Saturday, July 30, 2011

Welcome to the western world... ish...

"I've lived here 26 years and I can't think of enough reason to stay here 6 months. What were you doing here?!"
"Eh, I dunno. Biking around a ton? Writing?"
"Right!" *smiles awkwardly*

So all in all, I was way too over-prepared for my Palestinian Sympathizer Airport Exit Experience©. I got through Israeli security no problems. Chalk another privilege up to being white, American, non-muslim, and generally charismatic. The agents were low key and generally nice, though still I was taken aside as a heightened risk person and half-stripped, swabbed down for bombs, every article searched, and email/computer combed over. I got away with a 3 out of 6 for dangerousness, which essentially just means I'm weird. And I can handle that. Funnily enough, after I was safely through the gate I opened my phone and realized, after months of alternate-email generation, uploading photographs, Facebook deleting, alibi creating, re-naming arabic songs in my music library, etc, I had left my phone's browser navigating to this blog, where of course ALL of the recent posts illustrate in clear detail just how big of a liar I am. Eh. Well, I got lucky! And then I was free.

Fittingly, I was pre-welcomed to Eastern Europe with by my flight-mate, who sat down, shook my hand, and stuffed a giant vodka bottle into my carry-on. At first I thought this was some kind of insane gift, until I realized that I was to supply him, our neighbor, and myself with surreptitious vodka pours from time to time. The flight commenced in wild style. I was worried David Zion, for that was his name, was going to be a super-zionist,and he may well have been, but our common language turned out to be Arabic. We discovered this about halfway through the flight, which heretofore had consisted of generous vodka pours, expressive shrugs, and dismissive hand gestures. The third fellow was Moses, who sleeps. The pair were on a pilgrimage to visit the tomb of an important Hasidic Jew, Rebbe Nachman, in Uman, Ukraine, a trip they did often. Our flight was largely uneventful, excepting a kurfuffle concerning the ripped packaging on their kosher flight food, an episode which resulted in me eating 3 tin-foiled religiously-soiled chicken dishes. Also a substantial quantity of vodka evaporated on my lap. Good times.

Now happily in Kiev- a sprawling green city with terrifying grids of cheap housing towers surrounding the center. It's a poor but flashy, beautiful place with plenty of decrepitude, Soviet era factories with windows broken out contrasting gilded onion-dome churches and sinister black SUVs. I like it a lot, quite the transition from the West bank, thought the medium income's probably pretty close. Return of brick to my vis. Lexicon. I don't have a camera anymore, so I'll subject you to my feeble drawings:

Actually, it's probably the polar opposite of the West Bank. This country is home to literally the most beautiful women on planet earth, everyone looks like a model, and huge sexual adverts hang everywhere. The women march around in designer clothes with these intense soviet grimaces, while in the west bank you encounter only men who grin hugely and want to know your story. I guess I'm getting what I asked for, an emergency dose of western alienation.

Wandered into the Pinchuk Art Center, where Andreas Grusky (99 cents and Kathedrale 1) Gregory Crewdson, and Olafur Ellaison were all together. It was Pretty amazing. Best so far, besides Kathedrale 1, is the insane gallery bathroom, all mirrors.

The mirrors also connect your gaze between genders, there's no privacy, except the actual stall. A pretty bold and interesting move in such a sexualized place where eye contact comes heavily into play in maintaining social norms.

That was trumped 100 times over by an Ellaison piece thick with fog, spectral lights effectively blinding you with a specific color, destroying your notion of space, losing the viewer in a field of hue. The colorshifts were so strong yet imperceptible you were sure you were hallucinating. You literally couldn't see your hand in front of your face, and would run into walls and other people. Very spooky, very amazing.

If it was 2005 I'd have a sweet myspace pic.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Goodbye Palestine

Time to say goodbye to Palestine.
6 months of my life have passed here, a substantial amount of time, though I'll forever be an outsider. There's no way to wind up all that has passed into a neat conclusion, the only thing to hope is that I and the people I've effected are better for it. I know I am, and I think they are.

I know it's time to say goodbye because I've more-or-less been living elsewhere in my mind for more than a month now. When I wake up in the morning I don't think about checkpoints and land grabs and settlers with guns and wedding expenses. I don't think about olive trees and being forbidden to travel by Israelis and then the PA and then your father after that.

I've been thinking about being born in poor parts of America, where the rooms are just as empty as Palestinian ones, rows of beds and an over-used kitchen. I've been thinking about women who fear to be on the street, and the women who don't fear at all. I've been thinking about the difference between street-smarts and prejudice. I've been thinking about protest art and bicycle adventures and learning to live with love and conscience in a world gone crazy. Broken systems and broken families and where the drugs come from to maintain and perpetuate those damaged networks. I've been thinking about Lulzsec, reaching up into the corruption and pulling its mask off, and dusty activist train-hoppers on the US-Mexican border. Birth control and equal rights and equal consumption and equal anything as long as it doesn't contribute to someone else's oppression. Punk rock girls with free expressions, the audacity to be pure and bold in the face of the grid.

