Saturday, February 28, 2009

Words Where Wounds Are

This is basically what's going through my head, after three weeks of travel to give talks and readings (in Chicago for AWP, in Louisville for the 20th century conference, and in Indiana for a reading a couple nights ago). Pure murmurings, nothing more coherent than that, but honeyed and pulse-steady.

I wish I could recount some details, but just one for now: after the reading with Danit Brown, Mitchell Douglas, N.S. Koenings, and I, a handful of people wanted to talk war, politics, and poetry--a former Orthodox Jew and IDF soldier who turned anti-war and pro-Palestinian; a guy who taught in Bethlehem the year before, still unable to put language to his experience; three women (one from Romania, one from Pakistan, another former New Yorker staffer) also seeking how to place words where wounds are, to translate trauma. I felt a tremendous gratitude that, somehow, my words resonated beyond the limits of my voice and eyes and found ready ears.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gihad Ali's "Eye to Eye" and Outlandish's Version, "Look Into My Eyes"

A couple nights ago, I read some of my poems from To See the Earth about Palestinian experience at a benefit for a delegation of Americans heading to Gaza to provide some medical relief for people there. One of my fellow poets was a woman named Inaya, who read "Eye To Eye" by Gihad Ali. I'd heard the poem before, and was slightly underwhelmed, but in Inaya's voice this poem took on resonances of ferocity and clarity.

In contrast to my more abstruse, self-consciously "complex" poems, this one did exactly what the people wanted--it articulated in the clearest way the distances between Palestinian experience and American experience, broadly considered. It reminded me how critical the context of one's utterances, and how something that could be considered "good poetry" could be seen as something not quite graspable to an audience hungering to have their stories told and heard, and how something that would never be accepted in a literary journal would be exactly appropriate to the occasion.

When I discovered the music version and video by Outlandish, I was stunned to see the pop sensibility merged with the protest of the original, and how it adds the hope for coexistence with Israelis in ways that the poem does not. Finally, I add a another poem by Gihad Ali, which to my mind feels much less successful in its hectoring of the "American," just for a point of contrast.

Words to Look Into My Eyes

Gihad Ali, a volunteer with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) and the Palestine Solidarity Group, both in Chicago, wrote a poem called "Eye to Eye" a couple of years ago. She has since performed this poem dozens of times, including at performances such as "Women Warriors" at the Chicago Cultural Center, the AAAN's Cafe Intifada, and "Mixin' It Up," a project of the Chicago Field Museum's Cultural Connections program.

Danish rap group, Outlandish, based its single, "Look Into My Eyes," on Gihad's poem. Their album, "Closer Than Veins," was released on October 31st, and "Look Into My Eyes," which was the first single from the album, reached NUMBER 1 on the national airplay hitlist in Denmark.
The following is the text of:

Eye to Eye - by Gihad Ali

Look into my eyes
and tell me what you see.
You don't see a damn thing,
`cause you can't possibly relate to me.

You're blinded by our differences.
My life makes no sense to you.
I'm the persecuted Palestinian.
You're the American red, white and blue.

Each day you wake in tranquility.
No fears to cross your eyes.
Each day I wake in gratitude.
Thanking God He let me rise.

You worry about your education
and the bills you have to pay.
I worry about my vulnerable life
and if I'll survive another day.

Your biggest fear is getting ticketed
as you cruise your Cadillac.
My fear is that the tank that just left
will turn around and come back.

American, do you realize,
that the taxes that you pay
feed the forces that traumatize
my every living day?

The bulldozers and the tanks,
the gases and the guns,
the bombs that fall outside my door,
all due to American funds.

Yet do you know the truth
of where your money goes?
Do you let your media deceive your mind?
Is this a truth that no one knows?

You blame me for defending myself
against the ways of Zionists.
I'm terrorized in my own land
and I'm the terrorist?

You think you know all about terrorism
but you don't know it the way I do.
So let me define the term for you.
And teach you what you thought you knew.

I've known terrorism for quite some time,
fifty-four years and more.
It's the fruitless garden uprooted in my yard.
It's the bulldozer in front of my door.

Terrorism breathes the air I breathe.
It's the checkpoint on my way to school.
It's the curfew that jails me in my own home,
and the penalties of breaking that curfew rule.

Terrorism is the robbery of my land.
And the torture of my mother.
The imprisonment of my innocent father.
The bullet in my baby brother.

So American, don't tell me you know about
the things I feel and see.
I'm terrorized in my own land
and the blame is put on me.

But I will not rest, I shall never settle
for the injustice my people endure.
Palestine is our land and there we'll remain
until the day our homeland is secure.

And if that time shall never come,
then you will never see a day of peace.
I will not be thrown from my own home,
nor will my fight for justice cease.

And if I am killed, it will be in Falasteen.
It's written on my every breath.
So in your own patriotic words,
Give me liberty or give me death.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"American Blood" by Restless Kelly

Thanks to Tim Musser, Lew Rockwell, and Michael Gaddy for this article, on the heels of the discussion of "Fortunate Son." A line like "the brass ain't fightin' but they're sure as hell taking a stand" rings a familiar echo from CCR: "some folks inherit star-spangled eyes, ooh they'll send you down to war, and when you ask them how much should we give, they only answer more more more."

'Have You Forgotten' To 'American Blood'
by Michael Gaddy

While William Congreve’s Almeria tells us in Mourning Bride, "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak," today’s modern music is sometimes used to evoke emotional responses to issues of the day, to inspire devotion to country, or encourage the young to fight its country’s illegal wars. Such was certainly the case with Darryl Worley’s "Have you forgotten."

The release of Worley’s album in April of 2003 was perfectly timed to coincide with the beginning of the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq. In order to hasten release of the album, Worley’s record label recycled several songs from a previous album in order to have a full complement of songs in time for the release. The song, Have You Forgotten, became the national anthem for neoconservative sycophants such as Hannity, Limbaugh and O’Reilly, and played on the totally false connection between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.

"I hear people saying we don't need this war
But, I say there's some things worth fighting for
What about our freedom and this piece of ground
We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down
They say we don't realize the mess we're getting in
Before you start your preaching let me ask you this my friend

Have you forgotten how it felt that day?
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?"

Worley’s passionate but untruthful conflation quickly soared to the top of the musical charts. Radio stations across this country played it incessantly. One could only guess how many young Americans made their way to military recruitment offices with the song’s lyrics ringing in their ears.

Now, thousands of American lives; too many mangled minds and bodies; tens of thousands of innocent dead Iraqis; billions of misplaced/misspent dollars; a failed economy and six years later, reality and cognitive discourse has replaced the emotional disconnect of Worley’s work.

While I am sure the singing group Restless Kelly has not realized the financial success of Darryl Worley, at least they have the comfort of being truthful in their musical offering concerning the state’s immoral wars. But, alas, lies are much more profitable than the truth where the state and its idolaters are concerned.

American Blood, by Restless Kelly:

"Johnny can't drink 'cause Johnny ain't twenty-one
Ya but he's eighteen and he's pretty handy with a gun
they sent him off to a foreign land gave him a new pair of boots and thirteen grand and he came back home with american blood on his hands

george is a real go getter and he's runnin' the show and he should have known better but his old man told him to go he sits at home with his feet on his desk while the boys got their's in the sand
a million miles away with american blood on their hands

johnny can't walk but the medic says he's o.k. to fly
and the newspapers tell us he's a hero and a hell of a guy
they sent him up to washington for a photo op with a smoking gun
he's got a purple heart and american blood on his hands

now George stands up on a boat proudly waving the flag
he says the hard part's over and we knew it wouldn't be so bad
but roadside bombs and six long years were never really part of the plan
what's a couple thousand more with american blood on their hands

now johnny can drink all day 'cause he's twenty-three
he donated his legs to the worldwide land of the free
he cries God bless america but God damn uncle sam
while he stares through the tears with american blood on his hands

black gold for silver stars
cold hard cash for armored cars
the brass ain't fightin' but they're sure as hell taking a stand
and they'll have to live with american blood on their hands"

Watch and listen as they perform the song here. Thanks to Reckless Kelly for their courage.

