Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gaza Freedom March Day #4: Polishing a Turd

Susan Mubarak, Dictator's wife, has graciously agreed to send 100 people, w/ supplies, from our group of 1400.The delegation will be under her auspices.

Code Pink/Free Gaza March has formally agreed to this "generous offer."

Their thinking, one supposes, for this process was not transparent, is that the aid that people brought (there are individuals here who have raised upwards of $15,000 in aid by themselves) will theoretically reach the stranded Palestinian people. This delivery, from the grassroots, should not be dismissed as symbolic. It is essential that this material aid land in the hands of the intended people. If it doesn't, it would have to be considered an act of piracy. We have seen President Obama deal, rather decisively, with pirates from Africa before. Though something tells me that, if anything, Obama is on the side of the pirates this time.

In addition to the aid getting across the border, 100 people from 20-30 countries accompanying around 50,000 Palestinians on their march from Rafah (in the south) to Erez Military Outpost in the north, is extremely important. The possibilities change with the presence of such an international contingent. The probability of violence from the Occupying Israeli Settler Armies diminishes (though doesn't disappear). The significance of this reduction cannot be understated.

Again, these two points should be seriously considered. But I can't help consider a few others, as well.

At 9:08pm I got a text that reads:
"100 ppl going to gaza wed. Need delegates from these countries now: belgium s. africa, netherlands, turkey, swiss, nz, slovenia, bulgaria, cameroon, indo, mex, romania, bosnia, spain, australia"

It so happens that I've become good friends with the Turkish/Bulgarian/Romanian delegation. So, I sent their names and phone number to the organizers. I got back reply:
"Turkey cant go because theyre not letting people from the middle east in"


What's that you say? There's an ethnic component to this "Chosen 100?" Is this how far we've fallen, to except a blatantly racist determination against "people from the middle east," who we all have come to support? Why would anyone, ever, agree to that?

It turns out that, some delegations are answering that question by denouncing the entire ordeal.

The South African delegation has categorically refused to offer a single delegate. "This is a sellout," one of the union workers told me. They know something of dealing with dictatorships and apartheid. There is so much to say here, but I haven't the time. I'll just reiterate that the products of the South African anti-apartheid Revolution are insulted by this "offer," and have flatly refused to participate. (There are, as far as I can tell, no South Africans in leadership positions in FGM.)

The French delegation of appx 300, also, have refused, out of hand.

The Italian delegation will not provide a delegate.

The call was to "Break the Siege of Gaza," and the majority of people who have come to attempt that feel that Ms Mubarak's "gift" is racist, elitist, and just plain stinks. For, it's aim is not to break the siege, but to mask the stench of this fetid dictator.

But everyone knows, you can't polish a turd.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gaza Freedom March Day #3: No Clue By Which to Judge


"She woke at midnight. She always woke up then without having to rely on an alarm clock. A wish that had taken root in her awoke her with great accuracy. For a few moments she was not sure she was awake. Images from her dreams and perceptions mixed together in her mind. She was troubled by anxiety before opening her eyes, afraid sleep had deceived here. Shaking her head gently, she gazed at the total darkness of the room. There was no clue by which to judge the time."
~Naguib Mahfouz. Egyptian Writer, the first Arab to receive Nobel Prize for Literature.

Today in Cairo everything happened. And nothing. Depending on your viewpoint, by which I mean the point from where you viewed this day's events.

Many of you, no doubt,have seen few if any images, read few if any stories, have heard of few if any of the people who defied Egyptian public assembly laws in an attempt to secure the delivery of humanitarian aid to Palesinians in Gaza. Over 300 French citizens have created a tent city outside of their embassy. A multinational group of approximately 300 (my best eyeball, maybe a little high) people from 43 countries demonstrated outside of the United Nations while Walden Bello negotiated with the UNDP Resident Coordinator (James Rawley). The among the request/demands Bello was making were:
1. Coordinate the delivery of aid from Cairo to UNRWA in Gaza.
2. Mediate between Egypt, Hamas and the other powers for the delivery of this aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.
3. Ensure that the full delegation accompany the material aid to Gaza.

A consensus decision was made by representatives of (some of the) delegations present to stay outside the UN until the request/demands were met. This decision was scuttled when said request/demands were not met, and instead Rawley suggested that we go to our own embassies and pressure them, as the UN has no power in this matter.

Indeed, there is a concentration of power that is overwhelming. How else can a nation of 70 million people be ruled and subdued at the whim of one man for nearly 30 years? I mean, just think about it, Egypt has been in an official state of emergency since 1981, and they have not had an actual election in longer. Egypt is a police state. It is nearly impossible to organize people here, and that's one of the points, isn't it?

We have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that the tons and tons and tons of humanitarian aid, secured by people you know, may never be delivered to Palestinians. The criminal siege of Gaza may not be broken by what may be the largest grassroots solidarity mission in the history of human be-ing.

If we fail the Palestinians, who make living happen in the largest open-air prison in the world, they will continue bear the brunt of morally bankrupt governments and their policies, and our inability to strategically confront/negotiate these blackwaters.

In short, we are stalled, but we have not lost. The next few days may bring new developments, and each of you can play a role--for we are 1300 here, but literally millions back at home.

