Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The real war on women is in the Middle East.


Note: This is one of the articles in the May/June special issue of Foreign Policy Magazine. It is copyright and is published here courtesy of Foreign Policy Magazine. For the original of this article click here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/23/why_do_they_hate_us?page=0,0
For details of the special issue, click here:

In "Distant View of a Minaret," the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband's repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, "as though purposely to deprive her." Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer -- so much more satisfying that she can't wait until the next prayer -- and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. "She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was," Rifaat writes.
In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don't hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said. 
Some may ask why I'm bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn't everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I'm not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system -- one that treats half of humanity like animals -- must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.
So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many "Western" countries (I live in one of them). That's where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

But let's put aside what the United States does or doesn't do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I'll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt -- including my mother and all but one of her six sisters -- have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating "virginity tests" merely for speaking out, it's no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband "with good intentions" no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are "good intentions"? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is "not severe" or "directed at the face." What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it's not better than you think. It's much, much worse. Even after these "revolutions," all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian's blessing -- or divorce either.
Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet's rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its "progressive" family law (a 2005 report by Western "experts" called it "an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society"), ranks 129; according to Morocco's Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It's easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn't ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom -- and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.
Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can't vote or run in elections, yet it's considered "progress" that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in -- wait for it -- 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a "reformer"  -- even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The "reformer's" answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts -- especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.


 Sex, or more precisely hymens, explains much.
"Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. "But they all seem to. It doesn't matter what country they're in or what religion they claim. They want to control women." (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions -- once they were under way, that is -- undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I'm staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls "circumcision," a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not "obligatory," you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: "I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it," he wrote, adding, "The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation." So even among "moderates," girls' genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud -- pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do -- including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.
Yet it's the men who can't control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it's for the men's sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East's failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they'd experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.
Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice -- and nubile virgins -- in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.
I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism -- there's no other way to describe it -- but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam's two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.
Then -- the 1980s and 1990s -- as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I'll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl's urine made you impure? I wondered.
Hatred of women.
How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after "morality police" barred them from fleeing the burning building -- and kept firefighters from rescuing them -- because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls' education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom's education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert.The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region -- now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women's enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn't cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house -- devoid of a single female legislator -- discuss his proposed "decent attire" law.
In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country's Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia's 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared "the principle of equality between men and women" as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women's rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.
In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant's restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of "moral crimes" were dumped into "social rehabilitation centers," effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.
Then there's Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to "protect the revolution," inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved "virginity tests" for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt's Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman's face. Women are not to be seen or heard -- even their voices are a temptation -- so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.
And we're in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It's a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch -- Mubarak -- yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the "women's committee" of the Brotherhood's political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it's more "dignified" to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we're violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they're agents of the regime or thugs because we don't want to taint the revolution.

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You -- the outside world -- will be told that it's our "culture" and "religion" to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man -- Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation -- but they will be finished by Arab women.
Amina Filali -- the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist -- is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the "virginity tests"; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her -- they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country's ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia's Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought -- social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.
"Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?" Ibrahim asked me soon after we'd spent hours marching together to mark International Women's Day in Cairo on March 8. "They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we're not going anywhere."
We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has 
Model photos by Aaron Goodman for FP
Mohammed Hossam/AFP/Getty Images
Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American columnist. In November 2011, Egyptian police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her. She was detained by the Interior Ministry and military intelligence for 12 hours.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


             The Case of Palestine Revisited

          by Anis Hamadeh

April 14, 2012

A clearer conflict constellation can hardly be imagined: there are two societies, let's call them X and Y. Society X has a huge and very active army and far over 3 billion dollars of new weapons and military devices each year. Society Y has no army and hardly any weapons. X raids areas of Y, demolishes hundreds of homes of Y and keeps thousands of individuals of Y imprisoned, while there are no X prisoners in Y prisons, no raids by Y and no house demolitions. X occupies Y's territory and increases its own territory at Y's expense on a daily basis, while Y does not occupy any land of X. X takes water and other resources from Y, while Y does not take resources from X. X imposes heavy sanctions on Y and violates basic human rights like freedom of movement and the right of self-determination, while Y has no way of imposing sanctions. The (non-governmental) terrorists of X are not persecuted, the “terrorists” of Y are. X conducts "targeted killings", Y does not even have a legitimate government that could decide on such a measure. Y had free elections, but X did not recognize the results and, together with ally countries, imposed a collaborator government on Y. If this government resorted to targeted killings their members would be killed immediately themselves. X does not observe international law and does so with impunity. Y gets punished collectively even when it exercises democratic rights like elections and resistance in view of X's aggression. When you now consider that there are about two members of Y killed by X officials every day on average plus the fact that Y constitutes the largest group of refugees in the world due to expulsions carried out by X while X does not have a single refugee and, on the contrary, invites people from abroad to live in the country, then you will agree that the responsibility for the conflict overwhelmingly must be on X and in its allies and supporters.

Well, this is what Israel/Palestine is all about. It is the prime example, even the caricature of oppression and it has been going on for almost seventy years now. There are three questions posing themselves in this constellation: Why does the world let this happen? What are the mechanisms to maintain the status quo? How can justice be achieved?

Why does the world allow this to happen?

This question is not as straightforward as it may seem and it goes back to, at least, the year 1948, when expulsions and massacres preceded the formation of the state. The massacre of Deir Yassin, to mention a widely known example, was covered by the world press. Here, about 100 village inhabitants were killed and nobody was called to responsibility. It was a significant precedent. The Israeli view is that at the time there was a "civil war" going on, but in this "civil war" the astonishing amount of 750.000 Palestinians was expelled and their lands and property simply stolen by the militarily well-equipped Zionists. 1948 is the year when big lies began to unfold. Everybody in the world could see what was going on, but people did not react, mainly because the Zionist invaders were equated with the victims of the European genocide of the Jews and thus more than excused. Moreover, hegemonial interests of Europe and the West played a role. They gave Palestine to the Zionists as if they owned it and the local population had to pay the price as a scapegoat.

What are the Mechanisms to Maintain the Status Quo?

But how could this injustice be maintained over so many decades? It all started with myths. "A land without a people for a people without a land" is such a myth. "Making the desert bloom" is another one, and "the Jewish David against an Arab Goliath" yet another. Myths covered the 1967 expansion of Israel and the Oslo negotiations. "There is no partner for peace" is a myth. "The only democracy in the region" is but a myth, as are "the most moral army in the world" and "the safe haven of Israel". Arab anti-Semitism is a myth, an especially mean one, as it distracts from the perpetrators of the genocide. Evil Islam is another myth
"Evil Islam" is actually more than a myth. It is one of a set of ideological stereotypes ascribed to groups and peoples. The Arabs are aggressive, the (Zionist) Jews are always the victims. They are stereotypically conceptualized as defending themselves, no matter what they do. Thus we hardly read about Palestinian resistance, when Palestinians are attacked and defending themselves against Zionist perpetrators, because such a constellation is simply impossible in the prevailing ideology. When our media writes about hatred, then it is by rule always Arabs and Muslims who hate, never Jews - except, of course, "self-hating" Jews, i.e. those who do not support the Israeli policy of oppression.

Codes are another means of maintaining the status quo in which the Zionist Israelis have all the power. "Denying Israel the right to exist" is one of these codes; it appears whenever substantial criticism is expressed. The code "right to exist" actually stands for "right to do whatever they want, including attacking, killing and stealing". "Both sides" is a code to hush up the overwhelming military power of Israel that owns more than 99,9 % of the weapons in the country. "Historical responsibility" is a code for western countries to support Israeli violence by conjuring up the genocide. Our media language is full of these codes and ideological markers.

Another mechanism to maintain the status quo is the permanent reference to "the enemy". Today, Hamas and Iran are the favorite enemies of Israel's and whenever somebody fights for equal rights or for Palestinian freedom we hear the "argument" that this means supporting the evil enemy. It is a trick as cheap as the stereotyping of victims and perpetrators. Take Iran: Israel has nuclear weapons, Iran has none. Israel has not ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Iran has. Israel openly declares that it considers waging a war against Iran because of Iran's nuclear threat. Peres in 2006 explicitly said Israel can "wipe Iran off the map", something Iran never said (Ahmadinejad called for a regime change in Israel). Every village idiot can see who is threatening whom here, but media and politicians in many countries mysteriously cannot. Neither do they insist on a nuclear-free Middle East, a reasonable and just proposition. No, they side with Israel, even though the recent Iraq experience started very similarly and it turned out that it was an aggressive US war based on a big lie. We witnessed the same warmongering from Israel's side in and before the war on Iraq. The powerful US and its major ally Israel see an “enemy” and build up an in-group-feeling and an identity by "defending themselves" against this enemy. Our media and politicians hardly ever doubt this "defense", although it is the oldest chestnut in political history. Even Adolf Hitler launched World War II by saying that Germany will now "shoot back". But did we learn to question this "defense" of the powerful? Obviously, not in the least.

There are other mechanisms like "highlighting and hiding" facts or omitting to speak about legal aspects and instead sticking to group aspects. In this way, "illegal occupation" can become "disputed territories" and human rights defenders are reduced to "pro-Palestinian activists"
Furthermore, we have something that can be called "mirror criticism". Here, people ascribe Israeli deeds to Palestinians. For example, there is a discussion about Palestinian textbooks, because Israeli textbooks have a clear racist basis. There is a discussion about Palestinian smuggling of arms, because Israel has almost all of the arms. The debate about Palestinian violence is vivid, because Israeli violence is as omnipresent as it is taboo. We find criticism of Palestinian victim behavior, because Israel displays victim behavior. Muslim religious influence is a big topic, because Jewish and Christian influences from the West are an integral part of the aggression. Israel critics are accused of mixing up the concepts "Israeli" and "Jew", because Zionists and their defenders do so (see below). "Anti-Semitic reflexes" are detected in reflex, etc. Psychologically, mirror criticism is a compensation: the powerful see and feel the bad, but they can only talk about it when the enemy is responsible for it, because self-criticism is distinctly missing in the powerful who stand beyond criticism and who are never taken to responsibility.

"False flag operations" and other political and military deceits are also part of the system (including defamations, lies etc.). They cannot be a big topic in the context of this essay, as they need long analyses. An example must suffice here. Concerning the Achille Lauro killing there is a clear statement by Ari Ben-Menashe, security counselor for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who claims in his book "Profits of War" (Sheridan Square Press, 1992, p. 122) that Rafi Eitan, head of the anti-terror department of the Israeli secret service, planned and conducted the brutal terror attack via an agent in a Palestinian terror organization. Why did Ben-Menashe write this? And why did the mainstream not ask further questions?

Critics are Labeled Anti-Semites

Gunter Grass

The most powerful of all mechanisms, though, is the reproach of anti-Semitism. Again, it is a trick. You say you criticize what Israel does? Oh no, what you really refer to is your attitude toward Jews. Occupation? No, you just hate Jews. The categories "Jew" and "Israeli" are melting into one here, and the same is true for the equation of Zionists and Jews in the labeling of anti-Zionism as being anti-Semitic. The boycott of illegal settlements thus becomes: "Don't buy from the Jew", and so on. There is absolutely no logic in that, but the public buys it, anyway - at the expense of the Palestinians and other nations. The legitimate rights of the Palestinians are denied mainly via the reproach of anti-Semitism.

A revealing recent example is the Günter Grass debate about his famous poem "What has to be said". The widely known German literary critic Hellmuth Karasek misquoted Grass in the newspaper Berliner Morgenpost by alleging Grass wrote "the Jews" endanger world peace. But Grass clearly wrote "Israel". The newspaper made it "the Jews", because this is what they wanted it to be. For one thing, they can belatedly fight the long gone Nazis in this way, and for another they can thus participate in the current power structure.

On a secondary level, criticism of Israel is labeled "anti-Semitic clichés". For example: when Israel arrogates to commit crimes in the name of all Jews it is predictable that this behavior will indeed fuel anti-Jewish sentiments. But try to speak about it. Some nerd will explain that it is an old anti-Semitic cliché that the Jews are responsible for their victimhood themselves - and the discussion is over. Israel actually relies heavily on anti-Semitism, for without it its whole legitimacy would vanish, according to the Zionists own measures and arguments. So they will rather fan it than fight it. Israel needs anti-Semitism for its power position.

The Arrogance of Power

Of course Israel criticism is allowed, say our media and politicians. And not only that: Israel is, in fact, constantly criticized. But when Israel actually is criticized - think of Grass - you see what really happens. And what did Grass say? He hardly even mentioned the Palestinians, for example, and only scratched the surface. Of course Israel criticism is allowed, as long as it does not provoke and irritate the arrogance of power. As long as it is not substantial and remains vague, full of constrictions, and without effect.

But fundamental and well-grounded criticism will always and principally be regarded as unbalanced, pro-enemy, anti-Semitic, insulting etc. by the powerful and their apologists. They will hysterically do every twist and turn to avert criticism and maintain the oppressive status quo. "Why pick on Israel and not on many other countries?", they will ask to change the subject. "Why don't you criticize the Palestinians as well?", they ask for the same reason. And what about "applause from the wrong side"?, they ask, as if this mattered.

All in all, we find the typical mechanisms of power here and this is the floor of the whole story. Whenever somebody challenges Zionist power there are two possibilities: either it is ignored in line with our repressive tolerance. Or, if ignorance is not enough, there comes a hysterical and knee-jerk response from the Zionists and their lobby. A reflex. Maybe the Zionists do not even notice that all they defend is their status of power, because they never ever had to pay for their crimes. So they just don't know what the concept of justice means and that they are part of the legal universe after all. You question my hegemony, my power and my rule? You must be an anti-Semite!

Power is attractive to many. This is a truism. Najem Wali, for example, an Iraqi-German writer, was a nobody until he publicly defended the US war of aggression on Iraq. Suddenly, he was invited and pampered. He found a renowned publishing house and he learned. He published a book "Journey into the Heart of the Enemy" (in German) in which he lauds Israel massively, explicitly ignoring the occupation and general oppression. It is no longer difficult for him to find readings and opportunities. At the same time, Oded Netivi's thriller "It is God's fault" (in German) with a critical view on Israel has a very hard time, despite its brilliance.

The essay at hand will, of course, face the same reactions: either it is not important enough and can be ignored, or it will be attacked in reflex. It is the rule of unfettered power and has nothing to do with Jews or Zionists or what have you. We know this very behavior from dictators and patriarchic family leaders. Arguments do not work against unfettered power, because it is not a discourse after all.

How can Change and Justice be Achieved?

There are three major innovations after almost seventy years of Zionist unquestioned power. The first one is the augmented public of the internet. It is only since a couple of years that this revolutionary free and uncensored public has been established. Whistle-blowing became much easier and it is much harder to conceal facts, when you have YouTube videos and the like. Of course, even the phosphorus attack on Gaza went over YouTube and newspaper front pages and people did not react, but the tendency is clear: you cannot hush up crimes as elegantly as you could in the pre-internet age. Consider that it takes a huge amount of energy and resources to distort the Middle Eastern facts so blatantly.

Point two is that Israel now is at a stage where it destroys itself and damages its allies immensely. Similar to the USA - the Israeli backbone that gives three billion annual tax dollars only for military presents to Israel without any US advantage - Israel has narrowed and cut basic democratic rights like the freedom of opinion or a free press. Religious zealots bring in their bit by questioning the law and trying to introduce "holy" laws instead. So everybody who ignores the danger of Israeli violence will support - willingly or not - the destruction of the State of Israel. 

Thirdly, nonviolent resistance has multiplied over the past years. Popular committees have been constituted in many Palestinian villages and cities. They are independent of political parties. Individuals have emerged who foster creative forms of nonviolent political action, e.g. Ismail Khatib who donated organs of his son, who was killed by Israelis, to Israelis ("The Heart of Jenin"). There are Palestinian artists - musicians, painters, writers etc. - who are devoted to nonviolent action and there is a growing international support on the grassroots level with events like flotillas to overcome the Gaza siege, "flytillas" which are nonviolent fly-ins via airplanes into the country, the Global March to Jerusalem, the Welcome to Palestine campaign and many other events.

Jimmy Carter, Bishop Tutu, Helmut Schmidt, Günter Grass ... among celebrities we mostly find elder statesmen to criticize Israel in a fundamental and thus adequate way at the moment. They will soon die and have little to fear. But it can be supposed that a majority of people understands that Israel is the main problem when it comes to peace in the Middle East. Israel is constantly attacking by stealing land, it is based on racist ideas, it has no peace plan (the Arabs have a peace plan) and it does not even define its borders. It refuses to comply with UN resolutions. The majority is silent, though, in fear of personal and professional disadvantages. But the free public, the process of self-destruction in Israel and the growing international support will eventually lead to a paradigm shift, because it is more necessary than ever.

It is up to the individual to confront this problem. It is not enough to be angry. Some enter the country in solidarity and work with and for the oppressed there. Others donate money. Some boycott, divest and sanction the oppression, and others invest and conduct projects in and for Palestine. Some write educating articles and others promote journalists, politicians and artists who dare to speak up.

Right now one can get the impression that blind and total solidarity with the aggressive Zionist regime is the attitude of the 99 %, because critics are not tolerated in public. Yet this is far from the truth. The majority of people worldwide, even in the West, is critical of Israel - of course! They can see that the emperor wears no clothes. They can hear what Netanyahu and Lieberman and Barak, LivAni, Peres and all these people are actually saying. Therefore it is of major importance to bring and keep critics in the public and to support them. Openly, if possible, or silently, if necessary. Without public figures there cannot be a paradigm change. This is why the pressure on them is so high - the powerful by all means seek to maintain the status quo. So what about you?

The original of this essay can be found at: http://www.anis-online.de/1/essays/27.htm
Anis Hamadeh is a freelance German artist and publicist. Visit his wondrous website at http://www.anis-online.de/ There you will find a fascinating world full of music, colorful art, essays, interviews, short stories, songs, art club, a whole section devoted to Palestine, and a magnificent palace, with individual rooms for each writer!

Monday, April 2, 2012

FINKELSTEIN: Traitor or Pragmatist?

Palestinians at a crucial juncture

By: Gulamhusein Abba

“It is all very well for us, sitting in the comfort and security of our homes, to be purists. We do not live with drones flying over our heads 24/7,we do not experience any difficulty travelling from one place to another, we do not live in fear of bombs falling on our homes.”
“Neither I nor the talking heads nor the pundits and pen pushers and keyboard warriors operating from the comfort and security of their homes, nor the Finkelsteins of this world, nor anyone else can tell the Palestinians what they should do or not do. It is for them to decide how to shape their destiny.”


Dr. Norman Finkelstein

UPDATE: This article was sent to Dr. Norman Finkelstein with a request that if there be any statement, argument, belief attributed to him in the article to be untrue or incorrect, he should let me know. He has responded and made only the following clarifications:

He has stated: “I am not aware of any authoritative statements by jurists or legal bodies that equate Israeli policies vis-a-vis its own Palestinian-Israeli citizens as constituting Apartheid. No sane person denies the discriminatory nature and policies of the Israeli state, but Apartheid under the Rome Statutes constitutes a ‘crime against humanity’, and so it requires crossing a very high threshold before one equates a State's discriminatory policies with Apartheid.”

With regard to my suggesting that he urges the Palestinians to accept a two state solution and agree to swap about 1.9 per cent of existing West Bank for a land equal in size and value, he has stated categorically: “I do not believe that Palestinians should accept anything less than the full 100% of their territory.”

The article refers to a map he showed at the lectures with the 1.9 percent of West Bank that was being asked for a land swap. The implication was that this was a map drawn up by Finkelstein. With regard to this he has clarified that the map was actually a map that had been presented by the Palestinians in 2008.

About Palestinians recognizing Israel, while not denying what he said at the lectures that Israel was not entitled to insist on the Palestinians recognizing its right to exist as a state, much less entitled to insist that they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, he has stated, “If one wants to anchor a resolution of the conflict in international law, I do not agree that the decision is the Palestinians to make whether or not they recognize Israel. The law is the law; and according to the law Israel is a member state of the United Nations and has the same rights and duties as any other state.”

It must be emphasized that the purpose of this article is neither to endorse or reject any of the statements, claims, arguments, beliefs, suggestions presented by Dr. Finkelstein in his recent UK lectures but merely to present a true and correct picture of what was said.

March 27, 2012

After receiving several e-mails forwarding bitter attacks against Finkelstein for his pronouncements at several colleges and in private interviews during his recent lecture tour in UK, I read, in full, the posts sent to me. I then hunted out several reports and videos about Finkelstein's UK lecture tour and, though it took hours spread over several days, read all the reports and saw all the videos.

It became clear to me that the attacks on Finkelstein were based on the single 30 minute interview he gave to a private person in the confines of a small private room. I feel that if those on the attack had heard the long and detailed speeches Finkelstein gave to large audiences in University Halls and at other places, they would change their mind.

I find that Finkelstein has not changed a bit on fundamentals. In his lectures during his recent tour, he came out very hard on Israel and recounted and described in graphic language several horrible acts Israel has committed. And he affirmed very clearly and explicitly that according to the International Court of Justice, UN resolutions, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to mention just a few entities, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are Palestinian territory, the transfer of Israelis to these parts is against international law, the Israeli settlements are illegal.

In his lectures he also mentioned atrocities committed by Israel elsewhere too.

He made no attempt to justify any of Israel’s acts with reference to Palestine. To the contrary he has condemned them unequivocally.

Israel’s right to exist

Regarding Israel’s right to exist, he ridiculed Israel's demand that the Palestinians recognize its right to exist and said that Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state had no legal basis. Indeed, he indirectly admitted that Palestinians are entitled to claim that Israel, whether Jewish or secular, has no inherent right to exist though it can claim that it has acquired the right to have its existence accepted. And indeed that is the current position of Hamas and Fatah also. Both deny Israel’s right to exist but accept the fact of its existence.

Right of return

As for the refugee question, Finkelstein, in his London tour lectures, never denied the right of return. To the contrary, he has ridiculed the Israeli suggestion that an international fund be set up and the refugees be compensated from that. He said that Israel cannot disclaim any responsibility for the refugee problem and he insisted that Israel must accept the principle of the right of return. He pointed out that the figures projected by Israel are imaginary. The real number of refugees wanting to return to Palestine would be far less. The refugee problem is not insurmountable and can be worked out through negotiations.

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

Nor did he express any objection to the means the Palestinians are using to achieve their rights. In fact he said he fully supports the BDS campaign. His criticism was of those behind the BDS campaign claiming that they are agnostic about the existence of Israel. He pointed out that people are not fools. They see that the demands made by the Palestinians will mean the end of Israel’s existence as it is constituted at present.

The question, he said, is of tactics, of politics. He maintains that if the Palestinians want to present themselves as ones who are reasonable, ones who are rights-based, ones who just want the UN resolutions enforced, then they cannot ask for a one state solution, simply because an Israeli state is part of the UN resolution. One cannot ask for selective enforcement.

One state or Two state solution

He has admitted that if the facts on the ground have been changed by Israel to such an extent that it is now no longer possible to have a contiguous and viable Palestinian state, then it would be quite legitimate for the Palestinians to ask for a one state solution. But, he claims, that position is not true. And he showed, by using maps, that by giving up just a little more than one percent of the West Bank, and insisting on retaining the entire West Bank other than the said one percent, Palestinians could have a viable and contiguous state. That, according to him, knocks out the one valid argument for a one state solution.

His argument is that though it might be right morally to insist on a one state solution, that demand cannot be based on the argument that a two state solution is no longer possible on account of the demographics having been changed so completely by Israel.

As I understand it, the demand for a one state solution is based on the fact that Israel has so carved up the West bank that, even if it withdraws completely from the West Bank, it will not be a contiguous state, especially if the proposed land swap is accepted.


There can be no question that Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens amounts to apartheid. One can denounce that and demand suitable action against Israel for that. But one cannot, on that basis, demand that the occupied territories be combined with what is now Israel to form a single democratic and secular state.

Idealism versus pragmatism

Finkelstein has been criticized for advocating a pragmatic approach rather than one based on human rights, international law, justice, morality and ethics

It cannot be denied that moral action, such as human rights campaigns, should never be guided by “mainstream  public”. Their very task is to change mainstream public opinion.

Nowhere do I find Finkelstein denying this. All that he says is that changing public opinion on the issue of one state versus two states is going to take a very, very long time. Palestinians will be able to get their legitimate demands met more quickly if they abandon the demand for a single state and stick to a demand for an end to the occupation, a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state in the borders contained in the UN partition resolution and the right of return for the legitimate Palestinian refugees.

Either the Palestinians say it loud and clear that the UN partition resolution itself is unjust and morally wrong and on that basis they aspire to end a Jewish state and create in its place a democratic and secular state with equal rights for all its citizens OR they demand the full implementation and enforcement of the UN resolution, which includes having Israel as a state (though not as a Jewish state)
What Finkelstein is saying is that If the Palestinians stick to the first position, they will be morally right, but it will take many, many years to achieve their goal. If they choose the second course, which does not in any way contradict their three layered demands, they stand a better chance of achieving their goal, a better chance of bringing to an end the misery and deaths being inflicted on the Palestinians by the Israelis, a better chance of allowing the Palestinians to get on with their lives.

He further argued that though it has taken years of hard work to do so, the world is at last ready to listen sympathetically to the demands of Palestinians, ready to admit that what Israel is doing is unjust and contrary to international law. It is ready to see the establishment of a two state solution. It is NOT yet ready to accept a one state solution.

He argued that rather than go on fighting for a demand which may be morally right but which will entail years and years of waiting and many, many more Palestinian lives lost, purely from the tactical point of view, it would be better for the Palestinians to grasp this opportunity and adhere to the demand of full implementation of the UN resolutions (which include the state of Israel).

On whose side is Finkelstein?

If one listens carefully to all the videos, one begins to see that what he is saying is not that the demand for a one state solution has no moral underpinning or that it is not based on the rights of Palestinians. He is merely stating that there is an alternative solution, a two state solution, and it would be easier and quicker to get that rather than ask for a one state solution.

The impression one gets after listening to all the lectures is that his main concern is not preserving the state of Israel, as those who are now criticizing him claim, but rather to suggest to Palestinians a tactic that would more quickly bring an end to the Israeli occupation and all that comes with it, and allow them to get on with their lives.  Implicit was that the final choice, of course, rests with the Palestinian people (as opposed to ideologues or so called leaders who have their own personal agendas to pursue).

Is Finkelstein trying to “ease his guilty conscience”?

All this talk about Finkelstein being concerned about “How the world, and specially the Israelis, remember him after he dies” and his lectures being an attempt to ease his “guilty” conscience and his not wanting to be remembered as an anti-Semite who advocated Israel shouldn’t exist – all this is pure conjecture, quite baseless and wholly undeserved. I found no evidence of any such concerns and desires. I saw no trace of a guilty conscience trying to redeem itself.

An exception to Finkelstein’s “swap” suggestion

I must confess that even I, who am so outraged by the atrocities of Israel and by the UN carving up Palestine and giving more than 50% of it to a foreign entity to establish a state of their own thereon -- even I have often urged what Finkelstein is now suggesting. With one exception. Though it is going to be an uphill task, the demand, I feel, should, at the very least, be for the entire West Bank to be restored to the Palestinians, including the one percent that Finkelstein believes the giving up of which would lead more quickly to the Palestinians achieving an independent state of their own. Presenting the Israelis with this one percent would amount to rewarding an invader with a part of his spoils to make him disgorge the rest. Apart from it being unjust, it would set a bad and dangerous precedent for future invaders. Truth to tell, I personally feel that the Palestinians should demand the full implementation of the UN partition plan and all the relevant UN resolutions thereafter, as Finkelstein now suggests. But, the demand should be for Israel withdrawing fully and completely, to the borders delineated by the UN in its original partition plan, not the 1967 borders.

Of course, it can be argued that even if Israel withdraws completely from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, it would be impossible for these areas to live in peace because of the Israeli settlements  and connecting roads that Israel has dotted these areas with and on that basis, a two state solution is no longer viable and the only solution is a unified, single, democratic and secular state.

Finkelstein not free from criticism

Is Finkelstein completely free from criticism? Certainly not. His downplaying the achievements of the BDS campaign is most unfortunate, disturbing and contrary to facts. Many trade unions have participated in it. Several artistes have cancelled their appearances in Israel. Divestment  has taken place. Products and companies have been boycotted. More important, as pointed out by Finkelstein himself, in solidarity marches and protests all over the world, those taking part are no longer just Palestinians. The majority of them are non-Palestinians. And, again as pointed out by Finkelstein himself, the perception of the world about Israel has changed. It is being increasingly isolated. While it is true that Finkelstein himself has played not a small part in making this change occur, the BDS campaign can rightfully take full credit for this phenomenon’

Similarly, his constantly repeating that Palestinians should adopt a tactic based on what the mainstream public worldwide is ready to accept was, initially very disturbing and jarring. But I listened, over and over again, to what Finkelstein was trying to convey and I realized that he was not saying that what he is proposing is the right stand, in terms of what morality and ethical norms demand. He was merely presenting this as an alternative choice. What are the advantages and disadvantages of adopting this stance. And what are the costs of adopting a strictly morality based stand. One has to choose. Clearly Finkelstein feels that sticking to a two state solution and, while insisting that the right of return be accepted by Israel in principle, being flexible on the way it is implemented – this is, in the present circumstances, the better choice for the Palestinians..  

He was also dead wrong in suggesting that Palestinians should stop criticizing Israel for the way it treats its minorities, particularly the Arab citizens of Israel. Not only Palestinians but anybody and everybody in the world has a right and a duty to condemn this apartheid. On this question, I fully agree there can be no question that Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens amounts to apartheid. One can and should denounce that and demand suitable action against Israel for that. But, I submit, one cannot, on that basis, demand that the occupied territories be combined with what is now Israel to form a single democratic and secular state.

On the whole

On the whole, my sense of the situation is that if it is put to the vote, whether Palestinians should continue to fight for a single state solution or accept the realities and agree to a two state solution within the parameters of UN resolutions, -- if this is put to the vote, the majority of the Palestinians would say that they have had enough of fighting, enough of the hardships inflicted on them, enough of deaths, and want to move on with their lives. I feel they would say they are now willing to accept a two state solution, provided it includes a fully independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous state of Palestine within the borders of the UN partition resolution and the right of return for the Palestinian refugees..

We all know that Israel accepted only that part of the UN resolution which authorized the Jewish entity setting up a state of its own in Palestine. It never accepted the BORDERS. Israel has never defined its borders. And there is a reason for this. Zionists, from the beginning, were bent on extending Israel's borders to all of Palestine west of the Jordan River. Indeed, their ultimate goal was, and remains, extending the borders to include Jordan. But it "accepted" the state that was given to it, to use it as a step to achieve its final goal.

Ultimately it is for the Palestinians to decide

Perhaps the Palestinians should learn from this. Perhaps the wise thing to do would be to accept the two state solution, get it set up and recognized, build it economically, politically and in all other ways, and then, when they are in a position to do so, campaign for one single, democratic, secular state, on the ground and with the argument that it would benefit both, the Israelis and the Palestinians.

On the other hand, one can be an idealist, a purist and go on insisting that the UN had no right to carve up Palestine, no right to impose a foreign government on the Palestinians, and go on insisting on a one state solution on that basis alone. 

Ultimately, I feel that it is for the Palestinians to decide what they want to do. It is all very well for us, sitting in the comfort and security of our homes, to be purists. We do not live with drones flying over our heads 24/7, we do not experience any difficulty travelling from one place to another, we do not live in fear of bombs falling on our homes. Palestinians do.


A personal note:

First, about Finkelstein. He is clearly no traitor of the Palestinian cause. He has been at the forefront advocating for Palestinian rights. For more than three decades he has been telling the world about Israel’s oppressive policies. He did this again and again in his lectures in UK recently. His commitment to ending Israel’s oppressive policies remains as strong as ever and he continues to be an important and forceful critic of Israel and supporter of the Palestinian cause.

This has not been easy for him nor is it easy for him now. He has paid a very heavy price for his public denunciation of Israeli actions. There is no need to repeat what he has borne.The record is known to all.

Quartering him and throwing him to the dogs is height of ingratitude and is folly exemplified.

What Finkelstein deserves from the Palestinians and the supporters of their cause is not vilification but praise, continued support and yes, gratitude.

I have written this with a very heavy heart.  Here are my innermost thoughts, beliefs and feelings: The Jews did not really need a state of their own. The European powers decided to set up a separate state for the Jews in Palestine not out of compassion for the Jews or to fill a perceived need for them to have a state of their own but for their personal ulterior motives, namely to provide a salve to their guilty conscience (for not doing what they could have done to prevent the holocaust), keep the thousands upon thousands of refugee Jews from their own shores, and, to have a paw in the Middle East. The UN had no right to practice charity at the expense of the Palestinians. The UN erred grievously in agreeing to partition Palestine and imposing a foreign government on the Palestinians against their expressed wishes. The UN added insult to injury by giving more than 50 per cent of Palestine to this foreign entity. Israel being the creation of the UN, the UN has a duty and an obligation to see that Israel respects international law. It is the duty of the UN to take necessary action, such as imposing sanctions and taking any and all other necessary actions, to compel Israel to end its illegal and brutal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights instead of leaving the defenseless Palestinians at the mercy of the Israelis and forcing the Palestinians to negotiate a peace deal with them. What is needed is not negotiations between the powerful aggressor and the helpless victim but implementation and enforcement by the international community of UN resolutions on record.

I personally am for the eventual establishment of a single democratic and secular state on all of the land west of the Jordan river which comprised Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel.

For the present, I feel, the best strategy would be to focus on getting the UN to enforce the UN partition resolution and all the subsequent UN resolutions on the subject.

Simultaneously, the BDS organizers should strengthen the campaign, proposing neither a two state or a one state solution but concentrating on calling for BDS against Israel solely on the grounds of it violating international laws and human rights and practicing discrimination against its Arab citizens and other groups.

The BDS campaign is an inclusive one, embracing all human rights advocates including Palestinians, Israelis, American Jews, and American Palestinian Christians and Muslims who together hold Israel accountable for its horrendous policies and actions and call for an end to its illegal and brutal occupation.

These are just my personal thoughts. What strategies should the Palestinians adopt? I firmly believe that neither I nor the talking heads nor the pundits and pen pushers and keyboard warriors operating from the comfort and security of their homes, nor the Finkelsteins of this world, nor anyone else can tell the Palestinians what they should do or not do. It is for them to decide how to shape their destiny.