What do you do when Netroots is just not that into you?
Jun 17, 2011
This is my second day of Netroots and I need to register the fact that I feel like an outsider here and sense common cause only with the many Asians who are here. Though they are not included entirely either.
The simple physics of it are: My issue is Israel Palestine and the Democratic Party’s leftwing base, the netroots, is not sure how it feels about Israel and Palestine. Jews are simply too important to the Democratic party and Jews are still largely Zionist, and that’s the deal, kid. I haven’t heard the word Palestine mentioned in a plenary session yet, even when they brought out an inspiring Pakistani blogger who mentioned atrocities.
Yesterday there was a panel titled “What to do when the President is just not that into you,” where I ought to have felt at home, I mean the president is not that into me; I heard him promise in Cairo 2 years ago to end settlements and since then he doesn’t write or call. But what were the issues — immigration and gay marriage and the ways those advocates feel sold out by Obama.
One theme of the conference is economic justice and I like economic justice, particularly because I am staying in my old haunts in Frogtown, St. Paul, and Frogtown is a hurting place. University and Snelling used to be a bustling economic zone, today it looks bombed out. The bête noire of the netroots conference are the Koch brothers. You can’t go to any panel without people taking shots at them, and also the Citizens United case. Last night Russ Feingold gave a stirring speech saying that the corporations were taking over our political process in much the way that they did in the Gilded Age and just as the progressive era followed that earlier chapter, we are on the verge of a great era of reform. We hope. Well I like that.
Except there is no foreign policy piece. There is no real talk about the endless wars. They come up here and there, but there is just no antiwar movement at Netroots and you can count the panels that address international issues on one hand, or two fingers. There was an Arab spring panel yesterday (it was great; I’ll have more to tell about that one) and this afternoon an Afghanistan one. Happy days. And just now on the big stage Kaili Joy Gray of DailyKos, who you might know as Angry Mouse, asked White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer about Guantanamo. Good for her.
But they’re not talking about Obama’s wars. Stem cells. Tax cuts. Same sex marriage. Climate change. Immigration reform. Food stamps. I am told that at the last Netroots, DailyKos commenters on Israel/Palestine thought about having a panel on the question but no one wanted to shed their Angry Anonymity.
Hey: It’s still too costly on the Democratic left to care about this issue.
You can say that people don’t care about foreign policy and I would agree. I gather there were two questions about foreign policy at the Republican presidential debate the other night. 2006 was the rare foreign policy election, but the country avoided the subject in 2008 and it will surely try and do so again in 2012. Except for Ron Paul.
Still I think the situation is unsustainable. Netroots is out of touch with the grassroots at a certain level, and you cannot see the urban destitution on University Avenue without reflecting that America’s wars have a lot to do with it and that the empowered elite that support the Israeli occupation has something to do with the Bush-Obama wars in the Middle East. That populist strain in the American discourse is largely absent here, amid all the talk of economic justice.
The one good sign for me are the many Asians here, and the Muslims. DailyKos is getting browner. These folks get it. Last night Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said that 100 languages are spoken in Minneapolis and immigrants are the key to America’s global future, key to our living in peace. I found that stirring. I can’t wait for those grassroots to come to the grassroots.
‘Don’t Play in Tel Aviv! Apartheid is Not Punk Rock!’: An Open Letter to Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine
Jun 17, 2011
Punks Against Apartheid
We are fans of yours, people who have been influenced and inspired by your work. There’s no doubt that over the past thirty years, while so much of American culture has been inundated by cookie-cutter corporate pop, your words and music stood apart in calling out hypocrisy, corruption and oppression. Without that kind of commitment, it’s safe to say that honest, unflinching, politically-charged music wouldn’t look quite the way it does today.
Which is why we must strongly urge you to reconsider your decision for you and the Guantanamo School of Medicine to play your show in Tel Aviv on July 2nd. Sure, you may be sick of hearing it by now. Even a quick glance at your Facebook page will reveal tons of uproar around it. But understand, it’s because your work has meant just that much to so many people. If you play that show it will definitely leave a rather sick smirch right in the center of that work. It will send a message that when it’s really hard to do the right thing, solidarity can be thrown out the window. You’ve never been one to back down during those times, and there’s no reason to start now.
Over the past couple weeks you’ve engaged with many voices in the Palestine solidarity movement, in particular the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in the UK and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Without belaboring their arguments, it is worth admitting that your correspondence, while certainly reflecting the kind of humility and fair-mindedness you’ve always brought to your activism, is also inaccurate at many points, and we feel the need to correct these inaccuracies as fellow punks and activists.
Your assertion, for example that “both the Israeli Left and the Palestinian Left are divided” in their support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is at best an over-generalization. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions National Committee (BNC) is supported by all major labor union federations in Palestine, the Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition, the General Union of Palestinian Women, the Union of Palestinian Farmers, disability groups, religious organizations, refugee groups and more.
As PACBI pointed out in their letter to you, “All the popular committees struggling against the wall are part of the BDS movement and have called on their supporters to respect our boycott guidelines.” In total over 170 Palestinian civil society groups have endorsed the BNC’s 2005 call for BDS. Author Omar Barghouti calls it “the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations inside historic Palestine and in exile.”
Nor is it so marginal even among the Israeli left–and its support is growing. In fact, so recognized is the threat that BDS poses to Israel’s machinations that “delegitimization,” that is the diplomatic and economic isolation of Israel, has now become a common topic in mainstream Israeli politics.
You’ve emphasized the “fact-finding” end of your trip, and the announcement of a film crew documenting your trip seems to reflect this emphasis. By all means, go and see for yourself. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters was in a similar position but made the decision to educate himself prior to performing in Tel Aviv; he has since joined the BDS movement in support of cultural boycott. If money is an issue (plane tickets to the Middle East aren’t cheap!) then consider reaching out to raise it. For every Israeli organization willing to foot the bill for you to play, there are plenty of Palestinian groups who will gladly help you witness that reality firsthand. If a Kickstarter account can be started up to fund a film about your trip to Israel, you can most certainly start one up for a fact-finding mission.
You say in your follow-up letter that you “don’t see how the Netanyahu government could manipulate this event for their own purposes. What right wing regime in their right mind would want to namedrop me? I am not exactly known for keep my mouth shut onstage, especially about human rights violations…”
Sure, you ain’t Justin Bieber. But the very fact that you will be speaking out from the stage in the first place will give the Israeli press the opportunity to crow about Israel’s “tolerance” in the midst of an “intolerant” Arab world. Given the dust that has been kicked up around this whole fiasco, it can be all but guaranteed that this is bound to happen. That can already be seen in a small way on JBGSM’s Facebook page, which has been all but hijacked by chauvinistic comments–ranging from claims that Israel is “open to everyone” right on down to the worst kind of gutter anti-Arab racism. And that’s just a handful of kooks on Facebook–imagine what the Israeli media, with its close relationship to Western “McNews,” can accomplish! Each musician that breaks the call for BDS further normalizes the abhorrent injustices of colonization, occupation, and apartheid that are being perpetuated against Palestinians. As members of the global punk community, this is something we can’t allow our music and efforts to be a part of–punk must stand on the side of liberation and freedom.
Regimes who use the white man’s burden as their cornerstone are always eager to twist criticism around into smug self-satisfaction. Perhaps the government won’t get a financial boon out of the performance, but it very well might still be a propaganda victory. This is to say nothing of Israeli businesses–also a target of BDS.
This is particularly pressing now, as the Israeli state is preparing another onslaught against the next Flotilla to Gaza, which is meant to breach Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. You stand the risk of breaking this international picket line right when its strength is needed the most. In six years, the BDS movement has managed to win the support of countless artists and musicians, but it’s still young. You, Jello, are in a unique place to either weaken or strengthen this movement. This is just as important as the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against apartheid South Africa – a picket line you respected and endorsed. Now, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa are supporting the call for BDS against Israel. Desmond Tutu said: “If apartheid ended, so can the occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.”
We know you don’t take this decision lightly, Jello. You have never been one to shrug off the crimes committed by the world’s powerful governments against ordinary people. But this is about a lot more than the crimes of Netanyahu or the occupation; it’s about what can put an end to them once and for all. At this crucial turning point for Palestine, now more than ever, it’s about solidarity.
A family in Gaza struggles to rebuild following repeated Israeli attacks
Jun 17, 2011
The Abu Sa’ad home in Jahr el Deek. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)
37-year-old Nasr Abu Sa’ad is holding a demonstration with his children outside the United Nations in Gaza with the aim of convincing them to rebuild his home which was shelled five times in July 2010 and another four times this April. Here is his story.
Somewhere in the north-east of Gaza, there is a beautiful patch of land. There are watermelons bursting from the earth on the left and chillies popping out from the right. The fields roll endlessly in parallel symmetry. There’s a church tower to the east and people kissing the ground to the west. It’s the kind of place you would dream of retiring to. It is serene and idyllic. Olive groves become lemon orchards. I simply do not have the words.
Four of the Abu Sa’ad children. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)
At the bottom of the butternut plant garden is a wall. It reaches high into the air, like it is trying to cheat its way into heaven. A few hundred metres in front of the wall lies a shell. This shell once was home to a man called Nasr, his wife and their five children Alaa, Sa’ad, Jabel, Baha and Maysaa.
Eleven months ago Nasr’s wife, Naama stood in front of their home and from a mound, about 500 metres away, a bomb was tossed at her. It was a nail bomb. It shredded both the house and the mother, God rest her soul.
Naama bled out as ambulances were prevented from reaching the house, which is in Jahr el Deek, in the north of the Gaza Strip. Five tank shells were also fired that day. The excuse given was that terrorists were suspected of being in the house.
On April 28, 2011, Nasr’s home was shelled again, four times, destroying the bedroom which held all the keepsakes belonging to Nasr’s wife. The first shell rocketed through the bedroom, where Nasr was resting, leaving behind it more hole than wall.
Damage to the Abu Sa’ad home. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)
“It was dark, the electricity cut as soon as the attack began. I was afraid to move, too scared to even turn on the flashlight on my mobile. I was afraid that they would shell again if they saw any movement. But then I heard children, crying for me to get them out from under the rubble. I went into the corridor and could see Alaa underneath the rubble, but I could only see Maysaa’s hand sticking out”, said Nasr. “It was terrible. I didn’t know where my other children were and feared they had been killed.”
After his wife was killed, Nasr applied for assistance to have his house rebuilt. He told me that the United Nations had explained to him that his house wasn’t damaged enough to warrant being rebuilt. Since it was shelled again in April, Nasr has been attempting again to have his house rebuilt.
On June 19, Nasr and his children will head to the United Nations building in Gaza to stage a protest, hoping to pressurise them into rebuilding his home. Currently they are living in a tent, a few hundred metres away from their skeletal house.
“The only thing that keeps me here,” explained Nasr, “is that this is my home. My brothers and I worked so hard to buy this land. We used to live of the price of a packet of cigarettes in order to save enough money to buy this farm.”
As I sit down with Nasr, his children pop their heads out of a door, grin cheekily and scurry out of sight. The eldest, Baha, is 12 years old and has a sombre face. He doesn’t giggle with the others, but holds on determinedly to his youngest brother. His height barely reaches my elbows but he carries more weight and responsibility than I could ever pretend to understand.
(Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)
Nasr shows me what remains of his house. He carefully tidies the rubble as we stumbled through, as though he was straightening a pillow. The bedroom, which used to contain all of his wife’s possessions, is utterly destroyed. All that remains, aside from the shards of splintered mirror and unusable furniture, is a dusty Quran. All evidence that she ever existed has been obliterated.
There’s no longer a roof. The staircase is cluttered with unidentifiable pieces of house corpse and the central wall to the house has so many bullet holes that it looks like a sieve. It seems voyeuristic, as though I’m witnessing a vulnerability that is taboo. I reach the upstairs and I’m greeted by half-walls in every direction. This should be a landing, with rooms separated by walls. But I can view the inside of each room simultaneously, through the innumerable rifts in the walls. I see right into the decimated bedroom through a hole taller than me and out to the garden, through another. I am overcome with such a sense of paradox that my brain physically begins to ache. Through the bomb-hole to the outside, I can see red flowers and cucumber plants. I see a freshly-harvested wheat field and a grazing cow. The juxtaposition does not make any sense and I will never, ever be able to reconcile the two images with one another.
As we head outside, Nasr points to the garden path and looks at me. “This is where she was martyred,” he said gently. “She was just standing right here.” The garden is decorated with pink and red flowers, behind which are metal sheets, still bearing the scars from the nail bomb that hit eleven months ago. There are gashes the size of my forearm and the house has such injuries that I never believed existed outside of slasher movies.
“They shoot at us almost every day,” Nasr spoke up. “They were shooting today; at our plants and at the earth.” In the few hours that I was at Jahr el Deek, I heard at least two drones and saw an apache helicopter. Jeeps strutted along the border kicking up dust. And in front of Nasr’s home, a single white sheet is tied atop a wooden stick.
I find myself clumsy with my own limbs, unable to coordinate my thoughts or actions. I am overwhelmed with what feels like a fist in my sternum as I try to process that flag. It is, simply, forcing a family to apologise for having their mother killed.
Nasr walks me back to his olive grove, near the tent where he is living with his children. He spoke again, “There is only one thing that would drive me off my land; my death.”
The while flag flying out the Abu Sa’ad home. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)
Ruqaya Izzidien is a British journalist and cartoonist based in Gaza