The musings of a Bedouin in cyberspace, a villager at home
August 2, 2009
Flashing lights. Just another security car escorting another Palestinian VIP. Bethlehem restaurant and hotel business is booming. With the delegates and their families and their security and the media, the streets will be impossible to drive tomorrow (Monday). Another siren. Thoughts flash through my mind, how did we get to this stage. For 20+ years that I have been active for the cause, I have never given up hope. But tonight, it will be difficult to sleep. Words of family and friends over the years ring in my ears. Words of doubts and discouragement. Words warning me of treacherous politicians and self-appointed leaders. Words asking who am I working for? All your work si wasted. Just take care of your health and your family. Every convoy that passes by my house reminds of that and reminds me of much more. The arguments with Zionists. Hiam Al-Said, the Palestinian girl whose eye was shot by an Israeli sniper and who spent weeks with us in Connecticut. Marwa Al-Sharif, the girl who had a settler bullet lodged in her head. The misery I saw on video in Gaza and in person in the West Bank and the camps in Jordan. The broken tortured bodies of men walking as if they are the walking dead. Memories of seeing VIPs in fancy suites, fancy shoes get into fancy cars to drive to fancy villas or to fancy hotels wined and dined from millions of “aid for the Palestinian people.” And another flashing light, this time accompanied by a loudspeaker telling a driver to pull to the right to let the entourage pass through. I wonder if they are heading to Al-Khayma restaurant or Al-Maghara restaurant. Our street leads to those and that is why it has been busy.
Flashing lights remind me of the flashing lights of Israeli occupation forces who today evicted two families from their homes in Jerusalem. Words were all that was uttered by officials (though not the President, whose term expired in January) who claim to represent all Palestinians. And Israel continues to build on the ruins of our society and laughing all the way to the bank.
Will Tuesday be the day the Palestinian cause is buried alive? Fatah was the largest and oldest extant Palestinian faction. One veteran Fatah activist told me that this is why it included all the dirt of all the Palestinians (we get what we are). I remember answering that it also included good people. He answered that there are too many rotten apples in this cart and that rot spreads. A cousin tells me that Fatah platform calls for fighting corruption. I ask him to name one of the hundreds of profiteering multimillionaires who was ever jailed one day or fined and money retrieved? Everybody in Palestine (I am sure all high ranking officials at least) knows that cash traded hands in the millions that rightly belonged to the Palestinian people as a whole. Why can’t the legal system trace where all the money went? Corruption is still rampant here and unfortunately many people coming to this convention are being wined and dined and bribed. Few honored people will resist this temptation. Yesterday I watched a film about garbage diggers in the Hebron dump. One man was asked why he does such backbreaking work to gather a few metal scaps for a few shekels. He said, what is the choices: I either steal, me and my family starve, or be here for a few shekels to buys some vegetables. I would rather work hard than steal. Obviously many Palestinian elites do not feel the same way.
Flashing lights remind us of the 200 soldiers who came in the middle of teh night (3 AM) to terrorize teh vilalge of Bilin dragging young men and children out of bed. The idae is to forcea stop to the weeklty protest against the wall taht was made possible by Oslo and some Palestinians who profited from selling cement to Israel to build the wall. Where is the accountability for the disastrous Oslo policies that brought 300,000 NEW settlers to the West Bank? Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot publishing in Hebrew explained all what Israel is doing to help Abu Mazen’s wing of Fatah. I talk to a lot of people from Fatah. Many told me point blank that they prefer Israeli occupation to rule by Hamas. This is how bad we have come and much worse. Palestinians are being tortured by fellow Palestinians in jails in the West Bank and Gaza. And on the website of Fatah, we see most of it is directed to trashing Hamas instead of dealing with the reality of the colonial occupation. Fatahland here and Hamasland in Gaza increasing look the same except of course Israel made sure we are in much better shape economically here compared to the devastating punishment meted on Gaza civilian population. Israeli fingerprints are all over the situation but certainly we cannot blame Israel for trying to divide and conquer. At least some Israelis are doing their best to serve what they forsee as their interest. We have really hardly any leadership that is looking after the public interest. So what is happening in the restaurants and bars around town: wealing and dealing for positions, for power, for money. A new plot of land. A new villa etc. Over 100 people who Israel considered enemies in Lebanon in the 1980s till the mid 1990s were welcomed by the Israeli authorities. Others were denied. Why?
