Thursday, September 29, 2011


Professor Bernard Lewis, of Princeton, takes the view that Israel must win its struggle in the United States and it must have the support of American public opinion. 
 Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back (1976)
And, by 1976, Israel had won this struggle in the United States.  Since 1960, the dominant narrative about Israel's "struggle" in the United States was that of Otto Preminger's adaptation of Leon Uris' "Exodus" – Paul Newman's Ari, a tanned and arrogant veteran of Britain's Jewish Brigade, and John Derek's Taha, an obsequious throwaway "Arab."  And, in academia, the facts of the struggle between Jew and Palestinian were, for decades, filtered through the lens of orientalists like Lewis.
That narrative is still dominant…at least in the United States.  But even Americans are beginning to hear and listen to another narrative…of Palestinians and the reality of life…and death…in today's Israel/Palestine. 
The pain and urgency of that long-suppressed narrative broke through on our television screens during Israel's Christmas 2008 assault on Gaza, known euphemistically by the sanitized code name "Cast Lead."  There was no way of sanitizing the real-time images of that assault that killed 1,300 Gazans, half of them women and children.
Nor was there any way to sanitize the blood-red images of dying children contained in Eyes on Gaza, a narrative by Norwegian surgeon Mads Gilbert of that winter 2008/09 in Gaza's al Shifah Hospital, or the psychological trauma visited upon the children that survived ( ).
No longer were the Palestinians the cardboard cutout terrorists of our one-sided view of reality.  They were living, breathing…dying human beings just like us, just like the Israelis.  They were beginning to be heard.
And, thanks to people like Berkeley's Barbara Lubin and Ziad Abbas, Oakland's Nancy Hernandez, and, most especially, Susan Johnson, a 70-year-old grandmother from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the Middle East Children's Alliance (, in collaboration with Afaq Jadeeda's (New Horizons) Center, organized the "Let the Children Play and Heal" project to enable the children of Gaza to work through their trauma through art.

Through its Maia Project, MECA is also working in partnership with community organizations in Gaza to build water purification and desalination units in schools throughout the Gaza Strip.  And, as part of this latter effort, Ms. Hernandez provided the children there paints and crayons and colors they hadn't seen in their young gray lives.  She asked them to draw their visions of water and they gave her pictures of black tanks atop their houses – tanks that hold the one-or-two-hours-a-week of water allowed each Gaza household.  And then they started drawing other visions of their reality – of the death, destruction, fear, and deprivation that have been their lot. 
These healing strands came together in a remarkable collection - "A Child's View from Gaza" – that was to have been displayed this fall at Oakland's Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA).
But the children's art was seen as a threat by the guardians of the dominant narrative.  Pressured by the Jewish Federation of the East Bay and the San Francisco JCRC, MOCHA pulled the plug on the exhibit.  Far from seeking to cover its role, the Federation trumpeted its glee.  "Great news!" it proclaimed.  "The 'Child's View From Gaza' exhibit at MOCHA has been canceled thanks to some great East Bay Jewish community organizing."
Irony of ironies, however, this crude exercise of censorship unleashed a national outcry, opening yet further the national media doors to the alternative narrative of the long-oppressed, long-silenced Palestinian people.  The pictures of Gaza's children became a cause celebre from coast to coast.  Their voices were amplified.
And, on September 24, hundreds attended the opening of the exhibit – in MOCHA's courtyard where dozens of us served as human easels, each holding a child's work of art in respectful silence.  A short march brought the throng around the corner to an alternative venue at 917 Washington (at 10th) where a good time was had by all despite the never-say-die protests of the would-be censors (  The exhibit will welcome visitors there through November.
Won't you come visit, come look?  Won't you use your feet, your eyes to challenge those who would censor what you can see, what the children of Gaza can say?

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