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Many of you know about my friend Rania in Tulkarem. She’s from Jayyous, and a major character in my book. I helped raise money for her to finish her education, and a few years ago she fulfilled her dream of graduating from the Open University in Qalqilia with a degree in psychological counseling.
Shortly before graduating, she married a man named Sharif, a poor but kind man who lost his parents when he was young and never finished high school. He was incredibly supportive of Rania’s education, and they had a beautiful baby boy named Karim in 2007.
Two years later she was pregnant with a little girl, and Sharif secured a permit to work in Israel so he could finish building their house and support his growing family.
Then… disaster struck. Before her husband had a chance to use his permit, he was brutally arrested in the middle of the night by armed Israeli soldiers who beat him in front of his pregnant wife and child and took him away without explanation. (The harrowing story is told here.)
He was held without charge, trial, or telephone call, and it was days before she learned the reason he had been arrested: He was accused of stealing cars in Israel. Rania could only laugh when she found out. He had never even been to Israel. But she wasn’t laughing when they handed down his sentence: one year behind bars.
A full year without his wife, without his son, without being there for the birth of his daughter. Even worse, a year without being able to provide for his family.
I visited Rania a few months after her husband was taken. She said her savings were almost finished, and she had no idea what she would do when they ran out. Every social safety net had failed her one way or another. The only bit of luck was that she had a brother-in-law living overseas who let her and her two children stay in his house until he returned. It’s the only reason they aren’t homeless.
Her husband was released a year later, a changed man. In bad health, in bad spirits, angry and unstable. The only job he could get was tough physical labor that pays around $400 per month. The debts and legal fees from his imprisonment cost the family $200 per month. Prices is Palestine are inflated due to the occupation and being tied to Israel’s currency and economy. $200 a month isn’t nearly enough for a family of four.
Meanwhile, in 2010, Rania took the initiative and found meaningful work with the Syndicate of Psychological Social Workers, an organization that sponsors activities, classes, and counseling sessions to improve the psychological health of the community. It’s a desperately needed service in a town suffering so badly from the occupation (violence, vicious arrests, land expropriation and unemployment) and other stresses (the usual societal problems like spousal abuse and mental illness).
Unfortunately, it’s not a paid position. The Syndicate has been trying to get funding for years, and Salam Fayyad visited more than once and personally promised funding. But for various reasons — the latest of which is Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax funds to try to prevent the formation of a Palestinian unity government — it has never materialized. The office doesn’t even have working phones.
In order to work with them, Rania has to put her children in day care, which runs about $80 per month, and take a taxi to and from work every day, which runs another $80 per month, leaving the family only $40 per month to live on. Which is impossible.
So, for the past couple of years, I’ve been sending Rania $300 per month to live on while her husband’s wages pay down their debts and she continues working, in the hope that if and when funding for the Syndicate finally comes through, she’ll be first in line for her dream job.
When I visited Palestine in September, Rania invited me to visit her in Tulkarem and see the work she does on a daily basis. It was a whirlwind tour. First we went to the Syndicate office and talked with other volunteers. (Everyone is a volunteer right now — there’s simply no money to go around.)
We met several women who came to the Syndicate a few times per week as part of their university training, and a female volunteer was taking them through the day’s lesson. One of the male volunteers was a music teacher. Another was a policeman, most of whose family is in Israeli prison. One of his sons was unable to finish high school because the Israelis took him when he was 16.
They all had the disarming, earnest friendliness I’m used to in Palestine, the same direct and matter-of-fact way of talking about their hardships, the same undying hope that telling their story just one more time will somehow make a difference. And they all spoke of Rania as if she’s indispensable.
Next we visited a home for the mentally handicapped. Most of the patients had Down syndrome. Many of them recognized Rania, and their faces lit up when they saw her. A teacher showed us the different classrooms, from the one for people who could barely function at all, who basically just played or danced all day, to a class for more advanced students who could learn to read and write and perform other basic skills.
Finally we went to a UN school for refugee children, where Rania and several other women organized an after school program for girls through the local YMCA. About a hundred high-spirited first-graders showed up, all of them girls, and we set up games of tug-of-war, sack races, hop-scotch, hula hoops, and best of all, the game where everyone grabs the edge of a parachute cloth and jumbles it around with balls on top so that the balls jump around everywhere. Everyone was laughing the whole time we did it.
Rania whispered to me, “When the girls are doing this, they forget all their stress!”
Afterwards we handed out juice boxes and cakes and did face-painting and drawing on a giant piece of butcher paper. The girls were engaged the whole time, their eyes shining, supporting each other through every challenge. Without these women, and the smattering of funding from the YMCA for the supplies, these girls would simply be trudging home to crowded cinderblock alleys and small rooms that may or may not have electricity.
It was incredibly humbling to see so many volunteers, who had hard and busy lives of their own, and barely enough money to survive, spending their time helping others instead of throwing up their hands or ignoring their even-less-fortunate neighbors.
On the way back to the office, Rania said to me, “You see how I am known in Tulkarem? Before I did this volunteering, no one asked about me. No one knew who I was. The important thing is not to stay in the house all day. If you stay in the house, the people will forget you. But if you know the people and society, in the end you will succeed.”
I have no doubt she’s right. I don’t know when that time will come, but I do know that I’m proud to support the work she does in her community, and I hope I will be able to continue until better fortune comes to the occupied city of Tulkarem.
This is where you can help. As many of you know, I put $400 into the “Rania fund” as my contribution last year, and since then I’ve been raising money to send $300 monthly to help her family survive and allow her to continue her work. I haven’t sent an appeal in a while, and I currently need $950 to break even for the year. I know it’s the holidays, but if any of you can help – even gifts of $5 and $10 add up very quickly – it would be enormously appreciated.
My Paypal email is email@example.com, or you can mail a check to my new place in New York. Just email me, and I’ll send you the address. I can also send you a credit card invoice via Paypal if you let me know a gift amount, or I can simply tell you how to send the money directly to her via Western Union. It’s a surprisingly simple process (with only a $12 fee).
Back at the office, Rania presented me with an astonishing gift. A friend of hers had managed to procure a rare book from the Al Yaser Association for Development, a textbook-sized hardback full of photographs from Palestine from 1886 to 1948 with captions in English and Arabic. It’s a decisive refutation of the “land without a people” propaganda and a beautiful homage to Palestine before it was Zionized.
I thanked Rania and her friend profusely but asked, “Why would you give this to me?”
She said, “I told you I would tell you everything that happened to me. This is part of what happened to me.”
In the evening she took me upstairs to the space where her new home was frozen in the process of being built after her husband was carted off to prison. The walls and ceiling are finished, but there is no flooring, wiring, glass for the windows, appliances, or furniture. We took the kids with us, Karim and little Lusan, and they played around like it was a giant sand box and jungle gym.
After a while, Karim asked, “Whose house is this?”
Rania said, “It is for us.”
“Why don’t we live here?”
Rania hesitated, unsure of what to say.
“I want to live here,” he said decisively. “I don’t like to stay in that house downstairs. One of my cousins hits me when I play down there.”
Rania looked at me and sighed. “My dream is to finish my house,” she said in English. She knows that if her brother-in-law decides to come home from abroad, her family will be homeless. It’s like the sword of Damocles hanging over them.
Here’s another place where you can help. Beginning work on the house will only cost about $1,000, and after that she can pay off the remaining $2,500 in installments over three years. But at least during those three years, her family will be living in their own house. If you want to contribute toward the $1,000 “down payment” on finishing her house, please let me know.
I know it’s a lot to ask — $950 for emergency living expenses and another $1,000 for the house. But looked at another way, it’s really not that much. If everyone on my email list gave just $5, it would be taken care of. If everyone gave $10, we’d also be able to pay off their $2,000 debt from the time Rania’s husband was in prison and free that money up for living expenses next year. And it will allow Rania to continue her great work in the Tulkarem community (which should be commanding a good salary but isn’t due to forces beyond her control).
How often do you get that kind of return for a $10 investment?
Many thanks and happy holidays,
P.S. If you’d like to join my regular email list (I send about one email per month) or low-volume list (approximately four emails per year), just let me know: pamolson @ gmail . com
I recently came across a Facebook invitation to rally in front of the HarperCollins publishing house in Midtown New York City. I’d naively assumed that working as an editor in one of the largest, most profitable, and most prestigious publishing houses in the world automatically landed you in the upper-crust — if not the top 1%, at least the top 5%.
But I was wrong. The invitation claimed the workers at HarperCollins had been “fighting for a fair union contract for over a year… Now the Company is trying to destroy our contract by eviscerating our rights and refusing to negotiate wage and benefit guarantees. Rupert Murdoch is the poster child for billionaire greed — don’t let him and HarperCollins get away with stomping on our rights.”
I’ve known that HarperCollins was owned by NewCorp, and thus part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, ever since Collins almost bought the rights to my book four years ago. I did my due diligence and followed the money. HarperCollins is a glossy brand and the last place I expected to hear such Occupy-Wall-Street-esque rhetoric. So I attended the demonstration to see what the fuss was about.
I arrived late on this rainy Wednesday afternoon, and the first speaker I heard started by saying, “Look, I love working at HarperCollins. That’s probably the last thing you expected to hear at a rally like this, but it’s true.” He talked a bit about why that was, then he went on to say why he was protesting. The management claimed they had offered fair contract negotiations. He said all they offered was pay cuts, benefit cuts, vacation cuts, and less job security in exchange for nothing at all. He said, “Even a child can tell you that’s not a fair offer.”
Another woman (who also said she loved her job) talked about how the company wanted to cut their yearly raises to 1% (which doesn’t even keep up with inflation), and not even guarantee that. Health care costs were also expected to rise above and beyond that potential 1% pay raise, making it effectively a pay cut.
Maternity leave was being cut in half, and workers would face a more restricted ability to carry over their vacation days from year to year. It was traditional in the publishing world, she said, to give editors the week off between Christmas and New Year’s since the printers’ are closed and there’s not much to do as a way of compensating for generally low wages. But that doesn’t happen anymore.
She said, “HarperCollins is not a foundation. It’s not a non-profit. It’s a large and profitable company. If it wasn’t, NewsCorp wouldn’t have bought it and wouldn’t still be our parent company. We had some hard times in 2008, and we understood when things had to be cut back. But since then we’ve come back in a big way, making excellent profits this year. Yet the company wants us to accept larger pay cuts and less job security than ever. Some people ask me, ‘Why don’t you just leave?’”
Well, that’s easy, I thought. It’s not like it’s necessarily going to be much better anywhere else. The whole world is in a crazed neoliberal race to the bottom.
“The thing is,” she said, “I shouldn’t be in a position where I should have to start thinking about leaving. I love my job, and I do it well. I should be enjoying my work and life and looking forward to many more productive years ahead.”
A general cheer went up. That was it, right there. The American dream: Work hard, work well, and be rewarded with your share in the wealth created by your efforts and enough leisure time during evenings, weekends, vacations, and retirement to enjoy it.
Unfortunately, it’s all going up in smoke. She went on to talk about how her husband got laid off from his job, which meant she could no longer supplement her relatively small paycheck with his. When he finally got another job, the pay wasn’t as good. They had to move to a more remote neighborhood. She can’t afford lunch in Midtown, so she packs her lunch every day. A monthly Subway pass isn’t in her budget, so she bikes everywhere. She constantly faces the embarrassment of turning down invitations to go out with friends because she can’t afford the food and drinks at the places they go. She couldn’t afford to travel anywhere for vacation this year, so she hung around NYC and made the best of it.
She said, “Thank God we don’t have kids. I can’t even imagine how we would support them.”
This is an editor at one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the world. This is literally a dream job for thousands of people. And she can’t even afford a monthly Subway pass?
The next speaker made it clear what was going on: “This isn’t just about corporate greed,” she said. “It’s about destroying America. It’s about putting us in our place. It’s about telling us they can give us what they want, when they want, and we just have to take it. Well, guess what? We, the 99%, have figured it out. We’re bigger than they are, we’re stronger than they are, and we will continue to fight.”
These editors aren’t asking for much. A little job security. Pay that keeps up with inflation. Not even a fair share in the enormous wealth created by their creative efforts and passion, just enough to “get by, and also have a bit left over for the little things that make life worthwhile.”
Yet they have to fight tooth and nail, hammer and claw, not only for every inch they gain, but also for every inch they don’t want to lose.
This is a microcosm of what Occupy Wall Street is protesting. This is just one tiny tendril in the multi-pronged attack on the most basic things I took for granted growing up: Free speech, free press, free assembly, fair trials, fair wages, fair shakes. A government of the people and for the people. This was what America meant to me growing up, what I was told it was all about.
And we’re watching it go away, little by little, right before our eyes as 1% of the citizenry hoard all the resources, all the profits from our labor, and all the political power (it’s no coincidence that most of our “leaders” are among the 1%), leaving the rest of us struggling and scrambling and fighting.
Occupy Wall Street is a valiant, if somewhat unfocused, effort to bring attention to these trends. It attempts to be inclusive, but it’s dominated by the usual suspects on the far left who are tragically easy to ignore because they have little in the way of funding, PR savvy, or organizational skills. The mainstream gatekeepers gloss over them with selective (usually unflattering) coverage that doesn’t dare touch on what they are actually protesting about. Or, like Bloomberg, they simply bust them up with marginally legal paramilitary tactics.
But the trends are becoming too large, too obvious, too painful and unfair to ignore.
Even the editors in the hallowed halls of HarperCollins are protesting in the rain.
Things are about to get exciting around here. Tomorrow, November 15, Palestinians are going to begin boarding Israeli-only buses that travel illegally on segregated roads in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories.
Much like the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights movement, these courageous non-violent activists will engage in “provocative” actions that serve to highlight the real provocation — the “separate and unequal” treatment of Israelis and Palestinians in the territories controlled by Israel.
Here’s the best brief article on what they are upset about and what they are trying to accomplish.
You can follow them via their
Twitter (Hashtag #FreedomRides)
Live streaming videos (This will go public when the film begins streaming tomorrow around 1pm Palestine time, early morning in the US)
Most importantly, here’s a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. as a pre-emptive response to those who would cry, “But why provoke the Israelis? Why create tension? Wait for a better time, wait for negotiations, wait for a better Israeli government, wait…”
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.”
Here’s more of the text from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It’s well worth the read. I think it’s one of the most cogent, important, and beautifully-expressed documents ever written.
Here’s a poem read by a Palestinian woman fed up with being asked ridiculous, insulting questions while her people burned.
And here’s a poem written by a Palestinian man that speaks for itself:
I loved you once, I love you now anyway
by Morad Fareed
We danced at a wedding once.
It wasn’t always around flags on fire.
Palestine is Iraq is New Orleans.
Loss breeds ire.
We carried a groom on a chair once.
It wasn’t always a coffin.
Your flag triangulates my wound.
I cry for us often.
We spoke to each other over coffee once.
It wasn’t always necessary to scream.
Birmingham is Beirut is Bosnia.
We have a fucking dream.
We met each other on a field once.
It wasn’t always to fight.
Darfur is Jenin is Auschwitz.
A life is a life.
We prayed for each other once.
It wasn’t always so others may lose.
Your mother is my mother, dear brother.
I see hope in our family feud.
We wrote about our love once.
It wasn’t always to eulogize.
For groves, for books, for tea, for her.
For your mistakes I’ll apologize.
We dreamed about a new life once.
It wasn’t always in heaven.
It is now. It is here. Us. Try.
Leap to Re-imagine.
I got back from the California/Oklahoma book tour late last Friday, exhausted but happy. With 12 events in nine cities, and without a car, it was a major project to get all the books where they needed to go, arrange rides and places to stay, and endless other logistics that kept multiplying like hydras.
But it all went as smoothly as could be expected, thanks to many generous people who helped out along the way with couches, guest bedrooms, venues, meals, pick-ups, and drop-offs. You know who you are, and I can’t thank you enough.
It all started in Los Angeles, where I gave a presentation at the Levantine Cultural Center and also got set up with a radio interview with Don Bustany at Pacifica Radio KPFK. Here’s the interview (my part starts at 33:50).
Then it was on to the Bay Area, first stop was Palo Alto, where I stayed with some friends in a community known as Magic, Inc., and attended a three-day reunion of the Stanford Improvisers, better known as SImps, a theater improv troupe founded by Professor Patricia Ryan Madson.
Her Improvisation for Theater class was my favorite class at Stanford, and it changed my life profoundly. We studied from a text called Impro by Keith Johnstone, which turned out to be a kind of spiritual practice disguised as lessons in unscripted theater. Because what is life, after all, if not unscripted theater? After you learn the tenets of interacting in constructive and supportive and creative and beautiful and hilarious ways on stage, you can take the lessons to every interaction you ever have.
I’m pretty sure I never would have ended up in Palestine if I hadn’t internalized lessons like, “Accept offers from your partners, even if they are unexpected or make you uncomfortable.” Of course, in real life you have to leaven this with a little reason. But if you read my book, you’ll find lots of strange offers that I accepted even though my initial impulse was to reject them.
Be obvious. See what needs to be done, and do it. Don’t try to raise your status by lowering others (unless it’s part of a scene about a charmless or sociopathic person). Make your partner look good; it’s their job to make you look good. Don’t fear not knowing, and don’t worry about failure. We’re all here to support each other.
It’s all simple stuff, but putting it into practice is incredibly powerful. I was on a SImps alumni panel with engineers, doctors, and spiritual advisors, and we talked about how Improv informed our everyday lives. We also did workshops and Theatersports (unscripted theater with audience participation and scores from judges), and there was far too much hilarity to record here.
But there is something eerie about Improv. I kept looking around, seeing large numbers of people doing a dance or singing a song and wondering, “How do they all know that song/dance? Is there some giant piece of American culture that I’m missing?” Then I’d be like, “Oh, right. Improv.” It just looked like they were reading each other’s minds. It’s something that looks like magic until you know the tricks.
On the last day, we happened to meet for brunch at the Stanford Hillel Center for Jewish student life. It was a bit bizarre to go to the bathroom and see a sign on the wall that said, “California is low on water. Israel is low on water. Think about conserving water.” I was thinking, Er, what does Israel have to do with California being low on water? A stretch if ever there was one.
But in fact, all the artwork on the wall had to do with either Israel or anti-Semitism. One of the displays, by a Jewish-America woman, was particularly puzzling. It depicted the wall Israel built around Gaza, and I was thinking, “Oh, maybe it will have something about how much the Palestinians have been suffering, too.” Then I read the caption, which explained how much Israelis (and American visitors) are suffering in the kibbutzim around Gaza because of the ugly wall Israel was forced to build that blocks their nice view.
It’s just kind of dumbfounding.
In any case, I left a copy of my book at the Hillel Center signed over to them as a gift. Crossing my fingers that someone might read it.
On the Road
On Monday, October 17, I spoke at Magic in Palo Alto. Tuesday I went south to San Jose State University, then Stanford the next day. Thursday I took an Amtrak train all the way up to Davis, near Sacramento, where I was greeted warmly by a student hostess, and I also met Alison Weir of IfAmericansKnew.org. Friday and Saturday I visited Walnut Creek and Berkeley, then the Arab American Cultural Center in San Jose (whew!), then my little sister’s birthday party in Sunnyvale, where I met a very smart and eclectic group of people, including her boyfriend Galen.
On Sunday I had a day off to spend with friends in Palo Alto, and it was lovely. I flew the next day to Oklahoma City, where my Mom met me at the airport. We got a hotel room and had lunch the next day, then she drove me to Oklahoma City University, where I spoke at Dr. Mohamed Daadaoui’s Middle East Studies class. The students asked a lot of great questions, and Dr. Daadaoui was a hip and relatively young Moroccan who was a breath of fresh air to find in the middle of Oklahoma.
The next day at the Oklahoma School of Science and Math, every single student had to attend my talk, all 160 of them — my biggest crowd ever. (Mandatory attendance: the two sweetest words a writer on tour can hear.) They were very engaged throughout, and afterwards my 25 books sold out within minutes. There were nearly a dozen disappointed people still in line who had to leave me their names and addresses so I could send more.
I also forgot to save one for Bill Moyers. He was speaking at Oklahoma City University just after my gig at OSSM. After his stirring talk, I asked Dr. Daadaoui if I could give Mr. Moyers a copy of my book. I was shown backstage, where I had a chance to shake Mr. Moyer’s hand and speak with him briefly. I ended up giving him my own personal copy of my book, the one I’d been using while giving my talks.
I hope he’ll read it. He’s pretty good on Middle East issues, but he could definitely be better. When I asked him how he’d gotten through such an illustrious career with his integrity (relatively) intact, he admitted that he’d made some compromises along the way, though he didn’t mention what they were, and talked about how lucky he’d been. How lovely would it be if he could end his career as a stalwart truth-teller on Israel/Palestine?
Oklahoma University was the last stop, and it was so nice meeting the students and organizers there. It’s such a vibrant pro-justice group with strong ties and support from the wider community, and everyone was amazingly supportive.
In fact, other than one supercilious lady in LA (who accused me of being naive and informed me that it was counterproductive to support the rights of Palestinian refugees — don’t you hate it when someone else’s rights are inconvenient for you to respect?), I had no hecklers or hassles whatsoever. Things went pretty smoothly, with great audiences and kind hosts, and I met so many amazing people. I sold over 300 books and didn’t have to ship a single one back to New York.
On the airplane home (finally), a woman was sitting next to me editing a thick Word document. I asked if she was a literary editor. She laughed and said, “Thank you, but no. I actually had to hire an editor to help me with my Master’s thesis.” Turned out her company was sponsoring her to study some fascinating topics in human behavior and psychology. “What about you, what do you do?” she asked.
“I’m a writer. I just published a book in May.”
“Oh, mazel tov! What’s it about?”
Now it was my turn to chuckle. “Well…” I was tired and not in the mood for a political discussion. I said simply, “It’s about my time as a journalist in Israel/Palestine.”
“Oh.” Turned out she had lived in Israel for a while at an impressionable age. She asked more questions about the book, and I told her I’d be happy to send her a free electronic copy. She thanked me. Then she asked warily, “Did you ever see any Israelis treating Palestinians badly?”
She sighed. “I was afraid of that. I think it might upset me… It’s so strange to think about people who’ve been oppressed throughout history doing it to other people.”
“Yeah. Well, it’s like the American soldiers in Iraq, to some extent. It’s an asymmetric relationship, and those often end up being abusive.”
“That’s a good way to put it.”
“I mean, I understand why some Israelis think they have to do these things. But at some point it becomes counter-productive, to say the least.”
She nodded, looking somewhat upset already. I was biting my tongue so hard it was almost bleeding. But I hope she’ll read it. She seemed really cool and might just need a nudge toward understanding more about what’s going on on the other side of the Wall… inshallah.
Then I was delighted last week to open the news and find that Palestine had been voted to be the newest member of UNESCO! And the margin was overwhelming. 107 in favor, 52 abstentions, and only 14 voting against, including, of course, the US and Israel (plus Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sweden, and that stalwart ally, Vanuatu).
When the US voted against, there was stony silence. When Israel voted against, there was laughter. When the needed majority was reached, there was wild applause. It doesn’t take a weatherman to see which way the winds are blowing.
The US government can’t stand the UN because despite its best efforts, it doesn’t rule everything there. And when it gets ticked off, it just takes its marbles and goes home. Of course, in this case, it wasn’t the US as such, but Israel that was ticked off. And due to longstanding (and insane) anti-Palestinian legislation, the US immediately had to withdraw its funding from UNESCO, including an upcoming $60 million contribution.
More than 20% of UNESCO’s funding comes from the US, and now it’s gone. All because of America’s ‘special relationship’ with Israel. Due to the same legislation, the US might be also forced to withdraw from the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and even the IAEA, thus isolating the US even further from the world community.
At least this journalist was willing to say out loud that the only reason the US is acting this way is because Israel wants it to.
The discourse is definitely changing.
Naturally, Israel’s government condemned this Palestinian ‘provocation.’ (How dare they want membership in a cultural organization, and how dare the world welcome them with open arms!) The government of Israel responded by withholding tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (i.e., denying money that belongs to a rump authority under Israel’s own occupation, and preventing public employees like teachers and policemen from being paid) and announcing plans to speed up illegal settlement construction.
The Obama Administration’s response? Nothing but a feeble statement of half-hearted disapproval.
It’s all quite mind-boggling. During my talks, people asked a lot of questions about how things managed to come to this pass. I told a group at Stanford, “It’s not like you study this conflict for enough years, and suddenly there comes a point when you’re like, ‘Ah, now I get it!’ No. It’s pretty much insane. The more I look into it, the more astonished I get.”
It’s one of those things that’s been built up, ad hoc, one card at a time, into an unstable monstrosity, and ever more insane things have to be done to keep shoring it up. Until one day, like Apartheid, like slavery, like the Soviet Union, modern Zionism will collapse under its own unsustainable contradictions. It could have been a contender at many points, but it keeps making terrible choices, backed up by a cowed US Congress.
I remain hopeful that my humble book can help tell the side of the story that never gets heard here, or in Israel. My fondest wish is that it can help to change enough people’s minds (which are much more stubborn things to change than facts on the ground) so that less blood will be spilled when the earthquake finally comes.
That was probably the most frequently asked question on the tour. I still have the Epilogue of my book to write, which will be a major project. It’s more like “Part 2” than an epilogue, as it covers another year and a half of my life living in Washington and watching events unfold in Palestine from there.
Plus I have a new literary agent who’s helping me edit Fast Times down a bit so we can try to sell it to commercial publishers. (She’s not asking me to change anything substantial, just cut some of the stories she sees as somewhat redundant so we can get it down to a more manageable 300 pages.)
It’s all a lot of work, and hopefully I can get most of it done before the new year. We’ll see what happens after that.
P.S. My boyfriend and I just moved into Manhattan, a few blocks from the Occupy Wall Street movement. If you’re fed up with corruption in big banks, too, you can make an impact by simply moving your money from a behemoth corporation into a small local bank or credit union. My California credit union has treated me right for 14 years. You can find a local bank and report how much money you moved here.
P.P.S. Keep those Amazon reviews coming. I promise I’ll stop bugging you after I reach 50 reviews. 🙂
If you’re on Goodreads, a review there would be even better. Dozens of people have marked it as “to read” because of their friends rating it highly. Be honest, of course, but any mention is appreciated if you read and enjoyed it!
October 11, 2011
(Apologies — I forgot to post this when I got back from Palestine. A post about the US book tour will follow shortly.)
Palestine was a lot of fun. I’m sorry I haven’t had time to write about it. Book touring is a lot of work, especially on a budget. The logistics are seemingly endless. Place, time, venue, coordinating with local organizers, number of books, delivery of books, transport of books to the venue, travel, accommodation, publicity, flyers, social media outreach, rides and public transport, all of it multiplied by twelve…
Once all the niggling details are worked out, though, book touring can be a lot of fun. In Palestine I met so many amazing people and got to know quite a bit about the world of book distribution in the Middle East. Most of all I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received, given that I’m a relatively unknown author.
People in Palestine really seem to get what I’m trying to do, and to understand why I wrote it the way I did. They even seem to enjoy the book itself even though they’re not the target audience. I have to admit to feeling a little ridiculous sometimes, sitting in front of roomfuls of Palestinians reading to them about their own situation. But of course the particular stories I tell are new to everyone but the people involved, and I guess I could enjoy a book about Oklahoma written by an outsider if it was done well and honestly. The 72 books I sent to Palestine sold out quickly, and I wished I had sent twice as many.
One of the most fun aspects of the entire thing has been taking the book around to friends in Palestine, restaurant owners, and the charming woman who runs the Ramallah Turkish Bath and showing them the parts of the book that are about them or their establishments. I remain befuddled that no one has written about Ramallah this way before, but people seem excited that someone’s doing it now.
Probably the most surprising part was that everyone I talked to in Egypt and Jordan wanted a copy, too. Those who read it said they couldn’t put it down and learned a lot from it. Who’d have thought? I’m working on figuring out how to get more books there — perhaps even just sending the PDF files and letting a printing company print them out. It’s not a very elegant solution, but neither is the enormous expense and length of time it takes to ship books from here to there. (Seems it would be simplest for people to just buy the electronic version, but most people prefer paperbacks — even in the US I sell far more paperbacks than eBooks.)
I talked to a Palestinian-Jordanian book distributor, and he’s reading the Kindle version of the book now. After he reads it, he says he’ll try to think of the best way to get the book to the Middle East.
My short three-week visit to Palestine wrapped up with Taybeh’s annual Oktoberfest, always a highlight of the year. Ramallah, more than ever, is over-priced and over-run with foreigners and their NGO salaries. There’s no longer a sense of being able to go to “the” spot and see everyone you know. There are too many bars and restaurants and too many people to keep up with. But Oktoberfest is still the place where you’re guaranteed to run into all your favorite old and new friends, and this year was no exception. It was also nice that my team won the Second Annual Palestinian Street Hockey Tournament. 🙂
And my friend Dan came in from Israel to join the Beer Fest fun, and I knew a few other Israelis who were there, and the weather was perfect, and everything was just incredibly lovely — a feeling of how things ought to be, and how things can be, one day. Inshallah.
In other exciting news, after almost a year of living in Hoboken, NJ, my boyfriend and I finally moved into Manhattan. He’s lived in the States for three years, and even though he works in Manhattan, for some unfathomable reason, he’s always lived in New Jersey. I convinced him to try out NYC for a year, and I’m over the moon to be back in the City.
Finally, I have a modest but important request. A literary agent in New York recently read my book, loved it, and decided to take me on as a client. I’ve sold about fifteen hundred books, and that’s pretty good for being on my own. If I keep working like this, I can probably eventually sell 10,000 copies. But if I want to have a reasonable chance of selling 100,000 copies or more — let’s face it — I’ll probably need a big boy behind me.
Any publisher worth his or her salt will check out my book’s Amazon page. The most important thing they’ll look for is the reviews. If my book has 51 reviews (like Mornings in Jenin, which has sold well over 100,000 copies), they’ll sit up and take notice. Right now it has only 33 reviews.
So… would you mind reviewing it if you’ve read it? It takes about five minutes. Your review doesn’t have to be brilliant. It doesn’t even have to be coherent. It just has to have at least 20 words, a title (e.g., “I liked it!” or “Crapola!”), and a star rating. You don’t have to give it 5 stars. Just say what you think, honestly, in a couple of sentences. I would appreciate it very much.
Here’s the link. Just click it, then click the button that says, “Create your own review.” If you’re signed into your Amazon.com account, the review-creating screen will pop right up. Start typing. Really, a monkey could do it. 🙂 And it would be awesome.
Thanks so much, guys. I hope to see you somewhere along the road ahead.
Yours in excited exhaustion,