“. . . They sip at their longing for God. . .” (Samih Mohsen)

Like mother like son

Like mother like son

I bought an iPad about three years ago. I’m not exactly sure why, except that the (more than) friend I was hanging with had one, and it looked so convenient and fun. I discovered it will do almost everything I ever want to do on my computer.

The thing goes with me nearly everywhere these days. About all I do with it is check email and Google to find answers to questions (actually, it’s Safari, not Google) I want immediate answers to. Once in a while I take pictures. Probably the most time I spend on it—shall I admit this public?—is playing Sudoku. I’ve gotten so I can hardly sit and watch TV without playing Sudoku, and the iPad is much easier to see than my iPhone.

The most useful App I have is my Nook book app. All of the books I’ve bought for my Nook, I can read on the iPad. I haven’t picked up the Nook since I bought the iPad.

I hear women occasionally talk about how they have become their mothers (is there a famous book about that?), but I never hear men talk about how they have become their fathers. I have.

My father became interested in computers in the ‘80s when he was in his 70s. He owned one before I did. Now I’m in my 70s and trying desperately (hardly at all, in point of fact) to keep up with technology. I am my father. I am amazed at all of this stuff. My computer knowledge is stuck somewhere in about the ‘90s. I can’t do anything technological. I have a big flat-screen (not THAT big) “SMART” TV that I can’t watch movies on because I can’t figure out how to make it talk to my wireless modem.

And things go downhill from there.

All of the messages from one of my very closest friends (there are many of them) were ending up in the spam file in my email. I was checking the file for messages of his and dutifully moving them to my inbox when I noticed that the “spam” icon at the top of Outlook turns to “Not Spam” when I open the spam file. I clicked on it when I had one of his messages open, and voila! Problem solved.

I’ve been using the same Outlook email for 20 years.

You can extrapolate from that little example to the larger world of GPS and iTunes and. . . . to understand how limited my ability is.

My dad bought his first computer when he discovered he could have the pictures he and Mom took on their 50th anniversary trip to The Holy Lands in 1987 scanned and printed out on a computer. It was pretty crude and rudimentary back then, but it was possible. He had to have one.

I had no clue then.

But when I was part of a delegation of the Inter-Faith Peace Builders (Fellowship of Reconciliation) to Palestine/Israel in 2003, I bought a digital camera. I have hundreds of pictures. Unfortunately, they are on 3 ½ inch floppy disks, and I have no way to read them. But that began my love affair with digital pictures. I use my phone and my SONY camera to take zillions of pictures, as everyone else does.

Wonderfully strange that my father and I both learned about digital photography through trips to The Holy Lands.

There was one huge difference in our experience there, however. He went with a Baptist church group, and the only place they went in the West Bank was Bethlehem—even though the Apartheid Wall was only a gleam in Benjamin Netanyahu’s eye at that time.

My dad’s group could have wandered anywhere they wanted, but they went where all tourists went at that time (and still today). Mom and Dad never saw a Palestinian Refugee Camp or the ruins of a Palestinian village covered in pine trees planted by the Israelis to make the ruins disappear.

Somewhere I have a digital picture of my mother terrified and angry on a camel—she had no idea it was going to stand up suddenly once she got on. Of course, that was at the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but the same trip.

I have such a picture of myself taken on my second visit in 2008—except I was having the time of my life, and not solely because of the hunky young Palestinian man who owned the camel—riding in a little walled-in yard in Jericho.

The Baptists did not know the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or that the Dead Sea was becoming a resort for Israelis which the Palestinians who live within walking distance are not allowed to share.

Etc.

The latest download on my iPad is Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. Ahmad H. Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod, editors (Columbia University Press, 2007). It is a collection of essays about the Palestinian “Catastrophe” of 1948—the year those villages were plundered and the planting of camouflage trees began.

My father, having been two miles (or less) from a couple of those destroyed villages never knew the word “Nakba.” I know because I asked him.

My parents were a stone’s throw from Deir Yassin, one of the first villages to be depopulated by the citizens of the newly formed Israel, and he never saw it or heard of the massacre. (Some of the buildings are still there—used as a state-run Israeli mental hospital.)

I was hoping last week when I heard about it to find a Nook Book version of the book A Bird is not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Palestinian Poetry, edited by Henry Bell and Sarah Irving (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014). Of course, there is no Nook version. But I ordered the paperback edition.

I’d suggest that you get it. That is, if you have any desire to know Palestinians as persons, as a nation, as a people loving and longing for life in their homeland.

“Lamentation,” by Samih Mohsen

At Manger Square, at midday,
The chairs outside the cafes
Are taken by Western tourists, in September
They sip at their longing for God
The streets teem with passers-by
And foreign languages
We tread on the shadow
Of an old man stretched out on the pavement
With his arm and a tattered shoe for a pillow
His mattress was a story. . .
We pass by his wounds without seeing
Beer tickles our bellies to laughter
And telling inane anecdotes
We try to release the child within us
We stand in Manger Square
And mimic the dance-steps of Zorba the Greek
We step
We laugh
We step into the ring of lamentation.
–translated by Henry King

Samih Mohsen was born in the village of Naqour in Nablus, Palestine (Occupid Territories) in 1953, and has published two collections of poetry, Exiting the Narrow Rooms and Kingdoms & Peril.

From a book review of A Bird is not a Stone: An Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Palestinian Poetry in which this poem is published:
“It is poignant and grimly amusing to read of the Western tourists who ‘sip at their longing for God’ in Manger Square and ignore ‘an old man stretched out on the pavement’ (‘Lamentation’ by Samih Mohsen, trsl. Henry King). It is hard not to feel something of a tourist oneself when reading a book of poems like this written, as it were, from Emily Dickinson’s ‘great pain’. As Iain Crichton Smith wrote in his long essay about the Hebrides: ‘Real people in a real place’; the Palestinians are also real people in a real place. And the land itself which is the subject at the heart of most of these poems, guarding the bones of their relatives and ancestors, is sacred to them.” From the online magazine, “The Bottle Imp.”

“Until you speak Arabic, you will not understand pain.”

Bedouin Mother, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouin Mother, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Nearly every day I want to write about the greatest conscious mystery I’m aware of. Conscious=aware, I know. I know. That’s a sentence I would ask a student to rewrite. It’s circular reasoning with a vengeance. Of course one is “aware” of a mystery that’s “conscious.” If one were not aware, it would not be “conscious.”

However, nearly every day I want to write about this incongruity, this absolute illogical thinking, this conundrum that I cannot resolve in an attempt to make sense of it.

I often do write about it, but privately—that is, I don’t put the writing here because it is a mystery to me, a riddle I cannot solve. It is so mysterious that I can never come close even to describing my bewilderment, much less explaining it away. Other than the obvious mysteries all of us have to grapple with—why were we born; where did out “consciousness,” our “soul” come from; and what happens to our consciousness, our very being, when we die, those mysteries so few of us want to think about—it is the most inexplicable incongruity I know.

The nature of the mystery, the resolution of the logical fallacy, eludes me. I have searched for the etymology of the word mystery itself, but have found only “from Greek mysterion (usually in plural mysteria) “secret rite or doctrine,” from mystes “one who has been initiated” (The Online Etymology Dictionary). Mystery is a religious or theological idea. I cannot find a meaning that does justice to my frustration over the idea I want to think through for myself—if not explain to anyone else.

Before the US invasion of Iraq (“Shock and Awe”), I wrote somewhere—not on a blog because I wrote my first blog in about 2004, after “shock and awe”—about a photo I saw on the Internet way back before our lives were controlled by our thumbs. The photo’s caption was (is)

 Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.

Rumsfeld was in Baghdad signing an agreement to provide Saddam Hussein with all the munitions he needed to fight his war against the dirty rotten Iranian Islamic fundamentalist regime. I knew about the picture from some pointy-headed, no doubt basically-unAmerican liberal organization that was asking the question (which has never been answered to my knowledge), why were we getting ready to invade Iraq because of its Weapons of Mass Destruction which, if they existed, we sold to Saddam Hussein in the first place—the agent of our sale being the same man who was then leading the push for the invasion?

