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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.

Aside

Iran would have arrested this woman

As the “Flytilla,” the coordinated arrival, into Ben Gurion Airport, of approximately 1500 international Palestine solidarity activists was taking place last weekend (April 14-15) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued this letter:

Apparently, Zionist democracy means always pointing the finger at someone else.

As in:  The Syrian regime is shooting unarmed protesters in the streets, therefore Israel is a democracy.  (The suggestion is that Israel does not shoot unarmed protesters in the street.  But many of us remember Land Day, 1976.  And all of us know about the weekly confrontations in Bil’in, between armed soldiers and non-violent resistors).

Or how about:  Iran has nuclear potential, therefore Israel is a democracy (the suggestion is that Israel does not have nuclear power, and has no need to imprison whistleblowers like Mordechai Vanunu).

I like this one:  Yemen jails dissidents, therefore Israel is a democracy (the suggestion is that Israel does not hold thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in administrative detention, with no charges against them, and no disclosure as to when they will be released)

Seriously, I’m glad no other seriously messed up country uses the same logic.  Because one could build arguments for some truly horrific crimes, and come out looking good, compared to what Israel does.  As in:  “Israel has a stranglehold on the livelihood of 1.7 million refugees in Gaza, therefore Bahrain can kill a few hundreds of dissidents and be a democracy.”  Or “Israel has set up close to 700 illegal checkpoints to disrupt the movement, and livelihood, of close to five million Palestinians in the West Bank, which it illegally occupies, therefore Iran can hang a dozen gays.”

Then we could get into nuanced comparisons:  “Israel has built Jewish-only roads in the West Bank, Saudi Arabia is better than that, more “democratic,” because women can’t drive, but they most certainly can ride in a car on any road in the whole kingdom.”

Because, come to think of it, there’s a whole lot Israel is doing wrong.  And lots of lots and lots of wrong makes for a miserable world.   And if you want to be a model of democracy, you don’t look for excuses and distractions elsewhere, you fix your own problems.  If you presume to be “the only democracy in the Middle East,” you don’t attempt to justify your violations of international law and of the human rights of millions of innocent civilians by comparing yourself to other non-democracies who also violate the rights of millions of innocent civilians.

How about if, in the spirit of Zionist democracy, I offer the following distraction:

From the Prime Minister’s Office:  “In Iran, the police would have arrested this woman for accidentally showing her belly button.  Therefore Israel is a democracy. “

 

 

 

 

Oh but wait, Israel did deploy 650 soldiers to stop the Flytilla activists.  And Israel did arrest this woman…  She was showing her decency.

