Friday, August 11, 2006

What Is Effective? (Or, Where the Zionists Live)

Tonight a small group of mostly Jewish activists disrupted a talk by the Israeli consul general to a group of about 300 hard-core Zionists at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. It was a surreal experience, and I'm still wondering how worthwhile it was.

The best thing about it was that we did it with almost no planning. We met about 40 minutes before we needed to be there. Some people felt we should just stand up and hold up a banner, while others wanted to try to speak out. We agreed that we would do both, which worked out to be an excellent strategy.

We discussed what we should do if there was no media there. I argued that in that scenario, we should not do the action, because it would just let them know who we were and what we were planning, and probably limit our ability to do it another time, when there might be more potential impact. Other people felt that it was important to do it just to send a message to the Zionists, that we will be there challenging them wherever they go, that we won't let them have events without confronting us. "No Justice, No Peace," someone said.

We assumed they would have pretty heavy security, do a big search of all our stuff, so we sanitized what we were carrying. Figuring out how to stuff the banner under people's clothes without making them look like they had five breasts was pretty amusing. We decided we needed to go in in pairs and not sit together.

In fact, we just could walk in, no one took any particular notice of us, they didn't really search our stuff though they were making people open their bags, and the middle-aged guy in front of me had to open his jacket, so our precautions were probably well taken. I took a seat in the middle of a row about a third of the way up the large stepped hall. I figured being in the middle would keep them from ejecting me easily once I started ranting. Waiting for the event to start, I tried to read the novel I had brought (you know I never go anywhere without one), but I couldn't really concentrate. As people filtered in, I looked at them and thought, god, it really could be the synagogue my mom goes to. These people look like the people I should feel most at home with, and yet they are right now the people I feel most alien from. I really can't figure out what to do with that. As the song goes, How did I get here?

There was no media present as far as I could tell. It occurred to me as the lights went down that since we were all sitting separately (the banner group of 3, two who were designated as observers/documenters, and three of us singles, who would be the ones to stand up and yell things out), and we had not worked out any signals, we had no way to call it off. I figured, well if someone else does it, I will. But even as Yoel Kahn, San Francisco's first openly gay pulpit rabbi, got up to welcome everyone, I thought, what is the point of doing something here? No one in this room is interested in a word we have to say, and no one outside it is going to hear them.

And then the speaking started. The new director of the Israel Action Center, talking about the kibbutz in the Galil where he and Yoel first met, and the Katyushas now falling there. No mention of the US-supplied GBU "bunker busters" and F16s strafing Beirut. He mentioned a place called Kfar Qana, but not the massacre of a family sleeping in a shelter in Qana, Lebanon. He asked us to rise (they never say "stand", it's always "rise") for a moment of silence to remember those who have fallen. There was no question, he did not mean the 1000 Lebanese and 200 Palestinians. (They had already talked about Israel's heavy military and civilian casualties, and not one word about the Lebanese casualties who are more than 10 times higher.) The director of the Jewish Community Federation's Israel Center, just back from a visit to Israel, spoke about the wonderful resilience of the Israeli people, undeterred by the evil Hezbollah, and how "though the news gives a very different story," Israelis (like most Israelis, using "Israelis" to mean "Jewish Israelis") were opening their homes to those evacuated from the north, "even allowing Druze and Arabs into their homes." Not a mention of the 1 million refugees forced out of Southern Lebanon by these very generous Israelis.

And then the Consul General got up and spoke about the current "hostilities" and how Israel had had no choice, after it generously gave back "every inch" of Lebanon in 2000 (which it did not, actually), and Hezbollah, which exists for no other reason but to kill Jews, to gleefully kill children, continued to engage in unprovoked attacks, but to go to war to destroy Hezbollah. And he said that the Israeli army was shocked to find out what firepower Hezbollah had -- "anti-ship missiles," he said with horror, they had advanced military technology, they were "almost like a real army!" And so, he said, of course as you attack Hezbollah, some civilians are going to be hit, but you have to understand that some of those so-called civilians are really Hezbollah.

The thought swept over me, it was like it was 1940 and a group of German Americans had assembled to listen to a representative of the German government talk about the invasion of Poland, and how they were surprised to find out that the Jews actually had some weapons after all, that they were not quite a primitive and easily wiped out as they had expected, and so it would take a little longer and the attacks would have to be a little more fierce, but it was going well and with your support, we will prevail. And I thought I cannot just sit here and not speak out. It doesn't really matter who hears or doesn't hear me, I just have to do it because to let this kind of racist venom exist unchallenged, from anyone but especially from people I feel responsible for, is wrong. Instead of "How did I get here?" I asked myself, as I have done so many times, "How did we get here?"

After what seemed like an eternity, Rebecca, Margot and Arla got out of their seats. They stood in the aisle and unfurled the banner, which said something like "Jews Say Stop Bombing Civilians" and they chanted, "No one is free while others are oppressed, We as Jews should know that best." People ran toward them immediately, grabbing at the banner. One guy managed to put a rip in the banner, which is pretty sturdy vinyl, with his bare hands.

I heard people yelling, "Dykes, Bitches" from across the room. Interesting, how linked homophobia, sexism and militarism are, that that is almost always the first insult people (men) in situations like that think of to hurl. People were hurling other things at the women, spit, fists. A guy climbed over me to get to them. I was trying to decide at what point I would throw off my cover and intervene if it looked like they might be hurt, when thankfully Yoel Kahn rode to the rescue. He urged people to go back to their seats, leave the situation to him to defuse. Some women were also trying to shush the crowd, while others were just as bad as the men, screaming abuse at our girls.

The consul general also exhorted people to leave them alone, saying, "This is what is so great about free speech." I heard someone say, "Only Israel would be so tolerant," which is ridiculous, of course, since we are not in Israel and Israel is not that tolerant of dissent, and anyway lots of aggressive/repressive countries are happy to tolerate free speech when it doesn't interfere with carrying out their agendas. But people got the point, and they turned to the women and started to applaud, and that was truly creepy. But I decided, okay, I could applaud too then, and I would mean something different than they meant. Yoel got security guards to come and stand in front of the banner, so people couldn't read it, and the consul general would really have continued his speech, but people were too fixated on the disrupters to listen. And then, as I heard it later, Rebecca said, "We're ready to leave now," and they were escorted out.

The room got quiet, and the consul general picked up where he left off, saying that there was consensus among the Israeli public that this war was totally necessary. Well, he said, maybe there was some difference of opinion, after all, you know Israelis, we all think we should be the commander, and that's one of our problems, but it's okay. But there is consensus. That was my cue, because I had planned my rant to be about Israeli dissent. I jumped up. "Actually, there is no consensus," I said, and started to quote Gideon Levy. I didn't get out very much, people started yelling at me, and the guy from my row who had tried to attack the others came over and started grabbing at me. He said, "Come with me." I said, "Don't touch me, who are you?" He let go and said, "I want to talk to you," and I said, "I don't have to talk to you." A woman was behind me saying, "You have to sit down now, this is not your turn." So I sat down. And the consul started again and after a few seconds, I popped up again and started talking again. That happened two or three more times, and then security was there and I decided it was enough. Just before I was ejected, the woman behind me demanded, "Who are you?" so I said, "I'm a Jew who cares about 1 million Lebanese refugees. I'm a Jew who cares about 6 million Palestinian refugees. I'm a Jew who understands that it is Israel's conduct in the world which is making us unsafe." I just kept ranting until I was gone.

As I was being ushered out of the building, through two emergency doors which set off hideous alarms, two Asian cops appeared and asked for my ID. I argued a little and then gave it to them, because why not? They asked what it was about, and I told them, "The israeli consul is in there defending the murder of children." They were getting ready to write down my details, and then one of the security guards came out and said to them, "They're coming out of the woodwork in there!" They almost took off with my ID, but instead one of them ran inside, leaving the other guy to take my information, and when he was done, he couldn't get into the building.

I waited for a long time to see the next person come out, but they didn't. I got kind of worried and curious, what was happening, and so when someone finally came and opened the door for my unlucky cop, I ran and held it open, keeping the alarm blaring, which I thought might up the commotion level. The cop turned around and said, "What are you doing? He opened it for me, not you." Like I didn't know that. But I decided it wouldn't be worth getting busted, so I closed it. Still, no one came out. Finally I went around front and saw "Nabila" and Brian walking out. Nabila had been overcome by the moment, and found she just had to speak. Brian says, "She was so powerful, it was really beautiful to see." Nabila told us afterwards, "I feel like I haven't been able to breathe for the last three weeks. I have had no voice. This is the first time I feel I can talk."

A few minutes later, Micah came out and then Sarah, who was the last one. The cops were very pissed at her, they were saying she was "out of control." What probably really was freaking them out was that they had no way of knowing how out of control the situation was going to get. They didn't know she was the last one, they must have been imagining that there might be 20 or 50 of us in there, and how would they know? They couldn't tell!

So what did it accomplish? It felt great, that's for sure. It lets the Zionists know that they are not "safe" from our criticism and our demand that an alternative perspective be heard. They will certainly tell others about it, and doubtless they will feel like they need to have more security at their next events. Which is good and bad. I don't want to be like Lee Kaplan and Dan Kleiman, who come to all of our events, and we find them very annoying and a little scary but we are certainly not impressed with them. They are a joke, and I don't want to be a joke to the Zionists. But Sara was pointing out that it won't need to be us all the time, we have 40 people on a list of Jews who want to do direct action, and there are plenty more who are not on the list. If we could have had another 7 tonight, the event would really not have been able to take place. If we have 10-15 at every event they do, they will have to face the fact that we're not just a tiny lunatic fringe, we're a real part of the Jewish community.

