Monthly Archives: August 2011

Archeo-(il)logical Imperialism, Political Theology, and Linguistic Fascism

Within the ideological innards of both camps of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and connecting the two inextricably, there quivers a web wedding religious aspiration and political action, very tangled and dense, but not impenetrable.  On the side of the oppressor (Israel), the religious idea of a ‘return to the homeland’ is the whole reason Zionism has chosen this patch of land over all others, and its process of colonization and displacement of the 1000-year native Palestinian population relies completely on the idea that Jews were ‘here before’, and so have returned to ‘resurrect’ their innate, divine claim to the land. Zionism colonizes this land through remembrance- it fleshes out the past and uses it to usurp and cover over the present Palestinian presence. The past is its sword and shield.

On the side of the oppressed (Palestinians), a religious rejection of modernity, and a deep-seated desire for the revitalization of the Golden Age of Islam, have taken in their stride, in the land of Palestine, a protracted anti-colonialist struggle to throw off the yoke of oppression. These spiritual  desires in the Islamic world are part of a much larger religious and social movement that spans the last several hundred years; nonetheless, through radical, political Islam, they have taken shape, in the Israel-Palestine conflict, as a struggle to liberate the Palestinian people ‘from the river to the sea’, and to establish a self-determining Muslim state with Jerusalem as its capital.

We must remember that, among Jews and Palestinians, those motivated chiefly by such religious worldviews represent but a small fraction of the total population. Not all Jews yearn for a Greater Israel, and not all Palestinians yearn for a new Caliphate. In his 2009 booklet  Obstacles to Peace, Israeli human rights activist Jeff Halper writes that “Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and other Palestinian “rejectionist” groups that reject peace with Israel and have turned to violent means of resistance represent about the same proportion of Palestinian society in the Occupied Territories – say 15-20% – that extreme settler and other right-wing rejectionist groups represent in Israeli society.” (28) Nonetheless, this small minority polarizes both sides of the conflict, paints the conflict with an air of divine irreconcilability, and grafts onto the conflict an irreducibly religious dimension in the sphere of ideology, that vast stomping ground of fantasy and mirage where humans manage to develop very confused ideas of what they are doing to themselves and to each other.

I will attempt here to tentatively explore the complex, interdependent relationship between the spiritual-religious beliefs of Zionism, and its national-political aspirations, focusing on the twin lenses of the Zionist revival of the Hebrew language in the early 1900s, and the archeological excavations in modern-day Palestine, in particular the 1967 transformation of the Western Wall into a vast secular spectacle. Looking at the deliberate revivification of ancient Hebrew in the 1900s as a modern, secular language for (what portrayed itself as) a modern, democratic nation-state, I will examine the intense Zionist drive to unleash and channel this religious well-spring for its own secular, nationalist purposes, to fashion a new beast out of old clay, at the expense of the day-to-day language of the Diaspora that, for a vast amount of time in between, separated the Hebrew of the past from the site of its purported rebirth- Yiddish.

This double movement within Zionism, at once remembrance of Hebrew and suppression of Yiddish, has as its parallel the colonization of Palestine, where the ground was literally dug up from under the feet of the 1000-year indigenous  Palestinian population through the archeological recovery and recollection of an ancient Israelite presence, so that colonization appears as recolonization, settlement as resettlement, occupation as return. This is a peculiar  sort of imperialism, which summons to life a new cultural and political beast clothed in remembrance of the dead letter, which calls on the skeletons of its ancestors to spiritually finance a deadly occupation, and draws all the power and might of Western arms and capital in its wake.

