Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama: change or more of the same for Palestinians?

Someone once said to me that I'm like a bee that buzzes straight to the heart of a thing and then disrupts everything that's been so nicely laid out. Someone else once told me I should learn how to talk in a way that doesn't make people upset. Someone else once told me they were afraid to meet me after reading my writings because I was so passionate and somehow my searching eyes would be able to read their mind and they would fail to meet my litmus test, fail to meet my standards that were so strong and confident in their ethics.

I have been told many times that I am too intense. Way, way too many times that I'm way way too political. My adult kids have sometimes called me Debbie Downer.

Sure, it's great that Obama won the election; at last, an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful person to lead the US! What a change. His family is lovely; his wife is intelligent; his family sincerely seems to be a breath of clean air in the power echelons. Plastic surgery, closet alcoholism, sexual escapades, prescription drug addiction, or compulsive lying don't seem to be part of him or his family as they do for the others we have had to bear. That Obama was able to make it to run for president as a man who did not grow up in a privileged family says something about his fortitude, hard work, capabilities of working with others, and his intelligence.

That he is an African American man and is now the president elect is absolutely history-making and I deeply share the joy of all people, especially African Americans, on whose enslaved labour the US was built, who get to witness such a change. I find his message of hope and change inspiring; his call for collective ground level work refreshing from the top-down dictates that have so far ruled the way things are done. Watching his speech on Tuesday night and the tearful and joyful faces of all the people who deeply desire for their country, for their children, for their people meaningful change, I was moved. Yes, I was moved to tears to see their/our hopes and dreams spill out.

But in the midst of my elation that Obama had trounced McCain (and the ignorant, bible-thumping Palin) and quashed more Republican mismanagement of the US, that bee started buzzing.

It started last night when I read that Obama had asked Rahm Emanuel to be the Chief of Staff in his administration. Emanuel, after brief consideration, has accepted.

Rahm Emanuel, who served in the Clinton administration, takes a very hardline pro-Israeli (regime) stance. His father was once in the Irgun, the proto-Israeli terrorist organization that was responsible for the deaths of many Palestinians, and provoking them to flee their lands in terror. Irgun is part of the ethnic cleansing of the 400+ Palestinian villages, the removal of these places from the map, and the 750,000 fleeing people, many who ended up in Gaza.* His father is now a pediatrician. I wonder, how does one deal with the contradiction of going from killing babies to healing babies? I guess some babies count, others do not.

Of course, we are not our fathers or mothers, but Emanuel has shown himself to actively support the ideology and funding of the state of Israel (US gives billions of $$ of support to Israel). He sends his children to a Jewish school to ensure their orthodox training and heritage. I'm not against folks sending their children to religious schools, but I am deeply concerned about what sorts of values get taught in particular religious schools, be they Jewish, Christian or Islamic, to name a few. He proactively works on steering US policy to favour Israel at the expense of the rights of Palestinians. He gave a speech in Congress supporting the bombing of Lebanon and Iraq.

This morning after my walk, I sat down with my husband, who was watching a news report on Democracy Now on Obama and the question of what does his rhetoric of change mean to the Palestinians? The show is called President-Elect Obama and the Future of US Foreign Policy: A Roundtable Discussion. You can watch the whole show by Real Video Stream on their website. Especially articulate and aware of the problems of having Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, and more telling, Obama's distancing himself from anyone who might be considered pro-Palestinian, is Ali Abunimah. The show is almost an hour long, and there is lots of food for thought on it, but if you are pressed for time, go to 23 min, and you will hit on the section with the interview with Abunimah.

Especially disheartening for me to hear was Obama's speech at AIPAC , America's pro-Israel lobby, and his unequivocal support of Jerusalem as exclusively belonging to Israel, of his unequivocal support of an exclusively Jewish state. In other words, supporting an exclusive state. Now, Mr. Obama, doesn't that message of excluding people from citizenship and from full rights somehow not ring a bell to you?

African American poet June Jordan (1936-2002) once said that you can tell how generous one's ideas of human rights and justice are if you ask them where they stand regarding the Palestinians [my rough paraphrase].

What she meant by that is that the question of the human rights of the Palestinians is a moral litmus test. Interviewed by David Barsamian for Alternative Radio in October of 2000, June Jordan said:

“If anybody anywhere would trouble himself or herself to get the U.N. resolutions beginning with 242 and come all the way up to now, you would understand that there is a double standard in place. In 1967 it called for unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from all the lands that they had taken during the June war. U.N. 242 was adopted unanimously by the Security Council. It has never been rescinded. It is international law. It has never been enforced. There are no chosen people here, just human beings and sovereign states, to which one standard must apply. If it doesn't apply and if it breaks down so that everlastingly the Palestinians and the Arab peoples are not seen as having normal, regular human rights, while the Israeli nation is seen as exempt from all international law, that perpetrates a racist discourse that I think is the moral litmus test of my life.”

