Category Archives: media

Inconclusion Jerusalem

By Diana Saverin

Old City, Jerusalem (Saverin/TYG)

JERUSALEM—My last days in Jerusalem left me far from comfortable. I saw many infuriating things, but one that especially sticks out in my memory was actually one of the most benign.

As I wandered around the Old City, I saw one young Jewish boy with a kippa and payot on his bicycle and two Palestinian boys with sticks. As I walked, the back-and-forth taunting intensified. They must have been 7 years old, and they faced off on the empty stone street. They backed away from each other, and they all seemed to be waiting for the other to make the first move, just as their respective leaders always seem to in peace talks. Eventually, my comrade scattered the kids, but I couldn’t help feeling defeated. They were so young. The mutual hatred and fear felt inevitable.

This one moment may be insignificant; kids fight all over the globe. But it did fit in with the plethora of hopeful and discouraging experiences I had over my ten weeks in the region. Now that I’m home, it feels appropriate to write “concluding thoughts,” or something along those lines, but my thoughts so far have been anything but conclusive.

I left the Ben-Gurion airport—after spending four hours in priority security procedures because of a Palestinian kafia and documentary on the West Bank found in my bag—feeling a web of contradictory emotions. After witnessing the numerous injustices in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, I could not help feeling anger. I felt anger for the man in the town of Siswaya whose village shrunk from 500 families to 43 as Israeli forces filled their caves and settled their land. I felt anger for the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir in the West Bank, where even out houses are demolished by the Israeli government, when yards away red tile roofs and cookie cutter houses mark the settlement Karmel next door. I felt anger for the disproportionate distribution of resources in the “united city” of Jerusalem. I felt anger for the checkpoints in the city of Hebron, where settlers cut down Palestinian olive trees and videos reveal settlers attacking Palestinian schoolchildren and even the aid workers there to protect them.

Olive trees owned by a Palestinian family in Hebron cut down by settlers. (Saverin/TYG)

A Bedouin village in the South Hebron hills, where any permanent structures built is demolished, with the Karmel settlement in the background (Saverin/TYG)

A Palestinian man looking at his and his ancestor's caves that have been filled by Israeli authorities (Saverin/TYG)

I felt anger for these and many more injustices, but this is not the whole picture. I went dancing in Ramallah, a thriving city in the West Bank. I even visited a hilltop, caravan settlement in the desert of the West Bank, and was welcomed with open arms. And I love so much of Jerusalem: the shuks and the suqs, picking figs and rosemary on my walk home, the hidden gardens, watching tourist groups at the various holy sites, the quiet of Shabbat, the mix of sugar and sage in Bedouin tea, arguments of who serves the best hummus or falafel, and the excitement of living somewhere in the paper almost every day.

And now that I am home, everyone wants to know “how it was.” Every time this question arises, I feel torn between giving a tirade on all the pain I witnessed that I want everyone else to understand, talking about my long walks through streets that smelled like cardamom or nectarines whose juice would spill down to my elbows, and everything in between. I haven’t mastered a party line to get both messages across, but my goals moving forward are the following:

1)   Show Americans what their government is supporting. This isn’t a distant conflict that Americans can claim they have no place to meddle in: our tax dollars fund many of the atrocities I saw. The Israeli army protects the settlers in the West Bank, and don’t protect Palestinians when these settlers use violence against them. While many Israelis claim that these settlers are extremists and terrorists, they cannot be so ostracized as long as Israel continues to protect them and sponsor their continued development. As long as Israel is supporting them, so is America.

2)   Encourage constructive criticism. As an often-fierce critic of Israeli policy, I have been stunned by and unhappy with much of the criticism I hear in America. This is not a one-sided conflict by any means, and in order for a viable peace to be possible, both sides and perspectives must be recognized as legitimate. One frustrating criticism I have encountered is gaffs at Israel’s security claims. Israel does have security concerns, and while I disagree with many of the actions done in the name of security, the answer isn’t to dismiss the fact that there are security concerns. Outright criticism is not helpful. The situation is complex and deserves no one-sided oversimplification.

3)   Don’t speak about Israelis as one unit. As with any society, there is a wide political spectrum in Israel. Further, the civil society is more vibrant and active than I’ve ever witnessed. From soldiers who give lectures and tours about their experiences in the occupied territories, to the weekly protest of the settlements in Sheikh Jarrah, to the women of Machsom Watch who watch over the checkpoints in the West Bank each day, to the bereaved families on both sides who discuss their loss together, the variety of organizations working towards peace are numerous and differ in strategies. Even for opinions I don’t support, there is a plethora of organizations working for change.

4)   Read multiple sources when it comes to the Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s astounding how different the narratives are, and how seemingly vital “facts” can be overemphasized or omitted. I no longer believe objectivity exists, which is fine, but more than one voice must be heard to at least hint at the reality. On this note, avoid hard to define and loaded words, such as “terrorist.”

5)   Keep learning, and talk to people. This conflict, like most, so easily becomes numbers and figures, and thus dehumanized, but any “solution” from the top would be futile if the situation on the ground remained the same. The other issue with the media portrayal of it often depicts it as hopeless and never-ending, but being there and witnessing the constant agency warrants hope. Hearing from the people who experience the conflict day in and day out reminds me that peace and coexistence are possible. At least talking to some people does.

As time puts more distance between me and those enlightening months, maybe I will have more definable goals or conclusions. For the time being, I will keep learning, keep an open mind, keep hope, and encourage others to do the same. Jerusalem is the most fascinating city I have ever been in, and I hope to find myself in this region again soon.


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Filed under conflict, media, Middle East, Overseas Bureau, religion, violence

Through the Rubble

By Diego Salvatierra

SANTIAGO—When natural disasters only affect a few, their appearance in national memory is fleeting.

A massive earthquake, 8.8 on the Richter scale, struck south-central Chile on Saturday, February 27th, close to 3 am in the morning local time.  The disaster left vast parts of the country devastated, with hundreds of lives lost, coastal towns swallowed up by tsunamis, and hundreds of thousands left without food, water, power, or shelter.  Widespread looting occurred in several cities, notably Concepcion, the nation’s second largest, and the historic colonial-era cores of several cities have utterly collapsed.

As a Chilean myself, I understand how this earthquake changed the lives of all Chileans.  But seeing all this destruction from New Haven, so far away, felt almost surreal to me.  Watching the videos and looking at the photos made it seem like something out of a post-apocalyptic scenario.  I’ve been here in Chile for the summer, and beyond some cracks on buildings and highways under repair, I haven’t really seen much destruction, since I’m far away from the most affected areas, and most shattered buildings had been cleared away or rebuilt in the months before I arrived.  But I’ve heard some shocking stories from friends about the night of the quake and the chaotic days that followed.

Andrés Ibañez, a young law student, noted that in the morning following the quake, the beachside apartment he had been staying at had become an “apocalyptic scene,” with the “floor literally broken in two,” shattered glass, and rubble from the upper stories strewn all over the ground outside.  His escape from the building the night before (they later returned for some of their belongings) portrays the uncertainty felt by many that night.  With cell phone lines down, nobody was really sure what was going on.  Rumors of a tsunami warning led him and his friends to leave the coast. Upon arriving in Santiago the following day, the situation was not much better. “We tried to buy bread, but everything was closed,” and there were “unending lines for gasoline.” Andrés described how on the way to downtown Santiago, “many houses were on the ground, people crying, crumbled churches… rubble from buildings lay on the streets,” leading him to realize that “luckily the earthquake had been at night…or else the deaths would have been in the thousands.”

Sleeping in his grandparents’ house in the countryside south of Santiago, Cristobal Gomez, another university student, awoke when a wooden beam from the ceiling hit his head.  The house was built of adobe, and though it had withstood a hundred years of earthquakes, rubble and dust started to fall everywhere.  Unable to reach the door due to falling furniture, Cristobal was only able to get out of his room once the shaking stopped, allowing him to search for his family.

A cloud of very dense dust had begun to spread throughout the shattered home, making him cough hard. “I found my uncle barely breathing,” said Cristobal, “and my grandmother up to her waist in rubble” in her room, whose roof had collapsed, making the night sky visible.   His father, at his side by this point, also began fainting from the dust cloud.  Cristobal knew that if he waited too long, he would faint as well, and with a burst of adrenaline began to kick open doors and windows, attempting to clear out the choking cloud.  It worked, and with the help of his dad and uncle, Cristobal managed to liberate his grandmother.  Getting out with only minor injuries, they saw the full extent of the damage, the house now left uninhabitable, with broken walls and a caved-in roof.

A few days later, walking around the stunned city, Nicolas, another friend of mine, saw a somber icon of the disaster.   The University of Chile Law School, where he studies, has a tall clock tower, and it lay still, marking 3:34, the time of the tragedy that shut down a nation.

Chile will probably need years to recover.  For some people, especially the better-off, life has returned to normal. But hundreds of thousands saw their lives changed irrevocably, their homes and livelihoods destroyed in a matter of minutes.  The psychological aftermath was also significant – I heard stories of the panic in people’s eyes when aftershocks struck, for weeks after the big quake.  I know Chile will rise to the challenge – it has done so before, and it stands united.   There is a sense of optimism about the future, about not simply rebuilding, but improving what we had before. The painful memories of that late summer night, however, will serve as a stern reminder of the power of nature, of how everything can change in a mere three minutes.

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Learning Through Television

by Charlotte Parker

Paris — My French host family watches TV every night during dinner, which shocked me at first as meals in general are so important here. Over the past few weeks, however, I’ve begun to appreciate it as a way to learn new words and gain insight into French culture.

I’ve come to love Laurence Ferrari, the anchor for TV1 France’s 8 pm news. She is an elegant blonde who is currently pregnant, and her face is all over the covers of the magazine ParisMatch. She is nonetheless no bimbo; she confronted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a live interview last week, and brings to the news a spirit of questioning tinged with just the right hint of emotion.

This week’s big news topics were the approval of Sarkozy’s new retirement plan, the devastating flashfloods in the south of France, and, of course, the World Cup. After a tie to Uruguay in their first preliminary match last week, “Les Bleus” played a lifeless 0-2 loss to Mexico on Thursday, and the media in general has been expressing its disgust (my favorite footage of popular opinion was of a female fish-vendor, exclaiming that the team was completely “useless,” among other words). More on the World Cup later this week — I will be watching the France-South Africa game on Tuesday on a giant screen by the Eiffel Tower, as well as experiencing the US-Algeria game Wednesday in a small café run by an Algerian man.

Another interesting news tidbit was the flurry surrounding the bac” or baccalaureat, the final test for French high school students that essentially determines their future. On Wednesday night, there was much speculation as to the topic for the philosophy portion of the test the next day, and on Thursday, Laurence Ferrari narrated the scene at a Parisian high school after the 4 hour test — and included footage of the poor, bedraggled young philosophers after they had finished! I would not have been amused to find myself on national TV after the SAT…

The commercials in between news segments are cleverer than most I’ve seen on American TV, full of wordplays that my host family has to explain to me. Many are shameless by Puritain American standards; every sort of shower gel and shampoo, for example, is advertised by naked bottoms under the shower. There are products I would never have expected to see advertised on national TV, during prime time: on Tuesday, it was “Scorpio,” an “arousing” cologne for men, advertised via a semi-pornographic make-out clip, and Wednesday, it was a cleavage-enhancing bra, accompanied by corresponding footage, bien sur. Both times, I was momentarily alone with my host father and felt exceedingly awkward, but as far as I can tell (not very far, perhaps, as I suddenly became very interested in my cheese course), he didn’t bat an eyelash.

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Stuck “Between the Walls:” The Class

By Charlotte Parker

PARIS — As part of our class’s unit on education, today we watched the movie Entre les Murs (The Class), which won the prestigious Palm d’Or prize at the Cannes film festival in 2008. With good reason.

The film, based on a book by François Béagaudeau, is a quasi-documentary/re-enactment of a year he spent teaching at a public middle school, College Françoise Dolto, in a diverse and difficult neighborhood of Paris. Béagaudeau plays himself (under the name Francois Marin), as do the children in his class, which makes for an extremely realistic portrayal of a modern day French school. Said school is located, of all places, in the 19th arrondissement, just a few blocks away from where I’m staying. My host parents told me tonight at dinner that after the movie became successful, there was a legal uproar over the production company’s reluctance to pay the children.

In any case, it’s a striking movie. Almost every student in Marin’s class comes originally from somewhere other than France; they wear jerseys supporting the Tunisian soccer team, talk of their cousins in Morocco, and express feelings of alienation from “jambon et fromage” French people in suits. They are bright, but unruly. The school was/is classified by the French government as a ZEP, or Zone d’Éducation Prioritaire, i.e. an at-risk school, and indeed, in the opening scenes, the teachers express their frustrations with the kids and the education system in general. One lets out a waterfall of swears and exclamations, paraphrased: we’re not trying to get the most out of them with these ****ing norms, they will never leave their neighborhood…

Among the brimming personalities in Marin’s class, one boy, Souleymane, struck me especially strongly. When the class undertakes a unit on autobiography and self-portraits, he is initially reluctant; he writes one sentence along the lines of “no one will ever fully know me, so I don’t want to write about myself.” He has a tattoo that reads (in Arabic script) “if what you have to say isn’t more important than silence, be quiet.” With encouragement and attention from Marin, however, gum-chewing, bling-wearing Souleymane begins to show an interest in the project. He brings in some beautiful photos of his family and friends to compose his portrait, and the shy smile on his face when Marin hangs them up as an example for the rest of the class…for a split second I saw Souleymane the photojournalist, his photos on billboards in the Metro and published in Le Figaro.

Instead, he acts out in class one day and ends up, through a long and tortured process, kicked out of Françoise Dolto. The school is supposed to do all in its power to place him elsewhere as quickly as possible, but that might not matter; his mother, who does not understand French and speaks to him rapidly throughout his trial in the Bambara language of Mali, cannot help him. According to his friends, his father will be disgraced and send him back to Mali.

What to do about students like Souleymane? How to discipline their unruliness and tap their potential and their passions? To help them become a photojournalist, or simply someone with a job?

France’s education system, like the US’s, struggles to bring students from marginalized backgrounds to levels of higher education and, some would argue, is even more discriminatory. For example, a “class council” composed of teachers, two parents, and two peer-elected students is responsible for deciding a student’s next step after the equivalent of sophomore year in high school. This can be, depending on a student’s grades, entry to the work force/unemployment, to a trade school, or to the more traditional lycées. Such early selection is inherently unequal. Children of parents with white-collar jobs make it to the lycées, and then university, with three times the frequency of children of working-class and immigrant parents. Although the trade schools are equally demanding, they are not viewed as well as the lycées and attending one can be limiting. In such a system, “difficult” students like Souleymane are so easily lost.

On the Metro on my way back to the apartment, I found a seat next to an African woman wrapped in yards of shiny, embroidered, black cloth. She spoke to her friend in what sounded (to my ignorant ear, at least) exactly like the punctuated Mali Bambara in the movie, and when our paths finally diverged at the top of the endless escalator at the Place des Fetes Metro stop, I wondered if she were headed home to her own Souleymane.

The movie’s blog is available here and includes the trailer and more background on the making of the film, as well as an email address to talk to the students themselves. Make sure to use French slang if you write them!

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Filed under diversity, education, Europe, media, Overseas Bureau, urban affairs

Boats and Biases in the Middle East

by Diana Saverin

JERUSALEM — Oh what a difference one night can make. Waking up on the 31st and seeing the news about the attack on the flotilla was overwhelming in a way I rarely experience the news. The day was a bustle of international law, constant news updates, and blurry videos from the ship, and since then, I have been thinking critically about what I typically trust. While I have my qualms about working for a pro-Israel organization, hearing the complete Israeli side to the tragedy turned the incident into a whole new shade of grey. When I read the New York Times article, which came out right after the incident and depicted the event so one-dimensionally (against Israel), I realized that if I was home, that probably would have been the only side I listened to. This incident drives home how complex the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, and I can’t say that I truly support either side in the flotilla event, but because five ships went back peacefully in the flotilla, and a handful of others have in the past, it does not make sense to me that the Israeli soldiers would whimsically decide to massacre this group, and the videos support the fact that there was resistance aboard the boat.

Existential questions aside, Israel’s future appears a lonely battle. Israeli army generals at a security conference I attended the other day constantly emphasized how Israel can only rely on itself, and has to assume it will not have any external help. I sympathize with this precarious position, but given the hundreds of tunnels importing goods and weapons to Gaza from Egypt, the current set up of the Gaza blockade appears to hurt the Palestinian people instead of Hamas.  Through the tunnels, Hamas can limit goods such as books that would undermine its message, tax the goods it allows (including cars!), and have access to weapons. Support for Hamas has only gone down 6-10% since the blockade, and that could be due to many other factors.

I also recognize Israel’s security concerns in the flotilla incident, especially in light of the fears provoked by arms found on a ship heading from Iran to Syria last November, but I think it would be detrimental to Israel to do anything else but change policy in some way towards Gaza. It will be interesting to see how Israel copes with international pressure to lift the blockade, especially if the United States pressures Israel. As I learned at that same conference, Israeli security puts the government in a constant tug of war between concern for Palestinians and protection of its people. My mind has never been open enough to consider the extent of this difficulty because of my fierce reaction against the current conditions in Gaza. Hearing the perspective of the people who constantly make those decisions humanized Israel’s position, even if some of my convictions towards it remain.

One main reason I wanted to come here is the disillusionment and anger I felt during the Gaza War in winter of 2008-2009. After being dismissive of the Israeli viewpoint, I am glad to be in the process of understanding it. This has made me realize in a dramatic way just how important it is to try to take into account both sides. In recent days I have been on Palestinian group websites, as well as sifting through Israeli Defense Force statements, and it has definitely changed my idea of “facts,” if such a thing can even exist, especially in a conflict so loaded with emotion from the loss of loved ones on both sides, religious zeal, and claims to history. As one of our Jerusalemite friends says so truthfully, referring to the ongoing disputes over who owns what land, “everyone is right,” and as I attempt to understand with an open mind both sides of the conflict, I have to continually remind myself of this notion to get away from the often dehumanizing rhetoric in the media.

The initial scramble for information also ignited zeal in me to write. Biases run so deeply, and as I’ve said, that became true in a very immediate way during this conflict for me. In the race for facts given our boundless access to information, something is lost. We saw in the build-up to the Iraq war and talk of WMDs how the media does not always play its role as a “watchdog,” and I have seen it in this conflict on both sides in the unwillingness to simultaneously present two valid points of view. Doing so creates a complicated narrative, and provides few answers. I knew all of this before, but being here makes it personal, and I hope to continue to carry this burning desire to provide accurate information home.

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What is the “Muslim or Islamic World”?

by Jennifer Parker

What is the “Muslim or Islamic World”? This widely accepted expression presumably implies the collection of countries whose official, dominant, or major religion is Islam. At Yale, a prominent Professor teaches a literature course entitled “Classics: The Arabic-Islamic World.” The University also offers a class on Maghrebi literature and culture, “focus[ing] on the relation between the Islamic world and the French colonial experience.” However the casual usage of “Islamic or Muslim World” implies an ignorance about the phrase’s troubling connotations, origins, and implications.

The modern “Muslim World” is extraordinarily diverse—geographically, politically, ethnically, linguistically, and religiously—consisting of countries as disparate as Nigeria, Iran, Bosnia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Eritrea, and Indonesia. Therefore, the expression is also misleading, as several of these aforementioned countries (and others) are probably not meant to be included in the “Muslim World.” Islam, as practiced in the “Islamic World,” varies greatly within and among the different countries. In Iran, the vast majority of Muslims are Twelver Shi’ites, whereas Turkey is essentially a secular nationalist state. And although Islam factors significantly into many of the politics and national identities of this “World,” the term understates powerful (and often competing) non-religious affiliations. The Kurds, Palestinians, and Shi’ites probably feel stronger ties to their respective ethnolinguistic group, nationality, and religious denomination than as members of the “Muslim World.” If pan-Islamist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had achieved their political and religious goals, the “Islamic World” might be a more accurate description today. But ultimately, pan-Arabism and various nationalist movements gained more popular support.

The “Muslim World” perpetuates destructive Orientalist narratives: namely the West and the Orient are antithetical; all Oriental/Islamic societies are fundamentally similar; and there is inherent “clash” between “Western Civilization” and the “Islamic World,” as Samuel P. Huntington argued. Is the “Muslim World” fundamentally different from the non-Muslim world? Nope. Does Islamic theology and dogma unite this “World,” creating a cohesive unit, with singular goals and strategies? Definitely not.  In the “Muslim World,” does Islam permeate all facets of life? No. Islam is a powerful, important way of life for millions of people around the world, but  the “Muslim World” can not –and should not– be studied, understood, or referred to as a collective.

Jennifer Parker is a junior Modern Middle East Studies major in Silliman College.


Filed under media, Middle East, nationalism, religion

Media and Aid

by Diana Saverin

When the urge to donate money to charity strikes, images of global poverty, famine, and health issues often arise. This is a justified phenomenon; these issues are as tangible as the computer screen you are looking at, but how can you put your dollar to the most work? UNICEF does a fantastic job of dissipating donor concerns over where their money is going on their “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” boxes by putting statistics such as “$45 provides school supplies for 20 kids, $112 provides emergency blankets for 37 kids, $200 immunizes 104 kids against measles.” These numbers reassure the donor that he or she is truly helping, but what about the causes that don’t lend that warm feeling?

Enter a crucial element of the infrastructure of any organization: media. It may not directly save lives, but it allows organizations to raise money and awareness. Organizations aiming to help women have especially struggled in this area, and need to improve the public relations of their organizations more than ever with the changing tides of technology. Media and PR receive around 2% of the money donated to infrastructure, which is only 1.8% of the total amount donated to women annually. If these organizations had the resources to tap into mainstream media to publish articles about their projects, the effects on donations could make a true difference. The National Council for Research on Women has published several groundbreaking reports, with little to no media attention. Two sisters discovered their wealth when they saw their names listed as the 500 richest Americans, and went on to create “Women Moving Millions,” which has over $150 million pledged to give back to women, but most haven’t heard of it. Right now, for every development dollar spent, girls receive less than 2 cents. Media is a crucial component for an organization to survive. It may not immunize a child, it may not be inspiring, and it may not evoke the same emotions as a picture, but it mobilizes the public’s interest in these topics and educates them on the issues at hand.

The recent tragedy in Haiti highlights the efficacy of a successful media campaign. Within two days of the earthquake, over $5 million were raised through texting. The donations have continued to multiply, and are in large part due to the strong technology and media resources employed by the American Red Cross. If women’s organizations could capitalize on the efficiency of media and technology to affect change, using a strong and accessible model like the American Red Cross so successfully did, the implications for women around the world would make history.

The infrastructure of an organization matters almost as much as the services they provide, and for a donor to make a difference, she has to look to see beyond the statistics to what is truly needed.

Diana Saverin is a freshman in Berkeley College.

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