Category Archives: Palestine

Zelfkritiek is de moeder van de dialoog.

Islam, jodendom en christendom lijken erg op elkaar Zelfkritiek is de moeder van de dialoog 30 maart 2011 ( MO* ) — Tegenwoordig worden jodendom en christendom dikwijls voorgesteld als verwante zielen die staan voor democratie en mensenrechten, terwijl islam uit een heel ander hout zou zijn gesneden. Tom Kenis betoogt in dit essay dat er in de boeken en de praktijk van de drie religies weinig is dat die stelling staaft.

© Klaas Verplancke De Arabische revoluties lijken nogal wat clichés en vooroordelen overhoop te gooien. Zoals bijvoorbeeld dat islam en democratie niet met elkaar te verzoenen zijn, of dat de Arabische landen worden bevolkt door middeleeuwse zeloten, die met onverdraagzame ijver andersdenkenden bestrijden en trachten te vervolgen. Wat we op onze schermen zagen, waren pluralistische revoltes van mensen –jong en oud, mannen en vrouwen, en verdacht weinig baardmannen– die veel meer greep willen op hun bestuurders en hun samenleving. Dat heeft veel weg van democratie en is voor ons zeer herkenbaar.

Die Arabische revoluties lijken dus een probleem voor de Geert Wildersen van deze wereld die toch een fundamenteel verschil zien tussen islam enerzijds, onverzoenbaar met democratie, en de zogenaamde joods-christelijke traditie, die gezien wordt als het baken van democratie en verlichting. De antiautoritaire revoluties tonen dat het beeld veel en veel waziger is: Israël en het hele Westen waren immers wat blij met de dictaturen van Moebarak en co omdat die hun belangen dienden. Maar die tweedeling gaat om nog veel fundamenteler redenen niet op. Wie de betrokken heilige boeken én de eeuwenoude praktijken van de drie religies bestudeert, stelt vast dat de tweedeling op los zand is gebouwd.

Gedeelde wortels in het kwadraat Abraham stond als collectieve geestelijke voorvader aan de wieg van zowel het jodendom, het christendom als de islam. De drie tradities ontsproten uit een soort van versmelting tussen de filosofieën van het antieke Griekenland en de monotheïstische innovaties van Kanaänitische stammen in de late bronstijd. Gezamenlijk stellen ze God voor als eeuwige, bovennatuurlijke schepper, de bron van morele en juridische maatstaven, alwetend, almachtig, en bijwijlen een tikkeltje neerbuigend of zelfs bizar –getuige Gods wens Abraham’s enige zoon geofferd te zien, en dan weer niet. Dit is kennelijk een God die totale onderwerping eist. Ondanks de overweldigende overeenkomsten vinden de drie zich, vaker wel dan niet, in onderlinge strijd. En interne strijd: jodendom, christendom en islam splitsten zich al snel op in ontelbare geuren en smaken qua theologie, filosofie en rechtspraak. Desalniettemin zijn een aantal trends te ontwaren.

Joodse leer De halacha of joodse wetgeving, overgeleverd via Noah en Mozes, plus interpretaties en interpretaties van interpretaties, zijn van toepassing op alle aspecten van het menselijke leven. Huwelijk, echtscheiding, offerriten, spijswetten, maar ook huis-tuin-en-keukenstrafrecht vallen hieronder. Zo kan je volgens die geschriften gestenigd worden voor –onder andere– vloeken, rebelleren tegen je ouders en hekserij. Op incest bijvoorbeeld staat de doodstraf, door middel van gesmolten lood ingebracht in het keelgat van de vermaledijde. Halachische wetten worden traditioneel beschouwd als onveranderbaar en door God overgeleverd. Op dat vlak leunen de joodse geschriften sterk aan bij de islamitische opvatting van rechtspraak, met zijn harde kern van onveranderlijke, goddelijk-geïnspireerde decreten.

Joodse praktijk Tijdens de diaspora dient de halacha binnen joodse gemeenschappen her en der als afdwingbare religieuze en burgerlijke wet. De scherpste kantjes, zoals de doodstraf, raken al in de eerste eeuwen van onze jaartelling in onbruik. Sinds de Europese Verlichting volgen de meeste joden, overal en nergens thuis, grotendeels de seculariserende trends van hun adoptieve landen.

In het hedendaagse Israël heersen orthodoxe, rabbijnse rechtbanken echter nog steeds over wetten aangaande familie- en persoonlijke status op een manier die onverteerbaar zou zijn in pakweg het seculiere Frankrijk. Het burgerlijk huwelijk bestaat bijvoorbeeld niet. Gevolg: een aantal bijzonder ingewikkelde problemen rond buitenechtelijke kinderen, huwelijken tussen seculiere joden en huwelijken tussen verschillende geloofsgemeenschappen. Zo kon bijvoorbeeld onlangs een tot het jodendom bekeerde Canadees geen aanspraak maken op Israëlisch staatsburgerschap. Het orthodoxe rabbinaat aanvaardde zijn bekering onder een niet-erkende Canadese rabbijn niet. Datzelfde rabbinaat doet ook moeilijk over huwelijken tussen orthodoxe en niet-orthodoxe joden. Israëlische joden van een andere dan de orthodoxe strekking en seculiere joden trouwen dan ook vaak in Cyprus of elders. In het buitenland gesloten huwelijken worden namelijk wel erkend door de staat. Discriminatie tegen niet-joden, onder andere in de vorm van systematische onderfinanciering van overwegend niet-joodse steden en gemeenten, geeft eveneens stof tot nadenken. Het boek van de joodse Susan Nathan, die zelf in een Arabisch dorp in Israel ging wonen, was in dat verband verhelderend, om niet te zeggen schokkend.

Kortom, een strikte scheiding tussen staat en synagoge is nog veraf, ondanks de vergevorderde “ontsynagogisering” van het merendeel van de bevolking. ‘We moeten het erfgoed van onze vaderen terugbrengen naar de Israëlische natie’, zei de Israëlische mininster van Justitie Yaakov Ne’eman nog in 2009. ‘De Thora is de complete oplossing voor alle vragen die ons bezighouden.’

