Palestinian refugees beating the odds!

A wonderful story from CNN about three Palestinian refugee girls, their science teacher, and their head-teacher who have all contributed to the girls’ success in being selected to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, California, this week.
(HT: American Friends of UNRWA.)
The 14-year-old girls are all students at the UNRWA Girls School in Askar refugee Camp, near the West bank city of Nablus. Their project involved designed and making a walking-cane for blind people that beeps when it comes near either an obstacle or an un-even-ness in the road ahead of it.
It sounds like a great invention– especially given the extent to which all Palestinians in the West Bank, whether sighted or blind, have to navigate rutted roads riven with deep IOF-dug trenches or blocked by IOF-built earth mounds, as they try to move around.
(Hey, imagine how much more these girls and all their classmates might have achieved if their families didn’t have to live in refugee camp hovels but were still living on their ancestral lands, and if they had been able to win the benefits of normal economic development over the past 62 years… )
Still, what they have achieved is fabulous; and it looks really useful. Congratulations to these smart young females!
It might be worth noting– for those people who still think that Islamic-style hair-veiling is a sign of backwardness or the oppression of females– that all three of these dedicated girls, and their science teacher, and the head-teacher who enabled the whole project, wear such veils. It is quite likely that the science teacher and the head-teacher (who, CNN tells us, is about to retire) are both refugees, as well.
Kudos, finally, to UNRWA, for sustaining this whole, really important school-system throughout all these decades.

Traveling, family, refugees, etc

I am still intending to write some reflections on Sunday’s Chicago Hearing, which was an amazing experience. However, my sister and her husband arrived on our doorstep in DC on Sunday– refugees from European Air Hell, since they’d been planning to fly back to London from LA last week, and have been unable to.
Of course it’s been great to catch up with them. Haven’t seen ’em for a year.

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A beautiful but tragic story from Syria

Syria has been host to 450,000 Palestinian refugees for decades. (Their families found refugee there from the fighting when Israel was founded in 1948.) More recently, Syria has been host to some 700,000 refugees from the fighting in US-occupied Iraq.
This photo is from a lovely story from Syria about a project in which two choirs– one made up of Iraqi refugee children and non-refugee Syrian children, and the other of Palestinian refugee children– came together to sing a program that included Palestinian, Syrian, and Iraqi music.

photo by Ibrahim Malla

Too often, people in the international community think of refugees as, at best, “a problem” to be solved through merely technocratic means, or at worst a “menace”, and a potential source of instability. People forget that people who are refugees are every bit as human as those of us who are not (yet) refugees. They have amazing capacities and capabilities that can be either nurtured or stifled by the way they are treated. They have agency, resilience, and amazing capacities to love, to be kind, or to experience the whole range of other human emotions. And they have rights, codified in international law but “honored”, too often, only in the breach.
I look at the photo of these children– who seem to be part of the Iraqi portion of the choir. I imagine the work it took for their parents or older siblings to get them looking so neat and beautiful, even though many of them probably have horrible living conditions. I see the range of ways they’re engaging with the task at hand (or looking mischievously around). I look at their joy in artistic creation and in working together. I notice that they’re reading words and perhaps also reading music.
Imagine where any one of these children might be in another two, or 20, years time! Will they have returned to their respective homelands and be living a peaceful and productive life there? Might one or more of these children turn out to have real musical talent, now being well nurtured, and end up a Barenboim or a Yo-Yo Ma? Where else might this experience of musical education, group activity, and the nurturing hands of adults lead these kids?
A Happy New Year to people everywhere. And especially, in our conflict-riven times, to all people everywhere who are refugees.

The Mother of all Sermons

(Note: this is Scott Harrop writing.)
Four years ago this past week, 23 March 2003 to be exact, I heard what for me then was the “mother of all sermons.” Yet until now, I have resisted writing about it:

*First, I am not inclined to be too autobiographical in the blogosphere.
*Second, when I finally forced myself to re-listen to the digital recording of “the sermon,” it dawned on me that I’ve heard far worse since. (See John Hagee section below)
*Third, I have long resisted returning to the subject of “Christian Zionism.” Where I was raised in Pennsylvania, Hal Lindsey and his 1970’s bestseller “The Late Great Planet Earth” was widely read at churches my family attended. A bit later at a “Christian University,” I once wrote a paper on “Peace and Prophecy” with the edgy subtitle, “Are they Compatible?” I had the “nerve” to think they were. Still do.
*Lastly, I am also not too inclined to ridicule ministers in public, even when well “earned.“

But then I saw a bumper sticker on the family van of one of my daughter’s friends that proclaimed, “No Jesus, No Peace.” It convinced me that I needed to go back and “unpack” four years of pent-up angst over what “the sermon” signifies for me, then and now.
Besides, I have analyzed the Friday political sermons of Shia clerics for over two decades, so I shouldn’t be so abstemious about assessing what presumed “Gospel” ministers have to say on Middle East matters. I also lamely take some courage from how George Fox challenged ministers of his day.
THE Sermon:
The context of “the sermon” was just days after the US “shock and awe” bombs began raining down on Saddam’s Iraq in 2003, as the first stages of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The setting was one of the larger “evangelical” churches here in Charlottesville, Virginia. We had been “visiting” this church, in part as the Pastor had assured us that his “new covenant” church didn’t preach “Christian Zionism.”
The sermon that day four years ago was delivered by a visiting older minister, long a mentor, an “Apostle” to the local pastor, and now involved primarily in outreach efforts to drug-infested communities. Jesse Owens was his name – not to be confused with the famous Olympian.
Much of “the Apostle’s” sermon tone was blistering high-volume, classic fire-and-brimstone, text-less, “holy spirit” fury. At early points, Owens was nearly apoplectic, as his face turned deep red and purple and his neck veins bulged.
But his subject that day wasn’t about heaven or hell, sin, eternal damnation, or any of that.

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Palestinian refugee issues

This is so embarrassing. I was going through my June 2003 posts to pick some ‘Golden Oldies’ and I found this one, which I hadn’t ever hit ‘Publish’ for…. So it’s just been sitting there in Draft form in my JWN files…. Might as well publish it now, eh? Far as I can figure the situation’s about as described there….
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Palestinian refugee issue these past few days, in connection with a big writing project I’m working on. It’s hard issue to discuss much, publicly, here in the US, where much of the hardest of hard-line Israeli rhetoric about the refugees has just been accepted at face value.
That is, such mendacious old canards as (1) the refugees all left their homes in 1948 because the Arab leaders told them to. (Therefore they don’t have any “right” to return to their homes… ) Or (2) that the refugee camps are all run as training camps for the Palestinian militant groups and should be disbanded immediately. Or (3) that the Palestinians should all just resettle in the countries where they now are. (What’s all this about a “right” of return, anyway?). Or (4), that Arafat only raised the issue of the refugees in late 2000, suddenly and “capriciously”, with the sole aim of torpedoing the negotiations. Or (5), that anyway, before the Jews started going to Israel in the 20th century there weren’t even many Arabs there at all; the ones who were there just before 1948 were nearly all recent migrants who’d been attracted only by the Jewish wealth being poured into the country to “make it bloom”…
Are those the main ones? Any more?
I’ve been trying to figure out just why it is that the Palestinian refugee issue pushes such ultra-sensitive buttons for so many Israelis and so many of their supporters worldwide. What’s the big deal? Why is it that these ultra-Zionists feel they have to be so combative (defensive) about the refugee question that oftentimes they just refuse to discuss or even examine the claims of the refugees at all?
I think there are probably two reasons:

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The immigrantist narrative lives!

Last night I went with the spouse to a fundraising dinner for the local branch of the International Rescue Committee. The whole thing seemed like a celebration of what I call the immigrantist narrative, and it left me a little unsettled.
Okay, I’ll admit it upfront: I’m an immigrant here in the US of A myself. But still, I continue to harbor this critical stance on the immigrantist narrative– here and in all other countries that were founded on the basis of large-scale colonial ventures.
Colonial ventures, you see, are always built on the ruins of wrecked indigenous societies. I think that’s what upsets me about the whole business. Think Voortrekkers and Randlords. Think Israel. Think the Trail of Tears; or the destruction of Aboriginal cultures in Australia; or the submerging of Tibetan culture, or, or or…
It sometimes seems quite simple to me: in order to run a colonial venture, you need colonists, right? And those colonists have to be… immigrants.
When I was growing up in England, there was a tale in the dusty annals of my family’s history about Black Sheep Uncle Alfred. This was in the late 1800s. He had made off with the money of a club he was treasurer of… So what did the family do with him, in order to deal with the shame he had brought to them? Why, they packed him off to America and he wasn’t mentioned in the family for many years thereafter…

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