Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brave Arab-American Woman Speaks Out

It takes a special kind of person to look reflectively within, love one's people, and still have the courage to speak out against their transgressions. And this is not armchair bravery. Nonie Darwish's is done at great personal risk, ostracism, and condemnation from many in her community.

Nonie encourages all who value freedom to stand alongside her in the struggle for women's rights, minority rights, and universal human rights in countries around the globe.

"Though the Middle East is a complex region with many ancient variables, customs, differences and animosities, we must apply a universal concept of human rights, women's rights and minority rights to all countries on the globe -- with no exceptions for any religion or ideology.Those Americans who stood up for these rights in the '60s -- and still do today -- are the natural allies of moderate Muslims in our struggle against Middle East religious and political tyranny. Stand with us now."

Nonie Darwish is the author of Now They Call Me Infidel. She founded Arabs for Israel, an organization of Arabs and Muslims who reject terrorism and promote constructive self-criticism and reform.

We are indeed fortunate to have her voice and to be able count her as a friend.

David Brumer


U.S. women can help Arab feminists

As a teenager in Cairo in the mid-1960s, I watched with admiration those Americans who stood up for progress, minority rights, civil rights and women's rights, and who fought against extreme and archaic values. You became role models for me. I passionately followed your causes.
Now I need your help and support in a different cause: the struggle of Arab feminists, progressives and reformers for equal rights and individual freedom in Muslim countries, especially for women.
American women TV reporters have taken to wearing head covers in moderate Arab countries that do not enforce Islamic attire. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wore a scarf in secular, Baathist Syria. By complying with the practices that radical Muslims force on women even in secular Muslim countries, those American women unknowingly undermine the cause of Arab feminists and can even be seen as lending tacit support to radicals. They need to understand better the culture in which they are operating.
Many Muslim women refuse to wear the Islamic head cover because they never did so in the majority of Muslim countries, where this practice was never enforced. But the radical Muslims are trying to intimidate Muslim women to cover themselves. Incidents of acid thrown in the faces of girls who do not wear head covers have been documented. All the women in my family in Egypt, myself included, have never worn the Islamic head cover.
I lived for 30 years in oppressive dictatorships and police states where most of the women around me had undergone the horrific procedure of clitoridectomy. Many more had to make peace with their inferior status.
Like most immigrants, I came to America, in 1978, to escape tyranny and enjoy freedom. I anguished as I looked the other way when I saw the suffering of my people on TV. I heard of death threats and intimidation against Arab feminists and reformers, including Ghada Jamsheer from Bahrain, Nawal El Saadawi from Egypt and even the late Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who was stabbed in Cairo in 1994 by a radical Muslim. I was thankful to be living in America.
But I can no longer look the other way. A group of moderate Muslim women has decided, from the relative safety of America, to stand up for change in the Muslim world. Our goals are:
To achieve equal rights for Muslim women and minorities living in Muslim countries.
To assure freedom of religion, speech and the press.
To establish separation of mosque and state.
To end hate speech in the schools, mosques and government-sponsored media.
To realize peace with Israel.
As a reformist of Arab-Muslim origin, it hurts me to see some well-meaning Americans sympathize with and appease the oppressive radicals of my culture. Islamists do not represent the hope and future of the Middle East, but the oppressive past.
We modern-day Arab-American moderate women now turn to the type of Americans I admired as a teenager in Cairo for experience, help and support. We are this decade's freedom fighters.
It would be easier for us to ignore the old country; to blame conditions in our homeland on outside factors, historical injustices or last century's imperialism. But those who want real change don't look away or blame others; they take on the challenge and responsibility of implementing change.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Still Waiting for Pyschological Breakthrough

As long as the "Occupation" refers to the entire land of Israel in the minds of so many in the Arab world, and not to land Israel acquired after the 1967 War, peace will remain a chimera. Former Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya'alon rightly points out that
the increase in global terrorism and jihad that the world has witnessed over the past decade has little to do with Israel's victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, but rather is a result of "the success of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the failure of Arab leaders to provide their people with new ideologies and solutions to their problems." One might add that the inconclusive results of last summer's Lebanon War have only emboldened Islamists, who once again believe that Israel can be defeated militarily.
We must enlist the aid and support of the rest of world in defeating this scourge that threatens not just Israel, but free and pluralistic societies all over the globe.
"The way to defeat global terrorism is not by solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but by defeating jihadist regimes and their organizations by all means, including political and economic, while not excluding military means as a last resort."

Ya'alon: No peace until Arabs recognize Israel
Etgar Lefkovits,
May. 28, 2007
The refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel's basic right to exist as an independent Jewish State is the main obstacle to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon said Monday.
"Today, I do not see the possibility of being able to settle the conflict without defeating the regimes and terrorist organizations that still hold the idea of destroying Israel," Ya'alon said at a briefing sponsored by Jerusalem's Shalem Center marking 40 years since the Six Day War.
"You cannot defeat them by withdrawal and by disengagement," he said.
The former army chief, whose possible entry to the political arena is expected to have a major impact, opposed Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, a view which led to his falling-out with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.
"Until 1995, I thought we might have a Palestinian partner to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-state solution, but I do not think this way anymore, based on the experience of the last decade," he said.
Ya'alon said that while in Israeli and Western discourse the word "occupation" referred to land acquired by Israel in 1967, in Arabic discourse, occupation meant "the entire Land of Israel."
Ya'alon argued that the increase in global terrorism and jihad - which he has previously called "a clash between civilizations" and "World War III" - was not the result of Israel's victory in the Six Day War, but has come primarily to due to the success of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the failure of Arab leaders to provide their people with new ideologies and solutions to their problems.
"The way to defeat global terrorism is not by solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but by defeating jihadist regimes and their organizations by all means, including political and economic, while not excluding military means as a last resort," he said.
Ya'alon headed the IDF from 2002 to 2005 and is credited with quelling the surge in Palestinian terrorism that began in September 2000. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center's Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem.
In a separate address, Michael B. Oren, author of the award-winning Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East and a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, also said the overwhelming majority of the people in the Middle East refused to recognize the State of Israel.
"When you have... a conflict, it only takes a spark to ignite regional confrontation," he said.
"Today, such a war could take six minutes with the arsenals our enemies have," he said.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

"Hot House" review in new edition of 'Congress Monthly'

Congress Monthly is not available yet online so I am re-posting with additions from the journal at the bottom, including info on when & where the film will be available for viewing. My review is in the new edition, Jan/Feb 2007 (seems they're an issue behind).

"Hot House" by Shimon Dotan: A Review
Approaching the miasma that is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be a daunting and thankless job. Wading into that treacherous fog requires a steady focus and a sure hand. In Hot House, a new documentary and winner of The World Cinema Documentary Competition Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, Shimon Dotan demonstrates that he is more than up to the task. Already recognized as a seasoned film artist with a number of dramatic movies to his credit, Hot House showcases Dotan’s smooth transition into the realm of the documentary.Hot House offers us a rare glimpse behind the bars of several Israeli jails where Palestinian are detained. There are nearly 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails today. Most Israelis regard these “security prisoners” as murderers and criminals. In contrast, for most Palestinians they are seen as freedom or resistance fighters, heroes, and even martyrs. Their crimes range from assaults on fell ow Palestinian “collaborators,” to aiding and abetting terrorists, to carrying out or masterminding terror attacks.The film begins with fade-overs of one prisoner after another appearing in long steel ensconced corridors, announcing their names and their sentences. Many are serving multiple life sentences, in keeping with Israel’s custom of matching the number of victims murdered with the number of life sentences the perpetrator or accomplice of those attacks is serving (It should be noted that Israel does not have a death penalty—an exception was made for Adolph Eichmann in 1961).From the early moments of the film, methodical pans across the cells and down the sparse corridors, synchronized with carefully chosen close-ups and the clinking and clanking of steel suggest that we are in the hands of mature film artist. Dotan proceeds to paint a picture of what life inside these jails is like for the prisoners, and what makes them tick. He enquires into the mindset of t he inmates, gently probing their perspectives on the topical issues of the day as well their more encompassing world views. Dotan proves to be a master of unobtrusiveness, asking simple and open-ended questions. We learn that many of the prisoners are well-educated, often having studied in Israeli universities prior to their incarceration. Others are auto-didacts, reading widely while serving their time, sometimes tutored by fellow inmates. Palestinian prisoners pride themselves on their knowledge of Hebrew, the mother tongue of their keepers.The prisoners speak freely and openly, with some notable exceptions. Some see the very real possibility of someday living side by side with their Jewish neighbors, in separate, mutually agreed upon states. Others voice their inherent distrust of Jews, and see peace between the two sides as unrealistic; at best, highly unlikely.Interestingly, the Israeli authorities decided years ago to separate the rival Palestinian factions, with the adherents of the two major parties, Fatah and Hamas, housed strictly among their own. This has minimized frictions and reduced violence among inmates to remarkably low levels (part of this is also due to strictly enforced discipline and loyalty within ranks). The prisoners are allowed certain amenities, such as permission to cook according to their own cultural/culinary preferences in their own cells. Many shots inside those cells revealed very decent accommodations by prison standards. Cells were often adorned with colorful rugs, mats and wall-hangings, neatly arranged by the prisoners. Other segments of the film showed prayer halls with ample space for the prisoners to freely practice their faith. And aside from books, newspapers and journals, television was also readily available. Many of the interviewees attested to their keen interest in developments in the outside world. Viewers saw how the prisoners got regular infusions of news from Israeli television and print media, as well as Palestinian.Both Fatah and Hamas maintain internal leadership within the prisons. They, and the rank and file of their respective movements had the opportunity to voice an array of opinions. Through the first half of the film, there were moments when I longed for Dotan to be more demanding of his interviewees. I was concerned that they were getting a pass on too many dubious pronouncements, like the oft repeated sound byte that if not for the ongoing occupation, they would no longer have any reason for resistance, as they put it. I yearned for Dotan to challenge them further, press them, or at least to provide the uninitiated of the audience with a larger context, for example, that the occupation was on the verge of extinction back in the Oslo years and most decisively in 2000 at Camp David (and later at Taba), if not for Palestinian intransigence.But as the film progressed, I understood that Dotan was wise to employ restraint. While refraining from entering the fray himself, he gave free rein to his interviewees. It was left to the audience to judge the merit-or speciousness-of the prisoners’ claims. Dotan remained a largely invisible force in the film’s physics. At one point, in his interview with a major Hamas leader, he asks about the party’s willingness to accept the 1967 borders as viable boundaries. Dotan reminds the Hamas leader that he has he has been quoted as retracting that acceptance. The leader acknowledges that he has changed his mind, cackles for several chilling moments, and then after his ominous laughter subsides, he pauses and says something to the effect of, ‘in the future we will see what will be.’Then, towards the end of the film, there is an interview with a female Hamas prisoner that is also quite revealing. The woman, a Palestinian television news anchor at the time, drove a suicide bomber to Yaffa Street in Jerusalem in August of 2001, where he carried out a horrendous bombing in a crowded Sbarro Pizzaria at lunchtime. Sixteen people were killed in the attack, and many more wounded. The prisoner’s testimony was eerie for its cold-blooded detachment. A vacuous smile rarely left her face. When Dotan quietly asked her if she knew how many children had been killed, she volunteered that she thought the number was three. He corrected her, noting that the actual number was eight. She seemed perversely delighted to hear this, and smiled again, saying, “really?”Hot House presents glimmers of hope and as in the two above depictions, forebodings of despair. No doubt, both sides in this ongoing and tragic conflict will find things to both applaud and criticize. But Dotan was wise to let the prisoners (and to a much lesser degree, Israeli prison authorities) present their unexpurgated points of view. The viewer is free to draw his or her own conclusions, secure in the knowledge that he has not been manipulated by the biased leanings of the filmmaker. While this is not an easy concession for one like myself, who worries that too many of the uninitiated will not know enough of the history of this tragic conflict to make balanced and fair-minded judgments, in the end I’ll hesitantly make this concession to the greater good of neutrality.Of course, much of this may prove moot, given that internecine violence continues to eat at the body and soul of Palestinian society. Still, films like Hot House hold fast to the best hopes for the future, when the two sides can once again sit down and contemplate their intertwined fates.

David Brumer is a media analyst, writer, and consultant on Middle Eastern Affairs. In 2005, he received "Congressional recognition for excellence in public diplomacy in support of Israel" on behalf of his work with The Israel Project. He also works as a geriatric social worker and psychotherapist.

Hot House will be shown on HBO later this year. In addition to playing at numerous Jewish Film Festivals, it will also be shown at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in NYC in June, 2007. For further distribution information, contact arik@almafilms.comDirector: Shimon DotanScreenwriter : Shimon DotanExecutive Producer : Arik Bernstein Producers : Arik Bernstein, Yonatan Aroch, Dikla Barkai, Shimon Dotan Coproducer : Danny Rossner Cinematographers : Philip Bellaiche, Shai Goldman, Hanna Abu Sada Editor : Ayala ben Gad Music : Ron KleinDirector's Bio:Shimon Dotan was born in Romania, grew up in Israel, and is currently working in Canada, Israel, and the United States. Dotan, a fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities at NYU, is an award-winning filmmaker with 10 feature films to his credit. His film The Smile of the Lamb received the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Fil m Festival and the award for best director at the Israeli Academy Awards. Dotan has taught filmmaking at NYU, Tel Aviv University, and Concordia University in Montreal.Film ContactArik BernsteinAlma

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