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I am sure there are many effects of the Israeli oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people. I probably have written about some of them in past entries. I have had so many experiences living behind the wall. Part of me wanted this blog to be about the stories that I have heard but I also wanted it to be about the experiences I have had living behind the wall. It's interesting too because after the first few weeks, random people stopped telling me their stories, as my Arabic got better, people stopped telling me their stories, as I went from being known as a tourist to known as someone who lived here, people weren't flocking to me to tell me their stories. But also as I stayed here and as my Arabic got better and as I went from being known as a tourist to someone who lived here, my personal stories about living behind the wall were racking up but I became blocked mentally. One day in the Palestinian life is like a week.
Doesn't that indicate freedom. Freedom of movement. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of travel. Maybe equal rights. Liberty...if it's the only democracy in the Middle East then why is it the only country in the Middle East that I have traveled to where I have been interrogated at the airport on the way in and the way out...each time I have been there? Why is it the only country I have traveled to in the Middle East where I am scared to post on Facebook? Where I'm scared to blog about my experiences? Where I'm scared to tell people where I am living? Where I am scared to tell people where I am volunteering and what I am doing? Why is it the
Israel is trying to expel the population of a village for the crime of not being Jewish, the same crime for which Israel bombs the people of Gaza for a month or so every few years and blockades them in between these bursts of violence.
Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee declares that making peace with Iran amounts to marching Israelis "to the door of the oven."
Guess which of the two stories will get more coverage!
A crime of over 70 years ago, part of a war that in my unscientific estimate forms the single most common theme of U.S. historical fiction -- whether print or film -- is more important news in the view of U.S. editors than is a crime of right now.
And that was true 60 years after World War II and 50 years after and 40 and 20 and even 3 years after World War II.
Eve Spangler has just published a wonderfully well documented book that should be the text for universal history classes, called Understanding Israel/Palestine: Race, Nation, and Human Rights in the Conflict. Spangler, the U.S. child of two holocaust survivors, was a college professor before she had the slightest idea what had happened in Palestine during the twentieth century. When she found out, she went all-in and found out as much as could be known.
Spangler takes students to Israel/Palestine every year. When visiting the Arab market in Hebron, she learned that the heavy metal mesh screen overhead was hung there to protect shoppers from bricks and chairs thrown down from balconies by Israeli settlers. However, Spangler was struck with the contents of one of the objects settlers had learned could penetrate the screen: a plastic bag of human excrement. Israeli settlers behave like prisoners gone mad from confinement even as they steal the land and homes of non-Jewish people with impunity.
How can this be? What went wrong?
Well, at least a part of what went wrong went wrong from the start, from even before the 1948 Nakba in which Israelis-to-be ethnically cleansed the land without a people for the people without a land. The land without a people was more densely populated than the United States, but was seen as populated by subhuman non-people, not even Untermenschen.
"Clearly, the aspiration to creating a 'new man,'" Spangler writes, "defined by a hyper-masculine ethos of physical and military strength and by 'clean and pure blood' (and a 'new woman' defined by fecundity) had echoes of fascist ideology and profoundly racist implications. Consider, for example, the iconic photo of an Israeli soldier gazing reverently at the Western Wall on the day that the Israeli army conquered East Jerusalem in 1967. He is startlingly Aryan in appearance. Nor did the preference for blondes end in 1967. Recently social workers told an Israeli friend of mine who is waiting to adopt a baby, that her family could have a 'defective' baby immediately, but would have to wait about a year for a 'normal' baby or up to five years if they insisted on having a blond, blue-eyed child. 'Defective' children, this family discovered, were dark-skinned."
Two years after the liberation of the concentration camps in Europe, Jewish militias besieging the town of Beisan (Bet She'an), Spangler notes, "required some Arabs to don yellow armbands, and marked Arab stores with yellow decals, targeting them for looting." Spangler, whose book covers many subtopics other than the one I'm focusing on, is infinitely careful to stress the obvious, namely that similarities are not exact equivalencies. Her point in noting the similarities is, I think, clearly and legitimately enough to expose the imperfect yet startling mimicry and the motivation of misdirected revenge in the basic policies of the Israeli government from that day to this toward the people who lived in the "uninhabited" land.
Lillian Rosengarten's forthcoming Survival and Conscience: From the Shadows of Nazi Germany to the Jewish Boat to Gaza is an account by a Jewish woman who fled Nazi Germany for the United States as a little girl with her parents. "Nationalism revisited," she writes, "is now twisted into a parody of the Nazi credo, 'Deutschland über alles,' extolling Germany over all others with only pure Germans as inhabitants. Get rid of the undesirables who are beneath contempt. I must not make such a comparison, you say. Yet I must, for I fear a Jewish State that belongs only to Jews is a dangerous road. I must question the profound psychological impairment suffered and internalized by generations of Jews that follows the Nazi Holocaust. The cycle of paranoia and abuse is playing out its destructive course: this is how I understand Palestinians as the last victims of the Holocaust."
I would question only how Rosengarten can see into the future and find the last victims of the influence of Nazism. After World War II, the military of the United States -- which, of course, arms the Israeli military free of charge while whining about how it can't afford luxuries like schools, housing, and bridges that don't collapse -- hired sixteen hundred former Nazi scientists and doctors, including some of Adolf Hitler’s closest collaborators, including men responsible for murder, slavery, and human experimentation, including men convicted of war crimes, men acquitted of war crimes, and men who never stood trial. Some of the Nazis tried at Nuremberg had already been working for the U.S. in either Germany or the U.S. prior to the trials. Some were protected from their past by the U.S. government for years, as they lived and worked in Boston Harbor, Long Island, Maryland, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, and elsewhere, or were flown by the U.S. government to Argentina to protect them from prosecution. To observe and note the Nazification of the U.S. military is neither to absolve the U.S. military of its pre-WWII crimes nor to pass blame off to the Nazis instead of blaming U.S. officials of later generations for their own actions. Blame is not a limited quantity.
I don't think we can dismiss Huckabee's comments about ovens as simply a bid to be dumber than Donald Trump and win the pro-stupidity vote in the Republican primaries. Transforming Iran from devil to negotiation partner victimizes Israel precisely by stripping Israel of some of its victim-status. Without the status of eternally current victim of the fantasized reenactment of long-past crimes, Israel has to be viewed through a filter of actual facts. Were Jews victimized by Germany? Of course! Did Palestinians deserve to suffer for it? Of course not! Did Iran have anything to do with it? Of course not! Would I support pulling all the U.S. military bases out of Germany and turning all of their land over to Jewish settlers? Sure!
But only those who want to leave Palestine should leave it. Only those who want to stay in a nonviolent, pluralist, secular, democratic, state with equal rights for all and compensation for Palestinians harmed over the past many decades should remain.
Photo above is from MiddleEastMonitor.
Max Blumenthal's latest book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, tells a powerful story powerfully well. I can think of a few other terms that accurately characterize the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza in addition to "war," among them: occupation, murder-spree, and genocide. Each serves a different valuable purpose. Each is correct.