February 23, 2009

Michael Gaddy [send him mail], an Army veteran of Vietnam, Grenada, and Beirut, lives in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest.

Copyright © 2009 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Fortunate Son," the Bomb, and Commodification

It ain't me. But it could be. Stark & beautiful footage of atomic explosions, which bring the song into another, longer war than the war which instigated it.

In the critical study, Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941, I discuss how frequently radical songs such as "Fortunate Son" get commodified and lose their original power. This video forwards that analysis, as well as the offending commercial that renders "fortune" into jean jingoism. I really hope the great John Fogerty had nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Arna's Children, Part 3 (The Conclusion)

Inclined to Speak: Contemporary Arab American Poets Read

Here we are, from the AWP conference, having sated our inclinations to speak, but not our bellies (that would come later), from left to right: Fady Joudah, Philip Metres, Hayan Charara, Elmaz Abinader, Deema Shehabi, and Khaled Mattawa.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gaza Water and Relief Benefit

Fundraiser to bring relief to the people of Gaza!
Gaza Water and Relief Benefit, Sunday, February 22, 6-9PM at Kan Zaman Restaurant, 1917 West 25th Street 44113 (just north of West Side Market) Email for reservations. $25 per person. Please donate more if you are able. Contact: Don 440-623-0492

Arabic vegetarian dips and pita
Solidarity for Gaza

MARCH 1- 15, 2009

Where is the outrage over the massacre of confined, defenseless Palestinians in the Gaza Strip? The US Congress's acceptance of Israel's invasion is criminal and immoral. Now relief aid to Gaza is being blocked by these international lawbreakers.

We Seek Your Help
Please Support Our Delegation, Be Part of the Relief Efforts

Peaceful Palestinians have been living in Gaza, under an Israeli military blockade since June 2007. Israel controls the land, air and sea surrounding Gaza. Palestinians seek to be free from Israel's authoritarian and murderous rule in Gaza and in the West Bank.

One and a half million peole in the Gaza Strip are now suffering the worst injustice of all. After the world witnessed the brutal massacre of the people, including over 400 children, humanitarian relief is now being blocked by the regional dictators Israel and the US. We urge the Egyptian government to open their borders to relief workers and journalists going to Gaza.

A team of physicians, surgeons, mental health professionals, social workers and journalists are set to go to Gaza, Palestine the first of March, 2009. The delegation is being coordinated by co-founders of the Free Gaza Coalition, a Palestinian-American journalist and a community activist in greater Cleveland, Ohio. "We have had a great national response from our call sent through the Arab-American Medical Association and other contacts."
Amal Wahdan
Don Bryant

The Gaza Delegation will:

- Fulfill medical requests
- Deliver water purifiers to hospitals and schools
- Assess medical and mental health needs in Gaza
- Assess infrastructural damage and rebuilding efforts for Gaza
- Facilitate medical and mental health work teams
- Facilitate school supplies shipments and deliveries
- Help Coordinate home rebuilding teams
- Cast Love, not lead


Attend the Gaza Delegation and Relief Benefit, Sunday, February 22, 6-9PM at Kan Zaman Restaurant, 1917 West 25th Street 44113 (just north of West Side Market) Email for reservations. $25 per person. Please donate more if you are able. For more info contact Don at 440-623-0492


Send your contribution to the Council on American Islamic Relations, Cleveland office PLEASE WRITE "GAZA DELEGATION"
in the memo line.

CAIR, Cleveland
2999 Payne Ave, #201
Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Arna's Children, Part 2/Scenes Behind the Scenes

Monday, February 16, 2009

Arna's Children/signs beneath the signs

Yesterday, I went to a panel sponsored by Cleveland Peace Action that brought together four women (Sue Wolpert, Lois Romanoff, Ruth Tracy, and Maryann Kerr) who have recently traveled to Israel and Palestine on peacebuilding, human rights, and cultural exchange missions of various sorts. They came back with a lot of stories about small groups with both Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims, Christian and Jews, working toward a common future. These groups were diverse and as various as their members, but are largely working without the media attention, that fawningly follows the power brokers.

One of them visited the Jenin theater group that Arna Mer Khamis founded, and that her son Juliano now runs. Arna, an Israeli Jew who once served in the Palmach, married an Arab and subsequently began a theater group for Palestinian children traumatized by war and military occupation. The film is now available entirely on youtube, and I'll be spreading it out over a couple days, since no one watches anything online for more than a half hour, as far as I can tell. So here are the first three segments, of nine total. (If you're addicted, or want closure, just follow the links).
Background: ARNA'S CHILDREN tells the story of a theatre group that was established by Arna Mer Khamis. Arna comes from a Zionist family and in the 1950s married a Palestinian Arab, Saliba Khamis. On the West Bank, she opened an alternative education system for children whose regular life was disrupted by the Israeli occupation. The theatre group that she started engaged children from Jenin, helping them to express their everyday frustrations, anger, bitterness and fear. Arna's son Juliano, director of this film, was also one of the directors of Jenin's theatre. With his camera, he filmed the children during rehearsal periods from 1989 to 1996. Now, he goes back to see what happened to them. Yussef committed a suicide attack in Hadera in 2001, Ashraf was killed in the battle of Jenin, Alla leads a resistance group. Juliano, who today is one of the leading actors in the region, looks back in time in Jenin, trying to understand the choices made by the children he loved and worked with. Eight years ago, the theatre was closed and life became static and paralysed. Shifting back and forth in time, the film reveals the tragedy and horror of lives trapped by the circumstances of the Israeli occupation.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The State of the (Israeli) State/What Avigdor Lieberman Means for Any Ruling Coalition

Extremists in Israel - Avaaz Lieberman expose from Avaaz on Vimeo.OPINION/EDITORIAL
Israel lurches into fascism

By Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada
12 February 2009

Whenever Israel has an election, pundits begin the usual refrain
that hopes for peace depend on the "peace camp" -- formerly
represented by the Labor party, but now by Tzipi Livni's Kadima --
prevailing over the anti-peace right, led by the Likud.

This has never been true, and makes even less sense as Israeli
parties begin coalition talks after Tuesday's election. Yes, the
"peace camp" helped launch the "peace process," but it did much more
to undermine the chances for a just settlement.

In 1993, Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accords.
Ambiguities in the agreement -- which included no mention of
"self-determination" or "independence" for Palestinians, or even
"occupation" -- made it easier to clinch a short-term deal. But
confrontation over irreconcilable expectations was inevitable. While
Palestinians hoped the Palestinian Authority, created by the accord,
would be the nucleus of an independent state, Israel viewed it as
little more than a native police force to suppress resistance to
continued occupation and colonial settlement in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip. Collaboration with Israel has always been the measure by
which any Palestinian leader is judged to be a "peace partner."
Rabin, according to Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign
minister, "never thought this [Oslo] will end in a full-fledged
Palestinian state." He was right.

