Seeing Rawan Yaghi on Skype

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 16 Comments

On Sunday I got up early to do a Skype call to Gaza. Yousef Aljamal was hosting a session of the Center for Political Development Studies. Yousef’s students were going to ask me questions about the role of the Israel lobby and the American Jewish community in policymaking. 

Most of the questions were from young men. They were smart but slightly-abstract questions about the role of the lobby and attitudes in the Jewish community. I was smart and abstract back. The guys were handsome and nicely dressed. Leather jackets. Neat beards.

Then Rawan Yaghi sat at the microphone and asked, What can be done to change Americans’ view of who Palestinians are?

Before me sat a poised young woman wearing wire-rimmed glasses, 18 years old, but already showing signs of becoming an intellectual. There was such delicacy to her manner and her question, I found myself overcome. I struggled against upwelling emotions to answer her question.This is the biggest question of all, and I don’t know the answer. I said that we were up against racism. The attitudes go back 100 years in the U.S.– people saying that Palestinians are not human beings.

Breaking these stereotypes down is her job, and it is my job too.

Rawan nodded and pursed her lips. She too seemed overwhelmed by the feelings attendant to this very large struggle.

Later Yousef reminded me that Rawan Yaghi won the awards contest that Annie Robbins held on this site last year with “From Beneath,” a description of what it is like to escape a bombing attack. The piece has all the delicacy and precision of the person with whom I connected on Sunday.

I went to Rawan’s site. At the top are the words, “In Gaza– to live free metaphorically.” Remember: these people live under blockade. 1.6 million people living in an open-air prison.

Here is her latest blogpost, remembering the Gaza onslaught of 3 years ago, a day in school. “She dropped it.” 

She dropped it and ran away. She was standing right in front of the door of her school, holding her book, getting prepared for her exam. A huge number of explosions followed the one the hit near her school. She stopped. Looking around, terrified, she saw police men crying, cars hurrying, kids running. The bombs continued. She didn’t know where to go. Her headmistress stopped taxi drivers to pick up the scared students. She stood there in silence. A bus with the back door open passed her, letting her see the dead bodies piled inside. Her eyes turned wide open. Her lips froze. Her hands shook. Her knees could no longer carry the heavy picture that has just passed. She tried to stand, but no one looked at her. Everyone was running . A teacher tried to reach her, but another bomb was dropped and the teacher got back behind the door of the school. The girl felt the ground shaking under her collapsed legs. Her hands shook more. She was still in shock. She knew air strikes very well. She always sees them on TV. She knows that this happened before. But, the bombs went on. They were telling her that this is not just a strike. This is one hundred strikes in a minute. This is a try to break the record, and you’re just one girl on the ground, shaking, gulping loads of smoke, paralyzed by fear. The teacher reached her, dragged her to a car, and closed the door.

I love the title. She dropped it– I believe it refers to her book. Think about that.

Our work is cut out for us. It won’t be done till Rawan Yaghi is free to come to the States, and to read her work from American daises and meet Americans face to face. That day will come.

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16 Responses

  1. GalenSword
    January 24, 2012, 11:36 am

    To change American opinions about the conflict over Palestine, a pro-Palestinian genre of Hollywood-style film needs to be developed and distributed.

    Here is my attempt at a sort of Palestinian Schindler’s List: .

    I started my film on p. 19. A script doctor added the previous 18 pages because she thought the film needed more context. I consider the material backstory that is implied and need not appear in the film.

    Two Weeks in September serves as a prequel to Devorah’s Two Weddings, which is a sort of update of Neal Simon’s The Heartbreak Kid:

    Even if I could get the funding to produce the two films, distribution is so Zionist-controlled that I doubt I would be able to obtain a large enough American audience.

  2. pabelmont
    January 24, 2012, 11:44 am

    Phil: On the topic, How can Palesetine’s story be told in the USA today, especially with an “iron curtain” drawn across the MSM led by the totalitarian NYT:

    Can you imagine someone getting the FORWARD and the TABLET to criticize the NYT for the lousy story on the $5M gift to Newt which failed to mention the Israel connection? Or Abe Foxman? Beinart? Tikkun Mag? Or, from another direction, Zbig?

    Someone important has got to break ranks with the settlement project. Really break ranks. Someone’s gotta say the deeply embarrassing words. Phil, with all due respect for you, and much, very much, is due, your speaking out is not enough.

    • seafoid
      January 24, 2012, 4:06 pm

      Someone with clout in the Jewish diaspora needs to look at the trends that have been building up for the last 40 years and figure out Israel’s trajectory and where the country is headed. Countries fail for different reasons.

      The orthodox are not going to start having small families. They aren’t going to start working. The settlers aren’t going to start paying for things. They are not going to leave the army to the secular schmucks. The middle will continue to get squeezed. The whole country will continue to pretend there is no Palestinian issue. The wars will become more frequent. The world economy will probably flatline. Antisemitism will probably increase.

      The game was up for South Africa when the cold war ended. What will trigger the end for Zionism? And who will pick up the pieces?

      • Annie Robbins
        January 24, 2012, 4:15 pm

        seafoid, speaking of the middle getting squeezed, i ran into the freakiest news source last night called indy news israel

        some of the articles are so weird

        The Ministerial Law Committee is expected to discuss a piece of legislation on Sunday that would define “exclusion of women” as a criminal act.

        The bill, proposed by Member of Knesset Yitzhak “Buji” Herzog (Labor), is being criticized by political analysts as an attempt to enshrine Western values and cultural norms in the state of Israel despite demographic trends indicating a steep decline in the population that identifies with these values.

        As of 2010, less than half of Israel’s children are enrolled in secular schools that promote Western values while the majority are taught in the Ultra-Orthodox, National-Religious or Arab educational streams.

        Given the fact that birth rates in the country’s more traditional sectors are astronomically higher than among secular Israelis, several notable members of the country’s pro-Western ruling elite have expressed opposition to organic democracy in favor of legal action to preserve the state’s contrived Western character.

        i recommend a little jaunt thru the website to grasp the bizarre nature of it.

      • Bumblebye
        January 24, 2012, 5:14 pm

        Weird it is!
        Here’s an article claiming EU pushing PA land grab:
        Which seems to be selling the fairy tale that Area C belongs to them under Oslo, and that anyway the Arab population of the area is under 6 (yeah, that’s SIX) percent. Wow. Ethnic cleansing during past 44 yrs in Area C must have been more effective than in ’48. Didn’t Hostage inform/remind us that these A, B, C divisions were only supposed to last a matter of 5 yrs while a solution should be found??

  3. Annie Robbins
    January 24, 2012, 12:11 pm

    omg! i am so glad you brought ‘she dropped it’ here. i have read this over and over. i have her blog bookmarked now but i didn’t read this til after we hosted a small collection of gazan writers around new years.

    rawan is truly an amazing person. i have had the pleasure of sharing an some email exchanges with her. in fact just recently phil when we finally found someone to deliver her book award to gaza. the other two gazan winners are now in the UK so needless to say that delivery was a little easier.

    i’m jealous. i wish i could talk to her thru skype. i should probably get a little more techie. i hear it isn’t that difficult. looking forward to yousef writing up the excahnge there. if anyone wants to follow rawan on twitter (like i do) @RawanYaghi

    btw, rawan also wrote “A little girl”, which is just out of the ballpark, i highly recommend:

    • Scott
      January 24, 2012, 6:56 pm

      i wish i could talk to her thru skype. i should probably get a little more techie. i hear it isn’t that difficult.

      We’ve had three au pair girls who use it all the time, and while they’re all smart, I think you might be able to manage. Not that I’ve tried myself.

  4. Richard Witty
    January 24, 2012, 1:04 pm

    Her question is critical.

    My recommendation is to inform as much as possible about the normalcy of Gazan Palestinians, which means leaving out ALL expressions of anger, or political ideology from statements.

    I would recommend Spielberg type interviews with elders and children, historical documentaries (with Jewish Israeli partners) to construct 5 generations of family history. (Elders talking about their grandparents).

    When my son was first interested in my mother-in-law’s story, after first hearing of her experience in some depth at 17, then visiting Yad Vashem and seeking and finding a couple possible names of his ancesters, his first impression was despondent, that such an experience only leaves scars and nothing else but scars.

    I told him that the most significant fact about his grandmother was that she determined to LIVE fully after the holocaust (not pretentiously, but actually). Her youth remained. She lived in Israel from 49 – 56, then had family, a life in various parts of the US and Europe, good friends, good work (a public health statistician in London).

    From seeing her life at any point after leaving Hungary, one could not say “this is a refugee” or “this is a holocaust survivor”.

    But, one would say, “this is someone that is alive, normal, that I can identify with”.

    That’s the key, “that I can identify with” (not pretentiously, but trusting that the details of how families live – what they eat, what fixtures they like in their homes, what they talk about with their grandchildren, and what they experienced at different moments in their lives.)

    NOT what they propagandize, but what they experience, “my favorite things”.

    • eljay
      January 25, 2012, 8:35 am

      >> I told him that the most significant fact about his grandmother was that she determined to LIVE fully after the holocaust …

      I have no doubt that Palestinians are determined to LIVE fully once Israel’s 60+ years, ON-GOING and offensive (i.e., not defensive) campaign of aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction and murder is ended, and a just and mutually-beneficial peace has been achieved.

      As usual, however, RW distorts reality, this time painting a pretty “Sound of Music” picture about what the Palestinians SHOULD be doing, while entirely glossing over the brutal facts of what Israel ACTUALLY IS doing.

      The victim must respect the rapist – and “inform as much as possible about the normalcy of [victimhood], which means leaving out ALL expressions of anger … ” – even as the rapist continues to violently assault her. Only a “humanist” would find this even remotely moral or just.

  5. Yousef M. Aljamal
    January 24, 2012, 1:13 pm

    As long as we have people like you and a website like, I believe, Gaza’s untold story will be narrated and heard. Gaza people are well-educated and aware of global issues that many Americans, who calim knowledge, are unaware of.


  6. Pamela Olson
    January 24, 2012, 1:45 pm

    Richard Witty has a point — for Americans to understand Palestinians, they have to identify with them, so the key phrase is indeed “that I can indentify with.”

    That’s why I wrote a book that’s not just horror and terror, even though that’s the book that begs to be written, and not only written but screamed from the rooftops. Unfortunately, the unvarnished truth simply bounces off most Americans. You have to give them a spoonful of sugar, otherwise the medicine never goes down. The Holocaust movie The Pianist starts out with the guy well-dressed and doing something we readily recognize as highly-cultured. Otherwise what follows has much less impact on Westerners. Sad but true.

    I just did a giveaway of the electronic version of the book on Amazon, and to my pleasant surprise, it was downloaded over 9,000 times. That’s a lot of people with a story of Palestine suddenly in their hands. I’ll look forward to hearing their thoughts.

    BTW — if you’ll be in New York on Monday, Jan 30 at 7pm, I’ll be giving readings from my book at the Half King Bar in Chelsea. Would love to see you there. It’s a venue that usually hosts mainstream authors, and my reading is unabashedly about Palestine (no pretense of “balance”), so the bar is taking a risk. Here’s hoping it goes well.

  7. American
    January 24, 2012, 6:38 pm

    You don’t have to make Americans understand Gazans or Palestine –the shortcut to helping Palestine is making Americans hate Israel. Not flattering to Americans but the idea of Israel getting “their” money, particulary in these times, is what inflames the rank and file of the public against Israel.

    Published 22:34 24.01.12
    Latest update 22:34 24.01.12

    U.S. to grant three-year extension of loan guarantees to Israel
    Current balance of loan guarantees Israel can take is $3.8 billion; global credit agencies view the gurantees as a ‘safety net’ for the Israeli economy.
    By Barak Ravid
    Tags: Israel US Barack Obama

    The U.S. government has informed Israel that it will recommend that Congress approve a three-year extension of loan guarantees to Israel, worth $3.8 billion. The announcement came after several months of worry in Israel that the loan guarantees would not be extended, despite Israel’s request.

    Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Nides and Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Neil Wolin announced the American decision at a meeting with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Monday. According to a senior U.S. official, the two emphasized to Ayalon that the recommendation to extend the guarantees through September 2015 would receive wide support from both parties in Congress and would be approved without any problems in the near future.

    “The U.S. is a true friend and ally of Israel,” Ayalon said. “The partnership between the two countries is a natural one. Extending the loan guarantees strengthens the international position of the Israeli economy and will allow the government to continue to raise funds at lower costs.”

    A senior Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem said that Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren filed the official request for the extension of the loan guarantees with the State Department in September 2011. However, the Israel request was not included in the U.S. budget that was approved at the end of last year.

    The deadline for the implementation of the agreement is September 30, 2012. This created serious concern in Israel that the U.S. government was not interested in extending the loan guarantees past that date. The Foreign Ministry also feared that the need for separate legislation on Israel’s loan guarantees would be met with technical and political difficulties that would not allow for the passage of the law.

    Before the arrival of the two American officials in Israel, the Foreign Ministry prepared for a tough conversation and a crisis. However, the two American officials were surprised and quickly clarified that the U.S. government completely supported the extension of the loan guarantees and planned to recommend the extension to Congress.

    The loan guarantees agreement between the U.S. and Israel began in 2003, when Benjamin Netanyahu was Finance Minister. At the time, Israel found itself in an economic recession and U.S. loan guarantees were needed in order to raise funds abroad at low interest rates. The scope of the original agreement was $9 billion and Israel last raised money through it in 2004. …….

  8. seafoid
    January 25, 2012, 3:41 am

    Beautiful intro Phil. Public expressions of Mitleid or compassion are far too rare.

    The Palestinians are non-people in the Zionist space. They speak a different language. They are not plugged into the Judeo Christian world. They don’t count. Economics emphasise the difference. They have no money. This is deliberate policy.
    There is obviously a huge problem in Israeli Jewish society that allows this to happen.

  9. Refaat
    January 25, 2012, 2:11 pm

    In Arabic ‘Rawan’ means plural for the one who ‘gazes’ (to examine things). Rawan gazes at our situation and describes it in meticulous ways, in ways only matched by her other friend, Sarah Ali.

    And I tell you, with more attention(Like what MondoWeiss is doing) to those young talents, they soon will be globally renowned.

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