apartheid and its boycotts

some great news this week and some great writing, too, in honor of land day. nora barrows-friedman has a kick-ass report on land day in palestine including an interview with the mayor of deir hana in 1948 palestine that is really great. i did an interview this week, too, with naji ali on crossing the line, which was supposed to be about the boycott campaign, but it turned out to be more about the islamic university of gaza and rebuilding it. you can listen to me as well as akram habeeb talking about this online or you may download it on naji’s website. and if you haven’t donated yet to help rebuild the islamic university please go to the middle east children’s alliance and specify that you would like money to go towards the islamic university of gaza.

of course the savagery unleashed on gaza is what prompted the global momentum of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (bds) movement. nora also broadcast a brilliant broadcast of a lecture given by ali abunimah for the middle east children’s alliance last week, which i highly recommend listening to. there, too, abunimah contextualizes this movement in relation to gaza. what happened in gaza is one of many reasons to boycott the terrorist state of israel. we need boycott and war crimes trials and so much more. because when they say they will investigate they never do or the criminals get off and wind up running the country (just look at the long line of presidents and prime ministers and in every one you will find a war criminal multiple times over). imran garda’s “focus on gaza” last week highlighted the main war crimes charge related to white phosphorus (though listen to what ali abunimah has to say about that in the above-linked speech), which now, the zionist entity is whitewashing. here is the episode on al jazeera, which contains important interviews and information:

gaza, like the villages of deir hana and others in the jaleel that resisted on that first land day 33 years ago, it is illustrative of the wider problems here. continual land theft and murder. hazem jamjoum has a brilliant piece in common dreams this week giving us a sense of this wider picture of apartheid more generally in palestine which is essential reading for people wanting to understand what it is like here and why palestine must be liberated:

In recent years, increasing numbers of people around the world have begun adopting and developing an analysis of Israel as an apartheid regime. (1) This can be seen in the ways that the global movement in support of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle is taking on a pointedly anti-apartheid character, as evidenced by the growth of Israeli Apartheid Week.(2) Further, much of the recent international diplomatic support for Israel has increasingly taken on the form of denying that racial discrimination is a root cause of the oppression of Palestinians, something that has taken on new levels of absurdity in Western responses to the April 2009 Durban Review Conference.(3)

Many of the writings stemming from this analysis work to detail levels of similarity and difference with Apartheid South Africa, rather than looking at apartheid as a system that can be practiced by any state. To some extent, this strong emphasis on historical comparisons is understandable given that Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is the central campaign called for by Palestinian civil society for solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle, and is modeled on the one that helped end South African Apartheid. However, an over-emphasis on similarities and differences confines the use of the term to narrow limits. With the expanding agreement that the term ‘apartheid’ is useful in describing the level and layout of Israel’s crimes, it is important that our understanding of the ‘apartheid label’ be deepened, both as a means of informing activism in support of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle, and in order to most effectively make use of comparisons with other struggles.

The Apartheid Analogy

It is perhaps understandable that some advocates of Palestinian rights look at the ‘Apartheid label’, in its comparative sense, as a politically useful tool. The struggle of the South African people for justice and equality reached a certain sacred status in the 1980s and 1990s when the anti-Apartheid struggle reached its zenith. The reverence with which activists and non-activists alike look to the righteousness of the South African struggle, and the ignominy of the colonial Apartheid regime are well placed; Black South Africans fought against both Dutch and British colonization for centuries, endured countless hardships including imprisonment and death, and were labeled terrorists as the powers of the world stood by the racist Apartheid regime. They remained steadfast in their struggle, raising the cost of maintaining the Apartheid system until South African capital found it no longer profitable and white political elites found it impossible to maintain. Comparison bonus points can also be scored by pointing to the deep historic PLO-ANC connection, as well as the unabashed alliance between Israel and the South African Apartheid regime, which remained strong even at the height of the international boycott against South Africa.

A further impetus for confining the ‘apartheid label’ to a comparison with South Africa is that the commonalities and similarities between the liberation struggles of South Africa and Palestine are quite stark. Both cases involved a process of settler-colonialism involving the forced displacement of the indigenous population from most of their ancestral lands and concentrating them in townships and reservations; dividing up the Black population into different groups with differing rights; strict mobility restrictions that suffocated the colonized; and the use of brutal military force to repress any actual or potential resistance against the racist colonial regime. Both regimes enjoyed the impunity that results from full US and European support. Accompanying these and countless other similarities are a host of uncanny details common to both cases: both regimes were formally established in the same year – 1948 – following decades of British rule; control of approximately 87% of the land was off limits to most of the colonized population without special permission, and so on. While we speak here in the past tense, all of this still applies to present-day Palestine.