In our debrief, someone said, "But it increases their sense of being embattled, of being victimized everywhere." Someone else said, "Nothing we can do can make a dent in their belief that they are embattled." I think they are both right. It makes them feel justified in their paranoia, but they are so paranoid anyway, that it doesn't really matter. True, the media was not there, but there's no guarantee that if they had been, they would have covered it, or covered it in a way that didn't make us look like total nuts (although I don't really believe there is such a thing as bad press).

What it did do, was confront them where they live, make them see (in spite of themselves -- "You're not really Jews" people screamed at us) that it is not just the evil Others who criticize what they are doing, but their own flesh and blood, some of those they claim to be fighting for. And for now, that might be the best we can do.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Food from the Bar and Other Dilemmas

The law firm where I work (which I’ll call M&L) just finished a big fundraising drive for the San Francisco Food Bank. The San Francisco Bar Association was having its annual “Food from the Bar” drive, which they’ve been doing for a few years. It had as its goal to raise $250,000 and 18,000 pounds of food, which apparently will feed 13,000 children a day.

Of course, the partners at M&L want to look good, so they put pretty heavy pressure on the staff to participate in various ways – give money, give time, give food, sponsor contests, have bake sales. To make it more “fun” they decided to have a floor-to-floor challenge; the floor that got the most points (1 point = $1 or 5 pounds of food; 2 volunteer hours = 25 points) per person on that floor would be served a lovely lunch by the people on the losing floor.

There was a lot about that approach to rub me the wrong way. First of all, it always creeps me out when anti-hunger programs have banquets to raise money, and I had the same reaction to the lunch – it would seem more appropriate somehow if it was a canned food luncheon or one made up of food rejected by the food bank, but I suppose that wouldn’t motivate people to want to win. Second, I’m on what’s called the “service floor” which we like because it has no lawyers on it and you even use a different elevator bank from the lawyers and high administrators, but is it actually fair to make us compete against partners? It might have been if they had just said the floor that got the most points, because we’re the biggest, but they wanted to be “fair” so they put that per capita condition, which tells you something about what they think “fairness” means.

A lot of my coworkers were upset about the whole drive for even more basic reasons.

“I consider my giving to be a private thing,” one said. “I give a lot of money, and I give to organizations I have worked with for a long time, and I don’t want to be pressured to give to the organization they choose.”

Another person, who with others from her floor spent a Saturday morning volunteering at the Food Bank, made the same comment – “I already do a lot of volunteer work, and the Food Bank doesn’t really need us, they had so many people there, we sat around for an hour before they even found anything for us to do.” Moreover, she found the volunteer operation disorganized – some people were scrubbing and cutting cabbages in a freezer for 3 hours, and others were putting things in bags, where they could sit down all the time. Why not rotate the easy jobs and the hard, dirty ones, she wondered? Plus they were not hospitable – there were no snacks while you were hanging around waiting, no coffee even, just a vending machine.

I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m community spirited, so I would rather see people setting up goofy golf tournaments to raise money for the food bank than doing what we get paid to do most of the time. Food banks are the best our country has to offer right now, to people who are working full time and can’t make ends meet, or people who can’t work, or can’t get work, and the SF Food Bank is, I understand, pretty effective at stretching the dollars (according to a partner here who is president of the Bar Association, they buy $9 worth of nonperishable groceries with each $1 they receive) and getting the food to people who need it.

Some of my coworkers, who are like me, single people in their 40s or 50s, say they cannot afford to give. I say they can. Anyone who makes the money we make can afford to give $15 or $50 or even more to the Food Bank. It’s like five lattes or something.

On the other hand, this is a firm whose partners worldwide took home an average profit of more than $911,000 in 2005. The partners in this office could easily just write a check for $250,000 themselves, which would cost each of the 55 partners $4500, and still have more than $906,000 to play with. And remember that $250,000 was not the goal for our firm, but for all the law firms in the City, which when you look at it this way, seems like a pretty paltry goal.

It made me a little ill to see people in the mailroom, who don’t even work for M&L but for an outsourcer with worse benefits and lower wages, spending their own money to have a bake sale so that the partners here can look good to their fellow millionaires. I guess it seemed not quite right to the partners too, because when it came time to award the floor prize, and the winner was 28, where some of the biggest muckety-mucks have their offices, they quick-awarded an extra prize to our floor for the “most creative fundraiser” – the aforementioned goofy golf tournament.

One of the partners in our firm is the president of the SF Bar Association, the first woman of color to hold that position. I don’t know her at all, but she seems like a pretty conscience-driven person, for a corporate lawyer. She certainly is passionate and articulate when she talks about social issues. In a radio interview about the “Food from the Bar” drive she said, “The thought of having one hungry child a day in San Francisco to me seems unacceptable.” I couldn’t agree more.

She also said, “All we want to do is to level the playing field so that people have a shot at becoming successful adults, and that means they have to be well nourished kids.”

Whoa. Raising money and food for the Food Bank is not leveling the playing field. It’s helping the unlevel playing field to survive, while making the people on the top of the slope feel a little less guilty about it. You do not get to talk about a level playing field when you are making something like 25 times the salary of the people who do your copying and deliver your mail. Especially not when the work you are doing is directly sustaining the system that preserves those inequalities. M&L represents “Healthcare” companies, which should not be confused with health care providers, who get rich off denying people the care they’ve paid for, and asbestos producers who try to prove that it wasn’t the insulation the guy worked with all those years that killed him, it was the second-hand smoke, and they negotiate contracts for executives who will come in and layoff thousands of workers in order to boost the value of their stock options before they take their golden parachutes. It’s not this firm in particular, it’s just that the role of corporate law firms is to grease the wheels of corporate domination.

Food banks are not a solution to hunger, just as shelters are not a solution to homelessness. What we really need is for people working full time, or even less than full time, to be able to feed themselves and their families, and have something left over to go on vacation. No amount of giving to food banks brings us any closer to that. At the same time, we know we’re not going to get that real solution any time soon, so the food bank enables people to live, who would otherwise die. Yet, it was the lack of any services, the sight of so many recently middle class people standing in soup lines, that brought about the New Deal in the ’30s. So in that sense, supporting the food bank is supporting the system that creates the need for the food bank, and the more progressive thing to do, the more humane thing in the long run, would be not to support it.

I can’t pass by hungry people on the street, and I can’t advocate letting people starve. But where does it stop? When do the temporary solutions supplement the real solutions, and when do they impede them?

I was talking the other night to Sitara, from the prison abolition organization Critical Resistance, about a bill in the legislature to open a big new private “Community Correctional Center” for women in California. CR opposes it, because they oppose all prison expansions, they oppose private prisons, well, they just oppose prisons. They are abolitionist, which “is a political vision that seeks to eliminate the need for prisons, policing, and surveillance by creating sustainable alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.”

Sitara and I were talking about the fact that they might be criticized by prison reform organizations, who are often seduced by the idea that since right now, women are locked up in terrible prisons, we have to support the creation of more humane, less crowded facilities where they can be closer to their kids, have more of an opportunity to get integrated into the community. Some years ago, there was a group called Dykes Against Racism Everywhere, which Barbara Smith was involved in starting, and I’m pretty sure (I looked for info about this online and couldn’t find it, so if I’m wrong, I apologize in advance) that one of the projects they were doing was trying to set up a jail in New York where mothers could be with their kids. The Criminal Justice Program of AFSC, where I worked in the 1980s, was also trying to do something like that, which might make sense if what you want to do is make things easier for people in prison, but there is a way that is saying it is okay for people to be in prison.

Sitara pointed out that these prison expansions in the guise of humanizing prisons never work out the way the reformers hope they will. Every time, it ends up being true that they arrest more people and give out longer sentences and soon all the new beds are full and the old prisons are just as crowded as they were.

The other day there was an article in the Christian Science Monitor about MachsomWatch, the Israeli women’s group that my friends Susy and Dafna work with, which goes out to the checkpoints to monitor the abuse of human rights. The article, to the seasoned eye, anyway, actually captured some of the tension in that group. Adi Dagan, one of the women who has been with the group from early on, expresses frustration that “After five years, we haven't been very successful.…Not a single checkpoint has been removed, and we haven’t been able to change policies on restriction of movement for Palestinians.” Another volunteer, Susan Lourenco, is quoted as saying, “We show a peace-loving face to Palestinians who see no other Israelis but soldiers and settlers.”

The women who founded MachsomWatch saw it as a way of opposing the checkpoints, the whole system of control of Palestinians’ movement. They are against the occupation of the 1967 territories in general, and some of them are active in even more radical groups like Zochrot, which advocates for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes inside what is now called Israel. After a couple years, they got very big and attracted some very mainstream liberal women, one of whom is from what Susy calls an “Israeli Mayflower” family, a number of whom have fathers who were high-ranking generals.

Some of the new women were just as left-wing as they were, but many of them are really not left-wing at all, they are not necessarily opposed to the checkpoints, they just don’t want people to be unnecessarily humiliated and abused. Or they are opposed to the checkpoints that are deep in the West Bank but not ones that are in “border” areas which ignores the fact that those “borders” themselves were unilaterally imposed by Israel. Some of the MW women argue with the soldiers the whole time they are there, while others are willing to stand in for them and tell the Palestinians to stand in line or tell internationals to leave (one group tried to do that with me once; I asked her to tell the soldiers if they wanted to tell me something, they had to do it themselves). One friend told me about being at a MachsomWatch meeting where a woman announced that she had begun volunteering with the army as a civilian volunteer at the checkpoint, checking people’s IDs and deciding if they have the right to go where they wanted to go.

More comprehensive solutions are often dismissed as impractical, or tantamount to doing nothing, or just complaining instead of helping people. But recently, that ultraleft rag Forbes magazine featured Critical Resistance in its (somewhat bizarre) list of “Ten Alternatives to Prison” http://www.criticalresistance.org/index.php?name=Forbes0406. Here’s what they said,

“It may sound like a radical idea. But locking people up in cages doesn't make society safer, says Rose Braz, director of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots group that works to abolish prisons. So why not try something different? ‘Our goal is to create safer communities. The way to do that is for the government to invest in housing, education and job training. We know that communities where these needs are met have lower crime rates,’ says Rose.”

