LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
Tel Aviv Bomber's Family Shunned
and other stories
25 March 2005
"England invaded us fifty years ago [in the Suez
War], and I don't hate you. Why should I hate the
Dan and I and a Dutch anthropology student named Anna
just got back from a week's vacation in the Sinai. We
had a brilliant time, Dan getting his open water diver
license (mabrook!) and me and Anna picking up our
Rescue Diver certification. We learned CPR from a
French guy, rescued a tall Dutch divemaster over and
over again, and spent cool nights around the fire in
the back garden of a beachside cafe.
~An Egyptian Bedouin to a young British guy Dan,
who's volunteering in Palestine, while on holiday in
Dahab, Sinai, Egypt
The most fun part
of the Rescue Diver course was a search and recovery drill among some beautiful corals. The most ridiculous part was when I threw my regulator out of my mouth 35 feet underwater to complain about being kicked by a flipper. D'oh. Diving and early mornings don't mix so well with me.
In other exciting news, my parents are coming out to
visit me in June! I'll have a chance to show them my
adopted home town of Ramallah as well as all the holy
sites we can squeeze in. I look forward to telling
more "Okies in the Holy Land" stories and bestowing
upon my parents the ability to laugh at your average
mainstream media coverage of the Middle East as much
as I do.
Mom said the people in my real home town of Stigler,
Oklahoma, keep asking them, "But what will you DO in
In sadder news, the Christian Palm Sunday procession
from the site of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem to
Jerusalem, mostly on foot but some riding donkeys, was
of course stopped short at the Apartheid Wall that now
separates the two holy cities. The abortive
procession was a powerful symbol of the depravity and
disgrace of the Israeli government's Wall project
that's carving up the Holy Land with no regard for
Christians, Muslims, Palestinians, law, justice, or
Those tragically hip Bethlehemites have started a
Voices from the Bethlehem Ghetto.
This is just a collection of a few random stories and
then an article about the Tel Aviv suicide bomber who
pointlessly killed five Israelis and himself in a
night club on 25 February. His home town and family
and even the militant group to which he belonged are
distancing themselves from his actions as much as
According to Haaretz of Israel, Palestinian popular
support for the bombing was at 29%, compared to 77%
for a similar bombing six months ago. (In a vacuum,
public support for such a bombing would be near 0%,
but in light of the ongoing state-sponsored theft and
brutality that Palestinians are otherwise pretty
helpless to defend themselves against, you know the
It was quite a spectacle in Ramallah when some Al-Aqsa
Brigades guys showed up in the town square to shoot
guns in the air (they do this sometimes when they want
to get a message across along with a thuggish display
of power), and in between gunshots proclaim, "We
didn't do it!" POW POW POW. "It wasn't us!" BAM
BAM. "We took no part in this gratuitous violence!"
I'm exaggerating, but whether the guy who blew up the
club was acting under their instructions or not, the
fact that they and the village in which it happened
are disavowing the whole thing (and Abbas officially
called the guy a "terrorist") is good to see. It had
nothing to do with how effective Israel's response
was. In fact, for once, Israel showed relative
It's good to see because it's a measure of the fact
that Palestinians have more hope now than they have in
ages for an end to violence and a hope for justice.
They're still living in a desperate and deteriorating
situation, but even with it only deteriorating *less
rapidly*, they're making enthusiastic overtures for
You could say that this is a sign of the success of
Israel's policy of systematically brutalizing a
civilian population for political ends. You could say
the Palestinians are finally capitulating under the
unbearable onslaught. But we should be careful not to
reward (state) terrorism.
I prefer to think of it as courage on the part of
Palestinians for having faith in international
concepts of justice and coexistence even in the face
of overwhelming evidence that the Israeli government
(and many others in the international arena) is simply
not interested in such things.
Haaretz columnist Meron Benvenisti wrote today about
dismal prospects for peace offered by the crafty
and unscrupulous Israeli government, the uncritical
American administration "for whom the illusion of the
'political process' is much more important than the
facts on the ground", and Israel's complacent
The real story is probably that Palestinians are just
tired of violence and realizing they have no choice
but to give up some of their rights unilaterally (most
prominently the UN-mandated right of Palestinian
refugees to return to their homes and villages in what
is now Israel) in the hope that the international
community will pressure Israel not to violently take
even more. Plus, most have Israeli friends and
acquaintances they have no wish to be arbitrarily
separated from. Palestinians are doing everything
according to Western demands, hoping that the world
will give them the minimum deal: Full sovereignty in
Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, which
Abu Mazen has even said might be shared.
