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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

'Provo is just like Khan Yunis.'

James Bennet's fascinating New York Times Magazine account of Palestinian politics and life after Arafat, "The Interregnum," includes an unexpected tidbit about my hometown:

In Gaza City, I met another woman from Khan Yunis, Rana El Farra. Wearing winter coats, we spoke in the family's apartment, its windows open despite the day's chill. Open windows are less likely to shatter from sudden shifts in air pressure; the apartment is across the street from a Palestinian security headquarters, a frequent Israeli bombing target.

On one table stood two dozen containers of cobalt-blue mouthwash. El Farra asks Gazans to gargle it, then return it to her to provide DNA samples, which she isolates in a gel. A molecular biologist, El Farra is archiving Gaza's DNA in hopes of curing diseases like the diabetes that contributed to her beloved father's death, as well as of comparing the oral histories of Gaza's clans with their DNA footprints. "I prepare the samples here, and then DHL them to the States,'' she said in her idiomatic English. She sends them to Utah for sequencing at Brigham Young University, where she got her master's. She loved Utah, feeling at home with its conservative values, its big families. "Provo is just like Khan Yunis," she explained. "Only it's cleaner." A lively woman with a musical laugh, the married mother of a 3-year-old girl, El Farra teaches cell biology at Al Azhar University. She adores "Friends" — she identifies with Monica — and she recently finished Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir.

El Farra and people like her are the real political face of Hamas. About three years ago, a year into this uprising, El Farra became more religious. She began covering her hair. "Islam is the best pole you can hold onto when things get really tough," she said.

A Hamas connection to Utah County? It's a small world after all.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 16 March 2005 at 8:19 AM

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March 17, 2005 04:43 AM | Permalink for this comment

I found that piece by James Bennet to be a frustrating one, though with certain tidbits here and there that were sort of insightful. Aside from the snippet you posted (in which a lot of interesting comments/comparisons could be made), it felt like it reinforced stereotypes about Palestinians being violent, as well as old Orientalist ideas of Arabs being "emotional" as opposed to "rational" Europeans. What I found particularly confusing and disturbing was the way it almost comes across as just short of hagiography in regards to Mahmoud Abbas, a man who lives in a two million dollar mansion in Gaza, one of the poorest and most congested places on the planet. However, his comment about Palestinian exhaustion being Abbas' greatest political ally at the moment is true, as a recent poll reported in the Independent yesterday shows. I also thought the quote from one guy who said that he was not defeated, just weak was spot on.

Oh, and I'm like Rana El Farra: I'm a lot like Monica on "Friends" too -- sans the waif-like figure. ;)

Rana El Farra:

April 2, 2005 03:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

With much eagerness, I waited for the March 13th, 2005 issue of the New York Times Magazine. I was interviewed by James Bennet the magazine whom I invited to my parent’s house. Yet I was very disappointed at what I saw for the following reasons:

First, describing me as “the real political face of Hamas’ has raised so many concerns and has seriously jeopardized my research and work relations. I seriously object to such a description just because I might vote for them in the upcoming elections or because I happen to just cover my hair. I am not a member of Hamas or any other political organization. Like citizens everywhere, I will make my choices in the elections according to what I believe is in the best interest of my community.

Second, it is clear that the reporter lacks a true understanding of the situation that made him put words into my mouth that I did not say and made implications that do not apply to my situation. I am a very open minded Palestinian woman that hopes for peace and believes in our right to fight the occupation by legitimate methods of resistance that does not include the targeting of civilians or suicide bombings.

Third, I was very clear that Hamas as a political party and municipal service provider might be successful based on the work they have done in Gaza. Yet I am very supportive of the role of Fatah (Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas political party) to carry out the negotiations towards peace with the Israelis.

Fourth, during the interview, I mentioned the strong relations that I have with Israeli professors whom I cooperate with on health and science issues. This part was totally absent from the article. Including my comments brought out would have stressed the fact that coexistence is phenomenon that I believe in and actively practice on a regular basis.

Finally, I would like to make it clear that I object to presenting my picture to the world this way through your magazine. I trusted you and apparently you did not deserve this trust since you were more intent on publishing your perspective than accurately reflecting my point of view. I respectfully request that you publish my objection letter in your magazine.

Rana F. El Farra

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