Maybe some of those are in those fancy SUVs or Mercedes cars that are escored by security with the flashing lights. We have come a long way from the time that Abu Ammar was besieged and bombed in Beirut or in Ramallah. 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails have to look forward to no prospect for their release because all the bargaining chips have been already sold. And the refugees, they are to prepare themselves for the inevitability that their future wil not be a return to their homes and lands (as would be natural and legal) but to settle where they are or chose to live under occupation in the territory of the village leagues in the Bantustans of the West Bank or the hellhole that is Gaza. And more flashing lights … I let go of my typing and look out the window beyond the valley to the expanding colonial settlement of Har Homa, one of 440 colonial settlements that dot the West Bank. The road is nice, the place looks quiet. A bus is on one road. No flashing lights. People must me having sex, watching TV, wondering whether their foreign minister would indeed be indicted on corruption charges. I wonder if they will come with flashing lights since he lives just to the south of here in a settlement called Nokdim. I fantasize that one day, a high ranking Palestinian official would be arrested for corruption. If the delegates staying at the Intercontinental would look out the windows or venture on foot just two minutes they would be in besieged Aida refugee camp but teh convention programs don't mention thsi and hhas noplans for touring the area like that (only locations of nmearby restaurants are noted). If the convention goers would look out teh window of teh convention and just ask teh question "to whom does the fancy villa next to the apartheid fence belong?" A culture of corruption can never bring liberation and self-determination but it must also be hard to look in the mirror. The decents in Fatah (and there are many) must make a stand. Palestinians must take back our responsibility and we can start with a little dignity (and thus reclaim our struggle). If we are not going to do that, then I think it will be said of us in the future: here lies a people who could save itself but choose oblivion. And those enriched will still be just as dead as you and I in the future. You ain't taking it with you as my Quaker friend used to say.
7 June 2009
An Israeli women I will call Sara is on my email list for nearly a year. She gets my weekly reports. She considers herself a peace activist and is pained by a lot of what she sees going around her. She finds my phone number somehow and calls me up. She says that she was a bit uncomfortable calling out of the blues and expressing her opinion. Some things she knows we disagree on (e.g. Palestinian refugees returning to their homes and lands, evolving Israel to a post-Zionist discourse). She wants to talk. I suggest that the phone is not the best form of communication. I explain I have limited time with my schedule especially as I will be leaving to the US soon. I ask whether she ever ventures into Palestinian areas. She says her daughter lives in the settlement of Maale Adumim and she is coming this weekend to visit her. She mentions Abedrabou, a Palestinain man who lives alone in a cave on his land that he want to keep. She says it is his birthday the next day and maybe we can meet there. I agree even though I am really short for time. I ask what time and was told 8 PM. I think it is kind of late for a Birthday party. I have never been to his place so maybe it will be an adventure. I will have to ask. I start out early while still light to look for the place during day time. It takes me a very long time anyway and I arrive at night time. Sara calls to tell me she is just leaving and will be late. I had to park my car behind a block in a dirt road and walk down a hill towards his encampment. As I do this, fear runs through my veins. I am alone in a deserted area, settlements all around and comping based solely on information from this Israeli Jewish woman. Maybe this was a way to get me to a place where I would be taken, tortured, threatened etc. I dismiss these fears from my mind and replace them with tranquility as I walk down the hill aided only by the week moon light. I see yellow license plate cars and hear some noices. My heart races again. But then as I walk down further, there is a tent and a cave and a kerosene lamp. There are a few people gathered there, Israelis and Palestinians. I am relieved. Of those there I know Abedrabou (I did not connect that I had met him at a function a few months before) and one other Palestinian. I sit, chat, drink. A while later, another Palestinian approaches and asks me if I was Mazin. I said yes and how did he know me. He said no he was just asking because an Israeli woman asked him to ask. So I meet Sara. The music plays. Dancing, singing happy birthday, bowing candles eating cake. I get itchy to leave (worried about my car, uncomfortable in a party with mostly strangers etc). I tell her I should leave since it is getting late. The place is noisy anyway and we can’t talk. She decides to walk me to my car. As we walk up the hill, I learn more about her and her thought process. We get to the car and spend maybe another 30-40 minutes talking. Her views are classic labor Zionist. They are inundated with the same fears and particularism that characterize many Israelis who work in “peace groups” like peace now. They want to maintain the gains of 1948 (and are against refugee return for that) but are willing to compromise on the areas occupied in 1967. But even the latter becomes problematic when we discuss places like Maale Adumim that cut the West Bank in half and that now houses tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis (including her daughter and her young religious family). Sara seems interested in what I had to say. She seemed like a caring person who is struggling with internal conflicting desires: humanism and parochialism, empathy and protectionism. We agree that this was a good beginning and we should continue after I return. I thank her and drive home. On the way, I pass by the Israeli military base and its vigilant soldiers. I am thinking what complicated, complex and fascinating is Homo sapiens.
My wife posted some pictures of life in Palestine here
Sunday 29 March 2009
Today we spend nearly four hours in a workshop for students of AlQuds and Bethlehem Universities that we held at the activism held at the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People (http://www.pcr.ps/) and its International Middle East Media Center, http://www.imemc.org/ .I could not think of a better way to celebrate Land Day (annual event to mark steadfastness and resistance in the face of now 61 years of Israeli/Zionist attempst to uproat us from our lands). I lead the section on communication strategies (inclduing framing the issues, telling our narrative story etc), Hazem talks about the BDS movement (boycotts, divestments, sanctions), and George does the section on visual and audio media (inclduing how to get a video edited and loaded on youtube etc). The students are enthusiastic and very proactive. They want to host similar workshops at the Univesrities and start BDS networks there. I spend sometime posting to websites, answering emails, reading, and catching up on work (grading exams!).
