Podcast • April 30, 2010

Mustafa Barghouti: Is there Room for Gandhi in Palestine?

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Mustafa Barghouti. (53 minutes, 32 mb mp3) Ask Palestinians why there is no Gandhi in their movement, and often the answer comes: but there are several, and Mustafa ...

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Mustafa Barghouti. (53 minutes, 32 mb mp3)

Ask Palestinians why there is no Gandhi in their movement, and often the answer comes: but there are several, and Mustafa Barghouti should be recognized more widely as one of them.

A medical doctor, born in Jerusalem in 1954, trained both in the old Soviet Union and in the US, he is the advocate of a strong, non-violent push to a two-state deal with Israel. He got his break in the show biz of American opinion last Fall on the Daily Show. His B. D. S. campaign this Spring in the world press and on American campuses stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to bring the pressure of international attention and law on the Israeli government.

Mustafa Barghouti has set his own course in the famous Barghouti family and in Palestinian politics. With Edward Said and others in 2002, Mustafa Barghouti helped found the Palestinian National Initiative. He was the Initiative’s candidate (and ran second to Mahmood Abbas) to succeed Yasir Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005. His Initiative banner waves for “a truly democratic and independent ‘third way’ for the large majority of silent and unrepresented Palestinian voters, who favour neither the autocracy and corruption of the governing Fatah party, nor the fundamentalism of Hamas.” In a long conversation at Brown’s Watson Institute yesterday, Dr. Barghouti seemed a model of the old virtues: patience, long-suffering, gentleness and a certain deep enthusiasm.

There isn’t any place in the world where apartheid is so systematic as it is today in Palestine… You are talking about a situation where we the Palestinians are prevented from using all our main roads because they are exclusive for Israelis and Israeli Army and Israeli settlers. This did not happen even during the segregation time in the [United] States. People could not use the same bus or same restaurant. But here you can’t use the same road even. I am an elected Member of Parliament. I ran for president in Palestine; I was second in the presidential race. I was born in Jerusalem. I worked as medical doctor, as a cardiologist, in a very important hospital in Jerusalem for 15 years. And since five years I am prevented, like 98 percent of the Palestinians, from entering Jerusalem. If I am caught in Jerusalem, I could be sentenced to seven years in jail.

This is unbelievable. You have a situation where a husband and a wife cannot be together. If a husband is from Jerusalem and his wife is from the West Bank, or the opposite, they cannot live together. Because if the husband or the wife comes to the West Bank they lose their ID, they lose their residency. And the wife or the husband from the other side cannot be granted citizenship in Jerusalem. We have never seen a situation where a country occupies a city like East Jerusalem and then declares the citizens of the city — who have lived there for hundreds, and some of the families for thousands of years — “temporary residents.” And if one of them goes out to study at Brown for five years for instance, they would lose their residency. This is what you see are acts of ethnic cleansing.

There isn’t a place in the world where officially the policy is, if I have a person with a heart attack and I need to get him to a hospital in Jerusalem or in Israel, I have to get a military permit from a coordinator in the military headquarters. And this can take hours or days, or it can not be granted at all. I’ve had patients die in front of my eyes because I could not get them through the checkpoints. We had 80 women who had to give birth at checkpoints, and 30 of them lost their babies. And to me, the fact that a woman cannot give birth in a dignified manner, and having to give birth in front of foreign soldiers out in the street, is equal to the utmost injustice. Tell me, where does that happen anywhere in the world? And this is happening by a country that is claiming that it is a democracy and that it is civilized. And by people that have had suffering in the past. I mean, that’s what amazes me, you know. People who understand how terrible it is to be discriminated against…

So we ask ourselves: how do we make the Israelis change their minds? How do we convince them to stop the oppressive system which is hurting our future and their future? …We have to make their system of occupation painful; and we have to make their system of occupation costly. This can be done through only two ways: either you turn to violence, which I totally disagree with, I don’t believe in and I think is counterproductive; or you turn to non-violence and mobilizing international pressures on Israel, as people did in the case of the apartheid system in South Africa. If it wasn’t for the divestment sanctions campaign in the 80s and 90s we would never have seen the apartheid system fall apart in South Africa, simply because the balance of forces between the regime and the people is so big in the interest of the regime. We have the same situation in Palestine. That’s why I speak about divestment and sanctions to encourage non-violence. This is the only way we make non-violent resistance succeed, by having an international component, especially in the United States. We are not talking about boycotting Israel, or Israeli people. We are talking about boycotting occupation and about divestment from occupation and military industry that is exploiting people, that is destroying people’s lives and that is consolidating an apartheid system. So we are calling for divestment from occupation and apartheid and injustice…

Let’s say we have a Palestinian state and an Israel state. This will make many Israelis calmer because they will not be afraid about the Jewish nature of Israel as a state, although 20 percent of its citizens are Palestinian today. Eventually there will be cooperation between the Palestinian state and the Israeli state, economically, say. I don’t see a problem with us and Israel joining the European Union together, for instance. But Israel has to answer a bigger question.

