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Cristina Violante
Cristina Violante
Cristina Violante is a recent college graduate who has lived in both Israel and Palestine.

On the Eve of Operation Pillar of Defense, Some Thoughts on Nonviolence


by: on November 21st, 2012 | 1 Comment »

I am sure that I am not the only one whose heart is heavy during these days. Waking up to read the news, that civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli, have been killed, including children, and that Operation Pillar of Defense will most likely commence, as rockets and bombing continue in both directions, feels like a nightmare. Maybe I have not in fact woken up at all.

IDF Soldiers at the Gaza border. Image by forklift.

I first lived in Israel while studying abroad in fall of 2009, only a number of months after Operation Cast Lead. Once on break, I went with a friend to vacation for a few days in Sinai, near Sharm al-Sheikh, a very popular place for Israeli tourists. We met some guys there who had just been discharged from their IDF service, and were there to relax on the beach and enjoy their new found freedom.

They had a lot of glow sticks with them, and as we hung out we sort of jokingly played with them and passed them around. The glow sticks, they then explained after a while, were from Gaza. As they spoke, I started to put the pieces together, and realized they had been on the ground there during Cast Lead. They had stolen these glow sticks from their army unit after the fact, but the main purpose of them had been to provide light after they cut off electric power to the strip, so that they could continue their operation unhindered.

As someone who had grown up far from the realities of war, (my father is a Vietnam veteran, but even that feels far away), I was astonished by the casualness with which they joked about it all. I did my best to hide my shock from the group, but could not help but feel bewildered by the levity of the situation.

I am not proud of this story. I am neither proud of my naïve silence, nor am I attempting to distinguish myself as morally different from or superior to these veterans.

I tell the story because, now, as we stand on the brink of Cast Lead II, I am reminded of the danger of being overly desensitized to the sufferings of war. The world now sees a cycle of violence that shows only signs of acceleration and growth, not prospects of peace and reconciliation. It makes me sick to think that this is happening all over again.


To Be Born Without a Country


by: on August 14th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Olympic Flags by SouthEastern Star

The Olympics are always an exciting time. As the paragon of athletics on the international level, it allows a unique arena for patriotism and pride. It is easy to enjoy watching your countrymen and women compete, performing seemingly impossible tasks. It is even mildly suspenseful; will she land that dismount? Will we win more medals than China? For a few days, the conflicts and enmities of our world seem farther from sight. There is something idyllic and heartwarming about seeing people from such a multitude of diverse places all compete on the same level. In the Olympics, everyone is equal.

But what I really cannot help but think of as I sit and watch team USA is how much I take for granted, and how truly lucky I am to have been born within the borders of a country. To have been born in any country at all is a gift, let alone in one like America. While I am by no means an American exceptionalist — I know that neither my country, nor any country is above any moral standard — I have traveled enough to appreciate the luxury of being born in a country with the economic infrastructure required to create genuine opportunity for its people. In America, I have the possibility of realizing my greatest dreams and aspirations. I may be a doctor, a butcher, a software engineer, a graphic designer; my only limits are those I place on myself.

What does it mean to be born without a country? It is no abstract thought experiment. I lived for six and a half months in the Palestinian territories — areas of land under such ambiguous authority, whose future remains contentious and largely open ended. What is more is that the future of the area, and determining of governance will most likely not be determined by the people who live there. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank hang in a gray area, a tricky in between.


Mosque in Tennessee Continues Two-Year Legal Battle


by: on July 27th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

Ramadan is one of the holiest times of year for Muslims. Credit: Creative Commons/Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard.

A story that has gained relatively little attention from the press is that of a mosque in Tennessee that is undergoing a now two-year legal battle. Local residents of Rutherford County initially filed a lawsuit against the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in 2010 during its construction, citing, among other things, that Islam is not a real religion and that the mosque users are attempting to overthrow the US Constitution with shariah law. In addition to not being able to open its doors, the mosque has suffered arson and vandalism, including bomb threats from the surrounding community.

Earlier this month, a local judge barred the government from issuing an occupancy permit for the mosque. US District Judge Todd Campbell reversed the decision last week, giving the center a green light for inspections and hopefully, ultimately a certificate for occupancy.

This two year extravaganza has prompted the US Department of Justice to sue Rutherford County for violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, acts that serve to protect against such religious discrimination. They claim that the local authority has set the mosque to a higher standard than would be used for other such religious institutions or places of worship. Simultaneously, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro itself has also filed a lawsuit against the county, and is being represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.


Was Yasser Arafat Assassinated? A Controversial Legacy


by: on July 14th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Eight years after the passing of Yasser Arafat, new speculations have arisen concerning the previously mysterious circumstances of his death. Tests from his clothing indicate unusually high levels of plutonium, giving rise to accusations of poisoning. Authorization has been given from his family and the Palestinian Authority for an autopsy of his remains and full investigation.


Yasser Arafat's tombstone in Ramallah has become a national symbol for Palestinians. Credit: Creative Commons/Tristam Sparks.

The charge of homicide carries several implications, perhaps the greatest of which is, with so many fingers to point and people to blame, how will this hinder any possibility of mutual trust between Israelis and Palestinians? If it becomes apparent eight years on that Arafat was assassinated, one can only imagine where the peace process will lead.

Cause of death aside, Arafat remains a controversial figure of modern history, and an excellent example of the power and enigma of political legacy. Unquestionably, Arafat holds a unique place in the consciousness of many Palestinians. While recently living in the West Bank, I heard his nickname, Abu Ammar, referenced at least as often and with a greater degree of reverence than any living Palestinian representative such as Abbas.