A few thoughts on the flotilla.

Note: I’ve made two small updates below to reflect new or clarified information that I’ve gotten since writing this. As quite a few people are still coming to this post, I want it to reflect the latest information (6/1/10).

As you likely know: A flotilla of activists was on its way yesterday to try to break Israel’s Gaza blockade when it was met in international waters by Israeli commandos, who boarded the boats, killed at least 10 activists, and injured more than 50. In the course of the operation, several Israeli soldiers were also wounded, two seriously.

Currently, there’s a lot of talk on Israeli radio, and on the blogs, and in the mainstream media, and on my Twitter feed about whether or not the activists were paragons of nonviolence, whether or not they were armed, whether or not is was their intention to provoke a violent confrontation, whether or not the Israeli soldiers were (as Prime Minister Netanyahu put it) under attack and acting in self-defense when they dropped out of helicopters fully armed in the dark of night onto the decks of boats that were in international waters.

But here’s the truth: IT DOESN’T MATTER.

It doesn’t matter if the activists were armed — I’m pretty sure they were, to some degree. It doesn’t matter if they were entirely pacifist in their behavior — I’m pretty sure they weren’t. It doesn’t matter if they were planning for an armed confrontation, or merely fairly certain it might happen, or even if they were naive enough to think that when Israel turned them away (I’m pretty sure they knew they wouldn’t get to their destination) that it wouldn’t involve violence.

What matters is the blockade they were symbolically trying to break.

What matters is the roughly 300,000 refugees in Gaza who live in abject poverty — a 200% increase since early 2007, according to UNRWA — because of Israeli policy. What matters is the fact that many of the 1.4 million people living in Gaza must make do with 8-12 hours a day without electricity — up from 6-8 hours before the start of the year — because of Israeli policy. What matters is the “ongoing deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health” that the World Health Organization wrote about in January (back when people were still only dealing with 6-8 hours of daily power outages) — including 27 people who died while waiting for in 2009 alone, awaiting permission to leave Gaza to receive treatment — because of Israeli policy.

What matters is the blockade — what matters is the occupation.

As long as Israel controls the borders, airspace, and shore of Gaza — it is the occupying power. As long as Israel decides what and who can and cannot go in or out of the Strip (down to and including, apparently, coriander) — it is responsible for the suffering its policies causes. The ongoing conflict, the failure of Israel to engage responsibly and reasonably in a genuine negotiation process, THE FACT OF THE OCCUPATION is what matters. Not just of Gaza, but given the rank human suffering in Gaza right now, Gaza matters the most.

Any conversation about who was armed, who attacked whom, and whether or not Israel has a right to board ships which are in violation of its security demands (though, in international waters, that last one is kind of shaky) is nothing but a distraction from what matters, and that is the occupation.

The occupation — and the ten or more people nine who were killed trying to protest it.

As Tel Aviv City Council member Tamar Zandberg tweeted on her way to a protest in Tel Aviv about an hour ago: “You don’t build democracy on the bodies of protesters. It’s very simple.”

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Earlier:

Israel/Palestine: the basics.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start.

Israel/Palestine – a reading list.

The hugeness of a little boy.

It’s another field trip! This time not to the fun and lovely Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen, but rather to the no-doubt noisy and crowded bowling alley/mini-golf joint — a treat for the boy’s class of out-going fifth graders.

Out-going fifth graders!

Next week is the last week of elementary school for the boy, now ten and 1/2 years old, and I am tearing up typing it — so I thought this would be a good day to post something I wrote when he was 6 1/2 and I realized that he was chronologically as close to being born as he was to becoming Bar Mitzvah. I cannot fathom just how quickly the years have zoomed by. The child used to sleep on mah belleh, his wee arms draped on either side of me as if in a hug — and now when we hug, I can rest my chin on his head.

So, without further ado (and to get out the door to said field trip), I give you: Almost Thirteen. I ran a slightly altered version of it in DallasChild a couple of years later, but this was the one I really loved, because I wrote it right when he was at that tipping point.