Nieuwe testament: geef aan caesar wat van caesar is Ondanks het beroemde citaat van Jesus, doorgaans gezien als een oproep om religie en politiek niet te mengen, beperkten de christelijke kerken doorheen de eeuwen zich zelden tot de geestelijke behoeften der gelovigen. Denken we maar aan de machtsstrijd tussen het pausdom en de katholieke koningen van het middeleeuwse Europa, de ontelbare bloedige religieuze oorlogen, en het krampachtig vasthouden aan relevantie en controle over de ontkerkelijkende samenlevingen van de negentiende en twintigste eeuw. Hoewel het Nieuwe Testament, in tegenstelling tot het Oude Testament, geen letterlijke aanspraak maakt op wereldlijke macht, heeft dat kerkelijke instellingen er eeuwenlang niet van weerhouden te doen alsof dat wel zo zou zijn.

Christelijke praktijk De scheiding van staat en religie in landen met christelijke meerderheden komt pas op gang in de loop van de negentiende eeuw. Helemaal voltooid is zij nog niet. Het programma van de Nederlandse christelijk-theocratische partij SGP, aanwezig in de Tweede Kamer en het Europese parlement, stelt onder andere: ‘Wetgeving en bestuur mogen de prediking van het evangelie niet hinderen, maar moeten deze bevorderen. De man [is] het hoofd van de vrouw, en zitting nemen van de vrouw in politieke organen strijdt met de roeping van de vrouw.’

Westers secularisme, individualisme en vrouwenemancipatie zijn betrekkelijk recente fenomenen. In de VS lijkt er zelfs sprake te zijn van een zekere terugkeer van religie in wereldlijke zaken. Secularisme wordt meestal opgevat als de bescherming van de staat tegen religieuze inmenging. De Bijbels georiënteerde founding fathers van de Verenigde Staten beoogden min of meer het omgekeerde, namelijk de bescherming van een religieuze samenleving tegen de seculariserende, haast kwaadaardige staat. Vandaag voeren hun ideologische erfgenamen zoals Sarah Palin een cultuuroorlog voor protestantse vroomheid en tegen “big government”. In hun strijd tegen moreel verval en goddeloosheid zien zij een grotere rol voor religieuze symboliek en praktijk in scholen, rechtbanken en wetgevende instanties. Meer religie in eig

Op incest staat de doodstraf, door middel van gesmolten lood ingebracht in het keelgat van de vermaledijde. en land gaat paradoxaal genoeg gepaard met straffe standpunten tegen die andere religie die volgens hen te veel aanspraak maakt op wereldlijke macht elders….

islamitische rechtspraak De islam maakt geen onderscheid tussen morele en juridische voorschriften. Een vaak aangehaald voorbeeld daarvan is soera 4, vers 59: ‘Gelovigen, gehoorzaam God… en gehoorzaam hen die met de autoriteit belast zijn.’ Toch diende de sharia –de in de Koran vervatte, overgeleverde uitspraken van Mohammed én rechtsgeleerde interpretaties– nauwelijks als exclusieve bron van wereldlijke rechtspraak. Vrij snel na de oprichting van het eerste kalifaat begonnen kaliefen, gouverneurs, en sultans wetten uit te vaardigen die niet door sharia behandeld worden. Dan gaat het onder andere over financiële transacties, belastingen en handel.

Naleving van zogenaamd universele religieuze wetgeving verschilt ook sterk van eeuw tot eeuw en zelfs van kalief tot kalief. Grosso modo heeft het twaalfde-eeuwse Spanje, met zijn verlichte wetenschap en religieuze tolerantie weinig uitstaans met de zevende-eeuwse bedoeïenen-kampementen in de Arabische woestijn waar Mohammed geboren werd. En waar plaats je de seculiere Tanzimat? Die hervormingsbeweging zette in de negentiende eeuw het Ottomaanse Rijk –waaronder grote delen van de Arabische wereld– in rep en roer.

Islamitische verlichting Economische achteruitgang gaat dikwijls hand in hand met maatschappelijke en religieuze stagnatie. Vanaf de vijftiende eeuw, en ook later met de komst van westerse koloniale overheersing in landen als Egypte en Tunesië, ontstaat er een diepe crisis. Op bruuske wijze voeren lokale potentaten westers gecodificeerd recht in, geïnspireerd, onder druk gezet of gedwongen door Europese mogendheden. In een eerste reactie pleit Hassan Al-Banna, oprichter van de Egyptische Moslimbroeders, tegen Europees kolonialisme maar voor bepaalde westerse ideeën en verregaande religieuze hervormingen. Islam, zo luidt het, moet zich aanpassen aan de vurig gewenste onafhankelijke natiestaten. De islamitische verlichting van de negentiende en vroeg twintigste eeuw, met nationalistische trekjes, wordt de kop ingedrukt en geradicaliseerd door koloniale overheden, en hun autoritaire inheemse opvolgers. In plaats van een hervorming van wat islam is, komt er een pleidooi voor het soort pure sharia dat nooit heeft bestaan.

Naar een vrije markt van ideeën Hedendaagse islamitische hervormers zitten vaak geklemd tussen seculiere of zelfs nominaal islamitische dictators en conservatieve geestelijken op wiens stilzwijgen de status-quo berust. Of toch tot voor kort. Het is nog vroeg om de impact in te schatten die de huidige omwentelingen in de Arabische wereld hebben op islam en politiek. Politieke liberalisering zal paradoxaal genoeg in eerste instantie meer islam in de publieke sfeer brengen. Dat is niet noodzakelijk een slechte zaak. Alleen daar, ver van de folterkamers van Moebarak, Ben Ali, en anderen, kunnen zich nieuwe ideeën en interpretaties ontwikkelen. Die gaan dan zowel over de plaats van islam in de samenleving als de aard van het beestje zelf. Een echte, vrije markt van ideeën, zo je wil. Het zou naïef zijn te verwachten dat dat proces noodzakelijk een “westerse” uitkomst produceert. Het omgekeerde is al evenmin waar. Egyptische en Tunesische Moslimbroeders krijgen er maar niet genoeg van te verwijzen naar het islam-democratische model dat in de laatste tien jaar van Turkije een regionale stoomtrein maakte.

