Hands off our movements!

Free Palestine badgeThis is a side issue to the much-needed 999 Call for the NHS march and rally yesterday  (about which more shortly) but when Andy Slaughter casually inserted a reference to Palestine solidarity into his speech about how Imperial NHS Trust are closing services in Hammersmith, I flinched.

My impression is that it’s rarely OK for single issue campaigns to insert themselves into other totally unrelated single issue campaigns. Certainly, Palestine had not been ushered into the NHS demo by the organisers, nor could Palestine activism be said to characterise the rally. But I could sense it hovering nearby, and I want to confront it before moving onto other things.

Left Unity logoFirst of all, the Palestinian flag is red, white, green and black. So is the People’s Assembly logo – and Left Unity is even more overt.

Coincidence?

Perhaps so. Most flags in the Arab world have red, white, green and black. And on the left it’s green for environmentalism, red for socialism, black for anarchism, on a white background. If the similarity is incidental, then I wouldn’t want to make too much of it. That said, there’s a certain pointy-ness to the left logos which is reminiscent. And the timbre of the colours. Which is why – and any marketer would understand this – I find it the resemblance unconsciously and now consciously off-putting. Even as somebody who is pro-Palestinian and generally anti-nationalist (or weakly civic nationalist).

people's assemblyBecause the left has tried to make Israel central. This is in no way far fetched. Both Islamists and pan-Arabists have done the same. Israel is a useful diversion from what is actually wrong with an economy / society / body politic. There’s a name for constructing something else, something other, as the culprit. I hoped we’d seen the back of it with the Arab Spring. But then authoritarianism mostly beat pluralism and with it democracy. Really, I can’t stand scapegoating.

For these reasons I wasn’t surprised that the first #march4nhs tweets I saw on the day were from a few accounts with Palestine flags or Palestine-related names. They were very quick out of the blocks before the thing started in earnest. I remembered how much bigger last month’s anti-Israel rally had been than yesterday’s broad and inclusive NHS rally, which has done far more to promote and unify. For example I have never seen such a diversity of age, sex, religion, ethnicity, political leaning, and background on a single platform as I did at the NHS rally. So the fact that so many more turned out the anti-Israel demo, I take to be reflection of priorities on the left. Weggis66 thinks that since people turned up all the way along, this would have led to lower numbers on the day, but I’m not convinced. I don’t think that privatised services is as thrilling as Israelis doing what other countries routinely do – try to destroy their enemies and hurt a lot of people in the process. Remember the LTTE? No, probably not – there was very little fuss from the quarters that evince such horror when Gaza is beaten up.

I’m fully aware that sections of the left, noticing that the issue of Palestine can unify usually-disparate groups in society, have long tried hard to attach it to other left wing causes. For example, I travelled overnight in a coach to the G8 summit in Edinburgh (a decade ago?) to discover that the War On Want debt cancellation demo whose ranks I was swelling often resembled an anti-Israel demo. I remember various trade unions made it a core issue to exclude Israelis and only Israelis, how Avaaz, which never sends out opinion pieces, sent one from Tutu urging a boycott of Israel, how the Israel is the only country, really, targeted for exclusion from our high streets, and how anti-Israel sentiment always hurts Jews (and the activists so often miss – remember the paediatricians?). The list goes on. God, if only the world’s conflicts had as dedicated, concerned, activism. Only, hang on – it isn’t working. It’s wide of the mark.

I still think the loudest Palestine solidarity activism in this country is antisemitic. Perhaps stop reading here, because I’m about to resurrect an old theme.

Typically, pro-Palestine campaigning proposes double standards against Israel. It seeks a single state for a region hostile to Jews (incidentally often voting Yes for Scottish separatism). It usually fronts the Socialist Worker Party with its antisemitic proclivities. It annoints Hamas (will not recognise Israel, very authoritarian) and condemns democratic, progressive, secular Israelis who are, despite the catastrophising, numerous, and who need and deserve the support of the British left. Its identity politics spits ‘Zionist’ as a cuss word (again, while many of the same people coo over Scottish nationalism) when it has always been a simple Jewish liberation / defence movement supported by almost all Jews. It seeks to position the only Jewish state at the centre of the world’s problems the way antisemites held Jews culpable throughout history. It usually scoffs or bristles – or, chillingly, glows with pride – when anybody raises the possibility that it might be antisemitic.

Better Palestine activism would support Palestinian state-building and political transformation. I don’t know where to find Palestinian grassroots civil society organisations to work with (Palestine is not at the centre of my world) but a genuinely dedicated pro-Palestine activist (rather than a centrally anti-Israel one) would be motivated to. I know they exist, and that their government does not grasp that they should be autonomous, that they are destabilised by the conflict and the occupation, and that they have a role in policy i.e. beyond service. I know they get a hell of a lot of aid which is inefficiently spent, and that they risk losing their constituencies. On the joint Israeli and Palestinian side, there is Friends of the Earth Middle East, Children of Peace, OneVoice, and on the Israeli side, BTselem, GishaThe New Israel Fund, these others, and not to mention the small, beset organised political left who, with international networks of concerned supporters, are trying to keep alive the two state prospect because – surely it’s obvious – the respective societies are so split that right now the only alternative to two states is destructive violence, a zero-sum game to the bitter end, after which segregation, ethnic cleansing, possibly genocide. And that part of the world is crazy enough at the moment, thanks.On the Palestinian side, if Palestinian trade unions call for a boycott of stuff produced in the occupied territories, then we can boycott it in good conscience, I’d say. With due care.

There’s plenty more. I have other things to do – neither Israelis nor Palestinians are at the centre of my world. But you can recognise campaigners who are using pro-Palestinian as a mask for anti-Israel because they do not care to investigate.

And meanwhile Palestine solidarity has virtually nothing – nothing – to do with our well-being in the UK. If Palestine solidarity activism unifies an eddying left, that means the left is disorientated and parts of it are rotten. Put Palestine solidarity activism in its place.

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Is it pro-Palestinian?

Not in my name

For example Laurie Penny says that although Jews aren’t responsible for Palestinian deaths, their opinions carry extra weight and could “make a difference” when raised in opposition to Israel. “It is not anti-Semitic to say “not in my name””.

Picking through that, she’s obviously not expecting to make a difference with the Israeli government since they’re not even taking a steer from the US government at the moment. And she’s not addressing Palestinians (who may by now understand the limits of moral support – very nice thanks but here we still are, cooped up and dying). She’s definitely exhibiting her own political credentials, which matter only within her political bubble. And she may be hoping to inoculate herself against the now prevalent antisemitic view that all Jews should be assumed to support child-killing unless they say otherwise. Isn’t that a bit like urging Muslims to speak up against ISIS massacres? Don’t Jews held to political tests deserve solidarity?

Conclusion: self-centred cop-out.

Palestinian flags

For example, the “gesture of solidarity” from Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman is a stunt which exceeds his office and misuses a local government institution. How can a Palestinian flag have any impact as a symbol of peace when the Israeli flag is absent? It’s a partisan nationalistic symbol.

Conclusion: competitive, vicarious nationalism.

Writing a letter, as a Jew

Plenty of letters have been written by people and groups who wish to ostentatiously set themselves apart from the Jewish establishment.

I don’t get it. If you have a Jewish background but you’re not part of a Jewish communal organisation then you don’t get to send a representative to the Jewish Board of Deputies, the organisation which was formed to allow UK Jewry to make official, democratically negotiated representation to UK government, or its equivalent for your country. That’s understandable – so go and publish your own letter, as long as you don’t make out that your local group of elected Jewish representatives is invalid (I realise this needs more examples, but it’s late…). It probably has its tribulations and gets through them OK. Or if your Jewish communal organisation decides not to send a representative to the BOD but prefers to use the BOD as a counterfoil, then you’re in an anti-establishment clique which represents a cliquey, niche kind of Jewishness. But well done you for being so fresh and diverse. You’ll stand out really nicely against the silent, confused, hurting majority of Jews who feel unable to speak up for Gazans if it’s anti-Zionists and Jew-baiters trying to make them, and who understand enough to hate what Hamas stand for as much as they hate the sight of smashed up Palestinians.

Conclusion: loathsome identity politics from the dullest radicals.

