoever that may be in your life) …. the energy might have made a real difference.

Some may object and say “[t]he problem is that one cannot build a bridge to those who have consistently demonstrated in actions that there are no bridges to even be considered. Zionists will not change their attitude in the same way as those who endeavor to support justice will not change their’s. They are not, however, equal. Justice does not equate with continued, unmitigated oppression. It is fantasy to believe that this can be done.”

  • My notion of bridge-building does not envision a bridge expanding the wide divide separating us so that I can drag the ‘other’ back to my side.
  • My notion of bridge-building does not require me to accept or believe the ‘other’ perspective, it only gives me a channel to learn more about the ‘other’.
  • My notion of bridge-building does not weaken my convictions and beliefs; in fact, it may strengthen them because I will have the opportunity to examine my beliefs in the context of the ‘other’.

In my first year of law school, I took a criminal procedures class with 100+ other students. One day, Professor Kreitzberg asked me to stand up and argue in favor of the death penalty. (She knew I strongly opposed the death penalty).  I was shocked but I did as I was asked and mumbled through some half-baked ideas in favor of the death penalty. Then she turned to another student and asked him to speak in opposition to the death penalty, knowing full well that he personally supported it. He also did as he was instructed.

The lesson that my classmate and I both learned (and maybe some of the other students picked up on it too) was (1) it’s really tough to get in the shoes of the ‘other’ and (2) we are stronger advocates when we understand and can express the position of the ‘other.’ The same may be true in the Palestine-Israel conflict. Since Wajahat Ali is a lawyer by training, this lesson has probably been drilled into him too. His article in The Atlantic helped me understand the perspective of the Jewish settlers in a way that I never could have on my own. I don’t have access to the settlers. I can’t sit in their kitchens to talk with them, as Ali did.

Some argue that Wajahat Ali’s article about the Jewish settlers speaks over (perhaps drowns out) the voices of the Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans who are the ‘legitimate’ voices that the West needs to hear. I simply don’t buy it. The whole notion of ‘legitimate’ voices (implying that others’ are illegitimate) is very problematic in itself.

In the marketplace of ideas, competing voices and ideas are valuable and should be valued. Certainly, the Western narrative of Israel-Palestine has been heavily skewed by Israel’s Hasbara for many years, and push-back is warranted to influence and educate public opinion in the U.S. and elsewhere. But let’s not fall for the mistaken belief that there’s a monolithic Palestinian narrative, or a monolithic Muslim narrative. There isn’t. Maybe this fact is creating some angst for those who would like to control the Muslim narrative.

Wajahat Ali’s article has done a great service in furthering the art of bridge-building. Sadly, many on his own side of the bridge may not appreciate that fact yet.

 

 

 

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All People Have Value

 

Kids and signsTrump’s policy of separating young children from their parents when they cross the border has galvanized Americans of all stripes to stand up and fight back.

Governors (Democrats and Republicans) are refusing to deploy their state’s National Guard to the border; television journalists are shedding tears on camera; mental health professionals are telling us about the long-term trauma these children will suffer; and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are telling the Administration to end this outrageous policy while proclaiming that “America is better than this!”

Marchers gathering 3

Protests were organized in many U.S. cities this week. I joined 500+ people in El Paso to March about 1.5 – 2 miles to the detention facility where many immigrants are being processed through the system after their children are removed and taken somewhere else. We chanted, yelled and some swore while the national and international media captured our stories.

By every measure, this action was successful, and Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso must be recognized for its effective organizing efforts.  Within 24 hours, President Trump had signed an Executive Order ending the separation policy.

Was it the media attention, or the Governors’ actions, or Congress, or a combination of many actions that caused Trump to reverse course? We may never know. But I have no doubt that when Americans are aroused and angry, we can move mountains.

All People in All Countries Have Value

Then why aren’t Americans aroused and angry over our government’s funding and support for Israel’s systematic killing, maiming and traumatizing of Palestinian children in Gaza?

If “All People in All Countries have Value” — how do Americans not recognize and become incensed with our government’s complicity in Israel’s war crimes?

[This isn’t the blog post to explain or convince anyone about Israel’s war crimes, but I acknowledge that lack of education may be part of the answer to my question.]

If Rachel Maddow and other journalists started crying on camera when reporting about American-made (and American financed) bombs falling on Palestinian children in Gaza, would that move anyone?

If a few Governors proclaimed their distaste for U.S. priorities, such as allocating $3+ billion each year to Israel’s war machine while cutting social programs at home, would that move anyone?

If there were simultaneous demonstrations and marches in large U.S. cities protesting Israel’s willful and deliberate killing of Palestinian children, would that move anyone?

Probably not.

Most humans (not just Americans) have a finite wellspring of empathy which seems to be doled out sparingly, as though we’re fearful that the well might run dry.  Immigrant families crossing the southern border with their children? That we can get our hearts and minds around. Palestinian families half way around the world, not so much, even though our government is directly responsible for the suffering of both.

