Jul 30, 2014

The travails of young love

On a bit of a hiatus from blogging for the summer as I recollect my spirit, but I may have some reflections to share this weekend about the difficulties of young love. Been listening to tales of heartbreak from some of my young students. And young River Viiperi has broken from his partner of two years, Paris Hilton, so these must be difficult days for him as well. I emphasize his youth - and that of my students - because he and they have their whole lives ahead of the them, with unimaginable riches of love yet to come. But the travails of young love can be so painful to endure.

Jul 14, 2014

Papa Francesco does it again

Well, the whole world - or at least the semi Christian world - is all a flutter over yet another freewheeling interview of Pope Francis conducted by acknowledged atheist and La Republica journalist Eduardo Scalfari. Before the ink had barely dried, Father Lombardi of The Vatican Press Office was already huffing out his damage control , assuring us that Scalfari was not directly quoting the unpredictable pontiff's exact words - especially in regard to two celebrated quotes which are already causing much comment and consternation among some, bemusement and amusement among others, including myself.  More serious comment will follow in short order, I'm sure.

Why all this elaborate Comedy of Errors - surely this effect is exactly what Pope Francisco wants, else why grant a second interview to the very journalist who supposedly took such license with his words the first time around.

The two quotes-: paraphrased by me, since Father Lombardi assures us that as quoted they couldn't be the pope's own words.:

Some cardinals are among the church's pedophile abusers. Wow, what a shock to the cast system  of clerical  idolatry that barb must be, and I have no trouble believing Pope Francis capable of making such a simple, sensible, common sense observation.

And it only reminds me of the famous remark attributed to Our Lady of Garabandal, Spain in 1966:

Many priests, bishops and cardinals are on the road to perdition and are leading many souls with them.

The pope then goes on to "say," in Scalfari's imaginative rendition, that about 2% of Catholic priests are pedophiles, which would be lower than the current loose estimate of their number as less than 5% among the general population (if so, I doubt the pope's statistic). That seems a bit of damage control, and politely and very gently misses the point - it is not the number of pedophiles among the clergy that is and has been the problem, it is the astounding number of bishop enablers who have helped cover up the offending priests, thereby extending their rein of abuse and vastly increasing their number of victims.

Second quote: celibacy was instituted 900 years after the death of Christ. "The problem certainly exists, but it is not on a large scale. It will need time, but the solutions are there and I will find them."
Celibacy a problem? Another shock to the system of false institutional idolatry. Change does indeed come to the church - but oh so painfully slowly.

Two quite ordinary comments among ordinary mature, rational human beings. So why all the flutter?

Jul 11, 2014

Tears of Gaza and Women who Love Women who Love Children Who Are Not Wanted

Krivoklat Castle

Tomorrow I leave for three weeks of summer camps in the forests of Krivoklat, so there will be little time to devote to my random musings on this blog. I look forward to the camps every year for the wonderful bonding that takes place between camp teachers and the Czech kids. In my case, I get to do real theater with a group of about 12 students, aged between 14 and 18, We spend the entire week preparing a 30 minute play for presentation on Friday. It's all great fun, with lots of exciting activities in the evening - including campfires and the harrowing 'Scary Walk,' in which teachers, staff and older kids hide in the forest and scare the bejesus out of the little ones, who must follow a string and a line of candles through the forest. I always come home exhilarated and exhausted both.  

A few final comments on previous items I've posted about - forgive the lack of links.


Eyewitnesses have confirmed that Tariq Abu Khdeir was abducted from his uncle's backyard while watching the protests outside on the streets - in other words he was deliberately targeted as a member of his cousin, Mohammed's family. 

The death toll in Gaza from the recent Israeli onslaught has left 100 dead, 84 of them women and children. Prior to the death of the three Israeli teens, which so dominated the world's media, Israeli soldiers were caught on video firing point blank into a crowd, and killing two unarmed teen boys - an event that registered nary a blimp on the world's news networks. Yet this mainstream indifference to Palestinian life has been going on for decades. 