Throughout the "peace process," Israeli governments, regardless of
who led them, expanded Jewish-only settlements in the heart of the
West Bank, the territory supposed to form the bulk of the
Palestinian state. In the 1990s, Ehud Barak's Labor-led government
actually approved more settlement expansion than the Likud-led
government that preceded it headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Barak, once considered "dovish," promoted a bloodthirsty image in
the campaign, bolstered by the massacres of Gaza civilians he
directed as defense minister. "Who has he ever shot?" Barak quipped
derisively about Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the proto-fascist
Yisrael Beitenu party, in an attempt to paint the latter as a

Today, Lieberman's party, which beat Labor into third place, will
play a decisive role in a government. An immigrant who came to
Israel from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, Lieberman was
once a member of the outlawed racist party Kach that calls for
expelling all Palestinians.

Yisrael Beitenu's manifesto was that 1.5 million Arab Palestinian
citizens of Israel (indigenous survivors or descendants of the
Palestinian majority ethnically cleansed in 1948) be subjected to a
loyalty oath. If they don't swear allegiance to the "Jewish state"
they would lose their citizenship and be forced from the land of
their birth, joining millions of already stateless Palestinians in
exile or in Israeli-controlled ghettos. In a move instigated by
Lieberman but supported by Livni's allegedly "centrist" Kadima, the
Knesset recently voted to ban Arab parties from participating in
elections. Although the high court overturned it in time for the
vote, it is an ominous sign of what may follow.

Lieberman, who previously served as deputy prime minister, has a
long history of racist and violent incitement. Prior to Israel's
recent attack, for example, he demanded Israel subject Palestinians
to the brutal and indiscriminate violence Russia used in Chechyna.
He also called for Arab Knesset members who met with officials from
Hamas to be executed.

But it's too easy to make him the bogeyman. Israel's narrow
political spectrum now consists at one end of the former "peace
camp" that never halted the violent expropriation of Palestinian
land for Jewish settlements and boasts with pride of the war crimes
in Gaza, and at the other, a surging far-right whose "solutions"
vary from apartheid to outright ethnic cleansing.

What does not help is brazen western hypocrisy. Already the US State
Department spokesman affirmed that the Obama administration would
work with whatever coalition emerged from Israel's "thriving
democracy" and promised that the US would not interfere in Israel's
"internal politics." Despite US President Barack Obama's sweet talk
about a new relationship with the Arab world, few will fail to
notice the double standard. In 2006, Hamas won a democratic election
in the occupied territories, observed numerous unilateral or agreed
truces that were violated by Israel, offered Israel a
generation-long truce to set the stage for peace, and yet it is
still boycotted by the US and European Union. Worse, the US
sponsored a failed coup against Hamas and continues to arm and train
the anti-Hamas militias of Mahmoud Abbas, whose term as Palestinian
Authority president expired on 9 January. As soon as he took office,
Obama reaffirmed this boycott of Palestinian democracy.

The clearest message from Israel's election is that no Zionist party
can solve Israel's basic conundrum and no negotiations will lead to
a two-state solution. Israel could only be created as a "Jewish
state" by the forced removal of the non-Jewish majority Palestinian
population. As Palestinians once again become the majority in a
country that has defied all attempts at partition, the only way to
maintain Jewish control is through ever more brazen violence and
repression of resistance (see Gaza). Whatever government emerges is
certain to preside over more settlement-building, racial
discrimination and escalating violence.

There are alternatives that have helped end what once seemed like
equally intractable and bloody conflicts: a South African-style
one-person one-vote democracy, or Northern Ireland-style
power-sharing. Only under a democratic system according rights to
all the people of the country will elections have the power to
transform people's futures.

But Israel today is lurching into open fascism. It is utterly
disingenuous to continue to pretend -- as so many do -- that its
failed and criminal leaders hold the key to getting out of the
morass. Instead of waiting for them to form a coalition, we must
escalate the international civil society campaign of boycott,
divestment and sanctions to force Israelis to choose a saner path.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One
Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
(Metropolitan Books, 2006). A version of this article first appeared
on the Guardian's Comment is Free website with the headline "No
peace for Israel."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gaza and Poetry

(from Heather Robie's article in The Guardian):

Our newspapers and televisions are filled with two different versions of the same story; two conflicting narratives of the current conflict in Gaza. In the first days of the offensive, like many others, I spent the evenings switching between Al Jazeera's and CNN's coverage; between unrelenting war footage with threadbare analysis, to the American networks, with little footage and a permanent drone of commentary and theorising noise. Between the two, there seemed to be no way to get to the core of the reality, with Gaza so hermetically sealed that even its current tragedy loses some of its power in transmission, if only because it feels so locked, untouchable, even from less than 100 miles away here in Amman. It was with this sense of failure already established that I began re-reading Israeli and Palestinian novelists and poets, hoping these writers could begin to give voices to the current statistics, particularly since access to one side of the conflict has been almost completely cut off...
read more here.

More on Robot Warriors...

ISM's Adam Shapiro on Gaza, The Revolution Interview/plus responses from the street

Adam Shapiro on the Situation in Gaza “Scenes of complete utter devastation”
As Israel and the U.S. announced the “ceasefire” in Israel’s U.S. supported massacre of Gaza, Revolution correspondent Alan Goodman sat down with Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, at Revolution Books in New York City to talk about the current situation on the ground in Gaza, threats and attacks on the International Solidarity Movement and their reporters in Gaza, how to speak to the question of “what about the Hamas rockets,” and Adam Shapiro’s new film series, “Chronicles of a Refugee,” a six-part documentary series.

Revolution: Why don't you start out by sharing what you know about the situation in Gaza.

Shapiro: So as we're talking now a ceasefire seems to be in place. It's not a ceasefire in terms of an agreement but there seems to be both sides have agreed to actually not fire weapons at each other at the moment. And we have, I think, five volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement who are on the ground in Gaza and who have been there during the entire onslaught. What I'm hearing from them, now that they're able to start moving around a bit, and also what I'm hearing from other Gazans is just scenes of complete utter devastation.

In Gaza City itself, yes there were air strikes and tank firing in certain parts of the city particularly in the refugee camp, in Jabalia Camp there was intense fighting. But when you go out from Gaza City to the south and to the north, in the south to places like Rafah and Khan Younis and even smaller villages, I guess we can almost call them, although they're not necessarily properly organized as such. Just complete and utter—buildings completely demolished for miles around. I mean, nothing left standing. Families coming back are just sifting through the rubble to see if they can find anything of their property, of their memories, of anything that they had had and also finding bodies. This is the story now that people, my colleagues, are reporting, is that dozens and dozens of bodies are being found in the rubble of people who were trapped in the homes when they were hit by bombs or tank shells or whatever. And so the death count is certainly rising in Gaza.

It's not clear, some of these people may have been killed instantly, some may have been just injured and bled to death because no medical assistance was coming. I did hear from a friend who has family in Gaza that just two days ago his father and two brothers were driving in a car trying to escape an area where there was heavy bombing, and their car was targeted and hit. The one brother died instantly. The other brother was bleeding and ultimately after 14 hours bled to death. The father was injured and required surgeries but in the end will hopefully be OK. This story we were able to get attention to, in the sense that we were calling to Israeli journalists and to other people in Israel with the exact location of where the car was, to try to get the Army to allow medical personnel to come to save the brother who was bleeding to death. And nothing would happen. There was no permission for any kind of ambulance to come, and so ultimately my friend's brother succumbed. This is similar to the case of the Palestinian doctor which has made some news coverage, who lost his three daughters in an air strike, I'm sorry, in a tank shell bombing.

