Tuesday
Nov292016

Goodbye coyote

 

It was two years ago that I moved into this house. It was November, and the summer that had just ended had been hot and hard with too much death in it. I ran every day or as often as I could in Elysian Park, up the hill off Broadway and around to the lookout where the kids smoke weed in their cars and the men linger and check each other out and I would stand by the railing and stare down over the 5 and the 110 and Figueroa and the arching concrete of the Gold Line and Frogtown and Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park and the old county hospital and the Sears building out on Soto and on a clear day I could see Long Beach to the south and the mountains stretching far to the east. It was dry still, the hills brown, and I remember very well when the rains first came, what a miracle it seemed. Within days the entire park was carpeted in green. The tiniest leaves opening to the sun in the dry mud of the hills, millions and millions of them. The seeds had been there all along, waiting. Two weeks later you would never have guessed that the park had ever been anything other than lush with life.

Last winter the rains barely came and now there are dead trees all over the park. Pines, eucalyptus, oak, standing and leaning and waiting to burn. When it happens, something new will surely grow in the ashes. I won’t be here to see it. I’m moving tomorrow and this morning took one last run up the hill through the park. It’s November again. The rains came over the weekend and now the paths, the hillsides, everything but the asphalt is coated again with tiny budding plants, a skein of stubborn green life over everything. I stopped at the lookout, stretching as an excuse to stare out at the streets and hills below me. It was too early for the potsmoking kids. The traffic rolled by beneath me, the whole city going somewhere, hurrying there. The sky was blue, the air scrubbed clean by the storm.

Running towards home I passed a man with two white dogs. Most mornings we passed each other without a nod, his gaze never lifting from his cell phone as his dogs strolled off ahead of him. A coyote emerged on the ridge. It was tall and looked well-fed, its coat thick and unmatted. It was close, just feet above the road. It stood and calmly stared, watching the two dogs as they trotted off. I turned around and yelled to the man that there was a coyote and he should watch his dogs. He barked “What?” and immediately looked away. I repeated my warning, but he was staring at his phone again. The coyote, barely ten feet away now, didn’t move except to cock its head, regarding me with vague recrimination. I had narced and we both knew it. I kept running, laughing now. I had boxes to pack. So goodbye park. Goodbye green shoots and dead trees and patient brown earth. Goodbye stoners and cruisers. Goodbye coyote and silly white dogs. Goodbye L.A. for now.

 

Monday
Oct242016

RIP Renen Raz

 

Renen Raz died today. He was 28. I didn’t know Renen well and hadn’t kept in touch at all these last two years, but I know that Renen was as sweet and gentle as they come. We met in Nabi Saleh, probably in the summer of 2012. I would see him there many times thereafter, usually in the hills during a Friday demonstration, our conversations invariably interrupted by drifting tear gas. I remember him laughing and shouting with glee to bring my attention to a fat lizard resting on a rock as tear gas canisters fell all around us. I know Nabi Saleh meant a lot to him. He would tell me with pride how many times he had been arrested there, and with a sadder sort of pride that his activism had cost him his relationship with his family. Only once did I see him anywhere else: in the tiny Tel Aviv apartment that he shared with one enormous and very aggressive cat—his arms were always covered in long scratches—and, for a little while, with two puppies that he agreed to take in. People in the US often ask me if there aren’t Israelis who stand up against the actions of their government. Renen was one of the few who do, and did. May his courage and his kindness live on. 

Tuesday
Aug302016

But One Demand

Thursday
Aug112016

On Threats and Intimidation

 

Checkpoint 56, Hebron, February 2016 

I spent much of June and July feeling strangely optimistic. It is not a sentiment I am accustomed to feeling. But I was touring for my book and everywhere I went meeting people who were eager and excited to talk. Not all of them agreed with me about everything, which made me still happier, but I was heartened by the very clear fact that people in the US seemed ready, hungry even, for a conversation about the realities of Palestinian life under occupation, a subject that has for years been verboten in this country. Audiences were enthusiastically open to a perspective that they knew is far too rarely voiced here. My interlocutors were in some cases people with whom I disagree, but we were in every case able to speak and listen to one another with openness and respect. You don’t have to pay close attention to debates on Israel and Palestine in this country to know how remarkable that is. But it meant that I was able to end every talk I gave on a note of optimism that was sincere—the fact of our conversation, that it was occurring, and spreading, that it was becoming more and more possible to discuss the undiscussable, that alone gave me genuine hope. It was clear we had turned a corner.

But some realities have not gone away. I cannot think of anyone in the US, whether they are Jewish or Palestinian or neither, who has written critically about Israel who has not been smeared as an anti-Semite and an apologist for terror. And I know no one who has achieved any prominence while speaking out against injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state who has not received death threats for their work. Out of stoicism, stubbornness or shame, very few people talk about the threats they receive, but intimidation of the crudest sort forms the backdrop to the entire conversation about Israel and Palestine in this country. It marks and enforces the boundary line of what is say-able. If anyone does not know where that boundary lies, they swiftly find out. Any serious attempt to represent Palestinian realities is met with unrelenting threats and smears. The threats, fortunately, are rarely acted on. They nonetheless represent a brutal and consistent attempt to intimidate opposition into silence. And they are effective. Editors too receive death threats, and they rarely wish to risk receiving more. 

The crazy thing is that this is normal, and has been for years. In the chapters I wrote about the West Bank city of Hebron, I spoke about the strange idea of normalcy that reigns in that city, where having rocks and worse thrown into your home by settlers counts as “normal,” where beatings in the street by Israeli soldiers are entirely “normal.” I referred to Hebron half-seriously as if it were another planet because the norms of behavior there are so alien to our expectations. But this twisted sense of normalcy extends far beyond the extremist settler enclaves of Hebron, to Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, any place where critical political discourse can be counted on to be met with naked threats and campaigns of intimidation.

I don’t see any point in remaining quiet about this. In the last week alone I have repeatedly been called a Jew-hater and a terrorist, a murderer of children and pregnant women. It has been suggested to me that I should, and may, suffer a terrorist attack. I have been wished a painful death and promised that I will “get what is coming” to me. I am not complaining. I knew what I was getting into. I know that others have endured far worse harassment, and actual attacks. But these tactics must be exposed. The climate of fear that they create must not be allowed to stand. There is too much truth out there, and too much hunger for it.

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jun292016

The Humiliation Machine


The girl in the poster at the top of the photo is Hadeel Wajih 'Awwad. She was 14 when she died. She lived with her family in the Qalandia refugee camp, just outside the checkpoint of the same name, pictured above. You can read more about the checkpoint, and what it does, in this excerpt from my book, which went up on LitHub today. On March 1, 2013, Hadeel 'Awwad's older brother, Mahmoud, was shot in the back of the head with a rubber-coated bullet fired by Israeli soldiers during clashes outside the checkpoint. He spent the next eight months in a coma and died that November 28. He was 25. Two years later almost to the day, Hadeel woke up, made breakfast, and left the house. Her mother thought she was going to school. Instead she sneaked with her cousin Norhan, who was 16, into Jerusalem. They brought scissors with them and, in the Mahane Yehuda market, attempted to stab passersby. They managed to lightly wound a 70-year-old Palestinian man, whom they presumably mistook for an Israeli. A policeman shot them both, and continued shooting after both girls had fallen and lay on the ground, immobilized. Norhan survived. Hadeel did not. You can watch the video if you want. In any case, I took the photo above in January of this year. Hadeel's face was still pasted all over Ramallah when I went back again in May.