If even Forbes is ready to look at the radical approaches, maybe real change is not as distant a dream as it seems. Here’s hoping.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Forget about the Jews

My long-awaited (or at least long-winded) critique of the Walt-Mearsheimer study on the Zionist lobby.

Every day in my email I get a report called "Today in Palestine." It's compiled by an incredible dedicated guy named Shadi, who combs the Palestinian, Israeli and European press, and also the alternative and the very very alternative press to send out news and rumor that you just can't get anywhere else. It arrives in an extremely readable form: headlines linked to the article, followed by a one-sentence synopsis. (http://www.theheadlines.org)

One day a few weeks ago, I was shocked to see the headline, "Study: Israel Lobby Motivating US foreign policy" nestled in between reports of more Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and stories about the challenges facing the new Palestinian government. I clicked on it immediately, and was taken to a new study by Harvard professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

"This is going to be trouble," I said to myself after reading through it quickly. And of course it has been. Harvard, under pressure from the very Zionist establishment that is the focus of the study, insisted that its name be removed. It has been attacked non-stop in the mainstream press. Make no mistake, that would probably have happened if the study were absolutely perfect. As the authors point out, any printed piece that is remotely critical of Israel is lambasted as anti-Semitism. Which is why it is all the more unfortunate that this one is far from perfect.

It carefully lays out unimpeachable facts, but the facts don't support the conclusions, unless you add to them assumptions that are faulty.

These assumptions are:

-- That there is a "U.S. national interest." In fact, there is not one interest, there are many. There are elite interests, there are public interests, but within those broad interest groups there are many and competing interests. A construction worker who is a homeowner, for instance, presumably has an interest in high wages for construction workers and low costs of home remodeling. Because of the way that our society is structured, those two interests are seen as incompatible, and she will be forced to choose whether to support outsourcing to nonunion construction companies or high construction costs.

-- That the US government normally acts in "our interests." This seems to be the fundamental premise of the study -- that the US elite is a band of good-hearted people who but for the evil Zionist puppetmasters, would act in the interests of global peace and justice.

Let me ask you: when was the last time the U.S. government did something you really felt was in your interest? I'm pretty sure it was sometime in 1972, when I was 12.

I admit it: as a Jew, it makes me very nervous to read statements like, "Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organisations to influence American foreign policy" in scholarly papers. Maybe that's clouding my judgment. But having read this paper closely, and tried to keep my feelings in check, I concluded that it's poor scholarship, which makes it very attackable by those who paint any criticism of Israel, or US policy toward Israel, as anti-Jewish.

The authors are conscious of this potential. They strive for a balanced tone and set out to distance themselves from anti-Semitic groups. "There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy: the Lobby's activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better." I do not think the authors are anti-Semites, but they play on anti-Jewish beliefs of white Americans: that "we" are good people so if we're doing something bad, "they" must be making us do it.

The title of the paper is itself misleading, because they do not make the argument that the Israel Lobby drives all US foreign policy, but only our Middle East policy. I maintain that US Middle East policy is just one part of its global policies, and unless the Zionist conspiracy theory explains our policies toward Cuba, Venezuela, Nigeria and China, it can't really explain our Middle East policy. The Zionists' interests intersect neatly with other priorities of US elites, such as controlling Middle East oil fields (Standard Oil and four other US companies acquired control of 23% of Iraq's oil in 1927, when neither Israel nor the Zionist lobby existed) and creating undreamed of wealth for US contractors like Bechtel, Halliburton and Lockheed Martin (none owned by Jews).

The authors seem to accept at face value U.S. government claims to care about democracy and fairness. They also presume that high U.S. decision-makers are seriously interested in ensuring the security of non-wealthy U.S. citizens. So, they say, support for Israel can't be based on shared interest in security, because that support actually makes us more vulnerable to attack. It can't be based on the desire to support a democracy in the Middle East, because Israel -- given its race-based citizenship policies and brutal military occupation of Palestinian land -- is not a democracy.

If the U.S. non-Zionist elite is interested in democracy, what part of democracy is served by concentration camps and "extraordinary rendition"? Okay, the authors would explain that as an offshoot of our policy toward Israel, because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being fought for Israel's interest, which is making us stray from the ideals our country's actions have traditionally embodied.

They claim that this situation is without historical precedent, but make no attempt to show how it is different in kind from our support for South Vietnam, El Salvador, Indonesia, Chile, Iran under the Shah, Haiti under the Duvaliers, Iraq under Saddam, Colombia, apartheid South Africa, Noriega before he suddenly became the public enemy in the red underwear, and on and on. Yes, Israel receives more money with fewer strings than any of those regimes did, but is propping up repressive regimes okay for a democracy as long as it doesn't cost too much?

In arguing that our invasion of Iraq was really just a bow to the Israelis, Mearsheimer and Walt act as if the US never invaded other countries and stole land and resources in the name of democracy before AIPAC set up shop in Washington. Was Theodore Herzl, then an unknown playwright, secretly responsible for US colonization of Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Philippines in 1898?

They completely ignore the importance of racism as a motivator. This is not the first time that the U.S. has supported a white-dominated* colonial power in the Global South because of a shared interest in white domination of the region.

Isn't it possible that the US government supports Israel because it recognizes a kindred spirit? That the idea of a group of people who have been a persecuted minority conquering another land, proclaiming themselves its discoverers, taming the wilderness (making the desert bloom) and annihilating its indigenous people sounds good to us because it worked so well when we did it? That a country where half of Palestinian men have been in prison doesn't look bad to one where one-third of African American men have been in prison?

Do you believe that if it weren't for the Zionists, the Bush administration would have responded quickly and compassionately to the Katrina disaster? You don't if you know that in 1927 (21 years before the State of Israel was created) the Army Corps of Engineers blew up levees in Mississippi and Louisiana, wiping out poor and African American areas to save wealthy neighborhoods and plantations.

Walt and Mearsheimer's first five pages are a cogent statement of all the reasons the US government should curtail its support for Israel. In the middle of page 5, they get to their core argument:

"So if neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America's support for Israel, how are we to explain it?

"The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby. We use 'the Lobby' as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that 'the Lobby' is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 per cent of American Jews said they were either 'not very or 'not at all' emotionally attached to Israel."

So the authors start off talking about the Israel Lobby, and then with no segue, they are talking about Jewish Americans.

The study itself points out that Jews are an insignificant percentage of the population, but discounts that. "Although they make up fewer than 3 per cent of the population, … The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates 'depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 per cent of the money.' And because Jewish voters have high turn-out rates and are concentrated in key states like California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, presidential candidates go to great lengths not to antagonise them."

California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Those five states account for 155 members of Congress. So 390 of our elected representatives should be free to vote their consciences (on Israel). Okay, but maybe they aspire to be president, and Jews apparently account for 60% of presidential campaign contributions. WHY? Of Fortune 100 CEOs, less than 10% are Jewish. A few years ago, something like 84 of the Forbes 400 were Jews. What are the Christians doing with their money?

Moreover, as the authors themselves point out, at least 40% of Jews don't agree with the Israel Lobby. A 2004 poll found that Jewish voters do not vote according to the Lobby's priorities; 42% of Jews, just like non-Jews, say the economy is their highest priority in deciding who to vote for.

Yes, the Lobby targets Congresspeople it declares enemies of Israel and has succeeded in getting them defeated. In 2002, they mercilessly attacked Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, and she lost. In 2004, McKinney regrouped and was reelected. It is unlikely that the Zionists liked her any better in 2004 than in 2002. Her reelection shows that even the sworn enemies of the Zionist lobby can win, if they have a strategy. So that should embolden any representative who is capable of recognizing that supporting Israel's ethnic cleansing project is counter to anyone's interest. Why hasn't it?

It's easy to blame the Zionists. It's harder to blame ourselves -- whether for our own racist past and present, or for the fact that we in the Palestine solidarity movement have not organized ONE mass protest against the US, European and Canadian governments' decision to literally starve the Palestinians to punish them for exercising their democratic right to elect whom they want.

If we could somehow curtail the influence of the Zionist Lobby, it might help the Palestinians, and G-d knows that would make me happy. But I don't believe it would help the Iraqis, and it certainly wouldn't help the Chinese, Senegalese or Cubans.

Forget about the Jews. Let Jewish Voice for Peace wrestle the so-called mainstream Jewish organizations for the right to represent the Jewish community.

Forget about the Zionists. You're not going to win a fight with them. Why attack the Israel lobby, even if they deserve it? They are not the problem. Their influence is a symptom of the problem. You are just going to set up an opportunity for them to scream about anti-Semitism and some people who never heard them before might hear them this time.

Just go get every non-Zionist Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist you know to give every dollar they can spare to the non-Zionist Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist candidate of their choice. Tell them to send a note with the money, saying, "End US aid to Israel now or I'll never give you another dollar."

What? You don't know enough non-Jewish non-Zionists you can get to do that? What's the matter with you? They're 97% of the population, or at least 93% if you scratch out the Christian Zionists. There's our work. What are we waiting for?

* A majority of Israelis are people of color, with ancestry in Arab or African countries, but political power is controlled by Jews of European ancestry.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Get Up And Sing

March 22, 2006

"Why are you preaching to the choir?" the man from the radio station asked me. "Everyone here in San Francisco agrees with you."

That's the question of the hour. Our website, ActAgainstTorture.org, got a bunch of comments to that effect after our awesome street theater action on Monday, dramatizing the illegal detentions and torture of foreign prisoners by our government to morning commuters. www.sfgate.com/ "Why don't you protest in Wichita?" one of them asked. Of course, if we did protest in Wichita, we'd be called carpetbaggers, or outside agitators. We wouldn't just be called that, we would be that.

