Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yalla Peace: Bikinis versus burkas

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Yalla Peace: Bikinis versus burkas

This debate in the Muslim world, prompted by Lebanese-American Rima Fakih’s win of the Miss USA title, is hotter than the two-state vs. one-state debka.

Rima Fakih, the new Miss USA, symbolizes everything that’s wrong with the Middle East. But not in the way you might think. The problems her victory raises are not about herself, but rather about the region’s moral hypocrites.

I had never heard of Fakih until she won the Miss USA title last week when she beat out a gaggle of blonde, blue-eyed descendants of Vikings. Remember, it was the Vikings who first discovered America and established forever the image of blonde hair and blue eyes as the de facto essence of American beauty. And in America, where perception is reality, beauty and image determines one’s success. Not truth. Not justice.

Rima Fakih may have changed all that. A Lebanese-American girl from a Shi’ite family, Rima has dark eyes and jet black hair. She is the first American-Arab to slip through the nation’s color standard (and break through anti-Arab racism) to re-set the definition of American beauty.

And that new definition of American beauty could help change America’s definition of peace and justice, too, where perception is often more important than truth, fairness or the law.

While some scoff at the idea of beauty pageants, physical appearance is the first level of human recognition and is the focus at the beginning of relationships. How you are perceived sets the tone for future relations with others. It may be superficial, but it is reality.

THE SELECTION of Fakih as the symbol of American beauty prompted various responses. For some, Rima’s win simply said “not all Arabs are bad.”

In fact, I’d add, some are pretty hot.

To others, including right-wing Israelis and Arab religious extremists, she symbolizes a moral corruption that threatens all they hold sacred. Some Israelis denounced her as a Hizbullah Mata Hari. The Arab religious fanatics denounced her as excessively immodest and a threat to all they hold sacred. The fact that she doesn’t wear a burka has them all running to their holy books.

The Israeli criticism is political, and not unexpected.

The more interesting debate, however, is the one taking place among Arabs. It surrounds the biblical question: “What’s better, if thou wearest a bikini, or if thou submits to a full burka?”

The bikini versus the burka debate is hotter than the two-state versus one-state debka the Arabs are dancing.

Fakih wears bikinis and believes in things that are banned in many Arab countries, things like civil rights and free speech. Worse, though, to them is the fact that she is a woman asserting her rights and speaking her mind (and body).

They hate beauty unless they can “own it.” So they are not too happy that she has been gyrating her derriere against a pole. No, not against a person of Polish descent, but against a metal pole used at strip clubs by dancers who sometimes entertain rich sheikhs and wealthy Israeli land developers at the bars and casinos of Las Vegas and Monaco.

Gyration of any part of the human body is considered haram, or a sin in Arab culture. It’s taken Arab sheikhs hours on hours of watching those sinful practices to come to that conclusion.

BUT I think if a woman wants to wear a burka and erase her identity just to make her husband and every male member of her family, village and country happy, that’s her choice. It may be a poor choice, but it’s hers nonetheless. My guess is that in most cases, it isn’t a choice at all but an imposition by the legions of closed-minded hypocrites among the Middle East’s moral majority.

Yet, if wearing a burka is a choice, then why isn’t wearing a bikini also a choice?

It just might be the kind of Middle East debate that could bring new life to the paralyzed Arab League, which has been sidelined by its failure to do anything about Palestinian rights in Israel or Arab rights in the rest of the world.

Debate over Rima Fakih might launch a new revolution prompting Arab women to throw off their burkas, kick off their sandals, and do the hootchie cootchie – which was made famous at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. That was the last time the West fell in love with the image of an Arab sheikh riding across the desert sands on a white stallion.

It was there that Arabs discovered that people from the West would pay anything for the things they want. Exorbitant prices for “Holy Land” olive-wood junk. Don’t blame the Arabs for having learned from the West that they shouldn’t give their oil away.

Rima Fakih is beautiful. Rima Fakih is hot. She could be my fourth wife any day. If the Arabs were smart, they would replace their failed leadership with Rima Fakih and let her negotiate Middle East peace. She would do far better than we have so far.

Imagine how different negotiations with Ehud Barak might have ended in 2000 had Rima Fakih been at the negotiating table instead of Yasser Arafat. She’d have blinked her long eyelashes and Barak would have surrendered, offering to share Jerusalem and even work out a fair deal over the Palestinian refugees.

Who knows? The conversation might also have turned toward Barak’s collection of dresses.

We know what happened when Arafat blinked.

The writer is an award-winning Palestinian-American columnist.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chicago Reader profiles Ray Hanania's media network

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Check out the Chicago Reader's profile of Ray Hanania's media network ...

Click HERE to read the feature by columnist Michael Miner

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

We can’t make peace but we can sure make up terms

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We can’t make peace but we can sure make up terms

An Israeli-Palestinian phrasebook could be made for all the terms coined over the years: Proximity talks, The road map for peace; Martyrdom operation.

Palestinians and Israelis haven’t been able to come up with a workable peace plan, but they can sure make up original terms. In fact, a complete new dictionary can be filled with such phrases and words created by both sides up over the years: The road map for peace; Targeted killing; Righteous resistance; Martyrdom operation.

More recently, someone invented the term “proximity talks.”

It’s a term I had never heard before, maybe because I was never in proximity to the person who might have said it. But then, isn’t that the point of having peace discussions based on “proximity”? What exactly do proximity talks mean?

Well, for starters, it means not talking to each other, which probably makes both sides happy. It does allow them to talk to everyone else.

Pure genius, if the intent is to pretend peace talks are taking place, make President Barack “The Muslim” Obama look good and, well, do nothing.

I thought they jumped too quickly to the term proximity talks. Palestinians and Israelis could have initiated proximity talks in stages.

They could have had the “procrastination talks,” where each side promises to discuss peace, but never actually makes it to the negotiating table. Then, they could have moved from procrastination talks to the next stage, “approximation talks.” Maybe the two sides could have sat in the same room, but instead of talking, they do that thing people in the Middle East are known for – wiggling their outstretched hands at each other and making faces.

Then, from approximation talks they could have easily moved right into the proximity talks where they talk “at” each other, not “to” each other. It only works if you don’t listen to what the other side is saying, which is what Palestinians and Israelis are basically good at doing.

They could do this over the course of say, five more years, and from proximity talks they could then move to something more substantive, like “virtual reality” peace talks where Twitter and Facebook would play a leading role, and where words like “de-friend” and “un-follow” would be common.

They can do the whole computer e-mail dialogue and then spam each other with “flame wars.”

Maybe Obama can ask Dennis Ross to draw a map using invisible ink and offer it to the Palestinians, pretending it is an Israeli offer. And the Palestinians can then insist that they first have a cup of tea before engaging in anything of substance. The Palestinians might demand that the Israelis meet them at the negotiating table at sundown on a Friday night, for example. We can call those talks the “Shabbat shuffle discussions.”

AND WHEN it all collapses, they can start all over again at step one, with recycled procrastination talks. If that doesn’t work, Palestinians can promise to “recognize” Israel – in a police lineup, of course. Israelis can announce they are “freezing” settlement construction, not by suspending the construction of new housing units in the West Bank, but by installing high-powered air conditioners in the homes of settlers and forcing them to bundle up to stay warm.

Of course, the Israeli plan would require the purchase of huge amounts of air conditioners, paid for by American taxpayers, leaving Palestinians to wonder how come they can’t come up with ideas that require large donations from the Americans, too.

“Proximity” doesn’t mean that you have to hit your mark, of course. It only means that you get close. Close to peace, not actually getting there. That way, no one is disappointed and everyone could say “I told you so.” Everyone knows, though, that “close” only counts in horseshoes, a game most Israelis and Palestinians don’t play anyway. It doesn’t count in peace, as we have seen over the past 17 years of dead end talks.

Dead end. That’s another one of those road map terms. We could call them cul-de-sacs instead of dead ends if we wanted to put a positive spin on failure. No one likes to live on a dead end street, but people do like to live in cul-de-sacs.

I’m sure by now you are scratching your yarmulke or your keffiyeh wondering where this is all leading, or even better, what the heck am I talking about? Don’t worry.

That’s the brilliance of proximity talks, which is what this column has been all about anyway. It doesn’t take you anywhere at all, but you think have been there when you are done.

The author was recently awarded the Sigma Delta Chi national award for column writing by the Society of Professional Journalists. He can be reached at

Sunday, May 16, 2010

American Arab will bring Arab culture to Miss Universe Contest

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American Arab will bring Arab culture to Miss Universe Contest
By Ray Hanania

For years, Arabs have wondered why more Arab countries have not participated in the Miss Universe competition showcasing the beauty of the Arab Woman.

There are 22 Arab countries yet only two had the courage (or pride in their women) to field entrants in last year’s Miss Universe Contest, which was held in the Bahamas, where string bikinis replace car bombs and women are truly free.

The only two Arab countries that entered contestants were Egypt and Lebanon. But next year, assuming things don’t improve and the religious extremists shout down the secular moderates again, we will have at least three. For the first time in American history, an American Arab of Lebanese heritage will represent the United States in the 2010 Miss Universe Competition.

Rima Fakih of Dearborn, Michigan, was crowned the 2010 Miss USA in one of the country’s top beauty pageants. Miss. Fakih was selected at the annual competition hosted by Donald Trump at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Born in 1986 and only 24 years old, Miss Fakih began her rise to international stardom when she won the 2009 Miss Michigan competition last September.

For me as an American Arab, I am so proud to see that for the first time in American history, a contestant of Arab heritage has won.

Although there are many in the Arab World who object to the competition as violating religiously imposed excesses of modesty on women, Miss Fakih has helped to break the glass ceiling showing the world that Arab beauty is something we should be proud of.

Why is it that a woman in the Arab World has the “right” to make the “choice” to wear a Berqa and face veil (niqab) thereby erasing her physical identity in public, but that same Arab woman does not have the right to wear a bikini in public? I think the Bikini is the symbol of true freedom and the berqa is the sign of the modern day oppression of the Arab woman.

Rima Fakih’s victory Sunday night will help break through that barrier.

It’s one of the hypocrisies that plagues the Arab World, brought on by the religious fanatics, the lowest common denominator in the Middle East. And instead of standing up to it, secular Muslims and Christian Arabs – let’s just call them “Arabs” – are doing nothing to stop this growing oppression.

Miss Fakih was not just about her natural beauty, however. She was smart, intelligent and quick in answering tough questions from the judges. She had planned to enter law school following the Michigan competition, but now her victory in Las Vegas means she stands to compete and possibly win the international competition.

In the secular world, these competitions can help change how the world’s people view people of other races. And for far too long, Arabs have been pushed aside by oppressive restrictions and pejorative attacks.

But Rima Fakih of Michigan will help, as an American Arab, to change how the world views our people and our culture.

She is going to become an amazing ambassador of goodwill championing many causes that touch women of all races, ethnicity and religions. She has vowed to take on issues including raising public awareness of breast and ovarian cancer, sicknesses that have taken the lives of far too many women in this world.

She also helps to put the spotlight on the positive side of the American Arab community, which oftentimes only comes to the front pages of America’s mainstream media during firestorms of negative events and news such as in conflict, terrorism and political confrontation.

America is a nation driven by images, communications that range from movies to the mainstream news media, and having advocates stand at the forefront of American public discourse.

It’s only one of many doors that has been opened. But one day, when all of the door sin America and the West are pushed open, the West and especially the American people might come to better know the real spirit of Arab culture through individuals like Rima Fakih.

I am proud of Rima Fakih but I know that in her achievement, she will face the usual criticism from the extremist corners of the Arab World who are blinded by anger discourse.

We need to support her and encourage her and cheer her on because winning the Miss Universe Contests can only serve to shatter the glass ceiling and add to the movement of empowerment for women of Arab culture in the Arab World and in the West.

Mabruk Rima! We are so proud of your achievement.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

“Jerusalem Day” is celebration for Israel and tragedy for everyone else

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“Jerusalem Day” is celebration for Israel and tragedy for everyone else
By Ray Hanania

Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day today, declaring that when East Jerusalem was captured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, it suddenly became an open city.

Of course, that is more Israeli fiction. They’re so good at it.

In the course of capturing Jerusalem and making it open for Jews and Israelis, the Israeli military closed Jerusalem to more than 95 percent of the Arab World.

East Jerusalem was “closed” by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 to pro-Israel activists and any Jewish visitor who carried a stamp in their passport from Israel, but it was open for everyone else.

Of course, the Israelis, wanting to make their point, insisted that the city was closed to “Jews” because of anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish hatred, anti-Israeli hatred and anti-Israel politics.

Well, there was a conflict taking place. And Jordan had every right to prevent Jews from Israel and pro-Israel activists from entering East Jerusalem. They were merely replicating the very policy that Israel implemented in 1948 to ban non-Jews from entering West Jerusalem.

Oh yes, people forget. Israel also captured West Jerusalem in 1947, a year before the state was established. Jerusalem was supposed to be an International City, but Israel refused to accept the partition plan the way it was laid out. Their propaganda was good, though, and they argued they supported the partition, all the while fighting to take as much of the land as possible.

In addition tot aking West Jerusalem in 1948, Israel also took 10 major cities that were supposedly to be located in the phony United Nation’s Partition Plan, a plan that served only to be the front for Israel’s army’s goal of capturing as much of Palestine as possible.

But Israelis are master propagandists and they never spoke about how West Jerusalem was cleansed of Palestinian homeowners. In fact, go through West Jerusalem today and Israelis who live there openly speak about how they live in an “old Arab home.”

Oh yea, more fiction. The Arabs simply left West Jerusalem believing they would be marching back in with the victorious Arab armies, which by the way, never tried to enter the conflict until Israel was declared a state unilaterally on May 14, 1948, a year later.

So West Jerusalem has been a closed city ever since by Israel to 95 percent of visitors from the Arab World, and to Christians and Muslims or Arab and especially Palestinian heritage.

Israel allows some Palestinians to enter West Jerusalem, as long as they have either an accepted foreign passport from outside of the Arab World and second are not pro-Arab activists. Anyone who had a passport with a stamp from Egypt, Jordan and Syria were also specifically banned from entering not only West Jerusalem but Israel.

Imagine. That’s exactly what Jordan did. Jordan implemented the exact same policy and prevented anyone with an Israeli passport or a stamp on their passport from Israel or who was identified as being a pro-Israel activist from entering East Jerusalem.

And then in June 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem and the name was changed to “east Jerusalem” with a lower case “E” so as not to designate that part of the city to be anything different from the “west Jerusalem” which was captured by military force in 1947, 21 years before.

Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, are routinely banned from entering Jerusalem under Israeli control. They ban travelers who have certain stamps from certain countries in their passports. They ban activists identified as pro-Palestinian or pro-Arab. They ban almost every Arab from entering Jerusalem.

When I performed comedy with the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour in 2007, Palestinian journalists were not permitted by the Israeli government to enter Jerusalem to see my show. In fact, I was allowed to enter because I had an American passport and because I was not considered an anti-Israel Palestinian activist. I was still humiliated a few times at the border. But Israelis, you know how funny they are? They just shrug their shoulders and blame it on “those tough border guards who have to be tough to protect us from those Arab terrorists.”

So while Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day this week, don’t for one minute believe that Jerusalem is an open city just because Israelis who have placed blinders on their faces so they don’t see the ugly truth insist it is so.

One of the key components of a lasting peace is that both sides recognize what they have and are doing to the other. And until Israelis learn to share the blame, there won’t be much peace at all. Just more conflict.

Jerusalem is a closed city. Christians and Muslims who are Arab and especially Palestinian are banned from entering Jerusalem. The only ones you will see there are those who lived there and haven’t been evicted yet by Israel’s extremist government.

But then, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is working on that little loop hole, isn’t he?

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and writer. He can be reached at

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Yalla Peace: Who supports ‘Palestinian development’?

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Yalla Peace: Who supports ‘Palestinian development’?

For five years I have tried my best to gain control of my family’s land near what is now Gilo. All I’ve been getting is the runaround.

Silvan Shalom is the vice prime minister of Israel and minister for regional development. He wrote a column last week that appeared in a local paper in Chicago titled “Israel, striving to be a good neighbor.” It was an upbeat column, intended, I think, more for American consumption than to reinforce confidence among the Palestinians. But I did read it. And I was inspired by his words and his promised goal to “support Palestinian development.”

Maybe I am a sucker for politicians who have a habit of saying inspiring and great things, but doing something different. I’ve been a journalist for 35 years, so that makes me very cynical. Then again, maybe I always just want to believe that there is something far better behind the ugly headlines of conflict and continued turmoil that plagues Palestinian-Israeli relations.

There are things about Shalom that make me, at least as an Arab, believe he is genuine. He is a Jewish Arab born in Tunisia who immigrated to Israel as a one year old in 1959. About that time, my dad was able to get his brothers and sisters out of a refugee camp in Jordan and resettled in Chicago near by. I was seven at the time.

But Shalom is also a journalist, and despite what I know is a deep-seated bias in the mainstream media against Arabs, I think sometimes Israeli journalists are more open to see the “other side.”

So, maybe Shalom does “care” about us Palestinians.

AND IT is in that spirit that I am asking Minister Shalom to step in to my life and into the issue of my family’s land. It is located right in the middle of that spirit of cooperation that Shalom spoke about in his column, about how he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were working hard to improve relations with the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries by “increasing the level of economic cooperation.”

It would go a long way, Minister Shalom, if you would insure that no one messes with my family’s land, which has been handed down to me as the official representative of the “Hanania Palestinian people.”

My mother’s cousins on my grandmother’s side purchased about 34 dunams of land that sits in one of the valleys in Gilo that face Malha and the stadium. The land belongs to my cousins, the Tarud family. It is right around the mountain bend from a little Muslim village called Sharafat. It’s not too far away from the land owned by the Darweesh family.

For years, one of the family members at Sharafat watched over our land, harvesting the olives and other vegetables and fruits as a trade-off for his service. Three generations have passed. The caretaker lived in a small home that was on the side of the land, but that was torn down by Israeli soldiers sometime in the 1970s. They sealed the water well that was nearby, too. (It wasn’t a great gesture of wanting to work together, by the way. But, I guess, stuff happens.) The land has more than 100 olive trees and Zarzour berries. I’ve been to it several times in the past few years, as my cousins have passed away, leaving the land’s ownership in the hands of one last cousin, who placed the power of attorney in my hands.

For five years I have tried my best to gain control of my family’s land. I have all of the original papers and even the sales document stamped by the Ottoman government, and registered in Bethlehem, where my mother’s family is from.

And for five years, all I have been given is the runaround. “We don’t ‘steal’ anyone’s land,” I have been told by countless Israeli officials who defend the expansion of settlements like Gilo, which was once a security settlement and is a prestigious and “old” neighborhood these days.

PALESTINIANS HAVE not been that helpful, either. They keep threatening me that I “must not sell the land to the Jews.” And everyone wants a piece of it to help me protect it.

I brought it to an Israeli realtor to put it on the market to see what I can get from Palestinians or Israelis. They found one potential buyer, “Yossi,” who offered a paltry $600,000 through a prominent law firm on King George Avenue.

But Yossi never followed through. The deal was never consummated. I don’t trust too many people anymore. I ignore the threats from Palestinians and the hypocritical advice I get from other Arabs who tell me, “Don’t do anything. We’ll get it all back one day.”

The biggest problem, though, is the Israelis, Every trip to an Israeli office has ended in a bad experience. Why should they help me when maybe, if they wait long enough, they can just take it from me. Who am I to complain?

But that would contradict the spirit of what Minister Silvan Shalom wrote about in his glowing column on how much Israel’s government wants to help Palestinians through cooperative development.

Okay, Minister Shalom. Here’s my deal: You develop the land for me. I want to create a peace oasis where Palestinians and Israelis can come together to learn about cooperation. Maybe they can build a business there run by both sides. Maybe we can build a theater there where Israelis and Palestinians can creatively work out their conflicting narratives through writing, comedy, stage plays and sometimes just sharing a cup of coffee.

Yea, that’s it. Maybe we build a big coffee shop that caters to both sides so that Palestinians and Israelis can come together. Or, maybe it’s all just a bunch of baloney – kosher or halal, who cares.

And it’s all just talk. I’d like to believe there are some good Israelis out there who really do care about “Palestinian development,” and maybe even do the right thing.

Imagine, Palestinians and Israelis sharing a table in a disputed region not too far from Jerusalem to the north. Sharing a finjan kahwah and even having their futures read from the grinds at the bottom of the porcelain cup.

My mother, bless her heart, read my fortune once when I was young. And she said to me, “One day, you’ll be at the forefront of peace.” I’m here. Just sometimes, it feels a little lonely.

Named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media, the writer is a Palestinian-American columnist and peace activist. He can be reached at