Friday, March 31, 2006

Rapping in Akko

Mahmoud is a rapper, plain and simple. In style, dress, ability and mood. The boy's got it goin' on.

I met Mahmoud in Akko, a small town in the North of Israel that was once controlled, at various points in history, by Alexander The Great, The Egyptians and the Romans.

Mahmoud lives in The Old City of Akko a fortress of stone walls that surround the entire town that were built by Ahmed Pasha al-Jazzar in 1799. I met Mahmoud by chance as a friend of mine, Jamal, who also lives in Akko was walking me back from the train station. Jamal told Mahmoud to come by his house later on in the evening. At about 12am, Mahmoud showed up and he and I got into a long discussion about "Old School" Rap which included; Public Enemy, KRS One, Grand-Master Flash (you can see from my tastes that I'm ancient.), and so on.

Our conversation shifted however to a more serious tone after awhile. We both spoke of our frustration and anger over the occupation. Mahmoud sat in a chair pouring over his anger at how the US and Europe didn't care for what is going on in Palestine.

"If 60 Palestinians get killed, its okay. They are not real people they are dogs. This is the thinking of Bush and the others in the EU. But if one Israeli dies, then the whole World must know of this thing! Where is the justice? Where is the human rights?!"

Mahmoud felt that rap was his best way of channeling his anger at the occupation. And it seems, from what I could gather, that he is making an impact overseas in Europe, but not in the United States: "I have no interests in going to America. True the Europeans are doing a bad job, but America is the one who is creating far more problems for Arabs, and especially Muslims, everywhere."

I sat listening to him. His deep insight into how the situation here really is. What it might take to change things to resolve the conflict and his hopes for the future. As I listened, I began to think about the current crop of rap artist that are out there. Not all of them, but the ones that occupy the Billboard top 100 and such. You know who I'm talking about; 50 cent, G-Unit, Little John (Then again, maybe you don't know whom I'm talking about.) I thought about how much I missed the old rhymes of Public Enemy on the cut; "FIGHT THE POWER"

Elvis was a hero to most
but he never meant shit too me.
You see he's straight up racist
That sucker was simple and plain.
Motha' fuck him and John Wayne!
'Cause I'm black and I'm proud
I'm ready, I'm hyped 'cause I'm amped.
Most of my hero's don't appear on no stamp!

I thought back to when rappers had something to say, instead of talking about; "Bling-Bling" or "Junk in the trunk."

Then I looked at Mahmoud. This determined, intelligent, and deep Palestinian brotha' whose got it goin' on tight!

"Some day I hope my rhymes can make people think about what's going on in this land of ours."

Rest assured brotha' they will. They will.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I Wish...

I wish that what I am about to show you could be passed off as just another anomaly.

I wish I could close my eyes and click my heels three times and say; "There's no such thing as the occupation. There's no such thing as the occupation."

I wish, but wishing is for birthdays.

Wishing is for shooting stars.
Wishing is for make believe.
Wishing is for those who have NO hope.

But this is not me.

I don't wish.

I have hope.

But when I see images like this, sometimes I'm not so sure...

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Quiet Dream of A Normal Life: Ghassan Banourah

Continuing in our theme of: A Quiet Dream of A Normal Life, we speak with Ghassan Banourah, a Palestinian activist, confined to the town of Bethlehem due to the fact that he posses only a West Bank ID and is forbidden to enter Israel.

Ghassan Banouhra: We need to get rid of the occupation thats a fact. This needs to go for sure. But to get rid of the occupation, it depends on the methods and stratagies we are using right now. basiclly the form of occupation has changed. There is no direct confrontation with the army anymore. Now it is replaced by security fences, "so called" security fences all around The West Bank. The rules of engagement have changed. Now we are experiencing a new form of occupation, a new level of occupation. Which, I beleive, is so close to the South African apartheid system. So, the methods we have to use to fight the occupation are new now.

I think we have to be creative. Advocacy work is very important at this time. We need to do more advocacy work, more media work. We should gather more information, more speaking tours, more people coming too see the situation on the ground. Also, educating people about the Palestinian cause. And also educating ourselves (Palestinians and Israelis), about gaining experience from the South African cause. To take a look at the methods they used in South Africa.

