Archive for the ‘book review’ category

Audio recording of book launch of ‘The Provisional IRA – From Insurrection to Parliament’ by Tommy McKearney

August 11, 2011

On Wednesday 10th August 2011, Tommy McKearney launched his book The Provisional IRA – From Insurrection to Parliament in Connolly Books. Over 70 people crowded into (and some had to remain in the street) the small shop to hear veteran trade unionist Mick O’Reilly and éirígí chairperson Brian Leeson talk about the work and its lessons for, and relevance to, the Irish struggle for social and national liberation today. Tommy himself then spoke (very briefly) about the book.

I have not yet read the book (I bought my copy at the launch today), but judging by the great blurbs and superlatives by friends and comrades, it seems like a must-read. You should go and buy it from Connolly Books! Anyway…

To listen to/download the recording in mp3 or ogg format, please go here.


Pauline Conroy (Chair)
Eugene McCartan (General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland)
Mick O’Reilly (Vice President of Dublin Council of Trade Unions)
Brian Leeson (Chairperson of éirígí)
Tommy McKearney (author and former Provisional IRA member, blanketman and 1980 hunger striker)

And here is the blurb from the publisher’s (Pluto) website:

This book analyses the underlying reasons behind the formation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), its development, where this current in Irish republicanism is at present and its prospects for the future.

Tommy McKearney, a former IRA member who was part of the 1980 hunger strike, challenges the misconception that the Provisional IRA was only, or even wholly, about ending partition and uniting Ireland. He argues that while these objectives were always the core and headline demands of the organisation, opposition to the old Northern Ireland state was a major dynamic for the IRA’s armed campaign. As he explores the makeup and strategy of the IRA he is not uncritical, examining alternative options available to the movement at different periods, arguing that its inability to develop a clear socialist programme has limited its effectiveness and reach.

This authoritative and engaging history provides a fascinating insight into the workings and dynamics of a modern resistance movement.

About the Author

Tommy McKearney was a senior member of the Provisional IRA from the early 1970s until his arrest in 1977. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he served 16 years during which time he participated in the 1980 hunger strike in Long Kesh. He is now a freelance journalist and an organiser with the Independent Workers Union.

Tommy McKearney, author

Mick O'Reilly, DCTU

Brian Leeson. éirígí


The story of Eleanor Kasrils: A husband’s tribute to a valiant fighter

August 8, 2011

Below is an article I wrote for LookLeft magazine last month about Ronnie Kasrils new book about his late wife and her part in the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. I’ve also uploaded an audio recording of the talk, which was hosted by the Communist Party of Ireland in Connolly Books, Dublin. You can listen to the audio by clicking here.

Sadly, a few days later another veteran of the anti-Apartheid struggle (and one who, like Ronnie and Eleanor, was outspoken in support of the Palestinian battle against Israeli apartheid), Kader Asmal, passed away.

The story of Eleanor Kasrils: A husband’s tribute to a valiant fighter
LookLeft #7, July 2011

Ronnie Kasrils, famed veteran of the South African anti-apartheid movement, visited Dublin to launch his new book The Unlikely Secret Agent, about his late wife Eleanor. ‘Red’ Ronnie’s revolutionary legacy is well known and detailed in his own autobiography Armed and Dangerous; a white South African Jew, he joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) and both the African National Congress (ANC) and its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in the early 1960s. He rose through their respective ranks, eventually serving in several ministerial positions in post-apartheid South Africa and he remains one of the world’s most outspoken critics of modern apartheid as practised by the Israeli state against the Palestinians today.

Yet, as Ronnie pointed out at the launch in Connolly Books, the stories of the many hundreds of thousands of people who formed the backbone of the worldwide anti-apartheid movement often remain unknown. This book about his wife is one such story and is his contribution to the people’s history of this heroic struggle.


In introducing the book, he spoke movingly about the “staggeringly courageous” Eleanor who died in 2009 – how she was radicalised by the Sharpville massacre and became an important underground operative with the ANC via her job in Durban’s famous Grigg’s bookstore (an important message-dropping point for wanted activists), and as an active member of the MK armed resistance. He recounted one tale of how her simple ingenuity (along with the help of a shebeen) enabled the MK to steal half-a-ton of dynamite from a quarry for armed operations in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s arrest.