Holocaust Het is zelden peis en vree geweest tussen jodendom, christendom en islam. Geen enkele religie gaat hierin vrijuit. Joden en christenen hadden het zeker niet gemakkelijk onder islamitische heerschappij. Hier en daar legden kaliefen onderscheidende kledij op, gedwongen bekeringen en slavernij, of kwam het occasioneel tot pogroms. Onderzoekers neigen echter naar de consensus dat dit veeleer uitzondering was dan regel. Het geweld van de christenen tegen joden steekt daar met kop en schouders bovenuit. De antisemitische misdaden van nazi-Duitsland en zijn handlangers vormden in deze een gruwelijk orgelpunt.

Joods-christelijke alliantie De koppeling tussen jodendom en christendom die door sommigen wordt gemaakt, is dus relatief recent, en ze vloeit niet op een evidente manier voort uit religieuze teksten of de geschiedenis. Ze werd pas voor het eerst gemaakt in de zeventiende eeuw en heeft sindsdien heel uiteenlopende gedaanten aangenomen: tot het christendom bekeerde joden, inspanningen tegen antisemitisme in liberale middens in de jaren dertig, een strijdkreet tegen het communisme in de jaren vijftig… Sinds de aanslagen van 9/11 –door terroristen die zegden zich te inspireren op de islam– houdt de joods-christelijke alliantie een radicale afwijzing in van de islam in al zijn maatschappelijke en politieke manifestaties. Hoewel die visie groeide op een Amerikaanse, protestantse en puriteinse bodem, wordt ze steeds vaker overgenomen door Europese politici en denkers allerhande. Zij zien moslimminderheden als een bedreiging en/of proberen met die bewering electoraal garen te spinnen. Het joods-christelijke paradigma wordt ook versterkt door een begrijpelijk gevoel van berouw bij christenen voor antisemitische uitspattingen – vooral de Holocaust. Ten slotte biedt de alliantie het perfecte kader voor de realpolitik die rijke maar grondstofarme landen voerden ten opzichte van het olierijke en islamitische Midden-Oosten. Ook al ging die aanpak gepaard met grote interne contradicties: de grote voorvechters van democratie en mensenrechten waren wat blij dictators militair en financieel te ondersteunen zolang die hun belangen vertolkten. En nu komen de bevolkingen op voor democratie en mensenrechten, de westerse waarden die het Westen zelf weigerde te verdedigen.

Onheilige drievuldigheid Interactie tussen drie godsdiensten die allemaal een universele waarheid aan de man brengen, is per definitie problematisch. Wederzijdse kritiek moet kunnen. Een uitwisseling van ideeën tussen de verschillende religies gebaseerd op kennis van het eigen erfgoed, een gezonde dosis nederigheid, en wars van demagogie, komt iedereen ten goede. Maar vooral zelfkritiek moet het uitgangspunt zijn.

Religies botsen: van katholieken tot protestanten, van soennieten en sjiieten, van antisemitisme tot islamofobie. De recente, zorgvuldig gesponnen, politiek correcte nuance ‘tegen islam, niet tegen moslims’ gaat voorbij aan de dikwijls nogal ongesofisticeerde achterban van populisten. Een politiek van verdeeldheid gebaseerd op een selectieve lezing van geschiedenis en religie is een gevaarlijk spel. Het is nieuw, moreel, noch democratisch. Er is geen alternatief voor de moeizame, complexe weg van de dialoog, of beter gezegd: trialoog. Een botsing van culturen –gedenk Samuel Huntington– staat er niet aan te komen. Die is al eeuwenlang bezig. De uitdaging bestaat erin ze te beëindigen.

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Demilitarizing Conflicts.

Evangelische Akademie Loccum Demilitarizing Conflicts. Learning lessons in Northern Ireland, Palestine and Israel.

International Conference 17-19 October 2008.

loccum_kirche_soTen years ago exchanges between Unionists and Republicans had as little to do with actual discussion, were in fact a great deal worse, than this,” one Irish participant to the conference said, referring to volleys of accusations flying back and forth between Palestinians and Israelis. Specialists and accomplices to both the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the formerly insoluble Northern-Irish quagmire had descended upon Loccum, a rural community of the German state of Lower-Saxony, famous for its Pied Piper legend, to ponder parallels between both low-intensity wars and ways to bring about reconciliation. Shockingly, or rather un-shockingly little headway was made. The very first announcement, that a handful of Palestinian interlocutors were unable to attend due to checkpoints and rejected visas, hardly augured well for the proceedings. The setting on the other hand was especially apt for the occasion. A former Cistercian abbey, the monastery managed after Reformation, to retain both its property, and more anomalously, the appellation of Abbot for its chief, more typically reserved for Catholic clergymen. In short; a suitable churchyard for hatchets.

You are my enemy until you stop occupying my land,” said the Palestinian conferee. “I am regarded as pro-Palestinian in my community, BUT…,” began the Israeli academic. Tit for tat reigns supreme both in conflict, and, alas, in debates about conflict. “We’ve come a long way,” a former IRA combatant confided, “but signing an agreement is only the beginning of true reconciling. “This is when the healing can truly begin.” There was more than a bit of envy from the Middle Eastern attendants. Distinguished speakers from academia, media, politics, law enforcement, and civil society attempted different approaches as if attempting to land a rickety biplane in ever changing wind conditions. Language, touted a former IRA combatant, as potent a weapon as any, can serve as the flame melting swords to ploughshares.

An Israeli observer proffered these key ingredients to patching up; fatigue, external pressure, and the realization that nothing can be won with additional fighting. An Irish researcher proposed a people-to-people life-story telling approach, leading to each seeing the other as a human being, a return to the age-old precept of ‘every individual counts’. Various specialists mooted security-sector reforms, and gradual confidence-building measures as thé way forward.

And yet, the optimism inspired by the delightful Emerald example, failed to kindle gloomier Levantine spirits, even in close proximity of the congenial fireplace where after-dinner proceedings took on a less-than-formal hue. There, assisted by an array of local beers, earlier animosity subsided in favor of friendly reconnoitering, salvos of laughter, and a veritable cross-fire of business cards.

Listening, talking, sipping on that most splendid of German traditions, I let my own thoughts percolate onto a towering stalagmite’s worth of Middle Eastern falling out, a towering Babylon rendering moot or mute any attempt at comprehending. Let alone solving anything.

