Thursday, December 10, 2009
Andrew Kadi and Aaron Levitt
Last month, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organisation called the Hebron Fund, which supports Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied city of Hebron, held a fundraiser at the New York Mets' stadium, Citi Field.
The fundraiser went forward despite calls for its cancellation from grassroots human rights organisations from the US, Palestine and Israel. The fact that the Hebron Fund likely raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for extremist Israeli settlers at a major US venue with little public scrutiny is a troubling sign for those who hope that the US can play a constructive role in achieving a just peace in the Middle East.
Perhaps more worryingly, according to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius: "A search of IRS records identified 28 US charitable groups that made a total of $33.4m in tax-exempt contributions to settlements and related organisations between 2004 and 2007." Some of the larger organisations, including Friends of the Ateret Cohanim and Friends of Ir David, both leading the Jewish settler takeover of Palestinian East Jerusalem, are based in New York City.
Israeli settlements violate the Geneva convention's prohibition against an occupying power transferring its population into occupied territory, and Israeli settlement expansion directly contradicts the US call for a settlement freeze.
Hebron's Jewish settlers, who are supported by the Hebron Fund, are openly fundraising in New York City. Under the protection of the Israeli military, they are expanding settlements in Hebron's Old City and driving out the Palestinian residents.
The Hebron Fund's extremist positions are clear. Hebron Fund executive director Yossi Baumol told The American Prospect that "[d]emocracy is poison to Arabs", "Israel must not give Arabs a say in how the country is run" and "[y]ou'll never get the truth out of an Arab". Hebron's chief rabbi, Dov Lior, a featured participant in some Hebron Fund events, recently praised a new book that says it is permitted for a Jew to kill civilians who provide moral support to an enemy of the Jews, and to even kill young children, if it is foreseeable that they will grow up to become enemies.
Settlers and the Israeli army routinely attack and terrorise Palestinians in Hebron, according to human rights groups such as B'Tselem in Israel. In 1994, Hebron settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 unarmed Palestinians who were praying in a Hebron mosque. One of the honorees at the 2009 Hebron Fund dinner, Noam Arnon, called Goldstein "an extraordinary person'' in 1995. In 1990 Arnon called three Jewish terrorists who were convicted of killing three Palestinians and maiming two Palestinian mayors "heroes".
Though the Hebron Fund tells the IRS that its purpose is to "promote social and educational wellbeing", in 2008 Baumol assured New York radio listeners: "There are real facts on the ground that are created by people helping the Hebron Fund and coming to our dinners."
A 2007 appeal explained: "Dozens of new families can now come live in Hebron ... waiting for you to be their partners in the redemption of Hebron."
Baumol dedicated the 2009 fundraiser to protesting at "racist limitations, led by President Barack Obama on Jewish growth".
Settlers frequently claim that preventing Jews from living anywhere they want in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is "racist", regardless of the settlers' severe infringement on the rights of longstanding Palestinian residents. Settlers justify their takeover of Hebron by invoking the massacre of 67 Jewish residents of Hebron by Palestinians in 1929. But rather than equality, Hebron's settlers aim for superior rights enforced from the barrel of a gun.
Non-profit organisations like the Hebron Fund play a substantial role in fuelling the Middle East conflict, but largely fly under the radar in the US. They brazenly hold public fundraisers, and the media generally ignore them. Major US advocacy organisations that claim to oppose Israeli settlements typically fail to criticise them. In one rare mainstream media report, David Ignatius highlighted the US government's self-defeating policy, writing that "critics of Israeli settlements question why American taxpayers are supporting indirectly, through the exempt contributions, a process that the government condemns".
Until the public, advocacy groups, media and the US government scrutinise and rein in settlement non-profits like the Hebron Fund, policy statements about peace in the Middle East will do nothing to stop the daily violence and dispossession suffered by Palestinians.
ï Andrew Kadi is an IT professional and a member of the Middle East rights organisation, Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East. Aaron Levitt has volunteered as a human rights monitor in Hebron and is a member of Jews Against the Occupation-NYC
Monday, November 23, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The PA leadership in Ramallah is leading the Palestinian movement of independence to a dead end with its proposed unilateral call for Palestinian statehood.
From a rumor, to a rising murmur, the proposal floated by the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Ramallah leadership to declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally has suddenly hit center stage. The European Union, the United States and others have rejected it as "premature," but endorsements are coming from all directions: journalists, academics, nongovernmental organization activists, Israeli right-wing leaders (more on that later). The catalyst appears to be a final expression of disgust and simple exhaustion with the fraudulent "peace process" and the argument goes something like this: if we can't get a state through negotiations, we will simply declare statehood and let Israel deal with the consequences.
But it's no exaggeration to propose that this idea, although well-meant by some, raises the clearest danger to the Palestinian national movement in its entire history, threatening to wall Palestinian aspirations into a political cul-de-sac from which it may never emerge. The irony is indeed that, through this maneuver, the PA is seizing -- even declaring as a right -- precisely the same dead-end formula that the African National Congress (ANC) fought so bitterly for decades because the ANC leadership rightly saw it as disastrous. That formula can be summed up in one word: Bantustan.
It has become increasingly dangerous for the Palestinian national movement that the South African Bantustans remain so dimly understood. If Palestinians know about the Bantustans at all, most imagine them as territorial enclaves in which black South Africans were forced to reside yet lacked political rights and lived miserably. This partial vision is suggested by Mustafa Barghouthi's recent comments at the Wattan Media Centre in Ramallah, when he cautioned that Israel wanted to confine the Palestinians into "Bantustans" but then argued for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 boundaries -- although nominal "states" without genuine sovereignty are precisely what the Bantustans were designed to be.
Apartheid South Africa's Bantustans were not simply sealed territorial enclaves for black people. They were the ultimate "grand" formula by which the apartheid regime hoped to survive: that is, independent states for black South Africans who -- as white apartheid strategists themselves keenly understood and pointed out -- would forever resist the permanent denial of equal rights and political voice in South Africa that white supremacy required. As designed by apartheid architects, the ten Bantustans were designed to correspond roughly to some of the historical territories associated with the various black "peoples" so that they could claim the term "Homelands." This official term indicated their ideological purpose: to manifest as national territories and ultimately independent states for the various black African "peoples" (defined by the regime) and so secure a happy future for white supremacy in the "white" Homeland (the rest of South Africa). So the goal of forcibly transferring millions of black people into these Homelands was glossed over as progressive: 11 states living peacefully side by side (sound familiar?). The idea was first to grant "self-government" to the Homelands as they gained institutional capacity and then reward that process by declaring/granting independent statehood.