Menassat also has a piece that collects a number of questions regarding Obama and US foreign policy in the ME.

* Some info on the unconscionable siege of Gaza, from the Popular Committee Against the Seige:

- In Gaza, Palestinian people are subjected to (a) medieval siege and forgotten by the international community. The borders are still closed and only a flow of supplies enter in Gaza, determined by the Zionist occupier, Israel.
-Around 80% of Gaza populations live under poverty line.
- 1.100.000 peoples depend on humanitarian aids provided by UNRWA, Arab, Islamic and foreign organizations.
- Unemployment ratio reached 65%
- 60% of Gaza's children suffer from Malnutrition.
- About 97% of factories and workshops stopped working, specifically 3900 factories. The industrial zone of Gaza is completely closed.
- Individual income 650$ per year and 2 $ a day.
- Freedom of movement from Gaza to the West bank, Jerusalem and outside world is being blocked.
- Around 260 people died due to blocking them from either travel for treatment or lack of medicines.
- Nearing to 40% of siege victims are from children.
- About 150 of medicines sorts are not available in Gaza.
- The only medical factory is halted due to shortage of raw materials.
- Projects of constructing and developing hospitals, clinics and educational bodies are being suspended!
- There are still daily power cuts


Gita Hashemi said...

You raise many relevant points about Obama and his staff to be that are particularly important to think about at this juncture. Thanks for the reference to June Jordan. I was thinking exactly along the same line today and was trying to remember who'd first articulated that a position one takes with regards to Palestine/Israel is the measure of one's real politics (my paraphrase). That's a lesson I have come to learn time and again.

I did not share the elation that swept many people off their critical feet a few days ago. I never thought that Obama would be a change; after all, the man is in support of escalating U.S. warmongering and intervention in Afghanistan, and to me this is not an insignificant detail about him. He was swept into the top through one of the most expensive media campaigns in the history of electoral politics anywhere. This too is not an insignificant detail about Obama. Talking about this with my students on Wednesday, we arrived at the conclusion that Obama is ultimately a media construct. And this is not a surprise. What does Obama represent? I'm working on it too. It's worth creating the space to think about this stuff critically. My biggest inspiration in the past week was Wahu Kaara's talk at UofT about 'women, power and politics.' Obama is very much a man of priviledge even if that's not what he was born into. Let's not forget that. Who do we think he's going to hang out with as his buddies in power? Well, judging by his recent appointee, it's pretty obvious. Now the question, at least for me, is how to formulate a resistance to this bizarre populism?

northshorewoman said...

The June Jordans of the world are rare, but they're there.... thanks, Gita, for your insightful comments and the big Q: how to form a resistance to the media construct without getting labeled an overboard radical? and hence, being dismissed.

It is true that the media has played a big role in constructing the dream machine, and I wonder, was it really fueled primarily by $5 or $10 gotten from the folk?

I was listening to the radio this am. and the report stated that Obama being elected won't change that fact that the US will enter the Kyoto accord. The environment is not the key issue now, they say; it's the economy. But wouldn't a progressive visionary say that the reason behind any economic mess is the lack of first looking at the environmental and social costs? How is change going to occur within the same capitalist dream tweaked only by some minor regulations?

Superb that you take what is happening in the moment and open it up in your classes for discussion. That is certainly one crucial way to crack the construct.

I think the kinds of questions and thoughts you are raising will only continue to get voiced.

%^& I missed the talk by Wahu Kaara; I miss Toronto just for that reason of being among people with a lot of thought-provoking critical insights. Up here in TBay it is a bit like living in a liberal soup.

also, check the post by La Afrodescentiente (she's on my blog list) on "Obama: Good nigger or bad nigger; or, Fear of a Black Planet, part 1". She has some very interesting points; however, her more recent posts seem to have left this critical perspective on Obama behind.

northshorewoman said...

Rami Zurayk who blogs at Land and People has also posted some interesting discussion on Obama's change. Zurayk states "Obama showed that change was possible: he himself changed from a supporter of Palestinian rights into a man who believes that Jerusalem is the historic capital of Israel." Find Land and People on my blog list.

Anonymous said...

I have been trying to focus on the positive aspects of your blog but at this point I can no longer stand to witness your slanted posts and outright racism.

I am blessed to know a wide selection of humans of every nationality, religion,colour and creed. We think of ourselves as human beings on planet earth. It is an inclusive ,universal mindset.Skin color is not an issue! Women are not hidden away or of a lower status.Tolerance and equality of all beings is vital.

We were all elated about the beginning of hope that came with this historic election. We all feel it has been SO long since there was a glimmer of hope to end the endless war in this world. With tears we heard Obama's speech and his shining intent was a breath of fresh air after years of suffocation.

