Thursday, December 31, 2009

joy and pain

alright y'all, things got heavy today.

From Cairo, here's what i've heard. I don't know yet if it's true, because some are saying that it's a rumor, but al-jazeera is a pretty credible news source, and they've announced it. Apparently, a French woman died today after being beaten by the Egyptian police at a protest. Again, I'm not there, so I can't confirm, but I am very clear that Egypt is a military dictatorship, and that they are capable of this kind of violence. There hasn't been any word from the GFM organizers, which is a bit disturbing, but I'll let y'all know something for sure as soon as i can. For now, the story is that a frenchwoman named Marie Renee. Different sources say that she was at the protest or she wasn't, but it is clear that she was on the trip to get to Gaza, and she never did.


Up here in the West Bank, we had quite a day. We got on a bus in the morning and headed to Eraz in Israel. It is one of the border crossings into Gaza, and there were activists from all over Israel that came to show solidarity with the marchers from the Gaza side. There were about 500 folks out there, from all over the world. The largest contingent of people were, of course, Arab Israelis. There seemed to be some divisions among the groups that were there, either political or by age/culture. As you'll see when I post pictures, there was a vibrant crew of women leading the way on the younger side of the march. very inspiring. I've got a lot more to say about this, but i'll add more with pictures later. As it stands, though, I will say that I saw the first person I've ever seen rock a Joseph Stalin t-shirt today. True!!! And those folks always look the same.

Then it was a bus ride back to Bet Sahel (sp?) and walking to Bethlehm for the peace vigil. There was a really dope program with Palestinian kids performing with a great deal of poise. Especially among kids as young as 5 or 6. The organization that has been working with them has done a tremendous job. There were about 300 folks out, and it was so awesome to be with the kids.

Then we ate dinner and came home to another meal that Mazen cooked us (we stayed here again tonight). Then we drank Ouzo and whiskey and listened to some Michael Jackson as the new years hit. It was nice, but nothing like being at home for our new year's party.

Now, obviously, I'm sending this email. There's lots of details and reflections to fill in, but I'm exhausted. I'll hit you with my revised schedule for now:

-Early tomorrow--be at bus station tomorrow at 7 am to take the bus into east jerusalem. Go to the al-asqa mosque/dome of the rock. At 10, we meet up with our guide and he's going to do of occupation hot spots for a few hours. We'll get to see more of the wall, and go to a street where settlers have very recently forced their way into Palestinian homes and pushed people out. There is a group of activists who have built a tent encampment around the house, and we're going to try to connect with them.

Again, all the internationals \i've met are just really c ool. more cool folks today.

but that says nothing about the generosity and warmth of palestians. They do so much to make you feel in good spirits.

-Late tomorrow--catch a bus from Jerusalem to the Egyptian border. There, we'll cross and spend a night in an egyptian town right across the border.
-Saturday--check to see how things are going to be in cairo and then decide whether we chill on the red sea, or go back to cairo. it remains to be seen.
-sunday-back in cairo to get our stuff and get to a bus.

So many fabulous things to share. i can't wait to talk with y'all. Please check for news on Marie Renee. It's a bit devastating to be finding this out.

I think that's it for now y'all. Hope you all have a safe and happy new year


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

URGENT!!! Please keep your eyes on Egypt!!!

Okay y'all, one more...

I just got an email from the folks in Cairo saying what the plans are for tomorrow. They are planning to march from the city center in Cairo and head out of town towards Gaza. Please note the tone of the message, and know that what these folks are planning is no joke. Egypt is a dictatorship, and they brutalize Egyptians all the time. So far, the violence towards internationals has been limited, but who knows what will happen tomorrow.

Please try to check frequently tomorrow and see if there are things that can be done (phone calls to the Egyptian embassy in D.C. to put pressure on them, phone calls to the U.S. embassy in Cairo or to congresspeople, media alerts to spread around, etc.).

