Before we left Bethlehem a couple days ago, we visited the wall that Israel built around Bethlehem. Israel said it was going to build it for security between Israel and Palestine, but the wall isn’t built along the border of Israel and the West Bank. It goes inside the West Bank and has confiscated thousands and thousands of acres of Palestinian land. It surrounds Bethlehem on three sides.
Ever since the Wall went up people from all over the world have been painting pictures on it and writing angry or sad or hopeful or happy messages on it. Kathy and I took some pictures. Can you find me in them?
Some artist called Banksy who’s supposed to be a big deal did this.
People who get really angry at the wall throw burning things at it. I got kind of dirty posing on it.
Some mystery CPTer wrote this on the wall and no one knows who! My teammate Cory and I went looking for clues!
We came to a neighborhood that was almost completely surrounded by the wall. A woman whose home had been surrounded by the wall came up to us and asked us to look at her shop. She had designed some really interesting things. One was an olivewood nativity scene with a wall separating the wisemen and shepherds from baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary (you could take it out.)
When we got home, I was really dirty! So Kathy gave me a bath. Now I am all sparkley clean! Hurray!
I have been at SO MANY MEETINGS with Kathy the last two weeks. The team in Hebron has been learning about Nonviolent Communication and is in Bethlehem this week making plans for its work next year and it’s interesting if you’re human I guess, but I’d rather be out having fun.
So while Kathy’s in meetings I thought I’d talk about some yummy foods I’ve been eating.
About a week ago, some German Mennonites stopped by and Kathy talked to them about Hebron, then they took us out to lunch at our favorite chicken and salad place! Konrad, the leader of the group who’s wearing the shirt with the peace sign worked for Mennonite Voluntary Service in Cincinnati, Ohio. I especially liked the pink salads!
The next night Gabriel, who’s from Santa Catarina in Brazil made some yummy macaroni and cheese for dinner and a special Brazilian dessert called brigadeiro made of cocoa, butter and condensed milk. Then he stuck eight spoons in it and we ate about half of it. Gabriel finished the rest the next day. Here’s a picture of Maarten an JoAnn eating some with me.
Cory had some days off and went to Tel Aviv in Israel and found some custard fruit in a shop there. It was her favorite fruit when she lived in India. This one wasn’t really ripe, but it was still VERY yummy. Cory says when they’re really ripe they taste and feel just like custard in your mouth. I really, really, really want to eat a very ripe custard fruit. Patrick, our teammate from Wales says they look like dragon poop.
Well, that’s all for now. We had a day off from the strategic planning and stuff happened, but Kathy forgot the camera cord for downloading pictures.
Some call it Firing Zone 918, I call it Jinba, Al Fakheit, Isfey, al Fakheit, al Majaz, at Tabban, Jinba, Mirkez, Halaweh and Khallet Athaba’
On Saturday evening Kathy, Gabriel and I took a taxi to Yatta to spend the night with the family of Mufid, who usually drives people from Christian Peacemaker Teams, the International Solidarity Movement and The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel to visit schools in an area that Israel calls Firing Zone 918. We had fun with Mufid’s children, especially Leam
Her big sister Leal and brother Odai taught me the Arabic alphabet.
Then the next morning we went out with another driver (not sure why we didn’t go with Mufid) in a car that the Japanese government donated through Unicef to pick up kids to take them to Al-Fakheit School. These kids live in very tiny villages far away from Yatta, so they either had to move to Yatta to stay with relatives to go to school or just not go to school. But now they have schools in Jinba and Al-Fahkheit they can go to. CPT, ISM and EAPPI ride with the driver into the area these villages are because the Israeli military does not want these villages or schools to be there and causes problems for the drivers.
Sunday morning, they were stopping drivers ahead of us, and our driver was nervous. The soldier told all of us to get out of the car. The soldier started asking the driver questions in Hebrew, and the driver said he didn’t speak Hebrew. So they started talking to him REALLY LOUD in Hebrew. I wanted to encourage them to think about rainbows but Kathy said she didn’t think it was appropriate. Gabriel said that the car had diplomatic plates and that Unicef wanted us to accompany the car, so the soldiers finally let us through.
Then we picked up the children–seven for the first trip. The driver makes three trips to get them all to the school. While the children waited for the other children and the teachers to get Al Fakheit, they played soccer. Their ball didn’t have much air in it, and they built their goalposts out of these rocks, but they still had a lot of fun.