In ‘The Eyes of Language’, Jacques Derrida speaks of a 1926 letter from Gershom Scholem, a cultural-turned-political Zionist who was teaching Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew University in Palestine, to Franz Rosenzweig, an anti-Zionist, pro-diaspora Jewish writer who was then paralyzed on his deathbed in Germany. Though there had long been a friendship-rending disagreement between the two over the question of Zionism’s fidelity to (Scholem) or betrayal of (Rosenzweig) the messianic core of Judaism, Scholem, though he defends the validity of Zionism, confesses to Rosenzweig in this letter his startling and discomforting recognition of an evil that may lurk, unbeknownst even to its host, within the very essence of Zionism. In Derrida’s words, “It is a confession before Rosenzweig the anti-Zionist, because Scholem is a Zionist- that is what he wants to be, that is what he remains and confirms being. Yet, he cannot but recognize in Zionism an evil, an inner evil, an evil that is anything but accidental. More precisely, one cannot but recognize that the accident that befalls Zionism or that lies in wait for it threatens it essentially, in its closest proximity- in its language, and as soon as a Zionist opens its mouth….It is a matter of what used to be called then, in Palestine, the “actualization (Aktualisierung)” of the Hebrew language, its modernization, the transformation undertaken since the beginning of the century (Ben Yehuda) and pursued systematically toward adapting biblical Hebrew to the needs of everyday communication, be it technical and national, but also, for a modern nation, international and interstate communication.” (Acts of Religion, 194)

From the 2nd century CE, until the latter half of the 1800s, Hebrew was a language that for the Jewish people had virtually vanished from literary or spoken expression, and was reserved only for prayer, theological writing, and books of law. In the late 1800s, Hebrew enjoyed a somewhat obscure literary revival  among Ashkenazi Jewry in Eastern Europe; at the same time, the spark of Zionism was struck among  Eastern European Jews, as part of a wider European wave of nationalism and in response to growing anti-Semitism. Says Ghil’ad Zuckerman in his linguistic study Hybridity Versus Revivability: Multiple Causation, Forms and Patterns, “At the time, although territory and language were at the heart of European nationalism, the Jews possessed neither a national territory nor a national language.” (43) http://www.zuckermann.org/pdf/Hybridity_versus_Revivability.pdf  In the soil of the Hebrew language, this spark of Zionism burst into a flame, propelling a fireball of cultural pride into a political movement  that used the revival of Hebrew to foster a new national self-consciousness, a new Jewish identity that, in typical Enlightenment spirit, considered itself a soul birthed anew out of its past, and sought for itself a body in a new land- Palestine.

The glorification of Hebrew in the 1900s by Ben-Yehuda and others went hand in hand with the proliferation of Zionist Jews in the land of Palestine; the transformation of a language went hand in hand with the political expansion of a people. According to Wikipedia, “the process of Hebrew’s return to regular usage is unique; there are no other examples of a language without any native speakers subsequently acquiring several million such native speakers, and no other examples of a sacred language becoming a national language with millions of first language speakers.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revival_of_the_Hebrew_language

Scholem confesses his fear that Zionism, by transforming the sacred language of Hebrew, charged as it is with (what to him appeared as) holy potentialities, into an everyday secular tongue, thereby unleashed into the national-political scene of the 1900s an ancient monster beyond anyone’s control.  “This country is a volcano”, says Scholem, “it houses language…if we transmit to our children the language that has been transmitted to us, if we-the generation of transition- resuscitate the language of the ancient books so that it can reveal itself anew to them, must then not the religious violence of this language one day break out against those who speak it? And on the day this eruption occurs, which generation will suffer its effects?…Hebrew is pregnant with catastrophes.”

Scholem senses that the Zionism in which he places his faith, the Zionism which has revitalized Jewish culture, is nonetheless also the Zionism which, by secularizing, modernizing and normalizing the Messianic forces that dwell in the holy Hebrew tongue, has injected a divine, schizophrenic and unpredictable energy into a national populace that, in 1926, was still working to birth itself into the political world as a nation-state among nation-states. This did not just occur on the abstract plane of language, rather, it took place as a process in history that began in Eastern Europe in the late 1800s and, by 1948, solidified into a political Event, the consecration of a new nation-state. Alongside this guided (forced) evolution of Hebrew, from sacred tongue to national-secular dialect, was a transformation of cultural Zionism, which sought to revitalize Jewish culture and identity in face of the threats of assimilation and anti-Semitism, into political Zionism, which took this cultural drive for renewal and turned it into a national-political agenda to conquer a land and form a militarized nation-state.