Love Thy Neighbor

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“Occupation” or “Colonization”?

Professor and historian Ilan Pappe is well-respected and condemned at the same time. He’s one of the new historians who has brought to light the ugly truth of the Zionists’ cleansing and colonization of Palestine.  His book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, is a must read for anyone who truly wants to learn about the history of Israel / Palestine.

Unfortunately, I must disagree with Professor Pappe’s current call to jettison the term “occupation” in favor of “colonization”.  Listen to his explanation here.

He’s absolutely correct …. an occupation should be considered a short-term, temporary state of affairs, and Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestine has far-exceeded the limits of a lawful occupation.

But jettisoning the term “occupation” is not the answer. Under international law, the occupier has responsibilities and duties to those subjected to his occupation. Under international law, the victims of occupation have rights and claims against the occupier.

The State of Israel has been waging a stealth lawfare campaign for many years to convince the world that it is not occupying Palestine.

The answer is not to cave and agree with Israel that there is no occupation.

Instead, Professor Michael Lynk has the answer.  He’s the U.N. special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories.  Professor Lynk is urging the United Nations to examine Israel’s prolonged occupation to determine if it is an unlawful occupation.  This is the right strategy to pursue in my opinion.  I hope Professor Pappe and others concerned about Israel’s prolonged occupation will read Professor Lynk’s report, and join his effort.

michael_lynk

Special Rapporteur S. Michael Lynk

Professor Lynk recommends:

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government of Israel bring a complete end to the 50 years of occupation of the Palestinian territories in as expeditious a time period as possible, under international supervision.

The Special Rapporteur also recommends that the United Nations General Assembly:

  • Commission a United Nations study on the legality of Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territory;
  • Consider the advantages of seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the question of the legality of the occupation;
  • Consider commissioning a legal study on the ways and means that UN Member States can and must fulfill their obligations and duties to ensure respect for international law, including the duty of non-recognition, the duty to cooperate to bring to an end a wrongful situation and the duty to investigate and prosecute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
  • Consider the adoption of a Uniting for Peace resolution with respect to the Question of Palestine, in the event that there is a determination that Israel’s role as occupier is no longer lawful.

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Shooting fish in a barrel

Life is unbearable in Gaza. It’s been unlivable for years for the 2+ million Palestinians trapped there, but now it’s at the breaking point. Many (most?) feel there’s nothing to lose by going to the eastern border and facing down the Israeli marksmen who are shooting them like fish in a barrel. Today 55+ Palestinians have been killed (including a journalist, a medic and a Palestinian with no legs) and hundreds wounded for demanding their rights enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194.

Less than 100 miles away in Jerusalem, Netanyahu and others are in a celebratory mood as the U.S. flag is raised over the new U.S. Embassy. They don’t even acknowledge the slaughter occurring in Gaza.

Gaza slaughter

I’ve called my two U.S. Senators (Udall and Heinrich) and Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham, demanding that they condemn the slaughter of innocent, unarmed Palestinians. I want them to join the other members of Congress who have spoken out against the killing and maiming of unarmed protesters, including: Senators Feinstein, Warren, Leahy and Sanders; as well as the following House members:

Barbara Lee (CA 13)
Alan Lowenthal (CA 47)
Lloyd Doggett (TX 35)
Hank Johnson (GA 04)
Danny Davis (IL 07)
Jan Schakowsky (IL 09)
John Yarmuth (KY 03)
Jamie Raskin (MD 08)
Keith Ellison (MN 05)
Betty McCollum (MN 04)
David Price (NC 04)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ 12)
Earl Blumenauer (OR 03)
Steve Cohen (TN 09)
Gerry Connolly (VA 11)
Peter Welch (VT 1)
Mark Pocan (WI 02)
Pramila Jayapal (WA 07).

My eyes are now focused on Udall, Heinrich and Lujan-Grisham.  I’m going to hound them until they come clean with a statement condemning Israel’s slaughter of innocents.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/269659083″>Voices of the Siege</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user3079357″>The Palestine Chronicles</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Allowing space for conflicting narratives

My son’s high school classmate, many years ago, recently visited the West Bank. Wajahat Ali has visited the Middle East many times and is quite knowledgeable about the history and the current political strife. His feature length piece in the June 2018 issue of The Atlantic reflects his insights from the people he met on his journey.

Wajahat Ali

Wajahat Ali

A Muslim Among Israeli Settlers — What happens when a Pakistani American writer goes deep into the West Bank?  is a gift and a pure joy to read.

The reader might immediately draw assumptions and put Wajahat, an American Muslim, into a box.  The box that describes how Muslims are suppose to feel about Zionists and which side (Palestinians, of course) they naturally can be expected to gravitate towards.  Wajahat doesn’t fit into any boxes.

