Mya Guarnieri Mya Guarnieri Tue, 15 Dec 2015 17:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to End the Eritrean Refugee Crisis Wed, 02 Dec 2015 17:33:33 +0000 The Nation, December 2, 2015

Tesfu Atsbha, 35, stands in the alley behind an unmarked Eritrean community center in south Tel Aviv, just blocks away from the park where a memorial service was held for Habtom Zerhum a few days before. Zerhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker, was killed when he was mistaken for a Palestinian terrorist during an attack on the Beer Sheva bus station. He was shot by an Israeli security guard, and as he lay bleeding on the ground, he was beaten by onlookers. One of them picked up a bench and dropped it on Zerhum’s head.

Atsbha is the chairperson of the Eritrean Solidarity Movement for National Salvation, one of the biggest diaspora-based opposition parties seeking to depose Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki. The group’s headquarters are in Ethiopia, where Atsbha lives. He landed in Israel in late October to find its community of 45,000 asylum seekers—most of whom are from Eritrea—in mourning and shock.

Not that things have ever been easy here. When African asylum seekers cross the border from Egypt to Israel, they are imprisoned. After they get out of jail, they are not allowed to work legally. So they take black-market jobs, where they are subject to exploitation. Israeli politicians and the mainstream media call them “infiltrators”—a loaded term that, for many Israelis, is associated with Palestinians. The Prevention of Infiltration Law, which Israel drafted in the early 1950s to stop Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes inside the newly created Jewish state, has been broadened so that the state can use it to detain African asylum seekers as well.

And for many years, the Israeli government refused to process their requests for refuge. Now officials take the paperwork and don’t reply. Or they summarily reject applications for asylum without thoroughly investigating claims, human-rights groups say.

It all stems from the state’s goal to “make their lives miserable”—the laws and policies are meant to deter African asylum seekers from coming, while pressuring those who are here already to leave. So far, it has worked. Several years ago, the community numbered 60,000. The South Sudanese who lived in Israel were deported in 2012; others who faced indefinite detention versus “voluntary deportation” chose to leave. Some who left Israel have tried to go on to Europe; a number drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. A handful were killed by ISIS.

Despite the immense pressure they face in Israel, many Eritreans were surprised by what happened to Zerhum, an event that the Israeli media called a “lynching.” During the interviews I conducted in the wake of his death, some told me that it pointed to how dire their situation is in Israel. Others remarked that it’s yet another tragic reminder of how urgent it is to stop the repression in Eritrea.

That’s why Atsbha’s here.

While he supports asylum seekers’ rights, he doesn’t believe that absorbing Eritreans and those fleeing other repressive regimes is a sustainable answer to Europe or Israel’s migrant crises.

“To accept thousands of refugees is not an easy task. It costs millions of dollars.… It’s not sustainable. The solution is to get rid of the system,” Atsbha says, referring to Afwerki and his regime.

A crowd of about 200 Eritrean asylum seekers, donning white jerseys emblazoned with the Eritrean Solidarity Movement for National Salvation logo, have gathered in the community center. Every chair is full. In the back, rows of men stand. They crowd around a pool table, the game they’d been playing moments before forgotten. All eyes are trained on Atsbha, whose story is not unlike their own.

Atsbha had only heard about prisons and torture in history class, when he’d studied the Ethiopian occupation of his homeland, Eritrea. But that changed in 2001, when he found himself detained without charge or trial.

Atsbha was a student at Asmara University then. He was in his final year, working toward a degree in public administration, when 20 people—11 high-ranking government officials and 10 journalists, a group that Eritreans call the G-15—disappeared.

Students, including Atsbha, started asking questions about the G-15, about “starting a democratic process, and [the] implementation of the constitution that was ratified in 1997,” he recalls. The head of the student council made a little too much noise and was arrested; Atsbha and others went to the courthouse in a show of solidarity. But justice was nowhere to be found—the group, which numbered in the hundreds, was rounded up and taken to jail.

Or something like it. They were held in an outdoor pen—300 people, Atsbha estimates, crammed into a 100 meter by 50 meter space. They were surrounded by a fence and armed guards. There was nowhere to bathe or go to the bathroom; the soldiers took them out once a day so that the prisoners could relieve themselves. Meals consisted of little more than bread and small amounts of water. There was no roof or shade of any kind, nothing to guard them from the searing heat.

Three of the students died from heat stroke while they were detained.

During the day, soldiers marched Atsbha and the other prisoners out of the pen to collect stones. Many Eritreans who have been detained or imprisoned speak of forced labor; other interviewees have told me that they were taken outside mid-day to dig ditches. Atsbha’s story is unusual in that he and the other students were held outdoors. Most Eritrean asylum seekers I’ve spoken to who have been detained describe dark underground prisons.

After 45 days, Atsbha was released. The experience, he believes, was meant to break any glimmerings of resistance. Instead, it planted the seed of revolution in his heart.

After Atsbha finished his degree, the government called him up to return to Sawa military camp, where he’d undergone three months’ basic training before university. From Sawa, Atsbha was sent to do civil service in the ministry of education. He received $10 a month for his work. Atsbha suspected that the government would never release him from duty—indeed, other Eritrean interviewees have been forced to spend a decade or more in the army, earning anywhere from $10 to $20 a month, with no end in sight.

Atsbha points out that keeping young men in the military indefinitely is another way to prevent the people from revolting.

Atsbha knew that if he went AWOL and was caught, he would be jailed. Still, he decided to flee. It was risky—many Eritreans have been killed by their own government as they’ve attempted to cross the border. So he left the country at night, crossing into Ethiopia in the dark in 2003.

He spent two years in a refugee camp there before joining his extended family, who had immigrated decades ago to Denver, Colorado. Atsbha arrived there in February of 2005, he recalls, and the streets were full of snow. He laughs as he remembers how shocked he was by the sudden change in both culture and climate.

But Atsbha adjusted to life in America. He began working part-time at a grocery store and studying medical technology. He got citizenship. He was comfortable, he says, but he couldn’t sleep at night.

“I never forgot about my land. Every day we heard bad news: people are dying, people are arrested, people are going out [emigrating].”

By this time, Eritreans were already making the trip to Libya, where smugglers ferried them across the Mediterranean to Italy. They began to arrive in Israel in 2006; some interviewees have told me that they went to Israel after they’d waited for months in Libya, only to give up on getting to Europe.

“What will be the future of the country [if everyone leaves]?” Atsbha asks. “We, as a people, will have a very ominous future.”

He worried about the fate of his parents and six siblings, who remain in Eritrea. He also thought about his “ancestors,” he says. “I have the land where I was born that I was given by God.”

In 2012, Atsbha decided to return to Africa. Because it was too dangerous for him to enter Eritrea, he went to Ethiopia. There, he got involved in the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for National Salvation, which was founded in the same year; it later changed its name to the Eritrean Solidarity Movement for National Salvation in order to broaden its appeal.

Today, the movement is trying to strengthen its network between those in Ethiopia and other nearby countries and “clandestine organizations” in Eritrea. But Atsbha admits that it’s impossible to overthrow the regime from the inside at this point. So the first step, he argues, is to get the Eritrean diaspora organized.

