Israel: Buffeted by fate? Or a character in its own play? (Re-up)

I’m pleased and proud to say that as of today, I’ll be posting regular book recommendations at Americans for Peace Now. I’ll be away from my desk for most of the day though (until just before Shabbat, and this blog and I don’t roll on Shabbos) and won’t have a chance to post anything particularly pertinent for any new readers. So I’ve decided to re-up something pertinent from a few months back. If you’re a new reader, please poke around the place! I don’t only write about Israel/Palestine, and I’m even funny on occasion. I swear!


There is something very curious to the right-wing Israeli/Israeli apologist insistence that, say, settlement building isn’t what will wreck the peace process — if the Palestinians walk away over settlement expansion, it’ll just be another example of (as the Foreign Ministry took it upon itself to tweet me the other day) the Palestinians “once again miss[ing] an historic opportunity for peace.”

Or: The fact that there is no peace today doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Israel ignored the peace offer made by all 22 members of the Arab League in 2002 (and repeated in 2006) — it’s that the Arab countries rejected the division of Palestine in 1948, or attacked in 1967, or supported Lebanon in 1982, or call today for an end to Israel’s violent control of Palestinian lives.


A house. (Re-up)

In the hustle and bustle of life as it is lived (I just realized), I forgot to mark an important anniversary, more than three weeks ago. And so I re-post this, in love and in memory.

There’s this house.

It’s at the bottom of a hill, to the left and in a small valley, as you drive north on Wisconsin State Highway 23. If you come over the hill at night, you’ll see the lights in the windows, an amber glow under more stars than you’ll ever see in a Chicago sky.

The house is small. The kitchen floor is rough and unfinished, the wallpaper torn here and there. There’s a terrible Christmas clock hung on one wall because it met a need and now serves to amuse. The house smells of wood stove heat and cooking, and of the earth that washes off vegetables fresh in from the fields.

The fields belong to the house, and they rise and fall gently with the valley, rows neat, the order that people bring to nature so that they can feed themselves. It’s a farm that feeds many, and the house watches over the rows and the people working in them.

One of the people is a seven year old boy who was born on the farm, in the house, coming into the world with clear eyes and a smile that is like fresh water. He and his brother are growing here, they go to school inside the house (as their sister did until she went away to school), they play Legos here, their father reads Winnie the Pooh, and they eat and eat and eat. There is always a plate of something, somewhere. And if you don’t finish it, don’t worry, someone else will get around to it.

There is also, right now, today, someone dying here, the grandfather with whom the seven year old shares a name. He is 69 and after decades of housing a spirit so large it could hardly be contained, his body is all that’s left. Soon, it too will be gone. Right now the little boy and his brother play 20 feet away, and stew is made in the kitchen, and someone sits and watches and holds the grandfather’s hand, telling him, again, that he can go as soon as he needs to. That we do not want to hold him.

The house is so large, in its smallness, so blessed and full of blessing. In the middle — no, not really: In the everywhere, in all the corners and all the rooms, on the stairs, at the door, lifting a body small, or weak, spreading a blanket over a child, or a man — is a woman with long hair falling over her shoulders, her nails clipped short for they are often in the dirt, her arms spread as wide as she can get them around the world and all the everyone and the everything that she can reach.

Occasionally — not often enough — she sits with a cup of tea and lets the house shelter and bless her as much as she and it have blessed others. As one life ends, and all the others carry on.


Brett F. Moore died on March 6, 2010, at about the time that I was writing the above. I loved him, and I miss him more than I can say. I am so very grateful to have had him in my life. May his memory be for a blessing יהי זכרו ברוך

…like a girl. (Re-up)

It’s spring vacation in these parts, and that means I’m spending a lot of time with the kids — today involved, among other things, a trip to MagiQuest. It also means I’m having no little difficulty focusing on/completing anything longer than a 140-character tweet. So I decided that today I would re-up a post I wrote a while back but which is, sadly and entirely unsurprisingly, very much still relevant.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on, about the ways we use words that mean “female human” to insult each other.