When the teachers got to the school, all the students line up according to what grade they were in and did exercises.
Road to Jinba
Then Kathy and Gabriel walked a long way to visit the school at Jinba that was built for younger children. Kathy fell on her face and hurt her knee.
School at Jinba
The school at Jinba is smaller than the one at Al Fakheit, and only younger children go there.
I hope nothing bad happens to Jinba, Al Fakheit, Isfey, al Fakheit, al Majaz, at Tabban, Jinba, Mirkez, Halaweh and Khallet Athaba’. I hope that these schools an the homes and wells and caves and animal pens are not destroyed. I also hope that the Israeli military stops practicing bombing and shooting near these villages, because it’s scary for the children and animals. The Israeli government said one of the reasons that all the people here have to move (except for the Israelis living in the area) is that it is a nature reserve, and the wild animals and plants need to be protected, but how can you protect plants and animals if you’re bombing and shooting? I talked to a gazelle about it and she agreed with me that that’s just silly.
Looking at the South Hebron Hills from the school at Al Fakheit
Well that’s all for now. Back to doing school patrol in Hebron tomorrow!
And lo, the Lord did put in my path two quarrelsome angels, who argued loudly with each other as they left the airplane from France and with the woman at passport control in the Tel Aviv airport, and though she did send them away, verily, they returned each time the young woman did ask me a question to dispute with her most vexedly in Hebrew. Three times they did return, during the time of my questioning, until the young woman gave me the paper that did allow me to enter and catch the taxi to Jerusalem.
Jonathan reading Flannery O’Connor while waiting at the border
So after weeks of anxiety, and seeing my colleagues turned away at the airport and the Jordanian border, my entry into Israel was remarkably anticlimactic. For an idea of what my teammate Jonathan went through when the Israeli authorities denied him entry at the Jordanian border, check out his blog. His ordeal was also written up in the Electronic Intifada.
I was happy to catch up with my friends Ya’alah and Netanel last night in Jerusalem, reconnect with my teammates and meet new teammates this morning (actually haven’t met them all just yet.) Just now, I thought I was feeling pretty awake, but then I started to unpack, saw the bed, and crashed for a couple hours.
So I was lucky. But that doesn’t solve the basic problem: Palestinians invite organizations like Christian Peacemaker Teams to monitor human rights abuses in the West Bank and Israel, which controls all the borders entrances into the West Bank, will not let these volunteers enter. Palestinians should have the right to invite whomever they want to come to their country. Unarmed pacifist volunteers are not a threat to anyone’s security. There’s no question that the Powers that Be simply do not want us reporting what we see.
Haven’t blogged because, as usual, I’m entering seven months worth of bank statements into Quicken instead of having set up a time on the calendar to do it monthly. I’ve also spent about six hours in the last couple weeks with Jim Loney getting his feedback on my novel, which I wrote about in my last blog entry, and there’s been a trip to Boston and the garden, so actually, no, I don’t feel guilty about not blogging.
But I thought I’d note here that I’m getting better at Twitter, and it’s not through the account I started because sources told me it’s mandatory for authors, especially self-published authors to have one. It’s through my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), which, to save time, I’ll call a human rights organization.
I edit the releases that come in from our field projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Palestine and with Indigenous communities in North America. Our interim director, who formerly was our Outreach Director and guided our communications, suggested that I could start reposting our releases, which automatically appear on our Twitter account, with hash tags.
I was enjoying finding ways of drawing in audiences to our work that might not think to follow it. For example, a lot of environmentalists and animal rights activists are concerned about how palm oil corporations are decimating old growth forests and killing orangutans. I thought they might also be interested in how the corporation Aportes San Isidro was attacking the community of subsistence farmers, Las Pavas in Colombia, in an effort to drive them off their land, so I used the hashtags #PalmOil and #PalmOilKills for our Colombia team releases. For our work with the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick who was resisting the SWN corporation doing seismic testing on their traditional lands, I knew the #fracking hashtag would draw in the wider anti-fracking crowd and the #IdleNoMore hashtag would group the resistance of the Elsipogtog nation with a much wider Indigenous resistance movement across North America.
Then my interim director told me that a more media-savvy CPTer told him that I shouldn’t just repost titles with different hashtags; I needed to repost something a little different with each link to the team’s release. And once I knew that, it began to get fun.
