palestine and absurdism

elia suleiman, one of my favorite palestinian filmmakers has a new movie out entitled “the time that remains.” the film premiered at cannes and i’m hoping it comes to a theater near me very soon. here is a clip from the film, though it is in arabic with french subtitles:

here is a synopsis:

THE TIME THAT REMAINS is a semi biographic film, in four historic episodes, about a family -my family – spanning from 1948, until recent times. The film is inspired by my father’s diaries of his personal accounts, starting from when he was a resistant fighter in 1948, and by my mother’s letters to family members who were forced to leave the country since then. Combined with my intimate memories of them and with them, the film attempts to portray the daily life of those Palestinians who remained in their land and were labeled « Israeli-Arabs », living as a minority in their own homeland.

one of the reasons i love his films so much is that absurdism as a style (think samuel beckett) is the best at capturing the insanity that sometimes contextualizes this history and its present. absurdism captures zionist crimes as well as its collaborating allies in the palestinian authority. a recent article in electronic intifada by ali abu nimah and hasan abu nimah lays out the absurdity, for instance, of salam fayyad trying to declare a palestinian state in its current and ever shrinking archipelago form:

Late last month, Salam Fayyad, the appointed Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister in Ramallah, made a surprise announcement: he declared his intention to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the end of 2011 regardless of the outcome of negotiations with Israel.

Fayyad told the London Times that he would work to build “facts on the ground, consistent with having our state emerge as a fact that cannot be denied.” His plan was further elaborated in a lengthy document grandly titled “Program of the Thirteenth Government of the Palestinian National Authority.”

The plan contains all sorts of ambitious ideas: an international airport in the Jordan Valley, new rail links to neighboring states, generous tax incentives to attract foreign investment, and of course strengthening the “security forces.” It also speaks boldly of liberating the Palestinian economy from its dependence on Israel, and reducing dependence on foreign aid.

This may sound attractive to some, but Fayyad has neither the political clout nor the financial means to propose such far-reaching plans without a green light from Washington or Tel Aviv.

Fayyad aims to project an image of a competent Palestinian administration already mastering the craft of running a state. He boasts, for instance, that the PA he heads has worked to “develop effective institutions of government based on the principles of good governance, accountability and transparency.”

But what is really taking shape in the West Bank today is a police state, where all sources of opposition or resistance — real or suspected — to either the PA regime, or the Israeli occupation are being systematically repressed by US-funded and trained Palestinian “security forces” in full coordination with Israel. Gaza remains under tight siege because of its refusal to submit to this regime.

In describing the Palestinian utopia he hopes to create, Fayyad’s plan declares that “Palestine will be a stable democratic state with a multi-party political system. Transfer of governing authority is smooth, peaceful and regular in accordance with the will of the people, expressed through free and fair elections conducted in accordance with the law.”

A perfect opportunity to demonstrate such an exemplary transfer would have been right after the January 2006 election which as the entire world knows Hamas won fairly and cleanly. Instead, those who monopolize the PA leadership today colluded with outside powers first to cripple and overthrow the elected Hamas government, and then the “national unity government” formed by the Mecca Agreement in early 2007, entrenching the current internal Palestinian division. (Fayyad’s own party won just two percent at the 2006 election, and his appointment as prime minister by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was never — as required by law — approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council, dozens of whose elected members remain behind Israeli prison bars.)

From 1994 to 2006, more than eight billion US dollars were pumped into the Palestinian economy, making Palestinians the most aid-dependent people on earth, as Anne Le More showed in her important book International Assistance to the Palestinians after Oslo: Political Guilt; Wasted Money (London, Routledge, 2008). The PA received this aid ostensibly to build Palestinian institutions, improve socioeconomic development and support the creation of an independent state. The result however is that Palestinians are more destitute and aid-dependent than ever before, their institutions are totally dysfunctional, and their state remains a distant fantasy.

PA corruption and mismanagement played a big part in squandering this wealth, but by far the largest wealth destroyer was and remains the Israeli occupation. Contrary to what Fayyad imagines, you cannot “end the occupation, despite the occupation.”