Eventually in 1963, with her lover Ronnie on the run, Eleanor was lifted by the Security Branch (SB) and taken for interrogation at the Wentworth ‘House of Truth’. Here was violently abused by the SB men whose mission was to “break her or hang her” in an attempt to find Ronnie’s whereabouts. What the SB didn’t know was that she was an important MK member herself and if broken could have revealed many destructive secrets. But she didn’t break, instead she “engaged in a personal duel of wits with her brutal captors”, faking a nervous breakdown which landed her in a prison psychiatric unit from which he she promptly escaped. After reuniting with Ronnie, the pair fled the country and continued their struggle from exile.

The book itself – an obvious labour of love – is a ripping read and a fitting tribute to a woman of immense courage, skill and principle. Eleanor was one of the few white South Africans to enter the clandestine struggle at this early period when the ANC’s MK wing had embarked upon a campaign of – literally – explosive resistance to the racist apartheid regime. Her defiance of this state – before, during and after her imprisonment – and refusal to submit to its brutality was nothing short of heroic. Eleanor’s story, like the story of the anti-apartheid movement as a whole, is inspirational, poignant and still relevant.

As Ronnie pointed out while summing up his talk, the importance of the role which the international boycott and solidarity movement played in the eventual victory in 1990 of the South African national liberation movement was immense. Being in Ireland, he specifically mentioned the Dunnes Stores boycott strikers, and personally thanked two veteran Irish anti-apartheid activists present at the meeting. He finished by saying that international solidarity against colonialism and imperialism is not merely something from times gone by, it remains of great consequence to people resisting oppression across the globe today.

Note: This article appeared in LookLeft under the headline ‘The Battle to Free South Africa’.

More Mark Thomas interviewy stuff

August 4, 2011

Below are two pieces for Socialist Voice and LookLeft that I wrote, based on my lengthy interview with comedian and activist Mark Thomas earlier this year (yeah, I milked it for all it was worth…. I’m lazy journalist scum!)

Mark Thomas in Palestine

Mark Thomas in Palestine

Making trouble for all the right people: An interview with comedian Mark Thomas
Socialist Voice, May 2011

In March leftist comedian and social activist Mark Thomas was in Dublin with his new show Walking the Wall, in which – in his own inimitably hilarious manner – he relates his experiences of walking the 723km length of Israel’s illegal apartheid wall in Palestine. I caught up with him for a short interview about modern topical comedy.  Mark was once a familiar face on British television, but now finds himself consigned to BBC Radio. He says his break with his long-time Channel 4 collaborators came when it was suggested he host a show called Celebrity Guantanamo Bay.  After that, there was no longer “anything viable there” for him. Nor does he expect to return to TV any time soon, “there is no ice in Hell yet”, he quips.

When it comes to the state of contemporary topical comedy, Mark doesn’t really “want to discuss the state of play of TV comedy ‘cos that’s just…”. “Depressing?” I venture after a long pause. He smiles sadly, and says “some of the people in it are really good. There is some great stuff like Inbetweeners and Phone Shop”. He also has praise for the “sharp as a dart” Bremner, Bird and Fortune and HBO output like Breaking Bad which he describes as an “incredible state of the nation declaration about what happens when you take money out of the public sector”.

His distaste for the “proliferation of very cheap panel shows” is palpable. He describes them as the comedy equivalent of neo-liberalism; “economically viable to make, because you don’t need a scriptwriter, an editor, a cast or rehearsals. You just have very highly motivated individuals with a vested interest in doing the best they can writing their own material.” He also mourns the advent of “awful freeview satellite” (“I now say ‘this is shit’ about eighty times a day!”), but points to the live comedy circuit and theatre as places that remain creatively exciting and socially engaged – singling out Gregory Burke’s play Black Watch for special acclaim. Yet he also sees the panel show disease infecting the live circuit too, as “people will go see a comedian in the O2 after doing a couple of series of a panel show… and it’s a fucking panel show! You buy a Frankie Boyle ticket and you’ll have seen all the stuff on television already!”

