THE VIEW: MARCH 2013

Last month, editor-in-chief Pat Lancaster wrote about the need to address the Palestinian question from an international perspective. Valued contributor to The Middle East magazine, Pamela Ann Smith, took exception to some of the editor’s comments, as she explains below:

Dear Pat,

A year ago, you and I sat in the Old City of Jerusalem, just inside the Damascus Gate, drinking an orange juice and sharing our outrage at the way in which the Israeli guards at the checkpoints, and some of the Haredi settlers -who seemed to be everywhere – treated the local Palestinian traders and residents, and some of the western tourists (many of who were there to follow the Stations of the Cross in the run-up to Easter), as well. I hope that explains your “over-the-top” Comment in the February issue of TME.

Alas, your words, however understandable given that experience, do not justify your analysis, which is why I feel compelled to write to you, both for the sake of the magazine and, more importantly, for the cause of peace with justice in Palestine. References and analogies to “Israeli efforts to annihilate the Palestinians,” and to “Nazi Germany” are not only wrong and counter-productive, but do the cause of ending the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem a massive disservice.

For starters, we need not just the “international community,”- by which is commonly meant the governments of countries like the US, the EU, Russia, the UN Security Council, etc. – who, as you rightly point out, have failed – for many, many years, to put an end to the occupation and to support human rights for all Palestinians – but also the people in both Israel and in the Palestinian Territories, who support the goals of civil society. I am of the view that international, popular, support for Palestinian rights is growing exponentially, thanks in large part to the Internet and the work of many committed activists, from Australia to Europe, Japan and Malaysia to the US and Canada, as well as, most importantly, in Israel itself.

Joint Palestinian-Israeli-Jewish initiatives, like Friends of the Earth, Women in Black, Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim’s East-West Divan Orchestra, and individual activists and committed professionals like Jeff Halper, Gershon Baskin, Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Philip Weiss and the thousands of Israelis who decided to give their votes in January’s elections to Palestinians, as well as those who stand on the protest lines in Sheikh Jarrah or Bil’in – not to mention Guy Davidi’s Oscar-nominated documentary, 5 Broken Cameras (with Emad Burnat) and Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan’s Route 181, are testimonies to how much we Palestinian sympathisers are gaining ground internationally – and to how powerful like-minded collaboration across the ‘Green Line,’ can be, however ineffective it has been, so far, in changing circumstances for Palestinians themselves. So, too, is the work of courageous Israeli academics like Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe.

We must not despair, or fall into the use of cheap rhetoric or facile comment, and we must make sure that we, too, are not guilty of anything that our foes can rightly label as “anti-Semitism,” even if our opposition all too often forgets that Palestinians, too, are “Semites” and subject to “anti-Semitism,” in some of its worst forms.

The increasing prospect of a “one-state” solution, based on “one man (and woman), one vote” for all in what was Mandate Palestine makes it all the more imperative that we seek out allies across borders, and in the Jewish diaspora, who, like us, are committed to fairness, a secular democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

The same goes for many Americans, who, like it or not, were delighted when Barack Obama was re-elected, and who struggled to support him, despite their misgivings about his failures in his first term (both domesti- cally and in his foreign policies), often in the midst of severe deprivations, and fears for the future, themselves. While the media may have fallen for the “glitzy” images of the Inauguration Ball, “light years” away from the “suffering… in the West Bank and Gaza”, let us not forget that many of the Americans who voted for him did so because of the oppression that they, too, have suffered at the hands of the ‘Tea Party’ and the vast majority in Congress who have put the interests of Netanyahu’s Israel ahead of those who, like Obama himself, feel that the Israeli government, all too often, has been its own worst enemy.

It seems increasingly apparent that Netanyahu’s intransigence has made problems far worse for Israel’s American supporters and for their fund-raisers. Many ‘ordinary’ Americans now feel that the billions of their taxpayer dollars that go to financing projects like the ‘Iron Dome’ and a strong, secure Israeli military, could be put to better use building schools, hospitals, roads and bridges, as well as affordable homes and medical care, at home. Not so unlike, as it happens, the many Israelis who feel that their government could be spending less on expanding settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – and/or in preparations for a possible attack on Iran, than in providing the Israeli public with the financial underpinnings that, they, too, need ‘at home,’ i.e. in their own families, households and communities. Such, it is argued, would do much more to promote a secure, prosperous and united, Israel, than bellicose postering abroad.

In brief, there is much to fight for, and many more allies than we might think, provided that all of us who support justice for the Palestinians make sure that we measure our words properly and that we are fair. In other words, that we keep foremost, in both our minds and actions, the universal cause of human rights and justice for all.

Pamela Ann Smith

London Feb 2013

Below is the Editor’s original letter from february 2013. Please let us know your views. info@themiddleeastmagazine.com

The not unexpected results of the Israeli election ensure only more of the same for Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. In the unlikely event that anyone was hoping for a change of direction in Tel Aviv, they can now put their minds at rest, and rule it out.

Embarking on his second term of office, the US President Barack Obama, chose three senior figures – John Kerry for the State Department, John Brennan for the CIA and Chuck Hagel for the Defense Department – who, according to the Washington Times. “range from clueless to hostile about Israel.” The President’s actions seem to have given rise to optimism in some quarters that his selection indicates a measure of hope for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

Read the Washington paper’s descriptions again – the President has recruited officials ranging from ‘clueless’ to ‘hostile’ on Israel. If there is anything that indicates hope for the Palestinians in that, I’m sorry, but I fail to see it myself.

True, those who purport to speak for the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are not doing a whole lot to help themselves with their constant carping and squabbling. Who needs ‘divide and rule’ from Tel Aviv when you have the home grown recipe so close at hand?

For close to 40 years, since we began publishing, The Middle East magazine – along with so many others – has championed the cause of the Palestinians. Yet still the struggle, with all its concomitant woes, continues. Infact, some might argue with justification that, despite the decades of goodwill, the oppression is more sophisticated and effective now than at any point in history.

Why anyone was waiting for the results of the Israeli election – or the US election come to that – for the definitive answer is beyond me. The problem of Israeli efforts to annihilate the Palestinians is an international issue of far too great importance to be left to just one nation of people – or another – to decide.

Like Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa, both of which – it should be remembered – had their supporters back in the day, the Palestinian problem can only be solved by united international determination and decisive action. And that time for that action is now, not next month, next year or in the wake of one more glitzy election a million light years from the suffering, checkpoints, high security walls and fences of the West Bank and Gaza.

Pat Lancaster, Editor

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