LETTERS FROM PALESTINE

Santana in Bethlehem . . .
BBC almost gets it . . .
Shifting and Swifting



Pamela Olson
18 January 2005

This will be scattered -- I wrote most before the election, and since then I've had the flu. In brief, America could learn a lot about democracy from Dr. Mustafa, who is the bravest and hardest-working person I've had the privilege of working with. He has done more to bring democracy to the Middle East than Bush and Blair put together.

Then again, so has my cat Jessica.

Not to downplay Jessica's heroic lack of illegal meddling and slaughter in the Middle East, but Dr. Mustafa is the first serious democratic opposition candidate in the Middle East in a thousand years, a leftist no less, who's not even particularly sponsored by any imperialist powers.

It's a pretty striking thing: Grassroots, indigenous democracy has sprung forth in Palestine unbidden, of the free will of the people, against enormous odds -- while under total military occupation by Israel and overwhelmingly politically controlled by the monolithic Fatah party. In the most infertile of grounds, amid one of the most jaded populations in the world, democracy couldn't be contained once given the tiniest window of a chance.

The Western world can't sermonize enough about bringing democracy to the Middle East. But when it came forth indigenously, without their control or consent, they did everything they could to silence it and shut it down. Which is pretty typical, actually; it's never been democracy as such that we're interested in -- ask Iran in 1953 or Guatemala in 1954 or Chile in 1973 or...

Dr. Barghouthi got press, but not the kind of press you'd expect for something as exotic and exciting as the first democratic opposition candidate in the Middle East. He had to get himself arrested to grab any headlines and make his point about the choking restrictions even the most prominent Palestinians live under.

Fatah, of course, also tried to nip full-on democracy in the bud by pressuring the Central Elections Commission to change the voting rules in midstream on voting day without telling anyone except themselves. It probably didn't change the results but surely padded Abu Mazen's margin of victory.

1/3 of Central Elections Commission employees later resigned in protest so that something similar wouldn't happen in the much more important Legislative Council elections this summer. These are precious jobs to lose when unemployment stands around 50%.

It seems that the Middle East is ready for real democracy. The West just needs to quit squashing it with puppet dictators, brutal foreign occupations, and selective media blackouts that serve to strengthen the most heavy-handed political party (Ba'ath, Fatah, Likud, Neo-cons, whatever Allawi's party is called these days) and the most extremist opposition group (the Iraqi 'insurgents', Hamas, Hezbullah, Michael Moore [kidding!]) to the detriment of the reasonable, educated, freedom-loving majority caught in the middle.

For a long time now, the biggest threat to democracy in the Middle East is us.

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On January 4, 2005, a group of kids was shelled with Israeli anti-personnel shells*, which are clouds of metal darts that slice everything to ribbons. They were picking strawberries near Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza to sell to an Israeli firm that sells them to Europe for a profit. (Another consequence of Israeli control over all Palestinian borders, and thus a monopoly on all Palestinian exports, is that it makes it easy to exploit Palestinian labor.)

It was the first day of school vacation for the Eid al-Adha, the feast to commemmorate God's mercy in staying the hand of Abraham and allowing him to sacrifice a sheep instead of his son.

Twelve sons were sliced to bits in the bombing, seven of them killed. Four survivors had double leg amputations among other severe injuries. Six of the dead kids were from the same family, three of them brothers, and the seventh was a neighbor's son.

The tanks were only about 500 meters from the kids. Israeli snipers can shoot out an eye at 500 meters. At the very least, not checking to make sure that a group of a dozen human beings 500 meters away are indeed adults, much less militants, before shooting such a cruel weapon into their midst constitutes criminal negligence, and probably a war crime.

Even if there had potentially been militants in their midst, extrajudicial assassination without trial (which makes any soldier judge, jury, and executioner all in one), much less without bothering to see whom you are killing (during extrajudicial assassinations in Gaza, more non-targets than targets have been killed) is a war crime.

That is, if it were a war, which it's not. It's an illegal occupation of a civilian population by one of the most powerful armies in the world.

(Sorry to repeat myself. But I've learned that if you tell the truth one time, and someone else tells a lie 100,000 times, the lie sticks in people's minds more.)

Israel didn't apologize for the massacre, and won't even spring for medical treatment for the mutilated survivors. (Similarly, after they shot my friend Ahmed in the back, who was unarmed and running away, they sent him home paralyzed from the waist down with a bill for 80,000 shekels.)

