Category Archives: occupation

yad vashem

I never liked being tickled as a child. Someone was eliciting a response from me that was not 100% genuine and was completely beyond my control. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized this happened all the time. When you walk out of a movie crying, you’re feeling something completely manufactured and often cheap. I didn’t like horror movies because it seemed so manipulative. I enjoy film and music that makes me feel something, but I prefer to have control over my emotion. A song might make me feel happy and think of a loved one, or a film might fill me with a kind of dread that I can reflect on in my own life. I hated Passion of the Christ because it took a story so integral to the Western experience – the story of Jesus of Nazareth being crucified – and turned it into a cheap kind of horror film. Without exploring the messages behind Jesus’s life or feeling the impact of the sacrifice (according to Christianity) we were simply disgusted and horrified by CGI chunks of flesh flying off the Roman’s cat-o-nine tails and the seemingly endless rivers of blood pouring down the face of Jesus. It’s like pornography, I thought. I’m just supposed to be feeling something… not for any reason, not to change my mind about something, but just to feel something. I felt like using Jesus as the vehicle for this kind of elicitation was cheap. After all, the Christian story of Jesus is so deep, so laden in mystery and humanity, that to boil it down to weeping audience members, vomiting children… it all seemed so besides the point.

Likewise, when I visited Yad Vashem yesterday I felt that since the presentation of the Holocaust was so manipulated, I should be as critical as possible to do honor to the subject. Nevermind the fact I was aware of the political situation outside of the walls and had just come from a checkpoint with automatic weapons, barbed wire, and endless swaths of concrete. Nothing can compare to the horrifying nature of the Holocaust, as man’s technology finally advanced to the point where we could make killing factories and machines, an entire mechanized industry out of eradicating human life mirroring some sort of industrialized assembly line. Yet what am I supposed to feel when I am walking through Yad Vashem?

The building itself is remarkable – poured concrete and little light – and the exhibits are created so one is forced to step back and look up. Your first introduction to the story is antisemitism. Christianity is blamed for its spiritual creation – complete with quotes from St. Augustine – and its biological and racial roots are traced to the 19th century. We are then told in brief and in passing that Nazi antisemitism was somewhat of an economic thing, that the Europeans were jealous of the Jewish people’s accumulated wealth in a time of poverty. This is the end of explanation and by the time you exit the first room of the museum there is no more explanation necessary and you are instead launched into an orgy of emotion.

When we look at locks of a little girl’s hair, of toothbrushes, family heirlooms, tefillin, and shoes in the floor, what is it we are supposed to feel? Miniature pewter models of death camps Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek… plaster models of the gas chambers at Auschwitz complete with writhing bodies suffocating in agony. Here: stand next to a bunk or walk on cobblestones from the Warsaw ghetto. How does this make you feel? Is it not enough? Perhaps photographs of naked women huddled before a pit of bodies, a wide eyed man sitting on the edge of a pit with a gun to his head. The video display of an old woman describing in broken Hebrew her experience clawing through dead bodies after the bullet missed her. The culmination is a red-cheeked fat American woman sitting down and shouting to her companions that she is going to be sick.

So you’ve elicited the response, now what? Besides the lack of the word “Palestine” anywhere in the Museum, the only outwardly Zionist gesture comes at the end, when you are standing before the placid hills of West Jerusalem, the sun setting behind them in a wonderful way. Perhaps the motive is in the glorification of Jewish resistance fighters near the end, the rehabilitation of the “sheep to the slaughter” image you might have cultivated until this point. Who knows what it is? I walked through taking notes as photography was not allowed, but even I had to put away my notebook eventually as the bile rose in my throat and my cheeks burned pink.

Yet I felt silly. After all, little of this had anything to do with me. That American woman feeling faint and needing to sit down – chances are it had little to nothing to do with her either. Guides took through their American charges, whispering in low tones, “You know, I heard this one story about a man in America who realized he was living next to a Nazi.. did you know Europe and America took in Nazis?”