This is a brave action that folks are planning, and I am proud to be marching in solidarity with them from the Israel side of the border. Please stay aware of things and support these folks if you can.

From the email:

"Plans for Thursday, December 31,

Tomorrow, international groups related to the Gaza Freedom March will join together for a united march to Gaza. We are demanding an end to the Seige of Gaza, freedom of movement for all Palestinians, and end to the Wall. We urge people around the world to join civil society in a boycotts, divestment campaign and a call for sanctions now.

Our protest will begin at 10 AM sharp in the heart of downtown Cairo. We are asking people to be in the area of the Tahir Square and the Egyption Museum. Please be in the area early. It is time to act like a tourist just as the Egyption Government has said we should do – window shop, buy coffee etc.

Please stay in small groups and pay attention. When the March begins, which will be visible by flags and sound, move to it as quickly as possible and add your energy and body to the flow. Once it begins, act like an Egyption and move through the traffic to join in.

Think of this as mosquitos or bees moving like a swarm to build our march. Once we are all together we want to stay tight, but know that is some place we will be flowing through the cars. We are nonviolent peaceful people. We do not want conflict, we want to go to Gaza to bring attention to the siege.

We do not know what the police will do. But we must be prepared for police brutality. We know they are capable of clubbing us, or physically pushing or pulling us around. If this should occur we will sit down.

Since it is likely that we will be stopped or corralled be prepared to spend some time together. Have ample water, food, things to keep war, and cushion if you need something to sit on comfortably. If we are stopped and held we will work together to decide our course of action.

There is room for everyone in this action whether you are marching on the street, watching from the sidewalk or providing support through media or electronic alerts about what is happening. You must make up your own mind if it is time to step out, but know that the more of us willing to hold the space the more power we have.

We are asking for an international delegation of women to lead this march. There will be a briefing at the Sun Hotel at 9 AM.

If your group did not do a walk through, please send someone to check in at the Sun Hotel by 8:30 AM sharp.

The most important thing is that we are coming together to support one another and take action on behalf of the people of Gaza and Palestine.

It will be a great day and we look forward to marching together in the streets!

It is rumored that we may be blocked in our hotels. If you find this to be true gather everyone together and go to their blockade and begin your protest march or rally at their blockade.

If we are physically prevented from getting to the area we want to be, send a delegate to the Lotus Hotel at 10:30 to re-adjust the plan. Make sure your group has a site to re-group by 11 AM in order to get the information from the Lotus.

Finally, check here for your embassy's number and keep it with you!"

I heart Hebron

Whew! Another busy busy day y'all. Here's what it looks like. First, on the situation in Cairo/Gaza. Here's what I know:

-Two buses left this morning, and as far as I know (no updates yet) got into Gaza.
-There is some conflict among the Freedom Marchers around how the process went down. Some feel like it was a bad compromise to agree to two buses. Some feel like the process of communication and decision making was bad. Some are opposed to the restrictions that Egypt put on the bus list, which they had to approve (no French Arabs and some other racist/repressive rules), and the way that Egypt handled it in the press (by communicating that these were the "good" and "safe" Freedom Marchers that were getting to go). As far as I can tell, it sounds pretty messy
-Some of the folks that are on the ground in Cairo are heading out to march to Gaza. I've heard it for two days in a row now, so it seems to be true.
-I'll send more updates as I get them, but remember, you can also check where people are tweeting (?) regularly and they are posting updates when they can. It's a good fight, but part of me feels glad to be away from the messy contradictions that seem to have emerged.

I am at Mazin Qumsieh's house for another night. AMAZING!!! And we had an amazing day. Here are the high points, and then I'll update you on our new plans for the next few days (yes, things are changing by the minute it seems...when in Palestine, right?)

We got up this morning and had a really great breakfast that Mazin picked up for us (some pretzel-type thingies, falafal (yum), and some other good stuff). He arranged for us to have a van and driver for the day (for pretty cheap), and he made a call to a friend in Hebron to show us around. We got on the road about 9 and drove through the fog and rain and COLD (didn't come here to be cold you know) for about 45 minutes to Hebron.