It's a thin hope, punctured daily by Israeli actions
on the ground, especially the theft, destruction,
isolation, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian East
Jerusalem. There are plans to build 3,500 new
Jewish-only housing units on occupied East Jerusalem
land. It's a move designed to take East Jerusalem,
the cultural, spiritual, and economic capital of
Palestine, off the negotiating table. Dozens of other
settlements are also being created and/or expanded all
over the territories, in complete disregard for the
Road Map to which Israel is supposedly bound, and it's
not clear how much longer Palestinians will tolerate
this existential threat.
Hope is bolstered by sputtering international moves
toward pressuring Israel to comply with international
laws and norms of justice, including the UN's recent
decision to carefully document the claims of all
victims of Israel's illegal Apartheid Wall.
But even the UN has been a huge disappointment lately.
It's been employing shameful double standards that
often make it seem like little more than a tool of
legitimization for powerful Western interests. Kofi
Annan, when he made a recent visit to Israel and
Palestine, refused heartfelt appeals to tour and
observe the Apartheid Wall that his own organization
has declared illegal.
Also, Annan presented Syria with an ultimatum of
punitive sanctions if Syria doesn't rapidly comply
with UN resolution 1559 and withdraw from Lebanon. Of
course, no such ultimatum was delivered to Israel to
withdraw from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem)
and Gaza as stipulated by UN resolution 242. Nor even
to quit building new settlements as stipulated by the
Road Map or stop building and start dismantling the
Apartheid Wall as stipulated by the ICJ resolutions of
Sharon also refuses to negotiate any of the final
status issues, acting in remarkably bad faith by
talking peace while simultaneously imposing his own
ideas on the ground every day. And as usual, the
world is pretty much standing by and letting it
But, at least it's hope, and hope has a wonderful
positive feedback effect.
Still, the onslaught continues and threatens the
otherwise solid wish for peace in the Territories.
Israeli settlers in the West Bank have recently
embarked on a series of what the Israeli newspaper
Haaretz called "pogroms" (and the Israeli army
described as "attempted lynchings") against innocent
Palestinian civilians, but which the Israeli army did
virtually nothing about, paving the way for it to
happen again and again. Such attacks (and Israeli
tolerance of such attacks) are nothing new, but now
they appear to be attempts to derail the Gaza
Settlers in the Hebron area have also poisoned the
fields of Palestinian shepherds, and possibly their
water supplies as well. They've done it before. On
Friday of last week, a Palestinian mother of four
attempting to pray in Jerusalem was turned back at a
checkpoint, and when she argued, Israeli soldiers
threw a stun grenade at her, severely disfiguring her
New reports about illegal settlements and outposts
conducted by Israeli investigators have revealed
corruption, misappropriation, and other illegal
activities at the highest levels of the Israeli
government. The settlers and the government have
their fingers squarely in each other pies, flaunting
both international and Israeli law at the expense of
Israeli taxpayers, Palestinians, and the rule of law
itself. But nobody is doing much about it, either.
A Haaretz piece called "Occupation as Incitement" was
recently written about the tremendous chutzpah
involved in Sharon and other calling on Palestinians
to end their incitement against Israel when the
occupation itself involves daily, hourly, minutely
acts of vicious incitement:
There's a right-wing weblog called InstaPundit that
had a cute piece about the outbreak of "Lebanese
hotties" on magazine covers following the popular
protests over the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. I
don't know who killed Hariri, or why, but I do know
it's nice to see Middle Eastern people show up in the
mainstream press as hip and attractive instead of, you
know, how Arabs are usually portrayed in the Western
Also, of course, it's nice to see the people's will
for democracy expressed. In all fairness, some
debatable amount of credit must go to Bush and his
people for finally deciding to open up a crack for
democracy to get a toe-hold in the region. I mean,
all they had to do was just stop supporting all those
despots so uncritically. It's nice to see
Washington's interests briefly coincide with that of
the Arab street, at least in some places, at least on
Washington is only doing it to mend fences and
increase Western influence however they can in light
of their otherwise spectacular policy failures in the
Middle East. And they're still winning no friends
with their continued one-sidedness in the
Israel/Palestine conflict. But it's something
marginally positive. At least, we all hope it works
out that way.