No one can deny the scale. No one can deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Yet the stated cause behind it – the racial motivations of the Nazi party as opposed to capital, war, etc… the thinking part is shelved and the emotional part is coaxed out instead. If the goal is to “never forget” – well, who would be in Israel and forget the Holocaust? If it is a memorial to the victims and their humanity, why the photographs of naked children in medical experiments? So then why Yad Vashem, why in Jerusalem, why such a presentation and display? It was a strange museum to human evil and yet offered little in the way of solutions or even reconciliation. The only real emotions to be felt there were anger and burning shame.

The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as a spectacle, as diversion from the real movements of the War. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught History as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death’s a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try ‘n’ grab a piece of that Pie while they’re still here to gobble it up. The true war is a celebration of markets.

– Thomas Pynchon

between worlds

Where else on earth do you travel so far as along the road from Ramallah to Jerusalem? Finish up with the wall, the checkpoint, the watch towers, the barbed wire, the guns, the soldiers, the questions, the passports, the turnstiles, the crackling loudspeakers. Ride a little ways, take a little walk, and suddenly be transported to another world completely. Surround yourself with well-dressed people sipping coffee and listening to Billie Holiday. Go wandering boutiques and sanitized markets, eying sales and new arrivals.

Realize for a moment, after you imagine the impact of an explosion on this place you stand, that you are the connection between these two places. You are a wormhole through which both experiences exist nearly simultaneously. In other times your apparition would be an expression of rage or  violence, but at this moment it is a swallow and a dizziness, a sense of disconnection and an emotional dead-end. You are that which exists between two worlds, both here and when you go home.

Perhaps it is easy to imagine the severity of the shift when you walk it yourself, down back alleyways of Jerusalem past Arabs who turn into Jews who turn into hip young twenty-somethings on vacation from America. Yet it is the same all over. Take the walk from the North Side to the South Side, step over train tracks or MLK Boulevard and it can be the same thing anywhere else in the world. Sure, differences are even more cartoonishly apparent here, what with the change of printed language and lack of barbed wire, but the occasional soldier walking past you on Jaffa Road, notably more at ease with an ice cream cone in their hand and gun bouncing their hip as they walk, will remind you of it all. Are you more at ease here? If you forgot the change, would you relax and have fun too?

This little ride, this little walk, illustrates perfectly the relationship of violence in our modern times. One exists because of the other, and one would not exist without the other. Without the checkpoints, there would be no bare-armed girl flirting with the barista at the cafe. Without the soldier playing video games at the arcade, there would be no empty-eyed disconnect at the checkpoint. Without the Deleuze and Guattari at the second-hand bookshop, there might not be modern justification for all of it.

Start to wonder which way things flow over this bridge you represent. Are you observing or carrying? When you left America you swore to try and be like the signs in the national parks. Leave things as you found them. So then, do you start to doubt the cut of your coat in the windows of the boutiques on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem or do you start to hate your uncovered hair in the eyes of the young men on at-Tiere Road in Ramallah? Have you tried your best to move among these worlds, not changing anything?

After all, it is not your place to do anything but go between them.

where the cynicism is born

In the past week, the Palestinian Authority has violently suppressed two separate rallies in support of the Egyptian people and their rights to revolt against an unjust government (not reported in Ma’an news). At the same time, the Palestinian Authority set up a fake protest in support of the Mubarak regime (also not reported). Today, we see the Palestinian Authority calling for the people of Gaza to emulate their brothers in Egypt (!) and rally to overthrow Hamas.

1. This page is not affiliated to any party or religion but it is working for Palestinians
2. Friday 11 February will be the day the Palestinian people say no to division and yes to national unity, they will stand in the face of the challenges facing the Palestinian cause
3. We call on Hamas to stop its coup and go back seriously and immediately to reconciliation to unite again with our people
4. Overthrow the unjust government in Gaza by coordination with the rest of the national parties in the Palestinian arena
5. Initiate an intifada against the current situation in Gaza. A peaceful intifada to say yes to unity and enough to the emirate of darkness.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority is currently amending their election law to dis-include the Gaza Strip from elections supposedly to be held in May – over a year since they were previously scheduled to be held.