But still, when I sit around a huge saucer of chicken, rice, pine nuts, and yogurt, with 5 or six cheery people who joke and riff about what's between us in simple ways that I've come to understand, I feel at home. And I'll miss that. I'll miss the heat, and the 8-13 year old boys practicing to be old men. Perched in a plastic chair, struck incredulous by their own exhaustion. "Shaub. Hot." And indeed it is. I'll miss stopping in random villages, under random trees, and talking shop about the number of children a given stranger has, or American politics. I'll miss infinite patience, and simple positive drive in the face of massive unfairness and inhumane conditions.

There are things I won't miss at all, but they'll be outweighed by my love of kunafe after a month or three and I know soon I'll be scheming to come back. But I also know that this isn't the only place I can be effective in this world. I'm not married exclusively to this cause. I'm married to the cause of a better human future. And that's one chain store that's always open for business.

So goodbye for now, Palestine, I'll see you down the road. If I still have air for fighting, and you still have cause to call this place your own.
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Beit Ahmad Sidi: Just another reason it sucks to be Palestinian

Ahmad started building his house a year and a half ago, but unfortunately it falls arbitrarily in Area C. Area C is the designation of areas completely controlled by the Israeli military, and they run contiguously throughout the west bank. Any growth or development or infrastructure planned in these areas has to be cleared with Israel, and it's usually roundly rejected.
So when Ahmad started his house he was informed that, though he owned the land, it could be demolished at a moments notice unless he got the proper paperwork. He's been trying do do so for years, going back and forth between Ramallah, shuffling papers. The village of Jit is surrounded by settlements, which cause constant problems, but Ahmad's house is far, far from them, surrounded by other palestinian developments.

This shows the distance of his house from the rest of the village.

Nothing around but trees.

His plot was designated area C because it is within a mile or so of a through road used by Palestinians and settlers alike, which means Israelis get to say what happens in all the land around it.

In the meantime, the house is taken care of and sometimes used as a shelter by Ra'ed, a charming and funny deaf-mute guy who does magic tricks and plays practical jokes. He camps out here and sometimes gives foreigners visiting the area a place to stay, making tea and little fires in the the shell of the house.

Ahmad's experience is just a blip, just a single case study in the face of tens of thousands of similar moves, destructions, humiliations, and pressures. On the other side of the power structure, Israel plans and builds hundreds of settlement homes, which will probably never go away, curtailing any mutual reconciliation or peace process.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Lust and Fear

I've been thinking about fear, crystal meth, rape and sexual politics, broken societies, STDs, art, and freedom. So the usual.
I found these terrifying paintings

I think they nail a lot of the lust/fear associated with unsafe 21st century sexuality, though they're all played out on the female body, which is a bit annoying, but it certainly drives the point home about the flip-side to all that glam and allure we're usually schlocked through visual culture. Also, porn's destroying our ability to be warm alive humans. What else is new?

On a completely unrelated note I went swimming today.

We're all groping towards something that makes us elated but possibly could kill us, or ruin something inside us we consider whole. We're all in love with our own mortality, and in a fleeting moment there's a rush to destroy one's whole-ness, but then you have to live with the consequences. Women should not have to bear the brunt of sensual fascination and the subsequent physical degradation of that through disease or brutalization of that through rape. Sexual strength and the hierarchy of trauma conspire to fuck a person up emotionally. Read More......

The Future is now.

Amazingly complicated and effective rainbow painting machine by Akay. Story here.
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Heart of Darkness 4, and the good ol' Days...

Dima Decided his 3 manifest terror from last summer was to be bested, and that he'd do it all over again. Excited for this one, a week and change after I get home. Gonna get killed!

Click on to see where it all began in 2008!

I think HOD was the first Alleycat I threw. I wanted there to be more an' more an' more.
First there was this awesome poster by Zed!

Then I had Mike from the Collective do something really crazy for the event:

And here's what happened.
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

When I get home...

There'll be one of these in a box.

But it'll actually fit me. Jus' sayin. Read More......

That's All.

but does it float? Read More......

