Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Another view from Rafah

Reader advisory: This is one of those I-report-you-decide posts. It wanders into an area that is inflammatory to the point of danger. The Israeli pullout from the Gaza strip makes it pertinent. Whether or not the details are factual, it is undeniable that the impact of reporting like this is as powerful as any ordinance.

Mohammed Omer is a photo journalist keeping his head down in Gaza.
Mohammed Omer at twenty-one has spent his entire life living under apartheid, far more oppressive, according to Mandela than that of the former South Africa. He discovered his talent for photography in high school and is currently studying journalism at the University between roadblocks, bombings and curfews. He has worked with the New York Times as a photo guide and translator in Gaza and his photographs are regularly featured in many international publications. Today he also runs his website, RafahToday.org.
For Mohammed's safety, we cannot show you a picture of him. In the Occupied Territories, journalists are often targeted and killed. Like the United States, Israel is convinced it has a public relations problem, not a policy problem. Mohammed's pictures and stories expose the latter.

This site doesn't tell where it comes from, who puts it together or what the agenda might be. On a credibility scale I would rate it very low. It's only recommendation is that it came up in a Google search, and you know how much that is worth.

I was looking for the source of an interesting column copied in a low-traffic blog from the US. The article is from a Norwegian weekly magazine, but it is written in English. I gather that the blog host receives her information from the journalist via email.

The article is significant because it reflects a Palistinian view.
Whenever there is a conflict I always want to know as much as I can find about both sides. Understanding is always preferable to misunderstanding.

Read and decide for yourself.
The fervor—some would call it fanaticism—of the religious settlers has forced many of their secular neighbors into an awkward double game. Those who announced publicly they would be happy to leave Gaza if given adequate compensation and financial assistance in starting over have been denounced as traitors or worse by the ultra-Orthodox. Many received death threats, were harassed or even beaten. As a result, many secular settlers have secretly approached the Disengagement Management requesting compensation and voluntary evacuation, while in public, to preserve their safety, offering lip-service to the hard-liners. Making matters worse, the Sharon government has been painfully slow in announcing re-settlement plans, and the promised compensation has yet to be paid.
Many observant modern Jews had never heard of the Pulsa d'Nora ceremony (the "Scourge of Fire"), let alone seen it, when footage of the medieval rite recently surfaced on Israeli TV. Rooted in Kabalistic lore and ceremonial magic, the ritual calls down the most elaborate and dire curses on its target. A description sounds like a piece of horror fiction: twenty black-robed rabbis enter an underground cave in the middle of the night, light black candles, and keep repeating after the leader the name of the one to be cursed—most recently, "Ariel Sharon." In solemn prayers, the rabbis called upon the Destroying Angel to kill Sharon. Further, if by chance the rabbis misjudged the situation and their intended victim, Sharon, does not deserve death, then, they stipulate, may the Destroying Angel kill the twenty rabbis.

The extremist rabbis make no secret of the fact that the Pulsa d'Nora ritual was done against the late Israeli Prime Minister Itzak Rabin and, they insist, it succeeded brilliantly. In fact, a fanatic young Israeli student, Yeghal Amer, assassinated Rabin, but according to the rabbis, it was really the Destroying Angel at work.
This shocked me. It sounds like an anti-semitic urban legend. I checked it out, and sure enough, it happened. LINK...LINK
Here is an interesting exchange that captures the conflict in a nutshell.

Dabi Rosen, spokeswoman of the Gush Katif Regional Council, is never far from her cell phone these days. "I'm on my way back to Gaza from a setter's demonstration against the Prime Minister," she said in a phone interview. Ms. Rosen has often stated her outright hatred of Palestinians.

Told that this reporter was writing for Morgenbladet, she interrupted to say, "Oh, we have many good friends and supporters in Norway working against the disengagement."

Although I gave her my name, I am still not sure whether she simply wasn't listening, or perhaps thought ethnic Norwegians are often named "Mohammed."

Why, I asked, did Sharon want to evacuate the Gaza settlements?

"Sharon has personal problem with corruption," she answered, "but we settlers are the ones paying the highest price. Of course," she added, "the Palestinians will starve when we leave. We have been employing them in our settlements, but once we're gone, this will be nothing but a jail for them."

"Have you ever looked at a map of the world?" I asked her.

"I have one with me," she replied.

"Then how," I asked, "did it happen that Israel is sitting in the middle of 22 Arab nations here in the Middle East?"

"The word 'Palestinian' doesn't exist," she shouted. "There are no Palestinians! All this land was given to us by God! And if you refer me to the world map, I refer you to the Scriptures!"

I resisted the temptation to ask that if Palestinians did not exist, to whom, then, was she speaking? Instead, I asked her opinion of Sharon—if, as she'd often stated, Sharon was doing a grave disservice to Israel and the Jews, then who was Sharon serving in his war against the Palestinians?

I didn't get to finish the question when Rosen shouted, "War against Palestinians? What do you mean? It's the Palestinians who are killing Israeli citizens."


Anonymous said...
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Erika said...


Thanks for the interesting, careful job you did.

The bio of Mohammed comes from a site that has reprinted a few of his Morganbladet articles accurately, but tends to be sensationalistic, and, rather than checking photo captions and his bio, seems to plow on gamely with (I suppose) their best guess. For instance, he's an English Lit major, not studying journalism. He has lived in Gaza all his life, and has indeed guided many international visitors (including foreign journalists) safely around Gaza. Those interested can find a "calmer" bio that I wrote in the May2005 archive on

As outlandish as it sounds, Israeli Army personnel have targeted, injured, and killed journalists who had "press" and "TV" in day-glo tape on every possible surface of their clothing and vehicles. Perhaps the most well-known case is that of award-winning documentarian James Miller, killed in Rafah in spring 2003.

Yes, Mohammed writes his work in English since he isn't fluent in Norwegian and his editors at Morgenbladet don't speak Arabic--but like virtually all Scandinavians, have excellent English. Then, of course, they translate into Norwegian. Unfortunately, their on-line edition is Norwegian-only. I am available for the occasional grammar/spelling/punctuation consult in English--he likes to turn in really clean copy. Like all Palestinians, he has studied English since first grade, but he has attained unusual fluency, and, face it, English is one tricky, idiosyncratic, idiomatic language. (Like Arabic, actually, in that respect.)

In fairness, I'll take it on myself to point out the rabbis espousing measures like the "Pulsa d'Nura" ritual are the most extreme segment of the extremists. I don't blame anybody who'd think at first look it was an anti-semitic fabrication. But for those conversant with western hermeticism, specifying the curse, if unjust, should rebound on those who invoked it is considered "playing fair" (so to speak.) Purely the reader's call if those involved are stark, staring mad, or tapping into a centuries old mystical tradition (or anyplace inbetween.)

Thanks again for visiting and this article.

Hoots said...

Thanks for the reply. It raises the credibility score a lot.

From your Blogger profile I presume you are US based, but your writing comes across as first-person (and first-class) reporting from Rafah or Gaza. I am impressed with the quality of writing and drama of the photos, but for a "disinterested observer" the overall "picture" seems unclear.

When I speak of "source" I am talking about supporting hyperlinks outside your blog. It takes a light touch with a heavy hammer if one is to capture, borrowing a much-abused phrase, the hearts and minds of those seeking better understanding.

Erika said...


It isn't my writing on the blog (with exception of the occasional short introductory note) but Mohammed's.

As I explained, RafahNotes is not a "classic" blog--which is a kind of writing I'd call "hypertext" (there was a brief flurry in US publishing to bring out "hypertext" multimedia books--which went nowhere fast.) The site is a backup to Mohammed's main website. Newspaper articles are not footnoted (apart from those in scholarly journals); neither are the re-postings on RafahToday and RafahNotes. I know Mohammed does online research when necessary (in this case, tracking down the spelling of Pulsa d'nura--of which I notice there are several variants--the joys of transliteration!), along with his on-the-ground interviews and reporting.

Yes, I'm based in the US. But through email and (all the various phone networks and phone cards permitting!) telephone, sometimes Gaza doesn't seem all that far away.

It is my personal hope on RafahNotes that people will see some of the human faces of the people who, like it or not, are in the thick of the conflict and explore further. One of these days, I'll post a gloss on the various links to encourage people to read further.