Israel’s current escalation and assault on Gaza should be viewed in the same context – a cynical attempt to distract and make the Abu Khdeir immolation lynching story disappear from headlines and memory (and to a lesser extent the brutal beating of his American 15 year old cousin Tarek by Israel’s Border Police). While assaulting Gaza’s defenseless population, Israel’s government will find itself back in its comfort zone where it will be able to take control of the narrative by having obsequious Western media outlets and politicians parrot its preposterous claim that it is “defending itself”. They will also repeat the hackneyed “what would US/UK/Canada do” line, ignoring the fact that Gaza is an open air prison for dispossessed Palestinian refugees under Israel’s control. An escalation along the northern border cannot be precluded. This is what happens when you suffer two devastating PR blows in one week.
Will the subterfuge work or will history remember the immolation murder of 16 year old Mohammed Abu K’deir as Israel’s Rosa Parks moment, the moment when Israel’s apartheid could no longer be denied? Only time will tell.
And a moving story from Haaretz about Gordon Levy visiting the family of Mohammed Abu Kdeir.
Small Shrine to Mohammed on his bed
Gordon Levy again in another Haaretz article on the Israeli onslaught against Gaza, which puts everytning into perspective, Hamas' rockets, the murdered Israeli teens, the burning alive of Mohammed and the uncountable nunber of Palestinian children killed:

Following the kidnapping of three teenaged Israelis in the territories and their murders, Israel wildly arrested some 500 Palestinians, including members of parliament and dozens of freed prisoners who had no connection at all to the kidnapping. The army terrorized the entire West Bank with a dragnet and mass arrests, whose declared aim was “to crush Hamas.” A racist campaign raged on the Internet and led to a Palestinian teenager being burned alive. All this followed Israel’s punitive campaign against the effort to establish a Palestinian unity government that the world was prepared to recognize, its violation of its commitment to release prisoners, a halt of the diplomatic process and a refusal to propose any alternate plan or vision.
Did we really think the Palestinians would accept all this submissively, obediently, and calmly, and that peace and quiet would continue to prevail in Israel’s cities?
What exactly were we thinking? That Gaza would live forever in the shadow of Israeli (and Egyptian) caprice, with the restraints sometimes loosened a bit, or sometimes painfully tightened? That the biggest prison in the world would carry on as a prison? That hundreds of thousands of its residents would remain cut off forever? That exports would be blocked and fishing restricted? What exactly are 1.5 million people supposed to live on? Is there anyone who can explain why the blockade, even if partial, of Gaza continues? Can anyone explain why its future is never discussed? Did we think that all this would continue and Gaza would accept it submissively? Anyone who thought so was a victim of dangerous delusions, and now we are all paying the price.
But please, just don’t act surprised. Just don’t raise hell about the Palestinians raining rockets on Israeli cities for nothing – such luxuries are no longer acceptable. The dread that Israeli citizens are feeling now is no greater than the dread felt by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who in recent weeks waited in terror for the soldiers to break down their doors and invade their homes in the middle of the night, to search, trash, destroy, humiliate, and then snatch a member of their household. The fear we’re experiencing is no greater than the fear felt by Palestinian children and teens, several of whom were killed needlessly by Israeli Defense Forces fire in recent weeks. The trepidation Israelis feel is certainly less than that felt by Gaza residents, who have no Color Red warnings, no “secure spaces,” and no Iron Dome to save them, only hundreds of scary sorties by the Israel Air Force that end in destruction and the death of innocents, including the elderly, women, and children, who have already been killed during this operation, as it during all its predecessors.
Isabel and Tabra
Meanwhile, on other fronts, I'm simultaneously reading Isabel Allende's early novel Of Love and Shadows, and her recent memoir, The Sum of All Fears. In the latter, she describes the anguishing situation of her stepdaughter, Sabrina, born prematurely to her husband, Willie Gordon's drug addict daughter Jennifer.  When the courts deprived Jennifer of custody and the doctors assigned Sabrina to a home for terminally ill babies, Isabel was desperate for her and Willie to adopt the granddaughter, but Willie refused, saying neither he nor Isabel were prepared emotionally to care adequately for a child after the death of Paula. It was the worst disagreement of their marriage, and Isabel even moved out of the family house for a while. However, providence intervened in the most wondrous way. Her best friend, Tabra, had also counseled Isabel that she was ill equipped to care adequately for this baby who "needed two mothers." When Isabel told this to her support group of women friends, The Sisters of Perpetual Disorder (which she joined after the death of her daughter Paula,) and when she repeated the phrase, "the baby who needs two mothers," one of the women in the group said, "Oh, I know two mothers." These two mothers were both Buddhist nuns who ran a retreat center on the ocean. After a ten minute call, Fu said she wanted to meet the baby. After she and her partner, Grace, met the baby - 
"Grace held out her arms and Odilia handed her the baby, who seemed to have lost weight and was shivering even more than before. But she was alert. Her large Egyptian eyes gazed into Grace's and then focused on Fu. I don't know what she told them in that first glance, but it was definitive. Without discussion, with a single voice, the two women declared that Sabrina was the little girl they had been waiting for all their lives."
No wonder Isabel has such sympathy and understanding for love between two women in the face of such generosity of heart. Once again we see Lesbian women partners coming forward to love and care for the most challenging kind of child. 
Finally, River Viiperi. Mustn't forget our favorite Spanish supermodel. He's driving around in a brand new Mercedes, 'donated' to him by Mercedes Benz Esperanza, while assuring his followers that luxury does not bring happiness or love, a principle I think he truly believes. One of his favorite singers is Sam Smith and River's favorite lyric:
I don't have much to give,but I don't care for gold
What use is money,when you need someone to hold

