By Sheila Carapico, Middle East Research and Information Project, July 1, 2014

* This memo was prepared as part of the “Ethics and Research in the Middle East” symposium

American political scientists studying the Middle East face ethical dilemmas not shared by most of our disciplinary colleagues. Sometimes – perhaps unexpectedly – our presence in countries or communities experiencing repression and/or political violence puts our local colleagues, hosts, or contacts at risk by association. The massive U.S. military footprint and widespread mistrust of U.S. policies and motives multiplies the risks to our interlocutors.

The trademark methodology of American Arabists is fieldwork, meaning, in political science, in-depth interviews, participant observation, data collection, document-gathering, opinion polling, political mapping, and recording events. As sojourners but not permanent residents, we rely heavily on the wisdom, networks, and goodwill of counterparts “on the ground,” particularly other intellectuals.

In any environment where agencies of national, neighboring, and U.S. governments are all known to be gathering intelligence, our research projects may look and sound like old-fashioned espionage. Even under the very best of circumstances (which are rather scarce) a lot of people are wary or suspicious of all Americans, including or sometimes especially Arabic speakers who ask a lot of questions and take notes. Immediate acquaintances probably grasp and trust our inquiries. Their neighbors or nearby security personnel may not. It is common knowledge that at least some spies and spooks come in academic disguise and that some U.S.-based scholars sell their expertise to the CIA or the Pentagon. Instead of treating whispered gossip as the product of mere paranoia or conspiracy theories, we need to recognize its objective and sociological underpinnings. (more…)

All eyes in the world are on Gaza or at least they should be. The daily deaths and destruction rival the biblical “fire and brimstone” that fell out of the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. If you think this is an exaggeration, check out this explicit video made by a Guardian crew. Gaza is drenched in biblical symbolism; this is a desolate zone that bleeds tragedy. Here was the ancestral home of the Philistines, an arch enemy of Israel, now transformed into stateless Palestinians trapped in a living hell. Literally trapped, so that there are no safe houses, even those supposedly sanctioned by the United Nations. As you read this commentary, it is likely that somewhere in Gaza someone is being killed, blown to pieces by a bomb (labeled “made in the USA”) or maimed for life, and a short and miserable life at that.

The Bible is a book full of prophecy, but then there are those stories that have such a déjà vu quality that it takes the breath away. Consider this King James Version passage from I Samuel 18:6-7:

And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.

Of course, the KJV is now four centuries old, so it always needs to be translated into contemporary terms. So perhaps this would fit the current Gaza better: (more…)

On stupidity and war

Israel is a fast learner, but did it learn the most valuable lesson of all?

by Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera, July 23, 2014

The war hasn’t ended and already the criticism over Israel’s military adventure in Gaza is mounting as the Islamist movement, Hamas, continues to surprise the “invaders”.

Leading and, presumably, respected media commentators have blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his hastiness, Israel’s Security Service – the Shabak – for its ignorance and the military for its poor performance.

Israel might claim technological superiority and tactical victory, but, as one expert concluded, strategically, it’s been defeated.

Needless to say, there are many ways by which one takes stock of the ongoing war. But after three military adventures in six years, Hamas remains a formidable force in Palestine. And Israel has little to show for its military prowess and technological edge aside from the terrible devastation wrought across the Gaza Strip – home to 1.8 million Palestinians living impoverished lives in the world’s longest-standing refugee camp.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has boasted of Israel’s moral standing and condemned Hamas for targeting civilians. But in the last few days, it’s the Israeli military that has suffered hundreds of casualties, including 29 soldiers killed, thus far. While on the Palestinian side, Israel’s bombings led to thousands of civilian casualties. It takes chutzpah to take pride in such a dreadful record. (more…)

by Yakir Englander, ISLAMiCommentary, JULY 18, 2014

Serious illness calls for first aid, then sometimes surgery, followed by healing the source of the disease. If you ask which is most important, I’d say you can’t have one without the other. Without first aid, the patient will never reach the doctor. First aid without deeper treatment and true healing can cause a slow, more painful death and/or disability.

Unfortunately, this analogy applies to the recurring violence between Israel and Palestine. As first aid, we must quickly stop the violence. Then the leaders will need to sit and talk and agree on a political solution. But an immediate ceasefire and political negotiations, like first aid and surgery, are no guarantees of a long term healing of the underlying diseases of hatred and fear, of injustice and deep discrimination.

The Facebook posts of my friends this week — both pro-Israeli pro-Palestinian — do reflect a focus on stopping the violence; that is good. But at the same time they are screaming that the other side is entirely to blame. This discourse does not heal the disease. When a cease-fire comes, I’m afraid that most of my American and Israeli Facebook friends will simply continue on with their ordinary lives as if the current conflict had never happened.

Elie Wiesel once wrote that the Holocaust “robbed man of all his masks.” If we want change, we cannot go back to wearing the masks. Instead, we must internalize the stark reality of the death of the image of God, and then create a new system that allows, once again, for true human relationships.

A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas can slow down the death of more bodies. But it will not stop the death of the soul and of the image of God. I understand why many of my family and friends will put their masks back on and continue their daily lives, leaving memories of the bombings and sirens behind. We have many other issues in our lives. But some (mostly Palestinians and people living in the south of Israel) will not be able to so easily move on.

To my friends: when you publish another article about why the “other” side is totally evil and wrong, I ask you: Does your soul feel healed? (more…)

On Youtube there is a fascinating film on co-existence in Haifa. It is well worth watching at this time of intense violence in Gaza.

Today is the official Memorial Day, a day set aside for Americans to honor those who died while serving their country in times of war. The idea started after the American Civil War in which as many as 625,000 individuals, almost 2% of the entire population at the time, were killed. I have an ancestor who was one of the lucky ones, having served in the northern army, captured and held captive by the confederacy and then released. I inherited some of the original New York Herald Tribune newspapers he saved from that time. I also have three uncles who served in World War II, Uncle Al in the Army, Uncle Ray in the Air Force, and Uncle Andy in the Navy. All survived, although the total U.S. war dead from World War II was over 405,000. When one tallies all the U.S. war dead, starting with Revolutionary War, the figure reaches over 1,300,000, not including those who our troops killed on the “other” sides.

So there is good reason to celebrate Memorial Day, whether your ancestors, relatives and friends were killed, wounded or survived unscathed. As moral agents we should remember and honor the sacrifice so many have made, but we should never celebrate the idea of war. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” quoth the Gospel. The unspoken follow-up must be “damn the warmakers.” (more…)

Palestinian Arab Idol Gets Booted From World Cup, and Shakira’s Response Was Perfect

by Milana Knezevic, PolicyMic, February 13, 2014

Palestinian Arab Idol winner Mohammad Assaf says he has been banned from performing at the World Cup opening ceremony this summer — and that Shakira is boycotting.

He said at a press conference earlier this week that he was supposed to sing at the show kicking off the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, but that because of some “countries” or “groups” — no one was specified — his record company was told this won’t happen after all. He also said that Colombian superstar Shakira, who sang the 2010 World Cup anthem “Waka Waka,” has refused to perform at the ceremony because of it.

Assaf rose to fame last year when he won the regional singing competition Arab Idol, and was especially lauded for his performances of traditional Palestinian music:

Hear the winning song on Youtube here

In the process, he gained some high-profile fans. FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited Palestine last summer, and said he would invite Assaf to sing at this summer’s World Cup.

It was reported then that Assaf and Shakira might sing together in Brazil, but now it appears both will be staying away from the festivities. (more…)

There is a fascinating short video on Youtube of what is apparently the first filming done in Palestine. Check out the blog Hummus for Thought for the Youtube bounce but also for a transcription of the commentary. As the narration indicates, Jerusalem was an interfaith city. There is even a shot of a Jew wearing a tarbush at the wailing wall. At this time under Ottoman control, the population of the three districts that comprised Palestine was 85% Muslim, 10% Christian and 5% Jewish.

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