land day/يوم الأرض

home in old city of nasra, palestine
home in old city of nasra, palestine

it was way too late by the time i finally got home from yom al ard to write anything coherent so i am now writing about land day the day after. we had decided that in addition to visiting the towns and villages where palestinians have resisted and been murdered for resiting further land theft we would spend time in the towns and villages of my friends. so we continued our land day journey today by spending the morning walking around downtown nasra, the city where one of my friends whom we were traveling with is from. we wanted to see if we could meet poet taha muhammad ali who owns a gift shop near the main church commemorating the city where jesus was from.

inside the old city of nasra, palestine
inside the old city of nasra, palestine

we found his shop rather easily because everyone knows where it is, including my friend’s grandparents. funnily enough while we were walking up the street to the store we bumped into her grandfather who was out doing some shopping. when we first arrived at the gift shop he was not there yet. so we looked around and found the usual disturbing juxtaposition of items one finds in tourist shops in palestine: kuffiyas next to israeli terrorist flags; all the monotheistic souvenirs; bracelets saying “i love israel” (but not “i love palestine” even in these shops which are all owned by palestinians); holy land tshirts next to “idf” (read: israeli terrorist forces) tshirts. his sons were working there so they were showing us stuff and we each bought a small item and then they told us to go walk around and come back in an hour or so and then we could meet him. we walked around the old city a bit and when we returned we found taha muhammad ali sitting in a chair next in the front of the store. we did not stay long, but we talked to him a bit about his poetry, about his flight from his village of saffuriyya to lebanon in 1948 and then back to find his village’s homes destroyed, and finally to nasra where he is waiting and fighting for his right to return to his village only a few kilometers away. his son showed us a new biography that an american has just written about him, which came out recently from yale university press called my happiness bears no relation to happiness: a poet’s life in the palestinian century. i hope she did a better and more respectful job with representing his life than the people who translated his volume of poetry, so what.

taha muhammad ali
taha muhammad ali

we drove south from nasra towards um al fahm because we wanted to be in a space that most closely resembles the resistance spirit of land day, although this was just a week or so ago. um al fahm means mother of coal as it is a village that used to produce a lot of coal for the area. we met up with other friends and ate lunch together in a sandwich shop overlooking the main road where the demonstration took place the other day. it is barely 1 km inside the city, which shows how unified and strong the town is when it comes to preventing israeli terrorists from invading their area.

um al fahm
um al fahm

after lunch we drove up the hill a bit to the um el fahem gallery, an art gallery that is really amazing. we were very lucky because their current exhibit is related to land day. it is called “memories of a place: the photographic history of wadi ‘ara, 1903-2008.” the photographs were amazing. it started off with various family photographs placed on a wall in a manner that you would see in a home of your typical grandparents: all the photographs in various frames, from various periods grouped around together. they also had various documents like diplomas and identity cards framed as well. then the exhibit continued in various rooms showing you the evolution of the city from pre-nakba until the present. it shows the fellaheen, the families, the land, the resistance. there were also various televisions set up showing old footage of um el fahem. one of the more striking and tragic photographs was the one of the village signing over its rights to israeli colonists who terrorized um el fahem into submitting in 1948-49. the exhibit was really powerful and amazing and has been curated as a book by mustafa kabha and guy raz. the link above also has more information about the gallery and the exhibit.

um el fahm signing truce papers with israeli terrorists in 1949
um el fahm signing truce papers with israeli terrorists in 1949
um al fahm
um al fahm

we headed back towards al quds after um al fahm because we wanted to make sure my other friend could see her village before it got dark. she did not know exactly where it was a she had only been there once about 10 years ago. each of my three friends towns/villages represent a different aspect of israeli colonialism: my friend from nasra whose family has remained on their land; my friend from deir rafat who is a refugee whose village destroyed, and whose village is inhabited by internally displaced bedouin and israeli colonists; my friend from malha whose village is mostly destroyed and contains such eyesores as a shopping mall and highways named after terrorists like menachem begin (whose irgun terrorist band attacked malha in march 1948.

israeli colonists' mall with american stores on the stolen land of malha
israeli colonists\’ mall with american stores on the stolen land of malha

my friend’s village still has a number of palestinian homes grouped together on the hill above that shopping mall, but the entire area surrounding it used to contain 300 palestinian homes until jewish terrorist gangs forced the people off of their land. malha, which is a neighborhood of al quds, formed as a village when many people from hijaz to yemen came to help salah el din force the crusaders off of palestinian land. there was a spring called ein yalo below where the sheep and the goats used to drink, but they brought too many insects to the spring so an older man from the village poured salt in the spring. after it became salty the village was known as malha.

malha mosque where israeli colonists now live inside
malha mosque where israeli colonists now live inside

malha is only a couple of kilometers away from deir yassin, where jewish terrorist gangs massacred palestinians on april 9, 1948. they were attacked on march 1st and then again on the 13-14 march in 1948 by irgun and palmach, and later hagana, the names of the terrorist gangs. the village maintained its defense, however, and there were some egyptians who helped them fight and defend their land. throughout this time period–from march through july–some palestinians fled to al quds or beit lahem, but they all kept coming back to harvest their land.

palestinian home in malha
palestinian home in malha
palestinian home in malha
palestinian home in malha
israeli colonists in the old city of al quds
israeli colonists in the old city of al quds

i wish i had the energy to describe how these histories, these experiences comprise land day and its meaning. it holds the essence of resistance and is a reminder not only that palestinian land continues to be confiscated, but also that they can and do resist. it is a reminder that this resistance must continue and must be unified to liberate the land. in an electronic intifada interview jonathan cook did with hatim kanaaneh to commemorate yom al ard yesterday, you can get an idea of what this day represents and the significance it still continues to hold for people here:

“Maybe its significance is surprising given the magnitude of other events in Palestinian history,” said Hatim Kanaaneh, 71, a doctor, who witnessed the military invasion of his village.