Instead the IDF claimed that five of the dead farm kids (aged 10 to 17) were "Hamas activists".

Hamas, who normally lauds and advertises its martyrs, claimed no casualties.

A Haaretz (Israel) article about it.

Where was the press? Anyone remember Abbas saying something about the "Zionist enemy?" That sure got a lot of press.

Who knew about the atrocity he was referring to, though? Who cared?

Are we really living in a world where two words are more newsworthy than twelve children mutilated by a so-called democracy that lied about the incident and now refuses to apologize?

Imagine if Palestinians, even rogue fighters working against the will of the elected government, much less Fatah itself, had mutilated twelve Israeli kids for any reason whatsoever. There would be major headlines in that case, right? Are Israeli lives more valuable than Palestinian?


*The same weapons were used by Israeli soldiers in the Qana massacre of 1996 in southern Lebanon in which over 100 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed while seeking refuge at a UN base.

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A Palestinian Response to my Christmas 2004 letter, O Little Town

The Palestinian woman who wrote the following is a mother and a scholar and a civil society and political activist and leader, one of the hardest-working people I know and a dear friend. She wrote, after reading my Christmas report from Bethlehem:

I was imagining myself reading [your letter] while comfortably living in the depth of Oklahoma. I wonder what your mum thinks and feels Pamela? ... She must be my age, and if so, then she could well remember the 'wild' streak of life that we went through during the student movement's hey days, so this should help in understanding!

Gosh, you remind me so much of my own childhood and youth... after all, I think I may well have been seen as the 'hip' Bethlehemite by visitors then, even then! But we sang and played the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Peter Paul and Mary, and Santana!

And, it used to be that Choirs from all over the world would be stationed at Manger Square singing all evening and up till midnight. We always joined them after supper and Santa's visit. Those memories of once upon a time Bethlehem are still vivid in my mind, and my sister's as well.

Of course, there was no destruction then, especially the type you describe of Beit Jalla, which was extremely badly hit in 2002 especially. And, we were also unaware of the poverty around us, how blind!

You know, the fact that the Nativity Church does not have a Protestant 'piece', is quite a curiosity. The Catholics and the Greek Orthodox have the biggest shares, and tucked away, as you said, are the Assyrians, the Armenians and the rest of the denominations, but no Protestants.

And you know, another memory is the frequent fights between the Orthodox and Catholic priests over who will clean up which part, as apparently, cleaning becomes de facto ownership. I still remember the priests fighting with brooms, I mean, hitting each other with brooms as they were in the process of sweeping!

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This BBC article describes the last day of campaigning with Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, as told by a dude from the BBC who followed us around all day. It's pretty good except that Iím misquoted as saying, "Dr Mustafaís chauffeurs are all ambulance drivers."

The real story is, as we were taking off in the Presidential (insha'Allah) Isuzu, Abu Ali was driving like savant as always. Itís like a roller coaster, but to my knowledge heís never been in an accident once. (Not that I've asked.) Riding in his car is comforting and exciting at the same time.

The BBC guy didnít know this and looked nervous. I said, "Donít worry, Abu Ali is an ambulance driver. He always drives like this. He knows what he's doing."

Abu Ali is a trusted and dear friend who drives Dr. Mustafa and his team around the splintered Palestinian territories, a difficult job that requires skill and courage to keep Dr. Barghouthi's breakneck schedule somewhat intact while dealing with Israeli police and soldiers and navigating treacherous backroads when we have to bypass closed or difficult checkpoints or Jewish-only roads. He's a pro.

Dr. Mustafa doesn't have any other drivers, and he doesn't have any 'chauffeurs' whatsoever. Abu Ali isn't any more a 'chauffeur' than our mothers are 'line cooks' or our friends are 'escorts'. I don't blame the guy, he just didn't know any better, but it was embarassing for someone to breeze in and call Abu Ali a 'chauffeur,' like he was just an employee, and to put the words in my mouth no less.

Most people working for Dr. Mustafaís campaign are volunteers, working for the good of their country, and it's so exciting for all of us, how much we've learned and how inspired we feel. It's one of the highs of my life.