Jul 9, 2014

Women, Gays and the World of the Spirit in the work of Isabel Allende

Despite the sweeping title, these are simply disjointed reflections on one of my favorite authors, whose work has always shown great spiritual depth and insight, coupled with the clenched fist of indignation in the face of injustice towards women and gays and all marginalized groups.

First a word on Isabel Allende's spiritual awakening, which gives great insight into the spiritual dimension of her work:

Taken from Lorette C. Luzajic's Fascinating Writers series. 

When Allende herself encounters the rare-for-her but dreaded writer’s block, she finds an unusual way around it: she drinks a potent shamanic rainforest hallucinogen and disappears into her mind for several days. During this unorthodox excursion, Isabel “crossed through the opening and effortlessly plunged into an absolute void… There was no sensation, no spirit, not a trace of individual consciousness; instead I felt a divine, absolute presence. I was inside the goddess… something I can only define as love, an impression of oneness, I dissolved into the divine, I felt that there was no separation between me and the rest of all that exists, all that was light and silence. I was left with the certainly that we are spirits, and all that is material is illusory.”

Allende says that on that voyage she lost her fear of death.

This remarkable anecdote is far more significant than the loss of writer's block. It testifies to Isabel's own vocation as a witness to the spiritual dimension outside the framework of conventional Christianity. "I was inside the goddess." This is what I have always appreciated about Isabel's work, that she is so open to discerning the validity of non traditional spiritualities, without losing her critical faculties. She is able to appreciate and critique in equal measure, while respecting and incorporating the spiritual dimension into her stories, but spirit seen from a feminist perspective. 

In the previous posting Celebrated Women and Humble Men,  I linked her with Spanish supermodel, River Viiperi, in a reflection on enduring love between famous women and their loving partners, a comparison that was intended to be mind-bending. 

A gender bending portrait of the male if ever there was one. Wow!

Much of Isabel's fiction concerns the struggle to free women and sexual minorities from heterosexual male control over space and power and to create safe, open spaces for women (and by extension all sexual minorities) to express their own desires and achieve their own emancipation. In Latin American culture especially - men tend to dominate the public spaces, women are expected to fade into the background, and gays, well of course, gays must remain well hidden behind closed doors - and transexuals, don't even mention the word. In other words machismo culture assigns women and gays to their own private assigned spaces on the margins as inferior beings. Isabel seeks to break down all of these barriers and to insist that males must learn to defer at times to the equal power of their women partners and to allow them their own space. 

