Friday, May 29, 2009

Palestine: is it time for Hello or Farewell?

Palestine is the place to go to if you're an avid natural pessimist like I am. But you always want to find hope and be an optimist if you are to survive. So what should we be now: optimistic or pessimistic?

I posted an innocuous Quick Update after reading David's blog (look right on this page ->) about a Freudian slip by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in an advertisement in the London subway (see the BBC news report here). In the poster (see picture), the Palestinian Territories, which could become Palestine tomorrow, are simply wiped off the map ("oops, sorry, we forgot" was the heartfelt apology from the Embassy). At the same time, the chief of the Arab League restates what everyone knows, that peace is impossible with the settlements. Of course, Israel (and by that I mean the State of Israel and its traditional advocates in the US) strongly resists the newly rising US statements (not quite pressure yet) to, at least, freeze settlement activities. At the same time, Israel and supporters (the neo-cons are not dead, just "badly badly wounded") continue to suggest that Palestinians might just have to move or be integrated into Jordan (for the West Bank) or Egypt (for Gaza). Not that either party (Palestinians, Jordanians or Egyptians) is interested, but that doesn't stop Israel and US politicians from promoting the idea.

Informed voices keep saying louder and louder that "time is running out" for a peace agreement based on a two-state solution (while of course the one-state solution is further away than ever). What prompted my opening about pessimism and optimism is that even such high power players as Saeb Erekat (the Palestinian chief negotiator) don't seem to know which way to blow. In this Haaretz article, Erekat is presented as being "encouraged" by the meeting between Presidents Oabama (US, in case you missed that) and Abbas (president of the Palestinian non-state). I can't find it now, but I could swear I just saw an article covering the same interview, but emphasizing his statement that the chance for a negotiated agreement on a two-state settlement is "running out." Not so encouraged it seemed...

So are we on the edge of abysmal failure and disaster? Nakba, 2. Or are we at the dawn of new opportunities? Finally peace.

Ahmed Qureia (former Palestinian Prime Minister, known as Abu Ala, and chief negotiator for the PLO) even goes as far as proposing solutions in the event of the establishment of Palestine behind internationally recognized borders (Green Line) for Jewish settlers who don't want to leave their homes. These suggestions are not new (I heard Michael (Ala) Tarazi present them back in 2004); they are self-evident if you think people are people; and they are terrifying if you are naturally scared of any Arab institution, say nothing of living under Palestinian rule.

It seems we are on the edge of our seats and many things depend on what the United States will do and decide. And this hinges probably in part on what President Obama actually wants to do, but also on what his advisers and Cabinet members will help him achieve and negotiate with a US Congress, which is more supportive of Israeli policies than Israel itself.

I don't know which way we will go, and predicting failure is always a surer bet in the Middle East than putting one's own money on hope. But I will go with this Malysian writer who borrows from Obamesque litterature to speak of 'the audacity of hope in Palestine.' The reason I lean this way is because of analyses I've already made in the past: either we find a path to peace, or the alternative scenarios--a farewell to the idea of Palestine--will lead nowhere but to more chaos and destruction. (Read here on suicidal policies and here on a simple argument for the two state solution.)

If we--"we"--don't find the courage for a drastic turn in current policies (and in my view this includes both dialogue with Hamas and harsh choices for Israel--not an easy plan to sell) it won't just be "farewell Palestine," it will be "hello" to chaos and to more suffering. More suffering than we've seen so far, if we can imagine that. Probably not just for Palestinians.

Optimist? Pessimist?
Trying to be a "person of faith", I will pray as if I were an optimist. Sabah el-kheir ya Philistiin! Shalom wa Salaam for Israelis and Palestinians. We hope.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Silencing Reality in Israel/Palestine- Thank you New York Times!

To be honest, the NYT is one of my favorite US daily newspapers -- at least when it comes to the Opinions Page. But here's a clear debunking of how it misdirects the news when there's some uncomfortable reality to be pushed aside. The following article shows how it's not always opposing truth and creating lies, but more gently reporting without reporting, not allowing a certain story line to emerge. When the facts cannot be denied (in this case the small problem of an ongoing conquest of land and displacement of Palestinian population), anything that would suggest something to be looked into needs to be just sidelined.

Just read for yourself how this is done in the case of the Netanyahu-Obama encounter. Concluding paragraphs below:

"This analytic piece concludes with two paragraphs of Israeli doubts about any dealings at all with Iran, and Israeli doubts about Obama. There is a rushed, single paragraph in the middle, on Palestine. No second analytic piece about Palestine as a subject of Monday's news conference has yet been posted at the New York Times on-line.

The Times story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and the Times analysis by David Sanger both tell the same story. It says that Iran is the major business between the U.S. and Israel in the coming year. The story is false, as an impartial viewer or reader of Monday's news conference will recognize. The giant gamble of the Times is that by repeating the story they can shape events and help to make it true. This double distortion was policy, not accident."

The current stalemate in Israel / Palestine rests on a huge lie. Yes, there are issues on the two sides, but no one thinks of the Palestinian political groups in totally dreamy fashion (if anything they are demonized more than is useful -- particularly Hamas). On the other hand, we treat the Israeli government as an a-priori innocent, progressive, trustworthy and peaceful entity. And that is the great lie.

The NYT is, for reasons of its own, part of that deception. This may not require grand conspiracies. A friend of mine once told me, "the best deception is self-deception."


nb: picture borrowed from David's blog, who stole it from someone else.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A picture worth a thousand words

Two pictures borrowed from "Just World News," which say a lot.

The first from South Africa in the evil days of Apartheid and bantustans.

