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The Palestine Nakba: Decolonising History, Narrating the Subaltern, Reclaiming Memory

 

The Palestine Nakba: Deconolising History, Narrating the Sabaltern, Reclaiming MemoryAuthor: Nur Masalha
ISBN-10: 1848139705
Paperback: 250 pages
Publisher: Zed Books Ltd

Book Review by Ramona Wadi

“To write more truthfully about the Nakba is not just to practice a professional historiography; it is also a moral imperative of acknowledgement and redemption.” The Palestine Nakba: decolonising history, narrating the subaltern, reclaiming memory’ (Zed Books, 2012) dismantles the myths structured by Zionism and sustained by an acquiescing narrative, furthering recognition of Palestinian legitimacy which surpasses remembrance.

Nur Masalha’s research provides a meticulous framework through which the Palestinian struggle for memory exceeds the conventional definition of resistance tainted by the enforced oblivion of Palestinian narrative. Through analysis of various academic works which are compared and contrasted to various Palestinian narratives, Masalha elevates subaltern memory to prominence, highlighting a continuous rupture exacerbated by euphemisms which attempt to diminish the Palestinian problem.

The various memory conflicts expounded upon in the book stem from Israel’s insistence upon manipulating Palestinian history in an attempt to thwart Palestinian consciousness, not only within the dispersed national dimension. The international support which Zionism harbours enables the occupying power to maintain the endorsed alienation from Palestinian existence and memory, which is erroneously supported in the West through a selective discernment of what constitutes genocide, thus displacing Palestinian history while supporting Zionist ambiguity and denial of the Nakba. The collaboration both at the Zionist governmental and academic levels portrays a reinvention of Jewish historiography ‘divorced from collective memory’ as the obsession of rewriting history in order to construct the fabrications of Jewish nationhood strive to eliminate the authenticity of Palestinian memory, hence the importance of reversing the traditional approach to history by returning to the subaltern memory – a component which is particularly vital in securing the Palestinian narrative which has already suffered appropriation and destruction of archived historical material.

Zionist historiography justifies Jewish independence by expounding upon oriental stereotypes, thus promoting Palestinian displacement and the elimination of the indigenous population in order to maintain the myth of the barren land. The Nakba, described by Israel as the war of liberation, is relegated to a segment of history within the Israeli narrative which is either denied or else misrepresented in a manner which seeks to divest Palestinians not only of their legitimate rights to land, but also of their existence. The settler-colonial memory supported by the Plan Dalet created colonial terminology which justified the occupation supported by imperialism. The justifications endorsed and promulgated by Israel reflect the lack of anti-colonial debate to the point of distortion concerning the actual commencement of the colonisation of Palestine which liberal Zionists claim had started in 1967. Masalha, however, traces the origins of colonisation back to 1882, when the concept of forced transfer had already formed part of Zionist ideology. Marginalising Palestinians by declaring them a segment of the Arab population furthered their displacement in terms of historical visibility enhanced by Zionist manipulation of language supporting a fictitious common history among settlers while justifying the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through the colonising of remnants of indigenous memory.

The imposition of Jewish collective memory designed by Zionism is a focal issue through which the colonisation of Palestinian identity and collective memory can be challenged through subaltern memory and the processes through which it ensured remembrance remained enshrined within a resistance which protected its people from the sequence of oblivion. The subaltern has presented a challenge to Zionist efforts to appropriate Palestinian territory. Toponymy, the destruction of Palestinian sites and their reinvention into places of allegedly Jewish significance aided by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the demolishing of villages in an attempt to invalidate Palestinian claims, massacres, internal forced displacement and the millions of Palestinian refugees have been minimised within the Zionist narrative to strengthen the alleged connection “between the days of the biblical Israelites and the modern Israeli state”. However, the intention to construct a state upon remnants of Palestinian territory is challenged by the strength of Palestinian memory. Despite eradication of Nakba discourse from Israeli debate which intentionally fails to associate the violence unleashed upon Palestinians as pertaining to Palestinian memory, Palestinians have struggled from the periphery for their right to memory within a context which the Israeli narrative deems obsolete.

Masalha highlights the urgency expressed by Palestinians in asserting their historical memory in various mediums of dissemination. With a discrepancy between Israeli and Palestinian narratives regarding documented collective memory, Palestinians have embarked upon a process of unification within various experiences of the Israeli occupation which reflects the colossal predicament of refugees. Israel’s vast archives and destruction of Palestinian documents led to unjustifiable claims of Palestinian memory as unreliable, hence the importance of asserting oral tradition to reconstruct the ostracised history, particularly the atrocities of the Nakba. Masalha states that “The overall bias towards Israeli ‘archives’ and the lack of sufficient attention given to Palestinian oral history have contributed to silencing the Palestinian past … As is the case with other subaltern groups, refugee oral testimony is a crucial source for recovering the voice of the victims of ethnic cleansing and for constructing a more comprehensible narrative of the experience of ordinary Palestinian refugees”. The urgency also reflects the necessity to rapidly depart from the colonial perspective in a manner through which Palestinians are able to author their own history, as well as counter Israeli perspectives that Palestinians should acknowledge responsibility for the Nakba.

The continuity of trauma necessitates the validation of oral history within Palestinian collective memory, in order to challenge the conventional Israeli historiography supplemented at various levels including education, by Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet. Palestinian oral history is disassociated from any ideological project, however it should be allowed the space to flourish and challenge the manipulation of discourse through recollection of Palestinian trauma. Exposing Israeli patriotism as a force intent on the obliteration of the indigenous population in turn provides the initial deconstruction of oblivion processes which tend to have further ramifications than the obvious process of forgetting. Indifference plays an integral role in the dynamics of oblivion – recognition of subaltern memory significantly challenges the exclusion of the Nakba from any political platform including the alleged peace process. Masalha’s arguments for a coherent counter hegemony that dispels Zionist manipulation of language, history and memory, based upon recognition of the Nakba and efforts to maintain its protection against denial especially with the international community portray the need to comprehend and maintain a wider commitment to the Palestinian struggle against Zionist and imperialist oblivion.

(Source / 29.09.2013)

The Syria I saw, now in ruins

Secretary of State John Kerry may be negotiating an end to Syria’s chemical weapons program, but the country I worked so hard to document is already gone.

Since 2006, I’ve traveled to Syria to photograph and record the nation’s ancient Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities for Smithsonian Folkways, the Sephardic Heritage Museum and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. I have dealt with every part of Syrian society: religious leaders, Kurdish villagers, President Bashar al-Assad’s secret police, underground death-metal bands, restaurateurs, artists and professors. Today, many I know have fled. Some remain as a matter of pride, but most because they don’t have the means to escape. The archbishop who first hosted me has been abducted by terrorists. I have friends fighting on both sides, and many of the streets I spent so much time in are reduced to rubble.

All I have left are my photographs. Here are some of my images of Syria, paired with more recent photos of these places’ tragic destruction.

