Sunday, June 22, 2014

Palestinian Sign Language

Here is the link to the news story that inspired this post:

Courtesy of Mohammed AlQadi

When you stop to think about it, numbers have a meaning and a power beyond their original numerical value. In its most basic sense a number refers to a physical entity whose repetitiveness imbues that number with its meaning. That was what numbers originally signified. Then came the Indians and started meditating on those numbers while doing their yoga, trying to fill their minds with void. Lo and behold, numbers suddenly had their own independent existence that one could manipulate, aggregate and disaggregate, fiddle with and twist into different sequences and formulas. This inevitably led to the all-encompassing infinity, the endless concept with no substance to limit its possibilities. From there the Indian mind reversed back to Zero, the mother of all abstract thinking, which the Indians bequeathed to the Arabs.

That, in a nutshell, was the root of Israel’s problem with the Palestinians: Not only that they knew how to count but also that they were comfortable with zero. They claimed it as the basis of their practice of resistance, their famous Sumoud or perseverance: You have nothing, do nothing and get zero from the international community; you just sit still and wait expecting nothing. But also, as part of the Arab Semitic people, the Palestinians had the peculiar habit of using their hands to say things. It started with their closing their fist and extending the index finger straight to give witness to the unity of the creator. Whether praying, meditating or preparing to die, they would be seen making that sign. Such Palestinian pious pretensions didn’t fool us. We Israelis knew intuitively what the one finger sign meant. True, we weren’t about to start documenting which finger those sneaks were using: “As soon as our soldiers would look away, even in the midst of prayer a Palestinian would switch from the index to the middle finger,” The official IDF spokeswomen said. “Even under the strictest of security measures they would give us the ‘up-yours’ sign. You look back at one of them and he or, even worse, she would beat you to it and switch back to the index finger pretending to be deep in communion with Allah. But then, Allah probably would give us the middle finger sign if only we could see Him. But you just wait. Our Yahweh will get Him sooner or later.”

Then came the First Intifada and the whole world colluded with the Palestinians by opening its media to let their criminal youth into living rooms around the globe. And what did the little terrorists do but use the world’s innocence to their advantage showing the two finger sign under the guise of making the V-sign as if for victory. But we knew the way their dirty minds worked. Our analysts figured out their thoughts even before they conceived them. We knew instinctively that they were using England’s code signals to say to us the F-word. You go figure which way they turned their hand as they made that signal. We knew they all meant to turn its back to us as in the original English tradition not the palm side as in the V for victory. That was why our peace campaigner, Rabin, issued his order to pardon all those creeps and only to break their arms so they won’t raise them with the vulgar sign again. Arafat himself played along and imitated Nixon and Churchill with that V-sign for victory while deep in his heart he knew that they too were saying ‘up yours’ to the whole world.

And then the Palestinians started scheming to abduct three of our boys while on a hike. They began more than a year in advance and enlisted the services of the world media on which they have a monopoly as we all know. Can you imagine a more sordid trick than to use the well-tested method of hiding in full view of the whole world? Here they were signaling their plan to abduct three of our settlers, using the three finger sign of course and passing the information across the entire Arab world in the guise of the number they connived to assign to Mohammad Assaf as a contestant in the Arab Idol song fest. Imagine a Gazan refugee winning in a civilized singing competition! Where would he have studied music and voice? Did he start with imitating the sound of a sick camel or the screams of hungry camp orphs? But he won that competition on the strength of the popularity of their planned crime. There was hardly a Palestinian man or woman, adult or child, in or out of jail who didn’t raise his hand with the three extended fingers in support of the abduction scheme.

They may well be geniuses in connivance and trickery but they are poor in math. They must have figured that if they were to get the same thousand-to-one prisoner exchange rate as they had with Gelad Shalit then three of our youth would be enough to free all their prisoners. They knew we had some five thousand Palestinian prisoners in our jails. But they must have figured that 1000 X 3 > 5000. Believe me I have meditated on that one for a long time and I can’t get it to work. Perhaps they do their calculations on basis of volume. Might that be why so many Palestinian prisoners have started fasting in preparation for the coming exchange, I wonder? Or it must be that, in their simple-minded calculations, they count every two or three children as one adult prisoner. But that formula doesn’t work. even if we were to subtract all 700 Palestinian children that we arrest every year, 99.74% of whom we convict in our military courts. I told you we know what they think before they even think it, those slow Arabs, and we manage to beat an admission of guilt out of their dirty little minds every time.

