The Palestine/Israel Peace Process Is Dead – Thanks to Past & Present American Presidents

By Mitchell Plitnick

As the curtain dropped on 2017, it dropped too on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as we have known it. At the age of 24, that process has finally died, with none other than President Donald Trump pulling the plug. But let’s not give him too much credit or blame for that. The killing blow was struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

There was much to like in Obama’s presidency, especially given the mess he was handed in 2009 and the unprecedented obstructionism of the Republican Party during his tenure. But he also had abject failures that were due to his own shortcomings, and the sharp degeneration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his watch is at the top of the list.

The structure of the Oslo peace process probably doomed it to failure from the beginning. It was always meant to focus on bilateral talks, with the tough issues put off as long as possible. Meanwhile, nothing in the accords on which the process was based prohibited the expansion of Israeli settlements in the territories it occupied in 1967; human rights in general was barely an afterthought; and the dependence in the Accords on the political will of Israelis, the far more powerful party, opened the door for both demagogic Israeli leaders and violent Palestinian groups to erode that will very quickly.

The Rise and Fall of the Oslo Process

The hope that existed in the Oslo Accords, such as it was, arose entirely out of the will of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. Unfortunately, those negotiators failed to address the political reality that the United States, a hopelessly biased party, had long since established itself as the broker of negotiations. In fairness, the U.S. record in 1993, while far from exemplary, was not nearly as bad as it would become. The Camp David agreement of 1979 fell far short of what President Jimmy Carter had wanted for the Palestinians, but it did reduce the threat of Middle East warfare by brokering Israeli-Egyptian peace. And George H.W. Bush had granted some legitimacy to the Palestinians as a people with rights by including them, even if not equally, at the Madrid conference in 1991. These may seem small achievements, and they are, but they are more than any subsequent US president managed to accomplish.

By the time Barack Obama came into office, more than 15 years into the Oslo process, the situation had deteriorated very badly. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination at the hands of a right-wing extremist—who was encouraged, consciously or otherwise, by a slew of right wing rabbis and by Rabin’s main political opponent, Benjamin Netanyahu—was followed by a wave of terrorism that threw ice water on Israeli enthusiasm for peace and swept Netanyahu into office. The contentious relationship between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton resulted in the Hebron Agreement and eventually helped to push Netanyahu out of office, but it also slowed progress with the Palestinians to a near stop, and Oslo’s five-year deadline for final status issues passed with no progress on them at all. Clinton’s response to this, the Camp David II summit, was a disaster, as Clinton and Netanyahu’s successor, Ehud Barak, broke their promise not to blame Arafat for its failure. The second intifada ensued, and the Israeli liberal-left was destroyed while the West Bank and Gaza were decimated.

George W. Bush’s war on terror filled the void in the U.S.-Israel alliance that had been there since the end of the Cold War. His “Roadmap to Peace” might have been a useful document if there had been any enforcement mechanism in it, but there was not. The Roadmap and the Annapolis Summit were empty gestures against a regional policy, largely designed by neoconservatives, that destroyed not only the previous policy of “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran, but effectively destroyed Iraq, planting the seeds that sprouted into the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and regional chaos.

As Bush changed the regional context, fruitless talks between Israel and the Palestinians continued. Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw all Israeli forces and settlements from the Gaza Strip, and to remove four small settlements from the West Bank, demonstrated, as intended, how politically difficult evacuating settlements was for Israeli leaders—pouring, as Sharon’s aide Dov Weisglass put it, formaldehyde into the peace process.

Hamas’ electoral victory in 2006 made the Israeli public much more apprehensive, even as the intifada was winding down. The refusal of the U.S. and Israel to accept the results of an election they pushed the Palestinian Authority into holding culminated in a coup attempt by Fatah forces in Gaza. The attempt failed. Israel subsequently designated Gaza a hostile territory, and placed a full closure around the already horribly poor, mostly isolated, and overcrowded Strip that continues to this day. At the end of Bush’s second term, Israel launched the first of a series of large-scale military operations against Gaza.

That was the boiling cauldron into which Barack Obama stepped. Obama had openly expressed not only staunch support for Israel’s security but a deep and, for a U.S. president, unique sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. Obama’s speech at the beginning of his term, made in Cairo on his first foreign tour, offered hope that his administration would be different.

Enter Obama

At first, it seemed the lofty words might even herald some substantial policy shift. Soon after taking office, Obama called for a total freeze on Israeli settlement construction. But Obama had failed to lay the groundwork in Washington for such a call, and when Israel as well as congressional Republicans attacked him for it, Democrats offered half-hearted support or stayed entirely out of the line of fire. Finally, desperate to salvage something, Obama accepted the partial freeze that Netanyahu offered, which essentially amounted to no freeze at all.

The episode laid bare the reality of Obama’s Middle East policy. He had good intentions, but could not overcome the inherent U.S. bias that many peace advocates had been pointing out for years.

