Articles and Commentary

Are Clinton and Sanders really all that different on Israel/Palestine?


By Sandy Tolan

Indiana’s vote for Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton’s path to the Democratic nomination remains all but guaranteed.  For the defenders of Palestinian rights who have flocked to Sanders, this is grim news.  But in terms of actual U.S. policy in the Holy Land, does it really matter? Is there really a fundamental difference between Clinton and Sanders on this issue?

I say yes.  And no.  And maybe.  In that order.

Click here to read the full article.

Beholden: Prodded by Millennials, Bernie Sanders Reboots the Conversation on Israel and Palestine

by Sandy Tolan

By nearly every measure—income inequality, financial corruption, race relations, the environment, foreign policy—Sanders is changing the conversation in the United States, hauling out unpopular items long ago kicked under the couch. Nowhere is this more surprising than on the question of Palestine and Israel.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a roundtable discussion at the First Unitarian Congregational Society in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a roundtable discussion at the First Unitarian Congregational Society in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

Click here to read the full article on TruthDig. This is the final article in “Beholden,” a seven-part series about the presidential candidates on Israel and Palestine.

Beholden: A Kiss Was Just A Kiss: Hillary Clinton’s March to the Hard Right on Israel

Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in Israel. (The Israel Project / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in Israel. (The Israel Project / CC BY-SA 2.0)



by Sandy Tolan

Once upon a time, Hillary Clinton was considered a (relative) progressive on the issue of Israel/Palestine. That was before she ran for U.S. Senate in New York, her first corrective step in a steady rightward march toward military intervention, war under false pretense, support for a military coup against a democratically elected president, a $29 billion weapons deal that benefited million-dollar donors to the Clinton Foundation, warm relations with accused war criminals then and now, and the embrace of a billionaire benefactor hell-bent on shutting down open discussion of Israel’s human rights disaster in the Israeli-occupied territories.

Click here to read the full article on TruthDig. This article is the fifth in “Beholden,” a seven-part series about the presidential candidates on Israel and Palestine.

Israel/Palestine: What Would a President ‪#‎Trump‬ Do?

In the first in a special series on the presidential candidates on Palestine/Israel on Facebook, Sandy Tolan asks, “What Would a President ‪#‎Trump‬ Do?”

Credit: Consortium News

Photo Credit: Consortium News

How bad has it gotten when arguably the most “progressive” presidential candidate on Palestine/Israel – in either party – is the nativist who’d ban Muslim visitors to the U.S., close American mosques, enter U.S. Muslims in a national database, and enshrine waterboarding as a national foreign policy pastime? Yep; pretty bad.

But Donald #Trump’s apparent declaration of neutrality to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough last week is significant in its sharp contrast to the outpouring of love (of dollars) nearly every other candidate has slobbered all over Israel and its most Strangelovian defenders since the beginning of the 2016 race.

“Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” Trump told the “Morning Joe” host. In most international conflicts, such a statement would be laudable if unsurprising, hardly worth a comment. But in the alternative reality that is our reality, such statements do not go unchallenged, especially from those fawning souls hungry for campaign dollars from pro-Israeli billionaire titans Sheldon ‪#‎Adelson‬, Haim Saban, members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and others.

Click here to read the full post and join the conversation.

We blew it after 9/11. We’re blowing it again after Paris


We had global goodwill after 9/11 and squandered it in Iraq. Rage and vengeance is the wrong strategy post-Paris, too


On Sept. 14, 2001, 800 million Europeans in 43 countries observed three minutes of silence for the victims of 9/11. From Europe and around the world came pleas that the U.S. not squander this global goodwill. I recall the words of my brother John, a French-American Medieval scholar and co-author of “Europe and Islam: Fifteen Centuries of History,” who wrote then from France: “This massive unity of public opinion and political will provides the United States with a tremendous opportunity and risk: the chance to capitalize on this good will and the danger of taking action that will splinter the forces that stand with us now.”

George W. Bush and firefighter Bob Beckwith at the World Trade Center wreckage, Sept. 14, 2001; Donald Trump. (Credit: AP/Doug Mills/Carolyn Kaster/Photo montage by Salon)

George W. Bush and firefighter Bob Beckwith at the World Trade Center wreckage, Sept. 14, 2001; Donald Trump. (Credit: AP/Doug Mills/Carolyn Kaster/Photo montage by Salon)

Of course, we blew it, instead pursuing a foolhardy war under false pretense and prompting a 14-year ongoing nightmare: half a million Iraqi civilians dead, by one estimate, a deep and abiding rage against America and its occupation, and a mighty vacuum in the wake of Saddam Hussein that prompted the rise of ISIS and the biggest global refugee crisis since World War II.

Now, the fury has exploded, again: 129 people dead in Paris at the hands of a twisted ideology forged in a cauldron of rage, disenfranchisement, perverse religious interpretation and cool military calculation. And again, the West is faced with a choice: lash out in vengeance, stigmatize certain immigrants, and seal off the borders, or devise a more measured response in keeping with values that for centuries have led refugees to Western shores.

Click here to read the full article.

Our media’s context-free zone: “There is much more alarm when Israelis rather than Palestinians are dying”


All violence and death is horrific. But the media’s doing a poor job of explaining the history in East Jerusalem

There is a visceral and perhaps ancient fright provoked by sharpened knives aimed at the flesh of fellow human beings. Under other circumstances, that might explain the degree of outrage directed at the perpetrators of multiple random knife attacks. But in this case, in which Palestinian youths have staged several dozen attacks against Israeli Jews in East Jerusalem and elsewhere, killing 10 as of this writing, it has, sadly, much more to do with the nature of who is killing whom.

(Credit: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

(Credit: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

To put it bluntly, there is much more alarm when Israelis rather than Palestinians are dying. The death of 500 children under bombardment by Israel in Gaza last summer sparked less outrage then the slayings of 10 Israelis by the knife in October. (By the way 46 Palestinians, most of whom were not in the act of wielding knives, have also been killed this month.) And there is scant attention to the broader question of why this is happening, and why now.

Click here to read why some young Palestinians have become so enraged that they’ve begun to sharpen their knives.

In the Bookroom Q&A: Sandy Tolan, Author of Children of the Stone


How did you develop your original interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Throughout my career, I have been drawn to international stories about the intersection of land, natural resources, indigenous and cultural identity. I had always been interested in covering such issues in Israel and Palestine. Like many Americans, Jew and Gentile alike, I was raised with the story of the heroic birth of Israel out of the ashes of the Holocaust but had come to understand that there was another people’s story in the Holy Land, too. After marrying a Palestinian journalist whom I met on a journalism fellowship at Harvard (we were married for eight years), I began traveling to the region extensively to explore the different narratives of history, identity, war, and peace, throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This resulted first in a series of reports for National Public Radio (NPR) about water in the Holy Land, and then my 1996 book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.

What about Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan first caught your attention when you met him in 1998?
3. RamziPoster
I first saw Ramzi on a poster that was pasted up all over Ramallah as I was researching The Lemon Tree. One image showed eight-year-old Ramzi, in 1987, throwing a stone at an unseen Israeli soldier. Beside that, on the same poster, was another image, from 1997, of 18-year-old Ramzi playing the viola. The poster was a promotion for the Palestine National Conservatory of Music, but also in essence for the hope many people had at that time that a free and independent state of Palestine would coexist, side-by-side in peace, with Israel. I was inspired to find Ramzi at the refugee camp near Ramallah where he lived with his impoverished grandparents. Once there, as I began working on a piece that would air on NPR, what caught my attention was Ramzi’s spirit—his charisma, determination, will, and the light in his eyes, despite all the loss he had suffered, to not only play music but to create music schools for Palestinian children. This, from an 18-year-old with no financial resources who had just begun to play music.

