on cultural genocide

in jonathan cook’s brilliant book disappearing palestine, he documents a number of ways in which zionists ethnically cleanse palestinians from their land historically and currently. but in one section of the book he talks about other forms of genocide:

“Genocide” is widely, and mistakenly, assumed to refer only to an act of mass extermination of a racial or ethnic group akin to the industrialized murder of Europe’s Jews committed by the Nazis. In fact, the word’s legal definition is far broader. The lawyer who coined the term, Raphael Lemkin, was a Polish Jew who fled to the United States during the Second World War. Lemkin’s determination to alert the world to the horrors of genocide was prompted not just by the Holocaust but by earlier massacres: of the Armenians by the Turks during the First World War, and of the Assyrians in Iraq in 1933. In 1943 Lemkin offered this definition of genocide:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily meant he immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.

(132-133)

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i wrote about this happening from afar when the al quds capital of arab culture festival took place and the israeli terrorist forces kept trying to shut it down. tonight i witnessed cultural genocide up close. i smuggled friends in from beit lahem to al quds to attend the palestinian literature festival. we got there early and ate lunch and wandered around the old city. we ran into shadia mansour and dam in the street. we discovered there was a hip hop concert tonight too, which we went to later. but first we went to the palestinian literature festival, which was kicking off a week of events tonight at al hakawati also known as the the palestinian national theatre.

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as we walked down salah el din street towards the theatre we started seeing lots of israeli terrorist forces vehicles. and then we discovered that these cars were blocking the back entrance of the theatre. we could not go down that street because that would mean that we would risk my friends going to jail for being illegally inside their own country. so we walked down another block to enter on the other side. i walked a bit ahead to make sure there were no soldiers and it seemed okay so we walked in. but all of a sudden we saw people carrying food trays (for the reception that was supposed to be starting just then). everyone was walking out. i ran into my friends basem and sami and they told us that special forces were inside and that they shut down the festival. everyone was heading out to the french cultural center about four blocks down the street where we were going to be allowed to continue. supposedly. the photographs above are shots i took of what we saw when we first approached the theatre and of people leaving en masse.

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the festival organizers regrouped quite well at the french cultural center, but the israeli terrorist forces followed us and as the picture above shows, lined salah el din street for quite some time after the program got started in the new location. all of my friends were very upset that they agreed to move. they wanted to see the festival organizers resist this attempt at cultural genocide and let them attack this group of literati because they believe that it would have really kickstarted a third intifada. on the one hand, this would have been good for the foreigners here to really see what zionists do to palestinians on a daily basis. on the other hand, they still witnessed it, but a much milder form of it. it would have been better if they started with the tear gas. in any case, the venue was moved and the program proceeded. however, because all of the translation equipment was in al hakawati, it was problematic because all the readings were in english and there were a number of people, including my friends, who wanted to hear the readings in arabic. there were two groups of readings today. the first moderated by ahdaf soueif included carmen callil, henning mankell, and claire messud; the second was moderated by victoria brittain and included abdulrazak gurnah, deborah moggach, and m.g. vassanji.

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the sound system at the french cultural center was really difficult to hear and because we were outside in this location there were so many street sounds that made it difficult to pay attention. and i found it disturbing that the program just began and people did their readings of their literature and went on as usual. of course this is one way of resisting and asserting that palestinian culture will continue in al quds, in palestine. but at the same time there are ways to connect the literature and the situation a bit more concretely. a couple of writers remarked about the attempt at cultural genocide, but from my perspective it was not enough.

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at least on the walk over and during the readings i got to see and talk a bit to two of my favorite writers who are here for the festival: poets nathalie handal and suheir hammad (suheir above with ahmed). and i cannot wait to hear them read their poetry because this is the real reason i’m so excited about the festival. tomorrow the festival will begin its travels across palestine to ramallah, jenin, beit lahem, khalil for the rest of the week because palestinians cannot travel freely culture must travel to them.

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after the literature festival my friends and i went down to borderline, a palestinian restaurant in sheikh jarrah, to see the hip hop concert. it featured local groups like g town and dam (photo above) and shadia mansour and others from europe and the united states. what is striking is that if we’re talking about cultural resistance the writers who read tonight were not palestinian nor was their literature that they read from particularly political or connected to palestine. and yet the concert went on without any israeli terrorist forces anywhere in the vicinity of the restaurant. here is an older video of shadia mansour and dam at a ramallah concert singing a duet of “bidi salam”:

and here is the ma’an news report on today’s events:

Israeli police and armed border officials shut down the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem on Saturday, in an effort to quash the Palestine Festival of Literature and prevent international writer and poets from addressing Palestinians.

The weeklong festival, sponsored in part by the British Council and UNESCO, was scheduled to begin at 6:30 with two panel discussions by authors from Canada, Britain, South Africa and Australia. The second annual festival will travel around Palestine and decided to begin and end events in Jerusalem in honor of Al-Quds Capital of Culture 2009.

In a last minute effort to let the show go on, organizers moved the event to the French Cultural Center also in East Jerusalem. Audience members crowded on the lawn outside the building as book readings and discussions on the theme of displacement in world literature were interrupted by power cuts and police sirens.

The spectators and litterateurs were greeted at the new event by five Israeli police vehicles stationed outside the garden wall.

According to some reports the initial decision to close down the performance at the National Theater was made at the request of the Israeli Interior Ministry. The move mirrors efforts to quash celebrations of Jerusalem culture for the 2009 Capital of Culture events.

The French consul, as well as Head of the Palestinian President’s office Rafiq Al-Husseini, attended the event. Al-Husseini, as well as the six authors who spoke in an abbreviated format, condemned the Israeli actions.

Al-Husseini also praised France for stepping up to host the event, viewing it as empowering Palestinian demands for reopening closed offices in the capital.

notes on tools of the zionist entity (and thus complicit in their war crimes) [UPDATED]

so far news from the aipac (american israel public affairs committee) conference is as banal as can be. it’s the same old propaganda. you can probably just replay past speeches, just change a few names here and there, but insert the same words. mondoweiss has been tweeting and blogging about it, but here is the most interesting part of what they tweeted in the screen shot below:

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the things that seem to be new are the increased fear they have of boycott, divestment, and sanctions in the united states as can be seen in the tweets above. and this is great news! but it seems as though there are those–like shimon peres–who fail to mention palestinians altogether and see iran as the proverbial obstacle to peace.

what i think is the bigger piece of news today is the release of the united nations report on israeli terrorist war crimes in the gaza strip. here is rory mccarthy and ed pilkington’s report on this investigation’s findings:

A United Nations inquiry today accused the Israeli military of “negligence or recklessness” in its conduct of the January war in Gaza and said the organisation should press claims for reparations for deaths and damage.

The first investigation into the three-week war by anyone other than human rights researchers and journalists held the Israeli government responsible in seven separate cases in which UN property was damaged and UN staff and other civilians were hurt or killed.

However, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, rejected the report’s call for a full and impartial investigation into the war, and refused to publish the complete 184-page report. Only Ban’s own summary of the report (pdf) has been released.

Israel rejected the inquiry’s findings, even before the summary was released, as “tendentious” and “patently biased”.

The board of inquiry, led by Ian Martin, a Briton who is a former head of Amnesty International and a former UN special envoy to East Timor and Nepal, had limited scope, looking only at cases of death, injury or damage involving UN property and staff. But its conclusions amount to a major challenge to Israel.

It found the Israeli military’s actions “involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness”, and that the military took “inadequate” precautions towards UN premises. It said the deaths of civilians should be investigated under the rules of international humanitarian law.

