Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sweet talk at Annapolis

Published by the Omaha world-Herald

Sweet talk at Annapolis

By: Ali Alarabi

Although the speakers meeting in Annapolis were optimistic and almost encouraging in their speeches regarding bringing lasting peace to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, a peace, in the words of president Bush should usher the establishment of a viable Palestinian state side by side with Israel. President Bush speech, though was peppered with references to freedom of the Palestinian people and a “real” and “viable” Palestinian state, but in reality, however, Israel is making every effort to undermine the freedom of the Palestinian people and making the “reality and viability” of any future Palestinian state a virtual impossibility.

Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem in 1967, it had embarked on building illegal Jewish settlements on occupied lands, in itself a flagrant violation of international law, then populating those settlements with heavily armed Jewish militants, at the same time kept up pace to depopulate Palestinian cities from it residents through forced expulsions, economic hardship and military rule. Moving rapidly to change the nature of any possible future Palestinian state, Israel took over other arable lands and water resources from its Palestinians owners converting it to benefit illegal Jewish settlers.

Meanwhile the Israeli government is steadily with the building of the huge Spartan and medieval-looking wall, declared illegal by the International court, that is snaking around Palestinian towns and cities, galloping up Palestinian lands in its path and strangling Arab Jerusalem isolating it from the rest of Palestinian cities. Listening to president Bush in Annapolis, The most important aspect of his speech, however, was his wall-to-wall adaptation of the Israeli positions, as oppose to an independent American position in line with international laws and agreements, with regards to its settlement polices, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and the conversion of Israel from a supposed democratic country for all of its citizens, Christians Muslims and Jews alike into an exclusively Jewish state.

The idea of Israel as ” Jewish homeland” for the Jewish people” as asserted by president Bush during his opening speech is a serious issue with serious implications especially that this idea if it were to be made a reality, would make over one million Arab citizens of Israel, Christians and Muslims an instant foreigners in their own native country.

Bush also used the term ” unauthorized outposts” in his speech and not illegal settlements, reflecting his acceptance of the presence of those settlements; illegal under international law on the very land he envisions it to be a Palestinian state. This position not only contradicts the president’s own vision but it also represents a departure from the traditional American position of opposing those illegal settlements.

Ehud Olmert on the other hand exploited the Annapolis gathering to extend Israel’s hand to Arab countries by sweet-talking them to open consulates and trade offices and normalize relations, regardless of the status of its occupation or the establishment of Palestine state. This, however, is the real goal of Israeli politicians from this meeting.

Negotiating with the Palestinians has been dragging on since 1993, and it has amounted to neither a Palestinian state, nor the promised prosperity nor a foreseeable end of occupation, but rather it led to increase of illegal settlements, 11000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, building a Spartan wall, an adamant refusal to admit its responsibility for the creation of Palestinian refugees problem and a complete destruction of the Palestinian economy.

Israeli politicians envision a normal diplomatic and trade relations with Arab countries while Palestinians will be reduced to a state chopped up into disjointed pieces dependent on Israel for its survival.
The only real thing Israel is offering the Palestinians, at this point, is more negotiations that eventually will drag on forever. Meanwhile it seems that there is no end in sight for its illegal settlements expansion, or its refusal to end its occupation.

Mahmoud Abbas, perhaps the most unpopular Palestinian leader ever, has nothing to offer the Israelis that he did not offer before. The problem however is that Abbas has lost control of Gaza to his arch rival Hamas, and his West Bank fiefdom is ravaged by Israeli check-points and military positions preventing the movement of people in and out of their homes, which left its economy shattered. For the Palestinian people A solution that does not include all of pre-1967 borders, and a just solution for the refugees which will offer them the right to return to their homes would be a hard sell, if not impossible to accept.

(Ali Alarabi is Arab American writer and journalist, he can be reached at: Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate,

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The origins of Turkey

(president Bush pardons May)

Ever since President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving day an official national holiday in his Thanksgiving proclamation in 1863, and Americans have been celebrating the day that marks the original pilgrims who in 1621 celebrated their first Thanksgiving by cooking the Turkey Bird, a truly native American bird.
Yesterday, President George W. Bush, in line with American presidential tradition spared the lives of the National Turkey and pardoned May and her alternate Flower declaring ” May they live the rest of their lives in blissful gobbling”

But how did this huge and colorful bird we call Turkey, came to be known as “Turkey” which is actually the name of a country.

Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis wrote in the New York Review of Books in 2003 that the reason Americans or “westerners” named the exotic bird they encountered in the new world “Turkey” because for one it was a strange, exotic and unknown bird to them, and since the Ottoman Empire at the time, the 17th century, was an unfamiliar and exotic landscape for most westerners especially that the Ottoman “Turkish” Sultan was also exotic looking with his colorful turban and attire. So according to Lewis analysis, the Western pilgrims named the exotic unknown bird they encountered “Turkey” because Turkey also represented an exotic unfamiliar place to them.

In everyday American lexicon, I noticed that when someone calling another a “ Turkey” often times it is said in ridicule by drawing on the original strangeness and exotic looks of the bird when Europeans settlers in America encountered it.

Interestingly, however, the Turks in their country Turkey, do not call the Turkey Turkey” but rather “ Hindi” from “ Hind” which is India, so it is called the Indian Bird.

The reason is that the Turks thought the Bird was originated in India.

In Arabic the bird is called the Ethiopian bird “ Deek Habash” (Deek is rooster or bird) because Ethiopia was called Abyssinia and Habash is Arabic for Abyssinia. One reason could be because Arabs thought the bird-originated Ethiopia, and another reason, which I think is more plausible, has to do with the black-feathered body of the bird itself. Ethiopia is a black African country which is right a cross the red sea from Arabia proper, the term Habash/Habashi is used alternately as being from Habasha (Ethiopia) and black.

In Egyptian Arabic the bird is called “ Deek Roumi” which means a Roman/western/European Bird. In line with Bernard Lewis analysis, the Egyptians associated the bird with the westerners or even the Roman Emperor because the Roman Emperor, much like his Ottoman Sultan counterpart, sported a crown and colorful attire.
In Iraq, though the bird in general called “ Habash’ but there are other local names for it like “ Ali Sheish” more commonly used by the Shias. “ Ali Sheish” is perhaps a corruption of the words “ Ala Sheish” which perhaps has to do with the way it is cooked on charcoal, like a Sheish kabob.

(Charelamn,Holy Roman Emperor)

In Macedonian Slavic the bird is called simply Misir which means “the Egyptian bird” (Misir, for male bird and Miserika for female) the Arabic word for Egypt is “Misir”

But what do they call this worldly bird in India?

By now I thought India would have the answer to this chase, but to my utter surprise, I found that the bird does not exist in India.
And I also found that there is no word for it in any of the Indic languages I researched!

I asked few Indians I know about it who told me that there is no Turkey or a name for it in India.

However, the common theme I found when digging the archeological etymology of the word “Turkey” was that in most European languages,in several variations, the Bird is always called or referred to as an Indian Bird or the bird from India or from the Indian city Calcutta.

The reason for that I think it had to do with the Greeks who originally called it “Indike ornitha” which means Indian Bird, which influenced many other European tongues afterward.

Therefore In polish its called “Indyk” while in Russian its “Indjuk”
while in Portuguese the bird is called “Peru” named after the country Peru.

The Chinese call the bird hu ji, in Chinese Mandrine, which roughly translates into “fire chicken”, while in Japanese it is called shichimenchoo, which means “the Seven-sided bird”

The common theme of the naming this bird in all languages and cultures has to do with they way people see and perceive the bird itself. This is of course a character in language itself and the way we human invent words and meanings to correspond with our cultures,perceptions and imagination.