And about those 10 and 11-year old children of theirs: You must think that we have no right to abduct them out of their beds at night. But you can quote me on this matter: "I am not racist but it is necessary to kill them from the moment they are born." Every Palestinian squatting in our promised land commits a crime against us every time he or she breathes. They consume the oxygen our future generations need.

Got it straight now? You tell me how many fingers I should give.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ghost Busting

Contrary to the Palestinian adage negating the likelihood of mountains meeting, Paul Jay (founder and senior editor of the Real News Network) and Ali Abunimah (co-founder and executive director of the Electronic Intifada) meet and discuss the past, present and future of Israel and Palestine. They succinctly scale the moral and intellectual heights of the rough terrain in a convincing and clear interview that TRNN posts divided into five captivating segments. Clearly, both are deeply concerned and well informed on their subject matter, Jay with his pointed questions and Ali with his well considered, rational and highly controlled responses. I look at Ali and judge him to be the age of my two children. I hear him and am struck by his civil demeanor and ability to control the energy and fury that rages in every Palestinian’s heart when facing the standard platitudes of American diplomatic doublespeak. I smile in appreciation.

In the first introductory segment Ali briefly sums up his refugee family’s background and his childhood years as the son of a Jordanian diplomat. The father’s post keeps the family on the move across Western capitals. His parents never fail to remind Ali of his Palestinian roots. Despite the inherited cross-generational memories of Palestine, only with the First Intifada do the images on the screen finally captivate him. Then on college campus at Princeton he meets with the invented but dominant Zionist narrative and the clash is transformative: The engineering student waxes a journalist, a writer, and a visionary activist. In fact he quickly becomes one of the most eloquent and convincing advocates of the one-state solution writing the lead argument for it as the only way out of the violent morass the Zionists had visited on his homeland with the West’s and especially with America’s backing. He fires off his first book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israel-Palestinian Impasse, and starts advocating for BDS as the strategic tactic to actualize his vision of turning the tables on liberal Zionism. He grabs the headlines enough to where TRNN now grants him its limelight and I see him with Jay.

Ali’s roots are deep in two romantic Palestinian villages: Lifta, surviving as a few-dozen bare stone houses pockmarking the western slopes of Jerusalem’s fast disappearing mountainous wilderness of old, and Battir with its Iron-age terracing and irrigation technology that had brought it recent international fame.  Lifta is flashed on my computer screen as I watch the informative discourse of these two American journalists. I stop the video to check the rich masonry and architecture that has stood 66 years of the unopposed assault of the elements and the malicious misuse by the sex and drug gangs of West Jerusalem. The sight is arresting and I enlarge the photo on my screen to peer inside: I see Lifta’s former inhabitants flitting across the denuded doors and windows of their homes. I focus my gaze and see a young Lifta woman, barely past her teenage years, tall and tantalizing in a traditional dress adorned with artistic embroidery matching that of her headscarf. The bride’s attendants see me intruding on their privacy and a worried glint flashes across their black eyes as they hasten to call their menfolk from the fields and from the two village coffee shops. Assured of my peaceful intentions they go back to their bridal party and merrymaking. Others are preoccupied with house chores, preparing for the return of their boys and girls from their two separate schools. Others are on edge, busy with the anxious task of keeping watch over the last vestiges of their withered orchards in the hills and vales below their fortress village. Have they caught up with me and assumed their ghostly identities, I wonder? As if they own it as well, they wistfully cast a gaze towards the Mediterranean at the far horizon. I can hear the shuffling of their bare feet on the dried weeds that had overtaken their fields. Would those Palestinian ancestral ghosts invade the dreams of the Jewish-only occupants of the plush villas with which the Jerusalem municipality plans to replace Lifta’s haunted spaces? Would their pensive glancing towards the sea drive those invaders to it lemming-like? I imagine Paul Jay asking Ali Abunimah about the revenge of the ghosts. The latter spends the remainder of the five segments giving his reassuring answer. He never rushes into hasty conclusions, never looses his cool, never leaves a logical stone unturned in conveying his message: A nation and a culture do not evaporate into thin air regardless how hard you blow your hot air at them.

And Battir?
Take a look!
The Iron Age man-made stone terraces and irrigation ditches with their manually operated sluices have sustained their custodians for over four millennia, the system adequately indemnifying its attendants whether Canaanites, Jewish rebels, Roman conquerors or Palestinian peasants. The innate unity of the Battir farmers and their land has withstood foreign intruders’ nightmarish schemes, whether for a railroad or for a separation wall, forcing them to divert their demonic plans to less harmful paths. Battir has challenged manmade intrusions on its natural logic before, forcing the world to grant it an eight-day week to fit its irrigation schedule and a seeming upward flowing water table feeding its seven springs that gush way uphill to feed an irrigation scheme worthy of international recognition as a World Heritage site.