Saturday 28 March 2009
My wife, I, and two accounting students drive early to Birzeit Univesrity. While they go to visit the Business and Accounting Departments, I work with colleagues at Birzeit to prepare slides (some we harvested yesterday) for chromsoomes (from humans and frogs). We find that indeed we have the first successful G-banding in the West Bank for human chromosomes and the first study of amphibian chromsoomes in Palestine (here I mean all of Palestine not what some start to think of as the West Bank and Gaza). I give students their first exam (they did better than I expected) anda short lecture. On the way back, the checkpoints were smooth so it took only 75 minutes to get back home. But I was dismayed at seeing two Israeli military jeeps in Bethlehem area. One was in area B near Ubeidaia and one in Area A near downtown Bethlehem. They feel very safe moving around, one jeep unchallenged waved in by Palestinain "security" forces to go about their grizzly business of kidnapping Palestinians (swelling up the ranks of political prisoners). One of the students we drive back to Dheisheh Refugee camp. We meet his father in his shop. Woonderful people I think to myself. We Palestinians deservbe better than the rulers we got or the catastrophes that befell us with Zionism.
Friday 27 March 2009
It is a busy day at school. Bethlehem Univesrity follows the "Chrsitian tradition of having teh weekend Saturday and Sunday so Friday is a workday here. I sometimes wish it isn't because I would really like to participate in the weekly nonviolent demonstrations held in places like AlWalaja, Ni'lin, AlMa3sara, and Bil'in. But I do enjoy teaching and mentoring students. Bright young people are always the future and hopefully can be better stewards of the earth than we were. Two students and I go in teh evening to look for frog eggs for developmental biology class.
Thursday 26 March 2009
In the West Bank there are over 250 colonial settlements housing over 450,000 Jewish settlers on Palestinian land. The colonies are not random. They are in specific “zones” for specific interests:
1) The Jordan Valley colonies: because of rich agricultural lands below sea level (hot, moist): Jordan river and such klands that grew citrus, banana, vegetables etc
2) The two rings of colonies around Jerusalem: an inner and outer ring that separate the West Bank into its Northern and Southern halves and isolate and Judaicize Arab Jerusalem. These choke economic life for Palestinians in the city and its West Bank suburbs such as Bethlehem and Ramallah. They intend to “cleanse” this area so that Jerusalem becomes a Jewish city and capital of Israel “for ever”.
3) In additionto the thumb of Jerusalem area colonies jutting deep into the West Bank, there are four other “fingers” of colonial settlements that go in for as far as half the width of the West Bank. (other smaller settlements are throughout the West Bank but these previous main blocks are thinsg that Israel is not willing to ever give-up since they control the most important natural resources)
Todays trip was with the Applied Research Institiute of Jerusalem (ARIJ.org) to the areas of the colonies of Ariel and Brukim industrial zones ( in the second colonial finger in the north of the West Bank). These Jewish only colonies have over two dozen factories that are built on Palestinian land and dump their industrial waste in the valleys that belong to the three ancient Palestinian villages of Brukin, Kafr ElDeik, and Khibet Susa,
The largest Palestinian town here is Salfit with 10,000 residents nestled in the beautiful hills. According to the local water and sanitation department, Salfit was prevented from building a sewage treatment plant by the Israeli occupation army. Further, the huge settlement of Ariel dumps its sewage onto the Salfit area. The two merging sewage streams go downhill to three Palestinian villages. Arab shit with Jewish shit in fields that Palestinian cows eat from.
Between this “river” of settler and Palestinian sewage and the toxic dump of the Jewish settlement industrial zones we find those three serene villages. Villagers have seen increases in many health conditions ranging from skin disease to cancer (corroborated by Health Department data). Further, the sewage runoff is dangerously close (few meters) from the main spring that supplies the water to the local Palestinian residents.
We had meetings with the Governor, a city engineer, a health professional, a deputy of the Village council chair, a head of an agricultural research station among others. We picked up two very interesting and rare frogs as well as tadpoles and snails (for research on biodiversity).
For more on this area of Brukin and its challenges, see
Wednesday 25 March 2009
Worked with some students in the morning, gave class on developmental biology (talking about early frog development, fascinating area). I was visited by Abdel Fattah AbuSrour, a biologist by education but now full time peace and human rights activist and director of AlRowward Children Theater group in Aida refugee camp.
In the afternoon, we go with a group of 15 tourism students to the monastery of Deir Mar Saba. The monastery is half way between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea in Wadi Qidron (Qidron Valley). The Dead Sea was visible and nature was beautiful (are at the border between Desert and Mediterranean ecological Zones). Unfortunately, the Qidron valley does now flow with fresh water but with row untreated Sewage. In trying to cross, my foot slipped and dipped in some of the muck! I must be getting old and certainly id does not help that I have a neurological disorder that impacts my coordination on the left side (no political message here :-).
Tuesday 24 March 2009
We set up some experiments including culturing my own blood for cytogenetic studies in parallel with bloods of a lizard, a frog, and a toad. I later went to the dentist later in the evening. I reflect how here, doing these mundane things like science experiments that involve drawing my own blood and even going to the dentist seem pleasant experiences and a form of resistance. For doing normal things take political meaning in a land that is constantly under threat of being taken over and as we get slowly squeezed out. The dentist graduated from Greece, speaks Greek, English, and Arabic of course. We had recently attended his wedding (to a daughter of my close friend and high school classmate).
In the evening, we attended the documentary film Jerusalem: East Side Story which talks about homes in Jerusalem, taken over by Jewish settlers in 1948. This process of judaicizing Jerusalem has continued in the 61 years since.
Monday 23 March 2009
My work at the University today seemed busy. Many students stopped by and I spent time preparing lectures and an exam. I take some time (maybe 3 hours) with a visiting political science professor. But throughout the day I felt tired and depressed. Such feeling for me is rare (maybe once every two weeks) but it always makes me wonder about its triggers. Life is not easy here but there were times when I was shoved by soldiers, attacked by Zionists, insulted etc and I remained upbeat. So what triggers it. As a scientist, I sometimes look for the more logical and more proximal answers (Occam’s razor so to speak). So I think of the change in atmospheric pressure last night that predated this evening rain storm (a totally appreciated rain, perhaps the last of the season). I think maybe it was cold weather or the fact that I was recovering from a minor cold that did not let me sleep well last night. Maybe I am just unhappy about the silence of the world while Israel finishes its ethnic cleansing program in Jerusalem (today they brutally snuffed another event to celebrate Arab culture in Jerusalem and arrested many decent and wonderful human beings). Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR) confirmed Israeli forces attacked 34 medical care facilities and prevented Palestinian medical teams from reaching the wounded during the offensive in December and January. Whatever the reason, my mind wonders to think of someone like Primo Levy who authored books on the atrocities in WWII and was depressed about how the atrocities were used to justify the atrocities by the Israelis against Palestinians. His bouts of depression (with writing that indicates despair at human callousness to other humans and not learning from history) made many professionals think that his death by falling from three stories in a stairwell was suicide. In any case, I do know that tomorrow will be a better day. I know this because as I drove home, I saw rebbellious teenage students and two children (maybe 8 year olds) returning from school and one of them had his arms on the shoulders of the other. Because of this promise of the future and the sacrifices of those who came before us, I know there will be a better day. At any rate, all living things will be rejoicing tomorrow following this rain taht is still falling. Life will be good.
Sunday 22 March 2009
I am not religious in the sense that I do not go to Church. I am spiritual though and do appreciate that the religious traditions gave us a day of rest (perhaps the prophets were the first labor union organizers ;-). But while some have the luxury of taking the whole day off (or two days in many cases), here in Palestine and for people like me this is impossible. There are hundreds of emails to wade through, there are some discussions that involve Zionists on chat groups that require tending to, and for me doing clinical work, the chromosome studies on patients need to be finalized. This work on a day of rest takes about six hours. But then we take some times to go visit friends and socialize. We tour a permaculture facility in Beit Sahour where Internationals are trying to show the locals how to do intensive organic agriculture with little water and little land. In the evening I give a talk to a group of visiting Presbyterians and havde a nice dinner at Wiam Center (like the Rapprochement Center, this one does great work in peace building, civil nonviolent resistance, leadership training, and empowerment).
Saturday March 21, 2009
It is mother’s day and start of Spring in Palestine. Got up early to drive to Ramallah area to attend a conference on family life and also to teach at Birzeit University. The checkpoint (the "Mahsum alcontainer") had a long line. One taxi driver bypasses the long line of cars and inserts himself in front of my car. I am angry at his cutting me off. When we finally gets to the Israeli soldiers, he is pulled for more through inspection and ID check. Such pulls are rather random and in a way I think fate/God had it to punish him for cutting in front of me. But then I feel guilty for thinking that way and that my anger should be directed at the Israeli soldiers and the system that employs them to harrass and make life as difficult as possible for us.
I arrive to Albireh and attend part of the conference "On the role and the future of the Palestinian Family" hosted at the Society for Inash Al-Usra (a family center that maintains culture and strengthens the Palestinian family, www.inash.org). Some of the papers I heard: national and religious discourses of loss among wives and mothers of politica;l prisoners, the palestinian family in Italy, the Palestinian family in haifa: besieged at the periphery of the Judaicized city, the refugee palestinian family: identity and location.
It is good to network with great people at this conference including Hatem Kanaaneh (author of the excellent book "A doctor in Galilee"). Others I met include Dr. Sharif Kanaaneh an author of several books on Palestinian culture and folklore, Dr. Farida AlAmad, director of the institute and accomplished leader of in Palestine.
I teach masters level students in molecular biology. Molecular biology, like any field of knowledge is an accumulation of knowledge from humanity over decades. From our basic understanding from Mendel's work hundreds of years ago to the revolution in this field of the 19th century to the completion of the International collaboration that resulted in completion of the human genome map. My students are trying but they face many challenges (lack of resources, to make a living, to raise families, how best to maintain their humanity under inhumane conditions etc).
