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Am Johal: Beautiful Madness

Beautiful Madness

By Am Johal

Haifa - War and chess is what mathematicians and economists call a zero sum game. It is a game built on a model which requires one winner. The problem with developing international diplomatic policy on something as unforgiving as game theory means that civilian deaths become the de facto reality when the struggles of the ego cannot be averted by either side.

Stopping this march to madness is a daily struggle of perseverence, patience and determination. Unfortunately, in this context, there are no ends, only means. And the game continues. It is war all the time.

It is so thoroughly depressing, I don't want to come back here for another ten years. I will miss drinking with the Ethiopians in the Haifa market or eating at Fattoush on Ben Gurion Street, having orange juice on the rooftop patio of Papa Andreas in the Old City where you can see the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, and ice cream at Rukab's in Ramallah on a hot summer day. On days like this, I dream about the 'almost perfection' of my home town of Vancouver, Canada.

Civilians disproportionately pay the price of this misguided aggression on all sides. The dynamic equilibrium of this place in reality means about 1,000 deaths a year and has nothing to do with addressing root causes. How can you be inspired by a place when half the peace movement in the country supports the Separation Wall?

I came here to have a vacation, work on research for my Masters thesis, meet old friends, eat great food and write some articles. But, as long as there are idiots in power who have no respect for human life and continue this vicious circle, the base instincts of human behaviour all throughout history would inform us that there is barely a foundation to build upon to take this conflict in a more positive direction. Virtually every collective narrative here is built on fundamental lies. What is happening today is not new - it has been building since September 2000 and even before that. It is the legacy of Sharon and Arafat being carried out by even lesser men. What's happening today is exactly what everybody predicted would happen at some point.

This isn't war, but it is war all the time. The public sphere here is built upon a kind of cognitive dissonance aided by mass communications. The global reality that defines power today in this conflict can be summed up in a basic and crude way: An Israeli life is more important than a Palestinian life. There, I said it - what many people know is true, but no one wants to say for fear of offending.

Where else can elected people openly talk about killing democratically elected leaders as a legitimate form of public policy in the name of security? Where else can 2/3rds of elected leaders of the Palestinian Authority be jailed without charges? But the West doesn't really seem to care, nor does it take responsibility for disproportionate Israeli responses to Palestinian resistance.

Hamas also deserves deep criticism for its actions and misplaying opportunities that were presented. The Palestinians without an effective peace movement that can act non-violently in a collective way, will always suffer more casualties when put against the military might of Israel. Violent resistance is not a game worth playing for the Palestinians - they have lost that game for over 58 years. Why would it work now?

The sheer impotence of the US, the European Union and the UN is remarkable in the depth of its inability to harness the deeply radical agendas that serve to undermine any realistic option for peace. Any permanent peace plan, will no doubt radicalize 45% of the population in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories against such an action. But in the end, it's the only way to move forward based on negotiations and not unilateralism. The failure to break the present impasse means the status quo of almost daily deaths.

When the politicians and the news media start using the same language it means that we have now crossed the threshold of distortion. When you go out for lunch here, all the TVs have tanks rolling through and talking heads providing commentary 24-7.

Kidnapped soldiers, rocket attacks, naval blockades, airport attacks and now Hezbullah is threatening to attack Haifa. The flags are out everywhere and jingoism is in the air. The siren went off in the morning warning that the port was under threat. Soldiers are walking the streets with guns. The root causes of the conflict such as the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is left off the public agenda.

The Mossawa Center, a human rights NGO, was busy moving this morning from an office tower in to an old heritage building in to an Arab neighbourhood in Haifa. As we were lifting boxes, our only implements of war were scrapers, brooms, dust pans and a cement mixer in the yard. The Israeli secret service known as the Shabbak will almost be their neighbours here in this location - such are the contradictions of this heated place. Since we have all been under surveillance at some point in our lives here, it's nothing to lose any sleep over.

It was blistering hot today. We went to sleep last night knowing about the Israeli soldiers that had been killed on the northern border so we were expecting a massive response. By morning, we heard about the rocket attack on Nahariya, that something landed north of Acco and that there were numerous other rocket attacks along Israel's northern border. And of course, Lebanon was being hit hard and there were dozens of casualties.

Rather than talk about the rising tensions and the fact that Haifa was now being mentioned as a possible target, we instead talked about the cultural ramifications of the Zinedine Zidane head butt. Abir Kopty, usually Mossawa's articulate media spokesperson who I shared an office with for the better part of a year a few years ago, had her sleeves rolled up with a cleaning rag in her hand and her cell phone turned off. Referring to Zidane she said, "Am, I'm glad he did it. It was kind of like establishing a 'position.' Everything is political you know." Earlier this year, YNET named her one of Israel's newsmakers of the year. There was madness all around, but we had paint to scrape and garbage to haul out of this labour of love that the new building will be.

Later, we sat out for lunch and had cigarettes. "Well Am, if you die here, at least you will die with the Arabs. You should be honored," she said with a laugh.

I said, "Abir, I neither want to die with the Arabs or the Jews. I want to go back to Vancouver and drink beer on the beach and live in multicultural bliss when this is all over."

Gaza is being demolished. The casualties are rising. There are soldiers being kidnapped. The papers are worried about another front opening up on the Syrian border. I don't know whether I should be leaving Haifa and heading for Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to get out of missile range. On days like this, I think to myself that I'm neither a Palestinian nor Jewish - what the hell am I doing here?

We here are all human rights activists. But now, in this context, when real power reveals its ugly head, we are thoroughly irrelevant.

All of us have the right to live without fear. Whoever has taken that away from us are our enemies this afternoon.

Perhaps we'll put the linoleum on the floor tomorrow. The Mediterranean is a gorgeous blue. It's hotter than hell and I'm meeting friends for coffee tonight. There are birds on the window sill and I am wondering what they are making of all this.

Tomorrow's another day - hopefully it will be better than this one.


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