The amusing term ‘coexistence’

By Hisham Nafa’
From Haaretz
Many people have expressed surprise at the recent violence in Acre. Particularly amusing was the mantra that rolled off the tongues of government officials, their eyes wide open: “How could such a thing happen in a city of coexistence?”  

There are two possible explanations for the bizarre logic behind this sentence: stupidity, or a cynicism that insults the public’s intelligence. It is of course difficult to attribute stupidity to the seasoned public servants with wit enough to climb to positions of power, close to the goodies. They also know how to numb the minds of the sheep while arousing their base instincts. Since the fear instinct in these parts is overly combustible, its manifestations appear immediately: arrogance and hatred toward all Arabs. And when all of these combine to form a near-chemical compound, it will be difficult to put out the fires they ignite simply by spraying them with slogans. 

In Acre, as in the rest of the Greater Land of Israel, there is no coexistence. In Acre, there is pain and bitterness, built up over decades. It began not on Yom Kippur of this year, but rather since the ships filled with refugees left the city’s shores; since the residents were placed in the handcuffs of military rule; since tens of thousands of their countrymen became victims of a violent, colonialist occupation; since a conscious, intentional policy of national suppression and racial hostility was instituted against them; and since they, living in their homes facing the city’s beaches and on their land, began to be described as a demographic threat. 


There are more details to this ugly picture: Acre has poor Jewish neighborhoods, where the ruling establishment sees to it that the building rage of the inhabitants is not turned against it. It is not a conspiracy in the classic sense, the kind found in fiction, but rather the product of all of the governmental interests. Because a thinking public is a public that is dangerous to its rulers. So where does this rage get channeled? To the usual suspect, the Arabs. Here is where racism takes on a very popular expression. The Jewish victims of the regime become a weapon against the ultimate victims of the same regime. There you have it: an explosive vicious circle. 

For years, Acre’s local government officials have been babbling, in the spirit of the times, about the need to Judaize the city. Groups of settlers and of young religious people, who have undergone right-wing nationalization, were brought to the city. And Acre’s Arabs ask themselves what this Judaization means, if not their actual and symbolic removal; have we been disinherited once again? 

In recent years, religious tendencies have grown among significant “non-white” segments of Israeli society. It turns out that the “opiate of the masses” effect has not skipped over the People of Israel. And in a state where hostility regarding matters of identity has spread to every part – social rifts, in sociological lingo – even Yom Kippur has become an opportunity to exercise hatred, in utter contradiction to its religious meaning. Instead of requests for divine forgiveness, there is an increase in violent rituals against anything that moves. Maybe some people need a Yom Kippur II, to ask forgiveness for their actions during Yom Kippur I. 

Acre, of course, is not alone. There is the “coexistence” model of Jaffa. In that city, greedy real-estate developers and pseudo-artists have infiltrated the Old City and live in walled fortresses, because it’s so much fun to live in such an exotic area. With regard to the adjacent areas of poverty, suffering and oppression, however, their eyes – and especially their conscience – have remained sealed. And there are those who are enchanted by the idea of implementing this model in the Old City of Acre, too. The Arab residents and their representatives speak of an accelerated assault in recent years of real estate acquisitions. They are convinced, justifiably, that it is a creeping takeover that will end with in their exclusion and even expulsion from their living space. It is not for nothing that the concept of Nakba appears in their reactions. 

So there is nothing surprising in what happened in Acre. I suggest to all the potentially surprised individuals to get ready for more “surprises” in other locales. Unless, of course, a a practical, sincere, strategic decision is taken to change Israeli policy concerning the “Arab question” – both at home and beyond.

In the meantime, the Arabs of Acre, like all Arab citizens of Israel, have no magic formula for coping. What is available to them is the lesson learned in the shadow of the Israeli regime: It’s called sumud [“steadfastness” in Arabic], holding on to the homeland and waging a stubborn struggle for full civil and national equality. 

Hisham Nafa’ is an author and a journalist.

Pardon me, But I’m Jewish


The racist discourse in America is alarming and often people don’t even notice when it takes place.  When the lady at the town hall meeting asked John McCain if Barak Obama was an Arab he replied: “No, no he is a decent family man.”  Where is the contradiction here?  Does Arab mean he is not a decent family man?  Well, pardon me but I am Jewish and I am over sensitive and easily offended by these things.

