By Theresa Wolfwood
(Ra’ad, Basem L. Hidden Histories: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean 2010. Pluto Press. UK& USA)
This very readable account of regional history from ancient times to the present gives a clear picture of how western ideas and Zionist culture have ignored and distorted the complex real history of the people of Palestine. Ra’ad also brings his scholarship to bear on the connection between falsifies history and present day injustice to the indigenous Palestinians. Although he writes about the specific situation that centuries of colonization have created in Palestine, he also points out that, “metaphorically speaking half the world is still “Palestine”’ in the sense that so many people are still oppressed by some powerful force. He goes on to say, “A fresh approach to Palestinian history could be a globally valuable enterprise in relation to enlarging human consciousness and perhaps achieving a modicum of human justice.” Even for those who focus on other oppressions, there is much to be learned in this thought-provoking work.
One important way in which Palestinian history has been distorted and obscured is through the use of the alphabet and language, the basis of any culture. I remember seeing signs that called for an end to the Judaization of place names when I was in Bil’in last year. Place names are rooted in history and if obliterated, cultural memory is obscured. And that continues as, “…mainstream Western civilization and the Zionist system have appropriated regional culture for their own use… to achieve their specific objectives of power and self-worth. Simultaneously, the people of the East Mediterranean region, both ancient and modern have been demoralized and devalued…” The author is committed to revealing the recovery and reinterpretation necessary to expand knowledge of the East Mediterranean and to produce something close to “real” history.
In today’s power strategies, the ancient history of Palestinians is used to justify the claims of Zionists that their history is somehow based on the customs and cultures which are actually those of the indigenous people – so Zionists see it imperative to eliminate Palestinians and thus be the sole inheritors of the history of another people.
Christian versions of life in the ‘Holy Land’ help perpetuate the lies that this is a land exclusively of Judeo-Christian heritage and rely on biblical sources to refute real history. The author uses many documented sources to show the falsification of Zionist claims, often supported by many western writers and politicians, and its denial of Palestinian history that have conveniently packaged a mythology of, “an idealized land and a demonized people.” Indeed, contemporary Zionism has its roots in European Christian movements. At least one political supporter of Israel’s domination, the Canadian Prime Minister, accepts this particular presentation of the Christian religion.
Along with the appropriation of indigenous culture and history comes powerful occupation, not only militarily and economically, but the forces of oppression can also occupy the minds of the oppressed. Coca-Cola is a favourite drink in Palestine, in spite of many of its consumers knowing that it not only epitomizes the culture of the dominate USA hegemony protecting Israel, but that this company is itself a supporter of military oppression of Palestine by Israel. It is attractive and tastes ‘good’, they say.
In his chapter on self-colonization, Ra’ad writes of the danger of the complete displacement of Palestinian culture by Israeli claims to owning local Mediterranean culture.
He writes, “All monolithic systems are inherently colonizing in that they require acceptance of certain, inherited knowledge, cultural values and constructed ideologies of identity. Colonization of the mind includes any unquestioning acceptance of indoctrination…”
Economic desperation forces Palestinians into employment in building colonies, destroying Palestinian property and, as Ra’ad says, accepting the myths of Israel tourist brochures that hired Palestinians hand out to visitors. Not only tourist information but academics in Palestine accept the Zionist myths and help perpetrate them. He writes that, “Self-colonization has dangerous and debilitating long-term effects on the minds and souls of the oppressed, and on their future hopes and prospects.” He calls for a vital liberation of the minds of Palestinians, an essential part of complete liberation.
Ra’ad ends by emphasizing the necessity of revealing the true history of the region while showing the lies and myths that pass for its history today. Since these lies and myths are the underpinning of present oppression, his emphasis is important to all activists and solidarity supporters of Palestine. Academics also help by committing to this work and supporting justice for a truly liberated Palestine. Reading this well-documented, thoughtful, provocative and challenging work is only a first step for liberation – but a very important step. It will inform activists and may convert passive supporters and arm chair readers in to an activism based on solid scholarship and rightful claims.
– Theresa Wolfwood is a Canadian writer and activist. Her articles, reports, book reviews, poetry, photographs and artwork can be seen on www.bbcf.ca. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.