A telling fact Le More reveals is that the previous “programs” of the PA (except those offered by the Hamas-led governments) were written and approved by international donor agencies and officials and then given to the PA to present back to the same donors who wrote them as if they were actually written by the PA!

Everything we see suggests Fayyad’s latest scheme follows exactly the same pattern. What is particularly troubling this time is that the plan appears to coincide with a number of other initiatives and trial balloons that present a real danger to the prospects for Palestinian liberation from permanent Israeli subjugation.

Recently, the International Middle East Media Center, an independent Palestinian news organization, published what it said was the leaked outline of a peace plan to be presented by US President Barack Obama.

That plan included international armed forces in most of the Palestinian “state”; Israeli annexation of large parts of East Jerusalem; that “All Palestinian factions would be dissolved and transformed into political parties”; all large Israeli settlements would remain under permanent Israeli control; the Palestinian state would be largely demilitarized and Israel would retain control of its airspace; intensified Palestinian-Israeli “security coordination”; and the entity would not be permitted to have military alliances with other regional countries.

On the central issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the alleged Obama plan allows only an agreed number of refugees to return, not to their original homes, but only to the West Bank, particularly to the cities of Ramallah and Nablus.

It is impossible to confirm that this leaked document actually originates with the Obama administration. What gives that claim credibility, however, is the plan’s very close resemblance to a published proposal sent to Obama last November by a bipartisan group of US elder statesmen headed by former US national security advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Moreover, recent press reports indicate a lively debate within the Obama Administration about whether the US should itself publish specific proposals for a final settlement once negotiations resume; so there is little doubt that concrete proposals are circulating.

Indeed there is little of substance to distinguish these various plans from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concept of “economic peace” and a demilitarized Palestinian statelet under overall Israeli control, with no right of return for refugees. And, since all seem to agree that the Jordan Valley — land and sky — would remain under indefinite Israeli control, so would Fayyad’s airport.

Similar gimmicks have been tried before: who remembers all the early Oslo years’ hullabaloo about the Gaza International Airport that operated briefly under strict Israeli control before Israel destroyed it, and the promised Gaza seaport whose construction Israel forbade?

There are two linked explanations for why Fayyad’s plan was launched now. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has repeatedly defined his goal as a “prompt resumption and early conclusion” of negotiations. If the kinds of recycled ideas coming from the alleged Obama plan, the Scowcroft-Brzezinski document, or Netanyahu, are to have any chance, they need to look as if there is a Palestinian constituency for them. It is Fayyad’s role to provide this.

The second explanation relates to the ongoing struggle over who will succeed Mahmoud Abbas as president of the PA. It has become clear that Fayyad, a former World Bank official unknown to Palestinians before he was boosted by the George W. Bush Administration, appears to be the current favorite of the US and other PA sponsors. Channeling more aid through Fayyad may be these donors’ way of strengthening Fayyad against challengers from Abbas’ Fatah faction (Fayyad is not a member of Fatah) who have no intention of relinquishing their chokehold on the PA patronage machine.

Many in the region and beyond hoped the Obama Administration would be a real honest broker, at last bringing American pressure to bear on Israel, so that Palestinians might be liberated. But instead, the new administration is acting as an efficient laundry service for Israeli ideas; first they become American ones, and then a Palestinian puppet is brought in to wear them.

This is not the first scheme aimed at extinguishing Palestinian rights under the guise of a “peace process,” though it is most disappointing that the Obama Administration seems to have learned nothing from the failures of its predecessors. But just as before, the Palestinian people in their country and in the Diaspora will stand stubbornly in the way of these efforts. They know that real justice, not symbolic and fictitious statehood, remains the only pillar on which peace can be built.

nablus, where i lived last year, is being held up as a sort of model for this. last month in the independent ben lynfield reported on this:

The shopkeepers in Nablus, the West Bank’s toughest town, are smiling for a change. But no one knows for how long.

Dubbed “the mountain of fire” by Palestinians for its part in the revolt against the British mandate during the 1930s, Nablus is usually known for its violent uprisings, choking Israeli clampdowns and prowling Palestinian gunmen extorting protection money.

