March For Palestine

March For Palestine: Jinan Shbat, national organizer for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which participated in the protest, told Arab News that it was a milestone for pro-Palestinian activism in the US in terms of the size and diversity of the crowd, which included Jewish, African-American, and other ethnic and religious groups.

“For so long, our tax dollars have funded the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people,” she said. “We came today so we can say it loud and clear to this administration that we as Americans will no longer be complicit in funding these atrocities.”

Shbat added that the protest is sending a message to the Biden administration and to Congress that they will be held accountable for their political decisions, and that “we’ll work to replace those who no longer serve our interests.”

‘Blindness’ at the Daryl Roth Theatre

In early May, we went to see ‘Blindness’ at the Daryl Roth Theatre in NYC. It’s ‘José Saramago’s timely, sinister story of a world in chaos… narrated with savage rage by Juliet Stevenson.’

Blindness is no ordinary play. Its setup is designed specifically for Covid-appropriate social distancing. This is how it works: People are ‘grouped in pairs who have come together… distanced from other pairs, and, at first, each pair sits under its own spotlight. There is no stage; the show occurs only in light and sound. Above audience members’ heads are a series of glowing neon tubes in primary and secondary colors, perfectly vertical and horizontal and meeting at right angles, reminiscent of the work of the artist Dan Flavin. The story, ably delivered, in a recorded monologue, by Stevenson, comes through headphones sporting “binaural” 3-D technology.’

The neon tubes move up and down, and for vast portions of the play, we are immersed in complete darkness.

As Kate Wyver wrote in the Guardian, ‘the piece is claustrophobic by nature, but when wearing the required mask… breathing suddenly feels much harder. At these points, the lack of sight is disorienting and the binaural sound design properly takes effect as the violence of the piece crawls beneath your skin. It feels as if Stevenson is whispering right into your ear, stroking your arm, holding that dripping knife.’

Light and sound have never been used more effectively to create patterns, moods, textures, and a sense of space and time. I was not surprised to learn that this is a Donmar Warehouse (London) production. I saw ‘Julius Caesar’ set in a women’s prison, brought to pulsating life by an all-female cast in 2012. Never forgot it.

The play’s narrator, or Storyteller, is voiced by the incredible Juliet Stevenson who’s absolutely dazzling here.

One of the strongest moments for me was towards the end, when the exit door opens. At that moment, Stevenson is describing her scarred city, come to a violent halt, littered with corpses, garbage, and dogs tearing apart flesh from the freshly fallen. That hell comes to an end, like a bad dream, when the door opens. We see a swath of beautiful green, welcome respite for deprived eyes. Yellow cabs pass by in the distance, pedestrians much closer to us. We hear the faint hum of a functioning city. Such relief and emotion.

Makes one wonder how a breakdown in food systems and other services would impact New York, how the idea of modern cities in general is ridiculous – rendering people helpless, isolated, vulnerable to shocks, fragile.

I was left with some thoughts about Saramago’s book. How he uses blindness as a metaphor — the stripping away “of the mirrors to the soul,” which ‘loosens the fragility of human and psychic bonds, and divests us of the will and rationale to maintain them.’

‘Near the end of the novel, when the blind people are getting their vision back, he has one of his characters remark:” I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”’

Although Saramago’s blindness is a ‘white disease,’ a ‘milky sea’ that spreads by visual contact, like the evil eye, an analysis of the text thru the lens of Disability Studies is important. A little surprised that in a city, where a raging, highly infectious white blindness is breaking down existing systems, people who are already blind (and adjusted) don’t play a more powerful, positive, central role. Less comfortable with the fact that Saramago’s Storyteller/protagonist (she is the all seer, leader, organizer, moral compass of the story) is the only person who has sight.

A remarkable experience all in all, and very much in line with my interest in audio storytelling (the Warp & Weft).

