A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘Palestine’ Category

Israeli zen.

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 1, 2009

I have a love-hate relationship with the Jerusalem Post. Love the easy access to its archives; hate its stance on many issues. But this afternoon I’m simply impressed with its Naharnet-like ability to put even the most inane statements to good use.

The Post‘s article about the ongoing two-and-a-half-way spitfest between the Lebanese government and/or Hizbullah, and the Israeli government, is interesting for several reasons. First, note how it describes Ziad Baroud:

Israeli spying devices on foreign soil are a clear violation of international resolutions, Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said during a visit to southern Lebanon on Sunday.

Baroud, a rising Maronite politician who was appointed interior minister in
2008 as a representative of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s bloc, expressed his “determination to continue to uncover espionage networks.”

Interesting. I can’t find any mention of Baroud as a Maronite in the New York Times – in fact, the only result I get when I search for “Maronite politician” is a  1993 article that mentions Michel Edde. To me it says a great deal about Israeli political culture (and, perhaps, the lingering presence of the SLA) that the Post can assume that “Maronite politician” is a term that readers will understand.

But what I really love about this article is the closing:

The Lebanese interior minister’s remarks came a day after Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced that Israel was gathering intelligence within Lebanon and would continue to do so until Hizbullah renounced its arms.

“During a conflict with an enemy, one must gather intelligence,” he said, adding that the conflict would end once peace with Lebanon was achieved.

The conflict will end when peace is achieved. Thank you, Mr. Ya’alon, for providing this Zen definition of the day.

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Posted in Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, religion, Uncategorized, words | Leave a Comment »

the $18 million Gazan

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 24, 2009

My aunt is the lucky recipient of a steady stream of “good” scam emails: definite scams, but creative enough to be worth remembering. The ones I receive are usually much less interesting – they tend to be of the ho-hum ‘I am the widow of Eminent Person X and am now dying of cancer in a foreign land’ variety.

But last night I received a real gem: a request for help from a Gazan refugee with $18 million to his name.

Here is the email:

Dear Sir, I am Mr. Hadi Abdoullah originally from Gaza Strip but currently going through asylum process here in Spain . I lost every other thing with my name on during the recent war on Hamas and managed to escape and Due to the situation there at home, those of us in business cannot invest any more.

Please, why I need your assistance is that I have ($18 .000.000 USD) Eighteen million united states Dollars in a security & volts services company here in Spain but cannot put into investment because of my status as an asylum seeker and I am afraid so that I do not loss this funds because its all that is left of my family after I had lost my entire family in the war. I inherited the money from my late father who was an oil and gas dealer.

I intend that you assist me and take possession and also help with any investment Overseas that can sustain the funds and yield interest. Please contact me urgently on my private email address Email: hadiabdoullah@xxxx.com, Email: hadiabdoullah001@xxxx.com So that I can give you further information, Thank You as I wait for your reply.

Let’s go through this treasure, piece by piece.

First, if you are soliciting money and/or other forms of assistance, don’t start by alienating half your audience. I am hardly about to jump up and aid someone who mis-identifies me as a man.

Second, his story makes no sense. He is seeking asylum in Spain – which in most countries is a status that does not permit the seeker to work – yet has $18 million in a “security & volts services company”, whatever that is. I understand that Spain’s bureaucracy may be less than assiduous, but surely the government would have noticed an investment that large. And yet he says that he “cannot put [this money] into investment” because of his asylum application. So: is the money invested in the company, or is it liquid?

Third, think of the economy. I can’t imagine any country that would be less than welcoming to a “refugee” with that much money to his name. Why doesn’t he just come clean and let the Spanish government drool all over him and his economy-boosting funds? Or, why doesn’t he go on the market and see which country will give him the best deal? A man with $18 million to his name should be able to start a green card bidding war these days.

Fourth, and no offense to the Gazans, but: how many Gazan oil and gas titans do you know? I can’t think of any, perhaps because Gaza is a tiny strip of land ghettoized by both Israel and Egypt and – by the way – with neither oil nor gas.

