Public Green Spaces Around UCLA

This is a map of the area around UCLA:Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 10.53.36 PM [maps.google.com]

 

If you have trouble distinguishing between light and dark green, then I hate to be the one to break this to you, but over 95% of the green space in the UCLA map is … dark green.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.57.20 PM

I calculated this percentage using ImageJ, a free image analysis tool. I divided the area of the dark green locations (highlighted in red above) by the area of all the green locations excluding the Veterans cemetery and national park and school playgrounds.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask. Great question! Well, you can think of the dark green spots as abscesses–in the sense that they are private country club/golf courses. On the other hand, the light greek spots are public parks, also known as Mother Earth’s erogenous zones.

Let me be clear, this post isn’t me protesting about the city not spending money growing grass in drought-ridden Southern California. It definitely should not do that. Nor is this post a vilification of country clubs for wasting heaps of water growing acres of grass in the very same drought-ridden California so that people can play golf or lawn bowling (I think this point has been made sufficiently well by others). Rather, this post is a result of my frustration. California is such a big and potentially beautiful place with amazing weather year-round. We’ve got great beaches, fresh farmers markets, and loads to do. What we don’t have very much of is convenient public parks.

I knew before moving to LA that I was going to be surrounded by car-filled streets (don’t get me started on bike lanes), but I never expected to be excluded from almost all of the green areas around me because I don’t have $12,000 in disposable annual income or a quarter of a million dollars just to cover initiation fees hidden under my bed. It may very well be the case though that if these private clubs weren’t there, the land wouldn’t be lush to begin with. But that’s not my point. In my opinion, if someone wants to play a ridiculously water-intensive sport, then he should have to pay for it himself. However, for the city to let us get to this point, where in an approximately 18 sq. mile area, over 1.25 sq. miles are private golf courses and less than 0.05 sq. miles are public parks is a tragedy given there’s an abundance of research showing how important parks are for the community, especially in terms of public health. This issue only gets worse as one digs into the demographics of golf courses, which aren’t too different from what you’d expect given the high costs and an ongoing history of discrimination.

Ultimately, too many people, especially those with limited transportation options, don’t have easy access to local parks. Unfortunately, I don’t have much by way of solutions to fix what I hope you’ll agree is a serious problem. I can’t really imagine the city buying back some of the golf course land, but that’d certainly help distribute some parks throughout the region.  A more reasonable thing to try might be reducing rather than increasing the size of roads and thus freeing up some room. In the same vein, many parking lots can be transformed into multi-story parking garages thus freeing up some space to become lively social spots. Things certainly aren’t hopeless, Los Angeles is constantly transforming–I just hope it’s going in the right direction.

Adopting Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism would be irresponsible

ColorEdited_WillowYang_Intolerance-900x580

The article originally appeared in the The Daily Californian. It was co-authored by Jonathan Koch. Photo by Willow Yang/Staff.

The U.S. Department of State seems an unlikely source for university policy regarding intolerance. The State Department after all, is not tasked with promoting equity in higher education — the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education does that. And yet, a working group of the UC regents tasked with countering campus intolerance is being asked to adopt State Department language regarding anti-Semitism into its policy. We support the goal of the working group and the inclusion of anti-Semitism under the rubric of intolerance. But the State Department language on anti-Semitism is inappropriate for university policy. If adopted into university policy, it would harm our freedom of speech and our freedom of academic inquiry.

The stated purpose of the working group is honorable and necessary. Already this year, the UC schools have seen several racist incidents on their campuses. A statement against intolerance could be a helpful tool for future efforts to make the UC system more equitable. Anti-Semitism, as a form of bigotry to be combatted, naturally ought to be included in such a statement.

Neither the working group’s mission nor the inclusion of anti-Semitism in its statement is the subject of controversy. The present controversy stems from an ongoing effort to redefine anti-Semitism to encompass criticism of Israel.

The definition promoted by leaders of campus groups Hillel and AMCHA would reproduce a factsheet published by the U.S. State Department entitled “Defining Antisemitism.” The first half of the factsheet advances several contemporary examples of anti-Semitism — this section of the statement we consider unobjectionable. The second half of the factsheet, headlined “What is Anti-Semitism Relative to Israel?” is the sole source of our objection. It holds that anti-Semitism is manifested through “demoniz(ing),” “delegitimiz(ing)” or “applying double standards” for the state of Israel. These “three Ds,” as they’ve come to be known, pose a challenge to free speech and thus to the academic and political activity of the students: They are broad enough to invite censorship of any view criticizing Israel.

