Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Terror Of The Telephone

Three summers ago I read the short memoir "I Saw Ramallah" by Palestinian writer Mourid Barghouti.

It became a favorite, instantly.

It's a book about loss, about the exile's fraught relationship with return. It's evocative. It's unforgettable. It's written by a true poet and beautifully translated by Ahdaf Soueif.

Edward Said called it “one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement we have.”

But after three years I have yet to finish it, refusing to read the last chapter, which is only three pages long. I am saving it, but for what I don't know.

At my bedside it remains despite countless moves that keep my books boxed up and in storage for months or years on end. This one though, always remains within arm's reach. 

Tonight I picked it up leafing through the pages, without real purpose . . perhaps looking for some sort of comfort or grammar to cope with the terrible news streaming out of Gaza. But instead of solace I found horror, my heart sinking to new depths as my eye caught one paragraph in particular, buried under highlights and ink markings. It describes the special place the telephone has in the lives of Palestinians, a people displaced by war and occupation:

The details of the lives of all whom we love, the fluctuations of their fortunes in this world, all began with the ringing of the phone. A ring for joy, a ring for sorrow, a ring for yearning. Quarrels, reproach, blame, and apology between Palestinians are introduced by the ringing of the phone. We have never loved a sound so much, and we have never been terrified by one – I mean, at the same time. Bodyguards – or your luck, or your intelligence – can protect you from terrorism, but the displaced person can never be protected from the terrorism of the telephone. (Page 127)

The terrorism of the telephone. Today the phrase takes on new meaning as Israel's onslaught drags on and the most moral army in the world continues to make its "courtesy calls" - a warning call to Palestinian families to flee their homes before they are bombarded. 

But in the midst of such incalculable human suffering, countless massacres and the lack of safe places to evacuate to, these calls amount to little more than cruelty disguised as mercy. The pained language of an unnamed Palestinian describes how they induce a different kind of death: 

I'll tell you what is harder than dying in Gaza by an Israeli missile deluxe. What is harder is that you get a phone call from the Israeli army telling you to evacuate your home because it will be bombed in ten minutes. Imagine; ten minutes; and your whole short history on the surface of Earth will be erased.

Gifts you received, photos of your siblings and your children (dead or alive), things t
hat you love, your favorite chair, your books, that last poetry collection your read, a letter from your expatriate sister, reminders of the ones you loved, the smell of your bed, the jasmine tree that hangs off your western window, your daughter’s hair clip, your old clothes, your prayer rug, your wife’s gold, your savings; imagine; all this passes in front of your eyes in ten minutes, all that pain passes while you are struck by surprise.

Then you take your identification papers (passport, birth certificate, etc.) which you have ready in an old metallic candy box, and you leave your home to die a thousand times, or refuse to leave and die once

"I Saw Ramallah" is a book that gives life-affirming substance to a tragedy whose dimensions only seem to grow.

Tonight I won't finish it.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Massive Link Dump: It's All A Blur, Day 15

At a loss for words, I'll let the news coming out of Gaza speak for itself:

(Warning) video shows the reported moment when an Israeli sniper opens fire on a Palestinian man who returned to his neighborhood looking for relatives. The shooting was witnessed and documented by solidarity activists including an American and British national. ‪#‎gaza‬ ‪#‎Hamas‬ ‪#‎israel‬ ‪#‎palestine‬ - Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News

Key Context:

NBC News Ayman Mohyeldin: July 20, 2014 | Shifa Hospital, Gaza City. The legs of 2 year old Khadijah killed in an Israeli strike on Shejaiya. She was one of 30 bodies claimed by relatives at the morgue in a matter of minutes during a two-hour humanitarian ceasefire allowing for families to collect the dead off of the streets and treat the injured. #gaza #shejaiya #israel #palestine

A scene of heartbreak and heroism:
Video Post by Watania Media Agency. (A Palestinian woman buried beneath the rubble in Shejaiya appears to be dead but is found breathing. Medics rescue her.) 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Grandma And The Machine Gun

Bar graphs. Aren't they great? Especially this one, embedded in a recent BBC article on Israel's ground invasion into Gaza (original article here):

Look closely though.

Notice anything funny?

I did. Despite being reassured by the declaration in the bottom right-hand corner.

First, the source:

  • I'll be generous and assume our friends across the pond at the BBC value informing the public and would simply like to communicate statistical information in a straightforward, visual way. But instead of doing their own research or critical thinking (you know, that thing called journalism), they rather outsource this important job to a highly interested third party, the Israeli Army - the party that happens to stand accused of gross human rights violations. No one knows how to sell a war to the public better than the people waging it, and the BBC appears all too willing to help.

Second, the items being compared:

  • In Logic 101 at my community college I learned what it meant to "compare apples and oranges." To do so is to transgress and insult your audience by making a false analogy - comparing two incomparable things, like apples and oranges, or maybe more fittingly, "grandma and machine guns," if you speak Romanian. Here the BBC tries to pawn off on the public a comparison between "Rockets fired from Gaza" and "Gaza targets hit by Israel." The key words here - "fired" and "hit" - are two very different things.