(Top: Jason Hamacher; Bottom: Sana via Reuters)

I first went to Aleppo’s Saadallah al-Jabri Square when the city was declared a “capital of Islamic culture” by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2006. Thousands packed the square, dancing in the heart of their 8,000-year-old metropolis. In 2010, on a less happy occasion, I met with a member of the secret police at the now-destroyed Tourism Hotel (in 2010 photo, the last building on right) to get permission to photograph highly protected Jewish cemeteries. The agent was more interested in procuring American skin cream than in my assignment, and I didn’t get approval.

(Top: Jason Hamacher; Bottom: Joseph Eid/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Aleppo’s Citadel was the most-visited tourist site in Syria before the civil war erupted — I have the icon tattooed on my arm. Since my last visit, the Citadel’s stone stairs and 1,100-year-old iron door have been heavily damaged, and plans to build a museum and a protective shelter over a 5,000-year-oldtemple inside have been suspended. I befriended an architect working to restore the site. He’s since fled the country and lives in the United States.

(Top: Jason Hamacher; Bottom: Aleppo Media Center via Associated Press)

Built more than 1,000 years ago, Aleppo’s Great Mosque was burned last October, then shelled until its minaret collapsed in April. Like the cathedrals of Europe, the mosque demanded reverence. Its huge open courtyard was lined with archways that harbored the poor and disabled. I spent hours there recording and listening to the blind sing, and photographing the faithful.

(Top: Jason Hamacher; Bottom: Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Mahmandar Mosque, damaged by shelling in 2012, sits in ruin at the edge of Bashita, once one of Aleppo’s most prominent neighborhoods. I spent a great deal of time here, working at the Great Synagogue nearby. Even before the civil war, the neighborhood felt ancient, dusty and forgotten, and I never saw another Westerner. Just outside the mosque was a bakery that made great falafel and manakeesh — small street pizzas coated in olive oil, za’atar and Aleppo pepper rolled on top of each other. I would weave my way through narrow passageways, grab lunch and eat in the mosque’s 700-year-old shadow.

(Source / 27.09.2013)

The Arab Revolution: Ten Lessons from the Democratic Uprising

The Arab world has been making a new history since January 2011 when the uprisings against President Ben Ali resulted in his fleeing from Tunisia. Throughout 2011, the decades-old rule of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Qaddafi in Libya ended. Political change came to Yemen and the status quo has been strongly challenged in other Arab countries. Jean-Pierre Filiu, in his The Arab Revolution: Ten Lessons from the Democratic Uprising, takes stock of the revolutionary movements in the Arab world, briefly summarizes the events in key countries and comes up with ten lessons that we can learn from the uprisings.

The book, which comprises ten brief chapters, gives a concise history of what happened in the Arab world since the protests first started in Tunisia in December 2010. The book is organized around the lessons that can be learned from the revolutions. In the first two chapters, Filiu argues that the uprisings have challenged the widely held beliefs about Arabs and Muslims in the West. First, the recent events have shown that Arabs are not an exception, and like others they also seek liberty and freedom. As he writes, “Arabs are no exception, but the resilience of their ruling cliques has been exceptional” (p. 16). Second, the recent events have challenged the view that Muslims are associated with authoritarianism and violence but not freedom and peace. In the next three chapters, Filiu makes conclusions about social movements and mobilization. In chapter three, he shows how youths, with their resentment for the regimes, can be influential in revolutions. As opposed to those theories of mobilization that reference the necessity of material resources for social action, the Arab youth have showed that their anger was their power. In the following chapters, he demonstrates how social networks without charismatic leaders worked in the Arab countries in mobilizing the youth and marginalized groups.

In chapter six, Filiu examines the conventional assumption that “the alternative to authoritarianism in the Arab world is chaos.” To him, the recent uprisings have showed the opposite and taught us that “the alternative to democracy is chaos.” The region is no more stable with authoritarian rulers and the price of the Western backing to the authoritarian rulers is no longer stability. Chapters seven and eight are on lessons that we can learn from the Arab uprisings about Islamist politics. By making democracy and freedom their master discourse, the recent events have pushed Islamists to make a stark choice about their political identity: either choose the democratic path or lose in the long run. Similarly, the recent events made radical Islamic movements such as al-Qaeda irrelevant as they have showed people that it was possible and more feasible to change the status quo through more peaceful methods. In chapter nine, Filiu shows that the only thing that the uprisings have not changed is the Arabs’ sympathy for the Palestinians. The suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is still a significant concern in the new Arab world. In the final chapter, Filiu disappoints those who had expected a domino effect in the region and shows how diverse the political systems in the Arab world are, and how difficult it is to produce the same level of political change in each Arab country.

Filiu’s book is a timely contribution in understanding the Arab uprisings and their impact on the Middle East, Islamist politics, and social movements. More importantly, it is a significant study that corrects some of the incorrect assumptions about the Middle East in the Western academy and media. The book does a great job of presenting the complex set of events in clarity and brevity. The book is prepared for a general reader and has an accessible writing style, but Filiu gives the necessary historical background to make his arguments solid. Related to this, he makes historical parallels to better account for the political change in the Arab world. Despite its brevity, the author engages with various disciplines such as history, political science, communication, and sociology. One also gets the details of the Arab uprisings as the author reports what really happened on the ground in various chapters throughout the book.

The strength of the book, however, is also its weakness. Engaging with various disciplines and drawing wide-ranging conclusions on several subjects in brevity comes with a cost: The book does not have an overarching structure and argument. The lessons that Filiu suggests are stand-alone lessons and are not well tied to an organizing theme. Filiu could have narrowed his focus and the extent of the lessons. The book is good for readers who are not familiar with the Arab uprisings, but those who are familiar with the Middle East and expect deeper analysis will find little in the book.

(Source / 27.09.2013)

New book recounts living faith of Palestinian Christians

Cover of Radical Christianity in Palestine and Israel

While many Palestinians proudly point out that they are the oldest Christian community in the world, the history of Western Christian influences in the “Holy Land” is more suspect. Historically the Crusaders brought chaos and bloodshed, and missionary activity provided a bridgehead for European colonialism in nineteenth-century Palestine, as in many other parts of the world.

More recently, Christian Zionists from evangelical sects have been some of the staunchest supporters of the State of Israel — to the point where the largest Zionist organization in the US is not Jewish, but Christian (“Christian Zionism: An Overdue Reality Check,” The Daily Beast, 12 July 2012).

Although the existence of Palestine’s Christian communities is often highlighted, as is the prominent role of Palestinians from Christian backgrounds such asGeorge Habash, Wadi’ Haddad and Kamal Nasser in the armed resistance, outside of specialist groups there is little discussion of modern Palestinian Christian thought.

Samuel Kuruvilla’s Radical Christianity in Palestine and Israel seeks to correct that absence. It does so by analyzing the theologies developed by two major figures in current Palestinian Christian thinking: Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel center in Jerusalem, and Mitri Raheb, founder of Diyar, a group of social enterprises which includes the Dar Annadwa center in Bethlehem and several schools and social care organizations.

After a whistle-stop tour of Christian history in the region and of the origins of liberation theology (a form of Christianity which incorporates radical ideas of social justice and anti-colonialism), the book explores modern theology in Palestine.

