Archive for the ‘israel/palestine’ Category

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heighten us, purify us

July 12, 2007

I just watched one of the most powerful visual images of occupation that I think I’ve ever seen. A Palestinian fruit grove in the village of Ertas, near Bethlehem, was destroyed a few months ago to make way for a new sewer system for Efrat (a Jewish settlement). The first half of the video shows some of the village’s inhabitants camping out on their land, discussing the IDF plans for the confiscation and razing of their land. There is an interaction between a Palestinian and a soldier that has an almost friendly tone to it. The second half of the video shows protesters being dragged off and apricot trees literally being uprooted while their owners look on from the side. It is so unbelievably heartbreaking. Part of the drama of the second half of the video is the melodramatic music playing in the background. For the unfamiliar, the song is from the Friday evening (sabbath) prayers. The translation of the lyrics:

Please, with the might of your right, untie the bundle:
Accept your people’s prayer song, heighten us, purify us, Mighty one:
Please hero, your uniqueness worshipers, guard them closely:
Bless them purify them, your rightfulness mercies, always reward:
Immune, proud, with your good will, manage your people:
Single, proud, address your people, who remember your holiness:
Accept our plea, and hear our cry, he who knows histories:
Blessed be his kingdom’s honor forever: (source)

Via Jewschool.

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fems take over the blogosphere

June 25, 2007

Joan Nestle has a blog! Rejoice! The first entry is about her first trip to Israel/Palestine and in true Joan Nestle fashion, it is a complicated and well-written piece. I can’t wait to see what’s to come. A snippet:

What finally pushed me to blog was my reading on my computer my daily New York Times–I now live in Melbourne, Australia with my lover–my reading of Thomas Friedman and David Brooks, these men of power who make huge pronouncements about how things should be in the world. I am not in their league, but I have stood with the Women in Black peace demonstrators in Haifa and Jerusalem, I have visited with women who run the Nazareth Women’s Center and its sister, the Haifa Women’s Center, I have met the women who founded ASWAT, the first human rights organization for Palestinian lesbians. I have seen Palestinian, Mizrachi and Ashkenazi Jewish, Christian and Ethiopian women meeting together in the same building. I have sat late into a Jerusalem night talking with a young butch-fem community, most of whom are peace activists, about how the body and its desires live in such a place at such a time. That night, our last in Jerusalem, one young woman said, “Come back to us when the occupation is over.”

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redefining the settler movement

June 6, 2007

In my mind, Jews moving to the West Bank because of religious fervor were the lowest of the low. During the time I spent in Israel, I learned to despise settlers. Where do they get off thinking that this is what God wants them to do? How can they justify this behavior with religious rhetoric?

But then, I find out that there are many American Jews who are moving to the West Bank to cities that are commuting distance from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for purely economic reasons. And then I throw up a little bit in my mouth. I am disgusted by American Jews who make sense of this unethical decision by citing how cheap it is and how they can have an even more lavish home than they had in the US.

Settlements near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have become a suburban paradise for North American religious Jews. They offer large homes with yards, lawns and swimming pools, and prices are low compared with those of the cramped apartments not only of Israel’s main population centers but also of such smaller cities as Beit Shemesh and Modi’in.

For the record, there is a water shortage in Israel. Israelis, settlers specifically, consume far more water than their Palestinian neighbors and Palestinians are frequently denied access to water that falls in the West Bank. (google ‘palestinian water crisis’ and you will find an endless number of hits). This new generation of settlers define their personal happiness not by God’s commandment to settle the land but by how many valuable public resources they can waste and how short their commute is. In a way, it is even more disgusting to me than religious settlers – at least the latter think they have God on their side.

Beyond that, I cannot even get into the rest of the ironies of this trend – the fact that these communities are “safer” than the ones they left in the US; that they have more security than cities in Israel proper; that the Israeli government cannot offer US olim (immigrants) economically comparable options within Israel proper; that these new communities are popular because they are “gated” communities, giving the olim a feeling of being part of an exclusive community for much less money than gated communities in the US.

Thank you, olim from Teaneck, for making it so clear that this occupation goes beyond religious rhetoric. At its core, this 40-year old occupation is about economic opportunities and natural resources.

““The take-home message is that whatever living standard you could imagine or dream is possible here.”

Right. As long as you’re Jewish and come from an upper-middle class community in the US and therefore feel entitled to all the land, space, and resources you like.

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rule #1 to peacemaking: do not sexualize soldiers

May 5, 2007

OK I get it, it’s tongue in cheek, I should stop being so serious all the time. Laugh! But I can’t. Because when websites like Mideast Piece try to be funny, they only make me shake my head in disgust. Mideast Piece, whose tagline is ‘Uniting Gay Men for Peace,” is all about “GLBTQ community-building and human rights.” Most interesting is seeing it described in the G-rated Israel-news site Israel21c:

Matt Lebow and John Leonard wanted to do something different. Fed up with traditional gay Internet sites that offered only crude and X-rated material, the Israel-based students decided to create a new web site that would combine their fervid interest in the region’s handsome men with a bit of culture, a dash of political activism and human rights, and most of all peaceful dialogue with other gays throughout the Arab world.

