Monday, January 30, 2006

What We're Up Against

This is the face of the religious right in Israel. The ultra-orthodox. Men who live out their days praying to God in the name of Israel. Studying Torah so as to protect the covenant. Religious zealotry at its best. God gave Israel to the Jews, and it therefore shall it remain under the protectorate of the Jews alone.

They are a burden to the economy because they are not obliged to get a job, the government subsidizes their lifestyle so they can supposedly protect the faith, and as the major force behind bigotry and dogmatic reasoning they effectively shift the entire range of the conversation to the right. It is amazing the way people can find a way to make religion, a force when used benevolently is merely a conductor for spirituality, into a means of writing off responsibility. At its best, shouldn't religion be a tool used to teach people love and harmony? A lesson in commonality, that at the end of the day we are all just human beings so we might as well get along. Judgment shall be left to some sort of unfathomable higher power, faith means understanding that it is not our job to determine who is right and who is wrong, our only job is to create peace and brotherhood in this life. Forgiveness and redemption... holy moly.

Fanaticism is a tricky beast. To a fanatic, the world revolves around fate and the will of God. Jews and Muslims on both sides of this conflict are guilty of this sin. Somehow, they have dissociated themselves from all responsibility. If it is the will of Allah, then it shall be...

The book is the driving force, they have read it so many times, it begins to speak. Interpreting from the Holy Scriptures becomes a game of inventing the connections needed to prove any conviction. Rather than using the ancient writings of wise men past to learn how to heal the world, the motivation has become a desperate effort to justify a course of narrow-mindedness.

It becomes particularly upsetting when you realize that the most combative and uncompromising people with regards to the conflict are unfailingly devout. When I hear Americans praise Arik Sharon for his unilateral course of action, I wonder whether they make any connections between Hamas' recent victory on behalf of religious fundamentalism. The wall, territorial expansion, and aggressive military tactics effectively destroyed whatever semblance of authority Fatah retained. Yes, Fatah is extremely corrupt, as are all governments in war-torn developing nations. Ehud Olmert today announced that Israel will be withholding somewhere around $45M dollars in monthly tax revenues it has collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, until it hears that Hamas has acknowledged Israel's right to exist.

Granted, it makes no sense that Israel support a government which refuses to recognize its sovereignty, but there is absolutely no reciprocal acknowledgement on behalf of the Jewish state. Never mind the fact that no one is bothering to ask why Israel is collecting taxes from people they refuse to accept as citizens. Hamas has its hands tied, Israel says grovel.

In the opening scenes of a war film depicting ancient war, directed by Ridley Scott, two soldiers stand in preparation for battle.
Quintus: People should know when they're conquered.
Maximus: Would you, Quintus? Would I?
This scene depicts a Roman war, the ultimate example held of empire building in Western popular culture. This is symbolic of the line of thought dominating the mind of a conqueror. And we beg to ask it of the Palestinian people. When will they just give up? Count your losses and call it a day.

I spent my 7th and 8th grade years at Brandeis Hillel, a Jewish day school in San Francisco. I will never forget the day our Judaic studies teacher, a conservative rabbi, threw one of my classmates out for suggesting that the 1967 war was used as an excuse for aggressive territorial assertions on Israel’s behalf. As he sent Tory out of the classroom that day, he bellowed furiously at the boy that Israel military, had never engaged itself aggressively. This memory is embedded in my mind due to the conviction of a man whom I still hold in high respect. As I begin to unravel my education, and decipher the things I learned under the circumstances of being highly impressionable, it’s easy to see how we become indoctrinated. What also comes to mind, sitting in political science classes during the onset of the most recent Iraq war, and hearing my professors explain that this war is not in fact a preemptive war. It’s actually a response to the imminent threat of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.

I went to the Israeli Holocaust museum here in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago, Yad Vashem. One of the many breathtaking exhibitions displays a quote I will paraphrase because I don’t remember who said it, but the general gist of it I will never forget; “A nation is not just what it does, but what it tolerates.” This quote, of course is in reference to Germany and the rise of the Third Reich.

Yad Vashem sits atop one of the tallest most scenic hilltops in all of Jerusalem. It is a highly coveted piece of real estate. It is also the site of one of the bloodiest massacres from the 1948 Israeli war of Independence. The massacre which took place in the Palestinian village that used to be there served as a major trauma to the Palestinian people, driving the flight from their historic villages in seek of refuge and safe haven.

Oh, but don’t forget, they all left on their own volition. Finders keepers, right? They should know when they are conquered.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

On Social Justice...

It becomes difficult to reconcile sometimes the things you now know, with what you thought you used to know. It leaves the mind to wander over the “what ifs?” and the “how comes?” The ordinary means for finding the point of equilibrium between your responsibility and the gravity of accepting your privilege is complicated by a new understanding of truth. Now that you have harnessed these perspectives, what is forthcoming?

Israel has experienced a relative calm lately. In the past years the onslaught of the second intifada has dissipated. Busses are not blowing up in Jerusalem as of late. The cafes are a safe haven of wireless internet. DVD machines hawk the latest American titles, computerized digital stations print photos, young people on the street corners canvass flyers for political parties.

Tal, 26, is an organizer for the far left Meretz party. He sports a full head of long sandy brown hair pulled back into a ponytail along with a weak mustache. He has glasses and speaks with a slight lisp as disseminates green flyers. His hands are cloaked in oversized woolen gloves, black and white flecks lint at the seams. He wears a thin faded white sweatshirt with the logo of the Meretz party stenciled in green as he shifts alternately to keep warm in the cold air of the mild Jerusalem winter.

Tal says Meretz has accepted the inevitability of a shared Jerusalem with the Palestinian Authority. Accordingly, Meretz is willing to entertain the idea of a bi-national capital. It is the prerogative of the Israeli people to accept a peace that is palatable to both peoples, but to many Israelis this is an unimaginable compromise. Within the context of the current state of the crisis, it is difficult to understand how things got so bad. To an outsider it almost seems as though there is no reason why Palestinians and Israelis should not share Jerusalem. Palestinians and Jews interact and function cooperatively in marketplaces and residential areas relatively peacefully. Speaking with the electorate there is a fervent call for a peace that will allow the Palestinians there own autonomous state, but it is not so simple.