It’s no short order. Since they began to leave the country in large numbers around 2000, Eritreans have fanned out across the globe. Various opposition movements have sprung up; Atsbha puts the number at 17. These groups must be unified, he says, under a clear goal—a lesson they could learn, perhaps, from the Palestinian struggle, which does not have one crystallized aim and is plagued by internal conflicts.

The organization also aims to raise awareness about Eritreans’ plight through various nonviolent means, including seminars, workshops, and demonstrations; they hope that this will cause the international community to put diplomatic and political pressure on Afwerki to step down.

Ultimately, resources from the diaspora must be pooled so that the opposition movements can “gain…the necessary equipment for the revolution,” Atsbha says. “The sharpest…edge of any struggle is armed struggle.”

“But that’s not our choice,” he’s quick to add. “That’s a final resort.”

In some respects, the group’s efforts are reminiscent of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s in its early days. And just as the Palestinian struggle was—and continues to be—often misunderstood, so is the situation in Eritrea.

“Right now, the international community doesn’t recognize the exact cause [of people’s leaving Eritrea]. Some of them, they see it as an economic case…. others say it’s the endless military conscription,” Atsbha reflects. “What makes them leave the country in such numbers and risk their life? It’s a question of liberty. It’s a question of political rights.”

Old problems in Jerusalem’s Old City Mon, 23 Nov 2015 17:13:33 +0000 IRIN, November 23, 2015

Faten Ghosheh, a 33-year-old Palestinian mother of five, stands on the roof of her partially demolished home in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Al-Aqsa Mosque visible behind her.

She recalls the moment five years ago when Israeli forces arrived at 5am to tear down the two rooms and bathroom that her husband had built with their life savings of 700,000 shekels ($180,000).

To avoid the fine that the Jerusalem municipality would charge for the demolition, the Ghoshehs called on the men in their family to come and tear down the walls.

“The children were all crying,” she says. “The older children brought hammers and started demolishing with their father.”

Now the family of nine, which includes Ghosheh’s sister-in-law and mother-in-law, makes do with only one bedroom.

“In order to protect this, the mosque,” she explains, gesturing towards the glistening dome on the horizon, “we will continue to live here. We consider ourselves … defenders of Al-Aqsa.”

Her comment explains at least some of the sentiment behind the wave of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories that began last month and has claimed the lives of 16 Israelis, an American, an Eritrean and at least 90 Palestinians, including attackers.

For many Palestinians, Al-Aqsa, which stands on land Israel occupied in 1967, is as much of a political symbol as it is a religious one.

Alleged Israeli provocation at Al-Aqsa and the Temple Mount – holy to both Jews and Muslims – were a match to the powder keg of home demolitions, taxation without services, classroom shortages, and grinding poverty.

As much of the violence has shifted to the West Bank (although there was a stabbing Monday in West Jerusalem) East Jerusalem remains a focal point for protests, and the issues Palestinians face there are on full display inside the walls of the Old City, where the flare-up began.

Building permit woes

The Ghoshehs applied for but were denied a building permit for the rooms that were eventually torn down. Human rights organisations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), argue that it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to get permits.

Only 14 percent of Palestinian East Jerusalem is zoned for residential use; less than eight percent of Jerusalem’s total landmass for a third of its population.

In 2014, Israeli forces destroyed 98 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem because they were built without permits. Two were in the Old City, displacing seven people, including five children.

The Jerusalem municipality insists Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem can obtain building permits. The city points to 2014’s numbers: 108 permits were requested for East Jerusalem; 85 were granted.

Asked if these permits were granted to Palestinian residents or the Jewish Israeli settlers who live in East Jerusalem, Ben Avrahami, a spokesman for the municipality, said he did not have that information on hand.

The reality is that many Palestinians feel ahead of time that they will not be granted permits. By ACRI’s count, an estimated 39 percent of the houses in East Jerusalem have been built without permission.

“It’s not because we want to make their lives more difficult,” Avrahimi told IRIN. “It’s a problem with tabo [land registration]. It’s very complicated to prove ownership.” To that end, he adds, the city has started a special committee to examine those who claim ownership but lack all of the documentation, though not in all of East Jerusalem.

Lack of services

After the demolition, with the roof of the top floor torn away and most of the walls gone, the Ghoshehs added tin in an attempt to keep out the wind and rain. But it isn’t enough. During heavy winter storms, water leaks into the home. The city has fined them for the erecting the tin.

The family also pays arnona, property tax, to the municipality. Paying it is crucial to East Jerusalemites as it helps them prove that the city remains at the center of their life – a condition they must meet to hold on to their residency and, thus, Israeli IDs. According to the UN emergency coordination body OCHA, more than 14,000 Palestinians have lost their Jerusalem residency since 1967.

When asked what services she receives in return for the tax, Ghosheh remarks: “What services?”

Jihad Yusef agrees. The 49-year-old has brought her six children up in the Old City, and was born and raised inside its walls.

She recalls her attempt to enroll her son Ibrahim in the government-run school near their home. There was no space, so she had to put him in a private school that cost her 3,000 shekels ($770) a year.

OCHA estimates the city needs to supply an additional 2,200 classrooms to meet the Palestinian community’s educational needs. The municipality argues it is tackling this issue, telling IRIN in an emailed statement: “We build 100 new classrooms in East Jerusalem every year, more than any other sector in Jerusalem.”

Other basic services are also lacking. Palestinians from East Jerusalem are entitled to Israel’s public healthcare system, but there is only one clinic that provides free prenatal, infant and pediatric services in the Old City, and it’s in the Jewish Quarter. Likewise, East Jerusalem has seven of these clinics and there are 26 in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods, three of which also serve Palestinian families.

The Arab areas – that is, the Muslim, Christian, and Armenian Quarters – have a higher population density and many of the buildings there are in poor condition. As of 2002, according to a UN report, a third of Palestinian houses in the Old City lacked running water and some 40 percent were not connected to the sewage system.

Hard times

Ghosheh’s building is just a short walk from Al Wad Street – the narrow, cobblestone thoroughfare that leads to Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site, as well as the Western Wall, which is sacred to Jews and where the first stabbing attack took place in October.

Nabil Abu Sneineh and his brother, Saadeh, own a bakery on this road. They estimate that sales have dropped 90 percent since the flare-up began.

Historically, the area has been a centre for Palestinian trade. But West Bank suppliers have trouble reaching their traditional markets and vendors, thanks to the difficulty in acquiring Israeli government-issued permission to enter and navigating checkpoints, especially since the construction of the separation barrier that divides Israel from the West Bank and cuts through part of East Jerusalem. Many of the buyers who used to come to the Old City to do their shopping are now absent.

ACRI estimates that since the separation barrier’s completion, the percentage of those who live in East Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the barrier and do their shopping in Jerusalem has dropped from 18 to four percent. “Businesses in the centre of East Jerusalem and in the Old City have been particularly hard hit, and layoffs have become more and more frequent,” the association says.

The unemployment rate for Palestinian men in East Jerusalem hovers around 40 percent. In the Old City, some estimates are as high as 50 percent.

“[Israeli forces] close the streets any time they wish,” Saadeh Abu Sneineh, 32, says. “They harass us as we’re walking into our shops. Many [Palestinian men] have been strip-searched as we’re walking into the Old City.”

With sales so sluggish now, the Abu Sneinehs are worried they won’t be able to pay the property taxes on the business, which could result, eventually, in losing the bakery.

