Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Palestine and the Arab Spring in the US

I’ve left the US this morning. I was there with colleagues on a speaking tour organized by AUB to talk about the Arab Uprisings. We spoke, among other places, in the Council for Foreign Relations. This was a talk I was worried about because I had been warned by friends and comrades that there would be a lot of Zionists in the audience. I thought, all things considered, that the talk went well and that we were able to pass a clear message: that we in the Arab World have regained agency over our present and our future, notwithstanding the counter-revolutionary forces. We also emphasized, wherever we went, the centrality of the Palestine issue to the whole Arab people. In every venue I participated in, I talked about the Israeli cold-blooded murder of unarmed protestors during the pacific Return to Palestine March of May 15 in Maroun al Ras and told the story as it happened.

The trip was also an occasion for me to launch my new book: Food, Farming and Freedom: Sowing the Arab Spring, published by Just World Books. The Launch took place in New York and was well attended. Helena Cobban, the owner of Just World Books did a great job. The book has a great introduction by Rashid Khalidi, and is a lightly edited compilation of the main posts on this blog.

I spent an extra couple of days in the US, and attended two events, one of which was a panel on Gaza, the Goldstone report and Israel’s impunity. The Culture Project and Mondoweiss organized the event. The attendance was impressive, the venue was great, a large amphitheatre near Central Park South. And the panelists were Naomi Klein, Colonel Desmond Travers (who was part of the Goldstone mission), Noura Erakat and Lizzy Ratner. It was moderated by the absolutely fabulous Laura Flanders. The discourse was much more radical than I had expected, and there was lots of applause when Noura said that she “honored the acts of resistance of Hamas and Hezbollah”. See this post on Mondoweiss for details.

I really got the impression that things were moving in the US, and that the picture on Palestine was not as bleak as it once was. This confirmed the impressions I gleaned from the panels I participated in and from the book launch. One thing Ratner said struck me, because of my interest in the issue. He told us that the Israelis have deliberately destroyed thousands of acres of farmland and a large number of farms near the border zone, to shrink Gaza further by placing the inlands under direct fire. He mentioned briefly (I think) that this was also part of the siege in the sense that it reduced the ability of the people to produce food. I may have misheard him, but in any case, this is what it is all about: creating a landscape of power and control.

The next day, I went to a solidarity meeting for a number of people who were entrapped by the FBI and accused of terrorism, and of civil society activists also accused of supporting terrorism through fund raising for social projects. The atmosphere was very different, and the meeting was not very well attended, maybe 30-40 people. The attendance was very different from that of the Gaza-Goldstone meeting, although there was an excellent speaker, Lamis Deek, a very strong lawyer with a radical discourse. But the general feeling I got was that people were fighting a hugely repressive apparatus. Right before the meeting, one of the people I met told me that the US was no different from Syria or other Arab security regimes: they both operate on the basis of an emergency law that goes on and on (the Patriot Act) and that allows people to be locked in and questioned and jailed in disregard of their basic citizen's rights. That made me think that there are many other similarities with the security states of the Arab World and elsewhere: fallacious democracy, control of the people by a very small number of powerful individuals, strong influence of the state on mainstream media, prisons that are removed from the legal space, acceptance of torture as a way of extracting information. One could make a long list of these. So in essence, it is not really surprising that the US government finds an affinity with the security states worldwide, it is not a contradiction or an aberration, quite the contrary, there is pretty good harmony at work here.

I got into Washington too late for the Move Over AIPAC (MOA) meeting, but I passed by the Convention Center where AIPAC was taking place and was able to see the pickets outside. MOA had a very strong showing, perhaps a 1000 or more I was told, and there were speeches and BDS coordination meetings and others. The site has a lot of information. This confirmed my impression that things were changing for Palestine in the US and getting closer to the mainstream. People I asked told me this had started with the 2006 war on Lebanon, then the Gaza onslaught then the continued Zionist aggressions.

The last impression from this rapid visit is that, in many respects, the discourse among the liberal pro-palestine people is in many ways far more radical than that of the equivalent classes in Lebanon. This is really something to ponder about.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your interesting post. I think the real lockdown by elites on democracy in the U.S. is through election financing and lobby influence on law making. The impossibility of talking about and dealing with the roots causes of almost any issue can be traced to this. And this privatization of the most basic levers of self-rule is right out there in plain view. You can't change this legislatively because incumbents of both parties would oppose it. It would take an inclusive, nonpartisan pro-democracy movement to change.