However, when it comes to his own work, Mark is far from complacent. His new show and tie-in book Extreme Rambling (Ebury Press, April 2011) are both brilliantly funny while remaining politically engaged and empowering. He modestly says that he “is really pleased with this work that’s going to get out to 50,000 people”, and so he should be. Thomas remains a courageous, trouble-making, muck-raking, rabble-rousing lay preacher of truth, justice and progressive action – an enemy of all the right people and funny to boot.


Socially engaged comedy – an interview with Mark Thomas
LookLeft #6, April 2011

Campaigning activist-comedian Mark Thomas was in Dublin with a new show, Walking The Wall, about his exploits as he ‘extreme rambled’ along the 723 kilometres of Israel’s apartheid wall in Palestine. LookLeft met him for a short interview about his latest work, and the state of topical comedy more generally.

I began by asking, not at all originally, what inspired this mad undertaking? Mark’s answer was a love of rambling, curiosity and Operation Cast Lead which he describes as “Israel dropping banned weapons on a captive civilian population in Gaza”. He admits that although he never stopped working on issues around the arms trade with Israel, the “bloody mess” that was the second intifada, especially the “horrendous suicide bombings” largely turned him off the Palestinian issue, but the “hugely cruel” attack on Gaza “switched me back on”. He saw walking the route of the wall as a natural way of meeting people – Palestinian and Israeli – hearing how it has affected them, “finding out things, working out how things are, and coming back to tell the story”. Through this story he hopes his audience “will sort of get to understand it as well”.

However, Mark is at pains to point out that “what I do isn’t stand up. It has a foot in theatre and a foot in comedy. But it’s not stand up. It’s about getting out, telling the stories and taking people on a journey, somewhere they didn’t expect to go”. Nevertheless, both the show and the accompanying book, Extreme Rambling, are brutally funny, and horribly tragic.

Eight weeks walking the wall from north to south and he’d seen much to depress him – not least his constant detentions by the Israeli military – but also much to inspire. “The non-violent resistance movement that is building there is incredible. I mean, the national leadership is fucked, on both sides but the grass roots stuff, the community leadership and community action that’s coming out is just superb. It really is brilliant!” He was pleasantly surprised by the Israeli activists whom he found to be “absolutely morally on the money”. One thing that stayed with him was, “on day one, somebody told me the thing that they were most proud of was the fact that ‘my people are still here’. By the time I got to the end of the walk I kind of understood a little bit about that – it’s actually stunning that people have withstood the onslaught that is going on. Quite amazing.”

We then discuss the state of contemporary topical comedy, but Mark doesn’t really “want to discuss the state of play of TV comedy cos that’s just…”, “depressing?” I venture after a long pause. He smiles sadly, and says “some of the people in it are really good. There is some great stuff like Inbetweeners and Phone Shop”. He also has praise for the “sharp as a dart” Bremner, Bird and Fortune and HBO output like Breaking Bad which he describes as an “incredible state of the nation declaration about what happens when you take money out of the public sector”. But his distaste for the “proliferation of very cheap panel shows” is palpable. He describes them as the comedy equivalent of neo-liberalism; “economically viable to make, because you don’t need a scriptwriter, an editor, a cast or rehearsals, you just have very highly motivated individuals with a vested interest in doing the best they can writing their own material.” He also mourns the advent of “awful freeview satellite – I now say ‘this is shit’ about eighty times a day!” He points to the live comedy circuit and theatre as places that remain creatively exciting and socially engaged.

Finally, I ask will we see his good self back on TV anytime soon? He laughs; someone else asked him that yesterday, his response was “I looked out the window this morning and there is still no ice in Hell!” His break with Channel 4 came when a producer suggested he host “Celebrity Guantanamo Bay – at that point you have to question whether there’s anything viable there.” But he remains upbeat. “With this tour, 50,000 people will see the show, including at the big festivals like Glastonbury and Reading. The programs have articles and information on boycott, divestment and sanctions, they are intellectual ammunition and 15,000 have been printed. And the book will reach between 50 to 100,000 people.” He also reveals that he hopes to release a film of Walking The Wall in cinemas, which is something to look forward to. All things considered, Mark is “really pleased with this work.” And so he should be.

