By J. Taylor Basker
Westbeth Artists Housing is located at the convergence of West and Bank Streets on the west bank of Manhattan. Here, technology provides an opportunity for direct communication between the West Bank and the West Village west bank. A weekly program on Saturdays at 3:00 p.m., Zoom Palestine, is conducted from Westbeth, connecting those in the West Bank and Gaza to the West Village and others around the world. Administered from my Westbeth studio, both on Zoom and Facebook Live, artists, poets, journalists, film makers, lawyers, and activists meet.
One of our programs hosted Frank Romano, a lawyer who helped with a legal brief to convince the ICC (International Criminal Court) it had jurisdiction over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Frank will soon submit another legal brief to the ICC accusing Israeli and American officials of war crimes against Palestinians.
Another guest was Mosab Abu Toha from Gaza, who read his poetry and discussed his life as a writer and owner of the only English-language bookstore in Gaza, while bombs falling in the background were witnessed through his window.
Recently, journalist Karmel Khaled, speaking from Hebron, discussed the increased dangers for Palestinian journalists. In addition to Israeli military harassment, arrests, tear gassing, destruction of equipment, torture and even death, journalists have endured similar treatment from the Palestinian Authority during the recent protests about the death of the anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat in the West Bank.
Zoom Palestine also includes discussion of art, music, films, and the tradition of poetry, especially in the work of Mahmoud Darwish, as voices of protest for Palestinians. The first meeting of each month is a poetry slam. In September it will feature the new book Screaming Olives by Palestinian-American poet Farid Bitar, who will also read at Westbeth as he has done several times. The date and time will be announced.
Zoomers can participate from countries in addition to Palestine and the U.S.—those include Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, India, as well as countries in Europe. The English writer and editor Naomi Foyle helps organize sessions. We have anti-occupation, pro-peace Israelis contributing. However, we were once viciously “Zoom-bombed” by anonymous Israelis whose language and sentiments were disruptive and saddening. We were rescued by the expertise of Thomas Cox, of Brooklyn for Peace, whose members join regularly; several participants are members of Jewish Voice for Peace. Zoom Palestine provides an opportunity for diversity in opinion and insightful discussions. People can connect through its Facebook page where YouTube videos of the sessions are uploaded. When I travel to Jordan this fall, sessions will be from Amman, Jerusalem, and Palestine—then back to the west bank in the West Village.