Ziyad Hammouri, director and a founder of the Jerusalem Centre for Social and Economic Rights, which offers legal aid to East Jerusalem Palestinians, says the most common problems are home demolitions, inability to pay property tax, and revocation of residency. Three houses were demolished in the city the day before he spoke to IRIN.

The municipality has always sued Jerusalemites who fell behind on their tax payments, going as far as seizing cars, bank accounts, and wages. But this phenomenon hits Palestinian residents harder as they are, by and large, poorer than their Jewish counterparts and are more likely to fall behind on arnona in the first place.

Hammouri is particularly concerned by recent attempts by the city to seize and auction off Palestinian property to pay off arnona debt.

“[The Israelis] want a political result from this economic oppression,” said Hammouri. “The goal is to push the people outside the city [beyond the separation barrier]. But first outside the Old City.”

However, the family of nine Ghoshehs is going nowhere in a hurry. Faten says she remains determined to stay in the house her husband’s family has owned for decades, although she admits wearily: “Living in the Old City is like suffocating.”

Eat the breakfast of a king and the dinner of a pauper Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:00:48 +0000 Roads & Kingdoms, November 16, 2015

One can learn much about labneh—that is, the version of the breakfast food that appears in Palestinian homes—through the word itself.

Both the name and the substance labneh are derived from laben, yogurt. But it also shares a root with “block,” as in the substance used to build. And the thick, strained yogurt—sometimes dried and rolled into balls—is indeed a cornerstone of the Palestinian diet.

In Arabic, they say “Eat the breakfast of a king, the lunch of a prince, and the dinner of a pauper.” This doesn’t mean that labneh should be decked out. No, it’s humble; it dresses accordingly in a thin coat of olive oil and is eaten with pita.

My husband, who is from the West Bank, explains that labneh has already been perfected; there’s no need to improve on it. When we’re feeling festive, however, we sprinkle labneh balls with crushed garlic and dried chili. This isn’t uncommon in Palestinian homes. And whether one chooses the thick labneh spread or the condensed balls, which are preserved in oil, is as much of a matter of taste as whether one prefers labneh made from sheep, cow, or goat milk.

The spread is creamy, with a slightly tart finish. To make labneh balls, one dries yogurt out; the loss of liquid means a concentrated flavor. Although the balls are delicate, crumbling when pushed upon with pita, their flavor is strong, running the gamut from tangy to sour, depending on the milk from which it is made.

In recent years, it’s begun to pop up on menus in Tel Aviv’s trendiest restaurants, not as a simple breakfast food but, rather, as an ingredient that’s been interpreted, played with, and incorporated into larger dishes. At Mizlala, owned by celebrity chef and restauranteur Meir Adoni, labneh makes a cameo in the “Asian sashimi” as part of a glaze that also consists of soy and silan (date syrup). At Shaffa—a tapas bar located in Jaffa’s gentrified shuk hapishpishim (flea market)—labneh comes adorned with a glistening crown of crushed tomatoes.

But the labneh spreads I find in Tel Aviv and Jaffa’s restaurants don’t cut it. I’m used to the balls and I’m used to the ones that are made in the West Bank; these products are banned in Israel. With things as they are right now, however, I spend most of my time inside the Green Line, haunting the grocery stores, looking for the “right” labneh, dismayed to find only bland, mass-produced spreads that lack the punch of their Palestinian counterparts.

And then a stroke of luck: at shuk hacarmel (Carmel market) in central Tel Aviv one Friday, I spy the familiar balls, packed in oil. The vendor tells me they come from the Galilee, an Arab area of the country. I pay the steep 20 shekel ($5 USD); I pay the same price again when I find another jar of labneh balls in Jaffa at an Arab bakery. “These are from Nablus,” a city in the West Bank, the worker tells me, proudly. Maybe he doesn’t know about the ban.

I wrap my precious finds in plastic bag after plastic bag so when the oil leaks out—as it invariably does—it won’t soak my clothes. I pack them in my suitcase and bring them back to Florida so my husband and I can eat them at home, for breakfast, as we ought to.

This is What the Israelis Really Want Fri, 23 Oct 2015 16:51:07 +0000 The World Post at The Huffington Post, October 23, 2015

It’s Wednesday night. I’ve just left the memorial for Habtom Zarhum, the Eritrean asylum seeker who was mistaken for a Palestinian during the attack on the Beersheba bus station. Zarhum was shot by a security guard and was then “lynched”by an Israeli mob. They cursed the asylum seeker, spat on him and kicked his head as he lay on the ground bleeding.

The gathering held in Zarhum’s memory took place in a south Tel Aviv park, near the Central Bus Station. I board a “sherut” — a minivan that serves as a shared taxi — to head home.

Two older women are seated inside. They’re Mizrachi, Jews from Arab lands. It’s easy to tell from their accents. As I make my way past them, I squeeze past a large suitcase, which is taking up much of the aisle.

“Is it yours?” one of the women asks.

I cluck my tongue — the standard Israeli response for no.

A young man gets on behind me.

“Is that your suitcase?” They ask him as he sits down. A foreigner, he offers them a vacant look. He wears a kippah and a smile.

Ken,” he says, yes.

“Take it,” one of the women commands.

The man, whom the women have already dubbed “the Frenchman,” does nothing. I gather he doesn’t speak Hebrew.

Nu, come on, take it already! I don’t want it exploding next to me,” she shouts.

The woman is saying what the others around us were surely thinking. Whose suitcase is this? What’s in it? It’s what we call a “hefetz hashud,” a suspicious object.

“Maybe we should check it,” her companion says as the sherut starts to move. “Is it his? The Frenchman’s?”

The women don’t speak English so they continue yelling at him in Hebrew, trying to ascertain that the suitcase is, indeed, his and trying to figure out what’s in it.

“Is this your suitcase?” I translate for the young man.

“Yeah, it’s mine,” he says. He’s got a heavy American accent.

“The women want you take it.”

He wheels it down the aisle. But this doesn’t calm the women down. A few blocks later as the driver slows to pick up a passenger, one of them shouts “Don’t let him on, he looks suspicious.”

The driver ignores her, stops, and the man boards.

It’s quiet as he walks down the aisle, the woman’s remark still in our ears. We size him up. He sits down. It’s silent as faces pivot towards him, eyes trying to read his clothes, his hair, his skin, his facial expression, his movements. Does he look nervous? Is he reaching for something in his pocket?

He takes the only open seat, in the back row, wedged between the American-“Frenchman” and an Ethiopian Jew who wears a kippah. I wonder if he wore it a week ago, before Zarhum was killed. Or is it something new, something so he won’t be mistaken for a non-Jew, a terrorist.

The sherut lurches forward and, after a few uneasy moments, the women — who mention that they’re visiting Tel Aviv from Ashkelon — start chatting with the driver, asking him if it’s safe here.

“Sure,” the driver says. “This is Tel Aviv. What do the terrorists want with us? We’re all left-wingers. Vegans, everyone!”

Tel Aviv is known to Israelis as habuah, the bubble, because it is supposedly very different from the rest of the country. Here, the thinking goes, we’re isolated from the conflict. Here, everyone is, supposedly, a liberal.

“The leftists loves human beings,” the driver adds.

The women grow defensive. “We’re right-wing,” one says. “And the rightists love human beings, too.”

“But are you vegan?” the driver asks.

“What are you crazy?” one answers.

