Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Golan Cowboys and Other Israeli Myths

So as the 60th anniversary of the Nakba approaches and Israel readies to celebrate its sixty years of existence, the Turks tell us that Israel is prepared to return the Golan Heights for peace with Syria.

Perhaps no one told Israel's ministry of tourism of the upcoming plans. A couple of weeks ago, the add above appeared as a two-page spread in the New York Time Sunday Magazine. "You'll love Israel from the first Shalom" states, unconvincingly, the advertisement featuring a cowboy atop a horse in a wide open, golden wheat field with green hills on the horizon. Shave his beard and stick a Marlboro in his mouth and this could be Montana... Trouble is, this lush farmland is not Israel, it is in the Golan Heights and the cowboy is nothing more than a settler usurping Syrian land. Does Mr. cowboy-settler look like the type of person who will surrender "his" 1000 acre farm for peace?

But the add doesn't stop there. At the lower right hand side, and without a hint of irony, it states: "Israel, No one belongs here more than you"!!! Really? I guess someone should spread the good news to the reufugees of Nahr el Bared, Ein el Helweh, Shatilla ...

Schism: A Saudi Blogger's Response to Fitna

This is a clever retort to the Dutch MP Geert Wilders' Islamophobic video, Fitna. This six minute video was made by a Saudi Blogger in response to Fitna, it is called Schism.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Of Fresh Vegetables and Foreign Policy

Life in the leafy suburbia of American cities is orderly, clean, and comfortable. It can also be lonely, monotonous and ultimately sterile. Yet city life is not an option in all but a handful of American cities as most down towns are desolate, crime-ridden and unlivable, especially if you have children. My older brother, who visits us yearly, enjoys the quiet and the greenery of our suburban home, a brief respite from the noise and chaos of Beirut. I and Um Kareem, on the other hand, could do with a little more chaos and noise. We feel the need to regularly escape suburbia to maintain our sense of balance. It is not only the physical isolation and the blandness of the suburbs that is stultifying, it is also the fact that, in the mid sized city that we live in, the suburbs have a predictable white bread homogeneity. Even for relatively well-integrated immigrants like us, such an environment makes us feel like outsiders.

So this morning, as on many Saturday mornings before, we temporarily escape the suburbs to a hundred year old Public market in the middle of a decrepit part of the city. When we step into the market, we feel like we have entered a different world. The market is everything that the suburbs is not. It is lively, chaotic, smelly, and packed with people. People of every social strata, of every color and age mingle freely. As you inch your way through the crowd, you hear a dozen different languages. It is as diverse a cross-section of humanity as you will see anywhere. The sellers are an equally varied bunch. There are the local farmers with ruddy complexions and calloused hands selling their produce and retailers hawking soon-to-expire fruits and vegetables at cut rate prices. There is a Vietnamese fish monger with everything from crabs to octopus, and an Amish family, looking like they just walked out of an 18th century painting, selling baked goods. There is an African-American man selling incense and a Mexican stand selling empenadas. But we don't only go for the atmospherics, the local fruits and vegetables, unlike their wax-covered, cellophane-wrapped counterparts in the suburban supermarkets, actually have a smell and a distinctive flavor and yet cost much less. There are also the occasional unexpected finds, like the farmer with a sign next to a familiar light green vegetable that read: "Kousa (Lebanese zucchini)". Now Um Kareem's delicious Kousa bi laban (stuffed Kousa in a yogurt sauce) has become part of our kids' culinary cultural heritage.

Today's prized vegetable catch was a bushel of foul akhdar (fresh fava beans), enough for many meals. After the market, we often head off to a Turkish grocery store in another humble part of town. There is a sizable Turkish community in our city; most emigrated to the United States in the 1960s to work in the garment factories around town. Entering that store with all its familiar sights and smells is like being transported back home; except that everyone in the store is speaking Turkish. We stock up on Nablus olive oil (the best I have ever tasted), Lebanese pickles and Turkish halaweh. For the first time I notice Syrian products all of the same Sham Gardens brand, I am impressed with the slick packaging and make a minuscule contribution to the Syrian economy by buying a couple of items before we head home.

Now, you might think that I am making too much of the significance of a weekly trip to a vegetable market. But the fact that we attach so much meaning to it reflects a true underlying need. To a certain extent, part of the problem is one faced by most first generation immigrants; that is no matter how long you stay in your adopted home, you never quite feel like it is home. The compartmentalized, homogenized and sanitized suburban living only magnifies this sense of alienation. But I think there is also a wider perspective to this. Despite all that has transpired in the last eight years, living in the United Sates makes one feel that the rest of the world and its problems might as well be on a different planet. It is a prevailing attitude that influences how this country interacts with the rest of the world. So simply put, for us, the weekly visit to the Public market serves as a reality check, as a way to reconnect with the rest of the world.

Who knew that fresh vegetables and foreign policy were so interconnected!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Ex-Terrorist Palestinian Zionist is a Fraud

The Israeli lobby and its evangelical Christian allies seem to be mounting a concerted effort to parade in front of the media and those in power a handful of Arabs, with highly suspect stories and motives, who have "seen the light" and are now staunch supporters of the Jewish state. Yaman, in a recent post, wrote of such an individual being paraded by the Israeli consul in San Fransisco. Here, the Jerusalem Post, uncovers the lies that make up the fantastic tale that a certain Walid Shoebat is spinning in front of many a gullible American. With Shoebat, the combined Israeli-evangelical lobby can score two points for the price of one fraudulent pretender. Not only is he a "redeemed" Palestinian "terrorist" who wants to give all of Judea and Samaria to Israel but he is also a Christian convert who has renounced his "satanic" Islamic faith. How convenient. Of course, for $13,000 per speaking engagement, some people will be happy to tell you whatever you want to hear.

The Palestinian 'terrorist' turned Zionist
Jerusalem Post, March 30th, 2008

When he was 16, says Walid Shoebat, he was recruited by a PLO operative by the name of Mahmoud al-Mughrabito carry out an attack on a branch of Bank Leumi in Bethlehem. At six in the evening he was supposed to detonate a bomb in the doorway of the bank. But when he saw agroup of Arab children playing nearby, he says, his conscience was pricked and he threw the bomb onto the roof of the bank instead, where it exploded causing no fatalities.This is the story that Shoebat, who converted from Islam to Christianity in 1993 and has lived in theUnited States since the late 1970s, has told on tours around the US and Europe since 9/11 opened the West's public consciousness to the dangers of Islamic extremism. Shoebat's Web site says his is an assumed name, used to protect him from reprisal attacks by his former terror chiefs, whom he says have put a $10 millionprice on his head. Shoebat is sometimes paid for his appearances, and healso solicits donations to a Walid Shoebat Foundation to help fund this work and to "fight for the Jewish people."The BBC, Fox News and CNN have all presented Shoebat as a terrorist turned peacemaker, interviewing him as someone uniquely capable of providing insight into the terrorist mindset. Now he and two other former extremists are set to appear along with US Senator Joe Lieberman, Ambassadorto the US Sallai Meridor and other notables at an annual "Christians United For Israel" conference in Washington in July. The three "ex-terrorists" have appeared previously at Harvard and Columbia universities and, most recently, at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, in February, at a conference whose findings, the organizers said, would be circulated at the Pentagon and among members of Congress and other influential figures. Last year, Shoebat spoke to the Battle Cry Christian gathering in San Francisco, which drew a reported 22,000 evangelical teenagers to what the San FranciscoChronicle described as "a mix of pep rally, rock concert and church service."The paper described Shoebat as a self-proclaimed "former Islamic terrorist" who said that Islam was a"satanic cult" and who told the crowd how he eventually accepted Jesus into his heart. However, Shoebat's claim to have bombed Bank Leumi inBethlehem is rejected by members of his family whostill live in the area, and Bank Leumi says it has no record of such an attack ever taking place. His relatives, members of the Shoebat family, are mystified by the notion of "Walid Shoebat" being an assumed name. And the Walid Shoebat Foundation's working process is less than transparent, with Shoebat's claim that it is registered as a charity in the state of Pennsylvania being denied by thePennsylvania State Attorney's Office. Shoebat's claim to have been a terrorist rests on his account of the purported bombing of Bank Leumi. But after checking its files, the bank said it had no record of an attack on its Bethlehem branch anywherein the relevant 1977-79 period. Shoebat told The Jerusalem Post that this could be because the bank building was robustly protected with steel and that the attack may have caused little damage. Asked whether word of the bombing made the news at the time, he said, "I don't know. I didn't read the papers because I was in hiding for the next three days." (In2004, he had told Britain's Sunday Telegraph: "I was terribly relieved when I heard on the news later that evening that no one had been hurt or killed by my bomb.") Shoebat could not immediately recall the year, or eventhe time of year, of the purported bombing whentalking to the Post by phone from the US. After wavering, he finally settled for the summer of 1977.The Sunday Telegraph described Shoebat as a man who" for much of his life... was eager to commit acts ofterrorism for the sake of his soul and the Palestinian cause." In that interview he described how he and his peers were indoctrinated as children "to believe that thefires of hell were an ever-present reality. We were all terrified of burning in hell when we died... Theteachers told us that the only way we could certainly avoid that fate was to die in a martyrdom operation -to die for Islam."But an uncle and a cousin of Shoebat, who still livein Beit Sahur in the Bethlehem area, where Shoebat grew up, said that Shoebat's education was rather mild ideologically, and that religion did not play adominant role. The uncle, interviewed at his home, said he remembered little about his nephew, because Walid left forAmerica at the age of 16, and because his American mother always kept a distance from the rest of thefamily. The uncle and his wife both said firmly that there was no attack on Bank Leumi. When questioned on this discrepancy, Shoebat was adamant that he did carry out such a bombing, and that his relatives deny it to cover up for another cousin who was with him during the attack and still lives in Bethlehem. Shoebat evinced no particular surprise that his family could be tracked down simply by asking Beit Sahur locals where they lived, even though his Internet site claims that his is an assumed name. Shoebat describes his conversion to Christianity as a transformation "from hate to love." He told the Post that he believes "in a Greater Israel that includes Judea and Samaria, and by this I mean a Jewish state."He argued that Israel should retake the Gaza Strip and rehouse Jews there, regarding Gaza as Jewish by right."If a Jew has no right to Gaza, then he has no right to Jaffa or Haifa either," he said. He advocates that the government of Greater Israel introduce a law providing for the exiling of anybody who denies its right to exist, "even if they were born there."He has little sympathy for the PLO or Hamas. "ThePalestinians have not met a single demand from Israel," he said, and added, "Both the PLO and Hamas have not given up the goal of destroying Israel.""The Jews are not aware of the true threat," Shoebat said. "They are still fighting dead Nazis. It is easy to fight dead people. But they don't have the will to fight the living Nazis, the Islamic radicals." He told the Post he had set up his Walid ShoebatFoundation to educate Americans as to why the US should support Israel. Shoebat said the foundation had reached out to over 450 million people. He said it held events where he and others like him - whom he called "ex-terrorists" who have become Zionists -spoke about their views to Jewish, Christian andsecular audiences.A New York Times report last month on the Air Force Academy event, headlined "Speakers at Academy Said toMake False Claims," noted that "Academic professors and others who have heard the three men speak in theUnited States and Canada said some of their storiesborder on the fantastic, like Mr. Saleem's account of how, as a child, he infiltrated Israel to plant bombs via a network of tunnels underneath the Golan Heights. No such incidents have been reported, the academic experts said. They also question how three middle-aged men who claim they were recruited as teenagers or younger could have been steeped in the violent religious ideology that only became prevalent in thelate 1980s."The Times quoted Prof. Douglas Howard, who teaches the history of the modern Middle East at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as saying after he heard Saleem speak last November at the college that he thought the three were connected to several major Christian evangelical organizations."It was just an old time gospel hour: 'Jesus can change your life, he changed mine,'" Howard said. The professor told the Times that his doubts about the authenticity of the three grew after he heard stories like that of the Golan Heights tunnels, "as well assomething on Mr. Saleem's Web site along the lines that he was descended from the grand wazir of Islam.The grand wazir of Islam is a non sensical term." The newspaper said Arab-American civil rights organizations have questioned "why, at a time when theUnited States government has vigorously moved to jail or at least deport anyone with a known terrorist connection, the three men, if they are telling thetruth, are allowed to circulate freely."A spokesman for the FBI, the paper reported, said there were no warrants for their arrest. The Times said the three men were to be paid $13,000 for the Air Force Academy event. Visitors to Shoebat's Internet site are encouraged to make a donation to his foundation to enable him to disseminate his message. However, a notice on the page states that for "security reasons," the money will notbe debited to his foundation, but rather to a companycalled Top Executive Media. The name Top ExecutiveMedia is used by a greetings card firm fromPennsylvania called Top Executive Greetings, a companywith an annual turnover of $500,000. When one makes adonation through the Shoebat Internet site, the Webaddress changes to top This seems to be the only active page for the company; its homepage is blank. Asked by the Post whether the Walid Shoebat Foundation is a registered charity, Shoebat replied that it is registered in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania State Attorney's office said it had no record of a charity registered under this name. Questioned further, Shoebat said it was registeredunder a different name, but that he was not aware ofthe details, which are handled by his manager."I remain separate to the running of the charity sothat I am not constrained by church rules," he explained, adding that the organization's connection to certain churches meant it would be difficult forhim to speak to secular audiences if he became too involved in running it. Dr. Joel Fishman, of the Allegany County Law Library in Pennsylvania, expressed doubts about this donation process. If the money were being given to a registered charity, the charity would have to make annual reports to the state and federal government on how it wasbeing spent, he noted.Shoebat insisted donations were not being misused,however. "I survive by being an author," he said. "Ionly get paid for being an author. All the money thatis donated gets put back into events." If the Bank Leumi bombing claim is unfounded, it is unclear why Shoebat would have wanted to manufacture a terrorist past. True or not, however, it has plainlybrought him some prominence and provided him with a means to speak in favor of Israel and be paid for doing so.