Palestine is the canary in the mineshaft. I have serious doubts about Egypt’s prospects for success when Palestine – the heart of the anticolonial movement in the Middle East – is this infested with thuggery and juvenile propaganda tactics and no one here responds.

“If the Israelis tell us that this is working well, we consider it a success.”

From Foreign Policy Magazine:

If Palestinian state-building is understood as a pact by which Palestinian institutions are built and shaped to facilitate security-collusion — in expectation that this will cause Israel to see it to be in its own interest to give Palestinians a state — then the overall matrix of western policy becomes clear. It is a pre-requisite of Oslo and subsequent agreements that the PA should work with the IDF — “with the participation of US security officials” — to defeat and dismantle any opposition to this project, and, as Mrs Clinton reminded Mahmoud Abbas last year, this demand extends to Hamas — unless it should accept the Quartet’s conditions.

These principles are not new: they are long-established principles of American counter-insurgency dating back to the US campaign in the early 1900s against Filipino ‘rebels’ and were adopted in subsequent conflicts. This doctrine has combined the establishment of harsh, unaccountable security apparati to a ‘benevolency pacification’: Security strongmen evolve to control the business and financial sectors.

In the Palestinian context this pacification has come to mean something far more extensive than the original Oslo demand for collusion with Israel to dismantle and destroy Oslo’s opponents. Indeed, the concept is being used to create a politico-security and economic architecture and élite in order to implement a benevolency pacification. In return the elites receive significant material benefits and privileges. So successful has this political and security architecture been in normalizing the West Bank that the then US Assistant Secretary of State, hailed it as “the best Palestinian Authority government in history”.

This kind of article was inevitable. I’m just surprised it took so long to show up in print, especially since I’ve been writing on it for so long. Everyone here today is depressed because the Palestine Papers have proven once again how helpless they are against their own police state vying to sell their land in favor of villas in Dubai and cash for their kids.

the palestine papers


I’ve been learning how to play chess. So far I’m only able to see four moves ahead, which makes me a pretty mediocre player. I’ve only won two games so far, but I’m trying every day to be able to see more and more moves ahead, to work out different scenarios and keep them running parallel so I can advance. What I’ve gathered so far, though, is that the most important part of chess is to be able to react to an opponent’s moves with a clear mind and steady hand.

So when I see something like The Palestine Papers being published by Al Jazeera, I have to stop and examine the board critically before I react. Some facts to consider:

  • Al Jazeera is a state-owned and state-run news organization.

A reaction I heard today was that Al Jazeera works for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. While this may not be true in a literal sense, we can’t forget that Al Jazeera is an incredibly powerful wing of the Qatari foreign ministry. Qatar has been courting foreign money by the fistfuls, bringing in international games, conferences on private security companies, and offering terrific incentives to multinational corporations.  Whatever Al Jazeera was ten years ago, they are not the same organization today.

  • The Palestinian Authority / Palestinian Liberation Organization has to negotiate with the Israelis if they want to gain international support.

Since – according to the intelligentsia – armed and civil resistance has failed, the only way towards survival is to court the support of the international community. The PA does this in two ways, through economic and diplomatic means. Through economics, they present themselves as an easy place to do cheap and dirty business. Through diplomacy, they hustle from embassy to embassy begging for recognition while using their presence at the UN to pressure for resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation. The only way they are able to sustain either of these fronts, though, is through appearing as a valid party in negotiations with the Israelis. Therefore, to keep both outreach approaches strong, they must continue with negotiations at all costs, even if this means offering bizarre concessions to the Israelis. The fact that the PA is still willing to “play ball” after the genocide in Gaza and continued appropriation of land in the West Bank is proof of this, since any strong actor would have abandoned negotiations long ago. But the Palestinian Authority is not the strong actor. Their grip on power is contingent on whether anyone will meet with them. If the Israelis and Americans continue to meet with them, the sick truth is that the rest of the world will see them as valid representatives for the Palestinian people.

  • Both the Palestinian Authority / Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israelis must sustain the negotiation process in order to maintain the status quo abroad while advancing interests locally.