It was only last night that I thought of the answer I wish I had given: We're not preaching to the choir, we're telling the choir to stand up and sing.

If all of San Francisco is really against the war, against torture, against indefinite detentions (concentration camps), then let's see it. I hate to keep coming back to the same analogy, but there's just not a better one: if you asked an 85-year-old German what they did during World War II, and they said, "Oh, well everyone in my town was already opposed to the Nazis, so I didn't do anything. We all voted for another candidate when we had the chance," you would not be impressed. So how can we get San Francisco to demonstrate its opposition, if its opposition is so deep?

What people were upset about was that we blocked traffic on a busy street for nearly an hour while everyone was hurrying to get to work on time. Actually, we didn't block it for an hour. We blocked it for about 15 minutes, and the police blocked it for the rest of the hour.

But that's not the point. What is the point, is that there have been quite a few days in recent years when business in San Francisco has completely shut down. 9/11 and the day after. The couple days after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The day after the Rodney King riots began in Los Angeles. Yeah, that's right. The day after Black L.A exploded in justified rage, I got a call from my supervisor at work telling me not to come in. Fearful of demonstrations in downtown, the firm had decided to close for a couple days, making it possible for me to go participate in a demonstration that was shut down before it began by a police chief who declared martial law. Honest, he used those words.

Yet the day that our bombs started raining on Bagdad, and every day thereafter, unless it was some dead president's birthday or something, business in San Francisco rolled on as usual. Those of us who felt the need to diverge from our routine took sick time, personal time, sick of war time, Paid Time Off, Leave Without Pay (which I just realized has the same acronym - LWOP - as Life Without Parole - hmmm). What none of us can understand, even those of us who care deeply about the war and human rights and every other good thing, is that for the Iraqis, every day since March 19, 2003 has been 9/11. Or maybe I should say since January 17, 1991.

We don't even have to look so far away for a massive earthquake most of us good San Francisco liberals and radicals are pretty oblivious of. Yesterday, I got a bunch of emails announcing a week of actions in support of a hunger strike protesting SB 4437, the Sensenbrenner/King anti-immigrant bill. The latest in the proposed draconian measures to punish people who dare to come here to pick tomatoes or clean toilets for subminimum wage, this bill if it passes will imprison not only undocumented workers and their kids, but people who provide them health care or help them find a place to live. Tell me, who is helped by that? We know it costs more to keep someone in prison for a year than to send them to Harvard. So why do we want to spend our money that way?

The government tries to say it is to protect us against terrorists, but then, isn't everything? I must have missed something, because I don't recall that Mohammed Ata or any of his 9/11 coconspirators, or any of their predecessors, came from Mexico. If this really had anything to do with national security, the government would be much better advised to mine the Canadian border. But of course, in their minds, Canada is the nice snow-covered home of law-abiding white people, and the South is where all those dangerous brown people who all look alike come from. They can't tell a Latino from an Arab from a Turk, but it doesn't matter since we're going to lock all of them up anyway.

So I went to this demo, which was very powerful and spirited, with lots of drumming, and in the crowd of 300 people, I saw three people I knew. The week of actions has been organized by Deporten La Migra, which more or less speaks for itself - I was one of three or four people who were not Latino. The Asian immigrant communities, which actually make up an even larger part of San Francisco than the Latino immigrant communities, were also noticeably absent (although looking at a blog account of the events, I see that today, the Progressive Chinese Alliance and the May 1st Alliance, the Chinese Progressive Association and the May 1st Alliance [grassroots alliance of low wage worker organizations] organized a noon rally to support the hunger strike). Our demo on Monday also had about 300 people, of which maybe 3 were Latino.

I'm not criticizing anyone. I mean, I only heard about yesterday's action about three hours before it started and it happened I didn't have plans after work; if it had been any other day this week, I wouldn't have been there either. And I know that there is an action on Monday, also at Dianne Feinstein's office, just like ours was, that is connecting the war on Iraq to the war on immigrants I'm just thinking about what it means that there was almost no crossover between those of us who were protesting the current incarceration of brown-skinned Muslims, and the group protesting the threatened (and current) incarceration of brown-skinned Catholics.

On one hand, it doesn't really matter. We are all out there, that's what really matters, and we are ultimately part of the same movement, whether we know it or not. We all work in our own communities, and maybe that makes us stronger. I guess we're churches with different choirs. But if we all put our voices together, could we make better harmony?

For news and photos from the hunger strike for immigration justice, and to find out about this weekend's actions, see http://www.edjustice.blogspot.com/

For tons of photos and widespread news coverage of our action against torture, and to get involved, see www.actagainsttorture.org (but don't send us any nasty emails about preaching to the choir).

To listen to my interview with Jamila al-Shanty, recently elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council on Hamas ticket, see http://www.indybay.org/news/2006/03/1807770.php

Or better yet, see you in the streets.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Guinea Pigs (End of the Saga From Gaza)

Thursday, February 16

Yesterday it rained most of the day, and we saw no reason to go anywhere. We called everyone again, and again, and eventually spoke with Hani, who said he was waiting for the applications to come back from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, where Mohammed and Ashraf Dahlan are, and then he would take it to the Israelis. Pat talked to Ahmed al-Fara, who said he had never seen the application; it had never left the Ministry. He said to talk to Ashraf, so Pat called him and he said again, "It's with the Europeans." So obviously, something is not working right in the Ministry, or else they are deliberately losing our applications over and over again, in order to avoid saying no directly. Though why they would want to say no, we don't know.

We sat around our room and wrote, sometimes looking at the sea, ordered coffee from room service, and I reminded myself how often I wished I had a week's vacation to spend at the beach with nothing much to do, to write, get enough sleep. So I should enjoy it while I can and not think of it as just a wasted trip. And in fact, I succeeded, until I was IMing with Laila late last night and she said, "I spent the day interviewing women from Hamas who have been elected to the legislature; you would have loved it." And I started to cry. And Neta said, "I can't stand that you are so close and I can't see you." And I cried some more.

So Pat and I agreed that today, I would try going through Kerem Shalom, because Julio had assured me I would have no trouble doing it. And he would wait for an answer from the PA. And then when I was turned away by the Israelis, I would see if there was a scene to be made, and if not, I would go to the border and try to interview women until I was chased away by the Egyptian security. We were a little worried about what to tell the police in the hotel lobby, when they asked where we were going, but we decided to just say that I was going to Rafah via Kerem Shalom, and Pat was waiting a little longer. I didn't think they would have any reason to know that we had not been approved to go.

In fact, they were happy to arrange a taxi for us, and just as it arrived, this other guy, Nathan, showed up and said he was going there too. Nathan is a Ukrainian printer, living in Canada, who is trying ot visit a Palestinian friend in Beit Lahiya whom we think he met on the Internet. His friend works for the PA, and has connections with Palestinian NGOs and also has a cousin who works at the customs office on the border, so his people have been trying hard to get him through the bureaucracy too. The three of us were ready to set out, but then we had to wait for a police escort. Why do we need an escort, I asked the three police/security guys who hang out at the hotel. "Security," he said.

The police truck was not that impressive, a Mitsubishi truck with four guys in it. Pat and I felt downgraded since the other day, when we rated a vehicle with a siren and everything. The driver kept forgetting and trying to pass the truck. Then we got to a checkpoint, and the truck went flying through and we were stopped. And the driver kept saying, "But they're supposed to go, look, we have the escort," who had finally stopped their truck but weren't doing anything to help us. But we got through. And shortly before we reached Rafah, the escort disappeared altogether.

We drove to the Rafah gate, and then turned off onto a road with a sign saying, "To Taba." Taba is in Sinai, and Kerem Shalom is indeed on the way to Taba, so that seemed like a good way to go, except about 200 meters from where it started, it abruptly ended at an Egyptian army base. The driver explained where we were going, and they asked, "Do you have a permit?" We explained about the permits, and that we had talked to someone from the EU and he told us to go this way, but they said we needed a permit from the Egyptian secret police to go up to the gate, where the Liaison office is. We called Julio, who had told us to go that way, and he had us talk to the Senior Liaison Officer in their office, who knew absolutely nothing about permits from the Egyptians, or even what the muhabarat is (which is kind of telling, because the Palestinians also have muhabarat, who would be involved in this kind of decision), and both he and Julio kept saying, "Well, I don't know if we can help you because the Egyptians are not part of this agreement." And I kept objecting that they were the ones who told us to go that way, so they must be able to do something. Soren, the Liaison Officer, agreed to speak to the Israeli Liaison officer and see if he couldn't work something out with the Egyptians.

"You are helping us," Soren said, "Because we need to figure out how this works. You are the guinea pigs."

The Egyptian soldiers didn't like us hanging out so long outside their base and kept trying to get us to leave. I couldn't reach Soren, so Nathan decided to call Julio. This time, Julio was quite curt and said he had to go, that he had some Japanese journalists waiting for him and that was his job, to talk to the media, but he did ask Hani, who was in his office, and Hani apparently was upset and said, "Why didn't he wait like I told him to? I might have the approval for him tomorrow." Julio told Nathan that and Nathan said, "He said three days ago, that I had to wait three days, and then yesterday he told me again three days. Now he says tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes."

I called Soren again and reached him this time. He said the Israelis said they would have no problem letting us through Kerem Shalom, but the Palestinians would not accept us there. There was nothing he could do.

I said, "But why did Julio say to go this way?" He didn't have a good answer.

I said, "I came all this way, and I'm out of time, and I had people I was really looking forward to seeing, and now I have to go home without seeing them."

And he said, "Well, you know, if I wanted to go to Vietnam, I would have to go to Stockholm and apply for the visa. And I wouldn't leave until I had the visa." I said yes, but if I wanted to go to Vietnam, I would call the consulate and they would tell me exactly what the procedure was. I wouldn't get three different stories from three different people.

