i’m still thinking about disappearance. i have been thinking about this since i heard esmail nashif’s really fascinating, original talk at the muwatin conference a few weeks ago. though he was speaking about a different type of disappearance: one that gives palestinians agency. a new strategy of resistance. a disappearance underground, to reorganize, to regroup, to restrategize. it really is hard not to think about disappearance in a general sense when you live in palestine because people disappear every day. palestinians are exiled, murdered jailed, dispossessed of their land, they go underground. Things disappear, too; palestinian homes are demolished, villages are destroyed. these are all kinds of disappearance.
and still other things disappear. information disappears. evidence disappears. or access to information disappears. the zionist regime commits crimes every day for decades and where does it go? where are the journalists in the west to report on it? where are the human rights workers to cover it? where is the united nations? the rest of the world. they seem to disappear, too, when it is convenient for them.
voices disappear. people’s voices get silenced. arab leaders normalize relations with the zionist state and contribute to the disappearance of liberation. a liberation movement disappears and becomes as a pseudo-state. united nations resolutions are passed and forgotten; they disappear, too. ngos subsume palestinian creativity and agency.
of course, it is that initial disappearance: that presupposes all of these aforementioned disappearances and continues the practice of disappearance. it is the disappearance of the palestinians who are refugees and the disappearance of their land. jonathan cook’s new book, disappearing palestine, which i just started reading connects past and present disapperances in crucial ways. he is a journalist i admire greatly and whose books i always get as soon as they come out. a rarity in the world of journalism: one who delves into historical context and who is committed to the struggle of all palestinians, including those living in 1948 palestine where he resides. i want to quote at length from his introduction because it gets at how these various disappearances are connected in important ways:
Israel’s enduring approach to the Palestinians–and the assumption, in Zionist thinking, of their eventual disappearance–was illuminated to me during a visit to a nature park close by the northern Jewish town of Beit Shean, built on the ruins of the Arab town Bisan after the 1948 war that established Israel. There I came across a small fortified settlement constructed entirely of wood–a replica of Tel Amal, one of the earliest frontier outposts in Zionism’s battle against the Palestinians for territory. The original enclosure and tall watchtower at its centre–known as a tower-and stockade–was built in 1936 to protect “Judaized” land in the Beit Shean valley from the Arab Revolt, a Palestinian uprising against Britain’s increasingly overt support for Jewish immigration. A militia was stationed at Tel Amal, its members taking turns in the tower to keep watch over their comrades from the neighboring kibbutz of Beit Alpha working the fields below. Once the land was secure, a new kibbutz, Nir David, was safely established next to the enclosure. The kibbutzniks then extended their reach by building a new outpost further along the valley. Within a few years there were several dozen such tower-and-stockades erected across Palestine.
Tel Amal was the physical embodiment of the Zionist philosophy of “dunam after dunam, goat after goat”: the whole of Palestine could be occupied step by step, and wrested from the natives. Moshe Sharett, one of the Jewish Agency’s leaders and a later prime minister, observed that the point of the tower-and-stockades “was to change the map of Eretz Israel by erecting new settlements, to make it as difficult as possible to solve the problems of this land by means of division or cantonization.” Compromise over territory was not part of the Zionist plan. In 1938, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the pre-state Jewish government, declared that, once his forces were strong enough, “we will abolish the partition of the country [between Jews and Palestinians] and will expand to the whole Land of Israel.”
At the end of the war of 1948, when the threat that the Palestinians might reclaim their land had been decisively thwarted, the remaining tower-and-stockades were converted into kibbutzim or moshavim. These rural cooperative communities, which for several decades attracted young people from around the world wanting to show solidarity with the new Jewish state, explicitly ban from membership the fifth of the country’s population who are Palestinian (the vestiges of the Palestinian population expelled in 1948). Today such communities control most of Israel’s usable land, holding it in trust for world Jewry rather than Israel’s citizenry.
Later, after the Six-Day War of 1967, the tower-and-stockade would become the prototype for Israel’s land-grabbing settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. In the early stages, armed civilians, usually religious fanatics, were encouraged to move into hostile territory to establish settlements to surround and fragment Palestinian communities. As these settlements were secured, less ideological Israelis were tempted there with offers of financial incentives from the state, such as cheap housing and low-interest loans. Today the job of the tower-and-stockade has passed from these established colonies to what Israelis sometimes call “illegal outposts,” small satellites of the main settlements in the West Bank that the government claims to oppose but that invariably become legal over time. The outposts have proved an ideal way to extend the boundaries of the main colonies and steal yet more land from the Palestinians. Inhabited by the most fanatical and violent of the settlers, the so-called “hilltop youth,” the outposts are sometimes justified as necessary by Israeli politicians because of the “natural growth” of the main settlements’ populations. But in truth their purpose is to consume vast areas of Palestinain land, which disappears at is “redeemed,” concentrating the rural Palestinian population into ever-narrowing confined spaces or driving them into the main West Bank cities for safety.