I was born in Jerusalem. My parents were West bank ID carriers. My mom and dad have no Jerusalem IDS. So, I'm denied entry into the city I was born in. So since the moment I was born I was a displaced person. Its a racist strategy, racist regeime, whatever you want to call it.

My childhood was in the first intifada. I must admit I wasn't so non-violent. I was a stone thrower in my childhood. I did the whole things; throwing stones, moltov cocktail bombs at jeeps, burning tires in the streets. I did the whole tour. Then, in 1995, Arafat came and taught us peace. So we stopped throwing stones and we stopped doing problems. But still we saw that our fathers were losing they're jobs, because the checkpoints are always closed in The West Bank and around Jerusalem. We could still see our lands being confiscated and the settlements still growing and they are not stopping, even now.

So, in 1996 the youth went back to the streets. And there were clashes in 1996, 1997, 1998, and then I grew up. I went to university. I graduated with a hotel management degree in 2001. Then ISM started and I joined ISM in 2002. I became a non-violent peace activist. Now I am doing advocacy work and reporting for the Palestinian Center for Reproachment.

Basiclly, the fact is, being oppressed all the time never having the experiences that other children around the world had, affected us. You have to fight for your playground. You have to fight for your toys. You have to fight for your education. During my time in elementary school, they closed the schools. And we had to sneak around to houses. We use to have to go to peoples houses just to have school. Because we wanted to get an education. And if the army caught us in the streets, they would dystroy our toys and shoot at us. So that affected me because I never had my freedom. I never had the things that kids I saw on tv had. We use to see them in tv and movies having fun. And I wondred why I could not do this.

Durring my youth, I always wondered; "Why I can't go to Jerusalem?" I was always told that I was born in Jerusalem. You know I was a young boy. You always want to go and explore when you are that age. You want to go out. You want to see the world. It's normal. But, our space was limited by bypass roads, by the army, checkpoints. So, we have never had the chance to move freely because the occupation has dystroyed our economy. Our parents never had extra money to give to us to travel, not even to Ramallah as a normal child can do in other places.

Right now, the only way the world will hear of us is if we market our cause. We need to do advocacy work along with other forms of non-violent action. The world needs to know the sufferring of the Palestinians.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Quiet Dream of A Normal Life: Angela Godfrey-Goldstien

We continue with the theme of: The Quiet Dream of A Normal Life, as we speak to Angela Godfrey-Goldstien. An Israeli activist working with The Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions.

Angela Godfrey: The current situation is not good, obviously. I personally am not that threatened by Hamas as many Israelis feel. Many Israelis see Hamas as synonymous with terror because of they're past, they're history. Which I see as resistance to occupation. And the occupation of course being the biggest problem here. This is what it is really all about. We have to end this occupation and even Sharon said so.

Unfortunately, Israel is not intending to end the occupation. It is going to create a Palestine. We can see the infrastructure it has already been built. All the tunnels for example to join all the Palestinian mountain tracks together and pass it off as a road system, when its not. No territorial contiguity, but they call it transport contiguity.

So, you'll have these cantons, this was what Sharon was calling it, which is what they are. You can call them Bantustans if you like. You can call them ghettos or prisons.

And with the permit system very much in place, Israel will still be occupying, for all intense and purposes, Palestine which will not be viable as a sovergin entity. And therefore Israel is becoming an apartheid state, a police state. An imperialist colonial enterprise that will be divesting itself of the population of Palestinians, putting them in these reservations. And then Israel will turn around and say: "There is a Palestine."

Well, they won't be able to get on without water, for example. So if we've kept all the water which is what the wall has done, and the settlement blocs, which we're talking about keeping: The Ariel Bloc, Gush Etzion Bloc, The Jordan Valley Bloc, have done then there will be no peace. There can't be! The Palestinians will not be able to live in peace with us if this is so.

The Israeli public doesn't understand the details. But the people in charge do. And they think (The government) we've got a big army and it might cost us a few young men they're lives, maybe a lot. And its crazy because, you need to get stability in this region. You need to calm it down you need to de-militarize and disarm. What happens in ten years time if we continue to build upour military force out of fear? What happens when Al Qaeda and other groups start getting they're hands on bombs because of our Islamaphobia? Is this the world we want to live in?

