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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 3 Explainer: Dog

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode three, Dog.


Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 3 Explainer: Dog



Aron Kader:

Everything about this episode is classic to me. It uses dogs to point out that humans are trained to behave and conditioned to think in a certain way. It also plays on a stereotype that Arabs don't like dogs, which actually rings true.

In my experience, the disdain for dogs comes from the belief that they are dirty animals often referred to as "najis," meaning unclean or impure. As a matter of fact, most Arabs consider dogs to be just above pigs. To compare anything or anyone to a pig or a dog is a huge insult in Arabic. A typical Arabic curse might use the word dog ("kalb"). You will hear Amjad's father say that word a lot, especially in this episode.

All the dogs in Amjad's building seem to recognize that he's Arab and bark at him every time he walks into the apartment complex. When he asks a Jewish pet store worker whether dogs can recognize Arabs, he acknowledges this as a well-known fact. This seems to confirm Amjad's irrational fear of dogs, and he resorts to donning a yarmulke -- a small round cap traditionally worn by Jewish men -- to fool the dog into thinking he's Jewish.

This episode is also the beginning of Bushra's character arc as a professional therapist. She starts to observe Amjad and ends up using him as a case study in her class. It's hard to miss the Pavlov's dog metaphor in this episode, which is meant to be a statement on Jews and Arabs living together. Everyone knows that dogs can be trained to do anything, including attack or guard something. It's also true that Arabs and Jews have been conditioned to fear or have prejudice toward each other. This gets to the root of the entire conflict in one metaphor.

The culture among Arab and Jewish people in Israel has a long history of conditioning that needs to be untrained. Cultures are formed over generations and can take generations to undo. It's a long process. But is there an effort to fix it? Being blind to the culture around you can stop you from moving forward in the right direction.

For example, ultra religious Muslims and Jewish people will fight about something that happened so long ago that it's impossible to settle the differences. Cultures nurture or debunk positive or negative stereotypes and in Israel/Palestine, there is a fight between those that want to be part of a global future and those who want to step backward.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

Many biases, generalizations, and racist remarks are based on a small truth that has been taken out of context and exaggerated to a ridiculous extreme. This episode is a clear example of that. It's commonly known that Arabs (and I am generalizing here) are not big fans of dogs. They are not a pet culture. And the conclusion in this episode, that dogs can smell Arabs or bark only at Arabs, is an example of a ridiculous extreme.

There is always great irony in the fact that Amjad himself seems to believe stereotypes about his people, and then tries to do everything in his power to disillusion them. His desire to disprove this assumption makes the situation worse. Bushra, on the other hand, never gives in to what people seem to think of Arabs in general or her in particular. She is confident and proud so dogs are playful with her and lets her pet them.

Bushra seems to be the posterchild for believing in yourself and your values, as well as having a clear understanding of who the Alayin family needs to be as Palestinian Israelis. By being proud of her Arab heritage and not trying to be something she's not, she fits in on her own terms and finds a way to immerse herself in Israeli culture, even if that means being a bystander sometimes.

Amjad uses a Jewish skull cap to "trick" the dog into thinking he is Jewish. It is amusing that he chooses the most ostentatious kippa (head covering). Wearing a skull cap is a political statement in Israel, with each kind of of scull covering meaning a different thing. He chose a kippa that is usually used by nonobservant Jews at religious events; seldom do people walk around wearing these head coverings as he did.

Amjad is perpetuating a stereotype of his people regarding Arabs and dogs, while his neighbor Timna is yet one more extreme. Timna relates to her dog as if it's her child, she is mortified when the dog barks at an Arab, and calls the dog a "likudnik" (a member of Israel's right wing party). She wants to take the dog to see a psychologist for his problem.

At the end of the day, no psychologist is really needed. What is needed is for two diverse cultures to take the time and make the effort to get to know each other, understand their differences, and not let a dog be the one to prove the truth of a silly myth.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 4 Explainer: Nightgown

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode four, Nightgown.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 4 Explainer: Nightgown



Aron Kader:

I believe this episode was written purposely to break the taboo Arabs have about sex. I don't think that a show has ever brought an audience this far into the bedroom of a Muslim couple. Of course, they're no different then any other TV couple that has been seen in a bedroom, but for Arabs and Muslims, this is a big first.

Sex is never openly talked about among Arabs and Muslims, and Arabs will never show public displays of affection. By using a very traditional old-fashioned nightgown inside the bedroom, which is only sexy to Amjad's father Abu Amjad and probably the older generation, this episode advances the discourse on intimacy. It's quite obvious that there is a comment here on what the modern generation likes versus the older one. Arousal and desire differ from culture to culture, but I think this episode could have been written for any TV show anywhere and should be universally understood since all humans have sex and have different habits around it.

As an Arab married to another Arab, I witnessed how differently our families talked about sex before and after our wedding. This is not limited to Arabs; most married people probably experience something similar. Sex is unspoken before marriage and almost never not insinuated after -- maybe not in specifics, but in general about having babies and starting a family.

Most Arabs assume you're a virgin before marriage so sex is a big no-no to talk about until you're married. Even then, it's only acceptable to talk about it around other married people and really just between your respective sex. Delving into the topic can offend easily, but the humor here should be enough to compensate.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

In this episode, we get a peek into the bedroom of the different couples on the show. Honestly, sex is sex, people and intimate relationships are truly universal. The problems this episode addresses are relatable and on display on every sitcom.

Classically, Bushra, a working mom with small children, doesn't want to have sex because she is tired. Timna is looking for ways to spice up the romance in the bedroom, and tries to roleplay with her husband Natan. Meanwhile, Amjad's parents are the older couple. They're empty nesters still in love and simply having a blast.

What's different here is the cultural context and the opportunity to peek into a Muslim bedroom. I do not think we have ever seen that before. And when we think of the Middle East, most people assume that the people there are very traditional, perhaps religious and old fashioned. Well, I would think again.They use their tradition as a tool of seduction, or not ...

Bushra wears a traditional nightgown to keep her husband away, while her mother-in-law uses it to seduce her husband. The Jew who they give the nightgown to as a gift uses it to try and tempt her husband to act out a playful role as an Arab. It could seem surreal that culture and race enter the bedroom, but doesn't everything we live and breathe follow us to our most intimate places?

Natan doesn't want to engage in the roleplaying game of Arabs on the eve of his reserve duty since he will be dealing with Arabs while in the army. In Israel, everyone over the age of 18 is required by law to join the army. Girls serve for two years, boys for three. Men continue to do reserve service for one month every year until their 40th birthday. Unfortunately, many reserve soldiers spend their month of reserve duty standing at checkpoints that separate the Arab areas from the Jews, checking identification documents.

On the morning Natan has to leave for reserve duty, Timna pretends to be an Arab woman trying to go through the checkpoint and her husband, who is already in his military uniform, cooperates and they have a playful little encounter. It might seem tasteless to someone watching this from the outside, but dealing with the realities of the Middle East requires some humor and lightheartedness. It's no different than someone in the US role playing as a doctor, policeman, or firefighter.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 1 Explainer: Shower

Link TV has enlisted Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman to recap season two of Arab Labor, providing insight into the cultural nuances depicted in the award-winning sitcom.

Here's their take on the season two premiere, Shower.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 1: Shower



Aron Kader:

The opening episode of season two deals with a couple of rather serious topics in a funny and brilliant way. The first issue is Israel's control over water, while the second is the discriminatory housing practices and the nearly nonexistent awarding of permits to Arabs.

Water rights have been a controversial issue historically between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Jewish neighborhoods tend to have higher water pressure as a result of their superior infrastructure and management of water resources. In the beginning of the episode, Amjad looks out Meir's window, admiring the green grass and peaceful neighborhood.

Without getting into the politics too much, here's one narrative surrounding water. Traditionally, Israel has served its own community's needs first and Arabs second, which has led to the drying up of Palestinian lands -- mainly orchards and farms that have been passed down for many generations. Palestinians have viewed this as an Israeli strategy to dry the land out until they're forced to abandon it, leaving their property to be sold. Writer Sayed Kashua brilliantly uses shower/water pressure as a comedic vehicle to comment on social injustice.

After being prompted by Meir to put his foot down, Amjad takes his complains about the weak water pressure to the municipality only to have it tragically backfire. When the authorities look further into his concerns, they determine that his father Abu Amjad's home violates an unexplained property code. They serve an order for its demolition. Unfortunately, this happens to be a very common occurrence in Israel since Arabs typically are not granted permits to build on their own lands and if they are, it's usually accompanied by many obstacles to overcome.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

Saying "have a nice day" and smiling comes naturally in the United States. In order to have that nice day, all people really need are the basics -- for example, a strong, hot shower. Because if we don't have the basics, the entire day can be ruined.

In the first episode of season two of "Arab Labor," Amjad is frustrated with the water power in his house. Water politics in the Middle East is about controlling the supply and allocation of water resources. It is a sore issue that reflects a central aspect of the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that the Israeli government is the regulator of water to the West Bank, the influx of an additional large population to a relatively fragile geographical area, and the massive expansion of previously existing populations have all caused variance and struggle.

The water in this specific episode also addresses the difference in the utility services citizens of east Jerusalem receive, as opposed to citizens of west Jerusalem. Eastern Jerusalem is primarily populated by Palestinian Israelis, while the West is populated by Jewish Israelis. Palestinians can only be Israeli citizens if they don't live in the West Bank and hold an Israeli ID. Both sides of Jerusalem are served by a joint municipality. Unfortunately, there is a lack of equality in many of the services.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 2 Explainer: Moving

Link TV has enlisted Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman to recap season two of Arab Labor, providing insight into the cultural nuances depicted in the award-winning sitcom.

Here's their take on season two, episode two, Moving.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 2 Explainer: Moving



Aron Kader:

This is a pivotal episode that introduces a new cast of characters that will change the trajectory of the entire series. When Amjad moves into an all-Jewish building, it adds another dimension to the show, providing more opportunities for social commentary surrounding race, culture, and prejudice.

One joke that I found very funny could easily be overlooked: The Arab movers arrive at Amjad's new apartment complex in an old, beat-up truck and complain that the address they were given didn't mention a landmark, only a street name and number. A lot of the areas where Arabs live don't use numbered addresses; they use landmarks like "green trash can." I have experienced this myself in the Arab world.

We are then introduced to the characters that will create many misunderstandings throughout the season. Amjad offers a framed picture as a gift to the building that turns out to be an insult to his new Jewish neighbors because of its depiction of the Al Aqsa mosque. Some believe that the Al Aqsa mosque is built on top of where the temple mount used to be, which is considered to be the holiest Jewish shrine from antiquity. There are people that want the mosque torn down so that they can rebuild the temple for the Jewish people. Of course, this would cause a major fight since the Al Aqsa mosque is considered the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. All three major religions have legends attached to that spot, but one major belief is that it's where Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac.

One other thought I had watching as a Palestinian is the phrase, "self-determination." That phrase is used a lot when it comes to being able to move around as you please and not being told where and how you can live by Israelis. Self-determination is likely something Americans take for granted, as we can essentially move anywhere in the country without restrictions. In Israel, there are different territories with different rules, especially around Jerusalem, which is split between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 2 Explainer: Moving



Naomi Ackerman:

Like many other cities, Jerusalem is divided into neighborhoods. But because Jerusalem is the heart of the political, religious conflict in the Middle East, this division is taken to an extreme. There are no written rules or laws, but there is a very strong segregation of communities in the city and the suburbs. Jews live in the West and Arabs live in the East; there are no mixed neighborhoods. This segregation is not only between Arabs and Jews, but between religious Jews and secular Jews as well.

In this episode, Amjad, in his desperation for equal social services -- like water pressure, organized parking, beautiful parks -- moves his family from the familiar Arab village to a Jewish secular neighborhood in west Jerusalem. He is the only Arab in the building, if not the entire neighborhood. He wants and tries desperately to make a good impression, fit in, and not be "too Arab," but of course, the more he tries not to be the stereotype of his people, the more he becomes it.

Ironically, you will find in this building every Israeli stereotype in the book: the army vet, the one that fears Arabs and blatantly hates them, the ones who say they are evolved and enlightened but are as racist as the next, and the real friend who doesn't care if Amjad is an Arab. Together they struggle with the idea that an Arab is moving into the building, try to be civilized, and are confronted with their own ignorance and misconceptions.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Coal Ash: Both Beneficial and Poisonous?

In big cities, during the first half of the 20th Century, shoveling coal in winter months was a familiar part of middle class life. As a kid growing up in a residential borough of New York City, I'd see the coal truck pulling up periodically in the alley behind our brick row house. A workman would put a big wooden barrel beneath a hopper on the truck and fill the barrel with coal. He would maneuver the loaded barrel, rim-rolling it through our back yard to the concrete steps down to our basement furnace room, upend the barrel and spill the coal down a long steel chute that fed into a wooden coal bin holding a ton or so. The furnace that heated the whole house stood a couple of steps from the bin. Shoveling coal was a family chore. My father, mother and older brothers would alternate the morning and evening tasks, going down to the basement to stoke the furnace and remove coal ash that collected at the bottom, loading that into ash cans for pickup by a collection truck. I never knew and never even wondered where the ash was taken for disposal. By the time I was big enough to shovel coal myself it was no longer necessary because our family had switched to a more convenient gas heating system.

Today, most people don't personally handle much coal, but this whole country still casually manufactures coal ash in jaw-dropping volumes, much of it residue from big coal burning electrical power plants. And most of us have no clue where the ash goes for disposal. A lot is used for what the industry and government officials call "beneficial" purposes, as an ingredient, for example, in making cement and wallboard. But we generate mountains of ash so large that we can't consume it all. So we dump most of it anyplace it is economically feasible and arguably legal to dump it, sometimes in old played-out coal mines, sometimes in ponds near the power plants that burn it, sometimes in pits that are lined to hold the concentrated heavy metals and other toxins coal ash contains. Sometimes they are unlined, allowing toxins to migrate into ground water supplies.

How dangerous is coal ash? -- that's the big question. Physicians for Social Responsibility  (PSR) call it "a toxic stew of heavy metals from arsenic, boron, and chromium to lead, mercury and selenium, and zinc." Carelessly dumped ash is "posing grave risks to human health," says PSR.

Some people long exposed to coal ash, like Debra Trently of Cranberry, Pa, and Merle Wertman of Tamaqua, Pa., are suffering from a rare form of blood cancer. Betty and Lester Kester used to live in Tamaqua, Pa., but are dead now.  And there are others, some with the same blood cancer, known to science as polycythemia vera, and some burdened with other unusual and chronic health problems. They have no doubt that coal ash is the culprit.

In Juliette, Georgia, sits one of the nation's biggest coal-burning power plants. Georgia Power, the operator, dumps the ash in an unlined pond the size of a lake. Polycythemia vera is absent in Juliette, at least so far, but so many other cancers and other significant health problems are showing up that 100 people filed a law suit in 2013 against Georgia Power for damages. The company denied responsibility for the health concerns and the suit was then "appropriately" withdrawn, said company spokesman Brian Green.  

Brian Adams, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said the suit was withdrawn voluntarily "for strategic reasons" and that he continues to believe the company is culpable, and he intends to "reset" the case and re-file the complaint.

We expect corporations and government agencies at the federal and state and local level to protect us from any serious health consequences related to coal ash disposal. Until recently, the federal government has left the details of regulating coal ash largely to state governments where the coal industry has great influence. The prevailing rule is that the ash is considered a non-harmful form of waste, although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been pondering the validity of that definition for many years and officials now say they will update their thinking and issue a new rule by Dec. 19, 2014. The coal ash industry expects the feds to continue to classify coal ash as non-harmful. We'll see.

The coal ash industry has successfully resisted attempts to strengthen coal ash regulation, and they almost succeeded in slipping an amendment into Congressional legislation in 2012 that would have stripped EPA of the power to regulate coal ash now and in the future.

That was blocked by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) and a handful of other environmentally concerned lawmakers. Three years earlier Boxer said she had to fight the Department of Homeland Security's attempts to prevent her and her staff from publicly disclosing the location of 44 hazardous coal ash sites identified by EPA across the nation.

Now, the EPA faces budget cuts and a reduced workforce.

"Addressing the threat from a changing climate is one of the greatest challenges of this and future generations," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told the House Appropriations Committee this year. She said the agency's $7.9 billion budget request for 2015, which is $300 million below the current 2014 budget, "will provide the support we need to move forward by targeting real progress in priority areas: communities, climate change and air quality and chemical safety, and clean water."

Of course, a preponderance of scientific experts and political leaders are preoccupied these days over the extent to which coal combustion pushes us deeper into climate change and global warming, thereby posing a grave long-term threat to the health and safety of the entire planet of seven billion humans, a population expected to grow soon to nine billion if nature allows it.
 
Unfortunately, that distracting controversy makes it possible to overlook consequences already impacting a relatively small number of people who happen to live in communities victimized by side effects of ordinary day-to-day activities of massive coal ash disposal. That's the case even when people in those communities display a cluster of rare cancer cases, as acknowledged in Pennsylvania by federal health authorities. These victims think they are just being discarded as collateral damage, their suffering dismissed as merely an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of maximizing every available power source to continue driving an industrialized multi-trillion-dollar economy. Collateral damage?

"That was exactly my impression too," one closely involved scientist told me recently. Dr. Ronald Hoffman is a Professor at New York's Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, who has met some of those victims and who is an expert with 30 years of experience studying Myeloproliferative Disorders, which include polycythemia vera, the particular blood cancer identified in a cluster amid the coal ash dumps of the three adjoining Pennsylvania counties of Schuykill, Carbon and Luzerne.

Dr. Hoffman was invited in 2006 by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to look into the problem and he soon became convinced he was looking at "a possible public health danger to the people of Pennsylvania," as he testified in a Congressional hearing five years ago. He said the cancer cases in question were centered around EPA superfund sites and dumps of waste coal ash plants in the three counties and that his concern for the safety of the people living in the area only grew stronger as he gathered data. That seemed to displease senior officials at ATSDR, who attempted to intimidate him to get him to alter or change his findings that environmental contaminants may play a role in the cancers, Hoffman told the House Committee on Science and Technology subcommittee on investigations and oversight in 2009. Hoffman said he began to wonder "if there was some outside constituency who ASTDR was responding to that made them act like they just wanted this whole thing to go away."

Said Hoffman in 2009: "From my point of view, the mission of the Agency is to generate and communicate credible scientific information about the relationship between hazardous substances and adverse public health actions. My experience was, that in the case of polycythemia vera in eastern Pennsylvania, that the ATSDR did not accomplish this goal but only accomplished it eventually with relentless prodding to complete the needed investigations. My sense was if the Agency was left to themselves, they would have preferred to ignore the whole problem. ATSDR seemed to be committed to a course of ignoring and discrediting a mounting body of evidence which suggested the presence of a cluster of polycythemia vera patients in this tri-county area."

Science has limitations and precise answers are not always easy. Medical researchers agree that it is difficult, frequently impossible in fact, to determine with indisputable certainty that one particular form of environmental pollution caused any individual case of cancer, even when persuasive correlations exist between those cancers and exposure to that pollution. But that does not excuse those responsible for the pollution of their greater responsibility to protect people from the consequences.

 

Miles Benson is a correspondent for Link TV's Earth Focus

 
 

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