I replay the first match of the two heavy weights a few times till its riveting ache settles deep in my gut. I go on to the second segment where the two have set their snare so cleverly that I am trapped at the very gate of their circus tent: With his first book in 2006 this cool Palestinian American, Abunimah, has not only left me catching my breath as a fellow traveller on the peace and justice path. Now, while I am still repeating his mantra of one democratic and secular state, he has forged ahead with the next step of how to do that, flinging his solution at me with Paul Jay’s complicity in the matter. Plunging directly to the key issue of what the Palestinians can learn from the African American experience in the USA, he quotes from Abunimah’s second landmark book entitled “The Battle for Justice in Palestine.”

While abolishing the racism and violence of Zionism practices against Palestinians is the key to justice and peace in historic Palestine, no less than the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States were absolutely necessary, recent American history demonstrates that systems of racial control and the ideologies underpinning them remain robust and adaptable. A formally liberal and rights-based order can allow a system just as oppressive as Jim Crow to hide and flourish in plain sight.

How did these two learn about my closely kept secret? I didn’t cry seeing the funeral of Arafat or Edward Said. But I couldn’t stop crying at Martin Luther King’s televised burial ceremony even though I was younger and less emotionally labile than I am now in old age. When Martin Luther King spoke he always spoke for me; his dream has always been my dream. Except that in the meantime I had fallen back into dreamless sleep. And now these two journalists are shaking me awake again. We share the same injustices committed by the same forces. I had been repeatedly drawn to the analogy of the fate of the Palestinians in their ethnic cleansing and continuing oppression to that of Native Americans and of Hawaiians and to the enslavement and continuing racial discrimination against the African Americans. That is rather elementary in its truth and significance. But here, Abunimah is ahead of the game: He is already warning us rightly to the pitfalls of the African American experience and how America’s dominant capitalism pulls the rug from under the feet and the wool over the eyes of its public regarding its continuing and institutionalized injustices.

“[Equality] before the law officially in the United States can coexist with mass incarceration. And that serves as a warning for Palestinians that, you know, even if they achieve, you know, full liberal rights in a single state, they may not get out from under the yoke of racism and oppression and apartheid.”

Before we delude ourselves with the promise of formally abolishing Zionist legalized discrimination in Israel, let us not forget that it is a necessary but not a sufficient step in the struggle for effective equality and justice. Here Abunimah refers to Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, while I jot down the name of his own second book for my compulsory reading list.

And without hanging a clear tag on their discovery, the two beat around the bush of losing hope in the American democracy as a source of inspiration for the world’s oppressed masses. Again and again, the two allude to the problem but it keeps slipping from between their fingers: America as the banner bearer on justice and equality for all, and yet it increasingly contracts out its homeland security to Israel and sends its top police brass on junkets to learn from Israel how it deals with its subjugated Palestinians. Those USA lead law and order enforcement agents in turn see Israel as the paragon of democracy from which they learn how to protect their own democracy. Now step back and look at how this circle has closed: Palestinians aspire to seek American-style law and justice while the American law and justice apparatus aspires to emulate the Israeli system that uses the very same Palestinians as the training Guinea pigs for them. It is the perfect vicious cycle but neither of the two names it fully. I hereby claim the full credit.

Here Paul Jay eggs his sparring partner on with a direct challenge, gesticulating with both hands in illustration:

Like, I've always wondered why there wasn't this, like, million-Palestinian march coming from the West Bank to the separation wall and hundreds of thousands of Arab-Israeli citizens marching to this side; and that level of mass civil disobedience and civil protest we haven't seen. And why?”

I catch myself competing with Abunimah in giving a convincing answer: an entry in my blog from three years earlier lights up on my memory screen: With the onset of the Arab Spring I had imagined a horde of tens of millions of youth from across the world marching on Israel. Abunimah lunges back at Paul Jay with his answer supported with the same it-is-the-world’s-responsibility logic:

“But I think that in a sense the way Palestinians have found now to in a sense catalyze not just a Palestinian movement but a global movement to mobilize people is through boycott, divestment, and sanctions.”

And as if to reconfirm his knockout answer he goes on to harsher finger pointing, soft-peddling it with half a dozen “you knows”:

“But that kind of segregation, which we view today as a negative result of racism that we now repudiate, is actually the goal that Israeli policymakers are working towards with many of the laws.