People in Gaza are, I think, by all accounts from my colleagues there from talking to people are, I think shell-shocked is the term. But I don't even think that captures it, because you are talking about a population that was already severely traumatized not just from 18 months of siege and blockade, but from—what are we talking about, basically for over a decade, since 2000—intense campaigns waged by the Israeli military to terrorize the population, to intimidate them. Even on days when bombs weren't falling the Israeli planes would consistently break the sound barrier giving off the impression of bombs going off.

It's been widely reported—at least by Palestinian health agencies and international children’s advocacy and health groups—the effects that this is having in terms of traumatizing the population. So how do you measure the additional amount of trauma that people have been experiencing for these last three weeks? And how do you figure out at what point were they already traumatized, and then how much additional can a human being take?

I was just remarking with a friend and I have often said this before: Israelis should be sending thank you notes to Palestinians that there aren’t millions of people strapped with suicide bombs ready to blow themselves up at this point, for what Israel has done—of course, I am not advocating Palestinians take such action. There is often this line that Israelis or pro Israeli folks use of saying, “Look at what the Palestinians have made us do. They made us… Look at what they have made us become.” Israeli leaders use these terms all the time, “We don’t want to do this, but look what they’ve made us do….” If they can get away with saying that, then the Palestinians certainly are justified to suggest that and to show that what they’ve become as a people and as individuals—in terms of how they might feel towards Israelis, and towards their overall situation including as supporters of Israel—they are more than justified in feeling whatever they feel.

I think it’s remarkable that you can still hold a conversation with a Palestinian anywhere, but especially those who live in Gaza, and not feel hatred coming from their side. It is a remarkable measure of the humanity of the people of Gaza that you can actually have a conversation and they are just not full of hate completely. That’s what I’m hearing from my colleagues in Gaza. It is not surprising, because if you spend any time among the Palestinians it won’t surprise you. But still it is almost a wake-up, a reawakening in a sense, to realize that people who have experienced all of this, they still have hope in a way. I mean not hope in their leaders. I’m not sure where their hope is directed towards. But there is hope, and that is I think something is utterly, utterly remarkable.

Revolution: We will definitely return to that. But I wonder if you can go a little more into the backdrop for the current humanitarian nightmare situation in Gaza in terms of the history of the Israeli blockade and also Egypt’s complicity in that, and the kind of situation that it’s created in terms of lack of food and medical supplies and exchange with the outside world.

Shapiro: So since over 18 months now, or 19 months now, Israel has imposed what is called the blockade on the Gaza strip, essentially sealing off all entry points to Gaza. This would include the numerous checkpoints and crossing points between the Gaza Strip and Israel itself, as well as of course, blockading the port, which has been blockaded for over 40 years. The port has always been blocked by a naval blockade. And then of course, convincing Egypt to maintain a full closure of the border at Rafah. Now, by all accounts, the border being closed with Egypt was not only a request by Israel, but also a request by the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank who also sought to, during the blockade, use economic and humanitarian pressure to wrest political concessions from Hamas. So there’s many hands that are dirty.

Revolution: Part of this ceasefire agreement—bizarrely enough between the United States, Egypt and Israel—is to even tighten that vice.

Shapiro: Oh absolutely, I mean there’s huge political implications that are trying to be imposed. But that’s a good point, though also, that with regard to the blockade of Gaza, also complicit -- Israel was the primary blockader -- but Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank were also complicit. But also complicit was the United States and European Union as well. And quite frankly all Arab states. The whole international community is guilty. Nobody was seeking to break the blockade. Nobody. Not Venezuela. Not Bolivia. Not Iran even. Yes there were these smuggling tunnels, but the smuggling tunnels were not an effort to break the blockade so much as to enrich—I mean certain mafias essentially got started as a result of [this] black market and this is the ultimate in black market smuggling and marketeering, and both in Gaza and in the Sinai and elsewhere, people were getting rich off of these things. So this should not be seen really as a political maneuver, it’s an economic maneuver solely.

So that was the situation in Gaza for the last 18 months, food prices were rising, goods were blockaded. Cement could not be brought into the Gaza Strip, a place that needs an incredible amount of reconstruction and rebuilding, before this war on Gaza occurred. All kinds of goods, that we in the U.S. should be somewhat familiar with because we imposed or attempted to impose a similar type of sanction on Iraq prior to the 2003 war in which anything that could be labeled as a dual use good, even to the extent that pencils, because they contained small traces of lead in them, were banned from being exported to Iraq. This kind of thing to that level was also being banned from Gaza. So Gaza really was in a desperate kind of situation prior to this war beginning.

The larger backdrop though, that needs to also be considered before even the blockade, is that Gaza could be and has been, since 1993, since the Oslo Accords, increasingly a prison. It’s only following the 1993 Oslo Accords that Gaza was sealed off completely. Before that there was not a single day of closure of the Gaza Strip, even during the first Intifada, where there was great tension and violence and all those things. In those days it was still possible just to get in your car, and go to West Bank and go to Israel and go wherever you wanted. It’s only since 1993 and this peace process began—this sham of a process—that Gaza became increasingly like a maximum security prison and that’s the next step of the larger context. And finally, not finally, but the next larger context of course is 40 plus years of occupation by Israel in which the living conditions in Gaza in particular, have deteriorated, where Gaza has become the most crowded place on earth. Where up until recently Israeli settlers had free rein in the Gaza Strip to ride around, do as they like, take over territory, take water, destroy things, all with the sanctioning of the Israeli government and the complicity of the Israeli Army, with the facilitation of the Israeli Army, I should say.

And then the larger context beyond that level is then to go back 60 years, which of course is how these people got to Gaza in the first place. There was of course an indigenous Gaza population, certainly, prior to what happened in 1948. But then with the events of Nakba [the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population—editors] of 1947-1948 you end up with a situation where now over 80 percent of Gaza are refugees, and refugees from not that far away. I mean, we’re talking about places that are within kilometers of the borders of Gaza strip. We need to keep in mind all of these different levels of context in order to understand the reality of Gaza Strip, both the reality internally among Palestinian and the reality of what they have been forced to suffer through. And I think it’s fair to question whether another population limited in a geographic space anywhere on earth has experienced what Gazans have experienced over these last 60 years.

Revolution: Let’s return to this theme of the justifiable anger of the Palestinian people. I know all of us who are out there arguing with people, get bombarded with this “what about the Hamas rockets” question, and my answer in short is you’re asking the wrong question. When someone tells you that the United States was built on land stolen from the Native Americans and that millions of indigenous people in the Americas were wiped out by European settlers, do you say but what about all those Indians who were scalping people? You used the example the other night at the Emergency Town Hall Meeting we spoke at in New York City, of South Africa, and the struggle against apartheid, and that the goal was not “peace” but ending apartheid. You made what I thought was an important point, about even for good-hearted people, to put it that way, needing to get beyond this peace paradigm and actually look at things based on the reality of the situation.

Shapiro: The question about the rockets is the wrong question to ask, for two reasons. Like you said. One, it’s largely irrelevant because, from a military perspective, from a question of how can Gazans fight back for all the oppression they’re suffering under—and let’s face it, there is a consistent war on the Gazan people, the people who are in Gaza and on Palestinians in general, but especially those in Gaza, that is not only on days when the Israeli army chooses to deploy weaponry. It is a consistent war going on, started with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947 and before 1947 and continues every day ongoing, for every day that a Palestinian lives in a refugee camp and is denied his rights, that is essentially a war on the Palestinian people and so for them to fight back by firing rockets and not to understand it in that way, shows just a completely fundamental lack of understanding of what is going on. And for certain purposes of course. I think the real question that needs to be asked, and this isn’t so much a question for those who support Israel or those who question the Palestinians, I think it’s an internal Palestinian question, which is why, for whose purpose is Hamas firing rockets, and that is a much different debate and a much different discussion altogether. And for me, that’s the only valid question to ask about the rockets, so to leave it at that.

