As regular readers might recall, I volunteered for some time with a project called We Are Not Numbers. WANN pairs young Palestinians in Gaza and the dismal refugee camps of Lebanon with writers abroad who act as mentors, helping give voice to the experiences of these Palestinian youth and developing their skill as storytellers. I was in good company at WANN: other volunteers include the poet and novelist Nancy Kricorian, the Martha Gellhorn Special Award winner Jonathan Cook, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss.

WANN is a project of the Geneva-based EuroMed Human Rights Monitor, which observes and reports on human rights abuses and breaches of international law across the Mediterranean region. The tireless American writer and social entrepreneur Pam Bailey runs the WANN program with commitment, diligence, and fierce love.

A few weeks ago, I was shocked – naively perhaps – to receive an email from WANN letting me know that Pam had been denied entry into Israel, and hence Gaza, on her last visit there in August. What’s more, Pam was prohibited from returning for ten years.

This had occurred while I was on holiday, so I didn’t hear the news till several weeks after it happened. Since then, I’ve been in touch with Pam who gave me permission to republish her account of this heartbreaking episode, which was first published on Medium; you’ll find it below. Among many other things, Pam’s experience is a further reminder, if one were needed, of the arbitrary and relentless brutality to which Palestinians and anyone who dares to defend their humanity are systematically subjected.

But before you read Pam’s story, let me share a serendipitous discovery I made just today. You’ll see that she references the debut novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by the Sri Lankan writer Sunil Yapa. Coincidentally, as I told Pam, on the wall just outside my study I have a framed print of the original quote which reads ‘Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of your Fist. Keep fighting. Keep loving’ by the London graffiti artist Pure Evil. I had spotted the print on a visit to the V&A with my mother, and bought it online a couple of days later when I noticed how its moving characterisation of love as a political act had become lodged in the part of my gut where some poetry resides.

I’ve often wondered about the origins of that quote, so this morning I spent some time on Google. I learned from an evangelical Lutheran church group in Chicago that the quote and an image of a fist clutching a heart appear as graffiti on Israel’s monstrous and illegal ‘separation wall’, which is more than four times longer than the Berlin Wall and close to three times its height, and the majority of which sits on Palestinian land in the West Bank. I’ve emailed Pam to ask if she knew about this connection, and I’m curious to see her reply. Regardless, I’m struck by its unexpected aptness, and the mysterious energy that transports us to the ideas that keep us going.

your heart is a weapon

The occupation of the mind

When we think of “occupation” in the Palestinian context, we most often conjure images of the wall, barbed wire, gates and soldiers. But occupation is at its most insidious when it seeps into your mind.

On Sunday, August 21, I flew into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, on my way to Gaza. Let me be clear: I do not like entering Israel, and I detest Ben Gurion Airport. But Gaza is my second home — it is my place of respite and familial warmth. And since Egyptian strongman Sisi has made a U.S. embassy letter a condition of Gaza entry (which my country will not give), Israel is my only way in. So I sucked it up and got on the plane.

Safe in the knowledge that my Swedish funder already had obtained a permit for me to enter Gaza (typically the hardest part), my guard was down when I approached airport passport control. The only thought that crossed my mind was that the inspector in my line seemed to be unusually thorough and perhaps I should switch…

But then there, I was, standing before her. She asked why I was entering, for what purpose, where was I going? And as instructed by my Swedish facilitators, I told the truth: “I am going into Gaza to work on a women’s project. I have a permit. Here’s my letter of invitation.” Bang. If I had listened closely, perhaps I would have heard the drawbridge going up — perhaps forever separating me from the place and the people I love so much.

When I was promptly walked into the “special room,” however, I only expected a bit of harassment — after all, that’s what Israel does. And I had a permit to enter Gaza. I even smiled amiably at the odd mix of others in the room, merrily greeting them as my fellow special guests. I didn’t suspect that the bright green tag affixed to my backpack made me even more “special” than most of the others.

