Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Refuge

Whenever I get too depressed or cynical about the sad state of affairs here, I go to my one secret refuge.

It’s a small room,130 degrees Fahrenheit, dry as the desert, and religious garb must be left at the door.

Its my hideout from hatred, a temporary relief when this conflict is getting the best of me.

It’s a sauna. And it sucks that I can only stay in there for 20 minutes at a time.

I would live there if I could.

My hideout is in a Kibbutz called Maale Hachamisha.

Every week or so, or after a war, I leave my apartment with my small, red gym bag, jump in my 1996 Opel Corsa, and head for the hills.

I drive with the windows down and breathe like it is often impossible to breathe in Jerusalem.

I drive through the lovely Arab village of Abu Gosh, cursing the speed bumps as I pass by my favorite hummus joint.

I hang a right at the top of the hill, avoiding the Crusader fortress, and drive through the Maale Hachamisha forest.

I make a left into the Kibbutz, arrive at a guard gate, tell the guard im heading for the spa, and he lets me in.

I park my car, walk past another security guard reading the newspaper, then past the pictures and diagrams depicting strategic positions in the 1948 war, down the stairs, show a kibbutznik my pass to the gym, receive two fresh towels, and into a locker room replete with men of varying degrees of nakedness.

I quickly change into my swim suit and head for the sauna.

In this sauna on this day, I was joined by an Arab Muslim from Abu Gosh, an orthodox Jew (based on his side locks), and a holocaust survivor.

The Arab and the Jew were on the bottom row talking in Hebrew about anything besides politics. I prefer the hotter, top row and provided an audience for an old man muttering out complaints in Yiddish.

The most I could make out is that he didn’t like Israeli sauna culture where people were going in and out every 2 minutes with their sandals on. “This is not hygiene", he said, or “No Kultura,” he complained.

He then showed all of us the faded numbers tattooed on his sweaty, wrinkled left arm. "Auschwitz," he said.

We all began to silently reflect on what this meant to us.

Suddenly, and too soon, the pink sand in the hour glass had reached the bottom. My twenty minutes were up. I shook his hand and left the sauna.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Apartheid Question

In answering the question, my approach would be to analyze the similarities and differences using 5 broad divisions of analysis: History, Ideology, Political Reality, Economics, and Land Policies.

The various laws and injunctions of the Nationalist Party would go under the different divisions, and then compared to the situation in Israel/Palestine, where there is a less formalized system of de facto policies and methods of control. Thus, the Bantu Education Act would go under ideology. The Pass Laws would be Political Reality. The Group Areas Act would be under Land Policies. So on and so forth.

But as a poor freelance journalist, that is way above my pay rate. If anyone wants to sponsor my research, perhaps we can work out a deal.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is Zionism the new Apartheid?

This is a question I am constantly asking myself as I drive from Jerusalem to Ramallah and back. Due to my South African heritage, and the fact that I've been living in Israel/Palestine for 7 years, I do have some strong personal opinions on this subject. But first I want to share with you this story I helped produce for Time.com

Click here to watch the video

Here is the 2006-word letter written by Dr. Farid Esack in its entirety:

My dear Palestinian brothers and sisters, I have come to your land and I have recognized shades of my own. My land was once one where some people imagined that they could build their security on the insecurity of others. They claimed that their lighter skin and European origins gave them the right to dispossess those of a darker skin who lived in the land for thousands of years. I come from a land where a group of people, the Afrikaners, were genuinely hurt by the British. The British despised them and placed many of them into concentration camps. Nearly a sixth of their population perished. Then the Afrikaners said, ‘Never again!’. And they meant that never again will harm come unto them with no regard to how their own humanity was tied to that of others. In their hurt they developed an understanding of being’s God chosen people destined to inhabit a Promised Land. And thus they occupied the land, other people’s land, and they built their security on the insecurity of black people. Later they united with the children of their former enemies – now called “the English”. The new allies, known simply as ‘whites’, pitted themselves against the blacks who were forced to pay the terrible price of dispossession, exploitation and marginalization as a result of for a combination of white racism, Afrikaner fears and ideas of chosenness. And, of course, there was the ancient crime of simple greed. I come from Apartheid South Africa. Arriving in your land, the land of Palestine, the sense of deja vu is inescapable. I am struck by the similarities. In some ways, all of us are the children of our histories. Yet, we may also choose to be struck by the stories of others. Perhaps this ability is what is called morality. We cannot always act upon what we see but we always have the freedom to see and to be moved. I come from a land where people braved onslaughts of bulldozers, bullets, machine guns, and teargas for the sake of freedom. We resisted at a time when it was not fashionable. And now that we have been liberated everyone declares that they were always on our side. It’s a bit like Europe after the Second World War. During the war only a few people resisted. After the war not a single supporter of the Nazis could be found and the vast majority claimed that they always supported the resistance to the Nazis. I am astonished at how ordinarily decent people whose hearts are otherwise “in the right place” beat about the bush when it comes to Israel and the dispossession and suffering of the Palestinians. And now I wonder about the nature of “decency.” Do “objectivity,” “moderation,” and seeing “both sides” not have limits? Is moderation in matters of clear injustice really a virtue? Do both parties deserve an “equal hearing” in a situation of domestic violence – wherein a woman is beaten up by a male who was abused by his father some time ago – because “he,” too, is a “victim?” We call upon the world to act now against the dispossession of the Palestinians. We must end the daily humiliation at checkpoints, the disgrace of an Apartheid Wall that cuts people off from their land, livelihood, and history, and against the torture, detention without trial, and targeted killings of those who dare to resist. Our humanity demands that we who recognize evil in its own time act against it even when it is “unsexy” to do so. Such recognition and action truly benefits our higher selves. We act in the face of oppression, dispossession, or occupation so that our own humanity may not be diminished by our silence when some part of the human family is being demeaned. If something lessens your worth as a human being, then it lessens mine as well. To act in your defense is really to act in defense of my “self” – whether my higher present self or my vulnerable future self. Morality is about the capacity to be moved by interests beyond one’s own ethnic group, religious community, or nation. When one’s view of the world and dealings with others are entirely shaped by self-centredness – whether in the name of religion, survival, security, or ethnicity – then it is really only a matter of time before one also becomes a victim. While invoking ”real life” or realpolitik as values themselves, human beings mostly act in their own self–interest even as they seek to deploy a more ethically based logic in doing so. Thus, while it is oil or strategic advantage that you are after, you may invoke the principle of spreading democracy, or you may justify your exploitation of slavery with the comforting rationalization that the black victims of the system might have died of starvation if they had been left in Africa. Being truly human – a mensch – is something different. It is about the capacity to transcend narrow interests and to understand how a deepening of humanness is linked to the good of others. When apartness is elevated to dogma and ideology, when apartness is enforced though the law and its agencies, this is called Apartheid. When certain people are privileged simply because they are born in certain ethnic group and use these privileges to dispossess and discriminate others then this is called Apartheid. Regardless of how genuine the trauma that gave birth to it and regardless of the religious depth of the exclusivist beliefs underpinning it all, it is called Apartheid. How we respond to our own trauma and to the indifference or culpability of the world never justifies traumatizing others or an indifference to theirs. Apartness then not only becomes a foundation for ignorance of the other with whom one shares a common space. It also becomes a basis for denying the suffering and humiliation that the other undergoes. We do