Friday, February 29, 2008

Subject: JTA: Obama: Don't equate 'pro-Israel' and 'pro-Likud' Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 18:07:06 +0000
Obama: Don't equate 'pro-Israel' and 'pro-Likud'
Published: 02/24/2008
Barack Obama faulted elements in the pro-Israel community that he says equate being pro-Israel with being pro-Likud.
'I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you're anti-Israel and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel,' the Illinois senator and contender for the Democratic presidential nominee told a group of Jewish leaders in Cleveland on Sunday. 'If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress.'

The Likud Party, in the Israeli opposition, advocates minimal territorial concessions to the Palestinians and promotes settlement in the West Bank .

Obama was addressing a series of attacks, most from Republicans, that suggest that he has surrounded himself with anti-Israel advisers. He noted that he did not take the advice of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration national security adviser named in some of the attack e-mails.

Obama explained that he accepted Brzezinski's endorsement, based on shared views on ending the Iraq war, but did not share Brzezinski's critical views of Israel . Nonetheless, he cautioned against marginalizing those with different views.

'Frankly some of the commentary that I've seen which suggests guilt by association or the notion that unless we are never ever going to ask any difficult questions about how we move peace forward or secure Israel that is non military or non belligerent or doesn't talk about just crushing the opposition that that somehow is being soft or anti-Israel, I think we're going to have problems moving forward,' he said.

Obama also said he encountered more nuanced views among Israelis than Americans.
'There was a very honest, thoughtful debate taking place inside Israel ,' he said. 'All of you, I'm sure, have experienced this when you travel there. Understandably, because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the U.S. pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation. But all I'm saying though is that actually ultimately should be our goal, to have that same clear eyed view about how we approach these issues.'

The meeting, taking place as the campaigns of Obama and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) blitz the state ahead of a March 4 primary, was off the record, but a rough transcript was later made available.

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Subject: An Invention Called 'the Jewish People' by Tom Segev

Date: Fri, 29 Feb 2008 18:54:26 +0000
w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update - 17:30 28/02/2008
An invention called 'the Jewish people'
By Tom Segev

Israel's Declaration of Independence states that the Jewish people arose in the Land of Israel and was exiled from its homeland. Every Israeli schoolchild is taught that this happened during the period of Roman rule, in 70 CE. The nation remained loyal to its land, to which it began to return after two millennia of exile. Wrong, says the historian Shlomo Zand, in one of the most fascinating and challenging books published here in a long time. There never was a Jewish people, only a Jewish religion, and the exile also never happened - hence there was no return. Zand rejects most of the stories of national-identity formation in the Bible, including the exodus from Egypt and, most satisfactorily, the horrors of the conquest under Joshua. It's all fiction and myth that served as an excuse for the establishment of the State of Israel, he asserts.

According to Zand, the Romans did not generally exile whole nations, and most of the Jews were permitted to remain in the country. The number of those exiled was at most tens of thousands. When the country was conquered by the Arabs, many of the Jews converted to Islam and were assimilated among the conquerors. It follows that the progenitors of the Palestinian Arabs were Jews. Zand did not invent this thesis; 30 years before the Declaration of Independence, it was espoused by David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and others.

If the majority of the Jews were not exiled, how is it that so many of them reached almost every country on earth? Zand says they emigrated of their own volition or, if they were among those exiled to Babylon, remained there because they chose to. Contrary to conventional belief, the Jewish religion tried to induce members of other faiths to become Jews, which explains how there came to be millions of Jews in the world. As the Book of Esther, for example, notes, 'And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.'

Zand quotes from many existing studies, some of which were written in Israel but shunted out of the central discourse. He also describes at length the Jewish kingdom of Himyar in the southern Arabian Peninsula and the Jewish Berbers in North Africa. The community of Jews in Spain sprang from Arabs who became Jews and arrived with the forces that captured Spain from the Christians, and from European-born individuals who had also become Jews.

The first Jews of Ashkenaz (Germany) did not come from the Land of Israel and did not reach Eastern Europe from Germany, but became Jews in the Khazar Kingdom in the Caucasus. Zand explains the origins of Yiddish culture: it was not a Jewish import from Germany, but the result of the connection between the offspring of the Kuzari and Germans who traveled to the East, some of them as merchants.

We find, then, that the members of a variety of peoples and races, blond and black, brown and yellow, became Jews in large numbers. According to Zand, the Zionist need to devise for them a shared ethnicity and historical continuity produced a long series of inventions and fictions, along with an invocation of racist theses. Some were concocted in the minds of those who conceived the Zionist movement, while others were offered as the findings of genetic studies conducted in Israel.

Prof. Zand teaches at Tel Aviv University. His book, 'When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?' (published by Resling in Hebrew), is intended to promote the idea that Israel should be a 'state of all its citizens' - Jews, Arabs and others - in contrast to its declared identity as a 'Jewish and democratic' state. Personal stories, a prolonged theoretical discussion and abundant sarcastic quips do not help the book, but its historical chapters are well-written and cite numerous facts and insights that many Israelis will be astonished to read for the first time.

The mosquito from Kiryat Yam

On March 27, 1948, a meeting was held in Hiafa concerning the fate of the Bedouin of Arab al-Ghawarina in the Haifa area. 'They must be removed from there, so that they, too, will not add to our troubles,' Yosef Weitz, of the Keren Kayemeth (Jewish National Fund), wrote in his personal diary. Two months later, Weitz reported to the organization's director, 'Our Haifa Bay has been evacuated completely and there is hardly a remnant of those who encroached our border.' They were probably expelled to Jordan; some were allowed to remain in the village of Jisr al-Zarqa. The fate of the Arab al-Ghawarina Bedouin has recently made the headlines thanks to Shmuel Sisso, mayor of the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Yam. He has filed a complaint with the police against Google. The reason is the addition that one of the site's surfers, a resident of Nablus, attached to the center of Kiryat Yam in the world satellite photo, stating that the city is built on the ruins of a village that was destroyed in 1948, Arab al-Ghawarina. Sisso's complaint says that this is slanderous.

The facts are as follows: The lands of the Zevulun Valley were purchased in the 1920s by the JNF and by various construction companies, among them one called Gav Yam. The Zionist Archives have the plan for the establishment of Kiryat Yam, dated 1938, and a letter from 1945 states that there were already 100 homes there. Government maps from the British Mandate period identify the territory on which Kiryat Yam was built by two names: Zevulun Valley and Ghawarina. Thus it appears that this was not a settlement but an area in which Bedouin resided.

The Web site of the Israeli organization Zochrot (Remembering) states that there were 720 people at the site in 1948 and that the area was divided among three kibbutzim: Ein Hamifratz, Kfar Masaryk and Ein Hayam, today Ein Carmel.

