Sunday, December 28, 2008
Bethlehem's Complicated Christmas
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Would you like to make this Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza one to remember (for at least a few days)?
Do you need something that can be stuffed snugly into a standard size stocking?
Perhaps Santa wants a lightweight gift so he won't have to hire that extra reindeer in today's economic climate?
Did you just lose your job and crave some cinematic escapism?
If you answered yes, no, or maybe, to any of the above questions, then I have the perfect gift for you.
It's the Disengagement on DVD.
Yes, you heard right. Forget that diamond necklace because while diamonds may be forever and a girl's best friend, the disengagement film will last as long as DVD players are around and is a political scientist with an emphasis in Middle East studies and conflict resolution's best friend.
So go ahead and pleasure that person in your life with a Middle East fetish, and buy the Disengagement Film.
It's less than 20 bucks, and at least part of the money will go to my next film, so it's for a good cause as well.
Order by clicking here.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Here is the trailer, but do yourself a favor, and go see the whole thing:
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Playing for Change Website
Thursday, December 04, 2008
According to this Jerusalem Post article , it is paid for by a Qatari Charity organization, operated by Arabs with Israeli residency, and will be delivering aid and medicine to the Palestinians in Gaza.
This gave me an idea. If I rented a boat and organized a multinational/ humanitarian/journalist boat trip to Gaza, we could bring in food and medicine into Gaza while making an important point about press freedom.
Let's wait and see if the Israeli navy lets in this boat from Jaffa, and then I will seriously consider implementing this idea.
BREAKING NEWS: The New York Times just reported that the ban is over. The Israeli government just came back to their senses. Foreign journalists will apparently be allowed back into Gaza to do their jobs. No boat necessary.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Didn't Israel stop and wonder who will be left to shine the light on one of the darkest corners of the earth? The result of this measure is that Hamas will effectively control all the information coming out of Gaza.
Journalistic objectivity is only possible in a place where that ideal is valued and cherished by those wielding the power. The Gaza Strip under Hamas is not one of those places, and objective journalism in this embattled territory will be replaced by propaganda. Foreign journalists once had the unique ability to enter Gaza in the morning, jot down the truth as they saw it, and cross back into Israel at Erez crossing that evening before their report hit the presses. While kowtowing to Hamas might be a factor in the mind of a foreign journalist who makes a living sporadically reporting from Gaza, the kowtow-factor is far greater for a Palestinian journalist who will lay his head on his pillow in bedroom in a house chock full of relatives in a refugee camp that is ultimately controlled by Hamas.
By curbing this most basic democratic freedom, Israel has not only taken a page out of Hamas' playbook, but has also played right into the hands of Hamas.
After receiving criticism from all the major international press organizations, Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev tried to finagle his way out of responsibility by claiming, "There is no policy to prevent the media from entering Gaza, and the minute the security situation allows for the normal functioning of the crossings, journalists, like all of the others who have been inconvenienced, will be able to return to using the crossings."
Israel was kind enough to let in some urgent medical supplies and humanitarian workers last week. In order of priority, journalists should always be given second-class status to humanitarian workers, but this is not a zero-sum game where the ethic of press freedom should be weighed up against basic humanitarian assistance. Assuming a person is not considered a threat to Israel, Israel shouldn't have the right to determine where a non-national chooses to go. If a non-Israeli wants to go on vacation in Gaza, he/she should have the right to do so. It is Israel's obligation to protect anyone within its borders, but once they cross into the Gaza Strip (which Israel withdrew from in August 2005), they are no longer Israel's responsibility.
Invariably, the real reason journalists are not allowed into places is when somebody has something to hide. (ie. North Korea, Guantanamo, etc.) This truth finally emerged in an interview with Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror. "Where Gaza is concerned, our image will always be bad," Dror said. "When journalists go in it works against us, and when they don't go in it works against us." Dror also said that Israel was generally displeased with international media coverage, which he believes inflated Palestinian suffering and did not make clear that Israel's measures were in response to Palestinian violence.
Even if this were completely true, it would not justify such a draconian policy. For a country suddenly concerned with preserving its image, this is hardly the way to do it. Sacrificing democratic principles will only tarnish its image further. And you can't defeat bad press by eliminating it. Sometimes, and in the case of Israel's tired Gaza policies, there simply is no antidote for bad press. You must either grin and bear it, use some ingenuity to actually change the reality on the ground, or wait for a miracle. Until that day arrives, it is infinitely better to be seen as democratic monster than an undemocratic one.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Change is in the air this election season. Nir Barkat, the secular software mogul turned politico, won the mayoral election in Jerusalem despite a tight race with the ultra-orthodox candidate Meir Porush. This might have been a similar formula to the Obama victory in the US. Under the rule of the former mayor of Jerusalem, ultra-orthodox Uri Lupolianski, Jerusalem became the poorest city in Israel according to various economic indicators. His endorsement of Porush as his successor may have doomed his campaign rather than bolster it. For additional analysis and explanation of the election, check out this video I produced for TIME:
JERUSALEM'S NEW MAYOR
Sunday, November 09, 2008
I woke up the next day, turned on CNN, and saw a scrolling text saying "Obama President"
I thought I was still dreaming so I went to the bathroom and splashed freezing cold water on my face, went back to the TV, and saw that the text was still there.