Sally Struthers Moment: You can call your local representatives and apprise them of the situation. You can tell them that all the aid, and all the delegates should be allowed to enter Gaza, with haste. You can call your Senators with the same message. You can call the Egyptian embassy in your city. Or call and/or fax the US embassy in Cairo: Telephone: (20-2) 2797 3300 Fax: (20-2) 2797 3200

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Free Gaza March Day #2: Pressure Cooking


The Egyptian Government, such as it is, has taken the following steps to deny the Palestinians of Gaza the much needed aid that we in the Free Gaza March have promised to deliver.

*Recind permission for the Viva Palestinia Convoy to enter Egypt by crossing the Gulf of Aqaba.
Aqaba is only four hours from Gaza. Instead of allowing passage through this port, Egypt wants the convoy (of over 250 vehicles loaded with medicines, school supplies and other aid) to either turn over the aid to an Israeli charity organization, to be delivered by this phantom organization, or ferry all the materials around the peninsula, through the Suez Canal, and up to Al Arish.
"But convoy members told Al Jazeera that travelling through the Suez was not a viable option, as passengers are not allowed to go with cargo ships and that the port of El-Arish is too shallow to take the size of ship needed to transport the aid."

Did I mention that they're only four hours away from their destination?

*Rescind all permits for Free Gaza March meetings.

Egypt has been in an official state of emergency since 1981, for the entire Mubarak dictatorship. The UN High Commission for Human Rights says,
"The state of emergency, in force continuously since 1981, was renewed in May, pending the introduction of a new anti-terrorism law that was expected to equip the authorities permanently with emergency-style powers similar to those which currently facilitate serious human rights violations."

Therefore, any meeting of six or more people is treated as a conference and requires special permits, which of course are never given.

*Publicly declare that any demonstrations will be dealt with with the full force of the law.

Again, the UNHCR:
Article 54 of the constitution guarantees citizens the right to hold public meetings, processions, and gatherings "within the limits of the law." However, permission from the Ministry of the Interior is required and generally denied. Public gatherings that do occur draw large deployments of riot police.

*Privately threaten to terminate the licenses of the bus company that FGM chartered.
The company has been paid a sizeable deposit, though is willing to drive us only if the Dictator gives the OK. Even then, one wonders what the repercussions will be for the owner/operators of this company.

*Privately threaten the church that has allowed FGM to use its space for meetings with reprisals.
I guess this can be counted under two human rights violations: freedom of religion as well as freedom of assembly.

At any rate, that's what we are up against here, as we make our best efforts at standing with the Palestinian population caged in Gaza. Tomorrow the French delegation here is taking matters to their embassy, and many of us will go along with them in support. On Monday, depending on if things progress on diplomatic fronts, we will step up our tactics. I don't want to give anything away, so stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime, you can call your Representatives and Senators to encourage them to support the humanitarian aid mission to Gaza. Stress that it is, in fact, humanitarian aid. Egypt is claiming that this is a "political aid" mission. Whatever that is supposed to mean. They are using it to say that we are trying to support Hamas politically.

Personally, I don't care which Palestinians get the medicine. I don't care which Palestinians get the school supplies. It's a massive crisis that is being enforced by governments around the world. We want the people to have some basic supplies, as is their Human Right.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Gaza Freedom March: Welcome to Egypt


I just received this email from one of the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March. I'll just paste it here, without comment.

At 8:30pm tonight, December 24, 2009, the Egyptian Foreign Minister said on Egyptian TV Channel 2, that neither the Gaza Freedom March nor persons accompanying the Viva Palestina convoy would be allowed to enter Gaza.

The Foreign Minister’s comments confirmed statements made to Ann Wright and Tighe Barry of the Gaza Freedom March steering committee during their meeting this afternoon with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director of the Office of Palestinian Affairs Hisham Seif-Eldin and officer Ahmed Azzam.

Barry and Wright went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the December 20 disapproval of the entry into Gaza by the Gaza Freedom March.

Mr. Sief-Eldin said that Egyptian embassies in Europe and North America had received a large number emails and phone calls since the announcement of the disapproval. He was visibly upset by what he described as the “tone” of some of the emails received and forwarded to him by Egyptian embassies in Europe and North America and said that emails contained threats to Egyptian interests by tourist boycotts and personal attacks and derogatory language toward staff members.
He said the position of the security and intelligence services of Egypt in disapproving transiting the Rafah border crossing had “hardened.”

Sief-Eldin said that the permit we had requested to hold an orientation meeting on December 27 at 7pm at the Holy Family complex was cancelled and that the permit for a press conference at the Pyramisa Hotel on December 27 would not be approved.

At the meeting we presented a written request to hold a conference on Gaza for delegates only on December 28 and 29 either at the American University Cairo or at hotel. Mr. Azzad said the Foreign Ministry would forward the request to the security agency but did not believe it would be acted on in a timely manner. The conference would be considered a “political” conference and would have to be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister.

Sief-Eldin in the strongest terms said security services would not permit gatherings with signs or banners.