When we got to Hebron, we were met by Waleed, who, as it turns out, is like the most amazing dude ever. He took us on a tour of the old city of Hebron (which is at least 800 years old, and probably even older in some of the spots). Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights I'm afraid)

-Hebron is famous for it's beautiful stone, and the city is made of these huge stone blocs, some of it made in the same way that the pyramids were constructed. Really big beautiful stone.
-We had to go through a checkpoint and metal detector to get into part of the city where the mosque of Ibrihim is. That's where the prophet Ibrihim and his wife Sara are buried. The Israeli troops at the checkpoint were children...19, 21, etc. Some of them were hostile looking and mean. Some of them were friendly and kind. All of them had M-16s, body armor, and the ability to control what we did. As internationals, we didn't have much trouble, but Palestinians (including people whose families have lived in the old city for hundreds of years) get stopped and harrassed all the time. Waleed got through without much hassle.
-We went into the mosque and saw some super beautiful architecture and art. We felt and smelled the warm air that came from the tomb where the prophet is buried. It was beautiful. Don't worry, I took roughly 4500 pictures and plan to give you all a virtual tour.
-We also stood in the hall where Baruch Goldstein (a Jewish settler) opened fire on, and massacred 29 Muslims while they were in prayer in 1994. While this happened, the Israeli military (which is there, you know, to "keep the peace") murdered 10 Palestinians outside. It was eerie to stand in the space (similar to how I felt when I stood in the yard where Connelly was killed in Ireland). What was the Israeli response to this massacre, you ask? Well, they shut down the mosque for a year, and then claimed 60% of it for a synagogue. Yes, turned part of the mosque into a synagogue in response to a Jewish settler murdering praying Muslims.
-As it turns out, there are 400 settlers living there, and 1500 soldiers there to protect them. They restrict the movements of Palestinians in lots of ways (a couple of checkpoints where Palestinians can't go through at all, harrassment daily, forcible closing of Palestinian shops, etc.). In 2000, they closed the entire old city off and imposed a curfew for 3 years, I think, and again in 2004 for six months (when Palestinians could only leave the old city for 3 hours a day). Most of the businesses that were not among the 500 that Israel closed by military order have since closed because there is no more business as the population of the old city dissipates (only 5000 live there now).
-Settlers act with impunity. They throw trash and insults at Palestinians. They take over houses that Palestinians live in. They move freely through a city that is not theirs (they come from the U.S. or Russia or wherever in the world really, and just set up shop like they own the place). The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee (the folks that are trying to preserve the culture and life of this beautiful ancient city...oh, the links I'm about to make with gentrification when I get back) has had to put up nets to catch all the objects that settlers hurl down from above Palestinians on a daily. Sometimes the nets don't work, because, well, because you can't catch buckets of urine with a net. As we walked through one part of town, two young (maybe 20, walking like thugs through town) settlers with malice in their eyes nearly bumped shoulders with Waleed (who is in his 40s probably and is practically the mayor of old Hebron because he knows and is loved by everybody) and said "the prophet Mohammed is a pig" as we walked by.
-I have no idea how Palestinians don't just snap. I'm actually not surprised that there was a period of suicide bombings here. I'm more surprised that there haven't been that many.
-The people of Hebron are beyond beautiful. These are some of the friendliest, kindest, most helpful people I've ever been around. Totally gracious and warm. I didn't want to leave.
-I also had the chance to have a long conversation with one soldier, and several short conversations with others. I can't begin to express how complicated these conversations were. On one hand, they seemed like genuinely pretty nice guys. They don't like the settlers and blame them for much of the violence. The one guy I had a long conversation with (Guy) was very pleasant with us and with Waleed and seems to think that Arabs and Israelis can live in peace together. He's "just doing his job" and protecting people from the "10% of people who are bad." What he doesn't seem to get, though, is that he is enforcing massive human rights violations, and that the Israeli army is enforcing an ethnic cleansing of epic proportions. He knows how much power his gun gives him, and he's not wrestling with the implications of that, it seems. Much much more on this later.
-I'll have more to say about Hebron when I can start posting some pictures. The most amazing of which are of the beauty of this old city and the bizarre flood that we got trapped in and had to wade our way through as we were leaving the city.

