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Jerusalem: The City of God in Biblical Tradition

Posted on February 24, 2012 by Stephen Sizer

Jerusalem is the crucible of three world faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, Zionists deny history and the will of entire international community when they insist “Jerusalem is the undivided, eternal and exclusive capital of the Jewish people.”

The annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and the aggressive strategy of Palestinian house demolitions, illegal Jews-only settlements and the construction of the apartheid Separation Barrier have all created ‘facts on the ground’.  When challenged, Jewish Zionists and their Christian supporters claim a higher mandate than the United Nations for their exclusive claim to Jerusalem – the Word of God.

This paper will refute this view and demonstrate from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures that Jerusalem was always intended to be an inclusive city of peace for all who acknowledge the One true God. Practical steps will be offered for ways in which people of faith can work together to resolve the present conflict.

1.  Jerusalem in the Hebrew Scriptures: A Shared City
The story of Jerusalem goes way back to the Book of Genesis. It is possible that Jerusalem was the home of the Melchizedek the priest and king who blessed Abraham in Genesis 14.  He is referred to as the ‘king of Salem’ which later became identified with Jerusalem. Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice, is also identified in 2 Chronicles 3 as the same place where king Solomon built his Temple. While the right of residence in Jerusalem was always conditional of faithful obedience, God’s intention has always been that Jerusalem be shared. In Psalm 87 we have a beautiful picture of an international and inclusive city where residency rights are determined by God on the basis of faith not race.

“Glorious things are said of you, city of God:  “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush — and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ “Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” (Psalm 87:3-6)

It is a universal norm that where we are born determines our nationality and citizenship. The same applies in God’s kingdom. Spiritual new birth brings with it the entitlement to citizenship of Jerusalem on the basis of faith not race.

This psalm therefore rebukes and challenges the narrowness of nationalistic pride and prejudice. Similarly, in Isaiah 2, we learn that people of many different nations will come to Jerusalem and put their faith in God and walk in his ways. One of the glorious consequences of this is that Jerusalem will become associated with the end of war, and with peace and reconciliation between the nations.

“The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:3-5).

2. Jerusalem in the Christian Scriptures: A Heavenly City

So what place does Jerusalem fulfil within Christian tradition? There is both good and bad news. First, the bad news. Far from promising a prosperous future at the centre of a revived Jewish state or even a millennial kingdom, Jesus lamented the impending destruction of Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:34-35)

Quoting Psalm 118:26, Jesus displays the instincts of a protective mother concerned for the people of Jerusalem as if they were his very children. A little later, on Palm Sunday, Jesus expresses perhaps his strongest emotions toward the city and its fickle people:

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44)

With the total destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, stone by stone, the slaughter of tens of thousands of Jews and the exile of the remnant as slaves of Rome, Jesus’ sad prediction came true, to the letter. The Christian scriptures instead, look increasingly to another Jerusalem.

The focus of the New Testament shifts away from an earthly onto a heavenly Jerusalem which by faith in Jesus, we are already citizens.

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband… I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.”
(Revelation 21:2, 22-24).

In this one all consuming vision, God’s people now embrace all nations, God’s land encompasses the whole earth, and God’s holy city has become the eternal dwelling place of all who trust in Him.

3. Jerusalem in God’s Purposes: A Reconciling City
To summarize, in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, God reveals that he expects Jerusalem to be a shared, inclusive city of faith, hope and love.  The Scriptures also envisage a glorious future for Jerusalem. One that impacts and benefits the entire world. The vision is of an inclusive and shared Jerusalem in which the nations, including the Jewish people, are blessed.  Perhaps this is why, when Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for exploiting the international visitors to the temple, he quotes from Isaiah, “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7, cf. Matthew 21:13). But today, we have to live with the reality of a Jerusalem that is associated with apartheid and racism, with exclusive claims that can only be sustained by oppression and injustice, by military occupation, the denial of human rights, the disregard for international law, access to religious sites and freedom of expression. Living between Jerusalem past and Jerusalem future, what is our religious responsibility in the present? In June 2009, I helped write the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism endorsed and signed by the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem. The Declaration explains the reasons for their rejection of the exclusive Zionist claims to Jerusalem.

Statement by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches In Jerusalem[1]

‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.’
(Matthew 5:9)

“We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation…

We affirm that all people are created in the image of God. In turn they are called to honour the dignity of every human being and to respect their inalienable rights.

We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.

We affirm that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. We reject all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.

We call upon all people to reject the narrow world view of Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.

We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonisation, apartheid and empire-building.

God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.

‘What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8)

By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace – and working for peace makes us children of God. ”

On Palm Sunday, the Apostle Luke tells us,

“As he [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42).

I believe Jesus continues to weep not only over Jerusalem, but also for all his children in the Middle East. I believe he weeps , for those who promote a theology of war and conquest that contradicts the model Jesus has given us in Himself.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

May God give us the courage and strength to fulfil this role.