Wouldn't it be easier and healthier to wake up in the morning, to feel good about yourself and say: "We made peace."? That one day we can know that our neighbors all around us in other countries in the region are now our friends for the first time? We can start to thrive and live with hope. And plan for the future and have a decent future where everybody can go to work, feed they're families, get a decent education, and be free in the world?! Travel abroad, travel around, go swimming in the sea? Isn' that a better thing to have?

Otherwise your into repression and that, very fast, becomes fascist. Of course we could stay in Gaza and the West Bank, but the price for staying is fascism. And it s too high a price to pay.

There are many great Israelis. People with ideals. People with morals. But there is a huge level of fatigue. Many people are war-weary. There is a huge level of pessimism. People say: "Well we tried peace. It didn't work." But they didn't try hard enough and they didn't try real peace. But, many people in the consensus feel that we gave peace a chance and the Palestinians, the Arabs, they don't want peace. Many Israelis are very emotional, very insecure, very fearful. And they can change overnight. The minute that there is a new political party, that gives them hope, everybody sides with them. Like Kadima (Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's party.) In a year's time they may well be very disillusioned with Kadima, as they were with previous parties in power.

But the problem is, if your stirring up hornets nests, and those hornets are becoming more and more strong, like Hamas for example, they will not be messed with.

I hope that the civil society starts to understand that we cannot allow for ethnic cleansing. I hope the civil society becomes strong and stands up for the Palestinians. Because we need to be empowered. I know that diplomats know this, I don't know if the politicians know it or not.

In the long term I am hopeful because I am sure, in the long term, there is such a thing as common sense. And it has to prevail. But how long it will take and how many more people have to die, for no good reason, I don't know.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Quiet Dream of A Normal Life: Hisham JamJoum

As part of a series of interviews, we will hear from Palestinians and Israelis who speak of the current situation in Israel/Palestine, and they're hopes and dreams for a normal life beyond occupation. Today we speak with Hisham JamJoum, a Palestinian non-violent peace activist working with The International Solidarity Movement.

HISHAM JAMJOUM:The situation in general is very bad. Whether we speak of political situation, economic situation, or cultural situation. Now it's very bad now. We don't know where we are now. We have no government. No Palestinian government. And in a few days, there will be elections for the new Israeli government.

We don't know what they will do. And, until now, we are waiting for the program of our government, The Palestinian National Authority. So till now we see how we are living and we hope that we get good things in the future. But, you know, we must wait. This word we must use it a lot; Wait. We'll wait and we'll see what will happen.

I was born here in Jerusalem in 1959. I grew up, and when I start to understand what is happening around me, it was during the 1967 war. I remember when I saw for the first time a soldier in my life in front of me when he came and check us, we were living in Beit Hanina. He came to search our house and he says he is Jewish. I didn't know what Jewish was. But he says he is Jewish.

After they came, there was two days of curfew and a lot of shooting outside of our house. But after that...I think it was some sort of program, political things. They let the people, the people at that time, they gave them a lot of money, a lot of jobs, and a high salaries. I'm not sure if it was a program or what, but they did this up until the end of the 1980's. And then after this, they told us; "You can't go and work inside Israel anymore." Those from the West Bank, I mean. Before, any Palestinians could come and work in Israel and sell produce and other things. But now, they say we can't do this anymore.

You know, there are three kinds of Palestinians. The first are those whose lands were occupied in 1948, they have Israeli nationality, but they are Palestinians. They have Israeli passports and they are almost citizens, but in a third class.

They the second kind are Palestinians who live in Jerusalem and have Israeli ID, but they can't have Israeli passports. All of these Palestinians have Jordanian passports and have no rights at all. They are just living here for now.

And the third kind of Palestinian is from Gaza and The West Bank. They have Palestinian ID and Palestinian passports and they are not allowed to enter Jerusalem. Not even to pray, whether they are Christians or Muslims. They are not allowed to enter Israel.

So in this, they kept us for 20 years working and having a good income they cut it off all at once. People use to make good incomes, you know. I can see now, I know a lot of people they see on TV or on the maps they know they can't go to Israel.

One big reason for many troubles is the economic situation. The economic situation is becoming worse and worse. Constant closure, West Bank closure, even to other parts of the West Bank.