Today, as we look back upon and form the narrative of the past that has led us to this 21st century present, we must guard against a tendency to mythologize the past, to summarize it with the broad strokes of abstract historical ‘forces’. There is a deification of the force of language, in Scholem’s worldview and in Derrida’s interpretation of it, that leads to a reification of an immaterial essence- Hebrew and its holy potentialities- as the driving Spirit behind the history of Zionism. For according to Scholem’s narrative, the transformation in question here, from Hebrew as holy tongue to secular dialect, and from cultural Zionism as Judaic revitalization to political Zionism as nationalist project, is a transformation that occurs first and foremost in the former field of language, and only then trickles down to transform the latter field of ideology.

Or, if the two transformations in truth occur as a single evolution, they unfold, in ‘The Eyes of Language’, upon a field that, true to Derrida’s entire project (which, for all its beauty, is not Marxist), is not the concrete, immanent socio-economic field of politics and history, but is rather the semi-transcendent, partly-ineffable, infinitely-open play of interpretation and the letter. “There is a power of language”, Derrida claims, “at once a dynamis, an enveloped virtuality, a potentiality that can be brought or not to actuality; it is hidden, buried, dormant. This potentiality is also a power, a particular efficacy that acts on its own, in a quasi- autonomous manner, without the initiative and beyond the control of speaking subjects.” (213-14) If we wish to actually reconstruct the chain of events that constitute the history of Zionism and the Israel-Palestine conflict from which it cannot be disassociated, we are left with little time to leave our reasoning power at the door, slip off our slippers, remove our thinking caps and kneel before the altar of the Hidden Potentiality of Language. Derrida tries to account for all concrete political history by enveloping it within his Play of the Letter- “this catastrophe of language will not only be linguistic. From the beginning of the letter, the political and national dimension is staged.” Nonetheless, the latter two dimensions of politics and national identity are framed within, and bow before, the former dimension of the letter, so that the catastrophe of Zionism can be seen as ultimately a catastrophe of language, and so that the political-historical events which constitute Zionism’s unfolding become the playing-out of supra-natural, transhistorical essences.

As good materialists, we cannot rest easy with Scholem’s worldview that explains historical phenomena as the surface effects of ghostly, ephemeral, spiritual-Biblical processes that play themselves out behind the given socio-economic-political reality. Nor can we be satisfied with a Derridean picture that leads our eyes away from historical fact, towards a pseudo-theological play of signifiers (however tempting speculation regarding the latter may be). The danger in this is clear- throughout the 1900s, it was precisely the Zionist mythology that viewed its concrete imperialist project as a spiritual process, as God’s will manifesting itself on Earth. Zionism used this spiritual meta-narrative to justify and to cloak the oppression of Palestinians and the expropriation of their land. In addition, it is easy today to look at the Old City, where Al-Aqsa mosque sits so close to the Western Wall, and to become convinced that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a cosmic clash between divine forces, a Battle of the Monotheisms, in which the human narrative is mere puppet play. The radical factions within Judaism and Islam inflame and obfuscate this conflict by painting it with precisely these transcendent, passionate colors.  Today, to dispel the tangled, illusory and confusing clouds of religious passion and tribal ideology that drive everyone into a deeper mess, we must see the historical facts of the Israel-Palestine conflict for what they are- historical facts, composed of the concrete interplay of  social, economic and political relationships.

Though we must guard against romanticizing and mythologizing the stark reality of the conflict, we can nonetheless draw from Derrida and Scholem’s discourses on language important insights regarding the relationship between religious mythologies, national orientations, and political affiliations. We can see the intrinsic relationship between the Zionism which bends the sacred language of Hebrew for its secular nationalistic purposes, and the Zionism which twists and channels the Biblical passions of Judaism into a concrete political agenda. For while spiritual-metaphysical concepts do not possess any transcendental reality, and in themselves have no immanent causal effect in the realm of social-political configurations, they are used, within these latter configurations, as signifiers of extreme force and violence, so that, as elements of language and pawns of ideology, the forces embedded in religious ideas come to play a major role in world politics and history. As critical secular thinkers, we must affirm that there is no Judaic ‘God’ or divinely mandated ‘ingathering of the exiles’, we must affirm that there is no ‘Allah’ and no divinely mandated ‘jihad’; nonetheless, we cannot fail to recognize how these ideas play such a crucial role in inflaming political agendas and social movements. In the thought, word and deed of humans, these ideas seem to take on a life of their own.