Almost 13

Following are my son’s goals for the next year, as recorded in his first grade class:

  1. get Star Wars movies
  2. see Germany
  3. make a portal to the Pokemon world

How does one argue with such a list? One’s aspirations should always range from the effortless to the ambitious – and frankly, who wouldn’t want to visit both Europe (where his beloved ex-babysitter currently lives) and the world of Japanese anime? I have less than no understanding of the whole Pokemon thing, but, hey, I’d be on the first flight out. I’d say it’s a very sensible list, in that light.

My son currently stands at the exact half-way mark between birth and adolescence. Six and a half years have passed since he emerged from my body; in another six and a half,  he’ll stand before our synagogue and be declared a man. This rather commonplace fact burst into my consciousness the other day, and I all but broke down.

I was, in a word, stunned. Stopped in my tracks. Gobsmacked.

I’ve been sort of coasting along, assuming I have, if not all the time in the world, then a fairly big chunk of it, before he – of biological necessity – snaps the umbilical cord irrevocably. Or, put another way: Stops talking to me. Because of course, that is my fear.

Seen from this end, the beginning of his life has passed by with unseemly speed. I can remember many wonderful things he said and did, but I can’t remember the weight of his newborn body in my arms. I can still see the baby when he’s asleep, but the word-stumbling toddler is gone for good. In some pictures, he looks like he’s going to college tomorrow.

To realize, then, that 13 is likely to arrive at the same breakneck pace as first grade is more than a little appalling. Sure, there are days that are hours too long, but mostly, they’re far, far too short. He is so funny, so smart, so sweet, and my arms want so much to always be around him. There really is never enough time. My unspoken goal – to keep him small just a little bit longer – is more unlikely than anything on his list.

How did I come to be coasting? How did I come to take my little boy – or, rather, his very littleness – for granted? It’s true that six year olds have never really interested me. As a veteran of many years of babysitting and nannying, I’ve always said (hopefully not in my son’s presence) that the best age is two through five. “After that,” I’ve been wont to say, “boarding school! Until they’re teenagers and can hold a decent conversation!”

Now I know that’s idiotic. Some of my most valuable chatting is done with my son, a person so new that he still shares very little of my cultural context, and often sees things in a light I would never consider. True, sometimes his perspective flies in the face of the laws of physics, but that doesn’t make it boring!

But I think the idea that there is this vast stretch of unremarkable time that comes over children once they’re out of kindergarten struck roots. That, somehow, six year olds and ten year olds are really, by and large, the same. Whatever I miss today, I’ll get next year.

Oh my. Counting the ways in which that’s just wrong makes me dizzy. I can barely keep track of the changes from week to week. Year to year? There’s no tracking it, is there.

I’m sorry to say that this breaks my heart. Of course I want him to grow and be strong and come into his own; I am, in a very real way, looking forward to meeting the 13 year old – and the 17 year old, the 22 year old. He’s going to be fantastic. And I don’t honestly think he’s going to cut me off entirely. At least not for long.

But I so love this little boy who is here now, as I so loved the myriad little boys nestled inside him, like Russian dolls. I want them all, always.

There is nothing, though, nothing I can say or do about it. There is no deeper meaning, no way to make it less bittersweet. It’s just life.

All I can do is make those clichéd promises that we make to ourselves – to try to be more here, now. To try to focus more on what matters, and less on the fact that he sucks his shirt sleeves (…). To enjoy, en-joy, as much of our life together as I can. He deserves to know how much joy he gives me – and I need to try to return it, every day. Even those days when I’ve sent him to his room, because he really, but really deserved it.

And don’t even get me started on his two and a half year old sister.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living outside of Chicago.

Calling all US Senators: Please support Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Dianne Feinstein is circulating a pretty strongly worded letter in support of President Obama’s efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — or, from my reading of it, a pretty strongly worded letter urging the President to push “proximity talks” forward into something more substantive.