Theology

This includes grappling with issues such as how to square opposition to the State of Israel with a belief in the Old Testament stories of the Jewish people, and Arab efforts to distance themselves from Western Christianity’s heritage of anti-Semitism (108). Kuruvilla also charts aspects of the relationship between Levantine Christians and the secularist Arab nationalist movement, and with the Muslim majority.

Looking at the personal and professional careers of Naim Ateek and Mitri Raheb, Kuruvilla then recounts the history of developments in Palestinian Christianity in recent decades. These are both practical changes — of political alliances, debates and organizations — and shifting ideas.

To take just one example, the book analyzes discussions of the meaning of “Israel” in the Old Testament. For American theologian Paul Van Buren, the crimes of the Holocaust meant that Western Christians should “combat all lies [sic] against the State of Israel” (131). For Naim Ateek, however, this reading of the Bible saw the Christian God as a “tribal God of Old Testament Israel and not the New Testament God of love, grace and mercy” (130).

Such disputes over the implications of different readings of the Bible form the core of the book. These illustrate how Palestinian theologians have used the tools of interpretation and exegesis to bring new meaning to the scriptures, as Christian thinkers have done since the time of the Apostle Paul.

Alongside Ateek’s liberation theology, this also includes Mitri’s “contextual theology,” which has led him to a faith practice rooted in Diyar’s building of “the physical, material, technological and spiritual infrastructure to help … rebuild their nation” (194).

Kuruvilla’s own Indian background provides an interesting angle on his subject. He says from the start that his choice of topic was influenced by hostility he encountered when studying in the UK, from people who assumed that, rather than a Christian, he was Muslim (XI). He also notes that his life experiences gives him first-hand knowledge of the troubled relationship between Christian minority communities in non-Western countries and Western Christians who take a potentially self-serving interest in their fates.

Church hierarchies

However, perhaps Kuruvilla’s religious closeness to the topic at times makes him uncritical of church hierarchies. Despite his academic background in political, not religious, studies, he makes almost no mention of how fundamentally political liberation theology was, and how intimately it was associated with, for example, the Nicaraguan revolution. His description of the beginnings of liberation theology sticks to the “theology,” rarely mentioning the “liberation” of its revolutionary ideas.

This also means that we aren’t told how energetically church leaders opposed this “Marxism” within their ranks, condoning human rights abuses in Latin America and often siding with right-wing, US-supported dictatorships.

At the risk of sounding pedantic, there are a few basic issues with this book, ones common to many academic texts. An adaptation of Kuruvilla’s PhD, the text is chopped into short subheadings designed for academic marking rather than smooth reading — although given the complexity of the theological explorations and bewildering range of Christian denominations, this does sometimes help to make the book clearer.

Like many academic titles, it also appears not to have been comprehensively edited. Sometimes this just leads to oddities of style, but occasionally it results in howlers such as the statement that: “the Byzantine Patriarch Sophronius … represented the Church when [Jerusalem] capitulated to the Abbasid Caliph ‘Omar in … 637[CE]” (9). This sentence is broadly correct, except that the Abbasids were an Islamic dynasty which came to power in 750, more than a century after the death of Omar, who was one of the four immediate successors of the Prophet Muhammad.

It’s also important to remember that the theological analysis of this book only reflects one aspect of today’s Palestinian Christian society. Despite a seven-page glossary of the specialist terms used in the book, there is no mention of Palestinian Christian political activity. One such absent example is the 2009 Kairos Declaration, a statement by church leaders — including Ateek and Mitri — which presented a united Christian front against the occupation.

And, as with communities the world over, there is a difference between individuals calling themselves “Christian” or “Muslim” as an identity, and the extent to which they actually engage with doctrinal detail.

Nevertheless, Kuruvilla’s book is a significant addition to scholarship on Palestinian Christianity. More importantly, it also demonstrates that this religion is not a historical remnant. It is a living faith with the ability to develop and respond to the political context, and to assert a role and identity for Palestinian Christians without the spurious help and colonialist interference of Western evangelicals.

(Source / 28.06.2013)

William Sutcliffe: the power of the West Bank wall

A visit to the West Bank with the Palestine festival of literature made William Sutcliffe rebuild his novel The Wall

Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank

Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank village of Al-Ram.

No matter how many photographs you have seen, coming face to face with the wall in the West Bank is a shock. We often use the word “concrete” as an antonym for “imaginary”, but when I first touched this eight-metre-high edifice of concrete, alongside what would otherwise have been a quite ordinary street, my first reaction was disbelief. How had this been thought of, let alone built? Up close, this wall seemed both real and implausible.

Everyone has heard of the Berlin Wall. The wall in the West Bank, despite being twice as high and four times as long, is not such a familiar structure. It is the biggest civil engineering project in the history of Israel, so far costing more than $2.6bn (£1.7bn), but many of us don’t even know what it looks like. Perhaps the most extraordinary facet of this unique construction, built on land at the very nexus of the bitterest land dispute of modern times, is that it appears to have swathed itself in a cloak of current affairs invisibility.

As a novelist, and a diaspora Jew disturbed by Israel’s ever-increasing military belligerence, the more the world ignored this wall, the more interested in it I became. During the 10 years of its construction, as this part-wall, part-fence spread across the West Bank, tracing a perplexingly circuitous route, I slowly became convinced that this edifice was more than just a wall. It was a symbol of something. But to discover exactly what, I had to start writing.

I developed an idea about a boy in an unnamed, non-specific place, a comfortable suburb, who has never questioned the impenetrable wall adjacent to his home, or his parents’ stories about the “enemy” on the other side. His discovery of a tunnel, and the growth of his teenage inquisitiveness, lead him to unearth some painful truths. I finished a rough draft, only to discover that the story worked, but that the setting was too vague. Was this, or was it not, a novel about the West Bank? I realised that I needed to visit the wall that had initially sparked my interest and make a decision about how specific I wanted my novel to be. A chance conversation alerted me to the fact that the Palestine Festival of Literature, or Palfest as it is usually known, was coming up. I wrote to the organisers and, to my delight, they made space for me.

I felt well-versed in the subject, well‑read on the political situation, but nothing had prepared me for the devastating reality of visiting the West Bank. Since it is extremely difficult for Palestinians to travel freely around the occupied territories, Palfest has to travel to its audience rather than the other way round. It resembles a roadshow rather than any other literary festival, delivering to Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, East Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron an international group of writers for an intense series of workshops, seminars, readings and discussions with local writers.

The festival has a dual purpose, serving as much to entertain its audience as to educate the writers who participate. It is in the travel between events, coming up against the effects of military occupation on ordinary civilian life, that this education takes its most shocking form.

We crossed the wall twice at Qalandia checkpoint, as 23,000 Palestinians are obliged to do every day. This checkpoint has turned what was once a simple 20-minute drive from Ramallah to East Jerusalem into a complex ordeal. Physically going through this checkpoint, walking through the claustrophobic metal cages, awaiting the release of a remotely operated turnstile that allows through one person at a time, surrounded by crowds of impatient but stoical Palestinians trying to get to work, scrutinised from above by armed soldiers on raised gantries, was a visceral experience.