In any case, I wish Mr. Abdoullah luck in his asylum case and his desire to find “help with any investment Overseas that can sustain the funds and yield interest”. He’s going to need a great deal of luck when his two email inboxes overflow with replies from desperate investment bankers :D.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, economics, Israel, Palestine | 1 Comment »

Waltz with Bashir

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 24, 2009

I’ve been meaning to write about Waltz with Bashir for the past two weeks or so, but my good intentions have gone nowhere. Thank goodness for my friend N, who had a piece about its screening at a Beirut non-profit in this past week’s Variety:

Lebanese auds have finally been able to “Waltz With Bashir” despite the fact that Israeli helmer Ari Folman’s Oscar-nommed pic is officially banned in the country.

UMAM, an org that archives Lebanon’s history and war memory through written and audiovisual materials, screened the film at its cultural center, a restored warehouse in a southern suburb of Beirut that is home to Hezbollah’s headquarters.

UMAM’s name is derived from the Arabic word for “nations.”

Banned by the censorship board of Lebanon’s Security Directorate, Ari Folman’s film also passed under the radar of Hezbollah at the semi-private Jan . 17 screening, to which 40 people were invited by the nonprofit org but about 90 attended.

(You can read the rest of the article here.)

I’m not surprised that there was so much interest in the film, but I would love to have heard what viewers said about it afterwards. For me, the biggest shock was partly self-induced: I had been thinking of Waltz as a film about Lebanon. But it isn’t: its a film about Israel, in which Lebanon is merely a foil for national reflection.

Its an interesting film, although “documentary” is not the word I would have chosen for it. Folman plays with the backgrounds of the people he interviews – some are reproduced faithfully, putting them in normal contexts that suggest their professional or domestic worlds, while others are not. The ones whose backgrounds are not reproduced appear to be in prison, or perhaps a hospital – which they are not. In other words, Folman’s choice regarding what to include or exclude from the interviewee’s surroundings frames how the viewer interprets his or her words.

Nor is the history told fully accurate. For example, there is an extended sequence at the Beirut airport, which shows it occupied exclusively by Israelis. As an American, I consider this a historical injustice: when Folman was there, the U.S. Marines were very much a presence at the airport.

In another sequence, repeated several times throughout the movie, Folman “remembers” walking through a group of chadored, mourning women. This makes no sense, historically or geographically: in 1982 women in chadors were not roaming the streets of Ramlet el-Baida. His “memory” reflects his own inability to separate later fears of Iran and Hizbullah from actual history; which is fine, except that as a documentarian he should frame his narrative more carefully – i.e., more accurately.

(FYI: small spoiler alert ahead)

Those of you who have read the reviews and/or seen the movie know that it ends with actual footage of Sabra and Shatila, post-massacre. I don’t find this a terribly compelling cinematic choice: the footage is early 1980s, and as grainy and choppy as war footage of that era seems to have been. Also, it was clearly filmed after the massacre was known, so while the mourning is real, the immediacy of shock has been lost. (I’m leaving aside here my comments on the totally rubbish portrayal of the Israeli role in this, in which the massacre stops because a heroic Israel commander finally drives up to the camp and yells at the Kataeb through a bullhorn.)

The camera follows several women as they walk through the camp, crying at the loss. Palestinian women, speaking – unsurprisingly – in Arabic.

Yet my latest copy of the New Yorker notes that the film is “In Hebrew, German, and English.” When the characters speak in Hebrew, their words are subtitled in English. When they speak German (don’t ask), their words are subtitled in English. When they speak English, obviously, there are no subtitles.

And when the women speak in Arabic?

No subtitles – and no sign from any U.S. media critic that this is an injustice. But it is: the lack of translation reduces these women from mourning women to screaming animals, with meaningless noises.