To the claim that Obama is an Arab, the appropriate response is: “So what.” To the question is Barak Obama a Moslem the reply ought to be: “I don’t know but who cares.”  contrary to what many people say, the holocaust was not the worst thing that happened to Jewish people, and it  is not the recurrence of the holocaust that we need to fear the most. The holocaust was the inevitable outcome of centuries of European Christian indoctrination that Jewish people are less than human. What took place in the holocaust was the natural outcome of centuries where Christians taught hate.  It is the recurrence of that trend we need to prevent so that another holocaust will never take place.

 America is poised for a tremendous opportunity this November. It is far greater than landing a man on the moon, or building this or that space gadget or discovering this or that microbe.  It is to show America that to be American you don’t have to be called Jim or George or Bob; that you don’t have to look like those white old guys who have their portraits all over the place.  No, you can be an African, or an Arab or an Asian and still be an American because the truth is that it has been this way for more than two centuries. 

But this is a formidable task.  Making the next eight years the best in America’s history will require strength and courage that are yet to be asked of Americans on Election Day.  On Election Day most of us like to go stick to our old comforts and loyalties, to find the person who looks and speaks like us or in a way that makes us feel comfortable.  We want “our guy” or the guy from “our team” to win.  We are all human and that is how humans act.  This is ok under normal circumstances

But this year the opportunity is so great that we must look beyond our usual loyalties and comforts.  This year we need to look at what America can really be like in eight years and that is a hard thing to do.  We are drawn into despair by news of an economic crisis, by fears of impending attacks by terrorists and by the possibility that our earth is on the brink of a major natural disaster. It is only natural then, that we all cling to what we know to be true that we cling to what we believe to be right and that we cover our eyes and our ears to anything that might rattle our comfort.

America has done things that no other country has done, and this includes acts of magnanimity as well as acts of great stupidity and cruelty.  This is the nature of great nations – that they have the capacity to do great things and they have the power to make colossal mistakes.   This election year presents this nation with an opportunity to show its greatness, to show its magnanimity and to show its true strength.

No one needs proof of America’s military or economic might.  Just take one look at the talented men and women who make up the armed services.  People who like me live in Coronado see these men and women daily.  I have the privilege of working with many families who have loved ones in the navy: The are the best and the brightest and they are the most dedicated people and parents one can hope to meet.  We also know that America has brilliant minds in the fields of economy and science and quite possibly every other field known to man.

Every powerful nation has good leaders and bad leaders.  Every powerful nation in the history of the world has shown greatness and has stooped down to pettiness; every powerful nation has had its time of glory and its times of shame.  The last eight years have brought this country to an unprecedented low.  It is up to us this year to determine what the next eight years be like for America.

No one knows how long it will take to build the destruction that America caused to Iraq, or how long it would take for the Iraqis to forgive America for its intervention.  From my knowledge of the people of the Middle East I would venture to say that for the most part they are magnanimous and forgiving.  Iraqis will undoubtedly rebuild their country, but the sooner America leaves the better things will be for Iraq and for the Middle East as a whole.  

The questions that Americans need to ask is how do we make sure we are not drugged and mislead into another war as we with Iraq. If the surge did or did not work is immaterial because there would have not been a need for a surge had America not destroyed the order that was there to begin with.  And the issue is not what the generals recommend that the government should or should not do, it is for the government to tell the generals what they should be doing and when.  

There are many issues the next President will need to tackle, more so than most Presidents and we would do well to make sure that the next President is the guy with the audacity to hope.  It is time for America to look beyond the color to look beyond the fear; to trust that its ok to have a first family that does not look like any first family before it.

So I say once again, pardon me, but I am Jewish. I see no contradiction between being an Arab and being a decent family man. This is one issue about which America needs to be very clear.

War Crimes

Holding the top brass of the Israeli security apparatus, i.e. army, border patrol,  shabak etc., responsible for the crimes committed against the Palestinian people is crucial to the struggle to end the apartheid regime that they enforce.  Several countries have already made it difficult for these criminals to enter their borders and the more countries that do so the better.  

In a country where the army is worshiped like a god and where the word security brings everyone to their knees, holding those at the top of the pyramid responsible and closed in so they cannot travel will, in my opinion be a real shock to the system.  Israelis believe that their army is a “moral” army and that their officers are “good” officers who will never harm innocent people. They are, after all products of the Zionist education system that teaches to value human life and justice above all else. Well, it is time that Israelis who serve the apartheid be it through the secret service shabak -ike organizations or the military, realize that there is a price to be paid.  