Rhetorical trickery or sheer brilliance? Both.

Gaza's rockets don't inflict much damage, partly because they are neutralized before hitting the ground by Israel's sophisticated missile defense shield, the Iron Dome, and partly because they are crude and ineffectual weapons. They are no match for Israel's far superior "field-tested" weaponry. That's why this graph is reduced to comparing "Gaza targets hit by Israel" vs "Rockets fired from Gaza" and not "Gaza targets hit by Israel" vs "Israel targets hit by Gaza" - which, in effect, would be the orange bars' true equivalent.   

But that's just it. There is no equivalency in this war, between Gaza "the grandma" and Israel "the machine gun." Israel's bombs are powerful enough and the people in Gaza defenseless enough that Israel's bombs actually hit the ground, with shocking results. 

As Foreign Policy details here, Israel's war on Gaza is defined by a grotesque power differential between oppressor and oppressed, in which Israel drops its payloads with absolute impunity on a Gaza trying to defend itself with puny rockets that, at this point, hardly pose a threat to Israel. (The Foreign Policy piece ends on a disturbing Hunger Games-like note.)

Israel has a massive military advantage that it is exploiting to collectively punish a civilian population. What's more, Israel has Gaza's borders on lock down, confining the Palestinians like prisoners to their tiny territorial cell. Families are ordered to evacuate their homes, yet they have nowhere to evacuate to. UNRWA currently reports that over 61,479 displaced persons are seeking refuge in their 49 shelters in the Gaza Strip. But these shelters are not enough - Gaza's population is 1.8 million - and they are not inviolable and are still at risk of being hit, as are homes and hospitals and the pregnant women and children seeking shelter within them. Israel has destroyed over 1,500 homes so far.

A letter signed by Nobel Peace Laureates, writers, and peace activists published in The Guardian describes the roots of Israel's military advantage:

Israel's ability to launch such devastating attacks with impunity largely stems from the vast international military cooperation and trade that it maintains with complicit governments across the world. Over the period 2008-19, the US is set to provide military aid to Israel worth $30bn, while Israeli annual military exports to the world have reached billions of dollars.
In recent years, European countries have exported billions of euros' worth of weapons to Israel, and the EU has furnished Israeli military companies with research grants worth hundreds of millions. Emerging economies such as India, Brazil and Chile are rapidly increasing their military trade and cooperation with Israel, despite their stated support for Palestinian rights. By importing and exporting arms to Israel and facilitating the development of Israeli military technology, governments are effectively sending a clear message of approval for Israel's military aggression, including its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

In the end, the effect is this, notes Seumas Milne:

For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest military power has launched a full-scale armed onslaught on one of its most deprived and overcrowded territories.

Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Richard Falk, describes this latest assault as a "bloody sacrifice" exacted by Israel from an enclave it has held "hostage" and "cordoned off" from the world.

So, is it the same thing when the firepower of one side vaporizes into thin air, while the other lands its punch, traumatizing the build environment and mutilating the people within it?

This makes a big difference to the people on the ground. A difference that speaks to the asymmetrical nature of a war that is passed off by mainstream media as tit-for-tat skirmishes between near equals.

Deceptive wording and a little "Excel wizardry," as a friend likes to call it, go a long way in the propaganda war. The two sides portrayed here and the damage they inflict are being made to appear as equals by virtue of the corresponding heights of the colored bars. But the bars are misleading, comparing two different things, rockets that fizzle vs bombs that blast.

My logic teacher would not be impressed.

The BBC pulled a fast one on us viewers by printing this infographic, happy to obfuscate reality. As the saying goes, they pissed on our backs and told us it was raining.

I don't envy either side in this war, but the lack of parity between the two must be acknowledged and accurately reported.

The adage goes that "real journalism is publishing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations." By publishing Israel’s claims as fact, and ignoring the reality on the ground in Gaza, mainstream journalism shows us how well practiced it is in the art of PR.

[Read more about the BBC's entrenched biases here: "Brian Eno joins criticism of BBC’s bias against Palestinians"]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Just When We Needed Him Most, We Lost Him

Yesterday, as Israel launched its ground invasion into Gaza, NBC News executives pulled a similarly moronic move, ordering foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin out of the Gaza Strip, citing security concerns (which is quite a riot considering Mohyeldin is a battle-hardened journalist who rose to fame after being one of only two foreign journalists to bear witness to Israel's horrific 22 day-long assault on Gaza in 2008-9). The New York Times writes:

Ayman Mohyeldin, the NBC correspondent who was playing with a group of Palestinian kids moments before an Israeli attack killed four of them on a Gaza beach yesterday, has been pulled from the region. According to a report by Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept, the network demanded Mohyeldin leave immediately, citing "security concerns," although it also sent a different correspondent, Richard Engel, to Gaza.