There’s “scream like a little girl,” of course, which, you know — ok. Little girls are high-pitched. It’s meant as an insult, but there’s some grain of reality to be found in it. Perhaps I will someday “scream like a linebacker” or “like a South Pacific Islander.” Or something.

But once you get past “scream,” there’s:

  1. Throw like a girl.
  2. Run like a girl.
  3. Hit like a girl.

Not to mention:

  1. Pussy out.
  2. Be a pussy.
  3. Be a little bitch.
  4. Be X’s bitch.

And so on.

In the largest, broadest sense, I believe that these kinds of insults hurt us all, male and female alike. The recent bullying-related suicides of several gay-or-maybe-gay boys have their roots deeply buried in our fear of males behaving in anything but a society-approved-manly fashion. Witness the clear discomfort experienced by adults when five year old boys choose to wear girls’ clothing.

Witness that, and then think about women in pants suits, or girls in jeans. When women adopt and co-opt a traditionally male form of dress, we are empowering ourselves. When men adopt and co-opt a traditionally female form of dress — they get beat up. Because we do not value women as we value men, and we are frightened when men choose to give up the prerogatives of their gender. So, yes, everyone suffers when we continue to maintain and perpetuate misogyny.

But women and girls suffer more. Because we are the ones you shouldn’t be like.

I’ve known this for years, of course. I’m not new to noticing misogyny. I’m not new to feeling its sting and pushing at its edges. But it’s suddenly struck me how powerfully we telegraph our contempt for women merely by opening our mouths and starting to talk.

You throw like a girl. Don’t pussy out on me, bro! I’m gonna make that job my bitch! Close your eyes for a moment, and substitute any other person-naming noun/pejorative for the words “girl,” “pussy,” and “bitch.”

You throw like an Asian. Don’t Hymie out on me, bro! I’m gonna make that job my nigger!

Suddenly, the mind reels a bit.

Good lord, like most non-racist white people, I had a hard time just typing the n-word — but absolutely stand-up folks, men and women alike, without an otherwise bigoted bone in their bodies, will insult each other with words that describe me and my body, with nary a second thought. They will do it loudly, among friends, in print, on television, in movies. It’s just, you know: The way we talk.

But I cannot help but believe that we hear these things, we women and girls, we hear them, and we steep in them, and they go in and down and twist and burrow into us, and they damage us. They leave vapor trails in our thoughts and scars on our hearts. They tell us, day in and day out, that we are weak, we are not worthy, our bodies are the stuff of mockery.

When you’re someone’s bitch? You’re under their violently-wrested control. When you’re a pussy? You’re untrustworthy. When you’re a girl? You are just plain weak.

And who the fuck would want to be any of that?

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Muslim American heroes.

Please note update, below.

At some point in recent years — I think it was about the time that then-candidate Obama started running as if on fire from the Muslim “accusation” — I found myself a self-appointed basher of Muslim-bashing.

I wrote an op/ed about Obama’s reactions to the Muslim thing for the Detroit Free Press, and since then, have occasionally gotten to fill the role of Muslim-bashing-basher professionally (as a contract writer), but mostly, it’s been me standing on my virtual soapbox and yelling as loudly as I can — as was the case on Sunday night, this time on Twitter.

Via Twitter, I learned that the CNN documentary Unwelcome: The Muslim Next Door had aired that evening, and brought to light some pretty hair-raising anti-Muslim hatred, leaving some of my Muslim Twitter buddies upset and saddened. I spontaneously responded by starting a new hashtag: #MuslimAmericanHero.

Over the next 24 hours or so, a bunch of us swapped the names and stories of Americans we admire or even find heroic, Americans who happen to be Muslim, and I learned a lot in the process. Did you know, for instance, that an Egyptian-American Muslim scientist named Farouk El-Baz served as the Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning for NASA’s Apollo Program? Yeah, neither did I. But if you helped put people on the moon? You are totally an American hero in my book.

