Sunday, March 7, 2010

Link Round Up: Israeli Apartheid Week Edition

Israeli Apartheid Week gets a lot of coverage elsewhere so I didn't focus on it this year but I thought I'd do a link round up that covered some of the themes and events around the occupation in the last year. This is by no means comprehensive, and some of these links are a few months old, but I thought taken together they paint a picture of the current arguments against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

1) Pushing the boundaries of identity: an interview with Jennifer Jajeh

Electronic Intfifada (ei) has published a great interview with actress, playwright and performer Jennifer Jajeh about her one-woman show I Heart Hamas and Other Things I am Afraid to Tell You, which premiered at the New York Fringe Festival in 2008. Jajeh has subsequently performed her show all over the United States and ei contributor Uda Olabarria Walker interviewed her before a Minneapolis performance. The interview is really interesting but I was particularly taken with the eloquent way Jajeh addresses the -- internal and external-- pressures on how she identifies and represents herself.

Jennifer Jajeh says, "I grew up with a split life, half Palestinian and half American --where the two identities were very separate -- to becoming an adult and combining the two. It wasn't until I went to Palestine that I really figured out what it meant for me to be Palestinian on a personal level and what part of that identity felt vital for me. As far as becoming radicalized, it first had to do with pure anger at what I experienced on the ground in Palestine, but now it's about challenging the status quo both externally and within the Palestinian community about what it means to be Palestinian and raising the difficult questions. It was also really important for me to claim my space as a Palestinian woman and look into what it means to be a woman in my community and what the role of women is in the struggle inside and outside that space. So, part of becoming radicalized was also about being a Palestinian woman who openly challenges my own community's ideas about women's roles, sexual mores and religious affiliations and divides. This has been really liberating... The second half of the show is about me coming to terms with the political part of my identity when I go back to Ramallah at the beginning of the second [Palestinian] intifada. But still, the politics are not the only thing that defines me as a Palestinian. There are a variety of Palestinian experiences and if I can get people to sit down and listen to just one of them for an hour and a half, I see it as a major accomplishment. If I have been able to create the space for people to explore the complexity of identity, I have also done well. This is what I'm trying to do with the show; explore identity and raise questions, not push a political agenda."

Of course, I'd argue that raising questions about identity, especially in an Arab/American context-- and extra-especially in relation to the Intifada, is a political agenda in the best sense. But I understand and agree with Jajeh's larger point: it is exhausting to have to always deal with the reduction of your entire identity to an image defined by other people's political notions.

For more information about Jennifer Jajeh and I Heart Hamas check out her website.

It's Not about Islam & Judaism, It's About Anti-Colonialism, Territory, Liberation, and Lives

Washington Note has published a guest note by journalist and Middle East expert Nir Rosen, responding to the "outrageous oped by Efraim Karsh" in the February 28th Sunday New York Times. It is incredibly frustrating to read the usual fear mongering in the overwhelming majority of the mainstream press about Palestine/Israel... and the Karsh Op Ed rehearses most of the usual Zionist "lies, distortions and mistakes" on the topic. Which is why Rosen's response is so minty fresh in its perfect directness.

Rosen writes, "Karsh mentions some sort of '100-year war between Arabs and Jews.' There is no 100 year war between Arabs and Jews. There is a 100 year colonial struggle between Zionist Jews and the Palestinian people (and briefly the Lebanese as well).

He hopes that the 'Islamic nation can make peace with the idea of Jewish statehood in the House of Islam.' Its not about Jewish statehood in the house of Islam.

Its about Zionist Jewish settlers dispossessing the Palestinians and occupying Palestinian land. And killing Palestinians. Its not a religious conflict. Its a territorial one, an anti-colonial one, a national liberation struggle, even if the discourse used these days to describe it is often religious.

'Muslim states threaten Israel's existence not so much out of concern for the Palestinians, but rather as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the House of Islam,' he says. He is lying. Who is he talking about? Iran?

Even if that was a real threat and not merely grandstanding, who else is there? the Saudis, the Turks, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and others all collaborate with Israel. Syria?

Hardly a threat and eager for peace as long as it can regain the occupied Golan heights. And the Israeli police force could conquer Syria in a few hours. Hizballah? Not a state and not trying to destroy Israel but merely protect Lebanese territory.

Hizballah threatens a bloody revenge if Israel attacks Lebanon, but that's it. And he is also lying when he says that Muslim states believe in some kind of holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the house of Islam. Which Muslim state? Nobody talks like this or says these things... Karsh is a third rate academic who clearly has not visited much of the "Muslim World" about which he writes with generalizations, clichés, racism, Orientalism and a right wing pro Israeli agenda."

Um, word.

3) Palestine-- The View from South Africa

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign has reprinted an essay by Alain Gresh from Le Monde Diplomatique, which is unfortunately only available to subscribers. On the occasion of the 2009 Israeli assault on Gaza Gresh explores the historical connections between Apartheid South Africa and Israel. He writes, " The bedrock of the relationship between the two countries was in the first instance economic, under the aegis of the Histadrut (the 'socialist' trade union congress), which controlled a significant part of the Israeli economy during the 1970s and 1980s. Through the Hevrat Haovdim company, it enjoyed a quasi-monopoly over trade with South Africa. The kibbutzim played a part too: the Lohamei Hagetot ('fighters of the ghetto') kibbutz, founded by Jews from eastern Europe who had fought the Nazis, ran the Kama chemical plant in the Kwazulu Bantustan.

When it came to the military and security, the alliance between the two countries took on a strategic dimension. Israel helped South Africa become a nuclear power.

The Israeli military attaché in Pretoria was a high-ranking officer who was a member of the General Staff Forum (the only other Israeli military attaché to hold such high rank was based in Washington). Israeli arms were manufactured under license in South Africa... (And) Brigadier 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel, the main interrogator in the Rivonia trial of 1964 at which Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment, was a regular guest of the Israelis in the 1970s. Swanepoel, who set up the counter-insurrection squads in Namibia, was known as the 'beast of Soweto' for the way in which he crushed the revolt in the township leading to the loss of hundreds of lives. Uri Dan, meanwhile, a journalist and adviser to Ariel Sharon, proclaimed his admiration for the South African army."

4) Tutu to Haaretz: Arabs Paying the Price of the Holocaust

Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar reported on Tutu's response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement in Germany last August that "the lesson of the Holocaust is that Israel should always defend itself." Tutu responded to this assertion, which justifies the occupation of Palestine (among other things ::cough::) saying, "in South Africa, they tried to get security from the barrel of a gun. They never got it. They got security when the human rights of all were recognized and respected."

Eldar writes, quoting the Nobel Prize laureate, " He said the West was consumed with guilt and regret toward Israel because of the Holocaust, 'as it should be... But who pays the penance? The penance is being paid by the Arabs, by the Palestinians. I once met a German ambassador who said Germany is guilty of two wrongs. One was what they did to the Jews. And now the suffering of the Palestinians.'

He also slammed Jewish organizations in the United States, saying they intimidate anyone who criticizes the occupation and rush to accuse these critics of anti-Semitism. Tutu recalled how such organizations pressured U.S. universities to cancel his appearances on their campuses. (Tutu said) 'That is unfortunate, because my own positions are actually derived from the Torah. You know God created you in God's image. And we have a God who is always biased in favor of the oppressed... (Under Apartheid black South Africans) used to take our children in Swaziland and had to go through border checkpoints in South Africa and face almost the same conduct, where you're at the mercy of a police officer. They can decide when they're going to process you and they can turn you back for something inconsequential. But on the other hand, we didn't have collective punishment. We didn't have the demolition of homes because of the suspicion that one of the members of the household might or might not be a terrorist...

(Tutu concluded) I hope your society will evolve."

5) Taher Herzallah: Heckling Israeli ambassador at UCI was right

The Orange County Register published this op ed by Taher Herzallah, the University of California at Riverside student who was among the protesters who booed the Israeli Ambassador when he spoke at UCI. Herzallah, who grew up in Gaza, writes, "I know the pain of Israel's brutal military tactics firsthand. Three members of my immediate family were killed in Gaza last year during 'Operation Cast Lead,' in which more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,300 wounded. Since then, Israel has launched a massive propaganda campaign to transform its image from a war machine to a victimized democracy. Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, represents the face of this campaign.

During his recent appearance at UC Irvine, I took a stand against Oren and the brutal state he represents. I spoke out well within the bounds of my right to free speech and in the peaceful, nonviolent manner adopted by the likes of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since that day, I, along with the other protestors, have been dubbed by the media as the 'Irvine 11'... Time and again, hecklers and protestors have been afforded their full First Amendment right of freedom of speech, including at UCI. I cherish this American tradition and am consequently troubled that I am not afforded the same protections as students elsewhere voicing their dissent. Today, I face criminal and university disciplinary action. I suspect that I am being punished because of strict limits on pro-Palestinian speech."

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