Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mary, Mary

Downtown in front of the Waverley Library each December a large nativity scene is set up. This is Mary, mother of Jesus, with one of the wise men  and a sheep behind her. Her hands look awfully big for her face, which looks childlike.While the male figurine is brown-skinned, Mary is not. Western Christians have re-imaged the mother of Jesus, making her more European-looking -- and sounding. Jesus's mother's name was Miriam, but that was changed to Mary in English.
Here is what the nativity scene looks like. Joseph on the right, the Three Wise Men in the back and the cows and sheep scattered about. The empty space in the straw bed is for the baby Jesus, who is put there either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. If Jesus is not there yet, shouldn't Mary's stomach be heavily pregnant? Or is her body also miraculously un-womanly looking even while she was pregnant? Strange. This nativity scene is quite traditional.
This, however, is more what the nativity scene would look like if we envisioned Bethlehem beyond the myth -- to the reality of occupation. Today, if Jesus were to come to earth and be born in a manger in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph and the three wise men and the animals would have to deal with the Apartheid Wall. Now, Mary and Joseph, being Jewish, would be able to pass through the Wall without permits. I'm not sure about the Three Wise Men, though, as they would be arriving from Iran, Arabia, and India. Maybe they were all Jews, too? Not sure. Would the IDF let them through?

The olive wood nativity scene above is made by a Palestinian Christian artist from Beit Sahour, trans. the Shepherd's Field. (The nativity scene is for sale; click on the link below): 

In 2007 as an act of quiet resistance, he made a "walled nativity set" - a nativity scene where the wall stopped the wise men from getting through to the Holy Family. He said “I made these sets as a protest at what is happening to the local community of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour”. Beit Sahour - is in the Bethlehem area, where 87% of the land has been taken by the Israelis. "We are surrounded by the wall and our freedom of movement is denied".


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas in the looking glass

image source
It's the beginning of December, and I'm already getting irritated by the glee of Christmas that I find everywhere I turn. People all around me, folks on Facebook, work colleagues, and people who should know better are all falling into the well of simulacra, Baudrillard's idea that what is false is more believable and desirable than actual reality.

The more untrue, the more we believe it to be true. The bigger the illusion, the happier our delusion.

When are Western Christians today going to move beyond the myth that they have created about the Holy Land? Believing in the story about Bethlehem in the Bible as if it were alive today? When are the majority of Christians going to wake up to what is really happening in Bethlehem today? Do they know there is an Apartheid Wall built by the Israelis and policed by the IDF that restricts the movement of the residents of Bethlehem? Do they know that the people of Bethlehem need passes and permits? Do they care?

It's this living in the looking-glass world where everything is childishly innocent and joyful that I find so irritating.

Oh Come All Ye Faithful, indeed. Get ye head out of the Christmas card and look hard at the wall.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Child is Not Dead

The other day, talking with a woman who I had not met before, we got into a discussion of poetry. She told me that she recently watched a movie about a South African poet called Black Butterflies; it is fictionalized history about the life of Ingrid Jonker, a white South African writer. Jonker, like a number of other white female poets of the 60s and 70s such as Sylvia Plath and Ann Sexton, committed suicide. Like Plath and Sexton, her words could not save her. Jonkers, like Virginia Woolf and the fictional Edna Pontellier of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, walks into the waves and drowns herself.  

The woman I met told me that Jonker struggled with her racist father who supported apartheid. She said that Nelson Mandela had used lines from a poem by Jonker when he gave the first address to the first African Congress. The story goes, Jonker had written the poem for her father, to help him move beyond his apartheid thinking; instead, after she read it to him, he tore the poem in two. I guess she must  have expected that as he had a high-ranking position in the National Party as a censure of writing.

When I looked up her poem and read it, I immediately thought of how her narrative thread leads to Palestine and resonates with other poems written by other women who are also writing about children who live--and are killed--within racist apartheid violence. I thought of poems by Ibtisam Barakat, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Lisa Suheir Majaj. The lines of hope with which Jonker ends her poem, hopefully, will one day come true for Palestinians as they have for black South Africans: no more passes. The demonstration in Sharpeville in 1960 was an anti-pass rally; 169 black people were killed by the Afrikaners police; today we commemorate this massacre on March 21, the International Day Against Racial Discrimination. 
Al-Dalu children killed by Israeli missiles in Gaza this November 18. There names and ages: Jamal Mohammed Jamal 6; Yousef Mohammed Jamal 4; Sarah Mohammed Jamal 7; and Ibrahim Mohammed Jamal 1. You can find the names of the 33 children killed by Israel this November on the Palestinian Centre for Human Rightswebsite.

When will Palestinian children be able to travel the land without passes? When will Palestinian children be able to step from behind the shadow of an Israeli soldier? Not be dead? When will Palestinians no longer be subjected to a racist and humiliating pass system? Gain the human right of free movement not policed by Israelis? No checkpoints. Without a pass. When will that day come?

The child is not dead 
by Ingrid Jonker

The child is not dead 

The child lifts his fists against his mother
Who shouts Afrika ! shouts the breath
Of freedom and the veld
In the locations of the cordoned heart

The child lifts his fists against his father 

in the march of the generations
who shouts Afrika ! shout the breath
of righteousness and blood
in the streets of his embattled pride

The child is not dead not at Langa nor at Nyanga 

not at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
nor at the police station at Philippi
where he lies with a bullet through his brain

The child is the dark shadow of the soldiers 

on guard with rifles Saracens and batons
the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings
the child peers through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers
this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere
the child grown to a man treks through all Africa

the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world 

Without a pass

Monday, November 26, 2012

from the Black Hills to Gaza and back to Canada then off to Israel

I found this video on Jadaliyya, an English language Arab news and culture website. I agree with them that  TED talks have their problems (the few I have seen are overwhelmingly by white professional guys in suits), but this one by Aaron Huey comes from a decolonizing perspective. Yes, he too is a white male but he actually takes a critical look at that. In their introduction to the video, Jaddaliyya links the practices of colonial settler projects, links what's happening to the Palestinians by Israel with what was done to--and continues to be done to-- the Lakota by the US, and to Indigenous peoples everywhere.

While Huey, a photographer, specifically uses contemporary photographs to inform his narration of the resistance of the Lakota to a long history of settler policies and violence, the hard questions that he raises about the role of 'wasi'chu' , Lakota for both 'non-native' and 'those who take the best part of the meat' (which has been white people and continues to include settlers of all skin colours who benefit from the dominant society's policies and methods) can be extended to Canadian setter society and other settler peoples like Israelis. 

Jadaliyya Reports states that:
Today, three days after “Thanksgiving Day,” it is important to remember that in the United States, settler colonialism has been so complete, and so successful, that the world has forgotten that South Africa, Australia, and Israel are all reproductions, all approximations of the ongoing victory in the Americas. We have forgotten that people learn from each other, and that techniques and lessons of genocide have always travelled in well cut suits, paperwork, and handshakes. We have forgotten that those of us who live today in the United States, are continuing to settle native land, and that even the ability to be a politically progressive—or even radical—citizen of the United States is a wage of genocide. A reservation is a bantustan is a refugee camp is Area A is an allotment is native title is Gaza..

Sunday, November 25, 2012

shout out in Israel

This protest was held earlier this month in Tel Aviv during the recent Israeli attack on Gaza which killed 162 Palestinians, including 30 children, and wounded 1000, many severely.

This large fired-up group of Israelis chants to another group of Israelis on the other side of the street. Watch the video (3 m); below is the text in English (as translated on the video above) of what the Israeli group is chanting in Hebrew.

