Category: Law

Multiply and Divide Using Scientific Notation, a poem by David Garyan

06/02/2022
Trento, Italy

 

Multiply and Divide Using Scientific Notation

Only scientists should seriously discuss science,
meaning Judith Butler should stop talking gender.

Only psychologists should seriously discuss psychology,
meaning Harold Bloom should’ve stopped talking behavior.

Only historians should seriously discuss history,
meaning Stephen Greenblatt should forget the history of ideas.

Be an expert only in yourself.

Specialize. Divide. Categorize.

If you’re white, feel only your pain.
If you’re black, do the same.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Social Media Gestapo and NKVD: Djokovic and Meat Loaf, an article by David Garyan

23/01/2022
Trento, Italy

 

Social Media Gestapo and NKVD: Djokovic and Meat Loaf

Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful
Friedrich Nietzsche

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently signed a decree stating that from February 1st, a Super Green Pass will be required to access all forms of public transport, along with bars and restaurants (indoors and outdoors), theaters, cinemas, stadiums, gyms, and so on. A Super Green Pass can only be attained through vaccination, or through recovery after testing positive for COVID. In other words, negative tests will no longer work. In an unprecedented move, people will now also be required to have the basic Green Pass to access banks and post offices. The question is why? Why this disproportionate response?

Not long ago, the good Prime Minister went on record saying the following: “Most of the problems we are facing today depend on the fact that there are unvaccinated people.” That’s very funny. Of course, in a so-called democracy it’s easy to blame people who, for whatever reason, decide they don’t want to do something the state tells them. Let’s admit many of those “dissidents” have no legitimate reason to avoid the vaccine. If we admit the aforementioned, however, let’s also acknowledge that when a state doesn’t give you the right to have ownership over your own body—to have a choice—then that state isn’t really free. Even if a government forces its individuals to do something which is ultimately beneficial for them, it’s not freedom—it’s merely efficient autocracy. Dictatorship with benefits. An amusement park you loved in the beginning, but now you can’t leave it. Essentially a prison, but it’s not a prison: Everything inside it is nice and merry, but even if you’ve had your fun, you have to stay. It’s all for your own good.

Draghi’s word’s are pathetic, cheap, and disingenuous. He should pick on someone his own size. Since the 19th century, Italy has been dealing with a pandemic far worse than COVID—a virus the government itself has been complicit in spreading. It has suffocated the majority of rural communities in the south. It dominates almost every important sector of Italian life in places like Naples, Palermo, and Calabria. We’re talking about an epidemic that controls anywhere from 0.7 percent to 1.7 percent of the country’s GDP, according to Reuters, and Andrea Orlando, Italy’s former justice minister, respectively.

While 0.7 and 1.7 percent may seem miniscule, we’re talking about Italy’s entire GDP, which is roughly 1.8 trillion, meaning the figure amounts to anywhere between 13 to 18 billion USD. To make things even clearer, the whole GDPs of countries like Armenia, Albania, and Georgia, for example, are about that much—13, 15, and 16 billion, respectively. Essentially, what we’re saying is the following: If the ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra, and Cosa Nostra were to join forces, their collective profits could amount to bankrolling an entire country like the one in which I was born—Armenia. That’s the real problem. The more unfortunate fact, however, is really this one: “The UN has a target for countries to spend 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA).” What? Developed western democracies who’ve colonized and plundered the globe only have a duty to set aside less than one percent of their whole GDP to developing poor countries? Excellent. Well done.

It’s good to know countries like the UK, in 2013, “achieved this target for the first time.” Unfortunately, the UK also has a problem: “Since 2015, the Government has also been under a statutory duty to meet it. However, citing the economic impact of the pandemic, the Government will spend 0.5% of GNI for ODA in 2021 as a ‘temporary measure.’ NGOs have said the reduction undermines the Government’s intentions to prioritise global health and girls’ empowerment.” Politicians. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Draghi is a man of politics, but we shouldn’t hold it against him. We should, however, criticize him for being a coward—a poltroon of the biggest proportions. A bully who acts tough and picks on weak kids to make himself feel strong. The real problem, Mr. Prime Minister, isn’t the unvaccinated—the real problem is government. For over a hundred years, honest, hardworking citizens in your country have been silenced, harassed, and even killed, because pestilence roams the land, and government has not only been unable to stamp it out, many within it have done a great deal to proliferate the disease. Exceptions exist. There are heroic Falcones and Borsellinos today, and the American role in bolstering the problem after WWII as a strong bulwark against communism must also be mentioned.

It seems, however, that people have forgotten the ‘90s. Mani pulite is an Italian expression meaning “clean hands,” but it’s often used to describe the scandal that rocked the country—no, it had nothing to do with a shortage of hand sanitizer during the flu season. Mani pulite was a nationwide corruption campaign that, along with the downfall of the USSR, contributed to bringing down the First Republic. Countless political parties disappeared. Many individuals committed suicide as a result of the controversies. Naturally, things like this happen everywhere.

I have used Italy only as an example because the phrase Mani pulite is so appropriate to the occasion. If Draghi was a real tough guy, he would go after people his own size—organizations that can bankroll small countries—instead of poor, little, irresponsible anti-vaxxers. They aren’t Italy’s problem, and neither are they the world’s. The planet, if you haven’t noticed, is going to shit. It has bigger things to worry about. As people in Africa are dying of hunger, why doesn’t any country donate ten percent of their GDP? More pertinently, when Ebola and Avian influenza were tearing through Africa, why did no one care to lift a finger? Aha. When the pandemics begin to hit the privileged class, it’s time to “really” protect ourselves. Vaccines, boosters, high-grade masks, and the whole nine yards, really.

Why is it so hard for people to accept the following? While government and science have done many great things, they have mostly failed to contain this pandemic. In the beginning, we were told to quarantine, and this would solve the problem—it didn’t. Then we were told to quarantine again, and this didn’t do it either. Quarantines are now a thing of the past—like the Sony Walkman or the floppy disk. Then it was the salvation of vaccines. Hallelujah, Sweet Jesus! How we all waited for that! Finally, an end to the madness! Science the Savior had arrived. And then the vaccines didn’t really work either (I admit—that’s a bit dishonest). Vaccines did minimize the effects of COVID, drastically reducing the death toll, but their use isn’t sustainable. Their potency is pathetic months after inoculation, meaning constant boosters are needed.

The problem is that the “effectiveness” of vaccines is misleading. Effective? Yes, but for how long? If COVID were to go on for five more years, let’s say, you could no longer rely on vaccines—you would need a course of 10-15 booster shots just to make it to the end, and it’s almost certain no medical study would uphold such a vaccination campaign. So, the disciples of science are merely lucky—they can say their miracles are helping to end the pandemic because if it were to go on for much longer, their Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca would become more useless than the holy water they love to ridicule. The most important question, however, is the following: Why is the situation at its worst precisely now—when cases are sky-high—almost a year after the vaccines were developed? That’s a bit ridiculous. It’s like inventing the electric car to clean up pollution and ending up with more pollution after everyone begins driving them.

Having said all that, the point of the article is neither Draghi nor Italy. The point is our obsessive need to self-police—to self-arrest, even. Before it was the state that assumed all the burdens of tracking and “correcting” deviant behavior. In Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany that was the NKVD and Gestapo, respectively. Citizens occasionally denounced their fellow compatriots, but it was largely the state that utilized its political machinery to achieve total obedience. Today, the work of the state has become easier. Fellow citizens themselves log into Facebook and post all kinds of stupid, logically fallacious propaganda, not worthy of the latest edition of Pravda. What they love to do most of all, however, is to go after the illustrious personalities—the ones who refuse to acquiesce to the state. Most recently? Djokovic and Meat Loaf.