And yet, there remains a conviction that things are only as complex as either side’s unwillingness to compromise. Language is indeed key, and the outsider’s main challenge consists of recognizing widely divergent stories as describing the same event. A few examples, a historical overview; As the crow flies. Wrapped as a gift; Europe’s unbound contrition, the international community’s bestowal of a homeland in Palestine upon Jewish survivors of the Holocaust represented a rather poisoned chalice indeed. Arguably the act, rather than compensating victims of a horrible ploy, finished the job. Contrary to the Zionist dictum however, the people with no land had not arrived at a land without people. A war started and would in the coming sixty years, between lulls, cease-fires, agreements, and false dawns, flare up to the detriment of thousands.

The world’s remorse, and America’s initial championing of self-determination for the hapless and colonized, soon crumbled under the double yoke of Cold War, and a concomitant dash for man’s most questionable friend, oil. The Holy Land became a bridgehead for an important trade once more. Not of spices this time. Weak Arab governments equal cheap petrol. And hence the Jewish state immediately became the wedge, encouraged and armed, less homeland than baton, wielded by the West’s thirst for cheap energy. To the detriment of thousands. Palestinians. Israelis. Jordanians. Lebanese. Syrians. Egyptians. Etc… It is a long, sad story, with manifold personal tragedies, individual and collective guilt, missed opportunities, and the masterstroke perpetrated at the highest levels of marketing the conflict as a matter of guilt, religion, or so-called clash of civilizations.

When on a sun-spangled September morning two-dozen Arabs euthanized what was left of the Twentieth Century, they adhered to an atrocious, cynical logic that they were all too familiar with. To the detriment of thousands. Incited by a face that someone in the White House must have seen in those horrible clouds, the United States launched a thousands ships to salvage the old way of doing business, but even two pointless wars were unable to muffle the death knell of an epoch. Talk of energy-independence is all the rage now. The world must wean itself off carbs or face both geo-political and climatologic cardiac-arrest. In this painful knee-joint of time blood, thick and cloudy, will clot, and pulse toward a new equilibrium, the contours of which should already become apparent to astute observers. No longer a battering ram, Israel has no choice but to make peace in a region no longer solely defined as a global watering hole for automobiles.

It isn’t too late for the West, whatever that term still holds, to show actual, constructive remorse for the anti-Semitism that’s lead to so much suffering of all Semitic inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent soil; Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab. Talks of two states between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean, mere rhetoric so far, should be given a penultimate try. International guarantees, eventual EU membership for both entities, and boots on the ground are a possible carrot and stick to that end. Meanwhile Palestinians see their land slowly but surely gobbled up by what can only be described as a penniless restaurant-goer who orders more and more food to postpone an ever-increasing bill. At the end of the night, a less-palatable outcome looms. The overwhelming responsibility to finally pay the Piper belongs to all of us.

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JERUSALEM POST BLOG 31 – Last year in Palestine

JERUSALEM POST BLOG 31 – Last year in Palestine

the-great-gatsby-boekLast year in Palestine. Sort of. It’s 2007. I have all but packed. Well, sort of. It’s a tough place to be at, sometimes. Even harder to leave. Although the food’s delicious, for many, it’s becoming increasingly difficult by the day to get fat, let alone find ample reason to sing. You catch my drift. Nothing worse than long, drawn-out goodbyes. Except for Palestine. I loved it here. I spent a full tenth of my young life here.

I turned thirty, and we took a boatload of people out into the sticks. Simon, who’d considered reaching the threshold an unlikely scenario, also turned thirty. Simon who, pretending to be a rightwinger often tried but somehow always failed to post ludicrous comments on this blog. A noble can’t-beat-them-mock-them sort of effort.

We drove out to Tireh on the outskirts of Ramallah for two consecutive Fridays, trunks rattling with drink and other supplies. And by other supplies I mean more drink. We somehow also managed to engage in a little slapdash barbequing, brought super soakers, and a Frisbee, which notoriously went missing in the course of the first outing. Good Frisbees are hard to come by, and a lot easier to misplace than, say, a boomerang. We stocked up in town and rode out, speakers crackling with seventies oldies. A more than apt thing to do on your thirtieth. “The dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”

An empty hill dotted with stubborn shrubbery between the last Palestinian houses and an Israeli army base is our playground. A goatherd quickly shoos his flock away from our deprivation.

The days are filled heeding Erasmus’ call. Ramallah’s pendulum of tragedy and fun swings decidedly to the latter. Let’s call it a survival mechanism, a switching off. Be sure to bring enough ice to keep your Taybehs cold. Not that they’re given much opportunity to warm up anyway. Over the past three years, and in the course of these blogs escape has been a recurring theme. In a sense writing itself acts like a necessary valve.

My life in Palestine was not the life of Palestinians and so, dear reader, you’ve been spared the worst of miseries, the pain, humiliation, and thwarted hopes festering in your backyard, the seeds that Hummers and concrete mixers help plow under of hate and an assured lease on strife. It’s there though, as real as the joy, potential, ambition, friendship, love, music, curiosity, arousal, jealousy, compassion, and spanning bridges.

Ardent Zionists often point out how this land is too small for two peoples. In a way I’d like to concur to the point where the conflict is situated on too small a plot to be labeled anything but a civil war. And damned, we stopped the Bosnians from butchering each other, am I wrong? And yes, they’d still be at it if no one had stepped in and went “What, are you nuts?” The comparison is sketchy, but all paintings begin with a little penciled doodling. I’m not writing a policy paper here. These aren’t blue prints. A lot is just throwing up crazy ideas; a stick in the henhouse as they say. That’s how evolution works. A genetic lottery that now and then produces ideas that ‘stick’. So to speak.

So go crazy. Top your Turvey. Erasmus was onto something. Fun itself is a leap of faith, that sometimes produces real-world applications. It’s what separates us from the animals, I believe. Use your noodle for more than hunting and gathering. We need a new paradigm here. Fighting’s old. God is dead. This is the Age of Aquarius, if only because of the sports drink. We’re going to Mars soon. I say cherish your old books, they hold great meaning, but dare to peak at your neighbor’s narrative. We. Must. Move. On.