This is the sphere of political theology- the study of how religious and theological concepts play themselves out in, and influence, the political patterns by which humans navigate and organize their shared social reality. For “those who believed that they secularized the sacred language did not do so in order to desacralize. They believed, thoughtlessly, that they were going to ‘resuscitate’, to reanimate the language of origin in a modern world and in a modern state.” (Acts of Religion, 206) Throughout the 1900s, the actors of political and cultural Zionism, as they pushed for the creation and sustenance of the State of Israel, believed either that they were fulfilling, in earthly politics, God’s will as written in the Torah, or that they were protecting and strengthening the Jewish people, as a nation and a culture. Be it cultural or political Zionism, be it in the practical atheist nationalism of Theodore Hertzl or in the all-Jews-to-the-Holy Land unification theology of Abraham Isaac Kook, we see one and the same drive to unify and uplift a people. Both camps sought to glorify the given, and so, consciously and unconsciously, they translated theological emotions into political motivations. They tapped into deeply-embedded cultural motifs of collective exile and redemption, not to ‘desacralize’ concepts previously only whispered in prayer or eyed in fantasy and longing, but to ‘resuscitate’ a scattered and battered people threatened by diaspora, assimilation and anti-Semitism, to raise this confused and secularized mass closer towards what they perceived to be a new state of sacred Becoming.

In this nexus of political theology that in the 1900s animated the Zionist project, we see the violence of a double inscription, carved atop a double erasure- first, on the surface of Zionism’s body, the land of Palestine, we see the forced settlement of the Jewish population, coincident with the forced suppression of the indigenous Palestinian presence; second, within the borders of Zionism’s self-identity, we see the forced revitalization of Hebrew, coincident with the forced forgetting of Yiddish. The parallels are clear as day- in Palestine, Jews had for centuries been a tiny minority among Arabs; in Diaspora Judaism, Hebrew had been for centuries the language of a tiny minority, spoken only in prayer, while the vast majority of Jews spoke Yiddish. As part of the national-political Zionist project, the former element was dragged out of obscurity and forced atop the latter in a deliberate, unnatural gesture of dominance. The movement which scarred the Palestinian people had also to scar itself; the mark of difference had to wedge itself between Jew-Arab on the outside, and between Hebrew-Yiddish, and in a larger sense Israel-Diaspora, on the inside; Zionism had to cover over both scars with the same brazenness, the same masculine over-assertion, the same all-encompassing cultural and political upsurge of nationalism and pride.

In the early 1900s, the Legion of the Defenders of the Language was established in Tel Aviv to harass Yiddish theater performances, ban and hinder the spread of Yiddish publications, and otherwise forcibly promote the development of Hebrew as the only acceptable language for what would become the Jewish nation. Zuckerman, cited above- “In the 1920s and 1930s, gdud meginéy hasafá, ‘the language defendants regiment’, whose motto was ivrí, dabér ivrít ‘Hebrew [i.e. Jew], speak Hebrew!’, used to tear down signs written in ‘foreign’ languages and disturb Yiddish theatre gatherings.” (48) As Sue Wright says in her book Language and the State- Revitalization and Revival in Israel and Eire, “The struggle with Yiddish continued even after Hebrew was firmly established. It was seen as a continuing threat during the immigration of the early days of independence in the 1950s. Yiddish was the prototype enemy of Hebrew. It was the language associated with the Diaspora, and so with the rejected identity of Diaspora Jew. It was the language of the religious anti-Zionists, a group seen as a constant reminder of another rejected identity. And it was the language espoused by an identity that rejected territorialism and the return to Zion.” (19) Or as Benjamin Harshav points out in Language in Time of Revolution, “The revulsion from [the Yiddish language]…[was] a recoil from Diaspora existence… [from] the mother tongue, intimate and hated at the same time, from the parental home of the shtetl, corroded by idleness and Jewish trading, and from the world of prayer, steeped in the scholastic and irrelevant study of Talmud, and the irrational and primitive behavior of the Hasidim.” (157)

The Committee of the Hebrew Language, late 1800s, with chief proponent of the revitalization of Hebrew, Eliezer ben-Yehuda, first on right

Yiddish was rejected, and Hebrew was enforced, in the same Zionist stubbornness which spit out, like a bad memory, the thought of the Diasporic Jewish community, dependent on the bricks of another’s house, guests in a foreign land, too weak to determine itself like the rest of Europe. For the newly-forming Zionist consciousness, wrenching itself away from this reality meant violently shoving it into the past. This was accomplished in a double motion- on the one hand, breaking into and creating a new future, in a new land, with a new identity; and, on the other hand, digging up, as in an excavation, the comforting pretense of an ancient past, and clothing the forward march in the shreds of this past, thrusting the name of this past ahead as justification for the advance.  The land of Palestine combined perfectly this motif of Enlightenment futurity with the trace of an anarchic, irretrievable, Biblical past.

