From Nablus: Supermen are angry, too

You must be Superman to be a real man in Palestine...
You must use all your senses 24-hours a day in order to stay...
You must hear the gunfire, then the screams that fade away...
You must see the blood, again and again, and still see red...
You must hold the barbwires in your hand and smile for the elderly woman trying to bypass the Israeli checkpoint...
You must smell the teargas and cry as if there aren't enough tears in this "Holy Land'...
You must taste the humiliation and eat Nabulsi sweets all in the same day... And...
And still think of the olives and thyme...
And think of ways to end this endless crime...
Oh my beloved... do we still have time...
To hold hands and kiss... and raise our children in a cosmic bliss...
- Saed Jamal

I met Saed Jamal, a professor at An-Najah University, while I was in Nablus this weekend with a group of other students doing research for the Right to Education campaign at Birzeit. He recited his poem “Palestinian Superman” to us Saturday evening, while we ate and smoked nargeelah on the roof of a restaurant and tried to ignore the gunfire coming from the streets below.

Saed is charismatic and charming and obviously brilliant. He was an excellent host. He started by finding something interesting about each of our names or our backgrounds or interests, and from then on, he directed the flow of the conversation, telling stories, answering questions and putting everyone at ease. When he arrived at our hostel the next morning with breakfast, he charmed us again, rattling off all our names without hesitation.

Still Saed is one of those Palestinian supermen, and, as he explained to us, the point of his poem, of course, is that they don’t really exist. You can’t always hold barbed wire with a smile on your face, and even in the course of a couple hours, we discovered that Saed is generous and magnetic and also angry.

In the context of Nablus and Saed’s life, these are not contradictory. The impulse to downplay negativity to put people at ease can only go so far in some places without becoming ridiculous. And so it is in Nablus - the home of more than a quarter of the second intifada's dead - that even the jolly, reassuring host displays hopelessness and outrage. Without them, maybe, he could never have seemed sincere.

Our conversation that evening was punctuated by gunfire. A few of us attributed it, probably correctly, to a wedding celebration. But that wasn’t much comfort to Saed, who is sick and tired of the normalcy of that sound in Nablus. At night, people there must try to sleep through almost daily Israeli incursions and also fighters and revelers firing in the air. It’s too much gunfire, Saed says. It’s sick.

Like so many in Nablus, Saed knows too well the consequence of a bullet. He was shot in the chest at a demonstration in the first intifada, and once he recovered, his wounds were the evidence that landed him in an Israeli jail.

Then in October 2002 soldiers drove up to his home, where Saed’s mother, a well-known peace activist sat on her porch. Fourteen bullets later his mother was dead and he and his father were both injured. (The Christian Science Monitor wrote about his mother's death in 2003.)

Saed and his family tried to fight for an investigation and some sort of justice. But when he first called the army, they refused to come investigate, citing security concerns. They told him to come to the Hiwara checkpoint near Nablus and file a complaint there. Sa’ed wouldn’t have any of it. When does the victim ever go to the investigator, he asked the soldier. You came into my house and killed my mother. Come put a tank on each end of my street and investigate the crime scene.

To this day no investigation has been completed.

Now Saed is trying to come to the United States, where he’s been invited by a university. But his visa application has gone unanswered, perhaps because his mother’s death has marked him as somehow connected to terrorism.

“I want them to tell me that it’s because my mother was assassinated so that I can take off my shoe and swim across to the United States and shove it in the mouth of George Bush,” he said. “But they just don’t say anything.”

And so for now Saed is still in Nablus, where, like everyone, he hears gunfire and sees blood and eats sweets and fights for the kind of life worthy of a man like him.


Paris, ad nauseam

No, not that one!

Sadly enough, as an incoming editor for the Ministry of Cool (and all-around internship goofer-offer), I must put in my two cents on the media carnival that has been Paris Hilton's less-than-five-star accommodations. In the past month, we've seen (or have been forced to suffer through) closely reported, widespread coverage of the waifish celebutant's stay at the Los Angeles County Correctional Facility.

If her above-the-law treatment wasn't enough (just when we thought Paris was in jail, she was briefly released because of her debilitating claustrophobia), we have been subjected to some of the most vapid news stories seen since...oh yeah, Anna Nicole Smith.

In fact, Hilton has easily surpassed both Smith's legal battles and, more recently, iPhone hype, inspiring a whole new world of meta-journalism, which I am now a part of. This includes writing about Hilton...and writing about writing about Hilton...oh, and writing about writing about writing about Hilton...and now this blog...need I do the math?

Actually, peoplepress.org have done it for me. Their findings on the week of June 4 news coverage show that Paris's whirlwind release-return to jail was the fifth heavily covered story of the week. And now, with hype commentators ranging from Judge Judy to O.J. Simpson there seems to be no end in sight for reporting on reporting on reporting.

I would like spotlight MSNBC reporter Mika Brzezinski for her hilarious attempt to burn (yes, with a lighter) her copy of the story.

My favorite part of this clip is when Brzezinski's co-anchor, amidst all the fuss, blurts out,
"Lord, why is she such a journalist."

Oh right! He meant journalist pejoratively.

Well, that's all from the world of frivolously groundbreaking news. Please read Emily's blog posts below to absolve yourself from these sinful observations on observations.

Yours truly,
Mike Berlin, non-journalist

p.s. I love US Weekly, they banned Paris from their magazine. Read about it here and here
p.p.s. Need more Paris Critique?