Dr. Mustafa is not paid by anyone to spend more than 100 hours a week on the road visiting villages, visiting homes, giving speeches, giving interviews, appearing on CNN, BBC, Al-Wataniya, Al-Jazeera, getting arrested, getting beaten, reviewing press releases, administering the thousands of volunteers he has working for him, never eating, never sleeping, repeating himself endlessly in stump speeches, often half a dozen a day at different community centers, but always sounding fresh and inspired...

...answering the same dumb questions the goofy, clueless CNN reporters keep asking him (the BBC is a little more hip, but all big media face pressures to dumb itself down and toe certain lines - the BBC guy who followed us around made no secret of the fact that he's terrified of the Zionist lobby and unable to report the whole truth), answering difficult questions at press conferences without missing a beat or losing anybody, bearing the weight of the hopes of millions on his shoulders, struggling against the combined overwhelming forces of Israel, Britain, and Fatah, all of whom have fortresses of established institutions to back them up...

Britain has threatened not to hold its conference with the Palestinians if anyone but Abu Mazen is elected. The Fatah security guys... well, they want to keep their jobs, positions, and favors, don't they? Loyalty ain't cheap in Fatah.

And Israel keeps printing editorials that say things like, "Abu Mazen or Bust," implying that the ONLY hope for peace, the only guy they'll talk to, is him. [Notice that since the elections, even though Israelis have killed far more Palestinian civilians than vice versa, Sharon still says he won't talk to Abbas! Damned if you do, damned if you don't, I guess...]

Peace on the terms of the Israeli hardliners, i.e. without justice and therefore ultimately without true peace or security or stability, seems much more likely if Grandpa Mazen of the Flaccid Spine is successfully instated.

When I say without justice I mean without a shared Jerusalem, '67 borders (or equitable agreed-upon land swaps), true sovereignty and territorial continuity, and recognizing the plight and rights of refugees. (As Dr. Mustafa said, the rights of refugees must be acknowledged; the implementation of the return of some of them to Israel and the compensation of others must be negotiated, with Israel having full veto power over what will happen within its own borders.)

The position outlined above, by the way, is not a peculiarity of Dr. Mustafa or of Arafat or of anybody, but the recognized just and final solution enshrined in international law and generally agreed upon by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians and the world at large. Bush and Sharon are trying to pretend like it's not (Bush probably just doesn't know any better), but it is.

Unfortunately, there's a good chance that if any Israeli actually deigns to speak with him, Abu Mazen will submit to the mendacious Israeli narrative and agree to a new interim agreement like Oslo that will force Palestinians to sit on their hands while Israel continues to consolidate its control over about 58% of the West Bank and make life unlivable in the remaining 42% (10% of historic Palestine) with its Annexation/Apartheid Wall, Jewish-only roads and settlements, checkpoints, destruction of the Palestinian economy, land theft, brutality, and humiliation, with the end goal of ethnic cleansing and massive annexation of the West Bank's best land. That will leave tiny impoverished powerless reservations, with maybe a casino or two, for the 'Palestinian state'.

Many of my brightest Palestinian friends are leaving Palestine this year. They can't take it anymore.

And of course, even if Gaza is re-deployed from ('disengagement' is a clever misnomer as the word is never actually mentioned in the so-called 'disengagement' plan), it will remain a miserable besieged ghetto with no ties to the outside world and no way to sustain itself, and it will be subject to Israeli invasions any time it misbehaves.

Dr. Mustafa, on the other hand, demands a peace conference like Madrid in 1991 to be taken part in by Israel, Palestine, and the entire international community. He demands a full negotiated peace as soon as humanly possible and nothing less. He says there's no reason in the world to draw the process out ad infinitum, which will severely diminish chances of success and cause a lot of death and hardships in the meantime.

He's talked with the heads of Al-Aqsa and Hamas, and he is confident that they are ready and willing for a ceasefire and to accept '67 borders, East Jerusalem, and a fair negotation regarding settlements and refugees in exchange for FULL PEACE and full recognition of Israel's right to exist in peace and security as a good and respected neighbor in the Middle East.

But they have been given no glimmer of an indication that Israel is ready and willing for the same. Until that glimmer is given, they can see no good reason to lay down their arms unilaterally, to give up their only leverage in exchange for nothing whatsoever, or worse, for another Oslo, another Intifada, and the final destruction of their homeland.