The driver launches into a speech, one he has clearly given many times. Eventually their discussion, which turns into an argument, becomes about kashrut, keeping kosher. Then the women identify themselves as masorati, traditional — like many other Mizrahi Jews, they’re neither secular nor religious. This leads, inevitably, to the driver asking them about their family roots. The women’s parents come from Yemen and Morocco.

“So you’re Arabs,” the driver says, adding that his family are Yemeni Jews, too.

“Gross,” the women shout. “We’re not Arabs.”

“Listen to your own accent,” the driver insists. “You’re an Arab. It’s okay. We’re all Arabs here.”

The women make noisy protest, one of them saying that Arabs are murderers and terrorists and that she is a Jew. As though Jews don’t kill people, too. As though dozens of Palestinians haven’t been shot to death by Israeli forces in recent weeks.

I realize, too, that she’s dehumanized both the Palestinians and the Jews in one fell swoop. Palestinians are “monsters” who kill people; Jews are saints who join the“most moral army in the world.” As an American-Jewish-Israeli who is married to a Palestinian, I’m doubly offended.

I also want to tell them that one can be both an Arab and a Jew. The child I’m carrying in my belly — our first, a girl — is living proof.

But I keep my mouth shut because there’s two of them, one of me, and who knows what the other people on the sherut think, how they’ll react.

The second woman takes a different approach than her friend, explaining to the driver that we have to distinguish between language and culture versus ethnicity. She admits to having the accent and, maybe, even some of the culture. “Sure, I cook some of the food,” she says. But that’s where the similarities end, in her mind.

“I’m not an Arab,” she says. “I’m a Jew.”

The driver, whose eagerness to embrace his Arab roots is uncommon amongst Israeli Jews, gives up. He steers the topic back to safer territory.

“Do you eat eggs?” he asks the women.

They say that they do.

“How can you eat eggs? Have you seen the cages those poor chickens live in?”

If he can’t persuade the women to embrace their Arabness, at least he’s going to make good vegans out of them.


As I ran errands in Tel Aviv last weekend, I passed a kiosk. The mainstream Hebrew daily Ma’ariv grabbed my eye.

“66%: Separate from the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem,” the headline read.

The picture below showed the cement blocks that were placed around Palestinian parts of the city last week.

I was intrigued. Giving up on half of Jerusalem — which Israel claims as its “eternal, undivided capital” — is usually associated with the “left” (I use the term loosely in regards to the Israeli left — many argue that there isn’t a left left here). But the past few elections have shown that the public has moved right.

As I studied the picture, I wondered if the uptick in violence has made Israelis realize that the occupation is unsustainable, if they finally see that attempting to control another people — by corralling them into ever shrinking spaces like the one shown in the picture, by restricting their freedom of movement — is not only impossible but inhumane.

I took the bait and bought the paper. After I picked up a few things from the market, which was a bit quieter than usual but still busy, I headed home and settled in to check out the article about the survey.

When I opened the paper, I was disappointed.

“The principle is to separate” the headline said.

The poll revealed that while, yes, Jewish Israelis say that the state should leave the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem — which writer Ben Caspit admitted is “left wing” — 58 percent also support a “voluntary transfer” (whatever that means) of “West Bank Arabs” (read: Palestinians).

Where are they supposed to go? I wondered.

Caspit accurately pointed out that this is a “right wing” sentiment. “In reality, it’s the same result,” he continues. “We want to quit the Arabs. It’s not important how. That they’ll leave us, that we’ll leave them, the principle is to separate.”

But separation — which was formalized and deepened by the Oslo Accords — has only made things worse. It has wrought our current reality. It has brought us to the present day, to two peoples who think of the “other” as faceless enemies.

Then there’s the issue of collective punishment: 61 percent of Jewish Israelis who were surveyed “support an economic boycott of Arab Israelis following the ‘wave of terror.'” And 88 percent support “punitive measures towards the family members of terrorists.”

The latter translates to home demolitions — after a Palestinian kills a Jewish Israeli, the state destroys the family’s house, even if the suspect himself is dead or in jail. Violence begets violence begets violence.

Where will it end?

And that glimmer of hope that I’d had — that recent events had led Israelis to understand that they need to give up on the occupation, that they’d moved to the “left”? On the contrary. The survey showed that despite the “wave of terror,” 64 percent of Jewish Israelis have not changed their political affiliation. “Only three percent report that they’ve moved left,” the article says, while 30 percent have moved further to the right.

Hold that one-third in your mind as you consider this: 67 percent of Israelis aren’t satisfied with how Netanyahu is handling the “wave of terror.” The next government will likely be even more right-wing than this one.


While I don’t know a lot of rightists — politics are divisive here and people self-segregate into like-minded groups — their conversations are omnipresent. On the bus, in cafes, in restaurants. And what I hear leaves me even more disheartened than what I see in the newspapers.

Wednesday, on my way to Zarhum’s memorial, I sat and had lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Persian place. Three middle-aged men and a young soldier sat at the table next to me. One of the men remarked that the place, which is usually busy at lunch time, was empty.

“Where is everyone?” he asked. “It’s because of the matsav, the situation, I guess.”

“The situation” — that’s what Israelis call the conflict.

The men began to chat about recent events, one casually mentioning that not only should terrorists’ homes be destroyed, but their families should be deported.

This, another chimed in, is the solution to the conflict. “Deport all of them and put walls on every border.” He took a bite of his food, chewed. “What can we do? We already live in a ghetto.”

A brief argument about the West Bank follows. If we annex it, one says, “All the Arabs will come here.”

“But if we leave, it will turn into Gaza,” another declares. “There’s nothing to do.” Both separation and occupation must continue.

The soldier complained that his commander is some sort of leftist who “wants a peace agreement with the Palestinians.” He snorts. “If we had a peace agreement with them, they’d make a “balagan.” A mess.


I’m saddened by this conversation and the poll, too, but I’m not surprised. When the violence ticks up — when the Palestinians no longer take dispossession and occupation like docile lambs — Israelis don’t self-reflect. They don’t ask “why are these people angry?” “What might they be trying to say?” “Have we done something to provoke this?”

Instead, Israelis look for simple, external answers: They’re anti-Semites, they hate us, they want to kill us, they want to drive us into the sea.

While I don’t understand this utter inability to self-reflect, I have to admit, I understand where it comes from: fear. I feel it, too, as I move through Tel Aviv. I, too, eye the people I pass on the street, sizing them up. Forget about racial profiling — I’m scared of everyone I don’t know right now. I try not to stand too close to anyone, God forbid they pull a knife out of their bag or pocket. Soldiers and police seem to be targets of attacks, so I make sure not to get too close to them, either, as I don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.

An elderly man and his wife — tourists who speak heavily-accented Hebrew — try to stop me and ask for directions one afternoon and I shout the directions to them over my shoulder as I keep moving.

That, I figure, is the key. Just keep moving.

I realize my thoughts and behavior are absurd. Totally irrational.

But even my husband — who is one of those “West Bank Arabs” that most Jewish Israelis would like to see transferred “voluntarily” — says he is more worried about me now than he was during the war last summer. Because “anything can happen anytime anywhere.” It could be a Palestinian attacker, it could be an armed Jewish Israeli who freaks out. Who knows?

