Audio: "They persecuted Ameer to keep us silent"

>Hyun Lee writing from Haifa, Live from Palestine, 16 September 2010

The trial of Palestinian citizen of Israel and civil society leader Ameer Makhoul resumes today in Haifa. Charged with espionage and other trumped-up security allegations, Makhoul denies the charges and maintains that “evidence” gathered by the state was obtained through coercion. Last month The Electronic Intifada contributor Hyun Lee interviewed Makhoul’s wife, activist Janan Abdu, and Gabrielle Rubin, media coordinator with Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel about Makhoul’s case.

Download MP3 of the interview (6.9 MB)

Janan Abdu (Ben White)

Hyun Lee: First, tell us: who is Ameer Makhoul?

Janan Abdu: Ameer is the leader of Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community Associations. He is also a political activist. A long time ago, he was the chairman of the Arab student movement. And that’s how we met. Ameer, as part of his work, participated in international and local conferences and meetings with people from abroad, from the Arab world. His opinion was that the Arab world is not our enemy. He was writing about the right of return of Palestinian [refugees] and about the one-state solution.

HL: And recently, the GSS, the General Security Services of Israel, the equivalent of the FBI in the United States, raided your home. Tell us what happened.

JA: One and half years ago, the GSS interrogated him about his activities. They said to him, “We can disappear you. We are building a case against you. And the next time we invite you to come to us, you can say goodbye for a long time to your family.”

And this is exactly what happened. On 6 May, three months ago, at 3am, we had been sleeping, and we heard a very hard knock at the door. Someone [was] calling Ameer, “Open the door!” We opened the door and saw a huge group of policemen and people from the GSS. And they entered our home. My daughter told me there were 16 people — 15 men and one woman. And directly as they entered our home, they caught Ameer, and they said to him, “You are under arrest.” And the director of the group came to me and said, “We are arresting your husband and we are searching your home.” I attempted to see if he has any [court] order to identify [himself], but he refused. He just said to me, “Keep silent. Sit down.” I said, “No, you are violating our rights. I don’t trust you. You are like a thief coming to my home at this time and terrifying my two daughters, [aged] 12 and 17.”

I refused to let them continue the search, but they continued. They took all the computers — mine, my daughters’, not just Ameer’s things. They took my tape recorder and a lot of things. I argued with [the commander] and he started laughing and said, “Who’s the man here! Who’s the man here!” and he said, “Shut up and sit. Otherwise, we can use violence and we can arrest you.” He caught my hand and tried to force me to sit. All of this was in front of my two daughters. I continued to say, “I know the law. I know my rights. What you are doing now is violent and a violation of our rights,” but he didn’t want to hear anything. They continued to search and take things, and after about half an hour, they took Ameer away with them. And I [came to] know later that they took him to the Ittijah office and they did the same thing at the Ittijah office. They took the computers, a lot of papers, a lot of things, and they made a mess there.

For longer than two hours, they kept us as prisoners at our home. In the middle of the search, I heard the phone ringing and I wanted to answer, and I said, “I ask you to let me answer. My mother is in a bad situation in the hospital.” And later, one month later, she died in the hospital. But they didn’t let me answer. And another thing, just one note — when I attempted to see if they have any permission to do the search, I saw that they had one and it was written on 22 April. So the judge signed the order on 22 April. That means they had two weeks of opportunity to come to our home or to his office and [they did] not [have] to choose to come in the middle of the night.

HL: After your husband was arrested, he was held for 12 days and tortured. He didn’t have access to lawyers or communication with anyone on the outside. What was going through your mind during that time?

JA: All the 12 days, I kept thinking about if they could do what they have done to a woman and two daughters, what can they do to Ameer when they kidnap him, with nobody knowing about what’s going on? There was a gag order, no permission for an objective doctor to see him, no permission for lawyers to see him. After 12 days, when the lawyers were allowed to see him, I heard about the torture, I heard about the violations.

I think it was a message to our community, [as if to say] “We can hold you. We are above the law.” And we can see that [the GSS is] controlling all the procedures. They’re controlling the court hearings. They can control even the medical treatment. The doctor who came to Ameer’s prison was a doctor paid by the prison, and Ameer cannot see his own medical report.

It’s obvious that it’s part of the persecution of Arab activists and political leaders. It’s a message to all of us, to keep us silent, to make us afraid. [Israel is] supposed to be the only democratic state in the area, [but] you can see that all the laws, even the racist procedures, are all controlled by the GSS. When you are talking about the security of Israel, everything [the GSS does] is legal, everything [the GSS does] is accepted, and every Arab is a suspect. It’s so hard. It’s unfair. But we have no other choice. We have one choice — to believe in Ameer, to believe in his right to be free. This is the only solution that we have — to continue — and this is also what Ameer believes and needs.

HL: Where is he detained and have you gone to see him?

JA: [Ameer is detained at] Gilboa jail, near the border with Jordan. Last Monday, we were there. We arrived at about 10:30am. We were supposed to see him in half an hour, maximum one hour. We waited there about four hours on a very hot day. It’s a way of making us feel frustrated, to discourage us from coming to visit. But you know, they’re trying to make it harder, but when we feel this, we get more courage and the power to continue.

HL: What are the charges against Ameer?

Gabrielle Rubin: If I remember correctly, it’s three counts — there’s espionage and aggravated espionage, which are two separate counts, and assisting a foreign agent in a time of war.

HL: Many Palestinians who are in the Israeli prison system for asserting their rights as Palestinians are classified by the Israeli government as “security prisoners.” How are they treated differently by the prison and the court system?

GR: We call them political prisoners, because [it is overwhelmingly] Palestinians who are indicted and imprisoned for political actions … Israel calls this blanket [category] “acts against the security of the state.” What this means in practice while you’re in prison is that beyond the fact that you’re jailed, there are many so-called privileges that you are not provided. One of the main things is this whole issue of physical contact during visits. Security prisoners are prevented from having physical contact during visits. It’s like what you see in the movies; it’s through a glass window, through a phone. There’s also the issue — and this is something that was experienced by Ameer — it’s known that the conversations are recorded, because of “security reasons.” And [there are] also a lot of other limitations — limitation on the kinds of books, the number of books you can have, what you can study, how you can study.

I also want to give more background on the first 12 days when Ameer was prevented from meeting with any attorneys and this sweeping gag order which prevented any [publicity] about his case. There’s a process where a person is arrested and he’s banned from meeting with a lawyer, and every few days, a judge needs to authorize the continuation of his arrest. This process is done ex parte, which means that Ameer, because he’s banned from meeting with his lawyers, is not present in the courtroom. He’s present in the structure of the court in case the judge wants to ask him anything. The evidence that is provided by the GSS and the state is secret evidence, meaning that the only person who gets to see them is the judge. Obviously the lawyer representing Ameer is not allowed to see this evidence. And once you talk about “security offenses,” it’s this blanket over-broad definition, and I dare say that judges are rubber-stamping these decisions and don’t really look into the merits of the case.

So this went on for 12 days, but if I remember correctly, on day ten, the legal defense team decided to do something that was very extraordinary. They said, “We’re not going to continue with this farce, and the next time there’s a detention extension, if Ameer is not there and we’re not allowed to meet with him, we’re just not going to appear and participate in this game.” And it worked, because basically, on the same day, the ban was lifted and for the first time, Ameer was allowed to meet with his lawyers.

And this is something that is not extraordinary with Palestinian detainees in Israel, and of course the occupied territories. There, [Palestinians are tried in] military courts and of course this happens all the time, this very problematic use of denying people the right to meet with their attorneys, the gag order preventing the media from reporting on it, and the use of secret evidence that the lawyer of the defendant doesn’t have any access to and isn’t allowed to review.

HL: And what is the current status of Ameer’s case now?

JA: The next hearing is in the middle of September and by then, Ameer is supposed to be read his charges and is supposed to meet with his lawyers but until now the lawyers still cannot see him.

HL: And how’s Ameer’s health?

JA: He’s getting better. Two months passed since he was tortured. We know that he suffered from head pain and back pain.

GR: He’s had issues with deterioration of his vision.

HL: Is there support for Ameer from the Jewish public?

JA: In the solidarity movement, there are a lot of Jewish people from Israel and outside [supporting Ameer]. And it’s so important to say that, because the Israeli media and the GSS are always trying to deal with these issues like the Arabs are the enemy of the Jews, and it’s not like that. The problem is with Zionism and not with the Jews. And we have the solidarity of professors and academics in Israel. They wrote [letters] and participated in demonstrations in Petach Tikva [where Ameer was initially detained and tortured] and Haifa and they continue to believe that it’s not only an “Arab problem” or “Palestinian problem.” It’s a problem of the undemocratic state. Maybe Arabs pay the price, but it’s a problem of all of the citizens of Israel.

Based in New York City, Hyun Lee is a member of Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, which fights against US war and militarism on the Korean peninsula. She traveled to Palestine in August 2010 as part of a delegation organized by the Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

"They don’t want our boys educated"

Jody McIntyre writing from Beit Ommar, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine, 13 September 2010

Palestinians in Beit Ommar plant olive trees next Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank. (Oren Ziv/MaanImages)

Located just north of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, the entrance to the Palestinian village of Beit Ommar is also the site of an Israeli military post. A large yellow gate is opened and closed at the will of the Israeli army, which can cut off the inhabitants of the town from the rest of the West Bank at any time. Beit Ommar has been resisting since 1948, when the town’s inhabitants fought the original settler population of Gush Etzion and today many continue to suffer the impact of the many surrounding settlements. Jody McIntyre interviews Beit Ommar resident Amal al-Montallab for The Electronic Intifada.

Jody McIntyre: Please introduce yourself.

Amal Abed al-Montallab: My name is Amal Abed al-Montallab, 45 years old, and I have six children — three daughters and three sons. We live in the Thahr al-Burrahesh area of Beit Ommar. My oldest son, Ammar, is 17 and in jail. The rest of my kids are young and still at school, so only my husband works, but he can’t work inside Israel because he’s been imprisoned twice before, so his wages are low. But we know that our story is not unique; there are many more families here with the same story.

JM: Can you tell me about the time the Israeli military came to arrest Ammar?

AM: It was just over two months ago. They army invaded and occupied the neighborhood, and started asking where they could find the house of Mohammed Abdul Hameed Abu Maria, my husband, but the neighbors told them that they’d never heard of such a house. Someone must have given the army inaccurate information, because they were looking for someone called Omar, not Ammar.

A week later they came back, but this time they were sure about his name and the location of our house. It was 2am. Ten soldiers invaded our home and were very violent with our children. They asked my husband where his son was, and he told them that he was working in Jericho. Then, they forced him into a separate room, and asked our children the same question, one-by-one, but they all gave the same answer: “Our brother works in Jericho.” They tried to trick my husband by telling him that one of the kids had informed them that Ammar was in the village, but he replied, “I know that none of my children said that to you, and it is simply from your mind.” Finally, the army left.

We shut the door, intending to get some sleep, but five minutes later the same soldiers invaded our house again, this time from the back door, and stayed for another two hours. The military commander came and took our phone numbers; he told us that he knew Ammar was sleeping at his uncle’s house, but he didn’t want to go there because it would make problems. They gave us a paper ordering us to take Ammar in for questioning at a nearby military base, situated in the settlement of Gush Etzion, but I refused because I knew that Ammar still had his final exams to study for. The commander said, “If you don’t bring him, tomorrow we will shoot him dead.”

The next day, they phoned us and said that we had ten minutes to take Ammar to them, otherwise they would arrest him themselves, and shoot him in front of our eyes.

We were worried because we knew that someone in the neighborhood could quite easily work with the Israeli army and make problems for Ammar. We were also worried that they might arrest Ammar at school, in front of all the students, which would inevitably result in clashes and many further arrests.

My husband told the commander that we would take Ammar to them after he had finished exams, and offered to pay money or even be arrested himself until then, but they refused.

Ammar is still in prison now; it’s been two months so far, and the lawyer thinks he will stay there for between five to seven months overall. The army says that our son threw stones, and he could’ve killed someone, but they have not one shred of evidence.

JM: Why do you think they arrested Ammar?

AM: They wanted Ammar because he’s studying for his final exams. The army does this every year, they arrest boys when they are preparing for the final exam so they aren’t educated. Because they arrested him at the start of the exams, he automatically loses one year of his education.

There was one kid in the neighborhood who was arrested three years in a row. Each year, they arrested him right before the final exams, and then two months later released him.

If the soldiers are scared of the kids throwing stones, they should know that we are suffering a much deeper fear. But we are patient, and when he is free again, he will go back to school.

Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom. He writes a blog entitled “Life on Wheels” which can be found at He can be reached at jody [dot] mcintyre [at] gmail [dot] com.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

All That Jazz-an interview with Chema Garcia Martinez

Gilad Atzmon: Last week ahead of my Ibiza Jazz Festival’s concert I had a short email exchange with Spanish writer Chema Garcia Martinez (El Pais). We discussed topics to do with Jazz,Culture, USA, Palestine, Israel and Jewish identity. I guess that the followers of my writing and music may find it interesting.
To read Chema’s article on El Pais
Q: Is there any reason to keep on playin´ jazz in 2010?
GA: I don’t play Jazz for a ‘particular reason’; I am not committed to this form of music ideologically or religiously. I just love it. I am entertained by the idea of reinventing myself on a daily basis and Jazz allows it to happen. However, the collapse of the music industry allows us to look at music in broader terms.
While in the past we had to play within a defined style just to make sure that the record company knows how to shelve it in the record shop and in the market place, nowadays the boundaries are disappearing. At last we are free.

Q: What does the word “jazz” mean for you?

GA: Jazz is innovation, it isn’t just beauty, it is beauty in its making. Jazz is freedom. It is freedom to think and the freedom to express. Jazz is a celebration of one’s symptoms. For me Jazz is the ultimate art form. Yet I hear Jazz in Bach and even Palestrina, I can read Jazz in poetry, in visual art and architecture. Jazz is the attempt to constantly define and re-define the notion of itself. From that perspective Jazz is similar to philosophy. For philosophy is also engaged in an attempt to redefine itself through the act of philosophizing.

Q: Is it necessary for a jazz musician in 2010 to play in the US?

GA: Not at all, but I must admit that playing and recording in America is a very special experience and I would advise every musician to consider it positively.

Q: Your image resembles a combination between a conventional musician and a soldier. Do you agree with that?

GA: Maybe, it is hard for me to say, I have never seen myself on stage. As it happens, every time Gilad has a concert around I am also busy.
However, I guess that I know what you mean. The OHE is operating as a unit. We play a lot and we have a serious message to deliver. I obviously have lived a very intensive life in the last 10 years. My music career is pretty successful and I am very happy about it. But I also maintain another career as a writer. I publish my thoughts in a few magazines on a daily basis and it is pretty consuming. I guess that this strain puts my body under pressure and gives me what some regard as a soldier look.

Q:Would you define your music as a fusion between jazz & Middle East music?

GA: My music is a fusion of many things. I love folk music and actually many different types of Jazz music. In fact I am not so sure that I like contemporary jazz that much. I think that along the years Jazz education has managed to sterilize Jazz and made it a colder intellectual art form. I am far more interested in the music that started in the Bebop era and ended more or less with Coltrane’s death. I try to combine that era of ecstatic music with my growing love of folk and blues.

Q: Do you define yourself as a bopper?

GA: Absolutely

Q: Can you tell me a few words about your guest, Mrs. Sarah Gillespie

GA: Sarah, is an incredible singer song writer. She is a Jazz poet who brings about meanings through rhythm, sounds and abstract metaphors. I really believe in her. I produced her first album two years ago and as soon as I am back from Ibiza we’ll master her new album. She is like good wine, getting better all the time.

Q: How about the musicians you are going to play with in Ibiza?

GA: As you may know, this fall the Orient House Ensemble is going to celebrate its 10th anniversary. This is a great experience for us all. I will come to Ibiza with Yaron Stavi, my bass player for the last 18 years. As always the inspiring Frank Harrison will sit in front of the Piano. On drums we will have Eddie Hick. I met Eddie 2 years ago in a Jazz Workshop and thought that rather than having him as a student, I better let him be the drummer for the ensemble. The young man is an astonishing talent.

Q: Obama, did he bring any change?

GA: I tend to differentiate between ‘Obama the brand’ and ‘Obama the president’. Obama the brand is pretty brilliant, he says the right things, he supports the right values, he spread hope and so on. Obama the president is far behind the brand (unfortunately). As we know, American bombers still drop bombs in the name of democracy. It will take some time before America and its political institutes liberate themselves of Zionism’s relentless grip.

Q: Can you imagine a non-jewish president in front of Israel?