“But this doesn't stop, you know, President Obama from, you know, these heartfelt declarations of the values he shares with Israel. And I find that to be a particularly tragic and cruel irony, given that his own election victory is seen as being, you know, one of the fruits of the sacrifices so many people made in the civil rights struggle, that, you know, someone like him, whose election was unimaginable, you know, even a decade ago, is today promoting a country like Israel, whose racism against Palestinians, against Africans, against others is so systematic.”

I chuckle. Even Abunimah has learned a thing or two from the Israelis. He ‘verifies the kill’ even at the extra cost of few more bullets.

And so what are these shared values? And I argue that it includes things like a really racialized view of the world, where Palestinians, in the case of Israel, and African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color in the United States are viewed as some kind of demographic threat that needs to be policed and controlled and surveilled.

In the following segment Paul Jay throws a fast ball at Abunimah: Does Israel have the right to exist as a Jewish state? The next 15 minutes are spent in hitting at it with obvious astuteness and studied candor. It turns out the man had asked the question and answered it in his new book:
States come and states go. No other state in the world has the a priori and abstract right to exist beyond the rights of its population to self-determination.
But what about the Holocaust? What if it were to happen again, God forbid, and the Jews were to need a safe haven?
Ali delivers a knockout blow: The Zionist colonial scheme predated the Holocaust by several decades. With this ploy and with the need to maintain a fortress state Israel has become the most dangerous place in the world for Jews. And

“… you have to examine from a moral and ethical point of view the notion that Jewish Americans or Jewish Canadians should have a spare country as an insurance policy when the creation and maintenance of this spare country comes at a brutal price and brutal suffering of its indigenous people, who have to be expelled, kept as refugees, corralled in ghettos like Gaza or Qalqilya, treated as second-class citizens, and constantly demonized. Is that ethically a price that anyone should be asked to pay as an insurance policy for people living quite comfortably in Montreal or Chicago or other parts of the world? I think that's questionable.”

Abunimah is a master of understatement. As a Palestinian I found it simply riveting to hear him recount the intolerable transgressions committed by the Zionist enterprise against his people and then to have him end with that perfectly calm, cool and collected “I think it is questionable.” That phrase alone, delivered at the right moment in the debate, is the most eloquent answer to the question that Paul Jay had posed at the start of this segment. Nothing more is needed. And yet the intellectual duel continues back and forth with Iran, Saudia Arabia, South Africa, Ireland and more dragged into it and with other compelling arguments like:

“What's the price of maintaining it? How do you do that? What remedies do you have if Palestinians have too many of the wrong kind of baby? It creates an ugliness and a violence that I think many liberal Jewish supporters of Israel in this country and around the world have refused to reckon with. And they think that this can all just be wished away by continuously repeating these slogans about two states living side by side in peace and never having to reckon with the reality of what ethnic segregation means in Palestine. It means ethnic cleansing. It means violence. It means racist laws. It means constantly viewing Palestinians as a presence that pollutes the land.”

But that punch line of “I think that’s questionable” retains its convincing finality.

In the fourth segment of the five-part series the side issue of Palestinian economics and class struggle is addressed. Thomas Friedman, Hillary Clinton, Germany, France and Israel are all brought into the discussion to discredit and malign the Palestinian National Authority oligarchs and top capitalists, as if they need further maligning beyond their failed striptease show. Little enlightenment is gained here though the strategy of economic peace does get a well-deserved exposure for the Israeli tool it is.

Then, with a deserved finality, the two intellectuals slug it through the most hopeful segment of the series. It opens with a cover photo that belies its content: a taciturn Israeli soldier aiming the sight of his automatic gun at the head of a smiling and bemused Palestinian man as a Palestinian crowd in a typically Palestinian space seem to go about their life including the distinct image of one child pulling the other away as if unconcerned with the triviality of the violence around them. And that is what Abunimah’s final analysis boils down to: He has been to Northern Ireland and had seen a generation of youth who have no recollection of the violence and bloodshed in their homeland.
Who will bring this about?
Well, Palestinian civil society activists have launched the BDS movement; youth and intellectuals the world over have emblazoned it on their ambitious horizons of hope including Jewish youth and intellectuals in the USA and Europe and even in Israel itself. True, there is an extreme rightward shift in Israel’s politics. But that was what happened in South Africa and in Northern Island before justice and freedom dawned there. I weigh the evidence and my options again. I re-assess the likely impact of Ali and Paul on their viewers: Paul is firmly established, a known entity on the American intellectual left. But what with Ali? He is an American, of course. I am struck by the man’s mastery of the way Americans process and express their thoughts without buying into their convoluted logic on Middle East issues. I find his ways un-Arab, un-Palestinian and post-Nakba, I am tempted to say. But how could that be? The Nakba continues daily. I am trumped. If that is what some of the generation of our children, Palestinian and Jewish, can feel, think and express, then hope has a role; Wait till you see the generation of my grandchildren. 

