Everything’s not so rosy after all (duh).

A few weeks ago I heard a report by attorney and peace activist Richard Goldwasser on the recent J Street mission to Israel. Mr. Goldwasser described a place in which, in his words, “everyone is pretty happy.” By “everyone” he meant Israelis and Palestinian residents in the West Bank, where the mission visited. He said the economy is in good shape, Palestinians are just waiting to get well enough capitalized to open new businesses, Israelis are content with the improved economic environment, and pretty much that the details still to be worked out on borders are the remaining sticking point.

It was kind of a jaw-dropping moment. It was pure gloss. And everyone in the room knew it. It seems that this cheerful front is designed to minimize the real difficulties–and the hardships caused by living in an economy on a permanent war footing, in a garrison state.

But now that the protests over economic hardship and privation within Israel are spreading, it’s hard to keep up the smiley image of a thriving and robust place where optimism reigns. Today’s New York Times reports that the popular demands for greater economic security, jobs, and affordable housing have spread within Israel. These protests are not being mounted by right-wing, ultra-Orthodox Jews who wish to seize Palestinian homes. These are just folks–many of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union–who are struggling to maintain a decent standard of living, not looking to expand the state of Israel.

Tent city on Rothschild Blvd in Tel Aviv (NYT)

Tent city protesters in ritzy downtown Tel Aviv

Let’s not kid ourselves. Can we have a decent society which takes care of the poorest among us, while spending billions on foreign wars? Can Israel meet the needs of its citizens while spending billions (mainly in U.S. military aid) on defending its expansionist settlements in the West Bank and Golan, and while relentlessly attacking Gaza?

(And PS: Here’s my question of the day: Why is it that President Obama can see this truth so clearly when it comes to Israel and its relationships with its surrounding neighbors and territories, but he can’t see it when it comes to the impact of our own endless wars on U.S. society and the U.S. economy?)

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Last Friday in Tel Aviv…

Kids at the deportation protest in Meir Park

The sign reads: Not murders. Not thieves. Children.

Haaretz report:

“At the Friday rally, actress and Israel Prize laureate Gila Almagor pledged that if the deportations go forward, ‘I will do everything to hide these children, and I will bear the consequences.'”

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Mondoweiss: Israel deporting star of “Strangers No More.”

Yesterday I ruminated a bit about these confounding messages–

1. The Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv receives international acclaim. A short documentary about it–Strangers No More— wins the Oscar.

2. Israel has been deporting and continues to deport foreign workers who entered Israel illegally, and deporting children of those workers–in some cases, separating them from their parents.

Today comes news that one of the children featured in this documentary is facing immediate deportation from Israel. She is ten-year-old Esther, from South Africa , who is seen in the film washing dishes while looking at a photo of her late mother. She is one among many children now targeted for deportation.

Friday at 12:30, Meir Park, Tel Aviv

Mondoweiss reports today in sharper and more accurate detail about the child deportations.

A coalition of human rights organizations has called for a protest against the child deportations this Friday at noon in Tel Aviv.

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Still waiting for Miral.

Coming soon to a theater near you??

Director Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Before Night Falls) has released a new trailer for his latest film, Miral. Watch it here. Miral is a tale of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict through the eyes of a young Palestinian woman. Originally the film was scheduled for release last spring (2010)… and then December 2010… And now…March 25, 2011.

Frieda Pinto as Miral

I noodged about this movie back in November when Miral author Rula Jebreal was featured on the cover of Vogue.

A screening and discussion was held in late February at Manhattan’s 92nd Street “Y.” But I’ve been searching for commercial theater release dates and so far it’s slim pickin’s around the U.S. If you hear of any commercial screenings anywhere, please send a comment. It sounds to be worth the hunt.

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“Strangers No More.” Really?

Coming soon to a theater near you?

Today everybody is complaining about how boring the Academy Awards show was last night. I didn’t watch it, but I am interested in the flurry of interest over the Israeli short documentary which received an Oscar. Strangers No More is a film about a special school for newcomers to Israel, children from 48 countries, including refugees from Darfur and other severely distressed locales. The Bialik-Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv serves 750 children in grades K-12. That’s a large population, especially considering the difficulties these students have already experienced–war, the loss of parents, forced migration, violence, and abuse. I wonder, seriously, how sufficient individual attention can be paid to each traumatized child in such a large institution.

So far, I’ve only seen the trailer for the movie, and the movie itself is just 40 minutes long. So I don’t know nearly enough about the school, its philosophy, methods or staff.

Publicity materials for Strangers No More mentions that many of the students at Bialik-Rogozin are the kids of foreign workers living in Israel. Well, there’s a sticky problem–it’s been just half a year since the Israeli government decided to deport hundreds of kids of foreign workers, and in other cases, deported foreign workers who entered Israel illegally, thus separating them from their Israel-born children who were left behind.

Kids protest deportations of their parents, Tel Aviv, July 2010 (NYT)

Deported were workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, and many other countries. It is difficult to ascertain how many families were broken apart when the government made the “humanitarian” decision to allow the children to stay but kicked the parents out. Or vice versa.

Kind of a big disconnect, isn’t it, between creating a school to specialize in the adjustment problems of traumatized kids, and being — in certain cases — the agent of that trauma? I am anxious to see the movie, and to learn more about the history and effectiveness of this school.

Here we have heavy-duty publicity for a school that welcomes kids from other war-torn regions of the world, in a country that excludes the Palestinian kids whose parents and great-great-great-grandparents were born there. So many contradictions are built into this storyline. Can even the most democratic-minded and humanitarian educators create an island of equality, social justice and democracy amidst a culture of occupation and perpetual warfare? It’s a question with which progressive educators in Israel wrestle constantly.

Strangers No More may be a completely innocent accounting of a unique school doing great work. But emerging and winning Hollywood’s top honors at this moment in history deserves special scrutiny. Clearly the government of Israel cherishes some children–at the peril of others. Can one humanitarian school offset the crimes being visited against other people’s children? So this school and the small picture about it must be viewed within the bigger picture.

We are witnessing a major, concerted push for legitimation of Israel’s current feverish expansion, its land-grabbing what remains of East Jerusalem,seizing homes and kicking out families in Jerusalem and the West Bank, arresting and abducting Palestinian children in West Bank villages, leveling Bedouin villages, and the continued aerial bombardment of Gaza–a city with a quarter million children.

At the risk of judging a priori, it is difficult to imagine that this film is not another piece in a propaganda campaign designed to — you should pardon the expression — put lipstick on a sow.

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Mr. President, with all due respect…

I just listened to the State of the Union Address…there were moments of hopeful rhetoric and moments of outrage and worry, while we wonder how the as-yet-unspecified budget cuts will savage already shriveled health and social service programs…

But there was one moment where I just lost it. President Obama, who was a small child in 1968, dumped on the movement against the Vietnam War. Well, he called upon U.S. university campuses to open themselves to military recruiters. Fair enough. He could argue for it. But his reasoning was that it’s time to “leave behind the divisive battles of the past.”

A huge student movement sought to stop that unjust and unprovoked war waged by the U.S. in southeast Asia. That war lasted for more than a decade and eventually killed more than 4 million Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian people, along with 58,000 Americans. We — and I was there, were fighting for justice. We were fighting to disengage the universities from the war effort, because the war was evil and unjust. Does Mr. Obama now believe, perhaps, that this was another “good” war?

We were fighting to deny the U.S. military meat grinder more fresh meat. We also fought hard to stop the recruitment of students by war industry corporations such as Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of napalm, a unique weapon of torture and terror. We did our best to drive the war machine off the campuses. At many campuses, students fought against their universities’ participation in war research.

Many members of my generation recall with pride our participation in that movement. We didn’t cause the divisions or the war that sparked these fights. We helped in a small way to bring the unjust and brutal war to an end. Let’s not erase that movement and its heart from our current discourse. And when the President of the United States calls upon universities to “open wide,” let’s wake up, people, and prevent the universities from facing a Faustian deal.

Just as public school districts have had to make immoral concessions in order to receive federal funding under “Race to the Top,” will our public universities now face a similar deal in order to receive the funds they require in order to fulfill their missions? And will their missions now be redefined to meet the needs of today’s war machine?

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Anniversary of Ignominy

Remembering that today is the anniversary of the start of “Operation Cast Lead,” the Israeli bombardment of Gaza–two years ago now. I watched this video which rekindles the outrage and the pain of witnessing what the people of Gaza have endured. All ages, from infants to the elders, in pain and suffering, but with dignity and uprightness in the face of unspeakable loss.

Among the many horrifying features of Operation Cast Lead was the use of white phosphorous bombs. Phosphorous causes profound burns which rarely heal, cause tremendous pain and longterm damage, maiming and disability in those who survive the initial trauma. These weapons are intended to cause terror, nothing less. Couple this with the fact that up-to-date medical equipment and supplies are difficult to get under the conditions of the blockade of Gaza. Both the use of white phosphorous explosives AND the blockade continue today, two years later.

Now. Ask yourself:
Is Israel safer and more secure today as a result of this anti-human assault upon Gaza?

And then ask yourself:
Who pays for these weapons and their delivery systems?

This couldn’t happen without the support and aid of the United States.

A tiny victim of Operation Cast Lead

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