I quickly made friends with those around me who would talk (some studiously avoided eye contact, as if our varying degrees of specialness were infectious). I found Adam, a tall, gangly, Arab-looking kid from Florida, particularly engaging. This was his first trip ever out of the United States and he’d been detained. “Is this normal?” he asked. I looked at him in amusement. “Why did you come here?” I asked back. “I wanted a good beach, that’s all,” he said. “Ummm… and you picked Israel?” I responded in disbelief.

Adam, however, eventually left and was released to go look for that beach of his. I was not.

After an hour stretched into two, I finally was ushered into the office of the oldest of the young women who always seem to run Israel’s border gates. The Palestinian NGO who’d be hosting me inside Gaza is “illegal in Israel,” I was informed. My response that I had a permit, that the NGO didn’t work in Israel, that I didn’t intend to stay in Israel, was brushed aside. No questions were asked, no comments or questions accepted. I was finger printed, then told I would not be able to return for 10 years.

Ten YEARS? Those words would echo through my head for the next 11 hours.

In the following days, people asked me if I had been scared, assuming I was. After all, I was transported in a literal prison van — bars and all — to what amounted to a jail. Forced to surrender all of my belongings and then confined to a stifling, hot, concrete-box room with barely more than an excruciatingly uncomfortable bunk bed (I have a bad back) for what seemed to be hours upon end. No company (except for a few girls who spoke only Russian for the first several hours), no distraction of any kind. Except the chatter in my brain.

I wasn’t scared. All I really heard or understood was TEN YEARS. The words felt like a heavy weight on my chest, squeezing out all the air.

I had many hours to turn those words over in my head. I know it is but a pale comparison to what a prisoner must endure, but so many hours with only my fevered brain to keep me company was a hellish kind of experience. Reliving the previous hours. Imagining choosing another passport line. Making up a story about wanting to see the “holy sights” in Jerusalem. Why had I told the truth? Since when did I expect Israel to be predictable or reasonable? The way the scenario could have gone, should have gone — just as it had in April when I had last come — reverberated in my head, over and over and over.

My only other thought was a deep regret at not being able to contact my friends and colleagues in Gaza, who were waiting for me at the Erez crossing. I couldn’t get a phone signal when I was first pulled aside at the airport, and after that, my technology was taken away. (I chuckle now at my first comment upon pulling up to the jail-barracks: “I want an electrical outlet with a U.S. plug adapter. If you are really going to do this to me, I want to get some work done.”)

Finally, sometime in the night, my guards came and got me, drove me right up the tarmac to my return plane home and escorted me on. I might as well have worn cuffs, given the cloak-and-dagger feel of it all. The United Airlines (!!) crew even held onto my passport until we were preparing to land. Why? “If we had to divert the plane due to some emergency, before you reach home, you might try to escape,” I was told. If I had not been so strung out by that point, I would have laughed in their faces. Mata Hari I am not. But it was a little flattering.

Once home, it wasn’t too long before I was ready to fight. Calling lawyers. Threatening to sue. Considering whether I should legally change my last name. Planning a group sit-in at the State Department (after all, we give Israel $3 billion a year, and this is how they treat U.S. citizens?) I am an American and this is what we do. [Note: last month the US jacked up American taxpayers’ charitable donation to the Israeli military to $3.8-billion.]

I knew any legal challenge would cost money, which I’d have to raise, and because I consider my writers from We Are Not Numbers my family and partners, I polled them. Should I raise the money and challenge Israel with the law? Or resign myself to my fate and forever work with them from outside? I was shocked when the results came in: 23–8 in favor of just accepting the verdict.

“We have been suing Israel for years! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work,” stated one writer.

“I don’t think you will succeed if you fight Israel legally; you are not the only one who is banned for 10 years. You will lose money and lose the case as well,” wrote another. “Honestly, it sounds like a hopeless case, particularly when it comes to standing against Israel.”

