A Very Semitic Summer

May 22, 2010 at 7:32 am (Uncategorized)

Shalom and Salaam!

Tomorrow I leave for Jerusalem (via a two-day training with IFPB in DC), followed by nine weeks of Arabic study and then Georgetown’s Arab Studies program in the fall. Who knows what August will bring–hopefully rest and relaxation with friends and family, researching fellowships and other opportunities, learning about the department at Georgetown of which I am now a part, exercise…

A rollicking good time. A lot of change at once is hard to take, though. I don’t feel ready to say good-bye to people here even though I’m heading toward very exciting opportunities.

I’m at the Peet’s that has been my standard coffee and wifi hangout for a couple of years now, since it opened (Castro Street location in Mountain View). I’m “psychologically” packed, with most of my things near or on my suitcase, at least! I spent today running around on last-minute errands, like buying a sun hat (even though I feel ridiculous in hats!), calling ATT to find out how not to incur outrageous roaming charges, getting a haircut, etc.

I feel that within 24 hours I’ve transitioned from MIIS student to IFPB delegate, Middlebury Arabic student, and newcomer to Georgetown. I hate to be leaving my parents now. They’ve done so much for me and they’re getting older now…

The next several days will be a bit hectic, involving lots of airports and airplanes, being in unfamiliar surroundings with different currency, different foods, different cultural norms…but I know I’ll love it once we’re actually settled in Jerusalem.


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O Jerusalem

May 21, 2010 at 4:19 am (Uncategorized)


I’ve barely finished a semester at MIIS and am preparing to leave for a two-week trip to the Middle East on Saturday followed by a Kathryn Davis Fellowship to study Arabic through Middlebury College for nine weeks. I hope this blog will be a space for my observations of everything from my fellow delegates to the sights and sounds and impressions of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

All I know at this point is that it will be an adventure. Many of our delegates (there are 26 of us plus two co-leaders!) have introduced themselves via our email list, and we’re a diverse and fascinating bunch, each with our own views–however similar or dissimilar–of the region and the ongoing conflict.

I’m currently trying to configure my iPhone so I don’t incur tons of charges overseas!

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Stranger than Fiction

April 30, 2010 at 9:36 am (Uncategorized)

The crazy housemate scenario came to a sad close yesterday, as she was arrested on a felony “no bail” warrant in the front yard, by several burly police officers.

There’s nothing nice about seeing someone get arrested when the person isn’t bad but is very very sick.

What a ride the past two weeks have been.  I meet with the landlord Monday and have a new friend in the Monterey police department.

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The Conflict Before the Middle East

April 27, 2010 at 7:52 am (Uncategorized)

Deviating from all things Levantine, our roommate situation of unusually dramatic proportions has taken a more drastic turn.

Turns out that *SHE* has a criminal record, a parole officer, more than one identity (and probably personality), several “friends” in the Monterey police, a daughter not in her own custody, was found to have unusually large amounts of cash and a housemate’s paycheck in her room by the police, and has disappeared from the premises for now.

*sigh of relief* // More to follow when I’m less tired.

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So Much to Do

April 24, 2010 at 11:46 pm (Uncategorized)

I feel like I’m swimming in schoolwork with just four weeks to go before the end of the semester and my trip to the Middle East.

I’m working on Dr. Iyer’s paper, due yesterday, for which I interviewed a Palestinian woman about her experiences living in the occupied West Bank.  I have a group project for Research Methods about AIPAC and US public opinion that is ongoing; we are re-writing our literature review which is due Wednesday.

Our midterm for the same class is Monday; I haven’t done half the reading or begun to study for it.

I have two French papers to write, one about the burqa in France and the other on an as yet undecided topic.  Our second Weapons of Mass Destruction midterm will be handed out next week and the third one on the last day of class (which I’ll submit from halfway around the world because I’ll be in Israel/Palestine!).

I also need to finish my one page account of my upcoming trip for the MIIS blog “The Foghorn” in order to receive my expenses reimbursement.  And it’s time to choose classes for next semester.  I’m also preparing for both Middlebury and the Israel/Palestine trip and will probably come home most weekends from now through May.

And there’s roommate drama because our new roommate has scared away two other roommates who have already moved out.  As long as she doesn’t touch my stuff when I’m gone (apparently my bedroom door was found open yesterday), it’ll be OK; otherwise I’ll have to move too.

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AIPAC: A Scathing Indictment

April 23, 2010 at 7:51 am (Uncategorized)

A couple of years ago, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two prominent American professors of International Affairs, published the book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” It created quite a stir at the time, but I didn’t really pay attention until my renewed interest in the region began last summer.

This is the link to the working paper version of the book. I read the entire piece last night and was blown away by the quality of the reporting and the stark conclusions. It is a scathing indictment of the second most powerful lobby in Washington (behind AARP), the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

It is not a critique of Judaism. For me one of the most important take-away messages is that we cannot confuse anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel if we’re going to have an honest debate. Granted, most anti-Semites are likely critical (more likely hateful) of Israel, but simply being critical of Israel is not anti-Semitic, especially considering that Arabs are also Semites.

In fact, expressing concern that Israel’s behavior is negatively affecting the image of Jews worldwide is pro-Jewish, if anything. I am working on a group research project for Dr. Murphy’s Research Methods class, and we are focusing on AIPAC’s power to sway public opinion and shape US policy, even when that policy runs contrary to our national interest.

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Rashid Khalidi

April 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm (Uncategorized)

One of my favorite new gurus on the Israel/Palestine conflict. I love this lecture he gives at the National Lawyers Guild because he outlines precisely my experience with media coverage of the Middle East (or lack thereof). He describes the two parallel and mutually exclusive universes of media coverage of the Gaza war.

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April 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m finishing my first semester at MIIS and traveling to Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank at the end of May, so I’ve decided to switch this blog from its original use, which was to document my summer in Jordan, to Middle Eastern and specifically Palestinian-related issues.

I’m adding links to the blogroll that have more to do with Palestine and the region.

I leave for the Middle East on May 24th and couldn’t be more excited!e

After that I’ll be at Middlebury College’s Arabic summer intensive session on a Kathryn Davis Fellowship.

In the meantime, I’ve been participating in a firestorm of letters to the editor about the Middle East.

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“Just the [Politics], Ma’am”

April 1, 2010 at 9:33 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m thinking about how politics frequently pre-empts fact. Conservatives try to paint Democrats in general and Obama in particular as “soft on terror” and ineffective on national security. Obama, however, by skillfully boosting our operations in Afghanistan, has proven them wrong. I would argue that he’s a much more responsible commander-in-chief than George W. Bush.

During one of the Democratic debates, Obama had said that as president, if he had “actionable intelligence” on Pakistan, that he would strike. As president, he has had actionable intelligence on Pakistan, and he has acted aggressively with drone airstrikes, yielding arguably more success than Bush’s entire Afghanistan campaign.

Republicans portray Democrats as suckers for a climate-change farce. Sarah Palin, however, just had one of her favorite battle cries upended when Obama decided to open some US territory for oil drilling (Huffington Post ran a headline that read “Drill, Barack, Drill!”).

The Reds (ha ha) have long claimed to be the party of “family values” and Christianity, but Obama is the one who cites scripture in his speeches and can actually discuss the meaning behind it.

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Alastair Crooke

April 1, 2010 at 9:08 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve started reading a book about Hamas, written by an Arab who knows several members of the group. The introduction to the book is written by Alastair Crooke, former head of British intelligence and founder of a Beirut-based organization called Conflicts Forum.

Conflicts Forum’s mission is to dialogue with Islamist groups and the West, and it’s the organization I most want to intern with. It would make the perfect Boren fellowship, together with Arabic language study!

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Robert [the] Baer

April 1, 2010 at 9:04 pm (Uncategorized)

I just finished reading former CIA operative Robert Baer’s memoir “See No Evil.” It’s riveting. He’s a compelling writer in both style and substance.

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March 20, 2010 at 6:21 am (Uncategorized)

Hi everyone,

I’m excited to be attending a delegation to Israel/Palestine this summer, from May 23rd to June 4th, with a great organization called Interfaith Peace-Builders.

This particular delegation is co-led by Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American woman who acts as a voice and advocate for the Palestinians. I’ve admired her work for some time and am looking forward to meeting her and the rest of our delegation.

My Arab-themed summer will continue at Middlebury’s Arabic language school upon my return. Ironically, Middlebury’s Arabic school is now held at Mills College, my alma mater!

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White House renews Hamas sanctions – The Majlis

January 21, 2010 at 9:29 pm (Uncategorized)

A critical look at the effect of US sanctions in the Middle East.

White House renews Hamas sanctions – The Majlis.

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BBC News – Palestinian graves found damaged after settlers visit

January 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm (Uncategorized)

What you won’t hear about from the New York Times:

BBC News – Palestinian graves found damaged after settlers visit.

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YouTube – Israeli T-shirts mock Gaza killings

January 14, 2010 at 6:11 pm (Uncategorized)

My first experience with this story was through the wonderful Dana, English-language coordinator for Jordan’s refugee camps. She told me that during Operation Cast Lead, Israeli soldiers had t-shirts that said “when you kill a pregnant Palestinian, you kill two with one bullet.” Al-Jazeera has the story below.

YouTube – Israeli T-shirts mock Gaza killings – 23 March 2009.

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Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World | The Onion

January 14, 2010 at 6:09 pm (Uncategorized)

Some levity!

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source.

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Lanka firmly behind Palestine – Ambassador

January 14, 2010 at 10:36 am (Uncategorized)

Sri Lanka News | Online edition of Daily News – Lakehouse Newspapers.

It’s nice to see Sri Lanka throwing its weight behind Palestinian voices, and calling out the Western media for its peculiar omission of coverage of the Gaza war.

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The Social Revolution is not being Televised

January 14, 2010 at 2:09 am (Uncategorized)

Hmmm…it’s disappointing that the Prop 8 hearings will not be streamed on YouTube and thereby made available to the public. I guess it’s not that common for trial proceedings to be made available live (except super obscure ones on ex-Court TV), but I liked the idea of the Prop 8 hearings being aired live because this is such a crucial trial for so many people, it seems to remove any opportunity for misunderstanding about what’s going on inside the courtroom.

I don’t know why the ruling judge ruled against it; I hope it’s more a matter of legal precedent than a bias toward one party or the other. One of the pro-Prop 8 participants had actually decided not to participate when he learned it was going (initially) to be broadcast. Was he afraid of being held accountable for his homophobic views? That’s my bias, anyway.

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The Governator

January 13, 2010 at 10:51 am (Uncategorized)


My mom and I were having lunch in Los Altos, when, while looking for parking, we spotted a suspiciously motorcade-ish-looking group of vehicles consisting of two CHP motorcycle cops and two black SUVs with tinted windows and guys in suits with wires in their ears. The CHP guys really did live up to their reputation (sorry guys) of “AAA with a gun,” which is how a certain police department (MVPD) likes to think of them! There probably isn’t any casual way to inquire who the VIP is, so I awkwardly wandered up and said, “uh, who’s the motorcade for?” They each tried to respond with awkward, not-so-funny jokes. I finally managed to coax an “Arnold” out of one of them, after exaggerating the truth about interacting with the Secret Service during the campaign. Intelligence fail on his part.

My mom’s first guess was that the motorcade was for Al Gore, since his daughter lives in Los Altos (apparently), and that maybe they were having lunch at the ritzy restaurant next door to where we ate. It really made me miss campaign days. Long story short, it was Arnold himself, browsing at an antique store (?). Does this show a Democratic bias on my mom’s part? 🙂

I caught a glimpse of Schwarzenegger, but not his height–he looks exactly the same in person that he does on TV. Not his movies, but in his role as Governator. I’m pretty sure they were Secret Service–they have offices around the country and apparently have to spend several years protecting “lesser” folk like anyone-other-than-the-president before they can apply for Presidential detail. Hot stuff. Brings out my inner Jack Bauer.

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“Mish Mushkila”

January 12, 2010 at 10:27 am (Uncategorized)

Yes! Arabic has a version of Hawaii’s “da kine”!

“Mish mushkila” is colloquial street Arabic for “no problem.” It comes in handy a lot; if the cab driver can’t get to just the right corner before dropping you off, “mish mushkila” lets him know it’s no problem. Someone bumps into you, “mish mushkila.”

I want to make a t-shirt that has “mish mushkila” written on it in Arabic script. To a much, much lesser extent than Borat, I like to turn people’s expectations upside down and watch the reaction. I’m pretty sure that to the average bystander, anything written in Arabic would conjure images of al Qaeda and terrorism. But “no problem” has quite the opposite sentiment.

Where can I have a t-shirt like that made, I wonder? Plus, Arabic just looks cool. I’m still surprised when I can put the letters together to recognize a word. It’s a puzzle, and the challenge reduced our class last summer to sounding out words syllable by syllable, reminding me a lot of kindegarteners learning to read.

It’s humbling to be rendered essentially illiterate.

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