And as I talk to people, I find that I’m not alone.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a blonde, even,” an acquaintance says, speaking of the hysteria and panic that seem to be spreading through Israeli society, “someone starts screaming that you’re a terrorist and you’re done.”


As good humanists, we say these things and we try to believe them. We try pretend that this could happen to anyone. But, Sunday night, we’re reminded that it’s the dark-skinned among us who are most likely to be falsely accused, as was the case with Zarhum. In a rare moment of clear-eyed reporting, the Israeli media calls it a “lynch.”

On Wednesday, after I left the restaurant, I headed to south Tel Aviv to conduct some interviews related to my book and to attend Zarhum’s memorial. As I passed the Central Bus Station, I noticed that there were even more guns here than a week ago. It wasn’t just the increased police and army presence. I also saw several civilians — all of them men — with handguns tucked into the waistbands of their pants or jeans.

The firepower didn’t make me feel safer. On the contrary. I crossed the street to try to get away from the police and soldiers — again, they’re targets — but there they were, on the other side of the road, too. Looking at all the uniforms made me feel like I have a reason to be worried, that there’s something to be anxious about and I began, again, to look intently at the people around me.

I passed a policeman. We made eye contact. I realized he’s sizing me up and I understood just how on edge he was — how on edge everyone is — when even a pregnant Jewish Israeli woman waddling down the street like myself can be considered a possible threat.

It struck me that this pervasive sense of fear and insecurity that has begun to permeate every aspect of life here — that sense that anything can happen anytime anywhere — is familiar. It reminds me of what I felt when I lived in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, of how I felt when I passed through a checkpoint, of how I felt when I heard that soldiers were raiding houses down the road from me.

No, Israelis are not under occupation. But now they’re getting a little taste of what those “West Bank Arabs” and East Jerusalemites feel on a daily basis. They’re getting a little taste of what comes from inequality, occupation and separation — things that Israelis view as necessary to their survival, things that won’t be going away anytime soon.

Welcome to Palestine.

Asylum seekers mourn lynched Eritrean man Fri, 23 Oct 2015 16:44:34 +0000 +972 Magazine, October 23, 2015

Hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese nationals gathered in south Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park Wednesday evening to mourn Habtom Zerhum, the asylum seeker who was shot and severely beaten Sunday night during a terrorist attack in the Beer Sheva bus station.

They lit candles and wept.

Desale Tesfay, 35, from Eritrea, explained to +972 that the gathering also served as a moment for members of the community to come together and talk and support one another.

Mourners expressed shock and anger at the accidental killing of the innocent man, who was mistaken for a terrorist and shot by a security guard. Some, like Tesfay, also criticized the Israeli government, calling on it to formulate a meaningful policy to help asylum seekers.

Speaking quietly during a moment of silence, Tesfay reflected on Zerhum’s life and violent death.

“He’s a human being who ran from [Eritrea] because there’s no democracy there,” Tesfay explained. “He was a young man who didn’t do anything wrong, he went to renew his visa and look what happened to him.”

Tesfay left Eritrea in 2008 after he was forcibly conscripted to the Eritrean army for eight years, for very little pay and with no end in sight. “It’s a dictatorship, that’s why we left. If it was a democracy, we wouldn’t be fleeing.”

When asked if Israel is also a democracy, Tesfay laughed long and hard.

“Yes, there’s democracy here, as they say, for their people [the Jews]. But for the refugees?”

Tesfay, a father of two, points out that his children cannot receive Israeli citizenship even though they were both born here. His visa stipulates that he does not have permission to work. And, when Tesfay arrived in 2008, he spent six months in Saharonim prison, without trial.

He added that while he has not been summoned to Holot, the desert detention facility where Israel sends asylum seekers, he feels like he is “still in prison.”

“It’s like the government put a long string here,” he said, pointing to his ankle. “I go to work, I come home and [otherwise] I don’t move.”

“Now, today, we are supposed to go to jail again,” he said, referring to Holot. “It’s not how things should be. We don’t deserve jail. What did we do? We requested [protection] as refugees.”

Tesfay said he does not fear for his personal safety after what happened to Zerhum. But because he has no rights in Israel, he added, he feels he must accept whatever happens to him “quietly… even if someone comes to kill me.”

Next to us, the mourners began to wail again.

The lynching of Habtom Zarhum: A history of incitment Tue, 20 Oct 2015 16:34:32 +0000 +972 Magazine, October 20, 2015

An Eritrean asylum seeker was mistaken for a Palestinian during ashooting attack at the Be’er Sheva bus station Sunday night. Habtom Zarhum, 29, was shot by a security guard who thought he was a terrorist and then – as the asylum seeker lay bleeding on the ground – civilians kicked him, cursed and spat on him. A bystander bashed his head in with a bench.

In a video that circulated on social media Sunday night, one man is seen holding a chair over Zarhum. It is not clear whether he was trying to harm the asylum seeker or protect him.

The video also shows a small number of policemen and civilians trying to stop the mob from further harming Zarhum. But their efforts were unsuccessful. At one point a man walks through the loose ring they’d formed around Zarhum, who was writhing in pain, and casually kicks his head like a soccer ball as he passes the already bloody and battered asylum seeker.

When medical personnel arrived, a crowd that was chanting “Death to Arabs” tried to prevent them from reaching Zarhum. The medics first treated the wounded Jewish Israelis. The asylum seeker was reportedly the last to receive help.

Zarhum later died of his injuries. Police on Tuesday said they were waiting to charge anybody in the death until an autopsy clarified whether the gunshot or the beatings caused his death.

Israeli media quickly labeled the incident a “lynch.” Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s top-selling daily newspaper, ran a photograph of Zarhum lying in his own blood and trying to protect his head, on the front page of Monday’s paper with the caption “A terrible mistake.” The article inside the paper was titled: “Just because of his skin color.”

Members of Israel’s African asylum seeker community expressed sadness and shock. Asylum seekers who are currently imprisoned in the Holot detention facility — where they are held for no specific crime and without trial for 12 months — held a vigil yesterday in Zarhum’s memory.

Dawit Demoz is a 29-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea who has been in Israel since 2009. He criticized the security guard who shot Zarhum for using racial profiling, “You don’t just shoot [because of] the way [someone] looks. [Zarhum] didn’t do anything, he was trying to escape like everyone else… he was just trying to run away from the terrorist.”

Activists, asylum seekers and refugee advocates Israel were quick to point to the incitement directed toward African asylum seekers — by politicians, state institutions and the media — as necessary context for the killing in Be’er Sheva. “You leave a horrible situation [in Eritrea or Sudan] and when you come here and call yourself an asylum seeker, [the government and media] call you an infiltrator,” Demoz explained, referring to the term the Israeli government and media use to refer to African asylum seekers, a term rights groups have long decried as derogatory and inflammatory.

In death, however, Israeli media has taken to calling Zarhum an asylum seeker, “the Eritreat,” and in some cases, even a refugee. Police, strangely, began referring to him as a “foreign subject.”

Rotem Ilan, head of the migration department at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, echoed the same sentiment. “You can see the difference between how the media talks about asylum seekers every day and how they talk about them when they die. Suddenly, they don’t use the word infiltrator,” she said, “suddenly he’s a human being.”

The lesson Ilan hopes that Israel will take from this incident, she continued, is “to treat people as human beings while they’re still alive.”

