Here’s the schedule for my upcoming travels. If you’ll be in the area, I’d be glad to see you there!

FastTimesScotland

March 28: Serenity Café, Edinburgh, 7pm

March 29: Book signing at Calton Books, Glasgow, 2pm

Yes Bar, Glasgow, 7pm

March 30: Talk to Social Studies students at Stowe College, Glasgow

The Annex Healthy Living Center, Glasgow, 7pm

April 1: Café Café, Irvine, 7pm

Amsterdam

April 4-6, visiting friends

Bahrain

April 9: La Fontaine Centre, 7pm

April 10: Words Bookstore Café, 11am

Kuwait

April 12: National Library of Kuwait, 6:30

Qatar

April 15: Lecture at Weill Cornell Medical College

UAE

April 15-19, visiting friends

Turkey

April 20 until the end of June with my husband :)

The Bracelet

Not a travel destination, but a novel I’m working on. The first six chapters are finished, and I’ve sent them to several people for feedback. You are welcome to them as well — feedback is always appreciated but never required.

If you’d like to check them out, send me an email at pamolson at gmail. You can read Chapter One here.

Note: You can read Chapters 1 and 2 here if you haven’t yet.

. . .

(This is a rough mock-up of the final cover design)

(This is a rough mock-up of the final cover design)

“Not the worst job in the world.” Conal’s fine light brown hair looked particularly windblown under a cloudless Dalmatian sky.

Lauren raised her glass of prosek, the sweet local wine, in agreement. They were on the island of Hvar, its main settlement a steep crescent-shaped city of white stone buildings with red-tile roofs hugging a sapphire bay, all overlooked by rugged pine tree hills and an imposing Spanish fortress. No motorized vehicles were allowed in the historic center, leaving its stone-paved plazas ethereally peaceful. Scents of lavender and rosemary, two local crops, drifted on the breeze. Conal had chosen an outdoor café on a marble terrace whose view took in the picturesque town, the hills, and boats bobbing on the calm waters.

“So, Ms. Lauren. Any new thoughts?”

“I was thinking it might be easier to start with what I can do for other people, and go from there.”

“Like what?”

“Like sending aid to places that need it. Money or food. Just as an example.”

Conal looked down with a small sigh. “I was in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya a few years back. I saw a lot of good intentions corrupted and a lot of dangerous unintended consequences. How much experience do you have?”

“None. I could spend time studying that.”

“Sure. But plenty of people with PhDs and years of field experience have done more harm than good. Not to mention, people will wonder how you’re creating food or paying for massive aid. What will you tell them?”

Lauren threw her hands up. “I don’t know. I still haven’t even worked out what to tell my mom. She thinks I’m here on a freelance gig.”

“I don’t have to tell you, you’ve got to keep this to yourself. Otherwise someone will kill you for that thing.”

“I know.” She sighed. “So where does that leave me?”

“It seems to leave you as one person with a lot of freedom.”

* * *

After a leisurely swim the next morning in the clear waters of the harbor, Lauren found the marble terrace café again, ordered a bijela kava (‘white coffee,’ Croatia’s version of a latte), and conjured up books by her favorite authors: Henry David Thoreau, Rainer Maria Rilke, Carl Jung, Khalil Gibran, Hermann Hesse, Lao Tzu, Walt Whitman.

Some time later a stray sunbeam fell across her eyes at a steep angle, and she realized with a start how many hours must have passed. She shoved the books into her bag and dashed toward the vegetarian restaurant she had chosen for dinner with Conal. The city was labyrinthine, with carved stone steps leading up and down narrow alleys accented with bursts of bougainvillea, bright white or luscious fuschia. By the time she found Conal at the restaurant, she was twenty minutes late. He was sitting at a table on the veranda munching on bread and olive oil.

“So sorry,” she said, out of breath. “I was trying to call on the wisdom of the ages.” She opened her bag to show him the books’ spines.

“Any luck?” he asked mildly.

“It’s a comfort, actually. It’s hard to imagine a world where these men never put pen to paper.” The terrace was made of the usual white stone, worn smooth with age. They were further into the city but also higher up so that they still had a stunning view of a cotton candy sunset over the water. Ceramic vases with wildflowers and sprigs of lavender at each table perfumed the space. “I think that’s one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer. To have a chance to try to pay it forward, even if only a little.”

“That’s a nice way to put it.”

She shook her head. “I really wanted to be like these guys.” She waved toward the bag of books. “Like Thoreau. He went to Harvard and thought it was bullshit, so he taught school for a while, hung out with philosophers, joined his dad’s pencil making business. A friend told him to get serious about his writing, and he went to the woods for a while, then he ran into a tax collector and refused to pay because of slavery and the Mexican War. He went to jail and ended up writing a piece about it that inspired Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy. Now they study him at Harvard.

“And Thomas Paine, he was a failed corset-maker. Roald Dahl and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry were pilots in World War II. But it’s not like I can join the air force or try my hand at corset-making or refuse to pay taxes and get where they got. I have to find my own version of life. And I had this faith, this illusion maybe, that if I followed the impulses that felt most genuine to me, somehow things would work out. It was like running off a cliff and believing the universe would catch me. And it did for a while, and then… I know this probably sounds ridiculous, but when things went so wrong with my second book, I felt betrayed by the universe. Like I trusted it, I held up my end of the deal, and it kicked me to the curb.” She rested her head in her hand, idly picking a lavender blossom out of the centerpiece, crushing it, and inhaling the scent. “People trusted me with their stories. I hoped if I could write a good enough book, I could help change things. Now it feels like it was all just a waste of time. I could have been a brain surgeon by now, you know?”

“You could have been a lot of things,” he agreed. “But I don’t think you want to be a brain surgeon. Would you want your brain surgeon to be someone who didn’t want to be a brain surgeon?”

She smiled and threw the crushed remnants of the lavender blossom at him, and he ducked. “I could have worked on cold fusion or something,” she said.

“You told me you hated working in physics labs.”

She rolled her eyes, conceding the point. “But doesn’t it seem sad that I have nothing to show for my young, promising years? My mom thought I was nuts to do what I did, and it seems now like she was right.”

Conal found a lavender blossom on the table and flicked it off. “Look, I know it’s hard to see it right now, but maybe nothing has gone wrong. Maybe this is just part of the life of a writer. But I have to say, something is going on with you. You’re a shadow of the person I knew in Palestine. Before you make any major life decisions, you need to deal with that first.”

“How?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. But if you had learned the lessons you needed to learn by now, this wouldn’t be so hard for you. You wouldn’t have lost faith so easily.”

“Easily?” She looked at him sharply, then sighed. “I know. My life is fine. I’m young, I’m healthy, I have citizenship in a powerful country. And now this.” She jiggled the bracelet. “I should think of it as a gift, right? Not a burden.”

“Sounds like a good place to start.” The wind caught his hair, and she watched it flop over and back again.

She smirked. “Sounds pretty obvious. Why is our culture so full of truisms nobody actually lives by?”

“That’s a good question. Worth exploring.”

The food was long gone and they were starting to get drunk on the wine. “Shall we?” Conal asked. They walked back to the hotel his publisher had sprung for. There were two queen beds in the room, and they each chose one and passed out. Lauren had a thought in the back of her mind: Wouldn’t it be nice if—

But the thought was chopped off, half finished, by the curtain of sleep.

* * *

When Lauren awoke, Conal was working intensely on his laptop, so she slipped out to visit the hotel sauna. For lunch they ambled back to their favorite café and ordered double espressos and omelettes with spicy pork sausage and sheep’s milk cheese.

“So you want to change the world and be a famous writer,” Conal said without much preamble, “and you’re upset because you haven’t done it. I get that. If I wasn’t an award-winning journalist by now, I’d feel like something was wrong, too.”

She glared at him, but he could see the suppressed smile.

“So I did some research on the topic this morning, and I found some quotes that might interest you. First, Leo Tolstoy: ‘If you see that some aspect of your society is bad, and you want to improve it, there is only one way to do so: you have to improve people. And in order to improve people, you begin with only one thing: you can become better yourself.’”

She looked up and away. “I think I see where this is going.”

“And here’s one by Ramana Maharshi: ‘Wanting to reform the world without discovering one’s true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.’”

Lauren laughed. “OK, fine, I get it. If I want to change the world, I should probably start with the hot mess you see before you.”

“At least for a few months,” he said with relief. “Honestly, what sense does it make to try to change something as massive and complicated as the world when you don’t even understand yourself?” There was a sudden tinge of sadness in his voice. “You can go anywhere in the world, do anything you want to do.”

She sighed. “I don’t know. How long am I supposed to just mess around?”

He shook his head. “That’s the kind of limited thinking I’m talking about. You’re not the same person you were before, and even then you weren’t the type to ‘just mess around.’ I wouldn’t have made it through my summer in Palestine if not for you, and no one even paid you for that. Now you have a chance to travel in a different way, in a different state of mind, for a completely different reason.”

She scoffed, mostly at herself, thinking about how frantically she had been chasing stupid jobs in New York just to try to gain some footing. It meant that whatever she had learned in the past ten years, she had not managed to find any real, strong, solid footing. She had been cut off from the old feeling of flow for so long she could barely remember what it felt like. Here was a rare chance to correct that.

She shrank from the thought; if it had been terrifying and daunting before, when she was just out of college and it was cute to be an aimless backpacker, it was even more humiliating and humbling now. The stakes felt higher and failure more shameful—especially when she basically had a superpower to help her. She breathed for a while, feeling her resistance to the notion, the voices in her head saying she wasn’t remotely worthy, and surely there were more important things to focus on. She had heard the same voices ten years earlier. Conal waited.

Finally the idea sank all the way to a level of herself that Lauren hadn’t accessed in a long time. It spread there like a pool of cool water with an ancient freshness that quietly beckoned her. She closed her eyes tighter as the last of the resistance tried to tear her away. But the battle was lost. The path ahead wasn’t easy, but it felt right.

She opened her eyes and looked at Conal. “Where should I go?”

He leaned back and shrugged, trying not to look too satisfied. “Where do you want to go?” The waiter delivered their vodka-pineapple cocktails, and she absently wiped at the perspiration on her glass. “Don’t judge,” Conal said. “Just the first thing that comes to mind.”

“What comes to mind right now is Switzerland, to be honest.”

“Oh?”

“I was there once for a few days. It was gorgeous but so expensive. I’ve always wanted to go back and head up into the mountains and hike around for a week or two. That sounds so nice right now.”

“Great. Here’s another question: What’s something you’ll regret never doing if you don’t do it while you’re young and single?”

Lauren glanced up thoughtfully, and a look of chagrin crossed her face.

“What was that thought?”

A crazy, inchoate plan was forming in her mind, and it was so unlike her, she feared trying to explain it to Conal before she’d thought it over herself might kill the idea in its infancy. “I want to go to Beirut,” was all she said, her eyes alive with excitement.

He narrowed his eyes but didn’t press. “Great choice. Amazing city.”

“And some of the most beautiful people on the planet.”

Conal smiled a bit sadly. Lauren wondered if he had history with a Lebanese girl. When Lauren met him, she was dating a Palestinian who lived forty miles and seven checkpoints away, while Conal had a girlfriend back home in London. They spent hours talking about politics and their love lives over endless bottles of red wine from the Cremisan monastery near Bethlehem and beer from a Palestinian Christian village called Taybeh. She told him an embarrassing number of stories about her disastrous love life. Come to think of it, Conal hadn’t been nearly as forthcoming.

“Moving on, question three,” he said quickly. “Where have you spent time that you felt something special, or peaceful, or where you really felt at home?”

“That’s easy,” she said, brandishing her anklet. She didn’t have to say more. They both had a reverential love for the Sinai, a remote triangle of mountainous desert wedged between Asia and Africa and surrounded by coral reefs. It had the feel of its own little world, a Lotus Land of friendliness, charm, and otherworldly beauty.

“So that’s a start. Switzerland, then Beirut, then Egypt. Sounds amazing, actually.”

She couldn’t help but agree.

###

I recently read a brilliant book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I recommend it wholeheartedly as one of the best books I’ve read in years. It’s about Resistance, that part of human nature that tries with everything in its power to hold us back from our enormous potential (and which many artists or would-be artists are intimately familiar with).

One chapter particularly impressed me, and it concerned fundamentalism. It struck me as an incredibly brave, heartfelt, and intelligent explanation for this hydra that pops up with many faces all over the world, almost always with similar basic nasty fascistic underpinnings. In light of the hysteria on both sides of the recent crime in Paris (that is, the Al Qaeda-style Islamists and the frothing Islamophobes who blame Islam itself — and by extension hundreds of millions of innocent people — for the disgusting actions of a few), I thought I’d share it here.

Resistance and Fundamentalism

The artist and the fundamentalist both confront the same issue, the mystery of their existence as individuals. Each asks the same questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life?

warofartAt more primitive stages of evolution, humanity didn’t have to deal with such questions. In the states of savagery, of barbarism, in nomadic culture, medieval society, in the tribe and the clan, one’s position was fixed by the commandments of the community. It was only with the advent of modernity (starting with the ancient Greeks), with the birth of freedom and of the individual, that such matters ascended to the fore.

These are not easy questions. Who am I? Why am I here? They’re not easy because the human being isn’t wired to function as an individual. We’re wired tribally, to act as part of a group. Our psyches are programmed by millions of years of hunter-gatherer evolution. We know what the clan is; we know how to fit into the band and the tribe. What we don’t know is how to be alone. We don’t know how to be free individuals.

The artist and the fundamentalist arise from societies at differing stages of development. The artist is the advanced model. His culture possesses affluence, stability, enough excess of resource to permit the luxury of self-examination. The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He is lucky. He was born in the right place. He has a core of self-confidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world.

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx.

Fundamentalism is the philosphy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captivity, as white Christian fundamentalism appeared in the American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair and possesses the same tremendous and potent appeal.

What exactly is this despair? It is the despair of Freedom. The dislocation and emasculation experienced by the individual cut free from the familiar and comforting structures of the tribe and the clan, the village and the family.

It is the state of modern life.

The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to the basics. To fundamentals.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organizations, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself.

But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil One, seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death. Is it coincidence that the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center frequented strip clubs during their training, or that they conceived of their reward as a squadron of virgin brides and the license to ravish them in the fleshpots of heaven? The fundamentalist hates and fears women because he sees them as vessels of Satan, temptresses like Delilah who seduced Samson from his power.

To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

The humanist believes that humankind, as individuals, is called upon to co-create the world with God. This is why he values human life so highly. In his view, things do progress, life does evolve; each individual has value, at least potentially, in advancing this cause. The fundamentalist cannot conceive of this. In his society, dissent is not just crime but apostasy; it is heresy, transgression against God Himself.

When fundamentalism wins, the world enters a dark age. Yet still I can’t condemn one who is drawn to this philosophy. I consider my own inner journey, the advantages I’ve had of education, affluence, family support, health, and the blind good luck to be born American, and still I have learned to exist as an autonomous individual, if indeed I have, only by a whisker, and at a cost I would hate to have to reckon up.

It may be that the human race is not ready for freedom. The air of liberty may be too rarefied for us to breathe. Certainly I wouldn’t be writing this book, on the subject, if living with freedom were easy. The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.

Thanks to the following lovely people, I’ll have what I need to edit and design my upcoming novel, The Bracelet: A Novel of Freedom. All of these backers will receive an electronic copy of the book as soon as it’s ready, and the other rewards will be coming along either in the coming week or as soon as they are available.

The Kickstarter campaign is posted here, for reference, and the first chapter of the book is posted here.

So, heartfelt thanks to:

Liz Aab, Fida Samhouri, Robbie Roy, Linus Hart, Catharine Abbott, Hani Shaabi, Stefanie Zigby, Truddi Greene, Bruce, Yeou-Shiuh Hsu, Omar Mesarwi, Judy Warner, Charlton Price, Garth Bishop, Holly & Daniel, Les Vaughn, Shawn D Langrick, Bruce K. Anderson, Nik in Maine, Amin, Pam Carter, Jess McNally, Will Ramadan & Kristalle Herda, Tura Campanella Cook, Tom Barham, Raquel, Jennifer Calvert, Meredith, Carmel Mawle, Imad Hanna, Andy Perdue, annie robbins, Pat Brown, Dora-Maria, Alice Bach, Patricia Madson, marianne dhillon, Carmel Arikat, pat hewett, Guy Benintendi, Saundra Hoover, maura donahue, Noor Elashi and Larry Scott, Nora Jacquez, Polly Johnson, Ellie Macklin, D Krulick, Marty Scantlen, Kevin Henry, Gail Miller, Helene Theros, Katie Clark-Alsadder, Donde Anderson, Eric Sarriot, Karen E. Robinson, Ken Burres, mark bosold, akmesarwi, Karen Platt, Peter Lake, Anne de Jong, Reba, Teddeaux Lamoureux III, Diana, Jeanne B., Colleen, Peter Nielsen, AWS, Gloria Olivier, Hitri Shf, Charlton Price, YC, Kerry Fina, Diana Syam, Megan Farr, Katie H, California Bill, Amanda Kuhn, Kara Jenkinson, Lyla Rayyan, Pamela Shier, Robin Thompson, Corinna, Betsy Talbot, Veronica Gilley, EY, Kristine Knutter, Sonja, and Tam

I’ll be thinking of all of you as I finish the book, and I truly appreciate the faith and support that helps sustain me as I do. You all are the best, and I hope you’ll find the book a worthy investment.

Lots of love and warm wishes for 2015.

Note: You can read Chapter One here if you haven’t yet.
.

Lauren’s body felt hollow after Sara left, the way it feels after a long cry. She absently wished the food away and sat with her hands braced against her knees like a person recovering from a panic attack. For a long time she just breathed, her mind a jar of mud that needed time to settle. She cursed the fact that her door had no lock. Then she laughed, a short, strangled sound. “I wish the door had a lock,” she said, and it did. That was better.

She looked around the room, replaying the bizarre events of the past few days in her mind. It had started when she got back from the Caribbean, and the only thing she brought back from there was…

Her eyes came to rest on her wrist, and she furrowed her brow. It was an absurd theory, but there was an easy way to test it. She took the bracelet off, set it on the desk, and said, “I wish for, I don’t know, a button.” Nothing happened. “On the desk,” she specified. Still nothing. “I wish for a barstool on the rug,” she tried. The rug remained empty. She slipped the bracelet on again. “OK, I wish for a bunch of grapes.” A glistening green bunch appeared where the French toast had been a few moments earlier.

She jumped. Jesus Christ. Shakily taking the bracelet off again, she held it up and studied it. It sparkled impassively. Her image of an heiress casually losing jewelry would have to be replaced by something even more unbelievable — or more sinister. A tingle of foreboding crept up her spine. Maybe there had been a struggle. Maybe worse. Or maybe someone wanted to get rid of it.

She shook her head, and another mystery occurred to her. She was pretty sure she hadn’t been wearing the bracelet that morning when she wished for eggs Benedict, but she was definitely wearing it when she wished Sara would go away. “It must not work on people,” she reasoned with equal parts disappointment and relief. That kind of power would be too creepily God-like, too easy to abuse.

Her eyes closed wearily. It was late and her mind was a wreck; it couldn’t handle one more crazy thought, theory, or question. Maybe things would be clearer in the morning somehow. She placed the bracelet in her jewelry box and drifted into uneasy sleep.

She awoke on a hard, small bed in a dark, bare room. There were bars on the window. She heard a deafening clang behind her. Looking back, she saw a figure retreating from a wall of bars. She was in prison. Why? She looked at her wrist, ready to wish the bars away. The bracelet was gone. She sat up abruptly, panic permeating every pore. They’ve taken it. But who were they? What were they going to do with it? What were they going to do with her?

She gasped and turned over, and she was back in her little room in Washington Heights with its new blue rug, a thin sheen of clammy sweat covering her body. Early light filtered through her window as she grabbed the bracelet, got dressed, and fled without knowing where she was going.

Instinctively she headed toward the George Washington Bridge. It was 7am, long before she would normally get up, and she appreciated the relative freshness in the air. She passed a young man with stringy black hair sitting against a wall and staring at the sidewalk. A dirty backpack and dejected-looking dog rested beside him. I wish I had a hundred dollar bill in my pocket, she thought. She pulled out a crisply-folded bill and handed it to the young man.

“Thanks,” he mumbled as he crumpled it into his backpack without looking.

“You’re welcome,” she said, feeling a bit deflated.

She wished for another twenty dollars and bought a chai latte along the way, leaving the rest as a tip.

There was a particular spot where she loved to sit and think, where she could see trees, water, the sky, and soaring civil architecture. A hard-to-find, narrow pedestrian underpass smelling of stale urine opened onto an unmarked path that led through a broken chain-link fence to a small bluff under the bridge overlooking the Hudson Parkway. The green New Jersey bluffs rose on the other side of the Hudson and there was a lovely view up the river. Cars whirred by above and below on perpendicular paths, like a frenetic white noise machine.

As she wrapped her arms around her knees and took a sip of the warming tea, a memory bubbled up of being eight years old, when her mom was still struggling after the divorce and she was made fun of at school for things about her parents she didn’t understand. She remembered desperately wanting magical powers, praying for them every night for years, wishing for them on every birthday cake. She reasoned with God that it would be an efficient arrangement; she could solve her own problems and wouldn’t have to bother Him about them anymore. In all the books she read, if the protagonist wanted something badly enough, he or she could usually find a way to get it, against all odds. If she petitioned God and birthday candles long enough, she hoped it would work out for her as well. The childish delusion lasted until her early teens, when she started wishing about boys instead.

But now, decades later, her ridiculous prayer had somehow been answered. As a kid she would have known just what to do with it. Her desires were simple, her view of life narrow. Now? She felt utterly lost, without any hint of a roadmap, unable to catch her breath.

Even a few years ago she had felt more certain about the world and her place in it. Her first dream as a kid, tucked in a corner of the Wichita Public Library, had been to join the great men of history (they were almost always men): explorers, scientists, philosophers. Inspired by National Geographic, she was also interested in the environment, which led to politics. As she dug into that dismal subject, she realized books would only take her so far; she needed to see the world with her own eyes. She studied abroad in Russia, where she met politicians, professors, musicians, and ordinary people with completely different life experiences, and soldiers and refugees fresh from the carnage in Chechnya. After that it was excruciating to go back to college and try to pay attention in class. She’d had a taste of the real action, and she wanted more.

For three years she scraped by with odd jobs and writing gigs across Europe and Russia, sometimes waiting tables, washing dishes, or sweeping floors — like George Orwell and Frank McCourt before her, she liked to think — always on the cusp of hitting zero and having to limp back home. Selling the first book had been a godsend and validation, until it became a humiliating disappointment and a stone around her neck. Maybe it was time to face the fact that she’d had it wrong from the beginning, and it was time to change direction entirely.

At least, for as long as this strange miracle lasted, she didn’t have to worry about money. She wondered if the wishes might run out at some point, or if there was a set number of molecules she could manipulate. She decided to proceed with a bit more caution. No sense squandering near-omnipotence on rugs and chai lattes.

More than anything she needed to talk to someone. Sara was lovely but inclined to melodrama, and she couldn’t keep a secret to save her life, and if a secret like this got out, it was only a matter of time before someone robbed or killed her for it. It was terrifying to think of the damage a ruthless person could do with it, the blood that could be shed as people fought over it. She had seen people killed for far less.

It was a stroke of luck that Conal would be visiting New York soon for a conference on narrative journalism. He had turned down a prestigious job with Britain’s top news source to work for a second-tier paper so he could write what he considered true instead of what his bosses considered expedient. He’d won several awards for investigative pieces, but he remained humble and hardworking. They had met when they lived in the same apartment building in Palestine for a summer. He was the most levelheaded person she knew and the only one she could trust with a secret like this.

Feeling slightly clearer about things, Lauren walked back to her apartment and conjured up a lightly beat-up rolling suitcase containing one million dollars in small bills. She spread the bills evenly and wished for a padded false bottom to cover them. Then she stuffed the suitcase with jeans, sweaters, and her winter coat and hid it well in the back of her closet. Just in case.

* * *

The next few days were surreal. She stopped looking for jobs. She stopped answering emails and reading the news. Until Conal came, she pretended to be a traveler in New York, seeing it with new eyes, with the carefree attitude of exploration and enjoyment she used to have in exotic foreign cities. She relaxed into the comforting sense of time being a friend rather than an enemy; of the sunset being a highlight of the day instead of a dim event outside a window shut tight against intrusions; of sitting in cafés reading novels without a hint of shame. She took the Subway to neighborhoods she had never seen before and walked around, smiling and greeting people like the most soft-headed tourist imaginable.

She wondered: Was happiness really only the province of travelers and people with trust funds or magic bracelets?

* * *

Conal blinked a few times. His eyes, the luminous color of green sea glass, narrowed as if searching for the angle. Lauren knew the look; it was the same one she had given Sara when she insisted a hand-crafted Italian tiramisu was sitting in their refrigerator.

They were seated across from each other in a high-backed booth in a trendy sushi place north of Little Italy. The dark-paneled walls muted the conversations around them to a low buzz, and a white tea candle in a clear hurricane glass glowed steadily between them.

She sighed. “Name an object. A small object that I can hold in my hand.”

“A lemon,” he said in his Irish-flavored British accent, playing along. He’d grown up in southern Ireland, studied at Oxford, and spent his professional life based in London.

She brought her hand out from under the table. It contained a lemon.

He looked impressed. “OK. That’s a nice trick.”

“It’s not a trick. Name another object.”

“A tiny bust of Vladimir Lenin.”

She smiled. “Good one.” Then she set one on the table.

His expression wavered. He looked under the table at Lauren’s hands, which she flipped over so he could see they were empty. “Interesting. OK, er… a cup of Earl Grey Tea. In a golden wine glass.”

“Damn,” she muttered and he smirked, seeming relieved the odd joke was over. “No, I can do it,” she said, lifting a gilded goblet onto the table and setting it down quickly. It sloshed a bit, spilling a few drops on the table. The smell of bergamot was unmistakable. “It’s just really hot.”

All trace of amusement vanished from his face. He looked at her, looked under the table again, turned pale. “What the…? How did you…? How in the hell did you do that?”

“Keep your voice down. Look, I know it sounds crazy. It is crazy.”

“But what…? What…? How?”

“I don’t know. I just know it has something to do with this bracelet.”

He looked at it with dazed eyes. “Good God.” She let him sit with his thoughts for a while. Finally he looked at her. “But what does it mean?”

“I have no idea.”

“Did it come with instructions or anything?”

She shook her head. “Nothing.”

“And what if someone tries to take it from you?” He looked around briefly and dropped his voice to its lowest register. “There are people who will kill for that if they figure out what you have.”

Her hand instinctively covered the bracelet. “Are you considering it?”

He rolled his eyes. But there was a glitch in his countenance, as if he hadn’t really considered it until just that moment. Lauren drew back slightly. Conal sighed. “Look, I appreciate that you trusted me enough to tell me about this. But whatever it is, it’s your deal, OK? You found it, your deal. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I’m kind of glad as hell it isn’t me. Where did you get that thing anyway?”

* * *

The next day Lauren found a specialty jewelry shop and asked the owner if he could reinforce the bracelet by attaching it to a steel loop and covering it with braided leather. The sad-eyed jeweler with Einstein hair accepted without comment her story that the bracelet had sentimental value, and she wanted to wear it without having to worry about theft. She was sure that in New York, he had heard far stranger requests.

When he finished the modifications and clamped it on her wrist, it looked tasteful but valueless, and he assured her it would be impossible to remove without heavy wire cutters.

Walking home she was thinking about the warm turquoise water and the strange glint in the coral below. Part of her wished she had shrugged and moved on with the others. Part of her wanted to chuck the bracelet into the East River and get on with the demoralizing job search. But she had investigated. It was who she was. And now she had to face the consequences. Whatever that meant.

Panting from the five-story climb, she unlocked the heavy apartment door, trying her best to muffle the loud locking mechanism. Lauren had managed to sidestep Sara’s questions so far by claiming an uncle had sold his land in Texas and was sending gifts to his family with the proceeds. But Sara wasn’t stupid. She noticed Lauren had stopped looking for work and was acting strange in general.

“Hi there.” Sara emerged from the kitchen, and Lauren jumped.

“Oh, hey.”

“What happened to your bracelet?”

Lauren sighed. “I don’t want it to get stolen, so I had it wrapped in leather.”

Sara nodded dubiously. “Where’d you get it anyway?”

“I told you.”

“Right. You found it at the bottom of the ocean.”

Lauren winced. That story had actually been true. “Look, Sara. I love you. I appreciate you looking out for me. But I can’t deal with any more questions right now.” It was precisely the wrong thing to say. Sara’s eyes glinted with the excitement of kindled curiosity, and Lauren suddenly reached her limit. She slowly closed her eyes. “All right, fine.” She had lied to enough border guards, she ought to be able to come up with a plausible enough story to get Sara off her back. “Here’s the truth. My uncle didn’t sell his land in Texas. He actually died.”

Sara’s face froze. “Oh,” she said quietly. “Sorry.”

“Thanks. I didn’t know him well, but he made a lot of money in oil in the eighties, and since he never had children, he left the money to his nieces and nephews. So,” she shrugged apologetically, “I guess I don’t need to worry about getting a job for a while.”

“Wow.” Sara slowly spun the mystic topaz ring on her right hand. “Well… condolences and congratulations both, I guess.” Her apparent jealousy meant she probably bought it.

Lauren relaxed a bit. “But listen, it’s something I don’t deserve. It just fell into my lap. So I’d like to spread the wealth a little. Is it OK if I pay your rent for the rest of the year?”

Sara froze again. “Oh my God. Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure you’re serious? I mean, it’s a lot—”

“It’s fine. Really.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Lauren was starting to feel awkward when Sara suddenly squealed and danced around. “Free rent! It’s a real estate miracle! It’s the New York dream!” She grabbed Lauren’s hands, and Lauren joined her and laughed. It was a relief to be on good terms again, and at least she knew part of the truth — that Lauren suddenly had access to a lot of resources she hadn’t earned. As long as Lauren was paying Sara’s rent, she suspected she wouldn’t complain.

“So what are you going to do?” Sara asked breathlessly.

“I don’t know. I’m still in shock, to be honest.”

“No wonder you’ve been acting so weird. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was just something I needed to process. I haven’t told anyone except Conal.”

“The hot journalist?”

Lauren rolled her eyes. “You know he’s like a brother to me.”

“Whatever. So what do you think you’re going to do?”

“I don’t know. I just wanted to be a writer. And I didn’t succeed, I mean not in making a living at it.”

“Well, now you don’t have to worry about making a living at it.” She sighed. “God, you’re so lucky.”

“Yeah,” Lauren said weakly. It was the dream. Not to have to worry. To be able to do exactly what she wanted. How could she explain how empty she felt — how scared? And how did she dare feel that way when she had what everyone wanted, or thought they wanted?

* * *

“All right, Conal, you’ve had some time to digest this. I need some advice. I need some clarity. I feel so lost.”

“I feel so bad for you.”

She backhanded him lightly on the shoulder. “Shut up.” They were sitting in a noisy tea house near Columbus Circle after his conference duties were over. “I feel like there’s something I should do, but I have no idea what. Should I go to a monastery or an ashram and wait for a sign? Should I travel again, follow my nose like I used to, find more adventures, make more friends, write more books? Should I hang out here and try new things? Dancing, martial arts, violin, all the things I didn’t try as a kid? Immerse myself in a foreign language?”

“Can the bracelet help with things like learning languages?” he asked.

“Naw. I tried wishing I spoke Chinese. Apparently my powers don’t extend to manipulating the human mind.”

“Thank God. I’m not sure I could be your friend if they did.”

“But you see my problem?”

“For God’s sake, Lauren, the world is your oyster. You can do whatever you want.”

“All right, put yourself in my position. If you had this power, what would you do?”

“I would… Hmm…”

“Not so easy when it’s you, is it?”

“I mean, I’d pay off my mum’s house. I’d help a friend in Kosovo start a business. I’d—”

“Of course I’ll do that kind of thing. But that’s for other people. What would you do?”

He looked at her and narrowed his eyes. “I guess I’d need to think about it.”

“That’s all I’m saying.”

“All right, all right, I get it. Most people spend their lives just doing what comes next, whatever they think they have to do. They never have the luxury of an infinite crossroads. I guess evolution didn’t really prepare us for this.”

“No wonder so many movie stars become Scientologists,” she muttered.

“What?”

“Nothing. Look, I thought I knew who I was. I thought I knew what I wanted to do. But now, to be honest, I don’t even know if I want to write anymore.”

“That’d be too bad,” he said. “You’re an amazing writer.”

“It doesn’t seem to matter much. And it’s getting too painful to put everything I have into something and hope to make a difference, and have it rejected over and over.”

“Hmm,” he said sympathetically.

“Look, I know I can’t really call this a problem, compared to real problems,” she said, blushing slightly. “But thought I’d found a calling — a way to contribute to the world that was uniquely mine. Either I was right about that and I blew it, or I was wrong and I have to start over and find a new calling, or I just have to resign myself to a callingless life. And I don’t know how to do that, I don’t know where to start. It’s like I’m on an infinite featureless plain, and there’s no sign pointing in any direction. I’ve been here before, and I made my choices, and it didn’t work out. So how do I know it’ll work out any better if I try again?”

Conal met her anxious eyes. His transparent irises did something funny to her stomach, but it was lost in her agitation. “I understand why you feel this way,” he said in a placating voice that indicated he knew she was being somewhat ridiculous, and he knew she knew it as well. Lauren smiled in spite of herself. “And I don’t think I can talk you out of it right now. But I think a change of scene might do you good. I’m heading to Croatia next week to write about the beaches on a couple of Adriatic islands. You have infinite resources. Want to come?”

She raised an eyebrow, trying to regain her composure. “A puff piece? That’s rare for you.”

“Everyone needs a vacation now and then. What do you say?”

She relaxed her tense frame and sighed. “That sounds nice. But you never answered the question: What would you do if the bracelet were yours?”

He slowly blew air through his lips. “After several months mucking about in Southeast Asia, I suppose I’d think about starting my own newspaper. But I don’t know much about running a paper — ads and publicity and all that. I could hire some good people. But is another paper what the world really needs?” He took a sip of ginger tea. “It’s easy to keep on with my job because I like the people I work with, the pay is enough, the work is really interesting, and it’s all I’m really good at. I don’t even know what I’d do if I got fired, much less if my choices were infinite.” He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully.

“So you see where I’m at.”

Conal’s eyes smiled. “Come with me to Croatia. We can both think about this some more.”

# # #

To read Chapter Three, click here.

A rough prototype of the cover until I can hire a designer

A rough prototype of the cover until I can hire a designer

I didn’t know what to expect. I did two meditation retreats before — one in Bethlehem and one in New York — and they were very different from each other. The one in Palestine focused on the teachings of Gurdjieff (including the dance-like movements and a number of guided meditations) while in upstate New York I did hour-long sitting meditations and working meditations in a Buddhist monastery with a bunch of uptight Manhattan yuppies (several of whom left after the first day).

What would a meditation retreat be like in Oklahoma — especially one that mandated silence among the participants except during two daily meetings?

We all gathered for the first meeting in a large conference room that had been decorated with scarves and an altar-like table with candles for ambience. I could see there were about 25 participants, mostly women, ranging in age from twenty to seventy. We sat in a large circle of chairs or meditation cushions, our choice. Most of us looked like typical Okies (in loungewear). We did not introduce ourselves — getting to know each other in the usual icebreaker / small-talk way was not on the agenda. We were all just humans here for a human experience. (Later I would learn they included housewives, widows, students, professors, social workers, retirees, businessmen, and more.)

OKfallThe organizers, a husband and wife team named Rick and Mary NurrieStearns, gave us the schedule. It was fairly structured with two yoga sessions, three meditation sessions, two group meetings, and a couple hours after lunch for hiking or reflection each day. The hiking was really nice — the soft fall colors were gorgeous, the sky clear blue with interesting clouds, and two lakes with good trails were just outside the door. No cell phones, books, movies, or computers were allowed, so there was no way to escape. For those four days, you were stuck with yourself and these people. But it was surprisingly un-scary. We were all there with the same mindset of openness and nonjudgment (several of them had been to earlier retreats), and it felt very relaxing.

It was admittedly strange at first to spend so many hours with people and not know their names or exhange anything other than silent smiles. But in the meetings we were encouraged to go deep, and people talked about searing tragedies, frustrations, hopes, and fears. All were quietly accepted as human experiences. We simply sat with the fact that being human is often very difficult and confusing, and we’re all doing more or less our best, even if we screw up more than we would like and don’t always handle things as calmly as we should. Acknowledging it without trying to placate it or bat it away or deny it opened a feeling of spaciousness. Yes, this life is difficult. It’s also exquisite and very lovable, with many avenues and endless chances for joy, growth, and transcendence.

The fact that we didn’t know each other’s names, home towns, professions, affiliations, or income level (we were all wearing sweatpants) ironically made us feel closer to each other. We took in each other’s raw, honest words without the usual filters or categories, which brought our basic humanity to the forefront. It was impossible not to like every person there, no matter who they were or what they had done. They were human, just like me.

Each meeting had a theme, one of those Big Questions we tell ourselves we answered satisfactorily enough when we were teenagers or just kinda forgot about in the sturm und drang of daily life. In one session we talked about habit energies, and how when we’re not fully conscious, we seek the same old energy pathways. We talked about some of those habits and how they have diminished our lives. We also shared recurrent thoughts that caused us problems. It was hard to hide anything from yourself in that searing space of honesty, and it got pretty intense at times.

There were no easy answers, no pert affirmations. Just people wrestling in the daylight in a safe and open space. We explored the questions through stories, artwork, music, poems, and sharing with each other. The sharing — making it personal and immediate — was always the highlight, tempered by the wisdom and beauty of the ages.

For me this was valuable, illuminating, and precious. How rare it is for adults to pull out these big meaty slabs, these black holes of un-knowing, into the open, together, and sit before them gamely and humbly, sharing stories and insights without trying to subdue or banish them. The questions will certainly still be there after we disband. But we sit with them now with a little more comfort, familiarity, and awareness. And a little less loneliness. You could see people visibly relax and soften as the days went on.

I’ve been dancing around the main theme of the retreat — meditation — because it’s so difficult to put into words. In the past few years I’ve found myself feeling alienated from the universe for no good reason. I grew some kind of oily reality-repellent skin and found myself focusing endlessly on results, not on any given present moment. I knew it wasn’t good, and still I was trapped in it. Whenever I tried to meditate, it was like a bad drug reaction, a horrible metaphysical itch. I avoided the cushion as if it had bedbugs.

During this retreat, there was no escape. No computer to hack around on, no small-talk to make me feel self-conscious or important (two words that have little to do with reality when applied to a person), and no way to avoid the cushion without facing the reality of being a complete jerk idiotically wasting her time and money.

Nine times I sat on the cushion in a room full of people who were so silent it put the fidgety New Yorkers to shame. I had nowhere else to go. Nothing else to do. It was easy to feel compassion for everyone else, and I knew I was nothing special — really no different — so I tried to feel compassion for myself, too. I tried to settle into myself without fear or judgment. I tried to focus on my breath and on the simple stunning fact that I am alive. I tried not to run away from the present moment, not to focus on memories, projections, or daydreams. I tried to focus on the experience — the feeling — of being.

With all the space and compassion opened up by the people and the setting, it wasn’t as excruciating as usual. It made sense. There truly was no five-alarm fire. It really was OK to just be for a few minutes.

And the results were literally life-changing. When I was fully present, insights and realizations had a space in which to bubble up. For one thing, I realized how much pointless anxiety I had been carrying around lately. Like all humans, of course, I have things to be anxious about. Things I’ve lost. Things I fear losing. Things I fear I may never have. Health issues, money issues, wondering occasionally if I’m wasting my life or on the wrong path.

But being anxious all the time doesn’t help anything. There are times and places to take your fears and channel them into useful actions. Other than those times, fear is worse than useless. It makes all these disasters and potential disasters worse, not better. It cheats you of a lot of the “pretty much OK” or “really good” times in between disasters for no reason. For example, lying in bed at night, no matter what your life is otherwise like, should be at least one peaceful, stress-free time in your day. But for so many people it’s a head spin-out that ramps up all the stress even more and makes the next day even more difficult.

I knew that very well before I went on this retreat. But it took that time of humbly, calmly looking inward to feel it as true rather than just know it as true, and to be able to get a better handle on it.

So I decided to have a long and respectful talk with my fear. I named him Fred and pictured him as a lonely guy in a huge fire station randomly pulling at bells and alarms because no one had trained him properly and he didn’t know what else to do. I explained to him that I needed him alert and watchful, not making meaningless noises all the time. I told him he was valuable, and he would be even more valuable (and have a better life, too) if he stayed rested up in case there was a real emergency. After quite a bit of back-and-forth, he seemed to believe that made sense.

Now when I feel anxiety gnawing away at me, I try to remember to say, “Fred? Is there a problem?” Usually he says, “Uh, no, sorry. Old habits,” and he shrugs apologetically and I smile, and I feel much better. It’s just Fred knocking around. There’s really nothing wrong at this particular moment.

Another time when I was trying to quiet my mind, my ego rebelled and said, “Who the hell are you to tell me to be quiet? Why should I listen to you?” I sat with that question a while. It was a valid one. Who the hell was I? Why should I be in charge?

After a while I had to truthfully admit: I don’t have a right to bully or control you. You are a part of the cosmos, too. We should be partners, not enemies.

But… Ego, my friend, you have some serious boundary issues that we need to talk about. I don’t get to control you, but you also don’t get to talk over me all the time. Sometimes you have to give me the microphone for a while and not whinge and wheedle and sabotage the whole time. Don’t worry — when I’m in charge for a little while, it doesn’t mean you’re dead or dying. You’re just quiet; a little time for rest and rejuvenation. And trust me when I say that whatever you want to accomplish, you’ll be more likely to do so if we’re partners instead of antagonists. Deal?

My ego is many things, but it’s not a complete idiot. When you talk to it respectfully, it can occasionally make reasonable decisions. And in this case it was hard for it to refuse without being exposed as a mean, self-destructive moron. (Egos hate that. They prefer to be self-destructive morons without being exposed.) So it shook my hand and promised to try.

Now when I meditate, and the monkey mind starts flapping around, I can give it a little smile as if to say, “Hey, remember our deal…?” And sometimes — not always but sometimes — it smiles too, sighs, and sits still for a while. The inmates no longer (completely) run the asylum. They’ve learned a little more respect for their mother, and they fear and resent her less. Neither of us will kill or abandon the other and both of us know we are, at heart, doing our best.

[Oh yeah… I also pictured my ego as the young Bart Simpson just before Lisa was born, marching around the house banging on a pot and chanting loudly, “I am so great! I am so great! Everybody loves me, I am so great!” When his pregnant, exhausted mother begs, “Honey, can you please be quiet?” He yells, “Quiet! Buy it! Diet! High it! Vie it…!” (You can watch the very short video here.) Yeah. My poor ego thinks it needs to make so much noise just to be acknowledged and feel a tiny bit of security in a universe that’s frankly not all that secure for human egos. I think a little love helped.]

These are only steps on the road to deeper meditation — a meditation of truly timeless silence and calmness, of ineffable connection far beyond joy. (I have experienced that, but only on accident.) But they feel like necessary steps in the right direction.

I’ve read plenty of wise words about focusing on the present moment and letting go of fixations over many years. But this weekend wasn’t about words. It was about practice.

Having a bunch of frozen fruit sitting in the freezer for weeks is not the same as actually drinking a fruit smoothie. Watching soccer games on TV is not the same as practicing or playing soccer. And thinking or reading about the benefits of mindfulness is not the same as meditating.

Rubber finally hit some road this weekend, and thank God for that. My life has been much lighter and freer since. I hope with regular practice, the feeling can continue.

P.S.

Funny story: After a meditation went particularly well, I had a cheerful thought: “That went well, so I can probably skip the next one.”

Then I laughed. That silly, crafty ego.

P.P.S.

The novel I’m writing, The Bracelet: A Novel of Freedom, deals with some of the themes of this post in a page-turning, adventurous kinda way.

You can read Chapter One of the novel here and learn more about the book at its (finished but still online) Kickstarter campaign.

# # #

A rough prototype of the cover until I can hire a designer

A rough prototype of the cover until I can hire a designer

As you know, I’ve been working on a novel called The Bracelet: A Novel of Freedom for the past several months. It’s drafted now, and I just need to polish it up, hire an editor, design the cover and interior, and hopefully it’ll be good to go by spring.

And the good news is: You can pre-order the ebook now for only $5! Doing so will be a huge help and show of faith as I finish up my first foray into fiction.

If you’re not sure what it’s about, here’s the synopsis:

(This is a rough mock-up of the final cover design)

(This is a rough mock-up of the final cover design)

What do you do when you follow your heart and your life falls apart, just like everyone warned you it would?

After ten years of traveling, writing, and following her dreams, Lauren Clay crashes against the shoals of reality when her latest book doesn’t sell and she finds herself broke, out of inspiration, alone, and adrift in New York City. But then she comes into possession of a mysterious object, and strange things start happening that allow her to forget about ‘making a living’ and consider only what it means to build a meaningful life.

Prompted by her best friend and quasi-love interest, an Irish-British journalist named Conal, she sets off on a quest to Switzerland, Lebanon, and Egypt to explore different aspects of her identity — as a creative soul, a sexual being, and an ineffable consciousness embedded in a world of many sorrows but even more marvels. Until the dark forces of human nature threaten to undermine every thread of hope she’s painstakingly built.

Funny, sexy, surprising, and thoughtful, The Bracelet is a gripping (and occasionally romantic) adventure and a meditation on what it means to be free in the modern world.

The book has benefited enormously from early feedback, and it’s shaping up in a really nice way. It touches on so many themes I’m passionate about: the publishing world, travel, foreign cultures, government surveillance, the meaning of life, the Sinai… You know me, I wouldn’t write a book without a dash of politics and some fun in the Middle East. The politics is fairly tangential until the end, when Lauren comes up against an enemy very close to home indeed.

Watch the (goofy) video I made for the Kickstarter campaign, then read Chapter One to meet Lauren and learn more about The Bracelet.

Thanks so much!!

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now offering editing services, and the fee is only $20 an hour until I get my feet under me as a freelancer. I’m an experienced editor, former journalist, author of an award-winning memoir, and primary editor of The General’s Son by Miko Peled.

I offer developmental editing, substantive editing, copyediting, proofreading, and ghostwriting for fiction, nonfiction, business and scientific writing, as well as eBook formatting and advice about publishing and self-publishing.

Write to me at pamolson @ gmail if you’d like to discuss your needs and goals and see if my services might be a good fit for you. I’m happy to answer any and all questions and look forward to hearing from you!

Experience

BNtalk

Services

  • Developmental editing, substantive editing, copyediting, proofreading, and ghostwriting for fiction, nonfiction, business and scientific writing
  • I’ve formatted eight eBooks for worldwide publication, and I can format and upload yours as well
  • My method of eBook formatting allows stylistic personalization, unlimited images, and internal and external links (including a clickable Table of Contents). I can also design a simple but beautiful cover. Other than the two Fast Times covers, I designed all the covers on this page.
  • I self-published a successful book and also published through a traditional publisher, and I’m happy to offer consulting advice about both paths

Education

  • Stanford University President’s Scholar, class of 2002. BS in Physics,
    Minor in Political Science. GRE 1600/1600

  • Oklahoma School of Science and Math, 4.0 GPA

Fee

  • $20 per hour

  • Compared to standard editing rates, this is an excellent deal; I’m offering it for now because I’m just getting started as a freelancer and because I live in Oklahoma, where the cost of living is fairly low
  • And that’s a “generous hour” — I can be a bit compulsive when I edit, and if I go over by 15 minutes to get something perfect, I won’t charge for it
  • You can limit me to a maximum number of hours, after making it clear what the main objective is; there’s a good chance I’ll spend a bit more time than the maximum, but you won’t be charged extra if so
  • Fee will likely increase some time in 2015 as I gain more clients, testimonials, etc.

Contact

  • Write to me at pamolson @ gmail if you’d like to discuss your needs and goals and see if my services might be a good fit for you. I’m happy to answer any and all questions and look forward to hearing from you!

Corals2

PROLOGUE

Lauren lifted her head to see if anyone else might be searching for something. The others were paddling along placidly, their snorkels angled from their heads like tiny smokestacks. She pushed her dark hair out of her face and dove to get a closer look.

Her eyes widened when she saw what it was. Even under ten feet of turquoise water, it caught so much filtered sunlight it almost seemed to glow from within. She looked left and right, almost guiltily, before gently lifting it free from the protrusion of coral that had caught it. Tucking it into her bikini at the left hip, she kicked to the surface and waited for one of the other women to exclaim at her loss.

But even after everyone had climbed back aboard the tour boat, no one mentioned losing anything. Finally Lauren cleared her throat.

“Did one of you drop something while you were snorkeling?”

The others looked at Lauren, then at each other, and shrugged.

“Why, what did you find?” The boat operator was squinting at her from under a Hunter S. Thompson sun hat.

Lauren opened her mouth to tell the truth, then caught herself. She imagined he’d promise to take it to a lost and found. Likely as not he’d sell it the next day.

“I thought I saw something,” she said. “But I guess I was wrong.”

“Hmm.” He resumed his bored patter about Caribbean sea life, and Lauren exhaled. It should be taken to a lost and found, of course, but which one? There were dozens of hotels along this beachfront spewing thousands of tourists into the coral gardens off the Turks and Caicos Islands every day.

When Lauren reached her hotel lobby she asked the concierge, a dapper Cuban, if anyone had lost a piece of jewelry.

“No, señorita.”

She tried several nearby hotels, but the only hit she got was for an engagement ring thrown into the surf after a man became so blind drunk, he accidentally proposed to a passing cocktail waitress instead of to his girlfriend.

Back in her room she pulled the object out of her still-damp suit, rolled it up, wrapped a blue bandana around it, and stuffed it into a pair of folded socks in her suitcase, tired of babysitting someone else’s lost property. It was the last day of her ill-considered four-day escape, and she wanted to make the most of it. She grabbed a towel and headed for the powder-white sand steps from her door.

It was June, the sultry beginning of hurricane season, long after the last Spring Breakers had left. A friend had mentioned a dirt-cheap off-season deal, and she jumped on it like a lifeboat. One she couldn’t afford. That would take her right back to the doomed ship in less than thirty-six hours. She flagged down a passing attendant, ordered two piña coladas, and watched great bulbous updraft clouds turn pink and lavender as she sucked down the tropical drinks too fast.

The beach, like the hotel, was almost empty. Despite the sticky heat, it felt luxurious to recline in one of many free beach chairs and feel like she had the ocean to herself. Her legs were nicely tanned, a gift from her half-Cherokee father. She squinted at them through rum-blurred eyes and reached down and ran a finger along the anklet she’d been wearing for years, woven from threads she’d bought from Bedouin girls in the colors of the Sinai: sapphire blue for the mile-deep Gulf of Aqaba, aquamarine for the sandy-bottomed lagoons, white for the wavelets crashing against the reefs, and gold for the desert mountains. Conal was with her on that trip, her best friend from her years of travel. She’d made it as a talisman of how beautiful life could be. It was ragged and faded now, which seemed appropriate.

She stood too quickly and staggered a few steps before regaining her footing and walking into the ocean. The sky languidly faded to moonless starry cobalt as she leisurely swam past the gentle breakers and into the swells, where she bobbed with the rhythm of the sea.

She looked through the clouds to see if she could spot any planets — a comforting ritual that was nearly impossible in New York City. Mars and Jupiter were high and bright, and she smiled at the memory of Celeste’s dad showing her the tiny pinprick moons of the giant red planet through his backyard telescope. A moment of simple joy and discovery. How long had it been since she’d had one of those?

As the waters darkened, she reluctantly swam back to shore.

In her room she opened her suitcase, unwrapped the strange find from the reef, and studied it closely for the first time. The bracelet was delicately designed, its silvery metal twisted into entwining vines with a diamond set in the space between each twist. The stones refracted even the dull lights of the hotel room into glittering brilliance. She draped it over her wrist to see how it looked against her skin, and the ends came together as if joined by strong magnets. It fit perfectly. The edge of her mouth lifted. Fine jewelry was the kind of thing she considered an expensive hassle, but this was a work of art.

She still had more due diligence ahead of her. In the morning, her last on the islands, she’d have to call several more hotels to see if anyone had reported it missing. But if not, she figured it was back to the old playground rules: finders keepers.

CHAPTER ONE

New York’s Subways are a forlorn place, Lauren thought as she rode the interminable A train from JFK to her tiny apartment in Washington Heights, north of Harlem. It wasn’t just that they were such a rat-hole compared to the palatial Metro of Moscow, the charming trams of Istanbul, or the clean, efficient lines of Paris. The people also seemed depressed, with broken dreams and resignation written on their faces. Lauren scowled at the profiles of men in suits more expensive than the neighborhoods they were rumbling toward.

Fakers, she thought darkly.

She trudged up four flights of creaky stairs, jammed the key in the door, and walked past her roommate Sara, who was washing dishes in their tiny kitchen. The place was a disaster area. It was clearly the first time she’d put sponge to dish since Lauren had left.

“Hey,” Lauren said shortly, the vibe of New York already washing away the modicum of relaxation she’d felt hours earlier.

“Hey!” Sara beamed over her shoulder. “How was the trip?”

Lauren grunted and continued on. Sara knew her well enough to let her decompress for a while before trying to cheer her up.

In the cocoon of her tiny room, Lauren pulled the bracelet out of her backpack. For the hundredth time she wondered who could have lost it. An image of an heiress on a yacht came to mind, her arms dripping with diamonds, a casual gesture flinging one of her baubles overboard unheeded. Lauren put the bracelet on and admired it, hoping it wasn’t destined for a pawn shop in the near future. Her bed, desk, and office chair were Craigslist finds, and she was still living out of two suitcases, as if she might be called to bigger and better things at any moment.

She opened her laptop to see if any agents had gotten back to her (nope) and to scan the news on Israel/Palestine (more of the same). Then she glanced at the room’s only decoration, a collection of inspirational quotes taped on the wall. One read:

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” —Theodore Roosevelt.

“Easy for you to say,” she muttered. “You were president of the United States.”

Her eyes shifted to her bookshelf, which held half a dozen copies of her first book, Balkan Bruise, about her travels in Eastern Europe. She had first left the US she studied abroad in Russia, where she met politicians, professors, musicians, and soldiers and refugees fresh from the carnage in Chechnya. After that it was excruciating to go back to college and try to pay attention in class.

For three years after graduation she scraped by with odd jobs and writing gigs across Europe and Russia — like George Orwell and Frank McCourt before her, she liked to think — always on the cusp of hitting zero and having to limp back home. Selling her first book to a publisher for $40,000 had felt like a Godsend, validation that she was on the right path. She used the money to explore the Middle East for two years and then hole up at a writer’s colony in Mexico and pour every ounce of talent and heart she had into her second book, The Silver Olive Tree. She felt on the cusp of a life of travel, royalties, and doing what she loved full-time. The first book hadn’t sold well, but she had visions of the more ambitious and elegant second book catapulting her into middle age with a dream career.

Her publisher never read the second book. Citing the first book’s poor sales, they cut her loose. Her agent, who’d been blessed with a duo of bestsellers that required as much attention as newborn twins, dumped her as well. Feeling shaken, but confident it was only a minor setback, Lauren scraped together the last of her savings and moved to New York City to search for another agent or publisher or any connections that could help her find them. A chain of temporary jobs — tutor for Upper West Siders, waitress at a Nolita sushi joint, fill-in for receptionists on maternity leave — had been bearable because they were a means to an end.

But the day she’d bought the ticket to the Caribbean was May 17, the one-year anniversary of her move to New York. There had been a few hopeful leads since she’d arrived, some false starts. But all of it had come to nothing.

She leaned back and closed her laptop in frustration. Sara heard the slam from the kitchen and laughed. “Maybe you should think about a job in anger management?”

Sara was an aspiring actress, a Lebanese-American with black ringlets, pale olive skin, and enormous blue eyes. Lauren thought it would be a waste if her face was never on a movie poster. For now she worked at a box office on Broadway, inches from her dream.

Lauren was starving but not in the mood for beans and rice or an egg sandwich or any of the other cheap staples they lived on. She said out loud, without thinking, “I wish we had a tiramisu in the fridge like the one I had at that little café in northwestern Italy. It was so humble, a mess of ingredients in a thick glass bowl. It looked terrible, actually. But then I bit into the first spoonful, and it was like… I can’t even describe it. Like eating love.”

There was no response from the kitchen, but she heard the faucet turn off.

Lauren went on, “The mascarpone was probably made in the hills behind the village. I’m sure the waiter’s grandmother sifted the cocoa by hand.” She sighed deeply. “There’s just nothing like that around here.”

The sound of clinking glasses emanated from the kitchen. “How about a glass of five-dollar white wine to take the edge off?”

Lauren heaved herself up. “That’s a great idea.”

She was a few steps from the kitchen when she heard a gasp.

“Lauren! Where did you get this?”

“Get what?”

“You’re going to share, right?”

Lauren appeared in the entrance to the kitchen. “Share what?”

Sara rolled her eyes. “The dessert in our fridge. The one you were just describing.”

Lauren raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t like Sara to play weird tricks. But she looked utterly sincere. She must be a better actress than I thought.

Sara opened the refrigerator door wider, and Lauren gamely looked in. On the middle shelf sat an exact replica of the tiramisu Lauren had enjoyed so thoroughly in the Cinque Terre, down to the heavy glass bowl.

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She looked at Sara, her mouth agape.

“Come on, give it up,” Sara said, pulling it out of the fridge. “Grab some spoons, I’m starving!”

Lauren numbly did as she was told.

“Seriously, where did this come from?”

Before Lauren could answer, Sara took a bite directly from the bowl. “Oh my God!” Her eyes fluttered in rapture. “This is, like, the best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth.”

Lauren dipped her spoon into the cool, creamy layers. It tasted exactly as she remembered. For a moment she was transported back to the carefree time at the beginning of her travels when her only concerns were new friends, good food, beautiful views, and finding an internet café to write about it all. She’d felt so natural and easy, like she was right where she was supposed to be. La vita was indeed bella.

By the time Lauren’s mind returned to the gloomy kitchen, Sara had poured herself a glass of wine, scooped out half the tiramisu, and quietly departed. Lauren took the rest to her room. After she finished the dessert and was scraping up the last of the espresso-soaked artisanal ladyfinger crumbs, its existence still made no sense to her. Even if Sara had suddenly become a deeply talented and committed actress, and a truly outstanding pastry chef, had she also become a psychic?

Exhaustion eventually overcame curiosity. She removed the bracelet, stashed it in the carved wooden jewelry box on her desk, and dreamed of crazy, creamy puzzles with no sane solutions.

* * *

Lauren walked into the kitchen the next morning, made instant apple cinnamon oatmeal and Earl Grey tea, and shuffled back to her room. When she finished the meager breakfast, she picked up her cell phone to call her mom in Wichita.

“Happy Birthday, Mom. Sorry I’m a little late…” She hadn’t told her mom about the trip to the islands. She knew it had been irresponsible and ridiculous. She didn’t need to hear it from anyone else.

“Don’t worry about it. I hardly would have noticed it if Roxana hadn’t fixed me an apricot pie.”

Roxana never cooked, so it was quite a gesture. “How’d she do?”

Lauren’s mom paused just a moment too long. “Bless her heart…” she began, and Lauren pursed her lips knowingly. Nothing good ever came after those three words. “It was really sweet.”

“Yeah, it was nice of her to try.”

“I mean she put in about four times as much sugar as she was supposed to.”

Lauren laughed. “Well, at least it’s better than the time she overloaded the biscuits with baking soda.”

“Oh Lord, I’d almost forgot about that. I tell you, I don’t think there’s anything sadder in the world than a pan of hot buttered biscuits in the trash.”

Lauren sighed. She’d left Kansas with such big dreams. But right now biscuits and apricot pie sounded better than anything she had going on.

“Anyway, what’s eating you? You sound kind of mopey.”

Lauren raised her eyebrows at the phone. Mopey? You couldn’t say something dignified, like ‘depressed’ or ‘in existential despair’? Her mom had a way of making her feel fourteen years old again.

“I don’t know. I guess it’s been a year since I came to New York, and I’m not sure…”

“You don’t think you’ll ever get that book published?” She sounded like she’d been expecting it, which felt like a subtle knife in the ribs.

Lauren’s jaw clenched. “I don’t know,” she said slowly. “I’m not sure what to do. Nothing seems to be working.”

“Well, that’s how it goes. I wanted to be an actress until I met your father.”

Lauren slowly closed her eyes. Her mom’s acting dreams had withered when she got pregnant at age nineteen — with Lauren. She’d killed her mother’s dreams and now hers were dying, too.

She idly opened her jewelry box, a gift from a host family in Sarajevo that contained a few nostalgic treasures: a dog tag given to her by a Russian soldier she had kissed on a train; an amulet of carved bone from a Buddhist monastery in Siberia; a seashell from a valley in the Sahara, evidence it had been under the sea millions of years ago; and now the bracelet. She pulled out the latest addition and tilted it back and forth to catch the light.

“Anyway, I’ve got to go,” she said. “There’s a party tonight, some ritzy college reunion thing. Maybe I’ll meet someone there who can help me get a real job.”

Lauren could almost hear her mother brighten at the thought.

* * *

She let her hair dry in large curlers, which made her slightly wavy hair more orderly than usual, put on a little black dress she’d bought at a thrift store for ten dollars when she was in college, dabbed her face with powder, brushed on eyeliner, and finished with lip gloss. The dress’s shade of black almost matched the lightly scuffed sandals she borrowed from Sara, but her turquoise drop earrings weren’t nearly fancy enough to pair with the diamond bracelet. They would have to do.

The party was at a private residence on Central Park West. The doorman pointed her to a gilded elevator, which carried her up fourteen floors and opened into a spacious apartment with a wall of windows overlooking the green trees of Central Park. The couches were cream-colored, the rugs lush with patterns of cream and beige. Abstract wire sculptures adorned large niches in the walls. Bracing herself, she walked toward a group of alums and tried to join the conversation. Most of them had that polished New York look, with three-figure haircuts and dry-clean-only clothes.

As the others chatted with aspartame smiles, her mind drifted to another kind of gathering, a house party on a rooftop somewhere in the Mediterranean where the guests couldn’t possibly care less about anyone’s status or job title.

“Lauren!” she heard from the direction of the elevator. She turned and saw Anna, her freshman year roommate, saunter into the room. Effervescent and blonde, she was totally at ease at these types of gatherings. At the moment she was working seventy-hour weeks at a consulting firm. Whatever that was.

“Hi Anna,” Lauren said, relieved to see a familiar face.

“How’s it going, world traveler?” she asked playfully.

Lauren’s eye twitched involuntarily. “Where’s the wine?”

Anna hesitated, then smiled. “Good question.” They walked to the dining room, where bottles of Chardonnay were lined up next to bottles of Zinfandel. Behind them lay an impressive spread of appetizers.

“Great,” Lauren said, grabbing a bottle of Zin. “The only two kinds of wine I don’t like. I wish they had just one bottle of Cabernet.”

Anna looked alarmed, and Lauren realized she was brandishing the bottle in a vaguely threatening way.

“That’s a Cab, isn’t it?” Anna asked hesitantly.

Lauren looked at the bottle she was holding. It was a Cabernet. Her eyes narrowed.

“Lucky you,” Anna said. “I wish they had a Riesling, but oh well.” She poured herself a glass of the Chardonnay.

Lauren was still looking at the bottle in her hand. “I swear this was a Zinfandel when I picked it up. The bottles were all the same.” She looked at Anna for confirmation.

Anna looked at her for a moment, then dropped her voice. “What is going on with you? You seem really tense. I think you’ve lost weight, too. Are you OK?”

Lauren sighed and gave her a run-down of what was going on in her life as she opened the wine and filled a clear plastic cup.

Anna pursed her lips in a sympathetic frown, then perked up again. “Well, you can always write,” she said cheerfully. “As a hobby, I mean.”

Lauren nodded at the helpful advice, downed her wine quickly, and poured another cup, then another.

She wasn’t sure how she ended up back in her room. A few hours, she realized with some alarm, were missing from her memory. That hadn’t happened since college.

She stood up shakily, sat on the edge of the bed, and rested her forehead in her hand.

“God I wish I had a cup of coffee,” she muttered.

A steaming mug appeared on her desk next to her laptop. Lauren raised her eyes and stared at it dully. The mug was the kind found in diners, made of thick white ceramic.

Jesus, how much did I have to drink? Shakily she reached toward the mug and touched it, then jerked her hand away and sucked on her finger. It was hot.

A wave of nausea rolled over her, and she lunged for the wastebasket and heaved into it. The trash can had mesh sides, and the liquid part of her wine-stained offering began oozing onto the cracked hardwood floor.

Grimacing, she slurred, “Urgh, I wish I didn’t have to clean that up tomorrow.”

The vomit vanished. She barely had time to register this before she hurled again. She wiped her mouth.

“I wish that pile of puke would go away, too.” It did, and she raised her eyebrows wanly. She’d never had hallucinations while drinking. It was vaguely worrying, but she wasn’t in the right state of mind to worry very much.

Flopping onto the bed, she pulled off her clothes and lay her head on her cheap, squashed-flat pillow.

“I wish my pillow was thicker,” she said and felt it rise under her head like bread in an oven. She buried her face in it and smiled as she finally passed out.

# # #

I hope you enjoyed the first chapter. The Bracelet is a lightly paranormal adventure, and it will soon take Lauren all over the world — to Croatia, Switzerland, Lebanon, the Sinai and, eventually, federal prison.

The book is, at heart, a meditation on the freedom we have as humans and the boxes we tend to put around ourselves to keep us from realizing that freedom. It’s a spirited journey, and I look forward to sharing it.

.

My book was just published in Turkish as Duvardakiler, or “People of the Wall.” My Turkish publicist scored me extensive interviews in three major Turkish newspapers. The first was with Aksam. You can read it online here, but of course it’s in Turkish. The English version is below.

TurkAnneFrankCan you tell us about yourself? Who is Pamela J. Olson? What kind of a life does she have in the USA?

I am from a small town in Oklahoma, a relatively conservative and isolated place in the middle of the US. I didn’t know much about the world growing up. The first time I met a foreign person (a German), I was in college.

But I read a lot of books, and by the time I got to college I really wanted to learn more. I studied mostly physics but also philosophy, history, anthropology, and the Russian and Chinese languages, and I traveled to Russia to study abroad. I realized I had a passion for travel, politics, and writing.

After ten years of traveling, learning, writing, and working various jobs in Palestine, Washington, DC, and New York City, I’m back in Oklahoma (at least for the next few years) living with my Turkish husband, Ahmed. We met while playing soccer in a park in New York City.

You lived 2 years in Ramallah. What were the emotions that brought you from America to Ramallah? Why did you leave the comfortable life in America and go to a land where death was everywhere?

My first trip abroad was to Russia. I had a nasty stereotypical view of Russians growing up because they were always the “bad guys” in our movies. But I found Russians themselves just as human as anyone else, fascinating and funny and mostly very kind. I realized if I was so wrong about Russia, I might also be wrong about other places and peoples.

In 2003, when I was saving money to travel again after college, the United States was getting ready to invade Iraq. I knew nothing about the Middle East, but I had a feeling my government was hiding things, because the propaganda sounded ridiculous. It didn’t seem logical that millions of human beings “hated us for our freedom.” I wanted to go to the Middle East to find out the truth for myself. It helped that I had Lebanese friends who talked about Lebanon like it was the most beautiful place on earth.

I went to Egypt first because another friend wanted to meet me there for his summer vacation. After he left, I was in Jordan on my way to Lebanon when I met some people who had been to Palestine and told me about the occupation. The things they told me sounded unbelievable—and they also said the United States government was paying Israel $3 billion per year—so I wanted to find out if they were true.

Of course, things were worse. It’s almost impossible to describe what Palestinians have to go through just in everyday life, not to mention during escalations of violence. But to be honest, even more surprising was how amazing Palestine was in so many ways. People were so open and kind and hospitable and funny and intelligent. More than half the people I met spoke English, even in small villages. Somehow I felt at home. I still think of it as a second home, and I miss it all the time.

It was a place where I could meet amazing people, live in a beautiful land, learn about fascinating things, and do meaningful work. What more could I ask for?

Can you tell us about the Pamela before and after Ramallah? What did this journey teach you about life? Because in the acknowledgements chapter you said: “You taught an egocentric and presumptuous American what is to be a good person.”

There is nothing more humbling than meeting people who live under bombs that your government pays for, expecting to find extremism and hatred, and instead finding some of the kindest and most interesting people you ever hope to meet.

Extremism does exist, of course, but after seeing and feeling what Palestinians go through every day, you honestly expect the whole population to have gone crazy. Yet the vast majority are doing everything they can not only to keep their humanity intact but also to welcome outsiders and strive toward life and freedom despite terrible odds. I have never felt more welcome anywhere else in the world, and I have never felt more humbled and inspired by people. Palestinians showed me there is more potential in human nature than I ever realized.

You have said that in this hectic world, you found a kind of peace in Palestine. How did you find peace among all that poverty, suppression and atrocity?

Palestinians may be poor in possessions, but many are rich in spirit, kindness, education (which is very important to Palestinians), family, love of land, and belief in justice — if not now, then in the time of their children or grandchildren. They call it sumoud — steadfastness.

If they can have this patience and endure these hardships and still maintain their humanity and believe a better world is possible (and work toward it, tirelessly, in a million ways that we mostly never hear about), I feel like I have no excuse not to at least try to follow their example.

Palestinians are also amazing in the ways they enjoy their time even in the most difficult days. There’s a picture, for example, of women in Gaza making special Ramadan Eid pastries at a UN shelter even as bombs were dropping around them. It touched me very deeply. It’s a lesson that if you’re not enjoying your time, if you’re not maintaining what brings joy to you and others, everything else is meaningless. And it’s a reminder that life strives to exist and thrive, even when outside forces try to destroy it.

But still, Palestinians shouldn’t be asked to endure so many hardships. We can’t abandon them to it. We have to do what we can.

What was your motivation to write “Fast Times in Palestine”? What made you write this book?

When I came back to the US after living in Palestine, I tried to tell people about my experiences, and no one wanted to listen. They said I had somehow been brainwashed by the Palestinians, even though I was talking about things I had experienced personally. Many people in the US have a certain vision of the Middle East based on the media, and when you imply that everything they believe is wrong, it tends to make them upset.

I moved to Washington, DC, to try to speak with think tanks and policymakers about what I had learned in Palestine and how supporting Israel’s policies, even when they are brutal or illegal, is bad for America’s standing in the world, bad for our security, and morally wrong.

While some individuals were willing to listen, institutions tended to be systematically pro-Israel, largely due to the Israel lobby. After a year of being constantly frustrated, I decided to stop trying to change things “from the top down.” Instead, I decided to try to change things “from the bottom up,” which meant educating Americans and urging them to put pressure on their elected representatives to change. Most humans are good people, and that includes Americans. We just need the correct information told to us in a way we can digest and relate to.

So that was the idea of writing a book about Palestine. But not in the usual depressing journalistic way. Instead, I wrote it as a suspenseful, funny, even romantic coming-of-age narrative that, along the way, shows and tells about the Palestinians I met and what their life is like under Israeli occupation. Palestinians aren’t saints, by any means, but they also aren’t devils. They are humans, just as interesting and funny and full of dreams as anyone else. I wanted to show that side. I hope it will change some people’s minds and inspire them to learn more and become active in the struggle for justice.

What does “Fast Times in Palestine” tell? What will readers find?

In essence, it is the story of an American woman — rather average, though maybe more curious than usual — going out into the world to see what it’s really like. I could have ended up in Iraq or Kashmir or Tibet—there is no shortage of struggles all over the world—but I ended up in Palestine, where I found so much beauty, so many questions, so much horror. In the book I call it a “university of human nature.” I wanted to learn as deeply as I could. And I found, of course, that it’s bottomless. But ultimately, in the end, still hopeful despite it all.

I think a quote by Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who unfortunately was killed in the Holocaust, sums it up nicely: “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

I like to think if she were alive today, she would be working for peace and equal rights for all.

How are other Americans’ perceptions of the Middle East formed through the Palestine issue? Are these perceptions correct? How do Americans understand things that happen there? Do you think they are sensitive enough?

Most Americans have lived all their lives in a secure and powerful country, so it can be hard for them to imagine what other people’s lives are like. Our military-industrial complex is powerful, and it has an interest in promoting conflicts that give it more power and money. As a result, it’s easier for a war-maker to come to power in the US than a peace-maker. Sadly, our news media often supports the government line on foreign policy instead of challenging it.

The Israel/Palestine situation is one of the most distorted issues in the American media. When I was living in Palestine, I would often see something happen in Ramallah, then go watch a report about it on CNN, and it would be nothing like what I had just seen. It often missed the point entirely. And unlike Al Jazeera, the American media never shows the casualties of air strikes in Baghdad or Gaza. So most Americans don’t understand the true realities of the conflicts in the Middle East, especially the ones we are involved in. Most Americans are also told that Israel is a democracy like us, with a Western style of life, while Palestinians are impoverished extremists who are nothing like us. Which makes it sadly easy to dehumanize Palestinians. And when your media dehumanizes people, it’s hard to be as sensitive as you should be about their suffering.

As far as we understood from the book, you were impressed by the traditions, hospitality and life there aside from the war. Can you share some of your memories that affected you most?

My favorite times in Palestine were the olive harvests. It’s such a wonderful occasion, with the entire West Bank gathering their families and going out to the land to work and talk and laugh and climb trees and have picnics. I wrote about olive harvests extensively in the book. Every single fall, if I’m not in Palestine, I feel sad that I’m missing the olive harvest.

I also fondly remember the Taybeh Octoberfest, a beer festival in a small Christian village near Ramallah. They have a brewery and make a delicious beer that is enjoyed in all the major Palestinian cities and even in some places in Israel. The festival always gathers Palestinians from all walks of life (they have a non-alcoholic beer for observant Muslims) as well as thousands of foreign tourists to get a taste of Palestine when it parties.

There are very interesting, very real characters in your book. What have these encounters added to your life? Are you still in contact with any of them?

The people I met in Palestine changed my life profoundly. I could only write about a fraction of the people I met, because I preferred to have a few well-rounded characters rather than a hundred less substantial ones. (This is a problem with Palestine writing in general—there are so many incredible stories to tell, there’s a natural urge to tell a million stories weakly rather than a few stories strongly. As a result, stories and characters that deeply humanize Palestinians tend to be rare.)

More than anything, their kindness affected me. When I came to Palestine, I was no one, just another American tourist asking annoying questions. But people took me in, explained things to me, fed me, sang to me, invited me to barbecues, told me jokes (and explained them if I didn’t understand), smoked hookahs with me, shared their lives and work and hopes and dreams and sorrows. I still get overwhelmed when I try to talk about it. Thank God now I can just say, “Read the book!”

I am in touch with most of the people in the book. Qais, the young man I had a sweet relationship with, is happily married with two beautiful children. Rania also has two lovely children, and we Skype every couple of weeks. On a recent book tour in Canada, I visited the Canadians I was with when we were held at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. I feel very lucky to know all these people.

What would you like to say about the role of the West, as a Westerner who lived in the region for 2 years?

The Sykes-Picot Agreement of World War I was a colonial power grab by the British and French, with much of the Middle East carved up in the interest of “dividing and conquering” rather than making life better for the people who lived there. Many sectarian conflicts today were born from that legacy, including the Palestine/Israel conflict, which arose when European Zionists interpreted Britain’s Balfour Declaration of 1917 as permission to begin building a state in Palestine that would be dominated by European Jews. I believe Jewish people deserve a home and safety as much as anyone else. But no people would accept to be kicked out of their own homes and land by outsiders to solve a problem they had nothing to do with. That’s the root cause of this conflict.

Unfortunately, the West has continued meddling since then, usually in destructive ways. In 1953, British and American forces overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh government of Iran when he tried to nationalize Iran’s oil. This led eventually to the revolution in 1979. The US funded Iraq during its war with Iran, which prolonged a bloody conflict and cost tens of thousands of lives, then later sanctioned Iraq, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, an act of collective punishment. The 2003 war in Iraq was a brutal series of embarrassing blunders based on lies. It still shocks me to think my own people are capable of such barbarity and stupidity. Many Americans are very ashamed of that war. All Americans should be.

And for decades the United States has supported almost everything Israel has done, no matter how wrong, which caused Israel to become more belligerent, stealing more land and punishing innocent people, helping create more extremism in the region and beyond. This is not good for the Israeli or Palestinian people, in my opinion, or for Americans.

In short, I’m deeply embarrassed by the role Western governments have played in the region overall. But there are many good-hearted people in America and Europe, and I hope more Westerners will learn about the region in a truthful way and pressure their representatives to have a more productive role that treats all lives as equally valuable.

Do you have any message that you would like to give to common citizens in the West?

The world is, in general, so much nicer and less scary than we’ve been led to believe.

Funny story: When my husband Ahmed was in New York, his sister in Istanbul read a story about an anti-Muslim hate crime in New York and called her brother, worried. He told her not to worry—crimes happened, but they were very rare. When I went to Istanbul later, my mom heard about cross-border violence between Turkey and Syria and called me, worried. I told her not to worry—the Syrian border was hundreds of miles away and no threat to me at all.

There are people doing bad things in the world, but they are far less common than we would think if we only watched the news and its sensationalistic headlines. Most people simply want to educate their kids and live a nice life. We can help people do that, but not by bombing, conquering, and occupying nations we don’t understand, or by telling defenseless populations to vote and then punishing them for voting for the “wrong” party.

Instead, we should try to really understand each other, see the humanity in each other, and realize that at the end of the day, most of us want the same thing: a stable, peaceful world where everyone has a chance to maximize his or her potential to contribute to their community and culture, both locally and globally. Increasing numbers of people, including Palestinians, want nothing more than their rights under international law. The US should support international law instead of undermining it, in the interest of peace and security for everyone, including ourselves.

America and Europe have tremendous potential to do good in the world. Despite all they’ve done, few people actually hate them. People just want them to live up to their own ideals and laws. In the US, because of campaign finance laws, it’s very difficult for peacemakers to gain power in Washington. Changing those laws so that wealthy corporations and special interests have less power would be an excellent place to start.

How did you feel when you heard about the recent Israeli attacks on Palestine? What does it feel like that nothing has changed for the Palestinian people after all these years?

I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore, but the assault on Gaza this summer was unbelievable. Gazans are mostly refugees, mostly children, mostly defenseless. And this latest escalation was deliberately provoked by Netanyahu to prevent a Palestinian unity government that might be more representative of Palestinians. Netanyahu has never had any intention of negotiating fairly with Palestinians, and he sees a unity government as a threat to his rejectionism.

To besiege people for nearly a decade, then deliberately provoke rockets on a dishonest pretext, and “retaliate” by creating an apocalypse where nearly 2000 human beings were killed, including 400 children, and tens of thousands left with no homes, no jobs, nothing… It’s beyond words.

But it was interesting to watch the American coverage of this assault, which was quite different than usual. We actually heard from Palestinians on the news, and from journalists who saw for themselves the horrors Israel unleashed, which in some cases were even more shocking than scenes they had witnessed in Syria. On Twitter and Facebook, we saw pictures of destruction and carnage, and celebrities began to break the taboo and publicly condemn the slaughter. Israeli spokesmen were in the uncomfortable position of trying to defend blowing up hundreds of children, and commentators weren’t quite as willing to accept their dishonest talking points.

Our media is still very biased toward Israel’s overall narrative, and our Congress is nearly hopeless because Israel has such a powerful lobby and the Palestinians don’t. But ordinary Americans, especially young ones, are starting to change their minds, and increasing numbers of American Jews are disillusioned by Israel’s policies and joining groups like Jewish Voice for Peace that work for justice in Palestine. People all over the world are becoming active in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Turkey does a huge amount of trade with Israel, so there is of course potential for Turkish people to get involved, too.

So there is hope, and things are moving in the right direction. I just wish they would move faster.

Do you have anything to add?

I have friends in Israel, and I want their children to grow up knowing their neighbors instead of being forced to join an army that oppresses and provokes them. (Increasing numbers of Israelis are refusing to join the army, but it is still a small number overall.) And of course, I want the next generation of Palestinians to grow up with freedom and dignity. I hope some day soon all of the land will be a place where all are welcomed without fear or discrimination. It’s a beautiful land, and it deserves to be known by the world as itself, beyond the context of conflict. Inshallah.

Chapter 11 of my book recounts the heady days leading up to the 2005 Disengagement, Israel’s removal of 7,500 illegal settlers from the choice lands in Gaza they had occupied for years. (Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s advisor Dov Weisglass admitted that the point of the Disengagement was to put any chance of a real peace process “in formaldehyde” so that Israel could continue colonizing the West Bank with a freer hand.)

Below is the last section of the chapter, in which I visited Gaza for the first time just as the settlers were evacuated.

Drinking by the Sea in Gaza

Even after a year in the West Bank, it was difficult for me to imagine life in the Gaza Strip. It seemed less an actual place than a metaphor for human suffering, the modern world’s dirty little secret, a forbidden, forgotten, crowded, impoverished, dangerous, besieged penal colony. Over a million people squeezed into a 27-by-5-mile strip of land choked by settlements, ‘security zones,’ sniper towers, and military bases, like a super-concentrated version of the West Bank.

An Israeli officer had recently admitted the army’s raids into Gaza were characterized by chaos and the indiscriminate use of force. “Gaza was considered a playground for sharpshooters,” he explained.

I remembered many of the names and faces of the hundreds of Gazans I had reported on who’d been gunned down. Schools and homes, roads and restaurants—nowhere was safe. The Gazans’ framework had become so warped, most truly couldn’t fathom why Israelis were so scared of Qassam rockets. They could only dream of their only torment being an occasional barrage of unguided missiles with a half-percent kill rate.

I arrived at the Erez crossing on Thursday, September 8, not entirely sure whether I hoped I’d be allowed in or turned back. I walked nervously toward a huge parking lot. It had been teeming with trucks and commerce before the near-hermetic sealing of this crossing, but it was deserted now. Two guards called to me and asked to see my passport. I gave it to them. They nodded at each other and directed me to a building further on.

Inside the building, a friendly Israeli guard took my passport and luggage. I waited in a small room with other aid workers and journalists, many of whom had probably been forced to misrepresent themselves in order to have any hope of access. I certainly hadn’t mentioned anything about my job in my application. We all avoided eye contact, fearful that anything we said might be used against us.

Half an hour later I was called up, given my passport back, and directed to the entrance to the Gaza Strip. I gathered my bags and made my way to the rather intimidating portal, a shabby affair of chipped concrete and metal bars. It led to a passage between concrete walls, a dark tunnel-like path that stretched on for nearly a mile. My feeling of fear and desolation intensified the further I walked down that Kafkaesque lane into God knew what.

Presently I came upon a closed metal gate. An unseen Israeli soldier was making blowing noises over a microphone. The blowing noises stopped as I approached. I tried the gate. It was shut tight. I looked around the empty hall.

“Hello?” I ventured. Nothing. Feeling silly, I knocked on the gate. Still nothing. “Hello?” I banged on the gate. I knew they could see me. It was unnerving to be trapped, watched, ignored. I felt very much like a gerbil in a cage. Were they waiting for me to do something? Entertain them? Hop on one foot? Say the magic word? I suppressed an almost irresistible urge to intone, “OPEN SESAME.”

Finally I gave up and sat on a concrete block and started playing with my cell phone to pass the time. Twenty minutes later several Palestinian workers approached from behind me.

“Salaam alaykum,” I greeted one of them, and he returned the greeting. “I’ve been waiting here twenty minutes,” I complained in Arabic.

He was unimpressed. “Sometimes we wait half an hour, one hour.” He shrugged.

Five minutes later the gate creaked opened. A soldier barked unintelligible orders over the loudspeaker. I grabbed my bags, and we all made our way through.

At last I neared the end of the tunnel. Two Palestinian women in hijab greeted me with shy smiles and warm Arabic pleasantries. As they carefully recorded my passport information in a tattered green volume, my fear began to ease. A familiar feeling of calm and safety settled over me. It was unmistakable: I was back in Palestine.

When I emerged, I got my first view of the Gaza Strip. It looked deceptively normal. Agricultural fields spread toward two villages on lows hills. The towns, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya, had once been famous for their oranges, but the Israeli army had razed most of their groves. Beit Lahiya was where seven kids had been killed by Israeli tank fire in a strawberry field in January.

I caught a cab into Gaza City. It looked similar to Ramallah but more flat and dense, larger and more overwhelming. A banner across a main intersection declared in dark green letters, “Palestinian Unity is a Must.” It was signed in red, “HAMAS.”

39320003

I made my way to a hotel on the beach, the Grand Palace, one of many swank venues built after Arafat returned in 1994. It was airy and elegant with white arches, and its verandas had fantastic sea views. With its air conditioning, satellite TV, hot showers and soft beds, it was easy to forget I was in a conflict zone on the verge of historic upheaval.

Gaza’s economy had been valued at $1 billion before the second Intifada, and the service sector was its largest segment. This hotel was a symbol of what could have been—an entire service industry, an international vacation destination, lost.

***

I went for a walk on the beach the next morning and said hello to a family sitting in a circle of lawn chairs enjoying coffee and cakes. They invited me to join them. A plump, friendly woman fished a pan of crumb cake out of her beach bag and insisted I sample it. I happily obliged, and we chatted and laughed for nearly an hour.

When I got up to leave, they expressed the usual mock-outrage that a guest should think of doing anything other than sitting with them and accepting their hospitality until the end of time. I thanked them over and over, and they made me promise to find them if I ever came back to the beach, or to Gaza, again.

39320002

Gaza’s seaport came into view as I continued walking, a small harbor surrounded by a stone breakwater. Ramshackle fishing vessels bobbed on the wavelets. It was another deceptively idyllic scene. Gaza fishermen were routinely fired on by the Israeli navy if they ventured past the limit of 12 nautical miles imposed in 2002—far less than the 20-mile limit agreed to under the Oslo Accords. [The limit is now down to 3 nautical miles.] Old photographs showed Gaza’s fish markets overflowing with red mullet, bream, flounder, tuna, sea bass, sardines, squids, shrimps, and crabs. The market today was a sad, scrawny shadow of those days. Everyone hoped Israel would remove the restrictions after the Disengagement, which forced Gaza’s fishermen to over-fish young populations near shore, and allow the construction of a deep water port to serve larger fishing and cargo vessels.

My primary concern on this aimless day was whether and when the Abu Holi checkpoint would open. It was the main barrier between the northern and southern Gaza Strip. I’d have to cross it to get to Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, by most accounts one of the friendliest and most brutalized towns in the Palestinian territories. I had a contact named Nader, a friend of an American Jewish journalist friend, waiting to meet me there.

Located on the Egyptian border, Rafah had seen the worst of the violence, home demolitions, and restrictions. Even though the city was only two miles from the Mediterranean, security for settlements dictated that the residents of Rafah were forbidden from accessing the beach. When the last soldiers left in a couple of days, Rafah’s residents would flood into the settlements and run to the long-lost sea. If the checkpoint stayed closed, I would miss this extraordinary moment.

Abu Holi had been closed almost continuously for the past several days, open only at midnight on weekdays and all day Fridays. But on this Friday it was shut tight. No reason was given, no timetable made public for when it might open. Everyone was left to hope and wonder. Rumors were flying, and the most widespread and persistent was that it would open at 11:00pm.

As eleven o’clock approached, I found a service taxi that was heading south. I and a few other hopefuls crowded in and took off.

The landscape around the Abu Holi checkpoint was monitored by a monolithic sniper tower. Acres around it had been bulldozed bereft of homes and trees and fields. The checkpoint was a prime target for suicide bombers, which meant security was on a hair trigger. A bad read of a soldier’s hand could mean a quick and pointless death. I held my breath as our service taxi inched toward it. We made it through in a little over an hour.

Nader met my taxi in Rafah and introduced himself briefly as we walked toward his house. He was a lanky young man with a crooked nose and a wary, almost manic friendliness.

“We will probably meet some militants before we get to my house,” he informed me. “But don’t worry, you are with me.”

Before I had a chance to respond, we turned a corner and came face to face with half a dozen masked gunmen, probably from Hamas. All of us froze like deer in headlights. Nader said something in Arabic that sounded sarcastic. The militants looked at each other. If it was possible for a gang of masked men sporting assault rifles to look sheepish, they did. We continued on to his house without another word.

He insisted I have some tea before we turn in, then he offered me a foam mattress on the floor to sleep on. I fell asleep gratefully, exhausted but euphoric. Somehow I had made it to the least accessible of the least accessible places in Palestine in one of its most historic times.

***

Nader’s mother fixed us a breakfast of falafel, hummus, yogurt, and fried potatoes, then Nader and I ventured outside and I got my first heart-stopping glimpse of the destroyed neighborhoods of southern Rafah. The area is famous for the huge number of homes obliterated in the hundred-meter-wide ‘buffer zone’ along the border with Egypt in order to deter smuggling tunnels. The former swath of neighborhoods is now a rocky, uneven field covered in scrub brush.

More than 4,500 Palestinian homes had been demolished in the Gaza Strip since September 2000, most of them in Rafah, and 22,000 homes had been partially destroyed or damaged. Nader’s house was in the last row of homes that hadn’t yet been totally destroyed, though one of the back walls of his house had been blown out by tank shells.

The roof of the house to our left was caved in, but a black water tank, a salvaged satellite dish, and clothes lines hung with laundry indicated that someone lived there anyway. A house further to our left leaned at a forty-five-degree angle, and kids were climbing on it like it was a colossal jungle gym. Every exposed wall was riddled with bullet holes. Across the street a man and his two young kids were starting a fire with dry brush, perhaps to cook or make tea. Their house had one wall busted out so that you could see into the bathroom. When I held my camera up to ask if I could take their picture, the father smiled as if he was standing in front of a proud home instead of squatting over a makeshift fire in a dusty street next to wreckage.

Many parts of Rafah reduced to rubble

Many parts of Rafah reduced to rubble

Beautiful homes in shambles

Beautiful homes in shambles

The water tank and clotheslines mean people are still living here

The water tank and clotheslines mean people are still living here

Another house leaning at a 45 degree angle

Another house leaning at a 45 degree angle

Warm smiles despite it all

Warm smiles despite it all

DSC00473

DSC00474

[In May 2004 the head of Israel’s secular-liberal Shinui Party, Tommy Lapid, said to the Israeli cabinet, “The demolition of houses in Rafah must stop. It is not humane, not Jewish, and causes us grave damage in the world… At the end of the day, they’ll kick us out of the United Nations, try those responsible in the international court in The Hague, and no one will want to speak with us.” He said seeing a picture of an elderly woman searching in the debris of her bulldozed home for her medication reminded him of his own grandmother, who had perished in the Holocaust. His comments were met with outrage by other Israeli politicians, and the demolitions continued. See: Gideon Alon, “Prominent Israeli denounces home demolitions in Gaza,” Haaretz, May 24, 2004.]

Nader said, “Come, I will show you a place they really destroyed.”

He directed me to some quarters of Rafah that had been bulldozed in the course of a recent military incursion. If the ethnically cleansed neighborhoods of Hebron looked post-Apocalyptic, this looked like ground zero of the Apocalypse itself. A few wire-reinforced concrete support beams stood crookedly, but everything else had been pulverized into thick, grey, ashy dust. My brain clicked off, as if some outer layer of judgment had been blown away in self-defense. All that was left was a childlike observation and acceptance of what I was seeing with no pass through the limbic system to attach emotions to it. I found a child’s marble and a small blue bathroom tile half-buried in the dust. I pocketed them as mementos of this scene and the feeling of horrible numbness it evoked.

When we emerged from this netherworld, we walked to the Rachel Corrie Center, which hosted art classes, after school programs, an internet café, and summer camps for local youths. The community center was named in honor of a 23-year-old American college student who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003 while trying to prevent the demolition of the home of a Palestinian pharmacist in Rafah. The Israeli army claimed there was a smuggling tunnel inside the home. A few months after they crushed Rachel, they destroyed the house. No evidence of tunnels was found.

After walking through the center and checking our emails, Nader seemed at a loss for what to do next.

“Why don’t we check out the zoo?” I suggested. I’d heard there was a zoo in Gaza, but I didn’t think I would fully believe it until I saw it for myself.

Nader said apologetically, “We can go, but the old zoo was much nicer.”

“Old zoo?”

“Yeah. Before the Israelis bulldozed it.”

My mouth fell open. “They bulldozed a zoo?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened to the animals?”

“They killed some of them, and others escaped and we had to try to find them. The fountain was destroyed, and the pool, and the games and slides for kids.” He shrugged. “We built it again, but it’s not as nice.”

When we got there, he insisted on paying my three-shekel (seventy-cent) zoo entry fee, and we walked into a courtyard surrounded by cages. A boy about eight years old was riding around on a Shetland pony trailed by two friends. Among the exhibits was a twelve-foot boa constrictor, dozens of colorful birds, rabbits, puppies, house cats, and a young mountain lion, which the owner proudly said came all the way from America. A monkey lived alone in a cage in the center of the courtyard. He’d taken to an endless routine of jumping up on one wall, jumping back to the ground, spinning around twice, then climbing to the ceiling and screaming. Nader and I watched him in silence. The parallel was almost too obvious, but Nader said it anyway.

“You know, I call the whole Gaza Strip the Gaza Zoo,” he said. “We are like this monkey. We can’t go left or right, we have nowhere to play. We are trapped here, and the world looks down at us like we are insects.”

“At least the monkey doesn’t have to worry about invasions or home demolitions,” I started to say, but I stopped myself. This monkey may have been here when Israeli bulldozers demolished his previous home. He certainly heard the F-16s and Apache helicopters screaming overhead, the gunfire, the explosions, the tanks rumbling by, and the omnipresent unmanned Israeli drones with their psyche-destroying buzz, like mosquitoes the size of elephants. Maybe these terrifying events as much as the cage itself had driven the monkey mad.

Nader sighed. “OK, what next?”

“I’d love to see the airport.”

Gaza’s international airport had opened with much fanfare in 1998 only to be shut down three years later when the second Intifada started and the Israeli army bombed the control tower and destroyed the runways. Only the passenger terminal was left standing. It was an elegant edifice with modern check-in desks, handsome decorative arches, and marble walls and floors inset with mosaic tile designs. It was the prettiest little airport I had ever seen. Nader and I took pictures of each other as if we were tourists. But we were the only people wandering its ghostly interior.

DSC00411

DSC00397

DSC00395

***

We awoke the next morning — Sunday, September 11 — to an explosion. Nader snapped awake, and we walked blinking into the sunlight. A crowd had gathered a few houses north of us. A white car emerged from the crowd. Three young men were in the back, but I could only see one clearly as the car sped past us. His face and arm were covered with blood.

DSC00439

Nader looked at me and grinned disconcertingly. “The Israelis must have shelled us one last time.”

I nodded, though the whole scene seemed psychotic, as if bleeding kids were just one of the Gaza Strip’s quintessential experiences, like how Wisconsin has cheese.

“What is the matter, ya Bamila?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s just… they’re everywhere, they might—”

“Don’t worry,” he interrupted with apparently total confidence. “If they try to shoot any one bullet at you, you won’t even see what I will do.”

I smiled wryly. Was that supposed to be comforting? Oddly enough it was in a giddy, dangerous way. There was a constant background sense of my life hanging by a slightly thinner thread than usual. Nader’s conviction that he could stop bullets was better than no reassurance at all.

In the evening we sat on Nader’s roof watching the sun set over what we hoped would be the last day of Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip. Nader’s nephew Mohammad joined us on the roof. He was a handsome boy of about eleven with a haunted innocence in his eyes that seemed disconnected from his calm words and shy smile. I asked him what it was like when Israel invaded. Nader translated when I didn’t understand.

He said, “The house always shakes when the F-16s and helicopters bomb the area.”

“Does it scare you?”

“Of course. I peed myself five times.” He shrugged. “But after a while it’s normal. I mean, not normal…” He trailed off and looked away, unsure how to put it into words. He was disconcertingly unashamed and unemotional talking about such things.

“You know, you look a little like Ronaldo,” I said in Arabic, trying to change the subject.

“Ronaldo?” The way he tasted the word in his mouth, it was clear he had no idea who I was talking about.

“You know, Ronaldo,” I said. “The soccer player from Brazil.”

“Brazil?” He looked even more confused now.

Nader cuffed his neck. “The country, not the camp, you idiot.”

I had forgotten there was a refugee camp nearby called Brazil Camp. He had thought I was referring to someone from Gaza.

“Is it nice?” he asked, referring to the country Brazil. “Better than here?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never been there,” I said, feeling depressed. “But I hear it’s beautiful.” He blinked and nodded, considering this.

Mohammad

Mohammad

After the sun went down, we went back inside for dinner. Just as we were finishing, another deafening explosion rocked the air about three hundred yards away. We all instinctively ducked, but no one was willing to go outside and find out what had blown up this time.

We later found out that it had been the Israelis demolishing one of their own sniper towers. Gaza’s neighborhoods had been watched and controlled by these towers for years, plagued by the horror of being surrounded by faceless soldiers who had the power to end your life with no repercussions and little oversight.

Never again, we hoped, after tomorrow.

***

It was scorching hot the next morning when we stepped outside and looked hopefully toward the border with Egypt. The buffer zone between Nader’s house and the border had been a closed, forbidden, deadly military zone for as long as anyone could remember. Two Palestinian policemen walked gingerly into it and planted a small Palestinian flag on a mound of earth halfway between the last row of houses and the rusty metal border wall.

DSC00481

Young boys, heedless of the danger, ran around gathering the millions of spent cartridge shells that blanketed the field to sell for scrap metal. A juice vendor set up shop for the spectacle. I bought an ice cold cup of carob juice, and its refreshing sweetness sang through my body. A few more people began cautiously walking toward the border, gaining momentum as they became more confident no one would shoot them. Soon a steady stream was walking toward the wall, and Nader and I joined the strange pilgrimage. I wore a headscarf to blend in. It was still obvious that I was a foreigner, but no one paid me any mind.

DSC00501

DSC00504

DSC00620

A section of the border wall had been pulled apart, and we walked through it into the no-man’s-land between the Palestinian and Egyptian border walls. The space between was as wide as a football field, a featureless stretch of land rutted with tank tracks. Men in black from both Fatah and Hamas scaled the walls to plant their flags. Several vans and pick-up trucks rolled by loaded down with masked militants sporting rocket-propelled grenades as a show of power. It was probably also an attempt by Hamas to claim credit for the Disengagement.

We walked down the barren thoroughfare until we saw a section of wall on the Egyptian side that was only five feet high and topped by a chain-link fence. Palestinians and Egyptians who hadn’t interacted in years were saying hello and clutching each other’s fingers. Many of the kids looked in astonishment at seeing Egyptian people for the first time. Everyone was cheerful and excited. It was a day of rare freedom.

DSC00521

DSC00523

DSC00525

DSC00527

DSC00530

The next day they would tear down this wall and cross at will. Hundreds of stranded students, travelers, and medical patients streamed over the wall to get out or get back home. Egyptian customers went all the way to Gaza City to shop for apples and blankets while Gazans came back from Egypt with goats and sheep and cigarettes they had bought for a fraction of the usual cost. Shops on both sides sold out of their goods in a matter of hours, indicating how badly both economies had been distorted by this hermetic separation enforced by Israel and the widely despised Mubarak regime in Cairo.

We continued walking until our view opened up to a white sand beach and an aquamarine sea fading to deep blue at the horizon. We joined hundreds of Palestinians, children bobbing in the shallows and young men splashing and laughing in the waves or seining for minnows. It was the first time many of them had ever seen the sea, and the younger ones were especially ecstatic.

39320004

After taking in this scene for several happy minutes, we hired a cab to take us to one of the destroyed settlements. Caravans of trucks and donkey carts met us on the road carrying anything of even marginal value that had been left behind in the settlements, including roof tiles, sections of chain-link fence, pipes, wiring, rebar, doors, insulation, siding, and chains. Israeli garbage was apparently rich pickings. Some of the children on the donkey carts bore traces of deep poverty, the kind that stunts growth. They had probably come from the nearby refugee camps, where raw sewage runs down the middle of alleys and the brackish drinking water cause major health problems. Or from Mawasi, a formerly productive (and now deeply impoverished) strip of land near the beach that for many years had been locked away behind a ruinous checkpoint and a string of Israeli settlements.

The settlements had until recently featured horse riding trails, a tourist hotel, and a golf course. Now they looked like an upscale version of the pulverized neighborhoods of Rafah. Bushes, trees, and flower beds surrounded rubble-strewn wastes. A half-destroyed school still had kids’ paintings tacked up on the crumbling walls. Palestinian policemen in blue camouflage uniforms watched as people had a curious look or hunted for anything of value. There wasn’t much they could do to prevent the looting. Turning arms against their own desperate people for stripping illegal buildings on their own land would have been bad for their fragile popularity.

Roof tiles taken from a settlement building

Roof tiles taken from a settlement building

DSC00552

DSC00558

DSC00559

DSC00567

An abandoned settlement building

An abandoned settlement building

DSC00574

Palestinian police

Palestinian police

Abandoned Israeli settlement school

Abandoned Israeli settlement school

DSC00579

DSC00595

A feeling of hope and wonder hung in the air along with a faint, alarming stench of toxic burning. It was hard to believe the occupation might really be over, that people could roam their Gaza prison without fear of Israeli snipers, that they could finally repair their broken and bullet-scarred houses without fear that the next wave of violence would destroy everything again.

The next day, astoundingly, Nader and I were able to catch a taxi directly to Gaza City in broad daylight. The trip only took half an hour. The Abu Holi checkpoint had ceased to exist, as if that all-powerful obstruction had merely been a bad dream.

I found a gift shop in downtown Gaza City and bought a commemorative mug with a picture of a dove and a Palestinian flag on it. The mug said, “Congratulations for the evacuation of Gaza… and hopefully for the West Bank…” It was a lukewarm victory cheer, but I supposed Palestinians were used to taking what they could get.

Triumphant Palestinian flags flew everywhere, and Nader and I soaked it all in, a feeling of pressure being released, of hamsters being given a slightly bigger cage with fewer daily cruelties and a hope, however slim, that things would continue to improve.

It’s heartbreaking now to remember how we felt standing there, holding our breath and hoping.

###

To understand what happened next in Gaza, the best summary I’ve seen is a brilliant article by Peter Beinart, a liberal Zionist writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, called “What American Jews Haven’t Been Told about Gaza.” It demolishes a lot of talking points about Gaza that have come to be accepted truth in the US media, namely: Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, hoping it would lead to peace. Instead, Hamas seized power, ransacked greenhouses, threw its opponents off rooftops and began launching thousands of rockets at Israel.

This narrative bears little resemblance to reality on the ground and its true dynamics. The truth is much more grim, and important for all Americans to know, since our tax dollars and government give Israel virtually 100% support for whatever it does.

###

For more colorful, suspenseful, funny, tragic, and sometimes romantic stories (Palestine is kinda like that) about life under occupation, check out my book Fast Times in Palestine, published in March 2013.

You can view the book’s Amazon page here.

You can read Chapter One here.

THE REST OF THE STORY (which was cut from the book for reasons of length)

Nader, of course, insisted on going all the way to the Erez Crossing to drop me off. He waited while I got permission from the Palestinian Authority to pass. A Palestinian policeman chatted with me for a while, then took my documents and frowned at them for a long while. He asked me to wait and walked into an office. When he came back a few minutes later, he said, “Assif, mamnou.” (I’m sorry, it’s forbidden.)

My mind struggled with cognitive dissonance mixed with the beginnings of panic. I knew the Israelis could trap me here, but I didn’t think the Palestinians had that power, and even if they did, why would they—

Then I noticed the guard’s lip twitch slightly, and I laughed with relief. He’d only been joking. Nader had probably put him up to it. I punched Nader’s arm lightly. The soldier smiled and handed me my passport back and motioned for me to pass toward the gate.

Nader and I said our good-byes. Palestinians have a way of making guests feel like they’re the greatest people who ever lived, and that the community simply won’t survive if they leave. This was no exception. I exchanged untranslatable pleasantries with the guard who had joked with me, then another guard quickly checked my luggage. Two women took down my passport information, and after a final wave, I set out down the long, dark tunnel to Israel.

Soon I reached the electronic gate in the center. It was shut tight. I looked around the empty hall and wondered what to do. I knew the soldiers could see me with their camera, but no one said anything.

After ten minutes, two more Palestinian men approached from behind me. I asked them in Arabic, “How can I open the gate? It’s closed.”

One answered in English, “Try to say something. He can see you. You just have to wait until he wants to open it.” I didn’t feel like playing this game, so I sat down on a concrete block to wait.

After several more minutes, the gate opened and the Palestinians started walking through. I grabbed my bags and followed them until a voice said, “Stop.” It said something else, but I couldn’t understand through the bad sound system. Nonetheless, when his orders to “Stop, go back, stop, go back,” reached an almost fevered pitch, I found it impossible to ignore them. I stopped. “Go back,” the voice said. I stayed put. “Go back!”

“Why?” I asked. “Is there a problem?”

“Go back!”

“What is the problem?” I started to retreat back to the Gaza side of the gate. What else could I do?

The voice relaxed. “Just go back. You can go in a few minutes. Just a few minutes.”

The gate clanged shut again. I sat down for another ten minutes until a few more workers came through. This time when the gate opened, the voice said, “You can go through gate number four.”

I walked down the tunnel until I saw an electric turnstile labeled ‘4,’ which let me pass. The next section had metal fences that wrapped around like lines at Disneyland rides. People were hopping the gates since the lines were empty and there was no point doubling back.

As soon as I’d jumped a gate, another voice said, “Stop. Go back!” I looked nowhere in particular in surprise. There wasn’t anything to focus on or look at like it was stupid. I was talking to thin air.

“Go back?” I asked.

“Go back.”

I started walking back toward the electric turnstile, bewildered and amused and uneasy.

“Stop!” the voice said again. I stopped. “Put your bag down.” I put my bag down. Then he said something garbled that made no sense.

“What?” I asked.

“Put all of them!”

What does that mean? Oh, maybe he wants me to put my purse down, too. I did. The voice relaxed again.

“Turn around.” I blinked. Then I turned my back to… where my front had been before. I felt helpless and exposed. Were they hitting me with X-rays or just jerking me around? Would they ask me to pull my shirt up in public?

“Turn around again.” I turned back around, rolling my eyes with my whole body.

Another pause. “OK, you can go.”

And off I went. The guards at the VIP terminal were friendly and didn’t keep me long. One said in surprise, “You just came back from Gaza?”

“Yes,” I said, though I was tempted to say, No, I just teleported in from Nepal. Where the hell do you think I just came back from?

“Really?” He hesitated a moment, as if he wanted to ask further questions. As if he was genuinely curious about the place I had just come from, a place that in Israeli discourse was synonymous with hell — not a place any sane, normal person would ever live or visit. But he couldn’t seem to formulate any coherent questions, and I knew it would be months or years before I could formulate any coherent answers.

“Yes,” I said again with finality, and grabbed my bags and left.

POSTSCRIPT

Though about 8,000 settlers were pulled out of Gaza and a few small West Bank outposts in 2005, the settler population in the West Bank increased by more than 12,000 that year. And it has continued growing ever since.

The Disengagement was also unilateral, which meant there was no coordination with the Palestinians. No core Palestinian requests were met, such as allowing free commerce, free sea access, and the reopening of the Gaza International Airport. Palestinians were effectively blockaded even before Hamas won elections in 2006 with a 45% plurality of the vote.

What followed was, among other things, an increasingly brutal siege that turned Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison (collective punishment is a war crime) and three massive bombing campaigns in 2008-9, 2012, and 2014 — attempts to force Palestinians to accept their subjugated and imprisoned status indefinitely without protest or resistance.

It is not clear what will happen next.

.

I was thinking of writing an op-ed on this very subject, but Peter Beinart beat me to it and did a brilliant job. A very important set of realities to understand, and a prime example of the utter mendacity of many oft-repeated Israeli talking point truisms.

Haaretz

What American Jews Haven’t Been Told about Gaza

July 30, 2014
Peter Beinart

If you’ve been anywhere near the American Jewish community over the past few weeks, you’ve heard the following morality tale: Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, hoping the newly independent country would become the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead, Hamas seized power, ransacked greenhouses, threw its opponents off rooftops and began launching thousands of rockets at Israel.

American Jewish leaders use this narrative to justify their skepticism of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. But in crucial ways, it’s wrong. And without understanding why it’s wrong, you can’t understand why this war is wrong too.

Let’s take the claims in turn.

Israel Left Gaza

It’s true that in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel’s more than 8,000 settlers from Gaza. (At America’s urging, he also dismantled four small settlements in the West Bank). But at no point did Gaza become its own country. Had Gaza become its own country, it would have gained control over its borders. It never did. As the Israeli human rights group Gisha has detailed, even before the election of Hamas, Israel controlled whether Gazans could enter or exit the Strip (In conjunction with Egypt, which controlled the Rafah checkpoint in Gaza’s south). Israel controlled the population registry through which Gazans were issued identification cards. Upon evacuating its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Israel even created a security perimeter inside the Strip from which Gazans were barred from entry. (Unfortunately for Gazans, this perimeter included some of the Strip’s best farmland).

“Pro-Israel” commentators claim Israel had legitimate security reasons for all this. But that concedes the point. A necessary occupation is still an occupation. That’s why it’s silly to analogize Hamas’ rockets—repugnant as they are—to Mexico or Canada attacking the United States. The United States is not occupying Mexico or Canada. Israel — according to the United States government — has been occupying Gaza without interruption since 1967.

To grasp the perversity of using Gaza as an explanation for why Israel can’t risk a Palestinian state, it helps to realize that Sharon withdrew Gaza’s settlers in large measure because he didn’t want a Palestinian state. By 2004, when Sharon announced the Gaza withdrawal, the Road Map for Peace that he had signed with Mahmoud Abbas was going nowhere. Into the void came two international proposals for a two state solution. The first was the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which every member of the Arab League offered to recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 lines and found a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. The second was the 2003 Geneva Initiative, in which former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators publicly agreed upon the details of a two state plan. As the political scientists Jonathan Rynhold and Dov Waxman have detailed, Sharon feared the United States would get behind one or both plans, and pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines. “Only an Israeli initiative,” Sharon argued, “will keep us from being dragged into dangerous initiatives like the Geneva and Saudi initiatives.”

Sharon saw several advantages to withdrawing settlers from Gaza. First, it would save money, since in Gaza Israel was deploying a disproportionately high number of soldiers to protect a relatively small number of settlers. Second, by (supposedly) ridding Israel of its responsibility for millions of Palestinians, the withdrawal would leave Israel and the West Bank with a larger Jewish majority. Third, the withdrawal would prevent the administration of George W. Bush from embracing the Saudi or Geneva plans, and pushing hard—as Bill Clinton had done—for a Palestinian state. Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, put it bluntly: “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Gaza withdrawal did not meet minimal Palestinian demands. Not even the most moderate Palestinian leader would have accepted a long-term arrangement in which Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza while maintaining control of the Strip’s borders and deepening Israeli control of the West Bank. (Even in the 2005, the year Sharon withdrew from Gaza, the overall settler population rose, in part because some Gazan settlers relocated to the West Bank).

In fact, Sharon’s advisors did not expect withdrawing Gaza’s settlers to satisfy the Palestinians. Nor did not they expect it to end Palestinian terrorism. Ehud Olmert, a key figure in the disengagement plan (and someone who himself later embraced Palestinian statehood), acknowledged that “terror will continue” after the removal of Gaza’s settlers. The key word is “continue.” Contrary to the American Jewish narrative, militants in Gaza didn’t start launching rockets at Israel after the settlers left. They began a half-decade earlier, at the start of the second intifada. The Gaza disengagement did not stop this rocket fire. But it did not cause it either.

Hamas Seized Power

I can already hear the objections. Even if withdrawing settlers from Gaza didn’t give the Palestinians a state, it might have made Israelis more willing to support one in the future – if only Hamas had not seized power and turned Gaza into a citadel of terror.

But Hamas didn’t seize power. It won an election. In January 2006, four months after the last settlers left, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem chose representatives to the Palestinian Authority’s parliament. (The previous year, they had separately elected Abbas to be the Palestinian Authority’s President). Hamas won a plurality of the vote – forty-five percent – but because of the PA’s voting system, and Fatah’s idiotic decision to run more than one candidate in several districts, Hamas garnered 58 percent of the seats in parliament.

To the extent American Jewish leaders acknowledge that Hamas won an election (as opposed to taking power by force), they usually chalk its victory up to Palestinian enthusiasm for the organization’s 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction (The president of the New York board of rabbis said recently that anyone who voted for Hamas should be considered a combatant, not a civilian). But that’s almost certainly not the reason Hamas won. For starters, Hamas didn’t make Israel’s destruction a major theme of its election campaign. In its 2006 campaign manifesto, the group actually fudged the question by saying only that it wanted an “independent state whose capital is Jerusalem” plus fulfillment of the right of return.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that by 2006 Hamas had embraced the two state solution. Only that Hamas recognized that running against the two state solution was not the best way to win Palestinian votes. The polling bears this out. According to exit polls conducted by the prominent Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, 75 percent of Palestinian voters—and a remarkable 60 percent of Hamas voters—said they supported a Palestinian unity government dedicated to achieving a two state solution.

So why did Hamas win? Because, according to Shikaki, only fifteen percent of voters called the peace process their most important issue. A full two-thirds cited either corruption or law and order. It’s vital to remember that 2006 was the first Palestinian election in more than ten years. During the previous decade, Palestinians had grown increasingly frustrated by Fatah’s unaccountable, lawless and incompetent rule. According to exit polls, 85 percent of voters called Fatah corrupt. Hamas, by contrast, because it had never wielded power and because its charitable arm effectively delivered social services, enjoyed a reputation for competence and honesty.

Hamas won, in other words, for the same reason voters all across the world boot out parties that have grown unresponsive and self-interested after years in power. That’s not just Shikaki’s judgment. It’s also Bill Clinton’s. As Clinton explained in 2009, “a lot of Palestinians were upset that they [Fatah] were not delivering the services. They didn’t think it [Fatah] was an entirely honest operation and a lot of people were going to vote for Hamas not because they wanted terrorist tactics…but because they thought they might get better service, better government…They [also] won because Fatah carelessly and foolishly ran both its slates in too many parliamentary seats.”

This doesn’t change the fact that Hamas’ election confronted Israel and the United States with a serious problem. After its victory, Hamas called for a national unity government with Fatah “for the purpose of ending the occupation and settlements and achieving a complete withdrawal from the lands occupied [by Israel] in 1967, including Jerusalem, so that the region enjoys calm and stability during this phase.” But those final words—“this phase”—made Israelis understandably skeptical that Hamas had changed its long-term goals. The organization still refused to recognize Israel, and given that Israel had refused to talk to the PLO until it formally accepted Israel’s right to exist in 1993, it’s not surprising that Israel demanded Hamas meet the same standard.

Still, Israel and the U.S. would have been wiser to follow the counsel of former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who called for Sharon to try to forge a long-term truce with Hamas. Israel could also have pushed Hamas to pledge that if Abbas—who remained PA president—negotiated a deal with Israel, Hamas would accept the will of the Palestinian people as expressed in a referendum, something the group’s leaders have subsequently promised to do.

Instead, the Bush administration—suddenly less enamored of Middle Eastern democracy–pressured Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian parliament and rule by emergency decree. Israel, which also wanted Abbas to defy the election results, withheld the tax and customs revenue it had collected on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf. Knowing Hamas would resist Abbas’ efforts to annul the election, especially in Gaza, where it was strong on the ground, the Bushies also began urging Abbas’ former national security advisor, a Gazan named Mohammed Dahlan, to seize power in the Strip by force. As David Rose later detailed in an extraordinary article in Vanity Fair, Condoleezza Rice pushed Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to buy weapons for Dahlan, and for Israel to allow them to enter Gaza. As General Mark Dayton, US security coordinator for the Palestinians, told Dahlan in November 2006, “We also need you to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas.”

Unfortunately for the Bush administration, Dahlan’s forces were weaker than they looked. And when the battle for Gaza began, Hamas won it easily, and brutally. In response, Abbas declared emergency rule in the West Bank.

So yes, members of Hamas did throw their Fatah opponents off rooftops. Some of that may have been payback because Dahlan was widely believed to have overseen the torture of Hamas members in the 1990s. Regardless, in winning the battle for Gaza, Hamas—which had already shed much Israeli blood – shed Palestinian blood too.

But to suggest that Hamas “seized power” – as American Jewish leaders often do – ignores the fact that Hamas’ brutal takeover occurred in response to an attempted Fatah coup backed by the United States and Israel. In the words of David Wurmser, who resigned as Dick Cheney’s Middle East advisor a month after Hamas’ takeover, “what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”

The Greenhouses

Israel responded to Hamas’ election victory by further restricting access in and out of Gaza. As it happens, these restrictions played a key role in explaining why Gaza’s greenhouses did not help it become Singapore. American Jewish leaders usually tell the story this way: When the settlers left, Israel handed over their greenhouses to the Palestinians, hoping they would use them to create jobs. Instead, Palestinians tore them down in an anti-Jewish rage.

But one person who does not endorse that narrative is the prime mover behind the greenhouse deal, Australian-Jewish businessman James Wolfensohn, who served as the Quartet’s Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement. In his memoir, Wolfensohn notes that “some damage was done to the greenhouses [as the result of post-disengagement looting] but they came through essentially intact” and were subsequently guarded by Palestinian Authority police. What really doomed the greenhouse initiative, Wolfensohn argues, were Israeli restrictions on Gazan exports. “In early December [2005], he writes, “the much-awaited first harvest of quality cash crops—strawberries, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and flowers—began. These crops were intended for export via Israel for Europe. But their success relied upon the Karni crossing [between Gaza and Israel], which, beginning in mid-January 2006, was closed more than not. The Palestine Economic Development Corporation, which was managing the greenhouses taken over from the settlers, said that it was experiencing losses in excess of $120,000 per day…It was excruciating. This lost harvest was the most recognizable sign of Gaza’s declining fortunes and the biggest personal disappointment during my mandate.”

The point of dredging up this history is not to suggest that Israel deserves all the blame for its long and bitter conflict with Hamas. It does not. Hamas bears the blame for every rocket it fires, and those rockets have not only left Israelis scarred and disillusioned. They have also badly undermined the Palestinian cause.

The point is to show—contrary to the establishment American Jewish narrative—that Israel has repeatedly played into Hamas’ hands by not strengthening those Palestinians willing to pursue statehood through nonviolence and mutual recognition. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when Sharon refused to seriously entertain the Arab and Geneva peace plans. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it refused to support a Palestinian unity government that could have given Abbas the democratic legitimacy that would have strengthened his ability to cut a two state deal. And Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it responded to the group’s takeover of Gaza with a blockade that—although it has some legitimate security features—has destroyed Gaza’s economy, breeding the hatred and despair on which Hamas thrives.

In the ten years since Jewish settlers left, Israeli policy toward Gaza has been as militarily resourceful as it has been politically blind. Tragically, that remains the case during this war. Yet tragically, the American Jewish establishment keeps cheering Israel on.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.608008

.

My book

Fast Times in Palestine is in bookstores worldwide! Order on Amazon, or check out the book's website.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 218 other followers

Donate

Maintaining this blog and my website is an unpaid labor of love. If you'd like to help me keep it up, my Paypal email is pamolson02@yahoo.com

Many thanks.

Books I Love


A Doctor in Galilee,
by Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh

The Hour of Sunlight, by Sami al Jundi and Jen Marlowe

The Goldstone Report, edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner, and Philip Weiss

Mornings in Jenin, by Susan Abulhawa

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe

Zabelle, by Nancy Kricorian

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

Impro, by Keith Johnstone

Improv Wisdom,
by Patricia Ryan Madson

Walden and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau

To Kill a Mockingbird,
50th Anniversary Edition,
by Harper Lee
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 218 other followers