Calling it a Holocaust

Telling Jews that they of all people should have learned from the Holocaust not to treat other people like the Nazis treated them is vindictively stupid. If I think of them as ignorant,  and beside themselves with grief, fear or rage, I can just about bring myself to explain Palestinian men drawing Hitler moustaches and swastikas on pictures Netanyahu and burning them, but when this is picked up by social media with such evident enthusiasm, Bob From Brockley explains the significance.

Conclusion: casual antisemitism of moralising simpletons influenced (maybe unwittingly) by Hamas &tc media strategists.

Fake pictures and other exaggerations

So many fake or misunderstood pictures and so much misinformation that people begin to doubt any of the reportage. On that, read this. Passing off artistic interpretations of a terrible situation as documentary evidence only sends the message that the truth isn’t actually very impressive and we can all relax.

Conclusion: lying and careless retweeting betrays any cause.

Boycotting Israel

The call is to boycott Israel in its entirety until it fulfills a list of requirements. The poorly hidden agenda is to wipe Israel off the map. “Colonization”? By whom? Nobody. “All Arab lands”? If they meant end the occupation they’d say it. “Dismantle the wall”? Not so fast – remember all those suicide bombers and all that Israeli civilian blood? “the right of Palestinian refugees to return”? That’s 12 or so million people who are designated refugees only because the countries where they live (many of whom made life unbearable for local Jews) refused to give them citizenship to keep up pressure on Israel. Imagine any politician even attempting to pull off that scale of immigration at home.

Conclusion: simple partisanship – Palestinian nationalism good, Israeli nationalism evil.

Blaming Israel for antisemitic attacks on Jews in the name of Palestinians

A seriously depressing and disturbing form of Palestine activism – particularly since so many on the Israeli left find it convenient to instrumentalise these attacks on Jews outside Israel as evidence that the Israeli strategy of confinement and bouts of force is failing.

I’m missing it out cos I’m going to bed.

Anything positive, whatsoever?

For those who are genuinely interested, plenty – but I can’t see any low hanging fruit. The easiest is reversing the empathy deficit – so hard to do in Israel or the occupied territories. Also easy, trying to understand, giving consideration to all sides from the religious Israeli settlers to the genocidal jihadis. Refusing to be in a bubble. Paying attention to honest reportage from brave journalists, and commentary from experts who are interested in peace rather than winning. Insisting that humans at risk of harm are at the centre of all conflict considerations. Insisting that every death is investigated, amplifying alternative plans for ending the conflict. Finding ways to drive a wedge between Israel and the expanding settlements, which might include selective boycott. Not leaving it to pro-Israel partisans to hold Hamas to account. Not leaving it to pro-Palestine partisans to hold Israel to account. Refusing to import the conflict. Rejecting zero-sum game politics. Pursuing a vision of peace which doesn’t involve punishing and demeaning one or other of the parties in the conflict. Being careful not to damage the credibility of Palestinian or Israeli politicians by folding them into your own agenda.

 

Brave, principled Scarlett Johansson and the boycott bullies

The bottom line is Sodastream is not profiting from the occupation and is not exploiting Palestinian workers. Workers in occupied Palestine do not support the boycott of Sodastream and until they call for and lead a boycott, and UK boycott campaigns in the name of solidarity should be scrutinised carefully. I doubt Scarlett Johansson needs this Sodastream deal. She’s probably taken it because her career success has freed her from having to curry favour. At any rate, she’s done something that perhaps only a few people will grasp, because hardly anybody stands up so directly and magnificently to the bullying tactics of boycott activists.

That’s it really. Read on, or not.

Nobody likes being pushed around. Certainly the Israeli occupation of the West Bank requires people with guns and state power saying where other people will or will not go, and when. The occupation pursues a building project which expropriates land to populate with anybody but Palestinians. Israeli society is hardening towards Palestinians and among Palestinians a militant, nationalistic Islam is growing. These feed each other and peace recedes. On other blogs I have argued that boycotting produce from the occupied West Bank may be the right thing to do, but it depends. More below.