To reconcile Zion the imaginary with the Real patch of land on the coast of the Mediterranean, required an immensely surreal, novel and traumatizing leap of forced familiarity. Writing of Gershom Scholem in 1926 Palestine, Derrida asks us to imagine “the paradigmatic scene of this Berliner intellectual from the diaspora, living two cultures, familiar, as are so many others, with sacred nonspoken texts reserved for study and liturgy, and who all at once hears, in the Palestine of the 1 920s, these sacred names in the street, on the bus, at the corner store, in the newspapers that every day publish lists of new words to be inscribed in the code of secular Hebrew. One must imagine the desire and the terror in the face of this outpouring, this prodigious, unbridled prodigality that flooded everyday life with sacred names, language giving itself out…”  (209) He continues- ‘The  demonic horror of these sorcerers’ apprentices gifted with an unconscious courage  that pushes them to manipulate forces which surpass them-here is this horror commensurate with a kind of death, the death of the living dead…as if the return to life were only a simulacrum for which one was going to disguise the dead as a caricature of itself for the funeral home, a nonlanguage, the frozen grin of a semiotics, a disincarnated, fleshless, and formally universal exchange value, an instrument in the commerce of signs,  without a proper place, without a proper name, a false return to life, a shoddy resurrection.” (209-10)

A perfect example of the Zionist drive to ‘disguise the dead as a caricature of itself for the funeral home’, to fix the past in a ‘frozen grin’, is what is now known as the Western Wall.

For 2030 years, this wall has stood; for nearly 2000 years, it has been the only remnant of the structure of the Jews’ Second Temple; for at least 1000 years, the wall itself has been for the Jews a supreme object of religious fixation.

Only for the last 44 years, however, has a magnificent open-air synagogue plaza paved the way to the wall for the Jews- paved, as it were, over the remains of 135 houses, a mosque, a school, and the 800-year history of the Moroccan or Mughrabi Quarter.

The Moroccan Quarter sometime between 1898 and 1946- virtually everything in the lower half of the picture was demolished to make way for the Western Wall Plaza

from Wikipedia-

“Three days after Israel seized the Old City during the Six Day War, on the evening of June 10, 1967, 650 inhabitants of the Moroccan Quarter were told to vacate their homes on a few hours notice. Workers under the guard of soldiers then proceeded to demolish the quarter, consisting of 135 houses, the al-Buraq mosque, the Bou Medyan zaouia and other sites, with the exception of a mosque and a zaouia which were demolished two years later. According to Etan Ben Moshe, the officer in charge, several persons died following their refusal to leave their homes; one woman from the quarter who did not hear the calls to vacate was buried beneath the rubble, her body found the next morning under the ruins of her home. In the following days all of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of the Jewish Quarter were also evicted…Almost a year later, on April 18, 1968, the Israeli Ministry of the Treasury officially expropriated the land of the quarter for public use, along with the Jewish Quarter, and offered 200 Jordanian dinars to each family which had been displaced.  After the destruction, the section of the Wall dedicated to prayers was extended southwards to double its original length from 28 to 60 meters, while the original facing open area of some four meters grew to 40 meters: the small 120 square meter area in front of the wall became the vast Western Wall Plaza, covering 20,000 square meters over the ruins of the Moghrabi Quarter.The site of the Moroccan Quarter is now a large open plaza leading up to Western Wall, in use as an open-air synagogue.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moroccan_Quarter

