Vulnerability as Witness: To be of Service in a Foreign Land

This is the message I shared with the Friends World Committee for Consultation- Europe and Middle East section gathering in Budapest, Hungary- May 3, 2019:

We were asked last night to stand if we considered ourselves a part of various identities present at this annual gathering: yearly meeting representations, Friends under 35, and first time time attenders to an FWCC annual gathering to name a few.  I began to stand for this last category, and then remembered that in fact I attended the FWCC Americas gathering in Oregon, near my hometown, in the Spring of 2009. I joined and spoke at that meeting on behalf of the Ramallah Friends School, reporting on my recent visit to Palestine a few months before and encouraging Friends in the Americas to support Palestinian education.  It feels very fitting to stand before you all exactly 10 years later and still reflect on how much that trip to Palestine changed my life, spiritually, emotionally, and indeed practically because it was there on that trip that I met my future wife Federica who you’ve now all met with our two young sons at this gathering. I felt particularly touched by our discussion yesterday about how Friends from the Middle East are not present at this gathering, and how they very often do not enjoy the opportunities and access to travel in the way many of us do.  I ask each of us to continue to hold them in our hearts in the coming days.

Visiting Palestine was a particularly pivotal moment in my life, and indeed is also a very fitting place to begin considering our theme of “Living in a Foreign Land.”  The Holy Land is indeed the place where cultures of welcome and hospitality still live today, just as they did in the biblical passages we read which challenge us to welcome the stranger and also understand how our prophetic witness may make us strangers in our own lands.  As we are aware especially in the politics of Israel and Palestine, power and privilege also can make us strangers in our own lands and so I want us to consider this as we sit with this theme.

Our theme for this gathering brought up many personal thoughts, prayers and reflections for me.  As an adopted European originally born in the United States with a gateway to this section through the Middle East, I admit the most obvious definition of “living in a foreign land” relates to my nationality. At the same time, while it is certainly important that I am an adopted Italian with a strong place in my heart for Palestine, I’d like to reflect on the theme in a somewhat less conventional way, challenging each of us to look at ourselves slightly differently.  Indeed, the vulnerability of “living in a foreign land,” which I will return to, provokes an approach to service, leadership and community organization that I would like us to consider in our gathering and beyond. I will take the opportunity, as a foreigner, to offer some reflections coming from sources and perspectives that may be somewhat unconventional in Friends circles, and my hope is that this will challenge each of us to look beyond our common norms and approaches.

What inspires me to consider this approach?  This question of leadership and relative privilege came up strongly for me when considering the theme of this meeting, “Living in a Foreign Land.”  The Bible frequently considers the question of living in foreign land, as a challenge to unappreciated prophets or ungrateful hosts. As hosts, we are commanded to accept and welcome the other, but as visitors we are pushed to speak our truth and lead the people who have gone astray.  I thought about the many instances in which I was either a visitor or a host in my life, and what that really has meant for my approach to life and to leadership. I think that we as Friends often imagine ourselves as the prophetic visitors, the foreigners in foreign lands speaking out in the darkness, when in reality we most often bring our privilege, power and influence with us when we travel and we would do well to recognize it.  I considered my own story and tried to think of the key moments I’d seen past my own privilege and what that meant to me.

Perhaps because many of you do not know me well, I should start as many of us do as Friends with myself and some description of my own personal journey on these themes.  While I am choosing not to focus on individual leaders or particularly glorious moments in Quaker history, it seems still appropriate to recognize these norms by sharing with you some of my story.

I was born into a Quaker family in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, a third generation Friend in the Beanite tradition of that area.  Since many of the workings of the US branches of Friends may be unfamiliar to you (indeed also for me growing up), I will just briefly describe them here.  Perhaps many of you do know that as Quakers left England for the United States to escape persecution, within a few generations theological and cultural differences grew up among their membership which eventually devolved into major “schisms” or splits within the religious society.  These splits were bitter, painful divisions that often began with what seem today as minor differences in theological interpretation of Quaker faith and practice. However, once divided, new branches of Quakerism grew further and further apart from each other, especially culturally, and in time they established formal bodies or “conferences” that served to codify their new approaches and set themselves distinctly apart.  Well into this new era of schisms, a Friend by the name of Joel Bean found himself at odds with the interpretation of Quakerism professed by the yearly meetings in his area of the midwest US so he headed out West to California. Despite trying to escape the divisiveness of conferences and theological rigidity, Western Friends in the unprogrammed tradition eventually became a kind of “nonconference” in their own right, known for their disassociative approach.  In time Beanite meetings spread up and down the Western part of the United States. Other Friends from the evangelical branch of Quakerism also established yearly meetings on the West coast as well. Similar to what we see in Hungary, in my part of the United States there are therefore parallel branches of Quakerism with different styles of worship, theological approaches and history worshipping more or less side by side.

In my family,, I really didn’t learn much about this variety of Quaker thought growing up at all. I didn’t really need to.  My grandfather was convinced to Quakerism after his participation in World War II here in Europe, finding Friends through rebuilding efforts organized by the American Friends Service Committee in Germany.  My mother was raised as a Quaker in a style that would be familiar to most European Friends: silent worship, theologically post-modern with an emphasis on personal discernment and social justice at times set directly at odds with Christian faith and practice. We didn’t know much about other Quakers worshipping around us, since our communities had grown so far apart.

Most Friends in Beanite meetings in the area where I grew up are white, middle class, theologically and culturally left of center.  I am no exception. Growing up, going to meeting meant worshipping with a group of people very much like myself, frequently contrasting our approach to faith with other churches  and cultural groups around us but almost never discussing the other Evangelical Friends just down the road who were ostensibly our brothers and sisters in the Church. They might as well have lived in a different world because of their different historical path to Quakerism.  Ashley, who many of you have met, is visiting us from Northwest Yearly Meeting (“the other yearly meeting”) and while I don’t want to put her on the spot I suggest that she could better represent her community and Quaker experience than I can.  

Because of the unique approach to Quakerism in the Beanite tradition, that downplayed affiliation with wider Quaker bodies and strongly emphasized personal spiritual discernment, I believe I was especially unaware of aspects of privilege and culture in my meeting growing up.  Because we were largely white, our discussions about race were often two-dimensional and considered with a certain distance, even though many of us had come to Quakerism through projects the AFSC eventually organized in communities of color in the United States. Because we were largely middle class, we took things like college education or ownership of property as norms within our meeting, even though there were certainly meeting members who did not have access to these privileges.  Because we were, as a whole, generally progressive and liberal in our approaches to political and social issues, certain rare instances when differences of opinion came up about same-sex marriage or tactics of political dissent created significant conflict in our meeting. As I grew into adolescence, I found it harder to connect with my Quaker community because I saw so few people my age active in Friends.

