Archive for the ‘christian zionism’ category

Why is Ynet News using an image from just before the Breivik massacre to illustrate an anti-EU piece?

July 10, 2012

Well now, this is kind of interesting. The rightwing Israeli English-language news service Ynet News has just published a rant against the EU, headlined ‘Europe united against Israel‘. Reading it, one wishes that some of what it said was true in relation to the EU’s relationship with Israel. Alas, it’s the stuff of (wilful?) paranoid fantasy on behalf of the author and not really worth commenting on. Israel has a major friend and facilitator in the EU, second only to the US.

This aspect does need to be picked up on however. The author, Eldad Beck, says that “at a time where the Middle East is burning because of endless violations of human rights, condemnations are constantly being issued against Israel”. What he fails to mention is that the EU is currently supporting sanctions against both Iran and Syria, but refuses to even look at imposing any kind of sanctions against Israel for consistent violations of international law. Beck, wilfully, I would suggest, ignores the EU’s actual record in an effort to maintain the Zionist hyperbole regarding Europe’s scandalous relationships with Israel.

But what is most interesting about this piece is that accompanying it is a photograph of members of the Norwegian Labor Youth holding a banner saying ‘Boikott Israel’. The picture comes from just 48 hours before neo-fascist, racist and Islamophobic supporter of Israel Anders Behring Breivik massacred 69 people on the island of Utøya on July 22nd 2011 in a terrorist attack. Utøya is where this picture was taken, during a visit by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere (on the left) to the Labor Youth summer camp taking place there.

Both men pictured in the image foreground – Minister Stoere, and Eskil Pedersen (the Labor Youth leader), along with former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland – were on a kill-list that Breivik had drawn up. According to the Daily Telegraph, Breivik’s “initial plan was to take one of [these] leading Labor Party officials hostage at Utoya and read a death sentence before carrying out an execution”. Stoere and Brundtland had already left the island by the time Breivik arrived in his fake police uniform to carry out his politically motivated murder spree.

Breivik’s rationale for the attack was that the Labor Party in Norway, which was the ruling party at the time of the attack, were “traitors” to white Europeans. Thus, not only the political leadership of the party, but the entire island-full of young social democrats became legitimate targets in his “war on Islam”. Prior to the island attack, Breivik set off a bomb near government buildings in Oslo that killed 8 people and injured hundreds.

I’m not suggesting that Ynet’s editors believe that this is an appropriate way to deal with European government or citizens that are critical of Israel, but one has to ask, given both the context of the article and the similarities in some of the logic between the author Eldad Beck and Breivik, how the editors could think it was in good taste to include a picture from just before the Breivik massacre with this article. It is hard to believe it’s merely a simple mistake, as it was Ynet that originally reported the story about the pro-Palestine Labour Youth members being on the island, using the very same picture. It really is, simply, incredible.

With regard to the similarities in logic mentioned above, a couple of issues are worth noting. Firstly, Beck claims – preposterously – that the EU is “working with great determination to decide for Israel how it should behave”, and “that the Europeans have been taken captive by the Arab magic formula, whereby the conflict with Israel is at the heart of the region’s problems and only its resolution – that is, making Israel capitulate to Arab demands – will bring peace and stability”.

In his manifesto, entitled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, Breivik repeatedly makes a similar point, saying for example that “Western European governments, giving in to pressure from Arab terrorists and oil-producing states, abandoned their traditional pro-Israeli position and gradually aligned themselves with the Arab-Islamic world”.

A second point made by Beck, where he accuses “EU emissaries – mostly with the help of Israeli collaborators who enjoy generous funding – [of monitoring] anything that could be perceived to undermine the rights of Palestinians or Israel’s Arab citizens”. Aside from the implicit suggestion that violations of Palestinians’ rights should not be monitored, the use of the term “Israeli collaborators” provides an insight into how Beck views Jewish people. The only good Jew is a Zionist Jew who says “I stand with Israel, right or wrong – not that Israel ever does anything wrong”.

Breivik’s manifesto says, “Jews that support multiculturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism (Israeli nationalism) as they are to us. So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists”. Breivik views Jewish people in almost exactly the same manner as Beck.

Incidentally, Breivik’s manifesto contains repeated favourable mentions of Israel, whom he views as a natural ally in the fight against ‘Islamic Jihadism’ and ‘Euarabia’ (a rightwing buzzword indicating paranoia about the mere presence of Muslims in so-called ‘Judeo-Christian’ Europe). For example, he encourages his neo-fascist co-thinkers to “end the stupid support for the Palestinians that the Eurabians have encouraged, and start supporting our cultural cousin, Israel”. It is his view that “if Israel loses in the Middle East, Europe will succumb to Islam next”, that ” Israelis defend themselves so that their daughters do not have to suffer rape at the hands of Muslim Jihadists”, and as with other apologists for Israeli apartheid, he believe there is ‘no such thing as Palestinians, referring to “Israeli attacks on the Syrians [called] Palestinians by the mass media”.  In one section he even advises buying paramilitary equipment from Israel, as in some cases, it’s easier than buying it in Europe.

Here are some other choice quotes from Breivik, showing us his view of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims. Leftists and Israel:

“[A]ll Western journalists support the EU’s Eurabia project, their enemy (based on coverage) is the Israeli and also often the Russian government. Western European journalists, editors and publishers are guilty of facilitating Muslim crime (Jihad) by underreporting it.”

“I believe Europe should strive for: A cultural conservative approach where monoculturalism, moral, the nuclear family, a free market, support for Israel and our Christian cousins of the east, law and order and Christendom itself must be central aspects (unlike now). Islam must be re-classified as a political ideology and the Quran and the Hadith banned as the genocidal political tools they are.”

“Christians need to understand that there can be no peace or understanding with the Islamic world. They want to subdue us, pure and simple. Church leaders of all denominations, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, must stop stabbing Israel in the back”

“Jews that support multiculturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism (Israeli nationalism) as they are to us. So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists. Conservative Jews were loyal to Europe and should have been rewarded. Instead, [Hitler] just targeted them all… So, are the current Jews in Europe and US disloyal? The multiculturalist (nation-wrecking) Jews ARE while the conservative Jews ARE NOT. Aprox. 75% of European/US Jews support multiculturalism while aprox. 50% of Israeli Jews does the same. This shows very clearly that we must embrace the remaining loyal Jews as brothers rather than repeating the mistake of the NSDAP [German Nazi Party].”

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Non-Judeo Christians unwelcome at “Faces of Israel” hasbara event?

February 20, 2012

And so, Ireland finds itself in the hasbara gun-sight once again.

A story appeared in yesterday’s Sunday Times (19/02/2012,  Irish edition) proclaiming that an Israeli hasbara “charm offensive” would be touring Ireland beginning on Thursday. The mission will involve six “young Israeli representatives”, “backed by the Israeli government” and in association with Tom Carew’s “Ireland Israel Friendship League”, engaging in a speaking tour of Ireland.  Although the article is scant on actual details, it does say that both the UCD International Students Society and the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel will be hosting some of their talks (though they have yet to appear on either website – maybe they don’t want people turning up asking difficult questions?).

However, someone sent me the following event listing, organised by the Irish Christian Friends of Israel. This event, hosted by a group who believe “the Biblical truth that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people forever” (so, two-statist ‘moderates’ then),  forms part of the “Faces of Israel” tour. Of particular note is the line stating that, “Jews and Christians are ALL welcome”. Really? Is this to say that people of other faiths, and none, are not welcome at an event allegedly showcasing “how Israel comprises many diverse cultures and nationalities”? Doubly surprising given that over 1 million Palestinian citizens of Israel are of Muslim origin.

On a “diversity” buzz, it appears that this tour’s veritable jewel in the hasbara crown is the inclusion of an “Arab Israeli” (Palestinian citizen of Israel – PCOI) woman called Raneen Khoury. Although the Times article calls her a “member of the Israeli police”, the ICFI description is different, stating that:

Born and raised in the city of Nazareth, Raneen has lived in the midst of Israeli co-existence, always trying to progress Arab – Jewish relations within Israel through various co-existence projects such as the establishment of the National Service Organization. Currently she is the manager of “Lehava” project whose aim is to decrease the digital gap within Israeli society.


It appears that Ms. Khoury, a Christian Palestinian, is involved in recruiting PCOIs into the National Service (Sherut Leumi), an alternative for those who do not wish to serve in the Israeli Military. All Jewish-Israelis are conscripted into the military after leaving school, but some can opt for other means of serving the state instead. PCOIs are exempt from the military draft. As of 2010, there were 1,473 PCOIs volunteering for National Service, 0.12% of the total PCOI population. Clearly, Ms. Khoury is representative of the average Palestinian citizen of Israel, and will indeed champion their cause as a heavily discriminated-against section of the Israeli population (20%) as part of this mission.

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EDIT 24-02-2012:
I have been contacted by the author of the original Sunday Times article, Mr. Mark Paul. He asked me to clarify that he never mentioned Ms. Khoury by name. This is true, and my assertion was based on extrapolating from the ICFI description and the Times article. The article says “six young Israelis” are visiting, five Jewish-Israeli and one “Arab Israeli”. The ICFI claims that Ms. Khoury is speaking at their event, so I put two and two together and came up with five and for that I apologise. It seems the information on the ICFI website is error, not the Times article, as having had a “chance” encounter with the six-strong hasbara team today, Ms. Khoury was not present as far as I could tell, but another Palestinian Citizen of Israel was (more on that in another post).
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Another minority included in the entourage is one Hadas Yossef, an Ethiopian Jew who was brought to Israel in 1983, presumably as part of Operation Moses.  According to the IsraelPolitick blog (an official Israeli Foreign Ministry website):

After completing her studies in Architecture at the Bezalel High Institute for Arts, Hadas began working as a professional architect at one of the biggest firms in Israel.

As with Ms. Khoury, I think, given that some 60% of Ethiopian Jews live below the poverty line and are subject to disgusting forms of racism, Ms. Yossef is not entirely representative of the experiences of her community within Israel either. It’s like pointing at Barack Obama and saying “look, institutional racism doesn’t exist in the US any more”.

In the interview, Mr. Adam Briscoe is at pains to point out that the “Faces of Israel” initiative “operates independently of the [Israeli] government”. This claim is disgustingly laughable. Not only because it is contradicted by his the very next sentence, to whit: “it was born out of an idea publicly touted last year by Yuli Edelstein the Israeli minister for public diplomacy [hasbara]”; but also because the Israeli press has been touting these guys as being sent by the government! As an article in yesterday’s Jerusalem Post explains:

The Public Diplomacy [Hasbara] Ministry plans to send 100 Israelis from different sectors in society abroad to represent and defend the state during Israel Apartheid Week.

The participants in the project have undergone several weeks of training in the Public Diplomacy Ministry, and will visit dozens of college campuses to battle the “apartheid” label in New York, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Dublin, London, Madrid, Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Indeed, according to the Times article, another of the participants, Sari Diskind, actually works in the office of the Israeli Prime Minster.

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EDIT 2: 24-02-2012:
Mr. Mark Paul of the Times has also asked me to clarify that Mr. Briscoe did not say that “it was born out of an idea publicly touted last year…” and that was in fact Mr. Paul’s balancing of Briscoe’s comments. Fair enough, but I think it was worded (or perhaps edited, as a journalist I know the pain of the editor’s knife) in a clumsy way, such that a cursory reading would suggest the whole comment came from Briscoe.
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Not only that, these same characters could be considered old hands at this type of thing, given that some of them have done it all before, in (at least) February and September of last year. And one can bet they are not paying for this out of their own pockets.

The Jerusalem Post also tells us that the “mission, which leaves next weekend, includes settlers, Arabs, artists, experts in national security, gay people, and immigrants from Ethiopia”.

Conspicuously absent from this list of advocates are any representatives of the Palestinian community of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the occupied Syrian Druze community, the internally displaced Palestinians within Israel, the Bedouin community currently undergoing ethnic cleansing, gay Palestinians blackmailed by the Israeli secret police, the external Palestinian refugee community, or even anti-occupation Jewish-Israelis. Clearly in it’s desire to show us the rainbows of diversity in Israeli society – and given that illegal settler voices are included, presumably the lovely conditions under which all people in the territories controlled by Israel live – the Israeli Ministry of Hasbara feels it is necessary to exclude “unimportant” voices, i.e. ones that might call a spade a spade and say, “Israeli is an apartheid state”.

And ultimately, that is what this mission is all about. This week in Ireland, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other groups are taking part in international Israeli Apartheid Week 2012. According to the IPSC website:

Israeli Apartheid Week is an annual international series of events held across the globe. The aim is to educate people about the nature of Israeli apartheid against the Palestinian people and to build the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement locally and globally. Last year, IAW took place in over 60 cities across the globe. (Full list of Irish IAW week events here)

I think it is a tribute to the work of Palestine Solidarity activists in Ireland that the Hasbaristas feel it necessary to send a delegation that is definitely, definitely, not sponsored by the Israeli government to come here and lie for them. Keep up the good work folks.

Of course, what the Israeli government seems loathe to accept that it is not better PR tactics that are needed to improve the state’s image, it is an end to apartheid, occupation, human rights violations and war crimes!

(Update 21/02/2012: Thanks to Irish Left Review for re-blogging this piece)

Comedy, activism and Palestine: An interview with comedian Mark Thomas

April 25, 2011
Mark Thomas in Palestine

Mark Thomas in Palestine

In March 2011 I interviewed the English ‘activist-comedian’ Mark Thomas in Dublin. Mark was once a familiar face on British television with The Mark Thomas Product and various one off features. Today sadly, it seems he’s been relegated to BBC Radio 4 – though his output is still great. Mark was performing his new show and promoting the tie-in book Extreme Rambling: Walking Israel’s Barrier. For Fun.

The afternoon before the show, I get a call asking me to meet Mark in one of Dublin’s most upmarket hotels, a scene most definitely at odds with the image I have of this muck-raking lefty, whose career I’ve followed for the best part of twenty years. Happily, as Mark arrives for the interview, virtually his first words are “let’s go somewhere else”; he clearly feels as uncomfortable as I do in these plush surroundings. The lobby staff, who’ve been eyeing me with suspicion for the past fifteen minutes, also look relieved to see the back of us too. En route to a nearby cafe a man bounds up to us, hand outstretched to shake Mark’s. He’s a big fan, would Mark pose for a photo? Ever the gent, Mark is happy oblige.

As we begin our discussion, what really strikes me is that Mark is soft-spoken and reflective, totally unlike his highly animated and agitated stage-and-screen persona. At times I’m concerned my temperamental dictaphone won’t pick up his voice  over the general hubbub of the cafe. I’m happy to report that Mark was a thoroughly nice chap, and 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.

An opinion I’m sure you’ll share once you’ve read through the interview below.

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KS: Your new book is about walking the length of the West Bank Wall. This is probably a bad question to begin with, but I’ve been a fan of yours for almost 20 years, and this is the first time you’ve done something on Palestine. If this isn’t too bad a question, how come it took you so long to get around to Palestine?

MT: No that’s not quite right. There’s a lot I’ve done on the arms trade that went back into Israel and went back into the UK government’s relationship with the Israeli and the Defence Forces and certainly there’s a lot of stuff about the Head-Up Displays and the armoured vehicles that were used in the occupied territories by the Israeli Defence Force and the Air Force so I slightly dispute that, I’ve done quite a lot on this before.

KS: No I do apologise, I’ve just remembered that it was also actually here in Ireland where you brought the Israeli stone throwing machine manufacturers over. The whole “shoot sweets at Palestinians” thing!

MT: Also there was some of the companies we had thrown out of the London Arms Fair were Israeli companies, we’ve organised pickets outside Rafael which is an Israeli company, we’ve done stuff to coincide with Tom Hurndall’s anniversary, and we did quite a successful embarrassment of the Israeli Embassy when they agreed to pay the family some of the cost of transporting Tom and the cheque bounced, which was really, really out of order.

