Monday, December 15, 2008

Arundhati Roy on Mumbai

Roy is time and time again, an amazing thinker and writer. She nails it on her opinion piece about the Mumbai attacks, which was posted on the Guardian:

The monster in the mirror

"But November isn't September, 2008 isn't 2001, Pakistan isn't Afghanistan and India isn't America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.

...Through the endless hours of analysis and the endless op-ed essays, in India at least there has been very little mention of the elephants in the room: Kashmir, Gujarat and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Instead we had retired diplomats and strategic experts debate the pros and cons of a war against Pakistan. We had the rich threatening not to pay their taxes unless their security was guaranteed (is it alright for the poor to remain unprotected?). We had people suggest that the government step down and each state in India be handed over to a separate corporation. We had the death of former prime minster VP Singh, the hero of Dalits and lower castes and villain of Upper caste Hindus pass without a mention.

We had Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City and co-writer of the Bollywood film Mission Kashmir, give us his version of George Bush's famous "Why they hate us" speech. His analysis of why religious bigots, both Hindu and Muslim hate Mumbai: "Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness." His prescription: "The best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever." Didn't George Bush ask Americans to go out and shop after 9/11? Ah yes. 9/11, the day we can't seem to get away from."

She was interviewed about her latest essay on Democracy Now, and expands on what she wrote, including crucial discussion about Kashmir, partition, the war in Afghanistan, the nuclear subcontinent and the right-wing Hindutva movement.

Respect to Roy!!

Monday, December 01, 2008

As the Fires Die: The Terror of the Aftermath

As the smoke lifts from Mumbai, skepticism must prevail over those conjectures which support the official state narrative. It is crucial to increase the pressure for transparency and accountability at this moment to ensure that India doesn't slide into the same state as post-9/11 USA.

By Biju Mathew

The deaths continue even as I write this. The death toll stands at 195. And of the several hundred injured some may not survive. It is now official. The siege is over. The last of the gunmen inside the Taj Hotel has been shot dead. The Oberoi/Trident hotel was cleared earlier today and the Nariman House Jewish Center at the corner of Third Pasta Lane on the Colaba Causeway was stormed close to 24 hours ago. The other targets - the Leopold Cafe (a popular tourist hangout), the CST railway terminus (also called the Victoria Terminus), the Metro Cinema, the Cama Hospital, all seem to be targets the gunmen attacked as they zoned in on the hotels and Nariman House. In the end this has become a story of two sets of men with guns.

The human story of the innocents who died, the hotel staff who kept their cool and moved guests around the hotel through the service entryways and exits, those who helped each other escape, will not really make it to the headlines. The maintenance worker at the Oberoi who shielded guests and took the bullets in his stomach will remain unsung. The hospital orderlies who ran in and out with stretchers carrying the wounded - each time not knowing if they will make it back themselves to the ambulance, will not be noted. The several trainee chefs at the Taj who fell to bullets even as other kitchen workers escorted guests away from the firing and hid them inside a private clubroom will not be written up in the book of heroes. The young waiter at Leopold who was to leave to work in a Cape Town restaurant will soon be forgotten. The two young men who dragged an Australian tourist shot in the leg away from the Leopold entrance and carried her to a taxi will not even identify themselves so that she can thank them. These stories, in as much as they are told, will remain on the lips of only the workers, the guests and the tourists who helped each other. The officials will try and produce a clean story to tell the world. And we know the clean story is untrue.

The official story that has already begun to emerge is one that may have some facts embedded in it. But we must remember that between every two facts is a lot of conjecture. The conjectures that unite the few facts (16 gunmen, AK47s, grenades, passports of multiple nationalities, boats on which at least some of them arrived, a dead Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief, Hemant Karkare, who was heading the investigation against the Hindu Right wings' terror campaign, the gunmen trying to identify British and American citizens) makes the story. The story then is as much a product of the conjecture as it is of the facts. And there are certain stories that we are already oriented towards. The conjectures that create that story - the story we are already prepared for - is the one the State will dole out for our consumption. Already the conjectures that will serve the State, are out there in great profusion.

Several reporters have noted that the gunmen were clean-shaven, dressed in jeans and T-shirts. The silent conjecture is that they were expecting and were surprised by the fact that these men did not have beards and did not sport the Muslim prayer cap. Every newspaper worth its salt - the Times of India, the Jerusalem Post, the Independent from the UK, among scores of others - have already run commentary on the unsecured coastline of India. The conjectural subtext is that securing the coastline is possible and if India had done so, this attack would have been prevented.

There is also a quick labeling going on -- India's 9/11. The subtext is that India could and should act as the US did after 9/11 - decisively and with great aggression. There is also the subtext that the Indian State is soft on terror that adds to the US-tough-on-terror contrast. Sadanand Dhume, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has castigated the Indian government for withdrawing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and for preventing states like Gujarat from passing their own version of the draconian worse-than-Patriot Act legislations. Neither Mr. Dhume, nor the several reporters who will now write stories about how the POTA repeal represents the Indian State�s soft attitude towards terror will ever feel the need to explain how POTA could have prevented this attack.

The dead are on the floor. The vultures are moving in. The conjecture will try to unite the country into a series of unexamined positions. That POTA must be recalled. That States must be allowed to pass even more draconian laws. That Hindu terror is not a big issue and must be forgotten for now - especially now that we may not find an honest policeman or woman to head the ATS. That the defense budget must go up. That the coastline must be secured.

None of the well educated masters of the media will write that the 7000 odd kilometer coastline cannot be protected - that all it will translate to is billions in contracts for all and sundry including Israeli and American consultants. Nobody will write that a hundred POTAs will not prevent a terror attack like this one; that Guantanamo Bay has not yielded a single break through. Nobody will write that higher defense budgets have been more often correlated with insecure and militarized lives for ordinary citizens. Nobody will write that almost without exception all of US post-9/11 policies have been disasters. Bin Laden is still around, I am told and so is the Al Qaeda. The number of fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews have probably gone up over the last decade. So much for good policy. But the conjecture will go on.

The foreign hand and its internal partner will be floated without ever naming anything precise. But the country will read it just as it is meant to be read - Pakistan and the Indian Muslim. Everything will rest on the supposed confession of the one gunman who has been captured. A Pakistani from Faridkot, I am told. Why should we believe it? Didn't the same Indian State frame all the supposed accomplices in the Parliament attack case? Didn't the same Indian State claim that the assassins of Chattisinghpura were from across the border until that story fell apart? And more recently, didn't the same Indian State finally agree that all the accused in the Mecca Masjid bombings were actually innocent? And even if Mr. Assassin supposedly from Faridkot did say what he did say - why should we believe him? Why is it so difficult to believe that he has his lines ready and scripted? If he was willing to die for whatever cause he murdered for, then can he not lie? Oh the lie detector test - that completely discredited science that every militarized State trots out. And the media love the lie detector test because it is the best scientific garb you can give to conjecture.

I certainly don't know the truth. But I do know that there is more than enough reason for skepticism. The problem is that we need a new theory of the State. We need to re-understand the State.

There is such unanimity when it comes to analyzing the Pakistani State - that the ISI, and if not all of the ISI, at least a segment of it, is a rogue element Furthermore, that its bosses may not be sitting in Islamabad, but perhaps elsewhere in the country or even abroad. If we can accept that about the Pakistani State, why is it so difficult to accept it about the Indian State? We all know that Colin Powell was a kind of a patsy - a fall guy, who trotted out some lies on behalf of a segment of the neo-conservative movement firmly entrenched within the American State (which Obama will not touch). We also know that if the ISI has a rogue element in it, it was in good part created by the CIA. Then why do we think that the same guys couldn't render another State - such as the US - itself hollow from the inside.

The contemporary State is a different being. For every story of money-corruption you hear, there could just as well be one of political-corruption. Every vested interest who locates himself inside the State apparatus is not just a vested interest going after money but could just as well be securing the space for creating a certain politics. The RSS has a long history of trying to take over the bureaucracy, doesn't it? So do the neo-cons and so do the jamaatis. Then why do we believe in a theory of the State that is unified and with liberal goals?

The history of the liberal State and its relationship with capitalism of all types is a simple one. The longer that relationship persists the more corrupt and hollow the liberal State gets, leaving the space open for political ideologies to occupy its very insides. The logic for this is inherent in the very system. If profit is above all, then given the power the State has, it must be bought. Cheney is no different from Shivraj Patil, and Ambani is no different from Halliburton. They are both part of the story of hollowing the State out. And once the hollowing process begins, every ideological force can find its way in, as long as it has resources. The archetypal bourgeois liberal State is over. It never really existed, but what we have at the end of four decades of neo-liberalism bears no resemblance to the ideal formulation whatsoever. What we have instead is a series of hollowed out States with their nooks and crannies, their departments and offices populated with specific neo-conservative ideological interests. The US has its variant. India has its. And Israel its very own. It is incapable of delivering the truth, and not just the truth, it is only capable of producing lies.

If this story of skepticism makes sense then we have only one choice. To understand that it is crucial to increase the pressure for transparency at this moment, to be relentless in our demand for openness and detail, in our call to ensure that no investigation or inquiry that was in place be halted and that every one of these be subjected to public scrutiny. It is our responsibility to reject the discourse of secrecy based on security and demand specific standards of transparency. What we should demand is that every senior minister and every senior intelligence officer be examined and the records be made available to the public. What we must demand is that an officer of impeccable record be found to replace Hemant Karkare. What we must demand is that we get explanations of how a POTA clone would have stopped this crime. What we must ask is how POTA or the Patriot Act could have ever helped prevent terror? What we must do is support the Karkare family in their demand for a full investigation of his death in the company of the encounter specialist- Salaskar. What we must have is an open debate on every single case of terror over the last decade in India.

When I am in Bombay, I always stay at a friend�s on Third Pasta Lane. Each afternoon I would walk out and see the Nariman House. I have wondered what the decrepit building was. I have always contrasted the drabness of the building with the colorful sign on the next building that announces Colaba Sweet House. The next time I won't wonder. I will know that it was one of the places where the drama that inaugurated India's renewed march towards fascism unfolded. Unless we act. Unless we act with speed and determination demanding transparency and accountability and a careful rewriting of the story of terror in India. Only a renewed movement can ensure that India doesn't slide into the same state as post 9/11 USA.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Farewell to mosquitoes

Howrah train station, Kolkata

Today is my last whole day in India, after about 6 weeks. Here is my pretentious post of reflections of what I've learned and experienced during my trip.

1. I haven't seen any Starbucks cafes, anywhere.
2. I haven't seen any street signs, anywhere. Only signs pointing to major highways. I still wonder how drivers navigate.
3. Delhi is a city full of smog. And lots of traffic. But with nice Metro trains.
4. Places like Humayun's tomb, Jama Masjid, and Lal Qila/Red Fort, make you forget that you are in the middle of a huge city, surrounded by 13 million people. I am a fan of Old Delhi.
5. Calcutta/Kolkata is my favourite Indian city.
6. From now on I think I'll just fly straight to Calcutta.
7. Bihar...needs help. Bihar is the most under-developed place I've been in, and the least safe. Before, I used to only see Bihar when I visited India, making me think that Bihar was India. Now I realize, that the rest of India is not like Bihar.
8. Bihar has many issues and faults, but I do actually miss it. I didn't mind the bumpy roads or the dinginess, I got used to it all pretty quickly.
9. India is in transition - but I wonder how much more it will actually change. Here are 2 Indias, out of many - the new, emerging economy of business India, 'new India', full of IT businesses, malls, flashy cars, and expensive clothes. Then there is the rest of India, that just gets left behind. The servant classes, of cleaners, drivers, cooks; the hundreds of millions who cannot read and don't have electricity. A prime example of course, is Bihar/Jharkand, seen to be the dark hole of India. The gap between the two Indias, only gets bigger everyday. India as a new emerging super-economy? Only for some.
10. I stand apart from the locals. The locals can usually tell right away that I've come from abroad. I usually don't care unless I'm buying something, and that's when I try the most to blend in.
11. My Hindi/Urdu has improved slightly since I got here. Same with my comprehension. Back in the States, for some reason a few people think that my Hindi/Urdu is amazing, whereas here, I can tell that it needs a lot of work.
12. India has good Indian food.

13. When I first got here I was very unnerved that were servants in the households I stayed in. What is frightening, is that very quickly, I got used to servants being around - i.e. I stopped thinking about the class inequalities, and just accepted the environment for how it is. It became very easy to brush aside any moral concerns I had regarding servants - I started to imitate a little, what others around me did. For example, while I would still (sometimes) get up from the table and start to put away the food, and then always being told not to, I stopped thinking about how this driver or this cleaning lady might live at home, how much they see their family, and how much they earn. I think this shows how easy it is to get used to the privilege I have here, and I find it very unnerving of how quickly I got used to it.

All in all, I'm very grateful I got to come here after such a long absence. I definitely feel more connected to the place and understand it a lot more. When I see Hindi films now, the locales seem familiar to me. And I can tell that my folks are happy that I came here, and that I'm able to get around without much hassle. I've learned a little bit here and there about Indian politics in my time here, but there's no way I'll ever be able to completely understand the whole context of even one issue. But I'll continue reading.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Obama vs Thackeray

I think he's too hopeful about Obama, but this piece gives a good contrast between what's going on in America and in India politically.

8 Nov 2008, 0010 hrs IST, Jug Suraiya

Perhaps no two politicians could be more dissimilar, not just in stature but, more importantly, in the philosophy they represent, than US president-elect Barack Obama and MNS chief Raj Thackeray. Obama, the black American president, represents what might be called the politics of togetherness; Thackeray personifies the politics of otherness.

In his victory speech, resonant not with triumphalism but with a resolve to overcome the many challenges ahead, Obama made it explicitly clear that he is not a black president, but a president for all Americans; not just a president of the Democratic Party, but for all shades of political opinion, including those who had voted against him.

Expressing his confi-dence that America as a whole would overcome the hard times that it faces, just like the African-American community had spectacularly overcome a history of enslavement and discrimination, Obama consistently stressed the word ‘United’, in the United States of America.

‘United’ was the key word in the pledge he made to the American people on that epochal day. We can do this, said the president-elect; we can do this together. And his enraptured listeners chorused in response: Yes, we can!

How different is this politics of cohesion, of togetherness from the politics of divisiveness, of otherness, that today threatens to balkanise India. Raj Thackeray is only one, though currently the most topical, of India’s all too many practitioners of the politics of otherness.

Raj is merely following in the footsteps of his uncle Bal Thackeray who hinged his politics of otherness on the expulsion from Maharashtra of so-called ‘south
Indian outsiders’; his nephew’s contribution to the politics of otherness has been the substitution of ‘south Indians’ with ‘north Indians’.

It is not just Maharashtra which has fallen prey to the divisive politics of otherness, of devising a feared and loathed ‘other’ in adversarial relation to which one can form one’s own identity based on caste, creed, ethnicity or language.

From Assam and the north-east to Kashmir, from the imminent Andhra-Telangana divide to the symbiotic rise of Islamic and Hindu radicalism in the form of Indian Mujahideen and Abhinav Bharat, the fabric of the Indian republic woven with such care and compassion by the framers of our Constitution seems remorselessly to be unravelling.

Bal and Raj Thackeray are archetypal of the post-independence Indian politician who bettered the British instruction of divide and rule by adopting the tactics of divide and misrule.

As real solutions to real problems — of unemployment, illi-teracy, social and religious prejudice — require hard work and patience to evolve, it’s much easier for the vote-catching politician-in-a-hurry to conjure an imaginary bogey, a scapegoat on which exploited frustration can wreak vengeance.

This self-destructive exercise is doubly efficacious as an electoral gimmick in that it ensures that the targeted vote bank, denied real development, will remain perpetually in thrall to its political puppeteer.

It would be easy to blame our political class for the politics of otherness and divisiveness that increasingly threatens to splinter the country.

But people get the politics, and the politicians, they deserve. If today America has a Barack Obama as its leader, it’s because the citizens of that country have through a long and arduous process of social and political turmoil forged a consensus to breach the barrier of racial inequality.

Today, if the US president-elect can emphasise the ‘United’ in United States, a unity of which he is an embodiment, it is because it is not just the politicians but the people of America who have recognised that even as differences and dissent are the lifeblood and oxygen of any democracy, the stifling of pluralism is its death knell.

And if today there are fears for India’s unity let’s not blame only Raj Thackeray and others like him. All of us who actively or passively helped create the climate of otherness and divisiveness must be held accountable if our republic ever becomes the Disunited States of India.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Hello there. If anyone was actually anticipating me writing in my blog about India, I'm sorry for the delay. I know I've been here over 3 weeks and should have done it sooner. Well I have a lot to talk about, and I'll do it in increments over a few posts.

Clearly, these posts are coming from someone who hasn't been in India in a while. Last time I came here I was 10, now I'm 22. Back then India was pretty different (that's another post altogether). So to Indians reading this, the stuff I'll write about it is not gonna be anything new. These posts are coming from a mindset of a kid of Indian immigrants who has grown up being surrounded by an (not 'the') Indian culture, while only seeing India at a very young age. So when I first got here, there was a huge cultural shock, as I knew there was going to be. I remember my drive from the Delhi airport to my cousin's house - I was curious about every single thing I saw. After a week however, that had drastically subsided, and I had gotten much used to how things look in India, and to how people live here (servants, for example. Another post). And a disclaimer: don't worry, I don't think I'm an expert on India just coz I've been here a few weeks.

First off, I've hardly thought about the U.S. election while here. The only things I've read have been in the Times of India or in the Telegraph, and that's it. It feels great to be disconnected from the insane election, because in the U.S. there was definitely information overload about it. My only comment about the election - if Colin Powell was so great he wouldn't have lied and said that Iraq had WMD. Innit?

Being over here it seems like a lot of things don't matter as much anymore, or at all. I've been feeling pretty disconnected from stuff, which is good in a way, but I think its also dangerous because it can lead to apathy. I'm beginning to understand how easy it is to disengage from everything and just focus on yourself and what's in front of you, and to forget about the outside world. I don't know if any of this has to do with me being in India, or with me just not being at home and not having as much access to gaining information.

Why do I so focus so much on how much information I have access to? I suppose its because I'm a media person and I'm also concerned with media monopolization and the effect it has on us, plus our use of technology is pretty overwhelming if you think about it. All of this adds up to me thinking about how much media I access and how much technology I use on a daily basis.

Anyway those are my reflections for the moment. I've got three funny accounts to tell for now, at least what I find funny, but then again I find a lot of things amusing:

Patna - isolated train station: Our train to Calcutta was around 8:40pm. This was a local train station right next to my uncle's house, so all we did was leave the house and walk a few steps to the station right in front of us. The power had gone out again in the area (this is Bihar), and there were only a few lights on, right in the station, swarming with bugs of course. To cross the bridge to get to the other side we had to face flying masses of these bugs. My bhaji (female cousin) and I tackled the bridge, because I could use my hijab-dupatta and she could use her dupatta, to cover our faces. We ran up, over, and down. I didn't think it was that bad but that's because my arms were covered. Meanwhile my brother, nephew, and other cousin crossed the tracks, something I remembered doing from when I visited India before. We got to the other platform before them and I realized I could have just crossed the tracks as well, the only reason I didn't is because I was wearing sandals (which I've done since I got here), and the railroad tracks have loads of rocks.

Anyway by the time we all headed down to where 2 other guys with our luggage were standing, we were practically in complete darkness. The train announcements kept coming, with the annoyingly loud ding - in Hindi only. I wondered if tourists (Western ones) had ever come to this station, and if so, they would be pretty troubled I reckon, because nothing was in English and there was certainly no station worker. The train was on its way and we knew we only had a minute to get on it - the 5 of us, with our luggage, including 2 big suitcases. The train blasted its awfully loud horn and we got ready, bags in our hands, ready to pounce on the train. Of course, that didn't happen.

The train came, slowed down, and we ran. Instructions were for me, my bhaji, and my nephew to get on first, then my brother and cousin with our luggage. What happened is that the men ran way off because the AC carriage was meters away from where we were standing - we had severely miscalculated where the carriage would stop. The 2 guys with our luggage had to run with the suitcases on their heads - it was pretty funny to watch, but I also felt bad for them at the same time. Especially because one of them was the house driver, so this wasn't his line of work in the first place. So all the men ran way off while my bhaji and I ran, and spotted a door, but then no, don't go in that one go in the next one. More frantic running. Bhaago bhaago bhaago! We jump in, and I stick my head out right away, trying to see if the others got on. I see some figures but its so dark I can barely see anything. I figured we had all got on. Bhaji hears my cousin hollering from another door in the same carriage, and we rush over. Turns out my brother and nephew aren't on the train...yet, and the minute has to be over by now. In fact the train starts moving. 'Get on the train! GET ON THE TRAIN!' He stops shouting, indicating they got on the train. We head back down the carriage and we all find each other, with all our luggage. What happened? These 2 (nephew and brother) were trying to get into an AC car, instead of just getting on the train. Oooof. The whole thing was a scary adrenaline rush, with the darkness, and getting all of us on in a minute - but there we all were, happily exhilarated but also thankful it was all over. For me and my brother, it was a fun adventure.

2 stops over was Patna Junction, where we got off the train and found the right AC carriage. It was down about half of the length of the train from where we had actually got on. Severe miscalculation, on the part of the house driver.

Calcutta - Birla Temple: In Calcutta we met up with an uncle from my Dad's side. He took us out with his family to a lake, which was really nice. There was a small masjid right in the middle of the lake where we prayed Maghrib. On the same lake was a clubhouse that was showing a Hindu play, with lots of festive music and lights. As we walked around the lake we got a great view of the masjid and the Hindu festivities going on (I think it was the end of Durga Puja, or right after it). After hearing so much about religious bloodshed in India, I enjoyed seeing these kinds of sights, because of personal reasons. My aunt however, was not a fan. But it wasn't a big deal because we just laughed it off, including her son who just held her hand and told her to enjoy it (my aunt is the only one in my whole family, who wears niqab. I'm the only one that wears hijab). No one is really doctrinal in my family, or if they are, they're not very vocal about it - this aunt however, is pretty vocal, but she has a bubbly personality which takes the edge off.

Later on we were in the car and passed a huge temple. HUGE. So of course it grabbed our attention. My uncle asked if he should stop the car so that me and my brother could take photos. My brother said no, don't worry about it, not wanting to stop the car in the middle of traffic, but I said hey why not? Let's go man! My uncle stopped the car while my aunt kept saying 'Astufr'Allah', and my uncle just said 'Oh let them enjoy themselves'. None of this was taken seriously, they're fairly easy-going people, in case anyone is reading this and thinking 'wow Hena's family sounds fundo'. So me and my bro got out of the car, with another cousin, and we took photos. I just think this whole situation is pretty amusing. I'm not sure if it was ok for us to take photos from outside, but we only took a couple minutes just in case. We were only asked to stand on the side because the place was insanely busy, and off we went. Turns out Birla is the name of a businessman, and there are lots of Birla companies (like Birla Cement), and temples too.

Calcutta - some road in traffic: My bro and I had been to a few markets where shopkeepers would start following us around because they knew we came from abroad, telling us to come to their shops. We just ignored them, or said no and then ignored them. My bro kept saying that it was my fault, that I stood out, not him, and that's why we kept getting targeted. My argument - Fahad your clothes and hair make you stand out too, fool. But I know my hijab style and probably my trousers didn't make me look like a native, but who cares, I didn't.

This time however, we were in the car stuck in traffic again, can't remember who with unfortunately (we have lots of relatives in Calcutta). There was a guy on the street selling gobi, which is cauliflower. By this time we had gotten over our cultural shock of the mudderland, so stuff like this seemed normal now to me and my bro. This was everyday stuff now, nothing unusual. The guy walked amongst the cars going 'Gobi! Gobi! Gobi!' When the guy got to our car, he saw my brother first, and immediately said 'cauliflower', instead of 'gobi'. When he left I started gloating, and my brother was surprised that the guy knew he was from abroad, just by an instant glance. He asked everyone in the car how that was so and they all just said, that's how it is, they can always tell. My bro got proved wrong by the gobi man. Thanks gobi-wallah.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When I was in high school about 4 and a half years ago, we didn't have cellphones or ipods. Okay well a few kids might have had phones but it wasn't that much of a common thing. I was 17. I don't think I had even heard or seen of an ipod at the time.

Now today, I talked to my cousin who is in eighth grade, so I think she's 13, or 12. She told me that if a teacher sees your phone you get suspended for 2 days. And I thought - WOT?? Just for seeing their phone? I was even more shocked that apparently all the kids in her middle school have mobile phones and ipods. They're not allowed to use ipods on the bus, even though many do.

This whole conversation started because I picked her up from school and I asked that when she takes the bus, if she's one of the good kids or the bad kids. I was usually one of the good kids, but who wanted to be a bad kid sometimes. She told me on her bus, all the eighth graders sit in the back, and yes, sometimes she's one of the bad kids. She was told off once for chewing gum. I remarked 'well that's not really being bad', and then the whole ipod thing came up.

Oh yeah, my cousin also has her own laptop. I got my laptop when I was 18, four years ago. And 4 years later, here she is, 12/13, with her own laptop. Umm what's gonna happen in 10 years? Will babies have receptors attached to their heads so that their parents know where they're waddling to?

I just can't believe that just over 4 years ago, most seniors in high school didn't have mobile phones, let alone ipods as well. At least not in my school which at the time was pretty middle-class/lower-middle-class. And now? 11, 12, and 13 year olds have phones and ipods! They don't need either! I still don't have an ipod and I'm a music junkie, and could have certainly used one for my studying in college, when I did actually study, instead of always carrying around a pack of CDs. Middle-schoolers don't need such gadgets. Kids don't need their own phone, until say, they're 16, once they start driving. But even then its not really necessary.

Thank God I didn't grow up in a time like today. Even though now, I'm starting to realize just how much technology is a big part of my life, even though I don't have things like an iphone. But look, here I am on this blog, that I've had for over 3 years. I would be a lot more unorganized if I didn't have things like Google apps, and google docs, and gmail. (And now google has released its own phone. Oh google, why don't you just ask us to become your slaves. Oh wait, that's happened already). Look at what digital video has done to the filmmaking world - actually a lot of positive stuff because its easier now for low-budget filmmakers to make films. Same with digital photography.

But still, over the last few weeks there were times when I shut off from the digital world, as much as I could. When before I would check my email frequently during a day, I had to force myself to check it every night. When a couple weeks ago I was watching CNN every night, I really don't know why, I stopped myself because it was just misinformation-overload. I had to detox. Technology is great, but is there really a need to be connected all the time? Do we really have to be available, within contact, 24/7? Do we really need all this constant stream of information (I'm talking about the dumb election)? I know this might sound fairly typical, but I'm interested to see how I will function in Bihar for 3-4 weeks, where I doubt I can check my email everyday. Or even in Delhi for that matter, who knows how connected I can be while I'm there. I think this will be good for me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What's going on in Europe?

Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia on the rise in Europe, decline in US
Jim Lobe, The Electronic Intifada, 21 September 2008

WASHINGTON (IPS) - Both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have risen in Europe over the last four years, according to a survey conducted earlier this year and released here Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

While attitudes towards Muslims are substantially more negative than those against Jews across Europe, anti-Jewish sentiment as grown steadily in five of the six countries surveyed on the question, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey that was conducted last spring.

The increase in anti-Jewish feeling was particularly pronounced in Spain. In 2005, 21 percent of respondents there said they had unfavorable opinions of Jews. That percentage rose to 46 percent in 2008, just below the 52 percent of Spaniards who said they held negative views of Muslims.

"Ethnocentric attitudes are on the rise in Europe," according to an analysis that accompanied the survey." Growing numbers of people in several major European countries say they have an unfavorable opinion of Jews, and opinions of Muslims, which were already substantially more negative, have also grown increasingly so compared with several years ago."

The survey found that both anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish opinion in Western Europe were most prevalent among older people, those with less education, and those who identified their political views with the right.

The poll, whose findings have been released in a series of reports over the last three months, queried respondents in six European nations -- Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, and Spain -- as well as the United States on attitudes towards Jews and Muslims.

The poll found that, of all seven countries, the US and Britain were the least prejudiced against the two groups.

In the US, for example, only seven percent of respondents said they had negative views of Jews, down from eight percent four years ago. In Britain, anti-Semitic feeling was unchanged -- nine percent of Britons said they had unfavorable views of Jews.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in the US has actually declined markedly over the same period -- 31 percent of US respondents said they had negative views of Muslims in 2004; that fell to 23 percent this year. In Britain, on the other hand, Islamophobia increased over the same period from 18 percent to 23 percent.

In all of the other five countries surveyed, anti-Semitism rose over the four years. In France, anti-Jewish sentiment rose from 11 percent to 20 percent; in Germany, from 20 percent to 25 percent; in Russia, from 25 percent to 34 percent; and in Poland, from 27 percent to 36 percent, according to the survey, which also found the sharpest rise in Spain between 2005 and 2006 (from 21 percent to 40 percent).

Negative views of Muslims in the five countries were significantly more prevalent than those of Jews.

At around 50 percent, anti-Muslim feeling was most prevalent in Spain, Germany, and Poland. While Spain topped the list -- 52 percent of respondents said they had negative views of Muslims -- that was actually a decline from 61 percent in 2006.

In Germany, anti-Islamic feeling also fell slightly since 2006 -- from 57 percent to 50 percent, while in Poland, the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment has grown steadily -- from 30 percent in 2005 to 46 percent last spring. French opinion has followed a similar path. In 2004, 29 percent of respondents there said they had negative views of Muslims. By last spring, the percentage had grown to 38 percent.

In Russia, anti-Muslim sentiment actually declined over the four years -- from 37 percent to 32 percent.

Among respondents in France, Germany and Spain, the survey found somewhat less prejudice among respondents younger than 50 than those who are older. Thus, 41 percent of respondents in the three countries who were under 50 years old said they had unfavorable views of Muslims, compared to 41 percent of respondents under 50 who shared those views. With respect to anti-Semitic feeling, the comparable numbers were 25 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Education levels were even more important in the incidence of prejudice. Among those who had no university education, anti-Muslim views were held by 50 percent. By contrast, 37 percent with some university education were Islamophobic. The respective figures among university-educated respondents with anti-Semitic views were 31 percent and 20 percent.

Prejudices were stronger on the right than on the left or center. Fifty-six percent of respondents who described themselves as on the right said they had negative views of Muslims, and 34 percent said they had negative views of Jews. Forty-two percent of self-described leftists admitted to anti-Islamic views; 28 percent to anti-Semitic views.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

 A film set in India in Hinglish directed by great British filmmaker Danny Boyle, based on an Indian novel, financed by British production houses, (I think) distributed by American distribution companies, and starring a British-Asian actor in the lead role with Bollywood stars in supporting roles...I'm very intrigued to watch this. This film just won best film in Toronto.

Dir. Danny Boyle. UK . 2008. 120 mins

Danny Boyle's bravura command of the film medium elevates the melodramatic Slumdog Millionaire into a dazzling crowd-pleaser teeming with the sights, sounds and sensations of modern India. The intricate tale of a slum orphan turned potential millionaire has all the sweep and emotion of a great novel and should readily connect with both critics and audiences to provide a substantial specialist hit.

The well-worn cliche states that a visit to India is like an assault on the senses. Boyle seems determined to replicate the experience for cinemagoers with a film that displays incredible energy and verve. Deploying quicksilver editing and gorgeous images, Boyle creates a breathless plunge into an alien world where you really can feel the heat and dust, saffron hues, unrelenting pace of life and sheer, unremitting poverty of the country. His characteristically focused approach takes the material by the scruff of the neck and ensures that any reservations about the story or plotting are easily overlooked.

We first encounter 18 year-old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) when he is one question away from scooping the 20 million rupee jackpot on the Indian version of television phenomenon 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?' hosted by smarmy, patronising Prem (Amil Kapoor). Nobody can quite believe that a humble tea boy from a call centre can have reached this position without cheating. He is arrested by the police, tortured and interrogated by a sympathetic inspector (Irrfan Khan) but his testimony proves how he legitimately knew the answers. It may appear a slightly contrived story structure but each question and answer then becomes a means of revisiting his earlier life.

Almost like a modern day Oliver Twist or Pip from Great Expectations, Jamal begins life in dire poverty as an orphan on the streets of Mumbai alongside his brother Salim (Azharudin Mohammed Ismail). The young Jamal is played by Ayush Mahesh Khedeker who has the kind of wide-eyed charm and determination that will make audiences instantly take the character to their hearts. We subsequently discover how the boys fall in with the Fagin-like figure Maman who organises gangs of street beggars. They also become opportunistic tour guides at the Taj Mahal before life starts pulling them in different directions; Jamal towards decency and Salim towards crime. Jamal's attraction to the young Latika (Rubina Ali) becomes one of the most important events as she becomes the lost love of his life and the motivation for all the actions that lead him to the Millionaire hot seat and a deeply romantic, rousing finale.

Unfolding with a perfectly judged pace that balances forward momentum with the ability to elaborate and enhance our understanding of the main characters and what motivates them. There is a strong undercurrent of social commentary and insight that only adds some grit to the more fairytale qualities of the story. Slumdog Millionaire builds into a moving tale of hope and the inspirational power of love to transform even the most humble life. It is a message and movie that audiences should find irresistible.

Monday, September 08, 2008

First Ann Arbor Palestine Film Fest challenges stereotypes

page 11 of the Michigan Independent! woo

One of the best works I have ever read about Palestine is not a book, but a graphic novel. Joe Sacco’s Palestine has an immense amount of details about the lives of Palestinians in the early 1990s at the end of the first intifada (Palestinian uprising). Words alone cannot adequately express the countless details about the harrowing experiences of torture, imprisonment, life in the refugee camps, and violence that took place at the hands of the Israeli occupation. Sacco’s somber yet gentle black and white illustrations provide many exclamations and subtleties that help the reader see the situation of the Palestinians through Sacco’s always observant and critical eyes.

Sacco’s work is a resounding example of how visual images can be used to effectively tell the complex stories and history of the Palestinians. It is precisely for this reason that the first Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival—set to debut in March 2009—has come into existence. Visual images, in either documentary or fictional films, that relay the stories of Palestinians in Palestine/Israel, or of those in the diaspora, are the most effective way for an audience to gain an understanding.

The conventional media networks and companies in the United States do not truthfully portray Palestine or Palestinians. Often, the mainstream news media does not report on stories that focus on Palestinians, while the entertainment media has hardly ever depicted Palestinians in a fair and non-stereotypical manner (look no further than films like Executive Decision, True Lies, Black Sunday, Death Before Dishonor, The Ambassador). For us to accurately understand not only the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, but also Palestinians themselves, including their history, culture, and social issues, we must look elsewhere. As such, what could be a better way to gain a more knowledgeable understanding about Palestinians than from films that provide an alternate media to Big Media? Yet, much of the public is not aware of films that address issues and show stories focused on Palestinians.

The festival aims to dispel myths about Palestinians that have been perpetuated by numerous Hollywood movies and biased and inaccurate news reports (Fox News or CNN’s Glenn Beck, anyone?). Attendees of the Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival will gain new understanding into the lives of Palestinians by seeing works made by both Palestinians and non-Palestinians that address the culture, history, and social and political issues of Palestinians. Attendees will also see Palestinians shown in a different and more humane light, for Palestinians will be depicted as being living, breathing, and surviving communities as opposed to the many unfair stereotypes that surround them.

