United We Rob

5 04 2009

robbery cartoon

A rather funny piece of news was published on the AFP (Agence France-Presse) last week, on March 29th.

“An Israeli and a group of Palestinians last week set aside their differences in order to carry out an armed bank robbery,” the report said.

Six men, two of which were Palestinians from the West Bank, three Palestinian-Israelis and one Jewish Israeli, barged into a bank in Ramallah and stole nearly $30,000. All of them fled, two were caught and the rest are being looked for. The Jewish Israeli, the report said, was the mastermind of the robbery.

Colonel Adnan al-Damiri from the Palestinian police said that such a coordination makes a “dangerous” new trend in organized crime. Are you laughing yet?

Robbery is undoubtedly a serious crime. This news, however, is both funny and relieving in a way, seeing how some brash Palestinians and Israelis are directing their energy for something in common for a change. If only they redirect their energy for something slightly more productive.  

Imagine the scenes that might have occurred among these robbers. The Jewish Israeli with a stick in his hand, drawing the bank’s blueprint on the Middle Eastern sand, in a dark alleyway, directing the Palestinians here and there, and later, all of them get together and fight over how to split the money. Too fictional? Maybe. 


A Photography Storm

2 04 2009


MediaStorm, Iraq - Screen Capture

MediaStorm, Iraq - Screen Capture

This post is not directly related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it is related to conflicts and human suffering in general, not to mention a cool, young thing.

MediaStorm is a website that features some of the best photojournalism work out there, with beautiful multimedia twists.

I first knew about this company through my journalism class. With truly beautiful photography, talented editing and capturing themes, this website offers award winning work that is not only changing photojournalism, but journalism in general. Some of the videos you see are actually photos done through continuous, fast shooting.

This is a very new trend and a brilliant one. It tells us something about our very visual-oriented generation, and our technology-obsessed world.

To those of you who think this is old news, I apologize.

To those of you who haven’t heard of it before, click and get excited!


MediaStorm, Rwanda - Screen Capture

MediaStorm, Rwanda - Screen Capture



The Arab Summit, Rarely about the Arabs

2 04 2009


Getty Images - daylife.com

Getty Images - daylife.com

In my household, news of the annual Arab League Summit was always greeted with sarcasm and cynicism. My father and uncles would wave their hands to the side, turn their heads away from the television and frown.

“They never do anything,” one of them would inevitably say, before starting a long argument about the state of the Arab world today.

Although the women never seemed very interested in politics, some of them would still complain. “Shame on them,” my grandmother sometimes said.

This year’s Arab League Summit was no different. Although I am very far away from home, my family mentioned nothing over the phone about the new fiasco, with Libyan Qadafi storming out, and Sudanese al-Bashir greeted in. It was simply like any other week.

Although I have not followed this year’s summit closely, two articles in Arab news sources drew my attention.

Regular commentator Talal Nizaneddin (sometimes Nizameddin) wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Lebanese Daily Star yesterday, depicting the Arab countries far two divided to accomplish anything. The two “I”s of Israel and Iran are, in his view, the real chess players.

“The Arabs, watching the great Iranian-Israeli chess game unfold, have ended up pawns,” said Talal, “Their leaders, symbols of multi-decade ruling regimes, looked bruised and battered during the Summit in Doha.”

Talal criticizes the endorsement of al-Bashir and Arab rejection of the warrant (although he, too, doubts its technical legitimacy).

Another article on Al Jazeera Arabic by Abdul Sattar Qasem, predicted the outcome of this summit before it started. Criticizing the state of the Arab world, from human rights vilations, to economical issues to many social issues, Qasem writes (and I translate here):

“The Arab countries don’t trust each other, and they treat each other on the basis of doubt, fear and conspiracy. The history of their relations prove this and it is filled with conspiracies, attempts of coups, destruction and violations.”

Who said the Arabs can’t criticize themselves, huh?

I also recommend reading a critical blog post by Scott MacLeod for the Time magazine.

I agree with almost everything said in these articles.  Something is inherently wrong with these summits. They have become gatherings for accusations and rhetoric. We need firm actions from those who have the leverage and the power. No more words please.

Who Are the Seven Jewish Children?

1 04 2009


Seven Jewish Children - Jerusalem Post

Seven Jewish Children - Jerusalem Post

Are you fed-up with artsy posts yet? Well, here’s one more… A long one this time.

Famous British playwright, Caryl Churchil, recently wrote a controversial play regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has received both praise and anti-Semitism accusations. Over the past few weeks, newspapers covered the play, magazines wrote about it, and bloggers typed and typed and typed.

