LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
Santana in Bethlehem . . .
BBC almost gets it . . .
Shifting and Swifting
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
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
For a long time now, the biggest threat to democracy
in the Middle East is us.
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
A Palestinian Response to my Christmas 2004 letter, O Little Town
*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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
As a recent Haaretz of Israel article said, "We're
running out of excuses."
With love and hope,
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
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."
Next: Birthday / Eid Al-Adha holiday update