This story has been making the rounds on the Internet and drawing responses, which can be summed up as follows: 'If Sisso is suing Google because they stated that he is living on a destroyed Arab village, the implication is that he thinks this is something bad.' Sisso, a lawyer of 57 who is identified with Likud and was formerly Israeli consul general in New York, says, 'I don't think there is anything bad about it, but other people might think it is bad, especially people abroad, and that is liable to hurt Kiryat Yam, because people will not want to invest here. Since we are not sitting on a Palestinian village, why should we have to suffer for no reason?'

Moroccan-born, Sisso arrived in Israel in 1955. 'I wandered around the whole region and I saw no trace of anyone's having been here before us and supposedly expelled.' He asked an American law professor how, if at all, Google could be sued for slander or for damages. This, he says, is the contribution of Kiryat Yam to the struggle against the right of return (of the Palestinian refugees).

It could turn out to be the most riveting trial since Ariel Sharon sued Time magazine, but mayor Sisso has no illusions: 'Me against Google is like a mosquito against an elephant,' he said this week.

Who America belongs to

Two professors, Gabi Shefer and Avi Ben-Zvi, were guests this week on Yitzhak Noy's 'International Hour' current events program on Israel Radio. The anchor, sounding slightly concerned, asked whether the achievements of Barack Obama show that the United States no longer belongs to the white man. Prof. Shefer confirmed this: Obama is an immigrant, he said. Prof. Ben-Zvi asked to add a remark: Gabi Shefer is right, he said. They are both wrong. If Obama were an immigrant, he would not be eligible to be elected president. He was born in Honolulu, some two years after Hawaii became the 50th state of the union.



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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Events of Interest in Bethlehem

The Organizing Department of ADC is forwarding this announcement on behalf of the Holy Land Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Bethlehem, Palestine.

5th Annual Palestine Summer Encounter 2008
Palestine Summer Encounter 2008
Holy Land Trust in partnership with Middle East Fellowship invites you to participate in the fifth annual Palestine Summer Encounter, a one to three month Arabic-training and volunteer program, starting on May 22nd, 2008.
The purpose of the program is to create a dialogue between Palestinians and members of the global community. During the program, participants will learn beginner or intermediate conversational Arabic through language immersion and class and partner with Palestinian non-profit organizations as a volunteer and will have the chance to meet Palestinian and Israeli Peace Activists, and tour Palestine and Israel , Participants will also have the Chance to learn (Dabkeh) Palestinian dance and would learn how to cook some Palestinian dishes. See the links for more detailed information:

2nd Annual Home Rebuilding Camp in Bethlehem
Holy Land Trust in Partnership with The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD)
1st of August 2008 – 14th of August 2008
· Dedicate two weeks this summer to help rebuild a demolished home...
· Give hope back to a family whose house has been destroyed...
· Work hand in hand with Palestinians, Israelis and Internationals for justice.
For more information on the camp please visit or a video

Fall Olive Harvest Pilgrimage
October 2008
Join us on a journey in the Holy Land and take part in the olive harvest which is an integral part of the very fabric of life in Palestine and Israel. When the olive harvesting season begins, the hillsides of Palestine crawl with families and bring the hills alive with people working to gather their precious crop. Family members, to this day, make an effort to travel to one another from all over the country to help in the olive harvest. We will pick olives in lands that have been separated from the farmers and Olives are picked by hand as they have been for thousands of years. We will also discover the ancient church as we take an historical pilgrimage in the footsteps of Jesus, learning to respond as He would to the needs of the people and build relationships of encouragement and support. Meeting with Jewish and Palestinian organizations that are working for peace, we will consider the current situation and the role of the Church today and seek ways of building bridges of peace through interfaith dialogue. This will be a rich cultural experience as we meet with many organizations, stay with local families in their homes, taste fabulous Middle Eastern delicacies and receive their incredible hospitality.
Information about this program would be posted to the website soon.

Birthright Palestine Tour
December 2008
Holy Land Trust invites Palestinians immigrants around the world to re-discover Palestine today through a Palestinian Roots tour. This unique program shines a new light on the Palestine you hear about in the news, and allows you to discover the beauty and pride of Palestine amidst the hardships of the current conflict. You will have an opportunity to visit important cities from Palestinian history, learn about traditional Palestinian culture, discover the dynamics of the current conflict, and return to your historical village to re-connect with your roots.

For more information:

Log onto:


SAVE THE DATE: 2008 ADC Annual National Convention - Washington, DC June 12 to 15. For more information:
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Organizing Department
1732 Wisconsin Ave NW.
Washington, DC. 20007, U.S.A.
Tel: (202) 244-2990
Web :

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2008 20:16:07 -0800 (PST)
From: "WRITE! Action Alert"
Subject: Letters Needed: 1120 more homes to be built in Occupied Territories by Israel

WRITE! For Justice, Human Rights and International Law in Palestine.

The US Media needs to cover the following news story already reported by the BBC that Israel is now planning an additional 1,120 homes in the illegal settlements on Palestinian occupied land in additional to the 350 already announced which were internationally denounced as undercutting President Bush's peace efforts in Palestine. This new announcement is a direct slap in the face of President Bush, and shows Israel's true intentions in Palestine - true ambitions for Palestinian territory, which are aggressive and illegal.

This is especially telling when viewed next to the almost complete denial by the Israeli government of building permits to Palestinians in the same area, and especially in East Jerusalem - which is their ancestral homeland. This further demonstrates the unpeaceful attitude of the Israeli's toward the native Palestinians. This policy is described in a recent report by an Israeli peace group, Peace Now. Its report can be read at:

"Area C: Palestinian Construction and Demolition Stats - February 2008", by Hagit Oren, published by Peace Now, (February, 2008).

Please write to your local newspaper, or one of the major newspapers listed below, or many of them, and ask them to publicize this story because the American people need to know what is really going on in the Middle East - what their "ally" is really up to, and what they apparently think of us."