Click here to read the full interview.

Witness to a Catastrophe: Sandy Tolan on ‘Night in Gaza’ and ‘The 51 Day War’



ONE EVENING in July of 2014, near the beginning of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, several dozen Israelis pulled up couches and plastic chairs to a nearby hilltop to watch the spectacle. Some munched popcorn. Suddenly, there on the outskirts of the Israeli town of Sderot, a flash lit up the night sky, followed by a column of fire and an earth-shaking roar. As the missiles from Israeli fighter jets rained down on Gaza, the crowd broke into cheers and applause.
51 Day War cover
One of those missiles, from an American-made F-16 fighter, crashed through the Fun Time Beach Café in Gaza, killing nine young men, also in plastic chairs, gathered to watch the World Cup on television. They would be among the early victims of a 51-day war that claimed the lives of nearly1,500 civilians, including 521 children, and badly damaged or destroyed 18,000 buildings, including schools, hospitals, the Gaza Power Plant, water and waste water infrastructure, and more than 400 businesses.
Click here to read the full review.

Divine inspiration or pure politics: What’s behind Charles Schumer’s opposition to Obama’s Iran deal?

Salon_website_logoIs the self-described guardian of Israel risking his leadership because he believes God speaks through him?


Throughout history, kings, sultans, popes and commanders in chief have claimed to hear the voice of God in matters of war and peace.

From Pope Urban II’s cry of “Deus vult!” (God wills it!) in launching the Crusades in 1095, to George W. Bush’s alleged claim, in 2003, that God told him, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq,” history is replete with leaders who acted because they believed God spoke to them directly and told them what to do.

Is a sense of divine responsibility at work in Sen. Charles Schumer’s opposition to the Iran deal?  Is the senior senator from New York breaking with the Obama administration, risking his rise to the leadership of the Senate Democrats, in part because he believes God speaks through him?

Click here to read more or join the #Iran conversation on Twitter.

LA Times Op-Ed: Israeli policies sparked the deadly Duma fire



Friday’s horrific arson attack on a Palestinian home by suspected Israeli extremists, in which an 18-month-old Palestinian toddler was burned to death, was, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “a terrorist crime.” What he did not say was that the attack on the Dawabshe family home, in the West Bank village of Duma, fits into a larger pattern of settler violence and domination over Palestinian civilians that undermines any chance for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The body of an 18-month-old baby is carried during a funeral march on July 31 in the Palestinian village of Duma, in the West Bank. A house fire in the village, suspected to have been set by Jewish extremists, killed the child. (Oren Ziv / Getty Images)

The body of an 18-month-old baby is carried during a funeral march on July 31 in the Palestinian village of Duma, in the West Bank. A house fire in the village, suspected to have been set by Jewish extremists, killed the child. (Oren Ziv / Getty Images)

Israel and Palestine: Not So Separate, Deeply Unequal

by Sandy Tolan
July 7, 2015
There are reasons critics of the Israeli encroachments on the West Bank grab for words like “apartheid” and “Jim Crow.”
It was a scene reminiscent of one of the darkest chapters in American history: Dozens of locals were enjoying a swim in a community pool, their skin gleaming brown and olive in the sun, when suddenly white intruders arrived, accompanied by men with guns. The armed men ordered the local population out of the pool so that the white people could bathe in peace. Under threat of violence, the locals complied.  The uninvited visitors descended into the cool water, untouched and unbothered by the native population.

This might have been some long-forgotten incident from the Jim Crow American South, but it happened this spring, near the West Bank municipality of Yatta, when Israeli soldiers came to the village pool and ordered the Palestinian bathers out of the water. The April 2015 incident, documented by the respected Israeli human rights group, B’tselem, was all the more striking in that it occurred in “Area A,” the 18 percent of the West Bank that is supposedly sovereign Palestinian land. (Area C, under full Israeli military control, takes up 60 percent; Area B, joint Israel-Palestinian control, the remaining 22 percent.)

Just as important, the pool incident added another stark example of aggressive Israeli settlers’ increasingly brazen and domineering treatment of Palestinians under military occupation. It is such incidents as these that bring words like “apartheid” and “Jim Crow” into the debate about the future of Israel and the Palestinians.

Read the full article on The Daily Beast here.

Journey through a fractured landscape


by Sandy Tolan

June 18, 2015

…Power here, as it does across the West Bank, lies most clearly in the hands of Israel; Palestinians are no match for Israel’s military might or its political influence with the world’s sole superpower.  Palestinian power lies instead in sumud, or steadfastness: A determination to persevere and to live for a better day, confronting Israel on moral grounds while hoping the world will one day bear greater witness to the facts on the ground.

As if to underscore this point, near the end of our trip to Hebron, H. gestures to a small neighborhood near the mosque, on the other side of yet another entrance controlled by soldiers and armed with metal detectors. Just beyond live six Palestinian families on a tiny island of territory amidst the patchwork jurisdictions of H-2. They live essentially surrounded by settlements and the military, and because of that proximity, any items that could be construed as weapons – including kitchen knives – have been banished from the home by Israeli authorities.  The Palestinian residents must have their meat cut in the market, brought back in pieces. “For how long are you able to live under these shitty conditions?” Read the full story here

The Evil that Dare Not Speak Its Name: Israel’s Apartheid

Palestinian workers wait to cross at the Israeli checkpoint in Jalameh, south of the West Bank city of Jenin, on their way to work in Israel. (Mohammed Ballas / AP)

Palestinian workers wait to cross at the Israeli checkpoint in Jalameh, south of the West Bank city of Jenin, on their way to work in Israel. (Mohammed Ballas / AP)


by Sandy Tolan on TruthDig

June 14, 2015

For years the “A-word” has been off-limits in polite conversation about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The A-word, we have been told, unfairly singles out the Jewish state and its use is perhaps even anti-Semitic. Such declarations can have a powerful silencing effect.

However, in 2002 Archbishop Desmond Tutu broke the taboo, writing in the British newspaper The Guardian that “the humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks” reminded him “of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”

Four years later Jimmy Carter committed a similar indelicacy with the very title of his bestseller, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” A wave of condemnation of the former president followed. “He appears to be giving aid and comfort to the new anti-Semites,” wrote a reviewer for the Jewish Virtual Library.

For the most part, in the mainstream U.S. press at least, the decorum that forbids use of the A-word remains in place. Yet increasingly, as Israel continues to colonize the West Bank with settlers, and its army ensures their dominion over the lands they occupy, adhering to the A-word ban requires shielding one’s eyes, or, at a minimum, engaging in verbal gymnastics. What, after all, to call a system of legalized discrimination based on ethnicity and religion in which one group has full voting rights and the other does not?

Read the full story on TruthDig here.

Blown chances for peace in Gaza

Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the latest Gaza war, like the Gaza wars before it, is how easy it would have been to avoid. For the last eight years, Israel and the U.S. had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza. Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza.  Read more, at…

Palestinian relatives at the funerals for the Bakr boys, four cousins aged 9, 10, and 11, killed in an Israeli shelling on a Gaza beach as they played hide and seek on July 15.  Photo by Mahmud Hams, AFP/ Getty

Palestinian relatives at the funerals for the Bakr boys, four cousins aged 9, 10, and 11, killed in an Israeli shelling on a Gaza beach as they played hide and seek on July 15. Photo by Mahmud Hams, AFP/ Getty


Ten years after his death: remembering Edward Said and his quest for a just peace

Edward Said died ten years ago – September 25, 2003, after a twelve-year battle with leukemia.  One of the 20th Century’s great intellectuals, Said, author of the masterworks Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism, was also a beloved professor to generations of students at Columbia University, a gifted amateur pianist and an opera critic for The Nation magazine.  He was perhaps best known for his fierce defense of the rights of his people, the Palestinians, in numerous books and hundreds of essays and articles published worldwide.