It is possible to escape, and cast away your worries for entire hours at a time. But…. This is the point where, at the end of the column, and of this blog, I smartly reach back to the boomerang mentioned at the beginning. This is the point where, for the umpteenth time, I invoke fun and then shockingly juxtapose with “Hummer!”

A great day in Ramallah fizzles out and I feel like a Jay Gatsby and Tom Sawyer rolled into one, some distance from the campfire, staring at a light. A glaring reminder; the roof-mounted intrusion of a Hummer search-light.

I’m off to Belgium now. So long, and thank you for reading.

 

 

Blog comments:

1 | Jewchai, Monday Jun 16, 2008 So, what exactly did you do while living in Ramallah?

2 | Jim James, Monday Jun 16, 2008 thank you. if going back to belgium means you stop your stupid blog, then I thank you.

3 | Y. Kreminsky, Tuesday Jun 17, 2008 It must be wonderful to live in Belgium, a country so perfect that you have to go halfway around the world to find social problems.

4 | Jane Sinclair, Tuesday Jun 17, 2008 Oh, you’re going back to belgium finally? That sounds terrific. When? I hope soon.

5 | Jonathan Manfred, Tuesday Jun 17, 2008 We won’t miss you.

6 | Elizabeth USA, Tuesday Jun 17, 2008 Helo,Tom. Everyone is saying the war is coming. Are you going back to belgium for this reason? Tom, who was supporting you in Ramallah? The EU aid?

7 | Ofer, Haifa, Tuesday Jun 17, 2008 I’ve travelled to Belgium several times and I haven’t been in many places where the people hate each other so much. So Tom instead of sticking your nose into things you don’t understand maybe you can solve Belgium’s problems first.

8 | baffled in Bet-El, Tuesday Jun 17, 2008 I have never read your blog before, but now that I have, I see I missed nothing but another very spolied and amoral typical European who refuses to grow up (at thirty, you talk of my “young life”?!). Why did you come, what did you do here except pour fuel on the flames, and have a good time? Go back to Belgium and get yourself a life! (Also please learn to spell.)

9 | Morenos Spain, Tuesday Jun 17, 2008 I’ve been to Brussels once. The city was cold and dull like its people living there. I came home after two days. Money thrown away. I can’t understand why EU have their headquarters in such a gloomy place and unpleasant people.

10 | anton loew, Tuesday Jun 17, 2008 Anton from New York, I was just in Brussels and it looks like the the Arab World . Their are so many Arabs I felt as if I was in Cairo. The local people are afraid to say word to the invaders. Now I can see why you are at home in Ramala you must feel at home or maybe you want to counter invade.

11 | Howie USA, Wednesday Jun 18, 2008 I have no idea what this guy is talking about

12 | Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem, Wednesday Jun 18, 2008 What an amazing profile of the life of a European. This is the imperial life isn’t it? This is the way a European spends his days. He gets paid to relax and have fun and critique others. It must be fascinating, this bourgouise coffee-house lifestyle. No work, just play. Playing on the misery of others. I have saved this story and I think you are indeed the model of the shallow European whose lifestyle consists only of critiquing others and playing at their conflicts and living the good life on the dime of some foolish ‘donor’ or taxpayer. Europe deserves what it gets.

13 | jeremy gilmore London, Wednesday Jun 18, 2008 As usual a beleding heart european who has no concept of what real life is like for the average israeli, I am intending to make make Aliyah to israel shortly and one of my real concerns is that my children will have to go in the army and defend themselves against the very people you were partying with. Why don’t you grow and get a real job and stop interfering in thing that you have no right to comment on.

14 | BaBa, Jerusalem, Wednesday Jun 18, 2008 we stopped the Bosnians from butchering each other?? we? who are we? are you living in this world? get on the internet maybe and read about what’s going on in Bosnia. and really get a life kid and a conscience when you go back to golden Belgium – don’t start a blog about Whalonnie though…you’ll be in trouble…

15 | lila Silver New YOrk, Wednesday Jun 18, 2008 Self-indulgent gibberish from babbling empty-headed fool. You think you are cultured but you are arrogant and simple-minded. Your flighty words add up to nothing and reveal your inability to think clearly. Stay away.

16 | Steve California, Thursday Jun 19, 2008 God is not dead. You might think Palestine is a very small piece of land, but I have to let you know that it was given to Abraham and his descendants thousands of years ago by the God of the Bible. Evidence that God exists: 1 Israel being declared a nation in 1948. It was prophesied right in the Bible thousands of years ago. God said he would scatter the Jews thoughout the World and they would be hated by all nations, but he would bring them back into their own land. This is a civil war. It is between the God of the Bible,Yahweh, and the God of Islam which is no god at all. I know who wins

17 | Tom Kenis, Brussels, Saturday Jun 21, 2008 You guys need all the help you can get, whether you like it or not. Nrs 1 to 16, thanks for helping me make that abundantly clear. Maybe one day you can come and advise the Flemish on how to deal with their minority (-ies).

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JERUSALEM POST BLOG 30 – Annus Horribilis

JERUSALEM POST BLOG 30 – Annus Horribilis

2006 began quite like 2005.

Uitgelicht-A-TeamAnd by ‘quite like’ I mean ‘not even remotely comparable’. There were parallels, mind you. Both January’s I served as election observer, presidential and parliamentary respectively. Which entailed a lot of barreling up and down the West Bank, piling in and out of vans. An A-team of suffrage, if you will. “If no one else can help you, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ballot monitors.”

As Palestinians enthusiastically voted for an authority with scarcely more than municipal powers, the Colonel Deckers at Huwara checkpoint played nice. Apart from minor election-day campaigning the process ran smooth and fair on both occasions. Not so the outcome. One lubed into power a dovish successor to the internationally reviled Arafat, the other cemented Hamas as a political force.

The A-team was barely able to save Face.

hannibal-crossing-the-alps-1I’m a Fatah member,” a taxi driver ferrying us back to Ramallah after a late-night count in Hebron said, “but today I voted for Hamas. Fatah needs a good spanking.” He didn’t use the word ‘spanking’. I’m sure I don’t know the Arabic for ‘spanking’, but his sentiments were clear, and shared by many Palestinians. As was surprise at the extent of electoral disciplining. No one lit celebratory cigars. Here was a plan that didn’t come together. Even Hamas itself, which had expected to become a powerful opposition, winced at the outcome. It was as if Hannibal had crossed the Alps and suddenly didn’t know what the hell to do with all the elephants.

