Bloggin’ Banat

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Palestinian Reality in Atlanta? June 16, 2009

Block PartyNo, definitely not.  In an absurd move, CBS has walled off an entire neighborhood in Atlanta to force the neighbors to spend time with each other.  It’s all for a new reality show tentatively called “Block Party.”

The image of the wall built for this show looks very similar to Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank.  Of course, life in Palestine, particularly in areas like, Gaza, Ni’lin and the Aida Refugee Camp is anything but a block party.

The details on the specifics of this show are not clear except that the families “will be trapped inside the 20′ maximum security-looking wall for about three weeks for a cash prize.”

I find it insulting to have an entertainment show with a premise built around a crippling and devastating reality faced by an entire population of Palestinians.  While these contestants will be confined behind this wall for three weeks and possibly end up with money for the sake of entertainment, Palestinians have been confined for years within Israel’s illegal wall with no end in sight.

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Tradition Isn’t Always Right May 15, 2009

The other day I came across an article in the Christian Science Monitor about one of the two first female Islamic judges in the Middle East.  The article focused on Khouloud el-Faqeeh who is Palestinian. She is described as not only being exceptional in her knowledge (top in her class at Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University and one of the highest scorers out of 45 people in the qualifying sharia judge exam) but she’s also a straight arrow; she won’t bend the rules for anyone.  Pretty fantastic.

But there was one thing in the article that annoyed me.  It was the view that women are ‘too emotional’ to take on such a position.

Sheikh Hamed Bitawi, who’s the head of the Association of Islamic Scholars and Scientists,  said that there are two schools of thought on the issue: that every position but that of a caliph is open to women, and that women are too emotional to make legal decisions – as judges or as witnesses.

“I am of the second view because I consider women to be gentle human beings who should not be subjected to difficult situations or difficult decisions,” Mr. Bitawi says. “They cry easily, and hence their judgment is tainted with emotions. Moreover, lawyers are difficult to deal with and people who come to courts are angry and violent.”

Give me a break.  I’ve heard this perspective before and for the life of me I still can’t believe why people continue to buy into this archaic and stereotypical argument.  As if men aren’t emotional?  Men indeed are emotional. One could also make the stereotypical argument that men tend to have a short fuse and they consequently yell, scream or react violently.  Therefore, they too are ‘tainted with emotions.’  Would that make them a better judge?  Of course not.  That’s why one’s qualification shouldn’t be based on gender but by their individual abilities.

El-Faqeeh explained that “In Islam, it says a sharia judge has to be a Muslim, rational adult” – not necessarily a man.  Whenever I would discuss this with the chief judge, he would say, ‘This is tradition.’ ”

I’m all about tradition. But when it comes to professional matters, sometimes tradition counters common sense and what’s right and that needs to be corrected.  As el-Faqeeh said “I’m a legal person, and, to me, legal issues are stronger than tradition.” Case closed.

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Thanks Ron Paul! April 21, 2009

ron_paul_posterThis is just a shout out to the Bay Area Ron Paul Campaign for Liberty for their awesome tea-bagging poster. With conservatives organizing tea-bagging parties across the country, the Ron Paul campaign thought they’d join in too. But their poster conveys a message that I truly stand behind and actually makes sense.  Of course, some republicans aren’t too happy about it; as if that’s a surprise.  California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring put out a statement today in which he said:

“The leaders of the taxpayer movement in California are good, solid people with whom I’ve worked for years. Their work is incredibly important and should not be tainted by the anti-Semitic views of a few who wish to use the growing taxpayer movement for their own, fringe purposes. Such attempts must be roundly condemned across the board.”

Sorry, but criticizing Israel’s policies (occupation, war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc.) that are supported by our government and funded with our taxpayer money isn’t anti-Semitic. And, by the way, Palestinians are Semitic too.

