You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2011.

Shortly after Hamas won Parliamentary elections in 2006, I wrote an essay that addressed frequently asked questions about the Hamas election victory. I thought now would be a good time to link to it (read the full essay here), given that it looks like Hamas and Fatah have finally closed a unity deal — to remind people what got us here in the first place.

It should go without saying, but this should not be read as a personal endorsement for Hamas. It’s nothing more or less than a description of the atmosphere in Palestine in 2006.

An excerpt:

3. Why is Hamas popular?

After the results were announced, many in the West were worried that the Palestinians had elected a rejectionist terrorist organization and that the will of the Palestinian people was endless warfare or even collective suicide.

But polls consistently reveal that a solid majority of Palestinians are anxious for a negotiated peace with Israel based on international law, and that most desire a secular democratic state alongside a sovereign Israel. So why was there so much support for an Islamist movement?

Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas as President of Palestine in January 2005 as a vote of confidence in his pragmatic message of peaceful negotiations toward a two-state solution. Palestinians gave him a chance despite Fatah’s long history of corruption, nepotism, undemocratic methods, and counterproductive political calculations. Hamas also respected the ceasefire that Abbas brokered in Sharm el-Sheikh on February 8, 2005, in deference to public opinion. Hopes for peace after the election of Abbas were enthusiastic and genuine.

What did the Palestinian people receive in return? From February 2005, after Abbas was sworn in and the ceasefire was brokered, until January 2006, when the Hamas elections took place, more than 150 Palestinians were killed, including 38 children, at least 23 men assassinated by Israeli soldiers, and 8 innocent bystanders killed in the course of assassinations. Thousands more were arrested, making a mockery of Israel’s agreement to release Palestinian prisoners as stipulated by the terms of the ceasefire.

In the same period, 37 Israelis were killed, most in suicide bombings conducted by a rogue faction called Islamic Jihad. Scores of homemade rockets were also launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel both before and after the disengagement, causing very little damage or injuries but a great deal of fear. It is unclear whether Abbas was unwilling or unable to stop them. Israeli closures and refusal to allow necessary equipment and ammunition into the Palestinian territories weakened and splintered Abbas’s police force, and Israel’s failure to abide by the terms of the ceasefire weakened his political mandate.

Israel also continued to expand its illegal settlements in the West Bank at such a rate that the number of settlers actually increased in 2005 despite the Gaza disengagement. Settler terrorist attacks against unarmed Palestinian farmers and villagers continued and intensified, with their usual near-impunity from the law. Hamas, though not responsible for any suicide attacks on Israeli soil since August 2004, was constantly targeted, and Abbas was soon declared “no partner.”

When Israel refused even to negotiate the terms of the Gaza redeployment, Hamas was able to take credit for the withdrawal and Abbas, his party, and the PA were made to look irrelevant and foolish. Palestinian hopes that Israel would negotiate in good faith plummeted. Meanwhile conditions in Gaza only worsened with constant Israeli bombardments, sonic boom attacks, and closures that made it even more difficult for Gaza’s goods to reach world markets than before the disengagement.

When it became clear that even Fatah, which was supported by the West, could not bring Israel to the negotiating table, even symbolically in the case of the disengagement, the party lost its biggest selling point. Business as usual continued even under a pragmatic leader while most factions respected a ceasefire. The occupation had no end in sight.

With these and many other statements and actions, the Israeli establishment made it clear that its vision for a two-“state” solution was a unilateral one, not a negotiated one, no matter who came to power in Palestine. It would be based on the route of the Wall, which annexes 10% of the West Bank, including most of the so-called “settlement blocs,” and Israeli control over the Jordan Valley—another 30% of the West Bank. Settlement blocs Israel plans to keep include Ma’ale Adumim, which severs the West Bank’s north-south contiguity; Ariel, which splits the northern West Bank in two and sits atop an important fresh water aquifer; and Gush Etzion, which steals much of Bethlehem’s land and strangles several Palestinian villages.

An Israeli journalist summarized the ruling party’s plans: “Kadima’s practical diplomatic program, as elucidated by Ehud Olmert, adds up to no more than direct Israeli control over approximately one-half of West Bank territory, and the splintering of the remainder into cantons.”

To Palestinians, the resulting series of non-viable, non-contiguous, Walled-in ghettoes on the remaining 60% of the West Bank, devoid of any real sovereignty, with Arab East Jerusalem and its surroundings illegally annexed to Israel, and with no control over water or borders, would be no more acceptable as a “state” than the Bantu Homelands were to black South Africans under Apartheid. Ariel Sharon openly used terms like ‘cantons’ or ‘Bantustans’ to describe his plans for Palestine. Though Olmert has been slightly more discreet, he is committed to the same agenda.

Into this fray, and after 18 months of refraining from attacks on Israel, Hamas ran in the first elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council in a decade under a ticket called “Change and Reform” — not “Islamism and Terrorism.” Because Palestinian voters understood that Fatah could not deliver peaceful negotiations anyway, they voted based on other considerations. According to Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, “The two most important issues for the voters were corruption… and the inability of the PA to enforce law and order.”

Hamas was elected because it was seen as a disciplined and clean-handed organization that provided a social safety net for some of the poorest and most vulnerable Palestinians when the Palestinian Authority was unwilling or unable to do so. Its charitable organizations include schools, food distribution centers for the needy, and community centers upon which tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinians depend. Many of these people have, in real and measurable terms, been better-served by Hamas than Fatah.

So, we finally have a cover, featuring design elements created by several different people and put together by a very patient and talented PhotoShop artist. All that’s left is to fill in the title. Two examples are below, along with a blank cover that you can download and try out your own designs on if you like. Can’t wait to hear your opinions and ideas!

I never in a million years thought the cover design process would drag on this long or be this hard. Thanks for hanging in there.

Great news! We finally have a beautiful and professional-caliber cover design (I say we because it was definitely a collaborative effort!), and I’m very happy with it. It will be posted here in the coming days. (For a sneak preview, visit my book’s Facebook group.)

In about two weeks I’ll get the proof copy of the manuscript for the honest-to-God final edit (basically just getting rid of a few typos and stray adverbs if I find them). Ten days after that I’ll get my review copy — the first copy of the First Edition of Fast Times in Palestine. A physical manifestation of the past three and a half years of work. If nothing is amiss, it will go on sale online shortly thereafter, and bookstores will follow.

In other words, if nothing goes wrong, my book will be published around May 23.

I can’t wait.


Current draft of the back-of-book text (the 250 words, including blurbs, that summarize the book and try to entice people to read it). Thoughts and suggestions are appreciated as always.


“A moving, inspiring account of life in Palestine that’s enormously informative yet reads like a novel.”
REBECCA VILKOMERSON, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace

“It’s love in the time of occupation as Pamela Olson… takes us on the emotional roller-coaster of her very personal experience of life in Ramallah—and in doing so lays bare the human drama of a people… determined to live free.”
TONY KARON, Senior Editor, TIME

Pamela Olson, a small town girl from eastern Oklahoma, had what she always wanted: a physics degree from Stanford University. But instead of feeling excited for what came next, she felt consumed by dread and confusion. This irresistible memoir chronicles her journey from aimless ex-bartender to Ramallah-based journalist and foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate.

The book illuminates crucial years of Israeli-Palestinian history, from the death of Yasser Arafat to the Gaza Disengagement to the Hamas election victory. Its gripping narrative focuses not only on violence, terror, and social and political upheavals but also on the daily rounds of house parties, concerts, barbecues, weddings, jokes, harvests, and romantic drama that happen in between.

Funny, gorgeous, shocking, and galvanizing, Fast Times in Palestine challenges the way we think not only about the Middle East but about human nature and our place in the world.


Also, here are two possible author photos, though I’m thinking seriously about nixing the idea of an author photo on the back of the book — it’s tough to do without looking tacky.

I’ve been advised by several people to try again on the hookah girl concept instead of giving up and going generic. Any thoughts on this (very provisional) design concept?

And/or this:

I also like this — thinking of taking it as semi-final?

I can’t seem to get the hookah girl just right despite a great deal of trying. The cover design process seems to be going backwards, not forwards, or at best in circles. Very frustrating. All I wanted was a thoughtful-looking, tasteful silhouette of a girl smoking a hookah against a background of deepening twilight. Not sure how it all got so complicated.

I’ve put together this alternative cover design to use in case we just really can’t get anything else together. I can actually see it being the cover if nothing else works out — I don’t hate it. Let me know what you think!

Here’s another one, for those who like to get all political ‘n stuff. I don’t really like it, but thought I’d throw it up here for giggles:

If you want to read about what’s happening in Gaza (and elsewhere), go to Mondoweiss. I don’t have the juice to write about it right now. I’m pretty fried from all the last minute details involved with publishing a book.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d change the pace a bit with a little tribute to nerd-dom. I used to be a huge nerd — still am, but I hide it better when the occasion warrants. Still, I can’t deny the kick I get out of this video:

Or these quotes, which I recorded during the Advanced Freshman Physics classes I took at Stanford, starring Professors CM and KAM and Teaching Assistants Kumaran, Noam, and Yaroslaw:

Fun with numbers

“Any constant is as good as zero.” –CM
“…and infinity is right here…” –CM
“I’m not a cgs kinda guy.” –Kumaran
“…and we know God has e fingers, so…” –Kumaran


“In quantum mechanics, very strange things can happen—and they do happen.” –Noam
“All of this weirdness that makes no sense happens to be true.” –CM
“And now you’ve got a disagreement with reality, and that’s a bad thing.” –Kumaran
“Otherwise, reality would be wrong.” –Kumaran
“See, you have to get it in your head that basically there’s one reality.” –Kumaran
“…up is no different than down…” –CM
“This line is a circle.” –Yaroslaw

On Relativity

“At speeds much less than c, life works pretty well.” –CM
“When things are moving, you should be nervous, because all hell breaks loose.” –CM
“The space-time, it’s pretty simple, there’s not much to it… the important thing is velocity, and the king of them all, energy and momentum.” –Kumaran
“Use the four-vector.” –Kumaran Kenobi
“It’s like when you’re smoking pot.” –CM

Whatever works for you…

“Nothing makes me happier than 1 + tan2.” –CM
“Now it’s a nice yellow motif… a kind of bumble bee theme.” –CM
“Yeah, I know you’re trying to drive me and excite me, but I’m not really excited.” –CM
“It starts to screw a little faster as it goes in this direction.” –CM
“This thing only gets excited when you sing to it at the right frequency.” –CM
“It doesn’t matter if you whack it softly for a long time, or really hard for just a little bit.” –KAM

Why physics is great

“I can’t believe this university doesn’t require quantum mechanics—They make you take Western Civilization.” –CM
“I thought microwaves were, like, gamma waves.” –Noah [student]
“…and you can quickly be replaced by computers—or 40’s series students.” –CM
“The nice thing about physics is that one of them [Matt or Noah] is wrong.” –CM
“OK, KCL sucks, OK? Voltage law’s much more elegant.” –Kumaran
“The London equation came from a smart guy named London who wrote it down. That’s where most physics equations come from.” –CM
“Maybe that’s why more guys are in physics. The trick is, pretend you’re not confused.” –CM

The mark of a great lecturer (just kidding on this one)

“I must confess that the lectures of these men netted me no perceptible gain.” –Planck
“That’s your disclaimer, huh.” –Cezar [student]
“Boi-oi-oi-oi-oing is the solution.” –CM
“Then we’ll be done with EM propagation and I can show you some pretty pictures.” –CM
“I guarantee you’ll be satisfied.” –CM
“It’s notation. Don’t get bugged.” –CM
“I want to do another example where again we will fail to understand what we’ve been discussing all quarter.” –CM
“Of course you can’t see what I’m doing, I just wrote on the table.” –CM
“There’s not an H. Actually, unfortunately, there is an H. It’s very complicated.” –CM
“You’re not supposed to understand any of this, by the way.” –CM
“This is bullshit, and if you want to forget it, I don’t blame you.” –CM

Good times. Life was so much simpler then.


Well, not final of course. But at least the final concept. Lots of things will change, obviously. There will be no black box around my name, the girl will be wearing a cowboy hat (and not blowing what appears to be car exhaust), the colors will be cleaned up, and the fonts will be better. But what do you think of this overall design concept?

Please let me know what you think! Especially vs. the concept of a silhouette of a girl smooking a hookah against a background of deepening twilight.

Concept 1 (ignore the strange title fonts, that can be changed):

Concept 2:

Thanks for your feedback!

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 210 other followers


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

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