Sunday, April 28, 2002

as published in this week's College Hill Independent

Toward Palestinian Democracy
Refocusing the debate
By Ari Johnson

As violent conflict continues between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, rhetorical guns blaze in America. Students, journalists, intellectuals, and anyone who has recently watched CNN consider it their duty to tackle what they consider the "important" questions:

"Is Israeli military action in the West Bank justified?"

"Which government's actions are more atrocious?"

"Which prominent politician has made the more inflammatory or hateful statement?"

"Who has conspired with whom to commit violence against whom?"

They generally culminate in the unsolvable quandary: "Who is to blame?"

These questions, tempting routes for intellectual jingoism, are the fodder of warmongers. Are you Pro-Palestinian? Anti-Israeli? Pro-Israeli? Anti-Palestinian?

Pick a side, and you've joined the conflict. You find on your "side," once you have joined, volumes of material to defame the opposition and trumpet its wrongdoings, as well as extensive guidelines to forgive, contextualize and defend the transgressions of your side's leaders. The argumentative weapons are readily at hand, and the activist infrastructure already set up to support the battle. Intellectual battles like this can only perpetuate the greater conflict.

If intellectual debates are to productively serve the interests of the Israeli people, the Palestinian people, and the American people, they must take a drastically different turn, embracing a complexity that extends beyond sympathetic identification with anguished Palestinian and Israeli mothers. They must, foremost, ask a question that few people seem to remember to ask:

How can we build a Palestinian state?

To understand why the popularly debated questions do not serve the needs of the Palestinian, Israeli, or American peoples, we must first realize that the Palestinian people have been disowned universally. No government?not the Israeli government, not the US government, not any of the Arab governments, and least of all the leadership of the Palestinian Authority itself?has actively represented the interests and the needs of the Palestinian people.

Before 1967, the West Bank was part of Jordan; Jordan and surrounding Arab nations refused to assist and absorb Palestinian refugees that fled to them. After 1967, the West Bank fell under Israeli military control as a result of the Six Day War between Israel and the Arab nations that surrounded them.

When Israel and the United States finally stepped to the table to discuss the creation of a Palestinian state in the early 1990s, both of these democratic governments chose to support and strengthen Yassir Arafat, a dictator, as their partner in negotiations. Implicit in this decision to support dictatorship was the refusal by two democratic governments to have faith in the applicability of the very ideals upon which they were founded.

As Asla Aydintasbas writes on, "Since the beginning of the Oslo peace process, Washington and Israel's desire to deal with a Palestinian strongman ? who could control his population, keep a tight lid on popular dissatisfaction in the West Bank and Gaza and deliver on promises to the West ? has consistently salvaged Arafat's standing with his people, despite his increasingly repressive ways."

Aydintasbas explains that, during the past ten years that the US and Israel supported Yassir Arafat's leadership, "large sectors of the Palestinian public had become disenchanted with the corruption and the despotism of Arafat's government, that human rights abuses had increased under his security structure, that journalists and opponents complained of daily infringements on free speech, that corruption by P.A. officials is legendary."

In the face of Arafat's failure as a leader and a peace negotiator, continued debate over Arafat's "successor"?candidates for which fall almost exclusively among Arafat's protégés?reinforces the dream of a benevolent dictator who will serve the interests of the US and Israel.

With this kind of picture in mind, it is easy to see how passionate debates can continue passing around blame for the current situation of Palestinian people. In this mess of violent rhetoric, the interests of the Palestinian people remain lost. How will the interests of the Palestinian people be served? Certainly, the end of violence is not even close to sufficient.

"The time has come for the democratic world, including the one state that shares its values in the Middle East, to stop placing its faith in corrupt, authoritarian leaders and start helping the Palestinian people directly," writes Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky.

Democratization provides the most promising route to ensure that the Palestinian people can realize their aspirations and their human rights. Surely, the democratization that is needed is a far cry from what the Palestinian people have encountered thus far.

Elections alone will not bring democracy: Yassir Arafat was "elected" in 1996 by an 88 percent vote against no other viable candidates, outside of any context of open debate. Three years ago, when Arafat's elected term expired without calls for reelections, only 28 percent of Palestinians said they believed their government was moving toward a democracy that protected human rights, according to the Center for Palestinian Research and Studies.