Obama had two years with a Democratic Congress, and his failure with the settlement freeze meant he was faced with a choice. He was already thinking about a broader Middle East policy shift, considerations which eventually turned into new sanctions on Iran designed to force the Islamic Republic to the table on the issue of its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Concluding a deal with Iran would, and did, require enormous political capital. There was no way he could even consider substantive pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to push for a final status agreement and pursue the Iran nuclear deal. He wisely chose the latter.

But Obama made another fatal error, this one in 2011, when he vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that had been intentionally drafted to reflect official United States policy on Israeli settlements. The resolution imposed nothing on the parties other than calling on Israel to stop settlement expansion, as Obama himself had called for, and negotiate the final status issues. By vetoing this resolution, Obama made it clear that there would be no pressure on Israel from him beyond rhetoric.

Few were ready to say so then, but it was on that day, nearly seven years ago, that the Oslo process died. Obama would, of course, continue to allow John Kerry to try his hand at making peace, but Obama’s own involvement was much more subdued and without a strong push from the president, there wasn’t even hope for a miracle.

Ironically, UNSC 2334, from which the US abstained in December 2016, was quite similar to the one Obama had vetoed. While the resolution gave Obama a small feather in his cap on his departure, and offered a strand of hope to those working for a diplomatic solution to the ongoing denial of rights to the Palestinian people, it was far too little and far too late.

Donald Trump, with his refusal to call for a two-state solution, his stacking his Mideast team with supporters of Israeli settlers and far right elements, his close relationship to Benjamin Netanyahu and, finally, his reckless recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, really did nothing more than proclaim the death that Obama had done much more to bring about. Their intentions couldn’t have been more different, but the result was the same.

Where to now?

At this point, the real question is how long it will take the world to acknowledge that the old game is over. The two-state solution need not be abandoned, but it must be reconsidered and reformulated. All options now must be considered, and it remains to be seen what outcome the Palestinians themselves will seek.

We know what Israel wants: continued control over the West Bank with very limited autonomy for the Palestinians in non-contiguous territory that, if they wish, they can call a state. Obviously, that is not what the Palestinians want. If it is true, as current rumor has it, that the United States and Saudi Arabia are working on a plan to force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept such a deal, that effort is unlikely to succeed—especially now that Trump has turned up the tension with his Jerusalem declaration.

But as grim as things are, there is also a real opportunity here. The U.S.-led process is dead. The focus now must be on a new process. Whether that process has the same or a different goal, it cannot be led by the United States. If the last quarter century proves anything, that’s it.

An international coalition, along the lines of the P5+1 that negotiated the Iran deal, albeit with less U.S. leadership this time around, would have a much better chance to insulate itself against reactionary domestic pressures—in the U.S. and the European Union as well—that work to ensure the full denial of Palestinian rights.

This is a greater possibility than ever because Trump has already diminished U.S. influence significantly around the world, and the bullying style on display again at the UN in recent weeks will only accelerate that process. The European Union, even without the United Kingdom, is still Israel’s largest trading partner by far. If they can work with China and Russia on formulating a peace plan that has some teeth in it, Israel cannot ignore that. The U.S. can be involved, as an equal, and in that case, its role as Israel’s “lawyer” can be a positive, providing a voice for Israel without the ability to block the global consensus.

It can be tough for many to face, but the U.S. role as broker has been perhaps the biggest reason for the failure of the peace process. For the US, Israel is a key ally, while the Palestinians are, at best, a charity case. Israel has strong political pull in Washington, the Palestinians have none. The US cannot be anything but a destructive player in a negotiation where a great power is needed to mediate and bridge the gap between a regional superpower and a stateless people.

But a grassroots push is exactly the right idea. Now is the time for everyone who cares about Israel, the Palestinians, the Middle East, and global peace to organize, lobby, demonstrate, petition, and advocate in every way they can for an international coalition with limited U.S. involvement. It can work, the window of opportunity has never been wider.

Advertisements

Right will destroy Israel

by Uri Averny

Nobody described the outbreak of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict better than the historian Isaac Deutscher.

A man lives in a house that catches fire. To save his life, he jumps out of the window. He lands on a passer-by in the street below and injures him grievously. Between the two a bitter enmity arises. Who is to blame?

Of course, no parable can reflect reality exactly. The man who jumped out of the burning house did not land on this particular passerby by chance. The passerby became an invalid for life. But on the whole, this parable is better than any other I know.

Deutscher did not provide an answer to the question of how to solve the conflict. Are the two condemned to fight each other forever? Is there a solution at all?

Common sense would say: of course there is. True, the injured person cannot be restored to his former condition. The man who caused the injury cannot return to his former home, which was destroyed by the fire. But…

But the man can – and must – apologize to his victim. That is the minimum. He can – and must – pay him compensation. That is what justice demands. But then the two can become friends. Perhaps even partners.

Instead, the man continues to harm the victim. He invades the victim’s home and throws him out. The victim’s sons try to evict the man. And so it goes on.

Deutscher himself, who fled the Nazis from Poland to England in time, did not see the continuation of the story. He died a few days after the Six-day War.

Instead of quarreling endlessly about who was right and who was wrong, how wonderful we are and how abhorrent the others are, we should think about the future.