So I decided to take a few of the names that came up under the hashtag (and if you don’t know what the heck a hashtag is, this is a great source) and give them some love here. Because honest to God, the more we non-Muslim Americans come to recognize the contributions of our Muslim compatriots? The better off we all will be.

  1. Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, US Army  – Twenty years old when he was killed by an IED in Iraq, Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan’s military awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, a bronze star, and a good conduct medal. His unit was scheduled to ship home a month before he was killed, but the 2007 surge extended Khan’s combat tour. His story came to the forefront of America’s discussion of Muslim patriotism when Colin Powell discussed Khan’s sacrifice at some length on Meet the Press in 2008.
  2. Mohammad Salman Hamdani – A 23 year old paramedic and a 9/11 first responder, Mohammad Salman Hamdani died trying to save lives at the World Trade Center. After his death, Hamdani’s Muslim faith was seen as reason to suspect him of collaborating with the terrorists — thankfully, the truth of his life and death eventually came out. Rep. Keith Ellison evoked Hamdani’s memory at Peter King’s recent hearings into the “radicalization” of American Muslims, breaking down in tears as he did so.
  3. Rep. Keith Ellison – This country’s first Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Ellison (D-MN) is sharp, compassionate, and a dedicated advocate for the civil rights of all Americans. On a personal note, I will forever be grateful to him for being one of the very few members of Congress to ever travel to the Gaza Strip, and for defending the good name of Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the much-maligned but little-read Goldstone Report on Israel’s 2008/09 war in Gaza.
  4. Farhana Khera – President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates and the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, Farhana Khera previously served as Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. She also worked for six years under Sen. Feingold (D-WI), Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee at the time. Her areas of expertise include racial and religious profiling and American civil liberties, about which she has said: “After the horrific attacks of 9/11, and the realization that the American-Muslim community was bearing the brunt of new, overly broad laws and policies, and some of our fellow Americans feeling perfectly fine abridging our rights, it was incumbent on us as Americans and as Muslims to step forward and fight for the founding values of our country. “
  5. Farouk El-Baz – Today the director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing (a thing I will have to look up, next), Dr. El-Baz served as the Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning for NASA’s Apollo Program from 1967-1972, and then went on to establish and direct the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. El-Baz had a shuttle named after him in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  6. I don’t know this man’s name, but he strikes me as pretty heroic, too.
    And a good friend.

If you have your own Muslim American heroes to name, please do so in the comments! And finally, for your listening pleasure, once again — my favorite Muslim country singer, Kareem Salama, on seeking and finding paradise:


Update: My internet buddy Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt did some research into the Kareem Salama video, the story behind it and its director, and I highly recommend that you check out her post: “Learning about a Land Called Paradise” (and also, more generally, make sure you check out her blog! Velveteen Rabbi).

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.


“The State of Israel…will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”*

I’m honestly at a loss to understand just what Israel is trying to achieve these days.

I think the coalition believes itself to be working for a safer Israel, but it’s so painfully obvious that what they’re actually doing is hounding people, literally across the globe, for disagreeing with them, while also turning the clock back on bedrock democratic principles, that I go right back to scratching my head.

Exhibit A: This Wednesday, the Knesset held an inquiry into the allegedly anti-Israel policies of the avowedly pro-Israel American-Jewish organization J Street.

Now, reasonable people may reasonably argue that J Street is wrong-headed. Reasonable people may reasonably say that there are more effective ways to work for peace and security (for Israel and/or the region) than pursuing a two-state solution as facilitated by the American government.

Reasonable people, on the right and left, make this argument all the time, in fact. I happen to disagree with them, but that’s the way the democratic cookie crumbles: People get to say what they think, and disagree with what you think. Yay democracy!

But Israel’s current government appears to have zoomed right past “reasonable” to “bat-guano crazy.”

