DAY 115: Both Sides Now

December 30th, 2014 § 0 comments

In a way, this is the moment that this blog has been waiting for all its short life: the chance to insert a news item celebrating the victory of  Palestinian teenage girls in mental arithmetic. (Think Lois Lane files a story in which Superman saves the word for a  feminist agenda.) Specifically: ‘A 14-year-old Palestinian girl won first place in an international competition for intelligence after solving 240 math problems in six minutes. Some 3,000 participants from more than 15 countries took part in the competition. Dania Husni al-Jaabari from Hebron won first place in The Mental-Arithmetic International Competition in Singapore. Ahmad Ayman Nashwiyeh, 8, also from Hebron, came in second place as he solved 180 problems in six minutes.


Dania and Ahmad joined a mental-arithmetic program in Hebron two years ago where students practiced using a two-hand abacus mental-arithmetic teaching system; the system depends on using the fingers of the left and right hands to compute simultaneously, creating stimulation in both the left and right sides of the brain.’ It seems amazing; but I’ve probably gone on too much about Hebron in the past in terms of both its educational achievements and its everyday desperate environment. What could surprise one, apart from adapting both hemispheres to beat all comers at mental arithmetic?

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Students at Hebron University demonstrating   Street in Hebron filled with rubbish


Palestinian girl gets her backpack searched by an Israeli soldier on her way back from school while crossing Checkpoint 56 in Hebron (Dec. 29th 2014).

In a recent film – one of those narratives of life under occupation – the narrator, visiting Hebron/El-Khalil asks some children what they think about life there. “It’s OK” says a girl of 8 who probably has no idea that life elsewhere is any different. “It’s a complete shithole” says a boy of 12, who may have heard word from the outside. What do Dania and Ahmad think?

At the Movies

If I were asked what would be the essential ingredients of a great film, I suppose they’d have to include Tilda Swinton and Palestine. So I was overjoyed to find that Friendship’s Death by Peter Wollen was showing in the BFI’s science fiction season; and  I hastened along. (The Southbank becomes more insanely complicated every day, it’s full of pointless restaurants, none of its signs tell you where you want to go, and none of its denizens know where the NFT is, usually confusing it with the NT.) What a movie! How did I miss it in 1987?


Tilda is a robot sent to MIT to deliver the usual message warning the humans they are going to destroy themselves; by a standard malfunction she ends up in Amman in 1970 in Black September, and wears a succession of delicious Eastern robes looking robotic. She can’t bear the cruelty of cynical journo Bill Paterson as he bangs away at his poor typewriter, and fearlessly hangs around near the window in the firing line while he tries to shut himself in.

Peter, how sorry I am that I didn’t see more of you when I had the chance.

Poetry - well, this by Fadwa Tuqan is appropriate (I haven’t used it yet have I? I do need a filing system).

The Deluge and the Tree
When the hurricane swirled and spread its deluge
of dark evil
onto the good green land
“They” gloated. The western skies
reverberated with joyous accounts:
“The Tree has fallen!
The great trunk is smashed! The hurricane
leaves no life in the Tree!”
Had the Tree really fallen?
Never! Not with our red streams flowing forever,
not while the wine of our torn limbs
feed the thirsty roots,
Arab roots alive
tunneling deep, deep, into the land!
When the Tree rises up, the branches
shall flourish green and fresh in the sun
the laughter of the Tree shall leaf
beneath the sun
and birds shall return
Undoubtedly, the birds shall return.
The birds shall return
-translated by Naomi Shihab Nye with the help of Salma Khadra Jayyusi


It seems right, since Friendship asks for it in the movie referred to above, to play  Bird’s ‘Ornithology’. I don’t know which of the fifteen takes available finds favour among the cognoscenti; here‘s one.

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