The challenge for the apartheid government was then to persuade "self-governing" black elites to accept independent statehood in these territorial fictions and so permanently absolve the white government of any responsibility for black political rights. Toward this end, the apartheid regime hand-picked and seeded "leaders" into the Homelands, where they immediately sprouted into a nice crop of crony elites (the usual political climbers and carpet-baggers) that embedded into lucrative niches of financial privileges and patronage networks that the white government thoughtfully cultivated (this should sound familiar too).
It didn't matter that the actual territories of the Homelands were fragmented into myriad pieces and lacked the essential resources to avoid becoming impoverished labor cesspools. Indeed, the Homelands' territorial fragmentation, although crippling, was irrelevant to Grand Apartheid. Once all these "nations" were living securely in independent states, apartheid ideologists argued to the world, tensions would relax, trade and development would flower, blacks would be enfranchised and happy, and white supremacy would thus become permanent and safe.
The thorn in this plan was to get even thoroughly co-opted black Homeland elites to declare independent statehood within "national" territories that transparently lacked any meaningful sovereignty over borders, natural resources, trade, security, foreign policy, water -- again, sound familiar? Only four Homeland elites did so, through combinations of bribery, threats and other "incentives." Otherwise, black South Africans didn't buy it and the ANC and the world rejected the plot whole cloth. (The only state to recognize the Homelands was fellow-traveler Israel.) But the Homelands did serve one purpose -- they distorted and divided black politics, created terrible internal divisions, and cost thousands of lives as the ANC and other factions fought it out. The last fierce battles of the anti-apartheid struggle were in the Homelands, leaving a legacy of bitterness to this day.
Hence the supreme irony for Palestinians today is that the most urgent mission of apartheid South Africa -- getting the indigenous people to declare statehood in non-sovereign enclaves -- finally collapsed with mass black revolt and took apartheid down with it, yet the Palestinian leadership now is not only walking right into that same trap but actually making a claim on it.
The reasons that the PA-Ramallah leadership and others want to walk into this trap are fuzzy. Maybe it could help the "peace talks" if they are redefined as negotiations between two states instead of preconditions for a state. Declaring statehood could redefine Israel's occupation as invasion and legitimize resistance as well as trigger different and more effective United Nations intervention. Maybe it will give Palestinians greater political leverage on the world stage -- or at least preserve the PA's existence for another (miserable) year.
Why these fuzzy visions are not swiftly defeated by short attention to the South African Bantustan experience may stem partly from two key differences that confuse the comparison, for Israel has indeed sidestepped two infamous fatal errors that helped sink South Africa's Homeland strategy. First, Israel did not make South Africa's initial mistake of appointing "leaders" to run the Palestinian "interim self-governing" Homeland. In South Africa, this founding error made it too obvious that the Homelands were puppet regimes and exposed the illegitimacy of the black "national" territories themselves as contrived racial enclaves. Having watched the South Africans bungle this, and having learned from its own past failures with the Village Leagues and the like, Israel instead worked with the United States to design the Oslo process not only to restore the exiled leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its then Chairman Yasser Arafat to the territories but also to provide for "elections" (under occupation) to grant a thrilling gloss of legitimacy to the Palestinian "interim self-governing authority." It's one of the saddest tragedies of the present scenario that Israel so deftly turned Palestinians' noble commitment to democracy against them in this way -- granting them the illusion of genuinely democratic self-government in what everyone now realizes was always secretly intended to be a Homeland.
Only now has Israel found a way to avoid South Africa's second fatal error, which was to declare black Homelands to be "independent states" in non-sovereign territory. In South Africa, this ploy manifested to the world as transparently racist and was universally disparaged. It must be obvious that, if Israel had stood up in the international stage and said "as you are, you are now a state" that Palestinians and everyone else would have rejected the claim out of hand as a cruel farce. Yet getting the Palestinians to declare statehood themselves allows Israel precisely the outcome that eluded the apartheid South African regime: voluntary native acceptance of "independence" in a non-sovereign territory with no political capacity to alter its territorial boundaries or other essential terms of existence -- the political death capsule that apartheid South Africa could not get the ANC to swallow.
Responses from Israel have been mixed. The government does seem jumpy and has broadcast its "alarm," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has threatened unilateral retaliation (unspecified) and government representatives have flown to various capitals securing international rejection. But Israeli protests could also be disingenuous. One tactic could be persuading worried Palestinian patriots that a unilateral declaration of statehood might not be in Israel's interest in order to allay that very suspicion. Another is appeasing protest from that part of Likud's purblind right-wing electorate that finds the term "Palestinian state" ideologically anathema. A more honest reaction could be the endorsement of Kadima party elder Shaul Mofaz, a hardliner who can't remotely be imagined to value a stable and prosperous Palestinian future. Right-wing Israeli journalists are also pitching in with disparaging but also comforting essays arguing that unilateral statehood won't matter because it won't change anything close to the truth). For example, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened unilaterally to annex the West Bank settlement blocs if the PA declares statehood, but Israel was going to do that anyway.
In the liberal-Zionist camp, Yossi Sarid has warmly endorsed the plan and Yossi Alpher has cautiously done so. Their writings suggest the same terminal frustration with the "peace process" but also recognition that this may be the only way to save the increasingly fragile dream that a nice liberal democratic Jewish state can survive as such. It also sounds like something that might please Palestinians -- at least enough to finally get their guilt-infusing story of expulsion and statelessness off the liberal-Zionist conscience. Well-meaning white liberals in apartheid South Africa -- yes, there were some of those, too -- held the same earnest candle burning for the black Homelands system.
Some otherwise smart journalists are also pitching in to endorse unilateral statehood, raising odd ill-drawn comparisons -- Georgia, Kosovo, Israel itself -- as "evidence" that it's a good idea. But Georgia, Kosovo and Israel had entirely different profiles in international politics and entirely different histories from Palestine and attempts to draw these comparisons are intellectually lazy. The obvious comparison is elsewhere and the lessons run in the opposite direction: for a politically weak and isolated people, who have never had a separate state and lack any powerful international ally, to declare or accept "independence" in non-contiguous and non-sovereign enclaves encircled and controlled by a hostile nuclear power can only seal their fate.
