In 2002, just before I left for Gaza to begin nearly 2 years of work on the impact of Israel’s occupation of that land, I wrote a short email to Edward Said. Much to my surprise, he wrote back. It was a short response, wishing me luck with my project and expressing an interesting in seeing my work once I thought it was ready to be shown. Edward Said died about a year later and I never got a chance to take him up on his offer, though I knew that he had made it out of politeness. And I could never tell him how much even that polite offer had meant to me and how much it had inspired the work that I did eventually manage to produce.
I am thinking of Gaza today as its people are once again asked to bear the brunt of the world’s indifference and casual justifications for their murders. On this first day alone, over 200 have been been quietly killed. Indeed, it is Israel that is carrying out the air raids but it is we who have permitted this to be done. Prepared as we are to quickly forget the political aspirations of the Palestinians, eager as we are to reduce this struggle from the broader one about throwing off an occupation to a petty one about ‘rockets’ and ‘retaliations’. All to avoid the fact that we are not prepared to ask of Israel the very things she and her citizens insist on asking of European powers that once wronged her people: justice, compensation, respect for law, criminal prosecution, acknowledgment of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After 2 years of work in Gaza the images were published in a few obscure and unread Internet and print journals. It took just a few days for the reactions to come in and unsurprisingly I was accused of being an anti-semite, and a supporter of terrorism. By friends, and by strangers. The work had offended them, and dismissed as the rantings of a misguided, unqualified and naive photographer.
Apparently I had not understood anything, or realized the foolishness of my ways. Many who attacked me were quaintly ignorant of the history of the conflict. And determined to remain so. Most had in fact never even been to Israel but defended her history and her actions on the basis of a religious, ethnic, or some other affiliation. Many had read a book or two, largely biased. Most had not read the best of even Israel’s own.
Israel’s academies and individuals have produced some fine historical research and independent writings about her emergence as a nation, its Palestinian victims and the perpetuation of myths that sustain the conflict. It surprises me even today and I can’t help but admire the courage of these men and women who have so bravely carried out their work as Israeli citizens about Israel’s history, in a national and social atmosphere imbued with an extremely militant and sectarian nationalism.
Benvenisti’s Sacred Landscape, or Pappe’ ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’, or Sternhell’s “The Founding Myths of Israel’ to name just a few. I list the Israeli’s first because I will be accused of ‘bias’ or anti-intellectualism if I list voices from the Arab and the rest of the world, a world painted as irrationally hostile to the Middle East’s ‘only liberal democracy’.
But for those interested in works that reflect academic rigor, intellectual honesty and excellence in research, they should also look at Khalidi’s ‘The Iron Cage’, or Shehadeh’s ‘Strangers in the House’ or Nusseibeh’s ‘Once Upon A Country’, and Edward Said’s masterful ‘The Question of Palestine’. And there are a lot more.
Some years ago journalist Jonathan Cook wrote an essay called From Highcombe to Nazareth: How I Found Myself with the Islamic Fascists He was writing some years after my time in Gaza, but it captured wel the things I felt back in 2004. Jonathan has been accused of being an anti-semite as well for his rigorously researched writings and honest appraisal of the realities of Israeli politics and policies in the Occupied Territories.
If you have not read Jonathan’s work, make sure you do. He has written 3 books on Israel and a number of insightful articles and essays on the situation inside Israel, her management of the Occupied Lands and on broader geo-political matters. I am proud to call Jonathan a friend. He has also been called an anti-semite. I guess misery loves company.
We live in a world where an unarmed population, trapped inside what can only be described as a prison, is being attacked with missles and soon with sophisticated armoured vehicles. One of the most powerful military nations in the world has convinced us, us with our civilized codes of behavior and morality, that this tiny little portion of the earth with its dangerous and barbaric people, are a threat to its existence. We have been convinced that this is about ‘rockets’ and ‘peace’ all so that we do not remember that this is actually about an occupation, oppression, dispossession and simple theft.
We live in a world where we, the educated, modern, evolved, superior, civilized and wealthy have decided that the evil that we confront is the unarmed, hungry and trapped masses of Gaza who have the temerity to refuse our ‘peace’ and to demand something more: justice, compensation, respect for law, criminal prosecution, acknowledgment of war crimes and crimes against humanity. And I find, illogically perhaps, that I cannot be part of this civilized, modern, progressive, evolved, superior world.
I find that I remain accused of being an anti-semite.
I can’t look away.
I can’t explain it away.
I can’t accept the ‘truths’ I am supposed to.
I can’t accept that the only alternative to ‘us’ is the ‘terrorists’.
I can’t forget their history.
I can’t ignore their dispossession.
I can’t excuse their murders.
I can’t justify their suffering.
I can’t remain numbed by a media bought.
I can’t ignore their courage.
I can’t ignore their right.
I can’t explain away their struggle for justice.
I can’t transform what is clearly wrong into a geo-politically convenient, socially acceptable, polite-company approved ‘right’.
I remain in awe of the courage, dignity and determination of the Palestinian people. I am proud of having stood alongside them. And if being an anti-semite can be contorted to mean anyone who argues for the rights and justice of the Palestinian people who have suffered decades of dispossession, expulsion, and oppression, than I remain an anti-semite.
And for those who may have forgotten, this is the Palestinian flag, bloodied and torn as it may be today and for decades past, but that it is the Palestinian flag.
Read: Chris Hedge’s ‘Party To Murder’
Read: Sara Roy’s ‘If Gaza Falls’
Read: Tariq Ali’s ‘From The Ashes of Gaza’
Read: Richard Falk, Princeton University emeritus professor of international law who has also been an investigator of Palestinian human rights for the United Nations, report on Gaza human rights, where if I may summarize the following statements can be clearly read
- ‘…a policy of collective punishment, initiated by Israel to punish Gazans for political developments within the Gaza strip, constitutes a continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.’
- ‘…an urgent effort should be made at the United Nations to implement the agreed norm of a ‘responsibility to protect’ a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a Crime Against Humanity.’
NOTE: The term “anti-Semitic” (or “anti-Semite”) usually refers to Jews only. It was coined in 1873 by German journalist Wilhelm Marr in a pamphlet called, “The Victory of Jewry over Germandom”. Using ideas of race and nationalism, Marr argued that Jews had become the first major power in the West. He accused them of being liberals, a people without roots who had Judaized Germans beyond salvation. In 1879 Marr founded the “League for Anti-Semitism”. (See Wikipedia Entry)
However, The term Semite means a member of any of various ancient and modern people originating in southwestern Asia, including Akkadians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Arabs, and Ethiopian Semites.