We hope that all sorts of audiences attend the film festival, and gain from it new and more well-rounded understandings of Palestinians. After the film festival concludes, planning for the next festival will commence soon after, for we envision this to be an annual event that will bring different communities together, such as the University community, local artists and activists, along with local Arab-American communities, to engage in discussions about Palestine through the use of art. We are already well on our way to having a successful film festival in March. We hope that the communities in and around Ann Arbor will enjoy and benefit from our film festival for years to come; and that the voices of Palestinians will finally be heard.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

i cringe when i see hipsters

To me most hipsters seem to be rich, white, privileged kids who have nothing better to do than to dress like idiots and make pretentious poses all day. Since they have gallons upon gallons of privilege running in their blood system they also don't care about anything that goes on outside of their own little partying, fashionable world. I've seen these loathsome creatures in many cities and towns, and they're all the same.

Some damning excerpts from an adbusters article:

...hipsters are sold what they think they invent and are spoon-fed their pre-packaged cultural livelihood.

Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.

An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it. The cultural zeitgeists of the past have always been sparked by furious indignation and are reactionary movements. But the hipster’s self-involved and isolated maintenance does nothing to feed cultural evolution. Western civilization’s well has run dry. The only way to avoid hitting the colossus of societal failure that looms over the horizon is for the kids to abandon this vain existence and start over.

We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. We are the last generation, a culmination of all previous things, destroyed by the vapidity that surrounds us. The hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture so detached and disconnected that it has stopped giving birth to anything new.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

i had a dream

...that I had tons of homework to do, essays to write, readings to complete, and I actually felt motivated to do it all instead of not doing any of my work (until the last minute usually...if at all), but it was still stressful just to think about it all. I couldn't handle thinking about all the schoolwork I had to do!

AND THEN I WOKE UP! And I remembered that I'm NOT in university anymore. AND IT FELT GREAT! Then I turned my head and went back to sleep smiling.

It felt wonderful. alhumds. I am so lucky to basically have 4-5 months to myself and be able to do whatever the hell I want to do. As my mum said, we have the rest of our lives to work (fanks mum for not making me get a job right away). I'm not an idiot though - don't worry I know what I'm doing (hopefully).

5 weeks to India...

Review of "Palestine" by Joe Sacco

Palestine first appeared as a series of nine comic books, but is collected here in a special edition that also includes a foreword by the late Edward Said and an introduction by the author. Sacco writes that he was compelled to visit the Palestinian territories for two main reasons. First, he realized that the taxpayer dollars he paid as an American were being spent in financial aid to Israel, perpetuating the occupation. Second, after pursuing a degree in journalism, he became aware as to the one-sided and inadequate nature of the conflict. After falling out of regular journalism, Sacco became a cartoonist, and it is this medium through which he represents his wanderings in the occupied territories during two and half months in the winter of 1991-1992.

Each chapter, which represents the original series of nine comic books, contains a number of "episodes" or vignettes, detailing the stories that Sacco hears through his interviews with various Palestinians, and the experiences he has in the refugee camps. The topics of these vignettes range from the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and land in 1948, the intifada, jobs, checkpoints and roadblocks, living conditions in the camps, women's rights, and the peace process. The episodes concerning three men's prison experiences in Ansar III are particularly moving. Mentions of Arab/Israeli politics are scarce and often are included only in footnotes. The book is concerned, above all, with Palestinians living day-to-day under occupation.

Sacco's style varies throughout the book. As he notes in his introduction, in the beginning, he was uncomfortable drawing on a daily basis. It shows in the early chapters, where both Palestinians and Israelis appear in a rather negative light, looking almost monstrous. However, in the rest of the book, Sacco seems to have figured out a few things, and his drawings look more like regular people. He also is flexible in his formatting. Some pages follow a panel format, some are nearly taken up with writing, while others consist of half-page or full-page drawings with few words. I found that the most absorbing parts of Palestine are those when there are only a few words or none at all. For those who have never read a graphic novel or who are curious to see what Sacco's drawings look like, I have included a few examples of Sacco's drawings here (click on title of this entry).

Sacco notes in his introduction that the biggest criticism leveled against his work is that it is too one-sided. But he explains that that was his purpose - "My contention was and remains that that the Israeli government's point of view is very well represented in the mainstream American media and is trumpeted loudly, even competitively, by almost every person holding an important elected office in the United States...My idea was not to present an objective book but an honest one." Most of the book takes place in the West Bank or Gaza, and most of the Israelis represented are those seen most often through the Palestinians' eyes: the settlers and the soldiers. The exception is in the very last chapter, when Sacco visits Tel Aviv. His drawings and conversations with two Israeli women there provide a stark contrast to the rest of the book.

Overall, this book turned out to be a very effective and interesting (if somewhat depressing) portrayal of the Palestinians' plight. In fact, I was surprised at how effective it was, but in a way, it makes sense. Politics and social justice issues in general can be complex and confusing, but a medium like the comic is often viewed as instantly understandable. The drawings - what Sacco calls "comics journalism" - provide a relatively easy avenue by which to access and develop an understanding of the Palestinians' concerns. Several years have passed since Sacco first visited the occupied territories and published these comics in their original form, but they are still highly relevant and comprise a significant piece of work. Highly, highly recommended. (I also highly recommend reading Sacco’s introduction for those who are unfamiliar with graphic novels or who are interested in learning about his methodology.)


Tuesday, August 12, 2008


From EI:

In his powerful 2002 poem, "A State of Siege," written during the Israeli siege of Ramallah, after talking of the sixth sense that allows him to skillfully escape shells, Darwish takes time to address the very Israeli soldiers shelling his neighborhood:

You, standing at the doorsteps, come in
And drink with us our Arabic coffee
For you may feel that you are human like us;

To the killer: If you had left the fetus thirty days,
Things would've been different:
The occupation may end, and the toddler may not remember the time
of the siege,
and he would grow up a healthy boy,
and study the Ancient history of Asia,
in the same college as one of your daughters.
And they may fall in love.
And they may have a daughter (who would be Jewish by birth).
What have you done now?
Your daughter is now a widow,
and your granddaughter is now orphaned?
What have you done to your scattered family,
And how could you have slain three pigeons with the one bullet?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why there was no India riot repeat

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

When serial explosions ripped through the city of Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat over the weekend, a fear of sectarian riots gripped its people.

After all, nobody has forgotten the horrific riots in Gujarat in 2002, when more than 1,000 mostly Muslim people died in violence sparked by an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims - killing 59 of them.

Also, independent studies have shown that Gujarat has the highest per capita rate of deaths in communal rioting and clashes among all states in India, at around 117 per million in urban areas.

The same studies also show that the cities of Ahmedabad and Baroda accounted for more than 75% of these deaths between 1950 and 1995 alone.

And in a blow to supporters of secular politics, the vote share of Hindu nationalist parties in Gujarat shot up from a mere 1.4% in 1962 to 47.37% in 2004 - while the share of votes for the centrist Congress party dipped from 50.8% in 1962 to 43.86% in 2004.

Nothing much has changed fundamentally since the last bout of rioting in 2002, which triggered off international condemnation of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - which led the state government then and continues to do so now.

Sectarian divide
Narendra Modi, its controversial chief minister, has been accused of failing to protect Muslims in the 2002 riots. He still heads the government and has been chief minister for the past six years.
The sectarian divide between the Hindus and Muslims has widened. The latter make up 10% of the state's population and live almost entirely in ghettos.

Yet the state continues to perform exceedingly well economically - a quarter of India's revenues come from Gujarat.
But this time Mr Modi took the lead in taking charge of the situation, calling the army out to hold marches in potentially volatiles areas and appealing for calm.

"My friends and I were very angry with the people who exploded the bombs, but we agreed with our leader that violence begets more violence," said a local resident, Bharat Bhai, who was wounded in one of the blasts.

It also helped there were no incendiary statements from Hindu nationalist leaders, despite the fact that many of the areas targeted were dominated by Hindus.

"The stakes are too high for Narendra Modi this time. He aspires to become a prominent leader in India's national politics. He does not want to give a slur to Gujarat's reputation as a favoured business destination," says social scientist Achyut Yagnik, who has written extensively on the state.

"That is why he took control immediately, unlike the last time when the riots were clearly engineered."

A police inspector in the predominantly Muslim-dominated area of Shahpur said his force had been working hard to avert a repeat of 2002 since Saturday's blasts - a far cry from that year when the police looked the other way in many areas when the rioting continued.

"There was tension between Hindus and Muslims here following the blasts. We sensed that and held a meeting with members of the two communities," said PN Joshi.

This definitely helped in preventing reprisal attacks - after all the people behind the explosions, say police and analysts - knew the "social geography" of the places they targeted.

Maninagar, which was rocked by three explosions, is the assembly constituency of Narendra Modi.
A blast in Bapunagar took place close to a private hospital run by the firebrand leader of the radical Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Praishad (VHP) Pravin Togadia.

Sarangpur, another blast site, is the constituency of senior BJP leader and speaker of the state assembly Ashok Bhatt.

Climate of fear
Upscale neighbourhoods, thriving shopping malls and government premises were left alone. The people responsible were targeting areas where prominent BJP leaders have support bases.

Analysts say those responsible for the blasts were sending out two messages - that they could strike at will despite the state machinery; and that they were capable of creating a climate of fear.

But, at the end of the day, the explosions will only end up helping the BJP politically as the fearful majority Hindus gravitate towards the party.

"More people will now rally around the BJP. It will lead to consolidation of the BJP in the urban areas. A fear psychosis among Hindus only helps the BJP," says Achyut Yagnik.

Analysts insist Ahmedabad remains a tinderbox, with relations between Hindus and Muslims strained and polarisation between the two communities complete.

A lot of people feared reprisal attacks from disgruntled Muslim groups after the 2002 riots, but that never happened.
Some 145,000 Muslims became homeless after the riots - the majority of them in Ahmedabad - and ended up living in fetid refugee camps.

Sectarian positions have hardened: when a prominent Mumbai-based civil right activist who has been fighting for justice for the victims of the 2002 riots and an actor arrived at the civil hospital in Ahmedabad over the weekend to meet the wounded, family and friends of the victims hounded them out of the place.

They called the civil rights activist "a mouth piece of the terrorists".

So the fact that there was no rioting in what is arguably India's most polarised city is principally because the state machinery under Narendra Modi decided to be firm this time.

"The only other saving grace is that the economic relations between Hindus and Muslims have held strong in the context of the economic boom that Gujarat has enjoyed," says Achyut Yagnik.

In which case, Gujarat's economic boom has come as a blessing in more ways than one.

Monday, July 14, 2008

a hilarious bollywood film review

Love Story 2050: a futuristic stinker

Nirpal Dhaliwal
Monday July 14, 2008

India's film industry must make more absolute stinkers than the rest of the world combined. You won't get a better example of the brain-insulting garbage it can churn out than Love Story 2050, Bollywood's answer to Barbarella, Back To The Future and Beverly Hills 90210 - all rolled into one.
It's a movie industry equivalent of a corner-shop, directed by Harry Baweja, produced by his wife and starring their son, Harman - who no doubt had to give up his evenings and weekends to work on it for free.

Harman plays Karan, a spoilt rich-kid wanker who struts around wearing stone washed jeans and a henna-tinted bouffant, constantly exclaiming "Oh shit!" in English to show what a hip and modern, fast-talking rebel he is. Mixed up by his mother's death and neglected by a father who prefers making money, Karan loves crashing his dad's expensive cars as well as "extreme sports, break-dancing and hip-hop" and everything else wankers like doing. He also has a habit of wearing sweatbands on his wrists and even on his fingers - probably to relieve the injuries he's sustained from wanking too much.
While out jogging in the park in a headband and sleeveless tank top, Karan spots the beautiful wide-eyed Sana, happily playing with a butterfly, and is smitten. Played by the Bambi-faced Priyanka Chopra, Sana gleams with a dark, moist muscavado sweetness that had me craning towards the screen wanting to lick her. For the first half of the movie she's the only thing worth watching.

Karan wins her heart and charms her family and the two become engaged. But while out having ice cream one night, tragedy strikes when Sana is hit by a truck while crossing the road. "Oh shit!" cries Karan, leaping in slow motion from his convertible like a complete wanker. There follows a disturbingly graphic scene in which Sana, her hair drenched in blood, twitches and splutters her final words of affection while Karan gnashes his teeth and screws his eyes in anguish.

Luckily, his scientist uncle has invented a time machine in which they can to travel to the future to find Sana's reincarnation. The film then shifts from its setting in present-day Brisbane (don't ask why), to the poorly animated, slum-free, high-tech and wholly uninteresting Mumbai of 2050, where Sana has been reborn as Zeisha, a flame-haired, blue-eyed rock-chick with a penchant for ghastly metallic nail varnish. "A woman of the future, talked about in the past", she is precisely the trashy, self-regarding hussy Karan was born to be with.

With Sana having morphed into this tasteless tramp, the film offers nothing but bad acting, boring songs and sub-Blake's Seven special effects. Zeisha's talking robot teddy looks like it came straight out of Toys-R-Us. The musical routines feel thoroughly contrived, inserted into the film only to meet the industry format. But they provide an amusing diversion as Karan makes a spectacular twat of himself with his high-octane body-popping, flapping like a hapless cod out of water.

The critics universally gave this film the finger and attendances have been poor. There were only a handful in my cinema; half way through most were asleep, while a turbaned Sikh bloke in my row was feverishly making out with his girlfriend.

The movie fails not just because of its sheer badness but also its vision of the future. It's a future in which India is nothing but an emulation of MTV crassness. The only character that resonated with the audience, drawing laughs whenever she appeared, was Sana's Punjabi mother, a good-natured but bossy and interfering cow - a figure any Indian can recognise.

That Love Story 2050 is a flop is reassuring. Despite their love of escapism, Indians want their fantasy worlds to be thoroughly Indian ones. Whatever hopes they might have, they don't want their future to be a shabby imitation of the West.

a much better film to watch

my heroe, right after aamir khan

Sunday, July 13, 2008

wtf france???

France rejects veiled Muslim wife

A French court has denied citizenship to a Muslim woman from Morocco, ruling that her practice of "radical" Islam is not compatible with French values.

The 32-year-old woman, known as Faiza M, has lived in France since 2000 with her husband - a French national - and their three French-born children.

Social services reports said the burqa-wearing Faiza M lived in "total submission to her male relatives".

Faiza M said she has never challenged the fundamental values of France.

Her initial application for French citizenship was rejected in 2005 on the grounds of "insufficient assimilation" into France.

She appealed, and late last month the Conseil d'Etat, France's highest administrative body which also acts as a high court, upheld the decision to deny her citizenship.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Why are there more Indian men than women?

I'm not against abortion - I'm putting this up to highlight the effect that female infanticide has had on the Indian population.

India aborts 500,000 female fetuses a year: study
Monday, January 9, 2006

Up to 10 million female fetuses have been selectively aborted in India since 1976, according to a Canadian-led study released Monday in a British medical journal.

The study in the Lancet found fewer daughters were born to couples still presumed to be trying for a boy, said Dr. Prabhat Jha, director of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

Researchers also found the probability that a female fetus was aborted was more than twice as likely among educated mothers than illiterate ones. However, once a boy was born, the gender ratio was roughly equal, said the report.

"We conservatively estimate that prenatal sex determination and selective abortion account for 0.5 million missing girls yearly," Jha wrote.

"If this practice has been common for most of the past two decades since access to ultrasound became widespread, then a figure of 10m (million) missing female births would not be unreasonable."

Researchers analyzed information about 133,738 births.

Based on the ratio of girls to boys in other countries, they estimated that 13.6 million to 13.8 million girls should have been born in 1997 in India. However, they found just 13.1 million were born.

Abortion for sex selection has been illegal in India since 1994. But the practice is widely believed to continue, to the point that India's gender ratio among its population of 1.06 billion has been skewed.

In 2001, there were 927 girls per 1,000 boys. Ten years before that, there were 945 girls per 1,000 boys, according to government census-takers.

Daughters are often regarded as a liability in India because they leave their families after marriage and "belong" to their husband's families. Many families must also borrow money to pay a dowry to the families of the husbands.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How Israel Has Changed in 15 Years

I took a class with Gordon this past year. He's incredibly intelligent. This is interesting because the differences of the relations between Israelis and Palestinians is shocking.

June 19, 2008

Learning to Drive in Rafah


It took me a moment before I understood why my story about a few relatively inconsequential incidents, which occurred years ago at my high school, had such an effect on the undergraduates taking my fall semester course in 2006.

One of my anecdotes related to classmates of mine who lived in the Jewish settlements at the northern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. It was 1981, and the following year they would be forced to leave their homes as part of Israel's peace agreement with Egypt, but at the time, I told my students, the evacuation did not seem imminent, at least to many teenagers for whom each year stretches without end. A particular issue that did preoccupy us, I continued, was learning to drive. I described to my students how my friends from the farming communities located in the Sinai and the small town of Yamit took their lessons in the Palestinian town of Rafah and were among the first to pass their driving tests.

My students in the politics and government department of Ben-Gurion University found this story incomprehensible. They simply could not imagine Israeli teenagers taking driving lessons in the middle of Rafah, which, in their minds, is no more than a terrorist nest riddled with tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt; weapons subsequently used against Israeli targets.

The average age difference between me and my students is only 15 years, but our perspectives are radically different. When I was a high-school student at the agricultural school Eshel Hanasi, I frequently hitched a ride back from school to my home in Beer Sheva with Palestinian taxis from the Gaza Strip. In the current context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is simply unfathomable. No taxis from the territories are allowed to enter Israel, and even if they were somehow able to obtain an entry permit, Israeli Jews would be afraid to use them.

Two decades ago, Palestinians were an integral part of the Israeli landscape, primarily as low-wage laborers who built houses, cleaned streets and worked in agriculture, but in the last few years they have literally disappeared. In the 1980s, most Israelis and Palestinians could travel freely between the territories and Israel and, in many respects, felt safe doing so. Currently Palestinians are locked up in the Gaza Strip, and Israelis are not permitted to enter the region. Palestinians from the West Bank are confined behind a separation barrier and only the Jewish settlers living there travel back and forth from Israel.

Most of my students have consequently never talked with Palestinians from the territories, except perhaps as soldiers during their military service. Their acquaintance with Palestinians is therefore limited to three-minute news bites that almost always report on Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets or Israeli military assaults on Palestinian towns.

The students' reaction to my teenage experiences is accordingly understandable, but it also brings to the fore a crucial issue that is often overlooked: namely, that Israel's occupation has dramatically changed over the past four decades, and particularly since the eruption of the second Intifada in 2000. Some of the changes; the most damaging of which are the ongoing expansion of the settlements and the hermetic closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, both of which have, in many respects, led to the rise of Hamas; are often discussed in the media and are rightly understood as hindering the possibility of Israelis and Palestinians reaching a peace agreement based on the two-state solution. The change that is hardly ever mentioned is the current lack of contact between ordinary Israelis (as opposed to soldiers and settlers) and Palestinians.

The separation barrier built deep inside Palestinian territories best symbolizes this change. One of its many devastating effects is the severance of practically all day-to-day contact between the two peoples. The younger generation on both sides of the Green Line no longer sees the 'other' as living, breathing beings but rather in stereotypical terms, which are often informed by prejudice and racist assumptions.

The alienation between Israeli Jews and Palestinians consequently serves the interests of all those who would like to portray the other side as a perpetual and mortal enemy.

The effects of this change should not be underestimated. Simply put, it seems that the younger (Jewish) generation within Israel is less likely than ever to support a leader who would have the courage to initiate a just peace agreement based on the full withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including the return of East Jerusalem, and some kind of creative solution for the Palestinian refugees.

Tragically, after 41 years of occupation the two-state solution seems to be more remote than ever before. Peace within the existing context, as Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member, Uri Avnery, has convincingly argued, is like surmounting an abyss. One cannot achieve it with short strides but only with a great leap. My students' reactions suggest that the gulf between the two peoples is only growing wider.

Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. Read about his new book, Israel's Occupation, and more at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And I'm supposed to vote for him???

I always thought that Obama would go extremely right to prove to everyone how much he's not tied to Arabs and Muslims. Hence:

"Undivided" Allegiance: The Meaning of Obama's AIPAC Moment

Posted June 6, 2008

It's a crucial moment for anyone seeking a realistic shot at the presidency: Stand before the leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and declare your unyielding support for Israel.

Barack Obama is no different. On Wednesday, Obama, well aware that some American Jews fear he is not pro-Israel enough, or that he is some secret Manchurian Muslim, followed John McCain and Hillary Clinton to the AIPAC podium for his necessary rite of passage. Fully aware of fears deeply rooted in the Holocaust and decades of subsequent bloodshed, Obama pounded the security nail no less than 20 times -- "I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security... Israel's security is sacrosanct... I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel's security..." But then the candidate went a leap further, vaulting over President Bush and landing to his right. "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel," the candidate declared, "and it must remain undivided."

Undivided? This has always been an odd word to describe a city inhabited on one side by Palestinians. Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied and then annexed, despite widespread international condemnation, after the Six Day War in 1967, is under continuous Israeli control through a heavily armed presence. The fact is that, despite the seizing of Palestinian land for rings of Jewish settlements, which Israelis now consider their East Jerusalem "suburbs," there is very little traffic between the Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in the city. Undivided, Jerusalem is not.

But Obama's use of the word is not simply the naïve musing of a man who apparently has never traveled through the fractured city. It is a raw attempt to jump through hoops for "America's pro-Israel lobby," as AIPAC describes itself -- a lobby which stands far to the right of the sensibilities of many American Jews. (Hence the recent rise of a more progressive lobby, "J-Street.")

For Obama's pledge that "Jerusalem must remain undivided" is a smackdown to decades of Palestinians' dreams and demands that East Jerusalem be the capital of their own state. By insisting that the city remains "undivided," Obama thus places himself firmly in the camp of the hard right in Israel (think Bibi Netanyahu), and outside the lines of decades of negotiations for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "This statement is totally rejected," declared Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "The whole world knows that holy Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital."

Indeed, ever since 1988, when Yasser Arafat announced that the PLO would end decades of struggle to "liberate" all of old Palestine (which included modern Israel) and settle for a state on 22 percent of that land (the West Bank and Gaza), East Jerusalem has been at the center of Palestinian aspirations. The failure of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Clinton administration to fully recognize this, and to offer only pieces of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, contributed greatly to the collapse at Camp David in 2000. In fact, the entire Muslim world considers the Palestinians the guardians of the city's Islamic holy sites. Hence, any Palestinian leader who negotiates away the Holy City's Haram al-Sharif -- the third most sacred site in Islam -- is essentially signing his own death warrant. "Do you want to come to my funeral?" Arafat pointedly asked Clinton just before the end at Camp David.

Even now, with Israel reportedly offering far less -- an expansion of Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, so that Arab villages could be considered the East Jerusalem Palestinian "capital" -- the Bush administration is distancing itself from Obama's Netanyahu-esque remarks. Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said discussions would continue "without respect to the presidential politics that is clearly ongoing." It is stunning that an administration which has essentially abandoned all pretense of being an "honest broker" between the two sides, and which has undermined Abbas by refusing even to pressure Israel to eliminate some of the 600 West Bank military checkpoints in an area smaller than Delaware, now finds itself to the left of Senator Obama on this issue.

Obama's AIPAC speech sent shock waves throughout much of the Arab World, where the prospect of an African-American president with a rich international background seemed, to them, to promise a more balanced U.S. policy in the Middle East. "A slap in the face," said the Kuwaiti paper al-Watan. "An oath of allegiance by the U.S. presidency to AIPAC," declared the Lebanese opposition paper, Al-Safir. Others downplayed the remark, believing that any Democratic administration will be an improvement over eight years of Bush policy. Former Palestinian labor secretary Ghassan Khatib said Obama's speech "stressed more that anything else his intention to engage, which is the most important need." And Obama, a day after the speech, attempted to soften his remarks, saying, "Obviously it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations." Yet he added that Israel has a "legitimate claim" to all of Jerusalem, a comment which will do little to tamp down Arab anxieties.

Why, then, would Obama, with all the expectation of a more even-handed presidency, and the promise to help repair the U.S.'s shredded image in the Arab and Muslim worlds, seek, in the words of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, to be "more Israeli than the Israelis"? Part of the answer may boil down to crude electoral politics, especially in Florida, where Obama's strategists seem to be calculating that the five percent of Jewish voters there could swing the entire election for the Democrats.

But in deeper ways, Obama seems to be running as fast as he can from the friendships and affinities he has developed and expressed for Arabs in the past, including his statement in Iowa early in the campaign that "no one is suffering more than the Palestinians." The senator's AIPAC "corrective" is an effort -- stay tuned for more -- to be less like the "other," and more like "us." But are "we" truly so narrow-minded as to reject the aspirations of all such "others", or to ever consider their hopes and dreams? Apparently, Obama, tacking right, thinks the answer is yes.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

700, not 7

Gaza's 700 (and counting) stranded students
Report, PCHR, 5 June 2008

Three days ago, on 1 June, Hadeel Abu Kwaik was sitting in her computer lab at al-Azhar University in Gaza looking worried, and perplexed. Today, having just been told her Fulbright scholarship has been reinstated, she says she is "Happy but still worried. I'm still not sure we will [all] be able to leave for the US."

Hadeel is one of seven Gaza students who, on 29 May, received letters from the US consulate in Jerusalem, informing them that their Fulbright scholarship applications would not be finalized. The US consulate letter gave no reason for the sudden withdrawing of the seven scholarships; instead, all seven students, three women and four men, were "strongly encouraged" to re-apply for the same Fulbright scholarships the following year, and assured they would receive "priority consideration."

The withdrawing of these Fulbright scholarships caused an international uproar, momentarily focusing the world's attention on the plight of the seven Gaza Strip students. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intervened, saying she was "surprised" by the decision, and added, "If you cannot engage young people and give complete horizons to their expectations and their dreams, I don't know that there will be any future for Palestine."

In the face of mounting criticism from both within the US and Israel, the US State Department swiftly reinstated the seven Fulbright scholarships, and on 2 June assured the students they were "working closely" with Israeli officials to secure permits for the students to leave Gaza. Hadeel is now waiting to travel to Jerusalem, where she will be interviewed at the US consulate in order to secure her US visa. Then she will return to Gaza in order to prepare for her departure at the end of summer. She hopes to study her MBA in software engineering at a Minnesota university.

For the mainstream press, this story "moved quickly" and has now concluded with a positive ending for the Gaza Fulbright seven. But hundreds of other Palestinian students remain stranded inside the Gaza Strip, and the number is expected to rise this summer. According to data from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), almost 700 Palestinian students are still waiting to leave Gaza in order to pursue studies, and scholarships, abroad. "This number will increase within the next month, after the schools announce their exam results and Gaza students want to move onto universities," says Khalil Shaheen, a senior PCHR researcher. "All of these students are stranded inside the Gaza Strip because of the Israeli siege and closure, and they are being denied their rights to pursue their education, and their futures."

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both explicitly confirm the rights of all people to freely travel to and from their own state. The Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip, which is about to enter its third year, is systematically and deliberately destroying the Gazan economy, its health and education services, and crushing the future of its people. Gazan students who want to pursue specialist education abroad, many of whom intend to return to Gaza afterwards and assist in rebuilding their country, are being denied this right because Israel remains intent on its illegal policy of collective punishment. An Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, has just gone to the Israeli high court to petition for two Gaza students, Wissam Abuajwa and Nibal Nayef, to be permitted to leave Gaza and study their master's in the UK and Germany.

Meanwhile, 29-year-old Said Ahmad Said al-Madhoun has been waiting more than a year to pursue his Master of Law abroad. After being awarded a fellowship by the Open Society Institute in January 2007, he was accepted onto a master's program at the American university, Washington College of Law, but has been unable to reach the US. "I managed to get out of Gaza in December 2007 and to travel to the Egyptian border," says Said. "It was a complex journey -- because of the closure we were forced to travel through Erez Crossing [in northern Gaza] and then via another Israeli crossing, at Kerem Shalom, to the Egyptian border. But I was turned back at the [Egyptian] border because I had no US visa." Said could not obtain a US visa, because, like the vast majority of other Gazans, he is not permitted to travel to Jerusalem, where the US consulate issues its visas. He attempted to leave Gaza once more in early January, and was turned back at the Egyptian border again. His academic career, and life, suspended, Said is still waiting. "This is so frustrating for me, and for all of us students in Gaza," he says wearily. "We want to work and to learn. We want to enjoy our freedom of movement. We want to determine our future."

When Hadeel Abu Kwaik first heard that her Fulbright scholarship had been withdrawn, she said she felt angry and disappointed. "I wonder if Israel wants an educated neighbor or an angry one," she stated publicly. Like Said al-Madhoun, Hadeel wants to pursue her studies overseas and then return to Gaza and work in her own community. Although she says she's happy her Fulbright scholarship has been reinstated, she admits she is still worried about whether she will actually be able to leave Gaza, and her anxiety is clearly tainting her joy. "I won't be relieved until we actually reach the United States [to start our studies]," she says.

This report is part of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights' Narratives Under Siege series.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"The Visitor"

Professor as Student of His Life and Others’

Published: April 11, 2008
When we first meet Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), he is in a state of emotional inertia that clinicians might identify as depression. He does not seem acutely unhappy, but then again, he doesn’t seem to feel much at all, locking whatever inner life he might have behind an aloof, unfailingly polite demeanor and keeping a glass of red wine handy in case further anesthesia should prove necessary.

A professor of economics at Connecticut College and a widower, Walter plods through an existence that looks comfortable and easy enough, but also profoundly tedious. He recycles old syllabuses and lecture notes for his classes, and suffers through piano lessons in a half-hearted effort to sustain some kind of connection to his wife, who was a classical concert pianist.

Early in “The Visitor,” Tom McCarthy’s second film as writer and director (the first was “The Station Agent”), it seems inevitable that something will come along to shake Walter out of his malaise. And sure enough, when he reluctantly travels to New York to deliver a paper at a conference, Walter finds that the Manhattan apartment he keeps but rarely visits has been surreptitiously rented to Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), a drummer from Syria, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), his Senegalese girlfriend, who sells handmade jewelry at flea markets. Walter’s initial dismay and irritation gives way to an instinctive flicker of compassion, and he invites the couple to stay, at least for a short while.

The curious thing about “The Visitor” is that even as it goes more or less where you think it will, it still manages to surprise you along the way. Tarek and Walter quickly become friends, though Zainab is more reserved and also clearly more suspicious of her new housemate and benefactor. Walter takes up drumming, and begins to feel his zest for life and his appreciation of New York returning after a long period of dormancy.

This urban, multicultural idyll is shattered when Tarek, who, like Zainab, is in the United States illegally, is picked up by the police and taken to a detention center in Queens. Shortly thereafter, his mother, Mouna, played by the wonderful Israeli Arab actress Hiam Abbass, arrives from Michigan, to make Walter’s life still more interesting and complicated.

To summarize Mr. McCarthy’s film as I have is to acknowledge some of the risks he has taken. It is possible to imagine a version of this story — the tale of a square, middle-aged white man liberated from his uptightness by an infusion of Third World soulfulness, attached to an exposé of the cruelty of post-9/11 immigration policies — that would be obvious and sentimental, an exercise in cultural condescension and liberal masochism. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to imagine it any other way.

And yet, astonishingly enough, Mr. McCarthy has. Much as “The Station Agent” nimbly evaded the obstacles of cuteness and willful eccentricity it had strewn in its own path, so does “The Visitor,” with impressive grace and understatement, resist potential triteness and phony uplift.

A few false notes remain. Tarek’s friendliness is too emphatic, and the blossoming of his friendship with Walter proceeds a little too quickly and smoothly to be entirely credible. Long-term houseguests, however appealing and exotic, would surely test the patience of even the saintliest economist, to say nothing of an evident curmudgeon like Walter.

But these objections are, for the most part, dissolved by the clarity and simplicity of Mr. McCarthy’s direction and, even more, by the quiet precision of Mr. Jenkins’s performance. An actor himself (he recently played Scott Templeton, the journalistic rat on “The Wire”), Mr. McCarthy scrupulously avoids big moments and telegraphed emotions, and Mr. Jenkins, a durable character actor known to HBO subscribers as the spectral father on “Six Feet Under,” plays his repressed, circumspect character with exquisite tact. Walter loses his composure only once, and even then Mr. Jenkins keeps the outburst within the boundaries of his shy, professorial temperament.

Walter is fundamentally diffident, decent and disinclined to call attention to himself, traits that pose an obvious challenge to Mr. Jenkins, who must still make this man interesting enough, vivid enough, to carry the film’s dramatic burden. Walter himself, at his best, might insist that the story is not really about him. He, after all, leads a life of privilege and entitlement, and is unlikely ever to be faced with homelessness, exile or deportation. And yet the film’s title refers to him — a transient presence in his own life —as much as it does to Tarek, who seems at home wherever he is.

Mr. Jenkins manages at once to deflect and to earn the audience’s sympathy, and to convey an inner transformation brought about by a shy, unselfish engagement with other people. How does he do it? Great acting is always, almost by definition, something of a mystery, a blend of technique and instinct for which no identifiable formula exists. Mr. Jenkins’s posture, his balked smile, the occasional fidget of his hands or pause in his stride — all of these almost subliminally communicate something about who Walter is, so that by the end of the film we feel we know him very well. And more than that, that he is someone worth knowing.


Written and directed by Tom McCarthy; director of photography, Oliver Bokelberg; edited by Tom McArdle; music by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek; production designer, John Paino; produced by Mary Jane Skalski and Michael London; released by Overture Films. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes.

WITH: Richard Jenkins (Walter Vale), Haaz Sleiman (Tarek), Danai Gurira (Zainab) and Hiam Abbass (Mouna).

Monday, June 02, 2008

Human Rights Watch targets Bush

US/Israel: Bush Should Press for End to Gaza Closure

(Washington, DC, May 13, 2008)
President George W. Bush should urge Israel to reverse its strict closure policy towards the Gaza Strip, three human rights groups said in a letter to the US president today. Human Rights Watch and two Israeli human rights groups, Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, called on Bush to dissociate the United States from the closure policy, which is causing grave harm to Gaza’s civilian population.

Israel’s comprehensive restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, including fuel and other civilian necessities, constitute collective punishment against the civilian population, the three organizations said. Israel’s stated intention has been to pressure Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups to end their rocket attacks on Israel.

“It’s debatable whether Israel’s closure policy has had any impact on Palestinian armed groups who fire rockets at Israel,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “What’s absolutely clear is that the closure has gravely harmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

In their letter, the three groups said that Palestinian rocket and other attacks against Israeli civilians, such as those that killed a man in Kfar Aza on May 9 and a woman in Moshav Yesha on May 12, violate the core humanitarian prohibition against attacks that deliberately target or cause indiscriminate harm to civilians. However, unlawful attacks by one side to a conflict do not permit unlawful actions – in this case collective punishment – by the other.

“Given the extent of US financial and military support for Israel, President Bush needs to speak out clearly against Israel’s closure of Gaza,” said Sari Bashi, Gisha’s executive director. “The United States should not be party to a policy that punishes civilians for the actions of these armed groups.”

Israel’s control over Gaza’s borders, airspace, territorial waters, tax collection, and population registry means it still bears legal obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law. On top of that, Israel has made itself Gaza’s major source of electricity and sole source of fuel needed for transportation and the functioning or water, sewage and sanitation, and health facilities.

The laws of war, which apply to military occupations, prohibit the occupying power from attacking, destroying, or withholding objects essential to the survival of the civilian population. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is obliged to protect the rights of Palestinians to freedom of movement, to secure access to health care and education, and to lead normal lives.

“Israel’s stranglehold on supplies of fuel and other necessities has crippled transportation and other essential services,” said Hadas Ziv, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. “Palestinian attacks on the border crossings have aggravated the impact of the shortages, but the main cause remains Israel’s drastic reductions in supplies allowed into Gaza.”