There’s a solidarity movement of boycott activists with which I’m familiar. It takes a little while to grasp that in fact they aren’t for Palestinians but are using them as a pretext. Most boycott activists know and care little for Palestinians, to the extent that they give every impression of depending on Palestinian civil society to remain as weak, riven, corrupt and lacking in governance as it currently is. An astonishing number of them have something against Jews, to whom they attribute great power and malevolence. The anti-Jewish character unites a broad political spectrum in the boycott cause. Many boycotters are also extremely aggressive, attempting to push people around by banding together in intimidating campaigns of character assassination.

Scarlett Johansson was a target of one of these campaigns. She was an Oxfam ambassador who also took on a role as brand ambassador for the soft drinks company Sodastream. Sodastream has a factory in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in occupied Palestine, and so its vendors and faces have come under attack from boycotters.

One of the ways to tell that boycott activists aren’t interested in Palestinian emancipation is that they aren’t working with the Palestinian or Israeli labour movement. These local organisations, which should be leading any solidarity movement, are completely sidelined. This is ludicrous, given that trade unions are the parts of both societies who are furthest to the political left And more bizarre – several big UK trade unions actually formally boycott their Israeli counterparts and all but ignore Palestinian trade unions. The will to boycott Israel comes first – and if you don’t fall in with that, then you’d better be prepared to fight. Boycott activists are usually vicious.

With some brave exceptions from Kristin Davies, Editors, Jethro Tull and Madonna, targets of the boycott campaign capitulate. Perhaps they don’t have the knowledge to understand the principles at stake, or perhaps they don’t have the stomach to go against them. At any rate, they usually cancel on Israel and it’s hard not to. But instead of rolling over, Scarlett Johansson says,

“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”

and

“SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’aleh Adumim factory every working day.”

And Sodastream’s CEO says they wouldn’t mind moving out of the territories if anybody could demonstrate how it would help Palestinians. “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda”.

So, when is it right to boycott produce from the West Bank? I’d say it has to be instigated and led by the Palestinian labour movement – the trade unions. I want to look for precedents but I’ve run out of time.

I may buy a Sodastream out of gratitude and admiration for Johansson. This is very odd of me, but it’s strength of feeling talking here. As for Oxfam, I wonder if their board has been hijacked as Amnesty’s was. For now my direct debit to Oxfam stands but it’s not unconditional. I will investigate further remind them that there are other humanitarian charities, and try to monitor them.

People like Scarlett Johansson who don’t let themselves get pushed around get respect – even from their enemies.

Them and us

On the disgusting murder of most of the Fogel family in Itamar, Melchett Mike writes in the Jewish Chronicle:

“Call me a racist, but no sane Jew, or other human being, could even force himself to stab a baby – or any child for that matter (the expression “cold blood” is entirely superfluous in such circumstances) – to death (never mind while he or she was asleep) however much he believed in his cause. There is, however, a long history of Palestinian acts of premeditated – cf. collaterally-caused (the distinction, morally, is an extremely significant one) – infanticide (even in Itamar).”

and more on “the essential difference between us and them”. Yes, we should call what he writes racist. I think there is more back to front about Melchett Mike than his name – he’s got the wrong ‘them’ – the ‘them’ is the bunch of people who bomb, stone, and knife one another, and who would fight to the death to drive each other out, and who actively seek to escalate the hatred and violence.

The ‘us’ is the people who look past all provocations to keep up a vision of mutual accommodation between the conflicting parties. Not that the extended family of Udi, Ruth, Yoav, Elad, and Hadas should be required to forgive the murderers or those who condone them. It is not for us to demand this forgiveness. But I am bowled over by the spirit of Hussein Rawidi after his son was knifed to death in a racist attack by Israeli Jews (one of many such racist attacks, by other people who feel that there are irreconcilable differences between Jews and Arabs).

I’d say that exterminating Jewish babies and children, who are innocent of any cause for retribution, is a clear statement of intent to genocide. But this intent cannot be laid at the door of an entire people. To hand out sweets on the occasion of a child’s murder is an obscenity and should be noted as such, but it is not a general response, and in any case I think we should be careful about how we relate it to intent to murder.

So I would like to tell Melchett Mike to be very careful, more careful than he has been, not to drive in wedges, lest he bring about a self-fulfilling prophesy. He may have these dark thoughts, he should acknowledge them, and he should keep them to himself out of a sense of responsibility if not respect. Because the logic of his position, no matter how polite, is not so far removed from that of the murderers: segregation and war.

Meanwhile, throw your weight behind OneVoice, the antidote to identity politics.

HT Jess.

Update: while some Palestinians pass out sweets, many others denounce the murders, including Fatah’s military wing the Al Aqsa Martyrs.

Update 2: the consequences? Attacks like these always strengthen nationalism. “Reuven Rivlin, the Knesset speaker, said: “We will live, we will continue to build and to plant, we will continue to grip on to the land of Israel. More construction, more life, more hanging on to the land. This is our answer to the murderers.””

Update 3: that blog post shouldn’t be hosted at the JC, should it. Email editorial@jc.com with your respectful and carefully-explained request to remove it.

Update 4: The activist left must condemn the murder of the Itamar family. Without a doubt.

Planting a tree in Israel and Palestine

It’s my mum’s birthday, and I didn’t know what to get her. I was wandering around on the web without much luck, so I took a break and had a look at some of my favourite blogs. My mum spends most of her time worrying about Israel’s ongoing existence and Jews’ place in Britain. The things my parents have stopped doing and started doing over the past few years because of people who share the views of Levi in this anti-Zionist and post-Zionist discussion on one of Bob’s threads are quite profound, I think. Leaving political parties. Stopping buying newspapers. Starting to blog. Parting with cash.

The mixture of my mum and the discussion mentioned above brought on an idea – I’d have a tree planted for her in Israel. I chose the Jewish National Fund.

I bought, then I thought about it, then I read some of Shaul Ephraim Cohen’s 1993 work ‘The Politics of Planting’ and I realised that Israelis and Palestinians have long used trees, and the killing of each others’ trees, as weapons. Leaflets calling for intifada demanded that Arab citizens kill Israeli trees. When they did, Israelis responded by setting fire to trees close to the Green Line. The Arab Revolt burnt down an entire forest. Israel’s occupation stipulated that Palestinians couldn’t plant anything without permission.

The Jewish National Fund was set up in 1901 to buy land in perpetuity for Jews. Historical persecution and expulsion of Jews indicates this was a reasonable idea. The land is leased, and you don’t have to be Jewish to lease it. Israel’s Arab citizens have equal entitlement to land in their country, but in practice Israeli Land Law has institutionalised discrimination. Israel is currently juggling state land and JNF land, and has swapped land in the north for land in the Negev, populated by 180,000 Bedouin and 365,000 Jews. The JNF is now engaged in reservoir building and tree planting on a large scale. The Bedouin make claims to the land; the Israel Land Administration assert to the contrary with law in their favour. They work on Bedouin quality of life and incentives; ultimately there is coercion, and sometimes containment. Israel is acknowledging some of the towns, but it’s not clear why there is this scale of displacement, particularly during judicial processes (Bedouin mounting legal claims to the land). Most Bedouin’s homes are ‘unrecognised‘ because they have no permits – this population has experienced a stratospheric increase from 1948, and so they build, often without any infrastructure or services.

There is a Negev Coexistence Forum, but its site is down right now [update – here it is: DUKIUM] I don’t see co-existence work – I do see advocacy for Bedouin that is clearly needed – but where is the co-existence? My gold standard for co-existence is The Abraham Fund, an organisation I trust deeply, unlike any of the other sources I have mentioned so far (Shaul Ephraim Cohen excepted). They have not yet translated their manual on Arab Society in Israel for Israeli policy makers into English, so let’s look at the precis: Bedouin are the most deplorably impoverished group in Israel. Bustan, another organisation I trust, has more on poverty and pollution among these invisible citizens of the Negev.

“Israel’s policies toward the Bedouin have been based around demographic concerns and land usage policies. The state has consistently tried to increase Jewish settlement of the Negev at the expense of Bedouin people. For example, Israel continues to hold the provision of basic services such as water, sewage, and electricity, which are their rights as citizens, as a trade off for Bedouin giving up their land rights.”

So the JNF, like the ILA, have not been nearly sensitive enough to the position of the Bedouin – either completely ghosting them out or alternatively incentivising and menacing. It must be horrible – like the East End of London after the war ended, when the population was moved out to the suburbs and back into new high rises. Some found the move positive, others never overcame their sense of loss and dislocation. The point is that they were poor; they had no choice. The premises of the Bedouin displacement are not well spelt out (though I only read English).

Co-existence here is a matter of balancing an environmental need for a population, and respect for individuals and groups and the places where they live. The JNF have a big questionmark over them – but why doesn’t the Negev Coexistence Forum acknowledge the need for de-desertification and cultivation along with the real and pressing needs of the Bedouin? Is this negotiating a compromise, or is it just taking a position against the JNF and the state, whatever? And why is it that the idea of land ownership is so uncomplicated to the people opposing each other over it? Might the Bedouin somehow become involved with the de-desertification activity, bringing much-needed work, and an economy based on cultivation and state-of-the-art building and infrastructure for minimising ecological impact (not that people that poor have much ecological impact). Is that too much to hope for? This is where Bustan come in. Bustan are planting trees too.

But I was in no frame of mind to give any of this consideration, and this is the type of reaction that anti-Zionists bring out in many Jews: a protective urge towards a Jewish future there as well as elsewhere, sometimes expressed impulsively. I think anti-Zionists should be mindful of that, as should the said many Jews. If I could turn back time a bit, I’d have chosen an environmental tree planting programme – there doesn’t seem to be a huge choice, maybe this. Or maybe the JNF is as good as it gets. Is there a chance that the JNF could plant without this being at the expense of non-Jewish minorities, for the benefit of all? Surely there’s a way. The thing to do now is write and ask.

Trees keep soil in place and halt the advance of deserts. They are vital for life in that part of the world.

Then I though – right, I’ll also have a tree planted in the occupied Palestinian territories for my mum. Perhaps even two – an olive tree to replace one ripped out by settlers. And a tree which can just be a tree somewhere, something to stop desertification. So I searched.

I pounced on a result for the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature. But on their front page, after a reference to the “Zionist enemy”, is an article whose title refers tot he Holocaust. They have put the word in inverted commas. Turns out they are only interested in anti-Zionist tree-planting. I moved on.

Although I was prepared to go ahead, I tried to find an alternative to Zaytoun because they are participating in the total boycott of Israel (Zaytoun are run from London).

I eventually settled on Muslim Hands.

Update: a BBC Radio 4 Today Programme piece on tree warfare waged by Israeli settlers on nearby Palestinians, and Palestinians on settlers. The police (Israeli, part of Israel’s occupation) have a reputation for failing to arrest, charge and prosecute vandal settlers.

Pomegranates and Myrrh – the Palestinian struggle for a culture

The assault on Palestinian culture posed by the Israeli occupation is well-recognised, but it is not the only threat.

Najwa Najjar’s Pomegranates and Myrrh is a bitter-sweet Palestinian film, intriguingly described as a crowd-pleaser, a political, and a story of strong women. Something about Palestinians which hasn’t been mediated by Hamas supporters. The Sundance Film Festival synopsis:

“Dancer Kamar’s joyful wedding to Zaid is followed almost immediately by Zaid’s imprisonment in an Israeli jail for refusing to give up his land. Free-spirited Kamar wants to support her husband and be a dutiful wife but struggles with the idea of giving up dance and her own dreams. Matters are complicated when a new dance instructor, Kais, returns to the studio after many years in Lebanon and takes a special interest in Kamar. She struggles to deal with the weight of Kais’s attention, which brings to the surface her attempts to balance her own desires with her duties as the wife of a prisoner.Like the character of Kamar herself, Najwa Najjar’s filmmaking (in her debut feature) is matter-of-fact about Kamar’s situation. Instead of manufacturing melodrama, Najjar stays focused on her protagonist’s insistence on seeing her life, like anyone else’s, as an opportunity for joy. The constant interference of the external conflict—her husband’s arrest, the squatters on her land, and the soldiers filling the streets—is an unavoidable aspect of Kamar’s existence but one that she will not allow to deter her. Najjar’s intimate storytelling and Yasmine Al Massri’s sensitive portrayal of Kamar create a film that addresses honestly the way a woman might face the realities of life in modern-day Palestine while refusing to be defined by them.”

Najjar says:

“I didn’t want my film to be a violent film of the kind you see in cinemas,” explains Najwa Najjar. “Zaid and everything he went through was important for me. We have all seen violence before. And so have the viewers.”

“Take, for example, the scene showing the quiet determination of the settlers who strap machine guns to their bodies and set up tents on the family’s land, or the constant presence of Israeli soldiers, whether it be at checkpoints or in the streets of Ramallah. Anyone who has been in the occupied territories in recent years knows that this is an accurate representation of life there: the omnipresence of the occupying forces, the helplessness of the Palestinians, and their attempts not to spend their lives being full-time victims and not staring at the occupying forces like a frightened rabbit stares at a snake.

“We are not what you see on television,” explains Najjar. “There is a feeling of solidarity, of holding together, among many Palestinians. While there are political problems with Hamas and Fatah and the things that are happening in the country, these political disputes are the result of the fact that there is a lack of vision for the future. Among Palestinians themselves, however, there are not as many conflicts.”

The fact that Qamar does not want to stop dancing and insists on culture in her life while everything around her becomes politicised, is also an expression of the political disillusionment of the young film-maker.

“I think that culture is the soul, the heart-beat of a nation. It is what remains when politics fails. Politics is leading us nowhere. So at least leave us our culture. That, at least, is something we can pass on to future generations.”

The film looks quite steamy – the tempestuous women, the smouldering dance teacher. Hamas inmates of Israeli jails are campaigning to have it banned – this reminds me of working in HMP Bedford (where I was switchboard operator and made particular efforts to put wives through to husbands – although it wasn’t strictly permitted) and how being inside and imagining your other half with another man is terrible for morale. In the case of ideological hate-mongers, perhaps it’s better if morale is low. But then again perhaps it just makes them more hateful.

Daoud Kuttab in The Huffington Post:

“While many welcomed it, some felt that somehow Najjar treaded on forbidden territory when she took the audience inside the head of a liberal prisoner’s wife, and then showed her conflict about going back to dancing and even exchanging special looks with her trainer. Some seemed to think it lunacy, others treason.

A report highlighting the angry statement of a viewer appeared in the media and seems to have made its way inside the Israeli prisons where a campaign began by Hamas prisoners asking for the film to be banned because it negatively portrayed the prisoners’ wives.

The filmmaker’s protagonist couple are patriotic Palestinians from the nationalist liberal wing of Palestinian struggle today, yet this did not stop the campaign. Some see this campaign as a reflection of the overall Palestinian political and social divide. Counter-campaigns, one led by well-respected Palestinian novelist Lina Bader, have also been initiated.”

(Liana Badr?)

“One of the problems facing Palestinian creative talent and intellectuals is that they often give themselves the awesome difficulty of having to carry the entire Palestinian cause on their shoulders. Even paintings have to have the colours of the Palestinian flag, or some kind of embroidery, or cactus, or Handallah, or the map of Palestine in order to pass the test of patriotism. But artists are not obliged to do that.

A Palestinian fiction need not be the official narrative of all Palestinians, neither should any other work of art of culture have that requirement. By attempting to mass everything into every work, Palestinians fall into exactly the stereotypical trap that has been set up for them.”

The trailer:

Remembering the Holocaust

Last year I took Jews for granted in my Holocaust commemoration, which I feel sorry about.

Update – see Kellie’s link list for proper Holocaust commemoration – I think mine below would make any survivor nervous and sad.

This year, the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day is Stand Up To Hatred – of gay people, conservative Muslims, Jews, black people, disabled people, and other groups, no matter who is doing the hating. This is a great theme. HMD’s organiser Stephen Smith writes:

“If I have learned one thing on my journey into the causes and consequences of genocide, it is that genocide happens to specific groups, but has implications for us all. As Europeans we need to ground ourselves in the history of the Holocaust, and reflect on its implications. It is our problem after all. Then as human beings we need to apply the learning points to other genocides, and to the hatred that exists in our own communities. It is easy to look back. It is more difficult to look forward. It is even more difficult to look within.”

I agree, but the comments to that piece are Gaza, Gaza, Gaza. As if it were somehow wrong to commemorate the Holocaust when Israelis killed in Gaza. This diversion from the Holocaust didn’t happen because Israel was trying to hurt Hamas. We know this because the same type of what I take to be a form of Holocaust denial happened to a New Statesman piece on Kristallnacht back in the autumn. If you scroll to the bottom of that one you’ll find a statement that they had to turn comments off, and a link to the reasons.

Israel does something objectionable, and Jews catch it. Is it so hard to understand that Jews and Israelis are sometimes different things, although they sometimes they come in the same package?

So I also have a personal theme which is perhaps rather politically incorrect for Holocaust Educational Trust: Defend The Memory Of The Holocaust From Anti-Zionists. By Anti-Zionists, I mean the monomaniacal kind of anti-Zionist who would get rid of Israel at any cost, who realises that the Holocaust is the major reason for Israel’s establishment, and therefore hopes to roll back the years by neutralising the Holocaust as a justification for Israel’s existence. Tony Greenstein. Moshe Machover. David Duke. Most of Hamas. And so on.

Cnaan Liphchiz in Ha’aretz:

“The operation in Gaza put an end to the European taboo on equating Jews to Nazis. That message was one of the conclusions of the first international panel discussion on anti-Semitism following the Gaza invasion, which was held in Jerusalem Monday on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Speaking at the panel, which was part of the World Zionist Congress conference, Professor Dina Porat said, “the comparison has now become self-understood.”

When Israel acts aggressively, it is usual for a proportion of commentators to talk, as Suzanne Weiss does so disgracefully, of a Jewish-engineered “final solution”.  For many Jews, I think, the “lesson” of the Holocaust, if any, is existential vigilance: are the haters contained, are they getting stronger, will non-Jews understand the signs? Many Israelis are descended from parents and grandparents who decided that the answer to the latter two questions was no. For Israelis, this threat is incarnated as grads and qassams from Gaza backed with threats from the ayatollas.  For others, it blooms at the stimulus of boycott campaigns and the easy conflation of Jew, Zionist and Israeli.

One commenter on Stephen Smith’s piece (Arkasha, 27 Jan 09, 1:59pm):

“However, I notice far too many apologists for Israel get (deliberately?) hung up on things like what seems to incense you. Why don’t you face up to what Israel is doing, instead of complaining about the “nazi” business?”

S/he is wrong – “apologists for Israel” do not have to earn the right to complain about the “nazi” business by protesting Israel. The rest of us should stand against racism, including antisemitism, irrespective of the political belief of the person who benefits from that defence. That’s what anti-discrimination means. We don’t have to sympathise with them or cuddle them – we just have to recognise and defend them against the mental aberration which is hatred on racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation or eugenic lines.

And as a later commenter says (Anglophobia, 27 Jan 09, 2:12pm):

“The only reason people compare the Holocaust with Israel today is because Jews are a common factor. It’s meant to hurt and persuade. The intrinsic similarities are not deep. If the fight between Israel and the Palestinians were between Sunnis and Shias or between Indians and Pakistanis, but otherwise identical, nobody would drag up Buchenwald.”

I’m pretty certain that diminishing the importance of the Holocaust will goad Israelis further from the neck-sticking-out which peace-making requires, and will make Jews feel as if it’s open season again.

Far better to enumerate the reasons for Jews to take confidence that they have left the Holocaust far behind. A cheerful, very-English student of a solid progressive democrat bent told me not so long ago that Israel needed to realise that it had won the struggle for permanency as a state. He sent me the link to an IHT piece from early 2008, which I recommend.

(Don’t tell anybody – the bloke supports a single state, and many Israelis and Palestinians would think him a little crazy. I don’t accept his analysis that the West Bank settlements have irreversibly fused Israel with the Palestinian territories, and that any attempt at schism would kill the patient. It’s just one of those things that anti-Zionsits say but don’t explain.)

The message in the IHT piece – if only it can be supported convincingly – is certainly one which removes reasons for the occupation and also one which gives Jews some reason to think of the Holocaust in the same way that all of us hope to remember the Holocaust – not as something which could quite easily happen to Jews again but as something which happened to somebody else.

On which note, let me remember, wrapped up as I am in my own problems, not to forget all those terrorised, dead, dispossessed and displaced people: