U.S. Endorses “No State Solution”

Ramallah after the vote, December 2012. Photo from France24.com

The Obama administration’s refusal to support Palestine as a symbolic “observer state” in the United Nations sends a strong signal that all will be business as usual during the second term.  Worse, with its latest and most shameful capitulation to AIPAC and the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., the United States has essentially endorsed a No State Solution between Israel and Palestine.

Official U.S. policy has long been in support of a negotiated settlement that would produce two states, Israel and Palestine, existing side by side in peace.  But during the “peace process” of the last twenty years, Israel’s actions have undermined that goal.   Since the famous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn in 1993, which marked the beginning of the Oslo process, settler population in the West Bank has rocketed from 109,000 to more than 350,000.  One of the largest settlements, Ariel (20,000) has been absorbed into “greater Israel” by a separation wall that veers deep inside the West Bank; plans are in place to thus incorporate a second settlement, Ma’ale Adumim (34,000).  A ring of Jewish settlements all but surrounds East Jerusalem, crippling the dream of making the Holy City the future capital of Palestine.  Settlements, checkpoints, roadblocks, settlers-only roads, and Israel’s full military occupation of 60 percent of the West Bank: all have combined to carve a would-be Palestine into disjointed cantons, not the “viable and contiguous” land that the U.S. officially seeks for Palestine.  Rockets from Gaza or, in past years, suicide bombers from the West Bank have clearly undermined the Palestinians’ own case.  But the Israeli seizure of Palestinian land has continued apace, regardless of the level of violence.

Free Speech and the “Clash of Civilizations”

Slur in the eyeblack. Photo by James G., via Flickr

Three hurtful words, scrawled in black circles under the eyes of a ballplayer named Yunel Escobar: Tu ere[s] maricón.  The message, conveyed in the eyeblack of the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop during a recent game, means, You’re a faggot.  That’s hate language, and reaction was swift and stern.  Major league baseball launched an investigation, the Blue Jays suspended Escobar for three games and enrolled him in “sensitivity training,” and he gave the obligatory apology in front of the microphones. Few if anyone publicly complained that, hurtful or not, homophobic or not, Escobar’s free speech rights trumped the concerns of others wounded by his words.  No one said Escobar should be able to continue displaying the slur.

“Given the reaction of the offended community, Escobar’s punishment was absolutely justifiable and necessary to maintain order in society,” wrote Stacie Brown on policymic.  In other words, the community came together and shut Escobar up, due to a collective sense of mutual respect for the rights of others not to be hurt by hateful speech.  Society has forged standards of respect and unacceptability about racial, ethnic, anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs.  Rightly or wrongly, the message is:  use certain hateful words in public, and you’ll pay the price.  So why is there a different set of values at work when it comes to the hurt caused Muslims by hateful, Islamophobic characterizations of the Prophet Mohammed, or denigrations of Islam?  Go to Salon…

Anthony Shadid: Death of an honest witness

Anthony Shadid, at work in Cairo. Photo by Ed Ou. Used with permission.

Rare is the day when the death of a journalist merits a national period of mourning.  But that’s how the passing of New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid feels from here.

Shadid, who won two Pulitzer Prizes while with the Washington Post, was well known for his courage, having survived a shooting in the West Bank (most likely by an Israeli sniper), a kidnapping in Libya, harassment and intimidation by Mubarak cronies in Egypt, and, as an unembedded Post correspondent, the American invasion of Iraq. “After anthony shadid’s unauthorized trip into Syria, the Gov put him on television and called him a spy,” tweeted Shadid’s Times colleague, David Kirkpatrick. “He went back again.”

Election Round Two in Egypt: Should we grow more food at home?

Among the many things ultimately at stake in the first democratic elections in Egypt in decades is the price of food. High prices — for bread, in particular — helped fuel the protests in Tahrir Square back in January. Experts say that if Egypt’s going to have any chance at feeding its 85 million people, it needs a food policy do-over. Food for 9 Billion, a collaboration between Marketplace Radio (US), the PBS Newshour (US), the Center for Investigative Reporting and Homelands Productions, is about the global challenge of feeding a growing world.    Click here for Sandy Tolan’s report from Marketplace, on the market realities of food independence, produced with Charlotte Buchen.  Click here for PBS Newshour piece by Tolan and Buchen.  And click on “view full post” below for their analysis of the issue of food sovereignty in Egypt.

Egypt: Food for a Revolution

Morning meal, Cairo, July 2011. Photo by Charlotte Buchen

Anger over food prices helped contribute to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak. Through the story of one migrant family, we explore how displaced farmers, angry at agricultural policies that favor “crony capitalists,” now struggle to put food on the table.  Egypt:  Food for a Revolution will run tonight (Wednesday November 30) on PBS Newshour. Stay tuned for a link to the piece.   The story was reported by Sandy Tolan and produced and shot by Charlotte Buchen.  It is part of a new series, Food for Nine Billion, a collaboration between public radio’s Marketplace, the Newshour, the Center for Investigative Reporting and Homelands Productions.

Tonight’s broadcast of “Egypt: Food for a Revolution” launches our new series, “Food for Nine Billion,” an ambitious multi-platform media project that examines the challenge of feeding the world at a time of growing demand, changing diets, rising food and energy prices, shrinking land and water resources, and accelerating climate change. In the coming weeks, look for more stories from around the world highlighting various facets of the common struggle to provide a sustainable supply of food – whether it’s for an entire nation or a single family.

The Occupation That Time Forgot

Whatever symbolic satisfaction the Palestinian Authority may get at the U.N., there’s always the Occupation and there — take it from someone who just got back from three months in the West Bank — Israel is winning the battle,  the one for control over every square foot of ground.  Inch by inch, meter by meter, Israel’s expansion project in the West Bank and Jerusalem is, in fact, gaining momentum, ensuring that the “nation” that the U.N. might grant membership will be each day a little smaller, a little less viable, a little less there.

Visions Collide in a Sweltering Tahrir Square

Signs of strains between secular and Islamist forces have been showing for months.  But both sides were to be represented in Friday’s mass demonstration.  Between 800,000 and a million people were expected.

Friday prayer, Tahrir Square, July 29 2011. Photo by Sandy Tolan

After midnight the Cairo heat finally broke.  Mamdouh Hamza, Egyptian civil engineer, businessman and longtime government critic, was sitting in a plastic chair in an outdoor café at Tahrir Square, puffing on a water pipe.  The white-haired Hamza was holding court with his cadre of young revolutionaries, to whom he’d become a kind of beneficent godfather.  (My colleague Charlotte and I had met him an hour earlier, having interviewed him for a story on Egyptian agriculture and food issues we’re producing for U.S. public radio (Marketplace) and television.)  Hamza – builder of big Egyptian development projects and nevertheless a longtime critic of the regime – had been trying to keep a dialogue going between the military council and his “kids.”  But recently things had broken down, and that morning at 5, he said, something disturbing and perhaps unrelated happened:  Someone called Hamza to say he’d been hired to kill him.  But the would-be hit man had changed his mind – “I like you,” he told Hamza – and so he gave the blood money back. Or so the story went.  Hamza seemed to think this was all a hoax, designed to rattle him, and he had no plans to heed the reluctant killer’s warning:  that Hamza shouldn’t show up at the square the next day, lest he take a bullet.

Picasso Comes to Palestine

A masterpiece on display at a tiny art academy in Ramallah

The two-year odyssey of Picasso’s “Buste de Femme” goes far beyond the art itself:  it’s about protocols, “peace” agreements, ports and checkpoints.  And it demonstrates how art can play a role in the nationalist vision of an occupied people struggling for some normalcy while forging the nascent institutions of a state. Read more, from Al Jazeera English…

Dancing Soldiers

During “Operation Mozart” at Qalandia, say young Palestinian musicians, soldiers laughed, snapped pictures, and danced.  Does it matter?

Rashed Zarour, 12, says he saw Israeli soldiers dancing during the Al Kamandjati youth orchestra performance at the Qalandia military checkpoint on June 23rd. But he says, "Whether they danced, or were angry, I don't care. I'm just there to play music for my country."

The other day two dozen Palestinian children, armed with violins, cellos, woodwinds and brass, confronted Israel’s occupation at the Qalandia military checkpoint. [Listen to Mozart's Symphony No. 6 from Qalandia.]  A grim barrier of confinement was transformed, if only for a short time, into a space of assertive joy, as the young musicians played Mozart’s Sixth Symphony in F Major, and three selections from Bizet, just a few feet from machine-gun glad conscripts of the Israel Defense Forces.  Now comes word of dancing soldiers.

Operation Mozart

Children and their “musical intifada” prevail at Qalandia

Jason Crompton, conductor of the Al Kamandjati youth orchestra, silhouetted in front of the bars at Qalandia military checkpoint. (To listen, click on "Symphony No. 6," or near "Bizet's Farandole," below.)

The operation was planned well in advance, and down to the last detail.  Target: Passenger terminal at Israel’s Qalandia military checkpoint, near the entry cage where every day, hundreds of Palestinians cross to Jerusalem.  Time of day: High noon, June 23rd, 2011. Operatives: More than two dozen Palestinian children. Weapons: molded wood, metal string, curved brass.  Known co-conspirators: Georges Bizet, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  ”This is a musical intifada,” declared Ramzi Aburedwan, founder of the Ramallah-based Al Kamandjati (The Violinist, in Arabic).

