Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jericho Brown's "Prayer for the Backhanded"

Poem of the Week: Jericho Brown
Prayer of the Backhanded


Not the palm, not the pear tree
Switch, not the broomstick,
Nor the closet extension
Cord, not his braided belt, but God,
Bless the back of my daddy’s hand
Which, holding nothing tightly
Against me and not wrapped
In leather, eliminated the air
Between itself and my cheek.
Make full this dimpled cheek
Unworthy of its unfisted print
And forgive my forgetting
The love of a hand
Hungry for reflex, a hand that took
No thought of its target
Like hail from a blind sky,
Involuntary, fast, but brutal
In its bruising. Father, I bear the bridge
Of what might have been
A broken nose. I lift to you
What was a busted lip. Bless
The boy who believes
His best beatings lack
Intention, the mark of the beast.
Bring back to life the son
Who glories in the sin
Of immediacy, calling it love.
God, save the man whose arm
Like an angel’s invisible wing
May fly backward in fury
Whether or not his son stands near.
Help me hold in place my blazing jaw
As I think to say, excuse me.


-Jericho Brown
(http://www.facebook.com/l/13b30HICiYh8ME0_unrMWD0C3fQ;www.jerichobrown.com)


From PLEASE (New Issues Press 2008). Used by permission.
(http://www.facebook.com/l/13b30tmOOuU_qpU0PZrk2W2aGEg;www.wmich.edu/newissues/)

Jericho Brown worked as the speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before receiving his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. He also holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans and a BA from Dillard University. The recipient of the Whiting Writers Award, the Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, and two travel fellowships to the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland, Brown teaches creative writing as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of San Diego. His poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, jubilat, New England Review, Oxford American, and several other journals and anthologies. His first book, PLEASE (New Issues), won the 2009 American Book Award.

Brown appeared on the panels Gay and Lesbian Poetry in the 40th Year Since Stonewall: History, Craft, Equality and Black LGBTQ Writing as Agents of Change during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Cleveland Arts Prize Emerging Artist 2010 award speech


The Cleveland Arts Prize ceremony runs a little like the Academy Awards: there's a witty emcee, video shorts and performances, short readings, award introducers, and acceptance speeches. The only thing missing was the outro music rising to quell podium hogs. Luckily, it's Cleveland, and no one behaves that way anyway. Thanks to the Cleveland Arts Prize, especially Marcie Bergman, the judges (especially George Bilgere), and Amy Breau (for taping this!) for a great evening and the support that comes with the recognition.

For those who can't hear:
William Carlos Williams once wrote: "It's difficult to get the news from poetry, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there." Poetry for me has always been as delightfully necessary and sweet as eating. Poetry is soul food. I'd like to thank my parents, who loved us in ways that found us pursuing grand and crazy dreams, like peace in the Middle East and becoming a poet. Thanks also to my wife Amy Breau, Marcie Bergman and the Cleveland Arts Prize, George Bilgere and John Carroll University, and all of who, who complete the work we artists only begin. A Chinese proverb states: "The bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song." Here's a little one [of mine], called "Salaam Epigram":

You trail a comet's tail.
Everything you do quotes you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cleveland Arts Prize winners

A little grateful self-promotion--I've won the Cleveland Arts Prize for Emerging Artist, 2010.

Eyewitness Account on the Mavi Marmara (Gaza Flotilla Attack)

Eyewitness to the Israeli Assault on the Mavi Marmara
Wednesday 16 June 2010

by: Dave Lindorff | ThisCan'tBeHappening.Net


Kevin Neish, a Canadian activist aboard the Mavi Marmara, witnessed the Israeli commando assault on the Flotilla bound for Gaza. (Photo: ThisCan'tBeHappening.Net)

Kevin Neish of Victoria, British Columbia, didn’t know he was a celebrity until he was about to board a flight from Istanbul to Ottawa. “This Arab woman wearing a beautiful outfit suddenly ran up to me crying, ‘It’s you! From Arab TV! You’re famous!’” he recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she told me, ‘I saw you flipping through the Israeli commando’s book! It’s being aired over and over!’”

A soft-spoken teacher and former civilian engineer with the Canadian Department of Defense, Neish realized then that a video taken by an Arab TV cameraman in the midst of the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza of him flipping through a booklet had been transmitted before the Israelis blocked all electronic signals from the flotilla. The booklet had pictures and profiles of all the passengers, and he'd found it in the backpack of an Israeli Defense Force commando.

Neish, 53, was on the second deck of the flotilla’s lead ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, with a good view of the stern, when the IDF, in the early morning darkness of May 31, began its assault with percussion grenades, tear gas and a hail of bullets. He then moved to the fourth deck in an enclosed stairwell, from which he watched and took photographs as casualties were carried down past him to a makeshift medical station. Several IDF commandos, captured by the passengers and crew, were also brought past him.

