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Fragments from a visit to Palestine/Israel

In November 2022 I returned to Palestine/Israel (P/I) for the first time in three years.  I returned primarily to meet with some of the people I had met on previous visits. All were, and are, significantly involved in P/I politics, with long and noble personal histories of activism, for which they and their families have suffered at Israeli hands.

Only fragments

Any account given here can be no more than the sharing of fragments, glimpses of insight necessarily incomplete.  Underpinning all the conversations were the questions that exercises so many of us: Who speaks for Palestine? When will a legitimate leadership emerge?

Oslo Accords

The legacy of the Oslo Accords (1993/94) permeated, explicitly or not, all the conversations.  The Accords created, or exacerbated, existing centrifugal tendencies within the Palestinian people and polity. 

The Accords, coupled with the Palestinian National Council’s 1998 Declaration of Independence, effectively disaggregated a previously assumed unity of Palestinian concerns and interests into three distinct spheres:

  • those within the OPT – 22% of historic Palestine, the subject of the Declaration of Independence – wherein a new Palestinian state was supposed to emerge.;
  • the Palestinian diaspora’s right of return consideration of which was to be subject of final status negotiations within five years of the Accords;
  • and the ’48 Palestinian citizens of Israel that figured not at all under Oslo.

Liberation

Among the younger people I spoke to, their goal was liberation, an end to colonialism. Armed resistance was seen as legitimate for a range of reasons: as pushback to counter the violence daily perpetrated by the Israeli colonialist regime; and because talking and negotiation had failed utterly.  These views chime with a December 2022 survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research which found that 72 percent of respondents supported forming armed groups similar to the Lion’s Den, which is based around Nablus.

Liberation! Then what?

When I asked my interlocutors, after liberation, then what? This question brought no clear answer. The focus was on liberation first, what follows would be determined after it had been achieved. Tactics taking precedence over strategy. The goal is known: Liberation. And, at this stage, that’s enough to be getting on with. The difficulty here is that liberation is an abstract idea, it’s not a programme for change or governance.

By way of contrast, and a salutary reminder that Palestinians are not a homogeneous group sharing in every regard the same interests, two or three students I interviewed at Birzeit university took issue with my questioning the role of the Palestinian Authority.  These particular students supported the PA and straightforwardly explained why: family members were PA employees. The PA was a source of family livelihoods and was not to be dismissed in negative terms.

One knows, of course, that the PA is a substantial, possibly the predominant, employer in the West Bank and a significant one in Gaza. But the encounter with those particular students turned abstract figures into the flesh and blood of real lives being lived, and the fragility that attends them.  Any change, or unravelling, of the PA at some potential future point will need to take into account how, for many Palestinians, daily existence relies on that body, and that, not simply cynically, but pragmatically, prompts loyalty to it.

Activist family

One young woman I spoke to, she a committed, courageous activist, was clear that the older generation, her parent’s generation, who in this case had been, and are, activists, had got it all wrong. They had failed. They had believed in the value of talking, negotiating but for what?  Things had got worse. As for the Oslo Accords, they represented ‘a sort of giving up’. ‘My generation will fight for all rights, from the river to the sea’. ‘We have no leadership in this situation.’

 ‘We are not victims. You need to see us as freedom fighters. ‘Only choice we have is to struggle against the colonising enemy.’ She had no faith in the UN, nor in other international institutions.

Here, too, the ‘after liberation, what? question had no answer. And in this conversation at least, seemed not immediately pressing. This was a brave, young woman, seemingly inhabiting a space between resolve and despair.

Her father, I’ll call him ‘X…’, had an interesting comment about his daughter and her generation. He described his daughter’s generation as more active, strong and brave. Thinking about himself at his daughter’s age, there was a ‘colonisation of the mind’. Israel had not only colonised the land, but also the Palestinian psyche. Hence, Oslo. He sees the two-state solution as a project of the Israeli left. The ‘solution’ maintains Israel as a Jewish state for which Palestinians have to relinquish 78% of historic Palestine. At one time he had supported Oslo and the two-state solution. 