The UN should take action “to seek accountability and pursue claims to secure reparation or reimbursement” for UN expenses and payments over deaths or injury to UN staff and damage to UN property where the responsibility lay with Israel, Hamas or any other party, the report added. In total, more than $11m worth of damage was caused to UN premises.

The inquiry looked in detail at nine incidents, in which several Palestinians died. It found the Israeli military responsible in seven cases where it had “breached the inviolability” of the UN. In one other case, Palestinian militants, probably from Hamas, were held responsible; in a final case, responsibility was unclear.

The report summary will now go to the UN security council. In a later press conference , Ban confirmed that he would be seeking no further official inquiry into the Gaza events. But he did say he would be looking for reparations from Israel on a “case-by-case” basis.

The secretary general was asked whether his decision not to publish the full report amounted to a watering down of the inquiry’s findings. He categorically denied the suggestion: the inquiry was independent, and he was powerless to edit its conclusions.

Israel’s foreign ministry said the Israeli military had already investigated its own conduct during the war and “proved beyond doubt” that it had not fired intentionally at UN buildings. It dismissed the UN inquiry.

“The state of Israel rejects the criticism in the committee’s summary report and determines that in both spirit and language the report is tendentious, patently biased and ignores the facts presented to the committee,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the inquiry had “preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organisation, and by doing so has misled the world”.

The most serious incident investigated took place on 6 January, near a UN boys’ preparatory school in Jabaliya that was being used as a shelter for hundreds of Palestinians who had fled their homes to escape the fighting. The Israeli military had fired several 120mm mortar rounds in the “immediate vicinity” of the school, killing between 30 and 40 Palestinians, the inquiry found.

Although Israel at the time said Hamas had fired mortars from within the school, the inquiry found this as not true: there had been no firing from within the compound and there were no explosives in the school.

It held Israel responsible for the attack and said the deaths of civilians should be “assessed in accordance with … international humanitarian law.” It also called for a formal acknowledgement from Israel that its allegations about Palestinian militants being present in the school were untrue.

what has been most disturbing in all of this is the predictable response of ban ki-moon who says that this is just a report and won’t be legally binding in any way. if you want to see ban in his on tool-like self you can watch it on palestine video’s blog as i don’t have the stomach to post it. al jazeera’s ghida fakhry interviewed moustafa barghouti on the findings and on ban’s lame-ass tool of a response to it:

[UPDATE]: here is nick spicer’s report on al jazeera that gives us a little dose of reality on the situation:

and just in case you think that the savagery of gaza is over imagine what palestinian medical patients who survived that savagery who need medical care have to go through when they are faced with the choice between collaboration with the zionist enemy or no medical treatment:

Israel’s intelligence services are increasingly pressuring Palestinian patients from Gaza to spy and inform on other Palestinians if they want to enter Israel for medical treatment, a report released on Monday by an Israeli rights organization said.

Data and 30 testimonies collected by Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) and presented at the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva, indicates a rise in the number of Palestinian patients interrogated and forced to provide information, usually at the Erez border crossing into Israel.

According to PHR-I, Israel’s General Security Service (GSS, known as Shabak) interrogated minors; photographed patients against their will; harassed, accused, cursed and intimidated patients during interrogations.

Patients that did not cooperate were returned to Gaza without receiving a permit to exit for medical treatment, the report said.

Between January 2008 and March 2009, at least 438 patients have been summoned for GSS interrogations at Erez Crossing, as a precondition for a review of their applications to access medical treatment outside the Strip.

The data points to an increase in the ratio of the number of interrogations to the total number of applications submitted to the authorities at Erez Crossing: from 1.45% in January 2008 to 17% in January 2009.

The following is one of the testimonies that was submitted to the UN committee:

“R., a 17-year-old cancer patient who is being treated at Sheba Medical Center in Israel, arrived at the Erez Crossing after having been informed by PHR-Israel that her departure, accompanied by her mother, had been approved. When they reached the crossing point at 9 a.m they were told to sit and wait in the departure hall. At around 11.30 three GSS men in civilian dress came over and asked R. to follow them for interrogation.

“Despite the girl’s tears and pleading, one of the GSS men threatened that if she did not accompany him, he would send her back to Gaza. R. was separated from her mother and taken for interrogation. All this time, her mother was locked in the adjacent room and told to wait for her daughter.

“The interrogation lasted an hour, and in its course, the girl’s cell phone was taken, she was questioned about her uncle and her father, their place of employment etc. On conclusion of the interrogation, the girl was taken back to her mother, and at the end of the day, around 17.00 she was permitted to leave for Israel

“R. … who was interrogated on 29.1.09. Testimony submitted to PHR-Israel on the same day. The patient suffers from a malignant tumor on the leg and is being treated at Shiba Medical Center in Israel.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel is one of at least eight organizations that have submitted testimony to the Committee Against Torture, which this week is reviewing Israel’s record. This year the UN is examining Israel as well as Chad, Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Philippines as part of periodic reviews that it does of all nations.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Mark Regev responded to the Physicians for Human Rights report saying, in remarks quoted by the Jerusalem Post, “There are unfortunately countless examples of people who have asked to come into Israel for medical reasons, and who have been exploited by terrorists,” Regev said.

of course war crimes and ethnic cleansing are business as usual in the rest of palestine as well. first is the news that the “loyalty oath” policy of avigdor lieberman is becoming a reality as a means of ethnically cleansing palestinians from 1948 historic palestine:

Interior Minister Eli Yishai decided Tuesday to begin revoking the citizenship of four Israelis involved in activities prejudicial to the State’s security.

Ynet has learned that the four are Arabs from northern Israel, who left the country in the 1970s and were involved in activities on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and other terror groups.

According to Israeli suspicions, the men were involved in the recruiting and training of terrorists. The four sought to return to Israel through Jordan and asked for passports. One of them even asked to bring his children along.

Yaakov Ganot, head of the National Immigration Authority, asked Minister Yishai to look into the possibility of revoking the four men’s citizenship. According to the information presented by Ganot, the four left Israel many years ago and resided in countries defined by law as enemy states, including Lebanon and Tunisia.

israeli terrorist colonists destroyed palestinian trees and land, in other words their livelihood yesterday:

Dozens of Israeli settlers chopped town Palestinians’ olive and fig trees in the village of Sinjil, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday.

Sinjil’s Mayor Imad Abdullah Masalmeh explained that the settlers cut the trees owned by the sick father of four disabled children, Shawqi Hussein Ghafari.

The settlers also cut down olive trees owned by Ali Hussein Fuqaha, Adib Ali Fuqaha, Hussein Farhan Dar Khalil, and the family of Muhammad Yousef Khalil.

The mayor explained that this village is frequently attacked by settlers, pointing that five settlements and outposts encircle the community.

He added that the municipality formed a committee to defend the land from settlers and the expansion of settlements. He said large swaths of the town are threatened with confiscation as a result of settlement expansion.

He appealed for the Palestinian Authority and rights-related organizations to support the farmers and put a stop to such practices.

and americans are getting in on the ethnic cleansing of palestine action, too! it seems that they have decided to occupy a stolen palestinian home to set up its “american corner” in akka:

On April 1, 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv opened the newest, and possibly most beautiful, American Corner in the world. This Corner is housed in the newly restored medieval structure at the A-Saraya, and is perhaps the first of the hundreds of American Corners in the world to be located in a UNESCO World Heritage site. On hand for the gala opening were U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunnigham, Akko Mayor Shimon Lankri, and over 150 community leaders, educators, and business people from Akko and surrounding areas. Peter Yarrow of the American folk group “Peter, Paul, and Mary” and Israeli music legend David Broza headlined the gala opening.

if you’re wondering why this is a unesco heritage site it is because it predates the zionist colonization of akka. this medieval structure is a palestinian one, though of course they fail to mention this.

the american colonists can fool themselves about the stolen palestinian space they are occupying just as much as those who believe that the mayor of al quds is actually creating some green space when he is stealing land, bulldozing palestinian homes, and covering it up with a park (sound familiar? read ilan pappe’s the ethnic cleansing of palestine if you don’t recognize this pattern.):

Mayor for the Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality hopes to make “Jerusalem the greenest city in Israel,” largely at the expenses of Palestinian residents.