Atlanta Journal-Constitution -, (Michael Lupo)
Boston Globe -
Chicago Tribune -
Christian Science Monitor - (Amelia Newcomb)
Los Angeles Times -,
Miami Herald -
New York Times -,
Philadelphia Inquirer -
San Francisco Chronicle -
Washington Post -

Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 10:42 GMT

Israel plans new settlement homes

Palestinians say settlements cut the West Bank from East Jerusalem
Israeli housing minister Zeev Boim says tenders will soon be issued for construction of more than 1,000 new homes for Jews in East Jerusalem.
Israel annexed the area in 1967 and has continued settlement activity despite a recent freeze on settlements on other occupied territory in the West Bank.
The international community regards such building as illegal. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital.
Mr Boim said building continued within all Jerusalem's municipal boundaries.
He added that what had been portrayed as delays in construction in East Jerusalem "are in fact final stages of coordination" with the municipal authorities.
Israel announced two months ago that it would build 350 new flats in the Har Homa settlement, a move that soured fresh efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before the two sides had even met.
Mr Boim said there would be an additional 370 new residences in Har Homa, known as Jabal Abu Ghneim in Arabic, and that bids would be issued for 750 more in Pisgat Zeev.
"We condemn these Israeli declarations, and once again we ask the Israeli government to give peace a chance by stopping all settlement activity," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.


Thank you,

The WRITE! Team


Visit us at

Thank you,

The WRITE! Team


Visit us at

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Please read and marke you calendar if interested.
Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2008 12:15:05 -0500
From: "Nabil Mohamad"
Subject: Fw: [siraj-center] The Palestinian Summer Celebration 2008 and more
The Organizing Department of ADC is sending this message on behalf of Siraj Center in Bethlehem, Palestine.

The Palestinian Summer Celebration 2008
15 June 2008 – 17 August 2008June 15th – July 13th 2008 (first month)
July 14th – August 17th 2008 (second month)

Come and celebrate Palestine, learn Arabic, study history, know the people and their culture, share some time with local families and volunteer with a local community organization.

Everything is optional

The Palestinian summer celebration is a unique annual program that gives people from all over the world the chance to encounter the life and culture in Palestine in addition to donating some of their time to a local community organization through voluntary work and internships. The Palestinian summer celebration 2008 will take place in the Bethlehem area in Palestine, between June 15th and August 17th 2008. The annual celebration is organized by Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies in partnership with Bethlehem University and the US based Society for Biblical Studies,

Participants will also have the opportunity to listen and question high level speakers of various positions and expertise.

The 2007 participants developed videos explaining their time and experience during the 2007 Summer Celebration:





They have written about their time:

The program includes, studying Arabic, History and Theology at Bethlehem University, living with local families, volunteering with local community organizations in addition for touring Palestine and enjoy its beauty and culture and have a firsthand experience of the political situation.

Participants will have the chance to have Palestinian Cooking classes, Palestinian Debkeh Dancing training, and during the program, eight films will be screened in the Siraj office.

For more information regarding registration and cost:
2- Christmas Pilgrimage for Peace
December 28th 2008- January 10th 2009
he Christmas Pilgrimage for Peace is an annual program that gives people from all over the world the opportunity to experience oriental Christmas in Bethlehem celebrated with local families. Moreover, gives participants that chance to more educated about the pledge for Justice and Peace. The Christmas Pilgrimage for Peace, will enrich its participants with the culture of the land, through living and sharing the lives of the people of the land.

for more information:
George S. Rishmawi
Siraj, Center For Holy Land Studies
Beit Sahour, Schoold Street
P.O.Box 48
Tel: +972 2 274 8590
Fax: +972 2 274 8774
Mobile: 0599 180 872
USA number: 1 425 906 5084

SAVE THE DATE: 2008 ADC Annual National Convention - Washington, DC June 12 to 15.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Organizing Department
1732 Wisconsin Ave NW.
Washington, DC. 20007, U.S.A.
Tel: (202) 244-2990
Web :

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Can you imagine being separated from your children for almost half a year? Can you imagine how four children aged 4 to 16 feel being kept away from their parents?

These horrors are real in Palestine… a nation that is split in two…. so are families. All this thanks to Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas… the dynamic duo of the region. Thanks also to Uncle Sam for allowing this to happen.

And you wonder why these kids grow up with hatred and resentment? There is a very simple way to prevent that from happening… a very obvious way, PALESTINE MUST BE UNITED AND FREE! THE SIEGE OF GAZA MUST END IMMEDIATELY

But and past the following to read the details:

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Zionist: Talking to a Wall
Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2008 15:03:55 +0000
February 14, 2008

