What Some Indians Learn about the Middle East in their Textbook

One of the main homegrown board exams in India is the CISCE (Council for the India School Certificate Exams). The eleventh and twelfth standard years require students to study both Indian and global history. While the syllabus doesn’t stipulate which textbook teachers should adopt, many high schools in India seem to use Norman Lowe’s Mastering Modern World History. What the syllabus does delineate is the particular periods or events in history that students should cover in these grades. Of course, how any given teacher chooses to approach the textbook or the syllabus will vary.

Over the course of two years, students learn about the following main events:

1. World War One (with some emphasis on colonialism and imperialism)

2. The Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal

3. The Development of Communism (USSR and China)

4. Japan’s Parliamentary Democracy

5. Fascism and Nazism

6. The Collapse of International Order

7. World War Two (which covers some theatres of war most students don’t learn about, like battles between the Allies and Axis in Egypt, but much of the war’s relationship to Indians and Indian soldiers, like Churchill’s man-made famine, is covered in Indian history not in the world history section)

8. Post World War Two and the Cold War

9. The Middle East

It is this last section that I will explore here as there are some serious problems with Lowe’s text (at least the third edition, published in 1997, which is the one I’ve read) as it attempts to cover West Asia. Although it should be said that the absence of lessons about Africa and Asia more generally–especially given India’s relationship to these places, for example forced migration and labour under the British that affected relations between East Africans and Indians–are troubling. One would hope that a post-independence syllabus would explore not focus so much on imperial and neocolonial powers and their history to the exclusion of the global south. To know further details, follow links embedded in the lines below.

As for the Middle East the ISC syllabus detains what students should know after studying this unit:

(i) Post War conflict in Palestine after World War I, till the formation of the state of Israel. A brief background of Arab nationalism and Zionism in the late 19th century. Impact of World War I: the conflicting promises made to the Arabs, the Jews (Balfour Declaration) and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. All these need to be understood clearly. A general outline of events from 1919 to the Arab Revolt of the late 1930s (the increased immigration of Jews under the mandate and the resultant conflict). The impact of World War II and the intensification of the conflict against Britain’s decision to withdraw – the UNO’s plan. Creation of Israel and the War of Liberation (a chronological account should suffice here).

(ii) The Arab-Israeli Wars from 1948 to Camp David Accord. The following conflicts should be studied – (1948-1949), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), Sadat and the Camp David Accord (1979). For each of these events, the causes and results should be done in some detail. Events to be done very briefly.

(iii) The war in Lebanon. A general account of the war.

There are some distinct problems with the language in this description, which appears to give a so-called balanced view between the British-Zionist colonial project and the indigenous Arab population of the region. Yet the language betrays this illusion by calling the nakba (the catastrophe that befell Palestinians when they were expelled from their land and massacred by Zionist forces) “the war of Liberation”. Additionally, the 1973 war is identified as “the Yom Kippur War”, even though a neutral party would call it the October War (it is also known as the Ramadan War).

It is also striking to see such language given the aims for the course that the syllabus states:

5. To develop the capacity to read historical views in the light of new evidence or new interpretation of evidence.

7. To encourage diminution of ethnocentric prejudices and to develop a more international approach to world history.

8. To develop the ability to express views and arguments clearly using correct terminology of the subject.

9. To familiarise candidates with various types of historical evidence and to provide some awareness of the problems involved in evaluating different kinds of source materials.

These goals are important to keep in mind as one reads through and evaluates Lowe’s textbook. The chapter in his book on the Middle East is called “Conflict in the Middle East”, already setting up a particular way of viewing the region as if fighting of some kind or the other is intrinsic to the place.  He begins by defining the geographical region and the states it includes before explaining Israel’s placement in the region:

The Middle East also contains the small Jewish state of Israel which was set up by the United Nations in 1948 in Palestine. The creation of Israel in Palestine, an area belonging to the Palestinian Arabs, outraged Arab opinion throughout the world…. (221)

Israel is the only state that gets the adjective “small” to describe it even though states like Lebanon are smaller. This is one of the oldest Zionist tactics–to emphasise the size of Israel in order to suggest its vulnerability.

The introduction continues by continuing to highlight Arab sentiments about the Jewish state:

The Arab states refused to recognize Israel as a legal state and they vowed to destroy it. Although there were four short wars between Israel and the various Arab states (1948-9, 1956, 1967 and 1973), Arab attacks failed, and Israel survived. The Arab desire to destroy Israel tended for much of the time to overshadow all other concerns. (221)

This a-contextual summary of the region spends a great deal of energy characterising Arab people as if there are no distinctions among the various peoples and cultures or the regimes governing them (they are all stubborn: “refused”; violent: “destroy”). The book treats all “wars” the same even though the nakba in 1948 was certainly not one and in 1956 and 1967 Israel instigated those wars.

Lowe feigns neutrality by illustrating that viewing history is subjective, without, of course, revealing his point of view:

Interpretations of the Middle East situation vary depending on whose viewpoint one looks at. For example, many British politicians and journalists regarded Colonel Nasser (Egyptian leader 1954-1970) as some kind of dangerous fanatic who was almost as bad as Hitler. On the other hand, most Arabs thought he was a hero, the symbol of the Arab people’s move towards unity and freedom.

To be sure, nowhere in the book does Lowe make a similar statement about Winston Churchill. Indeed, elsewhere in the book, he never suggests that Churchill is anything other than a statesman valiantly fighting the Axis powers. By omitting anything about his role in creating and exacerbating the Bengal famine, Lowe secures Churchill’s position in a Eurocentric version of history. Meanwhile, the mere suggestion of Nasser’s comparison to Hitler helps readers, if reading chronologically will have just finished learning about World War Two, to equate the two leaders. Moreover, throughout the book Lowe never refers to Nasser as President. He only ever calls him “Colonel”, as if to suggest he was a military dictator. Of course, nowhere in the book does Lowe intimate that one might have a different point of view about Palestine or Israel.

In the next section of the book Lowe begins with a factual error, one that conveniently feeds into a Zionist tactic of making the world seem as if there is a battle between Jews and Muslims:

They all speak the Arabic language, they are all Muslims (followers of the religion known as Islam, except for about half the population of Lebanon who are Christian and most of them wanted to see the destruction of Israel so that the Palestinian Arabs could have back the land which they feel is rightfully theirs. (223)

First of all, Arabs belong to several religious groups although most are Muslim (Sunni and Shi’a) and Christian. But there are also Druze, Baha’i, Alawis, and Jews. By Jews I mean Arab Jews who have always lived in the Arab world (as opposed to the European Zionists who worked with the British to colonise Palestinian land). And while it is probably true that most Arabs wanted to see Palestinians rightfully returned to the land from which they were forcibly expelled, without understanding that there was a planned expulsion (known as Plan Dalet), to remove the Palestinians by destroying their villages and massacring innocent civilians, one would likely form a negative opinion about Arab people. It would be like saying that freedom fighters in India–whether Vinayak Savarkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, or Mohandas Gandhi–wanted to destroy the British without ever explaining what the British had subjected Indian people to through the course of their empire. Finally, the use of the word “feel” in the last sentence above–one that Lowe uses quite a bit to describe goals of Arab people, but not Israelis–suggests that it’s merely an emotional attachment to their land or homes and not a legal right. He fails to mention the fact that many Palestinians retain title deeds (some of which are also in Turkey in various archives) to their land and homes. Ironically, it is the Zionist Jews who “feel” that Palestine belongs to them–not the other way around.