I am not naïve. I am thoroughly disillusioned with international law, and with governments in general. And yet… I still have a belief that I can fight and maybe even win. Some passages from a novel I recently read come to mind. It’s called “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist,” by a Sri Lankan named Sunil Yapa, and it’s about the protests against the heartlessness of globalization at the World Trade Association meeting in Seattle in 1999.

There are two passages that come to mind. In the first, a delegate from Sri Lanka is observing the masses of determined protesters, and he thinks, “There is something distinctly American about it all, a fundamental difference in perspective and place — in how they see themselves in the world. This is what makes it so American — not that they feel compassion for mistreated workers three continents away, workers they have never seen or known, whose world they cannot even begin to understand, not that they feel guilty about their privilege, no, not that either, but that they feel the need to do something about it. They feel that they have the power to do something about it. That is what makes it so American. That they feel they have the power to do something — they assume they have that power. They have been born with it — the ability to change the world — and have never questioned its existence, an assumption so massive as to remain completely unseen.” But then the delegate felt a sudden queasy sadness. “What if they knew what a real revolutionary was? How bloody is a real revolution.”

Several pages later, the focus is on Victor, a young black kid who had somewhat reluctantly joined the mostly white protesters. The chant rising up was “WHOSE COPS? OUR COPS!!! WHOSE COPS? OUR COPS!!!” And Victor thought, “Do they really believe that? The police protect money and power. They protect the few from the violence of the many. Do you have to be black or brown to know that? Shit, our cops? The police, they pickle the world, preserve it the way it is. They are guard dogs keeping us afraid and obedient.” (Spoiler alert: Those cops ended up charging the crowd of protesters, attacking them with tear gas and batons. And the WTO meeting was shut down.)

I am one of those protesters. Well, I am slightly different. I have lived in Gaza; I know the people there, the conditions on the ground. I have seen the brutality of the Israelis up close. And yet I still, instinctively, believe I can fight. Believe I can use the law. Believe I can make a difference.

It is not important for me to be in Gaza from a macro point of view. My deep, bottomless feeling of loss, which still consumes me today, is because I love the place and the people. The thought of not seeing it and them again, of no longer feeling my toes in the sea and the sand, of never again hugging and laughing with my writers, brings the same heartbreak I’d feel if I’d lost a home or family member. It’s personal.

But Israel’s increasing efforts to isolate Palestinians in the occupied territories, particularly Gaza, including depriving them of the ability to receive and welcome visitors, is worth fighting in every way possible. And if I can use my American idealism as a battering ram, I will do so.

If you read my post from last week about the cancellation of a course on Palestine at the University of California at Berkeley, you’ll recall that one of its themes was the safety of advocates of Palestinian rights, both on and off campus. Whereas the anxieties of Jewish students are enough to shut down any discussion of Israeli violations of the Geneva Conventions or the bombing of UNRWA schools sheltering Gazan refugees, supporters of basic rights for Palestinians have long understood that university administrations won’t even back them up on free speech grounds, let alone take a stand on the issue itself.

With those thoughts still on my mind, I was interested to spot a piece on Mondoweiss’s Twitter feed yesterday about a pushback by academics against the Canary Mission, a pro Israel website that cowers behind anonymity in order to operate a blacklist of Palestine activists and academics on campuses, including social media account information, employment history, and more.

Besides maintaining this blacklist, the group contacts prospective employers and graduate schools to smear pro Palestine activists as ‘Jew haters’ and supporters of ‘terror’ thereby subjecting them to threats and intimidation on campus, and preventing them from getting jobs and being accepted into graduate programmes. A very ennobling ‘mission.’ As Mondoweiss report, more than 1000 faculty members, reflecting a range of views on Israel/Palestine, have signed a letter condemning the Canary Mission’s objectives and tactics.

While I’d urge you to read the piece in full, I was especially struck by the paragraph below, which notes the failure of university administrations to protect their students from these attacks. Indeed, The Electronic Intifada report that students on the Canary Mission’s list have been threatened with violence and sexual assault.