GA: No for Israel is the Jewish State and as long as Israel maintains itself as a racially orientated society, it would not allow the Palestinians to live in peace on their land leave alone the possibility of political influence.

Q: Let´s imagine that the Israeli government “forgives” you, in that case, will you travel to Israel?

GA: To start with I do not ask for forgiveness. However, the answer is No, Israel is a racially orientated state. It is an apartheid state and I have no reason or plan to visit this state. I will be delighted to travel to the Holy Land once it becomes a state of its citizens but if I understand it correctly, by the time this happens Israel will be Palestine. And I hope that this will happen soon enough.

Q: Can anybody can be “apolitical” while living in Israel ?

GA: Good question. Can you rape someone’s land and be apolitical? Can you take someone else’s house or orchard and call yourself a humanist? I assume that one can do it until challenged. I believe that it is my duty to challenge Israel but not only Israel. I challenge every form of Jewish secular political thinking, whether it is Zionism, Judeo- centric peace activism or even escapism.

Q: What is your opinion about the Gaza floltilla raid?

GA: I do think that the Israeli massacre in the high seas was not a coincidence. It brought to light Israel’s lethal madness. But it is actually deeper than that. The Gaza flotilla is a symbol of kindness. It is a humanitarian mission performed by peace activists. The murderous assault on this mission was in fact a murderous act against kindness. It was a repetition of Christs’s killing. The Zionist ideology is inspired by some utterly brutal unkind precepts that are taught by the Old Testament and Deuteronomy in particular.

Q: What does it means to be “ex-jewish”?

GA: To be an ex-Jew means to leave Jewish supremacy behind. To be an ex-Jew means to depart from choseness and to become an ordinary human being with no privileges. I am very happy in my state of being and I do believe that if more Israelis would follow this simple transformation our planet will become a much safer place.

Q: Is there any particular reason for you to live in London?

GA: I love Britain. And Britain has been also very kind to me. Britain is a very tolerant place and a genuine multi ethnic society. I was obviously totally devastated by Britains’s role in the criminal war in Iraq and its constant support of Israel. However touring Britain constantly I know very well that that there is a growing abyss between the Brits and their government.

Q: Do you miss your home country?
GA: A long time ago I realized that Palestine is a country and Israel is a state. Yes, I miss the country Palestine, the blossom of the spring, the sea, the mountains, the blue sky, but I do not miss Israel, not at all.

Palestinian roots of Western civilization: an interview with Basem Ra’ad

>Jonathan Scott, The Electronic Intifada, 16 August 2010

Basem Ra’ad is a professor at Al-Quds University in occupied East Jerusalem. For the past two decades, he has been researching the ancient past of Palestine, much of which concerns the Western and Israeli appropriation of ancient languages and cultures, from the Canaanite alphabet to the Canaanite pantheon of gods and goddesses. Born in Jerusalem, Ra’ad has, since Israel’s conquest of Palestine in 1948, lived in the Diaspora; down to the present, he is forced to enter the city of his birth on a tourist visa. Israel routinely refuses or complicates entry to Palestinian holders of foreign passports and to foreigners who want to go in and work for Palestinians or act in solidarity, which is to say that for most of his professional academic career, Ra’ad has lived in a state of limbo. In June, Pluto Press published the fruit of his long years of writing and research, Hidden Histories: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean. Jonathan Scott recently spoke with him about his work.

Jonathan Scott: One of the main points of your book is that the blueprint for Israel’s conquest of Palestine and its oppression of the Palestinians is the Old Testament Bible. In Western secular society many will surely disagree, and yet you spend a good part of the book explaining the nature of this relationship.

Basem Ra’ad: Because many people in the West still cannot see the uses the West has made of that same Old Testament model and how invested it is in the recent progress of Western civilization and the colonizing projects that have benefited the West, especially the US. I explain in detail how Western civilization, a fairly recent construct, includes not only ownership of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, but also the Bible and the models in it. Zionism has been exploiting this construct, first in getting the West to support it, whether through [British Lord] Balfour’s promise in 1917 or US support in 1947 and later, or in its propaganda and other implementations.

Of course, decolonization in the Third World has occurred and people are aware of that, but in Palestine colonization has deepened and Westerners have a blind spot and don’t see it as colonization. Often even the most liberal, unconsciously or even consciously, consider the Judeo-Christian model as part of their “tradition.” Despite all the archaeological findings and other evidence that negate the Bible’s historicity, the public mind still accepts the Bible as history, which gives uncanny legitimacy to a great injustice.

In a way, the “Judeo-Christian” compound has a contradiction built into it. Christ represents values that are opposed to hatred, oppression and disregard for the rights of others, and many Western thinkers have recognized that. But many preachers and followers still romanticize violence and racism in the Old Testament: the Canaanites are evil pagans whose lands and properties are free for the taking, as sanctioned by Yahweh; David is a hero; the Philistines are crude. So are the Babylonians and even the Egyptians, according to this perception. Ismail (Ishmael) is made into an unsavory person. All these ancient biases are solidified and, as many Hollywood films demonstrate, collapsed onto the present “Arab” region. Often they have been transferred to other locations, so that the “Indians” were “Philistines” and enslaved black people were thought of as “Canaanites.”

JS: You show that recovering the Palestinians’ ancient past is a task inseparable from the Palestinian anti-colonial national liberation struggle, but at the same time you’re suspicious of nationalist conceptions of Palestinian history. How do you reconcile the two?

BR: It’s a dilemma, really. Palestinians were living with their culture and identity in a natural and less conscious manner, until the Zionist incursion. The irony, as I point out, is that an obsessed and invented sense of identity as brought in by the Zionists can surprise and overcome an unwary people, as happened in other colonizing situations in the past. So the key now is not to imitate that fabricated identity or simply respond to it. To go for an “Arab” or Muslim identity is in many ways to fall into Zionist traps. In my opinion, it’s too late now to advocate a universal sense of identity for Palestinians, which they lived in before 1948, since that would end the struggle for their rights, and it is too dangerous to affirm the sort of identity that keeps self-colonizing trends operating and accepts the status quo of a Palestine reduced to Gaza and the West Bank. It would be a tragedy if “peace” were achieved without rectifying all the historical and cultural injustices and exposing the deceptions. That would normalize the abnormal. It is necessary, therefore, to work toward nourishing a regional and cultural consciousness that recognizes and incorporates the depth of Palestinian and regional history and culture.

JS: A new line of scholarship in Israel, represented best by Meron Benvenisti’s Sacred Landscape and Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People, argues that the State of Israel’s claim of Jewish nativity in Palestine is ideological, with no basis at all in the scientific literature or the historical record of the region. How does your work compare to theirs?

BR: I’m not sure that that is what Benvenisti says, I mean about the issue of Zionist inventions of Palestinian history. Certainly Benvenisti is good on recording Zionist Judaization of the Palestinian map and the insidious manipulation of Palestinian names by translating them from Arabic to Hebrew, but as I show in Chapter 10 of my book, it is possible to fall into the trap of Zionist theories this way. For example, Benvenisti, despite his appreciation of the injustice done to the Palestinians, still works within Zionist and Western theorizations about ancient languages. I show something different. Shlomo Sand brings together a lot of previously documented but little publicized facts about how it is impossible to consider Jews “a people,” and how Zionism has exploited the myths about “Diaspora” and “exile” and so on, which are unsustainable in historical terms. I think it is useful to use such writers, whether they are writing in the West or in Israel. But what I’m urging is the development of a regional and Palestinian history.

JS: There is a tragic dimension to your work, what you call “Palestinian self-colonization,” yet you have some optimism about being able to reverse it.

BR: Self-colonization is more dangerous than colonization itself, when one accepts or believes what the colonizer wants and what works against one’s national and existential interests. I give many examples of that phenomenon. Any optimism I have about reversing it depends on some intellectual leadership and the possibility of affecting the educational system and the minds of future generations. Unfortunately, religious thinking in our case tends to complement other self-colonizing traps, and that’s more difficult to deal with than cultural or historical preconceptions. I believe working toward a regional cultural identity can help to overcome self-colonization, but ideological and national systems on both sides tend to resist that. And this self-colonization becomes more drastic because of the relative success of Zionism in appropriating the ancient past, exploiting the religious tradition, and adding and formalizing even more falsifications.

JS: What’s the worst falsification?

BR: That’s pretty easy: the replacement of a genuine history of the people with religious narratives that pretend to be history. The most basic falsification is that the Palestinians that exist on the land are “Arabs,” with the emphasis on a meaning of “Arab” determined by various western biasing factors that give the impression of them as nomadic or as descendants from the Muslim conquest in the 7th century CE. This is the cornerstone of the Zionist claim system, which then gives present “Jews,” who are confused with ancient “Hebrews,” “Israelites” and ancient Jews, prior possession. It is also one of the self-colonizing elements in the thinking of some Palestinians and Arabs. One needs to dismantle the myth of this Zionist claim system, and affirm the continuity of the population over millennia and their farming-village character regardless of the shifts in religious affiliation. I provide evidence of that, which by the way is a conclusion that even early Zionist writers, and even the most biased travelers, confirm, directly or indirectly.

JS: The Canaanite god Ba’al plays a big role in the story you tell. What’s the link between Palestinians and Ba’al?

BR: Sometimes I joke about the meaning of my last name, “thunder,” and so say that I descend from this ancient god of rain and fertility, Ba’al, whose signpost (like Zeus, who derives from him) is the thunderbolt. Ba’al was a most central god in Canaanite mythology, the most immediate and most lasting mythology of our region, from which the later monotheisms derive, this despite the demonization of the Canaanites in the Bible and in the construct of Western civilization, whether these “Canaanites” are those dispossessed in the biblical narratives, or the coastal Canaanites called “Phoenicians,” or the Carthaginians, who are the same people.

There are two main Ba’al themes I pursue in the book: first, the use of the Ba’al cycle narratives from Ugarit [an ancient port city in what is now Syria] in the later writing of the Bible, sometimes with reversed outcomes; and second, evidence that confirms the polytheistic remains in the biblical text itself. There is undisputed evidence now that the original biblical text was altered in later centuries to camouflage its pagan nature. One of the ironies about the Western puritanical and missionary movements is that they campaigned against “paganism” in the Americas and Africa, always using Ba’al as the symbol of this condemned paganism, while preaching another pagan religion they assumed to be the only true one.

In retrieving remnants of the ancient past in Palestine and the region, it is still possible to find the meanings of this rain god who dies and is resurrected in the common language and customs of Palestinian and other people in Greater Syria. For example, when Palestinian farmers refer to their produce as “Ba’al,” which is something you can hear every day, meaning their fruits and vegetables are fresh and organic, are not factory farmed, loaded with pesticides.

JS: I was reminded of Freud’s last work, Moses and Monotheism, while reading your book. There Freud argued that the whole Judeo-Christian tradition is based on an “original murder,” that of the Egyptian Moses by the Midianites, a tribe that worshipped the volcanic god Yahweh. According to Freud, to establish their new religion the Midianites had to kill off the original Egyptian Moses and then replace him with a new one while covering up, systematically, the murder they had just committed. In a definite way, your new empirical research takes us back to the scene of this “original crime.”

BR: I think it’s important not to be fixated on the “Judeo-Christian tradition.” Let us not forget that another “original crime” still hangs in the minds of people who are obsessed with the Judeo-Christian tradition and its primal and other appeals. Combining “Judeo” and “Christian” is filled with contradictions. The more obvious crime is of course the sacrifice of Jesus. It is convenient to hang on to the virtues while at the same time going back to use the Old Testament models for justification of all sorts of other crimes against peoples and lands. Love and hate, charity and robbery, mercy and violence, they often get mixed up in such thinking and actions. Getting back to what you mention about Freud: there have been many theories about the origin of the idea of this god from Egyptian priests, or that Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament, is Midianite. I believe the origins of this mythology that has been accepted by the West is more immediately to be found in the region of Canaan (Greater Syria), an intermediate region with a special geography, rather than Egypt and Mesopotamia exclusively. I offer a more proximate interpretation of the growth of so-called monotheism from the regional polytheistic pantheon in the Eastern Mediterranean. As I show, the gods in the three “monotheistic” religions are really different gods, and Yahweh, the god who is assumed to be The One, was merely one minor god in a pantheon of gods, whose importance was greatly exaggerated as a result of the West receiving the two-tiered bible and insisting on its sole truth or uniqueness at a time of ignorance. Now, despite all the new discoveries to the contrary, there is so much investment in this bible that religious institutions and of course Zionism consistently and deceptively attempt to muffle new findings or interpret them still within the confines of the established view of things. In the past, there was ignorance, now there is resistance to the truth and circumlocution to protect entrenched and profitable privileges.

JS: You reject the idea that American novelists Herman Melville and Mark Twain were friends of Zionism; in fact you claim them for anti-Zionism.

BR: Both Melville and Twain were two of the severest critics of sacred geography and of the missionaries, and so how could they have been Zionists? Mocking sacred geographers, those who sentimentalized and appropriated Palestine as “the Holy Land,” is the main target of Twain’s Innocents Abroad and Melville’s Clarel. Twain in particular is satirical about biblical accounts about Palestine and the invention of sacred places. What the Zionists hang on to is his saying that Palestine was “barren.” But he says the same thing about Greece and its islands. Then, for Melville, barrenness is an essential quality that has profound significance, as I explain in my book. At the same time, Melville also says in his journals that the Arabs are the only cultivators of the soil in Palestine. Palestine is both green and barren in places, as it has been for millennia and as is still today. We should not fall into the trap of assuming that if the Zionists misuse some writers we should believe that and so dislike them. Our task instead should be to retrieve them and their integrity and greatness from the clasps of Zionist abuse.

More fundamentally, both writers saw in Palestine the model on which the US national myth was built, that of the “Promised Land,” whose original people (the American “Indians”) have to be exterminated and replaced by those chosen by Yahweh. It is a model they rejected and deconstructed. I demonstrate this through a close reading of their works.

Melville and Twain were truly the first anti-Zionists in the West, though perhaps not in the sense that we understand it today. They were against fundamentalism and monomania, against self-centered obsessions, against the use and abuse of religion to serve self-interested, colonial ambitions. Why do you think Melville was attacked after writing Typee? Why did he print his epic work Clarel only for private circulation? Why is Huck Finn not taught in some US high schools? Of course patriots and others want to appropriate such writers as much as they can, and try to forget that they are critical of the fundamentals of the US system and now of Zionist underpinnings. We should save Melville, Twain and others from from such use.

Returning to Twain’s Innocents Abroad, his narrator ironically doubles Palestine and the US as “home,” and his creation of a self-ironic narrator must be understood if the work as a whole is to be understood. The narrative is constantly shifting in its tone and the position of its narrator, which is difficult to consider for what is regarded as a travel narrative. There is that haunting passage in Innocents where the narrator looks at the people in the north of Palestine and expresses the pioneering sentiment that the requirement of pity makes the white man feel so angry that he wants to “exterminate” the whole lot. I gave a paper last year at the annual Twain conference that shocked a lot of the people, where I explained how to interpret the work consistently. I get into that a bit at the end of my third chapter. Anyway, throughout Innocents the narrator ridicules the biblical narratives, i.e. the sentimentalizing of sheer violence and murder, and the sacred geographers, who are his main target, e.g. Grimm, Robinson, and Thomson, whom he mentions by name and quotes to show their delusions. In fact, at one point Twain says that the Bedouin Arabs are the only remnant left of the “Israelites.” There is a lot more to say there. The important emphasis is Twain’s deconstruction of the US national myth of origins, which of course the Zionists are good at glossing over and people generally want to avoid seeing.

Jonathan Scott teaches writing and literature at New Jersey City University.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

Exclusive Intifada Interview with Archbishop Theodosios (Atallah) Hanna

Intifada Exclusive Interview with his Eminence
Archbishop Theodosios “Atallah Hanna”
Archbishop of Sebastia
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Of Jerusalem
“For those who use the Bible to support Israel need to differentiate between God promise and Balfour promise, because the occupation is the result of a promise given to the Israelis by Lord Balfour and not by God.” Archbishop Theodosios

Elias Harb: Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel has claimed in varies publications that Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to build their homes anywhere in Jerusalem and that only under Israeli sovereignty had freedom of worship for all religions been assured in the city. How do you respond to that?

