Hit Send: My Letter to the New York Times

Dear New York Times Staff,

NYT     I was disappointed but unsurprised to learn of an article that saw exposure in your publication on January 6th. It portrays the Palestinian Authority as being party to revisionist and hateful education in Palestine. Having lived and worked with Palestinians for more than a year, I know this piece is derivative of settler propaganda and lax journalism. I did encounter a disadvantageous bitterness in a few Palestinians (of course) and I have my own criticisms of the Palestinian Authority but this piece is an embarrassing example of what Dr. Edward Said described as “orientalism”. Special-interest groups who assembled and spoon-fed your paper that material are merely appealing to the cultivated ignorance of the United States public. The privileging of the Holocaust narrative, no matter which side is lionized, is ludicrously Euro-centric. The historical Holocaust is all but lost in these retro-fittings used to mask the abuse and displacement of Palestinians – a real barrier to peace. It isn’t even an Arab brand of bitterness; that’s how far detached the supposed curriculum is and how far our discourse has fallen behind reality: stereotypes sprinkled over tropes. It has little to do with what Palestinians actually learn in school or how their education is supported (or thwarted) by this country.

The veracity of the curricula, which many others are busy debunking, remains irrelevant. Even if those were actual Hamas or Hezbollah curricula, these would be nothing but a rancid pile of red-herrings: a stench to draw attention away from the occupation and the illegal settlement project. Just as The American Studies Association and the Modern Language Association are beginning to openly debate Israel’s discriminatory border policies, just as the European Union grows impatient with Israel’s flouting of international law, just as companies feel the tremors of the growing BDS campaign– just as all of that is happening, someone produces this content. These curricula were cards in-hand, played expertly at the appropriate opening. It is all pure smoke-screen, especially the notion that Palestinian prejudice is institutional and Israeli prejudice is isolated in extreme pockets. How laughable: I moved across check-points on a weekly basis and saw the army toying with people. I know about the violence that takes place without impunity (settlers, soldiers, cops) – and chuckled bitterly when a Likud politician publically stated they intended to do with the Bedouin (Arab Israelis, not Palestinians) “what the Americans did with the Indians”. With so many instances of Arab dehumanization taking place, it would be small wonder if there were reactionary school curricula! Apartheid is sickening and Israel needs every distraction they can to continue realizing their ‘manifest destiny’.

Manifest Destiny: when we look back at our nation’s history, we see examples of white people glorying in their dreams of entitlement. Israel wants to take the land from its inhabitants and Americans cannot seem to grapple with this kind of gilded-age theft, possibly because we have not truly faced the theft perpetrated on this continent. Meanwhile, The New York Times has lost the semblance of substance in order to keep selling these fantasies about Israel. Unfortunately, it is Israelis who will suffer consequences in the coming years because America has loved what they should be, not what they are. Though I have met excellent, kind Israelis who love human dignity, I know that there are bratty, bigoted, greedy Israelis as well – just like there are unsavory people in every country. No one is exceptional. If we cannot find compassion for embittered Palestinians, I believe we will stab Israelis even harder in the back for resources lost. Billions of US tax-dollars pour into that country. Israel needs a friend that will tell the truth, not blind allegiance. The Likud-led coalition is leading them down the darkest of paths. Thank you for receiving my letter: I hope The New York Times becomes part of the solution rather than the problem, else I will never find reason to subscribe.

With realistic hopes,

John Daniel Gore
Speaking for himself.

Epilogue: I feel at peace. I nearly hesitated to post this letter at all, fearing I would become defined by my scathing critiques. There is so much more to me than the issues I have worn on my sleeves for nearly three years. I want to transition from an activist to a teacher and artist — hopefully a friend and partner to someone before this decade is gone; I want to love… yet I feel compelled to fight hate. Since I had already documented the previous incarnations of this work, it was fitting to submit the final draft. The cold critique is most appropriate for a chilling business like Israeli apartheid and the system of curtains drawn around it. This little ‘opus’ brought me back into right relationship with my emotions: neither walking on eggshells like the Coarse Draft nor indulging in bombastic polemic like the Angrier Draft. Sometimes, we in the solidarity movement do more harm than good but this time I kept my veins ‘icy’. I can go back to healing, now.

Thank-you for reading.