There is no doubt the road to a peace agreement will be challenging.  The obstacles are many… [but] we have no choice but to press ahead.

While we support the start of proximity talks as way to get negotiations moving again, we believe that, ultimately, direct negotiations are the only way to achieve a two-state solution.  We urge all sides to transition to direct talks as soon as possible.  Delays could embolden the enemies of peace and put an agreement out of reach.  We applaud Prime Minister Netanyahu for committing to direct talks and we urge you to press President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to reciprocate.

In his statement following his appointment as Special Envoy, Senator Mitchell said: “Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings; they can be ended by human beings.”  We could not agree more.  American leadership, determination, and hard work are needed to bring these two peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – together to find a lasting peace.

It’s easy to forget that, not long ago, it would have been unthinkable for a powerful US Senator (and a Jewish one at that) to make a blunt statement about the need to establish an independent Palestine alongside the Jewish State.

But now it’s not only thinkable, it’s a fairly regular occurrence — and not just because many lawmakers have realized that Israelis and Palestinians need a two-state compromise, and not just because they’ve understood that American security interests demand such a compromise, but because they’re discovered that such a two-state solution has backing among their constituents. Which is to say: Democracy at work has created this change, this desperately, urgently needed change.

And how does democracy work? When we tell our elected officials what we want!

If you want to urge your own senators to sign Feinstein’s letter, you have a variety of options:

  1. Use this form, on the Americans for Peace Now legislative action page
  2. Write an email to your senators (sample below)
  3. Call your Senators directly or via the Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121 (you can use the sample email as a sample phone script as well)

My experience and that of others suggests that the most effective way to make sure your voice is heard is to call your senators, but that does not mean that the other ways are ineffectual. The one sure way to be ineffectual, of course, is to do nothing.

And so: If you believe that a two-state solution is best possible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — even though it’s a flawed notion, even if you have fears, even if you wonder if it’s even possible (here’s why I think it’s still our best bet) — please ask your senators to sign on to Feinstein’s letter, even if you know they’ll say no. It’s almost as important to let the naysayers know that the tide is turning, as it is to continue to push the tide along. (And if you’re Jewish, make sure you mention it!)

And please send this post, or the information in it, to any and all who might likewise take action!

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SAMPLE EMAIL

Dear Sen. XXXX,

I recently learned that Sen. Feinstein of California is circulating a letter encouraging President Obama to do all that he can to return Israel and the Palestinians to direct negotiations aimed at achieving a two-state solution to their conflict. I’m an American Jew, and I’m convinced that a two-state peace is the best answer for Israelis, Palestinians, and American security interests, but I’m worried that we’re running out of time to make it work. I hope that you’ll sign on to Sen. Feinstein’s letter, and help the Obama Administration achieve its stated goal of a peace treaty in the Middle East.

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Earlier:

Israel/Palestine: the basics.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start.

Israel/Palestine – a reading list.

The limits of awkward conversation (or: Bono, Obama, and me).

At some point in the past decade, I realized that, contrary to what I think is expected of the average American, I’m not actually all that interested in meeting people I admire from a distance.

What would I say to Rachel Maddow, or Carl Kasell, or Eric Clapton? I’m fairly certain I would do nothing but giggle if I ever met Jake Gyllenhaal, and Jon Stewart? Well, I might have to run and hide.

I did meet B. B. King once, when I worked for an Israeli record company, and he was so gracious that it was really a very lovely hour in my life. And I suppose that every Israeli musician and actor I ever interviewed for the Jerusalem Post was famous in that wee little pond, and I kind of loved talking with them about what they did.

But that was all in the context of work. All parties were obligated to be in the same room, and we actually had something to talk about. Similarly, when one happens, through life’s twists and turns, to get to know someone famous — that’s organic and, very quickly, becomes two people who happen to know each other.