Israelis love to travel, everywhere you go around the world you see Israelis.  Once they retire, the top military brass go into business or academics or politics and travel as VIPs around the world.  They need to realize this is unique privilege will not be available to them and that people around the world won’t accept them, invite them or allow them to enter their countries and institutions.  In the following article Khalid Amayreh discusses this issue in regard to Spain.

Spain, don’t succumb to Israeli pressure  By Khalid Amayreh in Occupied Jerusalem

5 September, 2008

 The Israeli government has been quietly pressing (and pressuring) Spain to reconsider issuing warrants for the arrest of high-ranking Israeli army officers accused of committing war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.

 Earlier this year, a lawsuit was filed at the National court of Spain with the aim of issuing an arrest warrant against seven Israeli military officials.  The seven included  former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former Defense Minister Benyamin Benalizer, former Shin Beth Chief Avi Dichter, former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, former Air Force Commander Dan Halutz, Operation Branch Commander Giora Eiland and Southern Command Chief Doron Almog.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), which filed the lawsuit,  urged the Spanish Judicial authorities to issue an international arrest warrant against the seven in connection with their role in the bombing of an apartment building in Gaza on 22 July, 2002,  in which a Hamas chief was killed along with his family and 15 other civilians, including 11 children.  

The National Court of Spain has accepted the case for further examination, the first step towards launching a formal prosecution.  If the case is successful, those charged would be arrested upon entering Spanish territory and stripped  of the diplomatic immunity some of them currently enjoy.  According to Israeli media sources, Tzipi Livni, now acting Foreign Minister who is also slated to become Prime Minister,  has asked Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel  Angel Moratinos to use his influence to deactivate legal considerations that would  enable the Spanish Justice system to “hound”  visiting Israeli officials accused of committing war crimes.  

Well, Spain is well-advised to refuse to succumb to Israeli pressure in this regard.  The reasons for that are many:  First, this is not a political issue; it is first and foremost a legal and moral issue involving the premeditated murder of innocent people. We are talking about hundreds, even thousands, of innocent men, women and children killed knowingly and deliberately by the Israeli army  which acted on direct instructions and orders from the likes of Ya’alon,  Halutz and Benalizer. Comprehensive records containing full details of these crimes are readily available as they have been  meticulously documented by human rights groups operating in Palestine.

The helpless, unwept victims owe it to the conscience of humanity to make the accused stand trial for their crimes. If they are found not guilty, they will be set free; but if they are found guilty, they should be made to pay for their crimes.  Hence, Spain must uphold the moral authority of its justice system and see to it that alleged Israeli war criminals setting foot on Spanish soil are treated no better and no worse than any other criminals.  Criminals are criminals regardless of their ethnic background or religious affiliation. And it shouldn’t matter if the suspects are citizens of a powerful or a powerless state.  Second,  there is a large mass of evidence that would indict these alleged war criminals.

 Ariel Sharon is undoubtedly a certified war criminal. He lived all his life as a war criminal. He was a war criminal as a soldier, as Platoon commander, as a Defense Minister and as a Prime Minister.  Sharon  had ordered the mass murder of hundreds of Egyptian Prisoners of War. However, his role in the genocidal massacres of Sabra and Shatilla near Beirut in September, 1982, accorded him the status of a  war criminal par excellance. But he doesn’t have to stand trial now, if only because he, now in a vegetative stage for the third consecutive year,  is being punished sufficiently  by God.

 As to Benalizer, this man too is a war criminal for ordering murderous operations that caused the death of numerous innocent people including children. In 2001, Benalizer boasted about killing so many Palestinians without drawing negative reactions from the world community.  “The world is now preoccupied with the events in America (9/11). This means that we can behave as we see fit with the Palestinians,” he said gleefully.  In addition, Benalizer okayed the bombing of an apartment building at Hay-al-Daraj in downtown Gaza more than six years ago. Then an Israeli warplane dropped a 2000 ib. bomb on the house of Sheikh Salah Shehadeh, a commander of Hamas military wing. The bombing killed fifteen civilians, along with Shehadeh, the majority of them young children.  Israeli officials involved in that monstrous  crime  also included Ya’alon, then chief of staff of the Israeli army, who knew that Shehadeh’s wife and daughters were close to him during the bombing.”

 This is the same Ya’alon who several months later called Israel’s Palestinian victims “ a cancer,” saying that “now I will be content with chemotherapy” and implying that “if the chemotherapy didn’t work,” then He would have to adopt the Hitlerian therapy.

 As to Halutz, the Israeli air-force commander in 2002, he too boasted about the Hay-al-Daraj carnage. A reporter asked him what he felt when he dropped the bomb,  Halutz retorted that he felt a small movement under his seat when the bomb fell. In a separate interview, he said he had no compunctions or guilty feelings knowing that innocent children were killed.

 “I sleep well at night, I have a clear conscience.” In their hearts, Israeli officials and Israelis in general realize that most of  their actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and also in Lebanon can be classified as war crimes.

Some Israeli spokespersons try to prevaricate and create confusion by claiming that Israeli soldiers kill innocent Palestinians knowingly but not deliberately. Well, what is the difference between killing knowingly and killing deliberately. Even the Nazis didn’t have the Chutzpah to make such a claim.Besides, when the number of innocent victims is so vast, as in Gaza, even intent becomes irrelevant.  

It is for these reasons that the Spanish authorities  must not allow the integrity of the Spanish justice system to be compromised  by diplomatic pressure exerted by  Israel’s supremacist  leaders who harbor the racist belief that what applies to the rest of humanity doesn’t apply to Jews.  To be sure, no one is suggesting that Spain play the role of  world judge or world policeman.

However, Spain is a sovereign state and has the right to bar suspected war criminals from entering its territory.  This is the least civilized countries can do to  discourage and prevent the recurrence of more war crimes and crimes against humanity.

fighting for peace

Karate class in Ramallah
Karate class in Ramallah

I am a professional martial artist, I teach karate for a living.  So what does that have to do with peace?  A lot!  I was able to visit two karate schools in the PA, one in Anata and one in Ramallah.  They were both excellent schools with a very high level of instruction.   Now martial arts is something I do know a lot about and I know a good school when I see one.  It means a good, dedicated and demanding teacher and it means loyal and serious students.

While I was visiting these schools I had spoken to the students. I told them that karate is all about self defense, it is all about overcoming our fears and it is all about reaching for the highest goals possible.  For Palestinians living under Israeli military oppression this is crucial. First of all it is a way to instill inner strength in children so that they know they are able to resist  without having to resort to violence.  That by practicing martial arts they are developing an inner strength that is far greater than all the weapons the Israeli army can ever accumulate.

“Think about it”, I said to one child that was practicing” a soldier who carries so many weapons must be full of fear.   Particularly since the Israeli soldiers carry these weapons to fight an unarmed civilian population – can you think of a more cowardly thing to do? You who have no weapons but are fighting the fight that is just and therefore you are by far stronger, even though it does not seem that way.”

Of the thousands of people I know that practice martial arts and are black belts few have ever resorted to violence.  That is the sign that have truly mastered their martial arts.  When you are skilled in fighting but never resort to violence you are showing the greatest skill of all.  Now win the context of resistance this is an important point. It takes a lot of courage to resist a violent and brutal army and practicing martial arts develops courage.  You have to know in your hear of hearts that you are stronger, and karate teaches you to believe in your self. Without a firm belief in yourself it would be impossible to resist in an intelligent way.  Palestinian children need to know that they do have a chance at a god life, that they do deserve to live in freedom that this land we share is their land just as much as it the Israelis; they need to know that no one has the right to keep them from living a full life, from travelling, studying.  They need to be taught that it i snot only right but imperative to defy Israel and the laws that govern Palestinian life.

By the same token Israeli children need to know that they must defy their own government and they must travel and engage in relation building with the people with whom they share the land.  The Israeli army wants to keep us apart and we must fight them and insist on joining hands and creating a better country where Israelis are freed from the restrictions of their oppressive government a government that makes every Israeli an accomplice in its crimes.

On one of my visits to the school in Anata I brought my two boys. These are some pics from my visits to karate schools in Ramallah and Anata.

My boys at Anata TKD school. Check out the flags
My boys at Anata TKD school. Check out the flags
Karate class in Anata
Karate class in Anata