Category Archives: Zionism

Comparing Malls

The first time I went to Ejipura and witnessed the displacement of the Dalit community by Maverick Holdings in collusion with the BBMP (Bangalore’s municipal authority), I couldn’t help compare the situation to what I have witnessed in Palestine. Recently UNRWA published a series of statistics on how Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes affects Palestinians (see a few of the charts below). Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 6.46.39 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 6.46.50 PM Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 6.46.58 PMIn Palestine having Israelis bulldoze your home is quotidian.

It is rare to read news sources that monitor this, like al-Akhbar or Electronic Intifada, on any given day and not see news about home demolitions. It is a part of the ongoing nakba. Just this week al-Akhbar reported of two Palestinian homes being demolished in the West Bank. Here is a video of this most recent demolition. It looks quite similar to the demolitions taking place here in Bangalore.

Just as Palestinians steadfastly work toward their goal of returning home, and increasingly use boycott as a tactic to achieve this result, increasingly the residents of Ejipura are as well. In Ejipura this week there was a protest and there is a desire to boycott Garuda Mall as a strategy to achieve justice for the people so they may be granted the replacement homes they were promised by their government.

The root of the problem and the context differ, of course. In Palestine it is colonists uprooting indigenous people to steal land and build their colonies. Just this week 90 new homes have been approved for building in Jerusalem (for those who think that 50% of Jerusalem belongs to Jewish colonists this is what you call “East Jerusalem,” although for those who are anti-colonial Jerusalem has no dividing line). In 1948 Palestine the ongoing nakba continues as Israel continues to cleanse itself of Palestinians, especially in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the southern portion of the state.

But all of uprooting for the sake of a mall made me recall one of my dear friends’ villages, Malha, which is a neighborhood of Jerusalem. My friend is a refugee, although many of the original homes and a mosque (which seems to be used as a house by an Israeli Jewish colonist) remain. But on this land is also a large shopping mall.  Her uprooting was not for the creation of the mall, but its presence on her family’s land is disturbing nevertheless. Below are photographs I took of the mall as well as the beautiful, traditional stone Palestinian homes.

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It may not be the same cause or the same context, but uprooting and homelessness whether for a land grab or a shopping center is immoral and must be resisted via boycott or other means necessary to achieve justice.

Here are a few more recent articles on Ejipura:

Ejipura Demolition: Hundreds of Protestors Court Arrest

Photostory: Ejipura Bulldozed

Maverick’s Project in Bangalore: Il-legalizing the Poor

Of a City of Pieces and the Importance of the Larger Community

The Relativity of Gratitude

Violence Continues Against EWS Residents, Activists Say

Home demolitions in Ejipura

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I received a text message today asking me to come to Ejipura today. They needed volunteers to help deliver food and blankets and they needed people to help move the belongings from people’s homes away from the bulldozers. Homes were being demolished.

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The home demolitions had been going on for a few days. The activists who were attempting to intervene in this process through demonstrations were arrested–21 of them–for 2 days, just enough time to make sure they could not interfere with the destruction. When I arrived the entire landscape looked like a war zone. Homes razed to the ground. All that was left was the rubble and the flooring where the houses used to be. Many of the families who were able to, who had family elsewhere, left. But those who had nowhere to go or no means to go remained. Others stayed as an act of resistance. Some were making new, temporary homes in water pipes. And by the end of the day the slum relocated to the curb on the main road.DSC00074

Unfortunately, none of this was unfamiliar to me. I felt like I was back in Palestine watching Israeli colonists raze Palestinian homes to the ground, a regular occurrence in Palestine (see some of my blog posts on this here, here, here, and here). In Palestine it’s obvious why the settler-colonists want to destroy homes: to steal more land that they can use to build more colonies. This has been true since before the Zionists stole Palestine in 1948.DSC00085

In India it’s an Indian government demolishing Indian homes. In this scenario, a man (owner of Garuda Mall) bought the plot of land where the 3,000 families have resided–some for as long as 35 years–to build a shopping mall (just what every city needs: another shopping mall). In theory, half the land will be for the mall and half will be to build new homes for the community residing in Ejipura. But how long will that take? And what should these families do in the mean time? It also seems a bit unlikely that this scheme will be seen through given that the same man who bought the land also bought the judge hearing the case and the mosque adjacent to the slum. As a result there were some families who took cash and relocated. But there were many more who refused cash or food from the buyer or the mosque on principle.

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As we wandered about the former slum, people shared their stories. Many of these people are Indians without proper identity papers (this is an issue here for many people and it inhibits their access to all kinds of social services). It reminds me of non-ID Palestinians who carried an extra burden after the Lebanese army destroyed Nahr el Bared refugee camp.

