April 23-24, 2009
Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish

Thursday, April 23th
7:00 to 9:30 PM
107 Psychology Building

Dr. Najat Rahman will give a lecture about the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and the significance of his poetry. The lecture will be followed by a question and answer session.

Friday, April 24th
7:30 to midnight
On Wisconsin Room, Red Gym

This is a cultural night that will include UW-Madison poets reciting their work as American poets interacting with Darwish for the first time, a lecture by Dr. Rahman, Arabic music, poetry recitation in Arabic and English, and a fantastic art exhibit from Palestine. Free food reception included.

Gaza Benefit Dinner, Goodman Atwood Community Center

Goodman Atwood Community Center
149 Waubesa Street
6:00 – 8:00 pm

Sponsored by Madison East High School Students for Justice in Palestine.

A vegetarian Middle Eastern dinner will be served at 6 pm, simultaneously with a cooking demonstration by Chef Sabi Attiyeh – baklava and dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) – followed by a presentation with slides by Lora Gordon, activist recently returned from two months in Rafah and Gaza. Entertainment will be provided by East High School jazz quartet.

Funds raised will go to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) for Gaza relief. Tickets: $15 in advance, for reservations contact Bill at kursk1 at tds.net.

Supported by MRSCP; for more information call (608) 238-1227.

An Interview with Simone Bitton on Her New Movie Rachel

Simone Bitton
Still image from Rachel; inset: Simone Bitton

I think they had a pro-Palestinian agenda, and I don’t think that having a pro-Palestinian agenda means having an anti-Israeli agenda. Actually, as an Israeli, I have a pro-Palestinian agenda, and I think that when life will be normal and reasonable for Palestinians, it will be much better for Israelis too.

I don’t think it’s an insult to say that somebody has a pro-Palestinian agenda. If it means that somebody is committed to more justice for the Palestinians, who have been oppressed, bombed, caged, occupied, it’s very good to have a pro-Palestinian agenda. It’s not only good, it’s absolutely needed if you don’t want the Middle East to explode in the face of the world, more than it has exploded already.

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, May 3, 2009

Interview with Simone Bitton

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Simone Bitton’s documentary “Rachel,” which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, is what’s not in it. Bitton, a Moroccan-born Jewish filmmaker who spent many years in Israel and now lives in France, conducts a philosophical and cinematic inquiry into the death of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American activist who was killed under ambiguous circumstances in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip in March 2003. But the political firestorm that followed Corrie’s death, which saw her beatified as a martyr for peace by some on the left and demonized as a terrorist enabler by some on the right, is virtually absent from the film.

We do not see the infamous photograph of the keffiyeh-clad Corrie burning an “American flag” — not a real flag, but a crude children’s drawing of one — at a demonstration about a month before her death. Nor do we see the torrent of exaggerated and often shocking verbal abuse to which Corrie was subjected, postmortem, on right-wing bulletin boards and Web sites. Corrie, who suffered massive internal injuries when she was either crushed by a bulldozer or buried under construction debris, was routinely dubbed “Saint Pancake” in such venues, or described as “terrorist-loving swine.” (That’s without getting into the grotesque sexual fantasies and elaborate conspiracy theories.)

Bitton approaches Corrie’s death from an Israeli point of view, which means she sees it quite differently from the way Americans do. For her, it’s partly a forensic puzzle — an episode of “CSI: Gaza” without a clear resolution — and as a philosophical challenge to the military and political status quo. It’s important to understand that within Israel, Corrie’s encounter with a military bulldozer (an enormous armored machine called the Caterpillar D9, built in the United States to Israeli specifications) and the subsequent investigation were a relatively minor news blip, not the full-on media frenzy we enjoyed.

While it’s unusual for a Westerner to die in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Corrie was neither the first nor the last, and no individual death can make much impression amid the constantly clicking body count on all sides. In the film, one of Corrie’s friends recalls that the Gaza hospital mortuary had to move her body out to make room for someone else, a Palestinian man who had reportedly left his house to smoke a cigarette and was shot by an Israeli sniper.