The Western Wall has always been for the Jews a present symbol of an irretrievable past, the living remnant of a dead temple, the trace which persists in time to announce that which has passed, the visible sign of an invisible promise. It is the only remaining segment of the guard wall that once surrounded their Second Temple, destroyed almost 2000 years ago. Like any other religious site, the wall has been imbued over the years with what we can refer to as a ‘holiness’, not (for us seculars) by the will of God, but through the intense devotion of generations of human hands, hearts, words, and tears. To forcibly inscribe a new conquest and to markedly denote a new era, the Zionist movement bathed this living symbol in blood and artificially grafted a new limb onto it. Just as the Hebrew language persisted in a similar holiness for thousands of years, and then was hijacked, magnified and warped by the Zionist movement, so did this wall exist as a holy site for thousands of years before the Zionist project covered it with the flood lights of a nationalist spectacle. It is not that the holy presence has totally withdrawn from this wall because of Zionism; just as Yiddish today has seeped back into the Hebrew language, exists alongside it and has gained a new strength of its own- just as the Palestinian people have mounted a steadily increasing resistance since the occupation, illuminating and elaborating the cracks in the Zionist edifice- so the inherited holiness of the wall now coincides awkwardly with, hides itself as a trace behind, persists uncomfortably in spite of the ‘frozen grin’ of the occupation which has hijacked and transmogrified it for purposes which, were we religious, we would rightly call idolatrous. That which is suppressed cannot be forgotten, but inevitably returns again, first as a specter to haunt the oppressor, then as the ominous cracks in the edifice of oppression, and finally as a full-on revolution which tears down the wall and liberates the enslaved. We are reminded of the famous passage from Marx’s Capital, which describes how capitalist oppression cyclically spirals towards its own breaking point and creates its own self-supersession and the liberation of the proletariat- “Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital [read: Zionist oppressors], who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class [read: Palestinian people], a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production [read: Zionist exploitation] itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” (Capital Volume I, Chapter 32)

The alternative archeology association Emek Shaveh has this to say about another Old City site (the City of David, currently excavated under/pasted over the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan), but it applies just as well to the Western Wall- “[The] incorporation of this site into the Jewish-Israeli narrative is multifaceted — mixing religious nationalism with theme- park tourism. The past is, of course, a palpable presence, used both to shore up the new Jewish settlers’ claim for primacy and to attract Bible-oriented tourism. As a result, conflict with local Palestinians occurs at the very basic level of existence, where the past is used to disenfranchise and displace people in the present.”  http://www.alt-arch.org/silwan.php

In the West Bank city of Hebron (al Khalil in Arabic), we find a blatant example of how archeological excavation goes hand in hand with Jewish settlement, and thus betrays its underlying ideological motivations. At the site of Tel Rumeida, about a two minute walk from where I am currently sitting, seven Israeli families moved in with caravans in 1984, as part of a broader wave of settlement starting in 1980. In the face of mounting violent resistance, the Israeli government agreed to construct permanent housing for these settlers. This description, taken from a Zionist website, shows how the excavation, which unearthed 4,000 years of fascinating history, was undertaken explicitly for the purpose of settlement. Though this is an atypical example, framed in a context that unusually and dramatically weds excavation and settlement, it is still worth mentioning, if for no other reason than that it holds special significance for me right now, as I walk right past the settlement home every day.

http://www.gamla.org.il/english/article/1999/july/h1.htm

“The archeological work was licensed two weeks before the Israeli general election in May as a “rescue excavation” to research the site before permanent homes are built there for the settlers…Dr Hamdan Taha, director-general of the Palestinian ministry for archeology, said the excavation had been politically motivated. “We think the site should be protected as an archeological site without any ideological attempt to threaten and endanger a cultural heritage that represents the ancient history of Hebron,” he said. Officials at the Israeli antiquities authority privately agree. “If such a significant site were inside Israel proper, the law would prohibit anything being built on it,” a senior Israeli archeologist said. Persuading the settlers to go, however, will be difficult. David Wilder, spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, said the excavation proved their right to live there. “We always knew this was the site of the ancient city; now these excavations have found positive proof of Jewish presence from the time of the patriarchs,” said Wilder. “In terms of Jewish roots and heritage, what more do you need?”

 In most instances of Israeli archeological imperialism, the old is excavated gradually, as a groundbreaking first step that paves the way for the eventual new colonial settlement which, all along, was the implicit purpose of excavation. At Tel Rumeida, the old was excavated after the new was already set to be established; the fact of settlement explicitly caused the necessity of excavation; the structural order was inverted, allowing the overarching ideological motivation, teleologically oriented towards the establishment of the new, to emerge even clearer into the clear light of day.