Difficult Conversations, Part Two

This is a sequel to my essay “Difficult Conversations:  Speaking truth to Allies,” which was published in Make/Shift, after being rejected by Polyphonic Feminisms.  I wrote about that earlier challenge here https://mypeopletoo.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/too-difficult-conversations-4/

 ~~~~~~~

Today, as an organizer I am extremely encouraged by the alliances I see forming all around me, wherever I go, between different groups that are rallying together behind the call for BDS.  The activist landscape is transforming, as a genuinely global network grows stronger.  And as BDS is about justice and equality for all, and equality does mean the loss of privilege of the privileged, we are also witnessing some of our long-time allies get cold feet, and break away.  The most recent and, I must say, quite surprising, example, is Norman Finkelstein who, having long supported BDS, is now dismissing it as a cult,  disingenuous, dishonest, because if BDS achieves its goals, “there is no Israel.”  By which he clearly means there is no Israel in which Jews are privileged over non-Jews.  But I think he is too dishonest to say so.  http://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?p=norman+finkelstein+BDS+cult&fr=my-myy&toggle=1&cop=&ei=UTF-8

 

So it is time to revisit the necessary “difficult conversations” within alliances.  It is time to Speak Truth to Allies again, about the loss of privilege in anti-racist work.    

 A man who does not beat and rape women is not great, he’s just not a criminal.  A white man who does not kill black teenagers is not a god, he’s sane.  And similarly, a Jew who does not oppress Palestinians is not superhuman, s/he’s decent.  

So can we stop idolizing our decent Jewish friends, please? 

 I say this earnestly, because I have been noticing a greater focus on the Jewish voices speaking against apartheid.  I still get announcements of events, panels, conferences, where the keynote speaker is a “decent Jew,” but of course, they are not presented as “decent,” they are presented as heroic.   But something even more disturbing that I have been witnessing around me is the disproportionate amount of energy and resources these “decent Jews” get.  Because, we are told, they need “support” for being decent.

 One example, from Seattle where I live:

 We have a still-young but quite strong BDS coalition, and we can put on many actions, which of course all require energy, and many of which require funding.  I fantasize about taking out big ads in the paper, plastering the bulletin boards with culture-jamming messages, running our Metro bus ads six months a year… I would like to be part of a US contingent of diaspora Palestinians who would go to Brazil for the World Social Forum in November.  I can dream big, but I live small, for lack of resources.  And I am not alone in that.  Amin Odeh, another Seattle-based Palestinian, is a man I totally look up to.  His long-standing commitment has been unwavering, for decades, despite challenging personal circumstances.  For decades, he has been willing to speak his story again and again, because people need to hear it.  Amin, I have no doubt, could use some “support,” and I would dare say he could use support for being well above decent.  Born and raised in Aida refugee camp, Amin grew up in deprivation, saw many family members imprisoned, and is one of the gentlest men I know. He does not only preach non-violence, he practices, lives it.  Amin is heroic.  I can name many other such inspiring Palestinian activists, but I will refrain.

 During announcements at our last meeting, one member of our coalition asked to speak for a few minutes, during which she raved about the Israeli writer /activist Miko Peled, saying we had the opportunity of bringing him to town, but that to make this happen, we would need commitment from many of us, and funding, to fly him over, put him up in a hotel, and give him an honorarium.   http://mikopeled.wordpress.com/

 She asked for a major commitment from our community, because we had that incredible opportunity, to bring Miko Peled to Seattle.  A seasoned activist, she was nevertheless awestruck… 

 Miko Peled is a very decent man.  So is Amin Odeh.  I am a decent woman, if I say so myself.  Who is Seattle going to pool its resources for?  And are we supporting Miko because he is a decent Israeli—as if that were a superhuman accomplishment, when we could be supporting the Palestinian activists who, against the greatest odds, keep on keeping on?  Why, in an alliance that seeks equality where it is not yet achieved, are we privileging our Israeli allies, our allies with power? 

 Miko Peled, like Jeff Halper, and Mark Braverman, are not heroes, they’re decent men, born into privilege, and still benefitting from it.  Indeed, Halper and Braverman are US- born Jews who made aliyah, “returning” to the country my family was expelled from, which I cannot visit.  Let us not idolize them.  BDS is about achieving equality for all, it is  about achieving Palestinian sovereignty.  So it is up to us, the BDS organizers, to be intentional in prompting and centering our leadership, rather than supporting Israeli voices.  Let’s start channeling our resources and energies towards Palestinian activists.  Let us support the disenfranchised Palestinians, instead of those who, until BDS accomplishes its goals, are necessarily speaking from a position of privilege. 

 

Too Difficult Conversations

A short while ago, the editors of the collection of essays “Polyphonic Feminisms:  Acting in Concert” contacted me, asking for a submission on the topic of my choice.  The invitation was quite personal, they were clearly familiar with my work, and asked me to write on just about anything that would fit under the umbrella “Polyphonic Feminisms.”  I decided to write a piece about “Difficult Conversations” those necessary conversations allies must have, in order to move forward together and advance a common cause.

I submitted the piece, and got this response:

 

REVIEWER’S COMMENTS:

Nada Elia’s article was a pleasure, though difficult, to read. She

rightly poses the tough questions the Left so often avoids. Her

argument is thorough and systematic. My recommendations are to expand

the parts about equal time (esp. given what seems to me to be the

one-sidedness of mainstream news in the U.S.) and on gender,

particularly since this journal issue is on feminisms. She might say

more about not only the focus on the veil as problematic, but the

new/old discourses of democracy and women’s “empowerment” as central

to empire building in the Middle East.

Overall, this is an important and timely article.

 

I was thrilled.  I totally agreed with the reviewer (still don’t know who they are) that this was important and timely.  I am not being facetious when I say this, I write a lot, and some of my essays are what I would describe as “luxury,” an indulgence, others convey urgency.  This was one of the latter–we are at a critical moment in history, we must be actors, not objects, and my essay was about how to best shoulder the responsibility.  In a feminist manner.

I asked how I could expand on the topics the reviewer suggests, since I was already at the word limit, and the editor responded with “chuck the word limit, we want your essay.”  So I expanded, resubmitted by the new deadline, and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Then I contacted the editor.

Asked what was up.  