When Lowe describes what he calls “interference in the Middle East by other countries”, he leaves quite a bit out, including the Sykes-Picot agreement:

Britain and France had been involved in the Middle East for many years. Britain ruled Egypt from 1882 (when British troops invaded it) until 1922 when the country was given semi-independence under its own king. However, British troops still remained in Egypt and the Egyptians had to continue doing what Britain wanted. By the Versailles Settlement at the end of the First World War, Britain and France were given large areas of the Middle East taken from the defeated Turks, to look after as mandates…Although Britain gave independence to Iraq (1932) and to Jordan (1946), both remained pro-British. France gave independence to Syria and Lebanon (1945) but hoped to maintain some influence in the Middle East. (223)

Once again, it is through his diction that Lowe misleads readers. He accurately states that Britain “invaded” Egypt, but it’s an aside–as if it is not as important as the fact of them ruling that country. It also doesn’t attribute any responsibility to France or Britain for their unilateral take over of land and makes it seem like it’s benign–they “look after” these countries and “gave” them independence. The fact that some Arab countries maintain strong relations with Britain or France is not contextualised either and thus it merely gives credence to the illusion that Britain and France was just a kind, if paternalistic, overseer, taking care of things until they were capable of independence. In reality, both countries partitioned the region and divvied it up between themselves, with careful attention paid to borders that would likely cause future problems so that they could maintain their control. This is especially ironic given U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s speech about nations having the right to self determination just a short time before carving up West Asia. Moreover, this partition ignored promises the British made to Arabs in the region who fought on behalf of the British during World War One in exchange for help creating their own independent states. Instead, the British installed puppets who could be relied upon to uphold British policy in the region.

A theme perpetuated throughout the chapter is that Arabs lacked unity, but it never says why because that would implicate the British and French colonial powers for using divide and rule tactics to maintain that instability. Similarly, the book continues with its negative characterisation of Arab states by saying:

Most of the Arab states had nationalist governments which bitterly resented Western influence. one by one, governments which were thought to be too pro-West were swept away and replaced by regimes which wanted to be non-aligned; this meant being free to act independently of both East (communist bloc) and West. (224).

The desire to be nationalistic and also not under the thumb of another nation should make sense to most Indians; and of course India occupied a similar position during this same period. To make sure readers don’t think this is a positive trait in a state, the tone here is quite negative. One by one Lowe moves on to illustrate how such regimes fell starting with Egypt:

At the end of the Second World War, British troops stayed on in the canal zone (the area around the Suez Canal). This was to enable Britain to control the canal, in which over half the shares owned by the British and French. (224)

Lowe continues explaining how army officers, led by Gamal Abd el Nasser, nationalised the Suez Canal for the Egyptian people. But his language, Egypt “seized power”, makes it seem as if that power didn’t belong to them. Nowhere is any mention of the British desire to create or maintain this canal because of its colonial holdings around the globe, which were also quickly decolonising–especially across Africa as many people across the continent were inspired by Nasser.

For Jordan, Lowe offers little to no context for King Abdullah’s overthrow:

King Abdullah had been given his throne by the British in 1946. He was assassinated in 1951 by nationalists who felt that he was too much under Britain’s thumb. (225)

This point about King Abdullah being “given” the throne by the British certainly suggests that as a result he would be subjected to British control. Indeed, Abdullah, who was killed in Palestine at the al-Aqsa mosque, was killed because he was a puppet of the British.

With Iran, the only non Arab state discussed in this chapter, much more detail is provided, although not much context and serious key facts are left out:

The Western-educated Shah (ruler) of Iran, Reza Pahlevi, resisted the Russians and signed a defence treaty with the USA (1950); they provided him with economic and military aid, including tanks and jet fighters. The Americans saw the situation as part of the Cold War–Iran was yet another front on which the communists must be prevented from advancing. However, there was a strong nationalist movement in Iran which resented all foreign influence. This soon began to turn against the USA and against Britain too. This was because Britain held a majority of the shares int he Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and its refinery at Abadan. it was widely felt that the British were taking too much of the profits, and in 1951 the Premier of Iran, Dr. Mussadiq, nationalized the company (took it under control of the Iranian government). However, most of the world, encouraged by Britain, boycotted Iran’s oil exports and Mussadiq was forced to resign. (225)

Reza Shah Pahlevi ran a dictatorship that was financially supported by the U.S. Meanwhile Britain controlled the money from Iran’s primary natural resource: oil. What upset Britain, at first, was the fact that the people of Iran democratically elected Mossadegh and then he proceeded to nationalise Iranian oil for the Iranian people. Britain was incensed by this and enlisted the help of the U.S. to overthrow Mossadegh. Kermit Roosevelt, for the CIA, worked tirelessly to make that happen in the first CIA coup. Language like Mossadegh was “forced to resign” leaves out quite a crucial detail, such as the U.S. role in making that happen. Likewise, as with Egypt’s Suez Canal, Lowe paints a picture as if the canal and the oil fields somehow rightly belong to Britain because they invested money in it. The reimposition of the Shah, furthermore, led to more American control over Iran, which ultimately led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Not unsurprisingly, Mossadegh’s actions ultimately inspired Nasser in Egypt and Nasser would also be subjected to a violent reaction from Britain in the form of a war in 1956.

When it comes to narrating the history of Israel, Lowe fails yet again as all he seems to be able to offer is a biblical one:

The origin of the problem went back almost 2000 years to the year AD 71, when most of the Jews were driven out of Palestine, which was then their homeland, by the Romans. (226)

The problem with this assertion is that the Romans never exiled any population. This is a Zionist myth, not a historical fact. Regardless, even if one tends to view the Bible as a history textbook, for a people absent for such a long time to violently uproot the people living in that land is unconscionable. Just imagine how Indians would feel if people who fled during the partition decided to come back and reclaim their homes and land. It hasn’t been even a century, and yet I imagine that people in India would not be willing to give up their homes and land.

Lowe jumps, as most Zionists do in their historical accounts, from AD 71 to 1897 when Theodor Herzl founded the modern Zionist movement. He explains a narrow context for its creation:

Zionists were people who believed that Jews ought to be able to go back to Palestine and have what they called “a national homeland”; in other words, a Jewish state. Jews had recently suffered persecution in Russia, France, and Germany, and a Jewish state would provide a safe refuge for jews from all over the world. The problem was that Palestine was inhabited by Arabs, who were alarmed at the prospect of losing their land to the Jews. (226)

Here a combination of misinformation and obfuscation through language makes this paragraph above sound quite reasonable. But there are problems. First, throughout this chapter, Lowe uses the word Arab to refer to Palestinians, something Zionists do because it makes it seem like, according to their narrative, that they have a number of places to live and the Jews have nowhere, so why not just give up their homeland for the European and Russian Jews. Second, Palestinians didn’t have a problem with their land being taken over because the people doing it were Jews; indeed there were many Palestinian Jews at that time residing in Palestine. They had a problem that anyone would take over their homeland. Lowe also fails to mention the depths to which Herzl’s endeavour was a colonial one. Both his admiration for Cecil Rhodes and his desire to make a Jewish homeland in Uganda or Argentina (because they were both controled by the British), makes this point clear. Finally, the desire for a specifically Jewish state, in a country where there were several religious groups living side-by-side, also reveals the problem of this project. However, Lowe’s reminder of oppression Jews faced at the hands of Europeans and Russians seems to somehow rationalise this (in the same way British Puritans who colonised North America rationalise their theft of indigenous land).

Lowe continues his attempt at explaining the history of Israel by distorting it further:

The British hoped to persuade Jews and Arabs to live together peacefully in the same state; they failed to understand the deep religious gulf between the two. Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany after 1933 caused a flood of refugees, and by 1940 about half the population of Palestine was Jewish. In 1937 the British Peel Commission proposed dividing Palestine into two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish, but the Arabs rejected the idea. (226)

Characterising the problem in Palestine as a religious one is a typical Zionist strategy, as I noted above. Further, Lowe continues to juxtapose problems European or Ashkenazi Jews experienced in Europe with Arabs, who had nothing to do with it. It is true that many Jewish people became refugees who sought a new home. But Lowe fails to tell his readers that both the U.S. and Britain closed its doors on them, refusing to allow them to even temporarily settle on their soil. This was a part of empire’s strategy to push them into Palestine so the West could have a foothold in the region. At the time this also was important for Britain so it could secure its hold over the Suez Canal, and thus an easier transportation route to India. Also left out of this is the fact that for four years prior to and following the Peel Commission, Palestinians led one of the longest resistance campaigns in history–which included work stoppage, striking, and a host of innovative activities to stop British and Zionist colonisation of their land. Yes, when a partition plan was presented to Palestinians, they rejected it. Is there a group of people in the world who wouldn’t fight to keep their land if they had the choice? (For maps indicating how much Palestinians were being asked to give up at this stage see here, here, and here.)

To his credit, Lowe does reveal that there was a Zionist terrorist campaign targeting Palestinians and British alike once the British, under pressure from the increasing conflict, limited the Jewish immigration numbers:

The Jews, after all that their race had suffered at the hands of the Nazis, were determined to fight for their “national home”. They began a terrorist campaign against both Arabs and British; one of the most spectacular incidents was the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which the British were using as their headquarters; 91 people were killed and many more injured. (226)

The precursor to this admission of Zionist terrorism–although what is not mentioned is the targeting of Palestinians, which happened exerted a far greater toll–is the mention of Jews as a “race.” Aside from the fact that race is a social construct, there is no ethnically or genealogically unique group of Jews. As with other monotheisms, Jews proselytised, thus creating Jews from various cultural backgrounds. As for Zionist terrorism, it was extensive and far reaching all dictated by a plan to remove Palestinians from Palestine.

The final fib Lowe tells about the creation of Israel is the so-called war that ensued after Israel declared its independence:

In May 1948 Ben Gurion declared the independence of the new state of Israel. It was immediately attacked by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. (227)

The sentences above move beyond mythology and into the realm of fantasy, as many historians have illustrated over the last couple of decades. First of all, the Zionist Plan Dalet, to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous population had already been well under way for a few years prior to 1948. Many Zionists were part of the British army and received military training and had greater access to sophisticated weapons. The Palestinians, as well as the Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians, and Iraqis barely had an army at all. The ration was about 50,000 Zionist soldiers to 10,000 Palestinians (plus a moderate number of Arab irregulars–not any state army). What the repetition of this myth does, is perpetuate the biblically-rooted fantasy that Israel is a tiny David surrounded by a sea of Goliaths.

In spite of these facts, Lowe amplifies his Zionist sense that it was some kind of extraordinary feat that Israel won the so-called war:

Most people expected the Arabs to win easily, but against seemingly overwhelming odds, the Israelis defeated them and even captured more of Palestine than the UN partition had given them. (227)

He gives only a cursory and vague nod to the Zionist-created Palestinian refugee problem:

After some Jews had slaughtered the entire population of an Arab village in Israel, nearly a million Arabs fled into Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria where they had to live in miserable refugee camps. Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. The USA, Britain and France guaranteed Israel’s frontiers, but the Arab states did not regard the ceasefire as permanent. They would not recognize the legality of Israel, and they regarded this war as only the first round int he struggle to destroy Israel and liberate Palestine. (227-228)

It is likely that Lowe is referring to Deir Yassin, a Palestinian village in Jerusalem, which has become infamous for the Zionist massacre there. However, this massacre was committed on 9 April–a good month before Israel declared its statehood and before its so-called “war of independence” began. Deir Yassin is an important milestone in Palestinian history, mostly because it scared other Palestinians into flight. But it was by no means the only massacre committed by Zionist militias (all of which became folded into the Israeli army after independence).

The most egregious oversight, however, is Lowe’s glossing over the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of over 500 villages, which were later forested over by the Jewish National Fund so that Palestinians could not return. He also fails to mention that Palestinians have the right to return to their land as enshrined in UN Resolution 194.

Finally, Lowe reiterates the idea that the Arab states are being difficult, stubborn, and defiant for not recognising Israel like Western states did. Once again, in the absence of context as to why people were so appalled at the take over of Palestinian land is conveniently left out.

After this section rooted in 1948, Lowe skips ahead to 1956 and the Suez War. Here, too, his theme continues of demonising Arabs, especially Nasser:

Colonel Nasser, the new ruler of Egypt, was aggressively in favour of Arab unity and independence, including the liberation of Palestine from the Jews; almost everything he did irritated the British, Americans or French: He organized guerrilla fighters known as fedayeen (self-sacrificers) to carry out sabotage and murder inside Israel, and Egyptian ships blockaded the Gulf of Aqaba leading to the Israeli port of Eliat. (228)

The use of the adverb “aggressively”, something Lowe never does when describing Israelis, posits Nasser once again as an unreasonable and dangerous man. But this paragraph also pieces together bits of history from different historical moments, none of which are related to the war in 1956. He blockaded the port in the Gulf of Aqaba in 1967. Palestinian freedom fighters made a much more powerful dent in their struggle during the 1960s–both after this particular war. Through his tone and cherry-picked events, Lowe also suggests Nasser was a problem for helping Algerians in their anti-colonial war against France and for siding with Russia in order to obtain weapons at the height of the Cold War.