The images people bring to mind with the term "war," universally outdated, are grotesquely outdated in a case like this one. There is no pair of armies on a battlefield. There is no battlefield. There is no aim to conquer, dispossess, or rob. The people of Gaza are already pre-defeated, conquered, imprisoned, and under siege -- permanently overseen by military drones and remote-control machine-guns atop prison-camp walls. In dropping bombs on houses, the Israeli government is not trying to defeat another army on a battlefield, is not trying to gain possession of territory, is not trying to steal resources from a foreign power, and is not trying to hold off a foreign army's attempt to conquer Israel.
Yes, of course, Israel ultimately wants Gaza's land incorporated into Israel, but not with non-Jewish people living on it. (Eighty percent of Gaza's residents are refugees from Israel, families ethnically cleansed in 1947-1948.) Yes, of course, Israel wants the fossil fuels off the Gazan coast. But it already has them. No, the immediate goal of the Israeli war on Gaza last year, like the one two years before, and like the one four years before that, would perfectly fit a name like "The 51 Day Genocide." The purpose was to kill. The end was nothing other than the means.
From Veterans For Peace
U.S. State Department Should Demand Immediate Release of all Passengers
St. Louis, MO. — Veterans For Peace applauds the international Freedom Flotilla 3, including prominent VFP member, Colonel Ann Wright (USAR Retired), and the courage of all who attempted to break the Israeli siege of Gaza this week.
We deplore the Israeli government’s illegal seizure, in international waters, of the lead boat, the Marianne of Gothenburg from Sweden, and the illegal abduction of her crew and passengers. We call for the immediate release of the ship, along with its crew and passengers and all of their confiscated property including their video recording devices, tapes, disks cards and any other devices they used to record exactly what happened when and after the boat was commandeered.
We are also disturbed by credible reports now being heard that flotilla volunteers were subjected to unnecessary levels of violence from Israeli military personnel who reportedly tased four unarmed civilians. At least 9 crew and passengers are currently detained. These actions of the Israeli government confirm Israel’s status as a true rogue state and demand a strong response from the United States Government.
By Ann Wright
I’ve just set foot on dry land after five days at sea on one of the four boats of Gaza Freedom Flotilla 3.
The land I have set foot on is not Gaza, nor Israel, but Greece. Why Greece?
New strategies are needed to keep the momentum for challenging the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza and the isolation of the Palestinians there. Our attempts in the past five years have resulted in the Israeli government’s piracy in international waters seizing a virtual armada of our ships, kidnapping hundreds of citizens from dozens of countries, charging them with entering Israel illegally and deporting them for a ten year period, which denies them the opportunity to visit with Israelis and Palestinians in Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The ships that form the flotillas have been purchased at substantial expense through the fundraising efforts of Palestinian supporters in many countries. After litigation in Israeli courts, only two of the vessels have been returned to their owners. The remainder, at least seven ships, are in Haifa harbor and apparently are part of a tourist tour to see the ships that terrorize Israel. One boat reportedly has been used as a target for Israeli naval bombardment.
The newest strategy is not to sail all of the ships in any flotilla into Israeli hands. The publicity, primarily in the Israeli press, of an impending flotilla of unknown size coming from unknown departure points, forces the Israeli government intelligence and military organizations to expend resources, human and financial, on determining what unarmed civilians are challenging their naval blockade of Gaza—and how they are challenging it.
Hopefully, for every minute Israeli government organizations expend to try to stop the ships in a flotilla they are making resources unavailable for the continued horrific treatment of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.
For example, the day before the Marianne ship from Sweden was captured, an Israeli aircraft flew a search pattern for two hours over ships in the area to attempt to determine how many vessels were in this area and which might be a part of the flotilla. We suspect there were other Israeli vessels, to include submarines, with electronic capability to identify radio or satellite transmissions from all ships in the area and attempt to pinpoint our ships. These efforts come at a cost to the Israeli government, much more of a cost than our purchasing ships and having passengers fly to flotilla departure points.
There’s an ugliness to war beyond the ugly things war does. There are scars beyond the rough, imperfectly mended flesh of the gunshot wound, beyond the flashback, the startle reflex, the nightmare. War finds peculiar and heinous ways to distort lives, and when children are involved, it can mean a lifetime spent trying to recapture what was, to rebuild what never can be.
by JOHNNY BARBER
The Rafah Crossing from Egypt to Gaza was opened on May 26th for 2 days after being closed for the past 75 days. The opening allowed Palestinian residents of Gaza who were stranded in Egypt or third countries to return home to Gaza. The crossing remained closed for those trying to leave Gaza. The waiting list for people trying to leave has reached 15,000 people. The waiting list includes thousands of medical patients, students, and people traveling to their work or their families abroad. Many of these people have been trapped in Gaza since the Israeli attack last July.
The last time the crossing was opened was in March when just 2,443 people in total were permitted to travel in both directions. While Morsi was in power in Egypt, nearly 41,000 people were traveling through the crossing each month.
My friend Hanaa* had spent 2 years in the U.S. earning a masters degree.
If Jesus lived in Galilee in recent decades he would live in a world alive with Palestinian traditions clinging to a long-rooted history but struggling through the aftermath of the never-ended ethnic-cleansing operation that spiked in 1948.
Hatim Kanaaneh has written a fictionalized account, Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor's Tale of Life in Galilee, based on his experiences as a village doctor during the past half-century, a doctor who traveled to the United States for his education and returned to Palestine to practice his craft. His dialogue-heavy stories reach back to before 1948, merging folklore with myth and legend, featuring in the opening vignette a larger-than-life comedic but sensitive giant as short on wits as he is strong of muscle and heart.
Often in this wonderfully entertaining book a straightforward account will quickly become a rumor, a legend, an event infused with more meaning than might have been expected. After learning, for example, that multi-level homes are a sign of wealth, and that the top level is the most prestigious, we read that in one case a steep hill made it easiest to enter one home from the top floor. "That is why Isa housed his two oxen and his donkey in the 'alali -- the penthouse -- for the first winter after it was built. . . . And, that dear reader, is how it came to be rumored in these parts that Isa had sworn a pact of brotherhood and equality with his work animals and accorded them the level of reverence reserved for the head of a family. 'If only our cousins, the Jews, would treat us that humanely!' neighbors would joke."
Chief Complaint is a bit like the accounts of the British veterinarian's tales in All Creatures Great and Small. One doctor treats non-human animals, the other human, but both treat families. A great number of Kanaaneh's patients require placebos and other psychological rather than medical assistance. Gradually one begins to gather that the lot of them, who form a tight community, are to various degrees traumatized. They are in love with land, with the agriculture of that land, with the history of that land. And the land has been stolen, is being stolen, and is being desecrated. This is a more intimate portrait of people than one would be likely to gain on a trip to Palestine/Israel, and the unifying theme at the bottom of their ailments seems to be land loss. A character is describing a wedding of the past:
"Groups of men and women from all the other clans in the village would arrive every night, singing on their way over just after sundown and with many bagfuls of coffee beans, rice, sugar, and bulgur wheat as presents. Or they would have a boy dragging a lamb or a goat ahead of them. And the women would bring bundles of wood on their heads for the fire, which was lit up every night and around which the group dance and songfest were held. There is nothing like it today; since Israel occupied the Galilee, people bear only ill will and jealousy toward each other."