Angrier Draft

Allow me to get angry and flush my system:

 

Dear New York Times Staff,

Once again Israeli officials, most notably the Likud-party scum who are in power right now, have successfully inundated your rag with a giant pile of rotting red-herrings. Just as the European Union has them on notice for their human rights violations and the international boycott movement is gaining traction, in the midst of growing internal accusations of racism, the Israeli right-wing is turning your gullible eyes toward ‘Palestinian incitement’. Even the New York Times is so dominated by the prevailing, orientalist media that you will gladly sop up all the grease being poured on you by Jewish ethnocentrists who are increasingly desperate to obfuscate, distracting from the numerous (and massive) human right violations and community displacements that have happened for decades. There continue be grave problems of scale in US media coverage of the occupation of the Levant and the displacement of its indigenous inhabitants – many of whom are Arab Israelis given a second-class citizenship.

I lived in Palestine for eighteen months and my inclination is to believe the Palestinian Authority’s denial that their school produced this material, in spite of the fact that I know the current ‘leadership’ in Palestine are jello-legged parasites procrastinating a popular vote. Yet the fact of the matter is that producing hateful material is not the cardinal threat to peace, even when Israelis are doing so. Revisionist, inflammatory curricula are nothing more than an expressions of a resentment that grows organically out of occupation – both for the occupied and the occupier. Typical: you, NYT, are focused on a symptom to the exclusion of the disease. Hell, Palestinian Authority schools by themselves do not even compose the majority of primary education in the West Bank – and NONE of Gaza, though I suspect that those curricula actually came from Hamas controlled Gaza, where the Israeli military ensures that children are brought up in isolation and squalor.

Palestinian Authority curricula are not in violation of the Fourth Geneva convention, which bans moving a civilian population into occupied territory: that’s Israel. Palestinian Authority guard facebook posts were not declared illegal by an international court in 2004: the West Bank ‘separation barrier’ is the illegal structure, ordered to be demolished. It stands. The Palestinian Authority did not kill over 160 people during Operation Pillar of Cloud, as Israel did versus Hamas, but intead helped obtain non-member status in the UN with a vote of 138 in favor, 9 opposed and 41 abstaining. Yet it was always the settlement enterprise that is the root of all these evils, as was settler colonialism in the Americas and Africa. That an ethnic group would want to return to the land their faith tradition finds Holy is understandable; that this group, Israeli Jews, feels it can reproduce the vilest patterns of apartheid and exploitation and expect to do so with complete impunity is unacceptable.

What the Palestinian Authority teaches in their schools is really crackers compared to the education children are getting from their environment. Indeed, it’s really crackers compared to the education given to me just walking between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities taught me the meaning of dystopia – etc.

…I am surprised this has not decayed into cussing and yelling… it seems that it is not bad to tap “The Dragon” sometimes. My anger is more cogent than my political correctness. It will need brushing-up but I think that this is a better start… but I need a break already… all these old feelings… wow…

 

Thoughts?

Coarse Draft

I am stumbling back into the practice of writing. A request to write letters to the New York times just went out on one of the listservs I still follow from my work e-mail account. The prospect is daunting to me both because of the seriousness of that request and the shiploads of emotional baggage attached to the topic. I decided that the best thing I could possibly do is just write SOMETHING — just ANYTHING — that I can come back to on Monday…

Dear New York Times Staff,

I trust you are receiving many letters from well-intentioned progressives about an article referencing Palestinian ‘incitement’ in Palestinian Authority schools, as well as letters from Israel sympathizers congratulating your publication on running the piece. I spent eighteen months in the West Bank, though I confess to having only a basic grasp of Arabic and no contact with Palestinian Authority curricula. In Bethlehem, many of the schools are parochial and still others are UN run schools in refugee camps – communities forcefully evicted by violence decades ago. It is going to become obvious that my experience of Israeli racism and cruelty far exceeds the resentments I encountered among Palestinians (with whom I lived and had many opportunities to examine). Your piece reflects a major challenge in US media, which is overcoming the problem of proportion.