Talking to a Wall
Palestine in the Mind of America


You would think that showing maps clearly delineating the truncated, obviously non-viable area available for a possible Palestinian state and showing pictures that define Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories would have some kind of impact on an audience of astute but, on this issue, generally uninformed Americans. We recently spoke to a small foreign affairs discussion group and devoted much of our presentation to these images of oppression -- images that never appear in the U.S. media -- in the probably naïve hope of making some kind of dent in the impassive American attitude toward Israel's 40-year occupation of Palestinian territory.
But our expectations that these people would listen and perhaps learn something were sadly misplaced. Few among the elite seminar-style discussion group seemed concerned about, or even particularly interested in, what is happening on the ground in Palestine-Israel, and the event stands as starkly emblematic of American apathy about the oppressive Israeli regime in the occupied territories that the United States is enabling and in many instances actively encouraging.
The maps that we displayed of the West Bank, prepared by the UN and by Israeli human rights groups, clearly depicted the segmented, disconnected scatter of territorial pieces that would make up the Palestinian state even in the most optimistic of scenarios -- Palestinian areas broken up by the separation wall cutting deep into the West Bank; by large Israeli settlements scattered throughout and taking up something like 10 percent of the territory; by the network of roads connecting the settlements, all accessible only to Israeli drivers; and by the Jordan Valley, currently barred to any Palestinian not already living there, making up fully one-quarter of the West Bank, and ultimately destined for annexation by Israel.
The maps make it clear that even the most generous Israeli plan would leave a Palestinian state with only 50-60 percent of the West Bank (constituting 11-12 percent of original Palestine), broken into multiple separated segments and including no part of Jerusalem. The photographs, taken during our several trips to Palestine in recent years, depicted the separation wall, checkpoints and terminals in the wall resembling cages, Palestinian homes demolished and official buildings destroyed, vast Israeli settlements built on confiscated Palestinian land, destroyed Palestinian olive groves, commerce in Palestinian cities shut down because of marauding Israeli settlers or soldiers.
We have shown maps and pictures like these myriad times before, but have never been received with quite such disinterest. Here was a group of mostly retired U.S. government officials, academics, journalists, and business executives, as well as a few still-working professionals -- all ranging in political orientation from center right to center left, the cream of informed, educated America, the exemplar of elite mainstream opinion in the United States. Their lack of concern about what Israel and, because of its enabling role, the U.S. are doing to destroy an entire people and their national aspirations could not have been more evident.
The first person to comment when our presentation concluded, identifying herself as Jewish, said she had 'never heard a more one-sided presentation' and labeled us 'beyond anti-Semitic' -- which presumably is somewhat worse than plain-and-simple anti-Semitic. This is always a somewhat upsetting charge, although it is so common and so expected as to be of little note anymore. What was more noteworthy was the reaction, or lack of it, among the rest of the assembled, who never disputed her charge but spent most of the discussion period either disputing our presentation or trying to find ways to accommodate 'Jewish pain.'
Our brief conversation with this woman progressed in an interesting fashion. We tried to engage her in a discussion about what exactly was one-sided in our depiction of the situation on the ground and what she would have liked to see to make it 'two-sided.' She did not answer but indicated that she thought whatever Israel did must be justified by Palestinian actions. 'Someone had to have started it,' she said. We laid out a little history for her, noting that the first action, the 'who-started-it' part, could be traced back to Britain 's Balfour Declaration pledge in 1917 to promote the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine , at a time when Jews made up no more than 10 percent of the population of Palestine . Then we came up to the 1947 UN partition resolution, which allotted 55 percent of Palestine for a Jewish state at a time when Jews owned only seven percent of the land and made up slightly less than one-third of the population.
Her answer was, 'Well, but it wasn't Jews who did this.' We disabused her of this and briefly detailed the deliberate Zionist program of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian population conducted during 1947-48 war, as described by several Israeli historians, including particularly Ilan Pappe, whose The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is based on Israeli military archives. Her eyes actually began to bulge, but she held her tongue. Apparently deciding that she had no way of refuting these facts, she finally decided that going back in history was of no utility -- a common Zionist dodge -- and that Israel had not been established in any case to be a democracy but was a haven for persecuted Jews and as such has every right to organize itself in any way it sees fit. The moderator finally called on others who wanted to speak, and the discussion moved on.
But not very far. The talk now circled, for over an hour, around what passed for profound discussion: around someone's curious remarks about Zeitgeist, someone else's equally curious insistence that there was 'something out there that no one would talk about' that was influencing the situation, a few remarks about Palestinians as terrorists and how even if Israel made peace with the Palestinians Hamas would still try to destroy it, a lot of talk about how to accommodate Jewish pain and, taking off from this, a psychologist's attempt to draw an analogy between Jews who live in fear of persecution and the rape victims she counsels who live in constant fear that they will be raped again or worse.
A few people did ask interested questions about the situation on the ground and about various aspects of Israeli policy. After the discussion had centered for quite a while on Jewish pain, one person pointed out that Palestinians too feel pain and live in fear, but no one else picked up on this. No one challenged the first speaker's personal charge of anti-Semitism against us, and in the end there was almost no mention of the destructive Israeli practices that had been the subject of our presentation.
We had occasion to email several of the participants the next day. In one message, we lodged a mild complaint with the three group organizers about the fact that the charge of anti-Semitism was allowed not only to stand but to set the tone for much of the discussion, with no refutation of the substance of the charge by anyone except us. In another message, sent to a man who had expressed puzzlement over why the Jewish vote was thought to be important in U.S. elections, we forwarded without comment an article from Mother Jones about Barack Obama's difficulties with the Jewish community and his concerted effort to demonstrate his bona fides by pledging fealty to Israel and justifying Israel's siege of Gaza.
Finally, to the psychologist, we wrote a comment on her analogy between Jews and rape victims, observing that as a psychologist she undoubtedly did not encourage her rape victim clients to perpetuate their fear or adopt an aggressive attitude toward other people, but most likely gave them tools to help them regain trust and move beyond fears for their personal safety. This kind of restorative therapy for Jews has never been employed, we noted, but on the contrary Israeli leaders and American Jewish leaders have encouraged Jewish fears, along with an aggressive, militaristic Israeli policy toward its neighbors.
These were all gratuitous overtures by us, but they were not inappropriate or uncivil. Yet not one of these people saw fit to answer our missives or even acknowledge their receipt -- indicating, we can only assume, the general level of unconcern among Americans about the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, including the siege and starvation imposed on Gazans. Then, too, the lack of response probably reflects feelings on the part of most attendees that we are somehow responsible for having involved them in a discussion that turned out to be fairly unpleasant for them.
Why is this interesting to anyone but us? Because this in-depth discussion with a small but representative group of intelligent, thinking Americans is indicative of a broad range of U.S. public opinion on foreign policy issues, and their level of disinterest in the consequences of U.S. policies is quite disturbing. The self-absorption evident during this meeting, the general 'don't-rock-the-boat' posture, the overwhelming lack of concern for the victims of Israeli and U.S. power amount to a license to kill for the U.S. and its allies. The same unconcern allowed the United States to get away with killing millions of Vietnamese decades ago; it gives license to mass U.S. killing in Iraq and Afghanistan ; it is the reason Democrats still, after seven years of Bush administration torture and killing around the world, cannot fully separate themselves from Republican militarism. It gives Israel license to kill and ethnically cleanse the entire nation of Palestine .
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession. She can be reached at
Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence officer and as director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis.
They can be reached at

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Friday, February 08, 2008

From: "Jamal Najjab" Add Mobile Alert
Subject: If at possible, please buy this book, it is wonderful.
Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2008 21:48:08 +0000

Jan – Feb issue 2008.
Music & Arts
Raff Ellis Presents Kisses From a Distance
Jamal Najjab

Raff Ellis describes how his book Kisses From a Distance came to be (Staff photo J. Najjab).

INSTEAD OF DOING a traditional reading of his new book Kisses From a Distance at his Nov. 13 appearance at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, author Raff Ellis delighted his audience with a detailed explanation of how the book came to be. “First of all there were my mother’s letters,” Ellis said, “over 200 of them, written between 1925 and 1990.” After marrying Ellis’ father and settling in Carthage, New York, Ellis’ mother corresponded with her family back in Lebanon. Many of the saved letters began with the phase: “Kisses from a distance.” When Ellis’ mother died, her children found the letters in her locked sandouq, or trunk. Ellis’ brother had the letters translated in Lebanon, bound them in a book, and gave a copy to each of his siblings. Each time he read them, Ellis found the letters more and more fascinating. “I came to believe there was a story hidden within these letters,” he said. He knew they were a true historical find, a treasure trove that needed to be shared with the world. First Ellis decided to find answers to key questions, such as was his mother’s family as great as she had made them out to be in her vivid stories that he heard all through his childhood? Were the mountains of Lebanon as beautiful as she said? Ellis also had to ponder what it meant to be Lebanese. He remembered the words of Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi: “They leave the mountains, but the mountains don’t leave them.” Growing up, Ellis said, he didn’t want to be what he called “ethnic”; instead he wanted to just blend in with the other kids in school and be American. “Show me that melting pot,” he said. “I want to jump in.” However, as he experienced bouts of discrimination, Ellis said, he came to realize that the pot may not have wanted him. He cited the example of a barber in Carthage who refused to cut his hair, because he was a “Black Syrian.” Ellis discovered the importance of his heritage when he left home for military service. When he was homesick, he recalled, “I would search out Lebanese restaurants wherever I was stationed. My care packages from home...My ethnicity became my anchor.”In order to complete his research for the book, Ellis traveled to Lebanon several times. It seems he found the answer to many of his questions, but Ellis teased his listeners by telling them they would discover all when they read the book. If they do decide to pick it up, they will be in good company. According to Sam Hazo, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist, the book “is not an exercise in nostalgia, this is a serious historical study.” And journalist and author Helen Thomas had nothing but praise for the book. “Raff Ellis’ book Kisses from a Distance brought tears to my eyes,” she wrote. “It is beautifully written and the story of every family whose members courageously left their homes and families in the Middle East before and at the turn of the 20th century, as did my parents.” Thomas went on to say, “I wish there would be less demonization of the Arab world today and more understanding of its great people. I know Ellis’ book will help that bridge.”Ellis concluded his remarks by reading the dedication from the book: “To whose intrepid immigrants who braved the perilous journey to reach America’s shores, while forsaking the familiar for the promise of the unknown, and whose contributions to the enrichment of the land they embraced has made this country what it is.” Kisses from a Distance is available from the AET Book Club.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Subject: The Nation: Book reviews by Adina Hoffman