To demonstrate the censoriousness of the three Ds is simple. Take the veridical statement, “Israel conducts the longest-standing military occupation in the world.” Though a bare statement of verifiable fact, it potentially fulfills all three criteria. One might claim it “demonizes” or “sets a double standard” by focusing on Israel to the exclusion of other countries. Some who advocate the annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories might even claim that it “delegitimizes” Israel. While we think these would be obvious mischaracterizations, there is nothing preventing the three Ds’ ambiguous language from being used to validate such preposterous charges by labeling the statement anti-Semitic..

In fact, the first UC document to recommend the three Ds language, the 2012 Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, contained just such a mischaracterization. To support the claim that pro-Palestinian organizing contributed to a negative atmosphere for Jewish students, the report cited “the dissemination of literature and information which accuse Israel of ‘genocide,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ and the imposition of an ‘apartheid state.’ ” Here, speech meant to criticize a government was construed as being harmful to Jewish students as a whole. But for us, a Palestinian and a Jew, pro-Palestinian advocacy is never an excuse to spread bigotry; rather, it is a duty for us to stand up for the people and ideas that we care about. The three Ds language would shut us, and our colleagues, out of the debate. This would be a serious harm to Palestinian students.

The damage would extend beyond the Palestinian community, however. Any policy that attempts to censor political criticism, or to misrepresent it as racist, harms the student body. It would prevent students from carrying out critical research and it would impede the freedom of political speech. Without the ability to function as a place of independent, critical thought, the university’s mission would be severely compromised.

There are no shortcuts to educating about, challenging and reducing any form of bigotry. It takes community engagement and educational work. Simply labeling speech in a vague manner or prohibiting it won’t do anything to change bigotry or misperceptions. We will continue to advocate a strong policy on intolerance that specifically calls out anti-Semitism. To ensure a robust and actionable policy, our union colleagues have asked for a more transparent process that formally includes students, beyond the student regent, in its crafting. Without that inclusion, we are unsure how the regents aim to craft an effective policy.

Free discourse continues to be our greatest tool in combating racism and bigotry. Whatever policy the working group recommends must uphold it.

Jonathan Koch is a teaching assistant in the UCLA department of music and the recording secretary of UAW 2865. Yacoub Kureh is a teaching assistant in the UCLA department of math and the head steward of UAW 2865.

Psalm 2

Now I find myself dried
Like trees growing out of books.
The wind is just a passing thing.
Shall I fight or shall I not fight?
That is not the question.
The important thing is to have a strong throat.
Shall I work or shall I not work?
That is not the question.
The important thing is to rest eight days a week
Palestine time.
Country, turning up in song and massacres,
Show me the source of death;
Is it the dagger or the lie?

Country, turning up in songs and massacres,
Why do I smuggle you from airport to airport
Like opium,
Invisible ink,
A radio transmitter?

I want to draw your shape,
You, scattered in files and surprises.
I want to draw your shape,
You, flying on shrapnel and birds’ wings.
I want to draw your shape
But heaven snatches my hand.
I want to draw your shape
You, trapped between the dagger and the wind.
I want to draw your shape
To find my shape in yours
And get blamed for being abstract,
For forging documents and photos,
You, trapped between the dagger and the wind.

Country, turning up in songs and massacres,
How could you be a dream, rob me of the thrill
And leave me like a stone?
Perhaps you are more sweet than a dream,
Perhaps you’re sweeter!

There isn;t a name in Arab history
I haven’t borrowed
To help me slip through your secret windows.
All the code names are kept
In air conditioned recruiting offices.
Will you accept my name —
My only code name —
Mahmoud Darwish?
The police and Carmel’s pines
Have whipped my real name
Off my skin.

Country, turning up in songs and massacres,
Show me the source of death;
Is it the dagger
Or the lie?

-Mahmoud Darwish (Modern Poetry of the Arab World, translated by Abdullah al-Udhari)

Israeli solider-led seminars mask history of violence against Palestinians

The article originally appeared in the The Daily Bruin. It was co-authored by Jonathan Koch.

Imagine, for a moment, a seminar convened by some innocuously named student group: Bruins for Saving the Planet, or some-such. Imagine that at the front of the hall, speaking as guests and experts, are the CEOs of Exxon, BP and Chevron. Imagine that they give exactly the lecture one would expect: blithely dismissing the academic consensus that their industry’s activities are leading to massive climate change; asserting their industry is harmless; dismissing whatever “small problems” there may be, but insisting they’ve got them under control.

Such an event would rightly be dismissed as propaganda. The judgment would be near-unanimous.

