04 July 2006

independence day in haifa.

Happy Independence Day! Flipping through our TV channels this morning in search of some English news, we passed a Christian evangelicalist show - in Arabic. A young boy was being "healed" by the holy spirit. Nice to know such things are not just an American oddity. I hope everyone is launching fireworks tonight - we'll be spending the evening watching the Germany/Italy (go Germany!) semifinals match at a British pub. What better way to celebrate our independence than in a pub of the nation from which we won it? We don't have any American flags to wave, but we'll find a way to show some pride. On the topic of freedom and independence, my favorite conservative has some provoking thoughts on flag burning for the occasion. Speaking as an American far from home today, I too, am grateful for the First Amendment in all its glory.

I arrived at Isha at 9:30 this morning to find it completely empty. I knew Hedva wasn't working today, so I figured others would show up later and settled in to continue researching 1325. Tamla and Ilana came in a bit later to deal with a problem that had arisen with a directory of women activists working on 1325 they are publising. It seems an Argentinian woman who used to work with Isha had been left out, and they were trying to squeeze her back in before anyone noticed. Relatively uneventful, except her name is Jessica, and I was convinced I was being talked about in Hebrew until I asked. We shared a good laugh about it, and Tamla assured me, like all good women, that they would at least leave the room to gossip about me. I managed to get myself invited to come along with our Sri Lankan guest on Sunday for the Haifa segment of her Israel tour. I've been invited to the other cities as well, as long as the money works out. This being a poor non-profit, I've offered to pay my own way if necessary, but Tamla says she hopes I won't have to. On my first day, Tamla and I were talking about why I came to Israel and she asked whether I was Jewish (common question of people who study in Israel, I've noticed). I explained that I just study Arabic and am interested in the Middle East. Today, she asked if I was religious or secular, and when I answered secular, she shook my hand in congratulations. I suppose that's why it's so easy for her to look beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to broader issues - for her, this is just one more land dispute like all the others.

I spent the afternoon hours reading up on developments in Sri Lanka in preparation for Visaka's speech at the conference. As in Israel, things aren't going well. After spending last semester researching the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) use of suicide terrorism, I've been interested in the conflict. Hostilities and violence have stepped up in the last few weeks, and the international community is pressuring Colombo (Sri Lankan capital) to stop its attacks on Tamil civilians. More than 800 people have been killed in the escalating violence since December. The LTTE, is also urging India, who has essentially washed its hands of the Sri Lankan conflict since the 1991 assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, to play a large role in peace negotiations. In early June, talks broke down when the LTTE refused negotiations mediated by a Nordic group including Finland, Denmark, and Sweden, EU nations that recently declared the LTTE a terrorist organization. The Sri Lankan conflict, although a land dispute divided on nationalistic/religious lines like Israel-Palestine, is particuarly unique in that the international community doesn't sympathize with either side. While the LTTE has been branded a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, and the EU, among others (a label well-deserved, as the LTTE's Black Tigers are the world's most effective users of suicide terrorism), there is no corresponding sympathy for Colombo. With the threat of return to all-out civil war (which officially ended in 2002 with a Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement) and both sides without friends in the international community, Sri Lanka stands at a potentially history-altering crossroads. Just as the handling of the current Gaza crisis could open the door for negotiations between the Hamas government and Israel, or send the country back into escalated violence, we're witnessing history. Visaka, our keynote speaker, has served as an intermediary between LTTE and Sri Lankan officials at peace talks, and I can't wait to hear her perspective on her country's future.

Happy Independence Day to everyone, wherever you may be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

heeey!! didn't read your whole blog, but I also spent this 4th in a British pub watching World Cup...
Fuckin' Italians!!
hope you're having a better time of it than I am, cause the Italians put a real damper on my day.