It is difficult to reconcile that reputation with the reality on the streets today. The centre of town is filled with shoppers picking up everything from new trainers and perfumes to armloads of dates for Ramadan, the Muslim festival which began on Saturday.

Nablus now has its first cinema in more than 20 years, grandly called “Cinema City”, which offers a diet of Hollywood blockbusters such as Transformers and Arabic romantic comedies, complete with cappuccinos and myriad flavours of popcorn.

Israel has eased its chokehold of army checkpoints around the city, particularly the one at Huwwara in the south. It was once one of the worst West Bank bottlenecks, with long queues and copious permits required. But now Israeli soldiers wave cars through with the minimum of fuss.

Store owners in Nablus’s ancient casbah say sales are up 50 or even 100 per cent since the beginning of the year. Much of the upswing in trade can be attributed to the fact that, for the first time in eight years, Israel now allows its Arab citizens to drive into Nablus on a Saturday .

“It’s a better feeling when you sell more,” said Darwish Jarwan, whose family store sells toys, clothes and perfumes. “You are happier.”

The reminders of unhappier times are all around. There are bullet holes on the steps of the shop and he had to fix the door three times over the past eight years after it was damaged during Israeli army operations.

The Israeli easing at certain checkpoints is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to demonstrate he is serious about encouraging Palestinian economic improvement in order to build peace “from the bottom up”. Israeli army officials credit the work of US-trained Palestinian Authority security forces, which have allowed them to lift the checkpoints.

The Israeli and PA moves have produced the most positive economic indicators for years, with the International Monetary Fund saying last month that growth could reach 7 per cent provided there was a more comprehensive easing of restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement.

But critics say Mr Netanyahu’s approach is aimed at evading the broad political concessions needed to really defuse the Israeli-Palestinian powder keg. Nablus residents are themselves cautious, especially given the Jewish settlements that surround the town. Back at his shop, Mr Jarwan says the economic boost alone will not be enough to satisfy his countrymen.

“Buying and selling isn’t everything,” he explains. “We want our own Palestinian country and to get our freedom. If the settlements continue to go on like this, I’m sure there will be another explosion.”

Nablus is known for its pastries, especially knafeh, a sweet made out of goats’ cheese. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, was the first to sample the “largest knafeh in the world”, which was prepared to draw attention to the city’s revival and as a celebration of the new sense of security and relative normalcy.

But at the city’s most revered bakery, al-Aksa Sweets, there was a sour after-taste as an unemployed teacher declared after finishing his helping: “The lifting of checkpoints is all theatre, nothing substantial, a show for the Americans and Europe. All of this is for a limited time.”

Another resident stressed that Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that swept municipal and legislative elections in Nablus in 2005 and 2006, is still popular, although that is not visible since its leaders are in jail and its activities suppressed.

At the new Cinema City, the owner’s son, Farouk al-Masri, was also hesitant about painting too rosy a picture. “Things are better,” he says. “There is more security, police are keeping law and order, there are less Israeli incursions and less restrictions at checkpoints. The great number of Palestinians from Israel who are coming have breathed life into the city. We’ve been living in this fear, being isolated and not being able to go in and out but now there is more room to move.” But he added: “It’s all very flimsy. We saw it during the years of the Oslo agreement. There were signs of great things ahead and it all collapsed in the blink of an eye.”

The cinema is often cited as a symbol of the new Nablus, although at £4 a seat, tickets are beyond the reach of many residents. Nonetheless, the current bill, an Egyptian romantic comedy called Omar and Salma has sold out every night since it opened 10 days ago.

“They love comedy here,” said Mr al-Masri. “We had one movie that was very bloody. People didn’t accept it and only a few came to see it. Blood – we’ve had enough of that.”

but today it was reported that 55 palestinian homes in nablus will be demolished. and herein lies the absurdity of this model of palestinians trying to create “facts on the ground” or economic security rather than fighting for liberation and the right of return:

Despite the outcry raised by Palestinian and international human rights organizations, the Israeli military announced this weekend it plans to go ahead with 55 home demolitions in Nablus — a city deep inside the West Bank which is supposed to be under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

The homes in question are located in the Sawiya district in the city of Nablus, in the northern West Bank, an area with few Israeli settlements — although Israeli settlers have announced plans to expand the settlements located there.