As the Israeli apartheid label has gained ground, some have adopted the approach of describing the differences between the two regimes, albeit for various purposes. In general, Israel has not legislated petty apartheid – the segregation of spaces such as bathrooms and beaches – as was the case in South Africa, although Israeli laws form the basis of systematic racial discrimination against Palestinians. The 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel (approximately 20% of Israel’s citizens) do indeed have the right to vote and run in Israeli elections while the Black community in South Africa, for the most part, did not. The South African version of apartheid’s central tenet was to facilitate the exploitation of as many Black laborers as possible, whereas the Israeli version, although exploiting Palestinian workers, prioritizes the forced displacement of as many Palestinians as possible beyond the borders of the state with the aim of eradicating Palestinian presence within historic Palestine. South African visitors to Palestine have often commented on the fact that Israeli use of force is more brutal than that witnessed in the heyday of Apartheid, and several commentators have thus taken the position that Israel’s practices are worse than Apartheid; that the apartheid label does not go far enough.

Israel and the Crime of Apartheid

In terms of law, describing Israel as an apartheid state does not revolve around levels of difference and similarity with the policies and practices of the South African Apartheid regime, and where Israel is an apartheid state only insofar as similarities outweigh differences. In 1973, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (General Assembly resolution 3068 [XXVIII](4) – entered into force 18 July 1976 – the year of the Soweto uprising in South Africa and the Land Day uprising in Palestine) with a universal definition of the crime of apartheid not limited to the borders of South Africa. The fact that apartheid is defined as a crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (5), which entered into force in 2002 – long after the Apartheid regime was defeated in South Africa – attests to the universality of the crime.

While the wording of the definition of the crime of apartheid varies between legal instruments, the substance is the same: a regime commits apartheid when it institutionalizes discrimination to create and maintain the domination of one ‘racial’ group over another. Karine Mac Allister, among others, has provided a cogent legal analysis of the applicability of the crime of apartheid to the Israeli regime.(6) The main point is that like genocide and slavery, apartheid is a crime that any state can commit, and institutions, organizations and/or individuals acting on behalf of the state that commit it or support its commission are to face trial in any state that is a signatory to the Convention, or in the International Criminal Court. It is therefore a fallacy to ground the Israeli apartheid label on comparisons of the policies of the South African Apartheid regime, with the resulting descriptions of Israel as being ‘Apartheid-like’ and characterizations of an apartheid analysis of Israel as an ‘Apartheid analogy.’

Recognition by the international community of such universal crimes is often the result of a particular case, so heinous that it forces the rusty wheels of international decision-making into motion. The Transatlantic Slave Trade is an example where the mass enslavement of people from the African continent to work as the privately owned property of European settlers formed an important part of the framework in which the drafters of the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery thought and acted. An even clearer example is the Genocide Convention (adopted 1948, entered into force 1951) in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust in which millions of Jews, communists, Roma and disabled were systematically murdered with the intention to end their existence. We do not describe modern day enslavement as ‘slavery-like,’ nor do we examine the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of mainly Tutsi Rwandans through a Rwandan ‘Genocide analogy.’

Two points made by Mac Allister in her legal analysis of Israeli apartheid deserve to be reiterated because they are often confused or misconstrued even by advocates of Palestinian human rights. First, Israel’s crimes and violations are not limited to the crime of apartheid. Rather, Israel’s regime over the Palestinian people combines apartheid, military occupation and colonization in a unique manner. It deserves notice that the relationship between these three components requires further research and investigation. Also noteworthy is the Palestinian BDS Campaign National Committee (BNC)’s “United Against Apartheid, Colonialism and Occupation: Dignity & Justice for the Palestinian People” (7) position paper, which outlines and, to some extent, details the various aspects of Israel’s commission of the crime of apartheid, and begins to trace the interaction between Israeli apartheid, colonialism and occupation from the perspective of Palestinian civil society.

The second point worth reiterating is that Israel’s regime of apartheid is not limited to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In fact, the core of Israel’s apartheid regime is guided by discriminatory legislation in the fields of nationality, citizenship and land ownership, and that was primarily employed to oppress and dispossess those Palestinians who were forcibly displaced in the 1948 Nakba (refugees and internally displaced), as well as the minority who managed to remain within the ‘green line’ and later became Israeli citizens.(8) Israel’s apartheid regime was extended into West Bank and Gaza Strip following the 1967 occupation for the purpose of colonization, and military control over the Palestinians who came under occupation. Using again the example of South Africa, the crime of apartheid was not limited to the Bantustans; the whole regime was implicated and not one or another of its racist manifestations.

The analysis of Israel as an apartheid state has proven to be very important in several respects. First, it correctly highlights racial discrimination as a root cause of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Second, one of the main effects of Israeli apartheid is that it has separated Palestinians – conceptually, legally and physically – into different groupings (refugees, West Bank, Gaza, within the ‘green line’ and a host of other divisions within each), resulting in the fragmentation of the Palestinian liberation movement, including the solidarity movement. The apartheid analysis enables us to provide a legal and conceptual framework under which we can understand, convey, and take action in support of the Palestinian people and their struggle as a unified whole. Third, and of particular significance to the solidarity movement, this legal and conceptual framework takes on the prescriptive role underpinning the growing global movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law.

Colonialism and the Role of Comparison

I have argued that the question of whether apartheid applies cannot be determined by means of comparison with South Africa, but rather by legal analysis. This, however, does not mean that comparative study is not useful. Comparison is in fact essential to the process of learning historical lessons for those involved in struggle. A central importance of comparison with South Africa stems from the fact that the South African struggle against apartheid was, as it continues to be for the indigenous people of Palestine and the Americas, a struggle against colonialism.

Focusing on the colonial dimension of Israeli apartheid and the Zionist project enables us to maintain our focus on the issues that really matter, such as land acquisition, demographic engineering, and methods of political and economic control exercised by one racial group over another. Comparison with other anti-colonial struggles provides the main resource for understanding this colonial dimension of Israeli oppression, and for deriving some of the lessons needed to fight it.

One of the many lessons from the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa stems from the fact that the ANC leadership was pressured to compromise on its economic demands such as land restitution. Only a tiny proportion of white controlled land in South Africa was redistributed to Blacks after 1994. As such, while the struggle of the South African people defeated the system of political apartheid, the struggle against economic apartheid continues in various forms including anti-poverty and landless peoples’ movements today. As Palestinians and those struggling with them work to reconstruct a political strategy and consensus on how to overcome the challenges of the post-Oslo period, the centrality of the demand for land restitution should be highlighted as part of the demand for refugee return.

A second lesson of major importance comes in response to the paradigm currently guiding most mainstream accounts of how to achieve the elusive ‘peace in the Middle East’, which is the idea of partition often referred to as the two state ‘solution’. In the 1970s, South Africa tried to deal with its “demographic problem” – the fact that the vast majority of its population was Black but did not have the right to vote. The Apartheid regime reconstructed South Africa as a formal democracy by reinventing the British-established reservations (the Bantustans) as independent states. (9) These ten ‘homelands’ were each assigned to an ethnicity decided by Pretoria, and indigenous South Africans who did not fit into one of the ethnicities were forced to make themselves fit in order to become nationals of one of the homelands. Through this measure, members of the indigenous population were reclassified as nationals of one or another homeland, and between 1976 and 1981 the regime tried to pass the homelands off as independent states: Transkei in 1976, Bophuthatswana in 1977, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981.

Each of these Bantustans was given a flag and a government made up of indigenous intermediaries on the Pretoria payroll, and all the trappings of a sovereign government including responsibility over municipal services and a police force to protect the Apartheid regime, but without actual sovereignty. The idea was that by getting international recognition for each of these homelands as states, the Apartheid regime would transform South Africa from a country with a 10% white minority, to one with a 100% white majority. Since it was a democratic regime within the confines of the dominant community, the state’s democratic nature would be beyond reproach. No one was fooled. The ANC launched a powerful campaign to counter any international recognition of the Bantustans as independent states, and the plot failed miserably at the international level – with the notable, but perhaps unsurprising, exception that a lone “embassy” for Bophuthatswana was opened in Tel Aviv.

Israel has employed similar strategies in Palestine. For example, Israel recognized 18 Palestinian Bedouin tribes and appointed a loyal Sheikh for each in the Naqab during the 1950s as a means of controlling these southern Palestinians, forcing those who did not belong to one of the tribes to affiliate to one in order to get Israeli citizenship. (10) In the late 1970s, the Israeli regime tried to invent Palestinian governing bodies for the 1967 occupied territory in the form of ‘village leagues’ intended to evolve into similar non-sovereign governments; glorified municipalities of a sort. As with Apartheid’s Homelands, the scheme failed miserably, both because the PLO had established itself as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and because Palestinians largely understood the plot and opposed it with all means at their disposal. The main lesson for Israel was that the PLO would have to either be completely destroyed or would have to be transformed into Israeli apartheid’s indigenous intermediary. Israel launched a massive campaign to destroy the PLO throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In the early 1990s, and with the demise of the PLO’s main backers such as the Soviet bloc and Iraq, Israel capitalized on the opportunity, and worked to transform the PLO from a liberation movement to a ‘state-building’ project that was launched by the signing of the Oslo accords, seven months before South Africa’s first free election.

The push for the establishment and international recognition of an independent Palestinian state within the Palestinian Bantustan is no different from the South African Apartheid regime’s campaign to gain international recognition of Transkei or Ciskei. This is the core of the “two-state solution” idea. The major and crucial difference is that in the current Palestinian case, it is the world’s superpower and its adjutants in Europe and the Arab world pushing as well, and armed with the active acceptance of Palestine’s indigenous intermediaries.

Notes:

1 I use capital ‘A’ in Apartheid to denote the regime of institutionalized racial superiority implemented in South Africa 1948-1994, and lower-case ‘a’ to indicate the generally applicable crime of apartheid.

2 See www.apartheidweek.org

3 See Amira Howeidi, “Israel’s right not to be criticised”, Al-Ahram Weekly, 19-25 March 2009: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/939/re2.htm. Also see the Palestinian civil society response at http://israelreview.bdsmovement.net

4 For the full text of the Convention see: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/11.htm

5 For the full text of the Statute see: http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/99_corr/cstatute.htm

6 See Karine Mac Allister, “Applicability of the Crime of Apartheid to Israel”, al-Majdal #38, (Summer 2008): http://www.badil.org/al-majdal/2008/summer/articles02.htm

7 This is the Palestinian civil society position paper for the April 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, and can be downloaded at: http://bdsmovement.net/files/English-BNC_Position_Paper-Durban_Review.pdf

8 For a discussion of how Israel’s apartheid legislation continues to affect refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel with regards to control over land see Uri Davis, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within, London: Zed Books, 2003.

9 British rule in South Africa established reserves in 1913 and 1936 on approximately 87% of the land of South Africa for the purpose of segregating the Black population from the settlers.

10 For more on this see: Hazem Jamjoum, “al-Naqab: The Ongoing Displacement of Palestine’s Southern Bedouin”, al-Majdal #39-40, (Autumn 2008 / Winter 2009): http://www.badil.org/al-majdal/2008/autumn-winter/articles03.htm

for these reasons and more boycott is gaining momentum all over the world. the boycott motorola campaign now has a local chapter in new york and they held their first demonstration on land day/global bds day as reported on electronic intifada:

Motorola Israel produces fuses used in cluster bombs, “bunker-buster” bombs, and a variety of other bombs. Cluster bombs are specifically condemned by an international consensus of human rights organizations, and banned by many countries. Even the US government has voiced concern over their use. Motorola Israel acquired a $100 million contract to provide a data encrypted cellular network, “Mountain Rose,” to allow the Israeli army, which consistently and severely violates Palestinian human rights, to communicate securely anywhere they operate. Motorola supplies the Israeli military with the Wide Area Surveillance System (WASS) and other high-tech configurations of radar devices and thermal cameras. These surveillance systems are being installed around Israeli settlement/colonies and the apartheid wall, both of which Israel has constructed in the Palestinian West Bank in violation of international law.

Lubna Ka’aabneh of NYCBI and Adalah-NY explained, “The highly effective campaign to boycott diamond mogul and Israeli settlement-builder Lev Leviev set a successful precedent for boycotting Israel in New York. Motorola products are used to help steal Palestinian land in the West Bank, and to kill and oppress Palestinians. Similar support by Motorola for South Africa’s apartheid regime prompted a successful boycott against Motorola. This Land Day, we ask New Yorkers to once again rise to challenge by joining the campaign to boycott Motorola. Let’s do it again!”

in belgium, too, there is new divestment energy directed at a bank as adri nieuwhof reports in electronic intifada:

In a remarkably short period of time, activists in Belgium have built a strong basis for the campaign “Israel colonizes — Dexia funds,” asking the bank to divest from its subsidiary Dexia Israel because of its financing of the expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Israeli settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva, prohibiting the Occupying Power to deport or transfer parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies, as well as Article 53 prohibiting the destruction of property on occupied territory. The Dexia campaign is flourishing in Belgium and may potentially spread to other countries where Dexia subsidiaries are based.

The French-Belgian bank Dexia bought the Israeli Municipality Treasure Bank in 2001 and established Dexia Israel. Centrum voor Ontwikkeling, Documentatie en Informatie Palestijnen (CODIP), an organization focusing on Palestine, raised its concern about the transfer in a letter to Dexia’s board of directors in April 2001. The organization argues that Dexia’s investment in an Israeli bank involved in public loans might give the impression that the bank “supports Israel’s policy of occupation, colonization and discrimination.”

land day also launched the website to remove hamas from the european union’s “terror” list. here is their petition and you may click on the link to sign it yourself:

Appeal for the removal of Hamas from EU terror list !

On the occasion of the June 2009 European elections, we are launching an urgent appeal to all candidates for the 736 seats in the European parliament.

We ask that they actively pursue the immediate and unconditional removal of Hamas and all other Palestinian liberation organizations from the European list of proscribed terrorist organizations.

We further ask that they acknowledge the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and, by so doing, recognise, Hamas as a legitimate voice for the Palestinian people’s aspirations for national liberation.

while i love the bds momentum, i continue to be frustrated by the fact that people are selecting companies that are specifically profiting from the colonization in the west bank and not companies that profit off of colonialism in palestine more generally. this is why i love the new lebanon boycott campaign. and, finally, the article rania and i wrote about the academic boycott in lebanon for al akhbar was translated into english in dissident voice:

In remembering and commemorating Land Day, March 30, 1976, when six Palestinians were killed and almost 100 wounded by Israeli forces in Sakhnin during unarmed protests against the confiscation of Palestinian lands in Galilee; in remembering the December 2008 Israeli savagery against the Palestinians in Gaza; in recognizing the continuity of attacks against Palestinians; and in remembering the numerous and ongoing Israeli atrocities against Lebanese, let us stand in active support of a movement that has the strength and vital potential to significantly contribute to this struggle for liberty and self-determination in this fight against Zionism.

That movement is the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, and one of its main demands is the boycott of and divestment from Israeli corporations and international corporations that sustain Israeli apartheid and colonialism. We know from the South African example that a combined strategy of armed resistance with boycott, divestment, and sanctions led to the downfall of the apartheid regime, and thus can be successful. Focusing on economic resistance ties this movement to the roots of the Palestinian Resistance Movement which historically sought to liberate Palestine as well as the rest of the region from Western imperialism through its economic neocolonial policies.

We also know that we in Lebanon are not cleansed from Zionist products. From cosmetics to clothing, from bulldozers to coffee, we consume products that are produced by corporations that substantially support Israel — either by investing in Israel, or by supporting Israel financially or diplomatically. (While the removal of certain Zionist products, like Intel, is difficult, for the vast majority of products, such as Nestle and Estee Lauder, their removal from our market will actually invigorate our economy by increasing investment in local products and local businesses.)

In addition to the clear form of economic boycott (which, is too often incorrectly confused with censorship), there is the important avenue of academic and cultural boycott. An academic boycott involves refraining from participation in any form of academic or cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions, and thus ultimately works to promote pushing universities themselves to divest from any collaboration or cooperation with any Israeli institution. South African professors also called on their colleagues around the world to boycott them in order to delegitimize and isolate the apartheid regime. The boycott campaign in South Africa worked because of that isolation, which was coupled with an economic boycott, divestment, and eventually this led to the sanctions placed on the regime, which led to its demise.

The most powerful weapon of the academic boycott is the refusal to legitimize Zionism, the ideology upon which Israel was built, the ideology that allows for one group of people to steal, to kill, and to expel, an ideology that is fundamentally and wholly racist. It is Zionism that must be defeated.

The academic and cultural boycott of Israel is growing globally. It has been active in Canada and in the United Kingdom for a few years now. It has spread to Australia and the United States. The publicity surrounding this movement is as powerful a weapon as the movement itself as well as it further calls for a rethinking of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Indeed, the boycott movement is so strong now that Israeli colonists are paying $2 million to improve their global image.

Academics in Lebanon have added their voice to this growing movement. Faculty from the University of Balamand, the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University, Notre Dame University, Lebanese University, Beirut Arab University, USEK, Lebanese International University and Global University signed a statement calling for full academic boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions, and calling our colleagues, throughout the world, and most particularly those in the Arab world and those claiming to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, to comprehensively and consistently boycott and divest from all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and to refrain from normalization in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid. To add your signature, please refer to: www.boycottzionism.wordpress.com

Today, March 30, 2009, marks the Global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Day of Action. Let us stand together.

khawaja

deir rafat, palestine
deir rafat, palestine

saturday late afternoon my friends from deheishe refugee camp headed out of the west bank, illegally, of course, to 1948 palestine. we felt that it was important to spend يوم الأرض (land day) in 1948 palestine in the places where the massacre took place in 1976. of course we would like to attend the demonstrations here tomorrow, but traveling with palestinians who are not permitted to travel freely in their land means that we cannot go to places which will have a heavy military presence. we started our journey as we always do driving by two of my friends’ villages, which are just a few kilometers from their refugee camp. one of my friends wanted to spend some time in her village, deir rafat, so we drove inside. the first thing you see when you drive up the road at the entrance to her village is an old palestinian house, which israeli colonists now use as a drug rehabilitation center. we drove into the valley to the area where her family’s house used to be before israeli terrorists destroyed it. this area of the valley is not inhabited by israeli terrorists like the homes and land above on the hilltops. this area is inhabited now by bedouin shepherds who used to live in the naqab and areas near gaza. they were forcibly removed from their land several times before settling here. my friend from the village spent some time talking to one of the older bedouin men who was living there and he was very interesting. he invited us into his tent, next to his house, for tea before we left and we talked for a while. he told us his story and about his life in deir rafat. he used an unusual word to describe the israeli colonists occupying his land and hers: karawa (which seems to be a turkish word, an old word, meaning foreigner or stranger although tam tam and hala say it means pasha…though that is definitely not the context in which it was used). he used this word to talk about the jews and the british who colonized the land here.

bedouin shepherds in deir rafat
bedouin shepherds in deir rafat

we walked around the ruins of the destroyed houses in the valley, which are adjacent to the homes where the bedouin families live. i kept thinking what it must feel like to be an internally displaced person in your own country and at the same time be living on the land that belongs to others for whom it is illegal to even visit. i wonder what it feels like to wake up and see these ruins every morning knowing that these families live just a few kilometers away from their homes and have been fighting for decades to return to their land. it is striking to think about this, especially in contrast to another village, zakariya just a few kilometers closer to beit lahem from this village, where a number of my friends are originally from. the people who live there are entirely israeli colonists who are living on stolen land. but in the center of this village is a palestinian mosque (albeit one with an israeli terrorist flag on top of the minaret). there are still a number of palestinian homes still standing in that village, all of which were stolen by israeli colonists who live inside. but the mosque is different: it is at the center of the village. it is a symbol of those people not belonging there. that they are foreign. is it really possible to live in such a state of denial?

ruins of deir rafat
ruins of deir rafat

after deir rafat it was getting dark so we headed straight for nasra where our other friend is from. we got to her house and were fed an amazing meal of mlukhiyya, which of course made me very sad that baha’a was not with us. i started thinking about baha’a and thinking that he and one of my friends here would make a lovely couple. we started imagining a movement that we would call زواج العودة whereby we could create marriages with refugees outside palestine and those inside and help them to return through marriage. the only problem is that such a project would involve palestinians returning to the west bank, which is likely not their original village or city, which would not equal their right of return (and this would certainly be true of baha’a who is from yaffa). we spent the evening with my friend’s family and then woke up and headed out to saffuriyya, a village only a few miles from nasra. i had been wanting to see this village for a while now because thousands of palestinians from this village who fled during an nakba in 1948 wound up in nasra (and many are in refugee camps in lebanon). i love that these internally displaced people (idps) have consistently fought for their right to return to their villages alongside palestinian refugees who live in camps until now.

judaizied sign for saffuriyya, palestine
judaizied sign for saffuriyya, palestine

i was also interested in going to the village because i am a fan of a palestinian poet, taha muhammad ali, who is one of the palestinians from saffuriyya who lives in nasra until now. there is a beautiful anthology of his poetry entitled so what that has been translated into english, however this volume was a project that included translators/editors who are zionists and their offensive introduction is deeply troubling as well as ahistorical (they talk about the “idf” destroying his village: there was no “idf” in 1948; there were only jewish terrorist gangs which later became what the israeli colonists call the “idf” and what i call israeli terrorist forces). in any case, here is one of his poems, called “Exodus,” that i love, which i think is appropriate for land day as well as for our visit today and for asserting the rights of palestinian idps:

The street is empty
as a monk’s memory,
and faces explode in the flames
like acorns–
and the dead crowd the horizon
and doorways.
No vein can bleed
more than it already has,
no scream will rise
higher than it’s already risen.
We will not leave!

Everyone outside is waiting
for the trucks and the cars
loaded with honey and hostages.
We will not leave!
The shields of light are breaking apart
before the rout and the siege;
outside, everyone wants us to leave.
But we will not leave!

Ivory white brides
behind their veils
slowly walk in captivity’s glare, waiting,
and everyone outside wants us to leave,
but we will not leave!

The big guns pound the jujube groves,
destroying the dreams of the violets,
extinguishing bread, killing the salt,
unleashing thirst
and parching lips and souls.
And everyone outside is saying:
“What are we waiting for?
Warmth we’re denied,
the air itself has been seized!
Why aren’t we leaving?”
Masks fill the pulpits and brothels,
the places of ablution.
Masks cross-eyed with utter amazement;
they do not believe what is now so clear,
and fall, astonished,
writhing like worms, or tongues.
We will not leave!

Are we in the inside only to leave?
Leaving is just for the masks,
for pulpits and conventions.
Leaving is just
for the siege-that-comes-from-within,
the siege that comes from the Bedouin’s loins,
the siege of the brethren
tarnished by the taste of the blade
and the stink of crows.
We will not leave!

Outside they’re blocking the exits
and offering their blessings to the impostor,
praying, petitioning
Almighty God for our deaths.

one of the many checkpoints in saffuriyya
one of the many checkpoints in saffuriyya

we drove the 5 minutes it took to get to saffuriya and found not only signs judaizing the place–literally changing its name in arabic as well as in english as a part of the zionist project of erasing and ethnically cleansing palestinian existence here. once you enter the village there is a fork in the road. my friend from nasra told us to go to the left. we were confronted by a number of other signs, which my friend translated for us (growing up in 1948 palestine means she is trilingual). one of the signs said something to the effect of “this land belongs to the jews.” there were other signs about this being a national park (what israeli colonists often do with destroyed palestinian villages). the road to the left took us to a checkpoint with a gate, which we were able to get through. the entire area was just a series of israeli colonists’ houses with no trace of any old palestinian houses so we drove out of the imprisoned compound and decided to drive up the other side to the “national park.”

saffuriyya, palestine
saffuriyya, palestine

we drove up the road where we saw so many beautiful wildflowers and an amazing scenic landscape. at the end of the road was yet another checkpoint of sorts. this one was a ticket booth. apparently, if you want to visit saffuriyya you must pay 15 NIS (around $5). what is so outrageous about this is that this land is stolen. palestinians wanting to visit this land, which belongs to them must pay money to enter. i really wonder: if i decide to take over a jewish house in haifa tomorrow (which, of course, would really be a palestinian house) and started charging money for people to enter would that fly? of course, we did not pay one damn shekel and we did not enter that area, where we are told there are ruins of palestinian homes. we chose instead to walk along the fields and enjoy the land, the flowers, the air, the sky. but as we were walking around i noticed some people picnicking. the older woman was wearing hijab (a very helpful identity marker in 1948 palestine) so i asked her if she was from saffuriya. and she is. she was there with her husband, daughter, and grandchildren. they had been in the fields picking fresh za’atar and other herbs and flowers from their land that they were forcibly removed from in 1948. this, too, is something highly “illegal” here: if you are caught picking such things from your land you are fined 5,000 NIS ($1,400).

this is where one pays to enter one's own stolen land in saffuriyya
this is where one pays to enter one's own stolen land in saffuriyya

the family we spoke to told us that we should go back inside that checkpoint/gate on the other side of saffuriya because we would be able to see some old palestinian homes and a church if we drove further inside. we decided to go back. we came upon the church first and drove up the hill where we had an amazing view of the other side of the village, including a mosque we could see down below. it was sunday and there were some palestinian teenagers in the park area out in front of the church. we said hello to them and had a brief conversation, but it was a most disturbing one. one girl said, for instance “إسرائيل حلوى”. this is the level of internalized colonialism and brainwashing that we are dealing with her among some of the youth inside 1948 palestine. they think that the israeli colonists who murder, destroy, and steal from them are “beautiful” or “sweet.” this is, of course, not true of all palestinians here, my friend from nasra, for instance is nothing like that. but this was most disturbing. we left immediately after that and went down to try to find the mosque only to find yet another gated checkpoint and a sign that called it a “jewish” site belonging to some rabbi. we chose another road instead where we found a couple of palestinian homes that remained.

(apparently) "stolen" saffuri za'atar from saffuri land belonging to saffuris
view of palestinian mosque in saffuriyya
view of palestinian mosque in saffuriyya
palestinian home in saffuriyya
palestinian home in saffuriyya

after we left saffuriyya we drove north to sakhnin, the palestinian city made famous for its resistance which we commemorate on land day. we drove into the center of the city where we found a cemetery with a monument to the martyrs of yom al ard (i will be writing about this more tomorrow on land day itself but the link at the top of the post will give you a bit of an entry point on the subject). the monument itself is quite beautiful and moving, but i was disturbed when i read the signature of the sculptors on it: it was a normalization project between a palestinian and an israeli terrorist. i find this difficult to stomach. for me the lesson of such events is that israeli colonists will never stop stealing land and murdering palestinians. the lesson is to continue resistance not to make nice with your killers. not to forgive or forget because they will always repeat their crimes. we have evidence.

martyrs of yom al ard in sakhnin, palestine
martyrs of yom al ard in sakhnin, palestine
martyrs of land day memorial, sakhnin
martyrs of land day memorial, sakhnin
martyrs of land day memorial, sakhnin
martyrs of land day memorial, sakhnin
palestinian home in sakhnin, palestine
palestinian home in sakhnin, palestine

after sakhnin we continued driving into the next village, ‘arraba, which also has its martyrs’ memorial on the same road, though it is not only for land day. they, too, have their share of land day martyrs, but the list of name dates back to the palestinian strike in 1936. this is also the town where aseel asleh was murdered by israeli terrorists.
aseel was in seeds of khara (otherwise known as seeds of peace, a american zionist organization dedicated to using soft power to make palestinian submit to israeli colonization even further than they already are forced to do). yet another reminder: trying to normalize or make “peace” with the warmonger colonists occupying this land will never work. whether you normalize or not they will murder you. the lesson we should take from this, since they will murder regardless, is take the bullet standing up and fighting for your rights to stay on your land, to return to your land, rather than dying on your knees begging for “peace.”

martyrs memorial in 'arraba, palestine
martyrs memorial in 'arraba, palestine
'arrabe martyrs memorial
'arrabe martyrs memorial

after ‘arrabe we drove to the next village, deir hana, because we heard that this is the site of the land day protest tomorrow, which we want to go to but cannot. we drove around the village a bit and found old palestinian homes at the top of the mountain. a man saw us wandering around taking photographs of those homes and invited us to his house. his wife was busy baking bread for their family (which was a bit shocking because she must have made at least 30 pieces of khoobiz baladi while we were standing there). she gave us some bread to eat, which was totally amazing, and they gave us some fresh olive oil to dip it in, which was also incredible. afterward her husband took us into a part of their house to show us around. it was like a museum of palestinian culture: all over the walls were various agricultural and cultural tools palestinians have used over the centuries and in the center of the room was an enormous, old olive oil press. it was amazing to have stumbled upon this family and to see all of this, but it was sad to hear that the only people who come up there to visit the area and to see his museum are israeli colonists (likely in search of more cultural artifacts or cultural objects to steal). in any case, i bought some olive oil from him before we left to give to my friend’s mom. and then we headed back towards nasra. and now it is 3 am so i’m going to sleep. more on yom al ard bokra. tisbah 3la watan to all my palestinian friends who cannot be here to commemorate land day.

palestinian home in deir hana
palestinian home in deir hana
khoobiz baladi in deir hana
khoobiz baladi in deir hana
palestinian olive oil press in deir hana, palestine
palestinian olive oil press in deir hana, palestine