But meet someone just to meet them? Whatever for? I’ve already established that not coming off as stupid ranks pretty high on my list of priorities, and if I were to be taken backstage at MSNBC or Comedy Central to shake hands with my media crushes, I’m pretty certain I would come off as a chatty imbecile.

No, strike that. I would actually be a chatty imbecile.

And honestly, who wants Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart to think they’re a chatty imbecile? Not I.

All of this, sad to say, by way of introduction to the fact there are two exceptions to my “no thanks, I’d rather not” rule, and they are:

  1. Barack Obama
  2. Bono

Not Michelle Obama (who I also admire) and not The Edge, Adam, or Larry (ditto) — just Barack and Bono. I flatter myself that what charm I have would survive the first few minutes of painful awkwardness, and I am moderately confident that I would, in fact, find something to talk about with both men. Or, at least, I’d be willing to take the risk.

So when I saw the picture below, I felt the oddest kind of jealousy: “Look! POTUS is hanging with Bono – again! Not fair! And look! Bono is hanging with POTUS – again! Dude!” As if the fact that I want to know these men means that I actually do know them, and have a claim on their time and who they spend it with.

Isn’t this the way a stalker’s mind works?

Paul David "Bono" Hewson, lead singer of U2 and anti-poverty activist, animatedly tells a story to President Barack Obama during a meeting on development policy in the Oval Office, April 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

(Honestly, my first thought when I saw this picture was: “Wow. And I’ll never get to meet either of them.”)

Well, in the meantime, since the day that Bono (I’m sorry: Paul David “Bono” Hewson) and the President of the United States of America had a party and didn’t invite me – Bono has done something awful to his back, which led to emergency surgery, which has subsequently led to the cancellation of the North American leg of U2′s upcoming tour (to which I of course have tickets. My personal austerity program was never meant to cut into essentials).

I’ve written here and elsewhere about my genuine concerns for the safety of President Obama, and while I do think that I occasionally go just slightly off the deep-end on that front, it actually makes a kind of sense for an American to be worried that someone may someday try to kill this country’s first African-American President. This is not just because I imagine us as pals — this is because he’s the motherfucking President, and dude, people are nuts.

But the truth is, I’m also genuinely concerned for Bono’s well-being. I genuinely wish that I could be there to – what? I don’t know. How does one help a fabulously wealthy and well-loved rock star recover from (no doubt excruciating) injury? Tell jokes?

So. All of this to say:

Dear Bono,

I hope you feel better soon. You and your little four-piece mean more to me than I can fully understand, and in the course of loving your music, I have come to love you (and The Edge, and Adam, and Larry) a little bit, too. Thank you for all that you’ve given me and so many other people, through your music and your advocacy, over the years, and please heal well.

If you need me, I have a few jokes up my sleeve.

Love (and not at all in a stalker-ish way),

Emily

Today/this week.

So… today, I gave presentations about the holiday of Shavuot (complete with cheesecake!) in each of my kids’ classrooms, in between also attending their talent shows.

This after staying up until 1:15 finishing a work project, planning my presentations, and making the cheesecakes.

This after spending the day working my butt off in the morning, spending way too much time in bad, construction-plagued traffic off and on all afternoon, having an hour-long appointment with my naturopath/acupuncturist turn into a two-and-a-half hour-long experience which has subsequently served as an example of how sometimes healing (in this case, of the plantar fasciitis in my left foot) begins with pain, and then going to the boy’s year-end orchestra concert (all before then staying up until 1:15, etc, etc).

Yesterday came after a holiday, so that was nice, but the day before the holiday? Tuesday? I had a tooth pulled because it had started to hurt so much that I called the dentist and said “you know that tooth? I think we’re done trying to save it,” and he gave me an oral surgeon’s number, who said they could actually take me in two hours, so I went, and then the bleeding wouldn’t stop so I went back and that’s how my holiday started: With a mouth full of gauze, the bleeding finally slowed by stitches and silicone, and me unable even to make the blessings with my family (not to mention eat with them) because I wasn’t allowed to talk for most of the evening.