We shall overcome!
Well, wasn’t that what we started with? Take my advice and watch the whole thing. I found it stunningly spot-on.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Tipping Point

Silly thoughts come and go. That is why we call them passing thoughts. But some silly thoughts come out of the blue and stay. How can one fall asleep with such a heavy responsibility weighing on his mind? Alan Robock and Paul Jay on the Real News Network convinced me that a disaster of the size I foresee is sure to lead to a global nuclear winter so severe that even my roommates, the cockroaches, cannot survive it.

It all started with a silly friend from Hawaii asking a silly question from me as his sole source of expert information on Middle East issues: “Supposing your dream of a single state west of the Jordan River with real democracy and equality for all its current residents were to come true, who then will be in charge of Israel’s nuclear weapons? Can a half Arab state be trusted with such lethal arsenal?”
The guy is back in The Hawaiian Islands luxuriating, no doubt, at the warm sands of a secluded cove in the shade of a palm tree. While he is being soothed into a heavenly repose by a curvaceous Hula dancer swaying in synch to the lull of ocean waves, I am tortured by acute insomnia because of his casual question, flung at me as if it were the most natural of elemental thoughts based on absolute and undisputable assumptions: Israel has a couple of hundred megaton nuclear bombs; Israelis are trust-worthy and know how to handle dangerous explosives, whether nuclear or Arab in nature; Arabs are curious, witness how they always touch freshly painted surfaces to verify the validity of a sign saying “Wet Paint;” Arabs are likely to mess around with any new toy that they receive; And equality and democracy, especially if purveyed by America and its allies, will be dumped in one lumpsum on the waiting Middle East masses, witness how they did it in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Libya and how forcefully they are trying to shove it whole down the parched throats of the Syrians.

For the benefit of the less informed reader, let me here enlighten you with some basic facts about myself so that we establish the ground rules of this discourse: I am conscientious about my responsibilities to a degree some call anal; I am so boringly punctilious, reliable and trustworthy it is sickening; and I lack curiosity and personal initiative to such a degree that if my wife were to point me north and say: “Go;” I would reach the North Pole before I stop regardless of distractions. I am good at math and science generally: In my college days I read Scientific American for over two years free of charge by changing my name and address every time the free trial period ran out. I now do Sudoku on daily basis. And I speak Hebrew. And, now that I am retired, I have all the time in the world on my hands. Hence my volunteering my services to take over responsibility for Israel’s nuclear program the moment the dream one state solution of Israstine comes to pass. Mind you, this would also serve to resolve another basic conflicted issue for me, that of serving in Israel’s armed forces or national service so that I can qualify for all the perks Israel grants the families of its Jewish veterans, the underlying cause for our Palestinian families in Israel sinking below the poverty line some six folds the rate of Jewish families.

I may blame my Hawaiian friend for the acute onset of my current insomnia and high state of preparedness for the coming crisis. But the first rumblings of anxiety about the prospect of a nuclear mess on the heel of any peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict has been with me for a while now. Nearly a decade ago when the late Mu’aamar Kaddafi proposed the name Israstine I was so charmed by the prospect of peace materializing overnight that I sought out Mordechai Vanunu and sized him up as my technical advisor once I would assume my responsibilities in my soon-to-come position. And not much later, when president Obama came on board as the new member of the clique of nuclear power brokers I sought to establish a relationship with him through the backdoor. One learns to be discreet in such matters. So when I wrote him I didn’t bring up the core issue of our new relationship. I simply mentioned that his late parents and I attended the University of Hawaii during the same period. And I alluded to the edgy state of affairs in Israstine as a mere hint of what I aimed at. He didn’t respond to my letter directly. I guess he is even more discrete on the nuclear issue than I am. Still, in a most subtle and indirect manner I must admit that I can pick up finely coded secret messages directed at me in every major speech he makes. I am fully aware of his own awareness of my positive vibes to him in response. I must admit I had similar telepathic bidirectional communications with the late Kaddafi and with Saddam Husain before their heroic martyrdom. But one has to be very subtle with nuclear issues. It is akin to the very nature of the animal we all are involved in taming: It has to be handled with utmost secrecy and intelligent care. That is why no one in my village knows any of this except the sheik of our mosque. He wanted me to share the information with the nuclear adviser cleric of Morsi of Egypt. But the guy went underground, figuratively and literally speaking.

