A year ago, the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish passed away. At the time, I wrote this obituary for 3QuarksDaily.com and thought I would share today with PULSE readers.
It is impossible for me to express what I feel about the passing of Mahmoud Darwish. Like many Palestinians, I had grown up reading his poetry in order to express how I feel about whatever significant events happen to Palestinians. I turned to his writings to understand the periods of Palestine’s history that happened before I was born. If ever anyone in history deserved the title of a Poet Laureate, it was indeed Darwish, who spoke the mind of his people in a way I doubt anyone has ever been able to do for any other people. Today, I wake up missing my voice. The real travesty of Darwish’s death is that it revealed to me that he is no longer there to eloquently express to me how I feel about such travesties.
An often underemphasized aspect of Darwish’s life is how he truly lived every single episode of modern Palestinian history, and lived in all the significant locations and periods of Palestinian life. He was born in 1942 in Al-Birweh, Galilee, before the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine that made him a refugee in Lebanon in 1948. His father decided to return his family to Palestine in 1949, risking murder by Zionist militias that had murdered countless Palestinians who attempted to “escape home”. Somehow, Darwish succeeded in returning, and thus lived the years of his youth as a second-class Israeli citizen. He would then leave to study in the Soviet Union in the early 1970’s, joining the growing Palestinian Diaspora in Europe. His political activism lead to Israel stripping him of his second-class citizenship, and thus returned him to the ranks of Palestinian refugees and the Diaspora. He would then live in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, getting to savor the experience of the homeless Palestinians wandering across the Arab World.
I’ve probably told this story — orally — hundreds of times in the past nine months. It’s a story I find fascinating, and I ask it of every Israeli I meet: How did you become a dissident?
A Zionist Upbringing
I was born and raised in Israel. A daughter to “Atheist Jews”, secular Zionists, white collar, upper middle class, capitalists, Neo-Liberals, who “built this country”. I’ve had many internal struggles with these values and identity labels. Always self aware, at some point I decided to just accept that I will never be in the mainstream, and to accept the “rebel without a cause” label I’ve been given by my family.
Through the Zionist thicket of my own family’s education, school, and the Israeli media, I found myself rootless, alone, but most of all numb. It seems to me that the biggest achievement of Zionist propaganda is to make the majority of Israelis numb and confused. I would despise school (which I often described as “oppressive”), my army service (“jail with better visiting conditions”), and national ceremony (“disgusting solidarity”).
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
— A poem by the Persian poet Sa’adi (1210 – 1290)
gracing the entrance of the Hall of Nations of the
United Nations building in New York City
If we speak out against the threat of force against Iran (regarding the nuclear conflict) and warn against a military strike, we cannot be silent on the use of force in Iran itself against its own civil society. For solidarity with the civil society and a peaceful order in the region constitute the primary concern of our efforts. If we condemn foreign sanctions against the Iranian people, we deplore all the more domestic sanctions directed at peaceful demonstrators, journalists, trade unionists, professors, students and others. Thereby the government deprives itself from the domestic basis needed against foreign threats.
Not only as individuals but also conjointly as a group of engaged scholars, we want to announce our resolute protest against the brutal clampdown of demonstrators and against the mass arrests, and strongly advise a peaceful dialogue with the civil society. We call upon the government to release all political prisoners of the last few weeks – amongst them many professors – and to seek dialogue with precisely those persons as moderators of the civil society. Freedom of opinion and the right to demonstrate – cornerstones of the UN Charter of Human Rights to which Iran is a signatory – are being massively violated in today’s Iran.
We strongly remind that the state of siege and the continuing threat of force that have emanated from foreign governments once again fatally demonstrate how thereby the space for a democratic development in Iran are being reduced.
The Independent has offered Darius Guppy the opportunity to write back against the dominant ‘Iran narrative’ in the Western media. Guppy argues that there is no hard evidence for rigging in the recent Iranian presidential elections (an argument made here and here too), and criticises the easy assumption that Ahmadinejad’s victory was fraudulent, as well as, more generally, the West’s usual double standards when it comes to the Muslim world. He questions the complacent expectation that most young Iranians wish to emulate our ‘free’ society, and contrasts the UK unfavourably with Iran in terms of authoritarian surveillance, public ethics, and culture. “Visit Iran and you will see a people polite, hospitable, cultured, noble and brave,” he writes. “Look at Britain’s urban hell and you will see young girls and boys armed with knives, swearing, half naked, vomiting the previous night’s attempt to stifle their pain and their emptiness.” Guppy here is employing the rant genre, as I often do myself. Like all op-ed journalism, his piece is necessarily partial and incomplete. He generalises, and fails to mention, for example, Iran’s galloping heroin problem. But he surely makes some very good points, and makes them very eloquently. The Independent is to be congratulated for giving him the space.