I mean, Israel is not an island in the ocean. Israel is an island in the Middle East. What we have so far is an Israeli government that is always in conflict with others. They seek conflict, in my opinion, and they use this conflict to justify oppression of Palestinians, and to justify a lack of solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. First it was the Soviet Union: they could not make a solution because a Palestinian state would be closer to the Soviet Union, for instance – or with Egypt which was at that time closer to the Soviet Union. Then it was the problem of Egypt and Syria, and then they had peace with Egypt and ceasefire with Syria. They had a problem with Iraq. Today they speak about Iran. Tomorrow if Iran is no problem they probably will start speaking about Azerbaijan. They keep looking for an external justification for a problem that’s internal.

Many Israelis speak of this. And they ask: in a globalized world when you have economic cooperation, why does Israel want us not to be a democracy? Why did they kill twice already our best experiences developing a democratic system – once in 1976 when we had the first municipatlity elections, and they didn’t like the results. At the time there was no Hamas; at that time Israel was cooperating with Islamic parties against the secular national democratic groups like us. And they killed the results of the 2006 elections which were praised by the United States and the world community as the best democratic elections in the Middle East. You see, I see racism here. Why are Israelis entitled to democracy and Palestinians are not? The question is why are they afraid of us being a democracy? Because we will have a government that cannot be manipulated?

Mustafa Barghouti in conversation with Chris Lydon at Brown’s Watson Institute, April 29, 2010.

Podcast • March 25, 2010

Jared Malsin: the kid next door reports from Bethlehem

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Jared Malsin. (27 minutes, 16 mb mp3) Jared Malsin looks, sounds and writes like your bright and earnest American kid from down the street. Until two months ago, ...

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Jared Malsin. (27 minutes, 16 mb mp3)

Jared Malsin looks, sounds and writes like your bright and earnest American kid from down the street. Until two months ago, he was reporting in the Palestinian Territories for Ma’an News Agency. A dozen voices like his in our ears, telling the day-to-day story of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, might force us to change a cruel, foolish and dangerous misuse of our power in the region. Which must be part of the reason Israeli authorities detained Jared Malsin in January, without charge, kept him in jail for a week and then denied him re-entry into the West Bank.

So he’s cooling his heels back home, and we’re getting to know a model reporter before he’s famous. Three years out of Yale, Jared Malsin is the child of teachers in Hanover, New Hampshire, and a graduate of Hanover High School. After college, his news instinct pointed him to Bethlehem, because “you look to the side of the story that’s not being told.”

… As a journalist your natural inclination is to give voice to people who don’t have a voice. There’s nothing like being on the ground and seeing what’s happening with your own eyes. You can read about the settlements and the wall. It’s another thing to be in Bethlehem, the city I lived in for two and a half years, and see how the wall cuts across the main road to Jerusalem and wraps around the gas station and then cuts between two house and through an olive field and has just completely mangled the city. Something about being there, and seeing it with your own eyes — there’s truth to it that you can’t argue with. The challenge is to get that across in reporting, in writing, in photography or whatever medium you’re working in.

The story in Palestinian these days, Jared Malsin remarks, is not the consuming flap around new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. It’s that four teenagers have been shot by the Israeli Army in the last few days — deaths that will not be explained or investigated. “If you’re on the ground you get a different sense: you can sense the wind shifting and right now I get the sense the conflict is in one of those periods where it’s going to start becoming more violent.”

If you’re living in the West Bank or Gaza, your water gets shut off for a week or ten days at a time, in the summer, routinely. Which means that if you live in a refugee camp in Bethlehem, for a week or ten days in the summer you can’t wash yourself; you can’t wash your children. You can’t take a shower. You can’t cook food. It’s incredibly dehumanizing, but it’s one of these issues you just don’t hear about because there are no explosions going on. It’s one of these daily lived ways that people live occupation. And that’s what I think the real meaning of it is… Those are the stories I’m interested in.

Where, I wondered, is the Palestinian Gandhi between the warring Fatah and Hamas factions?

People ask me that question a lot: ‘where is the Palestinian Gandhi?’ My response is that he’s in jail. There are lots of people who are champions of non-violent modes of political protest. Palestinians have a huge tradition of non-violence. They protest every day, every week, in the West Bank, everywhere, and in Gaza also. Most of the tradition of Palestinian resistance to occupation has been non-violent, and yet most of those people who are leading those protests wind up in Israeli prisons, most of them. Boycott campaigns, protest marches, all the same techniques used by the Civil Rights movement in this country, Palestinians are always using today. But they’re met with tremendous violence.

Jared Malsin in conversation with Chris Lydon at Brown, March 24, 2010.

One of those might-be Gandhis, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, was scheduled to speak at Brown this week until his US visa was unaccountably held up. When he gets here, we’ll ask for a conversation.