Kevin Neish, Canadian activist aboard the Mavi Marmara, witnessed the Israeli commando assault

“I saw them carrying this one IDF guy down,” he recalls. “He looked terrified, like he thought he was going to be killed. But when a big Turkish guy, who had seen seriously injured passengers who had been shot by the IDF, charged over and tried to hit the commando, the Turkish aid workers pushed him off and pinned him to the wall. They protected this Israeli soldier.”

That was when he found the backpack which the soldier had dropped. “I figured I’d look inside and see what he was carrying,” Neish says. “And inside was this kind of flip-book. It was full of photos and names in English and Hebrew of who was on all the ships. The booklet also had a detailed diagram of the decks of the Mavi Marmara.”

Meanwhile, he says, more and more people were being carried down the stairs from the mayhem above—people who'd been shot, and people who were dying or people already dead. “I took detailed photos of the dead and wounded with my camera,” he says, adding, “There were several guys who had two neat bullet holes side by side on the side of their head--clearly they were executed.”

Neish smuggled his photos out of Israel to Turkey despite his arrest on the ship and imprisonment in Israel for several days. “I pulled out the memory card, tossed my camera and anything I had on me that had anything to do with electronics, and then kept moving the chip around so it wouldn’t be found,” he says. “The Israelis took all the cameras and computers. They were smashing some and keeping others. I put the chip in my mouth under my tongue, between my butt cheeks, in my sock, everywhere, to keep them from finding it,” he says. He finally handed it to a Turk who was leaving for a flight home on a Turkish airline. He says the card ended up in the hands of an organization called Free Gaza, and he has seen some of his pictures published, so he knows they made it out successfully.

Neish says that claims that the Israeli commandos were just armed with paint guns and 9 mm pistols are “Bullshit--at one point when I was in the stairwell, a commando opened a hatch above, stuck in a machine gun, and started firing. Bullets were bouncing all over the place. If the guy had gotten to look in and see where he was shooting, I’d have been dead, but two Turkish guys in the stairwell, who had short lengths of chain with them that they had taken from the access points to the lifeboats, stood to the side of the hatch and whipped them up at the barrell. I don’t know if they were trying to hit the commando or to use them to snatch away the gun, but the Israeli backed off, and they slammed and locked the hatch.”

“I never saw a single paint gun, or a sign of a fired paint ball!” he says.

He also didn't see any guns in the hands of people who were on the ship. “In the whole time I was there on the ship, I never saw a single weapon in the hands of the crew or the aid workers,” he says. Indeed, Neish, who originally had been on a smaller 70-foot yacht called the Challenger II, had transferred to the Mavi Marmara after a stop in Cyprus, because his boat had been sabatoged by Israeli agents (a claim verified by the Israeli government), making it impossible to steer. “When we came aboard the big boat, I was frisked and my bag was inspected for weapons,” he says. “Being an engineer, I of course had a pocket knife, but they took that and tossed it into the ocean. Nobody was allowed to have any weapons on this voyage. They were very careful about that.”

What he did see during the IDF assault was severe bullet wounds. “In addition to several people I saw who were killed, I saw several dozen wounded people. There was one older guy who was just propped up against the wall with a huge hole in his chest. He died as I was taking his picture.”

Neish says he saw many of the 9 who were known to have been killed, and of the 40 who were wounded, and adds, “There were many more who were wounded, too, but less seriously. In the Israeli prison, I saw people with knife wounds and broken bones. Some were hiding their injuries so they wouldn’t be taken away from the others.” He also says, “Initially there were reports that 16 on the boat had been killed. The medical station said 16. There was a suspicion that some bodies may have been thrown overboard. But what people think now is that the the other seven who are missing, since we’re not hearing from families, may have been Israeli spies.”

Once the Israeli commandos had secured control of the Mavi Marmara, Neish says the ship’s passengers and crew were rounded up, with the men put in one area on deck, and the women put below in another area. The men were told to squat, and had their hands bound with plastic cuffs, which Neish says were pulled so tight that his wrists were cut and his hands swelled up and turned purple (he is still suffering nerve damage from the experience, which his doctor in Canada says he hopes will gradually repair on its own).

“They told us to be quiet,” he says. “But at one point this Turkish imam stood up and started singing a call to prayer. Everybody was dead quiet--even the Israelis. But after about ten seconds, this Israeli officer stomped over through the squatting people, pulled out his pistol and pointed at the guy’s head, yelling ‘Shut up!’ in English. The imam looked at him directly and just kept singing! I thought, Jesus Christ, he’s gonna kill him! Then I thought, well, this is what I’m here for, I guess, so I stood up. The officer wheeled around and pointed his gun at my head. The imam finished his song and sat down, and then I sat down.”

While the commandeered vessels were sailed to the Israeli port of Ashdot, the captives were left without food or water. “All we were given were some chocolate bars that the Israelis pilfered from the ship’s stores,” says Neish. “You had to grovel to get to go to the bathroom, and many people had to just go in their pants.”

Things didn’t get much better once the passengers were transferred to an Israeli prison. He and the other prisoners with him, who hadn’t eaten for more than half a day, were tossed a frozen block of bread and some cucumbers.