According to member of Knesset (MK) Nissim Ze’ev, J Street’s positions represent “sheer hatred toward the State of Israel and the government’s policies, more terrible than that of Israel’s worst enemies.” The committee investigating the group has called on J Street itself to “purge from its ranks” an imagined cadre of Israel haters, and on the Israeli government never to meet with its representatives. Yeahhhh…. No.

Let’s be crystal clear: Those demanding that J Street dance to the current coalition’s tune aren’t defaming one or two or twenty people. They’re talking about close to 200,000 American Jews, 2,500 of whom recently gathered at a conference at which phrases like “Israel’s right to self-defense” were regular applause lines. They’re talking about an organization the only goal of which is to further the Netanyahu government’s own stated goal: A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The MK who called for the inquiry, Otniel Schneller (from Kadima — you know, the “centrist” party?) actually said this about J Street (he actually said this):


Open thread – it’s yours again!

Have at it! You know the rules: Mine + TNC’s = awesome commenting.

On the humanity of the grieving.

This morning a bomb went off in Jerusalem at a busy bus stop, killing at least one person and injuring 30.

I haven’t lived in Israel for a long time, since the summer of 1998. I go back a lot, and nearly every time we’re there, something awful happens, but all of my living-breathing knowledge of living with terrorism is well over a decade old.

And yet.

I can still feel the pounding in my veins, still see the odd narrowing of my vision, as the news comes through — over the kitchen radio, from a taxi driver, from a sudden, crackling awareness among the people in the grocery store: Haya pigua – There was an attack.

Suddenly, you don’t know where you are, what you were meant to do. Where did it happen? Without meaning to, you calculate the last time you were in that same place, on that same bus. Where is everyone? Is there any reason to think someone you love may have been there when it happened? Phone calls are made, assurances gathered and given. In some cases, I remember, the attacks were so ferocious, involving so much death, that Israel’s phone system crashed, and no one could get through to anyone.

I was a reporter for much of the worst of the ’90s waves of terror, so I would invariably have to shake myself loose of all that, call my bosses, grab a notebook, and either hit the streets or start translating the news.

There was the time that the bombing was two half-blocks from my apartment, which was handy, because I had access to a bathroom.

There was the time it was at a popular shopping mall, and, being a reporter, I sneaked past police to get closer to the site of the explosion, to better see what remained. I found myself near a pay phone, so I called my sister in Chicago: “I’m at the site of a bombing, but I’m only reporting it. I’m fine.” (She thought that odd, if memory serves).

I saw things that were the kinds of things you don’t want to talk about, and later find yourself having to talk about. I remember very clearly, one night, after a day of reporting, suddenly standing stock-still in my hallway, and then sinking to the floor, weeping. I would shake myself loose to do my job, but the horror always came back.

And so when I heard the news this morning, the horror came back. These are my people, that Jerusalem bus stop a place I’ve stood more times than I can possibly calculate — what can I do? I feel my own losses more sharply, the air escapes the room more quickly, than when the losses belong to someone else. I know that fear the people felt today in Jerusalem, that stunned confusion, that aimless wandering or eating or paging through newspapers without seeing a thing, because a little piece of your mind just shattered along with your sense of safety. I know it.

What I don’t know — what I honestly find myself struggling to understand today — is how Israelis cannot seem to translate their experience to that of the Palestinian people.

The attack in Jerusalem was the first such attack in three years. Do you know when Palestinians in Gaza were last bombed by Israeli planes? Yesterday.

And then again today.

Yesterday, eight Palestinians were killed, four of them civilians, one 11 years old. The same age as my son. Tonight, I’ve been watching as Palestinians on Twitter warn each other to be safe — Israeli fighters were just seen in the sky, they write. There was just a loud explosion – a second – a third – now a fourth! Even before this morning’s bombing, HaAretz was telling us that, between Israeli raids and Palestinian rockets in response to those raids, “a small war” was flaring up along the Gaza border.

