By PAUL SIEGEL
“The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid,” ed. Roane Carey. Verso, 2001. 354 pp. $20.
“The New Intifada” consists of 20 essays by different contributors, mainly on-the-scene Palestinians, but also including Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, the well-known British journalist Robert Fisk, Israeli peace and human rights activists, and American activists in the Palestinian cause. The essays correct the deficiencies and distortions that pervade reportage and commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the mainstream American media.
The contributors show, for instance, that Physicians for Human Rights (USA), Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International agree that the Israeli occupation forces engage in what Amnesty International called “a pattern of gross human rights violations that may well amount to war crimes.” Yet media commentators disregard or at best quickly pass over these reports by respected human rights organizations and continue, although it is increasingly difficult to do so, to speak of Israeli “restraint.”
Similarly, the American media, without even knowing the details of Barak’s Camp David proposal, uncritically accepted the official Israeli position that Barak made the Palestinians an offer of remarkable generosity that an irrationally intransigent Arafat refused. Examination of the details by “The New Intifada” contributors, however, reveals that what was offered was not a truly independent, viable state but a state that would have remained under Israeli control.
Among the articles I found most useful in gaining information not contained in the American media are those by Azmi Bishara and Gila Svirsky, which deal with Israel itself.
Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian professor who is a member of Israel’s Knesset. He was a member of the Communist Party, leaving it in 1980 to help create the National Democratic Alliance, a Palestinian party in Israel that seeks to express Palestinian nationalism on a secular platform.
Bishara tells of the demonstrations by Palestinian citizens of Israel in October 2000 in which 13 of them were killed by the Israeli police. The American media that described these demonstrations and their suppression did so without providing a background and without presenting them in depth.
The demonstrations were both a reaction to Israeli Jews’ discrimination against Arabs and a display of solidarity with the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Bishara kept informing the Minister of Public Security of incidents of police brutality but to no avail.
Bishara himself witnessed Arab students at Hebrew University being beaten and then arrested while their attackers were allowed to go free. This took place all over Israel. In Nazareth police assisted the mobs attacking Arab homes, killing two and wounding many.
Thugs not only attacked Arabs but damaged Jewish-owned restaurants that employed Arabs and burned Jewish property that had Arab tenants. Not a single perpetrator was arrested.
Bishara himself received numerous death threats. His house was attacked, and he was shot and wounded by a member of the security forces. Although Bishara is a member of the Israeli parliament, the incident was not even investigated.
All of this took place under the Labor government of Barak. The Palestinians in Israel had been quiescent until their hopes for peace and equality, which had been raised by the Labor Party, were dashed by it. Aroused by the intifada in the occupied territories, they became active players.
The paternalistic Laborites were infuriated by the independence of the Palestinians. They did not offer a word of condemnation of the police violence or call for the removal of the police commander who repeatedly called on TV for the Arabs to be taught a lesson.
There was, therefore, says Bishara, “created an inseparable moral gap between … the liberal Jewish Israeli elite … and the liberal, progressive, democratic Arabs.” On the other hand, “the anti-Zionist Jews, many of whom are my personal friends, behaved quite differently and honorably so.”
Some Israeli Jews have been willing to think, although cautiously and with some self-contradiction, along the lines of Bishara of a struggle for the equality of status of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
A group of prominent Jewish artists issued a manifesto, cited by Omar Barghouti, another Palestinian citizen of Israel, in which they said: “The State of Israel should strive to become the State of all its citizens. We call for an annulment of all laws that make Israel an apartheid state, including the Jewish Law of Return in its present form.”
They urged a series of reforms that would bring “reconsideration and a revision of the meaning of the ‘Jewishness’ of the State.”
Gila Svirsky, the coordinator of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace and a veteran peace and human rights activist, describes in her contribution the activities of what she calls “the many small progressive groups” in Israel opposed to the occupation. These activities have included rallies, marches, civil disobedience, street theater, and convoys of aid to Palestinian villages and have involved both Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and sometimes also Palestinians in the occupied territories.
A high point was a rally of 2000 women in the plaza of Jerusalem, from where they marched to East Jerusalem, on the walls of which they unfurled banners reading “Shalom, Salaam, Peace” and “End the Occupation” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. They concluded the demonstration by singing, “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the American civil rights movement.
Svirsky contrasts “the progressive camp” with the Peace Now organization, which “has always been centrist and close to the Labor and Meretz parties; when these parties are in power, it avoids public criticism of government policies and actions.”
Peace Now remained silent, therefore, when the Barak government presented its false account of the Camp David summit, as a consequence of which most Israelis came to believe that Sharon’s iron-fist policy was the only one Israel could adopt.
Israeli opinion so swung to the right that Peace Now lost many of its adherents. This swing to the right was intensified by the suicide bombers, who drove Israelis into the arms of Sharon and hurt the cause of peace. However, the American media, which speak of the peace movement in Israel as having diminished to the point of near invisibility, have paid little or no attention to the progressive groups referred to by Svirsky.
Since she wrote her essay, these groups, although facing an extremely difficult situation, have continued to carry on their fight. They have responded to Israeli incursions into the West Bank in various ways.
According to Neve Gordon, a professor of politics at Ben-Gurion University (The Nation, April 29, 2002), 4000 Jewish and Palestinian protesters marched on April 3 this year from Jerusalem to a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah with four truckloads of food and medical supplies for the besieged Palestinians. They were tear-gassed, clubbed, and trampled upon by the Israeli police.
On April 6, some 15,000 marched in Tel Aviv to demand that Sharon immediately withdraw all Israeli soldiers from the occupied territories. One Israeli TV channel gave 20 seconds to the demonstration and the other, the public station, did not cover it at all.
The American media have not done any better than the Israeli media in their coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. American activists must engage in a campaign of education and in doing so invoke, as Nancy Murray calls upon them to do in the concluding essay of “The New Intifada,” the memory of the anti-apartheid divestment movement in the United States and the earlier civil-rights movement against segregation.
The Palestinian cause demands no less a struggle.