Sunday, December 31, 2017

Why Ahed Tamimi’s slap is so thrilling to Palestinians

NOTE: This post is a slightly edited version of the article first published online by Mondoweiss.

Why Ahed Tamimi’s slap is so thrilling to Palestinians

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Bassem Tamimi, Ahed’s father, has written: “I’m proud of my daughter. She is a freedom fighter who, in the coming years, will lead the resistance to Israeli rule.” From across the globe where I return annually with my wife to her native Hawaii, I hereby second Bassem’s assertion and propose to give it further formal international recognition by adopting Ahed as the poster child of the most significant Palestinian peaceful resistance movement, that of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS.) This assigns a role for Ahed not only in the struggle against occupation but against Israel’s triple moral crime of the occupation, of exiling the Palestinian refugees and of denying its Palestinian citizens equality under its laws, all infractions of accepted provisions of international human rights law. 
But first, here are some background explanations: 
The first name of the Palestinian teen that has been so much in the international social media of late is actually a mistaken transliteration of the striking youth’s name. The correct spelling should be A’ahd beginning with the guttural a’ (a’in) of Semitic languages followed by the short vowel (a). It is a venerable old Arabic term meaning ‘promise’ or ‘covenant,’ such as the legendary mutually binding contractual agreement between Abraham and the Lord. Let us not jump to conclusions though: Arabs are the descendants of Abraham as well. They are in the habit of circumcising their boys in keeping with their side of the biblical deal.
Another light that flashes in my mind when I hear the noun ‘Ahed’ is its diminutive form of U’hda, meaning ‘guarantee’, especially that of the second Islamic Caliph, Omar ibn Al-Khattab, which he issued to the Christian (and Jewish) population of Jerusalem when their Byzantine Patriarch Sophronius submissively awarded him the key to their city. The document has become a veritable code of honorable conduct by a conqueror towards his new subjects. Nostalgic Arabs till the present time copy it in fancy calligraphy and frame and hang it proudly in their living rooms and guesthouses.
To give the sense of Omar’s nostalgic era of victorious justice and foresight, let me dwell on its ambiance and circumstantial vibe: Arab and Islamic historians recount another incident relevant to the current conflict over the holy sites in Jerusalem: Sophronius invited Omar to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Aware of the significance his followers would attach to such a step and in light of the guarantee of freedom of worship he had included in his U’hda, he made a fateful, even if magnanimous, gesture that would confound Palestinians and all Moslems till the present time: He chose to clean a space in the city’s garbage dump for his prayers. What he apparently failed to realize was that the site was that of the Jewish holiest spot on earth. The Roman forces had not only destroyed the Jewish temple but demoted the site to a refuse dump for the city.
As the repository of millennia of cumulative racial admixtures from the many invading forces to my original Canaanite substratum, including from the above-mentioned Hebrew, Roman and Arab interlopers, I bet you my last Aloha shirt that my genes have more Semitic markers than do those of Netanyahu, Lieberman and Bennett combined. I hesitate to tussle with Regev though.  Despite all her display of rabid Zionism and Ashkenazi mannerisms, attitudes, and assumed identity, her Arab roots still shine through and she may well outdo me on that count. What a bitch! Think of the poor woman’s predicament! 
Apropos of which, let me quote Amira Hass:
After construction began on Halamish, on the lands of Nabi Saleh and other villages in 1978, an American journalist came to interview the villagers, they say. “How long have you been here,” he asked the village elder. The elder took the reporter by the sleeve and led him to the top of a hill overlooking a green, cultivated wadi. “You see the wadi, young man? When Adam and Eve were frolicking there below, we were already here.”
While on the racial origins kick, few fail to notice Ahed’s atypical Arab features, especially her in-your-face hair and intent blue eyes. The Tamimis claim descent from a Palestinian wine merchant who, on one of his trade missions to the Arabian Peninsula, befriended the prophet Mohammad, God’s prayers and peace be upon him, and was authorized by the prophet himself to look after God’s country in the environs of Al-Khalil (Hebron) in perpetuity with the property rights passing down the family line till the present day. Exactly what atypical genes he or his wife had or what admixture the line had accrued since is not recorded in the book arguing the case of the Tamimis’ land claims in Southern Palestine that I have read.
Another educated guess regarding Ahed’s name: I wager that the struggle of her village to keep defending their land and natural spring in the face of Israeli settler encroachment was at the root of her parents’ choice of her name, Ahed, a promise of struggle and an immutable faith in a just future for all Palestinians. Obviously, the child has internalized her parents’ trust and hope through sharing in their relentless daily life of resistance and struggle for survival, through their Friday peaceful demonstrations and through maintaining their identity as Palestinian farmers, as much a part of the land they defend as its stones.