KS: I had not heard that at all, wow!

MT: So we did an action, a bring-and-buy to save Israel from going bust. So there’s been quite a lot I’ve done, including a number of benefits and so on as well.

KS: Haha! Yes, well I retract my original question, I guess what I was trying to get at was what was it that made you actually want to go to Palestine and do this amazing tour of the Wall?

MT: In all the stuff that I do, people make this great mistake and say, is part of your job to go and help, to tell people your message so that they can go away. Well I think it’s pointless for me to do this stuff unless it’s part of some process of change. But part of that process of change first and foremost is me. So it’s me finding out things, it’s me going to work out how things are, and if I can go and find this thing and examine it and find out how it works then come back and tell the story, then other people will sort of get to see it as well. So for me, part of the reason I wanted to go was curiosity. And really, I mention this in the show, that the second intifada made me switch off. I just really didn’t care a huge amount, I did carry on working on the stuff about the arms trade, but actually the second intifada was this huge, y’know, bloody mess and lots of Palestinians you’d speak to would say ‘Oh we lost everything’. Certainly international support was lost during the second intifada. And I know there are traditions in the international solidarity campaign that say we have to support this, it’s not up to us to choose the direction. And that’s fair enough, and that’s true, but it’s also up to me to decide whether I support something or not, and the direction that something goes in becomes a factor within that. So part of the reason I stayed away from the issue – and I have done a lot on it, but part of the reason that I hadn’t grasped it perhaps as firmly as I have now – is because the second intifada just switched me off it.

KS: So what switched you back on?

MT: What switched me back on was Operation Cast Lead. And I suppose both of those two things are important moments, not just for me but I suspect for many fellow travellers who would be like, y’know, ‘we don’t want anything to do with this shit’ – I mean the suicide bombs were horrendous, and yes there are the arguments about proportionality: there were more Palestinians killed than Israelis – which is true – but that doesn’t therefore justify the use of indiscriminate violence. These are kind of issues that somehow people either swerve or excuse – and I think actually it’s like the issue of, you know the Israeli soldier who’s been imprisoned?

KS: Gilad Shalit.

MT: Yeah, he’s been there for four years now and y’know, he’s just got to be released, y’know it’s just inhuman to keep someone in solitary confinement for four years. It’s as simple as that. And yet thousands of Palestinians are in jail. I went to see the Israeli military courts in action, and they are really unedifying. One guy was jailed for ‘harbouring a wanted person’, he was a taxi driver and the guy was in the back of his cab! It was like ‘Oh my Lord!’, y’know? So there is of course disproportionate abuse of human rights [by Israel], but that doesn’t excuse it on any count. I suppose my journey from going just ‘I don’t wanna know about that’ to being involved is one that lots of lots of people made, I suspect.

KS: I’ve certainly found that in our work. After Cast Lead, people became far more interested. Obviously Cast Lead was this totally brutal assault…

MT: It was. It was just hugely cruel, y’know, no matter what the analysis of it, no matter what viewpoint you had, you had to actually come down and say ‘you’re dropping banned weapons on a captive civilian population’. I think that was quite an important moment in me going ‘I wanna find out more’.

KS: And did the Flotilla have any effect, or were you already out there when that happened?

MT: I’d already been out there and back by the time the Flotilla happened.

KS: You’re not planning on going on the next one yourself are you?

MT: You know I’ve got a few dates to put in the book haha. I don’t know… maybe. Maybe. It’s one of those things I think you have to consider very carefully and think about a lot. Perhaps.

KS: I’ve heard that Russell Brand might be going, but whether that happens or not is another story obviously.

MT: I like Russell, he’s a great guy. He’s far more moral and intelligent than people portray him as. I think he’s a good fella.

KS: So obviously I only got the book this morning, and I haven’t seen the show yet, so when you walked the wall, you actually went out twice, is that right?

MT: That’s right.

KS: And did you start at the bottom and walk to the top? Or…

MT: We started at the top and went to the bottom. We started right where the River Jordan meets the Jordan Valley, right at the beginning of the very first part of the wall, basically the furthest east that we could and then just came all the way around.

KS: How long did it actually take?

MT: The whole thing took about eight and a half weeks in total. And that was because we were working with Israeli fixers and Palestinian fixers and all sorts of groups and we stopped to do interviews as we went along the wall. Sometimes we did interviews with people we’d just meet, sometimes people who were bussed in, sometimes just, y’know with whatever was out there. When we talked to the mayors in the settlements or with the army people that we spoke to, those took some getting in just to speak to them, and invariably there’d be times when someone would agree to an interview and we’d be in the south and have to get back up north to do the interview etcetera.

KS: These were filmed interviews?

MT: Yeah.

KS: So will there be a DVD coming out?

MT: A film, hopefully.

KS: On Channel 4 or what?

MT: In the cinema, we hope!

KS: Well that’s great, something to look forward to, fingers crossed anyway. Again this is from my brief flick through the book, it seems you would have met a lot of the same type of people I would have met when I was out, people from the non-violent resistance Popular Committees. People who I found really inspiring, what are your thoughts on them?