When the conflict occurred in Gaza in November of 2012, over 160 people of Palestinian heritage died during just those eight days as compared to 6 precious souls lost in Israel. Shortly after that episode concluded, 60 people were rumored to have disappeared into heaven-knows-what-dungeon just in the Bethlehem area where I was living (as compared to zero Israelis) and a boy was shot in Hebron. These occurrences are not unusual. I lived constantly with Palestinians who have lost their ancestral lands, have restricted movement, make their living in a captive economy, and seem to receive nothing but disrespect from a United States media that barely acknowledges they are living in an occupied country – a state recognized by the UN (even if it was only as a non-member) that same November. They still welcomed me. Conversely, my few brushes with Israeli culture have convinced me that they need to wrestle with the same demons we did in the 1960s and South Africa, likewise, in the 1980s. Their policies are in violation of international law, courts, and resolutions but, more importantly, are just as conniving and unfair as the tactics employed in this country during the 19th century to displace Native Americans.

Many of us doubt those samples actually are from the Palestinian Authority curriculum and the PA, itself, denies the accusations. I wouldn’t be shocked if those pages came from a Hamas curriculum, nor appalled because they are under such vicious siege. The PA is certainly flawed but they are also in a terrible position, too. My tendency is to believe that the pro-settlement movement in Israel is responsible for bringing such hateful material into the light in order to do inciting of their own — and they do plenty of it. Recent explorations of academic boycott by the American Studies Association and the Modern Language Association show that there are a growing number of educated people who can see the lack or proportion and understand why it is necessary to embrace nonviolent tactics to curb Israeli racism and oppression…

 

…I need some water… I’m venting…

 

This is going to be a tough process for me; I wonder if I should say anything about getting stopped and frisked by Jerusalem PD of if that is going to make me look petty.

 

Thoughts?

Always Burning: 2

Prayer Vigil

Watch for the Smoke…

Always watching...

Always watching…

The evacuation began when the crack of the first stone hitting concrete sent shock-waves through our coffee cups. We were all sitting

down-stairs, together. Wa’el ran up the stairs to street-level in a flash, to check, and burst into the foyer again within seconds saying  “yulla, yulla… let’s go before the gas…”. We re-stuffed our bags and scrambled up the stairs and through the gate, showing our kefiahs to the protestors but hiding our faces from the tower guards. Wa’el, Drew, and I stopped

several times to glance over our shoulders—I felt like Lot’s wife: a pillar of

salt, transfixed. Any moment, noxious projectiles would rain down on the masked youths. Wa’el offered to give us something to drink, which in the spirit of Palestinian hospitality meant we were going to his house to hang-out indefinitely. He asked if we wanted to light the hookah, too…

* * *

I do not look for physical signs from God often. Some read extra amounts of Divine intention into happenings, especially around Jerusalem. I went to القدس الشرقي to show my solidarity with Gaza at the Dominican Church by the Garden Tomb. We lit candles and held vigil on International Children’s Day. The service was attended by Christian leaders from across the city, faces to match the names on the Kairos Palestine document. The atmosphere carried the unmistakable essence of reverence and urgency comingling, for God and humanity respectively. When the Lutheran minister prayed in English for the children in Gaza, my swelling emotions cascaded in droplets down my face tears. How had the world over-looked the source of this suffering? Hot droplets began to fall on my hand, jolting my eyes open. I tried to remain stoic but I could not resist glancing around the room at all the melting candles, to see if anyone else had flinched. Who can resist a funny moment in such difficult times? I searched nervously for another fast melting candle. Each person’s candle produced a neat trail of excess, except for one: mine. My candle was no brighter but it seemed to burn hotter, erupting with blobs of molten wax that stung my shaking hand.

* * *

We smoked. Every time I passed the hose away to Wa’el, laying sideways on an easy-chair, or Drew, looking pensively into space next to me, the heaviness slowly rose and engulfed me. The viscous sense of resignation stuck to my joints, immobilizing my body.  So, I breathed in the fire again. My rage quenched, I consecrated my lungs with every breath until the hollow spaces hummed with the sense of swimming, running, lifting, and punching but I never moved – fire never moves, it only spreads…

* * *

This summer, a new friend was staying in the second-floor apartment across the court-yard, above a capable young woman who has worked here for over two years. My friend commented that her downstairs neighbor seemed to be consistently annoyed with her. Why? I told her we are cruel to ourselves, sometimes, in our self-centeredness: it was not her fault nor about her. Our neighbor’s job in the difficult West Bank context, staying present with people, puts a heavy weight on one’s chest. Four months later, I know that I was right in ways I did not understand. I had never stayed for more than three months at a time, myself. When our new Wi’am volunteer arrived, I noticed myself becoming irritable with him, employing smoldering passive-aggressive tactics to put distance between us. I believe I am much more moody and much less capable than my experienced neighbor, too, yet when I finally became close enough with my ‘victim’ to confess he asked me:

“what makes you believe you are bad at your job?”

“I do everything I am asked; you’re right,” I replied, “Of course, the occupation remains…” Two possibilities dawned on me. One, that I finally feel part of what keeps my neighbor burning and, two, that people could see me like I see her: intense and dedicated.

* * *

The anxiety floated out of me on clouds, in jets of fragrant smoke cascading in reverse. The nicotine built upon the foundation we had poured in cups of pitch-tint Arabic coffee. This colloid of stimulants buoyed me; it retrieved my sense of reality from the tar-toned depths of my affected reservoirs. We also drank tea. Substances carry a shock as powerful as moving a thousand miles or can keep us moving at a snail’s pace for so long that we forget we are moving, can hardly sleep when their medicine is removed…

* * *

More than a week before, at Dar Eneidwa, the Swede and I saw a film about the Hungarian Revolution. It had a Hollywood-quality storyline and love-story that made me miss romance in my life, yet so many resonant snapshots of Soviet occupation. In one scene, Hungarians take the streets in Budapest and light torches when the authorities cut the electricity; I felt the upwelling of a burgeoning nation, just as I had in Manger Square a year before. I felt the surge of excitement when the students revolt and cut the hammer and sickle from the middle of their flag, just as I felt in March during Land Day when a young man scaled  the apartheid wall and planted the Palestinian on top. Yet I know I was oblivious to the shelling of Budapest, when the Soviets retaliate unexpectedly and place their iron fist of occupation back on the Hungarian people. I didn’t feel, deeply enough, what that meant. Gazans do – doubly. At the end of the film, the Olympic water polo player is separated from his lover by the conflict, he going to Australia to win Gold and she to a prison interrogation room. I drank too much at the reception and indulged in loneliness the rest of the night.

* * *

Addictions threaten to ensnare me as surely as they promise to free me, like a net that saves me from falling but tangles around my limbs. I have not had my moment of final triumph against them, neither substance nor behavior nor, worst of all, the attitudes of my heart. Following Gaza coverage late into the night, riding high on a magic carpet of outrage, I felt as if I had finally lost myself completely, by the next morning, until that burst of stimulants reanimated me on Wa’el’s back patio. A dozen pieces of quick-light coal later, my co-worker offered to reload the pipe.

“No; I really want to but ‘no’ because I will stay here all day and smoke.”
We have to leave and continue with our lives, after a while, nursing our fading buzz as the smoke clears…

A message at the tower's bottom.

Last week’s coat of paint is this week’s canvas for resistance.

Always Burning: 1

“There is always something burning,” I said. Drew wondered if the ominous nebula percolating between the buildings could be from the demonstration. When we saw a masked figure wheeling a dumpster toward the flashpoint, some neighbors had suggested an alternative route from the check-point.
“Something is always burning? Oh, you mean literally,” he said, as we sauntered down the deserted side-street, “I thought you were being poetic.”
“Yes, figuratively too. It would make a good poem title, if I ever remembered to write poetry…”
Then, a sensation like the sting of a thousand onions being shredded by power saws overwhelmed our eyes. I tried to laugh as the burn spread to my mouth and up my nose but, even at that distance, the fall-out from the tear-gas was miserable. We thumbed a ride to the next corner.
“They brew their gas stronger than anyone else would yet it won’t hurt enough to make people forget: over a hundred Palestinians murdered in less than a week.”
I harkened to the sound of stones striking against the concrete Wall and guard-tower in the distance.

* * *

I had lost the will. A month ago, in the wake of my last newsletter, I shied from reflecting at all. In distant Yanoun, near Nablus, I finally found just enough silence to feel the vacuum which had opened inside of me. Without any sense of what had drained from my soul, nor how, nor why, I

dreamteam - EAPPI

Members of EAPPI stationed in Yanoun, Bethlehem, and Yatta look out over the Jordan Valley.

was unnerved to my core and yet uncannily touched by the simple beauty of owls calling to each other from centuries-old olive trees. I felt I could be whole again but there were no guarantees.