The phrase “military occupation” trips off the tongue easily. Only in close proximity to the invading army do you begin to get any inkling of what it must feel like to live your life at the mercy of hostile foreign troops. In a lifetime of movie-watching I have seen thousands of weapons, but at Qalandia checkpoint I felt, for the first time, the power of the gun.

In the long queue I found myself adjacent to a doctor who had qualified in Germany and now worked in Jerusalem, but who had been refused a Jerusalem residence permit by the Israeli authorities on return from her training. She, therefore, had to live away from her family, in Ramallah, and endure this checkpoint twice a day. “I could work in Europe and live a normal life,” she told me. “But that is what they want. For people like me to leave.” This, she implied, was the real purpose of the wall. It was her duty not to be forced out.

I returned from Palestine psychologically and emotionally devastated by what I had seen. Every aspect of the occupation was harsher, more brutal than I had expected. For months, I couldn’t even look at the draft of my novel. The idea of treating this topic too lightly, of not doing justice to the suffering I had witnessed, filled me with shame. I knew I had to make the next draft of the book resemble the West Bank more closely, but I also knew it had to retain some distance from reality for the novel to function as fiction.

Eventually, I reread the work I had done, then set about picking it apart and rebuilding it in a modified world. I have ended up with a novel, The Wall, which is still set in a place that is, and isn’t, the West Bank. The novel’s setting is in some ways imaginary, but is also deeply researched. Anyone interested in this military occupation will, I hope, find some insights into the reality of how it operates. But I have only succeeded as a writer of fiction if this is a story that engages people who know nothing about Israel and Palestine, but are curious about a more universal topic: the division between the haves and the have-nots, and the invisibility of the latter in the eyes of the former. The wall in the West Bank may be unique, but what it represents has echoes everywhere.

(Source / 13.05.2013)

Reading Palestinian Prison Diaries

prisoners_diaries_book

By Richard Falk

(The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, edited by Norma Hashim, in close collaboration with the Centre for Political & Development Studies, Gaza, 2013)

There are many moving passages that can be found in these excerpts from prison diaries and recollections of 22 Palestinians. What is most compelling is how much the material expresses the shared concerns of these prisoners despite great variations in writing style and background. A few keywords dominate the texts: pain, God or Allah, love, dream, homeland, steadfastness, tears, freedom, dream, prayer. My reading of these diaries exposed me to the distinct personal struggles of each prisoner to survive with as much dignity as possible in a dank and poorly lit circumstances of isolation, humiliation, acute hostility on the part of the prison staff, including abusive neglect by the medical personnel. The diaries also confirmed that even prolonged captivity had not diluted the spirit of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, but on the contrary had intensified it.  A strong impression of the overall illegitimacy of Israel’s encroachment on the most fundamental rights of the Palestinian people is also present on virtually every page.

Although not professional writers, the sentiments expressed have a special kind of eloquence arising from their authenticity and passion.  A female prisoner, Sana’a Shihada, on learning that her family had been spared the demolition of their family home, describes the ordeal of her interrogation in a poetic idiom: “..the anger of the interrogators was like snow and peace to me [an Arabic saying that conveys a sense of being ‘soothing’]. I felt the pride of the Palestinians, the glory of Muslims, and the brightness of honesty. I knelt to Allah, thankfully. My tears fell on the floor of the cell, and I am sure they dug a path which those later imprisoned will be able to see.” Or the words of Eyad Obayyat, a prisoner facing three lifetime sentences for his role in killing several Israeli soldiers, “Among us prisoners, the unity of love for our homeland was precious above all other things.” Another, Avina Sarahna, asks poignantly, “Is resisting occupation a crime?…Let me be a witness to the truth, and let me stay here.” Speaking of the pain of being separated from her four children, Kahera Als’adi writes, whom she discovered were living in an orphanage: “I couldn’t keep myself from bursting into tears. Was my loving family scattered like this? Was fate against us because of our love for our homeland? After that visit, I felt like a slaughtered sheep.” These randomly selected quotations could be multiplied many times over, but hopefully the overall tone and coherent message are conveyed by these few examples.

What I found most valuable about this publication was its success in turning the abstraction of Palestinian prisoners into a series of human stories most of which exhibit agonized feelings of regret resulting from prolonged estrangement from those they most love in the world. Particularly moving were the sorrows expressed by men missing their mothers and daughters. These are the written words of prisoners who have been convicted of various major crimes by Israeli military courts, some of whom face cruel confinement for the remainder of their life on earth, and who have been further punished by being deprived of ever seeing those they love not at all, or on rare occasions, for brief tantalizing visits under dehumanizing conditions, through fogged up separation walls.

It is hard not to treat a prison population as an abstraction that if noticed at all by the outside world is usually reduced to statistics that appear in reports of human rights NGOs. These autobiographical texts, in contrast, force us to commune with these prisoners as fellow human beings, persons like ourselves with loves, lovers, needs, aspirations, hopes, pious dreams, and unrelenting hardships and suffering. There is also reference to the other side of the prison walls. These prisoners show concern for the suffering that imprisonment causes their families, especially young children and elderly parents.  Given the closeness of Palestinian  families it is certain that those who are being held in prison would be terribly missed, especially as their confinement arises because of their engagement in a struggle sacred to virtually every Palestinian. Such humanization of Palestinian prisoners is undoubtedly superfluous for Palestinians living under occupation or in refugee camps where arrests, which resemble state-sanctioned kidnappings are being made daily by Israeli security forces. It is a tragic aspect of the occupation that after 45 years of occupation there is not a Palestinian family that is left untouched by the Israeli criminalization of all forms of resistance, including those that are nonviolent and symbolic.

We need a wider ethical, legal, and political perspective to grasp properly this phenomenon of Palestinian prisoners. The unlawful occupation policies of Israel are unpunished even when lethal and flagrantly in violation of international humanitarian law, and are rarely even officially criticized in international arenas. In contrast lawful forms of resistance by the Palestinian people are harshly punished, and the resulting victimization of those brave enough to resist is overlooked almost everywhere.  If we side with those who resist, as was done during World War II when those Europeans mounted militant forms of resistance against German occupation and criminal practices, we glorify their deeds and struggle. Yet if the occupier enjoys our primary solidarity we tend to criminalize resistance without any show of empathy. To some extent, this book cuts through this ideological myopia, and lets us experience the torment of these prisoners as human beings rather than as Palestinian ‘soldiers’ in the ongoing struggle against Israel.

In the past year, heroic Palestinian hunger strikers, initially Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi, did their best to call attention to the abusive character of Israel’s terrifying violent arrests in the middle of the night followed by imprisonment for lengthy periods without even making charges or holding trials. Israeli recourse to administrative detention takes place even in circumstances where the person being confined was engaged in no activities that could be remotely considered to pose a security threats.  It is notable that despite hunger strikers putting their own lives at severe risk to protest such inhumane behavior by Israel in its role as the occupying power, the world refuses to pay attention even to such hunger strikers, which is somewhat shocking despite decades of lectures to the Palestinians to renounce armed resistance, and engage instead in nonviolent forms of resistance, and if they do so, they will win political support for their grievances even from governments allied with Israel, including the United States. To date the evidence suggests a far uglier pattern: when Palestinians resist by way of armed struggle, their actions are denounced and their grievances are ignored, while when they resist nonviolently, their actions and their grievances are ignored. What is worse, while this shift in Palestinian tactics has taken place in recent years, the Israeli governing process moves steadily to the right until now in March 2013, the latest governing coalition in Tel Aviv is avowedly settler oriented. The international background music has not changed, and Washington loses no opportunity to sound the trumpets while declaring its unconditional and undying loyalty to Israel, pretending not to notice violations of international law and the deliberate efforts to make the two state solution yesterday’s dream, today’s nightmare.

The preoccupation of these prisoners with the fate of the singular Israeli prisoner at the time, Gilad Shalit, was something of a surprise for me, although it is understandable. Why, the Palestinians ask themselves, does the world make such a fuss about a single Israeli being held in Gaza after being captured during a military mission, and ignore the fate of the many thousands of Palestinians detained for year after year because they fought for the freedom of their country? Once considered, such a question is both natural, and once asked, the grotesque display of double standards seems self-evident. But there is also an opposite appreciation of the significance of Shalit expressed, which recognizes that the October 2011 deal struck to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners would not have happened had Shalit not been captured. In this sense, the Palestinians in recording their feelings realize that their freedom has been made possible because Hamas succeeded in capturing and holding Shalit. This was no small achievement. During the massive attacks by Israel on Gaza in 2008-09, Operation Cast Lead, IDF commanders told their troops that this violence had been unleashed so as to gain the release of Shalit. Had Hamas allowed Shalit to go free or had be been killed in the operation, then there would have been no negotiations for the release of Palestinian prisoners. It is as simple as that. Of course, it is not simple. Many of those released were soon rearrested by Israel, once more undermining even minimal trust between the two peoples, and again showing that Israel can defy legal and moral obligations without facing any adverse consequences, a metaphor for the overall stranglehold of the occupation.

Above all, these texts in almost every page confirm that particularly prized Palestinian collective public/private virtue of sumud or steadfastness. Such exhibitions of courage indirectly shames those of us who suffer far less or not at all, and yet find ourselves discouraged and dispirited by the ills of the world to an extent that we retreat from public engagement to the comfort zones of sanctuaries of escape. These prisoners have no such option, maintaining their commitment to the Palestinian struggle in the darkest of circumstances, consigned to spending their most energetic years behind bars or surrounded by dank prison walls. We can ask ourselves where does such courage come from? There is no definite common answer. Yet what comes across from these diary pages are deep commitments  rooted in love of family and homeland as strengthened by religious faith and practice and sustained by prison camaraderie or in embittered reaction to the dehumanizing atmosphere of enduring prison life year upon year.

We should not forget that there is a callous and manifest unlawfulness about this network of Israeli prisons, all but one of the 19 being located in Israel, in direct violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing belligerent occupation: “Protected persons accused of offenses shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve therein.”  Underlying such a provision of law is a humane impulse: compelling an individual to be imprisoned in the occupying country imposes a geographic separation from family and homeland, which in the Israeli case is accentuated by a permit system that as a practical matter makes family visits from occupied Palestine a virtual impossibility. With respect to prisoners from Gaza, there are virtually no prison visits allowed even if sentences are for several decades or lifetime. As is widely known, the people of Gaza have been subject to a punitive blockade maintained ever since mid-2007 that involves a massive imposition of collective punishment on the civilian population, a crime of war so specified in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Israel’s cruelty toward Palestinian prisoners is underscored by its recent practice of releasing West Bank hunger strikers at death’s doorstep, then deporting them for a period of years to Gaza, that is, beyond access to their families and normal places of residence, at a moment when their physical condition is so deteriorated that they could not possibly become a security threat and when most in need of nurture and familiar surroundings. Hana Shalabi, who was particularly close to her family, was so deported to Gaza for three years and just days ago. Ayman Sharawneh was similarly deported for ten years as part of a plea bargain. Such shocking practice is worthy of global condemnation. It involves another form of collective punishment inflicted both on the person so confined to Gaza and to his or her family that is not allowed to travel from the West Bank to Gaza. There is a triple  perverseness about this practice of prisoner release: Gaza itself an open-aired prison also serves Israel as a site of punitive internal exile, and makes the distinction between ‘prison’ and ‘freedom’ almost disappear into surreal thin air.  One can only imagine the global protest movement if Hamas had conditioned Gilad Shalit’s release on his confinement in a Salafi controlled region of Egypt!

This pattern of unlawful imprisonment and unjust deportation also interferes with the preparation of adequate defense representation as Palestinian lawyers also experience routine difficulties in obtaining permits and visiting rights. Article 76 also requires that prison conditions for those living under occupation should under no condition be worse than those of Israeli prisoners in Israel, which makes the disallowance and obstruction of family visits for Palestinians unlawful, as well as cruel.

It is increasing evident that international humanitarian law falls short when it comes to offering suitable protection to the Palestinian people who have been living under occupation since 1967, with no end in sight. It is not only occupation, but a continuous process of encroachment that cumulatively has assumed the character of de facto annexation via the massive settlement phenomenon. Under these circumstances, and given the inalienable right of self-determination that belongs to the Palestinian people, there is posed some protection for rights of resistance. These rights need to be exercised in a manner respectful of civilian innocence, but difficult issues of identification are posed in relation to armed and violent Israeli settlers. True, those who act in resistance are not technically prisoners of war, who are protected the Third Geneva Convention, but they are acting to fulfill fundamental rights being violated by those who occupy their land and sit in judgment when they act defensively. What is needed, beyond all doubt, is a code of conduct, if not an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, that fills in this gap associated with resistance. Resisters should be treated with the same dignity under international humanitarian law as is associated with Prisoners of War. Their acts, even if violent, are in keeping with prevailing societal and civilizational values, and perpetrators, even when confined for reasonable security reasons, should be treated with appropriate dignity. Unlike sociopathic common murderers, rapists, and the like (and even they should also be treated in accord with international standards), the acts of Palestinian prisoners are viewed as heroic by their own society and political culture, as well as many people throughout the world. They deserve international recognition and protection. Their ‘crimes’ will eventually be vindicated by history as part of a final chapter in the struggle against European colonial rule.

I believe it to be a moral obligation of all of us who care about human rights and freedom to read this book, and share it with others. The Palestinians, whose rights and dignity have been long trampled upon, especially deserve our deepest empathy, as well as our solidarity in their struggle. Reading the words of these prisoners vividly discloses the nature of such a struggle in the form of witnessing by those Palestinians who have put their lives at risk for the sake of recovering their stolen homeland. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Norma Hashim who has edited this collection as a work of devotion and an expression of solidarity with and reflection on the Palestinian struggle. Its publication in book form is timed to coincide with Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, April 17th.