Shift the mind back to reality; one need not imagine. When the topic at hand is the oppression of Palestinians, such events are not only commonplace at UCLA and other universities, but they can even go unchallenged.

Twice in the past two weeks, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law has invited Israeli soldiers to speak as experts and honored guests. The Israeli army administers the world’s longest-standing military occupation; it perpetrates a brutal and illegal siege of Gaza; and it is repeatedly condemned by the international community for egregious human rights abuses. No matter – the Brandeis Center and its campus partners see fit to host soldiers of that army as lecturers and forum-leaders. Such events distort the political discourse around Palestine by promoting a propagandized version of past and present – one that holds Palestinian rights and persons in contempt. But these events do individual harm as well: They are a form of intimidation against those students who have personally suffered, or whose families have suffered, at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces.

The human facts of the Israeli occupation are not in dispute. Since 2008, the IDF has subjected Gaza to periodic bombings; the most recent, in 2014, left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead (among them 538 children) and about 11,000 injured. Thirteen public and 17 private hospitals were destroyed or damaged; Amnesty International found that Israel deliberately targeted medical facilities. The IDF shelled U.N.-operated schools and shelters. All major human rights organizations – Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – have alleged that the IDF committed war crimes. It will take decades for Gaza to rebuild – Israel controls the borders, strictly regulating the importation of food and raw materials. Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, Israel pursues a path of colonial settlement, displacing Palestinian farmers from their land and carrying out regular reprisals against the population. Tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets and random arrest are the daily reality in the West Bank; since the beginning of October, soldiers and police have killed 64 Palestinians, injuring many more.

This history is not easy to defend. Instead, soldier-guests seek to deny and distract. The Brandeis Center’s most recent soldier-led seminar presented an IDF that exists only in the imagination. While the guests spoke anecdotally about their professional lives in the IDF, none attempted to ground their claims in fact. Those claims – that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world” and “puts life first” – would seem laughably unhinged were they not so pernicious. But their goal is serious: to deny the present and history of the occupation, exchanging facts for a narrative favorable to the IDF. That narrative, however, is inevitably racist at its foundation. The logic goes like this: If the IDF is the “most moral army in the world,” then the bulk of its actions must be ethical. Violence against the Palestinians, then, must be justified by denigrating their rights and character; the ethical army does not treat them as human, and therefore they must be lesser. This racism was quick to expose itself at the Brandeis Center, with one soldier-medic readily admitting his belief that the protection of Israel required the violation of Palestinian rights.

Soldier-led seminars defraud the truth and spread racism among their audiences. They create a dangerous atmosphere for Palestinian students, discouraging them from participating in campus discourse at all. For the purpose of honest, egalitarian discourse, they are an intellectual disaster. So we are only left to wonder: Why is the Brandeis Center so desperate to justify Israel’s apartheid regime and war crimes that they invite apologists of the worst kind to our campus?

Koch is a music graduate student. Kureh is a mathematics graduate student. Both are members of UAW 2865, the University of California’s student-worker union.

Some Mahmoud Darwish

The Passport

They didn’t recognize me.
The passport’s darkness
Erased the tones of my photograph.
They put my wound on show
For tourists who love collecting pictures.
They didn’t recognize me.
Don’t let my hand lose sunlight
For in its rays trees recognize me.
All the rain songs recognize me.
Don’t leave me pale as the moon.
All the birds followed
My hand to the barriers of a distant airport.
All the wheat fields
All the prisons
All the white graves
All the borders
All the waving handkerchiefs
All the dark eyes
All the eyes
Were with me
But they crossed them out of the passport.
Deprived of a name, of an identity,
In a land I tended with both hands?
Today Job’s voice rang throughout heaven:
Don’t test me again!
Venerable prophets,
Don’t ask the trees their names,
Don’t ask the valleys about their mother.
My face brandishes a sword of light
And my hand is the river’s spring.
The hearts of people are my nationality.
Take away my passport.

(Modern Poetry of the Arab World, translated by Abdullah al-Udhari)

Text Mining My Own Relationship: My first project in R

I was inspired to pursue this project when I came across a blog post titled the data of long distance lovers. As someone who has also been in a long-distance relationship for over a year and used Viber as a primary mode of communication, I immediately wanted to do a similar analysis on my own text messages.

Let me begin by giving some background: I live in California and she lives in the UK, which means we usually have about an eight-hour time difference. I only have Viber on my phone, whereas she has it on her computer and phone. In addition to using Viber, we would send longer messages by email (my main way of communicating long messages) and video chat using Skype–mostly on weekends. We’re both students with fairly flexible schedules. We both agreed to doing this project and we discussed some questions we’d both like to know the answers to, namely, who poses more questions to the other person.