Then Gaza was attacked. Yanoun evaporated and I ignited. Twitter became my life-line for everything important, everything that mattered to my heart, as I selected a generous roster of journalists to follow, foraging for articles to read and repost at regular intervals into the night. Solidarity makes me a wraith: why should I have the right to rest? It is difficult to tell myself “I need quiet” when the voices shouting from my depths say “the world must know!” With all of my fuel lines plugged in (tea, music, media) I hovered for hours, then burrowed into my bed as if it were the chrysalis that turns edgy missionaries into peace-gurus. I awake as myself, every day.

Meanwhile, my better sense is objecting to the cycle of push and crash. The signs were there long before the trip to Yanoun, the retreat in Jericho, or the day picking olives in Beit Jala. The first signs may have been my trembling hands, eating a sandwich with lady IOF soldiers who thought I was going to Haifa. Arguably, the writing was on the wall one winter day in Grand Rapids Michigan when I started lecturing my soapy dishes about divestment. I needed this Calling but I will be forced to examine my deficits again when the steam that fills my core cools, condenses, and runs away.

* * *

“Flatten their neighborhoods,” they said,

“as the United States did

twice in Japan, with no pause for mercy.”

They quoted from the book of Exodus

to Gazans without exits.

Whether ‘Pillar of Cloud’

or ‘Pillar of Fire’, Israel invoked

that column of permanent taint

and destruction that spread

over Nagasaki in Hiroshima’s wake.

That pillar of cloud seared

the fabric of our human heritage,

as it toppled institutions, buildings,

ravaging flesh and the very genes within but

especially our vision, our solutions— our

minds. Enthralled with quickening violence,

these politicians tapped the poisonous tree

to scare citizens more than rebels

but they called it a “Pillar of Defense”,

and made the Torah a shield of lead,

when their empire rained

fire upon the trapped people of Gaza.

* * *

They battered it down to the wire…

The technique must be key, though I make sure never to be around. One morning, a huge bite was missing from the charred base of the guard-tower by the big gate in the annexation wall. The heaps of smoking trash and tires had already been swept away by municipal workers in small earth-movers but the asphalt remained stained black and the air still smelled of gas and gas: kerosene from below and mace from above. All of the US tax money, poured-out solid and gray, becomes brittle when exposed to fire. The youth will first come in waves, running forward with kefiahs over their faces to cast a barrage of stones. Each stone whispers something just before it hits the fiberglass shield: “we are David and you are Goliath. We are the rightful inhabitants and you are the monstrous, foreign invader.” The soldiers have nothing but their orders: their society handed them cocktail after cocktail of pride and cowardice throughout childhood. When the stones fly they follow procedure, shooting rocket-propelled tear-gas. The stinking nebula is designed to push back and quell the indigenous voices but instead it provides cover as more masked protestors come forward with accelerants and pre-lit dumpsters. After a while, they dissipate to let the purifying flames take their toll. Then, another wave comes with old pipes and batters the foot of the tower down to the rebar. They cannot quite punch a hole, yet.

Israeli government applies cosmetic fixes to systemic problems.

Call Ahava: we need some illegal cosmetics for this illegal wall!

Within 24 hours of the ceasefire agreement, Israel laid the cosmetic foundations. They installed new barricades that slowed traffic and painted the burn marks with a bluish gray the color of sleeping Western skies in the early morning: backs turned to the sunrise. Yet the latticework of rebar remained exposed in the tower’s deepening scar, almost invisible for being that same, dull blue.

* * *

To be continued…

Torn to Pieces

I was walking up the street with my new colleague from Sweden (Dawwid) and I noticed all the little ones from the nearby girls’ elementary school scampering down the hill in their matching dresses. It bubbled to mind how I miss writing about the intimate details of peoples’ lives in Palestine. Last fall at this time, I wanted to use my stories to tackle big abstracts. I quickly became an essayist and analyst, less of a poet. The tiny girls slowed, by their presence, the chaos at the intersection half-way up the hill, as the young men who run the bakery there puffed their Saturday cigarettes and brought out bags of bread—four shekels each. Less than twelve hours earlier, the same intersection was ablaze –literally—with an ominous pile of trash, branches, and tires. Teenagers ran into dark alleys to grab more junk, greedily, laughing and saying “nahr! b’shoof, nahr!” Fire! Look, fire! I mumbled my disinterested recognition and hurried back down the same hill, now strewn with litter.

