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Palestine Awareness Week: Number Crunching, and “Meen Irhabi”

I’m teaching my “Palestine-Israel Conflict” course again, and again a few of my students are doing their final research project on suicide bombers, mostly because all they knew about Palestine before taking my class is that Palestinians are suicide bombers. By the time they start their research for the final project, my students are “understanding,” sympathetic. So they present to the class that suicide-bombers are made, not born. Only yesterday, one of my students shared with the class that about 70% of the suicide bombers have had their homes demolished by Israel, and that 100% of suicide bombers had seen a family member or loved one injured, humiliated, or killed by Israeli troops. This student was explaining that trauma leads to suicide bombing.
But I had to interject, and explain to her, and to the whole class, that there have been a total of 163 Palestinian suicide bombings, ever. And that’s an official Israeli figure, which includes attacks which only killed the bomber. So you know that if anything, the number is inflated, rather than reduced. And that’s the number since Israel first started dispossessing the Palestinians, even before 1948 (I guess that means it wasn’t Israel then, it was the Zionist terrorist gangs), destroying 450 villages, and ethnically cleansing 80% of the Palestinian people.
Now I’m not a number cruncher, but when you think of the millions—-literally, over 10 million Palestinians today– whose ancestral villages have been erased, whose human rights are violated daily, and yes, the millions who have seen loved ones injured and killed, the millions who have had to smuggle food in tunnels to survive a genocidal siege, and the millions of children who have seen their fathers and brothers arrested, and the hundreds of thousands who are seeing their homes demolished today, and their land and livelihoods stolen, then what we must emphasize is not that trauma leads to suicide bombings. My calculator does not have enough digits to show what a minuscule percentage of the millions of traumatized Palestinians have become suicide bombers. No calculator has enough digits for such a tiny fraction. Instead, what we must emphasize is that despite all that trauma, over decades and decades, we are an overwhelmingly peaceful people, a people that still laughs, loves, reaches out, rebuilds, educates, and engages in unarmed popular resistance, in sumoud, in proud and dignified defiance of the terrifying Zionist juggernaut..
Next week is Palestine Awareness Week, and this, the beautiful sumoud of my people, is the Palestine Americans must become aware of. Ours is a legacy of resistance that would make any people proud.

Stand Off with StandWithUS

This is an old post I had written for INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, which I just realized I had never posted here. So, there

Just came across this

“Whiteousness:” the unshakable belief that one knows what’s best for others, especially those of other races or lower income brackets.

My offering to the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacres

Two thousands? Three thousands? Why are Palestinian lives so cheap, that we don’t know, will never know, the number of besieged refugees massacred 30 years ago in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps? And what about their names? Why do the words Sabra and Shatila simply line up alongside other names of locations: Deir Yassin, Tell el-Zaatar, Qana, Jenin, Gaza, a chain of massacres punctuating the miserable lives of the Palestinian people, ever since the Zionist colonial vision of turning Palestine into a Jewish homeland first took shape? We do not have to pledge “never forget.” We do not need to make that pledge, because we cannot forget, we do not have that luxury, not with the daily reminders, the scars, the longing, and the ongoing slow genocide in Gaza. What we must pledge is to have the vision and determination to put an end to this dehumanization. We must pledge to be the people who make “Never Again” come true. And not just for the Palestinian people.

I write about Palestine because I am Palestinian, and I know the experience of displacement and dispossession in my gut. I grew up in Beirut, mostly passing, fearful of the few tenacious Palestinian-inflected words that would give me away as a Palestinian. A purse for me was always “Juzdahn,” I could not form my mouth around the Lebanese pronunciation, “Juzdane,” so I did not use the word. Blanket was “Hrahm,” not the Lebanese “Hrame,” so I chose the safer “ghata” (cover), which would not give me away. There are words I simply dropped from my vocabulary, one of them being the Palestinian word for “slippers,” which I cannot even remember now. I knew as a kid not to say it, and now, it’s gone…

In 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which culminated in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, I wanted to stay in West Beirut, where I felt safest (never quite safe, but safer), but my mother insisted on us all leaving and going to Broummana, in the “Christian side” of the divided country. We did, and I spent many days with my long-time Christian friends, whom I trusted. I met their friends. One guy had trained his two ferocious guard dogs—-truly killer beasts–to attack trespassers. His command for “attack” was “Get the Palestinians.” Another of my friends was very good friends with the granddaughter of Suleiman Franjieh, the former president, and I visited Zghorta with her. There are some days I will never forget in my life, days when I felt sure I was going to die, it was just a matter of minutes, the next rocket, the next checkpoint, the next militiaman or soldier to ask me another question… That day in Zghorta was one of these days. I did not speak a word, for fear of sounding Palestinian. My Lebanese ID would not have protected me, it was well-known that some Palestinians had obtained Lebanese papers, many long years ago. In restrospect, I cannot but wonder why I agreed to go to Zghorta. All I can say is, when you’re young, and nowhere is safe, and you feel your life is worthless, you take greater risks than if you think you matter. And a part of me thought that by hanging out with Maronite Christian friends, I would pass better than if I were with my usual Muslim and Palestinian crowd.