History is a herd of elephants thundering through the old city. It provides the context for every issue, but depending on who you ask, the description of the elephants that inhabit and torment this ancient land is widely varied. Implied in the two state solution is recognition by the Palestinian Authority of the state of Israel. This is a drastic departure from their long held stance of refusal. Just as Hamas and the resistance hailed it as a victory against the occupation when Israel withdrew from Gaza, so too will Israel hold the occupation as a victory if it means recognition for Israel on behalf of the Palestinian people, no matter how begrudgingly.

Can you blame Israel? If it’s one thing the Arab world has succeeded in doing throughout the conflict, it is making the Jewish nation feel small and vulnerable. All you have to do is open the Jerusalem Post and find advertisements by the likes of the American Jewish Committee notifying Israelis that the Iranian government will do everything it can to get its hands on a nuclear warhead.

“And Tehran has a plan to make this genocidal vision a reality—with
an intensive program, violating international treaty obligations, that could
place nuclear warheads on missiles aimed at Israel, and potentially at countries
from Europe to Asia to Africa.”


Israelis are an anxious bunch, they have learned to avoid crowded places and fear nefarious acts of random, seemingly unprovoked, violence. If virtual imprisonment and occupation is what it takes to get a meager existential validation, then from an Israeli standpoint, perhaps it has served its purpose. Unfortunately, the Palestinian people are the prisoners serving the term for the sins of their Arab brothers.

It is the plight of the Palestinian people to pick a fight with a civilization that has just returned miraculously from the brink of extinction. Israelis live in the shadow of the Holocaust, they have descended from it, and the trauma has metastasized to all aspects of policy. The AJC advertisement aforementioned was entitled "Never again?" The allusion here is not so subtle, but indicative of Israel’s self-perceived position within the global context. Unfortunately, the fear of the next Holocaust manifesting itself as nuclear war in holy land is not entirely irrational.

Palestinians themselves will tell you they bare the brunt of Europe’s atrocities. Whether it’s the Holocaust, or Sykes-Picot (ca. 1916), everyone here has a slightly different understanding of what the larger European context means to the Jewish nation. What remains so exceptional about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the degree to which a seemingly small nation has subjugated a group of people who exist within a much larger Arab context.

From a historical perspective this is seemingly an obscure circumstance which greatly strains the paradigm of racism as it has come to be known within large academic circles. Racism as it is defined by such, is generally described as an ethnic prejudice with the addition of a skewed power dynamic which enables one party to manipulate and exert his power over another. So depending on how you look at it, whether the struggle is ‘Israel vs. Palestine’ or the collective ‘Arab World vs. Israel,’ there are much larger forces at play here. If you look at it strictly from a racial perspective however, as Israelis often do when expressing their fear of their Arab neighbors, don’t expect to unearth any larger truths about the people themselves, but it may help to explain the role of the United States.

If you are going to group the Palestinian people within the larger Arab block, then certainly you must also include Israel within the larger European/North American block. So whose conflict is it now? The more we step back, the more the conflict seems to validate Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. We’re democratic, they’re not. Another way of putting that though—democracy serves the interests of Western nations, populated mostly by white people. This is perhaps a useful tool for examining just the type of democracy Israel provides to the Middle East.

Social justice is a very broad term, making it difficult to pin down its applications. However, it is a fascinating articulation and as such, much of the world’s greatest work is carried out in its name.

My work here has pushed me to examine my role as a white person in this world more than ever, but the key applications are in the United States. Allowing Americans to understand the enabling role we play in driving the force of racism here, is perhaps the most profound of my discoveries. I think many American Jews especially, are at a loss when it comes to this notion. Without the cushion of America, Israel would not be the prize show dog it is, clearly the power dynamic would look entirely different. Extracting America’s role from conflicts such as this is neither realistic, nor is it ethical, but causing Americans to realize the heavy sword we lend to oppression all over the world is...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Captured

20 km outside of SAUDI - This is the view from the ground in Jordan, I took this picture a few days ago while traversing the desert. Stark and beautiful, like nothing I have ever seen before.

Peering from behind the golden fur dashboard, I am waving away the sunlight like wayward see-weed. The chiseled brown mountains raise striated peaks from the earth pocketed and creased by brown rhythms of color.

From inside the 1978 Toyota Landcruiser, a worn maroon velour interior bumps and dances before my eyes as we jostle across the sandy terrain. My guide dons a coiled headdress, beneath which drapes a red and white checkered Kufiyah. The red sand scatters across the horizon as far as the eye can see, scrubby brush peeks out like spiny reptiles poking their heads into the sunlight.

The faded plastic chromed clutch forms the shape of a cobra's head as we shift off into the desert. The gurgling sounds of Arab voices fill my ears echoing the mysterious nature of this forbidden land. Amber colored prayer beads oscillate from the rear-view mirror continuously colliding with the pine-tree shaped car freshener, I can't see any pine trees. I don't think there are any within 500 miles of this place. Epitomizations of the clash between the ancient and the modern, globalization comes home.

What was once only foot paths for obstinate camels is now traversed by the rustic tires of my SUV. The bubbling vocal hydrolics of camels has been replaced by gasping engines, those smelly foul, surly creatures, spewing their festering saliva. I am tracing the topography of a world receding, crumbling, decaying into the red sea of sand. Scraping our tires with their jagged inflections, my dusty nostrils carry the scent of past pulverized crustaceans.

"Ahalan Wasahalan," they tell me - "nice to meet you." This is capturing the desert.

And then they did...


I observed today from the streets of Bethlehem as supporters of Hamas caravanned through the city in a proud showing of support for what looks to be the newly elected majority of the Palestinian Authority. As I stood today in Hamas headquarters interviewing a local party official, who introduced himself to me as Ali Ali, I was struck by the degree to which a party once considered strictly militant has taken the whole democracy bit to heart. As Ali told me, "the American people must know that Hamas are a democratic people, we want the support of the American people - stand with us, and stand with democracy."

This is a drastically different tune from that sung by the militant Hamas the world has known. The political elixir has been distilled, but as to who is drinking it, thus far remains to be decided. Ali certainly cut a convincing monologue this afternoon during our conversation, he seemed to believe that Hamas was ready to lead Palestinians towards a more palatable peace. President Bush this morning reiterated that the United States refuses to negotiate with any political establishment that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of US ally Israel. I wonder what his buddies the Saudis would have to say about that one if he pressed them on it. The reality remains that if Hamas hopes to have any kind of a political tenure, they are going to have to develop some kind of relationship with the Israeli government, all bets are off. One thing is for certain, politically speaking the months ahead will be rocky.