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One woman who was rather gutsy when salvaging her remains underneath and beside the bulldozer that was skirting her home seemed to have a set of skeleton keys peeking out from beneath her sari, reminding me of the keys that Palestinians carry after their homes were destroyed during the nakba in 1948.DSC00131

Little by little families at the edge of the slum prepared to move their belongings in the late afternoon. We helped some pile them into auto rickshaws. Others just wanted them on the curb, some choosing to make a home at the bus stop. Others just moved them a few feet away to make space for the bulldozer destroying their home. There was one hold out family that refused to move their items and sat and watched as it made a path next to their house.DSC00162

Throughout the day children found spaces to play with salvaged toys or with the rubble. Young girls imitated their mothers, sweeping away the dust from the digging. DSC00173

It was heart wrenching to see so many families displaced and rendered homeless at once. Tonight they will spend another night out in the cold with no real shelter.  The elements already got to one woman, Rosemary, who died yesterday.DSC00181

Here are a few articles about the demolitions for those who want to read more:

More Houses Raised at Ejipura in Bangalore

Hundreds Rendered Homeless in Ejipura

HC Refuses Urgent Hearing of Petitions of Ejipura Residents

Ejipura Residents Lose the Roof Over Their Head

Seven Propositions and One Challenge for Ejipura Residents

G4S in India

 

 

 

So far I have seen three G4S offices in Bangalore alone. I have also seen their cars driving around the city. When I was in Darjeeling recently, I discovered that they also ran security for the Darjeeling zoo. They seem to operate as an ordinary security company, but they are anything but ordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At present there is a campaign to vote for G4S as the worst company in the world. There are many reasons for this, but the main points of interest are related to G4S role in maintaining Israel’s colonization and occupation of Palestine, particularly its prisons, apartheid wall, and checkpoints. Writing for Electronic Intifada, Adri Nieuwhof explains their role:

The British-Danish security giant G4S has become the target of rights activists in different countries because of its provision of services to Israeli prisons, military checkpoints and to firms in illegal settlements in the West Bank.

In 2008, G4S Israel advertised its involvement with Israeli miitary checkpoints on its website. The text on the left of the screenshot above reads: “Systems for checking persons, manufactured by Safeview USA, first of their kind, were installed at the Erez checkpoint. The systems are in operational use by the army and enable the performance of full scans of the human body.”

G4S confirmed it had provided security equipment with “associated maintenance services” to the Israeli police, prison service and defense ministry, in a 21 December 2010 letter to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center in London. At the same time, the company claimed it did “not control” — and was not  “necessarily aware” — where its security equipment was deployed “as it may be moved around the country.”

In a follow up article, in part responding to G4S concerns about the claims made in the above-quoted article, Nieuwhof adds more details about G4S involvement in oppressing Palestinians for Israelis:

In the brochure, published by the Danish watchdog DanWatch, G4S describes the supply of a perimeter defense system for the walls around the Ofer prison compound and the installation of a central command room to monitor the entire Ofer compound. In addition, the company writes it also provided all the security systems in Ketziot prison and a central command room in Megiddo prison (G4S delivers technology to Israeli prisons,” DanWatch, 21 November 2010).

G4S boasts that the three prisons can detain 2,700-3,700 “security” prisoners — the majority of whom are Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip illegally transferred to detention centers within Israel’s internationally-recognized boundary. International humanitarian law forbids an occupying power from transferring prisoners outside of the occupied territory and the conditions in Israeli prisons do not meet international legal standards. Accordingly, G4S’s involvement in the Israel Prison Service apparatus abets violations of international law.

G4S’s promotional material contradicts its claim that it does not know where its X-ray machines and body scanners are used. Who Profits? — a project of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace — has also documented that G4S luggage scanning equipment and full body scanners are used at checkpoints in the occupied West Bank towns of Qalandiya, Bethlehem and Irtah. G4S also provided full body scanners to the Erez checkpoint at Gaza. Who Profits? told The Electronic Intifada that this information is published in G4S’s own website and brochures.

Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on  human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, highlighted G4S role in maintaining Israeli apartheid in his report on various corporations that profit off of Palestinian suffering.

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As a result of these findings, BDS activists have been working to target G4S in various ways. And in 2012 there were several success:

The British firm Good Energy announced that it would end its business relationship with G4S, the private security giant with a track record of complicity in Israel’s human rights abuses.

After sustained media attention and pressure from BDS activists, several Danish charities and a bank decided to end security service contracts with the British-Danish security company G4S for the company’s role in Israel’s occupation.

The University of Oslo in Norway announced it would drop its contract with private security company G4S in July 2013 over the company’s involvement with Israeli prisons and its providing of services and equipment to checkpoints, Israel’s wall in the West Bank, settlement and settlement businesses.

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One of my favorite actions targeting G4S last year was one done in London during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Michael Deas’ report on the action in the above video offers inspiration to those wanting to take action based on others who have been fighting G4S:

Danish bank, several major Danish NGOs and a UK energy supplier have all dropped their links with G4S after pressure from campaigners. The EU declined to renew a contract with G4S following a campaign supported by members of the European Parliament. Students at Edinburgh University in Scotland voted to block the union’s contract with G4S and students at Oslo university in Norway are campaigning for the university not to renew its contract with the security company when it expires in February 2014.

For those who want to read a detailed report about G4S role in Palestine, Who Profits published a report on the subject.

BDS is new in India, but it is growing especially among cultural workers and academics. I hope that it soon spreads to the economic sector, especially targeting multinational corporations like G4S.