In fact, the briefest consideration should instantly reveal that a unilateral declaration of statehood will confirm the Palestinians' presently impossible situation as permanent. As Mofaz predicted, a unilateral declaration will allow "final status" talks to continue. What he did not spell out is that those talks will become truly pointless because Palestinian leverage will be reduced to nothing. As Middle East historian Juan Cole recently pointed out, the last card the Palestinians can play -- their real claim on the world's conscience, the only real threat they can raise to Israel's status quo of occupation and settlement -- is their statelessness. The PA-Ramallah leadership has thrown away all the other cards. It has stifled popular dissent, suppressed armed resistance, handed over authority over vital matters like water to "joint committees" where Israel holds veto power, savagely attacked Hamas which insisted on threatening Israel's prerogatives, and generally done everything it can to sweeten the occupier's mood, preserve international patronage (money and protection), and solicit promised benefits (talks?) that never come. It's increasingly obvious to everyone watching from outside this scenario -- and many inside it -- that this was always a farce. For one thing, the Western powers do not work like the Arab regimes: when you do everything the West requires of you, you will wait in vain for favors, for the Western power then loses any benefit from dealing more with you and simply walks away.
But more importantly, the South African comparison helps illuminate why the ambitious projects of pacification, "institution building" and economic development that the Ramallah PA and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have whole-heartedly embarked upon are not actually exercises in "state-building." Rather, they emulate with frightening closeness and consistency South Africa's policies and stages in building the Bantustan/ Homelands. Indeed, Fayyad's project to achieve political stability through economic development is the same process that was openly formalized in the South African Homeland policy under the slogan "separate development." That under such vulnerable conditions no government can exercise real power and "separate development" must equate with permanent extreme dependency, vulnerability and dysfunctionality was the South African lesson that has, dangerously, not yet been learned in Palestine -- although all the signals are there, as Fayyad himself has occasionally admitted in growing frustration. But declaring independence will not solve the problem of Palestinian weakness; it will only concretize it.
Still, when "separate development" flounders in the West Bank, as it must, Israel will face a Palestinian insurrection. So Israel needs to anchor one last linchpin to secure Jewish statehood before that happens: declare a Palestinian "state" and so reduce the "Palestinian problem" to a bickering border dispute between putative equals. In the back halls of the Knesset, Kadima political architects and Zionist liberals alike must now be waiting with bated breath, when they are not composing the stream of back-channel messages that is doubtless flowing to Ramallah encouraging this step and promising friendship, insider talks and vast benefits. For they all know what's at stake, what every major media opinion page and academic blog has been saying lately: that the two-state solution is dead and Israel will imminently face an anti-apartheid struggle that will inevitably destroy Jewish statehood. So a unilateral declaration by the PA that creates a two-state solution despite its obvious Bantustan absurdities is now the only way to preserve Jewish statehood, because it's the only way to derail the anti-apartheid movement that spells Israel's doom.
This is why it is so dangerous that the South African Bantustan comparison has been neglected until now, treated as a side issue, even an exotic academic fascination, to those battling to relieve starvation in Gaza and soften the cruel system of walls and barricades to get medicine to the dying. The Ramallah PA's suddenly serious initiative to declare an independent Palestinian state in non-sovereign territory must surely force fresh collective realization that this is a terribly pragmatic question. It's time to bring closer attention to what "Bantustan" actually means. The Palestinian national movement can only hope someone in its ranks undertakes that project as seriously as Israel has undertaken it before it's too late.
*Virginia Tilley *is a former professor of political science and international relations and since 2006 has served as Chief Research Specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. She is author of /The One-State Solution /(University of Michigan Press, 2005) and many articles and essays on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, she writes here in her personal capacity and can be reached at vtilley@...
Monday, November 16, 2009
On Sunday November 8 a fund raiser was held in Kingston in support of the Gaza Freedom March which will try to bring desperately needed humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. Fifteen area residents will be joining people from around the world on January 1, 2010 in an attempt to break the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade. The Hudson Valley contingent will try to bring food, water, medical supplies, and/or educational materials into Gaza from Egypt.
The people living in Gaza under Israeli occupation are essentially a captive population. Israel controls and severely restricts the movement of all goods, services, and people both into and out of Gaza. As the result of Israels' brutal blockade there are severe shortages of food, water, medicine, heat, and electricity. Because of the blockades restrictions on building materials the residents of Gaza have been unable to rebuild the more than 20,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed by Israels Defense Forces during last years Israeli attack and invasion of Gaza.
As I was reminded at the fund raiser, Israel could not continue to administer this collective punishment on the men, women, and children of Gaza without the full support of our government and the US tax dollars that come with that support. Hopefully, the funds raised for the Gaza Freedom March will help to alleviate some of the US sponsored suffering being inflicted upon the population of Gaza.
Finally, thank you to the staff at La Florentina restaurant and the volunteers from the MIddle East Crisis Response group for a wonderful and informative event. Anyone seeking further information about the Gaza Freedom March can go to the MECR website which is www.mideastcrisis.org.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Peace Activist Confronts Netanhayu on War Crimes During Plenary of United Jewish Federations
“When I heard that Netanyahu was speaking in Washington DC, I felt compelled to do something,” said Potts, a Navy veteran, resident of Springfield, Missouri and candidate for U.S. Senate. “Netanyahu’s Washington visit comes just after our Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution rejecting the Goldstone report, a UN report that aimed to hold Israel accountability for its actions during the 22-day invasion of Gaza that left over 1,400 dead. As an American whose government is giving free rein to Israel’s war crimes and is paying—through our taxes—for the bombs and bullets that are killing Palestinians, I had to stand up. I hope my symbolic action will show the people of Palestine that there are many Americans who believe in human rights for all and are determined to change our government’s policy to reflect these values.”
During his talk, PM Netanyahu lauded the Israeli Defense Forces, saying the Israeli army was “as moral as any army on earth” and thanked both President Obama and the U.S. Congress for rejecting the Goldstone report. “It is appalling to us, as peace activists, that Israel committed such atrocities against the people of Gaza and that the U.S. Government is trying to cover up those crimes. As defenders of human rights, we must stand up and demand accountability.”
As part of CODEPINK’s commitment to human rights, it is working with a broad coalition to organize, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, a massive march on December 31 from inside Gaza to the Israeli border. The March calls on Israel to lift the inhumane siege that is keeping 1.5 million people imprisoned. Already, participants have signed up from 32 countries. They include writers (U.S. Alice Walker), actors (Syrian Duraid Lahham), members of Parliament (from France to the Philippines), diplomats (from Japan to the Netherlands), as well as doctors, lawyers, professors and students.