Firstly, both of these men are Americans, one is Jewish, neither are Arab. Perhaps not the best candidates to start a blog to unite gay Middle-Easterners. Their tongue-in-cheek mission statement of the website gets under my skin the most. After describing the beautiful, tanned men of the Middle East and explaining that the world better start caring about preserving them and preventing them from killing each other, they move on to the “values” of the site. If you were a Palestinian gay man, wouldn’t you want to read and contribute to a blog like this? Value #1:

• Soldiers are hot. They should not be killed in war. They should be trained – strenuously – and put on display for all to lust after. That’s Mideast Piece.

Oh boy, where do I even begin. How about “They should not be killed in war. They should also not kill in war. Or out of war. No one should kill. At all. We should not be fetishizing an image that valorizes and sexualizes uniforms, weapons, wars, and military might. This will contribute to more MIDEAST PEACE than any website fetishizing “that most sacred and bronzed of species, the Middle Eastern man.” Dear god. Onward, values #2, #3, and #4:

• Gay men and their supporters face similar challenges all over the world. Mideast Piece is where a shared dialog can provide solutions, mutual support, and hope to gay men of the region – plus tips on where to get a great body wax.

• Gay Jewish Israelis and neighboring gay Arabs have more in common than, say, a gay New York City Jew and a homophobic Salt Lake City Mormon in the US. We must focus on what unites us, instead of what divides us, i.e., a great ass, nice arms, killer smile, etc.

• Young gay men of Israeli Jewish background and young gay men of Palestinian Muslim background should get to work, which is what Mideast Piece represents. They must educate all gay – and curious – Middle Eastern men and their allies to make Mideast Piece, not war.

Actually, contrary to what white gay men from the West might think, not all gay men share the same life experience. What usually happens in these situations is that the voices of actual gay men from the Middle East get erased. The blog editors admit that they are having a hard time getting Muslim contributors. However, they attribute this only to the oppressive situation of gays in Muslim countries, not to the fact that perhaps those gay men might be turned off by who started the site, what assumptions are made (the masses agree: soldiers are hott), and to whom the site is directed. This blog receives thousands of hits a month. It is clearly a popular site. I just wonder if it’s more for the pictures of fetishized man candy or than the unity and dialogue. What are we really trying to accomplish here? Why does the mission statement of “GLBTQ dialogue and human rights” seem so far off from the content of the actual blog? And why are Jewish men posting about Islamic history? Say what?

The one thing I will commend them for is not even attempting to include lesbians in this blog, save for the requisite L in GLBTQ. At least the rule of “I am not X, I am Y, therefore I should not claim to speak for X but only for Y” applied for gender, if not for race, nationality, and religion. I await a diversity of voices on this website, but I’m not holding my breath. I could imagine the possibility that some gay Muslims would probably look at the politics of this blog with a tremendous amount of suspicion.

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painting our weapons pink

April 24, 2007

The radical queer groups in Israel do some great stuff, but since returning two years ago I don’t get to hear much about their actions. I like the way they bring the layered nature of occupation and Israel’s culture of violence out in such a clear and strong way. A few years ago I received a collection of pamphlets and clever fliers that Kvisa Shchora (Black Laundry: queers against the occupation) had used over the years at pride parades and demonstrations and I remember being very impressed with their wit and nuance.

In honor of Israel’s independence day, celebrated today, an unidentified group of queer activists painted pink a memorial canon in Jerusalem’s Davidka Square and graffitied the words “lesbiot neged k’lei zayin” which means “lesbians against weapons” (literally “lesbians against dicks”). You can read the article about it in Hebrew or in the English translation, courtesy of Mobius at Orthodox Anarchist. Excerpt:

The group, which is defined by activists as “a subversive group of lesbians and queers against militarism and nationalism”, claims that “the State of Israel will not be free as long as it occupies another nation. An occupying State is a State which lives in violence and fear: a State that builds walls, sets boundaries, and turns its neighbours into enemies.”

How do these activists relate their queer identities to their anti-occupation/anti-Zionist politics?

Lesbians fight for freedom, liberation and independence. We know that a militarist and nationalist society is also a racist society, a chauvinist, homophobic, and violent society.