The fear I remember so clearly, the slowing of time, the constriction in the chest and terror in the heart — the very horror wreaked in Jerusalem today — is the stuff of near-daily life for Palestinians in Gaza. It happens all the time. Only occasionally do we hear of it (and by “we,” I mean not only Americans, but also Israelis, mere miles from where it’s happening), yet it happens all the time. And as someone pointed out to me on Twitter this morning, when Palestinians call to make sure their loved ones are in one piece — the answer is far more often “no.” During the 2008-2009 Gaza War, Israeli forces killed about 1,400 Palestinians; Palestinians killed nine Israelis. Between 2009 and January, 2011, Israelis killed 151 Palestinians; Palestinians killed nine Israelis.

I understand that Israelis are frightened. That they are steeped in an existential fear that they are told, over and over again, is the only thing keeping them alive. I understand that to let go of that fear just enough to see the fear and devastation on the other side would require letting go of decades of lived experience, powerful beliefs taught as knowledge, a constructed narrative that is felt to be Truth. I understand that such change is tremendously difficult. Fear is often the safest place we can find.

But for all that understanding, I still can’t understand. How can Israelis not recognize Palestinian fear, so like our own — only more so? How can they not recognize the blood and the grief — so like our own, only in greater numbers? How can they not understand that when one side wages war, the other tends to fight back, even if our side doesn’t think they should?

How can we not see that Palestinians are as human as we are?

The woman killed today by a Palestinian’s hand is gone forever. Never to shop for birthday presents again, never to talk with friends over coffee. Never to hold a loved one, never to smile, or cry, again. The 11 year old boy killed yesterday by Israel’s hands — by my hands — will never learn geometry, never fall in love, never hold his own child, never smile, or cry, again. The pain is bottomless and endless. And it is the same.

We have become — we have made ourselves — like the idols we read about in Psalms: “Eyes they have, but they cannot see; ears they have, but they cannot hear.”

We blind ourselves, and seal our ears, and forfeit another little piece of our own humanity, every day. And the bombs continue, and the blood flows, and it never ends, because we choose not to end it.



Israel/Palestine: the basics.

Israel/Palestine – a reading list.

Israel/Palestine peace advocacy – places to start.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Two brief notes: Jerusalem and Libya.

  1. I imagine I will be writing about the bombing in Jerusalem today, but not yet. I have to get through some work, and possibly more to the point, some more processing of the events. These days, a lot of my mental processing happens on Twitter — here’s my feed, if you want to see where my brain has gone thus far. If you want to see what I’ve written about the conflict in the past, you can go to the Israel/Palestine category, to your right, and here’s my take on the history of it, in general terms: Israel/Palestine: The basics.
  2. My friend and sometime blog boss, Angry Black Lady, also happens to be a Very Smart Black Lady Lawyer, and she wrote the most righteous opus on the decision to declare a No Fly Zone over Libya that I have yet to see, or will likely ever see. Almost better yet, it’s punctuated with actual humor (I know! Humor in the middle of Srs Bizness! Whoddathunk?), and the frequent acknowledgment that there is much that neither she nor anyone else can possibly know at this point. I can’t recommend it highly enough: Libya? I hardly know ya!

Open thread – let’s play nice!

It would appear that the recent shit-storm at Ta-Nehisi’s place has led to a closing of threads, and possibly no Open Thread for the day. If that proves to be the case, we can chat here!

However, the rules are as they have always been: Mine (which can be read here, but boil down to: be a person) + Ta-Nehisi’s (which tend to boil down to the occasionally unpopular “no dissing his fellow Atlantic bloggers just because this isn’t an Atlantic site”) + the following strongly worded suggestion: Please, please – do not use this space to argue about whatever the hell went down yesterday. It was unpleasant there, it will be unpleasant here.

With that, we’re off!

Whither humanity? I have no idea.

I find myself struck by the enormity of the times we’re living in.

