Call It Terror

In today’s Haaretz, the more progressive of the Israeli daily newspapers, I found the most honest and explicit account to date of the extremist settlers’ tactics. Soldiers in the IDF, too, have their own methods, aided by the extreme rhetoric of rabbis in the yeshiva. How is this different from what is preached in radical mosques or madrasas? Why can’t the American public recognize it for what it is and demand that our tax dollars be withdrawn from a state that allows, even supports, such tactics?

Here is the article:

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Photos of new friends, meals shared, struggles retold. (Additional names and descriptions will follow when my notebooks arrive.)

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Oktoberfest . . . in Palestine

I’m proud to say I was one of the crowd at the 2010 Oktoberfest in Taybeh.

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Mine is lost. The clothes are inconsequential, but after a last-minute shopping trip in the West Bank, I had tucked in a few small pieces of Hebron pottery. Swissair had better find that bag!

Many more items of consequence are being shipped from the West Bank, including my notebooks, a DVD from Jenin refugee camp, pamphlets from our numerous meetings, and several books purchased in East Jerusalem. Everyone we met advised us not to carry any political materials with us leaving the airport in Tel Aviv. As it turned out, I made it through security and customs just fine — no questions asked. But had any sensitive materials been found in my bags, there could have been risk not only to me, but to the Palestinians I had met with. I might have been stalled by questions at the airport for a few hours; a Palestinian activist whose name had been found among my effects could have suffered a much harsher punishment.

That unpredictability — never knowing when you will be stopped, questioned, even detained — pervades Palestinian life. Even when the Israelis close a few checkpoints in the occupied territories, they leave the infrastructure there, just in case. The idle guard booth and the open gates serve to remind Palestinians that they are trespassers in their own land, taunting them with a day or two or a few months of easy movement. But the apparatus is always there — the Israelis are always prepared for whatever measures “security” might dictate, today or tomorrow or a few months from now. The occupier never fully packs his bags.

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Symbols of Eternity

This is one of the passages from Wordsworth’s The Prelude that I have been thinking of. (What was I saying about free wifi? Thank you Google!) He is on his walking tour of Europe and at this moment is passing from the Swiss Alps into Italy via the Simplon Pass.

-Brook and road
Were fellow-travellers in this gloomy Pass,
And with them did we journey several hours
At a slow step. The immeasurable height
Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
And in the narrow rent, at every turn,
Winds thwarting winds bewildered and forlorn,
The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
The rocks that muttered close upon our ears,
Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside
As if a voice were in them, the sick sight
And giddy prospect of the raving stream,
The unfettered clouds and region of the heavens,
Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light–
Were all like workings of one mind, the features
Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree,
Characters of the great Apocalypse,
The types and symbols of Eternity,
Of first and last, and midst, and without end.

There is still a better description of the sublime, and I think it is from the same book of The Prelude — I will find it!

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Planes, Trains, And Funiculars

What was I saying about free wifi? We just came down to Geneva from three days in the Alps, a trip that required nearly every conveyance know to humanity, except perhaps for river barge. No free wifi up there, and it was just as well. We were totally focused on the natural grandeur all around us, including five very lovely brown and white cows who took their breakfast outside our window every morning. I will miss the delicate sound of their bells as they shift around in the meadow all through the night.

Of course, it wasn’t all green meadows and bucolic scenes. After undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, I finally understand the Romantic sublime. And that is priceless. I wish I could quote you some Wordsworth at the moment — sadly, I’ve never had that kind of poetic memory! Once I’m at home, I’ll find the passage I want.

While we didn’t have wifi, we did have the CNN International Desk on satellite TV, which we gave in to last night. Saw Ahmedinajad speaking provocatively in Lebanon, just as indictments in the assassination of Hariri in Syria are about to be handed down. Iran’s influence in Lebanon adds yet another volatile element to the Israeli-Palestinian mix. So much to sort out still from my ten days in the occupied territories. Being here in Geneva seems a world away — until I see the next veiled woman pushing a baby stroller down the street. Wifi or no — we are deeply connected.

More soon.

A bientot!

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Free Wifi Makes The World Go Round

At Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, settled in with free wifi after pizza and a diet Coke. (Today will be my first day in over a week without hummous! The Palestinians have it with every meal, including breakfast.)

I did manage to visit the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem. A small but wonderful mecca of beautifully produced books, including a wifi cafe with coffee and sweets. Clearly the place to be for bookish internationals and laptop cosmopolitans. Purchased a few irresistible volumes, including Roger Shahada’s brand new memoir The Rift in Time. I was only one of several shoppers looking for it this morning — everyone we have met from Jenin to Jerusalem has been talking about it. I felt like one of the cognoscenti.

After one last cup of Arabic coffee with Mohammed, Jean, and George, I boarded the shuttle for Ben Gurion and got a tour of the Hasidic neighborhoods between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as we picked up passengers (apparently no secular Israelis were traveling today!). School was just letting out and the streets were alive with blue-uniformed children, some as young as five or six who seemed to be walking home on their own. The universal backpack was well represented, though many little girls were pulling two-wheeled versions.

The traffic throughout Israel and the occupied territories is seriously chaotic, particularly as vehicles and pedestrians weave through the many round-abouts. There are sidewalks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but there seems to be an aversion to using them, unless your cab driver really needs to get around someone who is too cautiously entering the flow — then the empty sidewalk comes in handy.

Before leaving the guest house this morning, Jean and I spoke again about yesterday’s meeting with the settler. According to Jean, the themes I heard in the first twenty minutes of the visit — before I stormed out in high pique — held sway for the entire conversation. The whole thing reminds me of the mock interviews that Jon Stewart’s pseudo-correspondents conduct. My gut reaction is, WHY on earth would this man want to talk to us? Does he not hear his own self-serving rhetoric and half-truths? If so many lives weren’t at stake, wouldn’t this interview be just another late-night comedy segment?

On the one hand, it was disappointing to learn that this particular settler had nothing more convincing to present than what I had already read about settlers’ rationalizations for claiming Palestinian land.

On the other hand, I had to admit a sense of relief, too. If I’m being perfectly honest, I have to say that part of my emotional outburst in the settler’s house was the result of having worked myself into something of a tizzy beforehand, hoping that I would not hear anything that actually made sense. I did not want to have to integrate a new perspective into my pre-formed understanding of the settlers — alas. What does that say about my own spirit of inquiry? Given that there appeared to be nothing new under the sun in this particular settler’s world, what does it also say about the predictability of the extremist mentality?

For that is what we’re talking about after all. Extremism. The Israeli government (and, it has been claimed, American Christian Zionist groups, also extremists), provide ample incentive to entice desperately poor immigrants to the settlements, not all of whom necessarily have an ideological agenda. But much like the Tea Party movement in the U.S., the extremists seem to be stealing the show, at least for the moment.

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