 And my friend basking in the Hawaiian sun, his tanned skin cooled by the spray of the Pacific surf, doesn’t know how much I worry about him. For, if the nuclear genie ever gets out of the bottle, the very sand he now sprawls on will fry his skin crisp, believe me. That was why I started the conversation with him in the reassuring manner that I did. I didn’t want him to worry. I shared with him a couple of recent events and let him reach his own conclusions. That was how he came to ask me the rhetorical question about the fate of Israel’s nuclear weapons with the advent of the impending peace and unity of all the Semites in the Middle East: First I told him about my visceral reaction when I first received an invitation to a gala event held at a plush venue in New York under the code name “The Tipping Point”. The shock impact of what that title really meant came only with the evening’s MC’s explanation. I had assumed that the term referred to the Tipping Point over which I was boiling with excitement, the one Israeli Zionist leaders had set for us, the Palestinian citizens of Israel as the level at which we would become an existential threat to Israel. I knew that Israel’s founding father and first Prime Minister, the late David Ben-Gurion (Hold your horses now! If Saddam and Kaddafi rate the genteel courtesy, then he does too, at least when one is writing in English. In Arabic you can use whatever expletive your heart desires. No one reads it anyway.) had set the demographic red line at 15% of Israel’s total population. Then came the late Yitzhak Rabin (ditto!) and raised that Tipping Point to 20%. He was a gentler and kinder sort of leader, we all know. In dealing with stone-throwing Palestinian children in the First Intifada he issued an order to break their bones. Others have since simplified that to “shoot to kill” even when the kids are running after soccer balls.

Few outside our community, we the Palestinian citizens of Israel, can appreciate the thrill that the terminology used by such leaders to describe our “demographic threat” causes us. I take such hyperbole personally. When they call my reproductive biology “the demographic ticking bomb” and assign it the same level of explosiveness as the Iranian nuclear bomb, both being called an “existential threat” to Israel, I get so excited I blush. From there the jump is easy to an imagined private party with araq, mezza and music to which my wife and I dance till we reach the axiomatic “Tipping Point.”

Exhilarating, isn’t it? Alas, it turns out that when the folks at the gala dinner talked about ‘The Tipping Point” they had something altogether different in mind. They were alluding to the impending switch in the misinformed American public opinion from its recent near consensus that Arafat was the leader of the Amalikites who marched against the peaceful kingdom of Judea and Samaria to where the “average American housewife” will now start to recognize Palestine as a different place from Pakistan. In actual fact I came out of that event convinced that indeed, we are at the cusp of a public relations feat that promises to turn the tide against Zionist Hasbarah worldwide, thanks to the BDS campaign and to its innumerable allies not least the hosts at the gala event. The implicit Tipping Point in public awareness internationally in recognizing the historical injustice done to the Palestinians is indeed fast approaching. When even the American Secretary of State uses the “A” word in reference to Israel, seismologists have to take notice.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ramblings of a Conspiracy Theorist

When your children let you in on their secret plan for a surprise party for your wife’s seventieth birthday and you remember that you are seven years her senior, a ‘senior moment’ should not come as a major surprise. Still I panicked.

A friend had dragged me kicking into a conference on international health and justice that a friend of hers was organizing in Canada. I had a basic concept that I had mulled in my mind for a long time: to look at the health of the Palestinian citizens of Israel from the critical angle of equality and human rights. I submitted an abstract and received an encouraging response from the organizers. Then I realized that the conference coincided with my wife’s birthday. I apologized to my friend intending to withdraw my paper. She came back with a counter proposal: Let us do that through Skype. I agreed and submitted the full paper. The organizers came back to me asking for a photo and a brief bio. I submitted those and received further encouragement. Then communications ceased. I wrote an email to the technical expert in charge of the Skype linkage asking for technical assistance. No response. I started feeling uncomfortable.

The morning of the opening day of the three-day conference I woke up at dawn in our Lower Manhattan rented studio apartment sweating from a nightmare whose details I couldn’t remember except that a crowd was shouting me down for something I had said. I went to the kitchen to prepare my morning kick-start cup of instant coffee in hot milk. When I reached for the coffee container I couldn’t find the spoon that I was sure I had taken out of the silverware drawer. I spinned around looking for it when I realized that I was holding it in my hand all the time. I scooped a heaping of freeze-dried coffee from the container to find two cups of milk on the countertop, not one. My wife must have mistakenly left a full cup on the counter before she went to sleep, I thought. But both cups were equally cold. I poured one back in the milk container. I needed to run a reality check: I walked over to my desk to see if I had already placed my standard morning anise-flavored biscotti (our rented studio is just west of Little Italy) on a paper towel by my laptop to savor with my first morning coffee. I felt reassured not to find any. I rubbed my hand over my face: No, I hadn’t shaved yet. I regained my composure and didn’t start crying. With age we all become emotionally labile. I heated my cup of coffee and sat down to check my email. No response from my technical contact at the conference. I wrote a panicked alert to the dozen different people with whom I had been in touch about the conference including the friend who had lured me to this trap in the first place: “Help! I am being ignored.”