Standing in my Jerusalem apartment living room with my jaw open, the morning rays of sunlight bouncing off the side of the TV, I experienced my proudest moment as an American.
Then I got stuck in a typical Israeli traffic jam on Highway 1 on my way to a Jeff Pulver breakfast in Tel Aviv. Yet it didn't faze me this time.
Upon arrival, I witnessed Israelis doing what they know how to do best:
They put politics aside and got down to business.
PBS MEDIA SHIFT REPORT FROM THE PORT OF TEL AVIV
Monday, November 03, 2008
Black hat = Don't give a shit/Almost certainly McCain
Knitted Kippah (national religious) = Mostly McCain
Religious followers of Rabbi Nachman with the super long sidelocks= Happy and Ready to Dance Regardless
Christian Pilgrims = Almost certainly McCain
American immigrants to Israel who are outwardly religious= Mostly McCain
American immigrants to Israel who are not outwardly religious= Mostly Obama
Man With Jerusalem Syndrome walking around with a stick who thinks he's the reincarnation of Moses = What election?
No Kippah = Mostly Obama
Israeli Arab/Palestinian = Almost certainly Obama/Don't give a shit
*-Please note: Unscientific polls, like most polls, should not be wholly trusted.
Enjoy the Video!
Thursday, October 30, 2008
1. Everyone make sure to catch Falafel TV's US Election Special from Israel, which will air this weekend on CNN World Report.
2. Everyone make sure to vote. I just sent in my absentee ballot from Israel, so you have no excuse. If you need me to tell you who to vote for, I will be happy to do so.
Here is the program schedule for wherever you are in the world:
SATURDAY: 1) 08:00A GMT / 16:00P Hong Kong / 19:00P Sydney / 06:00A Buenos Aires / 04:00A EST
2) 18:00P GMT / 02:00A (Sunday) Hong Kong / 05:00A (Sunday) Sydney / 16:00P Buenos Aires / 14:00P EDT – extra airing
SUNDAY: 1) 12:30P GMT / 20:30P Hong Kong / 23:30P Sydney / 10:30A Buenos Aires / 07:30A EST
2) 18:30P GMT / 02:30A (Monday) Hong Kong / 05:30A (Monday) Sydney / 16:30P Buenos Aires / 13:30P EST – extra airing
MONDAY: 09:30A GMT /17:30P Hong Kong / 20:30P Sydney/ 07:30A Buenos Aires /04:30A EST
TUESDAY: 04:00A GMT / 12:00P Hong Kong / 15:00P Sydney / 02:00A Buenos Aires / 23:00P EST (Monday)
ON THE INTERNET & CNN MOBILE:
World Report is available free-of-charge on the internet, just go to http://cnn.com/video and click on Live Video at the following times:
SATURDAY: 17:00P GMT / 01:00A (Sunday) Hong Kong / 15:00P Buenos Aires / 04:00A (Sunday) Sydney / 13:00P EST
SUNDAY: 14:30P GMT / 22:30P Hong Kong / 12:30P Buenos Aires / 01:30A (Monday) Sydney / 09:30A EST
MONDAY – only on CNN Mobile: 07:30A GMT / 15:30P Hong Kong / 05:30A Buenos Aires / 18:30P Sydney / 02:30A EST
TUESDAY: 04:00A GMT / 12:00P Hong Kong / 02:00A Buenos Aires / 14:00P Sydney / 23:00P (Monday) EST
THURSDAY: 03:30A GMT / 11:30A Hong Kong / 13:30P Sydney / 01:30A Buenos Aires / 22:30P (Wednesday) EST
The show is also available streamed on the website http://www.cnn.com/worldreport
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Photo Courtesy of Ahmad Gharabli / AFP/Getty Images
SHOW OF PRIDE: A giant Palestinian flag is seen in the stands as the Palestinian national soccer team prays before a game against Jordan. Fans in the new West Bank stadium waved flags and patriotic banners and shouted slogans.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Jerusalem Tolerance Video
It's an interesting story that I think encapsulates Jerusalem's mood at the present moment. Within a very short time period, three events transpire. A monument of tolerance in unveiled between Jebel Mukaber and Armon Hanetziv. A peace concert at the YMCA brings together Arab and Jewish children of the city. The night after the concert, a violent encounter ensues that leaves 17 Israeli soldiers wounded and one young Palestinian man dead.
One interesting aspect from this last violent encounter is how differently this event is perceived by the Arabs of Jebel Mukaber and the Jews of Armon Hanetziv. While the facts on the ground are not always black and white, the interpretation of the event is almost always black and white depending on which side of the fence you're standing. As is the case with most violent incidents here, each side immediately plugs the story into their own ethnically jaded, century-old narrative where your side is usually/always the victim and the other side is usually/always the aggressor.
For the Arabs, this was a clear-cut accident. The victim is the young innocent Arab man driving without a license who accidentally ran over some soldiers. The aggressor is the Israeli soldier who cruelly ended the young man's life so viciously. As one Arab man told me, "I am now scared to drive the streets. Any single mistake and I am likely to be called a terrorist and shot."