Why do people do this? It seems the need stems from a desire to bring some relevance into their own worthless existences. Their whole lives have been wasted sitting on a couch. They have eaten the frozen TV dinners and watched the sitcom reruns. Now they feel a need to display their accomplishments. The problem is they have none, and so they impose their benevolence on all of society. Naturally, their own meaningless being pales in comparison to the stature of Djokovic and Meat Loaf, and so they feel compelled to market the only achievement they have—bending over and letting the state stick it in.

The media, too, is clever. It capitalizes on the psychological need we have to see people suffer—especially if these people have achieved more than we have. All our lives we’ve been rejected, unable to realize our goals, to be recognized for our work, to travel and have people admire us—indeed, there’s a certain satisfaction to be had in seeing these “privileged” people suffer as well. That’s, in fact, the very same attitude which brought communism to Russia: Look at these privileged noblemen—we have nothing and they have everything. After all, how difficult could it be to ridicule this?

I admit I too felt a certain sense of pleasure hearing the news about Djokovic. Then I analyzed what I had felt. Being honest with myself, I saw how the reaction was driven by my own shortcomings—by my inability to have achieved similar levels of greatness.

The problem is that we’re too pathetic to accept the difficult truth: As Westerners who shout about rights, democracy, and body ownership, it’s really people like Djokovic who are our heroes, but we don’t want them to be our heroes. What we really want is to be Djokovic. To have the same recognition. To have accomplishments on that level. To have the same platform to speak. To have our voices heard. To exercise one’s rights in the way we want. What do I mean? Djokovic is someone who has attained such a level of success that missing an Australian Open—while unfortunate—will not keep him from being remembered as one of the greatest tennis players ever. While the Australian state may shut him down, deny him entry, and harass him, he can still exercise his individuality. He can stand firm. He can act in accordance with his beliefs, suffering the consequences but nevertheless standing firm. We can’t.

We’re proud activists, promoters of democracy, passionate defenders of human rights—only one thing stands in our way: The state has us by the balls. Go ahead. Try to refuse vaccination. You will lose your job. This will force you to live off our savings (those more fortunate will have them). Once those savings dwindle, you’ll be out on the street. You neither have the capital nor the platform to do what Djokovic did—to stand up for your beliefs. So you go after the guy who can. Essentially, you become the arm of the state. That’s what Facebook has grown to be—a cesspool of the vilest stupidity known to man. An online network of Stalinist apparatchiks and Gestapo forces patrolling the ether, hell-bent on punishing any and all deviance.

When Aaron Rodgers tried to stand up for his beliefs, social media grilled him because he had lied. “He should’ve just been honest,” was what many on the internet said. Then athletes like Djokovic were honest, but that wasn’t good enough either. All this, finally, brings me to Meat Loaf.

Meat Loaf is dead. He was an anti-vaxxer. He was a Republican. So what? I would rather have hung out with him than any of the Don Smiths on Facebook with their despicable opinions and poorly designed Microsoft Paint propaganda posters. God, I hate those.

What, really, have those Joe Blows done? Meat Loaf was a rock legend. He had way too many accomplishments to be sitting in front of a screen posting poorly made images on social media. I loved his songs, and I will continue to love them. I wish he’d been vaccinated so he could’ve lived longer, but that’s a choice he made. His decision was part of the totality that made him who he is.

And what about Djokovic? He couldn’t have been Djokovic, if, along with his greatness, he also didn’t have the irresponsible beliefs that come from the same source. We must accept him in his totality. For example, why are surgeons, soldiers, and pilots often numb to other people’s feelings? Because many times their inherently “negative” traits are also what allow them to be good at their jobs—it’s the very source from where the talent originates to begin with. Djokovic and Meat Loaf are and were unique individuals—one a world class athlete, the other a bad boy rock star. If your body works at levels far higher than the average one, perhaps you should have more agency over it, and perhaps you will be more afraid of “tampering” with its “configuration.”

For Meat Loaf, he was just a rebel—this helped him become who he is, and unfortunately it also led to his death. We make choices every day. We make choices that affect the course of our lives. I would think that in a Western democracy, it’s perhaps important to try and preserve the ability to choose whenever possible.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He received a master’s degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage from the University of Bologna. He lives in Trento.

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis, Poet and Human Rights Activist, interviewed ...


Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis, Poet and Human Rights Activist

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Click here to read Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis’s contribution to Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

 

DG: Your work deals heavily with the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Recent escalations in the region have contributed to rising tensions, both in the emotional and physical sense. While rants and diatribes may be a common feature on the news, poetry is a timeless art and requires, often, days, weeks, months, if not years of contemplation before a writer can successfully address any given topic. How do you, hence, deal with the schism on an immediate emotional level, and, yet, at the same time, find the composure to put this plight onto paper?

LZZ: While growing up in downtown Detroit, then the suburb Redford Township, Michigan, and subsequently in Noe Valley, San Francisco, in the early ’70s, my parents did not educate me on our history, the politics around the “Question” of Palestine, which includes the displacement of our people as a result of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also the “right to return.” The historic lands of Palestine have now been under Israeli control for seven decades, and although we’re now dealing with “recent” escalation in the region, such escalations, violence, and turmoil are constant variables under the extremely oppressive and uncompromising regime. It’s possible to do a separate interview on this topic alone, so I won’t ramble on about the conflict (a term which seems rather inaccurate because of the military supremacy which Israel has over Palestine), and the brutal and racist policies imposed on Palestinians by the state of Israel—policies which many Israelis themselves criticize. I would urge readers to think critically and learn the “other” story through books, blogs, articles, and websites. There is a sea of misinformation on the web, and trolls do not help the matter, so the best sources are books and reputable online sites. There are many Israeli revisionist historians doing good work on the topic—Ilan Pappé and Avi Shlaim, just to name a couple. It is not easy being Palestinian, and not easy to write about Palestine/Israel without feeling tormented, angry, and desolate; however, it is the suffering, creativity, and resilience of my people that has kept me motivated; it has inspired me to write and publish my poetry, and to endure chronic agony, which really is inevitable for all poets, at least in my view. It is poets who speak for the dispossessed, underrepresented, oppressed, and silenced. That is not a task/journey/undertaking I chose really, but I feel like it chose me—the poetry and the activism that is. Ultimately, I have accepted my role, my calling, if you will, as I do believe in God, and the power of the universe. I also believe that one person can make an impact. Collectively an impact is phenomenal, but I do strongly believe in every person doing his or her part, working for the common good; all this can help bring about positive change—not only in one’s self, but universally. I don’t buy into the lazy ideology—that apathy-filled cop out when people say: “I am helpless. My words and actions alone can’t bring about positive change.” Or when they say: “I don’t like or engage in politics.” I also do not believe that everything is in “God’s hands,” so to say. We need to take charge of our own individual fate, as much as each individual can—using any creativity, any power we can muster. I also believe that God often gives us challenges we are strong enough to survive! If God believes we can handle some challenges, he assigns them to us, and it is our duty as humans to persevere—however grueling and burdensome the challenges may be. Why does this seem like a parable? I am not a student of theology, but I have a keen intuition, and I am quite spiritual. Given that there is constant violence and aggression in the Holy Land, there is always something to write about; poetry, to answer your question, must work to break down stereotypes and dispel myths about this difficult, skewed, and emotionally charged topic. If only mainstream Western media could be as honest and brave as poets, peace could arrive sooner. And still, those media outlets, journalists, and writers who dare to speak out truthfully deserve all the praise they get, because their job carries with it many risks.