David Wilder, mentioned above, had this to say, on the Jewish Community of Hebron web site, about the Tel Rumeida site, called by the settlers Beit Menachem-

“To me, this site could be called Tel Aviv. Why? Today’s Israeli metropolis is named after Theodore Herzl’s book, Altneuland, which literally means ‘old — new land,’ with ‘Tel’ [the name for a hill containing the remains of an ancient city-ed] representing the old and ‘Aviv’ (which means spring in Hebrew), representing the new. However, the authentic ‘old’ is here in Hebron, the roots of our existence, at the site called Tel Hebron. And the new is directly above the old — a beautiful new apartment complex, the buds of the rebirth of the Jewish People in the City of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.” http://www.hebron.com/english/article.php?id=241#Hebron,%20the%20Real%20Tel%20Aviv

To repeat, what is unique to this Zionist colonization is that, like Hebrew in relation to Yiddish, what is newly asserted is both excavated under and pasted over that which it replaces- a Jewish presence in Palestine 3000 years ago is used as justification to butt out the Palestinians who have been living here for at least 1000 years; Hebrew’s presence as an ancient holy tongue is cited as a reason to elevate it and to suppress Yiddish; the Western Wall’s longevity is an excuse to turn it into a spectacle over the ruins of the Moroccan quarter. In each case, the former element is brutally enlarged and magnified, while the latter element is crushed to a pulp; but, like a parasite, the former element emerges from within the skin of the latter element, and empties itself out from within the host it has devoured. To conquer the given, the new posits the old as its ground, and then, rising up from this posited precedent, it breaks through the given and projects its unprecedented dominance upon the present and into the future. ‘We were here before in Palestine’ becomes ‘we shall now drive out the Palestinians’; ‘we have always been Hebrews’ becomes ‘we must now all speak Hebrew’; ‘this wall has always been holy to us’ becomes ‘it is now justified for us to decimate a community that has lived here for 800 years’. Most Western imperial projects of the last two centuries have approached a land from the outside, and conquered its native population as an external invasive force. To dominate its object, Zionism discovers itself already there before or beneath the object; it rises itself up from the depths of the ground upon which the object rests, and thus posits itself as always-already the hidden truth of the object.

Speaking again of the City of David, itself an archetypal example of archeological colonization, Emek Shavek writes- “Archaeology provides physical and symbolic capital for [Zionism’s] settlement project, in the form of a narrative emphasizing Jewish continuity and eliding other cultures, and of relics that testify to such continuity…The sanctity of the City of David is newly manufactured, and is a crude amalgam of history, nationalism, and quasi-religious pilgrimage. As such, it curiously incorporates many of the qualities used, according to Ben Israel (1998), by nationalist movements in the creation of hallowed land: a revised and selective history, cased in religious terminology (‘holiness’ imparted by the Bible, the kings and the prophets), with mystical overtones (invoking the ‘energy’ of the place; stating that ‘the wall is not just a wall’).” Throughout the short history of Israel, archeological excavations are not performed for the simple cultural Zionist purpose of learning more about the history of the Jewish people- the ideological subtext of excavation claims that Jews have God-given and historically verified ownership of the land, and the practical consequences of excavation are the Palestinian house demolitions and Israeli settlements that invariably follow the discovery of Jewish ruins.

There may have been a time in the early 1900s when it was possible to distinguish between a cultural Zionism which merely sought to revivify Jewish culture, and a political Zionism which coveted a militarized nation-state in Palestine; in today’s Israel, however, they are one and the same package. The celebration of Jewish culture leads directly to the glorification of Israel, and is thus always-already the oppression of Palestinian culture. Mainstream Jewish pride carries with it a clear Us-vs-Them mindset, and whereas in all previous Jewish history the ‘Them’ may have been ‘the goyim (non-Jews) who do not worship our God, who rule this state and social structure, and who at any time may deny us our right to worship, oppress us as second-class citizens, kick us out of this  country, or worse’, today’s ‘Them’ is a single enemy, a single people who are either reviled and spat upon as sub-human by the extremists, or who are consciously feared and unconsciously demonized by the rest of the population. The modern excavation of Biblical ruins, like the adaptation of Hebrew as secular tongue, services cultural and political Zionism alike, and delineates the point where the two meet, where the harmless Judaic pride of the former is twisted into Fascist domination by the latter.