If people do want to engage on that issue, however, you can engage on the issue, which is this, in all the months that Hamas was firing the rockets at Israel, prior to the onset of this war on Gaza, there was I think only one Israeli killed the entire time. And while there had been some limited property damage, the vast majority, forget majority, we’re talking 99 point something percent of all the rockets hit empty space. Now since the war began, the Hamas rockets were able to kill four Israelis and not only reach further but also hit more property. So I don’t think—I think it’s, technologically speaking, they are not able to control where specifically, precisely these rocket are falling. But they are generally able to control where these rockets are falling. And we have seen a tremendous change in where these rockets fall since the onset of the war. So you can look at the rocket fire prior to December 27 when Israel started their campaign, as a political maneuver, as an effort to try to pressure Israel, if you want to look at it that way, to make changes vis a vis the border crossing, which was what Hamas was asking for, which was part of the cease-fire arrangement and potentially just an expression of anger, whenever the Israeli military conducted an operation in the West Bank, which is often when rockets are being fired, sort of revenge firings. So even for those who want to argue, what about the Hamas rockets, OK, let’s look at the details of that. There’s not a single Israeli bomb that fell on Gaza both during this war and prior to this war that did not intentionally seek to kill and yet it’s clear that Hamas was firing rockets without that intention. I think that’s where the debate needs to move, if people want to argue that.

In terms of dealing with the larger issues and contextualizing what Hamas, or any of the Palestinian resistance is doing, it needs to be put into this context of—despite the official talk about a peace process—the fact is that there has been a war on the Palestinian people prior to 1947 even, and it continues until this day. And that’s how Palestinians experience life. It should be in that sense, understood the same way that every single day that Apartheid was in effect, there was a war on the black people of South Africa, the colored people of South Africa. Just as prior to whatever other struggle you want to use, where there was a date at which the system of oppression ended legally or officially, there was a war on those people. And so to understand it any other way is to sort of impose your own sort of outside perspective on it and to not really understand what’s going on and I think in terms of the problem with the paradigm of peace, the peace process, is that it masks all this. And of course there have been Palestinians, most notably, obviously, right now the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, led by Mahmoud Abbas.

But quite frankly this was a strategic mistake by Yasser Arafat to engage in a peace process that wasn’t truly about peace that, whereby he essentially sanctioned the end essentially of a liberation movement for the sake of a place at state dinners and whatnot. And this is not to say that Yasser Arafat wasn’t a good leader or also to say that this was his only mistake, there were many mistakes along the way, there were many good things along the way, it’s a complicated picture. But what needs to be understood is that the paradigm of peace that is applied to the Palestinian conflict obscures and intentionally obscures the real questions of justice and oppression which are at the heart of this conflict. And it’s nothing else. It’s not about getting two aggrieved parties to come to terms to play nice with each other. That’s not what this is about. This is clearly about oppression. All you need to do is spend a couple of days, on the ground, in the Palestinian territories, to see that clearly without anybody filtering or explaining that to you, you can see it for yourself.

Revolution: Why don’t you talk a little bit about the work of the International Solidarity Movement and share some of what you were explaining at the Emergency Town Hall meeting about the kind of threats on people who are making the world aware of some of what you were bringing out in the beginning of this interview.

Shapiro: The International Solidarity Movement was started at the beginning of this Intifada as an attempt by those of us, foreigners and Palestinians who were there and who were witnessing the brutality of the Israeli Army turned against civilian, overwhelmingly nonviolent protesters who were taking to the streets, first to really protest the killing of Palestinians which occurred on the first day of the Intifada and then secondly as it developed into a more political movement opposing the ongoing occupation and everything that was happening.

We thought that our approach with ISM was basically well, as long as the conflict remains between Israelis and Palestinians, number one, the Israelis because of their position on the world stage, their access to media, all of these things, that it was an unfair fight obviously and that the Palestinian side was not being told well. Secondly it’s not just an Israeli/Palestinian fight because Israel of course receives tremendous military and political aid from the United States, first and foremost but of course other countries, European countries as well. And so to understand this just as an Israeli/Palestinian fight, that’s not the reality, the reality is that it’s Israel and the international community against the Palestinians. So we thought that if we could at least get foreigners and foreign civilians to come and join Palestinians in their protest, that at least in the very basic equation of the on the ground, face to face confrontation with soldiers, would number one change and ideally what that would do would mitigate against the use of lethal force against Palestinians. That was one goal that we had. And then secondly having foreigners be able to report back and talk to their own countrymen, countrywomen, in their own countries and in their own languages to be able to explain what they’re seeing, not to give political spin, not to represent a political faction, but to report back on what they’re seeing, what they’re living through and try to alter public opinion in countries around the world with that kind of reporting and that kind of eyewitness accounting. And we’ve had tremendous success in terms of numbers of people who have come and spin off projects and films and documentaries, all kinds of things that people have done independently. ISM is a very grassroots and loosely organized group, we’re decentralized to the extreme, sometimes detrimentally so. But that’s just how it has to work and how it has to function.

Now we have had people consistently, since 2000, in the Palestinian territories, including in Gaza although there was a period of time where it was impossible to get people into Gaza. But we did get people into Gaza now. And what we have seen over time is threats made mostly on the internet, but including also in Israel actually, people who are trying to make threats either against ISM volunteers or the key organizers of the International Solidarity Movement, myself included. What we’ve seen recently however, is an acceleration or something of a stepping up of the targeting of the five volunteers of the ISM who are currently in Gaza. About something like a week to ten days ago, there was a website that put up the pictures of these individuals and lots of biographical information, I mean nobody tries to really hide their identity too much, sometimes we don’t want people to know real names or things like that, but for the most part ISM volunteers are very open and public about who they are. We’ve seen their pictures put up on the web with great amounts of information about them, and not just an invitation, almost a pleading with the Israeli army to find and target these people which is, obviously this is a very serious thing to do and truly is just, I mean it’s an outrage in many ways and we’ve sought legal assistance to try to take down these web sites because we believe this is essentially conspiracy to murder, that would be what it is. And luckily we did actually get the main website that was promoting this to be taken down just two days ago. But this is the level at which it is. We have had Israeli soldiers use force and violence against ISM volunteers. The two most notorious cases and well known cases are of course Rachel Corrie who was killed, murdered by an Israeli bulldozer driver who we know identified her clearly to his commanders and was given orders to run her over. And this is in the Israeli military’s own audio recordings of the communication between the bulldozer driver and his commanders. We also know the other case, of course, Tom Hurndall, who was a British citizen, who was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper, that sniper has been issued a jail sentence because of pressure brought by the British government. However we don’t believe that he took the decision on his own and he testified as such, that he was given orders to shoot. And commanders who gave those orders of course are not being prosecuted. There is also Brian Avery, who was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers, an American citizen. We’ve had others, less severely injured and what not. I mean, again, not to make too big a deal—I mean these are big deals. But at the same time, it pales in comparison to what the Palestinians have lived through. And the only reason why Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, Brian Avery have gotten attention is quite frankly is that they’re white and they’re foreign citizens. And what happens to the average Palestinian on any given day doesn’t get the same kind of attention it should because they’re no less innocent and no less deserving of their rights of their life. And Rachel and Tom would have been the first to say that very thing.