That the Canary Mission have operated until now with impunity is yet another confirmation that the Palestine Exception continues to flourish, undisturbed by charges of hypocrisy, racism or authoritarianism, and that if you step out of line on Israel-Palestine you are the opposite of safe.

Colleges and universities must defend the rights of students to the free exchange of ideas, including advocacy for Palestinian rights. When an off-campus organization publicizes the names, faces, social media, employment, and educational information of students online, universities have a direct responsibility to protect students from this inflammatory, organized harassment, which also threatens students’ physical safety. Sadly, for the most part, administrators have failed even to appropriately condemn the hateful slander, as when the David Horowitz Freedom Center used Canary Mission student profiles during the 2015-16 academic year to publicly post the names of mostly Muslim/Arab/Palestinian student activists on the walls of campuses, and denounce them as “terrorists.”

This powerful essay by the Ohio State University lecturer Pranav Jani appeared on the microsite of the Modern Language Association group, MLA Members for Justice in Palestine. In the essay Jani asks,

‘[W]hat sorts of rational arguments would it take to convince humanities scholars in the MLA membership, who often express a commitment to human rights and equality, to show solidarity with this anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle?’

The Members for Justice in Palestine group was set up in 2014 to campaign in favour of a resolution calling on the MLA to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The MLA, which boasts more than 26,000 members in 100 countries, will vote on the boycott resolution at its 2017 convention.

Here is an excerpt from Jani’s essay:

‘When you join the boycott of Israel you are responding to a call from Palestinian civil society and saying that no, we, as part of a global community that is committed to human rights, will not be silent while atrocities under a military colonial occupation go on month after month, year after year.

‘You may have questions about organizations, strategies, details, policies, and solutions – but you draw a line against colonialism and racism. If you refuse to see this line, you are also taking a stand: for the status quo.

‘You are free to do so, of course.’

But then please don’t speak to me about your anti-racism. For the image of the Palestinian as always already a terrorist fuels every justification of Israeli violence as “security.”

Please don’t toss around words like “empire” and “colonialism.” For the militarization of Israel (as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other allies) is central to US imperial ambitions today.’

Continue reading: Pranav Jani’s Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Some of you might have been following the University of California at Berkeley free speech debacle, in which a course called ‘Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis’ offered through the university’s student-led Democratic Education at Berkeley (DeCal) program was summarily cancelled following a bellicose campaign by pro-Israel groups and – according to the Israeli media – intervention by the Israeli government minister Gilad Erdan and the Israeli Union of Heads of the 4 Universities.

After a huge outcry, including an open letter from students enrolled in the oversubscribed course, who regarded the cancellation as discriminatory, alongside a forceful letter from Palestine Legal, and condemnation from free speech advocates and organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (which I support), the course was reinstated a couple of days later.

You needn’t dig deep to uncover the stinking heap of ironies infesting this deplorable episode. Of course, UC Berkeley is the famed birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, a series of protests in 1964-65 aimed at securing students’ right to undertake political activity on campus. Moreover, the UCB Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, and its Dean, Carla Hesse, who together cancelled the course just hours after receiving a complaint from dozens of Israeli advocacy organisations, initially claimed that those running it had failed to follow the university’s procedures for devising DeCal courses, an allegation that was swiftly disproved when relevant documents and emails were produced.

By contrast, the extraordinary cancellation was undertaken with no discussion with any UCB faculty members or anyone involved in devising the course syllabus. Paul Hadweh, the Palestinian-American student running the course, who is in the final year of a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, says he learned about its cancellation in an Israeli newspaper. As Palestine Legal’s Liz Jackson put it in her letter to the Chancellor,

‘The ample documentation of a public pressure campaign, combined with your failure to provide a justification that holds water – procedural or otherwise – makes it clear that you suspended Ethnic Studies 198 because Israel advocacy groups disagreed with the course content.’