You can’t get there from here: the need for ‘collapse with agency’ in Palestine

Jeff Halper

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
18 February 2012

Even as I write this, the bulldozers have been busy throughout that one indivisible country known by the bifurcated term Israel/Palestine. Palestinian homes, community centers, livestock pens and other “structures” (as the Israel authorities dispassionately call them) have been demolished in the Old City, Silwan and various parts of “Area C” in the West Bank, as well among the Bedouin – Israeli citizens – in the Negev/Nakab. This is merely mopping up, herding the last of the Arabs into their prison cells where, forever, they will cease to be heard or heard from, a non-issue in Israel and, eventually, in the wider world distracted from bigger, more pressing matters.

An as-yet confidential report submitted by the European consuls in Jerusalem and Ramallah raises urgent concerns over the “forced expulsion” of Palestinians – a particularly strong term for European diplomats to use –from Area C of the West Bank (the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control but which today contains less than 5% of the Palestinian population). Focusing particularly on the rise in house demolitions by the Israeli authorities and the growing economic distress of the Palestinians living in Area C, the report mentions the fertile and strategic Jordan Valley (where the Palestinian population has declined from 250,000 to 50,000 since the start of the Occupation), plans to relocate 3000 Jahalin Bedouins to a barren hilltop above the Jerusalem garbage dump and the ongoing but accelerated demolition of Palestinian homes (500 in 2011).

At the same time the “judaization” of Jerusalem continues apace, a “greater” Israeli Jerusalem steadily isolating the Palestinian parts of the city from the rest of Palestinian society while ghettoizing their inhabitants, more than 100,000 of which now live beyond the Wall. Some 120 homes were demolished in East Jerusalem in 2011; over the same period the Israeli government announced the construction of close to 7000 housing units for Jews in East and “Greater” Jerusalem. “If current trends are not stopped and reversed,” said a previous EU report, “the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders seems more remote than ever. The window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing….”

In fact, it closed long ago. In terms of settlers and Palestinians, the Israeli government treats the whole country as one. Last year it demolished three times more homes of Israeli citizens (Arabs, of course) than it did in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The demolition of Bedouin homes in the Negev/Nakab is part of a plan approved by the government to remove 30,000 citizens from their homes and confine them to townships.

None of this concerns “typical” Israelis even if they have heard of it (little appears in the news). For them, the Israeli-Arab conflict was won and forgotten years ago, somewhere around 2004 when Bush informed Sharon that the US does not expect Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, thus effectively ending the “two-state solution,” and Arafat “mysteriously” died.

Since then, despite occasional protests from Europe, the “situation” has been normalized. Israelis enjoy peace and quiet, personal security and a booming economy (with the usual neoliberal problems of fair allocation). The unshakable, bi-partisan support of the American government and Congress effectively shields it from any kind of international sanctions. Above all, Israeli Jews have faith that those pesky Arabs living somewhere “over there” beyond the Walls and barbed-wire barriers have been pacified and brought under control by the IDF. A recent poll found that “security,” the term Israelis use instead of “occupation” or “peace,” was ranked eleventh among the concerns of the Israeli public, trailing well behind employment, crime, corruption, religious-secular differences, housing and other more pressing issues.

As for the international community, the “Quartet” representing the US, the EU, Russia and the UN in the non-existent “peace process” has gone completely silent. (Israel refused to table its position on borders and other key negotiating issues by the January 26th “deadline” laid down by the Quartet, and no new meetings are scheduled). The US has abandoned any pretense of an “honest broker.” Months ago, when the US entered its interminable election “season,” Israel received a green light from both the Democrats and Republicans to do whatever it sees fit in the Occupied Territory. Last May the Republicans invited Netanyahu to address Congress and send a clear message to Obama: hands off Israel. That same week, Obama, not to be out-done, addressed an AIPAC convention and reaffirmed Bush’s promise that Israel will not have to return to the 1967 borders or relinquish its major settlement blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He also took the occasion to promise an American veto should the Palestinians request membership in the UN – though that would merely amount to an official acceptance of the two-state treaty that the US claims it has been fostering all these years. No, as far as Israel and Israeli Jews are concerned, the conflict and even the need for pretense is over. The only thing remaining is to divert attention to more “urgent” global matters so that the Palestinian issue completely disappears. Voila Iran.

Oh, but what about the “demographic threat,” that “war of the womb” that will eventually force a solution? Well, as long as Israel has the Palestinian Authority to self-segregate its people, it has nothing to worry about. While the Palestinian Authority plays the “two-state solution” game, Israel can simply herd the Palestinians into the 70 tiny islands of Areas A and B, lock the gates and let the international community feed them – and go about placidly building a Greater Land of Israel with American and European complicity. Indeed, nothing demonstrates self-segregation more than Prime Minister Salem Fayyad’s neoliberal scheme of building a Palestinian …something… “from the ground up.” By building for the well-to-do in new private-sector cities like Rawabi, located safely in Area A, by building new highways (with Japanese and USAID assistance) that respect Israeli “Greater” Jerusalem and channel Palestinian traffic from Ramallah to Bethlehem through far-away Jericho, by expressing a willingness to accept Israeli territorial expansion in exchange for the ability to “do business,” Fayyad has invented yet a new form of neoliberal oppression-by-consent: viable apartheid (viable, at least, for the Palestinian business class). And as in the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa, the Palestinian Authority maintains a repressive internal order through its own American-trained/Israeli-approved militia, a second layer of occupation. (During the 2008 assault on Gaza, one of the few places in the world in which there were no demonstrations was the West Bank, where they were forbidden by the Palestinian Authority. Then-Prime Minister Olmert crowed that this was evidence of how effectively the Palestinians had been pacified.)