For more information see www.gazafreedommarch.org .
Bard and the Lobby
Final Thoughts on the Kovel Affair
By JOHN HALLE
In June of 2007, the left website CounterPunch published a short piece of mine addressing the decision of Depaul University to deny tenure to Prof. Norman Finkelstein. Among the forty-odd emails I received in response was one from Bard Professor Joel Kovel. Having served as a Green Party ward Alderman, I was familiar with Joel's Green Party activism and had read occasional articles by him over the years. Also, I had just accepted a position at the Bard Conservatory of Music and was looking forward to having at least one other co-worker to compare notes with as we entered the post-Bush era.
I would have been pleased to have had communications from others at Bard but none was forthcoming. Whether this was due to Joel being the only faculty member to read CounterPunch, simple reticence on the part of those who did, or lack of interest in, or lack of sympathy with Finkelstein's plight, I can't say. As I recall, I assumed the latter, as this was consistent with a longstanding belief on my part that the reputation of colleges as bastions of left wing thinking is grossly exaggerated, most notably when it comes to the Israel/Palestine question. Nothing in the subsequent years here has given me much cause to revise this presumption, not, to be sure, the Bard community's response to Joel's termination, as I will discuss shortly.
Some months after Joel's email, I had the opportunity to return the favor and to revisit the question of Bard's general political orientation. Joel's book "Overcoming Zionism" had been withdrawn by its publisher Pluto Press under pressure from the Israel lobby in what can reasonably be described as the contemporary equivalent of a book burning. Just as he had been the only Bard faculty member to respond to my piece in Counterpunch, so too was I the only member of the Bard community to respond to his request to join the thousands of others who had sent expressions of protest.
When Joel returned to Bard in the fall of 2008, we decided to get together for a weekly meeting which would develop into the eco-socialist lunches, billed in flyers we distributed around campus as an informal discussion of political events from a left perspective, open to all interested students, staff, faculty and community members. Most weeks the group numbered between 8 and 12. Aside from ourselves (and my wife, on occasion) all of the participants would be students. No faculty member attended or expressed any interest in attending or even (with one exception) asked about the group.
While much of the conversation tended to revolve around the Obama campaign and the prospects for an Obama administration, Israel and attitudes towards Israel on the Bard campus were an occasional topic. While no particular consensus was reached, it is fair to say that the administration's later description of "anti Zionism" as "uncontroversial" would have been greeted with some skepticism by most of those attending.
Following the Israeli attack on Gaza in December, our shared skepticism as to the willingness and capacity of the Bard community to view Zionism critically would be strongly vindicated. Insofar as anti-Zionism is interpreted, minimally, as criticism of military aggression by the Israeli government, there was nothing of the sort to be found at precisely the time when its presence ought to be most apparent. One searched in vain for joint letters, demonstrations, flyers, teach-ins, or other expressions of concern at the unfolding atrocity.
There was, it should be noted, one faculty member, the college chaplain, who conspicuously weighed in on the subject of the Gaza attacks-on the side of the Israeli Defense Force. While I had, as mentioned, long since parted with any illusions as to what to expect from academics in these sorts of circumstances, it was still a bit shocking to find a supposed voice of moral conscience in an appearance on the far right radio station WABC, championing the bombing of civilian targets and denouncing as anti-semitic those who raised questions as to its moral legitimacy.
This constituted the extent of the visible faculty response to Gaza. There may have been private expressions of concern or even grief-and perhaps public expressions, though if so, none of them found their way back to Bard in any visible form. Given that more than a few Bard faculty members are frequently granted high profile platforms for the expression of their views, any expression of protest would have registered, so it is a reasonable assumption that they didn't exist.
I would like to emphasize that I bring up these facts not out of any personal dissatisfaction with the Bard faculty as a group or animus towards the college chaplain as an individual. My years at Yale were notable for many cordial relationships with colleagues who were universally to the right of me politically and who were, in more than a few cases proud and even virulent reactionaries. Imposing a political litmus test for those with whom I work and socialize would be a recipe for professional suicide, not to mention, misanthropy.
Rather, this context is required to respond to repeated claims emanating from the Bard administration in response to the Kovel affair that Bard is a campus which not only tolerates and but celebrates dissident political views. This general proposition is not supported by any facts that have been apparent in my two years here. And on the specific claim in question, that anti-Zionism is uncontroversial, the silence with which the faculty greeted the Gaza attacks is a prima facie refutation of this proposition, one which is even more glaring when seen in the light of the numerous cris-de-coeur emanating from some of Israel's staunchest advocates in the months since the attacks.
I should also mention here that it does not follow from the above that Joel's charges of political interference in Bard's decision not to renew his contract have any de facto or de jure legitimacy. Nor does it follow that the faculty members who served on the committee evaluating Joel's contributions to Bard (one of whom was the Bard chaplain mentioned above) were unable to exercise independent judgement of Joel's work. However, with the particular issue in question, suspicion is surely called for given the numerous and well document instances of interference in academic affairs by what has become known as the Lobby.
By now, the Lobby's crackdown on criticism of Israeli human rights abuses on college campuses should be more than familiar, as every week seems to brings a new and disturbing attempt at academic suppression. The most recent is a charge of misconduct being brought against UC Santa Barbara Prof. William Robinson on direct orders from ADL chairman Abe Foxman. Not long before came news of Clark University having rescinded an invitation to Norman Finkelstein under pressure from Jewish student organizations. Prior to that was an effort at intimidation waged by Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz against Hampshire College students supporting sanctions directed at firms profiting from the West Bank occupation. These join targeted attacks on Columbia Professor Joseph Massad, University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, and, of course, Finkelstein himself, to mention only a few cases.
That none of these have been mentioned by the administration in responding to Kovel's charges of political interference is disappointing and has fueled suspicion outside of Bard in capitulating to pressure in its decision to remove Kovel academic freedom has been, yet again, violated. There is also at least a whiff of arrogance in Bard's assumption that the illustrious legacy of Hannah Arendt and its description in the Princeton Review as "the most liberal of the liberal arts colleges" exempts it from answering questions about the troubling context of Kovel's termination.
But as the school's connection with its storied radical history recedes into the distant past, it will find that this defense is increasingly less available. Indeed, by now there are very few remaining indications of the radical dissent which it claims to be encoded in its institutional DNA. A strong indication along these lines can be obtained by a perusal of faculty lists in the relevant departments. It will be immediately noticed that the most recognizable names derive from their association not with, for example, the New Left Review, Z, the Left Forum, or even the Nation but with the establishment neo-liberalism of the New York Review, the New Yorker and New Republic (whose publisher, uber-Zionist Martin Peretz, serves on the Bard Board of Trustees). Few Bard faculty would be described, or, I would guess, would describe themselves as political radicals.
