Beware the cost of war, and representation, and…

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Hanna is in Gaza and has a blog. It’s not always about what she does in the world’s largest open air prison — there are other topics: architecture, photography, women, the museum. But here she writes about a current exhibition of Israeli and Palestinian photographers in London, “Beware the Cost of War,” that removes credits and captions from images of Israel and Palestine (for many of the photos, its Gaza and southern Israel last winter, specifically) as a way of looking, hopefully, at conflict devoid of identity, ideology, politics. It’s interesting, gruesome, and mostly it works. The New York Times photo blog covered the show and quotes organizer, Israeli photographer Yoav Galai: “People want to see the world as they see it: there’s good guys and bad guys.. I wanted to give the pictures back to the photographers. Away from the headlines. Away from pro- or anti-something. So you can see the reality of the conflict.”

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The images represent the conflict, and they’d come to represent “one side” if printed in a newspaper and given a caption, we are supposed to believe. Like Hanna, I looked for the first sign of Israeli or Palestinian in every photograph — the Star of David on the medic’s vest, for one. (Actually it’s quite easy to pick out the Palestinians, by the quality of clothes and the extent of wounds and destruction). This proves the curator’s point, in a way, that we need to connect suffering with its subject, presumably to lay blame and understand its context. Galai said he was inspired by this bit of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others:

To an Israeli Jew, a photograph of a child torn apart in the attack on the Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem is first of all a photograph of a Jewish child killed by a Palestinian suicide-bomber. To a Palestinian, a photograph of a child torn apart by a tank round in Gaza is first of all a photograph of a Palestinian child killed by Israeli ordnance. To the militant, identity is everything. And all photographs wait to be explained or falsified by their captions.

But what about moral equivalency in a conflict, in this case last year’s assault on Gaza, that doesn’t demand a balance of both sides, given the shear imbalance of dead and casualties (13 Israelis, 3 of them civilians, to 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians; crude rockets falling on Israeli towns, to guided bombs destroying Gaza’s only flour mill, bulldozers flattening chicken farms, and white phosphorus falling on children and a UN school). From scopophobia:

…I came across a picture of a dead dog (the “victim” of a Hamas rocket attack in southern Israel) next to images of dead Gazan children buried in piles of rubble that used to be their homes. I understand they were short of images of Israeli suffering (so they had to include some war criminal soldiers with minor cuts to rouse outr empathy), but really? Rather than open my eyes to the suffering of the Other, this collection of photographs showed me that the suffering is not the same. That saying “individual suffering is immeasurable, let’s not play the numbers game” is really closing your eyes to reality.


By creating a moral equivalency between the victims of both sides, this project is not taking a neutral stance ‘reaching across the lines’ as it fashions itself as doing. If you say to me “Israelis are suffering just as much as Palestinians,” you are actually saying this: one Israeli home damaged in Sderot is worth 25,000 homes in Gaza, one Israeli soldier captured is worth 11,000 Palestinian prisoners is Israeli jails, 13 Israelis killed (3 of them civilians) is worth 1,400 Palestinians (most of them civilians), 60 people in Ashqelon with PTSD is the equivalent of 40 years of occupation. And those kids who live upstairs from you, who sometimes come home from school singing an unbearable number of repetitions of “Biladi,” their lives are worth as much as that of a well-bred Israeli dog.

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Goldstone: it’s about ’embarassing charges’ and a cellphone company

From the Inter Press Service:

Israel had repeatedly warned the PA that if it continued to support Goldstone’s report it would withdraw permission for a second cellular telephone company to be established in the West Bank, an issue of critical economic importance to the PA leadership and to the civilian infrastructure of the West Bank.

Shalom Kital, an aide to Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, said that Israel would not release a share of the radio frequency it had promised the PA unless the latter dropped its efforts to put Israeli soldiers and officers in the dock over the Gaza attacks.

“It’s a condition. We are saying to the Palestinians that if you want a normal life and are trying to embark on a new way, you must stop your incitement,” said Kital.

“We are helping the Palestinian economy but one thing we ask them is to stop with these embarrassing charges,” Kital added, referring to the UN war crime charges.

The Ramallah-based company, Wataniya, has lots of capital, a full staff, and expensive advertisements (a large red banner spanned the stage at the recent Oktoberfest in Taybeh). It was murmured in Ramallah last weekend that the delay on the Goldstone report was in exchange for cell phone frequencies, not a settlement freeze. More than the murmur, that was the truth?

Read Mondoweiss

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An excellent blog on Middle Eastern politics and ideas. Recently, it posted this analysis of the lack of coverage and courage in leading American papers on the fallout of the Goldstone report and the continued legacy of Israel’s war on Gaza on the left in America (that is, its vaunted editors and writers don’t want to talk about it. One exception being Harper’s) :

The New York Times is covering the Goldstone Report. Where is it covering it? Well: the furor over the report among Palestinians. We’re pretty sure this is a good story. Neil MacFarquhar is on it. But it’s really not The Story, it’s just an angle of a hugely-important international story, and the only angle the Times is covering.

Here’s what the Times refuses to cover:

–the furor over the Goldstone report on the part of the Israel lobby in the U.S., and the pressure it’s put on the Obama administration, number one. Even J Street has been quiet about the Goldstone report, while it puts out a statement applauding an Israeli Nobelist.

–and what about the political jockeying over the report, the decision by the Obama administration to bury it and make the Palestinian Authority do the dirty work? Important story. Nothing. Mike Hanna of the Century Foundation said two weeks ago that the report’s troubling findings were going to be very “tricky” diplomatically for the Obama administration. He was right. He knows what’s gone down. Why isn’t the Times calling him for comment?