This is why the peace process never fails. It simply stalls or is frozen, perhaps moving from direct to indirect negotiations from time to time. The present negotiations between the two parties have painfully dragged along for nearly two decades with nothing to speak of except continued encroachment of the West Bank and Gaza while the Palestinian Authority gains stature in the eyes of the international community.

Yet it is not just Israel and the PNA/PLO that benefit from these negotiations. The USA uses them as election fodder and the Arab states use them as an excuse to continue business-as-usual with Israel while neglecting the refugees that crowd their borders.

So what is the point of releasing these documents? Barring some sort of collective madness, the Palestinian people are not going to overthrow the PNA and expel the PLO. Gaza is a stark, daily reminder of what happens to a people who decide to stop playing the game. It’s possible the Israelis will look bad for not accepting such gracious concessions, and that the Palestinians offering them nearly all of East Jerusalem and their major settlement blocs will make it seem as though they are negotiating in bad faith.

However, without further facts at this point, the only conclusion I can draw is that this is a move designed to humiliate the Palestinian people further. They are being shamed for not being able to change their current situation. Really, this has been the overarching theme to the occupation that I’ve seen so far since living here: instill shame. Whether through stumbling drunk teenagers in Ramallah plotting their ticket out, hassle at the checkpoint, constantly jumping through hoops for a job or foreign aid money, casual cancellation of elections, and being forced at gunpoint to the negotiation table, the main goal of the occupation is to bring low the pride of the Palestinians. It still makes one wonder who it is, if not everyone involved in these negotiations, that wants them brought to their knees so badly.

one family in gaza

One Family in Gaza (2010, Jen Marlowe, 22 minutes) is a short film that documents the personal tragedy of one family in Gaza. What makes this film so powerful is that it is told entirely by the family themselves. There are a million or more stories like this in Palestine. Nearly everyone you meet has been affected in some way by decades of war and suffering, but it is worthwhile to hear it yourself from those who experienced it instead of reading it in a report or seeing it on television. The humanity conveyed in the tears of a mother or the anguished prayers of a father is hard to miss. You may contact the film maker here.

the almighty dollar, part 2: global islamist strategy

Part I of this series on the American Dollar can be found here.

Turkish water, Arab Gulf capital, Egyptian labor, and Israeli know-how will join hands in a sheer material enterprise with no identity or sense of direction. Consequently, there will be no feeling of pain caused by loss of dignity.

from The Imperialist Epistemological Vision” by Abdulwahab al Masseri

The Muslim world is a giant untapped well of power. Geo-strategically, the Middle East has always been important – straddling important trade routes and acting as a bridge between several continents. Even the Muslim minorities of the world, that is where Muslims make up a minority stake in a society, contain roughly 40% of the global ummah. Acting as a unified actor, the Muslim world is over a billion strong and contains much of the world’s capital and resources.

The issue is a splintering of the ummah that followed the rightly guided caliphs and the Golden Age of Islam. At one point, the Muslim world was one unified empire stretching from the Himalayas to the Straits of Gibraltar. Societies kept their identities and ways of life provided they were not against basic principles of Islamic governance. Identities were forged within the Muslim world – indeed, Egyptians in particular have always been fiercely nationalistic – but the kind of nationalism imported since the end of direct colonialism in the area is new and unfamiliar to many Muslims who still see themselves as Muslim first – Indian, Pakistani, Iraqi, Filipino second.

At the top of this Islamic world sits some of the greatest concentration of capital in the Gulf countries. Glimmering skyscrapers towering over empty streets, air-conditioned stadiums, and the sheikhas gliding through malls covered in black and gold, their filipino servants trailing behind buckling under the weight of shopping bags. It’s no wonder this Islamic elite has come under attack in recent decades by AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) as both an attempt at capital accumulation and an ancient drive from sects from the Sufis to the Khajarites who sought to deliver divine justice to the corrupt heads of the Caliphate. These today being those who control the capital and the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.