Mohyeldin's sophisticated understanding of a complex region, his extensive experience in war zones, and most importantly, his moving, humanizing reports from Gaza were too much for a big profit-driven news network to bear. NBC rather cave to the Israel Lobby-backed status quo than capitalize on the best opportunity it had to cover this catastrophe in an open and honest manner.

Mohyeldin is undoubtedly one of the most experienced reporters and trusted voices on Gaza out there (his harrowing reporting landed him on Time's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world).

Recently in Gaza, he didn't waste his time regurgitating Israeli talking points, but instead reported from the ground and gave us a real understanding of the terrible human toll being inflicted on the Palestinian people.

He conveyed to viewers the reality of what it means to bomb a captive civilian population.

Naturally, this was a problem because it exposed the Israeli army's appalling conduct, human rights violations, and killing of innocents - behavior that Israel's own top officials struggle to justify before world audiences (example: Spokesman Mark Regev on England's Channel 4 News).

Mohyeldin's truth-telling, his genuine concern for life, his moral bravery are what got him pulled from a beat that desperately needed his clear-eyed, powerful reporting.

The following links explore the NBC/Mohyeldin scandal and the mainstream media's longstanding lack of fairness when reporting on the issue of Palestine:

    Ayman Mohyeldin at il-Shifa hospital in Gaza before being pulled.


    Update 7/18/2014: Due to public outcry, NBC is returning Moyheldin to his post in Gaza. A statement from NBC reads:
    Ayman Mohyeldin has done extraordinary reporting throughout the escalation of the conflict in Gaza, filing 25+ reports over the past 17 days, including his invaluable and well-documented contribution to the story on the deaths of the four Palestinian children on Wednesday. As with any news team in conflict zones, deployments are constantly reassessed. We've carefully considered our deployment decisions and we will be sending Ayman back to Gaza over the weekend. We look forward to his contributions in the coming days.

    Thursday, July 17, 2014

    Gaza Is Beyond All Help And Israelis Cheer

    The world has failed the people of Gaza.

    Israel has begun its ground incursion. A week-long campaign of terror from the sky wasn't enough.

    Flattening Gaza's rehabilitation hospitals, playgrounds, cafes and centers for the disabled wasn't enough.

    Killing over 200 civilians and 53 children wasn't enough. 

    Nothing is enough for bloodthirsty commanders and their masters in Tel Aviv.  

    So they fill the air with toxic white smoke and send in the tanks.

    The people of Palestine await certain death. The despair in their voices can be heard on Facebook as they write about dying.

    They resist by holding fast to their homes, by holding fast to dreams of rebuilding their cities, by staying human.

    There is nowhere to run. Surrender is not an option. The last time Israeli Occupation Forces invaded Gaza, they killed civilians bearing white flags.

    Israel doesn't fight fair, assailing a people unable to soften the blows.

    Israelis take great pleasure in this temporary weakness.

    Their cheers can be heard in the distance.

    To them, dying children is sufficient for an evening of amusement.

    Families perishing in their own homes is nothing but a lurid spectacle.

    Israel's invasion of Gaza is just something to do.


    Wednesday, July 16, 2014

    History, Comedy, Tragedy

    The most challenging truths of any war are its ironies. And the occupation of Palestine is rife with them. The whole conflict is defined by a core paradox: that Zionism, the national movement to claim Palestine for Jews at the expense of non-Jews, emerged out of the legitimate desire of a persecuted people for a homeland.

    But in escaping persecution (that culminated in the Holocaust in Europe) and settling in Palestine, Jewish settlers displaced its native inhabitants and created a second refugee population. The Palestinian people now form one of the largest diaspora groups on earth.

    In a bitter twist of fate, the survivors of a genocide founded a nation on what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé has termed an incremental genocide.

    But despite what conventional wisdom dictates, for centuries Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived amongst each other and commingled peacefully in Muslim-ruled lands. It is simply not true that Muslims and Jews have been warring since "time immemorial."

    Compared to their harsh treatment throughout history in Christian Europe and Russia, Jewish communities made out well living under Muslim powers, despite being classified as second-class citizens. They still had basic rights and freedoms that protected their faith and allowed them to prosper. Jewish communities flourished for centuries in Muslim Spain, what's known as Andalusia, but were summarily expelled once Isabella and Ferdinand took hold of the throne. Under these Catholic monarchs, both Muslims and Jews faced conversion or exile.

    So it is no surprise that Jewish refugees yearned for a safe haven among a people more affable to their traditions and life ways, especially in light of the antisemitic sentiment and policies barring their entry into post-war United States.

    According to the Ottoman Census of 1893, Muslims made up 85% of the population of Mandate Palestine in the 19th century. But many Christians were ethnically Palestinian, as well, further entrenching an Arabic speaking Palestinian majority (many Jews spoke Arabic as well).

    Historic Palestine was not an empty land awaiting a people without a land, as the oft-quoted Zionist shibboleth goes.

    The historical archives corroborate Palestinian ownership of the land and their longtime presence, a reality reflected in this western produced clip of Palestine in 1896, one of the first known video recordings of the place:

    Not all Jews fleeing Europe before and after WWII wanted to establish an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. There existed a rich debate between various groups, both secular and nonsecular. But as European Jews arrived in ever greater numbers, militant factions within the Jewish polity eventually gained ascendancy, overriding more moderate voices. Their paramilitaries, such as the Irgun and Haganah, waged an ugly colonial war that included many massacres and acts of terrorism. The sole objective of this concerted military campaign was to systematically expel the Palestinians and ethnically cleanse the land. It was eventually successful enough to declare Israel a state in 1948.

    Naturally, what is the average Israeli's "Independence Day" is "The Day of Catastrophe," or the Nakba, for Palestinians.

    Today the descendants of those original Jewish settlers continue to dispossess the Palestinians of their land, using the sophisticated powers of the modern nation-state to suppress their struggle for national liberation.

    Everything we see happening today stems from this fundamental injustice, a history that must be appreciated in order to understand the gravity of the conflict and what drives both sides - and the vastly disparate impact felt by the two. 

    Today's death toll, as reported by NBC, has climbed to 213 on the Palestinian side (including 43 children and 1,600 wounded) and has expanded to include one Israeli fatality.

    This fatality occurred as an Israeli man willfully advanced too close to the war zone, which is concentrated in Gaza, not Israel proper, despite media assertions to the contrary. While volunteering to distribute food to Israeli soldiers at the border, the man was critically wounded by mortar fire and later died.

    While Israel's vastly superior firepower and its Iron Dome technology keeps the war and its terrible human toll at arm's length, every inch of Gaza remains under intense threat. Israel launches warheads into one of the most densely populated places on earth while still trying to maintain the moral upper-hand. But by simply firing into such a crowded place, they are, in effect, transforming every civilian into a human shield and engineering a crisis. Israeli state-sanctioned violence has killed over 40 children in one week.

    Meanwhile, the majority of Israelis continue to live relatively normal lives, alerted to immanent danger by an iPhone app. The primitive rounds fired from Gaza are by and large vaporized in the skies overhead by the Iron Dome before they can do harm to Israelis. Palestinians in Gaza, on the other hand, are "warned" by being shot at with smaller rounds, the so-called "knock-knock" bomb. Even as they struggle to flee the area, they are struck and killed. Lacking modern defense systems or bomb shelters, no one and no place is safe in Gaza.

    Despite being shot at like so much fish in a barrel by a powerful country aided by a superpower and billions of dollars of American taxpayer money, Gaza needs more than a ceasefire. According to historian Juan Cole, Palestinians need and are entitled to the following if a just peace is ever to be achieved:

    Palestinians in Gaza should be paid billions in reparation for the land and homes they lost in southern Israel in 1947-48.

    The ban on Palestinian exports must be lifted.

    The ban on importation of building materials must be lifted.

    Gaza’s water crisis must be resolved.

    Gaza’s electricity generation should be shifted to solar energy with international aid.

     * * *

    Even in the darkest of times, humor bequeaths insight, making The Daily Show the smartest entertainment around. The Daily Show has a knack for bringing painful but humorous lessons to bear on the most serious of subjects. Satire is the best form of emotional purging simply because it can't be endlessly debated - either you get it or you don't.

    In yesterday's episode, Jon Stewart excoriates the asymmetrical nature of the assault (clip begins at 4:45), taking note of the different attire worn by two NBC correspondents, one based in Tel Aviv, and the other in Gaza. In the following clip they are juxtaposed in a split screen shot, their clothing clearly indicating widely divergent threat levels in their respective locales. Ayman Mohyeldin, who is in Gaza City, is outfitted for a war zone, prepared to confront massive violence. Donning a burly flack jacket, he's dressed like an extra for the war film "The Hurtlocker," quips Stewart. In contrast, the Jerusalem reporter looks like he's about to "bang out his stand-up and head to a Jimmy Buffet concert." (Jon Stewart's face below captures it all):

    Luckily, we now have the phenomenal foreign correspondent, Mohyeldin, working for NBC, so his first-rate coverage of events in the Middle East will finally reach an American audience and hopefully open their minds to less parochial perspectives. (Update 7/17/2014: Oh for Pete's sake! - "NBC News Pulls Veteran Reporter from Gaza After Witnessing Israeli Attack on Children"; "NBC Pulls Ayman Mohyeldin From Gaza Despite Powerful Reporting")

    Incidentally, Mohyeldin was playing with the four boys slaughtered on the beach yesterday moments before the missiles hit. The boys were struck by munitions fired from an Israeli gunship positioned off the coast (even swimming out to sea to escape the barrage, as Stewart jokingly suggests in the above segment, is not an option for Gazans because the sea forms part of a militarized parameter that is controlled by Israel).

    Juan Cole explains what happened:
    There was no warning (contrary to what Euronews suggested) and there were no military targets on the beach. There were just little boys who tried to run away and who appear to have been deliberated targeted for a second strike by an Israeli gunboat.

    A hotel filled with journalist witnessed the whole event and tended to the survivors. These unlawful strikes constitute war crimes.

     * * *

    I'll devote the rest of this entry to links cataloging today's beachside horror in Gaza (an event that follows on the heels of another gruesome beach bombing). The Washington Post's blog quotes responses to the scene from journalists who witnessed it:

    The Post's own William Booth was there. The victims were "scrawny fishermen’s kids," he writes, "whom we saw every day, running around on the beach, playing in the waves."
    Peter Beaumont of the Guardian:

    The following two videos offer a harrowing glimpse into the aftermath of the bombing. Heartrending and graphic, the first one records the moment one of the boy's mothers learns that her son has been killed (she is seized with a grief that can't be expressed in words), and the other one shows the four little boys on the beach after they were struck. Their lifeless and bloodied bodies lie crumpled on the sand. It is a horrific scene:

    Here are some photos, including one image composed of several screen shots that show the boys being fired upon while trying to evacuate the beach, making it appear as if they were being targeted:

    Collecting the survivors before carting away the dead.

    Operation "Genocidal Edge" as Palestinian blogger Rana calls it.

    A distraught father.

    An inconsolable mother outside the morgue.

    The targeting and killing of innocents is a war crime.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2014

    The Pornography Of Suffering

    It is not because I believe in the power of empathy that I share graphic images of Palestinian casualties in Gaza.

    I don't wish to rouse feelings of sympathy in the viewer, or worse, to brutalize their sensibilities.

    The pornography of suffering is a slippery slope and I know how easy it is to turn fully fledged human beings into crude caricatures, into "objects of comfortable concern" for privileged outsiders to gawk at, as Edward Said put it.

    But these painful images testify to the unevenness of the "conflict." You will not find images reflecting this level of hurt and brutality coming out of Israel since the assault began a week ago. They do not exist. Israeli causality counts have never been comparable to or outpaced Palestinian figures.

    It is not a contest, though the winners and losers know who they are.

    NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin: July 15, 2014 | Shifa Hospital, Gaza. Shayma Al Masry lost her mother, her sister and her brother in an Israeli airstrike. Today, her father and her doll are all that are by her side. We spent the day at Gaza's Shifa Hospital and spoke to people behind the numbers. #theyhavenames #gaza #israel #palestine Watch our report from inside Shifa hospital tonight @nbcnightlynews @nbcnews

    This war is not being fought by evenly matched rivals. It's being waged by a powerful settler-colonial state founded on ethnic cleansing against a stateless, indigenous refugee population. It is a grossly mismatched struggle between the occupier and occupied.

    I am a broken record, I know. I keep blathering on about occupations and apartheid and the mismatched military might that leads to the use of excessive force and Israel's contravention of numerous international conventions and laws, like the principle of proportionality, and how Palestinians have a right to resist being penned up like animals and abused and collectively punished for resisting their oppressors. 

    Broken f**king record. Ad nauseam, right?

    But the fact is we live in an era no different from all the others, where atrocity is still normalized as political theater. So folks need to keep calling things by their proper names until they stick, until, ultimately, Israel's narrative of victimology is deconstructed and replaced with a human rights framework powerful enough to address the Palestinian people's struggle for self-determination.

    Plucky little Israel is not under attack. Israel has long possessed a superior military and states do not have the right to self-defense in international law against the territories they occupy. Israel's dominant hand is what has allowed it to suspend the rights of the Palestinian people and systematically dispossess them of their land. Since its creation in 1948, Israel has been engaged in a massive land-theft scheme similar to the violent expropriation of Indigenous land in the United States. And it is clear who is the power-broker there.

    My main objective in sharing these images is not to move people to moral action (though I hope they are). "Empathy fatigue" is too high of a risk, and much of the public is already numb, self-protectively disassociating themselves from the pain of others. Some people just lack the imaginative freewill and feeling to relate to non-kin, especially those living in distant lands.  

    These images are important and should be shared because they expose and catalog Israeli crimes, they bear witness. They form a part of the historical record that is in need of correction, due to the exclusion of Palestinian experiences.

    I don't want the viewer to fall into the trap of "feeling sorry" for the Palestinians. As Helene Cixous referred to it, pity is a "badly-thought-out-love." It is patronizing. It turns pain into a spectacle. But don't turn away, either. Let these pictures educate you on the waves of destruction immobilizing life in Gaza. Let them tell their own story.

    In the context of America's blind support for Israel, to hold these images in the mind is to commit a thoughtcrime, a challenge to the status quo that places an outsized spotlight on Israeli figures, which expands the definition of 'casualty' whenever possible, as Phan Nguyen explains in Mondoweiss:

    As I also reported, injuries resulting from rocket and mortar strikes are exaggerated. Israel’s casualty counts always incorporate numbers of people who have been treated for “shock and anxiety,” as well as “light injuries” resulting from the rush to safety, such as “falling down the stairs.”

    2,332 funerals have been held in Gaza since 2005, and only 61 in Israel.