He said that no group would be permitted to travel to al Arish or Rafah.
He said we should tell the 1360 delegates to “not come to Egypt” unless they were going to do only tourist things.

He said that in a change from yesterday, the Viva Palestina convoy has not heeded the Government of Egypt’s decision on where the convoy should enter Egypt and none of their delegates will be allow to enter Gaza, but the vehicles will enter eventually through a checkpoint in Israel.
We asked again why the Government of Egypt did not make its refusal decision early in the five months process that the Gaza Freedom March has been coordinating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a decision that would have notified delegates not to spend thousands of dollars on airfare to get to Egypt. Seif-Eldin responded that the government makes its decision on its own time schedule, not on the time schedule of others.

He ended by saying that in Egypt, things are not done in the same manner as in the United States or Europe. The security services will not permit demonstrations or protests and will deal with them quickly.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Beirut Journal: Memories (For Hass Mroue)


Beirut is the city of scars. Everywhere in that city there are reminders of pain, of the vicious attempts at destroying ways of life. The walls of homes are full of bullet holes. The homes, themselves, full of people who are trying not to remember how these scars got there.

Fighting against memory is different than trying to forget.

New hotels for Gulf and Western businessmen, luxury automobiles and plastic surgery are the manifestations of this attempt at amnesia. The Beirutis are moving forward, into some sort of new day, literally altering their personal and civic landscapes. The former militia leaders now lead the country. European suits and neckties have replaced berets and bandoleros. They are the beneficiaries of the terrible war. Their interests are vested in their people stifling their pain.

I think this is dangerous. I think that the people will need, at some point, to have their say.

I'm thinking of Haas Mroue. The brilliant, and forgotten poet. His book "Beirut Seizures" survived one printing, and now lays buried beneath the bones of thousands of men and women and children killed in his city. The poems he carved on those pages were an attempt to reconcile a terrible past, and to move into a sanctified future. He realized that the surpression of memory is perilous.

He returned to the city of his birth a couple years ago, at 41. His heart attacked him, and now he's gone.

He was a friend to me. He taught me about Fairuz and Rumi. About the beauty of song and poetry. He is the reason I went to Beirut, in fact. I wanted to discover this place that he struggled to come to terms with.

What was it that stopped his heart? Perhaps the scars were too much to bear. Maybe he never could get past his memory. Perhaps it was isolation. With so many of his people fighting against the sharing of history, maybe he felt that his homeland was no longer for him. Maybe the war never ended for him. For, I think it did kill him.

The following two poems are from "Beirut Seizures."

"Alien Anger"

I am a human being.
Nothing human is alien to me.

Soldiers stop my car
pull me out
they wear long coats
and gas masks.
"You're an alien,"
they tell me
and kick my genitals.
It starts to rain
water on thick coats
splattering like boiling rice pudding.
I'm doubled over
at the checkpoint of aliens
where third world people
line up for white chocolate
filled with orange liquer
and arsenic.
Where do you come from?
I don't answer.
I wheeze
and they kick my genitals.
It starts to snow
tiny white flakes.
My lips are fire
where were you born
they ask me
I don't know
on a mountaintop
in space
under water
anywhere but here
where I'm a minority.

Sometimes I want to throw my face
Listen closely
I don't want to be buried
burn me
burn me above the tree line
where the air is thin
and the lightning strikes
maybe I'll be reborn
somewhere in the midwest
a tractor-riding, corn-growing
blond farmer kid
who never halts
at the checkpoint of aliens.

Have you gone mad? Please
Do not write about these things

I need to write about
how a stray bullet chooses a neck, a temple
and buries itself in gut
how a mother waits in the dark
for her son--fifty pieces in a sack
delivered to her doorstep
how toes curl unto themselves
and skin hardens and turns coarse
like burned sugar
how teeth seem brighter on burned skin
a Kolynos moment missed
how the hair is lumpy and glued with blood
how eyes without lashes seem surprised
one hundred forty four thousand and counting.
I need to write about these things
because I need to forget.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #44: Chronicles of a Refugee

Part Five

Issa returned to Lebanon in 2006, just weeks before the Israelis invaded. We chuckled about the seeming causality between her arrivals in Beirut and the onset of war. This time, the war would last 34 days, and would ravage Beirut again. During such extreme violence, the violated tend to band together. And in Beirut, Issa worked with many others to set up a sort of informal support and networking area in Saniyeh Gardens. The Gardens soon became a hub for Lebanese (for, everyone was Lebanese this time). "The news channels even started announcing for people come to Saniyeh," she said, still in slight disbelief.

I read her reaction as a sort of acknowledgement of the fundamental desire in people to create sanctuary, in communion with others. There's a look that people get when they reflect on their own witness of absolute humanity in times of barbarity. Staring out over the ferocious Mediterranean, Issa had this look.

It reminds me of the Bertolt Brecht lines about singing in the dark times.

