Sunday, May 15, 2011
63 Years of Tears
There must have been some Israeli independence day march or rally near Times Square Friday. Because on my way to the subway in the evening I saw a small Israeli flag stuck part way up a metal signpost. I was surprised at my fury as I reached up and ripped the flag down and tossed it in a trash can there on the corner. Because while many people celebrate the anniversary of the State of Israel, many others — mostly cowed into silence in this country — mark the anniversary with grieving for a homeland stolen and occupied. May 15 is marked on Palestinian calendars as "Nakba Day," nakba being Arabic for "catastrophe," the day their homeland began to no longer be their home. The day has come to be marked with solemn affirmations of resistance to the Israeli occupation not only of the territories conquered by Israel in the 1967 war but of the whole of historic Palestine. At the time of the nakba hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians were terrorized into flight from their homes, never to return. The two videos here are testament to the spirit of resistance that lives on.
The perspective of these events from the United States is so strange and distorted. In the U.S. there is widespread disdain for the Palestinian people and their cause: indeed "Palestinian" is a word synonymous for many Americans with "terrorist." This despite the historical facts that Middle-East terrorism was birthed first by armed Zionist revolutionaries in the days when Palestine was an uncomfortable colonial compromise after the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after the first World War. It was Zionists like the Irgun who first used the weapons of assassination against authority and violence against civilians. And yet in America to even call Israel's founders "Zionists" is considered evidence of barely concealed anti-Semitism or attachment to crazed conspiracy theories.
All the propaganda arguments used to justify Israel are not made by their proponents with any standard of universality. Those who condemn Palestinian violence against civilians usually rationalize Israeli state violence against civilians. Those who question the right of Palestinians to the identity of nationhood usually delegitimize the recent history and aspirations of Palestinian Arabs in favor of Biblical mythology and its entirely debatable relationship to the Jewish diaspora of the 20th century. Those who demand respect and recognition of their entity offer no such respect and recognition in return. Those who find outrage in the Arab dictators like Saddam or Qaddafi who turn cluster bombs or WMD against "their own" people conveniently look away when it is Israel using American-made cluster bombs against its alleged "terrorist" civilian enemy in Gaza or Lebanon.
This is a political issue. The endeavor of Zionism was the last great European colonialist adventure; and Euro-American backing for the Israeli State was an ill-conceived deus-ex-machina rooted in guilt over complicity with the Holocaust and the racialism of white colonialism. In the 18th- and early 19th-century it was routine for Europeans to land on distant shores and announce that they were now in charge. It took the decades after the Second World War to undo that legacy in Africa and Asia at the cost of millions and millions of lives in dozens of wars and conflicts. And this is why the story of the last sixty years in the Middle East has been the story of chaos and violence: it is the artificial existence of the State of Israel and not the presence of Jews in the Holyland that is linked to so much regional injustice, from terrorism and resurgent fundamentalism to dictatorship and repression.
The fundamental injustice of Israel's creation has nothing to do with the Jews. There's nothing wrong with Jews — or anyone else — wanting to immigrate to the so-called Holyland just as there should be nothing wrong with mass immigration to the United States. But there is fundamental injustice in taking something away from somebody else and then lying about it and saying it was yours all along while the now dispossessed look on powerless from across barbed wire fences. There's nothing wrong with people from Brooklyn moving to historic Palestine: but there's something wrong with people from Brooklyn moving to historic Palestine then denying rights to the people already there. This is not the relatively ancient history of European genocide against America's indigenous population, this is the work of relatively recent memory. All people deserve the right to live where they choose, in peace and safety. But that's all people, equally.
Today among the best friends of Israel internationally are the right-wing fundamentalist Christians in America who see the foundation of Israel as a stepping stone in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. That is, a movement with a natural history of anti-Semitism has for complicated reason chosen to embrace the state that claims to be the home of people it once derided as "Christ killers." And therein is embodied a logic where twisted layers of symbolism mean more than object reality.
What is real is the dispossesion of a people, those who lived in the part of historic Palestine that's now Israel, and the apartheid-style subjugation of those in the so-called occupied territories. What's clear is that what exists now is not tenable. All the things Israel brags about: its professed democracy, its agricultural successes, its occasionally liberal social attitudes, these exist by the brute force of depriving others of their rights. And that is the absolute definition of injustice. It's like the idyllic gentility of white plantation life in the old American South: all those mansions and frilly dresses in America's romantic notion of its past existed because of the horror of slavery out back.
Nakba Day is a moment to recommit to a future of peace with justice. Such a thing is possible. But people have to choose it.
The bottom video is produced by the international "Return to Palestine" international march campaign. They have a website here: returntopalestine.blogspot.com. I don't have clear information on the source of the top video in Arabic with English subtitles. I found both on the extraordinary source of information on the Middle East conflict, Mondoweiss.