But naturally if Palestians are given something to hope for, and if they do lay down their arms against Israel in exchange for Israel ceasing its policies of stealing land and killing civilians and destroying lives and ethnic cleansing and flouting international law -- in other words a just peace -- the rest of the Arab world, and everyone else in the world too, can't help but follow suit. And if anyone TOUCHES Israel once such an agreement is made, the whole world will turn against whoever does with full force.

Right now, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, Palestinians have the legal right to resist the illegal occupation, theft, and colonization of their land and the killing of their civilians. (The first suicide bombing in Israel didn't happen until after six months of the Second Intifada, by which time about 400 Palestinians had already been killed, most of them civilians, 84 of them children, while the world stood by and did nothing.)

You know how Sharon and Peres and Olmert and Netanyahu and all those guys keep saying, "It is intolerable that our civilians should be targeted by violence. No nation would tolerate it. We must respond." Well, it should be no surprise that Palestinians feel the same way.

Because they have a recognized right to defend themselves, there's kind of a global grey area about Palestinian violence. Yes, killing civilians is wrong, but anyone who pays any attention knows that far more Palestinian than Israeli civilians have been killed, whatever anyone wants to say about Israeli vs. Palestinian motives. Several friends of mine who support the Israeli government to the detriment of the Israeli and Palestinian people say that the Israeli Army only accidentally kills civilians when it bombs neighborhoods and family homes and shoots clouds of metal darts into groups of unidentified human beings, while Palestinians know they are blowing up civilians when they blow up a bus. But a dead son is a dead son if you ask his mother.

So far about 500 Israeli civilians and 3500 Palestinians (mostly civilian non-combatants) have been killed. Israel also has twice the population of Palestine, so proportionately, Israel has suffered about ten percent as many civilian casualties as Palestinians.

But death is the tip of the iceberg of Palestinian suffering. Thousands of Palestinians are handicapped for life, without limbs, or paralyzed like my friend Ahmed who was shot in the back by Israeli soldiers the day Arafat died as he was running away from an unarmed tire-burning demonstration in honor of the departed leader.

Hundreds of thousands are effectively in house arrest in their home towns or cities, unable to pass any checkpoints without express Israeli permission, which can be denied at any time for any reason. Tens of thousands of kids suffer psychological problems from watching their fathers beaten up in front of them, missing their big brothers who are in administrative detention for months and years at a time, and seeing their neighborhoods invaded, their friends bombed or shot, their houses destroyed, their eyes gouged out by shrapnel.

To my knowledge, there are no illegal Palestinian settlements (colonies) in Israel, while there are scores of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. Settlements, of course, are a horrific act of violence and collective punishment against a civilian population, a war crime.

There are thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israel, and no Israeli political prisoners except those incarcerated by the Israeli government -- Israelis like Tali Fahima and Mordechai Vanunu who tried to tell the truth about Israel's illegal actions.

There are hundreds of Israeli roadblocks and checkpoints in Palestinian territoriy, and no Palestinian checkpoints in Israel. Tens of thousands of Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged by Israeli bulldozers, tanks, and helicopter bombs. I haven't heard of too many Israeli homes destroyed by Palestinians. Palestinians don't arbitrarily prevent Israelis from traveling/studying/working/attending workshops abroad. Two of my Palestinian friends have been pulled off their planes by Israelis, with no reason given, on their way to visit friends or attend work-related meetings abroad.

Whatever anyone's intention happens to be (some Hamas guys want all of Israel, even though they get laughed out of the park by everyone else... the elected Prime Minister of Israel wants all of Palestine, except the Gaza Ghetto and a few bits of the West Bank, as he's taken no pains to hide and is actively implementing with his hideous Wall*), the fact is, Israelis are suffering terribly, Palestinians are suffering immeasurably worse, and there's no good reason to continue like this.

*Point to ponder about the Wall: Gaza is completely surrounded by a Wall already, and still most Palestinian violence comes from totally-Walled, mostly-destroyed, desperate, trapped Gaza, and not from the partially-Walled West Bank, from which hundreds of Palestinian workers pass illegally into Israel every single day, and bombers could just as easily if they wanted to.

The simple fact is, for all intents and purposes, EVERYONE wants peace and justice. Those who don't want peace and justice are a tragic and pitiable and tiny minority, and they can be dealt with. They can certainly be dealt with more easily when the rest of the world agrees that the situation is the most just and viable. They'll have no excuse or legal framework in which to resist when the resolution is final and agreed-upon. If they continue to resist violently, they'll be pathetic and ridiculous and despised. They won't have a leg to stand on.

