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Justice for Palestine: Four Jewish scholar-activists, a young Palestinian-American woman and Edward Said speak out

Listen to them to understand the background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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Thank heavens for the Doha-based Al Jazeera news outlet, which has regularly updated the outside world about the systemic bombings and destruction of hospitals, schools, residential blocks and other infrastructure in Gaza in October and November.

Al Jazeera has highlighted the rising death toll among Palestinian civilians, including children. Thanks to this media organisation, the world sees and knows how vicious the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have been. They have committed war crime after war crime. The news station has also reported on the killing of journalists, including its own.

Shame on the US and its Western allies

Shame on the Western television broadcasters like the BBC and CNN for their bias and their unprofessional behaviour. Shame also on newspapers like the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Times and Der Spiegel. They too did not report truthfully on the destruction of Gaza. Nor did they balance their presentation of the news. They readily reported the points of views of the Israeli government and the opinions of leaders in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels who support Israel.

In contrast, they were ever so careful in reporting the opinions of those leaders from the non-West and Global South who offered alternative perspectives on the goings-on. Why, the Western media were even guarded in reporting the massive demonstrations in Western countries protesting against the war and calling for an immediate ceasefire.

The unequivocal support of Washington, London, the G7 countries and the EU countries for Israel revealed the emptiness of Washington’s mantra about “the rules-based international order”.

It was clearly exposed that there was one rule for the West and its allies, another rule for those who dared to challenge and confront them. Hopefully, they will be embarrassed about preaching to us about these rules in the future.

The related revelation is that the so-called leading news agencies, newspapers, global TV stations dance to the tune of their political elite too. Not just Fox, but the BBC and CNN too. Not just the Daily Mail but the Times, the Guardian and the Independent as well.

The world witnessed clearly that there is no such thing as “the fourth estate”, an independent mass media that holds western governments accountable.

When push came to shove, the American and Western media revealed they had become part of the military-media-industrial complex that supports Washington’s attempts to remain the world’s hegemon in the 21st Century.

A related revelation is that the media, if and when they perform their task judiciously and professionally, can only offer us a record and report of the moment at hand. They cannot, and do not discuss the necessary context adequately – of the origins, the evolution, the issues, the personalities.

Indeed, scholars study these events for years on end, which then get condensed in a book, which hopefully gets taught and read widely. Presumably, this knowledge gets shared and passed around among those seeking the Truth.

Unfortunately, reading books is no longer fashionable nowadays. Instead, we have educational YouTube videos, which allow us to explore the context of an issue more comprehensively than through a news report.

These educational videos don’t do the job of sharing the contents of the well-researched book effectively. But they do a better job than news reports, even when these reports are carried on prime time.

In this newsletter, I would like to introduce you to several important YouTube videos about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hopefully, you will watch these roughly half-hour videos. I have found them useful in helping me to understand the ongoing conflict.

Listen to these six important scholar-activists who share why the Palestinians deserve our support in their struggle for freedom, and why all of us should be calling for an immediate ceasefire and a sustainable peace.

Ilan Pappe

Initiated a revisionist history of the 1948 Nakba

Ilan Pappe is currently a professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies in the University of Exeter, UK. He has been described by award-winning journalist John Pilger as “Israel’s bravest, most principled, most incisive historian”.

A Jew, Pappe was born in Israel, grew up in Haifa and graduated in history and Arab studies from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He then pursued his post-graduate studies in Oxford in the 1980s, where he conducted research on the founding of the state of Israel for his doctorate.

He was one of the first scholars permitted to read British, Israeli, UN and other official documents related to the formation of Israel, which were only made available for public viewing from 1988 (when a 30-year embargo, which had disallowed public access to archival materials in Britain and Israel, lapsed).

Pappe’s research focused on the creation of the Jewish state in what was formerly the British Mandate for Palestine, where a majority of the people were Palestinian Arabs.

So, if a Jewish state was to be created, indeed if the desired democratic Jewish state was to be created in a land already populated by Palestinian Arabs, people of Jewish descent needed to migrate to the proposed Israel quickly and in large numbers. Ultimately, Jews had to constitute the majority in the proposed Jewish state, as well as in the intended electoral process.

In fact, two-thirds of the Jewish population in Israel in 1948 were not ‘native’ to Palestine. They were recruited from the diaspora, mostly from Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia) and the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Egypt and so on).

Alas, the corollary to mass immigration of Jews to Israel was that the Palestinian Arabs, already residing in the British Mandate of Palestine had to be expelled, exterminated or segregated (in apartheid-like fashion). In the end, the majority were expelled.

Ilan Pappe’s book documents what he terms “ethnic cleansing” or the de-Arabisation of parts of Jerusalem, Jericho and other urban areas; the transformation of Arab towns like Haifa and Jaffar into Jewish centres in a matter of weeks; the destruction of Arab villages and the creation of kibbutz after kibbutz over them. Even the landscape was made over and planted with more European-looking pine trees to erase traces of the original Palestinian settlements.

Thus, the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 was celebrated by the Zionists for it brought 2,000 years of exile to an end. However, it also contributed towards what is referred to as the Nakba (the Catastrophe) by the Palestinians.

The Nakba is the singular event that resulted in the Palestinian refugee problem. This is the origin of the many refugee camps in neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and within Gaza and the West Bank.

Contrary to popular belief, which continues to be spread by Israeli and some Western scholars, the refugee problem did not result from the war between the Arabs and the Israeli in 1948.

Pappe’s study shows that the expulsion of the Palestinians predates the war and invasion of Israel by the neighbouring Arab countries. In fact, the war was a response to the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland, a response to ethnic cleansing.

There are four other points raised by Pappe that caught my interest.

First, the mass immigration of Jews to Palestine can be likened to other examples of settler colonisation, by the British in particular, which invariably resulted in the expulsion or extermination of the natives (as in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) or in their segregation (as in South Africa).

Second, Pappe (and other historians) have argued that the decolonisation process in Palestine differed from other parts of the British Empire. For example, in countries such as Iraq and Sudan, and further east in India, Burma and Malaya, the principle of majority rule was adopted as the British withdrew. (Incidentally, the British military and police forces were moved from Palestine to Malaya, where an “emergency” had been declared in late 1948 to fight a communist-led uprising).

In Israel, a new settler colony was also created. However, Pappe remarks that it is in the DNA of settler colonialism that it breeds resistance.

Third, Pappe (and others) lament that many Palestinian (and Arab) cities were wonderful examples of peaceful multi-ethnic, multi-religious living by Muslims, Christians and Jews in the pre-World War Two period. In the British Mandate of Palestine, the city dwellers were well educated, and a thriving printing industry flourished.

This organic society of peaceful living, coupled with the human capital already present, turned Palestine into one of the most advanced places in the Middle East. It is important to know this history – for this organic society could have become the basis of an alternative model of nation-building. Palestinian history did not start from 1948.

And fourth, Pappe seems to suggest that Western public opinion towards present-day Israel also goes back to 1948 and the creation of Israel.

It was not that the West was ignorant or oblivious that the Nakba occurred, and that Palestinians were expelled or killed.

Rather, the West appeared to be “allowing a smaller injustice (ethnic cleansing) to correct a bigger injustice, namely the Holocaust”. Apparently, expelling Palestinians was considered tolerable, if not legitimate, to maintain the viability of the Jewish democratic state, post-Holocaust.

Unfortunately, it might have also signalled to the Israelis that it was OK to expel and discriminate against the Palestinians for the greater goal of consolidating the new Jewish state. It might have further signalled that international public opinion would allow this.

On the 1948 events – Ilan Pappe, Part 1, 2018

For ongoing developments in Gaza, see “Crisis in Zionism, opportunity for Palestine” – 19 October 2023

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Understanding the myths and realities of Israel – Ilan Pappe

Ilan Pappe’s books include The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006) and A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples (Cambridge University Press, second edition, 2004, 2006).

Gideon Levy

Award-winning Israeli journalist whose writings have exposed the harsh realities of everyday life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation

An award-winning Israeli journalist and author, Levy is a regular columnist for Haaretz, the critical Israeli newspaper. His books include Twilight Zone: Life and Death under Israeli Occupation, 1988-2003 (Tel Aviv: 2004) and The Punishment of Gaza (London: Verso 2010).

The title of the video “Gideon Levy – The Zionist tango: Step left, step right” (see below) refers to the essence of his talk, that is, that there is no difference between the so-called left and right in Israel.

Both groups share the two ‘religions’ of Zionism and the Security of Israel. And as for most religions, one is not allowed to raise doubts about Zionism or Israel’s security.

So, the Israeli left, like the Israeli right, have never called for ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Both sides have promoted new settlements in the West Bank. Both sides are Zionists.

Levy mentions he had served as an aide to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres (who, with Yasser Arafat, had won the Nobel Peace Prize). In fact, Peres was “the father of the settlements”, which contradicted trying to sue for peace and the two-state solution.

To understand this commonness, Levy suggests that the Israelis share three fundamental values:

  • that they constitute the “chosen people”. And therefore, criticisms of them from the point of view of international law or global opinion do not apply to them and does not matter
  • that they are ‘the victims’, perhaps the sole and only victims. He mentions how Golda Meir, a former Prime Minister, once lamented how the Jews cannot forgive the Arabs for forcing the Jews to kill their children! So, the Jews blame the Palestinians for forcing them to kill Palestinian children. What manner of logic is this?! The sufferings of others do not matter. Things could not be worse than the Holocaust what the Jews had to endure and
  • that the Israeli Jews share the attitude that the Palestinians are “not fully human” like themselves: for they do not love their children, enjoy life, respect one another like the Israeli Jews do. After the 7 October incident, the Israeli defence minister referred to the Palestinians as “half animals”! And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when called upon to stop the assault on Gaza, refused to do so on the grounds that war against the Palestinians in Gaza was necessary, likening the conflict as “a war between civilisation and barbarism”.    

Gideon Levy clarifies to outsiders that there are three regimes existing simultaneously in Israel:

  • The liberal democratic one, applied solely to Israeli Jews, including to Levy himself. He admits he is given freedom of expression and movement, although he does not take it for granted and expects to be detained one day
  • The second regime refers to the governance of the Palestinians who live inside Israel. They are given civil rights in that they are allowed to form parties and associations, to vote in elections, and to take office if elected. But in all other regards, they are regarded as second-class citizens and discriminated in this essentially Jewish state
  • The third regime refers to how the Israel government has colonised and governs occupied Gaza and the West Bank since 1967. For the last 16 years, a siege has blanketed Gaza. So, Palestinians may not travel freely into Israel or bring in things like food, fuel and medicine without permission. High concrete walls or barbed wired fences with checkpoints separate occupied Gaza from Israel. In fact, checkpoints can be erected throughout the occupied territories at will. Then UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 described Gaza as effectively, “a giant open prison” and later, “a prison camp“. Because of the siege, the economy is stunted. Some 60% of all youth and 50% of all residents are unemployed. Levy criticises those who project Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East”. How could a land which occupies and imprisons one half of the residents be considered democratic, he asks.

Levy considers that change cannot come from within. Those groups which call for reforms are too small and ineffective. So, the change must come from outside.

But the Jewish lobby in the US is powerful and greatly influences US policy towards Israel and the Middle East. It provides Israel with the latest weapons and is its biggest funder – some $3.8bn per year. If it wishes, the US can get Israel to return to the Oslo Accords, to stop the occupation, to disallow all new settlements and comply with international laws and UN resolutions. The problem is the US government does not wish this upon Israel!

What can be done? Among others, Levy urges people to:

  • Continue the struggle against the criminalisation of people who criticise Israel. Despite the US, the UK and European countries deeming criticism of Israel as tantamount to being antisemitic, Levy argues that criticising Israel for its occupation, its apartheid-like laws is not being antisemitic
  • Expose the lie that Israel is a democracy. It is not. It is a tyranny for it practises apartheid and can be likened to a settler-colony that has caused the displacement or extermination of natives like in the US, Canada, Australia and Brazil
  • Expose the lie that the occupation is temporary. Israel was created in 1948, the occupied territories came under Israel in 1967 and they are permanent and here to stay
  • Continue supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel by the international community

Finally, Levy says he no longer subscribes to the “two-state solution”. It is no longer viable. Too much time has passed since the Oslo Accords reached by Arafat and Peres. Too many new settlements have sprouted in the West Bank.

Donald Trump, in moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, revealed that the US itself no longer subscribes to the two-state solution.

In the event, public opinion in Israel under Netanyahu and the rightists are opposed to this solution and wish to create a Greater Israel instead.

The US too can no longer play the role of a mediator. The Palestinians no longer trust Washington to be an even-handed mediator.

Rather, Levy believes that progressive Israelis and Palestinians should strive for a multi-ethnic secular state, where the seven million Jews and seven million Palestinians have the vote and equal rights. We must dream we can live together under the same non-Jewish state, he insists.

Gideon Levy: The Zionist tango: Step left, step right – The Real News Network, 2018  

Norman Finkelstein

An American scholar-activist whose parents were imprisoned in Auschwitz, Finkelstein shares why he refuses to condemn Hamas as “terrorists”

Finkelstein is an American political scientist who received his PhD from Princeton University and has taught political theory and the Israeli-Palestine conflict for decades.

He is the author of many books, among them Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom (2021); The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2015); Beyond Chutzpah: on the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2008); Image and Reality of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2003).

His Jewish parents were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto and the dreaded Auschwitz concentration camp under Nazism.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, along with others, have refused to condemn Hamas as ‘terrorists’.

In the video referred to below, Norman Finkelstein shares with us why he too refuses to condemn Hamas as terrorists. It is too easy to do that, he says.

For Finkelstein, the context of Palestinians living in Gaza, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967 and placed under siege for the last 16 years, must be taken into consideration.

Two images have been used to describe Gaza.

We have already mentioned how David Cameron, after a visit there, described it as “a giant open prison”.

Baruch Kimmerling, the eminent Hebrew University sociologist, was probably the first to refer to the Gaza as “the largest concentration camp” – for Gaza was subjected to security road blocks and a siege. It was subjected to controls on the flow of food, medicine, building materials and other items that could potentially be used to fight the IDF.

Finkelstein agrees with this description. In the video below, and in his latest book, he likens living in Gaza to living in a concentration camp. It is only when we take into context the ‘living hell’ that Gaza is that we understand why Gazan youth have resorted to violence, including the youth involved in the Hamas-led killings on 7 October.

Finkelstein reminds us that densely populated Gaza is only five miles wide and 25 miles long. He says he jogs about five miles every morning.

Worse, an overwhelming 70% of the Gazan population consists of refugees from the 1948 war and the descendants of those first group of refugees. About half the population are children.

Five major incursions, including massacres by the Israeli, have taken place. (Needless to say, the current bombardment and assault is the worst ever.)

In the 22-day Operation Cast Lead (from 26 December 2008 to 17 January 2009), 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including 350 children; 6,000 homes destroyed, and all vital infrastructure flattened.

In Operation Protective 3 in July-August 2014, the IDF killed 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children. Some 18,000 homes were destroyed. The destruction of farms and curbs on the seas have resulted in food insecurity for the Gazans ever since.

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Finkelstein reminds us that the Palestinians have tried non-violent demonstrations. The IDF targeted them all the same, as in the 14 May 2014 massacre. Thereafter, non-violence tactics were abandoned.

Imagine, he says, the life of a young Palestinian male in Gaza. His studies are constantly interrupted. He has no job and depends on the UN relief agency, UNRWA, for handouts. His house might have been destroyed in the last Israeli attack. He might have lost a sister or a brother, a father or a mother, or simply some relative or friend during the last Israeli incursion or massacre.

There is no possibility for him to lead a normal life, let alone to marry and to raise a family. Even if he succeeds in marrying, he would not be able to provide a comfortable life for his wife and children.

Imagine, his whole life has been confined to this tiny strip, 25 miles by five miles. Imagine, he has not ventured beyond this narrow strip of land! And, the future looks ever bleak as the IDF tightens its stranglehold over Gaza.

Simply put, there is no possibility of change for the better! There is no hope of a better future! The Palestinian authorities are corrupt, inefficient and powerless. There is no hope for a two-state solution.  

It is under such circumstances that he turns to radical Islam, which provides him with a cause and reason. And martyrdom (mati syahid) grows to become the solution to his frustrations, the result of life without Hope.

Finkelstein believes that on the night of 6 October, the young male Gazans must have kissed their parents’ hands, said goodbye to their siblings and friends, anticipating they would not return from their incursion into Israel.

Finkelstein understands the rage and the resolution through the uprising. So, he will not condemn these youths for becoming terrorists! He is so glad he is not in their shoes.

He also compares the atrocities in Gaza to what occurred during the Nat Turner Uprising by slaves in the US. From his research, Finkelstein discovers that the abolitionists who reviewed the historical records of that uprising refused to condemn Nat Turner, who had ordered his fellow slaves to kill white people who were in the way. So, they too were not unprepared to kill innocent civilians who were associated with the evil system of slavery which robbed black people of their dignity.

For Turner, the killings were necessary to create “a moral crisis” among Americans. Interestingly, Nat Turner was a very religious person. He considered himself to be doing God’s will by rebelling against the evil slave-ridden society. “Not unlike the jihadis today,” Finkelstein adds.

Finkelstein also shares with us a conversation with his mother. While she was in the Warsaw Ghetto, she too had lost hope. She too joined the uprising, which also resulted in non-Jewish civilian deaths. When he questioned his mother about this, she replied that if she had to die, she would try to take “some of them” with her.

For Finkelstein, it is apparent that a life without hope is not worth living – for the Jews in the concentration camps, for the slaves led by Nat Turner and for the young jihadis too.

Conversation with Norman Finkelstein: Israel’s long war on Gaza – The Chris Hedges Report, 19 0ctober 2023, The Real News Network

Noam Chomsky

America’s leading philosopher and public intellectual

Noam Chomsky too is of Jewish descent. His parents came to the US from Ukraine. An outstanding scholar, he taught linguistics and philosophy in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over 50 years.

He has been critical and outspoken about US wars abroad, its support for pro-US dictators around the globe, and the proxy wars these dictators get involved in on behalf of the the US, often with direct US military and “technical assistance”.

He has been equally scathing about the role of the Western media and of the majority of American intelligentsia who support the government in Washington unquestioningly.

Often, the Western media simply ignores and refuses to mention US atrocities. A good example would be how the major news agencies, newspapers and television broadcasters have essentially decided not to report comprehensively on Israeli atrocities and their killings of civilians, including women and children, as mentioned earlier.

He was first critical of America’s war in Vietnam, then its invasion of Cambodia and Laos in the late 1960s. These wars, which lasted over 20 years, caused massive destruction of urban Indochina. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians, along with American soldiers, lost their lives.

The Americans also used Agent Orange, napalm and cluster bombs, besides the usual munitions, to destroy lives and the Indochinese countryside, as this was a war largely fought in the villages, estates, paddy fields and mountains.

Chomsky has also written about US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) involvement in the overthrow of Indonesian President Sukarno in 1965, and its support for the Suharto regime which replaced it. The US then supported Indonesia’s invasion and occupation of East Timor.

Chomsky also alerted Americans and the global public about US interventions in Central America and the overthrow of socialist President Salvador Allende’s government in Chile in the early 1970s.

The US has also been intervening in Middle East politics. It is well known that the US has been providing about $3.8bn in military and technical aid to Israel every year. This amount excludes the additional aid provided during an emergency, as with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the takeover of the country by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Writing at the time of the US invasion of Iraq in search of so-called ‘weapons of mass destruction’, Chomsky considered the US to be the world’s biggest terrorist state. In the event, the US destroyed Iraq almost completely.

Chomsky and Ilan Pappe have jointly published Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War against the Palestinians, 2013, and On Palestine (A Penguin Special, 2015).

The discussion below and the short videos recommended focus on Chomsky’s explanations for the special relationship between Washington and the Israelis.

Chomsky makes three major points.

First, the Middle East is of tremendous importance to the US in trying to maintain its position as the world’s hegemon. Not only is the Middle East an important centre of oil and liquefied natural gas production. The location of the Suez Canal in northern Egypt enhances the strategic importance of the region to the US.

Since 1967 Washington has decided on Israel as its strategic ally in the Middle East. In the first war between Israeli and its neighbours, Israeli defeated the Syrians in the Golan Heights and the Egyptians in the Sinai, which were then taken over by the Israelis. In the aftermath of that 1967 war, the Israelis began occupying the West Bank and Gaza.

At the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, Israel helped the US to get rid of the radical nationalists leading many of the countries across the region. The nationalists had been part of the pan-Arab movement and belonged to the Baath Socialist Party.

Some of these Arab leaders were also active in the Afro-Asian movement, the forerunner to the Non-Aligned Movement, which refused to side with the US against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

In fact, the US began to support the formation and growth of conservative Islamic parties as a counterweight to the radical secular nationalists.

In the case of Israel, the Israelis supported the growth of Hamas, which apparently the US tacitly supported, to counter the influence of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). This has been openly admitted by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Nowadays, the IDF shares its intelligence on its neighbours with the US. Israel also allows the US to store its weaponry and munitions in Israel for use in the region, especially to contain Iran. Incidentally, when Israel ran low on its store of munitions in the ongoing bombardment and destruction of Gaza, the Americans topped up Israeli ammunition from its own store of munitions in Israel.

Indeed, US policy towards Israel has changed dramatically since the 1950s and early 1960s. Initially, there had been a difference of opinion within the US administration: the Pentagon looked favourably towards Israel, which it considered a potential ally, while the State Department was more critical of Israel, expressing grave concerns about the refugees’ plight. 

For this reason, the US, under Dwight Eisenhower, remained rather even handed and disallowed Israel from establishing new settlements in the West Bank. Back then, the US had insisted that Israel follow international law and abide by UN rulings.

This is no longer the case today. Israel gets away with impunity under the guise of its right to defend itself – and the US supports Israel unhesitatingly.  

A second reason for this special Israeli-US relationship, Chomsky argues, has to do with the support of right-wing evangelical Christians in the US for Israel. Perhaps since the 1990s, with the growth of the evangelicals in the US, every would-be US president and others seeking public office, has been keen to win the support of the evangelicals in the polls.

In turn, these evangelicals, who read their Bibles literally, are anticipating the “end times” and the “return of the Jews to their homeland”, which will be the forerunner to “Armageddon, when the Messiah will return”.

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Chomsky highlights that this belief of the evangelicals who are anti-Islam and seemingly pro-Israel, actually reeks of antisemitism! For these evangelicals also expect that only those Jews who convert to Christianity – only a small percentage – will be saved. The majority will be destroyed and face damnation in the last days.