Another indication of the actually existing political orientation of Bard is provided by Kovel's replacement in the Alger Hiss chair by an historian whose work provides a defense of, and has been celebrated by those embracing, the most strident varieties of cold war anti-communism. Then there is the increasingly close relationship with its Hudson Valley neighbor West Point which has resulted in appearances on the Bard campus by military functionaries addressing such topics as counter-insurgency warfare. These augment other recently invited speakers discussing Islamic fundamentalist terror and violence, with few if any challenging establishment orthodoxy on these matters. All this, according to administration critics, signals a broader effort to legitimate Bard in establishment circles one which requires that it rid itself of left-wing gadflies such as Kovel.
These and other efforts at mainstreaming Bard have, it would appear, met with some success among their target demographic, namely those major donors who are lavishly financing campus initiatives including the much trumpeted Bard-Al Quds joint degree program, a multi-million dollar Frank Gehry designed performing arts center, and an elegant new science building. At the same time, there is some evidence that the strategy has begun to backfire with its primary constituency (or, more precisely, market), namely the students who are willing to dispense with the $40,000 yearly tuition which, it is said, accounts for the bulk of Bard's operating revenues. This base consists of more than a few who, despite their necessarily privileged backgrounds have more or less leftist sympathies and come to Bard based on its reputation-as opposed to its current reality. Some eventually come to recognize that while these views are not actively discouraged, nor are they encouraged or nurtured by the current composition of the faculty. The surprising level of activism precipitated by the Kovel case was likely indicative of a growing dissatisfaction among these sorts of students and the administration is correct to be concerned of the possible effect on Bard's traditional applicant pool and by extension, finances.
There is a chance, albeit a small one, that bottom line considerations will make it necessary for Bard for to reassert its identity as a bulwark of what used to be called the dissenting academy. If so, it has more that a little work to do. Rehiring Kovel is one step in this direction; however, Joel is now 70 and doing so would amount to no more than a reaffirmation of Bard's past. What is needed is a tangible demonstration that a commitment to dissent defines Bard's present and, one hopes, Bard's future.
An action which Bard could take along these lines would be to install Norman Finkelstein as the next occupant of the Alger Hiss chair. Finkelstein's presence at Bard would, of course, indisputably remove any question as to influence of the Lobby on Bard's hiring decisions. But, more importantly, Finkelstein's combination of an impressive scholarly resumé with a long standing record of challenging the most sacrosanct conventional wisdoms make him a scholarly model for the traditions which have defined Bard, and which continue to have resonance for more than a few Bard students.
This is what we should expect of the academy at its best-one which takes seriously its responsibility to tell the truth and expose lies.
It is more than likely that this suggestion will be passed off as frivolous by those who are in a position to act on it. If so, those doing so should consider that this itself is an indication of the gap between Bard's self-image and the objective reality of where it stands when it is called to do so.
Perhaps the best possible outcome of the Kovel affair is for the school to begin to recognize how far it needs to go to bridge this gap.
John Halle is Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice at Bard College. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Inside the New Print Edition of Our Subscriber-Only Newsletter!
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Here is some updated information:
Check out the new call and statement of context. We want to call your attention to a newly updated Call and supporting Statement of Context for the Gaza Freedom March. We shortened the Call and added a more detailed, explanatory Statement of Context after consulting with key Palestinian organizations and individuals (including many in Gaza), who have now signed on as endorsers of the March.
Who is coming. We have more than 100 marchers registered from around the world
-- and we are still more than three months out! (Note that we are encouraging
everyone to register now, since flights at the end and beginning of the year fill quickly.) So far the following countries are represented: Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Syria, Tunesia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Yemen. Among the wonderful marchers is Duraid Lahham, one of the most well-known actors in the Arab world. We are delighted that he and his wife will participate in the march.
Some great new materials. The accomplished Canadian artist Michael Thompson has designed some wonderful posters/graphics for the march You can see all his new designs plus a flyer you can download at:
Look at our new Frequently Asked Questions http://www.gazafreedommarch.org/article.php?id=5061 We have hopefully addressed a lot of your questions/concerns. Let us know if you have more.
Want to join our team and help? Whether or not you can join the march, there are LOTS of ways you can help. Check out our committees http://www.gazafreedommarch.org/article.php?id=5034 and contact the committee head. Or write us at info@... with your suggestions or offerings.
Donate, donate, donate. Our greatest need now is funds. The vast majority of this work is being done by volunteers, but we need to pay people's expenses. We have a group leaving for Gaza on September 15 to help lay the groundwork for the march. And we need to raise funds for our partners in Gaza who are making great sacrifices to help organize the march. You can make secured donations online here https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/424/t/9750/shop/custom.jsp?donate_page_KEY =5136 or send a check to Gaza Freedom March, 2010 Linden Ave, Venice, CA 90291. Thank for your generosity.
We are excited by the momentum, and grateful for your support. Let's show the Palestinians of Gaza that we are with them and determined to lift this inhumane siege.
The International Coalition to End the Illegal Siege of Gaza
Friday, August 28, 2009
Faris Giacaman, The Electronic Intifada, 20 August 2009
|Attempts to establish "dialogue" while Israel continues to oppress Palestinians only undermine the call for boycott. (ActiveStills)|
Upon finding out that I am Palestinian, many people I meet at college in the United States are eager to inform me of various activities that they have participated in that promote "coexistence" and "dialogue" between both sides of the "conflict," no doubt expecting me to give a nod of approval. However, these efforts are harmful and undermine the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel -- the only way of pressuring Israel to cease its violations of Palestinians' rights.
When I was a high school student in Ramallah, one of the better known "people-to-people" initiatives, Seeds of Peace, often visited my school, asking students to join their program. Almost every year, they would send a few of my classmates to a summer camp in the US with a similar group of Israeli students. According to the Seeds of Peace website, at the camp they are taught "to develop empathy, respect, and confidence as well as leadership, communication and negotiation skills -- all critical components that will facilitate peaceful coexistence for the next generation." They paint quite a rosy picture, and most people in college are very surprised to hear that I think such activities are misguided at best, and immoral, at worst. Why on earth would I be against "coexistence," they invariably ask?