What do we want? What kind of a state do we want to live in? How do we end the occupation, and what will come after?

Israel is divided between “Left” and “Right”. I don’t like these terms – they are obvious misnomers. They were created in the French National Assembly more than two hundred years ago by the accidental seating of the parties in the hall at the time, as seen by the speaker. But let’s use them for convenience sake.

The real division is between those who prefer the people to the land, and those who prefer the land to the people. Which is more sacred?

In the early days of the state there was a joke making the rounds. God summoned David Ben-Gurion and told him: you have done great things for my people, make a wish and I shall grant it.

Ben-Gurion answered: I wish that Israel will be a Jewish state, that it will encompass all the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and that it be a just state.

“That is too much even for me,” God said. “But I will grant you two of your three wishes.”

Since then we have the choice between a Jewish and just state in part of the country, or a Jewish state in all the country that will not be just, or a greater and just state, that will not be Jewish.

Ben-Gurion must be weeping in his grave.

So what are the solutions proposed by the two major forces in Israeli politics?

The “Left” has by now an orderly program. I am proud of having contributed to it. It says, more or less:

A State of Palestine will come into being next to the State of Israel.

Between the two states there will be peace, based on an agreement that will provide for open borders and close mutual relations.

There will be joint institutions as necessary, by consent.

The united city of Jerusalem will be the capital of both states, West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.

There will be a limited, agreed, one-to-one exchange of territory.

There will be a limited, symbolic return of refugees to Israel, all other refugees will receive generous compensation and “return” to the State of Palestine or remain where they are.

Israel will remain a mainly Jewish state, with Hebrew as its first official language and open for Jewish immigration according to its laws.

Both states will join regional institutions.

This is a clear picture of the future. Both ardent Zionists and non-Zionists can accept it wholeheartedly.

What is the program of the “Right”? How do its ideologues see the future?

The simple fact is that the Right has no picture of the future, no program, not even a dream. Only vague sentiments.

That may be its strength. Sentiments are a strong force in the life of nations.

What the Right would really like is the endless continuation of the present situation: the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the indirect occupation of the Gaza Strip, enforced by blockade.

Cold logic says that this is an unnatural situation that cannot go on forever. Sooner or later it has to be institutionalized. How?

There are two possibilities, and only two: an apartheid state or a binational state.

That is so obvious, that even the most fanatical right-winger cannot deny it. No one even tries to.

There is a vague hope that the Arabs in Palestine will somehow pack up and just go away. That will not happen. The unique circumstances of 1948 will not and cannot repeat themselves.

A few well-to-do Palestinians may actually leave for London or Rio de Janeiro, but their demographic weight will remain negligible. The mass of people will remain where they are – and multiply.

Already now, there live between the sea and the river, in the Greater Israel of the dream, according to the last count (July 2016): 6,510,894 Arabs and 6,114,546 Jews. The Arab birthrate is bound to fall, but so will the Jewish one (except for the Orthodox).

What would life be like in the Israeli apartheid state? One thing is certain: it would not attract masses of Jews. The split between Jewish Israelis and Jews in the USA and other countries would widen slowly and inexorably.

Sooner or later, the disenfranchised majority would rise, world opinion would condemn and boycott Israel, and the apartheid system would break down. What would remain?

What would remain is the thing almost all Israelis dread: the binational State. One person – one vote. A country very different from Israel. A country from which many Israeli Jews would depart, either slowly or rapidly.

This is not propaganda, but simple fact. If there is a right-wing ideologue somewhere who has an answer to this – let them stand up now, before it is too late.

I cannot resist the temptation of telling again the old joke:

A drunken British lady stands on the deck of the Titanic, with a glass of whisky in her hand, and sees the approaching iceberg. “I did ask for some ice,” she exclaims, “but this is ridiculous!”

Balfour Declaration- 1

School cancels Balfour poetry contest that fails to mention Israel

St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington announced be hosting the poetry competition on November 2.

A Kent grammar school has abruptly withdrawn from hosting a poetry competition marking the Balfour Declaration centenary which only asked for submissions on the theme of Palestine.
St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington announced in its June newsletter that it would hold an international poetry competition on November 2.
The competition, sponsored by The Balfour Project, Shortlands Poetry Circle and Bromley International Cluster, is open to students aged between 10- and 18-years-old from “all faiths and none”, and will award £500 to the winner.
The school was contacted by Board of Deputies vice president Sheila Gewolb over why Israel was not mentioned.
Headmaster Aydin Önaç told Mrs Gewolb that the school was “simply hosting the competition”.
He added: “I know that the organisers were very careful to use the term ‘mark’ rather than ‘celebrate’ [the centenary] so as not to predetermine any bias in submissions.”
Mr Önaç said that as the competition had been “underway for some time” there was no need to change the guidelines.
But when contacted by the JC on Wednesday, the headmaster said the school was no longer hosting the event. He declined to comment further.
Mrs Gewolb said: “Any responsible project, which a school promotes to its students, needs to promote peace and a two-state solution. This poetry competition does not meet these needs.”
St Olave’s hit the headlines last month for excluding pupils who failed to get top grades in AS-level exams .