Lowe does accurately portray the origin of the war as a “planned Israeli invasion of Egypt”, which he thinks “was a brilliant success” while British and French forces bombed Egyptian airbases (230). He mentions the U.S. demanding the war be halted, signaling a win for Egypt, and the positive effect the war had on Algerians who were fighting for independence, but he doesn’t mention Nasser’s triumphant influence from Ghana to India and everywhere in between.

The next war Lowe skips ahead to is the June 1967 War, which Israelis call the Six Day War. He claims that leading up to this war, a newly independent and left-leaning Iraq wanted to “wipe Israel off the map” (231). He says:

The Arab states had not signed a peace treaty at the end of the 1948-9 war and were still refusing to give Israel official recognition. In 1967 they joined together again in a determined attempt to destroy Israel. The lead was taken by Iraq, Syria and Egypt. (231)

Lowe also characterises the growing Palestinian armed resistance movement  in Syria, which “supported El Fatah, the Palestinian Liberation Movement, a more effective guerrilla force than the fedayeen” (231). Fatah was very much a part of the fedayeen whether in Syria or Jordan. While he does reveal that “The Israelis decided that the best policy was to attack first rather than wait to be defeated”, because troops amassed “along their frontiers” (232).

Of course, Israel’s success in that war meant it enlarged its colonial territories, including Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and the rest of historic Palestine: the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Lowe mentions that “this time [the Israelis] had ignored a UN order to return the captured territory” (232). But actually, Israel has ignored every single UN resolution related to their territory. This resolution was Security Council Resolution 242, which made clear that in international law no state may hold onto, or move a civilian population into, a territory acquired by war. It also reiterated the necessity of solving the Palestinian refugee problem, a problem that was greatly increased with this new war.

The final war explored between Israel and its neighbours is the one war that Israel didn’t initiate. In this scenario countries like Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, at least in part, to recover territory that Israel had illegally occupied since the previous war in 1967. For Lowe, the war was caused because:

Pressure was brought to bear on the Arab states by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under its leader Yasser Arafat, for some further action. When very little happened, a more extreme group within the PLO, called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, embarked on a series of terrorist attacks to draw world attention to the grave injustice being done to the Arabs of Palestine. (232)

This statement, which opens this section of the chapter, is extremely vague, although when one reads on it is clear that he is referring to Palestinians having to resort to new strategies to call attention to their plight. But in relation to what action or what did or didn’t happen, it remains unclear. Interestingly, like many Zionists, it is after the PFLP’s attacks that the word Palestine began, finally, to appear in the mainstream media. As if to reinforce Lowe’s opinion of painting Palestinians as terrorists here, he includes a photograph of Palestinian children whom he describes as follows:

The child soldiers of the Palestine refugee camps; trained from the age of 7, these boys and girls would be ready for front-line service by the age of 15. (234)

Note: there are no photographs of Israeli soldiers in training nor are there any photographs of Israelis except for Menachem Begin signing a peace treaty with Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat. Thus, through images Lowe is able to show Israelis as those who are striving for peace, and Palestinians as desiring to maintain a state of war.

Israel won this war, too, largely because of its increasing arsenal gifted from the American  government. But it sparked an important response from oil producing countries, creating an oil embargo that resulted in a global energy crisis.

The next jump in history moves to the peace accord signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979, a treaty that would cost President Sadat his life for isolating Palestinians and the rest of the region. Lowe tells readers that “Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, bravely announced that he would continue the Camp David agreement” (236).

From this event he shifts to Israel’s peace treaty with the PLO. Oddly, this jump in time skips over the first intifada, a popular movement that ran the gamut from refusal to pay taxes to throwing stones at Israel armoured tanks. It is this development that likely led to pressuring the PLO into signing the Oslo Accords. Lowe fails to highlight the way that this agreement was one sided, as it sent Palestinians down the road which would force them to constantly make concessions for little to nothing in return. Instead, he merely states that in addition to the PLO and Israel recognising one another:

the Palestinians were to be given limited self-rule in Jericho (on the West Bank) and in part of the Gaza Strip, areas occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. Israeli troops would be withdrawn from these areas. (237)

Today it is clear that each and every so-called peace treaty Israel pushed Palestinians into signing was another tactic to increase its colonial rule of Palestinians. And just as Israel has never honoured a UN resolution, it has never honoured any promise made in its treaties. As a way to relieve Israel from any blame, because “four bombings carried out by the militant Palestinian group, Hamas claimed 63 lives” (237). Of course, Israel’s divide and conquer colonial practice that helped to bolster Hamas is not mentioned in the textbook.

The last three sections cover other wars: Lebanon’s civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In its section on Lebanon, Lowe brings up the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in ways that is both confused and quite uninformed:

The presence of Palestinian refugees from Israel: This complicated the situation even more. By 1975 there were at least half a million of them living in squalid camps away from the main centres of population. The Palestinians were not popular in Lebanon because they were continually involved in frontier incidents with Israel, provoking the Israelis to hit back at the Palestinians in southern Lebanon. In particular, the Palestinians, being left-wing and Muslim, alarmed conservative and Christian Maronites who looked on the Palestinians as a dangerous destabilising influence. By 1975 the PLO had its headquarters in Lebanon, and this meant that Syria, the chief supporter of the PLO, was constantly interfering in Lebanon’s affairs. (240)

First, Palestinian refugees were forced into Lebanon by Zionists before the state of Israel existed. They are refugees from Palestine, not from Israel. Second, Palestinians do not necessarily live away from main centres of population (Sur, Saida, Beirut, Trablus). Indeed, in Beirut there are several camps within the city itself. Third, Palestinians are not only Muslim and not only leftist–whether fighters or not. Indeed, many Palestinian fighters were Christian and many were not leftists.

But throughout this section, Lowe represents the Lebanese Civil War in highly sectarian ways. While part of the issue is certainly Lebanon’s sectarianism, it is not as simplistic as Lowe makes it out to be. Because he sees Palestinians as mainly Muslim and Lebanese as mainly Christian, here is how he characterises the fighting:

In the south, bordering on Israel, fighting soon broke out between Palestinians and Christians; the Israelis seized this opportunity to send troops in to help the Christians. A small semi-independent Christian state of Free Lebanon was declared under Major Haddad. The Israelis supported this because it acted as a buffer zone to protect them from further Palestinian attacks. (240)

Instead of truthfully explaining that Haddad’s army–known as the South Lebanese Army–was not independent because it was a proxy militia for Israel, Lowe merely tells readers it was a Christian group wanting to protect themselves and the border. Moreover, to further complicate the sectarian nature of Lowe’s book, SLA ran Khiam prison, in cahoots with the Israelis, where freedom fighters such as Soha Bechara, a Lebanese Christian communist woman, were held and tortured for years.