A Week in Lucknow

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I spent last week visiting a friend in Lucknow in the northern part of the country (more pictures in gallery below). Our first day we ventured out to the village of Malihabad so she could conduct some research she is doing about nurseries and seeds. Much of the agricultural land is being converted from local food production to decorative house plants and flowers for export. Prior to our trip, she was online doing a bit of last-minute research on the village when she stumbled upon this little gem:

Shahnaz Ali, a senior research fellow at the National Institute of Immuno-Hematology, Mumbai, has been awarded a scholarship by the government of Israel for the academic year 2009-2010, to study the DNA of Afridi Pathans of Malihabad in Lucknow to confirm whether they are of Israelite origin or not.

It is not clear what the purpose of this research is or how the Israeli government would use such information. In any case, the researcher involved clearly doesn’t know about the academic boycott of Israel given that he’s taking funds from the Israeli government to conduct his research. He also seems to be under the mistaken impression that there is some kind of historical enmity between Jews and Muslims when that is not the case.  But the largest problem in the blog piece is its erroneous concluding paragraph:

Navras said that as per history, ten Israelite tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel were exiled by the Assyrian invaders in 721 BC. It is believed that some descendants of these lost tribes settled in India between AD 1202 and AD 1761. Afridi Pathans of Malihabad are said to be one of them. Some Israeli academicians have visited Malihabad in the last few years to study customs and traditions of Pathans to find if they have any resemblance to Israelite traditions.

In fact, if he had read Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’s book The Invention of the Jewish People, he would know that:

 the Romans never deported entire peoples. We might add that neither did the Assyrians and Babylonians move entire populations from the countries they conquered. It did not pay to uproot the people of the land, the cultivators of produce, the taxpayers. But even the efficient policy of deportation practiced by the Assyrian, and later the Babylonian, empire—in which whole sections of local administrative and cultural elites were deported—was not followed by the Roman Empire. (130)

Notice that while the Assyrians did deport some people, it idid not exile entire peoples and its deportation policy was not about one’s religion.

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From one colonial context to another.

After Malihabad we went to what is known as the Residency. It seems that each Indian city has a place with this name as it was once the home of the British colonials ruling the area. But the one in Lucknow is special. You can see it in photographs below more clearly. It was the site of the 1857 uprising (mutiny as the English refer to it) against the British. This expansive space includes the shells of all the former buildings that were destroyed during the Indian uprising against their colonial rulers. It’s quite impressive that one can still see this colonial history–and resistance to it–preserved in such a remarkable way.

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My friend’s childhood friend was speaking at a commemoration of Swami Vivekananda’s famous 1893 speech in Chicago at the Columbian Exposition, which celebrated Christopher Columbus’ colonization of the Americas. I had read about him in Vijay Prashad’s The Karma of Brown Folk, but did not remember much about him at the time. Prashad paints him in an interesting light–as one who plays almost a trickster role to the Americans wanting to Orientalize him and fetishize his Hindu beliefs. And, according to Prashad, he was quite critical of the way Americans approached religion:

You Americans worship what? The dollar. Int he mad rush for gold, you forget the spiritual until you have become a nation of materialists. Even your preachers and churches are tainted with the all-perfading desire. (35)

Yet I was struck by a different set of beliefs that he conveyed in that speech as I heard it in the Bengali association hall last week. Here is the part that I was taken aback by:

 I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to the southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny.

Obviously, in 1893 when Zionism was in its incipient stages, there were no Shlomo Sands to historicize the Roman presence in West Asia, alerting us to the fact that the Romans never expelled any people. And yet on this trip I was hearing yet another allusion to Jewish expulsion (although often it is also that they are the 12th tribe who wandered and got lost) from Western Asia, which is often the historical argument used for how Jews arrived in India over a century ago.

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The other main attraction I visited in Lucknow was the Bara Imbara, which is a fantastically preserved, beautifully designed Nawab palace from the eighteenth century:

the very romantic history associated with it – of Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula commissioning the Imambara during the time of the great famine of 1783 to enable Awadhis to earn a living as they were too proud to have taken alms – makes it a fascinating piece of architecture.

This space, much like the Residency, is filled with fabulous nooks and crannies that seem to make the best hide-and-go-seek playgrounds for children. But in the Imbara there is also a labyrinth, which you need to hire a guide to take you through. One must travel up and down several flights of steep stairs and through a series of narrow hallways to navigate this area. There are interesting nooks, such as a passage way that leads underground, which people used to use to travel surreptitiously from one city to the next. However, the British closed it up. There are also several clever engineering feats that enable communication from one far off location along the same wall. Supposedly there is also a buried treasure there, but in order to discover it the entire property would need to be destroyed.

The photographs below are a bit mixed up, but they are of the places I mention above, plus random snapshots of the city, a couple of AIDS protests we saw because I was there during World AIDS Day, and its incredible food–especially the chaat and paan!

The Infant and the Infantry

When I first moved to Boise, Idaho, I received a welcome package on my doorstep. I can’t remember all that was in it, but there was a VHS tape introducing me to all of Boise’s churches. At the time I recall never having lived in a city with so many churches. But most of the time I didn’t see them because many were out in the suburbs. Their presence was ever present, however.

