Tag Archives: middle-east

A vision of peace without imagination: Trump’s deal

By Norma Musih and Jon Simons

The proposal of peace plans, for Israel-Palestine or anywhere, are opportunities for political imagination. Even when all that is imagined is the cessation of hostilities, peace plans embody a remarkable human capacity to picture a situation that does not yet exist, to compare it favorably with the current situation, and to act towards making real the vision of a better future. Who could disagree that the people of Israel and Palestine deserve a better future in which they are not condemned “to live by the sword”, in which they can live in security, prosperity and the fulfillment of their human rights? The drafting of peace plans is a crucial step towards diplomatic negotiations and reconciliation of combatants. The Trump plan casts itself as such an act of political imagination, as a “Vision for Peace, Prosperity and a Brighter Future” which people should read so they can “imagine how its concepts will actually dramatically improve their lives,” and which will be the basis for a future peace agreement.

The Trump “deal of the century” has rightly been condemned as a fake peace plan for Israel-Palestine by many potential participants in the peace process. Trump’s initiative is not the first intervention by a western power seeking to “bring peace to the middle east” on behalf of the Palestinian people. The colonial roots of such efforts can be traced from the Balfour declaration to the Oslo agreements. Palestinian official and popular rejection came quickly, including demonstrations in the West Bank. On Saturday February 1st 2020 Israeli anti-occupation groups rallied in Tel Aviv under the banner “Yes to a peace agreement; No to an annexation deal,” in response to the Israeli’s government’s interpretation of the plan that it had been given a green light to annex the Jordan Valley and the settlements in the West Bank by the Trump administration. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem condemned the proposal for a Palestinian “state” comprised of fragmented enclaves as apartheid, like the South African Bantu states.

Trump plan map
Proposed map of Trump peace plan

Certainly, the most appalling failure of the vision is that it has been conceived in the absence of Palestinians. This is also a failure of the imagination. Hannah Arendt conceived of political imagination as the relationships that emerge among people who can envision each other’s points of view. Famously, in her 1963 report on the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, she faulted him not with being an evil monster but with a “lack of imagination,” an inability to imagine himself in the place of the others whom he sent to the concentration camps. The authors of the Trump plan, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, are guilty of such lack of imagination.

Nowhere in the plan is this lack of imagination more shocking than its scant and biased treatment of refugees. While acknowledging that the conflict is about refugees as much as territory and security, it sets up a false equivalence between the Palestinian refugees who have “suffered over the past 70 years” and the “similar number of Jewish refugees [who] were expelled from Arab lands.” No mention of Palestinians being expelled by Israel, of the Nakba, of the systematic erasure of Palestinian presence in what became Israel. No mention of the systematic discrimination faced by Jews from Arab lands in Israel, which promised to be their national home. The plan claims to seek a “just, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue” but it flagrantly denies the “right of return” established in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Par. 13, Section 2: “Every person has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.” Palestinians must renounce not only their individual and collective right to return to their former homes in Israel according to the Trump deal, but also accept that Israeli security concerns will trump (pun intended) their right to return to what would become Palestine. The failure of imagination is enormous, as if people have no attachment to home, as if the violent loss of home can be bartered away by a financial compensation scheme under US control.

Arendt’s condemnation of Eichmann’s lack of imagination was controversial, as if she were being dismissive of the enormity of his crimes. Those criticisms missed the point of her claim about the banality of evil, about how such a horrendous event as the Holocaust happened not because of deep evil intentions but because of thoughtlessness, the failure to imagine oneself in the shoes of another. The Trump deal is banal because of its lack of imagination. And if it is imposed on the Palestinians, who can not accept it without ceasing to be a people with rights, it will be as disastrous for them as the disaster – the Nakba – which has already befallen them. Moreover, it will be disastrous also for Jewish Israelis. Not only will they be condemned to be perpetrators of an increasingly apartheid regime, but also their citizenship will be flawed: they will not be equal until the Palestinians are equal.

Open letter to Rachel Reeves MP: Why I won’t vote Labour, though I hope for a Labour-led government

Dear Rachel,

You don’t know me but I’m one of your constituents and I wanted to take the time to explain why I won’t vote for you in this election, even though I hope to wake up on Friday morning to a Labour-led government that can implement its manifesto promises. I look forward to a government that will restore the NHS, mitigate the environmental crisis by investing in new energy and cutting fossil fuels, and bring vital services back into public control. I am filled with dread by the prospect of another Conservative government led by Boris Johnson, following his party’s lurch to the right, crashing us out of Europe and further into the social division and inequality that successive Tory governments have exacerbated.

Yet I won’t vote Labour because the party, especially its leadership, has utterly failed to deal with the antisemitism that has surfaced in its ranks. At first, this was something I didn’t want to believe was happening. I came back to the UK, to Leeds, after just over a decade in the US in December 2016, happy to be returning to the NHS – though not yet aware how much the years of austerity had reduced it . I was also looking forward to voting in a country with a mass social democratic party with a real chance to govern. Yet I could already sense that the Brexit referendum had let some dark genies out of the bottle, scapegoating various “others” for various wrongs, just as Trump has done. How, though, could such resentful racism have any hold in the Labour Party? I also didn’t want to believe that as a Jew I would be made to feel unwelcome in the party, especially after an earlier decade during which I lived in Israel, where I was very much on the left of politics, critical not only of Netanyahu’s government’s policies but the systemic oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israel itself. That oppression is shielded in part by pernicious efforts, some of them funded by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs, to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. So, it seemed too convenient that no sooner did the Labour Party elect a left-winger than the ‘socialism of fools’ – antisemitism – took root in it. Surely it must be the case that anti-progressive politicians and press in both countries, and further afield, had found common cause in amplifying a few marginal cases of antisemitic expression on social media and occasional branch meetings? At first, then, I discounted some of what I heard. I have Israeli friends and know other Jews still in the Labour Party who continue to do so.

But I was learning too much from old friends, some of whom stayed in the party, some of whom left, as well as in regular news reports, to hold out on to my wishful thinking and denial. One friend was very much in the thick of it, trying to counter antisemitic tropes on new media and being constantly abused for doing so. Others were not finding their MPs willing to speak out and some began to find their local branch a hostile environment. Some of what I was told about is reflected in the Jewish Labour Movement evidence submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, an investigation which in itself must cause the Party shame. I do not doubt that there is a concerted right-wing political and media campaign to discredit Corbyn and the Labour Party as much as possible. That’s what they do. But I also do not doubt that a trend has developed among some party members and supporters to substitute a genuine critique of capitalism with conspiracy theories featuring the Rothschilds, George Soros and other “Zios.” There is both antisemitism in the party and coordinated efforts by opponents of Labour and its current leadership to capitalize on it. But if the party really dealt with antisemitism, its opponents would have little ammunition.

Increasingly it became apparent that the party leadership was not interested in challenging the antisemites robustly, taking action that could easily have knocked this issue on the head. What I could justly expect of Jeremy Corbyn – or his staff – would be to call people out on the use of antisemitic tropes as they were posted on social media platforms and spoken at meetings, making it clear that nobody could count themselves as his supporter if they were also a racist. Instead, he hid behind disciplinary processes which have in any case proved inadequate. Of course, to call others out Jeremy Corbyn would have to begin with himself, expressing horror rather than mealy-mouthed “regret” that he had defended Mear One’s antisemitic mural. He would need to admit shame that he had slipped into the worst sort of English “polite antisemitism” by referring to British Jews as Zionists who don’t understand English irony. As a committed anti-racist, he must know by now that we have all been socialized into damaging racist attitudes and that we need to keep working to decolonize ourselves. If Jeremy Corbyn cannot demonstrate political, cultural and intellectual leadership on this issue, why not?

So, sadly I cannot vote for you on Thursday, even though I believe you are a good constituency MP – you’ve written in support of my partner’s PIP appeal – and have an admirable record in Parliament, not least on environmental issues that are close to my heart and current activism. I admit that if your majority were less secure, I would be agonising more on whether to vote for you or the Green candidate. Yet, I expect that you will understand my decision and hope that one day soon you will be able to let me know that the Labour Party is once again a safe political home for progressive Jews.

With best wishes,

Jon Simons

Taxi Driver – A short peace.

Guest blog by Ariel Katz

I’m returning to Be’er Sheva from Tel Aviv. I’ve been to the August 11 demonstration for equality to protest the controversial nation-state law in Tel Aviv. It’s late, so I hop in the front seat of the next cab in line. The driver, who looks about 30, has bluish eyes and a crew cut. When I tell the him the address, a man hears me through the open window and asks if we are going to Ramot. The driver invites him to hop in the back seat. He and the driver have some friendly banter and I wonder if they know each other.

The man has a strong Arabic accent and though he may be a Jewish immigrant from an Arab country, I think he’s a Palestinian citizen of Israel. He starts to complain about the people on the train, and that they were loud and unruly. “It’s a matter of culture,” he says, and I wonder what culture he’s referring to.

The driver points out that I sound American. I too have a strong accent when speaking Hebrew. To find out more about the backseat man’s culture, I mention that I was at the demonstration for equality.

The driver turns to me in anger. “Why? We have equality here. That demonstration was against the nation-state law. Are you against that?” The back seat man says he doesn’t support the law. “Why not?” asks the driver, and I get the information I was looking for. “Because I’m Arab,” the man says.

“But you have equality here. Where do you work?” The driver asks.
“At the supermarket.”
“You have jobs, you have access to the same services. You see, there is equality here in Israel. The law doesn’t change that.”

“From your experience there is equality in Israel,” I say to the driver. “But there are experiences that you haven’t had, that Arabs have had, so they have more information about the inequality. It’s hard to see that when you’re the majority.”
“Like what?” He wants to know.

We’ve arrived at my house but he doesn’t stop the car. When he turns around, I ask what he’s doing. “I’m taking the other guy home first.”
I ponder my situation for a moment to assess my personal safety. The driver is clearly distressed. If I insist he let me off here, there’s a good chance he’ll comply. But if this man is dangerous and I get out, then the Palestinian is at risk. And if the driver is dangerous, who is he more likely to harm, a female American Jew or a Palestinian man?

My conscience and my curiosity allow him to drive off with me still in the car.
The Palestinian lives the next street over, and it’s a quick and silent trip. The driver brings me back and tells me he’s Beitar football supporter. Beitar fans are known for their hatred of Arabs, anti-Arab chants and racist slogans. He says it as if it’s a bit of a dirty secret, in a ‘between you and me’ kind of voice. He doesn’t want any Arabs or Muslims living in Israel. He also doesn’t like Jews going to the West Bank to
live next to ‘them’ he said. I appreciate he’s consistent.

 

headlines.nationality law

Contrasting headlines: Ha’aretz – “Tens of Thousands of Arabs and Jews demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the Nationality Law.” Yediot Aharonot – “The Palestinian Flag in the Heart of Tel Aviv.”

He asks me who was at the demonstration. Surely it was only Arabs, he says. I explain it was a mix, probably mostly Jews.
He heard on the news that they were waving the Palestinian flag in the demonstration. The Yediot Aharonot headlines said in huge letters, “The Palestinian flag in the heart of Tel Aviv.” The headline was successful in activating his nervous system. The use of the word ‘heart’ was particularly effective.

“The flag is a symbol of someone’s identity. The flag itself doesn’t carry a message about harming the Jews, nor did those people carrying it. They were peacefully asking for equality.”
“This neighbourhood is 30% Arab now,” he informs me.
I ask him if he personally has ever had a bad experience with an Arab.
“The ones in this area are educated. They are doctors and professionals,” he explains.
“Yes, they want to work and raise families and be healthy, like us. They don’t want to hurt us.”
“And what do you do for work? He asks.
“I’m a psychotherapist.”
“How much do you charge?”
“55 pounds an hour.”
“I have panic attacks. Do you work with that?”
“Yes. It’s scary.”

I’m referring to everything. To his panic attacks, to the terrorist attacks, to seeing flags and not knowing what is the meaning for the flag waver, to me being alone with him in his taxi.