Extreme Rambling is published by Ebury Press on 7th April 2011

The Art of History: Non-fiction through the medium of graphic novels

April 30, 2011

The Art of History: Non-fiction through the medium of graphic novels
LookLeft #5, February 2011

Many intelligent people still stereotypically consider comics to be for “kids and teenagers”. However today there is no escaping this fact: comics are big business. A slew of Hollywood films based on comics have led to the medium’s repopularisation – while the humble comic has progressed vastly since the early days of characters like Spiderman and Batman. In the late 1970s and 80s there was a revolution as comics like 2000AD, RAW and Warrior introduced intelligent, controversial writers like Alan Moore to the world. The underground became more mainstream, gone were the Boy’s Own style adventuring and all-American heroes, replaced by altogether darker themes and characters. If Moore’s Watchmen (1986-87) and V For Vendetta (1982–89) – both now mediocre films – proved that comics could ‘do’ serious and thoughtful fiction, then the Pulitzer-winning Maus proved that comics could tackle important issues of non-fiction too – in Maus’ case, the darkest episode of 20th Century history, the Holocaust. Below I review some of the best (and unfortunately, in one instance, not-so-best) graphic non-fiction available today.

Maus: A Survivors Tale (1977–91) – Art Spielgleman


Maus is the story of Spiegelman’s father Vladek’s Holocaust survival, and also of Spiegleman’s strained relationship with his father as he interviews him about his experiences. Vladek was a Polish Jew and Maus follows his story fighting in the Polish army, escaping deportation and living on the run, eventual capture and his survival of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.  Interwoven into the Holocaust narrative are snapshots of Vladek’s contemporary life in American suburbia where we see the psychological effects the Holocaust has left on his family; his first wife’s suicide, second loveless marriage and tense relationship with his son.

A truly harrowing work, it is also brilliant, standing out among reams of Holocaust literature – original in concept, human and complex in narrative (Vladek is no hero, he just resourcefully does what he must to survive) and steers away from cynical ‘Holocaust exploitation’. The artwork – minimalist, monochrome and bleak – works perfectly, while the portrayal of Jews as mice, Germans as cats etcetera was meant, Spiegelman says, to “self-destruct” the idea of Nazi racial divisions.

Of course, graphic non-fiction existed before Maus, but there is little doubt that this work ensured comics were viewed as legitimate a medium for non-fiction as literature and film. Indeed, as one review said, Maus is a work that would be “impossible to achieve in any medium but comics”.

Palestine (1993-95) and Footnotes in Gaza (2009) – Joe Sacco

Sacco is a Maltese-American ‘graphic journalist’ – he travels to conflict zones and illustrates (visually and verbally) his experiences, the people he meets and their stories. Sacco first travelled to Palestine in 1991/92 during the dying days of the first intifada, and Palestine is a chronicle of this era. Sacco presents us with ordinary people’s everyday stories and oral histories, giving us entwined narratives that both reflect then-contemporary events and outline the broader historical injustices – 1948: expulsions of 700,000+ Palestinians to facilitate the founding of Israel, 1967: occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, 1987: outbreak of the intifada etc – that have resulted in Palestinians’ woeful situation. Above all, unlike many dry texts I’ve read, Sacco achieves the humanisation of Palestinians – they are not statistics or pawns, they are people and – agree or disagree – have valid things to say. In telling this story, Sacco is knowledgeable, self-depreciating, humourous and critical. Sacco’s artwork is amazing and has an unparalleled ability to convey emotion. That this is an illustrated work gives it added potency as he can draw what would be unavailable to a photographer and descriptively unwieldy for a writer – eg, Israeli torture and sensory deprivation methods.