When I spent a semester teaching in Ghana, I was struck by the intensity of Christianity in the southern half of the country where I lived. There it felt different. It felt intensely colonial. The Mormon church in the center of Accra, in particular, with its excessive gold monument on top, was just one of many ways I found this Western Christian presence oppressive. It was the missionary presence, which felt all too colonial, that made it such. But even more than that: the presence of these churches and missionaries seemed to be coupled with images of white Jesus that were ubiquitous. I found them on taxis, cars, tro-tros, decorating businesses–everywhere. Most Ghanaians didn’t seem to get the irony of praying to a white man who came from Palestine (i.e., not the West). Below are some photos of those churches and images of white Jesus I took at the time (unfortunately it is posting the Bangalore photos too so readers will have to make out the differences for themselves until I can figure out how to change it).

Now I am in Bangalore and feeling that the missionary presence is even greater here–and even more oppressive. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this city was once a cantonment for the British army. Now all that land is occupied by the Indian armed forces. But equally pervasive, as far as I can tell, are the other hold over from colonial days: the churches. Thus, the title for this post: the infantry should be obvious. The infant is the baby Jesus. For there are many code names, often in Sanskrit, sometimes in English, in ways that attempt to disguise what is being alluded to. So the word infant becomes shorthand for baby Jesus. And it is a word one would be hard pressed to avoid as you wander through this city. I am rather in awe when I think of how much land space the army and the churches take up when you combine the two. I would love to see a figure on how many square kilometers they take up. It makes the outrage I felt when I first saw how much land UNIFIL takes up in Lebanon seem as if it merely occupies an office and not such a huge chunk of land along south Lebanon’s seashore.

Just in the little northeast quadrant of the city I’ve seen, and photographed, over 200 churches. Each Sunday I take a walk around a new neighborhood near where I live and discover even more. I live in an area that was once heavily populated by Anglo Indians. It’s now a mixture of Indian Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, and a few foreigners are sprinkled into the mix as well.

But it is not just the churches and their missionary zeal and colonial presence that I find disturbing (which is especially pernicious given how many schools these churches operate in Bangalore and, therefore how many young minds they have the chance to control). (For anyone who still associates Mother Theresa with India–see mural at the top of this post–I strongly advise you to read Christopher Hitchens’ work on the subject as he wrote it when he was at the top of his game and he got her dead on in a way no one else ever did.) It is the type of churches that are the most aggressive in this respect that I see all around me–American churches like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Pentecostals,  and other variations on evangelism. As with in Ghana, their presence is not only in the churches, but also translates into people’s names and into their business names.

In Bangalore one can see this in the expected way with names like John or Mary. But what is unexpected are the names associated with Palestine like Nazareth and Hebron. But the more I wandered around, the more I saw that did not seem to be related to Palestine per se, but rather to the specific American brand of Christian Zionism that often comes with various brands of evangelical Christianity. One can see this, too, in everything from the names of churches to signs on ordinary businesses. When I Googled Bangalore and Zion, I found a number of businesses that turned up from IT companies to money changers to hospitals and clinics. 

Given the fact that there is a plethora of these symbols and signs related to evangelical Christianity and Zionism, it makes me suspicious of other signs that are dispersed around the city, such as the otherwise innocuous “shalom,” Hebrew for hello or peace that once finds decorating the entrance ways to many people’s homes here.

Below is a gallery of my photographs of Christian and Zionist Bangalore (note it starts with my Ghana photos  because I cannot figure out how to separate them).

Sounds of Deepawali, Sounds of Gaza

Last week was Deepawali or Diwali for short. A simplified explanation of the holiday is that is a festival of lights.  But one cannot have lights without sound especially given the fact that this holiday is celebrated with firecrackers and fireworks. If I had thought about it in advance, I would have recorded the sounds, especially as I experienced them on a brief auto rickshaw trip in which the driver had to dodge children lighting various explosives in the streets. Like a lot of sounds in Bangalore, especially traffic, they are constant and quite loud. And even government officials attempted to intervene in lessening the noise pollution. I let off a few firecrackers for the first time in my life in spite of my trepidation. But the sounds of Diwali–which lasted for three days–reminded me of other places and times.

The sound of fireworks and firecrackers sound just like bombs and gunfire to me. I can’t help it. The sounds are indistinguishable for me. So as much as I enjoyed the way they look when they are lit up, in the back of my mind it conjured up less pleasant memories of Palestine and Lebanon.

It is a week later, and although I’m miles away, the sounds of Israel’s latest bombardment of Gaza are the only sounds I am imagining even though I know that sound is far worse and, of course, has lethal effects. Rana Baker had the foresight to record some of those sounds  of what it is like in Gaza right now.

It seems like deja vu–as if it is 2008 again. Of course so much has changed since then, but then again so much has not, which Haidar Eid writes about lucidly, especially in light of the Arab uprisings. For those who are unaware of what happened and how it all began, Ali Abunimah has a timeline that clearly illustrates how Israel broke its truce with Gaza and began its latest escalation. You can also see Abunimah on Al Jazeera explaining this timeline to a rather ill-informed interviewer:

This new war is, in many ways, an ongoing one as anyone who monitors Palestine knows. Gaza, in particular, has been kept on a “diet,” as Sherene Seikaly points out in Jadaliyya. As before, too, the language coming from the Zionist regime spans the gamut from calling for a holocaust to “flattening” Gaza like Hiroshima. Even a local paper in Bangalore had a headline yesterday about Israel bombing Gaza back to the Middle Ages.