not deny the trauma that the oppressors experienced at any stage in their individual or collective lives; we simply reject the notion that others should become victims as a result of it. We reject the manipulation of that suffering for expansionist political and territorial purposes. We resent having to pay the price of dispossession because an imperialist power requires a reliable ally in this part of the world. As South Africans, speaking up about the life or death for the Palestinian people is also about salvaging our own dream of a moral society that will not be complicit in the suffering of other people. There are, of course, other instances of oppression, dispossession, and marginalization in the world. Yet, none of these are as immediately recognizable to us who lived under, survived, and overcame Apartheid. Indeed, for those of us who lived under South African Apartheid and fought for liberation from it and everything that it represented, Palestine reflects in many ways the unfinished business of our own struggle. Thus I and numerous others who were involved in the struggle against Apartheid have come here and we have witnessed a place that in some ways reminds us of what we have suffered through. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is of course correct when he speaks about how witnessing the conditions of the Palestinians “reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.... I say why are our memories so short? Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation?" But yet in more ways than one, here in your land, we are seeing something far more brutal, relentless and inhuman than what we have ever seen under Apartheid. In some ways, my brothers and sisters, I am embarrassed that you have to resort to using a word that was earlier on used specifically for our situation in order to draw attention to yours. White South Africa did of course seek to control Blacks. However it never tried to deny Black people their very existences or to wish them away completely as we see here. We have not experienced military occupation without any rights for the occupied. We were spared the barbaric and diverse forms of collective punishment in the forms of house demolitions, the destruction of orchards belonging to relatives of suspected freedom fighters, or the physical transfer of these relatives themselves. South Africa’s apartheid courts never legitimized torture. White South Africans were never given a carte blance to humiliate Black South Africans as the Settlers here seem to have. The craziest Apartheid zealots would never have dreamt of something as macabre as this Wall. The Apartheid police never used kids as shields in any of their operations. Nor did the apartheid army ever use gunships and bombs against largely civilian targets. In South Africa the Whites were a stable community and after centuries simply had to come to terms with Black people. (Even if it were only because of their economic dependence on Black people.) The Zionist idea of Israel as the place for the ingathering for all the Jews – old and new, converts, reverts and reborn is a deeply problematic one. In such a case there is no sense of compulsion to reach out to your neighbor. The idea seems to be to get rid of the old neighbours – ethnic cleansing - and to bring in new ones all the time. We as South Africans resisting Apartheid understood the invaluable role of international solidarity in ending centuries of oppression. Today we have no choice but to make our contribution to the struggle of the Palestinians for freedom. We do so with the full awareness that your freedom will also contribute to the freedom of many Jews to be fully human in the same way that the end of Apartheid also signaled the liberation of White people in South Africa. At the height of our own liberation struggle, we never ceased to remind our people that our struggle for liberation is also for the liberation of white people. Apartheid diminished the humanity of White people in the same way that gender injustice diminishes the humanity of males. The humanity of the oppressor is reclaimed through liberation and Israel is no exception in this regard. At public rallies during the South African liberation struggle the public speaker of the occasion would often call out: “An injury to one?!” and the crowd would respond: “Is an injury to all!” We understood that in a rather limited way at that time. Perhaps we are destined to always understand this in a limited way. What we do know is that an injury to the Palestinian people is an injury to all. An injury inflicted on others invariably comes back to haunt the aggressors; it is not possible to tear at another’s skin and not to have one’s own humanity simultaneously diminished in the process. In the face of this monstrosity, the Apartheid Wall, we offer an alternative: Solidarity with the people of Palestine. We pledge our determination to walk with you in your struggle to overcome separation, to conquer injustice and to put end to greed, division and exploitation. We have seen our yesterday’s oppressed – both in Apartheid South Africa and in Israel today – can become today’s oppressors. Thus we stand by you in your vision to create a society wherein everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, or religion shall be equal and live in freedom. We continue to draw strength from the words of Nelson Mandela, the father of our nation and hero of the Palestinian people. In 1964 he was found guilty on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. He turned to the judges and said: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Operation White Cape