On the second day, someone from the Canadian embassy came around, calling out his name. “It turned out he’d been going to every cell looking for me,” says Neish. “My daughter had been frantically telling the Canadian government I was in the flotilla. Even though the Israelis had my name and knew where I was, they weren’t telling the Canadian embassy people. In fact the Canadians--and my daughter--thought I was dead, because people had said I’d been near the initial assault. The good thing is that as they went around calling out for me, they discovered two Arab-born Canadians that they hadn’t known were there.”

“Eventually they got to my cell and I answered them. The embassy official said, ‘You’re Kevin? You’re supposed to be dead.’”

After being held for a few days, there was a rush to move everyone to the Ben Gurion airport for a flight to Turkey. “It turned out that Israeli lawyers had brought our case to the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of our capture on international waters. There was a chance that the court would order the IDF to put us back on our ships and let us go, so the government wanted to get us out of Israel and moot the case. But two guys were hauled off, probably by Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency). So we all said, ‘No. We don’t go unless you bring them back.’”

The two men were returned and were allowed to leave with the rest of the group.

“I honestly never thought the Israelis would board the ship,” says Neish. “I thought we’d get into Gaza. I mean, I went as part of the Free Gaza Movement, and they had made prior attempts, with some getting in, and some getting boarded or rammed, but this time it was a big flotilla. I figured we’d be stopped, and maybe searched. My boat, the Challenger II, only had dignitaries on board including three German MPs, and then Lt. Col. Ann Wright and myself.

At one point in the Israeli prison, all the violence finally got to this man who had witnessed more death and mayhem than many active duty US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. “I broke down and started crying,” he admits. “This big Turkish guy came over and asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Sixteen people died.’”

“He said to me, ‘No, they died for a wonderful cause. They’re happy. You just go out and tell your story.’”

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.

Robert Fisk updates George Orwell's attack on propagandistic language

Fighting talk: The new propaganda

Journalism has become a linguistic battleground – and when reporters use terms such ‘spike in violence’ or ‘surge’ or ‘settler’, they are playing along with a pernicious game, argues Robert Fisk

Following the latest in semantics on the news? Journalism and the Israeli government are in love again. It's Islamic terror, Turkish terror, Hamas terror, Islamic Jihad terror, Hezbollah terror, activist terror, war on terror, Palestinian terror, Muslim terror, Iranian terror, Syrian terror, anti-Semitic terror...


But I am doing the Israelis an injustice. Their lexicon, and that of the White House – most of the time – and our reporters' lexicon, is the same. Yes, let's be fair to the Israelis. Their lexicon goes like this: Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror.

How many times did I just use the word "terror"? Twenty. But it might as well be 60, or 100, or 1,000, or a million. We are in love with the word, seduced by it, fixated by it, attacked by it, assaulted by it, raped by it, committed to it. It is love and sadism and death in one double syllable, the prime time-theme song, the opening of every television symphony, the headline of every page, a punctuation mark in our journalism, a semicolon, a comma, our most powerful full stop. "Terror, terror, terror, terror". Each repetition justifies its predecessor.

Most of all, it's about the terror of power and the power of terror. Power and terror have become interchangeable. We journalists have let this happen. Our language has become not just a debased ally, but a full verbal partner in the language of governments and armies and generals and weapons. Remember the "bunker buster" and the "Scud buster" and the "target-rich environment" in the Gulf War (Part One)? Forget about "weapons of mass destruction". Too obviously silly. But "WMD" in the Gulf War (Part Two) had a power of its own, a secret code – genetic, perhaps, like DNA – for something that would reap terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. "45 Minutes to Terror".

Power and the media are not just about cosy relationships between journalists and political leaders, between editors and presidents. They are not just about the parasitic-osmotic relationship between supposedly honourable reporters and the nexus of power that runs between White House and State Department and Pentagon, between Downing Street and the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, between America and Israel.

In the Western context, power and the media is about words – and the use of words. It is about semantics. It is about the employment of phrases and their origins. And it is about the misuse of history, and about our ignorance of history. More and more today, we journalists have become prisoners of the language of power. Is this because we no longer care about linguistics or semantics? Is this because laptops "correct" our spelling, "trim" our grammar so that our sentences so often turn out to be identical to those of our rulers? Is this why newspaper editorials today often sound like political speeches?

For two decades now, the US and British – and Israeli and Palestinian – leaderships have used the words "peace process" to define the hopeless, inadequate, dishonourable agreement that allowed the US and Israel to dominate whatever slivers of land would be given to an occupied people. I first queried this expression, and its provenance, at the time of Oslo – although how easily we forget that the secret surrenders at Oslo were themselves a conspiracy without any legal basis.

Poor old Oslo, I always think. What did Oslo ever do to deserve this? It was the White House agreement that sealed this preposterous and dubious treaty – in which refugees, borders, Israeli colonies, even timetables – were to be delayed until they could no longer be negotiated.