Skip this section if you want to get straight to the results. 

Before this project, I had no experience in R, a powerful and free programming language for statistical computing. After this project, I have very minimal experience, but a much greater appreciation for the language itself and what it’s capable of. Essentially, I began by downloading R and the GitHub code from the above blog post. I read what I could, trying to relate it to what I know about programming in other languages. However, this code was quite concise and I had to look up how things like a data frame work. After getting a general sense of what the code was doing, I downloaded my data from Viber and ran the code, which is where I ran into my first roadblock.  My downloaded data came in a .csv file, but it was actually tab-delimited:

Comma Separated Version:

DD/MM/YYYY,HH:MM:SS,SENDER,+XXXXXXXXXXXX, Message

Tab Separated Version:

="DD/MM/YYYY" HH:MM:SS ="SENDER" ="+XXXXXXXXXXXX" "Message"

I am still not sure why my data was stored differently but it meant I had to change the regex that parsed the file from

"\\s*(.+),\\s*(.+),\\s*(.+),\\s*(.+)[X,X],\\s*(.+)" to "\\s*(.+)\\t\\s*(.+)\\t\\s*(.+)\\t\\s*(.+)[X,X]\\t\\s*(.+)" 

however there were issues with the extra quotation marks thrown in. Ultimately, I was able to get a version of the data from my girlfriend that was stored as a proper .csv file. But the parsing hassles weren’t over just quite yet. 

Since messages between us were sometimes decently long–especially hers–there were commas in the messages which would confuse the parser. This meant having to make the regex more specific, i.e. I had to say that each line began with a date, followed by a comma, followed by the time, etc rather than just saying it began with any text, followed by a comma, etc. as (.+),” does. In the end the regex I had was

 "\\s*([0-9]{2}/[0-9]{2}/[0-9]{4}),\\s*([0-9]{2}:[0-9]{2}:[0-9]{2}),\\s*(Me|Yacoub Kureh),\\s*(\\+[0-9]{11,12}),\\s*((?s).*)"

where the last line was my attempt to allow multi-paragraph messages where a new line, \n, was used. This of course was meaningless as the readLines function that was reading in the file was being called before the parser and it would split the messages incorrectly. The only fix I could find for this problem was to go through and manually delete all new lines that appeared in messages in the original file.

As you’ll see below, I wanted the ability to interpret the data in my own time zone as well as hers, so I had to figure out how to get R to change date-times correctly. Luckily, there’s this nifty package for R called lubridate that makes it easy to work with timezones. When the date-times are being read in, R automatically labels them as UTC. But this isn’t always the time in London! So I first have to tell it not to change the time, just relabel the time zone. This is done with force_tz, e.g. force_tz(2014-08-10 10:59:32 UTC, tz=”Europe/London”) gives 2014-08-10 10:59:32 BST. Note only the time zone changed even though BST=UTC+1:00. Then to actually change it to LA time, I used with_tz(2014-08-10 10:59:32 BST, tz=”America/Los_Angeles”) which gives 2014-08-10 02:59:32 PDT.


The Results, Part I

Let’s first look at what time of the day we are doing most of our messaging. Here, messages are grouped into hour buckets, so a message sent at 3:43pm gets counted in the 3:00pm bucket, etc.
correct_her_hist-hours

So she texts primarily in her afternoon and evening. Sometimes she’s up to a little after midnight, but she seems to get a solid 5 hours of sleep between 1 and 6am. There’s the occasional texting that happens when she wakes up before I go to bed, but then she’s on her own again until I wake up. There’s a distinct drop at 8pm, the cause of which is more obvious in my histogram below.

correct_his_hist-hours

It’s not an exact shift of 8 hours as there are times in the year when we are 9 hours apart and times when we are only 7 hours apart because the US and UK do not coordinate when to start and stop Daylight Savings Time. So that 8pm dip from above is me going to lunch where either I can call or Skype her for a bit or I’d be eating lunch with friends. Unfortunately, because of the massive time zone difference, our overlapping awake time happens during my workday and usually can cut into my sleep time (the probability of me going to sleep at any given time between 12 and 4 am follows a fairly linear relationship). I wish I could say that I’m napping between 5 and 9pm, but I’m not. Looking at this histogram, I really wonder how I don’t drink coffee. Regardless, onwards and upwards!

nb_msg

So of the nearly FORTY-NINE THOUSAND messages we sent in a year, I sent slightly more. She sent 48% of the total messages while I sent the other 52%. I attribute this to me using my phone and preferring to break up my thoughts into several shorter messages rather than one longer message. Before I claim a strong moral victory, it’s only fair that we also compare the number of individual characters sent.nb_msgWell then…I lose this round it seems (it’s not a competition, right?). Here we see that she sent around 56% of all sent characters. Some of my ad hoc explanations for this include: she can send much longer messages since she is on a computer, and also by being on a computer means she is more likely to send me URLs and other copypasta. Or maybe I ought to cut my losses and move on to the next graph!

