Friday, August 15, 2008

Quote on Peace: George Bernard Shaw

"Peace is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Inappropriate Behavior: the Art of Shooting Blindfolded Palestinians

Okay, last one, and then I'll try to calm down. This is still from Amal's blog. More fighting words, and yet the world seems to excel at conveniently ignoring the facts:

If You Shoot a Bound and Blindfolded Palestinian in the Foot...

This update is for those who were holding their breath:

The Israeli soldier who shot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian man with a bullet at close range was found guilty of "inappropriate conduct" and was reassigned.

So if you were holding your breath, you can exhale.

I hope now you understand how the occupation works:

If you shoot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian in the foot, your conduct is "inappropriate."

If you shoot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian in the eye, your conduct is "rather inappropriate."

If you shoot a bound and blindfolded Palestinian in the head, your conduct is "really inappropriate."

If you shoot ten bound and blindfolded Palestinians in the foot, eye, and head, your conduct is "very inappropriate."

If you shoot one hundred bound and blindfolded Palestinians in the foot, eye, head, mouth, and genitals, you are a national hero.

In all the above cases, you will be reassigned. Depending on how many you shoot and where you shoot them, there is a good chance you will be reassigned to be Prime Minister or Chief of Staff.

To put things in perspective:

If a Palestinian throws a stone at an Israeli armored tank, his conduct is labeled "criminal" and he is reassigned to an Israeli jail for a few years.

Inhale that!

Fighting Words: the Illegality of Settlements

Wow, wow, wow. The more I read of Amal's blog, the more I want to repost every entry on mine. Here's something to chew on (as Homer [of Iliad and Odyssey fame] might say, "fighting words"):

Repeat After Me: Settlements are Illegal!!

A BBC article about building new Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley ends with this question:
The future of the Jordan Valley, its Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages, will be decided in a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. If and when that happens, might there be a way of accommodating both Jasser [the Palestinian farmer] and Yossi [the Isreaeli colonists] in this stunningly beautiful but often hostile strip of land?
Ending the article in this way equates the victim and the thief. Jasser has international law on his side: this land is his land; he owned if for generations and all settlements built under occupation are illegal. Yossi has the power of a colonial state on his side and a god who works in his free time as a real estate agent.

We know who is going to win.

A Palestinian Woman's Blog and Palestinians at the Olympics

Interested in a Palestinian woman's take on life and politics? I would highly recommend you check out Amal A.'s Improvisations blogsite. Her statement of purpose reads:
These are improvisations: neither a manifesto nor a treatise because life is too complicated for either. Yet, I'm improvising as an Arab -- Palestinian -- woman with a progressive point of view always under construction. Since I often find myself caught between anti-Arab racism and arab reactionary politics, both of which threaten to gag me, I'm raising my voice against both, hoping in the process to contribute an improvised note to a progressive Arab blogosphere.
Here is her moving account of watching the Palestinian delegation march into the Olympic opening ceremony:

The Awesome Palestinians

Last night I did something I usually don't do: I planted my eight-year old son in front of the TV and ordered: watch. It was the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. We watched over two hours of amazing choreography, high-minded symbolism, cute children, huge screens, thousands of performers (basically men doing the heavy lifting and women the pretty dancing). We commented, argued, admired, and shrugged as the spectacle unfolded in front of our comfy sofa.

Then the parade of nations began.

We stopped our snacking and waited.

We blushed when the Bahrain delegation marched holding a picture of the country's leader over the flag. The only people to do so! As my son explained: "they must love their ruler very very much."

We groaned when the commentator described Jordan as a somewhat "progressive country." (define "somewhat")

We snickered when the commentator pointed out that the two women flag bearers for the UAE delegation happened to be the prime minister's daughters (he concluded: "but that maybe a coincident.") (then we fumed for continuing to be the butt of jokes)

We frowned when the Saudi Arabia delegation appeared with no women on it and we had to be reminded that "Saudi women need a male guardian to travel."

We were deeply saddened by the uniforms of the women on the Hungarian delegation.