How many died in the Sabra and Shatila massacres 30 years ago today, while I passed for Lebanese Christian that summer? Why do we not know their names? Why are Sabra and Shatila merely names of locations, that line up alongside the names of other locations, all memories of massacres punctuating the miserable lives of a people who existed, and did not pass?

I do not think the circumstances of the Palestinian people are unique. I believe our history is merely one manifestation of the many faces of racism, imperialism, colonialism, intolerance, heterosexism, that have culminated in massacres against other people, other peoples, around the globe: Native Americans, enslaved Africans (sixty million, or more), gays, European Jews, Roma, Vietnamese, Filipino, Japanese… No list I draw could be exhaustive, because we do not have the names of entire communities who were massacred for being who they were.

Shortly after the Sabra and Shatila massacres, I pledged never to pass again. I knew passing was a privilege I had, which most did not, and I did not want to live a privileged life, I committed myself instead to working so that those without privilege could live. When my Lebanese passport expired, a few years later, I did not renew it. This time, my mother’s pleas went unheeded, because I had determined that I was going to devote myself to making sure that we do not need a fake passport to secure survival. We were not going to erase ourselves, forget our words.

I did not witness the Sabra and Shatila massacres. But what I experienced that summer, in the knot of fear that gripped my gut as I passed, is what prompts me to work, until my very last breath, to ensure that “Never Again” comes true in my lifetime, not just for my people, but for all the people who are deemed “undesirable” by the evil forces of hatred disguised as self-preservation.

Because the Palestinians who were massacred in Sabra and Shatila 30 years ago today, the thousands whose names we do not know, matter.

Why I call it Apartheid

I often speak, and write, about the Palestinian call for solidarity in the form of a global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, until Israel abide by international law.   It is the strategy that helped end apartheid in South Africa, and I am convinced it is what will end apartheid in Israel.  When I say that, I get an array of responses.  The negative ones range from the sometimes surprised, but mostly supposedly outraged “Israel is the only democracy in the region” to “Apartheid is a strong word, it’s not quite accurate, and it will alienate too many people.”

I am not interested in addressing the absurd, “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.”  Or let me just get this off my chest:  “Zionism–a political ideology whose vision is to create a state for people of a certain perceived ethnicity–is racism.  When the very foundational ideology of a country is racism, it cannot be a democracy. Now go away.”

However, I do want to address the variations of “not quite apartheid” opinions.  Most of these argue that, because there are differences between South Africa’s legal system of discrimination against its brown and black people, and Israel’s legal and extra-legal system of discrimination against the Palestinians, the term “apartheid” does not apply.

Such distinctions are not generally, if ever, used to negate the fact that two other historical manifestations of a known phenomenon are one and the same, despite apparent differences.  Sadly, there have been multiple genocides throughout history.  Focusing on the differences, despite the acknowledged similarities in scope, vision, desired goal, etc, strikes me as something on the continuum between self-serving evasive hair-splitting and an act of bad faith.

Yes, Israel in 2012 is not South Africa in 1989.  So what? There have been many episodes of genocide in the history of the world, and I’ll bet my last penny no two were identical. Does it mean only one was a genocide, and all the others “almost but not quite genocides”? Does it take rape as a weapon of war? Not all genocides used that. Does it take gas chambers? Only one did. Does it take biological warfare?..  One can always look for differences. My approach is, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck. lays eggs like a duck that will hatch little ducklings, then I might as well call it a duck, even if its feathers are not the same pattern as the Original Duck.

South Africans who lived under apartheid rule have visited Palestine, and  described it as “worse than apartheid.”  Desmond Tutu should know, whose visit to the West Bank reminded him of South Africa’s worst days.

Similarly, South African minister Ronnie Kasril, upon visiting Israel, described it as “infinitely worse than apartheid.”

British journalist and author Ben White has written two books on Israeli Apartheid, one  named simply Israeli Apartheid:  a Beginner’s Guide, the more recent one Palestinians in Israel:  Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy.Image

As early as 1989, Israeli writer Uri Davis published Israel: An Apartheid State, and in 2004, he published another book on Israeli apartheid, entitled Apartheid Israel;  Possibilities for the Struggle Within.  .