While the decision to cancel the course was located within the transparently self-serving but now widespread claim that any discussion of Palestinian human rights or Israeli violations of international law constitutes a threat to the ‘safety’ of Jewish students, administrators did not hesitate to ‘throw [Hadweh] under the bus’, as he described it, in order to mollify these pro Israel groups.

Just like the denial of a constitutionally-protected free speech entitlement to pro-Palestine advocates, this shoddy affair and similar incidents make clear that for university administrators, legislators and others, Palestinian students and defenders of Palestinian rights should have no expectation of safety. Certainly, their sense of safety was of no concern to Columbia University which recently hosted the Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked who advocated the genocide of the Palestinians in a 2014 Facebook post, in which she called Palestinian children ‘little snakes.’ (Another irony: Shaked is now working with Facebook to censor anti-Israel posts on the social media site.)

As my sister wrote movingly to me not long ago,

‘What do you need to feel safe? That when you say a word, like ‘Palestine’, the person in front of you does not cringe, look away, change the subject or worse, assume you are a dangerous person. You would like to have a sense that you are understood, that someone will listen, that you may find some access to some corridor of power, that someone will champion your cause, they might even fight for you or supply you with what you need to keep going, that someone will achieve cult-like status as a hero for your movement.

‘To be a supporter of Palestinian self determination is to be the opposite of safe.’

The vague terror that attends this knowledge is by now a visceral, body sensation I live with much of the time, through many sleepless nights. It is a prickle of fear, a thudding heart, a ‘poorly tummy’ as my children might say. It’s a ‘Free Gaza’ badge worn defiantly, and then shoved into a handbag with such nervous haste it pricks my finger, when an unsuspecting friend unexpectedly approaches. It is that same finger shaking as I hit ‘publish’ on an essay like this one.

I recall the grimaces on the faces of our suburban Canadian friends back in the 1970s when they tasted our tabbouleh, so lemony it brought out a sweat in the skin near your nose, or gaped at our flat, tangy za’atar bread which looked ‘dirty’ to kids weaned on Cheerios and PB&J. It’s just food, you might think, and yet I sensed even then that their alarm was a proxy for some more nebulous suspicion. After all, who eats dirt?

Even then, I understood that the Palestinians – whose human rights my parents have advocated with fierce commitment throughout their lives – were considered terrorists by most, and even worse by some. Not much has changed. Just last year, the Times of Israel reported remarks by the Knesset member Eli Ben Dahan that ‘[t]o me, [Palestinians] are like animals, they aren’t human.’ Consequently, asserting their entitlement to basic human rights constitutes a dangerous schism from a consensus aggressively policed virtually everywhere in public and private life, both here and there, that it is Israel that faces an existential threat from a bloodthirsty Other, and not the Palestinian people.

Indeed, it strikes me that while courageous Jewish advocates of Palestinian rights are often denounced as self-hating, self hatred is required of Palestinians. For how else to construe the grotesque and perverse demand that they accept the legitimacy of a racist project predicated on their dispossession, and surrender the right to live on their own land in peace, safety and equality, as a condition of ‘negotiating’ that same right?

Despite the reinstatement of the Palestine course, the UC Berkeley affair continues to reverberate, as well it should. Aside from the rest, it’s a reminder that it was Berkeley students who drove the Free Speech Movement, earning the school widespread esteem for its embrace of that liberty, in the face of fierce opposition from its administration. Their contribution was to call the cops.

Unsurprisingly, the Modern Language Association’s very active Members for Justice in Palestine group has weighed in on this episode with the piece below, which broadens the discussion to the campaign to shut down all academic debate on Israel/Palestine, save that which upholds the interests of Israel’s voracious expansionism. I thought it was worth a read so I’m sharing it with you.