The hatred against not only Palestinians but Israelis who are left-leaning is shocking and sickening. What makes things worse is the man that comes before the camera about halfway through, who is welcomed as 'the next Prime Minister' and who leads this shout out on hate and xenophobia is a member of Israeli parliament, an elected member of the Knesset. He is of Iranian and Afghan descent. Indeed, many of his supporters look like they could be Mizrahi Jews like him, Jews who are indigenous to the Middle East. This man is an archeologist, which is so troubling because one has to wonder what role he plays in erasing Palestinian history from the land to justify the state of Israel as inheritor?

Why do I tell you these things about him? Read his words below which I've placed in blue text.These are the beliefs of a member of the Israeli government? I am used to right wing madness but this crosses all lines; it is venom and clearly hate speech.

It's funny that Israel claims that Arabs want to drive them out of the land and kill them all, but it seems some Israelis not only are architects of a language of extermination but also gloatingly and deliriously so:

The nation wants victory
The nation demands war now
Respect to IDF (Israeli Defense Forces)
The nation demands to expel leftists
Leftists are sons of ****
Your mothers lied [slept with] Arabs
Leftists go to hell
and shall you get cancer soon
Welcome our next Prime Minister [Michael Ben-Ari]
Good evening, good Jews
And to you all leftist traitors
we now demand let the army destroy
let the army exterminate
let's not confuse; No innocents in Gaza
No negotiations anymore
No agreements, we force them to kneel
and beat them
Eradicate Gaza, Eradicate Gaza
What, only 15 killed?
We want 15 plus 2000 bodies
We want all Gaza in graves
all Gaza in graves
Security means to annihilate Gaza
Yes, Eradicate Gaza, eradicate Gaza
People of Israel are alive

It would be interesting to hear what the leftist Israelis on the other side of the street were chanting.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

snow story

I've lost my camera somewhere, so I wasn't able to take a picture of the snow storm that blew into town the night before last. I've looked high and low for a week but the camera is nowhere to be found. But I do have a story of the snow storm that blew in. 
That morning I did my best to make it to the yoga class I teach at 7 AM. After my alarm woke me up, I poked my head from behind the curtain to look out into the jet black morning to see if there was a hint as to what kind of day was coming our way. I was dumbstruck. A snowstorm! Overnight the landscape was completely transformed. Yesterday had been a balmy plus 8 celsius when I pedaled home on my bike; now we were slapped into the middle of winter.

My heart sank as I saw the piles of snow burying the car. Strong wind gusts whipped the world into a white howling storm. Wasting no time, I pulled on my clothes and dashed out into the dark to clean off the car. My dashing changed to trudging when I opened the front door. Snow threatened to fall inside the tops of my knee-high boots as I trudged through high drifts. Using a snowbrush, I cleaned some of the snow off the top of the car, but it was too heavy and slow-going. I started to sweat. This is going to take me forever!

I trudged back into the house to telephone to say I would be late to teach yoga. I dashed back outside, cleaned the rest of the snow from the car, scraped the windows, then looked down the driveway. Our winter shovels are still in the garage! I trudged through the snow to the backyard to get the garden shovel; it was hopeless to try and get into the garage as the snow was too deep.

I was sweating and I hadn't even started shoveling! Maybe if I shovel out two tire paths behind the car I might manage to get out of the driveway and on my way.

With the wind howling in my ears, I set about digging in the dark, wishing it wasn't so early in the morning as otherwise I could get my husband up and get him to help me. Satisfied that I'd shoveled some of the snow out of the way, I jumped in the car and carefully backed out of the driveway onto the street, but as I live on a hilly street, and the snowplow had not yet come by, I could not get my car up the hill. I tried again and again, but my tires just spun in the snow. We had had rain yesterday, which obviously had frozen into ice, and the snow was layered on that. Before too long it was clear that I was going nowhere.

After my numerous failed attempts, I reversed the car, driving backwards down the hill. I couldn't see out the window or my rearview mirrors because of the darkness and blowing snow, so I had to open the window and stick my head out to see where I was going. When I got close to my house, I parked, then dashed into the house and called the gal at the front desk to tell her that I was hopelessly mired in the snow on my street, and to give my apologies to the participants as I cannot get off my street. No yoga this morning.