I didn’t share with anyone the familiar feeling that had started sneaking into my mind: I seemed to remember the name of one of the conference organizers as that of one of my former bosses at the head office of the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem. Could he have thrown a monkey wrench in the works, I wondered? Am I being intentionally sabotaged? Could the Mossad have laced something I ate or drank with a mind-altering drug? Is their reach that extensive? Had they infiltrated the Canadian public health field? Or is this Canadian-Israeli doctor acting on his own initiative to deny me a voice in this international forum? Might he volunteer to inform the Israeli embassy on my seditious thoughts and pronouncements expressed in my paper? And what consequences might this behind the scenes cat-and-mouse game have for me as I land at the airport in Israel? Should I already take the preemptive step of turning to the press with my story? During my public health career back home I had always avoided lurking in the shadows. My policy was to stay in the limelight: The moment I found out that my phone at the office was bugged and the few times that the Shin Bet sought to enlist my services I announced the information immediately to the local press. Would the New York Times publish my story if I went public with it? I should give Jonathan Cook, my international journalist friend a call. Or would it be wiser to wait till the conference was over and the Israeli thought police made their first move? Wouldn’t that be already too late? The NYT is sure to abide by Israel’s gag order on the matter once they put me behind bars. How can I communicate my plight to anyone from within my cell? I was extremely uncomfortable scrunched in the corner of the bare-walled constantly brightly lit 10x4-foot windowless cell. Perhaps if I lurch back with all my strength I could manage to tip the low wooden stool to which my feet and wrists are bound backwards and I would end up with my torso leaning against the wall to relieve the pain in my lower back from all the hours I had spent in this same position. I glance back first to the right then to the left to gage the distance from the corner: I can’t see that corner clearly. I probably would get jammed in some contorted position between the stool and the wall with my neck flexed at some ungodly angle till I suffocate. They surely have calculated that to the millimeter. And if I were to choke to death in that position, it would be another Palestinian prisoner suicide by hanging. Logical, isn’t it? Or a heart attack. Or whatever. That is never a big deal. Palestinians are in the habit of dying in and out of jail. What I really cannot take is the prospect of the postmortem at Abu-Kabier with those jerks making their sick jokes as they put away whole organs for future experimentation or for export. I have heard rumors about my colleague who headed the Forensic Pathology Laboratory trading in human organs for years. If he is still there I don’t want him to touch my corpse. I detest the guy!

Oh, boy! How did I get into this mess? I have been held incommunicado forever, it seems. I have no idea how long ago all of this started. I don’t even know if it is day or night. How can I reach anyone? My wife knows I love her too much to do this to her on her birthday. Damn if I am not confused! I need to let her know. The only way is to send her a message directly from my mind to hers. There is a name for that. But I can’t remember it. I can’t remember a thing. Not even her full maiden name. They must have drugged me, tampered with my mind. I shouldn’t have eaten that foul-tasting porridge but after starving me for so long they must have known that I couldn’t resist. I open my eyes wide and concentrate on messaging my wife by telepathy. Yes, that is its name, telepathy! I focus every last ion in my entire body on emitting the thought of my current state and location through to her mind. It flashes back off the bare wall nearly blinding my eyes.

The loud clanking of the lock on the metal door to my cell makes me jump further injuring my wrists and ankles. A new face I haven’t seen before: full Ashkenazi features with double chin and redundant fat folds over his eyebrows and along the sides of his cheeks. He growls and I say in total silence: “Easy, boy! Bulldogs aren’t my favorite.”
He swings his five-pound open right hand across and catches my left cheek squarely with full force. I spit out the blood straight in his face.
“Oh that is how you want to play this game, hah?”
He takes out a handkerchief from his pants back pocket and meticulously wipes his face clean. Then he places the palm of his hand on my face, as if sizing it up. I stiffen uncontrollably in anticipation of what will follow. That sends a lightening-like spasm down my left sciatic nerve that had started acting up again since they put me in the contorted shabih position. Mr. Bulldog ends his malicious patting of my cheek with grabbing the end of my moustache and giving it a sudden and violent tug. I curse under my breath. He flicks the wad of hair he has ripped out on the urine soaked floor, steps with his boot on it and spews a frothy stream of saliva from between his tobacco-stained front teeth aimed first at my displaced moustache then at where it sat only minutes before.
“I spit on your honor,” he says stating the obvious. “I spit on all the Arab scum. I spit on your Mohammad!”
He then follows with the foulest expletives in the Arabic language directed at the female members of my immediate family.
“Vanity, thy name is Arab,” he ends his tirade chuckling mockingly. “Sprucing with expensive Argan hair oil from Morocco, no less.”
I heave out the last spoonful of yellow bilious stomach content. He throws a quick left hook at my jaw. This time the blood soils his boot. He steps back, looks at it and shakes his head in disappointment. He orders me to lick it clean at the same time that he delivers a professional soccer kick to the imagined ball lodged between my collarbone and lower jaw. I gasp for air, lose my wind and black out.

As I come to I am astounded with curiosity: I expected him to heap the foulest insults on my honor. But how the hell have they learned such minutiae about my grooming habits? I know such tricks of the Israeli investigative trade: They want me to believe that they are omniscient, that there is no use hiding anything from them, that I might as well give up and admit everything.
“Not me!” I reassure myself under my breath.
“But I have nothing to admit,” I declare in garbled thick Hebrew that he doesn’t understand.
He tries to extract out the words by ordering me to spit out the three teeth he had knocked from my lower jaw. I cannot talk. Instead I feign fainting again. He delivers a parting full force solid kick to my side. I swear I can feel my spleen burst. Or is it my liver? Or my empty stomach and intestines? I wish I had a free hand to palpate my abdomen and make a more objective clinical diagnosis. I go under again, this time for real.

As I regain consciousness a diminutive Sephardi man, the same Israeli Ministry of Health boss whose name on the Canadian conference website made me suspicious, is wiping the blood from my face with a rag and apologizing for how “that Ashkenazi brute” has messed up my face. I realize that he has unshackled my legs. I stretch them this way then that way,
“We are both public health physicians. We should come to an amicable understanding,” Mr. Nice Guy tells me. “We can speak in Arabic if you prefer. Let us see if we can get over this snag in communication.”
“What do you expect me to communicate to you?” I ask, not really sure I can make out my own slurred words.
“We know you have been sharing information with an enemy agent. And you used to throw stones at our soldiers. But that was a long time ago. We won’t bring that up unless you force us.”
“I did no such thing!” I object raising my voice.
“See? You are very antagonistic,” he says gently touching the sensitive skin of my missing moustache with the back of his index finger as a gesture of reconciliation.
“But I participated on Skype. I wasn’t there physically. How could I’ve met anyone?”
“One thing at a time, my friend,” he says with a knowing smile. “At the conference it is your words and strange thoughts we want to hear. You said a lot that you shouldn’t have. You accused your own country of genocide, of fascism and of apartheid even when you didn’t use the exact nasty terms. And you tried to back your misinterpretations of our goodwill with statistics that you used selectively.”
“I used only official figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics,” I declare indignantly.
“But you twisted them out of their original context. We both are learned enough to know how to lie with statistics, aren’t we?”
“Speak for yourself, Boss!”
“And we know you met an enemy agent at a party and he asked you for a contact in Galilee.”
“Is that all you have on me, you SOBs?”
“Cool it! You know who is in charge here,” Nice Guy says. Then he smiles kindly “If you have more, I am all ears.”
“But the guy is a Jewish gay peacenik,” I say in amazement. “How do you manage to turn him into an enemy agent?”
“But where were you sending him?” Nice Guy asks instead of answering me. “And with whom was he going to meet?”
“I wanted to arrange for him to meet a communist nephew of mine on the occasion of the commemoration of the Nakba in the ruins of Lubieh the ruined Palestinian village half way between Nazareth and Tiberius.”
“You are an educated man,” he says with a condescending tone of voice. “Think about it. You should be able to set your own limits. You know when you are becoming an existential threat to Israel by thought or deed.”
“Do me a favor,” I say ready for reconciliation. “Just out of curiosity, how did you people find about the hair oil I use?”
“That is a secret trick of the trade,” he says and comes close to whisper in my ear. “I’ll share it with you if you share some of your friends’ secrets with us.”
The SOB wants to smear my name, I think to myself. He wants me to commit suicide once I get out of here.

My wife plants a gentle kiss on the side of my forehead:
“This is not comfortable for you, Honey! What time did you get up to work? Why don’t you go lie in bed?”
I lift my head from the keyboard. I must have rolled my head back and forth several times. There are several lines of gibberish on the screen:

Zsxdcfvgbhnjm,.//.,mhngbf …