Sunday, October 31, 2010

The arts, religion, and culture

As the stalemate in the peace talks continues, with the Israelis refusing to stop settlement construction, the Palestinians refusing to talk until the theft of land and resources is halted, and the Americans preoccupied with November elections, PIAG’S dispatch for November reports on issues in the arts, religion, and culture.

In Gaza, concern is mounting over the difficulty in preserving important archeological sites and artifacts, as Israel continues to ban materials that Palestinian curators need to pursue their scientific work. Indiscriminate bombing during the seige of Gaza has also threatened sites important to Palestinian history and the world storehouse of cultures:

Journalist Ali Abunimah expresses his frustration with Barack Obama, who had no qualms about wearing the religiously mandated head convering when visiting Israel's Wailing Wall, but has turned down an invitation to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, a site sacred to Sikhs, on the grounds that the required head covering would make him look like a Muslim. Of course, Sikhs are not Muslims, but Americans have been known to confuse the two, perhaps because Sikh turbans remind them of Hollywood depictions of Arabs in film: While Abunimah's anger at Obama over this issue may seem petty, it reminds us of the danger, both physical and political, of U.S. Islamophobia, and the willingness of many Americans to downplay or excuse our own or our allies' aggression against Muslims.

Palestinians have called on the international community to engage in a cultural and academic boycott of Israeli artists and intellectuals whenever and wherever they appear abroad: In Ann Arbor last month, a group of activists joined this international effort by protesting the Jeruselem Quartet at Rackham Auditorium:
While it may seem unfair to target a small group of Israeli musicians who themselves may have qualms about their government's actions, boycotts of academic and cultural institutions are time-tested nonviolent techniques that exert political pressure on oppressive regimes, and are especially effective against countries that attempt to project a benevolent, cultured image, in contrast to their targets, who, they claim, are unworthy or of no consequence.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The settlement freeze and its aftermath

PIAG’S dispatch for October reports on the latest developments in the struggle for peace with some kind of justice in Palestine. Political analysts, diplomats, and activists “on the ground” give their perspectives on the settlement freeze, which expired on September 27th:

U-M Professor Juan Cole is alarmed that Israeli PM Netanyahu could so blithely “blow off” President Obama’s plea to extend the settlement freeze. This “bespeaks diplomatic amateurism on Obama’s part,” says Cole. “Obama should not have put himself in a position where he had to plead with Netanyahu! Now that the United States has been arrogantly blown off by Tel Aviv, it just looks weak and pathetic, a helpless giant — a posture that could well encourage its enemies to attempt to inflict their own humiliations on it.”

“Adding to the pressure,” says the New York Times, "is a meeting in Cairo next week of the Arab League, at which the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmood Abbas has promised to deliver a speech in which he will 'declare historical decisions.' That sparked rumors that he might threaten to resign, something he has done before."

Rumor also has it that the Arab League may bring the settlement freeze issue to the United Nations, reports the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz:

While politicians wrangle, David Shulman of Jewish Voice for Peace reports from the West Bank village of An-Nabi Salih, where he is participating in a demonstration on International Peace Day. “Take a helmet,” his friends had advised. The Jewish settlers, the IDF, the Palestinians -- they’re all violent there. Yet despite the passions on all sides, Shulman hears “tough words of peace and hope” from Palestian leader Ali Abu Awad of the Palestinian Movement for Non-Violent Resistance at “the bravest and most dignified demonstration” he has ever seen. “I bow my head to all the volunteers who came to An-Nabi Salih today, who struggled past the soldiers and the roadblocks and didn’t turn back,” Awad tells the crowd. “Our struggle is complicated and hard, a struggle that we all share—local leaders of the villages, women, children, families—the first large-scale Palestinian non-violent movement on the ground, aimed at building a just peace with Israel. When I see Israeli activists coming here to the village, my heart cries with happiness; I am honored to have these people with us. To all the Jews I say: you are not my enemy. The occupation is your enemy, as it is ours. . .”