On the way back from Birzeit, my wife and I always wondered about all the Palestinian villages on both sides of this main road (which for the time being is open to Palestinian cars as well as colonial settler cars). They are beautiful ancient villages (some thousands of years old) set usually on sides of hills or on valleys (for environmental reasons) while now more and more Jewish settlements are taking the tops of the hills. We wonder about how they get in or out of their villages because I see some roads that are blocked or run underneath the main road I am on. Our curiousity gets the best of us so we take a right at the next available side exit that is past one of those villages. The exit reaches a dead ebnd with a left and a right. The Left road to the main village complex is closed by large Israeli military gate (no soldiers). So we take the right. We notice a couple odf isolated Palestinain homes down the hill and what appears like an Israeli settlement to the right and up the hill (fences, watch towers, Israeli flags everywhere). So we turn back and are now facing the closed gate to the village. My wife takes out the camera to take the picture of the gate. She says the sun is in the background (the sun was setting). I say that is OK since it will be an artistic shot! But right then an Israeli military armored personnel carrier seemed to materialize out of no where next to our car. One of the soldiers opens a door, guns in our direction(three other armed soldiers are visible including the driver of the APC). The commander says in Hebrew “What are you doing here”. My broken Hebrew allows understanding this but not really responding so I say in English “I am sorry can you say that again in English”. He ask in English. I simply say, we are looking at the sunset over the hills. He says, you know it is a military zone here and you are not allowed to be here. I simply say I did not know that and there are no signs to that effect. He says it is and I am to move on. Instead of the gate closing in the Palestinian village, my wife takes a picture of the back of the APC as it leads us back to the main road. He runs in front of us for three miles and then doubles back.
I buy a plant for my mother (Mother's day). Back to Beit Sahour, we eat desserts cooked by my sister for this occasion and then go to see a film about Palestinians who were forced out of their homes in Western Jerusalem in 1948 who go back and visit the homes they were raised in, homes occupied by Jews now but many still kept as they were before. Trees planted by their parents or grandparents that they remember climbing or playing under. Fascinating. We have a late dinner with colleagues including rabbinical students in Jerusalem. A long day of 18 hours ends.
20 March 2009
The Orwellian world we live in carried on for another day.
Twenty years ago, the World Wide Web (WWW) was invented by a fellow most people never heard of Tim Berners-Lee (had he been a Zionist, I am sure he would be as well known as Einstein). Here si one of his talks: http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_berners_lee_on_the_next_web.html The WWW has transformed the world but its full impact is still coming and it already made a difference in the world by challenging the mainstream media that is dominated by Zionist and Imperialist (orientalist) forces.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights published the names and details on 1417 individuals murdered by the Israeli Apartheid forces in Gaza over a period of three weeks: http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/PressR/arabic/2008/list.pdf . Most of these people are civilians. All have names, lives, families. Now, For those who read Arabic, do please read some of the names out loud. It is a good way to honor them and not leave them as mere statistics.
The attempts by Zionists to shut off debate or exposure of reality like this continues unabated and politicians are happy to oblige. It was rather depressing to wake up to news of Canadian government refusing entry of British politician George Galloway for speaking with Hamas. Canad by contrast welcomes Israeli “leaders” – war crinminals who have killed thousands and engaged in ethnic cleansing (Crimes against humanity and war crimes). Even Israeli soldiers are spilling the beans: Israel's dirty secrets in Gaza:
Army veterans reveal how they gunned down innocent Palestinian families and destroyed homes and farms
For more on other Zionist programs to muzzle free speech and anyone who dares criticize the racist Zionist program, see http://www.muzzlewatch.com/
On positive news, 900 US academics signed this letter to Obama about our unconditional support for Israel. This is a great tool for student groups - search the list & find profs at your own school, then contact them to see if they will help your work! I found 6 at my school, 2 of which agreed to let us announce our events in their classes and to help us find new student helpers..
President Obama issues a statement to Iran with diplomatic language that says the same thing as the undiplomatic language of George Bush: do what we ask you to do if you want to get less pummeling (and thus join the ranks of the countries who obey our dictats). But he sure knows how to say it nicely: we want to have mutual respect and we know your rich history and civilization, now if your government only says “uncle”…. Cindy Sheehan who lost her son to the criminal Zionist planned wars using American youth to fight for racist Apartheid Israel, reported “Six years and over a million lives later, our military is still shamefully in Iraq. Our ‘Peace President’ has created no positive change there and is in fact extending the length of the deployment of ‘combat troops.’ The country has been ethnically cleansed. Violence is down because everyone there is either dead, displaced or too poor, wounded or frightened to move let alone continue fighting.. What about Afghanistan? When will the "peace movement" begin to protest the anniversary (Oct. 7, 2001) of the invasion of that war-torn country? When will we begin saying "illegal and immoral" in connection with Afghanistan and start mourning the dead there? Maybe when US casualties begin to ratchet up as Obama surges US troop presence there?”