I also remember being roundly criticized for writing about the “Project for the New American Century” before the invasion of Iraq—being told that I was a conspiracy theorist. That such a project, if it existed, was on the fringe and could not possibly be taken seriously. We Americans (and most of the rest of the world) still live in the monstrous shadow of that project.

Some years ago I wrote about these guys from Kansas (I had read about them on some crackpot liberal website I really should stop looking at) who seemed to be spreading their money around to the most allegedly Conservative groups in the country in order to help elect ultra-reactionaries to state legislatures and Congress. I remember being told I was an alarmist, even Chicken Little, that no one could have that kind of influence over American politics. That was, of course, before Citizens United and the flooding of the coffers of the most oligarchical “conservative” groups by the Koch Brothers of Kansas.

I’m not claiming any special position as seer or Johnny-come-early. I simply pay attention to some (popularly-thought-of-as) radical left-wing (that is to say, realistic) material when everything anyone thinks about is available at the click of a mouse on the internet. One might try clicking on James Petras instead of Molly Cyrus or Justin Bieber or Ted Cruz to learn something about left-wing conspiracy theories–so many of which have actually turned out to be true, unlike idiocy brought to us by the “swift-boaters” and the “birthers” and the “Benghazi-ists.”

The insolvable mystery about which I cannot write is a very simple question. How can Americans who are so fanatically dedicated to “rights,” to “freedom,” to “democracy,” who give constant lip-service to “the right of self-determination,” continue, after 60 years, to assume that the displaced and subjugated people of Palestine are totally at fault in the violence that continues in the land they once called their own?

Bethlehem, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bethlehem, John Singer Sargent, 1905

THIS IS NOT A RHETORICAL QUESTION! Yes, I am shouting. I want to know the answer to this question. I do not want political posturing. I do not want palaver. I do not want parroting of ideas given the prestige of “U.S. Policy.” I want to know how this can go on and on when clearly the Palestinians are a people who have been deprived of their homeland and treated with as much brutality as any other conquered people in the family of nations today. How can it be?

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University. She has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship for her several books of poetry and non-fiction. She lives in Austin, Texas.

“Arabic,” by Naomi Shihab Nye

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head,
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head,
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate.
“Once you know,” he whispered, “you can
enter the room
whenever you need to. Music you heard
from a distance,

the slapped drum of a stranger’s wedding,
well up inside your skin, inside rain, a thousand
pulsing tongues. You are changed.”

Outside, the snow has finally stopped.
In a land where snow rarely falls,
we had felt our days grow white and still.

I thought pain had no tongue. Or every tongue
at once, supreme translator, sieve. I admit my
shame. To live on the brink of Arabic, tugging

its rich threads without understanding
how to weave the rug…I have no gift.
The sound, but not the sense.

I kept looking over his shoulder for someone else
to talk to, recalling my dying friend
who only scrawled
I can’t write. What good would any grammar
have been

to her then? I touched his arm, held it hard,
which sometimes you don’t do in the Middle East

and said, I’ll work on it, feeling sad

for his good strict heart, but later in the slick street
hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! and it stopped
in every language and opened its doors.

A BIBLIOGRPHY FOR BEGINNING UNDERSTANDING.

Bedouins, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouins, John Singer Sargent, 1905

(I can provide a copy of any of the scholarly articles. If you would like one, simply let me know.)

Israeli killing of Palestinian children
Clear analysis from Rosemary Sayigh on the Nakba’s
Exclusion from the extensive writing on “Trauma Genre”
Latest killing of Palestinians
Rev. Naim Ateek’s Statement on Israeli law separating Muslim and Christian Arabs
Gaza Blockade
Olive trees
Hebron settler violence
Bin Laden’s father owned a home in Jerusalem
Right of Return

Manna, Adel. “The Palestinian Nakba and Its Continuous Repercussions.” Israel Studies 18.2 (2013): 86-99.
The article discusses the impact of the 1948 Nakba, or defeat, of the Palestinian Arabs on the collective memory and experiences of the Palestinian people. The author emphasizes that the term Nakba is used to describe the continuous experiences of Palestinians from the mid-20th century into 21st century and is viewed as a contemporary reality rather than a historical event. It is suggested that the Israeli state has rebuffed offers by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to divide Palestine into two independent states. Other topics include Palestinian nationalism, Zionism, and the social and economic conditions of Palestinian refugees.

Masalha, Nur. “Remembering the Palestinian Nakba: Commemoration, Oral History and Narratives of Memory.” Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh University Press) 7.2 (2008): 123-156.
This year Palestinians commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba – the most traumatic catastrophe that ever befell them. The rupture of 1948 and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Nakba are central to both the Palestinian society of today and Palestinian social history and collective identity. This article explores ways of remembering and commemorating the Nakba. It deals with the issue within the context of Palestinian oral history, ‘social history from below’, narratives of memory and the formation of collective identity. With the history, rights and needs of the Palestinian refugees being excluded from recent Middle East peacemaking efforts and with the failure of both the Israeli state and the international community to acknowledge the Nakba, ‘1948’ as an ‘ethnic cleansing’ continues to underpin the Palestine-Israel conflict. This article argues that to write more truthfully about the Nakba is not just to practice a professional historiography; it is also a moral imperative of acknowledgement and redemption. The struggles of the refugees to publicize the truth about the Nakba is a vital way of protecting the refugees’ rights and keeping the hope for peace with justice alive.

Bedouin Camp, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Bedouin Camp, John Singer Sargent, 1905

Nasrallah, Ibrahim. “Palestinian Culture before the Nakba.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics & Culture 15.1/2 (2008): 206-209.
The article focuses on the works of author Walid Khalidi in Palestine. The photographs of Khalidi’s book “Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians, 1876-1948” depict a vital society active in all areas of life on farms, factories, and construction sites. Moreover, many renowned artists and writers of the Arab world visited or performed in pre-1948 Palestine, testament to the existence of a well-established society to a rare dynamism, in spite of the historical context and the looming disasters. The pioneering figure in Khalidi’s book was Jamil al-Bahri, a Palestinian dramatist who died in 1930 and has 12 plays in his name.

Nets-Zehngut, Rafi, and Daniel Bar-Tal. “Transformation of the Official Memory of Conflict: A Tentative Model and the Israeli Memory of the 1948 Palestinian Exodus.” International Journal of Politics, Culture & Society 27.1 (2014): 67-91.
Collective memory of an intractable conflict is an important determinant of the psychological and the behavioral dynamics of the parties involved. Typically biased, it de-legitimizes the rival and glorifies the in-group, thereby inhibiting peaceful resolution of the conflict and reconciliation of the parties. Therefore, the transformation of this memory into a less biased one is of great importance in advancing peace and reconciliation. This article introduces for the first time a tentative model of that transformation, describing the seven phases of the transformation process and the five categories of factors that influence it. Methodologically, this is done using a case study approach, based on the empirical findings regarding the Israeli official memory from 1949 to 2004 surrounding the causes of the 1948 Palestinian exodus. This memory is represented by all of the publications produced during the 56-year research period of the Israeli army (IDF), the National Information Center, and the Ministry of Education. While until 1999 this inclusive memory was largely Zionist (i.e., all the Palestinian refugees left willingly in 1948), since 2000, it has become partially critical because the Ministry of Education has begun adopting the critical narrative (i.e., some left willingly while others were expelled)

RAM, URI. “Ways of Forgetting: Israel and the Obliterated Memory of the Palestinian Nakba.” Journal of Historical Sociology 22.3 (2009): 366-395.
Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6443.2009.01354.x/abstract
This study analyses national ways of forgetting. Following the eminent British Anthropologists Mary Douglas, I relate here to “forgetting” as “selective remembering, misremembering and disremembering” (Douglas 2007: 13). The case study offered here is that of the Israeli-Jewish forgetting of the uprooting of the Palestinians in the war of 1948. This paper discusses three facets of the collective forgetting: In I analyze the foundations of the Israeli regime of forgetting and discern three mechanisms of removing from memory of selected events: narrative forgetting: the formation and dissemination of an historical narrative; physical forgetting: the destruction of physical remains; and symbolic forgetting: the creation of a new symbolic geography of new places and street names. I look at the tenacious ambiguity that lies in the regime of forgetting, as it does not completely erase all the traces of the past. And finally, I discuss the growth of subversive memory and counter-memory that at least indicates the option of a future revision of the Israeli regime of forgetting.

A Meditation on “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

Many years ago—in the ‘80s (seems long ago in the short span of my life)—I wrote monthly a little column about church music in the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, The Episcopal Times, edited by Barbara Braver. (Whew! I do have some memory left; it did exist, and Barbara was the editor.)

For the December edition one year, I wrote a wonderfully elitist and snobbish piece on the sentimentality of the tune we’ve all known since before we were born for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Its altered harmonies and that silly raised second on the fourth note of the melody are simply too much for a real musician to bear.

Of course, what I forgot when I wrote the pompous little stuff-shirt article was that I was in Phiips Brooks country (Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Boston, from 1869 until 1891, when he was elected Bishop of Massachusetts). Brooks wrote the words, and his organist while he was at Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, Lewis Redner, wrote the tune.

It’s the only time in my life enough people read what I wrote to give me hell for it. Barbara Braver received letters for months afterward asking who I thought I was attacking a Boston icon.

Little did I know that one summer about 20 years later I would be in the crypt of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with a group (mostly) of Lutherans from Texas singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in one of the great spiritual moments of my life.

So much for elitism.

(This, by the way, was my second trip to Bethlehem, the first with the Inter-Faith Peace Builders—part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation—in 2003, shortly after the fragile end of the Second Palestinian Intifada.)

Somewhere on some flash drive I have many pictures of the more recent trip. Many of them are from Bethlehem where we stayed for the largest portion of the ten days or so we were there.

One of the pictures that still startles me is of a young man in a car with a make-shift bloody bandage around his leg. The driver of the car stopped to tell us what we had just witnessed before he sped off to the hospital. We were on the rooftop garden of the building that houses the community center of the Dheisheh Refugee Camp on the south edge of Bethlehem (I’m pretty sure you didn’t know there is a refugee camp in Bethlehem for Palestinians whose homes were destroyed in 1948 as a result of the Nakba—yes, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren still live there.)

On the other side? Bethlehem.

On the other side? Bethlehem.

While we were there, the IDF (Defense? Force—one of the great oxymorons in world affairs) had discovered a Palestinian “terrorist” living in, or at least staying in, a home on the street below. They, of course, had to arrest him (or her), and sent several armed vehicles. There was some sort of altercation (I’m remembering all of this through old-man thinking), and shots were fired. The man whose picture I have was, I think, an innocent bystander.

But everyone was taking it in stride. Business as usual in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem. . . the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

That same flash drive has several pictures of me standing (dwarfed) by the Apartheid Wall as it bisects Bethlehem. I don’t even need to comment on that.

. . . in July 2004 the [International Court of Justice] determined that the Israeli government’s construction of the segregation wall in the occupied Palestinian West Bank was illegal. Even Thomas Buergenthal, the American judge who cast the lone negative vote. . .acknowledged that the Palestinians were under occupation and had the right to self-determination. . .the wall ravages many places along its devious route that are important to Christians. In addition to enclosing Bethlehem in one of its most notable intrusions. . . (Carter, Jimmy. Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006 (193-194)

We, the protectors (or is it the servants) of the Apartheid system in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, and in all of Israel and Palestine, have very little right to pretend to be the “meek souls” we will so mindlessly and carelessly sing about in our most sentimental goose-bumpy way for the next few days. Phillip Brooks, the great abolitionist preacher, would be horrified.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.