Those who watch my blog for signs of how I’m doing (my family!) have been worried because of the more-than-month-long silence. What can I say except that when one is on a roller-coaster – as my life is like these days – writing about the scenery on the way isn’t always top of mind. However, my “fans” have reminded me how therapeutic writing can be – especially when experiencing dramatic ups and downs – and so, this update. I dedicate this entry to them.
CODEPINK: My temporary, contract job as the Israel/Palestine campaign coordinator for this radical, in-your-face peace activist organization (which has a small core group of male supporters as well, by the way) has kept me busy – too busy – and focused on a mission while looking for a new, permanent source of income. The CP house near Union Station in DC has taken on the feeling of a second home (e-mail me if you’d like to visit or spend a night!), and catering to the needs and excited questions of the next round of participants in our Gaza delegation has squeezed out any space to worry about my own situation, fed my own inspiration with their energy and hope, and introduced me to a few new friends who have already enriched my life.
CODEPINK is known for its members’ in-your-face behavior and outlandish style of dress – pink feather boas, huge hats and gaudy ball gowns. They show up at serious events like congressional hearings and presidential speeches, and make scene. Some people think these deliberately shock-inducing tactics are ineffective because they trivialize both the issues being protested and the organization itself. (I must admit that I was turned off by the three topless women at CODEPINK’s Mother’s Day celebration in Lafayette Park, carrying signs saying “Breasts Not Bombs.” Sorry, no pic!) However, co-founder Medea Benjamin says that without these tactics, they would be ignored. And you can’t deny that CODEPINK’s presence is noted, even by the mainstream media. The DC media even have started to comment when CODEPINK isn’t present!
So, for the first time, I decided to experience for myself what it’s like to disrupt a high-profile event, CODEPINK style. As usual, AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) held its annual meeting at the convention center in DC. And with the ongoing blockade of Gaza and the Israeli drumbeat in favor of turning the screws on Iran, the meeting promised to more than the usual high profile. Israeli President Shimon Peres was scheduled to be the keynoter the first day, followed by Sen. John Kerry and VP Joe Biden the next. (Obama was out of town, so he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet at the White House tomorrow – May 18. And yes, CODEPINK will be at a counter-demonstration.) Medea’s real name is Susan, and she is Jewish by upbringing. So, she was able to legitimately register for the convention. And then, using methods I will not divulge (on pain of death), we were able to forge a handful of additional badges. One group of “disruptors” protested during Peres’ speech, and I went in with another CPer for Kerry and Biden. John Kerry spoke first, and I found his remarks to be appalling on a deeply visceral level. We hadn’t planned on protesting during his speech because he had at least visited Gaza. However, once he began to talk, I was sorely tempted to change plans. He commented at length about the traumatized children in Sderot who have only 15 seconds after an alarm sounds to warn of an incoming rocket to seek shelter. Yet – although only 23 Israelis anywhere have been killed by Qassam rockets since 2001 (compared to more than 1,400 Palestinians killed by Israelis since December alone) – he made no mention of the disproportionate Israeli response and the 24/7 trauma experienced by Gazan children.
However, I restrained myself, holding out for Joe Biden, who has been quoted as saying that he is a Zionist. My partner in crime and I had hidden a cloth banner in our underwear when passing through the two “checkpoints” funneling people into the AIPAC convention, and we managed to get up close and to unfurl it just as Biden begin to speak. Our message? Throughout Kerry’s talk, he kept using the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam,” which means to “repair” or “heal” the world – which many Jews believe is the mission of Judaism for both their own and the global community, by becoming a model society. It’s a beautiful phrase and mission – but it’s not being practiced by either Israel or the United States. “Tikkun olam,” we shouted. “End U.S. funding for the siege of Gaza.” Is the United States funding the blockade directly? No, but without our $3 billion-plus a year, as well as our commitment to veto any critical resolution in the UN Security Council (which we’ve done 42 times), Israel could not operate with the impunity it has.
The end to this story: My friend and I were pretty quickly “muffled” and literally carried out of the convention hall by a contingent of Capitol police and Secret Service. Was it effective? Who knows -- depending on how you define “effective.” But I’ll tell you what – it felt incredibly liberating, to do something so “in-your-face,” alone in a room of 6,500 uber nationalists. It sort of gave me a rush. LOL…Next up? Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4. Read on…
Return to Gaza: I had not planned to return to Gaza so soon – especially in light of my limited resources – but as I got to know the participants in the next delegation intimately (since I am in charge of organizing the next trip), I realized I realized I had no choice. The “call” was loud and clear. So..off I go on May 24. First stop will be Cairo, and from there – hopefully – we will be back in Gaza. From there, we will swing back through Cairo in time for an action in conjunction with Obama’s speech, then go on to Israel, where we will attempt to enter through the even tighter Erez crossing. We will be joined there by peace activists from throughout Israel, and we are well aware we probably won’t get in. That’s why we plan to set up an encampment at the border, and then transition to the Knesset to deliver our message there. I could go on and on…but you can watch this space for updates. I’ll be back to blogging regularly on May 26.
The power of art and activism: Speaking of whether we can make a difference through activism...these last few months we have witnessed a spectacular example of the ability of one person to force a painful dialogue: Caryl Churchill, a British playwright usually known for her feminism. As Israel's siege of Gaza raged, Churchill wrote an 8-minute play -- a response from the gut, from one Jew to her peers. It was performed over a short run in February at London's Royal Court theatre, and she made the script available online -- saying only that when it was performed live, a collection for Gaza should be made.
The play consists of seven scenes spread over approximately 70 years in which Jewish adults discuss what their daughters should be told.
Each sentence begins with the words: "Tell her...". The opening lines, for example, set during the years of the Holcaust are:
Tell her it’s a game
Tell her it’s serious
But don’t frighten her|
Don’t tell her they’ll kill her
The culminating scene takes place during the recent attack on Gaza -- but this time Israel is the aggressor:
Tell her, tell her about the army, tell her to be proud of the army. Tell her about the family of dead girls, tell her their names why not, tell her the whole world knows why shouldn’t she know? Tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies? tell her she’s got nothing to be ashamed of. Tell her they did it to themselves. Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I’m not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them, tell her we’re the ones to be sorry for, tell her they can’t talk suffering to us. Tell her we’re the iron fist now, tell her it’s the fog of war, tell her we won’t stop killing them till we’re safe, tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policemen, tell her they’re animals living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out, the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I don’t care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.
You can read the script online and watch it performed on the Web site of the British publication, The Guardian. The response to Churchill's play -- which can be performed anywhere, by anyone -- was swift and intense. But the point is that it got a response. Everywhere it played, it provoked debate within and between both sides of the divide. And if we are ever going to make any progress in resolving this conflict, that is what will be required.
New friends: Surprisingly, this transition phase of my life – in between relationships as well as jobs – has been incredibly rich in terms of friendship, both old and new. Faced with the need to find someplace to live, but with no steady source of income, no fewer than four friends offered me a place to crash, indefinitely, at no rent. These are real friends – the kind you can call at 4 in the morning if you need to, without feeling guilty. Meanwhile, through the power of the Internet, I have forged relationships with a variety of new people that are each bringing something special into my life. Some are probably “friends of the road” (who will be close to me just during this particular time of my life), but others – one in particular – show the promise of being a “friend of the heart.” So, if you are one of those people who turn up your nose at Facebook, instant messaging or chat rooms, or who are convinced that they can’t be used without leading to scams or kidnappings, you’re missing out. (This is not to say, however, that one shouldn’t be careful; I’ve learned that lesson as well, in spades.)
I’d like to end this blog entry with two other thoughts: First, I actually am starting to feel that I may look back one day and be very thankful that I was fired. I don’t have a new job yet, but the new directions I am now pursuing, and the relationships I’ve forged as a result, only fill me with optimism and fresh energy. Second: If you know someone who is going through a difficult time, don’t hang back because you don’t know what to say, or are afraid that you’ll be intruding. Get in their face. Let them know you won’t let them “disappear.” They will thank you for it.