Friday, May 14, 2004


The Meaning of Nakba

Azmi Bishara (an Israeli Arab MK) takes a really fascinating look at the effects of the Nakba (or 1948 catastrophe for Palestinians) on Palestinian society and the Arab world in general in Al-Ahram (May 15 is Nakba Day). The article is very, very, very long, but Bishara really lays out how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drives politics throughout the Arab world:
For the Arabs, the Palestinian cause has acquired a symbolic power of unimaginable scope. It is the cause that justifies demonstrations in nations in which hunger is not sufficient grounds for protest and in which the only solace against tyranny is to pull out one's hair. Only the Palestinian cause has the power to become a rallying call for all Arabs; that is, when the Palestinians decide to confront oppression by themselves. Then, the lines of right and wrong are clear and sharp, sharp enough to cleave those furrows in the arid desert of Arab political life into which can be poured all those frustrations, all that resentment, all those grievances against injustice, whether that injustice is local in origin and projected abroad or taking place abroad but making things too uncomfortable at home. The Arab faith in the Palestinian cause is such that it has come to represent all usurped Arab rights.

Also, finally I find somebody who articulates something similar to how I feel about the right of refugees to return.
Perhaps now is the time to take a look at the self- deception that the Palestinian national liberation movement has exercised throughout the period in which it has focused on the two-state solution, one Arab and one Jewish. Oddly, the Palestinian liberation movement is also adamant upon the right of return of Palestinian refugees to these two states, as though the hyphen in the formula of the "two-state solution" is sufficient to justify the logical leap. There is no way to secure the Palestinian right of return to a Jewish state through a negotiating process since it is inconceivable that the Jewish state would approve. The Palestinian liberation movement must make up its mind whether the creation of a Palestinian state without the right to return constitutes a historical settlement, as long as the state retains sovereignty over Al-Aqsa Mosque and as long as it has the right to accept Palestinian refugees within its own borders, or grant them passports and citizenship. But if it does make this concession, it will find that it will also be making concessions on the borders of 4 June 1967, on East Jerusalem and on Israeli withdrawal from the settlement complexes.

Simply put, I do not think that Israel would even dream of conceding the right of refugees to return to Jaffa or Haifa or Acre in the current situation. I think the right of return for refugees should not even be on the negotiating table right now. The establishment of a Palestinian state that would establish peaceful and positive relations with Israel would do the most to help the dreams of refugees to return to their homes inside Israel. Having it be one of the final status issues right now really only seems to be an obstacle to a peace settlement which in turn is an obstacle to the right of return. Of course normally, as a non-Palestinian & non-refugee, I can't say these kinds of things.

Thursday, May 13, 2004


The Expectation of Torture

An interesting article in The Guardian about the Orientalist expectations of Iraqis and the US policy-makers and soldiers sent to invade and occupy Iraq and confine and interrogate Iraqis. The main point being that from US policy makers down to the privates who were charged with "loosening up" Iraqi prisoners, Americans went into Iraq with the Orientalist mindset of feminizing and infantilizing the Iraqi people. And Iraqis, no strangers to being on the receiving side of Western constructs about what the Middle East is all about, were hardly shocked to find these attitudes played out in Abu Ghraib. As either an addition or a counter-argument, in a lecture by Dr. Rashid Khalidi I attended yesterday, Dr. Khalidi pointed out that one reason that the Iraqis were not shocked by the news of abuses in Abu Ghraib was not because they expected it, but by the time it was leaked to the US news media it was old news in Iraq. They had experienced it, or witnessed it, or had a brother, uncle, cousin, son, friend that had experienced it or witnessed it first hand.

I believe Jonathan Raban's evaluation can very clearly be seen manifested in the current outcry against "making a big deal" over these abuses. After all, if the US is only doing what is natural, what makes sense for us to do to the Iraqis, then what is everybody yapping about? A letter in the Washington Post today said that the reader was "outraged" by President Bush's apology. After all, nobody apologized for desecrating the bodies of Americans in Fallujah; nobody is going to apologize for the brutal killing of Nick Berg. An apology is needed when the Orientalist roles are reversed, not when the US is acting them out in Iraq.


Master Plans?

In his Settlements and Master Plans column in today's Washington Post, Richard Cohen writes of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel: "There is nothing wrong with Ariel that a mere shift in location would not fix." This view of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza whitewashes serious matters that are at the essence of what is "wrong" with the settlements. What could be wrong, Cohen asks, with a city that has clean streets, crisp air, and wireless internet? The fact that Palestinian homes and land were confiscated, in violation of international law one might add, farm lands ruined, trees uprooted, the fact that the settlements recieve and use disproportionate levels of the scarce water resources in the West Bank, the fact that in the name of security for the settlements Palestinians are highly restricted in their movements by roadblocks and closures, the destruction of roads available to Palestinians and the construction of roads reserved only for Jews. "It is easy enough to call the effect 'apartheid,' but to residents of Ariel and indeed much of Israel," Cohen writes of the Jewish-only roads, "it is tantamount to merely locking your door at night." The paralyzing effects on Palestinian society be damned, if a brutal form of institutionalized racism helps the residents of Ariel and indeed much of Israel sleep a bit easier at night who could argue with that? The fact that occupation has become such a fundamental part of much of Israeli society that it is tantamount to locking the door at night is a sad reflection on the state of affairs.

Unfortunately, the "solution" to the "problem" of Ariel's location that settlers, and the pro-settlement Likud government of Ariel Sharon, has devised is just as toxic. Instead of "shifting" the location of Ariel to put it inside Israel proper, Israel has undertaken the process of "shifting" Israel to fit it around Ariel. This is happening through the continued building and expanding of settlements in the West Bank, the construction of the separation barrier through the West Bank, and now has the blessing of the United States with George W. Bush's letter of assurances to Prime Minister Sharon. Cohen is right when he writes that most people think of the settlements as shabby hill-top outposts rather than the sprawling concrete cities they are. A change in thinking is needed: not that these settlements are actually permanent, but that they are viewed as such by the settlers who live in them and the Israeli governments that build them, and that these parties are working hard to make them so.

My major problem with Cohen's column is that it reduces the settlement issue to the grounds of opposing extremist groups: Jewish and Christian religious zealots on one side and dedicated Palestinian terrorists on the other. Totally disregarded by Cohen are the majority of Palestinians who face an unbearable Israeli occupation of settlements and Israeli military installations to provide them with "security".

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