In this post, I will give you a summary of the controversial piece, a personal opinion and finally online resources to read, for those of you who are interested. Bored already? Give it a try.



“Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza” is a short, 10-minute play, first appeared in the Royal Court Theatre, London, in early February. It reached New York several days ago, with three readings at the New York Workshop Theatre, from March 25th to 27th.  Theater J in Washington, D.C., also featured two readings with the blessing and encouragement of Artistic director Ari Roth. I’ve also read that it will be going to other international cities soon.

The play is built on seven scenes. Each depicts Jewish parents discussing what to teach their children –mainly a little girl in the form of “her” – about Jewish suffering and the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can read the New York Times Script.

“Tell her they did it to themselves,” the lines say in scene seven, “Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I’m not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them…. Tell her they’re animals living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.” These particular lines are what provoke the anti-Semitism charge.

The play peaks at the end, scene seven, where Jews transform from oppressed under the Nazis to oppressors through the State of Israel. The play ends with:

“Don’t tell her that

“Tell her we love her

Don’t frighten her.”


A Personal Take

Churchill has always been clear about her views when it comes to this conflict, and it isn’t pro-Israel. In fact, she can be more outspoken than Palestinians themselves. I have noticed that the play reads a little differently than when heard and seen. Check out the YouTube video at the end of this post to get a sense.

I agree that some of the parents are portrayed as inhumane in this play, choosing security over ethics. Sometimes they look like they’re in denial; nonchalant about the Palestinians; almost racist. 

At other times, however, they feel and look like every other parent in this world: worried about the safety of their child, filled with love, wanting to protect at all costs. That is the core of humanity.

From an art point of view, this play is beautifully-written. The repetition of the words “Tell her” in each line is deliberately crafted to engrave that message of “telling.”

“Tell her” becomes a soothing sound; calming in its consistency. You begin to look forward to it.

The simplicity of the play is exactly what makes the images it evokes most horrific. The juxtaposition of this simplicity with the harsh reality makes it artistically brilliant. “Seven Jewish Children” focuses on words and emotions rather than elaborate scenes. 


Now to the super serious stuff…

I don’t believe that criticizing Israel necessarily constitutes anti-Semitism. People criticize for many different reasons, and some of us do so because we believe there’s a better way; that there’s a brighter future and all sides of the conflict are responsible for it. The recent war in Gaza, followed by Human Rights reports and soldier testimonies did nothing to modify Israel’s image. Hence, this play.

A blogger wrote that yelling anti-Semitism with regards to this play trivializes the idea of anti-Semitism. I tend to agree.  In fact another blogger wrote that censoring this play would have worked against Jews and Israelis rather than for their benefit.

One blogger wrote a long piece justifying the existence of the State of Israel and its actions as a response to this play. Most of the anti-Israel accusations are laid out and countered with a line of thinking that follows “Well, the Arabs have done worse.” I encourage and love debate. But this line of thinking has gotten us nowhere and it is used by both Arabs and Israelis, Muslims and Jews, all across the world. It’s beginning to get a little old.

Another blogger wrote that some of his Israeli friends agree with some parts of the play, that there exists demonization from the Israeli side. I believe that all sides of this conflict dehumanize all the others. Why would we be in this situation if it wasn’t so? 

One large debate is about the title of the play. Why “Jewish Children” not “Israeli Children”? The argument is that in choosing “Jewish,” Churchill casts a generalization on all Jews, therefore, becoming anti-Semitic. The only reason I could think of for this specific choice is that this play is not just about Israelis because Churchill portrays Jewish parents during WWII. They were not Israelis then.

I will leave the debate about the BBC’s refusal to air the play on its Radio 4.

But I will add one more note: plays are not created to be impartial. Plays are not created to agree with you, and some writers’ opinions can be junk. Plays and their likes are created to express an idea, from the playwright’s point of view, from the artist’s point of view. You can’t, and shouldn’t, put chains on that. Can you image where that line of thinking would lead us? Downhill, to the dungeons of undemocratic societies.


The List

Aside from the links embedded in my previous long paragraphs, here’s more for those intrigued:

1.     Michael Billington’s review on the Guardian 

2.     Playwright Sonja Linden on Free Speech Blog in response to the BBC

3.     Norman Geras’ witty review, imitating Churchill’s language

4.     The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg interviewing Theatre J’s Ari Roth

5.     The Jerusalem Post‘s article

6.     FrontPage Magazine’s article 

7.     The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephen’s response

8.     The Nation‘s article 

9.     Mark Damazer from the BBC Radio 4 blog

10.   Ben Cohen on the Z-word blog


If you can think of more that are constructive, taking different sides, feel free to add them through comments. Rants are also fine.