 Palestinian leadership

The conversation with ‘X…’ turned to the question of leadership. Oslo had split Palestinians from themselves. Palestinian citizens of Israel in particular felt cut off by the endorsement of the two states approach. Israeli Palestinians ‘felt alone’, uncoupled from the wider Palestinian people. In response, some had begun to identify more strongly with Israel, to seek full rights there, for it seemed that is where their future lay. However, in contrast to this nascent tendency, X… felt that it had reached its peak and it was now in decline. This a judgment, at this stage not informed by polling or other opinion gathering.  

More widely, and perhaps encouragingly, attention was being turned to revitalising Fatah, this as part of a process to revive the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people as a whole. An approach that negates Oslo.  Informal talks were going on between a range of Fatah, and ex-Fatah people. This assessment underscored by a cautionary note that it is early days yet.  How matters will turn out, cannot at this time be known.

Palestinian Popular Conference (14 million)

Against the divisive, damaging logic of Oslo and its consequences, there is the hope that a unified counter-movement is developing. On the 5 November 2022 the Palestinian Popular Conference (14 Million) was held simultaneously in Occupied Palestine, and among ’48 Palestinians, as well as in places where Palestinians are present in the diaspora. At its heart was the call for the reinstatement of the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, based on the Palestinian National Charter of 1968.

I had a conversation with one of those involved. Significantly, he is a ’48 Palestinian, this in itself a testament to the integrative intent of the conference. He believed that over the past decade Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli dissenting intellectuals and academics had contributed to broadening thinking about responses to the Palestine/Israel situation. (Interestingly, by way of an aside, he floated the notion that, within Zionism, nothing that could be described as new thinking had emerged in the same period)

However, the imperative was now to create a popular movement, not limited to or dominated by intellectuals and academics. A movement ‘built from below’. 

How this initiative will fare cannot at this stage be assessed. But what can be said is that the conference represents a radical break with the rationale underpinning, and the policies pursued, over the past fifty years. 

One Democratic State from the river to the sea

Those I spoke to, Palestinian and Jewish-Israelis, are all engaged with the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC). What was, and to a significant degree still is, a campaign generated and sustained by intellectuals and academics, has as its self-appointed task to broaden the popular base of the campaign.

One democratic state from the river to the sea, notwithstanding the momentous difficulties and obstacles that need to be overcome, is not only an ethical imperative, but also a political necessity if there is to be the remotest chance of peace in historic Palestine.

It is of course true that the West, the PA and other interests continue to pay homage to the ill-described two-state ‘solution’, but empty rituals of obeisance to a dead idea will not revivify it. Notable in this context is another finding in the survey of Palestinian opinion referred to above.  Support for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict with Israel in the framework of the two-state solution has receded over the course of three months, now standing at 32 percent, according to the poll. A decade ago, support was at 55 percent.

Immediate position

Nothing said here can minimise nor counter the dire state of affairs in Palestine/Israel. In the words of one of the Palestinian interviewees, ‘The immediate position is bleak, it will get worse, there will be more blood spilled. We are going to suffer’.

In the same conversation, in discussing the absence of a unified Palestinian leadership, yet taking account of, for example, the discussions taking place among Fatah members and ex-members, and the Palestinian Popular Conference (14 Million), and the continuing momentum of the ODSC, he quoted Gramsci:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear

An oft-quoted line, perhaps, but here has a sense of unerring accuracy.



Pro-Palestinian and Israel-critical voices silenced at the behest of a fragile ‘may’

It’s that word ‘may’ that tells you something fishy is going on. Something not quite right.  Where the need is for certainty, for assurance that an idea, definition or policy can stand on its own two feet, ‘may’ suggests uncertainty, even evasiveness.