It is no small thing that these ‘demonstrations’ are happening. The water went off, undoubtedly because Bethlehem exceeded the unrealistic quota set by Israel, while fountains spewed the contents of the West Bank aquifer onto the lawns of illegal settlements. The municipality, the Palestinian Authority, and the water company (with its now smashed front windows) are targets of proximity. Yet,  truly microscopic details bother me, like when I was talking to a group visiting Wi’am from California and I made a comment about how it’s better to get visas at the border, bypassing Israeli bureaucracy and using an apathetic foot-soldier. Dawwid pulled me aside and warned me one of the people at the table said he studied in Jerusalem. The guy left shortly after that. No one we asked seemed to know who he was and a terrible feeling struck me. I felt stupid. At the same time, I wish someone had known him so I could say to them, “ask your friend why he left before Zoughbi told his story – ask him if he was afraid to even listen, like so many Israelis I hear about…”

Yesterday I had plenty of dishes to wash, first thing in the morning. Big dish-piles are my historical place to brew–to ferment; my ‘call to ministry’ precipitated out of soapy water one December night. Yesterday’s group left a prodigious gob of dishes in our tiny office kitchen. A friend of Wi’am from Belgium, Ruben, arrived just then and me with the dishes since Zoughbi was too tired from his morning commitments to socialize. Gradually, we built enough trust to swap secrets…
“I told them I would stay in Jerusalem…”
“Me?” chimed-in a Palestinian American, “I’m ‘in’ Yafa…”
We have a partner in Haifa; it is the same. You know,” I said with a faded playfulness, “soldiers have tried to warn me about how dangerous Bethlehem is.”
“Really?”
“Yes; I feel safer here than I do in Jerusalem.”
“Yes yes, me too” Ruben said, drying a dish vigorously, “so it is still safe to be out at night?”
“Very much,” I said confidently, but then appended, “…except for the burning demonstrations. It is better to walk around those.”

I am fond of Dawwid the Swede. Among his redeeming characteristics is the fact that he studied briefly in Syria, so his Arabic is good and he will not be easily shaken. I think we both are people more bold in our presence than our speech: it’s a quiet invincibility. A few times we have gone, calmly, to the fig tree behind the office and spoke sparsely about important things. If you have ever spoken lightly of heavy things, painted serious pictures with gentle brush-strokes, you know what I mean. He told me his hotmail had been hacked shortly after he started a picture blog about the Annexation Wall. I furrowed my brow and found a fig to offer him. We chatted about the possibilities; Zoughbi said to us, on the car-ride to Cremisan, it was undoubtedly Israeli intelligence. I don’t dare disagree; never, after we have fielded suspicious ‘Germans’ together – ‘Germans’ that seem to speak excellent English until a word like “Justice” or “Restitution“ enters conversation and they want Zoughbi to define it ~ to say something contentious? Usama, perceptively, directed one of them to an ‘actually-German’ partner of ours.
“You know,” said Zoughbi, “we like to be welcoming but also to be careful…”

I was walking across my grandparents’ front yard with my colleague – they both died before I met her. She pointed-up to the sky. There was a tornado coming directly at us, though there seemed to be no wind, rain, or even chill in the air. We ran to a low-spot near the lake and I threw myself over her and held her tight. I want to ruminate on that for a moment: she wanted to be held while the storm passed. I welcome your silent speculation regarding how I might feel about her because, as of right now, I am sensing some ambiguity*. When we looked up to the sky again, we saw the dark funnel curl like a pig’s tail and rise into outer space. Then she kissed me and started to reach for a button on her shirt. I said “wait a minute!” She asked me to quit drinking; I have not drank alcohol since my tattoo. Then the Palestinian American laughed from behind a nearby fence, offering us some chips. I realized I was dreaming and I needed to go to the post-office. A cell-phone alarm sounded.

I went to Jerusalem. The Jaffa-gate post-office is disconcerting to me because the workers speak Arabic but they are rushed and do not exchange pleasantries. I always feel like I am doing something wrong. My mother had sent me a massive package that contained, God bless her heart, a pair of shoes that I left behind intentionally. I walked from one jebel to the other, to the Scottish Presbyterian church to hear a friend preach on James 2 and Mark 7. Afterwards, I climbed on the bus with my package and the driver sped-away from the curb as soon as I boarded. A gentleman in the front held my package steady while I paid. By the time we arrived at the check-point, he rose quickly and left the bus before I could tell him “God be with you”. I carried the package all the way across Bethlehem under my arm. Along with the shoes, Mom sent a water-filter, a new watch, new socks that I desperately needed, other things, and old mail. Amongst the mail were the real treasures: pictures of my sister, my mother, and the farm but also an Easter card from a friend in the Ukraine. I mounted them on my refrigerator door with electric tape and now I cannot help smiling.

At Cremisan I transformed myself into a flag-pole. Not every demonstration is a march or protest. The young photographer, Nicola, smiled at me from across the crowd and snapped a shot. We’re facebook friends. Every Friday the priests hold a demonstration called “mass” where a group of Jesus followers will gather in the olive grove that is slated for violation by the apartheid regime and take communion. No burning tires or projectile stones ~ it must be so much more frightening, for Israel, to see EAPPI, CPT, MCC, and even little-old-me standing behind their so-called terrorists: a collection of Palestinian Catholics with their eyes closed and their palms turned up to heaven. Most people on the other side of the wall never see this beautiful demonstration. I wondered if I deserved to hold the Palestinian flag but then I realized I had some right to feel proud because it represents many things I believe in. I resisted writing an essay in my head about flags, knowing we are so close to “Patriot Day”: a piece of dystopian propaganda that belongs to my passport country—the United States. The Empire lends legitimacy to the rebels** but who says we want either of them running our world? I love the people eating the bread and wine.

I sat on the sofa yesterday night with an uncanny sense of emotional constriction, even asphyxiation. Smashed between my restlessness and a really eerie sense of inertia, I was paralyzed. I wanted to write but at the same time I wanted to do nothing. So many times, while I lived in Grand Rapids, I felt this depression, this pain I mislabeled intentionally, but I believed it was my responsibility to conquer it, lest I repel employers, potential mates, or even friends. I pickled myself in self-blame. My friend from college speculated via Skype that I could be beginning a battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, since stress can be absorbed vicariously. Living with a community conflict mediator, I wonder if there is some metaphysical diffusion of strife happening. I confess that I would rather admit to PTSD than just being lonely and broken-hearted. Would I rather be aborted by something real than just failing of my own volition, as I felt I did during my months of unemployment? Why?!? Of course, I think what my friend wants me to see is that it is not ‘all my fault’ and that is why she continues to be my friend. All of the spare-time and coffee in the world may not have ever been enough anyway: I had to be shaken to be stirred. Mercifully, I have a less stigmatized reason to turn and face the darkness. From here, my thoughts are diverging and I think my train of thought will skip away: to home, to my boss, to his family living in Northern Indiana, to mine in Southern Michigan, and the fact that at some point in time we were only a few counties away from each other on the other side of the world.

I was hanging my laundry, wringing each wet piece of clothing onto the rose-garden three stories below, and I drifted into a day-dream. My thoughts go many places, often in no particular order. This time, I wondered what it would be like to speak at a church, or bowl with friends… or go on a date. She might be a mistake just as easily as a nice person. It reminds me of the day that Zoughbi looked me in the eye and said “you will find someone; you are too good not to find someone. Let me tell you,” then he paused, “nothing replaces having a wife and family.” I nodded but my gut reaction was to think ‘you are wishing for me what you want for yourself – for your kids to have opportunities and your wife to have a visa so you can all live together, in the West Bank, for the rest of your lives.’ He is, among many things, my best example of the golden rule. Yet, I could  hardly stop myself from wondering what it would be like to make a lady smile again –the difference is that this time I must learn to smile alone, first.

 

* I welcome your vocal speculations about how I feel about myself; that is what dreams really tell us.

** Yes, I just said that the US worked to legitimate Al-Qaeda. They funded them versus the Soviets, then posed as their scapegoat in the middle-East. The Empire has strange bed-fellows in interesting positions. Picture that a moment.