She was evasive, said she was busy, would get back to me in a few days.

A few days later, I contacted her again.

Did not hear back from her.

 

For many long weeks.  Then this:

Hello.

I wanted to make sure you got my email from a few weeks ago. I should

have followed up when I didn’t hear back from you, but I got caught up

in the last push to publish the journal, which is now out. The

director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women made some cuts to

the issue because she thought there were too many pieces, and yours

was one of the cuts she made. I hope we may still find the space to

work together at some future point.

 

I do not believe her.  After I submitted my longer version, I was the one contacting her, and not hearing back.  There is no email mail from her that I did not respond to in a timely manner.  All of her messages were going to my yahoo account as well as my work email, and there is no unread email from her in either mailbox.

So I told her that this is just a sad, sad pattern where once again, critical Palestinian voices are silenced, because they are “too difficult,” even for a collection of essays on “Polyphonic Feminisms” and “Difficult Dialogues.”  As it is, there is no Arab voice in this collection.  Yes, one more such supposedly “representative” anthology.

 

Makes me wanna holler….

 

Here is my message to her:

 

Hello Mandy,

 

I am disappointed but, to be quite honest, not surprised.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had a piece accepted with enthusiastic comments such as “very strong, timely, powerful, needed, etc, etc” only to have it cut at the last minute.  The excuses range from “too long” to “one too many” to “we never heard back from you” (the latter despite the consistent coincidence of only having potential editors “not hearing back” from me, when everyone else comments on how well I keep up with email.) 

This may be a first for you, but in my experience, publishers and editors tend to have cold feet about anything that really pushes the envelope.

 

Best,

 

N.

 

Yoga 101

The yoga instructor said “Breathe your intention,” and I wondered “which intention?”  Should I breathe “heal my back,” which is the pragmatic reason I am at Balance Yoga Studio, or “Free Palestine?”  And “Free Palestine,” like most convenient catch phrases, is a somewhat inappropriate representation of my intention, since it suggests a national aspiration which I do not particularly identify with.  I prefer “Justice for the Palestinian people.”  And surely breathing isn’t enough to achieve this.  All breath, no action, ain’t gonna get me there, and please don’t try and tell  me breath is action, ‘cuz that would mean every one who is alive, “breathing,” is an activist…

What???  Breathe out already?  I haven’t fully articulated my intention, I have not had a chance to determine how best to breathe it in…

Yep, that’s my brain on yoga…

Those #%**&@ headlines!

I rant, I rant, I get angry when I read the headlines, but I cherish and nourish my anger, and channel it into writing.

I do believe writing is powerful, because it educates people who would otherwise not know much beyond what’s on TV.

But knowledge alone is not enough. Ignorance is no excuse, it is self-inflicted blindness. But knowledge with no action is worse, it is complicity.

Read, Write, Speak Up, Organize, Resist.

Drinking the gay-torade

I won’t deny it, I winced at the viciousness of the attacks in response to my Letter to Editor in the Seattle Times.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/northwestvoices/2017823596_lgbtlet25.html

But I think it was worth it. The discussion that has been raging in Seattle, and beyond, as a group of queer allies successfully shut down the three scheduled pinkwashing events here (Seattle, Olympia, and Tacoma) will make it extremely unlikely, if not outright impossible, for LGBTQI organizations in the region to host a panel on “gay rights in the Middle East” without first wondering if it is pinkwashing.

I would even venture to say that,  just as the Seattle LGBT Commission had never heard about pinkwashing until some two weeks ago, and are now aware of this official Israeli propaganda campaign, so thousands of US queers, queer allies, and others who are simply interested in peace and justice in Palestine, have also learned a great deal about how Israel goes about projecting itself as civilized, in order to distract from its violations of international law and the human rights of the Palestinians.

For example, they will think twice before regurgitating that Israel is civilized, and Palestinians barbaric, because Israel allows openly gay and lesbian citizens to serve in the Occupation Forces.

They will understand that what that means, on the ground, is that it could have been a gay soldier who profiled me and detained me at the border between Jordan and Palestine–a border Israel controls illegally. And it could well have been a lesbian soldier who strip searched me. And it could also have been a lesbian soldier who dumped the contents of my suitcase on the floor, at the illegal checkpoint between two Palestinian towns within the West Bank.

That soldier behind the wheel of a huge bulldozer specifically designed to demolish Palestinian homes? Quite possibly gay, with no need to hide it. The pilot who flew the jetfighters that rained white phosphorus on a starved, besieged, refugee population in Gaza? His partner will get full benefits, the rewards of imposing collective punishment on 1.5 million people, for voting for a party that does not toe the Israeli line.  The young recruit, protecting illegal settlers in Hebron as they terrorize Palestinian schoolchildren on their way to school? You got it, out and proud. And there are some 700 checkpoints in the West Bank, every one of them illegal, and every one of them staffed by, at the very least, four Israeli soldiers. With such numbers, one can only assume there are hundreds of Israeli soldiers, both gay and lesbian, humiliating Palestinians on a daily basis, violating their fundamental human rights.  Not one of these soldiers will wave a young Palestinian man through a checkpoint because he’s gender non-conforming.  Not a single soldier will ask if you’re gay before demolishing your home.

Now if I am to also assume—as indeed I do—that the percentage of gays in Palestinian society is similar to what it is anywhere else in the world, about 10%, and if I am to assume that 10% of the Palestinians Israel has killed, over the decades of a brutal military occupation, following the initial ethnic cleansing, the Nakba, were queer, that’s quite a few queer Palestinians that Israel has killed.  More than the number of gay Palestinians that Hamas has killed, I’m sure…

Yet the pinkwashing delegation would have us believe that there are two main conclusions one must reach, from the fact that one can be openly gay in the Israeli Occupation Forces. First is that the Israeli Army is the most moral and “tolerant” army in the world.  If you don’t agree, you’re homophobic.  Second is that Hamas kills queer Palestinians, Israel does not, and if you don’t agree, you’re anti-Semitic.

However, thanks to the success of our group in getting the three cancellations, and our persistence, in the aftermath of these cancellations, in denouncing the delegation’s visit as propaganda, not “dialogue,” thousands will now refuse to drink the gay-torade that Israel is pouring.

Speaking selfishly now, I would say that makes the attacks a little easier to handle.