Trump’s SOTU Reality Show Exposes His Dark Side

by James M. Wall

Halfway though President Trump’s 90-minute State of the Union (SOTU) address Tuesday, it suddenly struck me: This guy is good at this.

Of course he is. This is a man who spent 14 years as host of television reality shows, most notably, The Apprentice.

Standing at the podium in the House chamber, the President was in his element. He was the star of his reality show. Members of Congress and the nation, watched him perform.

Half the Congress cheered on cue. They rose to their feet in their enthusiasm. The other half remained respectfully sullen and subdued with only the occasional moan. 

What struck me halfway through the speech was the confident manner in which the President stayed on script and especially the way he read the description of guests chosen to illustrate his vision of the state of our union.

Trump followed the formula set by another actor-president, Ronald Reagan, the first president to recognize an invited guest during his State of the Union address in 1982.

Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, authors of The American Presidency Project, have recorded the annual guest list of those who have been introduced by presidents.

They note that President Bill Clinton, who delivered the only two SOTU addresses longer than Trump’s, spoke on February 4, 1997, and as his first guest, he identified the first Chinese-American state governor, Governor Gary Locke, a Democrat from the state of Washington. 

In his 1997 SOTU speech, Clinton highlighted his support of education when he highlighted two students from Illinois, Chris Getsler and Kristen Tanner, both of whom “were among the students who tied for first in the world in science and came in second in math in the Third International Math and Science Study”. Clinton also recognized their teacher, Sue Winski.

Clinton wanted the nation to understand him as welcoming to immigration and supportive of education.

The vision President Trump brings to the White House is dark in tone, white in racial color, and militaristic in style.  His “base” responds to the simplistic reality which his vision creates. 

President Trump is not subtle. He says what is on his mind at a given moment. He was following a script at the SOTU, which we must assume he rehearsed and knew what he wanted to say.

His speech writers had followed the formula used by presidents since Reagan, sprinkling his speech with introductions of guests in the hall. 

Kashana Cauley, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, writes what she saw behind Trump’s guest list.  ​​

President Trump made tokens of his minority guests, which underscored the point that he doesn’t quite consider nonwhite people to be on a par with white Americans. Corey Adams, a black welder, was brought out as cover for the tax cut his employers at Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, Ohio, received under the Republicans’ tax plan.

Mr. Adams was in fact a reminder that working-class black people could reap minuscule benefits from tax cuts that will largely make the rich richer. But that’s not all: President Trump also needed to tell us that Mr. Adams was an “all-American worker” to assure his xenophobic base that Mr. Adams couldn’t possibly hail from somewhere else.

President Trump also introduced us to Celestino Martinez, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who led an operation on Long Island to track down gang members, including members of MS-13. Mr. Trump introduced Mr. Martinez right after saying, “Americans are dreamers, too,” to insult recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and illustrate that his American dream, instead of meaning the freedom to seek refuge on our shores and work toward a satisfying future, is based on arresting gang members. To make a Latino the face of ICE is a wink to Mr. Trump’s base. It also says that Latinos can be trusted to follow the Trump agenda and throw people who look like them out of the country if they need to.

The most egregious case of tokenism was that of Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, a couple whose daughter, Kayla Cuevas, was killed by MS-13 gang members on Long Island in 2016. Three days ago, Ms. Rodriguez said in an interview that she was happy to be invited to attend the State of the Union address but that her attendance wasn’t about immigration.

“I want him to ensure that we’re going to get the proper funding for the resources for our kids,” she said. “I’m not here for anyone’s political gain.” She added, “Everyone has the right to the American dream, and that should be there for them.”

President Trump ignored Ms. Rodriguez’s wishes. He pointed the couple out, claimed that bad immigration policy allowed the members of MS-13 who killed their daughter to come into the country and asked Congress to close “deadly” immigration loopholes that he blamed for her death. He used Ms. Rodriguez’s pain to call for policies that she opposes.

Kashana Curley opened her essay with what President Trump had told reporters would be the theme of his speech: American unity.

Before his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump invited news correspondents to the White House, where he told them, “I would like to see the country united.” But hours later, he gave a speech meant to rally only part of the country.

He complimented coal and welding in a love letter to the white working classes of Appalachia and the Midwest. By admonishing people who don’t stand for the national anthem, he reminded us that as president, he has picked fights with black NFL players protesting police brutality. He repeatedly disparaged nonwhite people during his speech.

Instead of unifying the country, President Trump made it clear, yet again, that he supports only white Americans — to hell with everyone else. ​

After listing “token” minorities that were on President Trump’s guest list, Curley concluded:

President Trump’s message is clear: Acceptable minorities work as ICE agents, help their employers take advantage of tax breaks and serve as visible reminders that people are killed by immigrants and foreigners.

This fatalist, white nationalist view of the world is a reminder that if Tuesday night was about unity, Mr. Trump cares to unite only white Americans.

Harsh words, but appropriate to the occasion. It also important to remember that the cheers and applause for the President’s speech came from congressional members of his party.

What exactly does that tell us about the state of our union?

Posted in Donald Trump | 3 Comments

Trump’s Racism “is a tragedy in a man and a disaster in a president

by James M, Wall

Say this about President Trump: His unfettered outbursts of vulgarity show no signs of being planned. They just erupt from the man as a revelation of who he is.

In the film, The Best Man, Henry Fonda’s character, Senator William Russell, says to Joe Cantwell, a presidential candidate who exists in his own bubble, “you have no sense of responsibility toward anybody or anything. And that is a tragedy in a man, and it is a disaster in a president.”

We know we are living with a disaster, when President Trump, sitting in a White House conference immigration meeting Thursday, described immigrants from Haiti and Africa, as residents coming from “s—hole” countries.

In response, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt puts it bluntly:

No one except Trump can know what Trump’s private thoughts or motivations are. But the public record and his behavior are now abundantly clear. Donald Trump treats black people and Latinos differently than he treats white people. And that makes him a racist. 

There is nothing subtle about President Trump. In his narcissistic existence, he occupies a personal bubble where men dominate women and people of color are shoved aside into other bubbles of white-imposed inferiority.

Inside our president’s bubble nothing matters but Donald J. Trump.

This is not new to our politics, both fictional and real, but the inherent danger of such a bubble has reached a peak in our current White House.