"I'm sure there are representatives of the PA in the US," he said.

"Yes, I called the PLO Mission in Washington and the guy told me I could go, no problem, I didn't need a visa or permission, everything would be taken care of at the border. He even told me where to catch the bus in Cairo."

That kind of shut him up and got him to say, "Well, we are sorry that we can't help, it's not from any ill will."

I told him that last night I read on the internet what Condoleeza Rice said when she announced the agreement to open the Rafah crossing, "This agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives." It seems to me that if you can't invite your friends and family from outside to come see you, and have them actually get in, how ordinary can your life be?

Friday, February 17

Today I got to see the Egyptian police in action - at least 2000 of them (and Nagwan says there were probably 2000 more hiding) for a demonstration of maybe 500 about the Danish cartoons, and then glimpsed the pyramids. So it was not a total loss.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Saga from Gaza (Border) - Episode 2

Monday, February 13

Yesterday afternoon, after days of bureaucrats trying to get us to leave them alone and assuring us they would let us know when they had gotten a decision from some unnamed authority, we finally found out that the Palestinian Authority lost our applications, or something; at least, they never sent them to the Liaison Office. So we had to start the entire process all over.

So this morning, having run out of useful things to do in Arish, we set off for Rafah, Egypt, in hopes of interviewing people there about how the vicissitudes of the border affect them - their relationship with the people on the other side of the Fence, their experience of the Israeli occupation there from 1967-82, how it has changed since then, and if the recent turnover had changed things for them at all. The purpose of this whirlwind trip for me was to do video interviews with Palestinian women about the situation, especially since the elections, their expectations and hopes for the future, so we figured maybe we could do that in Rafah while we wait, hopefully, to get into Gaza.

We were supposed to go with an Egyptian journalist, and when Pat called him to confirm, his mother said he had left for Rafah. But when the driver came a few minutes later, he told us that the journalist could not make it -- he had "circumstances." The journalist, who works for an opposition party newspaper, said that many people in the area felt they had fared better under the Israeli occupation than in more recent years. He said that since the turnover of the border, the Egyptians and the Palestinian Authority had imposed new tariffs on goods being transported across the border, so that traders and merchants are paying more now than they were when the Israelis controlled the border.

The drive from Arish to Rafah is 50 kilometers, and takes about 40 minutes. The area looks pretty sparsely populated. Pat commented that it is almost exactly as long as the entire Gaza Strip. When we met with some official meeters-and-greeters in Rafah, we asked them how many people live in the area in between the two cities, and were told, including Arish, which has about 115,000 people, around 225,000. Gaza is home to 1.3 million people.

We drove around a little. We saw the Wall that separates the two Rafahs, and just across the fence we could see the UNWRA school in Rafah Camp, and what looks to be an apartment building riddled with more bullet holes than I ever saw. The area near the fence was patrolled by dozens of soldiers, tensed with guns ready. The street leading to what we believe was Salah-ad-Din Gate, a former entrance to Gaza, had all the storefronts closed up tight, except for one at the end, which seemed to be a base for undercover army guys who kindly informed us it was a closed military zone. Hassan, our driver, then took us to see the destroyed Israeli settlement of Yamit, where in 1982 settlers clashed violently with the Israeli soldiers who came to evacuate them. Hassan said, "It was the most beautiful and modern city in the world." All that is there now are several square blocks of what looks like crushed limestone and concrete. Hassan showed us the synagogue (which to my eyes did not seem so impressive), which was partially standing.

We sat for a long time with two men in the Rafah Information Center. One didn't say much, and the other didn't stop talking. He said that they had been under Israeli military rule from 1967-1970, and they were very frightened when the war came because they had not experienced anything like it before. After that there was no direct fighting in their area, but the gunships attacking Palestinian Rafah Camp had sometimes injured people here and terrified the kids.

Sometime after 1967, Israel destroyed many homes in Rafah, Palestine, so Canada Camp was set up in Rafah, Egypt for the people who were displaced. At the time of the Israeli pullout from Sinai, the camp was evacuated, and most of the refugees moved back to Gaza. Some remained in Egypt - the guys were vague about how many and what their status is. First, the information minister said they were refugees; a minute later, he said there were no refugees in the area. The other guy said the only Palestinians in the area were married to Egyptians. The minister claimed there were no Palestinians in northern Sinai. "Palestinians are there, Egyptians are here," he said.

He didn't say anything about Yamit, or how people felt about having their land taken away, or how the settlers behaved toward them or the Israeli army presence that accompanied it. My friend Susy was in the Israeli army in 1967, and she spent her army years in a military settlement very near here. She says "The settlement we occupied had been an Egyptian government run barracks-farm doing agricultural experiments before the 1967 war. The residents and workers were Egyptians and settled "Bedouins" of the area. So we were told. They were all driven out of their barracks type houses when it was decided the master-race soldiers would settle in and run the farm and experiments. We were the second batch of soldiers and we lived in their houses. We worked their fields and did some agricultural experiments as well. The former residents who'd been driven out half a year earlier were still hanging around. I don't know where they slept, but during the day they would stand around the plots while we were working them and watch. For long hours they would stand and watch. The place is now called The Peace something."

She and her fellow soldiers used to go to the beach at Arish on weekends. And she adds, "in the summer of 1999, I think it was, I joined a bus-load full of my ex-co-settlers to visit that ranch again. When I talked about my memory of the dispossessed farmers standing a short distance away and watching us working their fields, the reaction was almost disbelief. No one, but really no one, had a memory of anything similar. My grown up friends did not remember the dispossessed of our younger times. For them, they have totally (and comfortably, these are good people by and large) vanished."

The Information Minister didn't mention any of that. He just said that after 1970, they had Egyptian police and Palestinian police and Israeli police, all working together, and everyone was happy.

Our friend the journalist had told us that there was a center for foreign journalists in Rafah, Egypt, so we thought we would go there and see what they could tell us and if they could direct us to anyone we would want to interview. It turned out that the center was at the border, where we were two days ago. When we got to the gate, there seemed to be some kind of problem - people were running around and closing gates right and left. Someone took our passports immediately, and Patrick explained what we wanted. They told us to go wait outside the gate.

I had dressed as a foreign journalist today, in jeans and no head covering. The difference in terms of how I was treated was incredible. The other day, when I tried saying hello to Palestinian women who were crossing, they looked at me in confusion and didn't respond. Today, as soon as I exited the gate, I noticed a group of women sitting together and their eyes lit up when they saw me. I greeted them, "Salaam aleikum," and they all immediately shook my hand, pulled up a chair for me, called their friends over and started grilling me about what I was doing. They excitedly answered the questions I asked in my broken Arabic.

They were all relatives; four from Rafah and one from Khan Younis. Things are much better in Gaza since the pullout from the settlements, the kids are not as terrorized, they do not have the daily bombings and the kids can go to school. They voted in the elections, they like Hamas. They loved Arafat, and they like Abu Mazen, though they have never seen him in person. They want to work, but they have no work. The youngest, Ibtisam, has been married for ten years (she is only 23 now) and has not been able to conceive. She cannot get any help for this problem because she has no money. Another woman showed me a report from a hospital about her husband, who is apparently suffering from renal failure and a hernia. He cannot get the treatment he needs, she said, because they don't have money (although obviously, he had been to a hospital, so he was getting some kind of care). I tried to ask about the clinics that Hamas is famous for, but couldn't remember the word (aadiya).

They showed me their passports. I saw that Ibtisam's had many stamps that said "Palestinian Authority - Rafah Border Crossing," going back at least to the beginning of 2005. There were no stamps from any Israeli border authority. I was surprised, because I had understood, when this crossing opened in November 2005, that it was the first Palestinian-controlled border, and also that the border had been closed for a long time before it opened.

Over the hours that I sat with them, they of course brought juice and cookies for me and Patrick, though I had to go give them to him, because they couldn't talk to a strange man. Meanwhile, Pat and Hassan were talking to an Egyptian whose wife was from Gaza City. She had not seen her mother in 15 years, because she hadn't been able to go to Gaza and her mother hadn't been able to leave. Now they were trying to go, but there was some problem about her ID. The two Egyptians asked Patrick if he worked for a governmental or nongovernmental newspaper. When Patrick explained that we do not have governmental media per se, they couldn't understand.

Finally, the police came back with our passports and asked for some more information, so we went into their office. Suddenly, things had taken a hostile turn. A commander who hadn't been there before told Pat that he had heard from the Palestinian in the Liaison Office that our application to go to Gaza was denied and we had to go back to Cairo. Stunned, I said, "But what business is it of theirs where we go?" Pat was very freaked out and I couldn't understand why. I said, "Well, okay, so we tell them we're going to Cairo, and then we don't." Pat didn't say, "You don't understand how it works here," but he lived here before and he knew stuff I didn't. He called the guy in the Liaison Office, who said no, we had not been refused yet. Pat told this to the commander, who then started saying, "Well, you have to go to Cairo and I don't know why." Eventually someone else came, who Pat thinks was the brother of the Palestinian Liaison Officer, and wrote down our names, and everybody talked some more, and then the guy in charge said, "Okay, you can go back to Semi Ramees," the hotel where they installed us the other day, and where we've been semi-happily staying ever since.

They talked to the driver, and then finally gave us our passports back and we got in the car, and so did one of the police, who said we were taking him to Arish with us. We had left Arish at 10:00 a.m. and it was now 4:00 p.m.