While working in this new, human, Gardens, Adam Shapiro told her of a group of Palestinians forced to live in a literal no-man's-land between the Iraq-Syria border. Palestinian refugees in Iraq (a little over 30,000), have apparently enjoyed decent treatment in Iraq for years, a fact that has cause considerable resentment of the Shia minority, who have endured rotten living conditions under the Baathists. The US invasion effectively wiped out any protection that these refugees had, and Iraqi militias started targeting them.
Palestinian refugees that fled Iraq report arbitrary arrests, disappearances and torture. Sometimes they would be picked up by uniformed Iraqi secret service, other times people in civilian clothing would just knock down their doors and kidnap them. Those kidnapped would be found dead, thrown away on the streets after being tortured with electric drills, many times their limbs amputated. Those not murdered were held for ransom, forcing their families to sell all they owned to get them out. Armed men hand-delivered death threats to several Palestinians in Baghdad, setting off widespread panic among the Palestinian population. (Rafeef Ziadah, ZNet)

Many of these people fled to the Syrian border, only to be denied entry. Beyond that, Iraq refused to allow them to come back, and terminated their legal status. They literally had nowhere to go.

Issa, along with Shapiro, set out for this netherworld once the Israelis were done trying to destroy Lebanon. They began working on a plan to resettle these nonpeople. The plan looked something like this: Issa knows a guy in Chile who knows a lawyer whose uncle is a judge who plays backgammon with the person in charge of immigration. In this way, Issa and Shapiro were able to get Chile to accept about 150 Palestinians. They then thought about people in other countries who know people who know people. They made phone calls and sent emails hoping to see if some small spark would catch flame.

Each to each.

As of now, a number of countries followed Chile's precedent, though we're not out of the desert yet. This long and furious networking process is the foundation for "Chronicles." While working to resettle a relatively small group of refugees, Issa, Shapiro and Anseel Mansour decided to create this film. And they wanted to push the possibilities of the medium, to not simply make something to view passively, but to be used as an organizing tool.

I'm so heartened by their work. The depth of vision they display is instructive. Their dogged efforts to build relationships from the ground up, quite literally, is a model of true solidarity. A solidarity not concerned with rhetoric, or doctrine, but with the person next to me, next to you, and on and on.

It is my profound honor to share this story with you all. I hope I have done it justice.

**You can find "Chronicles of a Refugee" at http://palestineonlinestore.com

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #43: Chronicles of a Refugee Parts 3 & 4

Part Three

Perla Issa steps out of the subway in lower Manhattan. She looks up. The towers try to scrape the sky but fall, hopelessly, short. People scatter while glass rains down from the heavens. A rush of dust and asbestos coats the living and the dead alike. Everywhere the people are rushing, mostly away from this planned disaster, seeking sanctuary. Others run into the fires. She anchors herself to a tree. She refuses to run.

Perla Issa goes to work.

Part Four: Palestine
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business
~TS Eliot, "East Coker"

Around the time the towers came down, Perla Issa learned that her father was Palestinian. She was 23, living in New York and consulting for Chase Manhattan. "I knew the word Haifa," she reminisced on the times it was spoken, always in hushed tones, during her childhood. Palestine was a secret, buried deep in an old family chest. The decision to conceal this part of the family history was deliberate, though not malicious.

In a city that has been racked with sectarian violence, this choice was quite practical. It also reflected a level of privilege that Issa now interrogates. Not everyone has the possibility to pick an identity, and in Beirut, thousands upon thousands have been killed because of a fierce adherence to particular identities. In addition to physical violence aimed at "others," there is the structural violence of poverty. These structures impose themselves in every sector of society. So, a strong school system for the privileged classes is directly related to a dysfunctional schools for the oppressed.

"My parents raised me Lebanese....they taught me that hard work and determination lead to success. I believe that. So, what I have today is the result of hard work....and discrimination."

In Lebanon being "Lebanese" is quite different than being "Palestinian." A nuance that is not lost on Issa.

On September 12, 2001, in New York, though, any and all subtleties of ethnic Arab identities had been incinerated. The US government turned the collective back of its citizens to the open-armed support from the rest of the world, and white America was isolating the new "Others." The Arabs. Issa's co-workers talked about bombing "the Arabs," and "Islamic fundamentalism," and "killing the terrorists."

"They were saying these things....and I was saying back 'You're talking about me. You're talking about my home."

Issa was studying her history. A new, and strong sense of identity was taking shape in her. In many ways, 911 made plain the importance of identity. The choices that her parents were no longer available to her. Nor were they relevant. The US was about to embark on a war agains Arab peoples that, they said, has no definitive end. No longer was sanctuary guaranteed to an Arab person, no matter how privileged she may be.

She broke away from the corporate world and determined that she would go to Palestine. No longer anchored to that Manhattan tree, Issa set her sights on the International Solidarity Movement's (ISM) 2004 campaign.

"Robert Fisk's second chapter [in Pity the Nation] is 'Palestine.' I read the names of places that have always meant fear...I got to thinking that this British man knows [my homeland] better than me."

Her parents were not happy about her decision. Having spent their lives creating safety for their daughter, they were stunned that she would leave such a comfortable life as an engineer in New York to go "there," to Palestine. Beyond that, 2003 was a deadly year for international solidarity workers in Palestine. Between March and April of that year, Israeli soldiers killed Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndal, and shot Brian Avery in the face, permanently disfiguring him.