What they say is actually very interesting: they speak directly to the camera, and ask: Where are the Arabs? Why is it only foreigners here? And they tell the cameraman: Film this; film all of this.

Folman makes several irresponsible decisions as a “documentarian”, but for me this is the worst of all. By choosing not to translate their words, he denies them – the victims of a massacre the Israeli Army helped perpetuate – their voice. And he confirms that this is not a film about Lebanon.

Posted in animals, art, Beirut, film, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, women | 8 Comments »

citizenship scenes from Seattle

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 22, 2009

While on our way to meet H and M for a Saturday lunch downtown last weekend, my parents and I came across a sizable pro-peace, pro-Gazan demonstration in Seattle’s Westlake Plaza:

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The protesters included a broad mixture of people – many young adults, but also children and older folk. Most looked like normal Seattle-ites (sensible, quasi-hiking shoes; water-resistant parkas; warm hats) rather than ‘professional protesters’, which made me happy. Peace and justice should not be causes that only society’s fringe members take up.

A close-up of some of the signs, with the caveat that although this photo makes the protest appear largely male, it was actually quite mixed:

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I didn’t take a photograph of the policemen and women assigned to this protest, but there were approximately ten of them. They were behind me, on the Westlake Mall side of the plaza, relaxed and chatting with one another as they stood near their bicycles. (Yes: Seattle police get around on city-friendly mountain bicycles.)

All in all, it was a mellow, peaceful protest; one clearly welcomed by many passersby and very much in keeping with the city’s pro-justice vibe.

Posted in Americans, Palestine, photography, politics, Seattle | Leave a Comment »

A numbers game

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 8, 2009

I ran across these figures at the very end of one of today’s New York Times stories about Gaza:

Casualty figures in the Gaza war are hard to verify, but officials at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and the Gazan Ministry of Health said 683 Palestinians had died since the conflict began Dec. 27, including 218 children and 90 women. They said 3,085 had been wounded. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza said 130 children age 16 or under had died. The United Nations estimated a few days ago that a quarter of the dead were civilians.

But Palestinian residents and Israeli officials say that Hamas is tending its own wounded in separate medical centers, not in public hospitals, and that it is difficult to know the number of dead Hamas fighters, many of whom were not wearing uniforms.

Israel says it has killed at least 130 Hamas fighters. Ten Israelis have been killed during the offensive, including three civilians. Most of the seven dead Israeli soldiers were killed in so-called friendly fire.

Numbers are so interesting. If there are 683 dead in Gaza, and Israel says that it has killed at least 130 Hamas fighters, that means that 533 of the dead are likely to be civilians. That number almost certainly isn’t accurate, but its a far, far higher percentage of civilians killed than the 20% Israel estimated a few days ago.

And if there are 10 Israeli deaths, and only three of them are civilians, then that means that up to 178 Gazan civilians have died for every Israeli civilian. Why aren’t there 178 photos – or 100, or even 10 – of Gazan funerals for every photograph of an Israeli funeral?

No wonder these numbers were dumped at the end of this article.

Posted in Israel, media, Palestine, research | Leave a Comment »

lemony Levantine treasures

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 9, 2008

H is away this weekend, so I decided to put my solo time to good use and finish up a few loose ends – including the final polishing of my Middle Eastern junk shop treasure.

My aunt had recommended using lemons and salt, which she described as a Palestinian method. But I remember watching Med polish a brass astrolabe (yep, that’s right: an astrolabe. our friendship is a celebration of geek-ness.) with sour naranjes taken from the naranj tree in her backyard. So perhaps it is also a Syrian method – or maybe just the normal historical method for dealing with brass.

The fruits & veggie bakkala I frequent had a a four-for-one-dollar special on lemons yesterday morning, which I took as a good sign. And of course I had plenty of salt.

My new-old (and eco-friendly) cleaning products, ready for use:

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Polishing is hard, hard work – but doing it with lemon and salt smelled a whole lot better than doing it with brass polish.