Jerusalem municipal Mayor Nir Barkat revealed his “master plan” for the city on Monday, which includes the ominous pledge for the “Development of eastern Jerusalem,” where most of the Palestinian population lives.

Also of concern to Palestinian residents is his intention to create five new metropolitan parks, particularly given the current demolition orders on nearly 100 Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighborhood of the city to make way for the construction of green space.

Equally distressing is the issue of Israeli “Conservation and preservation of historic buildings,” since this often means the judization of Islamic or ancient historic sites.

In his explanation of “Developing Eastern Jerusalem,” Barakat said “An additional 13,550 housing units will be made available for construction for the residents of eastern Jerusalem,” which means the expansion of illegal East Jerusalem Israeli settlements. These settlements will be constructed on the land Palestinians will establish their capital city on under the Road Map and Arab Peace Initiative.

The mayor said he intended to build most of the new housing in the Palestinian A-Tur neighborhood (1,500 units), the Palestinian Beit Hanina- Shuafat neighborhoods (2,500 units), Tel Adesa (2,000 units), Jabel Mukabar (2,500 units), and the eastern Jerusalem city center (750 units). These areas house the highest number of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Barakat outlined his plans for the revitalization of tourism in Jerusalem, saying efforts would be concentrated on the Old City, again an area of high-concentration Palestinian homes.

According to reports, “The plan affixes the borders of the historical city to include the neighborhoods and buildings built until 1948,” which will annex even more Palestinian land.

and, of course, the kidnapping of palestinians continues, including university faculty and students as in the latest political prisoners from birzeit university:

The employees union at Ramallah’s Birzeit University called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Tuesday to release a professor and two students it said were arrested for political reasons.

The union said in a statement that PA forces seized mathematics Lecturer Maher Nour from his home in Ramallah. The two students were not named.

in addition, 40 palestinian children are among the kidnapped political prisoners just for the month of april alone:

The PA ministry of prisoners and ex-prisoners’ affairs in Gaza has accused Tuesday the Israeli occupation authorities of kidnapping 345 Palestinian citizens, including 40 minors during the past month of April.

but, yes, ban keep on being a tool of the west. i honestly don’t know how you can sleep at night knowing what you let these terrorists get away with. you must have no soul.

telling the tale of tel al-za’atar

a couple of weeks ago i read about global voices book challenge on bint battuta’s blog. global voices along with unesco asked people to read their way around the world for unesco world book day which is today:

April 23 is UNESCO World Book Day – and just because the Global Voices team loves blogs, doesn’t mean we have forgotten other forms of the written word! In fact, because we think reading literature is such an enjoyable way to learn about another culture, we have a fun challenge for all Global Voices contributors and readers, and bloggers everywhere.

The Global Voices Book Challenge is as follows:

1) Read a book during the next month from a country whose literature you have never read anything of before.

2) Write a blog post about it during the week of April 23.

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bint battuta seems to already have her book review up on her blog. she read mohamed makhzangi’s memories of a meltdown. she fudged the rules a bit and i am going to a lot. the rules say you must read a book from a country whose literature you have never read anything of before. but given the paucity of international literature in bookshops or in libraries in palestine i read a novel by palestinian novelist liana badr entitled the eye of the mirror or عين الوراة. i had started reading it a few months ago but got side-tracked with work so this was a great excuse to get back to it. the novel is set in tel al-za’atar refugee camp in lebanon from 1975-76 when it was besieged by lebanese kata’eb militias. liana badr, who is a journalist as well as a novelist, was in lebanon at the time and later spent seven years documenting the massacre in the camp. the novel was first published in arabic in morocco in 1991, although badr told me a few months ago that she wanted to publish it with al adab in lebanon and they told her that the censors would not approve its publication. i have read badr’s other translated novel, Balcony Over the Fakahani or شرفه على الفكهاني which is also quite moving and also set in lebanon during the civil war.

© Benno Karkabé, 1975
© Benno Karkabé, 1975

but this novel is different and really important for literary and historical reasons. while there is much written about the israeli-kata’eb massacre of shatila refugee camp and the surrounding sabra neighborhood, there is little to nothing written about the massacre of over 4,000 palestinians in tel al-za’atar refugee camp. unlike shatila, which still exists today, tel al-za’atar was destroyed and the 12,000 palestinian survivors fled to other refugee camps, many of them to nahr el bared refugee camp in northern lebanon until the lebanese army destroyed that camp in 2007. for those interested in the subject from an historical perspective i highly recommend anything by rosemary sayigh. and those who want to see some rare images from the camp you can check out benno karkabé’s photographs of which the image above is one. but the novel does an amazing job of chronicling the events in a lyrical way. jordanian novelist fadia faqir, one of my favorite writers, authored the introduction to the novel, and samira kawar translated it.

the novel focuses on a variety of characters, but most of the central characters are women. and she grounds the story from the first page in an oral tradition from scheherazade’s tales told to her husband in a thousand and one nights which she used to save her community from his wrath. thus the narrator opens the novel with a direct address to the readers telling us:

You are insistent, calling again. You want me to tell you the story of Scheherazade, who rocks the sad king on her knees as she sings him tales from wonderland. Yet you know that I am not Scheherazade, and that one of the world’s greatest wonders is that I am unable to enter my country or pass through the regions around it. Do not be surprised. Let us count them country by country. (1)

rendering strange the reality of palestinians inability to travel to–let alone return to!–their land gives the opening narration a bit of a fantastical feel, until she grounds the narrative in historical reality:

I begin with the tale of a girl or a woman. I tell perhaps of you and I, or of women and men whom I have never met. I tell of an alley, a street, a neighborhood or a city. Or perhaps of a camp, of a camp, of a Tal! Tal Ezza’tar for example…Now you shake your head reproachfully again, fearful that the story will turn into political rhetoric like the slogans we’ve become weary of. Your eyelids bat mockingly inmy face, hinting it is necessary to reassure you that what you fear will not happen. But I am compelled to begin with Ezza’tar, Tal Ezza’tar in particular, not only because of its poetic name, but for many reasons which I am under no obligation to reveal now. (2)

like scheherazade badr’s narrator makes it clear that she will tease us with the plot as a way to keep us as her interlocutors. she delays our understanding of characters, setting, and events letting them unravel as scheherazade famously did in a thousand and one nights. in the arabic version of the novel badr used palestinian dialect so the spellings of transliterated words in her novel reflect this accent (hence her spelling of the camp’s name). the novel opens with the protagonist, aisha, who is actually my least favorite character in the novel, who at the time is working as a maid at a lebanese christian boarding school outside the camp. she is called home from work by her parents because of the april 1975 massacre of palestinians on a bus in ain al roumaneh, but the we hear about the incident on the bus several times before we learn the context of it. the narrator tells us:

The bus. Perhaps if that massacre hadn’t happened, they would not have taken her out of school. Her mother used to say, “The bus,” wincing as though she were being struck on the forehead by a ray of very strong sunlight. She would lick her oval-shaped lips with her cracked tongue, panting as she moved the fingers of her right hand over her chest as though she were shaking imaginary dust from her wide dress.