For the Jews, this was a clear-cut terrorist attack. The logic goes as follows: There were three other attacks from East Jerusalem this year. Two of them were clearly ideologically motivated with the intent to kill Jewish civilians. The attackers of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva are from the same Arab village as the driver. You don't just accidentally run over 17 Israeli soldiers, especially if you're Arab. Therefore, it was no accident. Jew=Victim, Arab=Aggressor.
This is basically a repeat of the same story we've been seeing in Israel/Palestine since the Jews came back to this land. What is new, however, is that amidst the violence, many noble attempts are being made to bring together both sides into a single narrative. It was inspiring to see both Arabs and Jews teenagers on the stage jamming together. They are wise enough to know that when violence strikes, everyone here is a victim.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Back in Jerusalem, all people are talking about is politics. We are witnessing a reshuffling of the Kadima party and the remaking of the Israeli government. There's a municipal election in Jerusalem November 11. But it seems like the enormity of this year's US presidential election this November 4 is overshadowing it all.
We've prepared an election special for CNN World Report that will air a few days leading up the election. I will keep you posted on that, but for now you can see a small sample of our interviews in minute 16:52 of an election special now airing on Current TV. (Viewable below)
Walking the streets of downtown Jerusalem and asking people their opinions, I was surprised to see how many Israelis are now leaning towards the Democrats. While the Palestinians and Arab Israelis I spoke to almost unanimously support Obama, Israeli Jews seem to be split 50/50. In past election I assume that most Israeli Jews supported the Republicans, but I get a sense this support is waning this time around.
The older Israelis who support Obama claim that the economic crisis is Bush's fault and that there needs to be a major change in Washington to fix the broken economy. The younger Israelis I spoke to point towards the War in Iraq as their major reason for supporting Obama. They unanimously view America as much weaker as a result of 8 years of the shadowy "Bush Doctrine" and think that a weak America is generally bad for Israel.
The McCain supporters claim to be scared of the "real Obama." They allude to his relative inexperience and supposed ties to Louis Farrakhan and Reverend Wright as their major reasons they wouldn't vote for him. They see the Iraq War as improving and think it will take a war hero with character, someone like John McCain, to finish the job in Iraq. I was surprised to hear from a handful of people that Obama was a "closet Muslim."
Many were undecided. One college age girl I spoke to sees Obama as more democratic, but not as likely to support Israel. Her dilemma is between her perceived importance of democratic values versus her love for the Jewish state. She therefore didn't know who to vote for. So I told her to imagine that she suddenly became an honorary American voter in a national majority voting system (no electoral college). There was a tie and her vote was the tiebreaker. She smirked uncomfortably and said that she would vote for McCain, disclaiming "I care more about Israel than democracy."
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
While of course I would never wish a hurricane or tropical storm on anyone, especially when they cause damage and destruction, I do admit that I enjoy the intensity of a good storm. Experiencing Hurricane Andrew in 92' and seeing my normally placid, tiny lake churning up 10 foot swells was awesome. I jogged to the beach during Hurricane Charlie and weeks later I watched Hurricane Frances blow down trees and stop signs. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 ripped off the roof of my family's house and slung it into our family car. We all got wet, and thankfully, no one got hurt. Fortunately, by virtue of living in a first world country, we were insured and were able to fix the roof and car.
Perhaps the best things about these storms is that they create really big swells in Florida. Summers in Florida generally produce flat oceans and only when these huge storms come do we get any waves. Needless to say, me and my Florida surf crew (you know who you are) have been surfing quite a bit recently.
Being in the water so much has gotten me thinking about sharks again. Not out of fear at all, but out of concern for their existence, and therefore the world's existence. This is the very logical argument relayed in a documentary film I saw recently, called "Sharkwater." This film juxtaposes the most beautifully shot underwater footage you will ever see with some of the ugliest over-water footage you will ever see. The ugliness I refer to is the cruel removal of the dorsal fin from a shark while it's still alive, and then throwing the bleeding remains into the sea. Overall, the film achieves what I call the documentary trifecta. It entertains, educates, and inspires.
Here is a trailer:
Here is what I took in from the film.
1. Sharks do not merit our fear. Thanks to Steven Spielberg and Jaws, sharks are seen almost as the terrorists of the seas. I learned that more people are killed every year from soda machines falling on them than from shark attacks.
2. Sharks do merit out protection. Ninety percent of the world's shark population has been decimated due to overfishing and shark finning in unprotected waters. Even if you don't care about sharks, you should. Here's the argument. Sharks have been around a lot longer than man. They are also an apex predator. If they die out, there will be too many fish alive. The fish will then eat way too much plankton. Plankton is the source of most of earth's oxygen. Therefore, if the sharks are all dead, global oxygen levels decrease, threatening our very survival.
A year before Sharkwater was released, I spent a few weeks exploring the pristine coastline in Mozambique, hoping to film the Asian pirates that often patrol Mozambique's shores for whale shark. I tried to convince everyone from local scuba operators to fisherman to the Mozambiquan Navy to take me out to sea so I can catch them on film. The Navy spokesperson told me that ever since the pirates fired on them, they generally are afraid to go out and bust these vessels. (From my understanding they did not use cannon balls) If the Mozambiquan Navy doesn't have the budget or the balls to patrol and protect its 2700 kilometers of coastline, well, frankly neither do I. I did manage to get some photos of local fisherman who also are beginning to get into the shark finning industry, albeit on a much smaller scale.
After giving up on catching them dead, I figured the next best thing would be to film live whale sharks, which is what I did. I went to Tofu, home to a damn good beach break and also one of the best spots on the globe to swim with whale sharks. Above is the video I made which aired recently on Current TV.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Imagine this reality: You are from the Darfur region in Sudan. You ran away from the Janjaweed, the men on horseback who pillaged your village. You witnessed your parents get shot, their bodies thrown into a fire. You hid with your infant brother under a bush for a few nights. You smelt the odor of your family’s flesh roasting. Your heart pounded because you were probably next. You escaped, you made it to Khartoum. Because of your ethnicity, you were still persecuted there. You crossed the border into Egypt. You worked hard to pay for bread for eight years, wondering what the next move should be. More of your friends from Darfur were killed or disappeared into Egyptian prisons. You heard about Israel, a place where salaries are high and fear is relatively low. You decided to go. You hitched to El Arish, the last town in the Sinai desert before the Israeli border. You met a Bedouin who uses stars to navigate the same once allegedly navigated by a guy named Moses. You paid Muhammad 200 dollars to take you to the border fence. That price did not include a safety guarantee. He got you to the border fence where you saw the Promised Land with your own eyes. A tear drop swelled and fell, coagulating the orange sand. You felt a sharp pain in your neck and back. You were shot dead by Egyptian border police. Just another dead, nameless Darfurian.
This is the true story told to me by Sadek Saleh Ibrahim from Darfur, except for the last part. Ibrahim, 23, managed to overcome the final stage in a life that to this point has resembled a deadly Nintendo style video-game. He has faced foes who tried to kill him with every conceivable weapon. He has passed from one stage/country to the next wondering when the game will end, finally reaching the last deadly stage at the Sinai border fence in March of 2008. The Israeli border with the Egyptian Sinai is long, stretching nearly 250 miles. Since Israel and Egypt signed their peace treaty in 1982, the border consists of a couple barbed wire fences which can be overcome with a simple wire cutter. The place is notorious for hashish smuggling, and only recently has become a hotspot for human smuggling. Egyptian border guards here have been known to shoot or bludgeon African asylum seekers to death. This journalist has confirmed the deaths of 12 African asylum seekers who have been killed within sight of Israel. This number in reality is probably much higher the deeper you go into the desert. So why are the Egyptians trying to emulate the Janjaweed by murdering people like dogs at their border? Who gave the orders to shoot and kill these innocent people on their way out of their country? Something smells rotten here. Could the Israeli government be pressuring the Egyptians to be the bad cop so that Israel’s already rotten public image doesn’t deteriorate further? With 3 million Palestinians claiming refugee status, God knows that the last thing Israel needs is another refugee crisis.
The Darfurian I interviewed, Ibrahim, now lives in a cramped apartment in a rundown neighborhood near Tel Aviv’s main bus station. Known as the hardest working chef at a local hummus restaurant, he seems to wear a perpetual smile. He is also Muslim, and the irony is not lost on him that he was once targeted by Muslims and now resides safely in the Jewish state. “Muslims tried to kill me in Darfur and Egypt but it had nothing to do with religion. Now I'm safe in Israel with the Jewish [people], but I worry still about my brothers from Darfur.” As he unfolded his prayer mat in the direction of Mecca, he tells me that it was Allah, not a Bedouin, who guided him safely through the desert.
Ten thousand African asylum seekers who now reside in Israel. Most are actually from the war torn region of Eritrea, where boys as young as twelve are forcibly conscripted into the army. The next largest delegations are from Darfur and South Sudan, followed by Nigerian, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Ethiopia. The Israeli government is yet to proffer a comprehensive refugee policy, possibly because this immigration wave is such a new phenomenon. The numbers went from a handful each year since the millennium to the sudden arrival of 5500 Africans in 2007. All have made the same treacherous journey through the Sinai desert. The government’s underlying fear is that if the refugees are absorbed into the Israeli work force, it would open the floodgates to Africa. MK Ran Cohen, who has been assigned the task of figuring out what to do with these refugees, told me that despite the risk of ”treating them too well” Israel has “ a special obligation to help these refugees since we too [Jews] were once victims of genocide.” Still, no government policy has been set forth, leaving the refugee problem to NGO’s and International agencies.
The tiny UNHCR office in Tel Aviv, which shares office space with a travel agency, often has lines out the door of up to 100 people inquiring about their refugee status. The tough decisions fall onto the lap of Steven Wolfson, director of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Tel Aviv, whose organization is in charge of deciding whether a poor, hungry, desperate migrant from Africa should also be labeled a “refugee,” according to the internationally accepted definition of that word. For example, those Africans who fled to escape poverty by tapping into Israel’s burgeoning economy do not count as refugees. His organization’s recommendations are then passed onto the Israeli government, which invariably does nothing. Out of the 10,000 asylum seekers here, more than half have been given refugee status by the UNHCR, but the government has only given temporary residence permits to an arbitrary group of 500 Darfurians who entered the country before January of 2008. Still, the lukewarm approach suffices, according to Mr. Wolfson, who said that Israel conforms to the International Refugee Convention of 1951 “ simply by not sending the refugees back to their countries where they would be imperiled.”