–the incredible discomfort that Goldstone, a Jewish judge who denounced apartheid, has created among liberal American Jews who know that Gaza was a horror but are afraid to face these facts. Nine dead Israelis, 1400 dead Palestinians: of whom the majority were civiilans. The Israelis destroyed the only remaining flour mill, destroyed chicken farms with bulldozers, and dropped white phosphorus on children. American Jews were never silent about napalm in Vietnam. Here they are tonguetied and helpless, and the Times is helping them to avoid this important question by suppressing the news.

–Nothing in the Times about the many Jews here who have supported Goldstone, including Jews Say No!

–No editorial yet in the Times.

This is about discourse suppression. It is related to the fact that the New Yorker, the leading cranial IV for the Establishment, has said nothing at all about Gaza in 10 months. No: Gaza and the persecution of the Palestinians there is an untidy embarrassment to  the liberal Establishment.

The New Republic has actually been more responsible than the Times and the New Yorker here. By publishing raving maniacs like Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi, it has at least informed its readers where it hurts, that this is ideologically disputed territory. The Times has told its readers, Only Palestinians care about this. More mush from the wimp.

One other point. Mainstream liberals are quick to call for people to speak out on Third World countries and once upon a time in Eastern Europe when human rights are suppressed. It’s easy to condemn the Soviet Writers Union or ministries in Africa for not speaking out against genocide. What’s hard is to report and speak out on issues that cause your own readers to squirm. The true measure of intellectual courage is, you go ahead and do it anyway. The Washington Post, the Times, the New Yorker and others have failed this test.

The photo is of posters in Gaza, which read “To the trash dump of history, o traiter Mahmud Abbas.” From Reuters, via the Angry Arab.

West Bank brewery celebrates success with Oktoberfest

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TAYBEH, West Bank — It may not be what signatories of the Oslo Accords had in mind, but optimism generated by the 1993 peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians had a relatively underreported positive result: beer.

And not just any beer, as an expected 10,000 participants in the Taybeh Oktoberfest being held in this small Christian village outside Ramallah over the weekend, will attest. The beer made at Taybeh Brewery — named for the town where it was first brewed and, incidentally, the Arabic word for “delicious” — is not only popular among Palestinians (there’s a non-alcoholic variety for teetotalers), but has a following in Israel and beyond. It is stocked on shelves in Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and even Japan.

What began with a home beer-brewing kit in Boston for Taybeh’s founder, Nadim Khoury, almost 30 years ago is now one of the only microbreweries in the Middle East. This will be its fifth annual Oktoberfest event.

Khoury, 50, and his brother David were enticed back to their native Taybeh in 1994, they say by the optimism of the optimism of the Oslo Accords, and the first bottle of Taybeh Golden was made the following year.

Read the rest on GlobalPost.

The strange case of a monstrous kanafeh in Nablus

090722-kanafeh-nablusIt was announced a month or so ago that in Nablus, Palestine, bakers would go for the Guinness record for the largest kanafeh pastry ever made. (The treat, soaked in honey and cheese, is not local to Palestine, though Nablus is known for its kanafeh. In Syria, Hama is known for its sweets, and I still remember a huge and delicious slice of kanafeh in Deir az-Zur on the Euphrates). Now, the pastry has been made in ridiculous dimensions, but it’s not the World Record that is getting attention. Instead, the train-sized dessert underlined the living gaps between Gaza and the West Bank, and the false hopes and increasingly strong hand of the Palestinian Authority alongside Israel. The PA cannot ease the siege on Gaza, it can only crack down on Palestinian towns and cities, and create a media buzz around a huge piece of sticky cheese.

It was a portentous day in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. Over 100,000 Palestinians from Haifa, Jerusalem, Jenin and more gathered in the city on Saturday to celebrate the making of a Guinness World Record: the largest plate of kanafeh, a popular red-haired pastry made with lots of sugar and goat cheese…

… Palestinians traditionally serve kanafeh at celebrations. The festive frenzy in Nablus provided a marked contrast with the situation in Gaza. There, 80 percent of the 1.5 million population have been reduced to dependency on UN food handouts as a result of an internationally-backed Israeli blockade imposed ever since Hamas won legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in January 2006. In recent months, the World Health Organization and UNICEF have warned of an alarming rise in indicators of malnutrition in Gaza, including stunting, wasting and underweight children and high rates of anemia among children and pregnant women.

Read the rest of Sousan Hammad in Nablus at the electronic intifada.

The Novelist in Wartime

storyThanks to the ‘onceuponthenile’ GoogleGroup that daily floods my inbox with links and stories from Chelsey, Hanna and Paul, I just read this speech by Haruki Murakami given in Jerusalem in February. He was accepting the Jerusalem Prize.

Feb. 20, 2009 | I have come to Jerusalem today as a novelist, which is to say as a professional spinner of lies.

Of course, novelists are not the only ones who tell lies. Politicians do it, too, as we all know. Diplomats and military men tell their own kinds of lies on occasion, as do used car salesmen, butchers and builders. The lies of novelists differ from others, however, in that no one criticizes the novelist as immoral for telling lies. Indeed, the bigger and better his lies and the more ingeniously he creates them, the more he is likely to be praised by the public and the critics. Why should that be?

My answer would be this: Namely, that by telling skillful lies — which is to say, by making up fictions that appear to be true — the novelist can bring a truth out to a new location and shine a new light on it. In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form. In order to accomplish this, however, we first have to clarify where the truth lies within us. This is an important qualification for making up good lies.

Today, however, I have no intention of lying. I will try to be as honest as I can. There are a few days in the year when I do not engage in telling lies, and today happens to be one of them.

More.