After about forty minutes, I had eight squeezed-out lemon halves, a living room floor peppered with salt, two rejuvenated hands (lemon juice is supposed to be good for your skin), and one super-shiny brass tray.

The photo I took unfortunately doesn’t do it justice – I was going for “moody” with the flash but instead produced a “my home is a cave” effect. But the tray is beautiful beautiful beautiful – and full of Vitamin C, besides.

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Posted in Americans, Arab world, art, Canadians, Damascus, family, friends, home, Palestine, Syria, women, words | 1 Comment »

Now Lebanon and reality: the Syrian Haganah

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 9, 2008

Sincere, gut-busting thanks to B for pointing this out just now: Now Lebanon’s “press round-up” – which describes today as “Monday, October 9th” includes the following from Nahar‘s local news section:

Informed sources told An-Nahar that the Syrian Haganah is known to have deployed along the border and [border] outposts on the Syrian side.

Very interesting, especially since the Haganah was an underground militia formed to fight the British and the Palestinians to bring about the creation of the state of Israel. Today, people know it by another name: the Israel Defense Forces.

And just as a historical side-note: the Haganah’s motto was: The defense force of the Jewish Yishuv in the land of Israel and of the Zionist movement.

Now Lebanon: forget the fact-checking – just use a bit of common sense.

(For those of you as amused by this as we were, the Arabic term used was “الهجانة”. We’re translating that as “nomadic” or “camel-riding” – and think that the standard English translation, should Now Lebanon be interested, would be “Desert Mounted Forces”.)

Posted in Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, words | 2 Comments »

weekend reading: The Collaborator of Bethlehem

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 12, 2008

Last weekend was an utter reading binge for me, thanks to the long flights between New York and Oklahoma City. I indulged shamelessly in mysteries: two Donna Leons, thanks to my aunt’s recommendations and my own fond memories of a stay in Venice with the Abu Owlfishes fourteen years ago (where does the time go?).

And I also read a book that I had ordered several months ago but never quite managed to open: Matt Rees’ The Collaborator of Bethlehem, a mystery involving a Christian man accused of collaborating with the Israelis and an elderly Muslim school-teacher determined to clear the man, his former pupil.

This was a hard book to read. Not because it is badly written or the plot stumbles – on the contrary, it is well written and the plot is gripping, in a quiet, menacing way. For me, it was hard to read because having been to Bethlehem and seen the shuttered shops around the Church of the Manger, as well as the beautiful big houses built when people there were making money in the 1990s (or thanks to remittance from abroad), I can imagine the economic desperation. And it was also hard because having heard Christian residents mourn their declining numbers as the younger generation gets visas to leave the country, I can imagine the sectarian tensions that Rees describes.

What I didn’t see when I was in Bethlehem was the way the town is governed: by the Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade, according to Rees. And much of the tension that seeps into each successive page comes from the control that its za’im-like leaders exert over the population.

The Israelis are a presence in the book, but it is a muted one. They appear directly only twice: once, when a squad of tanks and helicopters arrives one afternoon to tear up the road in front of the school-teacher’s house, destroying water and sewer pipes that leave his family without water and with the neighborhood’s sewage pouring into their basement; and once when they arrive to search a neighbor’s apartment and bring the apartment building’s residents to the school-teacher’s house to wait out the search.

But in a way, they are a non-issue: their existence sets the parameters of life in Bethlehem, but it is the Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade that looms large over political and economic life.