Then we got our wet, cold selves back into our van and headed back to Bethlehem. We went to the university where Mazin and his wife Jessie teach, and she took us to the roof of the university to show how Bethlehem is being systematically surrounded by settlements on the hills above it. Pretty scary.

We went from there to a talk that Mazin gave about the situation to a group of students in a program at the Alternative Information Center. Good stuff, and I'm going to get his Power Point (oh, y'all know I love it).

Then we went to a planning meeting about this vigil that is happening tomorrow. It was in a refugee camp that is right up against the wall (the one that the Pope spoke at earlier this year...and the host committee built his stage right up against the wall so that the world could see what Israel is doing...of course Israel did not let the speech happen next to the wall, but the Palestinians have kept the stage there in defiance of Israeli authority). The wall has oodles of the most amazing graffiti I've ever seen. People have taken their hatred for this nasty thing and turned it into super creative resistance art. It's heartbreakingly beautiful.

Finally it was dinner at this great restaurant for amazing bread, hummus, baba ghannouj (which translates, roughly, as "giddy dad" in Turkish), delicious meat and Palestinian beer (tasty).

Now, for our next few days. Here's what it looks like:

-Tomorrow we head (very excitedly) to a town about an hour and a half from here to participate in a march in ISRAEL with people who are in solidarity with the marchers in Gaza. This is SO EXCITING, and I can't wait to send pictures and share stories of Israelis who are opposed to the occupation and support the human rights of Palestinians. I'm really just so excited!!!
-Then we come back and attend a vigil in Bethlehem where several organizations (one of which runs this really cool arts program for kids in one of the 3 refugee camps around here...where folks have been living as refugees since 1948!!!) are getting together to mark the attacks on Gaza one year ago. A group of children will read the names of the 400+ children who died in the assault last year and hang a little memorial trinket on a tree in front of the Church of the Nativity. Should be extremely powerful. The mayor of the city is going to give a speech there. Imagine having a mayor that...have I told you about an idea called People's Durham (I guess I'll wait on that one). Mazin has helped put this together, so we're excited to attend.
-Then, we're going to find a place to stay in East Jerusalem tomorrow night, and hopefully get to see some of the beautiful Arab quarter there. This is where the holy sites are (if I am understanding things correctly), so I'm hopefully going to get to see a lot of that stuff, as well as understand how the occupation is impacting people in that part of the city.
-We'll wake up and get around Jerusalem a bit more before getting on a bus to head down to the border with Egypt. Depending on how the timing works, we'll either have to spend the night near the border (probably, unfortunately on the Israeli side in this obnoxious beach town that looks like any gross little beach town in the states, only much nicer and well resourced).
-Saturday we'll either wake up in Cairo or get up and head back to Cairo.
-We'll be in Cairo on Sunday and Monday and try to participate in any political stuff that's still happening there, as well a getting out to see the pyramids, eat some good Egyptian food and have some fun. We're also trying to hook up with another friend in Cairo and learn some more about the place.
-Then we head back on Monday night.

I'll try to send updates and post in the next couple of days when I can, but my computer access may be more spotty until at least Saturday evening.

Please know that I'm thinking about y'all, loving our time here and learning so much, and continually grateful for all that y'all did and continue to do to support this trip.

With love


Monday, December 28, 2009



This is an EXCELLENT piece that was on googlenews just posted an hour ago.