Isam is my host brother. I stayed in his family home for two nights, and returned to Bethlehem today to see him. It is his likeness which graces today's photograph. That is his inked left index finger, proof of voting in the parliamentary elections. He stands outside the Hamas headquarters in Dheissha refugee camp, the only home he has known for the 23 years since he was born.

Dheissha was a camp created by the UN after the 1967 war. What began as a tented encampment has taken root on the hillsides of Bethlehem however, in the past thirty years Dheissha has become a permanent figment. The streets of Dheissha are littered with trash, there is no municipal authority capable of administering waste disposal. Even if there was, the streets are not big enough to allow the passage of garbage trucks. Not big enough to afford passage for the Israeli tanks that rumbled through these streets just a few years ago, crushing cars and scrubbing homes, leaving in their wake potholes, craters and convex walls falling in on themselves. Isam tells me of month long curfews where residents were forbidden from leaving their homes for any period of time, not even for food. He tells me that faced with the prospect of being shot for leaving his home, he and his neighbors found ways to elude the occupiers so that they did not starve. I have heard from him stories of Israeli military barging into the same home where I slept, at 2am sending German Shepherds in to terrorize sleeping children, and holding an entire family outside for hours of interrogation. Only to return to a house, furniture destroyed, a humble home turned upside-down by frustrated soldiers searching for non-existent terrorists. I have seen the pictures in his wallet of the children passed from lack of access to medical treatment, his friends.

Isam voted for Hamas yesterday. His own brother Husam, an accountant by trade, is angry with him for it. But Isam votes for Hamas not because he thinks they are capable of delivering the peace he has waited for all his life. He votes for Hamas because he wants change. He says that in 40 years Fatah has suffered nothing but losses for the Palestinian people. The Palestinians are tired of corrupt rulership and are ready for a new government, fresh ideas and accountability. Accountability is the single greatest asset Hamas has to offer the Palestinian Authority, by virtue of a major competing interest rivaling the previously dominant Fatah, perhaps this will be a government more capable of checking itself.

Husam has a different take. Husam describes, "It’s like a man who falls from a roof and lands on his feet, at first he stands, but soon he will collapse and die. When Israel kills someone, what will Hamas do?" This is an insightful inquiry. Hamas has long been the target of Israeli military strikes which have routinely taken out Hamas pundits. If Hamas responds with force, Israel will crack down tighter than ever before, and hail it as evidence of the dogmatic terrorist origins that riddle the electorate. Rami Bandak, a Christian Palestinian tour guide, claimed this to be exactly what Israel wants. This will certainly be something Israel will use to further delegitimize the Palestinian cause for self-rule.

As the Palestinian cause for a homeland hangs in the balance, the world gawks at the inconsolable Palestinians. Don’t they know better? If you speak to the Palestinian people though, there is no sense that anything will ever get better. They do not vote based on the naïve hope that things will miraculously change. The only change they know, is no matter how bad things seem, they have seen worse, and there is almost an underlying expectation that things are likely to get worse.

At the entrance to Dheissha refugee camp there is a metal gate that stands isolated, it connects to nothing anymore. Once upon a time though, not so long ago, this armored gate represented the controlled passageway between Dheissha and Bethlehem. It was the extreme limit of the communal prison that is Dheissha. It serves now only as a reminder of what the Palestinian people are up against.

Can you remember a time when internally displaced peoples were held as prisoners in artificially created ghettos? Neighborhoods developed in urban environments, families packed into sub-standard living conditions without heat, communities where the residents were forbidden from leaving? Can you remember asking how the whole world stood idly by and watched? Didn’t you wonder why no one wanted them?

I can, I do, I did, and I will not forget. We are all human. Try to understand.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Holes in the Wall

I went down to Gaza yesterday in a futile attempt to witness Palestinian elections taking place from within the confines of a highly volatile political zone. Needless to say, I was deterred in my attempts. However, my efforts were not totally wasted.

As I was leaving the Erez checkpoint, I had the brief opportunity to speak with an Israeli soldier about his impressions of what was going on within this forbidden territory. I asked him whether he thought Gaza was a dangerous place. Without hesitation he retorted to me that Israel was a far more dangerous place to be.

This is an impression that I already held, but it was validating to hear this coming from the mouth of a soldier. The threat of random, seemingly unprovoked militant aggression, is far more scary to the human mind than austentatiously pronounced displays of military force. Nothing to be said for the despicable living conditions of a people trapped in a 40 km strip of land sandwiched between a 30-foot wall and the sea.

It got me thinking about the circumstances under which I have come to understand the occupation. It is only because of the aggressive tactics of the Israeli military, boldly condemned in this blog, that I am able to experience the things I have seen with relative peace of mind. I ride Israeli buses everyday unafraid of being blown up. I criticize the wall and other preventative measures that have kept virtually all suicide bombers out of Israel for the past 2 years. It left me to wonder whether I would be against the wall if it meant an end to the occupation and a clearing of all West Bank settlements, and the recognition of a Palestinian state...

Here I have no definitive answers, just more questions.

Election Daze

Today is Palestinian Election Day. That is, Palestinians not citizens of Israel, who are in fact not citizens of any nation, and who are prohibited from traveling outside the Palestinian territories vote today. For Palestinians living in East Jerusalem this presents a rather complex dichotomy. They retain permanent resident status in Israel as inhabitants of what has become an annexed East Jerusalem. They are separated from the West Bank by the wall, communities dissected never to be reacquainted. They are allowed to vote in Jerusalem’s municipal elections, but prohibited from the federal polls. And so they vote in the Palestinian national elections, as non-citizens living under the jurisdiction of Israeli rule.

Palestinian East Jerusalemites endure a severely contested existence. Floating checkpoints around the city detain them on their way to work everyday as soldiers corral them in order to check their papers. Ostensibly this is to prohibit illegal migrant workers from benefiting from the Israeli economy. In reality, it is a security measure aimed at crippling the Palestinian economy, just another way to subdue the Palestinian people.

Yesterday I made the acquaintance of a young shop owner named Saleh Mobied, who I came to know during the course of purchasing an item for my parents. Saleh’s shop occupies one of the many storefronts on David street behind the walls of the old city in East Jerusalem. It exists on the fringes of the Muslim quarter, further encroached upon with each passing day by the ever expanding Jewish quarter. The building itself is owned by the Greek Orthodox church, but is being sold to Israelis for an unknown price. This sale will force Saleh and his business to move, or else close up shop.