I studied abroad in my junior year of highschool and experienced one of the first very extreme examples of being a foreigner, in the most literal way, and it began to set in motion the path that’s brought me here today. My family has a long connection with Turkey and so when the opportunity to study abroad there came up, I was happy to go. I moved in with a Turkish family in Istanbul in August of 2001, and within my first weeks of arriving the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 took place back in the United States. I was quite overwhelmed by a whole range of emotions and experiences at that time, but I remember very clearly being told by so many Turks that it was obvious why the attacks had taken place: unconditional US support for Israel.  As a young, NPR-nursed white progressive liberal, I had been willing to imagine that US foreign policy in general could have been blamed for 9/11, but I was completely unprepared for this direct line drawn between US support for Israel and terror attacks. I felt like I was suddenly seeing the world in a completely different way. My whole time in Turkey was very challenging for many reasons, but upon returning home this particular insight stuck with me.

When choosing where to attend university a few years later, I felt a leading to attend to Quaker college in order to reach beyond my current Quaker experience and perhaps meet other young people in the faith.  I enrolled in the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford College in North Carolina, the entirely opposite corner of the United States with a completely different Quaker history. North Carolina is actually home to the largest number of Quakers in the US, and its history goes back to a visit by George Fox before the foundation of the state of Pennsylvania.  Quakers of all branches of US Quakerism live even closer together in North Carolina and especially in Greensboro, and through my studies I was encouraged to learn from and about them on a much deeper level. I studied Quaker history and practice while following an established yearly program with my classmates to learn the forms of Quaker worship, business and discernment.  I also studied anthropology and sociology, taking courses that explored historical roots of oppression while interning at our school’s community service office that worked with service sites in local prisons, homeless shelters and refugee placement agencies. Some of my Quaker classmates came not only from different branches of the Quaker faith in the US, but also Palestine and Kenya and their sense of what Quakerism meant as a community and culture where completely different than anything I’d known before.

Between my second and third years of college, I took a pilgrimage up and down the East Coast of the United States with the rather grandiose mission to find ways that geography and culture had influenced the development of Quakerism in various areas.  This trip was my first great disillusionment with Quakerism. While I met many kind and loving and inspired people between Florida and New York on my trip, in meeting after meeting along the way I was introduced to communities with just a handful of members, individual members who held enormous responsibility for the spiritual and practical aspects of their meetings without formal recognition as elders or pastors (I ironically called them “überQuakers”), and a great deal of what I considered to be unrecognized privilege in the 30 some meetings I visited. It was very discouraging.  It also inspired in me for the first time some of the same questions I bring to you today about leadership, privilege and community organization within Friends which I have still not resolved almost 15 years later. In some ways this may be the difference between the enthusiasm and excitement we feel at gatherings such as this as compared to the relatively normal workings of our daily routines, but I challenge each of us to be honest about the real state of our society in many parts of the global North. I wrote about this experience and received quiet but pointed criticism for my “negative” outlook on the state of the society, even though I’d tried to put an overall positive spin on my disappointment.

Shortly after I returned from this trip in my latter time at Guilford, trouble began to brew between some of the Palestinian students on campus who were graduates of the Friends School in Ramallah and other students. I had gotten to know some of the Palestinian students during my time at Guilford, and felt a particular solidarity with them.  There were occasionally misunderstandings or even minor confrontations between the US students and Palestinian students, and I was reminded just how different the contexts around these two private Quaker schools could be. The Palestinian students who’d come to my school had just gone through the years of the Second Intifada, beginning even before I had my eyes opened about the US role in Israel in 2001. US students at Guilford had come of age as we started two new wars on Muslim countries and consumed non-stop messages of Islamophobia and crusade.  As a member of Guilford’s student Judicial Board, I’d reached out to students and tried to mediate some of these difficulties, especially sensitive to the fact there were huge cultural differences to conflict that I felt needed to be addressed at our Quaker school.

I was completely unprepared for when, in my last semester at Guilford, a large group of students affiliated with the athletics program attacked three Palestinian students with chains and brass knuckles in a public space while openly yelling racial epithets.  The school’s handling of the situation was appalling, especially with an insider’s view on the Judicial Board, as basically every effort was made to sweep the situation under the rug or farm it out to legal authorities off campus (who from a first gathering they took credit for never fully investigated the incident as the hate crime it was.)  We tried to organize student forums to address the huge wound on campus, but the administration essentially just waited us out so that folks would graduate and people would move on.  I asked myself what it mean to be at a Quaker school, that literally had banners of the Quaker testimonies running across our quad, if we could not hold our community account in the face of a hate crime.  

So these three progressive events of going abroad, learning about and visiting many different Quakers on my pilgrimage and then eventually watching my Quaker school turn its back on its principles just as I graduated left me feeling terribly hopeless. In short, growing up in relative privilege, isolated from a broad view of Quaker experience, I suddenly was confronted by a society both in and outside of Quakerism that felt incredibly unjust yet self assured, that spoke of confronting evil in the world but that did not actually seem to believe evil existed, that professed to model a new kind of leadership but indeed seemed fractured and rudderless.  It suddenly seemed like I saw and understood the society and its history better than I ever had before, and yet I could not see a clear place for myself in it. I was tremendously disillusioned.

As I then completed college and struck out on my own, this perspective made navigating my way extremely difficult on a personal level. After getting educated and feeling like I’d learned a lot about my privilege and my inherited place in society and Quakerism, I suddenly felt like the house I thought I’d built (or that had been built for me) on a foundation of rock was actually a house built on sand, buffeted now by rains and floods. The sense of directionlessness I’d projected on Quakerism came right home to me, and my personal faith and identity I’d set out to understand better suddenly seemed hypocritical, flawed, and dysfunctional.