Taina, sadly YOUR web site was the FIRST I encountered to begin the age old slippery descent into the divide and conquer mentality that does nothing ultimately but create division and war. Your blog was the first since Obama’s election that I had the misfortune to enter who’s words return me down into the familiar swamp of hate. Your blog prompts me once again to give up the audacity of hope! Instead I decided to keep my hope and write to ask you to look into the heart of your own war.

Your posts and links in NO WAY encourage peace. You have simply chosen your "side" and do battle in your own way. That is NOT what a peacemaker does. It is important in a fair dialogue to openly hear equally from both "sides" , That is what I watch for and pay attention to in understanding the deep roots of ancient conflict. Let me share info and ask questions in an effort to bring some balance to your site...

Let me ask YOU, a Finnish Canadian...Why don't you go back to FInland and give your home and province back to the Ojibway ?
In fact ,how far along is Canada in returning this country back to the First NAtions.

And the USA, how well are they clearing up their back yard. It is FULL of garbage! Homelessness and hopelessness are growing at a staggering rate. Hate is rampant, !
What steps has the USA taken to return their land back to the Aboriginal people ? Absolutely none!

NOrth America UNDOUBTEDLY BELONGS to the FIRSt nations . They are unequivocally the original inhabiters of this land. Compare that to Israelis who are if nothing else are at least original inhabitants of that land ! Conda Sleeza Rice should be working with YOUR people to return land back to the First NAtions!

In fairness and balance to your links and posts that only list the Palestinian “side “ let me provide some info for the other.

In reality, the Jewish people have maintained ties to their historic homeland for more than 3,700 years. Israel became a nation in 1312 B.C, 2,000 years before the rise of Islam. Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 B.C., the Jews have had dominion over the land for 1,000 years with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years.The only Arab dominion since the Muslim conquest in 635 A.D. lasted no more than 22 years.There are countless synagogues and artefacts across the region that are thousands of years old.

The Israelis have a TINY percentage of land mass in comparison with all the Arabs states and regions in that area, and still they DO make contious efforts and actual progress at returning the land that they have worked and developed. And still they are trying VERY hard to work out a solution, despite bombs and threats to be wiped off the face off the earth and driven into the sea !

It may surprise you to know that the majority of Israelis want to create peace and a Palestinian state! Of course your links and blog do not even grant that effort one place in your blatantly biased site.
In the justice of balance on your web site why not add these links?

I am not Jewish, nor am I all that involved in issues not my own. I prefer to promote peace and education right in the community I live in and have familiarity with. I can not speak too much about issues a world away with great depth. I question why you think you can?

I am floored by your comments about Obama because he chose a co-worker that sends his child to Jewish school. YOu really need to examine yourself North Shore woman! Perhaps the Russians should shoot bombs at you because you promote your Finnish culture in Canada! Perhaps the white racists in our city who attend church should be wiped off the face of Thunder Bay because it is native land and the church destroyed Native culture? Do you see the hate in that ?

Do you see the hate in what you are writing Taina Maki Chahal ?

You write alot, walk alot and think alot....but is there love in your there PEACE FOR ALL HUMAN BEINGS in your intent?

Until I see signs of that peace I will place your blog in the company of countelss others that do nothing but continue to promote division and hatred between peoples.

Taina you are not shining a light of hope or love , nor are you educating me on a world that you are worlds away from. You are showing your true colours and in them I only see further war and division and conflict. I am grateful that in this world, and amongst Israelis and Palestinians there are wise, loving, knowledgeable people who are working to find a good solution to THEIR issues. I don't see many of their stories in the press, which like this site, also focus on promoting fear and opposition.

For those who have the audacity to hope choose to search for bolgs and websites that promote peace and do not mire in the muck of words that plant the seeds of war and endless division .

northshorewoman said...

Anonymous, I am sorry that you have such rage inside you, and feel the need to lash out anonymously at me. Your comments make clear that you are not a follower of my blog. I'm not going to retort back to you; I am not interested in this sort of tit-for-tat "dialogue" that I see on other blogs and which I feel is really unhealthy, and a sign of rudeness, cowardice, insensitivity, and a deliberate desire to hurt other people with words. Certainly I am not the first to look at Obama with a critical eye! and I don't take the credit for that! I do, however, thank you for reminding me to list some Jewish sites on my blog, so I will add 3: Jews for Justice in Palestine; B’Tselem The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; and Women in Black. Like the Jewish people that are in these organizations, I am not against Jewish people or the Jewish religion, but also like them, I am critical of the repressive factions of the state of Israel, its supporters, and the continued occupation and oppression of Palestinian people. I do that with my name, in public, not anonymously. I do not fear standing for justice, in my hometown, in my nation, or across the globe. Nasty words thrown at me will never ever stop me from stating what I see as just. I have recently posted comments on a number of Middle Eastern blogs and have expressed my dismay about those who lash out at any sign of fairness towards the Palestinians. Perhaps you are upset about my comment on the Tabula Gaza blog? My defence of the Salach family who lost their land, olive trees and family members to imprisonment?

I invite my readers to read What is Ceasefire?