This touches the surface of this complex issue, one that actually taught me a lot about the way I would later define queer politics when I returned to NY. How do we define political queer identity and how do we relate to other systemic oppressions? The excessive masculinity in Israel that promotes and fetishizes Israeli military culture is the same masculinity that oppresses queer people in Israel. In Israel I learned to connect the war in Iraq with the American culture of violence – different but related to that of Israel. I have not always agreed politically with the activities of Black Laundry or other queer groups. I do admire their clever actions and the fierceness with which they carry them out.

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Let’s talk specificity, shall we?

March 7, 2007

(this is a long one, so decide now if you want to read it. Topics: anti-religion progressive feminists aka women stuck in the 70’s, people who should STFU, the Haredi sex-segregated bus issues. The rant-y part is separated by that bold line about halfway down.)

Maybe it was the freezing cold weather last night, or the snow I woke up to this morning, or maybe it was the infuriating Jesus preacher woman who thought that 8:30 in the morning on a snowy, cold day would be just a perfect time to command all of her fellow commuting subway riders to accept Jesus as our personal savior.

Or, perhaps my morning got off to a bad start because of a bunch of “feminists” waxing self-righteous about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews in comments section of a Feministe post. A decent post reporting on an awful situation in Israel brought on comments from all kinds of brilliant folks. The situation: pockets of Haredi Jewish men in Jerusalem are attacking women on buses (city, not private) who refuse to conform to the sex-segregation imposed by the men. You can also read a personal account of a woman who experienced this last November (a different woman than the one mentioned in the NPR story linked above).

Just to get this out of the way: this is totally fucked, brings up a whole host of questions about the tenuous relationship between religion and democracy there; the increasing power of the Haredim (pl. for Haredi); the ways that religion can be completely bastardized by its supposed most devout (i.e. to protest the woman’s lack of “modesty,” they kicked her to the ground and pulled off her head covering); and the general violence that seems to permeate every corner of Israeli society; among many other questions. The last time I checked, this news piece does not involve:

-How Haredi Jews in Brooklyn are weird freaks who don’t understand pets or birdfeeders and who are in desperate need of your pity for their backward lifestyle.
-How religion, as a whole, is perverse and how the women who fall victim to it are helpless and in need of our (read: white-, middle-class, and American) feminist rescue.
-Questions of are there any religions out there in the world that love the wimmins, really and truly? (nothing like a completely nonspecific question to spark some real discussion).
-And a complete and detailed response to that question: I would find it hard to imagine a sect of Dianic Wiccans with fundamentalist extremists like that. And Haredi Judaism in Israel has what, exactly, to do with Dianic Wiccans?
-How Haredi Jews are just incredibly annoying (although their payos [sidelocks] are real cool!).
-Umm…I have no response for this one: Sometimes it seems, ironically given the history of the Jewish religion, that today’s pagans and Jews have so much in common 😉
-Factually incorrect statements like my friend’s sister’s mother’s great uncle married a Haredi, so I am therefore the expert: “they also refused to teach the kids how to read and write in English — only Hebrew.” (here’s a clue: if you can’t tell the difference between Hebrew and Yiddish, perhaps you should wonder what right you have to drop your opinion in this thread).

I could go on but I might seriously lose it. I feel like there are some basic rules that people seemed to just throw out the window here. First of all, if you do not know what you’re talking about, DO NOT SPEAK. Seriously. Ask specific questions. Second of all, stay on topic. The big underlying problem with second-wave feminism is that it lacked specificity (or should I speak in the present, lacks specificity, since sometimes I think we’re still in the 1970’s).

But I thought we were beyond that. Right? Because when you think about it, logically, a Haredi woman living in a Haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem doesn’t want your feminism, white American college-educated woman! Hello? Why is that so difficult?

“Stop taking your value system completely out of context” rant ends here. Below, for any interested parties, is my own take on this issue.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The way I see it, we have here a situation that calls for a tremendous amount of tact and complicated thinking: two things that are, apparently, foreign to many. The problems here, as I see them, are twofold: one within the Haredi community and one with their relationship with the larger mainstream Israeli society (and a piggyback off the second question: how “religious” should Israel be as a democratic country?).

Haredi women seem to be fighting some part of this battle within their communities and their homes. It is not up to us (including me – and when I say us, I’m talking about women who live in the US, non-Jewish women, non-Orthodox women, even Israeli women who are not Haredi) to decide exactly how that battle should play out, what is at stake for these women in fighting against sex-segregation on buses. Our concern is not whether these women are oppressed in their marriages and their birthing of 12 babies or how in the world they wear those heavy black tights in 90+ degree sweltering desert heat in the summertime in Jerusalem or why they don’t just get on the train/bus to the secular part of town and see the (secular) light! If you’re all about autonomy, how about letting them speak for themselves, hmm? You may wonder about it, but it is completely irrelevant to this discussion. It starts to concern Israeli society at large if it comes to making high-court decisions regarding the permissibility of sex-segregated public buses – and indeed, it does. From the NPR story:

The bus company released a statement saying they let the ultra Orthodox enforce their own rules. The company says its own surveys show that the general public wants “to respect the Haredi-religious sector that uses public transportation and to let them behave in a way that is convenient to them.”

(one aside: Egged’s supposed “live and let live” attitude here is a total farce: Egged buses don’t run on Shabbat, for one – what about “live and let live” for all the secular Israelis who can’t travel on Shabbat?)

What I find really interesting is that Egged (the bus company) has some weird notion that the buses in question move between Haredi neighborhoods, never entering anyplace else, which is not true. The Haredim can’t live their lives isolated from the rest of Jerusalem 100% of the time, and we see the disastrous consequences of this fact when they react to gay pride parade in riots (and the riot police, who are quick to pull out rubber bullets in Bil’in, are strangely nowhere to be seen, but I digress). Egged, like many other bodies in the state of Israel, are completely scared of Haredim, and for good reason: they vote in blocs and they have tremendous political pull.

Religion is tricky – it pushes the public/private boundaries like nothing else that I know of, and in Israel this debate has a tremendous amount more weight. All Israeli Jews have complicated relationships with Judaism (not to mention Palestinians and Palestinian-Israelis, who have a differently complicated relationship with Judaism!); with negotiating their secular identities and the religious country that governs so many parts of their personal lives. I just beg that we keep the discussion in the context where it belongs: in Israel, on the topic not just of religion but of Judaism, and not on Judaism generally but its relationship with the (mostly secular) Israeli mainstream and the laws that govern the state of Israel. Just a little specificity is all I ask.

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do your laundry

January 13, 2007

I’m feeling very mixed about the airing of dirty laundry. I’m talking specifically about the airing of dirty Jewish laundry. I think depending on how you go about it, sometimes airing dirty laundry is the only way to actually make some change.

A story has been coming out over the last month or so about an incident that occurred on a Jerusalem bus last month, where a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman was harassed and then beaten up by a pack of Haredi men who were angry that she refused to move to the back of the bus. (Read the personal account here and also check out the coverage in Ha’aretz.). To sum it up: apparently there are some Egged buses that are mehadrin buses (Egged is the national government-funded bus company in Israel, mehadrin means that men and women sit separately and no music is played), this woman was not riding on one of them. She was asked to move to the back, she refused, and a group of men kicked her, pushed her, spat on her, pulled off her head covering, and generally left her physically and emotionally bruised.

Issues this brings up: where do you draw the line when it comes to what religion can dictate in a government-funded system? I’m not going to say that Egged doesn’t have rules mandated by Jewish law, because Egged buses do not run on Shabbat. In a Jewish state, who gets to define tzniut (modesty)? Is this an issue the Haredi community should be dealing with internally? My main point is that this issue is that like many questions, it requires a tremendous amount of context to understand both the incident itself and the gravity of the incident. And when I see posts on mainstream non-Jewish blogs (blogs that I respect, I should add) that don’t really delve into any context or even any details, I feel very frustrated – and not because I think that what the group of men did was OK or excusable in any context, but because it can’t really be understood in a two paragraph news clipping with the subject line ‘woman beaten for existing.’ (it has been changed since its initial posting).

And then we have the infamous video of the Hevron settler (a woman) taunting her Palestinian neighbor: “sharmuuuuuta!” (sharmuta = whore). I don’t even want to get into the grossness of a woman calling another woman a whore, especially with a culprit who is supposed to be some sort of “pious” religious woman. Beyond that, it’s interesting to note that the settlers in this particular neighborhood of Hevron called Tel Rumeida are notorious for abusing their Palestinian neighbors. (yes, this article is written by Gidon Levy, another writer criticized for airing dirty laundry). The video to which I linked above was taken by the Palestinian woman’s 16-year old daughter, who gave the video to B’tselem. And then it made its way to YouTube. And now, suddenly, the media and the police are paying attention (click here, here, and here). Palestinians living in this neighborhood say that their complaints over the years have fallen on deaf ears. Through the propagation of this video, perhaps their fate is changing.

I worry about people making generalizations about Jews, about Israelis, etc. And I conclude that I believe in a broad exchange of information, in the power that we access through the internet to raise voices that have been silenced and to question things that we take for granted. And I will take the chance that issues will be raised without context and void of nuance if it means that people will start talking and that change is somehow possible (in a world that feels more and more hopeless). If internet coverage means that the Israeli public will have to wake up about the dangers of letting settlers run amok, about not allowing religious people to think that the way that they practice Judaism is the *only* way, then great. Hopefully there will always be the few who will write the context, and perhaps even more who will be interested enough to read it and engage with it. And I continue to think that through the internet and blogs, concrete change can be made. Maybe the only way we can do our laundry is if people are watching.

tags: Judaism, Israel/Palestine, feminism