This time it is more difficult as I am so far away from Palestine. Although during the last war, even though I was in Nablus, I might as well have been in India given how far removed we were from the people with no ability to connect with them in any way other than phone calls and email. And the one protest I know of in India happened in Delhi today, miles away from Bangalore. But the media here, especially English language media, is focused on so many more local issues, many of which are equally disturbing and troubling. And the international media available here is anything but helpful, spewing as it does Israeli propaganda at every turn. And still my heart and my mind are occupied with Gaza hoping that the fruits of the Arab uprisings make a difference this time.

For those who wish to do something, as always, BDS is the way to go. The Boycott National Committee created a handy sheet about 5 ways you can effectively support Gaza through BDS.

Also see: the Guardian‘s interactive map on Gaza

Shahad Abusalama’s blog, which is keeping track of Palestinian casualties in Gaza

IMEMU’s fact sheet on Gaza and Israel’s policies towards Gaza

California Travels

For the past  couple of weeks I’ve been traveling across my home state of California. Because I was on the train between Berkeley and Los Angeles I had a lot of time to look out the window and think about the land I was traveling through. The first thoughts that entered my mind were about the indigenous peoples whose land was stolen in order to create all the settlements, military bases, universities, etc. One can begin learning about the history of indigenous California here.

I was also thinking about more recent history because I spent most of my train ride reading Mike Davis’ City of Quartz. After spending so much time studying the Arab World, I’m learning about the history of where I come from, Los Angeles, California. Davis’ book is amazing because it gives so much context to things I only heard about or partially understood growing up. I also watched Gregory Nava’s brilliant film El Norte again, which shows the challenges and the push factors compelling people to leave their land and labor in the U.S. (see trailer below). Apparently there is a new documentary called Harvest of Empire detailing these push factors. One thing is for sure, the economy here, and in most of the U.S. economy would not function without people willing to do all the difficult, dirty work that the majority of Americans are unwilling to do.

I thought a lot about the farm land and farmworkers I watched as my train passed by. This was, of course, not hard to do give how much agribusiness is in the heartland of California. It made me think of the Delano Grape Boycott organized by César Chávez throughout much of my childhood. It also made me think of the important ballot initiative in the upcoming election and California’s Proposition 37, which would require food producers to label all GMOs used in their products.

I traveled north for a book event at the Middle East Children’s Alliance, which turned out to be a terrific event. Lots of teachers showed up, which is what I hoped for. But also there were people from various periods of my life–friends from elementary school, from Boise, and various other periods and places in between.

Upon my return there was another hearing for the renewal of the Veolia contract with the Los Angeles city council. This time we spoke before the entire city council (although they seemed infinitely more interested in playing with their phones or reading the newspaper so I doubt they listened). In any case, they voted unanimously to renew the Veolia contract at the beginning of the meeting. We merely spoke to express our opposition to that vote. Prior to our speaking a woman involved in the Los Angeles sister city program was being honored. I had noticed, for the first time, on my walk to City Hall that there is a street sign (see above) indicating all of the sister cities connected to Los Angeles. One of them is Beirut. But another one is Eilat, an Israeli city in occupied Palestine. This is a city that only a month ago was protesting the inclusion of Sudanese children into their schools. Yet another example of the inherent racism of Zionism. While Los Angelenos seem to think it is a problem to fight racism and apartheid in Palestine, it seems that Quakers do not. Quakers not only voted to boycott Veolia, but Hewlitt Packard as well. There are audio reports about the Los Angeles vote and organizing around it which can be listened to here and here.

My second book event at the Levantine Center, with Mark Levine, Antony Loewenstein, and Saree Makdisi took place in Los Angeles at a church near UCLA.   This event was larger, but it included other people. In any case, the discussion was quite interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which were the Iranian Jews in the audience whose heads were so immersed in Zionist propaganda that one woman denied the existence of the murder of Mohammad al-Durra and the massacre in Jenin refugee camp–two events that I discuss in my book, actually. Of course, it sounded exactly like Nazi holocaust denial, which is what I said to the woman. The event was filmed so if it becomes available I will post it.

Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee Votes to Stand with #Veolia and Israeli Apartheid #BDS

Today I entered the halls of city hall in Los Angeles, I think, for the first time. It is entirely possible I was there when I was young and cannot recall the memory. It’s funny to me because although I am a Los Angeleno, I came of age in Ohio and my activism really began there. I often go to protests and demonstrations when I’m home, but I’ve never gone to speak before city council here as I used to do in Cincinnati, for instance, when I was actively fighting against the homophobic Issue 3.

It felt a bit daunting, perhaps, because I know that this space where I signed up to speak was a place where my grandmother, Marian Gibbons, founder of Hollywood Heritage, spoke so many times before. In fact, as I sat there in the transportation committee’s meeting space, thinking about what I would say when I addressed them, I noticed a man whose face, and eventually, name I began to recognize. He spoke at my grandmother’s funeral. Tom LaBonge has been working in Los Angeles city politics for ages and he worked with my grandmother at some point, but I cannot recall exactly what they did together.