September also marks another fateful anniversary – the 20th, of the now-infamous Arafat-Rabin handshake on the White House lawn, which sealed the Oslo accords.  The legacies of Oslo and its greatest critic, Edward Said, stand as polar opposites.  Indeed, it was Said who was among the first to sharply criticize the accords, in part because, unlike many satisfied pundits of the day, he had actually read them.  For this reason, his widow Mariam told me, he had declined a White House invitation to attend the ceremony in September 1993.  Today his words on Oslo are the soundings of a prophet.

“What Israel has gotten is official Palestinian consent to continue occupation,” Said wrote in “The Middle East ‘Peace Process’,” an essay in Peace and its Discontents.  “[A] kingdom of illusions, with Israel firmly in command.”  He wrote these words in response to “Oslo II,” of 1995, when Israel’s full military control of the West Bank shrank slightly, from seventy-two to sixty percent – the same as today, 18 years later.  Indeed his earlier concerns, written four days before the White House ceremony he had declined to attend, were born out.  “The ‘historical breakthrough’…leaves Palestinians very much the subordinates, with Israel still in charge of settlements, East Jerusalem, and the economy,” Said wrote in the Guardian and Cairo’s Al Ahram Weekly.  “Israel will control the land, water, overall security, and foreign affairs….  For the undefined future, Israel will dominate the West Bank, including…almost all the water and land, a good percentage of which it has already taken.  The question is, how much land is Israel going to in fact cede for peace?”

You are forgiven if it seems these words were written last week.  In the two decades since Edward Said wrote them, a succession of would-be peacemakers have recycled their failures an a diplomatic “Groundhog Day”:  Same old ideas, same failed “process.”

Yet Edward Said, despite the frequent vitriol of his critics (Commentary dubbed him “Professor of Terror”), was not an opponent of peace per se. He was, rather, an advocate of a just peace.

In 1998, nearly five years into the Oslo process, Said began investigating alternatives to the peaceful and just coexistence he deeply believed in for all of the people between the river and the sea – the Jordan and the Mediterranean.  This conviction led him into a friendship with the Argentine-Israeli conductor and pianist, Daniel Barenboim, which resulted in their founding the West Eastern Divan orchestra.  Today, ten years after the death of Edward Said, the Divan remains popular with audiences in the U.S. and Europe.  But with the spirit of rapprochement long faded from the Holy Land, the orchestra has fallen out of favor with many Palestinians.  Indeed, some of the orchestra’s Arab musicians have left out of frustration that the Divan is unwilling to make a unified public statement against the occupation of the Palestinians.

What follows is an excerpt from my forthcoming book (due out in fall 2014), tentatively titled Children of the Stones. The excerpt focuses on Edward Said’s determination to find what he called “an alternative way of making peace.”  The account is based on multiple interviews, video footage, secondary and first-hand accounts, including Tania Nasir’s remembrance in Al Ahram Weekly.


Children of the Stones

Excerpt © 2013 by Sandy Tolan

Edward’s skepticism of the peace accords deepened in the Spring of 1998, when he traveled across Israel and Palestine for an autobiographical film produced by the BBC to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of Israel and the Palestinian “Nakba” (Catastrophe) of 1948.  One day he went to a rubble-strewn field where, hours earlier, a Palestinian home had been demolished by Israeli bulldozers.  “Every day, every hour, every minute for fifty years, and it’s continuing,” a visibly anguished Edward told the film crew.  Behind him, an old man in a checkered keffiyeh knelt beside the fallen stones outside his former home, praying to Mecca.  “Look, the little bits of plastic, the little logs, the bit of railing here, a tin can crushed here,” Edward said.  “These are the atoms out of which the tragedy of Palestine is constructed.”  Edward paused repeatedly, short of breath, holding back tears.  “It’s very very hard for me to stand here talking about it…when I see my own people going through this…without any relief, without any sympathy or support from the so-called civilized world. And we hear about the peace process, but who is protecting, who is giving these people peace?”

Edward had been battling leukemia for nearly seven years, and probing urgently for an “alternative way of making peace.”  Encounters like this drove him deeper into the search for new ideas.  He remained convinced that one day, Palestinian independence was inevitable  — just not through Oslo.  “Palestine and Palestinians remain, despite Israel’s concerted efforts,” he wrote.  “As an idea, a memory, and as an often buried or invisible reality, Palestine and its people have simply not disappeared.”  As he traveled the Holy Land that spring, Edward encountered artists, politicians and intellectuals on both sides who shared his views, and who were willing to try new things to put them into action.  This alternative thinking, he believed, should focus not on the details of a flawed agreement, but on bringing together the two peoples on equal footing.

In his search for alternatives based on equality, Edward had found a kindred spirit in Daniel Barenboim, the Israeli musician who had become his best friend, and with whom he traveled that spring. “We must do something for our people,” Daniel would tell Edward again and again.

Edward was in East Jerusalem, at the American Colony hotel, excited to share his ideas, and his friendship with Daniel, with his friends in Palestine.  He picked up the phone and got an outside line.  “Tania,” he said when he heard the voice on the other end.  “Keefek?  Keefcom? How are you and Hanna?”

Tania and Hanna Nasir were old friends of Edward and his wife, Mariam.  Edward and Hanna went back to the days of Palestinian West Jerusalem in the 1940s, before the war of 1948 resulted in the flight and expulsion of Palestinians from the western portion of the city.  Later, the two couples knew each other in the Palestinian diaspora, most recently in Jordan, where Hanna, the president of Birzeit University in the West Bank, lived in exile for nineteen years after his expulsion by Israel.  He’d been charged with “security violations” following protests at the university against Israeli rule. In the early days of Oslo, as a high-profile gesture of reconciliation, Israel had allowed Hanna to return.  When he crossed over the River Jordan and onto home soil for the first time in nearly two decades, Edward and Mariam had been watching the historic event on television.  That evening, from New York, they called their old friends in celebration.

Now Tania and Hanna were back together in the home they had shared with their children before his exile.  It was the same house in which Hanna’s Christian family had established the Birzeit Higher School in the 1920s.  That school would evolve into Birzeit University, eventually under Hanna’s leadership.  Hanna’s sister, Rima Tarazi, was a co-founder, and his nephew, Suhail Khoury, the new director of the Palestine National Conservatory of Music (the Mahad), which was established under the auspices of the university.  Tania, trained as a soprano, collaborated frequently with Rima, a pianist, on Palestinian songs of liberation, set in a classical vein.

Now Edward had a proposal for Tania, with whom he shared a deep love of classical music.

“Tania,” Edward said from his room at the American Colony, his voice energized and urgent.   “I am here with my close friend Daniel Barenboim. He is a wonderful man, a great human being.”  Tania knew of Daniel’s reputation as an advocate for the Palestinian cause.  As a musician, she had long been familiar with Barenboim, and she knew the two men had become close friends.  “It was part of the general atmosphere of people seeking rapprochement,” she recalled.  Edward had taken a stand against the Oslo accords, but nevertheless, a sense of possibility was in the air.  “It was all part of our inner dialogue: to where will this lead us?”

Now, Edward was suggesting, it could lead Tania to a concert hall in West Jerusalem.

“Daniel is giving a concert this weekend in West Jerusalem,” Edward told her.  “You’re invited, Tania.  We want you to come.”