It seems like Israel’s policy is to have no policy. Meanwhile, it is safe to assume that, as things get more desperate in Africa, more and more people will risk their lives to enter countries that are perceived to be wealthier and safer. The spillover of African genocide, war, famine, and disease will only increase in this age of information, in which more and more Africans will learn that there is a place called “The West” where things are better. With an estimated 10 million African refugees and an exponentially larger number of African poor wandering the globe right not, we can expect the African spillover to continue to affect Israel, the only country within walking distance to Africa.
Check out the Falafel TV production that recently aired on CNN World Report:
Friday, June 06, 2008
On every shoot, our production team was forced to enjoy the natural water resources that Israel does still has left. We floated in the Dead Sea, had mud fights in Ein Gedi, swam in the Sea of Galilee, and swung off a rope swing in the Jordan River. We made sure to end each production day with a relaxing water-based activity, which reminded me that I'm in a really awesome line of work.
We filmed a group of African Christians pilgrims coming to the Jordan River for a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. They came all the way from Namibia to get baptized in the place where they believe Jesus also was baptized two thousand years ago. They submerged themselves in one of the few places in the Lower Jordan River with good, clean water. Wearing white robes, they sang African Christian songs that make you just feel good all over. Then one by one, they got dunked, and emerged with a new lease on life. Besides having the effect of a "wet T-shirt contest" they really did look different after the baptism. Some of them trembled uncontrollably, others cried, others glowed with happiness. Watching their experience through my camera lens gave me gooseflesh.
I also got baptized in my own way. A little bit down river, I found a rope swing that reminded me of the lake next to my house in Florida where I grew up. Swinging on that rope swing helped me regress back to the good ol days of my youth, frolicking around in nature without a care in the world. For those Namibians, water is a new connection to Jesus and spiritual purification. For me, it is a wild adult playground where I can release energy and pretend to be Tarzan. I realized that the cool thing about nature is that its really open to interpretation. It is a place of limitless creativity and fun, and that’s why we have to do everything we can to preserve it.
I am happy to say that Israel is taking steps to solve its water crisis. Desalination and pipelines are the answers I was looking for when I set out to make this film. It turns out that Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline is looking now like a much greater possibility. This will help stabilize the Dead Sea’s average drop of 1 cubic meter of water per year. Major desalination plants opening in 2009 and 2012 will reduce the pressure on the Sea of Galilee to provide water for Israel’s agricultural and private sector. This will help stabilize the Galilee and allow the Jordan river to flow once again to the Dead Sea. It is up to the citizens of Israel to make sure these plans are executed. It is up to the citizens of the world to pay attention to their natural environment and make sure that private interests do not destroy what belongs to us all.
Elad Gefen filming a sinkhole formed by the disappearance of the Dead Sea
Kids enjoying the natural springs of Ein Gedi
Me brushing my teeth after a morning shoot at the Dead Sea
Friday, May 09, 2008
Tonight Florentine was the place to be if you’re hip (or wannabe) , twenty-something, and refuse to pay an 80 shekel entrance fee to a nightclub. I fit into these three categories, so I found myself walking cautiously on Herzl Street to avoid stepping into giant puddles of urine. Trance music blared from invisible loudspeakers that distorted the sound of the bass. The air wreaked of stale beer. Gay men strolled the boulevard, casually inserting whole hands into underpants. I thought I had been transported back to my hometown of Miami Beach.
The Zionist experiment is now 60 years old. There is now a place that pink-shirted homosexual Jews can call home. A place that black-hatted ultra-orthodox Jews can call home. A place that homosexual, ultra-orthodox Jews can also call home. It is a place so unique on earth, so alluring, an object of the world’s attention for reasons great and small. Yet for Jews of all walks of life, Israel is today what it always was supposed to be: a place of refuge for a scattered, tormented, and talented tribe. The refuge has some kinks to work out, but all in good time.
I nursed my bottle of Heineken for a couple hours pondering why Israel can figure out how to single-handedly defeat five Arab armies, make nuclear weapons, put a video camera on an digestible pill, but in 60 years it still can’t brew a decent beer? I also wondered why I moved to a country to be in a celebration that felt so, well, un-Israeli. This party literally could have been anywhere on earth. “This isn’t Israel,” I thought. Where are the camels? The falafel balls? The bomb threats? All I see are gay people. I must be in South Beach.”
I began talking to a girl, a fellow documentary film producer who told me that she is not celebrating Yom Haatzmaut, as it’s known in Hebrew. To her, independence day is just a great excuse to party. She lives in Israel because, “that’s where I was born and that’s where my family is. I sat with her for some time and she could not fathom why I would leave America to live in Israel. She called me crazy and maybe I am. If it was up to her, she said, she would move to New York City “in a second.” I got the feeling that in Florentine, Zionism is totally passe.
