+972 Magazine » +972 Blog http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Sat, 25 Jun 2016 11:13:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 In first, Israel grants refugee status to Sudanese asylum seeker http://972mag.com/in-first-israel-grants-refugee-status-to-sudanese-asylum-seeker/120209/ http://972mag.com/in-first-israel-grants-refugee-status-to-sudanese-asylum-seeker/120209/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 10:41:33 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120209 Six years after he fled Darfur for Israel, Mutasim Ali, one of the leaders of the asylum seekers’ struggle in Israel, has been granted refugee status. Ali: ‘Now I can live a normal life with dignity.’ 

By Yael Marom

African asylum seeker protest leader Mutasim Ali is driven to Holot detention center. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

African asylum seeker protest leader Mutasim Ali is driven to Holot detention center. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Mutasim Ali was in the middle of his law school class when he learned that he would become the first Sudanese asylum seeker to be granted refugee status in Israel. According to the announcement, which was sent by fax to Attorney Asaf Weitzen, who represents Ali on behalf of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri had decided to grant Ali refugee status.

Israel has yet to respond to nearly 1,000 asylum requests lodged by Darfuris who fled their country to Israel. These join a long list of over 10,000 of requests by asylum seekers — the vast majority of whom are Eritrean and Sudanese, which are still waiting for a response from the state. Many of these asylum have been in Israel since 2005.

“This is huge, I’m still in shock. I didn’t believe this would happen,” Ali told +972′s Hebrew sister-site, Local Call. “I thank the State of Israel for letting me stay here for all these years, and that it made a decision to grant me refugee status. I hope this is the first step in a positive direction, and that direction should be to grant refugee status to all those who are eligible, regardless of where they come from. Even if our stories are different, they are also very similar, and I am sure that many of us are eligible — all the state needs to do is check.”

“This will be a fundamental change in my life,” says Ali, “Now I can begin to think like a normal person. I won’t worry about what may happen tomorrow. I can live a normal life, with dignity — it’s an incredible thing.”

“The status will give me the space to do bigger things, and specifically to work toward change in my home country — because in the end I will go back there. Meanwhile I believe that I will be able to contribute more to Israeli society.”

African asylum seeker protest leader Mutasim Ali speaks at his support event in Levinsky Park. (photo: Oren ZIv/Activestills.org)

African asylum seeker protest leader Mutasim Ali speaks at his support event in Levinsky Park. (photo: Oren ZIv/Activestills.org)

Now that he has been granted status, Ali will need to make an appointment with the Interior Ministry, where he will receive a certificate acknowledging his new status. From there he will go to the National Insurance Institute, and will need to count six months until he is eligible for national health insurance.

The path of a refugee

Ali left his village in Darfur in 2003 to study at Omdurman Islamic University, where he became a political activist. In 2005, while he was still in university, pro-government militias burned his village to the ground, forcing his parents to flee to a refugee camp in northern Darfur, where they live today.

During his studies Ali became an activist to raise awareness about what was happening in Darfur. He organized and took part in nonviolent protests, and called on the international community to intervene in the conflict. He was arrested multiple times, was put in solitary confinement, and tortured. He was never put on trial. After his last arrest, he was forced to flee the country.

Ali came to Israel in May 2009 and was jailed for several months. After his release he attempted to file an asylum request, yet the Interior Ministry prevented him from doing so multiple times. In 2012 Ali submitted a request according to the ministry’s procedures — he was never summoned for an interview.

Over the past few years Ali has become one of the most prominent leaders and spokespeople of the asylum seeker community in Israel. In May 2014 he was sent along with thousands of other asylum seekers to Holot detention center in the Negev Desert. Shortly thereafter the asylum seekers launched a massive protest movement across the country, which Ali helped lead. He was released after 14 months in Holot, but only after the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants filed three administrative appeals and three appeals to the Supreme Court.

In response to the Interior Ministry’s decision, Attorney Asaf Weitzen told Local Call: “I commend the decision and the fact that further legal proceedings are unnecessary for Mutasim Ali to be recognized as a refugee. It is very moving that after all the difficulties and such a long period of uncertainty, imprisonment, and endless legal proceedings, Mutasim finally received the status he is eligible for. I hope that this is a sign of things to come.”

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew. 

Newsletter banner

http://972mag.com/in-first-israel-grants-refugee-status-to-sudanese-asylum-seeker/120209/feed/ 0
Asylum seekers call on Europe to try Eritrean leader for crimes against humanity http://972mag.com/asylum-seekers-call-on-europe-to-try-eritrean-president-for-war-crimes/120191/ http://972mag.com/asylum-seekers-call-on-europe-to-try-eritrean-president-for-war-crimes/120191/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:32:41 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120191 Thousands of Eritrean asylum seekers demonstrate in front of the European Union Embassy in support of a UN Commission of Inquiry to examine human rights abuses by the Eritrean dictatorship.

By Inbal Ben Yehuda

Eritreans rally outside the European Union Embassy in Ramat Gan, Israel. (photo: Iasso Buletch)

Eritreans rally outside the European Union Embassy in Ramat Gan, Israel. (photo: Taj Haroun)

Over 2,000 Eritrean asylum seekers demonstrated in front of the European Union Embassy in Ramat Gan on Tuesday in support a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Commission of Inquiry examining human rights violations in their home country.


The protesters marched from Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv toward the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in Ramat Gan, where the EU building is located. The organizers brought 22 buses full of asylum seekers from Holot detention center, where thousands of Eritrean asylum seekers are currently detained by Israel. Sudanese asylum seekers and Israeli activists also attended the demonstration to show their solidarity.

The protests were organized following the publishing of the second half of the UNHRC’s report on June 8, which was presented on Tuesday to the council in Geneva.

The demonstrators chanted slogans in both English and Tigrinya against the Eritrean regime, specifically against President Isaias Afwerki, such as: “Isaias must go” and “Isaias to the ICC.”

Bluts Iyassu, who has been living in Israel for six years and was sent to Holot 10 months ago, and who came to the demonstration to show support explained: “The UN committee established that the Eritrean authorities are committing crimes against humanity. The asylum seekers from Holot are joining the rest of the Eritrean community with the goal of demanding justice for our country.”

Iyassu expects the UN to act to bring Afwerki to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and that they take seriously the situation of Eritrean asylum seekers across the world. He expressed a similar expectation from both the Israeli government and society: “We ask the State of Israel to do everything it can to help us turn our country into a place worth living in, based on justice and respect for human rights. We hope they examine our asylum claims instead of calling us “infiltrators” and “migrant workers.”

“There is no pride in being refugees,” he added, “we are all longing to return to our home.”

The two-part UN report accuses the Eritrean government, President Afwerki, and other high-level officials in the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) of violation of human rights and crimes against humanity, including torture, rape, and murder of a civilian population.

Both sides of the aisle

Over the past several weeks Eritreans from across Europe have been traveling to Geneva, where a fierce ideological battle is taking place between the political camps in the Eritrean diaspora, including in Israel. On the one hand are opponents of Afwerki’s dictatorial regime who are set to demonstrate in support of the Commission of Inquiry on Thursday. On the other hand are regime supporters who will march in Geneva on Thursday against what they see as a “sickening report” that does not reflect the reality in the country and was written by people who have never stepped foot in Eritrea.

Eritreans demonstrate in support of a UN Commission of Inquiry examining human rights abuses by the Eritrean dictatorship, Geneva, July 23, 2016. (photo: Selam Kidane)

Eritreans demonstrate in support of a UN Commission of Inquiry examining human rights abuses by the Eritrean dictatorship, Geneva, July 23, 2016. (photo: Selam Kidane)

Iyassu believes that despite what propaganda websites hope to show to regime loyalists around the world, the rally in support of Afwerki will not be a large one. Aside from several members of the ruling party, the demo will likely be attended by older refugees and immigrants who have been living in Europe for 40 years, and who have no idea what has been taking place in Eritrea over the past few decades since the country gained its independence in 1991.

“We also love our country,” says Iyassu, “but the dictatorship that runs it is killing people.”

Inbal Ben Yehuda is a graduate student of African Studies. She blogs for African, Local Call, and the Forum for Regional Thinking. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Newsletter banner

http://972mag.com/asylum-seekers-call-on-europe-to-try-eritrean-president-for-war-crimes/120191/feed/ 0
Ya’alon is only the latest Israeli security official to back Iran deal http://972mag.com/yaalon-is-only-the-latest-israeli-security-official-to-back-the-iran-deal/120184/ http://972mag.com/yaalon-is-only-the-latest-israeli-security-official-to-back-the-iran-deal/120184/#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2016 15:02:25 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120184 In declaring that there are no existential threats to Israel, the former defense minister joins a litany of current and former security officials who have spoken out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.

By Ali Gharib

Moshe Ya’alon announces his resignation as Israel’s defense minister at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Moshe Ya’alon announces his resignation as Israel’s defense minister at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

When world powers led by the United States signed a nuclear deal with Iran, American neoconservatives and other pro-Israel hawks were positively apoplectic. Mark Kirk, the Republican senator from Illinois who enjoys a consistent windfall of pro-Israel campaign cash, said that the deal was worse than the Munich agreement with Nazi Germany. The Wall Street Journal opinion page’s Bret Stephens actually used that as a headline: “Worse than Munich.”


In fairness, these hawks were just taking their cues from Israel itself. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long regarded Iran as a second coming of the Nazis. He stated this unequivocally when the world was on the cusp of a nuclear deal—and defended the line of argument when it was criticized. That this notion would echo through rank-and-file right-wing Israel supporters in America should be no surprise: they have long been clear in their affinity for Netanyahu and his bankrupt worldview.

Oddly, however, Netanyahu’s tack seems to have always engendered more detractors in Israel itself — and not just lily-livered peaceniks. One hawkish figure, Netanyahu’s last defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, didn’t ever directly repudiate the comparisons of Iran to the Nazis but never made them himself. An eight-year member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Ya’alon recently parted ways acrimoniously with the government. At a speech to this year’s Herzliya Conference (the “neocon Woodstock“), he delivered a blistering attack on Netanyahu and his rhetoric. Here’s The Washington Post‘s translation:

At this time and in the foreseeable future, there is not an existential threat to Israel. Israel is the strongest state in the region and there is an enormous gap between it and every country and organization around it. Therefore, it is appropriate for the leadership in Israel to stop scaring the citizens and to stop telling them that we are on the verge of a second Holocaust.

But Ya’alon didn’t stop there. He went on to more-or-less endorse the Iran nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, said Ya’alon, “has been frozen in light of the deal signed by the world powers and does not constitute an immediate, existential threat for Israel.” It’s hard to see how this latest statement could possibly stand in opposition to Secretary of State John Kerry’s defense that “the people of Israel will be safer with this deal.”

Ya’alon’s turn-around has been nothing short of stunning. Though eschewing comparisons to the Nazis, he was a vociferous critic of diplomacy with Iran. As Netanyahu pointed out in his rebuttal to Ya’alon, the then-defense minister called Iran an “existential threat” to Israel just four months ago. “One cannot express full confidence in the leadership when one is part of it and then say the complete opposite when you are outside,” Netanyahu said in response to Ya’alon’s latest remarks, according to the Post. “Therefore, no importance should be ascribed to such political attacks.”

But actually one can expect exactly that. When one is in government, one is responsible to higher authorities. A government official must toe the line — it is literally part of their job — or resign and speak out. In this case, Ya’alon followed orders until his relationship with the government ended. Only then did he give voice to his criticisms. Ya’alon’s announcement that he had his own political ambitions was an additional complication — see: the “political attacks” that Netanyahu referred to — but it does not obviate what he is saying.

After all, Ya’alon is not merely casting himself as an outsider of Israeli politics. Rather, he is joining a litany of current and former security officials who have spoken out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal. Dissent from Netanyahu’s anti-Iran belligerence can be found at the top echelons of the military and among other nodes of the security establishment. The list is not limited to individuals, either. Israel’s nuclear commission, a bureaucratic body of experts created to advise the government, has also endorsed the deal. And yet in the U.S., hawks ignore the mounting accumulation of these countervailing opinions.

It’s a remarkable show of intellectual dishonesty. Some neocons bristle at being called Likudniks — they think it smacks of dual-loyalty accusations — but until now it seemed apt. With even a Likud man like Ya’alon breaking with Netanyahu’s party, however, it might be said that, today, neocons are hardly even Likudniks; they’re pure Netanyahuists. There is nothing that can make them so much as even acknowledge criticisms of the Israeli prime minister, let alone accept those criticisms. They are showing, once again, that their neoconservative ideology is just as bankrupt as their idol Netanyahu.

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. This article was first published on Lobelog.com. It is reproduced here with permission.

Newsletter banner

http://972mag.com/yaalon-is-only-the-latest-israeli-security-official-to-back-the-iran-deal/120184/feed/ 4
Settlers crowd-fund construction of illegal outpost on Palestinian land http://972mag.com/settlers-crowd-fund-construction-of-illegal-outpost-on-palestinian-land/120173/ http://972mag.com/settlers-crowd-fund-construction-of-illegal-outpost-on-palestinian-land/120173/#comments Tue, 21 Jun 2016 15:35:53 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120173 After Israeli security forces demolished two structures in an illegal settlement outpost near Hebron, settlers are raising money to rebuild on an Israeli crowd-funding website.

By Noam Rotem and John Brown*

Illustrative photo of Israeli settlers rebuilding an illegal structure demolished by Israeli security forces. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of Israeli settlers rebuilding an illegal structure demolished by Israeli security forces. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Israeli military demolished several structures in a settlement outpost called “Givat Gal,” built illegally on private Palestinian land near Hebron earlier this month. During the demolition, settlers attacked soldiers and police officers with stones, for which two of them have since been indicted.

A few days after the demolition, settlers from Givat Gal launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money to illegally re-building the demolished homes. The campaign, which was hosted on Israeli website “Headstart,” had raised nearly NIS 20,000 ($5,000) of its NIS 60,000 ($15,500) goal at the time of this report.

The 'Headstart' crowd-funding page to illegally build in an Israeli settlement. (Screenshot)

The ‘Headstart’ crowd-funding page to illegally build in an Israeli settlement. (Screenshot)

The illegal outpost of Givat Gal was established 12 years ago as an extension of the settlement of Kiryat Arba, on land the Israeli army’s Civil Administration admits is privately owned by Palestinians. The structures demolished last week were a residential structure and a wooden pergola erected in the name of an Israeli civilian murdered while hiking in the area and an army commander killed during the 2014 Gaza war. It was the first demolition of Israeli settler homes carried out under Israel’s new defense minister, Avigdor Liberman.


According to the indictment filed in a Jerusalem court Monday, a number of settlers attacked IDF and police forces during the course of the demolition, some of whom were injured, and caused damage to state property. One Israeli settler was indicted for throwing a stone at an IDF Civil Administration bulldozer. According to the indictment, a policeman approached the accused and asked him to stop, but despite the officer’s protestations, the man threw another stone, broke the bulldozer’s windshield, and wounded the driver on his head.

Another settler, the indictment continued, goaded and incited the crowd of rioters to attack the police officers, and then proceeded to run toward a human chain of officers, attacked them, and wounded one officer.

Asked about its decision to host the crowd-funding campaign to build an illegal settlement on private Palestinian land, a spokesperson for Headstart told +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call: “We don’t take a political/religious/ideological stand when it comes to approving projects on the site. The matter was sent to the project’s initiator and we are waiting to receive from him materials clarifying the legality of the fundraising.”

The spokesperson declined to respond whether the company would host a crowd-funding campaign to trespass on privately owned land in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya.

Update [June 22]:
Following the publication of this article, Headstart has removed the campaign from its website.

*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and a blogger. Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and blogger at Local Call, where a longer version of this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.

http://972mag.com/settlers-crowd-fund-construction-of-illegal-outpost-on-palestinian-land/120173/feed/ 0
An Israeli-Palestinian confederation? Not so fast http://972mag.com/an-israeli-palestinian-confederation-not-so-fast/120139/ http://972mag.com/an-israeli-palestinian-confederation-not-so-fast/120139/#comments Sun, 19 Jun 2016 14:32:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120139 A new initiative seeks to find a new, creative way to solve the conflict. The only problem? It forgets about equality.

By Yuval Eylon

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a prtoest against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a prtoest against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The latest hit in the peace plan business comes from “Two States One Homeland,” an initiative that eschews both the two-state solution and the one-state solution, instead envisioning a confederation between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Founder Meron Rapoport fleshed out the movement’s core principles at the movement’s conference a few weeks ago: “We believe that the central aspect that was missed here over the past 22 years is the fact that the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is one country, while at the same time belongs to two peoples. Jews and Arabs are interwoven in every part of this land. The two nations have a deep connection to all parts of this land: Jews feel a connection not only to Ramat Hasharon but to Hebron, and Palestinians are connected to Jaffa and Haifa no less than to Ramallah. Dividing the land goes against these very emotions.”

Professor Oren Yiftachel explained the political need for such a solution: “The two-state solution was an empty slogan, which at its best will lead to a Palestinian state that lacks any real sovereignty,” and “the one-state solution looks like the wet dream of religious extremists on both sides. The idea of a single democratic state is an illusion.”

So what are we to do? Two States One Homeland proposes a confederation based on 1967 borders, freedom of movement, and joint institutions. The settlements will remain under Palestinian sovereignty, the settlers will be able to keep Israeli citizenship, and a similar number of citizens of Palestine will be able to live as residents in Israel.

Construction takes place in the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Construction takes place in the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

It seems that the biggest obstacle facing the two-state solution is the issue of West Bank settlements. The proposed solution is simply to leave them where they are, only under Palestinian sovereignty. The settlers themselves will be residents of Palestine, yet retain their Israeli citizenship. Why would Palestinians give in and agree to reward them for stealing Palestinian land? The answer is that in exchange a similar number of Palestinian citizens will be able to live in Israel as residents.

On paper it seems like a fair exchange. However with hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in sovereign Palestinian territory, the Palestinian state will inevitably lack all sovereignty. The disparities in power ensure that Palestinian sovereignty will remain a formality, while actual sovereignty will remain in the hands of Israeli settlers. On the other hand the State of Israel will gain hundreds of thousands of laborers who lack both citizenship or even the very ability to become citizens of Israel.

Back to the box

The problem is fundamental. Before we look for a solution outside the box, we must remember what is on the inside. The box contains two drawers full of documents: the two-state drawer and the one-state drawer. They are very different, although they share one fundamental principle: political equality for all. On the other hand, and similar to Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s bantustan plan, the proposed plan for a confederation gives up on this principle.

Dimitry Shumsky explained: “In this framework […] those behind the plan (myself among them) see two levels of legal-political belonging: citizenship status, both Israeli and Palestinian, which expresses the national sovereignty of the two peoples, and residency status […], which allows a set number of Israeli and Palestinian citizens, as private people, to realize their religious, cultural, and national connection in the parts of the confederation that are not under their state’s sovereignty.

The division between citizens and residents goes against the basic principle of democracy: people have the right to decide the regime under which they live and the laws that they obey, and no one has the right to decide who will rule over the other. In other words, democracy assumes that the vast majority of residents will also be citizens. Issues of immigration will obviously necessitate some flexibility, but in general democracy is based on the consent of the ruled. Even in places where freedom of movement is made possible, such as the European Union, residency in one state is a step toward citizenship.

Let’s not forget that even national democrats also accept that residency is identical to citizenship. That is why the Zionist Left supports the two state solution: nationality establishes the borders of the state, such that the vast majority of its residents and citizens are Jewish, and thus it is possible to have both a democratic state and nation-state at once.

The movement abandons the principle of democracy. Instead it redefines the concept of ethnocracy: citizenship “represents national sovereignty.” It doesn’t matter where they live, who rules, and under which laws: Jews are citizens of Israel, Palestinians are citizens of Palestine. This is exactly the same approach that sends Palestinians to vote for the Jordanian Parliament, or allows all Israelis or Jews abroad to vote in national elections. This is how the right to vote ceases to represent a means for realizing resident-citizen sovereignty, and turns into a means for expressing national belonging.

Those behind the initiative realized that there are dangers in tying legal status to that of citizenship and nationality. Thus they made sure to add a separate clause that ensures the status of Israel’s Arab citizens. Good will, however, is not enough to make up for the fact that the proposed plan will create constant pressure to revoke their citizenship — it only makes sense that if a Jewish resident from the West Bank settlement Tapuach gets to vote for the Knesset, then a Muslim from Kafr Kassem votes for the Palestinian parliament. By implementing the vision of citizenship based on ethnocracy, the very existence of Palestinian citizens of Israel will become an anomaly in itself.

In the end, despite the good intentions, the significance of this plan will be the acceptance of the injustice and theft of the settlements, at the price of splitting up the Palestinian state, giving up on the principle of equal citizenship in a democratic state. Maybe it’s best we go back to the box.

Dr. Yuval Eylon is a senior lecturer of philosophy at The Open University of Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Newsletter banner

http://972mag.com/an-israeli-palestinian-confederation-not-so-fast/120139/feed/ 10
The new Hebrew language schools challenging Zionist narratives http://972mag.com/the-new-hebrew-language-schools-challenging-zionist-narratives/120118/ http://972mag.com/the-new-hebrew-language-schools-challenging-zionist-narratives/120118/#comments Sat, 18 Jun 2016 12:50:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120118

How does language shape reality? How does reality shape language? Welcome to the postmodern discourse, where several new Hebrew-language programs are embracing critical pedagogy to leverage social change.

By Laura Selz

New immigrants to Israel living in the southern town of Dimona study Hebrew at a state-sponsored ulpan, January 12, 1955. (Moshe Pridan/GPO)

New immigrants to Israel living in the southern town of Dimona study Hebrew at a state-sponsored ulpan, January 12, 1955. (Moshe Pridan/GPO)

Only a century ago, Jews in Jerusalem spoke French, Yiddish or Arabic, that is, until a few devoted secular Zionists like Eliezer Ben-Yehuda re-invented Modern Hebrew as the common language for generations of Israelis to come. For hundreds of thousands of immigrants ever since, ulpans (Hebrew language courses) acted as a first step toward navigating their way through a foreign country and integrating into a new society.


These days, most of those ulpans are licensed and operated by the Jewish Agency; a few others are offered as part of university programs. In addition to serving the student, however, they also have value for the immigrant-heavy state and its quest to create a common national identity, for which a common language is integral. For understandable, historic reasons of nation-building, these programs largely teach Hebrew using materials — maps, photos, texts, and songs — that represent or stem from an exclusivist, Ashkenazi-dominant and Zionist narrative of the country, its history, peoples, and society.

Enter a group of ideological immigrants and linguists who insist that there is another way for newcomers to engage with the Hebrew language — not only through the prism of Zionism and its nationalist narratives. One of the pioneers in trying to make that change is “This is Not an Ulpan” (TINAU). The name of the ad hoc language school reveals its agenda. “We don’t learn Hebrew, we learn in Hebrew,” the alternative language program describes itself.

Using language studies to shape society

In 2012 a group of new immigrants to Israel, one of whom was Canadian Daniel Roth, had the idea to change the classic concept of Hebrew ulpans. “It’s not for everyone, but it’s exactly what’s been missing,” Roth says today. “As I made Aliyah (the Hebrew word for immigrating to Israel, l.s.) in 2011, I had the impression that the traditional ulpans were about shaping a learner into what fits in society. They were not critical at all towards nationalistic narratives or what’s happening in the society. We wanted to shape society and not just the learner.”

The group of teachers and students followed a clear critical pedagogic movement: small classes, anti-authoritarian teaching, and critical content. They were inspired by postmodern linguistics and designed the language classes as inclusive talks on politics, gender and society in Hebrew, and later also in Arabic. The classes and topics vary from beginners to advanced levels. A beginner Arabic class in Jerusalem, for example, is named “Navigating Jerusalem” — the course, which is inherently political, is partly taught while walking though the city. Another advanced Hebrew class in Tel Aviv is about “Gender and Identity,” and discusses those issues as they exist in Israeli society. Other offerings have included beginner-Hebrew lectures and discussions with NGOs like “Breaking the Silence,” beginner-Hebrew cooking courses, as well as other cultural meetings and tours.

“We want to deconstruct classical language teaching,” says Shay Soffer, one of the teachers of TINAU in Tel Aviv. Soffer has been with the school from the beginning, but also works as a teacher in a traditional ulpan. “In the regular ulpan we focus more on vocabulary, grammar and homework. Here at TINAU I can shape the lessons more individually, also according to my own interests,” he explains.

The Hebrew beginners class Soffer offers is called “Israeli Childhood.” Most of his students didn’t grow up in the country, so he discusses gives them an opportunity to experience and discuss Israeli children’s books, songs and TV shows; they try to sing along but also talk about the meanings and values behind it.

Soffer considers his students to be critical learners. “Not necessarily ‘lefties,’ but definitely people who search for different perspectives,” he says. When I visit, a class is being held in his Tel Aviv living room. Seven students make themselves comfortable on sofas while eating candy. They come from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Hungary. The atmosphere is relaxed and it appears more like an informal meeting than a language class.

‘We want to deconstruct classical language teaching,’ says TINAU teacher Shay Soffer, pictured. (Courtesy photo)

‘We want to deconstruct classical language teaching,’ says TINAU teacher Shay Soffer, pictured. (Courtesy photo)

One of Soffers students is Kelly Silverman. She immigrated to Israel from the United States four months ago and says she is “still arriving.” For Silverman, TINAU is a perfect addition to her regular language studies at a traditional ulpan. “I wanted to have a head start so I decided to combine the two,” she says. “My ulpan is much more formal and with 30 students, it’s much bigger. There, it’s about getting the work done, here, it’s about having conversations.”

So what is so radical about teaching a language this way? The postmodern linguistics of Jacques Derrida and Francois Lyotard point out that thoughts and language are connected, and consequently lead to action. “Language is shaping your mind and language is shaping society, for sure,” Soffer says.

‘They say a proper Jew speaks Hebrew’

Where do words come from, what does it mean when I say something? Which world do I construct with that? By using a certain narrative, the speaker is activating it. Some might refuse to use the word “occupation,” others might refuse to use the term “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical name for the West Bank used by many nationalist Israelis. Taking a critical look at language, knowing that language is consequently shaping reality, the TINAU classes don’t hesitate deconstruct the meaning of Hebrew itself as a language.

“They say a ‘proper Jew’ speaks Hebrew. That sentence sounds simple and harmless, but let’s think about that for a second,” Tali Janner-Klausner says, one of the new TINAU teachers in Jerusalem. “When I grew up, I was told that Hebrew is a Jewish language and that it is the only Jewish language. I don’t believe that,” Janner-Klausner adds. Indeed, Hebrew is also spoken and shaped by Arabs in Israel and even the Palestinian territories. And it works in the other direction as well: Arabic was and is spoken by Jews. Furthermore, the Hebrew and Arabic languages share roots and are influenced by each other. Hebrew is a living language, Janner-Klausner explains, “interwoven with Arabic, Yiddish, English and more.”

An ecosystem of alternative language schools

Janner-Klausner was born in Jerusalem and grew up in London. Inspired by TINAU they decided to also open an alternative language school in London that follows the same principals. “When I heard about TINAU in Israel a few years ago, I got excited, since I was also not happy with what the Hebrew schools in London offered in that time,” Janner-Klausner says. Their school in London is named “Babel’s Blessing” and teaches Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish and English. Ever since, Janner-Klausner was in steady contact with TINAU until it offered them to teach in Jerusalem this year. The class Janner-Klausner offers now is called “Navigating Jerusalem,” a classical beginners class where the students learn how to get around, how the city functions, and its different neighborhoods — in the east and west.

“I don’t think Hebrew-teaching has to be Zionist,” Janner-Klausner says, and gives an example: “The ‘Hebrew from Scratch’ book, which most of the ulpans are using, shows a map of Israel on the first page. On this map, there is no green line and no Palestinian territory. So with this map they pretend toward the students that Palestinians don’t exist here.”

And while some consider TINAU as a perfect addition to the classical ulpans, Janner-Klausner thinks it’s the perfect alternative. But not yet. “You can’t get fluent by just three hours a week,” they admit. Since the critical pedagogic movement in Israel, like TINAU, is still growing, it doesn’t cover enough classes yet. So it might indeed make sense to combine it with a classical ulpan. Also it’s important to know that the bigger ulpans that are recognized by the government are free for new immigrants. All the others, like TINAU, have to be paid privately. “But it’s more a question about time than about method. And I think our method is better for learning the language,” Janner-Klausner says.

Member of Knesset Tamar Zandberg participates in an early TINAU class on feminism in Israel. (Photo by A. Daniel Roth)

Member of Knesset Tamar Zandberg participates in an early TINAU class on feminism in Israel. (Photo by A. Daniel Roth)

Another outgrowth is Ulpan Dror, initially known as “Not an Ulpan Haifa,“ a clear reference to TINAU. When TINAU co-founder Daniel Roth told his Canadian friend Shawn Guttman about the new alternative language classes back in 2013, Guttman was enthusiastic. “It caught my interest,” he says, “as well as my friends, and we decided to open up our version.” They first called it “Not an Ulpan Haifa,” but then changed name into “Ulpan Dror,” a nod to Guttman’s connection with the Dror movement he joined as he made aliyah in 2010.

Soon after Guttman opened his alternative ulpan in Haifa, the two schools decided to join forces. “For us, a person’s experience in an ulpan is meant to help them understand society and their choice to make aliyah,” says Guttman, who also works as a high school teacher. By teaching the Hebrew language through critical topics and content, he wants his students to take an active role in shaping Israeli society. “So we ask ourselves: what is this country and how do we want it to be. Can we shape it?”

TINAU classes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem run year round. The summer semester began this week. Ulpan Dror is about to launch classes in two new locations. At the moment it offers classes in Haifa, Mitzpe Ramon and south Tel Aviv.

Laura Selz is a radio and print journalist based in Germany, covering society and zeitgeist. She is currently reporting from Israel as a scholar of the Herbert-Quandt Foundation.

http://972mag.com/the-new-hebrew-language-schools-challenging-zionist-narratives/120118/feed/ 9
And on the Sabbath, the police rested http://972mag.com/and-on-the-sabbath-the-police-rested/120115/ http://972mag.com/and-on-the-sabbath-the-police-rested/120115/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 17:12:17 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120115 An Israeli civilian admits to destroying a Palestinian’s fence, erected in order to prevent settlers from stealing wood for burning on the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’Omer. The police close the case anyway.

By Yossi Gurvitz, for Yesh Din

An Israeli police officer inspects damage done Palestinian-owned olive trees by suspected Israeli settlers, October 20, 2013. (File photo by Activestills.org)

Illustrative photo of an Israeli police officer and soldier inspecting vandalism committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinian-owned property. (File photo by Activestills.org)

On October 18, 2014, dozens of Israeli civilians coming from the direction of Hebron trespassed on land belonging to Muhammad Sadeq Muhammad Rashid Qanibi and began demolishing a fence he had built there. As in many other cases of assaults by Israeli civilians in the West Bank, the 18th was a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath and day of rest. This day, as we have seen before, possesses near-mystical powers, as it often deters Israel’s security forces from arresting people. Or at least Jews, at any rate. The forces who arrived on the scene decided not to carry out any arrests, instead choosing to summon the suspects for interrogation the following day.


The police had a suspect, H.B., who actually confessed to the act: he told the policeman who arrived on the scene that he was responsible for the damage to Qanibi’s fence. According to H.B., Qanibi’s fence was blocking the Israelis’ route from Hebron to some local springs in the area.

The police began their investigation. They queried the Civil Administration over whether Qanibi was in fact authorized to build a fence on his land. A Civil Administration official responded in the affirmative. The investigative file given to Yesh Din by the police as part of our appeal is woefully incomplete, contrary to the regulations that require the police to provide us with all non-confidential material. The files do indicate that the Civil Administration official said that the fence was built with the permission of the Hebron Brigade Commander, as Israeli civilians had made it a habit to come to Qanibi’s land (where he grows olives), and take some wood for the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’Omer, in which it is customary to build bonfires.

Qanibi gave his statement to the police along with CDs containing photos of the incident, which were taken by his neighbor. He noted that although Israelis regularly invade his land and steal his property, he was forced to pay for the fence himself.

The police summoned H.B. for interrogation under caution. Again, the information police provided about the interrogation is very fragmentary; aside from what he told the policeman during the incident itself – his confession about destroying the fence – he merely says something about “anarchists and extreme left organizations” being “regularly on the scene.” This may be seen as a justification or motive for the act he had already admitted to carrying out.

The police interrogated another central suspect, H.N., He denied any involvement in the destruction of the fence, but said it was constructed illegally and without permits; when the interrogator confronted him with the fact that the fence was actually built legally, H.N. replied: “This gives extra weight to what I have said, that sometimes more robust resistance than mere letter-writing is needed.”

Despite H.B.’s confession, the police closed the case. Why? It didn’t bother to tell us, even though it is obligated to provide this information to the representatives of a victim of a felony. We are trying to find out, and in the meantime Adv. Moria Shlomot of Yesh Din’s legal team appealed the closing of the case, citing the existence of a suspect who admitted to the crime.

Keep this in mind the next time the Israeli government tries to speak about the “rule of law” in the territories. This is what it looks like: a gang of hooligans raiding private property to steal lumber for a bonfire, an army that does not detain them because it’s Saturday, and a police force that closes the case — just because.

Two years after the incident, the fence around Qanibi’s land is still broken. He did not rebuild it, and why would he, considering goons can simply tear it down again — and even be caught red-handed — and get away scot-free. And there you have the essence of Israeli control of the West Bank.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

http://972mag.com/and-on-the-sabbath-the-police-rested/120115/feed/ 1
French pro-Israel group threatens to ‘scalp’ thousands of BDS activists http://972mag.com/french-pro-israel-group-threatens-to-scalp-thousands-of-bds-activists/120109/ http://972mag.com/french-pro-israel-group-threatens-to-scalp-thousands-of-bds-activists/120109/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:02:26 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120109 The ‘Brigade Juive’ claims to have sent the threatening email to 8,000 activists worldwide, lamenting that since French law doesn’t do enough against boycott supporters it must take matters into its own hands.

By Yael Marom

Stock photo boycott activists in France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of BDS activists in Paris, France. (Photo by Olga Besnard/Shutterstock.com)

A right-wing group calling itself the “Brigade Juive” (Jewish Brigade) says it sent thousands of threatening emails and messages to boycott Israel activists around the world overnight Thursday, promising to “put an end to BDS.” The messages were apparently sent primarily to activists in France, Australia and Israel.


The senders, who addressed recipients as “dear boycotters” (in French), warned (in English): “We have are a very particular set of skills, skills We have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make us a nightmare for people like you.” It concluded in French: “boycotters should understand, we will be scalping you one by one, group by group, organization by organization.” A message on its Facebook page clarified that it referred to scalping figuratively — and had “nothing to do with the Indian custom, of course.”

The email, sent to 8,000 email addresses according to the group’s Facebook page, included a link to a longer Facebook post in which the group claimed that BDS activists are fans of Hitler, Holocaust deniers and inciters of hate. It went on to explain that French law doesn’t do enough to stop boycott-supporting activists and organization operating in the country, so it must to take matters into its own hands.

One Israeli activist who received the threatening email told +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call, that “the threat is menacing, but the large number of recipients testifies to its weakness. You can’t silence so many human rights activists. Acts of intimidation that the Brigade already carried out in France have not deterred French anti-occupation and Israeli apartheid activists.”

In its report on the threatening email, the Electronic Intifada warned activists not to click on links in any threatening emails noting that they might contain malware.

The French underground

Local activists told +972 that the “Brigade Juive” is believed to be tied to the French branch of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a militant organization started by Meir Kahane in the United States in the 1960s, and which has been outlawed for terrorist activity in the United States and Israel. In recent years, the French branch of the organization has directed much of its activities against Palestinian and French groups that oppose Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and people, usually claiming that they are anti-Semitic. It recently began targeting the BDS movement.

In March 2014, Israeli investigative journalism program “Uvda” ran a story (Hebrew) about the “Jewish underground operating in France” and its leader, a young man named Yossi Ayache, who has been based out of Netanya in Israel for the past few years. The television report portrays a quasi-military organization composed of hundreds of young French Jews who utilize violence in the name of “fighting rising anti-Semitism in France.” The report detailed how they learn how to utilize physical violence, train to withstand tear gas, learn to break bones, go undercover as Arabs in Palestinian French groups, burst into events and offices, and of course, beat people.

Anti-occupation activists in France have long faced violence, harassment and violence from radical right-wing Jewish groups. Take for example well-known JDL activist, hacker and self-described “militant Zionist” Gregory Chelli, who as of August 2014 was reportedly living in Ashdod, Israel (Hebrew). Chelli, who reportedly goes by the online name “Ulcan,” is primarily known for reported electronic break-ins of news organizations who he believes unfairly cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for allegedly harassing journalists and political activists he views as enemies, and their families. Chelli was given an 18-month suspended sentence for his part in setting fire to the motorcycle of a French political activist. He has also been interrogated by Israel police.

Ulcan’s tactics in the past have reportedly included publishing journalists’ and activists’ personal information, making fake police reports that resulted in large-scale raids on his targets’ homes, and falsely notifying targets’ families of their deaths or injury.

A new puppet master in town?

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference on Thursday, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan stated that Israel needs to send a clear message, with legislation or other means, that “it’s not worth being a BDS activist,” and that such activists need to be made to pay a price. It appears somebody is already heeding his call.

Erdan also went into detail about the Israeli government’s role in fighting anti-Israel activism around the world, saying that while the State of Israel isn’t suited to tackle each individual threat as a state body, it is well positioned to coordinate the various private organizations and bodies which are active on the country’s behalf. One can only hope this isn’t an example of such coordination.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where a version of this article first appeared in Hebrew.

http://972mag.com/french-pro-israel-group-threatens-to-scalp-thousands-of-bds-activists/120109/feed/ 3
Israel cannot afford to abandon its Arab youth http://972mag.com/israel-cannot-afford-to-abandon-its-arab-youth/120052/ http://972mag.com/israel-cannot-afford-to-abandon-its-arab-youth/120052/#comments Thu, 16 Jun 2016 16:04:10 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120052 Sixty thousand Arab youths in Israel are defined as ‘idle,’ neither working nor studying, a precursor to a life of unemployment and violence. It’s time for the state to take drastic steps to ensure they too have a future.

By Makbula Nassar

Palestinian citizens of Israel stand on a car during clashes in Umm al Fahm, Israel, October 27, 2010. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel stand on a car during clashes in Umm al Fahm, Israel, October 27, 2010. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Sixty-thousand young Arabs between the 18-22 are defined by the state as “idle” — those who do not work or study. But the term is deceiving: there is nothing idle about these young people; in fact, the term is probably better suited to the local authorities who do nothing to ameliorate their situation.

Forty percent of people in this age range, young men and women at the height of their mental and physical capabilities, cannot make anything of themselves. Instead they carry with them only hormones and smartphones — without the possibility of education, money, language, or a future.


A study published in 2011 by Professor Momi Dahan and Dr. Zvi Eckstein defined the phenomenon as such: a threat that affects nearly half of the next generation of Arab citizens. Add to that the deterioration in Arab society over the past few years, and it is likely that the youth’s “idleness” has already been translated into negative, self-destructive behavior.

Despite the fact that “idleness” affects twice as many young Arab women as men, women have higher rates of survival in the education system before they reach the stage of post-high school idleness. But let’s not pretend that women deal with the despair in a more productive way, as they often get engaged as a sole means of survival. It is true that a large percentage of young Arab women are married before they this, and they remain idle — they neither study nor work.

It is no coincidence that such a large group of people has become a statistic. In fact it is a miracle considering the fact that 53 percent of Arab families live in poverty. The ability to function decreases accordingly when there are no services in Arab society that can assist these young people who have zero access to studies, sports, or employment.

The optimistic scenario

If anyone thinks that idleness is simply a group of young people sitting loitering on a main road with a bag of sunflower seeds or spending hours looking at a screen should recognize that this is the optimistic scenario. Yet it is not always reflective of reality.

For many life is far less optimistic and is often comprised of smoking hash in the schoolyard at night, shooting off fire crackers in the middle of the neighborhood, or drag racing in outdated cars without licenses. And if they do have licenses and insurance, they’ll make sure to speed through the streets of their village with the windows down and the music blasting. For those who are “idle,” it doesn’t take much to start a fight over nothing.

A trash container is set ablaze in the middle of a Jaffa street. (photo: Yael Marom)

A trash container is set ablaze in the middle of a Jaffa street. (photo: Yael Marom)

When there are no good role models, many will find themselves in the heart of the violence that often accompanies local elections. Others will find themselves taking part in the violent discussions happening on social media.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess how many of these young people do not have matriculation certificates; how many of those who do make it into universities or colleges; and how many of them can support themselves while studying. According to Dahan and Eckstein’s report, the “idle” ones spend an average of 9.5 years in school, although they have been idle long before they reach the age of 18. This statistic is unsurprising when taking into account the intolerable ease with which schools in Arab society throw these teens into the street.

Among them are boys who go from part-time jobs with employers from the village who do not pay on time, if at all. Others might wash dishes in Tel Aviv or Eilat, or work in construction in the sweltering heat, all while exposing themselves to the dangers of physical labor.

The vast majority of these young people won’t live in their own apartment. Half of Israel’s Arab population lives in the shadow of the state’s oppressive planning policy regarding its Arab villages. Meanwhile the price of one dunam can reach millions of shekels.

An idleness that could result in death

Even this ugly, less optimistic scenario is dwarfed by crime and young Arabs’ encounter with the law — a scenario that has turned into reality over the past few years. There have been 27 Arab murder victims since the beginning of the year.

Palestinians citizens of Israel Israel participate in a demonstration in the arab town of Ramle on November 26, 2015 against domestic violence and rising number of women getting murdered. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians citizens of Israel Israel participate in a demonstration in the city of Ramle on November 26, 2015 against domestic violence and the growing number of women who have been murdered. (Activestills.org)

We have also become accustomed to the fact that the real criminals are hardly caught, despite the fact that 60 percent of those arrested in Israel are non-Jews; 56 percent of minors arrested are non-Jews; and 59 percent of these arrests do not end in indictments. Thus many Arabs can end up spending much of their time in interrogation rooms, whether or not they were involved in criminal activities, and regardless of whether they are being targeted as immediate suspects. Meanwhile the police are powerless to catch actual criminals.

One young man told me: “Every time they take me in for interrogation because someone stole or lit a trash can on fire at school, the court end up dropping the charges. But I am always forced to go through this song and dance along with my attorney, who charges several thousand shekels — more than my father gets in social security benefits.” If the court opens a case against the boy, his future becomes predetermined: stuck in the lowest rungs of society for the rest of his life. This is not how one builds trust in the law.

Such a large percentage of young people live without the possibility of self-actualization, choked by their surroundings, and facing economic difficulties and a violent environment. This is not an internal Arab issue, nor is it an issue of how Arab citizens are raised. When such a large segment suffers from perpetual failure, it becomes an issue of state policy.

They aren’t bullies

And what do we do? While Arab authorities take part in discussions on policing, enforcement, and enlisting Arab policemen, no one is speaking about helping Arab youth. Welfare authorities do not identify and assist youth older than 18, and it is unclear whether they truly make an effort to help those who are underage. Meanwhile schools do not live up to their stated mission, priding themselves instead on only a handful of success stories.

Not only do local authorities do little to nothing in creating employment opportunities, they are bloated with workers who are often less than suitable for social work, while these young people spend their days in the streets, waiting for the next fight to break out.

Only in our dreams can we envision a sports complex or any other type of institution built so for the sake of Arab youth. We can only dream about an initiative that seeks to take care of even a few “idle” teens — to fix their broken future and prevent the harm they will cause society.

We must, from the onset, recognize these young people as those in need — not as bullies. The time has come for every village and town to create a local program for identifying young people who are in danger, and provide them with employment opportunities in a work environment supported by welfare and government authorities.

Instead of matriculation exams, pour resources into preventing young people from dropping out of high school — at all cost. Teach them how to drive, teach them how to manage their money and get a job, teach them sexual education, teach them to recognize and internalize the rights of others. In other words, go to all lengths to save them.

I do not wish to minimize the responsibility the families have in educating their children. But anyone who believes that a family can simply pluck their child from a violent society, and assume that he or she can just continue as if everything is normal, is wrong.

Makbula Nasser, active in political and feminist affairs, is a journalist and hosts a show on current affairs on Radio Al-Shams, where she’s worked for over 10 years. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where she is a blogger. Read it here.

Newsletter banner

http://972mag.com/israel-cannot-afford-to-abandon-its-arab-youth/120052/feed/ 1
Muslim and Queer: Mourning after Orlando http://972mag.com/muslim-and-queer-mourning-after-orlando/120072/ http://972mag.com/muslim-and-queer-mourning-after-orlando/120072/#comments Thu, 16 Jun 2016 06:44:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=120072 As a Queer person, the shooting on Sunday reminded me how ugly bigotry is. As a Muslim woman the media frenzy surrounding the shooting on Sunday reminds me of how ugly discrimination is.

By Suhad Babaa

A mourning vigil following the shooting in an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL was held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on June 12, 2016. (photo: Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

A mourning vigil following the shooting in an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL was held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on June 12, 2016. (photo: Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

I am Queer and Muslim, raised in a Muslim and Christian household. I was taught to love and be gracious, to be humble and to embrace ideas, cultures and experiences that were not my own. I have also been taught to listen and learn. I have tried to live those values every day.

I don’t usually weigh in when there has been tragic loss of life in the communities that I am a part of. This mourning is something that is deeply personal for me. But over the last few days the media circus that I have grown to disdain, and the problematic rhetoric that comes with it, has seeped into spheres of my friends — many of whom I love and respect — and I cannot help but say something.


On Sunday morning I woke up to news of the shooting in Orlando like many of you. I was immediately in pain. Forty-nine lives lost. Not a single life should ever be taken this way, and there is nothing that can be said to try to make sense of this. I mourned, quietly, as I do too often these days for each life taken by violence. I mourned for all the families who have lost loved ones, for all of the people who I know now live in that much more fear, and for all of the lives that have been taken in the most unthinkable manifestations of discrimination before this.

Then I continued to read and I saw the name Omar. I knew what the rest of the day would look like — a tragedy that was born out of bigotry that would only be used to fuel more of the same. I knew almost immediately that over the next few days, whether casually at a bar, or while eating a meal at a public place, or in meetings with folks, the conversation would no longer be about how to ensure queer communities are safe, or how to move forward gun reform, but rather about Muslims, and more specifically, the conflation of Muslims and terrorism. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach because I don’t know a good way of mourning a heartbreaking tragedy while also having to defend who I am, which continues to be circumspect in this country.

As a Queer person, the shooting on Sunday reminded me how ugly bigotry is. How this country has yet to undo decades, centuries of discrimination and violence toward LGBTQ communities. I am reminded that we have more work to do — for those who came before us in the fight for our rights and dignity, for those who have lost their lives for simply celebrating who they are. And, we still have more work to do for those who have yet to be acknowledged within our community, for queer communities of color, transgender communities, gender queer communities and those without financial resources who are often invisible, at best, in our struggle. We have won significant milestones but we have so much more work to do and we have to do that work together.

As a Muslim woman the media frenzy surrounding the shooting on Sunday reminds me, again, of how ugly discrimination is. I know what it looks like when friends and family members are visited by FBI agents in the wake of tragedies for no reason other then our names sounding Muslim. To have middle names like Marwan and Mustafa and Hassan intentionally stripped in official documents, otherwise triggering strip searches at airports, in interrogation rooms and the like. To slowly feel like we have to push our Muslim identities back into the closet, a place familiar to me in more ways than one. To see the eyes wide of people around me as they try to figure out how to compute me, Muslim and Queer.

A mourning vigil following the shooting in an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL was held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on June 12, 2016. (photo: Tess ScheflanActivestills.org)

A mourning vigil following the shooting in an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL was held in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts on June 12, 2016. (photo: Tess ScheflanActivestills.org)

So when my Facebook feed is filled with problematic statements like “Sunday’s tragic deaths were the result of a jihadist terror attack and we must eliminate them,” and when friends weigh-in to express their heartfelt concern for the queer community coupled with a statement about needing to deal with the Muslim terrorists, and when our political leaders from both parties use this tragic massacre to beat their chest and drum up points in their campaign — it is enough. It is just enough and I have to say something.

If you want to stand with community, go to a vigil. Mourn with your friends and loved ones. Go to Pride. If you want to feel like you’re making a political difference, call your congressional leader about advancing with gun reform. Support young queer folks in communities that are so often forgotten in the U.S. If you are wondering how our country got this way in the first place, begin asking what our long history of discrimination looks like. Ask yourself what it would look like for everyone’s human security and dignity to be held sacred during tragedies like these. But if you can’t do those things, please stop saying things that are harmful — because unlike some folks, I do strongly believe that the words we use matter.

Suhad Babaa is the Executive Director at Just Vision, an organization dedicated to increasing media coverage and support for Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders working to end the occupation and build a future of freedom, dignity and equality for all. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Newsletter banner

http://972mag.com/muslim-and-queer-mourning-after-orlando/120072/feed/ 0