Archbishop Theodosios: The facts on the ground say exactly the opposite, more and more Muslims and Christians are having great difficulties in entering the city. We see thousands are denied the entry to their holiest sites. The Israelis authorities are even preventing the Arab Jerusalemites from entering the Holy sepulcher and the Aqsa mosque on major religious feasts. It is very apparent that the Israelis want Jerusalem to themselves and they do not want to share it with others. It is a big pity that the city of peace, which must symbolizes brotherhood and love to be transformed into a symbol of hatred and division because of Israeli actions.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

Carlos Latuff: On Palestine, Solidarity, and Resistance

INTERVIEW: Carlos Latuff
July 17, 2010 by bandannie

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

Epstein hopes Gazans will be ‘free to pursue their lives in dignity’

Today’s Zaman

Hedy EpsteinHedy Epstein has been fighting the good fight for more than 60 of her 86 years. She escaped death in 1939 by being placed on one of the British-sponsored Kindertransport ships that carried more than 10,000 children to England and Northern Ireland.

Both her parents and almost all of her family perished at Auschwitz. Arriving in the US in 1948, she embarked on a lifelong campaign of conscience, speaking out for reproductive rights, fair housing and peace.
She has raised her voice in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Cambodia. “My lesson [from the Holocaust] is that when I see injustice — I don’t care who is responsible — I must do what I can.”

In 1982, following the Israeli-sanctioned massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, her attention began to focus on Palestine and its suffering. In 2001 she founded the St. Louis chapter of Women in Black — the international women’s peace organization.

In 1982, following the Israeli-sanctioned massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, Hedy Epstein’s attention began to focus on Palestine and its suffering. In 2001 she founded the St. Louis chapter of Women in Black — the international women’s peace organization. In 2009 she joined the 1,000 activists on the Gaza Freedom March. Ms. Epstein spoke about her cases in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman

In 2009 she joined the 1,000 activists on the Gaza Freedom March, which attempted to enter Gaza from Egypt. During that march she embarked on a hunger strike in solidarity with the Palestinians. She has visited the Occupied Territories five times since 2003. Most recently she was in Cyprus offering logistical support for the Gaza flotilla.

According to the website, “She proudly reports that she has rewritten the post-Holocaust motto, ‘Never again!’: ‘As I stood next to the 25-foot high cement wall in Qalqilya, I coined this phrase: “Never Again (for Jews), Again by Jews”.”
Her autobiography, published in 1999, is fittingly titled “Remembering is Not Enough.” Shortly after her return to the US from Cyprus, Ms. Epstein spoke in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman.

Ms. Epstein, your critics claim that because you are a Holocaust survivor you should be especially sensitive to the survival of Israel. How do you reconcile that with your advocacy for Palestinian rights?

In some ways my being a Holocaust survivor has nothing to do with my criticism of Israel’s policies and practices. On the other hand, it is this very experience that has sensitized me to the suffering of others, especially of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government and military. What is the lesson to be learned from the Holocaust? It is that the victims and their descendants should not become victimizers of “the other,” in this case, the Palestinians.

You describe yourself as “anti-Zionist.” What is the origin of that philosophy?

I was born in Freiburg, a village in the Black Forest. All the Jewish children belonged to a Zionist youth organization — I was the only one who didn’t belong, because my parents were anti-Zionist. When Hitler came to power in 1933, I was 8 years old. My parents very quickly realized that they had to leave Germany. They were willing to go anywhere in the world: “nur raus!” — just get out!

But they would not go to Palestine because they did not believe in Zionism.

‘When I see injustice, I don’t care who is responsible,’ says activist Epstein.

As a young child I did not completely understand Zionism or anti-Zionism — but if my parents were anti-Zionist, I was too.

In 1948, about the same time that Israel was created, I arrived in the US. I had mixed feelings then about Israel. On the one hand, I was glad that there was a place for Holocaust survivors who could not, or chose not to, return to their place of origin. But on the other hand, I remembered my parents’ anti-Zionism.

What would happen I could not guess — but I feared that no good would come of the birth of the state of Israel. I was new to the US, having new experiences and new things to learn and Israel/Palestine stayed on the back burner of my interest and remained there until 1982, when I read about the Israeli-sanctioned massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

I knew that I needed to find out exactly what happened there.

Who was responsible? Who had been adversely affected? What had happened between 1948 and 1982, when I was paying little attention to that part of the world?

As I learned more, I became increasingly disturbed by the policies and practices of the Israeli government and military vis-a-vis the Palestinians and their land. I began to speak out against these policies and practices.

In 2003 I went to the Israeli-occupied West Bank for the first time and have been back there five times since, most recently with the Gaza flotilla. I have tried unsuccessfully four times to enter Gaza, but permission has repeatedly been denied. They say that I am a “security risk”! An 86-year-old woman!

Earlier this month, you told The Guardian, “The mainstream American Jewish community almost speak in one voice and if you dare to criticize Israel you are called anti-Semitic and if you are Jewish you’re called self-hating, a traitor.” How do you react to accusations that advocating for human rights in Palestine equals anti-Semitism?

Naturally, being called a “self-hating Jew” or “a traitor” is not among my most pleasant experiences. However, such remarks have not and will not stop me from doing what my conscience tells me is the right thing to do.

Last year, when you were in Egypt as a member of the Gaza Freedom March, you said, “My message is for the world governments to wake up and treat Israel like they treat any other country and not to be afraid to reprimand and criticize Israel for its violent policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians.” Why do you believe there is such reluctance on the part of the world’s governments? What are they afraid of?

Fear of being accused of being anti-Semitic. … In Germany, guilt feelings about the Holocaust also play a significant role.

Despite the fact that there is a growing pro-Palestinian rights movement in Israel, the great majority of Israelis still believes that the current state of affairs in Gaza and Israeli policies are correct. Does this indicate a national apathy to suffering?

I believe this is changing, especially after the Israeli massacre in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 and especially after the attack on the Gaza flotilla.

The average Israeli who is not politically savvy believes the government mantra that Israel is constantly under attack and is the victim — and he/she also believes in the demonization of the Palestinians. Most Israelis are not really aware of the extent of the suffering of the Palestinian people, who may live just a short distance from them.

Israelis do not visit the Occupied Territories because they have been ordered not to go there. Yes, there is apathy, of living smugly in a very small world, not knowing and not wanting to know what is really and truly taking place in their names.

What is the underlying reason for this national apathy?

There are several explanations: Fear of “the other,” who has been described as “a terrorist”… government-initiated PR … a complicit media that serves only as a government tool by misrepresenting the reality and plays on the existing fear by fear-mongering.

Are you satisfied with President Barack Obama’s response to the flotilla murders?

Absolutely not! Surely, he knows better. In his younger years, when he befriended Edward Said, Obama was clearly advocating for Palestinian rights. But when he came to the White House, he surrounded himself with pro-Israeli neocons like Rahm Emanuel.

Where is President Obama’s backbone? Why is he so afraid of AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee? Do the pro-Israel folks have something on Obama?

If you could meet President Obama what would you advise?

I will probably not have that opportunity, but if I did, I would ask only one question: “What would your mentor Edward Said say about your position on the Israeli-Palestine question?”

As you are certainly aware, Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel and, furthermore, Jews have enjoyed a climate of tolerance in Turkey for more than 500 years. Are you satisfied with the reaction of the Turkish government to the flotilla massacre? What advice would you give Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?

Turkey’s reaction is much like what the reaction of what any other country would be in similar circumstances.

The flotilla attack was an attack on the sovereignty of Turkey, but the relationship between Turkey and Israel has been deteriorating recently as a result of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s outspokenness. We can also recall the meeting between Israeli and Turkish diplomats at which the Turkish representative was purposely seated at a lower level than the Israeli.

But it would be presumptuous of me to give advice to the Turkish prime minister.

Are you optimistic about the future of Gaza?

I am an eternal optimist and so I continue to hope that some day Gaza and its people will be free and able to pursue their lives in dignity — a dignity that will prevail, despite all odds against them.

Finally, may I add a message of condolence to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims?

It is impossible to express the deep sympathy I feel for you. I wish so very much that I could lift the feelings of emptiness and disappointment from your hearts. It is very hard to understand why something like this had to happen. Life is so very unfair at times. Words are so inadequate at a time like this. I do want you to know that the memory of your loved ones is in my constant thoughts, as are you, who have lost so very much.

There will be many difficult times and tasks ahead of you. At this distance (I live in the United States) I don’t know what I can do to be of most help to you, but I hope you will give me the opportunity to be your friend by letting me know if there is any way that I can be of comfort and assistance to you.

* Mark Lieberman is a lecturer at İstanbul Technical University.

07 July 2010, Wednesday


River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

"Beware of Small States": journalist David Hirst interviewed

Robin Yassin-Kassab, The Electronic Intifada, 9 July 2010 River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

Veteran Middle East correspondent David Hirst, author of the seminal work on the Palestinian plight The Gun and the Olive Branch, has a new release: Beware of Small States, an equally important book on Lebanon’s complex tragedy. The Electronic Intifada contributor Robin Yassin-Kassab interviewed Hirst on his work and views.

Robin Yassin-Kassab: You did your national service in Cyprus and Egypt just before the 1956 Suez War. What effect did your first experience of the Middle East have on you? Why did you end up spending your life in the Middle East, particularly in its more violent corners? Have kidnappings and bannings discouraged you?

David Hirst: Yes, I was one of the last generation of British 18-year-olds obliged to do two years of military service. Politically speaking, it had virtually no effect on me; I was an immature youth from a thoroughly apolitical middle class background, and knew next to nothing about international affairs, and hardly knew, for example, the difference between Arabs and Israelis.

But — unusually for a mere private soldier — I sought and secured permission to use a fortnight’s leave to travel round Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. I enjoyed the experience. After three years at Oxford, I could not think of a career to embark on. Remembering the American University of Beirut, I wrote and asked them if there were any kind of introductory course about the Middle East that I could follow there. There was. With a vague idea of staying there for a couple of years or so, I found myself drifting into journalism, and, taking to it, I ended up staying fifty.

I grew deeply interested in the politics of the region; I also like to think that — having come to the area entirely devoid of preconceptions, or anything more than the most rudimentary knowledge, tabula rasa as it were — the opinions and interpretations I developed about the Arab-Israeli conflict were always as near as possible spontaneously personal and first-hand ones; I quickly learned that, as such, they were all too apt to clash with what one might call the prevailing Western orthododoxy of the time. I stayed because I felt personally at home in the region, because my work was so professionally interesting, and my newspaper — unusually — never asked me to go anywhere else. As for the dangers, I definitely didn’t relish them, but unless they had become overwhelming and personal — i.e, for example, if I knew, as I did for a while, that there was a plan to kidnap me — I would never have left the region because of them.

RYK: The subtitle of your 1977 book The Gun and the Olive Branch is “The Roots of Violence in the Middle East.” Would you agree that yours was one of the first books (of those widely-available in the Anglo-Saxon world) to contextualize Palestinian violence against the backdrop of Zionist violence and Palestinian dispossession? What was the response to your book back then?

DH: I guess so. But that this should have been so is basically a measure of just how far that Western orthodoxy about the nature and moralities of the Arab-Israeli conflict parted company with historic truth and essential fairness. It is not as if my book discovered or vouchsafed anything really new. All the research had been done for me by earlier scholars. But it seems that I was at that time one of the few Westerners to put the history together in the form of a straightforward narrative setting Palestinian violence against Zionist/Israeli violence, a narrative whose basic conclusion was that the Zionists essentially pioneered the violence in pursuit of their political purposes — at their most dramatic and premeditated the ethnic cleansing of the territory they coveted — whereas Palestinian violence and terror has been essentially reactive.

RYK: Why has the West, in media and cultural production as well as in its geostrategy, tended to be partial to the Zionist narrative of the Middle East?

DH: For all the well-known reasons that have been rehearsed a thousand times. Biblico-Christian sentiment, Western guilt complex, admiration for the rugged, idealistic early Zionist settlers and their achievement in “making the desert bloom” and all that, highly effective Jewish/Zionist propaganda and influence within the corridors of Western power. On the geostrategic level, I don’t agree with the idea that Israel has been a valuable asset or ally in the service of an “imperial” or “neo-imperial” America. Quite the contrary, nothing has been historically more damaging than Israel itself to America’s interests, legitimate or otherwise, and its image in the region.

It is basically a measure of the quite extraordinary, disproportionate influence of the “friends of Israel” — AIPAC and company — that they get American politicians to buy the thesis that Israel deserves the support that the US lavishes on it not only because it shares Western “values” (which it increasingly doesn’t), or it is “the only democracy in the Middle East” (which it increasingly isn’t), but because it is to the strategic and political benefit of the US itself. This is not to say that Israel cannot in certain circumstances render services to the US — a classic example would be Israel’s readiness to rescue King Hussein in Black September 1970 — but that begs the question: who created the circumstances in which such a service was necessary in the first place? And the essential, underlying, perennial answer is that Israel itself, and its behavior towards the Arab region in which it implanted itself, is the principal cause of these kinds of crises and emergencies; and that they constitute threats to US interests because, in its deference to all things Israeli, it allows its interests get inextricably mixed up with those of its proteges. Even before Israel came into being the Zionists and their friends felt the need to promote a “strategic” argument for the creation of a Jewish state — that it would protect the British imperial life-line to the East — that was as spurious as its American descendant is today.

RYK: How have Western perceptions of the Israel-Palestine issue and the wider Israeli-Arab conflict shifted in the years since The Gun and the Olive Branch was published? Why?

DH: Public opinion is clearly changing at an accelerating pace, and will continue to do so the more obviously the nature and characteristic activities of Israel collide at variance with Western “values” and interests. In general governments and political classes lag behind their publics in their perception of this, or, at least, fearful of having to “take on” Israel, they are loath to acknowledge it in public. Hence their continued reluctance to adopt the truly impartial or “even-handed” attitude toward the Arab-Israeli conflict that alone could bring about the “Middle East peace” they so solemnly proclaim they want.

RYK: Do you think the greater visibility of the Israel lobby in the West, partly because of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, partly as a result of changes in the American Jewish community, will have a positive effect on Western policy?

DH: The extraordinary outrage, hysteria almost, that greeted the publication of their book — sober, scholarly, unassailably objective presentation of its topic though it was — and the manifest reluctance of the mainstream media and of course the US political establishment to be seen to endorse its conclusions, is just another demonstration of how very powerful — and spoiled — that lobby is, but also, I think, how eventually vulnerable it is too. I just don’t think AIPAC and the like can go on like this for ever, with their bigotry on Israel’s behalf, their specious arguments and their disdain for America’s true interests in the region, as opposed to those which they define for it; they are pushing their luck and the harder they do so the stronger will be the eventual backlash against themselves and the foreign state they promote.

RYK: Should we believe that US President Barack Obama’s different tack on peace-making will go anywhere? Is a two-state solution still a realistic possibility?

DH: Only if Obama summons up the determination to “impose” a solution along the lines I suggest in my book. Though more promising than any other American president in recent times, I don’t think he will. The “friends of Israel” in America are still too strong.

RYK: Will there be further constitutional reform in Lebanon? Will the day that a Shia vote is worth the same as a Maronite vote be the day that Hizballah’s forces integrate into a national army?

DH: Well, within the complex checks and balances of the “sectarian state,” the Maronites do hold a disproportionate share of political power. But, thanks to constitutional modifications, demography and local and regional developments over time, it is nothing like it used to be when the state first came into being. The Shia were once the underdogs in the system; now they are the most dynamically up-and-coming — indeed perhaps, in practical terms, the single most powerful one. And that in large measure, is thanks to the existence of Hizballah, its military might and its regional, above all Iranian, backing. They won’t be integrated into a national army unless that army can somehow espouse enough of their agenda to satisfy them. Hizballah’s relationship with its environment is a constantly evolving one, but I don’t see that happening in any foreseeable future.

RYK: Recently a demonstration for “secularism” was held in Beirut. Could this be the beginning of a significant movement which could finally break down sectarian loyalties?

DH: Such manifestations have happened before. They never seem to lead anywhere significant.

RYK: Arab world opposition shifts from Leftist to Arabist to Islamist. At the moment Islamism is most prominent, with some Arabist and Leftist ideas subsumed into Islamism. What do you foresee happening next?

DH: I foresee that Islamism as a whole — in power as well as in opposition — will in the fullness of time lose its moral ascendancy, just as the other great credos, nationalism — or at least the “nationalism” of the regimes that presume to embody it — and leftism have done. Take the most famous and influential of Islamist regimes, Iran. The new opposition movement, largely from within the ranks of the existing order, is a striking indication of just how much, through the actual exercise of political power, Islamists can discredit themselves and the exalted ideology they uphold — indeed, no doubt, Islam the religion itself as well.

RYK: The “resistance front” of Hizballah-Syria-Iran seems to be threatening a unified response to any future Israeli attack outside historical Palestine. Is this a credible threat? Does the changing role of Turkey — its economic and political alliance with Syria and Iran — and the increasingly warm relationship between Russia and Syria, suggest the Middle East may be approaching a “balance of terror” to deter Israel from adventurism?