As I scanned the street for alleys in order to relieve myself, I saw a group of Israel’s newest immigrants, Africans from the Darfur region of Sudan. They are part of the group of 500 Darfurians who were granted refugee status and made permanent residents by the Israeli government due to the genocide in Darfur. Their war-torn faces cracked smiles that seemed uncomfortable from lack of use. In broken Hebrew, they told me they were having a good time, both at the party and in Israel as a whole. I marveled at the twist of fate that would unite the world’s latest genocide victims from Africa with with the grandchildren of genocide victims from Europe, in an old Arab street in the Middle East. I wondered which group felt happier to be here.
As the night went on, the music got louder and more annoying. I also got drunker and more morbid. I wondered if the bench I was sitting on, or even if the state of Israel will exist for another 60 years? The answer is probably, yes, but how many people will have to die for it? My feeling is that Israel should adopt a new mantra, one that may be more appealing to the Florentine crowd than the old one. If the first 60 were about strength and bravery as the famous Israeli saying goes, then the next 60 should be about compassion. More Israelis should be aware that, while Florentine may have been bought for a tidy sum, much of modern day Israel was paid for in Palestinian blood and tears. More Palestinians need to know that, once in a time before Islam, Jews did inhabit this land and thus belong here as much as they do. I imagined my bold initiative being blurted out on loudspeakers all across Israel and the Palestinian territories: “Compassion is the key to a lasting peace in the Middle East!” But all I heard was trance music.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I reported from Tibet in the fall of 2005. In Lhasa, I saw pictures and evidence of the destruction of thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by the Chinese government. I sensed the anxiety of a young women who snuck me into her secret shrine to the Dalai Lama, secured by a lock and key to prevent a Chinese spy from infiltrating it. Thankfully, many organizations have been created to restore the rights of Tibetans to practice their religion and express their unique cultural heritage. The Free Tibet movement has been around in fact since Mao’s Cultural Revolution trounced Tibet in 1951. Of course, the Tibet issue is one of many human rights violations by the Chinese government. The organization Human Rights in China (www.hrichina.org) does a great job of documenting these no-no’s in both English and Mandarin. Seizing the opportunity to gain free publicity, HRIChina has created a special 2008 Olympics awareness campaign. But does freeloading on the Olympic PR machine gets us any closer to the desired results of freeing Tibet. In the eyes of the world, aren’t these bandwagon Free Tibet protesters seen as the remora on the back of the Chinese dragon?
My feeling is that human rights violations are far more important than any single sporting event, and by attaching one's particular human rights issues to even the grandest of all sporting events, it effectively diminishes the perceived importance of this issue in the global psyche. In other words, the protests seem inextricably linked to these Olympics and are framed by the media in terms that are relative rather than absolute. Put yourself in the shoes of an average viewer who knows nothing about China’s human rights record. They’re thinking these protests wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for the Olympics, so the human rights violations are a smaller issue, clearly being piggy backed on the greater issue, the Olympic games, and therefore these violations are viewed as lesser in significance.
I would also argue that in this case there is such a thing as negative publicity. The Olympics comes around once every four years and suddenly viewers are engulfed not with stories of athletes defying the odds to make it to Beijing, but images of angry protesters trying to extinguish the ultimate symbol of unity and tolerance, the Olympic torch. To decode this message is to see clearly that the media is demonizing the protesters and making the Chinese government seem like innocent victims.
Furthermore, what will happen once these Beijing Olympics are in the history books. Is the Tibetan autonomy struggle less important in 2009 than it is in 2008? These trendy, disruptive Olympic protests need to think outside the box to win this particular battle. Wouldn't it be better to raise money for an issue-specific advertising campaign to run alongside the Olympic Coca Cola commercials, creatively exhibiting the woes of the Tibetan people? Wouldn't an international education campaign highlighting China's human rights violations do more than attempting to extinguish the Olympic torch? Wouldn't a Chinese language anti-Dalai Lama vilification program do more to change the Buddhists image among Han Chinese than burning the Chinese flag? And what about the other persecuted ethnic groups in China such as the Muslim Uighurs who are concomitantly being driven off their oil rich land and persecuted for their religious beliefs? Is their cause not as important as the Tibetan cause or just not as sexy?
Sports have always been sacred to me. I loath cheaters, steroid users, match fixers, and anyone who messes with the sanctity of sports. The Olympic athletes who will compete this summer have trained their whole lives to perform on this stage. For many of them, it is the pinnacle of their careers and their lives. Their right to compete should be revered. But the sanctity of life and religious freedom should also be revered. Therefore, it is essential that the world find a different framework for condemning the Chinese for their share of human rights violations. It is too late to move the Olympics from Beijing. Had these voices been more organized and effective years ago, perhaps the Olympics would be somewhere else today. Instead of trying to extinguish the Olympic flame, I propose another idea. Why not create a monument with millions of flames for every Tibetan, Darfurian, and Uighur soul that has been affected by the Chinese government’s policies?
