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palestine journal: 18 sep 2006

well....here i am, still in this prison known as the west bank. we went to ramallah this weekend, and to a christian village outside ramallah called taybeh, where there was an 'Octoberfest'.....the festival was well-attended (despite the anger among muslims over the pope's comments about islam last week, the festival in the christian town went fine...no christians in palestine have been attacked, but some churches were burned in a couple of places). at the festival, we watched young kids and teenagers performing the palestinian traditional dance known as 'dabke' - they were great! it reminded me of irish step dancing with the fancy footwork and stamping on the wooden stage. and the kids were all really excited about it, they loved doing it (unlike some of the kids in the irish step i used to do -- especially the boys -- who were just doing it because their parents made them).
then there was a performance by a palestinian hip-hop group from Lud, a town inside
Israel.....and watching the villagers' reaction to the hip-hop - interested,
entertained, but not really _jamming_ (like they were with the traditional music and
dance), it made me think about the origins of hip-hop.....it is essentially, and at
its core, an _urban_ music.....it began in the states, of course, but has been
popularized as a form of expression in urban centers throughout the world - i've
heard rappers from johannesburg, paris, london, hamburg with tons of talent, at
least as much as many of the US-based rappers.....but it is a type of music that
springs out of a people desperate to hold onto an identity that they feel being lost
in the anonymous centralizing process of cities. kids from the village, stuck
behind the israeli wall, but still strong in their culture and traditions, simply
don't have the same type of experience as the kids from the
villages-turned-urban-ghettoes that have come to typify the experience of
palestinians inside israel. hip-hop just doesn't resonate as strongly for the
villagers as it does for the kids lost in urban centers throughout the world.

in israel, the so-called 'arab-israeli' communities (which make up 20% of the
population of israel) have a very different set of problems from palestinians in the
west bank and gaza.

and those in the city of jerusalem have even a different set of problems than the
other two groups. all of their problems are related, and all stemming from the same
source (the state of israel), but the oppression takes different forms in the
different communities.

Jack Persekian, a Palestinian with a 'Jerusalem ID' (this ID is different, btw, from
a 'Palestinian-Israeli' with Israeli citizenship....it allows the bearer access only
to the confines of the city of Jerusalem) writes of the three main areas in which
Palestinians are discriminated against in Jerusalem.

"1) The law. Any Jew from anywhere on this earth can come, reside in Jerusalem and
become a citizen of the State, while if the indigenous non-Jewish inhabitants of the
city move out of the city for any reason (except for study and for a limited period)
for more than three years they'll never be able to go back and reside there. The
only way they would be permitted to come back is as tourists, that is if given a
visa. We are technically 'permanent residents' of our own birthplace, our own
hometown, our own piece of land and property, until further notice. There is a
stranglehold on building permits on the Palestinian side of the city with vast areas
designated as either a 'green zone' or not part of the planning zone, not to mention
of course the extremely costly process of construction on the Palestinian side in
contrast with the readily available government sponsored housing on the Jewish side.

"2) The economy. The closure of Jerusalem has left its Palestinian inhabitants in
dire straits, since they're totally tied to the Palestinian standard of living of
the West Bank, which stands at around $3,000 per capita income, on the one hand, and
the fact that they're completely entrapped by the Israeli economy, which stands at
around $20,000 per capita income, on the other. Since more than ten years ago Israel
has become the only supplier of goods and services to the Palestinian residents of
the city, which means very low income linked to the Palestinian economy in
comparison to very high prices linked to the Israeli standard of living. In addition
to that, the scarcity of jobs in the city coupled with the imposed closure and the
fear of losing one's resident status if a move out of the city in pursuit of a job
is opted for, is creating a desperate dead end and a kind of
"you're-better-off-if-you-leave" situation especially for the future of one's kids.
Well yes, this might be true. What kind of jobs are there for the Palestinian
residents of Jerusalem? Not being able to work in the Palestinian territories and
not able to get integrated into the Israeli system - not being a citizen and not
having served in the army (which is clearly unthinkable) make it impossible to get
into the system. The jobs that are available are very few and hardly ever inspiring
(working for foreign aid or diplomatic missions as a driver, security personnel or
clerk) or the easiest, least demanding of jobs: a taxi driver, a cleaner in west
Jerusalem or tending a falafel stand.

"3) Society. The divide is so deep and the differences are so rooted that it is
impossible to imagine that there could ever be any kind of social integration
between the two sides. Israel was established as an extension of Europe and the
Palestinians are part of the Middle Eastern culture. The Israelis saw, and up till
now many see, that all the people from the third world, so to speak, are culturally
inferior to them. Israel was since its establishment and for many years dominated
and controlled by Ashkenazi Jews who defined the cultural face of Israel as
Euro-western and obstructed any other form of cultural expression, particularly that
from Arab/Middle Eastern/North African origins. Until the late seventies no oriental
music would be heard on Israel's radio or TV. Amy Horowitz who studied Israeli
oriental music's emergence and proliferation dubbed it "bus station music," for only
there, in bus stations, where workers and the lower middle class met, their kind of
music was played, and not on the elite state-sanctioned airwaves, which in a way
dictated the kind of music people should listen to and that which reflects Israel's
cultural identity and origins. No need to go further down this track. All I want to
say is that Israel knew from the beginning the kind of society it wanted to be, and
more-or-less the kind of mix between cultures it would tolerate. One thing is clear,
and will be as long as Israel exists: its Jewish exclusivity.