The human rights violations associated with Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its aggressive settlers policies, along with the lack of knowledge about the hidden and silenced Palestinian narrative, not to mention the constant, wide-spread propaganda, creating a sort of informed apathy here in the US—and elsewhere—has taken a huge toll on my physical and emotional health. It is not easy work—Palestinian solidarity, working towards peace, towards justice even, and the writing, of course. Some Palestinians are not as affected, but personally, I live and breathe Palestine and Israel, and I feel the suffering in every part of my physical and mental being. I would like to see a one-state solution—to see all people of the Holy Land live together in a homeland, but this will only occur if the US and the other major superpowers hold Israel accountable for its wrongdoings, but also put pressure on the Palestinian leadership as well, oblige them to uphold agreements, if and when they are offered/presented in such a way to include the many critical and necessary tenets for a viable and long lasting Palestinian existence, sovereignty, and self-determination—to ensure contiguous portions of lands, with adequate resources, freedom of movement, and sustainability, with the ability to grow and thrive as a nation of a free people like most others. We need the global community to act as honest brokers—willing to accept the terms from both sides fairly, objectively, realistically, and especially, we need the international community to acknowledge that the indigenous people of the land—all indigenous people of that land—are human beings and deserve respect; they deserve dignity and basic human rights. The US is the most powerful country in the world, and it is also Israel’s biggest ally; ultimately, it has made no consistent or even significant attempts to solve the conflict. Furthermore, other major powers, like the EU and The Arab League, have really not made any substantial attempts either—everyone has an agenda and the sacrificial lamb is the Palestinian. We have evolved as humans, perhaps, but our evolution on the political level is almost non-existent, in my opinion. That is very sad to me. Powerful countries love to give hand-outs and put bandages on problems—offering mainly lip service and unrealized rhetoric, but they do not get to the root of the problem, to solve it holistically and sustainably. I believe this conflict could be solved very easily if politicians had more compassion, vision, courage, and the political will to solve it. Incidentally, there is much written on the topic of a one state solution, as the two-state solution is no longer a reality, and perhaps never was—that topic is for another day.

I am extremely sensitive about the suffering of Palestinians. I deal with my emotions by writing about them and then reading my work in public, when I get the chance. Publishing also helps, along with working as an activist to heighten awareness through my art—I draw stamina from the desire to improve my country’s situation. Ultimately, I empathize with all human suffering. In this respect, I do feel upset and angry when an Israeli is either hurt or killed; at the same time, through my art and poetry, I am trying to convey that the violence against Palestinians is largely ruthless and always disproportionate. In other words, we do not have an Iron Dome (capable of intercepting ninety percent of incoming rockets), sophisticated military equipment, and the backing of the strongest country in the world. There is criticism on the other side as well, but mostly it’s the military disparity between our nations, and how, ultimately, that disparity allows the stronger power to encroach further on our land; it’s this erasure of our voices and culture that bothers us. My aim is to bring attention to this plight, reveal the violent, racist, and oppressive policies that worsen as we speak, without impunity for the perpetrator. B’Tselem is an Israeli human rights organization that has done a lot of work to document the atrocities. Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, is another one. There are many, but to keep it short, I only mention two.

DG: At the moment, you’re working on a science fiction novel, along with God’s Hill and an Angel In Her Midst, a collection of vignettes about your mother’s life in Palestine, and a book about your brother’s mental illness, My name is Ten O’Clock. Without giving too much away about either project, it would be fascinating to hear a little bit about each endeavor. Are you working on them concurrently, or do you focus on each one separately for a while and then move on to the next?

LZZ: Unfortunately, I am not a full-time writer, as I have two jobs which take up enormous time and energy, both during the day and in the evening. My husband, David, was born in the USA, with 100% Greek heritage/ethnicity. We have worked together in our family business, which was founded by his parents in 1967, for 38 years. I have raised two children, and for the past five years have been caring for my mother in my home, along with assisting in the care of two siblings for most of my adult life. If I had been writing and publishing full-time all these years, I would have published a larger body of work, but life has its own way of making decisions for you, even if you are a good decision maker yourself. Moreover, I am my own worst critic. Although I began writing poetry at the age of thirteen, and subsequently began publishing my work in the ’70’s and ’80’s, I am kind of a closet writer, as I have hundreds upon hundreds of unpublished poems and prose pieces. My goal going forward is to submit more to literary journals, and  publish my poetry anthology, Faces—The Nine Stations of Pain and Joy. I am grateful to Interlitq for publishing four of my poems online, as prior to that publication, I had little online presence. I am fortunate to have been published in fourteen anthologies, and to have released a chapbook of my own from in the late 80’s. Sadly, I do not spend much time on my craft, and that is not by choice; rather it has to do with life constantly taking over. I hope all this will change when I retire. The good thing is that I do get invited to read quite often, and I vowed to myself decades ago, that I would produce new work for readings, or at least, edit old pieces; that has been a good habit, and it has kept me in the creative loop—in a productive way. Not having enough time for my writing makes me melancholy, but I do the best I can, without beating myself up too much about it. Retirement will help me dedicate more time to my craft. I am contemplating, also, returning to college, something I did a few years ago, but this will not be easy in the midst of a pandemic. Several years ago, I took two classes with Tupelo Press, and this has helped me further hone my skills. I consider myself a late bloomer. I also do sketches and have a general interest in art—scribble art, pencil and pen art, and watercolors as well. I do have a children’s poetry collection I would like to publish someday, but that is last on the totem pole. I helped develop and teach children’s poetry workshops for a few years, at a local elementary/middle school.

Regarding God’s Hill and an Angel in her Midst, I have been documenting my mother’s stories for decades, and I am weaving together a collection from her storytelling. The book will begin from her birth in 1932, up to our departure from Palestine in 1964. God’s Hill is the name given to the town I was born in, Ramallah. My mother is a hardworking, loving, selfless, kind, caring and a remarkably strong woman, who has had an unbelievably difficult life; she inspires me daily and is my role model. From her I’ve learned and continue to receive perseverance, unconditional love, hard work, and resilience. She never complains and has endured unbelievable hardship since birth. This is a story I am longing to tell. She touches everyone she meets in a special way, and will turn 90 in March. I began this project as vignettes based on true stories, sprinkled with my imagination, along with facts and events from our lives. I have many original vintage documents and photos to be included. Below is my mother’s birth certificate.

I want this book to weave in also stories of Palestine, to make it truly a piece of historical fiction. During an extended visit many years ago, I conducted a lot of research in Ramallah, and did some research in places where relatives reside. My mother’s Alzheimer’s has in many ways been a blessing in disguise because she is living in the past and her memory from the past is excellent—much better, in fact, than her pre-Alzheimer’s recollections. Her Arabic vocabulary doubled, so I am learning a lot, even though I already speak colloquial Arabic. Each day she blurts out a new word or phrase I have not heard before. It is remarkable to witness the mind with dementia. Here, a photo of me as a one-year-old.

Many years ago, I completed a historical fiction children’s book, which still needs to be published. After 9-11 I feared writing political poetry as an Arab American, so I changed genres for a while. I wanted to write a series of books for young readers, on the subject of the ancient world. I asked a friend to collaborate with me. We wrote Asham and the Smart Ox, a work about the Natufians who lived in ancient Jericho about 10,000 years ago. Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world, and, in fact, my family lived in this amazing and historic town. I am, hence, hoping to find a publisher for my project soon.

I tend to work on many things at once. I love the writing—all of it, all the genres, but do not care for the administrative, technical, and business side of the enterprise. Luckily, I have a fantastic friend/neighbor, Carmel, who is a life saver and helps me with the technical aspects of formatting and also the submission process.