Some 45,000 African asylum seekers, most of whom are from Eritrea and Sudan, are currently in Israel. Authorities systematically reject or ignore almost requests for refugee status by African applicants. Israel has granted refugee status to only four Eritreans and no Sudanese nationals. In the European Union, by comparison, Eritrean asylum seekers’ applications for refugee status receive a positive answer 84 percent of the time.

At the height of their migration to Israel, there were 60,000 asylum seekers but numbers have waned as a result of an official policy to “make their lives miserable” and encourage those who are here to leave. Numerous Israeli officials have called African asylum seekers a demographic threat.

While Israel cannot deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers directly back to their countries of origin — because it would blatantly violate the principle of non-refoulement — most of the asylum seekers who live here do not receive work visas. With no legal way to survive, they work low-paying black market jobs where they face exploitation.

Israel has also tweaked its 1954 Prevention of Infiltration law, which was initially created to stop Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes, broadening the legislation to imprison African asylum seekers. The Israeli High Court of Justice rejected the legislation that authorized indefinite detention twice as unconstitutional, and upheld a third version while limiting the administrative detention of asylum seekers to one year.

Some activists, like Ilan, are pointing a finger at politicians for fomenting the conditions of xenophobia and vigilante violence that led to Zarhum’s death.

In the wake of stabbing attacks carried about Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, politicians and state officials — including Knesset Member Yair Lapid, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and the Jerusalem District Police Commander Moshe Edri — have encouraged Jewish Israelis to arm themselves and to “shoot to kill,” as Lapid put it. Last week, human rights groups issued a public letter expressing their concern about such statements.

ACRI, where Ilan works, sent an additional letter to the country’s attorney general warning of the consequences of such dangerous rhetoric.

“In such a tense time the leader’s job is to calm things down not to add fuel to the fire,” Ilan reflected. “In our letter we said that the end result of this current atmosphere and [politicians’] careless [remarks] is that innocent people will be hurt. This is what we saw yesterday.”

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time asylum seekers have experienced violence at the hands of Jewish Israelis. For years, the community has dealt with near-constant, low-level violenceaccentuated by more serious attacks. Things boiled over in 2012, when a small race riot broke out in south Tel Aviv after Knesset Member Miri Regev, who is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, called African asylum seekers a “cancer in our body.”

When asked whether or not he feels safe in light of yesterday’s events, Demoz sighed and answered, “I don’t know what I’m feeling really. It’s hard for me to answer this question.”

*While the Israeli media has identified Zarhum as Haftom Zarhum, he has been identified by the African Refugee Development Center as Habtom Zerhom.


This is What Palestinian Youth Really Want Mon, 19 Oct 2015 16:27:11 +0000 The World Post at The Huffington Post, October 19, 2015

It’s Friday morning and East Jerusalem is on lockdown, the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods cut off by new, hastily erected checkpoints — massive cement blocks manned by Israeli soldiers.

In Tel Aviv, however, it’s the beginning of the weekend, and it feels like it. The streets are full of life as Israelis sit in sidewalk cafes, lingering over breakfast, as they shuffle towards the beach, or head to the shuk, the open-air market. I’m going through the motions myself, running a couple of errands before the Sabbath begins.

But as I move freely through Tel Aviv, I can’t stop thinking about East Jerusalem. A majority of those who have attempted or have carried out recent attacks on Jewish Israelis have come from the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Indeed, some journalists and commentators are pointing to the area as the epicenter of the current unrest, or intifada, call it what you will.

East Jerusalem is a place I know well. As a journalist, I wrote about the housing shortages and inequalities that plague the area due to Israeli policy. I also taught at a Palestinian university in Abu Dis, a Jerusalem neighborhood on the “other” side of the separation barrier that I lived in for some time, as well.

When I think about East Jerusalem now, however, I think less about my own experience and more about my former students, who came from there and the West Bank. They were 17, 18, 19-years-old. Freshmen in college. They were not unlike the university students I’d taught in the United States. Some were hardworking and devoted to their studies; others came to class unprepared and full of excuses. All worried about their grades.

In short, they were normal kids who wanted normal lives.

They wanted to come to college without having to pass through Israeli checkpoints. They wanted to return home and find all of their family members present, that none of their fathers or brothers had been taken to administrative detention (imprisonment without trial). They wanted to sleep through the night without the fear of soldiers raiding their house, turning it upside down, or stationing themselves on the roof — events a number of my students described in their essays.

They wanted their younger brothers and sisters to be able to go to school, something that isn’t always possible in East Jerusalem. The West Bankers among them wanted to be able to visit Jerusalem without a permit. Those who lived in East Jerusalemwanted neighborhoods where the garbage had been collected, places where the police helped keep law and order, where they could feel safe, where there was decent infrastructure, where they could get permits to build houses or add on to existing structures. Where their homes would not be demolished.

All of my students wanted to graduate and find decent jobs, something increasingly difficult to do in both East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where the economies have been de-developed by the Israeli occupation and where unemployment is rampant. They wanted to marry one day and start families of their own.

My students wanted what any human being wants, regardless of nationality.

Whether they hailed from the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has control over designated areas, or East Jerusalem, where there is no PA presence and where Israel shirks its responsibility towards Arab residents, my students had little faith in the Palestinian leadership to help them out.

During the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense — which claimed six Israeli lives and saw more than 100 Palestinian casualties — my students convened a town hall meeting to discuss the events and strategies for protesting Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. They openly expressed their frustration with all Palestinian political parties, including Fatah, which leads the PA. They called not for the resurrection of the largely defunct parties like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine but for something completely new, something from the ground up.

Fast forward to today’s protests and stabbings. The latter are cries of despair and hopelessness, tragic suicide missions that are unlikely to accomplish much of anything besides more needless bloodshed.

Foreign analysts have been quick to claim that recent events are about Al Aqsa, and they’ve been even quicker to argue about whether or not this is a third intifada. But both discussions miss the point.

Yes, Israeli provocations at Al Aqsa were a proverbial match. But the tinder is the occupation and the many forms of violence — literal and structural — that Palestinians experience at Israel’s hands every day. And because Al Aqsa is in Israeli-occupied territory, it can be understood as both a religious and political symbol.

Those who call this a religious war, and who point to Abbas’ words as incitement, have got it backwards. Abbas — whose term expired in 2009 and has little legitimacy on the Palestinian street — is trying to insert himself into recent events in a bid to regain popularity.

But the Palestinian youth who are protesting and carrying out attacks on Israelis care little what he or other politicians say. Indeed, their actions can also be understood as moves against the current state of politics, including the Palestinian Authority itself. The young people are calling for something new, for something more than endless negotiations that go nowhere or that buy Israel the time to build more settlements and deepen the occupation. After all, this is the generation that was born and raised after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 — their difficult lives are a testimony to what negotiations will get the Palestinian people. That is to say, little.

The youth are calling for their human and civil rights, for equality, for hope. Will Israel — and the world — listen?

How does Israel stop Palestinians from protesting? Mon, 19 Oct 2015 16:06:43 +0000 Al Jazeera English, October 19, 2015

Israeli police came to activist Adan Tartour’s home in Jaffa at half past midnight on October 7, and pounded on the door. When the Tartours opened it, police said that they had an arrest warrant.

Adan Tartour, 18, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was put under arrest for “suspicion of violence and terror” – only because she’d signed up to take a bus to a protest in Nazareth.