    Neither side is in an enviable position, but it is clear that the suffering of both sides is as poorly matched as their military capacities. Palestinians are outgunned and facing far greater loses.  

    As the hashtag indicates, #TheyHaveNames and hers is Shayma. Here is a quick glimpse into her life and the reality of being the "lesser victim":


    Update 7/16/2014: I awoke to the news of a fresh massacre today. Four Palestinian children were slaughtered by an Israeli airstrike while playing on the beach. Their names are "Ahed Atef Bakr, 10, Zakaria Ahed Bakr, 10, Mohamed Ramez Bakr, 11, and Ismael Mohamed Bakr, 9."

    One of the four children killed. 

    A devastated mother.

    Mohyeldin: July 16, 2014 | Shifa Hospital, Gaza. A Palestinian mother reacts to the news that her son was one of those killed by an Israeli shelling on the Gaza Sea Port where they were playing #gaza #israel #palestine

    This video, from NBC's award winning correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, shows the moment the mother above learns that her son has been killed. Words cannot begin to describe the crippling anguish captured here: Video Post by Ayman Mohyeldin.

    And here is footage of the immediate aftermath of the bombing - four little bodies covered in blood lie crumpled in the sand like tattered rag-dolls: Video Post by Watania Media Agency.

    Learn more:

    Monday, July 14, 2014

    Sderot Cinema

    It is a perilous moment for Palestinians.

    But I am not sure what kind of moment it is for Israelis, possibly an exultant one, seeing how they have yet to suffer a single casualty since attacking Gaza - sans the self-injuries sustained while running for bomb shelters.

    In contrast, across the border in Gaza, the death toll is high and there are no bomb shelters to speak of. 

    Just ordinary homes that crumple under Israeli warheads, entombing the dead.

    Palestinians, I am sure, would very much like to have bomb shelters. But they are prevented from constructing them because Israel bars the entry of cement and other essential building materials into the Gaza Strip. These harsh restrictions make it difficult, if not impossible, to rebuild after each major assault.

    Each time Israel bombs or invades the tiny enclave, they are doing so against the backdrop of a man-made disaster, a humanitarian crisis induced by an Israeli enforced 7 year-long calorie counting embargo. The Palestinians in Gaza face a chronic shortage of everything needed to live fully human lives: clean water, cooking oil, gasoline, electricity, sanitation, medical supplies, food. You name it, they don't have it. A majority depend on aid from the outside world to stay alive, demoralized and forced to live a hand-to-mouth existence, though what they really want is freedom. 

    They live under a sky filled with drones and jet fighters, beside a sea brimming with gunboats and warships.

    Today I had the distinct pleasure of listening to a Mr. Michael Herzog on NPR state rather matter-of-factly that Hamas has no bargaining power because they have yet to kill any Israelis, leaving the listener to conclude by implication that the lives of nearly 200 dead Palestinians are mere bargaining chips. This is the cold language of a calculating killer. . . or a retired brigadier general, which I later learned Herzog is.

    Israel is carpet-bombing a ghetto for the third time in six years. But Israel's supporters, like Herzog, are unmoved, adamant that the Israeli army is "the most moral army in the world," in part because they sometimes issue telephone warnings before bombing homes (heads up: this is the common Zionist's favorite talking point on Facebook).

    After being issued a warning call to their summarily condemned home, Palestinian families have less than 60 seconds to vacate the premises. They are forced to leave behind everything they own, a lifetime of memories contained in irreplaceable heirlooms, photos and personal objects. If they get out in time, they run . . . to where exactly, I don't know.

    Not an inch of Gaza is safe from the continuous discharge of Israeli fire.

    There are no exits in Gaza. The borders are sealed. Lacking territorial sovereignty over their own borders, Israel controls both land crossings and sea ports, and Gaza's only airport was destroyed by aerial bombardment years ago.

    The barbarity of it all is truly unimaginable - as unthinkable as sweeping the atrocities of Nazi forces aside with the foolhardy claim that they had the heart to telephone residents of the Warshaw ghetto before quashing them. If they had done so, would it have diminished the severity of their crimes?

    The very idea is abhorrent.

    Is it any easier to watch the following clip knowing a warning was issued?:

    Or to stomach such images?:

    Woman injured when Israel bombed a center for the disabled.

    I am doubtful. Because the killing of innocents is never right or lawful. What threat did the badly injured woman pictured above pose to Israel's security? Israel and its defenders cloak war crimes in deceptive language like "pinpoint strikes," "facts on the ground," and "the most moral army in the world."

    They have brought the war straight to "the heart of vocabulary," as French playwright Jean Genet observed.

    Israel may have a monopoly on bombs, but not words. Palestinians have long expressed their plight and will to resist through language, making Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, one of the most celebrated poets on earth.

    Poetry is often the only vehicle suited to expressing the inexpressible, like the crimes of an incremental genocide, as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls it.

