Being an Arab under the heel of Israeli rule
Life in Occupied Palestine, an academic volume now available free of charge through the Project Muse, depicts the day-to-day realities endured by this suffering population
Under Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, there will be no Palestinian state. That was Netanyahu’s main promise when campaigning for his hawkish political party Likud, which in the March 17legislative elections led him to his fourth consecutive victory. Under the third Netanyahu administration, some observers naively believed (or pretended to believe) that he was considering, under the mediation of the US Secretary of State John Kerry, some sort of compromise with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Yet, encouraged by other anti-two-state solution parties with which Likud is in alliance, Netanyahu increased settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem. Divide to conquer, as the Romans used to do. Checkpoints in areas that belong to Palestine under the so-called international law proliferated in a shifting maze with an obvious aim: nobody knew how to get from one city to the other. Now this may only get worse.
For those who did not know that Netanyahu, now 65, had never considered a two-state solution—and are unaware of the brutality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine—I strongly recommend Life in Occupied Palestine, in Biography, a quarterly published by the University of Hawai’i Press. The volume (37, number 2), printed in the spring of 2014 and edited by Cynthia Franklin, Morgan Cooper and Ibrahim G. Aoudé, “is now available freely through the Project Muse, and hard copies are just being sent out,” Franklin tells me. It is an edifying volume for those who want to know more about the atrocities committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians, but also for those who have studied or reported on the Israeli occupied territories. Furthermore, the volume offers readers an ample view of Palestine, as the articles are written by academics from different fields of study and thus with different approaches and perceptions of the occupied territories. It also helps that the authors come from different backgrounds and countries, making the volume a multicultural debate about Palestine.
For instance, Magid Shihade (see interview), a political scientist at Birzeit University, in the West Bank, writes about “how the Israeli settler colonial state structurally disrupted the mobility, memory, and local and regional identity of Palestinians in Israel generally.” Structuring his article on two picnics in 1962 and 1972 around the village of Kafr Yassif, colonized in 1948, Shihade explains that “the British colonial rulers” and other nations, “chief among them the United States,” betrayed Palestine by “turning it over” to the Zionists. The Zionists, in turn, “armed and financed by different western countries, destroyed all urban centers that the Palestinians had built before 1948, displaced about 84 percent of the Palestinian society, and razed hundreds of villages and towns.” Shihade’s is an enlightening text about “people’s sense of place,” alienation, fear, racism—and the purposeful Israeli ghettoization of Arab cities. Alex Winder, a PhD candidate in History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, bases his article on the diary entries written by a Palestinian villager describing his difficulties and those of other compatriots following the 1948 war. Refaat R. Alareer, who teaches Creative Writing and World Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, tells us how Palestinians become acquainted with their past and culture from the elderly in their families, whose accounts “go far beyond entertainment.” As Alareer says, “If I allowed a story to stop, I would be betraying my legacy, my mother, my grandmother, and my homeland.”
Franklin, a professor of English at the University of Hawai’i, writes that “coediting this volume is a privilege: through working on it I have established friendships and alliances with contributors, and learned from them about the ongoing history of, and the urgent need to end, Israel’s colonization, ethnic cleansing, and occupation of Palestine.” For her part, the coeditor Morgan Cooper, who has lived for over a decade in Ramallah, where she runs the Café la Vie, reminisces that when she arrived in Israel and soon had to go through a checkpoint to get to the West Bank’s capital she realized “something was terribly wrong.” An American national and holder of a Master’s in Cultural Studies from the University of Hawai’i, Cooper says that having grown up “in a society where Zionism seemed common sense,” it took her a long time “to put the pieces together and identify what was wrong.”
In fact, as Franklin sums it up, the aim of Life in Occupied Palestine “is to challenge the Zionist narrative” of events in Palestine reported (or not reported, when anti-Zionist) by “The New York Times and other mainstream US and Israeli sources.” Of course, we should add that, with rare exceptions, the mainstream global neoliberal media is pro-Israel, not just a number of US media platforms. For instance, Franklin observes how Tel Aviv launched a military operation to find three Yeshiva students that were allegedly kidnapped in June 2014 in Hebron by the “Arab terrorist group” Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip since its victory in direct elections in 2006. Besieged by Israel, Hamas has an armed wing in the small territory that several observers consider the largest open-air prison in the world.
Searching the three students in the West Bank, troops of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) invaded universities, cities, and villages in the West Bank. Six Palestinians lost their lives, writes Franklin. The NYT and the mainstream media did not report a single story on the damage the Israeli soldiers inflicted on the population. Neither did the majority of international media platforms, including those here in Europe.
The invasion of the West Bank preceded the Israeli war against Gaza in the summer of 2014. Netanyahu retaliated for two initial reasons. First, he deemed it necessary to eliminate Hamas for having kidnapped and killed the three students in the West Bank. Second, Hamas was launching Qassam rockets and mortars into Israeli territory. However, independent investigators reported that Hamas had not orchestrated the kidnapping, nor the assassination of the three students. The authors of the kidnapping and assassination of the students were a handful of radicals from another group, which also launched the rockets and mortars. A few militant groups in Gaza believe Hamas is not radical enough in the conflict against Israel. Therefore, Netanyahu shifted the attention of his compatriots—and of the global media—to the tunnels that Hamas had built to fight IDF troops in Gaza and in Israel, to store weapons, and to smuggle products not allowed to the Palestinians. The Israelis destroyed 40 tunnels, but several remain intact. The disparities between Israeli (mostly military) causalities and those of Palestinians are huge. During the Gaza War, which lasted 50 days, over 2,100 Palestinians died. The vast majority of them were civilians. By contrast, 66 Israeli soldiers and six civilians were killed. Yet Amnesty International accused both sides of war crimes.
Asked how to bring an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and find a solution for the existence of the occupied territories as a nation, Franklin responds: “The best hope is to compel the Israeli government to comply with the international law, according to BDS, the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.’” Franklin adds, “Those measures seem to me the best and most viable solution to end Israeli apartheid, occupation, and settler colonization.”
Not all writers of Life in Occupied in Palestine believe in the same methods to deal with Israel. These different perceptions are always welcome as they make us reflect, and that should be the goal of any academic journal. Morgan Cooper, for instance, has a different view from Franklin. Cooper says, “I no longer praise the nonviolent resistance.” The reason? A turning point was seeing “the burning […] of a fifteen-year-old Palestinian boy alive at the hands of the occupiers.” When Palestinians demand “the most basic human rights,” they end up in jail. Thousands are in prison. All the people who work in her café have been in jail. Cooper says she is tired of seeing “the violent theft of lands.” She is tired “of seeing injustices Palestinians have suffered and continue to suffer hour after hour, a deep rooted, legally enshrined right to resist by any means they possess.” Cooper adds, “Israeli military occupation and colonization of Palestine is illegal and immoral. American tax dollars front most of the bill for the violence. America has responsibility for what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, and like Israel, should be held accountable.”