During the last few years, there have been growing calls to bring to an end Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people through an international movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). One of the commonly-held objections to the boycott is that it is counter-productive, and that "dialogue" and "fostering coexistence" is much more constructive than boycotts.
With the beginning of the Oslo accords in 1993, there has been an entire industry that works toward bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in these "dialogue" groups. The stated purpose of such groups is the creating of understanding between "both sides of the conflict," in order to "build bridges" and "overcome barriers." However, the assumption that such activities will help facilitate peace is not only incorrect, but is actually morally lacking.
The presumption that dialogue is needed in order to achieve peace completely ignores the historical context of the situation in Palestine. It assumes that both sides have committed, more or less, an equal amount of atrocities against one another, and are equally culpable for the wrongs that have been done. It is assumed that not one side is either completely right or completely wrong, but that both sides have legitimate claims that should be addressed, and certain blind spots that must be overcome. Therefore, both sides must listen to the "other" point of view, in order to foster understanding and communication, which would presumably lead to "coexistence" or "reconciliation."
Such an approach is deemed "balanced" or "moderate," as if that is a good thing. However, the reality on the ground is vastly different than the "moderate" view of this so-called "conflict." Even the word "conflict" is misleading, because it implies a dispute between two symmetric parties. The reality is not so; it is not a case of simple misunderstanding or mutual hatred which stands in the way of peace. The context of the situation in Israel/Palestine is that of colonialism, apartheid and racism, a situation in which there is an oppressor and an oppressed, a colonizer and a colonized.
In cases of colonialism and apartheid, history shows that colonial regimes do not relinquish power without popular struggle and resistance, or direct international pressure. It is a particularly naive view to assume that persuasion and "talking" will convince an oppressive system to give up its power.
The apartheid regime in South Africa, for instance, was ended after years of struggle with the vital aid of an international campaign of sanctions, divestments and boycotts. If one had suggested to the oppressed South Africans living in bantustans to try and understand the other point of view (i.e. the point of view of South African white supremacists), people would have laughed at such a ridiculous notion. Similarly, during the Indian struggle for emancipation from British colonial rule, Mahatma Gandhi would not have been venerated as a fighter for justice had he renounced satyagraha -- "holding firmly to the truth," his term for his nonviolent resistance movement -- and instead advocated for dialogue with the occupying British colonialists in order to understand their side of the story.
Now, it is true that some white South Africans stood in solidarity with the oppressed black South Africans, and participated in the struggle against apartheid. And there were, to be sure, some British dissenters to their government's colonial policies. But those supporters explicitly stood alongside the oppressed with the clear objective of ending oppression, of fighting the injustices perpetrated by their governments and representatives. Any joint gathering of both parties, therefore, can only be morally sound when the citizens of the oppressive state stand in solidarity with the members of the oppressed group, not under the banner of "dialogue" for the purpose of "understanding the other side of the story." Dialogue is only acceptable when done for the purpose of further understanding the plight of the oppressed, not under the framework of having "both sides heard."
It has been argued, however, by the Palestinian proponents of these dialogue groups, that such activities may be used as a tool -- not to promote so-called "understanding," -- but to actually win over Israelis to the Palestinian struggle for justice, by persuading them or "having them recognize our humanity."
However, this assumption is also naive. Unfortunately, most Israelis have fallen victim to the propaganda that the Zionist establishment and its many outlets feed them from a young age. Moreover, it will require a huge, concerted effort to counter this propaganda through persuasion. For example, most Israelis will not be convinced that their government has reached a level of criminality that warrants a call for boycott. Even if they are logically convinced of the brutalities of Israeli oppression, it will most likely not be enough to rouse them into any form of action against it. This has been proven to be true time and again, evident in the abject failure of such dialogue groups to form any comprehensive anti-occupation movement ever since their inception with the Oslo process. In reality, nothing short of sustained pressure -- not persuasion -- will make Israelis realize that Palestinian rights have to be rectified. That is the logic of the BDS movement, which is entirely opposed to the false logic of dialogue.
Based on an unpublished 2002 report by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last October that "between 1993 and 2000 [alone], Western governments and foundations spent between $20 million and $25 million on the dialogue groups." A subsequent wide-scale survey of Palestinians who participated in the dialogue groups revealed that this great expenditure failed to produce "a single peace activist on either side." This affirms the belief among Palestinians that the entire enterprise is a waste of time and money.
The survey also revealed that the Palestinian participants were not fully representative of their society. Many participants tended to be "children or friends of high-ranking Palestinian officials or economic elites. Only seven percent of participants were refugee camp residents, even though they make up 16 percent of the Palestinian population." The survey also found that 91 percent of Palestinian participants no longer maintained ties with Israelis they met. In addition, 93 percent were not approached with follow-up camp activity, and only five percent agreed the whole ordeal helped "promote peace culture and dialogue between participants."
Despite the resounding failure of these dialogue projects, money continues to be invested in them. As Omar Barghouti, one of the founding members of the BDS movement in Palestine, explained in The Electronic Intifada, "there have been so many attempts at dialogue since 1993 ... it became an industry -- we call it the peace industry."
This may be partly attributed to two factors. The dominant factor is the useful role such projects play in public relations. For example, the Seeds of Peace website boosts its legitimacy by featuring an impressive array of endorsements by popular politicians and authorities, such as Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George Mitchell, Shimon Peres, George Bush, Colin Powell and Tony Blair, amongst others. The second factor is the need of certain Israeli "leftists" and "liberals" to feel as if they are doing something admirable to "question themselves," while in reality they take no substantive stand against the crimes that their government commits in their name. The politicians and Western governments continue to fund such projects, thereby bolstering their images as supporters of "coexistence," and the "liberal" Israeli participants can exonerate themselves of any guilt by participating in the noble act of "fostering peace." A symbiotic relationship, of sorts.
The lack of results from such initiatives is not surprising, as the stated objectives of dialogue and "coexistence" groups do not include convincing Israelis to help Palestinians gain the respect of their inalienable rights. The minimum requirement of recognizing Israel's inherently oppressive nature is absent in these dialogue groups. Rather, these organizations operate under the dubious assumption that the "conflict" is very complex and multifaceted, where there are "two sides to every story," and each narrative has certain valid claims as well as biases.
As the authoritative call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel makes plain, any joint Palestinian-Israeli activities -- whether they be film screenings or summer camps -- can only be acceptable when their stated objective is to end, protest, and/or raise awareness of the oppression of the Palestinians.