#SOUTHHEBRONHILLS URGENT ACTION: Ask U.S. Secretary of State Kerry to heed Israeli jurists’ and writers’… http://dlvr.it/3lY9G7
#JohnKerry’s probably not listening to the right Israelis. Ask him to listen to these jurists: http://dlvr.it/3lY9G7
#JONESBOROUGH,TN: Activism, War, and the #MilitaryIndustrialComplex http://dlvr.it/3kWTxb #DepletedUranium #Aerojet
Why are those working against #DepletedUranium in #Jonesborough TN area having tires slashed? http://dlvr.it/3kWTxb
#ALKHALILHEBRON REFLECTION: A better than usual Friday (8 August 2013) http://dlvr.it/3nkg6N
“#TGIF” said no Christian Peacemaker Team member in #Hebron EVER. http://dlvr.it/3nkg6N #AlKhalil #IsraeliOccupation
When I first started on Twitter, I was told that I should put out at least four tweets a day and following each other was one way independent authors could support each other. I began to notice that my twitter feed was deluged with tweets by some of these authors, including one of my self-publishing “mentors.”
Here’s the thing. I have an eye condition that makes reading normal size fonts painful. I have to zoom everything to 300 percent on computer, so I will never follow twitter on a cellphone. And on an average page I only see about 12 tweets at a time; so if someone is touting their novel over and over, or zealously retweeting “tips” as they’ve been told to do, it really clutters up my feed.
Neil Gaiman wrote about this Twitter phenomenon in the last Poets and Writers (crude language alert):
I do it because I like it and it’s fun. And the fact that I like it and it’s fun communicates itself…People who are interested are going to sign up and stick around and follow me because I’m obviously enjoying it. If you are not enjoying it, for God’s sake don’t do it. There is nothing worse—sadder, more bleak, and more pitiful—than somebody who signs on, follows a hundred people, then sends out fifty to sixty tweets saying, “please read my book.” It’s like a sad little mouse, peeping in the corner… If you want to do it, you join. Talk to people. Talk to your friends. Talk to famous people. Talk with anybody you’d like. Twitter is completely democratic. If you’re a dick, people will notice you are a dick. If you’re nice, people will notice you’re nice. If you’re funny and smart, people will respond to the funny smartness. And if you want to get something read: Establish, be there first, and then say to people who are interested and like you, “By the way I’ve got a book coming out,” and people will go, “Oh, we’ll go and check it out then.
So I’ve started to unfollow the people who hog my feed. I tend to keep the ones who make me smile. I’m interested in literary agents of course, but I drop the ones who reject me unless their tweets make me smile.
I thought that once I started unfollowing, my follower-ship would also drop steeply, but it hasn’t. I currently stand at 318 followers. I am following 857 people/ entities. I figure that means I am a good listener—or whatever the word for tweet receptor is, tweetor? To be a good listener has a better connotation than to be a good follower, right?
This week, you will be giving a concert in Israel, in spite of pleas that you respect an academic/cultural boycott, observed by people like Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters and Stephen Hawking because of the military occupation of Palestine that Israel shows no intention of ending.
Since you have made this decision, I have another suggestion.
Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of New Mexico, put together an amazing video* of young Palestinian women resisting the Israeli military occupation set to your song, “Girl on Fire.” In its soulful opening strains, a young Palestinian woman with a Palestinian flag runs up the back of a huge water cannon truck used to disperse crowds at demonstrations. Then for the rest of your song we see young Palestinian women “on fire” as they protest the confiscation of their land, destruction of their farms, restrictions of their movement, and general assaults on their dignity. They do not back down even when soldiers beat them, pepper spray them, throw them to the ground or threaten them with weapons. Some of your lyrics, in fact, are hauntingly evocative of what we see the young women dealing with in the video.
When you sing “Girl on Fire,” this week, Ms. Keys, you could show these girls and young women to your audience. You could dedicate that song to all Palestinian and Israeli women who are struggling to end the forty-six-year-long Israeli military occupation of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian girls study on the street in Hebron because soldiers will not let them access their school.