Today, the Tel Amal museum is the destination for endless parties of schoolchildren, there as part of their Zionist education to learn about the pioneering spirit of earlier generations. The youngsters are encouraged not only to reimagine conditions in the enclosure’s spartan living quarters but also actively to re-create the period, donning the khaki shorts and denim shirts of the kibbutzniks. Scaling the watchtower, the children pretend to survey the horizon, on the lookout for the Arab “enemy.” At Tel Amal, Israeli schoolchildren have the chance to re-enact the battle of redemption and celebrate the acquisition of territory. In the process, some are doubtless persuaded not only of Israel’s glorious past but also of the need to continue the struggle to take land from the Palestinians on Israel’s new frontiers in the occupied territories.
Zionism’s need to root Jews in the “Land of Israel” has always required a corollary: the uprooting of the native population. Whether adopting the settlers’ messianic language of returning to the Promised Land, the pioneer rhetoric of “redeeming” the land, or the bureaucratic jargon of “Judaizing” land, Zionists have been encouraged to regard their national identity as intimately tied to control over territory and the displacement of non-Jews who claim rival ownership. The staking of an indisputable claim to Palestine resonates with Zionists in several interrelated ways, including in the security, imaginary, and religious-mythical realms. It promises a personal and collective safety supposedly unattainable for populations that are stateless. It reinvents the supposedly weak Diaspora Jew led to the European gas chamber; now he is liberated, casting off his wandering and compromised nature to toil the land and become a muscular “Sabra” Jew. And inevitably it feeds on ideas of chosenness and return, the Jewish people’s armour against the twin dangers of modernity–secularism and assimilation. (4-6)
the continuity between pre-state and occupied land with respect to zionist policies, as cook shows, has always been about making palestinians disappear. whether it is golda meir doing it rhetorically and stating that “there is no such thing” as palestinian people. or whether it is literally disappearing villages, like bisan, so that we have to search for the ruins of palestinian life before an nakba. the disappearing act continues when israeli schoolchildren are taught a heavily propagandized, militarized curriculum of which this field trip cook describes is just one minor example. of course, this fact also disappears, especially in the u.s. media that only focuses on the american-israeli illegal settler itamar marcus’ racist propagandist venture as in a u.s. news and world report article this week. a fellow blogger, jillian york, wrote about this on the huffington post in which she quoted me.
the reason i love cook’s writing so much is that he never disappears palestinians in his writing. instead, what disappears is the zionist propaganda that characterizes too much of the world’s english language media. i’ve posted the film on this blog before, but for people who want to understand how palestinians voices and reality get disappeared from the media you should watch the film peace, propaganda, and the promised land. i will post it again though because it is important for people to watch it:
the film is old, but unfortunately the information conveyed in it remains true. there was a perfect example of this today. this morning i read a story about israelis announcing a new public relations campaign in one of their newspapers:
The campaign is intended to create an ‘international umbrella’ of support for the intensification of military action against Hamas, and possibly prevent the passing of UN Security Council resolutions against Israel.
and just a few moments later i saw that england’s independent had already picked up the piece:
The Israeli government faced growing pressure to adopt a tough military posture against Hamas as renewed rocket attacks against southern Israel moved to the fore of the Israeli election campaign yesterday.
what you learn in the documentary peace, propaganda, and the promised land is that the zionist regime writes press releases for the information they want to disseminate. lazy american and european journalists reproduce that material without doing the work of investigating, finding out the context, examining its effect on palestinians. the problem is that the other side of the story always already disappears in this process. the colonists’ voice works in tandem with the international media and palestinians struggle to get heard. to not be disappeared.
what you don’t see in the western media is the daily ways that the zionist regime, through their terrorist military, works to make palestinians disappear with american-made weapons. for instance, american media did not report on the israeli terrorist forces’ attack on gaza last night:
Medical sources at Kamal Adwan hospital reported that the Palestinian woman suffered mild-to-moderate wounds.
likewise palestinians disappeared into israeli jails last night, another story not reported in the western media:
Three Palestinians were arrested in the city of Jenin, and seven more were arrested in the city of Nablus. All were stated by Israeli Military sources as “wanted”.