Elsewhere Lowe continues to take plays from Zionists by rationalising attacks on Palestinians by calling it a “reprisal”:

In 1982, in reprisal for a Palestinian attack on Israel, Israeli troops invaded Lebanon and penetrated as far as Beirut. For a time the Gemayels, supported by the Israelis, were in control of Beirut. During this period the Palestinians were expelled from Beirut, and from then on the PLO was divided. (240).

This passage elides several points. True, Israel was aligned with the Phalangists or Kata’eb political party in Lebanon, a right-wing Maronite (Christian) group. Although he makes it clear that Israel “invaded” Lebanon (not its first time to do so either, and certainly not its last), the notion that Israel was aligned with a particular militia makes it seem as though they were somehow welcome. More horrendous is his use of the word “reprisal” to suggest that whatever Israel did–something Lowe elides here–was warranted. What he forgets to tell his readers is that 1982 is precisely the moment when Israel perpetrated on defenceless Palestinians in the Beirut refugee camp Shatila (and the surrounding neighbourhood of Sabra) under the cover of the Phalange militia. Even Israel’s Kahan Commission found Ariel Sharon guilty for his part in orchestrating the massacre.

In the final two sections of the chapter, Lowe covers up more key points as he glosses over the conflict between Iran and Iraq and later the U.S. and Iraq. But the conclusion to the chapter seems to be the one place where some truth emerges as well through both his tone and language:

The war and its aftermath were very revealing about the motives of the West and the great powers. Their primary concern was not with international justice and moral questions of right and wrong, but with their own self-interest. They only took action against Saddam in the first place because they felt he was threatening their oil supplies. Often in the past when other small nations had been invaded, no international action had been taken. For example, when East Timor was occupied by neighbouring Indonesia in 1975, the rest of the world ignored it, because their interests were not threatened. (244)

It is quite odd to see Lowe making such a statement at the beginning of the paragraph, and then regress so ignorantly at the conclusion of the paragraph and chapter. It is also strange that he sees self-interest here, but not elsewhere–for example Britain’s desire to control the Suez Canal or Iranian oil fields. But the icing on the cake is this conclusion when he imagines that the world ignored it because their interests weren’t threatened. Indeed, the West, especially the United States, actively participated in the massacre and occupation of East Timor.

While this is just a small response to one chapter in a history book, I could certainly continue examining and pointing out inconsistencies, omissions, and false statements throughout the volume. It should be a reminder that we cannot accept any text at face value and that we should question what we read.

What’s Next Los Angeles City Council? Blaming Jews for Nazi Germany? Blaming African Americans for slavery?

In response to the unconscionable resolution that my home city, Los Angeles, California, has recently introduced, blaming Palestinians in Gaza for the murder, massacre, and genocide that Israel with U.S.-made weapons creates, I have re-rendered the resolution. The original may be read here. Answer Coalition is organising a protest and I encourage people to flood the Facebook page of Herb J. Wesson and the Twitter account of Bob Bluemnfield in particular.

RESOLUTION

WHEREAS, any official position of the City of Los Angeles with respect to legislation, rules, regulations, or policies proposed to or pending before a local, state or federal governmental body or agency must first have been adopted in the form of a Resolution by the City Council with the concurrence of the Mayor; and

WHEREAS, “human shields” refer to the use of civilians, prisoners of war, or other noncombatants whose mere presence is designed to protect combatants and objects from attack; and

WHEREAS, since 9 July (only one day into Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge”) Israeli Occupation Forces charged with terrorising the civilian population in Gaza, dropped “400 tonnes of bombs and missiles on the Gaza Strip” where no one is allowed to seek refuge since Israel has imposed its 7 year long siege on the 1.5 million people in Gaza; and

WHEREAS, it has been observed that the Israeli Occupation Forces regularly use Palestinian children in Gaza—and elsewhere—as human shields; and

WHEREAS, Israel has not kept Gaza’s civilian population on a literal “diet”, preventing them from having unfettered access to the most basic of human needs and rights—food, shelter, water, powerPalestinians have resorted to the dangerous and expensive means of creating tunnels in order to procure these basic needs and other commodities from televisions to cattle; and

WHEREAS, Israel makes a pretence that they warn Palestinians in Gaza about the coming bombs dropping above them, which they have but a mere minute to try to escape, but it is disingenuous given that Israel’s 7 year blockade prevents anyone from leaving the Gaza Strip by land, sea, or air; and

WHERAS, all of Israel’s military attacks from land, sea, and air target civilian populations even with its so-called “precision artillery”: “Conversely, Israel, with a high-powered US-financed precision-guided arsenal at its disposal, has deliberately bombed civilian targets including private homes, hospitals and mosques, as well as schools, UN shelters, playgrounds, ambulances, media buildings, water treatment facilities and Gaza’s only power plant”; and

WHEREAS, Israel, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations enable Israel to engage in state terrorism, pushing Palestinians further and further off their land, and ironically, given their propaganda, into the sea, and all of these bodies are responsible for Israel’s use of human shields, including local governments like Los Angeles which has been trained by Israeli military forces as part of the Israelification of US policing; and

WHEREAS, currently the United States government—both federal and local—seems to be complicit in Israel’s state-terrorist operations in the Gaza Strip even as Israel repeatedly thumbs its nose both at international law and the United States;

WHEREAS, opposition to the use of human shields is consistent with international law to preserve the rights of innocent bystanders in armed conflicts, especially children;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, with the concurrence of the civilian population of Los Angeles, that by the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 2013-14 Federal Legislative Program SUPPORT for a NEW RESOLUTION that condemns Israel’s state terrorism and the U.S. government’s state-sponsored terrorism in violation of international humanitarian law.

PRESENTED BY: ______________

DR. MARCY NEWMAN

Los Angeleno since 1969

SECONDED BY: _________________

My fellow citizens

15 August 2014

California Travels

For the past  couple of weeks I’ve been traveling across my home state of California. Because I was on the train between Berkeley and Los Angeles I had a lot of time to look out the window and think about the land I was traveling through. The first thoughts that entered my mind were about the indigenous peoples whose land was stolen in order to create all the settlements, military bases, universities, etc. One can begin learning about the history of indigenous California here.

I was also thinking about more recent history because I spent most of my train ride reading Mike Davis’ City of Quartz. After spending so much time studying the Arab World, I’m learning about the history of where I come from, Los Angeles, California. Davis’ book is amazing because it gives so much context to things I only heard about or partially understood growing up. I also watched Gregory Nava’s brilliant film El Norte again, which shows the challenges and the push factors compelling people to leave their land and labor in the U.S. (see trailer below). Apparently there is a new documentary called Harvest of Empire detailing these push factors. One thing is for sure, the economy here, and in most of the U.S. economy would not function without people willing to do all the difficult, dirty work that the majority of Americans are unwilling to do.

I thought a lot about the farm land and farmworkers I watched as my train passed by. This was, of course, not hard to do give how much agribusiness is in the heartland of California. It made me think of the Delano Grape Boycott organized by César Chávez throughout much of my childhood. It also made me think of the important ballot initiative in the upcoming election and California’s Proposition 37, which would require food producers to label all GMOs used in their products.

I traveled north for a book event at the Middle East Children’s Alliance, which turned out to be a terrific event. Lots of teachers showed up, which is what I hoped for. But also there were people from various periods of my life–friends from elementary school, from Boise, and various other periods and places in between.

Upon my return there was another hearing for the renewal of the Veolia contract with the Los Angeles city council. This time we spoke before the entire city council (although they seemed infinitely more interested in playing with their phones or reading the newspaper so I doubt they listened). In any case, they voted unanimously to renew the Veolia contract at the beginning of the meeting. We merely spoke to express our opposition to that vote. Prior to our speaking a woman involved in the Los Angeles sister city program was being honored. I had noticed, for the first time, on my walk to City Hall that there is a street sign (see above) indicating all of the sister cities connected to Los Angeles. One of them is Beirut. But another one is Eilat, an Israeli city in occupied Palestine. This is a city that only a month ago was protesting the inclusion of Sudanese children into their schools. Yet another example of the inherent racism of Zionism. While Los Angelenos seem to think it is a problem to fight racism and apartheid in Palestine, it seems that Quakers do not. Quakers not only voted to boycott Veolia, but Hewlitt Packard as well. There are audio reports about the Los Angeles vote and organizing around it which can be listened to here and here.

My second book event at the Levantine Center, with Mark Levine, Antony Loewenstein, and Saree Makdisi took place in Los Angeles at a church near UCLA.   This event was larger, but it included other people. In any case, the discussion was quite interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which were the Iranian Jews in the audience whose heads were so immersed in Zionist propaganda that one woman denied the existence of the murder of Mohammad al-Durra and the massacre in Jenin refugee camp–two events that I discuss in my book, actually. Of course, it sounded exactly like Nazi holocaust denial, which is what I said to the woman. The event was filmed so if it becomes available I will post it.

Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee Votes to Stand with #Veolia and Israeli Apartheid #BDS

Today I entered the halls of city hall in Los Angeles, I think, for the first time. It is entirely possible I was there when I was young and cannot recall the memory. It’s funny to me because although I am a Los Angeleno, I came of age in Ohio and my activism really began there. I often go to protests and demonstrations when I’m home, but I’ve never gone to speak before city council here as I used to do in Cincinnati, for instance, when I was actively fighting against the homophobic Issue 3.

It felt a bit daunting, perhaps, because I know that this space where I signed up to speak was a place where my grandmother, Marian Gibbons, founder of Hollywood Heritage, spoke so many times before. In fact, as I sat there in the transportation committee’s meeting space, thinking about what I would say when I addressed them, I noticed a man whose face, and eventually, name I began to recognize. He spoke at my grandmother’s funeral. Tom LaBonge has been working in Los Angeles city politics for ages and he worked with my grandmother at some point, but I cannot recall exactly what they did together.

I decided that I’d try to speak to this relationship somehow instead of addressing the same old points about boycotting Veolia, the transportation company that Los Angeles is working to renew a contract with. Everyone else (there were 33 speakers asking to dump this contract and 5 speakers seeking to maintain it) addressed the usual points. I talked about my grandmother’s history as an activist preserving and resuscitating Hollywood, which inevitably provided me with an model for how to be an activist, albeit in a different context. But while my grandma saved and renovated historic landmarks, I fight for human rights–for Palestinians to not be exiled from their lands, for Palestinian homes to not be demolished, for Palestinians to be able to return to their land. At the end of the day just like my grandma fought destruction of something that was valuable to her, I support Palestinians in their effort to preserve their life, livelihood, and homes. Veolia, the French company I spoke against today, profits off the destruction of Palestinian homes and livelihoods by creating and maintaining a Jewish-only transportation system connecting Jewish-only colonies.

I may not have been the most persuasive speaker, but at least LaBonge addressed me in his closing remarks, indicating that perhaps he heard what I had to say. In general, it was quite a disappointing meeting. Most of the council members there were either flipping through paperwork (which may or may not be related to what were addressing today) or played on their cell phones. The one who acted like he was listening, Paul  Koretz, although this Jon Lovitz lookalike appeared constipated most of the time, made it expressly clear that he supports Israel. Although he stated this to the room, it was evident a bit before then because when 4 of the 5 Veolia supporters spoke (a team of people from the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles) he let all of them go over the 1 minute time limit without reminding them that they had gone over. Everyone else was interrupted and reminded of that fact.

The speakers (see Uprising radio above video for another example) who addressed the main arguments made some excellent points, especially about this city where I grew up. I’ve been a bit harsh and frustrated with my hometown of late because of the fascist policies the state and the city have been passing. But as a city, I was reminded today, that Los Angeles has often done the right thing. And this was a point that many people drove home today:

* In 1984 Los Angeles was one of the first major cities in the U.S. to divest from South Africa during the apartheid regime

* In 2008 and 2009 Los Angeles’ fire and police commissions terminated relationships with a program run by the Boy Scouts of America because of its explicit discriminatory policies against LGBTQ people

* In 2010 Los Angeles city council voted to boycott Arizona and any companies based there because of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070

Moreover, Los Angels city administrative code clearly prohibits the city from contracting with any company whose practices violate the city’s own non-discrimination policies.

But it seems that Los Angeles would want to uphold its moral stance and be consistent. When the question today came up about whether or not it is illegal for the state of California or the city of Los Angeles to boycott Israel, a couple of important response came up (not the least of which is the fact that Veolia is a French, not an Israeli company):

* Nothing in U.S. law or California law prohibits the city of Los Angeles from refusing to do business with Veolia because of its human rights violations in occupied Palestine. A boycott even against Israel or an Israeli company would only be prohibited under the Export Administration Act (EAA) if the specific boycott is initiated by foreign countries, specifically, the official government of a foreign country.

There are many other important points that are specific to Veolia’s violation of international law for its apartheid transportation system in occupied Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace, which organized today’s protest along with Dump Veolia LA, has a fact sheet where they lay out more reasons why one should boycott Veolia. There is also an article on the Mondoweiss website that details more of these points by some of the people who spoke today.

In the end, we lost. They voted unanimously to continue its contract with Veolia. Unlike Stockholm, Melbourne, Bourdeaux, Dublin, Swansea and the Hague, Los Angeles seems to want to continue its relationship with Veolia in spite of its human rights violations. My grandma, although she had her battles with city hall to be sure, never had to face the seemingly insurmountable Zionist hold on American politics. It’s significantly easier to get Americans, especially in Los Angeles, to be sympathetic about preserving its recent cinematic past.

[UPDATE: Here is the Los Angeles Times report on our action.]

The last time I was in Palestine, in 2009, I took photographs in al Quds (Jerusalem) of the Veolia light rail project that was being built by dividing and destroying various aspects of Palestinian neighborhoods for the sake of the colonial transportation system. Here are some of those photographs:

The Fascist State of California

In my last blog post I focused on aspects of being in Los Angeles that particularly irked me. Little did I know, it gets worse. Two items of note:

1. The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa addressed the Democratic National Convention this week in which he proceeded to establish the capital of an illegal colonial occupation in Palestine (i.e., that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel) as a part of the Democratic party’s platform:

Anyone who knows Villaraigosa’s politics should not be surprised by his actions. Los Angelenos likely remember his efforts to collaborate with Israel on a variety of issues:

In just a few days, we signed agreements to strengthen security at our airport and enhance our counterterrorism capabilities. We initiated partnerships to protect our ports and reduce our carbon footprint. We took a series of steps to revitalize the L.A. River, expand the city’s water conservation and recycling initiatives and invest in the technologies of tomorrow. From homeland security and public safety to environmental innovation and green development, Los Angeles is set to receive the best Israel has to offer in the fields where the Jewish state leads the world — and Los Angeles will be better off as a result.

But it gets worse. The state of California passed a resolution a couple of weeks ago that indicates its real fascist tendencies:

The resolution, which was passed without debate and without input from community groups, “recognizes recent actions by officials of public postsecondary educational institutions in California and calls upon those institutions to increase their efforts to swiftly and unequivocally condemn acts of anti-Semitism on their campuses and to utilize existing resources, such as the European Union  Agency for Fundamental Rights’ working definition of anti-Semitism, to help guide campus discussion about, and promote, as appropriate, educational programs for combating anti-Semitism on their campuses.”

HR 35 is a non-binding resolution and has no policy mandate. But a careful reading of the vocabulary and wording has direct similarities to accusations made by Zionist groups and students against Palestine solidarity activism and Muslim student groups on UC campuses in California. The resolution calls for public institutions, for example, to condemn “student- and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns against Israel that are a means of demonizing Israel and seek to harm the Jewish state.”

While the resolution is non-binding, it indicates the tenor of the state’s politics and does not bode well in light of freedoms on college campuses, as witnessed by the Irvine 11 and others.

Back in Beirut

The plan was to write another couple of blog entries about Cairo, but the photographs that would have amplified the story are being held hostage on my computer that won’t let me log on any more. So for now I’m just reporting that I arrived back in Beirut, for a brief week, before returning to the U.S. for a visit (see speaking link above for dates of my upcoming speaking engagements in California). The plan was almost interrupted when the airport road into Beirut was shut down the night before I left. Here is a video from Al Jazeera:

I found it all a bit odd, especially because of the U.S. embassy warning that As’ad AbuKhalil posted on his blog just two days earlier:

“The U.S. Embassy has received reports of an increased possibility of attacks against U.S. citizens in Lebanon.  Possible threats include kidnapping, the potential for an upsurge in violence, the escalation of family or neighborhood disputes, as well as U.S. citizens being the target of terrorist attacks in Lebanon. U.S. Embassy personnel remain under strict travel restrictions, and all U.S. citizens are urged to take additional security precautions.”  I would love to see the sources for those reports, would you not?  And don’t you like the reference to “escalation of family or neighborhood disputes”??

It is almost as if the Americans were predicting the attacks. Of course, the kidnapping predicted is not at all targeting Americans, although it should given the logic being used (it is targeting Syrians who are against the Asad regime in Syria as well as regional powers assisting them like Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia). It certainly makes me wonder what role the Americans are playing Syria and Lebanon right now.

These kidnappings are not the work of militias or political parties. They are the work of Lebanese families seeking revenge for their family members  who have been kidnapped in Syria. But it got quite out of hand the other night with journalists–even those on the same political side–were beaten up. Fortunately things seem to have calmed down now, but there are still threats about what may happen after Eid in the coming days.

Here is some more writing on the topic

“Al-Moqdad Republic” in al-Akhbar

“Armed Lebanese Kidnap 11 Syrians” in al-Akhbar

“Second Turkish Citizen Kidnapped” in al-Akhbar

“Families of Kidnapped Lebanese in Syria Cut Off Access to Airport in Beirut” in Jadaliyya

And for the humorous take on all this, check out this new Twitter account, Moqdaddy.

Green in the City

It has been eight years since I spent the summer in Cairo and this is my first visit back. There has been a lot that has changed here, uprising not withstanding (see Jadaliyya on Egypt’s recent past, especially herehere, and here). Given that I am merely a visitor here, and a foreigner at that, it is not my place to write about the political scene in Egypt. Others (linked to above) are doing that better than I can.

Instead I have been doing my part to help the Egyptian economy, which has suffered from less tourist traffic since the uprising. The number of craft shops seems to have doubled or tripled since 2004. And the kinds of crafts being sold in the city or in the souq seems to have changed, too. Either that or I am merely noticing different types of objects. I am especially in love with the Berber embroidery and drafts from Siwa, which I would get on the bus and visit (there are some amazing ecolodges there) if it were not so hot outside. And because it is Ramadan there are additional craft fairs around the city at night, such as the one I went to a couple of weeks ago at Darb 1718.

The other thing that has been most striking to me over the past couple of weeks is al-Azhar Park. The park is built in the heart of a poor community in old, Islamic Cairo not far from Khan Khalili market. Although the arial shot above makes it seem like the park is an oasis in a midst of a concrete jungle, much of Cairo is actually pretty Green. If you drive along the Nile, for example, it is incredibly lush. Spending the last couple of years in Beirut, and Amman before that, I had forgotten how much I miss green spaces. There are very few public parks in Beirut for picnicking or for children to swing or play football. Although Ba’albek does have quite a lovely park where you can do those things.

At the entrance of al-Azhar Park you see a beautiful fountain, which children play in. The park does have an entrance fee (the equivalent of about $1), but if you are one of the families who live in the area you get in for about $.25. As a result, it the grass is filled with families having picnic iftar dinners while children run around on the playground. There is also a year-round souq and a Ramadan outdoor souq with beautiful crafts for sale.

 

It is refreshing to see such a wide, open space in the center of an urban metropolis. The weather is cooler there, the people seem happy, and the energy is amazing. I walked around the perimeter of the park last weekend right around iftar began (this hour of the day is not ideal for photography, but the images should give readers a small slice of what it looks like).

The park is also filled with beautiful landscaping, gardens (plant names are identified in Arabic and English on placards). There are restaurants and cafes and an amphitheater hosting terrific music.

My first weekend here I saw Oumeima el Khalil (photograph above) and last weekend I went to Dina el Wadidi’s concert. Wadidi sings in a band that fuses the incredible sounds of the accordion, violin, piano, and tabla (also bass and electric guitar, which unfortunately drown out the other beautiful sounds). One of the many people sitting around me filming the concert on their cell phones posted one of the songs on Youtube:

As I enjoyed the park I wondered about its construction. I thought about the people in Beirut who are working for greening the city. Every time I look at the enormous port I imagine how beautiful it would be as a green park with football fields, playgrounds for children, and areas for families to picnic. But, of course, this is Solidere territory (the best article on the history and context of how Solidere ruined downtown Beirut see Saree Makdisi’s articles here and here). The contrast between the once public space, albeit not green, of downtown Beirut and the public space of al-Azhar Park is striking in many ways (although similar kinds of encroachments on downtown Cairo were part of Mubarak’s re-imagining of the city). Whereas Solidere wants to keep poor people out, al-Azhar at least appears to be working to make all families able to access its space. Poor people may not be able to afford to buy crafts or eat at the restaurants, but for under $1 they can picnic and their children have a place to run around and play.

If only it were that simple.  I did a little research to see how this park was created. A foreign corporation, the Aga Khan Trust, financed the construction of this park. I was told by an Egyptian friend that the fees that one pays when entering go to that corporation for about thirty years before Egyptians may retain control over their own park (reminds me of the Suez Canal and the British). The microfinance division of Aga Khan collaborates with USAID on a number of projects, including one in Aswan, Egypt (they also have a numer of projects in Afghanistan and elsewhere in collaboration with USAID). It is unclear what role USAID has had in the building of al-Azhar Park. But there are some indications that they played a role. One document says, for example, that through the American Research Center, that USAID funded a part of a project in the park, but it doesn’t specify what. Another article suggests that USAID, along with the Ford Foundation, helped to fund part of the municipal underground water beneath the park.

Of course all this transpired under the Mubarak regime. Indeed, Suzanne Mubarak was apparently quite the champion of the park. It’s not yet clear to me how much of the park has been funded with USAID. But even a dime from that entity spells danger. But I am not at all surprised. This is what USAID does best: it appears to be a lovely gift from the Americans to the Egyptians (or the Haitians or the Palestinians), but in reality it is a mechanism of domination and control. This is why ALBA nations recently pledged to kick out USAID from their countries in a bold anti-imperialist move.

Egypt has been controlled by USAID since Sadat’s treacherous signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979, which gave Egyptians back the Sinai Peninsula (though not military control over it) and sold out the Palestinians. In exchange for this agreement, Egyptian people began to receive funds and imports from the United States. But it is not so simple.

Jason Hickel explains how this works in the most important sector, the agricultural sector:

To push along the process of neoliberal reform, USAid has given $200 million each year to the Egyptian government in handouts to encourage “continuing reduction in tariffs” and the privatisation of 314 government-owned companies. Furthermore, USAid devotes some 25 per cent of its budget to a special Commodity Import Programme designed to help Egypt buy American-made goods and reinforce bilateral trade.

Programmes like these have proven to be devastating for many Egyptians: they tend to undercut local manufactures, encourage foreign monopolies, concentrate wealth in the hands of political cronies and ultimately contribute to unemployment, which (depending on the measure used) has risen to 25 per cent in recent years and reaches as high as 30 per cent among the young.

Some of the most extreme neoliberal measures have been directed at Egypt’s agriculture sector. As a condition for development aid, USAid has required Egypt to shift its formidable agricultural capacity away from staple foods and toward export crops such as cotton, grapes and strawberries in order to generate foreign currency to pay off its burgeoning debt to the US.

According to Columbia University professor, Timothy Mitchell, USAid first began to facilitate this process in the 1980s through its Agricultural Mechanisation Project, which was designed to develop the productive capacity of Egyptian export agriculture by financing the purchase of American machinery.

In the end – despite USAid’s projections to the contrary – the programme did very little to help common farmers. Instead, it disproportionately benefitted the few large landholders who could afford to take out the loans, while slashing the demand for agricultural labour and causing rural wages to plummet.

To propel the transformation to export-led agriculture, USAid forced the Egyptian government to heavily tax the production of staples by local farmers and to eliminate subsidies on essential consumer goods like sugar, cooking oil and dairy products in order to make room for competition from American and other foreign companies.

To ameliorate the resulting food gap, USAid’s so-called “Food for Peace” programme provided billions of dollars of loans for Egypt to import subsidised grain from the US, which only further undercut local farmers. The result of all of this “agricultural reform” was an unprecedented spike in food prices which made livelihoods increasingly precarious and forced much of the workforce to accept degrading and dehumanising labour conditions. The widespread social frustrations that resulted from these reforms helped spark the 2011 uprising.

Similar forms of neoliberal shock therapy been applied to the public services sector. USAid has aggressively pushed for so-called “cost-recovery” mechanisms, a euphemism for transforming public healthcare and education into private, fee-based institutions. Indeed, USAid typically spends nearly half of its health and education budgets – more than $100-million per year – on privatisation measures.

This has been fantastic for multinational medical companies, as it translates into greater dependence on imported drugs and equipment. For Egyptians, however, privatisation means having to pay large sums on healthcare and education. Mitchell shows that such expenditures – as a percentage of household income – now rank at the second and third highest in the world, respectively.

To make matters worse, Mitchell also demonstrates that USAid’s cuts to public service budgets have forced the wage rates of workers in hospitals and schools below the rate of inflation, causing deep income deficits among working-class households.

These destructive, pro-corporate policies get obscured by the rhetoric that USAid deploys. According to its website, USAid claims to have helped Egypt become a “success story in economic development”, citing “improvements” in the quality of education and – amazingly – “the administration of justice” (a shocking contradiction, given that the US actively funded Mubarak’s repressive military apparatus and its widespread human rights abuses).

Egypt’s vigorous market liberalisation programme has attracted foreign investment and boosted GDP growth, but these gains have only benefited the very rich, while the country’s bottom quintiles have seen their portion of the economic pie shrink significantly over the same period.

This one aspect of American control over Egyptian society since the 1980s–in other words since Camp David–gives one a sense of why USAID is so dangerous and also provides context over the ongoing uprising in Egypt.  Additionally, and a reason why USAID is associated with the CIA in most of the global south, is because there is often a relationship between NGOs and USAID. This relationship may be predominantly financial, but it is one that can be used to foment unrest, one reason why a few months ago Egyptians also considered removing USAID.

This issue of funding and the way it is used to control people is a huge problem, especially for those who have amazing ideas that they want to make tangible. Creating a park is an amazing thing to do for a community. But whether it is a park or a farm, one has to weigh the funding of such projects with societal control by outside corporations, foundations, or governments that have an agenda. There is no easy answer to this. But there is a reason why Henry Kissinger, who negotiated Camp David for Carter, famously said, “If you control oil, you control nations. If you control food, you control people.”