You have said, “Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.” These are laudable sentiments. But I think if you witnessed—as I have during my work as a human rights advocate for the last eighteen years in the West Bank—the utter contempt with which Israeli soldiers and settlers treat Palestinian women, children and men, I think your position would be more nuanced. If you explored the information put out by Palestinian and Israeli peace and human rights organizations I think you will begin to see that the only road to the peace that you say is the spirit of your show lies in ending this brutal occupation. If you want to unify Israelis and Palestinians, showing this video footage may be the only small way you can do so, since the majority of the Palestinians featured in that video live under Israeli military occupation and their movements are severely restricted to a limited geographical area. The Israeli military would never give them permits to see your show.
Ms. Keys, most artists never have the privilege of having their songs taken up by popular culture to support a freedom struggle. You could contribute to the soundtrack of a liberation movement. Or you, like most of your Israeli audience, can continue to behave as though the Palestinian girls, teenagers and women in that video are not suffering, are not having their human rights violated, are not worth being seen.
*Your people forced Youtube to take it down, even though they appeared to have no objections to parodies or other amateur performances of the song. I found it on Facebook and here.
When I first started working in Hebron with Christian Peacemaker Teams, from the beginning, we networked with Israeli human rights and peace advocates. These Israelis took for granted that the reports of abuses we witnessed Israeli soldiers and settlers inflicting on the Palestinian residents in the Hebron area were accurate. They had witnessed similar abuses themselves. When I had returned from my first stint working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Haiti, most people assumed I was telling the truth about the abuses I saw paramilitary thugs committing in 1993-94 (after the first time the Haitian military overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide.)
I wasn’t prepared, then, for the accusations from Jewish and non-Jewish partisans of Israel in the U.S. telling me I could not possibly have witnessed what I had witnessed in Hebron. That was the crucial point at which Noam Chomsky came into my life.* I was talking to a Jewish friend in Hebron about these partisans making feel as though I were crazy for simply reporting what I was witnessing and he told me I needed to read what Chomsky wrote about Israel and Palestine. I did, and I was hooked. If you take a look at my annotated history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (to which I stopped adding in 2002 because of an eye condition that makes reading normal-size fonts too painful) you’ll see he’s heavily represented.
So that’s the primary gratitude Chomsky compels from me: he confirmed I wasn’t crazy. He made me feel like I could trust my eyes and ears, and that I was witnessing virulent racism on the streets of Hebron, even though, back in Rochester, New York and other places around the U.S. where I spoke, people told me I was mistaken, or that I needed to provide “balance.” (Once, when I was speaking at Chautauqua, during the Q&A, a person told me that if he had come from outer space and heard my presentation, he would have a very unbalanced idea of what was happening in Israel and Palestine. I said that if I knew I was going to be addressing space aliens, my presentation would have been very different, but I assumed people at Chautauqua were already familiar with what got reported in the New York Times, etc. Learning experience? Clever retorts are never a good idea during Q&A.)
I am also impressed by his graciousness. Every time I have written to him, he has always responded to my letters. When I have gotten back from trips to conflict zones I know he monitors and had illuminating conversations with people there, I have sent him letters about these experiences, because I know from reading interviews with him he values eyewitness accounts of situations that are not being reported in the news. I always add the tagline, “I know you always respond to your letters, but as a sign of my gratitude for all you have done for me, I would prefer that you not respond to this one.” He always writes back anyway. And Chomsky, in general, makes time in his extremely busy schedule for small organizations who are working for justice. Recently he did an interview with our CPT interim assistant director, Tim Nafziger and even though he is not religious, if he believes that religious organizations are putting out better information than the New York Times, as was happening in Central America in the 1970s and 80s he will cite the information from those organizations.
And then there was the time four of my colleagues were kidnapped in Iraq in 2005-06. Chomsky was among the first of a group of intellectuals to sign a petition calling for their release and during their captivity, he said that our work there—when we sent people with the Iraq Peace Teams to camp out at water treatment plants, hospitals, and other vital infrastructure so they wouldn’t be bombed during the invasion—gave him hope.
So that’s why I want to have Noam Chomsky’s baby. And no, my husband is not jealous. His metaphorical love is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
*Well, actually, we had met in Haiti. A friend had brought a copy of Deterring Democracy with him, and as all literature was in short supply, I was reading that, while my friend was reluctantly trudging through my Jane Austen. I had been involved with Latin American solidarity movements in college, so it wasn’t news to me that the United States was supporting fascist regimes in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. However, I was impressed at how coherently he laid it all out, with all the footnotes (oh, he made me a sucker for the footnotes), and I thought, “You know, if someone were just going to read one book, to see HOW the U.S. has prevented democratic regimes from gaining a foothold, this would be the one.”
Today is the last day of my sabbatical from Christian Peacemaker Teams, which began June 1, 2012. I ran a search on Google images for “sabbatical” and most of them involved beaches.
I wanted to write my novel Shea, which for biblically-interested people is a retelling of the Hosea-Gomer narrative with the gender roles reversed, and a fascist theocratic government running the U.S. instead of a theocratic government that had adopted elements of Canaanite fertility religions running ancient Israel. For those not interested in the biblical aspect, it is the memoir of Islam Goldberg-Jones, written from prison, telling of how he, his wife Hoshea “Shea” Weber, their family and comrades brought down the Christian Republic that ruled the United States from 2065-2087. He also writes about how he betrayed Shea with three increasingly heartbreaking affairs (which is the parallel of Gomer having three children—although to be fair to her only one was officially by another man.) Mission accomplished.
I wanted to get Because the Angels formatted as an E-book. Mission accomplished.
I wanted to get a website set up. Mission accomplished.
I learned how to use Twitter. I have NOT learned how to spend only fifteen minutes a day on Twitter.
What I didn’t get done
I wanted to help a friend who was a dissident in Iran under the Shah and Khomeini regimes write her memoir. The process turned out to be too painful for her so we had to let it go.
I did not finish filing all the papers in the boxes in the hall upstairs, but I have made good progress in throwing out things that don’t need to be filed anymore.
I still have a room full of my mother’s stuff that needs to be listed on Ebay.
I did not work on my Arabic language study AT ALL.
I did not do a retreat with my spiritual director.
So what have I learned? I’ve been on a cycle over the years where I would become overwhelmed with CPT work, get depressed because I didn’t have time to write the novel that was in me, and then had to leave CPT to do it. I need to figure out a way to take depression out of that equation. And that probably means that I need to actually assign times for CPT work, time for housework, and time for writing work. And within the CPT work, I need to assign time for filing, time for e-mail, and time for Arabic language study, or they won’t get done.
So am I happy to be going back? Not sure. I’m not great with transitions. But having spent a year saying that I do human rights work without actually having done any, it will be nice now to be saying it for real. And I will enjoy interacting with my colleagues again and following what’s going on in Iraqi Kurdistan, Colombia, Palestine, and the Indigenous communities we work with. And I’m pretty sure the idea for my next novel will come to me while I am working, as all the others have.
But oh the conference calls; I have not missed the conference calls at all, or the personality conflicts that arise because we tend to attract intensely committed people, and when you get all that intensity in the same room, well, sometimes people of goodwill can be very hard on each other.
I’ve had the good fortune, at the end of my sabbatical, to find a writer friend with whom I can exchange manuscripts for critique. The writer’s group I wanted to get together at the beginning of the sabbatical fell through. I met Sara Selznick through She Writes, a forum for women writers—one of the sabbatical indulgences I’m afraid I will have to put aside when I start work again tomorrow. We had applied for the same fellowship and received identical, “you’re very talented and we hope you apply again, but no” rejections. After we exchanged applications, we became a two-woman writer’s critique group. You will find a description of her writing project The Color of Safety on her blog Three Kinds of Pie.
When I edit colleagues writing for CPTnet, I am doing more than one role. My main role is to make sure they provide a voice to our local partners and communicate the realities of their work effectively. But it is also my job to encourage them to become better writers. Their work in the field is the vital part of what we do. Our writer/editor relationship is a vehicle to enhance that work; the writing is not an end in itself. So I generally DO pull punches. I am not blunt about the deficits in their writing (although some of my colleagues may disagree.)
For my novel, Shea, I don’t want someone trying to tiptoe around my feelings. I need people to say, “This doesn’t work for me.”; “I don’t understand what you’re saying here.” “I hate this character.” My regular manuscript readers, who know me personally, tell me when something bothers them, but they usually will pull punches. Other writers won’t. I may choose not to change something based on a critique (one writer friend and I have what we call the Jane Austen—William Faulkner spectrum, with his taste leaning heavily toward the latter), but I want to hear it. I will consider it. And I find it liberating to dispense the critiques as well. I suppose I should check in with Sara to see whether she’s as happy with the arrangement as I have been, because I’ve been more on the dispensing end. But let me just say this: her novel is more than 200,000 words long and I was never bored.
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