Tag Archives: Israel/Palestine

Apartheid and the Future of Israel/Palestine

20 Sep

 

[Prefatory Note: There has been lots of discussion prompted by the release of a report jointly authored with Prof. Virginia Tilley, a study commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), and given by us the title, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.” The interview, associated with my current visit to Belgium and France to speak on various aspects of the analysis and implications of the report, brings up to date the controversy generated at the UN by its release a few months ago, and by the willingness of the UN Secretary General to bow to U.S. pressure and order the removal of the report from ESCWA website. The interview questions were posed by veteran Middle East correspondent, Pierre Barbancey, and published in l’Humanité, Sept. 6, 2017.]

 

 

 

1 YOU HAVE PUBLISHED A REPORT: WHO ASKS FOR THAT AND WHY?

 

The Report was commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia in 2016 at the request of its Council, which has a membership of 18 Arab states. Professor Virginia Tilley and I were offered a contract to prepare a report on the applicability of the crime of apartheid to the manner in which Israeli policies and practices affected the Palestinian people as a whole, and not as in previous discussions of the applicability of apartheid, only to those Palestinians living since 1967 under Israeli occupation. The originality of the Report is to extend the notion of apartheid beyond the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and investigate its applicability to Palestinians living in refugee camps in neighboring countries, to those Palestinians enduring involuntary exile abroad, and to those existing as a discriminated minority in Israel.

 

2) What are the conclusions of the ESCWA Report?

 

The most important conclusion of the Report was that by careful consideration of the relevant evidence, Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid as defined in the 1976 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid with regard to the Palestinian PEOPLE AS A WHOLE, that is, Palestinians living under occupation as refugee and in involuntary exile, and as a minority in Israel are all victimized by the overriding crime. The Report also found that Jews and Palestinians both qualify as a ‘race’ as the term is used in the Convention, and that Israel to sustain a Jewish state established by ‘inhuman acts’ a structure of oppressive and discriminatory domination by which the Palestinians were victimized as a people.

 

A second conclusion of importance is that the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court considers apartheid to be one type of ‘crime against humanity,’ which does not necessarily exhibit the same features as pertained to the apartheid regime in South Africa, the origin of the concept and crime, but not a template for its subsequent commission.

 

A third conclusion is that given the existence of apartheid, sustained to maintain a Jewish state in Palestine, all sovereign states, the UN, and civil society all have a legally grounded responsibility to take all reasonable steps of a nonviolent character to bring the commission of the crime to an end.

 

A fourth conclusion is that the Report is an academic study that draws conclusions and offers recommendation on the basis of a legal analysis, but it is not a duly constituted legal body empowered to make formal findings with respect to the allegations that Israel is guilty of apartheid.

 

 

 

3) WHAT WAS THE REACTIONS?

 

We experienced two contradictory sets of reactions.

 

From ESCWA the report was received with enthusiasm. We were told it was the most important report that ESCWA had ever published, with by far the largest number of requests for copies.

 

At the UN, the report and its authors were strongly attacked by the diplomatic representatives of the United States and Israel, with the demand the UN acted to repudiate the report. The Secretary General instructed the Director of ESCWA to remove the report from its website, and when she refusing, she tendered her principled resignation explained in an Open Letter to the Secretary General. It should be appreciated that this was an academic report of international law experts, and never claimed to be an official reflection of UN views. A disclaimer at the outset of the Report made this clear.

 

4) WHAT HAPPENED NOW WITH THE REPORT?

 

The status of the report within ESCWA is not clear. As far as I know the report itself has not been repudiated by ESCWA. In fact, it has been endorsed in a formal decision of the 18 foreign ministers of the ESCWA countries, including a recommendation to other organs of the UN System that the findings and recommendations of the Report be respected. Beyond this, the report has altered the discourse in civil society and to some extent, in diplomatic settings, making the terminology of ‘apartheid’ increasingly displace the emphasis on ‘occupation.’

 

 

5) ISRAEL SAYS THAT THE BDS MOVEMENT IS ANTI-SEMITIC. WHAT IS YOUR ANSWER?

 

This is an inappropriate and even absurd allegation. The BDS Campaign is directed against Israeli policies and practices that violate international law and cause great suffering to be inflicted on the Palestinian people. It has nothing whatsoever to do with hostility to Jews as persons or as a people. The allegation is clearly designed to discredit BDS and to discourage persons from lending it support or participating in its activities. It is an unfortunate and irresponsible use of the ‘anti-Semitic’ label designed to manipulate public opinion and government policy, and inhibit activism.

 

6) IN FRANCE YOU CAN BE PUT IN COURT IF YOU ACT FOR BDS, LIKE A CRIME. DO YOU HAVE ANY KNOWLEDGE OF SIMILAR SITUTIONS IN OTHER COUNTRIES?

 

I know there have been efforts in Europe and North America to criminalize support for BDS, but so far as I know, no formal laws have yet been brought into existence, and no indictments or prosecutions, outside of Israel and France, have taken place. I am not entire clear as to what has happened in Israel along these lines, although I know that Israel has been denying BDS supporters from abroad entry into the country.

 

7) WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS SPECIAL REPORTEUR OF THE UNITED NATIONS IN THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES AND IN ISRAEL?

