Ameer Makhoul’s Trial

…is a farce. Here’s why (I submitted this to electronic intifada and I think they like exclusivity, but I wanted to post it here, too):

We arrive at the Haifa Courts building around 11, a half hour after proceedings began. It was supposed to begin at 9:00 but was pushed back. The room – even though there is a horde of people outside waiting to get in – has only two benches for spectators. There are empty courtrooms with five or six benches, enough to easily accommodate all interested parties.

But instead we’re outside the door, while two, sometimes three, behemoth security guards control the door and glare at us intimidatingly. Milling around is a veritable who’s who of Haifa politics and activism. A Jewish member of the Communist party who is on city council comes out after giving testimony and hobnobs with influential activists, former Members of Knesset, employees of various NGOs in Haifa, international activists, journalists, powerful lawyers, and friends and family of Ameer. It’s a bit unnerving to realize that if they wanted, the Shabak could show up outside this courtroom, arrest everyone standing there, and essentially silence all dissent in Haifa. All the major players in one place, for one cause.

As two people come out, two are let in. One comes out, one goes in. Then two come out, and the ogres at the door decide no one else is allowed in. Some among us start arguing with them, calling them out on their arbitrary change of policy, but they’re enjoying their show of strength too much. They tell us to move over; we have to wait from the side, for no apparent reason. They bring in those extendable line-makers, you know, like in movie theaters and airports, and create a space where they can stand with their arms crossed, surveying their prey, a space we’re not allowed to enter. It’s a power trip, and these goons are getting off on their über-masculine superiority. It’s sad, sort of; in another life, in another place, these guys would be basketball players or construction workers or insurance salesmen. But they wouldn’t be the hired thugs put in place to blatantly exploit the power disparity between those of us who just want in and those who control our every move. There is an easy parallel between this charade and the political situation here; we are told where we can stand, what we can do, and whether or not we are allowed in.

And just like that, it’s over. People come flooding out; greeting and kissing each other on the cheek, saying hello to friends and family and colleagues. Ameer’s wife and daughters come out into the crowd, so do his sisters and his brother, observers from European embassies, community members, then the lawyers. A line-up of some of the best lawyers in Israel were in there, and still, this trial continues. It’s court date after court date of unanimously supportive character witness testimony. The prosecution has no evidence to present, at least not in a public hearing; such is the nature of these “security cases.” There was supposed to be a decision on his sentence today, but there wasn’t, and there will be yet another court date in January with more and more character witnesses, more and more people testifying in support of Ameer Makhoul. But there is irony in this; the longer they can postpone sentencing him, the longer he stays in jail, unable to kiss his wife, or hug his daughters. We can spend years and years giving positive testimony in support of Ameer but if he is not sentenced, he stays in jail, perpetually on trial.

When his younger daughter came out of the courtroom, I read her eyes. She is brave, so brave. I cannot imagine going through what she is. Month after month she comes to these trials, sees the community supporting her father, perhaps once in a blue moon she can hold his hand. His sister was allowed to hug and kiss him for the first time today, but when his wife visits him in prison they are permitted only to communicate through a telephone and a glass barrier. He is perpetually sealed off from his family. His daughter floats through the crowd, puts on a smile, hugs her aunts and uncles, and shakes hands with her father’s colleagues. When they look away, her face falls, and her eyes are sad, almost empty, resigned in a way to his fate. She has gone through too much for a girl her age. Still she, and his entire family, and the entire community, tirelessly fight for his rights. But with each farcical trial date, perpetuating this charade of “justice,” it seems less and less likely that these rights will ever be realized, a decision will be made, and he will be released, able to join his family at their home once again.

Haifa Fire 2

Just checked the weather and it might rain Monday and Tuesday. So first of all, fat chance. But second of all, as much as I’d like to think that’ll go a long way in putting this fire out…I just don’t think it will. At this point, though, can’t hurt. More than 50 hours now, and it keeps spreading, and new fires keep popping up. I still can’t see smoke from my neighborhood, can only smell it occasionally, so it’s STILL unreal.

The city, though, is dead. Ben Gurion, which is normally crowded and hectic and overwhelming on a Friday night, was as relaxed as a back porch in the boondocks of Mississippi last night.

I’m keeping track of the breaking news headlines on ynet, the only up-to-date English-language coverage of what’s going on. That, and word on the street. The sheer amount of negligence involved that let it get this big is mind-boggling…

And here’s a little something to occupy your time:

And bring back memories.

Haifa fire

So there’s this crazy fire here…it started with sort of your average forest fire type stuff, and then one village was evacuated, and then another, and then some more, and then a kibbutz burned, and then the wealthiest neighborhood of Haifa was evacuated…and now we’re just kind of sitting here, seeing what’s going to happen. It’s totally surreal.

By golly I’m just so darn thankful…

Well, here I am, disappearing again for days and days and days at a time. My apologies.

For some reading in the meantime, I’ve recently had posts up on The Only Democracy? and Mondoweiss, so knock yourself out.

For more mundane but less controversial musings on life in general…my third Thanksgiving away from home has just passed, and was remarkably easier and less depressing than the last two. Last year I somehow ended up alone, which was just lame, and the first year was in Jordan, and as the first just rather miserable overall. But this year we got our nice group of Americans and Israelis and Palestinians and Canadians together, and cooked a big ol’ meal, and ate and drank and photographed until we were about ready to pop. It’s funny to observe after all these years what really makes a holiday a holiday. You think it’s about food, or the specific location or tradition or group of people. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it really is about people; about people you love, family or otherwise, and being comforted by the knowledge that even if the situation isn’t ideal or we have misgivings or the mashed potatoes didn’t come out quite right, there’s really nowhere else we’d rather be right then. This is OUR Thanksgiving and WE made and Goddammit, we’re going to enjoy it. We managed to pull together a roast chicken, stuffing, wine, challah, sweet potatoes, and apple crisp. And hey, if that ain’t Thanksgiving, I don’t know what is.

But it is also lamely tempting to think about it in Thanksgiving-y terms. I was very thankful that I have a mother who cooks, so I knew how to make a roast chicken in a pinch. And I am very thankful for having friends who coerce me into cooking, even when I think I don’t want to. And I am thankful for having people to share food with, because roasting and eating a chicken yourself is pathetic. I am thankful, depressing as it is, to know I am able to survive the holiday season so far away from home; it’s indicative of growth and flexibility and, in a way, buoyancy. It’s hard, for sure, but when you have people to share it with it’s like a whole new thing, a new tradition, a reminder that life is full of possibilities and it’s a wonderful thing to not know what’s coming. Next year will be bittersweet, knowing it’ll be yet another different Thanksgiving experience. Probably not the crazy adventure of trying to make an American Thanksgiving in the Middle East, but (after looking at family photos from this year’s Thanksgiving that I missed) even family changes over time, no matter how static you wish it would stay.

I mean, I’m going back to cousins who are a foot taller and a year older and new babies I’ve never met…will some of these kids even know my name? I’ve missed three years of family events. As grateful as I am for what I’ve been able to do in these past few years, the holiday season really throws the sacrifices I’ve made into sharp relief. No regrets, to be sure. But the constant change and uncertainty is more often terrifying than not. But every year is new, and every year is different, and there’s nothing like making Thanksgiving half a world a way to remind you of how amazing this is.