Monday, December 19, 2005

Break Time

I thought I might be able to stick it out for another week, but it's getting crazy 'round here. Instead, I'm going to use the next few weeks to finish up my film, after which I'll be back in this space.

Meanwhile, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Here are a few year-end pictures:



Friday, December 16, 2005

Fisk-fest

It just keeps getting worse in Lebanon, as I'm sure most of us were thinking when Jibran Tueni, journalist/editor/opposition MP, was killed the other day. Who doesn't think it's the Syrians who are responsible? Probably no one, but the bizarre thing is that these murders of prominent anti-Syrian public figures (Samir Kassir and George Hawi, along with the attempt at May Chidiac) go on unabated while Detliv Mehlis continues his investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri. In fact, the bomb that killed Tueni went off just a few hours before Mehlis' latest report (there's a link you can download) was made public.

Robert Fisk, as you might guess, has a lot to say on the situation. This morning I read the two articles below with a huge sense of anger that Lebanon cannot just be left alone to deal with its own demons. Things had really seemed to be looking up.

"Who Will be Next?" and "In Lebanon the Men Do the Dying and the Women Do the Mourning"

I'm also including a transcript from a radio interview with Fisk as well as a really great article in today's Salon reviewing his book (watch the short ad, it's worth it.) It cracks me up that Fisk has been so vilified by many here in the States, particularly since he's one of the few people reporting from the Middle East who actually really knows it. Too often people here are too dumb to realize just how important that is.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What's up with Sharon?

Is Binyamin Netanyahu not the most vile human out there? Ok, I admit, he's got some pretty good competition all the way over in these parts. Man, though, he sure is difficult to stomach. Of course, now he's out to bait Sharon and his potential middle-of-the-road plans to think about peace with the Palestinians--and sharing Jerusalem. I think I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating: I'm a bit shocked to find myself slightly optimistic and thinking Sharon may be having an old fart-type mellowing out in his old age. Well, I'm hoping that's the case, at least. Today's Guardian has a bit on the latest wranglings. The following gave me pause:

Mr Sharon is renowned for keeping his political ideas close to his chest, leaving even close advisers in the dark until the last moment. He also has few qualms about embarking on policies opposed to his previous positions. At the last election in 2003, he opposed the Labour party's policy of withdrawal from Gaza - until he adopted it himself several months later. Before the election, he said that Netzarim, a Gaza settlement evacuated in August, was as much a part of Israel as Tel Aviv.

Yesterday, Haim Ramon, a Kadima member of the Knesset, said he did not know of one sane person who wanted to keep the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. He told Army Radio that it would be a mistake for Israel to retain large Palestinian areas "because it would mean Jerusalem would be the capital of a non-Jewish, non-Zionist Israel".

Granted, it's not mind blowing, but I'm a bit hopeful all the same.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Just lovely. . .

Perhaps you've read about all the books that got burned in Kashmir to provide heat after the recent earthquake. But did you see the quote at the end of this Associated Press report?

Nazir Durrani, a government official who frequented the library, said he did not believe people realized that copies of the Quran were going into the fire.

"The burning of these books was a tragedy. When I think of those who did it, they would never be forgiven by God," he said.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Annoyed in America

This evening I went to Jonathan Raban's reading, where we listened to excerpts from his new book, My Holy War: Dispatches from the Home Front. Raban is a Brit who has been living in Seattle since 1989, I believe, and his more recent books have a sense of place that is firmly rooted in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. I've only read his recent novel Waxwings, but after hearing him read from his latest book, I'm intrigued with the fact that he's an "outsider," of sorts, and has a unique perspective while at the same time seems to be rather at home here in the U.S.

Perhaps I'm interested in this perspective of his because I feel my life living abroad has also afforded me a different, less American take on the world. And while Seattle is certainly more liberal and internationally minded than most places in the United States, lately I've been feeling frustrated at how typically American the worldview is here and how cosmopolitan it's not.