(Source / 01.04.2013)

FBI’s penchant for “manufacturing terrorists” probed in new book

Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations since one week before the 11 September 2001 attacks, recently wrote a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee bemoaning the “across-the-board cuts” imposed on the agency while outlining the areas of law enforcement that will suffer as a result. Among the areas in which the FBI and Department of Justice would be forced to downsize their activities would be the financial sector. “Left unchecked, fraud and malfeasance in the financial, securities and related industries could hurt the integrity of US markets,” Mueller warned.

In light of the reality of US economic woes, Mueller’s admonition is disingenuous, if not downright pernicious. In fact, the FBI’s 12-year absence from monitoring financial fraud saw the nation’s biggest economic meltdown — itself a direct result of the financial sector running roughshod over what few regulations remained. And now, more than four years after that manmade collapse, the Department of Justice has yet to investigate, let alone prosecute, the criminals responsible for the devastation.

What the FBI was doing before, during and after the financial crisis is the subject under examination in Trevor Aaronson’s new book The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism.

The book unveils the FBI’s domestic counterterrorism program that began after the 11 September attacks and has continued well into Barack Obama’s second term in office. The program, vividly portrayed by Aaronson, is defined by a wanton use of informants and sting operations in order to produce a high rate of convictions — thus ensuring that Congress continues to write out checks to the FBI’s counterterrorism program to the tune of $3 billion annually.

Since the 11 September attacks, the FBI has employed more than 15,000 confidential informants nationwide. And, according to Aaronson, for each official informant there are as many as three unofficial informants — known within the FBI as “hip pockets.” By 2011, the Justice Department had prosecuted more than 500 individuals on terrorist charges, a handful of whom Aaronson categorizes as “actual terrorists.” The rest were hatched within the context of FBI sting operations, informants and agents provocateur.

Until 2009, the specifics of the Department of Justice’s terrorist cases were classified. But when Attorney General Eric Holder decided to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a Manhattan courtroom, he was called upon to prove how capable US courts were of convicting terrorists. In order to do so Holder made public the document containing the track record of the DOJ’s prosecution of terrorists. With that information divulged, Aaronson — already watching “terrorist” convictions with a fair amount of skepticism — grabbed the opportunity to investigate who these alleged terrorists really were.

Sordid practice

What Aaronson discovered was that, far from preventing terrorism, the FBI uses its funds to “manufacture” terrorists out of marginalized, desperate, mentally ill or immature men (many of the convicted individuals profiled are in their early twenties). In Aaronson’s words, “The FBI has been effective at creating the very enemy it is hunting.”

Taking his readers through several FBI sting operations, Aaronson reveals a sordid practice in which the FBI often employs criminals to infiltrate Muslim communities to turn otherwise powerless malcontents into “terrorists.” According to Aaronson’s accounts, these so-called terrorists would have no more than the capability to mouth off in a chat room if it weren’t for the inert weapons and cash that informants would literally place in their hapless hands, thus creating “bogeymen from buffoons.”

The Terror Factory adroitly covers the context in which the informant program emerged, including interviews with several current and former members of the FBI. Aaronson portrays a feeble pre-11 September FBI, comprised of Luddite lawyers and technocrats whose negligence appears in no small part responsible for the 2001 attacks, transformed by an influx of cash and a new set of instructions.

Coercion

In addition to providing intimate and harrowing portraits of individuals framed as terrorists by the FBI, Aaronson also elucidates precisely how the agency similarly creates informants. Whether by leveraging an individual’s criminal history, exploiting a precarious immigration status or manipulating the expansive no-fly list, the FBI frightens and coerces vulnerable people into acting as spies for the agency.

Aaronson confines his critique of the “war on terror” to the FBI’s use of informants and sting operations. The narrow parameters of his book allow Aaronson to effectively drive home the important point that the proliferation of informants among Muslim-Americans has not only fragmented communities and devastated lives, but is entirely ineffectual at preventing terrorism.

However, this limited scope proves perilous when Aaronson attempts to navigate around the distinction he makes between a “real terrorist” and a manufactured one, hampering his ability to fully critique the FBI’s counterterrorism program and the war on terror. This problematic tension is felt at various points throughout the book, but is starkly revealed when Aaronson describes the list Holder declassified in 2009: “While the list did include one dangerous terrorist, Najibullah Zazi, as well as people who were raising money for or sending money to terrorist groups such as Hamas, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, others who made the list were terrorists only because the Justice Department had labeled them as such.”

Dubious apology

It seems implausible that Aaronson is unaware of the cases of the Holy Land Five, Muhammad Salah, Sami Al-Arian and countless others — all of them also manufactured “terrorists” whose lives were destroyed by allegations of providing “material support” to Palestinian groups categorized as terrorist organizations in 1997 — but the above suggests he is. While this flaw does not negate the value of Aaronson’s significant investigation, it indicates a troubling and, given his insight, rather surprising short-sightedness. In not questioning the US definition of terrorist organizations, Aaronson fails to account for the political motivations that lead to these designations.

Furthermore, he offers a dubious apology for the dangerous notion that the world can and should be divided into good Muslims and bad Muslims — not only real terrorists and manufactured terrorists. Aaronson cites, without irony, a 2011 study that finds most Muslims in the US want to “adopt American customs and ways of life” and “reject religious extremism” in order to argue that Muslim values are “identical to that of the general US population.”

That an individual identifies with the impossibly vague and faintly racist notion of “the general US population” is, of course, irrelevant to his or her entitlement to civil liberties and freedom from FBI coercion, spying and entrapment — and Aaronson does his readers no service in failing to remind them of this.

In fact, the “terror industry” has multiple fronts — around the world, in Guantanamo and within the US. All have been facilitated by the ease with which the federal government can label groups, defendants and individuals as “terrorists.” Aaronson’s book does much to reveal the meaninglessness of this label as far as it has been applied in certain contexts. However, he does not extend this logic to the broader war on terror — a war that equips the US government with the authority to not only entrap, but also torture, indefinitely detain and ultimately execute people everywhere.

Aaronson’s book is a powerful portrait of the FBI’s insidious and destructive counterterrorism program that enables the contortion of the innocuous into the threatening, ruining hundreds of lives in its wake. As we view the devastation that lies on the battleground of the war on terror and observe the White House now skirting admission that it may execute citizens on US soil, it is imperative that we address the depths of this deadly sham.

(Source / 20.03.2013)

Nederlands publicatie over Marokkaanse grootheid Abdelkrim

 


Nederlands publicatie over Marokkaanse grootheid Abdelkrim
Over de Riffijnse/noord- Marokkaanse vrijheidsstrijder en strateeg Abdelkrim Alkhattabi die de Rifoorlog tussen 1921 en 1926 leidde is het boek ‘Abdelkrim, parcours van een vrijheidsstrijder’ verschenen. Het boek is geschreven door Ali Idrissi.

Na de onafhankelijkheid te hebben afgeroepen en na de vele veldslagen die het kleine Riffijnsee leger van de Spanjaarden en de Fransen had gewonnen moest Abdelkrim zich na het gebruik van Duitse gifgas gewonnen geven en gaf hij zich over aan de Fransen.