And how easily we forget the White House lawn – though, yes, we remember the images – upon which it was Clinton who quoted from the Koran, and Arafat who chose to say: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr President." And what did we call this nonsense afterwards? Yes, it was "a moment of history"! Was it? Was it so?

Do you remember what Arafat called it? "The peace of the brave". But I don't remember any of us pointing out that "the peace of the brave" was used by General de Gaulle about the end of the Algerian war. The French lost the war in Algeria. We did not spot this extraordinary irony.

Same again today. We Western journalists – used yet again by our masters – have been reporting our jolly generals in Afghanistan, as saying their war can only be won with a "hearts and minds" campaign. No one asked them the obvious question: Wasn't this the very same phrase used about Vietnamese civilians in the Vietnam War? And didn't we – didn't the West – lose the war in Vietnam? Yet now we Western journalists are using – about Afghanistan – the phrase "hearts and minds" in our reports as if it is a new dictionary definition, rather than a symbol of defeat for the second time in four decades.

Just look at the individual words we have recently co-opted from the US military. When we Westerners find that "our" enemies – al-Qa'ida, for example, or the Taliban – have set off more bombs and staged more attacks than usual, we call it "a spike in violence".

Ah yes, a "spike"! A "spike" is a word first used in this context, according to my files, by a brigadier general in the Baghdad Green Zone in 2004. Yet now we use that phrase, we extemporise on it, we relay it on the air as our phrase, our journalistic invention. We are using, quite literally, an expression created for us by the Pentagon. A spike, of course, goes sharply up then sharply downwards. A "spike in violence" therefore avoids the ominous use of the words "increase in violence" – for an increase, of course, might not go down again afterwards.

Now again, when US generals refer to a sudden increase in their forces for an assault on Fallujah or central Baghdad or Kandahar – a mass movement of soldiers brought into Muslim countries by the tens of thousands – they call this a "surge". And a surge, like a tsunami, or any other natural phenomena, can be devastating in its effects. What these "surges" really are – to use the real words of serious journalism – are reinforcements. And reinforcements are sent to conflicts when armies are losing those wars. But our television and newspaper boys and girls are still talking about "surges" without any attribution at all. The Pentagon wins again.

Meanwhile the "peace process" collapsed. Therefore our leaders – or "key players" as we like to call them – tried to make it work again. The process had to be put "back on track". It was a train, you see. The carriages had come off the line. The Clinton administration first used this phrase, then the Israelis, then the BBC. But there was a problem when the "peace process" had repeatedly been put "back on track" – but still came off the line. So we produced a "road map" – run by a Quartet and led by our old Friend of God, Tony Blair, who – in an obscenity of history – we now refer to as a "peace envoy". But the "road map" isn't working. And now, I notice, the old "peace process" is back in our newspapers and on our television screens. And earlier this month, on CNN, one of those boring old fogies whom the TV boys and girls call "experts" told us again that the "peace process" was being put "back on track" because of the opening of "indirect talks" between Israelis and Palestinians. This isn't just about clich├ęs – this is preposterous journalism. There is no battle between the media and power; through language, we, the media, have become them.

Here's another piece of media cowardice that makes my 63-year-old teeth grind together after 34 years of eating humus and tahina in the Middle East. We are told, in many analysis features, that what we have to deal with in the Middle East are "competing narratives". How very cosy. There's no justice, no injustice, just a couple of people who tell different history stories. "Competing narratives" now regularly pop up in the British press.

The phrase, from the false language of anthropology, deletes the possibility that one group of people – in the Middle East, for example – is occupied, while another is doing the occupying. Again, no justice, no injustice, no oppression or oppressing, just some friendly "competing narratives", a football match, if you like, a level playing field because the two sides are – are they not? – "in competition". And two sides have to be given equal time in every story.

So an "occupation" becomes a "dispute". Thus a "wall" becomes a "fence" or "security barrier". Thus Israeli acts of colonisation of Arab land, contrary to all international law, become "settlements" or "outposts" or "Jewish neighbourhoods". It was Colin Powell, in his starring, powerless appearance as Secretary of State to George W Bush, who told US diplomats to refer to occupied Palestinian land as "disputed land" – and that was good enough for most of the US media. There are no "competing narratives", of course, between the US military and the Taliban. When there are, you'll know the West has lost.

But I'll give you an example of how "competing narratives" come undone. In April, I gave a lecture in Toronto to mark the 95th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the deliberate mass murder of 1.5 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Turkish army and militia. Before my talk, I was interviewed on Canadian Television, CTV, which also owns Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper. And from the start, I could see that the interviewer had a problem. Canada has a large Armenian community. But Toronto also has a large Turkish community. And the Turks, as the Globe and Mail always tell us, "hotly dispute" that this was a genocide.

So the interviewer called the genocide "deadly massacres". Of course, I spotted her specific problem straight away. She couldn't call the massacres a "genocide", because the Turkish community would be outraged. But she sensed that "massacres" on its own – especially with the gruesome studio background photographs of dead Armenians – was not quite up to defining a million and a half murdered human beings. Hence the "deadly massacres". How odd! If there are "deadly" massacres, are there some massacres which are not "deadly", from which the victims walk away alive? It was a ludicrous tautology.

Yet the use of the language of power – of its beacon words and its beacon phrases – goes on among us still. How many times have I heard Western reporters talking about "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan? They are referring, of course, to the various Arab groups supposedly helping the Taliban. We heard the same story from Iraq. Saudis, Jordanians, Palestinian, Chechen fighters, of course. The generals called them "foreign fighters". Immediately, we Western reporters did the same. Calling them "foreign fighters" meant they were an invading force. But not once – ever – have I heard a mainstream Western television station refer to the fact that there are at least 150,000 "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan, and that all of them happen to be wearing American, British and other NATO uniforms. It is "we" who are the real "foreign fighters".

Similarly, the pernicious phrase "Af-Pak" – as racist as it is politically dishonest – is now used by reporters, although it was originally a creation of the US State Department on the day Richard Holbrooke was appointed special US representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the phrase avoids the use of the word "India" – whose influence in Afghanistan and whose presence in Afghanistan, is a vital part of the story. Furthermore, "Af-Pak" – by deleting India – effectively deleted the whole Kashmir crisis from the conflict in south-east Asia. It thus deprived Pakistan of any say in US local policy on Kashmir – after all, Holbrooke was made the "Af-Pak" envoy, specifically forbidden from discussing Kashmir. Thus the phrase "Af-Pak", which completely avoids the tragedy of Kashmir – too many "competing narratives", perhaps? – means that when we journalists use the same phrase, "Af-Pak", which was surely created for us journalists, we are doing the State Department's work.

Now let's look at history. Our leaders love history. Most of all, they love the Second World War. In 2003, George W Bush thought he was Churchill. True, Bush had spent the Vietnam War protecting the skies of Texas from the Vietcong. But now, in 2003, he was standing up to the "appeasers" who did not want a war with Saddam who was, of course, "the Hitler of the Tigris". The appeasers were the British who didn't want to fight Nazi Germany in 1938. Blair, of course, also tried on Churchill's waistcoat and jacket for size. No "appeaser" he. America was Britain's oldest ally, he proclaimed – and both Bush and Blair reminded journalists that the US had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Britain in her hour of need in 1940.

But none of this was true. Britain's oldest ally was not the United States. It was Portugal, a neutral fascist state during the Second World War, which flew its national flags at half-mast when Hitler died (even the Irish didn't do that).

Nor did America fight alongside Britain in her hour of need in 1940, when Hitler threatened invasion and the Luftwaffe blitzed London. No, in 1940 America was enjoying a very profitable period of neutrality, and did not join Britain in the war until Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Similarly, back in 1956, Eden called Nasser the "Mussolini of the Nile". A bad mistake. Nasser was loved by the Arabs, not hated as Mussolini was by the majority of Africans, especially the Arab Libyans. The Mussolini parallel was not challenged or questioned by the British press. And we all know what happened at Suez in 1956. When it comes to history, we journalists let the presidents and prime ministers take us for a ride.

Yet the most dangerous side of our new semantic war, our use of the words of power – though it is not a war, since we have largely surrendered – is that it isolates us from our viewers and readers. They are not stupid. They understand words in many cases – I fear – better than we do. History, too. They know that we are drawing our vocabulary from the language of generals and presidents, from the so-called elites, from the arrogance of the Brookings Institute experts, or those of those of the Rand Corporation. Thus we have become part of this language.

Over the past two weeks, as foreigners – humanitarians or "activist terrorists" – tried to take food and medicines by sea to the hungry Palestinians of Gaza, we journalists should have been reminding our viewers and listeners of a long-ago day when America and Britain went to the aid of a surrounded people, bringing food and fuel – our own servicemen dying as they did so – to help a starving population. That population had been surrounded by a fence erected by a brutal army which wished to starve the people into submission. The army was Russian. The city was Berlin. The wall was to come later. The people had been our enemies only three years earlier. Yet we flew the Berlin airlift to save them. Now look at Gaza today: which Western journalist – since we love historical parallels – has even mentioned 1948 Berlin in the context of Gaza?

Instead, what did we get? "Activists" who turned into "armed activists" the moment they opposed the Israeli army's boarding parties. How dare these men upset the lexicon? Their punishment was obvious. They became "terrorists". And the Israeli raids – in which "activists" were killed (another proof of their "terrorism") – then became "deadly" raids. In this case, "deadly" was more excusable than it had been on CTV – nine dead men of Turkish origin being slightly fewer than a million and a half murdered Armenians in 1915. But it was interesting that the Israelis – who for their own political reasons had hitherto shamefully gone along with the Turkish denial – now suddenly wanted to inform the world of the 1915 Armenian genocide. This provoked an understandable frisson among many of our colleagues. Journalists who have regularly ducked all mention of the 20th century's first Holocaust – unless they could also refer to the way in which the Turks "hotly dispute" the genocide label (ergo the Toronto Globe and Mail) – could suddenly refer to it. Israel's new-found historical interest made the subject legitimate, though almost all reports managed to avoid any explanation of what actually happened in 1915.

And what did the Israeli seaborne raid become? It became a "botched" raid. Botched is a lovely word. It began as a German-origin Middle English word, "bocchen", which meant to "repair badly". And we more or less kept to that definition until our journalistic lexicon advisors changed its meaning. Schoolchildren "botch" an exam. We could "botch" a piece of sewing, an attempt to repair a piece of material. We could even botch an attempt to persuade our boss to give us a raise. But now we "botch" a military operation. It wasn't a disaster. It wasn't a catastrophe. It just killed some Turks.

So, given the bad publicity, the Israelis just "botched" the raid. Weirdly, the last time reporters and governments utilised this particular word followed Israel's attempt to kill the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, in the streets of Amman. In this case, Israel's professional assassins were caught after trying to poison Meshaal, and King Hussain forced the then Israeli prime minister (a certain B Netanyahu) to provide the antidote (and to let a lot of Hamas "terrorists" out of jail). Meshaal's life was saved.

But for Israel and its obedient Western journalists this became a "botched attempt" on Meshaal's life. Not because he wasn't meant to die, but because Israel failed to kill him. You can thus "botch" an operation by killing Turks – or you can "botch" an operation by not killing a Palestinian.

How do we break with the language of power? It is certainly killing us. That, I suspect, is one reason why readers have turned away from the "mainstream" press to the internet. Not because the net is free, but because readers know they have been lied to and conned; they know that what they watch and what they read in newspapers is an extension of what they hear from the Pentagon or the Israeli government, that our words have become synonymous with the language of a government-approved, careful middle ground, which obscures the truth as surely as it makes us political – and military – allies of all major Western governments.

Many of my colleagues on various Western newspapers would ultimately risk their jobs if they were constantly to challenge the false reality of news journalism, the nexus of media-government power. How many news organisations thought to run footage, at the time of the Gaza disaster, of the airlift to break the blockade of Berlin? Did the BBC?

The hell they did! We prefer "competing narratives". Politicians didn't want – I told the Doha meeting on 11 May – the Gaza voyage to reach its destination, "be its end successful, farcical or tragic". We believe in the "peace process", the "road map". Keep the "fence" around the Palestinians. Let the "key players" sort it out. And remember what this is all about: "Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror."

Kazim Ali, on "The Poetics of Islam"

From Kazim Ali's beautiful essay, first appearing in XCP, Cross Cultural Poetics, called "The Poetics of Islam":

My father told me once about the story of “one hundred and four” books revealed by God to prophets through the ages to all the various peoples of the world. Four of these books are mentioned by name in the Qura’an, but a Muslim would believe there a hundred others out there whose names we do not know—that perhaps the Bhagavad-Gita is one, or the Lotus Sutra, who can say.

The hundred books or course call to mind the “hundred names of God,” of which ninety-nine are named in tradition, the last one being secret. Always this dark place, the place of unknown, the place you cannot go. A place where you are not sure what is what.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wikileaks in the News

I've posted Wikileaked materials before, particularly about the "collateral murder" story, but below is a story which is blowing up right now; NPR had coverage this morning about it, so stay tuned.

WikiLeaks may be under attack.

You were generous enough to write to us, but we have not had the labor resources to respond.

Your support is important to us. Please read all of this email to understand what is going on. We apologize for not getting back to you before. It is not through any lack of interest on our part, but an enforced lack of resources.

One of our alleged sources, a young US intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, has been detained and shipped to a US military prison in Kuwait, where he is being held without trail. Mr. Manning is alleged to have acted according to his conscious and leaked to us the Collateral Murder video and the video of a massacre that took place in Afghanistan last year at Garani.

The Garani massacre, which we are still working on, killed over 100 people, mostly children.

Mr. Manning allegedly also sent us 260,000 classified US Department cables, reporting on the actions of US Embassy's engaging in abusive actions all over the world. We have denied the allegation, but the US government is acting as if the allegation is true and we do have a lot of other material that exposes human rights abuses by the United States government.

Mr. Manning was allegedly exposed after talking to an unrelated "journalist" who then worked with the US government to detain him.

Some background on the Manning case:

http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2010/06/11/transcript-daniel-ellsberg-says-he-fears-us-might-assasinate-wikileaks-founder/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradley_Manning
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/06/leak/
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/06/wikileaks-chat/
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/06/state-department-anxious/
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2010/06/143011.htm

[ note that there are some questions about the Wired reportage, see: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/06/13/video-wikileaks-foun.html#comment-809677 ]

WikiLeaks a small organization going through enormous growth and operating in an adverserial, high-security environment which can make communication time consuming and the acquisition of new staff and volunteers, also difficult since they require high levels of trust.