It is interesting to observe the differences among students at the university. There is amazing heterogeneity even in my own little class of two dozen students in developmental biology. And here I am not talking about outward appearance but deep behavioral, emotional, religious, philosophical, and political heterogeneity. We sometimes forget such heterogeneity ourselves and the world ofcourse sometimes totally ignores it. They tend to lump us as simply “Palestinians” or “Americans”. The same is probably here in Palestine. Many try to generalize about foreigners (Ajaneb in Arabic).
I have not taught developmental biology for many years now (my focus had been on genetics). Understanding the normal miracles of animal development has some interesting philosophical ramifications. Starting with one cell inside a very large egg there is a transformation to a fully-developed chick with millions of cells, a brain with developed wiring for feeding etc. We dissect (literally and knowledge wise) all the processes involved: cleavage, blastula formation, gastrulation, organogenesis. Sometimes rather simple things: forming a tube by an invagination to create an alimentary canal that then connects to the other end (mouth and anus). In some organisms the initial opening makes the anus (e.g. humans and sea urchins) and in others the initial opening becomes the mouth (e.g. some round worms and snails).
Had a nice dinner (of stuffed sheep necks, considered a delicacy here) at my sister's house. Looked through some old family photos ranging from my sister's wedding to her children's weddings to the birth of her grandchildren. I am mazed taht she already has 4 grandchildren and she is not 50 yet.
There are nearly fifty thousand readers of these email messages. Obviously many have different interests and I try to minimize both the length of the post and number of items covered even though there is so much going on. I also try to focus on action items: what readers can act on from wherever you are (125 countries represented). Some readers write asking for more about life in Palestine and thoughts on developments at the political or other spheres. But not all readers might be interested in this or that topic, so I decided to start a blog on my website with daily musings, reports etc on life under athe Israeli apartheid system for those interested. I share with you the first two entries (for today and yesterday) below BUT all future such material will be posted to http://qumsiyeh.org/apartheidblog
The weekly postings via email will only remind you of that link once in a while and will avoid including these daily musings (of a Bedouin in Cyberspace ;-). The weekly posting will instead include brief items on human rights that are little reported in Western mainstream media and especially action items.
Thursday 19 March 2009
Arrests last night throughout the West Bank including in our area of Bethlehem. The reports on radio suggest that this was intended to apply pressure on Hamas because Israel wanted a deal to free the captured Israeli occupation soldier with minimal cost in terms of releasing native Palestinian political prisoners.
Later in the morning and after stopping by at the University (again seeing the settlements on all around), I gave a talk to a visiting group from the US. The group is from California and they came under the auspices of the “Geneva Initiative”. I was rather bluntly honest with them that this initiative cannot make a basis for a durable peace because as Amnesty International said about the Oslo process: it failed before it started because it ignored human rights. To read more about the Geneva Initiative, please see http://www.arabmediawatch.com/amw/CountryBackgrounds/Palestine/PeaceProposals/GenevaAccord/tabid/131/Default.aspx
And my own article on it:
The meeting lasts much longer than expected because of significant discussion. Having given hundreds of talks and engaged in lots of fruitful dialogs with Israeli and International Zionists almost daily, I believe that even when some individuals get emotional, that such a discussion is better than no discussion. Later in the day I mention to my wife that I am struck that some who support political Zionism from outside have stronger views than Israeli Jews who support political Zionism. For example, very few Israeli Jews claim that the Palestinian refugees are not refugees or claim that it is possible to reject their international rights simply because "there is no space for them to return without displacing Jews" (this simply is not true as social and demographic studies show most of the places they left are not being utilized). No, the only real objection Israeli Zionists give me is the more honest (and more understandable) reason for challenging the implementation of the right of return: that this would change the nature of the Jewish state. This latter, and more straight-forward opinion, can be dealt with; we can discuss for example what is the nature of the Jewish state, we can discuss the fact that there are already 5.5 million Palestinians within the state (1.5 million if one counts areas only within the Green Line). Anyway, it is possible to discuss these things and arrive at a way forward that respects human rights while allaying the fears of all people here (whether rational or irrational fears; and Palestinians have far more to fear in this situation than Israelis since 2/3rds of us are refugees and displaced people and we lost tens of thousands of civilians over the past 60 years). The late Professor Edward Said once said in the 1960s that Palestinains are not allowed to tell their narratives. I think more and more Palestinians are telling their narratives (conflicting as they may be on political and other ideologies). I also think more and more Israelis are telling different narratives than the one dogmatic view of this conflict being tribal (the view of Zionism that there are "two sides" to this story, Israeli and Palestinian). I explained that certainly the conflict in South Africa was not about "Whites vs Blacks" but those who supported apartheid and those who did not (and there were blacks and whites who supported apartheid as well as whites and blacks who rejected it). It is the same here. But still, everytime I give a talk, I think I could have done better relaying reality on the ground here.
