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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Palestine’ Category

Hope, and How Not to Visit Palestine

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My visit to Nablus coincided with the first Palestinian Human Rights Film Festival at an-Najah University. Even better than the films shown were the panel discussions afterwards, on issues such as refugees, resistance and women’s rights. The first film I saw was “To Shoot an Elephant” (watch it here), a brutal, highly-recommended documentary shot by International Solidarity Movement activists who happened to be in Gaza as the 2008/09 massacre unfolded. After the screening the audience communicated with director Alberto Arce via a video link-up to Spain. (Alberto is permanently banned from entry into Israeli-controlled territory.)

Alberto said this: “It is not my job to tell the Palestinians what to do. It’s my job to support the Palestinians and to witness what’s happening to them. The Palestinians have suffered so much from the actions of foreigners, and foreigners have no right to impose their beliefs on Palestinians.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 7, 2010 at 4:35 pm

The Martyrdom of Shaden al-Saleh

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

This video concerns Israel’s 2002 murder of a Palestinian teacher,cultural activist and neighbourhood organiser, Shaden al-Saleh. Shaden was the mother of Saed Abu Hijleh, who witnessed the murder and gives his own account here. Saed teaches political geography at Nablus’s an-Najah University, writes poetry, blogs, organises, and provides me with wonderful food and information, for which I’m very grateful. He’s a well-educated member of the Nablus middle classes. He’s also been shot in the belly and in the shoulder and has been imprisoned five times. But his suffering is not unusual. Everybody in Nablus has a story to tell. I’ve just returned from the prison, and over the next couple of weeks I aim to convey a few of the stories I heard. An example of Saed’s English-language poetry is over the fold.
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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 6, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Palestine Reading – FiveBooks Interview

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Five Books asks writers, academics and othersuch to list recommended books on a given topic. The Five Books Israel-Palestine week features interviews with interesting figures like Steve Walt. And me. Here’s a video interview of me making several of my favourite points:

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July 29, 2010 at 1:00 am

David Hirst Interviewed

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My interview with David Hirst, author of Beware of Small States, reviewed here, was done on behalf of the indispensable Electronic Intifada.

Veteran Middle East correspondent David Hirst, author of the seminal work on the Palestinian plight The Gun and the Olive Branch, has a new release: Beware of Small States, an equally important book on Lebanon’s complex tragedy. The Electronic Intifada contributor Robin Yassin-Kassab interviewed Hirst on his work and views.

Robin Yassin-Kassab: You did your national service in Cyprus and Egypt just before the 1956 Suez War. What effect did your first experience of the Middle East have on you? Why did you end up spending your life in the Middle East, particularly in its more violent corners? Have kidnappings and bannings discouraged you?

David Hirst: Yes, I was one of the last generation of British 18-year-olds obliged to do two years of military service. Politically speaking, it had virtually no effect on me; I was an immature youth from a thoroughly apolitical middle class background, and knew next to nothing about international affairs, and hardly knew, for example, the difference between Arabs and Israelis. But — unusually for a mere private soldier — I sought and secured permission to use a fortnight’s leave to travel round Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. I enjoyed the experience. After three years at Oxford, I could not think of a career to embark on. Remembering the American University of Beirut, I wrote and asked them if there were any kind of introductory course about the Middle East that I could follow there. There was. With a vague idea of staying there for a couple of years or so, I found myself drifting into journalism, and, taking to it, I ended up staying fifty.

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July 15, 2010 at 4:01 pm

In the Face of Overwhelming Odds

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art by Ghassan Kanafani

This is in large part an amalgam of other pieces I’ve written on the topic. Like almost all of my stuff, it’s at PULSE, and will be crossposted at the indispensable Mondoweiss.

In his contribution to the debate on the rights and wrongs of violent resistance to oppression, David Bromwich tells us that non-violent action is supposed to be “visible and exemplary.” In the case of Palestine, this chimes with the dominant Western narrative that the Palestinians would have achieved liberation long ago if only they had avoided mindless acts of terrorism. Much of the mainstream media goes a step further to suggest that the Palestinians are hindered by their culture and religion – which are inherently violent, hysterical and anti-Semitic – from winning their rights. If only they would grow up a little. If only they’d set a good example.

Leading liberal clown Bono has also asked where the Palestinian Gandhis are. The problem here, though, is not the absence of Gandhis but their lack of visibility – the visibility which Bromwich says is so important. For the first two decades after the original ethnic cleansing of 1947 and 48, almost all Palestinian resistance was non-violent. From 1967 until 1987 Palestinians resisted by organising tax strikes, peaceful demonstrations, petitions, sit-down protests on confiscated lands and in houses condemned to demolition. The First Intifada was almost entirely non-violent on the Palestinian side; the new tactic of throwing stones at tanks (which some liberals consider violent) was almost entirely symbolic. In every case, the Palestinians were met with fanatical violence. Midnight arrest, beatings, and torture were the lot of most. Many were shot. Nobel Peace Laureate Yitzhak Rabin ordered occupation troops to break the bones of the boys with stones. And despite all this sacrifice, Israeli Jews were not moved to recognise the injustice of occupation and dispossession, at least not enough to end it.

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June 15, 2010 at 9:15 pm

British Writers in Support of Palestine

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I’m proud to be a signatory to this letter published in shortened form in the Independent on Sunday.

by Naji al-Ali

June 4th 2010

Dear Editor

The murder of humanitarian aid workers aboard the Mavi Marmara in international waters is the latest tragic example of Israel’s relentless attacks on human rights. But while violently preventing the free passage of medical, building and school supplies to Gaza, Israel continues to pride itself as a highly cultured, highly educated state. In solidarity with Palestinian civil society and its call for a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, we the undersigned therefore appeal to British writers and scholars to boycott all literary, cultural and academic visits to Israel that are sponsored by the Israeli government, including those organised by Israeli cultural foundations and universities. (This boycott does not include courageous independent Israeli organisations who openly oppose the occupation.) We also ask that writers, poets and British funding bodies actively support Palestinian literary events, such as the Palestinian Literary Festival and the Palestinian Writing Workshop.

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June 11, 2010 at 10:35 am

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When Did Resistance Become a Dirty Word?

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Any Resistance There? by Ali Farzat

What the Western political class and its media demand of the Arabs and Muslims is acceptance of the unacceptable status quo in Israel-Palestine. To resist the status quo is to be troublesome, destabilising and irrationally violent. Resistance arises from the inadequacies of a culture and religion given to antisemitism and hysteria. In order to develop, these backward folk must give resistance up.

For the Lebanese, this means that they must forget the brutal 22-year occupation of their country and the 1982 siege of Beirut as well as the 2006 assault on the country’s civilian infrastructure. They must forget the endless chain of massacres perpetrated by Zionists and their allies on Lebanese territory. They must smile when Israel violates their air space on a daily basis and threatens to send them “back to the stone age” on a weekly basis. They must disarm and label as terrorist Hizbullah, the principled defender of their country.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 6, 2010 at 3:03 pm

The Earth Shifts

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Following the Israeli act of terrorism in the Mediterranean, calls for the siege of Gaza to be lifted have come from some unlikely quarters, including the British prime minister. A nervous Husni Mubarak has temporarily opened Egypt’s border with Gaza. More ships are being prepared to break the siege, including one organised by European Jewish groups. Norway has cancelled a military seminar because an Israeli officer was part of the programme. Swedish dock workers will block Israeli ships and goods for a week. The British trades union UNITE has voted to boycott Israeli companies. A French cinema chain has pulled an Israeli film and will instead show a film about Rachel Corrie (murdered by Zionism while protecting a Palestinian home from demolition). Nicaragua has suspended ties with Israel. The rock groups Gorillaz, the Pixies and the Klaxons have added their names to the growing list of musicians (Santana, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron..) who refuse to perform in the apartheid state. But the big story, the earthshaking story, is Turkey. Idrees has already posted the video below at PULSE, but I must repost it here. It shows the expanding demonstrations in Turkey, with Turks waving Palestinian, Hamas and Hizbullah flags, and even pictures of Imad Mughniyeh. It can’t be stressed enough how important this is. After a century of bitter estrangement, Turks and Arabs are coming together. This is a game changer.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 6, 2010 at 12:16 am

Posted in Palestine, Turkey, Zionism

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The Freedom Flotilla and Guardian Propaganda

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by Steve Bell

Dear Sir/ Madam
 
I appreciate the Guardian allowing a range of voices to be heard on the issue of Israel-Palestine, but I find straightforward propaganda in the news (as opposed to opinion) pages very worrying indeed. I refer to the ‘story’ by Harriet Sherwood – “Flotilla raid: Turkish jihadis bent on violence attacked troops, Israel claims”.
 