With regard to the book I am writing about my little brother Simon, who has tragically been suffering from schizophrenia for three decades, My Name is Ten O’Clock will become a tribute for not only him, but also for all others afflicted with this condition. As is often true with Palestine, people tend to shy away from mental illness as well—it seems fate has chosen me to deal with misunderstood and painful subjects. I already have many poems that will be in this book, but I have not begun writing the actual narrative section yet. I had an older brother who sadly passed away about seven years ago, at the age of 60, and he too suffered most of his adult life with schizophrenia. This horrid and debilitating curse of a malady has no cure. My little brother has an uncanny memory, and supposedly there is a name for the type of memory he has, but that escapes me now. My little brother sings and plays his guitar, mainly to help his auditory hallucinations, and he used to sing to me this tune he’d made up called, “My Name is Ten O’Clock!” I’ve asked to interview him, but he refuses.

DG: You were born in Palestine, but left at a young age for the US with your family. Although each immigrant story is unique, there are nevertheless similarities in the Italian, Irish, Chinese, and German experiences, just as examples. In this respect, what are the challenges and rewards of living as an Arab-American, and how was your own story different and perhaps even similar to what most people either went or go through?

LZZ: In the early stages of our life as immigrants (we arrived in 1964), our challenges were mainly survival—assimilation, finding work, learning the language, getting food on the table, navigating a completely different culture, making friends, and that sort of thing. We had relatives in Detroit, New York, and Florida, so we had support, especially in Detroit, where we first settled. My parents did not drive, so I learned to be very independent and gained the so-called “street smarts” right away; in fact, I was a courageous and adventurous tomboy. I always joke that I was held back in kindergarten because of my poor English. I was five when I arrived in the US, and personally, I have thrived here, despite the many obstacles I have faced—there is enough material to write a separate memoir. It has not been easy living as an immigrant, and especially a Palestinian Arab woman with strong opinions, but also an outgoing, bubbly personality—to be a woman who is seldom shy about confronting issues or topics head on, whether in poetry, activism, or conversation. However, I have had it easier than immigrants who arrived later, at an older age, not having ample time to assimilate, learn English quickly and proficiently. I did not keep my accent, so I appeared and continue to appear American to many, especially since I was not as dark-skinned as some of my family members, relatives, and friends. As a result, I have encountered less racism than others, but nevertheless, racism, discrimination, and the occasional hate mail did not escape my life entirely. I try my best to fit in with my community and circle of friends, but also I have learned that I often feel much happier, more confident when I can simply be myself! I have been blessed to have an amazing and supportive husband who has not stifled my writing, activism, and art, despite the fact that I have so many other responsibilities at work and at home with the kids, and so on. I am extremely fortunate to have such a great support system, my husband and two remarkably productive and creative children. My kids are extremely proud of me, and always give me accolades to encourage and assure me I am on the right path; this helps me stay strong and insightful.

Early on in our life in America, we were taught to say we are “Syrian,” and then much later we began to say “Palestinian.” I don’t know what that was all about, but perhaps it is because of our Orthodox Religion—we are “Syrian Orthodox.” Palestine is part of the Levant region—meaning Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, so perhaps it was natural to just say Syrian. I am not sure if this had anything to do with the negative image of the Palestinian at the time, and the stereotyping that subsequently escalated, especially when, in the early years, there were revolts taking place against the “settlers” coming in from Europe and elsewhere. But such designations as “Syrian” could also have been born out of the desire to “fit in,” to be “liked,” and the fear of being labeled negatively, something people do quickly and easily—with a wide brush stroke. Below, our family in 1964, when I was five (it excludes my father as he was already in the US).

I married a Greek Orthodox man thirty-eight years ago, so religion is one of the few things that has remained constant throughout my life, but I am always proud to say I am a Palestinian. I think being Christian made it easier for me to be an immigrant, as Muslim Arabs have a much harder time—and sadly still do, in America and elsewhere. To this day, it is a constant struggle having to educate people that it is a mistake to automatically assume I am a Muslim when I say I am Palestinian or even Arab. At the same time, this allows me further opportunity to talk about Palestine, Islam, Christianity, Judaism—all of it! People don’t realize they open Pandora’s box when sparking a conversation with me. I have learned when to talk and when to refrain from “opening” up about certain subjects. I enjoy discussing topics related to the Arab World, along with history and religion—taking people’s mind off the labels, racism, and stereotypes. Below, the Zarou family passport from 1964.

Many people do not know that Palestine exists, or what historic Palestine even was, and often people say “Pakistan” when I say Palestine. I am grateful there has been some shifting of the tide in recent years. Social media, citizen reporters, independent journalists, photographers, and filmmakers have helped bring a new perspective to the conflict. Much of our history has been erased from the map—literally. Most say “Israel” when the subject is discussed, but what they should really say is “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” It’s been frustrating trying to educate people that there are Christians, millions of them in fact, in the Arab World. I try not to be presumptuous—it is a simple matter of trying to clarify what most people don’t know. Many people are not educated enough to know about other cultures, religions, traditions, and that is not their fault—if they were not taught this in school or at home. There has been, for decades, I think, a rigorous campaign to stifle activities, students, and professor that want to heighten awareness about Palestinians and their untold, hidden story. Again, that could be another interview.

When I see a wrong, I want to make it right; in this respect, being Arab American and trying to educate people about Palestine has been difficult, and it still is, as most people don’t want to talk about the subject, for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. Propaganda is strong, and when it is repeated over and over again, falsity morphs into a truth. Once that “false” truth is imbedded into one’s psyche, especially a narrow-minded one, it is often impossible to “extract” it out. That is why I strongly believe in critical thinking as a skill that should be taught in every grade, just like math and reading, starting from the first grade with very simple exercises. Fearmongering and brainwashing have worked very well for those interested in creating false narratives discourses which they later spew out to the gullible, ignorant, and likewise ill-informed. People forget that Arabs are a Semitic race too and speak a Semitic language. Judaism is not to be equated with the state of Israel, as I have nothing against any religion or any culture. I was born in the land where three monotheistic religions flourished—not one—and so we are all children of Abraham, as he is the father of these three monotheistic religions. I have Jewish friends and relatives, so being pro-Palestinian is not being anti-American, anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic. I consider myself a pacifist warrior for the common good.

When the US is criticized in relation to Israel’s policies towards Palestine, it is easy for many to stereotype Arab Americans, particularly Palestinians, as being too political, too radical, and too anti-American. I believe, however, that true patriotism is about the ability to offer constructive criticism—to fight for the change one believes in. I try to engage people—to inspire them to be critical thinkers; this is not anti-American—it’s intelligence, patriotism, and ultimately love. Ignorance has been tough to deal with and it’s tough to fight against racism, misinformation, and propaganda because it’s everywhere, consciously and unconsciously hypnotizing minds.

DG: In the late 80’s you did numerous readings in San Francisco with Etel Adnan, the renowned Arab-American poet. She has quite an interesting history and background, to say the least. How did you come to meet her and what was it like to collaborate with her?

LZZ: It is quite remarkable that you ask this question, as I always think about Etel, and how our relationship shaped who I am as a poet and artist. I am so pleased I am able to share this history. Unfortunately, as you know, she recently passed away at a very old age, while I was writing this interview. I missed her last art exhibit (in 2019 at the SF Museum of Modern Art) but I was fortunate enough to attend an art exhibit of hers in the 90’s at Sonoma State University. Her art has truly evolved, as it was much simpler in her earlier days, and she now leaves behind a remarkable collection of stunning art and writings. May her memory be eternal, and it most certainly will, as she has gained enough recognition to be considered one of the most influential artists of our time. She is very well known for her poetry, but also fiction as well. I first met Etel (who is part Lebanese) in the late ’80s when I was invited to read alongside her at Small Press Traffic on 24th Street, in San Francisco. There is actually an advertisement for the reading that was published in The San Francisco Examiner on August 14th, 1988.