Click for full size

Click for full size

Footnotes in Gaza sees Sacco return to Palestine to investigate the story of two overlooked Israeli massacres in Gaza during the 1956 Suez Crisis. UN reports say Israeli forces killed 275 civilians in Khan Younis and 111 in Rafah in acts Sacco describes as “airbrushed from history”. As with Palestine, there are two narratives – the contemporary set against backdrop of the second intifada in 2003 as he searches for stories, and the historical as he unlocks people’s memories.

Both Palestine and Footnotes are fantastic, if ultimately human stories and therefore subject to human error. For me they are better introductions to Palestine than many history books – indeed I would argue that Palestine is one of the greatest works about the region in any medium.

Che: A Graphic Biography (2008) – Spain Rodriguez

Che Guevara’s iconic image is an ever-present feature of life, adorning everything from t-shirts to beermats as capitalism continues to commodify the “revolutionary chic” of this unyielding fighter for socialism. As Lenin said, great revolutionaries are hounded by the ruling classes during their lifetimes, and converted into harmless idealistic icons upon their deaths. Rodriguez’s book is a conscious antidote to this tendency, using the visual medium to recontextualise Che’s image, life and ideas. On a short, exciting journey through Che’s equally brief and eventful life, Rodriguez takes us from his birth and travels in Latin America – which would have a politically formative effect on him as he experienced the 1954 CIA coup in Guatemala – to his first meeting with Fidel Castro. We then explore his leading role in the Cuban Revolution, both as a commander and later as he dealt with post-revolutionary and geopolitical realities, and finally his futile militant activities in Congo and untimely death, aged 39, at the hands of the CIA in Bolivia.

Thankfully this is not one man’s wild and romantic adventure story, Rodriguez is careful to place Che in the context of his era; social and political struggles against economic realities are not ignored in pursuit of some ‘great man’ theory of history. This Che will be familiar to those who have read J.L. Anderson’s biography – Che is not presented as an infallible secular saint, he is a man who makes mistakes in pursuit of a better future for humanity. Hopefully those picking up this comic and knowing little beyond the iconography will develop an understanding of this socialist fighter who believed in, fought and died for the unity of all oppressed peoples – something as necessary today as in Che’s lifetime.

Blood Upon The Rose: Easter 1916 (2010) – Gerry Hunt

The best that can be said about this work is that it is unique; it is basically an Irish Boy’s Own comic – which for someone who grew up reading English and US war stories was an interesting experience. Unfortunately, for an adult this is a major failing – Hunt’s version of 1916 is pure militaria, lacking in socio-historical context, interesting characters (and given those involved in 1916 that in itself is an unenviable achievement) or engaging dialogue. It simply bumbles along from one badly-drawn shootout to the next.

From an historical point of view, the story is accurate. However, making history interesting depends greatly on an author’s storytelling skill – a good writer can make even the most boring subject engaging. A major failing of this work is that it’s very much a history of the 1916 Rising as a military event; we begin on Easter Sunday and end with the execution of the Rising’s leaders. It lacks historical context – what are the motivations of those involved? What is the historical, social and economic background? How did such an “unlikely band of freedom fighters”, as Hunt calls them, get to this point? What did they realistically hope to achieve?

Instead, we are presented only with the deconextualised brave rebel leaders and volunteers of bourgeois republican myth, who fight and die for “dear old Ireland”. The dialogue rarely raises itself above the level of a 1980s British war comic, indeed if the British were German they would be screaming “Achtung! Achtung!” and “Gott in Himmel!”  However, the main failing of this work is that it is just not engaging – perhaps because it just flits from firefight to firefight, one doesn’t build a relationship with the rebels. I think the author recognises this, and bookends the main story with Plunkett’s death-bed marriage in a failed attempt to give it some human context – but given how little we see of Plunkett in the story it feels crowbarred in. It is not impossible to weave an ‘ensemble piece’ in graphic format, but perhaps this would have fared better had it focused only one or two of the leaders or volunteers and showed us the Rising from their unique perspectives.

Undoubtedly there is a gripping comic to be written about the Irish Revolution. This, alas, is not it.