Initially this seems like an unexceptional occurrence in the world of commercial proprietorship. Understanding the context of such transitions however, sheds a more complicated scheme. Palestinians not citizens of Israel have been prohibited from further developing East Jerusalem. This is not to say Palestinians don’t, but legally speaking the Israeli government maintains they have the right to terminate any “illegal” development projects. The issue of house demolitions frequently enters the debate over Israeli military actions against militant Palestinians, but what few of us realize in the United States is that the vast majority of house demolitions in Jerusalem are actually carried out by the municipal government. It is difficult to discern the rhyme or reason behind which houses they choose to demolish, and which they leave standing, but the demolished houses referred to here belong to Palestinian families without any militant connections. Perhaps they did something to aggravate the Israeli bureaucracy or drew too much attention to themselves. Perhaps they did nothing at all. Regardless, to destroy a family home and leave in its wake a pile of rubble is a disgusting offense to the people, to the children, to the neighborhood, and to society at large.

Even if Saleh and his fellow business owners who occupy this incredibly valuable commercial property, desired to put together a partnership to purchase the building and save their business, they are unable. The Israeli authorities have uncontested, non-competitive bidding rights to the building because they have in effect put a freeze on all Palestinian development. Democratic institutions at work.

As Palestinians stepped to the polls today, casting their ballots for democracy for the first time in 10 years, they entered the booths with a tremendous chip on their shoulders. They have no recourse. There is no entrenched political establishment that recognizes the determined right of the Palestinian people to self-govern. Whether you like their tactics or not, whether you see the PA as an autocratic “thugocracy” or not, these people have the right to express themselves, and elect whomever they see fit. Hamas is an Islamist party with a militant background which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. If they were to gain total control of the Palestinian Authority (which they won’t), Palestinian aspiration toward democracy would essentially cease to exist. However, an Israeli government which refuses to accept the legitimate outcome of a democratic election and does not take active steps to foster an autonomous Palestinian state without the occupation of settlers, is a fake democracy as well.

The atmosphere outside the main polling location in East Jerusalem was not one of jubilation. It was not a festival of democracy, it was not a parade of Arab faces thankful for the democratic occupiers that had allowed them the privilege of casting their votes. The frustration was palpable, speaking with a young Palestinian man today, Mahmoud Abu Sheineh expressed that there is a sense that no matter who wins, his people’s predicament will worsen. And he was ashamed to admit he is a holder of an Israeli passport, this is the voice of an Israeli citizen. Tension permeated the air as young men clad in Fatah regalia clamored for the end of the occupation. Boisterous chanting, jumping, agitated cheers and the waving of the Palestinian flag demarcated the day democracy came to East Jerusalem. Eat your heart out Dick Cheney, there were no smiling faces thankful for the day America liberated them from despotism.

The photo above is tragically indicative of the plight of the Palestinian people. Amidst the revelers who although agitated, remained peaceful throughout the day, appeared a man clad in army fatigues, draped in Fatah rags, his infant son similarly adorned on his shoulders hoisting a toy machine gun. Immediately, as miraculously as the pair had appeared, swarms of photojournalists surrounded the two as 50 cameras snapped thousands of images to be wired digitally all over the world instantaneously. This was the closest thing to an armed militant seen today in East Jerusalem. But this is the image that will be peppered throughout the media tomorrow, as if to prove the stubborn bullishness of the Palestinian people who give their children guns and teach them to be violent. There are all kinds of atrocities going on all over Palestine every day that get no international coverage, Arabs with guns get press. What a double standard – we glamorize exactly what we condemn.

In the midst of all the hubbub a Palestinian woman approached the man to berate him for fostering such negative publicity. She was eventually shrugged off and the charade continued, but before she left she managed to put a pencil in the boy’s other hand.

The will of the people is overwhelmingly in support of diplomacy. You don’t have to look hard, you just have to realize that Israeli peace means the continuing development of a territorially expansionist wall, and a settlement movement that de-legitimizes the right of the Palestinian people to self-rule. Turn the TV off, throw away your newspaper. Talk to the Palestinians in your community, ask after their families. Stop looking for the guns. If you want to look at young aggressive boys with guns, just walk down the streets of Jerusalem any day of the week, and take a long hard look at the Israeli army, it’s filled with them.

Drawing on Jordan

This is the gregarious if moderately articulate Bedouin man who graciously escorted us through the Wadi Rum desert in Southern Jordan. To say the least, it was one of the most visually spectacular sights I have ever seen. The landscape is nothing short of breathtaking. Dramatic, arid, ancient, accumulations of sand and mountain punctuate a land magically removed from the normalcy of Westernization.

We watched endearingly from the backseat of a 1970s era Toyota Landcruiser, clad in yak pelt (yeah whatever, I know it wasn't really yak) as he instructed his son in the lay of the land so that he might learn to navigate the stark terrain. It was a beautiful day.

Perhaps most startling to me, as we traversed the length of Jordan's western coast, was how going into this journey the thought of going to Jordan was never something I had given much thought to. Somewhere in my mind was the imbedded notion that Jordan is some kind of terrorist hotbed, hostile to Americans and other outsiders not familiar to Arab customs or Muslim people. My family has been perpetually warning me to stay safe as I travel to these remote and unfrequented territories, and I don't blame them. When my roommate Jim spent a semester in Jordan a year ago I thought he was crazy, why Jordan? I think I had been functioning from an assumption that Arabs are hostile to us Americans and our customs. While there is some truth to this, I must report that Jordanians are among the most friendly, hospitable people I have ever met. I was routinely greeted with smiles when I told them I was American, and this is a country rife with Iraqi refugees, they share a border (see world map).

One thing they did know how to communicate however, no matter how bad the English, was their dislike for our moronic president. So maybe there is hope for us after all. The people are good, I'm telling you, it's our arrogant government that gives us a bad rap. George Bush is a jerk. It's not too late, let's dump him. 2006 baby, Democrats are taking back the house!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Unwanted

This is Daoud "Abu" Badr from the Northern Galilee town of Al-Ghabsiya. He lives now as an Israeli citizen. He is provided full health care as are all Israeli citizens, and is entitled to vote in federal elections. He lives in a modest home in a small village just about one kilometer from the former town of Al-Ghabsiya.