As I mentioned before, the road between Arish and Rafah is riddled with checkpoints, but usually, everyone seems to zoom through them like settler cars in the West Bank. Occasionally they have glanced in our car and asked what we were doing, and the driver would say, "Americans," and they would wave us through. This time, though, we had to stop at every one, pull over, the driver would have to answer some questions, and at the second one, they took Pat's passport but not mine. Shortly after that, our driver suddenly tapped his horn several times and pulled slightly over to the right. Pat realized that he had a flat tire. A military jeep passed us, and then turned around and settled on the road behind us, and Pat said, "That's what I thought. We are being escorted."

We all got out of the car so Hassan could change the tire. He was stopped in the middle of the lane of traffic, not on the shoulder, and Pat suggested he pull over, but he shrugged and said it would be okay. We didn't think so. Cars were whizzing by, and one literally almost took Hassan's head off. Thankfully, he got the tire changed without getting decapitated, and we got back into the car and rode on to Arish with our escort behind us. At the police station on the outskirts of Arish, Hassan stopped and let our minder off, which was a relief to us because we were wondering if it would cause a problem for him if we tried to paid him. He said to us, "Now you will have the eye of the security on you," and that he would be questioned after he dropped us off.

The jeep stayed behind us all the way to the hotel. We got out and the police got out of their jeep and went to talk to Hassan, and before we were in the door, Pat heard them say, "Okay, you can go," but he didn't know if maybe he would have to go somewhere else at that point to be questioned further. We walked into the hotel, past the police who guard the door, and around the metal detector, and the manager/receptionist said to us, "You're leaving tomorrow, right?"

We never heard another word from our journalist friend, and neither did the friend who introduced us to him. My friend called several times from Cairo, and was quite upset to hear the story and said to me, "It's only because you have American passports that you are not in jail." She called back later to tell me not to try to interview anyone, not to try to go to Rafah, to come back to Cairo, and then again to give me the U.S. embassy numbers just in case.

I really want to go back to the border with my camera and a woman translator and interview women, but I am afraid of what will happen if either of us shows up there again. Though I might joke about it, I don't actually want to get deported from two Middle Eastern countries in thirteen months. But I came all this way, and I am so close to Palestine, I do not want to waste it. It was weird, while at the border I talked to my friends in Palestine on my Palestinian phone. It's like, I was there but not there. I suppose it must be a taste of how people in Gaza feel talking to family members and friends in the West Bank, or in fact, people in East Jerusalem talking to friends in Abu Dis.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

This morning our friend Laila talked to Hani from the Liaison Office, and he said that the decision was with Mohammed Dahlan. Laila suggested we try to get someone who knows Dahlan to call him or call him ourselves, because apparently during the elections, Dahlan was debating someone from Hamas and the other candidate said, "You said everyone would be able to cross the border, but they are not." And Dahlan said, "If anyone has a problem with the border, Palestinian or foreigner, tell them to come to me." So after failing to find anyone who knows him, we called Dahlan, and finally reached him and he said, "Talk to Ashraf," and Pat said, "Hani said the file is with you. So he said, "Talk to Ahmed al-Fara," from the liaison office, and Pat said, "Hani said the file is with you." And that is where it is. And it occurs to me that although of course the occupation is responsible for this in the macro sense, our Palestinian friends might be kind of irritated with their supposed government because after all, we do not have nefarious motivations for going to Gaza, we are trying to help, and plus we want to see our friends, and they are the ones being hurt by our not being able to.

On our way out of the hotel, the policeman asked us "So are you going to Gaza?" We said we hope so, but don't know yet. "So now are you going to Rafah?" he asked. "No," we said, "we are just going downtown to the market and the internet." He said into his radio, "The two Americans are going to Arish," and we walked away with another man carrying a suitcase. He turned out to be trying to go to Gaza too, but his situation is much worse than ours. He is a Palestinian with a British passport, and no hawiyya, because he left before they started the hawiyya system. His wife is from Gaza. So he had to apply for a permit, like us, while she only had to show her ID. He applied ten days ago, and was told the permit would be ready when he arrived, but yesterday when he got there, it was not ready, and so his wife and child went through to visit her family, and he is stuck out here. It puts our situation in perspective.

We wandered in the market until we found the places Palestinians hang out. I talked to women and Pat talked to men, who are here to sell things. They only get to come once every 15-20 days, and they can stay up to five days, but most of them stay only a night or two. They need to show both passport and ID, and the ID is jointly issued by the Israelis and Palestinians, so if someone cannot go to the Israelis for an ID, then they can't go across.

Incidentally, yesterday, when I talked to Julio from the EU, he said that he was sure we would be turned down to go through Rafah, because only humanitarian cases, diplomats and people from accredited international NGOs are allowed. Everyone else, he said, has to go through Kerem Shalom, which puts you in about 30 meters of Israeli territory, he says, after which you are in Palestinian territory and they put you in a car and take you to Rafah. He urged me to try it, but we were afraid to just do that while theoretically, the PA is still considering whether to approve us for Rafah. We thought they would not like it if we just headed for an Israeli-controlled border after all this. So we asked Hani, the guy from the Liaison Office, who works alongside Julio, you realize, if we should do that. And he said no, that Kerem Shalom is not set up on the Palestinian side to receive people, just goods. So which is it? Why can't these people get their stories straight?

One of the things this whole experience teaches us is that NO ONE KNOWS how any of this is supposed to work. And if we cannot figure it out, with all our connections, the Palestinians, who are so used to the rules of occupation changing on a daily basis, certainly cannot and will not feel that there is any point in even trying.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Saga From Gaza - 1


Patrick and I arrived in Cairo last night and left early this morning for the Rafah crossing into Gaza. We didn't leave as early as we had planned, because of a comedy of errors involving hosts who could not be woken up even with vigorous shaking and shouting, drivers with non-working cars, and the ubiquitous fighting/scamming of taxi drivers.

I had decided I would cover my head for the border, and maybe the whole time I'm in Gaza if it seems like people prefer it. The Palestinian friend who was planning to meet us at the border asked me to, because she's afraid of our being kidnapped. My friend Nagwan, whom I stayed with in Cairo, tied my scarf for me, and she used to wear hijab, so I looked much more like all the other women with covered heads than if I had done it myself. At the many checkpoints we passed en route to Rafah, the driver would say, "They're Americans," and the soldiers would be very confused about why my head was covered.

We finally hit the border at about 2:00 p.m. and initially everyone assumed we were Palestinians. People were motioning to us to go one way, but I saw a sign that said, "Exit Tax," and thought maybe we were supposed to stop and pay the tax there, because that's how it works at the Jordanian border, and if you don't have the stamp that says you paid the tax, you have to go back and wait again. So we were standing and looking around, and a guard came up to us and took our passports. He asked Patrick where we were from, and Pat said in Arabic that we were Americans, and the guard said, "Well, does she have a hawiyya?" referring to the Palestinian ID card. He didn't even seem to believe it when Pat said no.

The Egyptian security guards, whose armbands said "Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities," looked at a list and said we were not on it, which we already knew from our friend Laila, who has been pressuring the Palestinian Border Ministry to get our applications approved. So they told us we couldn't go through, and seemed ready to hustle us back to Arish, the nearby resort town.

We persisted and insisted and ended up getting to sit in the little security office and call everyone involved to find out what the story was. Later it occurred to us that if we had not stopped, we might have been able to walk right by and maybe at the next point, they would assume we were on the list. Hard to know.

We talked to Ashraf Dahlan, the person responsible for processing applications by foreigners to cross through Rafah. He is rumored to be the nephew of Mohammed Dahlan, who is one of the most powerful people in the Palestinian Authority. Someone told me they've never seen an office as big as Ashraf's in Gaza. Ashraf told Pat that the papers had been sent to the Europeans, who he says have the ultimate authority to decide whether to let us in or not.

In case you aren't familiar with the arrangement, this border crossing was opened because James Wolfensohn, formerly head of the IMF/World Bank and now U.S. special envoy to IsraPal, visited Gaza about two months after the much hyped disengagement, and noticed that it was a prison, with no one allowed in or out. So Condoleeza Rice flew out and by all accounts pretty much forced Ariel Sharon, the Prince of Peace, who still had brain waves at that time, to agree to a border between Rafah in Palestinian Gaza and Rafah in Egypt which would be controlled by the Palestinian Authority with oversight by the European Union and the Egyptians, while the Israelis get to sit in a room nearby and watch people go through on video cameras. The border opened on Thanksgiving weekend, to intensive filming, and viewing audiences around the world got to watch Palestinian border police stamp the passports of smiling Palestinians who rushed through and hugged their Egyptian family members and bought cigarettes. But that's only how it works - when it does, because it's been abruptly closed a number of times since then, leaving people stuck on the other side from where they lived, not knowing when (or if) they would get to go home - for Palestinians.

For foreigners, it's much more murky. One friend was told twice by representatives of the PLO that foreigners cannot under any circumstances use the crossing. I called the PLO mission in Washington and was told absolutely, no problem, you can go, you don't need a permit, it will all be taken care of at the border. Fortunately, Pat didn't believe that and asked around. He learned that the official process is that you submit your application to the PA, who sends it to the Liaison Office, which is composed of Palestinians, Europeans and Israelis. From there, it gets pretty shady indeed. No one exactly knows who makes the final decision, and on what grounds. Some people say it's the Europeans, some say it's the Palestinians; Palestinians, not surprisingly, say it's the Israelis, though it's definitely not supposed to be. Pat said that when Ashraf said it was out of his hands, he said, "Not it's up to the Is--the Europeans." Various people claim to know people who have gotten in. One of them reported that his friend said it was "easy," which I'm pretty sure means she did not have to go through this baroque process that we are in. Before the elections, a number of foreigner journalists were turned away. During the elections, supposedly everyone got in, which is what I thought would happen and that was the impetus for planning this trip now, but then people started getting kidnapped and many people who were in the know told me not to go, except that then just before the election, it calmed down and it would have been fine to go then and we would have gotten in, and since the elections, the kidnappings have started up again and people have also, and probably unrelatedly, been denied entry again. Pat was told by one of the myriad people he has spoken to about this in the last week that fewer than 5% of those who applied to go have been denied.

