Saturday, April 25, 2009

uh oh...

"Torture Tape Implicates UAE Royal Sheikh" video showing son of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi beating the hell out of a grain dealer over $5,000:

Story on Indentured Servitude in Dubai aka Dusties...:

umm... Sheikh Khalifa... you got some 'splainin to do...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Last day in Dubai: April 27
Egypt: April 27-May 2
Israel: May 2-10
Home: May 11

:) :) :) :) :)

Friday, April 10, 2009


There are good days, there are bad days and there are days when I wonder what the hell I'm trying to do with my life and why I ever chose to come to the pit that is the Middle East. Today is one of those days:

A little Analysis Paralysis to go with my morning coffee...

The following is my assignment for a term paper in History of the Middle East in the 20th Century...

Term Paper # 2
MEST 315
Term Paper #2 31.3.2009
Essay Topic:

“The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 may have been the result of Hitler’s attempt to destroy the Jews of Europe… or the result of the Palestinians’ failure to forge a state of their own…or…”

Discuss the events and processes that led to the establishment of a ‘Jewish national home’ in British-mandate Palestine on May 14th 1948.

circa 2000 words

...and that's IT. Firstly, I take issue with the prompt. From where does this quotation come (and what the hell kind of guideline for a 2,000 word paper is this)? Very un-scholarly, though this aspect of the educational system here has ceased to surprise or amuse me. Beyond that, however, I'll also note that the phrase, "Hitler's attempt to destroy the Jews of Europe" is the closest this professor has ever come to using the word "Holocaust". Then again, based on a recent Politics lecture, I guess no one would know what he meant by it anyway.

I feel like the prompt is all but inviting students to write about how the Jews stole the land from the Palestinian Arabs before they could "forge a state of their own", with countless opportunities to write misrepresentations and falsities about Israel, beginning with the inception of Zionism.

When we discussed Zionism in class, I brought up the fact that Zionism did not emerge as a quest to retake the Holy Land for the Jews, but rather as a political ideology supporting the creation of a Jewish homeland. Herzl, whom we view today as the founder of modern Zionism, didn't care a fraction of as much about WHERE this homeland existed, so long as it came to fruition and provided a place of refuge for Jews, who were being persecuted and discriminated against throughout the world, despite their efforts in assimilation. There were proposed Jewish states in Uganda, Argentina and, obviously, the NEVER-ESTABLISHED-AS-A-STATE land of Palestine. Palestine made the most sense, and negotiations brokering support for a Jewish homeland here commenced. There had always been a Jewish presence in the land, and Jewish heritage and history trace back to the land of Israel from long before the Prophet Mohammad was even a speck on the horizon.

Not only did my Oxford-educated professor say outright that he didn't "buy" the Uganda argument, he actually went on to say that there wasn't any scholarly research on the topic. An Arab student then chimed in to relate my statements about the founding philosophies of Zionism to the "genocide" Jews (not Israelis-- Jews. All Jews) are commiting against Palestinians now. Amazing how he was able to make such a jump, as that was nowhere remotely close to the topic on which I was speaking...

My point in all of this is that my professor, an intelligent man for sure, made a completely irresponsible move in setting this assignment. When tackling such a sensitive and controversial topic--especially in an academic setting, especially in the Middle East, especially in a class of students whose ideas about the Israeli-Arab conflict are so tempered by emotion, miseducation and closed-mindedness, and whose overall education is sub-standard at best--the professor should have AT LEAST had the sense to set more rigid assignment guidelines rather than, for all practical purposes, invite these students to rehash the same mistruths and biases with which they've grown up under the heading of scholarly work. Its a shame that this professor, who has before him the opportunity to engage his class in a fact-based, unbiased writing assignment, has chosen the low road.

Of course, I have yet to begin this paper, and I'm debating how to go about it, and what effect the position I take may or may not have on my grade... Then again, I'm pretty sure the fact I can string together more than five consecutive English words will ensure my passing no matter what. I'd love to get my hands on this stack of papers and see the craziness people will turn in (though pigs will fly before that happens). Eh... I'll let you know how this one goes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why is this Night Different from all Other Nights?

Tonight is the first Passover Seder, and while my family gathers around the table and retells the story of our deliverance from slavery, I'll be slaving away in the library writing a paper about Islam.


I'm not one to delve into the spiritual side of religion. I prefer to view it more as a buffet than a set menu, and when it comes to religious practice and observance, I'm kind of a picky eater. Every Passover since I can remember I've been more apt to whine about having to eat matzah and be the designated Hebrew reader than anything else. The meaning of the holiday was obscured by my annoyance with it's restrictions. Truth be told, its my least favorite holiday. Somehow though, this year, being in Dubai without the option to observe it, I'm actually missing the cardboard-esque sheets of matzah, our homemade Haggadot with their specks of crusted-on Charoset from Seders past, dry Manischewitz box-mix cakes in tiny tin pans, and my little brother's annual refusal to complete the Mah Nishtanah and his subsequent ill-mannered table behavior more than I ever thought I could.

I'm pretty sure I'd have to make my own dough, run away before it had time to rise and let it bake in the desert sun like the original version if I wanted to have any matzah at all.

So I'm a little bit at a loss. I've got questions running through my head about what this all means and to what extent I'm damning myself to the firey depths of JewHell... My dad, the kind of Jew whose idea of religious practice is eating corned beef on marble rye (until recently, it seems), always made it clear that no matter what kind of Jew you may or may not be, you at least have to observe Pesach, Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. I'd have to agree. I think the closest I'll be able to get to observing Pesach this year is going to be writing this blog entry and hopefully Skyping in to my family's Seder in Maryland later tonight.

I'm not fretting over the "bad Jew" thing. I'm not really one to do that (though I did feel badly about accidentally eating shrimp in Bahrain...). Its more that it just feels uncomfortable. It feels wrong. Dispite my griping, I've observed Passover every year of my life, so the lack of it this year cannot simply go unnoticed. I've not written before about being Jewish in this blog, nor do I talk about it here outside the group of American study abroads with whom I spend my time. Supressing something that is so much a part of me has felt odd from the get go, but I knew it would, and I knew it would be something I'd do since before I came here. Still, now, at Passover, hiding this part of me stings a little more.

So I start drawing parallels between the holiday and my own situation. Self-centered? Yeah, a little. The theme of Passover is freedom. In the case of the Jews in Egypt, the definition is pretty clear. In the case of the Jew in Dubai, what is the definition? Who would stop me if I chose to paint a Star of David on my forehead and walk around town? No one (or at least I'm pretty sure I could get away with it for a little while...). But does freedom always have to do with force? Just because I could do it, does it mean I'm free to do it? And if so, then what's stopping me? What would happen if I did it?

A couple months ago I decided to do a litmus test on an Arab student here (a Syrian) with whom I'd become friends. We were talking one-on-one and the topic of Israel came up. He made a comment that though he did not acknowledge Israel's right to exist, he did differentiate between Israelis and Jews, and had no problem with the latter. While to western ears this still sounds harsh, its actually a very forward-thinking statement for someone of his background. Just this week in one of my classes another Arab student who loves to say things like "The Jews are our enemy, we will never negotiate with them" also raised his hand to ask what the Holocaust was, because he'd never heard of it. That's another story entirely, but back to this one: After feeling comfortable about this kid telling me of his tolerance of Jews, and hearing him say that he had had Jewish friends, I decided to cautiously drop the J-bomb: Silence. Then, "Cool." Then more silence. Then, "Well, this is a stupid topic. Let's talk about something else." The next thing I know, his Saudi Arabian buddy is drunkenly saying, "Shabbat Shalom" to me that same weekend. I pretended to have no idea what he was saying, but the fact that the first thing my little Arab test dummy did with my classified information was spread it didn't put me at ease. I've since adopted a vow of silence on the matter when it comes to the locals, and also in speaking up in class when students or professors proport total inaccuracies about Jews, Israel or the Zionist lobby that supposedly controls America in class (this decision came about from another incident in my History class). This silence is not something that comes easily or for which I have ever been known.

The point is, while I may not be bound in chains, forced to make bricks or sacrifice the male children of my people, I feel like my freedom has, in a way, been stripped from me. Though the temporary nature and fact that I have people with whom to share my secret makes said non-freedom much easier to stomach. Still, most days I feel like I'm in the witness protection program.

To wrap it up, dispite the fact that I'll not be able to sit around my grandmother's table and retell the story of my ancestors' freedom as if it were my own, and dispite the fact that I will not have a kosher Pesach by any means, I think that the absence of Pesach from this Pesach, for me, will bring home a point I've failed to grasp for the last twenty years. At the end of the Seder we say "This year we are slaves. Next year, may we be a free people in Jerusalem." Since I have no Seder at which to recite such a verse, and I don't consider myself a slave by any means-- I did CHOOSE to be here, the closing to my internal Seder will be a little different:

This year I am not free to express myself as a Jew. Next year, may I fully appreciate my freedom to do so.

or maybe...

This year I am not free, next year I will be. May I please not screw up the meaning of this holiday then.

בשנה הבא בירושלים

I love and miss you all, and will be thinking of you lots this week, as the Yenta in the back of my head berates me for every bite of Chametz I eat.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


I spent the first weekend of April in Bahrain, a tiny Island country (well, actually an archipelago of 33 islands, but still tiny) in the Gulf. Bahrain is pretty, and that's about it. There is (was?) a pearl industry there, and of course they have that whole oil thing going for them, but as far as real historical significance or political import, Bahrain is kind of lacking (though they LOVE the USA. The US Navy's 5th fleet is stationed there). Which is fine by me! The weekend was a lay on the beach, nap your cares away, vacation vacation, and much needed, too.

I did little more than relax in the sun (when it was sunny...), read, eat, drink and sleep. It was much needed, much enjoyed. I went with five other girls from my program and came back with a tan.

We did make it out of the hotel long enough to go to the Al-Areen Nature Reserve, in the middle of the desert. It was basically a zoo, but i got to see PORCUPINES!!!! They were deceivingly cuddly looking. None of the animals were in real cages, just little pens, so I guess I could have found out whether or not they were cuddly, but then I had a flashback to Homeward Bound and moved on.

We also made it out to clubs a couple nights. The night life in Bahrain is surprisingly bumpin'. It is just north of Saudi Arabia, with a bridge connecting the two. Bahrain is, obviously, much more liberal than Saudi, so Saudis flock here on the weekends to engage in activities their country does not allow-- like drinking, fun and womens' rights. Apparently Bahrain is also the gay capital of the Middle East, and we saw tons of trannys walking around. We also saw a FIGHT! I was driving home from a restaurant with the girls and two cars in front of us pulled over on to the sidewalk. People got out of them and proceeded to beat the crap out of eachother, blocking in our car. Not scary AT ALL. Gotta love the Middle East.

Left to Right: The pool at our hotel (the round thing is the back of the swim up bar :) ), the Bahrain Pearl Roundabout (the Middle East LOVES roundabouts. This one is Bahrain's most famous... wooo), a camel (in case this was not obvious)

Spring Break trip to Jordan

Coming soon.....