Date: Tue, 5 Feb 2008 14:36:28 +0000

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This article can be found on the web at


Lives on the Groundby ADINA HOFFMAN
[from the February 18, 2008 issue]
Six decades since the birth of Israel and the demise of Palestine, fifteen years after Oslo, seven past the start of the second intifada, just months beyond Annapolis, and the mere mention of Holy Land politics will, more likely than not, cause even the sharpest of eyes to glaze over. The arguments for and against this particular peace plan or that interim solution have by now become so predictable that a macabre kind of repetition compulsion has set in, with all the parties behaving a bit like Karen, the doomed heroine of Hans Christian Andersen's 'Red Shoes,' who finds she can't take off her weirdly possessed slippers and so dances herself to death.
Which isn't to say that one should stop caring or paying attention. And here I speak not as an observer from afar but as someone who lives in Jerusalem and who continues--with a Karen-like helplessness I can't deny--to start each day with a blast of bad news from the local newspaper and the tired rhetoric that inevitably attends the discussion of crumbling Knesset coalitions and Gaza power plays. The stories of individual people who live and breathe the sweeping political choices made by prime ministers and presidents are, however, another matter, especially when such eyewitnesses reflect on their lives in print. Memoirs of this sort offer readers the chance not to escape politics but to grasp the flesh-and-blood implications of all those generalizing gestures made on high.
Read side by side, two of the most celebrated recent autobiographical books from this beleaguered patch of land emphasize just how distinct two adjoining Middle Eastern microcosms can be. A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Israeli novelist Amos Oz, and Once Upon a Country, by Palestinian philosophy professor and Al-Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh (with Anthony David), offer drastically different views of Israel/Palestine and more specifically of the Jerusalem where both men grew up.
Since his third book, the darkly psychosexual and historically charged My Michael, appeared in 1968, Oz has filled the role of one of Israel's most respected and 'representative' novelists. Over the years, though, his high-profile public persona--ruggedly handsome, casually dressed, calmly articulate moral spokesman for the Ashkenazi center-left (he was one of the founders of Peace Now and has remained an unwavering advocate of a two-state solution)--has, in a sense, overshadowed his fiction writing. His allies and enemies alike tend to know his craggy visage and political positions better than the contents of his recent novels, and it is only half in jest that he is often called the chief rabbi of the state's secular liberals. That said, Oz's twenty-third title, an account of his humble beginnings in the Jewish Jerusalem of the 1940s, has become something else altogether--a 'cult book,' as it has been described, snatched up by more than 100,000 Israelis during just the first two years following its publication in 2002. (Nicholas de Lange's lucid English translation appeared in 2004.) It is one of Israel's bestselling books of all time. Clearly, many identify deeply with both the personal and national story Oz tells; Israeli critics have compared his epic to those by Proust and Mann, and some local readers have even labeled it a kind of contemporary Israeli bible.
Hardly holy writ, A Tale of Love and Darkness is, in fact, an intimate exfoliation of the life of the author's immigrant family--at the center of which rests the awful fact of his mother's suicide when he was 12 years old. The book succeeds powerfully as an affectionate depiction of the hothouse atmosphere of this particular home and the wider (though still ingrown) community of prestate Jerusalem's Jewish oddballs, nudniks and voracious readers. These were European refugees who embodied at the same time the most cosmopolitan sort of learning and the most profound sort of provincialism. Oz's librarian father, Arieh Klausner, was a frustrated scholar who 'could read sixteen or seventeen languages and could speak eleven (all with a Russian accent).' He was also a man who, together with his dreamy wife, Fania, and precocious son, Amos, would spend months making arrangements and preparing mentally for the most solemn ritual of walking five minutes to the local pharmacy to telephone relatives in far-off Tel Aviv.
The peculiarly truncated sense of scale that Oz conveys--in which the entire known universe appears to exist within a few bedraggled blocks--is a perfect encapsulation of both a coddled child's perspective and the true Jerusalem syndrome, familiar from those medieval maps that turned the town into the omphalos, the hub around which the rest of creation revolves. Libraries loom large in this cramped cityscape--so much so that Oz announces at one point, 'When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book.' The line is amusing, though Oz's aspiration to bookishness is also an indication of what ails his memoir, which despite its various charms is often oppressively literary.
A kind of horror vacui dominates, with Oz pumping his pages full of superfluous descriptions, similes, metaphors and words, words, words; his favorite mode is the rambling list. The book is too long by at least 200 pages, and the author repeats himself shamelessly. Every time borscht is served, for instance, there is an 'iceberg of sour cream floating in it,' so that the epithet comes to seem downright Homeric. The same jokes are trotted out several times, as are the same grim anecdotes about European anti-Semitism. On one page, as part of a 101-word sentence (102 in Hebrew, a language known for its compaction), he describes the

opposite Jerusalem, the Jerusalem I hardly knew, the Abyssinian, Arab, pilgrim, Ottoman, missionary, German, Greek, brooding, Armenian, American, monastic, Italian, Russian Jerusalem, thick with pine trees, menacing yet fascinating...

Then, less than twenty pages later, and without any apparent self-awareness or memory of the lexical glut he has so recently unleashed, Oz sets out to account for the

other Jerusalem...the alien, aloof, shrouded Jerusalem, the Abyssinian, Muslim, pilgrim, Ottoman city, the strange missionary city of crusaders and Templars, the Greek, Armenian, Italian, brooding, Anglican...