“But what makes Land Day resonate with Palestinians everywhere is that it was the first time Palestinians inside Israel stood together and successfully resisted Israel’s goal of confiscating their land.”

The confrontation took place between the army and a group usually referred to as “Israeli Arabs,” the small minority of Palestinians who managed to remain in their homes during the 1948 war that led to the founding of Israel. Today they number 1.2 million, or nearly one-fifth of Israel’s population.

“We were given citizenship by Israel, but have always been treated as an enemy, perceived of as a threat to the state’s Jewishness,” said Dr. Kanaaneh, who last year published his memoir, A Doctor in Galilee, which offers a rare account in English of Palestinian life inside Israel during the Land Day period….

“Government policy was explicitly to make the land Jewish — or Judaize it, as it was called,” Dr. Kanaaneh said.

The announcement in the mid-1970s of the confiscation of a further 2,000 hectares led to the creation of a new body, the National Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands, which provided a more assertive political leadership.

The minority’s decision to strike, Dr. Kanaaneh said, shocked the Israeli authorities, which were not used to challenges to official policy. “Both sides understood the significance of the strike. For the first time we were acting as a national minority, and Israel was very sensitive to anything that suggested we had a national identity or a unified agenda, especially over a key resource like land.”

Although the strike was strictly observed by Palestinians throughout Israel, the focus of the protest were three villages in the central Galilee that faced the loss of a large area of prime agricultural land: Arrabeh, Sakhnin and Deir Hanna.

The prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and his defense minster, Shimon Peres, acted on the eve of the strike.

“What was surprising was that they didn’t send in the police, as you’d expect when dealing with citizens of a country, but the army,” Dr. Kanaaneh said.

land day is important not only to palestinians in 1948 palestine but everywhere, as evidenced by the activities dear baha’a is organizing beirut, for example. here is what he said about the events in beirut for the palestine telegraph:

“The Student Forum is totally independent and the PFLP has no influence over it. The forum was initiated but not controlled by the PFLP.” said Ziad Oudeh, the general coordinator of the Student Forum and the main organizer of the event in Shatila Refugee Camp. The event started at 12:00pm with an exhibition of photos and drawings by refugee kids. “Our main goal is to educate people about Palestinian culture and traditions through art and music. We aim to bring back tradition to the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon. Although we are centered in Shatila Refugee Camp but we target all Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.” Oudeh assured.

People from different refugee camps and other Lebanese citizens started arriving in the next couple of hours. At 4:30pm, the musical event started with Mahmoud Darwish poetry reading while flute music was playing. The singing band of the PFLP followed the poetry and stressed on the Palestinian unity through their songs. After that the audience enjoyed Sabreen Lobbani, a solo 10 years old girl singer.

Then Al-Awdi (the return) troupe performed the Palestinian folkloric dance, Dabkeh. And finally, the event was ended with the Palestinian hip hop band from Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp, I-Voice who performed songs about Palestinian refugees, the right of return and Gaza.

A hip hop band, participated in the action through a new style of music resistance.

“Rap is a tool of freedom of expression. We have a message to deliver through our music, a message of solidarity and unity. And a refugee camp is where we come from and refugees are the right audience. While rap might be considered an untraditional form of music, we try to make it more local and acceptable by singing in Arabic and about directly related to the Palestinian refugee community.” said Yassin and Mohammad from I-Voice.

here in palestine, particularly in the west bank, activities are more sparse. although we did see lovely photographs from friends of ours who were able to go to deir hanna’s protest yesterday because they were not “illegally” inside 1948. there were some activities in nablus, but not one of my 200 students at an najah university even knew what yom al ard was. this is one of the reasons why i canceled my classes and gave them all a homework assignment to find out what yom al ard is and why it is important. i wish that there was a strike protesting this across the country, though there were some demonstrations. of course i know why the palestinian authority won’t make this a national day of mourning or action: they are content with ramallah as constituting the palestinian state. but the rest of the people are not.

deir hana bayan for yom al ard
deir hana bayan for yom al ard

here are some things that palestinians did yesterday to commemorate yom al ard starting with the main protest in deir hanna (see bayan above):

Arab residents of Dir Hanna village, inside the Green Line, are planning to commemorate Land Day on Monday, to demand an end to apartheid and racism. The Protests will sweep through villages in the Galilee, and a number of Arab villages and cities.

The Higher Follow-up Committee announced Dir Hanna village as one of the main locations for the protest marking the 33rd anniversary of Land Day.

The Committee issued a statement calling for marking this day with greater determination and steadfastness especially while extremist parties are coming to power in Israel.

“It seems that racism and fascism became the center point of Israeli politics”, the Committee said in its release, “This year we will mark Land Day with steadfastness and determination to counter racism in Israel”.