Working Towards Indigenous Liberation From Turtle Island to Palestine

Beautiful writing by Nick Estes, citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, brilliant historian, academic, and activist. He exchanged letters with PalFest co-organizer Maath Musleh and wrote about Indigenous struggles and solidarities between Palestine and Turtle Island, but also with Indigenous nations in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Aotearoa.

‘I began this letter in Mni Luzahan (Rapid City), a white-dominated settlement sitting at the base of He Sapa, the Black Hills, our sacred mountains. More than 50 Indigenous nations maintain historical ties to this place, a land stolen from us to mine gold, a metal to us that had no intrinsic value.

This is our al-Quds.

For Lakotas, we call it “the heart of everything that is.” From space, the outline of the mountains looks like a human heart. The stories tell us humanity began here, shaped from the dirt — which is red like our blood.

N. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa author, once wrote that his grandmother’s stories of this landscape “lay like memory in her blood.” Confined to the reservation most of her life, she had never visited He Sapa but recounted her people’s history of this place.
Yesterday, I read an article about the migratory birds that fly into Gaza. The quails enter and leave, if not captured by the hungry, doing what many Gazans can’t: they enter and leave the world’s largest open air prison camp.

Last week, millions throughout the world went on strike against climate change — in fear of an uninhabitable world. A young, inspiring Norwegian girl is the poster child for the movement. I wonder: What if she were a Palestinian, Syrian, or Guatemalan child? Would there be the same kind of mass support? No one seems to care that a future has already been taken from these children. They make news only when they die: their bodies wash ashore; they die in a prison camp; or they are gunned by Israeli snipers.

A European child crosses an ocean by boat for a righteous cause, embraced by millions. A Syrian child dies making a perilous journey seeking refuge in the very nations that have destroyed hers — and only harsher immigration laws are passed.
A pit sits in my stomach as I remember the beauty of our mountains, where we became human. What’s the point of saving the planet if billions are still hungry, unsafe, and under the constant shadow of war?’ More here.

The Tower – Interview with Filmmaker

Friends, I am pleased to return to the Witness Palestine Film Festival, on Sunday June 13 at 3pm, to interview filmmaker Mats Grorud and the Chair of the Centre for Palestine Studies at SOAS, Dr. Dina Matar. We will be talking about ‘The Tower.’

This is an important time to learn about Palestine and become a part of the global solidarity movement. You can watch the film on Amazon.

I was one of the activists who helped create the WPFF in 2011. Was on the organizing team for 7 years, so it’s an honor to be back. Hope to see you then!

THE TOWER: This beautifully animated film tells the story of Wardi, a young Palestinian girl who lives with her family in the Lebanese refugee camp where she was born. Her beloved great-grandfather, “Sidi,” was one of the first people to settle in the camp after being exiled from his home and homeland, Palestine, in 1948. When Sidi gives Wardi the key to his old house back in the Galilee, she fears he may have lost hope of someday returning home. As she searches for Sidi’s lost hope around the camp, she collects her family’s testimonies, from one generation to the next. An uplifting film that captures the story of Palestine through four generations.

happy birthday to our daughter

it’s our daughter’s birthday today. we named her nermeen from ‘nerm,’ meaning softness or gentleness in urdu. lora mathis hadn’t come up with the idea of ‘radical softness’ back then, but without having the words for it, i knew it was a rejection of the cutthroat capitalist systems we live under. the survival of the fittest and all that. i was hoping for something different. happy birthday gentle one! love u forever <3

Root To Leaf by Missy Pfohl Smith

i’d like to share something beautiful this morning. as u know, the warp & weft is an audio archive of stories about 2020, the first of its kind i believe. it weaves together many voices, languages, and POVs. it also includes responses by artists to stories that moved them. the warp & weft is an ongoing project, and today i’d like to share a new artistic/dance response by Missy Pfohl Smith. i am honored that she used my story, about the non-linearity of time and the connectedness between all that we call life, as inspiration for this gorgeous, organic piece. it’s called ‘root to leaf.’ pls watch. this is my story if u’d like to hear it.