Interview with comedian Mark Thomas published on Electronic Intifada

April 14, 2011

Mark Thomas (image c/o Mark Thomas/Phil Stebbing)

An interview I conducted with activist-comedian Mark Thomas last month has been published on Electronic Intifada, check it out here. It’s both an interview with Mark and a review of his new show/book Extreme Rambling. Walking Israel’s Barrier. For Fun.

If you came here via EI looking for the full interview transcript, I just want to let you know that it will be posted in the next couple of days, once I’ve had a chance to clean it up.  Check back or follow me on Twitter to see when it’s posted. UPDATE: The interview is now online here.

In the meantime, as predicted yesterday, the Irish Times gave a right-of-reply to the Palestinian Mission in Ireland over the Goldstone issue, and finally the letters page sees a couple of letters critical of the Israeli tourism puff-piece published. Alas, I’m informed that publishing these letters is “as good as a retraction” from the perspective of the Ombudswoman for accurate reporting. How ridiculous is that?


Book Review: ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ by Ben White

January 14, 2011

Below is a lengthy book review  I wrote for Red Banner magazine a few months ago. As the new issue is now out, I think it’s okay to post this online now.

Book Review: Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide by Ben White
Red Banner, Issue 41, September 2010

“Supporters of Israel present Zionism as an ideology of liberation of the Jewish people, but for Palestinians, Zionism, as it has been practiced and as they have experienced it, has been precisely apartheid.”

This pithy quote from Mona Younis opens campaigning journalist Ben White’s debut book and sets the tone for the 130 pages that follow. While this quote expresses a viewpoint that many of us already share – indeed I’m sure many are asking “why should I read another book about Palestine?” – White’s book is a brilliantly succinct and systematic explanation and exposition of Israel’s apartheid system. He traces the roots of the policy and explores in layman’s terms how this system is enforced legally, militarily, economically and ideologically – both in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israel itself.  As White writes, “this book has been written in order to describe clearly and simply what Zionism has meant for the Palestinians, how Israeli apartheid has been implemented and maintained and suggestions for how it can be resisted”. This he achieves, admirably.

Defining apartheid – South Africa and Israel

White begins by quoting the international legal definitions of “the crime of apartheid” – in essence “inhuman acts” such as murder, torture, arbitrary detention, labour exploitation, land-theft and colony construction, social, economic and political exclusion, and denial of basic human rights for the purpose of “establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group [over any other racial group] and systematically oppressing them” (see for full legal definitions). Yet while – as we shall see – Israel is guilty of all of these abuses, White points out that the South African and the Israeli systems are not identical. The Zionist state has created its own version of apartheid – a version that many South African veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle regard as being worse than anything experienced in South Africa.

Zionism and the colonisation Palestine

The second section of the book is a brief overview of the events that led up to the creation of Israel as a Zionist colonialist state, first in the territories conquered in 1948 and later in the West Bank and Gaza. This is a history that is no doubt familiar to readers, and one that this review will not go into in any great detail, other than to say that “transfer” (what today we call ethnic cleansing) has always been at the very heart of the Zionist project. As Israel’s future first prime minister and Zionist ideologue David Ben Gurion wrote to his son in 1937, “[Jews] must expel Arabs and take their places”. Also in 1937, when speaking about the possibility of partitioning Palestine, future President Chaim Weizmann said, “we shall expand in the whole country in the course of time, [partition] is only an arrangement for the next 25 to 30 years”. Weizmann also once said that “there is a fundamental difference in quality between Jews and native”.

Any fair reading of history will show that such colonialist and racist sentiments formed the ideological basis of Zionist practices towards the indigenous Palestinian population long before, and after, the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. The forced expulsion of over 700,000 people from their homes in 1947/48 (al Nakba); the conquest of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 (an Naksa); the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres and the invasion of Lebanon to crush the PLO; the mass murder and collective punishment during the first and second intifadas; and the devastation wrought upon Gaza during “Operation Cast Lead” are all testament to this. However, these are merely the most blatant crimes perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Underpinning all of these attacks is Israel’s own unique system of apartheid, and White masterfully dissects this system into its component parts, illuminates their interconnectedness and concisely unveils the true discriminatory nature, on both sides of the Green Line, of the “only democracy in the Middle East”.