Any Israeli seeking to interact with Palestinians, with the clear objective of solidarity and helping them to end oppression, will be welcomed with open arms. Caution must be raised, however, when invitations are made to participate in a dialogue between "both sides" of the so-called "conflict." Any call for a "balanced" discourse on this issue -- where the motto "there are two sides to every story" is revered almost religiously -- is intellectually and morally dishonest, and ignores the fact that, when it comes to cases of colonialism, apartheid, and oppression, there is no such thing as "balance." The oppressor society, by and large, will not give up its privileges without pressure. This is why the BDS campaign is such an important instrument of change.
Faris Giacaman is a Palestinian student from the West Bank, attending his second year of college in the United States.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Melissa Franklin, Jodi Voice, and Marei Spaola will travel with the first-ever indigenous delegation to Palestine, August 1-15, 2009. All three are members of Seventh Generation Indigenous Visionaries, an independent youth organization whose founding members met while attending Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. The student group seeks „to share the experience from this trip with our own tribal communities,‰ as well as Kansas City public audiences.
Citizens for Justice in the Middle East hosted a <http://www.cjme.org/indigenous-youth-report.htm>fundraiser dinner in May, and calls on individuals to donate more to offset the students‚ travel costs. The students are seeking your financial support, which will go a long way to connect with Palestinians. They each have $2500 travel costs, including $1500 for air travel and $1000 for food, lodging, and ground transportation. Read <http://www.cjme.org/letter-7thGIV.pdf>student letter.
This delegation is an amazing chance to see the Palestinian struggle in a completely new perspective.
Members of the group, also known as 7thGIV, are emerging leaders in their communities, but also guides for those seeking a meaningful connection with Indian groups. On separate occasions they shared their reasons for joining the delegation and outlined their community work.
On July 31, all three will join the Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine in order to „build solidarity and bridge gaps with tribes/nations in the U.S. and other Indigenous people around the world.‰ They acknowledge a responsibility to their past and the preservation of their culture by telling stories, such as the Haskell school history and their tribes‚ traditions.
· Melissa Franklin is president of the American Indian Studies club at Haskell, works at the Jim Thorpe Recreation Center on campus, and served as a mentor with an Upward Bound summer program at Haskell. Melissa gave a report of her background and the delegation at the May 31 fundraiser dinner. Melissa is Comanche, Wichita, and Sac & Fox of Oklahoma.
· Jodi Voice has an Associates of Social Work and is pursuing a Bachelor‚s in Indigenous American Indian Studies at Haskell. Her father is a graduate of Haskell. She seeks to „speak for the voiceless and stand up for others that face oppression.‰ Jodi belongs to the Tsalagi (Cherokee) Nation of Oklahoma, the Mvskoke (Creek) nation of Oklahoma, and the Oglala Lakota Nation of South Dakota.
· Marei, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of South Dakota, traveled to the Southwest and South Dakota this summer to work on a documentary film. Marei sent greetings from his tribe and spoke about the indigenous youth delegation at the Viva Palestina event on July 2. He is a Haskell student and reporter with Haskell News.
During the delegation they will be learning about the experience of Palestinians, as well as sharing their own stories.
They have already connected with youth in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank by sharing a presentation about Indian history and culture (see photo). Palestinian youth at Balata, in turn, shared their solidarity through poetry: "Despite our suffering, there is no difference between us / In likeness, color or gender / You walk on the same earth that we walk on."
Will you make a generous contribution to this unique delegation? This group holds the promise of building a bridge across peoples struggling for self-determination. A struggle that promises to enlighten all peoples to the possibility of liberation and a just peace.
The Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine is working with the
Please consider making a donation to 7thGIV expenses by sending a check to MECA c/o 7thGIV, 1101 8th Street, Suite 100, Berkeley, CA 94710. You can <http://www.mecaforpeace.org/article.php?id=472>make an online contribution on the MECA web site.
7th Generation Indigenous Visionaries (7thGIV), an independent youth organization whose founding members met while attending Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. They will join a delegation to Palestine for two weeks, August 1-15, 2009. The delegation is comprised of grassroots youth groups throughout the U.S. and Palestine. The organizing group is connecting Native and immigrant youth in the U.S with youth in Palestine „through the use of print media, traditional music, hip hop, photography, poetry, video, and other forms of arts media, we share our stories and involve our local communities in building a national and international movement against colonization and for self-determination.‰
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THE JERUSALEM POST
First we left the Gaza Strip in bloodied ruins. Then we raised up a politician who, with his appeal to racism, militarism, fear of alien "subversives" and the yearning for a strong leader, fits the classic, textbook definition of a fascist.
And now, what is the talking point for our hasbara (spin) campaign? The surge in global anti-Semitism.
It's hard to avoid the impression that for the champions of Israel Right or Wrong, the surge in global anti-Semitism - which is real enough - came as a godsend. Finally, Israel and its lobbyists could get off the defensive about civilian casualties, white phosphorous and Avigdor Lieberman, and go on the offensive against synagogue firebombings, chanting mobs and boycotts.
I'm not saying Israel and its cheerleaders are happy that Jews are coming under increasing attack in Europe and elsewhere. Environmentalists aren't happy about oil spills - but oil spills are a godsend for their cause. I'm saying that the chorus of condemnations of anti-Semitism from Israelis and pro-Israel nationalists has a dual purpose - to fight anti-Semitism, which is good, and to neutralize criticism of Operation Cast Lead and the spread of Israeli fascism, which is cynical and morally deadening.
THE CLAIM we hear is that anti-Semitism today is worse than it's been since the 1930s. That may be true, but it overlooks one little thing that's different about the Jews of today compared to those of the 1930s: power. The Jews back then had none, or at least none that could protect them, while Israel, the focus of today's rise in anti-Semitism, has awesome power. Incomparably more power than its enemies have, including the anti-Semites, who are legion.
In the 1930s, Jews didn't do anything to provoke anti-Semitism. They were weak while their persecutors were strong. But today? Today's surge in anti-Semitism began with a war in which the Jewish state killed its enemies at a ratio of 100-to-1, then made a political giant out of a former bouncer whose campaign slogan was "Only Lieberman understands Arabic."
To compare Israel's predicament today with that of the Jews of the 1930s is disingenuous in the extreme. Today's rise in anti-Semitism was provoked not by Israel's weakness, but by its abuses of power, first against the Gazans, then against Israeli Arabs. The difference is night and day.