Here’s a YouTube video of one reading…

Palestinians & Israelis Getting Real

29 03 2009


Big Brother Logo

Big Brother

Interesting news surfaced a couple of days ago on the Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, online. Arab-French director, Mohammad Waled, and French-Israeli friend Sophie Norman, have come up with a reality show idea, where 12 young Israelis and Palestinians live together in a French villa, getting their lives and debates on air.

You can read the article here.

The reality show, resembling “Big Brother,” will film 10 episodes, 26-minutes each. The cameras will follow their daily activities, paying close attention to their debates. The director hopes that by the end of it all, this group of 18-year-olds will reach conclusions that their fathers and grandfathers could not reach.

Hopeful, right?

It is quite an intriguing idea. I suspect there will be many debates, heated, perhaps censored ones, as soon as the Israelis and Palestinians get used to each other. The director realizes that it is “symbolic,” but we have yet to see how it turns out. The article does not mention which channels it would be aired on, or if Palestinians will have easy access to watching the show. After all, we want both sides to see this.

The commentators on Yedioth online do not seem that hopeful. Many dismiss it as a marketing and publicity show. Others seem to believe that there could be no conversation with the Arabs. The Lebanese Al-Akbar newspaper has published a piece about this earlier in February. You can read the Arabic version here. I have found an English version here.

Not many people seem to be excited about this. Either way, it is something to watch and learn from. It is something new that deserves a good benefit of the doubt.

“I Do Not Speak For Israel” by Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore

29 03 2009


Clarissa Sebag-Montfiore

Clarissa Sebag-Montfiore

A freelance writer and a fellow blogger, Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, wrote an interesting and strong Op-Ed piece for the British Guardian newspaper, titled “I do not speak for Israel.”

In this article, Clarissa explains her frustration at having to explain and justify Israel’s actions because she is a British Jew. She writes:

“British Jews are seen as representative of, and responsible for, Israel’s actions. But many of the young today like myself – second, third or fourth generation – see themselves as British and Jewish. And British and Jewish only. This does not mean we are affiliated to Israel by default.”

Although many British Jews associate themselves with Israel wholeheartedly, Clarissa’s point is that it is a choice, not a default position.

This article strikes quite an important chord. I recall several instances where Jews were asked to explain Israel’s actions because they’re Jewish. I especially remember a political lecture in my home country in the Middle East, this past January, where a columnist expressed loudly through the microphone her frustration and anger at the silence of the country’s small Jewish population over the war in Gaza. “They have not said one word,” she said, “not one word.”

They shouldn’t have to; just as Muslims shouldn’t have to say they condemn terrorism every time they speak. 

Opinions, as Clarissa points out, are a personal choice. They may follow a certain line of thinking according to religion or gender or community, but they have a life of their own most of the time.

Strings of Freedom Disbanded

29 03 2009


Strings of Freedom - AP

Strings of Freedom - AP

I suppose that the international hype over a Palestinian youth orchestra performing for Holocaust survivors last Wednesday was not matched by Palestinian enthusiasm.

On March 25th, a group of 13 young musicians from the Jenin Refugee Camps in the West Bank performed for Holocaust survivors in the Israeli city of Holon. It was part of the annual “Good Deeds Day” celebration. See my post “Yes, We Can Do It Through Art.”

A friend alerted me to a follow-up article in the New York Times, about anger among Palestinians in Jenin over this “exploitation” of children. The anger was strong enough to disband the group, and ban the conductor, Arab-Israeli Wafa Younis, from the camp and the apartment where she taught.

News sources report that Holocaust denial is common among Palestinians. The anger here, stems from the idea that performing for Holocaust survivors represents an acknowledgment that undermines Palestinians’ own plight caused by Israel.

This is idiotic chaos.

People seem to be competing over who suffered more; who has more right to be acknowledged. It was a musical performance. The point was to bring people together through music, not politics. Those Holocaust survivors must have learned something about the Jenin Refugee Camps and the harsh life in it, and those young Palestinians must have learned something about the suffering of Jews and those who survived it.

The real victims here are the young students who gave much of their time and passion to Strings of Freedom. The Palestinians have effectively punished their own.

We need more brave acts like that of Wafa Younis and the Holocaust Survivor Center organizers. Acknowledging and sympathizing with the Jews who have suffered DOES NOT negate or undermine the suffering of Palestinians. It is NOT an either-or situation.