This is one reason I paired her with young fashion model, River Viiperi in the previous posting. When in the public sphere with his partner, Paris Hilton, River must defer to the intense media attention she engenders, step back and allow his partner her own public space.  His own role is as a regulator of the crowds, and even video recorder. It is a subservient position, to be sure,  and it is  remarkable to watch a Latin Male fulfilling this role with such grace, charm and good humor - and with no loss to his self respect. For this, he has received much flack and and an ocean of sexist sarcasm. Wittingly or not, River Viiperi is a feminist ally and a role model for strong supportive males. 

River controlling the ' space' around his partner. 

Isabel in her own position as a feminist author has not had so easy a time herself. As Lorette C. Luzajic says in her wonderful article, "Of Love and Shadows: the Stories of Isabel Allende," at Book Slut:

Despite endless comparisons of her work to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other writers of the Latin American "magical realism" genre, where the mystical merges with quotidian life, Allende is not acknowledged by the Latin boys’ club as a serious writer. Pablo Neruda told her she had too much imagination to be a journalist, and Marquez does not acknowledge her importance -- sad, because the woman’s perspective in this genre of literature is the element that was always missing, the most important one. “I don’t belong to their club,” Allende told Argentinean-born anthologist Alberto Manguel. “In Latin America, women are not respected. You have to make twice the as much effort as a man for half the recognition. And if you are a writer, ten times as much… If a woman had written Garcia Marquez’s brilliant Love in the Time of Cholera, her novel would have been branded mushy, over-sentimental… The male literary community in Latin America would be delighted if women wrote only cookbooks, children’s books… let them not fuck around with the rest, with ‘real’ literature.”

Nonetheless, Isabel has attained her own special renown as a powerful feminist author and artist, even if she will never be paired with the 'big boys' of Latin American fiction. And she has proven herself to be an ally of all marginalized sexual minorities as well.

First a bit of gossip about Isabel's own personal experience with gay people.

Isabel's son Nicu had been married for some ten years to a Venezualan women named Celia. Upon the birth of their third child, Celia announced that she was really a lesbian and needed to separate from Nicu. She then promplty fell in love with Sally, the fiancee of the son of her husband by a previous marriage. Much to the shock of the whole household and to the consternation of Nicu, both women moved away together. Celia leaves the children to be taken care of by poor Nicu. 

"Isabel not only continues her friendship with Celia, but she even takes the side of Celia and supports her to the annoyance of her son. Before this conversion, Celia was a gay-baiter with very strong views and prejudices. Afterwards, Celia not only practices lesbianism, but actively preaches the advanteges of gay love. She advocates that everyone should try it and says that it is much better than being heterosexual."

Despite the genuine heartbreak of this story, especially for Nicu, there is something resembling a 'comic opera' about this anecdote. That Isabel sides with her daughter in law demonstrates a remarkable tolerance and understanding for alternative sexual experiences. 

Now onto Isabel's gay characters. 

First the criticism:

Isabel's latest book, Ripper, a crime novel set in the San Francisco Bay Area, received mixed reviews and some critical comment for 'gay bashing'. I was surprised to hear this, because I knew of Isabel's sensitive treatment of gay characters in her previous work. However, once I began reading Ripper I had to confess that some of the treatment seemed a bit slapdash. 

Here is a rather harsh criticism from Canada's Amazon. 

I don't want to be a hyper- sensitive politically correct watchdog, but some things must be said. This author's portrayal of LGBT characters is cliched at best and reactionary at worst (save for two female partners who make a brief appearance). We are portrayed as child molesters, self destructive waiters/drag performers (nothing wrong with a drag performer, but it saddens me that some straight people are still only comfortable with a gay man if he is in a dress) and at worst one of fiction's most tired and offensive cliches, a homicidal maniac of a cross dresser (no, it is not the waiter) Put this together with unbelievable premise and unlikely leaps of faith, and you have a novel that simply does not deliver on any of it's promise.