Yet the strategy has shifted in recent years and rage has grown considerably in these offshoot groups. Instead of seeing the House of Saud as solely responsible for their predicament of addictive shopping and rampant tastes of luxury, the global Islamic resistance movement have lifted their eyes to the very top – America and Europe. By smashing at the dollar they are forcing the rich and corrupt among them to either reconsider their lifestyles or run for the hills, as seen recently in Tunisia.

What part does Israel play in such a strategy? Abdullah Azzam, famous mujahid in Afghanistan, became somewhat disillusioned as he was told to keep his desire for jihad against Israel on the back-burner and continue his focus against the Soviets. Is it any surprise that he and others who shared his view suddenly turned up dead in Peshawar – their suspected killers being Iranian Intelligence, Mossad, or even Osama bin Laden himself? Why is Israel so protected from the brunt of Islamic militarism? The simple answer may be that it represents a strategic interest to foreign colonial powers. Considering that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military equipment is kept in storage in Israel and their physical presence as a thorn in the side of the Middle East, this could be true. Yet they are becoming more and more brave, unafraid of keeping their American masters pleased with their progress. Why is this? I’ve come to understand that Israel poses little threat and possesses no real strength in its current position – it’s very presence in the Middle East is part of the strategy.

The decaying, autocratic Middle East and the Muslim world in general is propped up by a wilting dollar. Israel is the gun held to the heads of the Arab capitals, ensuring that they will not jump ship. Imagine an intricate game of mouse-trap, with the final string of yarn tied around the trigger of a Tavor held by the Israeli government. It is in their interest as well that the dollar sustains, considering much of their foreign capital is held abroad and – if one is to imagine (as Israelis themselves do) that Jews worldwide are simply expat Israelis, a large portion of their population and subsequent charitable income and moral support depends on it as well. The methods Israel uses for colonial advancement are dollar-heavy and follow traditional, if not sloppy, methods of free-trade strategy.

Like the housing bubble, nearly anything will be done to keep the system afloat in the Middle East, to keep the money from the Gulf tied up in luxury yachts and the rest of it tied up in weapons. In such a high pressure situation – that is to keep this attempt to keep the bubble inflated – nearly everyone’s interests will be to sustain the status quo, especially when it comes to the dollar. The Saudis want to stay in power, the Assads want to stay in power, the Hashemites want to stay in power, Mubarak wants to stay in power, and the Israelis want to continue making money and building settlements. Everything about Middle East diplomacy is about keeping thirty cats from scratching each other to death while someone else keeps stealing all the cheese. So where do those who want to change the status quo hit the hardest?

Maybe it takes years for the seeds to sprout, but as unrest begins to ripple across the Maghreb from Algeria to Tunisia to Libya to Egypt, we can see the house of cards start to tremble something terrible.

another day at the checkpoint

Palestine is icy cold when there is no insulation and drafty windows and heat comes in the form of electric heaters and hot water bottles. People dance from foot to foot at the checkpoint and nobody minds being crowded too much because the wind whips clear through the chicken wire, occasionally slamming a plastic piece of siding so loud that everyone jumps. Above the heads Qalandiya airport sits decaying in the distance. The air control tower stands empty and scrubweed has started to grow on the runway.

This is ridiculous someone mutters in Arabic. They’ve got the old here today.

An old fellahiya woman, crumpled with age and with white hair peeking out under her white hijab fumbles with her blue shopping bags. Is she one of the women you see in Jerusalem sitting on the ground with their herbs and vegetables, selling a kilo and a half for a handful of shekels to make ends meet at home? Her beautiful dress, embroidered with the colors of flowers and sunny days, is the only bit of spirit at the checkpoint on a gloomy, windy day.

Despite the desperation to move – it’s been an hour waiting now before the turnstile – she is shielded from pushing and hobbles through, moving slow with arthritis. She alone hauls her bag onto the X-ray machine and shuffles through the metal detector. A crackling voice over the intercom begins to bark orders in Hebrew. With trembling, oak-like fingers she presents her papers to the girl behind the bulletproof glass. The barking orders escalate into a shrieking insistence and it is clear the woman does not know Hebrew. Those behind the turnstiles watch in silence as the painfully loud, unfamiliar tones grow louder and more painful. A door opens and a young woman with long curly auburn hair comes out with a gun, towering over the woman like some ancient war idol, shrieking and pointing back, back! The woman wordlessly gathers her things from the x-ray machine and shuffles back through the checkpoint to the wordless gasps of the group still waiting. With as much dignity as she can muster, she walks back out through the traffic, soldiers, watchtowers, and children selling gum and information.