Buddhist books burnt outside of the Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet, early 1950's
Destruction of artifacts in the Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet, early 1950's
A video I produced with Adrian Baschuk for Current TV in November 2005.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Look at these videos to learn about how the country that was once considered the "bread basket of Africa" has been ruined economically by a single dictator.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Femicide is not just the act of killing a female. It is killing a female because she is a female. In certain Arab and Muslim societies, it is reserved for those females who allegedly cross a line of appropriate inter-gender conduct. More accurately, it is a sexual thing. If a female is accused of acting “indecently” according to the sexual mores of Arab culture and Islam, then the men of the community can kill her in order to protect her family’s “honor.” Such “sex crimes” include but are not limited to alleged premarital sexual relations, alleged prostitution, and alleged adultery. These crimes are all alleged because the female is not brought to court or tribunal. A female can simply be seen talking to a man on the streets in a way that is “unacceptable” and before she knows it she is physically defending herself against a horde of men who simultaneously serve as judges, jury members, and executioners. Often the lynch mob is led by a father or brother, who can be vindicated of shame only once his flesh and blood is reduced to a pile of flesh and blood. An untold number of females have been killed this way.
Femicide is not limited to the Arab World. Five hundred Canadian women of Aboriginal descent have gone mysteriously missing since the 1980’s. Investigators there categorized a disproportionate number of the missing females as alleged prostitutes. Due to China’s one baby policy and the perceived economic advantage of having a male child in that society, a silent holocaust is taking place where millions of Chinese women will never be. In South Korea, where female infanticide also occurs, the pool of females has become so shallow that men are beginning to go abroad to find a wife. In the poorer areas in these Asian societies, females are worthless from day one. Those that can afford an ultrasound abort their female embryos. Others who cannot detect the baby’s sex prenatally simply starve their newborn daughters until they die. These girls never get the chance to prove their worth.
In the Arab and Muslim World, females do get a chance to prove their worth. They must act “appropriately” at all times with men, be virgins before marriage, and faithful after marriage. Any suspected or actual deviation from that path can lead to death. According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, in Israel proper, home to one million Arabs, “twenty one Arab women have been killed over the past two years.” And over the past six years, eight women from one family, the Abu-Ghanem family of Ramle, have been killed. One of these was an 18 year old girl named Hamda, allegedly killed by brother Khamel, who accused her of insufficiently modest dress, cell phone conversations with men, and street conversations with men. As the oddball country in the Middle East with a Western penal code, femicide is treated as crime in Israel, and Israeli police investigates the killings. In the world of the Israeli justice system, Khamel Rashad Abu-Ghanem is on trial for murder. In the Arab world, Mr. Abu Ghanem is a model citizen who upheld the law and restored honor to his family.
These cultural double standards become increasingly exposed as the West and East grow more entangled. When the World Trade Center was attacked, Westerners instantly became aware that its culture had been exported to unimaginable places. Now, as a result of 9/11 and technology, more aspects of Oriental cultures are being placed under a Western microscope. Planes, satellites, internet cables, and video technologies are bringing human cultures together at an exponential rate. Age old cultural traditions such as female circumcision, dolphin hunting, and child slavery are already being displayed on You Tube and sensationalist websites for all people to see. While the Western liberal mindset praises cultural relativity, or non-judgment of the other, what will the limits of this be? How will Westerners deal with “cultural practices” that they would otherwise classify as murder, torture, or cruelty to animals? What will these images do to the Western mindset? How will it affect the millions of Arab Muslims now living in the West? Perhaps it will spark an important internal and external debate about the nature of femicide. An imam in Israel recently publicly denounced the “honor killings” of women as contrary to Islam. Did this happen because of this imam’s proximity to Western liberal values, which gave him knowledge of the “Other”? The byproducts of the cultural collision course that will come to define this 21st century are greater societal introspection, self-awareness, and, consequently, change. Whether this change is viewed as positive or negative is up to you.
Monday, February 25, 2008
This is the reason I haven't been writing or filming so much lately. No I haven't been trying to break any falafel eating records. The reason is that I have been staring at this image catatonically for a few months now. This is true, but I have done so with a purpose. This picture now represents an idea that enthralls me like the people who first invented sliced bread. An idea that is vegetarian, Middle Eastern, satiating, green, and yummy. An idea that is sharable, edible, transportable, and something that can me made over and over again. It is a concept that will revolutionize media in the Middle East, change the way the world perceives this region, and most importantly, change the way this region perceives itself.
Here is the idea in 100 words:
The Middle East has a public relations problem. Thanks to the media’s obsession with violence in the region, it is widely imagined as an anarchy of freely-flying bullets and bombs; FalafelTV will fill the gap between how the media represents the Middle East and reality. Just as falafel is a local food that unites the entire Middle East, FalafelTV will offer original, viewer-created content that will present an authentic, local perspective of the Middle East. Through social networking and the medium of internet video, people will be able to connect to and learn from people not so different from themselves.
Falafel TV is currently an internet video broadcaster, a blog on the Middle East, and a documentary production company, all in one. This idea is something I've been dreaming about for a long time and so I'm really excited to see it taking its first baby steps. I look forward your feedback and if you know any video journalists looking to display their work, they can email email@example.com
To see the Middle East for yourself the way it actually is, without the jet lag, Arabic lessons, or diarrhea pills, go to: www.falafel.tv
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
The Rafah border crossing this week was not a place of order, but reminded me of an ant farm when you throw some sugar into it. Suddenly the ants break down a wall and then its a free-for-all to get to the sugar. In this case, Hamas broke down the wall and Egyptian merchants provided the sugar. Commodity providers in the economically stagnant Sinai peninsula suddenly saw their sales figures skyrocket, Palestinians were able to get some basic commodities, and Israel was relieved of the guilt of imprisoning, starving, and freezing nearly two million Palestinians. Which makes me wonder, why can’t everyone just thank Hamas and keep this border open?