Exterminate All the Brutes: a critique by Mara Ahmed

i wrote this piece in the middle of the bombing of gaza. it’s a critique of raoul peck’s “exterminate all the brutes” and it pivots on his terse (and highly problematic) treatment of palestine. it got published by mondoweiss today. i know that a lot is going on right now that’s urgent, but i also think it’s more important than ever to root out liberal zionism from what’s considered the left:

No, Palestine is not complicated, Mr. Peck. It’s settler colonialism unfolding “live” before our eyes. As the Nakba continues in 2021, with full on ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah and war crimes in Gaza, it’s more egregious than ever to hide behind evasive language or recycled Zionist tropes. More here.

there is a ceasefire but what’s next?

there is a ceasefire in place at the moment with a break in the bombing of gaza, thank god, but that does not change the reality of settler colonialism, ongoing ethnic cleansing, apartheid, an illegal blockade, military occupation, the imprisonment of children, checkpoints that negate freedom of movement, and non-stop human rights violations. this has been going on, in various forms, since 1948.

it’s been painful to read posts on social media, by well-meaning people who couch their support in abstract language, never mention israel as the aggressor/colonizer, or engage in bothsidesism (pray for both sides, mourn lives lost on both sides, there are extremists on both sides, etc). essentially, they are affirming the equivalent of ‘all lives matter.’

the majority of people have been silent which is even more unsettling.

consider this:

israel has one of the best equipped militaries in the world (thx to our tax dollars), palestinians do not have an army, air force or navy. they don’t control their borders, with no sovereign title over the west bank or gaza strip. this is why we see the obscene disparity in numbers of people killed and wounded.

another set of numbers might be helpful:

per capita GDP for gaza: $876
per capital GDP for israel: $34,185

gaza is sealed from all sides by israel. every few years they ‘cut the grass’ by bombing one of the most densely populated areas in the world. then they don’t allow concrete in, so palestinians can’t rebuild their homes. materials needed to construct vital water infrastructure are not permitted either so there’s a chronic water crisis in gaza. israel limits the amount of electricity gaza can access per day. they even restrict the amount of calories allowed for its population by blocking food.

another interesting fact:

children constitute about half of gaza’s population. the median age is 17.

there is no reason for not knowing – this information is freely available, a lot of it provided by the UN.

i look at this media/social media landscape and understand why grotesque crimes against humanity have been possible in history. it’s easy to look back and decry slavery and genocide. it’s much harder to recognize it, speak about it, and resist it while it’s happening.

those who have spoken up, written posts, made calls, protested, declared their position and invited wrath from their communities, thank you. we see you and we find hope in ur integrity. “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” inshallah.

Action you can take: Tell Congress to Stop Weapons sales to Israel NOW

You can find out who your Representative is via zip code/address here.

Script to read for Representatives who are NOT taking action:

My name is [NAME], I am calling as a constituent of [YOUR REPRESENTATIVE NAME] to call upon them to add their name as a co-sponsor to the House Joint Resolution to block the sale of $735 million in U.S. weaponry to the Israeli government. Under no circumstances should we be approving weapons sales to the Israeli government as we see them deploy military resources to target Palestinian families, media outlets, schools, hospitals, and Gaza’s only COVID test site. I am asking my Representative to add their name to the Resolution. Thank you.

Friends in Palestine, Has the Future Arrived?

‘During this week of Eid, I want to honour my friends in Palestine for what they taught and continue to teach, to me and to others. In “Letter from Gaza” by the Palestinian revolutionary and novelist Ghassan Kanafani, a young man writes to his friend Mustafa to explain his broken promise that they would start their lives anew in the United States, and his decision instead to stay behind in Gaza. In “this Gaza [that is] like the introverted lining of a rusted snail-shell thrown up by the waves on the sticky, sandy shore by the slaughter-house. This Gaza [that] was more cramped than the mind of a sleeper in the throes of a fearful nightmare…” In the amputation of his 13-year-old niece’s leg – Israel’s sadistic gifts from the skies are indiscriminating – he comes to discover that the “long, long road to Safad,” a city in the occupied upper Galilee, starts from his home in Gaza. He concludes the letter to his friend: “I won’t come to you. But you, return to us! Come back, to learn from Nadia’s leg, amputated from the top of the thigh, what life is and what existence is worth.”