To try and deal with our growth and the current difficult situation, we want to get you to work together with our other supporters to set up a "Friends of WikiLeaks" group in your area. We have multiple supporters in most countries and would like to see them be a strong and independent force.

Please write to friends@sunshinepress.org if you are interested in helping with Friends of WikiLeaks in your area. You will receive further instructions.

We also have significant unexpected legal costs (for example flying a legal team to Kuwait, video production. Collateral Murder production costs were $50,000 all up).

Any financial contributions will be of IMMEDIATE assistance.

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Special:Support

Please donate and tell the world that you have done so. Encourage all your friends to follow the example you set, after all, courage is contagious.

Julian Assange
Editor in Chief
WIKILEAKS

Friday, June 11, 2010

Israelcentrism: The View from Ohio

"Do Not Reply" (Sherrod Brown) sent this to me, explaining the Israel-centric policy that he supports, which makes no mention of the critical issues at stake for Palestinians--not only the humanitarian crisis of Gaza, but the ongoing occupation. We will not have any peace process without a greater even-handedness in our (the U.S.) approach.

From: "Sherrod Brown"
Subject: Reply from Senator Sherrod Brown
To: pmetres@jcu.edu


Dear Dr. Metres:

Thank you for contacting me regarding US policy in the Middle East, and specifically about the flotilla intercepted by Israeli forces.

Israel must have the right and ability to defend itself, yet we all mourn the loss of life in this tragic incident. The vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis share the desire to have a prosperous and safe world for their children. We must continue to work with those who seek peace so one day there will be neither rocket attacks on Israel nor any need for a blockade of Gaza.

The President, Secretary Clinton, and Special Envoy Mitchell have brought renewed energy and focus to the peace process. They must have the opportunity to carry out their policy.

Thank you again for being in touch with me.

Sincerely,

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some Context on the Gaza Situation: "Lara Tries to Go Home" by Anna Baltzer

A lot of people have been asking for more context about the Gaza situation in light of the Flotilla massacre. There is no way to provide in a simple blog post the proper historical background, but here's a useful piece to demonstrate the absurdity of blockade of Gaza.

Lara Tries To Go Home
by Anna Baltzer

Our delegation arrived safely in Palestine a couple weeks ago. We exited our plane at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, built on part of a Palestinian town of Lyd, most of whose inhabitants either fled in 1948 during the Nakba and remain in refugee camps in Amman, Jordan or Ramallah, West Bank living under deplorable conditions, or they live as second-, third-, or fourth-class citizens in what remains of town, now part of Israel. The removal of 17,948 of Lyd's population of 19,000 in 1948 was led by former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, hailed as a peacenik by those unfamiliar with his history of brutality that continued through the First Intifada (during which Rabin implemented a policy of breaking the arms and legs of any Palestinian who threw a stone at an Israeli tank, jeep, etc.) and beyond. Rabin wrote the following in his own diary shortly after 1948 attacks driving out almost 95% of Lyd's non-Jewish population:

"After attacking Lydda [Lyd] Ben-Gurion would repeat the question: What is to be done with the population?, waving his hand in a gesture which said: Drive them out!. 'Driving out' is a term with a harsh ring, .... Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook." (Soldier Of Peace, p. 140-141 & Benny Morris, p. 207)

His guilt and psychological struggle didn't prevent him from giving orders to do the same to neighboring villages ('Imwas, Yalu, and Bayt Nuba) 19 years later.

The struggle of remaining inhabitants of Lyd (now citizens of Israel) for recognition as equal human beings and their isolation from their fellow Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Diaspora is documented beautifully in one of my favorite documentaries about Palestine: Slingshot Hip Hop, documenting the rising Palestinian hip-hop movement as resistance to oppression through the spoken word.

Anyway, arriving at Israel's airport, named after Ben-Gurion himself, our delegates waited anxiously in line for passport control, hoping we would not targeted given our desire to meet with Palestinians. Israel recently denied entry to Noam Chomsky, who was on his way to give a talk at a Palestinian university, to name but one example. Those eventually interrogated from our group were no surprise—two Palestinian delegates, simply trying to visit their homeland.

They each told us their stories that night, but I'll focus on the story of just one: Lara.

Lara stood in line next to a large group of young Jewish Americans talking excitedly about coming on vacation to Israel. They were breezed through with a smiling, "Welcome to Israel." When Lara reached passport control, they didn't bother asking her any questions. Her name was enough. Security escorted her to another room where she was held for over an hour. First, they asked for her phone number in the United States. She gave it to them… What will they do with it? They asked where her parents were born. "Gaza," she answered. That was all the questioner needed to know. "You will have to visit the Ministry of Interior," he said, and took her into a third room.

"What is your father's name?" Lara answered. "I know," he replied.

"What is your mother's name?" Lara answered. "I know," he replied again.

"What is your father's mother's name?" "What is your mother's father's name?" "What is your mother's mother's name?" She answered each question and with each he replied, "I know."