For myself, I thoroughly enjoyed Ripper, though I admit some of the descriptions of gay folks did seem like caricatures of some of our most embarrassing characteristics. However, I am also thoroughly familiar with Isabel Allende's remarkable treatment of gay characters in her previous fiction, so this made the excesses of Ripper seem like an anomaly

Since this is not an in-depth literary essay, I'm simply going to quote a long passage from her 1986 novel, Of Love and Shadows, to demonstrate Isabel's great sensitivity to the plight of gay people. 

Here is Isabel's description of Mario, the 'elegant and discrete stylist' at the fashion magazine where the lead male character of the novel, Francisco, works for a time and meets the love of his life:

He had delicate hands and a spirit inclined towards fantasy, a quality his father had tried to beat out of him. Drastic measures had not, however, cured his effeminate manerisms or altered his inclinations. As a child, if the family turned their backs for an instant, he slipped away to entertain himself in solitary pastimes that provoked pitiless ridicule: he gathered stones from the river and polished them for the pleasure of seeing the colors shine: he scouted the dismal landscape looking for dry leaves to arrange in artistic compositions; he was moved to tears by a sunset, wanting to capture it forever in a line of poetry or in a painting he could imagine but felt incapable of realizing. Only his mother accepted his peculiarities, seeing them not as signs of perversion but as evidence of a soul that was different. To save him from his father's merciless floggings, she took him to the parish priest to enroll him as an assistant to the sacristan, hoping to disguise his womanly gentleness among the skirts of the mass and offerings of incense. The boy's mind always wandered from his dog Latin, however, diverted by the golden particles floating in the light that streamed through the church windows. ... When his father learned of these visits, he led Mario by the ear to the mine whorehouse, accompanied by his two older brothers. There, with a dozen men impatient to spend their Friday wages, they waited their turn. Only Mario noticed the filthy, faded curtains, the stench of urine, and Lysol, the infinite desolation of the place. Only he was moved by the melancholy of those women exhausted by wear and the absence of love. Threatened by his own brothers, when his turn came he tried to play the macho with the prostitute, but she needed only a glance at the boy to see that he was destined for a life filled with mockery and solitude. She was moved with compassion when she saw him trembling with revulsion at the sight of her naked flesh, and she asked the men to leave them alone so she could do her job in peace. As soon as the others left, she bolted the door, sat on the bed beside Mario and took his hand.

"This isn't something you can be forced to do," she said to Mario, who was weeping with terror. "Go away, far away, boy, where no one knows you, because if you stay around here they'll end up killing you."

In all his life he had never received better advice. He dried his tears and promised never to spill them again over a manliness that in his heart he did not desire.
What a remarkably sensitive portrait of a young gay man, the only young male capable of seeing the "infinite desolation" of the brothel and "the melancholy of those women exhausted by wear and the absence of love."

Shortly after meeting Francisco for the first time, Mario falls deeply in love with the heterosexual young man. Here is Isabel's remarkably sensitive description of their first dinner together in Mario's apartment:

Francisco saw two goblets beside an ice bucket where a bottle of champagne was cooling; he noticed the soft lights, smelled the aroma of the wood fire and incense burning in a bronze censer; he heard the jazz from the hi-fi speakers, and realized he was the only guest. For an instant he was tempted to turn and walk out, to avoid raising any hope in his host's heart, but his desire not to hurt Mario, to gain his friendship, won out. As he looked in Mario's eyes, Francisco was moved by a mixture of pity and sympathy. He searched among his gentlest emotions for the one most appropriate to give to the man who was timidly offering him his love. He sat down beside Mario on the raw-silk sofa and accepted a glass of champagne, calling on his professional experience to help him steer through uncharted waters without doing something foolish. It was a night they both remembered. Mario told Francisco his life story, and delicately hinted at his growing passion. He anticipated a refusal, but he was too moved not to voice his emotions; no man had ever appealed to him so strongly. Francisco combined virile strength and assurance with the rare quality of gentleness. Mario did not fall in love easily; he distrusted stormy affairs, the cause of much unpleasantness in the past. He was prepared this once, however, to risk everything. Francisco also talked about himself and , without overtly saying so, communicated to Mario the possibility of sharing a solid and deep friendship, but never love. Through that long evening they discovered shared interests, laughed, listened to music, and drank champagne. In a burst of confidence forbidden by the most elementary caution, Mario spoke of his revulsion for the dictatorship and his desire to oppose it. His new friend, able to read the truth in his eyes, offered his secret in return. When they said goodbye, shortly before the hour of curfew, they exchanged a firm handshake, sealing a pact of solidarity.

Another remarkable passage and I dare say one that could only have been written by a woman. I rest my case about the sensitivity of Isabel Allende towards her gay characters in fiction. This is a woman of great insight and compassion into the plight of marginalized human beings, a woman who views the myriad forms of human love across gender boundaries through the eyes of the loving divine mother goddess. 

Viva Allende

Jul 8, 2014

Update to the beating of Tariq Abu Khdier: A Way Out of Darkness

Yesterday I posted about the savage beating by masked Israeli police of 15 year old American-Palestinian, Tariq Khdeir, cousin to murdered teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Why do I mention the fact that the police were masked? Because the 'blaming of the victim' continues with police assertions that Tariq was wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional symbol of Palestinian nationalism - and the common protection worn by Palestinian youth against Israeli tear gas. None of this explains why a 15 year old child, who had clearly been subdued, was beaten again and again and again without restraint.

The first instance of 'blaming the victim' came with the suspicions planted that the boy's murdered cousin, Mohammed,  may have been gay, insinuations that immediately went viral over Israeli channels.

Here is an excellent article at The Jewish Daily Forward about The 'Pinkwashing' of Mohammed Abu Kdeir: It suggests that part of the motivation for the rumors, besides pinning a motive on the family for the murder, may also have been to contrast the 'homophobic Palestinians (bad) with the very liberal Israeli attitude towards LGBT people (good). Mohammed's father was questioned for six hours after the discovery of the body as police attempted to get him to admit this was an honor killing. 

But back to the beating of 15 year old Tariq Abu Khdeir. Would we even be discussing this case if Tariq were not an American citizen? As it is, the video of the beating has gone viral and caused widespread outrage in the US and Palestine. Does anyone remember the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 and the widespread riots in 1992 that occurred when the four police officers were first acquitted? I still remember Rodney's plaintive cry urging restraint in a news conference while the riots raged: Can we all get along?

This case is taking on similar proportions, as the common Israeli brutality to Palestinians on a daily basis (including, it should be added, the abduction and murder of young teens) has now been exposed in a way that cannot be shoved under the carpet - simply because the victim was a US citizen and, most importantly, because the incident was caught on video. 

Here is a poignant photo posted of young Mohammed before his case went worldwide:

It turns out that Mohammed's story - and the gruesome photos of his burned torso - have gone viral over the airwaves and nearly obliterated the preceding story of the three murdered Israeli teens. This fact has occasioned a great deal of outrage, as well, on the part of those invested in an image of Israel as a just and democratic state. Why does one murdered Palestinian boy, and a beaten cousin,  take precedence over three Israeli teens who were first murdered by Palestinians. And so the cycle of blame continues round and round and round. 

Palestinians say this 'happens all the time,' particularly the beatings they sustain. There is a great deal of bluster and denial coming forth from Israeli spokespersons at the moment in reaction to this claim, but this is a case that will not go away. It looks to be a watershed moment for US-Israel relations. The boy has been placed under house arrest - with no charge - and fined - for no reason given. The family and his mother especially, are furious and are demanding compensation from the Israeli government. 

In yesterday's posting, however, I was much too glib about the effects of Tariq's beating. Here is the professional opinion of an American neurologist:

He needs an immediate return to the US for appropriate comprehensive neurological work up – his loss of consciousness as well as his chronic headaches
and occasional disorientation suggest the possibility of significant issues. 

Tariq's family claims he was in the back garden of his Uncle's Jerusalem backyard when he was attacked. Given the fact his cousin, Mohammed's charred body had not yet been released to the family, there is some speculation that the attack was premeditated as a way of putting pressure on the family to 'admit' the death of Mohammed was an 'honor killing,' due to his being gay. In any event, the attackers did not count on a video going viral. 

