Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2005, pages 58-59

Northern California Chronicle

“Arab Talk With Jess and Jamal” Debuts in San Francisco

By Elaine Pasquini

Jess Ghannam (l) and Jamal Dajani in their KPOO studio (Staff photos E. Pasquini).
   

SAN FRANCISCO radio listeners now have a new source for information about the Middle East. By tuning their dials to KPOO public radio station 89.5 FM on Thursdays at 2 p.m., listeners can hear Palestinian-Americans Jess Ghannam and Jamal Dajani deliver up-to-date Middle East news and lively interviews with a wide variety of guests.

The July 28 debut of their one-hour program, “Arab Talk with Jess and Jamal,” featured Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, staff photographer (and husband of this reporter) Phil Pasquini as their first interviewee.

Dajani began by questioning Pasquini—a veteran Middle East traveler for 20 years—about his article “Farrek Ta’sud” (divide and conquer), on his experiences of crossing through Israel’s apartheid wall and numerous checkpoints during a June visit to the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem.

“First, I was overwhelmed by the length, height and dynamics of the wall and how it impacted people’s lives,” Pasquini observed. “It was apparent that if people could become divided they could become conquered and pushed out of the scene.”

Jerusalem-born Dajani, a producer at San Francisco’s LinkTV who travels regularly to the area, shared his guest’s horror at seeing the enormous wall on what used to be a beautiful landscape.

A photograph of Israel’s apartheid wall taken by Phil Pasquini in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis (Staff photos E. Pasquini).
   

Deploring the wall’s disastrous effect on Palestinians’ day-to-day lives, Pasquini went on to describe the dire situation of his elderly friends in Bethlehem, who as residents of the occupied West Bank cannot travel to Jerusalem for any reason—including medical treatment—and subsequently have trouble obtaining necessary medication.

He also recounted crossing the Kalandia checkpoint with a student friend to visit Birzeit University, and the frustrating and humiliating harassment they experienced from Israeli soldiers.

Ghannam, chief of medical psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, and a frequent traveler to Gaza, also discussed the ways Palestinians’ lives have been disrupted, particularly in the village of Qalqilya, which is completely enclosed by the wall.

The cost of the wall, Pasquini told listeners, is horrendous, not just in dollars—more than $1.2 billion, or $2.5 million per kilometer—or the physical disruption to daily life and loss of land, but psychologically. “People are feeling very disenfranchised and their dignity is being taken away,” he explained. Pasquini was moved by the images and emotional statements on the Palestinian side of the wall. “Over and over,” he recalled, “I saw in English and Arabic ”˜The Wall must fall.’”

For more information on Israel’s apartheid wall visit the Web site: <http:/www.stopthewall.org>.

Pakistanis Want Democracy, Not Military Rule, Says Husain Haqqani

A military recruiter (c) mingles with anti-war demonstrators in Benicia’s City Park (Staff photos E. Pasquini).
   

“Pakistan is the only country in South Asia that has never changed any of its governments through an election,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace visiting scholar and syndicated columnist Husain Haqqani told a San Francisco World Affairs Council audience July 27. “A government has never been voted out of office, but removed by the military—the military always takes over.” Although Pakistan has been directly ruled by the military for 30 of its 58 years, “the military rule does not have the backing of the people,” Haqqani said. “The populace does not like a system of government other than democracy, but the military will not let democracy flourish.” Even President Pervez Musharaff—who came to power in a military coup on Oct. 12, 1999—claimed his government was “saving” democracy,” the former adviser to Pakistani prime ministers Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Nawaz Sharif, and Benazir Bhutto argued.

The foregoing is one of several paradoxes Haqqani, a Pakistani dissident living in the U.S., examines in his book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military.

Since the 1950s, the author continued, Pakistan has been an American ally, and yet from time to time the South Asian country has been seen as a security threat. “Pakistan has become associated with poverty, terrorism, Islamic militancy and nuclear weapons,” he pointed out. “Its enemies see it as a very troubled state.” Haqqani researched these and other issues for his book in order to separate the truth from perceptions about his homeland.

While Pakistan has become home to some of the most extremist Islamic militant groups, the majority of Pakistan’s 159 million residents are overwhelmingly moderate Muslims who “only want to practice their religion peacefully,” Haqqani stressed. “Whenever the Pakistanis have been given an opportunity to elect their officials, they have never overwhelmingly voted for an Islamist political party.”

To the country’s detriment, military spending far exceeds funding for health care and education, Haqqani lamented. Some years, he noted, defense spending represented 50 percent of the annual budget.

Since the bombings in London had occurred shortly before this program, and a loose connection between the suspected bombers and Pakistan was alleged, a lively question-and-answer period ensued at the program’s conclusion. Answering a question about Washington’s relationship with Islamabad, Haqqani said President Bush had paid less attention to Pakistan because of the administration’s intense focus on the Iraq war.

The program was co-sponsored by Stacey’s Independent Bookstore.

Peace Activists Champion Cindy Sheehan

Vigilers at a busy freeway exit in Novato, CA (Staff photos E. Pasquini).
   

“Benicia, CA Supports You, Cindy Sheehan,” read the sign Patricia Kneisler held as she stood in her usual spot in Benicia’s City Park Aug. 18, at the weekly anti-war vigil. Others among the 35 demonstrators held signs reading “George, Talk to Cindy,” “Support Cindy Sheehan and Her 1st Amendment Rights” and “Threat to National Security: Cindy or Rove?” One toddler’s sign suggested, “Bush Needs a Time Out.”

Sheehan, the mother of Army First Battalion Spc. Casey Sheehan, who died while trying to rescue fellow soldiers under attack April 4, 2004, in Sadr City, had been camped along a road near President Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch since Aug. 6 hoping for a meeting with the president. Her desire to personally ask the president why soldiers are dying in Iraq inspired others from across the country to join her. Sheehan is a founding member of Gold Star Families for Peace (<www.gsfp.org>).

The Benicia protesters feel a special kinship with Sheehan, since the 48-year-old Vacaville mother has on occasion joined the small town’s Thursday night vigils, which began the evening after the U.S.-led attack on Iraq more than two years ago. Kneisler became friends with Sheehan after the two exchanged e-mails following Casey’s tragic death. Kneisler and Michael White track coalition casualties and war news on their Web site <www.icasualtycount.org> (see June 2004 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 55).

As the vigil was getting underway, two Army recruiters who were leisurely perusing the signs joined the group. Quickly engaged in conversation by the demonstrators, the recruiters, while espousing the military’s mantra of the valor of “dying for your country,” were in no hurry to leave and engaged in a respectful debate about the war in which more than 1,862 U.S. service members have died since March 19, 2003.

Novatans Support Cindy

Following calls by MoveOn, True Majority and Democracy for America for pro-peace activists to hold vigils in their communities, more than 100 anti-war advocates gathered at a busy freeway exit in Novato, California Aug. 17 to show solidarity with Cindy Sheehan. Through their signs and comments, all of the protesters urged President Bush to meet with Cindy Sheehan and answer her questions about the Iraq war.

“What’s happening now isn’t really working,” Teri Mackey told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Mackey’s 24-year-old son Jed recently returned from two tours in Iraq, where he had been deployed as part of the Marin County unit of the California National Guard. “What are they [the U.S. government] going to do now?” she questioned.

Novato resident Joan Brannigan organized the candlelight vigil—one of more than 60 held in the Bay Area. Some 1,600 similar events were held nationwide.

Elaine Pasquini is a free-lance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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