Every time I watch another video of the Tamimis of Nabi Saleh’s weekly confrontations with the Israeli occupying soldiers, which has gone on every Friday for the past ten years, I find myself focusing more on the mortarless retaining walls in their fields than on the violence the occupying Israeli army visits on them. I remember the innumerable times I helped my father build such walls on our land in Galilee. I recall how much I admired his skill in fitting each individual stone in consideration of its three-dimensional configuration and weight to engage the exact geometric properties of the existing space in the developing wall and how that one stone fit to form the next expectant space in the ever-reconfiguring endless puzzle. Then comes a group of foreigners with their bulldozers and scuttles the whole centuries-old minutely-balanced hillside, does away with the accumulated labor of love of generations, dig trenches and deep wounds in the hillside face of our productive land and take over our water spring. They pull out our ancestral olives that our parents and their parents before them toiled all their lives to sustain and be sustained by them.   
This is the time, perhaps, for some horse trading and negotiations: If the Israeli armed forces, the most moral army in the world as per their Hasbara claims, and their government, the only democracy in the Middle East (ditto), were to abide by the eighth century rules of U’hdat Omar, we the Palestinians would scratch off all claims to independence and a separate state. Remember though, U’hdat Omar guaranteed all residents the full protection of life and property and the free practice of their faith against the payment of tax. It can be easily stretched to fit its modern equivalent of one secular and democratic state west of the Jordan River. But remember the refugees: we have to start in 1948 and deal with the status-quo-ante of that period.
For those who are interested in further details of the phenomenon called Ahed Tamimi, here are my choices from the dozens of articles that I have read since the affair, Israel’s tsunami of shame, broke out:
In conclusion, it is with elation and much expectation befitting my discovery of the obvious that I submit to the world my rationale for my proposal:
  1. Like BDS, Ahed Tamimi is modern. Much of what the world knows about the two has been spread through the social and electronic news media. Ahed is a Palestinian village girl. Like many of her age mates the world over she dresses in casual western attire. What grabs the viewers’ attention is her curly thick hair and the depth of seriousness in her blue eyes. That is the very image of solemnity the Palestinian civil society’s international appeal for justice, the BDS, has managed to impart to its campaign: modern, clean cut and courageous to a fault.
  2. Like BDS, Ahed Tamimi represents the whole Palestinian community and acts in their collective name. Living nearly all of my life as part of that people and experientially, intellectually and sentimentally sharing in the land that sustains them, the air they breathe, the language they speak and the dreams that inspire them, I can honestly testify that no Palestinian but feels proud of Ahed’s daring resistance, of her slapping the impudent faces of those soldiers who had invaded her home. Without exception, I wager, they want Ahed to slap the shit out of the heads of those soldiers, for that is exactly what their state has instilled in their craniums and we need to do them the favor of helping them expel it out. Likewise, I know of no Palestinian who is not proud of the BDS movement or does not stand behind its call for justice on their behalf even if some have to hide the sentiment.
  3. We all are with you, Ahed, in your insistence on all three components of the just demands of the BDS. True, ending the occupation, the immediate settler colonialist incursion on your home village of Nabi Saleh and of the occupied West Bank, is only one of those demands of the BDS. Yet, your slapping of those soldiers speaks for all of us: They had slapped us in 1948 and in 1967 and innumerable times since. By slapping their faces, you are telling those aggressors to permit the return of the exiled Palestinian Refugees and to end the apartheid their state forces on us, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, under its racist exclusivist dogma of ‘the Jewish State.’
  4. Ahed Tamimi’s mode of peaceful resistance is based 100% in international law. And so are the tactics and worldwide appeals of the BDS movement. The sophisticated worldwide media campaigns of both movements are fully within the frame of natural law and international sphere of action that brought down Nazism, Fascism and Apartheid.
It should be obvious by now that the combining of the above two international campaigns is natural. It is one of those win-win situations where one plus one is more than two. In fact, here we have a case of one plus one potentially yielding over seven billion conscientious nods of approval and support. Go ahead, BDSers, and adopt Ahed Tamimi as your poster child. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Lexigraphy for Dummies

This post appeared first at Mondoweiss. The image is from an entry in the children's alphabet book by Dr. Golbarg Bashi.

It is that time of year again when I lose sleep over the Time Magazine editors’ pick of the person of the year. For eighty years they have been wrong, I know. Even if the tradition hasn’t been around that long, I have and they should have invented it earlier. But no one seems to have given the fact of my suitability for the title much attention. I am not the only one boisterously vying for the title, I am afraid.
Then, as the smarting from that slap in the face for the eightieth time started to wear off slowly and I considered weaning myself off Melatonin, a new defeat arrived for me to ruminate on and stay up nights: “Youthquake” has been selected by Oxford Dictionaries as the 2017 word of the year. It is defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people,” we are told. That sounds very much like what ‘intifada,’ the word Palestinian youth (or shabab as they like to call themselves) proudly called their uprising against the Israeli occupation, means. The two implied nuances of youthfulness and changing of the accepted order of things are there in the Arabic language source of the word. The verb “intefed’a” means to rise up in a motion that shakes off whatever bothersome condition existed before. It connotes the rising of the phoenix from the ashes. As a native speaker of the language the picture that lights up in my mind’s eye whenever I hear the term is that of a colt shaking the water off of its wet skin and perhaps splashing its rider next to it. Or that of a young lion exiting its lair, stopping to shake off the dust and laziness as it heads out for the hunt. Youthful energy is implied in the selection of the term. Old horses may shake the water off of their skin. But they don’t have the zing and rebellious vigor implied in the choice of the verb intefed’a. I don’t know about excluding old lions though. Like some people I know, lions don’t seem to age.
A technical explanation is in order here: The letter in the end syllable of the word is not the equivalent of the usual English letter ‘d’ known in Arabic as “Dal.” It is a harder sound made with the tongue pressed against the roof of the mouth, not the upper teeth, and with the lips pursed. It is called D’ad, a sound sufficiently unique to the Arabic language for it to be known by that letter, hence “the language of the D’ad,” the romantic name Arabic native speakers proudly call their language.
Be that as it may, the resistance of the powers that be to acknowledging the noun Intifada as the new word of the year may well be in light of the word’s political background. For those who may have forgotten, it was first used in 1987 as the name for the uprising of the Palestinian youth against Israel’s then twenty-year-old occupation of their land. It bore further credence as a special phenomenon when journalists featured an iconic preschool child with stone in hand facing an Israeli tank. It gained further credence when Yitzhak Rabin gave the order to his soldiers to break the bones of those children and they went ahead and did exactly that on camera in the crudest of manners. When Rabin sued for peace and the likes of Sharon and Netanyahu blamed him for surrendering to the Palestinians and made him pay with his life for it, things got mixed up and somehow the intifada assumed a violent edge of incivility in the minds of Israelis and hence in the West. At the turn of the millennium when Sharon instigated a more violent and fanatic second intifada, violence stuck to the concept. Such violence-fraught interpretation probably underlies the aversion linguistic officials still have for the term today.
In my desperate search for acceptance of the term intifada in current usage I came across another justification for it as a kosher concept. I have fully retired from my public health career. Still, I keep track from a distance of what happens at the Center for Disease Control. Lo and behold, recently the CDC was instructed to avoid using a specific list of words  that the Department of Health and Human Services finds offensive or injurious. I felt elated not to find intifada among them. But I am back where I started, losing sleep again: The word ‘fetus’ is among the listed taboo terms. How will health professionals handle instructions and advise pregnant couples without using the word ‘fetus’? 
Come to think of it, pregnant Palestinian couples were at the base of the First Intifada. The peaceful essence and collective youthful leadership of that movement have been reignited in the world-wide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel movement. That is what outrages Zionists into a hair-pulling frenzy. All that is required of Palestinian BDS practitioners is to continue existing peacefully while refraining from harmful practices to themselves. The mere awareness of who they are makes the survival of Palestinians anywhere in the world an existential threat to Zionism. Or so thinks Steven Salaita in his review of the self-published children’s alphabet book, P is for Palestine, which has gone viral across the globe. Such existential anxiety is rooted in and reignites paranoia in committed genocidal aggressors against the indigenes anywhere. That is why the page in that book which Zionists find most objectionable is not the one declared in the title but rather ‘I is for Intifada.’ [The Word program on my computer appropriately corrects the phrase to ‘I am for Intifada.’] But that is to be expected given one of the shortlisted terms for Oxford Dictionaries word of the year 2017: “white fragility noun: Discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.” I find it especially appropriate to Zionism for its racist connotation. But then I can be accused here with another shortlisted word in the same source: “newsjacking noun: The practice of taking advantage of current events or news stories in such a way as to promote or advertise one’s product or brand.”
Golbarg Bashi, the unapologetic author of P is for Palestine is an Iranian refugee. You would think she could have been more civil to the Zionists. We in Israel have refrained from nuking her native country for so long you would think she could return the favor and make it ‘I is for Israel.’ Or, at least, “Z is for Zionism.” But then we all can presume aggression was part of her Islamic upbringing, right?
So, how about a compromise for next year? How about ‘Youthifada’ as the 2018 word of the year?