Checkpoint Melody in a Minor Key

Lovely Toys, just north of the Qalandia checkpoint. Owner Wisam Afaneh stands at the entrance.

Lovely Toys is the key to your checkpoint destiny.  It’s the kids’ store, brightly festooned with stuffed tigers, scooters, beach balls and racing cars, that sits about 200 meters from Qalandia, where the 25-foot-high wall, watchtowers and military checkpoint divide Jerusalem from Ramallah.  The toy store serves commuters, and the occasional mom and her shebab at the Qalandia refugee camp across the chaotic street, reports owner Wisam Afaneh.

If your taxi or service (sir-VEECE, a collective van) gets snarled in traffic by or before Lovely Toys, you can count on a long wait in your car going south, or walking through the steel and concrete chambers on your way to Jerusalem.  If on the other hand you breeze past Lovely Toys – and the boys peddling bottled water and verses from the Quran, and the squeegee men wiping the windshields of reluctant drivers, and the huge chunks of broken concrete and scattered plastic debris, and the murals of a young Yasser Arafat and the handcuffed Marwan Barghouti along the wall, and the overflowing dumpster where a dead cat has been lying belly-up, paws reaching for the sky, for the last couple of weeks – then you might just get through quickly and make your appointment in the Holy City on time.

The Bird Man of Jenin

A biologist with a camera, and his quest to document a great annual migration over Palestine.

A Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus, from the falcon family), in the sky over Jenin. Photo copyright by Walid Basha. Used with permission.

Say “Jenin” to a friend and ask what word comes to mind.  I’m guessing that word would not be “birdwatcher.”  Unless, perhaps, you’d had the good fortune to meet Walid Salim Basha, microbiologist, university professor, environmentalist, and scientific and photographic observer of the great bird migration over the West Bank, especially in the Jenin governorate. “In the Holy Land, all birds migrating from Europe to Africa avoid passing over the Mediterranean, so they will pass over Palestine – more than 600 million birds will fly over Palestine during the year,” Walid told me as he navigated the crowded streets of Jenin in his old Opel.  We were driving toward his house so he could show me photographs he took of 120 species of  migratory birds in the Jenin mountains.  “This year, over Jenin, I recorded more than 500 kites [a hawk-like bird of prey].  You have the white stork – we have thousands in Jenin, in the valley between Jenin and Nablus.”

I’d met Walid only a few minutes earlier, at the Al Kamandjati music center in Jenin, where his 11-year-old son Fadi is taking singing lessons with the British soprano, Julia Katarina.  (My new book is about Al Kamandjati and the transformational power of music in the lives of children.)  Fadi, who at this stage in life is also a soprano, has a strikingly powerful, clear voice, and was preparing for a performance of Italian arias for the Italian consulate in Bethlehem in a few days’ time.  (Right; of course he was.)  While Julia went upstairs to work with Fadi, Walid happened to mention his passion for birds, and soon he was inviting me back to the house to see the photos.

June 7: The Anniversary Nobody Remembers

A secret meeting 44 years ago could have changed the course of Middle Eastern history. But it never happened.

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970)

In this part of the world, carrying tragic dates around in your head is kind of like breathing: you do it automatically, without thinking. This time of year, for Palestinians, June 5 marks the 44th anniversary of their occupation by Israel. June 6, in the evening, evokes the darkness when Ramallah fell, and finally people realised that the tanks rolling into town were not Iraqis sent to the aid of the local people: they belonged to the army of Israel.

June 5: Amid Clashes, the Music Stops at Qalandia

On the 44th anniversary of the first day of the Six Day War and the beginning of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Maddalena Pastorelli made plans to teach her regular music appreciation class to Palestinian children at the Qalandia refugee camp.  Under the circumstances – Palestinian youth groups were calling for a mass nonviolent march to the Israeli’s Qalandia checkpoint, alongside its 25-foot-high wall, and Israeli troops were mobilizing – it was an ambitious goal.

Maddalena Pastorelli, a teacher at Al Kamandjati (The Violinist) in Ramallah, with her box of homemade musical instruments to share with the children of Qalandia refugee camp.

Nevertheless, we set out in a white van in the late morning, Maddalena accompanied by two of her colleagues in the Al Kamandjati music school. At her feet was a cardboard box full of simple instruments: a tambourine, a triangle, small plastic sheets to make rattling sounds, a piece of plastic garden hose to evoke the sound of the wind, and plastic jugs filled with chickpeas, orange lentils, and rice. “The rice is the best for the rain,” Maddalena declared.