So what do more than a tenth of our messages look like? Well they’re apparently fewer than four characters:

n_char

In this histogram we bucket into groups of 1-3 chars, 4-6 chars, etc. and display a percentage of total messages. As in the original blog post, we have the a similar dip and rise in the first few buckets. There’s a ton of “ok”, “yup”, “:)”, and “lol” length messages. We do a lot of “sure”, “okay”, “yeah” length messages, but even more longer messages. Once we start looking at messages longer than 15 characters we get a really smooth decay.

For the last bit of Part I, there’s one more comparison. In fact, it’s probably the most important comparison of all in any relationship. How long do you leave the other person hanging before responding to their message? Do you tend to leave your phone on silent? Or perhaps you’re just a slow typer. Whatever your excuse, response time is important because some people read a lot into it.

time_to_answer

This comparative histogram buckets response messages, i.e. a message whose sender is not the sender of the previously sent message, by their response time. Over 80% of my messages to her are responded to in less than two minutes, while I respond that quickly to a little over 70% of her messages to me. Overall, we both have really good response times, my median being 26 second and hers being 30 seconds. Of course our means are very skewed though because of long breaks in our texting during trips and such.

At the suggestion of a commenter on the original blog post, for Part II of this series in text mining my relationship, I will try to convert the above response time histogram into a Kaplan-Meier plot. You can think of it as measuring the survival time of message before it gets responded to. 100% of messages vacuously survive to 0 seconds, but by 15 seconds a good chunk of messages are responded to, and by 30 seconds, more than half of the messages have be responded to. For now, I have to figure out how to do this in R.

Thanks for reading and remember to check back for Part II which will feature new plots, word clouds, and a calendar heat map!

Letter to the Chancellor of UCLA, Gene D. Block

This letter was mailed to Professor Gene Block, Chancellor of UCLA on 19 May 2015. My email to him on 18 April is reproduced in full below and is in reference to his email which is available here. I will post any updates on the matter in a separate entry.

UCLA Chancellor’s Office
Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405

19 May 2015

Dear Chancellor Block,

I trust that this missive finds you well.

It has been nearly a month since I sent you the following email to which you and your office have not replied:

“Dear Chancellor Block,

My name is Yacoub Kureh and I am a PhD student in the Mathematics department. I wanted to express my gratitude for your email regarding the posters attacking Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) members. I have been a Palestinian rights activist since my undergraduate career at Harvard and during my Masters at Cambridge, and never have I seen such inflammatory accusations made about a student group. It was important for the University administration to react swiftly and they did.

However, although I appreciate and respect your response, I find that it was insufficient as evidenced by the second wave of posters attacking SJP placed around campus and the defacement of the SJP board that is left on Bruin Walk along with many other boards that were not affected. This clear targeting of a campus organization is dangerous and needs to be addressed more seriously than can be done with a simple email.

I hope more work is being done behind the scenes and that campus security will redouble their efforts to prevent such incidents. Nonetheless, I think it is important for you to address this matter again publicly listing more concrete steps that the University will take to ensure that all of its students feel safe.

Sincerely,
Yacoub Kureh”
(18 April 2015)

I know your office is very busy and it is difficult to reply to all messages, but for so much time to have passed without any action is very distressing. Let me direct your attention to a quote from your website regarding the priorities you set for yourself early on in your tenure as Chancellor of this University:

“We are committed to fostering a welcoming campus, as well as understanding and tolerance within the UCLA community.” (http://chancellor.ucla.edu/priorities)

To this end, I would imagine an attack as flagrant, incendiary, and directed as the one mentioned above which targeted a group of students at UCLA, merits a significant response as would an attack on any other campus community. Thus, I am asking that you reaffirm your commitment by taking action. This can be in the form of launching an investigation, creating a task force for handling such incidents, or meeting with several student organizations, including the Students for Justice in Palestine, in order to establish a concrete and substantive strategy to deal with this disturbing episode and prevent similar ones from recurring. In this situation, merely sending an email will not suffice for effecting the tangible change that is needed to rectify such an egregious problem, but I do implore you to inform the UCLA community of what has happened and what your planned response is.