He drones on this time for a full 134 words.
Oz's tendency toward verbal excess--why use two words when twelve will do?--reflects self-indulgence of a fundamental sort. A deep-seated narcissism runs through the heart of this ultimately rather preening book, and it all too often blocks Oz's view of the rich human scene he sets out to portray. More than a tribute to the lost world of Jerusalem's refugee intellectuals, A Tale of Love and Darkness is really the author's song--or opera--of himself. Which is not to say that larger political or social concerns are absent from the book. If anything, they're inextricably bound to Oz's sense of himself as shining representative of the Jewish state and its put-upon Eastern European founders.
To judge from the book's runaway commercial and critical success, this is precisely the role that many readers want him to play: chief rabbi indeed--and maybe also poster boy for a kind of noble victimhood that many twenty-first-century Israelis cling to as a frantic form of self-justification. As Oz made explicit in various interviews published at the time of the book's publication, he feels his parents' class of impecunious, decidedly non-elite Ashkenazim, together with the entire Zionist project, has gotten a bum rap in recent years; his memoir is his attempt to set the record straight--and perhaps to assure his devoted local audience that they are not the bad guys, they are not to blame. The 1948 war was one 'the Arabs started,' he writes. His parents and their neighbors were good but desperate people, with threadbare clothes and no other refuge from Hitler's Europe but Palestine. A few days after the UN partition plan was announced, 'hundreds of armed Arabs came out of the Old City, singing bloodthirsty songs, roaring verses from the Qur'an, howling 'idbah al-Yahud' (butcher the Jews), and firing volleys in the air.' Pity me, pity us--Oz cries out: we suffered too. Like so many tales told in this part of the world, it is all about me and we. They still barely exist.
If Oz is interested in forging a myth of his own origins as well as of his country, Sari Nusseibeh prefers to debunk. While he, too, was raised in a hothouse, as the privileged son of one of Jerusalem's most distinguished and ancient Muslim families (since the seventh century they have held the literal key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), he has perhaps a bit less to prove and never once casts himself as the victim. On the other hand, as a Palestinian--and a Palestinian writing in English, for a foreign audience--he starts out as something of an underdog, and he and co-writer Anthony David have clearly set out to make a subtle political point or two to a readership that is probably much more familiar with Israel's saga than Palestine's. But the book is not a polemic. It's very much the story of Nusseibeh's political and intellectual growth, told in a mild and good-naturedly self-deprecating tone and cast against the backdrop of his people's troubled history.
Once Upon a Country was inspired, he says, by Oz's memoir, which, in the generous terms typical of Nusseibeh, he calls a 'masterpiece.' Although he grew up 'no more than a hundred feet away from where Oz lived out his childhood,' he was struck by the fact that 'there were hardly any Arabs in [Oz's] story, and not a hint of the world I knew as a child.' (Born in 1949, Nusseibeh is ten years Oz's junior.) His book attempts to tell something of what went on across the road while also offering a cleareyed reckoning of the state of the Palestinian national movement. There are no heroes here, even though Nusseibeh himself might reasonably be viewed by readers as one: he could easily live a much more carefree life elsewhere but has chosen to stay in Jerusalem and work not just for his people's independence but also for what might be called, without condescension, their education. With admirable humility and a pair of mismatched socks, he goes about the business of helping shape a university (Al-Quds), a state, a civil society.
Nusseibeh is an unpretentious and endearing character whose seeming contradictions may in fact be his greatest strength. A product of the old aristocracy, he's a forward-thinking democrat who weeps when he reads Thomas Jefferson. He's at once an idealist and a pragmatist, a bluejeans-wearing graduate of Oxford and Harvard who admits that the 'thought of being burrowed for days in library stacks or chain-smoking...over a pile of notes in a café has always been far more alluring to me than jockeying for position and power.' Yet time and again he finds himself at the eye of the political storm. An almost accidental activist, he risks his hide to write and circulate political leaflets during the first intifada; he also serves as a central figure in various behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts, at one point becoming the PLO's man in Jerusalem and later founding, with former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, the People's Choice, a grassroots Palestinian-Israeli peace movement. Imprisoned by the Israelis on trumped-up charges, his family menaced by the authorities, his university campus threatened with Israel's decision to run its 'security wall' right down the middle of the school's soccer field, he continues somehow to maintain his sense of humor and purpose.
Nusseibeh is also a Palestinian patriot with a genuine admiration for what he calls the 'dynamic energy' of Israeli culture. His first encounter with actual (and not bogy-man) Israelis takes almost comic form when he disembarks from an El Al plane in Tel Aviv, just after the 1967 war, and finds himself faced with the ragtag demeanor of the purportedly all-mighty enemy. He wonders, 'How could such a badly dressed, ill-mannered people, who couldn't even stand in line for a cab, defeat all the Arab armies in the same number of days it took God to create the cosmos?' He suspects he may be in the presence of fellow Beatles fans. 'They were normal people like us,' he decides.
Sometimes, however, one admires Nusseibeh more than his book. The initial historical sections--which bounce along from the Caliph Omar's seventh-century conquest of Jerusalem through the early twentieth-century emergence of the Young Turks, and on through Nusseibeh's birth--are riddled with basic errors, names scrambled and the stories of important events told incorrectly. To take but one example: the Islamist militant Sheikh Izz a-Din al-Qassam's name keeps changing from Qassam to Cassam; he is repeatedly called 'a simple village cleric,' which he wasn't (he was a highly learned religious scholar who studied at Al-Azhar in Cairo and was a major figure in the 1921 Syrian revolt against the French in that country); and the famous circumstances of his death are completely garbled. Inspired by Qassam, the entire 1936-39 revolt of the Palestinian Arabs against British rule and Zionist settlement is treated breezily and as a kind of joke--'something straight out of the Three Stooges'--which, when one reads in any depth the history of Palestine, one learns it was not. Even if one considers this gross mischaracterization in the context of Nusseibeh's patrician background and the class tensions that marked the revolt (the urban aristocrats felt threatened by the rebels, who came mostly from the poor peasantry), it seems tonally bizarre for a man who has spent much of his life involved in grassroots Palestinian politics to dismiss with such casual cynicism the twentieth century's first Palestinian uprising. Whether this is a product of Nusseibeh's attitudes or his co-writer's sloppiness is impossible to know. The footnotes very oddly cite just a single source for almost all of the pre-'48 material: a historical survey written by an English journalist.
Equally strange is the book's almost entirely Western cultural orientation. Aside from his devotion to medieval Arabic philosophy and contemporary Palestinian politics, Nusseibeh seems indifferent to the rest of Arab, and specifically Palestinian, culture: references to Lewis Carroll, Bertrand Russell, Hegel, Auden, Walden and Monty Python abound, but when he mentions a novelist, it's C.S. Lewis (or Amos Oz!) and not Palestinians Ghassan Kanafani or Emile Habiby; Handel and Hendrix are both here, but not a single oud. And when an occasional Palestinian artist or thinker is mentioned, there are jarring mistakes or misplaced emphases--such as the description of the Arab nationalist, educational reformer and eloquent diarist Khalil Sakakini as 'a poet.' (An important figure in other respects and one of Palestine's finest prose writers, Sakakini composed a handful of conventional poems but certainly was no poet.)
