Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Arab Man Convicted of Rape After Consensual Sex with Jew

An article in The Guardian this morning reported that an Arab man from East Jerusalem was sentenced to 18 months in prison after having consensual sex with a Jewish woman. According to the judge, the woman would never have had sex with the man had she known he was not Jewish, and consequently the man was guilty of rape by deception.
Handing down the verdict, Tzvi Segal, one of three judges on the case, acknowledged that sex had been consensual but said that although not "a classical rape by force," the woman would not have consented if she had not believed Kashur was Jewish. The sex therefore was obtained under false pretences, the judges said.
The article also quotes Gideon Levy, a liberal Israeli commentator, and I think his statement is extremely valid:
"I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman? Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not."
Levy's comments are worth noting. He's right. Yet there is a more important issue at stake - precedent. Is this really an acceptable precedent to set? What's more, this really is an affront to women who have faced "classical rape by force" as Segal phrased it.

Since when does lying about one's religion constitute rape?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Debating Journalism: Humanity vs. Professionalism

Perched on a rock by the edge of a cliff-side village at sunset, I’m surrounded by a curious group of children. Ranging from about five to nine years of age, they eagerly watch over my shoulder, fascinated by the combination of foreigner, computer, and English. One notices my camera and soon there is a chorus of “Soureeni! Soureeni!” Take a picture of me.
The adults offer to shoo them away, but I don’t mind.

We’re sitting on the edge of the village as an orange and pink sunset colors the sky over the valley below us. Olive trees cover the hillsides, and one-lane roads weave into valleys and over ridges. Clouds move slowly in a heavy sky as energetic 5-year-old Assad is carried off by a smiling father. Within moments he’s back, jumping and laughing and making faces in his sandals and red sweats.

“Mish ‘arfa,” I don’t know, I tell him, and he bursts into laughter before resuming his rapid-fire speech in Arabic.

It’s a comforting way to end a difficult afternoon, with smiles and laughter all around as children and youth and their older counterparts gather to talk with their “international” visitors.

Just a few hours ago I sat down with two young men from this small community in northern Palestine to interview them for a story. As we talked about the changes the village has seen since the death of a 16-year-old member of the community, I discovered both young men are cousins of the boy. Slowly, our conversation shifted as the young men began to talk about their cousin.

Mohamed was shot by IDF soldiers in March 2010 as he ran to help another friend who had been shot. Neither boy had participated in the day’s peaceful demonstration against the neighboring Israeli settlement; neither was politically inclined. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The soldiers used live ammunition. Crowd-controlling rubber bullets were absent. The deaths were a shock to the community of 800.

As I listened to Mohamed’s cousins and our conversation drifted far from the limits of my story, the boundary between professionalism and humanity shifted, blurred – I knew the intimate testimony would remain between us. It would never be found in an article.

It is not the first time I’ve faced a situation where the line between journalism and friendship blurs. One of the challenges of being a journalist is keeping perspective and humanity at the same time, and it is not a simple challenge.

Humanity is vital. Personal connections are what make stories real – what can bring a tear to a stranger or solidarity from a reader time zones away. At the same time, one faces the dilemma of losing sight of the end goal. An article which captures pain and emotion without describing it as such is that much more powerful for doing so.

The line between journalism and friendship or between professionalism and humanity is not immovable. It shifts. At times it may not even exist. Yet while some rapport between interviewer and interviewee is vital, crossing the invisible line between them is dangerous to both.

Perhaps those with a strong sense of empathy are not meant for what can be a cut-throat profession. Empathy does not lend to cold analysis, which so often seems to be praised. Yet, is not the absence of humanity more dangerous than the alternative?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Update: Mahmoud Shoukry

Hi everyone,

I know many of you have been visiting my blog for updates about Mahmoud. I have just learned that Mahmoud will be having surgery soon, so please keep him in your prayers and pray for a safe surgery and quick recovery.

Thank you all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bethlehem & Hebron

Yesterday morning we found ourselves in Hebron, a city with a very tense relationship between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. We wandered the market, bought keffiyehs made at the only remaining factory in the West Bank, surveyed the city from the rooftops, and visited the Tomb of Abraham (from the Jewish section, since the Muslim section is closed to tourists on Fridays).

In the afternoon we made our way to Bethlehem. After a relaxed lunch of various mezze, we headed to the Church of the Nativity in downtown Bethlehem. After touring the old church, the new Catholic church, and the grotto beneath, I met up with some local friends and headed home for a much-needed relaxing evening.

Today I took a quick trip through the security checkpoint and headed to Jerusalem for the morning, only to discover that the Dome of the Rock is not only closed to the public on Fridays and Muslim holidays - as I had been told - but on Saturdays as well. For the second time, I wasn't able to enter the Temple Mount.

Once I had made my way back to Bethlehem, we had lunch, ran into some friends we'd met in Hebron, and visited Shepherd's Field, the location where the Star of Bethlehem reportedly appeared in the sky the night that Christ was born.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Old City of Nablus

Colorful fruits and vegetables. Pungent spices. The sticky sweetness of konafa. Shops whose wares of clothes and household goods spill into narrow alleyways. The aromas of falafel, shwarma, and occasionally donkey dung. Calls of “welcome!” This is the Old City of Nablus.

A Turkish bath awaits behind closed doors – for women only, because today is Sunday. Women lounge on cushions or chat at tables. Some sip cups of tea with mint or Turkish coffee, others puff away at flavored tobacco or shisha, the water-pipe known by a dozen names and common throughout the Middle East. Behind closed doors are hot stones under vaulted ceilings, mosaic walls, and steam rooms, the last of which is barely discernable through the clouds of water vapor billowing out of it. This is the Old City of Nablus.

Yet the doorway to the Turkish bath is not so grand as it once was. A closer look at the alleyways reveals countless posters commemorating martyrs and patches of crumbling stone. Above the smiling faces of shopkeepers and curious eyes of children, bullet holes riddle the sides of buildings which have yet to be restored. Some of the holes are decades old, others only a few years. This, also, is the Old City of Nablus.

Today is a normal day in the Palestinian city. The violent conflicts of the Second Intifada are no longer daily occurrences, but they are far from forgotten. The martyr posters commemorate the men, women, and children Nablus has lost at the hands of Israeli soldiers, whether directly or indirectly. Hundreds of citizens are still kept in Israeli prisons, and the military maintains checkpoints outside the city. Today, many of them are open and both Palestinian and Israeli vehicles pass through them easily. A few years ago the case was very different. Entry and exit into Nablus was strictly controlled, with students of An-Najah University prohibited from crossing the checkpoints into the city. Many resorted to passing by foot through olive groves in order to attend classes.

Reminders of the conflict are easy to see, and one doesn’t always have to look hard for them. In a handful of shops, ammunition belts and bullet-proof vests hang beside keffiyehs and baseball caps.

This, too, is the Old City of Nablus.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Refugees, tear gas, and culture

Here's a brief update of the last few days. More later.

Yesterday we took a tour of the Balata Refugee Camp and Yafa Cultural Center. Balata was formed by the United Nations for refugees from Yafa and the surrounding areas of Palestine in 1951. It was intended to be temporary, and was located on one square kilometer of land in the Balata neighborhood of Nablus.

Today, the camp is still there, and over 25,000 people live in its one square kilometer.

This morning we took a bus down to Ramallah for a meeting at the headquarters of the Stop the Wall campaign. After that, we went to the village of Nilin. Nilin is one of many villages of farmers who have found themselves separated from their land due to the wall being built by Israel to separate the West Bank. As we walked about a kilometer away from the wall, we were constantly stepping around empty military-grade tear gas canisters. The cacti lining the dirt road were riddled with bullet holes. In some places rubber bullets remained embedded in the plants. Rubber bullets and regular shell casings weren't hard to find on the ground.

Reaching within half a kilometer of the wall, our local guide stopped us.

"What will happen if we go closer?" asked a member of our group.

"I don't know," he replied. "Maybe they will open the gate and shoot us."

We kept our distance.

We also ran into a peacock as we walked back into the village, before we headed to the Palestinian Popular Culture Center. Go figure.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Watching the World Cup in Palestine

Millions of people around the world gathered around TV screens to watch the World Cup finals between Spain and the Netherlands last night. In the West Bank city of Nablus, around two thousand Palestinians crowded into an open-air hillside amphitheatre to watch the game projected on a massive screen. I and three other foreigners were among them, surrounded by cheering, joking, laughing Palestinians. Spanish flags waved everywhere, with the occasional red-white-blue of the Netherlands visible. Twenty or so Italians gathered on the floor of the amphitheatre, a French couple were somewhere in the crowd, and a handful of other foreigners were interspersed across the hillside.

Young boys wove their way through the crowd carrying drinks and sunflower seeds, older boys offering steaming tea and coffee. Bags of sweets moved through the crowd, and a couple found their way into our hands after being purchased by our new Palestinian friends, who were sitting in front of us. Bags of sunflower seeds were passed. "Espana? Espana?" eager voices asked us, with a few shaking their heads as my friends and I affirmed we were rooting for Spain.

As the game neared a close after 30 minues of overtime, the cheering became deafening. Everyone was on their feet, cheering as much for every goal saved as for the goal made by Spain. Masses of Palestinian youth poured onto the streets at the end of the match, Spanish flags flying out the windows of cars and horns blaring as we hailed a cab and headed back to our Nablus flat.

I have to say, watching the World Cup finals at an open-air amphitheatre in Nablus surrounded by thousands of Palestinians was definitely the experience of a lifetime - even for someone who isn't really a football fan.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Hello friends,

Just a quick note to let you all know I'm in Jerusalem! Headed to Ramallah and Nablus tomorrow. I'll keep you all updated. For now, here's a picture of some of the thousands of crosses carved into the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

Tragedy in Egypt for Star Academy 7

Thursday brought a tragedy for Egypt, Lebanon, and fans of Star Academy. Lebanese participant Rami Shmali was killed when he lost control of the car he was driving and collided head-on with another vehicle on the 6 October Bridge in Cairo. An elderly man in the other car was also killed, and two passengers injured.

Egyptian Mahmoud Shoukry, also a participant in this year's Star Academy, was in the car with Rami and has been hospitalized. Friends say he'll be okay.

I know reality TV and talent competitions aren't my usual subject material, but Mahmoud is a good friend and someone I respect. He's a wonderful and loyal friend, a talented musician and dancer, and the sort of person who raises the spirits of everyone around him.

He's lost a close friend, and is still in the hospital. Please keep him and his family in your prayers, and Rami's family as well. And please, drive carefully!

Edit: has reported that there are rumors starting which say Rami was not driving the car. The rumor claims that Mahmoud said Rami was driving the car in order to avoid possible prosecution. Both of these are false: Mahmoud was unconscious after the accident and unable to speak to anyone. When Mahmoud and Rami were pulled out of the car it was clear who was driving and who was not. Using circular reasoning that Rami had just arrived in the country and consequently wouldn't have been driving is simply inaccurate. Clearly, someone is just out for media attention. Don't give it to them.