I then went back to Bethlehem University and workd with some students on projects then returned home. My small yard is now set with fast growing beans, sunflower, and peas in addition to all the trees. The trees are growing new leaves (on the lemons, figs, olives, and almonds). The green almond fruits are delicious and go well with salt and fresh lemons :-). Earlier this week we planted the seeds of Faqoos (small endemic kind of cucumber family) and Koosa (Like Zuchhini Squash). I got on the computer briefly to check e-mails. I engaged in discussion with Israelis and others on peace on mepeace.org. On e-mails, I noted that the Pope is confirmed to visiting here in May and I received an email asking me to sign to request that he visits Gaza. “As in all times, the way of reconciliation exemplified by Jesus calls us to initiate social healing by visiting, eating with, listening to, and risking our safety in solidarity with the “least among us” -- in this case the people of Gaza.” This makes sense since Jesus asked his followers to consider that the poorest and most destitute are God’s body! (to sign go to http://www.petitiononline.com/popegaza/petition.html)
Our friend Dr. Haidar Eid from Gaza (the One Democratic State Group) posted an excellent article titled “Who Said Nearly 50 Years Ago that Israel was an Apartheid State?” by Ronnie Kasril, a Jewish South African and was minister of Intelligence in the post Apartheid era.
Also see Address by Ronnie Kasrils at "Israel Apartheid Week":
http://world.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/60684/ I received an email from Sandy Tolan that begins: “This is the first and likely the last time I will send out a fundraising appeal, but I thought it important enough to forward to you. It's from Dalia Eshkenazi Landau, the Israeli woman whose life I documented (along with Palestinian Bashir al-Khairi) in The Lemon Tree. The common ground of their life stories, quite literally, is the house of Jerusalem stone in Ramle, which Bashir's father built in 1936, and which both Bashir and Dalia lived in at different times. (In case you don't know the story: Bashir's family, along with thousands of other Palestinians, was expelled by Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War; a few months later, Dalia's family, Jewish refugees from Bulgaria, moved into the house. In 1967, after 19 years of exile, Bashir visited the house his father had built, to ask permission to see the home, which was now in Israel. Dalia invited him in, and the two began a deep and difficult friendship that continues to this day.)"
You can read more about this and donate (tax deductible) to the nursery and other peace activities of the now “Open House” at: http://www.friendsofopenhouse.org/
The day ended on a sour note: Palestinian factions (with very limited participation of 13 indepenedents) ended their scheduled meetings in Cairo without really solving the most problematical issue - the nature of the Palestinain interim authority that will set the stage for new elections for us (the prisoners in the ghettos/cantons of the West Bank and Gaza. I myself blame everyone including myself for not pressing them enough to end the bickering and get on with real unity based on a program of struggle for freedom. I wonder in my mind how many of them read this appeal for unity
and how many really understand what it means that in 2-4 weeks we will have a Russian racist, who calls openly for ethnic cleansing, as Israel’s foreign minister? (other Israeli leaders engage in ethnic cleansing but have more clever and diplomatically covered ways of doing it). I thought of the saying taht Fate/God does not change what is to happen to a peopel unless they change what is within themselves. Israelis and Palestinains (each one of us) needs to look more in the mirror (as Jesus said not look at the speck in our brothers eye but mind the log in our own eyes). I wonder if we humans will rise to the challenge in the next few weeks or sink further into posturing and slogans.
Wednesday 18 March 2009
Last night we saw a film produced by an Israeli on the nonviolent resistance in Bilin. I had seen this film before but I was again impressed by the extent of ingenuity of the villagers (supported by Internationals and some Israelis). The apartheid (the term used for it is Hafrada or Segregation in Hebrew) wall is built on their village lands and behind the wall lies over half of their best agricultural lands that were taken to expand an illegal colonial Jewish settlement. Variations of forms of resistance to the apartheid wall and land confiscation includes:
- Tying themelves with chains to olive trees being uprooted
- Marching silently with English, Arabic, and Hebrew signs
- Marching loudly and telling soldiers to refuse service
- Cutting the fences built there
- Building a mock fence with Palestinians chained under it on their land so that soldiers were forced to “dismantle” the mock fence
- Putting a caravan on their land and staying in it (many settlements buildings were built without even a permit from the Israeli occupation forces so this tests selective law enforcement).
- When the caravan is destroyed, putting an actual permanent structure overnight
- And on and on
All these tactics are met with violent responses ranging from using sonic booms, to high pressure water hoses, to stun grenades, to tear gas (spiked with other chemicals), to salt pellet guns, to rubber coated steel bullets, and to live ammunition. Everything was tried. These weekly demonstrations happen in many other villages with land loss. Many villagers were injured, some killed, many imprisoned and bankrupted with large fines etc. Yet, the world’s sleazy politicians hypocritically ignore thousands of Palestinians killed and focus on any Israelis injured or killed. But the people are by and large waking up to the nature of this racist system of Apartheid.