The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, described Trump’s description of Haiti and Africa as “vulgar”.

The term vulgar is correct. It is also revelatory. Its use by a President in a meeting about legislation, gives this nation and the world nothing less than a portal into the emotional darkness and stunted intellectual development of the man this nation chose as its 45th president.

This man is blind to his own flawed personality. Did he not know, or did he not care, that he was exposing his own racial hatred mindset just days before Monday, January 15, when the nation he was elected to lead, will honor Martin Luther King, Jr., on what would have been King’s 89th birthday?

That day is now a federal holiday. Some background is in order if we are to grasp the meaning of January 15 for our present dark moment.

It is a day that evokes a past when hatred and racial bigotry locks people of color in a racial bondage a century after slavery was defeated in a bloody American Civil War.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated 50 years ago this coming April, for his leadership in the civil rights revolution that broke the back of racial segregation, a revolution that is still unable to root out the racial hatred that undermines our national character.

​T​he United States Congress ​established January 15 as a national holiday​ in 1983, in honor of ​the birthday of ​Dr. King​. The holiday is set on the third Monday of January, which this year marks what would have been his 89th birthday.

In light of the revolting Trump outburst, this year’s celebration demands an even more intense scrutiny of the mindset of a nation which continues to tolerate such an obvious negative bias towards people of color.

The Public Broadcasting System (PBS), is doing its part to remind us of the civil rights struggle that took the life of King. Scheduled, of course, before this week’s vulgar racist language from President Trump, the documentary set this week on PBS, should become a national teaching  moment.

PBS will air its opening American Masters production of 2018, Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, this coming Friday, January 19, at 9 p.m. CST. (Check local listings.)

This documentary will examine the life of Hansberry (right), whose 1959 drama, A Raisin in the Sun, was the first Broadway production written by an African-American woman.

The documentary will include video clips from the film version of A Raisin in the Sun, and will show Hansberry’s impact on the nation through both her writing and her political activism.

 African American writer Langston Hughes’ poem, ​”​Harlem​​, inspired Hansberry to write her drama.

The Hansberry PBS program and the easily available DVDs of the film, A Raisin in the Sun, should lead schools, churches and other organizations to engage in a discussion of racism and its destructive impact on our nation.

In an earlier Wall Writings posting, I discussed the film under the headline: “What happens to a dream deferred?”, 

The plot of the drama and the film, follow the family of Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil) is a mother who has raised a family in a crowded apartment on the South Side of Chicago.​ Her son Walter Lee (Sidney Poitier), works as a chauffeur​. He​ ​is ​intelligent and ambitious​,​ but​ also often impulsive and​ ​angry​.

When the film first opened in 1961, it was the beginning of the 1960s, when a younger generation demonstrated, and spoke out for racial justice, and called for an end to the war in Viet Nam.

Hughes’ poem, ​”​Harlem​”​,​ describes in a prophetic​ fervor​​ a key question of the time, asking,​​ “what happens to a dream deferred?​”​​ Hughes’ poetic answer:​ “​Does it dry u​p​ like a raisin in the sun?​—​ Or fester like a sore— And then run?​–​- Does it stink like rotten meat?​–​- Or crust and sugar over— like a syrupy sweet​.–​- Maybe it just sags​— ​like a heavy load.​—​ Or does it explode?​”​

The original drama, the film, and Hughes’ poem, remain even more relevant in a time when an incumbent American President is a man who speaks and acts in a racist, impulsive manner. 

We still dream of a nation where the evil of racism no longer “stinks like rotten meat”, but dries up “like a raisin in the sun”.

It has been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. It has been 89 years since he was born. The words and actions of African American leaders and artists like Dr. King, Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes, remain with us, inspiring us and calling us to action of our own. 

We must not allow a leader like President Trump, with his cabinet, staff and congressional enablers, stop us from necessary action. 

Posted in -Movies and politics, Donald Trump, Religion and politics, USA | 6 Comments

The Slap That Should Be “Heard Round the World”

by James M. Wall

A slap is a physical act not meant to wound, maim nor kill.  It is rather, an act born of frustration, of indignation and a stinging rebuke for unwanted action.

Ahed Tamimi is a 16-year-old Palestinian girl who lives in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh where villagers have resisted the Israeli occupation.

The Israeli occupying army functions as the military defenders of Jewish settlers in the nearby Jewish village of Halamish. This is a settler village whose residents steal the Nabi Saleh villagers’ water, and illegally confiscate their farm land to expand the settlement. 

I was introduced to the area in 1977 when Palestinian leaders encouraged a group of foreign journalists with whom I was traveling, to visit an abandoned “Tegart Fort,” one of a series of military installations placed on strategic hills, first by the British during the Mandate period and later used as police outposts by Jordan.

The Tegart fort above the village of Nabi Saleh had been empty until Israeli Prime Minister Begin authorized six outposts of Gush Emunim Orthodox Jewish families to move into occupied Palestinian land. 

Gush Emunim translates from Hebrew to English as “bloc of the faithful”. 

The fort overlooking Nabi Saleh later became the Jewish Orthodox settlement of Halamish. It was the most recent of the six outposts authorized by Prime Minister Begin. So we decided to drive north to visit with the Gush Emunim Jewish settlers living comfortably and secure on a hill above the village of Nabi Saleh. 

What we saw was that the IDF had established a tented military outpost within sight of the fort to “protect” the settlers. The obvious plan was for the families to be joined by other Jewish families in a future Jewish settlement (Halamish). 

I discussed this 1977 visit to the future Halamish in a posting for Wall Writings on April 3, 2010, which I called Nabi Saleh Has Endured Land Confiscation Since 1977″.

In one of the rooms I found an entire family recently arrived from Chicago. The mother had been born in Israel and then moved to Chicago. Now she was back, this time in the West Bank, land she believed was given by God to the Jewish people.

On that day in 1977 when we went to the Tegart Fort, we saw Jewish settlers occupying Palestine land by living in an abandoned Jordanian police post. We also saw the IDF standing guard.

It was on that day that we saw a carefully planned future for Israel’s invading settlers living under Israeli army protection. That isolated outpost appeared harmless enough to us in 1977. 

Now, flash forward to this new year of 2018. The IDF continues with its “protection” of Jewish settlements which are anything but “harmless”. The settlements are an established movement through which Israel plans to totally control Palestine.