So back to our story, we called an EU guy from the Liaison Office, who Pat had talked to before we came. He was the one who had told him that the decision was made case by case, and around the elections, everyone was getting in. He said he would check on what was happening with our applications and Pat should call him back in a few minutes. Pat finally reached him about an hour later, and he said the papers had never been delivered to the Liaison Office. Pat called Ashraf back and told him that, and Ashraf said, "There's some problem with the coordination between the Europeans and the Israelis, and I'll have to check on it."

We also called a Palestinian friend who works for the PA and is pretty well connected, and he had someone in Gaza call Ashraf to encourage him to do what he can to help us, because we're in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

Julio also told Pat that he didn't think we would qualify to get in because our invitation is from PARC, a Palestinian NGO, and the current regulations say that you need to be from an "accredited international NGO."

I started to get really incensed. Why should it be so difficult to go to this one tiny place? Why are they limiting entry so carefully. Remember, it's not even the Israelis. The Israelis have not even had the chance to say they don't want us, individually, to go to Gaza. This is the international community's hard-won agreement because disengagement is supposed to mean some form of freedom for Palestinians, and look. They cannnot even have visitors. They can only have "aid workers." We have invitations from at least ten Palestinians, come whenever you want, happy to see you, "from Rafah with love" said one email I got from a woman I have never met. Why isn't that good enough? Why is friendship not a good enough reason to visit someone?

The people in Gaza are still in prison. They might get passes to go and come, though they still cannot go the the West Bank, which is part of their own supposed country, without going through Jordan. While we sat there, I watched people streaming in and out, laden with luggage and packages, and I am sure for them, it is a lot better to go through a border controlled by Palestinian police than to have Israeli soldiers asking invasive questions at gunpoint. But even in most prisons, you can have the visitors you want - Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails often can't, and the prisoners indefintely held by our government at Guantanamo cannot, but in most prisons in most countries, if you want someone to visit you, you put them on your list and eventually they can come. The Palestinians do not even get that.

We returned to Arish; one of the Egyptian border guards took care of getting us a taxi (like there weren't a hundred sitting there) to take us to a hotel he recommends (from which presumably he is getting a little kickback), where for not too much more money than we were hoping to pay we got a pleasant room right on the sea. We walked on the beach for a long time, looking at Rafah, just out of reach, and talking about how nuts it is that this quiet resort town, which presumably in the summer is teeming with Egyptian vacationers and the occasional tourist, sits thirty kilometers from Rafah Camp, which much be one of the most traumatized places on earth

It emphasizes for us the artificial nature of the "conflict." There is nothing about the landscape or the culture that creates danger for the people. Once the people of Palestinian Rafah and the people of Egyptian Rafah, which lies just beyond Arish, were one community. And it is clear it was a beautiful and blessed community. And then the colonizers came and stuck a border in the middle, and then a fence, and then a wall, and then some gun towers, and now they are the tortured pawns in an international game of mine's bigger than yours.

All over the world this scenario is replicated. Alta California and Baja California - the family members on one side of the fence belonging to the richest country on earth, those on the other part of the "Third World." My family members on the Canadian side of the border having good universal health care, while my friends at home are suffering from late-diagnosed cancers. It's just that this situation is so recent, and the distances are so small, it puts the whole insanity in perspective.

To be continued ...

Monday, January 30, 2006

No Such Thing as Too Much Democracy

I keep thinking that I’m through writing about the Palestinian elections, about which I really don’t know much, it’s not like I’m there, I just read a lot about it and have talked to a few friends. I think I would like to go on to other things, like Ten Against Torture’s inaugural public action, a street theater at Saturday night’s appearance by Hillary Clinton at a Bar Association fundraiser. To dramatize the ongoing torture and unlawful detention of thousands of people in Iraq and Cuba and Afghanistan, which the esteemed senator-would-be-president has not taken any action to stop, we had two prisoners, one in a full black shroud and one in an orange jumpsuit, blindfolded and chained, and two soldiers with cardboard rifles. We got quite a bit of press attention, a fair amount of which ended up being for naught because some members of Code Pink infiltrated the event (go girls) and got arrested, so of course they got on the news, but we were on one television station and quoted in an AP story: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/n/a/2006/01/28/state/n152537S60.DTL

Or, I could share with you the exciting new “scent study” by the Monell Senses Center, the latest in the biodeterminists Stupid Science series. This one spent a lot of money trying to prove that sexual orientation determines whose body odor you like. If we understand it correctly, it actually proved that no one likes body odor much, and I for one am really glad that the Canadian and Swedish governments gave money to support such a worthy effort, instead of wasting it on AIDS prevention or breast cancer. (If you actually want to read more about the study, you can do it at http://www.lagai.org; the new issue of UltraViolet is just up, hot off the press.)

The problem is that I can’t get away from the elections now. I guess you should not complain when the thing you’ve been trying to get everyone to focus on for five years is finally on the front pages every day for a week. But then it elicits such bizarre comments that I just have to respond.

Today’s New York Times reports, “Hamas's victory has set off a debate whether the [Bush] administration was so wedded to its belief in democracy that it could not see the dangers of holding elections in regions where Islamist groups were strong and democratic institutions weak.” Seriously. So does the administration think that they should have forbidden the Palestinians from having elections? And do they think the Palestinian Authority would have listened to them if they had? Do they honestly believe that the Palestinians held elections to make us happy? If they do, I have news for them.

All my friends who are now where I wish I were, in Palestine, say that no one has talked about anything but the elections for weeks. Which is really interesting and I think more than anything attests to the appeal of “Change and Reform” – both the party (that’s the banner under which Hamas candidates ran) and the ideals. Because a little more than a year ago, when they were preparing for the first local elections, particularly men were not at all interested. “Elections can do nothing,” they would say, meaning, as long as we are under occupation, elections are meaningless. Women were more enthusiastic, attending workshops, running for office, and it seemed to me that they had decided –collectively but informally – that since the men were not so interested, this was a form of participation they could take hold of and make theirs. And they did. Women became vice mayors and mayors in villages that had never had a woman on the council before. And they found that it was interesting, and that they were good at it, and that it didn’t undermine the fabric of a traditional Arab-Islamic society.

And possibly, although I have absolutely NOOO empirical evidence for this, that’s one reason that men decided they’d better step up and make sure things didn’t get out of hand.

But more, people in general found that the elections were a way they could have a voice. It might be a voice that no one listened to very much, but it was a way to make a statement. A statement about how fed up and dissatisfied they are, and about how they want things to be. And so with each subsequent election, the use of votes to voice a loud protest got stronger, and unfortunately from my perspective, Hamas was the group that was mobilized to get the protest vote. In the first local elections, most of the candidates were independents. By the third, Hamas was sweeping towns that had traditionally been Communist or Fatah (mainstream nationalist). Not, according to people I know and trust, many of whom voted for Hamas candidates, because they themselves are supporters of Hamas, but because Hamas chose candidates who were “good, honest, independent people.”

My friend Hannah has been going around talking to people about who they voted for, or at least she has been going around, and people are talking very openly about who they voted for, and who their friends voted for. She says many people said they voted for Hamas because of the polling data, that showed Fatah taking a safe plurality, and they felt they wanted to equalize power. So they thought they would send Fatah a message.

She also explained something that I had seen references to, without understanding what it meant: that Fatah did not unify its slates. For those who don’t know, there were two parallel elections: national and district. People voted for candidates from a national list, and then they voted for a candidate from their district, and placed them in two separate ballot boxes. 66 representatives were elected from each list, for a total of 132. In the national election, Fatah and Hamas (Change and Reform) came out almost equal 28 to 29. But in the districts, Change and Reform took 45 and Fatah 17. The main reason for this, Hannah explained, was that in most districts Fatah had many candidates, and Change and Reform only one. So none of the Fatah candidates won. While I didn’t realize that, Fatah’s leadership certainly did, so the fact that they refused to unify certainly means they deserved to lose.

I personally expect, and I don’t say this with any glee at all, Hamas to crash and burn, because, among other things, they are inheriting a government that has already been bankrupted, thanks to Israeli siege, foreign debt, abandonment by its ostensible allies, and a measure of bureaucratic corruption (see my previous blogs on the PA’s financial crisis). So their ability to meet the needs people elected them meet is going to be pretty much curtailed, unless Iran steps in to shore them up, which could do them more harm than good politically. The cynical side of me (some of you might ask, is there another side?) believes that the U.S. and Israeli governments planned this out, to cut Hamas’s knees out from under them before the final carve-out of the pseudo-state is completed. (Israel would be a much better candidate for that planning than the current U.S. government, I have to say.)

But whether they did or didn’t, and whether my predictions are right or wrong, the Palestinian people should be proud of the fact that their clarion call of protest has been heard, loud and clear. If they had done what was expected, and voted for Fatah, the news would have been barely a blip on our internet news services. The US and Israel would have hailed them as marching toward democracy, the US would have taken credit for forcing them into it, and then they would have proceeded to try to muscle them into and through another round of “peace talks” aimed at cementing (literally) the borders that Israel has been busy unilaterally carving out with its bulldozers. Instead, the US regime has had to admit that it does not really believe in democracy, and that is something we have been trying to make them do for years. So for that if nothing else, we must be grateful to the Palestinian people.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bankrupting Palestine

January 19, 2006

So “Paradise Now” won the Golden Globe for best foreign film, which is pretty amazing. Also amazing was the Associated Press article, which identified the filmmaker as “Hany Abu-Assad, an Arab born in Israel — currently living in Holland — who considers himself Palestinian.” Did you ever hear anyone describe Louis Malle as “a white man born in France, currently living in the United States, who considers himself French”?