We all know that “fostering a welcoming campus” is no simple task. A place of higher learning will undoubtedly be home to many controversial debates which certainly rouse audiences. This is especially true for those whose passion for the topics at hand are rooted in something as serious as their identities, their physical well-being, their families, and their rights. We should never shy away from having these important conversations if we are to grow as educated citizens in a dynamic world. However, in order to do this, certain community guidelines ought to be in order so that we may learn from each other in an environment that is inviting and safe. We must strive for it by working together with those with whom we disagree. We must fight for it by protecting not just ourselves but our entire Bruin family, even those–or rather, especially those–who have different backgrounds and opinions from us. If this kind of diversity really is your vision, then it is an admirable one.

Over the course of my first year at UCLA, I have had the pleasure of working with many students who are involved in several organizations. I am truly impressed by how they always do their best to make every space on campus inclusive on a personal level. I sincerely hope that in the coming years everyone at UCLA can reap the benefits of their efforts on the ground and the efforts of your administration.

Lastly, I want to clarify that I am writing to you as a concerned individual student: not as a representative of Students for Justice Palestine, not on any other person’s behalf, nor in another capacity.

Yours respectfully,

Yacoub Kureh
PhD Student in Mathematics, UCLA

SJP invites UCLA community to learn about Nakba, its consequences

The article originally appeared in the The Daily Bruin. It was co-authored by Safwan Ibrahim.

nakbaposter

It happens like clockwork. Though they may live anywhere from the United States to Chile, Lebanon to France, or Canada to Syria, when Palestinians in exile first meet, it is common for one to ask where the other is from in Palestine. It is an act of reclaiming family history, an assertion of “I am from there.” Though there is no single “Palestinian” identity, there is a fundamental Palestinian experience rooted in the shared trauma of the Nakba or “catastrophe” in English when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland during the creation of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948.

Although it occurred decades ago, understanding this event and critically engaging with its consequences is crucial to understanding the Palestinian issue today, as the Nakba continues to shape the Palestinian experience.

To this day, Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homelands, only because they have the wrong ethnic and religious identity. However, to think that these experiences of expulsion and oppression begin and end with the Nakba would be to ignore the systematic denial of rights Palestinians continue to endure under occupation. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are denied basic rights such as equal access to water, electricity and freedom of movement. In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians suffer the most extreme forms of imprisonment the coastal enclave is now blocked on all sides and is slowly being strangled of electricity, raw materials and the basic necessities we in the West often take for granted. Many who fled Palestine, either during the Nakba or during occupation, instead live in similarly dire conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon or war-torn Syria. With no alternatives, the ostensibly temporary status of refugee becomes a permanent reality for Palestinians in exile.

Palestinians who fled to the West may have escaped occupation and life in refugee camps, but have lost their ability to return to their homeland. While a Western life and education offers some Palestinians many privileges denied to most other Palestinians, those here often must attempt to put together the pieces of their family histories and grapple with the complicated, politically fraught identity of being Palestinian.

Like all Palestinians, Palestinian students at UCLA have had their lives and identities shaped by the events of the Nakba. Many of them are here only because their families were driven out from their homes and villages by proto-Israeli militiamen, and forced into lifelong refugeehood. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine has left lasting scars on generations of Palestinians. The constant denial that this event ever happened and the total relegating of any aspect of Palestinian history to the off-limits, the taboo, the unsayable means Palestinians are denied their selfhood and humanity.

In order to fully understand the Nakba and its consequences, we must recognize it not simply as a moment in history, but rather as a continued lived experience of the Palestinian community, perpetuated by occupation and denial of narratives. To help provide the UCLA community with background and personal narratives, Palestinian students have come together to create a space to explore the Nakba and its ongoing effects, and to share this with other UCLA students.

We invite the campus community to attend two events next week, hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine, for the first annual Nakba Week at UCLA. The first event, titled “Refugees and the Right of Return: A Teach-In”, will be held Tuesday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m., in Franz Hall 2258A, and will focus on the ongoing and dire refugee crisis faced by Palestinians. The second event, titled “Hear Us Speak: Stories on the Nakba and Exile”, will be held Thursday, May 21 at 6:30 p.m. in Boelter 2444, and will feature Palestinian students discussing their personal experiences related to the Nakba. In presenting these narratives of Palestinian exile, and the effects the Nakba continues to have on Palestinian identities, it is our hope that fellow students will begin to understand Palestine and Palestinians in a new light, and with this critical lens, challenge themselves to understand the lasting impact of forced expulsion and exile.