Operation White Cape is over. Halleluyah.

For those of you unclear as to what I'm talking about, this was the official police code name given to securing His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

The laughable code name is no joke. For a country accustomed to military operations, the pope's visit was treated as such.

A ridiculous number of policemen, security operatives, guards, traffic cops, and undercover agents were deployed to protect the pontiff during his week-long pilgrimage.

Rumor had it that even Batman was on stand-by.

For anyone trying to get around Jerusalem last week, it was Via Dolorosa-like misery.

It's important to note that Israel's security industry is not feeling the recession one bit.

According to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, 80,000 people worked to secure the pope's visit last week.

The operation went off without a hitch, except for one small detail.

Using white paint, vandals carefully blotched out the pope's face on every single one of the fifty or so pontiff posters lining Highway 1 on the way out of Jerusalem.

Underneath the paint splatter, it reads "Jerusalem Welcomes Pope Benedict XVI..."

Let's assume, for the sake of Jewish/Muslim/Vatican relations, that the vandal was just upset about the congestion in the city.

Or that the Holy See was adjusting his robe on his way back to the airport and miraculously missed it.

See Video Report Here:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Tabbouleh Song

Check out this hilarious video on Tabouli or Tabbouleh, which is the standard salad that comes with most Arabic dishes.

Here are the lyrics:

Tabbouleh Tabbouleh
Makes me shake
shake shake my booty
Eat it with lots of falafal
Eat it on top of a camel

Cuz it's the only beat
That's gonna stick in your head
and stick in your teeth

You gotta push push
Push the tush
When you eat an Arab salad
that is not fettoush

It's a hearty party
tasting yum yum
Taste that parsley
Shake your bum bum

In the club.
Don't need a shorty/cutie
All I need to take is
a bowl of tabbouleh

No we don't need hip hop
house or trance
Cuz this song about a salad
make you shake your pants

No we don't need groovy
techno techno
Just tabbouleh
in your head hole

Don't need bouncers
or velvet rope
I hope by now you
get the point

Don't need glow stick
or Red Bull vodka
You just gotta shake
where you make the kaka

First you take parsley from your sister
Chop it off like hand of shoplifter
Then take a tomato and dice it
don't forget to add all the spices

Then you take a half cup of burghul
Oh my God, it's gone taste so good
Yes this recipe is the bomb but
it tastes best when it's made by Mamma

In Lebanon
they eat it with coffee
In Libya
eat it with Quadafi

Jordan, Iraq
Bahrain, Saudi
Everybody love
the tabbouleh

In Syria
they eat it the fastest
and make sure to
shake shake Damascus

Them in Yemen
lemon the food-y
And Africa they
move move Djibouti

I hope I will finish
It to me is like
Popeye's spinach

but instead of getting
muscles in both arms
I get a moving groove
in my buttocks

Met a girl
She was a cutie
She said she'd
make me tabbouleh

But she made it
without the tomatoes
So I had to tell her
See you later

Thursday, May 07, 2009

From Coconuts to Conflict

I'm back in the Holy Land after a month-long vacation in Miami, the Florida Keys, and Nicaragua. All in all it was a much needed respite from living inside the whirlwind of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It was refreshing to surround myself with a different set of political problems, which in contrast to the Middle East quagmire, seem fixable.

I spent some time in Little Havana, chatting with Cubans about the new legislation sponsored by Obama. The fact that he carried Florida so easily in this election emboldened him to make some changes in US policy. The changes were minor, and I see their importance being more on a symbolic level. It is a sign that the hard-line Cubans in Miami are a dwindling, elderly group whose political might is fading. Obama was just testing the waters with this new policy, and I hope he has the political courage to jump in completely, and lift the unethical and counter-productive trade embargo against Cuba.

As for Nicaragua, I was struck by how eager the Nicaraguans were to talk politics. Somehow they are back under the rule of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas. The majority of the people I spoke to despise him and are downright pessimistic about the future of the country. They speak of stolen elections, corruption, and an uneducated populace.

Wait, back to the fun stuff. In a remote surf camp in Northern Nicaragua, I didn't have much of a choice but to disconnect from the political world and tune into the natural one.

We ate fresh lobster, expertly caught by a bare handed, Indian free diver and delivered to the doorstep. We napped in hammocks until the crease lines imprinted themselves in the skin. We worried about when the next swell would come in, and then worried about the enormity of the waves it produced. It was a great vacation indeed.

One recommendation and one advisory:

I highly recommend Nic's surf tour company. In Nicaragua, unlike Costa Rica, it is imperative to have local knowledge of the breaks and how to get them. Nic is a good host, and will take you to some awesome, relatively uncrowded surf.

Do not, under any circumstances, stay in the Landmark Inn in San Juan del Sur. I have stayed in some seedy places, but none compared to this one. It's not worth repeating on this blog, because the truth has already been disseminated all over the internet. Here's one review, which I think sums up the place fairly well.

So here are some Nicaragua pictures, and my first, unsuccessful attempt at surf videography:


An incredible river mouth break called "Freight Train," which is exactly what the name implies. It was too big for me that day, and my brother was nearly washed to El Salvador.






Miami and The Keys








Bad Surf Videos:


Me on a teeny bopper wave


My bro on a longer wave