To cut a long list short, let me add one more, the Facebook note made by Ran Greenstein, an Israeli professor currently teaching in South Africa. In that note, Greenstein tackles and responds to the Zionist arguments that Israel is not an apartheid state, because {fill in the hasbaroid drivel] :

Interestingly, Greenstein himself, who has written the arguments to counter anyone who would claim that Israel is not an apartheid state, nevertheless insists elsewhere that it is “a special type of apartheid.”  Yes, and when you know it is apartheid, and persist in splitting hairs, your sophistry is complicit in the crime you have identified, named, labeled…

It reminds me of Bill Clinton’s “it depends on what the definition of  ‘is’ is.”

It is apartheid.  It stretches from the River to the Sea.  Let’s abolish it, from the River to the Sea.

USACBI Open Letter

An Open Letter from the

U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)

On April 24, 2012, the New York Times transcended its usual subservience to Israel’s apartheid policies by publishing an ad from the “David Horowitz Center,” whose Orwellian logic and tone could serve the aims of a lynch mob.  The half-page Horowitz ad charged supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement focused on Israel of inciting hatred which leads to calls for a “new Holocaust.” It also charged that  BDS rhetoric was responsible for  “modern day massacres” and collusion with the “murders of Jews,” including those of a rabbi and three Jewish children in Toulouse, France. The ad, published in the Op-Ed pages, went on to list the names of 13 academics (one of whom is a graduate student), called on citizens, alumni, and students to condemn faculty participation in the “Boycott of Hate,” and asked that these scholars be “publicly shamed and condemned.” The ad concluded with a link to a list of “BDS supporters of hate and anti-Semitism” at the Horowitz Freedom Center’s website.  By agreeing to publish this ad, the New York Times engaged in a troubling breach of ethical conduct and publishing standards, enabling a right-wing campaign that has targeted hundreds of scholars, and sent shock waves throughout the U.S. academy.

What many do not know about this hateful and slanderous ad is that the list of BDS supporters at the web link–which includes over 600 US academics, more than 200 cultural workers, 100 international colleagues, and about 50 organizations–is actually the list of all the scholars and cultural workers  who have endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), and it is lifted directly from the USACBI website. This advertisement is clearly a campaign of intimidation of those who dare to criticize or oppose the policies of the Israeli state, including not just Arab, Arab American, and  Jewish American, but also South Asian, Iranian, and Latina/o scholars and graduate students. Given the xenophobic, misogynistic, and racist record of the Freedom Center, it is not surprising that the ad specifically targets immigrant, Muslim, Indigenous scholars, and scholars of color.

USACBI condemns this vicious attack on the courageous individuals and groups who have taken a principled stand by endorsing USACBI–a campaign based on recognizing the international rights for the Palestinian people, and holding Israeli institutions accountable for complicity in violations of international law. We stand in solidarity with our endorsers and those singled out in the libelous ad, and with Palestinians—including students and scholars—who daily face occupation, violence, restrictions on movement, racial segregation, displacement, dispossession, and humiliation. Academics and individuals of conscience around the globe have joined the expanding non-violent campaign of boycott and divestment that is rapidly spreading across U.S. college campuses, modeled on the campaign opposing apartheid in South Africa, which was seen as a just struggle on U.S. campuses.

Horowitz’ ad, and its fallacious accusations and invocations of anti-Semitism, equates with racism the supporters of a campaign to end occupation and racism. This is a tactic of silencing, an attempt to suppress a growing movement that threatens the dominant narrative about Palestine, and one with which the New York Times is complicit. Using the label “BDS supporters of hate and anti-Semitism” is itself hateful, and it defames the professional credibility of all those listed in and linked to the ad. Moreover, the New York Times has demonstrated that it is willing to participate in the attack on a movement that is trying to break the exceptional silence around the issue of Palestine and to challenge biased propaganda in the mainstream media and also academy on this issue.

USACBI encourages open and honest discussion of the impact of the Israeli state’s occupation and apartheid system on Palestinian civil society, including students and educators, and its ongoing racist policies against, and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. It was founded in 2009 during the Israeli massacre in Gaza, and it continues  to promote critical analysis of U.S. support for these violations of human rights, and to oppose the collusion of U.S. scholars and academic institutions with Israeli institutions and programs that, directly or indirectly, support and legitimize occupation and apartheid.

We uphold the academic freedom of U.S. scholars and students to discuss and debate the Palestine issue freely without threat of censure or reprisals. We also vigorously defend the right to education of Palestinian students and scholars in the face of daily assaults on their academic freedom, not to mention their freedom to live without occupation, violence, racial segregation, displacement, and humiliation.

USACBI encourages all faculty members of conscience to endorse its Mission Statement [] and to exercise their academic freedom to call upon their colleagues, associations, and universities to support the academic boycott of Israeli institutions..  Doing so demonstrates that we will not be silenced and bullied into self-censorship, and that we support struggles for freedom, racial equality, and self-determination.