The committee added that Israel increased its illegal attacks against Arab villages, demolished and is ongoing with demolishing more homes in the Negev, Jerusalem, and in Arab areas that Israel considers ‘unrecognized villages’.

“The Israeli attacks are targeting Arab and Bedouin villages, in the Negev and in mixed towns along the coast”, the committee said, “This is happening while incitement against the Arabs and Arab leaders is on the rise, while unemployment and poverty is gradually increasing due to Israeli apartheid polices”.

Furthermore, the Committee called on the Palestinian factions to end their difference and unite in order to counter the Israeli expansion plans in the Palestinian territories.

The committee also demanded prosecuting Israeli officials at international courts for war crimes against the Palestinians, especially the war crimes in Gaza, and for war crimes and collective punishment against the Palestinian political detainees in Israeli prisons.

and in the knesset (or not) :

Likud MK Reuven Rivlin is due to be elected Knesset speaker Monday afternoon, but Arab Knesset factions are objecting to the timing of the vote. On Monday the Arab sector commemorates Land Day, marking violent protests in 1976 over government land policies in which six Arabs were killed.

MKs from Arab factions are expected to be absent Monday from the vote, after failing to convince acting speaker Michael Eitan that it should be rescheduled to take place on Tuesday.

in salfit:

The Red Crescent hosted a Youth Council-organized day of planting trees and cleaning streets to mark the annual Land Day anniversary on Monday.

The coordinator of the Youth Council told Ma’an that the celebrations were a way to “keep reminding people that they have a land to be protected, and to be aware of what is going on in Jerusalem with the house demolitions.”

and via telephone, because palestinians are forcibly separated from one another:

Palestinian Knesset member Muhammad Barakah spoke to Beit Hanoun Land Day commemorators over the phone Monday, and encouraged them to continue their struggle for autonomy.

“We are struggling in a battle to prove our existence and to protect our confiscated lands,” Barakah told large crowds in the northern Gaza Strip town. He called for unity in the face of the latest Israeli policies to demolish homes in East Jerusalem and the continued blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Coordinator of the local initiative Saber Az-Za’anin called on ralliers to “remember those people who sacrificed their souls defending the nation and the land in A`rrabeh, Sakhnin and other Galilee areas: Khadija Shawahneh, Raja Abu Rayya, Muhsen Taha, Khader Khalaileh, Kher Yasin and Ra’fat Zuhdy.”

this year, as i mentioned yesterday, bds is an important part of land day as you can see in this statement from the national committee in palestine:

Land Day this year takes on further significance in light of Israel’s atrocious war of aggression against the hermetically besieged Palestinian people in the occupied Gaza Strip. The more than 1,400 deaths, 5,000 injuries, and 14,000 homes damaged or destroyed are only the latest manifestation of the contempt with which Palestinian life is regarded by Israel. The silence of powerful world governments in the face of the massacre was yet another astounding failure of the “international community” to uphold international law and to hold Israel to account for persistently and gravely violating the most basic of international norms.

Indeed, all these forms of Israeli colonial and racist oppression could not have reached this critical level without the direct or indirect support and collusion of the United States, the European Union and many other countries, including several Arab regimes. The isolation of Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), as was done to apartheid South Africa, must become a top priority for anyone struggling for freedom, justice and the consistent application of international law and universal human rights principles.

For the martyrs of land day and the thousands of others who gave their lives for freedom, justice and self-determination, for the thousands imprisoned for their commitment to human dignity, for Gaza, for return, equality and freedom, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) calls on people of conscience around the world struggling against all forms of oppression to boycott Israel and divest from it and from companies profiting from its oppression until it fully abides by its obligations under international law and recognizes our inalienable rights on our land. We salute all the groups and individuals who heeded the call to organize BDS-related activities on this Global Day of Action for Palestine. With your support, we shall overcome.

why do we boycott? because we know it works!:

21% of Israeli exporters have been directly affected by the boycott movement since the beginning of 2009. So reports today (29 March) The Marker, a Hebrew-language economic newspaper.

This number is based on a poll of 90 Israeli exporters in fields such as high tech, metals, construction materials, chemistry, textile and foods. The poll was conducted in January-February 2009 by the Israeli Union of Industrialists.

The AIC is working to receive a copy of this poll, and will translated and distribute relevant sections of it in service of the global boycott movement.

the bds is an important piece for so many reasons, but so is resistance in general. we need to resist the continued land theft as well as get back palestinian stolen land. this is why i spent this weekend with my friends from deheishe refugee camp in their villages, on their land, and connecting with their history to continue to inspire them to keep up this fight, this struggle. this was my little strike, but we need far bigger strikes. much more resistance to seek the ultimate goal of liberating the land.

note: apologies for my incoherent self. after dinner last night i had to drive from al quds to nablus. it was late–10 pm or so when i left, i think. i went to beitiba checkpoint, which was supposed to be open completely with no soldiers. not only were there soldiers there, it had a brand new yellow metal gate. the soldiers said i could not go home. running out of battery on my phone, and gas in the car, i decided to try huwara checkpoint again. huwara had the same yellow, metal gate. apparently after midnight the checkpoints are closed, effectively sealing off the cities and villages as prisons. this way when the israeli terrorists invade every night they have a captive population they can murder and keep from fleeing (think gaza on a smaller scale). i was so exhausted by this point from driving and little sleep that i screamed at the soldiers reminding them that as an american i paid for those guns they were pointing at me and that if they didn’t let me go home to sleep in my bed i would sleep in the checkpoint itself. i’ve made this threat before, but to no avail. this time, for some reason, it worked. they didn’t even check my passport. they just let me through. but my exhaustion is related to this lack of sleep, which is related to the ridiculous hurdles and bulls*&^ rules (you will recall that my same yellow license plates were forbidden to enter nablus through huwara on thursday, but last night the reason i could not enter was because the checkpoint was closed) that they make up as they go along just to f*&^ with you.