    Lena K. Tuffaha, in her poem "Running Orders," describes a phone call no one should ever receive:  

    Running Orders

    They call us now.
    Before they drop the bombs.
    The phone rings
    and someone who knows my first name
    calls and says in perfect Arabic
    “This is David.”
    And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
    still smashing around in my head
    I think "Do I know any Davids in Gaza?"
    They call us now to say
    You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
    Your house is next.
    They think of it as some kind of
    war time courtesy.
    It doesn’t matter that
    there is nowhere to run to.
    It means nothing that the borders are closed
    and your papers are worthless
    and mark you only for a life sentence
    in this prison by the sea
    and the alleyways are narrow
    and there are more human lives
    packed one against the other
    more than any other place on earth
    Just run.
    We aren’t trying to kill you.
    It doesn’t matter that
    you can’t call us back to tell us
    the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
    that there’s no one here
    except you and your children
    who were cheering for Argentina
    sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
    counting candles left in case the power goes out.
    It doesn’t matter that you have children.
    You live in the wrong place
    and now is your chance to run
    to nowhere.
    It doesn’t matter
    that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
    to find your wedding album
    or your son’s favorite blanket
    or your daughter’s almost completed college application
    or your shoes
    or to gather everyone in the house.
    It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
    It doesn’t matter who you are
    Prove you’re human.
    Prove you stand on two legs.

    While Palestinians run, proving their human worth in vain, Israelis watch - eating popcorn, perched on hillsides in southern Israel in what's ghoulishly been dubbed "Sderot cinema," as reported by the British daily, The Independent:
    Sørensen’s newspaper, the Kristeligt Dagblad, reported that the gathering involved more than 50 people who had transformed the hill into something “most closely resembling the front row of a reality war theatre”. 
    It said that people were seen taking popcorn up onto the hill with their chairs, and that they sat cheerfully smoking hookahs.
    “We are here to see Israel destroy Hamas,” said Eli Chone, a 22-year-old American who lives in Israel.

    Sørensen’s tweet was met with anger by fellow Twitter users. One user wrote: “If this is true then God help us all. What’s become of the human race?”

    Another said: “This is the most gruesome image I've seen the last few days.”

    Further images have since emerged showing larger crowds on subsequent days - suggesting that the so-called “Sderot cinema” was far from a one-off. They showed groups standing and pointing out to the horizon, and one had even brought a sofa up onto the hilltop.

     The New York Times writes:
    While some partisans of Israel on Twitter accused the Danish reporter of fabrication, the same scene, captured in photographs by several other journalists in recent days, was also witnessed by Mr. Sørensen’s colleague Nikolaj Krak, who wrote: “The hill has been transformed into something that most closely resembles the front row of a reality war theater. It offers a direct view of the densely populated Gaza Strip. People have dragged camping chairs and sofas to the top of the hill. Several sit with crackling bags of popcorn, while others smoke hookahs and talk cheerfully.”  
    When the bombs find their targets, Mr. Krak reported, “cheers break out on the hill, followed by solid applause."

    Palestinian blood is used to grease the wheels of a war machine while Israelis rejoice, delighting in their destruction from the comfort of a couch.

    An instant Israeli hit: "Sderot cinema"

    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    Dire Disparities

    While Israel has yet to lose the life of a single citizen, whole Palestinian families are being wiped clean off the map in this grossly one-sided war. The fast-growing tabulation of Palestinian deaths tells a bleak story, while its lack of an Israeli equivalent speaks to the stark imbalance of power between the two sides.

    The horror and destruction continues unabated for the 8th day in Gaza, where a civilian population has been held captive since Israel locked down its borders and imposed a massive economic embargo in 2007.

    Residential homes, cafes, mosques, and schools have been targeted by Israel making these missile strikes war crimes whether or not these places are declared “command-and-control centers” by Israeli occupation forces.

    The opposite would never be tolerated - if Palestinian resistance fighters killed Israeli families in their homes, places of work, hospitals or seaside cafes. No one would justify such atrocities, like they do when the victims are Palestinian, whose blood it appears is cheap. How else can we account for the following tally?: Since 2005, when Israel pulled out of Gaza, dismantling illegal Jewish settlements there, 2,332 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed, compared to 61 Israelis.

    2,332 vs 61 

    Such a disparity in numbers points not to "sectarian tensions" or a "cycle of violence," but to indiscriminate slaughter. Excessive force. Israel's repeat bombing raids (the 3rd such major assault in six years) and ground incursions into Gaza are nothing less than perverse. And they violate fundamental international law principles, like that of proportionality, as well as numerous UN Charters.

    A peace deal will never be reached until the underlying problem of the occupation and its historic land grabs are addressed. But before that can be done audiences everywhere, especially in Israel, must realize that this is a grossly mismatched struggle between a mightily armed occupying power, on the one hand, and a stateless, refugee population with little to no military might, on the other.

    Israelis suffer light injuries running to their bomb shelters under the protective cover of the Iron Dome, while Palestinians die out in the open, denied bomb shelters and state-of-the-art missile interceptor systems, as well as basic things like food, cooking oil, electricity and cement (making rebuilding after each assault impossible).