I know he will receive criticism — probably from many different boxes (errr……sides) — dissecting the fine points in his long article. People won’t find fault with the facts — facts are facts and I’m pretty sure that Wajahat and his editors have fact-checked his paper thoroughly. Instead, they will argue about his emphasis or lack of emphasis, about his opinion or lack of opinion (“why didn’t you say this or that?”), and about his (gasp!) objectivity!

“As a result of engaging with Zionists, I found that once you allow a space for conflicting narratives, even those that might repulse you, the characters take up room in your mind and your heart. You can no longer unsee or unfeel them. You have to negotiate their presence without compromising your core principles.”

Of course, the same can and must be said about engaging with Palestinians, with Hamas, with anyone we consider the “other”.

If everyone in the region has a shot at interpreting God’s will, then I’ll offer my own vision. I believe that Jews and Palestinians are religious cousins, more alike than different. They have lived together in the past, eaten each other’s olives, worked each other’s fields, married each other’s family members. Learning to live together again should not be impossible. But this isn’t happening, not anytime soon.

Thank you, Wajahat, for your clarity of pen and clarity of heart. We need many more writers, and leaders, who have the courage to step outside of their boxes and allow space for the conflicting narratives.

Be sure to read Wajahat’s article here and watch this short 14 minute video.

 

 

 

 

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When the superpower soils his pants

Have you read it, the Iran Nuclear “deal”?  I haven’t.

I don’t intend to either.

President Trump says it’s a bad deal for the U.S. …. the “worst deal he’s ever seen.”  One commentator agrees, and notes that the agreement contained the seeds of its own destruction. And, of course, Israel’s Netanyahu praised Trump’s decision to withdraw from the “deal.”

World leaders from around the globe disagreed. The UK, France, and Germany all tried to dissuade Trump from his dangerous course of a “mix of unilateralism and isolationism” — “unisolationism” — by withdrawing unilaterally from the Iran “deal”.

Even Russia and China support the agreement and scolded Trump.

China’s special envoy to the Middle East, Gong Xiaosheng, said in a press conference in Iran the agreement promoted peace. “Having a deal is better than no deal. Dialogue is better than confrontation.” he said according to Xinhua news agency.

Yevgeny Serebrennikov, first deputy head of the defense and security committee in the Russian Upper House of Parliament also told RIA news agency Trump’s decision could put the nuclear talks between the US and North Korea at risk

Putin warned of the threat of “aggressive nationalism” and “claims to exceptionalism” at a World War II victory parade in Red Square on Wednesday. “All humankind and countries need to recognize that the world is very fragile,” he said.

And Stephen Zunes, a political commentator from the University of San Francisco, opined that Trump’s decision to withdraw is a “win” for the Iranian hardliners.  “We told you so! You can’t trust those Americans.”

As a mother with years of experience cleaning up after toddlers with soiled diapers, my response to Trump’s mess is to give some parental advice to the rest of the world.

It’s time now to send the child to his room.

You can do that by boycotting the United States (and Israel too).  Don’t visit or vacation in the U.S. — don’t buy U.S. exports (predominantly weapons) — don’t invite U.S. leaders to speak or engage with your country — don’t talk about the U.S. in any forum. And certainly don’t entertain any discussions about the Trump brand.

I know it will be difficult because the U.S. has played such an out-sized role in the global economy and politics since WWII, but now it’s time to send the child to his room. Time out might knock some sense into him.

 

 

 

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#GazaUnlocked #HeartlandtoGaza

The American Friends Service Committee organized an expert panel of witnesses to provide testimony about the current situation in Gaza as part of its Gaza Unlocked campaign. Check out the campaign here.

The expert testimony was held in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, April 21, 2018 in the format similar to a formal hearing in Congress. The delegation from Indiana was invited to attend, including Vice President Pence, but they didn’t show up. Representative Andre Carson was unable to attend, but one of his staff members was able to attend in his place and he sent his regrets.

I showed up and watched the livestream testimony and Q &A that followed from my perch in the library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Gaza Unlocked

Jehad Abu Salim

The three experts were certainly very well qualified to speak about Gaza. Jehad Abu Salim is from Gaza and currently studying for his PhD at NYU.  Laila El-Haddad has lived in Gaza and written extensively about Gaza. She’s the author of Gaza Kitchen. Dr. Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies specializing in the Palestinian economy, Palestinian Islamism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They each spoke about the current conditions in Gaza as well as the political dynamics of Israel’s siege and long-term blockade on the Gaza Strip. The take-away message for me was that we must educate ourselves, our family, friends and communities, and especially our members of Congress.

Social media armchair activists are not making a difference if they stay within their bubbles and comfort zones behind the computer screens. We must get out into our communities and wake Americans up to the realities of the Israeli occupation. I hope a condensed and edited version of this testimony will be made available to help us educate others.

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