My mind has been moving back and forth between news stories about the Palestinian election results and news stories about the newly-concocted International Holocaust Memorial Day, which was yesterday. In less than two months, the United Nations drafted a resolution to make this a holiday and somehow in some places it has taken hold. How many years has it been since UN Resolutions 194 was drafted, which granted Palestinian refugees the right of returning to their homes? 58 years. And nothing. Not one move. When Palestinians have tried to negotiate this international referendum into the “peace process,” they have been backed into a corner saying they are “refusing” a myriad of the “generous offers.” What perturbs me the most about the creation of such a UN holiday is the fact that it commemorates only Jewish suffering and elevates it to the usual yardstick with which to measure all other people’s suffering. Why didn’t they choose, for instance, to create a Genocide Memorial Day? Of course, this would be yet another reminder that the UN is impotent when helping people in places like Rwanda and Sudan when such gross and massive human suffering is taking place. But the mere questioning of this is, of course, policed by Jews around the world as if you question the suffering of Jewish people (or, of course, the state of Israel) you are anti-Semitic. I was reminded of this when I awoke to the BBC program, “Have Your Say,” this morning in which people were debating this very subject.
I had been thinking about the use of the Jewish holocaust especially because as a part of my research I’m thinking about how it is used to rationalize the existence of Israel. One of the canonical books for Jewish kids in Hebrew school in the U.S. is Elie Wiesel’s Night, which I recently re-read in light of the fact that Oprah Winfrey has decided to encourage millions of Americans to do the same by choosing it as her next book club selection. I hadn’t read it since I was a teenager in Hebrew school, but it didn’t leave a huge impression on me then or now. The book is okay. It is not, I think, the most powerful book on the subject that one could choose to read. Or maybe it is just that such narratives have lost their power over me. I’ve read too many in my life to be moved by them. Although I don’t suspect this is the case. But at present I’m far more intrigued by the humanity of Jewish writers (some Israeli, some not) who are either survivors from the Jewish holocaust or are children of survivors and who make it a point to write about what it means for one population who has suffered to make another population suffer in similar ways.
This is precisely what I was thinking when I re-read Wiesel’s memoir directly on the heels of reading Ghada Karmi’s In Search of Fatima, a memoir by a Palestinian woman from Al Quds (Jerusalem) who describes in detail her memories of the massacres, refugees, and general suffering instigated by Jews in British mandate Palestine upon both English and Palestinian people, though, of course, to different degrees. Both of these memoirs take place in the same decade. Both books describe suffering that is remarkably similar. Perhaps because of current events, this got me thinking about language and politics and the Palestinian elections.
I cannot say that I’m surprised by the results of the elections. In many societies where democracy works, when people are frustrated with their current leaders they often go in the opposite direction. Look at Israel’s election of Ariel Sharon (okay, I know, not a real democracy, but at least it’s a country that claims to have one). And, though this is certainly not any indication of democracy functioning properly since his first term in office was selected by the U.S. Supreme Court rather than the voters, George W. Bush. As a feminist I can’t say that I’m enamored with Hamas, but as a pragmatist I know that they have done things for Palestinian people that met people’s needs in ways that Fatah hadn’t. But as I stated in my last Blog entry, I have real concerns about anyone in office as I worry about how an official government can continue to meet the needs of real Palestinians, especially refugees.
Of course, one of the expected, though most aggravating aspects of post-election discourse has been European, Israeli, and United States leaders stating they won’t deal with Hamas. Such comments come on the heels of the United States pumping $2 million into the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority prior to the election to boost the appeal of its members’ candidacy. And such comments also obscure a fact Judy Swallows on BBC Newshour last night reminded listeners of, “yesterday’s terrorist is tomorrow’s statesman.” No, she wasn’t referring to Palestinians when she made this comment; she was referring to the history of Israeli leaders who were designated terrorists by the British government, for instance, for their activities in designated terrorist organizations such as Irgun. If you look at the photo I loaded for this blog entry, you’ll see an Irgun poster which shows us a militant organization that was committed to an Israel that far extends beyond even the 1967 borders; in fact, it includes even Amman where I sit right now. Israeli leaders such as Menacham Begin, responsible for the massacre of Palestinians in many villages, most famously in Deir Yassin in 1948; or Ariel Sharon, responsible for the 1982 massacres in Palestinian refugee camps in South Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila. In fact, every Israeli Prime Minister began their career in one of the many Israeli terrorist organizations: Irgun, Stern Gang, Palmach, and Haganah. Rabbi Michael Lerner explains this phenomenon:
“Just as the election of previously Israeli terrorists Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon set the backdrop for the possibiliy of peace negotiations with Israel’s enemies in the past thirty years, the election of the murderous terrorists of Hamas may ultimately make it more likey that a peace agreement entered into by a Hamas dominated government would actually amount to something lasting and substantial.”