Ibrahim is a fourth-year comparative literature student and the incoming president of Students for Justice in Palestine. Kureh is a graduate student in applied mathematics and the incoming outreach co-director of Students for Justice in Palestine.

The Nakba

Over 67 years ago, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began. It is known today as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe. For Palestinians, the Nakba is more than an event in history–something that can be spoken about in the past tense. For us, the Nakba is part of who we are as a people. The Nakba explains why we are where we are. The Nakba explains why more Palestinians are in diaspora than in the lands of their parents and grandparents. The Nakba explains why there is a UN agency dedicated solely to the Palestinian refugee problem. The Nakba explains how the many aspects of Palestinian culture including poetry, painting, dramas, food, film, festivals, music and more became vital to preserving our identities.

The Nakba continues today as Israeli forces shoot live rounds at protesters, as bombs are dropped on essential infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, as more land is confiscated and homes are demolished, as Palestinians in refugee camps are attacked, as more laws are enacted that discriminate against those who are not Jewish, as a system of rule deemed worse than Apartheid is the reality of for many of our brothers and sisters.

What the Nakba cannot explain though is how a people who have been dispossessed, marginalized, oppressed, murdered, brutalized, imprisoned, and terrorized can to this day keep fighting for justice. Despite hundreds of villages being destroyed, the hope and optimism of the Palestinians was not. SIXTY-SEVEN YEARS OF RESISTANCE! This is not a fight for space nor a war over religion. The Nakba is a struggle for over 12 million people around the world to be seen as human.

Today we do not remember the Nakba. Rather, we remember the beginnings of the Nakba and we continue to commit ourselves to bringing upon its end.

‪#‎Nakba67‬

In Sight, In Mind

The article originally appeared in the Harvard Political Review. It was co-authored by .

Whack-a-Mole

Baghdad, July 2007. The sound of gunfire coming from U.S. Apache attack helicopters echoes in the streets. They have sighted what appear to be insurgents. The helicopters target them from the air. A few seconds later, as the dust and smoke clear from the scene, the aircrews comment on their work.

Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.

Nice.

Eight people lie on the ground, some dead, some dying. The helicopters keep circling the area, and soon spot a van approaching. Men exit the van and start loading bodies into it. The pilots interpret this effort to take the wounded to a hospital as an attempt to hide insurgents and their weapons. So the Apaches shoot again, firing more 30mm cannon rounds into the van and surrounding area.

No one is left standing.

I think we whacked ‘em all.

Ground troops arrive and assess the damage. Then they peer into the van.

Roger, I’ve got uh eleven Iraqi KIAs [Killed In Action]. One small child wounded. Over.

Roger. Ah damn. Oh well.

The exchange between the soldiers and pilots continues.

Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.

That’s right.

Footage of aircraft targeting buildings, vehicles, and people has existed in films, documentaries, and the Internet for decades. But WikiLeaks’s release of “Collateral Murder,” a previously censored video of this particular incident in Iraq, changed things. “Collateral Murder” afforded the public a new intimacy into America’s “war on terror.” Viewers could see what the pilots saw in their crosshairs and hear what the pilots said over the radio. The world witnessed the events as pilots mistook cameras for weapons and attacked the men on the ground. The cameras belonged to two Reuters reporters, killed as part of the first group of ten and soon followed by the two men in the van. Two children were wounded. It was shooting until no one popped up again.

Death from a Distance

In the four years since their release the scenes of death, punctuated by the gruesome commentary of the aircrews and ground personnel, have marked a new era in the popularization of real combat footage and the accompanying thoughts of the people peering through the scopes.

But what was changing for the public was also changing for the military. With the advent of armed drones and their growing usage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and beyond, U.S. pilots were no longer hovering over battlefields and flying combat missions in person. From specialized sites in the continental United States and in bases across the world, pilots were now flying their aircraft through remote control. They were thousands of miles away from combat, but only a click away from unleashing weapons on their targets.

War had changed, but its tragic consequences remained. People in a growing number of countries—including civilians—continued to suffer the consequences of a war that had run astray. At the same time, drone pilots had to confront their actions in vivid detail, as their eye-in-the-sky systems gave them the ability to observe limbs torn off a person in the aftermath of a missile explosion and the grief of the relatives who arrived at the scene.

Initially, observers of the drone program feared that war had become a videogame, reproduced on a screen observed from an office chair. John Yoo, the attorney who provided the questionable logic behind President George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” asserted that drone killings were “kind of antiseptic. So it is like a video game; it’s like Call of Duty.” Pilots might launch missiles, but the consequences were not there for them to see, hear, or smell from close range; it was as ethereal as obliterating competing players on an Xbox server.

To some, that was indeed the case. A former drone pilot likened the experience of playing a videogame to that of flying a combat mission for a drone: the sight of blood pumped his adrenaline and surged his excitement. Even before drone strikes, in preparation for the 2003 invasion of Iraq the U.S. Air Force devised a computer simulation system to model the effects of bomb explosions. Through it, battlefield commanders could estimate and prevent collateral damage. The Department of Defense named the program “Bugsplat” because of the evocative shape the target area took on the screen.

Military slang successively adopted the name of the simulator to indicate a person killed by drone strike.

Drones to Civilians, and Civilians to Drones

In that moniker, the dehumanization of victims and the trivialization of death are apparent. Artists have teamed up with advocacy groups to challenge this, targeting both Western civilians and drone operators as their audiences.

Starting in 2012, British artist James Bridle began to trace the outlines of drones on city streets to nudge passers-by into thinking about the hidden pervasiveness of those weapons. Bridle’s series, “Under the Shadow of the Drone,” has populated sidewalks in Istanbul, Washington, D.C., London, and Brighton, England with the silhouette of the killer aircraft to make it as permanent a fixture there as it is in Middle Eastern skies. Bridle even released a“Drone Shadow Handbook” to share the ability to create drone “shadows” to anyone who might be interested. These outlines foreshadow the use of aerial surveillance returning from the battlefield and being adopted by law enforcement agencies domestically. Bridle’s art complements the necessary reflections on drones entering the daily lives of civilians in the West.

In Pakistan, where drones already saturate the atmosphere, local and international human rights activists and artists work in the opposite direction. While Bridle’s project makes visible on the ground something invisible in the air, the project in Pakistan serves to re-humanize people on the ground for those watching from the sky. The project, titled “Not a Bug Splat,” placed on a field a 100-by-70 feet picture of a young girl who survived a drone strike in which her parents and a sibling had been killed. Clearly visible from aircraft and even satellites, this installation returns a human face to the victims of drone attacks. As drone operators peer at the ground from their screens they will now see those below looking back at them.

A Parasitic Insect

These initiatives aim to rebalance the uneven relationship between victims, perpetrators, and those in whose name the killing is done. These artistic installations challenge the dehumanization of drone targets and of drone pilots—the former to be struck and struck again until the last terrorist or insurgent has been eliminated, the latter turned into machines trained to guide their aircraft unquestioningly on their missions of death.

Above all, however, projects like “Under the Shadow of the Drone” and “Not a Bug Splat” underscore the reality of the situation, one whose consequences are much more dire and widespread than those of even the most gruesome videogames. Many drone pilots may never have second thoughts about their actions, while others develop severe psychological conditions or commit suicide. Around them, citizens of the U.S. and its allies see their governments violate international law and their taxpayer money put to use in military missions of questionable security returns that sap democracy and human rights. Across the world, thousands have lost a loved one to a drone strike. Tens of thousands more live with the permanent soundtrack of the buzzing aircraft, a feature that has been shown in Pakistanand Yemen to cause rampant depression and anxiety in what are already severely disadvantaged communities.

Drones have parasitized U.S. foreign policy. They are a relatively cheap and effective means to eliminate undesirable individuals at no direct risk to American lives. They have become an ingrained component of the U.S. military, with conspicuous investments in the coming years and an ossifying logic that will leave future policymakers unable not to adopt them as their foreign policy tool as well. Under their veneer of aseptic efficiency and detachment from consequences, it is easy to appreciate all the advantages of drones and forget their costs.

Despite the unfortunate names the U.S. Air Force uses for its simulation software or the comments made by some military personnel, war is not and cannot become a videogame. No amount of distance or technology can sever us completely from our actions: remarking on the experiences of a drone operator, Mark Bowden of The Atlantic noted, “flying a drone, he sees the carnage close-up, in real time—the blood and severed body parts, the arrival of emergency responders, the anguish of friends and family. … War by remote control turns out to be intimate and disturbing.”

Whether we whack with a hammer or with a Hellfire, the results of our actions on the people we treat as moles—and on ourselves—are evident. Civil society ought to begin restoring the humanity stripped from drone victims and operators alike by over a decade of blundering war. Violence on a screen translates to real-life loss, and new artistic projects are raising the curtain to reveal the truths behind the drone wars: apathy and dehumanization.

Photo credits: Wesley Saver / PJRC via Tom Hayden