on the west wing

barack-obama-new-direction-fish Some months ago I came across an article in the Guardian that suggested some uncanny similarities between the fictional drama The West Wing and the Barack Obama election campaign. In the article it was noted that there was some synergy between the writers of the show and real-life political actors:

For what those West Wing fans stunned by the similarity between the fictitious Matthew Santos and the real-life Barack Obama have not known is that the resemblance is no coincidence. When the West Wing scriptwriters first devised their fictitious presidential candidate in the late summer of 2004, they modelled him in part on a young Illinois politician – not yet even a US senator – by the name of Barack Obama.

“I drew inspiration from him in drawing this character,” West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie told the Guardian. “When I had to write, Obama was just appearing on the national scene. He had done a great speech at the convention [which nominated John Kerry] and people were beginning to talk about him.”

Attie, who served as chief speechwriter to Al Gore during the ill-fated 2000 campaign and who wrote many of the key Santos episodes of the West Wing, put in a call to Obama aide David Axelrod.

There have been a number of other articles detailing the relationship between this television drama and real life of late. Some of them showing life imitating art and the vice versa. Here are a few examples:

The former and likely future president were introduced to the crowd by the actor Jimmy Smits, who played a successful ethnic minority candidate, a Latino, in TV show The West Wing. His character, the Democratic Texas congressman Matthew Santos, upset the odds by beating an older Republican senator to the White House. Obama thanked Smits from the podium, describing him as the “the most recent Democratic president”.

So what of the denouement? How did the fictional battle end? It was close, much closer than current polls predict for the 2008 race. There was talk of legal challenges to the tightest results and the entire election came down to two small states out west, Nevada and Oregon. But, at long last, both those states went for Santos – and the young challenger, whose bid for the White House once seemed impossible, ended election night as president-elect.

Is that how the real story will end next Tuesday? So far The West Wing has got so much right, even the show’s own writers say it’s “creepy”. Those writers did finally give their viewers a happy ending. There are many millions around the world who hope that, next week, the US electorate will do the same.

As President Bush did during the bailout talks, Jed Bartlet, the Democratic “West Wing” president played by Martin Sheen, brings both candidates to the White House for a briefing. Facing the prospect of deploying 150,000 American soldiers to Kazakhstan three weeks before the election, Vinick grumbles, “I can say goodbye to my tax cut.” He tells Santos, “Your education plan’s certainly off the table.”

Santos emerges victorious weeks later, but only after a grueling election night. Online, some “West Wing” fans are wondering whether the show will wind up forecasting the real-life result as well. In Britain, where the series remains popular in syndication, a recent headline on a blog carried by the newspaper The Telegraph declared: “Barack Obama will win: It’s all in ‘The West Wing.’ ”

Running against Matt Santos in The West Wing‘s election was Arnold Vinick. More by coincidence than design, he bears a striking similarity to John McCain. Played by Alan Alda, Vinick is a veteran Republican from out west, wise in the ways of Washington. A maverick on some issues, he is attractive to those in the centre ground.

“The McCain candidacy is very similar to the Vinick candidacy,” says Lawrence O’Donnell, who wrote the character. “They are good at appealing outside their own party. And that is actually one of their problems, within their own party, of Republicans not believing that they were Republican enough.”

Get ready for a new season of The West Wing. Right now we have two scripts ready and either would be a cracker. Want a pretty vice-president stopping traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue when she visits the boss? Or a black president with an equally stunning wife?

Addicts of the television series may ache to get more of Allison Janney and Richard Schiff scrambling to keep their commander-in-chief out of the political soup, but they were just actors, of course. But life in the real West Wing can be every bit as unhinged, emotional and exhausting. Just ask George Bush and Karl Rove. Or Dick Cheney and Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Even one of the actors on The West Wing, Richard Schiff, who played Toby Ziegler, drew a parallel:

What’s next President Bartlett on The West Wing often said that. Usually at the end of an episode when a thing had been solved or resolved or lost or won and it was, whatever the case, time to move on. We sometimes had spiralling crane shots from above pulling up and away as the mere mortals of government left below continued on their silly work.

There is even a video that altered the opening theme of the West Wing to show a cast of characters of the Obama campaign:

Most of these articles focus on the final two seasons of The West Wing. But because the focus is on the election campaign represented in those episodes there are other elements that get left out–perhaps the scariest form of life-imitating-art-imitating life is in this bizarre coincidence:

It was Oscar Wilde who said that “life imitates art far more than art imitates life”. History has vindicated Wildean wisdom. This week, the election of Barack Obama as US president has prompted many to talk about the prescience of The West Wing in scripting a charismatic, idealistic, minority Democratic presidential nominee trumping an experienced Republican maverick. Now Rahm Emanuel, the man who inspired the character of Josh Lyman, has been appointed White House chief of staff.

Like the president-elect, Emanuel is a Chicago native with a strong connection to the city’s political elite. Both have inspired characters on the television series The West Wing, with Emanuel providing the model for wunderkind aide Josh Lyman.