That Israel and the U.S. state that they won’t negotiate with an organization that takes up arms in its struggle against the Occupation, one only needs to be reminded that both negotiated with the PLO when espousing similar reactionary statements; Gush Shalom’s Adam Keller and Uri Avnery state:
“The State of Israel has conducted negotiations with the PLO long before its Covenant was officially abolished, not did it wait for its abolition before signing an agreement with the PLO and starting implementation on the ground. The very holding of negotiations has rendered the Covenant meaningless. The same is true for the Hamas Covenant: the holding of talks between a Hamas-led government and the State of Israel will constitute mutual recognition – by the Hamas movement of the existence of Israel and by Israel of the Palestinian government also when formed by the Hamas.”
Moreover, if Israel is concerned about the election results, than its leaders should have thought about this long ago. Rabbi Michael Lerner reminds us that,
“Hamas would not have won without the conscious decision of Ariel Sharon to foster that possibility. From the moment that Sharon rejected negotiations with Arafat, who had explicitly recognized the existence of the State of Israel, and ended the Fatah call for Israel’s destruction, Sharon was strengthening the credibility of Hamas. If Fatah was too radical to be negotiated with, what would the Palestinian people be losing by voting for Hamas? And then when Arafat was replaced by a Palestinian president Abbas who implemented an end to the Intifada and preached non-violence and negotations, and he too was rejected as a viable partner for Israel by Ariel Sharon, and Sharon instead went ahead and unilaterally withdrew from Gaza (as opposed to withdrawing in coordination with the Fatah’s Palestinian Authority government) he was clearly sending the message that the Palestinian Authority could deliver nothing for the Palestinian people.”
Thus, Blowback is operating once again as with the U.S. funding the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Too, just as Israelis voted for Sharon or Americans voted for Bush because of fears or “security,” Palestinians, I think, voted in similar fashion. No other party promised, and had a track record with delivering, when it comes to protecting and defending Palestinian people.
But the bottom line is that Palestinians’ most basic needs were not being met by Fatah. The government was viewed as a corrupt and people chose to vote for a party that has operated honestly and come through with promises made in the past. What worries me are the threats coming from the E.U. and the U.S. about aid. If that vital aid is cut off I worry about who will suffer the most. But even in its first statements about how Hamas plans to handle financial issues is promising: they plan to get rid of all of the body guards, cars, and other fringe benefits that people in the PLC have become accustomed to.
Perhaps one of the most important analyses of the election comes from Ali Abunimah, who speaking on KPFA yesterday, explained to listeners that the Hamas victory also comes from the fact that there hasn’t been any “peace process” if you’re Palestinian; rather, there has been a “war process.” While the media in the U.S. and elsewhere loves to report about suicide bombers, they certainly don’t seem to think it’s important enough to report on the conditions inside the Occupied Territories in a way that would explain the context of why and how this happens. And, as Abunimah explains, this “peace industry” is one of the many reasons Palestinians voted for Hamas:
“The principal purpose of this game is not to bring about a just and lasting peace but merely to inoculate the players from the charge that they are doing nothing to resolve a conflict that remains an enduring focus of regional and worldwide concern. A true peace effort would require confronting Israel and holding it accountable, something none of the Quartet members have the political will to do. There is no doubt that Fatah was entirely complicit in the game, to which it had become both a prisoner and an indispensable partner. Why else would the United States have desperately tried to shore Fatah up by spending millions of dollars on projects in recent months designed to buy votes, and why else would the EU have threatened to cut off aid if Palestinians voted for Hamas? Most Palestinians could see clearly that after years of negotiations and billions of dollars of foreign aid that they are poorer and less free than ever before as more of their land has been seized. It is no wonder that this kind of bribery and blackmail had no power over them and probably had the opposite effect, increasing Hamas support.”
Finally, for those who say that Israelis or leaders in the Quartet cannot negotiate with Hamas, they should recall that Rabbi Menechem Froman, an illegal Israeli settler in the West Bank, has met with and worked with Hamas leaders. In fact, they even came up with a statement about Jerusalem as it affects Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
I hope that the aid does not stop coming in to Phalasteen. I hope that change turns out to be positive for Palestinian people. I also hope that the world recognizes that democracy does not mean installing dictators that you control from afar.