Monday? I can’t remember Monday at this point, but it probably kind of sucked, too.

All of this to say: I’ve been trying all day (between presentations and talent show performances, of course) to either do work for which I am contracted and will be paid, OR to write a blog post, and I have not been able to manage either. My tank appears to be on empty. My mind certainly is.

So. We’re going to call this a post! But in order to sweeten the deal a bit, I’ll give you this, a rather different version of Beyonce’s execrable (IMO) song “All The Single Ladies”: All The Scholar Ladies. (And I’ll tell you what, I throw in my presentation to the kids about Shavuot after the jump, just in case you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, and you’re curious).

Shabbat shalom and a lovely weekend to all!

(more…)

Since You’ve/U Been Gone – Aretha vs. Kelly

A week or so ago, there I was driving along listening to Chicago’s own WXRT, when what should come across the airwaves but a helluva song that I’d never heard before, Aretha Franklin’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.”

Well now, like it or not, I am a member of the American Idol generation, and though I don’t watch the show, I do wind up knowing who the winners and losers are, and to my mind, one Miss Kelly Clarkson has got to be one of the best voices on the American pop scene today — and her “Since U Been Gone” is a very particular song, with a very particular vibe.

Thus, hearing Aretha just kill it on lyrics like “Baby baby, sweet baby/ I didn’t mean to run you away/ It was pride on my lips,/ But not in my heart/ To say the things that lead you to stray” — well it was just kind of odd! Because Kelly had rather a different take on her boy’s cheatin’ heart: “You had your chance you blew it/ Out of sight, out of mind/ Shut your mouth I just can’t take it/ Again and again and again and again.”

Compare n’ contrast – Aretha:

I’m praying
Take me back,
consider me please
If you walk in that door,
I can get up off my knees
I’ve just been so blue

Kelly:

Since U Been Gone
I can breathe for the first time
I’m so moving on
Yeah, yeah
Thanks to you
Now I get
What I want
Since U Been Gone

Now, far be it from me to suggest anything about Aretha Franklin or Kelly Clarkson as actual people. I have no idea if one is a shrinking violet or the other a riot grrl, and indeed, if you watch the clip below of “Since You’ve Been Gone,” I think you may agree with me that being “so blue” looks like a hip-shakin’, piano-poundin’ good time, frankly.

But wow. What a difference! I’m choosing to believe the starkly different sentiments are a sign of the changed times. After all, on the same album that “Since You’ve Been Gone” appeared, Aretha also put out a little ditty called “Respect.”

(And if you’re looking for a little more street cred for “Since U Been Gone” — would a Ted Leo acoustic version do the trick? Yeah. I kinda thought it might). (Oh and if you doubt me on Kelly Clarkson’s voice? Check this out).

Miss USA Rima Fakih? I turn to my library.

So a few days ago, Rima Fakih, an Arab-American from Dearborn, Michigan was crowned Miss USA.

She is, IMHO, quite lovely. And I am sort of predisposed to being all for anything that allows for greater integration of the Arab-American community into the broader American story. It’s time and past time, and well, hooray for Ms. Fakih, holder of a BA in economics and business management and an aspiring lawyer! I suppose.

It’s just that I have a very, very hard time being cool with beauty pageants. It’s the whole monetization-of-women’s-bodies-for-men’s-entertainment thingie, and the way that the objectification of the female form twists and screws and worms into the hearts and minds of women and girls, leaving us spending hours and days and years doubting our self-worth because we don’t look like… well, like Miss USA, actually.

Author Lesley Hazleton shares my ambivalence, but she makes an excellent point about it over at her place:

This is the way progress happens — in big steps and baby ones, ways we would choose and ways we would not.