Things are moving quickly

Okay y'all, here's what's going on. I apologize for the lack of posts for the last several weeks, but things got hectic. But now, I'm in Cairo and there is a lot to talk about.

It seems like I've finally figured out how to blog from here. I don't have the pictures thing worked out yet, though I've taken tons and tons of them. Will post as soon as I can with pictures.

For now though, here's the updates.

Egypt is saying that "no way" are we getting into Gaza. There is a much bigger political situation at play (including prisoner swaps, heightened tension at the border because of refugees trying to get into Israel from E. Africa, etc.).

On the ground here, things are changing minute by minute. The French delegation took over the streets in front of their embassy, camped out, and then won a meeting with their ambassador. There's about 300 of them apparently, and they are still camped out there.

I was with a group of folks (several hundred) who went to the place where the buses were supposed to be leaving from, because we were going to have a protest there. We had to deal with some hostility from the police when there weren't many of us, but they chilled out a lot when more people came. It's been this cat and mouse game all day. First they tell you you can do something, then they tell you that you can. It's clear that we are getting a lot of privilege as internationals, because they have been cracking down on Egyptians pretty hard.

Here is the thing: we are trying to bring humanitarian aid and attention to a population of people that are slowly being starved off. It is criminal that we are being prevented from doing so.

After the protest this morning, when we got out of the pens that they had us cooped up in, we got some food and a break. Then we went to the UN building to have a protest outside of it. A delegation went in to negotiate, while roughly 700 of us were out on the street, again penned in. They are working on seeing if we can get the aid that we have brought in, even if Egypt doesn't let us travel there.

I left that protest a couple of hours ago, but folks are talking about camping out there tonight, and holding the space the same way that the French have taken their embassy. Things are still moving minute by minute.

Sorry if this is scattered. I promise that there will be lots more anecdotes and photos later. I'm just trying to get a little bit out while I have the chance.

More soon...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Who are the Palestinians?

So, I was getting ready to make my next post (about my trip to the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum yesterday), and I realized that I need to set the stage a little bit more before I can jump to the relationship of the Holocaust to the history of the region. It's difficult to know how to piece this all together, but I know that I need to add a little bit more in terms of geography and demographics.

Once again, let's look at a map of Palestine/Israel. Even just calling it Palestine/Israel suggests that we are dealing with something very complicated, so let's get into it.

If you look at the map, or the maps from the last post, you should notice something strange. Within the political borders of the state of Israel, there are two places that aren't quite part of Israel but are inside of it. What are those places? How did that happen?

First, those two places are called the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip. You've already been directed to Gaza, now I'll circle both it and the West Bank.

These two sites are the current homeland of Palestinian Arabs. The population of Palestinian Arabs in the world is roughly 9-10 million, according to Wikipedia. The following chart is pretty helpful in terms of understanding where this population lives.


Regions with significant populations
Palestinian territories Palestinian territories 3,761,000 [1]
West Bank 2,345,000 [1]
Gaza Strip 1,416,000 [1]
Jordan 2,700,000 [2]
Israel 1,318,000
Syria 573,000 [3]
Chile 500,000 [4]
Lebanon 405,425
Saudi Arabia 250,245
Egypt 70,245
USA 67,842 [5]
Honduras 54,000 [6]
Kuwait 50,000
Brazil 50,000 [7]
Iraq 34,000 [8]
Yemen 25,000 [6]
Canada 23,975 [9]
Australia 15,000
Colombia 12,000 [6]
Guatemala 1,400 [6]

As you can see, roughly half of the population of Palestinian people in the world do not live in Palestinian territory. This should also give us a clue that something strange has happened.

