On the occasion of Israel’s fiftieth anniversary, a Bar Ilan University poll found that kibbutzniks were considered to be the most Zionist by respondents asked to pick among 11 different categories. Myths of the heroic pioneers live on, despite the fact that kibbutzniks have not done their own work in years. Tightened restrictions on Palestinian labor from the Occupied Territories in the wake of the intifada mean that kibbutz work today is likely to be done by Romanians, Thais or Filipinos. According to official estimates there are now 200,000 foreign workers in Israel, about half of them working illegally, but other estimates put the total at 300,000.
A remarkable event marking the fiftieth commemoration of the Palestinian nakba (national catastrophe) was held in Beirut from April through June. Organized by the Theatre de Beyrouth, it has included lectures, poetry readings, theatrical performances and film screenings. One of its most audacious events was to have been a roundtable discussion on April 24 of “Testimonials from Arab Jews,” including Salim Nassib (Lebanon), Edmond Malih and Abraham Serfaty (Morocco) and Ammiel Alcalay of Queens College, New York. But after the screening of a video with Israeli writer Simon Ballas, a group of intellectuals, mostly affiliated with the Syrian National Party and backed by Syrian intelligence agencies, launched an attack on the organizers, accusing them of collaborating with Israel. The real reason: The panelists would discuss the expulsion of Jews from the Arab world and critique not just Zionism but repressive Arab regimes as well. Jewish participants were forced to cancel their trips to Beirut, and their papers were read by session organizers Lebanese American University professor Fawwaz Traboulsi and journalist and literary critic Elias Khoury.
A dialogue of another sort appears to be taking place with the active support of people in the State Department and members of the Beltway “conflict resolution” industry — between religious settlers in the Occupied Territories and Hamas! Joseph Montville, a retired diplomat, and Rabbi Mark Gopin, both scholars at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington public policy research institution, have been promoting this dialogue at various fora in the capital. This sort of dialogue is what anthropologist Laura Nader has dubbed “coercive harmony,” a trend in conflict resolution that is “against the contentious in anything, that says if you disagree, you should really keep your mouth shut.“
Meanwhile, another US-supported body, the Fulbright Commission, recently fired an employee for speaking out against UN sanctions and US military threats against Iraq. Aida Dabbas, an employee of the Binational Fulbright Commission in Jordan, was fired in March by the director of the Fulbright Commission’s Amman office for her activity in opposition to US war threats. Ironically, Sen. William Fulbright argued when setting up the academic exchange program that bears his name that it was intended to build alternatives to armed conflict.
In March, the authorities banned number 28 of the Cairo Times, a biweekly newsmagazine, after the publisher refused to cut three pages from the issue, two of which consisted of an interview with Khalil ‘Abd al-Karim, known as the Red Shaykh. ‘Abd al-Karim, a former member of the Muslim Brothers, and an activist in Egypt’s leftist Tagammu‘ party, is a devout Muslim who is attempting to promote a liberal interpretation of Islam. A lawyer by profession, he directed the defense of Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd when he was charged with apostasy. His two most recent books, which deal with social issues in early Islam, were condemned by the Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar University, and as a result, the books were banned and copies seized in January raids by state security officers.
Man of the Year
On a more positive note, congratulations to King Fahd bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz of Saudi Arabia, who was selected to receive the “Man of the Year 1997” award by the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust International, a Pakistani human rights organization. Fahd was selected for his role in “promoting peace in the Arab world” and “releasing national and foreign prisoners.” According to a March 1998 Human Rights Watch report, Saudi Arabia has carried out 630 executions since 1990, over half of them foreigners. For more on His Majesty’s human rights contributions, including torture, floggings and detentions without trial, see Amnesty International’s 1997 report.
Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass says that in 1983 he saved Italian troops stationed in Beirut from attack because of his crush on Italian actress Gina Lollabrigida. “I gathered the Lebanese resistance leaders together and told them,“ Tlass asserted, “do whatever you want with the US, British and other forces, but I do not want a single Italian soldier to be hurt.” A fan of Lollabrigida’s since he was a teenager, Tlass sent letters to her for years. Finally, in 1994, Lollabrigida visited Tlass in his home, urged on by a businessman from Italy’s Augusta helicopter company, which was told it could secure a “juicy” contract with Syria if Lollabrigida accompanied them.
Congratulations to our favorite transsexual Arab Jewish singer, Danna International, victor in the 1998 Eurovision song contest for her song “Diva.“ Danna will host the 1999 Eurovision in Jerusalem. Haim Miller, the city’s ultra-Orthodox mayor, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the contest from taking place there.