Small Press Traffic no longer exists as a brick and mortar location, but still operates as an institution, and, in fact, it gave her an award. On the evening of the reading, I picked up Etel from her home in Sausalito, and drove her home afterwards. I visited her and Simone Fattal (her lifetime partner) at their home. After this, our friendship blossomed and she began to mentor me for some time. I did a few other readings with her over the years, and one was at Stanford—at the invitation of a lifelong friend who still teaches there, Professor Khalil Barhoum. In fact, I ran into Etel in SF at an art exhibit in the late ’80s, and she introduced me to Khalil and Ann, and we have been great friends since. Etel had a big impact on my life as a poet, especially when she made me believe that it is all right to go at your own pace and take your time. I also heard her and Naomi Shihab Nye read SFSU, my university. On numerous occasions, she advised me not to feel bad about not working hard enough, or producing enough; she told me to focus on raising my children and that my time would eventually come. I think of this advice all the time. Etel and I corresponded for a long time—some years more frequently than others, but we always exchanged Christmas cards. Receiving cards from her was so euphoric for me. I recently found out about the Etel Adnan Poetry Series Prize, and will hopefully submit to that someday. Below are some of my correspondences with Etel.


(Monday, August 13th, 1989)

Dear Lorene,

I like your “Embroidered Memory” very much. It’s good you read it at A.A.U.G. There is Poetry Week coming. You should attend the readings. I am in charge of “International Poetry” afternoon: October 21, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Fort Mason, Pier 2 in the new Theatre. It’s about poets born outside the U.S. I will read with them. It will be good that you follow as many events as possible in that week. Herman has the schedules. Do you know the magazine “POETRY FLASH”? It is distributed free. You can get it at bookstore at the beginning of each month at City Lights, among other places. But don’t get dizzy with it, it has too much information, sometimes, and it is anguishing. I am feeling better, although we lost a very dear friend in the Beirut fighting. A rocket hit her room and she died. We’re extremely upset about it. She was one of Simone’s closest friends. Hope you find moments of calm in this maelstrom … How is the little girl? Give her a hug from me.

Hello to David.

Love to you all,

Etel

 


Dear Lorene,

These last days have been hard, but we will not give up. The best way is to do what we can do best; for you, to continue to write. Was happy to see the picture of your daughters. They are beautiful. Athena has grown and the little one is charming. All my wishes for a brand new year. Be well. Wishes for the whole family.

Love,

Etel

 


Dear Lorene,

Palestinians will get peace. They are paying for it in heroic terms. Miriam Kaiya is most welcome to our imperfect Earth. We should see you after the holidays.

MERRY CHRISTMAS for the three of you,

Love,

Etel

DG: Who are some of the Palestinian poets you enjoy reading and which ones would you, firstly, recommend that have already been translated, and, secondly, are there some writers who are still only read in Arabic but deserve a greater audience?

LZZ: The highly celebrated Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, comes to mind immediately. I truly love Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, and one of the poems, “Inside Your On Short Story As I Read to You,” which I published in Interlitq’s Californian Poets is about him. I know the question is about Palestinian poets, but I am in awe of the Lebanese writer Gibran Khalil Gibran. It is my pleasure to say that I have poem about him in my own anthology Inquire Within, published in the late 80’s. In fact, I found a poem that he wrote which is identical to mine. It sounds hard to believe, but this was a true event. It was a spiritual moment for me when I discovered it one day, reading to my mother—Gibran poems on a calendar. I froze and ran to get my poem, and I was astounded. I believe he is my true muse and guardian angel, as I had never read this poem when I wrote my own. The poem I composed is the following:

 

I Know You in Words
—For Khalil Gibran

I am so glad you and I
are here to see and hear
and be

And I am more than glad
that you are you

How lonely I would be
If you were not

 

Here are only a few of the dozens and dozens of Palestinian poets I recommend, Fadwa Tuqan, Samih al-Qasim, Nizar Qabbani, Salma Al-Khadra’ Al-Jayyusi, May Sayegh, Annemarie Jacir, just to name a few. There are so many. In recent years, I have read work by my Palestinian-American colleagues, friends, and poets that have included me in their anthologies, like Naomi Shihab-Nye and Nathalie Handal. I also read other Palestinian American poets like Suheir Haddad, Hala Alyan, Deema Shehabi, Nathalie Khankan, Susan Abulhawa, Philip Metres, Lisa Suair Majaj, and so many more. There are more Palestinian poets that I would like to list but I would fill pages.

DG: In your recent contribution to Interlitq’s feature, Californian Poets, we were very fortunate to receive four poems—three of which dealt with the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in both subtle and direct ways; among these well-written works, however, there was also “Commute Home,” a poem about the beauty of San Francisco and California in general. In this respect, your work is strongly tied to place and belonging, and the challenges of writing about your birth country are immediate and apparent. Despite having lived in the US for most of your life, it’s nevertheless true that most immigrants form different attachments to the people and geography of their new “home.” In other words, they have the privilege of seeing the US from a perspective that native-born people really have no access to. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this, and if, as a poet, you compose in a different mindset when writing about Palestine, as opposed to your second home?

LZZ: Actually I often feel cursed for having been born in a land with so much strife and suffering, and that my life would have been so much simpler had I been born in the US. Having said that, I would not be who I am had I not been born in Ramallah, Palestine; as I mentioned earlier, it’s the strong connection to my land and its people that fuels my creativity. At the same time, I am very fortunate to have experienced life in Michigan, but most importantly, California, as I love California and truly adore the San Francisco Bay Area—it is really the place which has shaped me the most, as I moved here at the age of twelve or so. This area is endowed with natural beauty, wonderful institutions, museums, a vibrant culinary scene, moderate weather, and like-minded individuals. In the Bay Area, it is like living in an artist’s colony—even more, it is like living in one of those old French “salons.” In my younger years, I had more time to mingle with artists, but as I got older and responsibilities began keeping me increasingly homebound, I began to miss the “salon” life of SF. I still do venture out from time to time, but not as much as I used to. I love being out in nature, hiking, exploring, and going to museums. The Bay Area has so much to offer with its stunning landscapes, and the poem “Commute Home” is one of my favorite pieces, expressing the beauty of California while simply driving home and partaking in the spectacular views we’re blessed with.

It was my great fortune to have been dear friends with the late Jack Hirschman, who often invited me to readings, and who was also one of my publishers in the Revolutionary Poets Brigade anthologies. Jack recently passed, and he too was a great supporter of my work, and a mentor too. He was once a poet laureate of SF. I lost two of my mentors a few months apart. I am feeling old. For years, Jack invited me to read annually at Readers Bookstore at Fort Mason Center on the SF Bay, a collaborative reading with the Friends of the SF Public Library. He also invited me to read at the Beat Museum in North Beach and at all the RPB events.


Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis with Jack Hirschman

For a long time, I also read each year at a historic bar in North Beach (and still do), Specs, with the Maintenant Journal out of NY. I read each time I publish in the journal. I really need to venture out, go to museums, literary and music events more often, as that is how I feel more alive and connected to other artists. Covid has made it tough to connect. I have turned down several Zoom readings, as I don’t feel ready enough to read on that platform. Perhaps I will someday. Ultimately, if I had not spent most of my life in America, I would not have met all the wonderful and supportive people that helped me become who I am. Yes, I have two homes, two histories, two cultures, two of almost everything, including two sets of problems, and that’s a double challenge, but as I wrote earlier, I try to not dwell on the problems, but focus on the solution. And I am grateful I can snap out of my negative thoughts, most of the time. Art helps accomplish this.

DG: If you had to recommend one Palestinian dish, what would it be?

LZZ: I have so many that come to mind, but given how I love the smell of sumac on chicken, musakhan is one of my favorites. The chicken is smothered in this tangy, lemony, and burgundy colored spice, along with olive oil and other spices, a ton of onions, also smothered in sumac, then baked atop homemade bread—it is just delicious. It must be topped with toasted pine nuts, of course, to be complete and beautiful—like many other Palestinian dishes. I will never forget the first time I returned to Ramallah, since emigrating here, we ate this delectable dish cooked the best way, in a “taboon.” A taboon is an ancient oven built in biblical times and still used today, and it cooks like no oven can cook. It resembles a fire pizza oven. My grandmother on my father’s side cooked in our taboon, mainly bread. Our family lived with my with paternal grandparents. My mother told me that it is like a full-time job for my grandmother to keep the eternal flame going in the taboon, and to collect so many materials to fuel this fire. The bread is unlike any bread you will taste.

 

About Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis

Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis is a Palestinian-American, born in Palestine and emigrated to the US when she was 5 years old. She is a poet, writer, and human rights and peace activist. She writes poetry, prose, historical fiction for children and adults, short stories, and science fiction. She self-published a poetry chapbook, Inquire Within, and is published in at least 15 literary anthologies—notably, The Poetry of Arab Women, Food for Our Grandmothers, The Space Between our Footsteps, War After War-SF City Lights Review #5, and A Different Path, Radius of Arab-American Writers. She is most currently published in three Revolutionary Poets Brigade anthologies, and three Maintenant Dada Poetry & Art journals. She is currently writing an historical collection of stories about her mother’s life in Palestine, as well as an anthology of poems entitled Faces, the Nine Stations of Pain & Joy. She was a finalist for two poems entered in the 2011 Indie Writing Contest—(Author Solutions, Inc., the San Francisco Writers Conference, and San Francisco University Partner). The anthology, Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by Nathalie Handal, includes two of her poems, and was the Winner of the PEN Oakland Literary Prize.

 

 

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series: Lynne Thompson, Los Angeles Poet Laureate, interviewed by David Garyan


Lynne Thompson

Interlitq’s Californian Poets Interview Series:

Lynne Thompson, Los Angeles Poet Laureate

interviewed by David Garyan

 

Click here to read Lynne Thompson’s contribution to Interlitq’s California Poets Feature

 

DG: It was a great pleasure to hear the news of your selection as LA’s new poet laureate. Given the power of your work and your steadfast connection to the city, it’s hard to think of anyone who deserves this honor more. Along with a discussion of what makes LA such a fascinating literary epicenter, what are some of the initiatives and projects you have begun developing to build on this legacy in your own way?

LT: The first project I launched was a podcast hosted on the L.A. Public Library’s website (lapl.org) as well as Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The podcast is named Poems on Air. Every week, I read the work of a particular poet—some L.A.-based, some not—and give a little background on the poet. It’s been very well-received and that makes it worth all the effort.

I am also in the process of collecting poems written by students in the hopes of publishing them—possibly in e-book form or at a minimum, on the Library’s website.

Finally, as I write this, I’m starting to explore the possibility of reading to and writing about members of L.A.’s senior population in the belief that if we fail to take down these stories, they’ll be irretrievably lost to our culture’s detriment. And of course, I continue to give readings and conduct workshops as often as I can.

DG: Your newest collection, Fretwork, published in 2019, was praised by many individuals, including Major Jackson, who called it a “masterful collection” which will “resonate widely into the 21st century.” This particular work is both highly personal, dealing with adoption, emigration, and the Caribbean identity of your foster parents, but also very near to the heart of all those who’ve lived through similar experiences. While immigrants today, driving from Chicago to Los Angeles, do not have to worry about their journey like your father did in 1930, life, in other respects, nevertheless remains difficult. Do you write with the belief that poetry can be an instrument for change, or is the act of creation a type of remedy for pain?

LT: I think poetry can do both: i.e., bring about a basis for changes that argue for new directions in our culture such as a need to address the effects of climate change, and, in addition, it can supply a recognition of the challenges and pain we all encounter as individuals which must be addressed, such as the subtle—and not-so-subtle racism, homophobia, and discrimination that exists in this country.

DG: Do you find it more difficult to start a poem or to finish it?

LT: On balance, the finishing of a poem presents the greater challenge for me. I start out thinking I have a great idea—and it’s only a “maybe” I do!—and start scribbling away. Then that positivity gives way to a concern that the poem is too didactic, too unfocused, ends with too much of a “skillet” which leaves the reader thinking she’s been hit over the head instead of leaving her with that “ah” feeling, that feeling of sudden and personal recognition. I’m always looking for a way for the reader/listener to feel him-or-herself into what’s being conveyed, to feel there’s more to learn or understanding left to them to discover.

DG: You received a degree in law from Scripps College in 1972 and went on to have a successful career in this field. Many people, subsequently, discouraged your activities as a poet because writing verse is supposedly not what serious adults should do. It’s fortunate that you never shared this view. Indeed, it seems to me that the best laws resemble the most effectively crafted poetry, in that they both attempt to seek the ultimate truth. In this respect, how did your work as a lawyer go on to inform your poetic development, and do you think poetry can be a similarly powerful vehicle for justice as the law?

LT: First, I want to say that I received a BA from Scripps College and a JD from Southwestern Law School. In my case, I can’t say my work as a lawyer informed my poetic development because a lawyer is trying to convince a particular audience of a particular claim whereas a poet seeks to speak her truth as she sees it then leave it to the listener/reader to determine whether or not that truth resonates. I do believe, however, that a poem can be a powerful vehicle for social justice and change. I’m thinking, among others, of Marilyn Nelson’s collection A Wreath for Emmett Till, or the poems in Carolyn Forché’s anthology Against Forgetting, or the political poems of Pablo Neruda, Nazim Hikmet, Kofi Awoonor, and Wisława Szymborska.

DG: Wallace Stevens once said, “Money is a kind of poetry,” while Robert Graves said, “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.” If we substituted “money” with “law,” would you side with Stevens or Graves? In other words, do you believe in poetic justice or is all justice poetic?

LT: Can’t we have both poetic justice and a justice that’s poetic?

DG: If you were tasked (let’s say by a mysterious stranger) to write the quintessential poem about LA, would it be more difficult to compose a short piece or long one, and why?

LT: If it’s going to be “quintessential,” it would be harder for me to compose a short piece for so many reasons, including the physical size and geographical layout of the City. And a subcategory that grows from that physicality is the labyrinthine ribbons of highways that challenge all but the most knowledgeable of drivers, but are a necessary evil. It might take several poems to write about the Hollywood, Santa Monica, Santa Ana, San Diego Freeways (as well as the “smaller” freeways I haven’t mentioned!) I’ve only tried one: “Red Jasper.”

Another important feature of the City is its substantial diversity. At one time, I read that there were more than 140 languages spoken in L.A. and we see those languages and cultures reflected in the restaurants, shopping venues, and cultural offerings available across the City. For these reasons and so many others, L.A. deserves nothing less than a crown sonnet to capture its matchlessness!

DG: Where in LA would someone find the most overwhelmingly beautiful place? The one that would require ten pages of poetry.