Chomsky also reminds us of the original antisemitism among Christian Zionists historically, which actually predated the Jewish Zionist movement. This antisemitism, especially evident in the Anglosphere of the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, influenced the Balfour project to create a Palestine for the Jews. Indeed, Arthur Balfour and his team preferred the Jews to go to Palestine, not to the UK.

And third, strong US-Israeli ties were also the result of the powerful Israeli lobby in the US nowadays, comprising Jews who played major roles in financial and investment circles, in the military-industrial and media complex, in academia and in every single US administration.

Chomsky on Israeli-US ties: Why America regards Israel as a sacred cow

Chomsky on The Israeli-Palestine Conflict, April 2002

Noura Erakat

A young outspoken Palestinian American scholar-activist

I would like to include a woman’s voice among the people recommended. The relatively young Noura Erakat offers an important complement to the voices of the first four well-known and somewhat older scholar-activists.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian American. She teaches in Rutgers University in New Jersey. A human rights attorney, she has also served as legal counsel to the US House of Representatives and advocated for Palestinian refugee rights at the UN. Her book Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine (Stanford University Press: 2019) won the 2019 Palestine Books Awards, sponsored by the Middle East Monitor.

Often, we discuss Palestine, or at least the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in legal terms – international or occupation law. To date, none of the killings, atrocities and infringements of that law have been resolved by judicial intervention.

For instance, occupation law has failed to stop Israel’s creation of new settlements. Despite the laws of wars and the Geneva Conventions, killings and destruction by the Palestinians in the Gaza have persisted, and taking place before our eyes.

The killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the IDF, identified with the help of the US, has been completely ignored by the Israeli government.

As we have discussed, Ilan Pappe and Gideon Levy no longer believe that the Oslo Accords to create two states is a realisable solution.

For one, the actual maps of Jewish and Palestinian settlements on the ground have been redrawn in reality.

Second, the Israeli government under Netanyahu and his right-wing allies do not even give lip service to this two-state solution proposal.

And third, the Americans have not been pushing the Israelis an inch to realise these accords, reached by Shemon Peres and Yasser Arafat; not Barack Obama, not Donald Trump, not Joe Biden.

It is therefore appropriate that this book by Noura Erakat looks at the struggle for Palestinian freedom through the lenses of power, and who controls the making and implementation of international law.

She focuses on key junctures from the Balfour Declaration to recent laws designed after each conflict and shows that the law has advanced Israeli’s interests, rather than the Palestinian cause over the past 50 years.

But, Erakat argues, this was not inevitable. As an attorney, she believes the law offers promise and risk.

For law is politics and its interpretation and application depend on the political intervention of states and people alike.

Within the law, change is possible. It can serve the cause of freedom when it is mobilised in support of a political movement. But in the wrong hands, and mobilised for discriminatory interests, it can spread hate and further occupation, apartheid, colonialism.

Here, in Malaysia, we have distinguished between the ‘rule of law’ – that promotes check and balances, transparency and accountability of the executive, and the deepening of overall democracy – and ‘rule by law. In the latter case, we can pass a slew of coercive laws that allow for detention without trial and restrictions against assembling, associating, expressing and organising. So, we can appreciate Erakat’s important distinction.  

‘But we must speak: On Palestine and the mandates of conscience’ – Noura Erakat speaks at the Palestine Festival in New York City on 1 November 2023

Edward Said

His books have provoked much debate, rethinking and alternative actions

Finally, we conclude this survey by referencing the Christian Palestinian Edward Said (1935-2003), probably the best known of the scholar-activists in our list.

He was born in Jerusalem, during the Palestinian Mandate. His father was based in Jerusalem and his mother came from Nazareth while the young Edward Said grew up in Jerusalem, went to school in Cairo and later in Beirut.