Raban's reading tonight focused on the American "War on Terror" as well as the prevalent culture of fear in the U.S. resulting from the 9/11 attacks. It was interesting for me to hear his re-creation of Seattle's response to 9/11; he characterized 9/11 as unique and unlike any other recent catastrophes (shool mass shootings, Oklahoma City, etc.) in that it was very clearly perceived by all of the country as an attack aimed personally at them. Thus, it instilled a very real sense of fear in all Americans. This is not something I've never heard before, but somehow it surprised me to listen to this in Seattle and find Seattlites characterized in this way, as well. It just seems so foreign to me. Sure, I was in Amman on 9/11 and felt pretty removed from all the national mourning, but the notion that most Americans feel they were personally attacked in some way is just really weird.

Raban contrasted the average American's response to 9/11 with what he saw in Britain shortly after the London July bombings. While Americans turned to religious and patriotic slogans, the average Brit was pretty much business-as-usual--no Crusader-like zeal to take 'em out, like here in the U.S.

And it just makes me feel sad. Ok, fine, this turning to God and feeling victimized and all, but how in the world has this become the bedrock of our foreign policy and worldview? The stuff I've been reading lately has really been getting me down, and it's very much related to how this country's dumbing down and insistent self-centeredness has become the defining factor of how our government and people relate to the rest of the world.

Over the past few days I read Willian Pfaff's "What We've Lost: George Bush and the Price of Torture," a relatively recent article in Harper's about this administration's policy on torture. It shocked as well as saddened me. Yesterday's piece in the NYTimes Book Review, Sean Wilentz's "The Rise of Illiterate Democracy" also made me feel remorseful at just how far this country has moved away from the ideals under which it was founded. I highly recommend both.

It's abhorrent to me that these things are happening right under our noses and we've got all the information in the world about them, yet somehow they're generally accepted. Bush was re-elected, for one, and while our lawmakers are beginning to acknowledge a tiny amount of the depth of this administration's problems, the general "at war" measures are tacitly accepted.

The other thing that freaked me out majorly while upsetting me at the same time was listening to Bush on NPR today. Usually I can't bear to listen, but today they played his responses to a few unscripted--believe it or not!--questions in Philadelphia. When asked how many Iraqi civilians have died since the war, he estimated that the number was around 30,000. Even if that's a dramatically low estimate, it's still a huge amount, and his odd, unscripted tone in answering (it felt uncharacteristically meek somehow) left the impression that even he is aware of this war's horrors and that we've gotten in over our heads.

Like Raban said, throughout the country fear is currently the dominant lens through which people view the rest of the world. And while most here in Seattle are very politically literate and knowledgable about the latest international goings on, there's just something missing. I can't quite characterize it except to say that in some way they're still unable to identify with what it all means. Yes, there's an outrage that we messed up Iraq so badly it can likely never be fixed, but I feel that the real annoyance about Iraq has very much to do with annoyance that we're losing, that our troops are being killed. The true picture of suffering on the ground in Iraq and what this means for your average Iraqi is a concept that's so abstract it can only be referred to in pat references. Sure, I'd say most people here aren't happy about what Iraqis go through, in a detached yet concerned way, but they just simply don't get who these people are nor the gravity of the situation.

This country's general lack of understanding about the Arab World has a lot to do with the one-dimensional way in which Arabs have been portrayed here in the U.S. along with our proclivity to not know much about anything outside of our borders. I've been interested to see how that general ignorance has a lot to do with reception of the film "Syriana," which I thought was brilliant. While it's been getting good reviews, it's always characterized as confusing. That the movie shows a great variety of life in the Arab World and is more nuanced than any other Hollywood movie depiction I've seen is wonderful--but also the most confusing element for most, I'd venture.

And back to the American sense of fear. What the heck?! Do I, here in Seattle, experience anywhere near the threat of terrorism as your average Iraqi or Palestinian--or Israeli, for that matter? Violence is in no way an everyday part of our lives here in the way it is in many, many other places in the world. How utterly self-centered it is for us to believe our vulnerability is anywhere near the same scale.

Last night, I had an extremely vivid dream in which I was being searched out to be "eliminated." Perhaps this was inspired from the "targeted killing" (aka assassination) scene I saw in "Syriana." In the dream, I could hear bombs falling closer and closer to my neighborhood and I was running in circles in fear trying to think of how to protect Issy, how to get away. The sense of dread I woke up with lingered with me for hours and I kept thinking about how frightened I had been in the dream, yet how it was only a dream. I've never lived in a war zone, but my reaction to the dream was extraordinary. I could only reason that this is what people who truly live in situations like this must go through on a constant basis--and how much more intense that fear must be in real life. Those of us living here in America can't even get close to that.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Osama BL's boyhood

I have a feeling this is going to be a week of lame posts. My computer's souped up and ready to edit my film, and I've been sitting for hours parked in front of it, oblivious to the rest of the world. Don't think I'll end up writing much.

Today I read this article in the New Yorker about Osama Bin Laden's high school years and his induction into a Muslim Brotherhood-esque worldview. It proved to be a worthwhile read. Check it out.

Tomorrow evening I'm headed to see Jonathan Raban speak at the lovely new Seattle Public Library. When I first moved to Seattle, I read his novel Waxwings and thoroughly enjoyed it. He'll be reading tomorrow from his new book, My Holy War: Dispatches from the Home Front. I'm looking forward to it.

I'm just going to pop a picture up of Seattle's cool new library by architect Rem Koolhaas. I've also noticed a number of other brilliantly designed buildings downtown lately. Some might say the architecture here is getting to be quite worldclass. . .

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fish and Fisk

I've been feeling bad about the lame job I've been doing keeping up with the blog of late. Life's extemely hectic for me these days. Throughout the week, I've been transcribing interviews and working out a final script for my short film, and I'm not expecting the mayhem to stop anytime soon.

We're looking forward to the weekend, though. Tomorrow night, some friends are taking Issy for the night and we're planning to go see either "Brokeback Mountain" (the gay cowboy flick) or "Syriana" (the super-convoluted Middle East-situated thriller). And sushi. Yeah, can't skip the sushi. Man, I could go on for days about how wonderful the sushi is here--honestly, I've never had better. My friend Diane once said that the sushi at Vinaigrette in Amman was some of the best sushi she's ever had, and I didn't even notice what a sad thought that was until I moved here to Seattle. The sushi here's simply unbelievable. Our current fave is Bush Garden (hilarious!) in the International District. It's got a 50's lounge-type vibe going on--and I have a feeling it's been like that in there since it was built.

It sure beats our weekly outings of yore to Le Royale in Amman to the crap sushi place there (we had a major discount.)

I'm going to leave you with an interview with Robert Fisk I just read on the topic of his new book, The Great War for Civilization. He's such a killer--and he definitely doesn't have a whole lotta love for the blogging world. In talking about war, he says,

I have to take it with breakfast, lunch and tea, but not you, you're protected by these nice guys in London and New York and Washington, these editors. They don't want to dishonour the dead. It seems as if it is okay to kill Iraqis, just not to show them afterwards, at which point we're so worried about their honour. We have so much compassion when they're dead that we can't show the picture. When they're alive, though, let's go! “WAR IN IRAQ, EPISODE FIVE”… so you can cash in and have a war movie, but after you kill people they get compassion and honour. . .

There isn't a single member of the present Bush administration that has ever been in a war. [Colin] Powell was in Vietnam, but he isn't in the administration any more. There is not a single member of the Blair administration that has been to war. A few Labour Members of Parliament have been to Northern Ireland as soldiers but that's not the same. The politicians who run the countries have no experience of war.

Here's the complete interview.

Life in Hebron

Today's Guardian sheds a little light on what it's like for one Arab family living in Hebron (read more here):

Visitors to the Abu Aishe family in the heart of the biblical and bitterly-disputed city of Hebron either require an army escort to the front of the steel mesh cage protecting the three-storey home or risk assault by a barrage of stones, rotting food and shouts of "Death to Arabs" from the neighbours.

Three generations of the Abu Aishe family are the last Arabs living in their street, defiantly staying on in the face of what international monitors have described as the "cleansing" of parts of Hebron by messianic Jews, with the complicity of the Israeli army, that has driven thousands of people from their homes and businesses. Over recent years, parts of Hebron were all but emptied of Palestinians as their shops were sealed and the streets closed off.

Perhaps most ironic of all is the following:

Qurtuba school has become a rallying point for the settlers who sometimes block the entrance and have ripped off doors. A woman standing outside tells mothers bringing their children to the school: "Go to Auschwitz and take all the Arabs with you." Someone hung a sign outside: "Gas the Arabs."

This just blows me away.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cutting through the crap

You've just gotta love Maureen Dowd. I don't even have a t.v. and just the little bits and pieces of Bush and Cheney's voices I hear on NPR about bring me to a full-on stroke every time. How do they manage to pretend they take what they're saying seriously (e.g., "we don't engage in torture")? Geez, how do they keep from cracking up?

Dowd's got a great way of stripping all the nonsense down and relieving me from feeling like I'm the only person out there listening who just doesn't get it and is crazy for not buying it. Check her latest out here. It's hilarious.

On the beat

Perhaps the U.S. media is making a bit of a turnaround these days now that the war in Iraq is rapidly losing favor here. The situation certainly couldn't get more dismal than it's been since our latest war venture. All the same while, the level of reporting in the Middle East is beginning to hit harder and more critically than ever before--certainly enough in many cases to kick the American media's butt.

David Ignatius singles out a number of good reporters who are on the beat in the Middle East, all the while lamenting our country's simultaneous foray into propaganda over in Iraq. Yep, that's us, the standard bearers of democracy, in case you weren't sure.

Interestingly enough, the topic of the divergent trajectories of the U.S. and the Arab media was a large part of the conversation Ghassan and Samer had the other day when we were shooting the film. They both pointed to the propaganda promoted by state-run media they lived with growing up and compared it to how much more open it is in Jordan today. Conversely, they gave examples of how the U.S. media has tightened up, self-censored and become much less diverse since the early days when they moved here.

In fact, they go as far to say that the U.S. in many ways is becoming more like the Arab world. A little ironic, eh?

Blessed are the peacemakers

Salon.com takes a rather detailed look at Christian Peacemaker Teams, the organization with which 4 Westerners in Iraq worked who were taken hostage on November 26. I haven't been following the story all that much, mainly because I was a bit baffled as to why they were in the country. They weren't there to proselytize, it seems, and that is what I'd assumed. Rather, they were dedicated to peace and advocating on behalf of people living in the midst of conflict.

Christian Peacemaker Teams try to create small zones of peace and reconciliation in the midst of war. The organization was founded in 1988 by a coalition of Christian denominations including the Quakers and the Mennonites. Based in Chicago and Toronto, CPT sends trained volunteers to the most dangerous spots on the planet, including Colombia, the West Bank and the Congo, to act as witnesses and advocates for ordinary people caught in violent conflict. They plan projects based on the needs they see on the ground and the voids they believe they can fill. In Iraq, that means working on behalf of detainees in American custody, many of whom, according to military documents obtained by the ACLU have turned out to be innocent.

It seems nobody's immune, really, to these guys' wrath. I lost faith in any kind of reason when Margaret Hassan was kidnapped and killed (it was a little too close to home for me), and it made even less sense when a suicide bomber blasted up a wedding celebration in Amman all in the name of God knows what.

Here's a link through Electronic Iraq so you can avoid the Salon ad.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Issy stories

Issy has been a major handful lately and I'm barely keeping up. My take on it is that he's trying to throw in as much terrible twoness as possible into the remaining few months before he turns 3.

The other day I noticed he was eating something pink that looked like a pill. In full-on worrywort mode, I hurriedly called Samer to see if he'd left any medicine out (as he sometimes does.) Nope, all the drugs were properly put away. I then happened to look around and see Issy chowing down on the gingerbread house our little neighbor friend across the street had given us. "This is a really yummy candy house, mama," he said as he tore off the little pink and green candy pieces. "It looks just like pills."

Anytime we have to switch gears to leave someplace or stop playing, it's a major challenge lately, too. After he left preschool a few days ago, he and his buddy Wally ran ahead at lightning speed to the playground before we could grab them to throw them in the car. It was rainy and there was even a bit of snow on the ground. They climbed up to the covered slide and Issy decided to go for it. He soon popped out of the tunnel with a huge tidal wide splashing out behind him. He was drenched. "Amanda! Hellllllllp! I'm dyyyyyying!" he yelled, and that, thank God, gave me the cover I needed to plop him in the car and get outta there.

Clued out

Gerald Kaufman, a British MP, had a bit to say about Israeli society and Sharon's latest incarnation in yesterday's Guardian. Here's an excerpt:

All terrorist attacks are unjustifiable atrocities. Five Israelis are the latest victims. Over the past months, 15 Palestinians, two of them children, have been killed by Israeli troops. Their deaths attracted no headlines, but they are dead just the same.

I recently returned from leading the first British parliamentary delegation to the Palestinian Authority. What we saw is never seen by ordinary, decent Israelis, like the citizens of Netanya - who, since they dare not venture into the occupied territories, have no idea of the persecution of Palestinians being carried out in their name.


It's so true that most Israelis seem to have no idea what's really going on in the Palestinian territories. At least most people I've ever met in Israel don't. I remember when I travelled to an American friend's wedding shortly after the current intifada started and was dying to find out what my Israeli acquaintances felt about what was happening there.

I was shocked that they acted as if their lives were completely divorced from the situation. They told me they thought of the territories as foreign lands and of the Israeli settlers there as freaks. The odd thing was that they didn't connect themselves to the situation at all. But what took me so off guard was that these were people that in any other circumstance I would have totally loved to hang out with. They're generally liberal-minded, hip and cool people who are lots of fun to be around. But they seemed to have a general disconnect when it came to the reality of the injustice their government carries out.

Not that we're all that much different here in the U.S., what with all the activity our government's been up to of late around the world.

And while many of us hope beyond hope that Sharon's moving to the "center" may actually make Palestinians' lives a little better as a result, it's anyone's guess whether that's going to be the case.

Monday, December 05, 2005

God sure has it in for us

Seymour Hersch has a disturbing piece in this week's New Yorker on where the U.S. may be headed in Iraq and what kind of decisions may be likely in the relatively near future. And you're quite lucky that the article is accessible on the rather comically named securingamerica.com. Well, big thanks to them--it's definitely worth a read.

Completely baffling as always is George Bush's take on things. Hersh writes,

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow-Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush's closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here" to deal with the war on terror. The President's belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that "he's the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

All I can say is, "Hey, God, think you could maybe help us out a little here?"

Ship 'em off and torture

Over in Europe, Condoleezza Rice has been attempting to defend the indefensible--that shipping terror suspects off to prisons in remote countries has nothing to do with making it easier to commit human rights abuses which would be harder to get away with in the U.S. Gosh, she's hardly even trying to defend it; like the rest of the administration, she acts as if it's pretty much nobody's business and that she doesn't need to waste her time answering any questions on the subject.

Here's a bit from the Guardian:

"The US does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances," [Rice] said.

Critics say that depends on one's definition of torture. During the last four years, they say the Bush administration has adopted an exceedingly narrow definition of torture, allowing interrogators to use a variety of harsh techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, where suspects are strapped to a board and plunged into water.

"The reason she is able to say that the United States does not engage in torture is that the administration has redefined torture to exclude any technique that they use," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. "What makes this awkward for Secretary Rice is that the state department has continued to condemn as torture techniques such as waterboarding when they are used by other countries - in other words the very techniques the CIA has used against these high level detainees."

Well I, for one, am glad to know that we definitely don't engage in "torture." That would have been so embarrassing. Do you believe her, too? Here are a few other opinions on the subject:

"The Questions Condoleezza Must Answer," The Independent

"A Weak Defense," The Washington Post

Weekend shoot

I'm almost recovered from this weekend's shoot. Yesterday Samer and Ghassan dialogued on the erosion of freedoms and democratic values in the U.S., and I think we managed to get some pretty good footage. Somehow we also managed to put the Christmas tree up in between it all. Today's pretty crazy, so I'm just going to pop up a few pictures and run.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Israelis have landed in northern Iraq

Yesterday, Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Israeli firms are involved in commercial and military training activities in Kurdish areas in Iraq.

Hmm. Very interesting.

An article in the Guardian states that

. . . Israelis are regularly seen in the Kurdish towns of northern Iraq, working as security guards and trainers. It is not clear whether they work for international security firms or are doing independent work.

Israelis representing private firms were seen looking for opportunities at a recent trade fair in Irbil. Yesterday's report also stated that Israeli companies had set up a base in a remote area of Kurdistan, using it for weapons and anti-terrorism training and bringing in "dozens of motorcycles, sniffer dogs, Kalashnikov-upgrading devices, flak jackets, uniforms and helmets, all Israeli-made". It claims Israelis pose as agricultural and engineering experts.

Ok, I don't want to gratuitously get a jibe in at Israel, but the whole situation seems pretty darn sketchy. I mean, what are they doing posing as agricultural and engineering experts? Come on. And last I heard, and as the Guardian article reaffirms, Israel and Iraq are still "at war."


It's just a little too strange that Israel appears to have this policy of involvement while at the same time it makes absolutely no effort to make itself more likeable regionally. Why it doesn't is the gajillion-dollar question that weighs on the minds of pretty much everyone I ever met in the Middle East.

No template in Explorer!

Does anyone know why my template--personal profile, links, index, etc.--doesn't show up in Internet Explorer? I've been using Firefox and people are telling me my template is no longer visible. Everything looks fine on Firefox, and I've republished the entire blog a time or two to no avail. If anyone can help, please do.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Portraying the Arab World

Ghida's copy of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits had been sitting on my bedside table for nearly a month before I finally read it. She had picked it up the night we went to Laila Lalami's reading down at Elliot Bay and had promptly gone home and read the whole thing. It was definitely small enough to do so. I wasn't sure, though, that it was on the top of my reading list. The short bit I'd heard at the reading didn't jump out at me much, and now that I think about it, I suppose I was wary of reading yet another book set in the Middle East that just didn't really ring true.

Not that there was any reason why Laila's book should be problematic, really, but I guess I just wasn't sufficiently turned on. I did, though, get around to reading it the other night and found it surprisingly enjoyable. Surprisingly, I say, because most of the books set in the Middle East I have read have a sort of foreignness about them that make even me--who lived in the Arab World for a pretty long time--feel as if the narrative is occurring on an idealized, "story" planet that just doesn't exist.

Lalami's book, though, certainly didn't give me that sense. I sometimes felt like her writing was a bit too economical, but what I think is unique about the book is that the subject matter is treated in a modern, matter of fact, way. The characters aren't romanticized, and the book, thankfully, stays away from the typical descriptive detours that all too often fill up many of the novels I've read that are set in the Middle East.

There's something to be said for modernity. I'm not sure that's the right word, exactly, but I believe it's vital that people in the West also see more diverse portrayals of the Arab World--not just the old fart guys sitting on the sidewalk smoking their argilehs and somber, hijab-clad women hanging out with the kids. Most places I've been to in the Middle East have a vibrant and youthful artistic culture and lots of cool stuff going on. Then there's the large proportion of the population in many of these countries whose values are next to indistinguishable from your average middle-class American. Well, aside from the fact that they're generally much more politically astute. . .

I love that Lalami includes the guy who hangs out drinking his beer while watching football (oh my god, he's Muslim?!) and his daughter Noura with her rock music and tight little t-shirts. Then there's Lahcen, whose homosexuality is a subject the author chooses to include and also better portray his humanness. There are a number of little examples like this that go a long way to showing a different side of life way over there in the Middle East.

The film "Paradise Now," which Samer and I saw last week and really enjoyed, also does a pretty good job at showing life in the Arab World as a little bit different than what most of us here in the U.S. expect. The two main characters, who are would-be suicide bombers, definitely don't fit the standard stereotype. They're just regular guys--not particularly religious, and certainly not fanatics. The film also does a nice job of showing the day-to-day insidiousness of the Israeli occupation and how it affects regular Palestinians just going about their business.

What it doesn't do, though, is make the West Bank seem a little less foreign. Don't get me wrong--I really liked the movie and don't want to detract from it at all. However, I found myself thinking after we left and were later discussing it that the world portrayed in the film, with its simplified subtitles and stark images, just isn't something most people here can relate to. Sure, it's very easy to empathize with the characters, but I wonder if that's enough. Enough, in that, how do we get the rest of the world to care about what's really going on in the Middle East?

This is a question that often preoccupies me. In the films I've been working on, I've been portraying Americans with a special connection to the Arab World as well as more Westernized, urban Jordanians. That's what feels right to me right now, and I think it's because I like that they speak the same language of those Americans I want my films to reach. They conceptualize their thoughts in a similar manner and are easier for most Americans to relate to. I realize that this approach also has a number of dilemmas, but somehow I'm hoping that the people I focus on are able to send a message that those static images we typically see on t.v. cannot.