Category Archives: imperialism

left that way is a dead end: a case study in palestine

If history is the alchemy of theory, then communists turned gold into lead in Palestine. When I first arrived in 2009, I was one of those hand-wringing well-meaning comrades who shed tears over the absence of a progressive political left in Palestine. No doubt, there exists in Palestine some of the strongest and bravest leftists in the region, but their work is for naught and their books (printed with French, German, and Canadian money) get used to warm hovels in Askar refugee camp. They are at best tolerated and called in from time to time to answer questions on economy. When the Soviet money dried up, the network of civil supporters did as well, until all that was left were empty storefronts and the staff had moved on to NGOs and ideologies that would catch the foreign dollar, euro, or dinar.

Like most other ideas – democracy, liberal rights fantasies, Wahhabism, western civic models, and open markets – communism was thrown into the trash heap in Palestine because it was presented in an unrealistic and condescending way. Leftists crouched around telefaxes worrying “No, you’re doing it wrong! You need to… There needs to be… This theory is really…” while Israel continued to pummel their neighborhoods. Such disregard was given to the situation on the ground, to the realities of the society, that after the militant wing died down the people themselves shrugged off the theories and put all their efforts into courting money and robbing the donors blind. A handful remained to churn out honest work, but their romance with how “they” did it seemed to only further alienate their efforts.

After all, what does the left really have to offer Palestine save money and a few PFLP t-shirts? Obviously not their unwavering support. The condescending insistence on ideological purity puts leftist organizations in the same boat as USAID. There’s nothing wrong, I suppose, in offering money with ideological strings attached – a business transaction obviously! – but don’t for a second try and fool yourself into assuming you’re helping. Own up to the fact you’re settling the hearts and minds as much as Israelis are.

A prominent leftist organization recently cut funding to civil society NGOs, insisting that their strategy had changed from promoting a “culture of dependence” through NGOs to funding political parties directly, thereby cutting out the middle man (the citizen) I assume! It is, of course, much easier to inject a political program directly into a certain class of people rather than to everyone. And how late the left is to this game! After all, the cafes and imported cars already promote a kind of politik and the imams living the high life in Masyoon can promote yet another. Now, 10 years too late, is when the left decides to try and resuscitate the leftist parties – at least, the ones that are allowed to exist by the powers that be.

Indeed, the left has spent so much time cozying up to the powers that be that no one takes them seriously anymore. With the dissolution of the Soviet paycheck, those left in the cold were simply begging to be invited to summits and dinners and willing to throw just about anything away for inclusion.

So where does this mentality come from? Look no further than the left of today, whether it be Kadima and its JStreet front, the progressives left holding the bag after the election of Obama, or the ineffectual and laughable socialist/communist parties of Europe.

24. While communists have no truck with Zionism and condemn the colonial-settler origins of Israel, we recognise that over the last 50 or 60 years a definite Israeli Jewish nation has come into existence. To call for its abolition is unMarxist. Such a programme is either naive utopianism or genocidal. Both are reactionary. The Israeli Jewish nation is historically constituted. The Israeli Jews speak the same language, inhabit the same territory, have the same culture and sense of identity.

25. The Palestinian national movement has been sustained only because of the existence of and its relationship with the wider Arab nation. Solving the Israel-Palestine question requires a combined Arab and proletarian solution. Communism and nationalism are antithetical. Nevertheless we champion the right of all oppressed nations to self-determination. In the conditions of Israel/Palestine that means supporting the right of the Palestinians where they form a clear majority to form their own state. Such a state is only realistic with a working class-led Arab revolution.

from CPGB Theses on “The Arab Awakening and Israel-Palestine

What fiery words to galvanize the youth of Palestine into direct unified action!

27. The immediate call for a single Palestinian state, within which the Jewish Israeli nationality is given citizenship and religious, but not national rights, is in present circumstances to perpetuate division. Israeli Jews will not accept such a solution – the whole of the 20th century since 1933 militates against that. There is moreover the distinct danger that the poles of oppression would be reversed if such a programme were ever to be put into practice. In all likelihood it would have to involve military conquest. The call for a single-state solution is therefore impractical – Israel is the strong nation – and, more than that, reactionary, anti-working class and profoundly anti-socialist. Liberation and socialism must come from below. It cannot be imposed from the outside.

The thrust of this position is that only a unified working class revolution can solve the problems in the Middle East, and that until then the Palestinians will be left sitting in bulldozed houses. And God forbid they actually achieve a single state solution wherein their Jewish settler neighbors suddenly face a dearth of privilege, where they may in fact be tossed to the curb by the living, rightful inhabitants of the homes they have settled in!

Really, arguing this kind of thing is tedious and only engages those arguing, while those who are left in prison and at checkpoints tap their feet. When the people’s revolution fails to materialize, the leftists snap: “Weren’t you listening? Weren’t you reading your Marx?” Those gross intellectuals abroad typing up policy papers and party positions were the vanguard, why weren’t you jumping to attention? Where are the actual homegrown progressives? Well, if it doesn’t smell like a communist or walk like a communist, I’m not gonna call it a communist!

Beware to those who moan about the rise of “Islamic fundamentalism” in such places! When your books and papers and groups can’t provide the soup, childcare, medical attention, and social services that those caught up in the “barbarity” of Islam can provide, you have a problem. Is there no one to work with, no one to attend your meetings? A Western leftist (centrist! rightist!) is not going to find the “partner” he wants in Palestine – the partner that looks, acts, and talks like he does – unless he molds a group to his pleasure. Rather than work within the parameters offered, rather than ask the Palestinians what they need, or worse – ask them how they think liberation should be achieved, the Westerner wants to dress up a few students and put money in their hands. They perch on a party and gain privilege over the party’s constituents by pumping money into party leaders.

I spoke with aid workers who lamented the state of things – how they had to pay for supporters, offer food or transportation to people in return for participation in their programs. Why would no one take initiative and make sacrifices? A somber walk through the old city of Nablus looking at martyr posters shows such people exist.. or at least once did. They did not die for foreign money, not for the pleasure of foreign political parties, not for a unified Arab proletariat and not for Karl Marx. They died for the people, their land, their memories, and their pride. Forcing people into contortions to fit your mold of “leftist progressive worth supporting” insults this.

I’m not Palestinian nor am I personally affected by this conflict past my experiences, but I have some suggestions for Western leftists who want to call themselves supporters of Palestine:

1. Stay close to the core truths of the conflict. There already is a one-state entity in Palestine and Israel and it is called al-Ihtilel (the occupation). It is racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, imperialist, and reactionary. Do not deviate from this core truth and do not delude yourselves. Visit if you can, and if you cannot, take it from someone who’s been there or who is from there.

2. Support the people. Do leftists really need this lecture? Support the people. Support the people. If the people pray, support them. If the people throw rocks, support them. If the people oppress one another due to colonialism, do not think it is out of “barbarity” or inherent fault with the people and their traditions. It is more possible to fix the ills of social society by supporting the society rather than by shoving your morals down their throats with a spoonful of money to help it go down easier.

3. They do not trust you. You are not their comrade unless you are taking orders from the people. They are not your partners and you will never be on equal footing with them. You do not know the situation. You do not know Arabic. You do not have the right to pretend you know anything more more than the faces on the martyr posters. They are the ones to make the sacrifices, so let them decide what is worth making sacrifices for.

If leftists passionate about the Palestinian cause were as passionate about their own situations in their home countries, there might be change faster than you think. The I/P conflict does not exist in a bubble, it is the result of policies and attitudes worldwide that have nothing to do with the Palestinians… and if you call yourself a leftist this should be clear as day. Accepting that you have little to nothing to do with the Palestinian solution to the occupation (and it is coming) will give you leave to address the attitudes and policies in your own society that contribute to the occupation of Palestine and elsewhere. Involving yourself with what Arabs or Palestinians or Israelis “should do” is a misdirection of your efforts and borderline chauvinistic.

Just as the Palestinians are the winners and inheritors of their own liberation, so too are we responsible for what happens in our own communities. Your position should be to support the liberation and self-determination of oppressed people worldwide, but you should start with what you know best and among people you are affiliated with. Stop planning and criticizing action or positions abroad when you first need to take the log out of your own eye to see anything clearly.

what’s changed since then?

As’ad AbuKhalil faces off against a liberal actor, a white woman who proclaims herself as a “voice for Middle Eastern Women”, a huffing anticommunist Cuban ex-pat polemicist, and the very personification of smug white male privilege himself – Bill Maher. What’s surprising about this “discussion” is that so little of the discourse has actually changed since November 2001. The panel makeup remains the same and Bill Maher (and by extension his constituency) continues to know more about Islam than Muslims:

it’s getting hotter in palestine

A friend of mine confided that an intifada is coming in September. While I value his analysis over any ink the New York Times decides to spill on the issue, I’ve heard such things from him before. He’ll tell me to keep an eye on the frog in the pan, that he’ll jump soon enough, that the water can’t get much hotter. For what it’s worth, the steam is rising and the frog is shifting noticeably, but we can hardly tell which way he’ll jump if he decides it’s a good idea.

I gave my first university lecture to some students yesterday on the topic of Gaza and its treatment in the media. I felt hope that so many of them expressed real and serious outrage over what was going on and rode the feeling all the way back to the office and to the computer. I don’t read the New York Times, but a friend  pointed out an article published regarding the financial situation in the West Bank and my heart fell 10,000 feet:

“This is, without doubt, the worst financial crisis the Palestinian Authority has ever faced,” said Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, generally known for a can-do, upbeat attitude. “This could not have come at a worse time. I don’t know how this ends. I don’t have an answer.”

The immediate cause of the crisis is the failure of foreign — especially Arab — donors to fulfill promises of aid. But the budget crisis is intertwined with a diplomatic one as the Palestinians and Israelis maneuver ahead of an expected push to recognize Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in September. Different donors have opposing agendas, so the Palestinian Authority’s decisions in the coming weeks will anger one set of donors or another.

Without enough money to pay salaries, a big concern is the loyalty of the Palestinian security forces, which have brought law and order and created conditions for stability and economic growth in the past three years.

Palestine depends on foreign aid. Scrambling for dollars lowers Palestine more than the Israeli occupation, drones, strip-searches, and sniper’s nests all together.  Let’s do everything Thomas Friedman’s way, hand everything to this guy named Fayyad, and watch the market lift Palestine out of occupation! they told us. Friedman himself even gushed this year over the progress that Palestine has made in terms of markets. The IMF and World Bank stood by with proud smiles as billions of aid was funneled into housing schemes, convention centers, and let’s not forget into the deep pockets of elite Ramallawis!

In the past year, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations have issued reports saying that the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Fayyad was fully prepared for statehood because of institution building and fiscal discipline.

That view is coming under scrutiny. Last month, in the journal Foreign Policy [ed: Cheney’s rag], Nathan J. Brown of George Washington University wrote: “Fayyad’s main achievement has not been to build the structures of a Palestinian state, but to stave off the collapse of those structures that did exist. An equally important achievement was his ability to persuade Western observers that he was doing much more. In the process, however, he raised expectations far beyond his ability to deliver.”

Now that Palestine is doing it the way the West wanted – wearing suits and jetting around raising money for sweatshops in Betunia – why, they think they’re one of us now! Adorable, really, coming hat in hand to the United Nations in September and begging a state of their own. Rather than humiliate the United States by forcing it to veto the rest of the world on such a tender issue, Uncle Sam will bring his Arab dogs to heel and threaten to cut the purse strings to Baba Fayyad’s Great Ramallah Experiment.

What results? A populace who was forbidden to rally in support of their Egyptian brothers and sisters as they were cut down by Mubarak’s bullets now is asked to halve their salaries in the interest of foreign donors, in the interest of solvency and in boosting the confidence of foreign investors/donors. I have friends who work for as-Sulta and they are owed thousands already. They know the person who made the decisions that put them into this situation makes 20 times what they do, they understand that elections will probably be postponed yet again, and they understand the Israelis continue to dine on land that belongs to someone else.

If this sounds polemical, it is. My comrades in Palestine – and it is presumptuous for me to call them that, as they fight harder and face more than I ever will – are dignified in their resistance and they deserve a government that reflects and protects that dignity. Foreign money is yet another shackle around the neck of Palestine, and threatening bankruptcy or a coup less they do what Israeli interests say is best is yet another way to humiliate her.

Maybe there is something coming in September after all.

the strange case of amina abdallah and gay girls in damascus: colonizing identities

The web blog of thirty-something “gay girl” Amina Arraf/Abdallah has been removed from public view. The touching story of a half-American lesbian democracy activist living in Damascus was especially tantalizing during the recent media explosion of interest in the Syrian revolution. Discussions arose over LGBT prospects in the new “Arab Spring” , suggesting that Muslim Democracy would be far different than Jewish Democracy in that it would spurn and oppress LGBT individuals in more serious ways than Muslim autocratic dictatorships have. Of course, this makes the assumption that LGBT-identified individuals in the Middle East have never been hassled for writing a pamphlet, saying something uncouth about the government at a bus station, or have had a family member imprisoned for fighting against occupation or despotic government. It draws a shaky line from there to making LGBT-identified individuals natural allies of Mubarak-style regimes, when they could live in peace as long as they were simply Lesbian, not Lesbian-freedom lovers.

This line of thinking is dangerous, and puts innocent people in danger. Like the backlash against “Westoxification” in Iran, where Feminists were rounded up as being enemies of the Islamic state thanks to the nominal support they had enjoyed under the Shah, it puts activists at increased risk in a new society by simply suggesting their natural allies are Western values and West-supported governments. By appropriating identities (or identity politics) as a way to further political agendas, the West is indirectly fostering feelings of resentment towards these identities as hostile political classes.

Yet hasn’t this always been a problem? By assuming the West can speak for minority groups better than they can speak for themselves, all sorts of atrocities have been sold to well-intentioned people. Israel continues to publicize its treatment of LGBT groups as evidence of its civilized nature – despite critical challenges these groups still face. Yet Israel has no problem speaking for the LGBT Palestinians who surely suffer greatly under the heel of Muslim-ness.

However, there is no need to take an imperialist’s word as truth. Thanks to traditional grassroots efforts married to online communities, there are actual indigenous groups (such as Al-Fatiha or RAWA) which work towards just treatment within their own societies. It is best this way because they understand the intricacies and complex structures of their communities far better than ham-fisted imperial interests. So of course voices like Amina’s were welcome in Syrian discourse. This well-written, sexually attractive writer seemed to hit all the happy mediums – including the desire to study Hebrew and work at a Syrian embassy in Israel. This was no Shahbanu speaking. The anonymous nature and the basic format of a blogspot page led us to believe that Amina was an Arab bourgeois English speaker, quite a step up from Youtube queens and Betty Friedan.

The story goes deeper, however, when the world discovered that Amina was actually a middle-aged heterosexual white American male, who claimed rather ironically that he felt he had no available audience for his views unless he presented them as coming from a drastically different identity. Another victim of “PC Culture”, Tom MacMaster decided to wear the skin of a lesbian Muslim Arab woman in order to be heard on issues he strangely felt very connected to. This was no simple hoax, either. MacMaster had been posing as Amina for four years, leading one to speculate over his mental and emotional health.

He had started the blog, he said, because he believed online posts about the Syrian and Israel-Palestinian situations would earn “some deference from obnoxious men” if written under an Arab woman’s name rather than under his own, where “someone would immediately ask: why do you hate America? why do you hate freedom? This sort of thing.”

He had made her a lesbian, he said, in an attempt “to develop my writing conversation skills … It’s a challenge. I liked the challenge.

“I also had the thing that I like to write, and my own vanity is … if you want to compliment me, tell you like my writing … That’s how to make me happy.”

But why had he exchanged many hundreds of emails with a woman in Canada, Sandra Bagaria, who believed herself to be having a romantic relationship with the blogger?

“I feel really guilty about that … I got caught up in the moment and it seemed … fun. And I feel a little like shit about that.” He denied having been sexually excited by the interaction: “I don’t want to go into that aspect particularly of it.”

The Guardian

Whatever the personal reasons behind MacMaster’s identity fraud, further criticism must be leveled at the liberal media apparatus that skyrocketed him to fame, the online medium that can enable such streamlined appropriation of identities, but perhaps most importantly, the criteria by which one is afforded a voice in today’s political culture. Why is it that Amina’s perfect storm of attributes earns her press space and Facebook support pages over any other Arab activist arrested and tortured by the Syrian regime? Why are certain voices held higher in esteem than the collective voice of the people? Not to say some shouldn’t, but what are the criteria for our choices of who to listen to? There are numerous reasons to criticize governments and revolutions – for instance, the continued crackdowns and endemic corruption of the Egyptian Military government or tanks rolling through villages in northern Syria – without resorting to identity niche standards of “civilization”.

Perhaps this is a new dog-whistle politic, a kind of wink thrown over the shoulder to progressive movements. Sure we can harp on and on about the invasion of Afghanistan, but can we really fault the United States for bringing a “better” standard to Afghani women? And even if we don’t, would we want to bring back the Taliban to cut noses and ears again? Here the imperialist right digs the left into a mud pit of confusion and debate while it continues its merciless onslaught against the communities we are wringing our hands over. We might not be running sorties against the Afghan women in specific, but they are just as affected by the bombs and drugs as the Taliban. Say we are running  sorties for them, and watch how patriarchal attitudes on the ground entrench themselves. If these minority groups refuse to become vocal tools of imperialism, simply skin them alive and pose as one of them.

The combination of her sexual identity, her good looks, her impeccable English, her “moderate” muslimness, and her fantastical (and often sexual) autobiographical posts proved too potent a mix. Amina was a “honeytrap for Western liberals”, as one twitterer put it. Something palatable that they could identify with, the perfect half-white poster child of a brown revolution.

from Jadaliyya

Identify with, or – perhaps more truthfully in this case – identify as.

revolution in name only

The Nile stretches thousands of miles from the center of Africa to the Mediterranean Sea, cutting a swath of fertile green through an endless expanse of desert which we call Egypt. Here are the fellaheen, the farmers who have been tending their land in the same way since the Pharaohs decided to create a priest class.  Police officers man nominal checkpoints and smoke cheap cut Cleopatra cigarettes. The revolutionary zeal puffs chests in Cairo and Alexandria, but what here in Qana Province? Where do the fellaheen fit into your globalized vision for the future?

This working force of millions must be galvanized into democracy, liberal economy, and good-old secular living.

Mubarak was a dictator no matter what Joe Biden says. He kept the foot on the necks of the Egyptian people for three decades. His methodology was perfect for control. The Pharaohs themselves could not have asked for a more docile Egypt for those years. Despite flares of resistance, it all paled in comparison to the grand monuments, the photos of his stately visage raised high and painted into DPRK murals at the Citadel in Cairo. Yet his mistake was simple – even innocent. When the going got tough, nobody was willing to save his neck because he wasn’t willing and able to move peasants and galvanize the 80 million plus Egyptian workforce into the 21st century.

After all, these tiny parcels of land handed down generation to generation don’t do anybody good in the long run. A fellah will stay a fellah. Wouldn’t it be better to move him to the aluminum factory down the road, even better as a porter in Cairo? Where is the trajectory in this backwater, where is the promise of human potential?

Maybe now is the time, the West contemplated, for Egypt to really enter the 21st century. Of course, it can’t look like the control mechanisms of the past. We need a democracy now, something more manageable than the irrationalities of a dictator in a 24 hour news cycle. When Qaddafi or Mubarak wanted to step out of line, there was little to do except cajole and bribe. The whole mess looked very unseemly in this new Global Society. Yet a democracy! Like one blossoming in Palestine, where the ruling party holds elections that expells more than half of the voting population and yet dutifully courts the Western Foreign Investor. Now that’s what we’re talking about!

Or look at Jordan, a nation with that ancient archaic method of “kingdom”. Easily looked past, indeed – England has a queen! So long as there are special visa counters for “VIP – Foreign Investors” we can stomach that kind of system, especially since a fractured society like Jordan requires – much like Iraq once did – a strong man at the top to seem like father and who will take orders docilely from the benefactors and still agreed to be interviewed on the Daily Show in perfect, slightly-accented British English. He Gets It, we nod to each other. This Mubarak guy… not so much.

The Egyptians themselves still sit in waiting. Their pride overwhelms them, and banners with the martyrs of the revolution wave proudly in Cairo. Yet he remains unmolested in Sharm el-Sheikh, a favorite destination of European and Israeli holiday-seekers. The army remains at every street corner, and a curfew runs from midnight to six in the morning.

Very little has changed besides this new novelty of “free speech”, something we have decided is not too dangerous in today’s Global Society, something Marx labeled a fraud almost a hundred and fifty years before the invention of twitter.

Nowadays the US Government pays agents to twitter, to troll message boards, to blog, and more. Television stations are bought up by large conglomerates who call elections and have the men who advise the President on speed-dial. Mubarak thought he had a chance at trying to contain speech by working the state – shutting down NileSat and the internet.  Yet the mistake he made was assuming the state has any more power in this New World Order. No, the right investors have the power. The businessmen have the power. Nobody will work with you Mubarak, when they can work with Muhammad Yunus or the Koch brothers instead.

So – let the clean up efforts begin! Don’t worry about the litter, Cairenes, because the new government will find someone to contract for that matter. Don’t worry about jobs, that parcel of land in Middle Egypt, the peace treaty with Israel, the phone company, or the internet ever again. Indeed, don’t worry about anything at all (except your foreign debt of course!). Thank you for your revolution. Now here is a call center. Time to get to work helping to build a new Egyptian society; one that will be of benefit to the entire world, not simply your fellaheen.

between worlds

Where else on earth do you travel so far as along the road from Ramallah to Jerusalem? Finish up with the wall, the checkpoint, the watch towers, the barbed wire, the guns, the soldiers, the questions, the passports, the turnstiles, the crackling loudspeakers. Ride a little ways, take a little walk, and suddenly be transported to another world completely. Surround yourself with well-dressed people sipping coffee and listening to Billie Holiday. Go wandering boutiques and sanitized markets, eying sales and new arrivals.

Realize for a moment, after you imagine the impact of an explosion on this place you stand, that you are the connection between these two places. You are a wormhole through which both experiences exist nearly simultaneously. In other times your apparition would be an expression of rage or  violence, but at this moment it is a swallow and a dizziness, a sense of disconnection and an emotional dead-end. You are that which exists between two worlds, both here and when you go home.

Perhaps it is easy to imagine the severity of the shift when you walk it yourself, down back alleyways of Jerusalem past Arabs who turn into Jews who turn into hip young twenty-somethings on vacation from America. Yet it is the same all over. Take the walk from the North Side to the South Side, step over train tracks or MLK Boulevard and it can be the same thing anywhere else in the world. Sure, differences are even more cartoonishly apparent here, what with the change of printed language and lack of barbed wire, but the occasional soldier walking past you on Jaffa Road, notably more at ease with an ice cream cone in their hand and gun bouncing their hip as they walk, will remind you of it all. Are you more at ease here? If you forgot the change, would you relax and have fun too?

This little ride, this little walk, illustrates perfectly the relationship of violence in our modern times. One exists because of the other, and one would not exist without the other. Without the checkpoints, there would be no bare-armed girl flirting with the barista at the cafe. Without the soldier playing video games at the arcade, there would be no empty-eyed disconnect at the checkpoint. Without the Deleuze and Guattari at the second-hand bookshop, there might not be modern justification for all of it.

Start to wonder which way things flow over this bridge you represent. Are you observing or carrying? When you left America you swore to try and be like the signs in the national parks. Leave things as you found them. So then, do you start to doubt the cut of your coat in the windows of the boutiques on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem or do you start to hate your uncovered hair in the eyes of the young men on at-Tiere Road in Ramallah? Have you tried your best to move among these worlds, not changing anything?

After all, it is not your place to do anything but go between them.

where the cynicism is born

In the past week, the Palestinian Authority has violently suppressed two separate rallies in support of the Egyptian people and their rights to revolt against an unjust government (not reported in Ma’an news). At the same time, the Palestinian Authority set up a fake protest in support of the Mubarak regime (also not reported). Today, we see the Palestinian Authority calling for the people of Gaza to emulate their brothers in Egypt (!) and rally to overthrow Hamas.

1. This page is not affiliated to any party or religion but it is working for Palestinians
2. Friday 11 February will be the day the Palestinian people say no to division and yes to national unity, they will stand in the face of the challenges facing the Palestinian cause
3. We call on Hamas to stop its coup and go back seriously and immediately to reconciliation to unite again with our people
4. Overthrow the unjust government in Gaza by coordination with the rest of the national parties in the Palestinian arena
5. Initiate an intifada against the current situation in Gaza. A peaceful intifada to say yes to unity and enough to the emirate of darkness.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority is currently amending their election law to dis-include the Gaza Strip from elections supposedly to be held in May – over a year since they were previously scheduled to be held.

Palestine is the canary in the mineshaft. I have serious doubts about Egypt’s prospects for success when Palestine – the heart of the anticolonial movement in the Middle East – is this infested with thuggery and juvenile propaganda tactics and no one here responds.

“If the Israelis tell us that this is working well, we consider it a success.”

From Foreign Policy Magazine:

If Palestinian state-building is understood as a pact by which Palestinian institutions are built and shaped to facilitate security-collusion — in expectation that this will cause Israel to see it to be in its own interest to give Palestinians a state — then the overall matrix of western policy becomes clear. It is a pre-requisite of Oslo and subsequent agreements that the PA should work with the IDF — “with the participation of US security officials” — to defeat and dismantle any opposition to this project, and, as Mrs Clinton reminded Mahmoud Abbas last year, this demand extends to Hamas — unless it should accept the Quartet’s conditions.

These principles are not new: they are long-established principles of American counter-insurgency dating back to the US campaign in the early 1900s against Filipino ‘rebels’ and were adopted in subsequent conflicts. This doctrine has combined the establishment of harsh, unaccountable security apparati to a ‘benevolency pacification’: Security strongmen evolve to control the business and financial sectors.

In the Palestinian context this pacification has come to mean something far more extensive than the original Oslo demand for collusion with Israel to dismantle and destroy Oslo’s opponents. Indeed, the concept is being used to create a politico-security and economic architecture and élite in order to implement a benevolency pacification. In return the elites receive significant material benefits and privileges. So successful has this political and security architecture been in normalizing the West Bank that the then US Assistant Secretary of State, hailed it as “the best Palestinian Authority government in history”.

This kind of article was inevitable. I’m just surprised it took so long to show up in print, especially since I’ve been writing on it for so long. Everyone here today is depressed because the Palestine Papers have proven once again how helpless they are against their own police state vying to sell their land in favor of villas in Dubai and cash for their kids.

the palestine papers


I’ve been learning how to play chess. So far I’m only able to see four moves ahead, which makes me a pretty mediocre player. I’ve only won two games so far, but I’m trying every day to be able to see more and more moves ahead, to work out different scenarios and keep them running parallel so I can advance. What I’ve gathered so far, though, is that the most important part of chess is to be able to react to an opponent’s moves with a clear mind and steady hand.

So when I see something like The Palestine Papers being published by Al Jazeera, I have to stop and examine the board critically before I react. Some facts to consider:

  • Al Jazeera is a state-owned and state-run news organization.

A reaction I heard today was that Al Jazeera works for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. While this may not be true in a literal sense, we can’t forget that Al Jazeera is an incredibly powerful wing of the Qatari foreign ministry. Qatar has been courting foreign money by the fistfuls, bringing in international games, conferences on private security companies, and offering terrific incentives to multinational corporations.  Whatever Al Jazeera was ten years ago, they are not the same organization today.

  • The Palestinian Authority / Palestinian Liberation Organization has to negotiate with the Israelis if they want to gain international support.

Since – according to the intelligentsia – armed and civil resistance has failed, the only way towards survival is to court the support of the international community. The PA does this in two ways, through economic and diplomatic means. Through economics, they present themselves as an easy place to do cheap and dirty business. Through diplomacy, they hustle from embassy to embassy begging for recognition while using their presence at the UN to pressure for resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation. The only way they are able to sustain either of these fronts, though, is through appearing as a valid party in negotiations with the Israelis. Therefore, to keep both outreach approaches strong, they must continue with negotiations at all costs, even if this means offering bizarre concessions to the Israelis. The fact that the PA is still willing to “play ball” after the genocide in Gaza and continued appropriation of land in the West Bank is proof of this, since any strong actor would have abandoned negotiations long ago. But the Palestinian Authority is not the strong actor. Their grip on power is contingent on whether anyone will meet with them. If the Israelis and Americans continue to meet with them, the sick truth is that the rest of the world will see them as valid representatives for the Palestinian people.

  • Both the Palestinian Authority / Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Israelis must sustain the negotiation process in order to maintain the status quo abroad while advancing interests locally.

This is why the peace process never fails. It simply stalls or is frozen, perhaps moving from direct to indirect negotiations from time to time. The present negotiations between the two parties have painfully dragged along for nearly two decades with nothing to speak of except continued encroachment of the West Bank and Gaza while the Palestinian Authority gains stature in the eyes of the international community.

Yet it is not just Israel and the PNA/PLO that benefit from these negotiations. The USA uses them as election fodder and the Arab states use them as an excuse to continue business-as-usual with Israel while neglecting the refugees that crowd their borders.

So what is the point of releasing these documents? Barring some sort of collective madness, the Palestinian people are not going to overthrow the PNA and expel the PLO. Gaza is a stark, daily reminder of what happens to a people who decide to stop playing the game. It’s possible the Israelis will look bad for not accepting such gracious concessions, and that the Palestinians offering them nearly all of East Jerusalem and their major settlement blocs will make it seem as though they are negotiating in bad faith.

However, without further facts at this point, the only conclusion I can draw is that this is a move designed to humiliate the Palestinian people further. They are being shamed for not being able to change their current situation. Really, this has been the overarching theme to the occupation that I’ve seen so far since living here: instill shame. Whether through stumbling drunk teenagers in Ramallah plotting their ticket out, hassle at the checkpoint, constantly jumping through hoops for a job or foreign aid money, casual cancellation of elections, and being forced at gunpoint to the negotiation table, the main goal of the occupation is to bring low the pride of the Palestinians. It still makes one wonder who it is, if not everyone involved in these negotiations, that wants them brought to their knees so badly.

one family in gaza

One Family in Gaza (2010, Jen Marlowe, 22 minutes) is a short film that documents the personal tragedy of one family in Gaza. What makes this film so powerful is that it is told entirely by the family themselves. There are a million or more stories like this in Palestine. Nearly everyone you meet has been affected in some way by decades of war and suffering, but it is worthwhile to hear it yourself from those who experienced it instead of reading it in a report or seeing it on television. The humanity conveyed in the tears of a mother or the anguished prayers of a father is hard to miss. You may contact the film maker here.