MT: I think they are inspiring. The non-violent resistance movement that is building there is really, really exciting and it is incredible. I mean, the national leadership is fucked, on both sides, and actually, y’know is just fucked. The most interesting stuff is the grass roots stuff, that’s what’s really interesting, the community leadership that’s coming out and the community action that’s coming out is just superb. It really is brilliant! And I love the fact and I find it really intriguing that people are quite honest about their approach to non-violence. The people I met would talk about, a lot of people would say to me ‘it’s way to do it, it’s the way to change things’. Other people would say ‘I was in jail and we started reading and discussing Gandhi and we’re not winning militarily, we need to change tack’. Other people would say ‘we’re giving it a go because violence hasn’t worked’, other people would say ‘we’ve just found it’, or what have you. People were very honest about it. And I was fascinated by the fact that there was discussion all the way along the walk about non-violent resistance and what it meant, whether it was like the anarchists over in Bil’in who talked about ‘unarmed resistance’ versus ‘non-violent resistance’, or campaigning work, whether it was attacking the theological underpinnings of Zionism through the Kairos Palestine document or what have you. I met some of the guys who drafted the Kairos document and they were wonderful, y’know? And the bits I enjoyed most of all were walking with folk and just getting into nice long conversations. Those were the most pleasurable. I have to say I found the Israeli activists absolutely morally on the money, and that was really exciting. I mean, I expected the Palestinian grass roots groups to be good, but I just didn’t have the Israeli activists really on my radar. People like ICAHD [the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions] I was aware of, but actually Combatants For Peace, who I met quite a few people from who I adore, just absolutely wonderful people, and also Breaking The Silence who are absolutely amazing, with a real moral sense of purpose. That I found really surprising, and absolutely brilliant, just absolutely brilliant. I suppose you get shocked by the things you don’t expect, and I didn’t expect that.

KS: I was actually going to ask you about the Israelis that you met, because last night we organised a talk with Gideon Levy, the journalist from Haaretz, and he painted a very, very pessimistic view of the Israeli society. I don’t know if I’m as pessimistic as him, but I wanted to know your general impressions of those that you met from the Israeli side, because I think it is important to recognise that it’s not just Palestinians involved in resistance, there is, I think, a growing sector of Israeli society that is involved.

MT: I’m not an expert, but I don’t know whether they are growing.

KS: Oh, really?

MT: No, I’m not saying I question your analysis, I mean that I genuinely just don’t know. What I think was very clear was obviously that Israeli groups and activists are coming under increased political pressure. Whether it is the criminalisation of advocacy of BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], whether it is investigations into foreign funding of groups that criticise Israeli policies as is the case with Breaking The Silence. These are obvious moves that show that the Israeli authorities are worried by the campaign for sanctions and boycott, they genuinely are.  Despite the fact that there is, if I could generalise for a moment, a certain bellicose nature, that’s a bit Millwall – ‘no one likes us, we don’t care’. And I’ll argue with Israelis, saying ‘you’re gonna be isolated, you’re gonna be isolated from the world, that’s what’s gonna happen’ and they just go ‘ the world deserted us in 1936’, y’know? But you were stateless then! I think there’s a very interesting mood, the Israelis that I met were the rump of the activist movement, and everyone seems a bit knackered, almost as if the second intifada just burned everyone out and y‘know I remember speaking to people from the Al Aqsa Brigades up in the north and they were also saying everyone’s tired. Everyone’s just keeping their heads above water. And to see all these different attitudes, these attitudes which were about trying to get non-violent campaigns off the ground, whether it’s challenging the wall, organising stuff, whether it’s Budrus or Bil’in or what have you, you know that there’d also be this feeling of actually, people are a bit shattered.

KS: Yeah, I kinda got that impression myself the last time I was out there. Ten years of the intifada and aftermath, it’s a long time to exist like that.

MT: Yeah. Hope and optimism isn’t in big supply out there. But I think the one thing that is, is the fact that the Palestinians have just remained there. One thing that somebody said to me on the first day was the thing that they were most proud of was the fact that ‘my people are still here’. I think by the time I got to the end of the walk I kind of understood a little bit about that. And that’s actually quite amazing and stunning that people have withstood the onslaught that is going on. That is quite amazing.

KS: As the slogan on the wall in Bethlehem says, ‘To Exist is to Resist’, I think encapsulates it.

MT: Absolutely, you’re right, it encapsulates it.

KS: Obviously when you were going along, doing your thing, you had cameras with you.

MT: One camera.

KS: Did you encounter much hassle from the military?

MT: Loads! Loads! Why do you think it took eight and a half weeks? Because we kept getting detained. There is a very weird thing in Israel that people believe that actually you can’t film them, y’know ‘you can’t film me, you can’t film me!’ You’re in a public place, and I come from that sort of culture, you know, you’re in a public place, of course I can film you!

KS: Ok so final question, it’s more about comedy really, as a vehicle for, well topical comedy as I called it earlier as opposed to satire.

MT: What I do isn’t stand up. What I do has a foot in theatre and a foot in comedy. But it’s not stand up. To me it’s about getting out and telling the stories and taking people on a journey, taking people somewhere they didn’t expect to go, that’s tradition that I sort of started in – you go to see a cabaret or you go to see a performance because you don’t know what you’re gonna see. You might see something that you really like, and you didn’t expect to see it. That was the gig, that you’d and see something that you didn’t know about. I think the major sea change that has happened is the proliferation of very cheap panel shows and comedy shows and stuff like that – and they are very economically viable to make, because you don’t need a script or an editor or a producer or 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. Which is very much a sort of neo-liberal version of economics. And 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, y’know?! I’m always amazed at how easily people will be fobbed off, that actually you buy a Frankie Boyle ticket and you’ll have seen all the stuff already on TV. The sea change that happened was that people started to go and see things that they knew they would like, and they knew what they were getting, ‘I wanna go and see Andy Parsons’ – good fella – ‘cos I know what I’m getting with Andy Parsons’. So people will turn up going, ‘I know what I want’ rather than saying ‘well, what’s on?’ And for me that’s always been part of the gig, I mean I was doing a gig the other night in Cardiff and the best moment of the night was finishing the set, packing up to go, and the bouncer just came up and said to me ‘that was fucking great, I’ve never seen anything like that. That’s marvellous!’ My job is done! Do you know what I mean? You can talk about anything, you can put anything into performance, you can put anything into writing… there should be no boundaries on art, simple as that. I just depends on the individual, whether they think it’s suitable or not. There are certain Zionists who are very upset that I’m even talking about this, because they say that even to criticise the wall is to criticise Israel and therefore to be an anti-Semite which is madness.

KS: Madness which is unfortunately accepted in certain sectors of society…

MT: I don’t think it’s hugely accepted, y’know, if you start going ‘we will decide what you can and can’t talk about on stage’, no you won’t, you’ll fuck off! I think quite a lot of people still think that about journalists – ‘fuck off you can’t tell people what to say’. But also I think there is a mood that is generally going ‘oooh you shouldn’t upset people’, and that’s to do with perceived racism, and that’s akin, there are parallels here, people are frightened of being accused of being an anti-Semite, regardless of whether you are or you aren’t, there is a fear that if you engage with the issue, you might be perceived as an anti-Semite. And that’s really awful that that fear is out there, in the same way – I don’t think it’s huge by the way, I don’t think it’s as big as people sometimes think – there was the play up in Birmingham, the Sikh play that was taken off because people from the Sikh community demonstrated against it, woah woah woah woah, no way! Once you start determining what constitutes what we can talk about and what we can’t talk talk about in public we’re on a really slippy slope about what constitutes freedom of speech and what constitutes state or religious control of speech. And I suppose the Zionist movement who would advocate and say that if you criticise the wall you are an anti-Semite, they’re part of that nexus of religious and ideological censorship.  For me it’s really about, I love the fact that I get people sending me little messages and texts and what have you, just going ‘great, I’d never thought about this or I’ve never realised this’ y’know? And to me it’s actually exciting, it’s really, really exciting and it’s just me saying how I started in my state of ignorance and learned a little bit, not a huge amount – I’m not an expert – but having done this walk and met these people, it’s very much about the people I met.

KS: If I could just big you up here to yourself, when I was I guess 14 or whatever I first saw one of the Mark Thomas Comedy Products on Channel 4, I’d grown up with y’know Fawlty Towers and all this kind of stuff…

MT: Which is great.

KS: … oh no, don’t get me wrong I love it, but I’d never seen comedy that could actually have a social purpose.

MT: Well for me it was about actually not just being a cheerleader for change, but being an instrument of change, and actually just going ‘you can get things done!’ And I love the fact y’know that when people go ‘well what good has come from your work’, I’ve got a small list that I like to look at! That’s really exciting, and there has to be a purpose to art, there has to be a purpose to all our expressions – whether it is right-wing literature or whatever, there is no such thing as an ideologically neutral piece. There is a very odd thing that happens, I mentioned it to someone this morning, there’s thing that happens that on the left we’re constantly questioned, people say, ‘what comes first, the politics or the comedy?’ Or ‘do you think comedy is a good vehicle for politics?’ Nobody turns around to Jim Davidson and says ‘Jim, is it the racism or the laughter? Tell me is it the bigotry that’s most important to you, are you getting new bigots?’ Do you know what I mean?

KS: That’s a very good point that I’d never really thought about before.

MT: So there’s always, always a political slant, just mine is slightly more pronounced and declared.

KS: So can we expect to see you back on television any time soon, no?

MT: [Laughs] Someone asked me that last night from the audience when we were finishing up, and I replied ‘I looked out this window this morning and there’s still no ice in Hell!”

KS: Well that’s very unfortunate.

MT: It is and it isn’t. The point being that with this tour, there’ll be 50,000 people that see the show. In the space of a year, that means the programs for the show, we’re doing these programs that have actually sold out before we got to Dublin, but we have these programs which are all about Zaytoun and their olive oil and about farmers struggling for economic viability, as so part of the profits go back to them. At the end of it all, I think we’ll have made a few quid for Zaytoun, we’ll have covered all the costs of doing the thing in the first place, and kept me and my family with our heads above water. We’ll have performed to 50,000 people, the program will probably sell something like 10,000 to 15,000 copies, which have got articles by Jamal [Juma’], Zaytoun, Stop The Wall, Ben Yeger from Combatants For Peace, War On Want on boycotts and divestment, we’ve published the BDS call from Palestinian civil society on the back of the program, we’ve got the maps that show the reduction of Palestinian land since 1917, y’know there’s all sorts of stuff that’s quite exciting for people to take away, it’s also like intellectual ammunition to take away with you so you can come out fighting at the end of it. And the book, well I don’t know how many people the book will reach, maybe 50,000 maybe 100,000 copies, I don’t know. And who knows what will happen with the film. They’re still quite good figures. It’s not as much as telly, but I’ve got complete control over the thing. I seriously had a producer, someone at Channel 4 had suggested a program for me to make, it really sort of symbolised the end of our relationship, the program that she asked me to consider making was Celebrity Guantanamo Bay. Now at that point you have to question whether there’s anything viable there. And I’m really pleased with this work that’s going to get out to 50,000 people, that’s gonna go to Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds festivals and y’know all those places where it’s not just the usual suspects, and that’s exciting. I don’t really wanna get into sort of the state of play of TV comedy cos that’s just… [long pause]

KS: Depressing?

MT: Some of the people in it are really good, some of the people are really, really great. And there is some great stuff, like Inbetweeners, Phone Shop and stuff like that are really great programs, really good programs. I was doing a benefit the other night for the Linda Smith [Tribute Fund]…

KS: What’s it now, her fifth anniversary?

MT: Yeah. It was great cos there was lots of us in unions who were all mates with her, and she was a righteous drinker. And so there was Jo Brand, John Hegley and myself and Andy Hamilton and Rory Bremner as well, and a jazz pianist called Ian Shaw who really is quite remarkable, and so there’s some of the most creative and original voices of my generation are on this stage and they’re still doing their stuff. Rory is brilliant, really sharp as a dart and the two Johns [Bird and Fortune] are incredible. So on one hand you have got 8 Out Of 10 Cats saying ‘my cock is bigger than yours’ or whatever, and on the other hand you have performers like Rory and you have programs like Inbetweeners which are genuinely brilliant, really fantastic TV, and there’s also the sort of like, I love all the state of the nation stuff that comes out of HBO. I adore y’know all the stuff like Breaking Bad which is a really incredible state of the nation declaration about this is what happens when you take money out of the public sector and these are the consequences of when we go down this route, when we don’t back teachers, when we dump them. There’s lots of good stuff coming from HBO. There’s loads of amazing theatre as well, stuff like Black Watch which was a show about Iraq which really was quite an amazing piece of drama, this is stuff that moves people and affects people in a very profound way. Does it get a little complacent? Yeah it all does at times. Does it need a kick up the arse? Yeah of course. But with television [becoming] a kind of awful freeview satellite [thing],  I now say ‘this is shit’ about eighty times a day!

===================

Mark’s new book Extreme Rambling was published by Ebury Press on 7 April. The live show is touring Britain until 25 September 2011. Mark’s website is www.markthomasinfo.com

An edited version of this interview, combined with a review of the book and show appeared on the Electronic Intifada website on 13th April 2011.

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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?

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The Zionist Times? – Ireland’s “paper of record” erases Palestine from the map

April 10, 2011

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism will be pleased that their latest €9 million hasbara offensive is already paying dividends. Conscientious readers of the Irish Times on the other hand will have been sorely disappointed that Ireland’s alleged “paper of record” chose to participate in the apartheid state’s propaganda campaign – and in so doing, wiped the Palestinians off the map. Literally!

The cover story of this Saturday’s Go travel section in the Times is dedicated to “Getting to the heart of Israel”.  Over a gushing two-page spread we learn that Israel’s “heart” is in fact Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, although the author Cian Traynor neglects to let his readers know Jerusalem’s actual status under International Law. As it turns out, Mr. Traynor was – according to a short note at the end of the piece – “a guest of the Israel Government Tourist Office”, so it’s little wonder he failed to point out that East Jerusalem was illegally annexed by Israel in 1967 in a move recognised internationally by no one but itself.

"Floating around Israel?"

"Floating around Israel?"

The cover image (above) shows a woman floating in the Dead Sea while reading a brochure showing an image of the Dome of the Rock – the headline is “Floating around Israel”. Traynor and the Times then inform us that Jerusalem is “at the country’s heart … an epicentre of faith and tension where souls and soldiers co-exist”. Had he bothered to visit the neighbourhoods of, for example, Silwan or Sheikh Jarrah he could have seen this “co-existence” first-hand as Palestinian residents are evicted to make way for illegal Israeli colonial settlers as part of the Zionist project to “Judaize” East Jerusalem. In the world of Cian Traynor it seems Palestinians do not actually exist, as despite visiting lots of East Jerusalem and passing through Jericho (also in Israel apparently) on his way to the Dead Sea, the word “Palestinian” does not appear once. Yes he meets a falafel maker in the “Muslim quarter” and passes some “shanty Bedouin communities”, but there’s not a Palestinian to be seen in a land home to nearly five-and-a-half million of them.

It’s difficult to know whether Traynor is actively pro-Zionist , or whether he is merely one of Israeli Apartheid’s “useful idiots”. If the latter, then the City University of London should be asking for their MA in Journalism back for, according to his website (where he invites “feedback” should you like to provide him with some), that is where he was trained in the noble arts of the Fourth Estate. Perhaps he bunked off his fact-checking classes.

However, the redrawing of political geography doesn’t end with Traynor. One must give serious props to the Irish Times ‘Premedia’ department for producing a map (below) of the area that simply erases the Occupied Palestinian Territories. While I personally would certainly like to see a one-state solution, we’re definitely not there yet. One has to ask how on earth this map got green-lit by the editor?

The Occupied West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights have magically disappeared!

The Occupied West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights have magically disappeared!

Finally, it is worth quoting the Palestinian Boycott National Committee on the issue of Israeli tourism: “Supporting Israeli tourism comes at the cost of further destruction to Palestinian communities, heritage and culture. Tourism is used by the occupation to promote a ‘progressive’, ‘peaceful’ and ‘multicultural’ [Israeli] face to the world despite the daily crimes committed against the Palestinian people. In the campaign against tourism to Apartheid South Africa, activists sought out tourist exhibitions or agents promoting travel to the regime under the slogan ‘Apartheid is NO Holiday’”.

If they are indeed capable of feeling such an emotion, the Irish Times should be ashamed of themselves for printing this tripe. It’s almost as if this was a puff-piece sponsored by the Israeli government… oh wait!

Incidentally, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign has written a letter to Gerladine Kennedy, the Irish Times’ editor, demanding a retraction. It is doubtful such a retraction will be issued – but even if it is, it will be too little, too late.

UPDATE 13/04/2011: The Times printed a (totally inadequate) “clarification” today, read more here.

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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 http://bit.ly/aZ7AE 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’ (http://bit.ly/aRMsvS). 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)
Available from http://www.ipsc.ie and http://www.plutobooks.com

Israel: A racist colonial society eating itself from the inside

August 14, 2010

Below is my August article for Socialist Voice.

Jewish Defence League (JDL) graffiti in Hebron

Israel: A racist colonial society eating itself from the inside
Socialist Voice
, August 2010

Loyalty oaths to a religious state, stripping opposition politicians of parliamentary rights, community leaders and political activists jailed on trumped up charges, expulsions of minority representatives, demolition of minority homes, criminalising non-violent resistance and historical commemorations, calls for the murder of infidels, attacks on human rights organisations, arrests and deportations of international observers, people detained, tortured and disappeared into a prison system with no access to lawyers (and wiretapping of those that do), municipal programs and vigilante patrols to break up inter-religious/ethnic couples, vicious theological debates over who is or isn’t a member of the religious majority…

Reading the above list one would presume that we are discussing some theocratic tin-pot dictatorship desperately scrabbling to keep its bloody mitts on the reins of power. In fact we are examining the “only democracy in the Middle East”, that great “bastion of Western liberalism”, the Zionist state of Israel. Furthermore, we are not even talking about Israel’s well documented crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, but the increasingly irrational, repulsive and racist downward spiral of Israeli society in recent times.

For obvious and logical reasons  – overt apartheid, mass murder, routine human rights abuses, colonial expansion… the list is almost literally endless – the attention of Palestinian solidarity activists has been mainly focused on Israeli abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Often we overlook the 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel (over 20% of the Israeli population) and the racist and religious-supremacist nature of discrimination they face – both from the State and mainstream Jewish-Israeli society.

For example, a recent poll of Israeli teenagers showed that 49% felt that Jews and “Arabs” (refusing to call them Palestinians is a form of Israeli historical/cultural denial) should not have equal rights in the state. Other polls over the past few years have shown that 50% of Israeli Jews supported “encouraging” Palestinian emigration from Israel (2007) and that 67% would refuse to live in the same building as a Palestinian (2006).

Such attitudes are, of course, not unusual in colonial-settler societies – however Israel has always tried to present a façade of liberal tolerance to the outside world, juxtaposing Israeli “civilisation” with Palestinian “barbarism”. Regardless of the obvious falsity of such nonsense, the mask has well and truly slipped; we now have “the most racist [Israeli parliament] of all time” according to the anti-racist Mossawa Center, and the evidence of this increasingly racist/supremacist trajectory is there for anyone who takes the time to read the Israeli press.

Mere examples include the jailing of a Palestinian man for having consensual sex with a Jewish woman (he was convicted of “rape by deception” for not disclosing his ethnicity);  the ‘vice and virtue’ patrols that aim to prevent Palestinian and Israelis from dating; religious publications calling for the murder of non-Jews, the stripping of parliament member Haneen Zoabi of her parliamentary privileges and widespread calls for her assassination for taking part in the Freedom Flotilla; the de facto exiling of Azmi Bishara the leader of the Balad Party on trumped up charges of treason (and he is not the only community leader facing such accusations); the jailing of the Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raed Salah for spitting at a policeman; the ongoing attempts at ‘Judaizing’ Palestinian East Jerusalem. This is not to mention the raft of bills before the pariliament that aim to criminalise commemoration of the Nakba, criminalise those who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, impose a loyalty oath to the “Jewish state”, and revoke the citizenship of those deemed “disloyal”. Again, these are just a sampling of such proposals.

These would appear to be dangerous and fearful times for Palestinian citizens of Israel. However, it is possible to see a bright side to all of this. Internally, the colonial elements of Jewish-Israel society and polity seem to have nowhere left to go, even as Palestinians continue to undergo a process of politicisation, often in cooperation with anti-Zionist Jews. The true nature of the racism and supremacism inherent in Zionism and the colonial-settler state it gave rise to is being exposed time and again. Israel is delegitimising itself in the eyes of civil society around the world via its brutal actions against Palestinians and their international supporters, and no longer even attempts to maintain, even in theory, its traditional veneer of internal liberalism (the inane doublespeak of spokespeople like Mark Regev and Zion Evrony notwithstanding). Israel is effectively eating itself from the inside, while Palestinians come up with new and ever inventive ways to resist Israeli colonialism. These are positive developments and it is incumbent upon those of us in the international Palestinian solidarity movement to redouble our efforts to facilitate the fall of Israeli apartheid by building the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

Links for more information: www.arabhra.orgwww.adalah.orgwww.mossawacenter.orgwww.acri.org.ilwww.theonlydemocracy.orgwww.coteret.com