"My parents were comfortable, and didn't need me to care for them. I could change and be the only one who had to be responsible for these changes." Issa has a remarkable depth to her insights, and complete lack of pretension.

In Palestine she would see the so-called facts on the ground. The ISM works to create new connections between peoples from disparate places. These connections are not easy to quantify, and their results are not exactly measurable. Nonetheless the work has meaning. The links that people forge create new possibilities for action. New avenues for exploration. The fruits of that labor may never be seen by the workers, something that can lead to frustration. Indeed, the progression towards justice is terribly slow.

"I still don't know what makes a difference," she says, looking out the window at the angry Mediterranean Sea. She is someone who is trying.

And for us, indeed, there is only the trying.

**Get your copy of "Chronicles of a Refugee" at Palestine Online Store.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #42: Chronicles of a Refugee, Part Two

Part Two

“Children and birds suffer most in war
Children and birds are always running away”

~From "Migration," by Haas Mroue

Perla Issa was born in 1978, in Beirut, during the infancy of the Lebanese Civil War.

For many of us in the US, war is something that happens in faraway places. With faraway people. Most often, if we do choose to think about war, we think of its machinations. We think of bombs, of jets, of tanks. We think of causes and solutions. The people, then, become to us problems to be solved, if they exist at all.

War for us is, I think, the greatest of all abstractions.

When people, when we, become abstractions, humanity is in peril. We are not objects. We are meant to animate life. Among our many purposes, we are meant to build and expand on connections between each other. How I live, and where, is not so far away from you, actually.

And so, Perla made her life here, in Beirut, as normal as anyone else's life. Unlike Haas Mroue's children and birds, she stayed. She grew, she played, she studied. She had big shoes to fill, and the determination to do so.

The expectations she would live up to came from her grandmother, who left Haifa in 1948, in the "Nakba," or "day of catastrophe." With an eight year old son (Perla's father), she made her way to Beirut.

"She refused to go to a camp," Perla says. An act of incredible foresight, considering the laws that Lebanon would eventually pass against the Palestinians of the camps. She scraped by, selling textiles. There was pressure to send her young son to work, which she adamantly resisted. She enrolled him in a French school, and when she couldn't afford the tuition any longer, "She went to the offices of the school and told them that, if they kicked my father out, she'd stand outside their gates everyday" and raise hell.

This was a battle the school must've known they couldn't win. So, they kept Perla's father enrolled. And after that fight he excelled in his studies, eventually earning scholarships that would carry him through his entire academic career. He earned a degree in engineering, and thus paved Perla's future path.

So, with this family history as her foundation, Perla advanced through primary school in Beirut, and in 1990, with the war ending, she moved to Canada and finished high school there.

In New York City, where I teach, I have met countless kids with similar stories. It's a sort of immigrant matriarchy that is beautifully insistent. Hopeful in the absolute sense of the word.

For, children and birds leave the nest so that they may return one day. From the hopes of grandmothers, action springs eternal.

Get "Chronicles of a Refugee" at the Palestine Online Store.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Beirut Journal Days #40-41: Chronicles of a Refugee--An Interview In 6 Parts

Part One

I sat down with Perla Issa to discuss her recent six-part film "Chronicles of a Refugee," which documents the living history of Palestinians in diaspora. She, along with Aseel Mansour and Adam Shapiro, travelled the globe (over 15 countries) to interview hundreds of Palestinian Refugees, hoping to "create a debate," she says, among Palestinians. This hope is unique to the documentary film world, actually. While there have been many films made about "the Palestinian issue" for western audiences, few, if any films about/for/by Palestinians, have been made. The significance of this approach cannot be understated. Instead of being objects in history, this film, in its approach, claims space for Palestinians to be the subject of their own hopeful liberation.

"[We started making this film with] the concept that we can have a film for ourselves. That we can educate ourselves. That we can speak to ourselves." This film, then, acts as a bridge for Palestinians to walk across. To one another. Each to each.

And this stepping into a new community, through "Chronicles," is not accidental.

"The idea was to create six parts, so that the film could become a sort of meeting point." If, for example, a family or community center shows one part per week, over the next month and a half a group may well spring up from these screenings. They may well engage in debate, in strategy discussions. From these discussions, these new groups can carry the work forward in ways that are specific to the needs of their own unique regional situations.

"So many Palestinians don't know each other," she explains. Though millions have had quite similar experiences, their shared travails have been forcibly isolated. Isolation, in extreme, is a torture tactic designed to break the will of the tortured. In the case of Palestinians, the dilution of the population has served a similar purpose. Spread to the ends of the earth, the geography of The Occupation prevents them from organizing in strategic ways. Indeed, it prevents them from strategizing at all.

Listening to Ms. Issa, I couldn't help but to think of June Jordan. Her entire concept for Poetry for the People, and poetry in general, is so closely related to this film. Poetry for her was the creation of "space where people can disagree, but stay in the same room." This desire is foundational. The stones from which our shared home is built upon. Thanks to the Gods for Perla Issa, and her unrelenting efforts to strengthen this foundation.

You can find, and buy, the film at: palestineonlinestore.com

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #39: Nighttime Skies from Far Off Places

a surge
from the sea
splits the stones
and suppresses
silence while street lights
needle the night
in the distance
a barge brings
its cargo closer
to some far off border

this is not a metaphor
i have wandered far
from those whom i love

Beirut Journal Day #38: Street Art

Nuff Said

Basquiat Crown on Crow



Pour M.

I'm quite stunned, in a positive way, at the multifoliate (one of my favorite June Jordan terms) art adorning the walls around this city. Beirut has such a strong security culture that I can't imagine how these artists are able to post their bills without heavy interference. They are either really speedy, or the centurions just don't care.

Whatever the case, the artists are hard at work here, L'Humdillah.

The piece here that strikes me deepest is the last one, the poem. I don't speak French, so I have no idea what it says, but the fact that "C." scrawled this poem for "M." is touching. A tender reminder that, in places where the threat of war, rather, the reality of war is imminent, people still strive to connect to one another. People claim public space to link their lives to each other.

The poem becomes part and parcel of the architecture of this landscape.

It reminds me of when I was last in Palestine. I told a friend I was interested in meeting some poets. "People don't have time for poetry," she scoffed. Of course, she was not correct. For, I did find poets, I even found the remnants of a poem in a giant crater left by an Israeli airstrike in Nablus. It appears that one of the workers, perhaps on a break, was reading the poetic recounting of one of the Prophet's trips to Mecca. I kept the shredded fragments of the poem, brought them back & puzzled them together.

I take that poem, and this French one, as signs of communal health. As shining examples of the beautiful possibilities of human Be-ing.

"C." wherever, and whomever, you are, I hope things are working themselves out for you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #37: Borders

Marivan is north of Baghdad, on the Iran-Iraq border.

Conflict as noun and verb.

Noun: Iran and the US have a conflict regarding the three US hikers arrested in the Iranian town of Marivan.
Verb: My own thoughts about this situation conflict with each other.

If you haven't heard about the three UC-Berkeley graduates who have been held in Iranian prison since July, and who are about to be tried for espionage, I'll do my best to run down the situation.

Sarah Shourb, Shane Bauer (no relation to Jack Bauer), and Josh Fattal took a vacation from their teaching and study duties in Damascus in July to hike in the Iraqi Kurdistan mountains. They ended up, one way or another, crossing an invisible border into Iran. They've been in prison since July 31. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad has asked the judiciary to treat this case with extreme leniency (though exactly what leniency means is unclear, for, the maximum penalty in espionage is death). Hillary Clinton, in a bewildering statement, is claiming that
"We consider this a totally unfounded charge. There is no basis for it... They were out hiking and unfortunately, apparently, allegedly walked across an unmarked boundary."

Ms. Clinton's bumbling here could have very negative implications for the three. I mean, "unfounded charge?" "Allegedly"? Is she implying that the Iranian border guards have kidnapped these three? Imagine if three Iranians, who'd been to volatile countries recently, were picked up by INS on the US/Canada border?

Or, you don't even have to imagine this one, what of all the people who languish in INS detention facilities, for years, without trial?

Of course Iran's Foreign Minister, Manoucher Mottaki has a response:
Interrogation of the three Americans who have illegally entered Iran with suspicious aims is ongoing....They will be put on trial by the judiciary and rulings will be made."

There you have it. The Iranians have a sovereign right to secure their borders, do they not? Especially a border with a hostile population, the Kurds, not to mention US occupied Iraq. And they will, apparently, exercise their sovereignty in this case.

But there's something else about it. Something that really troubles me, especially in light of the work I'm about to engage in.

I've met Sarah Shourd. She was in LA in 2000, organizing people to demand that the Democrats stand up for the interests of regular people. We had just shut down the WTO in Seattle, and viewed the Dems as a part of the ruling elite. They have not proven us wrong. As Al Gore capitulated to capital, the people who voted for him were left out in the cold.

At any rate, Sarah was there, in LA. Working. Believing that regular folks have power. And believing in the right to use their power for justice.

Eventually she became a teacher, in Syria. She worked with Iraqis who fled the occupation. She worked with Syrians, and they are Syrians, from Israeli Occupied Golan.

By all accounts, Sarah Shourd is a righteous person. If Hillary Clinton, silent on matters of international justice for so long, is her best hope, I feel for Sarah.

I hope the matter is treated with the most extreme leniency, because people like Sarah are doing good work.

You can read about the three hikers at: freethehikers.org

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #36: National Priorities


So, President Suleiman (or Sleiman, depending on one's comfort with Lebanon's Arab identity &/or national priorities) is meeting with our own totally ineffectual intellectual, President Obama. Number one on the agenda, which is sure to be short, is military assistance. Also, we are told in the papers here, Suleiman will "bring up the Palestinian issue." The connection between the two is being misrepresented in a subtle way. For, the impression that one gets from it all is that Lebanon needs military assistance to protect itself from its aggressive neighbors, most notably Israel. By extension, then, one assumes that the Lebanese president's "bringing up" of the so called Palestinian issue is benign, at worst. For, Israel considers the Palestinians their enemy, do they not?

A little recent history:

In 2007 the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) fought a decisive war against the Palestinians of the Nahr El-Bared Refugee Camp in northern Lebanon. The camp was laid waste. Literally flattened by bulldozers.
The 15 weeks of fighting left more than 400 persons dead, among them 170 soldiers and 54 civilians, while the core of Nahr al-Bared was completely destroyed, and the adjacent area partly ruined.

It's worth noting that this war began less than a year after Israel's failed, and criminal, invasion. Though Israel claimed to be responding to Hezballah actions, Palestinians are always a part of the framework of Israeli military affairs. Indeed, whenever Lebanese talk about Israel invasions, the phrase "Paletinians started the war," is sure to be mentioned, as if by rote. The ritual scapegoating of the stateless Palestinians in Lebanon has had horrific consequences.

For, just after Israel's "operation" (the term leaves me ill), the LAF enclosed Nahr El-Bared. The refugees there were forced to show ID upon entry, and nearly all economic activity ceased there. By collectively punishing the refugees, they could show that they were serious about controlling "terrorists." Of course, the situation was bound to explode--this is Lebanon, after all.

If only the LAF fought so "fiercely" against the invaders.

Alas, the weak will always be the targets. So, after 15 weeks of destruction, Nahr El-Bared lay flat. War makers "softened" homes with the bullet, then turned them into rubble with the bulldozer. Much the same as Jenin in 2002. Or East Jerusalem today.

So, what's all this got to do with Suleiman's quest for military assistance? Lebanon's military money is directly connected to their "control" of muslims. Let the good people of the Washington Institute explain:
Lebanon is the second largest per capita recipient of U.S. military assistance after Israel. While Washington continues to back Beirut (the administration has requested $60 million in military assistance for Lebanon for 2009), Hizballah's recent political gains and lingering questions about the future disposition of the Lebanese government will likely prevent the administration from expanding either the quantity or quality of the military requests...
...The LAF demonstrated a great deal of commitment in Nahr el-Bared. Not only did the army follow government orders to enter the camp in the face of Hizballah threats -- Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah described entry into the camp as a "red line" -- the LAF persevered throughout a three-month campaign and sustained heavy losses. Regrettably, however, the LAF's performance in the camp was a high point.

So, military aid is being tied directly to Lebanon's commitment, or willingness at least, to fight against "Islamists*," be they Palestinian or Hezballah. For, to the Islamophobes running our country, a muslim is a muslim. The deader the better.

And since the US is committed to maintaining Israeli superiority in the region, and since Hezballah is responsible for doing what no other Lebanese faction has ever been able to do--repel Israel--we're left to assume that any new weaponry will be directed at the Stateless Ones.

*Do not let the conflation of Palestinian Refugees and Hezballah pass you by. First of all, Hezballah is Shia, Palestinians are, for the most part, Sunni. This difference is of major significance. Secondly, Hezballah is based in the south of the country, while Nahr El-Bared is near the northern border, which is to say that they had nothing to do with militant activity in that camp. The Party of God defines itself as an Islamic nationalist defense/resistance movement. In short, though Hezballah is vocally supportive of Palestinians, they are actively silent (for example, they did not respond militarily to Israel's maniacal hellfire over Gaza.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #35: Walls


The US Army Corps of Engineers has designed a special, "impenetrable" wall for Egypt to install along the border with Gaza. I know we all remember the bang-up job the Corps did in New Orleans. Apparently, some of the same technology used to shield New Orleans from hurricanes was used in this design. The wall will be about 10km long, and will reach about 18m into the earth. The effect, of course, is to further cut the Palestinians in Gaza off from the rest of the world.

One wonders, naturally, why Egypt, an Arab-nationalist republic, punishes its Arab neighbors from Palestine, so harshly. A quick paragraph from the US State Department helps us understand:
The U.S. has a large [$1.3bn p/yr] assistance program in Egypt and provides funding for a variety of programs in addition to some cash transfers....To support the Middle East peace process through regional economic integration, the United States permits products to be imported from Egypt without tariffs if they have been produced in Qualified Industrial Zones and 11.7% of the inputs of these products originate from Israel.

Wait...nearly 12% of Egyptian imports to the US come from Israel!? How cynical is that? The US, Egypt and Israel have a tidy economic reltationship. Israel funnels goods (likely produce that's grown in the Occupied Jordan River Valley) through Egypt, under the guise of "regional economic integration," while at the same time enforces a total blockade of goods and services to Palestinians. A blockade that it, under international law, an act of war. And, let's not forget that the justification for the blockade is the election (carried out under seige) of Hamas to a majority in a non-functioning Palestinian "government."

It must be noted that Hosni Mubarak has, until 2005, secured his position by having himself nominated by parliament, then confirmed without opposition in a referendum. He's only been opposed once in 28 years, and the one candidate to oppose him (Dr. Ayman Nour) has since
been sentenced to five years hard labor, essentially for contesting the process. Mubarak is the longest serving Egyptian ruler since Muhammad Ali Pasha, who died in 1849.


But, as Baalbek shows, walls can only stand for so long.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #34: To Be in Beirut


Last night my Arabic teacher enlightened, and delighted me.