And it's obvious that a group of absurd and outdated extremists acting against the will of the majority of their own population can be dealt with more easily than hundreds of millions of pissed-off, righteously indignant Arabs and Muslims (and Christians and Americans and Europeans and Jews...) around the world. The day Israel and Palestine find peace might be the final death blow to Muslim extremism. (Hopefully the Christian and Jewish extremists will go down with them.) The biggest and one of the most justifiable and sympathetic issues they have to gripe about will cease to be.

By the way, does anyone else find it ironic that Israel is so terrified by the idea of an Islamic state in Palestine, when the very raison d'etre of Israel, and its most jealously guarded attribute, is its status as a Jewish state? Anyone want to explain this to me?

But we need the rest of the world in the picture if justice will be done. As Dr. Mustafa says, putting Israelis and Palestinians alone together on the negotiating table is like putting a ferocious tiger and a small lamb together in one room, shutting the door, and expecting them to emerge with an equitable deal. It's absurd.

The world should come together, and international law should either be followed in an equitable and agreed-upon manner or formally dispensed with. If international law and signed human rights treaties are not followed in a non-discriminatory manner, their credibility crumbles and they become little more than another tool for the powerful.

If the recognized rights of Palestinians to their own lands, lives, property, and freedom are not instated while there is still time and still the possibility for a just peace in a region so torn for so long, it's a massive failure for humanity, for the concept of the rule of law, and for Western civilization.

But if reason instead of raw power politics wins the day here, and is recognized as a better solution for everyone, including Israelis, it's such a historic victory for the inherent worth, kindness, and reasonableness of humanity, in which I still have a great deal of faith.

But Israel's current government is not prepared to make this kind of deal. A person with high contacts in the Israeli government has told me that their policy is simply to take whatever they can get. Peace is great; land and resources, elbow room and nice views, are better. If the world stands by, they reason, and we with our overwhelming power can take more than 'justice' requires, why not?

Furthermore, many in Israel still feel surrounded by enemies, still feel like belligerence is a survival technique even though this strategy has long-ago run its course. Amazingly, America with its secure borders north and south and oceans to the west and east feels the same way these days, too. In a recent public opinion poll, Bush scored horribly on everything but security. Controlling people with fear is the oldest trick in the book.

Israel finally got out of Lebanon and disgraced Sharon for his brutal excesses and massacres, to its eternal credit. If only they can get out of the West Bank and Gaza and disgrace Sharon again (and if we can get out of Iraq and impeach Bush for what a majority of Americans believe is an unfounded war, a murder charge times 100,000), what a light among nations and a secure and friendly neighbor in a fascinating and beautiful region it can finally be.

Everyone would rather have a neighbor than an enemy, and everyone with half a toe in reality knows Israel is not going to be destroyed by military force. And any Israeli I know of who has come to the West Bank as a respectful guest has been welcomed like family. Ask them.

But Sharon and his ilk are still up there, still doing what they do best, against the wishes and conscience of the Israeli people and without their real understanding, knowledge, or consent. Just like the heinous illegal war my country is engaged in in Iraq that's killing our sons, killing at least 100 times as many Iraqis, ruining our international reputation, and costing us hundreds of millions of dollars every week.

To put it in perspective: America generously pledged $350 million to help tsunami victims. We spend more than that every couple of days in Iraq.

The Israeli government has done everything it could to shut down the campaign of Dr. Mustafa, who's very well-educated and articulate, steadfast and respected, and not under the thumb of anyone -- in other words, Sharon's worst nightmare. They have beaten him, repeatedly detained and arrested him, restricted his movements, torn down his posters in East Jerusalem, roughed up his volunteers, including a 17-year-old named Riziq Musleh who was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper while he was hanging posters just before New Year's -- and despite everything, he's polling anywhere from 25% to 40% or more, depending on which polls you trust.

Dr. Mustafa has a message, an ideal that is shared by millions, and the institutions of Palestinian civil society heís spent all his life helping to build. He fills a need, he gives a voice to the millions who are not represented by Fatah or Hamas or Israel or anyone else, who want democracy but not at the point of a gun and not according to the will of the occupier. They want self-determination and freedom. Like everyone.