What a small group of foreign journalists failed to grasp in 1977, was a dark future which Palestinians suspected and feared. 

Israel maintains tight control over the land that Orthodox Jewish mother told me was God’s gift to her family. When Palestinians resist using a religious document as a set of land deeds, they are targeted by the IDF. 

Nabi Saleh is one of the IDF’s prime targets because its weekly protest marches attract unwanted foreign media and political attention to Israeli crimes against Palestinian citizens.

Nabi Saleh is a long-established Palestinian farming village in existence since before the Ottoman era. It is 20 kilometers northwest of Ramallah, the current national Palestinian capital. 

Ahed Tamimi’s father, Bassem al-Tamimi, and her mother, Nariman Tamimi, are leaders in the Nabi Saleh weekly public acts of resistance. They are under constant surveillance and are frequently arrested. 

In the youtube video below, filmed in 2015, their daughter Ahed, was 14 and already a fierce resister.

It is a short video. It should be viewed and studied as a testimony to the courage of a family refusing to yield to the crime of occupation and a teen-ager who wants to someday become a lawyer who can help her people. Click and view. 

In the final week of 2017, two years after the release of this video, Ahed Tamimi has been arrested by the IDF in a standard Israeli procedure which demonstrates to those who will see and act, just how vicious the IDF can be.

Ahed’s West Bank home in Nabi Saleh was entered by a squad of IDF soldiers who broke into the house at four a.m. on Christmas morning.  They took her out of her bed, handcuffed her, and pushed her into a waiting paddy wagon which took her away to an Israeli prison.

Her “crime”? Two days earlier, two soldiers entered her yard. She and another girl resisted their presence on her private property and pushed them out. In the encounter, Ahed Tamimi slapped one of the soldiers.

The soldiers were not aggressive, knowing they were being filmed by Palestinians. They knew they would be back under the cover of darkness to arrest a 16-year-old girl.

When U.S. Army General George Patton slapped a soldier lying in a hospital bed in the closing days of World War II, he was expressing disdain for what he saw as cowardice. . The army made him offer a public apology directly to the soldier.

Early Monday morning, December 25, Ahed Tamimi was arrested for her slap.

Richard Silverstein, the American Jewish Tikun Olam blogger based in Seattle, describes what followed the arrest:

The girl’s mother followed her to the police station to protect her daughter. Instead, she herself was arrested. That morning, the police dragged Ahed to court where they demanded the judge extend her imprisonment.

Two days later, an Israeli military court extended her incarceration. She is being held without charge, without a lawyer and forbidden contact with her parents.

Silverstein further reports,

Bassem al-Tamimi, Ahed’s father, came to court in order to support his daughter. He then was also arrested. This is the way a regime of bullies and Mafiosi rule. They brook no opposition. If you resist, you will be made an example of so that other Palestinians don’t get any “big ideas” into their heads to join the resistance.

As 2018 begins, Ahed remains in one of the three different jails in which she has been incarcerated. 

Ahed’s slap should be “heard around the world”. It should be viewed as an act of resistance by a 16-year-old.

The world’s media, most especially the U.S. media, is so blind to any thing other than the Israeli narrative. that it refuses to see that Ahed’s slap evokes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s hymn Concord, which begins with words which celebrate an act of defiance by a shot against oppression.

In Ahed’s case, it is not a shot, but a slap. Concord begins:

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.”

Those words are inscribed at the base of The Minute Man statue by Daniel Chester French, which stands at the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. (see above).

The Minute Men of our American Revolution began a fight for freedom as a ragtag farmer’s army. Ahed Tamimi is fighting, in her own way, against the brutality and unjust oppressive Israel occupation. 

An UPDATE from Palestine:

Samia Khoury sends a video link (below) of a song and film honoring Ahed Tamimi. A translation of the words into English may be accessed by scrolling down through the comments below:

 Samia writes: “As a very sad year filled with a lot of suffering comes to an end, I
would like to wish you all a new year filled with hope and peace.
Here is a clip of a song in honor of Ahed Tamimi who needs all the
support as Israel is trying to use her as a lesson for all those who
dare challenge the occupation.” Samia

The 2015 video of a 14-year-old Ahed Tamimi, is from You Tube. The Minute Man stature is from Wikipedia. The video of the song honoring Ahed Tamimi at bottom is from You Tube. The translation of the original Arabic is provided in the comments  below by Samia Khoury. and Cedar Duaybis.

Posted in Israel, Palestinians | 15 Comments

That UN Vote: “How are the mighty fallen”

by James M. Wall

For those keeping score on the Trump Administration versus the United Nations, the final vote on the Status of Jerusalem resolution is recorded above.

The official count was 128 to 9 against U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and his pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Thirty-five nations abstained, and 21 countries did not cast a vote. The eight countries voting with the United States were Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.

On Thursday, the day of the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was busy dedicating a hospital in the coastal city of Ashdod. He responded to the UN vote pretty much the way former Judge Roy Moore responded to his recent defeat in Alabama’s election for a U.S. Senate seat. He rejected it.

Prior to the vote which rejected the U.S. President’s “gift” of Jerusalem to Israel, the U.S. Representative to the UN, Nikki Haley (below), warned nations that votes against the U.S. would be remembered. She added, “We will take names,” sounding more like a Mafia Don than a diplomat..

The New York Times reported that Riad Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, had a more civil response:

“History records names, it remembers names — the names of those who stand by what is right and the names of those who speak falsehood. Today we are seekers of rights and peace.”

He added that the Palestinians “will not be threatened,” and that the United States had insisted on “ignoring the dangerous repercussions of its decision.”

Ha’aretz reported on Netanyahu’s reaction to the vote:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “Israel completely rejects this preposterous resolution,” responding minutes after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution that rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

In a major diplomatic blow to Israel and Trump, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution rejecting the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with 128 member states voting in favor of the resolution and a mere nine voting against it.

“Jerusalem is our capital, always was and always will be. But I do appreciate the fact that a growing number of countries refuse to participate in this theater of the absurd,” Netanyahu charged in a live Facebook video.

The Times also notes that the UN vote “deepened Mr. Trump’s isolation over the issue”. It also “threatened to alienate Arab allies of the United States and may have further complicated prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

As for the impact of the vote on the U.S., the Times concludes: “The overwhelming rejection of the American shift of position on Jerusalem, on the world’s biggest diplomatic stage, was a setback for a president who is still looking for a major foreign achievement after nearly a year on the job.

If you are wondering where to find Ashdod and its newly dedicated hospital on an Israeli map, Ashdod is located 13.6 miles north of Ashkelon along Route 4.

Readers familiar with 2 Samuel 1:19-20, will recall Ashkelon as one of two cities cited by David on the day he learned of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan:

The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.

“How are the mighty fallen!” is a statement that ranges far beyond Gath and Ashkelon. And it is repeated throughout the centuries as empires stumble and fall.

The UN General Assembly resolution states the world’s overwhelming opinion on the future of Jerusalem, a city sacred to three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. 

Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of the U.S.-based Jewish Voice for Peace, summed up the significance of the UN resolution:

Despite threats from the Trump administration, the UN General Assembly vote today showed once again that the U.S. and Israel are increasingly isolated from the global consensus regarding Israel’s appalling disregard for Palestinian rights.

She concluded: “We commend those countries that stood up to U.S. pressure, which could not obscure the urgency of speaking out against the recklessness and injustice of declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel.”  

Winning is one of Donald Trump’s favorite words. By a vote of 128 to 9, this week he was not a winner. He was a loser at home and on the world stage. So, sad to say, was the nation that elected him President. 

The recorded vote tabulation at top is a screen shot. To enlarge it, click on the photo once. The picture of Ambassador Haley is a UN photo.

Posted in Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, Palestinians, Religion and politics, Uncategorized, United Nations | 6 Comments

The President Who Stole Christmas

James M. Wall writes:

Below is an email from a close friend, Laurie Salameh. She lives in Jerusalem with her  husband Estephan, and their three children. I asked Laurie for permission to share her email, which she had circulated to friends. She gave her permission. 

Guest Posting by Laurie Salameh

President Trump stole our Christmas. And he did it standing in front of Christmas trees.

In what was an unusually polished speech (for him), President Trump announced the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and has plans to relocate the U.S. embassy to there from Tel Aviv. We sat on our couch watching, our hearts pounding and our fists clenching, wondering whether it was ignorance, lunacy or plain hubris that drove him to make this announcement.

How can one man decide to take our historical capital away and give it to another country? How can he do that without acknowledging the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in Jerusalem? Who live in the city of their birth without access to services, without basic human rights, who live unacknowledged? What happens to them?

Prior to this announcement, we were in the first week of what was proving to be a joyous Christmas here in the Holy Land. Though we make up less than 2% of the population, Christmas is in full-swing in Palestine. Christmas trees in every shop and restaurant, Santa hats in cars and Christmas carols sung everywhere. Giant Christmas trees lit in the main squares of the cities with tens of thousands of Christians and Muslims celebrating together.

My son sang “Deck the Halls” in a performance for the Ramallah Municipality with his classmate Ahmad. And this is my point – while Muslims don’t practice Christmas traditions as part of their faith, they give Christians space and time to celebrate it and many even celebrate with us.

I’ve had lengthy conversations with my Muslim friends on who sells the best parts for gingerbread houses, who bakes the tastiest Christmas cookies, where to find the prettiest ornaments or the best church bazaars. We may constitute less than 2% of the population but we are 100% part of the community.

And that’s what makes President Trump’s pronouncement all the more sickening. With his declaration, the Christmas lights turned off. The Christmas music has quieted. The Christmas tree in Nativity Square in Bethlehem has gone dark. The Christmas spirit has been drowned out with the mourning of our stolen capital.

About a week ago in front of a crowd in Missouri, President Trump said “I told you we’d be saying Merry Christmas again.” I don’t know who hasn’t been saying “Merry Christmas,” because we sure have here in Palestine. But I can tell you this… we will celebrate Christmas this year, because Christmas is obviously more than the trees and lights and music… but it won’t be a merry one.

The Whovillians in Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, understood Christmas ‘came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.’ But at least they were able to celebrate Christmas in Whoville, their city, their home. President Trump stole our Christmas in Palestine right along with our capital, our history and our rights.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Trump Speech “Irresponsible and Reckless”

by James M. Wall

Avi Shlaim, a Jewish scholar now based at Oxford’s St. Anthony’s College, was interviewed on BBC after President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was designating Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.

Shlaim, who left Israel for a more open academic environment, calls the announcement by the President, “irresponsible and reckless”. (See full interview below.)

Trump has no right to set himself up as The Namer of capitals. But to him, he can do whatever he wants. Bibi Netanyahu knows that. Bibi got the Gift he has long coveted, his very own special electric train he can now send running around the floor, as he shouts, “Mine, mine, my precious Jerusalem is My capital.”

Standing in front of a Christmas tree as he gave Israel its capital, the President gave no indication he had considered, or cared, that Jerusalem is packed with meaning to Christians and Muslims, as well as Jews.

Palestinian American scholar Rashid Khalidi described this common connection to Jerusalem in The Guardian:

Jerusalem is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the entire Palestine question. It has been central to the identity of Palestinian Muslims and Christians as far back as the founding moments of both religions, and has become even more so as the conflict over Palestine has become fiercer.

The rivalry over this holy city is exacerbated by the fact that the same site – the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, the Temple Mount to Jews – is sacred to both. Because of its explosive nature, this is an issue that no Palestinian politician, and few Arab leaders, would dare to trifle with.

For someone such as me, whose family has lived in Jerusalem for hundreds of years, Trump’s announcement does not just mean that the US has adopted the Israeli position that Jerusalem belongs exclusively to Israel.

He has also retroactively legitimised Israel’s seizure and military occupation of Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, and its imposition of discriminatory laws on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living there. The damage he has done will be permanent: the US cannot undo this recognition.

This act completely disqualifies the US from its longstanding role as broker, a position that Washington has monopolised for itself. So much for the pitiful “peace plan” that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was cooking up and hoping to impose on the Palestinians.

Khalidi is right, the “pitiful peace plan” was never serious. It was a holding pattern of pretension.

The Prime Minister and his predecessors, have had their way for decades with the city Trump thinks he just gave to Israel. Balderdash! Israel has treated Jerusalem as its kept capital since 1967. For six decades, IDF soldiers have roamed the city at will, arresting citizens like so many wayward children who skipped school to throw rocks.

Netanyahu and his right-wing government got what they wanted, a recognition that covers crimes of oppression.

What Trump has just done is far more significant than Naming. He has announced that Jerusalem is not open to negotiations. It is not a “contested” city in which Muslims, Christians and Jews live by an agreed-upon understanding.

It is now, named as such by the Grand Poobah across the great ocean, a Jewish city that is the capital of a Jewish nation.

It was this Grand Poobah who was given authority by voters of the United States, to not only give away electric trains, but to set up an oligarchy in the land of the free and the home of the brave, where freedom is defined by the Grand Poobah and bravery can be a ticket to jail.

Israel got more from the Namer than a new title for the Holy City. That new title is “capital”, which gives a permanent American blessing to a nation which has now been rewarded for its decades of occupation.

The Namer could care less what the world thinks. He is now the Man, who runs a nation through tweets. What are you gonna do about it? Wait until the next election to start cleaning up what’s left after the storms?

Our current U.S. Congress, created by gerrymandering, prepared for this theft of a Name by the Namer, with votes of its own, votes that revealed nothing more than the puppet strings that, when pulled in Tel Aviv, make Congress dance the Israeli way.

Stephen Zunes responded to Trump’s “big give away” in a piece for The Progressive.

Zunes, a professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, describes the strings:

Trump’s announcement is actually the culmination of years of pressure by a large bipartisan majority of Congress and leaders of both political parties towards the White House. It represents the fulfillment of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which mandates that the United States move its embassy to Jerusalem, though the bill allows a president to waive that requirement every six months if deemed in the national interest.

In the Senate, the bill was cosponsored by such prominent Senate Democrats as Joe Biden and John Kerry and only one Democrat (the late Robert Byrd) voted no. On the House side, just thirty out of 204 Democrats voted no, along with the independent then-Congressman Bernie Sanders.

Since then, every President has taken advantage of the waiver to prevent such a provocative move, despite continued bipartisan pressure from Congress. As recently as this past June, just days after Trump issued his first waiver of the requirement, the Senate voted 90-0 in favor of a resolution re-affirming the 1995 law and calling on President Trump “to abide by its provisions.” Co-sponsors included such leading Democrats as minority leader Chuck Schumer and Ben Cardin, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as Tammy Baldwin, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Ron Wyden.

Schumer has openly encouraged Trump to move the embassy and previously criticized his “indecisiveness” on the issue.

Support by Congressional Democrats and party leaders for moving the embassy is not due to demand from their constituents. A recent poll shows that 81 percent of Democrats oppose moving the embassy while only 15 percent approve.

The Congress and the President are co-conspirators in the gift of Jerusalem to Israel. The blame is theirs to share. The response to the gift in the region and in the world will be far-reaching. The American public is not with them. Elections in 2018 and 2020 are near-at–hand. 

Voters in those elections will need education. A good place to start is to listen to the quiet voice of Avi Shlaim in this seven-minute BBC interview. Click below.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Religious Faith, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

U.S. Bill Would Target Israeli Military Child Abuse

by James M. Wall

In this, the first week of the second month of my 90th year of life, I take computer
in hand. I am committed to reflect, search for words, and begin a new blog post.

When I first began as a published writer, I took manual typewriter in hand to write a column for my junior high mimeograph newspaper.

That paper, The Signal, gave me the platform to share youthful thoughts with
classmates. I commented on events I read about in the two Atlanta, Georgia, newspapers, the Constitution and the Journal.

One that I vividly remember was my response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. I
was 13.

Not much has changed since that dark attack day, other than the computer replacing the typewriter. Inhumane acts are still with us. Peace and justice are still shoved aside by deceit, fear and violence.

Fortunately, beacons of light do break through the darkness, beacons like Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman (left) of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison, Wisconsin.

Her thoughts are entitled “American Jews must condemn Israeli detention of Palestinian children”. Her blog was published by The Times of Israel, a conservative Israeli media outlet.

Her words convey an impatience, and a call for action, in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. She demands that the state of Israel stop its brutal treatment of Palestinian children, a brutality, were it taking place in the United States, would evoke outrage.

Rabbi Zimmerman has traveled through the West Bank where she talked with families. She  writes about the impact of violence and military control on children. She began her blog posting by describing the fear instilled in Palestinian parents by their Israeli military occupiers:

A mother and father panic as soldiers burst into their home, pull their teenage son out of bed, handcuff and blindfold him, and drive away with him, leaving them with no information about where he is going, what he is accused of, or when they will see him again. The soldiers interrogate him for hours with no access to a lawyer or parent present.

His requests for food and water, or use of a toilet, are denied. Terrified, he is subjected to physical and verbal abuse and he is detained for weeks or more in pretrial detention. He has no knowledge of his rights, and he signs a confession written in a language he does not understand. He will do anything to return to his family.

In her posting, Rabbi Zimmerman welcomes the news that for the first time in congressional history, a bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives which calls for action against civil rights abuses by the Israeli military.

The bill was introduced on Tuesday, November 14, by Minnesota’s Democratic Congresswoman Rep. Betty McCollum (right), who described the situation that led to her bill in The Nation magazine. (updated 12/11/17)

The bill, if passed, would “prohibit the U.S. from funding the detention and prosecution of Palestinian children in the Israeli military court system”.

The bill currently has 17 co-sponsors. (updated 12/11/18). Its introduction comes “several weeks after a report was released by Israeli rights groups, with the support of the European Union, which revealed ‘broad, systemic abuse by Israeli authorities,’ against Palestinian teenagers detained in occupied East Jerusalem.

The 11-page bill is entitled, “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act”.

Writing in Mondoweiss, Sheren Khalel details “the provisions laid out by the the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed by both the U.S. and Israel in the 90s (the U.S. signed the treaty, but did not ratify it, while Israel both signed and ratified the treaty into Israeli law)”.

The treaty required, among other things, that ‘‘no child shall be subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” as well as requiring arrests and detentions of minors be used as a last resort and that said detentions should instituted for the shortest period of time possible. It also requires that children have access to fair and speedy trials.

The bill lists other requirements of the convention, and challenges that the Israeli government fails to protect Palestinian children in accordance to its own laws as well as the treaty.

Khalel notes that “the bill does not request any adjustment or cuts to the amount of money already officially allocated from the U.S. to Israel, instead it requests that none of the funding go toward any of the following practices against children:

  • Torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. Physical violence, including restraint in stress positions. Hooding, sensory deprivation, death threats, or other forms of psychological abuse. Incommunicado detention or solitary confinement. Administrative detention (detention without charge or trial under “secret evidence” Denial of access to parents or legal counsel during interrogations. Confessions obtained by force or coercion.

That is an important point to make to our Zionist-controlled Congress. The bill proposes no change in the amount of tax-payer funds going to Israel. What it does do is demand that moral standards to which Israel already claims it adheres, be followed in the use of your tax funds.

The bill had 17 co-sponsors through December 11.  For their names, click here. If your member co-sponsored this bill, a word of appreciation would be in order.

Those 17, plus the bill’s author, Rep. Betty McCollum, leaves 419 members of the House who have thus far failed to stand in favor of a bill which is, quite simply, a no-brainer.

Then follow the bill’s progress toward success or failure. Which side will you and your member of Congress choose? Before you answer, look again at the list of “practices against children” listed above. 

In the picture above, Israeli border police officers detain a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem’s Old City, Monday, July 17, 2017. The AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean is from Mondoweiss.


Posted in Israel, Middle East, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Remembering Paul Findley and Yasser Arafat

by James M. Wallbook

On the day Yasser Arafat died, November 9, 2004, former Illinois Republican Congressman Paul Findley wrote an article to describe the relationship he had with the Palestinian leader.

Paul Findley knew then, and he knows now, that if enough members of Congress had joined with him in favor of talking with Yasser Arafat, Israel’s control over American policy might well have shifted in a different direction.

His article was published in the Daily Star, a Beirut, Lebanon, publication, on the occasion of Arafat’s death, 75, in a Paris hospital. Arafat had been under essential house arrest in his Ramallah headquarters. When he became ill, Israel moved him to Paris.

The failure of Findley’s newsworthy piece to find significant American exposure was further evidence of just how much Israel and its American allies fear an influential man like Paul Findley.

It is an article that reveals the irenic spirit and courageous political strength of Paul Findley. A political figure who has refused to yield power to non-American forces, frightens Israel. They need total control to keep Congress in check.

That is why BDS is such a threat to conservative Israeli governments. When people recognize deception as a false narrative, and are offered a way to take nonviolent action, that action must be put down by Israel and its loyal American allies. 

Memo to Congress from Tel Aviv: BDS is a danger, shoot it down. Don’t ask why, just do it.

Findley was that rare member of the U.S. Congress who ignored memos from foreign governments. He understood the danger of allowing the state of Israel to control American foreign policy in the Middle East.

At great political and personal cost, Paul Findley acted on that understanding while his congressional colleagues absorbed the narrative myth of “brave little Israel”, and pocketed the money, votes, and favorable media coverage that was their reward.

Paul Findley wanted to enlighten an American public that was ill-informed about Israel’s unholy alliance with American decision-makers.

In 1982, Paul Findley lost what had been a safe Republican seat in Congress, ending a political career that began when he was elected in 1960. His victorious opponent was Richard Durbin, now a U.S. Senator from Illinois.

The New York Times reported that Findley “narrowly lost his bid for re-election for a number of reasons: a competent opponent, redistricting, the economic recession, and pro-Israel groups’ support to his challenger.”

As Findley wrote in 2004:

During my years in Congress, Yasser Arafat’s name was often mentioned in committee meetings and on the floor of the House of Representatives but rarely without an ugly prefix. “Terrorist” Arafat led the “terrorist” PLO consisting of “terrorist” Palestinians. Observers unfamiliar with the Arab-Israeli conflict might have mistakenly assumed that the adjective “terrorist” was actually a proper part of these names.

The loss of his political platform did not deter Paul Findley. It inspired him to continue to expose and resist that unholy alliance.

Now 96, and living in his hometown of Jacksonville, Illinois, Paul Findley is no longer as active as he once had been.

He has, fortunately, left us a rich legacy of books, articles recorded interviews and memories from a career of service. 

Years before Arafat’s death, as Israel was driving forward with its plan to conquer all of the land from the sea to the Jordan River–still the plan, by the way–I interviewed  a member of Israel’s foreign ministry in Tel Aviv.

The ministry official conspiratorially told me at the end of the interview, “You should watch this Hamas organization. They are doing good things for the Palestinians”. This was, of course, in the months before Hamas emerged as a political force. To Israel, Hamas was a pawn, a movement that could be used to challenge Arafat’s PLO.

This is standard colonial-invader 101: Divide the people against themselves and then conquer them.

Finley’s article, in the Daily Starshould be read in full. Here, in a single
paragraph, Findley explains why:

One evening years ago, during one of my periodic open discussions with citizens in my hometown, Jacksonville, Illinois, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce wondered out loud about my willingness to associate with Arafat, a “person widely considered more evil than Genghis Khan.” My answer: “Arafat is a powerful leader in the Middle East, and a major power, like the United States, should have the best possible communication with him.”

For a member of Congress to communicate with Arafat, and see him as a man with his own non-violent plan, is not in Israel’s “best interest”.

With the assistance of Jewish organizations like AIPAC, Israel maintained a steady propaganda campaign that tied “terrorist” with “Arafat”. American media bought into Israel’s plan, because Israel wanted it to.

Labels drove the plan and labels become fixed in the public’s collective mind. Remember when Native Americans were called “savages”?  And how about those “Redskins” now playing football in the nation’s capital city?

And don’t get me started on the language white Americans hang on Muslims. 

Empires are built and thrive on deception and the manufactured fear of “others”. The U.S. and its mini-empire, Israel, did not want American political leaders to see the “other” as capable of negotiating in good faith.

Any hint that Yasser Arafat was an admired leader of an oppressed people, was a danger to Israeli’s false narrative. For Findley to treat Arafat  with respect, and do so as a member of the U.S. Congress, was anathema to Israel.

Findley recalled his contacts with Arafat on the day Arafat  died.

While in Congress, I met personally with Arafat twice, both times in his quarters in Damascus. The first was in January 1978 while I was a member of a congressional group on a tour of the Middle East. After I promised never to mention their names, two other members of Congress joined my wife and I on the unscheduled, unofficial side trip to meet the controversial PLO leader. Both to and from his quarters, our cars were escorted by heavily armed escorts. After a discussion of more than two hours with Arafat, we joined him for a late meal.

I returned alone in November for a long follow-up discussion, during which Arafat authorized me to report to the White House his terms for living at peace with Israel: As chairman of the PLO executive committee, he pledged that the new Palestine would live at peace, have de facto political relations with Israel and renounce all violent efforts to enlarge the country, provided that Israel accept an independent Palestine consisting of the West Bank and Gaza district, with a connecting corridor.

It was a concise pledge which still stands as a reasonable and just outline for peace.

Yasser Arafat continues to be honored in the land he sought to lead toward future statehood.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA, reported that the 13th anniversary of Arafat’s death, November 9, was recalled by thousands of Palestinians on a march through the streets of Ramallah. 

They carried portraits of Arafat, waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans celebrating Arafat’s life.

The rally started from Ramallah Secondary Boys School, moved through the main street of the city, and ended at the presidential headquarters (Muqata’a), where senior officials laid wreaths at Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum.

Speaking on behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas, Deputy Fatah Chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul told the marchers: “Not only was Yasser Arafat the leader who inspired the Palestinian revolution, but also the one who inspired liberation movements worldwide.”

How did Paul Findley feel about the man he befriended, and who cost him his seat in Congress? The former congressman answered that question in the Daily Star.

Did I regret being Arafat’s “best friend in Congress?” Never, not for a fleeting moment, even though this association clearly was a major factor in my defeat in 1982. 

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Politics and Elections, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Lord Balfour’s Letter Was 1917’s “Fake News”

by James M. Wall

Thursday, November 2, will be the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

To commemorate that event, the current British Prime Minister Teresa May, will attend a London dinner party at the home of Lord Rothschild, heir to the recipient of the infamous letter from Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s then Foreign Secretary.

She will be joined at the dinner by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current Prime Minister, along with the dinner host, Lord Rothschild, and the current Lord Balfour, a descendant of Arthur James Balfour.

The Balfour Declaration (it was actually a letter) was issued November 2, 1917.

It is that 1917 “declaration”, which this 2017 London dinner party celebrates.  

The letter was sent from Britain’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour (left) to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader in the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

The pertinent segment exposes its Zionist bias:

His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”  

This was not a British governmental action. It was a 1917 version of what President Donald Trump enjoys calling “fake news”, a neologism he uses when a statement or action is contrary to reality as he wants it to be.

The president claimed this week that he coined the term, fake news. Not true. The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers reported:

Trump rewrote history when . . . in his conversation with [Lou] Dobbs: “I think one of the best names is — you know, I’ve really started this whole ‘fake news’ thing. Now they’ve turned it around and then, now, they’re calling, you know, stories put out by different — by Facebook ‘fake.’”

Borchers refutes that claim. “Trump posted his first-ever tweet containing the phrase ‘fake news’ on Dec. 10, 2016, more than a month after Election Day”. By then, the press had reported extensively on the way social media platforms such as Facebook facilitated the spread of fake news articles.

More than a year before the war ended on November 11, 1918, this version of “fake news” arrived on the scene. It emerged in the form of Lord Balfour’s letter, which “promises” the creation of a Jewish state, and the protection of Arab rights. 

The letter was one-half false, the Arab side, a “fake news” promise from November 22, 1917.  The letter was designed to reassure the Zionist movement, then, as now, a strong influence in British policy-making. 

The promise to the Arab tribes was a lie, a spin that pretended justice for the Arabs. The Sykes-Picot secret agreement signed on May 9, 1916, by two French and British agents, reveals what the Allies intended for the Levant.

Britain had experience in such matters, having ruled the Indian subcontinent since 1858 “when the rule of the East India Company was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria (who in 1876 was proclaimed Empress of India)”. (Wikipedia).

That rule lasted until 1947, “when the British provinces of India were partitioned into two sovereign dominion states: the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan”. (Wikipedia).

The Turks had been more passive in their role as empire rulers. They respected, for example, the Arab customs that allowed for the development of tribal structures. 

The Jewish minority in Palestine, 10 per cent of the 1917 population, had strong backers in Britain and the United States, a benefit the Indians of the India subcontinent and the Arabs of the 1917 Levant, did not possess. 

When Lord Arthur James Balfour, former British prime minister and in 1917, the foreign minister, sent his letter to Lord Rothschild, the letter promised that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. 

This reveals an attitude of superiority toward Arabs, a blatant racism that describes the Arabs as “existing non-Jewish communities”, who were promised only civil and religious rights, not political.

That fake lie in the 1917 letter was written to reassure British citizens that their rulers knew “we” are superior to non-whites, but like whites dealing with black slaves in 19th century America, “we” will be fair and kind.

The truth was that Britain officialdom cared little for the Arabs in Palestine. They actually viewed them as inferior and a “problem”. Britain’s goal was to help the Zionists establish a Jewish “homeland” on territory which was home to Arabs. 

Aided by reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, the Zionists finally got their state in 1948. The promise not to prejudice “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” was left to the new colonial government of the state of Israel.

These promises about Palestinian “rights” were as fake as a magician’s rabbit. The new state even codified the lie-promise in its Declaration of Independence, adopted in May, 1948. It was a promise that has consistently been broken: 

“The State of Israel will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. 

Tim Llewellyn is a former BBC Middle East Correspondent and author, and now an associate of the UK-based Balfour Project.

He writes in Mondoweiss this week that the League of Nations imposed on Britain a “sacred trust” when it gave Britain “the mandate to rule Palestine after the First World War”.

Llewellyn writes this stinging analysis of the anniversary that united May and Netanyahu for their dinner party:

 The 100th anniversary of Mr. Balfour’s great deception is not, after all, turning out to be the unalloyed celebration the Zionists and their stooges in Westminster and Whitehall had planned.

Rather the reverse: a continuing parade of British self-examination, throughout society, and the intention to put matters right at last for the Palestinian people.

He then points to a series of counter-events in Britain denouncing the May-Netanyahu dinner celebration. The Balfour Declaration is being understood in Britain for what it was from the beginning, a deception designed to create a new state on stolen land.  

Samia Khoury, an indefatigable Palestinian activist and blogger, has lived in the West Bank her entire life. She understands colonizers.

The latest posting on her blog, Reflections from Palestine, exposes the latest ploy of Prime Minister Netanyahu to deny Palestinian freedom.

Khoury (left) begins:

Colonizers are supposed to be experts on the “Divide and Rule” policy.  We have not only  read about it in history books, we have watched it, and lived through it.  So it is not surprising that Israel is now putting conditions for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians after the agreement of reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas has taken place. 

What is surprising is that Israel continues to claim that it has no peace partner, and it cannot resume negotiations with the PA when there is a split between Fateh and Hamas. Now that the Palestinians are in the process of reconciliation, Israel is putting its conditions. It is very clear that Israel is not interested in peace.  It is simply interested in being left in peace [on] . . .Palestinian land.

Fake news in any era, like Netanyahu’s newly-minted “conditions”, has a limited shelf life.

Over time, the contents of the shelf begin to smell. The good news is that more activists and bloggers like Samia Khoury, are asking the world, “Do you smell what is decaying on that shelf? “

In the picture at top, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. at Downing Street in London, Feb. 6, 2017. (Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP). Lord Balfour’s picture is from Wikipedia.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

One Final Perilous Journey For Gertrude Bell

by James M. Wall

The film, Queen of the Desert, begins with a distant image of a small group of travelers moving across a vast desert. Two sentences flash across the screen, setting the stage for what is to follow:

The onset of the First World War hastened the demise of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the Middle East for five centuries. The colonial powers set their eyes on dividing the spoils. 

The film then moves to a small room in which British army officers gather around a table with a minister from the War office, the future British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

The officers and Churchill  are looking at a map of the colonial “spoils”. Churchill asks: “How do we delineate the borders?.  . . Who knows best about the tribes? . . .Who knows best about the Bedouin tribes?”

The officers reluctantly agree among themselves, “That woman”.

“That woman” is Gertrude Bell (left), a British archaeologist, writer, traveler, and a diplomat, who worked in a time of intense Western colonialism.

After a delay of two years, the public finally has a limited DVD access to a motion picture that rescues Bell from the history books and should introduce her to a wider public.

The film is Queen of the Desert, based on the real-life story of Gertrude Bell  (1868-1926)(Nicole Kidman), a humanitarian among those human colonialist scorpions who were roaming the deserts in search of prey and profits. 

To the indigenous people of the region, Bell is better known, and far more appreciated, than T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by Peter O’Toole in David Lean’s 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia. 

The difference between the two? Bell was a woman and a natural diplomat, while Lawrence was a male warrior, glamorized through David Lean’s film.

Lean’s film rescued Lawrence from oblivion, which Queen of the Desert should have done for Gertrude Bell. It has failed to do so, not because of its lack of merit, but because the film industry determines what it thinks will sell.

Our popular understanding of history is shaped through popular culture, where films, television and now, social media, play definitive roles.

Military exploits have a greater popular appeal than diplomacy, while a film depicting Arab history as it really was, colonial exploitation of indigenous populations, goes against the popular narrative.

Gertrude Bell was an exception to the norm.  She actually cared about the people of the Levant. Her books, and books about her, underscore this. 

What was it that kept the film Queen of the Desert from the public for two years and then only grudgingly granted it very limited distribution? No one is saying. The fact remains, however, that Hollywood knew the story of Gertrude Bell violated a narrative written and protected by Zionism.

Levant history before 1947 was of little consequence, a period best left unexamined. 

Queen of the Desert was initially screened in 2015 at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. It was nominated for the festival’s highest award, the Golden Bear. Directed by noted German director Werner Herzog and beautifully photographed on locations in Jordan and Morocco, the film was a natural for American “art house” screenings.

With Nicole Kidman (above) as the film’s star, and a script by Herzog, which examined the role Gertrude Bell played in modern history, film companies should have battled for U.S. distribution.

They did not. Films that violate the conventional historical narrative do not sell, or so it is assumed by the historically ignorant decision-makers of Hollywood.

The film focuses on a Middle East before Israel entered the historical stage. Could that reality play a role in Hollywood’s reluctance to embrace Queen of the Desert?

I am reminded of a West Wing episode in which President Bartlett was given an authentic map of the Levant from 1709, the region which Gertrude Bell came to love centuries later.

President Bartlett’s staff members all had the same reaction to Bartlett’s plan to frame and post the map in the White House:

“You can’t do that, some people will be offended because Israel is not on the map”. Puzzled, Bartlett said Israel did not exist when the map was made. “Doesn’t matter, some people will be offended”, was the insistent response. (click below to see a short clip).

The Desert Queen covers history in the World War I era. Israel did not exist then. Israel did not exist until the United Nations yielded to Zionist pressure and declared Israel a state in 1947.

That could explain why after its 2015 festival showing, Queen of the Desert dropped from sight. A Nicole Kidman film was shelved for two years.

When Queen of the Desert had its limited run earlier this year, it finally surfaced. There was still money to be made so the film now has DVD exposure. On October 3, Netflix and sites like Amazon, began renting or selling copies.

Gertrude Bell was there when the modern Middle East was formed. Because of her personal and caring knowledge of tribes and their leaders, she was used by the victorious nations after World War I to draw borders and choose leaders who became kings.

A sensitive film which examines the life of one of the most significant women of the 20th century, is ending its journey deep into the archives of film history, a journey noticed by only a few.

The picture above of Gertrude Bell between Winston Churchill (left) and T.E. Lawrence, was taken in Cairo, Egypt, in the early 1920s.

It is an unfortunate fact of history that this photograph is viewed as one of a future  British Prime Minister, the real “Lawrence of Arabia”, and “that woman”.

The film industry missed its chance to give Queen of the Desert, the story of Gertrude Bell, the same prominence it gave Lawrence. Is there yet another perilous journey to be made that would jar Western culture and its leaders into the reality of the Levant?

The answer is yes, but not until Zionism loses its grip on its version of the region’s narrative. And not until humanitarians in the spirit of Gertrude Bell, reshape our understanding of history back to what really happened.

Posted in -Movies and politics, Middle East, Movies, Uncategorized | 9 Comments