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Jan 24, 2008

Making It Through Without Stopping

(click for full sizes)

Yesterday, in my haste to address the breach of the wall in Ramallah, I posted the top photo, above.  I accompanied it with a comment from a well meaning reader likening the scene to the fall of the Berlin wall.

Well, not long into the comment thread, it was pointed out -- with complete justification -- that this analogy, relative to the immediate Israeli/Palestinian situation, was as much uncomplicated as it was random.  On reflection, I could see how my impulsivity (and attraction to the analogy) had been motivated by the sudden release of pressure following Israel's five-day total blockade of Gaza.

From that point, taking the opportunity to look further, what stood out was the documentation of a rare collective moment.  No, the world didn't change, or anything even close.  But for an afternoon, at least, a mass group of Gazians were able to suddenly pass freely -- to escape, to run the checkpoint -- without repercussion.

What the image also caused, in my case, was to remind me of a shot I saw about two weeks ago.  Fixed in my mind was a scene from January 10th involving George Bush's visit to the West Bank.  That morning, because of heavy fog, "43" was forced to forsake his helicopter and travel by ground, via motorcade.  Although the press was highly tamped down throughout Dubya's entire Middle East trip, the NYT managed to publish the photo above -- taken by a photographer for European Press Photo Agency -- of the motorcade passing unhindered through an Israeli checkpoint.

It was the catharsis in the top image that allowed me to more finely appreciate the cutting nature of the bottom one.

Although completely invisible to the West, this scene turned into a thoroughly painful and controversial one for the Palestinians.  The reason, not surprisingly, involved what that insensitive bumbler had to say during his appearance with Abbas after his chain of SUV's finally reached Ramallah.

With that half-goofy, half-cavalier tone he is famous for, Bush gave a one-sided answer, with a quip on the end:

"He's asking me about the checkpoints I drove through and my impression about what it was like to drive through checkpoints. I can understand why the Palestinians are frustrated driving through checkpoints. I can also understand that until confidence is gained on both sides, why the Israelis would want there to be a sense of security. In other words, they don't want a state on their border from which attacks would be launched. I can understand that. Any reasonable person can understand that. Why would you work to have a state on your border if you weren't confident they'd be a partner in peace?

And so checkpoints create frustrations for people. They create a sense of security for Israel; they create massive frustrations for the Palestinians. You'll be happy to hear that my motorcade of a mere 45 cars was able to make it through without being stopped. (Laughter.) But I'm not so exactly sure that's what happens to the average person."

To get the fuller dimension of Bush's tone that day (a day, by the way, also marked by several Israeli air strikes on Gaza), you can watch the al-Jazeera clip of the event, which includes a summary report on what life is like having to navigate through a daily, interminable hell of fixed checkpoints and surprise checkpoints, interspersed with suddenly-closed checkpoints.

If the President, however, isn't sure whether free passage happens to "the average person" around those parts, we have yesterday's photos to prove it -- at least once.

(One other aspect about the second photo:  You might notice the giant posters on the wall up the street on the left.  These are part of an art project by a group called Face2Face.  These posters, placed in various locations on both sides of the Israeli wall, are meant as a peace gesture, documenting the paired, and photographically exaggerated faces of Israelis and Palestinians, each sharing the same vocation.  I applaud the spirit of the project, even if I'm not sure -- especially for Palestinians -- whether the images don't feel a little mocking.  ...In this case, however, what's more relevant is whether Bush noticed them or not.  If he did, though, I'm certain he saw no irony at all.  Rather, I'm sure they seemed light and funny, just like the Palestinian's commute.)

Al Jazeera analyses Bush's checkpoint gaffe - 10 Jan 08 (via YouTube.  Start at the 2:40 mark and watch through 7:55)
Mr. Bush's trip to Ramallah  (Electronic Intifada)
As Bush Sows, So Hamas Reaps? (Helena Cobban on the Bush trip)
This Week In Palestine – week 3 2008 (violence report - International Middle East Media Center)
Face2Face trailer (video - daily motion)
Face2Face project (website)
Palestinians Topple Gaza Wall and Cross to Egypt (NYT)
Gazans Cross Border Wall (NYT slide show)

(h/t: vze1v4ks. image 1: Abid Katib/Getty Images.  Gaza.  January 23, 2008.  image 2:  Abed Al Hafiz Hashlamoun/European PressPhotoAgency. West Bank. January 10, 2008.


It is invigorating to see and hear the breaking of the wall...
No matter how dire the situation progressed, the outside help did not arrive. The Palestinians from Gaza themselves had to do it.
That is not to say there is no need for help. The active solidarity would warm the hearts of the people too, knowing that somebody on the outside understands their daily struggles and is enraged too.

I agree with your e-mailer: Where is the outrage? Starving and cutting off electricity to one of the most overpopulated places on earth. This is worse than the Berlin Wall my friend.

Well, I'm not sure at the analogy, I guess. Oppressed people overturn a wall constructed by an Oppressive Government to stream -into- that country? Just seems to me that the analogy falls apart, is far more foreign than the Berlin Wall ... and maybe, in some ways, the picture reflects this?

Normally I find Bag News enlightening, but I question the selection of *one* photo frame to invite comment about an event that is more complex than most of the posters, even the most well intentioned ones, can account for. Most people who read BagNews (residents in the US) cannot imagine the destitution and privation that drove Palestinians in Gaza to walk over the steel, and the cursory comment that one could provide here seems callous at best. If comments are to be made, let there be several images, not just one--the call for commentary on a single image and the postponed comment from the moderator seems like an afterthought, and contrary to the ethos of careful analysis usually cultivated here.

As for the analogy between the Gaza and Berlin walls: The Cold War is the narrative that frames the history of the Berlin Wall, and as such, it had a cumulative signification of 40+ years and the vindication of the West against the "Evil empire" of communism. Images proliferated like confetti for the party that the West hosted after Capitalism, O mighty force, O Invisible Hand, Triumphed.

By contrast, the Israel/Palestine situation has been a vexing, embarrassing, and ill-understood issue for most Americans produced by a combination of censorship, distractions, and the distanced imagination that construes events "over there" as "foreign," as gus points out. Not to mention the anti-Arab sentiment that the past 7 years have bred, which creates all the more reason to see Palestinians as "Other," "Foreign," "not one of us".

Indifference to suffering is the most efficacious weapon of mass destruction. And this single image, which shows no suffering, just people who could be delinquents in a nearby park or abandoned construction site, is truly indifferent. The image offers no history, no context, no emotion. I hope Bag presents other images as events unfold.

"Moussa Zuroub, 28, carried his young daughter, Aseel, on his shoulders through the muddy streets of Rafah, which is divided by a wall into Egyptian and Gazan segments. "I'm coming just to break that ice — that all my life, I'd never left Gaza before," he said."

If only the wall could fall from around all Israeli and Palestinian hearts, they would find out they are all the same after all.

gus - Just for the record, the "security wall" between the Gaza Strip and Egypt was built by Israel. The sweep of empty land on either side of the wall used to be homes, which were demolished to creat a so-called buffer zone.
So you have people (the Palestinians) breaking down a wall built by an oppressor state (Israel) to get to a third country (Egypt) to buy food and other daily needs.
Does this clarify things?

Now that top photo is Escher like (in response to the comment that the photo of Peshawer reminded someone of an Escher drawing). Like an Escher stairway, the momentary escape will lead nowhere for the Palestinians, and more dead ends await.

Bush's comments remind me of his brother Jeb's in Florida after a legislative session. Jeb said, "Well, we got what we wanted today. I don't know what the poor people got (laughs), but we got what we wanted." George laughs now, enjoying his special priveleges while knowing (admittedly without understanding) that others are not treated the same way. To him it's all a joke.

The Bush family is evil, in the old fashioned sense of the word as well as in the sociopathic, modern sense. How do these people get into elected office, even in a system in which the dice is loaded? I mean, eventually they're bad even for businessmen. Dick Cheney has used Bush as his front man and his party of choice is going to be out of power for at least a generation if the people have their say. I just don't understand it.

Even Machiavellian strategists should know enough to stay away from simply evil people. They incite revolution, and will cook your goose faster than anything else will.

If you've spent your life in limousines protected in houses with big walls with servants making and bringing you food, it's hard to care for those who have to walk on foot across walls just to get some food.

Especially if your mother never even bothered to tell you that your little sister who you loved most of all was sick and dying, or let you grieve over the fact that she had died.

I understand Bush's sociopathic behavior. I have compassion for him. I know very well he will never actually be a happy man. But it is sad that he has to make others unhappy just to please himself, and rub that unhappiness in their faces. That is the sin for which he cannot be forgiven. His cruelty.

donna, I don't know about compassion for Bush, but your comment reminded me of something that I didn't work into the post. One thing that telegraphs Bush's ignorance of the Palestinian situation (shades of Poppy and the supermarket scanner) is the idea that all these here Palestinians must have their own cars.

Tina read my mind.

And to donna, I don't think I can find any compassion for Bush. It's not like he's isolated, kept in a closet or a cage by his parents -- he has access to anything he wants. And from what I have seen, he does not want access to introspective thinking, self-reflection or psychological help. He's just fine. It's the poor, disinfranchised, ailing, minority, did I say Poor? handicapped, war veterans who need help, except...he ain't gonna give them any help.

He doesn't care.

So why should we have any compassion for someone who cannot give compassion? He's evil. Does Evil deserve compassion? Can someone address that question?

I vote for no compassion.  Question is, why is it possible in other countries to bring down the tyrant, make real changes, bring the walls down, and why is it not possible in the heart of the beast to make meaningful changes? Italy's Senate votes and Prodi is out... for much less than 935 lies and why is it that it is impossible to make a real change? I know the candidates are promising "real changes", yet no end to war...but that does not stop the enthusiasm of the blind... and mainstream media keeps pumping into the air the words that are supposed to keep people in steps with the system ...great theatrics...

So the wall is closing on Palestinians again.
Iron grip of Israel with the help of the US reminds one of the ghetto control of Warsaw by Nazis. Yes there will be punishment, the collective punishment.

Most of the people walking across the wall are choosing to balance on the top edge like when we were kids balancing on a curb. All males are 7 years old.

By forcing Muslims into walled-in ghettos, humiliating and depriving them of life support to such an extent that they express themselves in suicidal attacks and desperate wall breaches, the occupiers are teaching native Palestinians what it is like to be Jewish.

Mr. G. - If that's true things are a lot worse than we thought. Are the Israelis the ones handing out the yellow stars this time? This is not a happy thought.

arty as a historical note, the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and else where were abandoned by the same countries that have abandoned the Palestinians.

The tragic suffering and betrayal of the Palestinians in the past 40 years is greater than many of us care to consider or acknowledge.

They don't need arm bands, they require informed citizens in the West and a lobby at least 1/10 the size of that which represents Israel in its relentless assault on any Western source which offers an alternative narrative on this Middle East catastrophe

jt - Agreed, completely, but it seems that the West's refusal to acknowledge (see: "lobby") whose heel has been on the Palestinians' necks for the past forty years puts us all in the role of enablers.
I guess yes, that refusal makes the abandonment feel a whole lot better.

on observing the cavalcade, three questions arise;

Is this a mafia funeral cortege ?
An accused war criminal on route to an international court of justice ?
Or our most unfavorably viewed Potentate gallivanting on the world stage again ?

Democracy Now : Gaza and presidential candidate positions, Ali Abunimah.

"And the excuse that the Israelis are using, that they're doing this in response to rocket fire, we know for a fact that Israel has rejected ceasefire after ceasefire put forward by Hamas and other Palestinian factions. We know for a fact that there are no rockets coming out of the West Bank. And yet Israel continues to carry out extrajudicial executions in the West Bank and military attacks on Nablus, on Balata refugee camp and all the other places in the West Bank.

We have to be clear that what Israel is trying to do is a massive experiment in ethnic cleansing to get rid of a million-and-a-half people who do not fit its demographic desires and the desire to remain a state where one ethnic group has special and better rights by virtue of its religion. That's what's going on"

Rafiah, not Ramallah. The wall was breached in Gaza. Ramallah is not in Gaza.

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