With a buzz and a click, the turnstile opens again and now two – no, three are allowed through. An old man drops his change in the metal detector and painfully stoops to collect it from the muddy, cold concrete. More shrieks, low growls, and sarcastic crackling tones.

Wait again for some twenty minutes before the next buzz-click, when more are let through. In line now, waiting with difficulty. It has been almost two hours. Too many through and waiting, a mistake perhaps? The shrieking slams down again, feedback accompanying the orders. A youth who knows Hebrew turns to the crowd. “We have to all go back,” he says in Arabic. Nobody moves. It’s been too long. Such a struggle to wait and squeeze through with bags, two or three to the gaps in the turnstile. No one will be first to move. Soldiers appear alongside the chicken wire with large, other-worldly guns, waving them at the crowd and yelling “RUH!” – move, go, get out. Nobody moves. Who is going to be the first?

The door opens again and out comes a young man in glasses, fat around the waist and with an annoyed look in his eye. He sputters in Hebrew and lifts his gun at the crowd, finger on the trigger. Nobody moves. Who is going to be the first? He steps closer, angry now at the disobedience. There are young and old animals here, animals on their way to class or to work, sick animals, hungry animals, but all the animals are cold and tired of waiting. Go home and bullshit with the friends at Mike’s Place over a beer – You wouldn’t believe how difficult the Arabs were today!

The youth turns again to the crowd, raising his hands. We need to go back through he says.

Back through the turnstiles? someone answers disbelievingly.

“Yes, back through the turnstiles. One by one. They want us through one by one.”

The crowd behind the turnstiles, those still waiting behind the wire, murmur with despair as one by one they are forced to make room for shuffling feet and unwieldy bags. Each one is another five, ten minutes added on to the time it takes to go three miles to Jerusalem.

When all of the people are back through the turnstiles, the door to the booth opens again and out come young women with hair up or down, standing with hips cocked sipping Fantas and lighting cigarettes. It’s time for a break, or perhaps a shift change. They pull out cell phones to call girlfriends in Tel Aviv and bitch about the weather.

La ilaha il Allah! one woman cries out, a reminder to everybody that it is only God who can protect them from the evil that he has created.

what peace process?

Now that full-scale building has resumed in the West Bank, and land in East Jerusalem housing 30 Palestinian families has been handed over to Jewish settlers by the State of Israel, the “peace process” hangs in a delicate balance. Yet the very nature of such a process was created as tenuous by definition.

The Palestinian Authority has taken a stand against popular Palestinian sentiment to continue with talks despite continued land evictions, settler violence, and state terror. Now they are being set up for humiliation. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman addressed the United Nations yesterday, calling for an interim peace process that would “take a few decades” and involve a population transfer of Arab Israelis to Palestinian Authority control. These statements were not even contradicted by the Prime Minister’s office, and private sources say Netanyahu does not even necessarily disagree with such a proposal. Now Mahmoud Abbas and Barack Obama are standing like fools on stage with their hands out, while Israel brushes by as if they do not even exist.

The emotional problems are first and foremost the utter lack of confidence between the sides and issues such as Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People and refugees. Under these conditions, we should focus on coming up with a long-term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades. We need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages.

With this statement, Lieberman says plainly that the world must wait for a tamer, more passive Palestinian generation to emerge before a peace agreement can be worked out. Citing “emotional problems” (that sounds quite like a man shouting “hysteria!” at an enraged woman), he fails to bring up any mention of Jewish extremism – such as the celebrations marking the end of the building freeze attended by thousands in the West Bank – and whether it presents an obstacle to peace.