Tania paused, unsure of how to respond.  Under different circumstances, she would have said yes immediately. She wanted to preserve the remnants of positive feeling she and Hanna had felt since their return from exile, despite the growing violence and expanding settlements – including one on the hill just outside her living room window.  But attending a concert in West Jerusalem would be a huge leap.  She’d been born there nearly fifty-seven years earlier, in 1941, but hadn’t been back in decades.  She was not allowed, in fact, to go by the authorities.  Even if she obtained a permit, crossing from occupied territory to the land of her long-time enemy might be more than she could handle.

Tania believed as a musician that the arts could be a vehicle for understanding.  But with the facts on the ground being what they were, she did not feel comfortable traveling to West Jerusalem, now part of another country, when that country still held her people under occupation.  The situation was not normal and she did not want to suggest by going to Israel that it was.  Still:  Why should she decline to attend a piano recital in West Jerusalem by one of the world’s great musicians – and a defender of her people’s rights – on the invitation of her dear friend, Edward Said?  What purpose would that serve?

Tania promised Edward she would think about it.  She trusted and believed in Edward, and admired that he was trying to open new possibilities.  “Edward was hungry,” she recalled.  “He wanted to know what could change.  There was this feeling that we could push for something.  His friendship with Daniel was part of this.”  Tania felt she owed it to Edward, and to Daniel for his invitation, and to herself, to find out what this was all about.

Soon she called Edward back, and found herself not only accepting the invitation to the concert, but inviting Edward and Daniel to dinner at the family home in Birzeit.


The guests arrived in the early evening, walking into a family room of twelve-foot cross-vault ceilings and foot-thick plaster walls draped with Palestinian embroidery, and framing an upright piano, above which hung Nasir family photos dating back to the 1930s.  Persian carpets covered the red-tiled floors.

Daniel, Edward and their hosts settled into couches, sipping Arak and snacking from plates of grape leaves and candied almonds.  Daniel asked about Hanna’s experience of deportation and exile.  In November 1974, the university president explained, following the demonstrations of his students, he was arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded, place in a van with other deportees, and “driven for seven hours towards an unknown destiny.”  Soldiers removed the blindfold and told Hanna he was in Lebanon.

“And then you moved to Jordan?” Daniel asked.

Yes, Hanna replied.  In exile.

Tania noticed the concern on Daniels’ face.  She was struck by his respectful, probing questions.  She told him about the years of shuttling their children back and forth between Birzeit, where their family was determined to remain present, and Amman, where their father now lived.  They needed travel permits, which required multiple stamps of approval from various occupation authorities.  “From the municipality, the police station, the ministry of education, the tax center, whatever,” Tania said.  “I would sometimes have to do this over several days, because you’d have such long lines, and all this waiting.  And all of a sudden there would be a soldier there, and someone would be out of line, or if whimsically he would just decide that we had misbehaved, he would start scolding us like children, and kick us all out.  I would have been waiting for three or four hours, from the morning.  ‘We’re finished now.  Come tomorrow.’  That’s when you really feel occupied.  And there was a fear inside you, that he would never stamp your permit, so you would shut up.  And I would burn inside, because I had to get to Amman, to my husband, to the children, who had to go back to school.”

At the Allenby Bridge at the River Jordan, the dividing line between the West Bank and the kingdom of Jordan, “we would wait for eight hours, the children would have no food, no water, no diapers, no changing.  I would be terrified if they would find a piece of paper in the children’s clothes, like a chocolate wrapper or something.  And then they would send you all the way back to the end of the line.  They knew it was chocolate, but it was an excuse: ‘You never know what’s on that piece of paper.’”

When Oslo arrived, Hanna said, as a kind of confidence-building measure in the peace process, Israel allowed him to come home.  Tania went to Amman to accompany him, and Hanna made a point of saying that he would never cry and kiss the ground upon seeing Palestine again, like so many of the more sentimental refugees had done.  The moment they crossed the Jordan and reached Palestinian soil, however, Hanna leapt from the bus in tears, kneeling down and kissing the ground.  “Right on the bridge!” Tania laughed.  “He was the first to go down from the bus!”

In nearby Jericho, throngs of jubilant Birzeit students cheered their president’s triumphant return.  She and Hanna returned, Tania said, in a “genuine spirit of hope and reconciliation.  We shared a sense of cautious joy.”

Five years later, the hope was dimming, Tania said, amidst an “avalanche of militancy and violence,” and the ever-expanding settlements.  She pointed through the living room’s twin arched windows.  Daniel looked to the southeast, beyond the darkened palm and cypress trees, to the bright yellow lights of a hilltop settlement a mile away.

Throughout the cocktail hour, and over a dinner of stuffed chicken and red wine, Tania sensed Edward’s pleasure at being with friends from both sides of the divide.  He was listening intently; he knew all these stories, but his friend Daniel did not.  “This was the first time I was confronted with people who had lived such a destiny,” he said years later.  “I was very, very moved by that.”

Politics dominated the evening, but music was never far away.  Hanna’s sister Rima, was a co-founder of the Palestine National Conservatory of Music. In the future, Daniel would play concerts there.  Now, Edward and Daniel were in the nascent stages of a grand project – something that would focus on musicians from both sides, in a way that could promote a just peace and show what was possible.  This was the idea.

The project still hadn’t taken shape.  But soon Daniel would be considering an invitation by the city of Weimar, Germany, to play as part of the 250th birthday celebration of Goethe, a son of Weimar.  Goethe sparked Edward’s sense of the possible. Unlike the “Orientalists” he regularly skewered as representatives of Western imperial and military domination, Edward saw Goethe as the epitome of a Westerner reaching out to understand the “other.”  Goethe began his inquiry into Islam and the Arab world after receiving a torn page of the Koran from a returning German soldier in the early 19th Century.

Such an inquiry, Edward believed, represented what could be possible, two centuries later, as a kind of parallel alternative to what he saw as a collapsing peace process.  No place would be more appropriate for this than Weimar, where the currents of high culture and terrible history swirled together.  It had been home to Bach, Liszt, Wagner, Nietzsche, and the death camp at Buchenwald.  The Weimar invitation excited the imagination of the two friends, and soon they would begin thinking about bringing together young musicians from across the Middle East.

It was close to midnight by the time Edward and Daniel rose to leave and summoned their driver for the ride back to Jerusalem.  Again, Daniel extended his invitation to Tania to attend the concert the next night in West Jerusalem.  Tania assured him she would be there.  There was risk involved, everyone knew – if caught trying to enter Israel without a permit, Tania could be arrested.

Late the next afternoon Edward sent a taxi eight miles north from Jerusalem to Birzeit.  Tania climbed into the back alone, heading for the first time in decades to the city of her birth.  Hanna had also lived in Jerusalem as a child, and as she rode, Tania recalled his old haunts:  the Cinema Rex, the coffee shops, the YMCA, where he played tennis and studied Arabic typing, where his family attended concerts by the Palestine Symphony, and where the Palestinian musician Salvador Arnita gave his organ recitals.  Now, without a permit, Tania would recall, “I had to come to Jerusalem in secrecy.  I had to infiltrate it like an outlaw.”

Alone at the piano, Daniel played the first notes of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony in B minor, the Pathetique.  Tania began to weep.  She longed to disappear into the music, and for moments, she would, only to be gripped by doubts over whether she should have agreed to come.

An hour later, after Daniel had played the last notes of Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, the audience rose in a standing ovation.  Tania and Edward rose, too.  Daniel walked forward, closer to the audience, spoke briefly in Hebrew, then switched to English.

“Last night I was in the West Bank, at the home of a Palestinian academic, who has recently returned from an unjust twenty-year deportation by the Israeli government,” Daniel said.  “He and his family received me not just as a friend, but more as a member of the family.”