“The bus. Woe is me. What a catastrophe! What a shame! What had the young men and the boys done to get killed in this way? Twenty of them, my dear. Twenty. That’s what your father said. They attacked them, bang, bang.” (8).

we don’t learn who was on the bus or what it means for aisha until later in the novel. the novel delays our understanding as readers, but also aisha’s as her character is a rather naive young woman who is relatively sheltered as compared to hana, a character i like much more. badr also delays our knowledge of the family’s flight from yaffa, their village of origin in palestine, through fairy tale narrative techniques such as the repetition of “once upon a time” as well as aisha’s fantasies about her prince charming, george haddad a nom de guerre for ahmed al-ashi, a member of the resistance with the democratic front for the liberation of palestine (dflp). george is originally from tulkarem, but he left to fight with the resistance in jordan and was expelled to lebanon in 1970 after black september with the rest of the freedom fighters. his friendship with aisha’s parents and the conversation he has with her family is often as a kind of teacher about life in palestine in ways that disrupt stereotypes about religious differences or the divide between rural and urban palestinians as a way to assert unity among palestinians as when he tutors aisha’s younger sister ibtisam:

Speaking to him again, she said: “Why d’you pronounce the ‘ka’ as a ‘cha’ when you speak? Aren’t you worried that your fiance’s family will think you’re a peasant?”

“I am a peasant.”

She jumped with joy at the strange news, which aroused her interest: “A real live peasant? does that mean that you plant and harvest the land?”

“I’m a peasant and the son of peasants. But I’ve no longer got any land to plant and harvest.”

“So how d’you make a living?”

“We’re just like everybody else. My brothers and sisters and I, each of us is homeless in a different country.” (58)

conversations such as this one, various characters remembering life in palestine, plot details about aisha’s deisre to marry george, and later her marriage to feda’ee hassan, and depictions of daily life in the camp cover the first half of the novel. the gap between the ain al roumaneh bus massacre and the eruption of a full-scale attack on tel al-za’atar camp, mimicking the lull in the characters’ daily lives as they try to carry on in between clashes. after aisha’s marriage to hassan his mother, um hassan, shares her family’s story one morning with her new daughter-in-law that encapsulates many of the family’s stories in the novel:

With an automatic strength, she held back her words, which had turned into something resembling the stone that one rubs before prayer, hoping to pierce it and squeeze out whatever water might be inside it when none is available for ablutions. But her overwhelming sadness broke through her silence, and she spoke once more: “Eh…We came out of Palestine. We were in the orchards picking olives when Assafsaaf, which was the nearest village to us, fell. The Haganah gangs slaughtered a lot of people, and also raped many women. My neighbor’s niece was slaughtered in front of her father. We had no arms. We thought it would be a good idea to leave for a short time so that what happened to the people of Assafsaaf and Ain Ezzeitoun, which King Abdullah had surrendered, and Deir Yassin would not happen to us. We went north. We didn’t see anything, and never looked back, because we were so sure that we would return a few days later. In Bint Jbeil, we found that the UN were putting people into cars and taking them to Burj Esh-Shemali. People were surviving on almost nothing. When it snowed on us in Burj Esh-Shmeali, they moved us to Nahr El-Barid in Tripoli.” (109)

um hassan’s story here serves both as historical memory–of slaughter and flight–and also as premonition for what will come to tel al-za’atar camp in the coming weeks and months. just as the narration shifts from one character to another so as to give a variety of perspectives from palestinian refugees’ experiences, so too does the narrator shift at times to a voice that inserts the author herself entering the narrative:

That was a sight I shall never forget. The day I managed to enter the camp of Tal Ezza’tar, being one of the few people who managed to reach it between two sieges, I saw the apples scattered around on the streets, their skins shrunken and wrinkled. But they had kept their pretty red colour. I had said to myself: “Ezza’tar? Why don’t they call it Attuffah?” At that moment my grandfather’s home in Wadi Attufah, the valley of apples, in Hebron flashed into my mind’s eye. And I remembered my mother, Hayat, in the mid-fifties. She had lived at my grandfather’s house temporarily before moving into the attic above the school, which was afflicted with measles and frost-bite. How innocent I had been. I went to my grandfather simply to tell him how I had heard my mother complaining to Hajjeh Salimah about the hassle and pain of living with my grandfather’s fourth wife. I had told him. I was three years old. My mother and Hajjeh Salimah had later accused me of blowing the whistle on her and reporting her grievances to the tribe elder, who wore a red tarboush with a silk tassle. But, what I want to say is this. Every place I saw later would always remind me of my birth place in Palestine. And in Tal Ezza’tar, I recalled Wadi Attuffah in the West Bank of Palestine. My amazement increased at the dry fruit littering the place like freckles on a face that has seen too much sun. Everybody was sitting in the sun, both old and young. They had all come out of the shelters, corridors and passages to get a touch of the amber rays. Old women with patterned tattoos on their faces, which had been acquired long before their arrival in this place. They sat with their grandchildren in their laps, while the women were busy airing the sheets and blankets in which the young ones had slept during the confinement. No one looked at the scattered fruits which covered the ground like stones forgotten since the beginning of creation. The car turned and went up into the Tal. At the clinic, I was able to meet Um Jalal and the doctor who worked there. When I told them that I had come to do a newspaper report on the steadfastness of the camp on the anniversary of the emergence of the resistance, people called one another from here and there and they spoke to me. (125-126)

insertions of passages like the one above in which we imagine badr as a character in the novel taking eyewitness accounts of the people of the camp adds historical weight to the narrative. and it is through her presence that we finally learn more about characters like hana who is one of the resistance fighters badr-as-character interviews:

Like a passing arrow, Hana, entered the clinic. They introduced her to me: “Hana, the bravest wireless operator in the entire camp. No one is quite like her. She does the night shift in the wireless room, and goes with the girls to her military positions.”

I looked at her. Her eyes were green, her hair was tied back in a pony tail. She had a feminine air despite the seriousness which her difficult assignments imparted to her. I asked her: “It’s unusual for a girl to be on duty at night all by herself!”

“I’m not afraid of the night. Sometimes I used to be on duty at night, and I was not scared. The young men would be tied up along the combat lines and I would keep operating the wireless. At first, my parents wouldn’t agree to my work because they were worried about me. But I’ve done a three-month militia training course. I did it when the revolution entered the camp, and training began. They offered a course for girls. I was fourteen years old. It was a very strenuous course and I was in the third preparatory class at school.” (131)

once the intensity of the war increases, so too does the pace of the novel and the plot begins to mirror that intensity. the daily life of the women in the novel shifts to fighting to survive under siege, to collectivity:

The basement house! Voices echoing in a deep lair. The wailing of confined children and their running noses. The kerosene cookers emitting soot as they burned, and the smell of kerosene with the orange-blue flame. The arms of women moving the stone mill to crush lentils for use as a flour substitute. Discovering this new camp! It did not occur to anyone outside this besieged patch how thousands of people were living without basic necessities. No rice. No sugar. No wheat or flour. But there were lentils that were crushed and ground, and mixed with water, then fried on kerosene cookers or tin baking plates under which scraps of wood and paper were set alight. When there was no milk, they used lentil water as a substitute to feed their babies, and they used lentil yeast to make bread. Lentils became a mercy from God, quieting cries of hunger. Those who were unable to replace torn sandbags near their fortifications took cover behind lentil sacks. They hid behind them waiting for God to ease their plight. Had it not been for the blessed presence of the lentil packaging factory inside Tal Ezza’tar, hundreds would have starved long ago. (155-156)

we also begin to get more detailed narration about the freedom fighters defending the camp at this point, such as farid, whose presence in the novel is far too minimal. just as the story of the women above making do with their ingenuity and rations can be imagined in the context of so many other situations in which palestinians have been besieged–most recently, of course, in gaza–so too with farid’s story can we understand the plight of palestinians without a homeland, without an identity card, though, coincidentally he hails from gaza. when aisha’s mother, um jalal, complains about the fact that he smokes so much her son-in-law hassan tells her:

His family are all in Gaza. He’s not married and hasn’t got children, and you feel that a couple of cigarettes are wasted on him. Let him smoke as much as he likes. Why not?”

Um Jalal walked away, large masses of fat protruding from her back beneath her shapeless dress. Hassan recalled Farid with special sympathy. The homeless one! Unable to enter any country because he had no passport. Living in airports and traveling in planes. He had once tried to travel to an Arab capital to see his mother, who had come across the bridge, but he was unable to. The old lady had waited as airports took delivery of the young man, then threw him off to airports father away. His Palestinian travel document got him to Scandinavian countries after passing through African and Asian ones. Farid would enter a country and immediately became an inmate in an airport lounge until the authorities rejected him, putting him on the first departing flight. Farid had told them a lot about other Palestinian families living in transit lounges. He would guffaw as he told of how they would hang their underwear in the public bathroom. Sometimes, he would become tearful as he recalled the humiliation he had faced with security men and policemen. In the end, his case had turned into something akin to a play from the theatre of the absurd which no one would take seriously because it was merely entertainment. Finally one of the PLO offices was able to solve his problem through intensive lobbying of important people in the host country, and it was decided that he would be deported to Lebanon. Thereafter, Farid completely turned back on his plans to see his mother, and on his good intentions, which had only brought him harm. He never, ever thought of trying again, and his brothers had informed him of this mother’s death a year ago.

Although Farid had been accused of belonging to a terrorist organization, the name of which struck fear in the hearts of officials in European airports, Hassan believed that he had never even harmed an ant in his life. Duty was duty. And it was duty in any situation. it was enough that Farid had almost become the victim of his own organization when clashes had broken out in the early seventies over the concept of a Palestinian state on part of the homeland. The organization had not accepted the idea, and considered it a transgression of the sacred charter which called for the liberation of all Palestine. We cannot give up our land to the enemy, they had said. The whole of the levant will revolt one day, and we wil liberate Palestine to the last inch. The result was all too clear now. The Arab governments wanted to liberate their countries first, had been the comment of Farid. His incessant smoking provoked the anger and coughing of the middle-aged women dying for a Marlboro cigarette or any real tobacco wrapped in white paper.

The hateful church was nothing more than a wall to the fighters of the camp. They would remove it and excuse the enemy position which was crushing the people with their sniper bullets and shells. Hassan failed to understand why religion had turned into a sword against human beings. Until that moment, he could not understand how they would be able to blow up the church despite the teachings of the Quran chanted by his father, which instructed him to respect other religions. Hassan had never in his life tried to pick up a Quran and read its verses. He had become used to respecting it from afar. He had treated religion as though it were meant for old people and sheikhs who went on pilgrimage to Mecca. It was not for him, or those who were his age. The continued problems of day-to-day living had prompted families to give top priority to the education of their sons. His family had always said that the Palestinians could not win the struggle to survive without education. No home, no country and no friends. How could Palestinians struggle to survive without that weapon? It would gain them the protection they needed, and they would rebuild their shattered lives until they could return to their countries. Religion. He could not remember that anyone in his family had ever prayed, except for his elderly father. His mother had considered that working to solve the problems of being homeless refugees was a form of worship. Preserving the life that God has created is the most noble form of worship, she had always told them. So Hassan asked himself why the enemies were waging their war in the name of religion. was it because they had a lot of money, houses and factories that spared them from being overwhelmed by the problems of daily survival? but they were not all that way. Their poor were at the front, and those waging the war appeared on the social pages of the newspapers at their boisterous parties. (161-162)

i quote this long passage above because it says so much about the continuing struggle of palestinians. it speaks to so much historically and currently. farid is a resistance fighter who comes to rescue people of the camp by trying to bomb the church where most of the heavy shelling besieging the camp originates from. there are other moments like this where the context of the palestinian resistance struggle is contextualized such as hassan’s thoughts about why he fights in the resistance:

When he had grown up and gone to university, he had discovered that therw ere two civilizations living alongside one another in modern times. One was the civilization of repression, which used the most developed tools of technology to repress people and evict them from their homes, as in South Africa and Palestine. The other was the civilization of the oppressed, who could possibly win, but only possible…but if one was in one’s home and country. But here? Among strangers. How could one go on amongst those who only cared about importing cars and arcade games and the latest brands of washing powder appearing on television screens? (172-173)

while hana is the only female resistance fighter in the novel, all of the women resist in various ways. hassan’s sister amneh works in the hospital caring for patients without any medications, power, or water to treat them properly, much like gaza. she was responsible for holding patients down while their wounds were stitched without anesthesia. most of the mothers and elderly found a basement where they hid out together trying to escape the shelling, however, including her family. the narrator describes, in detail, what happens when she discovers the building had been shelled to the ground:

As she walked through a corridor of brown cloudy smoke Amneh saw herself as a sleeper sees her soul. She saw her body passing through fields of stones, crushed rocks, and pieces of debris flying about in the air. Amneh saw herself as if in a dream, as though she were crossing a desert too hot for any human to bear. Sweat flows profusely from her, dripping down her forehead, her shoulders, and beneath her arms. Powdered gypsum, or something like the white plaster used to decorate the walls of houses, stick to her hair. The clouds grew thicker, then lifted to reveal what Amneh finally realized–the shelter. Collapsed. Crumbled. Shelled. It was definitely no longer in its place. no longer remained standing. Something the mind could not grasp. But the crowds of traumatized people. They came in shocked waves. The sound of their wailing mingling with the hoarse moans coming out of the shelter convinced her, forced her to see what was happening. She went over to a man carrying a spade. He tossed it away, and threw himself on the debris to dig wit his hands. All she could get out of him was that the shells which had set the plastics on fire at the Boutajy factory had cracked the walls of the adjacent building, whose basement had housed the shelter. The enemy had shelled the five-story building continually for several days, concentrating their fire ot he exposed columns which supported it, until they had cracked and collapsed. the roof had fallen in on everyone beneath it, blocking the exit. No. everything had collapsed over them, and there was no longer any door or exit. The man was crying, shouting, screaming. His howling was lost amidst the successive waves of wailing voices coming from beneath the battered ground and from above it. People ran around here and there carrying hoes, but the were not of much use in removing the rubble of five floors, which had collapsed over the shelter, whose door had completely disappeared. At that moment, many different emotions surged through Amneh’s bosom.[…] She continued digging with the families of those who had been buried, from two o’clock in the afternoon until three o’clock the next morning. During that interval, and until it became possible to enter the shelter, Amneh did not try to look at the bodies which other rescuers pulled out. She did not want dead people. Simply, she only wanted those able to live, because she had come to hate the kind of life that was saturated with death day and night.[…] A terror that she would never experience in her life paralysed her. A terror that would crush her and would reshape and polish the hardness of her heart, making it even tougher than before. Inside the shelter, Amneh saw about four hundred bodies so disfigured that it was impossible to recognize them. They were all unimaginably mangled. A very small number of people had survived, but they too had sustained severe injuries to their limbs. Most of the mutilation had affected the heads. One woman’s intestines had spilt out, and she had died only a short time before. (191-192)

as the fighting over the course of months dies down slightly, hana learns from her work covering the wireless machine that an evacuation of the camp has been arranged. palestinian survivors of the massacre thus far, who are injured, who have been lacking food, water, and medicine for months begin the trek out of the camp on foot. many are barefoot. many, like aisha’s father assayed, find a trauma repeated as he imagines he is fleeing palestine in 1948 not tel al-za’atar in 1976. like many of the scenes in the second half of the novel, it is detailed and horrifying:

The terror. And the bodies. And Amneh, whom Um Hassan had sent ahead to find out what was happening at the to pof the road. Some of the neighbours had already left. But Um Hassan and Um Mazen were delaying their departure, hoping for a miracle that would avert the horror of falling into the hands of the besiegers. As the decision to surrender had spread through the shelters, crowds ahd surged wither towards the mountains surrounding the camp, or towards Dekwaneh that terrible compulsory route. The amputated hands and feet scattered along the Dekwaneh road, their veins being sucked by blue flies, were the true testament of the fate awaiting those who chose to head in that direction. The fighters prepard to leave by the rough mountain paths up to a small village called Mansourieh, hoping to break through enemy lines there, and then to continue on to the Nationalist-controlled area. Most of the young men and women joined those going up into the mountains, protected by an instinctive certainty that risking the unknown was better than following the voices offering people safe conduct which had suddenly blared out through several megaphones from the direction of Dekwaneh.

Amneh, with the newly-acquired military experience she had gained from her water-gathering trips, noticed that the faces of the bodies lying along the road were turned towards the camp, and she concluded that they had been shot in the back. The sounds of clashes on the road to the mountains made her aware of the new battle around the camp. (219-220)

amneh’s depiction of what she sees on the road out of the camp is a harbinger of what is to come once families choose to flee. the narrator describes the escalated horror that awaits the palestinian refugees, being made refugees yet again, upon their exit:

From then on, Khazneh saw nothing but blood. She passed the towering church which all the battles had not succeeded in destroying. She marvelled at the changed appearance of the building. It was neither destroyed, nor completely intact. Fallen, pile dup stones, and high thick walls and people standing outside them in lines. Was her eyesight playing tricks on her when she saw the building moving towards her, crawling like a giant ship that had suddenly set sail from a mythical port. Medieval flags fly over it, and knights parade on its roof upon pure-blooded saddled horses, wearing cloths flowing down their flanks. They carry quivers filled with poison-tipped arrows, and helmets and shields and pommels and whips and shining iron swords. As for the church, it continues to crawl and stretch forward with a slow deliberate movement, while they take no notice. Khazneh rubbed her eyes so that she could verify the movement towards her of the building-ship that she was seeing. She looked more carefully and saw rows of young men lined up in front of the wall of the church. Now they were hitting them on their backs with hammers, the stone pestles used in stone mortars to grind wheat and mix it with raw meat for kubbeh dough. But the hammers! They were hitting them with those hammers which had been specially made to pound red meat for that traditional dish. They ordered the prisoners to kneel and poured petrol over them. It caught fire in a split second, and some of the prisoners fainted. They sprayed bullets on those who were kneeling, after placing iron bars in the fire and using them to burn crosses onto the bellies of those who remained standing. the smell of charred flesh filled the air. Burning flesh. They began tying up the prisoners with ropes to parade them on thee astern side of the city in trucks specially brought over for that purpose. (231-212)

there are so many other scenes of horror that each one of the characters experiences and/or witnesses. indeed, each character in the novel is an eyewitness to massacre or a victim of it, in which case we, the readers, become the witness to the crime. palestinians get rounded up and put in detention centers and families are separated from each other as various members of families are murdered. aisha, the protagonist through much of the novel, and who we begin the novel with, finds herself pregnant mid-way through the narrative. she discovers this just before her husband, hassan, is murdered by kata’eb militia men. aisha manages to survive, though we do not learn the fate of all the characters by the novel’s conclusion. but her survival, like everyone’s survival in the camp, is one that just barely manages to escape fate. that she managed to live through this siege without proper food and water and under an extreme amount of trauma provides some hope in the novel’s conclusion. that there will be a new generation of palestinian babies and that this battle for palestinians to return is not over is wrapped up in aisha’s “emaciated abdomen” (264).

there is so much more to say, to share, but i hope that people will read badr’s novel on their own. and for those who want some further information on the context of tel al-za’atar refugee camp below are two articles on the larger issue of the origin of the lebanese civil war, the attacks on palestinians in lebanon, and the zionist role in collaborating with the kata’eb against the palestinians.

reilly-israel-in-lebanon-1975-82

farsoun-lebanon-explodes-toward-maronite-zion

the chalk and the blackboard

i’m teaching an essay in my postcolonial literature class this week by one of my favorite writers, ngũgĩ wa thiong’o. the essay–“the language of african literature,” which is published in his collection decolonising the mind–is old, but its core ideas are still so important and applicable for people to think about. the occasion for the essay was a conference at makerere university college in kampala, uganda about african writers. a conference, which was imperialist in its nature, as he explains in a footnote:

…organized by the anti-Communist Paris-based but American-inspired and financed Society for Cultural Freedom which was later discovered actually to have been financed by CIA. It shows how certain directions in our cultural, political, and economic choices can be masterminded from metropolitan centres of imperialism. (30)

a lot of the conference involved discussing who or what counts as an african writer or as african literature, but the main issue that ngũgĩ had with the entire event was that no one seemed to care that this discussion was taking place in relation to african literature written in english, french, and portuguese. it should be clear, of course, given who funded it, what the agenda really was and why it was important that african literature be defined along the lines of literature not published in the native tongue of the writers.

he gives some context for these imperial and colonial goals in the essay, which i think are instructive for people in the arab world. for instance, i think it is important for people to think about the parallels between the berlin conference of 1884 that carved up africa as colonial entities to be controlled by europeans and the sykes picot agreement of 1916 which did the same to the levant. he explains precisely how that colonial control happened beyond military control:

Berlin of 1884 was effected through the sword and the bullet. But the night of the sword and the bullet was followed by the morning of the chalk and the blackboard. The physical violence of the battlefield was followed by the psychological violence of the classroom. But where the former was visibly brutal, the latter was visibly gentle, a process best described by Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s novel Ambiguous Adventure where he talks of the methods of the colonial phase of imperialism as consisting of knowing how to kill with efficiency and to heal with the same art.

On the Black Continent, one began to understand that their real power resided not at all in the cannons of the first morning but in what followed the cannons. Therefore behind the cannons was the new school. The new school had the nature of both the cannon and the magnet. From the cannon it took the efficiency of a fighting weapon. But better than the cannon it made the conquest permanent. The cannon forces the body and the school fascinates the soul. (9)

ngũgĩ argues that one of the major elements of colonialism in the classroom was language. forcing african people to abandon their native languages, and the culture tied to it. he, too, was subjected to this in his native kenya, where he was educated primarily in the language of the british colonizers at the expense of his linguistic and cultural ties to his native language, gĩkũyũ. through his own educational experiences he shows precisely how children are taught to be alienated from their language and culture:

…one of the most humiliating experiences was to be caught speaking Gĩkũyũ in the vicinity of the school. The culprit was given corporal punishment–three to five strokes of the cane on bare buttocks–or was made to carry a metal plate around the neck with inscriptions such as I AM STUPID or I AM A DONKEY. Sometimes the culprits were fined money they could hardly afford. And how did the teachers catch the culprits? A button was initially given to one pupil who was supposed to hand it over to whoever was caught speaking his mother tongue. Whoever had the button at the end of the day would sing who had given it to him and the ensuing process would bring out all the culprits of the day. Thus children were turned into witchunters and in the process were being taught the lucrative value of being a traitor to one’s immediate community. (11)

in palestine the issue of language is not as much of a problem as it has been in other colonized places. but make no mistake about it the israeli-american control over palestinian education dictates all of the tremendous gaps in people’s textbooks related to history and culture. in 1948 palestine, where palestinians have to learn hebrew, it is more of an issue. but because the qur’an is written in arabic and must be read in arabic, the issue of annihilating arabic is not something threatened. too, the goals of colonialism are different here. the british in kenya were interested in creating a population they could control not one they necessarily wanted to exterminate. here the desire is to remove the indigenous people by exiling them and murdering them. still, the use of education (as well as the media and economics) are means of controlling palestinians here (this, too, is a joint american-israeli colonial project) to create collaborators from within is an ongoing problem here. but to be sure there is an ongoing problem of judaizing the land by erasing arabic signs and such in ways that are related to denying palestinians’ right to their language.

judaization in al quds
judaization in al quds

clearly one of the ways this control is achieved is by trying to deny people their culture. ngũgĩ explains this beautifully:

The real aim of colonialism was to control the people’s wealth; what they produced, how they produced it, and how it was distributed; to control, in other words, the entire realm of the language in real life. Colonialism imposed its control of the social production of wealth through military conquest and subsequent political dictatorship. But its most important area of domination was the mental universe of the colonised, the control, through culture, of how people perceived themselves and their relationship to the world. Economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control. To control a people’s culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others.

For colonialism this involved two aspects of the same process: the destruction or the deliberate undervaluing of a people’s culture, their art, dances, religions, history, geography, education, orature and literature, and the conscious elevation of the language of the coloniser. The domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonising nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonised. (16)

people’s identity is tied up in their language and culture. fortunately, this travels with them whether they are exiled or in prison. this can never be completely taken away, though there are far too many reminders of inroads that israeli colonizers have made by depriving palestinians from their right to their culture. the events this week in al quds, the military control over the celebrations of al quds as an arab capital, is certainly one example of this. just imagine of armed palestinians went into a synagogue or a theatre and threatened them to stop singing, dancing, eating, storytelling: what would be the world-wide response to that? but here it happens. for instance, yesterday as’ad abukhalil posted a memo on his website (which i am posting below too) that the israeli terrorist army posted on the door of al hakawati theatre in al quds ordering the closure of the theatre:

memo making theatre forbidden in al quds
memo making theatre forbidden in al quds

imran garda hosted a discussion of this attack on palestinian culture on al jazeera’s “inside story” the other night that dealt with this issue, though i don’t like that it was two israeli terrorists (active colonizer arieh king and liberal zionist who thinks he has a right to be here as a colonist danny seidemann) against one palestinian woman (hoda al imam) fighting for her rights to her culture as well as to liberate her land. and there is one mistake that was made by garda, which i know was an accident, but it must be pointed out: when he questions hoda about boycotting he did not mean the palestinian boycott and anti-normalization efforts; he was talking about hypocritical arab regimes (most of which are allies of the americans) that conflate jews and israeli colonists in their uneven and sporadic so-called “boycott” efforts. these are not the same thing. but it is worth watching just to hear the debate and see the reporting on what has been going on in al quds this week:

it is interesting that here in the west bank this attack on culture is constant, and unfortunately, seems to have an effect on jeel al oslo. i notice, however, that among the handful of students who know their history and culture it is the parents who intervene in this process by making sure their children know this material that they won’t get from their schools or the media. one of my friends who this is true for is this amazing young woman whose family has an amazing story. her parents were resistance fighters in lebanon, where they met, and then were exiled to tunisia and elsewhere in the region before coming to nablus after oslo. there is far more to the story, and she is starting to write it down, which is amazing. we have been having amazing conversations about it and i love hearing her stories. there are so many more of these stories, so many of them that are not written down. that are not recorded. and these stories are a part of palestinian heritage, of history. and they must be recorded. this is an important kind of resistance as can be gleaned from the israeli terrorist response in al quds, and in many ways that are far less visible, when the attack and silence palestinian history and culture. make no mistake about it: this threatens them as can be gleaned from israeli terrorist lackey ethan bronner’s recent article in the new york times:

Relations with Turkey, an important Muslim ally, have suffered severely. A group of top international judges and human rights investigators recently called for an inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza. “Israel Apartheid Week” drew participants in 54 cities around the world this month, twice the number of last year, according to its organizers. And even in the American Jewish community, albeit in its liberal wing, there is a chill.

The issue has not gone unnoticed here, but it has generated two distinct and somewhat contradictory reactions. On one hand, there is real concern. Global opinion surveys are being closely examined and the Foreign Ministry has been granted an extra $2 million to improve Israel’s image through cultural and information diplomacy.

“We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” said Arye Mekel, the ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs. “This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

But there is also a growing sense that outsiders do not understand Israel’s predicament, so criticism is dismissed.

i was thinking about this problem of apathy here in the west bank, which is related to the ways in which israeli terrorists and their palestinian collaborators have exhausted the people. instead of fighting or resisting in any way so many numb themselves shopping for the latest fashion, music, watching television, anything to escape. but it seems different in gaza. this week i had the pleasure of doing a guest lecture for a literature class at the islamic university of gaza. the students were so completely different than my students here. all of them had done the reading. all of them had thought about the reading. all of them had something unique and interesting to say in relation to the readings. they had read mary rowlandson’s narrative of captivity, which is a story about a white colonist in north america who lived in “captivity” when american indians captured her on their native land (what is now massachusetts). the students made some really interesting comparisons between their real captivity in the world’s largest prison that is gaza and the kind that we see with rowlandson, which is more akin to the israeli terrorist that hamas has been holding in gaza for the past few years (who i refuse to name because the colonizer is always named, never the colonized victims). i talked to them about the difference between this narrative and those written and spoken (through orature and speeches) by native americans. these differences are significant to be sure. we talked about this as resistance literature, but i asked them to think about the narrative style of rowlandson’s writing–sentimental–and how that might be adopted form the same ends as lakota writer zitkala-sa used, for instance. some students talked about how warped it was that this woman is seeking sympathy when it is she who was occupying indigenous land. others used it to talk about how hypocritical western feminism is given that being a participant in colonialism should be antithetical to feminism. we discussed comparisons in settler colonialism in the americas and palestine and how both were founded upon zionist ideology. there was so much more we discussed, but the main point is that these students, when i made comparisons to palestinian culture, literature, history they all got the references. their body of knowledge is vastly different than my students’ (lack) of knowledge. they got the comparisons and built on it. they were able to transform this colonial narrative and think about how it could be used to suit their needs and desires to use culture as a part of their overall resistance to colonialism in their land.

this is one of the many reasons why i think it is important to teach writings of people who have been colonized and who resisted it, like ngũgĩ, in addition to the work of the colonizers. in order to understand how colonization works at the level of culture one must know it from both standpoints. we need to understand the role that culture plays in resistance and continue to harness that. and we need to understand that palestinian culture does not stop at the european-israeli-american imposed borders. likewise, ngũgĩ tells us of a similar phenomenon in africa:

These languages, these national heritages of Africa, were kept alive by the peasantry. The peasantry saw no contradiction between speaking their own mother-tongues and belonging to a larger national or continental geography. They saw no necessary antagonistic contradiction between belonging to their immediate nationality, to their multinational state along the Berlin-drawn boundaries, and to Africa as a whole. These people happily spoke Wolof, Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Arabic, Amharic, Kiswahili, Gĩkũyũ, Luo, Luhya, Shona, Ndebele, Kimbundu, Zulu or Lingala without this fact tearing the multinational states apart. During the anti-colonial struggle the showed an unlimited capacity to unite around whatever leader or party best and most consistently articulated an anti-imperialist position. If anything it was the petty-bourgeoisie, particularly the compradors, with their French and English and Portuguese, with their petty rivalries, their ethnic chauvinism, which encouraged vertical division tot he point of war at times. No, the peasantry had no complexes about their languages and the cultures they carried! (23)

sound familiar? can we not learn the lessons of divide and rule from other contexts and moments in time? can we not apply them elsewhere? this is what the children of soweto resisted when they decided they would not allow afrikaans to be the medium of instruction in their schools. this is why they created their intifada. where is the new intifada here?

this is also why there is a renewed call for a cultural boycott of the israeli terrorist state by rahela mizrahi. you can read it in part below (click on link for the rest) and you can read samah idris’ arabic translation by clicking this link.