I woke up today and had a great and refreshing cup of Arabic coffee and think to myself: life is still good. I checked emails; hundreds with news and views and actions and from students and from scientific colleagues and on and on. But I lingered on one email from a British volunteer who was attacked in a peaceful demonstration in Palestine and was beaten, detained, jailed and then deported by the Israeli colonial state. Excerpt:
so im back in my home town, … it was a bit unexpected being whisked away from all that i was absorbed in, stuck in jail for 4 days and then stuck on a plane back to the uk, but im getting back into the swing of things…..the palestinians know how to live and love. the folk here have been bombarded with wealth for so long that they fail to see any other plausible way of living and so take their luxury life style with a pinch of salt…give me palestine any day….sadly i've got a ten year ban on coming back so i cant even get into the west bank. i am gutted, but i will return one day.….everyday i get anxious feelings about the work i personally left uncompleted and the people i left disappointed….all the people i never got the chance to say a proper goodbye to. i never thought it would come to deportation. after my second court appearance it seemed that all would be fine if i could get a new visa, just an application for a new visa by the time of my next bail date at kiriyat arba police station in hebron. however, first the israel ministry of the interior in jerusalem told me that as i was living in bethlehem i must get a visa from the palestinian authority. so i got an application in process in bethlehem only to be told by the israeli police that this wasn’t good enough and that the matter would be transferred to israeli immigration. so they arrested and took 4 days to deport me during which time i was moved around various jails ending up in ramle amongst african refugees. this really was an eye opener. refugees held in prison, some for 3 years without any notification as to how long they might spend there. none of them had money for lawyers and none of them had a country to return to. israel was threatening most of them with deportation even though they were pleading political assylum. i was told by a few that if they returned they would likely be killed.. the lawyer that saw me told me that if i didnt hire her services i was looking at spending 3 months in jail. i knew she was lying just to make me panic and get my money. i had already been told that the british consulate would get me out in at most a week. so, you can imagine how much money she must have swindled out of these captive refugees, those with any money that is. i would love to hear from you all. take care for now, much love…”
I drove to Bethlehem University where I met a Dean in the Parking lot who was angry that the Israelis at the checkpoint delayed him for one hour demanding he dismantle the spare tire on his car (he has a Jerusalem ID and thus a yellow license plate so could drive his car unlike me with a West Bank white/green license plate). He asked them to do it themselves and search whatever they want but it is not his job to take things apart for them! Acts of civil resistance like this are done by the millions everyday in Palestine.
In a Palestinian newspaper I read that the Israeli supreme court (after delays of five years) refused a petition that requests it to issue a ruling that Muslim Holy Sites should be treated by the Israeli government just like Jewish Holy Sites (in terms of maintenance, protection etc). The court claimed in this racist ruling that it was due to difficulty for the Jewish state to determine Muslim Holy Sites (obviously there is no “difficulty” about deciding Jewish holy sites). Hundreds of mosques have already been demolished in the past 60 years and others turned into things like nightclubs and art galleries. The remaining Muslim ancient sites are pillaged, buried, ignored, etc. while Israel spends millions to maintain and build (and in some cases even fabricate) Jewish Holy Sites.
In the web version of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, I read that Israeli leaders blamed Hamas for failure of prisoner swap and have then taken more political prisoners to pressure Hamas. A reader response caught my eyes: “This is insane what Zionists keep indulging in, an exercise of unabashed narcissism. It`s nothing more than a self-righteous sanctimonious orgy of self-gratification and self-glorification. What are they drinking in Zion to be so out there in the stratosphere? Israel murdered over 1,300 people just a month or so ago, injured over 5,000 - majority civilians and kids, and bombed 100% civilian infrastructure (since no military infrastructure exists) and Zionists got the chutzpah to talk about 'blood on their hands'? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? To top all of that, Israel has locked up and rounded up thousands (over 11,000 to be exact) of Palestinians who today rot in prisons somewhere in the desert and their only crime was to be born NOT JEWISH. Only in Israel, POW exchanges are performed by bleeding heart puritans. Give me a break, just because a slaughterhouse is kosher doesn`t mean it`s any less bloody than non-kosher slaughterhouses. Israel has more war criminals/terrorists than Las Vegas has gamblers. It`s time for the holier than thou act to end”. Part of me wants to think the worst is yet to come here with an extreme right government in Israel. The other part of me sees the growing chorus of Jews and non-Jews engaged in telling the reality and challenging the stereotypes and racism.
In the same newspaper website edition, we learn that “During Operation Cast Lead (Gaza Invasion earlier this year), Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property, say soldiers who fought in the offensive….The speakers included combat pilots and infantry soldiers. Their testimony runs counter to the Israel Defense Forces' claims that Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation.”
In the afternoon, we met with new people (Two US citizens who are Fullbright fellows in Jordan and another US citizen visiting on her own) and toured the apartheid wall and the settlements that now ring Bethlehem area on all sides. I show new groups or inividuals things here almost every day. Each time, I am always amazed at how connected we are. How especially Jewish and non-Jewish young people (19-28 year olds) catch on very quickly to what is going on here even when they get no history background. But we also have fun (eating Knaffa, wonderful Palestinian sweets) and have good walks in abandoned military posts that get our circulation going while watching a beautiful sunset over Bethlehem. In the evening we watched “Walz With Bashir”, an Israeli documentary using animation to relay experiences of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. These experiences include machine gun attacks on civilian cars killing an entire family, and lighting the sky and observing as Israeli trained and equipped Lebanese Phallange Militias massacre hundreds of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps (September, 1982).