Tania was astounded.  She and Edward looked at each other.  What was Daniel trying to say?  It was silent in the auditorium.  Daniel stood in the small pool of light, speaking into the darkened hall.  He spoke of peace and justice, and of the need to end the suffering on both sides.  Suddenly Tania heard him say:  “I am happy to have my Palestinian hostess of last night with us here this evening.  She has accepted my invitation to come to Jerusalem, despite prohibitions and many reservations.  To thank her, I would like to dedicate my encore to her.”

Edward was embracing Tania.  “Only Daniel can do it,” he said.  “Only he has the guts.”  Tania was overcome with emotion, which only grew deeper as Daniel sat down at the piano to play a Chopin nocturne.  As a child, Tania had danced to the nocturnes.


Over the Wall, to Play Beethoven in Jerusalem

Jamming at Qalandia: Musicians bound for Jerusalem to play Beethoven's 4th Symphony played a waiting game, hoping the rest of the Palestinians in the orchestra would make it through the checkpoint. Photo by Eric Culver

Beethoven’s 4th Symphony has inspired countless thousands of musicians since it was first performed more than two centuries ago.  Yet few, I’m sure, have risked arrest and prison time just to play this magnificent piece of music.

Enter the Ramallah Orchestra, made up largely of Palestinian musicians in their teens and twenties, accompanied by 15 or so visiting teachers and performers from Europe and the U.S.  The orchestra is a project of Al Kamandjati, the Ramallah-based music school at the center of my next book.  For the Palestinians in the orchestra, Beethoven’s music, inspiring at it is, makes up only part of the story.

The concert venue was in the Old City of Jerusalem, a holy place embedded deep inside the collective dreams and history of the Palestinians, yet denied them by a combination of bureaucracy and concrete.  For the Jerusalem concert, some of the musicians had managed to obtain the permits Israel allows for special occasions.  But on this hot summer day in Palestine, five members of the orchestra were not so lucky.  To play with their orchestra in the Holy City, the musicians would resort to the otherwise unthinkable:  climbing over the separation wall.

Their journey had started in the early afternoon, in the lovely stone and copper courtyard of Al Kamandjati’s headquarters in Old Ramallah, where a jasmine vine in bloom crawled up the wall to the rooftop.  Three dozen young Palestinian musicians and visiting accompanists carried their timpanis, double basses, cellos and music stands into the luggage hold of the tour bus.  They climbed aboard, instrument cases slung over their shoulders, renewing an annual Jerusalem ritual which, for many of these musicians, is reason enough to learn music.

For Palestinians, Jerusalem is becoming an imaginary city.  Though barely ten miles separate Ramallah from the walls of the Old City, reaching Jerusalem is increasingly less a physical journey than an exercise of the mind and spirit.  The city has been effectively sealed off by massive physical and bureaucratic barriers, while ironically being declared “united” by Israel, the authority in control during this period of the city’s five-thousand-year history.  To prove that, Israel’s Minister of Public Security recently shut down a children’s theatre festival and puppet show at the Hakawati, East Jerusalem’s Palestine National Theatre, because the festival had allegedly received funds from the Palestinian Authority.  The PA is confined to the West Bank, but its position, backed, in word if not in deed, by the most of the world’s nations, remains that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a sovereign nation called Palestine.

Now the lucky permit holders of the Ramallah Orchestra would be reconnected, if only for a few hours, with their holy city. (Al Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem, means “The Holy.”)  But the five musicians – one of the orchestra’s four violists, both of its timpani players, one of the double bass players, and a gifted violinist – had been told they would need the magnetic “biometric” cards Israel is implementing for its permit regime.  When Al Kamandjati went to apply, director Ramzi Aburedwan told me, “they said, ‘We don’t have the magnetic cards until July 10’” – days after the concert.  “It’s fucking crazy,” Ramzi added.  In an orchestra of only 37 people, the contributions of these five musicians was vital, Ramzi said; if the Ramallah Five couldn’t participate, he told me, he would cancel the concert.

We arrived at Qalandia military checkpoint, a exhaust-choked border crossing where hot, fuming drivers jockeyed for position, funneling into a single line before submitting for inspection.  Vendors selling kebab, tissue packets, pillows, bottles of water and verses from the Quran weaved through the knots of vehicles and the plastic litter and chunks of broken concrete.  Our bus inched forward.  Here, where the massive wall separates Ramallah from Jerusalem, the Ramallah Five would try Plan B:  Sit in the back of the bus, hoping that the soldiers would somehow get lazy and check only the foreign passports and approved permits.  As part of this plan, musicians holding the proper documents were strategically placed toward the front of the bus.

Three Israeli soldiers came on board, their American-made M-16s slung around their shoulders, and began their inspection.  One of them, baby-faced, with a round, pretty face and honey-blond hair, appeared to still be in high school.

They checked our papers, then conferred, apparently discussing whether to check the whole bus.  After some barked orders from a radio clipped to one of the soldier’s uniforms, they moved past us, toward the back. Plan B, it appeared, was not going to work.

Within minutes nearly all of the Palestinians, even the ones holding the proper papers, had been ordered out of the bus.  Permits or not, they would not be allowed to cross the checkpoint in relative dignity, like us foreigners who remained on the air conditioned bus.  As we rode to a parking lot on the other side, I pictured the Palestinian musicians, in the scrum of the pedestrian crossing where I have stood many times on my way to Jerusalem.  They would walk past the red metal benches of the “passenger lounge,” surrounded on three sides by blue vertical bars, then pass down a long corridor of silver bars, akin to a cattle chute on a western ranch, except for at the end they would be required to move through multiple eight-foot-high turnstiles, before ending up jammed with dozens of other Palestinians in front of yet another turnstile.


Our bus was waiting on the other side.  Montasser Jebrini, a Palestinian clarinetist now studying on France, was riffing on the hot pavement, playing a solo performance of “Helwadi” (Beautiful Girl), the song made famous by the Lebanese singer, Fairouz.  Montasser believed he had been allowed to stay on the bus because he passed for European or Anglo American.  “I am glad to be here,” he told me, “but I feel bad it’s just because my skin is lighter, while my friends have to walk through the checkpoint.”

In the parking lot, Simon Hewitt Jones, the visiting British soloist scheduled to perform the Mendelssohn that evening, stepped out of the bus with his violin.  Other musicians broke out their instruments, and they began jamming:  Violins, viola, cello, French horn, trumpet, clarinet, performed by an American, three Brits, a Frenchman, an Irishman, and a Palestinian.  Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” gave way to the Mendelssohn (“opus baking in the sun,” someone quipped), then morphed into Morrison’s Irish Jig, led by Johnny McBride, a fiddler from Northern Ireland.  The whole tableau was set against the backdrop of gun turrets, spindly red-and-white surveillance towers, and the supposedly impenetrable wall.  “It’s pretty threatening,” said the fiddler, “but not altogether unfamiliar.  For the first half of my life, this is what Northern Ireland looked like.”


Steps away, on the Ramallah side, separated by more walls of bars, the Palestinian teenagers waited in the scrum.  Every so often, above the turnstile, a red light turned green, a click sounded, and three or four more people passed through to place their possessions on a conveyor belt, hold up their permits to a dull green bullet-proof window, and wait as bored-looking soldiers on the other side inspected the documents and waived the permit holders through.

But there were only nine permits for fourteen musicians, and the musicians without them couldn’t talk their way through.  And so the Ramallah Five were turned away.  They clicked their way backward through the turnstiles and cattle chute to the Ramallah side, denied Jerusalem and uncertain what to do next.  They had to come up with a Plan C.


One or two at a time, Palestinian string players joined us at the bus.  Soon all of them had arrived, except for the Ramallah Five.  “They couldn’t get through,” someone told us.  “They said to go on to Jerusalem.  They will try to join us somehow.”

We rode south in silence for a time, wondering if the concert, in the Old City on the grounds of the French church, St. Anne’s, would have to be canceled.


“Hey,” someone said to the musicians on the other side, “you want to go to Jerusalem?”  He sat with a group of men smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, and nodded toward a van.  Yes, the musicians said, they did.  “You are five?  It will be 250 shekels”  – about 70 dollars, or 14 per musician.

The man turned to his partner.  “Get these guys to Jerusalem.”  The Ramallah Five piled into a van.  The door slid shut and the driver began working two phones, making arrangements.  “Give me the money,” he said.  They haggled over the price, agreeing on 40 shekels (about 11 dollars) each. “But you have to pay now,” the driver said.  The man gave them his phone number, and told them to call when they reached Jerusalem.  Apparently he wanted satisfied customers.

A short time later the driver pulled over, stepped into a building, and emerged with a very long ladder, which, when extended to its full length, reached the top of the wall.  “Come,” he said.  The five musicians approached the towering slab of concrete, which reached at least 25 feet high.


The mood on our bus was subdued; as we rode south, it was still unclear whether the five musicians would somehow make it through to Jerusalem.


A string player went up the ladder first, gazing up to the top of the wall, where nasty-looking loops of curling concertina wire appeared to present a sharp and dangerous obstacle.  But the Palestinian trafficker, who had scrambled to the top of the wall, had already cut the wire; now, he sat beside the ladder at the top of the wall, and, with the back of his forearm, simply swept the loops of wire aside, like a curtain.  This was all completely organized beforehand, the musicians realized.  They must do this all the time for illegal Palestinian workers.  Then the Palestinian coyote pulled a long knotted rope from a plastic bag, looped it around a metal post at the top of the wall, and dropped it down to the other side.

One by one, the young musicians mounted the ladder, sat atop the wall, grabbed the rope, and slowly slithered down, trying to use the knots as footholds.  It wasn’t easy; the knots were small.  Halfway down, one of the string players saw a vehicle approaching on the narrow access road.  He froze; was this a soldier coming to arrest him?  “Don’t worry,” the coyote called down, “it’s a local Palestinian.” Still, the violist began to imagine what would happen if he were arrested.  From the midpoint, perhaps 15 feet above the ground, he fantasized about being taken to jail, and telling his fellow Palestinian inmates, to boisterous laughter, that he’d been arrested for intending to play music.  Then, still sliding down the rope, he imagined the speech he would give to the judge in Israel:  Why am I guilty?  The only thing that I am doing is trying to make my music for people in Jerusalem; I just want to play Beethoven and Mendelssohn. For your information, his imagined speech continued, I have learned about your suffering. I was shocked by this history.  What I don’t understand is why you’re treating us this way…

The hard ground at the end of the rope snapped the musician from his reverie, and he looked up to see the timpanist toss the bag of his sticks down toward him from the top of the wall.  Now the violinist was coming down.  But something was wrong; he was having trouble telling how far he was from the ground.  He jumped too early, landing on his feet and falling hard onto his back.  Everyone laughed, and at the time, it seemed he was okay.  From the top of the wall, the bass player tossed him his violin, in its soft blue case.

Now all five musicians were together, on the Jerusalem side of the wall.  The entire operation had taken five minutes.  They brushed themselves off and entered a restaurant for kanafe, the pizza-shaped Palestinian dessert made of sweet cheese and pistachios.  “That kanafe was very good,” recalled the viola player.  “Then we called to see where the bus was.”


The Ramallah Five appeared in the road beside our bus, smiling broadly and bounding up the steps to cheers from the orchestra.  One of them showed me a video of the ladder, and the wall, and two of the musicians climbing toward the sky:  proof of their deed.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived on the tranquil grounds of St. Anne’s, a French church built during Crusader times.  An old French priest welcomed us with a soft smile and a heavy accent; tourists wandered quietly through the garden, or rested on shaded benches.  A French flag flapped from the steeple.  It was as if Qalandia and the wall had never existed.

The musicians disappeared the cavernous, echoey church to rehearse Beethoven’s 4th Symphony, and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.  I sat on a rock wall outside the church.  The sound of a violin solo drifted out, joined now by the entire orchestra; trombone, oboe, flute, and the pounding of the timpani.

Soon we learned that the violinist who had climbed the wall fell ill, vomiting repeatedly.  It was shock, a doctor told him, from the hard landing at the wall.  He would not play the Old City that night.

But the other 36 members of the Ramallah Orchestra would.  A little after 8 in the evening, strings whispered the haunting first notes Beethoven’s 4th, in a minor key, as 200 visitors filled the chairs of the old church.  They had no idea what it had taken to get to Jerusalem to play Beethoven.  But perhaps they sensed something. Moments after Diego Masson, the visiting French conductor, made his last thrust, and the final notes of the 4th echoed off the walls, the audience rose in a sustained, joyful ovation.

The lockdown in Boston: some questions UPDATED with additional questions on the scope of the lockdown

Nearly lost amidst the relief, celebration and flag-waving following the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was the seemingly complete acquiescence to a martial law-like state in Boston.  Yes, the lockdown was for but one day; yes, horrible things had just gone down. But shutting down an entire city to search for one man? Yes, he is suspected of having just committed heinous crimes.  But as New Yorker writer John Cassidy asks, “does that justify locking down an entire city?” How outrageous would this have seemed on September 10, 2001? Among the initial under-examined questions, then, from the imposition of a quasi-military state in Boston:

1) Since the authorities knew the suspect was in Watertown, a sliver of the Boston area, why was it necessary to shut down the entire city, including its transit system, universities, airports, and hundreds of streets nowhere near where the suspect was known to be hiding?

2) Why was it necessary to deploy tanks, military assault vehicles, helicopters with heat-seeking “forward-looking infrared devices,” and to, overall, encourage a siege mentality that included what amounted to police death threats against journalists on the scene?

3) If the point was to keep people inside in order to find the suspect (as per the shelter-in-place order from Gov Deval Patrick), how successful was that strategy, given that the suspect was found only after the ban was lifted, and a Watertown citizen went outside and found blood on the tarp of his dry-docked boat?

UPDATE: Since my original post I’ve received some criticism, including from friends, essentially asking if someone who wasn’t there can make such judgments.  First, I don’t claim to have any answers, only to be raising what seem to me to be legitimate questions.  Beyond that, I have this heartfelt response: Yes, the fact that I wasn’t in Boston could be in part a disadvantage, since I wasn’t part of the collective fear that gripped Boston in these recent days, nor the sense of solidarity that bonded the community to the first responders. A photographer friend of mine pointed to an image he saw of a heavily-armed, black-clad policemen, looking like something out of a science fiction movie, carrying two gallons of milk to a housebound family.

So yes, I acknowledge that not being in Boston means I am missing some of the emotional power of what has happened in recent days.  But that is also an advantage, because some of these questions about civil liberties in a time of siege are easier to ask from afar.  And I am, to say the least, not the only one who’s asking them.  My childhood friend Arun Kapil, an American professor in Paris, posted this on his blog, Arun With A View, in which he quotes the following from the New Yorker’s John Cassidy.  Cassidy’s post is titled Terrorist hunt [sent] America over the edge.”

From one perspective, I suppose, [the lockdown] was just a sensible precaution. During the overnight shootout, many details of which remain unclear, one police officer had been killed and another one had been injured. The police believed Dzhokhar to be armed and dangerous. But does that justify locking down an entire city? America is a violent place. Practically every day, somewhere in the country, cops are looking for armed and dangerous men who have just killed one or more innocent members of the public. But when a gunman runs amok in East L.A., say, they don’t close down Brentwood or Santa Monica. The very thought is absurd.