And the worse thing I can think of right now that makes the economic situation bad is they increase the taxes. They increase them for buildings and for commercial things, and there is no work to pay the taxes.

If you compare East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem. In East Jerusalem you have five percent of the people working. And compare it with West Jerusalem which has far more people employed. But in East Jerusalem, we are paying the higher taxes and we have no work. There is building tax, income tax, insurance tax, television tax, radio tax...The taxes never end.

That's why the situation becomes worse and worse. People are hoping for a richer future. But also, at the same time we say; "Wait."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Where are we now? Where do we go? An interview with Lina Mustaklem

I received the chance to speak with Lina Mustaklem, who works for Al Haq. The first Palestinian human rights group in The West Bank. We spoke of the Hamas election, the Jericho prison incursion and what the future might hold for the Palestinians.

Chris: Since the invasion of the Jericho prison, how do you foresee the situation in Palestine?

Lina Mustaklem: Well what happened in Jericho, I think it is like a kidnapping. It's not a legal thing to do by the Israeli occupation. The American and British observers who were there, left 20 minutes before without...All the agreements...They just left. And they kidnapped Ahmed Sadat. Now Ahmad Sadat is not answering any questions because he thinks this was illegal. So, he is not saying anything in custody.

So now with Hamas and everything is getting worse. More harassment by the soldiers, by the settlers. In Hebron it's getting worse all the checkpoints. Finding it very difficult to pass. The West Bank is becoming difficult to travel anywhere, its becoming more difficult than before. The Wall also, people are becoming...If my work is here and I live here, I can't go to another place and work. The area that we are living in is becoming smaller. Even in Gaza, even though they withdraw from Gaza this is not true. They are controlling the borders, they are controlling the air, the sea. People can't bring the goods to Gaza. There is no bread. Vegetables are not coming in. So, you know in all stages it is becoming more difficult.

Chris: You mean they are starving the people of necessities of life?

Lina: Yes they are trying to make it more difficult so that the Palestinians say "Okay we want to live. We want food." So okay, if they have food then they will forget about the higher goal. So they want them to feel that if they need something small, like food, then they will forget about the larger picture. The big thing.

Chris: Do you think that the Israeli government will starve them to the point that they think only about things for daily life and somehow forget about the larger picture of justice and a State?

Lina: Yeah, they always do that. Before they use to have the checkpoints in some villages. Now before they finished the wall, they removed some of these checkpoints. And the people say; "Oh that is better. We can move now between these villages. But they forget about the wall. They forgot about their lands. All the water and everything. So, they just say now; "I can move from this place to this place without a checkpoint. So, our demands are getting less because of this starvation. This desperation.

Chris: Why do you think Hamas won the election?

Lina: Hamas won because the people wanted Hamas to win. So, you wanted democracy, this is democracy. If they don't agree with democracy then they don't agree with democracy. I think if Hamas has a strategy then they will succeed. Unless other countries will start putting pressure on them and not give them money.

But I believe that the people wanted Hamas because they believed that Hamas will do something for the people. Because during the Intifada they were doing good things other than the suicide bombings. They were doing great, providing things for the people; Schools, money, food. This is why people wanted Hamas.

Chris: Do you think if Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist. Do you think that the Israelis will sit and negotiate with Hamas?

Lina: It seems that Israel only wants the Palestinians to work on all they're things, and they do all the work. I don't think that Israel will never agree to negotiate with Hamas. So, I think we will never have peace.

With Hamas in power, we are unsure of what the Israelis will do. But now after the kidnapping in Jericho, this was like a propaganda by Israel. One of the things that Olmert (Acting Prime Minister Elehud Olmert) wants to do.

Chris: I've read that in 2010 Olmert is saying that a final border will be done without the consultation of the Palestinian people.

Lina: Well, if you see the checkpoints. You passed the Qalandiya checkpoint and now they don't want to call it a checkpoint. They want to call it a terminal. And if you see Bethlehem checkpoint, you can see now that they are separating places trying to keep Palestinians in one area and the Israelis in one area. There will be no sharing with the lands. So, I think they are working on that. By 2010, we will have our small areas. And this is what Israel wanted to do a long time before. And all these new things we see now, they were preparing it a long time ago, but we see that they are just building it now.