It was the beginning of an annus horribilis. And not just for the elephants. A year of miscalculations. The hot summer of Lebanon, and Gaza. Grim Reaper wielding his scythe with a flurry. My boss left the organization he’d founded eighteen years ago to become ambassador half a galaxy away, nudged on by indissoluble optimism. The international boycott soon left him scraping to keep the lights on. His brainchild meanwhile struggled to find a successor, and is straining to this day for survival.

The nightlife of Ramallah remained. Added perhaps the occasional Hummer greeting wee eyes with a searchlight as we clambered from Matal, a somewhat dodgy establishment set in the basement alcoves of a former hostel. The nightlife ended when the night ended, and machine gun fire rang out as we made faces at the sun on our way to bed.

Where’s the army?” some hotheads in a Fiat Uno inquire. (Not everyone’s a hothead, but everyone drives a Fiat Uno, including myself at one point.) “Around there-ish,” replies the band of inebriated ‘ajanib’. “Tss, foreigners,” you hear them think. The Uno wheels off. Only to come shrieking up again twenty seconds, and a few volleys of ire from the mouth of an M16 later.

We shrug, and hope to retain some of the doused indifference. It’s hard sometimes. Not as in ‘Not knowing how to feed your family, or ‘try to keep from being detained, humiliated or beaten up’.

No, of course not that kind of hard. Nor the ‘You look like the guy who blew himself up last week’. We, the outside-inside-outsiders lack that frame of reference. At best we look like the grandchildren of some pen-pusher abetting the unspeakable crimes of another epoch. We are children of the now, looking back as much as we look ahead. This has got to stop. That’s all there is to it.

We’re like B.A., drugged, hauled onto an airplane, and suddenly there’s palm trees, weird animals and machine gun fire. Not the pyrotechnics kind. “Shut up, fool.”

At work I spend a lot of time scouring newspapers. Palestinian. Israeli. Eurotrash. American patriotic. I’m looking for a common thread, and it’s hard to see because it’s bleak, and the sunlight’s so bright in the morning. It’s the hot summer of Lebanon and Gaza, and gravity tugs on our shoulders. Not the scientist type I’m rarely moved by numbers, and here I sat, crying over statistics. Just this once….

I’m tough, and I still haven’t a clue what suffering is.

 

Blog comments

1 | John Gilbert, Sunday May 18, 2008 The thing to remember about the Middle East is that there really aren’t any loyalties kept by anyone so that most have ended up biting the hand that fed it. Remember how the U.S. was supportive of the Taliban (Muhajideen) against the Russians in Afghanistan until the Russians were driven out and they turned against the U.S.? The U.S. was also supportive of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Iran until Saddam turned against the U.S. by invading Kuwait. At one time, Israel even supported Hamas as an alternative against the terrorist organization of the PLO (Fatah) but now Hamas is against Israel.

2 | Jay NYC, Sunday May 18, 2008 I think this beligians brain was lost somwhere in the last shooting, because his words do not relate anything journalistic whatsoever. come back home, and write a story that tells us something about whats happening there, what its like for the people to live under oppression and severe occupation. or then just get out of there because you sound like a pointless drunkard.

3 | Norb, Sunday May 18, 2008 I think that an Israeli religious leader or leaders should meet with Hamas leaders if possible and iron out a settlerment that would be binding on both sides. Arab voters seemed to think Fatah was too secular and stole monies destined for the masses. Thus they voted in religious Hamas. Religious respect ibetween the opposing factions is the common denominator for achieving reciprocal peace in my opinion. Israel should give it a try as its citizens too are unhappy with the secular leadership to say the least. Honor, respect is common denominator for Muslims and Jews, Israel and Hamas.

4 | jim Houston, Thursday May 22, 2008 http://youtube.com/watch?v=7iiZlb_Yzzo At least Hamas is stylish now!! Too funny.

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JERUSALEM POST BLOG 29 – At work

JERUSALEM POST BLOG 29 – At work

the_golden_ageOn arrival I’m set up in the veranda, which is cherished office real estate. Especially in winter. Pamper the newbie, I guess. Back in the days the NGO headquarters sits in Balu’a, a low-lying suburb of Ramallah of previously marshes, aquatic birds and, in summer, the occasional goat. Today offices spring up, both government and private. There’s a pharmaceutical factory, and of course Plaza Mall, an air-conditioned, i.e. refrigerated, glass expanse that houses a Benetton boutique, a toy store, coffee shops, and the regal Bravo Supermarket. Descendants of that occasional goat still graze among the towering developments. I often toddle down there to chillax whenever, especially in summer, the veranda proves less cherished real estate and more NASA experiment to colonize Venus.

I sit in the veranda that first year, learning the ropes as they say. The NGO publishes reports on social issues, the impact of occupation, closures. There’s vocational training, awareness campaigns on the role of women in society, and workshops for health workers about domestic violence. Imad, good-natured, loquacious, and eternal optimist started the organization at the onset of the first Intifada, after selling his textile manufacturing business.

I sit in the veranda. Imad waltzes in, preceded by his trademark high-pitched laughter. He slaps me on the back. “How’s that report coming along?” “Working on it,” I go. We’re training women from a Bethlehem refugee camp to start a community center. The struggle to get the columns and tables right on this frigging Word document distracts me from the content. Apparently someone’s building a humongous wall betwixt the camp and an expanse of olive trees from which previously the inhabitants eked a modicum of income. “Thou shall not steal,” a member of the old school has daubed on the three-meter high concrete nibble. I add a photograph to the chapter on obstacles and constraints. It’s hard to click-and-drag without messing up the lay-out.

They do need women’s emancipation,” an Israeli friend says when I talk about my work. “Sure,” I say, “that, and perhaps the means to build a veritable economy. The ability, for instance, to drive a truckload of goods from Nablus to Ramallah. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. All they can do under Israeli rule is observe and document the economic, social, and moral decay.”

Yeah, but we won more Nobel prizes than anyone else. What have they done?” I love my friend dearly, but somewhere along the line we stopped talking politics. I don’t blame her. Israeli media on Palestinians is like Serb reporting on Kosovo. Us and them. They suck. We, inventors and philanthropists, rule with a benign fist because fists is all they know.