The narrator asks his father to sell beloved land in order to send him to the U.S. for medical school. His father throws a shoe at him. He picks up the shoe and returns it. It is thrown again. He repeats this until his sister speaks to his father who finally laughs and agrees, hopelessly, despairingly perhaps, but understanding the need to proceed.
People have been modernized out of their land, overwhelmed by Western military technology and organization. But those people are more than catching up in the area of communication — assuming that is that anyone in the West still reads.
Disclaimer: The author does work for the publisher of this book, but that work does not include book reviews.
On October 29, 1948, the Israeli terrorist group Irgun ethnically cleansed the village of Safsaf in Palestine, lining some 70 men up, shooting them, dumping them in a ditch, and raping three girls. Among the survivors who fled to Lebanon were the grandparents of a young woman in Chicago who has a talent for telling stories in pictures and words. Safsaf was called Safsofa by the Romans and can be found as Safsufa on the iNakba app on your NSA-tracking device.
Baddawi is two things. It's the name of a refugee camp in Lebanon where this young woman's father grew up. The name comes from the word Bedouin, meaning nomad. "Al Beddaoui, Lebanon" locates it on Google-Earth. The residents have been there since 1948 or since they were born, and they are not nomads by choice. They live in a permament state of desiring to return home forever, even those who have never been home ever.
Justice for Palestine is where little sparks of opposition to war can be found among young people in the militarized United States of 2015, and where their art can be found as well.The second thing that Baddawi is, is a book that tells a story of childhood in Baddawi for Ahmad, the father of the author and artist Leila Abdelrazaq.
I've just read Baddawi and passed it along to my son. It's a book that tells a personal story that is also a cultural and historical record. This is the unique story of one boy, but in great measure the story of millions of Palestinian refugees. Ahmad's experiences growing up are often identical to my own or my son's, but often dramatically different. He plays the games and learns the lessons of children everywhere, but confronts the struggles of poverty, of war, and of discrimination -- of second-class citizenship in the land where Israel and its Western backers swept his unwanted ancestors.
Baddawi is the story of a rather remarkable boy, but a story that conveys a sense of what life was like and is like still for a great many boys and girls who live without nationality, not as a result of choosing world citizenship but by mandate of global powers who find their existence inconvenient. And yet the story is quite straightforwardly entertaining and good-spirited. One is disappointed when it ends rather abruptly, yet heartened to gain the impression that part two may be forthcoming.
I notice, incidentally, that there will be a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 2nd, on Israel's mistreatment of Palestinian Children, and that you can go here to ask your Misrepresentative and Senators to attend.
Full disclosure: I sometimes do work for this book's publisher, but that work does not include reviewing books.
As I have said before, I am trying to learn Arabic. It is very difficult but I have been having fun learning and practicing. I spend a lot of my time down in the suk (market) talking to people and trying to listen to people speak in Arabic. Some of the guys I have met in the market can speak English so it has been really helpful for me because they can translate things and I can repeat it back to them in Arabic. So one day, I was in a friend’s shop and of course he invited me to have a cup of tea. The Palestinian hospitality instilled in each of these guys would never allow me to walk away without them inviting me for a cup of tea or coffee.
I bought a hiking book that has several hikes around the West Bank. With everything going on, and all the intensity I need to make sure that I am staying grounded and have a release. The way I do that best is by hitting the trails. This weekend I got one of the guys I met at the market to drive me to a trail. I figured I would give him the money rather than some random taxi. I was planning on hiking alone but I think he was worried about me so he ended up just taking the day off and coming with me. At the beginning of the hike, you walk down the mountain towards some train tracks. On one side of the train tracks (where I started) is a Palestinian village. On the other side of the tracks, there is no one but the Israelis control it.
I share with you just one story. This is just one story. One story, from one person. I meet people every day and hear story after story. Every day, people who have lived through their own personal trauma. Like yesterday, the taxi driver.
I want to learn Arabic so I study from a book and make flash cards in my free time....which is good. I don't have a huge social life here but I am slowly meeting people and feeling people out. So when I have nothing to do, I study! And then when I am bored with studying, I walk around the old city to the shops and practice my Arabic with people. The hospitality here is incredible. Everyone is welcoming me in and inviting me for tea or coffee. Arabs are famous for their hospitality. But as I meet people, I hear their stories. Every day I hear stories about how it is to live here with the occupation. The topic of conversation is always the struggle they live with. It is hard to deal with. There is so much pain and suffering here. I can feel it in the energy and see it in people's eyes when I talk to them.
I am not really traveling anymore.
My mother suggested writing a book.
When: May 10, 2015
The fishing trawler "Marianne of Gothenburg" will leave Gothenburg, Sweden on May 10, 2015, to meet the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The trawler, which has been acquired by Ship to Gaza Sweden and Ship to Gaza Norway jointly, departs for a voyage of almost 5000 nautical miles to eastern Mediterranean and the Gaza Strip which is blockaded by Israel.
The “Marianne” will join other ships and together they will form the "Gaza Freedom
Flotilla 3" in order to perform a peaceful, nonviolent action to break
the illegal and inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The “Marianne” will call at European ports for demonstrations against the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The first three stops on the voyage are Helsingborg, Malmö and Copenhagen. Subsequent ports will be announced in later press releases.
Marianne is not a cargo-ship, but she will bring a limited cargo of, among
other things, solar cell panels and medical equipment.
In the blockaded Gaza Strip, where the infrastructure has been
demolished, solar cells will provide an opportunity to independent local production of clean energy.
The sun can not be blockaded.
In addition to a crew of five people, Marianne will have up to eight delegates as passengers in each section of the route. The names of these individuals will be announced as time progress.
Passengers In the first leg of the voyage are among others:
Maria Svensson, spokesperson, Feministiskt initiative
Mikael M Karlsson, Chairperson, Ship to Gaza Sweden
Henry Ascher, professor of Public Health, pediatrician
Lennart Berggren, filmmaker
Dror Feiler, musician, spokesperson of Ship to Gaza
For inexplicable reasons, the United States citizenry clings to the idea of 'exceptionalism', that heady concept that says that the U.S. is different from and better than all the rest of the world, and therefore has a sacred obligation to spread its goodness around the globe. In 2014, President Barack Obama said this: "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being."
Here’s a punchline the Obama administration could affix to the Middle East right now: With allies like these, who needs enemies?
The World Ignores the Crisis in Gaza—So Another Gaza Freedom Flotilla is Ready to Sail in First Half of 2015
By Ann Wright
With the 51 day Israeli attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014 that killed over 2,200, wounded 11,000, destroyed 20,000 homes and displaced 500,000, the closing to humanitarian organizations of the border with Gaza by the Egyptian government, continuing Israeli attacks on fishermen and others, and the lack of international aid through UNWRA for the rebuilding of Gaza, the international Gaza Freedom Flotilla Coalition has decided to again challenge Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza in an effort to gain publicity for the critical necessity of ending the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the isolation of the people of Gaza.