When we volunteers see how hard Dr. Mustafa works, we can't think of complaining or taking a break except to our shame. We all want what he wants, and if he's willing to work that hard for it, how can we do any less? He's patient and charming and committed and knowledgeable and steadfast and organized and strategized, heís giving people what they want more than anything: real democracy, a real voice for the people, grassroots, popular, not selfish or power-grabbing or money-grubbing or fame-seeking, someone people can get behind with everything they have.

I couldnít be prouder to be a part of it, and so many Palestinians feel the same way. He's saying what we all want to say, what we all agree is fair and reasonable. He's a voice for us. He's a leader with the truest popular mandate I've ever seen.

A Jewish American friend of mine said Dr. Mustafa is even on the radar screen of Jewish intellectuals in Israel, who believe he has a real chance even if the mainstream news, the lowest common denominator, hasn't picked up on it yet. Everyone I know who knows anything about Dr. Barghouthi and about the press is stunned by how little coverage he has gotten. Imagine Ralph Nader pulling even 20% of the vote and getting no coverage! Mish maqoul.

Whether John Q. Driveway knows about it or not, I couldn't be prouder or happier to be a part of something so extraordinary as the first grassroots democratic opposition movement in the Middle East. There hasnít been such strong opposition by a grassroots party even in America for centuries. Ralph Nader couldn't pull 5%, and EVERYONE was trying to shut him out of Bushwhacked II in 2004.

I had to go to a place as politicised as Palestine to find a strong movement like this that I could play a part in and feel like I'm actually accomplishing something, feel like we're moving something. Abu Mazen, with all the world and all the Palestinians watching, has changed his position three times due to pressure from the democratic coalition led by Dr. Barghouthi.

But because Dr. B. is actually a democrat, his election would be a coup -- a voice for Palestinians who won't toe the lines and sign away inalienable rights, but who can't be shut up in the Muqata'a and unilaterally declared irrelevant. He won't be bought, and he'd be hard to fight. So the powers that be will never let him be elected. They'll do whatever it takes. He knows this. That's why I say he's one of the bravest men I know.

Gandhi said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

They're already fighting him, Fatah, Israel, Britain, and others. Let's hope the fight stays somewhat civilized. Unfortunately, not every good cause wins.

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Funny story: On the last day of campaigning, after the toughest month-and-a-half any 50-year-old should ever have to go through -- I'm serious, I've followed him around a few times, and when I spend just one day at his pace, without even giving the speeches and taking calls in the car the whole time, I'm completely exhausted. Two days in a row I feel would kill me. A month and a half...!!!

Anyway, the funny story is, on the last day of campaigning, Friday, 7 January 2005, one of the last things he did was give an interview with CNN at the Muqata'a, and he was doing his best to look collected and brilliant, and he did a good job, but anyone who knew what he'd been through could tell he must have been close to collapse. (If he wasn't, I'd do a serious background check on which planet he came from.)

And even though he looked great, and his words all came out correct, sometimes he lost track and his train of thought wandered a bit. Once he said, "And Abu Mazen is not a strong leader; due to our pressure he keeps shifting a-and swifting his positions on at least three issues..."

All night I was cracking myself up imagining Grandpa Mazen shifting and swifting all over the place. It's unreal how real all of this is. It's true: the world really is what we grunts make it.

Anyway, to get back to a long-forgotten point: if foreign press liaison for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi's presidential campaign were a paid position, it would just be a job. If Abu Ali were a 'chauffeur,' he'd just be an employee. And that's not how it is.

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So why is Dr. Mustafa not pulling a clear majority in the polls if all this is true and so many Palestinians know it? I heard a rumor that there's a saying in Arabic: Better ten years of tyranny than one day of anarchy. In Iraq we're seeing this in play.

In America no one knew what a shifty, swifty liberal would do in the White House. Better certain disaster than total uncertainty, especially in times as tough as these. Better institutionalized awfulness than starting from scratch with an unknown when you're already scared and you feel totally in the dark.

I've asked a few Palestinians why they would vote for Abu Mazen. Besides the obvious answer of, "I don't want to lose my job" (about half of all employed people in Palestine work for the PA, and there are rumors that PA employees who don't support Fatah may lose their precious jobs), or "I don't really know much about him" (he's talked to tens of thousands of people, but to get his full message out to three million people in two weeks, even Santa Claus couldn't do that), people say:

"The world wants Abu Mazen. They say they'll negotiate with him, and if he wins maybe they'll put pressure on Israel to get rid of the checkpoints. It probably won't come to anything. But at least it's something to look forward to. At least maybe we'll get a break for a while, and if that happens, business will finally pick up again, and we can visit our families again. And who knows? Maybe something good will happen after all."