Here is an excerpt: ‘What Zionist pressure groups oppose is neither process nor even using the classroom for indoctrination as they claim. They oppose a course, any course, which studies the Palestinian experience and its history of colonial settler dispossession. They oppose the content of such courses and the perspectives of such people. In 2014, AMCHA targeted a similar course at UC Riverside where Professor David Lloyd and Tina Matar, the student course facilitator, were subject to PRA requests, threatening emails, including rape threats and pilloried on the website Canary Mission, which posts the photographs of student activists along with libels intended to dissuade prospective employers from hiring them.’

The rest is here: Palestine, Settler Colonialism and Democratic Education at UC Berkeley

Palestine has a thriving banking sector and all Palestinian banks make money transfers daily to corresponding US banks. The US Treasury Department is also active in Palestine and has praised the level of Palestinian banking compliance. Considering these financial ties, it is a mystery why PayPal, which is widely considered the most trustworthy company in its sphere, continues to ignore this market.

The rest is here: #PayPal4Palestine | openDemocracy

Jamie Stern-Weiner

B. Michael:

For 50 years (at least), Israel has been experiencing the existence of occupation, a brutal, wicked, unrestrained existence. The number of people exposed to the abominations of occupation – through their eyes, hands, feet, weapons and children – is growing. Even the best-honed skills of denial, and all the media’s huffing and puffing, cannot hide the experiences of their lives from them. In their heart of hearts they know perfectly well what they are: abusive, exploitative, covetous, committing abominations with their very own hands, or accepting of such abominations, or at least financing them.

There is good reason that their foamiest rages are directed against those few nervy individuals who insist on telling them the truth about their being.

Voters, who are at the end of the day just human beings, need their consciousness to be escapist. Comforting. They need a leader, a stand-in parent, a super-ego…

View original post 218 more words

Those who saw my letter last week to Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May in anticipation of her party’s conference in Ottawa on the weekend might be interested in the result. You can read the media release from Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) below, but in short the Greens passed the resolution in support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, with Lisa Barrett, its Shadow Cabinet Critic for International Affairs, saying ‘[W]e as a party have to support social justice. We’ve seen BDS tactics work against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and if we hadn’t pursued it vigorously then, Nelson Mandela would have died in jail.’

The Green Party also passed a modified version of the resolution to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund over its flagship ‘Canada Park,’ which sits on West Bank villages that were cleansed of Palestinians in 1967. Instead of singling out the JNF, the resolution that passed calls on the government to revoke the status of all charities that violate Canadian and international human rights law.

Indeed, according to IJV, May affirmed, ‘I want to be clear about this: the Jewish National Fund has been complicit and involved in human rights violations in building Canada Park on top of land that was dispossessed from Palestinians who are living there in 1967.’

Still, Mondoweiss report that May fought the resolutions tooth and nail, claiming the BDS movement is divisive and counterproductive, without offering any alternative, and working behind the scenes to protect the JNF from any direct criticism. This is a marked contrast to Dr Jill Stein who leads the Greens in the US and Natalie Bennett who heads the party in England and Wales, both of whom support the strategy.

As I’ve argued here before, it’s rather odd that the only tactic that’s had any impact on Israeli businesses profiting from its occupation and illegal settlements has met with such bitter opposition from people who claim to support Palestinian rights.

Still, it’s so rare that a political party of any stripe has the courage to call it like they see it on this issue, I confess that I almost cried when I read this, for we all know the cost: B’nai Brith et al. have predictably gone berserk, as have the trolls in the newspapers. Naturally, The Globe and Mail ran a highly misleading piece alleging that the vote had ‘divided’ the Green Party, and quoting five anti-BDS voters but only one in favour. In fact, support for the BDS resolution was so overwhelming, the Chair didn’t bother counting the votes.

So for now, I’ll focus on this from the Greens’ Justice Critic, Dimitri Lascaris, who submitted the BDS resolution. The IJV media release follows.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 8, 2016  Independent Jewish Voices congratulates the Green Party of Canada on the passage of its historic Palestinian rights resolutions  “The Green Party of Canada has pa […]

Here’s the rest: Independent Jewish Voices congratulates the Green Party of Canada on the passage of its historic Palestinian rights resolutions