I don’t believe the writer or his editors intended to be offensive, but the statement illustrates the struggle that Palestinians have to wage every day, to be accepted and understood as a nation. And on that note, we return to the question of U.S. aid to the Palestinian authority.

Let's start with an article I saw in the New York Times in July, entitled, "Palestinian Security Forces Are Found Unfit." It reported the results of a study financed by the Dutch and Canadian governments, but conducted by a Washington-based group called Strategic Assessments Initiative, in close consultation with a U.S.-appointed security coordinator, Lt. Gen. William Ward. So this report, which was apparently intended in part to "guide foreign donors," concluded that "The security forces of the Palestinian Authority are divided, weak, overstaffed, badly motivated and underarmed." It blamed a lot of it on the legacy of Arafat, who on his death became everyone's favorite whipping boy (even more so than when he was alive), citing his "policy of duplication and promoting rivalry within his organization."

There is plenty of truth to claims of corruption in the PA, under Arafat and since. No one has been more relentless in pointing that out than Palestinian activists from all political factions. "Over six years ago [that is, 1988], a Palestinian parliamentary panel conducted an investigation of the PA corruption. The nine-member panel of the Palestinian Legislative Council had, at the time, acted upon the Palestinian State Controller's report that found that nearly half of the authority's $326 million 1997 budget had been lost through corruption or financial mismanagement," wrote Palestinian Jordanian Hasan Abu Nimah in 2004.

But there are a bunch ironies in the security report, which were of course not mentioned in any of the reportage about it. It pointed out that there were too many divided, "largely unintegrated forces like General Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Special Security, Special Forces and the Political Direction Department," something that I observed during my time there. I remember a time during my first three months in Salfit when a coworker and I tried to get a knowledgeable Palestinian friend to explain to us all the different Palestinian security forces and what they did. What the report doesn't mention is that since the Oslo period, the majority of U.S. aid to the PA has been for security, and a lot of those conflicting and competing security forces - twelve separate forces - were established with the aid and support of the U.S. government.

Second, I haven't seen the report itself, but the Times article didn't mention until two-thirds of the way down that Israel had gone "to war against the Palestinian security forces, ... destroying much of their infrastructure." They talk about "traditions of rivalry and personal command," clans, corruption, embezzlement as reasons why there are "few all-terrain vehicles, few radios and no coherent communications network other than the civilian mobile phone system," minimizing the role of the concerted onslaught by the fourth most powerful army in the world. They talk about lack of arms as if Israeli soldiers did not routinely burst into the homes of Palestinian policemen, demanding they produce weapons which they have long since gotten rid of for that very reason. During my time in the West Bank, a huge number of the arrests I documented were policemen of one kind or another.

One of the main reasons for the overstaffing of security forces is the lack of any other jobs. The stranglehold which Israeli closure has imposed on the Occupied Territories, and the failure of the international community to invest in the Palestinian economy, has resulted in a 75% unemployment rate among young men in Gaza, and an official rate of 20% in the West Bank, but in some cities and some seasons, it climbs to over 50%. In 1992, just before Oslo, there were 116,000 Palestinians working inside Israel; by 1996 that number had been reduced to 28,000. At that point, many Palestinians began working in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Since the Intifada began in 2000, that has become increasingly difficult, and permits to work inside Israel have dwindled to a trickle. And in order to work in any Israeli-controlled territory, or even to be allowed to travel between Palestinian areas, from one's village in Salfit to nearby Nablus, for instance, men have to get clearance from the Israeli secret police, and anyone who has been in prison will not get it. So for a large number of men, jobs with the PA are the only option.

Recently the World Bank, backed by the European Commission, withheld $60 million in promised “aid” (the “” are because all World Bank aid is really debt, which ends up enriching the rich countries and destroying the poor ones) – half the allocation for the year – because the PA failed to institute structural adjustment programs that would increase unemployment and poverty. Specifically, the West is upset that the PA is spending too much on salaries – “almost its entire yearly revenue of some $1 billion.” “They have to cut salaries or cut staff,” said Nigel Roberts, the World Bank honcho in the OPT, in a January 8, 2006 interview with the New York Times. (http://www.jfjfp.org/123nyt.htm)

Yet Roberts admits that the fiscal crisis is not of the Palestinians’ making. “The checkpoints and the barrier cost the Palestinian economy about 5 percent real growth every year, Mr. Roberts said. That is a major toll, given that 10 percent real growth would be needed to solve the unemployment problem. In 1999, before this intifada and the Israeli response, the Palestinian Authority had a balanced budget and needed no outside support. Now, even though revenues have recovered to where they were in 1999, the deficit has ballooned.” The article cites a further Catch-22: The severe unemployment among youth, especially in Gaza, is causing more of them to be recruited into the militant groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but the strength of the militant groups is deterring the foreign investment which is cited as the only thing “that can offer enough jobs for the growing population of young men.”

Meanwhile, in another shocking development, in August a Rhode Island judge ordered all the PA’s “U.S.-based assets” frozen because of its failure to pay a $116 million judgment won by the family of Yaron and Efrat Ungar in a lawsuit against the PA and PLO. The Ungars, dual US-Israeli citizens, were killed in a Hamas bombing in 1996. Originally there was a $116 million judgment issued against Hamas (good luck collecting that one), but then the Ungar heirs sued the PLO and PA, arguing that they “provided a safe haven” for the bombers, and won. (In another twist of weirdness, the Ungar case is one of the precedents which is being used by Palestinian survivors of Israeli terror attacks to sue two former heads of Israeli military intelligence, Avi Dichter and Moshe Yaalon. (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3185131,00.html))

But back to the frozen assets, once again, I wondered how many US-based assets the PA/PLO have. Quite a lot, it turns out. According to the Boston Globe, “The frozen assets include US holdings in a $1.3 billion Palestinian investment fund meant to finance economic development as well as bank accounts used to pay Palestinian representatives in Washington, according to lawyers and court documents filed in Rhode Island, Washington, D.C., and New York. Also frozen are about $30 million in assets from the Palestinian Monetary Authority, the Palestinian equivalent of the US Federal Reserve.” http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2005/08/30/palestinian_authoritys_us_assets_are_frozen/

And now, finally, the bush regime has threatened that “aid to the Palestinian Authority would be reviewed and possibly reduced if it gave Hamas a role in government after this month’s Palestinian election, U.S. diplomatic sources said on Friday.” (http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060113/wl_nm/mideast_hamas_dc) Okay, wait a minute. Who’s talking about “giving” them a role in government? Actually, as far as I can tell, Abu Mazen and the P.A. are doing everything in their power to prevent Hamas from gaining power. Some friends who are there have relayed the speculation that the Authority is behind the rash of kidnapping internationals and other attacks in Gaza, hoping it will reach a point that would give them an excuse to cancel the elections. Remember elections? Those things where the people get to decide who they want in power? The measure of democracy, that we’re so proud of engineering in Iraq and Afghanistan?

“The United States wants the January 25 parliamentary election to take place as scheduled to strengthen Palestinian democracy and has reluctantly accepted Hamas's participation in the poll,” the nearly incomprehensible article goes on. “But Washington is wary that Hamas, making its first bid for parliamentary seats, could make a strong enough showing against Abbas's dominant Fatah movement to win cabinet seats. U.S. diplomatic sources warned that such an outcome would prompt a review of U.S. financial aid to the Palestinians because of existing U.S. prohibitions on providing any "material support" to groups on Washington's terrorism list.”

What exactly is the bush administration suggesting that Abu Mazen do? Prevent people from voting if they’re likely to vote for Hamas, as they did in Egypt? (No, that’s right, it wasn’t Hamas, it was the Muslim Brotherhood.) Not count the votes of people who vote for Hamas, like they did in Ohio? (No, it wasn’t Hamas, it was the Democrats – almost the same thing.)

So if I understand the situation correctly, the PA is supposed to dismantle the militant groups, but it can’t pay any of its security people, and it can’t pay security people because it can’t attract foreign investment, and it can’t get foreign investors because people are voting for Hamas, and people are voting for Hamas because the PA can’t do anything, especially about unemployment and the lack of services, and the PA can’t do anything because all its assets are frozen.

All of this underlines the impossible situation the PA is in, that it is expected to function as a government, without any self-determination. Pardon the analogy, but it is as if the Judenrat (the Jewish Councils installed by the Nazis to run the ghettos) were being told by the world to figure out how to feed all the Jews in Europe on a balanced budget, while their property was confiscated and they were forbidden to go outside the ghetto.

Shortly before I left Palestine for the last time, my teammates and I had lunch with a guy who had lived in the States for a long time, who said that Arafat (who was still alive) and the entire P.A. should resign and force the Israelis to fulfill their responsibility as an occupying power. Basically, he argued, the P.A. is facilitating the occupation.

The illusive question of just what "Palestine" is rears its head even among the gliterati. The announcement of “Paradise Now”’s triumph at the Golden Globes “ruffled some feathers in Israel and elsewhere since Palestinians do not yet have a state. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that it was incorrect to refer to a Palestine before a Palestinian state has been established.” Three years ago, the Motion Picture Academy refused to consider Elia Suleiman’s “Divine Intervention” for an Oscar, on the grounds that Palestine was “not a country recognized by the United Nations,” but apparently that position has softened in the last few years. "There are other areas as well that are recognized for Foreign Language Awards purposes that are not countries — Hong Kong, Taiwan, Puerto Rico. The (Academy's Foreign Language) committee wishes to be as inclusive as possible,” the AP quoted an Academy spokesman. (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2006/01/18/entertainment/e125227S45.DTL&hw=paradise+now&sn=001&sc=1000 )

Well I say, if you're a state enough to be expected to pay your debts and feed your people while some other country is stealing all your resources, you're a state enough to have your movies win foreign prizes. And maybe all the money "Paradise Now" will make at the box office can pay off that $116 million judgment to the Ungars.