Monthly Archives: July 2010

weak justification

Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.

From “CIA report into shoring up Afghan war support in Western Europe, 11 Mar 2010”

A few weeks ago I had an argument with someone regarding using photos of maimed women for political purposes. My point was that using women and their personal tragedies as ways to justify political actions (including war) further denied them personal agency as they had little to no control over the delivery of their messages of pain and suffering, nor did they have control over the kinds of things that would be done in their name. During the buildup to invading Afghsnistan we read story after story on how the Afghan’s treated their women. It hearkened back to justifications during the Spanish-American war of women being “hassled”, thereby justifying the death of hundreds of thousands.

When one looks at a photo like what is on the cover of Time this week, we should first stop to consider not only the events and conditions that allowed such violence to happen, but also the motives behind such a cover. “What happens if we leave Aghanistan” hangs like a warning, as if we are forcing the illustrated situation upon more women if we leave. However, the United States has been in Aghanistan for decades. Even before our invasion in late 2001, the United States was present in Afghanistan through our CIA-client organization, the Taliban. This woman illustrated, whose name and identity is swallowed up by the political overtones of her portrayal, was maimed during American presence in Afghanistan. Indeed, according to the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, violence against women in Afghanistan has not abated since our invasion. The warlord government set up by NATO forces has just as bad of a track record with women as the Taliban does.  Executions continue, poverty is endemic, and 103 women have set themselves on fire between 2009 and 2010.

Among their usual problems, Afghan women now must worry about being bombed by NATO forces or caught in the crossfire between fighting warlords and gangs. Their economic and educational system is still in ruins. As the recent wikileaks documents show, the way we have been counting casualities in Iraq and Afghanistan is untruthful. Thousands of civilians have died in Afghanistan and thousands more have been killed by the ensuing humanitarian crisis.

The above cover is a shameful appeal to emotion on a complex and dire issue. Like the leaked CIA documents show, as illustrated above, women who have suffered under war are being cynically exploited to justify more war and destruction. It is vital that victims of violence have a voice in speaking their experiences, but the editors of time could have just as easily used a photo of a woman maimed in a NATO attack and told a different story. Next year we will see a decade of official military presence in Afghanistan, and the situation seems to be degrading rather than improving. While Afghanistan warps into an opium plantation state, the Afghan women enjoy just as little if not less human rights than they had before our official involvement. Another note on the cover: Joe Klein’s piece on our “challenges” in Pakistan seems especially chilling given the juxtoposition with the rest of the format elements.

Either way, the woman who shares her pain so poigently on the cover will soon be forgotten, cynically pushed aside to justify further pain and suffering in Afghanistan.

Ramallah Syndrome

– Munir:
I wrote an article about Ramallah and Gaza. I said: Gaza is being destroyed form outside and the main tool is the Israeli army, Ramallah is being destroyed from the inside, and the main tool is the World Bank – which is the consumption. The consumption pattern is really getting inside of us, our thinking and our perceptions; and our relationships etc. are decided totally by this pattern.

All the talk about Gaza is about how can we ruin it from the inside. The idea of ‘help’ and paying money and reconstruction and so on, is actually to finish Gaza from the inside. As long as the destruction is only from the outside, Gaza is safe. Ramallah is not safe. Because on the outside it looks like everything is fine and everything is flourishing, so I feel… development projects change the city in ways that are much worse than sometimes destroying a few buildings here and there.

I want to say something about the word resistance. When an army invades you resist the army. When consumption invades you resist consumption. Ramallah is not resisting consumption.

– Manal:
What do you mean by consumption?

– Munir:
The number of workshops in Ramallah is consumption beyond belief, for example. Another one is the rise of the banks – Ramallah it is becoming the hub…

– Manal:
This is happening everywhere…!

– Munir:
We have to resist the pattern of living is being imposed on us but very sweetly … but this is how the world has been conquered.

– Manal:
I see consumption everywhere, not only in Ramallah. It’s the mentality of societies everywhere. In Damascus – an unoccupied place – consumption is everywhere. It is a world plan. I want you not to just collect the issues and see them in Ramallah…don’t just condense everything in Ramallah.

– Nasser:
But what’s interesting in Ramallah, what’s specific about it, is that the creation of a regime of consumption is precisely linked to the occupation by army Munir was talking about. Actually there is not such a split between occupation through consumption and occupation through army, they are two intertwined and interlinked things. It is about the creation of new subjectivities, people think differently, you are reconstituting subjects, reconfiguring people…the radicality of the situation here positions this in a much wider process of fragmentation and bantustanization; it means that here consumption cannot be separated from the colonial regime.

[Extracts from conversation No. 5]

I saw the first sign at Snobar and the second one today at Prontos. “Who is Celebrating Ramallah?” today’s sign asks. The signs are only in English and seem to be geared towards the audience of expats or those blessed to know today’s global lingua franca. I met with a friend in Jerusalem yesterday who is going north to watch checkpoints with EAPPI for a while. She just couldn’t believe what I was telling her about Ramallah. Wait’ll you see, I told her. Wait’ll you see. I tried to find out more about “Ramallah Syndrome”, and though the signs are new, their website hasn’t been updated in nearly a year. It’s delightfully surreal because I feel like I’ve been talking to a brick wall the whole time I’ve been in this city. These signs sit on walls like angels on my shoulders. If anyone knows where I can find them, please let me know.

More on Remote Warfare: Spot & Shoot

Israel continues to lead the way arm in arm with the United States when it comes to state of the art remote warfare tactics.

It is called Spot and Shoot. Operators sit in front of a TV monitor from which they can control the action with a PlayStation-style joystick.

The aim: to kill.

Played by: young women serving in the Israeli army.

Spot and Shoot, as it is called by the Israeli military, may look like a video game but the figures on the screen are real people – Palestinians in Gaza – who can be killed with the press of a button on the joystick.
The female soldiers, located far away in an operations room, are responsible for aiming and firing remote-controlled machine-guns mounted on watch-towers every few hundred metres along an electronic fence that surrounds Gaza…..

The Spot and Shoot system – officially known as Sentry Tech – has mostly attracted attention because it is operated by 19- and 20-year-old female soldiers, making it the Israeli army’s only weapons system operated exclusively by women.

Female soldiers are preferred to operate remote killing devices because of a shortage of male recruits to Israel’s combat units. Young women can carry out missions without breaking the social taboo of risking their lives, said Mr Brom.

The women are supposed to identify anyone suspicious approaching the fence around Gaza and, if authorised by an officer, execute them using their joysticks…..

The Haaretz newspaper, which was given rare access to a Sentry Tech control room, quoted one soldier, Bar Keren, 20, last week saying: “It’s very alluring to be the one to do this. But not everyone wants this job. It’s no simple matter to take up a joystick like that of a Sony PlayStation and kill, but ultimately it’s for defence.”

Audio sensors on the towers mean that the women hear the shot as it kills the target. No woman, Haaretz reported, had failed the task of shooting what the army calls an “incriminated” Palestinian.

from The National

Perhaps an under examined aspect of remote warfare is its possible feminist “benefits”, allowing women to serve on the front lines of battle as pilots and infantry. However, since they themselves are not at immediate risk of death (unlike the Palestinian wandering into an unmarked “no-go zone”) can we really call it feminist, if even defense as Ms. Keren mentions? More interesting would be the mentality behind the idea that sitting in a room in Nazareth and killing Palestinians hundreds of kilometers away can be considered and internalized by the participants as “defense”.

Regardless, by allowing women to participate in killing without being subject to the horrors of war, we further eliminate possibilities of international female solidarity while also implicating first world women as equal-opportunity participants in extrajudicial remote warfare.

Ramallah Majnoona: “a mirror city of Tel Aviv”

First, you should know that I’m a Debbie Downer. I get strange looks wherever I go in life because no matter how happy any one group of people wants to be for any reason, I’m always there to hoist a wet blanket over everyone’s shoulders and tell them why they should be miserable instead. That said: there’s a lot of reason to be depressed in the West Bank. This is the land of refugee camps and suicide bombs, of weekly protest marches against the wall being violently dispersed by tear gas canisters and live ammunition. And yet Ramallah is no place for a Debbie Downer like myself.

Reading the recent articles in the BBC and New York Times about nightlife in Ramallah, you might assume Ramallah is the new Beirut of the Middle East or something, described in the NYT article as a “a mirror city of Tel Aviv.” Go to a place like Orjwan on a Thursday night and you can see the who’s-who of East Jerusalem high society home from school abroad for the summer and mingling with attractive international aid workers. I can tell you I’d never be let into a place like this in the states, but by virtue of my international stature will be ushered to the front of the line at Orjwan and allowed in before a whole throng of locals who scraped together enough shekels to make it out. The fact of the matter is that if you’re an international you can go wherever you want in Ramallah. You’re VIP royalty. Ignore your college buddies in West Jerusalem who say you’ll get stabbed or whatever. Look around you at Sangria’s or Orjwan and tell me this is the development trajectory the refugees in Balata are happy with.

After all, the truth of the matter is that because of this kind of New York Times write up, Palestinians can hardly afford rent in Ramallah nowadays. Foreigners with a 5k per month job here think $500 per month for an apartment is a real steal, but this is practically impossible for most people. Great amenities, All within walking distance of a refugee camp.  Jobs and apartments are offered to “Internationals only”. I wonder if any of these internationals driving BMWs around Ramallah have ever read Wretched of the Earth, if they realize they’re just a new class of missionaries selling beautification to a place that still has to pay with shekels.

Sorry, there I go being a Debbie Downer again. These guys just want to have a fun time and here I go raining on their parade. Who am I to tell Palestinians how to live or what kind of businesses to run? Unlike Thomas Friedman who comes in the dead of night to meet with the top crooks in the PA or BBC reporters at Snobar, I’ve talked to actual Palestinians who don’t particularly care for this cosmopolitan vibe emerging in Ramallah. It ends up drawing newspaper ink away from the issues that Palestinians really care about: land, justice, and peace. Pushing all the international money and offices and values into Ramallah makes people pretty suspicious that they’ll never see a capitol in Jerusalem. Plus, the importation of westerners imports western tastes, something Palestinians aren’t all particularly happy about. After all, a culture of removal from reality like one in the West results in overwhelming political apathy, like we have in the West.

Like an actual Palestinian told me, “these Palestinians, how are they fighting for their land?” Sure, we can write travel pieces about clubs, pizza, and women, but the New York Times has forgotten to examine other new cultural values being imported into Ramallah like drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Mothers tearfully wring their hands when their boys say they want to move to Ramallah, and with good reason. Ramallah is the tube being shoved down the throat of the Palestinians, funneling Western tastes and interests into their stomachs. Ramallah would be what some experts on colonization would call a “port city”, creating a safe haven for foreigners and fostering an elite Palestinian class that will be much more inspired to guard their comfortable lifestyles than support a popular resistance movement that may result in undue hardship from the Israelis. After all, isn’t the globalization mantra “why do it yourself when you can pay someone to do it for you for less money”?

Movie Review: Budrus

Budrus (2009, Julie Bacha) is a film about the village of Budrus and its struggle against the apartheid wall cutting through 300 acres of its land. The film follows three people, a Fatah member, a Hamas member, and a young woman who is the daughter of the Fatah member. The viewer explores the unique situation of Budrus, how it was the first village to exercise inclusive non-violent protests against the confiscation of land. It shows the brutality of the IOF perfectly as the filmmaker captures IOF soldiers beating the fellaheen with sticks and shooting at them with live ammunition. The film emphasized the people of the village and their bravery admirably, however, there were a few criticisms I must mention.

In Budrus, the filmmaker uses the rather neutral term “barrier” when referring to the wall. In addition, by the end of the film one is unclear if the filmmaker is for or against the wall, as it seems by the end that the villagers have earned a victory by forcing the Israelis to build closer to the green line (1967 borders). I think the film would have been better if it had taken a stronger stand against the wall. However, seeing as the film also took great lengths to illustrate the bravery of the Israeli leftists who joined the protests and saught to humanize one of the soldiers who was captured on film beating Palestinians, I suppose there must be a desire to reach a broad audience. Unfortunately, when one seeks to capture a broad audience they fail to accurately portray the truth, the truth being that the wall is a disgusting blight on humanity and will hopefully be seen one day in the same light (popularly) as the Berlin Wall.

I watched this movie at the Ramallah Cultural Palace with a 50/50 mix of Palestinians and foreigners. Queen Noor of Jordan was also in attendance, and it seemed many were more keen on getting a photo of her than sticking around for the question and answer session afterward. Although the main characters and filmmaker were present on stage after the showing, the woman MCing the event had to appeal to the audience to  stay for Q&A instead of rushing out to watch the World Cup match. Indeed, nobody stayed. There were only a handful left seated for the Q&A and the rest rushed off to chatter excitedly about the match while hustling to one of the Ramallah clubs to watch.

“Come on, guys! This is more important than a football match!” she pleaded.

The foreigners and Palestinians begged to differ.

Americana 2010

This morning I woke up to my second Fourth of July in Nablus. Last night I’d jerked awake to the sound of dogs barking and a smattering of sharp sounds. I recalled, tense in my bed, the first night I slept in Nablus last year to wake up to dogs barking, gunfire, and sound grenades. Fajr came on just as the racket stopped and lulled me back to sleep.

So this morning I thought a lot about my last time here and how my feelings changed about America since I last posted on the Fourth of July. I knew going back to America would be hard when I boarded the plane last time, but I hadn’t any idea how difficult it would actually be. I felt a lot less shy about airing my feelings and opinions in public and the response was sharp and dismissive in return. I stopped being able to stomach a lot of the activities and social events I used to enjoy and the response was a lot more loneliness and isolation. My first outing back, people would drunkenly ask me how Pakistan was, or wasn’t I in Germany or something? What’s a Palestinian? Going out and seeing my fellow citizens get in on in the clubs instilled great feelings of loathing and pain in me as I could still see the kids in the villages and the damaged buildings, the sallowness of a corpse’s face when I closed my eyes.

I watched when Nablus came under direct attack in December of 2009 and two men were murdered in their beds. The television showed the streets I’d walked every day in Nablus with tanks and kids and stones. “I’d hate to be there, those terrorists would chop my head right off!” a woman said next to me. American taxpayer commentary. Your ignorance and racism paid for those tanks, those bullets, that wall, those bodies. It keeps the wheels turning.

I don’t want to make it seem like nobody cared or listened to me when I got home, but a lot of people I expected to didn’t. Not my problem, not your problem, so let’s get over it. Get back to whatever. And now even as millions of gallons of oil stains my backyard a dead black people still don’t care. A nation of sleeping fat babies.  I only wish that our high-flautin ideals we brag about on t-shirts – freedom, liberty, self-determination, independence – were still ideals we were willing to fight and die for. I took them so seriously as a child, sitting at my grandpa’s knee and listening to him explain the great responsibility of being an American. Now, at 25, I get the feeling I wasn’t supposed to take it all so seriously. Perhaps for the majority it’s easier to just accept living life one day at a time instead of focusing on all the evil done in our name. Maybe it’s too much to bear. Maybe we just don’t know. I’d like to dedicate the rest of my life to trying to inform others, but it’s hard when people seem so disinterested in listening.

I’m not afraid to say I don’t feel any sense of celebration on the Fourth of July anymore. When I think about what this nation was founded upon and what it eats for dinner and how it makes a living, I feel sick to my stomach. Today’s the day everyone wants to hear it the least, but it’s also the day I feel it’s most important to reaffirm my position and my ideals. I’d like to assert I feel the same way everyone should about things like liberty and freedom and justice, I just don’t feel like being an American and celebrating America’s continued existence (234 years of the same old game) represents those anymore.

the worst thing that could happen

It’s been a while because I’ve been in a bad place. The World Cup is on and everyone feels that way more important than what is happening in Palestine. The new strategy of the colonists is made visible in a place like this, where the money flows in and where the foreigners walk with heads held high. Police – four to six on street corners – play the new occupiers, hosting flying checkpoints and shaking down motorists for money and studying IDs with the same sort of sickening scrutiny you’d see at an Israeli checkpoint. The case is made when Israel feels comfortable enough with their trained PASF to pull out checkpoints and soldiers from the West Bank to work in Gaza. The case is made when Israel considers allowing the Palestinian Authority to have control over Gazan checkpoints, allowing Palestinian to continue to crush Palestinian.

Thomas Friedman wrote a disgusting article about the new elite in Ramallah a few days ago. Entitled “The Real Palestinian Revolution”, he makes the case that

The Abbas-Fayyad state-building effort is still fragile, and it rests on a small team of technocrats, Palestinian business elites and a new professional security force. The stronger this team grows, the more it challenges and will be challenged by some of the old-line Fatah Palestinian cadres in the West Bank, not to mention Hamas in Gaza. It is the only hope left, though, for a two-state solution, so it needs to be quietly supported.

What he means by fragile is what every autocratic regime in the region faces. The Abbas-Fayyad government is not elected. It is not popular with the people. Outside of Ramallah – in the camps, in the villages – it can barely claim sovereignty. My professor wistfully recalls the days when Abu Amar would come out and mix with the people. Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, must mix with the citizens of Palestine in much the same way Thomas Friedman does — infrequently,  in the dead of night, and under armed guard. This is a problem with any dictator in the Middle East. Recall Saddam Hussein of Iraq and his many doubles, the mysterious absence of Hosni Mubarak in public for the last twenty years, or perhaps the Jordanian Royal Family as it appears in TV and on Youtube but never under any circumstances among the people. The worst thing that could happen to Palestine is what is happening to it right now. The last bastion of actual democracy in the Middle East – Gaza – continues to be under siege and it is not just in Israel and America’s interest to starve them out, but the Palestinian Authority as well. The Palestinian Authority, as Mr. Friedman points out, is becoming a business class elite that eats up USAID money with one hand and sells out the kids in the camps with the other.

The most important thing President Obama can do when he meets Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, on July 6 is to nudge him to begin gradually ceding control of major West Bank Palestinian cities to the Palestinian Authority so that Fayyad can show his people, as he puts it, that what he is building is an independent state “not an exercise in adapting to the permanence of occupation” — and so that Israel can test if the new Palestinian security forces really can keep the peace without Israel making nighttime raids. Nothing would strengthen Fayyadism more than that.

Now that the Palestinian Authority is run by old guard corrupt PLO, American-educated hyper-capitalist technocrats, and an American-trained police force, Mr. Friedman finally feels comfortable outsourcing the occupation of the Palestinian people to the Palestinians themselves. This will be accomplished by two means: hard and soft pressure. The police will continue the nighttime raids for the Israelis and will gladly torture and imprison their own countrymen for the Israelis. Meanwhile, imported goods and cultural lifestyles (will write more on this later) will lull the Palestinians of Ramallah to sleep long enough for the foxes to make off with the chickens. One day the Palestinians of Ramallah will shake off their hangovers, wake up, and realize their birthright has been sold for a handful of shekels and false-peace talks. I mean really, what is a securities exchange that runs on foreign currency or a peace talk that can claim with a straight face that East Jerusalem will ever belong to Palestine? After they wake up, that’s when the blood will come again, but this time the Israelis and their American masters will be pleased to note it is Palestinian killing Palestinian, Palestinian imprisoning Palestinian. Just like 2006. Unity is smashed through capital and pressure. The American-Israelis can continue their beach-side siestas in Tel Aviv without worrying about someone coming for their privilege… no, the creation of such a successfully fragile “state-building effort”, one that will constantly depend on their masters for continued existence, will ensure their security for years to come.