A fact exists independently of our subjective consciousness or acknowledgement. We can close our eyes, bury our heads in the sand, but those foolhardy tactics will not alter its inherent empirical and objective character. A fact, which is, axiomatically, a truth, endures precisely because it is firmly grounded in historical reality.
One such fact is the dispossession of the Palestinians of their humanity, a travesty which began mid-last century and continues to this day. Another fact is that this great wrong has been legitimised by the acquescience and support of international powers that be, in a word the “civilised” Western world. Another fact - and this is even being created as I write – is that what remains of Palestinian land is being robbed under cover of a gigantic “security” wall.
Another truth worthy of mention in this veritable directory of facts is that anyone who even attempts to criticise Israel’s gross violations against the Palestinian people risks being labelled “anti-semitic”. But, you can call every Tom, Abu or Lahai anti-semitic, but it certainly won’t stop the truth from being uttered.
“Palestine is Arabic”
And it should be shouted as loud as possible, through the most sophisticated amplification system and from the highest of rooftops. And honest Jewish people should be among the most vocal critics of the wrongs being committed in their name. But by choosing to remain silent in the face of such monumental injustice, or automatically shifting into knee-jerk mode every time someone castigates Israel, they are doing themselves a great disservice.
Given what has been said above, I believe it necessary to plot for you, Dear Reader, some of my political co-ordinates – at least before the blunderbusses of the knee-jerkers are done being reloaded.
I am a citizen of the world. My earliest “political experience”, if I can call it that, happened at age of seven or eight, at a cinema in a small town in Sierra Leone, West Africa. An older cousin had taken us to see a Bollywood or James Bond flick, I forget which. But what I still remember vividly to this day was the image of small children, many my age but many older, all covered in blood, a few carrying placards. They were chanting in unison as they marched down a dusty street: “Palestine is Arabic. Palestine is Arabic. Palestine is Arabic.”
Since then, as a much older person, I have tried as much as possible to figure out what it was exactly that I was watching on that warm, African afternoon so long ago. It could have been a long news item, documentary-like; it may have been a short feature; it could have been a PLO “propaganda” film, or it may have been “public awareness” item. Were the children chanting “Palestine is Arabic” in English, or did I get that from subtitles. I do not know these things for sure. What I do know it that those powerful images moved my young heart. In my heart I knew that whoever was doing whatever they were doing to those children was wrong. And I cried.
Many years later, as a teenager at secondary school, our English teacher told us that if we wanted to get good grades in English, we had to listen to the “Queen’s English” on radio, preferably BBC radio, and to read a lot – anything written in English, but mainly novels.
That was how I eventually stumbled upon the pulp fiction industry that had spawned around the Second World War and the Holocaust. Sherlock Holmes and the Duke de Richelieu were cast aside as my hunger for knowledge of the Holocaust grabbed me by the neck and shoved my head into any book that could satisfy that hunger. I was horrified at what Hitler and the Nazis had done to the Jews; I just couldn’t believe (that was long before Rwanda) that humans could do such things to other humans. I hated all Germans. I loved the Jews.
On discussing the subject with classmates, I would say what the Nazis did to European Jewry was “total exploitation”: they first took all their worldly possessions – money, art, houses, cars, businesses; then they exploited their bodies – their labour, the womenfolk violated, gold teeth and fillings removed and sold. And then, finally, when they had been gassed, or otherwise killed in an unimaginable industrial scale, their corpses were used to make soap and fertilizer. Total Exploitation. Again, I shed a political tear, for wronged Jewry.
Another great modern wrong came in the shape of illegal white minority rule in apartheid South Africa. I was so incensed by the injustices and iniquities of apartheid – which I equated with what was happening in Israel and occupied Palestine – that there was a time when I was suspicious of white people. But that changed when I later went into political struggle alongside whites.
Struggle for self-determination
As the object of these socio-political moments – which are not in themselves unique, but fused with other subjects in a particular permutation that informed the coming-to-be of my self-consciousness – I would challenge any woman or man to call me racist or anti-semitic. I am simply reporting facts that should be self-evident to any objective perception of the reality presently under consideration.
Now that we have that – and hopefully, the blunderbusses – safely out of the way, we must now confront the tasks at hand. These are, in no particular order, criticising the deliberate and false identification of pro-Palestinian sentiments and activism with anti-semitism, criticising anti-semitism, and attempting to chart a course for a future of social justice and “security” for Israel and occupied Palestine.
While it cannot be denied that there are many in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere who are anti-semitic, it is equally true that many critics of Israeli aggression in the Middle East are not racist. This subset is purely inspired by the long, debilitating struggle for self-determination of the Palestinians, and angered by the procrastination and obstructionism of the Zionist leadership as they continue to steal their land. And – can you believe it? – they accuse the oppressed for being the roadblock to peace by refusing to accept the crumbs from so-called “negotiations”.
Anti-Israeli sentiments and, I would argue, some anti-semitism, are functions of what the Zionist state is doing in and to Palestine. The Israelis have been successfully creating “facts” on the ground, while pretending to be working for peace. “Facts” such as creating and consolidating more settlements, while pretending to be giving them up; constructing a Great Wall of China to pilfer land in the name of “security”; war criminal Sharon leaving the Likud party to form a “more moderate” party – and on and on and on.
I have written before that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israeli rhetoric was just par for the course in Middle Eastern politics. I was mistaken. He is clearly anti-semitic. His holocaust-denying antics – coming so soon after his calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map” – are indeed frightening. Such a man should not be allowed to come anywhere near a nuclear button.
But that is no reason for Israel to launch a “pre-emptive” strike, with Uncle Sam’s support, on Iran early in the New Year. There are other ways to remove him, just as there were other ways to remove Saddam Hussein without the slaughter of over 100,000 innocent Iraqis. Iran is years away from developing nuclear weapons capability. And their current president would have long gone before the Islamic state’s nuclear ambition comes to fruition.
The daily atrocities which Israel commits against the Palestinians fuel, more than any ravings by Islamic leadership, the growth of anti-Israel and anti-semitic sentiments. Any attempt by Israel to launch a military strike on Iran can only exacerbate this. The leadership in these countries may only be articulating in a very extreme form what their people must feel inside as they are confronted with images of children being shot at, their homes bulldozed and their land being stolen from under their feet in broad daylight.
Tel Aviv should know that their hardline, anti-Palestine policies are fuelling resentment against it worldwide. It is not farfetched to imagine that this is not an altogether unintended consequence. The more the Jewish people are made to feel beleaguered and hated, the more they will give Sharon and whoever carte blanche to “protect the homeland”.
UN: Zionism is racism
For a people who know what suffering means, Jews should know what it is like to be treated the way they are treating the Palestinians, denying them their human rights. And the cries of racism and anti-semitism can sometimes be exaggerated. Consider the hullabaloo after Ken Livingstone likened a hostile reporter to a concentration camp guard. The London mayor may or may not have known the ethnicity of the reporter. In one episode of my favourite comedy show, Seinfeld, the owner of a local soup takeaway is dubbed “soup nazi”. Jerry Seinfeld is, by the way, Jewish. In a previous incarnation I have been called a slave driver by someone who happened to be white. Livingstone could lose his job if the action brought against him succeeds. I suppose that should teach people like us to become Sharon cheerleaders.
Holocaust-denying must be deeply hurtful. But, seriously speaking, we all know that the holocaust cannot be denied. It is a well-documented fact – an objective, historical fact, empirically-verifiable. It can survive the ignorant, racist claptrap of the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads and David Irvings of this world. For years now some revisionist white writers have been claiming that Europeans did not enslave Africans, that it was the blacks who sold off their own people at knocked-down prices. Yeah, right! If that were so, then it could equally be argued that Native Americans self-exterminated through inter-tribal warfare.
Israel itself has not been immune to all this name-calling its supporters have become so deft at. Zionism – the ideology that advocates the creation of a Jewish homeland on land God supposedly gave to the children of Israel – may or may not have been racist at its inception, but it has certainly proved to be so in practice. That is why in 1975 the UN, that well-known hive of extreme racist activism, passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. It was only revoked in 1991 after relentless US pressure and peace-process-window-dressing by the Israeli leadership.
What is to be done?
So what is to be done? It is quite simple, really. The Jewish people themselves – both in Israel and the diaspora – and their friends and supporters, must apply concerted pressure on Sharon & co to desist from this most egregious procrastination and implement the two-state solution forthwith. The powerful Jewish lobby in the US should be recruited in this noble adventure by Jewish progressives. The great land grab that is being perpetrated by Sharon – the greatest since America was wrested from the Indians – must be stopped and reversed. With a just solution to the Palestinian Question, much of the animosity many feel towards Israel will subside. This is not to say that Israeli state terrorism against Palestinians justifies anti-semitism.
Anti-semitism itself is not some “higher” form of racism, top of the categorical food chain, qualitatively different to racism against Africans, Arabs, Asians, Australian Aborigines. It will persist in some form, just like the others, for decades to come. But it should not be deployed as justification for oppression. The Palestinian had no hand in the oppression of the Jew by the European through the ages, so why must he be made to bear the brunt of that great historic wrong?
Although this may sound callous, it is not aimed to be: Thankfully, Yassir Arafat, that monumental obstacle to peace (copyright, Sharon) has permanently vacated the political scene. Israel has lost its all-purpose alibi for not talking peace, for not reaching a just settlement with Palestine. All that jazz about “peace with security” is nowt but militaristic charlatanry masquerading as seasoned political judgement; a smokescreen in aid of the land grab.
It is axiomatic that a just settlement will, at a stroke, void any reasons Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other pro-Palestinian group may have for attacking Israel. This could only mean the beginning of the end of active hostilities.
A just resolution of the Israel-Palestine issue presupposes the active involvement of Jewish people in the media – and this involvement should be on the side of what is right and just. They should stand up and be counted, just as whites did in the case of apartheid. I recently read a piece about anti-semitism. It was a good piece, the only problem being that there was no word against Israeli policies in Palestine. My contention here is that every article written, especially think pieces should spare at least a sentence to explain that a just settlement is required for peace. Only by such reporting can official Israeli propaganda be countered, and more people won over to the task that needs to be performed.
I have in this essay attempted a “ruthless criticism” of the Jewish-Palestinian issue. Not criticism for its own sake, but for the purpose of arriving at provisional conclusions. I may or may have not succeeded. I have tried. As one Jewish philosopher and man of letters – a Mr Marx – wrote: “The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be.”