Feminine Police

8 04 2009


Palestinian policewomen - daylife.com, Associated Press

Palestinian policewomen - daylife.com, Associated Press


A few days ago, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, published an article from the Associated Press marking the first graduating class of women from the two-year-old Palestinian military academy.

All 16 of them, young, some wearing the Muslim headscarf, the hijab, marched alongside 148 men and are now an integral part (hopefully) of the Palestinian police.

The AP reported that these women go through the same training as men. One of them, Rwaida Rabaya, had been in an Israeli prison for two years for her affiliation with a militant group. This move, she said, was the “peaceful” way to defend her land.

Another woman, 24-year-old Farah Salman, hinted at a new phase of feminism within the Palestinian society.

“Society is still not accepting of the idea of a woman working in the security apparatuses,” she said. But well, she’s breaking the rules now.

The problem, another woman said, was finding the right clothes that fit. The PA clearly has no precedent in this.

This comes only shortly after the appointment of two female judges in the Palestinian Islamic court: Khuloud Faqih, 34, and Asmahan Wuheidi, 31. The Jerusalem Post and other news sources reported on this. Only Sudan has female judges out of all the Arab countries, including the “progressive” ones like Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

Women contribution in the Palestinian society remains small. There is no dispute about that. It is great, however, to see these news. This may not only affect the overall image, but will also hopefully begin to change the perception of women’s role in the Palestinian territories, and even across the Arab and Muslim worlds.

These women will, undoubtedly, face some resistance from their colleagues and people. We have yet to know their exact impact, whether for good or bad. Either way, there’s got to be a first time in everything.


Yellow Farce

27 03 2009


The British Times online, along with the Israeli Haaretz,  published news lately that the famous, long-running American TV show, The Simpsons, will go to the “Holy Land” next season.

The premise will be that the Christians, the Jews and Muslims are united in that they all get mad at Homer,” said the show’s creator Al Jean.

“It’s the only thing they can agree on.”

Poor Homer! The butt of all jokes again.

Homer won’t really solve the conflict in the Middle East (as the Haaretz’s headline humurously suggests). That’s a little too heavy of a burden for our clueless, goofy, yellow man.  What the Simpsons and their likes do best is provide an outlet of humor to really serious topics.

The show has generally been cautious when it comes to religions. It’s safe to say that it’s taken a different policy than say, South Park.

One of the Simpson’s favorite characters is Krusty the Clown: a Jew with scattered, curly, tealish hair who got disowned by his rabbi father for wanting to “act up” and making people laugh. Bart and Lisa reunite the two in a sarcastically funny episode later on.

As for Islam-related episodes, in one episode Bart comes back home from school in the afternoon, and right at the door, he yells “Salam Alaykom” to a South-Asian-looking kid walking outside. The kid responds with another “Salam Alaykom.”

I’m not a Simpsons’ die-hard fan, but this episode I’m looking forward to watch. 

Can We Do It Through Art?

25 03 2009


Sutter's Add in the Haaretz

Sutter's Add in the Haaretz

When politics fail, perhaps we should pave the way for the arts.

A Swiss artist called Olivier Sutter posted an advertisement in the Israeli Haaretz earlier this week, sponsored by the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia. The add offers NIS 8,000 (Israeli Shekels) to anyone who knows individuals that look like the eight people displayed in the ad.

The project, called “Enemies,” focuses on breaking down stereotypes and prejudices that are now engraved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by highlighting physical similarities through photography. Sutter had worked on a similar project for French-speaking and Flemish-speaking Belgians who have long had tensions. It’s time for the Middle East now.

I could not help but feel a sense of satisfaction when news about the project surfaced. In so many ways, it is in sync with the focus of this blog: we are more similar than we think, if only we open our eyes and really look at each other. A fellow blogger, Layla, posted comments on the same article. You can read her post here.

The exhibition opens next month in Switzerland and will tour in several other countries in Africa. I hope it gets a stage in Israel and the Palestinian territories, if not around all of the Middle East.

Fashion of the year: T-shirts, IDF-style

22 03 2009


Photo credit: Haaretz newspaper

Photo credit: Haaretz newspaper

A feature story appeared on the Israeli newspaper, the Haaretz, on March 20th by reporter Uri Blau, about a new trend among Israeli soldiers.

From a shop in south Tel Aviv, t-shirts are customized and made for buyers with imprints and taglines of their choice. Some IDF soldiers are now choosing images of dead women and babies (among others) with taglines like “1 shot, 2 kills,” or “Bet you got raped!”

These t-shirts are a sort of graduation gift for soldiers who have completed their service, particularly those from the sniper courses. A higher-ranked IDF officer, or sometimes the platoon’s sergeant, is supposed to approve them. The IDF’s Spokesman’s Office said that the army has no authority over civilian clothing, however.

Soldiers have not worn these t-shirts in public yet, only in “an army context.” One soldier interviewed said that they’re supposed to be an “inside joke.”

The IDF emphasizes that the images and lines are not representative of IDF practices. But I ask: what exactly are they a representation of, then? The Adiv printing shop said that the first order was placed in July 2007 and the trend has picked up from then.

Here is why this is not just about silly t-shirts:

“Could the printing of clothing be viewed also as a means of venting aggression?

[Sociologist Dr. Orna Sasson-Levy, of Bar-Ilan University]: “No. I think it strengthens and stimulates aggression and legitimizes it. What disturbs me is that a shirt is something that has permanence. The soldiers later wear it in civilian life; their girlfriends wear it afterward. It is not a statement, but rather something physical that remains, that is out there in the world. Beyond that, I think the link made between sexist views and nationalist views, as in the ‘Screw Haniyeh’ shirt, is interesting. National chauvinism and gender chauvinism combine and strengthen one another. It establishes a masculinity shaped by violent aggression toward women and Arabs; a masculinity that considers it legitimate to speak in a crude and violent manner toward women and Arabs.””

It is a BIG problem if you think of dead women and children, wherever they’re from, as a laughing matter.  A BIG PROBLEM. Combine this article with recent Israeli soldiers’ testimonies about abuse during Operation Cast Lead and you’ll have some very juicy food for thought.

East Jerusalem’s Al-Bustan Neighborhood

1 03 2009


Photo taken by Rebecca Manski, Wikimedia.org

There have been several articles in the news lately about the Palestinian-populated Al-Bustan area in the Silwan neighborhood, East Jerusalem. The Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality had given warnings of evacuation to 88 houses in the area. Nearly 1,500 people are now under threat of homelessness. The case is both curious and unclear. Initial reports said that the municipality gave these warnings because it intends to demolish the homes and build a public park. Then came news that there is archeological importance to this area and the municipality intends to dig in and explore. After that came further news that these houses were built without permit, all of them, and it was time for the authorities to correct the wrong.

There were rumors that the residents might be compensated by relocating them to another village in Jerusalem such as Beit Hanina in the north. No details are in yet, however. The residents went on a strike last Saturday, which I doubt affected anything.

Topics like this provoke many comments online. In the Haaretz’s article, some commentators screamed “land theft” and “ethnic cleansing.” Although that might be a stretch, these ideas do cross some people’s mind when 1500 people are threatened to be left on the streets. Others justified this move, citing the archeological importance of the area (though the municipality has not announced any planned explorations). Some others used the idea of “eye for an eye” saying that in the late 1930s, Jews were evacuated by Arabs. A commentator said, “It was a Yemenite Jewish area from 1882 until all the Arabs ethnically cleansed the Jews in the 1936-39 Intifada. Some of the houses still have mezuzah marks on the door frames and Magen David designs in the architecture.”

I have a lot of problems with this last statement. I cannot dispute or agree with the claim of the 1930s ethnic cleansing. I don’t have enough knowledge about that. But I wonder this: does one ethnic cleansing justify another? Does it justify putting many people out on the streets again, like the old Yemenite Jews? I don’t get it. If you hate it when it’s done to you, why do you do it to others? There no sense of mercy or humanity here, this is revenge and hatred talking. I don’t think people understand the catastrophe here if these houses are evacuated completely without compensation whatsoever. I don’t think they understand that children would be homeless. Actually, I don’t think they care at all.

The claim that these houses are built without a permit may well be true. But consider also that many Palestinians find it very difficult to get permits in the first place. Moreover, if we talk about illegality here, then under international law Israeli settlements in the West Bank are altogether illegal, yet Israel continues to give permits to settlers. In fact, the Israeli database on settlements was finally published a month ago, in both Israeli and international news agencies, despite resistance from the Defense Ministry. The database recorded that 75% of the settlements constructed were carried out without Israeli permits, or contrary to the permits issued. More than 30 settlements and extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure were done on private lands of West Bank Palestinian residents. Does Israel intend to demolish these settlements too now that the news is all out and the shame is oh so great? No plans have been declared yet. I have my doubts. Do you?

“Since when is war an exercise in proportionality and/or popularity?”

14 02 2009

During Operation Cast Lead –Israel’s military operation on the Gaza strip that began on December 27th,  2008 – I eagerly followed the Israeli news, particularly the Haaretz.


Haaretz is one of Israel’s many great newspapers, one that might be perceived as particularly liberal and left-wing. There are many articles in this newspaper and fewer images. Like many newspapers with online versions, it allows readers’ comments right below the articles.


In an article by political columnist Ari Shavit, titled “Gaza Op May Be Squeezing Hamas, But It’s Destroying Israel’s Soul,” Shavit wrote about the effects Operation Cast Lead has on Israelis’ views, taking the opinion that Israelis are not truly considering the lives affected by this operation. He wrote about the lack of proportionality, voicing the opinion that Israelis have become indifferent to the way the war has turned out, calling for it all to stop.


One of the readers, called Brent from Toronto, Canada, wrote this comment titled “Where’s my barf bag?”:


“Since when is war an exercise in proportionality and/or popularity? Instead of quivering in the attic, have some backbone and stop being afraid of actually doing what needs to be done: Fight your enemies till they are defeated and surrendered as a vanquished foe. Then reap the dividend of real peace.”


I assumed that this comment was written by a young person, in his 20s, not only because most commentators tend to be young but also because it is a hot-headed comment. I have seen many of these comments on Israeli and Arab online newspapers. Here is what I find problematic about this tiny paragraph:


First of all, war should be an exercise of proportionality. Assuming that this war is forced upon a side, it should serve to bring justice, and even peace.


When I thought of the concept of proportionality, I thought of the old phrase, “Eye for an Eye.” In the Torah, the Bible and the Quran, people are taught this principle. In Leviticus 24: 17-21, the third book in the Torah, it states: “fracture for fracture, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth; what injury he gave to another will be given to him.”


In the Quran 5.45, it says, “Unbelievers are those who do not judge according to God’s revelations. We decreed for them a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and a wound for a wound.


It doesn’t matter whether you follow any religion or not. The question is: Why haven’t these books along with conventional wisdom and the law demand more punishment than exactly the equivalent of the harm? Why not two eyes, three or even a hundred? Because proportionality matters. It sustains some sort of humanity, some sort of justice and fairness. If there is no proportionality we become the aggressors we hate.


If you are a Gandhi-lover you will ignore all the quotes above and say, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”


The second problem is in the phrase “quivering in the attic.” Our commentator here portrays any action other than war to be an act of cowardice.


But here’s the revelation: courage is not always associated with war. It is not always associated with fighting, whether for defense or offense purposes.


There are many examples of courage that involved no violence at all, no “quivering in the attic.” Those who marched in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 as part of the Civil Rights movement carried a motto of peaceful protest. They got the beating instead of giving it. Nelson Mandela fought the apartheid and sat in his prison cell for 27 years. He too had courage, without “quivering in the attic” yet without firing a shot. What needs to be done here, perhaps, is far from flexing muscles on both Hamas’s and the Israeli Defense Forces’ sides.


The third and last point is the connection between “surrendered as a vanquish foe,” and “real peace.” I searched for what real peace means to this reader. It is intriguing how these two phrases are written in two consecutive sentences. The idea that in war there is only one winner who triumphed and one loser who became the “vanquished foe” is not always true. In fact, there can be two losing sides in wars. Think of Vietnam.  Better yet, think of Iraq and Afghanistan. Chaos and instability persists years later. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have been victorious enough to reap the “dividend of real peace” for the past 60 years.


People may see what happened in Gaza in different ways. We have yet to completely digest what truly happened. But real peace doesn’t come by easy, and it especially doesn’t come by through bombs and rockets. Again, I emphasize 60 years of lack of “real peace.” How many more lives are you willing to sacrifice for it?