But we mostly waited.

There were huge nations and small ones (the population of one participating country was 46,000 people). There were bullying and bullied countries. We patiently waited.

Finally, they appeared. The Palestinians.

Now jumping on the sofa, pointing at the screen, and screaming "Palestine, Palestine," my son and I drowned out everything that the commentators said and could hardly focus on the picture. All I remember is this: there were four participants: two runners and two swimmers. The flag bearer was the runner Nader al Masri, who trained in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, during Israeli "incursions." I could see two women dressed in traditional Palestinian dresses. They all walked around the stadium holding hands and raising the victory sign.

They appeared for a few seconds. The Cuban delegation followed and the Palestinians disappeared from the screen.

We know they may not win any medals, but they already won. For despite the occupation, the closed borders, the divisions, the poverty, the misery, the lack of official support, the lack of facilities and the empty promises, they came for Palestine. They had no Olympic-size pools to swim in. They had no shoes or safe roads. They had no budgets. They had to wait for exit permits that may or may not be granted. But they persevered and came.

My son and I cheered for this, not for an abstract nationalism or an "us against them" idea. We cheered for the tenacity of young women and men who insist on dreaming of a better future.

When it was obvious that we will not see more of the Palestinians, we settled down. My son, breathless and flushed with excitement, turned to me and said: "They were awesome!"

Yes, they were: Nader, Ghadeer, Hamse, and Zakiya. We thank you for your awesomeness!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More Darwish

Visit Behind the Lines for a different translation of Mahmoud Darwish's "Under Siege" and an Al Jazeera film clip on Darwish's legacy (also available on YouTube).

A Tribute for Mahmoud Darwish

The following is from the blog Improvisations:

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008): Why Did You Leave Us Alone?

The poet is dead. Who will tell the world our story? Who will tell us the stories of the world? He leaves us when we needed him most: when we are no longer heard, when we no longer can see ahead, for our horizons have become prisons.

The poet is dead. No more new poems for us. We have to do with what he left behind. And do we must: for his poems are the oxygen mask that failed him but gets us through our days.

The poet is dead. Words weep. Like us, they know what they have lost. Like us, they have been orphaned, adrift, in a world that has only politicians.

The poet is dead and with him my dream that one day I will hear him live.

The poet is dead. But his poems stay. We will know them better now. We will pour over them and squeeze every word the way we squeeze an olive to get out of it its last drop of goodness.

Goodnight, poet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Letter to the President of the United States: Regarding the Middle East and Israel

One of my best friends, and favorite poets, recently visited me in Amman, Jordan, gathering research for a Richter's Grant on poetry and peace. During her six-week stay we traveled extensively in Jordan, as well as visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem (the inspiration for much of my recent blogging). She is keeping a record of some of her thoughts on the experience (as well as her musings on poetry and poets) on one of her blogsites: From Here to There and (Maybe) Back Again. Her other site, devoted entirely to her poetry, is Poems From a Small Place, which I would highly recommend. As I've mentioned before, she tends to focus on the small details of peace and life -- of being and becoming.

This poem is one of her recent ones -- a reflection on her time in the Middle East -- and is posted on From Here to There. Please don't let the length deter you (especially if you don't tend to be a huge fan of poetry); I assure you it is well worth the read.

A Letter to the President of the United States

To the President of the United States:
I am not a politician, or an official diplomat.
I am a university student, a philosopher, a poet,
a theologian, a woman, a novice world traveler,
a feminist, a peacemaker.
I love God, most of the time, and at others, do not know
how to love God, but like any honest
theologian, I must admit I often do not understand
what she/he has in mind for this world,
a world that is both beautiful and broken.
People do many things in the name of “God”
that I also do not understand. Contradiction
is everywhere. And Jesus, let’s not get started
on the things people say about Jesus. I believe
he was God and human, but schizophrenic? Well,
it’s possible. I find it dangerous to talk about
what Jesus could or could not be.