In 1948, when Israel declared independence, Abu Badr was forced from his home and relocated to a makeshift encampment in the area of the village he now lives in. In 1951, the Israeli supreme court ruled that he and his neighbors from Al-Ghabsia should have the right as naturalized citizens to return to their homes. Despite the fact that their families had been split up and sent to refugee camps in the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan, Abu Badr wantly badly to return to some semblance of his former life.

The Israeli military has prohibited him from returning to his home for 55 years now. We visited the site of his childhood home. The land is now covered in rows of trees, thanks to the Jewish National Fund, which are planted over demolished Palestinian villages in order to erase any trace of their former existance. There is also a mosque that stands in this former town... it is the only building the military did not destroy. But it is fenced off by multiple layers of barbed wire. This ancient sanctuary, which decays further with each passing day has been cordoned off because a few years ago Abu Badr and his neighbors were attempting to reclaim the mosque. They were restoring it and returning there to pray on Fridays, reclaiming some small piece of what was lost.

What was once Abu Badr's home is now just a few stones, you can barely make out the outline of the foundation amidst the thriving grasses and trees. He has not seen his sister since 1973, the day they coordinated to meet at the Lebanese border and exchange kisses through a barbed wire fence. He hasn't seen any of his family in the West Bank either, they speak via telephone, but neither can he go there, nor they come here. When he attempts to find answers to his questions from the government, he is sent chasing bureaucrats who never give him any answer or any solution.

The lands that once belonged to the town of Al-Ghabsiya now belong to two sprawling Kibbutzim that have actively capitalized on the water-rich springs of the area. We went and visited the source of the water, a treatment facility of sorts. It stands amidst piles and piles of ancient rubble in all directions. An entire community destroyed and forgotten.

Abu Badr's health is noticibly good compared with some of the others I had met in the refugee camps and other regions of the West Bank. His home is far nicer, his food far healthier. He lives a comfortable life. It is a far cry from the sufferings of a West Bank refugee. And still, he is separated from his family, he is prohibited from traveling, his family home and land has been confiscated illegally even by the standards of the Israeli supreme court. He is a second-class citizen in the sense that the Israeli government provides subtle (and not so subtle) incentives for he and his neighbors to leave. There is one poignant message to this: "you are not wanted here."

Swallowed the Spider to Catch the Fly...

This exposure just turned out so well I had to include this photo... this one goes out to all the headies, grafitti art thriving in the midst of such sadness. I guess it's good inspiration.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Between the Lines

The situation here is very dire, and highly volatile. It’s not difficult to understand why Israelis feel so threatened, but it doesn’t justify their territorial ambitions and human rights violations. They have subjugated an entire nation and are deceitfully making life unpleasant for Palestinians in hopes that they will leave. It is so shamefully aggressive, it makes my heart heavy to know that my people are capable of such acts.

At the same time however, I think I have learned many important lessons about the system of oppression. I think before I had wondered in disbelief, I had separated myself from bigotry and racism, how could any group of people allow themselves to be duped into not knowing about the atrocities that their country was actively committing? How could the German people not have known? We are all creatures of context, we commit evil acts but with very few exceptions, we ourselves are not evil. There are the few who control the movements and means of violence, and the rest are just kids who have little to no choice in what they do. They have been allowed to function only within a narrowly defined parameter, and for them the world is an incredibly hostile and threatening place. They are in constant fear for their lives. And it is a fear that follows a people well until the violence has passed. As one of my friends from my group wrote, there is this mentality: “We are all alone, and they are trying to kill us.”

The only thing to fear is fear itself. If people would arm themselves with loaves of bread and books rather than guns and bombs our world would be an entirely different place. I am more a believer in non-violence than ever before. Unfortunately, there is now an almost 60 year-old culture of violence here, and the Palestinians are the ones serving an inhumane, disproportionate, abusive and cruel punishment for Arab aggressions. It’s not right, but what has now spiraled horribly out of control, has been defined by escalated tensions and violence on both sides. We as outsiders are responsible not only for countering the draconian military rule of the Israeli occupation, we must encourage non-violence on both sides of the struggle.

We must also begin to examine what the United States is doing in Iraq. It is much the same. We have incited violence. We are acting with impunity. Our young boys are over there, scared out of their minds, not really knowing what they are fighting for, and you better believe they shoot everything that flinches. Our country is responsible for the subjugation of that entire nation, which has left public infrastructure in shambles, destroyed hospitals, schools, natural beauty, ancient architecture, and the lives of children who will grow up to hate us because we stole their childhoods. We imprison and murder their brothers, fathers, sisters, and daughters, we torture and humiliate them, and in the United States George Bush tells us we are bringing freedom to the Iraqi people. With the current US strategy for Iraq, when the US leaves, whether that’s in 2 years or 10, that country will descend into a bloody and cruel civil war. Unless we miraculously stop bombing, and start building schools and homes, and libraries, and water treatment facilities, we will leave behind a trail of oppression. Mark my words.

"Democracy" and "freedom" are words our government, academic institutions and media throw around as if they were clearly defined variables in some sore of mathematical equation for effective nation building. Ask yourself these questions: Democracy for whom? Freedom for whom? Because if we are only serving a particular sector of the national constituency, or a part of the world population, and providing a disservice to the rest... well, then what good is it?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Heb-lines

Seeing as Hebron has been all over the headlines in the past few days, I thought I might share with you that I was there to witness just what the papers are reporting on. This is the Hebron I saw. It is a city devastated by road closures, and the shutting down of commercial centers in order to protect the settlers. In fact it is an invasion. The Israeli military has systematically enabled Jews to colonize and retain the old city of Hebron because it is the burial grounds of Abraham and Sarah. Main arteries of the city are cut off and walled in. Palestinians are prohibited from traveling freely throughout the city, it is segregated and devastated.

Some of the streets of the old city are caged in from above in order to protect the Palestinians walking below from having rocks and trash thrown on their heads, as settlers have inhabitted the ancient former homes of the Palestinian old city. I hope that whatever news source you are reading is clarifying to you that the settlers are racist and aggressive. They live their lives in fear of their neighbors. In my day in Hebron, I had the pleasure of witnessing the aftermath of adolescent settler girls who had assaulted international peace workers with paint bombs, spit, rocks and vitriol. Settler women routinely march down into the Palestinian territories en masse, destroying commercial goods, creating trouble, and spreading hate. They are protected by a dictatorial military presence. Young boys with guns who are forced to protect these racist colonizers, even though they themselves hate them and what they do. But their job is to protect the Jews, and so they lash out towards the Arabs because it is their only outlet.

Hebron is a dangerous place right now. But it's not dangerous because of the Palestinians, it is dangerous because of the settlers. They live in a state of terrified paranoia. The picture above was taken on the main commercial drag in the center of Hebron. It is one of the only remaining areas that can sustain commercial activity, due to the fact that it is a main artery. The boys you see were selling produce and keeping warm. Settlers have issued a call to arms and are importing other settlers from all over the country in order to violently protest the fact that the army is ordering them to evacuate the farmers markets that they have been illegally inhabiting for months. The Palestinians who have been displaced from their commercial center have no recourse but to wait idly by as a reluctant military establishment removes the hostile presence. They have committed no violent acts towards the settlers, they know exactly what would happen if they did...

Try to imagine what would happen if the Palestinians attempted to organize violent protests the way the settlers do. Do you remember Jenin? I do... the power dynamic is perverse.

Occupation=Racism

Welcome to Palestine. Land of the forgotten. Before I left for this journey everyone asked me why I was traveling to the Occupied Territories. What did I expect to see? I wanted to see the face of violence. I wanted to see the war. I wanted to know the truth. That is what I said.

Do I now know the truth? I'm not sure. I did see the war though, and I now know what violence truly looks like. I thought Israelis were unhappy. I know that Israel suffers too. Believe me, I know. Suicide bombers are inexcusable. They are undeniably the single worst tactic/most harmful act that Palestinian militants have undertaken. They make penance for these unspeakable acts everyday in the form of sanctions, human rights violations, imprisonment, and "ghettoization."

This is what you see from the inside of one of the various checkpoints that dot the expansionist extremities of Israel's new borders, that is, the Israel side of the wall. I took photographs of the other side of this checkpoint, people trying to get out, but I was detained at gunpoint by Israeli military and forced to delete my photographs. As for people trying to get into the West Bank, as you can see from this photo, it's not very busy. Israelis are not particularly interested in seeing the suffering of the Palestinian people it seems, maybe it's because they are forced into witnessing and committing these unspeakable acts as soldiers? And I thought I was against the draft before...

As for the Palestinians themselves, they are prohibited from traveling to and from the West Bank with out some sort of permit. As of 2008, there will not be a single Palestinian refugee (ie a Palestinian without Israeli citizenship) with a permit to work in the state of Israel. Palestinians are being actively forced into smaller and smaller living spaces. Their economy has been decimated. The unemployment rate hovers somewhere around 70%. They are subject to Israeli military occupation, Israeli military police, and Israeli police jurisdiction. They are prohibited from building outside of "Area A," which are dense urban centers falling under direct control of the Palestinian Authority. Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, Hebron, they are becoming more and more crowded as Palestinians flee the countryside to escape the aggression of racist settlers. Hebron is a case where the settlers are occupying even parts of Area A, hence all the headlines recently. I have seen the violence with my own eyes. It's no coincidence that it's women and young girls you see being pulled away by the military. They are sent out to spit on and otherwise assault Palestinians, because they know that if a Palestinian were to touch a hair on one of their heads, they would be faced with punishment with impunity. Home demolitions, imprisonment, search and seizure, torture, close of business, you name it. The Supreme Court of Israel is unable to reign in the military, the checks and balances are non-functional when it comes to the jurisdiction of the Occupied Territories.

Someone left an anonymous comment on my blog criticizing me for suggesting that I might be able to understand the motivation behind suicide bombings. I stand by my words. It doesn't make it right. There is no right here. There are no justifications for the attrocities that each side has committed against humanity. I do not feel responsible for the sins of the Arab nations, I do not attempt to claim that they have created utopian nations. However, I do feel responsible for the sins of the Jewish nation, and I know that what Israel is doing right now in the West Bank are the worst of human rights violations I have ever witnessed. If you don't believe me, come and see for yourself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

No 2 Alito

This is a little something I put together for a campaign Jessy is working on. Samuel Alito is wrong on all the issues. Republicans want to ruin our country. What else is new...

Look very closely at this picture and you might see some signs, of why this picture pertains to this issue. (You might have to enlarge it.)

Faces of Oppression

These are the faces of the children who inhabit the Dheisha refugee camp. I am staying with a family that lives here. It is probably not what you would expect. The housing, although primitive, is permanent. Big boxy buildings that scale the hills of ancient Bethlehem, I sit now just a stones throw from the Church of the Nativity, birthplace of Jesus. These children are faced with a life without opportunity. Schools barely function, social services are non-existant, doctors are located in Israel, if you get sick you must travel through a check point in order to seek medical attention, and many die in the process of trying to cross the border, because they are held up for hours at interrogation stations. They are not allowed to travel, there are no jobs, entire families live under one common roof. I am staying with a family in a one room flat with a mother, her four grown sons, her grandson, and her sons wife. And the hospitality is amazing, you would not believe how excited these people are to have us here. The want us to publicize their stories. These are a people forgotten, abused, and ignored. Injustice, plain and simple. There is not so much as a level playing field with grass for these children, they are uncoordinated because the only thing they ever learn how to throw is stones. I have been told today by more than one, that they have nothing to live for. They bleed so that Israel can live a peaceful existence, one in which they can ignore the suffering of these people.

Art of War

International artists travel from abroad to paint these walls. I can hardly imagine a more appropriate canvas. This piece in particular must have been done by a skilled graffiti artist, it is reminiscent of some of the artwork I have seen before in the states, beauty in the heart of the beast.

Prisoners

This is the wall that prohibits Palestinians from visiting Israel. Palestinians are at this point more or less forbidden from the holy land. If you are not an Israeli citizen, or over the age of 35 with children, you simply cannot enter Israel. They are held as prisoners in a land impoverished, undeveloped and unbelievably crowded. Forbidden to travel, without a land, without hope. And we wonder why the blow themselves up...

Oh Israel, Hear Me Cry

I laid eyes on the wall today for the first time. And I wept. It is probably the most frightening sight I have ever seen. A modern day attrocity. I cannot even begin to describe how painful it is. This is a step back not a step forward.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

George Loves Israel

Too weird... I know. George loves Israel, Israel loves George. This guy introduced himself to me as George Bush's brother, I think he's more like his twin. At first I didn't get it, then he took off his sunglasses and my jaw hit the floor. Someone call the White House. Really though, Israelis do love George Bush. They saw Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a common enemy, and many support America's aggressive tactics there.