Tartour, and other activists, were detained on suspicion of planning “illegal” demonstrations.

“They had an arrest warrant for me and my father,” Tartour explains, adding that this was the case with other female detainees. “They were arrested with their fathers… It’s humiliating and chauvinistic,” she told Al Jazeera.

She and her father were taken to a local police station before being transferred to Nazareth, where they arrived at 4:30 in the morning. During the interrogation, which began at 5:30am, police repeatedly told Tartour that she “is a shame to her family” and that her actions are “not good for her family”.

She felt that this orientalist appeal to “family honour” was an attempt to dissuade her from protesting.

“But what they don’t understand is that our [Palestinian] families stand by their daughters,” she says.

Rights groups say that dozens of Palestinians are being detained in what they describe as a wave of “preventive arrests” that reflect Israel’s attempts to quell Palestinian resistance against its excessive use of force against protesters and the extrajudicial killings of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

According to Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the detainees have been subject to preventive arrests before they attended demonstrations. Like Tartour, most of those detained have no criminal record.

As of today, between 160 to 200 Palestinian activists have been arrested either before or during protests, according to Adalah. Of those detained, 40 are still being held as Israeli authorities seek to lengthen their imprisonment.

Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, says that these arrests are illegal. “According to Israeli law, you cannot arrest a person based on the fear that in the future they might commit a crime,” she explains, adding that stopping people from protesting is a “violation of their right to freedom of expression”.

It’s not only demonstrators and their family members who are being locked up. Several bus drivers who attempted to transport protesters to Nazareth – but were turned back by police outside of the city – were later arrested.

“Police claimed that the drivers themselves had participated in an ‘illegal’ demonstration,” Zaher says, even though the protest “did not need authorisation in the first place” and despite the fact that the buses did not actually reach the protest sites.

The buses were also impounded. As of October 13, the vehicles were still in police custody.

Not only have the courts upheld requests to extend the activists’ detention, but they have also, at times, accepted highly questionable “evidence”.

“Judges referred to onions [found on demonstrators] as an indication that the protesters meant for a violent demonstration,” Zaher explains. “We have never seen onions being referred to as a legal defence.”

Onions are sometimes used as temporary treatment for exposure to tear gas, which Israeli military and police forces regularly use on peaceful Palestinian demonstrators.

Zaher adds that judges have also detained Palestinian citizens based on investigation material to which she and other defence attorneys do not have access.

In one case, a minor who doesn’t know Hebrew was being held on the basis of a “testimony that was written in Hebrew” and signed by the child.

Minors’ legal rights are being violated in other ways, as well.

According to Israeli law, minors’ parents should be informed and are allowed to be with their child during questioning. Children may also have a social worker present, and minors should not be interrogated after 10:00pm.

Lawyers have seen some or all of these rules ignored by Israeli authorities during this wave of arrests.

Farah Bayadsi, a lawyer representing a number of activists and minors who were detained, echoes similar views about police preventing detainees from getting the legal counsel they are entitled to according to Israeli law.

“A police officer intervened when I was giving a 14-year-old teenage [girl] legal consultation before her interrogation, as [provided for in] the law. The policeman kicked me out of the office and told me that my time was up,” Bayadsi says.


For some, the recent events are reminiscent of the Israeli military regime that ruled over Palestinian citizens of the state from 1948 until 1966.

Shira Robinson, an associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University and the author of Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the birth of Israel’s liberal settler state, remarks, “There were tonnes of preventive detentions” of Palestinian citizens of Israel between 1948 and 1966. “It was the name of the game.”

She offers the example of Israeli authorities’ attempts to stop the commemoration of the Kafr Qasim massacre, which took place in October of 1956.

In the days and nights before the anniversary, “Israeli authorities would round up known activists ahead of time. That was standard fare”.

Zaher says that it’s unnecessary to look that far afield. She remarks that the manner in which Israeli police and courts have handled protesters points to a fundamental difference in the way the state treats and views its Palestinian citizens versus its Jewish ones.

Ultimately, she says, Israeli authorities handle Palestinian citizens similarly to Palestinians in the occupied territories: “It doesn’t matter where you are – if you’re Palestinian, you’re an enemy and you’re a threat.”

The Israeli legal system, Zaher continues, “is based on a perspective of a Palestinian … as an alien. When they are viewed as an enemy and this is anchored in the law, then you have the legitimisation to do anything”.

While Adan’s father was released early morning on October 8, her detention was upheld and extended by an Israeli court. After four days, she was let go with the caveat that she might be taken in for additional questioning, and under the condition that she stay away from Nazareth for two weeks.

She is also “forbidden from joining protests”.

And that’s the ultimate goal, according to Tartour and others: The Israelis want to frighten Palestinian citizens and thus stop them from demonstrating.

Reflecting on her experience, Tartour is troubled by a number of things, particularly the treatment of minors, the court’s role in upholding and extending detention, and the state’s attempts to depict Palestinian protests as illegal.

When Tartour appeared in court and her detention was extended, Tartour recalls: “The judge said because of what’s happening in the state … they couldn’t interfere with the police’s work. So what is the courts’ job?”

Read the longer version at +972 Magazine.



Which is the ‘right’ side of the Green Line these days? Mon, 12 Oct 2015 15:55:18 +0000 +972 Magazine, October 12, 2015

Thursday morning: I wake up and check the news this morning to see what happened last night and then head to the doctor’s in north Tel Aviv. I’m 24 weeks pregnant — yes, with a Jewish-Palestinian baby. My physician in Florida, where we live now, has advised me to keep up with my medical care in Israel even though I’ll only be here for six weeks to freshen up my research for the book I’ve just sold.

I’m a few minutes late to my appointment . When the doctor’s door opens, the woman who is scheduled after me steps right on in. She shuts the door in my face. I check the list next to the door and announce the time of my appointment aloud.

“So, it’s your turn,” the other women who are waiting say. They urge me to knock and assert myself.

I knock and the patient who just entered opens the door. “I’m sorry,” I begin, “but I had the 8:40 appointment.”

She shrugs, smiles. “But you were late.” And the door slams shut in my face again.

“Israelim,” Israelis, one of the women smirks.

When the door opens again and the patient emerges, I’m quick to make my way into the doctor’s office. We talk for a few minutes about what tests I’ve already had in the States, their results, and how I’m feeling. At my American doctor’s insistence, I’ve brought my medical records with me. I offer them to the doctor. He says they’re not necessary and then he sends me on my way to get checked for gestational diabetes.

As I’m leaving, there’s a commotion in the lobby. A Filipino man has followed an elderly Israeli couple into the building.

“They hit my car!” he shouts in English.

No one responds.

“You hit my car!” he tries again to the couple.

The clerk — a Palestinian citizen of the state I spoke to on my way in — goes about his business. Another elderly couple puzzles over a piece of paper.

You hit my car and you’re angry with me?” his voice indignant.

I step onto the sidewalk just as the Filipino man is heading towards parallel parking.

“Look,” he says, pointing. “I was there, they pulled in and hit me, and then they got out, didn’t apologize, and yelled at me.”

“Israelim,” I say.

“Look at how much room they took!” he continues, pointing to the couples’ vehicle, which was, indeed, taking up two spaces. “And they hit me!”

The worst part, he tells me again, is that when they got out of their car, they started shouting at and blaming him rather than apologizing.