Ah, you may say, Tsarnaev wasn’t just an ordinary criminal or lunatic; he was a terrorist, and, according to some reports, he had one or more explosive devices, possibly including a bomb vest. Now we are getting to the crux of things. Whenever the word “terrorist” is mentioned in this country, reason tends to go out the window, and many other things go with it, too, such as intellectual consistency, a respect for civil liberties, and a sense of proportion.


Oday Khatib’s trial begins in West Bank military court; verdict could come by May 1, perhaps sooner See article to learn how to express concerns

Oday Khatib, acclaimed Palestinian singer, in Kuwait, January 2013. Photo courtesy of Celine Dagher, Al Kamandjati

Acclaimed Palestinian singer Oday Khatib’s military trial has begun at Ofer Prison in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to Oday’s father and to Israeli military Captain Eytan Buchman.  A verdict could come within days.   If convicted on the charges of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, Oday could be sentenced to ten years in prison.

Capt. Buchman wrote me by email: “Mr. Khatib’s trial began today with the prosecution’s case and testimony from three of the border guard policeman who had stones thrown at them. It will continue next week with the defense’s case and Mr. Khatib’s testimony.”

Oday’s father, Jihad Khatib, told my colleague Eman Musleh that he expects a verdict within the next two weeks, possibly on Wednesday, May 1.  Oday’s defense attorney is expected to present evidence that Oday was not throwing stones just before his arrest on March 19 at Al Fawwar refugee camp, but rather waiting for a friend to share a meal.  The friend is expected to testify, along with Oday himself.  Beyond whether or not Oday threw stones, as pointed out in a recent post by me and an article by Israeli journalist Amira Hass, is the question of what constitutes legitimate resistance to an illegal military occupation.  Equally important is consideration of what constitutes proper or draconian punishment for throwing stones.  Under Section 212  of Israeli Military Order 1651, under which Oday is charged, a Palestinian teenager could go to prison for a decade for throwing a single stone at a road sign.

Meantime, as we reported last week, Oday has become popular among his fellow prisoners by singing.  In an interview this week, Oday’s father described him as healthy and in good spirits.   Eman reports: “Oday’s father said that Oday’s spirit is really great, with big faith.  He even said that everyone with Oday in the prison is praying for his freedom.”

So are fellow musicians and colleagues across Palestine, Europe and the U.S., whose concerns have lit up Facebook and private email strings.  If you want to express your own concern, you can send it by fax to Israeli Brigadier General Moti Almoz, head of the Civil Administration in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: +972-2-997-7341

More information as we learn it.

This article is by Sandy Tolan, with reporting from Eman Musleh.


UPDATED (see italics): Ground-breaking Israeli journalist Amira Hass accused of incitement

Amira Hass of Haaretz. The Israeli journalist lives in Ramallah. Photo reprinted from

NOTE, APRIL 10:  SEE ITALICS FOR UPDATE.  In the history of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, stones have played a central role.  The stone was the symbol of the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1993), as children as young as eight years old rained their projectiles down on the occupying Israeli army. Soldiers often responded with live ammunition, killing more than 1,000 Palestinians, about 200 of them children. Youths with stones confronting soldiers with Galils and M-16s:  suddenly Palestinian children took center stage as David against the Israeli Goliath.  The image pricked the conscence of  many Israelis, and citizens and governments around the world, and ultimately helped force Israeli leaders, including the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to the negotiating table. (The Oslo agreement they forged with Palestinian negotiators proved to be disastrous; nevertheless, there was a palpable sense during the first intifada that the stone would lead to Palestinian liberation.)

Today the stone remains a part of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation, which is more entrenched than ever. And while growing numbers of Palestinians advocate nonviolent resistance as the most promising path to a just peace, others strongly defend the right of Palestinians to throw stones as a legitimate act of political resistance against an illegal 47-year military occupation.  One of them is an Israeli journalist. Read more, on Truthdig…

“Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule,” wrote Amira Hass in an April 3 article in Haaretz. “Throwing stones is an action as well as a metaphor of resistance.”

The article has  generated a political firestorm in Israel.  Moshe Feiglin, a Knesset member from the Likud Party, said that “Haas’ words are condemnable and are considered an expression of disloyalty to the state.”  The loyalty-baiting charges against Hass, daughter of Holocaust survivors, are nothing new, but now she and Haaretz must contend with something more serious:  An incitement charge brought by the Council of Settlements in the West Bank. “Hours after it was published,” reported the Times of Israel, “the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel and the Yesha Council — the umbrella organization of West Bank settlements — filed complaints with the police and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, saying the piece incited violence.”  The organizations, backed by supporters in the Knesset, want Israel to prosecute Hass.  It’s not clear that that would happen.  In an email to me, Hass doubted that Israeli state prosecutors would accede to the wishes of the settlers’ council and prosecute her and Haaretz. However, given the increasing power of the settlers’ movement in recent years, and of attempts to re-cast and normalize settlements in the public eye as “neighborhoods,” the mere fact that the organizations have acted against Hass is a clear sign of the sharp rightward movement in Israel.

According to “Attorney Hila Cohen, writing on behalf of the Legal Forum, wrote in the letter to Weinstein that Hass’s comments were serious and constitute an incitement to violence and terrorism, while encouraging murderous terrorism.” Knesset member Orit Strock declared that Hass had made a “dangerous incitement toward violent acts against civilians and an encouragement to assault soldiers.”

This characterization is consistent with the Israeli military’s attempts to re-cast the state in the implausible role as victim of Palestinian violence.  Israeli Captain Eytan Buchman, in an email to me describing one such clash on March 19, labeled it a “violent riot.”  This is a curious description for a clash between well-armed soldiers wearing helmets, face shields and body armor, who use live ammunition against stone-throwers.  The action against Hass, then, seems in the same vein: to describe the soldiers, part of one of the world’s most powerful armies, with its tanks, rockets, and helicopter gunships supplied by the top military power on earth, as victims of Palestinians who throw stones.

In subsequent days, furious readers and columnists in Israel also attacked Hass.

A Maariv columnist opined that Hass’s statements represent “the outpouring of a suppurating abscess of self-hatred, couched in hypocritical moral acrobatics. Her eyes are blind to Jewish suffering and are open only to her friends from Hamas, the champions of human rights.”

Adva Bitton, the mother of a three-year-old who remains in intensive care following the stoning of her car in the occupied West Bank, wrote in Ma’ariv: “I agree with you that everyone deserves their freedom. Arab and Jew alike.  I agree with you that we all ought to aspire to liberty, but there isn’t a person on earth who will achieve freedom and liberty by means of an instrument of death. There’s no reason on earth that Adele, my three-year-old daughter, should have to lie in the intensive care unit now, connected to tubes and fighting for her life, and there is no reason, Amira, for you to encourage that.”

Protestors then showed up at the Haaretz offices in Tel Aviv, unfurling a banner that read, “Amira Hass, look what a rock can do. Stop encouraging terrorists!”

In her article, however, Hass was defending the right of Palestinians to resist the military occupation with stones, not to throw them at civilians.

Hass, an Israeli who has lived in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for most of the last two decades, cited her fellow citizens’ “concept of eternal victimhood which allows them to be in a state of denial about how much violence is used on a daily basis against Palestinians,” according to The Guardian. “They don’t like to be told that someone has the right to resist their violence.”

In an interview with  The Observer, Hass suggested her article was misunderstood. “I’m surprised that they don’t read the whole text – and then I’m surprised at myself for being surprised.  She pointed out that she had made “a clear distinction between a citizen [as a target] and a soldier or someone who carries arms.”  In an email to me, Hass added:  “Whoever reads the article  knows it talks against violence.”