"Palestine, on the other hand, is a mixture of backgrounds of those who happen to be
there and/or want to be there. It does not prefer any religion over another and
would rather be inclusive of all. Exclusivity is nice and has its advantages, but on
the long run it is prone to deficiencies and breakdown. Rather than be left to the
very end of negotiations, Jerusalem at this difficult moment in time can set an
example for coexistence. Its liminal position can be transformed to an archetypal
zone of tolerance."

in other news....

mahmoud ahmadenijad, the president of iran, had an interview with time magazine in
which he clarified some of his (oft-misquoted) positions on issues:
 link to www.ynetnews.com

and a jewish rabbi living in a settlement on stolen palestinian land made a
statement that all palestinian males should be killed, while israeli politicians
call for ethnic 'transfer' of palestinians to other countries:

so the wagons are circling, the outright racism becoming less hidden and more
palestinians are desperate for food and water, while the israelis use 'divide and
conquer' tactics of giving palestinian christians more privileges and freedoms than
they give to palestinian muslims (not much, and not often, but it does happen
occasionally). ultimately, the christians and muslims are all in the same boat, and
they know it.....but israel has tried hard to exacerbate the small differences.

and in the midst of all this, the pope has to come along and make some stupid
comment that Islam was spread through violence, and was 'evil and inhuman', but that
Christianity was not spread through violence. come on!!! how provocative can you
get!! (despite the fact that christianity has at least as much violent 'crusading'
in its history as does Islam)

It seems that Ratzinger went from hating Jews in his youth (as a Nazi youth, an
association he has never publicly come out and disassociated himself from), to
hating Muslims as an adult. ultimately, it is the same - hating a group of people
based on their system of beliefs, their religion.

to those who are busy giving excuses for the man, saying 'he was referring to how
spreading any religion through violence is evil', well, here is the full text of his

why does he take it on himself to suddenly become a scholar of islam, interpreting
the texts of the Qu'ran and the many debates and theological discussions about their
meaning, without giving any recognition or critique of his own religion's
culpability in the massive 'spread of religion by force'?

yes, there should be a dialogue between muslim scholars and christian scholars.
yes, there are many many things the two religions have in common. and yes, anyone
can use either holy book to justify whatever he or she wants to justify, by taking
it out of context. but let the muslim scholars, those who have spent their lives
studying that religion, begin the critique (as many have) of that religion. the
christian church should be looking within itself and its own history, getting its
own house in order, before deigning to critique another religion, islam, which
ultimately has a much less violent history than christianity.

what the pope has done, by presenting a speech that severely critiques islam at its
base with no equivalent critique of christianity, which has a much more violent
history than islam, is to demonize islam and tell the world, in as many words, that
the stance of the catholic church is one that is against islam.

such a statement can only serve to burn bridges and increase tension. why not go
the other direction.......build bridges, work toward peace and co-existence?

while i was in ramallah, i read a book, a fiction book, about a boy in ramallah,
written from his perspective as a 12-year old. it was called "a little piece of
ground", and it is really wonderfully written, and, based on my experience here, i
would say it is extremely accurate. the way the boy views the world, his
aspirations (to be the world's greatest footballer, to be taller than his brother,
to be the inventor of an acid formula that can dissolve the steel of israeli tanks),
his daily life, his thoughts, really bring the reader into the life of a 12-year old
in ramallah. I hope everyone can read it, to see what life is like under occupation
for a kid:

after i finished the book, a friend said to me, "you know, there was a big attempt
to ban that book in the US when it came out three years ago." I didn't know that,
but the thought of it made me feel angry - that people would try to ban this
perspective, simply because they disagreed with it. attempts to ban books, to me,
come out of fear and ignorance.

The 'Chronology of Censorship' for 2003 said, about Elizabeth Laird, the author:
"Ms. Laird, who spent years in Palestine, was also quoted as saying, 'If anybody
would like to write a book about the effects of suicide bombing on Israeli children,
or what it's like for an Israeli child, I would very much welcome that. I think that
would be an excellent thing to do. Because I think that all aspects of this truth
should be understood.' So Ms. Laird, at least, seems to uphold the principle that
the answer to free speech is more free speech."

and if you're interested in an excellent book from an israeli perspective, try this
one,a book of short stories:
"picnic grounds: a novel in fragments" by oz shellach

a reviewer says: "The stories take place in modern Israel, but reflect back on the
Palestinians who were displaced, the villages that were bulldozed, the hillsides
that were razed, and the history that remains largely ignored. Through these
stories, a picture of a modern state superimposed over the historical Palestine
emerges. Furthermore, we begin to sense how modern Israel avoids this recent
history, covers it over. A family picnic on the grounds of a former Palestinian
village, or the dense pine forests covering the hillsides outside Jerusalem that
once were covered with olive orchards - the stories all speak to the way modern
Israel manages to exist in a state of near denial."

this denial is what must be overcome now, if there is to be peace in this land. no
more burning bridges, no more building walls. it may be painful for some people
move from denial into knowledge into acceptance, but it is the only way for justice
to occur.