Watching these chaotic scenes, I was reminded of a couple anecdotes from Israel’s Disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Remember the 100 million dollar a year agricultural industry in the Jewish Gazan settlement block of Gush Katif? It was purchased by a group of wealthy Jewish businessman, among them James Wolfensohn, and then donated to the Palestinians. Hundreds of greenhouses that could have produced thousands of kilograms of organic vegetables a year, feeding generations of Palestinians, were instead burnt to the ground. Having been to sub-Saharan Africa a number of times, watching people burn food brought tears to my eyes. It also crystallized the cockamamie logic of extremism in my mind. The moderate dream of a Palestinian state living in peace next to Israel was being sabotaged from within by extremist groups who prefer chaos and dependency to order and independence. The same extremists that enabled the Palestinians to eat this week were the ones who destroyed their farms two and a half years ago.
I also remember just two months after Israel’s Disengagement from Gaza, in November 2005, Mahmoud Abbas and his PA dignitaries came to cut a red ribbon at the official opening of the border. Rafah instantly became a symbolic place for the future Palestinian state as the first international border ever to be controlled by a Palestinian Arab government. There was a lot of hand shaking, smiling, and fraternizing with journalists. Palestinian border police wore sparkling new uniforms and tested out the ink on their newly-minted stamps. Shiny new video cameras and television monitors were installed. 70 border monitors from the European Union were there just to make sure things went smoothly. Who would have thought that in less than 1000 days, Fatah would be powerless in Gaza, the fence would be destroyed, Egyptian riot police would be trading bullets with Hamas, and cows would be hoisted over the border on a crane?
If any man could have predicted this, it is Ariel Sharon. The military mastermind, the builder and destroyer of the Gaza settlements, and the Israeli who knows Arab Gaza best, still lies comatose in a hospital bed, getting food pumped in and out of his lifeless body. Could the opening of this border be the final phase of Sharon’s Disengagement Plan? I believe Sharon knew that by disengaging unilaterally, effectively isolating and ignoring Mahmoud Abbas, Gaza would eventually fall into the hands of Hamas. Sharon probably also anticipated the Palestinian power struggle, as we’ve seen. And he probably anticipated the emergence of a unified, democratic voice, as we’ve seen in Gaza. These should all be seen as positive developments in the eyes of Israel because it will provide real negotiating partners. Now it is only a question of Hamas softening its stance and recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
I believe that Hamas will one day sit at the negotiating table with Israel, but by keeping Gaza hermetically sealed, Israel and Egypt only strengthen Hamas’ radical positions and thus prevent Hamas’ nutty theories from being challenged by the world of ideas. From Israel’s perspective, opening Rafah is the only viable option. They could pass on the burden of feeding and fueling the Palestinians to Egypt. They would not be seen as the big, bad warden of Gaza anymore. That burden would then become Egypt’s, which is why they are so against the opening of Rafah. From Israel’s security perspective, there is already a sprawling network of underground tunnels below the ground in Rafah bringing in drugs and weapons and terrorists into Gaza that Israel has no power over. Before Israel entertains this idea, it would first have to better secure the border between Egypt’s Sinai and the Israeli Western Negev, the state’s longest international border. Israel would also have to give up a lot of money it gets from the no-bid contracts to provide Gaza with power. Its deterrence will be greater for it will leave military options as the only leverage in punishing Gaza for Qassam rocket attacks. Once Egypt gets over the fear of 2 million Palestinian refugees flooding into the country, these refugees could also bring financial opportunity. As they’ve seen this week, Egyptian traders in the Sinai can benefit. Egyptian contractors can provide fuel, gas, and electricity to Gaza. Internationally donated food can come in through Rafah instead of through Israel, providing jobs in transport. The Sinai economy, which relies mostly on tourism, could diversify. Most importantly, for the Palestinians of Gaza, permanently opening Rafah would be a breath of fresh air and a reason not to strap on suicide belts.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Worse even, Bush decided to speak again, which one would think is impossible given the number of times he has stuck his foot in his mouth. This time he predicted a viable peace between the Palestinians and Israel within a year.
Question: Has Georgie Boy's naivete reached new heights or are his writers also on strike?
Speaking of the writer's strike, I'm happy to see John Stewart is back. Here's his take on the Bush visit to Israel:
While Bush was here, the rockets continued to fall on Sderot and the Western Negev, the Israeli Air Force killed 17 terrorists/martyrs in Gaza, and just yesterday the IDF's top secret Duvdevan unit killed an Islamic Jihad commander in the West Bank.
Here's my latest video report from Sderot:
Peace does not come from foolishly optimistic predictions.
Peace is the result of hard work and a generation of reeducation.
Peace comes when both sides sacrifice certain dreams and compromise more than they can stomach.
Real peace exists only when real hatred is replaced by true love.