I don’t know what will happen next, but when my grandchildren learn about the early twenty-teens, it’s clear they’ll be taught that this was a time in which humanity — turned.

Of course, there’s the ongoing upheaval in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), while here in the United States, we have the right’s astonishing over-reach on unions. In both cases, I don’t think anyone on the ground has a clear sense of the direction we’re all going, but given the sheer quantity of dynamics and cross-dynamics, both here and abroad, I believe we’re likely to wind up in some pretty unexpected places.

In terms of workers’ rights and the American electorate, I genuinely believe that this is one of those moments in which people are woken from their slumber, and the GOP’s business-led right-wing will face tremendous push-back in the coming years. You don’t try to tell Americans that teachers, cops and firefighters are our enemies — are what stand between this country and fiscal security — and expect it to fly for long.

In MENA, well, who knows? Forty-one percent of Egypt’s eligible voters (the highest turnout in history) just voted to accept constitutional changes that some credible opposition voices wanted to see rejected. Good for Egypt? Bad for Egypt? I don’t know, and I would suggest that anyone who says they know for sure has delusions of grandeur. Issandr El Amrani (who blogs at the always interesting The Arabist) wrote a really helpful piece for Time : Egypt’s Referendum: What the Nation’s Historic Vote Means, concluding “This time, even if it was far from perfect, it meant something.”

And Libya? Truly: No one knows. It bears repeating: No one knows, no one knows, no one knows. The sheer cacophony of controversy surrounding the decision to declare a No Fly Zone should serve as our most powerful indicator that no one knows what the future holds in that part of MENA (though I will grant you that there are some, such as POTUS, who should surely have a better grasp on it than the vast majority of us).

I hold out real hope that the NFZ is preventing another Rwanda, but even if that proves correct — then what? Preventing slaughter doesn’t necessarily translate to the establishment of liberty and justice. Not to mention: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, and Iran. So, yeah: In ten years, we’ll all be able to see what happened in that part of the world, but right now? No one knows. (If you, like me, find yourself constantly trying to catch up on the MENA goings on, here’s a terrific interactive feature at the New York Times, “Arab World Uprisings: A Country-by-Country Look” ).

And finally: Japan.

It’s easy, and perhaps tempting, to think that the multiple disasters that have struck Japan affect only Japan — it’s population, economy, future.

But we forget: Japan is a global power-house, the third largest economy in the world. Whither Japan goes, we will all follow, to one degree or another.

If Toyota’s recovery isn’t quick, that means something for the many workers at Toyota’s American plants, and the American businesses that supply them. If Sony suffers a serious set-back, that means something for Sony’s competition, and the potential for some other firm to stake a bigger international claim. If Japan, a highly industrialized nation, proves incapable of controlling a potential nuclear disaster, that means something for the future of the world’s energy supply.

Far beyond the normal ripple effect (every action having a positive and equal reaction, every change bringing change to something else), the level of catastrophe that unfolded and continues to unfold in Japan has the potential to create enormous change across the globe.

Of course, it bears remembering that whatever happens, it actually started a while ago, on all these fronts.

If the GOP has over-reached, it’s only because it’s been reaching so far for so long that all those governors — and the Koch brothers, and Koch brother-analogues, behind them — thought they could keep going. No matter the results of the revolutions across MENA, they clearly didn’t spring up out of nowhere in January. And Japan only recently slipped behind China economically, falling from second to third place, meaning that there’s been some serious geo-economic shifting going on for awhile (one outcome I expect is that the fear-China noise will start getting much louder before the summer dawns).

But be that as it may, humanity tends to look back at certain moments, certain events, and say: “There! That’s when it all changed.” We just don’t always recognize those moments at the time.

This time? I think we can be pretty sure.

You might want to take notes — because in 30 years, some enterprising youth is going to want to ask you all about 2011.

And, as folks keep reminding us, it’s only March.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

%d bloggers like this: