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Posts in category Middle East

Glenn Beck on Restoring Courage

Nikki Hodgson | Posted August 29th, 2011 | Middle East

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Israeli and U.S. flags wave as Jerusalem’s evening winds rustle through the crowds collecting to watch an enormous screen displaying Glenn Beck’s speech taking place in another part of the city.

Sitting in the back of the crowd with my notebook and pen, I exchange amused looks of disbelief with my colleagues scattered around the fringes of the audience as Mr. Beck launches into emotional speeches about justice, human rights, and responsibility. Over the span of an hour, he cries four times. My fellow journalists are lined up in the back, rolling their eyes and giving exasperated snorts of disbelief as Glenn Beck pats Israel on the back for its courage and faith. He highlights Rami Levy’s shop in the illegal Israeli settlement of Gush Etzion as a “model of coexistence” for allowing Palestinians to shop there and proclaims that “Israel is here because of God’s promise.”

Jerusalem Pro-Israel Rally
Jerusalem Pro-Israel Rally


He then attacks the international community for speaking out against Israeli violation of humanitarian law while letting countries like “North Korea, Libya and Syria” get away with oppression and the slaughter of their own people.

Using Mother Teresa and other humanitarian figures as examples, he says “They gave their life for human rights. They fought for justice and freedom.”

“We need people who tell the truth,” he shouts out to the waving flags and clapping hands. My colleagues and I stare at each other pointedly. It’s almost painful to hear. In a country where the truth is held down tightly, pinned to the ground by Israeli soldiers, we couldn’t agree more, though our opinions on where truth is to be found differ widely from Glenn Beck’s. We see the truth written on the walls of the separation barrier and scrawled onto the hearts of innocent civilians quietly passing their years in the confines of Israeli detention centers. We see it flickering in the eyes of the oppressed and in the activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens who transcribe it and are subsequently beleaguered and belittled.

In a country where journalists and activists tread carefully, often giving fake names and using cover stories, Glenn Beck’s words ring true. The context and meaning however do not. In a twist of bemused irony, much of his speech would be somewhat logical in the context of the Palestinian struggle. Flipping it around though and celebrating Israel for its fight to promote justice, freedom, faith, and “human responsibility” is simply laughable. The story Glenn Beck portrays is horrendously one-sided, naive, and in many instances…just plain wrong.

Jerusalem Pro-Israel Rally
Jerusalem Pro-Israel Rally

“Restoring courage,” he says. I couldn’t agree more. But let’s start with restoring the courage to challenge unjust policy, to promote social justice, to act with compassion, and to end occupation. Let’s start with restoring the courage to hear the truth so that those who have the gumption to tell it are not arrested, deported, or beaten.

“You were not born so someone could rule over you,” Beck shouts out to the Israelis.

Less than 10 kilometers away Palestinian civilians stand doggedly in a crowded line at one of over 700 checkpoints in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers look over their permits and IDs, scanning their fingerprints, before telling them whether they can go home or not. Beck wipes a tear away, his face contorted with emotion.

Waiting in Line
Waiting in Line

“Every single life is sacred.” The crowd–primarily American*–cheers. Repeated air strikes in Gaza have left thousands dead. Settler violence is increasing against civilians.

“What we value is under siege,” he continues, “Darkness is spreading. Far too many politicians are too willing to look the other way…It’s no wonder the children of the world are setting their streets on fire.” His hypocrisy reverberates against the rubble of demolished Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

While Beck applauds and commends Israel for its noble struggle, Palestinians are resolutely piecing their lives together, rebuilding homes demolished dozens of times and replanting olive trees uprooted for “security reasons.” Israel’s so-called “noble struggle” is only serving to fan the smoldering embers of a people burned too many times.


*It should be noted that Glenn Beck is not especially popular in Israel at the moment. Particularly after he lashed out at the Israeli tent protesters. The extreme right-wing appears to be fond of him, but from what I can gather, it seems most people wish that he would just stay home. I know the feeling.

An Exercise in Persistence: Palestinian and Israeli Activists Not Going Anywhere

Nikki Hodgson | Posted August 23rd, 2011 | Middle East

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Also posted on the AIC Website.

Standing on the hilltop we hear the goat herder before we see him. The voice of a young boy, 11 or 12 perhaps, whooping and hollering to urge his goats forward and onto the grazing land his family has been unable to access for the past 10 years. After a long battle, Israeli activists and lawyers have won the support of the Israeli High Court and these Palestinian shepherds are once more reunited with their land.

palestinian boy
palestinian boy

David, a lean Israeli activist with a cigarette perpetually dangling from his fingers, surveys the group of activists gathered in a Jerusalem parking lot. He has a slight smile as he explains today’s schedule. First we join the Palestinian shepherds to intervene in the event that settlers show up to harass them. Then we will help to clear away rubble from a demolished village nearby before heading to a recently constructed Israeli outpost to survey the scene. “Last week we were told it was a closed military zone and were asked to leave. This week it will probably be the same thing, but we will go anyway.”

Thirty minutes after meeting up with the Palestinian shepherds, a cloud of dust rolls forward before dissipating into the air to reveal an IDF jeep on the horizon. Cameras instantly appear in the hands of almost every activist as they circle back together and warily eye the approaching soldiers. David pulls a number of maps out as he and the Israeli soldiers discuss the situation. A wry smile flits across his face as he waves us off the land. “This land is for Palestinians only.” Soldiers lean against the jeeps, assault rifles dangling lazily from fraying shoulder straps, as we walk to a nearby hill to continue watching the shepherds.

Later in the afternoon after a few hours of clearing away rubble from a demolished home, we walk to the site of an old battered tent; an outpost set up by Israeli settlers to lay claim to the land. The soldiers unscrupulously defend it and angrily push video cameras away for a few minutes before giving up and circling around it to prevent any of the activists from getting too close. Three settlers show up to speak with the soldiers before we are escorted off the land by three military jeeps and dozens of heavily armed soldiers. An Israeli woman walking next to me mentions that last week they had tear gas canisters fired at them. A few weeks before that, activists were assaulted by the IDF as they protested against the expansion of a settlement. Footage from the scene shows David being violently shoved to the ground, a cigarette still dangling from his fingers.

Israeli Outpost and Soldier
Israeli Outpost and Soldier

A member of the Christian Peacemaker Team points to a road nearby. “This is where the IDF accompany Palestinian children to school to prevent settlers from attacking them. Internationals used to do it, but after a few were critically wounded, the Knesset voted that the IDF should take charge.”

At the end of the road the soldiers stop and we continue to the bus waiting to take us back to Jerusalem. Along the way we stop at a small shop selling stacks of watermelon, dented cans of soda, and an eclectic assortment of snacks. Sitting underneath an olive tree, David grins, “We can enjoy good watermelon and support the Palestinian economy.”

“You do this every week?”

A young man sitting next to me nods. “Sometimes we meet twice a week. We also join weekly protests against the wall on Fridays.”

“For how long?”

He takes a bite of watermelon, the juice dripping down his hands, and shrugs “Until it [the occupation] stops.”

Iyad Burnat, head of the Bil’in Popular Committee, sits before the crowded room at the Alternative Information Center in Beit Sahour. On the screen behind him, images flash from six years of nonviolent resistance against the construction of the Israeli separation wall through Bil’in: a soldier pointing a gun at a child; men and women ducking as a milky cloud of tear gas spirals from a container at their feet; activists being forcibly removed from the protest by soldiers.

In June, Israeli army bulldozers began work to dismantle the wall in Bil’in. After two years of protests, the Israel High Court ruled in 2007 that the path of the wall was illegal, but it would be four more years and hundreds more weekly demonstrations before any dismantling of the wall began. A time during which, Burnat explains, protestors suffered 1300 injuries, 2 deaths, and 100 prisoners were detained for 4 months or longer.

On our way to the wall
On our way to the wall

When asked if the Israeli soldiers sometimes interact with weekly protesters in a friendly manner, he responds “Not here. They have no human reaction. They function only on orders.”

A clip from a recent documentary detailing the events of the past six years is shown. All eyes are directed toward the screen where international activists are chaining themselves to olive trees as Israeli bulldozers arrive on the scene. An older Palestinian woman screams at the soldiers, “We want just to live like you live. These trees are all we have left. You want to tear them down? This one is 1,000 years old.” The bulldozers push the trees forward; the silver leaves are shoved into the soil, their roots pointing toward the sky and the scorching sun.

The lights flick back on and Burnat sits quietly in front of the audience for a few moments before explaining that popular resistance is not something that Bil’in invented. “It has existed in Palestine for generations. There were other villages and communities engaged in resistance before we [Bil’in] adopted these weekly protests. We made it appealing to residents and internationals so we did not invent the wheel, but rather set up a model that is being followed.”

He continues that they are pleased with their success in moving back the construction of the wall by 500 meters, but that they are not resisting simply the wall. They are resisting occupation and they will continue their weekly demonstrations until the Israeli occupation has ended.

“Do you have the motivation to keep fighting?” someone asks.

Burnat looks straight ahead. “Yes.” There is a brief silence in the room as everyone gazes expectantly. “Every Friday we have hope [that the occupation will end]. If not this Friday, then next.”

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

Wadi Nisnas and the Camps of Haifa

Nikki Hodgson | Posted August 22nd, 2011 | Middle East

It’s midnight and my colleague and I are still at work interviewing Raja Za’atra and Shahin Nassar at a protest camp in Wadi Nisnas, a Palestinian neighborhood in the Israeli town of Haifa.

The camp is set up on a roundabout of the main intersection in Wadi Nisnas. Roaches dart out from the bushes and scurry around our feet, but we are too exhausted to do anything other than flick them away indifferently.

Wadi Nisnas Camp
Wadi Nisnas Camp

Just a few hours before we sat huddled around our computers in a small internet cafe obsessively updating the breaking news feeds of Israeli newspapers as the details from an attack in Eilat and the subsequent retaliation attack in Gaza unfolded. Now we pile into Shahin’s car and head up the road to the Israeli protest camp where they are conducting a meeting to discuss future plans.

Pizza boxes are in circulation as a crowd of people sit in a circle on the ground, a whispered buzz of conversation reverberates along the fringes of the group. Occasionally someone turns around and shushes the smaller groups congregating. They are discussing the hierarchy of the group and trying to decide how to respond to the Eilat attacks. Groups in Tel Aviv have already decided to suspend their demonstrations and there are concerns that the protests will lose their momentum as fears of further attacks escalate.

Carmel Tent Camp
Carmel Tent Camp

Uri Weltmann, member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Young Communist League of Israel, is staying in the Hadar camp in Haifa. When asked about the decision to suspend the demonstrations he comments, “It’s a bad decision because it creates a wall between conflict and social justice and the two are obviously interconnected. This perpetuates the conflict and [the government]  is using the conflict to put aside all other issues. How can you struggle for social justice when the Israeli/Palestinian conflict takes precedence?”

Earlier in the afternoon we stumbled into the Wadi Nisnas camp to meet Shahin, a journalist and one of the individuals behind the idea of setting up a camp in Haifa’s Palestinian neighborhood. He and his family are Palestinians from 1948 who suddenly found themselves a minority in what had previously been their own country. There are only three Palestinian protest camps among the many Israeli camps currently scattered across the country.Wadi Nisnas is one of them.

“It started out as a joke,” he says with a mischievous smile. “We created a Facebook group and then suddenly people started joining and supporting the idea. We even had to go out and search for tents because we didn’t have them.”

When asked if the community is supportive of the camp he tells us that most of the younger generations are, but some of the older generations don’t see the point of it.

“There are many voices in the Arab community who say ‘This struggle is not ours,’ but we have been struggling for 63 years and what have we got? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. This is an opportunity to address the [Israeli] middle class and let them know about our struggles and our problems…I’m not an Israeli guy, but I live here and everything that happens here affects me. We have been struggling for 63 years. I see it as a great opportunity to raise our voice.”

In Haifa, at least, many of the Israelis involved in the protest camps have been receptive to that voice. At a recent demonstration of 30,000 people Shahin spoke of the need to remember the struggles of the Palestinian people and the effects of occupation. Thousands of Israelis cheered and applauded in response to his comments.

With September rapidly approaching and the protests entering their fifth week, many are worried that the government will use the Eilat attacks to derail the protests and any other discussions of social justice inside (and outside) Israel. Those with a cynical leaning shake their heads at the attacks and mention in a jaded tone that the timing of the attacks couldn’t be better for Netanyahu if he’d planned it. UN agencies are being asked to evacuate Gaza and Hamas is pulling its officials out while vehemently denying any involvement in the attack. We sit uneasily, our eyes toward Gaza, scanning the horizon for any indication of what’s to come. I was here during “Operation Cast Lead” when 1400 Palestinian civilians fell under Israeli fire. Those images still flick through my head at unexpected moments.

It’s 1:00 a.m. and the meeting in Haifa’s Carmel camp is still going strong. We decide to call it a night and head back to the quieter confines of our little roundabout oasis in Wadi Nisnas.

Shahin shakes the hands of a few nearby friends, waving good-bye and telling them he’ll see them tomorrow.

“People here are not the problem,”  he says, “It’s the government, these politicians who play this democracy game.”


81 Members of Congress to Visit Israel on Sponsored Trip

Nikki Hodgson | Posted August 15th, 2011 | Middle East

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81 members of Congress are preparing to arrive in Israel on a week-long visit sponsored by the the American Israel Education Fund, a non-profit affiliate of the politically powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S., wields a tremendous amount of influence over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and regularly sponsors trips to Israel for U.S. Congress Members. It’s estimated that between 2000-2005, The American Israel Education Foundation spent more than $950,000 on congressional travel.  AIPAC lobbies hard to ensure that the $3 billion a year Israel receives in military aid does not diminish. Estimates indicate that Israel receives over $8 million a day from the U.S.

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

While both Israeli and American citizens struggle to afford health care, housing, and education, Israel is using U.S. tax dollars to: man over 700 checkpoints and road blocks within the West Bank; use tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to quell nonviolent protests; construct a separation wall; uproot thousands of Palestinian olive trees, some of which are thousands of years old; imprison Palestinian minors; demolish Palestinian homes with American-made bulldozers; and implement a perpetual blockade on the people of Gaza.

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

The first of 26 Democrats arrive on Monday (Aug 15) and they will be followed by 55 Republicans, 47 of whom are freshman members.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor stated, “I am pleased to be bringing so many of our new Members of Congress to Israel…The United States and Israel share similar core values of democracy, human rights and a strong national defense. These shared values contribute to our strong relationship and allow our two countries to work closely together to protect the interests and security of both of our nations. By visiting Israel in-person, Members will better understand the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and our role in promoting stability in this critical region.”

Most major U.S. news agencies have either ignored this topic altogether or buried it in the back pages of their papers (EDIT: Aug 16 NYTimes Article). Reports from staffers indicate that though some Congress members are reluctant to participate in this trip, they feel AIPAC is too powerful to ignore and doing so could target their removal from Congress. The pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is frighteningly powerful. Though there are many reasons to doubt the scrupulousness of U.S. involvement in the Israeli Palestinian peace negotiations, it is this one that solidifies my belief that the U.S. is an absolutely inappropriate mediator. Its hands are tied by political and economic alliances and by a lobby so strong that U.S. Congress members are concerned about losing their seat should they dare to go against the grain.

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

This is not honorable politics. It’s a circus ring moderated by a group who directs policy to meet its own interest and persists in parading U.S. politicians around Israel on these thinly veiled propaganda junkets.

Overlooking the fact that following one of the most dramatic political battles in recent history that spurred concerns of a double-dip recession, Congress members ought to use the recess to meet with their constituencies and focus on sorting out the downward spiral of the U.S. economy…the blatant favoritism this tour promotes is maddening.

It is unlikely that U.S. Congress members will tour the demolished homes of Palestinians or witness the violent reaction of the IDF to nonviolent protestors. Nor will they speak with Palestinian minors who have been imprisoned for stone throwing while their Israeli counterparts throw stones, glass, trash, and sewage at Palestinian civilians with little to no intervention. They will not see the thousands of Palestinians lined up at 4:00 in the morning outside of Bethlehem’s Checkpoint 300, waiting to cross into Jerusalem to pray at their holy sites.

Waiting in Line
Waiting in Line

While the members of Congress are touring Masada, a Jewish symbol of resistance against the Roman army, they will never see the resistance that is happening here and now on the part of the Palestinians. When you see the control of the pro-Israel lobby and the propaganda being spewed forth, it’s not hard to understand why Americans honor the resistance of one people while simultaneously frowning upon the resistance of another against the same style of oppression and injustice.

Gazing upon such hypocrisy, Theodore Roosevelt’s words reverberate through my being,

“Like his fellow statesmen he failed to see the curious absurdity of supporting black slavery [oppression], and yet claiming universal suffrage for whites [all] as a divine right, not as a mere matter of expediency. He had not learned that the majority in a democracy has no more right to tyrannize over a minority than, under a different system, the latter would to oppress the former.”

The ideals of freedom and justice, spoon-fed to me as a child, punish me. I cannot gaze on this farce of a democracy without wincing.


Israeli Protesters Demand Social Justice

Nikki Hodgson | Posted August 10th, 2011 | Middle East

Standing in the middle of a street in Tel Aviv, people are pushing from all sides. Above me I can see signs being jostled against the backdrop of streetlights. People are hanging from balconies, standing on roofs, leaning out of bars. The heat is almost unbearable as bodies crush against each other in one of the largest protests ever to grace the streets of Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv Demonstration
Tel Aviv Demonstration

The night previously my colleague and I had crammed ourselves into the back of a sherut (shared taxi) in search of Rothschild Boulevard and the protesters camped out on its street, challenging Netanyahu to return Israel to its origins as a welfare state.

“I think this is it,” I say, nudging my colleague who is gazing down at her notebook, writing a few details down.

“Are you sure?” she asks.

Directing her attention to the hundreds of tents lining the street, I nod. “Yeah. I’m pretty sure.”

Standing for a moment before a massive Israeli flag draped in front of a building –three teardrops cut out below the iconic blue Star of David–, we turn to look at each other.



My colleague is from Argentina. I am from the U.S. Neither one of us is a stranger to massive street protests, but this sort of thing you just don’t see in Israel. Israelis simply don’t have a history of protest. In fact, the first major anti-war protest wasn’t held until the 1980′s.

So to see thousands of people milling about a normally quiet Tel Aviv street with signs demanding “Power to the People,” “Real Democracy Now,” “End Americanization,” “Tear Down the Wall” is shocking. It takes my breath away to see it and as we traipse up and down the median of the Boulevard in search of a place to set up our tent, we meet with a microcosm of Israeli society.

Sign hanging in Rothschild Street
Sign hanging in Rothschild Street

Families welcome Shabbat, bands blare music, children play under the watchful eyes of their parents, barefoot students lounge on cast-off couches strewn about the camps. As we push our way through the crowd, people are handing out flyers, food is being served, and every where excited voices ricochet off of a tangible assurance of imminent change.

In a bit of a daze, we unpack our tent, rolling it out onto the grass as we try to prevent the tent poles from sticking out into the street where traffic rolls through, occasionally slowing down to gaze at the spectacle. A woman who speaks no English comes to help us set up our tent. Finally she sits back to watch, occasionally pantomiming useful information about where we can find water or go to the restroom.

Our home for the night
Our home for the night

With the tent set up, we wander the Boulevard. One camp is screening a film on veganism and animals rights. There are plants growing from plastic bottles hanging from trees. My colleague nudges me forward. Another group is watching a documentary on the Black Panthers. Signs hang everywhere. “Social Justice Now” “Revolution of Consciousness” “Bibi (nickname for Netanyahu) go home.”

One group of tents displays photographs of Palestinian home demolitions with signs demanding social justice for all. Just down the street, settlers hand out flyers encouraging those who can’t find housing to move to the settlements in the West Bank where housing is cheap and abundant.

The magnitude of Israelis gathered to demand social justice is overwhelming, but it becomes rapidly clear that the definition of social justice and what exactly it means for the wide scope of political and social interests here remains to be seen. Already questions are being asked about where Palestinians fit into the Israeli population’s demand for social justice, but all anyone can seem to agree on at the moment is that something needs to change.

Rothschild Boulevard seems like more of a party when contrasted with the severity of the situation in Jerusalem, where groups of single mothers, calling themselves the “No Choice Group,” watch out over their children playing in Independence Park directly across from the U.S. consulate. Many of them have been on the list for public housing for over five years and for a few of them, this is not their first time in a tent. One woman describes spending three months in a tent during the rainy season after she was evicted from her apartment. She works 80 hours a month and is unable to meet her basic needs or those of her children.

Jerusalem Tent Protest
Jerusalem Tent Protest

Sitting on Rothschild Boulevard watching people meander among the tents, a few individuals stop to ask us where we’re from, but only one man asks us why we’re here camped out in the middle of an Israeli protest if we don’t live in Israel. As we toss and turn on the hard ground, fighting the humidity and the blaring bands at 4:00 a.m. in the morning,  we’re asking ourselves the same thing. The next evening it becomes clear.

Thronged by people screaming for change in a country where Netanyahu said there would never be protests, something inside of me is deeply touched.  To be witness to one of the largest and most dramatic protests ever to sweep Israel is a powerful moment. As I watch soldiers leaning against building walls while Israeli citizens clap their hands and push each other forward, I am surprised to find myself choking back a few tears. It’s hard to stand there and not imagine the day when a protest of that magnitude stands in the street demanding the end of the occupation. Overly optimistic, yes. But I believe that change will come when Israeli citizens demand it and I haven’t given up on them yet.

Green Line? What Green Line?

Nikki Hodgson | Posted August 4th, 2011 | Middle East

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I have been struggling to come up with a post discussing the other side of things. Speaking of which, I will defer a post about the social movement in Israel right now till after this weekend, but in the meantime, check out this AIC video I helped to create on the subject.

Right now I’d like to discuss why I have a hard time explaining the other side. It is not because I have anything against the Israelis. I don’t. It is because I don’t believe there is anything justifiable or defensible about the occupation.

At its root, this is not a social conflict, it’s not a conflict of religion, and it is not a conflict stemming from an intrinsic hatred existing between Israelis and Palestinians; that is a hatred that has been carefully cultivated. This is a conflict over land. When I lash out against Israel, I lash out against Israeli government policy, against a systematic violation of both international humanitarian law and the socialist principles embodied within the idea of a welfare state.

Area A
Area A

My frustration surrounding individual action (or inaction) does not translate into a general dislike of everything Israeli. Monday, the first day of Ramadan,  I sat on a bus watching a group of Israeli soldiers demanding that an 80-year-old Palestinian woman get off the bus because she had forgotten her ID. (Incidentally this was in Jerusalem and it was not a bus going through any checkpoints.) Staring out the window, my eyes flashing frustration, we sat quietly watching as the bus driver refused to let the soldiers remove her from the bus. They threatened his arrest before demanding an apology. He refused. We sat there for 30 minutes, just long enough to watch the sunset and the stars appear before they let us go.

These are daily occurrences and yet even they do not translate into a hatred of Israel. They translate into something bigger; a determination to end the occupation and the injustice, racism, and violence that goes along with it.

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

I would not go so far as to say the Israeli public is blameless (is anyone?), however the fact that 80% of settlers are economic settlers, meaning they moved onto Palestinian land not for religious or ideological reasons, but because the government offers a plethora of economic incentives to encourage Israelis to move into settlements, represents something more systematic happening at a much larger level. Many of these economic settlers are not even aware that they are on Palestinian land, believing themselves to be within a legal distance of the green line.

When I think of the other side, there are so many divisions and factions that it becomes difficult to portray. Do I hold anger against the Israeli public? No. Just frustration stemming from the knowledge that a successful campaign in ending the occupation has to come from within. Any anger I have is primarily directed against the Israeli government and extremist settlers. To portray their side is to portray the fanatic fundamentalism of religious ideology and the economic land-grabbing policy that empowers it.

The Israeli government is fond of accusing critics of being anti-Semitic and I am exasperated by the perpetual tip-toeing through this conflict by those wary of being labeled as such.  Despite the efforts of the Israeli government to have us believe that “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Zionist” are synonymous, they are not.

Matzpen, after all, was one of the strongest anti-Zionist organizations in the history of Israel and they most decidedly were not anti-Semitic. Matzpen, Hebrew for compass, was the name adopted by the Israeli extreme left that took a stand against Israeli colonialist policy and challenged the occupation and the Zionist philosophy propelling it. The very word, Matzpen, sends a shiver down my spine. In my eyes, these men and women were a group exuding everything Israel could and should be.

It is this movement that, in part, inspires me to take a stand against Israeli occupation policy and Zionism, and it comes from within Israel itself. If you see one film about this conflict, I encourage you to see Matzpen directed by Eran Torbiner. It tells the story of resistance and of some of the most committed individuals I have ever come across. I wish that I could sit everyone down and have them watch this film so they could understand how systematically resistance is suppressed, both from within and without. And also to understand that it’s not just Palestinians who are resisting the occupation. There are a small minority of Israelis who are taking a stand. The Alternative Information Center includes some of these Israelis. I cannot tell you how impressed I am by the AIC staff.  Co-founder, Mikado (Michael Warschawski), is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.


I used to walk a more careful line, striving to be in the middle. But the middle of what? You cannot walk a middle line between allowing (even indirectly) the occupation and wanting to end it. It was the Israeli activists who helped me to see this. The conflict itself is not complicated. It was the peace process that created this inexplicable mass of red tape and legal jargon, it was diplomacy that created a murky grey puddle of confusion, and it is Zionism that persists in building illegal settlements, making a two-state solution harder and harder to imagine.

The conflict between the Israeli and the Palestinian people is perpetuated by a much larger global conflict. It is the conflict between humanitarian law and economic interests, between justice and political ties. The peace process here is just one more example of the diplomatic efforts which persistently undermine humanitarian law. Add it to the list. Right in-between Armenia and Rwanda.


IDF Attacks the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. Is violent resistance ever justified?

Nikki Hodgson | Posted July 27th, 2011 | Middle East

This morning at approximately 3:30 a.m. the Israeli Defense Forces surrounded the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, smashed windows, destroyed property, arrested two staff members and held two internationals at gunpoint.

An excerpt from the AIC report

The location manager of The Freedom Theatre, Adnan Naghnaghiye, was arrested and taken away to an unknown location together with Bilal Saadi, a member of the board of The Freedom Theatre. When the general manager of the theatre Jacob Gough from the UK and the co-founder of the theatre Jonatan Stanczak from Sweden arrived to the scene, they were forced at gunpoint to squat next to a family with four small children surrounded by approximately 50 heavily armed Israeli soldiers.

Jonatan says: “Whenever we tried to tell them that they are attacking a cultural venue and arresting members of the theatre we were told to shut up and they threatened to kick us. I tried to contact the civil administration of the army to clarify the matter but the person in charge hung up on me.“

This is exactly the type of unnecessary and mind-boggling violence that occurs on a daily basis and which brings up the many debates surrounding the level and type of resistance necessary in the face of such unrestrained and inexcusable Israeli action.

Last week I posted an article I wrote about the Freedom Theatre while reporting on a discussion held during AIC’s Culture is Resistance! week earlier this month. Five actors from both the Yes Theatre in Hebron and the Freedom Theatre in Jenin discussed the role that theatre plays in resistance. One of the actors had spent seven years as a freedom fighter before joining the Freedom Theatre. At the end of his story, he touched on the issue of resistance saying that for Palestinians, any form of resistance is necessary.

Theatre as Resistance
Theatre as Resistance


During this same discussion a debate broke out between the men, dividing them between those who did not necessarily support violence, but were not opposed to it and those who were vehemently against it. Both sides included individuals who had fought in the Intifadas.

This is an issue that most internationals and many human rights activists find unsettling. While wholly supportive of the Palestinian cause, they deplore any discussion of violence on the part of Palestinians and are far more sympathetic to Palestinians who embrace nonviolence. In short, they prefer the Martin Luther King Jr. camp to the Malcolm X camp.

I haven’t spoken with anyone who wants to put themselves at risk or be engaged in violent struggle, but it has become clear to me that  you can only turn the other cheek so many times before you find yourself spinning in circles. When someone hits you repeatedly, it is not enough simply to raise your arms in defense. The urge to strike back is human and inevitable. You do whatever you think is necessary to make it stop. But is it possible to deplore violence while still accepting that sometimes it is a bitter but necessary part of struggle?

Though it is clear that the Palestinians have little to gain in violent resistance–Israel has the upper hand in every sense of the word– it is exceptionally difficult to compartmentalize resistance into acceptable and unacceptable forms when you are in the midst of it.

The Palestinians do not always have the luxury of a philosophic debate on the subject. They do what anyone in their situation would do, they react in a form that best ensures their survival. Most of what Palestinians do is nonviolent resistance. Their lives are demolished, and they fight back, not by shooting, but by rebuilding.

However you don’t often hear about it. You hear of the rocket attacks, the suicide bombing, the bulldozer attacks. All deplorable, but put within the context of daily home demolitions, unwarranted arrests, vague prison sentences, bombings, checkpoints, humiliation, beatings, and violence coming at you from every side, you begin to see things in a slightly different light. Palestinians do not want violent resistance, but many feel that they are not in a position to exclude it from their struggle.

Section of Wall in Aida Camp
Section of Wall in Aida Camp

Every week peaceful demonstrations are held across the West Bank. The IDF fires tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, live ammunition into the crowd. They shove, smack, and arrest protestors. When they respond violently to nonviolent resistance, they provoke a reaction which is then used to justify their force. Nine times out of ten that reaction never happens. Nobody hears about those cases.

They never hear about the Palestinians sitting in jail for months on end for attending a protest against a wall that is illegal by international law. They do not hear about the activists deported and banned from Israel and– consequently the oPt– for years. They do not hear about the daily demolitions nor do they hear about the thousands of Palestinians standing in line for hours at checkpoints waiting for an Israeli soldier to look at their papers and tell them whether or not they can go from one point to another on their own land. They do not hear about the Israeli government suing the impoverished Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley for the costs incurred when the IDF repeatedly demolishes their homes. They do not hear about the settlers throwing rocks at children or the IDF forcefully defending an illegal outpost that is nothing more than a battered tent set up by settlers to commandeer Palestinian land.

Israeli Outpost
Israeli Outpost

So when a Palestinian says resistance, in any form, is necessary, the international community–including sympathetic supporters–cluck their tongues and immediately take a step back. They want it to be a black and white issue, but given our history of change through revolution, is that realistic? If the opportunity for peaceful resistance is denied, what is the alternative? The issue of resistance is one that is divisive, both within Palestinian society and outside of it. However when nonviolent forms of resistance, such as the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, are attacked and its members arrested and taken to undisclosed locations, the debate is renewed. If Israel will not distinguish between nonviolent and violent resistance, should the Palestinians?

A Letter to the President

Nikki Hodgson | Posted July 26th, 2011 | Middle East

In a recent post, I mentioned drafting a letter to Obama in my head. A few of you expressed a wish to read that letter so I decided to include it in this post:

President Obama,

In many respects it feels futile to write this, mostly because I know this will never reach your hands, but also because it’s all too easy for me to sit here and comfortably criticize everything I feel powerless to change.

There was a time when I wanted to work for the U.S. Department of State. Just prior to my second visit to Israel and Palestine, I applied for an internship position with the Conflict Prevention Office, my dream job. Though I was a staunch critic of U.S. Foreign Policy, the ideals of my country burned brightly within me and I felt sure I would find some small glint of those ideals within the political spectrum of U.S. involvement. Mid-way through my stay in the region, I was offered the position. I had just come home from visiting the sites of recently demolished Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.  I turned down the internship. It was a matter of conscience.  I could not in good faith pour my energy and soul into a government that sacrifices democracy for diplomacy and allows its ideals to become tattered remnants under the banner of an allied force.

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

As the international community is preparing itself for the next chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a chapter which the United States is decidedly against, I am sitting in Beit Sahour watching the Israeli settlements expand before my very eyes, gazing in disgust at the wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem. This wall, built by American tax dollars,  has successfully kept Palestinians from entering Israel, but it has not been as successful at keeping Israeli settlers out of the West Bank.

Last week I sat on a rock in the Hebron Hills watching a Palestinian boy no older than my little brother drive his family’s sheep onto a piece of land they had not been able to access for 10 years because of the insensibility and fickleness of Israeli military law. While my brother is playing Dodgeball at recess, this boy is ducking the rocks and gunfire of aggressive and violent Israeli settlers. When the Israeli Defense Forces show up to escort us off the land, I look at him over my shoulder and my heart heaves. He can’t be more than 12 and already he has seen the very worst of human nature, every humanitarian law has failed him.

palestinian boy
palestinian boy

In my moments of frenzied emotion, I question why the U.S. supports these atrocities or why they even happen at all. Settlers attack Palestinian children, the IDF responds violently to nonviolent protests, human rights activists are imprisoned, homes are demolished under unscrupulous legal pretexts, land is seized, water is denied, children are arrested and imprisoned, and throughout it all the U.S. stands hopelessly by, warning Israel with one hand and handing over weapons with the other.

U.S. politicians like Mike Huckabee and pundits such as Glenn Beck come to Israel and declare in noble tones of the struggle Israel faces. They say nothing of the struggle on the other side of the wall. They see only the imperfect picture painted by the hands of Israel’s right-wing politicians. The dust from the demolition of Palestinian homes never mars their perfect vision of Israel’s “struggle.”

The U.S. repeatedly succumbs to Netanyahu’s obstinate refusal to cease and desist with illegal settlements. It stands alongside Israel as it curbs the basic human rights of Palestinians and tramps doggedly upon the efforts of Israeli, Palestinian and international activists trying to promote some semblance of justice and reason.

Mr. President, Palestinian civilians and international activists, your own citizens included, are being abused by an oppressive force and your response is to tell them to leave well enough alone? I will not. I cannot. Imbibing citizens with an education that promotes thoughts of freedom, equality, and compassion has its repercussions.


The U.S. and the international community encourage tolerance. Would you have asked the same of the U.S. slaves in their shackles? Would you have asked Martin Luther King Jr. to beg his fellow countrymen to tolerate the lynching, the discrimination, and the violence? Would you have asked the Native Americans to tolerate the brutal massacres and marches that tore them from their land? Do not speak to me of tolerance, Mr. President. Speak to me of justice and something more worth tolerating.

The Israeli government allows construction materials into Gaza only to destroy the infrastructure these meager supplies provide. Gazans spend 8 hours of the day without power, hospitals have not received supplies since February, and the promised Rafah crossing is still impossibly shut. This is a situation which calls for radical action and yet those ready and willing to do so are treated as culprits, accused of aiding and abetting terrorism against Israel.

The U.S. Department of State requests those wanting to send humanitarian aid to use the appropriate channels–as if a blockade were an appropriate situation–and then warns the Palestinians not to undermine the peace process by applying to the UN for membership and recognition. The corpse of the peace process is rotting on the negotiation table and still you insist there is a way to revive it. But you will not call a doctor. You stare at it, suggesting things that might be done, but no action is taken and now it is  much too late. If the U.S. is truly concerned about peace, it should remove itself as mediator and place a more objective and accountable force in its stead.

As a political analyst I fully understand the implications of upsetting an ally such as Israel and I understand the diplomatically sensitive position of the U.S.,  but as someone who grew up declaring daily allegiance to the ideals of “liberty and justice for all,” I cannot ignore the injustice here simply because it falls in line with U.S. political interests. In his famous speech, Arafat implored the international community to choose the olive branch over the gun. At the rate Israel is demolishing Palestinian olive groves, the extension of the olive branch will soon be as physically impossible as it is metaphorically.

The apathy of good men is a terrible thing, but it seems far worse to know what is right, to declare yourself in accord with it, and yet to persist in actively supporting the actions which undermine everything of which you have spoken. As long as the U.S. persists in endorsing unjust Israeli policy, it is endorsing the violation of both humanitarian law and democratic principle.

Bethlehem Separation Barrier
Bethlehem Separation Barrier

Mr. Obama, the U.S. has declared itself as keeper of the peace process, but the lamb has been left to the wolf’s care, and would-be shepherds are beaten away by American-made guns. How much longer will we have to wait for the U.S. to take a stand that is not directly inbetween what needs to be done and those trying to do it?


Palestinian Theatre as Resistance

Nikki Hodgson | Posted July 19th, 2011 | Middle East

Tags: , , , , , ,

Originally published on the AIC website. During AIC’s Culture is Resistance Week, five Palestinian actors discuss the role of theatre in resisting Israel’s oppression, and how they chose this path of national and personal liberation.

Theatre as Resistance
Theatre as Resistance

Mustafa, a Palestinian filmmaker, sits flanked by two actors from Jenin’s Freedom Theatre. They lean comfortably into their chairs, their arms draped casually across each other’s shoulders.

“We don’t see any other meaning of theatre,” Mustafa begins in response to the question of theatre as resistance. “It’s all based on resistance. For us it’s a need, an absolute need. There is nothing for the children to do. No school, no education. Our culture is targeted by the Israeli occupation.”

On 6 July, during the second evening of the AIC Culture is Resistance! Week, individuals from the Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp and the Yes Theatre in Hebron met with internationals and Palestinians to discuss the importance of theatre as a form of resistance.

Founded by Arna Mer Khamis during the First Intifada, the Freedom Theatre has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. After the Second Intifada her son, Juliano Mer Khamis, came back to direct the organization his mother had founded. He lived and worked in the refugee camp until his assassination earlier this year by an as of yet unknown gunman.

Mahmoud, on Mustafa’s right, fought for seven years before putting down his M-16 to join the theatre. To Mustafa’s left, a former drug dealer. “These two were the worst boys you could imagine,” he says. Now they are actors and role models. In 2008 they traveled to Germany to perform the play “Fragments of Palestine.”

Mustafa continues, “We used to take tanks as taxis. This is how our mentality is destroyed by the occupation. In the theatre we are starting with the destroyed mind of a Palestinian child. Juliano…he recognized this and began to address the problems of the occupation by focusing on the inside of the person.”

Raed Shiokhi of the Yes Theatre, founded in 2008, drops his hands between his knees and leans forward. “A man without hope is a dangerous man. This is what I always used to say.” Raed, active during the First Intifada, was seriously injured in 1988. After losing two of his best friends in the conflict, Raed considered becoming a suicide bomber. “I had no job, barely finished school, no hope, no security…I tried to join religious groups, to convince them to take me, but nobody cared about me.”

In 1997 a friend working in the Palestinian Ministry of Culture convinced him to try acting. “There I discovered I am valuable and that life deserves to be lived.” After 14 years of working as an actor, Raed stresses the importance of working with children and involving them in theatre programs. “Theatre is a form of education and emotional management. It teaches them to use the theatre instead of the gun.”

Here there is an interjection. “We cannot say instead of the gun. It is beside the gun. We can show people an alternative form of resistance, but we are not here to tell them which forms of resistance to choose.”

Mohammed Issa from the Yes Theatre responds that the theatrical movement in Palestine began in the 1920s and that a renaissance of the theatrical movement occurred in 1967. “Theatre is one of the most important tools to resist…We use theatre to promote the message of the Palestinian people.” He goes on to explain the delicate balance between funding and theatre. “Mix money with creativity, and be sure you will lose a lot of things.”

However all of the men agree that theatre in Palestine is not simply about resisting the occupation or portraying the plight of the Palestinian people. It is also an important medium to address difficult themes within Palestinian society. “There are no limits in front of you,” Mustafa explains. “On stage you can talk about homosexuality or women’s sexuality.” It is a place to deal with issues that are not openly discussed. The Freedom Theatre in particular has come under the wrath of a more conservative culture and some artists take to the stage at personal risk.

The evening ends with a humorous skit portraying a Palestinian going through a checkpoint. The audience laughs as a half-naked actor stands in front of a perfect portrayal of an Israeli soldier; the aviator sunglasses, the waving of his gun, and the refusal to speak unless shouting orders. He snatches the hat off of the Palestinian. “Not like this,” the actor portraying the Palestinian shouts. “If you want me to remove my hat, you ask me. I will do it.” The soldier kicks him back through the metal detector.

Throughout the evening, theatre weaves its way in and out of the personal stories of these five men. Earlier Mustafa translated the story of Mahmoud and how he went from a freedom fighter to the Freedom Theatre.

But now Mahmoud addresses the crowd in English.

“We [Palestinians] believe in all forms of resistance. A kid throwing a stone. We believe in him. A man with a gun. We believe in him. Man with pen and paper. We believe in him. For seven years I was a fighter with a gun. Now I am a fighter on stage.”

A Day in the Hebron Hills

Nikki Hodgson | Posted July 18th, 2011 | Middle East

Tags: , , ,

Standing on the hilltop we hear the goat herder before we see him. The voice of a young boy, 11 or 12 perhaps, whooping and hollering to urge his goats forward and onto the grazing land his family has been unable to access for the past 10 years. After a long battle, Israeli activists and lawyers have won the support of the Israeli High Court and these Palestinian shepherds are once more reunited with their land. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Palestinian Shepherd Boy
Palestinian Shepherd Boy

Nestled snugly between settlements, the shepherds are often harassed and driven off the land by aggressive settlers. At 6:30 a.m I join a group of Israeli and international activists and drive to the Hebron hills to participate in weekly activities that support Palestinians facing harassment from Israeli settlers in the West Bank.


Shoving the goats aside, a young boy approaches me. “What’s your name?” His sole English phrase. I reply with one of my few Arabic phrases and ask him his. Mahmoud points at my camera. Snapping a photo of him, we shield our eyes from the sun to see how it turns out. He smiles shyly before his mother calls him to help. Just above us clouds of dust roll forward before dissipating into the hills to reveal an IDF jeep.

IDF monitoring
IDF monitoring

Three jeeps and 12 soldiers cluster together. There is a discussion with the organizer and we are asked to leave as this land is designated for Palestinians only. We retreat to a nearby hill where we can still keep an eye on things. The IDF remain. The police show up to investigate, but retreat without asking anything.

After a few hours we trek to a nearby cluster of tents and rubble to help move rocks. A few tents are perched above the remains of houses that have been demolished multiple times by the IDF, who say the Palestinians build there without the necessary permits. These permits are almost never issued so Palestinians often build anyway or live in caves and tents. The hypocrisy of it is almost too much to bear as the Israeli settlements surrounding these “illegal” Palestinian homes seem to expand by the minute.

It’s dusty and hot and we carry buckets of rocks to an older man who dumps them near the entrance of a cave where his wife sits making tea for us. There is no running water and she carries a bucket from the bright yellow water tankers sitting along the outskirts of their community. Little girls in brightly colored clothing hover near the outside of a beige tent peering at us intently and bursting into giggles when we say something to them in English. Another IDF jeep appears on the ridge, but does not venture into the community.

IDF and water tankers
IDF and water tankers

After a few hours and many buckets of rocks, we stop for lunch. Sitting on a rock eating falafel and squinting into the scorching sun, I draft a letter in my head to Obama. It’s a letter I know that I will never send, but I write it anyway. As a political analyst,  I understand why Obama bows consistently to the pressure of Netanyahu, I understand why the U.S. turns a blind eye to the oppression here and why this perpetual suffering is not only allowed but tacitly endorsed. However my heart does not. It will never understand this mess. In this respect I am naive. I am naive and idealistic to believe it is morally unsound to enable the suffering of millions to preserve a political and economic alliance.

The overseeing of justice falls once more on the shoulders of activists as politicians continue to sacrifice democracy for diplomacy. Dozens of unarmed activists, American and Israeli, stand their ground against soldiers outfitted in part by U.S. tax dollars. This is the visible discrepancy between what the U.S. is and what it should be.

Israeli Outpost and Soldier
Israeli Outpost and Soldier

Surrounded by Israeli activists taking enormous personal risk and facing increasing threats in the form of an anti-boycott bill passed by the Knesset last week, their dedication strikes a chord within me. The soldiers push us back as we approach an illegal Israeli outpost, a tent set up by the settlers on Palestinian land to claim it.

Watching the IDF defend this outrageous illegal activity, I realize that as afraid as I am of being considered irrational or of losing credibility by taking a strong stance, I am more afraid of living in a world where the greed of a few and the complacency of a few more oppresses and impoverishes millions. Three jeeps and dozens of heavily armed soldiers escort us off the land as three settlers stand in the distance overlooking the scene.

Fellow: Nikki Hodgson



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