There is a lot that you could read about who Palestinians are (as always, Wikipedia is a good place to start, and it will help you find other sources), but I'll try to add a few points here to provide some context.
  • Of the roughly half of Palestinians that are living outside of Gaza and the West Bank, most are "stateless refugees," which means that they don't have legal citizenship in the places that they are living.
  • People who today consider themselves Palestinian identify both with the indigenous groups of people who have lived there as far back as prehistoric times and the Arab conquerors who came in the 7th Century
  • The timing of when people began to identify as "Palestinian" is up for debate, but the factors that that have helped to forge a Palestinian national identity include: a response to the conditions of Arab people living in the region under the control of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th Centuries and a response to Zionism (which I'll take up later) and British control after World War I.
  • Palestinians are considered Arab ethnically, and the major language group spoken by most is Arabic.
  • While the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, there is a significant Christian population (Jerusalem, of course, being the birthplace of Christianity) with some indigenous Druze and Samaritan folks in the mix. Most Palestinian Jews identify as Israelis.
  • Like all people in the world, Palestinians have their own culture, complete with unique foods, art, music, stories, dances, architecture, and clothes, including the keffiyah, which has cultural significance for Palestinians long before it became the Hip-Hop/hipster-chic thing to have in the U.S. in the last few years

That's one set of folks that live there. The other is Israelis, and I'll take them up next time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where in the world is...

First and foremost, shout out to my old school Carmen Sandiego heads. If you don't know, you better ask somebody.

If I'm going to help you follow me on my trip, I am going to need to let you know where it is that I am going. Every play has a set, every movie has a location--it's the critical backdrop that puts everything else in context. So if I tell you that I'm going to Gaza, I should probably show you where Gaza is. Here goes...

Here is the world, with the so-called Middle East circled.

Now, here is a map of the Middle East with Israel circled.

Now, let's look a little closer. The following two maps will show Israel, with the Gaza Strip circled and...

Gaza itself

Please note (this is of GREAT import) that Gaza is surrounded on all sides by the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, and Israel. This will become important as the story develops.

Coming soon...Who lives in this place?

Friday, November 27, 2009

This little light of mine...

One of the main reasons that I am going on this trip is to take the little bitty flashlight that I have access to and shine a bit of it on the situation that Palestinians are in. There are a lot of people that I interact with on a daily basis that know nothing about Palestine or Israel, and even less about the impact that the situation there has on the world.

Let me be clear, this is not a criticism.

I went to, and teach in, the same public school system that most of these folks went to. I watch the same TV, read the same newspapers and magazines, and listen to the same radio that most of them do. Most of these media, and most public schools, are set up to keep us in the dark about most of what happens in the world. So if you don't know much, it ain't your fault (sorry, I couldn't resist). I didn't know much until the last bit of my life either.


Once you do know something, it is your responsibility to do something with it. That's why I teach. That's why I organize. That's why I'm going to Palestine. And that's why I'm writing this blog. Over the next month, I'm going to be writing posts in short installments that are going to hopefully help anyone who reads this understand a little better the situation that J and I are walking into.

Please feel free to respond, and please feel free to send it around.

Stay tuned for the next post: Where in the world (is Gaza)?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm going to Gaza

My friend Tema often asks me to "start with what I know" when I talk about something.

The something that I'm talking about here is pretty huge, so I'll start with a list of things that I know...

  • I know I'm going to Cairo, Egypt with my friend J
  • I know that I am leaving for Egypt on December 26 and returning on January 4
  • I know that I am going with a group of people from around the world, that we are hoping to be able to cross from Egypt into Gaza to meet Palestinians and understand better the conditions that they are living in under the Israeli siege, participate in a march with Palestinians (and hopefully Israelis), and that I will be doing a lot of thinking and talking about this trip before I go and long after I get back
  • I know that you can get more logistical information about what I'm doing at this website
  • I know that I'm going to use this blog to keep a record of my thoughts and reactions to this life-changing trip, and that I'd be honored if you kept up with me through it
  • I know that I need support. This support could look like a lot of things over the next several months (and trust me, I'll let you know), but first and foremost, I'd love it if you'd support what I'm doing in the form of $$$

To do that, click here

Stay tuned for much more to come.