“The Israeli decision constitutes a serious turning point in the development of Israeli attacks on Palestinian human rights,” said the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in a statement released on Friday. The group said that it is concerned that these 55 demolitions will set a precedent for further demolitions in areas that are supposed to be under Palestinian control.

two schools & double standards

There is a documentary that was on Al Jazeera about a year ago byTom Evans and George Azar called Two Schools in Nablus. The program is worth watching if you want to see what life is like here in Nablus. Just by catching a glimpse of these two schools–one for boys and one for girls–one gets an idea of what Nablus looks like and feels like. What it means to live in a city where one’s life is plagued by Israeli invasions, kidnappings, and jails. Imagine living with all of this on a daily basis and still trying to go to school, to study, to have some semblance of a normal childhood. This small little documentary is a window into daily life in Palestine more generally.

You can see how this still goes on when yesterday Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF) were caught forcing one young boy to strip down to his underwear at the Beit Iba checkpoint near Nablus:

Israeli forces closed the Beit Iba checkpoint west of Nablus on Tuesday after suddenly surrounding a young boy claiming he was in possession of an explosive device.

Ma’an’s cameraman captured the incident as Israeli soldiers forced the boy to strip in the road then transfer him to a military vehicle. Soldiers brought out an explosives detector and claimed to detonate a pipe bomb that the youth was carrying.

Bystanders doubted whether the boy was indeed carrying any explosives, since several incidents have been recorded in the Nablus governorate of boys being falsely accused and detained.

Or imagine this family whose home was demolished yesterday in Al Quds:

The Israeli Authorities demolished on Tuesday a Palestinian home in Al Esawiyya town, in east Jerusalem, arrested three residents and attacked seven others including a number of women.

The demolished home belong to Najah Abu Sneina. Israeli soldiers and policemen surrounded the town and barred the residents from approaching the house of Abu Sneina before demolishing it.

The policemen threatened to arrest any resident who approaches the area and violently attacked several residents injuring seven, including a several women.

Tareq Abu Sneina, the son of Najah, stated that the Jerusalem Municipality decided on November 16 that the house should be demolished, and gave the family thirty days to demolish it.

The court gave Abu Sneina 30 days to demolish his home, but less than 30 hours after the court’s decision, Israeli bulldozers demolished most of the house without even allowing the family to remove the furniture.

Or how the ITF invaded Beit Lahem yesterday and used a school for its interrogation of youth it kidnapped:

Israeli forces raided the village of Tuqu, south of the Wes Bank city of Bethlehem at dawn on Wednesday and imposed a curfew.

Witnesses said that dozens of military vehicles raided the village. Israeli soldiers rounded dozens of young men into a school, where they are being interrogated.

Witnesses added that Israeli troops stormed houses and damaged property.

In enforcing the curfew they used a public address system to order students not to go to school and residents not to attend the morning prayer.

Or the willfull destruction of a kindergarten by the ITF in Nablus:

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees condemned the raids of the occupation forces upon homes and institutions in the West Bank village of Mughayer, including the Ghassan Kanafani kindergarten run by the UPWC, on November 17, 2008.

The UPWC stated that “this action is part of the criminal barbaric policies of the occupation, attempting to destroy the institutions of the Palestinian people, including deliberately sabotaging and destroying the contents of the Ghassan Kanafani kindergarten. This kindergarten provides educational services for over 70 children in the village, who suffer from harsh social and economic conditions.”

The UPWC expressed its full solidarity with the steadfast people of the village and pledged continuity of services at the kindergarten and the development of further services for the children of the village.