Palestinian boys attend Friday prayers as they sit at the remains of a house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, in the Shejaia neighbourhood east of Gaza City January 23, 2015.
UNRWA, the main U.N. aid agency in the Gaza Strip has stated that a lack of international funding forced it to suspend grants to tens of thousands of Palestinians for repairs to homes damaged in last summer's war.
"People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble, children have died of hypothermia," Robert Turner, Gaza director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said in a statement. He said UNRWA received only $135 million of the $720 million pledged by donors to its cash assistance program for 96,000 refugee families whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the 50-day conflict between the Hamas government and Israel. Little of the total $5.4 billion pledged for Gaza's reconstruction at a Cairo conference of international donors in October 2014 has reached the Gaza, and thousands of Palestinians have been sheltering in tents near destroyed homes.
"Thousands more have been living in damaged buildings, using plastic sheeting to try to keep out the rain. Around 20,000 displaced are still being housed in U.N.-run schools.”
While we recognize that funds are needed to rebuild Gaza, we feel that the publicity from another flotilla will help gain attention to the plight of the people of Gaza in ways that other initiatives may not. Indeed, governments are forced to react to the flotillas as evidenced through the diplomatic cables obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights from the U.S. Department of State to U.S. missions in the Middle East region.
At a December, 2014 meeting, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla Coalition decided to sail a 3-ship flotilla to challenge the blockade in the first half of 2015. Twenty passengers will be aboard each of the 3 ships for a total of 60 passengers. The coalition will seek representatives from 30 countries with each country having two passengers. The U.S.- Palestinian Solidarity community will participate in Gaza Freedom Flotilla 3 and has a target of $20,000 as their part for renovation expenses and to be able to have two persons as the U.S. delegates.
Nonviolence International of Washington, DC, the 501(c)(3) for U.S. contributions to Gaza’s Ark, is the 501(c)(3) organization. Please make an online contribution here and indicate “Gaza’s Ark/Gaza Freedom Flotilla 3” in the Please designate this gift for a specific purpose "Designation Code" box. Checks payable to "Nonviolence International" (with Gaza’s Ark/Gaza Freedom Flotilla 3 in the memo line) may be mailed to:
Photo of Gaza’s Ark, a fishing trawler in Gaza converted into a cargo ship to sail products out of Gaza, that was targeted and destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces. Facebook: Gaza’s Ark
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was a US diplomat and served in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the U.S. government in 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq. She was an organizer of the 2009 Gaza Freedom March and the 2011 US Boat to Gaza and was a passenger on one of the boats in the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla that was attacked by the Israeli government killing nine and wounding over fifty passengers. She is the co-author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.
Michael Schwartz is an Emeritus Distinguished Teaching Professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University and the author of six books and scores of articles and commentaries, including award winning books on popular protest and insurgency. His most recent book, War Without End, analyzes how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling sectarian civil war inside Iraq. His work on the Middle East appears regularly in TomDispatch including his latest article, "The Great Game in the Holy Land."
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On the occasion of the 69th Period of Sessions of its General Assembly
By Ernesto Gómez Abascal, collaborator of the Cuban Peace Movement
Sixty-seven years ago, during the 2nd General Assembly of the then newly-born United Nations Organization, the Cuban delegate, Dr. Ernesto Dihigo, opposed with conclusive and indisputable arguments the Partition Plan for Palestine, which was going to come into effect later on with the approval of Resolution 181 (II). Cuba was among the 13 countries that voted against and was one of the two non-Islamic countries that maintained that position.
That event led to the first Arab-Israeli war and caused the emergence of the conflict in the Middle East that has existed up to our days. The Palestinian State was not created and still today, its acceptance as member of the Organization with full rights is still rejected by a small group of countries, particularly by the United States of America and Great Britain, which originally caused a conflict that has existed already more than half a century and which at this very moment is undergoing a dangerous terrorist warlike expansion, encouraged precisely by these imperialist powers that persist in their insistence to dominate the entire region, control its huge energy resources and support the Zionist entity they sponsor in its criminal expansionist and genocidal policy, as recently occurred in Gaza.
Because of its relevance and full topicality, we reproduce the most important aspects of the speech and the arguments of the Cuban delegate:
Mr. President and Messrs. Delegates:
“We wish to explain very briefly the reasons why the Cuban delegation is compelled to vote against the partition plan for Palestine by the ad hoc Commission.
“We have followed the debates with interest, analyzing the arguments of one and the other in order to reach the conclusion that would seem more just to us. Cuba has evidenced its sympathy toward the Hebrews and appreciation for their qualities, since it has admitted thousands of them in its territory, who today live among us freely and peacefully, without discriminations or prejudices, but we cannot vote here according to their wishes because in our opinion the partition of Palestine is contrary to law and justice. In the first place, the initial basis for any claim is the Balfour Declaration, cause of the entire problem we face today; and the Balfour Declaration, in our opinion, totally lacks legal value, because the British government offered in it one thing it had no right to make use of, because it was not his. However, to accept its validity, what is now intended goes far beyond its terms, because it promised the Hebrews a “National Home” in Palestine, safeguarding the civil rights of the Arab population, but it did not offer a Free State, whose creation will necessarily affect those rights it was intending to safeguard.
“The partition is also contrary to law if we abide by the mandate conferred by the League of Nations. One could ask if the League of Nations could, justly, do what it did, that is, order the establishment of a National Jewish Home, with the severe demographic and political consequences they have had in a foreign land even without the consent of its inhabitants.
“But even accepting what has been done, the partition we are considering goes against the terms of that mandate, since its 6th Article ordered that the rights and position of the non-Hebrew population of Palestine should not be impaired, and it can poorly be argued that those rights are not being impaired when more than half of their territory was to be snatched away from the natives and several hundred thousand Arabs were to remain submitted to the Hebrew government and placed in a subordinated situation there where they had formerly been owners.
“In the third place, the project is also contrary to law, in our opinion, because it goes against the free determination of the peoples, which was an essential principle of the Pact of the League; the destiny of a nation is being made use of here, depriving it of its national soil, of the soil it has had for many centuries, without having consulted it in order to know its opinion.
And if we turn over from the Pact of the League to the Charter of the United Nations, we will find that an identical violation is going to be committed, because the principle of the free determination of the peoples is recognized in general in the 2nd paragraph of Art. 1, and reiterated in paragraph (b) of Art.76 in the case of non-autonomous peoples, when stating that the fiduciary administration (equivalent to the League’s mandate) must take into consideration “the freely-expressed wishes of the peoples concerned”.
“We are not convinced by the argument posed by someone that Palestine is not a State and therefore does not have the condition of subject of International Law, because in any case those precepts do not speak of States but of peoples, and there is no doubt that the Palestinian is one.
“We have solemnly proclaimed the principle of the free determination of the peoples, but with great concern we see that when the time has come to enforce it we forget it.
“Such a system, in our opinion, is disastrous. The Cuban Delegation is firmly convinced that the true peace and the world of justice so much spoken of by the Second World War leaders does not depend of putting down certain essential principles in the conventions and treaties and having them remain there as dead letter, but that, at the right moment they be fulfilled by all and for all, big and small, weak or strong.