It's also disingenuous to imply, as hasbara does, that the entire wave of anti-Israel sentiment in the world is tainted by anti-Semitism. (To pro-Israel lobbyists, it's fair and acceptable to acknowledge that Israel is not perfect. Anything beyond that is suspect.) There's a great deal of moral outrage at Israel, some of it fair, some of it not. On the far side of the unfair is the anti-Semitic.
In the 1930s, only anti-Semites were incensed at Jews. Today, while there are certainly masses of anti-Semites who are incensed at Israel, they're not alone. Today the world is filled with people who are not anti-Semites yet who are incensed at the things this country has been doing. Lots of them, myself included, are Jews.
I UNDERSTAND very well that Israel is by no means to blame for most of the anti-Semitism in the world. We are not to blame for Islamic fundamentalism, or the irrational Third World Left, or the age-old anti-Jewish instincts of much of Europe and Latin America. No matter how good, how fair we are to the Arabs, the reservoirs of anti-Semitism in the world are not going to dry up.
But since this country's actions were responsible for the recent surge in the level of those reservoirs, I think there's a way of at least bringing that level down, a way that might work as well if not better than stepping up the hasbara: Let's stop fighting immoral wars. Let's stop laying siege to a tiny, destitute country. (That might stop Gazans from firing rockets at us, too.) Let's stop holding 10,000 Palestinian prisoners. (That might also help us get Gilad Schalit back.)
And finally, let's stop electing fascists to the Knesset. And if this is too much to ask of ourselves, let's at least have the decency not to bring them into the government. And if even that's beyond us, if we're going to have fascists as cabinet ministers, if we go so far as to have one for finance minister or foreign minister, then let's not complain about the next surge in global anti-Semitism, because we will have provoked that one, too.
This is not the 1930s. We, the nation of Israel, are far from being powerless, and we are far from being innocent.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Art Of Palestinian Refugee ChildrenJuly 2009 By Lisa Mullenneaux
printer friendly version Mullenneaux's ZSpace page
A children's program at Al-Jana, The Arab Resource Center for the Popular Arts in Beirut—photo from www.al-jana.org
How do Palestinians in Lebanon counteract the trauma of war and displacement? Mirene Ghossein discovered one of the ways when she visited Al-Jana, the Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts (al-jana.org) in West Beirut last year. "Their flower paintings are tiny miracles," says Ghossein, "because there are no flowers at the refugee camps I visited.
Ghossein, who was born in Beirut and came to the U.S. as a 22-year-old bride, returned to her Westchester, New York home with 26 paintings created at Al-Jana. Ghossein's collaboration with Al-Jana is her most recent effort on behalf of Palestinian refugees. She works mainly with two New York organizations—WESPAC Foundation and Adalah-NY—and insists her political advocacy comes naturally to the daughter of a judge. "You can't turn your back on suffering," she says, "if you've heard about the need for justice from childhood on."
Amy Trabka, who teaches at Al-Jana, introduced Ghossein to the children's art. She relocated to Beirut seven years ago from the U.S. when her husband took a job at the American University of Beirut. She was invited to conduct workshops at Al-Jana in drawing and design with children from refugee camps and low-income neighborhoods.
Pictures of the children's artwork were taken by Andrew Courtney. All 26 of the children's paintings are available to view and purchase at wespac.org/pcraa. They are touring the country until November 2009 when they will be sold at an online auction
For Trabka's first art classes in 2002, children came from Burj Al-Barajneh, Shatila, and Mar Elias camps in and near Beirut and communities near Ain Al-Helwaeh, Sidon, and Tyre in South Lebanon. As violence increased and transportation became more difficult, children from the Kola, the Beirut neighborhood where Al Jana offices are located, filled empty seats. Most workshop participants are grandchildren of refugees expelled from Palestine in 1948.
They have grown up under military occupation, but these exiled children have heard stories about another life in another land from their grandparents, some of whom have keys to houses in villages that no longer exist. The dream of returning to Palestine as free citizens survives in the children—and in their art—which allows them a measure of personal if not political, freedom.
The wars of 1948 and 1967 were catastrophes for the indigenous Palestinians, displacing their population into refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Since their right of return has been denied by Israel, there are now four generations living in these camps. "Ask any of the refugees of any age," says Ghossein, "'where do you come from?' and the answer will always be a town or village in historic Palestine, now Israel."
The political and economic future for this new generation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is bleaker than that which confronted their parents and grandparents. Unlike their elders, they lack traditional social and cultural resources to draw upon to make sense of their displacement and harsh treatment by Israel. Elder community members have been repositories of folklore, transmitters of collective memory, and links to the Palestinian past—but as they die, an inheritance is lost.
Al-Jana, founded in 1990, is one of a handful of institutions organized to cope with this deepening human crisis. At the core of the center's classes and workshops in film, plays, journalism, and graphic design is an appreciation of the unique cultural and historical circumstances these children share.
In their book Art Therapy and Political Violence (Routledge, 2005), Debra Kalmanowitz and Bobby Lloyd argue that artistic expression can nurture dignity and self-respect when individuals feel powerless to control their political circumstances. The art practiced at Al-Jana and other nonprofit communities creates a kind of safe haven in a dangerous, unpredictable world.
In the world of creative freedom at Al-Jana, Trabka describes the teaching experience as communal. "We learn together as a group, through seeing and doing, and invent as we go," she explains. "Because there are so many obstacles these children will face in their lives—exercising their civil rights, getting an education and employment—we try to focus on what they cando as artists and individuals: express their feelings and tell their stories."
The children love to tell their stories and have produced puppet shows, exhibits, postcards, newspaper and magazine articles, and a book, Drawing and Design: Friday Mornings at Al-Jana. Many of them have worked with Trabka at Al-Jana for five or six years. Judging from their autobiographies, they like what most children like—ice cream, cartoons, swimming, and going to the mall on Sundays with their families. The boys love football, basketball, and wrestling. Mona wants to be a doctor, even though being a medical doctor is one of many skilled professions that Palestinians in Lebanon cannot practice.
Asked to describe himself, Abeer Aidi writes that he has "big, black eyes. When you see them, you will drown in them." And a big heart, "so big people can live in it." Aidi likes to sing, to write poetry "especially to my country, Palestine, that I wish to see."
Underlying the children's self portraits is the loss of their country, the suffering of their parents and grandparents. Mahmoud Zaher writes: "I'm 15 years old. I'm a Palestinian, but I live here. Here in Lebanon. Palestine is the important thing I care about because it is my country. I feel it. And I will give my eyes to the one who will help me to go to Palestine."