Memories of an Anti-Zionist Jew


Hanna BraunI received the text which follows from Ms. Hanna Braun, who is now 82 years old. She was born to a jewish family from Germany, a family which emigrated to Palestine in 1937 due to the increasing animosity against jews in Germany of that time. In her memories which Ms. Braun shares, she remembers the time during which she and her family lived in Palestine between their arrival in 1937 and until their emigration to England in 1958 due to their disillusionment with zionism and Israel. The memories of Ms. Braun are telling because they show from a first-person perspective, how all the propaganda, everything which the zionists say about zionism and Israel, does simply not correspond to truth, that “zionism” had and has nothing to do with “making the desert bloom”, that groups like Hagana were not about defense but about murdering and expelling Palestinians, that despite asseverations to the contrary Jews from Arab countries were lured to “Israel” under false pretexts. In short, the whole text is one scandal when compared with the zionist orthodoxy spread in western countries.

Becoming members of the Hagana involved a secret ceremony at night in a totally deserted spot on Mount Carmel, with torches and oaths of allegiance, something akin to what I imagine the Ku Klux Klan ceremonies were like.

“At the end of reading Hanna’s Braun memories, you are invited to see a short video: “I am Israel”. This video is not part of Hanna’s memories, it was submitted by another reader”.

Ms. Braun became involved in various zionist groups and activities, such as the Hagana, but became increasingly skeptical about the whole zionist project as time passed and she understood more and more what it really was about: grabbing from us Palestinians by any means necessary: terrorism, murder, guile … but read the whole text to see why this jewish lady became an anti-zionist.

From a sheltered middle-class early childhood in Germany with only nominal connections to Judaism, to active participation in the PSC, via a Zionist upbringing in Palestine, including membership of the “Hagana” and later the Israeli Defence Forces, seems a winding if not contradictory route to have travelled. I don’t believe this is, in fact, the case, but I’ll try to explain from scratch.

Hanna9aMy family were not just German, but ridiculously proud North-Germans with a Buddenbrook (title of a novel by the German author Thomas Mann)-like disdain for South-Germans, Jewish or otherwise. Austrians and East Europeans were beyond the pale. Our assimilation into German society had become deeply ingrained over generations, with religion playing a derisory role. My first intimation of being Jewish came in 1933: that Easter I started school and my mother told me the previous evening that I would be asked to state my religion and was to answer “Jewish”, which, my mother assured me, was nothing to be ashamed of. Subsequent events soon proved otherwise: Hitler had come to power and most teachers increasingly railed against Jews in front of the class; some of the staff relegated us to one corner of the classroom and refused to teach us. “Click on the pictures to see them bigger”.

Within a couple of years our former good friends had stopped playing with us and would no longer invite us to their homes nor visit ours. Increasingly, we were excluded from public places of entertainment: theatres, concert halls and swimming establishments to name but a few.

To make matters worse, out went the Christmas tree and Easter Eggs; the alternative festivals of Hanukkah and Passover were not a patch on them! I remember concluding with a Jewish classmate that being Jewish was no big deal at all; in fact we heartily wished we weren’t! The actual peril of German Jewry was largely concealed from us, probably not least because Berlin being a large city, Jews, and particularly the very assimilated ones, were unlikely to be known or recognized as such.

However, there was an increasing exodus from Germany and we followed in 1937. Most of our circle of friends and acquaintances left for other European countries, including Britain, or for the USA. I fear the majority of my relatives were too short sighted to move at all, finding the idea of leaving Germany unimaginable till it was too late; most of them perished in concentration camps.

Why did we immigrate to Palestine? Certainly not because of Zionist ideals, particularly on my mother’s side; however, father had two siblings who had become early Zionists- still a rarity at the time amongst West European Jews although his family came from a far more traditional Transylvanian background- and had settled in Palestine around 1930. Their enthusiastic persuasion prevailed, not least after father explored the possibilities of finding a livelihood and was guaranteed secure employment with the British Mandatory Authorities as a specialist in electrical engineering (he had been working for Siemens).

And so we arrived at the port of Haifa on a beautifully clear and sunny morning in October 1937, in the midst of the second bitter Palestinian uprising, euphemistically termed “disturbances” by the British authorities and Jewish settlers alike. According to my newly acquired relatives who came to welcome us at the port, we had just missed a Khamseen, the hot, dry, wind from the Sahara. The word is Arabic for fifty, as the locals claimed this was the number of days per year we had it. This word has long since been translated to “Sharav”, as have numerous other Arabic terms and expressions in an effort to erase any possible connection between us and the Palestinians, let alone any hints that the Arab Palestinians had lived here long before us and knew more about climatic/geographical conditions.

At the time, the prevailing slogan was “Hebrew work for Hebrew workers”- translatable as a boycott of any dealings with, or employment of, Palestinian Arabs.

When my mother expressed amazement at this, asking how we were expecting to live in peace with the Arabs in such a way, our new relations regarded her with a mixture of pity and consternation – she wasn’t a proper Zionist at all! At the time this was certainly true: most West European Jews, especially the German ones, regarded Zionism as something for poor East European Jews who had trouble making ends meet. I still remember mother musing aloud after a visit to Arthur Ruppin, an early well known Zionist and a distant relation, “I don’t know why he became a Zionist; such a good family!” Years later mother was persuaded to Zionism, albeit a more humane version of a Bi-National State advocated by Professor Buber. The idea was soon marginalised and forgotten altogether.

The revolt (1936-1939) was aimed mainly at the British Mandatory Powers and at the new Jewish settlements that mushroomed continuously, often literally overnight. An old Ottoman law (still existing in Turkey) that allows a new settlement to remain legally in place once a watchtower and a fence are completed, was frequently used during nights by settlers on lands that either had not been fully documented as villagers knew the boundaries of their respective lands and saw no need to resort to official documentation, or via land sale by often absentee landlords.

13394-500-750One of numerous nationalistic songs from that period speaks of “the fence and the watchtower” another of “a dunum here and a dunum there” referring to the continuous land- grab in the country. We used to sing many such songs enthusiastically without ever questioning the glaringly obvious message it contained. Neither did most of us see the contradiction of living in Palestine as Palestinians yet simultaneously singing about our land of Israel in eternity. It was Lenin who coined the term “useful idiots” for blindly loyal followers of the Soviet regime. This term could have been specially tailored for us.

By that time (1937-1938) even the greediest of absentee landlords, often living in Beirut, had stopped selling land to the Jewish National Fund from underneath his tenants’ feet. Palestinian Arab fears of Jewish settler intentions had put increasing pressure on landowners, while such intentions were being completely denied by the Jewish community. We firmly believed that settlements, widely termed “Pioneer Settlements”, were developed on otherwise neglected and unused land, and lacked any understanding of indigenous people’s feelings: we were not taking their lands from them, or so the accepted wisdom went, but turning an arid land into a fruitful and productive one.

To that end, levies were paid on most goods and all public travel, not to mention the obligatory collection boxes in all shops, classrooms, restaurants, places of public entertainment and in many homes. Proceeds went to the Jewish National Fund and to the Settlement Fund. Money also came from Jewish communities in unoccupied Europe, the USA and various British colonies. Years later, in 1950 or 51, I was a Teachers’ Union delegate to some national conference in which a discussion took place on whether to continue these collections and levies, particularly in schools. I could not see the point, as by then we had a state and – so I naively believed – all the land we had wanted and more. I was outvoted by a large majority.

During my school years I became increasingly involved in the Zionist movement as well as the Socialist one, as indeed a large majority of young people were at the time, especially those who stayed on at school after the age of 14. We perceived no contradiction: we were combating colonialism in the shape of the British Authorities and our training, initially in unarmed combat, until most of us joined the underground “Hagana (Defence”) organisation, a year later. By that time the organisation, one of whose founders had been Moshe Dayan, had been outlawed by the British Authorities.


This made it doubly exciting for us youngsters. Becoming members of the Hagana involved a secret ceremony at night in a totally deserted spot on Mount Carmel, with torches and oaths of allegiance, something akin to what I imagine the Ku Klux Klan ceremonies were like. Following this, we started training to armed combat as well as in various endurance courses. It took me years to realise that any socialism that is exclusive to one people or group is a contradiction in terms, as is the idea of a democracy within a demographic context.

Most of our training took place over weekends at nearby Kibbutzim (collective farms), well away from the British Army or Police. Most Kibbutzim had at least some hidden caches.

I relished the difference between living in Germany and Palestine from the start: the freedom from restrictions, the absence of the stigma and anxiety of being a Jew and last but not least, the beauty of the country, its climate and the general air of informality, of a common aim and purpose and of discarding the shackles of an “old” traditional lifestyle for a new, confident and assertive one, captured my heart completely. With hindsight, I realize that many of these sentiments led to a sense of superiority, self-importance, arrogance and aggressiveness, characteristics that are still often found in Israelis nowadays and that have, indeed, increased; for youngsters growing up, however, this was heady stuff!

Most of us dreamt of a pioneering life as founding-members of a new kibbutz; we had experience of working and staying in established ones, very poor at that time, as volunteers during the long summer holidays as well as at weekends spent training in handling a variety of firearms. Most kibbutzim had hidden caches of arms.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian uprising had come to an end in 1939; I was unaware at the time of how cruelly it had been crushed – indeed, the existence of the Arab population seemed somewhat remote and shadowy, barely intruding upon our consciousness. I can well imagine white children in other colonial countries – India, various African countries – growing up hardly noticing the indigenous population, except as servants, menial labourers or strangers occasionally glimpsed from a coach or car window.

This was also the time of growing fears about family members who had stayed behind in Germany: by 1941 all news of them had ceased; prior to this my mother had been trying in vain for some two years to obtain a permit for my widowed grandmother to join us. However, a quota had been imposed as a result of Arab protests, triggered by alarm at the sharp increase in the entry rate caused by Hitler’s regime. Elderly people stood no chance of obtaining a permit. For a long time, mother was distraught: grandmother, so proudly German, had been sent to a concentration camp, as had all my other relatives. Only one survived.