When the interrogator asked, "What is your father's father's name?" Lara replied that she actually didn't know because he died long before she was born. But he knew, and before her eyes he sketched out the family tree of her own family, most of them uprooted from their homes by the Israeli Army. He said "Your grandfather's name is Sayyid. And your father's name is not only Ahmad. It is Ahmad Mahmoud Sayyid Elborno."

Lara asked, "If you know the answers to all these questions, why are you asking me?" but he didn't respond. He continued:

"What date did your grandparents get married?"

"I don't know. Do you know what date your grandparents got married?" she challenged him.

"Your grandparents were married on September 3, 1958."

Then he began to show Lara photographs from Palestinian ID cards, asking if she was related to them. She didn't recognize any of them, until the last one: a older man in a grey suit.

"That's my grandfather," she said, looking into his elderly face blown up on this interrogator's screen. She was surprised because it was a recent photograph of him, even though he has not been to Palestine in many years. Why and how did they get a photograph of him, carrying on a new life far away after being pushed out?

Finally, he moved on to Lara's sister, explaining that she had been here last year. "Why?" he asked.

"Tourism," Lara replied.

"But you're from Gaza."

"So Gazans cannot be tourists?"

Lara finished her story to us: "I must have forgotten that being from Gaza is a crime. After an hour and a half, my passport was stamped and I was told to enjoy my stay in Israel."

We thought as a group about Lara's question as to why she was asked so many questions that Israel already knew the answer to… Was it to stall time to keep her longer? Was it to catch her if she lied? Was it to gather more intelligence about her family? Or was it to show who had the power in her own homeland.

Shortly after our arrival, our group visited Erez checkpoint, the northern crossing into Gaza. Of course, we couldn't enter Gaza, which remains under siege with full Israeli control over the shoreline, airspace, borders (except Rafah, which Egypt itself closed in part due to pressure from Israel and the US), and the land itself with buffer zones and invasions. Fishermen cannot fish to feed their families. If a Palestinian student in Gaza gets a scholarship to study in the United States… Too bad. They mostly likely can't get out. Gaza used to export millions of flowers… no more (once, people in Gaza carried thousands and thousands of carnations to Rafah checkpoint and dropped them there as an act of creative protest). Adequate fuel can't get in. Adequate medicine and medical supplies can't get in. Adequate food and water can't get in. People can't get in. People can't get out. Gaza is an open air prison.

On the way to Erez checkpoint, Lara shared with the group some of the items that Israel prohibits or often blocks from Gaza:

Cilantro, jam, chocolate, French fries, dried fruit, notebooks, toys, coriander, light bulbs, candles, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee, nuts, shampoo, conditioner, books, musical instruments, and crayons.

[Sources: "Why Won't Israel allow Gaza to import coriander?" (Haaretz Israeli Newspaper) and "Guide: Gaza Under Blockade" (BBC). List of commercial goods allowed only at certain points here.]

Lara has family and land in Gaza that she has never seen, but along with musical instruments and coriander, she's not allowed in. But Lara went to the window to try to go home anyway. She showed the seemingly bored young female solder her passport and said that she wanted to enter to go her family, whom she's never met.

"I'm sorry," the soldier replied, and slid her passport back. "You need a coordination."

"What's a coordination?" Lara asked.

"You need to call to get permission to go to Gaza."

"Permission from Gaza?"

"No, permission from Israel."

"Why do I need permission from Israel to go to my own land?"

The soldier didn't seem to understand the question.

We hope that the flotilla and upcoming new boats will continue to raise awareness of the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But the people in Gaza don't need sympathy. They need freedom, and they need justice. They don't need food; they need the ability to cultivate, catch, export, and import their own food. They don't need our money; they need the ability to thrive and to grow their own economy. They don't need our "help." They need our support, which is exactly what the flotilla was and is all about.

My friend Lara doesn't need permission to visit her land. It is her right—period. The fact that Israel consistently denies the rights of Lara and millions of other Palestinians to access their land in Gaza, the West Bank, or anywhere in historic Palestine does not make their rights questionable or debatable. They are non-negotiable, like any human right. It's as simple as that.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Khaled Mattawa's "Ecclesiastes"

Ecclesiastes
by Khaled Mattawa


The trick is that you're willing to help them.
The rule is to sound like you're doing them a favor.

The rule is to create a commission system.
The trick is to get their number.

The trick is to make it personal:
No one in the world suffers like you.

The trick is that you're providing a service.
The rule is to keep the conversation going.

The rule is their parents were foolish,
their children are greedy or insane.

The rule is to make them feel they've come too late.
The trick is that you're willing to make exceptions.

The rule is to assume their parents abused them.
The trick is to sound like the one teacher they loved.

And when they say "too much,"
give them a plan.

And when they say "anger" or "rage" or "love,"
say "give me an example."

The rule is everyone is a gypsy now.
Everyone is searching for his tribe.

The rule is you don't care if they ever find it.
The trick is that they feel they can.