But enough about theology and those confusions.
I recently traveled to the Middle East. My goal
was to speak with women, hear their stories, see
their faces. And from that, write poems about their lives
in their voices, about their homes, their families, their
thoughts, their struggles, their power. Some of these women
were of Jordanian heritage, one an Iraqi, a couple more
Lebanese, most were Palestinian, forced from their homes
and welcomed by Jordan, but Jordan is a small country.
For five and a half weeks, I was based in Amman, and traveled
for too short a time to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Do you want to know why? Because of peace.

I am sure, Mr. President, that you know Jerusalem
is in Israel, and Bethlehem is in the West Bank.
I am sure you also know the United States gives a disproportionate
amount of funds to the Israeli government to use to their “benefit.”
I think it’s great to live in a country that helps others.
A country that makes friends of other countries.
But true friends hold each other accountable.
True friends do not let each other do harm.
True friends stay close, and ask questions.
True friends treat each other as equals, not spoiled children.

And I mean no disrespect,
but after my visit, I am sure you do not know these women’s
stories. You do not know their land or their voices,
their struggles, their thoughts, their homes,
their families, their power. You do not know Palestinians.
You do not know hot tea with mint, directions from a kind stranger,
breakfast and lunch that could make you pop—all daily
occurrences, not rare kind Arabs. Normal kind Arabs, who are pained
by their rare, violent cousins.

You do not know the empty streets of Bethlehem,
fresh plums—a gift—from a woman in the market whose land
has been taken from her. I am sure, though, you know who
took it. You do not know the horror of a checkpoint gate, the wall,
or how long six hours waiting at the Israel border for wanting to
visit Bethlehem feels. You do not know the humiliation
human beings suffer every day. You do not know the inequity.
You do not know how closely refugee camps resemble the ghettos
of Eastern Europe during the Holocaust of WWII,
how much hurt the Israelis are still facing, and how much healing
I wish I could bring them. You do not know how they remind me
of children who grew up with abusive parents, vowing to never
be like that, but who bruise and batter their children. When they are old,
they cry themselves to sleep, and whisper prayers of regret.

Their children cry too.

Mr. President, do you want to know why I believe you
do not know these things?
Because if you did, if you knew them, they would be different.
You would be different.
Knowing details makes peace possible. Our enemies become
neighbors. People have faces that cannot be blown up.
I do not know your reasons for aiding Israel with such gusto.
Perhaps you wish to help God’s “chosen” people. But aren’t we all?
Perhaps you want to make up for America’s late entry into WWII,
and the masses of human beings with families and wishes who
should not have been treated as they were. But is this the way to do that?
Won’t our next generation have a debt to pay the Palestinians?
Perhaps you want Americans to feel safe from Arabs. But aren’t we
more afraid?
Again, I do not know, and I am sure it is complicated.

Perhaps we should make it simple again.
I will make a few things
simple for you.
I do not support any violence Palestinians inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence Israelis inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence Americans inflict, on anyone.
I do not support any violence any humans inflict, on anyone.
I do support the kindness of Israelis. The kindness of Arabs.
The kindness of Americans. The kindness of humanity.
I do not want tax money that comes from my paycheck, that I
have earned in peaceable ways, to go toward the systematic
destruction of lives, those of Arabs or Israelis or Americans.
When we are no longer inspired by the humanity of our neighbors,
something has been destroyed. Many Israelis have been destroyed,
as they destroy Palestinians. And the United States pays for this.
Is that being a good friend?

This is the United States’ conflict. We are involved.
This, quite simply, must stop.
Mr. President, what have you done this week to bring peace
among Israel, Palestine, and the United States?
I will ask again next week. And the week after that. Like the mother
in Bethlehem who will wait 500 years for her son’s prison sentence to end,
I will keep asking, until we are free. Until we have peace.
Salaam, Peace, Shalom.

Respectfully and with great hope,

Kohleun A.

A poem for Palestine by Mahmoud Darwish

Under Siege
Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
close to the gardens of broken shadows,
we do what prisoners do,
and what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.


A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent
for we closely watch the hour of victory:
No night in our night lit up by the shelling
our enemies are watchful and light the light for us
in the darkness of cellars.