But back to the awesome poster.  It’s image couldn’t be more vivid and the text is so on point.  The text reads “Uncle Sam Reminds You: KEEP PAYING TAXES. The ongoing extermination of Palestinian Children Can’t be Done Without Your Help.”  There you go.  Plain, simple, to the point and pure awesome.

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Palestinian Institute Wins Children’s Literature Prize March 24, 2009

The Tamer Institute For Community Education has been awarded the 2009 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award which is the world’s largest prize for children’s literature.  The award is named after the Swedish author of “Pippi Longstocking” and the cash prize is a little over $600,000.  On the their website, the Ramallah based institute states that its focus is “principally on the rights to education, identity, freedom of expression, and access to information, Tamer works across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, primarily targeting children and young people and developing alternatives and supplements to formal education.”  The institute publishes children’s books and educational material as part of its program.


The organizers of the award said in a statement that “With perseverance, audacity and resourcefulness, the Tamer Institute has, for two decades, stimulated Palestinian children’s and young adults’ love of reading and their creativity…Under difficult circumstances, the institute carries out reading promotion of an unusual breadth and versatility.”  A program director for the institute, Ruba Toha, said that the prize is dedicated to the children of Palestine.

Kudos to the Tamer Institute for supplying educational services and providing inspiration to young Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza through reading.  Their work in providing educational material to children without access to formal education, who cannot go to school due to the obstacles of the Israeli occupation, is particularly commendable.  It’s just great to see a Palestinian organization get the recognition it deserves for such a worthy cause.

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New Film In The Works Has Interesting Components

julian_schnabel1Julian Schnabel,who directed the wonderful Oscar nominated film “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” will be directing a new film called “Miral”. What’s interesting is that “Miral” is based on a book of the same name written by Palestinian-Italian Rula Jebreal who also co-wrote the script.  Apparently, Jebreal, who lives in Italy, is a hugely popular broadcaster there and is outspoken on immigration and foreign affairs. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of her. The book is about Hind Husseini who attempts to open an orphanage (Dar El-Tifl), and eventually does, in Jerusalem after the war in 1948 and the struggles thereafter.

While I commend Schnabel for making this film ” to fix things over there . . . and make things better over there”, I think it’ll take a lot more than a film to do that.  However,  it’ll be nice to see a film about a Palestinian woman who took matters into her own hands to help orphaned children.  I hope that Schnabel won’t oversimplify the conflict in the process.

I do think this will be a promising movie.  Not only is it directed by Schnabel but it will also star the incomparable Hiam Abbas (“The Visitor”, “Pomegranates and Myrrh”) who makes any movie she’s in better.  Also starring in the film, and an interesting choice, is Freida Pinto.  She’s become the new “it” girl after the success of “Slumdog Millionaire” (great movie, btw).  I wish Pinto the best of luck because I don’t think she’ll be able to hold her own next to Abbass.  Casting hasn’t been completed yet but I’m sure “Miral” will get a wide release due to who’s directing it and starring in it.  Shooting for the film will begin next month in Israel and is scheduled to be released in 2010.

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Israel’s Efforts To “Rebrand” Itself Won’t Work March 18, 2009

demonstrationsThe New York Times published an interesting article about Israel’s worsening image.  It’s not news that Israel’s assault on Gaza in December and January and the election of a hawkish government have worsened the view the international community has of Israel. The recent protests, boycotts and the stressed relations with Turkey are indicative of that.

The article states that the Foreign Ministry will spend 2 million dollars on what they call cultural and information diplomacy to improve Israel’s image.  The ministry’s deputy director says they “will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits” to “show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”  These novelists, theater productions and exhibits should and will be boycotted as well.  Just as they are being boycotted today.  During Israel’s assault, the Israeli government pursued an all hands on deck PR effort that, of course, did not work.  No amount of money or effort to improve Israel’s image is going to work.  It’s Israel’s actions, the facts on the ground, that matter.  To put it simply, as the article suggests, it’s Israel’s policies that are the problem.