So what does Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford, have to say about Palestine in the episodes? Well, there was a four-episode arc over the course of season five and six (all aired originally in 2004) that detailed the conflict between Palestinians and their Israeli occupiers. And there are a number of dialogues that are revealing of American points of view more generally in the sense of how entrenched Zionism is in U.S. foreign policy, but there are notable differences as well. The arc begins with an episode called “Gaza” in which three Congressmen head to Gaza for a fact-finding mission on which Donna Moss, Josh’s secretary accompanies them. She befriends an Irish photojournalist there who takes her to see “both sides” of the situation–illegal Israeli settlers (of course, not called illegal in the episode) and Palestinians living under occupation. The opening dialogue of this episode–set at a checkpoint that is supposed to resemble Erez, though from what I’ve seen on the other side it looks nothing like the monstrosity that is Erez–reveals the general callousness towards Palestinian refugees’ right to return in general, in spite of the lone American defending their rights:

Congressman DeSantos: “They’re a displaced population.”
Congressman Korb: “Displaced?! Palestinians moved what 15-20 miles? You ever move? I grew up in Dayton.”
Congressman DeSantos: “They’re still refugees.”
Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: “You know, after 50 years one option might be to get over it.”

Apparently, Congressman Korb doesn’t know the difference between making a choice to move somewhere new and doing so at the barrel of a gun. I guess by his logic Palestinian refugees made a “choice”; it was a choice between massacre or “moving” as he calls it. Shortly thereafter we witness the black Suburban carrying these men blow up in a car bomb and Donna is injured.

The episode does not move in a linear fashion and therefore we instantly move back in time to various moments over the past few days, moving up to the present moment of the bomb that completes the cycle. So we hear Donna narrating her emails to her boss Josh, which we later learn he is completely unable to listen to as you will later see. In one such email she explains how Palestinians in Gaza are provoked:

“These incursions are designed as provocations. Tanks roll in. This naturally excites resistance which then is used as a pretext for armed assault.”

But this is 2004–one year prior to Ariel Sharon’s unilateral pullout and subsequent and total siege of Gaza–so she pays far more attention to the points of view of illegal Israeli settlers in Gaza. And we never see her visiting one of the Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza.

After the bomb we see various scenes in the White House–in offices, in the Situation Room, where the fictional President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, discusses his options, many of which are military in nature. In all of these conversations anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic rhetoric dominates, although there is usually one lone voice of “moderation” represented in one or two characters. Here is one of those discussions among the fictional President’s staff:

Will: “What’s going to be our response?”

Leo: “What do you think it should be?”

Will: “Regime change.”

CJ: “Take out the Chairman?”

Will: “He’s the impediment.”

Toby: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Leo: “Abba Ebban’s line.”

CJ: “The guy in Tel Aviv’s no picnic either.”

Leo: “The State’s convinced that nothing can happen until these two guys are gone.”

Will: “Israel’s not the problem.”

CJ: “Settlements, the Wall.”

Charlie: “Israel didn’t just blow Americans up.”

CJ: “I’m not saying there’s equivalence.”

Will: “Israelis don’t talk about driving Palestinians into the sea.”

Kate: “Some do.”

Will: “Oh, come on!”

CJ: “You never heard the phrase, ‘Greater Israel’?”

Leo: “Not from anyone serious.”

Kate: “One reason people say nothing can happen until these guys are gone is the feeling that both maybe stuck in old attitudes or assumptions. There was a time when Palestinians and all Arabs wanted to drive Jews into the sea, but some would argue that that time’s past.”

Will: “Listen to some Arab broadcasts.”

CJ: “Rabble rousing to distract their street.”

Kate: “I don’t think any truly credible Arab leader expects Israel’s demise anymore. Not even the Chairman.”

Leo: “Don’t bet on it.”

Kate: “Well, there’s a view that–”

Will: “Don’t keep saying some argue and there’s a view. Can we keep it restricted to your view?”

Kate: “Okay. Palestinians are no longer fighting to destroy the Jewish state. They’re fighting for a state of their own. A revolutionary struggle against an occupying force. And revolutionaries will outlast and out die occupiers every time.”

Will: “I don’t know if that’s simplistic or naive.”

Toby: “It’s tribal. It can’t be solved. It’s Hatfield and McCoy. There is no end.”

Aside from the cliche phrases such as the “Arab street” and the ridiculous perpetuation of the mythology about Palestinians missing opportunities, we do hear moderation in the voices of Kate and CJ. But they are discounted by the more domineering older and white male voices in the room. Of course absent Palestinian refugees in this conversation we hear nothing about the facts of Palestinian refugees being driven into the sea. Indeed, how do you think that Palestinians from Yaffa, Haifa, Akka, and many other coastal cities fled their homes and homeland between 1947-1948? In ships. In the sea. That’s how many of them got to Lebanon where they remain in Palestinian refugee camps until today.