The second from the West Bank (aka the Eastern part of Palestine) in the evil days of occupation and dispossession. What the authors have done is represent the map (which is pretty accurate) as a nautical map, with Palestinian enclaves shown as land and Jewish settlement zones and bypass roads as the ocean.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Doctor in Galilee writes to President Obama

This letter from Dr Kanaaneh in Galilee was circulated by Tikkun. There's nothing new under the Palestinian sun; we keep repeating the same facts as they repeat themselves day after day, hoping and praying that we will awake from our slumber and dare to demand of Israel that it behave as a civilized nation. In so doing, we will also behave as civilized nations, and will have a better leg to stand on as we go on the business of preaching morality, democracy and rule of law to everyone and his brother.

Dear President Obama:

In approaching the task of addressing you directly about a personal issue, I feel daunted by the abyss that separates the two of us in status and power. I am a retired public health physician, attempting to maintain a hold on his sanity and physical health by puttering around his garden in a Palestinian village in Galilee. You are the president of the nation most of humanity envies and desires to join, burdened with the task of saving the world from economic and political chaos and now from nuclear war.

Yet I find enough shared experiences between us to embolden me to speak to you as an equal in humanity if in no other regard. Like you, I am a product of Hawaii , where I attended university at the time your late parents did, and of Harvard, where we both received our professional training. I subsequently returned to my village and worked among my people to treat their illnesses and improve their wellbeing physically, mentally and socially with varying degrees of success and frustration. Unlike you, I came up fast against the glass ceiling set very low for Palestinian citizens of Israel like me. I have written a book of memoirs (see last below) that documents my professional struggle over three and a half decades. It would be a great honor for me if you were to read it as part of your education on the issues of my community and of our potential as a bridge for peace in the Middle East .

Now to the subject of my message, Mr. President: The newly-elected prime minister of Israel , Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and his foreign minister, Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, plan evict me from my home and to take away my garden. These two persons and their fellow ministers were democratically elected to their positions and will use 'democratic' means at their disposal to legitimize my disenfranchisement as have previous Israeli governments done in the past. The difference is that the current leaders are explicit and aggressive about disadvantaging me based on my ethnicity. They have devised a way to blame me for my victimhood. They intend to ask me to sign an oath of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state, a state that defines itself as exclusive of me and my people.

Democracy, Mr. President, may be the best political system, but, alas, it is no guarantee of justice and equality when it is abused to give unrestricted power to an exclusivist majority. My community, citizens of Israel since its establishment, makes up a fifth of the country's population but owns a constantly shrinking share of the land that currently stands at 3% of the total. Our towns and villages receive 3-5% of municipal budgetary allocations. Our infants and children die at over twice the level of our Jewish co-citizens -- and the relative ratio is rising of late. Our two communities continue to live in racially segregated residential areas often separated by walls and barbwire. Mr. President, I am not writing of the West Bank or Gaza but of neighborhoods in 'mixed cities' within the Green line.

You are the lead protector and promoter of true democracy in the world. As such, I call on you, Mr. President, to stand up to such corrupting practices presented to the world under the guise of sound democratic principles.

And as a fellow human being, I ask you, Mr. President, to put yourself momentarily in my position and consider how I should react to the racially-based transfer designs of these politicians. Here, in the person ofAvigdor Lieberman, is another presumably equal co-citizen of Israel who calls openly for my disqualification from our shared citizenship because I want to be equal to him under the laws of our common country. He insists on having me step down from our presumed common stand of equality and kowtow openly to his privileged status as the son of a certain race and religion. Would you do that, Mr. President, were it to be demanded from you by a fellow American citizen, be he Anglo-Saxon, Hispanic or Asian immigrant, or even a Native American?

As an alternative, Mr. Lieberman wants me transferred out of the country though I have lived on land I inherited legally from forefathers who almost surely have better claim to descent from the ancient Hebrews thanhis. And mind you, Mr. President, my residence in the home he wants me evicted from predates the establishment of the state he wants to appropriate as his, and his alone, while he is a recent immigrant fromMoldova . Would you, Mr. President, take a loyalty oath confirming your second-class status?

Mr. Lieberman's best-case scenario for tolerating my existence in his vicinity is to have the homes of the likes of me re-zoned into one of the Bantustans he envisions, to be created and run by remote control from behind an ethnic separation wall. Would you succumb gracefully, without protest, to such a scheme, Mr. President?

You have to understand, sir, that I speak here of life-and-death issues for me and my family. Mr. Lieberman, Israel 's Foreign Minister, attained his impressive status through an openly racist election campaign that featured mass rallies at which calls of "Death to Arabs" were standard. Would you trust such a man with your future in the international arena, Mr. President? I surely hope not: but the majority of Israeli citizens seem to have done exactly that.

That is where I sense danger, sir; in the assigning of my fellow countrymen of responsibility for our common future to fascist and untrustworthy representatives. Past injustices, and those were many and massive against my people, were never so clearly foretold as the ones the current Israeli government threatens to perpetrate against me, my family, my village and my people. It is with this clearly articulated plan of my transfer in mind that I call on you to use the undeniable prestige of your office to stop such plans from being implemented. I ask you, sir, to reassure me that you will never permit such schemes to be on any agenda discussed in the presence of representatives of the United States of America . I need that in order to be able to sleep, Mr. President.

With my best wishes for a peaceful and happy Easter for you and your family and for all of humanity, I remain,


Hatim Kanaaneh , MD , MPH
Author of 'A Doctor in Galilee : the Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel ', Pluto Press, 2008
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Blogger's Dilemna

No Comments - in the words of Garry Trudeau (click on cartoon to enlarge).