In Muslim cultures, it is common to refer to those who have died for a cause or who have been killed by state terrorism as ‘martyrs’. In the hospitals of Palestine, one might hear people crying – “My baby has been martyred! They’ve martyred my mother! My grandfather was prepared for martyrdom, and now it’s happened!” This does not mean that the baby, mother or grandfather in question were trained-up, armed Wahhabi-nihilists.
 
Sherwood’s ‘story’, which the Guardian positioned so prominently, is based on the assumption that when grieving Turks use the word ‘martyr’ they mean ‘Islamist suicide bomber’, that they mean what we decide they mean. This is not journalism but propaganda. Its purpose is not to inform readers concerning facts or to give more background on Turkish culture and Turkish responses to the attack on their ships, but to whitewash the piracy and murder committed by Israel in international waters. Sherwood’s sources are “the Israeli government” and Colonel Richard Kemp, who Sherwood doesn’t tell us is a well-known pro-Israel propagandist.
 
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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Myth and Memoricide: Shlomo Sand’s “Invention of the Jewish People”

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Denise Buonanno's Le Juif Errant

This review essay was published at The Drouth.

A nation is “a group of persons united by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbours.” Karl Deutsch.

“I don’t think books can change the world, but when the world begins to change, it searches for different books.” Shlomo Sand.

Our Assumptions About Israel

Here is what we in the West, to a varying extent, whether we are religious or not, assume about the Jews and Israel:

The Jews of the world, white, black and brown, are the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses, after leading the Jews out of Egyptian enslavement, gave them laws. Emerging from the desert, the Jews conquered the promised land of Canaan, which became Judea and Israel, later the mighty kingdom of David and Solomon. In 70CE the Romans destroyed the temple at Jerusalem and drove the Jews from their land. A surviving Jewish remnant was expelled when Muslim-Arab conquerors colonised the country in the 7th Century. And so the Jews wandered the earth, the very embodiment of homelessness. But throughout their long exile, against all odds, the Jews kept themselves a pure, unmixed race. Finally they returned, after the Holocaust, to Palestine, “a land without a people for a people without a land.”

This story has been told again and again in our culture. Today we find bits of it in Mark Twain and Leon Uris, in Hollywood’s output and in church pulpits, and of course in the mainstream news media. American Christian Zionists – devotees of the Scofield Bible – swear by it, and swear to support Israel with all the power of their voting block until the Risen Christ declares the apocalypse.

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May 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Ghoshwood’s Mendacity

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"Keeping Doors Open" - photo by Jon Elmer

by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Claire Chambers.

Novelists Amitav Ghosh and Margaret Atwood have accepted the Dan David prize at Tel Aviv University, an institution at the heart of Israel’s military-industrial complex. By doing so they have spurned Palestinian civil society’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on the Zionist state. Atwood has specifically ignored this wonderful open letter from the students of Gaza. The shared prize money amounts to a million dollars, of which 10 percent will be handed back to support Tel Aviv’s graduate students.

Of course it would be a mistake to expect writers to attain to higher moral standards or to to display more political intelligence than anyone else. Two things stick in the craw in this case, however. The first is that both Ghosh and Atwood have made names as ‘progressive’ and ‘postcolonial’ writers. We aren’t surprised when an openly-declared Zionist like Martin Amis visits Israel, but when writers who sell books on the basis of their opposition to oppression visit, the resultant hypocrisy is quite nauseating.

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May 11, 2010 at 5:48 pm

The Pen and the Sword

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This review was originally published in the indispensable Electronic Intifada.

Edward Said was one of the great public intellectuals of the twentieth century – prolific, polymathic, principled, and always concerned to link theory to practice. Perhaps by virtue of his Palestinian identity, he was never an ivory tower intellectual. He never feared dirtying his hands in the messy, unwritten history of the present moment. Neither was he ever a committed member of a particular camp. Rather he offered a discomfiting, provocative, constantly critical voice. And against the postmodern grain of contemporary academia, his perspective was consistently moral, consistently worried about justice.

Said was primarily a historian of ideas. More precisely, he was interested in ‘discourse’, the stories a society tells itself and by which it (mis)understands itself and others. His landmark book “Orientalism” examined the Western narrative of empire in the Islamic Middle East, as constructed by Flaubert and Renan, Bernard Lewis and CNN. Said’s multi-disciplinary approach, his treatment of poetry, news coverage and colonial administration documents as aspects of one cultural continuum, was hugely influential in academia, helping to spawn a host of ‘postcolonial’ studies. Said’s “Culture and Imperialism” expanded the focus to include Western depictions of India, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and the literary and political ‘replies’ of the colonised.

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April 26, 2010 at 4:18 pm

A Process of Change – Nasrallah to Petraeus

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It’s important to remember that Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches consist of more than mere rhetoric. One of the reasons for Nasrallah’s enormous popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds is that, unlike other Arab leaders, he says what he means and means what he says. Hizbullah is the only force to have defeated Israel – once in 2000, when the brutal occupation of south Lebanon was brought to an end, and once in 2006, when Israeli troops attempted to reinvade in order to dismantle the resistance, but bled on the border for five weeks instead. During the 2006 war Israel bombed every TV mast it could find, but failed to put Hizbullah’s al-Manar off the air. Nasrallah spoke on al-Manar of “the Israeli warship that attacked our infrastructure, people’s homes and civilians. Look at it burn!” As Nasrallah uttered these words, a Hizbullah missile did indeed disable an Israeli warship, forcing Israel to move its fleet away from the Lebanese coast.

In mid-February 2010, Shaikh Nasrallah made a speech which may well mark a fundamental change in the Middle Eastern balance of power. The speech, quoted below, should not be read as a string of empty threats, but a signal of new weaponry and fighting capabilities.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 23, 2010 at 7:16 pm

A Struggler in Context

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An edited version of this review appeared at the Electronic Intifada.

“From afar,” writes Ramzy Baroud (founder of the indispensable Palestine Chronicle), “Gaza’s reality, like that of all of Palestine, is often presented without cohesion, without proper context; accounts of real life in Gaza are marred with tired assumptions and misrepresentations that deprive the depicted humans of their names, identities and very dignity.”

Baroud’s “My Father was a Freedom Fighter” is an antidote to the media’s decontextualisation and dehumanisation of Palestinians. It’s also an instant classic, one of the very best books to have examined the Palestinian tragedy.

As the title suggests, Baroud relates the life of his father, Mohammed Baroud. Each step in the story is located in a larger familial, social, economic and political context, one distinguished by eyewitness accounts and made concrete by an almost encyclopedic wealth of detail. But neither the book’s detail nor its deep reflection conflict with its compulsive readability. It’s quite an achievement.

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March 3, 2010 at 11:34 pm

The Spinning Wheel

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This review was written for the Palestine Chronicle.

This is not what you expect: an accomplished and self-reflective work of history enclosed within a layer of war reportage – in comic book form. But Joe Sacco’s “Footnotes in Gaza” is just that, an unusually effective treatment of Palestinian history which may appeal to people who would never read a ‘normal book’ on the subject. The writing, however, is at least as good as you’d expect from a high quality prose work. Here, for instance, is page nine: “History can do without its footnotes. Footnotes are inessential at best; at worst they trip up the greater narrative. From time to time, as bolder, more streamlined editions appear, history shakes off some footnotes altogether. And you can see why… History has its hands full. It can’t help producing pages by the hour, by the minute. History chokes on fresh episodes and swallows whatever old ones it can.”

The pictures – aerial shots, action shots, urban still lifes, crafted but realist character studies – work as hard as the words. Sacco depicts fear, humiliation and anger very well indeed, and often achieves far more with one picture than he could in an entire newspaper column. The cranes at work on a Jerusalem skyline are worth a paragraph or two of background. So is the fact that almost every Palestinian male has a cigarette in his mouth. And when dealing with historical process – the changing shape of the camps, for example – the pictures are more than useful.

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February 24, 2010 at 3:06 pm