Podcast • August 5, 2009

Jeff Klein’s Excellent Adventure in Gaza

Jeff Klein’s excellent adventure this summer was a mission to Gaza, the Palestinian beachhead between Egypt and Israel, to witness resilience, as he says, amidst horrific destruction. From Jones Hill in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Jeff Klein ...

Jeff Klein’s excellent adventure this summer was a mission to Gaza, the Palestinian beachhead between Egypt and Israel, to witness resilience, as he says, amidst horrific destruction. From Jones Hill in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Jeff Klein is a retired machinist and union leader. He’s an almost regular working-class hero from the heart of the Boston melting-pot, with a highly irregular susceptibility to strangers and suffering, and a need to see things for himself.

He was going to a place that most of us Americans have chosen, or been persuaded, to put out of mind. It’s part of the charm of Jeff Klein’s voice to get us there matter-of-factly: The Gaza Strip, he notes, has roughly the size, shape and sandiness (and roughly ten times the population) of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. But his great gift is his eye for the human essentials.

Most of his fellow-travelers on this trip were Palestinian-Americans. Mohammed, an environmental consultant from Illinois, was going to see his 90-year-old mother in Gaza. Abu Raouf, who called himself Ralph, was going from Tampa to see his mother and brother. The most heart-rending story was about Maher, an engineer in Kansas City who’d left his American family in Gaza before the warfare last year.

And then the siege began, and his family, all American citizens, were effectively trapped in Gaza. They could not get out. And he was going both to see them – he had not seen them in over a year, and to try and bring them out… At the border there was this horrific confrontation. Here he was with his wife and small children, and told that they couldn’t leave. He could leave, but they couldn’t leave… In the end, he decided the only thing he could do was leave himself, and hope to go to Cairo and make some arrangements to get some pressure from the U.S. embassy to get them out. He was in tears, his children were hysterical. The oldest one looked to be 11 or 12. This was our departure from Gaza.

Jeff Klein in conversation with Chris Lydon, Boston, July 30, 2009.


The beauty of the human voice is that your ears can judge the authenticity of Jeff Klein’s story. He’s tried it on the neighbors:

My neighbors are curious – they say, you went to Gaza, why? To people who aren’t politically active it’s something odd, something out of the ordinary. So it takes a little bit of explaining, but people you have a relationship with, your neighbors, they’re prepared to listen to you in a way they wouldn’t otherwise… My neighbor knows now that his tax money is going to buy bombs to kill people in Gaza. And he doesn’t like it. And that’s the reaction I generally have: if you can get their ear, when you talk to people about it, I find they’re universally understanding and sympathetic about this issue, because as human beings there’s an empathy we have with people who are suffering. And if you make them human, people will respond as human beings. For people to accept the brutality against other people, part of it requires not considering them fully human. As human beings, we can’t be that cruel to people whose humanity we recognize.

Jeff Klein in conversation with Chris Lydon, Boston, July 30, 2009.

It seems to Jeff Klein “a miracle,” and a tangible reality, that the Palestinians have been able to sustain their national identity through generations of hardship and diaspora around the world.

And the second and third generations in the United States who’ve never even been to Palestine have this strong sense of identity with the land of their ancestors. It’s a little bit ironic that in some ways the Palestinians of today are what the Jews were of yesterday… Adversity has made them stronger… Soomood is an Arabic word that you’ll learn if you go to the West Bank. Soomood means steadfastedness, sticking to it. They have that, and they have kind of a determination and a calmness about it which is quite remarkable. Whenever I visit the West Bank, and I have friends there, I always feel like I’m the angriest person on the scene among my Palestinian friends… They’re in it for the duration, and getting angry doesn’t help. So they’re calm and determined. I’m more of an American – we want instant gratification. And I’m furious – every time I get to an Israeli checkpoint with my friends and see what people undergo, I’m angry, but they’re calm and steadfast. Of course, if they get angry it could cost them their lives – it’s a different situation for me, I have my american passport to protect me and they don’t.

Jeff Klein in conversation with Chris Lydon, Boston, July 30, 2009.

Jeff Klein finds it “almost embarrassing” to have found so much joy in a journey through a lot of misery and pain. Slow paperwork and delays let him digress to the pyramids at Giza and to the desk and chair of the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy in Alexandria. Jeff had a copy of Cavafy’s poems along for the ride, and the Egyptian caretaker at Cavafy’s house inscribed it:

From a human being who was born in an area which is turbulent and full of problems, who has struggled since birth with bad news every day, and I keep asking myself how long I will be hearing bad news, I found the answer with common sense and logic: that each human should respect the other regardless of ethnicity, color or belief. God has created us to choose. He didn’t create to choose for us. All the thanks to Mr. Jeff in the path of goodness and love.

Inscription by Mohammed El Said in Jeff Klein’s book of Cavafy poems, July 2009.

“Can you beat that?” Jeff says. “I feel blessed.”