While I had always been a social user of drugs and alcohol, suddenly I began to use them more and more to self-medicate.  Quakerism historically was a teetotalling faith and indeed served a key role in the prohibition movement in the United States, but perhaps unlike British Friends my perception is that few Quakers in the US associated Quakerism now with abstaining.  My college experience was certainly no exception. After college and lacking a social scene around to temper my intake, I began to drink and smoke marijuana as often as I could to dull my sense of emptiness. Perhaps you have heard this kind of story before, perhaps you even know it yourself, but even if you have never heard of a Quaker addict I sand before you as one. 

I felt incredibly alone and isolated, but at the same time I still enjoyed incredible access and so many social opportunities as a white, male, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class college graduate. Because I so rarely had experienced being vulnerable or out of my element, when the house of cards began to fall it fell completely.  I couldn’t stop using drugs and alcohol when I knew I needed to, and I slowly cut off my friends so they would not see what so ashamed me.  I even criticized others for their use, projecting my own failing externally.

The very common experience of 20-somethings trying to find their way in the world was complicated by questions of how my faith felt unable to respond to the most important needs of the day, made that much more painful by the fact it was a faith that frequently spoke about changing the world.  I take much more responsibility now for how my own misconceptions or false narratives were projected onto Quakerism, but at the time I felt like Quakerism had handed me a burden of perpetual subjectivity. Because we as Friends so often spoke of not relying on doctrine or “divisive” approaches to social justice, we were indeed struggling to honestly appraise our own norms and conventions. Even though now at school I’d learn much more about my place in society, suddenly I felt like I was that much more stymied in my path to action. I also certainly did not learn about how to moderate my drinking.   Despite and perhaps in part because of all my privileges, I suddenly had one more reason not to draw a line and say “this is right and this is wrong” because my Truth could not be imposed on anyone else in classic Quaker fashion. I tried to draw the line on my chemical abuse and found I could not.  I wrote an article about this for Friends Journal, a US Quaker magazine, and agreed to record an interview about it with their staff which still comes up as one of the top hits when you Google my name.  I struggle with this to this day, putting this less than flattering, unpolished sense of myself online out there for the world to see.  

 

So what does this mean for us?  How could I take my personal experience and offer it up as something for this gathering?

The answer came to me in the form of a tweet.  Recently Friends enjoyed two instances of rather strangle publicity as characters in two popular British TV comedies visited Quaker meetings for laughs.  While I don’t own a television or keep close tabs on goings on in that area of popular culture, I was impressed to learn about Friends’ appearances in these shows through the social media promotion of Quakers in Britain itself.

Upon actually going to watch the episodes in question, I was surprised to find them somewhat bawdy, definitely irreverent, and entirely unromantic in their portrayal of contemporary English Quakerism.  And yet I appreciate that Friends House saw fit to share them, in my eyes challenging the usual Quaker norm of how to “live in the world but not be of it.” Sometimes we take ourselves entirely too seriously, and in celebration of British Friends’ unconventional choice to promote their relatively unflattering portrayal I’d like to take up their example and run with it.

One of the episodes, from a show called “Catastrophe,” stars an American businessman living in London on a path of self-discovery. Quakerism’s brief moment in the limelight begins when he is encouraged to attend worship while seeking to “improve himself” after being convicted of driving drunk. While at first he is very enthusiastic about Friends’ acceptance and “not even having to believe in God,” he eventually becomes frustrated with what he considers Quakers lack of answers for the “chaos of the world.”  Friends tell him they are “looking to overcome hatred in the long term,” but he becomes impatient with their “vague” answers and says he intends to quit. As he gets up to leave, he says those that stay better have a plan in case they ever “get into power.”

I (strangely) identify with several superficial qualities of this character (impatient, American, alcoholic) but I was particularly impressed that his challenge to Friends struck a chord with me.   Why, when giving up on Quakerism, he challenge us to think about what would happen if we all “came into power,” or in essence suddenly have the opportunity to put our principles in practice on a grand scale?

Many of us may find ourselves isolated from the norms of popular culture at the moment, despairing that climate change, war, even disease and famine.  We were shocked about Trump or Brexit, and so we downplay or struggle to accept the millions of people we don’t really know who voted for them. We see ourselves as underdogs still crying out for justice in wilderness, since indeed things still seem desperate despite everything we know. But we often also rarely acknowledge our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses in ourselves and our society as we struggle with the issues in front of us.  If we are indeed called to hope for change in the long term (as the TV show suggests) as relative foreigners in foreign lands or if are we are challenged to prepare ourselves for “what would happen if we ever got into power”, what can we honestly say about times we indeed have or have had significant spiritual and material power?

This is a key question I’d like to illustrate better by turning to real examples from Quaker history we rarely think about, moments were we as Friends came together which significant power and long-term influence with unforeseen and quite negative results.  My suggestion is that these results came from continuing to consistently think of ourselves as outsiders, victims, and even foreigners when in fact we had the upper hand. I also think that this mentality actually served to obscure rather than help us grow and be of service through our vulnerability in foreign lands. All the the examples I will offer come from North America Quaker history, which I know best, but on areas that even I know only a little about.

The first is Quakers key role in the industrialization of whaling.  When Quakers moved to New England, many became involved in the booming whaling trade.  Indeed places like Nantucket Island in Massachusetts became Quaker-run whaling communities, sending regular excursions out to hunt whales with major whale oil processing facilities onshore. Friends were known for fair dealings in business, and even allowed black sailors on their whaling ships, but in the end this was a business of killing en masse. Quakers became so rich and influential in this trade that some Friends, ancestors of those who’d escaped from England due to persecution, actually returned to Europe to bring whaling technologies improved in the US back to the Old World. Who today could imagine the average Friend, adamant about animal rights and the environment, accepting our role in this mass slaughter? Peterson Toscano, a US friend who writes about climate change, speaks about how in that time as now, money talked and the discussion of whales centered entirely on the markets at that time.  We can now more easily accept the vulnerability of our planet and even our market system, but how did our own role in this bloody chapter of the Industrial Revolution speak to the adage of “coming to do good and doing well?”

Another important example from the early days of United States history is in prison reform in the Quaker state of Pennsylvania.  Because Quakers had spent so much time in jail in England, often under horrible conditions, it was natural that as they set up their own state that they were keen to improve on questions of law and order. Under Quaker administration, Pennsylvania rolled out many changes to the prison system designed to make it more humane but also more “reformative”, with cleaner, more humane and more isolated conditions. Though not inspired solely by Quakers, ideas like prison labor and solitary confinement were adopted early on by states like Pennsylvania, eventually finding their way now into all corners of the current US corrections system.  The U.S. now holds more people in solitary confinement for longer periods than other other prison system in the world. How did our past hurt and trauma in prisons perhaps make us blind to the new and terrible damage we were adopting through the new torture of solitary confinement?