Nusseibeh is entitled to his literary and musical tastes, of course, and he is not alone in being a Palestinian grandee whose education was so very European. But it seems peculiar, to say the least, that an intellectual who has given his life to Palestine wouldn't evince more interest in its living culture. It's not a matter of Nusseibeh's being cosmopolitan and bigger, somehow, than national boundaries--but of the fact that he maintains a studied distance from his own culture. This is a culture that, it should be said, has long woven protest into its poetry and poetry into its protest, and I cannot think of a single significant Palestinian writer who isn't somehow engaged with the various ways that the local landscape and lore are bound to history and politics. Not so for Sari Nusseibeh, whose real audience for this flawed yet moving book lives, it seems, not on the West Bank but on the Upper West Side. If Oz is too obsessed with us, Nusseibeh seems overly concerned with them.
A memoir is not just a record of what is remembered; it is also an account of what is seen. Nusseibeh was struck not by the fact that Oz had excised Palestinian Arabs from his childhood memories but that he'd hardly noticed their presence in the first place. As two other new memoirs make clear, such seeing (all seeing?) is a matter of choice. Raja Shehadeh's Palestinian Walks (forthcoming in the United States from Scribner) and David Shulman's Dark Hope have received much less press than the aforementioned volumes, yet both deserve serious attention. Each is a vivid and quietly devastating testament to the necessity of looking hard--and owning up to whatever one sees.
On the gradually expanding shelf of Palestinian memoirs, Shehadeh's books deserve a special place. Since his first collection of diary entries, The Third Way, was published in 1982, he has been charting his people's plight more steadily and honestly than almost anyone. Taken together, that first collection, along with The Sealed Room, Strangers in the House, When the Birds Stopped Singing and the volume at hand are almost like chapters in the same, ongoing saga. For Shehadeh's frank, persistent and deeply grounded writing is part and parcel of a basic philosophy of staying put and bearing nonviolent witness to the difficult dailiness of Palestinian existence on the occupied West Bank. The notion of being samid, or steadfast, and remaining on the land no matter what hardships that entails is one that runs throughout all his books, becoming ever more fraught with time, as the political horizons narrow and the wall closes in. Like Nusseibeh, Shehadeh--a lawyer and human rights activist who writes in English and has both a Western degree and a foreign wife--could enjoy a much simpler life elsewhere, and many of his Palestinian colleagues, friends and relatives have made the choice to leave. But Shehadeh is a man of real principle, one who clearly believes he does the most good by enduring with dignity in the land of his birth.
Such dogged holding-on isn't a given, and part of the sober force of Shehadeh's approach comes from his willingness to admit his own uncertainty and even weakness. 'In the uneasy first years of the millennium,' his new book begins, 'I felt that my days in Palestine were numbered. But whether Palestine or myself would slip away first was an open question.' Palestinian Walks is a modest, often raw, book, conceived around a series of six rambles on which the writer, a lifelong hiker, set out over the course of several decades. Each leads him into a landscape at once tangible and imaginative. 'A man going on a sarha,' he explains, using the Palestinian term for the sort of walks he likes to take, 'wanders aimlessly, not restricted by time and place, going where his spirit takes him to nourish his soul and rejuvenate himself.'
That may sound like, well, a walk in the park--but as quickly becomes clear, a modern-day stroll through the Ramallah hills is hardly a form of escape, and Shehadeh is no mincing flâneur. While he writes in loving detail about the rock rose, the iris and the cyclamen, and lets his mind and prose meander over the stories of family and friends who have passed through these wadis and ridges over the years, his book is in large part the chronicle of a demolition job: the settlements and the wall are gobbling up his beloved land at a frightening pace. Even the thistle has been politicized. As he explains in one typically startling passage, the fact that Palestinian peasants use the poterium thorn, or natsh, for all sorts of practical purposes--as a broom or a mattress--matters little to the Israeli authorities, who have taken to using its prickly ubiquity on certain tracts of land as evidence that these plots are 'uncultivated' and may therefore be appropriated for settlements. The book is full of such microcosmic atrocities, and though the small patches of flower and green that do remain seem still to lift Shehadeh's spirits, his walks also force him to contemplate the near-hopelessness brought about by the infamous 'facts on the ground' that lie at the heart of the Middle East conflict. Readers more accustomed to grayish newspaper generalities about the 'situation' would do well to reckon with the painful particulars of Shehadeh's account, which is at once gentle and angry, resolute and realistic.
The same could be said for Shulman's brave and often searing book, which tells another, parallel story of sumud, steadfastness. The Iowa-born Israeli Jewish professor--a world-renowned Sanskrit scholar, translator from Tamil and Telugu, husband, father, grandfather, former medic in the Israeli army and 1987 MacArthur fellow--is not, by his own account, a natural activist. He is someone who made the choice as a young man to live in Israel because he had 'fallen in love with the Hebrew language.' Yet after the 1977 electoral victory of Menachem Begin's Likud Party, he found himself watching 'in horror as Israel rapidly transformed itself into a paranoid, smug, and rather violent ghetto.' Things have gotten much worse since, and at a certain stage, Shulman felt he could no longer stand off to the side--for the sake of the Palestinians and for that of Israel, Judaism and maybe even humanity itself. ('Hell is realizing that one did not help when one could have,' reads the book's epigraph.)
Dark Hope is a diary of his work, from 2002 to 2006, with Ta'ayush, the Palestinian-Israeli group that has taken up the most difficult and dangerous hands-on work of peacemaking: it brings convoys of medicine and food into the West Bank and helps Palestinian farmers harvest their wheat and olives, its members often placing themselves physically between groups of wild-eyed gun-toting settlers and Palestinian peasants simply trying to sow their fields. Like Shehadeh's book, Shulman's offers the record of a thousand piercing particulars, indignities too 'small' to make the headlines but when taken together point directly to a systematic policy of injustice of the largest and most appalling dimensions. It is, indeed, this sense of skewed scale--the activists' humble gestures pitted against a huge military-ideological machine--that makes the book so wrenching. (Reading Nusseibeh's and Shulman's books back to back, one is left with little doubt that the Israeli government and army consider nonviolent activists much more threatening than terrorists.)
In patient and often heartbreaking detail, Shulman charts the brutal police assault that the activists must endure on the cold winter day when they commit the high crime of attempting to deliver blankets to the Palestinian cave dwellers south of Hebron; the grotesquely symbolic morning they spend trying to gather up the vast quantities of rat poison pellets that settlers have deliberately spread throughout Palestinian fields (sheep and deer have begun to die, and the poison may already be present in the milk the peasants drink); a vicious physical attack by settlers on a Ta'ayush group that has come to the village of Twaneh to help the peasants plow. In this instance, an enraged settler wearing a skullcap and ritual fringe hurls Shulman to the ground and punches him 'before moving on to his next target.' Shulman writes:

I feel pain, surprise, fear, rage. What is worse, I have seen their faces up close, and it is perhaps the most unsettling vision I have ever taken in, one I will later try to blot out, for these are not the faces of the usual human mix of good and evil, of confusion and clarity, of love and hate; the eyes are mad, killers' eyes--it is like looking at something utterly demonic, something from the world of myth. We are staring not into an abyss--for all is here on the surface, present, evident, and horrible--but into a volatile vortex of pure hate. I have no doubt they will kill us if they can. They seem to hate us, the leftist traitors, even more than they hate their Palestinian victims.

This is vintage Shulman: at once focused keenly on the situation (dramatic, moral, sensory) in which he finds himself yet also attuned with a kind of fierce precision to his inner shifts and starts. And the author is just as likely to question himself and his own motivation as he is to doubt the wisdom of the Israeli High Court.
Beautifully written and emphatic in its calm insistence on the need to take both responsibility and action, Dark Hope is notable not just for the bleak picture it paints of the nightmare that the settlers and their sponsors, the Israeli government, have brought to millions of Palestinians but also, as its title suggests, for the faith it places in a basic human decency and in the belief that there must be another way. It is essential reading for anyone who wants--or hopes, however darkly--to grasp the lay of this punished land.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Subject: American Jews have no understanding of the Arab World, this proves it.
Date: Fri, 1 Feb 2008 19:02:01 +0000
Rejecting the ‘Arab Jew’
On Language

By Philologos
Wed. Jan 30, 2008

‘A senior Saudi royal has offered Israel a vision of broad cooperation with the Arab world if it signs a peace treaty and withdraws from all occupied Arab territories,” a Reuters dispatch reported last week, citing an interview with former Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal. In the course of this interview, the prince was quoted as saying, “We will start thinking of Israelis as Arab Jews rather than simply as Israelis.”
Some vision of cooperation!
Needless to say, Prince Turki’s use of the term “Arab Jews” reflects either a comically naive misunderstanding on his part of who Israelis are, or the more sinister hope that they will one day cease to be who they are. In the best case, the prince’s remarks are ignorant and patronizing, and they reveal how even many supposedly sophisticated Arabs haven’t a clue that Israelis, although they live in the middle of an Arab expanse, are a people with a unique language, culture, history and identity of their own. If Prince Turki thinks that once peace is declared, Israelis will cheerfully agree to become another ethnic minority in the Arab Middle East, he is living in a cloud of nargileh smoke.
On the whole, however, one doesn’t come across the term “Arab Jews” in this context. Rather, it is used — mostly by Arabs but also by some anti-Israel and anti-Zionist intellectuals in the West — for the close to 1 million Jews who lived in Arab lands prior to the establishment of Israel, after which they left or were expelled from their native countries and immigrated to Israel or elsewhere. Thus, for instance, Ella Habiba Shohat, a professor of cultural and women’s studies at New York ’s City University , writes of herself in an essay titled “Reflections by an Arab Jew”:
“I am an Arab Jew. Or, more specifically, an Iraqi Israeli woman living, writing and teaching in the U.S…. To be a European or American Jew has hardly been perceived as a contradiction, but to be an Arab Jew has been seen as a kind of logical paradox, even an ontological subversion [leading to] a profound and visceral schizophrenia, since for the first time in our history Arabness and Jewishness have been imposed as antonyms…. The same historical process [that is, the establishment of Israel] that dispossessed Palestinians of their property, lands and national-political rights was linked to the dispossession of Middle Eastern and North African Jews of their property, lands, and rootedness in Muslim countries….”
There is, of course, a cynical absurdity in blaming Israel for the wholesale plunder of Jewish property by Arab regimes in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and other countries that forbade Jews to take money or possessions with them when they emigrated from or were thrown out of these places. But apart from this, what is it that makes one wince at the term “Arab Jews”? After all, don’t Ms. Shohat and others like her have a point? If a Jew living in America is an American Jew, and a Jew living in Europe is a European Jew, why isn’t a Jew living in an Arab country an Arab Jew? Is not the objection to calling him that a form of Arabaphobia?
I think not. Anti-Arab prejudice has nothing to do with it. Historically speaking, Ms. Shohat is simply dead wrong.
It’s true that Jews lived for hundreds and even thousands of years throughout the Middle East, and that after the Arabization of the region that started with the spread of Islam in the seventh century, they became linguistically and culturally Arabized, just as Jews in America have become linguistically and culturally Americanized. But it’s also true that, in the course of these centuries, no Middle Eastern Jew, if asked whether he was an Arab, would have said yes, no matter how at home he felt in his environment. And for that matter, no Arab would have called his Jewish neighbor an Arab either. Jewishness and Arabness were perceived as antonyms in the sense of denoting two mutually exclusive ethnic identities, just as “Jew” and “goy” were antonyms in Eastern Europe . It was only in the 20th century that small numbers of Jews — most of them communists or on the Anti-Zionist political left — in cosmopolitan Arab cities like Cairo and Baghdad began to argue on behalf of an “Arab Jewish” identity as a way of repudiating Jewish nationalism and justifying their participation in Arab revolutionary politics.
One speaks of “American Jews” and “European Jews” rather than of “Jews living in America ” or “Jews living in Europe ,” because Jews in these places think of themselves as Americans and Europeans. But traditionally, Jews living in Arab lands never thought of themselves as anything but Jews living in Arab lands, and I challenge Ms. Shohat to produce a single pre-20th-century text that suggests otherwise. To refer to these communities as “Arab Jews” is not only to imply that Zionism tore them away from their true homelands for the false lure of a Jewish state; it is to demean them by denying them their own sense of themselves. It’s a term that justly deserves to be rejected.
Questions for Philologos can be sent to

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