Het door de Marokkaanse historicus Mustapha Aarab vertaalde werk spits zich anders dan vele andere publicaties over de Riffijnse verzet vooral ook op de visie van de Marokkaanse grootheid over vrijheid, rechtvaardigheid, democratie en de opbouw van een moderne rechtstaat.

Volgens de vertaler is het de bedoeling van het boek om de strateeg en denker Abdelkrim uit het isolement van enkel het militaire leiderschap te halen. Het boek bevat zeldzame en niet eerder verschenen foto’s uit o.a. het privé album van Aicha Abdelkrim Alkhattabi, dochter van Mohammed Abdelkrim Alkhattabi.

Titel: Abdelkrim, Parcours van een vrijheidsstrijder
Auteur: Ali Idrissi
Taal: Nederlands
ISBN: 9789048425501
Aantal pagina’s: 240


Nederlands publicatie over Marokkaanse grootheid Abdelkrim


Nederlands publicatie over Marokkaanse grootheid Abdelkrim
(Source / 14.02.2013)

“Hypocrisy-seeking missile”: Omar Barghouti’s “BDS” reviewed

“Our South Africa moment has finally arrived,” said Palestinian author-activist Omar Barghouti in a series of speeches delivered in 2010. With the publication of BDS: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, the first book dedicated to the game-changing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — known by the initials BDS — has itself finally arrived.

The long-awaited volume aims to summarize the key arguments that Barghouti — a co-founder of the movement — has been making in the six years that he has been working to rally global support for the landmark 2005 Palestinian BDS call.

Something between a monograph and an anthology, the volume brings together essays, open letters (some co-authored), interview transcripts and even a campaign case study. These elements, while stylistically varied, revolve around the same three central points: first, that the nature of the oppression visited upon Palestinians by Israel resembles, in many ways, the situation of black South Africans under apartheid; second, that this oppression must be actively resisted; and third, that the growing BDS movement provides the most moral, efficient and effective mechanism for conducting that resistance.

Barghouti does not suggest that Israel’s policies toward Palestinians precisely mirror those of apartheid South Africa, however. “Israel’s version of apartheid is more sophisticated than South Africa’s was,” he explains. “It’s an evolved form” (167). He points out numerous similarities as well as differences, noting that many of the distinctions are the result of the fact that “South Africa, unlike Israel, did not employ ethnic cleansing to expel most of the indigenous population out of the country … In South Africa, the overall plan was to exploit blacks, not throw them out” (169).

As the author demonstrates, many of Israel’s practices in maintaining the resulting system of institutional inequality are clearly worse than those of South Africa under apartheid. To those who dispute the label of “apartheid” to describe Israel, Barghouti notes that apartheid has “for decades been recognized by the United Nations as a generalized crime with a universal definition” (199).

Drawing much of its inspiration from the South African struggle, Barghouti explains that the BDS movement represents a “qualitatively new stage” in the history of Palestinian resistance to colonization and occupation (61). As expressed in a quoted statement by Palestine’s BDS National Committee (BNC), “Israel’s impunity is the direct result of the international community’s failure to hold it accountable” for its behavior (209).

The existence of a Palestinian-led movement which asks its international supporters to demonstrate solidarity not only in words, but through concrete actions, has effectively broken this cycle. Now, as a result of worldwide BDS efforts, companies directly profiting from the oppression of Palestinians “are experiencing real, deep losses that are directly connected” with their complicity in Israeli apartheid (165). Thus, “the BDS movement has dragged Israel and its well-financed, bullying lobbying groups onto a battlefield where the moral superiority of the Palestinian quest for self-determination, justice, freedom and equality neutralizes and outweighs Israel’s military power and financial prowess” (62).

Barghouti excels in distilling the arguments surrounding BDS down to their essentials. It is precisely because of his insistent focus on these fundamental issues that it has become all but impossible to find articulate holders of opposing views willing to engage him in public debate. As Barghouti makes plainly clear, the bottom line in the relationship between the core, rights-based demands of the BDS movement, and the positions of all those who oppose them, is that those who continue to support the concept of a “Jewish state” — from “soft Zionists” on the left to the overt proponents of genocide on the right — advocate a system of society in which rights are bestowed, abridged, or denied on the basis of ethnic origin, while the BDS movement insists that all human beings must be treated as equals.

Rather than admit to the nature of this distinction, those who oppose the BDS movement on the basis of political conviction consistently resort to other arguments. Some address the goals of the BDS movement, but many simply the means. Both types of arguments are deftly deconstructed by Barghouti, who hones in on their inherent flaws like a hypocrisy-seeking missile.

Barghouti’s skill at exposing the often racist assumptions and double-standards which undermine the contentions of BDS opponents is most clearly evident in his discussion of academic boycott, a subject treated extensively in the volume.

Critics who challenge academic boycott of Israel on the grounds that it jeopardizes the academic freedom of Israelis, the author says, “completely ignore that by denying Palestinians their basic rights — all our freedoms — Israel is infringing deeply on our academic freedom. That doesn’t count, it seems … Those who care about academic freedom only when it pertains to Jewish Israelis — perceived as ‘white,’ ‘European,’ ‘civilized’ — and not when it pertains to us brown Palestinians are hypocritical, to put it mildly” (174-175).

Barghouti emphasizes the anti-racist position which forms an explicit pillar of the BDS movement’s platform: “Individuals who believe that some are more human or deserve more rights than others based on differences in ethnic, religious, gender, sexual, or any other human identity attributes cannot belong to this consistently antiracist struggle for universal rights,” he states (33). The author turns accusations of inherent anti-Semitism in the movement on their head: “Characterizing actions and positions that target Israeli apartheid and colonial rule as anti-Semitic is itself anti-Semitic, for such arguments assume that Jews are a monolithic sum that Israel represents and speaks on behalf of and, moreover, that all Jews per se are somehow responsible for Israeli crimes, a patently racist assumption” (149).

The author does not mince words in criticizing projects which “normalize” the current state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinians. “Joint projects that claim to be ‘apolitical’ are often the most blatantly politicized,” he writes, for they “deliberately disregard the context of colonial oppression and imply the possibility of achieving peace without addressing the root causes of conflict” (140).

True peace cannot possibly be achieved in such a context, Barghouti argues: “A master and a slave can reach an agreement where the enslavement is accepted as reality and the slave cannot challenge it but only make the best out of it. There is no war — no conflict, nobody is killing anybody — but the master remains master and the slave remains slave. That is not the kind of peace that we, the oppressed, are seeking or can ever resign ourselves to” (173).

With Palestinians in Gaza facing a man-made catastrophe as a result of a siege deliberately crafted to push the entire population to the brink of destruction, Barghouti argues, BDS has become a moral imperative: “Unless the price of its system of oppression is sufficiently raised through concerted civil-society pressure campaigns, [Israel] will never give it up,” he writes (173). “In short, Palestinians cannot wait. Israel is no longer ‘just’ guilty of occupation, colonization and apartheid against the people of Palestine … It has embarked on what seems to be its final effort to literally disappear the ‘Palestinian problem.’ And it is doing so with utter impunity. The world cannot continue to watch. Thus BDS. Thus now” (47).

Barghouti does an admirable job of providing a lucid theoretical overview of BDS which incorporates many of the lessons learned in the activist trenches. It is nearly impossible to develop and articulate a perfect synthesis of “academic” and “activist” perspectives, but Barghouti arguably comes closer to bridging this divide than than any other figure writing in English. Though his writing undoubtedly leans slightly more toward the theoretical, his awareness of developments “on the ground” among activists actually implementing BDS campaigns around the world is impressive.

Readers are likely to notice that key facts and arguments are distributed, and sometimes repeated, throughout the volume, rather than being consolidated and treated sequentially. Some may view this as a flaw (though perhaps an unavoidable one, owing to the disparate nature of the source material), but others may see this as a deliberate choice by the author to help readers to keep central themes front-and-center as they engage with the material. The approach also ensures that those who choose to read only particular chapters will still likely be exposed to the most crucial elements.

In his conclusion, Barghouti states that BDS possesses “almost all the ingredients” necessary to end Israel’s multi-faceted oppression of Palestinians, but does not specify what ingredients remain missing (225). The book’s utility to activists would be strengthened if the author were to provide additional context here, describing with what other political forces BDS activists must engage in order to achieve the most concrete and lasting gains.

Barghouti is nevertheless convinced that BDS will serve as the central pillar in a strategy that will ultimately decide the outcome of the Palestinian struggle: “When Israel’s oppression is met with substantial resistance, primarily from the Palestinian people, the Arab world and the world at large, particularly in the form of sustainable BDS campaigns leading to comprehensive UN sanctions, as was the case in the struggle against South African apartheid, the Israeli economy will suffer tremendously and the BDS movement inside Israel will gain considerable momentum.” Among Israelis, this will lead to a massive evaporation of support for apartheid policies (who will themselves join the BDS movement in growing numbers), Barghouti predicts, and then “Collapse of the multitiered Israeli system of oppression … becomes a matter of time” (223).

(Abraham Greenhous / Source / 13.02.2013)

Israel’s “foreign policy of deception” documented in new book

Avi Raz’s The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War is a meticulous examination of the two-year period that followed Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, includingEast JerusalemGaza and the Syrian Golan Heights.

It is notable for a number of reasons: its documentation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that occurred during and after the war and its exposure of a policy of deliberate lying to conceal Israel’s real aims in the newly occupied territories. And perhaps most importantly, its virtually unassailable argument that Israeli policymakers never intended to relinquish the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which it promptly annexed, and contemplated annexing Gaza.

Also notable are the disclosure that Israeli officials acknowledged that the annexation of East Jerusalem and the construction of settlements in the West Bank violated international law, and Raz’s depiction of the US government’s steady supply of arms and political support to Israel during this period.

Raz is a former Israeli journalist turned historian who is now a member of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University in England. The title of the book derives from an infamous quote by Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Israel’s prime minister during that time, who referred to the West Bank and Gaza as the “dowry” Israel won in the 1967 War: “The trouble is that the dowry is followed by a bride [the Palestinians] whom we don’t want,” Eshkol said.

As Raz shows, Israel wasted little time in attempting to get rid of as many “brides” as it could without provoking an international furor. As early as the third day of the war, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin “that the aim was to empty the West Bank of its inhabitants.”

More than 200,000 Palestinians fled or were forced to flee their homes and villages in the West Bank, even though none participated in the 1967 War. Some twenty West Bank villages were destroyed, either partially or completely. The main purpose of the village destruction, Raz notes, “was to obliterate the Green Line,” the unofficial border created by the 1949 armistice agreements.

The Israeli military “encouraged” Palestinians to flee eastward toward the East Bank of the Jordan River. Raz documents that thousands of Palestinians who attempted to return to their homes after the fighting ended were labeled “infiltrators.” Hundreds were killed when they tried to return, including women and children, some of whom were buried in mass graves.

Buying time

Raz’s principal thesis is that Israel never intended to relinquish any part of the newly conquered land, which included the Syrian Golan Heights, or to engage in serious peace negotiations with the defeated Arab nations, particularly Jordan. Instead, Israel sought to buy time to settle the occupied territories while pretending to be open to a peace agreement in order to placate the US government, which saw Jordan as an important Cold War ally.

As Raz puts it, “My main argument is that Israel preferred land to peace and thus deliberately squandered a real opportunity for a settlement with its eastern neighbors. The Americans were not fooled by Israel’s foreign policy of deception. But despite possessing the necessary levers to exert influence on Israel, Washington did not use them.”

Raz distinguishes between certain types of “lying,” which he says nearly all nation-states engage in, often for national security reasons, and a policy of prevarication designed to disguise a nation’s true intentions and policies. Thus, he describes Israel’s claim that it was attacked first by Egypt on 5 June 1967, as a lie told because France had warned Israel that it would cancel arms supplies and a shipment of warplanes if Israel struck first.

In contrast and more seriously, Raz says Israel adopted a policy of lying in claiming its willingness to consider relinquishing territory in the interests of a peace settlement.

Subterfuge

As evidence, Raz cites the author of one of Israel’s earliest “peace plans,” Yigal Allon (a deputy prime minister), who confessed privately that his proposal of limited Palestinian self-rule in the heavily-populated regions of the West Bank was mere subterfuge. Raz quotes Allon as saying, “‘No Arab would ever accept the plan and nothing will come of it, but we must appear before the world with a positive plan.’”

Eshkol and Abba Eban, then foreign minister, participated in the charade. Eshkol cited the danger of international sanctions against Israel if there was no peace proposal. Eban told the Israeli Labor Party’s “expanded political committee” that his office was engaged “in a tactical political struggle designed to maintain the status quo and to avoid ‘all kinds of calamities’ such as foreign political intervention.”

The government also lied, of course, about its efforts at ethnic cleansing. Raz describes confessions by a military spokesman who said he received instructions “from above” to tell journalists in July 1967 that the destruction of the West Bank towns of Bayt Awa and Bayt Mirsim had had occurred during clashes with Palestinian fighters when in fact no fighting took place. Ninety percent of the buildings in Bayt Awa were destroyed, and Bayt Mirsim was completely flattened, though residents were later allowed to return and rebuild.

Raz concludes that the later failure of the Oslo accords “is largely rooted in the pattern set by the Israeli government during the early days of the occupation.” He denies that security was Israel’s paramount concern and maintains that there was a political consensus to hold onto the occupied territories, despite the willingness to reach a peace accord by Jordan’s King Hussein and some of the Palestinian “notables,” members of the political elite at the time.

“Israel’s policy makers never doubted the peaceful intentions of either Hussein or the West Bank leaders,” he writes. “Israel resorted to a deceitful foreign policy precisely because the government was convinced that the king of Jordan and the West Bankers meant what they said regarding an accommodation with Israel.”

There is in fact something wistful in reading about the reaction of those Palestinian notables who concluded early on that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem meant there was no possibility of a just peace settlement. It is the Palestinians who have lacked a partner for peace, and the Israeli government that has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

(Rod Such / electronicintifada.net / 20.01.2013)