A ‘may’ in a sentence prompts the thought, ‘well, maybe not’.  Odd, then, that the weak-kneed ‘may’ is housed in two key paragraphs, both of which are designed to justify far reaching policy decisions the effect – and the intention – of which is to stifle the free flow of political speech and action in respect of Palestine/Israel.

One of the two paragraphs in question is to be found in the Government’s attempt at justification of its proposed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill; the other is in the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill

In the recent Queen’s speech to Parliament – delivered by Prince Charles – the Government announced that it is to legislate a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Bill, ‘empowering Government to ban public bodies that are already subject to public procurement rules from conducting their own boycott campaigns against foreign countries or territories.’ 

It is no secret the proposed Bill is aimed primarily at curbing the increasing success of the pro-Palestinian BDS movement – a non-violent form of political expression.

Much could be said about the Bill and what might reasonably be thought to be its assault on fundamental democratic values by, for example, curbing elected local authority councillors, or pension fund trustees, from determining how funds in their charge can be deployed. In effect, once the measure becomes law, spending/investing authorities could end up in a situation of having to buy goods and services, or invest in activities, that contravene international law, for example, by having to have financial dealings with Jewish-only Settlements illegally situated on stolen Palestinian land. Such is this Government’s commitment to upholding the rule of law.

In setting out the ‘benefits’ of the proposed Bill the assertion is made – for that is all it is – that BDS somehow undermines community cohesion and that:

‘There are concerns that such boycotts may legitimise and drive antisemitism as these types of campaigns overwhelmingly target Israel.’ (Emphasis added)

Here the Government attempts to justify the notion that criticism of Israel is tantamount to being antisemitic. But the ‘may’ suggests that it doesn’t really believe its own justification, for if the Bill were based on genuine, evidence-based data, presumably it would have said. Since it cannot convincingly do that, and yet is so committed to shielding Israel from the consequences of its illegal actions, it must therefore press ahead with this Bill no matter how flabby its justification.

An irony here is that the linkage made between support for BDS and antisemitism might itself be deemed antisemitic since it assumes that all Jews, because they are Jews, identify with, or support the political, racist endeavour that is the State of Israel. That is palpably not the case.  But, as noted, the assertions, which are attempts at justification, all hang on the fragile thread of a ‘may’.  Well, may be boycotts don’t ‘legitimise and drive’ antisemitism.  And what on earth are all those Jews that support BDS doing there? Is it their intent to stoke the fires of antisemitism?

The proposed Bill is also an example of this Government’s seemingly unembarrassed capacity for rank hypocrisy that I discussed in ‘UK Government and allies supports BDS’.  In that article I suggested that the extraordinarily wide range of UK Government sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine were based, at least partially, on what it says is a commitment to the principle of self-determination, in this case, for Ukraine. In addition, the BDS being implemented against Russia is being undertaken in the belief that such measures will – eventually – prompt changes in Russia’s actions in respect of Ukraine. This may be right or wrong, but what counts here is Government’s belief, or its claimed belief, that BDS can prompt policy change.  This of course is the claim and aim of BDS in respect of Israel vis-a-vis its dealing with Palestinians.

Israel denies, violently and persistently, any form of meaningful Palestinian self-determination. BDS against Israel is founded on the principle of non-violence. Consistency to principle would suggest that BDS in respect of Israel should be endorsed by Government, not banned.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism

I’m beginning to suspect that, in matters relating to Palestine/Israel, there is an Inverse Law of the Flimsy Premise at play, such that where an assertion, policy or definition rests on a weak or flimsy premise – expressed as a ‘may’- the greater the real-world negative impact it is likely to cause.   This is at least partially demonstrated by the rather odd IHRA definition of antisemitism, more often than not shackled to a series of so-called examples. It has had a profound negative affect on the ability of organisations and individuals to speak critically of Israel.  It is deployed as a major weapon against free speech on Palestine/Israel issues.

The definition, along with a number of the examples that accompany it, form what amounts to a protective cocoon around Israel and its actions such that it can brutalise, kill and oppress Palestinians, be they man, woman or child, with impunity. It does this daily.

The IHRA definition entangles itself thus:

‘Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.’ (Emphasis added)

The word-jumble claims to be a definition. But definitions need to be certain. Surely, the use of a ‘may’ cancels out the sentence’s purported purpose: to be a definition. For where there is a ‘may’ there also is a ‘may not’, stated or not. 

And what is a ‘certain perception’?   And ‘non-Jewish individuals’ can also, apparently, be victims of antisemitism.  I’m puzzled by this universalising of antisemitism; it seems to drain the term of meaning.

Hugh Tomlinson QC has given an Opinion on the IHRA ‘definition’. He says:

‘The use of language is unusual and therefore potentially confusing. The phrase “a certain perception” is vague and unclear in the context of a definition. The use of the word “may” is also confusing. If it is understood in its usual sense of “possibility” then the definition is of little value: antisemitism “may be expressed as hatred towards Jews but may also be expressed in other (unspecified) ways’.

Jonathan Rosenhead of JVL (Jewish Voice for Labour), is also puzzled by the ‘definition’:

‘Those two sentences do not make an adequate definition. Inspect that box [i.e the paragraph above]: A ‘certain’ perception? ‘May’ be expressed? There is an almost total lack of specificity. It could be this perception, or that, or indeed the other. And if antisemitism only ‘may’ be expressed through hatred, what are the other ways? This is a rank failure in defining. With hindsight it seems plausible that this vagueness was deliberate – to necessitate interpretation, to facilitate the inclusion of critiques of Israel within the dragnet.

The UK Government, with the Labour Party now limping along behind it, promotes, somewhat militantly, the IHRA definition, thereby reinforcing the hostile environment for Israel-critical voices across a range of institutions, not least universities. In so doing, the UK Government and the Labour Party, by deed and by word, become complicit in support of a racist state.

Part of a wider pattern

The planned restrictions to be placed upon public bodies in respect of BDS, along with the IHRA ‘definition’ of antisemitism has one overriding purpose: to silence and erase Palestinians and to hide from sight Israel’s brutal, unrelenting oppression.

The assault on Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian voices will continue. It intensifies by the day.

Attempts to curtail BDS already represent an escalation in the policing of speech and action in respect of Palestine/Israel.  This will be further reinforced with the now established Parliamentary Antisemitism Taskforce which will have the mission, according to the Prime Minister, ‘of rooting out antisemitism in education at all levels’ because, apparently, ‘our universities have for far too long have been tolerant of casual or indeed systematic antisemitism.’

So, perhaps its merely ‘casual’, on the other hand it may perhaps be ‘systematic’. Or, perhaps more convincingly, legitimate concerns about antisemitism are the subject of boosterism, the purpose of which is to deflect attention away from the very real and present assault by Israel on Palestinians

Given that Israel-critical, pro-Palestinian speech is being dubbed the ‘new antisemitism’, the stage is set for an increasingly vigorous clamping down on legitimate Israel-critical speech. I wrote about this back in April 2021 under the heading of The Israelisation of British Politics. It is a process that continues.

Such is the way a ‘may’ heralds in misbegotten endeavours.


The Destruction of Masafer Yatta, June 7, 2022

Photos and narrative – a deeply evocative blog by Touching Photos

Touching Photographs

Fakheit, Masafer Yatta, South Hebron Hills, Occupied Palestine, June, 2022.

1.

The laundry gets to me, its bright colors neatly arranged by size. French theorist Roland Barthes might have called it a “punctum.” That’s the heart-stopping detail in a photograph whose personal connection pierces you and holds you. And who doesn’t relate to laundry? But the “punctum” is not limited to photographs. To walk through these ruined households is to feel the same combination of dismay and recognition over and over again.

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Sheffield Hallam University corrects itself in the case of Shahd Abusalama

The immediate purpose of this post is to share with readers Shahd’s – @ShahdAbusalama – heartening announcement on Twitter. Plus a few words of my own. But first, Shahd in her own words:

‘We’re celebrating a fantastic victory for Palestine today @sheffhallamuni will not be progressing with any further investigation of the malicious smears that have been levelled against me.’

‘Therefore, I have been wholly exonerated of the false charges of antisemitism, brought under the unfit-for-purpose IHRA definition.’

‘I will also be offered a more secure contract that will afford my employee status at @sheffhallamuni. That wouldn’t happen without your support. so THANK YOU.’

———————————-

What lies beyond the victory?

For some time it has seemed to me that ‘we’ need to ask ourselves some questions about the nature and scope of ‘our’ response to the IHRA defintion in general. The victory of Shahd is – no word of exaggeration – joyous. But, once the banners are put away for another day, and the protesters disperse, is our task simply to wait for the next assault by the IHRA protagonists, then to gather once more in protest?

Put another way, we know that the Israeli state and its supporters are well-funded and well-organised. Their actions are not simply random eruptions of attack on Palestinians and their allies. Rather, underpinning their individual acts of aggression there is a strategy. So, some questions occur in respect of opposing the IHRA definition and its malign use:

  • Are we acting within a wider, meaningful, overarching, coordinated, strategic approach in combating the IHRA definition and the uses to which it is put?
  • Are we mainly reactive, not sufficiently pro-active?
  • Have we harnessed sufficiently the formidable ethical, intellectual, legal, religious resources that, in principle, are at our disposal?

I think these are important questions – and in posing them, I do not presume the answer. But it seems to me they need to be posed. They need to be posed because, in my view, the IHRA definition represents a strategic threat to the Palestinian cause. It therefore needs a strategic response.

I may make these questions the topic of the next blog article. But in the meantime, I would welcome hearing from people and organisations that think it worthwhile to consider the questions above, and no doubt others.

I have used ‘we’ and ‘our’ in this post. I do this because I’m confident ‘we’ know who we are.

In closing: Hearty congratulations to Shahd. She sparked and led a magnificent campaign.

The shame of Sheffield Hallam University – letter of protest

Introduction

Along with many others, I have written to Sheffield Hallam University protesting the suspension of Shahd Abusalama from her teaching post. That letter appears below after this brief introduction.

The suspension appears to be based on accusations made by Jewish News and the Israel lobby group Campaign Against Antisemitism that she had been fostering hostility to Jews. She was preparing to teach her first class on 21 January when an administrator informed her the evening before that her class was canceled and her students would be notified.

The basis of the accusation appears to be based on Twitter posts in which she discussed accusations of antisemitism made against a member of the Sheffield Hallam Palestine Society, this arising from a banner created during a banner-making session, which stated “Stop the Palestinian Holocaust”. She made clear that she herself would not use that term in relation to Palestine.

More background can be found here, here,, and here.

My letter:

Professor Sir Chris Husbands
Vice-Chancellor
Sheffield Hallam University
By Email: c.husbands@shu.ac.uk

26 January 2022

Dear Professor Sir Chris Husbands,

Re: The investigation of Shahd Abusalama and cancellation of the class she was scheduled to teach.

According to reports, Ms Abusalama is under investigation by Sheffield Hallam University for social media posts published on Twitter on 4 December 2021.  There is no need to repeat the details here – they have been set out across social media and in other letters to the university – save to say that Ms Abusalama sought to explain what might have motivated Palestinian students to create a banner stating ‘Stop the Palestinian Holocaust’.  At the same time, she made clear that she would not herself have used the term ‘Holocaust’ in the context of Palestine. Ms Abusalama’s speaking about this, apparently, has been sufficient to sustain a prima facia accusation of antisemitism against her.

The first and obvious point to make is that, on the facts of the matter, Ms Abusalama was fulfilling the role of educator and critical interlocutor to the students in an exemplary manner. In other words, her actions, as reported, were directed to explaining, to critiquing, to, in effect, challenging the students’ thinking in respect of linking the term ‘Holocaust’ to Palestinian issues.  An aspect of this process was articulating, and respecting, the perspective of the Palestinian students who created the banner. Anyone who has even the faintest understanding of the brutality daily visited upon Palestinians by the Israeli state should have some insight into the surrounding circumstances that prompted those particular words on that particular banner.      

It is sometime since I attended university, but my understanding has always been that one of the key functions of a university is to serve as a haven where ideas can be freely explored, and challenged, without fear of penalty or retribution. In this matter, it appears that Sheffield Hallam University has been derelict in its duty to secure that space for, in this case, Ms Abusalama and indeed Palestinian students in general.  This should be a cause of shame for your institution.

It appears that the undergirding for the accusation of antisemitism is based on the university’s formal endorsement of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This is a definition that has attracted extensive and authoritative critique and disavowal by scholars – Jewish and not Jewish – legal experts and civil society groups. And, as a Jew, it gives me no comfort at all; and I object to its use in attempting to negate Palestinian voices.   The IHRA definition is a messy, confused, over-embellished jumble of ideas that is having, as predicted, a chilling effect on free speech in relation to Palestine/Israel issues. Indeed, one of the authors of the definition – Kenneth Stern – has made it clear that the IHRA definition is not designed to be a guide as to what constitutes permissible speech in universities.

The definition has in fact become weaponised by those who wish to silence legitimate Israel-critical speech. Your university now stands charged with being complicit in this silencing and is so doing joins those who wish to stifle, indeed erase, Palestinian voices.  It is a shameful for a university to put itself in this position, in effect hollowing-out your university’s own pledge in respect of the IHRA definition:

‘Adoption of this definition will not limit legitimate criticism and debate. The University will continue to uphold and protect the rights of students and staff to hold legitimate debates on issues related to Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.’

In closing, I endorse the demands as formulated by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies that Sheffield Hallam University:

  • immediately inform Ms Abusalama of any accusations against her; of the evidence of any such accusations; and give her the right in consultation with her union to respond to those accusations;
  • uphold Ms Abusalama’s right to freedom of expression such as it is guaranteed under the law, particularly when it comes to speaking about her experiences as a Palestinian refugee from Gaza;
  • publicly apologise to Ms Abusalama for the breach of confidentiality committed against her when the university informed the media of an investigation into her social media posts;
  • revoke the decision to cancel the class she teaches;
  • uphold its duty of care towards Ms Abusalama both as a student and member of staff at Sheffield Hallam University;
  • rescind the use of the IRHA definition of antisemitism as a tool in complaints and disciplinary procedures.

Yours sincerely,

Bernard Spiegal

December 4, 2021. Tuba, South Hebron Hills (David Shulman)

A richly evocative article in words and pictures. It connects readers, as much as any medium can, to the lived experience of the villagers, and Israeli activists supporting them, as they suffer and resist the brutalities of the agents of the Israeli state.

Touching Photographs

Tuba in 2018. credit: Margaret Olin

It’s 8:00 on a winter morning as we arrive in South Hebron, and immediately there is a call: settlers attacking in Tuba. Five of us—Guy, Yigal, Noah, Yossi, me—tear off over the gravel-and-goat paths , through the desert, to Tuba. Guy is driving as if he were flying a plane or flogging a horse. The car careens over the rocks, kicking up dust. They need us. Now.

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August 20, 2021. Dir Jarir. Text and Photographs: David Shulman

‘Can a handful of adolescent criminals destroy an entire village? Yes, easily. Sadiq and Faris tell us the stories of the last few days…To put things simply: these shepherds and farmers are being relentlessly pushed farther and farther westward, away from their lands. We are talking about privately owned Palestinian land, with documents of ownership going back as far as Ottoman times—which means, Abu Rafa’ tells me, that they go back to the beginning of time.’

Touching Photographs

Dawn at Dir Jarir. One herd of sheep is already out on the hills with Khairi’s son. They’re grazing not so far from the noxious outpost of Maaleh Ahuvia, but for now things are quiet. No settlers in sight. That sentence reveals the story of Dir Jarir. Dawn, noon, dusk, midnight, and all the hours in between– demented teenage settlers can turn up at any moment, in the Palestinian fields, in their makeshift tents, and even in their homes. They threaten and bully them, often they beat them, and always they invade their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and grazing grounds, wreaking havoc. The shepherds and farmers live in a state of terror, and the apparatus of the State is unwilling to intervene. There are good reasons to think that the army in the area stands with the settlers. The police are reluctant to come to Dir Jarir without an army…

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June 11, 2021: Taybeh Junction. Texts and Photographs: David Shulman

‘I don’t know if you have seen a family living in terror.’
A haunting evocation of the evil Israel daily visits upon Palestinian Bedouins counterpoised by the quiet courage and persistence of those that resist it.

Touching Photographs

I don’t know if you have seen a family living in terror.


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So you and I could be anti-Semitic, and we didn’t even know it. Part two

This article can be read as a stand alone. But, as the designation ‘Part two’ suggests, there is merit in visiting Part one for useful, additional background. In particular, Hasbara is explained, as is the inept and damaging IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism along with its supposed examples.

Give or take a minute, each article is about a five minute read.

Israel’s current ascendancy

At present, and for some time now, Israel and supporters of its racist, apartheid state have been in the ascendancy at least so far as mainstream media and political opinion is concerned. In more tangible terms, this is evidenced by Israel’s involvement in bi-lateral and other trade deals (e.g. with the EU), arms deals, joint academic research projects, joint military enterprises, and much more.  There are, too, the massive transfers of USA dollars and European Euros to Israel. Taken together, all this helps keep Israel afloat, free to daily colonise more and more Palestinian land whilst working to empty the stolen land of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.

Hasbara’s aim is to deflect attention from all this. To put it out of sight, to direct our focus elsewhere, to project Israel as a perfectly normal Western-type state. The sort of state that can host a European Song Contest. The sort of state replete with pavement cafes in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem, where one can relax, drink coffee, oblivious to the fact that British JCB bulldozers are demolishing Palestinian homes; children are being shot by the ‘most moral army in the world’;  that the Israel Defence Force (the inapt name for Israel’s army)  ‘makes its presence felt’, as a matter of policy, by breaking into Palestinian homes in the dead of night, armed, no warning given, often dragging some or all the inhabitants – mum, dad, brother, sister, uncle, aunt – away, traumatising all, but children in particular. All this a mere twenty five miles away from Tel Aviv’s cafés where people sit unconcerned, the facts unacknowledged, or wilfully ignored.

If the truth was acknowledged

An inherent difficulty for any hasbara effort is that there are few facts to hand that, in truth, point to a state and society that one would admire or aim to emulate. Beneath the surface glitter of normality, there is a highly militarised, colonising, corrupted state and corrupted society. It would not take a visitor long to verify this should they care to bother.

The real and present danger

Hasbara, and the actions that flow from it, must be understood as a highly aggressive, counter-democratic programme that not only camouflages Israel’s perpetual law and rights-defying behaviour, but also attacks and corrodes democratic discourse here in the UK, and in the West more widely. 

Hasbara and its associated policies and practices, is working to diminish and close down the public spaces available for critiquing Israel, its policies and practices towards Palestinians.  This, as I have made clear, is not accidental. It is the outcome of deliberate strategy.  And it’s been, and is, remarkably successful, here in the UK, in Europe and the USA as the following examples demonstrate:

Gavin Williamson, the UK Education Secretary, has threatened university with cuts to their funding if they do not adopt the IHRA definition.

Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has imposed a blanket ban on constituency parties discussing Jeremy Corbyn’s, its former leader, suspension; and David Evans, Labour’s General Secretary, has forbidden discussion on Labour’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

In USA, Zoom, YouTube and Facebook censored an online class featuring Palestinian, Black, Jewish and South African activists at San Francisco State University. The open classroom event “Whose Narratives?: Gender, Justice & Resistance” featured Palestinian activist Leila Khaled and was scheduled to take place at 12:30 PDT before being erased from Zoom, Facebook and YouTube.

Mike Pompeo, for the moment still USA Secretary of State, has said:  ‘As we have made clear, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism’. On the back of which the USA intends to identify and sanction organizations that engage in or support the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

A non-binding Bundestag resolution, adopted by a large majority on May 2019, condemned the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement targeting Israel as “anti-Semitic” and compared it to the Nazi regime’s demands not to buy from Jews. The resolution also called for denying public funding and public spaces to individuals and organisations which support BDS.

Profoundly mistaken

Anti-Semitism has been weaponised, aggressively deployed to support the Israeli State.  This is its main, indeed arguably, its only purpose.  It does not mean it is good for Jews in general, in fact it is potentially damaging. Damaging because the impression can all too easily be given – has already been given? – that anti-Semitism must be given special regard, divorced from the wider, most urgent, most necessary, struggle against racism in all its forms –Islamophobia, anti-black prejudice and discrimination, anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination.  This point is well made in a letter to the Guardian from 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals who expressed their concerns about the IHRA definition:

‘To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.’

‘The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety. We believe that human values and rights are indivisible and that the fight against antisemitism should go hand in hand with the struggle on behalf of all oppressed peoples and groups for dignity, equality and emancipation.’


That’s all it took: six army bulldozers and around a hundred soldiers

My purpose in this posting is simply to put before you first-hand testimony of the lived experience of the Jordan Valley Bedouin. The testimony offered here is by Professor David Shulman accompanied by his and Margaret Olin‘s photos .

Below is a brief introduction by David followed by a link to his 6 November 2020 report. The combination of words and photos is evocative indeed. No additional words from me are required.

One of Ta’ayush projects, writes Professor David Shulman, centres on protecting Palestinian shepherds and farmers in the Jordan Valley. [Rabbi] Arik Ascherman and the group of activist-volunteers who have joined him are with these shepherds and farmers almost every day.

There is no doubt whatsoever that without our presence accompanying the shepherds to their grazing grounds, it would be dangerous for them—perhaps impossible—to bring their sheep and goats out to pasture. They regularly and repeatedly suffer violent attacks by Jewish settlers, who are in many cases supported by soldiers and the police; the overall aim of this violence is to drive these Palestinians out of the Jordan Valley altogether. The authorities make no attempt even to disguise this brutal goal. One should keep in mind that the Jordan Valley settlements, like those elsewhere in the West Bank, sit on Palestinian land. All of the many newer “outpost”-settlements in the Jordan Valley are illegal even under the lenient terms of Israeli law. Such settlements tend to attract sociopathic young men who have found in them an outlet for their aggressive impulses.

One could say that this is a struggle on the micro-level for the lands still available to Palestinians in the Jordan Valley (probably less than 15% of the lands in the Valley as a whole, since huge areas have been declared closed military zones and/or handed over to settlers). It is also fair to say that in many cases the only thing standing between the Bedouin shepherds and their final expulsion is the presence of Israeli activists, on a daily basis, to protect them from the settlers and the soldiers. This form of activism is not without danger; all of us have been physically attacked at times by the settlers. This is a risk we need to take, if we are to live up to the privilege of being human.

In so far as it is possible to convey in words and pictures the brutal reality of Isaeli rule, it will be found in Professor Shulman and Margaret Olin’s Ta’ayush post of November 6, 2020.