Revolution: I think that work is very important. Lastly, let’s talk a little bit about your video project.

Shapiro: I myself am not allowed into the Palestinian territories by Israel any more. I’ve been banned, so far it’s going on, it will be seven years now. So I am, in a way, understand, I have somewhat of an experience—I was kicked out, forced out, and wasn’t allowed to get my possessions from my home or anything like that, so in a very superficial and minor way, I at least have some personal relation to the experience of Palestinian refugees. I have since spent a lot of time with Palestinian refugees all over the world, including in refugee camps throughout the region. And one thing I’ve learned both from my experience internally inside the West Bank and Gaza, and also among Palestinians in what is called Israel, as well as with the Palestinian Diaspora communities, is that the Palestinian—first it needs to be noted that there is nowhere in the world today that Palestinians can study their own history when they’re in school. In Israel, of course their history is denied to them. That’s 1.2 million Palestinians there in the West Bank and Gaza, the text books are still at the high school level, from the Egyptian period, so they are Egyptian-written textbooks in the West Bank, they are Jordanian-written textbooks and while they do touch on aspects of Palestinian histories, of course from the perspectives of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments, both of which have peace treaties with Israel, both of which have interests in suppressing Palestinian identity. In Jordan, obviously, it’s Jordanian government textbooks. In Lebanon, the Palestinian chapter that was part of the Lebanese history textbook has been removed by the Lebanese government from their textbooks. Syria is probably the only country where you can somewhat find a decent amount of Palestinian history—but even in Syria, Palestine is considered southern greater Syria, so there is a certain perspective in the way that that history is also taught, and of course it is within constraints and limits and certainly prone to the whims of relations between, in the past Yasser Arafat and Bashar Assad and more recently with Abbas and the government in Syria. And Egypt of course also doesn’t teach anything about Palestinian history except how it plays into Egypt’s role as the leader of Arab nationalism and so there’s that. And the same is true throughout the rest of the region. And of course in the U.S. and Western Europe and you are Palestinian and you get to college level and you want to study something about your part of the world, it’s always within the context either of conflict and conflict resolution and so you end up studying it from that prism alone or from the perspective of peace, peace-making. And again, it’s not about your own history or identity. And as such, there really is a tremendous lack of understanding of Palestinian history. There is of course a very strong, somewhat amazing, among the Palestinian Diaspora, a strong cultural commonality and identity that people have, whether it’s to the food or to the songs or to the music or to this or that. But in terms of really understanding a political, a sort of social history of the Palestinian people, there is quite a lack of knowledge and experience. And even within academia you won’t find much support for ethnographers to go and do research on Palestinian history and Palestinian study. You’ll find there is a lot of financial support to write something about the peace process, to write something about—there’s recently a book about demographics among Palestinians and the woman who wrote the book ended up finding that she could only get support for her research if she put it in the context of how this is a threat to Israel. The Palestinian wombs are of course the latest threat to the Israeli population.

Revolution: No one is actually telling the story from the perspective of the Palestinian people, so it is being shaped by the rulers of these other powers.

Shapiro: Absolutely, and to some extent in the past, when the PLO was more vibrant and had institutions, particularly in Lebanon there was more of an effort to do that internally. Now of course their ability to disseminate and their ability to publish all that was severely restricted. So there used to be this effort but that of course has really died, both with the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon and just the overall trajectory that the PLO has taken politically. So what I thought I could do as someone who has had access to all these communities and working with two Palestinian colleagues was to literally go all around the world and interview Palestinians, focusing primarily on refugees, but we ended up, I mean the issues we discussed are not just limited to those who are officially refugees, looking at what has been the Palestinian experience over the last 60 years all over the world and then turning to certain issues in terms of internal debates and discussions that we feel need to happen among Palestinians, concerning issues of identity, concerning issues of representation and leadership, looking at the question of return and who’s working for return, and how and why and what kind of mechanisms are needed to organize and all these kinds of things. And we don’t have answers, we don’t propose that there are answers at this point. What we propose is that there needs to be a debate and discussion and more engagement.

Revolution: You say, you don’t propose that there are answers, or you don’t propose the answers?

Shapiro: We don’t propose both the answers or at the moment that there are answers at this point. The answers have to be developed through this kind of discussion. There could be more than one answer or multiple ways of doing it, but I think that still has to be developed.

I think it’s true that the younger generation of Palestinians who are coming of age now, people who are in their late teens and early twenties have surprised their parents’ generation in terms of their interest and attachment to Palestine and have caught their parents’ generation a bit unaware and off guard for both being able to engage in the societies in which they live, whether they’re in the Middle East or in Europe or in the United States, or South America or wherever. The younger generation has become incredibly adept, it's plugged in, it’s more global in vision, so the Palestinian struggle is understood not just as a limited struggle, it’s understood as a human struggle, it’s understood as being in solidarity with other struggles around the world. I think this is a development of this younger generation in a much more sophisticated and grassroots way than maybe the PLO used to represent it in the past as just saying it was in solidarity with all liberation struggles but then that really didn’t translate into much of anything except showing up to a meeting every now and then. So I think we’re seeing that but at the same time there is this thirst for and hunger for being able to participate and because of the political decisions that the Palestinian leadership embodied in the PLO made, to essentially forego the Diaspora for the sake of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, people don’t see that there is any way to participate and Palestinians who are not in the West Bank and Gaza cannot even vote in these elections that they hold for the leadership of the PA [Palestinian Authority]. So at that kind of level and well beyond that level there is desire, strong desire among Palestinians around the world to speak, to participate. And with this film, what we’re hoping to do is to bring focus to these kinds of debates and discussion and then to use it as a tool and a platform to move beyond. In a way, my colleagues and I have a visionary, or revolutionary kind of goal, but at the same time, I think that is driven by what we’ve heard and experienced from talking and living among Palestinians around the world. And maybe for me as an outsider I have that sort of step back, one step removed kind of ability to see a little bigger picture than those who are caught up in it more so than I am. So that is what the film is about and that is what we’re trying to do. So far we’ve screened it in camps in Lebanon.

Revolution: Tell people how to get the video.

Shapiro: The title of the film series is called Chronicles of a Refugee, it’s a six-part documentary series. We are self-distributing the DVD so if you go to the website for purchasing it is: It can also be bought here at Revolution Books [in New York]. And if anybody wants to organize a screening, and we’re interested in screening it, from big movie theaters down to somebody’s home where they just invite their family. There are something like seven million Palestinians, the average family size is something like between seven and nine, that is just the immediate nuclear family. If you could organize your family or extended family to sit together and watch a film, we only need to distribute less than a million copies, so that’s not too bad and not too difficult to imagine. If you go to YouTube and search for Chronicles of a Refugee, we have the preview on YouTube. And we actually have it so far in English, Arabic and Spanish on the preview. And French and other languages are on their way. And the film itself is translated into in English, with English subtitles, but also with Spanish subtitles and we’re getting French, Swedish, German, Portuguese, and Hebrew are all being worked on, subtitles.

Revolution #154, February 1, 2009

The Revolution Interview is a special feature to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music, literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own, and they are not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in Revolution.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Death in the USA: The Army's fatal neglect" by Mark Benjamin

Returning U.S. combat soldiers are committing suicide and murder in alarming numbers. In a special series, Salon uncovers the habitual mistreatment behind the preventable deaths.