Beethoven in Shatila

Abdallah Qazwah, 11, looks over sheet music to Beethoven's "Romance" in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. His brother, Khalil, a tabla player, stands at the ready with Abdallah's violin

“Romance!” exclaims 11-year-old Abdallah, standing astride his violin case in a narrow alley of Shatila, the Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. His eyes are alive, his smile wide. The exclamation comes in response to a question: What is your favorite music? The interviewer (that would be me) is not exactly a classical music aficionado, and so I had to wait for Abdallah’s violin teacher, the classically-trained Cambridge (UK) grad, Alice Howick, to tell me that the boy was not talking about a type of music, but rather an actual piece called Romance, by Beethoven.

Abdallah Qazwah is a student at Al Kamandjati, the Ramallah-based Palestinian classical and Arabic music school founded by Ramzi Aburedwan, who grew up in the Al-Amari refugee camp near Ramallah.

Ramzi’s Story: Laying Down Stones, Picking Up Instruments

In 1988, a photographer in the West Bank snapped a photo of a scrawny 8-year-old with tears in his eyes, hurling a rock at an Israeli soldier. The photograph symbolized the rage and frustration of the intifada. More than 20 years later, that boy, Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, has grown up to become a visionary musician.

Listen to more, from NPR…

The Surreal State Solution

Following Obama’s weak speeches and Netanyahu’s rejection of any compromise, Palestinians look elsewhere for support.

It’s always bizarre to watch the cheering throng of US congressmen, their pockets lined with AIPAC contributions, fawn over a visiting Israeli leader as if he were a conquering war hero of their own.  But seen on YouTube from the West Bank, Binyamin Netanyahu’s fanciful walk through Middle East diplomacy, and his disingenuous endorsement of peace and democracy – accompanied by an estimated 55 standing ovations – was truly surreal. Read more, from Al-Jazeera English…

Shopping in Ramallah, I

I arrived in Ramallah a week or so ago, from America via Europe. This time, perhaps my 15th visit, it feels different – and not just politically, with stirrings around a possible Palestine statehood declaration in September. Personally, too.

A Moral Case for a Just Peace

A just and durable peace need not be based on love or appreciation. But it must be based on dignity, equality, and mutual respect.

With a revolutionary spirit in the Middle Eastern air, with momentum building for unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations this September, and a virtual certainty of a coming Palestinian majority on the lands “between the river and the sea,” plans discarded long ago are reemerging.  Read more, from the Christian Science Monitor…

Pushing for a Palestinian Tahrir

Feeling abandoned by their political leadership, Palestinian youth are pushing for change.
On a cool January evening at the height of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, Najwan Berekdar and a few friends were sitting at a smoky café in Ramallah, puffing on water pipes and strategising. “We were talking about what’s happening in Tunisia, and we decided, maybe this is the momentum – we should use it…”    Read more, from Al-Jazeera English…

Palestine Comes to Hollywood

Most Americans, Jew and Gentile, grew up with the Leon Uris history of the struggle for the Holy Land. Exodus chronicles the heroic birth of Israel out of the ashes of the Holocaust. There the story ends; there is no other narrative.  This politically convenient and magnificently incomplete version of history remains the dominant American narrative of the tragedy known as Israel and Palestine. Despite the cracks in that narrative in recent years, the über story of Exodus – Uris’ 1958 mega-bestseller, and the subsequent Hollywood film starring Paul Newman – still holds a tremendous grip on the American imagination.  Read more, from Al-Jazeera English

Two-state Solution: A Postmortem

In the wake of the Palestine Papers and the Egyptian uprising the ‘peace process’ as we know it is dead.
Among the time-honoured myths in the long tragedy of Israel and Palestine is “the deal that almost was”. The latest entry, what we might call the “near deal of 2008,” comes from Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, chronicled in excerpts from his forthcoming memoir and feverishly promoted in The New York Times as “the Israel peace plan that almost was and still could be”.  Read more, from Al-Jazeera English…

The Palestine Papers: A fact-based play, in one act

Uncle Sam to his shrink:  “For six decades I’ve been pretending to be the honest broker — but I’m here to tell you: It’s all lies!”

Scene: A psychiatrist’s office in a nondescript strip mall in suburban Virginia. Dr. Weller, a clean-shaven, balding man in his sixties, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, khaki pants and a loose knit sweater with suede elbow patches, moves across the carpeted floor to greet his new client. At the doorway stands a tall, rangy senior citizen with a pointed white beard and top hat with red and white stripes and a white star on a blue background. Dr. Weller extends his hand.  Read more, from Salon…

Israel and the psychology of never again

The wounds of its people’s tragic history have trapped Israel in a cycle of violence

Why does Israel continue to act against its own interests?  Over the years, and especially since 2006, the Jewish state’s deadly, over-the-top military actions in response to provocations from Hamas and Hezbollah — and now from a flotilla ferrying humanitarian aid to Gaza — have backfired. And in each case, the Jewish state has grown less secure by increasing its international isolation and fueling fury much closer to home. Read more, from Salon…