This is a well-written, gripping book, but it is a hard book to read because the innocent are not spared and the guilty are not punished. I recommend it whole-heartedly, but I also warn you: if you are sentimental, read it with a box of kleenex nearby. And if you have hopes for good governance in Palestine, you may end the book with a heavy heart.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, books, citizenship, espionage, Israel, Palestine, words | Leave a Comment »

Deep Americana: the rebar bride’s wedding

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 8, 2008

I spent the past weekend in Oklahoma City, fulfilling a fantasy I’ve had since childhood (I loved Oklahoma) and celebrating the recent wedding of my friend K, the rebar bride. (For a fuller explanation of the rebar connection, see this post. And remember that most construction in Lebanon is steel-reinforced concrete, so there is a lot of rebar around, sticking up from the tops of unfinished buildings or falling out from bombed-up bridges.) H wasn’t able to come, so I bunked with M, my very dear friend from Damascus days. Rooming with her meant that my Saturday afternoon suggestion of “let’s do face masques” was met with much more enthusiasm than I usually get from H – i.e., more than zero :).

The city was spread-out and sprawling, and our hotel was packed with people thanks to the “wakeboard championship” being held in the city that weekend. (We’re still mystified by this. Doesn’t a wakeboard championship require a body of water large enough for speedboats? There is no river in Oklahoma City, and the canal that runs through the old industrial district of Bricktown, where we stayed, had ducks but no wakeboarders.)

Although we arrived after 11 pm, there was a line for check-in and the hotel bar was so packed that people had spilled out into the lobby with their drinks and nachos. It was loud, crowded, and a bit chaotic – and the front desk had only one beleaguered desk clerk to handle it all.

We finally were able to check in, interrupted only by an irate middle-aged man with several beers under his belt, who threw down the keys to his pickup truck on the counter and told the desk clerk to park it, since the front entrance drive was too crowded for him to be able to pass through. M and I looked at one another, wondering whether perhaps his ability to park well was inhibited by other factors, but it didn’t seem like an argument worth entering.

So we escaped up to the 7th floor, down a long hallway and into our very dark room.

The two double beds seemed to be decorated with rather puffy light-colored pillows, but since the room was so dark, it was difficult to see the pillows clearly. As we walked into the room, however, we suddenly realized that it was not so difficult to hear the pillows: they were both snoring.

We beat a hasty, laughing retreat to the elevators and back downstairs. When the desk clerk asked us politely whether there was something wrong with our room, I said: Yes. There were men in it.

He muttered something about a faulty computer system and found us a new room, happily free of any other occupants. As we settled in, M turned on her laptop and I began leafing idly through the hotel’s “guest services” booklet. We learned that the nearby canal was nearly one mile long, and that the hotel’s in-room dining options were breathtakingly overpriced. And we learned that the spirit of free enterprise is alive and well in Oklahoma City, complete with – no joke – singing dollar bills:

Between running errands with K and J Saturday morning (which included not only a trip to my favorite store, Target, but also a stop at one of the city’s many “Mediterranean” – i.e., Palestinian or Lebanese – delis), face masquing and walking along the canal, we just didn’t find time to visit Enterprise Square before the party started Saturday evening.

But we’re definitely thinking about getting K & J tickets as a gift to welcome them into newlywed life during these tough economic times.

After all, a two-hour stay in a glassed elevator alone should be enough to make them think of us for years to come :D.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, friends, Lebanon, media, Palestine, time, travel, women, words | 3 Comments »

Palestine in vogue

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 24, 2008

In addition to books like Sami and the Time of the Troubles, which I mentioned yesterday, the magic boxes that my parents sent earlier this week also contained six months’ worth of magazines.

I love magazines. Well, not all magazines – I can do without the celebrity-chasing ones. But food magazines, travel magazines, and fashion magazines are all guilty pleasures – as in, I feel a bit guilty reading them rather than more substantive fare, but the pleasures are totally worth it.

The April 2008 Vogue included a feature on local beauty products from around the world, including a mention of olive oil from Palestine:

Woo-hoo Vogue! Its been my favorite fashion magazine since I was 13 and stumbled across old copies in my aunt Sparkle’s living room. I love the elegance of the clothing it showcases and the quality of the writing in its articles.

And I love its “fashion forward” matter-of-fact recognition of Palestine, too.

Posted in Americans, fashion, Israel, maps, Palestine, vanity, women, words | 3 Comments »