I think of Israelis’ reactions to the events of this week — their inability to reflect on what has brought Palestinians to this point. I think of Israelis’ unwillingness to understand the stabbings as violent responses to the violent occupation that began in 1948 for some and 1967 for others, depending on who you ask.

I think of what’s happening, specifically, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where Israel has taken most of the land and resources and is constantly expropriating more. Where there isn’t enough land and houses for normal population growth, where Palestinians are forced to build “illegally” because the Israeli government refuses to grant them the necessary permits. Where one might have to then pay for the demolition of their own home.

Where the economy has been crushed by the occupation; where there is no freedom of movement; where the lack of freedom of movement further suffocates the economy, feeding only the sense of desperation.

Where there is no hope. No hope for anything — a decent job, a good income, a normal life. Where there is little trust in the PA or politicians or negotiations that wrought the current reality, Oslo, or the negotiations that are resurrected from time to time just maintain an unbearable status quo.

I think of the place my former students live, the place where they left home every morning for school, uncertain that they would make it through the checkpoints and arrive, let alone on time. The place where a student might find that a friend hasn’t made it — maybe his classmate has been taken to administrative detention. Or maybe he has been shot. Who knows? One’s fate is just as uncertain as the roads in the territories.

The stabbings are screams of frustration, rage, despair, hopelessness. They’re the screams of people who are lost, who have no leadership and see nothing on the horizon. I think of the Israelis’ inabilities to hear these screams; I think of how they hear no one’s voices but their own.

Next to me, the Filipino man is still going on about his car.

He’s looking for consolation, which he won’t get from the elderly couple. I simply repeat back to him what he’s already said to me. “Israelis don’t take responsibility for their actions,” I say. “Instead, they get angry and blame others.”

He shakes his head and cradles his face in his hands as he stands on the sidewalk, looking at the damage done to his vehicle.

Later that day, when I arrive back at the city center, I notice a pile of old hand-painted tiles on the sidewalk near my apartment. They’ve been placed there, neatly stacked one on top of the other, by the Palestinian workers doing the renovation in the building next to mine.

I pick a tile up, brush the dust off, and examine it. I contemplate taking it back to Florida to join the other pre-state tiles I collected in both Tel Aviv and Bethlehem — souvenirs from a time when things were different, from a time when the land wasn’t divided. Remnants from a time when there was still such a thing as Palestinian Jews.

One of the workers joins me on the sidewalk. “Something interesting to you here, miss?” he asks.

“These,” I say. “Are they garbage?”

“Yes, that’s why they’re here.”

As we’re talking, another stabbing is taking place. This time, it’s in Tel Aviv.

“It’s a pity,” I say, “to throw these things away.”

“Death,” he says. “That’s what’s really a pity.”

Read the full article at +972 Magazine.

88 pieces made it into the ACCH’s biennial show Tue, 15 Sep 2015 20:21:23 +0000 Broward Palm Beach New Times, September 15, 2015

The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is a quaint yellow building with stately palm trees and well-landscaped shrubbery. Usually, it’s the art inside that’s controversial — not the politics surrounding the place. But over the summer, Jane Hart, who had been the curator for eight years, and who was instrumental in building the center’s reputation as a standout in the contemporary art scene, left the institution amid rumors of friction with administrators. As “an act of solidarity,” two high-profile curators who were slated to serve as jurors for a major upcoming art show likewise stepped down.

Though the well-loved Hart has not been replaced, the center seems to be managing fine so far with independent curators. Another well-admired denizen of the local art scene stepped in to save the day just in time for one of the ACCH’s most important shows: the Seventh All-Media Juried Biennial. One of the most significant art events in the state, Hollywood’s Biennial takes place every other year. Awards will go to Best in Show, First, Second, and Third places as well as Honorable Mentions.

Michele Weinberg is curating the show. Weinberg is the creative director of Girls’ Club gallery in Fort Lauderdale. She has designed a mosaic for Hollywood ArtsPark colored-asphalt crosswalks and sidewalks in Tampa, and murals for Celebrity Cruise Lines and for Facebook’s Miami offices. Lately, she’s been doing thought-provoking but playful pattern work with tiles and rugs.

For the Biennial, which has an opening reception on the evening of Friday, September 18, nearly 400 established and emerging artists from across Florida (the contest is open only to state residents) submitted their work for consideration. Of their 1083 entries—which ran the gamut from paintings, sculptures, performances, video, computer-generated images, and installations tailored especially for the site—only 88 pieces made the cut.

Weinberg explains that the jurors — including Elizabeth Cerejido, a former curator at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and and Marisa J. Pascucci, a curator at the Boca Raton Museum of Art — picked “the most realized” works, works that have some “sort of statement that’s gelled and is alive in that piece.” She characterizes the art included in the show as “risky and inventive,” and said that much of it “has a narrative to the storytelling.”

While the layperson such as myself might not always see the narrative, the works are provocative in the least. Justin Gaffey’s “Attached”—composed of steel, acrylic, string, and graphite on a wood panel—offers a female figure that partially obscured by red threads. The strings are taut, evoking a feeling of tension. The image asks the viewer to consider, perhaps, the nature of our relationships: do they support us or tie us down? Is the woman’s weight straining the threads? Or do ties that bind pull on her?

Molly Khorasantchi’s vibrant oil on canvas “Roots of Feelings 2” is slightly more abstract. A coiled orange line—its size inconsistent, its edges undefined—stands against a backdrop of assorted colors and shapes. Small blocks of geometric forms appear occasionally, emerging from an image that is at once chaotic and coherent.

Jane duBrin’s “posing” presents a haunting image rendered in vine charcoal on canvas. The portrait depicts a man or woman, eyes closed, facing the viewer. We don’t get details, only the contours of the person’s face. The effect is an ethereal image that reminds of the fleeting, transient nature of existence.

To this casual viewer, Eddie Arroyo’s work feels particularly relevant to the South Florida location of the biennial. The acrylic on canvas “1 NW 62nd Street Miami, FL 33150”—one of Arroyo’s intriguing “Miami Portraits” series—seems to offer some commentary on the South Florida art scene. Although it depicts a corner in Little Haiti, adjacent to Wynwood, the latter is referenced in graffiti that’s been hastily scrawled on the wall of a local business. Considering a portrait of place, which references another place, has a profound effect on the viewer.

Like other “Miami Portraits,” no people appear in this image. The only figures that are present in the series are those that are depicted in the street art or advertisements that are part of the landscape. It begs the question: is a Miami empty of its inhabitants still Miami? What is a place without its people?

Award winners will be announced at the opening reception and will receive cash prizes ranging from $2000 to $400. The reception will be held from 6:00 to 9:00 PM and is free to ACCH members. Non-members may attend for $10; tickets will be available at the door and credit cards will be accepted. The bar will be open and light hors d’oeuvres will be served.

Autumn Casey’s “Waiting in Purgatory but at Least There’s Chairs and it Feels Musical” will appear at the ACCH alongside the biennial. Casey’s installation includes video and sculpture and blends found objects with items from the artist’s personal life—resulting in an experience of “existential uncertainty,” according to the ACCH’s website.

Also on display will be the exhibition #acchfocus, consisting of 52 winning images from the ACCH’s 2013-2014 Instagram contest.

The Biennial exhibition will run September 19 through November 1.