And of course America's arming of Saddam, empowerment
of the Taliban, overthrow of the Iranian democracy in
1953, and ongoing support of the stone-age regime of
Saudi Arabia must also be put in their proper
perspective. We're no knights on white horses, and we
currently have no credibility as champions of human
rights. But hopefully we can realize it's in our best
interests to ameliorate some of our mistakes of the
And Bush has no interest in real democracy in Iraq, as
the first thing Iraq would do if given sovereignty
would be to kick America out and ally itself with
Iran. America and Israel telling Syria to obey UN
resolutions and quit occupying Lebanon is pretty
hilarious considering Israel and America are both
veteran UN resolution violators and illegal foreign
And it's highly doubtful Bush would even have bothered
with Iraqi elections if not for the insurgents. And
it was the Palestinians themselves who demanded proper
elections after the death of Arafat more than anyone.
So maybe Bush deserves credit for nothing more than
awkwardly stirring shit up and then losing control of
it. If only he'll wake up and pressure Sharon to quit
violating international law and the Road Map, clip the
wings of the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld, genuinely
start cooperating with Europe and the Arab world, and
get out of Iraq. It ain't likely, but if the man
suddenly develops an interest in even marginally
redeeming himself and our great nation...
An Electronic Intifada article about the "Lebanese
"Despite conspiracy theories and grim assessments
to the contrary, something new, amazing, and precious
is indeed being born in Lebanon: an indigenous,
responsive, truly plural form of democracy that is not
Made in the USA, but forged out of a long and
difficult Arab experience. Apparently, many thought
this would be a Caesarian delivery under strong
anaesthia. Wrong: it will be a painful, protracted,
and loud labor and birth. Although considerable
debate is now heard inside and outside Lebanon about
this baby's parentage, ideological DNA tests do not
indicate that George W. Bush is the father."
Others have more cynical interpretations of events
But whatever the reason, democracy's at least being
spoken of more seriously in a region desperately in
need of accountability and a popular voice. It will
take time and a lot of hard work to develop it
successfully and genuinely. Here's hoping it doesn't
get co-opted by Arab or Western power interests and
turned into a sham, or worse.
On 5 March I had lunch here in Ramallah with a
Palestinian Jerusalemite who is doing work and
research about self-reflection, meditation,
alternative medicine, etc. He and a guru-type named
John Wilkinson (from Canada I think) will be heading
up a week-long seminar near Bethlehem this summer with
the following (partial) description:
Fishing For Truth
Because we live in a world that is full of lies and
dissembling based on materialism, when Truth appears,
and thank goodness it does in spite of us, it is often
shocking, revealing and it makes us feel very
vulnerable. All our defence mechanisms become
mobilised at these times and The Truth is quickly
The Truth, when it appears, can come in many guises
- a chance phrase from a song, a young child asking a
direct question, an unexpected event, etc. However,
when it appears we need to learn to recognise it for
what it is, give thanks for that insight and act on
OK, so that didn't really describe anything. But in
any case it was definitely a surprise to meet a
Palestinian New Age Philosopher. I'll probably check
out his seminar. A week of navel-gazing in Bethlehem
should be interesting to say the least.
The day before that, I had breakfast with an Israeli
who is a professor of physical chemistry at the Hebrew
University. She was quite cool and Lithuanian, and
very much against the occupation and subjugation of
the Palestinian people (although back in her "young,
blindly patriotic days", she did serve in the Israeli
She was the first person I've gotten to know whose
Hebrew seemed completely natural, native, and
beautiful. And the waiters at the breakfast place she
chose were lovely -- charming, polite, and attractive.
They didn't talk down to me or demand my documents.
And the building, unlike most old, historic, and
attractive buildings in Israel, was not of Arab but of
Jewish origin, so it felt OK to be there. I would
have felt quite queasy if the place had been in the
house of a dispossessed Arab family, as so many
Israeli restaurants and clubs are.
She explained why she was against an academic boycott
of Israel, primarily because it would be a boycott
against people like her who hadn't done anything wrong
or were even actively opposing the occupation. She
predicted that isolating Israel would just make it
more, well, isolated, in its dealings and in its
thought patterns. It would also appear to be racist,
to discriminate against a whole nation when not
everyone was guilty. How would that help anyone?
Another Israeli professor, Ilan Pappe of Haifa
University, supports a full boycott, including an
academic one, against Israel. He says Israeli
society, like Apartheid South African society, is too
far gone to voluntarily give up what they see as
theirs. International pressure is the only way to
wake up the Israeli public and save the Jewish state
as well as the Jewish soul. Besides, he says, he's
already been boycotted within Israel for his unpopular
humanistic views. An interview with him.
Later I sat down at a sidewalk cafe on Jaffa St. for a
cup of coffee, and next to me were two very
Orthodox-looking Jewish men and a young hyperactive
boy of 9 or so. The boy soon joined me at my table,
staring at me with big eyes and nursing a popsicle. I
smiled and said, "Shalom." He grinned.
I opened my mouth to say something else, like "How are
you?" or "Where are you from?" But I suddenly
realized that I only know checkpoint Hebrew: "Come
here", "Open your bag", "What's this?", "Give me your
ID", "Lift your shirt up over your head and spin
around", etc. None of these seemed appropriate.
I said lamely, "Do you speak English?" He grinned and
So there we were with questions and curiosity and no
way to get it across. The men called him back to his
own table before I could spontaneously generate any
relevant knowledge of Hebrew.
Later I sat down on a low wall near the Old City to
rest and think, and soon a man passed by and asked me
for the time. I said, "It's 3:00. Exactly."
He said, "Three o'clock exactly! It always seems like
when I ask the time, I get an exact number like that."
I smiled and said, "You must be blessed," without any
clear reason why I did so. I think I was attempting
to be gently sarcastic in a friendly way.
He said, "Ah, you must be one of those religious
I laughed and said, "No, I'm an agnostic American,
He sat down next to me, and thus began a three-hour
conversation about his recent four years spent in
North Korea, where he taught film studies (I couldn't
help but wonder what films they studied in North Korea
-- probably several variations on "Biography of Kim
Jong Il: Patriot, Genius, God") and attempted to
synthesize a union of Judaism with totalitarian
Communism. I talked about my recent publication of an
article under the name of a Palestinian leader in a
progressive New York Jewish newspaper and showed off a
campaign poster of my boss still clinging to an Old
He said he was coming back to Israel for a while to
recharge his soul and his Jewishness, but he felt like
his destiny was in Asia. He spoke of turning North
Korea into a totalitarian Communist Jewish utopia.
When he found out I worked in the Palestinian
territories, he said, "So you must be pretty
I said, "I'm pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace.
I'm anti-occupation, and I think ending it will be
good for Palestinians and Israelis."
Later I mused, "What does anti-Israel mean anyway?
Israel isn't any more monolithic than 'America' or
'Muslims' or 'Arabs' or anything else."
I asked if he'd ever visited the West Bank or Gaza,
and he said later today he would visit a friend who
lived in a West Bank settlement. He said, "What do
you think of those?"
I told him I considered them a blatant and illegal
theft of land and livelihood, a way to control and
subjugate a civilian population, and a hotbed of
dangerous ideological fanatics -- and that on the
scale of obscenities, the settlement enterprise lies
just to the offensive side of dancing on fresh graves.
I told him a few quick facts about them, among them
that a new one was being illegally built as we spoke
on the private property of a Palestinian friend of
mine, and that their current expansion is rapidly
closing the window of opportunity for a workable
two-state solution. It appeared to be news to him.
But I said that if he ever wanted to invite me to
visit a settlement, I'd be interested to come and see
what it was like.
We parted on one note of unequivocal agreement: That
we're both still seeking a society humanistic enough
to make us want to raise children there.
The whole day was like a shot in the arm, a boost to
my attempts to humanize all sides and understand what
I otherwise saw on a daily basis as a rude, twitchy,
ignorant but condescending, young and thoroughly
insecure but dangerous, brainwashed enemy.
But then leaving West Jerusalem and driving through
vast parts of the East Jerusalem municipality which
Israel has annexed and built on and strangled in an
illegal and disgustingly discriminatory manner, not to
mention the indescribably vicious Wall, none of which
could ever have taken place without a systematic
process of dehumanization... it put that ache back in
the pit of my stomach. There's no easy way to
reconcile it all. Until there's peace and justice,
Just before that I got back from a quick teaser of a
weekend in a Bedouin camp in the Sinai, hiking in the
mountains, swimming in the lagoon, walking on the
beach at night under a full moon, and enjoying smooth
desert herb with some great people. And those Bedouin
are amazing cooks. At least, that's how it seems
after a few puffs and a four-hour wait for your
We were there less than 48 hours, but it felt like a
week. Lots of bad energy had a chance to float away
on the small gulf waves crashing a few feet from our
A British Israeli woman named Angela organized the
weekend and invited some European diplomats,
journalists, and UN workers. Diplomats, journalists,
and UN workers sound a lot like adults, so I had an
image of spending time with serious, professional,
older people. But they were all pretty much my age,
mostly mid-late 20's, and pretty chilled out.
'Serious' is a four-letter word in the Sinai.
It was a perfect weekend until I got back to the
Israeli border, where they held me longer than anyone.
("For the thousandth time, I was only a tourist in
Syria, and they didn't ask me to bring any mysterious
packages to Israel.")
They finally gave me a visa on a separate sheet of
paper, which was my gate pass. But then the next
guard took my gate pass.
I said, "Wait a minute, that's my visa, I need that."
She said, "But I have to take your gate pass."
"But I need to have a visa."
"But I have to take your gate pass."
This went on for a while, and finally she rolled her
eyes and made a face and called back to the main
office. They told her it was in the computer, so
there was no problem.
As I learned the hard way in Russia, it's easy for one
person to say, "Your little visa issue is no problem,"
and for the next person to say, "Your little visa
issue will be costing you either $60 or $700 plus five
extra days in the frozen Far East depending on how
insistent you are, how squeamish you are about bribing
government officials, and whether you have any cash on
you right now."
I walked back to the main office and asked if they
couldn't possibly stamp one more paper for me.
They said they were out of paper. Right.
I said, "But I need a visa, don't I?"
A permed teenaged guard told me, "It's in the
computer, and so you will have no problems. And if
you don't trust me, I have nothing to say to you."
So. I walked around for two weeks without a visa
knowing that if they lied and failed to put it in the
computer... There's no end to the petty crap they put
us through. At least there was no gratuitous anal
probe, like the World Bank guy from India who got so
freaked out he ran into the Ben-Gurion airport
terminal naked. (Don't worry, Mom and Bill. You're
When I left the same border two weeks later to go to
the Sinai again, my lack of a visa was, of course, a
major problem. It wasn't in the computer. The border
biznatches had lied through their teeth. I had no
proof of legal entry into Israel. I was basically an
They detained me quite a while, asked many questions
and made several phone calls. They said they were
sorry for all this, but I might be Osama bin Laden
after all, you never know these days.
Finally they agreed to file a report and let me pass.
But it could easily have gone the other way if I
looked even slightly more sinister.
The following article illustrates how giving people
hope is the best way to delegitimize and destroy the
deplorable guerrilla tactic of targeting civilians for
political ends. If the state of Israel is actually
interested in an end to terrorism, the path is clear.
If they prefer real estate over human life, freedom,
and peace, civilians on both sides will continue to
Israel is having a harder and harder time justifying
its policies in light of mounting evidence that
overwhelming brutality only exacerbates the problem of
resistance to overwhelming brutality. They've even
put an end to punitive home demolitions, admitting it
was detrimental to security in addition to being cruel
Of course, the much wider-scale practice of home
demolitions for the purpose of ethnic cleansing goes
on and on. Which, among many other things, makes it
all the more remarkable that Palestinians are still
for the most part interested in peaceful coexistence.