 

My experience as UN Special Rapporteur in Occupied Palestine on behalf of the Human Rights Council was both frustrating and fulfilling. It was frustrating because during my six years as SR the situation on the ground and diplomatically worsened for the Palestinian people despite the documented record of Israeli human rights abuses. It was fulfilling because it enabled a forthright presentation of Israeli violations of basic Palestinian rights, which had some influence on the discourse within the UN, building support for corporate responsibility in relation to commercial dealing with Israel’s unlawful settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as shifted some of the discourse within the UN from ‘occupation’ to ‘settler colonialism’ and ‘apartheid.’

 

It was also something of a personal ordeal as I was constantly subject to defamatory attacks by UN Watch and other ultra Zionist NGOs and their supporters, also organizing efforts to have me dismissed from my UN position and barred from lecturing on university campuses around the world. Fortunately, these efforts failed by and large, but they did have the intended effect of shifting the conversation from substance to auspices, from the message to messenger.

7) 70 YEARS AFTER THE DIVISION OF PALESTINE BY THE UNITED NATIONS  HOW DO YOU SEE THAT DECISION?

 

The1947 partition resolution [GA Res. 181] was part of the exit strategy of the British colonial administration in the mandate period that controlled Palestine after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion of World War I. This approach was flawed in several basic respects: it neglected the will of the majority Arab and non-Jewish domestic population, and imposed a solution to the conflict without consulting the inhabitants; it also within its own terms failed to secure Palestinian rights or its sovereign political community, or even to uphold international humanitarian law. The UN never effectively implemented partition, and thus gave Israel the de facto discretion to impose its will on the entire territory of Palestine, including the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in the 1947 War, which overcame the demographic imbalance, and allowed itself to be branded to this day as ‘a democracy,’ even being hailed as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’ The US and Europe played a crucial geopolitical role in producing these developments, which rested on an Orientalist mentality lingering in the West.

8) IS THERE A SOLUTION FOR THE PALESTINIAN TO RECOVER THEIR RIGHTS AND TO LIVE IN THEIR OWN STATE?

 

It is difficult to envision the future at this stage, yet it is clear that the Palestinian national struggle is continuing both in the form of Palestinian resistance activities and by way of the international solidarity movement, of which the BDS Campaign is

by far the most important undertaking. In my judgment until there is exerted enough pressure on the Israeli government to change course drastically, signaled by a willingness to dismantle the laws and procedures associated with the current apartheid regime used to subjugate the Palestinian people, there is no genuine prospect for a political solution to the conflict. Such a change of course in South Africa occurred, against all expectations at home and abroad, and partly in response to pressures generated by this earlier version of an international BDS campaign. My hope is that as the Palestinian people continue to win the ongoing Legitimacy War, this pattern will eventually be repeated, leading after a prolonged struggle to a sustainable peace between these two peoples based on the cardinal principle of equality. This will not happen, tragically, until there is much suffering endured, especially by Palestinians living under occupation, in refugee camps and involuntary exile, and as a discriminated minority within Israel. This Palestinian ordeal has gone on far too long. Its origins can be traced back at least a century ago when in an undisguised colonial gesture of the British Foreign Office pledged its support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine to the World Zionist Movement in the form of the Balfour Declaration (1917). The competing national narratives of what transpired over the subsequent century tell different stories, each with an authentic base of support in the relevant community, but only the Palestine narrative can gain present comfort from the guidelines of international law, above all, the inalienable right of self-determination

 

 

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Blocking Comments: Toward a Constructive Compromise

6 Jul

 

 Almost since the blog was initiated in 2010 I have wrestled with the proper and desirable scope of my monitoring role. I wanted to avoid two things: dogmatic bickering between opposed viewpoints and hateful, hurtful comments directed at either me or comment contributors. Although I did avoid the worst instances of defamatory and insulting attacks it was difficult to draw the line when substance was intertwined with nasty innuendo, and for a long time I leaned in the direction of inclusion, tolerating a certain level of incivility, some righteous anger, some insidious efforts to undermine and discredit.

 

A further concern, not evident to me early on, was the submission of long rambling comments that bore no discernable relevance to either posts or earlier comments. I have come to view that these too should be blocked for the sake of making the blog community feel the published comments were worth their time and attention. And then there was another case of unacceptable comments, those submitted by commercial entities peddling a product or vacation package, and attempting to gain smidgeons of free advertising by piggybacking on blogs.

 

I thank especially Gene Schulman and Laura Knightly (and a few others who contacted me offline) for pushing me to be more exclusionary, especially toward the repetitive hasbara contributions of several of the more persistent comment authors. This whole issue of how and when to block was really confined to a single issue on this blog—the flurry of defamatory comments pushing back against any and all criticisms of Israel, conflating anti-Zionism and criticism of Israeli practices and policies with anti-Semitism, as well as those equating Palestinian resistance with terrorism, disregarding Israel’s defiance of international law, and placing the burden of blame for the Palestinian ordeal primarily on the slumped shoulders of the oppressed. Along similar lines were comments exaggerating calls for the end of apartheid or the end of exclusivist ethnic claims to be a Jewish state by treating such critiques as advocating the destruction of Israel as a state, or even of the Jewish people. This tendency to refute a charge inflated far beyond its obvious intention is a common hasbara tactic, and unacceptable.

 

The more common trope of the liberal wing of the mainstream is to do what Obama and J Street tend to do, which is to insist that both sides are responsible for the impasse and both must make ‘painful concessions’ if peace is to be achieved. Although I find such a diagnosis deeply misleading as it bypasses the structure of oppressor and oppressed, insisting on ‘balanced’ apportionment of blame and sacrifice in a situation of extreme imbalance, I consider dialogue possible, although rarely fruitful.

 

As I have made clear on several occasions, comments that support Israel’s positions and Zionist claims and activities will not be excluded so long as they are not fused with rhetoric that smears those who hold opposing views or not repeated dogmatically in redundant submissions. Likewise attacks on Israel’s policies and practices, Zionist ideology and tactics, and Jewish support for Israel have been and will be blocked if the comment includes demeaning and gratuitous personal insults.

 

In my view, the more restrictive approach is working. The quality of the comments section of this blog has recently in my judgment greatly improved, containing creative responses that engage with or go beyond the posts, and by and large avoid bickering and trivializing exchanges. I thank the participants for this enhanced quality, which was my hope from the beginning.

 

Finally, the blog domain is happily pluralistic in all its dimensions. There is no reason that a blog dealing with controversial issues needs to be neutral or non-partisan, including whether or not the blog manager wants to have a comments section at all. I felt that a dialogic format was the most valuable frame to adopt given my main concerns, especially in view of their often controversial character. On an intellectual level I draw a distinction between debate, which I have find rarely useful, and dialogue, which is a listening mode as much as a speaking mode, and if appropriately practiced is a lifelong learning experience.

 

Although it is somewhat more work for me, I think safeguarding this blog space for such dialogue is a better way to express my blog ambitions and goals, which implies a corollary willingness to limit access for those whose motivation is acrimonious debate. Without being too mechanical and dogmatic about it, and even acknowledging that a good debate can on occasion rise to the level of dialogue and that bad dialogue between narcissistic talkers can sink to the level of debate, the distinction justifies attentiveness if drawn with sensitivity.

 

I suppose in the end we who aspire to be good netizens all need a civics guidebook when it comes to enjoying a nomadic life in cyberspace.

Israel’s New Cultural War of Aggression

5 May

A Small Battleground in a Large Culture War

 

A few weeks ago my book Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace was published by Pluto in Britain. I was in London and Scotland at the time to do a series of university talks to help launch the book. Its appearance happened to coincide with the release of a jointly authored report commissioned by the UN Social and Economic Commission of West Asia, giving my appearances a prominence they would not otherwise have had. The report concluded that the evidence relating to Israeli practices toward the Palestinian people amounted to ‘apartheid,’ as defined in international law.

 

There was a strong pushback by Zionist militants threatening disruption. These threats were sufficiently intimidating to academic administrators, that my talks at the University of East London and at Middlesex University were cancelled on grounds of ‘health and security.’ Perhaps, these administrative decisions partly reflected the awareness that an earlier talk of mine at LSE had indeed been sufficiently disrupted during the discussion period that university security personnel had to remove two persons in the audience who shouted epithets, unfurled an Israeli flag, stood up and refused to sit down when politely asked by the moderator.

 

In all my years of speaking on various topics around the world, I had never previously had events cancelled, although quite frequently there was similar pressure exerted on university administrations, but usually threatening financial reprisals if I was allowed to speak. What happened in Britain is part of an increasingly nasty effort of pro-Israeli activists to shut down debate by engaging in disruptive behavior, threats to security, and by smearing speakers regarded as critics of Israel as ‘anti-Semites,’ and in my case as a ‘self-hating,’ even a self-loathing Jew.

 

Returning to the United States I encountered a new tactic. The very same persons who disrupted in London, evidently together with some likeminded comrades, wrote viciously derogatory reviews of my book on the Amazon website in the U.S. and UK, giving the book the lowest rate possible rating, This worried my publisher who indicated that how a book is rated on Amazon affects sales very directly. I wrote a message on my Facebook timeline that my book was being attacked in this way, and encouraged Facebook friends to submit reviews, which had the effect of temporarily elevating my ratings. In turn, the ultra-Zionists went back to work with one or two line screeds that made no effort whatsoever to engage the argument of the book. In this sense, there was a qualitative difference as the positive reviews were more thoughtful and substantive. This was a new kind of negative experience for me. Despite publishing many books over the course during this digital age I had never before had a book attacked in this online manner obviously seeking to discourage potential buyers and to demean me as an author. In effect, this campaign is an innovative version of digital book burning, and while not as vivid visually as a bonfire, its vindictive intentions are the same.

 

These two experiences, the London cancellations and the Amazon harassments, led me to reflect more broadly on what was going on. More significant, by far, than my experience are determined, well-financed efforts to punish the UN for its efforts to call attention to Israeli violations of human rights and international law, to criminalize participation in the BDS campaign, and to redefine and deploy anti-Semitism so that its disavowal and prevention extends to anti-Zionism and even to academic and analytic criticism of Israel’s policies and practices, which is how I am situated within this expanding zone of opprobrium. Israel has been acting against human rights NGOs within its own borders, denying entry to BDS supporters, and even virtually prohibiting foreign tourists from visiting the West Bank or Gaza. In a remarkable display of unity all 100 U.S. senators recently overcame the polarized atmosphere in Washington to join in sending an arrogant letter to the new UN Secretary General, António Guterres, demanding a more friendly, blue washing, approach to Israel at the UN and threatening financial consequences if their outrageous views were not heeded.

 

Israel’s most ardent and powerful backers are transforming the debate on Israel/Palestine policy into a cultural war of aggression. This new kind of war has been launched with the encouragement and backing of the Israeli government, given ideological support by such extremist pressure groups as UN Watch, GO Monitor, AIPAC, and a host of others. This cultural war is implemented at street levels by flame throwing militants that resort to symbolic forms of violence. The adverse consequences for academic freedom and freedom of thought in a democratic society should not be underestimated. A very negative precedent is being set in several Western countries. Leading governments are collaborating with extremists to shut down constructive debate on a sensitive policy issue affecting the lives and wellbeing of a long oppressed people.

 

There are two further dimensions of these developments worth pondering: (1) In recent years Israel has been losing the Legitimacy War being waged by the Palestinians, what Israeli think tanks call ‘the delegitimation project,’ and these UN bashing and personal smears are the desperate moves of a defeated adversary in relation to the moral and legal dimensions of the Palestinian struggle for rights. In effect, the Israeli government and its support groups have given up almost all efforts to respond substantively, and concentrate their remaining ammunition on wounding messengers who bear witness and doing their best to weaken the authority and capabilities of the UN so as to discredit substantive initiatives; (2) while this pathetic spectacle sucks the oxygen from responses of righteous indignation, attention is diverted from the prolonged ordeal of suffering that has long been imposed on the Palestinian people as a result of Israel’s unlawful practices and policies, as well as its crimes against humanity, in the form of apartheid, collective punishment, ethnic cleansing, and many others. The real institutional scandal is not that the UN is obsessed with Israel but rather that it is blocked from taking action that might exert sufficient pressure on Israel to induce the dismantling of apartheid structures relied upon to subjugate, displace, and dispossess the Palestinian people over the course of more than 70 years with no end in sight.

Ways of Living With ‘Alternative Facts’: An Anecdote

6 Feb

 

 

A couple of nights ago I went to see A Quiet Heart, a fine film about a young Jewish woman, an accomplished pianist from Tel Aviv who had come to Jerusalem, apparently to get away from her family and former boy friend. She moved into an apartment in the ultra-Orthodox part of the city where acute hostility is exhibited toward more secular Jews and local Christians connected with a nearby monastic church. The film was being shown at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, and was a special selection in the ‘sidebar’ devoted to Israeli films and sponsored by the strongly pro-Israeli NGO, Anti-Defamation League, or ADL. As was the case for all films at the Festival, someone from the sponsors or Festival staff makes a brief introduction to the audience. In this case an ADL staff person gave some helpful background information. He made a closing comment that showing a film set in Jerusalem was especially appropriate in 2017 as it was ‘the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city.’

 

At the time I was struck by the oddness and insensitivity of such a remark, which from my perspective, was a completely unfamiliar way of acknowledging the impact of 1967 on Jerusalem. I had recently been attuned to the importance of 2017 as tragic anniversaries of the Balfour Declaration (1917), Partition Resolution (1947), and the 1967 War (1967). As I reflected on what 1967 meant from a Zionist/Israel perspective, the conquest and unified control of Jerusalem was a natural way of perceiving, as were the accompanying exclusions of international law (Israel was unanimously instructed by the UN Security Council to withdraw from the city to the pre-war borders with small negotiated modifications) and the Palestinian people (as if they had no claim to Jerusalem, and hence were invisible). It should be expected that contrasting meanings would be attached to the importance of 1967 by most Israelis and Zionists on one side and by those who identified with the Palestinian national struggle on the other side.

 

Is there a right and wrong about such differing perceptions? On one level, no, merely different ways of ‘seeing.’ On other level, yes; it is a matter of whether to validate the status quo as authoritative or to allow international law and UN authority to have the last word. Dialogue, especially if among equals, can let us see and feel as the other, possibly narrowing differences, or at least raising consciousness of their existence. In ideal form, Martin Buber’s I-Thou spirit of meeting the other suggests the true nature of an authentic quest for an understanding of otherness than transcends our own deeply conditioned and inevitably partials perceptions.

 

At the same time, if the circumstances that underlie the contrasting perceptions are hierarchical or oppressive, then it is deeply misleading to suggest that both sides are equally responsible for the unhappy situation that prevails. The side in control, in this instance Israel, is primarily responsible for treating Jerusalem as appropriately and permanently unified under Israeli governmental and political control in 1967. This Israeli insistenc defies international public opinion as well as some elementary precepts of international morality, although it reflects the current realpolitik reading of the situation.

 

This brings me inevitably to Kellyann Conway’s reliance on ‘alternative facts’ to validate the White House claim that Donald Trump’s inaugural crowd was bigger than that of Barack Obama. She was contesting contrasting pictures shown by CNN and other media outlets in which even the most casual observer could tell that Trumps crowd was by far smaller. Of course, only a narcissistic lack of self-esteem would lead someone to be foolish enough to call attention to such a discrepancy. The childish comparison of inaugural crowd sizes would have totally disappeared from public consciousness by the next moon had not Trump thrown a fit. With the help of that feisty provocation, ‘alternative facts’ a seemingly trivial controversy has been given a prominent and likely permanent place in American political discourse. Poor Ms. Conway, normally a refreshingly coherent and informed advocate of Trump’s worldview, will now likely be remembered above all, and maybe only, for this one extravagant trope that so blatantly crossed the line of plausibility! Or possibly for pointing to ‘the Bowling Green massacre’ as evidence that the media was guilty, as Trump complained, of underreporting terrorist incidents. This time Ms. Conway didn’t rely on alternative facts but on no facts. As she admitted a couple of nights later, there never was a Bowling Green massacre, there was simply no such event, but this did not inhibit her from repeating the absurd contention of her boss that the media downplays terrorism. From my angle of vision the opposite complaint could much more plausibly be made.

 

Without getting carried away with glee, it is helpful to remember that our daily existence tends to be dominated by alternative facts. Lawyers make a living by the careful selection of those facts favorable to their client, while ignoring or downplaying those that are unfavorable. And all of us nearly all the time, whether consciously or not, are coming up with our preferred menu of facts. The interpretation of facts is what creates the social and political fabric of life.

 

Yet there is a distinction between Ms. Conway’s alternative facts and those that are the stuff of nightly news debates, Her use of alternative facts flew in the face of what seemed to be a public truth, almost undeniable from the perspective of reason, and hence seemed more a ‘lie’ than an ‘interpretation.’ Crossing such a line weakens public discourse in a democratic society, turning politics into a deadly game in which the unaccountable whims of the leader amount to a death sentence imposed on innocence. Without the protection of innocence, there is scant prospect of justice. And so we are led to think that slaughtering political language might properly be viewed as an impeachable offense.

 

 

A Somewhat Anguished Open Letter to Blog Subscribers

4 Mar

 

In recent weeks, once again this website has been dominated by polarized debate about the relations between Israel and Palestine. My affinities in this debate are clear, but it has become for me and most others who share my viewpoint a very unproductive process. It reminds me of the sort of venom on display in the Republican primary struggle to select a presidential candidate, and at this point, the secondary struggle to offset the proto-fascist surge of Trump-mania that promises to make the choice of the next American leader a perverse and masochistic form of entertainment. This will be a tragedy not only for America, but for the world, considering the reality of its self-anointed role as the first global state in human history, and the implications this has for who is chosen to lead such a country.

 

I realize that such a free association is off point. What I want to express is that I have found the many comments contributors supporting Israel, while granting their sincerity, to resemble my experience in South Africa during the 1960s. In 1965 I spent the year in The Hague as an international law advisor to the Ethiopian and Liberian team in the South West Africa Cases being argued at the International Court of Justice. I learned many things, including being impressed and appalled by the skill and dogmatic convictions of the South African legal team in making their moral and legal case for apartheid, which I had previously uncritically viewed as a vicious form of racism that was not worth arguing about. It was not that I found these proponents of apartheid convincing, but it was my first experience of how ideological closure in the defense of a horrible situation can allow decent and intelligent people, pursuing their own social and material interests, to align themselves with what appeared to me to be a depraved structure of power and exploitation.

 

When I went to South Africa in 1968 to be an official observer at a political trial of activists in South West Africa, now Namibia, this dual experience of confrontation was deepened: with apologists for the apartheid regime and with those being victimized by it. I was told by the apologists a variety of things: “you don’t live here, and have no right to criticize what we do,” “blacks are better off here than elsewhere in Africa,” “it is either us or them, our survival is at stake,” “those who oppose apartheid are terrorists,” “we have brought prosperity and order to South Africa,” and on and on. My experience of the victimization of the African majority told, of course, a different story, one of fear, poverty, degradation, hardship, and the role of law in the service of oppression and degrading double standards.

 

I am not saying that the reality of Israel/Palestine relations are identical to those of apartheid South Africa, but there are essential similarities, including South African claims at the time of being a constitutional democracy governed according to the rule of law. There are also vast differences of history and circumstances, and the path to a just solution is very different, but the nature of debate between apologists for the status quo and its critics is sufficiently similar to make the comparison relevant and instructive.

 

While teaching at Princeton I agreed to debate a prominent American apologist for apartheid in an event sponsored by a conservative campus group. My opponent, an editor at the National Review with a Dutch background, made all the familiar pro-apartheid arguments in a cogent, even passionate form, and I angrily countered them, feeling afterwards ashamed that I had lost my poise having become so outraged by the distortions he was telling a mainly uninformed young student audience. It convinced me that such a debate, while sometimes captivating for its fireworks, is not the sort of communication and dialogue that I find worthwhile.

 

I have reached the same conclusion on several occasions with respect to the comments section of this blog. Over these years I have constantly vacillated between ignoring and engaging with the hostile and dogmatic comments submitted by Israeli apologists, which have frequently included nasty allegation or innuendo questioning my integrity and identity, and demeaning in various ways those who agreed with me. Such a dialogue of the deaf is repetitive, wasteful, hurtful, and initiates an intellectual race to the bottom.

 

I have been admittedly inconsistent in response, sometimes preferring a laissez-faire approach, sometimes monitoring to keep out personal insults and extremist views. I am a strong proponent of freedom of expression, although I have always found varieties of hate speech, including spurious allegations of anti-Semitism, to be troublesome and damaging. At the same time, while open to a wide divergence of views in the public square, I do not feel any obligation to invite those whose views I abhor to my home. A personal website is neither the public square nor a private dwelling, and that makes the issue messier, and undoubtedly explains why wavering between ‘openness’ and ‘boundaries.’

 

When a newspaper has opinion pieces and a comments section the case for extending the ethos of free speech is stronger, but not as convincing as it might appear on first glance. The Al Jazeera English comments section is dominated by vituperative and

hostile exchanges, polarizing and irrelevant debate and name calling, and rarely instructive. A personal blog site, even if addressing politically sensitive issues, seems to be justified in seeking to impose certain boundaries on what is acceptable. The goal is ‘productive conversation,’ which ideally would be hospitable to very divergent interpretations. I have always felt that I often learn most from those with whom I disagree, provided that these adversaries exhibit respect for the authenticity of my different experience and understanding.

 

These reflections leads me to once more adopt a more interventionist approach to comments submitted to this blog site. My goal is ‘productive conversation’ on a range of topics, and not limited to the Israel/Palestine agenda important that this is to me. I have enjoyed and benefitted from comments on a variety of issues, but rarely with respect to polar confrontations between Israel’s apologists and critics. With reluctance, but temporary resolve, I have decided to block comments that are written in a polarizing rhetoric or impugn the motives of Israel’s critics. It is

certain that the regular comment writers who I am categorizing as apologists for Israel will be offended, but I encourage them to go elsewhere. There are a variety of Zionist and pro-Israeli websites that are completely one-sided in ways they would find unproblematic, receiving either no critical comments or filtering out any that are out of tune with the spirit of the website.

 

On the basis of past experience, I have no illusions that this restrictive turn will work over time to improve the quality of discussion in the comments section, but I feel it is worth a try, and ask those who agree to be active, making it happen, providing that productive conversation on controversial issues is possible and useful.

On Ghada Ageel’s edited ISRAELI APARTHEID IN PALESTINE

11 Jan

 

(Prefatory Note: Ghada Ageel’s expertly edited Israeli Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and Harder Experiences has just been published by the University of Albert Press. It is an important contribution to Palestinian studies with an especially welcome linking of activism, scholarly analysis, and experiential narrative, each a vital perspective represented by excellent chapter writers. Publishing information can be found at the following:

http://www.uap.ualberta.ca/titles/415-9781772120820-apartheid-in-palestine

I publish below my foreword to the volume as a further indication of why I encourage all those with an interest in this subject-matter to obtain the book]

 

 

Foreword (by Richard Falk)

 

From many points of view, the struggle between Jews and Arabs over historic Palestine that has gone on for almost a century, is at a critical juncture. For more than twenty years most hopes for a peaceful resolution of the conflict depended on a diplomatic framework agreed upon in Oslo and solemnized by the infamous 1993 White House handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat with a smiling Bill Clinton standing tall between these embattled leaders. More than a year has elapsed since the end of expectations that Oslo diplomacy is the solution given the collapse in April 2014 of the American attempt to induce the parties to negotiate directly that Secretary of John Kerry had dramatically declared to be ‘the last chance’ to realize the two-state solution.

 

This Oslo framework was so one-sided from the outset as to seem structurally incapable of ever producing a fair outcome, given the bisecting of Occupied Palestine, splitting the West Bank from Gaza, entrusting partisan United States with the honest broker role, failing even to affirm a Palestinian right of self-determination, and the exclusion of international law from the negotiations. This latter may have been most damaging bias of all, allowing the Israelis to continue their unlawful land grabbing encroachment on post-1967 Palestine (expanding settlements; building the separation barrier, and constructing a network of settler only roads) , with the U.S. using its geopolitical muscle to insulate Israel from any adverse consequences through the years.

 

So with Oslo in shambles, new tendencies on both sides are becoming evident.

Israeli internal politics that have been drifting further and further to the right, and seems on the verge of producing a consensus favoring a unilaterally imposed solution that will leave the Palestinians squeezed either into barren bantustans on the West Bank or incorporated into an Israeli one-state solution in which the best that they can hope for is to be treated decently as second-class citizens in a self-proclaimed Israeli ethnocracy. Beyond this, even these diminished democratic elements in the Israeli reality would be threatened by the prospects of a Palestinian majority, leading many prominent Israelis to throw their democratic pretensions under the bus of ethnic privilege. The Knesset signaled the adoption of such an approach when it elected Reuven Rivlin as President of Israel, a fierce advocate of a single Israeli state encompassing the entirety of Palestine. To be sure, liberal minded Israeli Zionists, among them Amos Oz, are worried by these developments, warning that however belatedly, Israel’s only hope for real peace is to accept

a viable Palestinian sovereign state on its borders, but it seems as if such concerns are politically irrelevant voices in the wilderness.

 

On the Palestinian side the relevant discussions are more in the realm of aspirations, pinning hopes on a renewed cycle of intensifying resistance by an array of nonviolent tactics and bolstered by a growing global solidarity movement that follows the tactics and guidance of Palestinian civil society leaders. If such an assessment is correct it represents something quite new, shifting the locus of expectations from the level of governments to that of people and popular mobilization. In these respects, the formal governmental actors have become marginalized, with the Palestinian Authority compromised due to its partially collaborative and dependent relationship with Israel and the United States and Hamas limited in its capacity to provide international leadership, although its leaders have repeatedly expressed their readiness for long-term peaceful coexistence with Israel. The question is whether such a globally based and populist Palestinian national movement can exert sufficient pressure on the Israeli established order to force a recalculation of interests in Tel Aviv, a process comparable to what occurred so dramatically in South Africa two decades ago, a drastic change by the governing white elite that was signaled there by the utterly surprising release from prison of Nelson Mandela, up until then alleged to be South Africa’s number one terrorist.

 

There are other post-Oslo developments of relevance as well. The European governments have been breaking ranks by announcing in different ways their recognition of Palestinian statehood and the desirability of admitting Palestine to full membership in the United Nations. Such steps, although entirely symbolic and likely unable to alter policies, are challenges to the notion that only the United States can speak to the conflict. These European initiatives contain some ambiguities, as well, because they still seem yoked to some variant of the Oslo two-state mantra, and even seem to call for resumed

direct negotiations. I can only ask ‘to what end?’ given past futility and Israel’s

undisguised moves toward imposing a unilaterally satisfying outcome without worrying as to whether the Palestinians like it or not. The Palestinian Authority has taken these steps in a different direction by urging the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution requiring Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders by November 2016.

 

It is with these various considerations in mind that Ghada Ageel’s edited volume should be positively received as a timely and welcome addition to the vast literature addressing various facets of the Israel-Palestine unfolding reality. Its most striking feature is how well calibrated the various chapters that compose the whole are to this latest phase of struggle as depicted above. The book is built around the central organizing principle that there are three vital perspectives that enable an understanding and appreciation of both the suffering endured in the past by the Palestinian people and their moral, political, and legal entitlements when contemplating the future.

 

By distinguishing between those Palestinians whose life story is dominated by the traumatizing experience of a lost homeland, those whose engagement with the Palestinian struggle for justice is a matter of core political identity, and those who are scholars and activists that seek to interpret the conflict from the academic perspectives of international law and international relations Ageel has woven for readers a rich fabric of understanding. This understanding focuses on dispossession and displacement as the essential outcome of the nakba of 1948, the catastrophe that drove as many as 800,000 Palestinians from their cherished homeland, a story long at the core of the Palestinian experience, but only recently told to non-Palestinians in a persuasive manner as the Israeli Holocaust narrative of victimization had dominated public spheres of perception. The activists and scholars represented in this book are not neutral purveyors of knowledge, but individuals of diverse backgrounds who believe that peace will come to these two people if and only if justice is rendered by reference to Palestinian rights, which have been denied and encroached upon for so long.

 

What is worth noticing about this way of framing inquiry is that it gives scant attention to the conventional empowerment strategies of either armed struggle or diplomacy. The section reporting the lived memories of Palestinians are moving narratives about the past that give existential credibility to what it meant to uproot the Palestinian people, especially those from villages, from their homes and communities.

 

The section devoted to the tactics, strategies, and engagement of activists seeks to discern effective tactics to challenge an untenable status quo that the organized international community lacks the will and capability to overcome even though the whole tragedy of Palestine can be traced to colonialist policies (the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate) after World War I and the attempted imposed UN partition plan after World War II.

 

The final section on morality, politics, and law reinforces the cries of anguish of the Palestinian witnesses and validates the work of the activists by providing well-documented and reasoned support for the main Palestinian grievances. Together, then, this volume without saying so directly speaks percetively to the new realities of the Palestinian national struggle.

 

There is no attempt made by editor or contributors to assess the current stage of Zionist thinking and that of the Israeli leadership. In one respect Ari Shavit’s book of two years ago, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel makes the best case for Israeli behavior, acknowledging the cruelty and violence of Palestinian dispossession, and its ugly sequels, but strains to justify everything done to the Palestinian people as ‘necessary,’ part of an ‘us’ or ‘them’ either/or reality. This kind of Israeli thinking is prevalent in several forms, being especially split on whether an Israeli imposed solution should seek to be humane in its treatment of the subjugated Palestinians or will need to continue to rely on an iron fist approach. If one puts aside propaganda disseminated for external consumption, Israel’s present conception of peace is preoccupied with fears, security requirements, and territorial ambitions, leaving no room for any serious attention given to Palestinian rights or what might make peace sustainable and just for both peoples.

 

In the end, I commend Ghada Ageel for so bravely sharing her own story while guiding us on a comprehensive journey that takes us up to the present historical moment. We cannot read these various contributions, each excellent on its own, without being both moved and instructed. What we come away with is a sense of both the victimization and empowering agency of the Palestinians as a people, with less interest and expectations associated with either the formal leadership representing Palestine in diplomatic venues or the relevance of either governmental diplomacy or the UN to move the conflict toward an acceptable outcome at this time.

 

Of course, if we are to hopeful in line with the vision encapsulated in this volume, then we need to get beyond the conventional thinking of political realism. This kind of thinking is bound to be defeatist at this time given the disparity in military capabilities and the degree to which Israel’s hard power seems to be calling the shots. Yet in the period since 1945 this kind of realism has consistently produced failed policies and surprising outcomes. From the great victory of Gandhi’s India over the British Empire to the unlikely defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War, almost all struggles involving political destiny of a country have been eventually won by the side that perseveres and gains control of world public opinion by winning the legitimacy struggle involving justice, law, and morality. There is little doubt that since the Lebanon War of 2006 the Palestinians have been winning this legitimacy struggle as a result of the intensely negative perceptions throughout the world in reaction to the merciless military operations carried out by Israel in Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, and 2014, as well as the 2010 attack on the Turkish led flotilla of humanitarian ships seeking to break the blockade of Gaza that has been punishing the entrapped civilian population for years.

 

In effect, quietly yet powerfully, Ghada Ageel and her band of collaborators, are telling us to reimagine the Palestinian national struggle, and even to relate to it in an effective and knowledgeable manner. This book gives us the pedagogic and activist tools we need to participate meaningfully and usefully in the greatest of all unresolved colonial era struggles. It should be of interest to anyone concerned with overcoming oppression, seeking justice, and exploring the outer limits of nonviolent struggle by a brave people who have

endured generations of collective suffering.

 

Samer Issawi, Hunger Strikes, and the Palestinian Struggle

28 Dec

 

 

            For the last three years Palestinian prisoners, mainly unlawfully detained in Israeli jails, have been engaged in a series of life threatening hunger strikes to protest administrative detention imprisonment (that is,without indictment, charges, and access to allegedly incriminating evidence), abusive arrest procedures (including nighttime arrests involving brutality in the presence of family members, detention for prolonged interrogations violating international standards, e.g. 22 hours at a time, sleep deprivation), and deplorable prison conditions (including unlawful transfer to Israeli prisons, denial of family visits, solitary confinement for prolonged periods).

 

            No recent Palestinian prisoner has received more attention among the Palestinian than Samer Issawi, released a few days ago after reaching an extraordinary bargain with prison officials last April. He agreed then to stop his hunger strike, which had lasted an incredible 266 days, either partially or completely, in exchange for an Israeli pledge to release him in eight months at the end of 2013. Notably, Issawi had rejected Israeli earlier offers to release him provided he would agree to a ten year deportation order to either Gaza or some distant country. Issawi refused this arrangement, a form of punitive release, which Israel had imposed on other hunger strikers, including Hana Shalabi. In Issawi’s words, “I do not accept to be deported out of my homeland.”

 

            In the background also is the apparent Israeli effort to avoid having hunger strikers die, either because of their memory of the strong impact of Bobby Sands’ death on public opinion in Northern Ireland back in 1981 or as an aspect of the Israeli brand of ‘subsistence humanitarianism’ that has been explicitly most implemented in Gaza for the past decade. It involves a grouping of policies that seeks to make life extremely difficult for Palestinians but short of the point of death or epidemic, an extreme austerity reinforced periodically by what some Israelis referred to as ‘mowing the lawn,’ that is, relying on military incursion to ensure that the average collective material circumstances of Gazans don’t rise above subsistence levels. Such an articulated cruelty, proclaimed to be the rationale for an occupation policy, is bound to sow seeds of hatred, resentment, and give rise to feelings of revenge among even the most moderate of Palestinians. I have encountered such responses to Israeli practices and policies among the gentlest of Gazans with whom I have met in recent years.

 

            Issawi’s case stands out for several reasons aside from taking note of the length of his hunger strike. His expressed motivation was an understandable reaction to being rearrested in July 7, 2012 after having been released the prior year as part of the arrangement in which 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were given their freedom in exchange for the return of Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier. Issawi was rearrested at the Juba checkpoint, accused of violating the terms of his release that restricted him to Jerusalem, his place of residence. He was apparently still within the municipal limits of Jerusalem, but in an area treated as the West Bank by the Occupation authorities, and even so was claiming only to be seeking a shop for the repair of his car. For this possible technical violation of the release agreement, he was sentenced to eight months in prison, but then additional to this, a special committee, acting under Military Order 1651, Article 186, used its authority to rule that someone rearrested in this way could be returned, on the basis of a secret file, to prison for the completion of his original sentence, which in Issawi’s case meant twenty years. There was no right to challenge such a seemingly outrageous ruling. Even Issawi’s lawyer was denied access to the file that contained the supposedly incriminating information. It was against this background that Issawi was unwilling to accept a reversal of his release from jail. He declared that a hunger strike was the only weapon available to him to protest such treatment, implying that he would either win his freedom in that way or die in prison.

 

            Issawi’s family history is emblematic of what it has meant to live for most Palestinians decade after decade under military occupation. Samer’s brother, Fadi, was killed in 1994 by Israeli security forces, and a second brother, Medhat has spent the last 19 years in prison, while his sister Shireen was detained during 2010. The family lives in the village of Issawiyeh, a suburb of Jerusalem, and a site of protest in recent years, especially in reaction to the confiscation of village land to create a ‘national park’ and to establish a waste dump. In other words, the context of occupation, annexation, expropriation of resources, and suppression are all part of the Issawi story. Indicatively, Israel banned any celebration of Issawi’s release in Issawiyeh, an order somewhat ignored by a warm welcoming crowd joyful about his release.

 

            Even before his rearrest for violating the terms of his release, the Palestinian NGO that monitors Israeli prisons and policies, Addameer, indicated that Issawi was subjected to constant harassment by security forces. He was questioned at length several times a week, and was denied the opportunity to live a normal life. The daily ordeal of Palestinians living under occupation is a Kafka tale of lawless law, where those in charge decide   

whatever they wish, hide behind veils of secrecy, and impose their authority by relying on excessive force and a variety of humiliating obstacles to normalcy. Issawi made clear that his struggle would not end with his release from prison: “It is our obligation as freedom fighters to free all Palestinian political prisoners.” Also, that there was a link between his kind of resistance by Palestinians and the broader international solidarity movement: “I draw my strength from all the free people in the world who want an end to the Israeli occupation.” Of course, there is mutuality present as those who support the Palestinian struggle from outside are inspired by the courage and resilience of individuals such as Samer Issawi, and should know these stories of nonviolent Palestinian defiance.

 

            The Issawi story is more than the struggle of an individual or the sad saga of a family active in resistance or a village confronting the daily realities of an occupation that is also a scenario of resource confiscation and oppressive living conditions. It represents a metaphoric summary of the Palestinian reality, epitomized by pervasive vulnerability, violent oppression, and the steady encroachment on the integrity of the Palestinian habitat, but also by the dynamics of resistance, struggle, and hope for a better, decent future. It is a reality we should all reflect upon at the turning of the year, wishing and acting for a better 2014 for Palestinians and for all of us.