By driving me safely home he’s proved my point. “It’s scary for all of us, but the truth is the majority of Arabs and Jews are just typical people trying to live their lives in peace.”

The Provocation: Ta’ayush and the Picnic

taayush.soldier hitting“Whose provocation?” asks the Ta’ayush activist who has recorded on video an Israeli soldier striking one of her fellow activists. Rightly, she says the provocation came from the soldiers who had come only to see what was happening, not even to serve a “closed military area” order, not even to make the Palestinian farmer stop ploughing the field next to the olive grove, not even to tell the other Palestinians, Italian volunteers and Israeli activists to get lost. So, in that sense, the blows dealt by the soldier to another activist filming him were unprovoked. He seems to have worked himself up into aggression by his own monologue about the “traitors” who were accompanying Palestinians from the town of Bani Naim to work on their land under the noses of the settlers of Pnei Hever. The local relations of occupation between the two places have been rehearsed many times before but of course the settlement has an army on its side in this uneven conflict. On this occasion, and following reports of the incident in Ha’aretz and other news outlets, even the Israeli army deemed that the soldier, Alon Segev, had used excessive force and discharged him from reserve duty. His blows were unprovoked.

Yet, in another – and good – sense, Ta’ayush were being provocative. I was with the Ta’ayush activists in the South Hebron Hills that day, August 10th 2018, but I was elsewhere, accompanying a shepherd, when this incident occurred. When after a short hike I joined the group near Pnei Hever the activist who had been hit was just being driven off to an emergency room as he was feeling unwell. Then I found this provocative scene. While the guy on the tractor got on with his ploughing, Israelis, internationals and Palestinians sheltered from the hot sun under a tree. Hot, sweet tea and coffee were served, some snacks were passed around. Various conversations murmured on in different languages, in a blend of Hebrew and Arabic about the spring connected to a cave whose water used to feed the fields we were in but is now within the fence of the settlement, about politics and peace, about Catalan and linguistics, about how the Israeli matriculation exam in Arabic doesn’t enable students to speak Arabic. By the time the ploughing was done and the picnic was packed up, I had given my address to two of the Palestinians, one who is already studying a PhD in the UK and the other who is about to come to study.

picnic at bani naim

Picnic at Bani Naim, 10 August 2018

So why is this picnic provocative? Because the co-resistance to Occupation by Israeli Jews, non-citizen Palestinians and internationals defies the accepted logic of separation between “Jews” and “Palestinians” that underlies the conflict. This relaxed togetherness and well-practiced partnership resist all the opposing practices of dispossession, estrangement, demonization and denial that fuel enmity and convince Israeli Jews that “there is no partner for peace” and they must always “live by the sword.” The picnic provokes further because it shows that peace is not made by living behind secure borders and in isolation from each other, but by confronting injustice together.

That evening I participated in another provocation, a demonstration in Tel Aviv by Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel against the new Nationality Law that enshrines already-existing inequality by asserting the rights of the Jews in Israel above all others. The law is itself a provocation against democracy, but much of the Israeli press chose to focus on the “provocation” of the display of Palestinian flags by some of the demonstrators (against the wishes of the organizers). A provocation to show that there is a Palestinian as well as a Jewish nationality in this land between the river and the sea. A provocation to gather and march together in the sultry humidity of a summer night, to protest the racism of ethno-religious superiority in a territory in which two peoples dwell. I preferred the hum of conversations under the tree to the long speeches at the demonstration, but in their own way each was a provocation to resist oppression and struggle for just peace.

anti nationality law demo

“Jews and Arabs together”. Anti-Nationality Law demonstration. Tel Aviv, 10 August 2018

Fields and Facebook: Ta’ayush and the peace that will have come

taayush.facebook cover image

I am posting here a link to an academic journal article that I have just published about Ta’ayush. Here is an abstract (outline) of the essay:

Israeli peace activism has increasingly taken place on new media, as in the case of the grassroots anti-Occupation group,Ta’ayush. What is the significance of Ta’ayush’s work on the ground and online for peace? This article considers the former in the light of social movement scholarship on peacebuilding, and the latter in light of new media scholarship on social movements. Each of those approaches suggest that Ta’ayush has limited success in achieving its strategic goals or generating outrage about the Occupation in the virtual/public sphere. Yet, Ta’ayush’s apparent “failure” according to standard criteria of success misses the significance of Ta’ayush’s work. Its combination of grassroots activism and online documentation of its work in confronting the Occupation in partnership with Palestinians has assembled an impressive archive. Through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of history, Ta’ayush can be seen to enact a “future perfect” peace that will have come.

And here is the link to the journal article: http://www.cogitatiopress.com/ojs/index.php/mediaandcommunication/article/view/390

 

Peace in the rear-view mirror and over the horizon

“My answer to racism! The Joint List”

Tonight (March 17 2015) it’s probably too early to say for certain what the next Israeli government will look like, but according to the exit polls and the first actual results of the election today, it’s almost certain that Netanyahu will form the next government. And in his victory speech, he promised that it would be a nationalist government. It is certainly too early to explain his and his Likud party’s surprising recovery in the few days preceding the election from their low standing in recent opinion polls. Likud activists were calling Netanyahu a “magician” at their victory celebrations. What sort of magician he is and what sort of national(ist) government he will head can be surmised from a couple of Netanyahu’s moves in his almost single-handed reversal of fortune.

First there is Netanyahu’s declaration that “there will be no Palestinian state on his watch.” That there will not be a Palestinian state and hence not a “two state solution” under his rule should come as no surprise to anyone. But this undiplomatic declaration probably helped Netanyahu bring some of his base support back home. Of course it also depletes any remaining international credit he still had for his 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University for those who were taken in by his sleight of mouth in which he appeared to support the principle of a two state solution. But after this election trick Netanyahu will have lost the fig leaf that protected him from European Union moves towards sanctions of some of Israel’s occupation activities. And of course the Palestinian Authority really has nothing to lose in intensifying its diplomatic campaign against the occupation and for recognition of Palestine as a state. But tomorrow is tomorrow, and Netanyahu may have more dark magic up his sleeve.

If it look like a racist and talks like a racist …

Second (yesterday) was Netanyahu’s overt racism, when he used his Facebook page to rouse his base to come and vote because the Arabs were being mobilized to come out and vote, being bused to the polls by “the Left”. He might as well have been warning white supremacists that the n***ers were being brought to vote by the lily-livered liberals who wanted to hand them God’s own country. Racist incitement is indeed dark magic.

If peace, in the senses of independence for the Palestinian people and civil equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel is already vanishing in the rear-view mirror, where is there a glimpse of peace over the horizon? Well, if you were watching Israeli TV tonight, you wouldn’t know because the third biggest list “the Joint List” didn’t feature in any of the election coverage. The Joint List is an unlikely alliance of Arab-Jewish socialists, Palestinians who claim rights as a national minority in Israel and Islamists, forced together by a recent law that would have prevented them from passing the electoral threshold. But under the superb leadership of Ayman Odeh, who campaigned on behalf of all of Israel’s downtrodden and against Netanyahu’s government’s racism by invoking Martin Luther King, it has the possibility not only to secure effective representation for the 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian Arabs, but also to constitute another start to a movement of democracy, justice and peace. It’s not here, but when I wake up tomorrow morning, I hope to still believe that in spite of Netanyahu’s dark magic, it is somewhere over the horizon.

Link

After the dreadful episode of the Israeli war on Gaza this summer, it’s easy to forget that it took place less than two years after the previous “round” of the long war which is Israel’s continuing politicide of the Palestinian people. But yes, two years ago, on November 14th 2012, Israel launched an assault on Gaza. Before the “steadfast cliff” of July-August 2014, there was the “pillar of cloud” of November 2012.  To commemorate the start of that war I have chosen this clip, a Social TV report of a small demonstration on the evening of the first day of the war, outside the apartment building of then Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In the clip, protesters ask how come that yet again a war had been launched on Gaza. They are talking wearily about the “cast lead” of 2008-9. The offenses against Gaza  repeat themselves terribly every few years.