Sunaina Maira, University of California, Davis*

Nada Elia, Antioch University, Seattle*

David Klein, California State University, Northridge*

on behalf of the Organizing Collective of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel


* Institutional affiliation for identification purposes only

It only takes one

Over the past few years, there have been a number of break-ins in my neighborhood.  I’m not sure how many, and I’m not sure how we compare to other neighborhoods, but yes, we do have break-ins.  So, much to my dismay, my neighborhood has started a “neighborhood watch.”  I say “much to my dismay” because I believe that, under the guise of community, togetherness, and “it takes a village,” community watches are essentially xenophobic organizations that want outsiders (“non-neighbors”) to stay out.

In Washington state, where people cherish the second amendment above all others, I do assume that many of the households in my neighborhood have guns.  Actually, I know that to be a fact, because when my son was growing up and playing with the neighborhood kids, I asked the parents of the children he visited if they owned guns, and they were very surprised at that question, and many said that yes, as a matter of fact, they do, and do I have a problem with that… I explained that I had a huge problem with that, because guns kill, and only potential killers would own a gun, and I suggested that they send their kids over to my house instead, where everyone would be safe, since we had no guns…  Yes, my son was somewhat lonesome growing up in this eastern suburb of Seattle, Washington’s liberal bubble.

So my neighbors have guns, and our neighborhood has a neighborhood watch.  This does not make me feel safe at all.

The neighborhood was all excited last summer, because in the wake of a few break-ins, they got the sheriff to come talk to us, and one house hosted an evening to discuss our safety.  I remember my disgust at the email that went out to the neighborhood list, the host was so so, soooo honored to have a sheriff speak at her house.  “Security!”  Men in uniform with guns!  All I could think of was “potential killers.”  Come on, the Seattle Police Department is notorious in the entire country for its trigger-happy racist pigs, and we were going to learn a few lessons from them?  Naturally, I did not attend the meeting, complete with hot dogs and, I kid you not,  red-white-and-blue drinks.  They had decided to make a block party of it!

At that party, which I did not attend, the sheriff told my neighbors that some of the door-to-door solicitors that come around every now and then are actually using this solicitation as a front to scope out our houses.  Do we have a big dog?  Does it look like someone lives alone?  Are we out during the day?  Then the break-ins happen.

I am not necessarily going to dispute this.  We do have door-to-door solicitors, and we do have break-ins, and maybe some of the solicitors are just scoping us out.

But here’s the deal.  We get Girl Scout cookies.  And Boy Scout cookie dough.  And Jehovah’s Witnesses.  And inner-city youth selling magazine subscriptions.  At that block party with the sheriff, it was determined that the inner-city youth selling magazine subscriptions were the culprits.  They are black.

And now, for the past two days, the neighborhood has been abuzz again with the fact that we are getting the door-to-door solicitors.  That greatest threat, the door-to-door solicitors of the most dangerous type:  black youth.  And everyone is sending emails warning everyone else about them.  Saying “Take pictures, they’ll come in handy when we need to identify the burglars.”  I understand that was the sheriff’s advice.  If a crime happens, we would have a collection of photos of young black men to pick from.

I sent an email, explaining that my experience with these young men was very different.  When one of them came to my door a while back, I talked to him at length, and found out that, in addition to the tiny percentage he gets out of selling the magazine subscriptions, he also gets to build up his resume and learn social skills (including that very useful one, how to talk to the hostile middle-class).  I bought two magazine subscriptions, and received them for an entire year, until my subscriptions expired.  So I know this young man wasn’t a fake, his gig wasn’t a front.  On the other hand, I paid upfront for cookie dough from a Boy Scout (I know, I know), and never received it.  But no one is suggesting we take pictures of the (white) boy scouts.  Or the (white) Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I got a response to my email:  “I’m glad your experience was positive, but we have proof that one of the supposed magazine sellers did break-in, so I don’t trust any of them.”

Not one to give up easily, I insisted that we must not assume that all poor people trying to make a living are criminals, because one person who passes for such happens to be.

Another response, from another neighbor:  “I don’t trust any unwarranted solicitor. If 1 in 5 are bad you are going to be sad about the 1 bad one. Anything short of this attitude is going to set yourself up for trouble. Please continue to take pictures. Thanks to everyone in the community!  I feel more safe.”

Well I don’t.  My response:

“My word of caution comes from a desire not to have a tragic incident here similar to Trayvon Martin’s killing by an overzealous neighborhood watchman.  It also only takes one such person, in an entire neighborhood, and I would not feel comfortable, not reminding us of that fact too.”

Ugh, I seriously hate neighborhood watches.


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