After an internal inquiry, the Israeli military announced that Corrie’s death was a tragic accident, and that the bulldozer driver who ran her over (or maybe buried her beneath a mound of dirt) never saw her or heard her. Corrie’s fellow activists and Palestinian onlookers continued to insist that she was plainly visible, standing on a raised berm of earth in a bright orange vest, and that the driver killed her deliberately. The whole thing floated away on a cloud of irresolution — another not-quite-explained killing in the occupied territories — and other stories took over the Israeli front pages.

Until she visited the U.S. late in production to meet Corrie’s family, friends and classmates in Olympia, Wash., Bitton was unaware that Corrie embodied an ideological divide in American discourse about the Middle East. When I asked her about the flag-burning photo, she didn’t seem to understand that many Americans view that act as tantamount to treason. (Other nations do not tend to view their flags with the same quasi-religious fervor.)

Herself a former Israeli peace activist, Bitton is clearly sympathetic to Corrie and her Western activist friends, who conducted a nonviolent and arguably foolhardy campaign of resistance, at immense personal risk, against Israeli demolition projects in the no man’s land along the Gaza-Egypt border. Suffice it to say this movie will not make her many friends among the Likudnik Israeli right, or in the “Israel lobby” of the American establishment. But while it makes no pretense of neutrality, “Rachel” is not first or foremost pursuing a political agenda. Like Bitton’s previous film, “Wall” — about the construction of the barrier fence between Israel and the autonomous West Bank — it finds human surprises and philosophical depth within a symbol of that intractable conflict.

Bitton makes no effort at political calculus, at resolving questions of who is most to blame in the Palestinian dilemma, or whether the Israeli occupation’s crimes are worse than those of Hamas or Hezbollah. She also does not claim to have answered the question of exactly how and why Corrie died, and at this point all possibility of certainty seems to have vanished. Maybe the bulldozer driver snapped and ran her over on purpose; maybe he really didn’t see her; maybe he was trying to frighten her and went too far. In asking various of Corrie’s friends to read excerpts from her letters, Bitton tries to redeem a real young woman — who was undeniably idealistic but also surprisingly eloquent and thoughtful — from the warring stereotypes of peacenik angel and anti-Semitic Hamas agent.

During our conversation in a Manhattan hotel lobby, Bitton scolded me for asking too many questions about Corrie’s political significance. “Let’s talk about cinema,” she said. For American viewers of “Rachel,” though, there will be no escaping the political connotations of Corrie’s death. Because of where she died and how she died, the American-made girl flattened by an American-made bulldozer became a powerful counter-symbolic reminder of America’s moral, financial and material sponsorship of the Israeli occupation regime. Whether or not you think that regime is itself justified, it remains a primary reason why our country is loathed and mistrusted throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

I just want to get your story straight, Simone. You were born in Morocco?

Yes. Chronologically, I am Moroccan, Israeli, French. That is the story of my life, so I have the three citizenships, cultures. I am all three.

The fact that you can speak both Arabic and Hebrew has played a large role in your filmmaking, right? You can cross that divide pretty easily.

Yes, of course. It has played a role in my life.

What drew you to make a film about Rachel Corrie?

Many things, but of course it was not the internal U.S. controversy. I am from there, you know, and it’s a story from there. Rachel Corrie’s story is important in the Middle East, but it’s not as known as it is here. There, it was just a little item in the news the day she was killed, because people get killed every day, so many Palestinians and so many Israelis. You know, we live with death. So it’s not like for the Americans. She’s the only American citizen who was killed in the Palestinian territories.

Still, I was very moved by the story because it was the first time that somebody who came to protect the Palestinians was killed. It was the whole notion of protection, of nonviolent resistance. It was a red line which has been crossed. It was very frightening. More personally, I would say, just as a human being and as a filmmaker: She was 23 years old, and I am 53 years old, and I am somehow mourning my own youth. Not my own commitments, but when you are 53, you don’t translate your commitment in the same way. It was a way for me to maybe think about youth and commitment.

Before we turned the camera on, you said that you couldn’t really comment on the controversy about Rachel Corrie in the United States, and I understand that. But one of the allegations that has come up both in the U.S. and Israel is the idea that the group that she was involved with had a pro-Palestinian agenda and was passively or actively encouraging terrorism. What would you say to that?

I think they had a pro-Palestinian agenda, and I don’t think that having a pro-Palestinian agenda means having an anti-Israeli agenda. Actually, as an Israeli, I have a pro-Palestinian agenda, and I think that when life will be normal and reasonable for Palestinians, it will be much better for Israelis too.

I don’t think it’s an insult to say that somebody has a pro-Palestinian agenda. If it means that somebody is committed to more justice for the Palestinians, who have been oppressed, bombed, caged, occupied, it’s very good to have a pro-Palestinian agenda. It’s not only good, it’s absolutely needed if you don’t want the Middle East to explode in the face of the world, more than it has exploded already.

What specifically was Rachel Corrie’s group doing in the Gaza Strip?

They were there, as far as I know, to be with Palestinian families, to live with them, to help them, to express their solidarity. Rachel herself had a vague project of promoting the idea of twin cities between her home city [Olympia, Wash.] and Rafah, in Palestine. But when they found themselves there, the Israeli army started demolishing civilian houses, one after the other, because they were aiming to create a no man’s land along the border with Egypt. So they started trying to protect these people from having their lives destroyed. They slept in these houses and called out by megaphone to the soldiers that they were there, hoping that this will stop the soldiers from shooting. Actually it did, many times. They were trying to prevent the bulldozers from demolishing the homes of just, you know, normal, completely innocent and very poor families.

It has also been suggested that Rachel was an idealistic and naive person who found herself in a situation she didn’t fully understand. Or that her group, the International Solidarity Movement, was being manipulated by Hamas or other players in the conflict, to cover a more sinister agenda.

You know, for sure they were not manipulated by anybody. They were very lucid and independent young people. They — what other insults do you have? Really, the word “manipulated” is so horrible because it shows… It’s very insulting towards them. You know, you have to be a very weak personality to be manipulated. They knew what they were doing, and they knew why they were there. They were politically conscious.

Now, you said “idealistic” and “naive” as if there were a dash between the two words. I don’t agree with this, you know? I think she had ideas, she had values. She had moral values, she had social values, she had political values. If somebody has no ideals when he’s 20 years old, when will he have values? So it’s a compliment to be idealistic, for a young person, but when you say “naive” that puts it upside down. I don’t agree with that.

Moving on to the subject of Rachel’s death, you interview a representative of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces and…

Several of them.

Several of them, yes, about what happened. What is the official position, more or less, about what happened that day?

It’s not more or less. The official position is clearly that Rachel’s death was an accident because the bulldozer drivers didn’t see her. Sometimes they go as far as saying that she hid behind a pile of dirt so that she didn’t want to be seen. Sometimes they go as far as that, but mostly what is disturbing in the Israeli official version is that the bulldozers were not destroying houses that day. So, OK, if they were not destroying houses, what was she doing there in front of a bulldozer?

Now, there were other people who saw the episode, some international observers from many different countries and some Palestinian witnesses. And what they say they saw is quite different.

Well, there were contradictions in the versions, and this is why it was interesting for me. It was a challenge because I like complexity, you know. And our situation is very complex. There are contradictions between the versions and so I wanted to investigate. Believe me or not, but really, I didn’t know. The only thing I knew is that obviously I cannot take for granted the results of any inquiry made by the army, because this is not independent. The army is clearly accused of being responsible for these deaths, so it’s impossible that the inquiry will be made by the army. It needs an independent eye, and there was no court; there was no independent investigation whatsoever.

Mine is independent, OK, but I have no juridical value, you know? So this film is an independent investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie, but it turned out also to be an inquiry into the investigation itself, into the inquiry process of the Israeli army. Now, for example, the Israeli army says they are investigating possible violations of human rights during the bombings in Gaza in January. All the time the Israeli army investigates the killing of civilians, and in 99.9 of these cases, there is no independent investigation, and nobody’s punished, you know?

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April 15, 2009
Anna Baltzer: Life in Occupied Palestine

Stories & Photos

Anna Baltzer, Jewish-American granddaughter of Holocaust refugees, will present her slides, stories, & book Witness in Palestine, recounting first-hand experiences with the conflict while living with Palestinians in the West Bank.

First United Methodist Church
203 Wisconsin Avenue, Madison
7:00 pm Wednesday, April 15

Free and open to the public. Booksigning to follow talk.

Co-sponsors: American Jews for a Just Peace/Madison, Justice for Palestine, Madison
Friends Meeting, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Pilgrims of Ibillin, Playgrounds for
Palestine-Madison, Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, and Yahara Friends Meeting

For more info: www.annainthemiddleeast.com; call 238-1227 or e-mail

The Birds That Are Your Hands, Broom Street Theater

the birds that are your hands:
how to start a fire under siege

By Sol Kelley-Jones
Directed by Sol Kelley-Jones

Against the backdrop of occupied borderlands torn asunder, the multi-media performance, the birds that are your hands: how to start a fire under siege, explores disparate yet overlapping tales of tyranny and resistance from Israel/Palestine to the U.S/Mexico border. From stony hills laden with olive trees to the blurry haze of a line in the sand among saguaros; from the bullet-riddled corridors of an ancient holy city to a chain gang of a modern metropolis, a tangled collage of stories unfurl and draw attention to the hands of those enclosed by borders, those making the crossing, and those who capitalize on the construction of walls: wielders of stones, bakers of bread, upholders of state. Shepherds emerge alongside Goliaths’ patrol, lovers find themselves to be terrorists, and Ingrid thinks we should all just lay down our arms and play violins.

Broom Street Theater proudly presents Sol Thea Kelley-Jones’ new work the birds that are your hands: how to start a fire under siege — a multi-media work from the theater’s newest playwright. Kelley-Jones, an activist and artist, has been re-imagining justice-making through the performing arts since her youngest years. In 1999, out of a desire to create theater and give platform to marginalized voices, she co-founded Proud Theater with Callen Harty, now Broom Street Artistic Director. Through the years, her art has reflected her belief in the interconnection between struggles for justice. She has continued to employ the theatrical arts in ever-widening circles. After teaching theater in refugee camps in the Palestinian Territories and working on behalf of immigrant rights at Coalicion Derechos de Humanos on the U.S. Mexico border, she embarked on her most recent theatrical work, which explores the peoples and militarized landscapes of these two border places.

the birds that are your hands: how to start a fire under siege boasts the talents of both veteran Broom Street actors and newcomers. Make sure to mark your calendars to see the provocative world premiere.

Produced by Broom Street Theater at Broom Street Theater
1119 Williamson Street, Madison
Performances: March 13 – April 19, 2009
Performance Times: Friday and Saturday @ 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
There will be talkbacks after the March 22, 29, April 5, and 12 performances
Ticket Prices: $9 on Friday and Saturday, $6 on Sunday

Call 608-244-8338 for reservations or more information.

April 5-7, 2009
Israel-Palestine from Bush to Obama: Health, Human Rights and Foreign Policy

The University of Wisconsin – Madison Middle East Studies Program April Lecture Series
Prof. Noam Chomsky; Dr. Rita Giacaman; Dr. Graham Watt

Sunday, 5 April 2009
Rita Giacaman; Bir Zeit University, Ramallah, West Bank

“Health Conditions & Medical Services under Siege, 2006-2009”
First Unitarian Society of Madison; 900 University Bay Drive; 1:30-3:30pm

Monday, 6 April 2009
Graham Watt; University of Glasgow, Scotland

“Human Rights, Dignity & Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP)”
Room 206, Ingraham Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison
1155 Observatory Drive; 3:30-5:30pm

Monday, 6 April 2009
Panel Discussion Sponsored by Edgewood College
Graham Watt, Rita Giacaman & Noam Chomsky

“‘Balance’ and Intimidation: Silencing Debate on Palestine – the Lancet, March 2009 & other case studies”
Anderson Auditorium, Edgewood College; 1000 Edgewood College Drive
Madison, WI 53711; 7:30pm

Tuesday, 7 April 2009
Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Assessing the role of US Foreign Policy, Israeli Security, & Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”
Orpheum Theater, 216 State Stree,; 7:30pm Tickets Required*

    *Tickets for Chomsky lecture: $10.00 per person; limit 4 per person. Tickets are available at:
    1. Orpheum Theater, 216 State Street; (608) 255-8755; www.orpheumtheatre.net
    2. Lakeside Printing Coop; 1334 Williamson St. (608) 255-1800; www.lakesidepress.org
    3. Rainbow Bookstore, 426 W. Gilman Street; www.rainbowbookstore.org
    4. Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice; 122 State Street, #402; (608) 250-9240;

Co-Sponsors & Supporters

American Jews for a Just Peace
Association of Hispanic, Asian & Native American pre-med students
Campus Anti-War Network
Colombia Support Network
Dane County United Nations Association
Edgewood College Student Peace Group
Edgewood College
Geoff and Reihana Robinson
Harvey Goldberg Center for the Study of Contemporary History
Haymarket Books
International Socialist Organization
Israeli Committee against House Demolitions-USA
Joe Deane
Madison Area Peace Coalition
Madison-Rafah Sister City Project
Multicultural Students Organization
Persian Students Organization
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Playgrounds for Palestine
Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative
Students for Justice for Palestine
The Madison Institute
The Progressive Magazine
UW Center for East Asian Studies
UW Center for Global Health
UW Comparative Literature Graduate Student Association
UW Department of Comparative Literature
UW Distinguished Lecture Series
UW Havens Center
UW Middle East Studies Program
UW Population Health Studies
Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice
WORT 89.9FM Community Radio

February 8, 2009
Kathy Kelly Talk on Gaza

Sunday, February 8
Dardanelles Restaurant
1851 Monroe Street, Madison (Directions)

6:30 pm: Snack bar reception, $5 per person. Please RSVP by Friday, Feb. 6 to Joy First at jsfirst (at) tds.net or phone 222-7581.

7:15 pm: Talk, free and open to the public, no RSVP needed. Co-sponsored by MRSCP, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Madison Pledge of Resistance, Madison Chapter of American Jews for a Just Peace, and United Nations Association-USA Dane County.

Kathy’s presentation will cover her recent visit to Rafah and Gaza.

She is active with the Catholic Worker movement and since becoming a pacifist has refused payment of all federal income tax for 25 years. She helped coordinate the Voices in the Wilderness campaign on Iraq. She is currently co-coordinator of Voices For Creative Nonviolence. You can read more about the breadth of Kathy’s activism in Wikipedia and Yes! magazine.

Kathy appeared on Democracy Now! on January 27 to discuss the destruction in Gaza.

January 26, 2009
Live from Bethlehem Lecture and Film

Monday, January 26, 7:30 pm
Wisconsin Union Theater
Reception to follow

Amira Hanania is a lead journalist for the Ma’an News Agency, the only independent news network in the Palestinian territories. She is the subject of the recent documentary film Live from Bethlehem, which will be screened before her lecture. Ms. Hanania advocates for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, challenges Western stereotypes of Palestinian political opinion, and confronts propagandistic journalism in all its forms. Come see Live from Bethlehem and then hear a true heroine of independent journalism.

This is part of the Distinguished Lecture Series at UW-Madison. Click here for ticketing policy.

For a recent article about Bethlehem, see “Israel to annex lands from Bethlehem villages in order to expand Gush Etzion settlement bloc”

    Khalid Al Azza stated that this land grab order is part of the “greater Jerusalem” Israeli plan which aims at illegally annexing more Palestinian lands, expand settlements on them and expand the Jerusalem boundaries in order to void any furture peace talks on Jerusalem. So far, the Greater Jerusalem Plan has annexed 72.000 Dunams, most of them agricultural lands, while Israel is still attempting to annex more lands while the international community remains idle.