I decided that I’d try to speak to this relationship somehow instead of addressing the same old points about boycotting Veolia, the transportation company that Los Angeles is working to renew a contract with. Everyone else (there were 33 speakers asking to dump this contract and 5 speakers seeking to maintain it) addressed the usual points. I talked about my grandmother’s history as an activist preserving and resuscitating Hollywood, which inevitably provided me with an model for how to be an activist, albeit in a different context. But while my grandma saved and renovated historic landmarks, I fight for human rights–for Palestinians to not be exiled from their lands, for Palestinian homes to not be demolished, for Palestinians to be able to return to their land. At the end of the day just like my grandma fought destruction of something that was valuable to her, I support Palestinians in their effort to preserve their life, livelihood, and homes. Veolia, the French company I spoke against today, profits off the destruction of Palestinian homes and livelihoods by creating and maintaining a Jewish-only transportation system connecting Jewish-only colonies.

I may not have been the most persuasive speaker, but at least LaBonge addressed me in his closing remarks, indicating that perhaps he heard what I had to say. In general, it was quite a disappointing meeting. Most of the council members there were either flipping through paperwork (which may or may not be related to what were addressing today) or played on their cell phones. The one who acted like he was listening, Paul  Koretz, although this Jon Lovitz lookalike appeared constipated most of the time, made it expressly clear that he supports Israel. Although he stated this to the room, it was evident a bit before then because when 4 of the 5 Veolia supporters spoke (a team of people from the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles) he let all of them go over the 1 minute time limit without reminding them that they had gone over. Everyone else was interrupted and reminded of that fact.

The speakers (see Uprising radio above video for another example) who addressed the main arguments made some excellent points, especially about this city where I grew up. I’ve been a bit harsh and frustrated with my hometown of late because of the fascist policies the state and the city have been passing. But as a city, I was reminded today, that Los Angeles has often done the right thing. And this was a point that many people drove home today:

* In 1984 Los Angeles was one of the first major cities in the U.S. to divest from South Africa during the apartheid regime

* In 2008 and 2009 Los Angeles’ fire and police commissions terminated relationships with a program run by the Boy Scouts of America because of its explicit discriminatory policies against LGBTQ people

* In 2010 Los Angeles city council voted to boycott Arizona and any companies based there because of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070

Moreover, Los Angels city administrative code clearly prohibits the city from contracting with any company whose practices violate the city’s own non-discrimination policies.

But it seems that Los Angeles would want to uphold its moral stance and be consistent. When the question today came up about whether or not it is illegal for the state of California or the city of Los Angeles to boycott Israel, a couple of important response came up (not the least of which is the fact that Veolia is a French, not an Israeli company):

* Nothing in U.S. law or California law prohibits the city of Los Angeles from refusing to do business with Veolia because of its human rights violations in occupied Palestine. A boycott even against Israel or an Israeli company would only be prohibited under the Export Administration Act (EAA) if the specific boycott is initiated by foreign countries, specifically, the official government of a foreign country.

There are many other important points that are specific to Veolia’s violation of international law for its apartheid transportation system in occupied Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace, which organized today’s protest along with Dump Veolia LA, has a fact sheet where they lay out more reasons why one should boycott Veolia. There is also an article on the Mondoweiss website that details more of these points by some of the people who spoke today.

In the end, we lost. They voted unanimously to continue its contract with Veolia. Unlike Stockholm, Melbourne, Bourdeaux, Dublin, Swansea and the Hague, Los Angeles seems to want to continue its relationship with Veolia in spite of its human rights violations. My grandma, although she had her battles with city hall to be sure, never had to face the seemingly insurmountable Zionist hold on American politics. It’s significantly easier to get Americans, especially in Los Angeles, to be sympathetic about preserving its recent cinematic past.

[UPDATE: Here is the Los Angeles Times report on our action.]

The last time I was in Palestine, in 2009, I took photographs in al Quds (Jerusalem) of the Veolia light rail project that was being built by dividing and destroying various aspects of Palestinian neighborhoods for the sake of the colonial transportation system. Here are some of those photographs:

Home, but not

Home is a bit of a tough word for me–even more now than usual. It’s the first time I’ve been home in almost two years and it’s the first time for me to return home without my family house to go to. Last time I came home I attended my grandmother’s funeral and then buried her along with my grandfather, mother, and uncle. Although my mom died twenty years ago, her ashes were not interned anywhere public. And my grandmother kept the ashes of my uncle and grandfather so that they could all be buried together. I visited the cemetery the other day thinking it might be comforting, but it isn’t really. It’s the first time I have had a chance to visit my family in a cemetery–which I longed for after my mother’s death–but two decades of learning how to deal with the death of a loved one where ever you are in the world made me feel a bit detached from the experience.

It is also challenging to be back in an environment that feels increasingly like little Tel Aviv. There was always a large Jewish community in Los Angeles, but the Israeli population seems to have increased exponentially. Two summers ago I found it impossible to escape youth clad in “Israeli Defense Forces” t-shirts–something I know I never saw as a girl even in the Zionist circles I was involved in. That summer was also the first time I saw the street sign in Beverly Hills commemorating the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl (see above).

This summer I was greeted at the airport by my usual transportation and to my surprise saw the Veolia logo painted on it. Having already paid the fees, I did not have a choice at the time to ride it, so I did. But it gets worse: the public transportation system in Los Angeles seems to have been hijacked by Veolia. What’s wrong with Veolia? In a nutshell, according to the folks at Mondoweiss:

Veolia operates bus lines that connect Jewish-only settlements to Israel. These buses do not stop in Palestinian towns and use Israeli-only roads, built on land confiscated from the Palestinians for the exclusive use of Israelis and settlers. West Bank Palestinians are denied access in a throwback arrangement reminiscent of the Jim Crow South.

Then there is the Jerusalem Light Rail Project Veolia is constructing which will link illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem to Israel. That tramway not only helps make the illegal settlements permanent but also serves as a critical component of the Israeli settlements infrastructure, “undermining any chances of a just peace for the Palestinian people,” according to the international human rights group Global Exchange.

Not having a car in Los Angeles puts me at the mercy of this system making it difficult to boycott one of the companies that most deserves it. Additionally, Cirque du Soleil is playing in Hollywood now, another target of the BDS campaign because they performed in Israel. At the Los Angeles County Museum of art there is currently an Israeli artist’s exhibition on display as well.

It’s not just these aspects of being home that make it difficult. It’s also the every day stuff. Walking around my friends’ neighborhood every day it is impossible not to feel like one is surrounded by Israelis. As soon as I turn the corner onto the main street by her house, I’m confronted with Israeli flags.

It’s interesting to think about all of the Jewish area businesses and the constant whining about people conflating Judaism and Zionism, but can people really be blamed when those lines are blurred by Jewish Zionists?

Another example of this is Simon Wiesenthal’s Museum of “Tolerance.” I went there in 2000 or 2001 not knowing who ran it or anything about it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but certainly not a Nazi holocaust museum masquerading as a museum that is inclusive of other historical and current oppressions. There was about 5 feet devoted to African Americans and then the rest was all about Nazi Germany. I’m not sure if it is still this way, but one look at their teacher resources and it is clear that they continue to expend most of their energy only on anti-Jewish oppression. It is not just this that I find deeply upsetting about the Museum of Tolerance. It would be ironic, if Wiesenthal were not a Zionist, that the Museum of Tolerance’s plans to build a branch of their museum in al-Quds (Jerusalem). Why is this a problem? Because they are going to build it on the grounds of an ancient, significant Muslim cemetery. In other words, illustrating the complete lack of tolerance for Muslims, Palestinians, and the dead. Saree Makdisi wrote about this two years ago in the Los Angeles Times:

In 2002, the Wiesenthal Center — which had been given part of the cemetery by the city of Jerusalem — announced that architect Frank Gehry would design a complex to be called the Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. Ground was broken in 2004. Palestinian and Muslim concerns were ignored until a lawsuit led to the suspension of excavation in 2006. In 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court — dismissing the appeals not only of Palestinians with relatives buried there but also the protests of Jews appalled by desecration of any cemetery — cleared the way for the project.

The center claims to see nothing wrong with erecting what its leader, Rabbi Marvin Hier, calls “a great landmark promoting the principles of mutual respect and social responsibility” on top of what remains of another people’s cemetery. It has resorted to endless dodges to support its claim.

There is a campaign fighting this called the Mamilla Campaign, which explains the details of the crime being committed by the Wiesenthal/Museum of Tolerance people. There is also a petition to sign on the site. Also the always fabulous Never Before Campaign released a video explaining and supporting the Mamilla Campaign a couple of years ago that is worth a watch:

There are so many other forms of visual assault I feel as I walk down the streets where so many Jewish/Zionist shops have co-opted the names of the places in Palestine that Zionists stole. A sampling of what I see in this Los Angeles neighborhood is below.

The final photograph above is of an Israeli coffee chain, Aroma, that seems to have opened a new branch in Los Angeles. Here is how the Jewish Journal describes the original cafe:

First established in Encino in 2005, Aroma is more than a cafe — it’s like an unofficial branch of the Israeli Consulate. Walk in, and you might as well be in Israel. Cute Israeli waitresses serve customers like they’re still jet-lagged from their flight here. Tel Aviv-style Israeli posses dressed in nightclub gear spread their chairs and legs out like they own the place, cigarettes in tow, cell phones on tabletops. And like back home, the action takes place late into the night.

Finally, there is also one other landmark of note here. It is a school that I wrote about in my recent book, but I never saw it in person. I kept walking by, thinking it was familiar, but couldn’t place the name. Then I remembered.

Shalhevet is a Jewish day school that, for me, is famous because they fired a teacher, Alexander Maksik, for teaching Naomi Shihab Nye’s young adult novel Habibi. Since I already deal with this at length in the second chapter of my book, I’ll just lead people to the two links about this episode (here and here).

So this is my home, but not. Because it is hard to feel at home somewhere–especially when you grew up there–when your family and the people you shared the important memories with are no longer around. But also because this city has become Israelized in ways that seem implacable.

How I Failed the Thirsting for Justice Challenge

Yesterday my friend and I decided to take the Thirsting for Justice water challenge of living with 24 liters (that’s about 6 gallons for Americans) of water for 24 hours, which is something Palestinians in Palestine are forced to do every day. The challenge was created to educate people about the ways in which Israeli colonists control the water in Palestine even though all of the water sources are Palestinian. An infographic illustrates the problem quite well:

 

Just yesterday, for example, Israel demolished two Palestinian water cisterns, which, of course, meant that Palestinians who relied upon those water sources now do not have any access to water.

To begin this challenge I researched water consumption to get an idea about how much I might use each day. To be sure, my friend and I chose a difficult day because it was the day to clean the flat. This meant that we needed several buckets of water. We also needed to wash our clothes, but could not because the average washing machine requires between 80-170 liters of water (although we had conflicting information on this, we decided to lean towards the high end of the spectrum). So I had to wear some dirty clothes yesterday as a result.

Through my research about water I found some interesting facts about how much we waste when we don’t have to be conscious about our water usage:

  • the average Briton uses the equivalent of 16 buckets worth of water a day. One third of this goes down the loo
  • many people in the world exist on 10 litres of water or less a day, we use this in almost one flush of the toilet

Growing up in California, which does struggle with water issues, sometimes I was made aware of the hazards of taking long showers or flushing the toilet too much. But the water never ran out and so there is only so much of an impression that this warning had on me. Toilet waste is particularly important to think about given how much water it uses beyond what seems necessary. Consider these figures:

There are two types of toilets in my friend’s house. One is the typical type and the other is the kind that gives you a choice for a full or a half flush. Yesterday morning I opted for the half flush thinking that it might let me count a lower end of 9 liters instead of 16 liters. However, even that, when you realize that you only have 24 to use for the entire 24 hours, is too much. So I wasted around 9 liters too early in the day.

For the average American, here is what their indoor water consumption looks like (check out this link for the actual graphic which has enhanced features on the original):

When I tried to add up and estimate my daily usage, without considering how much water goes into cleaning my flat, I came up with a figure of about 234 liters (61 gallson) per day, 130 liters of which are devoted to toilet flushing. These initial figures are based on calculations that say we use 9.5 liters per minute when a faucet is one (for showering, washing hands, washing dishes, etc.). It also lowballs figures on washing clothes, partially because we use a front-loading machine, unlike the typical American top-loading machines, which seem to require more water.

Ultimately, we decided to use the handy water consumption chart on the Thirsting for Justice website:

Based on these figures here is how I failed the challenge:

I woke up, used the toilet, washed my face, brushed my teeth (with the tap off as usual): 12.4 liters.

I made coffee, drank some water, washed dishes (although I suspect washing dishes they way people do here, with the water off, requires less water than the way Americans do it by leaving the water running): 22 liters.

Then we both took showers. Rather than use the faucet, which according to the cart above, would at best require 35-50 liters for a 3 minute shower and at worst 75-90 liters for a 5 minute shower, we opted for a different option. Because even in the best case scenario above, if we only had 24 liters of water for the day, that would mean no shower at all. So we placed 3 liters of water into a pot and boiled it. We brought it into the shower and then split that amount between the two of us. My friend washed her hair, but I did not. This meant that we each used only 1.5 liters for showering.

But we failed when it came to washing the house. Because my friend has a large 3 bedroom flat, and because it requires about 7 buckets to clean the floors, each of which contains 10.5 liters of water, we used up 73.5 liters cleaning the house. And this only got us to the halfway point in the day.

After the house was clean, we made lunch. We washed vegetables, drank water, washed more dishes, and then brushed our teeth again. This required around 23 liters of water.

We spent the rest of the day outside the home where we drank more water (it is summer after all), ate more vegetables (which were washed), and ate off plates (that would then need to be washed). We went to the bathroom and washed our hands (but also used hand sanitizer at times to save the 1.4 liters it takes to wash one’s hands). We chose not to count this water because the 24 liters for 24 hours is for one’s household.

When we returned home I washed my face, brushed my teeth, drank some more water, which required another 4.4 liters.

My total water usage for the day was: 136.8 liters or 35.9 gallons.

Later this month I will try to do this again to see if I can do it on a day when I don’t need to clean the house. But in some ways I think this is a good way to test oneself because in most Palestinian homes, cleaning the house is a daily part of one’s activities.

I encourage others to try to meet this challenge. To sign up, you need only to visit the Thirsting for Justice website. There are a number of resources and fact sheets on the website to learn more about the way water theft accompanies land theft in Palestine. Also, here is an older Amnesty International report on how Palestinians are denied access to their own water. I also encourage people to donate to the Middle East Children’s Alliance Maia Project, which is helping to bring clean, fresh water to Palestinian children.

For those interested in water as an environmental issue more generally, there is an interesting UNDP report co-authored by youth entitled “Water Rights and Wrongs” that addresses the scarcity of water, the need for water, and water as a human right. Finally, I recommend this film Blue Gold, which explores the topic of water as a human right and an environmental more globally: