Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Street fair, now with frog man

Last night, I went to a street fair on Emek Refaim, a hip street near the Merkaz, the arts center where the WUJS Arts students have our class.  It was incredibly crowded and fantastically fun; after the customary search at the entrance, we were greeted by the pulsating beats of an electro-funk-dance band whose name I do not know.  I do know that its drummer is pretty insane.  They were still setting up like most of the bands and were not yet in full flight.

As we walked through the packed street, we saw food, jewelry, crafts of all kinds, and circus freaks.  My favorite was probably the frog man on top of a bus stop, playing a stringed instrument (my thanks to Adina for the pictures!).

The crown hints that he is at least a prince among frog men.  However, the tough economy must have hit the frog man economy hard if even their prince is trying to make a little extra cash playing street festivals.

By the way, no one in the US should ever complain about rudeness in a crowd.  In Israel, even old women don't say "excuse me" or "pardon me" when moving through a crowd.  Everyone just pushes.  What passes as polite or impolite here has taken some adjustment.  Or as one Israeli told us, telling a server "Give me falafel!" is polite.  Most Israelis just say "falafel!" and turn back to their cell phones.

All this walking, gawking, and talking was thirsty work so I bought fresh strawberry lemonade at a stand.  This wasn't strawberry flavored lemonade; it was freshly squeezed strawberry juice mixed with lemonade.  It was also delicious and quite refreshing.  Adina was distracted by shinies, Alex enjoyed his last cigar, Rock ate his precious schwarma, and we headed back home.

However, the band from the beginning was playing a full set, using the oh-so typical layout of drums, bass, keyboard, female rapper, and didgeridoo.  The crowd ate it up and danced alongside a fire twirler.

Honestly, it could have been a street festival in any interesting city in America, albeit with more Jews, schwarma, and ventilation system cleaning robots on stilts.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I'm back! (and another speaker analysis)

First, I must apologize for the break between posts.  We finally received internet access in our apartments a few days ago; apparently, our building was still living in the 1980s and lacked internet wiring.  Thankfully that situation has been rectified and the blog can resume with some assistance from Amy since she provided a copy of the Fellowship's itinerary.  Onward!

After leaving Sderot, we had a wonderful BBQ on the beach and tried to finally jettison all of our jet lag.  The next morning was still a bit dazed but it was certainly better than the reality collapse of the first couple days.

Our day started with a "60 Minutes" segment called "Is Peace Out of Reach?" In it, Bob Simon talks to various Israelis and Palestinians about the peace process, generally outlines the shape of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and visits the West Bank.  There are many problems with this piece, particularly Simon's "analysis" of demography and Israel's options in keeping a Jewish majority in the face of a rapidly growing Palestinian minority.  The quote speaks for itself:

"Demographers predict that within ten years Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Without a separate Palestinian state the Israelis would have three options, none of them good. They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank, or they could give the Palestinians the vote. That would be the democratic option but it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Or they could try apartheid - have the minority Israelis rule the majority Palestinians, but apartheid regimes don’t have a very long life."

This is a ridiculously short, absurd, and incomplete list of Israel's options.  My biggest issue is that the demography is incorrect.  As of 2008, Israel proper's Arab citizenry comprised about 20% of the nation's total population, and about 12% of the Arab population considers itself Israeli before Arab.  It should be pretty clear that Arabs will not be the majority within a single decade, let alone two or three.  Therefore, there is a lot of time before any of these "options" become necessary.  This kind of demographic fear-mongering is currently popular in Israel and in the US, where racists worry about whites only being the plurality but hardly reflects the reality on the ground.  More importantly, this list of options does not illuminate or explain the current situation in any way.  All it does is inflame and antagonize.

Israel isn't going to try ethnic cleansing.  This "option" has been available through Israel's entire history and after the 1948 War, there hasn't been any movement in that direction.  Giving Palestinians the vote would not necessarily mean the end of the Jewish state, particularly if it is coupled with a two state solution, or at least a stabilization of the West Bank.  Continued Jewish immigration from outside Israel and the natural growth of Israel's population should render discussions of an apartheid state moot until we are actually at that point decades from now.  As an added bonus, Simon fails to mention the state in which Palestinians truly live under an apartheid regime - Jordan, with its ruling Hashemite minority and subjugated Palestinian majority.

If you truly believe that mainstream Israelis would support ethnic cleansing (hint: they wouldn't, and the crazy settlers don't count as mainstream, Bob), then there's not much to talk about.  The Israeli settler Simon speaks to early on in the piece represents the far right fringe of the settler movement, which should key you in on how crazy she is.  Then, in a neat bit of "balance," Simon finds the most moderate, least representative Palestinian he could find and tries to portray his position as the Palestinian mainstream.  I could continue to tear into Simon's superficial and, honestly, unbalanced portrayal of the situation but the bias is evident from that one quote alone.  And as those who know me well can attest, I am sick to death of whining about media bias against Israel but it is so obvious here that it cannot be overlooked.

After this somewhat dismal foray into American media, we heard from a representative of Palestinian Media Watch, an ostensible "self portrait of Palestinian society" (quote taken from their old website).  PMW analyzes Palestinian society through its media, such as television, academic papers, and maps.  The PMW representative (whose name I cannot recall, although she seemed very nice and earnest) showed clips including children's shows from Hamas' state television station and statements from Fatah, PLO, and Hamas leaders.

The bits from children's shows had the most effect on our group; several people audibly responded when the Hamas mascot, modeled after Mickey Mouse, was questioned and murdered by an "Israeli soldier" (an actor, obviously) on live air with a Palestinian child providing commentary.  These shows also include game shows in which Palestinian children answer questions like "What is the size of Palestine?" (answer: 27,000 sq. km., the size of all of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza).  Combined with excerpts from Palestinian textbooks, the PMW representative argued that the Palestinians were creating a fictional world without Israel for their children, with the goal of eventually wiping Israel off the map for real.

To further convince us of Fatah and Hamas' true goal of destroying Israel, she continued with clips from various leaders who either rejected Israel's legitimacy, swore to wipe Israel from the map, or drive all the Jews into the sea.  This, she said, showed that even at the highest levels of Palestinian leadership, the destruction of Israel and the expulsion of Jews remained the true goal.

I remain skeptical of these assertions.  It is common practice for politicians in the Middle East to make all sorts of wild claims (see also: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) that they cannot enforce and/or do not actually believe.  All such declarations must be taken with mountains of salt.  Plus, in some negotiations, the weaker your position, the more absurd your demands.  Hamas and Fatah do not and will not have the capacity to overcome the IDF and wipe Israel off the map in any conceivable scenario.  Once you view all public declarations of Israel's impending doom as simply the strongest position available, they make more sense.

Also, analyzing any political situation through state-controlled media is intrinsically problematic.  North Korean media is a great example since it is also state-controlled and borderline insane.  While Palestinian officials claim that they're going to destroy Israel, North Korea issues posters like this (source: http://calitreview.com/):

Translation: "When provoking a war of aggression, we will hit back, beginning with the USA!"
While Fatah puts out music videos claiming that Palestine encompasses cities within Israel:
North Korea puts out music videos accusing the US of a variety of crimes and culminates in the Statue of Liberty blowing up:


Obviously, neither reflects reality nor do they reflect what the political leaders actually believe will happen.  Kim Jong Il (or his successor) no more believes that North Korea can destroy the US than Mahmoud Abbas believes the Palestinians can destroy Israel.  This should be fairly obvious by the actions of such leaders, with North Korea constantly approaching and retreating from the negotiating table and Fatah working with Israel in the West Bank and against Hamas.  It's actually in Abbas' best interest for Israel to remain strong or else Hamas would likely destroy Fatah, execute Abbas, and take over the West Bank, a disastrous outcome all around, particularly for Abbas and his family.

It is true that some Palestinian children read hate-filled textbooks, watch hate-filled television, and grow up to be terrorists.  But this hardly precludes peace and does not truly change the goals and tactics of Palestinian leadership.  We have to pay less attention to the kabuki theater of political posturing and more to the actions and interests of the parties involved.