Chris: After the wall is complete and the "Cantons" that Israel are erecting have been finished, and you now have a so called State, do you think that Israel will let you control your own destiny?

Lina: Oh of course they will still control all these things. We don't believe that Israel will give us our full control of everything. Because its not in Israel's benefit to do so. Like controlling our own water and this is a vital thing.

Chris: Water is always a concern here in The Middle East, in particular Israel/Palestine. With the mild winter here in the region, do you think that the water shortage will be even worse for the Palestinians than before?

Lina:Yes this is happening. And last year we, my family, we didn't have water for two days. I say at my home, my mother use to wash clothes and all the washing of the house on Monday. On that day, we had water, Monday and Tuesday. Then they changed it and made it Sunday and Monday. Every time they keep changing the days but it is only for two days we had water. And the other days we had to fill the tanks so we have water for the end of the week, so we can shower, and wash with it.

Even though the water is not so clear and its not healthy to drink it we have to bring home mineral water to drink and this is expensive. But if you go to the Israeli side they can drink from the tap. Settlers they have all the water they need. They water the plants. They have water in their swimming pools. But in Palestine you can't do that.

Chris: What do you see for the future of Palestine?

Lina:Well you are asking me this question. In front of my house the annexation wall is built. It is just two meters from my home and it's going to hide my neighbor. I was playing with them when I was five years old. Now more than twenty years now we are neighbors and the wall prevents me from seeing my neighbors. And you know Palestinian society has strong bonds, family, friends and the like. I feel like they are my family.

So if you are asking me about the situation, this is the situation so far.

Note: If you like to know more information about the work of Al Haq in Palestine please click here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Life in Bizzaro World

Just when I thought I had seen it all in Israel/Palestine, a new twist manages to take me by surprise.

An officer in the Israeli army is going to receive NIS 80,000 shekels (About $17,110.00), in compensation from the State of Israel after he was cleared of all charges in the death of a 13-year old Palestinian girl. Iman Al Hamas. In what became known as the "confirmed kill" affair.

Since the incident the officer has been promoted to major, and is currently serving as an operations officer in the Givati infantry brigade's Shaked battalion

The judges in the officer's case accepted his version of events, in which he stated that the shots that he fired were not aimed directly at the girl's body. The officer stated that he fired shots to create a deterrence, and felt that the young girl posed a serious threat.

At present, it appears the International community chooses to remain silent. As they have with so many of Israel's human rights violations over the years. At present. Israel is moving ahead with more land confiscation with they're separation wall. Extra judicial killings are becoming more common place. And any viable Palestinian state the outside world thinks might exist has been eradicated by the invasion of the prison in Jericho.

I'm sure I am dreaming all of this. Surely, I have entered into some sort of backwards universe; Where bad means good up means down, and getting shot several times at point blank range is just some sweet nation-loving soldier's way of saying he cares for you.

Yeah, I'm sure that's what it is. I'll just close my eyes, click the ruby red slippers I'm wearing and I'll be back in Kansas in no time. Because this would never happen in a democracy. Not with an army that has a "Purity of Arms" doctrine.

Well, good-night, I'm sure this will get sorted out in the morning.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Please Be Patient

As I got out of the service to Qalandiya, a stocky man with a shorn head walked up beside me. "You speak pretty good English." he quipped. I had been on the phone with a friend of mine, while in the service headed to Qalandiya, discussing a meeting that we were to have this evening.

"I'm from the States." I told him. "Me too" he countered. "But I live here in Ramallah with my wife." I'm from Chicago." His accent was unmistakable of that of a true Chicagoan from: "Around the way." as he put it.

We walked along and spoke about the current situation.

Before when I lived in Palestine, the wall was partially built near the refugee camp called, Qalandiya. The sparse checkpoint that I once knew, just as in Bethlehem, was now replaced with a sophisticated terminal.

"They can call it whatever the hell they want, it's still oppressive and humiliating." he said gesturing with his hand at all the construction that surrounded us.

Bulldozers, dump trucks and bangers, worked at a frenetic pace to finish the task of creating "Nice" little cantons. Armed private security, border police and the army all guarded those that worked the machinery.