LT: If you were to ask 10 different people, you’d get 10 different answers but two of the places that I find quintessentially (there’s that word again) L.A., and which I love, are the Griffith Park Observatory and the Getty Center. On clear days, you can take in almost all of the City from different vantage points as well as the Pacific Ocean. Plus, the physical grounds at both are stunning. Oh, and I have to include the Watts Towers created by Simon Rodia, a truly unique feature of the City. At least 10 pages of poetry is needed for each!

DG: On the other hand, where’s the quietest, most understated location? The one so abundant with the beauty of silence that wasting superfluous words on it would be a sin.

LT: The Exposition Park Rose Garden. Centrally located, adjacent to the Natural History Museum, and easily accessible by public transportation, is a space that’s almost cathedral-like in the silence it commands and the beauty in the variety of roses there is beyond stunning. Period.

DG: Would the world be a safer, more comforting place with poets who tell white lies, or lawyers who communicate inconvenient truths?

LT: Now you’ve put me on a spot between my two loves! Both of these options present problems but given the times we’re living in, I’m concerned that what were once thought to be “harmless” white lies have spun out of control and into full on disinformation campaigns which are dangerous to the well-being of so many, particularly marginalized communities. Give me an inconvenient truth any day (although I suspect those will come from the poets!)

DG: How have your writing habits changed, if at all, since the pandemic?

LT: Poets often complain that there isn’t enough time to tend to their work. Given how isolated we’ve all had to be, especially during the early days of the pandemic, you would have thought we would have gained time for that compelling witch, poetry. In my case, however, I was, like others, so stunned and overwhelmed by what was happening or not happening with Covid—coupled with the horrifying political scene playing out before our eyes—I didn’t write any more than I did pre-pandemic. An opportunity lost certainly.

DG: What’s the most recent thing you’ve read, and did you find it interesting?

LT: There are books you buy that get buried underneath other books you buy and, as a result, you don’t get to for sometime. One of those books for me was Emily Jungmin Yoon’s A Cruelty Special To Our Species. The poems concern sexual violence against women, most particularly Korean women who worked in Japanese-occupied territories during WWII and who were demeaningly called “comfort women.” My education is sadly lacking on this topic so the poems were an eye-opening exposure to come across the topic in Yoon’s beautifully written lines.

 

About Lynne Thompson

Lynne Thompson is the author of Start with a Small Guitar (What Books Press, 2013) and Beg No Pardon (Perugia Press, 2007). She received an Artist Fellowship from the City of Los Angeles in 2015. Her newest collection, Fretwork, was published in 2019. She was appointed Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles in February 2021.

Looking in From the Outside: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, an article by David Garyan

12/05/2021
Ravenna, Italy

 

Looking in From the Outside: The Arab-Israeli Conflict

For a sensible person, aware of history’s complexities, it should not be difficult to feel sympathy for the plight of the Jewish people; aside from the well-known atrocities committed against them during WWII, the more “obscure” cruelties, such as those perpetrated by the Russian Empire, for example, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are mostly topics for academics; in other words, everyone knows places like Auschwitz or even Dachau, but rarely do you ever hear about the Odessa pogroms, which, starting in 1821, occurred on average every twenty years or so until 1905.

In addition, the historical persecution of Jews, which, according to some scholars can not only be traced back to a place in antiquity, the Roman Empire, but also be given a specific date, 38 CE—the advent of the Alexandrian riots, which began under Emperor Caligula when he sent the King of Judea, Herod Agrippa, unannounced to Alexandria, something that angered the Greeks, causing riots to break out. Subsequently, the more brutal 66 CE riots of Alexandria reveal a continuation of tensions between Jewish inhabitants and their neighbors. A primary account by the historian Josephus describes the following: “The Romans showed no mercy to the infants, had no regard for the aged, and went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, until all the place was overflowed with blood, and 50,000 Jews lay dead. And the remainder would have perished as well, had they not put themselves at the mercy of city’s governor, Tiberius Julius Alexander. He felt pity and gave orders to the legionaries to retire.” A gruesome picture and it only gets worse four years later, when Emperor Titus together with that very same governor, Alexander, at his command, go on to capture the city of Jerusalem, totally razing both the city and its Temple (indeed, this is that destruction which many Jews to this day view as the ultimate catastrophe for their people because, for one, unlike the first time under Nebuchadnezzar II, it was never rebuilt, and secondly, in many ways, the Jews once again became an “exiled” people).

Throughout the Middle Ages, things don’t change much for the better. Jewish communities are blamed for the Black Death, accused of witchcraft or poisoning wells, and many innocent people are killed as a result in massacres such as those which occurred in the German city of Erfurt in 1349.

Indeed, right down from antiquity, the Jews have not had the most pleasant historical legacy, and this by any stretch of the imagination. Consequently, the curious question we must ask ourselves, hence, is the following: Why do Jewish authorities in Israel now subject Palestinians to experiences which aren’t radically different from the ones they themselves suffered living under the Roman Empire, and later all across Europe? With poverty rates as high as eighty-five percent in some Palestinian areas, the conditions depicted below not only rival but exceed those of the historical Jewish ghettos.

After the 2007 Battle of Gaza, the narrow stretch of territory with access to the sea, bordering Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, fell under the control of Hamas, which can be considered the more “militant” wing seeking Palestine’s liberation, and things have not improved one way or another; the problem is that, precisely, in some ways, it may not really matter who ultimately governs Gaza—saints or sinners, for lack of better words; the area, although under de facto Palestinian control, remains utterly dependent on Israel. According to a recent article in Al Jazeera, Gaza “relies on Israel for most of its energy needs. Its population of two million currently receives about six hours of electricity followed by a 10-hour power cut.” In addition to this, Israel has exacerbated the situation by closing “its lone commercial crossing with Gaza and banned sea access, shutting down commercial fishing.” Routine actions like this are naturally a response to Hamas’s occasional escalations of violence; these phenomena, however, can likewise be interpreted as a reaction to the frustration of living under Israeli occupation, and it would be rather hard to believe that the only thing Hamas really wants to do is harm innocent Jewish civilians.

Aside from electricity, water sanitation is another major problem. As with electricity, Palestinian water resources are largely controlled by Israel, and, according to a report published in 2017 by the Rand Corporation, “a five-year-old boy died in the Gaza Strip after swimming in seawater polluted with sewage.” Further, the report states that incidents like this, unfortunately, are more common than we want to believe. While the West Bank certainly fares much better in terms of the aforementioned issue, “less than 11 percent of Gaza’s population had access to safe drinking water through the public network,” according to the same report. In addition, the highly-prized Area C of the West Bank, where, according to the UN, Israel retains near exclusive control,” is precisely the place in which most of the “West Bank’s natural resources and open spaces, including the sparsely populated Jordan Valley, are located,” according to a National News article. And yet, according to a 2013 World Bank report, less than “one percent of Area C, which is already built up, is designated by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian use; the remainder is heavily restricted or off-limits to Palestinians, with 68 percent reserved for Israeli settlements, 21 percent for closed military zones, and 9 percent for nature reserves.” Having access to Area C, hence, would perhaps not cure all of Palestine’s economic woes, but it could “expand their struggling economy by a third and halve their budget deficit if Israel allowed them to use the 61 per cent of West Bank territory that is now largely off-limits.” The image below from Gaza summarizes the entire situation quite well.

It can thus be said that the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza and some of those in the West Bank as well have nothing but poisonous water to draw from their wells, literally and metaphorically speaking; this is unacceptable and regardless of which position we may choose to take in this conflict, the dignity of people must be protected, but this is merely the humble opinion of a human rights student.