What irked me in the article was the notion that “some” people believe (the newly appointed Foreign Minister) Avigdor Lieberman’s views are racist.  Why is it only that “some” people think he’s racist?  I’d like to know who are the others that don’t?  What part about expelling the Arab citizens of your state isn’t racist?  Wouldn’t that make them racist as well?  Lieberman is a racist, plain and simple, and he needs to be called out as such. 

The article also says that some Israeli officials believe that what Israel needs to do is “rebrand” itself. Yeah.  Good luck with that.  Again, call it what you want, but it won’t work.  By the way, the 2 million dollars the Foreign Ministry is going to spend is probably our US taxpayer money. 

It’s long overdue that Israel is finally feeling some heat for it’s actions.  However, if Israeli officials believe that the solution is to just throw money into public relations initiatives, then we’re just in for more of the same.  Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis will ultimately benefit.  I wonder what in God’s name it’ll take for Israel to finally and justly change its policies?!

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My Take On “Pomegranates and Myrrh” (Al Mur Wa Al Rumman): A Palestinian Film March 16, 2009

pomegranatesmyrrhLast Friday I saw a screening of the Palestinian film Pomegranates and Myrrh (Al Mor Wa Al Rumman) at the Kennedy Center. It was part of the Center’s 3 week long Arabesque Festival.  The film is directed by Najwa Najjar, who was present at the screening.  This is how Najjar summarizes the film:

A free spirited woman dancer, Kamar, finds herself the wife of a prisoner, Zaid, and away from everything she loves until she returns to the dance, defying society’s taboos. At the dance Kamar is confronted with Kais, a Palestinian returnee, who has taken Kamar’s role as the head choreographer. Sparks fly between Kamar and Kais, creating more than a passionate, emotional dance for the both of them. Matters become even more complicated when Zaid’s sentence is extended. At the same time the family’s legal case against the land confiscation faces one obstacle after another and the villagers from the nearby villages are unable to reach the family’s olive groves, placing the annual harvest and consequently the family’s livelihood in danger. And Kamar’s life is thrown into turmoil as she becomes increasingly attached to Kais, and caught in the midst of her desire to dance and breaking the family and society taboos of the prisoner’s wife’s role while life under occupation rages on.

What I liked about this movie is that even though it portrays the struggles that Palestinians go through as a result of the Israeli occupation such as land confiscation, prison, checkpoints, curfews, etc., it was really a story about relationships.  It was refreshing to see a Palestinian film that portrays the love between a husband and wife and the struggles they go through. The relationship between Kamar and Kais surely adds spice to the story. Some people may object to the portrayal of such a relationship because they would say that it’s not indicative of the behavior of a prisoner’s wife. I say nobody’s perfect and even though we don’t hear about such relationships, it doesn’t mean that they don’t happen.  Plus, it makes for a good story so I didn’t mind it at all.  The film also has spectacular views of olive groves in the Ramallah area. Seeing those beautiful vistas makes you want to book a ticket to Palestine right away and be there.

The film has great performances, particularly by the fantastic Hiam Abbass (Paradise Now, The Visitor).  She provides some much appreciated comic relief in the film but also shows the true grit of Palestinian women. She’s just awesome!  Ali Suleiman (Paradise Now) and Yasmine Al Masri (Caramel) were good as well.  Ashraf Farah, who plays Zaid, was stunning. In fear of sounding like Paris Hilton, he was totally hot! But seriously, it’s his portrayal as the strong, loving man who loves his land as much as he loves his wife that is really attractive.  Hopefully, we’ll see more of him in films to come.

In conclusion, I loved the film!  I highly recommend it.  When Najjar was asked after the screening if the film will be distributed in the US, she said she hopes so. The film had been screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and had done pretty well.  As a result, there’s been some solid interest by a distributor but no deal has been made yet.  I hope the deal comes through so that everyone has the opportunity to go and see this great Palestinian film.

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