Post-election Malas: #2 / Bystanders

1. Last week a young man & his compañero were kicked off a Delta plane for speaking Arabic.

2.  I saw him on Twitter, which I like to call Birdland:

3.  His name was Adam Saleh, & because of his name it made me think of having dinner on the outskirts of Ramallah at the end of 2002 with a group called Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, at the home of Islah Jad & Saleh Abdel-Jawad, professors of Women's Studies & Political Science respectively

4.  & Saleh’s father was there, Abdel-Jawad Saleh, a former mayor of al-Bireh, an economist & an independent in the Palestinian legislature, who told me the Israelis had deported him to Jordan for twenty years, for advocating a two-state solution.

5.  When I told Saleh's father I was a poet, he found the poem he wrote for his youngest son in his years of exile, printed beside a photograph of a smiling man with his arm around a boy’s waist:  “I promise you/and the children of Palestine/That I will come/Riding the wind/and the ray of the sun...I will ride the impossible/I’ll block the sun/I’ll shut the wind/But to Palestine I’ll come.”  When he read it there were tears in his eyes. 

6. “After 1967, the mayors became the new leaders,” his son Saleh explained; “the mayor of Jerusalem was expelled in ‘67, the mayor of Ramallah in ‘68, my father in ‘72.  By the end of the 70s, the Israelis and the mainstream PLO leadership were linked in eliminating them.” 

7.  Saleh had written a book critical of Arafat, published in 1986, “In France!” he said, “Not here.  I prefer to keep my head.” 

8.  In 1999, Saleh’s father was beaten by Palestinian intelligence agents for protesting Palestinian Authority corruption & repression.  In August 2004 the New York Times reported on his participation in a meeting of the Palestinian legislature:

"’Some mistakes have been made by our institutions and some have abused their positions and violated the trust placed in them,’ Mr. Arafat said. Then a dissident legislator, Abdul Jawad Saleh, interrupted to say, ‘You are protecting them, Abu Amr,’ Mr. Arafat's nom de guerre. Mr. Arafat answered, "I'm protecting them?’ And he warned Mr. Saleh to ‘stop sleeping’ and twice to ‘be careful.’"

9. “Our hardcore democratic group,” Abdel-Jawad Saleh called his comrades, which didn’t mean there were no disagreements among them;  “I’m not with that initiative,” he said, referring to the Palestinian National Initiative put forth by Mustafa Barghouthi, Gazan physician and Red Crescent founder Haidar Abdul Shafi, & others, proposing “a democratic third force” in Palestinian politics, neither Fatah nor Hamas.  “Maybe my daughter-in-law is,” Saleh’s father said, “but I am not.  We are more clear.  We are not as diplomatic as they are.  We believe they have one leg with the people and one leg with the Authority.  Maybe there will be dialogue between us.”

10.  “Killing was used only against militants, activists,” Saleh said.  “The Israelis eliminated most of the leadership of the PLO abroad by linking their names to Munich in 1972.  They used deportation for politicians, like my father.” 

11. Saleh & Islah’s beautiful daughter was lounging on her mother's lap, in a room filled with feast and laughter; during the siege the previous spring they'd gone to the hospital to try to give blood, & found that the blood bank was closed because its personnel had gone to bury twenty-five people in the parking lot. 

12.  When the lights flickered & then briefly went out, Islah picked up a candle & looked toward the fuses, laughing a little, & said, “I hope they are not going to assassinate anyone.”

13.  Saleh had traveled in the States, in San Francisco, & we both knew Muir Woods:  “Yes,” he said.  “So beautiful it made me forget where I was.”

14.  Suad Amiry was there that night too, who in April 2007 told Jim Lehrer a story about being barred from her home by an Israeli soldier, whose orders she said she would obey only if he gave her half of the orange he was peeling.

15.  (He did, and let her pass.) 

16.  Suad published a book in 2006 called Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries.

17.  In the book she tells the story of the seven years she spent trying to get the residency card or hawiyyeh that would permit her to travel, & how finally she made an appointment with the Israeli Captain Yossi who often called her and other Birzeit University professors to try to get them to collaborate.

18.  At the military compound they served terrible coffee. “Look at the Italians, the Turks and the French,” she said; “they all have good coffee, now that they have realized it’s possible to have a good life without occupying others.”

19. “Give me my hawiyyeh,” she said to Captain Yossi, & when he demurred she started to take all the things out of her overnight bag & throw them on the floor of his office, refusing to leave, & burst into tears.

20.  "I could see that he was capable of handling Palestinian demonstrators, rebels, stabbers, terrorists. He could handle bombs, dynamite, tanks, fighter planes and submarines.  He was trained to handle them all.