Democracy requires open forums for debate and discussion. Democracy requires education. Democracy requires investment in building a stable economic infrastructure. Democracy requires the Palestinian people to be able to learn about and realize their own rights, and the ways they can work to serve them.

Democracy requires leadership with accountability. Democracy will require thoroughly planned and well-coordinated efforts by the international community. Democracy is not easy or fast or cheap.

But the only way this conflict will end is with the creation of a Palestinian state. A Palestinian state will only be created when Israel can trust in the transparency of its government's endeavors and support its existence. That transparency will only come with democracy.

"As Palestinians, what do we need? We need human rights development," explained a Palestinian activist from the West Bank, speaking under the condition of anonymity. "We need to create livelihood for the average Palestinian."

So when Bush administration officials head to the West Bank for meetings in Yassir Arafat's headquarters, perhaps they should be turning their efforts instead to Palestinian communities and classrooms. And when the Israeli government sends troops into the West Bank to destroy terrorist infrastructure, it should invest in leaving viable social and economic infrastructure in its place. Martyr awards from Yassir Arafat and Saddam Hussein become much less appealing when you can find a job and feed your children.

And when Brown students sit down to lunch at the Ratty, instead of taking up arms with combating armies, we should sit down and break bread with each other, and consider what can be done to rebuild Palestinian lives.

Ari Johnson B'04 (Ari_Johnson@ is a soldier of love. So send him some, and let him know what you think.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

coat ketones with pollen
greet carboxylic acids rolling in the grass
make love with your neurotransmitters
and ligand-gated outwardly-rectifying ion channels
inhale particle and wave
unbind cyclic guanosine monophosphate and stare into the sun.
cry under the blooming dogwood, and step boldly into the orgoexamroom,
treading lightly on electron clouds

Wednesday, April 24, 2002


M: So anyone can read your journal?
A: Yeah.
M: Why? Do you write personal things in it?
A: Sure. I have no secrets.
M: Well, having no secrets is one thing....Some weirdo will read it and start stalking you. It's dangerous. You don't even lock your door.
A: I--perhaps foolishly--do not live in anticipation of the weirdo stalker.

A: funny how most images relating to sex in movies don’t actually involve sex. Far more often, we see the after-sex scene, with couple lying in bed, woman’s head on man’s chest.
M: you know I’ve seen quite a bit of porno. There isn’t any sex in pornos either.
A: how do you mean?
M: that’s not sex. It’s so mechanical. What absurdity! If someone was actually able to film sex, watching would probably make you cry. It would be uncomfortable—too intense, too beautiful—to watch.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

My brother is in the shower, so I have a few moments before we go to lunch. The weekend had some stale points (the third awful mediocre party we visited on Friday night had me wondering what I actually did on the weekends at Brown in the past, and how I had possibly managed to have fun.
Everyone comments on physical reseblence between my brother and I, and a similarity in mannerism. Baruch observed this as well at Shabbat dinner, but confided in me that we each have our own distinct energies.
We ARE similar

I am pretty proud of that.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

tonight marks the trial run of the all-night tenures in the conmag office for indy production that will be my wednesdaynightthursdaymornings all next semester. Tis 418 and all is quiet, except the soft wailing of portishead in the background.
my brother is coming for spring weekend. i'm really excited to see him and spend time with him. i think it will be interesting for him to meet my friends (do I have friends? I don't remember. Perhaps not. Perhaps I do, and they're just not usually around at 421 in the morning on Thursdays in April). I have been describing my brother to people as a buffer, more attractive version of me...although I can't say why that is how I have chosen to describe him.
What is required for a "relationship"? I don't talk to my brother on a regular basis, nor do I see him on a regular basis. Yet I feel an inalienable and perhaps even growing closeness to him whenever I am with him. I somehow feel like that connection doesn't fade during our separation from each other, even though we usually have no contact or correspondence during that time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

and you shall put them as a sign through you hands and in your eyes. much commentary focuses on the placement of hand before eye, doing before understanding "naaseh venishma"--that only through action comes understanding. the importance of the Jewish method of struggling with perception and understanding through action, lies, however, not only in the fact that Judaism places action first, but also, and perhaps more importantly, that it tends to place action and understanding together.

Saturday, April 13, 2002

i can't believe it has been so long. it's a slippery slope. yes, a slippery slope.

in my week of repose, i realized that my journal has stayed free and clear of people. i don't think i morgan, my girlfriend of three months, even once. absurd. i make only vague or passing references to friends or family. i suppose i have stayed away from discussing my relationships with others in the journal because i fear exposing them in ways that would make them or others uncomfortable. i talk about myself because i have rights to divulge all that is my own; but to discuss others, i venture into dangerous i risk unwittingly divulging the secrets of others? will i say something that hurts someone i care about, only through such a disconnected channel that i have no way of knowing the pain i am inflicting and no way to become aware of it, to remedy such mistakes and insensitivity...
on the other hand, i don't think i have hurtful things to say about anyone...nor would it most interest me to broadcast my friends' secrets. so perhaps all my reasoning is bunk. a lame excuse to protect me from examining relationships that mean a lot to me, from trying to express their importance in words. but what am i doing now, but procrastinating, continuing along the introspectivespeculative tone of previous entries, putting off the plunge into describing a word were people move and collide, and ideas and emotions have origins. I have a guest, who i am now ignoring. jam session tonight in my room. i should go attend to this. oh. and talked to noah liben for the first time since i was 14 over IM tonight.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

everyone is asking my opinion about Israel. People are invested to varying extents, but many seem genuinely curious at the very least. I have as of yet only engaged half-heartedly, or confusedly. I feel like I am being shaken out of anaesthesia. i have numbed myself for a long time, and now, reengaging, i come out from under the mask with much confusion, disorientation, and nausea, unable to coherently assemble my thoughts. I need to wrestle out my views. I feel no reason to explain this need. It is there, and I must address it.

1) Palestinean state requires infrastructure. Not only does Palestinean state require infrastructure, but any steps toward ending the violent conflict surrounding its potential creation requires infrastructure as well. Part of that is economics. Part of it is public health, social services. All required infrastructure depends upon accountable Palestinean leadership--the best established system of political accountability is DEMOCRACY. Until Palestinean leadership is accountable to the needs and wishes of the Palestinean people, violence will not end, negotiations in the interest of human rights are improbable if not impossible.

2) Israeli and US actions in the name of peace over the past 10 years have supported and fortified a corrupt dictatorship that is not accountable to the Palestinean people, that has ruled by fear and terror, and has not acted in the interest of Palestineans, Israelis, or Americans. This Israeli and US governments bet on the dictatorship horse, revealing an underlying lack of faith in the very ideology to which they owe their existence, the ideology of democracy. Although they claim to make love to Democracy and hoist it to a glorious thrown in their nations, these powers forget the ideology that is their sovereign at home when engaged in dimplomacy with the Palestinean state. Democracy, at that distance, in this context, among these people, at this time, is unstable. It is dangerous. Undelying this fear of democracy is a fear of the will of the people, that the will of people might be against the will of US or Israeli governments, that that will would be harder to mold or control than the will of a single dictator. Such fears are only dispelled when one trusts that common will always supports, when given the choice, life and prosperity over death, personal sacrifice, and poverty.

3) Polls report that the vast majority of Palestineans support suicide bombings. How much of that support for violence is bred by fear of opposing the line of their leadership? How can good oppositional opinions and oppositional leaders rise if no one is bold or comfortable enough to speak their mind, to develop their positions in the public sphere? In a certain way, I agree that imposing democracy suddenly is dangerous. Holding "democratic elections" among a people that have no access to open media and free information, that have no forum for public debate, that have no safety to develop candidates and leaders, will not bring democracy, or accountable government, except in the most distorted way. Clearly democracy must be brought in amidst the Palestinean people on multiple fronts, carefully but immediately. The case of the dictator wily enough to rise to power without accountability, who will upon reaching that position give that power away and establish democratic institutions foreign to him amongst his own people is indeed rare. The past 10 years have failed the state first, democracy later hypothesis.