Finally, Quakers were also actively involved in the practice of separating Native American children from the families and sending them to religious boarding schools to “reform” them.  Using the phrase “kill the Indian, save the child,” Christian indoctrination schools around the US were legally entitled to removed Native children from their families and force them to speak only English, cut their hair and wear Western clothing.  The policy of separating Native children from their families lasted until the 1970s. Paula Palmer, a Friend from Colorado, has put significant research into Quakers’ role in running and in fact even imaging the idea of handing over “Indian problems” to religious bodies who would convert and thereby integrate Native peoples into White settler society.  Many are shocked to learn how long this practice lasted, and perhaps are even more shocked that many Friends’ attitudes were so complicit to the colonial mindsets of the time. We struggle to see the privilege we enjoy today, let alone that which we’ve misused to oppress other peoples for generations before.

As a faith that was born under significant persecution and oppression in its early years, we must also acknowledge our leadership failings when the tables turned and we found ourselves in relative privilege and influence. When we really think about it, aren’t we really still living in that place of influence today?  Rather than looking at individual Quaker leaders, whose positions of influence may or may not have been affected by their Quaker values, perhaps we would do well to look at Quakerism’s work as a collective body both positive and negative. Not only that, perhaps rather than focusing on our frequently celebrated roles in movements as challengers of social norms, for example in the anti-slavery or suffrage moments, what have we done when we ourselves held the reins rather than taking the moral high ground as civil dissenters? As individuals and as a society, I challenge us to accept the vulnerability of our missteps and mistakes, sometimes only obvious many years after the fact, in order to more clearly see ourselves and our leadership in a true and clear light. I make this challenge particularly considering our Christian tradition’s approach to being foreign or welcoming the foreigner.  If we are the foreigners, we must accept our vulnerability in our mission to bear witness. If we are welcoming foreigners, we must remember our own vulnerabilities to be of service and solidarity with those we lead and serve.

Queries:

What would we do if we truly lived in the full power of this world? What would we do if we truly lived in the full power of the Gospel Order?

How can we be of service through bearing witness to our vulnerabilities?

As strangers in foreign lands or those welcoming strangers, what in our own experiences can we draw from to build the Kingdom of God?

 

So much for the afterglow…

After such a huge buildup of anticipation this year, for 3 weddings, for new jobs and exciting work opportunities, for sharing the excitement of Fede’s graduation and green card, i’m feeling a little letdown now that it’s all over. I’ve felt so hugely supported by my community of friends and family, it’s a little sad to be on the other side of a huge shower of love.

And then this morning a judge in Israel absolved the state and the IDF of any wrongdoing in the death of Rachel Corrie. I simply can’t help but think of how many people who I know, including my wife, who have put themselves on the line and been luckier than Rachel. Rachel did the right thing as many before her any many after her will do, and she was and still is surrounded by loving community. But today I have been reminded what I already know: the state has no interest in protecting those who seek justice. The state is a cold and ultimately heartless thing, unable to hold itself accountable. As the media falls all over itself to cover party conventions and presidential theatrics, who asks the agents of the state, the gatekeepers and handshakers, what they would do to protect the dignity and human rights of the people? It is our consciences that make us free, but how willing will we be to put that conscience on a shelf, “compromise for the greater good?”

I honor those who follow their dreams and stand up for the right thing, who organize and surround themselves with a true community of accountability.

Olympia BDS- Coop Member Forum

I just returned from the Olympia Food Coop’s member forum to discuss its recent decision to join the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.  I was at the Coop’s board meeting on July 15th when they decided to join BDS, and they knew then this forum would be necessary to air concerns.  The forum this evening was very tense at times, with many people speaking emotionally both in support and in opposition to the boycott.    The thing that was hardest for me personally was to see so many members of the community I have known all my life, whom I know to be both for and against this issue, and to speak my truth in the midst of all of them.  I was at first very unhappy with what I could muster when I finally got my 1 minute in front of the microphone, but in retrospect I appreciate the fact it was entirely real and true for me.

As a white, owning class, straight, Christian, able-bodied man, I was sure I came to this event prepared tonight.  Despite the fact I am struggling to find work right now, despite the fact I have yet to find a place to hang my hat, despite all the other self-imposed inconvieniences my lifestyle choices impose on my way of life  I thought I had myself and the room under control.  My privileged opinion of myself and the weight of my words told me I could wait to the end of a 2 hour emotionally charged forum and speak pure gold to sum up my feelings and address the loose ends of others.  I have been humbled.  When I reached the mic, much of what came to me as I stood before the Board was my sense of connection to this community, my appreciation for their courage in making a difficult decision and standing by it, and my tremendous sense of fear and personal vulnerability.

I rarely feel truly vulnerable in front of others.  Many of the difficulties in my life are directly traceable to my own ego, hurt or fear.  When I feel pain and trace it back to these sources within myself,  I  seek spiritual comfort and I feel freed of myself and forgiven for my tresspasses.  This is my privilege and I enjoy it quietly.

Eid, who’s bulldozed home I visited in the West Bank, does not have this privilege.  When he calmly looked me in the eye and asked me what Israeli settlers tell their children when they tuck them into bed at night with an M-16 on their shoulder,  I could not answer.  I could not answer his father who asked “what person wants to live on the broken scraps of their neighbors houses?”    These men are so vulnerable they are forced to ask  existential questions of themselves AND of their oppressors every day.  My experiences in Palestine tought me that it is neither useful nor possible to compare pain.  In this case, however, in a very rare instance of tables turning, I as the privileged was forced to sit with difficult questions about someone else’s decisions, and ultimately my complacency in them.  It is the decisions of my government, my culture, and the price tag of my way of life that destroyed Eid’s family’s home.  I truly believe that and it makes me incredible uncomfortable.

People at the forum tonight discussed frustration with the Co-op’s process for deciding to support this boycott, for its “divisiveness in our community.”   These words ring hollow in my ears as I remember themeasured storytelling of a Palestinian woman in Hebron speaking about the Israeli settler who entered the mosque in which she was praying, killed over 50 people in her community, and in doing so forced the hand of the complacent Israeli authorities to divide the mosque in two to make one half a synagogue.  What evil logic supports that kind of “process”, what sick “divisiveness”? How often are we forced to reconcile internal doubts or consider personal process for people that destroy our houses, kill our livestock, burn our harvest, poison our wells, steal our water and humiliate us in front of our families? How do we in Olympia look beyond our own identities and allegiances, our own hurts and fears, to truly get inside the hearts of the people who our foreign aid oppresses?  When we feel comfortable and they are far away, we cannot.

I am made vulnerable and uncomfortable by my decision to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.  I am unsure whether I will lose friends, misrepresent the voiceless in my rush to speak or lose sense of my own needs as I plunge into the fray.  But I believe this discomfort is an act of God in my life, an opportunity to have solidarity in my own community with Palestinians in their struggle for self determination and freedom on their native lands.  Palestinians have offered me a gift today, an opportunity to liberate my heart, if not entirely my mind or my body, from seeing only the pain I stand to feel in my own community today.   By supporting BDS, I have seen my privilege reflected back at me, been asked the difficult questions I might not ask if I wanted to feel comfortable.   I seek only to act justify, love mercy and walk humbly with my God.

Rest in peace

I mentioned the Freedom Flotilla in my last post, before anyone who wasn’t interested in Israel or Palestine or justice was paying much attention to it.  In my last days in Turkey, as I’m sure most people know by now, Israel attacked the Turkish ship in the flotilla and killed nine Turkish activists on board, the youngest of whom was a 19 year old high school student.  Turks, needless to say, were furious, and in a totally different way than my shrill liberal internet community.

On the bus to the beautiful town of Amasra the night before the attack, I read the proud account in a Islamist newspaper of some British guys’ conversion to Islam while aboard the flotilla.  They lingered on the details and his rather inarticulate explanation of his convincement. “Well, I thought a lot about it and it seemed like the thing I wanted to do” (as best I could translate from Turkish) An early victory!

Turks, in my general experience, are terribly fatalistic.   I’ll try to justify that sweepingly general statement in the context of this event.  People were pissed, sure.  People did not see any reason, as a confirmed pacifist such as myself deigned suggest, why the activists on board shouldn’t have tried to kick the shit out of soldiers landing on their boat at 4 in the morning because……why should they? Weren’t they going to get shot at and killed anyway?  Didn’t they realize this was probably, in some ways, the most spectacular outcome they could hope for out of their whole hopeless effort?  Ok, maybe that’s a bit of overkill, but I’m shocked that despite tremendous effort on the part of the activists, and complete tacit approval of their cause in the media, in my conversations with friends, etc. NOBODY seemed to think their efforts nor their horrible deaths would change much.  How depressing.

At some point in the last few months, mom recounted a story of one of the conversations she had had with a Turkish friend. They were talking about death, and the best ways to go.  Mom’s friend suggested that, for a Turk, the best way to go was in a blaze of glory, ideally in violent defeat.  Mom’s look as she recounted the story told me she shared my desire for a quiet, peaceful death after a sense of glorious accomplishment, concluded nonviolently years earlier.   Has this got something to do with Turkey’s cultural connections to Islam, often portrayed as bloodthirsty and harsh?  Maybe our disconnect comes from naive Western optimism that believes results come from a stoic protestant work ethic?  Perhaps it’s about a sense of personal fulfillment and differing cultural myths of sacrifice? Regardless, it is clear in the bloodthirsty, Western-sponsored and USA-protestant-approved actions of Israel on Monday that the real problem is not culture, religion, whatever.  The problem is national pride. Nation is identifying so heavily with a collectively-enforced wrong headed hammer that everything looks like a nail.  Those Turks were killed because Israel didn’t want egg on its face for it’s unjust blockade of Gaza.  Life is so cheap in the borders we build around ourselves.  My only hope is that those folks that died felt they went out in the way they wanted.  May they rest in peace, and may their work not be in vane.

The Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival

I mentioned that I was working for the festival, but I didn’t talk about what that was like.  It’s been oddly familiar in the “chaotic NGO atmosphere” sense, but oddly unfamiliar in the “getting death threats from a radical newspaper” sense.

Actually that’s not true, the RCF has been threatened plenty of times, but usually those threats are vague intellectual blatherings or clearly idiotic rants. This time I couldn’t really tell, because it was in Turkish and I certainly wasn’t going to go out and BUY a copy anyway.  I was busily doing this or that in the office last week when I overheard people talking about threats being made against the organization because of the film festival.   It seems one of the radical Islamist newspapers in town has taken offense at the pornstars-turned-serial killers content of one of the films (really). Even some of the festival organizers have admitted the film in question is a bit extreme; by their descriptions I would assume even our radical American fundamentalists would take offense.  But suddenly one can feel very exposed and vulnerable when the threats are coming from the much demonized, but often disembodied and distant seeming, “Islamists” who are openly doing their thing across town.  As a bleeding heart, prone to questioning venom spitters from WITHIN my own country first and challenging their constructions of who my enemies are, this gives me pause.  Apparently both film festivals and newspapers enjoy similar free speech protections here as they do in the US. Too bad the same can’t be said for “the only democracy in the Middle East”(my apologies if you’re not already familiar with this case)  I didn’t really want to see the movie anyway though, which is also my right in this Islamic republic.

Interview: Najwa Najjar

I’ve been working the last few weeks in Ankara for the  13th annual Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival. Flying Broom is a small women’s rights NGO that hosts a flagship festival each year juried by European film honchos.  Because of my interest in the subject, they asked me to work on gathering content for the two Palestinian films being shown this year, “Amreeka” by Cherien Dabis and “Pomegranates and Myrrh” by Najwa Najjar. “Pomegranates and Myrrh” follows the story of newlywed Kamar as her husband Zaid is taken and held in administrative detention.  While her new family’s olive orchards are occupied by Israeli settlers and threatened with unjust confiscation, Kamar learns about the land and returns to her own passion of dance to reclaim her life.  Her interest in a diaspora dance director, Kais, and her visits to Zaid in ‘prison’ underscore her personal struggle with the complexity of the occupation.  I interview the filmmaker by Skype from Ramallah yesterday.

What inspired you to make Pomegranates and Myrrh?

It’s been an idea in the making for a long time. During the second uprising in Palestine, it was a really really difficult time for us. It was very dark and it was my first real experience of being in prison. We couldn’t move, we were locked in the the house. From that place, where do you find the will and the desire to continue life, where do you get that spirit? Where do you get hope? The violence was everywhere, there was so much violence. It was a pretty black time. People were being killed all the time. Not being able to move, being locked in. And then you slowly see how, despite the curfew, despite everything, people go out. You go out even if it means staying at a checkpoint for 8 hours. You are careful of course, but I guess it’s just of way of resistance. That’s maybe where the hope comes from, that you continue your life. I would go to this dance studio, where this troupe that I love, Al Founon, practiced. They’re the dance group in Palestine that crosses the traditional with the contemporary. I’d see that they would cross the road where there was shooting from the settlements and they’d go into the studio, close the shutters, put on the music and life would start again. That was very inspirational. In that period, seeing people’s resilience and desire to continue life fed my own desire. If you give in it’s like what’s happening to you has won, but if you continue loving and dancing and singing and being happy, then you’re alive and that’s crucial.

Do you hope to inspire other Palestinian filmmakers, especially artists or women or young people, through making this film?

I think it’s inherent. I don’t have to do it, they do it by themselves. But yes, this film has been around to all the major festivals, about 60+, and I’ve gotten a lot of good response. At the Edinburgh film festival a woman came up to me, held me really close and said “Thank you, now I know that your people will survive” In Dubai a Kuwaiti actress came up to me and said “You’ve shown us how people live” So the reactions outside, whether inspiring or whatever, at least show an understanding of the situation. But like I said, inspiration is often inherent in the people, they’ve got it and it’s something that can help them continue on with life.

We’re particularly interested in your experience as a female director in Palestine. Do you receive more attention and curiosity as a woman doing what you do in Palestine or abroad?

I’ve been kind of careful because I think that sometimes this point could be used [in a negative way]. You know, I’m a woman and I’m doing this and I think that being a filmmaker under occupation is much more challenging than being a woman filmmaker. I know that only 7% of filmmakers in the world are women and by itself that is something to be commended because women have double and triple jobs as they enter filmmaking. It’s not like they can pursue filmmaking by itself. In Palestine, women have always had a pretty strong role because men are in prison or they’re killed. It’s a situation where women have always had a big role. So I didn’t find that I was particularly looked upon in a special way, but in some ways it could be easier because you can ask someone and say “do you mind doing this?” and things can get done. In outside festivals it was asked quite a bit, it was one of the first questions usually. The important thing is the conception. It is the conception of the Arab world. It is the stereotypical conception that Arab women don’t do much, that they’re just subservient, docile, have no opinion of their own, can’t run a crew, can’t deal with men. With that also comes the perception of terrorism, like for all Muslims of the Arab world. There’s also big interest in the fact that it’s a Christian woman from a Christian family. I found that really a lot of the questions that came out of international festivals where questions of people’s own stereotypes, of women in the Arab world, Christians in the Arab World. But I think these are all really important issues: being a woman filmmaker, and having a strong woman character in my movie, actually a lot of strong woman characters in my movie. It’s been an interesting kind of journey actually. But I found that these were the things that were really brought up in festivals outside.

Please tell us more about your background and family. Is your family anything like either of the ones shown in the film?

The film was based on a lot of research,and people around me. There are things that come through, things that you’ve lived, though of course it’s not a documentary. Research, what you know, your experiences, other peoples experiences and what you’re trying to say all come together in a fictional movie. But for example I was questioned about the men in the movie and I said “I can’t give you what you want to see, these stereotypical aggressive men, because for me personally, I’ve never experienced this” I had a dad who was just an amazing man, he’s kind of like her (Kamar’s) dad. My brothers and the men in my life are just not the stereotypical men that have been portrayed forever in Western media. So yes, the families are similar, the customs that take place, the weddings, the relationships, it’s all very familiar to me.

In the film, Kamar and her mother-in-law visit Zaid in prison in Israel and say that they represent the whole town because the others were not permitted to come. It is Kamar who has most of the conversations with the lawyer about Zaid’s case. While Palestinian men are singled out by Israeli authorities as political or ideological threats to the state, do women have more opportunity to directly confront the occupation or communicate across its barriers?

Well this is a very obvious case of course because it’s imprisonment, it’s dealing with the lawyer. But confrontation with the occupation is on a daily level. In one way or another, whether it’s the patrols of the roads, children, young men and women being shot, arrests on whim, it’s violence against everybody. It’s everywhere in the West Bank. You know when you’re confined to a Bantustan, we’re in a completely confined area. Whether it’s Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, wherever it is, every small town is completely closed in. The roads between them are patrolled by Israelis. If you want to go to a village near Ramallah you have to pass through what’s become an Israeli patrolled road. Or course that doesn’t mean that Ramallah is safe from any kind of incursion, or Jenin, or Nablus. So there’s a daily confrontation with the occupation. Whether it’s soldiers, whether it’s things like your electricity being cut off (note: Our interview was interrupted four times in 40 minutes by power cuts) or your water being taken, whether it’s the wall that you have to pass, whether it’s your crops being taken, I mean it’s every single day. It’s a confrontation every day with the occupation. And it can vary from different levels but it’s there all the time. In the movie it’s very direct and obvious where she has to take an active role now that her husband is not there, the town can’t come. She’s the one that’s in charge because the mother’s too old and she’s the wife and she has to take care of things. And for me that was also just a development of the story, it wasn’t just to tell what’s going on. For me it was this woman that comes from Jerusalem, this city, to Ramallah, which is more rural, and she doesn’t understand the land much and he doesn’t understand her dance much. For me it was her going back and fighting for his case and fighting for the land and working the land which made her understand him more. And him being in prison, being away from everything that he loved, that made him understand her more. So I didn’t want to just keep the story on the very political in terms of Palestine and the country but connecting it within the arc of a story. It was important for me, the relationship, and to survive these circumstances were also important to me. It’s that combination of the two.

Could you speak more about the significance the harvest as a symbol of Palestine and connection to the land? How common is land confiscation as it’s depicted in scenes in the film, where settlers move onto the land and the military supports the action with a confiscation order?

That’s exactly how it happens. Palestine generally is a rural society. It’s mostly a peasant-based society. Historically if you went through the streets there were merchants, there was commerce, but the bulk of the population were peasants. That means that they lived by the land which is their whole livelihood. Now from original Palestine we are left with 8% and the 8% is dwindling into this little cut up pieces of land that are connected by these roads that I’m telling you about. And then there are these Israeli settlements. The settlements are there for two reasons. One, they are there to take the water. And even the way that the wall is built, the wall is built around the area’s major aquifers which are mostly in the West Bank. You see the wall goes in a very funny way, it’s not right on the 1967 borders. It’s done in a way where Israelis can get at our aquifers and suck all our water and sell it back to us. The settlements are built on hilltops and it’s one, to take our water, and two, to take more land. And actually it’s that simple. And Lea Tsmeal, who is our Israeli lawyer in the film, deals with administrative detention and land confiscation cases. We were very precise, and we had Lea say it, because we wanted this to be very precise. And it’s exactly how it’s done. I mean it’s all they have to do, they can come in with a confiscation order and they can say ANYTHING for security and take the land exactly like it happened in the movie.

You’ve mentioned that you intentionally meant to downplay the “spectacle” of Kamar’s final dance performance. Dabke has been portrayed as a reclamation of Palestinian heritage and culture, though the final performance’s score wasn’t a traditional composition for example. Are you saying that even within Palestinian society reclaiming culture doesn’t have to be spectacular or explicitly traditional to be important?

The whole subtext of the dancing for me was a place of freedom of expression, a place where you can move yourself and you can create. The person who’s in charge [the older dance director] is kind of a bureaucrat, you know, he doesn’t want change, he’s very stiff. And that’s were you have Dabke shown in this very kind of militant way, stomping and following orders and things like this. The troupe:wanted to change the steps and make them fit more for today, maybe more fit for this generation. That doesn’t mean that you lose that tradition or essence, but it also means that it’s conforming to today’s way of life. It’s having the freedom, the place where you are free to do whatever you want. So for me the last dance was more about the relationship which developed within the dancing. It was where Kamar was at first part of a troupe, very rigid, very regimented, even though she wanted to make change. And when this other dancer came in, what drew her to him was his ability to create something new. That’s what she wanted to do. And then when you see her at the end and she looks… you know, happy. She’s dancing and there’s this kind of happiness about it, Zaid comes and he sees this. That last dance wasn’t that much about the dance itself, it was more about what was going on in the dance. Zaid sees and understands her, he understood what she was going through. When she leaves Kais in the final scene, this is the freedom that’s needed and the understanding that that triangle has come to a close.

It also wasn’t entirely my choice. I worked with Michal Danna and Amertha Vaz. Michal’s one of the top cinema composers in the world. He’s done Little Miss Sunshine, Kaputt, 500 Days of Summer; he’s pretty major and we were very lucky to have him. In our discussion we were looking for more of an emotional piece at the end and I think it works for what I was trying to say in the story. I know that the expectation was to have a fabulous, all out dance, and that just wasn’t the story.

Kais seems to represent a diaspora voice that is more interested in modern forms and only does the “traditional moves” because he’s asked to in the dance studio. Are we reading too much into that?

He’s a character and that character is part of what makes him who he is, living in the diaspora, never coming to the country. When he comes he shows a common feeling, that feeling of love for a country you’ve grown up so far away from and you’ve only heard about from your parents. Maybe being outside, living between Lebanon and Paris, having that exposure to something that develops more can make it really hard when you get here…. (laughs) I mean, we do live in a very closed environment. You have that right though, it’s something about the diaspora and the things that they can bring with them, it’s that as well.

We’re curious to learn a little more about the logistics of casting and filming. You clearly chose your cast very intentionally. Does the occupation force you to make certain decisions about cast based on who has access to various locations?

The auditions yes, I was extremely careful. If I wanted to bring a Tunisian actor, an Egyptian actress, no way. Syrian, no way. Getting actors from outside the country was very difficult unless they had the foreign [Western] passport. But even, for example, if I wanted a Lebanese with a foreign passport then their being Lebanese would create difficulties. It’s all kinds of things, there’s a lot of considerations that you have to take into account. I wanted a lot of Palestinian actors of course because it’s a Palestinian movie. We did maybe 100 auditions, from everywhere in the country to Jordan, Egypt, New York, Paris. I cast it fairly wide but ultimately even the Palestinians that live in Haifa, Yaffe, Jerusalem have blue ID cards and a blue ID card cannot enter Ramallah. Ramallah has a green ID card. Green ID cards can’t go to Jerusalem where we were going to do some of the location scouting. We had some people from Gaza, they have orange ID cards. They’re not allowed in Ramallah and they’re not allowed anywhere like Haifa, Yaffe, or Jerusalem. So where we were going to shoot was very critical. We had six members who came from Europe and there was a question about whether they could enter the country or not. It was just…Ah!.. a logistics nightmare. But ultimately everyone came in and we had to be very very careful. We had to tip toe and do whatever we needed to do. It totally affected everything.

Have you received feedback from Israeli audiences or been invited to screen P&M at Israeli film festivals?

We decided to do distribution a little bit differently. We opened the film in the Palestinian theaters in Haifa. So it was available. I’m sure some progressive Israelis did go to see it. I think it’s really important to support the Palestinian institutions that exist because they receive very little funding. A lot of these Israeli festivals have government spending from a government which occupies Palestine, so it’s difficult to go to them, and it’s a bit ridiculous to take our movie to Israeli festivals when people who live in the West Bank can’t go to see it, have never been to Jerusalem, can’t go to their original hometowns. So the way that I see this is that cultural cooperation is not going to end the occupation, but maybe the end of occupation will make it possible to cooperate culturally. But to go to these places that everybody can’t access, supported by a government that has occupied so many people, that just seems illogical and unacceptable.


Book Review: A Tale of Love and Darkness

 

In my last few days in Jerusalem I had one of those dangerous freetime windows on Ben Yehuda street. It’s the busiest pedestrian street in downtown West Jerusalem and idle hands quickly found diversion. Down a little side street marked with the graffiti of a Hasid changing into a punk rocker, I ducked into the used English bookstore. Feeling broke but dangerously committed now that I was inside, I asked the nice lady behind the counter if she could recommend a book by an Israeli author. She informed me that her boss threatened fire any staff who didn’t read A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz.

She said she liked it, and I loved it. Oz is one of Israel’s most respected authors and part of what made this memoir so amazing was how much of modern Israeli history Oz has experienced firsthand. Besides being born shortly before the end of the British Mandate and witnessing the creation of the State of Israel, Oz’s family were connected with many of the important historical figures that shaped the new country. (Yet the nation building he describes seems almost like a village meeting) His descriptions of his family and the strange people in his childhood are both touching and very sad. He places his present perspective in the narrative and often looks back on his idealistic and difficult childhood with profound insight into the worldwide importance of that time. The valiant Jewish victories he imagines with matchsticks and cutlery as a child are mournfully reflected in glimpses of Israel in 2000.

One of the most amazing passages is when he describes the walk he, his mother and his father took every Sabbath to the home of his famous Uncle Klausner in Talpiot. I spent most of my time in Jerusalem in Talpiot, now a quiet residential neighborhood on the way to Bethlehem that before 1948 was home to intellectuals and authors. He talks about walking to the edge of Jerusalem and looking out across the “wild frontier” beyond, where between British barracks and “Arab villas” lay Talpiot.  Just past that, the romanticized Kibbutzniks were “carving out a new nation.” He gives such amazing details of the sights and sounds of a journey that now breezes past in a 20 minute bus ride from Ben Yahuda.   When they finally reach Talpiot, it is remarkable how much is still recognizable. He even mentions that after his uncle’s death a street was named after him, the street I passed while walking to the bus. When the buses started again on Saturday evening after the Sabbath in the 1940’s, the family would take the number 7 bus back to the city center. The number 7 bus still follows that route.

While this living history may seem inconsequential compared to the ancient stories that make up Israel and Palestine, I am so moved by a person who can so eloquently share their place on that continuum.

The last month

I’ve been completely lax on updates and can’t even use the excuse of being to busy. It’s actually been rather relaxed the last week in preparation for the Ben Gurion gamut coming up here shortly.

This trip has been completely different than my last here. Last time I visited, I saw some of the most traumatic places and heard some of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever come across. I returned home shocked and shaken.

I can’t say that the reality I experienced then is somehow different or even better now, so I’m convinced that a part of the change has been in me. I’m much more solid now than I was just a little more than a year ago. I’m still not sure exactly what I’m doing with my life. I’m still not sure how I might choose to plug into this part of the world, for sure. But I’m not scared, withdrawn… on guard in the same way I have been.

I realize that on my last trip I made an incredible effort to stay open and attentive to what I was experiencing, placing all that I saw onto a heart already broken. My instinct was retreat, but I forced myself head first into a situation with no more space for the broken hearted. It tore me up and it’s taken me a while to recover.

I cannot deny the injustice that I see here. I cannot forget what I have seen and heard. But by healing my hurt and letting go of some of my own pain in the last year, I truly believe I am more able to responsibly move in this land of hurt.

 

Talking Terra Santa

“But what about the yellers?” It was a question I asked myself as much as Fede before her last speaking engagement.  A regular part of speaking publically about the Middle East, in my experience, is dealing with the various crackpots, quarrelers and raging idealogues poised with attacks for every word you say.

Realizing  peace is about educating people though, OD volunteers commonly spend much of their “time off” in country speaking to as many people as possible about their work.  I’ve attended 2 of these speeches now, not just to provide logistical support but also for the cultural comparison of seeing how Italians react to what they see.

It’s been interesting.  The first speech was in the Northern part of the province, Ferrara, incidentally scheduled for the same day as the major blizzard that swept across here in strange patches.  As we made our way there through a thick blanket of snow, we heard that “the buses” bringing her audience we coming anyway.  Buses?  Whaaa?  Upon arriving we found very little snow but  a whole gymful of kids of all ages playing games.  Apparently this was some kind of Catholic Youth Day with “Peace” as its theme.  Fede had originally been prepped for a talk with a “small group of middle schoolers.”  What it actually ended up being was 15 minutes with the 80 or so kids whose buses actually arrived. Who knows what effect the pictures of dead animals and nonviolent resistance had on them.

Yesterday night was the second outing. We wound our way up into the hills not far away to stop in a charming little village along a medieval wall.  The venue was “The Peacock Tree”, a little old school cafe that hosts leftish gatherings, nonviolence discussions, and poetry readings in the local dialect, Romagnolo. (Selections from Feb lineup:  “Chickenlegs”-Italians do rockabilly/surf “Waltzing Mathilda”- Italians do Irish[?] Man talks about Fungi and climate change, etc)  The mix of down-home cultural revival and political consciousness was cool, surrounded by antique furnishings, posters of Native American chiefs and the various quotes attributed to them translated into Italian, and birdcalls from what must have been quite an aviary upstairs.

Now, the yellers.  They were there yesterday, though not amongst the kids the other day.  It’s amazing to me that even when someone takes pains to explain that their efforts are really not explicitly political, that they only support nonviolence, and that they really are not there to offer any conclusive answers on anything, people still demand answers on politics, violence, and general conclusions for everything.

Overall the event was charming and fun.  I should have asked how to say “yeller” in Romagnolo though.

No Wake Zone

I tried to take Federica out for a sail yesterday in a last ditch effort to get the boat out and impressing women as it is intended.  No go.  As the starter ground and my newly ripped shorts flapped in the ample breeze, I would not be defeated.  I decided we would try to sail off the dock…..into the wind.  Desperate measures only succeeded in rousing all the neighbors from their vessels to anxiously ask if “they could help” [me return to my slip like a sane person, I gathered]  I was defeated.

FewithFlowers

Having Federica see my life for the last three weeks, including the delightfully exotic (hiking through tropical rainforest munching on strawberry guavas) and the painfully mundane (fretting over whether the Y will grant a FOURTH guest pass in its limited unlimited “special offer” plan,  just wanting a damn shower)  I have felt honored to have her see everything  and apparently accept it all with a remarkable calm I couldn’t imagine mustering.  How is it that some people are so collected, grasping the tiller firmly and staring down their future with a genuine smile?  It may be that we’re all still just tied to the dock anyway, or that the mussels are slowly sinking us from the bottom up, but I just can’t help FRETTING all the time, whigging out over the tiniest things.

EvanandFede

Last weekend she and I did two events about Israel and Palestine on Whidbey Island.  People listened politely and asked good questions but I realized at the end of it all I feel so tired getting righteous about injustice these days.  As I’ve bucked and tossed and rolled myself at the helm of some kind of vessel plodding through Israel and Palestine, I’ve burnt myself out.  My starter’s gonna fail if I don’t watch it.  I know very well why I don’t have the tireless energy of some or the uncanny good cheer of others.  I’m just not yet running with everything full ahead yet.  It’ll happen though, and man I’m hoping it’ll be impressive when it does.