TEL AVIV BOMBER'S FAMILY SHUNNED
By Conal Urquhart
March 1, 2005
Deir al Ghusun - Scores of chairs lined the rooms and
corridors, and jugs of coffee and water and trays of
figs were ready to welcome men paying their respects.
But the family of Abdullah Badran, the 21-year-old who
blew himself up at the entrance to a Tel Aviv
nightclub on Friday, killing five Israelis, were left
alone in their grief.
For seven days after a burial a Palestinian family
receives mourners, normally a big social event
involving colourful banners and patriotic music.
But yesterday seven members of the family occupied the
otherwise empty chairs, and when asked if Abdullah's
death had achieved anything, they all shook their
heads, and one said no in English.
Abdullah's brother Ibrahim said they were mystified
and angered by his death.
"I really do not know what was on his mind. Maybe he
was thinking about the killing of Palestinians in
recent weeks, the building of the wall, the lack of
goodwill from the Israelis in the political process.
"He wanted to be a teacher, to get married and get a
home. He seemed optimistic in spite of everything. It
never occurred to any of us that he would blow himself
Deir al Ghusun is a hill town of 8,000 inhabitants.
The flags of Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the leftwing
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine fly from
many buildings, but there are none near the house of
Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for
the bombing, was keeping a low profile.
Sami Qadan said the whole town was shocked and angered
by the bombing and in protest no one was paying
respects to the family.
"Things were getting better and then no sooner do we
have money coming in again then it is stopped by this
suicide bombing. This intifada has killed us and the
wall has destroyed us. We cannot even leave our homes
and we want it to stop," he said.
Six of his sons were working as builders in Israel but
when they tried to cross the checkpoint on Sunday they
were told: "No one from Deir al Ghusun is coming into
Abdullah, a student of Arabic literature at a branch
of the al-Quds (Jerusalem) University in Tulkarem, was
last seen at breakfast on Friday. "We didn't ask where
he was going because it wasn't our normal practice.
There was nothing in him to suggest that he had no
plans to return," his brother said.
The family realised that something was wrong only when
Israeli soldiers arrived at 5am on Saturday morning
and told them that he had killed himself and four
Israelis - a fifth died of injuries yesterday.
Abdullah's father, Said Badran, refused to believe
them, insisting that his son was still in bed. The
army arrested the two brothers in the house and later
the local imam and five of Abdullah's friends.
The family had not suffered any particular grievance
at the hands of the Israelis, Ibrahim said, although
he was detained in 1989 and held for 18 months without
The town has lost a large part of its livelihood
because the separation barrier has cut it off from its
825 acres (334 hectares) of farmland.
In theory they can reach it through a gate, but it is
rarely open, and the Israelis have begun chopping down
some of the trees.
Ibrahim said that the family was extremely angry with
the people who had chosen and prepared Abdullah for
his suicide mission.
"I don't know who they are but we want them to stop
this and reach out their hands for peace. That is the
only way the situation will improve."
 The Daily Star of Lebanon's Rami Khoury wrote:
"Some 280 million Arabs, and - give or take a
billion - 3 billion other people around the world who
monitor American policy will ask this very logical
question: how can we take seriously the Israeli claim
of being democratic and wanting peace in this region,
or the American claim of promoting freedom, democracy,
equality and the rule of law, while an American-backed
Israel so blatantly tramples on the rule of law as
embodied in the Geneva Conventions and UN Security
Council resolutions that explicitly forbid such
colonial-style settlements in occupied Palestinian
"Israeli settlement expansion maintains the hot
conflict with Palestinians, but also corrodes American
credibility throughout the Arab world. Israeli
actions ultimately weaken American political influence
in a manner that cannot always be compensated for by
American military force. A core lesson of both the
Palestinian and Lebanese intifadas is precisely that:
degraded people ultimately will stand up to the tanks
and warplanes that demean or threaten them, and will
fearlessly demand to share in the single global
standard of law, freedom and human dignity.
"Israel's continued colonization of Palestinian
lands shreds the American argument that Arabs and
Iranians must adhere to "the will of the international
community" - because Israel and the U.S. routinely
ignore the will of the international community when it
comes to the rights of the Palestinians."
Why should anyone listen to us when we act like this?
I think we're good people, and we have a lot to
contribute to the world. Why not act like it?