“Why wasn’t a democratic procedure followed in this case, consulting the will of the entire people of Palestine? Was there fear that the result of the consult would be contrary to what there was a will to carry out anyway? And if that is the case, where are the principles and where is the democracy we constantly invoke?
Our legal doubts do not end there. In the course of the debate the powers of the Assembly to agree on the partition have been contested. It has been answered that, according to Charter Arts. 10 and 1, the Assembly may make recommendations on any issue within the limits of that document or related with the maintenance of peace and international security.
Without discussing right now if the Palestinian issue is within those limits or if it is a threat to international peace, we cannot fail to notice that one thing is to make a recommendation and another, very different one, is to adopt a plan impairing the territorial integrity of a people and its legal and political position, and entrust the implementation of the project to a Commission from the Assembly itself.
“Neither does it seem possible to us to uphold that that project is a mere recommendation, since any recommendation implies the possibility of not being accepted, and the approved plan undoubtedly has coercive character, as evidenced by the fact that, according to one of its provisions, “any attempt to alter by force the arrangement foreseen in the resolution” will be considered a threat or violation of peace or act of aggression, according to Charter Art. 39. It is therefore something that is imposed by force, not a mere recommendation, and since, in our opinion, it infringes the Charter we cannot vote in favor of the project.
“Because we had all those legal doubts we voted in the Commission in favor of previously consulting the International Court of Justice, so that we could continue forward on firm ground. The consultation was rejected by the majority, which we regard as error that is not justified by the delay it might have originated, since it would have been better to wait a few months than to undertake an action that presents so many doubts, in addition to the fact that the negative to appeal to the Court might give the impression that the Assembly rejected the possibility of finding solutions according to law. On the other hand, we consider that the project is also unfair.
“Throughout many centuries the Arab people has uninterruptedly had the territory of Palestine, and according to the official data presented to us, at the end of the First World War it made up for almost 90% of the country’s total population.
Through the United Kingdom as mandatory power and in fulfillment of the decisions of the League, it opened its doors to a foreign immigration, offering it a place to live and develop its existence according to its wishes, with religious freedom and without humiliating discriminations, and now those individuals are paying the generous hospitality of those who received them by taking away by force half of their native soil.
“We have said foreign immigration consistently, because with all respect to the opinion of the Hebrews, they are, in our opinion, foreigners in the territory of Palestine. Indeed, during the Commission debates information was provided to prove that the forefathers of a large number of the Hebrews that have already gone to Palestine or still want to go there were never in that region, but even in the case that the remote ancestors of all of them would have been born there, it is undoubtable that they abandoned that land such a long time ago to establish themselves in other countries, that their descendants have ceased to belong to Palestine, in the same way that we, men of America, born of immigrants who came from all corners of the Earth, cannot consider ourselves entitled to any right to the fatherland of our fathers in the old continent.
“The intimate and fervent desire of the Hebrews to return to Palestine, perhaps for tradition, perhaps for mystical reasons or religious obsession, is something that may have our entire consideration and sentimental sympathy, but, in our opinion, it is not a title for them to receive what does not belong to them, much less if in order to do it others with better right have to be dispossessed by force.
“We likewise consider the project unjust because it is the imposition of the standpoint of a minority over a huge majority, against a cardinal principle of democracy. In the present case, that minority, not wanting to submit itself to the opinion of the more, pretends to settle elsewhere, but taking with it a portion of the territory of the people that admitted it in its bosom.
“Let us not be told that sometimes one has to accept a political solution even though it may be unjust, because it will never be possible to establish peace and cordiality among the peoples on the basis of injustice.
“As regards the refugees, Jewish or non-Jewish, that today are in concentration camps, a problem that has been insisted upon by the supporters of the project, Cuba stated that it should be solved with an approach of good will by all the United Nations, accepting them proportionally in accordance with the particular conditions of each country; but Cuba understands that it cannot be imposed to Palestine to solve it all by itself, particularly if one takes into consideration that Palestine is totally strange to the causes that have determined the displacement of all those persons.
“For those reasons we will have to vote against the partition plan, as we already did in the Commission, and once our criterion has been reached we consider ourselves in the duty to express it through the vote, maintaining it firmly, despite the actions and pressures that have been made around us.”
In proposing that Congress Members boycott or walk out on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned speech to Congress, expected to push for sanctions if not war on Iran, activists are drawing on actions engaged in by college students in recent years, as they have boycotted or walked out on or disrupted speeches by Israeli soldiers and officials on U.S. campuses. Netanyahu's noodle-headed move -- oblivious, apparently, to the U.S. government's effective evolution into a term-limited monarchy -- may provide a boost to both the movement to free Palestine and the movement to prevent a war on Iran.
Peace activists sometimes marvel at how young people have taken up environmentalist activism (with very little emphasis on the environmental destruction caused by militarism). Why, antiwar activists ask, don't young people get active opposing wars?
Ah, but they do. They are increasingly active, organized, strategic, bold, courageous, and determined about opposing a particular war: the ongoing war that the government of Israel wages -- with U.S. funding and support -- on the people of Palestine.
Nora Barrows-Friedman's new book, In Our Power: U.S. Students Organize for Justice in Palestine, tells their stories, often in their own words: What motivates them? How did they get involved? How do they view themselves in their activism? How do they relate to the non-activist world? We should all pay attention.
Don't misunderstand the case. Most students, like most adults, do little or no activism. The movement to free Palestine is far from success and up against huge opposition. Movements against other wars exist, a movement against all war exists, and all of these movements overlap. But, relatively speaking, students are far more engaged, I think, in opposing the Israeli occupation than in halting drone strikes or the U.S. wars in Iraq or Afghanistan (if they're even aware that those wars haven't ended). Opposition to U.S. wars tends to come disproportionately from an older and whiter crowd -- a result of the Vietnam era, of a less informed view of Israel, and/or of dozens of other likely factors. In Our Power doesn't address this question, but it provides much food for thought.
It's not clear that most advocates of Palestinian freedom think of themselves as opposing war or demanding peace. Hoda Mitwally, a student at the City University of New York, is quoted by Barrows-Friedman as describing the movement for Palestine as "one that amazingly has sustained itself in ways that other movements have fizzled out. The antiwar movement fizzled out very quickly, for example." It seems that many demanding justice for Palestine think in terms of demanding human rights, even if prominent among those is the right not to have your home bombed. But human rights is how pro-war advocacy is framed in the U.S. media and politics. We must attack Syria because we care. We must destroy Libya to save the Libyans. Wrecking Yemen is a model of humanitarian warfare. Of course this is all a pack of lies, but it is a prominent pack of lies. Perhaps the movements for peace and for Palestinian justice, already intertwined, could still benefit from deeper exchanges of thinking, for war opposition must be a human rights demand, and unless a system of peace is created in Palestine/Israel, the human rights violations including those formerly known as war, will continue.
The peace movement has put an emphasis on the financial cost to the aggressor nation, the damage to U.S. troops, the trade offs in poor schools and parks, etc., assuming that people need a direct connection to a moral atrocity before they'll act. I don't believe that for a minute, not as an absolute law. But the stories of Palestine activists do bear it out. Many of them have a direct connection and even personal experience on the ground, witnessing the horrors of what they oppose. They are Palestinian Americans or Jewish Americans or other Americans who have visited Israel or Palestine or who have close friends who have done so. Many of them have been moved by the recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon or Gaza ("Cast Lead" and "Protective Edge") or by the relentless construction of "settlements" and accompanying ethnic cleansing. Many have experienced bigotry in the United States following 9-11 and have sought out a comforting community. As Anwar al Awlaki came to favor anti-U.S. violence after experiencing such bigotry, many young people engage in constructive nonviolent activism instead. They gather as Palestinians or Arabs, and then they take up the Palestinian cause.
Beyond direct experience lies the factor of severity, or rather I think the combination is potent. Young people who become aware of mass murder and abuse and discrimination, especially after having been taught that it didn't exist, are likely to protest. Yet I suspect -- and this is pure speculation -- that another factor weighs heavily. That is the absence of the sort of U.S. government propaganda that promotes U.S. wars. The U.S. government does not market Israel's attacks on surrounding lands in the way that it markets a U.S. attack on Iraq or Libya. U.S. wars are marketed as patriotic duties, and as mad urgent crises that cannot wait for cool consideration. Once begun, they must be continued forever or one fails to "support the troops." Colleges notoriously turnover their student population every four years or so, and a movement that opposed a particular war as not a good civilized and acceptable war like the wars we really need has a half-life of about two years. Israel's war in contrast goes on and on and on, and while opposing it gets you accused of anti-Semitism, it does not get you accused of treason -- nor does it get you accused by remotely as many people. In fact opposing U.S. support for Israeli wars allows you to attack illegal and unacceptable foreign influence. So, while opposition to Israel's war may benefit from the war not being American, awareness of the U.S. government's role may actually help build the movement -- not just because people are reflexively patriotic but because they are rightly indignant about being forced to support a crime.
In addition, Israel's war and occupation involve elements quite familiar to African Americans and other abused groups in this country -- including Latinos along the border wall -- to the extent that Freedom Rides on buses are created in Israel, and mock border walls are created in Arizona. Mock eviction notices are all too frightening in college dorms. The echoes of South African Apartheid inform the movement with technical details and inspire it with the idea of success. And the U.S. movement for Palestine is supported by a global network better organized than those against U.S. wars -- so far -- not to mention the strength of global public opinion.
The movement for Palestine has somehow avoided the plague of frustration that has peace activists announcing that they will not attend a protest because they've attended them before and we don't have peace yet. Instead, the history of Palestinian activism going back nearly a century provides inspiration, lessons, and structures to bolster a movement driven by temporarily engaged young people, further inspired by their established understanding that the "peace process" has been a fraud. Meanwhile the antiwar movement seems cursed to believe every new wild justification for every new war until it is debunked some weeks or months later.
None of this is to say that the movement for Palestine has it easy. When we passed a resolution in my town against a war on Iran, and then asked people to do the same in other towns, they came back empty-handed informing me that they'd been rejected as anti-Semites. If opposing bombing Iran is anti-Semitic, you can imagine what interrupting Israeli VIPs to denounce their crimes counts as. But BDS (boycotts, divestments, and sanctions) against the Israeli government are easier to advance than those against the U.S. government -- although some are beginning to talk about the latter idea and many weapons companies that sell to Israel sell to everywhere else as well.
In the end, I can't claim to know why activism for justice in Palestine is showing relative promise, but I can advocate giving it all the help we possibly can, respectful of the young people who are leading the way. Read their stories in In Our Power. If they succeed, it will help millions of people. It will also help the movement to end all war. Because the myth of ancient hatred between two parties will have been replaced by the reality of war as the political choice of a misguided government. Ancient hatreds can be sold as inevitable. Choices made by misguided governments cannot.
Taher Herzallah, a young activist, explains where the confidence comes from: "[Y]ou have all these organizations pouring millions of dollars into doing work to combat the work we do for free. . . . [T]he work that we're doing doesn't need people that are paid millions of dollars. . . . When a freshman comes out and yells, 'Free Palestine!' and that threatens the existence of the state of Israel, that shows you how shallow that narrative is."
Adds student activist Rahim Kurwa, "The [divestment] process enforces a debate on campus. It forces people to have to look at what's going on and what they're directly investing in. Every time you have that debate, you come out ahead."
South African Civil Rights Leader Calls Israeli Apartheid of Palestinians Much More Violent than South African Government Treatment of Blacks
By Ann Wright
Reverend Dr. Allan Boesak, a South African civil rights leader who worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela to end apartheid and promote reconciliation in South Africa, calls the Israeli treatment of Palestinians “much more violent than the South African government treatment of blacks.”
In a discussion at the Harris Methodist Church on January 11, 2015 with social justice leaders in the Honolulu, Hawaii community, Dr. Boesak said that black South Africans faced violence from the apartheid white government and that he went to funerals each week of those killed in the struggle, but never on the scale that the Palestinians face from the Israeli government. The South African government killing of blacks was small compared to numbers of Palestinians the Israeli government has killed.
405 black South Africans were killed by the South African government from 1960-1994 in eight major incidents. The largest number of blacks killed in specific incidents were 176 in Soweto in 1976 and 69 in Sharpeville in 1960.
In contrast, from 2000-2014, the Israeli government killed 9126 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. In Gaza alone, 1400 Palestinians were killed in 22 days in 2008-2009, 160 killed in 5 days in 2012 and 2200 killed in 50 days in 2014. 1,195 Israelis were killed from 2000 through 2014. http://www.ifamericansknew.org/stat/deaths.html
In the face of overwhelming violence, Dr. Boesak commented that it is human nature that a violence response by some is inevitable, but that it is incredible that the response of the majority of Palestinians is non-violent.
In 1983, Boesak launched the United Democratic Front (UDF), a movement of over 700 civic, student, worker, and religious organizations that became the first non-racial movement and the main force behind the anti-apartheid activities in the South Africa during the decisive decade of the 1980s. Together with Archbishop Tutu, Dr. Frank Chikane, and Dr. Beyers Naude, he campaigned internationally for sanctions against the South African apartheid regime and in the final campaign for financial sanctions during 1988-89.
In the 1990s Dr. Boesak joined the unbanned African National Congress, served on its first team to the Convention for Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations preparing for the first free elections in South Africa, and was elected its first leader in the Western Cape. After the 1994 elections, he became the first Minister of Economic Affairs in the Western Cape and later in 1994 was appointed South African Ambassador to the UN in Geneva.
Dr. Boesak currently is the Desmond Tutu Chair of Peace, Global Justice, and Reconciliation Studies at Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University, both located in Indianapolis, Indiana.
On other aspects of the apartheid struggle, Dr. Boesak said that in South Africa the government did not create whites only roads, did not erect huge walls to keep blacks physically in specific areas and did not allow and protect whites to take lands from blacks and settle on those lands.
According to Boesak, international solidarity through boycott of South African goods and divestment from South African companies kept the anti-apartheid movement energized. Knowing that organizations around the world were forcing universities to divest from South African investments and that millions of people were boycotting South African products gave them hope during the difficult struggle. He said that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid is small compared to the level reached in the 1980s against South African apartheid and encouraged organizations to take up boycott and divestment stances, such as the Presbyterian Church in the United States did in 2014 by divesting from Israeli companies.
In a 2011 interview, Boesak said that he strongly supports economic sanctions on the state of Israel. He said, “Pressure, pressure, pressure from every side and in as many ways as possible: trade sanctions, economic sanctions, financial sanctions, banking sanctions, sports sanctions, cultural sanctions; I'm talking from our own experience. In the beginning we had very broad sanctions and only late in the 1980s did we learn to have targeted sanctions. So you must look to see where the Israelis are most vulnerable; where is the strongest link to the outside community? And you must have strong international solidarity; that's the only way it will work. You have to remember that for years and years and years when we built up the sanctions campaign it was not with governments in the West. They came on board very, very late.”
Boesak added, “It was the Indian government and in Europe just Sweden and Denmark to begin with and that was it. Later on, by 1985-86, we could get American support. We never could get Margaret Thatcher on board, never Britain, never Germany, but in Germany the people who made a difference were the women who started boycotting South African goods in their supermarkets. That's how we built it up. Never despise the day of small beginnings. It was down to civil society. But civil society in the international community could only build up because there was such a strong voice from within and that is now the responsibility of the Palestinians, to keep up that voice and to be as strong and as clear as they possibly can. Think up the arguments, think through the logic of it all but don't forget the passion because this is for your country.”
Boesak called the U.S. government protection of the Israeli government’s actions the single most important reason why apartheid Israel exists. Without the support of the U.S. government in United Nations votes and in provision of military equipment to use on Palestinians, Boesak said the Israeli government would not be able to act with impunity.
"Fields that would never be harvested, plantations that would never be irrigated, paths that would become desolate. A sense of destruction and worthlessness. An image of thistles and brambles everywhere, a desolate tawniness, a braying wilderness. And already from those fields accusing eyes peered out at you, that silent accusatory look as of a reproachful animal, staring and following you so there was no refuge." -- Yizhar Smilansky, Khirbet Khizeh
On the day in 2014 that I read the new English translation of Khirbet Khizeh, Tom Engelhardt published a blog post rewriting recent news articles on the U.S. Senate's torture report as a 2019 Senate report on drone murders. The 2019 "news" media in Tom's believable account is shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- by the rampant murder discovered to have been committed using missiles from drones of all things.
The point is that most of what's been discussed as news from the recent torture report, and certainly all of the fundamental moral points -- has been known -- or, more accurately, knowable for years. For the past several years, the U.S. establishment has been repeatedly "banning" torture. It has also been repeatedly discovering the same evidence of torture, over and over again. Leading torturers have gone on television to swear they'd do it all again, while radical activist groups have demanded "investigations."
The point is that at some point "truth and reconciliation" is lies and reconciliation -- the lies of pretending that the truth needed to be unearthed, that it was hidden for a time, that the crimes weren't committed in the broad daylight of television spotlights on a sweaty old man assuring us he was about to start working on the dark side.
Illustrated at right, from the iNakba app, are villages that were destroyed in 1948 to create Israel. Generations of Israelis have grown up not knowing, not wanting to know, pretending not to know, and knowing without confronting the Catastrophe. Israelis are discovering what happened, unburying the hidden truth, filming aging participants' distorted confessions, and hunting out the outlines of disappeared villages on GoogleEarth.
But what if the truth was always marching naked down the street with trumpets sounding?
In May 1949, Yizhar Smilansky published Khirbet Khizeh, a fictional account of the destruction of a fictional village much like many real ones. Smilansky knew or hoped that he was ahead of his time, so much so that he began the tale by framing it as a recollection from the distant future. The narrator, like the reader, was known by the author to be unable to see for years to come.
What would keep the book alive until that distant day?
It's not a Senate report. Khirbet Khizeh is a work of masterful insight and storytelling that grips you and compels you to enter the experience of its narrator and his companions, as they do what the author had done, as they imitate Nazis before all the ashes had fallen from the skies above the ovens in Europe.
This book was planted and grew. It's been taught in Israeli schools. It was a movie on Israeli television in 1978. And now, with a sense that perhaps sleepy eyes are stretching open at long last, the book has had itself translated into the language of the imperial homeland, English.
But how could poetry keep heresy alive?
Several ways, I think. Absolute failure to pay attention, for one. Think about how literature is taught in many U.S. schools, for example. The ability of people to hear the poetry without the meaning, for another. Think about people singing John Lennon's Imagine without having the slightest idea they've just proposed to abolish religions, nations, and private property, or how people throw around the phrase "peace on earth" in December. Perverse but predictable and perhaps predicted misinterpretation, for another. Think about how viewers of the propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty read accounts of torture, for example -- as a dirty job that needed doing for a greater cause.
It's a strain, to me at least, to read Khirbet Khizeh as a celebration of genocide or mass-eviction. And the book not only suffered but also benefitted from being ahead of its time. It pre-existed the mythologies and rhetorical defenses that grew up around the Catastrophe in the decades that followed. When the narrator makes a slight resistance to what he is engaged in, no reader can find anything but humanitarian motivation in his resistance. The idea that this soldier, questioning his fellow soldiers, is engaged in anti-Semitism would literally make no sense. He's revolted by the cruelty, no more no less -- cruelty that every adult and child has to have always known was part of any mass settlement of ancient lands in 1948.
When I was a child, in elementary school, I wrote a story about an eviction of a family from its house, complete with plenty of tear-jerking details. As a good American I wrote about British redcoats evicting patriotic U.S. revolutionaries. My teacher suggested to me that I had a talent for writing. But that wasn't writing. Had I written of the Native Americans, the Hawaiians, the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, of Diego Garcia or Vieques or the Marshall Islands or Thule or Okinawa or any of the many places about which silence was expected, that might have been writing.
Let us wish no more Khirbet Khizehs on the people of Palestine and many more Khirbet Khizehs on the world.
The murder of black men by white police officers is nothing new in the United States. The fact that the media is taking notice is what is newsworthy. Despite Civil Rights laws enacted decades ago, racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of U.S. society.
The recent cases of Eric Gardner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, victims of horrendous cruelty and murder, only received coverage due to the outrage their deaths, and the almost immediate impunity their killers received, caused across the nation. But is white police brutality against blacks something new? Anecdotal evidence presented here indicates that that is hardly the case.
Lia Tarachansky discusses her new film On the Side of the Road which looks at the creation of Israel and the erasure of what was there before. Learn more at: http://naretivproductions.com
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Here in Virginia, U.S.A., I'm aware that the native people were murdered, driven out, and moved westward. But my personal connection to that crime is weak, and frankly I'm too busy trying to rein in my government's current abuses to focus on the distant past. Pocahontas is a cartoon, the Redskins a football team, and remaining Native Americans almost invisible. Protests of the European occupation of Virginia are virtually unheard of.
But what if it had just happened a moment ago, historically speaking? What if my parents had been children or teenagers? What if my grandparents and their generation had conceived and executed the genocide? What if a large population of survivors and refugees were still here and just outside? What if they were protesting, nonviolently and violently -- including with suicide bombings and homemade rockets launched out of West Virginia? What if they marked the Fourth of July as the Great Catastrophe and made it a day of mourning? What if they were organizing nations and institutions all over the world to boycott, divest, and sanction the United States and seek its prosecution in court? What if, before being driven out, the Native Americans had built hundreds of towns with buildings of masonry, hard to make simply disappear?
In that case, it would be more difficult for those unwilling to face the injustice not to notice. We would have to notice, but tell ourselves something comforting, if we refused to deal with the truth. The lies we tell ourselves would need to be much stronger than they are. A rich mythology would be necessary. Everyone would have to be taught from childhood onward that the native people didn't exist, left voluntarily, attempted vicious crimes justifying their punishment, and were not really people at all but irrational killers still trying to kill us for no reason. I'm aware that some of those excuses conflict with others, but propaganda generally works better with multiple claims, even when they can't all be true at the same time. Our government might even have to make questioning the official story of the creation of the United States an act of treason.
Israel is that imagined United States, just formed in our grandparents' day, two-thirds of the people driven out or killed, one-third remaining but treated as sub-human. Israel is that place that must tell forceful lies to erase a past that is never really past. Kids grow up in Israel not knowing. We in the United States, whose government gives Israel billions of dollars worth of free weapons every year with which to continue the killing (weapons with names like Apache and Black Hawk), grow up not knowing. We all look at the "peace process," this endless charade of decades, and deem it inscrutable, because we've been educated to be incapable of knowing what the Palestinians want even as they shout it and sing it and chant it: they want to return to their homes.
But the people who did the deed are, in many cases, still alive. Men and women who, in 1948, massacred and evicted Palestinians from their villages can be put on camera recounting what they did. Photographs of what was done and accounts of what life was like before the Nakba (the Catastrophe) exist in great volume. Towns that were taken over still stand. Families know that they live in stolen houses. Palestinians still have keys to those houses. Villages that were destroyed still remain visible in outline on Google Earth, the trees still standing, the stones of demolished houses still nearby.
Lia Tarachansky is an Israeli-Canadian journalist who covers Israel and Palestine for the Real News Network. She was born in Kiev, Ukraine, the Soviet Union. When she was a child, her family moved to a settlement in the West Bank, part of the ongoing continuation of the process begun in 1948. She had a good childhood with a real sense of community in that "settlement," or what we would call a housing subdivision built on native farm land in violation of a treaty made with savages. She grew up not knowing. People pretended nothing had been there before. Then she found out. Then she made a movie to tell the world.
The film is called On the Side of the Road and it tells the story of the founding of Israel in 1948 through the memories of those who killed and expelled the people of Palestine, through the memories of survivors, and through the perspectives of those who have grown up since. 1948 was a 1984 year, a year of doublespeak. Israel was created in blood. Two-thirds of the people of that land were made refugees. Most of them and their descendants are refugees still. Those who remained in Israel were made second-class citizens and forbidden to mourn the dead. But the crime is referred to as liberation and independence. Israel celebrates its Independence Day while Palestinians mourn the Nakba.
The film takes us to the sites of vanished villages destroyed in 1948 and in 1967. In some cases, villages have been replaced with woods and made into national parks. The imagery is suggestive of what the earth might do if humanity departed. But this is the work of part of humanity attempting to erase another human group. If you put up a sign commemorating the village, the government removes it quickly.
The film shows us those who participated in the Nakba. They recall shooting the people they called Arabs and whom they'd been told were primitive and worthless, but who they knew had a modern literate society with some 20 newspapers in Jaffa, with feminist groups, with everything then thought of as modern. "Go to Gaza!" they told the people whose homes and land they were stealing and destroying. One man recalling what he did begins with an attitude almost bordering on the carefree heartlessness one sees in former killers in the Indonesian film The Act of Killing, but eventually he's explaining that what he's done has been eating away at him for decades.
In On the Side of the Road we meet a young Palestinian man from a permanent refugee camp who calls a place his home although he's never been there, and who says that his children and grandchildren will do likewise. We see him obtain a 12-hour pass to visit the place his grandparents lived. He spends half the 12 hours getting through check points. The place he visits is a National Park. He sits and talks about what he wants. He wants nothing related to revenge. He wants no harm done to Jews. He wants no people evicted from anywhere. He says that, according to his grandparents, Jews and Muslims lived together amicably before 1948. That, he says, is what he wants -- that and to return home.
Israelis concerned by their nation's open secret take some inspiration in the film from an art project in Berlin. There people posted signs with images on one side and words on the other. For example: a cat on one side, and this on the other: "Jews are no longer allowed to own pets." So, in Israel, they made signs of a similar nature. For example: a man with a key on one side, and on the other, in German: "It is forbidden to mourn on the Day of Independence." The signs are greeted by vandalism and angry, racist threats. The police accuse those who posted the signs of "disturbing law and order," and forbid them in the future.
At Tel Aviv University we see students, Palestinian and Jewish, hold an event to read out the names of villages that were destroyed. Nationalists waving flags come to try to shout them down. These properly educated Israelis describe cities as having been "liberated." They advocate expelling all Arabs. A member of the Israeli parliament tells the camera that Arabs want to exterminate Jews and rape their daughters, that the Arabs threaten a "holocaust."
The filmmaker asks an angry Israeli woman, "If you were an Arab, would you celebrate the state of Israel?" She refuses to allow the possibility of seeing things from someone else's point of view to enter her head. She replies, "I'm not an Arab, thank God!"
A Palestinian challenges a nationalist very politely and civilly, asking him to explain his views, and he swiftly walks away. I was reminded of a talk I gave last month at a university in New York at which I criticized the Israeli government, and a professor angrily walked out -- a professor who'd been eager to debate other topics on which we disagreed.
A woman who participated in the Nakba says in the film, in an effort to excuse her past actions, "We didn't know it was a society." She clearly believes that killing and evicting people who seem "modern" or "civilized" is unacceptable. Then she goes on to explain that pre-1948 Palestine was just what she says mustn't be destroyed. "But you lived here," says the filmmaker. "How could you not know?" The woman replies simply, "We knew. We knew."
A man who took part in killing Palestinians in 1948 excuses himself as having been only 19. And "there will always be new 19-year-olds," he says. Of course there are also 50-year-olds who will follow evil orders. Happily, there are also 19-year-olds who will not.
Catch a screening of On the Side of the Road:
Dec 3, 2014 NYU, NY
Dec 4, 2014 Philadelphia, PA
Dec 5, 2014 Baltimore, MD
Dec 7, 2014 Baltimore, MD
Dec 9, 2014 Washington DC
Dec 10, 2014 Washington DC
Dec 10, 2014 American University
Dec 13, 2014 Washington DC
Dec 15, 2014 Washington DC