The second episode of this arc, entitled “Memorial Day” was the cliffhanger for season five. There are funerals for the Americans and there are conversations between President Bartlett and a character called Chairman Nizar Farad (a sort of Yassir ‘Arafat character who is constantly called a “terrorist” by many characters on the program) played by Makram Khoury as well as with the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Shira Galit played by Natalia Nogulich. There are also the quotidian bombings of Gaza by the Israeli Terrorist Forces (though of course named with the official oxymoron Israeli Defense Forces). And, here art also imitates life when the episode tells–though not shows–the siege of Farad’s compound in Ramallah by the ITF. We see Bartlet weight the decision to send FA-18s to drop surface-to-air guided missiles into Gaza and weighing the possibility of anywhere between 15-50 civilian murders as retribution for the 3 Americans who died (because American lives are always more important than Palestinian lives). The American military personnel advising Bartlet want him to not only bomb Gaza but also a Palestinian refugee camp (and they have constant slippage here between a refugee camp and “terrorist training camp” in Syria they call Ein Hawa–is this supposed to be an allusion to Ein el Helwah refugee camp in Lebanon?) and Iran to boot.

The push and pull of this episode and the one that follows–the first of season six called “NSF Thurmont”–is weighing the choice of holding peace talks and bombing Palestinians. In one conversation among staffers about learning that there may be renewed peace talks we hear the usual Zionist mythology thinly alluded to as “Barak’s generous offer”:

Will: “The Israelis won’t get in a room with Farad again. I’m surprised the Prime Minister hasn’t already said so in about three different languages.”

CJ: “The President asked him not to.”

Will: “Farad doesn’t want a deal. Last time Israel offered up Gaza, 96% of the West Bank, half of Jerusalem, sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and the lead role in the Temple Beth-El Purim play. Farad walked way.”

But as Ali Abunimah makes clear in his important book One Country, “President Clinton and the Israeli government made a calculated decision and embarked on an orchestrated media campaign to blame the Palestinians generally and Arafat personally for the summit’s failure” (68). Abunimah, in contradistinction to the American media, sets the record straight about what actually happened there by quoting Robert Malley, a member of Clinton’s team at Camp David:

The Palestinians were arguing for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, borders, living alongside Israel. They accepted the notion of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory to accommodate settlement blocs. They accepted the principle of Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem–neighborhoods that were not part of Israel before the Six Day War in 1967. And, while they insisted on recognition of refugees’ right of return, they agreed that it should be implemented in a manner that protected Israel’s demographic and security interests by limiting the number of returnees. No other Arab party that has negotiated with Israel–not Anwar el-Sadat’s Egypt, not King Hussein’s Jordan, let alone Hafez al-Asad’s Syria–ever came close to even considering such compromises. (68-69)

Further, Abunimah tells us that the Israelis presented the same old map that gave Palestinians a “‘state’ in 76.6 percent of the West Bank, broken into pieces, with all the major settlements remaining in place under Israeli sovereignty” (69). And they made a counteroffer, which Barak rejected (notice how Americans all remember ‘Arafat rejecting it?). Abunimah explains:

In response to Israel’s map, the Palestinian team presented its own map that allowed 30 to 35 percent of the settlers to remain on 2.5 percent of the West Bank, which Israel could annex. the Israelis rejected this outright and came back with a counterproposal in which they increased their offer from 76.6 percent to 77.2 percent and insisted that at least 80 percent of the settlers remain in place. A senior Clinton adviser commented that Israelis were attempting to execute a ‘land grab.’ Israel also insisted on permanent control of Palestinian airspace and a long list of onerous ‘security’ arrangements that would rob the Palestinian state of any real independence from Israel and introduce enormous opportunities for delay and backsliding as had happened with the Oslo Accords. Israel’s proposals at Camp David barely deviated from the basic premises of the 1976 Allon plan” (70).

This mythology has rarely been corrected in the halls of Congress let alone the American media. And it informs far too many decisions as well as American preconceived notions about Palestinians. Some of those feelings are expressed in the West Wing as per the conversation above. And most characters, like most Americans, are far too quick to equate Palestinian with terrorist as we see the Josh Lyman character (you know–the one based on Rahm Israel Emanuel) in this conversation in a hospital waiting room in Germany where he argues with Donna’s new boyfriend, an Irish photojournalist:

Colin: “The Israelis are never going to meet with Farad. Why should they? They’ve got him surrounded in the West Bank. What’s Bartlet think they’re going to do? Knock on the door of his compound and say, ‘I’m so sorry about the tanks and stuff, but would you like to pop over to America and nice wee chat and sort this out.”

Josh: “Where are you from?”

Colin: “Belfast.”

Josh: “Yeah, you guys are really the model of how to work things out over there.”

Colin: “Yeah, we are actually.”

Josh: “The Israelis have every right to protect themselves from terrorists.”

Colin: “They’re an occupying force oppressing a people fighting for self rule.”

Josh: “They’re citizen-soldiers trying to keep their sisters from getting blown up on a bus.”

Colin: “You Jewish?”

Josh: “Why are you anti-Semitic?”

Colin: “Anyone who thinks the Palestinians have a point is anti-Semitic.”

Josh: “And anyone who thinks that Jews don’t after being chased and exiled and persecuted for centuries is either an idiot or a fool or probably both.”

This knee-jerk rush to equate Palestinians with terrorists and those who support Palestinians as anti-Semitic is disturbing here to say the least. But Colin’s curiosity about Josh’s religion is misguided, mostly because Josh’s point of view is just as much American as it is Jewish. But in spite of the majority of Bartlet’s staff preferring bombing Palestinians and Iranians and Syrians over peace talks, he manages to persevere and everyone in the White House finds themselves at Camp David by the end of this episode. Of course, as they begin their first meeting there Bartlet tells everyone he bombed the Ein Hawa camp in Syria–great way to start talking about peace?