Or is it? Two paragraphs into the online piece, the reader is directed to another article which mocks the author. This framing piece doesn’t engage Guppy’s arguments but simply launches ad hominem attacks against him. It turns out that Guppy was imprisoned for insurance fraud in 1993. This is relevant information, but not so relevant that we need to be informed even before we’ve finished Guppy’s piece. Then the Independent’s omniscient voice implies Guppy is not a genuine enough native informant because he’s only half Iranian. (Guppy does use the rhetorical ‘we’ in his piece, but also describes himself as an old Etonian. He isn’t pretending to be anything he isn’t.) The framing article also subtly distorts Guppy’s perspective, for instance by claiming that he mocks the idea that Iranians long for democracy. In Guppy’s article, democracy is written inside inverted commas – ‘democracy’. In other words, Guppy is not writing against democracy, but against the propagandist use of the word in the West.
This is Jana Hannoun. I met her after a Palestine Literature Festival event at the British Council in occupied east Jerusalem. We were at the British Council because our original venue, the Palestine National Theatre, had been closed down by the Israeli occupiers. The British Council is just down the road from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, where Jana lived, and which Israel wants to Judaize.
At five o clock in the morning on August 2nd, the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families were physically thrown out of their homes by Zionist troops. 53 people, including 19 children, were made homeless, and their toys and clothes were strewn in the street. They were made homeless because they are members of the wrong ethnic group – because they are Arabs, the natives of Palestine, and not invading Jews. Their homes were immediately occupied by foreign settlers.
This, of course, is fascism. Because of a myth of national origin (and it is a myth – the vast majority of Jews originate from eastern Europe and north Africa, not from Palestine, not even two thousand years ago), the Canaanite-Arab Palestinians are designated untermenschen to be driven out. The Sheikh Jarrah families have experienced this before, as they are refugees from Haifa and west Jerusalem, ethnically cleansed by Zionist terrorist militias in 1948. The UN built homes for them in east Jerusalem after 1948, and that half of the city fell too in 1967. In this report, Jana is interviewed. More videos of the theft can be viewed here.
I always talk about Israeli pacifists and their inability to see the barriers they place on the Palestinian road to justice, dignity, and human rights. Today I’d like to talk about a much more appalling occurrence; Amnesty International supporting Leonard Cohen’s breach of the boycott of Israel.
The Leonard Cohen Myth
Personally, it’s hard for me to understand the disillusionment of pro-Palestinian Leonard Cohen fans. In the history of his involvement with Israel, Cohen has always sided with Israel, or made statements of officially taking no sides, when his side was rather obvious:
I don’t want to speak of wars or sides … Personal process is one thing, it’s blood, it’s the identification one feels with their roots and their origins. The militarism I practice as a person and a writer is another thing. … I don’t wish to speak about war.
In case I’m misconstruing my information, I’ll repeat the quote I’ve embedded on my front page and have, personally, had no choice but to live by:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmund Tutu)
Chris Hedges says America is gone. It’s lost to consumer culture and the cult of the self. We’re barreling towards collapse. Hedges points to Michael Jackson’s funeral, made into a maudlin form of entertainment where a celebrity attendee like Magic Johnson could plug his sponsor, A.K.A Kentucky Fried Chicken. In Hedges’ view of this world, lies and manipulation win over truth, as evidenced everywhere from Wall Street to reality television. Over time, says Hedges, corporations have morphed our consumption into a constant, nagging compulsion. One homogenous culture sold to us by large companies has stamped out our nation’s distinct regional differences, and there’s no turning back.
In this talk at Town Hall Seattle, Hedges makes his case against consumerism, celebrity culture, mainstream media and unfettered capitalism. His latest book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.” Elliott Bay Book Company co–sponsored his talk on July 22, 2009.