The world must break its silence over Israel’s crimes of 1948. It must start using the word apartheid to describe Israel’s political, economic and social structure, as was recently called for by the President of the U.N. General Assembly, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockman. And the world must support the call by Civil Society to apply to Israel the same strategies that were effective in ending Apartheid in South Africa—Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

As an international institution in its own right, UNESCO’s maintenance of its own standards requires it to revoke Israel’s membership. In tandem with this act, supporting academic and cultural boycott of Israel would be a vital expression of UNESCO’s commitment to its stated goal of contributing to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture, promoting universal respect for justice, human rights and the fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the UN Charter.

If order to have a practical impact, the boycott must be wide enough to influence the daily lives of the Israelis and the world’s most respected cultural workers. Without this boycott strongly in place, the hypocrite beetle Paul McCartney visited Israel recently, as did the African singer Cesaria Evora, as if Africa was not under the same colonial oppression. Mercedes Sosa, who sings about the dispossession of indigenous people in Latin America, came to Israel to entertain the people who commit genocide against the Palestinian people. There are many other artists like them. And meanwhile, Israeli musicians, artists, and curators are welcomed all over the world because international institutions have not questioned their presence in the international community.

The world needs a culture of Boycott, a culture that refuses to turn a blind eye to genocide in the name of art, a culture that takes a moral stance towards Zionism and its crimes, and changes the public and official discourse. UNESCO’s support of cultural boycott would support this trend, and help to deter and halt the role of cultural expression in reinforcing systemic violence.

on plagiarism

i discovered today that some unknown person is plagiarizing my blog. there is a website called “gaza shout” and it is reprinting all of my writings here without attribution and without permission. i looked up this blog and it seems that this person is dubai. i have filed a complaint according to the digital millennium copyright act notice. i have no idea who this person is, but it is annoying that they are stealing my writing verbatim without a word about whose words they are.

i just discovered this today, but ironically i’ve been spending the past week or so talking to my research methods students about plagiarism. increasingly i take a harder stance on this. it has now come to banning paraphrasing and summarizing as well. mostly this is because years of rote memorization has led to my students inability to analyze anything or produce their own thoughts on paper. of course, my students have their own thoughts and ideas–many of them are quite brilliant. but oftentimes, when engaged in an academic context, i find this submerged. i see this creative thought when i have coffee with them or when they come to my office to chat, but in class it lurks beneath the surface. i was thinking about this in relation to the way that the palestinian authority’s curriculum–like most of the curricula in the region–forces this memorization pedagogy and does not allow for critical thinking. it occurred to me when i was talking about luis althusser’s ideological state apparatus in my postcolonial class last week that this is a good way of explaining why students here are taught to memorize and never think critically or question. to learn such skills would mean to question everything including the palestinian authority and its corruption and normalization with the zionist entity for one thing.

but this is not how it was supposed to be contrary to hillary clinton’s propaganda from her buddy the colonist over in efrat settlement occupying the land of al khader village near bethlehem. fouad moughrabi has an excellent analysis of palestinian textbooks and their evolution in an article that was published in the journal of palestine studies. he offers some important context on what happened with the plans for the new textbooks:

In 1994, the Palestinians established the first curriculum center on the basis of a formal agreement between UNESCO and the newly established Ministry of Education of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The center, directed by the late Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, began its work in October 1995 with a team of researchers analyzing the existing curriculum. They consulted with educators and teachers throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip and produced a blueprint containing the basic principles that should govern a unified Palestinian curriculum.

Birzeit University professor Ali Jarbawi, a member of the team, carried out a comprehensive analysis of history and social science textbooks, conducted workshops with teachers to obtain their assessment of the texts in use, and analyzed questionnaires that had been sent out to a random sample of history and social science teachers. Specifically in terms of writing Palestinian history, Jarbawi was guided by the following questions

What Palestine do we teach? Is it the historic Palestine with its complete geography, or the Palestine that is likely to emerge on the basis of possible agreements with Israel? How do we view Israel? Is it merely an ordinary neighbor, or is it a state that has arisen on the ruins of most of Palestine? This may well be one of the most difficult questions, but the answer to it need not be the most difficult. The new Palestinian curriculum should be creative, pragmatic, and truthful without having to engage in historical falsifications.

Since that time, new textbooks–language, history, science, civic education, national education, etc.–have been prepared for grades one and six and were introduced in September 2000; the PA Ministry of Educations’ plan is to introduce new textbooks for two more grades every year (grades two and seven in September 2001, grades three and eight in 2002, grades four and nine in 2003, and so on). In preparing the books, the ministry has tried to incorporate five basic principles suggested by Jarbawi. The first of these principles is that he curriculum should be predicated not on giving students facts as if they were eternal truths that must be memorized, but on encouraging them to become critical thinkers. Second, students should be encouraged to make independent judgments and intelligent choices, with careful attention to be paid to individual differences within the classroom. Third, the new curriculum should generate a concept of citizenship that emphasizes individual rights and responsibilities and that establishes a linkage between private interests and the public good so as to encourage responsible and intelligent political participation. Fourth, democratic values such as justice, personal responsibility, tolerance, empathy, pluralism, cooperation, and respect for the opinions of others should be emphasized. Fifth, students should be taught how to read primary texts, to debate, link ideas, read maps, interpret statistics, and use the Internet as well as how to verify facts, sources, and data critically and scientifically. (6-7)

although i don’t have time to write right now about the many ways in which none of the above was ever implemented into the curriculum (you’ll have to wait for my book for that one), i keep coming back to these writings by moughrabi, jarbawi, and others about what they envisioned for the curriculum. i imagine how different it would be to teach students equipped with skills already so they could do research, writing, and analysis about their topics of choice. instead, students are taught that reading, summarizing, and paraphrasing counts as academic writing and research. amazingly, last week i gave my students a two-page narrative from a palestinian man in a refugee camp in lebanon. it was a narrative about labor organizing in yaffa from 1945-46. i asked my students to share their opinions about his writings as a way to talk about how one formulates an analysis. i want my students to learn how to connect their opinions and ideas to other people’s texts so they can see how to develop their own sustained analysis. but only one of my students had a response and it was, unfortunately, a troubling one. he claimed that because this writer shared his feelings about the labor organizing that it was not “truthful” or couldn’t be counted as history. everyone else, when pressed to share their opinions, could only re-state facts from the narrative. they thought they were all sharing opinions, but not one of them did.

what is amazing to me is that if i got any one of them alone with a tv or a newspaper and asked their opinion outside of class i know i’d hear an earful. but somehow the classroom has been mystified for them. somehow their knowledge has been devalued. and i think this is part of what moughrabi and jarbawi talk about: this idea that knowledge can only come from some all powerful source because it is published in a book. that they have nothing valuable to contribute, which is a bunch of hooey. still, this is what i am up against.

i must plant more seeds…