The conversation between Ambassador Shira and Chairman Farad is particularly revealing on Palestinian refugees which takes place as the “peace process” continues in the final episode of the arc called “Birnam Wood”:

Farad: “A million Palestinians were expelled from their homes.”

Shira: “Closer to 700,000. And they weren’t expelled. They left after being urged by Arabs.”

Farad: “We were being terrorized by Zionist troops who were threatening to torch every Arab village in the Galilee.”

Shira: “If you had accepted the partition plan in 47 not a single would have become a refugee.”

Kate: “I’m sorry, if I might interrupt.”

Farad: “Palestinians were being massacred. Even Israeli historians admit this.”

Shira: “It was war. Only three years after the Holocaust. If we would have lost there wold have been another wholesale slaughter of Jews.”

Kate: “Mr. Chairman, Madame Ambassador, excuse me. It may be more productive to turn our attention to current problems rather than the events of 50 years ago.”

Farad: “If there is room for a million Russian Jews in Israel, why isn’t there room for Palestinians who simply wish to go home?”

Shira: “The Palestinians only became refugees when our Arab neighbors refused to accept them. 800,000 Jews were similarly expelled from Arab nations. 600,000 were resettled in Israel without compensation from Arab countries.”

Kate: “Madame Ambassador, you bring up the issue of compensation. Would Israel be prepared–”

Farad: “We are not asking for money. We want the right of return.”

Shira: “We can’t allow 3 million refugees the right to freely reenter.”

Farad: “Of course not. Since the 19th century Zionist leaders have advocated a transfer of Arabs out of Palestine.”

Shira: “We cannot accept a right of unlimited immigration.”

Kate: “Perhaps we should take a break.”

Shira: “If the Arab population had not been uprooted, no Jewish state could have arisen.”

Farad: “So it was alright for Palestine to be cleansed of its Native population to establish a Jewish state? We are prepared to sacrifice, but not to formalize our dispossession.”

Kate is supposed to be the “moderate” and “balanced” character here, though she isn’t if you really examine how she attempts to shut down important, though difficult, conversations. The battle here, as it often is, is over semantics. The Zionists are, as usual, trying to propagate their mythology that Palestinians “left” their homes even though this myth has been refuted by numerous historians as Farad points out. But Farad fails to point out other myths–like most of the Russian immigrants are actually Christian–probably because there was an American writing this script. But rather than get into the real historical arguments about 1948 and an nakba and its corollary the right of return, the Americans cut them off. Still, the Zionists get tripped up by their own language as when Shira says that they can’t allow them to “re-enter,” clearly indicating that they were originally there to begin with. And, too, as the conversation makes clear to me–though I wonder if it makes clear to the average American viewer–ethnic cleansing was necessary to create a Jewish state. With all the talk about Nazi Germany–which does get brought up ad nauseum in the episode as one might expect–no one seems to ask the question about these war crimes committed by Jewish terrorists like those in Irgun (read: Benjamin Emanuel, Rahm Israel Emanuel’s father). I refuted much of this propaganda in an earlier post if you want to weigh the propaganda versus the historical record.

While it may be true that some Americans watching this start to “get it” and understand that the real problem is not fighting for a state per se, but rather fighting to get Palestinian land back so that Palestinians can finally exercise their right of return, all of that seems to be elided by the Americans doing their best to persuade the Palestinians to consistently give up their rights. Throughout these two episodes on the “peace talks” we see Palestinians giving up more and more and Israelis constantly walking away from the table, refusing to even discuss concessions. Here is one example of this when Kate has a discussion with Farad that we are later told gets him to concede on the right of return:

Kate: “Mr. Chairmain I know how difficult it would be for you to even appear to be abandoning your principles, but it’s just not reasonable to ask the Israelis to allow an unlimited number of refugees to return.”

Farad: “I was born in the city of Safad. Do you know Safad? It’s in the mountains of the upper Galilee. I was eight years old when the British left. There were 52,000 Arabs in Safad. And only 1,300 Jews. Within a month the Hagana had taken over the city. My elder sister Amira was killed. The body of my brother Aziz was found hanging from a burned Cyprus tree. We fled to Syria, lived in tents, ate United Nations handouts and surplus American cheese. I still remember the view of the valley from the roof of our house. The smell of the pomegranates. The sound of children playing in our orchard. The home of my father, my aunts, my uncles they are now art galleries and bed and breakfasts. Will I get to go home, Ms. Harper?”

Kate: “No, sir, probably not. But is that worth not having any home at all?”

We don’t get the entire story of Safad here, but Safad, like all Palestinian towns and villages during the process of Jewish Zionists ethnically cleansing the land of Palestinians, Safad was attacked by Palestinian terrorists. There were several such organizations–not only Irgun. In Safad it was the Jewish terrorist gangs of Palmach and Hagana that forced the Palestinians to leave according to Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine:

In Safad there were 9500 Arabs and 2400 Jews. Most of the Jews were Ultra-Orthodox and had no interest at all in Zionism, let alone in fighting their Arab neighbors. This, and the relatively gradual way the Jewish takeover developed, may have given the eleven members of the local national committee the illusion that they would fare better than other urban centres. The committee was a fairly representative body that included the town’s notables, ulama (religious dignitaries), merchants, landowners and ex-activists from the 1936 Revolt, of which Safad had been a major centre. The false sense of security was reinforced by the relatively large presence of Arab volunteers in Safad, totaling more than 400, although only half of them were armed with rifles. Skirmishes in the town had begun in early January, triggered by an aggressive reconnaissance incursion by some Hagana members into the Palestinian neighborhoods and market. A charismatic Syrian officer, Ihasn Qam Ulmaz, held the defences against repeated attacks by the Hagana’s commando unit, the Palmach.

At first , these Palmach attacks were sporadic and ineffective, as its units focused their actions on the rural area around the town. But once they were through with the villages in Safad’s vicinity (described later in this chapter) they could concentrate fully on the town itself, on 29 April 1948. Unfortunately, for the people of Safad, at precisely the moment they needed him most, they lost the able Ulmaz. The volunteers army’s new commander in the Galilee, Adib Shishakly (to become one of Syria’s rulers in the 1950s) replaced him with one of the ALA’s more incompetent officers. However, it is doubtful whether even Ulmaz would have fared better in view of the imbalance of power: 1000 well-trained Palmach troops confronting 400 Arab volunteers, one of many local imbalances that show the falsity of the myth of a Jewish David facing an Arab Goliath in 1948. (97)

This historical reality–had it entered into the television show or even into real so-called peace negotiations–and so many others like it should wake people up to the fact that the fight is against a colonial rule which has no legitimacy.

Even when we see side conversations at Camp David among characters about the situation we see the racism emanating even among those who are think themselves “balanced” on the subject:

Josh: “He’s not gonna do it. Farad’s elevated being a victim into an art form. What?”

Toby: “Nothing.”

Josh: “Come on, you’re not starting to buy what he’s selling, too? He’s a terrorist.”

Toby: “With some legitimate grievances.”

Josh: “Please.”

Toby: “What? Now suddenly you’re Jewish? I don’t remember seeing you at temple.”

Josh: “1938 millions of men, women, and children were running for their lives from gas chambers in any country that would take them. And nobody would. Including America.”

Toby: “So they settled in the middle of a region that still believes in public stonings and harems? Palestinians are the Jews of the Arab world.”

Josh: “Even with the bombs Israel is the one place it’s okay to be Jewish.”

Toby: “And here.”

Josh: “German Jews in the 20s were mighty comfortable.”

Toby: “This isn’t Germany. This is America.”

Josh: “Home of the KKK.”

Toby: “Where you and I work in the White House to make sure the Justice Department rips their Jew-hating hoods off.”

As the quote from Pappe makes clear above–it is the Zionist Jews who are to blame for most of this. Josh fills in that gap a bit by acknowledging that if the U.S., among other countries, had let Jews in after World War II, much of this colonial history might have been eliminated. But the racism here–that it is the Palestinians who play the victim (what do you call shouting anti-Semitism every time someone cites a historical fact that shatters Zionist colonial mythology?) or Toby’s remark about all Arabs/Muslims/Palestinians which totally undercuts his remark about Palestinians being the real victims here–undercuts the larger argument while also showing what typical Americans under the influence of Zionism think.

In the end, the peace agreement is reached–or a “tentative” one as they name it. How do they surpass all the huge barriers, aside from bullying Palestinians to concede on every important issue? By promising to remove Israeli soldiers and replace them with American soldiers. What I want to know is this: why don’t we ever see Americans threatening Israelis with a full removal of this obscene amount of economic and military aid? Why isn’t that the thing that is used as a leverage point? Instead, this fictional show thinks the solution to the problem is to create an American occupation of Palestine complete. People here already are far too aware that Israel and the U.S. are one in the same when it comes to the occupation of Palestine. We all see the planes, the bullets, the military materiel. I’ve even posted a photograph of the boxes of those American-made shipments when we were under siege in Deheishe refugee camp last summer.

So does life imitate art or is it the other way around? Here are a couple of clips of Rahm Emanuel speaking, which I think are revealing. The first is a clip in which is notable for the way he says USIsrael as if it is one word. He literally collapses the two. The second is a speech he gave at a Seattle synagogue about Obama.

Interestingly, in that second clip Emanuel says that neither Bush nor McCain has been as good a friend to Israel as Obama would be (this is pre-election). Scary to think of that considering what Gideon Levy says in Ha’aretz today about what such a friendship with Bush has meant to the Zionist state: (thanks Tamara)

When we say that someone is a “friend of Israel” we mean a friend of the occupation, a believer in Israel’s self-armament, a fan of its language of strength and a supporter of all its regional delusions. When we say someone is a “friend of Israel” we mean someone who will give Israel a carte blanche for any violent adventure it desires, for rejecting peace and for building in the territories.

Israel’s greatest friend in the White House, outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, was someone like that. There is no other country where this man, who brought a string of disasters down upon his own nation and the world, would receive any degree of prestige and respect. Only in Israel.

Only in Israel does the prime minister place George Bush’s portrait in his den, in his private home. Only in Israel does the prime minister travel to visit him in the White House.

That’s because Bush was a friend of Israel. Israel’s greatest friend. Bush let it embark on an unnecessary war in Lebanon. He did not prevent the construction of a single outpost. He may have encouraged Israel, in secret, to bomb Iran. He did not pressure Israel to move ahead with peace talks, he even held up negotiations with Syria, and he did not reproach Israel for its policy of targeted killings.

With friends like these…