Time Traveling in Palestine

Against the Current No. 231, July/August 2024

Merry Maisel

ONCE UPON A time, I was a graduate student in Science Studies, a program at the University of California, San Diego, that is shared among the departments of Sociology, History, and Philosophy.

I was 48 years old when I entered the program as a part-time student, and I was told that I must choose one of the three departments as my home department and then pass their qualifying exams.

Since I knew nothing of Sociology except that (a) it was contentious and (b) as a Marxist I was guaranteed much contention, Sociology did not seem a good choice.

.History wanted everyone to familiarize themselves with The Reading List, which contained about 300 books totalling many tens of thousands of pages. I supposed that a qualifying exam question might be something on the order of “Give us a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the Hundred Years’ War.”

My memory was still pretty good back then. But even so, it seemed the better part of wisdom to choose Philosophy as my home department. All they wanted was an exam in a foreign language, a long conversation with some philosophers, and, in a manner of speaking, one’s firstborn child.

A cinch, I guessed, especially since I had no issue.

Eventually, my entire attempt to join Academia landed in history’s dustbin. I realize today that I should’ve stuck with the Hundred Years’ War. Then I would have had at least one such war under my belt when approaching the difficult, fraught and soul-wrenching 100-year conflict of our own era, that between the Zionist entity of Israel and the nation of Palestine.

Unlike most of you, perhaps, I had always been anti-Zionist. That said, I knew little more. What should I read to back up my stand?

If you, also, are wondering what to read while encamped in front of your institution’s Administration or asking how to argue with someone who has been filled with Israeli hasbara (propaganda) since birth, I now rush to your aid with a reading list that reaches from 1880 to roughly yesterday, will take far less time than graduate study, and will give you a firm platform on which to stand and fight for Palestinian freedom.

This reading list is 97 per cent shorter than the one for UC San Diego History and guaranteed more palatable in several ways.

October 7 in Perspective

Highly recommended among the eight books listed in the accompanying box is From the River to the Sea (FRS), which takes its title from that highly contested phrase.

Issued at the end of December 2023, when the Israel-Hamas war had yet to reach its 100th day, FRS is both a cri-de-coeur of the first victims of the Israeli onslaught and a cache of serious attempts to answer many of the questions that you might have asked on October 7 or 8.

Turn first to the excellent essay by Tareq Baconi (from ForeignPolicy.com) titled “What was Hamas thinking?” Baconi argues that the initial incursion mounted by armed Hamas fighters was in fact the culmination of a series of moves by the organization to involve larger masses in the struggle, beginning with the Great March of Return and continuing with the mobilizations against the Israeli attempts to expel Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“Underpinning these tactics,” Baconi writes, “was a clear shift by the movement to transition away from acquiescence to its containment to a more explicit challenge to Israeli domination — over sixteen years” since Israel’s “withdrawal” from Gaza in 2005. [For further background see Baconi’s Hamas Contained reviewed by Samuel Farber in our previous issue, ATC 230 —ed.]

Baconi goes on to show a great deal more to the strategic thinking of Hamas than the instant condemners might have known about. Giving thought to these questions is particularly important for those on the left as they weigh the issue of critical or conditional support for the current leadership of the Palestinian resistance.

Baconi goes on to note that “Whether or not Hamas survives in its current incarnation is a red herring: Palestinian resistance against Israeli apartheid, armed and otherwise, will persist as long as the regime of domination continues.”

Also of great interest in FRS is an essay by Samera Esmair, “The end of colonial government,” which argues that apartheid and genocide, strong terminology for Israel’s crimes, fail woefully to point ahead to the ultimate aim of Zionist ideology and practice — for which the most accurate term would be obliteration.

The e-Book Collection

The other seven books in my list come from, first, a deal on five e-books that was briefly available from Haymarket in March 2024, and second, a deal on four e-books available today (June 1) from Verso.

Similar to FRS are BV, CS, PSI, and LG, all collections of short pieces (from one to about 50 pages) by a wide selection of the then- or now-current experts on the topic of Palestine/Israel.

Each grouping of writings attends most closely to the particular episode of “mowing the lawn” (as Israel calls its wars on Gaza) closest in time to the date of publication. Here is some very cogent and memorable time travel.

The other three books, PG, BDS, and TM, are long-form essays by individual authors. They might deserve a great deal more attention than there is room for here, but I can at least point to the virtues of each one.

Gideon Levy’s Punishment of Gaza (PG) was pulled together in response to Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 lawn-mowing that was first and best at illustrating the disadvantages under which Gaza’s imprisoned population has labored while resisting.

Levy’s sharp perceptions, particularly of the hypocrisies of Israeli leaders, ministers and functionaries, are his strongest suit, making personal testimony the stuff of history.

Omar Barghouti’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is a full description of the tactical approach to changing world opinion that has very quietly continued to do its work since it was first articulated in 2006. The work has been done very well indeed, especially in “Western democracies.”

Far beyond a mere borrowing of the strategy that helped to break apartheid in South Africa, BDS gives a primary and full explanation of the importance of showing through action that Israel has become a pariah among nations.

This aspect of the struggle we carry on from outside has been vital, and perhaps we can chalk up to its credit the recent decisions of the International Court of Justice and pending indictments by the  International Criminal Court.

It should therefore be no surprise that, in the United States alone, dozens of laws have been proposed and tens enacted attempting to render the good ol’ American tactic of peaceful economic or cultural boycott unlawful. All “laws” to be honored in the breach!

Finally, everyone can profit by a reading of Ilan Pappe’s Ten Myths About Israel (TM). In the listing of these you will immediately recognize most of the slogans hurled at you by those unfortunates soaked in Israel-rooting:

1. Palestine was an empty land.

2. The Jews were “a people without land”

3. Zionism is Judaism

4. Zionism is not colonialism

5. The Palestinians voluntarily left their homelands in 1948

6. The June 1967 War was a war of “No Choice”

7. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East

8. The wonders of the Oslo Agreement

9. The lies about Gaza

10. The two-state solution is the only way forward

This 10th myth has been said to be on its deathbed, but beware: the power of resurrection is as unevenly distributed as all of the real-world divisions between and among suffering humanity.

Enjoy your reading. The exam will be administered in some other venue.

Book Cited in this Review

FRS: From the River to the Sea: Essays for a Free Palestine, Chicago and London/New York (a collaboration between Haymarket Publishers and Verso Books): 2023, 237 pages. Edited by Sai Englert, Michal Schatz, and Rosie Warren.

BV: Blaming the Victims, London/New York: Verso Books 1988, 304 pages. Still a highly valuable collection. Edited by Christopher Hitchens and Edward Said, paperback + new free e-book $23.96, e-book only $8.

PG: The Punishment of Gaza, by Gideon Levy, London/New York: Verso Books 2010, 160 pages. Paperback + free e-book $19.96, e-book only $8.

CS: The Case for Sanctions Against Israel, London/New York: Verso Books 2012, 244 pages. Edited by Audrea Lim, paperback + free e-book $23.96, e-book only $8.

TM: Ten Myths About Israel, by Ilan Pappe, London/New York: Verso Books. 1st ed. 2017 (192 pages, paper, $14.96 while copies last) or 2nd ed. 9/2024 (208 pages, paper, preorder at $15.96) or e-book only, $8.

BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, by Omar Barghouti, Chicago, Haymarket Books 2011, paperback + free e-book $15.96, e-book only free until further notice (while students protest or until after ceasefire).

PSI: Palestine: A Socialist Introduction, Haymarket Books 2020, edited by Sumaya Awad and Brian Bean, paperback + free e-book $15.16, e-book only free until further notice (while students protest or until after ceasefire). Reviewed in Against the Current 213, July/August 2021,.

LG: Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire, Haymarket Books 2022, edited by Jehad Abusalim, Jennifer Bing, and Mike Merryman-Lotze, paperback + free e-book, $19.96, e-book only free until further notice (while students protest or until after ceasefire).

July-August 2024, ATC 231

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