The Price for Criticizing Israel

By Dennis J Bernstein
There are very few journalist in the U.S. or Europe who have the courage to report fairly on Israel’s seemingly endless illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. Personally, as a Jewish-American, and the grandson of a revered Rabbi, I have been roundly denounced by pro-Israeli representatives and their Zionist lobbyists in the U.S.

I’ve stopped counting the number of vicious personal attacks that have labeled me a self-hating Jewish anti-Semite. Here’s one that got my attention and the attention of journalist Robert Fisk of the Independent of London, who I introduced one night for a lecture in Berkeley, California, and who then wrote an article about the plight of Jewish journalists and activists in the U.S. who dare to write or speak honestly about Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of the Palestinians:
“You mother-fucking-asshole-self-hating Jewish piece of shit. Hitler killed the wrong Jews. He should have killed your parents, so a piece of Jewish shit like you would not have been born. God willing, Arab terrorists will cut you to pieces Daniel Pearl-style, AMEN!!!” The latter reference to the late Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and decapitated in Pakistan.
And at another level, the Israeli consulate in San Francisco has complained to my managers at KPFA/ Pacifica Radio repeatedly about my “pro-Palestinian terrorist” and “anti-semitic” reporting, and my apparent “hatred” for the Jewish State.
Emmy award-winning filmmaker and investigative reporter John Pilger is one of the rare exceptions who has plowed head-first into this crucial story of our time. Pilger has made two documentaries 25 years apart about Palestine, with almost the same name, Palestine is the Issue and then Palestine is Still the Issue.
I spoke recently with Pilger about Palestine and the brutality of the continuing occupation, and also about the responsibility for empowering and sustaining the occupation that falls at the feet of the Western press, based on its misreporting and, in some cases, not reporting at all the brutal realities of Israel’s iron-fisted occupation of Palestinians, which many critics, as well as several UN officials, have labeled as a form of ethnic cleansing that borders on genocide.
I also spoke with Pilger about the recent G-20 meetings in Germany, where President Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the Russia-gate frenzy. John Pilger’s latest film is The Coming War on China. He recently gave a moving talk at the Palestine Expo in London on the ongoing battle for the liberation of Palestine, excerpts of which have been published by Consortiumnews.
Dennis Bernstein: Let’s start with some current events. We just had the G20 meeting in Europe with a big deal made about the meeting between Trump and Putin and a lot of action in the streets. Your thoughts on what happened there and some of the goings-on?
John Pilger: I think it was very interesting on two levels. First of all, it was a clear demonstration of the continuing rebellion against remote governments, governments often justifiably referred to as oligarchic. The number of people in the streets of Hamburg accurately represented that rebellion.
The interesting thing about the G20 itself was that Germany clearly set out to determine the agenda. Merkel wanted to put her country forward as the undisputed leader now of Europe. Some would say it has been for quite a while and with Britain on the way out the opportunity does exist. But that didn’t happen.

President Trump discusses his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. (Screenshot from Whitehouse.gov)

The discussion was appropriated by the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Putting aside all the grotesque, cartoon qualities of Trump, the one thing that he has been consistent about is doing some deal with Russia. This has gotten him in a lot of trouble because the Democratic Party and, in fact most of the beltway institutions in Washington, don’t want this to happen. They would like Russia to remain a perennial enemy.
Without Moscow there as the demon, it is very difficult to justify a lot of the infrastructure of power in the United States, particularly the massive armament and military industries. Trump openly challenged this, virtually from the beginning. Although he seemed to have to prove himself to the pillars of power in Washington by firing missiles at Syria, this element in his presidency has remained pretty much constant.
This was of course the first meeting between Trump and Putin. They spoke for two hours and twenty minutes and, by all accounts, some kind of rapport was developed. In previous times that would be good news. It used to be called “detente.” These days this is not good news, either in the US political establishment and corporate media or, to a large degree, here in Britain.
The ridiculous allegations that the Russians helped to elect Trump by directly interfering in the great American democratic process have converged with the news that Trump and Putin may well have struck some kind of deal. Whether Trump is allowed to pursue whatever arrangements he has made toward normalizing relations with Russia, given the institutions of power in the United States, is rather doubtful.
DB: Of course, the corporate press is not at all interested in detente in Syria. Their main story ever since Trump’s meeting with Putin has been that his son may be guilty of treason.
JP: I’ve never heard something so absurd in my life, especially as the United States has intervened so aggressively in post-Soviet Russia. All through the 1990’s the open and quite successful intervention was blatant. And for these powerful forces in the United States to obsess with Russian meddling in our election process demonstrates a kind of double standard that is difficult to comprehend.
DB: In light of your new film, The Coming War on China, this is a time when detente at all levels is crucial because the dangers of staying the course are so huge. It is interesting to see that right-wing hawks in Washington are helping to foster a new relationship between Russia and China. But detente is the only answer at this point, isn’t it?
JP: Yes, it is. What’s needed is a diplomatic settlement. Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t do that anymore. It doesn’t have “diplomats” in the real sense of the word. To now see the presidents of two of the major nuclear-armed powers in the world seemingly forging some kind of political arrangement–agreeing, apparently, that they shouldn’t go to war with nuclear weapons. This is a throwback to a time before George W. Bush abolished the START treaties and others that were put together so painstakingly over so many years between the Soviet Union and the United States. It demonstrates how far the world–at the level of its political elite–has regressed. The United States is a very frightening vision for most of us because nuclear weapons are in the background all the time. The chance of a mistaken launch of nuclear weapons is high.
Consider the case of Korea, where the United States has installed its very aggressive THAAD so-called “defense” system which threatens China. No one believes for a minute that these missiles are pointed at North Korea, which could be dealt with in many other ways by the United States. The long-term strategy of an ascendant Pentagon is the balkanization of the Russian Federation and the intimidation of China. And if there is any glint of some kind of pullback from that position, as there might have been in the meeting between Trump and Putin, then that is good news.
DB: And of course it is so bizarre that you have America talking about the role that China should be playing and how we are so disappointed that they are not doing all they can to facilitate THAAD, which is part of a strategy to surround their country in what we know is shaping up to be “the Chinese century.”
John, I’d like you to talk about how you first began to report on Palestine and then I’d like to fast forward to current issues.
JP: I first went to Palestine in the 1960’s and stayed on a kibbutz. I probably came with the popular assumption that Israel’s myths about itself were true, that Israel was a good idea. I conflated the horror of the Holocaust with the new Jewish state. The people on the kibbutz regarded themselves as both socialists and Zionists.
I came to understand the doublespeak or the contemporary amnesia that is so pervasive in Israel. We had some very lively discussions but rarely mentioned the majority people. I saw them one evening and they were referred to as “them,” as silhouettes beyond the limits of the kibbutz. I asked about them and was told, well, they’re the Arabs. One man called them nomads. By just asking the question I was crossing a line, and a disturbed silence followed. I was with good people on the kibbutz, they had principles, many had memories of the horrors in Europe. They knew, of course, that they were on stolen land.
The word “Palestinian” was almost never used, rather echoing Golda Meir’s later remark that “there’s no such thing as Palestinians.” Because once the term “Palestinian” was recognized, the state of Palestine had to be recognized. For me it was a very interesting introduction to the extraordinary situation in Palestine. I learned a lot from a wonderful photographer named Dan Hidani who lost all his family in Germany during the War. We talked out this subject of the so-called Arabs and I learned a lot from him about the guilt of the colonizers that can never quite be covered up. These early experiences really alerted me to the huge injustice the Palestinians were suffering and of course still suffer today.
DB: Could I ask you to tell the story of the novelist Liana Badr, because it really does speak to what has happened to many Palestinians and the way they have been treated?

Israel Defense Force soldiers patrolling Nablus during the Second Intifada in 2002. (Photo credit: Israel Defense Forces)

JP: In 2002, when Ariel Sharon was prime minister and several times sent the Israeli army and tanks into the West Bank, I arrived in Ramallah just when the Israeli army was withdrawing. Ramallah was devastated and one of the places I visited was the Palestinian Cultural Center. There I met the center’s director, the renowned Palestinian novelist Liana Badr, who teaches at Columbia University now. Her manuscripts were torn and scattered across the floor. The hard drive containing her fiction and a whole library of plays and poetry had been stolen by the Israeli soldiers. Not a single book had survived. Master tapes of one of the best collections of Palestinian cinema were lost.
This was an assault on a people’s culture. The soldiers had urinated and defecated on the floors and on the desks and smeared feces on children’s paintings. It was the most vivid and telling symbol of what a colonial power does to the people whose country it occupies.
It was an attempt to dehumanize, that is what this assault on the Palestinian Cultural Center represented. What struck me, as well, was the determination of the Palestinians in this situation not to comply with what was expected of them as victims. That is the most astonishing thing about the Palestinians. As you walk through the rubble of Gaza, where the Israelis have attacked so many times, all of a sudden you see in the distance a group of school girls beautifully turned out in their starched and pressed uniforms and their hair done. It is a vision of defiance and determination to keep going. So the occupation may have worked physically but it hasn’t worked spiritually. And perhaps in the near future it may not work politically.
Jaffa oranges are famous around the world. Actually, Jaffa is a Palestinian town taken by Israel. Jaffa oranges form part of the mythical history of modern Israel, the idea that the desert of Palestine would be made green by the arriving Jews, who would make the desert bloom. But the oranges and grapes were in fact grown by Palestinian farmers and the oranges had been exported to Europe since the eighteenth century. At one time, a rather melancholy name for the town of Jaffa used by its former inhabitants was “the place of sad oranges.”
DB: I want to talk to you about Palestine and journalism. Maybe we could compare and contrast Mohammed Omer, on the one hand–who is dodging bombs and trying to get food for his family as the drones are flying past his window, trying to get as best he can the truth from the ground–compare Mohammed Omer with the people at CNBC and the BBC.
JP: Well, we know that most of mainstream journalism is simply an extension of the state. We’ve talked about the extraordinary McCarthy-like propaganda campaign that wants to blame everything including the weather on Russia. That happens because the media is the propaganda wing of the institutions that form power in the West.
The one that produces the most refined propaganda is the BBC. CNN and the others are just cruder versions. Any truth about Israel/Palestine or, more generally, the Middle East is not going to come from the mainstream media. Those of us who know this should rather stop beating our heads against a brick wall, asking why they don’t tell the truth. That’s not what they’re there for.

An Israeli soldier prepares for a night attack inside Gaza as part of Operation Protective Edge, which killed more than 2,000 Gazans in 2014. (Israel Defense Forces photo)

Fortunately, there are now many independent sources, such as your program. You mentioned Mohammed Omer. We saw how brilliant and objective his reporting was from Gaza during the last terrible attack in 2014. His own family was under attack, they had very little food and water and so on, but every day he would produce these concise reports of no more than maybe 800 words, together with his photographs that would tell you what was happening as he witnessed it. It was about how people were still leading their lives in the most extraordinary ways, despite all the grief and suffering.
In other words, he did what the official media in the West rarely does: He put faces and names on people, he described their lives. He has collected those pieces together in a book. And there have been other journalists, particularly Palestinian photographers and camera people, who have done similar work. They make me proud to be a journalist.
DB: I only bring up the corporate journalists because they sustain these kinds of conditions by not reporting them or misreporting them.
JP: From my own point of view, I find it unwatchable, unless I am either monitoring it or deconstructing it. It is their censorship by omission, by distortion, by demonology. General Petraeus once said he spent most of his time with the media because that mattered more than trying to defeat the Taliban.
The good news is that a lot of people don’t believe it anymore. One of the elements in the rebellion rolling across Western societies is an anger with the media. This is certainly true in Britain. I’ve never known the media to be so popular a subject for debate. And it’s being discussed with a great deal of resentment. Reporters find themselves now having to account for their actions. That’s a new development.
Yesterday, The Guardian ran a rather defensive front-page article about journalists being called to account by the survivors of the terrible Grenfell Tower fire here in London. Well, that was emblematic of the media being called to account over a wide range of issues. People are becoming aware, they understand now. They’re no longer simply consumers of this sort of nonsense.
Certainly, the power of the media remains. But one of my favorite stories is that, on the night that Jeremy Corbyn almost won the election here, there was a party at the Times newspaper, which of course is run by Rupert Murdoch. When the first results came in and it became clear that Labor was doing so well, Murdoch stormed out. That was a very symbolic moment because it meant that his media and the media like his no longer had the power to ensure that certain politicians were elected. Two days before the election, The Daily Mail devoted thirteen pages to an attempted character assassination of Corbyn. It had no effect whatsoever.
DB: We just had on our show Arab Barghouti, the son of Mustafa Barghouti, who hasn’t touched his father for two years. Mustafa Barghouti has been in prison for fifteen years and just led a major hunger strike. Strong, articulate, he can’t be silenced. Or you mentioned Dr. Mona El-Farra, a medical director on the ground who had a good part of her extended family wiped out in 2014. She is still ministering to the people and telling the truth to anyone who will listen. It’s amazing.
JP: Yes, these are amazing people and it’s quite inspiring to be in their company. Even amidst all the carnage in the world, they make you feel good about being human.
DB: Why do you think Nelson Mandela said Palestine is the greatest moral issue of our time?

Photograph taken by an Israeli sniper of the head of a Palestinian boy in the cross-hairs of a rifle scope.

JP: There is a lot to criticize about Mandela but one of the things that was interesting and admirable about Mandela was that he was loyal to those who had supported and given solidarity to the people in South Africa struggling for their freedom. Certainly, right through his time in prison he always stressed the importance of that solidarity. In other words, of people standing together. It was a rather old-fashioned internationalist view of struggle.
He associated the struggle of the majority people of South Africa against the apartheid regime with the plight of the Palestinians who were struggling with their own form of apartheid. In the same way, Desmond Tutu has been to the West Bank and has been very outspoken in echoing what Mandela said. Tutu is on the record as saying that he regards the structures of apartheid in Israel/Palestine as in some respects even worse than those in South Africa.
I suppose Mandela considered Palestine the greatest moral issue because it was about a people wronged. The Palestinians were not the Germans, they didn’t do terrible things to the Jewish people. In fact, they had lived peacefully with the Jewish people for a very long time. They were the majority people in their country. Jews, Muslims, Christians lived together in peace, generally speaking, until the state of Israel was imposed on them.
As Mustafa Barghouti put it, “The Zionists wanted a state at the expense of the Palestinians.” That’s what Mandela meant. Palestine is a classic colonial injustice. [Israel] is the fourth largest military power in the world backed by the largest military power, the European Union and other Western countries, taking away the freedom and imposing oppression on the people of Palestine.
DB: And the idea of a free Palestinian people is one that is very troubling to the Arab world that is aligned with the United States. It seems nobody wants to think about the liberation of Palestine because then they have to think about their own corrupt and vicious dictatorships. Palestine really is the issue of war and peace. Whether there will ever be peace depends on whether these people will ever have a place to call their home again.
JP: Certainly, until the Palestinians have justice–in a way that they recognize it–there will be no peace in the region. In a sense, all roads of conflict in this troubled region lead back to Palestine. If the Palestine issue were resolved, that would mean that Israel would be a normal country. Not armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and intimidating and oppressing the indigenous people, but a normal country living with equality within its own sphere. If that happened, if that were resolved, I’m not saying that peace would suddenly break out all over the Middle East, but it would be the beginning.
DB: Do you see the boycott/divestment movement as a hopeful light? Clearly, people who have supported it in the US, students and teachers, have suffered great repression. But do you see this as a viable movement? In some ways it is modeled on the South African anti-apartheid movement.
JP: All you have to do is look at the reaction in Israel. They are terrified of it. They have brought all kinds of pressure to bear on governments, particularly the British government, to stop the BDS movement having an influence. Just the other day, a court judgment found that local councils in Britain could indeed boycott, dis-invest and sanction whoever they please. The British government had told them they couldn’t. Well, they can.
The BDS movement really worries the Israeli regime because it’s popular. In Norway, the biggest trade union has endorsed it. Student bodies in the United States are going along with it. People have had their say and they have voted for it. It represents a kind of local democracy. It’s much more widespread in the United States than people realize and it certainly is across Europe.
BDS on its own is not going to bring about freedom for the Palestinians. In South Africa, the sanctions did undoubtedly have an effect. But White South Africa managed to get around the sanctions. It was when it lost a powerful friend, when the Reagan administration decided that South Africa was causing more trouble than it was worth and finally withdrew its support, that the system fell.
I’m afraid that that is the way power works. But there is no doubt that power is always influenced by popular movements such as BDS. Ultimately, I believe that the solution is in the United States. Without US backing in all its forms, Israel would have no choice but to become a normal country.
DB: It is interesting to see how strong the reaction has been to the boycott/divestment movement. Professors have lost their jobs, kids have been beaten up. Below the corporate media surface, it has really been reverberating out there in the grassroots.

Palestinians have a legal right to armed struggle

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet
depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”

“The truth is that Israelis will never have peace until they recognise that Palestinians have the same right to the same peace and the same independence that they enjoy,’ he said. ‘Recently, that great voice of freedom, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, asked this: “Have the Jewish people of Israel forgotten their collective punishment, their home demolitions, their humiliations so soon?”

“Palestine,” said Nelson Mandela, “is the greatest moral issue of our time.  We know only too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

The hidden urban Palestinian history of West Jerusalem on to screens everywhere

Jerusalem – Based on a series of tours through Katamon and Baka, former Palestinian neighbourhoods where Arab identity was swiftly erased after the 1948 Nakba, the project “Jerusalem, We Are Here” is a web-based interactive documentary that takes viewers on a journey in Jerusalem.

The documentary revives the culturally rich landscape of Palestinian West Jerusalem, based around an interactive map embedded with original film footage, photographs, interviews and audio, directed and produced by Dorit Naaman.

“I realised that if we wanted to make it accessible to Palestinians, we needed to do something that is virtual,” Naaman told Al Jazeera. She began sourcing information about Katamon from Palestine and the diaspora by word of mouth more than five years ago. “1948 is almost 70 years ago, and we need to collect the memories and documents from the people who are still around, who remember. There’s a sense of urgency to this.”

Naaman, who is based in Canada, teamed up with Mona Halaby, a Palestinian whose family was expelled from Baka in 1948. Halaby’s extensive knowledge of the neighbourhoods provided the basis for the interactive map. “It was a very vibrant area with a lot of educated Palestinians, urban Palestinians, professionals, lawyers, educators, doctors, people in the media – people who were interested in the history, the politics, the culture, the literary world,” Halaby told Al Jazeera.

“I’ve always been interested in social history, and culture, lineage and genealogy, and I grew up fortunate to have a mother who enjoyed sharing that sort of story and history with me.”

Throughout the tours of Katamon and Baka, viewers meet individuals returning to their family homes for the first time since 1948, hear stories of notable residents such as educator Khalil Sakakini, and see the neighbourhood’s originally Arab homes, now occupied by Jewish Israelis.

The documentary will keep expanding as more homes are mapped, and Naaman hopes they can “extend it to the rest of Jerusalem … It’s a place that we can start collecting all that information for generations to come,” Halaby said. “It’s going to be a living, breathing document.”

Take a tour of West Jerusalem’s Palestinian history

By Mary Pelletier

A new documentary brings the hidden urban Palestinian history of West Jerusalem on to screens everywhere.

The full documentary is available at www.jerusalemwearehere.com, with plans to present it in Jerusalem this summer.

It will be streamed live at: http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/events/upcoming/jerusalem-interactive-documentary

Based on a series of tours through Katamon and Baka, former Palestinian neighbourhoods where Arab identity was swiftly erased after the 1948 Nakba, the project “Jerusalem, We Are Here” is a web-based interactive documentary that takes viewers on a journey in Jerusalem.

 

The documentary revives the culturally rich landscape of Palestinian West Jerusalem, based around an interactive map embedded with original film footage, photographs, interviews and audio, directed and produced by Dorit Naaman.

“I realised that if we wanted to make it accessible to Palestinians, we needed to do something that is virtual,” Naaman told Al Jazeera. She began sourcing information about Katamon from Palestine and the diaspora by word of mouth more than five years ago. “1948 is almost 70 years ago, and we need to collect the memories and documents from the people who are still around, who remember. There’s a sense of urgency to this.”

Naaman, who is based in Canada, teamed up with Mona Halaby, a Palestinian whose family was expelled from Baka in 1948. Halaby’s extensive knowledge of the neighbourhoods provided the basis for the interactive map. “It was a very vibrant area with a lot of educated Palestinians, urban Palestinians, professionals, lawyers, educators, doctors, people in the media – people who were interested in the history, the politics, the culture, the literary world,” Halaby told Al Jazeera.

“I’ve always been interested in social history, and culture, lineage and genealogy, and I grew up fortunate to have a mother who enjoyed sharing that sort of story and history with me.”

Throughout the tours of Katamon and Baka, viewers meet individuals returning to their family homes for the first time since 1948, hear stories of notable residents such as educator Khalil Sakakini, and see the neighbourhood’s originally Arab homes, now occupied by Jewish Israelis.

The documentary will keep expanding as more homes are mapped, and Naaman hopes they can “extend it to the rest of Jerusalem … It’s a place that we can start collecting all that information for generations to come,” Halaby said. “It’s going to be a living, breathing document.”

Below, four contributors to Jerusalem, We Are Here share their experiences.

 

Teddy Theodorie and his sister Nadia grew up between homes in Talbiyeh and Katamon before their family was expelled from West Jerusalem in 1948. Now, both in their 80s, the siblings live in Bethlehem and contributed stories from their youth to Jerusalem, We Are Here.

Teddy: I was born in Jerusalem, and I grew up in Jerusalem. I was a teenager in 1948, and we lived through many things, but as kids, we never felt it. We were engaged in schools and activities, and we had the YMCA. All my knowledge of Palestine, from north to south, goes back to the YMCA.

People used to mingle a lot in Katamon and Talbiyeh – wherever you went, you would see people you knew. There were no divisions, and the people were very sociable. But people started to leave after the Semiramis hotel was blown up in Katamon by the Israelis in January 1948.

Our family stayed in Katamon until May 12, 1948.

Nadia: It was a full, fun childhood in Talbiyeh and Katamon, but in 1948 it became very tense. When we left, we were told it was just for two weeks, and our family chose to come to Bethlehem because it is very near to Jerusalem and everyone was trying to move to the Old City.

Still, we are not allowed to go back to our home. But it’s necessary to preserve the heritage. People should know that there were Palestinians there.

 

Michel Moushabeck is a Palestinian writer, publisher and musician who lives in the United States. He was born in Beirut shortly after his mother and father’s families were expelled from Katamon in 1948, and he was never able to visit his family’s home in West Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, We Are Here, Moushabeck visits Jerusalem virtually, on a Skype tour through the old city, where his grandfather was the Mukhtar of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

As I virtually walked through the streets of the old city and revisited the places I frequented as a child nearly 50 years ago, I really experienced an emotional journey like no other. And it was a special treat for me to be escorted to our family’s home. I did not live in Katamon at all. I only ever saw our house in Katamon in old photographs from my parents.

The way my father used to talk about Katamon, I got the sense that it was a very special community, and a community of intellectuals. I knew that the neighbourhood was a special place in Palestinian history because it had all of these really highly educated people in one spot.

I could imagine the literary salons that would take place, the political discussions, the storytellers and historians and poets gathering together. Projects like Dorit’s are trying to recreate this history.

The most important part is really showing the people who live there now that those houses they are occupying had been lived in by Palestinians, had been built by Palestinians, and had an amazing history before them.

 

Anwar Ben Badis is a linguist, translator and Arabic teacher who lives in Jerusalem. His mother’s family was expelled from Baka in 1948, and today Ben Badis is one of the few Palestinians who has returned to live in the neighbourhood.

Inspired by his mother’s stories and extensive research into the area’s Palestinian history, Ben Badis leads tours through Baka and Katamon, and acted as a guide for Jerusalem, We Are Here.

“In 1994, I came back to Jerusalem as a student and now I live in Baka – not in my mother’s house, but it was important for me to be very close to her house, to keep her stories and memories alive.”

“Before 1948, we didn’t have borders between neighbourhoods, and it was a place where people felt they were a part of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem was part of them. Many of the Jerusalemite families from here now live in East Jerusalem, and for years they didn’t want to share anything – it’s not easy for them.”

“So for me, this project takes me back to renew my memory. It’s very difficult, but I don’t feel like a stranger in Baka. I am probably the only Palestinian who will put my flag on my balcony. I feel it is important – this is my country, this is my neighbourhood, this is my land.”