Here there is no "I".
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.


On the verge of death, he says:
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand.
Soon I shall penetrate my life,
I shall be born free and parentless,
and as my name I shall choose azure letters...


You who stand in the doorway, come in,
drink Arabic coffee with us
and you will sense that you are men like us
you who stand in the doorways of houses
come out of our morningtimes,
we shall feel reassured to be
men like you!


When the planes disappear, the white, white doves
fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven
with unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession
of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves
fly off. Ah, if only the sky
were real (a man passing between two bombs said to me).


Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting
the sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel
soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank—
and the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in
a street as wide as a church after Sunday mass...


(To a killer) If you had contemplated the victim’s face
and thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
and you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.


The siege is a waiting period
waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.


Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment
were it not for the visits of the rainbows.


We have brothers behind this expanse.
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep.
Then, in secret, they tell each other:
"Ah! if this siege had been declared..." They do not finish their sentence:
"Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us."


Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees...
Added to this the structural flaw that
will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.


A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
for my clothing is drenched with his blood.


If you are not rain, my love
be tree
sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
be stone
saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
be moon
in the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
(So spoke a woman
to her son at his funeral)


Oh watchmen! Are you not weary
of lying in wait for the light in our salt
and of the incandescence of the rose in our wound
are you not weary, oh watchmen?


A little of this absolute and blue infinity
would be enough
to lighten the burden of these times
and to cleanse the mire of this place.


It is up to the soul to come down from its mount
and on its silken feet walk
by my side, hand in hand, like two longtime
friends who share the ancient bread
and the antique glass of wine
may we walk this road together
and then our days will take different directions:
I, beyond nature, which in turn
will choose to squat on a high-up rock.


On my rubble the shadow grows green,
and the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat
he dreams as I do, as the angel does
that life is here...not over there.


In the state of siege, time becomes space
transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege, space becomes time
that has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow.


The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day
and questions me: Where were you? Take every word
you have given me back to the dictionaries
and relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz.


The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse
I did not look
for the virgins of immortality for I love life
on earth, amid fig trees and pines,
but I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it
with my last possession: the blood in the body of azure.


The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations
believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me.
I first, I the first one!


The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed.
I put a gazelle on my bed,
and a crescent of moon on my finger
to appease my sorrow.


The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!


Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
the health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.


And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me.


Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
the drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
blackness of this tunnel!


Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me
in the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces:
Greetings to my apparition.


My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me,
a soothing grave in the shade of oak trees
a marble epitaph of time
and always I anticipate them at the funeral:
Who then has died...who?


Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.


Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees
in the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
to another like a gazelle
the water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
of the sky. And other things of suspended memories
reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
and that we are the guests of eternity.

-Mahmoud Darwish

The Death of Palestinian "National Poet" Mahmoud Darwish

"Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging." -Naomi Shihab Nye
(quoted in a Yahoo! News article on Darwish's death)

Mahmoud Darwish, once described as the Palestinian poet of exile, died Saturday (Aug. 9th) at the age of 67.

For access to his website, portions of his poetry, and an article on his life, take a look at Jewish Peace News: Mahmoud Darwish (I highly recommend that you do so).

Writer (and poet) Nathalie Handal writes:
On many occasions [Darwish] has expressed the notion that only poetry can bring harmony to a world devastated by war: "Against barbarity, poetry can resist only by confirming its attachment to human fragility like a blade of grass growing on a wall while armies march by," he has written. I ask him if he still believes that.

"I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe," he responds, "but now I think that poetry changes only the poet."

Darwish died an honored poet of peace and a man of hope.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ahlan wa Sahlan — the gift of hospitality

I post this here for Um and Abu Ahmed, who shared their beautiful home, their tears of grief, their mint, and their tea. May they who welcomed strangers find welcome in return.

Red Brocade

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he's come from,
where he's headed.
That way, he'll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you'll be
such good friends
you don't care.

Let's go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That's the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

-Naomi Shihab Nye
from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East