    There is no balance in this war for the media to feign. It is a true David and Goliath story. Tragically it's a story that has doomed Jewish Israelis to committing endless acts of violence and repression because they bargained with fate and conquered the wrong people, a people whose desire to live in dignity on their own land will never be destroyed. 

    Borders, not the people resisting them, are the problem.

    Israel was founded on "a blueprint of exclusion."

    A woman in Gaza in profound shock after losing loved ones.

    News & Views:  
    The goal of Operation Protective Edge is to restore the calm; the means: killing civilians. The slogan of the Mafia has become official Israeli policy. Israel sincerely believes that if it kills hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, quiet will reign. It is pointless to destroy the weapons stores of Hamas, which has already proved capable of rearmament. Bringing down the Hamas government is an unrealistic (and illegitimate) goal, one that Israel does not want: It is aware that the alternative could be much worse. That leaves only one possible purpose for the military operation: death to Arabs, accompanied by the cheering of the masses.
    With cynical disregard of the realities of this latest confrontation between Israel and Palestine, instead of condemning such recourse to massive violence as "aggression" that violates the UN Charter and fundamental international law principles, the reaction of western diplomats and mainstream media has perversely sided with Israel. From the UN Secretary-General to the president of the United States, the main insistence has been that Hamas must stop all rocket attacks while Israel is requested ever so politely to show "maximum restraint".

    Here are some essential primers to help the outside observer understand the conflict:

    This powerful little animated intro to the occupation is sensitive to the suffering of both groups. A must watch: 

    Watch some incredibly powerful testimony from a former IDF/IOF soildier who's worldview was shattered during his year of mandatory service in the Israeli army:

    Saturday, July 12, 2014

    How Can YOU Help Gaza?

    Make your voice heard and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people by taking some of the following steps:

    --> Learn about the international BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement and boycott Israeli products.

    --> Attend a protest. They are likely happening in a city near you.

    San Fransisco, CA (Photo credit: Hanif Avarsaji‎)

    --> Write a letter of protest to the editor of your local newspaper.

    --> Write your representatives, senators and other government figures, both American and Israeli. Urge them to take action. Feel free to use the following letter I wrote as a template. It is longer than usually recommended, but please copy&paste liberally (be sure to update causality counts and adjust the wording as the nature of the conflict changes):

    Dear President Obama,

    This again? I can't believe that once again Israel has launched a full-scale military assault on the besieged population of Gaza, marking the third such attack during your presidency. 

    Yet this is just the latest round in an endless war on a largely defenseless people. Over 150 Palestinians—including at least 25 children—have been killed so far. Another 1,000 have been wounded.
    Instead of celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, Palestinians are being murdered in their own homes, beach-front cafes, hospitals, schools, even centers for the disabled.

    Despite zero loss of life on the Israeli side, Israel has refused to respond to Hamas's rudimentary rocket fire with anything short of excessive force, pounding Gaza with some of the most sophisticated weaponry on earth, including warplanes, tanks, armed drones and warships.
    The lack of equivalence between the bloodshed speaks to the extreme asymmetry of the conflict, which is no ordinary war, but a violent struggle between the occupier and the occupied. Gaza is a small densely populated and impoverished enclave, home to 1.8 million people. Israel is using American made weapons in violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act to massacre a refugee population living in a perpetual state of humanitarian crisis due a crippling Israeli-imposed economic blockade.

    Israel, despite claims to the contrary, does not have the right to self-defense in international law against the territories it is occupying. A heavily armed occupying power cannot claim to be defending itself against the people it has suppressed and kept stateless for 66 years. 

    Israelis are not the victims, but the perpetrators behind the current crisis. Bereft of a state, an army, an air force, Palestinians live and die under the oppressor's boots. "Operation Protective Edge," as the Israeli Occupation Forces like to call it, is not an "exchange of hostilities," but a one-sided slaughter and a threat to global peace. 

    Therefore, I urge you to exert vital diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its brutal bombardment of the Gaza Strip and to bring about an immediate cease-fire.

    I also urge you to initiate an arms embargo on Israel and an investigation into the weapons manufactured in the US that are misused by Israel against the Palestinian people in this and prior attacks, such as Operation Pillar of Defense or Operation Cast Lead, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, hundreds of which were children. Israel lost 13 people in that conflict, mostly military personnel, 4 from friendly fire.   

    I refuse to accept the permanent condition of statelessness and endless degradation a US-backed colonial regime has imposed on the Palestinian people. I hope you do too.

    --> Sign a petition.

    --> Donate to a reputable organization. Hospitals in Gaza are in desperate need of supplies. 

    --> Last, but not least, continue to learn about the occupation of Palestine. Get involved in the anti-Apartheid movement. Amplify Palestinian voices whenever you can by reading and sharing their words and experiences. Spread your new-found knowledge far and wide, educating others. 

    "The only nobility we should aspire to is 
    to fight each other's oppression." 
    ~ Leslie Feinberg