Palestinian security forces said in a statement that three others, not mentioned in the Israel’s account, were taken from their homes near the Israeli annexation wall in the town of Zeita, just north of Tulkarem.
Those arrested in the town of Zeita were identified as Kifah Abu Al-Izz, age 18, Nasr Abu Al-Izz, Age 22, and Muhammad Abu Al-‘Izz, age 30.
this erasure from the media is like a triple disappearance: first palestinians disappear into israeli jails for years, decades on end, next their absence is ignored, and their context as political prisoners is erased thus branding them terrorists, yet another label that erases them once more into a subhuman category. palestinians are always painted as extremists while israelis who are racists, terrorists are branded in ways that always infers that those who engage in racist activities are extremists (read: not the norm):
Extremists spray-painted “Mohammed is a pig” and “Death to Arabs” early Sunday on the walls and doors of the Sea Mosque in Jaffa, sparking the fury of the Islamic Movement in the mixed Arab-Jewish city.
The hate slogans also included “Kahane was right,” a reference to the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the outlawed anti-Arab Kach movement, and “No peace without the House of Peace,” alluding to the Hebron structure from which dozens of far-right activists were evicted earlier this month.
but it is the norm. i have yet to see a palestinian mosque in a village that the zionists disappeared that doesn’t say precisely the same thing. same graffiti everywhere.
the disappearance here has two sides: one the refugees who are physically absent and the other is the people in 1948 palestine who are forced to disappear on a daily basis in all sorts of ways–to be rendered invisible. when they get to visible, when they are too present, various israeli terrorists–some in uniform, some not–come into suppress 1948 palestinians. it can drive one to a sense of madness as emile habiby describes in his masterful novel the secret life of saeed, the pessoptimist. in this novel there are many forms of disappearance–including actual disappearances in some magical realist chapters–but the one i am thinking of is the way that internalized colonialism disappears the “real” saeed, the protagonist, whomever he may actually be. habiby’s humor is absurdist and in this particular scene over the top as he rides in the van on his way to prison. as they drive through 1948 palestine, saeed looks out the window and comments about the palestinian villages he notices. the “big man” (the israeli disappearing saeed to jail) proceeds to correct saeed to ensure the village’s original name is disappeared in actuality, historically, and in memory:
I found that we were then at a crossroad between Nazareth and Nahal, passing the plain of Ibn Amir. the big man signalled to the policemen through the glass window separating him from “the dogs.” They led me out and stuffed me in between the big man and the driver. I made myself comfortable and sighed, breathed the fresh air deep, and remarked, “Oh, I see we’re in the plain of Ibn Amir.”
Obviously annoyed, he corrected me: “No, it’s the Yizarel plain!”
“‘What’s in a name?’ as Shakespeare put it,” I soothed him.
I spoke the line in English,causing him to murmur, “oh, so you quote Shakespeare, do you?”
I smiled, relaxing. But I noticed that the big man was growing ominously under his breath. Had I known what this implied, I’d have been better off keeping my knowledge of Shakespeare within my heart rather than quoting him by heart.
As we descended further down into the plain toward its city of Affulah, with the hills of Nazareth to our left, the big man began reciting to me the principles governing my new life in prison, the etiquette of behavior toward the jailers who were my superiors and the other inmates who were my inferiors. He promised, moreover, to get me promoted to a liaison position.
While he was going through these lessons, I became ever more certain that what is required of us inside prison is no different than what is required of us on the outside. My delight at this discovery was so great that I exclaimed joyfully, “Why, God bless you, sir!”
He went on, “If a jailer should call you, your first response must be: ‘Yes sir!’ And if he should tell you off, you must reply: ‘At your command, sir!’ And if you should hear your fellow inmates engaging in any conversation that threatens the security of the prison, even by implication, you must inform the warden. Now if he should give you a beating, then say–”
I interrupted him with the proper response, “That’s your right, sir!”
“How did you know that? Were you ever imprisoned before?”
“Oh, no. God forbid, sir, that anyone should have beaten you to this favor! I have merely noticed according to your account of prison rules of etiquette and behavior that your prisons treat inmates with great humanitarianism and compassion–just as you treat us on the outside. And we behave the same, too. But how do you punish Arabs who are criminals, sir?”
