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The Struggle Continues Through ups and Downs

* Help Respond to Inflammatory Attack on Nonviolent Solidarity Groups
* The Price of Nonviolence in Bil’in
* Victory for Palestine Solidarity Activists
* Who Really Controls the Rafah Crossing?
* The House is Full of Holes – poetry from the Occupied Territories
* High School Students Attacked by Jerusalem Police
* Budrus Tears Down the Wall, One Villager Shot With Live Ammunition
* The Politics of Race and Power in Palestine


Help Respond to Inflammatory Attack on Nonviolent Solidarity Groups

On Sunday, February 12, 2006, the Washington Post published a defamatory op-ed by two academics, Eric Adler and Jack Langer, calling for the cancellation of the upcoming Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) conference at Georgetown University and accusing the PSM of being a “dangerous”, “pro-terrorist organization”.

The authors also used their forum to disparage the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and claimed that the ISM purposefully puts the lives of young international activists at risk in order to attract media to the Palestinian cause.

“Tragically,” the authors write, “the group got its wish in 2003, when ISM member Rachel Corrie, 23, was killed while trying to block Israeli bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian houses in Gaza.” It does take a certain special kind of chutzpah to cynically exploit Rachel Corrie’s killing to accuse the ISM of cynically manipulating its activists!

Please write to the Washington Post and share with them your thoughts on the ISM/PSM and the underhanded attacks they have endured from a crowd in whose eyes Israel can do no wrong, no matter how criminally they behave. Letters may be sent to letters@washpost.com

A copy of the Washington Post editorial is attached at the bottom.

ISM and PSM talking points:

*The PSM and ISM are on the side of international law and numerous UN resolutions blatantly violated by decades of Israeli Occupation.

*The FBI does not consider the PSM to be a terrorist organization nor does any other government agency in the US or abroad.

*Divestment is a non-violent way to oppose Israel’s ever-expanding colonization of the West Bank.

*Communities in Norway and Ireland have taken steps to divest from Israeli interests.

*The PSM is joined in its call for divestment from mainline Christian churches, university faculty unions and student governments around the country.

*South African Jews such as Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky have highlighted the similarities between Israel’s system of control over Palestinians to South African Apartheid, as have respected South African leaders, such as Bishop Desmond Tutu.

*Calls for divestment have come from Israeli University professors, like Ilan Pappe, and from well-respected human rights lawyers, such as Shamai Leibowitz.

*The Israeli government has not declared ISM an illegal organization.

*ISM works with several groups who advocate for a just peace in Palestine: Rabbis for Human Rights, The Christian Peacemakers Team, International Women’s Peace Service and the Israeli Committee
Against House Demolitions.

*One of ISM’s founders, Dr. Ghassan Andoni was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize along with Jeff Halper, co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition.

For tips on writing letters, go to:

Please also feel free to share with us your letters or a summary of your conversations with editors at letters@pmwatch.org

You can also call: (866) DIAL-PMW

Palestine Media Watch
(866) DIAL-PMW


Why Is Georgetown Providing a Platform for This Dangerous Group?

Washington Post Op-Ed Section
Sunday, February 12, 2006; B08

This month Georgetown University plans to host the annual conference of an anti-Israel propaganda group called the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM). The PSM certainly is controversial. It is also dangerous.

The purported aim of the PSM is to encourage divestment from Israel. To this end, its conferences boast a cavalcade of anti-Israel speakers whose speeches often degenerate into anti-Semitism. At the 2004 conference at Duke University in North Carolina, for example, keynote speaker Mazin Qumsiyeh referred to Zionism as a “disease.” Workshop leader Bob Brown deemed the Six-Day War “the Jew War of ’67.” Not to be outdone, Nasser Abufarha praised the terrorist activities of Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The PSM maintains that it is a separate organization from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which sends foreign students to the West Bank and Gaza to foment anti-Israeli sentiment.

All the same, the two groups seem to have intimate ties. At the 2004 PSM conference, for instance, the International Solidarity Movement ran a recruitment meeting called “Volunteering in Palestine: Role and Value of International Activists.” In that session, the organization’s co-founder, Huwaida Arraf, distributed recruitment brochures and encouraged students to enlist in the ISM, which, she acknowledged, cooperates with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Another ISM co-founder, George Rishmawi, told the San Francisco Chronicle in a July 14, 2004, news story why his group recruits student volunteers.

“When Palestinians get shot by Israeli soldiers, no one is interested anymore,” he said. “But if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.”

Tragically, the group got its wish in 2003, when ISM member Rachel Corrie, 23, was killed while trying to block Israeli bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian houses in Gaza. The Israelis said the houses were covering tunnels used to smuggle weapons.

Nor is this an ancillary part of the PSM’s mission. In the aftermath of the 2004 PSM meeting, conference organizer Rann Bar-On — who is an ISM member — informed the Duke student newspaper, “I personally consider the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference a huge success, as it brought about a tripling of the number of Duke students visiting Israel-Palestine this year, making Duke the most represented American university in the West Bank this summer.” By Bar-On’s own admission, recruitment into the ISM is the PSM’s raison d’etre.

In agreeing to host the PSM from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, Georgetown can’t even claim that its regard for free speech and expression trumps all. In 2005 the university’s conference center refused to host an anti-terrorism conference sponsored by America’s Truth Forum on the grounds that it was “too controversial.” So why is free speech and expression of cardinal importance now? Perhaps it is related to the recent $20 million donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a prominent financier of the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

If Georgetown President John J. DeGioia is concerned for the safety of his student body, he will reject the 2006 Palestine Solidarity Movement conference. Pleasing donors is an important duty of a university president, but preventing the recruitment of Georgetown students into a dangerous, pro-terrorist organization is a more vital obligation.

— Eric Adler — Jack Langer

are respectively, a lecturer in the history department at Rice University and a doctoral candidate in history at Duke University.


The Price of Nonviolence in Bil’in

Bil’in was not always impoverished. In the last five years many villagers have become cut off from their sources of income due to the closure of Israel to Palestinian workers, the Israeli siege on Palestinian cities and villages and the theft of farmland for settlement construction.

For one year, villagers have engaged the Israeli military through a variety of creative nonviolent tactics to interfere with the construction of the annexation barrier on their land. The barrier, justified by Israel as a security measure, will separate villagers from more than half their land in order to absorb the illegal Modi’in Illit settlement and surrounding land to allow for its expansion into Israel .

However, the use of strategic nonviolent direct action has come with a price. Since October 22, 2005 the military has being conducting night raids on Bil’in village, arresting young men and children. Those arrested reported they have been abused or tortured in confinement. Recently 18 villagers were charged with one to four months in Israeli military prison and 1,000 to 2,000 NIS each in fines. Every 1,000 NIS ($213) left unpaid results in an additional one month of imprisonment.

Many economically devastated families are unable to pay this fee, and are left feeling helpless and humiliated, unable to prevent further weeks of abuse.

Following a legal struggle within the Israeli military system some prisoners were offered release on bail of between 2,000 and 10,000 NIS each. With the help of generous donors the ISM Legal Fund, was able to support the community of Bil’in, showing the community they are not alone in their non violent resistance. We posted 39,000 NIS ($8,300) in bail for the release of community leaders and activists and 18,000 NIS ($3,800) in fines to allow Bil’in families to release their loved ones. ISM would like to thank you for your support and ask that you continue to give so we can prevent other instances of needless incarceration. Following is a list of people the ISM Legal Fund helped using your contributions:

Rateb Abu Rahme was released on bail for 5,000 NIS after being arrested while lying down holding a cardboard tomb stone that read Bil’in R.I.P. 2005. Assault charges were dropped and his bail money returned after video evidence proved his innocence.

Abdullah Abu Rahme was released on bail twice adding up to 11,000 NIS after being arrested out of an installation of a bridge that read “Peace needs bridges not walls” and a second time while holding a tombstone.

Abdel Fatah Burnat was released from custody on 2,000 NIS bail after he was arrested from a cage built on the route of the annexation barrier.

Tamer was released on 2,000 NIS bail after being arrested from a metal tube palced on the route of the wall.

Riad and Elyan were released on 15,000 NIS bail, (5,000 paid by the ISM and the 10,000 by Israeli peace activist groups.) after being arrested out of a nonviolent crowd by undercover provocateurs.

Akram Khatib was released on 4,000 NIS bail while trying to protect in Abdullah from arrest.

Hamze Samara was released from custody on 10,000 NIS bail and is awaiting trial. He was arrested from home and charged with causing damage to the “security fence” and released on 10,000 NIS bail.

Ashraf Ibrahim Abu Rahme, Abdullah Ahmed Yassin, (14), Faraj Yasin (19), Khalid Shokat Khatib (20), Mohammed Abdel fatah Burnat, and Wajdi Khatib (17) have been released after serving a jail sentence of one to four months in Israeli military prison and 1,000 to 2,000 NIS each in fines

Fadel Awad Ali Yassin(23), Iwad Imram Khatib, Jawad Khatib (19) Nour Mahmoud, Yassin (19), Nayef Gazzi Al Khatib (18), Basem Ahmed Issa Yassin (28), Baasil Shokat Al Khatib (21), Hasan Awad Yassin (26) Mohammed Omran Khatib (23) and Saji Mohammed Ali Nasser Are still in prison and have paid 1,000 shekel each.

Issrar Samara (22) and Khelmi Abu Rahme are imprisoned and awaiting Trail.


Victory for Palestine Solidarity Activists

According to Green Left Weekly, “Seven activists who blockaded the British distribution centre of Israel’s biggest state-owned agricultural export company Agrexco in November 2004 were acquitted of all charges on January 26. The activists had been charged with “aggravated trespass and failure to leave land” for their protest, which aimed to highlight Israeli apartheid and the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. According to Agrexco, it lost £100,000 as a result of the eight-hour blockade. ”

The protesters argued as a defense that they were acting to prevent crimes against international law, that are also offences in the UK under the International Criminal Court Act. In the end, the activists were acquitted because British Land Registry documents showed Agrexco (UK) had built entrance and exit gates on other people’s land and had no legal right to ask them to leave.

Agrexco is Israel’s largest importer of agricultural produce into the European Union, and it is 50% Israeli state owned. Amos Orr, Agrexco UK’s general manager, said in court that Agrexco imports between 60-70% of all produce that is grown on illegal settlements in the occupied territories. At the same time Israeli forces have blocked Palestinian exports on grounds of ‘security.’ Israeli state sponsored settlements have appropriated land and water resources by military force from Palestinian farmers in a deliberate policy of colonial settlement.

In a well planned operation, using wire fences and bicycle D-Locks the protesters succeeded in blockading the Agrexco (UK) distribution centre, blocking all motor vehicle traffic in and out of the building before being arrested. Before taking part in this action many of the defendants had witnessed first hand the suffering of Palestinian communities under the brutal Israeli occupation, having served as volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), documenting human rights abuses by the Occupation Forces in the West Bank and Gaza, and taking part in non-violent civil resistance to the occupation organised by Palestinian civilian committees.

The international campaign to boycott Israeli goods is growing across Europe. In December 2005 a whole region of Norway voted to cut economic relations with Israel. The US administration has threatened ‘serious political consequences’ against Norway if the boycott should develop into a national policy.


Who Really Controls the Rafah Crossing?

By Kate

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

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

We finally reached the border at about 2 p.m. Initially everyone assumed we were Palestinians. People were motioning to us to go one way, but I spotted a sign that read, “Exit Tax,” and thought maybe we were supposed to pay the tax there. That’s how it works at the Jordanian border, and if you don’t have the stamp that indicates you paid the tax you have to go back and wait again. As we were standing and looking around a guard took our passports. He asked Patrick where we were from, and Pat said in Arabic that we were Americans, and the guard said, “Well, does she have a hawiyya?” referring to the Palestinian ID card. He didn’t even seem to believe Pat when he said no.

The Egyptian security guards, wearing armbands that read “Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities,” looked at a list and said we were not on it, which we already knew from our friend Laila, who has been pressuring the Palestinian Border Ministry to get our applications approved. They told us we couldn’t enter, and seemed ready to hustle us back to Arish, the nearby resort town.

We persisted and wound up sitting in the little security office calling everyone involved to find out what the story was. Later it occurred to us that if we had not stopped, we might have been able to just walk by; maybe at the next point they would have assumed we were on the list. Hard to know.

We talked to Ashraf Dahlan, the person responsible for processing applications by foreigners to cross through Rafah. He is the nephew of Mohammed Dahlan, a powerful figure in the Palestinian Authority. Laila said she’s never seen an office as big as Ashraf’s in Gaza. Ashraf told Pat that the papers had been sent to the Europeans, who he said have the ultimate authority to decide whether to let us in or not.

In case you are not familiar with the arrangement, the Rafah border crossing was opened because James Wolfensohn, formerly head of the World Bank and now U.S. special envoy to Israel-Palestin, visited Gaza about two months after the much-hyped disengagement. He noticed that it was a prison, with no one allowed in or out. So Condoleeza Rice flew out and by all accounts basically forced Ariel Sharon, who still had brain waves at that time, to agree to a border between Rafah in Palestinian Gaza and Rafah in Egypt. The border was to be controlled by the Palestinian Authority with oversight by the European Union and Egypt, with Israelis allowed to surveil from a nearby room using video cameras. The border opened on Thanksgiving weekend, to intensive televising, and viewing audiences around the world watched Palestinian border police stamp the passports of smiling Gazans who rushed through and hugged their Egyptian family members and bought cigarettes.

But that is only how it works for Palestinians (when it does work, because it’s been abruptly closed a number of times, leaving people stuck on the other side from where they lived, not knowing when they could go home). For foreigners it is trickier. A friend was told twice by representatives of the PLO that foreigners cannot use the crossing under any circumstances. I called the PLO mission in Washington and was told it was absolutely no problem, you can go, you don’t need a permit, it will all be taken care of at the border. Fortunately, Pat didn’t believe them and asked around. He learned about the official process: you submit your application to the PA, who sends it to the Liaison Office, which is composed of Palestinians, Europeans and Israelis. From there, no one exactly knows who makes the final decision, and on what grounds. Some say it’s the Europeans, some say it’s the Palestinians; Palestinians, not surprisingly, say it’s the Israelis, though it’s definitely not supposed to be. When Ashraf told us it was out of his hands, Pat heard him say, “Now it’s up to the Is—the Europeans.”

Some people have reported that getting in through Rafah was “easy,” which I’m sure means they did not go through this bureaucratic process. Pat was told that fewer than 5 percent of applications are denied. Before the election, a number of foreign journalists were turned away, but during the election many people gained easy entry. Immediately afterward, the border tightened up again.

So back to our story: we called an EU Liaison, who Pat had talked to before we came. He had told Pat that decisions was made case by case. He said he would check on our applications and Pat should call him back in a few minutes. Pat finally reached him about an hour later, and he said the papers had never been delivered to the Liaison Office. Pat called Ashraf back, and he said, “There is some problem with the coordination between the Europeans and the Israelis, and I’ll have to check on it.”

We called a well-connected friend who works in the Palestinian Authority. He had someone in Gaza encourage Ashraf to help us, saying we are in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

Another man told Pat he did not think we would qualify to get in because our invitation was from a Palestinian NGO, and the current regulations require it to be from an “accredited international NGO.”

I became incensed. Why is access to Gaza limited entry so carefully? This is the international community’s hard-won agreement. Disengagement is supposed to mean freedom for Palestinians, and they cannot even have visitors. We have invitations from at least ten Palestinians: come whenever you want; happy to see you; “from Rafah with love,” said one email, sent by a woman I had never met. Why isn’t that good enough? Why is friendship not a good enough reason to visit someone?

The people of Gaza can get passes to go and come, though they can only enter the West Bank through Jordan. But Gaza is still a prison. While we sat there, I watched people streaming in and out, with luggage and packages, and I know it is much better to go through a border controlled by Palestinian police than to have Israeli soldiers asking invasive questions at gunpoint. But even in most prisons, you are allowed to see the visitors you want.

We returned to Arish; one of the Egyptian guards got us a taxi to a hotel he recommended (from which presumably received a little kickback). For not much more money than we were hoping to pay we got a pleasant room right on the sea. We walked on the beach for a long time, looking at Rafah, just out of reach, and talking about how crazy it is that this quiet resort town, which presumably in the summer is teeming with Egyptian vacationers and the tourists, sits thirty kilometers from Rafah Camp, which must be one of the most traumatized places on earth.

It emphasized for us the artificial nature of the “conflict.” There is nothing about the landscape or the culture that creates danger for the people. Once, the people of Palestinian Rafah and the people of Egyptian Rafah lived as one community. Then the colonizers stuck a border in between them, and then a fence, and then a wall, then some gun towers, and now they are tortured pawns in an international game of “mine’s bigger than yours.”

Scenario is replicated around the world. For example, Alta California and Baja California – family members on one side of the fence belonging to the richest country on earth, those on the other side, to the “Third World.” This situation is so recent, and the distances are so small, it puts the whole insanity in perspective.


The House is Full of Holes

By David Wylder X

This is one project in my continuing performance of the role of writer and artist within society. It is for my friends, family, and to ALL OF HUMANITY AND ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN about nothing less than THE MYSTERIOUS EXPERIENCE OF LIFE ON EARTH.



How much you risk is how much you win or lose
but how much you love is how much you learn.


Why did you go?
Because I wanted to see Rafah again,
because I still believe in peace
although there are times of fighting
to which we can see no end. . .
(and what the hell, maybe I fell in love.)

Anyway I don’t have what it takes
to bring a child’s bicycle to Gaza:
few people do
otherwise Gaza would be full of children’s bicycles–
No, we left the little bike with the bent training wheel
and one missing pedal
under the frozen stars of a london night
laughing until there was no more cold. . .


I thought the rubber bullet was an olive
when I saw it lying in the orchard.




“What is human nature?” He asked rhetorically.
“Look around you,” He continued, “Everything that people are doing, this
is human nature.”


The IDEA was to go and live among THE PEOPLE
and listen to the buzz and hum of their talking
to car horns and dishwashing and footsteps and grind
to the laughter, arguments, and crying children
of their LIVING,
until it became possible to hear the RHYTHM and MUSIC
within, underlying, all of this
and to write songs of THE PEOPLE LIVING.


I returned to another narrow street
lined with concrete housing blocks saturated by poverty and trauma
ground-floor falafel stands too small for furniture
lit-up portraits of posturing fighters, rifles on display
like low-budget home-grown ‘Join the Army’ ads–
except that everyone knows the men in the pictures are dead– hung
from archways spanning alleys where children play football or burn
Oh refugee poverty under occupation
I walk your streets again a foreign white-faced man
and see how my eyes and mind have aged–
I have mortgaged my AMERICAN birthright again
for airplane tickets and taxi fare
to come and live briefly in an Arab ghetto
which, like all ghettos, is constantly under attack–

The saga of occupation is written with refugee spraypaint on concrete walls
and punctuated with gunshots and bulletholes.
The boys in the street say they are 20 but look 14
they put their arms around each other and say they are fighters
one pulls out a cheap little switchblade with a plastic handle
says, “How do you like this?”
his eyes go wild like a street cat–
“No thank you,” we say, and walk away.

Then the foreign soldiers come in the night
drive jeeps into Balata refugee camp,
which is built atop the ruins of a 4,000 year old city–
They shoot their M-16s, break into a house,
and haul another Arab to jail.


In the village the Patriarchs walk over limestone hills
worn smooth by a million footsteps
and remember the days before their was a nation called Israel or
settlers in single-wide trailers with high-power security lights
over there, across the valley, lighting up the desert night
in bright electric pools of paranoia–
They wear suit jackets over traditional robes
and the Matriarchs bake bread over the embers of sheep-dung fires and
everyone praises god in conversational litany:
Thanks to Allah there is sun, thanks to Allah there is rain
Thanks to Allah there are olive trees, thanks to Allah there are sheep
Thanks to Allah there are houses, thanks to Allah there is food
Everything is from Allah!

Then the settlers come in the night with saws
and cut down olive trees in the village orchard.

The wound on Ibrahim’s ankle, left by a soldier’s bullet years ago,
has healed and grown into a thick mass of scar tissue
and a lingering ache–
He wraps it with a threadbare ace bandage
his dusty feet in a pair of work boots made into sandals
by cutting off the back part down to the sole.


East Jerusalem at this hour is a desolation of paving stones
chiseled with irregular divots for better traction
Orange streetlight haze over retro-fit electical conduits
snaking over and into 500-year-old stone walls–

The women have gone inside the houses
a few men stand in groups and pairs smoking in the shadows
or closing down the last restaurants and shops–

At the quiet coffee stand the man with a cleft upper lip
invites you to sit in a plastic chair in an alley
and the boy makes the coffee in a long-handled metal pot–

And the hustlers on this side of town are right out on the street
in your face interrupting you in mid-sentence
with the hustler voice that grinds and slices into your brain–
“TAXI TAXI! You want taxi! Where you go!
TAXI TAXI TAXI!!!” Nerve shattering as a TV commercial.


They were friendly and wanted to help
but could not speak the language
so we filled their mouths with sweet tea and bread.



I have nothing to say about Jerusalem,
except that it is where a lion-faced tomcat paused on limestone steps and
peered into my eyes for 3 minutes.

Jerusalem is ancient and exhausted from religious wars.
You can read a fanatical text written in blood
on the Old City’s fortress walls
but it ain’t worth the effort–
if you want to see the cruel face of GOD
stare directly into the sun for 1 hour.

Everything that could have been said about Jerusalem
someone has already said.
Everything that can be said about Jerusalem
Someone is now saying.
Everything that it will ever be possible to say about Jerusalem
Someone will say soon enough.

The man behind the counter at the art supply store says:
“Jerusalem is a most holy place for 3 great world religions
Christianity Islam Judaism
GOD made it that way for a reason
so if people are fighting over it
this is because of money and politics.”

A damn fool or a wise man came here one time
and scratched these words in the dirt:


High School Students Attacked by Jerusalem Police

On Friday (the Muslim Sabbath) Israeli police refused to allow Palestinians under the age of about 45 or so to enter the old city. Hisham Jamjoum ISM coordinator and manager of the Faisal Hostel next to the old city commented “that there were 300-400 Muslims peacefully praying outside the Old City, because they couldn’t get in. There were police everywhere due to fears that there might be a demonstration against the slander towards the prophet Mohammed.

Whilst police expected demonstrations on Friday what they didn’t expect was a quickly organised demonstration of 300 High School students the following day that took up the issue of slander. Jamjoum commented that the police built up there presence gradually without provocation the police threw sound bombs as the demonstration and fired rubber bullets into the crowed. Increasingly more students joined those at Damascus gate. The rally ended after an hour and a half, 7 people were injured including one person that was hit with a rubber bullet to the leg and 20 people who were arrested. “They attacked everyone, I saw a 60 year old man who was just trying to pass being struck by police. Not even street vendors were safe.”


Budrus Tears Down the Wall, One Villager Shot With Live Ammunition

Villagers of Budrus gathered after the Friday prayers for a demonstration called for by Fatah against derogatory images of Mohammed the Prophet, February 10. When the march reached the annexation barrier, villagers began tearing down the fence.

Later the military invaded Budrus village and were confronted by youth throwing stones. Israeli soldiers shot 24-year-old Mohammed Taha Morar with live ammunition below the left knee. Morar underwent three-hour surgery at Sheik Ziad hospital in Ramallah where he is awaiting another operation.


The Politics of Race and Power in Palestine

By Fairouz, With contributions by Dillion

I would like to be writing about nonviolent struggle in Palestine. I want to be shedding light on the many injustices of Occupation. I am irate that astounding daily stories of creative and courageous resistance are trampled under this issue in the news: however, it is important to address the proliferation of anti-Muslim cartoons and the resulting commotion.

Many people in the West are flabbergasted by the intensity of the Arab and Muslim worlds’ reaction and cannot understand how a few drawings caused such an uproar. The reasons and the response are far deeper than Western news corporations care to dig.

The issue is not a question of free speech versus censorship, but moving past band-aid explanations to the root of the problem. The cartoons released a pressure valve for accumulated outrage. Muslim populations have withstood colonization, occupation, and imperialism for centuries, from Napoleon’s occupation and culture theft in Egypt to victims of the war in Iraq. Themes from the months following 9/11 are resurfacing in Western news: a mosque accused of manufacturing terrorists in London; anger in the Middle East once again boiled down to a hatred of American and European liberties. Presenting the story as primarily a free speech debate frames the situation as cultural, not political in nature. It reveals a bias, an initiative, by choosing to ignore the historical context. But it is also disingenuous. Western media outlets are not really defending free speech, but the West’s use of free speech. Arabs and Muslims exercising their freedom to assemble in demonstrations united across national and cultural borders are represented as extremist.

Many international activists groups operating in the Middle East are attempting to patch long-built trusts. In Palestine, solidarity groups recently issued a collective public condemnation of anti-Muslim cartoons, and called for the newspapers responsible to apologize.

Still, we must be careful not to exercise double standards while reproaching the West for doing the same. Concerns have been raised about the threat of kidnappings, for example – an unlikely but not unrealistic possibility. In many ways, international activists can become apologists for the ugly parts of Palestinian society. We want to show the cause in a favorable light, and sometimes fear fueling anti-Palestinian sentiments by critically discussing existing problems. It’s a disservice to this society, these people, however, to paint issues as black and white.

Many Muslim societies otherize darker ethnicities. I am from a culture that prefers fair skinned girls to the darker variety. Bleaching creams and SPF 150 sunblock abound. Globally, racism is the result of hundreds of years of colonization based on racist assumptions – which are now transmitted through popular media and race politics.

My experience is that Palestinians are much more capable of discerning my ethnicity from my features than Americans- I am often greeted by “Hello, India!” or “Pakistan!” Yet, the ever present, irritating question Where are you from? still haunts me. When I say “Ana Amrikiye buss Hindeya” (‘I am American BUT Indian’ – this qualifier drives me insane, as if the two identities are fundamentally incompatible) I am asked which one of my parents are Indian. When I say both, they are surprised. When I am occasionally invited to Islam and I say I had accepted that invitation at birth, they are surprised. “Wallah!” (‘Well! By God!’) Ironically though, having brown skin lately carries its own benefits.

Danish, Scandinavian, European, and any other light-skinned people face the risk of daily harassment and, yes, the vague possibility of abduction. This is a form of collective punishment. Many verbal threats have been made against Danes. A group of French nationals were recently subject to stone throwing in Hebron.

But let’s keep things in perspective. Palestinians are constantly threatened with imprisonment, death, and theft of land and livelihood under Israeli Occupation. The moment race discrimination refocuses on those with the privilege to remove themselves from the situation, they often do just that. The distinction here is between systematic racism and incidental discrimination. Even conservative-militaristic organizations operating in Palestine – ones considered “terrorist” by the West, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas – have begun espousing nonviolence. However, institutions such as the World Bank and many governments are pulling funding from the Occupied Territories. Some NGOs with hierarchical decision making structures are removing volunteers.

The primary risk posed toward international activists is from the Israeli Occupation Forces. Yet once a threat from Palestinians is detected, people on the outside become much more concerned for our safety. Our work in Palestine functions on the assumption that whether internationals are exercising skin privilege or passport privilege or both, the Israelis see us as their “own” – as possessing “Western” culture. Soldiers (and sometimes settlers) are less prone to harm us than Palestinians, who are perceived as the “Other.” Internal divisions are united against an external enemy. It is a system of institutionalized racism that roars when an international is killed in Palestine, but looks the other way when thousands of Palestinians are murdered every year.

Israel is hailed as the only “democracy” in the Middle East. Democracy in this sense means capitalistic industrialized nations that share European cultural ideals. “Democratic nations” have and continue to commit some of the world’s greatest atrocities.

Recently two 15 year old boys in the Salfit region were taken in the night by the Israeli Occupation forces. One was returned, but the other, with a reported mental disability, is still being held at Huwara prison. In the past, Israeli soldiers beat the boy’s older brother to deafness and his mother to miscarriage. These news stories are drowned out in the din of the West’s “clash of civilizations” jargon.

Going through Israeli checkpoints, I am often asked whether I speak Arabic. There is no room in the soldiers’ worldview for Muslims who are not Arab. During a recent experience through the checkpoint I decided to see what would happen if I didn’t flash my passport, my blue and gold ticket to unlimited destinations, immediately. The soldier barked loudly, “HAWIYYE! WAYN HAWIYYE?” (Arabic for ‘Where is your ID?’) I produced it. She relaxed immediately and in a surprised and mellow tone said, “Oh. Go ahead.” Entering the country, I was immediately taken aside by an Israeli border police agent, and asked if I had a second passport. The question more accurately stated would be, “Are you Arab?” or, “Why are you brown?” A woman of South Asian ancestry, primarily raised as Muslim, however bred with the innate tendencies (and passport) of Americans, living in Palestine, completely upsets the system with her complexity.

I used to find my fractured identity a great source of teenage angst. While traveling I have seen the privilege I possess, having the cultural material to find common ground with many different people. I do believe that as the world becomes more globalized, survival will come to depend on our ability to work through differences. This occurs every day in Palestine in the form of Palestinian, Israeli, and international nonviolent activists struggling together to end the Occupation.

Despite the injustice, hate, and racism I have witnessed and experienced in the past five months, I have retained a strong faith in humanity to work for social justice. Power works because one harmful action can trump the peaceful, nonviolent lifestyles of a million people. We must become capable of looking past violent actions. We must learn to give the respect that nonviolence demands.