As for an “exchange of populated territories”, what he means is jettisoning most of the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens in Israel to become the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, without their say in the matter. In exchange for this process, which would be ridding Israel of what they call a “demographic time-bomb”, Israel would be keeping hold of their Jewish settler population in the West Bank that currently carves up the land into a hellish archipelago – and, one assumes, the military presence there to “protect” the settlers. Win-win.

We can tell who the powerful party is by noticing who sets the rules, who keeps watch over the “emotional” landscape of the peace process. Even Barack Obama, who tried his hand to halt the Israelis from resuming full-scale settlement and colonization of the West Bank, faces humiliation at the hands of the Israeli leaders who take two billion dollars a year in aid with one hand while slapping him with the other.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians are simply window dressing – like the humiliation of Joe Biden earlier in the year when he visited Israel, the real story is about the Israeli right flexing its muscles publicly while America watches, unable to stop them or even speak up in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue to be forced off their land, continue to be imprisoned, and even their Israeli-passport-holding brothers and sisters are suddenly pale as their government – to whom they pay taxes and to whom they entrust the education of their children – talks about expelling them without even consulting them first.

The Palestinians are stuck with peace talks. They understand that the way the narrative is written, they will be laid with the guilt if the peace process fails. If they simply show up, try and put on a smile and extend a hand, the Israelis will slap it away and heap shame on their heads until they can’t stand it anymore. Yet, the alternative is nearly unthinkable as anti-PA activists continue to be imprisoned and tortured, as the PA continues to stifle protests against the peace process, etc. All for a sweet slice of foreign money and a world of humiliating defeats.

Palestinian aid culture

Say you’re going to Palestine and nearly everyone will vault their eyebrows at you. To most it’s a big deal, and they see flashes of media segments with stone throwing, tear gas, and bulldozers. The truth on the ground is much different. Traveling through Palestine as an international, you won’t find trouble unless you go looking for it. While difficulties due to the occupation are day-to-day realities, the kinds of oppression institutionalized here are less likely to make the 11 ‘o clock news.

Realities like checkpoints, road bypasses, dust, education, medical services, ID cards, permits, and visas are less likely to get the donors’ juices flowing. Blights like checkpoints and the wall affect people every day and for the long term. Walk through a checkpoint and tell me it wasn’t one of the most disturbing things you’ve done in your life. It won’t make the news like a clash in East Jerusalem, but it will deeply change your ideas about life in Palestine.

Political freedom is another issue, and because of the situation here it is difficult to fund grassroots initiatives without stipulating some clear baseline standards. USAID, for instance, conditions their money to those who work with, are approved by, and operate under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Organizations seeking to create broad appeal and be accessible to the entire population of Palestine will be excluded from funding.

Why is it that the Western mindset must be swayed by photos of gore and violence to commit their efforts? It’s possible one of the main reasons is that our attention span won’t commit the time necessary to understand the deeper, more complex issues that stem from conflict and post-conflict zones. When the killing is over, so is our interest. Therefore, those who want access to international support must tailor their proposals to appeal to such a soundbite mindset. Abroad, donors believe the situation is violent and are sadly ignorant to the deeper challenges.

Who is able or willing to confront the challenges of the civil society sector in such places? Can we discuss bureaucracy and corruption in such a situation?  Can we have a discussion on the horrors of pornography and its impact in such a difficult society? Can we look at the conflict through a lens of colonial theory – or must we restrict ourselves to “development” terminology to ensure funding?

Ask any Palestinian NGO what the greatest challenge facing them is, and they will immediately tell you that the dependence on foreign aid is the biggest. Organizations must have access to financial auditors, English-speakers to write reports, and must play ball with government authorities to ensure access to funds. “I used to spend three days in the field and three days in the office,” one director told me. “Now I spend almost seven days a week in the office trying to keep the money coming.”

Meanwhile, a flock of internationals descends to direct development efforts on the ground. Since they are the donors, they are able to completely tailor the development process to their own international standards, spreading western values, processes, and procedures and demanding respect for them as the gateway to foreign money. Stuck between a rock (PA) and a hard place (Int. interests), Palestinian NGOs can only lie and juggle, taking them out of the field and into the office.