"You know," he said, "The Israelis are really something. They say that they want peace. They say that they want a partner for peace. But how do you expect to have a partner when you treat us like this?!"

"If one Israeli dies by Palestinian hands, the whole World knows about it. But if 50 Palestinians die, you don't hear a peep."

"Really, anything they say we can't believe it's just too fucked up!"

As I moved on with him we began approaching the Qalandiya checkpoint (Oh, I'm sorry Terminal.)Getting into Qalandiya, as was the case with Bethlehem, was no problem. However, getting out was another issue. I looked over to my right and saw a small but cramped gathering of men all trying to vie for a spot to be the next one in line to go through the controlled turn-stiles. The men were all crammed close, shoving, pushing and swearing at one another at who was supposed to be next when the red light flashed green above the turn-stile. A small yellow sign read: "Please proceed one at a time through the gate. Please be patient."

After we passed through the terminal area and were on the Qalandiya side, I glanced over to see various murals painted on the wall that encased the camp. As I began snapping some pictures a soldier in one of the sniper towers began shouting at me to stop taking pictures. I ignored him and kept shooting. He bellowed out in Hebrew and the gentleman that I was walking with chuckled as all this was happening. "See, you can't even take a photo in here and they say this is suppose to be our sovereign state." He continued, "Soon I'm going to get my wife out of here and go back to the States. At least it's better than here!"

We walked on then got into a service and headed for Ramallah. When we reached the town we got out and shook hands. "Thanks for being here for us and with us. We need good people like you." He said. I thanked him and got on my way.

As I was walking I thought about the sign overhead of the men trying to enter Israel; "Please proceed one at a time...Please be patient."

You've gotta love the irony in that.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Home Again

"You see how well they treat us." my friend told me as we neared the entrance to the new checkpoint terminal that divides Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

As we approached a voice boomed across the PA system from inside; "Move to row number three! Have your ID's ready for inspection!"

Yes,I'm home again.

We walked up to a metal turn-stile. Above it hung a red and green light to indicate when one would be permitted to enter the area. My friend and I stood waiting for the soldiers to let us in. The light stood at red. Then, suddenly, the light flashed green and my friend moved through the turn-stile. I remained on the other end, unsure if I should proceed. "Come on. Come with me" my friend called out. I cautiously pushed the handles on the turnsitle and moved ahead.

All around I noticed various things in the terminal; New cement floors, rails that guided you along to where you needed to go, and an odd sign that said "Please Keep the terminal clean. Thank you." And above us, in the center of the terminal, stood a sniper on a catwalk with his rifle at the ready.

Yes, I'm home again.

A young soldier sat in a small booth with bullet-proof glass. He looked on non-committal and barked out to see my friend's West Bank ID and permit to enter Israel.

He never glanced at mine.

From here we moved forward to the X-ray machine. A sign hung that told us to place our bags, and anything with metal onto the conveyor belt. A Haji (An older Palestinian woman), in front of us had difficulty proceeding through the metal detector and kept setting it off. A soldier stood off to the side telling her that she had to go through again and again. Two others stood by snickering and looking on in her direction.

Yes,I'm home again.

Finally, we came to one last turn-stile with a soldier waiting in another bullet-proof booth. My friend produced the West Bank ID for inspection once more. The soldier entered the number into the computer and then slid it back. When I began to show him my passport, he waved me off with his hand.

As I began putting my passport away, I glanced over to my right to see a long row of similar booths and turnstiles, stretching the length of the corridor with people repeating the same humiliating process that my friend had to endure.

Yes, I'm home again.

Walking out of the terminal into the warm Sun I looked over to see a sign in yellow with a list of DO's and Dont's on it. I cannot remember all that it said but one thing stuck out; As I scrolled down the list I saw the two words at the bottom; "THANK YOU"

One man, noticing that I was looking on at the sign, leaned forward and said; "This is the new occupation."

Yes, I'm home again.

My friend and I boarded the service (Taxi) that would take us to The Old City of Jerusalem. I sat down next to an older man and we struck up a conversation in Arabic. He asked where I came from. I told him I use to live in Palestine but had to return to America because my sister had passed away. But now, I had returned.

"Welcome home," he said. "You see how they treat us? Like animals!"

"Ah yes" I thought. "I'm home again."