And that’s just the truth — and there’s every reason to believe that the conversations sparked by this young woman’s year in the spotlight will, in fact, lead to greater understanding and integration of the Arab-American community. I would have rather that we had turned to Kathy Najimy (like Fakih, also of Lebanese descent!) to play that role, but if it’s to be Miss USA Rima Fakih? So be it.

So, rather than twist myself into Progressive knots over this one (yay for integration! boo for misogyny!), I’ll just do what I always do: Turn to my learnin’.

Here are two great books about the Arab-American community, about which very little has been written:

  1. Arab-Americans: A History – Gregory Orfalea. From my review: Arab-Americans “traces the century-long arc of Arab immigration, illuminating assimilation and ethnic politics with a loving yet candid eye as the narrative shifts between observations historical, personal and statistical. It comes as something of a surprise to learn, for instance, that only 23% of the community is Muslim. Beautifully written, the book is a much-needed entry in an all but empty field, and is blessedly free of both jargon and jingoism. By grounding the narrative with accounts of his own trips to Lebanon and Syria, Orfalea provides additional depth.”
  2. How Does it Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America – Moustafa Bayoumi. From my review: “In many ways, [Bayoumi’s] absorbing and affectionate book is a quintessentially American picture of 21st century citizens ‘absorbing and refracting all the ethnicities and histories surrounding [them].’ However, the testimonies from these young adults—summary seizures from their homes, harassment from strangers, being fired for having an Arab or Muslim name—have a weight and a sorrow that is ‘often invisible to the general public’.”

And for those who don’t know who Kathy Najimy is (Veronica’s Closet, Sister Act, Hocus Pocus, Wall-E, King of the Hill) a. I so wish that she would do stand-up again! And b. here’s a clip of her being interviewed by Chelsea Handler (I wanted to bring you a clip from The Kathy and Mo Show, but couldn’t find a really good one!).

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PS Tomorrow is yet another Jewish holiday, Shavuot, so I won’t be posting. Chag sameah, if you celebrate, and if you don’t, have a blintz anyway! It can’t hurt.

Good stuff: For the Mideast geeks. (Holla!)


Indeed.

Follow up: Betty White, SNL, etc.

I want to call attention to a comment that was made on my apres-Betty White on SNL post, by James Landrith, a Marine Corps veteran, civil liberties activist, blogger, and rape survivor:

Emily, thank you for speaking out on your blog and in the Star-Tribune. I am a male rape survivor and I don’t find rape jokes of any kind to be humourous. I find them demeaning, minimizing and childish.

You mentioned that you “shudder to think what goes through the hearts of male rape victims at such moments” in the commentary printed in the Star-Tribune. I can’t speak for all male rape survivors, but I can tell you what I feel at such times. I feel minimized, mocked, laughed at and generally devalued as a human being. I want to curl up in a ball and shut out the world for a while. It sickens me to my core.

So, thank you for speaking up and getting it right.

In the meantime, James has blogged about the topic (and my post) at his own place, as well.

Honorable people, honorable societies, do not make light of those who are powerless, or less powerful than we. This is why American society has begun to learn not to make racist jokes, not to make fat-kid jokes, not to make my-woman-is-a-bitch jokes (at least in polite society).

A rape victim, no matter when or where the crime occurs, is a person forced into the ultimate position of powerlessness — for that span of time, that human being is forcibly denied power over his or her very flesh and bones, in a manner fully intended to shame, humiliate, and belittle him or her. To beat the ever-living humanity out and down, so that the rapist may demonstrate his own power.

This is not the stuff of humor. This is the stuff of nightmares, and no one — no one — deserves it.

Good stuff: Alternative transportation.

As @Chicagoist tweeted earlier today (yes, I now get all my news of the world beyond the confines of my skull from Twitter. What’s your point?): You look like you could use a video of a dog riding a turtle.

(It’s actually a tortoise, but I’m not going to let that get between Chicagoist and me. And you shouldn’t either — Chicagoist is a pretty sweet little Chicago-centric blog. And fun tweets, too!)

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