For full coverage, see Mondoweis

And yet, there is a way out of the madness, and it is being shown by the families of the Israeli and Palestinian teens.

The families of murdered Israeli teen Naftali Fraenkel and murdered Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir are drawing comfort from an unexpected source: each other.
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat took to Facebook on Sunday to write about an “emotional and special telephone conversation between two families that have lost their sons.” He said that during his visit to the Fraenkel family home, he had a chance to speak to Hussein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s father, and express pain at the “barbaric” murder of his son.
Barkat then suggested that Abu Khdeir speak to Yishai Fraenkel, the uncle of Naftali Fraenkel who recently told the press that “the life of an Arab is equally precious to that of a Jew. Blood is blood, and murder is murder, whether that murder is Jewish or Arab.” The two men took Barkat’s advice and comforted one another by telephone.
In a separate visit organized by Rabbi Rafi Ostroff, chair of the religious council of Gush Etzion, Palestinians from the Hebron area showed up at the door of the Fraenkel family, looking to comfort the bereaved.
Asked why they had come, one Palestinian said, “Things will only get better when we learn to cope with each other’s pain and stop getting angry at each other. Our task is to give strength to the family and also to take a step toward my nation’s liberation. We believe that the way to our liberation is through the hearts of Jews.”
He later said that the visit went very well from his perspective. “They received us very, very nicely. The mother [Rachel Fraenkel] was incredible.”
“I see before me a Jewish family who has lost a son opening the door to me,” he added. “That’s not obvious. It touched my heart and my nation.”
The Palestinian visitors also mentioned an initiative spearheaded by Jews and Muslims to transform July 15, the Jewish fast day known as 17 Tammuz, into a joint fast day for people of both religions who wish to express their desire to end violence in the region.

Jul 6, 2014

Heartbreak in Israel : Blaming the victim as gay

Grieving parents of Mohamed Abu Khdeir

The recent abductions and murder of three Israeli teens, followed by the abduction and burning of 16 year old Mohamed Abu Khdeir has shocked the world. The following are some disjointed notes I've put together.

The case of murdered Mohamed Abu Khdeir is tragic enough in its own terms, but I became alerted to this aspect of the  case with reports Israeli police were first spreading rumors the boy was 'gay,' and had suffered a homophobic retaliation attack - instead, as is now being admitted, he was the victim of a revenge by Israeli extremists killing in retaliation for the murder of the three teenage Israelis last week. Now his  visiting American cousin has fallen victim to the same hideous brutality. He was savagely beaten by Israel police, who claim he was 'intending' to throw rocks, but not actually doing so. 

First the "gay" report:

Taken from Richard Silverstein's blog:

Yesterday night, I noticed severalIsraeli Facebook users infecting myfeed with false claims that Mohamed Abu Khdeir, the 16 year-old who was murdered by suspected Jewish terrorists, was killed in an honor crime because he was gay.  With the help of an Israeli friend, I traced the rumor to, of all places, the Israeli police (Hebrew).  They leaked (Hebrew) this false information to the media, which dutifully reported it as if it was true (it wasn’t).  The police claim (made anonymously of course) that it had “information” Abu Khdeir was gay was false.  But this calumny spread like the wind, and a credulous Israeli public eager to believe the worst of Palestinians and refusing to take any responsibility for their own brethren spilling the blood of a Palestinian, took to social media like a raging plague and spread this bile everywhere.

This is the proverbial “blaming the victim” tactic often used by accused rapists and their defense attorneys.  But this is worse because the victim in this case is dead and the fellow citizens of the accused killers refuse to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the murder.  They want to wipe it out because they hate Palestinians and believe them undeserving of sympathy.
This Haaretz report (pictured on right) by Nir Hasson and Jack Khoury documents the fraud and conveys the angry response of the victim’s family:
Our family is not involved in any dispute and he was a good boy.  this is not a family problem.  It is a kidnapping [now murder] and everyone must know this.
You can read the rest at Richard Silverstein's wonderful blog,  which I can't recommend too highly.

Tikun Olam-תיקון עול

And now the story of Tariq Abu Khdeir, the 15 year old cousin of Mohamed Abu Khdeir

(Warning, the video is very graphic!)