Imagine this was your daily life. Or your child’s daily life. How would they study? How would they feel safe? How would they have a chance at having a normal childhood full of innocence, creativity, freedom. They wouldn’t. These children don’t. Because their houses are demolished. Their cities and camps and villages are invaded. Their siblings are jailed and tortured. Their siblings and classmates are shot dead with live ammunition. This is childhood in Nablus, and indeed in Rafah and everywhere in between.

On top of this, the Israeli government does not want you to see what is going on, especially in Gaza right now as there is a media blackout:

Israel has imposed a virtual news blackout on the Gaza Strip. For the last ten days no foreign journalists have been able to enter the besieged territory to report on the escalating humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s complete closure of Gaza’s borders for the last two weeks.

Steve Gutkin, the AP bureau chief in Jerusalem and head of Israel’s Foreign Press Association, said that he personally “knows of no foreign journalist that has been allowed into Gaza in the last week.”

Gutkin said that “while Israel has barred foreign press from entering Gaza in the past, the length of the current ban makes it unprecedented.” He added that he has received no “plausible or acceptable” explanation for the ban from the Israeli government.

AP has relied on reports from two of its journalists who were able to enter Gaza days before the closure began and are currently stuck there.

And against this backdrop the U.S. has a new president who makes statements supporting this unidirectional violence that is always and only aimed at the Palestinians (Palestinians, you may recall have no army, have no weapons of mass destruction like the Zionist state does). Ali Abunimah has a great information brief on the president elect and here are some highlights:

Obama set out detailed positions in speeches before AIPAC in March 2007 and June 2008. Key elements are that Obama:

• Supported the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in July-August 2006 and repeatedly in the Gaza Strip as exercises of Israel’s right to “legitimate self-defense;”

• Supported Israel’s 6 September 2007 air attack on Syria which unsubstantiated reports claimed targeted a weapons of mass destruction related site;

• Opposed the holding of Palestinian elections including Hamas in January 2006;

• Opposed the February 2007 Mecca Agreement establishing a national unity government between Hamas and Fatah peacefully, resolving internal Palestinian differences;

• Supports continued “isolation” of Hamas until it meets political conditions imposed by Israel and the Quartet;

• Stated that “I will always stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world,” suggesting continued use of U.S. veto to block United Nations action on the conflict;

• Promised at least $30 billion of military aid to Israel over the next decade and pledged to push for Israel to gain access to armaments reserved for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) members;

• Pledged that the United States “should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests” and “No Israeli prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States;”

• Stated “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided;”

• Opposes Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return (“The right of return [to Israel] is something that is not an option in a literal sense”);

• Stated “Any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state;”

• Supported the Bush administration’s approach of forming an alliance of “moderates,” including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt on one side arrayed against Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas;

• Considers Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons “unacceptable,” supports strong sanctions and divestment and has refused to rule out the use of military force.

Obama has expressed no support for Palestinian “rights” and has never publicly used the type of effusive emotional language identifying with Palestinians’ aspirations as he does regarding the Israelis. While repeatedly castigating Palestinians, he has been uncritical of Israel.

But, there is good news. At least there are some people in Egypt who are actively working the economic boycott angle, albeit in a unique way:

A Cairo court on Tuesday overruled the Egyptian government’s decision to allow exports of natural gas to Israel, judicial sources said, although there was no word on whether or when the government would act on the ruling.

The Egyptian administrative court accepted a challenge to the decision filed by a group of lawyers opposed to the exports, arguing that the 15-year fixed-price agreement signed between Egypt and Israel in 2005 lacks any mechanism for Egypt to adjust prices to reflect current market conditions.

Egyptian natural gas began flowing to Israel through a pipeline for the first time in May under an agreement signed in 2005 with the East Mediterranean Gas Co (EMG) for the supply of 1.7 billion cubic meters a year over 20 years.

Some Egyptian leftists and Arab nationalists oppose the sale of gas to Israel, which fought four wars with Egypt between 1948 and 1973 before signing a peace agreement in 1979.

Former Egyptian diplomat Ibrahim Yousri, who started an anti-government campaign with other activists this year called No For Gas Catastrophe, described Tuesday’s ruling as a victory for the nation that protested gas exports to Israel.