Indeed, by clinging to the two-state solution and continuing to participate in “negotiations” years after they have proven themselves a trap, the Palestinian leadership plays a central role in its own people’s warehousing. The reality – even the fact – of occupation gets buried under the diversions set up by the fraudulent yet unending “peace process.” This only enables Israel to imprison the Palestinians in tiny cells; witness today’s mini-ethnic cleansing, just one of thousands of micro-events that have the cumulative effect of displacement, expulsion, segregation and incarceration. It also enables Israel to then blame the victims for causing their own oppression! When a Palestinian leadership assumes the prerogative to negotiate a political resolution yet lacks any genuine authority or leverage to do so, and when, in addition, it fails to abandon negotiations even after they have been exposed as a trap, it comes dangerously close to being collaborationist. For its part, Israel is off the hook. Instead of going through the motions of establishing an apartheid regime, it simply exploits the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to perpetuate the illusion of negotiations as a smokescreen covering its virtual imprisonment of the Palestinian “inmates.” Once the current mopping up operations are completed, the process of incarceration will be complete.

Today the only alternative agency to the Palestinian Authority is segments of the international civil society. The Arab and Muslims peoples for whom Palestinian liberation is an integral part of the Arab Spring, stand alongside thousands of political and human rights groups, critical activists, churches, trade unions and intellectuals throughout the world. Crucial as it is for keeping the issue alive and building grassroots support for the Palestinian cause that will steadily “trickle up” and affect governments’ policies, however, civil society advocacy is a stop-gap form of agency, ultimately unable to achieve a just peace by itself. We, too, are trapped in the dead-end personified by the two-state solution, reference to a “peace process” and their attendant “negotiations.” There is no way forward in the current paradigm. We must break out into a world of new possibilities foreclosed by the present options: a “two-state” apartheid regime or warehousing.

In my view, while advocacy and grassroots mobilization remain relevant, several tasks stand before us. First, we must endeavour to hasten the collapse of the present situation and subsequently, when new paradigms of genuine justice emerge from the chaos, be primed to push forward an entirely different solution that is currently impossible or inconceivable, be that a single democratic state over the entire country, a bi-national state, a regional confederation or some other alternative yet to be formulated. The Palestinians themselves must create a genuine, inclusive agency of their own that, following the collapse, can effectively seize the moment. Formulating a clear program and strategy, they will then be equipped to lead their people to liberation and a just peace, with the support of activists and others the world over.

A necessary and urgent first step towards collapsing the otherwise permanent regime of oppression in Israel/Palestine is that we stop talking about a two-state solution. It’s dead and gone as a political option – if, indeed, it ever really existed. It should be banned from the discourse because reference to an irrelevant “solution” only serves to confuse the discussion. Granted, this will be hard for liberals to do; everyone else, however, has given up on it. Most Palestinians, having once supported it, now realize that Israel will simply not withdraw to a point where a truly viable and sovereign state can emerge. The Israeli government, backed by the Bush-Obama policies on the settlement blocs, doesn’t even make pretence of pursuing it anymore, and the Israeli public is fine with the status quo. Nor does the permanent warehousing of the Palestinians seem to faze the American or European governments, or the Arab League. Even AIPAC has moved on to the “Iranian threat.”

Behind the insistence of the liberal Zionists of J Street, Peace Now, the Peace NGOs Forum run out of the Peres Center for Peace and others to hang on to a two-state solution at any cost is a not-so-hidden agenda. They seek to preserve Israel as a Jewish state even at the cost of enforcing institutional discrimination against Israel’s own Palestinian citizens. The real meaning of a “Jewish democracy” is living with apartheid and warehousing while protesting them. No, the liberals will be the hardest to wean away from the two-state snare. Yet if they don’t abandon it, they run the risk of promoting de facto their own worst nightmare of warehousing while providing the fig-leaf of legitimacy to cover the policies of Israel’s extreme right – all in the name of “peace.” This is what happens when one’s ideology places restrictions on one’s ability to perceive evil or to draw necessary if difficult conclusions. When wishful thinking becomes policy, it not only destroys your effectiveness as a political actor but leads you into positions, policies and alliances that, in the end, are inimical to your own goals and values. Jettisoning all talk of a “two-state solution” removes the major obstacle to clear analysis and the ability to move forward.

The obfuscation created by the “two-state solution” now out of the way, what emerges as clear as day is naked occupation, an apartheid regime extending across all of historic Palestine/Israel and the spectre of warehousing. Since none of these forms of oppression can ever be legitimized or transformed into something just, the task before us becomes clear: to cause their collapse by any means necessary. There are many ways to do this, just as the ANC did. Already Palestinian, Israel and international activists engage in internal resistance, together with international challenges to occupation represented by the Gaza flotillas and attempts to “crash” Israeli borders. Many civil society actors the world over have mobilized, some around campaigns such as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), others around direct actions, still others engaged in lobbying the UN and governments through such instruments as the Human Rights Council, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and international courts. There have been campaigns to reconvene the Tribunal that, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, has the authority and duty to sanction Israel for its gross violations. Dozens of groups and individuals alike engage in public speaking, mounting Israel Apartheid Weeks on university campuses and working through the media. And much more.