“This bothers us considerably. That’s why our minister general has said that our occupation has been the most compassionate known on earth ever since Paradise was liberated from its occupation by Adam and Eve. Among our leadership there are some who believe that we treat Arabs inside prisons even better than we treat them outside, though this latter treatment is, as you know, excellent. These same leaders are convinced that we thus encourage them to continue to resist our civilizational mission in the new territories, just like those ungrateful African cannibals who eat their benefactors.”
“How do you mean, sir?”
“Well, take for example our policy of punishing people with exile. This we award them without their going to jail. If they once entered jail, they would become as firmly established there as the British occupation was.”
“Yes, God bless you indeed, sir!”
“And we demolish their homes when they’re outside, but when they’re inside prison we let them occupy themselves building.”
“That’s really great! God bless you! But what do they build?”
“New prisons and new cells in old jails; and they plant shade trees around them too.”
“God bless you again! But why do you demolish their homes outside the prisons?”
“To exterminate the rats that build their nests in them. This way we save them from the plague.”
“God bless and save you! But could you explain that?”
“This was the justification, pure and humanitarian, made by the Ministry of Health, and quoted by the minister of defense when he explained the reasons compelling us to demolish the houses in the Jiftlick villages in the lowlands. That was the response he gave to the accusations thrown in our faces in the Knesset by that Jewish Communist congressman, that stooge of Nasser, King Husain, the Emir of Kuwait, and Shaikh Qabus!”
“And was he shut up?”
“Actually, they really screwed him.”
“The speaker prevented him from continuing his speech. Democracy is not mere chaos, my boy. Now the Communists, as you know, are chaos mongers. Their representatives refused to obey the rules of democracy, and the speaker had him forcibly ejected from the sitting. That screwed him, alright!”
By now the police car was leaving the city of Affulah on the Bisan road, which led to my new residence. On both sides refreshing water was being sprayed on to the green vegetation, fresh in the very heart of summer. Suddenly the big man, cramped there with me and the driver in the front seat of that dogcart, was transformed into a poet.
While I sat there being my usual Pessomptimistic self, he was ecstatic: “Verdant fields! Green on your right and on your left; green everywhere! We have given life to what was dead. This is why we have named the borders of former Israel the Green Belt. For beyond them lie barren mountains and desert reaches, a wilderness calling out to us, ‘Come ye hither, tractors of civilization!'”
“If you had been with me, boy, when we crossed the Latrun road on our way to Jerusalem, you would have seen the Green Belt: the greenery of our pine-clad hills, trees everywhere hugging one another, branch intertwined with branch, while lovers embraced beneath them. Then you would have seen, facing these green-robed hills, your barren mountains devoid of any cover that could hide their naked rocks. There they remained, weeping for a quarter of a century, shedding all their earth. Let us wipe the tears dry while you weep away, building your palaces on the rock above.”
“Was this why you demolished the Latrun villages, Imwas, Yalu, and Bait Nuba, and drove the inhabitants away, master?”
“But we gave the monastery to the monks, for a tourist attraction. And we left the graveyards to those buried there, out of our faith in God. These great expanses, however, are ours, our inheritance from the war. ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ That’s an American proverb of German origin.” (123-126)
this dialogue between saeed and the “big man” comes towards the end of the novel. it is probably difficult to understand the satire and sarcasm here if you do not understand the history. but in american terms it is like an african american slave thanking his “master” for destroying his native africa, enslaving him, torturing him (in other words, what is known as an uncle tom). here we see saeed, a palestinian, ironically thanking his israeli “master” for destroying palestinian villages, forcing palestinians to flee their land and become refugees, and for imprisoning him. in other words: saeed thanks the “big man” for zionist disappearances of palestine and palestinians.
i love absurdism in most forms and the most gifted palestinian film director, elia suleiman, who comes from nasra (nazareth) as so many palestinian directors do, is especially good at it. his 1996 film, chronicle of a disappearance (which is finally out on dvd) also makes use of this theme of disappearance in an absurdist style. it has been a long time since i have seen the film. but here is a trailer of elia suleiman’s other brilliant film divine intervention, (which tam tam seems to be too stubborn to watch…still) :
and here is an interview with elia suleiman:
it is interesting that as i write this it makes me think of a friend from shatila refugee camp in lebanon who is a young, gifted filmmaker himself. suleiman is his favorite director and this young friend has the artistic vision to create the sort of cinema in this same tradition. but i learned today that he has disappeared. literally. he went to france for a conference and disappeared.