Feb. 9, 2009 | FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Preventable suicides. Avoidable drug overdoses. Murders that never should have happened. Four years after Salon exposed medical neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that ultimately grew into a national scandal, serious problems with the Army's healthcare system persist and the situation, at least at some Army posts, continues to deteriorate.

This story is no longer just about lack of medical care. It's far worse than sighting mold and mouse droppings in the barracks. Late last month the Army released data showing the highest suicide rate among soldiers in three decades. At least 128 soldiers committed suicide in 2008. Another 15 deaths are still under investigation as potential suicides. "Why do the numbers keep going up?" Army Secretary Pete Geren said at a Jan. 29 Pentagon news conference. "We can’t tell you." On Feb. 5, the Army announced it suspects 24 soldiers killed themselves last month, more than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

read more here.

Israel and Palestine: Women’s Perspectives panel in Cleveland Hts

Israel and Palestine: Women’s Perspectives
Reports from a diverse panel of women who have traveled to
the Middle East in recent years and months

Sunday, Feb. 15th - 2:00 pm - 4:15 pm
Cleveland Hts. Main Library -
Brody/Nelson Meeting Room
2345 Lee Rd. (South of Cedar Rd.)
Cleveland Hts., Ohio 44118

Sponsored by:
Cleveland Peace Action's
Middle East Peace Committee

Panelists will include:
Sue Wolpert
Lois Romanoff
Ruth Tracy
Amal Wahdan (or a substitute)
Maryann Kerr
Representing or involving such organizations as:
Americans For Peace Now/ Shalom Achav; Brit Tzedek V’Shalom; IPCRI (Israel-Palestinian Center for Research and Information; Holyland Trust; Jerusalem Peace-Makers; MEPeace; Churches for Middle East Peace; The Arab Gazette; Middle East Peace Forum; AFSC (Amer. Friends Service Committee) and Cleveland Committee on Corporations, Law and Democracy; Economic Justice and Empowerment Coalition; Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Group; Tikkun; Interfaith Peacebuilders;
With facilitated Q & A time after presentations
Refreshments will be served

For More info., call: (216) 231-4245 or (216) 321-9201

Monday, February 9, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Six Ways to Make the World a Better Place" by my six-year-old, Adele Metres

Completely uninstigated by parental strongarming, Adele produced something of a mandala this morning, what she called six ways to make the world a better place. Here they are, translations in parens.

1. Praya: (Prayer)
2. Pecs: (Peace)
3. Stop War
4. Cleners: (Clean Up Earth)
5. Dotrobr: (Don't Rob)
6. Dotlevat: (Don't Leave [Anybody] Out)

Friday, February 6, 2009

From Jewish Voice for Peace

Dear Philip,

While waiting in line at the only open bakery he could find, Gaza resident Mohammed Salman said, "I'm going to buy something that my family can keep for only two days because there is no electricity and no refrigerator. We cannot keep anything longer than that."

This was in January - of last year.

Today, many Gazan bakeries are closed because, like Mohammed's family, they don't have power either. Some don't even have flour.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza had already made it impossible for Palestinians to live in dignity and have access to the barest of essentials: bread, clean water, medical supplies and electricity.

This is no coincidence. This is official policy. In a moment of candor, Dov Weissglas, a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying, "the Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but [they] won't die."

His prediction was true. Last April, UNICEF reported that more than 50% of children under five in Gaza are anemic, and that many children are stunted due to a lack of vitamins.

And now?

As Gaza is smoldering from the siege that killed 1,285 people - nearly 70% of them civilians, destroyed at least 4,000 homes, and sent more than 50,000 people to temporary shelters, the Israeli blockade has not been lifted.

A tenuous cease fire is in now place. Humanitarian aid is starting to pour in.

But the civilian infrastructure is crippled. The borders of Gaza remain controlled by Israel. And just as Gazans could not leave during the siege to escape the bombing and shelling, they cannot leave now to get food and fuel.

There is not enough electricity for the bakeries that are left standing to produce bread, or for families that still have homes to refrigerate food.

Palestinians cannot even feed their children with the fish from the nearby sea. Israeli gunboats offshore have been enforcing the blockade with rounds of cannon and bursts of heavy machine-gun fire, to warn keep Gaza fishermen out of the sea.

Unless we end the blockade, long after the world's attention has shifted to some other crisis, some 1.5 million Gazans will still be under-nourished, without proper medical care, fuel and water - and trapped. Israelis too, who live in the south, will be even less safe from the threat of Hamas' Qassam rockets falling on their heads.

Lasting peace and stability in the region is simply an impossible dream while Palestinians in Gaza are denied the right to protect their children, feed their families, and expand their worlds beyond the few feet in front of their homes, or for many, tents.

You already signed the letter to Obama. Thank you. Now please ask your friends to tell Obama: "Lift the blockade."

Check out JVP's website.

Kent Johnson's Homage to the Last Avant-Garde

To purchase Homage to the Last Avant-Garde.

Kent Johnson's Homage to the Last Avant-Garde, a full-length poetry collection that gathers work from previous chapbooks such as the excoriating Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, extends Johnson's ongoing parodic provocation of (and through) poetry. Organized in packets of "submissions" to various journals with experimental reputations, beginning with the experimental Evergreen Review (where Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" first appeared in the 1950s) to The World, the book is a subversive talkback to various generations of the avant-garde, and moves in ways that feel both admiring and admonitory.

It's that ambivalence toward the self-appointed avant-garde--and the ways it seems to fall short of its admirable aims to narrow the gap between art and life, to engage in art as social change, to innovate in ways that make revolution possible--that drives Johnson's project.

I've already reviewed Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz for Pleiades, and demonstrated how Johnson's chapbook provokes in a specifically political way. That review begins:
Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz is, unquestionably, a provocation; after all, the title glosses Adorno’s famous dictum about the impossibility of poetry after the Holocaust, and the front cover reproduces the contours of the infamous Abu Ghraib photograph showing Lynndie England holding a prostrate man by a leash, framed by cupids flying about, arrows loosed. Implicitly, the imagery conflates the Auschwitz and Abu Ghraib, and sets in motion a series of further provocations—not only regarding the seriousness of the Abu Ghraib scandal and the ongoing nastiness of the Iraq War, but about poetry’s role in light of such war crimes.

Of course, Johnson is no stranger to provocation, being the motive force behind one of the great contemporary literary hoaxes—that of the Hiroshima poet, Araki Yasusada, whose poems received wide acclaim and were published in esteemed poetry journals in the mid-1990s until it became clear that Yasusada was likely a fiction. Johnson was widely lambasted, and the poetry world did not entirely face its own complicity in holding ages-old doxa about authenticity and authorship.

This work, a chapbook, is a protest against the Iraq War, but it is also, as the subtitle suggests, a “submission” to the war. It is also a protest against, and submission to, poetry itself, in echoing a second meaning of submission. It is poetry with the bow pointed into its mouth, a crying in as much as a crying out.

Johnson has become, with all his work, from the Yasusada and Greek "translations" to his "own" "original" poems, perhaps our preeminent parodist. When his poetry works--and it does more often than it fails--it acts as a cauterizing burn, painfully staunching our wounds. The few moments where Johnson falters, as far as I can tell, are when he seems to stop believing in his own scary abilities to throw his voice into any poetic medium, grows self-conscious and then winks, thus betraying that longing (fairly universal to us poets) to be admired by one's contemporaries.

Johnson is at his best when he makes us most uncomfortable, when he exposes the rules of the game by playing it so well (cf. Zizek on resistance through precise obedience to the letter of the Law) that he reveals the game's own cynicism.