"There's no 'to be' verb in Arabic," she explained. No wonder June Jordan loved Arab poetry so much! An illustration:

I am not
I write
I am not
I fight
I am not loving
I love

Action becomes
the state of Be-ing
perpetual action
the one who

it is not raining:
the sky
"Language carries the conscience of a People," June taught us. This statement created the foundation for us in Poetry for the People. We always sought to expand the possibilities of our own language, often by studying the poetry from numerous "others."

We also abolished "to be" verbs, in order to write with the urgency of insurrection. With the urgency of forbidden lovers. This new immediacy, for so many of us in P4P launched us into direct actions to realize the promise(s) of our shared nation. Direct actions to bring to fruition the constitutional declaration that power lies in Our hands. The hands of the People.

Indeed, this immediacy of language and action drove me to Palestine in 2001-2002. And reeled me back to these lands presently.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #33: Ozymandias

~Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I went to Baalbek today, the site of 2nd & 3rd Century Roman ruins. They were built by the enslaved, of course. Approximately 100,000 forced laborers over a 200 year span, erecting monuments to rulers who hated them. These ruins are, I think, something to note for the American Empire. Eventually our monuments will crumble.

It is definitely beautiful there. We traveled over the Chouf Mountains and into the Bekaa Valley, into a Hezballah stronghold. It was evident that the Party (Hezb) of God (Allah) is engaged in some important social work in the region. For, once the banners on the street changed from Amal (the "other" Shia party) to Hezballah, the conditions of the road did as well. Smooth sailing on a newly paved road for miles is quite a feat here. Not dissimilar from Brooklyn, actually. I mean, imagine if a political party delivered on a promise to completely repair & maintain Atlantic Avenue! They'd have my vote, for sure!

The facts are that this party is legitimate. Rather, Legitimate. Capital L. They have seats in the government, but don't control it. The don't have any more power, officially, than any other group, and are in the minority/opposition coalition, actually. This coalition does not have "veto power" as some US congresspeople are claiming. In fact, the government as a whole has agreed that Hezballah's arms are legitimate and necessary for the nation's defense. In effect, the government has nationalized Hezballah's arms. Most people here, whether they support Hezballah or not, recognize that without them Israel would still be occupying the south, trying to control the water supply. Lebanon gets the most annual rainfall of any country in the region, and thus has a natural, geographic advantage over other countries. Hezballah ensures that this advantage can be developed to benefit the people of Lebanon.

I just mean to shed a little light on this much-maligned political party. They are not evil. I don't agree with some of their policies, for sure. I am not keen on theocracy. But I do support local resources benefiting the people of the land. And I do support a party from the poor, who supports the poor. And the Shia of Lebanon are poor. But they are not THE poorest in Lebanon, anymore. They have, in the last few years, climbed out of dire, or absolute, poverty, and now most live just above the World Bank line of $4 per day. Whereas the predominantly Christian north, equally forsaken by previous administrations, has been on a downward spiral and are now the most impoverished people in the country. In short, Hezballah is moving people in a positive direction, towards economic self-sufficiency, in the name of God.



Self Portrait

Self Portrait #2

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #32: Still Life


Che Went Thataway

Ana Peru

Girl With No Arm


Self Portrait


Dome #2

Martyrs Square

Party Girl

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #31: Shooting Gallery



The Light

I stumbled upon this shooting gallery the other day. I'm talking about heroine, not guns. The building, in shambles, looked like some tragic beauty, a casualty of one war or another. Vacant buildings are common in Beirut, though there are usually people, or police, posted up all around, so I don't normally step into them. This one, though, has clearly been forsaken.

As I approached the entrance, a strong smell overtook me. I don't know how, or why, exactly, but the smell of human feces is distinct. I stepped, carefully, through the weeds & crossed the threshold. The floor was littered with toilet paper, cigarettes, plastic water bottles, aluminum cans and hypodermic needles. There were a few cans still overturned, the residue of cooked narcotic visible.

Drug use in Lebanon is a major social taboo. The government tends to deal with it in two ways: harsh mandatory sentences, on the one hand, and pretending it doesn't exist on the other. According to Menahra (Middle East & North Africa Harm Reduction Network)
Drug use, or even possession of a drug, is a legal offence whose sentence is 3 months to 1 year of prison
 Drug users have the right for voluntary detoxification, but relapse is not allowed
 Police treatment at arrest is inappropriate
 Only approved treatment is detoxification, no substitution treatment is available, methadone is illegal

One of the major fears is that the HIV rate will climb. A few reports have come out recently to this affect, and they all mention that the main difficulty is that the laws are proving to be prohibitive not to drug use, but to treatment and tracking of infections. Users live and use in secret, and fear punishment, so they don't seek treatment. In addition, needle sharing is common.
 64.7% have ever borrowed a syringe
 59.6% borrowed a syringe within the month prior to the interview
 76% are sexually active:
• 32.9% have had a commercial sex partner in the past month
• 24.7% had male-male sex
• 39.3% reported consistent use of condoms with commercial sex partners and 5.8% with regular sex partner
 High level of awareness of HIV/AIDS modes of transmission and methods of prevention

There is a growing call for a harm reduction approach to drug use here, and hopefully it will be heeded. For, the last thing this country needs is another unwinnable war.