I can't blame anyone for that. Doing the brave and idealistic thing now, turning the world upside down when times are so hard, adding another chaotic element to times already so unsure, requires a lot. But for them to play it safe with world opinion and still get kicked in the teeth by America and Israel would be just the kind of thing I've come to expect from my country.

In any case, Dr. Mustafa has done his part. It's already an amazing victory. He's built a powerful democratic opposition movement to which Abu Mazen will have to be accountable. If Dr. Mustafa pulls close enough, and then if the democratic opposition wins a lot of seats in the Legislative Council, there will be big changes in Fatah, in the PA, in Palestine, and it must be sending shockwaves through the Arab world. (For obvious reasons, coverage of Dr. Mustafa was also suppressed in the Arab world - all those tinpot dictators installed by Europe after WWII don't want their people getting any funny ideas.) And in four more years... if there's anything left of Palestine by then...

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So, Dr. Mustafa didn't win, but he won a great victory nonetheless. Despite serious obstacles from all the abovementioned powers, and irregularities on election day that bordered on fraud (by Fatah), he STILL managed 20% of the vote (Abu Mazen pulled 62%).

When he met with his constituents in the Protestant Church hall next to his campaign office on Monday for a post-election celebration, the standing ovation, clapping and whistling, went on and on. It was electric. People were crying. Dr. Khaled, his campaign advisor, cried when he gave his speech. I cried.

The silent majority of Palestinians who support Dr. Mustafa's platform, and feel represented neither by Fatah nor by Islamists, are silent no longer. They will continue to put pressure on Abu Mazen and his government, and they will run in the Legislative Council elections in July, and finally there's something that looks like democracy in Palestine. And the Palestinians did it all by themselves even though the brave people who supported anyone but Abbas will now be harassed by the sore winners of Fatah.

So Abu Mazen is now the President, and he has a titanic task ahead of him.

He knows we're here, he knows what we want. We'll give him a chance and see what happens. Insha'Allah khair. There's no doubt that the pressure of Dr. Mustafa's "Third Democratic Trend," which is now the second most powerful political force in Palestine, has helped and will help him be a better leader for Palestine. For Dr. Barghouthi's people to build all that in a month and a half... wow.

Meanwhile, the global justice movement is so strong that even the most powerful forces on earth have co-opted the language. And now that Israel is no longer 'the only democracy in the Middle East' (actually, neither Israel nor military occupied Palestine is what I'd call a democracy, but I'll leave that aside for the moment), maybe the occupation will finally be exposed in its full nakedness, its admitted illegality.

As a recent Haaretz of Israel article said, "We're running out of excuses."

With love and hope,

Pam


P.S. One more ramble. A lot of capitalists say that if the market incentive is not there, no one will get off their butts and work. Whether or not capitalism happens to be the best way to organize the world's resources and set up society, I can safely say the the market incentive is not the only way to motivate people to work hard, cheerfully, and well.

If Dr. Barghouthi's thousands of volunteers had to be paid, they wouldn't be half the force they are. If they were they types to demand payment for what they were doing, they wouldn't be who they are and they wouldn't be doing what they do. An unbelievable number of Palestinian youths volunteer for Medical and Agricultural Relief Societies even when they can barely afford studying at college or university at the same time.

I feel like I've seen some of the best and some of the worst we are capable of here in Israel/Palestine, and at the end of the day I'm inspired and amazed more than anything. Our potential is just awesome.


"When you find you can go neither backward nor forward, when you discover that you are no longer able to stand, sit or lie down, when your children have died of malnutrition and your aged parents have been sent to the poorhouse or the gas chamber, when you realize that you can neither write nor not write, when you are convinced that all the exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like the humming bird. The miracle is that the honey is always there, right under your nose, only you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it. The worst is not death but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous... The language of society is conformity; the language of the creative individual is freedom. Life will continue to be a hell as long as the people who make up the world shut their eyes to reality."
    ~ Henry Miller




Next: Birthday / Eid Al-Adha holiday update

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