DH: There are increasing indications that the “next war” in the Middle East — what I call the seventh — may spread beyond Lebanon to embrace Hamas in Gaza, Syria and Iran. There is no formal military alliance between them, but Syria and Iran are clearly seeking to inculcate the fear that, if Israel does go to war against its likeliest, first target — Hizballah — they will join in on its side. They might be doing this for deterrent purposes only. Even so the mere hint of it increases the risk that, by accident or design, it will come to pass. Alternatively, of course, if Israel were to hazard a strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, it is highly probable that Hizballah would retaliate with its now vastly replenished stock of missiles. And, this time, that could well escalate into the war with Syria which had failed to materialize in 2006 — with Israel’s so-called Second Lebanon War — and earlier such conflagrations between it and Hizballah.

RYK: British journalist and author Robert Fisk says he is utterly pessimistic about the future of the Middle East. He sees it as an unfolding “hell disaster” with no light on the horizon. Are you equally gloomy?

DH: In my experience it has become a truism: things never get better in the Middle East, they just get steadily worse. I have been hearing that — from Arabs of pretty much any condition or background — since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. I don’t see any likely change in that reality, certainly not, at any rate, till the chief of the region’s many maladies — the Arab/Israel conflict — finds a cure, or a convincing remission.

RYK: Beware of Small States strikes exactly the right balance between close detail and broad interpretative sweep. How do you do it? Do you have a guiding principle?

DH: Well, I am happy you think so. I don’t think I have a guiding principle. It just comes out that way. I suppose that, apart from trying to get my facts right and my analysis sound, I aim above all at readability and narrative flow. Achieving it is the toughest thing, and sometimes I almost despair of doing so. But the breakthrough always seems to materialize in the end.
Related Links

Meeting with mothers and wives of the martyrs

TITMUSS: Report on the Palestinian Tragedy April 2010
May 16, 2010

Meeting with mothers and wives of the martyrs

from a mural of paintings in Nablus
from a mural of paintings in Nablus

by Christopher Titmuss  –  Dharma E-News  –  May 2010 issue

“Heavenly, this land like weightless clouds
Evaporated out of jasmine

from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)

We sat together in a large circle of chairs in the conference room. Apart from myself, women occupied every seat. Their ages ranged from young women in their early 20’s to women in the 50’s and 60’s. Some wore black. Some wore the hijab, the headscarf; others neither wore the colours of mourning nor the hijab. Rawda Basir, director of the Women’s Studies Centre in Nablus, the main Palestinian city of 200,000 residents, told me an hour before the workshop with me got underway. “Christopher. Prepare yourself. You will listen to stories of terrible suffering today.”
The road to Nablus from Tel Aviv nestles between soft, rolling hills of sparse vegetation, and gatherings of rocks and stones formed together as symbols of the area’s long, pre-Biblical, history and as testimonies to countless generations. Villages with minarets nestle in valleys situated intimately close to the land sharing much the same colours, if not contours, of surrounding hills. Farmers work in their beloved olive groves while small businesses function and shepherds mind the goats and sheep. As we drove into Nablus around 8 am, I could spot Israeli settlements perched on the top of hills. Built as if for middle class city suburbs, these houses look ugly and crude when located in the austere beauty of Palestinian countryside.
l arrive in Nablus, an ancient Palestinian city, located in a long valley wedged between two  high hills for the past three thousand years. It is a land of a burning sun, intifada and intense levels of suffering, amidst a people’s determination not to sacrifice their freedom of the spirit to the occupation. A Samaritan driver with the necessary travel documents, had picked me up early in the morning from the Sangha House in north Tel Aviv and drive me through to Nablus, via various checkpoints, controlled by heavily armed Israeli soldiers, well-fortified roadblocks, concrete buildings, towers, and inevitable questions about the reasons for my visit. I say as little as possible as the Israeli army officer checks that my account in English matches the driver’s account in Hebrew. A smiling soldier waves us through into the Occupied Territories saying, “Have a nice day.” I take out an annual worldwide travel insurance. About five years ago, I rang the travel insurance company to ask whether their travel insurance applied to all countries. The insurance company told me their travel insurance covered everywhere in the world except one place: the Palestinian territories!
I recalled on a previous visit to Nablus the story a beautiful 20 year old Palestinian woman, wearing the hijab and a long narrow cut coat, told me. She had to go through the checkpoints daily to reach her university. One day a soldier took an eye to her. He demanded that she hand him her mobile phone, and when she refused he took it from her and rang his number so that he had her number. He began ringing her in Nablus. At the checkpoint in the following days, he and other soldiers would walk up and start talking to her as if she was friends with them. She told me she felt sick to the stomach and afraid of what others in long queue would think, as well family and friends in Nablus. She stopped going to university and got rid of her phone number.
Soldiers at the check points are clearly under orders to give the occasional Western visitor to Nablus some sense of normality – as if the checkpoints were just some kind of international border while passing from one country to another. Far from it. The checkpoints function as the walls of the prison, a Palestinian ghetto for 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and another massive blockage for the citizens in the Gaza. You think you have passed through the last checkpoint when there is yet another leading right to the very edges of Nablus.
I had been unable to travel to Nablus in April 2009. Three months earlier the Israeli Government had launched its murderous assault on Gaza killing more than 1400 citizens, men, women, and children, maiming thousands of others and emotionally traumatizing thousands more. Ten Israeli soldiers died in the Gaza, three killed by accidental fire from an Israeli tank. A Palestinian shot dead a 20-year-old soldier – the last of the 10 soldiers to die. His father is the partner of a Dharma* practitioner attending my retreats, who is pregnant. There is the father’s tragedy of losing his beloved son while trying to look forward to starting his second family.
The Israeli government prevented Western media from entering Gaza to act as eye witnesses on the death toll and the Israeli army’s massive destruction of public buildings, including schools, criminal courts, ministries for running Gaza, as well as the fragile communication infrastructure. There is a mountain of overwhelming evidence that the invasion exposed major war crimes as well as worldwide condemnation – apart from the White House in Washington DC. The White House maintains the silence of the dead in such matters. The United Nations has received hundreds of documents of testimony as evidence. For much of 2009, the Israeli army made it virtually impossible for Westerners to go to the occupied territories, except for the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, a popular point of pilgrimage for Christians worldwide. The siege of Gaza and the West Bank continues.
On April 20, 2010 (according to the Jewish calendar, 15 May otherwise), I travelled on the Day of Nakba (Day of Catastrophe) for the Palestinians that serves as Memorial Day for the time 700,000 Palestinians fled their homeland when Zionists established the state of Israel in 1948. Recently, the Israeli government have issued a law banning the use of the word “nakba” throughout Israeli schools as the government actually regards the word “nakba” as a threat to the state of Israel. The banning of a word from public discourse or from children’s education reveals the extreme measures to try to ensure the negation of the Palestinian view of history.
Army officers visit children in Israeli schools on a regular basis to glorify the achievements of the Israeli army (know in Israel as the IDF – Israeli Defence Force). All young men and women from the age of 18 must engage in compulsory army service – except for students of Yeshiva (orthodox Jewish studies of the Torah and ancient texts). Those who prove to army psychologists that they have severe mental health problems and feel suicidal also escape conscription. Any refusal to join the army makes a black mark on their CV for future employment prospects. Those who refuse to join the army on moral grounds or refuse to enter the Occupied Territories receive prison sentences from months up to years. Several Dharma friends have had to behave in a crazy manner  at their interview for conscription and consistently lie to avoid army uniform.
Young Israelis compete for selection for a top army unit to become air force pilots or helicopter pilots or join a commando unit for “special missions” in the Occupied Territories. Due to loyalty and years of indoctrination, criticism of the IDF remains virtually muted in Israel. One has to endure waves of resentment when questioning government and army methods. I do not regard inquiry into conditioning as a political issue but an inquiry into suffering, its causes and its resolution. Once again, silence on these matters continues to be deafening in Israel. Yet there are exceptions such as the well-known Pilots Letter of September 2003 signed by 27 pilots and former pilots. “We, for whom the Israel Defence Forces and the Air Force are an inalienable part of ourselves, refuse to continue to harm innocent civilians. These actions are illegal and immoral, and are a direct result of the ongoing occupation which is corrupting all of Israeli society.”
The Israel air force rained down white phosphorous over various areas of Gaza during the invasion of January 2009. This substance causes an incendiary impact burning people alive as well as setting fire to homes, shops, offices and fields. Soldiers use dum-dum bullets that explode on impact to maximise the number of wounds. International law banned years ago the use of white phosphorous and dum-dum bullets.
On the way to Ein dor, where we have our retreats and other Dharma programmes, I pass by one of several Israeli prisons for conscientious objectors. Not all are pacifists. Many simply refuse to support the checkpoint beatings, summary arrests, use of Palestinian, young and old, as human shields during invasions, application of mental and physical torture on Palestinian prisoners, killing of unarmed adults and children during incursions and the wide-scale massacres in southern Lebanon and Gaza that received worldwide condemnation. I once heard in Jerusalem that certain orthodox Jews claim that the commandment of Moses that states “Thou Shalt Not Kill” actually means “Thou Shalt not kill another Jew.” Amnesty reports that Israel holds around 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners, including more than 300 children, in military prisons, mostly in isolated desert regions of Israel. Ex-Palestinian prisoners tell me the condition in these prisons are grim as well as the methods of interrogation and punishment.
Israeli friends advised me not to use the word “nakba” publicly in Israel. “It will cause a lot of resentment to you. You will be immediately identified as a ‘left winger’.” On the Day of Nakba, Israel celebrates its Day of Independence at the forming of the state of Israel. Israel’s Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) is devoted to the memory of those soldiers who died for the existence of the State of Israel. Israel’s Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut) begins the minute Israel’s Memorial Day ends, and the switch from sorrow to joy is sudden. Most Jewish Israeli citizens celebrate Independence Day – wining, dining, partying, dancing – on this public holiday. Palestinians only know sorrow for the whole day. Arab Israelis as well as the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza remain at home and mark the day with prayers, remembrance and sadness while some engage in non-violent walks for human rights. There is a heightening of tensions on Nakba/Independence Day. Israeli friends expressed concern about the safety of my travelling to Nablus on such a day.
“The siege transforms me from a singer into..
a sixth string on a violin”
(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
I took my seat in the meeting room of the Women’s Centre, a non-government human rights organisation that promotes gender equality, dignity and freedom for women, publishes reports and Sawt El Nisa, (Voices of Women). Besides me sits Rawda Basir, director of the centre, who acts as translator. Rawda introduces me. I first came to Nablus in 1993 and brought with me around 18 Israelis – lawyers, army psychologists, business people, activists, respected Dharma practitioners, Israeli ex-army officers, to meet with Palestinians in a three day meeting. I have been back regularly ever since when the director general of the Palestinian National Council in Nablus and Rawda agree it is safe for me to come. Rawda and I have been friends for 17 years.
I remember several years ago, we had a meeting with Palestinians in another Nablus clinic. The day after we left the clinic, the Israeli air force launched a helicopter to ground missile directly at the clinic located right in the heart of Nablus killing eight citizens including two children. The Israeli always put out the same reply – they are assassinating members of Hamas. It is not unusual for the helicopter pilots to send in another air to ground rocket at the people who have gathered to remove the dead and assist the maimed and traumatised at the scene of the explosion.
The director of a Nablus Hospital told me on the current visit that when the Israeli army invaded the old part of the city in April, 2002, citizens brought numerous injured by car to his hospital for treatment because soldiers refused the use of any ambulances in the city. Despite terrible wounds, soldiers arrested many wounded, smashed the operating theatre and then barricaded the front of the hospital to stop treatment of the wounded. Pregnant women and sick people died at home due to the curfew during much of the month of April, 2002. There were numerous corpses on the streets of Nablus for two weeks. The army cut off water supplies, blew up the sewerage system, destroyed satellite and communications to stop phone calls and arrested hundreds.
“We store our sorrows in our jars, lest
the soldiers see them and celebrate the siege”

(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
You can imagine the depth of painful emotions for Palestinians. I asked each the mothers and wives of the martyrs to give me three points of information so that I had a sense of their personal history and motivations for attending the workshop. In this report, I have used only the initial of the participants, as there is always fear of night raids of homes of families of the martyrs – men, women and children who have died as a direct result of Israeli government/military policy. I asked three questions:
“What is your first name?
What is your suffering?
Why are you here today?
I listened. I responded. I engaged in inquiry. I have never listened to such concentration of emotional pain and trauma in 35 years of teaching. I have listened occasionally to the terrible anguish of Israeli parents who lost a son in the war in Lebanon, the occupied territories or lost a son or daughter who committed suicide during the compulsory training in the IDF from the age of 18-20. This is hard enough for such families to bear. It is important to understand that Palestinian women have to endure systematic assassinations, indiscriminate killings, abuse and arrests of loved ones over years while continuing to live in fear and terror that soldiers will break into their homes at night for further arrests or intimidation. There have been commando raids on the same homes on numerous occasions. The oppression and humiliation never seems to stop.
“You standing at the doorsteps, enter
and drink Arabic coffee with us
(you might sense you’re human like us)
you standing at the doorstep of houses
Get out of our mornings
we need reassurances that we
are human like you.”
(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
Readers may want to think that Palestinians exaggerate events inflicted upon them. There is that possibility if a woman spoke to me in private. I cannot believe that wives, sisters and daughters of martyrs would engage in collective distortions of their experiences in front of women who share the same nightmare. I have years of experience to know when people report the truth of experiences and when they engage in irresponsible projections.
Here is a brief summary of what I heard. I took notes immediately after the workshop and consulted with Rawda.  I have only used the first initial or any initial of the woman rather than the first name. Under Israeli policy, a suspect in one family makes the whole family a threat to the state of Israel.

“I” (initial of the mother). Israeli soldiers shot and killed my son who tried to flee from arrest. I have five sons held in gaol.
“Y” Soldiers killed two of my sons. I have three other sons are in gaol.
“In” Soldiers killed my son. Israel keeps his body in a grave with a number somewhere in Israel. (Palestinians refer to these graveyards as the Cemeteries of Numbers). I have begged and begged for the return of his body to Nablus for his funeral and burial.  I long to kiss my son’s hand and say goodbye,” she told me amidst her tears.
“H” has lost three sons, one aged 14 years.
“M” A sniper sitting on a tank in Nablus shot and killed my 11-year-old son as he walked alone to school one morning. The bullet blew the boy’s brain out.”
“Im.” My husband has been in gaol for 15 years. He is kept in an administrative prison. Israel has not charged him with any offence. The Israeli authorities refuse to issue me with a pass to visit him. The authorities keep postponing his date of release. (This is a common policy to inflict as much anguish on Palestinian families as possible. Israeli authorities say they plan to release a prisoner and then extend his sentence).
“T” A quietly spoken mother, aged around 25, of three small children. Israeli soldiers assassinated her first husband. Two years later, she remarried. The following year, Israeli soldiers then came back and assassinated her second husband. “I cannot stay alone, even for a few minutes. I start to think. I feel terribly lonely. I only live for my children” she told me though her deep sadness.
“W.” A sniper shot dead my husband on his way to the mosque to pray.
“U” – “My daughter blew herself up and killed Israel soldiers at a checkpoint.” The daughter told friends she did not want to live anymore following the deaths and humiliations of loved ones at the hands of the Israeli army.
“D” My 14 year son, a small teenager, who looked 10 or 11, arrived at a checkpoint in July 2004 with explosives trapped to his body. He shouted out to the soldiers “Go away. I am carrying explosives.” Soldiers shouted “Stop Hussam.” They arrested him and he has been in prison ever since. “

Palestinians told me that the Israeli army must have informed the media beforehand of the boy’s arrival at the checkpoint so photographers could photograph and film the boy. There are more than 600 checkpoints and barriers in the West Bank. The Palestinian authorities and the mother believe the Israeli secret services used a West Bank collaborator to set the boy up as a suicide bomber so the world would condemn Palestinians for sacrificing its children. The boyish teenager told the BBC he wanted to die because he didn’t like school. Photographs and film of the boy at the checkpoint made television and newspapers throughout the world. The world condemned Palestinians for allowing their children to become suicide terrorist.
The trauma of Palestinian families does not end there. Israeli units engage in night raids on the homes of families searching for individuals who they believe have engaged in street demonstrations, organised non-violent protests or members of organisations that Israel seeks to destroy. Palestinian families told me they often go to bed in their clothes as the soldiers refuse to allow the arrested ones to dress before they take them away. I heard of two soldiers who broke into one house demanding to know the whereabouts of a young Palestinian. Holding her son in her arms, the mother pleaded with the soldiers to leave. Her fearful son told the soldiers he had no idea where his friend was hiding. The soldiers continued to scream at the teenager for information. One of the soldiers pointed the gun at the boy’s head and shot him. He died in the arms of his loving mother.
The regular night raids on Palestinian families constitute one of numerous forms of abuse. Over the years of visits to Nablus, I have listened first hand to the terrifying accounts of these raids. Living in the state of constant terror, mother, father and children will all sleep in the same room waiting night after night waiting for soldiers to smash open their front door. Families are often forced to stand all night huddled together refused even permission to use the toilet. Soldiers rip out hard drives of any computers and destroy electrical equipment. Soldiers throw refrigerators and televisions on the floor. Tanks smash down homes and crush cars, sometimes several homes and cars together. Sometimes residents are trapped in homes. Soldiers will defecate and piss in homes, force fathers and sons to stand virtually naked and utter crude sexual remarks about their daughters or sisters. It is part of the campaign to terrorise and humiliate the Palestinians.
“The cypress trees, behind the soldiers, are minarets
that protect the sky against declivity. And behind the iron
fence the soldiers are urinating – under a tank’s guard
and the autumn day completes its golden stroll.”

(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
Many of the women seated in the circle come to the centre on a regular basis where Rawda and her team offer personal support, counselling and therapy, as well as guidance in practical matters at home. On one wall is a very large mural of drawings by children and young people illustrating their suffering and their hopes with poems and prayers for peace and justice, and lines from Palestinian poets. Throughout the meeting my eye kept drifting across to the mural, to this collage of suffering and its resolution. On another wall, a Palestinian woman has painted a large collage of young women huddled together to give support to each other.
After each woman responded briefly to my questions, I then asked the women as a collective many questions about their feelings, their pain and what matters to them today after enduring such devastating losses in recent years. Some of the women brought with them photographs of their late husband, sons or daughter.
“I couldn’t stop eating. I was trying to fill a terrible hole inside at the death of my children. The food had no taste at all in it. I just ate and ate.
“I could not eat anything. I was wasting away. I wanted to die when the soldiers shot and killed my wonderful husband. I got thinner and thinner.”
“The settlers shot my husband dead as we were driving home with the children. The children were on the back seat. We were trapped in the car.”
“I cried and cried and cried. At night, my husband cried and cried as well in another room. “
“They killed my children. I walked and walked around the streets of Nablus until late into the night. I felt nothing. I had lost all feelings. I was in the land of the dead.”
“Our boy was shot dead for throwing stones at tanks. We did everything possible to keep our children away from trouble spots. How could soldiers shoot defenceless children?”

“If you’d contemplated the victim’s face
and thought, you would have remembered your mother in the gas
chamber, you would have liberated yourself
from the rifle’s wisdom
and changed your mind: this isn’t how identity is reclaimed.”
(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
As the hours went by, I began to develop a sense of these women’s determination to transform their lives rather than fall into suicidal depression. I sat in the chair for five hours without getting out of the seat. My questions covered a range of issues.

  • What are your feelings now?
  • What supports you in your anguish?
  • Do you see yourself as a victim?
  • Do you still live in fear?
  • Where does your empowerment to live come from?
  • Do you miss the warmth of your husband beside you in bed at night?
  • Does it upset you if others say you should be happy to have a martyr in the family?
  • Do you find yourself living in the past or in the present?
  • How do you survive financially?
  • Do you experience domestic violence?
  • What enables you to carry on?
  • What makes you happy?

The women insisted that I speak  on my perceptions of what I had heard over several hours. I reflected back a lot. I told them that if they lived feeling sorry for themselves they built up an identity of being a “victim.” I said “This is a dangerous identity. Firstly, it means that the Israeli occupation has succeeded in the occupation of your inner life. You have become victims of the victimisers. You will feel depressed, anxious and unable to support others and yourself. “
“Some of you describe yourselves as “survivors” and wonder why you survived. I describe the word “survivor” as another unhealthy emotional identity. This happens when families carry pain and trauma  after the killing of loved ones. The identity of the survivor arises through clinging to memory, to past terror, to past abuse, no matter how obscene.” I explained that clinging to memory inhibits expressions of love and compassion in the present. “An authentic human being stands free from being a victim or a survivor. You then rediscover your dignity. Please remember this.”
In siege, life becomes the time
between remembering life’s beginning
and forgetting its end.
(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
I added: “It is the great task of facilitators and counsellors to open up the past, expose the terrible anguish, without creating an identity out of it for the individual, family or society. If you are a “victim” or a “survivor”, you give the Israeli government and its army power over your lives. You submit to the view that the strong rule the weak. I reminded the women that the Women’s  Centre in Nablus provides an invaluable service for dignity and empowerment in every area of their life.
“Secondly, victims will become victimisers at a later date. The abused will become the abusers. A small example. The soldiers at the checkpoint start abusing your husband threatening to arrest him. Perhaps they don’t like the look of his face. If he shows any animosity to the soldiers, he faces serious consequences.” ( I remember a couple of years ago at one checkpoint witnessing a soldier grab a Palestinian man in the long queue, throw him to the ground, turn his rifle around to smash the butt of the rifle in the man’s face. Other soldiers pulled the violent soldier away. “Your husband arrives home upset and angry at the way the soldiers treated him. He shouts abusive language at you for the smallest thing. He knows the consequences of saying anything at the checkpoint. So his repressed frustration and anger comes out on his family when he arrives home.”
I will scream in my solitude
Nor to wake up the sleeping
But for my scream to wake me
From my imprisoned imagination

(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
I asked the women: “What do you say? What do you do?” The abused will become the abusers – unless there is insight and self-understanding. “It is not possible for it to be otherwise. We have to find a mature and wise response to the depths of trauma and bereavement. We have to move from the unspoken to the spoken and apply skilful means to the resolution of such suffering. There is nothing more important than that. A true liberation movement ends the victim and survivor identity.
It also ends the subsequent reaction to it by making others victims of  unresolved aggression.”
Westerners often ask me if Palestinians are interested in the Dharma of spiritual practice. I reply that the Palestinians I meet are profoundly committed to the Four Noble Truths of suffering, causes for it, resolution and the means to resolve it. I witness their dedication to these Four Truths, morning, noon and night, primarily through speaking, listening, inquiry, reflections and guided meditations.
The siege, my metaphorical siege, will extend
until I teach myself the ascetics of meditation:
before myself – an iris cried
after myself –  an iris cried
and the place is staring at the futility of the ages.

(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
Some fathers find themselves torn between conflicting emotions about their wife and children. If a father speaks up for his family when soldiers arrive at their home, the soldiers will arrest him, force him into the back of an army vehicle and take him away. He cannot then support his family for years. If he says nothing, he feels he is not a real man but a weak person who cannot protect his family from abuse.
By the end of the workshop, the room was full of animated conversation in all directions… The young woman, who had lost two husbands, smiled more often. The Women’s Study Centre in Nablus serves clearly as a place of refuge for hundreds of women every year. We talked. We smiled. “Christopher, we want you to be our delegate. We are trapped in Nablus. Please tell the world about our terrible situation,” said one of the mothers who lost two sons.
I promised to write this report to send out in the West. The lovely staff then provided us with Arabic coffee, cups of tea, cakes and biscuits. I believe most of the mothers, daughters and sisters of the martyrs as well as myself enjoyed the taste of the drinks and the biscuits.

“With language you overcame identity”
(Mahmoud Darwish)


In the evening, I met in the same conference room with representatives of the Palestinian citizens living in and around Nablus. I had the opportunity to listen, to learn and to respond. These representatives included the director of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), director and imam of the Islamic Ministry, a judge, an organiser of a Palestinian political party, a journalist, an archaeologist, an officer for an international aid organisation based in Nablus, director of the Women’s Centre, head of communications in the university, a public relations officer, a retired member of the Palestinian Authority, a much respected Nablus resident who had been in Israeli gaols for 16 years and a Nablus businessman. Several spoke English. The representatives included several women. (Fifty five percent of students at Nablus University are young women). Five women have been elected to the Palestinian government.
We explored three primary areas of concern in terms of Palestinian life – the struggle for freedom from occupation, the desperate state of the economy /welfare with unemployment rate around 30% upwards,  and trying to ensure the basic requisites of food, clothing, housing and medication, and finally and equally important, Palestinian culture/community life.
Some of the representatives were especially critical of Britain’s historical role in the current conflict, especially the Balfour Agreement of November 1917 when the British government gave full support to establishing a state for the Jewish people without any consultation of Palestinians. Foreign secretary, James Balfour made the declaration in a letter to Baron Rothschild for forwarding to Zionist organisations. More than 90 years later, that fateful letter still hangs heavy in the air among Palestinians. Yet respected Palestinians know only too well that there is no point in blaming all their troubles on the British, the Israelis or the Americans. They know they have to sustain their determination to liberation, to live in a financially viable society and develop and deepen their cultural/community traditions.
Israel has adopted the British policy of divide and rule (Latin. divide et impera) that successive British governments had used world wide to ensure colonial domination. Governments engage in such a strategy to create divisions among the citizens, arrest leaders who form organisations, block travel within the country and terrorise the population to discourage organised protest. The policy shows as tight control over the economy while sewing divisions between groups to stop the development of any alliances. The central view is to maximise daily hardship while allowing minimal functioning of necessities such as work, religion and culture. Israel adopted many of the draconian laws used against the Palestinians at the time of the British mandate.
The representative knew that I had just spent three weeks in Israel. They asked me whether I believed that Israel wanted a just solution to the conflict. I said “No.” The Israeli government continue to jeopardise even the start of peace talks whether by invasions, building the Wall of separation of Palestinians from Palestinians as well as from Israel, cutting off East Jerusalem, endorsing the building of more and more settlements or blocking travel. There is no sign of any commitment to any kind of solution. I said I could only report on the continued expansion of Israel and the policy of divide and rule matters above all else.
I told the participants that from my observation, the voices of compassion, the voices of human rights in Israel, get quieter and quieter. There surely can be no country anywhere where the citizens remain so obedient to the ideology of its government as the citizens of Israel. It is not that people in Israel do not want peace. Israeli citizens, whether in government, Zionists, army, settlers and religionists, claim to want peace. Meditators, yogis and spiritual practitioners want peace. Sadly, the desire for peace is mostly empty rhetoric, a meaningless application of language.
I said that it is vitally important the Palestinians acknowledge Jewish people within Israel and outside Israel who listen to the voices of the Palestinians and know that Palestinian suffering is a 1000-fold greater than Israeli suffering.
I told the men and women in the room there are Jewish lawyers, trained in human rights and international law, who have been foremost in preparing the documentation at the UN to bring the charge of war crimes to the Israeli government and IDF. There are Jewish networks and artists who are true friends of Palestinians. Jewish organisations, Jewish academics, Jewish intellectuals and rabbis have to endure rants of prejudiced and racist Jews in Israel and overseas. You can see on YouTube numerous statements of respected Jews around the world who condemn Israel’s policy towards Palestinians. Many of these fearless Jews lost family members in the Holocaust. A few have lost close family members in terrorist attacks on Israel. Some of these Jews have received death threats and hate mail while some Israelis treat them as traitors. These Jews bravely speak up for all Palestinians.
You can also see on YouTube some of the rabid comments from Israeli citizens towards those Jews who wish to hold the state of Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinians. I mentioned that in the morning that Rawda had showed me on YouTube a clip of a Jewish professor at an American university charging the Israeli government with war crimes. Some applauded in the large lecture hall while other Jewish students hurled abuse at him. The foot of the clip showed an Arabic translation for viewing in the Arab world.

“All the angels that I love
took spring away from the place yesterday
morning and bequeathed me the volcano summit”

(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)
“There are Jewish people in Israel who fully support and give financial backing to refusniks, pacificists, peace organisations, dialogue groups, inter-religious organisations, social and political networks for political justice and reconciliation, as well as international solidarity movements on behalf of Palestinians.
Nelson Mandela, perhaps the most respected living person, wrote in letter to Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist. “Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality.”
Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of Israeli politicians, army generals, diplomats, as well as citizens, show no real interest in a just solution. Rhetoric remains. “We all want peace” is the give away one-liner devoid of significance unless accompanied with action.
Nobody around the table interrupted me when I spoke about my perceptions about Israel. I spoke for several minutes.
“Just as we are sitting this evening around a table examining the Palestinian struggle, social welfare and culture, there are Israeli politicians and senior army offices sitting around tables in Tel Aviv planning fresh strategies to ensure the continuity of divide and rule, harassment and punishment of all Palestinian people. Powerful voices in Israel have demonised you.”
Every year when I come to Israel, I see that the authorities have found new ways to inflict as much hardship as possible on Palestinians.
The latest new order of the Israeli government concerns Palestinian travel permits. Israel will regard any Palestinian entering the West Bank from elsewhere in the West Bank or Gaza, who does not hold the correct permit, issued by the Israeli authorities, as an “infiltrator.” So Israel has introduced a law to make criminals of Palestinians who live in different parts of their own land.. If caught at a checkpoint or elsewhere, Palestinians will face being “deported” or up to seven years imprisonment. The Israeli authorities will now decide who is a resident of what area rather than how long a Palestinian has been living in a certain area. The new order can also block foreigners from entering the West Bank unless Israel has granted the foreigner a permit. The order does not apply to the 250,000 Jewish settlers living illegally on Palestinian land who do not have to pass through checkpoints.
At the meeting, one teacher told me he has been living in Nablus for 20 years with his wife and family but has a Gaza residency card. He cannot step outside of the city of Nablus, as the soldiers at checkpoints may never allow him back home. Israeli authorities refuse to register change of addresses. One senior person in Nablus cannot leave because she came from East Jerusalem years ago. Families and individuals are arriving at checkpoints to Nablus from another part of the Occupied Territories. Soldiers refuse permission for families or certain members of families to return to their homes because they do not have the “proper residency documentation.” The siege of villages, towns, cities, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, continues. It is a slow strangulation of 2.5 million people. Divide and rule. The Israeli policy is to detain and deport families or members of families from one part of their own country to another.
I spent three hours walking around Nablus with a local businessman. I did not see a single other Westerner in my stay in Nablus. We visited the markets, the old Roman heart of Nablus dating back 1000 – 2000 years and wandered the lanes and streets. The atmosphere remains full of past and present history oozing out of the cobblestones and alleyways. Posters, some torn and fading, of the martyrs hang from the walls of the old city. Palestinian built shrines built where Palestinians died at the hands of the soldiers. Despite the relentless siege, there is a buzz in the town of communication. I witnessed a demonstration of hundreds of parents, teachers and children waving placards in Arabic calling for an end to child labour in Palestine. No country in the world holds as many nonviolent demonstrations as the Palestinians. Palestinian women and children are bold and outspoken. It’s in their blood.
The businessman told me: “It’s not so simple. I have shops. My father opened his first shop in 1935. Mothers and fathers come to me begging me to give their children a little work so they can earn a few shekels so their children do not join stone throwing demonstration, get beaten or, worst of all, get shot. Some businesses here exploit child labour, too. It is not always easy to tell whether it is kindness or exploitation of children.”
I could sense from the morning workshops with the women and the evening meeting with the representatives that the Palestinians place more and more faith in the non-violent struggle for human rights, for decency and for self-respect as well as for an independent state. Very, very few Palestinians have any faith left in armed struggle or acts of terror. I was told there is an overwhelming consensus in Nablus that violent struggle, including the use of stones, brings untold depths of suffering upon Palestinian families, due to the brutality and acts of revenge of Israeli army units, as well as suffering on innocent Jewish families. Soldiers will pursue some young people throwing stones, beat them up or fire rubber or live bullets at them.
Rawda told me that men, women and children in the West Bank sobbed in front of their television sets as Arab television channels brought them live broadcasts in early 2009 of the Israeli massacre on the streets of Gaza. I heard in Nablus of growing concerns that the next Israelis attack by air and land will be against the people of Nablus to punish them for being the centre for the two intifadas. All services then get cut including electricity. I saw people in Nablus being buying old and rusty oil lamps in a market in preparation for the worst.
A hole in the wall was enough
for the stars to teach you the hobby
of staring into the eternal.
(from a poem by Mahmoud Darwish)


Mahmoud Darwish (1942 – 2008) is the foremost Palestinian poet,whose words express the love, struggle, and reality of the Palestinian people.
He is revered in his homeland and throughout the Arab world.

Extract of Mahmoud Darwish’s  poems used in this article come from The Butterfly’s Burden” translated by Fady Joudah, Bloodaxe Books, Northumberland.UK. 2007
*Dharma – teachings of the Buddha to resolve suffering

Another great interview by George Kenny on Electric Politics : "Whither the Israel Lobby?"


George Kenny is clearly on a roll! Only a week ago he had a fantastic show about Bosnia (which I hope you all listened to) and now he follows up with yet another truly excellent interview with Jeffrey Blankfort on the topic of the Israel Lobby. Listening to these two interviews, I was reminded of the words of George Orwell “In a world of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act“. By this criteria, George’s “Electric Politics” clearly deserves the honor of being called a “revolutionary” podcast.

In this latest interview, George and Jeffrey Blankfort touch on a painful subject for many progressives, including myself: the fact that Noam Chomsky has a totally mind-boggling “blind stop” on two of the most important, I would even say *defining*, issues determining the nature and goals of the US Empire: the role of the Israel Lobby (or “Zionist Power Configuration” or ZPC as James Petras refers to it) and the truth about 9/11. In this interview, George and Jeffrey do not touch upon the issue of 9/11 (although George himself fully understands that 9/11 was an ‘inside job”), but only on the first ‘blind spot’ of Chomsky. Both George and Jeffrey Blankfort clearly have a great deal of admiration for Noam Chomsky, as do I, but they value the truth and the voice of their own common sense and conscience even more and they refuse to simply bow to Chomsky’s otherwise undeniable moral authority.

Interestingly, both George and Blankfort also clearly understand that the only a “One State” solution can truly bring piece to the Middle-East and that this means a total defeat of the Zionist ideology.

George Kenny is doing a fantastic job with his podcast and website. If you appreciate his work and if you can afford to, please drop by on his website and donate a little something (or a big something!) to support him and his work. And if you cannot, then send him a little note of gratitude and of support.

Fighting against empire is an often discouraging activity, and those who do have the courage to do so need all the kinds words and support we can give them!

The Saker

PS: Jeff Blankfort is a radio program producer with KPOO in San Francisco, KZYX in Mendocino and KPFT/Pacifica in Houston. He is a journalist and Jewish-American and has been a pro-Palestinian human rights activist since 1970. He was formerly the editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin and co-founder of the Labor Committee of the Middle East. He was also a founding member of the Nov. 29 Coalition on Palestine. He won a sizable lawsuit against the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in February 2002 for its vast illegal spying against him, as well as other peaceful political groups and individuals (including anti-Apartheid groups/activists). Blankfort sends out an influential annotated/commented emails of articles appearing mostly in the US press about Israel, Palestine, Middle East, Neocons, and the Zionist lobby. Many of his articles can be found here.


Posted by VINEYARDSAKER: at 7:34 PM 

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

"We are defending our culture": an interview with Samir Joubran

Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 29 March 2010

Samir Joubran

Earlier this month the Palestinian group Le Trio Joubran gave a concert in Geneva to support the work of the Association Meyrin-Palestine, which is planning to build a cultural center in Gaza. Le Trio Joubran is comprised of three brothers, Samir, Wissam and Adnan Joubran, who play the oud, a pear-shaped instrument from the Middle East related to the lute. The Electronic Intifada contributor Adri Nieuwhof spoke with Samir Joubran about the trio’s music.

Adri Nieuwhof: Can you please introduce yourself?

Samir Joubran: I am the older brother of Wissam and Adnan. We are musicians from Palestine, born in Nazareth. My father was a third-generation oud-maker and player. Wissam studied at the Antonia Stradivari Conservatory in Italy. He learned how to build string instruments, violins in particular. Wissam built our instruments. I have a classical background and started to perform at the age of 12. In 2003, Wissam and I released a CD, it is a duet, a meeting of our ouds. Last year we released our third CD, a tribute to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. We compose all of our music ourselves. Maybe it is the first time in history that three ouds play together, and that three brothers are the players.

AN: Why did you choose to play the oud? What does the instrument mean to you?

SJ: I grew up in a house filled with ouds. My father finished a new instrument every month. You can say, I lived in a house that was occupied by the oud. The instrument is the father of all stringed instruments. It is over 4,000 years old. It is more than a piece of wood; when you play, you hug it, you feel it resonate in your stomach. This instrument is part of your body, it is part of our culture, our identity. Two weeks ago we were in Nazareth. We gave a concert in Haifa and one in Ramallah, on the date of Mahmoud Darwish’s birth, 13 March. The Palestinian Authority has declared this day as the National Day of the Culture of Palestine. At the concert we used Mahmoud Darwish’s voice and vocals [by playing a recording of the poet reciting his work].

AN: I saw you perform at a concert in support of Gaza. What made you decide to do this?

SJ: We have 70 to 80 concerts each year, mostly in Europe. We get invitations from professional places; they invite us for our music. We have performed about four times in Geneva, we like it, and the public likes us. The association which invited us is helping Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. We did not think twice. We want to support our human cause for liberty and freedom. We are not aiming to be heroes or victims. We want to live as human beings.

AN: Your brothers Wissam and Adnan are the other members of the trio. Your music sounds as if you speak with one voice. How did this come about?

SJ: Our story is not only about music, it is also about our family. Problems in our family will harm our music. I brought my brother Wissam (who is ten years younger) on board, because he was a very good oud player. Adnan had to practice a lot to make him ready to perform. We understand each other, we have the emotions, we share the same background, we come from the same school of music. It is one unity. But we keep our personal style, it is still there in our music. We are working in one group. We are working for Palestine, for our culture.

AN: Can you discuss your relationship with Mahmoud Darwish? Why is he important for you?

SJ: I started to perform with Mahmoud Darwish in 1996. With him in person, with what he means to me, with his poems — he is the most important poet of the last century. We had a concert in Arles [France] with him two weeks before he died. He told me, you have your future in front of you. My future is in the past. Mahmoud Darwish is everywhere in our music, also in the name of the tunes. He once mentioned the word “majaz” to me, it is “metaphor” in English. I did not know the word and asked him the meaning. He said a metaphor is “in the shadow of words.” We entitled our latest CD this in tribute of Mahmoud Darwish; Mahmoud Darwish was the voice of Palestine and the other name for Palestine.

AN: You mentioned you gave a concert in Ramallah on 13 March. Was it easy for you to travel?

SJ: When we traveled from Nazareth to Ramallah we had to stop at the Qalandiya checkpoint for two hours. You maybe have heard of the unrest in Jerusalem? At Qalandiya there was a lot of shooting, tear gas was fired, soldiers were running around. We stayed because we wanted to enter Ramallah. We want a normal life in an abnormal situation. We wanted to put the problems of the people in Ramallah in a nice atmosphere, with love and an artistic environment. People of all generations came to our concert. Our work is to give a little example of hope in the difficult situation we live in.

AN: Do you think Palestinian culture is under threat?

SJ: Yes, yes, but I think all the cultures are under threat, because of the Internet. We Palestinians don’t need to look at other cultures. Tradition is not what you read in the past. It is what you write today. We are defending our culture. Israel tries to steal our land, our trees, our souls. But they cannot steal our culture. If we want to make sure this is our culture, and we dig deeper in our culture, then we make our history. I hope that one day Palestine will be free, so that we as a trio will also be free. We want to go on stage just like other musicians. Musicians from Sweden don’t need to think of freedom of their country when they perform. No, once Palestine is free, we are free.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.

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River to Sea
Uprooted Palestinian

Al-Manar’s Interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad


24/03/2010 Al-Manar’s Interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad
Interview conducted by Amr Nassif

Introduction: Whenever they criticize the official Arab regime, Arab journalists usually use the expression: “The majority of the Arab regimes,” to distinguish some Arab leaders, at the top of whom comes President Bashar Assad who enjoys special characteristics in the minds of the Arab citizens, characteristics that actually add to his responsibilities and commitments.

The dialogue with President Assad exceeds in its value and meaning the limits of any traditional journalistic dialogue with a leader or president. The Arab journalist in this circumstance cannot but be a representative, in one sense or another, of a broad range of Arab audiences which gave its confidence to this President.

Thus, the journalist cannot ignore the fact that President Bashar Assad is a citizen who occupies the post of President or a President who didn’t abandon his citizenship.

Even more, the journalist here cannot ignore the fact that dialogue with President Bashar Assad has no limits because he does not dictate the questions to the journalists and does not set taboos or draw red lines. This is why I promise not to waste any of these characteristics. Mr. President welcome to Al-Manar Television.

AL-ASSAD Welcome to Syria.

Q: To start with Mr. President, Syria went through lots of crises during the last few years by adopting a policy of challenge and steadfastness, knowing that such policy could have caused Syria to pay heavy prices. I wanted to ask you about the margin of “adventure” in the Syrian decision to face the challenge.

AL-ASSAD There are two kinds of adventures; one that is imposed and another that is by choice. As Syrians, we’re not adventurers but we live in the Middle East which is historically a complicated region.
This region in particular has been a coveted spot for thousands of years, because it’s the center of the world where strategic interests underlie.
Whether you wanted to make a policy or a war, in either case it’s an adventure.
But as I have just said, it’s an imposed adventure. However, we have to differentiate between adventure and gambling. When we assume that the best and easiest solution is to put our future and capabilities in the hands of the big powers with the belief that they will resolve our problems, this is gambling. From our previous experience, the big powers always complicate the problems for various reasons that are in most cases out of evil intent. But even if we assume good intentions, problems will get complicated because they do not belong to this region. We didn’t accept to be part of a gamble that would put Syria, its policies, and its interests in a foreign scheme. This is what happened recently when the project of the New Middle East was raised. This project included Iraq and Lebanon, and Syria was supposed to be part of it. They sought to lure it into this project, but it turned it down. Thus, Syria had to pay a price. This is consistent with a speech I made in 2005, when I said that the price of resistance was less than the price of chaos, and that gambling will lead to chaos and therefore to the ultimate price. Between the high price and the ultimate price, we will choose the first, especially when there is no such thing as a low price or no price at all.

Q: Mr. President, you stressed on several occasions that Syria was against the policy bargains and deals. The problem is that the other side, and I mean the United States, is a regime that only believes in pressure and deals. Yet, the relation between the US and Syria is ameliorating. How did you reach this equation of committing not make deals with a party that only acknowledges deals?

AL-ASSAD At the end, they failed. I’m not only talking about the United States but all the supporters of the previous scheme, supposing that the creator of this scheme was (US former President George W.) Bush. We don’t want to combine between the former and current US administrations. Of course, there are differences. Therefore, when we talk about the United States, some think that the same project is still ongoing. This is not true. At that time, the former United States administration, Israel alongside some European states including France, the UK, and other allies in Europe, the world, and the region, they all worked to complete this project. But they failed and they had to start searching for a new way to deal with the realities on the ground. Personally, I think they have started to learn lessons but they haven’t necessarily learned the lessons. Even if they have learned the lessons, nothing necessitates that the lesson they have learned still remains, because when new people come to power, they might not read the history and therefore, make the same mistakes. That’s why this mistake is made continuously. But, of course, we’re committed to specific principles that represent our interests and convictions and we won’t abandon them. The way we deal with this is by explaining facts and realities, but at a certain stage, they adopted a policy of terminology such as terrorism, democracy, good and evil.
They created a whole world for us, and unfortunately, or maybe out of good luck, they fell in their own trap and lived in a world of illusion.
However, our approach was more realistic. So now, they want to join this world regardless of whether there are difference in our points of views or not.

Q: When you distinguished between the Bush administration and Obama’s, was it because you don’t want to burden Obama’s shoulders with Bush’s mistakes, or you really believe they are different?

AL-ASSAD No, there are clear differences, first in the proposals reflected in their speeches and second, we don’t hear dictations anymore. We have different viewpoints, this is normal, but we don’t hear dictations anymore. We can’t say yet that there exist results of an American policy, but there are some institutions in the US that don’t want President Obama to succeed for one reason or another. That’s why we have to differentiate between the two men in order for us to be objective.

Q: Allow me to describe the speech of the US Ambassador to Syria Steven Ford before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on March 16, 2010 as very severe. He said that he was not a prize for Syria and that Syria hasn’t changed as it remains a source of concern for Washington. He also spoke about the necessity to exert direct pressure on your political decisions and talked about some mistakes in Syria’s calculations with Hezbollah. Perhaps the most dangerous thing he talked about was the danger of Syria being dragged into a confrontation with Israel, even unintentionally. How do you describe these words?

AL-ASSAD He said so in Congress and before becoming Ambassador.
When he comes to Syria to present his credentials and become Ambassador, we can deal with all these words through our known stances. I don’t have to explain these stances because they are announced. But at the same time, I can say that any Ambassador represents his country’s policy. A fine Ambassador with a bad policy is worthless. The result will not be good. However, a good policy could impose upon a bad Ambassador to achieve good results for the best interests of both countries. Government policies determine policies and their outcome, not an Ambassador and certainly not his speeches. Still, I’m not in a position to comment on an Ambassador’s speech. When he arrives, we will comment on any stance he takes in the framework of new his mission here. With regards to conviction, he has the right to convince and so do we.

Q: Let’s look at the issue of bargaining from another perspective. Perhaps, there are no deals but some talk about prices. Can we say that one of the prices that Syria paid to ameliorate its relations with the West and the Arabs was accepting diplomatic relations with Lebanon and opening embassies especially that some Lebanese sides actually thanked France for the role it played in this issue. Is this a price?

AL-ASSAD Some sides insist they have achieved some of their policies in the past five years. In fact, they haven’t achieved anything. They only entered Lebanon into mazes. I’m not specifying these sides, I’m talking in general. Now, these powers want to convince others that they have achieved something, anything even an embassy. I actually proposed the embassy in 2005. It was not a Lebanese proposal. None of our former or future allies had suggested it before I did. I raised the issue in a meeting for the higher Lebanese-Syrian joint committee in the presence of Speaker Nabih Berri, then President Emil Lahoud and then PM Omar Karameh. But when the circumstances in Lebanon took a negative turn, we decided to disregard the issue. But I can say that the embassy’s proposal was Syrian. In all cases, if there was no Syrian conviction, the embassies couldn’t have been established. Everyone knows that when we feel a move is imposed on us or is the result of an attempt of interference, we would immediately reject it. The proof for these forces claiming that their policies, or foreign pressure, have established the embassy, we say that there is a much more important example. Few countries have raised the issue of the embassies, but a lot of states are now raising the issue of demarcating borders. Our response has always been a clear no.
This is a Lebanese-Syrian matter that should be resolved between the two countries. But when a request is made from outside these two countries, we do not act. Now, with the visit of PM Saad Hariri to Syria, we’ve started discussing the issue again. Before that, it was closed since there were no relations between the Syrian and the Lebanese governments. Today we are building these ties. But I’m talking about the principle. If they succeed in imposing the demarcation of the border through foreign pressure, they would be right. But if they fail, the world ought not to believe them.

Q: There’s another issue that some Lebanese always raise when talking about the Lebanese-Syrian relations. It’s the Syrian refusal to provide Lebanon with an official document stating that the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese. They wonder why this Syrian “obstinacy?”

AL-ASSAD It’s simply because you can’t give a document that you don’t have. There are some measures that should be adopted to obtain such document. I mean legal and judicial measures that specify the ownership of properties, which country was given these properties before and after Independence, Lebanon or Syria? When these measures are finalized, we start demarcating the border. But giving this document for political reasons doesn’t seem to be rational.

More to follow…

River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

Isarel Was A Mistake

From I4P

The March/April 2010 issue of Moment magazine features a final interview with Howard Zinn, the counter-historian whose People’s History of the United States has become a bible of the campus Left.

Then Zinn answers questions about Israel itself, which he calls, in retrospect, a mistake.

How did you react to Israel’s creation in 1948?

I didn’t know a lot about it, but I remember speaking at some gathering to celebrate its founding. I wasn’t a Zionist. I just vaguely knew that a Jewish state was being created and that seemed like a good thing. I had no idea that the Jews were coming into an area occupied by Palestinians.

Were you critical of Israel before 1967?

Before 1967 Israel did not loom large in my consciousness. I was aware that there was a war between Israel and the Arab states in 1956, but it really wasn’t until 1967 and the taking of the occupied territories that I realized this was a serious problem. I remember reading I.F. Stone, who was very concerned with Israel.

How do you discuss Israel and Palestine with Jews who might be resistant to claims that Israel bears some responsibility for the conflict?

As always in very complicated issues where emotions come to the fore quickly, I try to first acknowledge the other party’s feelings. In the case of Israel I try to say, yes, I understand your sympathy for a Jewish state, and I understand that you become angry when rockets fall [in Sderot] or when a suicide bomber takes needless life. But that has to be seen in proportion. I try to appeal to the experience of Jews, the experience of the Holocaust, by saying, if it’s never again, it’s not just never again for Jews, it’s never again for anybody. I also try to present facts that are hard to put aside. Rockets from Gaza killed three Israelis; Israelis retaliated with an enormous bombardment that killed 1,000 people. You can’t simply write that off or say, well, they’re morally equivalent or it was bad on both sides. Or the Lebanese send rockets into Israel, killing a number of people, and the Israelis invade Lebanon in 1982 and there are 14,000 civilian casualties. These are horrors inflicted by a Jewish state. As a Jew I feel ashamed when I read these things…I [also] try to appeal to what I think are the best legacies of the Jewish people—people like Albert Einstein and Martin Buber, who cannot be simply written off, because they’re Jewish heroes. And these are people who were critical of Israel and sympathetic to Palestinians.

Do you think that Zionism was a mistake?

I think the Jewish State was a mistake, yes. Obviously, it’s too late to go back. It was a mistake to drive the Indians off the American continent, but it’s too late to give it back. At the time, I thought creating Israel was a good thing, but in retrospect, it was probably the worst thing that the Jews could have done. What they did was join the nationalistic frenzy, they became privy to all of the evils that nationalism creates and became very much like the United States—very aggressive, violent and bigoted. When Jews were without a state they were internationalists and they contributed to whatever culture they were part of and produced great things. Jews were known as kindly, talented people. Now, I think, Israel is contributing to anti-Semitism. So I think it was a big mistake. more link

Posted by Irish4Palestine at 10:01 PM

Isarel Was A Mistake
howard zinn|israel was a mistake|kill off zionism before it kills the world|zionism breeds terrorism|zionism death of israel|

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River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

Interview: "Anything you want, we can bring to the Gaza Strip"

Live from Palestine

Jody McIntyre writing from the occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 10 March 2010

Abu Hanin working in his tunnel on the border with Egypt. (Jody McIntyre)

The siege on Gaza is tightening as the Egyptian government continues construction of an underground steel wall at the Rafah border with Gaza to block the tunnel trade. The tunnels, which journalist Robert Fisk has described as “the lung through which Gaza breathes,” are the only means in which most basic goods like food and medicine reach the besieged population in Gaza. Jody McIntyre spoke with Abu Hanin, a Palestinian laborer from Gaza who works in one of the tunnels at the border with Egypt.

Abu Hanin: My name is Abu Hanin, I am 29 years old, from Rafah, on the Palestinian side, and I work in the tunnels. I am married, with five daughters and one son, and my wife is now pregnant with twins, so after that we’ll be ten overall.

Jody McIntyre: Do you talk to your family before you go out to work?

AH: They say to me every morning, “We hope you come back safe and sound,” because they know where I am going out to work. When I leave my wife, I see tears in her eyes, and when I get back, I see happiness. It’s like going out to fight a war, every day.

JM: Why are you working in the tunnels?

AH: Because of the dire situation this is the only work here. There is no way to live but from the tunnels. Every day you leave your home, without guaranteeing that you’ll be back. You’re working while being surrounded by death … you are digging your tomb with your own hands.

JM: How are the tunnels built?

AH: They are all built with our own hands. The tunnels range from 7 to 35 meters in depth. After you dig down, you draw your line to Egypt. You determine the width, usually one to three meters, and the distances, usually a kilometer but sometimes 200 to 300 meters … however you like, you can build it!

JM: What goods do you bring in through the tunnels?

AH: Anything you want, we can bring to the Gaza Strip. Everyone knows about the smuggling that happens here; we smuggle animals, water, cars … and even people, for example, if someone wants to come to get married. I’m serious!

Most of the goods come from al-Arish. You are deemed as a “smuggler” — you are not working at [Israeli-controlled] Erez or Karni crossing, so you are not an official worker, you are a smuggler. So the people in al-Arish bring the goods to the entrance of the tunnel on the Egyptian side, quickly sneak them in, and we bring them over to Gaza.

The tunnels for the cars are so expensive to build, because it has to be three meters wide, [and as tall] as if you are walking in a room. Imagine that you are walking in a room, that is 1.5 kilometers under the ground, and then imagine how much that costs to build.

You may be shocked, but we have brought in camels. Imagine the size of a camel! We put the animal on a sled-like contraption, and it rides into the tunnel down a slope. We have lamps in the tunnel, and every time we turn a lamp off, the animal will walk forward towards the next light, until it reaches the well at the other end. Then we handcuff the animal, and bring it up — this part really is quite perilous … people have lost their legs. Donkeys are the most lethal.

JM: How many tunnels are there overall?

AH: It’s difficult to know exactly … but I’d say around 1,250. It’s funny to think that every stride you take around here, there are different tunnels underneath you!

JM: Isn’t it dangerous to have so many clustered together?

AH: No, on the contrary, it can work to our advantage, because if any sand collapses, we can cross over into a neighboring tunnel. If people get stuck in their tunnel, we can dig across into another tunnel and help them out, otherwise they would suffocate from lack of oxygen. We have learned that oxygen stays for 12 hours in the soil, so after that has passed you need to get out.

JM: What equipment do you have in the tunnels?

AH: We have electricity. Oxygen, we don’t care about so much — now, we are so used to being suffocated all the time, that we don’t like to be up in the open air! We prefer to spend most of our time down in the tunnels. We also have an intercom system so that we can talk with each other, lamps so that we can see and water, tea and instant coffee to drink … it’s like a whole different life under the ground.

JM: Apparently, before the siege of Gaza was tightened in 2006, wages were higher for tunnel laborers?

AH: Yes, that is true. Wages for tunnel laborers have dropped by a third. Now, there is more demand, more tunnels and more laborers. There were tens of tunnels, now there are hundreds, and on top of that thousands of laborers. We work in two shifts, each tunnel needs around 30 workers for the day shift, and another 30 for the night. One shift to take the goods down on one side, and one to drag them up at the other side.

JM: The work must take a lot of energy, so how do the older laborers cope?

AH: All the guys over 35 years of age work at the surface of the tunnels, to collect the goods and transfer them to the vehicles. But underground you need to have young, agile guys. The exit of the tunnel in Egypt is like a bomb; you have to open the trap door, quickly get all the goods in and then close the door as quickly as possible, because if the police see us it would be a complete disaster.

JM: How many people have died working in the tunnels?

AH: Many people have died … every month there are more casualties in the tunnels from Israeli air strikes. We are dealing with fear like a nightmare, a nightmare that rains down on you 24 hours a day. Every day you are working in the tunnels, you are wondering if you will get out alive. Many times the sand has collapsed … death is inevitable from this kind of work.

JM: Is the Egyptian government pressurizing you by building the steel wall?

AH: Of course, but our guys can find a solution. Nothing will prevent us … this is our only source of life!

JM: How will the steel wall affect the tunnels?

AH: The Egyptians are digging underground in order to establish this steel wall. After digging, they pour sand, and then pour iron, making a structure 28 meters in length … it’s the same structures that the Israelis previously built in Gaza. It consists of layers, layer after layer, until it is fixed in the ground. However, the tunnels are not a new project, and many are still not affected, some old men have built cities under this ground.

The thing we are afraid of now is that the Egyptians will supply the iron with electricity, making a lethal electric fence, and add sensors to flood the land below, which would make our mission impossible. The Egyptians are more clever than the Americans and Israelis put together … in order to satisfy them, they will destroy 50 kilometers of land to establish this “electric water pool!”

JM: Will it be easy to penetrate the steel wall?

AH: God willing, because the tunnels were dug by the hands of our ancestors, not us. If they could build these tunnels with their bare hands, then we will not be stopped be a steel wall, we will cut down the wall! Even if they put water, electricity, even if they put human beings down there to stop our tunnels, we will evade them! You know why? Because this is our only source of life left.

JM: Have the tunnels been beneficial for Egyptians?

AH: Very much so … I went there with the owner of this tunnel, and the laborers from Egypt take home $1,000 dollars. Imagine a normal Egyptian makes 5-10 pounds ($1-2) a day from work, and the tunnel workers are making 550 pounds a day. To them it is unbelievable, the tunnels have made them rich. The factories, the shopkeepers … they have all benefited from the tunnels.

There are 80 million Egyptians and we are only 1.5 million, but we have greatly influenced their economy because there is such a high rate of unemployment in Egypt, and each tunnel creates 30 to 50 new jobs.

JM: Would you ever leave this job for alternative employment?

AH: Now, frankly, no. Even if the wages dropped, the tunnel work is in our blood now. Even if there is no work we still go down into the tunnels. We get accustomed to this life.

JM: How do you see your future?

AH: I don’t have a future. As it is, there is no future in Gaza. I go across the entire width of Gaza on my motorcycle in 20 minutes. How can you see a future from within a box of matches? I take my sons from the house to school and back … they are so fed up. We will live and die with the same routine. There are some people who feel afraid of working in the tunnels, so they only have the walls of their home and their UNRWA [the UN agency for Palestine refugees] card to protect them. This is Gaza.

Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom. He writes a blog entitled “Life on Wheels” which can be found at He can be reached at jody [dot] mcintyre [at] gmail [dot] com.
River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

The Jews’ War Against Islam

2/17/2010 05:28:00 PM Reporter: Editor Publisher Hiyam Noir

– Interview with Sarah Al-Massri

By Mohammed Omar Upsala, Sweden
Founder of Anti-Zionist Party, to be officially launched 23 of February.

Edit & Translation Hiyam Noir

February 17 – 2010

Sarah Al-Massri, Lund in Sweden, is an Arabic women, born and raised in Egypt and Lebanon. She is a social pedagog, a practising Muslim, Palestine supporter, and member of the Anti-Zionist party.

MO: Why are you anti-Zionist?

SA: Zionism is a xenophobic ideology which has created many problems in the world. Problems that unfortunately only a few of the world’s governments dare to admit. Zionism is the perfect example of systemic racism in its most repulsive form and the apartheid state of Israel came into being as a result of Zionism. Therefore, also Israel’s legitimacy as a state must seriously be taken into question. The Zionists have been terrorising the Palestinians for over 60 years, without the world doing anything to stop them. The truth is that to justify Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, has deprived the Palestinians of the protection which they are entitled to and which is stated in International Law, Humanitarian Laws and Human Rights Law.It is appalling that it is seen as OK for Israeli occupation forces to be engaged and continue it’s eradication of the Palestinians.To the collective punishment of Palestinians by openly racially discriminate them, expel them from their land and homes by illegal settlements, and commit atrocities against them, it is pure madness.

MO: Do you have personal experience of the occupation?

SA: Even though I live in Sweden I am affected by the occupation. I follow my sisters and brothers constant struggle for survival and feel deep compassion for them. It is quite absurd how people there are denied access to obvious things such as health care, clean drinking water, electricity, education and so on. It is with great sadness I see how so many Palestinians still are forced to live their lives in refugee camps, and that so many Palestinian children have become orphans due to conflict.These realities are difficult emotions for me to handle.

MO: Do you feel as a Muslim that you have a special responsibility to engage in the Palestinian issue?

SA: Not just as a Muslim, but as fellow human being. I can not help thinking about it, if a European country would have to live and suffer under illegal occupation, It is quite obvious Europe and the rest of the world would have reacted immediately. Why then Palestinians, are the Arabs an exception? You can not ignore the fact that it was the Western powers who co-founded Israel and Zionism, without the help of these Western countries, the erection of the Zionist state Israel never would be able to emerge.Is it right that these countries should go free from responsibility? Is it not specifically their obligation to take the blame for what is going on in Palestine today. The Palestinian issue is therefore a global problem and for that reason it requires an international commitment.

MO: What should we do to combat Zionism?

SA: Restrict its power by actively increasing the resistance. By both local and global dissemination of knowledge and facts to others using the network, blogs, etc. Stopping the arms trade and military cooperation with Israel. Stop using Israeli products and call for a boycott of these products.

MO: What is the situation in the vicinity of Malmö? In response to the demonstration against Israel during the Davis World Cup, the tennis competition, did these activities increased the awareness of the Palestinian struggle, and the support of the Swedish and the international anti-Zionist movement?

SA: I think that more people now dare to protest publicly and demonstrate a clear solidarity with the Palestinian people. It is important not to stand passive!

MO: Do you think that Swedish Jews sufficiently have moved away from Zionism and terrorism carried out in their name?

SA: My understanding is that some Jews have actually been expelled from Israel for being critical and supportive of the Palestinians in combating Zionism, however,it is reprehensible that there are still so few Jews who does not condemn Israeli policies, taken a more critical stance regarding the occupation.The Jews are after all our fellow human beings together with the Arabs they should have a moral responsibility to support the Palestinians and condemn the occupation.

MO: Will Palestine be free one day? Are you hopeful?

SA: When the idea of justice and equal rights will take effect, only when the Palestinians and the “peace process” is based upon justice and equal rights for all, then Palestine will be free.

“World Jewish Zionism, today, constitutes the last racist ideology still surviving and the Zionist’s state of Israel, the last outpost of “Apartheid” in the World. Israel constitutes by its mere existence a complete defiance to all international laws, rules and principles, and the open racism manifested in the Jewish State is a violation of all ethics and morals known to Mankind.”

Anti-Sionistiska Partiet – Anti-Zionist Party – لا-للصهيونية

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VIDEO: Lauren Booth interviews Baroness Jenny Tonge on Palestine


 February 12, 2010

 Press TV-Face to Face  –  9 February 2010

Member of the British House of Lords, Baroness Jenny Tonge talks to Lauren Booth about her experiences in Palestine

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 Uprooted Palestinian


Silver Lining

February 2, 2010 at 9:47 am (Gaza, Israel, Occupation, Palestine, War Crimes, zionist harassment)

“Together we can end this occupation”Jody McIntyre writing from Beit Hanoun, occupied Gaza Strip

Saber Zanin volunteering in an orchard. (Beit Hanoun Local Initiative)
The Israeli military recently dropped hundreds of leaflets warning Palestinian residents from the village of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip not to travel within 300 meters of the border — the distance of Israel’s so-called “buffer zone.” In response, local activists marched to and nonviolently demonstrated inside the “buffer zone” against the illegal action. The Electronic Intifada contributor Jody McIntyre recently spoke with demonstration organizer Saber Zanin.

Jody McIntyre: Can you tell us about yourself?

Saber Zanin: My name is Saber Zanin. I am 31 years old, living in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip. I am a Palestinian who loves life, peace, justice and equal rights for all.
I come from a poor family, around 20 of us in all, from Beit Hanoun. In November 2006, our house, the house I lived in my whole life, was completely destroyed by Israeli air strikes, and then by a tank which came to finish the job. We don’t know why they chose to target our home, but this is an example of the collective punishment we face living in Gaza.
I had the idea to create a group of volunteers, to work together in the local community, to resist Israel’s occupation through nonviolent methods, and to encourage others to do the same. In September 2007, the “Local Initiative” was formed. Rather than relying on governmental institutions or foreign agencies, we work in a personal capacity, and rely on ourselves for everything we need. Altogether the group now consists of around 60 young men and women, from 17-35 years of age, and although we have no political affiliation, we all agree on socialist principles of helping those most in need, and on each individual’s freedom to express their own views.
The group works with all sections of society: women, children, people with disabilities and teenagers. In particular, we give priority to the farmers and residents working and living in the so-called “buffer zone.” As a group, we visit the residents and offer them aid brought by charities to Gaza (although this is small in amount, and limited in effect) for nothing in return, and we accompany the farmers who continue to work on their land, despite regularly being shot at by the Israeli military for doing so. We also work with the young kids in their area, taking them presents, playing games with them and making parties for them, as well as practicalities such as not going out onto the street in certain areas.
The people living in the “buffer zone” are the foundation of the Local Initiative. If there are any farmers who want help working on their land, we will go to help them. We have also organized protests against Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank and the “buffer zone.”
We are always looking for ways to encourage others to join us in our popular resistance against the occupation, and as part of this we try to teach the local community about the human rights they possess: the right to freedom of expression, the right to live freely, the right to an education, to work, to health care, and to a home. We want people to know about their rights so that when they are taken away from them, they will fight for them.

JM: As someone who used to participate in armed resistance against the occupation, what made you adopt nonviolent resistance?

SZ: Any occupied people have the right to resist, and Palestinians are occupied by the Israelis. It is our fundamental right to resist against this occupation. I used to participate in armed resistance, but armed resistance isn’t everything. I am convinced that popular resistance, and protesting against the occupation through nonviolent methods, can actually achieve more than armed resistance, by gaining the sympathy and support for our struggle from people around the world. When we go to protest against Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank, as they do in the villages of Bilin and Nilin, and now here in Beit Hanoun in Gaza as well, we have international activists marching with us, and the whole world is watching. Our demonstrations are nonviolent, so the Israeli army has no excuse to shoot at us and to kill us. I believe that this is one of the noblest ways of protesting against the occupation.
Last week, the Israeli military dropped hundreds of leaflets near the “buffer zone,” instructing residents not to go within 300 meters of the border. We reject this illegal de facto land grab, and in response organized a march to the “buffer zone” on Monday [11 January]. The march was under the slogan: “With popular resistance, we challenge the decisions of the Israeli occupiers.” We protested against the occupation through nonviolent means.
We will now be marching to the “buffer zone” every Monday. We will not be intimidated by the Israeli army’s threat, and we will never give up until the occupation is over.

JM: How can people living abroad support your struggle?

SZ: As we move into the new year, the Local Initiative is in urgent need of funds, in order to continue supporting the families living in the “buffer zone,” and to purchase materials in order to document the ongoing crimes of the Israeli occupation forces.
We truly hope that activists from around the world will support us. They could also write in the media against Israel’s crimes, organize demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy — some governments have even expelled the Israeli ambassador! In the UK an arrest warrant was issued for Tzipi Livni for the war crimes she committed against the people of Gaza, and this should serve as an inspiration for others to follow. Together, we can end this occupation.

Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in Beit Lahiya in the occupied Gaza Strip. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled “Life on Wheels,” which can be found at To contact Jody, and for more information about the Local Initiative, email jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com.

River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

"A different kind of occupation": an interview with Elia Suleiman

The Electronic Intifada, 
Sabah Haider, The Electronic Intifada, 1 February 2010
River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

Elia Suleiman (Sabah Haider)

Nazareth-born filmmaker Elia Suleiman is one of the darlings of Cannes and stands out from the pack of contemporary Palestinian filmmakers for his unique style of filmmaking based on sewing together a series vignettes, silence — an emphasis on visual storytelling versus dialogue, and deadpan comedy found in often grim humor in the lives of everyday people living under the tyranny of what he calls a “pathetic occupation.”

Suleiman’s latest film, The Time That Remains (2009), which premiered at the last Cannes Film Festival, marks the end of what has been described as his “Palestinian film trilogy,” beginning with Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996); the much-acclaimed Divine Intervention (2002) which was Palestine’s official submission to the Academy Awards that year (but denied entry because “Palestine is not a country” — although the following year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reneged and accepted it as a submission from the “Palestinian Authority”); and concluding with The Time That Remains. The Time That Remains broke the French box office’s top ten list last summer and has garnered much acclaim on the festival circuit. The Electronic Intifada contributor Sabah Haider interviewed Elia Suleiman and discussed a broad range of topics from his new film to the human experience and the quest for justice in this world.

Sabah Haider: The title of your new film is The Time That Remains. How would you explain the title; time is running out for what?

Elia Suleiman: I would say that the title is a warning sign. I cannot say that the time is running out — I don’t have authority over time. I can say that it’s a warning sign about a certain feel of the experience that we, whoever we are, might be living. The Time That Remains is a sense of my feeling, I feel it might be the feelings of others — it’s a warning sign regarding a global situation.

SH: What warning are you communicating?

ES: Of things running out. Of time running out. Of the fact that maybe it’s already too late. From the melting ice to the cleansing of any form of justice.

SH: Is the Arab-Israeli conflict is a microcosm of this?

ES: Yes, I used to use exactly that saying. Yes you could, if you want, definitely one keeps on rephrasing. Now I see that we have gone a step further. In my opinion I think that this microcosm is everywhere, so I don’t know if the microcosm of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a reflection of the world, or if the world is a microcosm of Palestine.

There is a microcosm everywhere of every conflict, every centimeter that we are now traveling. I do not believe that there is one microcosm to reflect the world, because every place in the world has become a microcosm of its own conflict.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is the world’s conflict and vice-versa, so I don’t know what is a microcosm of what anymore, because globally, Palestine has multiplied and generated into so many Palestines. Because I feel if you go to Peru, you will find Palestine in a grave state there too.

SH: Are you referring to the fragmented Diaspora?

ES: I’m not talking about Palestinians. I’m talking about all conflicts and all regressions and all pollutions and the [global economic] crash, and globalization. In fact, The Time That Remains is not at all a metaphor of Palestine. Not at all.

SH: Is the Arab-Israeli conflict a symbol of the degeneration of society?

ES: I’m not saying anything about the Arab-Israeli conflict, see what I mean? I do not make a film in order to talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict. In fact, the phrase the Arab-Israeli conflict does not even belong in my dictionary — at all. I only reflect and sponge and experience, and that happens to be as a Palestinian Diasporic — or everyday reality. An occupation of some sorts. A different kind of an occupation. An occupation of the geography of Palestine, and an occupation of the souls of those who live there.

This is a reality that is being experienced everywhere in the world, and not necessarily just Palestinians. I’m saying it’s an experience that can be identified with everywhere in the world. We live in a place called “the globe” today that has a multiplicity of experiences in it. My films do not talk about Palestine necessarily. They are Palestine because I am from that place — I reflect my experience, but in identification with all the Palestines that exist. The word “Arab-Israeli conflict” is alien to me in terms of the poetics of the word. I don’t think my film is about that altogether.

SH: Can you explain your view that Palestine represents all of the conflicts of the world?

ES: I think there is an identification. Look, when you are an artist, you should have faith that first of all your experience is not local; it is a universal experience. That’s one. When you compose an image you should never think about the boundaries of that image. But should this image exist in one locale, it should transgress the boundaries of that locale. So that means that if an Uruguayan is watching my film, and has an identification with the story of Fouad in the film, then this is where I believe I have traveled an experience, a universality of some sort, which I think cinema is up for. So this is not about molding or summing up an experience located in Palestine. This is about all the experiences that can be conceptually, Palestinian-ally, called so.

When I make a film, I do not have any impulse, when I’m composing an image, of raising the consciousness of the world about Palestine. If, by de facto, the spectator feels an identification to the story of Palestine, that is when I’ll be achieving something. And if they go home and change a certain something to the better of the world, in their own locale, then they have been in my opinion, I would say, very pro-Palestinian.

If they took pleasure when watching the film, and went home and had a kind of positivity or an intuition or desire to aestheticize their dinner table, they have, as far as I’m concerned, went a step further to becoming pro-Palestinian. I will not even believe that if they went and started to demonstrate, that this would be an achievement for me. I think each individual, when they watch a film of mine, that when it will be flattering me is when they have certain impulses of a positive construction, of a better life of their own. As individuals, and as communities, and that is for me then, a pro-Palestinian experience.

The term “Palestinian cinema” is not just used to describe the films made by Palestinian filmmakers, but it’s now used describe films that represent a Palestinian perspective. I don’t know what that is. What is a Palestinian perspective?

SH: Contemporary films that tell of Palestinian experiences — would you say these films construct a national identity for the fragmented Diaspora?

ES: Certainly not mine. Personally, I do not adhere to Palestinian national identity. I may adhere to an identification, but not an identity. The experience of my films do not construct or adhere to what an identity can be defined as. Expulsion? Expulsion is shared by so many histories. A kuffiyeh? A kuffiyeh became a political symbol in intifada times. Some cynics might have been right in defining a counter-effect to an occupation.

Look at who actually constructs national identities in the world — not necessarily those who are under occupation, but those who are into occupation. Take for example, Israel, who even goes to steal the falafel to make that part of their national identity. What is the force behind that sort of pathetic, obsessive search for any form of a national identity in Israel? More occupation? Definitely. More expansion. Definitely. First it was the falafel, then it became the hummus. I think they’re absolutely pathetic.

Why do we have to run after what is by de facto part of our culture — food or embroidery or kuffiyehs — and why do we have to overemphasize dancing dabke as if this symbolizes that the land is ours, but simply beating it? I do not believe in those things. If there was to be any such thing as a national identity with an identification of that, I think then I would say it has to be so elastic it would never have to be within any static borders.

Because if we start to say that “this is us, until here, and the rest is them or other” that means we have put ourselves into our own ghetto and nailed ourselves to the ground, while if our national identity is expansive in terms of the seduction and pleasure of being others, then our national identity can enhance so much of the world’s experience.

I said it a long time ago — if, for the sake of strategy, and only if, I would be fighting today in sympathy of the Palestinian people to have an independent state, what does that mean? Am I such a lover of any kind of statehood? Do I so much admire any kind of police force, government and institutionalized powers? It is only so that the Israeli tank leaves the doorsteps of the school where the children are entering. Why a state, then? Why raise a flag? Only because it’s a symbol of the freedom that the Palestinians are trying to attain.

Lets say that the Palestinian state raised the flag, it built the borders, and we had a certain amount of freedom, a certain amount of less oppression — what if this state is not necessarily the kind of state we’d adhere to, in terms of justice and democracy, even though it achieved a liberation of some sort? Will I still be supporting a Palestinian state? No I will not. If it becomes another oppressive authority, I will be fighting it nonetheless. I will be fighting to lower the flag. In fact I said once, if this is one strategy, I will be fighting until the flag has risen. But then I will be fighting to lower that flag again, because I do not believe — nor in flags, nor in linear identities. I believe in multiplicities of and diversities of cultures. So I am not for a two state solution. I never had compassion for this sort of idea. Not only that, but the fact that politically, socially, humanly, morally, it’s not just.

SH: Your films focus on a loss of hope and of melancholy resignation. Do they represent a loss of hope that exists within the Palestinian community, both under occupation and in the Diaspora?

ES: I think by de facto, that the very act of the making of a film, is an act emerging from hope. So questions that surround hopelessness are in contradiction to the actual fact that there is a film. If I was hopeless, I would not have made a film entitled The Time That Remains, so I don’t think that this question applies to my being, because I think that there is hope. There is only hope. Otherwise I wouldn’t be making films. I’m not in a post-apocalypse ambience. We’re not sitting with … gas masks.

The Time That Remains is a kind of warning about the regression of the status quo, or the regression of the state of things. You warn because there is hope. And when you compose an aesthetic image, the pleasure is not morbid. I’m not living in a ghostly ambience. It is based in only hope. I can tell you at the same time that the space of this form of reflexivity, of meditation of pleasure, of the positivity to destabilize the authorities that are aggressing [against] us; those who want any form of a better life is shrinking. We are not necessarily winning. We are only trying to arrest the regression, unfortunately. And the powers that are trying to shrink our aspiration for democracy are greater than our imagination.

SH: Of the films being made today that propel a counter Israeli perspective, do you feel they construct an efficient form of resistance?

ES: Are there works of art that form this form of resistance? Like my films? I think Palestinians are included, at the forefront, having to face the everyday reality of occupation and oppression. And still be able to, actually, with so little space and so little possibility, to express themselves aesthetically, they are definitely at the forefront. I don’t think they’re so particularly special in the aesthetic department. I think the total sum of aesthetic attempts everywhere, participate in the liberation of Palestine as well as the liberation of all occupations.

SH: So do you believe Palestinian cinema is a form of resistance?

ES: Not necessarily just Palestinian, but I think that cinema, a certain cinema, is a form of resistance. Especially when it is the habitat of a certain moral questioning; of a certain place and pleasure and inspiration of a certain democratic framing, it becomes a form of resistance evidently. The fact that we are trying, we are crossing the boundaries and transgressing these boundaries, we are also trying to communicate to others a form of resistance to stop the regression by itself — by de facto. Palestinian cinema, the term must be used precisely — because it can be used by our adversaries in order to lock us in. What’s the use? We know we are Palestinians.

SH: What is your opinion on cultural boycott? Do you support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel?

ES: I really started to have a process of self-evaluation and of defining and redefining this word … I see a lot of justice in the academic boycott in the historic moment that it is happening vis-a-vis what Israel has been doing lately. I think this is definitely an interesting move and an interesting [course of] action … It has destabilized the institution of Zionist practice somewhere, because really they are so obnoxious, the Israelis — the Israeli institution and the government. … I [do] have a problem with boycotts of anything, any time, when it starts to kill the good, the bad and the ugly. And this is the problem that I have been facing with some of these boycotts — not the academic one, by the way, because for some reason I have felt there is a lot more thought and strategy [in it] — and I have been in dialogue with some of the pioneers of this boycott, and I have discussed with them, what I would consider my reservations about it.

Sabah Haider is a Canadian journalist and filmmaker based in Beirut. She can be reached at sabafhaider A T gmail D O T com.

"Together we can end this occupation"

Jody McIntyre writing from Beit Hanoun, occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 29 January 2010

Saber Zanin volunteering in an orchard. (Beit Hanoun Local Initiative)

The Israeli military recently dropped hundreds of leaflets warning Palestinian residents from the village of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip not to travel within 300 meters of the border — the distance of Israel’s so-called “buffer zone.” In response, local activists marched to and nonviolently demonstrated inside the “buffer zone” against the illegal action. The Electronic Intifada contributor Jody McIntyre recently spoke with demonstration organizer Saber Zanin.

Jody McIntyre: Can you tell us about yourself?

Saber Zanin: My name is Saber Zanin. I am 31 years old, living in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip. I am a Palestinian who loves life, peace, justice and equal rights for all.

I come from a poor family, around 20 of us in all, from Beit Hanoun. In November 2006, our house, the house I lived in my whole life, was completely destroyed by Israeli air strikes, and then by a tank which came to finish the job. We don’t know why they chose to target our home, but this is an example of the collective punishment we face living in Gaza.

I had the idea to create a group of volunteers, to work together in the local community, to resist Israel’s occupation through nonviolent methods, and to encourage others to do the same. In September 2007, the “Local Initiative” was formed. Rather than relying on governmental institutions or foreign agencies, we work in a personal capacity, and rely on ourselves for everything we need. Altogether the group now consists of around 60 young men and women, from 17-35 years of age, and although we have no political affiliation, we all agree on socialist principles of helping those most in need, and on each individual’s freedom to express their own views.

The group works with all sections of society: women, children, people with disabilities and teenagers. In particular, we give priority to the farmers and residents working and living in the so-called “buffer zone.” As a group, we visit the residents and offer them aid brought by charities to Gaza (although this is small in amount, and limited in effect) for nothing in return, and we accompany the farmers who continue to work on their land, despite regularly being shot at by the Israeli military for doing so. We also work with the young kids in their area, taking them presents, playing games with them and making parties for them, as well as practicalities such as not going out onto the street in certain areas.

The people living in the “buffer zone” are the foundation of the Local Initiative. If there are any farmers who want help working on their land, we will go to help them. We have also organized protests against Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank and the “buffer zone.”

We are always looking for ways to encourage others to join us in our popular resistance against the occupation, and as part of this we try to teach the local community about the human rights they possess: the right to freedom of expression, the right to live freely, the right to an education, to work, to health care, and to a home. We want people to know about their rights so that when they are taken away from them, they will fight for them.

JM: As someone who used to participate in armed resistance against the occupation, what made you adopt nonviolent resistance?

SZ: Any occupied people have the right to resist, and Palestinians are occupied by the Israelis. It is our fundamental right to resist against this occupation. I used to participate in armed resistance, but armed resistance isn’t everything. I am convinced that popular resistance, and protesting against the occupation through nonviolent methods, can actually achieve more than armed resistance, by gaining the sympathy and support for our struggle from people around the world. When we go to protest against Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank, as they do in the villages of Bilin and Nilin, and now here in Beit Hanoun in Gaza as well, we have international activists marching with us, and the whole world is watching. Our demonstrations are nonviolent, so the Israeli army has no excuse to shoot at us and to kill us. I believe that this is one of the noblest ways of protesting against the occupation.

Last week, the Israeli military dropped hundreds of leaflets near the “buffer zone,” instructing residents not to go within 300 meters of the border. We reject this illegal de facto land grab, and in response organized a march to the “buffer zone” on Monday [11 January]. The march was under the slogan: “With popular resistance, we challenge the decisions of the Israeli occupiers.” We protested against the occupation through nonviolent means.

We will now be marching to the “buffer zone” every Monday. We will not be intimidated by the Israeli army’s threat, and we will never give up until the occupation is over.

JM: How can people living abroad support your struggle?

SZ: As we move into the new year, the Local Initiative is in urgent need of funds, in order to continue supporting the families living in the “buffer zone,” and to purchase materials in order to document the ongoing crimes of the Israeli occupation forces.

We truly hope that activists from around the world will support us. They could also write in the media against Israel’s crimes, organize demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy — some governments have even expelled the Israeli ambassador! In the UK an arrest warrant was issued for Tzipi Livni for the war crimes she committed against the people of Gaza, and this should serve as an inspiration for others to follow. Together, we can end this occupation.

Jody McIntyre is a journalist from the United Kingdom, currently living in Beit Lahiya in the occupied Gaza Strip. Jody has cerebral palsy, and travels in a wheelchair. He writes a blog for Ctrl.Alt.Shift, entitled “Life on Wheels,” which can be found at To contact Jody, and for more information about the Local Initiative, email jody.mcintyre AT gmail DOT com.
River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

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