21. "I watched a stunned Yossi walk out of his office.  Soon after, he came back with another Marlboro cigarette, another mud (which I drank this time) and a piece of paper with Hebrew scribbles on it, which he claimed said, 'Give this [crazy] woman her hawiyyeh.'"

22. “Unfortunately we are always seen as people who are dying,” Suad told Jim Lehrer, “but we want to be seen as people who are living, people who want to live.”  

23. Last October the swollen face & ripped suit of Palestinian lawyer Muhannad Karajah, brother of imprisoned activist Hasan Karajah, beaten while serving as a legal observer of a Ramallah protest challenging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ participation in the funeral of Shimon Peres.

24.  Hanan Ashrawi on Shimon Peres: "Back then, Palestinians were optimistic about a future free of Israel’s dominance. We hoped that Mr. Peres and other Israeli leaders would follow up their statements in support of peace with determined action to reach a just and lasting agreement to end the conflict. As it turned out, there was little correlation between their lofty rhetoric and their actual policies."

25. The young men & women protesting in Ramallah in October attacked by dozens of plain-clothes PA security forces, who beat them & took their phones & threw them on the ground, & Muhannad Karajah & the other lawyers beaten for trying to stand between them.

26.  Ashrawi on Peres & "his final role in Israeli politics as president, serving as a fig leaf for the radically pro-settler government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu."

27. @netanyahu in Birdland after UN affirmed 49-year-old resolution on the illegality of settlements on occupied territory: "I ask those countries wishing us a Happy #Hanukkah how they could vote to call place where Hanukkah happened 'occupied'."

28.  Bing translation of his tweet in Hebrew, with a foto of him lighting candles at the Western Wall: "I turned on the night of Hanukkah candle at the Western Wall --- for win Israel!"

29.  Ashrawi: "The promise of the Oslo peace process was never fulfilled, in large part because of the failures of Mr. Peres and the 'peace camp' in Israel, but also thanks to the flaws in the Declaration of Principles itself. Because the declaration enabled Israel to act with impunity over destructive unilateral measures like settlement expansion— given the lack of will on the part of the United States to hold Israel to account — it was inevitable that a culture of hate and racism against the Palestinians would ensue."

30. That night back at the hotel on Jaffa Street at the end of 2002, a Steve Martin movie with Arabic subtitles was playing on the front desk tv; we paid with shekels, & when I mentioned it, the clerk said smiling, “This is occupation."  The tv switched to images of soldiers & civilian men ordered to raise their shirts; in the small crowded elevator someone asked, “You are Canadians?”  No, Americans.  “Americans,” he said, turning up his palms, smiling but not with his eyes, “What do you want from us.”

31. The Delta Airlines that removed Adam Saleh for speaking Arabic is the same Delta Airlines that did not remove a ranting abusive white man at the end of November.

32.  "Donald Trump, baby!" the man in November yelled, waving his arms in the aisle. "That's right, this man knows what's up! We got some Hillary bitches on here? Come on, man! Trump! That's what I'm talmbout. Hey, baby. Donald Trump. Is your president. Every goddam one of yez. If you don't like it, too bad."

33. How the racist man used speech inflections invented by African-Americans. #ColonialCannibalism

34.  How I guessed it was a woman making the video, from the little involuntary sound from behind the camera as the words "Hillary bitches" made their way down the airplane aisle.

35.  As far as you can tell from the video, that little sound was the only resistance.

36.  --unless you count as resistance this woman posting the video when she landed & thousands of other people spreading & discussing it & threatening to boycott until eventually Delta banned this man from flying on Delta again.

37.  But I kept thinking of the faces of the young women in the video, after the yelling man sat down in the seat of his uninterrupted dominance.

38. Is there a woman or a queer person or a poor person or a person of color on this earth who doesn't know what that feels like, to sit there.

39. How from the inside it can feel like fury so far in the helpless distance it turns into nausea & then into a kind of disappearance, as the world around you does to your public confidence what prolonged radiation does to bones.

40.  As if you can hear your bones, the ones life patiently gave you & tried to make strong, quietly turning to powder.

41.  Within the lifetimes of people I've known & loved, women couldn't vote & had vegetables thrown at them if they spoke in public.

42.  My great-grandmother, whom I knew & loved until I was seven, was born not-a-person in terms of the franchise, at the corner of Hudson & Houston, where the Juice Press is now. I can almost see it from where I live.

43.  She marched in a suffrage parade, ie she brought her private humiliation & exclusion into a context of organized public resistance. She wasn't an activist but at that moment her feet ached & when she was looking around for a remedy, someone had made her shoes.

44.  Adam Saleh's video features mostly Adam Saleh, who looks like an actor, a beautiful young man with expertly trimmed eyebrows, telling the camera what's just happened: "We're getting kicked out because we spoke a different language. Delta Airlines is kicking us out because we spoke a different language. This is 2016."

45.  Molly Crabapple also tweeted, "on the other hand... they could just be hoaxters exploiting an epidemic problem for YouTube hits ..."

46.  & if you look you can find other videos of Adem Saleh & his friend trying to provoke reactions by being Arab in public.

47.  What is theater?

48.  "I feel like I'm in a movie," people keep saying since November 9.

49.  Some people responding on Birdland afterwards said Adam Saleh was illegitimate because he wasn't speaking Arabic just to speak Arabic, he was doing something deliberately provocative.

50. --which reminded me of another Birdland video, of an unearthly patient black man talking to a white man in England, who's explaining that he's not a racist because he distinguishes between a 'regular black guy' (acceptable) & a 'nigger' (not acceptable).

51. "Because you've got people that walk around, suck their teeth, I'm bad, I'm a gangster, I'm this, I'm that, yeah, You're a nigger, yeah? If you walk around & you're just a general black guy, you want to be nice, you want to be kind, you want to be acceptable, you want to join in with what we're doing, then sweet, yeah, same with Pakis, yeah."

51a.  "To be acceptable." "To join in with what we're doing."

52. So if Adam Saleh had been doing that, ie keeping his helpless fury to himself, keeping his voice down & in English, silently absorbing the acceptable radiation of hatred, the way millions of us do every day, he would have been legitimate & he wouldn't have been kicked off the plane.

53.  & the racist white man wasn't kicked off the plane because he was "acceptable," & had agreed "to join in with what we're doing."

54.  For a second the camera catches a white woman my age in the aisle with her inflated pillow around her neck, listening with her mouth open as the flight attendants & Adam Saleh argue. She seems stunned.

55.  & for another few seconds the camera catches a straight white couple a dozen aisles back waving & smiling & saying Bye! Bye! They seem happy, as though their team has won.

56.  Delta's statement later said "a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort."

57.  What they call a disturbance looks like a conversation, with the majority of those present not participating.

58.  When I first saw the video of the man calling passengers "Hillary bitches," I tried to untie the knot of impunity-fear in my stomach by imagining how that might have gone on a plane full of Cubans

59.  --ie on a plane full of people who struggle to have functioning networks of transport & housing & food distribution but whose social fabric hasn't yet been disintegrated by the values of capitalism.

60.  As I've seen happen there over & over, other big men might have stood up on the plane & nudged slowly up to the big man yelling & touched his shoulders & said Ay asere, cálmate, tranquilo. Okay, man, calm down, chill.

61.  Qué feo, someone else might have said when the words "Hillary bitches" came out of the man's mouth, not to him but to the other passengers, turning around in her seat to make sure everyone could hear, What ugliness, so we could all be clear about what was going on

62.  & so the jóvenes, the young people, could learn "This is what one does to participate in this situation," vs. "This is how life is, suck it up."

63.  An undisintegrated social fabric has its difficulties & disagreeable obligations but it comes in handy at times like this.

64.  It only lets the probe of evil sink in so far, before it meets social resistance.

65.  & it tends to make spectating not an option.

66.  After the election I took a train from NYC to DC when I heard Trump was going to the White House for the first time, to try to wake myself up from that feeling of being trapped in a movie.

67. I was standing with my hands on one of the White House gates, just before the Secret Service yelled us down the block, when 2 worried young German journalists asked me Are you it?, because there was no protest where we were standing.

68.  On the back of my vest in duct tape it said NO.

69. Okay, move! the Secret Service kept yelling as if we were in Basic Training, & a dozen of us or so were obediently herded around three-quarters of the White House perimeter until we found the small demonstration, including this beautiful young woman.

November 10, 2016, Washington, DC

November 10, 2016, Washington, DC

70.  On the sidewalk, for no reason I could figure out, a monk came up & gave me a red & gold Kai guang amulet & put a red bracelet around my wrist. The bracelet was & is beautiful but on the train home I felt nauseous again looking at it, after watching the election maps fill up with red.

71.  Apparently another name for Kai guang is Kuan Yin, Hearer-of-the-Cries-of-the-World.

71a. & apparently a kaiguang ritual is when you consecrate the eyes of a statue or a lion costume using a brush coated with cinnabar, so the eyes that were closed are open, & what was inert comes to life.

72. I always love that first sight of the lights of Manhattan when I'm coming home. But that night coming home from DC the Empire State Building was lit red.

73.  The Empire State Building lit red 2 nights after the election looked like a probe sunk into the body politic. Like a sword.

74. That next Saturday while the CBC was interviewing me in midtown at the end of a day of demonstrations, I heard their breaking news about Hillary Clinton accusing the head of the FBI of subverting the election.

75.  Someone had already tweeted, "Richard Engel just said on NBC that some generals are reading the Constitution to determine their authority to override the President. Wow."

76.  & various Trump officials were discussing the possibility of immigrant concentration camps, using the Japanese internment camps during World War 2 as a model.

77.  At the end of the month, a group from Color of Change went to Democratic Senator Charles Schumer's office very early one morning to deliver a petition.

78. They were met by a wall of police, blocking their entry. The Democrat staffers stayed inside.

79.  Schumer on Meet the Press: “Surprisingly, on certain issues, candidate Trump voiced very progressive and populist opinions.”

80.  Is this the overture. The part where all the themes are sounded but briefly. The ones that are developed later.

81.  Are the Democrats our Palestinian Authority.

82. If there are no movement shoes to walk in, can we make some in time.

83.  Holocaust survivor interviewed on the eve of Austrian elections, urging people to vote against far-right candidate Heinz-Christian Strache, who lost, gracias a todos los dioses, for now: "When they made the Jews clean the streets, the people of Vienna stood there."

84. New York Times, December 19: "The Freedom Party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, reported the signing of the agreement with United Russia, Mr. Putin's party, on Monday on his Facebook page, where he also disclosed that he had visited [proposed National Security Advisor] General Flynn a few weeks ago in Trump Tower in New York." He visited Israel last April.

85.  Terrance Hayes at the National Book Awards, on a Cave Canem retreat: "So when Avery's turn to share a poem came, he started singing: 'Where were you when they killed that boy? Where were you, when they killed that boy?'"

86.  Me: What if a literal Nazi Party candidate were elected in this country by an undisputed majority? Would you accept that as legitimate?
Smart Jewish NYC friend: I don't know.

87. Pretty sure that if Adam Saleh & his compañero had been testing the integrity of civil society on a plane full of cubanos, the people around might have split into at least 2 vociferous camps, one yelling ¡Está amenezando la seguridad de todos! He's threatening everyone's security!, & the other ¡Ay mi madre, estaba intentando hablar con su mamá, por favor!, Jesus, he was trying to talk to his mother, please!

88.  And if the Hillary Bitches man had been on a plane of cubanas, I can't imagine that several wouldn't have stepped into the aisle in front of him & behind him & told him about himself in ways that those silent young women would still remember.

89.  Last week Saeed Jones @theferocity tweeted, "Just saw someone fall onto the tracks and two people jumped down to save him as the train pulled into the station. Everyone is okay but AHHHH."

90. "A smart woman ran down the platform, screaming that someone was on the track until we all started waving our arms. I could see the lights."

91.  "Two men hopped down onto the tracks and got him. ONE DUDE WENT BACK DOWN FOR HIS DAMN GLOVES. *faints*"

92.  "That lady put her 'I wanna speak to the manager skills' to good use. She had us all in formation. WHEW. I'm just -- whew."

93. "New Yorkers are some despondent motherfuckers right up until y'all become HEROES. My god. I need a cigarette, martinis and a man. WHEW."

94.  So what would the airplane version of this be. Or, say, the nation version.

95.  Israeli journalist Amira Hass, on how she learned not to look away, via her mother Hannah in 1944: "She and the other women had been 10 days in the train from Yugoslavia. They were sick and some were dying. Then my mother saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking. This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable 'looking from the side'. It's as if I was there and saw it myself."

96.  The consternation that ripples through the barbecue in Oliver Stone's Snowden movie when ES brings up the Nuremberg trials of the well-behaved criminals who were just following orders.

97.  What kind of training have we had that we don't even need orders to follow orders & stay in our seats.

98.  & what will it take to undo it.

99.  Would you like me to put this sandbag across your hips? asked a yoga teacher as I lay breathing in the dark, aka Would you like me to anchor you even more firmly to this terrifying earth?

100.  My fear that my answer to Terrance's Avery's question might be, "Standing around with my neck pillow & my mouth open."

101. My daughter when she was little: Did anybody help you?
My beloved Ruth who fled Vienna at 14 in 1938, who died at the end of the summer: Some, but not many, & even fewer once people started to disappear.

102. It's odd, isn't it? said another yoga teacher, That being more open helps. In spite of everything.

103.  Hold me, I requested as gravity pressed me, Don't let me disappear.

104. My daughter when we used to play hide & seek, from her hiding place: Bind me, Bind me.

105.  Walking around Washington after the election I kept thinking about the labor that built those imperial buildings that make you feel small.

106. We're not small. We're a people under a people & we can fight to uncover ourselves & achieve our country or die trying.

107. The rest of my pagan prayer: Please help me find my lion costume & my cinnabar brush & my shoes.

108. Let's undo this.


November 12, 2016, NYC

November 12, 2016, NYC