By Jim Miles
Palestine Inside Out – An Everyday Occupation. Saree Makdisi. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2008.
This has been one of the most difficult books that I have ever read. It removed me from my academic detachment with which I read the majority of books and took me into emotions ranging from frustration, sadness, melancholy through to anger and belligerence. A compelling read, yet at the same time I had to put it down every so many pages in order to contemplate, digest, or simply escape what in sum could be called the constant inhuman brutality of one human against another. It is a brutality that is as much psychological as physical, as much emotional as bodily. While the media presents a relatively constant stream of news violence from Israel-Palestine, with the Israelis purportedly “responding” to Palestinian “terrorists”, the truth of life for the average Palestinian is not just this asymmetrical violence, but the daily violence perpetrated by the occupation, a collective punishment on the Palestinian population that “because the destruction is routine, it generally takes place out of the view of the global media.” It is death, destruction, eviction, genocide by a million cuts, applied over and over and over with full control of the geographical and cultural landscapes under the rule of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).
The underlying theme of the book is of demographics, the Israeli project to empty the land of Palestinians and not allow the right of return under any circumstances. This is accomplished by using not only pure physical force, but also by using cultural, social, and economic disenfranchisement using a “complex series of bureaucratic and administrative hurdles”, the main one being to prove that one has land in the first place.
Saree Makdisi’s conclusion to his first section of the book is that the whole extended Peace Process “has been a fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land,” with the result that “the Israeli occupation has slowly and methodically accomplished precisely what it set out to do forty-one years ago.” As the oft quoted Dov Weisglass stated, “this whole package [of Palestine] has been removed from our agenda indefinitely…with authority and permission…with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”
Those are not the statements that raise my emotions – rather they rile my intellect at the culpability and ignorance of the political elites in all parties involved, Palestinian included as Makdisi treats the PA and Fateh harshly. What does raise the emotions is the writing that relates the daily trials and tribulations that the Palestinians suffer under the occupation of the IDF, the ever-changing rules and regulations, the whim of any Israeli who can do whatever to a Palestinian and suffer no consequences for that action. The daily frustrations of life under occupation are immense as presented in the anecdotal accounts and the summary statistics of each section of this book.
Attending school, growing food, tending one’s gardens and fields, getting married, visiting a neighbour, a market, a business, going to university, a hospital, travelling to another country, are all under the combination of strict and confusing regulations combined with the whim of the IDF soldiers and commanding officers in the field (always a Palestinian field at that). Nightly raids, curfews, harassment by settlers, home invasions, tear gas attacks, rubber coated metal bullets, sonic boom attacks at night to disrupt sleep, legalized torture, arrests, human shields, beatings, bulldozers smashing homes with or without occupants, uprooting and burning of agricultural production, machine guns, tanks, armoured vehicles and tanks invading streets, helicopters and jets patrolling overhead – there does not appear to be a moment that the Palestinian people are not subject to some form of humiliation, deprivation, and cruelty from the Israeli occupiers. “The double process of Jewish settlement and Palestinian unsettlement, is played out on an intimately small scale, and on a daily basis throughout the West Bank.” As for Gaza, “it is a controlled strangulation that apparently falls within the generous limits of internationl toleration,” a toleration abetted by a compliant media that does not put it all into the context of a ‘Washington consensus’, occupation, and international law.
International War Crimes
As a secondary but very strong theme the above all come under international war crimes. While Makdisi does not state it, it could be said the whole of the Israeli State is guilty of war crimes, either under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, the UN Charter with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva conventions, and other international resolutions, conventions, and agreements. These agreements are abrogated unilaterally, constantly, and with the current full approval of the United States government, and the European governments who all buy into the “terrorist” war either through their own ignorance or their own unstated hidden benefits.
It does not help that they are aided and abetted in this by other countries in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is no more than a quisling state under the influence of the U.S., seeking its own influential advantage in the area. Egypt, having settled on “peace” with its former opponent, also receives large sums of American money and does not seem terribly interested at the governmental level in the situation if Palestine. They had a tremendous opportunity when Hamas forced open the Rafah gates to allow humanitarian assistance of basic food stuffs and medicines and energy supplies into Gaza, instead opting to kowtow to the wishes of the Israelis and Americans in continuing the oppression and illegality of the occupation (Abbas is also implicated in supporting the closing as it “also punished Hamas”). (Okay, Gaza is not “occupied” but is still under full concentration camp style control of the IDF). Jordan has always sought its own betterment in its ongoing engagement with Israel, securing its own position in the West Bank during the nakba, and combating its large internal displaced Palestinian population after the 1967 war.