Being Armenian, I sympathize greatly with Palestine, mainly because of Jerusalem, which, as many know, is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim (listed in no particular order of preference); appropriately, then, we can say that the city is neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Armenian, nor Muslim, but it’s all of those things at the same time. In this respect, the easiest way for Christians, let’s say, to best feel the plight of Palestinian people is to be told that Jerusalem is entirely Jewish in character and has no connection to Christianity whatsoever. Just for a second, take a look at this photo—it depicts the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and it has stood there since approximately 335 CE; this, however, isn’t the most fascinating part. In the most unexpected fashion, the main caretakers and guardians of this church, for over a thousand years, have been the Nusseibehs—an aristocratic family of neither Christian, nor Jewish origin, but, followers of Islam, capable of tracing their roots back to Jerusalem more than 1,300 years, all the way to the prophet Muhammad, that is. As you may have noticed by now, Jerusalem is complex, and it belongs to everyone who has a genuine claim.

It’s infuriating, hence, to hear Israel tell not only Palestinians but also the entire world exactly the opposite—indirectly for years and now overtly with the 2018 Nation State Law, that Israel is a country “that is different from all others in one way, that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.” And yet, even the most ignorant simpleton strolling through Jerusalem’s Armenian or Muslim quarter will somehow sense that Israel isn’t just the nation-state of the Jewish people. For thousands of years, different people have inhabited the Holy Land—some are still there while others are gone—and telling Palestinians that Israel is a Jewish state is precisely like telling me, an Armenian, for example, that I have absolutely no connection to Jerusalem, even though there’s a quarter there. A well-written Reuters article from ten or so years ago describes how with gradual measures such as refusal of identity cards and withdrawal of residence rights, Israel is slowly trying to edge out its Armenian presence as well.

The 1980 Jerusalem Law, which is nothing but a covert guise for East Jerusalem’s annexation—utterly and totally unrecognized by the UN—is an ideology that not just politicians hold in high regard. Initially-innocent-looking, well-meaning, but really rather ridiculous articles such as this one from 1975, by what must’ve been, and probably still is (if alive) a disgruntled rabbi by the name of Yakov Goldman have attempted to use words instead of missiles or rather a missile of words to achieve their political objectives.

Ah, fascinating! Indeed, quite fascinating, Rabbi Goldman. So, you’re telling me that if other people live in the Armenian Quarter and we call it the Armenian Quarter that, somehow, is a travesty? Well, if that’s the case, why don’t we go ahead and stop calling Jerusalem a Jewish city, and, while we’re at it, let’s also stop pretending that Israel is a Jewish state, because, clearly, the Palestinians have and continue to live there, and if, by God Almighty, it has to have a name, as you’ve so correctly pointed out, let’s find a different moniker for your state—isn’t that a more wonderful suggestion? I think so.

Both the American historian David Howard-Pitney and US President Barack Obama (two figures whose level of fame is diametrically opposed—nothing we should hold against one or the other) believe that history is a burden. “For both of them,” according to Jennifer Mercieca and Justin S. Vaughn, authors of The Rhetoric of Heroic Expectations, “it was as much a burden foisted upon them by tradition as one taken up by choice. And for both of them, this burden inspired action. Whether it is the divine history of the Exodus or the divinized history of the Founders, the memory of the past functions as a goad to social action, a profound investment of political agency.” History, in this sense, has been precisely that burden for both the Israelis and Palestinians; for the former, the Holocaust was and continues to be viewed as a great tragedy and yet it was exactly this event which at once and finally convinced later Zionists of the key tenet in Herzl’s philosophy—that anti-Semitism will always exist and, thus, the only resolution is a Jewish state, which was eventually formed.

For Palestinians—a people fortunate enough never to have experienced the horrors equivalent to such destruction—the burden of history has paradoxically been far less kind than it has to the Jewish people; as of today, they’re individuals of a nation without a state living under the occupation of a nation who for the longest time didn’t have a state themselves, but were forced to create one precisely on those territories which the current people without a state had historically inhabited, and the reason for the creation of this state had to do with the persistent historical persecution of those people who had lacked statehood before but are now inhabiting precisely those territories on which the current people without a state feel they have a right to establish their own.

It’s all very complex and the history isn’t something that will be dealt with here, but what isn’t complicated at all is something I’ve not only hinted at but have said directly: Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and Israel, being the occupying power, has largely not lived up to those ideals. Problems largely stem from Israel’s aggressive expansionist and annexation policies, most of which, if not all, are considered illegal under international law. To be fair, as part of the peace plan with Egypt in 1979, along with agreements in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel did dismantle many of the settlements in Palestinian territories, but since then, it has largely continued its previous modus operandi of encroaching on lands which aren’t meant for them. When Israel annexed the Golan Heights (territory internationally recognized as part of Syria) only two years later, along with Trump’s subsequent recognition of that annexation in 2019, it was under the guise of providing a safety buffer for its actual borders, but, in reality, such encroachments are merely strategies to give Israel a more Jewish character; tactics like this may seem appealing in the short-run, but given that no nation state is really composed of one homogenous population, the subjugation and repression of minority voices is always bound to backfire, and, indeed it has.

Not only have the decisions of Israel and Trump led to an escalation in the conflict, but they have also seriously crippled whatever diplomatic channels may have existed in helping to foster dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 has formally brought an end to what was achieved during the Oslo Accords in 1993—the PLO’s recognition of Israel and its right to exist, along with Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the sole voice of the Palestinian people. Since those most recent events two and four years ago, respectively, the PLO has withdrawn its recognition of Israel and cut ties with the US; in addition, Palestine threatens to sever relations with all those nations which move their embassies to Jerusalem, a move which could potentially further isolate Palestine, as some US allies will invariably choose to go ahead anyways.

Most news outlets, naturally, portray the conflict with broad brushstrokes—Palestinian “terrorists” launch rockets from Gaza and Israeli “forces” defend against this “aggression.” No subtlety, little historical awareness, and even less understanding, in many ways, also of current events—strangely. For some odd reason or other, no one is really quick to point out that Netanyahu’s constant, and, more unfortunately, blatant disregard of international law is a type of terrorism—indeed, there are no guns or rockets fired, but people’s lives are uprooted and metaphorically disfigured forever. Why should Palestinian residents freely give up their homes to illegal Jewish settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, for example? In addition, the (not) good PM’s pledge to annex all Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories have led a major Jewish newspaper to label him the “undertaker of the two-state solution.”

It’s no secret that this so-called funeral director for all non-Israeli ambitions has repeatedly stated, according to The Guardian, that no Palestinian state will ever come into existence so long as he’s in power; this, ladies and gentlemen, is terrorism in its most white-collar form, and yet the only thing that most major credible news outlets besides Al Jazeera choose to focus on are the horrible actions of perhaps some frustrated Palestinian “terrorists” in Gaza who’ve somehow managed to get a rocket past Israel’s incredibly sophisticated air defense system (the notorious Iron Dome in service since 2011); when the rockets, however, start flying the other way—to a place which cannot shoot down 90 percent of trajectories coming their way, it’s all for the sake of defending the state, all because Palestinians simply don’t have one, and, thus, have nothing worth defending.

In response to a friend’s despair that General Burgoyne had been defeated at Saratoga, which effectively brought about the end of British ambitions in Colonial America, Adam Smith said the following: “Be assured, young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” The quote has been interpreted in a number of ways—from strong countries can cope with poor policies to it takes a whole lot of work (in this case bungling) for political leaders to bring down a country which is prosperous and powerful. Despite what Smith may or may not have meant, I prefer the following interpretation: For a new nation to rise, it must first be ruined in order to be truly born anew. It’s hard to deny that Israel has done anything but bring Palestine to that brink. If Palestinians can hang on long enough, I truly believe that like all people who’ve ever wanted to be free, they may not get everything they wanted, but they will eventually find their freedom.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.