In the 1950s, he attended Princeton University as an undergraduate and completed his PhD in English literature at Harvard University. He then taught English Literature at Columbia University in New York City and wrote many books on literature.

But perhaps, he is best known as the author of Orientalism (1978) his ground-breaking book which examined the often racist or moralised stereotypes of “the other” by Western authors. He is considered one of the founders of post-colonial studies. Through these academic treatises, the late Edward Said influenced and trained a wide group of younger scholars.

He also became well known for his public speeches and activism on behalf of the Palestinian movement.

The first important book on Palestine that many in my generation read was Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine (1979), which provoked a serious debate in the US in academic circles and among other readers.

Ultimately, he became a member of the Palestinian National Council, which was a platform for him to represent the Palestinians in numerous UN and international forums.

The video “Said and Palestine” (1988) is an account of the political changes that took place in Palestine from the pre-World War Two period until 1988. The video contains valuable clips of the past, interspersed with interviews of Said, as he himself journeys through those years of transformation.

He shares with us personal accounts of how Palestinians have been expelled from their original homes, their lands and properties seized and handed over to newly arrived Jews.

The late Edward Said also highlights the unfairness of the ‘law of return’, which disallows a Jerusalem-born Palestinian like him from returning to his motherland. In contrast, a person of Jewish faith perhaps originating from Russia or even the US is welcomed to Israel and offered citizenship.

In this regard, the Holocaust, which had meant great sufferings for Jewish people, has been used to victimise natives like himself. This should not be the case.

The period following the wars in Lebanon in 1988, which led to the expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, marked for him an important turning point in the struggle for a Palestinian state. The so-called “state within a state” that Palestinians had created in southern Lebanon came to an end on account of the Christian Amal militia collaborating with the IDF to force the PLO’s ouster from Lebanon.

Up until that point, Beirut, for him, had been the “capital of exiles” from throughout the Arab world. The forced removal of the PLO and other exiles led to the demise of a thriving centre of Arab intellectual, cosmopolitan and political life.

Yet, Said does not lose faith in the Palestinian struggle for they possess, in his words, “a tradition of stubborn resistance”. Some have resorted to terrorism to achieve their freedom – which Said himself considers misguided and short-sighted.

That said, he continues to consider the struggle against the Israeli oppressor fully justified. Enjoy this interesting but painful video

Not a religious conflict

Malaysians and other onlookers should spend some time pondering the roots and the context of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas conflict. It did not start on 7 October 2023.

Nor is it simply a fight between Hamas and Israel, as Netanyahu and the Israeli government and most Western governments and the western media would like us to believe.

These six scholar-activists argue in their videos and books that the problem goes back to the founding of Israel in 1948 in a land called Palestine, then a mandate of Britain, where perhaps two million Palestinians already resided in the cities and rural villages.

Though a celebratory occasion for the Jews after 2,000 years of exile, the founding of Israel also resulted in a Catastrophe, the Nakba, for the Palestinians – they were expelled from their own land, villages and towns, and turned into refugees.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict started then and has persisted – for the DNA of settler colonialism, anywhere, has always bred resistance.

For us in Malaysia, it is equally important to recognise that this is not a religious conflict. Listen to the Palestinian ambassador to Malaysia in this recent BFM interview:

Except for Noura Erakat (a young Palestinian American woman) and Edward Said (an older, now deceased, Palestinian Christian), the other personalities we highlighted in this survey are two Israeli Jews and two American Jews. Yet, all speak the same language of justice and stress the need to work towards a lasting peace.

We encourage everyone to view these videos judiciously, so that we may understand the problem better. The first thing to do is to drop our prejudices, which in Malaysia, are all too often determined by our religion and our ethnicity. Be open-minded instead – for there are important lessons we can draw from the conflict there.

Francis Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
20 November 2023

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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Subramaniam Pillay
Subramaniam Pillay
20 Nov 2023 11.57pm

Excellent choice of background materials. I urge all Malaysians to watch the videos.

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