Dear Kent Johnson, thanks for the discomfort. I've never been good at swallowing bombs.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Karen Greenburg on Gitmo

Come Together: Imagine Peace reading in Chicago

Upcoming COME TOGETHER reading in Chicago

3435 N. Sheffield Avenue
Chicago, IL

Friday Night in Chicago

Bottom Dog Press with "Come Together: Imagine Peace" editor Philip Metres, anthology contributors (Hayan Charara, Alice Cone, Barbara Crooker, Angie Estes, Hedy Habra, David Hassler, Jennifer Karmin, Dave Lucas, Katharyn Machan, Robert Miltner, Lauren Rusk), and local anti-war organizations.

followed by:

Red Rover Series "Experiment #26: A Small Press Showcase" with Action Books, Effing Press, Flood Editions, Futurepoem books, Les Figues Press, Slack Buddha Press, Switchback Books, Ugly Duckling Presse. Readings by: Jessica Bozek, Amina Cain, Marcella Durand, Bill Fuller, Gloria Frym, Kim Hyesoon, Alta Ifland, Nancy Kuhl, Dan Machlin, Don Mee, Mel Nichols, Hoa Nguyen, Kathleen Rooney, Susan Schultz, John Tipton, Ronaldo V. Wilson.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Steven Wright (one of the secret pantheon)

I first saw Steven Wright on Saturday Night Live in the mid-1980s, and I was immediately taken with his bizarre toneless delivery, his dada-esque joketelling, and his shameless anti-philosophizing. He's Woody Allen if Allen did a mountain of quaaludes, a funny language poet, a freshman philosophy major humorously failing to impress.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Jack McGuane's "Bones of a Crow"/from Come Together

Bones of a Crow

Home from the Navy after the war,
out in the woods one day I shot a crow.
He fell straight down
a shapeless heap of blood,
beak, black feathers,
one baleful eye.

In that unexpected instant
another predator died too.
I wished I could take back
the 00 buckshot
that tore him apart.
I couldn’t bring myself
to touch his body.

As I float down now
into the old neighborhood
fifty years later,
I notice at first that I’ve outlived
three sugar maples my father planted
the year I was born.

Someone vinyl-sided our house.
My parents saved for years
to afford asbestos shingles
from Johns Manville,
the latest thing in 1937.
We were the second house
to have them I remember.

A new subdivision crowds out
the sassafras and wild huckleberry
in those woods across the road.
Down by the railroad trestle,
a huge concrete pipe lies
where we used to skinny-dip
in Doxey’s Brook.

Four blocks up DuBois Av.
a Seven-Eleven
displaces Warnken’s Grocery,
where I landed my first job at fourteen
delivering phoned-in orders.
I saved tips for two years
to buy that shotgun.
After the crow died
I would have given back the gun
if he could still be alive.

But, the neighborhood moved on
and so did I, eventually,
and the bones of the crow
are buried now
under one of the new houses.

Still—I sometimes wonder—
lying out there in the woods like that
how long does it take for time
and seasons and the patient rain
to carry off a tortured memory?

Here are a few words on peace:

Jack McGuane


Bones of a Crow

This crow has come to represent, for me, the antithesis of an entire galaxy of violence and un-peace which many of us live with these days. While crows donʼt usually typify peaceful creatures, the sudden death of one crow at my hands somehow created in me a stronger impulse to wage predatory peace in place of predatory violence. It has occurred to me that peace and violence travel parallel pathways in opposite directions, and it is incumbent on those of us on the peace path to do whatever we can to coax those going the wrong way to jump the track and head back. Despite the common conviction that violence remains the status quo, when enough of us become persuasive that peace is achievable, it will become endless. Imagine, endless peace.


Due to my physical condition Iʼve had to drop out of the organizations I was part of. About all I can do these days is continue to write about the peacefulness and non-violence Iʼve long been devoted to. Iʼm also devoted to the idea that drops on the ocean can change the ocean and while this isnʼt a downpour Iʼm still here throwing tears of peace at the water.

Peace and Blessings


On Orientalism by Edward Said

Remi Kanazi's poetry/Performing Palestinian

On Caryl Churchill's "Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza"/An Insta-Play

As a response to the atrocities committed in Gaza Caryl Churchill wrote a short play "Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza." It opens at the Royal Court this week and will be performed for free, with a collection after wards for the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.

After the London run Churchill will publish it online and allow anyone, anywhere to download it. "Anyone can perform it without acquiring the rights, as long as they do a collection for people in Gaza at the end of it." The script will be available to download for free from 11 February from the websites of the Royal Court Theatre.

I am moving to Cairo, Egypt next week, and will work on producing it there. I hope some of you would be encouraged to put this play on stage, or offer readings of it.

More details in the Guardian article Below.

In Peace,
Dalia Basiouny

Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza

6 - 21 February (no perf 9 Feb)

Royal Court acts fast with Gaza crisis play

Work written last week to be performed next month
Tickets will be free and text available to download

By any theatrical standards the latest play by Caryl Churchill has been remarkably speedy, going from pen to performance on a London stage in under a month.

The reason for the speed is Gaza. Churchill was so appalled by events there that she felt compelled to write, and the Royal Court theatre in London felt a duty to quickly produce her play, titled Seven Jewish Children - A Play for Gaza.

Churchill, one of the titans of British theatre, said: "Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme."

The play will be performed for free with a collection afterwards for the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. After the London run Churchill will publish it online and allow anyone, anywhere to download it. "Anyone can perform it without acquiring the rights, as long as they do a collection for people in Gaza at the end of it."

Churchill added: "I wrote it last week; by this week I was arranging it with the Royal Court; it's now being cast; rehearsals are next week; and we perform it on 6 February. It's only a small play, 10 minutes long, but it's a way of looking at what's happened and to raise money for the people who've suffered there."

That tickets are free is important to Churchill. "It came out of feeling strongly about what's happening in Gaza - it's a way of helping the people there. Everyone knows about Gaza, everyone is upset about it, and this play is something they could come to. It's a political event, not just a theatre event."

The Royal Court's artistic director, Dominic Cooke, who will direct, said one of the theatre's strengths was its willingness to react to events - but this was the quickest turnaround he had known. "I hope audiences will be moved by the play," he said. "I hope they'll be provoked, that they'll be made to think about the historical circumstances that have led us to the situation in the Middle East."

Cooke said that Churchill, 70, had tackled a huge subject in "an incredibly distilled and economical way". And he paid tribute to a writer who had her first play performed at the Royal Court in 1972. "Caryl is one of the reasons why I wanted to work at the Royal Court," Cooke said.

Cooke's version will have a cast of nine or 10 actors. "It might be provocative. I'm not sure. My job is to get inside the meaning of the play; and you never really know how it might be received, to be honest."

Cooke said it was an important subject, not just because of the humanitarian crisis but because of the ramifications on other multicultural societies, not least the UK. He said there was a real thirst for meaty theatre. "People really want to be encouraged to think, to be challenged. There was a period five or 10 years ago when the perceived wisdom was that everything had to be apolitical and escapist, and that has definitely changed."

The Royal Court had planned a response to Gaza, said Elyse Dodgson, head of the international department: "We were talking about what we would do, and then our most committed and brilliant playwright came along with a play ... It is not an attack on anyone, it is a cry of grief."

The play will be performed nightly at 9pm between 6 and 21 February after Marius von Mayenburg's The Stone. Tickets will be available from the box office (020 7565 5000) - not online - from Monday.

Mark Brown, Arts Correspondent