In her article Hass underscored the “right” and “duty” of Palestinians to resist the occupation in the face of “shooting, torture, land theft, restrictions on movement, and the unequal distribution of water sources.”  The Israeli journalist, who unlike nearly every Western correspondent lives in the occupied West Bank, offered this resistance advice:

“It would make sense for Palestinian schools to introduce basic classes in resistance: … how to behave when army troops enter your homes; comparing different struggles against colonialism in different countries; how to use a video camera to document the violence of the regime’s representatives; methods to exhaust the military system and its representatives; a weekly day of work in the lands beyond the separation barrier; how to remember identifying details of soldiers who flung you handcuffed to the floor of the jeep, in order to submit a complaint; the rights of detainees and how to insist on them in real time; how to overcome fear of interrogators; and mass efforts to realize the right of movement.”

Not least of these strategies, Hass asserted in the article that has drawn so much heat, is hurling stones at soldiers: “Stone-throwing is the adjective attached to the subject of ‘We’ve had enough of you, occupiers.’”


As singer Oday Khatib awaits Israeli military trial, testimonials pour in from around the world. (Update: trial postponed until April 8)

Oday Khatib, performing in France in 2012. Photo from France TV, DR / Culturebox

Testimonials from around the world are pouring in for Oday Khatib, the celebrated, star singer of Ramallah-based Al Kamandjati music school, who faces Israeli military trial on Monday, April 8.  (The trial was earlier scheduled for April 3.) As I wrote recently, Oday was arrested March 19 for allegedly throwing stones at soldiers.  As the 22-year old singer from Al Fawwar refugee camp awaits trial in Ofer Prison near Ramallah, his friends, fellow musicians and supporters of Al Kamandjati, founded by Palestinian musician Ramzi Aburedwan, are lighting up social media sites in support and musical witness.

“Oday and Ramzi came to London to perform with me and my group Fifth Quadrant last year,” writes Simon Hewitt Jones, a British violinist who has taught numerous workshops at Al Kamandjati. “His intensely moving singing had a profound effect on audiences in London.  We also took him to Aldeburgh to work with young British musicians, who were astounded that someone so young – someone barely older than they were – could have such an powerful musical voice, and such inspirational artistry.”

“Working with Al Kamandjati in Palestine, it was a joy to see Oday every day,” wrote Mariam Tamari, a Japanese-Palestinian opera singer based in Paris. Mariam, who sang Mozart’s peace plea, “Alleluia Exultate Jubilate,” for the launching of the Palestinian National Orchestra in Jerusalem on New Years Eve, 2010, writes of Oday: “He is truly a noble soul, communicating the warmth of his heart and quiet strength, and with a great capacity to appreciate beauty.”

“Oday is a true Palestinian voice who sears the receptive heart with his song, [which] is absolutely connected to his soul,” writes Peter Sulski, an American violist formerly of the London Symphony Orchestra, and who has taught for years at Al Kamandjati.  “He is a man of peace who would rot behind bars.”

Oday’s father, Jihad Khatib, told Musa Abuhashhash, a field worker for B’tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, that Oday was arrested at Al Fawwar while waiting for a friend he was meeting for dinner. Nearby, Jihad said, some youths were throwing stones, “and when the soldiers chased the kids, it did not come to his mind that the soldiers would go for him.  Otherwise he would have run away.”

Oday’s father, joined by musicians from the U.S., UK, Italy, France, Palestine, and elsewhere, expressed skepticism that Oday would have been throwing stones. He has never been arrested, and has long sought his resistance to occupation only through his singing, “since he was nine years old,” Jihad said.

“He is a very lovely and peaceful boy only interested in one thing: singing,” wrote Sarah Roger, who came to Ramallah from France to volunteer the Al Kamandjati office. “His only aim is to spread love and make people happy thanks to his beautiful voice.”

“His remarkable professionalism, his sweet voice and most of all his deep knowledge concerning teaching music and peace values to the kids, in order to create better human beings for the future, is outstanding and moving at the same time,” declared Luca Francetti and Gunilla Kerrich, husband and wife cellist and violinist, respectively, writing from Italy.  “His contribution to improve a better peace and brotherhood culture is essential.  We really hope that all this talent won’t be wasted.”

Oday’s family has expressed hope that several of the soldiers who chased the youths on March 19 will be willing to testify that Oday was not among the stone-throwers.  This does not appear likely: The conviction rate for such alleged offenses in military trials, in 2010, was about 399 out of 400.

Beyond whether or not Oday was “guilty” of throwing stones is the question of what constitutes legitimate Palestinian resistance to a 47-year military occupation. Al Fawwar, like most Palestinian villages and towns, sits on land surrounded by Israeli settlements.  The camp is in the midst of Area C, under full Israeli military control, which takes up 60 percent of the West Bank.  A central purpose of Israel’s occupation army is to protect the settlers, whose illegal occupation, under international law, remains a towering obstacle to a just settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.  For generations of Palestinian youths, throwing stones has formed the core of their efforts at expelling the occupying army.  Stone-throwing was at the heart of the first Palestinian  intifada, which forced Israeli leaders to the negotiating table.  (The Oslo agreement they forged with Palestinian negotiators proved to be disastrous; nevertheless, there was a palpable since during the first intifada that the stone would lead to Palestinian liberation.)

I have spoken with several American officials in recent days regarding Oday’s arrest.  The Americans have provided funds to Al Kamandjati to help support its past summer music camps, where Oday was featured prominently.  Thus I thought they would take an interest in Oday’s case.  My inquiry — whether the American government would at least inquire about Oday’s incarceration — was met with virtual silence. “I just don’t have anything for you on that,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Geoff Anisman told me four or five times from Tel Aviv.  Another American official in the region was only slightly more forthcoming:  “There’s a system in place,” the official said, referring to Israel’s system of arrest and incarceration.

Yes, there’s a system in place:  A military court system in which 99.74 percent of the accused are convicted.  The sentence for adults convicted of throwing stones “[a]t a person or property, with the intent to harm the person or property shall be sentenced to ten years imprisonment,” according to Section 212 of Israeli Military Order 1651.  Some of the convicted “adults” are as young as 16; many of them plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.  A significant portion of the incarcerated are children — 7000 in the last ten years, according to a UNICEF report, which states: “the common experience of many children is being aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear. Few children are informed of their right to legal counsel.”

Adults like Oday know full well that they could receive a lengthy prison sentence. Currently more than 4,700 Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons.  Oday’s case is no more or less unfair than thousands of others; it simply sheds more light on the system that’s in place.  And it prompts dozens of Oday’s friends and fellow musicians to write in his defense:

“Oday is an exemplary young man of noble, peaceful character,” writes Clemency Burton-Hill, a British violinist who has performed with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded by the Israeli-Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said.  “Moreover he is the sort of young Palestinian that the Israelis should be supporting and celebrating, not imprisoning, for it is empathetic, inspiring people like Oday who might one day help to forge a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. If Oday spends the next ten years or even ten months, weeks or days in jail, that prospect of that peace will be further jeopardized. I am sickened to my heart at the prospect of what such a jail term might mean, both for Oday, his family, his friends and all who have been touched by his music.”

Nowras Ibrahim, an Al Kamandjati-trained Palestinian bass player who is now studying in France, writes that Oday “has been more than a brother to me. We shared special moments together, discovering the world by spreading our music to people.  Oday is known [for] his sensitivity.  He sings from his heart.”

Julia Katarina, the British Mezzo-Soprano who put her opera career on hold to teach voice lessons at Al Kamandjati for three years, writes of Oday:  “He is very generous with his art, and just loves singing beyond all else! He is a true singer, and I imagine the only way he is surviving prison is by singing. I hope he sings in the military court,” Julia writes, because on April 8, if Oday’s accusers can find “an ounce of humanity in their hearts, they will release him.”

Note:  This article will be updated with additional testimonials.