Israeli apartheid deconstructed

After occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel was faced with the problem of desiring the land, but not the Palestinians who lived there. Despite the expulsion of a further 300,000 people at this time, ethnic cleansing of 1947/48 proportions was by this stage diplomatically infeasible in terms of Israel’s international standing – the shadow of the Nazi Holocaust still hung over the “Jewish state” and it could and would not risk alienating the widespread Western sympathy it still enjoyed by engaging in another Nakba. “As a result”, White says, the “fall-back position was to implement an apartheid regime of exclusion and discrimination”, which is “overt and iron-fisted” in the OPT and “less explicit”, but equally insidious, inside Israel where “dispossession [has] been most effective”.

It is in this section of the book that White’s excellence as a writer is most noticeable; he distils and brings clarity to what can often seem like complex and esoteric issues.  He begins by examining Israeli land theft (“the main characteristic of Israel’s rule in the OPT”) and colonial settlement building. Using the rhetoric of legal processes and “security concerns”, by the time of the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, Israel had confiscated some two-thirds of the West Bank and one-third of Gaza while East Jerusalem had been illegally annexed. It is a point often ignored that this land theft occurred during the Olso “peace process” years under the allegedly “dovish” Labour Party. It has of course continued apace for the past decade. The corollary to this theft has been the construction of illegal colonial settlements in the OPT. Notwithstanding the Israel “disengagement” from Gaza (which was no such thing) and the re-housing of around 8,000 settlers that were there, the current settler population of the OPT (including East Jerusalem) stands at about 500,000 in 135 state-sanctioned settlements and numerous “unofficial” outposts. Both the number of settlers and settlements continue to grow despite their illegality under international law.

Connecting these colonial zones is a largely segregated road network, the best roads reserved for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers (there are even different coloured number plates for Palestinians and Israelis). In total, these so-called “bypass roads” are over 540km long and occupy over 50 square km of the West Bank. Ostensibly maintained for “security purposes”, like all of Israel’s architecture of occupation, the road system plays an integral role in cementing Israeli apartheid; criss-crossing the West Bank like a deranged spider-web they severely restrict Palestinian freedom of movement, while their construction has seen the destruction of many homes and much agricultural land. As a 2004 Observer article noted, this road network was “creating a Palestinians state of enclaves” while the Guardian remarked that the purpose was the “total separation [of] the two populations”.

Palestinians not only face travel segregation, they also face constriction of movement and routine humiliation under the checkpoint regime. At any given time there are hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints in operation in the West Bank – the vast majority of them internal, that is to say not on the 1967 border. Some are permanent, some are random “flying checkpoints”, while others are literally physical objects dumped on roads. As a result, Palestinians are required to carry Israeli-issued ID cards to travel internally, and need difficult to obtain permits to work in East Jerusalem. Simply getting to work or school is a nightmare for Palestinians, often involving getting up at 4 or 5am to queue at checkpoints where they may or may not be granted passage. I have seen first hand people with legitimate permits being arbitrarily refused passage through checkpoints solely on the basis of the whims of occupation soldiers.

Accompanying the checkpoints is a regime of closure and curfew under which Palestinians can find access to their towns and villages denied, be told that areas are “closed military zones”, or that curfews have been imposed. As with virtually every aspect of the occupation, these practices are justified by Israel’s apologists on the basis of “security”, yet as White observes, between 1994 and 1999 (the “peace process” years), 499 days of closure were imposed by Israel.

White also explores various other aspects of Israel’s apartheid system; the well-documented brutality of the military occupation (over 6,300 killed and 30,000 injured since 2000); water apartheid (“the map of the settlements [looks] like a hydraulic map of the territories”); the ‘Judaisation’ of East Jerusalem; home demolitions (over 24,000 since 1967); and the detention and torture of Palestinian political prisoners of which there are at present over 6,500.

Finally, of course, is probably the most recognisable symbol of colonial supremacism in Palestine – the Apartheid Wall. Despite being declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, construction continues on the 720km long barrier that features “a 25ft high wall, razor wire, trenches, sniper towers, electrified fences … and buffer zones of up to 100m in width”. The wall steals a further 10% of Palestinians land as it snakes through the West Bank, incorporating various settlements on the ‘Israeli’ side. As its architect stated, “[the government told me] to include as many Israelis inside the fence and leave as many Palestinians outside”. Once again, this egregious construction, is justified on grounds of “security” and we are told it has led to a cessation of suicide attacks within Israel. However the fact that thousands of Palestinians still enter Israel “illegally” every month would suggest that the end of such attacks has been a tactical choice on the part of militant resistance groups.

Ultimately, the wall is a visual representation of the whole process of Israeli apartheid in Palestine; it steals land and resources, it restricts movement; negatively impacts employment and commerce; ghettoises Palestinians into disconnected enclaves reminiscent of South African Bantustans (88% of which are less than 2 square km); and it is a stark and visceral message to Palestinians that they are the underclass and that Israel is the master.

Palestinians in the occupied territories live under a system of overt apartheid, but the 1.2m Palestinian citizens of Israel (over 20% of the population) also endure official and ‘unofficial’ discrimination at the hands of mainstream Israeli-Jewish society – what White calls a “veiled apartheid”. Israel has attempted to portray itself as a liberal democracy in the Western tradition, a bastion of tolerance in an “intolerant” region. However, this veneer becomes transparent if examined in any detail. For example, Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic state. In practice it is a democracy for Zionist Jews only, for – while all citizens can vote – political parties that are “expressly or by implication” anti-Zionist are barred from running in elections. Furthermore, while any Jewish person in the world can become a citizen of Israel under the “Law of Return”, Palestinian refugee families that were expelled after 1948 cannot return to their homeland despite UN-GA Resolution 194 guaranteeing them the “Right of Return”.

These are mere examples, and White explores the many other facets of apartheid that lie under the façade of Israeli democracy, many of them relating to land ownership rights and legal discrimination. White does an excellent job of laying bare the grim reality of life as Palestinian in Israel, and for those interested in this often overlooked aspect of the Palestinian struggle, I would also recommend Susan Nathan’s fine book The Other Side of Israel (Harper, 2006). Unfortunately, since the publication of White’s book, internal discrimination, racism and repression have become even more blatant. For an exploration of this disturbing trend, see my article ‘Israel: A Racist Colonial Society Eating Itself from the Inside’ ( With regard to this, White is correct when he concludes that the “open racism faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel is simply a result of the central contradiction inherent in the idea of a ‘Jewish democratic’ state”.

Resisting Apartheid

Through his clinical analysis, White shows clearly that far from being some convenient rhetorical construct invented by solidarity activists, Israeli apartheid is a destructive and depressing reality and its ultimate aim is to make life so miserable for Palestinians that they will submit or, preferably, leave. Yet White does not end the book on a negative note; the final section is a message of hope and a call to resist. He provides a list of groups, Palestinian and Israeli, which actively fight apartheid, and suggestions as to what actions internationals can engage in to assist the Palestinian struggle. There is also a comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions section that rebuts the typical canards often vomited forth by apologists for Israeli apartheid.

As someone who has been involved in Palestine solidarity work for almost ten years, I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone with an interest in the subject. Indeed, its brevity, clarity and accessibility make it one of the best books I have ever read about Palestine, whether for a newcomer or a seasoned activist. I don’t believe I am engaging in hyperbole when I say that this book is an important theoretical weapon in the struggle for justice for the Palestinian people. Of course, we have other more practical weapons, yet weapons are redundant if not utilised. We must recall the significant role the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign played in isolating the apartheid regime in South Africa. Today BDS can play a similar role in hastening the fall of Israeli Apartheid. I, along with the author, encourage all those who wish to see Palestinians achieve their full human, civil, political and national rights to get involved in the BDS campaign in Ireland – an effective international non-violent campaign that, incidentally, Israel is now seeking to criminalise.

Israeli Apartheid: A Beginners Guide by Ben White (Pluto, 2009)
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