The war years touched the Jewish community mainly by the terrible common anxiety, amounting to dread, of practically all European Jews about the fate of family and friends left behind, and by the mobilisation of large numbers of young men and women and their recruitment into the British army. There was also growing bitterness at the lack of action by the Allied Powers and Britain in particular, to try and rescue Jews in any significant numbers or to speak out against the terrible atrocities, news of which increasingly filtered through.

Our poet laureate of the time wrote a poem of bitter indictment, cursing both the perpetrators of the atrocities and those who stood silently by. However, in archives made public recently it transpired that our first Prime minister to be, David Ben-Gurion, had reiterated more than once that had there been a choice between rescuing one million Jewish children by sending them to the UK prior to the outbreak of WW2 or only half that number by sending them to Palestine, he would have always opted for the latter. So much for our humanity.

Another, for me illuminating, aspect of the war years, however, (discounting a few rather feeble air attacks by the Italian air force) was that for the first time Palestinian Arabs, or at least a few of them, became real to me. We had finally settled in Haifa in late 1941. Prior to that we had moved around between Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa following my father’s work in the government’s telephone exchange modernisation. Our new home was halfway up Mount Carmel, with beautiful views of Haifa Bay and the city of Acre at the opposite end of it. During Ramadan I would listen to the old Napoleonic cannons going off in Acre at dusk to signal the end of the fast; they did so in the pre-dawn as well but I slept too deeply to hear them then. On clear days we could see Mount Hermon, in Lebanon, covered with a layer of snow all year round.

Our neighbours in Haifa, as well as three other families in the street, were Arab. I became friendly with their eldest daughter, who was about my age, and was frequently in their house, always treated with friendliness and warmth although conversation was minimal: the little Arabic we learned at school was formal literary Arabic, fairly remote from daily discourse, and the female members of the family, as well as the father, knew only the colloquial spoken Arabic.

They were first generation town-dwellers, who had moved to Haifa from At-Tireh, a prosperous village not far away, ironically the location of my first teaching post – but of that later. I was fascinated by their lifestyle and attracted to much of it, not to mention developing a crush on the eldest son, who had recently graduated from Beirut University. Through my contact with the family I began to see Arab people as individuals, no doubt influenced by my mother’s attitude to anyone she met, which showed a healthy disregard for origins or “race”.

We had occasional help with heavy laundry from Arab women, often from neighbouring villages, and mother knew all about their families, homes and problems, with hardly any common language. She also persuaded my father, who had Arab colleagues, to obtain some samples and recipes of Middle Eastern cooking, which were added to our own repertoire.

Haifa was still reasonably mixed throughout those years and we often visited the largely Arab downtown area close to the port, with its mixture of large and small shops and stalls, a market boasting a wide variety of fresh products, particularly fish, small restaurants and, last but not least, the largest and best stocked bookshop in Haifa, “Habash”. Occasionally we also visited Acre for sightseeing and excellent meals served in a small open-air restaurant just underneath the old fortress by the sea.

One of my classmates took piano lessons from a notable pacifist Jew (Yossef Abileah), whose music school accommodated Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Greeks and others. Proud parents and friends sat side by side at the annual concerts. Years later, in Birmingham in the late 70s, I was invited by the Palestinian Students’ Association to attend a talk given by him, pleading for peace and recognition of Palestinian aspirations. He had just returned from the USA, a frail old man, who, together with his wife, was still striving for justice.

As a family we also frequently visited Nazareth and other well known Palestinian – Arab towns and there seemed to be a feeling of mutual tolerance at the time, and although I knew of few other Jewish people in Haifa who regularly visited Arab homes, others did exist, firstly amongst the Arab Jews of whom we were totally ignorant, and also in the mixed areas and many towns including Jerusalem. In all these places non-European Jewish communities had lived peacefully side by side with their Muslim or Christian neighbours for hundreds of years.

By and large, these old settled communities had little sympathy with Zionism and neither were the European Zionist settlers interested in them for a long time. With the creation of the Jewish state this changed completely: although still deemed second class, i.e. non-European, they were recruited and persuaded to the Zionist cause for demographic reasons as well as to serve as cannon fodder.

Towards the end of the 2nd world War tensions escalated, especially between the Jewish community and the British authorities, but also between the formers’ main parties and the extremist right-wing “Beitar” party (led by the late Menahem Begin, later to become the “Etzel” and “Stern” gangs). Officially at least, the community defence force, the “Hagana”, claimed to be at war with the right – we were instructed to tear down their posters wherever they appeared; we also attempted – in vain – to have two pupils who were members of “Beitar” expelled from our school. Most of us were still blind, though, to the hidden agenda with its dangers to the Palestinian Arabs.

In 1945 I completed school and went to Jerusalem to study. At that time, we were still free to wander about in the Arab part of the city – far more Arab than it is now, when so much of the Arab sector has been gnawed away, initially by stealth and later openly and increasingly quite blatantly. Tensions continued to mount, with terrorist attacks by Etzel (ex-Beitar) and Stern gangs, with frequent curfews imposed by the British, with desperate attempts to land illegal ships packed with survivors from Europe and with increasing demands for a Jewish state.

Only recently has it come to light that Ben Gurion was himself involved in preventing the hapless refugees on the “Exodus” boat from landing anywhere else but in Germany, from which they had fled. Both France and Denmark had offered to let them land on their shores after the British prevented them landing in Palestine but for our first prime minister to come, the refugees’ importance was solely their use as propaganda material.

We finished our studies early that summer. Jerusalem had been under siege since winter and there was no electricity, petrol or other fuel and very little food or water. Since January most of us, young students and others had spent alternate nights on guard duties for the Hagana in the hills surrounding Jerusalem. In June we became full-time members of the developing “Israel Defence Force”. Many of us, however, had by then experienced the first of many deeply disturbing shocks: the massacre at Deir Yassin.

Early one morning in April 1948, a friend burst into my room with tears streaming down her face: “they are butchering everyone in Deir Yassin!” It took some time to sink in – we had been repeatedly told. At this perilous time, everyone was needed in the defence of the fledgling state and meting out punishment would be counterproductive. Nowadays it is of course widely known that Deir Yassin happened with the full
d that the village’s inhabitants were entirely peaceful and the senseless brutality of such slaughter was incomprehensible. Equally despicable was the parading of some of the male villagers in an open van through the streets of Jerusalem prior to being shot.

Our only comfort, if such it could be called, was that the atrocity was perpetrated by the Stern gang, forerunners of “Likud”. That fig leaf was torn away when, a few months later, Stern and Etzel members were incorporated into the regular army and their commanders became our officers. Complaints fell on deaf ears; we now had one state with one army, we were told. The 1947 declaration by the United Nations of the partition of Palestine and of the creation of such a state were greeted with wild jubilation and all-night street celebrations; we were somewhat taken aback by the grim and worried faces of Arabs the following morning – little did we realise that fighting had begun and that expulsions were already occurring in other parts of the country.

Hostilities escalated sharply after the unceremonious departure of the British in May 1948. Having for years played the game of divide and rule, successfully contributing to the animosity between the Arab Muslims, Christians and the Jewish communities, they washed their hands of the affair and left the sides to their own devices. However, most British police stations, in the main well fortified and stocked with ammunitions, fell into Jewish hands, as did prisons, radar stations and warehouses. Pure coincidence, I now wonder?

That summer there was a brief cease-fire and I returned to Haifa for a week. During my absence the “liberation” of Haifa and of many other towns and villages had occurred: Jaffa, Afula, Safad, Lydda and many more. We had been unaware of any of this in Jerusalem, being cut off by the siege. The inhabitants had been driven out, sometimes by straightforward attacks, at other times by different means, often by deliberately terrorising people.

In Haifa, for example, Palestinian Arabs had been given 24 hours to leave; armed soldiers ensured they complied. The predominantly Arab downtown business area was cleared as well as purely residential areas: our neighbours as well as the owners of the two other Arab houses in the street shared this fate. My mother recounted the story with tears, my father with pride. The term “ethnic cleansing” was as yet unknown, it certainly was a very apt description of what was, and indeed still is, happening.

The large shops and business premises downtown were now “liberated” and in Israeli hands. Only one Arab quarter remained for many years: Wadi Nisnas, a small, largely poor, ghetto-like part of Haifa. What had become of our Arab neighbours, indeed of all Haifa’s large Arab population many of whose families had been settled in that city for hundreds of years? It was a nagging doubt that refused to go away.

Upon my return to Jerusalem, I was assigned to a regiment commanded by Moshe Dayan (later General Dayan, Chief of Staff, later still, defence minister). He had “liberated” Qalkilya, among other towns, and villages and used to boast freely of his fear-striking tactics: he had ordered his troops to release a veritable deluge of shrieking sirens, careering searchlights, massive explosions of shells, grenades and other ammunition, prior to mounting an attack on these places. By that time, most of the inhabitants had fled in sheer terror. Dayan was rather proud of his successes gained by this method; I believe he used it often.

The fact that the Qalkilians, like all Palestinians who had fled or who had simply been away from home during the “Independence War”, had lost any right ever to return was left unmentioned. Indeed, for a long time- far too long – I realise with hindsight, it was so much easier to believe the propaganda we were bombarded with: the bulk of the Arab population had fled despite Israel’s efforts to reassure them and to persuade them to stay put. Moreover, Jews from a variety of Middle Eastern countries were suffering persecution and peril and had to emigrate, or so we were led to believe, so it was a fair exchange. It was not until the early nineteen fifties, when I encountered some of these “persecuted” immigrants, that a very different picture began to emerge.

In early 1950 all female teachers and nurses were released from the army and shortly after that I started my first teaching job in At-Tireh, formerly a prosperous Palestinian village, which we had often glimpsed from the main Haifa – Tel-Aviv road. I was astonished to see the fine, modern school building erected and then abandoned by the villagers: the general perception by the majority of Israeli Jews was that Arab village dwellers, with very few exceptions, were illiterate.

New immigrants now peopled the village, the bulk of them from Bulgaria and Turkey. Initially, we had no means of communication, but in time it became clear that many of our pupils’ parents were less than happy in their new homes. All the Bulgarians had come from Sofia and were used to big-city life; the Turks also felt that the wonderful promises of life in the Jewish homeland had failed to materialise. All of them felt unneeded and even unwelcome; they had been dumped in abandoned villages – if they were lucky – and were usually unemployed or overqualified for the jobs they were doing. The young men, of course, had immediately been drafted into the army.

My opportunity to meet some of these young soldiers came when I was called up to go on reservist duty: in February 1952 I was sent to Eilat for a month. At that time, it was nothing but a military camp on the shores of the Red Sea. I was assigned to a class of new immigrant soldiers who spoke no Hebrew. The hostility of the 25 or so young men I encountered on the first morning shocked me: they wanted to learn no Hebrew!

One young Yemeni who spoke Hebrew explained that all of these men from various Arab and Balkan countries and, had left settled and contented lives in their former homes. They had been persuaded by the constant urgings of Zionist propaganda to come to the aid of the new Israeli state, which was in danger being destroyed by the surrounding Arab states, as indeed were their own communities.

They had been made to feel needed, perhaps essential; what they had not been told was that their main role was to act as cannon- fodder. On arrival, they were sprayed with DDT at the port of entry and then crammed into extremely primitive reception camps. Within a week or two they were drafted into the army for a three-year term and sent to their bases, often without knowledge of where their families had been placed or how they would survive economically.

They were far from unaware of the very different treatment accorded to European immigrants whose camps were far superior, who received help in finding suitable accommodation and who were quickly given jobs. Vast numbers of Eastern immigrants now wished to return to their countries of origin as soon as possible – the Indians even held a sit-down strike in central Tel Aviv demanding their fares back – very few had this wish granted.

One difficulty was the very high level of taxes levied at the time on Israelis travelling abroad. This was compounded by the fact that, at that time, all Jewish immigrants, on arrival in Israel, had been automatically made Israeli citizens without being informed properly, let alone consulted or asked for consent. As a result, most had lost their original citizenship. On a recent visit to Palestine and Israel I met an Iraqi who had been part of this influx; he told me that he still felt bitter about what had happened to him, to his community and to all the other non-European immigrants.

The Eilat experience opened my eyes to the reality of life for the new, mainly non-European immigrants. Later on I saw some of the purpose built, shoddy villages, literally in the middle of nowhere, in which many of them were dumped; quite often these were later abandoned and the disillusioned inhabitants were housed in – inferior – ex-Palestinian accommodation; the better type of such accommodation, particularly in the cities, had gone to European immigrants.

The increasingly blatant inequality of treatment that existed between the Jewish and the remaining Arab citizens of Israel began to worry and to raise doubts and even anger in the minds of progressive Israelis, sadly not many of them. This was explained away by “security” needs: dangers had to be faced up to, especially those posed by the “fedayeen” (armed intruders, many of them farmers desperate to get back to their lands). However, everyone knew that these were few and far between and only affected the southernmost and northernmost borders, not any centres of population. It made no sense not to allow Arab-Israeli citizens to travel freely, not to give them access to health, education and other services in any comparable measure and to restrict their entry into a whole range of studies and professions, not to mention into trade unions.

Some of these issues have now been addressed but many still hold true and today there is the added danger of “Judaisation” – of the Galilee, for instance, and of old villages and settlements being expropriated and their inhabitants transferred against their will. Today we are told that these villages and settlements had never been officially recognised and hence had never had electricity, water or road access introduced; at the time nobody, at least outside government, had ever heard of unrecognised villages. Only recently I learned that Israeli citizens have different nationalities: Jewish, Arab or Druze (a small minority who are Arabs but with a slightly different religion) with full rights and benefits only accorded to the first group – discrimination from cradle to grave.

Our disillusion with the new state reached its climax during the 1956/7 Suez crisis: this could not be explained away as a security measure by any feat of the imagination – it was naked aggression! Most Israelis – excepting communist party members and some farsighted individuals – were jubilant.

We (I had married by that time and was living in Jerusalem once more) found that open criticism led to social ostracism in all but a few cases. During this period, our Indian postman (a graduate of Madras University) knocked on our door very early one morning to inform us in a frightened whisper that all our mail was being opened. So, when in 1958 Bristol University offered my husband a post as research fellow, we finally decided to emigrate. Leaving Israel was very painful for me; despite my political objections I still loved the country and in particular life in the Middle East, into which I had enthusiastically integrated myself.

For many years thereafter I still visited Israel fairly regularly but after 1978, following Menahem Begin’s election as prime minister, I felt too alienated to do so any longer. Not only was there something very disturbing in the way Israelis swaggered through East Jerusalem’s streets as if they owned it all, there were soldiers everywhere as if the whole place had been militarised (which, with hindsight, it actually had become). Moreover, I had nothing but highly unpleasant arguments with what was left of family members or former friends. One former schoolmate, now head teacher of a large secondary school, became quite aggressive in insisting that ALL Jews had to live in Israel; he regarded me as something of a traitor. During this visit a very aged uncle with whom I tried to steer well clear of politics took offence when I praised a restaurant with excellent Middle Eastern cuisine. “I’m a central European”, he grumbled, “I’m not interested in things Middle Eastern”. This left me truly speechless.

During my years in Britain I came across writings by early Zionists (the unedited version of Herzl, inter alia) as well as those by Palestinians such as Edward Said, R. Sayigh and others which had not been widely available in Israel, and I gradually came to realise that my perception of Zionism having lost its way was mistaken: Zionism had never been justifiable from its outset. I also met numerous Palestinians, mainly students, during the seventies in Britain and began to see their side much more clearly. However, it took the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to turn me from a non-Zionist into an anti- Zionist. At a large demonstration in London that summer I came across small groups of like-minded Britons, former Israelis and/or Jews for the first time and discovered that I could become involved and active in this country.

MIDEASTIn 1989 I went for the first time to the Palestinian Occupied territories during the first Intifada as part of a women’s delegation (from what was the “Socialist Movement”) Over the years I have been fortunate in making a number of good Palestinian friends as well as some Israeli ones and these friends keep my spirits up whenever I feel too pessimistic. Israel still cynically claims to be the “victim”, while it is the second largest arms manufacturer in the world and has the fifth biggest stockpile of nuclear weapons worldwide.

The vast majority of Israelis live in a state of perpetual fear and hatred of Arabs and have hijacked the holocaust in an almost obscene manner in order to justify their own atrocities. By imprisoning the “other” they imprison themselves, most glaringly with the monstrous “Security Wall” now growing apace. This wall eats deeply into Palestinian land so that many farmers can no longer tend their fields and olive groves, and children, the sick and elderly face enormous obstacles in their daily lives. This is not about security; it is naked apartheid.

These days you see graffiti on walls of Arab homes in East Jerusalem or in various Palestinian towns in the occupied territories with the star of David and inscriptions such as “Arabs out” and “Death to Arabs”; eerily reminiscent of what I saw as a child in Germany with the star of David replaced by the swastika and Arabs by Jews. Israel is in a deep moral quagmire and to me only one solution is possible and just: to put Human and Civil Rights above Israeli/Jewish Rights.

It is only by ridding ourselves from the narrow and blinkered view which puts us and our needs above all others that we can attain normality, morality and a sense of justice. To liberate ourselves and live in true freedom and peace we must adopt the idea of one democratic secular state for all its citizens, whoever they are. To me, giving up is not an option and I’ll try to persevere with what Raymond Williams defined as radical: “To be truly radical is to believe in the possibility of good rather than the inevitability of evil”.
Hanna Braun, 2003

On one of my more recent visits to the Palestinian Territories in September/October 2005 I was invited by the coordinator of ADRID (Association for the Defence of the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Israel), Dawoud Badr, to come to his committee’s office in Nazareth, where the networking with 21 similar committees of displaced villagers is growing steadily. He showed me an aerial map of their village prior to its destruction by the Israeli Hagana in 1948.

This happened in spite of the village elders at the time, who previously had agreed with the Hagana commander that they were not going to resist. When the Israeli forces appeared on that fateful day, the mukhtar put out a white flag on top of the minaret, as had been agreed, but the Israelis reneged on their agreement. Subsequently he drove me to the area that had been the village but is now completely overgrown, with boulders lying around and some cactus-fruit shrubs.

The mosque still stands but is in poor repair. Dawoud told me that the villagers’ descendants, now resident in the near-by village of Bashiriyeh, still used to go weekly to pray at the mosque until recently, when the Israeli local authorities prevented them because the building was unsafe. Neither could they obtain permission to repair the mosque. The villagers then took to praying outside the mosque, as a result of which the authorities placed barbed wire around it. Adrid, together with Al-Ard have annual marches and festivals to commemorate their expulsions. They have also petitioned the Govt. to permit them to return to their villages and rebuild them. So far the reply is negative.

At the end of reading Hanna’s Braun memories, you are invited to see this short video: “I am Israel”. This film is not part of Hanna’s memories, it was submitted by another reader.


Tony: Based on the regional alliance proposed by Assad, expect joint Syrian-Iraqi-Turkish-Israeli-U.S.-Iranian military exercises pretty soon?


By Mary Rizzo • Oct 11th, 2009 at 12:41 • Category: Biography, Mary’s Choice, Newswire, Opinions and Letters, War

obama superflagEnglish translation: Machetera

In an unusual decision, the Norwegian Nobel Committee put an end to seven months of searching among the 205 nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize and conferred it upon Barack Obama. The Norwegian committee’s decision provoked very mixed international reactions: ranging from stupefaction to huge laughter. The statement by the organization’s president, Thorbjorn Jagland got straight to the point: “It’s important for the Committee to recognize those people who are struggling and idealistic, but we cannot do that every year. We must from time to time go into the realm of realpolitik. It is always a mix of idealism and realpolitik that can change the world.” The problem with Obama is that his idealism remains at the level of rhetoric, while in the world of realpolitik, his initiatives could not be more antagonistic to the search for peace in this world.

According to Robert Higgs, a specialist in military expenditures for the Independent Institute inOakland, California, the way Washington prepares its defense budget systematically conceals the real total. Upon analyzing the figures submitted to Congress by George W. Bush for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, Higgs concluded that they represented just over half of the figure that would actually be disbursed, therefore surpassing the previously unthinkable barrier of a trillion dollars, that is, a million dollars multiplied a million times. And this because, according to Higgs, one must add to the base sum originally designated for the Pentagon, the expenditures related to defense which are spent outside the Pentagon; the extraordinary funds demanded by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the interest associated with the indebtedness incurred by the White House to meet these expenses; and those arising from the medical and psychological attention for the 33,000 men and women wounded in the wars of the United States which require a hefty budget for the National Veterans Administration. Obama has done absolutely nothing to stop this infernal machine of death and destruction, and when through the

mouthpiece of his Secretary of State he denounces arms purchases which “outpace all other countries,” instead of beholding the beam in his own eye, the target of his criticism is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela!

Obama increased the budget for the war in Afghanistan as a result of his contemplated increase in the number of troops deployed in that country; his troops continue to occupy Iraq; he has given no sign of changing George Bush Jr.’s decision to activate the Fourth

Fleet; he has moved ahead with a still secret treaty with lvaro Uribe to open seven new U.S. military bases in Colombia, and it is said that there are five more that are about to be confirmed, through which he is preparing (or has become complicit in) a new wave of warmongering against Latin America; he maintains his ambassador in Tegucigalpa when

practically all others have been withdrawn, thereby supporting the Honduran putschists; he maintains the blockade against Cuba and is not in the least perturbed by the unjust imprisonment of the five anti-terrorist fighters incarcerated in the United States. Of course, the Norwegian Committee periodically suffers some delusions which translate into decisions as absurd as the present one – whether brought on by its ignorance of world affairs, opportunistic pressures, or the delights of Norwegian aquavit, no-one can be totally sure. But if at one time it granted the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger,

correctly defined by Gore Vidal as the biggest war criminal wandering loose in the world, how could they have denied it to Obama, especially after the rebuff he suffered at the hands of Lula in Copenhagen? Realpolitik demanded an immediate rectification of this error. Because after all, as the very President of the United States stated upon learning of his prize, it represents a “reaffirmation of [U.S.] American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.” And so, in a sudden attack of “realism,” the comrades on the Committee put forward their grain of sand to fortify the declining

hegemony of the United States in the international system.

Macetera is a member of Tlaxcala

Mary Rizzo is an art restorer, translator and writer living in Italy. Editor and co-founder of Palestine Think Tank, co-founder of Tlaxcala translations collective. Her personal blog is Peacepalestine.
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Jeff Blankfort – Uri Avnery’s rationalising Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians


By Guest Post • Sep 5th, 2009 at 20:30 • Category: Analysis, Biography, Hasbara Deconstruction Site, Israel, Newswire, Opinions and Letters, Palestine, Resistance, Zionism

Recently, Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom leader and “darling” of the left-Zionists, has been writing quite a bit more frequently some pieces that ask folks to not renounce the Zionist “dream” and has decided to add his two bits to the Palestinian call to Boycott Israel, standing firmly against said Boycott. Jeff Blankfort, writer, journalist and radio host has addressed him again.

Hello Uri,

I have just read your response to critics of your opposition to boycotting Israel and, having long ago realized the limits of your activism and worldview, it held no surprises. You have quite clearly invested too much time and energy over the years in rationalizing Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians from their homeland to acknowledge the injustice that was not only inherent but required for Israel’s creation. The passage of time does not erase that injustice no matter how many times you or others invoke the Nazi holocaust. The die for establishing a Jewish state displacing the Palestinians from their homes and villages was cast well before Hitler came to power so that issue should have no place in this argument.

The arguments against establishing a Jewish state in Palestine raised by anti-Zionist and non-Zionist Jews going back to the early years of the last century were well known and all have been proved correct. So it should not be a matter of surprise that Israel’s legitimacy has not been accepted by the Palestinians and the other peoples of the region. It was advertised by Zionists worldwide as a colonial settler enterprise with pride, in fact, until such terminology fell out of favor. That it was established at a time when the rest of the world was engaged in a period of decolonization was even a further guarantee of its rejection and had it not been for the influence of its supporters in the US and Europe and the arms that flowed from that support, Israel, like French Algeria, would have become another episode in history. (And it is noteworthy that it was Israel’s support for the French against the Algerian resistance that led to France being Israel’s chief supplier of weaponry until 1967).

You are also well aware that to maintain Israel as the Sparta of the Middle East, the “Pro-Israel Lobby,” has long held the US Congress in thrall, strangling what little is left of American democracy. Do you not recall writing how one president after another tried to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict and how each one was forced by The Lobby to retire from the field defeated? And with each defeat, the theft of Palestinian land and the growth of the settlements continued. Who has paid the price for that?

As you have already assumed, I am against the existence of the state of Israel or a Jewish state by any other name which is based on the notion that a Jew from anywhere in the world has more of a right to live in what most of the world knew and accepted as Palestine than a Palestinian Arab who was born there or her or his family members. If that is not both immoral and racist, we need new definitions for those words. And yet you, apparently, do not find it so, and reject the opinions of those who do. (The notion that Israel or any country can be a homeland for a person not born there and who cannot trace a single relative that was born there is but another example of how Zionists have twisted the language to justify the unjust.)

Your desperation for an argument against the idea of a single state becomes apparent when you write that the French and the Germans did not agree to live together. Do you really believe there is any comparison to be made between the two situations. Are the French sitting on German land or vice versa?

I continue to be mystified at your continuing efforts to separate the settlers from those Jews living within the Green Line as if the majority of those in Israel proper are not as responsible for electing a series of professional killers as their prime ministers year after year, all of whom have expanded the settlements. There hasn’t been a single poll of Israeli Jews that I have seen going back to 1988, in the early days of the first intifada, where half of those polled did not call for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. How many settlers were there in 1988?

In your wonderful democracy, every able-bodied Jewish man or woman, with the exception of the chassdim, has served as an occupier in the West Bank or Gaza for the past 42 years. Are they not culpable?

Yesterday, I watched on Al-Jazeera as Israeli soldiers fired waves of tear gas and some smelly green liquid on non-violent Palestinians who were marching to demonstrate the steel fence that cuts through their land at Ni’ilin and who then began targeting the Al-Jazeera reporter. Are we expected to embrace these young thugs wearing an Israeli uniform? Are those who hate them to be condemned and not the thugs and those who sent them there?

You repeatedly use the word peace but not once do you use the word justice. And that is what separates you and your fellow Zionists from the Palestinians and those who genuinely support them. The occupation bothers your conscience, your sense of idenity as an Israeli but how much does it affect your life? Ending the occupation no matter how it is arranged will bring you peace of mind and time to finish your memoirs. Now, try if you can, and imagine yourself as a Palestinian who has been under an Israeli jackboot all of his or her life. Would you be simply looking for peace, an absence of that Israeli jackboot, or would you be seeking and demanding justice?

Your conclusion expresses your confusion. You write that you want “Israel to be a state belonging to all its citizens, without distinction of ethnic origin, gender, religion or language; with completely equal rights for all,” yet you assume there will be a “Hebrew-speaking majority” that will allow its “Arab-speaking citizens…to cherish their close ties with their Palestinian brothers and sisters…” If there is no distinction between one citizen and another, Jewish or Arab, how can you assume that the majority will continue to be Hebrew-speaking (or are you allowing for the possibility that Israel’s Palestinian Arab population which already is largely bi-lingual will become the majority at which point Israel will no longer be a Jewish state?) If that is so, perhaps there is hope for you yet.

Jeff Blankfort

—– Original Message —– From: “Uri Avnery” <xxxx>

To: <xxxx>

Sent: Saturday, September 05, 2009 8:51 AM

Subject: Avnery // again on boycott


Hope this may interest you. Many readers have sent my thoughtful comments on my last article. I am unable to answer them in detail. I am writing my memoirs on top of my regular political and journalistic work, and therefore can only answer laconically. Please excuse.

Shalom, Salamaat,


The Boycott Revisited

THE PEOPLE of Sodom, the Bible tells us, were very wicked indeed.

They had a nasty habit of putting every passing stranger into one particular bed. If the stranger was too tall, his legs were shortened. If he was too short, his body was stretched to the required length.

In a way, each of us has such a bed, into which we put everything new. Confronted with a novel situation, we tend to equate it with a situation we have known in the past.

In politics, this method is especially pervasive. It relieves us of the irksome necessity of studying an unfamiliar situation and drawing new conclusions.

Once, the pattern of Vietnam was applied to every struggle around the world – from Argentina to North Korea. Nowadays, the fashion points to South Africa. Everything resembles the struggle against apartheid, unless proven otherwise.

SINCE SENDING out last week’s article, “Tutu’s Prayer”, I have been flooded with responses, some laudatory, some abusive, some thoughtful, some merely angry.

Generally, I don’t argue with my esteemed readers. I don’t want to impose my views, I just want to provide food for thought and leave it to the reader to form his or her own opinion.

This time I feel that I owe it to my readers to clear up some of the points I was trying to make and answer some of the objections. So here we go.

I HAVE no argument with people who hate Israel. That’s entirely their right. I just don’t think that we have any common ground for discussion.

I would only like to point out that hatred is a very bad advisor. Hatred leads nowhere, but to more hatred. That, by the way, is a positive lesson we can draw from the South African experience. There they overcame hatred to a remarkable extent, largely thanks to the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” headed by Archbishop Tutu, where people admitted their past offenses.

One thing is certain: hatred does not lead towards peace. Let me be quite explicit about this, because I sense that some people, in their righteous indignation over Israel’s occupation, have lost sight of this.

Peace is made between enemies, after war, in which awful things invariably happen. Peace can be made and maintained between peoples who are prepared to live with each other, respect each other, recognize the humanity of each other. They don’t have to love each other.

Describing the other side as monsters may be useful in waging war, but singularly unhelpful in waging peace.

When I receive a missive that is dripping with hatred of Israel, that portrays all Israelis (including myself, of course) as monsters, I fail to envision how the writer imagines peace. Peace with monsters? Angels and monsters living side by side in peace and harmony in one state, hating each other’s guts?

The view of Israel as a monolithic entity composed of racists and brutal oppressors is a caricature. Israel is a complex society, struggling with itself. The forces of good and evil, and many in between, are locked in a daily battle on many different fronts. The settlers and their supporters are strong, perhaps getting stronger (though I doubt it), but are far – even in their own view – from a decisive victory. Neve Gordon, for example, has been left unmolested in his post at Ben-Gurion University, because any attempt to remove him would have caused a public outcry.

I ALSO have no argument with those who want to abolish the State of Israel. It is as much their right to aspire to that as it is my right to want to dismantle, let’s say, the USA or France, neither of which has an unblemished past.

Reading some of the messages sent to me and trying to analyze their contents, I get the feeling they are not so much about a boycott on Israel as about the very existence of Israel. Some of the writers obviously believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a terrible mistake to start with, and therefore should be reversed. Turn the wheel of history back some 62 years and start anew.

What really disturbs me about this is that almost nobody in the West comes out and says clearly: Israel must be abolished. Some of the proposals, like those for a “One State” solution, sound like euphemisms. If one believes that the State of Israel should be abolished and replaced by a State of Palestine or a State of Happiness – why not say so openly?

Of course, that does not mean peace. Peace between Israel and Palestine presupposes that Israel is there. Peace between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people presupposes that both peoples have a right to self-determination and agree to the peace. Does anyone really believe that racist monsters like us would agree to give up our state because of a boycott?

The French and the Germans did not agree to live in one joint state, though the differences between them are incomparably smaller than those between Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians. Instead, they set up a European Union, composed of nation-states. Some 50 years ago I called for a similar Semitic Union, including Israel and Palestine. I still do.

Anyway, there is no sense in arguing with those who pray for the disappearance of the sovereign State of Israel, rather than for the appearance of the sovereign State of Palestine at its side.

THE REAL argument is among those who want to see peace between the two states, Israel and Palestine. The question is: how can it be achieved? This is an honest debate and is generally conducted in a civil manner. My debate with Neve Gordon is in this framework.

The advocates of boycott believe that the main, indeed the only way to induce Israel to give up the occupied territories and agree to peace is to exert pressure from the outside.

I have no quarrel with the idea of outside pressure. The question is: pressure on whom? On the government, the settlers and their supporters? Or on the entire Israeli people?

The first answer is, I believe, the right one. That’s why I hope that President Barack Obama will publish a detailed peace plan with a fixed timetable and apply the immense powers of persuasion of the USA to get both sides to agree. I don’t think that this is politically possible without the support of a large part of Israeli society (and, by the way, of the US Jewish community).

Some readers have lost all hope in Obama. That is, without doubt, premature. Obama has not surrendered to Binyamin Netanyahu – indeed, it is quite conceivable that the opposite is happening. The struggle is on, it is a hard struggle against determined opposition, and we should do all we can to help Obama’s peace policy to prevail. We must do this as Israelis, from inside Israel, and thereby show that this is not a struggle of the US against Israel, but a joint struggle against the Israeli government and the settlers.

It follows that any boycott must serve this purpose: to isolate the settlers and the individuals and institutions which openly support them, but not declare war on Israel and the Israeli people as such. In the 11 years since Gush Shalom declared a boycott of the products of the settlements, this process has been gaining momentum. We must laud the Norwegian decision, this week, to divest from the Israeli Elbit company because of their involvement with the “Separation Fence” that is being built on Palestinian land and whose main purposeis to annex occupied territories to Israel. This is a splendid example: a focused action against a specific target, based on a ruling of the International Court.

I think that far more can be done by a concentrated national and international campaign. A central office should be set up to direct this effort throughout the world against clear and specific targets. Such an effort could be helped by world public opinion, which recoils from the idea of boycotting the State of Israel, and not only because of the memory of the Holocaust, but will identify itself with action against the occupation and the oppression.

I have been asked about the Palestinian reaction to the boycott idea. At present, Palestinians do not boycott even the settlements, indeed it is Palestinian workers who are building almost all the houses there, out of economic necessity. Their feelings can only be guessed. All self-respecting Palestinians would, of course, support any effective measure directed against the occupation. But it would not be honest to dangle before their eyes the false hope that a world-wide boycott would bring Israel to its knees. The truth is that only the close cooperation of Palestinian, Israeli and international peace forces could generate the necessary momentum to end the occupation and achieve peace.

This is especially important because our task in Israel today is not so much to convince the majority of Israelis that peace is good and the price acceptable, but first that peace is possible at all. Most Israelis have lost that hope, and its revival is absolutely vital on the way to peace.

TO REMOVE any misconceptions about myself, let me state as clearly as possible where I stand:

I am an Israeli.

I am an Israeli patriot.

I want my state to be democratic, secular, and liberal, ending the occupation and living at peace both with the free and sovereign State of Palestine that will come into being next to it, and with the entire Arab world.

I want Israel to be a state belonging to all its citizens, without distinction of ethnic origin, gender, religion or language; with completely equal rights for all; a state in which the Hebrew-speaking majority will retain its close ties with the Jewish communities around the world, and the Arab-speaking citizens will be free to cherish their close ties with their Palestinian brothers and sisters and the Arab world at large.

If this is racism, Zionism or worse – so be it.

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Gilad Atzmon – Time to Talk about the Rise of Jewish Crime?


By Gilad Atzmon • Jul 24th, 2009 at 13:40 • Category: Biography, Gilad Atzmon, Gilad’s Choice, Newswire, Our Authors, Religion

“I am what you call a matchmaker,” Rosenbaum is quoted as saying at a July 13 meeting with the two undercover agents.

“I’m doing this a long time,” the complaint says Rosenbaum told the two agents. He then added: “Let me explain to you one thing. It’s illegal to buy or sell organs. … So you cannot buy it. What you do is, you’re giving a compensation for the time.”

As we learn from Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne that “Britain is setting a shameful new record in anti-Semitic incidents this year,” we also happen to be informed by every press outlet about the massive New Jersey Corruption Sweep: A shocking tale of money-laundering and human organ trading led by a bunch of Rabbis.

The NY Times reports “It was replete with tales of the illegal sales of body parts; of furtive negotiations in diners, parking lots and boiler rooms”. In an article titled the “Jewish Launderette” the Israeli Ynet takes it further providing the juicy details. “The FBI raided synagogues and arrested a few Rabbis. One of those who are held in custody is Rabbi Yitzchak Levi Rosenbaum of Brooklyn who is suspected of trading in body parts. He is charged with a decade-long activity selling kidneys, exploiting both ill and poor donators. He would convince a donator to sell his kidney for $10.000. Rabbi Levi Rosenbaum would then sell the kidney to the needy for $160.000.”

I may raise the inevitable question here, can you imagine your local priest or Imam trading in ‘body parts’? Can you think of a Muslim cleric or a pastor trying to buy your kidney or sell you one in a ‘parking lot’ or in a ‘diner’?

I do not think so.

Here is my suggestion to Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary and everyone else who happens to be ‘concerned’ with the ‘rise of anti-Semitism’.

In the light of Israeli brutality, the conviction of gross swindler Madoff and the latest images of Rabbis being taken away by FBI agents, it is about time we stop discussing the rise of anti-Semitism and start to elaborate on the rise of Jewish Crime.

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Gilad Atzmon is a jazz musician, composer, producer and writer.
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Three city mayors and several rabbis held in New Jersey corruption inquiry

A Child in Palestine The Cartoons of Naji al-Ali]

Pens and swords: Michel Faber praises the work of a visionary Palestinian cartoonist [A Child in Palestine The Cartoons of Naji al-Ali]

Pens and swords

Michel Faber praises the work of a visionary Palestinian cartoonist

The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. The Palestinian political cartoonist Naji al-Ali certainly hoped it might be, and once drew a sword with a pen nib at its point. More characteristic of his peculiar genius for symbolism is the drawing used on the cover of this book,
in which the pen stands upright, its nib doubling as a candle flame.
It’s a potently simple image, yet complex: the dripping wax suggests sorrowful tears; the pen’s upright balance is perilously unsupported, like the Palestinian state itself; yet the backdrop of night sky, with its foully obscured moon, seems to reference the Amnesty International
catchphrase about it being better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

A Child in Palestine The Cartoons of Naji al-Ali
Few artists could have been more biblically destined for al-Ali’s prophetic status. Born in Galilee, he was a victim of the nakba (“disaster”) in 1948 when the Jews cleared the Promised Land of its previous inhabitants. He grew up in Lebanese refugee camps and prisons, scribbling protest cartoons on the walls, and eventually found work in newspapers. From 1969 onwards, his images featured the figure of Hanthala, the barefoot child who silently watches all the evils perpetrated in the Middle East. Hanthala became phenomenally popular in the Arab world, spawning a Garfield-like industry of coffee mugs, T-shirts, keyrings, and so on. But instead of a spoilt fat cat, here was a ragged witness to atrocity and political betrayal.

Naji al-Ali steadfastly declined to make speeches, allowing his cartoons to speak for him. I don’t know whether he felt, as many visual artists do, that images are diluted by “explanation”, or
whether he figured he might stay alive a bit longer if he (and Hanthala) functioned as mute witnesses rather than quotable demagogues. In any event, his luck ran out in 1987, when he was shot in the head outside the London offices of a Kuwaiti newspaper he was working for. Reportedly, he’d recently been warned by the PLO to “correct” his attitude to Yasser Arafat – a warning to which he responded by lampooning Arafat once more.

Al-Ali’s refusal to be the mouthpiece of a political party – even one representing his own oppressed people – is somewhat compromised by A Child in Palestine. The cartoons are surrounded by an armature of text. Abdul Hadi Ayyad, in a series of introductory essays, delivers exactly the kind of rhetoric that one might expect to hear at an anti-Israel rally.

The “Zionist settler project” or “Zionist entity” drives out the “indigenous” population, but the indomitable Hanthala “proudly declares that he is prepared to grasp his Kalashnikov to find the answers”.

Mahmoud al-Hindi adds captions to the cartoons – “Palestinian children throw rocks at the Israeli road-roller (a symbol of continued land-appropriation confiscation and illegal settlement-building)”.
The Iraqi poet Ahmad Matar weighs in with: “Naji al-Ali’s works were like a compass which always pointed towards Truth; and that truth will always be Palestine.” Why do these words make me wince in suspicion, whereas al-Ali’s cartoons make me wince in sympathy?

Maybe because I’m aware that Israelis have their own truth which will always be Israel, and the words therefore smell of absolutist non-communication. Or maybe it’s because al-Ali’s artistry nuanced and universalised the political views he undoubtedly shared with the editors of this book.

In any case, al-Ali’s views evolved over time, a fact which Ayyad, in his worshipful eagerness to present al-Ali as a timeless prophet, doesn’t acknowledge. Joe Sacco, whose foreword strives for
diplomacy, describes how “devastated” al-Ali was by the 1982 Lebanon invasion and notes that in the subsequent cartoons, Hanthala “lost his cool”. That’s one way of putting it. Hanthala stops watching and starts flagwaving (literally), kicking the Israeli map and throwing rocks. The crucified Jesus yanks a nailed hand from the crossbeam to throw a stone in support of the intifada. It is in such images that one gets a sense of al-Ali being unhinged, perhaps, by the unrelenting scale of Palestinian misery, and
crossing a line into the militarised defiance that made his eventual assassination inevitable. And, while it can’t have been easy for the editors of A Child in Palestine to choose a few dozen cartoons from among the thousands that al-Ali produced, I can’t help seeing a political agenda behind their decision to favour the more militant ones at the expense of so many of his most awesomely sad and tender images. Al-Ali, in his prime, created visionary symbols of inhumanity and the pity of war which transcended the specifics of the Israel/Palestine conflict. A few of them are reproduced here, but most are not.

For much of his working life, al-Ali insisted that it was essential to retain hope. Some of his later cartoons suggest that he found it increasingly impossible to cling to that ideal, and that instead of chronicling the endurance of the Palestinian people during a horrible phase of their history, he may have felt he was paying witness – with Hanthala-like impotence – to a gradual genocide, a final solution that would exterminate forever his boyhood dreams of homecoming. If that’s so, then this book will have two legacies. First, it will introduce British readers to al-Ali’s formidable talent, albeit with a selection that doesn’t do full justice to his greatness. Second, and very sadly, it may serve as documentary proof that the sword is mightier than the pen.

• Michel Faber’s The Fire Gospel is published by Canongate.

posted by annie at 8:17 PM

The Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat, a man, and a representative of all illegally held Political Prisoners


By Guest Post • Jul 9th, 2009 at 7:35 • Category: Biography, Counter-terrorism, No thanks!, Israel, Newswire, Palestine, Petitions, Resistance, Somoud: Arab Voices of Resistance, Zionism

Today, July 8, 2009, the Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat sent the below letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, demanding that he and the United Nations uphold their responsibilities to protect the rights of Palestinian prisoners and secure their freedom. Well over 400 international organizations and individuals (see below for the full list) have supported this call, and we thank you all for your endorsement and support and urge you to distribute this letter widely, link to the website of the Campaign from your own websites, and continue your important work.

Signatories of the letter include youth, student and workers’ unions, solidarity organizations, lawyers’ associations, political parties, human rights groups, and numerous activists, academics and supporters of Palestine from around the world. Please visit our website at and contact the Campaign at to discuss forming local Friends of Ahmad Sa’adat committees and further coordinated statements, days of action and additional activities to inform the world about the case of Ahmad Sa’adat and the struggle of Palestinian prisoners. The Campaign also supports the struggles of political prisoners around the world who fight for justice, freedom and national liberation.

The thousands of Palestinian prisoners are facing an ongoing campaign in denial of their rights – from denial of family visits, to the imposition of solitary confinement and isolation. Every day, they stand on the front lines, confronting the injustice and repression of the occupation, as prisoners for the freedom of Palestinian land and the Palestinian people.

Ahmad Sa’adat, the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a Palestinian national leader, is a leader in the Palestinian prisoners’ movement. His recent hunger strike galvanized attention upon the prisoners’ struggle. He is a living symbol of the oppression of the occupier and the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and the prisoners as they struggle for freedom, justice, liberation and return.

International action and attention are critical to stand in defense of Ahmad Sa’adat and all Palestinian prisoners. Contact the Campaign today – your involvement, support and solidarity are much needed!

This letter was delivered to Ban Ki-Moon’s office on July 8, 2009.

Statement in Italian Statement in French

Dear Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon;

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, call upon you to immediately take action in defense of the lives, health and rights of the over 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners held inside Israeli occupation jails. This number includes numerous elected members of Palestinian Legislative Council, among them Ahmad Sa’adat, General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Marwan al-Barghouthi, Fateh leader; Abdel-Aziz Dweik, Hamas leader and President of the Council, just freed after three years in prison, and dozens of other elected political leaders, in addition to thousands of other Palestinian activists, union members, community organizers, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

Palestinian prisoners suffer in conditions that violate international standards and norms, and are imprisoned because they refuse to accept a brutal occupation of their land and their people. Ahmad Sa’adat recently waged a nine-day hunger strike in protest of the policy of isolation and solitary confinement that has recently been escalated against Palestinian prisoners. Palestinian prisoners have been denied family visits, at times for years, denied access to all books and magazines, and denied even communication with their fellow prisoners in the isolation units. Palestinian prisoners, including Sa’adat, are currently denied necessary health care and medical treatment.

Palestinian prisoners are placed into isolation because they are national leaders and because the Palestinian prisoner movement has been an inspiration to all Palestinians and all who struggle for freedom. Ahmad Sa’adat’s hunger strike has sparked thousands of people around the world to appeal for his release, as a living example who symbolizes the steadfastness and strength of the Palestinian prisoners amid isolation and dire conditions, and it must compel all of those outside the prisons to act. Many Palestinian and international human rights and social justice organizations have called for the release of Sa’adat and to ensure the safety of his life and health, as well as for freedom and protection for all Palestinian prisoners.

The fate of these 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners is a fundamental issue of justice. Palestinians, in Palestine and in exile, are denied their rights – to return home, to self-determination, and to freedom, and those who seek to secure those rights are subject to imprisonment, whether within the open-air prisons of Gaza under siege or the walled-in West Bank, or the jails of the occupation. The silent, and at times, active, complicity of international agencies, particularly the United Nations, in the denial of Palestinian rights must not continue.

We call upon you to uphold your responsibilities and exert all pressure to end torture, cruel and inhuman treatment of Palestinian prisoners, and to free every Palestinian political prisoner from Israel’s occupation jails.


Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat

Al-Awda NY

Al-Awda Newspaper and Publishing House, Chicago
Al-Awda Omaha
Al-Fajr News, Tunisia
Alliance for People’s Health
Almubadara USA
Al-Nakba Awareness Project
American Iranian Friendship Committee
A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism
Anti-Imperialist Camp
Artists to End the Occupation
Association Réveil des Consciences
Arab American Community Center, Youngstown, OH
Arab American Union Members Council
Arab Muslim American Federation
Arab Resource and Organizing Center, San Francisco, CA
Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace & Justice
Bay Area United Against War
Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Prisoners
Canadian Arab Federation
Canada Palestine Association – Vancouver
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (Toronto)
Comité ‘Libérez-les!’
Comité pour une Paix Juste au Proche Orient, Luxembourg
Committee of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – Argentina
Committee of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – Brazil
Committee of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – Ecuador
Committee of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – Uruguay
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Communist Organization of Greece (KOE)
Coordination de l’Appel de Strasbourg pour une Paix juste au Proche-Orient
Danish Communist Party
Droit Solidarite, France

Free Gaza Movement
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal/NYC
Free Palestine Alliance
The Freedom Archives
Freedom Road Socialist Organization
French Committee to Free Georges Ibrahim Abdallah (Collectiv pour la libération de Georges Ibrahim Abdallah)
Friends of Al-Aqsa
General Union of Palestine Students/NY
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General Union of Workers of Chile
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International Action Center
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
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International Platform of Jurists for East Timor, Leiden, Netherlands
International Republican Socialist Network
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Irish Republican Socialist Party
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Jewish People’s Liberation Organization
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L’Observatoire Tunisien pour les Droits et les Libertés Syndicales
Left Formations of the Youth, Greece
Middle East Children’s Alliance
National Boricua Human Rights Network
National Democratic Action Society of Bahrain
National Lawyers Guild
New Jersey Solidarity – Activists for the Liberation of Palestine
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NY Committee For Human Rights in the Philippines
No One Is Illegal – Vancouver
Palestine House

PNN – Palestine News Network
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Palestinian American Youth, Youngstown, OH
The Palestinian Cultural and Political Club of Boston
Palestinian Democratic Committee – Chile
Palestinian Federation of Chile
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Palestinian Youth Organization
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PROGRESS Lawyers Network
Progressive Labor Action Front, Palestine
Progressive Student Action Front, Palestine
Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism!
Revolutionary Communist Group, Britain
Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) of Ecuador
Secretariat Nationale de la Voie Democratique Maroc
Socialist Action
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Socialist Viewpoint
SOUL School of Unity & Liberation, Oakland, CA
Students for a Democratic Society, UNC-Chapel Hill chapter
TLAXCALA activist translators’ collective
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US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) (Popular Conference)
Vent Libertaire 29, France

Voice of Palestine, Canada
War Times/Tiempo De Guerra
WESPAC Foundation
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Women’s Peace Speakers Series, Honolulu, Hawaii
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Leila Khaled
MP George Galloway, UK Parliament Member and coordinator of Viva Palestina USA medical aid caravan to Gaza
Ulla Sandbaek, former Member of European Parliament, Denmark
Eleni Sotiriou, 1st stand-in MEP of the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA) , Greece
May Abboud, Lebanon
Chbari Abdelmoumen, journalist, Morocco
Rami Abu Ayash, Jordan
Prof. Bashir Abu Manneh, Columbia University
Susan Abulhawa, author, Pennsylvania
Nader Abuljebain, writer
Yousef Abudayyeh, California
Nasser Abu-khdeir, Jerusalem University Political Science Department, Jerusalem-Shuafat, Palestine
Sheriff Abuzahra, Cambridge, MA
Darwish Addassi, Walnut Creek, CA
Musil Akinsanya, Lagos, Nigeria
Ghassan H. Alami, Jordan
Abdul-Rahman Alawi, publisher and journalist, Cologne, Germany
Reham Alhelsi, Jerusalem, Palestine
Musa al-Hindi, Omaha, NE
Sonia Almonacid, Spain
Abdelwahab Amri Secretary-General of the Federation of PDP, Gabes, Tunisia
Steve Amsel, DesertPeace
Giuseppe Ardizzone, Perugia, Italy
Emmanuel Arenes, France
Justo Arriola, Euskal Herria
Jamal Aruri, attorney, Andover, MA
Prof. Emeritus Naseer Aruri, University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth
Boniardi Ambrogio, Milano, Italy
Mary Avice, Canada
Rahef Awadallah, Chicago, IL
A. R. Ayoubi, UK
Mike Baldwin, California, USA
George Elfie Ballis, Prather, CA
Khaled Barakat, Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat, Canada
Nidal A. Barakat, California
Patrice Bardet, France
Anees Barghouthi, Palestine

Halim Bari, France
David Barsamian, Director, Alternative Radio, Boulder, CO
Pawel Michal Bartolik, journalist, Poland
Abdul-Nasser J.G. Baston, London, UK
Levent Basturk, Red Hook, NY
Tahmeena Bax, UK
Dr. Oren Ben-Dor University of Southampton, UK
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Arnauld Bengochea, Bordeaux-France
Cheryl Benson, Canada
Simone Bilotta, Faenza (RA), Italy
Patricia Blair, Hawaii, USA
Jeff Blankfort, Ukiah, CA
Yoon Bok-Dong, Korea Truth Commission – Hawaii Representative, USA
Thomas Bolt, England
Giulio Bonali, Italy
Hadassah Borreman, Jeshurun-Judaism Against Zionism, Belgium
Yamina Bounir, Comité Verviers Palestine, France
Glenn Bowman, University of Kent at Canterbury, UK
John P. Brassard, elementary teacher, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Andrea Breuer, Klagenfurt, Austria
Richard Brinton, Salinas, CA, USA
Peter Brown, Olives for Palestine/Olives for Peace
Dr.C.J. Burns-Cox MD FRCP, Gloucester UK
William Buttrey, Los Angeles, CA
George Cammarota, San Jose, CA
Daniele Campione, Milan, Italy
José Canali, France
Hadi Chammah, Gainesville, FL, USA
Sukant Chandan, Chair of the British Section of the International Union of Parliamentarians for Palestine
Vassilis Chatzilabrou, prefectural council of Achaia (Western Greece)
Sharon Clarke, Cambridge, MA
Irene Clausen, Denmark
Ana Cleja, France
Catherine Cobham, St. Andrews University, Scotland, UK
Prof. William A. Cook, University of La Verne
Sebastiano Cosenza, Milano, Italy
Claude Coursin, Assistante Sociale, Marseilles, France
Maya Cutler, Stanley, ID
Professor Seif Da’Na, University of Wisconsin-Parkside
Ilgvar Daga, USA
Elena Davinca, Austria
Rosylin Dean, USA
Prof. Emeritus Dr. Herman De Ley, Ghent University (Belgium)
Paul Delmotte, France
Graham Derrick, UK
Deborah Dexter-Mendez, Fresno, CA
Shaheen Sultan Dhanji, Chairperson, African Socialist Movement
Nicholas Dibs, Long Beach, CA
Waroquiez Dominique, LCR Belgique
Dennis E. Donohue, New York, NY
Idrissi K. Driss, France
Peter Durant, New York, NY
Dr. Adel Elsaie, USA
Ali Faraj, Rennes, France
James C. Faris, Director Emeritus, University of Connecticut Program in Middle East Languages and Area Studies
Mahmoud Faris, Gaza, Palestine
Priscilla Felia, Whitestone, NY
Enrique Ferro, Brussels, Belgium
Franco Ferro, teacher, Italy
Nadia Ferro, teacher, Italy
Sara Flounders, co-director, International Action Center
Linda Frank, Northwest Middle East Peace Forum, USA
Donnie Fraser, UK
Stephanie Frizzell, Garland, CA
Nikos Galanis, member of the National Secretariat of the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA), Greece
Yolanda Garza-Birdwell, Houston, TX
Elisabeth Geschiere, Minneapolis, MN
Ron George, USA
Sarah Gillespie, musician, London
Francesco Giordano, educator, Milano, Italy
Prof. Emerita Sherna Berger Gluck, California State University Long Beach
Richard Gomez, Fresno Greens, Fresno, CA
Margaret Goodheart, Honolulu, HI
Maligorn Gouez, France
Stephen Gowans, Canada
Phil Grace, Liverpool, England
Michela Graham, Italy
Dr. Anne Gray, London, UK
Anne Gwynne, Aberystwyth, Wales
Lamari Habib, Al-Fajr News, Tunisia
Anita Hadjadji, Bordeaux, France
M. Hadjuk, USA
Prof. Emerita Elaine Hagopian, Simmons College
Samia A. Halaby, artist, New York, NY
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Hatem Hammad, Canada
Dr. Leila Hanaineh, Jordan
Kamal Hassan, USA
Jean Hays, CA, USA
Jennifer Heath, Boulder, CO
Gary Heisinger, Peace Fresno, Fresno, CA
Monadel Herzallah, San Francisco, CA
Nadia Hijab, writer
Isabella Horn, Italy
Paul Hubbard, Providence, RI
Jay Hubbell, Peace Fresno, Fresno, CA
Mary Hughes Thompson, Women in Black Los Angeles, CA
Prof. Mahmood Ibrahim, CSU Pomona, Los Angeles, CA
Barbara Ida, Malone, NY
Sascha Iversen, International Forum, Denmark
Firas Jaber, writer and researcher, Palestine
Karl Ange Angri Jacobsen, Red-Green Alliance, Denmark
Dr. Mohammed Jadallah, Jerusalem Centre For Development
Francois Jadoul, Belgium
Intisar Jardaneh, Jordan
Randa Jazairi, Gainesville, FL
Humberto Jijón, Ecuador
Richard Jones, Swansea, UK
Maya Joulkva, France
Akis Kaloudis, member of the administration of the Private Employees’ Union , Greece
Sana Kassem, Athens, Greece
Charlotte Kates, attorney
Stathis Katsoulas, member of the administration of the Teachers’ Union of Western Athens, Greece
Ahmad Kawash, Boston, MA
Prof. Mujid S. Kazimi, Massachusetts Institiute of Technology
Nabil Keilani, California
Basem Khader, Chappaqua, NY
Sobhi Khalaf, Gaza, Palestine
Hocine Khelfaoui, Montreal, Canada
Annette Klepzig, Wilhemsfeld, Germany
Peter Klosterman, Ph.D. Oakland, CA
Norman Koerner, educator, Philadelphia, PA
Khaled Kouteich, France
Pantelis Koutsianas, coordinator of Thessaloniki’s Popular Committees against price hikes, Greece
Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski, researcher and editor, Poland
Garold Langley, Hawaii, USA
Bahauddeen Latif, UK
Carlos Latuff, cartoonist, Brazil
Joelle Laurent-Laneau, France
David Letwin, Brooklyn, NY
Michael Letwin, Co-Convener, New York City Labor Against the War; Former President, Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325
Mariah Leung, Al-Nakba Awareness Project, Eugene, OR
Dr. Renee Levant, Instructor, Master of Liberal Studies Program, Fort Hays State University
Nessim Liamani, Italy
Catherine Lieutenant, Belgium
Britta Lillesøe, Denmark
Tammy Bang Luu, Los Angeles, CA
Amir M. Maasoumi, Quebec, Canada
Professor Moshé Machover, London School of Economics
Patrick MacManus, Rebellion, Denmark
Rania Madi, Switzerland
Dr. Bruce J. Malina, Dept of Theology, Creighton University
Hanif Manjoo, South Africa
Polly Mann, Women Against Military Madness, Minneapolis, MN
Sharon Martinas, San Francisco, CA
Professor Nur Masalha, London
Beatriz Maturana, President, Architects for Peace, Australia
Bill McGrath, Minnesota, USA
Marcelo Mendoza Azat, Arauco, Chile
Roberto J. Mercado, photographer, Social Impact Photography, New York, NY
Ali Mili, Phillipsburg, NJ
Emil Mishriky, Palestine
Harald Molgaard, Twickenham, UK
Serajeddin Momeni, Phoenix, AZ
Michael Moore, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Lillian Morgan, East Aurora, NY
Talaat Ahmed Mosallam, Retired General, researcher, co chairman Al A’mal Party, Egypt
Tawfieq Mousa, California, USA
Atiya Munir, Policy Analyst, London, UK
Catherine Myles, UK
Linda Nedjaa, France
Marlene Newesri, New York City, USA
Dr. Marcy Newman, Associate Professor of English, An Najah University, Nablus, Palestine
Prof. Osamu Niikura, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo, Japan
Hiyam Noir,, USA/Palestine
Christopher North, Antalya, Turkey
Henry Ode, California
Alain Ollivier, Quebec, Canada
Ivan Olsen, San Francisco Bay, CA
Ardeshir and Eleanor Ommani, Founders, AIFC
Michael Opperskalski, Journalist and Editor, Germany
Manlio Padova, Italy
Yiorgos Papaioannou, member of the administration of the Accountants’ Union of Athens, Greece
Marie-Ange Patrizio, psychologist, Marseille, France
Daniel Perez Creus, Ingenio {Gran Canaria} Spain
Jørgen Petersen, Danish Communist Party, Denmark
Lily Phan, Calgary, AB, Canada
Andrea Pietropaolo, Italy
Paola Pisi,
Gabriel Proulx, Quebec
Karina Rahef, USA
Jespers Raf, Progress Lawyers Network, Belgium
Ahmed S. Rajah, South Africa
Hussin Ramadan, Palestine
Dr. Nagesh Rao, Assistant Professor of English, The College of New Jersey
Gabriele Rapaci, student, University of Milan, Italy
Angel Rebollar, Spain
Dick Reilly, Chicago, IL, US
Mary Rizzo, writer, translator, S Benedetto Tr, Italy
Julian Rodriguez Veiga, Argentina
Diane Roehm, New York, NY
Francesca Rosa, San Francisco, CA
Nadine Rosa-Rosso,, Belgium
Mimi Rosenberg, Esq., Producer & Host Building Bridges: Your Community & Labor Report WBAI Radio, NY
Bob Rossi, union organizer, Salem, OR
Mireille Rumeau, Bordeaux-France
Doug Russell, Dallas, TX
Tony Ryan, Australia
Dr. Hamoudi Hadj Sahraoui, Setif University, Algeria
Nizar Sakhnini, Toronto, Canada
Samia Saleh, northern Virginia, US
Professor Therese Saliba, The Evergreen State College, Washington
Susanne Scheidt, writer, journalist, Italy
Carol Scheller-Doyle, Genève, Switzerland
Guenter Schenk, Strasbourg, France
Einar Schlereth, Sweden
Penny Schoner, paralegal, San Francisco, CA
Paolina Scoccimarro, Italy
Marco Antonio Sechi, Sassari, Italy
Shahin Shabanian, Williamsport, PA
Mark Shapiro, UK
Meena Sharma, USA
Michel Shehadeh, San Francisco, CA
Kemal Sidhoum, Paris, France
Júlio da Silveira Moreira, International Association of People’s Lawyers, Brazil
Hilary Smith, UK
Dr. Ahdaf Soueif, author
Professor Mustapha Soueif, University of Cairo
Maryloo Souied, house cleaner/office worker, New York, NY
Edna Spennato, Maceio, Brazil
Stan Squires, Canada
Burton Steck, Chicago
Robert H. Stiver, Hawaii, USA, retiree and activist

Prof. Emeritus Dr. Y.N. Tamimi, University of Hawaii
Zaid Tayem, the Netherlands
Richard S. Thomas, former Hampden County Commissioner, retired
Angie Tibbs, Canada
Brian Tierney, Union organizer, Washington, DC
Luciano Torresani, Italy
Madjid Tounsi, Montreal, Canada
Mary Tuma, artist, USA
Vic and Barby Ulmer, Our Developing World, Saratoga, CA
Peter Urban, International Republican Socialist Movement

Laura Vance, California
JoAnne VanDatta MS, Eugene, OR
Fay Van Dunk, United Kingdom
Ivan Vanney, student, Haifa, occupied Palestine
Nils Vest, Denmark
Valdemar Vest-Lillesøe, Denmark
William Vest-Lillesøe, Denmark

Erin Wade, Seattle, WA
Claudia Wainerman, occupied Palestine

Darlene Wallach, San Jose, CA
Donna Wallach, San Jose, CA
Viola Ware, Artists to End the Occupation
Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, M.D., USA
Alison Weir, If Americans Knew, USA
Tony Whelan, London, UK
Katherine Wilson, CUNY, New York City

Betsy Wolf-Graves, San Jose, CA
R. Worrell, US
Rami Yaseen, Jordan
Ra’ana-Dilruba Yasmin, USA
Patrick Young, USA
Anthony Joseph Geha Yuja, Italy
Dr. A. B. Zahlan, London and Beirut
Edgar Zarifa, Canada
Dr. Ismail Zayid, Canada
Omar Zietawi, Arab American Community Center, Southern California
Said Zulficar, Network for Colonial Freedom

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"Embers and Ashes:" An intellectual’s exile, struggle and success

Atef Alshaer, The Electronic Intifada, 30 June 2009

“My homeland, you have spurned me … I shall never return to you … I shall never ever return to you …”

So ends Hisham Sharabi’s compelling autobiography, Embers and Ashes: Memoirs of an Arab Intellectual. Sharabi, a leading Palestinian intellectual who died in 2005, uttered these words to himself on board a plane from Amman, Jordan to the United States in 1949. He studied and taught in the US for the rest of his life, retiring as a professor of history at Georgetown University in 1998. Ably translated from Arabic by Issa J. Boullata, Embers and Ashes is a poignant story of an intellectual’s exile and struggle.

Sharabi transports the reader seamlessly from his early life in Palestine, where he was born in 1927, to his studies at the American University of Beirut, and finally his own American experience and life as a university professor at Georgetown. While it occasionally lacks cohesion, the book is unmistakably personal and insightful.

Sharabi’s departure from Amman was preceded by tumultuous events in Lebanon where he was a prominent activist in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), led by Antun Saadeh. Perhaps more than anyone else, it was Saadeh who influenced Sharabi’s intellectual trajectory. Saadeh’s political line and that of the SSNP was premised on unity between Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Sharabi depicts Saadeh sympathetically as a man of deep human values: courageous, inspirational and subtly intellectual. But he also shows other aspects of Saadeh’s personality:

“He used to speak of the party as if it were an actual government on the verge of taking power. In his personal behavior and public stance, he acted like a man of state. The party in his view was the only political force that stood up to colonialism and could achieve independence. It was the only force that could liberate Palestine. I think that Saadeh underestimated the depth of sectarian, tribal, and feudal feelings in [Lebanon]” (150-151).

There are two issues regarding Saadeh’s approach to which Sharabi submitted uncritically, and on which he later seems to renege. Firstly, he did not oppose Saadah’s grandiose vision of the Syrian homeland, which shifted from being confined to Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Transjordan, to include Iraq, Kuwait and Cyprus. Secondly, Sharabi embraced Saadah’s view that “the individual was a mere means that society used to achieve its aims; and that society represented a firm and abiding ‘truth,’ whereas individuals fell away like autumn leaves,” thereby “ascribing a universality to society and considering society an ultimate ideal in itself” (59-60). However, Sharabi developed a more nuanced and critical view of these matters, particularly in his attribution of a more central and visible role to the individual in society.

Sharabi was also influenced by German philosopher Nicolai Hartmaan, who “considered moral values as justice, courage, love, and friendship to be objective and timeless. For him, those values enjoyed an eternal existence, like Plato’s ideals” (129).

Embers and Ashes also provides an insightful reading of the Arab and American intellectual landscape. Sharabi is unsparing in his biting criticism of the intellectual and academic environment in the Arab world and points to serious flaws in education. Nor does he hold back in criticizing Arab universities for failing their students. He attributes to them his slowness in grasping the rigorous methods of learning which he encountered in the US. Stating that “I may forgive those to whom I owe my education for their ignorance and their foolishness. But it is far more difficult to forgive them their arrogance and the moral cruelty they practiced in distorting me and calling it an education” (22). For this discussion alone, Sharabi’s book deserves a wide reading, particularly by Arab intellectuals, because it is critical of teachers and professors who are too engrossed in themselves and their self-made grandeur.

Sharabi was born in Jaffa and lived in Acre, and his discussion of Palestine is the familiar but ever-relevant Palestinian yearning for a country that was stolen. He tenderly evokes the image of Acre, the beautiful sea stretching before his eyes, the fertile fields of grain glistening in the eye of the sun, the orange, lemon and olive trees with their scent wafting through; the cascade of houses, finely built and designed; the neighbors sitting peacefully together. But there is often something tragic about Palestinians recollecting or being exposed to images of their towns and villages from which they were expelled in 1948. The Acre that Sharabi knows and evokes before 1948 in his book becomes a less recognizable place as he receives a photograph of it from his Jewish friend, Uri Davis: “familiar, but strange at the same time, in another world … the remaining Arab inhabitants have been forbidden to live in the new city, outside the wall, and have been forced to live within the walled old city, which has become a casbah to the Jews, visited by foreign tourists wanting to buy locally made articles and to see ‘the Arab population of Israel.'” (76).

Sharabi does not dwell on his own significant intellectual contributions as such. In the book, he reflects on his observations and involvement in the SSNP and interactions with events in the Arab world from a distance. He does, however, refer to papers he presented at conferences and gives general comments about his contributions. He considered Zionism as part of an imperial project that could only be understood, and as such dealt with, once there is a proper understanding of the broader context of European colonialism. He also refers to the patrimonial and patriarchal characteristics of Arab societies that weakened their sense of resistance against their aggressors and curtailed their individual freedoms. In this sense, the book provides an incisive reading on many levels of the Arab cultural and political landscape by someone who has been at the thick of major historical events: 1948, the emergence of socialist and nationalist parties in greater Syria and the Arab world and his experience as a Palestinian Arab in America. Sharabi rightly saw value in transmitting his experience and thoughts to new generations, and he does so with distinctive astuteness and sensitivity.

Embers and Ashes is not only a story of exile and struggle, but also of well-deserved resounding success. It is a fitting testament to Sharabi’s life as a Palestinian beacon of humanity and intellectual honesty.

Atef Alshaer has first graduated from Birzeit University in Palestine, where he studied English Language and Literature. He holds a doctorate in Linguistics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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