I sit in the veranda, and I hear Imad’s shrill cackle in the hallway. “Did you know there are sex parties in Ramallah?” and he’s thrilled. “Oh, I don’t go there,” he says, “but wow, Ramallah’s finally becoming a real city.” Imad’s a liberal, and hardly anyone at Bisan dons a headscarf. I ask Fatima, who does wear one, why she does. “I actually don’t know. It’s sort of a habit, really.”

Well, do you believe in God?” I ask.

She shrugs. “No, not at all.” Not a hint of sarcasm.

Even the leftie pro-Palestinian propaganda machine called the Belgian media doesn’t prepare you for that sort of thing. I still get raised eyebrows whenever I mention Palestinian beer, the October fest, bar-hopping, or sleeping with Palestinian women. Enough eyebrows to turn my car into a Hungarian sheepdog. Enough raising to build me a space elevator. It’s 2005, and it’s a good time for liberals. “In sha’ Allah, things are gonna work out,” Izzat intones. Palestinians just elected a dove, and there’s talk of talks.

It’s Friday. I’m alone in the veranda, wading through a backlog of emails. Hungry, I pop round to the chicken schnitzel sandwich guy. I order a chicken schnitzel sandwich while a local news channel reports an incursion of the Israeli army. LIVE. A troop carrier empties out into a building. Some shots fired. A Hummer blocks off a nearby street, jostling to and fro. Unsuspecting commuters wince, or at least their cars’ brake lights infer the emotion.

Here you go,” says the chicken schnitzel sandwich guy, handing me an excellent chicken schnitzel sandwich. I’ve always wanted to ask him “Dude, what the deal with the Saddam poster in your place?”

In stead I say “thank you for the chicken schnitzel sandwich, chicken schnitzel sandwich guy” or something to that effect, and flick a last glance at the screen.

Freeze frame. I flinch without technical assist. Say, that street looks awful familiar… Next I hear a ruckus outside. It’s rather more than a ruckus. Not a NASA experiment, that. Everyone’s looking in one direction, and running the other way. Shutters are drawn. Cars pull frantic U’ies. God I love reality TV.

Thus ends the year, and my stay in the veranda. Next is a darkness.

 

Blog comments

1 | Gene, Thursday May 01, 2008 Hey Tom… sex parties in such an Islamic place… a woman who wears a scarf who doesn’t believe in god… wow… does she feel she could be truthful to you, but what if she were questioned by a radical Muslim? What will her reply be? Keep posting Tom! I’ve bookmarked your Blog, and am really interested in the chapters to ensue!

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JERUSALEM POST BLOG 28 – C the C

JERUSALEM POST BLOG 28 – C the C

iz4My landlord Mitri’s a geography teacher. Man, did he ever teach geography that day. It’s January. Orthodox Christmas. Palestinian Christians from the West Bank are allowed each year to enter Israel. Some good old divide et impera. A permit for worshipping in the nebula of holy places that is Jerusalem. The joy.

Our church always organizes a trip to Nazareth,” Mitri says to me, he says “then it’s always pray here, pray there.” He rolls his eyes. What to do? They got the old Opel Astra, however meticulously maintained, it doesn’t discount the little fact of ‘green plates’. The verdant registration brings a car, qua usefulness, on a par with the average wheelbarrow. A very expensive, air-conditioned wheelbarrow. What to do?

Do you have a driver’s license, Tom? For yellow plate?” I can see where this is going. And I don’t really mind, either. I got some time off. Should be a lark. Mitri gives me a budget. It’s not much, but on the other hand, it’s not like he’s actually received a paycheck for the past year or so. So next I’m on the phone, haggling with the car people. Meet the rentals. Long descendants of some rugged mountain folk somewhere along the silk road, I figure. They drive a tough bargain. I just want to drive their Isuzu Trooper, the only seven-seater I could find on short notice. Finally, I drive the point home, ánd the jeep, trunk rattling with mediocre puns.

WB3I’m stopped at Qalandia checkpoint. “Shalom,” I say. The soldier looks at the logo on the side and goes; “Greenpeace. You know, I give them money sometimes.” I got all these one-liners in back but decide to clear up the misunderstanding. “Oh, but these are not the tree people. It’s a car rental place in East-Jerusalem. God knows why they’re called Greenpeace.” The only way this humongous foaming-at-the-mouth Isuzu will hug a tree is by slamming into one. Love hurts. God forbid.

9.00 AM. Al-Bireh. The Rafidi’s are all set to go. Marina, Marina’s mum, Mitri and the kids; Maher and Tamer (twins) and Ramzi. Today, for the first time in their lives, they will behold the Mediterranean. For real.

And we’re off. Barreling down toward Tel Aviv. It’s raining cats and dogs as we leave but soon enough the skies clear up and Apollo’s toy casts its warm regard upon us. “Kids, can you feel the pressure change in your ears? We’re descending.” Dimitri expounds on the land; the North and the South, the East and “All this here is Palestine too.” He gestures wide at the tilled plains domed by Ben Gurion-bound Boeings and Airbusses. “Remember that. Always.” An Israeli ear will extrude a menace there. Undoubtedly. But remembering invokes past, not future, save for those who’ve nothing to lose.

Think about it.

We alight in Yafa, have a little in-car picnic, and head out to the marina. I switch roles from driver to cameraman. Dimitri explains the tides, but it’s a Jet Ski that draws the kids’ ravenous eyes. Then there’s boats, and more airplanes, and a scaffolded church where we light a candle to no god in particular. We stroll along, awed by the pending orange tree whose tender flings up a shovel so that we may go forth and be fruitful. After two launches the tree yields and we divvy up the sun’s labor.

Next stop; Caesarea. I’m still taping. It’s sea-shells at the sea-shore time. Gross Domestic Products of the stuff. Tamer splashes round in the teasing reach and draw of the surf. Unencumbered. Then, wearied, we sit down and marvel at Rome’s brick testament and a few brides and grooms braving the onset of chilly dusk for the wedding album.

Where are you from?” We get to talking with the girl from the souvenir shop. Timid English on both sides. Mitri explains our fraught provenance. “I came here on a school trip once. More than twenty years ago.”