Finally, the United States provides a generous $3 billion in aid a year, money that releases other money to help subsidize the settlements that have caused the disintegration of a contiguous Palestinian state. This is an error of omission by Makdisi that may or may not be purposeful for several possible reasons, but is not included in his historical and foreign policy discussions. Following on that is the fleeting mention of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, probably the most influential lobby group in the world today, effectively keeping the U.S. congress in captivity to Israel’s own viewpoint. My reading coincided with the finale of the American primaries ending with Obama’s speech to AIPAC (how timely is that!) stating his unwavering support for Israel and the status quo, with his sights set further out towards Iran.
More Ethnic Cleansing
Makdisi covers many other sub-topics and themes throughout the work. The wall, the nature and processes of the settlements, the concept of “equality” in relation to the concept of Jewishness and a Jewish state, the use of the military as ‘global’ torture on the whole population are all covered throughout the work, both in anecdotal form and in essay-documentary form.
The idea of “voluntary transfer” occurs throughout the book, supported mainly from quotes from Israeli sources, with the concept described such that the Palestinians “will not be able to continue living under these sorts of conditions. They will abandon their homes and go to the big cities at which point it will be possible to expand the borders of the State of Israel without paying the demographic price.” It is not terribly “voluntary” when such extreme asymmetrical pressure is applied by one group on another.
This latter idea leads into the Nakba and its current historical revisions with more modern historians accessing information from the IDF archives and using Israeli sources that clearly outline the intent to clear much of Palestine of its population, even before the Israeli declaration of itself as a state. All these topics are related under the overall idea of the demographic problem, and other discussions focus on the goals of Zionism as being integrated with that of imperialism, occupation, and settlement, all necessitating the use of force in order to achieve the given goals. Another way of defining the demographic pursuits of the Israeli government is as expressed by an Israeli school director, Yair Farjun who stated, “Anyone who tells you that there was no ethnic cleansing here will be lying.”
Context and Solutions
Hamas and Hezbollah enter the discussion most forcefully in the “Coda” the books final section discussing possible solutions. With a great assist from the Washington consensus media, both groups are identified out of context as terrorists groups that hate us for what we are and thus use fanatical suicide bomb terrorists to destroy innocent civilians, without considering in context the “aerial and artillery bombings, fuel-air explosives, flechette rounds, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, phosphorous and napalm” as well as new experimental weapons including the “dense inert metal explosive” by Israel that are equally as indiscriminate but hugely more powerful and destructive. The Israeli weapons are used over a much broader section of the Palestinian population without any real concern for civilian deaths. Within context, suicide bombers can be viewed as “an almost inevitable product of forty years of military occupation.”
As for the solution itself, Makdisi views the one state solution as the most realistic. In a de facto manner, there already is one state, Israel, with many little prison like cantons scattered in parts of the West Bank, segregated by the wall, the bypass roads, and the settlements along with the associated rules and regulations that trap the Palestinians in an ever decreasing realm of violent non-mobility. Different authors have different opinions on the best solution to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, some supporting the two state solution, others identifying the one state solution as the best. Somehow under current circumstances, neither seems practicable or achievable without a major dynamic shift in either the Israeli viewpoint or that of the United States and its European allies. The status quo of forty years of “negotiations” has served Israel well as it slowly and criminally cut away at the Palestinian landscape: the current lack of any united Palestinian governmental structure and over-whelming American support for Israel would indicate that this process will only continue.
As pessimistic as that view is (and it is mine, not the authors), books such as Saree Makdisi’s Palestine Inside Out will add to the growing list of works that nibble away at the American-Israeli decontextualized and international criminal actions that sustain the repression of the Palestinian people. It should not be an easy read – it is more than history and current events, but should reach the soul of the reader, awakening or revitalizing a basic revulsion of man’s incomprehensibly stupid emotional, physical, and spiritual brutality against other humans.
– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.