And here is where Palestinian civil society plays a crucial role, a role that cannot be played by non-Palestinians. If it is agreed that the Palestinian Authority must go if we are to get beyond the two-state trap – indeed, the dismantling of the PA being a major part of the collapse of the present system – then this call must originate from within the Palestinian community. Non-Palestinians must join in, of course, but the issue of who represents the Palestinians is their call exclusively. Non-Palestinians can also suggest various end-games. I’ve written, for example, about a Middle East economic confederation, believing that a regional approach is necessary to address the core issues. The Palestinian organization PASSIA published a collection of twelve possible outcomes. It is obvious, though, that it is the sole prerogative of the Palestinian people to decide what solution, or range of solutions, is acceptable. For this, and to organize effectively so as to bring about a desired outcome, the Palestinians need a new truly representative agency, one that replaces the PA and gives leadership and direction to broad-based civil society agency, one that has the authority to negotiate a settlement and actually move on to the implementation of a just peace.

As of now, it appears there is only one agency that possesses that legitimacy and mandate: the Palestinian National Council of the PLO (although Hamas and the other Islamic parties are not (yet) part of the PLO). Reconstituting the PNC through new elections would seem the most urgent item on the Palestinian agenda today – without which, in the absence of effective agency, we are all stuck in rearguard protest actions and Israel prevails. Our current situation, caught in the limbo between seeking the collapse of the oppressive system we have, and having a Palestinian agency that can effectively lead us towards a just resolution, is one of the most perilous we’ve faced. One person’s limbo is another person’s window of opportunity. Say what you will about Israel, it knows how to hustle and exploit even the smallest of opportunities to nail down its control permanently.

“Collapse with agency,” I suggest, could be a title of our refocused efforts to weather the limbo in the political process. Until a reinvigorated PNC or other representative agency can be constituted, a daunting but truly urgent task, Palestinian civil society might coalesce enough to create a kind of interim leadership bureau. This itself might be a daunting task. Most Palestinian leaders have either been killed by Israel or are languishing in Israeli prisons, while Palestinian civil society has been shattered into tiny disconnected and often antagonistic pieces. At home major divisions have been sown between “’48” and “’67” Palestinians; Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank have been effectively severed; and within the West Bank restrictions on movement among a bewildering array of “areas” – A, B, C, C-Restricted, H-1, H-2, nature reserves, closed military areas – have resulted in virtual, largely disconnected Palestinian mini-societies. Political divisions, especially among secular/traditional and Islamic factions, have been nurtured, not least by Israel. Overall, the Palestinian population, exhausted by years of sacrifice and resistance, impoverished and preoccupied with mere survival, has been left largely rudderless as many of its most educated and skilled potential leaders have left or are forbidden by Israel to return.

For its part, the Palestinian leadership has done little to bridge the wider divisions amongst those falling under PA rule, Palestinian citizens of Israel, residents of the refugee camps and the world-wide Diaspora, divisions that have grown even wider since the PLO and the PNC fell moribund. Indeed, major portions of the Palestinian Diaspora (and one may single out especially but not exclusively the large and prosperous communities of Latin America), have disconnected from the national struggle completely. The Palestinian possess some extremely articulate spokespeople and activists, but they tend to be either a collection of individual voices only tenuously tied to grassroots organizations, or grassroots resistance groups such as the Popular Committees that enjoy little political backing or strategic direction.

Ever aware that the struggle for liberation must be led by Palestinians, our collective task at the moment, in my view, is to bring about the collapse of the present situation in Palestine in order to exploit its fundamental unsustainably. The elimination of the Palestinian Authority is one way to precipitate that collapse. It would likely require Israel to physically reoccupy the Palestinian cities and probably Gaza as well (as if they have ever been de-occupied), bringing the reality of raw occupation back to the centre of attention. Such a development would likely inflame Arab and Muslim public opinion, not to mention that of much of the rest of the world, and would create an untenable situation, forcing the hand of the international community. Israel would be put in an indefensible position, thus paving the way for new post-collapse possibilities – this time with an effective and representative Palestinian agency in place and a global movement primed to follow its lead.

But given the underlying unsustainability of the Occupation and the repressive system existing throughout historic Palestine – the massive violations of human rights and international law, the disruptive role the conflict plays in the international system and its overt brutality – collapse could come from a variety of places, some of them unsuspected and unrelated to Israel/Palestine. An attack on Iran could reshuffle the cards in the Middle East, and the Arab Spring is still a work in progress. Major disruptions in the flow of oil to the West due an attack on Iran, internal changes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, instability in Russia and even the fact that China has no oil of its own could cause major financial crises worldwide. Sino-American tensions, environmental disasters or Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban with unpredictable Indian reactions may all play an indirect yet forceful role. Who knows? Ron Paul, President Gingrich’s newly appointed Secretary of State, might end all military, economic and political support for Israel, in which case the Occupation (and more) would fall within a month.

Whatever the cause of the collapse – and we must play an active role in bring it about – it is incumbent upon us to be ready, mobilized and organized if we are to seize that historic moment, which might be coming sooner than we expect. Effective and broadly representative Palestinian agency will be critical. Collapse with agency is the only way to get “there” from “here.”

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions (ICAHD).

Original Link:

“A level of racist violence I have never seen”:UCLA professor Robin D G Kelley on Palestine and the BDS movement

Alex Kane interviews UCLA Prof Robin D G Kelley

16 February 2012

If there’s one thing the Palestine solidarity movement and Israel lobbyists can agree on, it’s this: American college campuses remain a potent battleground when it comes to the politics of Israel/Palestine.

One group, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), certainly recognizes this. And one way to advocate for Palestine on campus is to get professors on board the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Five professors recently back in the U.S. after a USACBI delegation  to Palestine have taken that leap, releasing a statement (published on the Electronic Intifada in full) that describes what they saw in Palestine and that calls on their academic colleagues to join the BDS movement. Mondoweiss caught up with one of the professors on the delegation, UCLA’s Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley, and discussed BDS, the delegation, Kelley’s new project, black Zionism and much more. Kelley is the author of eight books including Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination and 2009′s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original .

Alex Kane: To begin with, talk about yourself, what you do and what your research focuses on.

Robin Kelley: I am a professor of American history at UCLA, and for the last 25 years really, my work has focused on social movements, the African diaspora, radical change, and–it’s sort of a side issue–but I’ve also written about music. My last book was about [the jazz musician] Thelonious Monk. But my academic work, you know, links up to the political work largely because I got into this business as a historian/scholar, through activism and through recognizing, or experiencing or watching social injustice both locally and globally. I’m a product of the 1980s, and the main critical issues were both domestic, in terms of police brutality, Reagan policies on poverty, rising racism in the United States and global issues–the anti-apartheid movement was formative in my own political awakening, the struggles in Central America, the struggles in post-colonial Africa and the Congo, and Palestine, which brings us full circle. The point I’m trying to make is, the issue of Palestinian self-determination is not a new one. It always sort of rebirths (laughs), but it’s not a new one. And so for people of my generation, the Israel-South Africa nexus, dispossession of Palestinians–even back in the days when people talked seriously about the two-state solution, whatever that is–these were the key questions for anyone politically active in the 1980s.

It’s not an accident that Jesse Jackson, for example, whose presidential campaign in the 80s was really formative as well, that his right-hand man, Jack O’Dell, had led a delegation in the 1970s to meet with PLO members and to go to the West Bank and to meet with Palestinians there when the PLO was in exile. And so, there’s been a long tradition after 1967 of various black liberation movements trying to build a connection to Palestine.

AK: And so that brings us to the second question: talk about the trip you recently took to Palestine, why you went and what you saw.

RK: In 2009, I was invited to join the board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. And as a board member in USACBI, I did my part in terms of trying to get the word out about supporting and enacting the cultural boycott. The opportunity to travel to the occupied territories came up over the summer through USACBI and through scholars at various universities and Muwatin, which is an independent think tank that focuses on the study and implementation of democracy in Palestine. And so they invited a number of scholars to come, and I jumped at the chance because I always wanted to go and missed other opportunities. So five of us agreed to go in January, and I stayed longer than the rest of the group because I’m actually doing research for another project.

So we go there hosted by Muwatin, and they arranged an incredible visit. I won’t tell you everything we did, because it would take too long. We went to Ramallah, met the president of Birzeit University, we met with other faculty, the founders of PACBI.  We went to East Jerusalem to visit Sheikh Jarrah and some of the families that have been dispossessed from their own homes. We went to Hebron, and visited and talked to Palestinian merchants, and witnessed a level of racist violence that I hadn’t even seen growing up as a black person here in the States (laughs), I have to say, and I’ve been beat by the cops. The level of racist violence from the settlers is kind of astounding. We visited Aida refugee camp just north of Bethlehem, and we went to Bethlehem as well. On my own, I went to Nablus and visited the Balata refugee camp. We also went to Haifa, and we met with a group of Palestinian-Israeli scholars and intellectuals to talk about the boycott.

So to me what was important wasn’t just passing through checkpoints, it wasn’t just witnessing the day to day oppression, acts of dispossession, the expansion of these settler communities in the hills overlooking and intimidating Palestinian villages. It wasn’t just that. That was a very, very important part of the trip because what it did in some ways made tangible the kind of oppression, the nature of dispossession, that we read about and knew about. We were prepared. What was important equally was our conversations with active members of Palestinian civil society, our conversations with activists who are organizing against the wall, our conversations with scholars at Haifa, at Birzeit and independent intellectuals. Because what it produced for us wasn’t just a fact-finding mission, you know, as these things often are. It wasn’t just, you know, “occu-tourism,” visiting and seeing for yourself. That wasn’t, to me, the key thing. The key thing was the kind of engagement that helped us better understand why the boycott is central, the complications in pushing for boycott, and how can we sharpen our political critique. Because what we came away with is recognizing that this is a kind of joint, collective venture–that we are not advocating on behalf of Palestinians, but partners with Palestinians for the right to self-determination. And the leadership comes from the Palestinian people. So we’re supporting that movement, and recognizing that what’s happening there is not exceptional, but rather part of a larger global process of late colonialism and neoliberalism, and that what happens in Palestine is going to have an impact on the rest of the world.

Two other things were striking about the trip for me, and I’m only speaking for myself, not for the whole delegation. One is, it’s one thing to see day to day oppression, it’s another to see the efforts Israel puts into and invests in normalizing the situation there. I was in East Jerusalem, after the delegation, on my own, and staying at a Palestinian-owned hotel called the Jerusalem Hotel. And basically, in the Arab quarter near Salah ad-Din street and in this [area with] Palestinian markets. And I took a stroll up the hill, and found Jaffa road, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was like I was on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, or the Grove in L.A. It was just the strangest thing to see the juxtaposition, of the largely Jewish and tourist center of commerce with all the chains here, Coffee Bean, Yogurt Land, jewellery, clothing, ATMs at every little corner, granite paved roads, and then of course running through the middle of Jaffa street is the illegal Jerusalem Light Rail system. So to recognize that this space is normalized, a Western so-called bureaucratic capitalist space, a space of high consumerism is an eight-minute walk from what is essentially a ghetto in an occupied territory. That, that to me is even more shocking then seeing 20-something year-old Israelis looking through people’s passports and IDs and deciding whether or not you’re a threat. To me, that emphasis on normalization is one of the more dangerous things, because if they succeed in convincing the world that this is not a state of war or occupation but rather this is really the heart of the kind of Western democracy that’s like the rest of the world, the Western world at least–then in some ways that’s how they try and win. And part of what the boycott does is it delegitimizes the claim that this is a normal situation. It’s not a normal situation, it’s a settler-colonial situation, a situation of oppression.

The second thing that blew my mind, and I just wrote about this, is going to the refugee camp, particularly Aida, and seeing the cultural and artistic revolution among young people. Occupation is something that is a political act as well as an ideological and psychological imposition. And there are whole generations of young people, and older people, that will not accept the occupation. They will not accept normalization of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank or the ethnic cleansing taking place. They’re not only creating and documenting a kind of collective memory of Palestinian history, Palestinian struggle, what the impact of the Nakba was on that community, but also I think prefiguring what could be a new society, what could be a post-Zionist society. And to me that’s probably the most dangerous thing. It’s one thing for Israel to use walls, barbed wire and a blacked-out media to keep, to try to normalize Israel by making invisible the dispossession and oppression of Palestinians. It’s another thing to hide what could be a new vision for a different kind of society, a new generation of people who are not accepting a second-class state or second-class citizenship, [saying] we want the nation, we want our nation back, and if you want to be part of it, well we’re happy with that. To me, that’s what’s so exciting about what I see in the refugee camps, what I see in terms of the cultural work being done. This is the third intifada, right before our eyes.

AK: You mentioned this earlier, but I wanted to draw it out more. What sorts of connections do you see between the sort of work you focus on and the current situation in Palestine?

RK: Well, I’m sort of in two minds. One perspective is that if I did nothing but wrote about, you know, Mozart, my investment in the struggle of Palestinians for the right to return, the right to self-determination, the right to full citizenship–these are things that as a human being, I really have no choice, I can’t look away. I can’t pretend that, you know, I want to live in a just, safe, beautiful world and not be concerned about this issue because to me, what Israel constitutes is the most blatant example of existing settler-colonialism in the world right now. And so even if my work had no connection whatsoever, this is something that I think I, and anyone who supports social justice and self-determination, needs to be aware of and involved in.

So, having said that, my own scholarly work has always been shaped by the political investments and political experiences that I’ve had over the years. I’m actually writing a book about a woman named Grace Halsell, who was a white woman born in Texas. She spent much of her late life as a journalist trying to figure out how white supremacy, racism and other forms of domination actually work; how it feels to actually endure that. So in 1969 she wrote a book called Soul Sister, where she passed as a black woman. She darkened her skin and lived as a black woman for about six months and wrote about it. And it wasn’t so much to claim that “I know what it’s like to be a black person,” but really to try to understand the outward and subtle manifestations of racism and sexism. Then she wrote another book called Bessie Yellowhair where she did something similar, where she became a Navajo woman and worked as a domestic for a white family in L.A. and wrote about it. Then she passed as a Mexican immigrant, and crossed the Rio Grande and interviewed other immigrants in the late 1970s, when anti-immigration sentiment was rising, to sort of understand state power and immigration and how it is experienced by every day people.

So this leads us to one of her great masquerades. She decided to go to Israel/Palestine in 1979, and she basically wrote a book called Journey to Jerusalem, where she tries to understand the lives of essentially four people, four groups of people: Palestinian Muslims, Palestinian Christians, Sephardic Jews and the settlers, a settler family. At first she thinks, “this is not political, I’m just trying to tell the story of these three faiths, basically.” And it ends up being a very political book because she’s very critical of Israel. And this was 1980-81, and she was sympathetic to Palestinians. She’s on the Birzeit campus at a time when Israeli forces were shutting down the campus, beating students–she’s witnessing all this. And she is learning Palestinian history, and trying to write a little bit about it before a lot of Israeli historians are kind of discovering al-Nakba. She writes this book, and as a result of that book, her career as a kind of high-level journalist kind-of ends. She’s still liked, but she can’t get contracts the same way.

In the next book, she masquerades as a right-wing Christian fundamentalist and travels with Jerry Falwell’s group, and writes a book about Christian Zionism and the nexus between Israeli nuclear policy–and she’s saying that, you know, the Christian Zionists, the right-wing fundamentalists, are pushing Israel to use its bombs because they believe Armageddon is inevitable and eventually Israel will destroy itself and Christians will take over the holy land. So she writes this book in 1986. And so I’m writing a biography of her, and I’m convinced that everything she experienced–as a white woman being black, being Native American, Mexican–in some ways prepared her for a kind of empathy and identification with the Palestinians when she got there. When she got there, and wrote about what she saw, it changed her life profoundly in ways that being black, Native American or Mexican did not. And she devoted the rest of her life to writing about the Middle East. And she ended up doing a lot of work for Americans for Middle East Understanding, and supporting their work.

There’s a whole set of other writing I want to do. I’m incredibly disturbed by the way AIPAC and Israel is recruiting black students from historically black colleges.

AK: You read my mind–that was my next question.

RK: This is the thing that I’m actually trying to write: this is pretty astounding and yet, there’s a logic to it. I’m actually planning on writing an open letter to the so-called Vanguard Leadership Group, which is the group that has collectively made strong statements against Students for Justice in Palestine, and is basically in the pocket of AIPAC and Israel. In some respects, it’s a very dangerous position, because what AIPAC is doing is using black students as a moral shield to make the case for Israeli impunity, and that AIPAC is finding, and really developing, cultivating, a whole group of black allies as a way to shield Israel so that they can’t be seen as racist.

Now, the disturbing thing about this, you know, is that when you really start to scratch the surface, there’s a very long history of African American support for Zionism, going back to before there was an Israel as a state. The [Marcus] Garvey movement basically adopted Zionism, a certain form of black Zionism as its sort of mantra, and had actually gotten money from Zionists in the early 1920s. When Israel was founded in 1948 as a result of dispossession, you look at the black press, and you see all these folks across the board, black leaders, who were celebrating and supporting, encouraging Israel, because for them, they saw European Jews as themselves a dispossessed people, an oppressed people, who finally found the capacity to build a nation. So for them, it’s a kind-of heroic story that would encourage African Americans–it’s not exactly the same, but really to mobilize in defense of themselves. And that’s how they saw it.

So people like [civil rights leader] A. Philip Randolph sent a congratulatory note to Israel with almost no mention of Palestinian dispossession, of al-Nakba, of refugees. There were some exceptions to the rule, and every once in a while you see letters to the editor, people who would write these small pieces that would say, “well wait a second. What about the Arabs?” And it was Malcolm X, like a lot of the Muslims, who was ahead of the game. Malcolm was like, “wait a second, this is illegal.” I think Malcolm said, “imagine if the Muslims went to Spain and said we want our land back, start kicking people out and say we were here first.”

So there’s that history, and we have to come to terms with that history because in 1967, I believe there was really a sea change where because of the 67 war, because of the connection between that and other struggles for self-determination and national liberation in Africa and elsewhere, a number of black activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee said, “wait a second, we support the Palestinians.” And that was a shift in positions, and as a result of that, a lot of the support that SNCC and other organizations got from Jewish groups disappeared. There’s other reasons for that, but that was one of the reasons.

I think that by coming to terms with that history, but also coming to terms with the history in Palestine, that we have to have another sea change. African Americans who claim to be for social justice have no choice but to support the rule of law, to support the Geneva Conventions, to support the right of return, to end what is essentially an apartheid, ethnic state. It’s not sustainable. So, part of what I would like to do politically is to begin to build a conversation in African American circles, with people who were involved in anti-apartheid work in the past, people who are concerned about other places, to really pay attention once again to Palestine. I think that’s a critical point of struggle for our time.

AK: And so obviously you’re a proponent of the academic boycott of Israel. It’s one of the more controversial aspects of the BDS movement and has led to debate within the Palestine solidarity movement. How would you explain your support for the academic boycott?

RK: Well, there’s a couple of things. One of the key arguments against an academic and cultural boycott is that it suppresses academic freedom, and I vehemently disagree with that position. In fact, it’s a struggle for academic freedom, and what I mean by that is that Palestinians, both scholars, intellectuals and school children, do not enjoy academic freedom whatsoever. You have faculty in Gaza who cannot even be in the same room as scholars with West Bank universities like Birzeit and Nablus University. You have scholars who cannot attend international conferences without a permit, and if they do get a permit, part of what Israel does is use those international trips as excuses to block them returning. You have scholars who have been hired by universities in the occupied territories who can’t take the job because they’re denied entry. You have the criminalization of boycott itself, which is to me the most astounding thing, that to talk about, to produce literature about, can hold you liable in a civil court, maybe not the criminal court, meaning you have to pay damages for whatever and boycott is part of freedom of expression. Okay, there’s that.

The boycott itself was never, as Omar Barghouti put very clearly, was never directed at individual Israeli scholars or artists because what we don’t want to do is start to vilify individuals and do a kind of McCarthy test to see whether or not someone is sufficiently progressive or not. But that’s not the point; the point is that it is directed at institutions. The kind of individual collaborations can continue and in fact, we as a part of the boycott, encourage a certain level of collaboration and conversation as a way to build support, and we’re hoping that those Israeli scholars who really believe in academic freedom would support the boycott as well. In many cases, part of what this institutional boycott does is that it identifies and makes visible the role that universities have played in the violation of Palestinian human rights. We’re talking about universities on land that has been expropriated from Palestinians. We’re talking about lands that expand and create illegal colonies in places like Nablus. We’re talking about universities that host not only scholars that play a key role in designing the apartheid system in Israel and have theorized and implemented policies around questions of the so-called demographic threat, but, you know, we’re also talking about universities that have vilified and punished graduate students and faculty for taking anti-Zionist positions that are backed up with scholarship. Ilan Pappe is not there for that very reason, and he’s just one example.

So we’re saying, we want academic freedom, and that’s the whole point of the boycott, to struggle for the right of academic freedom. And finally, you’ve got this problem even outside the universities where, and again I don’t have to go into detail about this because anyone who picks up a book like Saree Makdisi’s Palestine Inside and Out, will see that you have schoolchildren who can’t attend school because of checkpoints and distances created by the apartheid wall. You’ve got the kind of unequal investment in education, let alone the conditions of life where people could be, kids could be detained at age 13. How is this a world of academic freedom, of intellectual freedom? So that’s one reason.

The other thing I think is, there is an effort on the part of those involved with the boycott to open up the discussion about what Israel and Israel’s security state has done to create instability in the region. Israel has kind-of controlled the discourse for so long, about how it’s the only democracy in the Middle East, how it’s a force for stability, when in fact on the contrary, because of dispossession, because of the oppression of Palestinians, it has been a source of instability. It has been a source of instability because it tries to resolve its problems with military build-up. And the largest factor in all of this is the United States of America. We live in a country where millions of dollars a day from the U.S. goes to supporting and propping up Israel. That’s an astounding fact, because without U.S. support, we wouldn’t be dealing with all of this. And to me, as an American citizen, as a U.S. taxpayer, it’s imperative that I take a critical stance against a U.S. foreign policy that puts the whole world in jeopardy, you know, and creates danger for many people. Not only that, but it supports an illegal regime.

It’s like, if I were driving the getaway car for a bank robbery, and I know it’s a bank robbery, and I’m still driving the car, then I’m complicit in breaking the law. And what Israel represents in some ways is the breaking of many, many international laws and the Geneva Conventions. The illegality of that regime and its practices and the fact that the U.S. props it up means we really don’t have a choice but to support an academic and cultural boycott to try to end the illegal regime.

When you look at the demands of the boycott, they’re very simple. They’re not complicated: Ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall, which of course the International Court of Justice said in 2004 was illegal. Second, recognize the fundamental civil and political rights of Arab citizens of Israel, that they should have full
equality. It’s a myth that they do have full equality; they clearly don’t. And three, respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. That’s UN resolution 194. That of course opens up a whole can of worms about, return where? To their property, to their land? Should reparations be paid? Of course. But to return is to remake the nation, and that’s part of the invocation of all of this. The three points are all about respecting the rule of law, and that’s it.

AK: My last question for you is a little more personal. Have you received, or do you anticipate any backlash, from advocates of Israel on your campus or otherwise?

RK: Absolutely. I’m used to backlash. I’m a UCLA PhD, and I’m back at UCLA. When I was at UCLA in 1984, we organized a conference on imperialism, and we invited a PLO representative to come. And the Jewish Defense League showed up and they tried to intimidate us and shut it down, the administration got involved.

So in that sense it’s not new, it’s old, to me at least. I’ve gotten some backlash already, I’ve gotten backlash for just being on the board even when I wasn’t as active as I am now. That backlash is nothing compared to having to walk two or three hours to get to your school which is fifteen minutes away in a place where when you look at the future, it doesn’t look like you even have a nation. My backlash is nothing compared to that. And I’m a tenured faculty, I’m a senior person. There are people who have suffered much greater. There’s a whole list of people who have had lost their jobs and been forced out. That’s just part of the territory. And I think it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

But I know one thing: there’s always strength in numbers, and what we want to do with the academic boycott is to force our colleagues to recognize, if you remain silent, you are complicit. So what are you going to do? You want to be complicit, and have all the perks of your job and have a lot of time to do your work, or do you want to take a stand for justice, and be not just a human, but someone who believes in humanity. It’s a simple question.

I should add one thing, though. I’m very, very fortunate being at UCLA again, because even though UCLA is notorious for attacks on people who are critical of Zionism, I’m also in a department with some wonderful scholars, many of whom are Jewish scholars, some who are actually pro-Zionist, others who are extremely anti-Zionist, but we can have our debates and have our struggles within our department and no one goes crazy over that. I feel protected at UCLA, ironically, in a way because I have colleagues like Gabriel Piterberg, who wrote The Returns of Zionism, which is a powerful book–that book is just astounding. I’ve got people like David Myers, who is the chair of the department, who has written a book called Between Jew and Arab, and even though he is less sympathetic to boycott efforts than others, but he’s someone who really lets our flowers bloom. So, I can’t complain. Some people have it much worse than I do, but in the end I’m very proud to be part of this movement, and very proud to have made the connections I’ve made with a group of Palestinian scholars and intellectuals who I think are just some of the greatest minds on the globe right now. These are people who I think the world of, and I would do anything to support the struggle.

Original Link:

Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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February 2012