How is Ramallah?” the girl asks. Well, you know, might have been the gist of the reply. It’s hard to really delve and rummage in polite to-and-fro. I doubt that she does though, ‘know’, but in that briefest moment “Twins? She grins at Maher and Tamer; Marina nods a bashful affirmation” it’s just people talking. No frigging barriers. No fright. No accusations. No nuffin’. In that pithy instant all our leaders and all our TVs are unmasked.

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JERUSALEM POST BLOG 27 – The Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to Scientology.

JERUSALEM POST BLOG 27 – The Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to Scientology.

chem trails unveiledIt’s funny how Skully and Mulder never dedicated any time to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Plenty of scope for conspiracy and yet… nothing. Which represents of course, in and by itself, a conspiracy. Time to investigate.

Coffee makes the mind race. It’s the little liquid crazy you need to face the idiosyncrasies of modern life. Especially the AM parts of it. Sometimes a caffeinated boost can, as cobwebs fly, bring you closer to truth. But to approach an issue, you must first get away from it. Invest some outstanding airmiles, or in this case; light-years.

That’s right, I’m going for the alien angle. It’s quite easy actually. You start by jotting down a few random key words, and start believing. Mine are; Condoleeza Rice, Chinese embassy, the serpent God, Higg’s Boson, gilded moccasins, and apple pie. Cargo hulls of the stuff. Do try this at home. After all, it’s not the truth that is out there, it’s a bunch of idiots who WILL believe any story that involves faster-than-light travel. Here we go;

Pigs do fly, goddamned! And if they don’t, I will make them.” Condoleeza slammed down the phone and began what history would record as ‘The Five-Week Pout’. She had another whiskey-coke as the plane heaved itself into the stratosphere. This week it’s “Yes, we’ll remove the checkpoints”, next week it’s “Okay, we’ll remove the ones we added since last week”. Friends like these… The Interstellar Council had balked at spending silly money on a custom-built Boeing-replica spaceship, but the machine proved well worth the tantrums.

Imagine actually ‘flying’ from Washington to Tel Aviv and back every frigging fortnight. No amount of time on the elliptical trainer could save you from the jetlag. Jet engines were a nifty proposition, archeologically speaking, but not if you had serious traveling to do, say, to the home planet. And video-conferencing was out ever since the Chinese had started tapping in. Sure, they managed to destroy the array in Belgrade a few years ago, but just as soon, a new installation had popped into the ether. God knows where. Unless…

Quetzalcoatl! Of course.” Count on the feathered serpent God to disappear for over three thousand years and sneak back unannounced. How could she have missed it? Condoleeza desperately needed some time off. Either that or a serious pay raise. “I need a pay Rice,” she’d joke. No one ever laughed. It was hard enough to work with humans, let alone on issues of cosmic import, but George Double-You? A man whose single redeeming quality was having a mother who understood how to bake a truly mind-stimulating apple pie?

Condoleeza,” he’d say, “what’s going on in the Middle East? Can’t you just tell them to stop shooting? I get phone calls from all these um, presidents, and prime minstrels. Sometimes áfter four PM. Can you believe that?” She’d almost bitten his head off. Literally. YOU get phone calls? I have a relay station implant because these stupid human bodies only have two ears and two arms and two armpits. God, I wonder how you guys ever managed to rub sticks together. Not to mention keep afloat a cosmetics industry.

Well, it’s complicated, Mr. President. You see, the Intergalactic Plenum, um, the Syrians are quite annoyed at the bombing of their Boson accelerator, I mean, suspected nuclear facility.” “The who with the what now?” “Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’m on it.” “Thank you. Sing me a lullaby?” A shudder went through Condoleeza as she tried to figure out why Quetzalcoatl was sticking his scaled nose where it most definitely didn’t belong. Sure, he’d once told the Aztecs he was going to come back, so why was he meddling in the Middle East then? Because the Aztecs no longer existed? That was his own damn fault. He should have warned them to ask proper ID from anyone they figured might be gods. Especially if they wore a crepe ruff and gilded moccasins. Idiots!

An electronic voice interrupted the vortex of thought. “Ms. Rice. We have docked with the Conference Ship.” She gulped down another whiskey. Straight. Ever since the Tunguska affair she never felt truly at ease in so-called ‘neutral space’. All members of the Plenum were there; Assad, the Chinese dude with the unpronounceable name, Kim Young Il, as always representing no one but himself, and a German MP. Green party of course.

As usual the Cosmic Council hadn’t bothered to send any backup for Condoleeza. Fine, she thought. I can handle ma bidness. “Greetings,” she shouted. It was considered inconsiderate to speak in any other manner at Conferences. “Greetings,” the members of the Galactic Plenum bellowed in unison.

Ms. Rice,” they continued, all in one voice, “why have your allies destroyed our Damascus research facility?”

Condoleeza rolled her eyes. As much as she was striving for a galactic truce, the Plenum couldn’t be allowed to develop a Boson power source. It would upset the balance of things, and when things got unbalanced,… well, you didn’t want to be around when that happened. She felt like eating each and every one of them. “Let us not mince words, dear colleagues. Why have YOU sought out the services of the feather serpent god?” It was hard to stress a word if you were already screaming the entire sentence. Condoleeza’s ability to do so made her feared and respected across the Galaxy.

A great confusion arose from their ranks. They threw up a thought-blocker between them and Condoleeza, and conferred amongst themselves for a minute. “Ms. Rice,” they finally choired, “we were going to ask you the exact same question…” They weren’t joking. She could tell. It was her turn to be confused. Condoleeza excused herself, took a breath, and started dialing, as calmly as she could manage. “George! Call Barbara ..-.. Do it now! Get off the Segway. ..-… Damned, I can get you one that hovers if you like, but for God’s sake hurry up. Tell your mother to heat up the oven…. I’ll be over before you can say ‘Sesame Street’. I need to think!” To be continued…

 

Blog comments

1 | AARON BENEZRA, Friday Apr 04, 2008 OKAY, I’LL PLAY – SO, WHAT IS THE REST OF THIS KNOCK-KNOCK JOKE – ERGO, WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SCIENTOLOGY, LET ALONE SDEROT?

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