On a totally separate note...

Imri returns to the United States on January 10, he holds a dual citizenship, and he intends to return for good. In fact, he contends he won’t come back to Israel until he absolutely has to. His plan is to get back with his high school heavy metal band in Boston. I have been keeping up a daily log since I have been here, and in one of my entries I wrote, “I fear Imri has placed a few too many eggs in the heavy metal basket.” After I wrote it down, it began to take on a life of its own. A concept emerged in my mind of this heavily armored sanctuary intended to incubate life. It was supposed to be a space where the divine could be kept safe. But the only problem is the basket is made of metal, and the eggs keep breaking. They made it out of impermeable and durable elements in order to shield the goods on the inside from the adverse forces that occasionally hurled themselves in from the outside. Now the basket keeps the eggs safe from exterior forces, but it has injured their integrity. The eggs are riddled with tiny little fractures that leave them fragile, the life they incubate feels they have been done a disservice, they feel different. What was intended only to protect them, to make them stronger, has left them feeling ostracized.

This is the heavy metal basket. This is the Israel I have come to know. It is a land I love, a land created out of lofty idealism, and culture that in many ways clings truth, justice, fairness and a persistence punctuated by thanking God for each new day. But Israel is also a land comprised of immigrants, and like any immigrant nation, Israel grapples clumsily with its pluralistic identity. It is a struggle, where human presence is held paramount, an existence anchored in the here and now.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Getting to know you...

Aviv Netter, local activist. We spoke with Aviv at length today about his opinion of Israeli politics. He told us about his work for the Meretz party, a party comprised mostly of students. Meretz is far left, farther even than Amir Peretz's Labour. Aviv also spoke to us about what it's like to be gay in Israel. He says he feels as though Israelis are a bit closer to Europe in terms of their attitudes towards gay people, as opposed to the United States which appeared a bit more homophobic. But he pointed out that even so, Israeli politicians are so consumed with conflict and security that social issues such as gay rights play little to no role in election politics. It appears no one is really courting the gay vote. Aviv is the chairman of an organization called Ge'ut which translates roughly as "Pride."

Although Aviv feels he has pride associated with his homosexuality, when it comes to his status as an Israeli citizen, he is much less passionate. He told us he has very little pride for himself as an Israeli. He said that it wasn't until he travelled outside the country that he actually felt inspired to seek out his Jewish identity. He told us also that he is considering raising his children in a different country. It is absolutely gut-wrenching to hear some of these young people speak about their feeling of despair. Despair for a country mired in violence. It may just be the current point in the conflict, but there is a sense amongst young people right now that they will not see a solution in their lifetimes. Limited in their pursuits, and embittered for it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Seen it all before...


Ariel Sharon is a living behemoth here in Israel. Hate him or love him, he is the embodiment of the two primary governing institutions here in Israel - the army and the legislature. Discerning which priority comes first to Mr Sharon seems a subjective question, it doesn't help that everyone in this country has served in the military. If you ask a Palestinian, he is a war criminal, and many young Israelis will tell you the same. He has many names and metaphysical references associated to his likeness; the bulldozer is to many young Israelis the only man capable of ensuring security. Israelis young and old are caught in between two very different security prerogatives. On the one hand they must reconcile their intimate experience of terrorist attacks, and still plead the case of restraint. There is certainly a profound, deeply religious understanding that due to the power dynamic, they must act benevolently. And on the other, there is an identity associated with being victimized that instinctively tells every bone in the body to lash back and be righteously furious, and smite your enemy for his transgressions because you can. This too, has biblical reference.

As the Prime Minister lies in a coma besieged by the frailty of his ancient body, at least for the moment, it seems as though the endless questioning of his leadership has taken a break. Almost everyone I have spoken to, whether they like him or not, the first thing they express is concern for the man's health, and that they wish him a speedy recovery. To an observer it appears visceral. It is fraternal compassion, kin of Israel. Sharon, in his moment of weakness has descended from the pedestal of government and has become nothing more than a man in need. This is a concept that to many Israelis is familiar. No matter where an attack transpires in Israel, it is close to home. Israel is a tiny nation, and everything is close. Ariel Sharon has been stripped of his status as international ideologue, he is just a local politician now. And as such he represents a small community. Just as Israelis know his successor will be another son of Israel bound by the same constraints and circumstances as he.

It is precisely this familiarity though, that incubates a political spectrum highly varied in its extremes. The American political field is so vast, we come to know our candidates through the filter of Republican or Democrat. Our parties are so entrenched and so uncontested, the majority of us have learned to vote based on party lines rather than candidates. Presidential elections are not a battle fought to win over the support of the nation, rather it is a competition to sway that middle ten percent of America which doesn't always vote along party lines. There has perhaps never been a system at such a pivotal moment, that has ever look quite so opposite.

Ariel Sharon just founded a new party before bowing out. What will come of this party is largely unforeseen, but the crown is certainly passing. By virtue of the fact that Kadima grew out of Likud, the remaining Likud party has had to resort to new leadership (albeit former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu), and Labour a new man in Amir Peretz. All of a sudden we are dealing with what is effectively three new parties. Many Israelis remain cautiously optimistic, while at the same time petrified of the prospect of their opposition seizing power. Granted, political uncertainty is a way of life in Israel, but never has this seemed more true. However, by the same token, to a people who are so used to sudden, drastic and irrevocable change, there is a sense of fluency. No matter how foreign, Israelis have seen it all before.

This country constantly walks a thin line between existence and obliteration, or at least in the minds of those who live here, there is a balance that hangs precariously. They believe in the nation, which is not to say that they support the aggressive real politik reality of the Israeli military, but there is this sense that the people are good. For a people whose future seems so undetermined, whose mere existence is so routinely questioned, it is truly remarkable, the resolve of the people is steadfast.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Catching it all...

Trying to make sense of all the noise is not the simplest of tasks. There is a lot going on at the same time. Today is a prime example. It is truly strange and slightly remarkable to be in Israel at such a pivotal moment in the electorate. All of a sudden the leader of the pack, the incumbent Prime Minister falls victim to what appears to be an unrecoverable stroke. The streets of Tel Aviv today seemed to be overwhelmed by a sense of the unknown. Shop-owners glued to the news channels, I really wish I understood what they were saying. All in all though, people seem to be relatively unconcerned about the entire affair. I’m bubbling over with all these questions about what the future is going to look like, how the road map is going to be altered. People I’ve spoken with thus far are not too concerned though, they are mostly concerned with the health of Mr Sharon, and seem to be of the opinion that we will see what happens when the time comes.

More later...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Political Stilts

I came to Israel with the intention of finding my people. I wasn't sure exactly what that meant to me, and I'm still not sure, but whether that means Jewish people, political people, social justice people, artists, or just young people, these are all aspects of this person I am learning by being here. Yes, some deeper part of me longed to be a member of a community where everyone walking the streets shares a common ancestry, perhaps not genetically, but somehow it was still something I expected to be physically palpable - even self-validating. My purpose is self-indulgent in this way, I look to glean some larger lessons about myself by being here.

But it is more than just this. I think there are certain shared realities, especially as our world continues to become this contiguous planisphere of virtual knowledge, which have come to define a new generation. Access to information is exponentially distancing people at opposite ends of the factors responsible for dividing the developed world. More than ever before, we commonly share global happenings. This is the progeny of the internet and digital cable, where on-demand is quickly becoming a way of life.

Is it just access though? There are millions of Americans, particularly young Americans, who do everything they can to inundate themselves with popular culture as a means of shutting out the stuff with substance. It really is a broader symptom of my generation, this desire to anesthetize ourselves with the material techno-gadgetry, pop palettes and designer fashions of our global marketplace. The nature of the "news" is changing. With the advent of 24-hour channels particularly devoted to specific kinds of information (CNN and Fox News, ESPN, E!, MTV...), what was once the "news," is really just bad news - mainly reports of catastrophic failures and disasters. Occasionally there is a public interest story, but by and large it is just plain tragedy. I can understand why my grandfather tells me that the world is going to hell - although, he has caught on to the food network.

I wanted to be in a place where there was less of a buffer between myself and the harsh realities of the world at large. What better place than Israel? A country many consider to be itself the buffer, a thorny Middle Eastern quagmire poking its way into hostile territories.

Coming to Israel, I was under the impression that young Israelis are civically engaged. Young people here vote in higher numbers, I figured this to be indicative of a population more in tune with its political environment. But what I have come to find is an Israeli political experience defined by the harsh realities of wartime survival instinct. An existence that constantly in flux, and perhaps more bizarrely, an existence that prodded, distorted and questioned by watching their lives play out through the eyes of outsiders looking in. International media sources, primarily American, broadcast here 24 hours a day. It is a profoundly dislocated association to self, this is what I am coming to understand about being a young Jewish Israeli. Young people here are so attuned to how they are perceived by the rest of the world, they have almost no room to just be. And it is what I am coming to understand. Young Israelis, I think given the choice, would almost all tell you that they would love to be totally apolitical. Political aspiration is an American luxury, here politics are just a burden.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ascending... Aaliyah


Well, let's see, much has transpired here in the past few days... I spent New Years Eve at a house party in Herzliya, a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv. It was a very interesting house, kind of like a futuristic adobe igloo in the middle of Israel. The party was filled with people in their early twenties replete with a full bar, video projection screen and DJ. It was a riotous party, lots of dancing, lots of fun.

The New Year here is referred to as "Sylvester." It took me a few days to get around to investigating this strange reference. It seems this is a common term for New Years Eve in the Middle East. But who is this Sylvester I wanted to know? Well in a land filled with Jews it takes a while to find out that Sylvester was actually an ancient pope. Which of course just leads to the next set of questions: why do they honor a pope on this day, and in Israel of all places? It turns out that Pope Sylvester I died on December 31st 335, and so to the Roman calendar this becomes a significant reference. Which then leads one to realize, but of course, the New Year that we celebrate on January 1st is merely the Roman New Year, and although Israelis do function on the Christian calendar, it is a Christian calendar nonetheless. Rosh Hashanah of course, would be the celebration of the Jewish New Year. And so, as you can imagine, holiday season in Israel is nothing like the States. Holiday season in Israel falls in September and October, apparently the Jewish calendar year and the Christian calendar are not in synch, go figure. I was speaking to a man on the street the other day, and I wished him a happy holiday, to which he responded by scolding me, "Holiday? What is this New Year? This is not our new year, it is Christian new year, not holiday." Sylvester, not new year.

I encountered two young American girls on the street the other day. They were each about 21 years old. They had both moved to Israel permanently, they had made Aaliyah. One was serving in the military and the other was going to school, although she was going back to the States to finish up her undergraduate degree. It is truly a bizarre concept to me that someone from the United States would consider giving up their life as they know it, in order to fight in the Israeli army. It is no small sacrifice, I assure you. In addition to the decrease in the standard of living (mainly the luxuries we become accustomed to as Americans), the entire mindset of this nation requires a total reassessment of priorities. These girls were asking me whether I had considered making Aaliyah, and I almost surprised myself by how emphatically I opposed the idea. I think at least part of it has to do with the fact that I see myself as being a lot more capable of influencing Israeli politics and the world at large from the United States...

So I asked these girls, were they happy with their decision to move, was Israel everything they had expected? I think they were inclined to answer me in half truths, but they insisted emphatically that their existence in Israel was a whole heck of a lot better that the United States. Given, they hailed from Florida and Northern Virginia, but their zealous responses smacked of overcompensation of the fact that they hadn't yet fully convinced themselves, much less me. Their sticking point was based around the tenet that Israel is not an easy place to live. It is a struggle. A struggle to make ends meet everyday, a struggle to survive, a struggle to learn a new language, with new customs and people. For these young ladies, it was almost like fulfilling a biblical prophesy, they were enamored with the concept of hardship and sacrifice. But keep in mind, American Jews receive compensation for moving to Israel, a stipend if you will. I'd be pissed if I were Israeli.

Economically, Israel is in the doldrums. The tourist industry is just now beginning to find its feet again. Amir Peretz, the new head of the Labour Party, rests his political laurels entirely upon his economic principles, which are very much socialist. The Labour Party here is a true labor party. Their concerns are economic, and not much else. Security, the environment, social justice, are not the concerns of this leadership. Ariel Sharon looks like he will run away with the upcoming election. Even young people who do not agree with his hard-line tactics and his military history agree that he is the best man for the job. It will be fascinating to see how it all unfolds, there is much about this election that remains unpredictable, especially with the advent of the new Kadima Party.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

2006


Happy New Year! Here's to the fruits of a happy and healthy future...