Has that future of return arrived? Are we inhabiting that moment of a dream that seemed impossible? It is difficult to even write these words, given the harrowing images coming from Gaza: of entire families wiped out by Israel’s continuous bombardment over these last days. Yet, as bombs crack open the earth in Gaza, we are feeling the rumble across the world.

In the air, there appears the possibility of an awakening of political consciousness, the moral force of resistance from all corners of the world screaming for an end to this brutality.’ More here.

Activate, Reimagine, Transform UArts Conference

Friends, I am honored to be a part of ‘Activate, Reimagine, Transform,’ a virtual gathering hosted by the UR Institute for the Performing Arts, in partnership with the UR Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center, 540WMain, Create A Space Now, and Rochester Fringe Festival. I will be talking about The Injured Body: a film about racism in America and so much more. It will be multimedia, as usual, with clips from the documentary and hopefully, the premiere of a film trailer. I will be presenting on opening night, June 3rd, at 8pm. The conference runs June 3-6 and is completely free. Pls register here.

Statement: Zionism is Not Compatible with Prison Abolition or Reform – Critical Resistance

Activists involved in anti-racism work, pls read, sign, and consider your relationships with Zionist organizations such as the Jewish Federation and the Levine Center to End Hate.

Zionism is Not Compatible with Prison Abolition or Reform: We are formerly incarcerated people, activists and scholars committed to ending mass incarceration and dismantling the U.S. prison industrial complex. We are deeply concerned with the mounting effort on the part of pro-Israel, Zionist organizations in the U.S. to appropriate a criminal justice reform platform in order to advance the racist ideology and practice of Zionism. These organizations are using this platform to win prison reform advocates, especially Black and other people of color, to their political agenda of attacking the human rights of the Palestinian people. This subterfuge is particularly hypocritical at a time when Zionist groups have recently mounted frontal attacks against Black leaders such as Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander and Marc Lamont Hill because of their support for Palestinian freedom, and at a time when Israel is brutally escalating their offensive against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. We call upon all those involved in the prison reform and abolition movements to refuse to participate in these dishonest and destructive programs. More here.

[Founded by Angela Davis, Rose Braz, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and others in 1997, Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.]


Obaida

Last year, I worked with JVP to organize a Palestinian film festival. One of the films I suggested was the story of a 15-year old boy named Obaida. The festival didn’t go anywhere, but we develop a sense of connection to the people on the screen. We learn a small part of their story. We feel like we know them a little. I just found out from a post by the film’s director that Obaida was killed earlier today. An Israeli soldier shot a bullet through his heart. I have no words, just deep grief and immense rage. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. May u rest in peace, sweet child.

Matthew Cassel (May 17):
I write this through tears after learning that Obaida Jawabreh, who I met in his refugee camp two years ago when he was just 15, was killed earlier today by an Israeli soldier’s bullet to his heart. Obaida was so curious, I was supposed to be the one conducting the interview but he spent our few days together asking me more questions than I asked him. He wanted to become a chef, but surrounded in every direction by Israeli military, checkpoints and settlements, even chasing such a simple dream was always going to be tough. He died before his 18th birthday. My heart goes out to his family, especially to his dear father Akram, who would send me the sweetest messages on holidays long after our meeting. He loved his son and wanted nothing more than to watch him grow up away from the occupation. Together with Defense for Children International – Palestine I made this video on Obaida in 2019. May he now rest in the peace that he was denied throughout his life.