The Palestinian youth who was caught on video earlier this week being beaten by members of the Israeli Border Police is a United States citizen from Florida, the U.S. State Department confirmed on Saturday. 

The US teenager was kept in custody by police for seven hours and denied all medical attention - until his father showed up with the boy's American passport. That suddenly changed everything - and as the proverbial expression goes, the shit hit the fan. 

You can watch this video here at Al Jazeera in which an Israeli police spokesperson attempts to justify the arrest of the boy - but unfortunately we have the video footage of his savage merciless beating - which goes on and on and on and on. Very painful to watch. As the father says, "No mercy." 

Before receiving medical attention.

So as not to unduly sensationalize the event, here he is some 24 hours after the beating and after receiving medical attention - so it's some relief to realize the injuries will not mar his face permanently. But I've rarely been so shocked as I was watching the Israeli police mercilessly beating and beating this 15 year old child, and then justifying it as "he was intending to throw rocks."

Full coverage from the New York Times with two different versions of the video. 

I don't really have the heart to editorialize on these tragic events, except to point out that homophobia is alive and well in Israel. But here is a voice of conscience I truly respect - whom the UK's Independent calls "The Most Hated Man in Israel or the Most Heroic."  A really excellent in depth article. 

The great Israeli journalist, Gordon Levy, lamenting the state of his country: Our Wretched Jewish State.

Here is Tarek, looking like an ordinary happy hip teenager - replete with the essential accessory of all teens -  earphones.  His visit marked the first time his American branch of the family had visited Palestine in over ten years.

Tarek Abu Khdeir before his injuries. (Photo provided and published with consent from the Abu Khdeir family)
Tarek Abu Khdeir before his injuries. (Photo provided and published with consent from the Abu Khdeir family)

Jul 1, 2014

Moldovan Boy Desperately Needs Help

A close friend of mine here in Prague, David Fowler, is asking for donations to help a poor Moldovan boy now hospitalized in St. Petersburg, Russia, with failing lungs. I've known David, a professional tour guide for International Schools,  for ten years and he is completely trustworthy. I've also followed the heartwrenching story of Nicu for the past six years. He is from a poor, struggling Moldovan family whom David befriended some years ago when he was conducting a tour in the countryside near Nicu's home. David became very close to the family and when first the mother and then the father both died within several years of one another, David found himself in the difficult position of having to help support Nicu and his younger sister and brother. I continue to be astonished at David's generosity, since he is not a rich man and this trial, which he believes was 'heaven sent,' has taxed his resources to the limit.

Roughly one year ago, Nicu managed to get a Russian passport and then found employment in a chemical factory last winter.  His boss assured him the work was safe and did not supply him with protective masks. Since Nicu was desperate for money to send back to his family, he agreed to the conditions. Needless  to say, this was a lie and the boy's lungs have been permanently damaged. He is now surviving only through small artificial lungs, which will only keep him alive for one year at most. He desperately needs a complete lung transplant and this will cost a small fortune. This is a great tragedy for this already burdened family and the loss of their older brother, so soon after the loss of their mother and father, will be a devastating blow to the younger sister and brother.

David's site at Go Fund Me is here if any readers feel moved to offer help of any kind. I can vouch for David's complete honesty and trustworthiness. He is a dear friend and it saddens me no end to see him so heavy hearted over this tragedy. Nicu is only 22, just starting out in life, with his own hopes and dreams for the future, but as of this moment they do not look very bright.

Yes, there are so many stories like this 'out there' in the real world, stories that bring us down to earth and show us the harsh realities of so many human lives. In comparison, our own petty worries seem trivial and insignificant. And of course, we cannot save the whole world. What we can do is offer our own little bit of help to those in need who cross our path. Or to echoe Tolstoy, we add our little bit of light to the great pool of light and only in that way can we make a difference. If you feel moved to make a difference here, please go to David's site and make a donation, however small. All help is appreciated and will be used to pay for Nicu's present medical bills and prepare for the lung transplant.

Blessings upon Nicu and David.