I ended up leaving the car in the boulevard by my driveway as I couldn't get it back into the driveway, which is on a slope, too. I worried how I was going to get to the university for my writing class, so I decided to walk to the bus stop right away and take the bus.

 I had to walk in the middle of the road as there was simply no place else to walk. At the end of the street, after slipping and sliding through the snow, I saw two men standing in a snowbank.

"Is this the bus stop?" I yelled against the wind. "Are you both waiting for the bus?"

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Einstein's ghost

Walking by a bulletin board, I saw that a local writing group has an open mike next week; the topic is "Mystery." Somehow, the first two lines of a poem immediately entered my mind. I was too busy at school  to scribble down my thoughts, but before I left my office, I tucked "a woman's notebook," an old empty journal Margaret from the Northern Women's Bookstore had once given me, into my packsack (backpack), pedaled home in the dusk, then wrote these lines. 

image source

Einstein’s Fears

The mystery is how did Albert Einstein’s
ghost appear before my eyes this morning?
He’s a genius, I know, but I wasn’t expecting
his time-traveling shape-shifting presence
on my screen. He wasn’t a hologram

His message from the other side was clear:
A warning to the American people. Materializing
from “the existence of another kind of matter, the ether”1
he warned of the rise of a new political party,
the Freedom Party, whose name belied its “gangster methods”

“the terrorists,” he said, “have preached an admixture
of ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority."2

Before he went back through the pixel portal
of his Letter to the Editor, NYT 1948
He warned of a violent future for Israel
if Menachem Begin’s party gains power on a platform of
Jewish ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority.

“Albert,” I called before he disappeared into the
“ether of the general theory of relativity,”3
“Your worst fears have come true.”

Albert Einstein’s words from
2  Letterto the Editor, New York Times, Dec. 4, 1948
1 and 3 Ether and the Theory of Relativity,” address delivered May 5, 1920, University of Leyden.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Einstein's fears

Einstein's wisdom (above) reminds  me of the teachings of Grandma Dorothy in the short story "The Education of a Storyteller" by Toni Cade Bambara, from her book Deep Sightings & Rescue Missions. Coincidentally, Einstein's phrase is repeated by Grandma Dorothy but in her own way. In the story Grandma Dorothy teaches her granddaughter the importance of sharing knowledge in an accessible way.

In the story, Miz Girl (Grandma's granddaughter who goes by many other pet names) comes home from grade school one day, excited about everything she is learning. Feeling herself to be somewhat more educated than her old grandmother, Miz Girl decides to educate Grandma on Einstein's theory of relativity, which she is learning through books at school. Because Miz Girl is unable to express what it actually means in everyday terms, Grandma Dorothy challenges her on what she actually knows--or thinks she knows. Grandma Dorothy tells Miz Girl to speak plain:
"Well, let me hush, Precious, and you just go on and tell it however Cynthia would tell it or one of your other scatter-tooth girlfriends."...

"Well, my girlfriends don't know it. Cynthia don't know it and Rosie don't know it and Carmen don't know it--just I know it."

And she say, "Madame, if your friends don't know it, then you don't know it, and if you don't know that, then you don't know nothing."
Grandma and Einstein are both geniuses with many teachings for all of us.

Einstein continues to astound us with the presience of his words and thoughts.

Today, I was reading the blog of Yasmeen from Gaza, and in her past posts I found one she wrote about Einstein. Reading a passage from Albert Einstein's 1948 letter to the editor of the New York Times I was dumbstruck; it was like time standing still. The passage so tellingly --and chillingly -- is representative of what is happening today in Israel: the hardening of the Israeli state into one that promotes ultra-right conservatism, apartheid, and racism. In his letter, Einstein warns of the rise of a political party in the just created state of Israel: the "Freedom Party" led by Menachem Begin [who eventually became the 6th prime minister of Israel], providing numerous examples to show that their beliefs and actions are terrorist and fascist. Einstein exhorts people to stand against the violent vision of these purveyors of violence. He explains that 
Within the Jewish community they [Menachem Begin, party members, and militants] have preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority.
Einstein also relates that this group terrorized not only Arabs, but Jews living in Palestine prior to its usurption by the Zionist forces:
During the last years of sporadic anti-British violence, the IZL and Stern groups inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and wide-spread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute.
Unfortunately, Einstein's warning to the American public not to support "ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority" as the dominant ideology of Israel, fell on deaf ears. Today, we bear witness that indeed Einstein's fears have come to haunt us; his fears are manifested tellingly true.

Monday, November 19, 2012

the black hole of history

(Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
Palestinians gather around a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 19, 2012.

This gaping hole, where a Palestinian home once stood, not only materially exposes the disappearing of Palestinian people by Israel, but also symbolically represents the hole where the truth about Palestine keeps falling. We keep seeing pictures of these holes as the denial of justice keeps getting buried in a discourse of 'balance' and the mantra "Israel has a right to defend itself." 

The photo above is part of a photo essay called Israel Steps Up Attacks, Gaza Returns Fire at The Atlantic The title repeats the "balanced" p.o.v. so dominant in Western media. The photo essay, however, while it shows Israelis fearful in shelters or stairwells also shows the dead bodies of Palestinian children. Yesterday two 4 yr old twin brothers Suhaib and Muhammad were killed by an Israeli bomb, along with their mother and father. Twenty-five mosques have been bombed, some destroyed, and the bones of deceased have been scattered or obliterated by bombs dropped on cemeteries. Will this make the TV news in Canada? What if a Jewish cemetery was bombed? Would it make the news in Canada?

Young Palestinian men demonstrating in the West Bank against this latest Israeli assault on Gaza have been killed and others shot in the head and back, left critically wounded..

Obama says Israel has a right to defend itself.

Canada's foreign minister, John Baird, says Israel has a right to defend itself.

Both defend the inhumane blockade of Gaza that is causing widespread malnutrition, unemployment, and other suffering. 

When are we going to stop the amnesia of history? When are Palestinian children and people going to be considered as valuable as your child or mine? your brother or mine?  

Yesterday when I was watching CBC news, Israel was referred to as "the Jewish state." I guess the apartheid state is being normalized and the black hole of oblivion, where Palestinians have been put, had been made permanent. If the land is Jewish, the Palestinians will have to be buried.

The blockade has not killed the will of the Palestinians. The bombing cannot kill the stories and memories of Palestinians. These cannot be shot dead.  

How many bombed out black holes, dead Palestinian children and young men do we have to accept for Israel's right to exist?  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Killing the Ancestor

Awhile back, with dismay I read about the 800 year old cedar that was cut down earlier this year in a  protected forest, Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, on Vancouver Island. The Ancestor was hauled away by poachers, who saw Her Majesty as commodity, to sell perhaps to make cedar shingles for roofing. How could a tree of this size be hauled away, which would require heavy equipment and perhaps a logging truck, without being noticed? Without anyone seeing the criminal activity? Part of the blame certainly lies with job cuts to park personnel. While at one time, 40 park rangers protected the forests, due to neo-liberal cuts, only 10 full time rangers patrol 1000 parks.  
Today I read about the 3,500 year old Pond Cypress, called The Senator, that was burned down earlier this year by a 26 year old woman who had hidden inside the tree to do drugs with a friend and lit a fire so they could see to smoke crystal meth. This Ancestor was the fifth oldest tree in the world. Tellingly, this tree also suffered from neo-liberal cuts and the neglect of the natural / spiritual heritage. As reported in the Orlando Sentinel:
 The crime against The Senator started decades ago, when Seminole County let Big Tree Park become a haven for drugs and prostitution while doing next to nothing to protect one of the oldest trees on the planet.
Officials with the Sheriff’s Office have long acknowledged the park’s seedy after-hours reputation.

There was no concerted effort to stop the mischief that went on there after dark. No security cameras. No lights. Cursory patrols. Only a fence around The Senator’s base, and apparently not a very good one considering what happened in January.

Friday, November 9, 2012

windows and mirrors

I stumbled upon the short clip above today when I was researching war and art for an upcoming class that I will be teaching, War and Violence. The clip above shows the murals of American artists and the drawings of Afghan children whose work is part of a traveling exhibit, Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan.  These artists' visual images challenge the sanitizing of war and its one-sided representation, and reveal the embodied, material, and psychological effects of war.

At this time of the year, art such as that which is part of the Windows and Mirrors exhibit, plays a very important role in opening our eyes and minds to see beyond the commonplace. In a warrior nation like Canada, for example, Remembrance Day becomes a site of building nationalist sentiment through nostalgia and 'honoring the veterans' that, in effect, does the work of supporting a neo-liberal pro-military security state by erasing other stories of pain, death, suffering, and trauma.

Here's what Jamie Swift writes about Canada's increasing turn to militarization--even while it has "wrapped up" its "mission" in Afghanistan:

Harper not only agreed to fulfil the outgoing government's promise to increase defence spending by over $12.8 billion over five years, but committed an additional $5.3 billion to an unprecedented increase in the military budget. Under Harper, Canadian military spending attained its highest level since 1945, exceeding even the levels attained in the Cold War. The $492-billion Canada First Defence Strategy: A Modern Military for the Twenty-First Century (CFDS), first introduced in 2008, linked vastly enhanced military spending to an increasingly abstract notion of "Canadian values."
The mural below, which is from Windows and Mirrors, caught my eye as it speaks a universal language of death and genocide, of violent death piling up, of homes being demolished, of lives being destroyed. It speaks the language of trauma across many landscapes, beyond Afghanistan, to Palestine, Bosnia, Rwanda.  

Janet Braun-Reinitz, The women see through a different lens.

Brooklyn, NY

Yeats was right.
"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed."

On the ground
limbs, corpses,
the debris of lives destroyed.
The deafening report of officials
drowns out simple truths.

The artist imagines differently.
"Mere anarchy is loosed upon the land."
The imperative is clear.

The women see through a different lens.

Monday, November 5, 2012

cats in a window

Sunday cats. Walking down to a yoga class Sunday morning, I saw these cats practicing their own yoga in the window, facing North.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jewish graffiti attacks

The western media is quick to show examples of anti-semitic graffiti attacks against Jews and label them hate crimes, yet why aren't they as quick to show anti-Christian graffiti attacks by Jews and label those hate crimes, too?

In and around Jerusalem, there have been numerous anti-Christian graffiti attacks painted on the walls of churches and monasteries:
"Price-tag" and anti-Christian slogans were sprayed on the gate of the Monastery of Saint Francis, just outside of Jerusalem's Old City in early October.

In early September, suspected Jewish extremists torched the wooden door of a Jerusalem monastery and sprayed "Jesus is a monkey" and pro-settler graffiti on the walls.

In February, suspected Jewish extremists wrote "Death to Christianity" on two Jerusalem churches. The graffiti also included profanity about Jesus, and the vandals slashed the tires of several cars parked in one of the church compounds.
This 20 yr. old woman, Moriah Goldberg, is unrepentant; she sprayed anti-Islamic graffiiti and vandalized property in Arab East Jerusalem. With the illogic of an unbalanced education, she, as part of a gang of Jewish settler youth price-taggers, warns the Israeli government by defacing Palestinian property. 

The BBC, to their credit, has reported on gangs of price-tagging Jewish hoodlums from the illegal settlements in the West Bank who spray paint anti-Christian and anti-Muslim slogans and deface and vandalize Arab property. Jane Corbin explains that "Price-tagging is the term they use for a range of acts, from vandalism to arson attacks and religious desecration." She reports that "One of the most provocative price tags so far was in February in the Palestinian village of Burka, where the mosque was attacked, prayer mats were burnt, insults sprayed and war declared on the walls."

Here's what I found on CBC when I searched the mainstream Canadian news for anti-Christian graffiti in Jerusalem.