Friday, July 1, 2011

Interview with myself: Debriefing on the FAQ's of the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict

I'm not an expert anything. I'm just a guy. With a blog. Ugh. And most of the time I'm fine with that, but today I feel like I have some answers. So I got the most credible journalist I could find within ten feet of myself: me, to interview... me. I've been in Palestine five months at this point and I think a thing or two about a thing or two. Read on to see my personal take on those sound-bytey political questions we all think contain some kind of truth about the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

What is the situation on the ground in the West Bank?
It is an occupation, where an Israeli state descended from the people who took the land by force in 1948, control, by military might, all aspects of Palestinian daily and long-term existence. This means that travel between areas, building, goods exchange, resources, infrastructure, and legal and police matters are either directly under Israeli control or heavily influenced through the control of a proxy government. This means Israelis are, under international law, responsible for the human rights conditions of their occupied populations. These conditions aren't great, nor are they encouraging to any long-term development from the occupied region. Palestinians are frustrated and often subjected to collective punishment in the form of arbitrary searches and seizures, interrogations, imprisonment without due process on the individual level, and societal/systemic crimes like land grabs, farm and house demolition, barriers that geographically make life impossible for transit or agriculture, and so on.

Every day settlers and hard-line zionists take more land in the West Bank and violently
attack nearby villagers with impunity, under protection from the Israeli army. This results in the fracturing and disabling of the society at slow and unsensational rate. There is no legal recourse for these crimes, so people simply try to live a normal life and let resentment and anger build up under the surface, exhibiting astonishing patience overall. It is very safe for internationals to be in the West Bank, and most Palestinians I know hold resentment only against the occupation as a system rather than the Jewish people as a whole.

Can you address the notion of anti-semitism as it pertains to the Israeli- Palestine question? Why are you sympathetic to the Palestinian point of view?
It's an important but rather simple question. I continually remind myself in the face of the inequality and violence of the root reason I am here: To struggle for a system that is just and equal in its consideration for all people, a system that is motivated for humanitarian rather than capitalistic or militaristic ends. In this vein I fully support an Israeli desire for self-determination and the international concept of Jewish safety. What I cannot support and in fact work or advocate against is the idea that the self-determination and security of Israel can come at the direct detriment of a captive and oppressed people. In the current occupation, the long-term quality of life for Palestinians is ruined. Their ability to have agency, dignity, and respect is completely demolished in the name of Israeli security, based on motivations that are as unconscionable as they are illogical. From a humanitarian perspective I am obligated to fight this, especially because the Jewish people I know and love and talk to pride themselves on their humanitarianism, democratic outlook, and fair-mindedness. Just as from a humanitarian perspective I struggle against endemic injustice, militarism, and class violence in the United States, which theoretically prides itself on similar values. I am against the idea of 'sides' however, more on that later.

None of this is anti-semitic. Anti-semitism was a real blight and the reason we're aware of the term today is because massive atrocities in the past were suffered by the Jewish people, but at their root those atrocities were atrocious because massive groups of people were systematically imprisoned, oppressed, and killed under rampant nationalism and militarism. I resist the manifestations of those things in my time, which include the actions of Israel as a state and Zionism as a movement.

There's also the issue of relative injustice. Israel often justifies its actions by citing violence from Palestinians. The most fair-minded voices cite this violence as evidence of a continuing conflict between an oppressor and the oppressed, the most hawkish and hateful voices bring up racist arguments and dwell on the western misconception of Islam as inherently violent and Arabs as bloodthirsty savages. In a Post-colonial world it's not even worth dealing with these straw man arguments. But what is troubling is when Israel will kill 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza over one winter with large scale explosives, flooring entire city blocks of civilian housing, in response to some randomly fired missiles which are dangerous and inhumane but a minuscule threat in comparison. I focus on the systemic root of the violence: constant militarization, not the hollow justifications for that militarization.

Speaking of that, what about the question of security for the Israeli people?
Security for any people is an important goal, as is the wonderful motivation of a life without fear. In light of these goals it is important to consider the root origins of that insecurity and where the chosen solutions are likely to lead you. One of the most sustainable ways to live without fear is to love your enemies, not in some cheesy idealistic way, but to cultivate a considerate relationship with them over generations that precludes violence and leads to a diverse, multicultural society. This may sound all cutesy in terms of the reality on the ground, but it has existed for centuries around the Holy Land and elsewhere in tolerant pockets. It's just a question of muzzling the war hounds and encouraging this kind of dialogue in the larger political discourse.

One of the most sure-fire ways to live without security and true safety is to separate yourself from what you fear and characterize it as an irrevocable lost cause. This form of prejudice doesn't solve any problems, especially when it's attached to hyper-militarism. If Israel continues to force the solution of a hyper-vigilant militarized compound as their future state, that is exactly what they will get, until they kill themselves or every Muslim around them who they (and we) have incited into violence over 100 years of otherization and colonialization. We owe it to ourselves to recognize the common ground and common future with a population that in reality is incredibly un-scary, and by-and-large patient and steeped in ideas of hospitality and peace.

In short justifying the occupation from a security perspective, or the American support of it, is a short-sighted, self-fulfilling, and destructive attitude to harbor.

What is the current relationship between Israel and America about?
America and Israel have a mirrored relationship to the Arab Middle East as they both base their approaches in defense of an exaggerated fear: which at the moment is called militant Islam, but for America it has worn many masks over the years. The root problem is that America and by extension the world economy is built on unstable capitalist practices that require resource and wage imperialism all over the globe so that the pace of modern life can continue unhindered. This imperialism takes form in the destabilization of local power in order to reap the resource benefits from a weakened and turbulent region. Also it justifies massive military spending, which puts money into the hands of extremely rich organizations and individuals and keeps the population in fear, hesitant to dissent, and chronically under-educated. America's tactics vary from place to place in these matters, but in the Middle East the foreign relations policy has been to support Israel with military aid to the tune of three billion per year (money which perpetuates an otherizing political mindset, excessive militarism, and symbiotically funnels money back into the U.S. military-industrial complex), and support governments that are open to US intervention rather than ones that encourage a representative democracy. Thus, since the foundation of Israel America has treated them as our only true ideological ally in the region, and contributed to inequality and turbulence ever since. I'm reminded of a hard-to-cite quote floating around the internet: “Every time anyone says that Israel is our only friend in the Middle East, I can’t help but think that before Israel, we had no enemies in the Middle East.”

In any case, our ardent support for Israel is was one of the main reasons we are written off by everyone in the Middle East, from Osama Bin Laden to random six-year-olds, as the enemy. Until we move this policy in the direction of true, non-Islamophobic, non-racist humanitarian aims we will make very little progress in diplomatic and civil negotiations, and our self-appointed fate will be endless militarism, violence, inequality and war. No fun.

What can Americans do who are interested in effecting change?
This is where I have to bring up the 'taking sides' thing. I'm clearly against some things, and those things include perspectives that put the security of a few at a vast premium before the human rights of many, especially when the security is an unattainable fantasy in the context of the situation that's been created. I'm also against systemic injustice, and fear as a primary motivator all across the world. At this point I'm not against a Hebrew-speaking place for Jews existing next to or in the same place as an Arabic-speaking place that's predominantly Muslim. I don't care what its name is or who's in charge of it, as long as there's a power balance and every person or culture in that region as access to freedom of expression, dignity, respect, and self-determination within the limitations of what that society can support.

Support of these goals doesn't have to manifest itself specifically toward the Israeli-Palestine conflict, there are huge areas needing work everywhere. From the post-earthquake destruction of Haiti to the failing social systems in the face of drug and gang violence in inner-city America to the brutal responses to democratic voice in Syria, Libya and Bahrain. It's important that we as a people learn as much as we can about these and other conflicts and use them constructively in the context of improving our way of existing in the world. So do what you can, where you're drawn to, and keep an open ear to the similar work being done in other venues and directions.

But as to the specific Israeli-Palestine conflict, basically, you can encourage law-makers to quit spending most of your money on militarism, war mongering, and Israeli aid (again, not because Israelis are BAD, but because there's a power imbalance and we as Americans contribute to it). But more simply you can normalize the dialogue on a understandable level, by arguing that it doesn't make sense to support Israel to the extent we do from a human rights perspective. This can take many forms. There's the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, which starts with consumer options (bleh, I say just live simply and don't buy crap you don't need in general, not for a political motivation alone) but goes up to policy advocacy and divestment in economic and academic arenas. You can talk to friends and family that unconditionally support Israel and dispel them of unfair or unjust notions with evidence. Or you can come to Palestine and suffer near-death by over-feeding while meeting people, thinking and writing, and doing volunteer work with community-reflective locally-informed projects.

If you're Jewish, however, whoa boy do you have a job to do. Because you're already miles ahead of the rest of us in the lazy public-dialogue scale of credible sources. People will listen, American people will listen, American POLITICIANS will listen if you speak out against crimes against humanity being perpetrated in the Jewish state. Also because whether you like it or not, you're attached to those crazy Zionists in Israel! They're doing things in your name, every day, strapping on M-16's and allowing settlers to assault people in broad daylight in the name of a Jewish homeland. Just like my government has spent the last ten years systematically bombing the Middle East in my name, for the sake of American freedom. So if it bothers you to be conflated with those people because of a common ancestry and common religion, speak out! Change the paradigm! Because unless you represent yourself, they'll continue to represent you.

Feel free to re-post this or share it anywhere if it's of interest to you, just let me know in the comments section. Also if the comments happen to take a turn towards the way public internet comments sometimes do (i.e. knee-jerk ad hominem attacks and obfuscating rants that don't actually address the claims of the article) I'll consider deleting them.
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