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IDF Uses Deleuze and Guattari, Debord to Attack Nablus and Reconceptualize Military Tactics

http://www.metamute.org/?q=en/node/8192

“Although you do not need Deleuze to attack Nablus, theory helped the military reorganize by providing a new language in which to speak to itself and others. A ‘smart weapon’ theory has both a practical and a discursive function in redefining urban warfare. The practical or tactical function, the extent to which Deleuzian theory influences military tactics and manoeuvres, raises questions about the relation between theory and practice. Theory obviously has the power to stimulate new sensibilities, but it may also help to explain, develop or even justify ideas that emerged independently within disparate fields of knowledge and with quite different ethical bases.

When the military talks theory to itself, it seems to be about changing its organizational structure and hierarchies. When it invokes theory in communications with the public – in lectures, broadcasts and publications – it seems to be about projecting an image of a civilized and sophisticated military. And when the military ‘talks’ (as every military does) to the enemy, theory could be understood as a particularly intimidating weapon of ‘shock and awe’, the message being: ‘You will never even understand that which kills you.’”

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Jenin Freedom Theatre Attacked Again/ Art As Vehicle For Revolutionary Change

Last night, the Jenin Freedom Theater was attacked for the third time this month. At about two in the morning, IDF soldiers rolled up in army vehicles, surrounded the theater and invaded the home of Mohammed Naghnaghiye, security guard and technician of the theater. They arrested him and one other, and left an hour later. As they left, local shebab, who had gathered to watch, threw stones at the departing jeeps, and were rewarded with sprays of live ammunition. Read the Theatre’s article here- http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/news.php?id=201

Two days ago, the ISM crew in Nablus visited the Theatre in Jenin, which opened in 2006 to bring performance, creativity, and self-expression to the refugee camp that, just four years earlier, had suffered one of the most horrible massacres related to the Israel-Palestine conflict in recent memory.

The Freedom Theatre  has put on many local and international productions in its five short years, including a heavily politicized Animal Farm (which explicitly cast the Knesset and the PA as its oppressive characters), Alice in Wonderland, Fragments of Palestine, and, soon, Waiting For Godot (which will tour the US, once its lead actor, detained at a checkpoint and held under ridiculously fraudulent charges, is released from prison later this week). We were given a tour by Jacob Gough, volunteer from England, and shown several inspiring videos- check out their videos at their YouTube channel! http://www.youtube.com/user/thefreedomtheatre

There is theater which pleases the nobles, theater which entertains the bourgeoisie as it wines and dines; and there is theater which enlivens the masses, theater which speaks to the oppressed, theater which embodies a people’s sorrow and moves it to action. The Freedom Theatre pitches its tent with the latter camp. By opening the minds of Jenin youth to the joys of theatre, it embodies and actualizes the vital potential of art as collective therapy, performance as communal catharsis, and dramatic theatre as a vehicle for the self-expression, self-determination and strengthening of a battered community.

The citizens of Jenin, male and female, young and old, are given the space to act out the trauma inflicted on them by the occupation; they are given a space to assert themselves as independent, creative humans, to act out their imaginative potential; they are given a space to realize their community as one capable, in the midst of poverty, of producing theater that enlivens the imagination and emboldens the sensibilities. This heals the individual and binds the social body together, in one empowering stroke.  This is the transformative, illuminative power of art in every human community, and it is especially necessary for an oppressed populace, who are told by the oppressor to keep their heads and hearts low, and their mouths and minds shut.

By creating culture, the populace realizes it has the power to create culture, that it has the culture, that it is culture- and this itself is a supreme act of resistance, for aside from demolishing homes and crippling economies, Israel seeks above all to cripple the soul of the Palestinian community, to occupy the mind and spirit of the people, to breed an oppressed populace that does not believe in itself, or that believes itself to be sub-human, subservient scum. Beneath the surface picture of the occupation, where Israel appears as the power that simply wants the land for itself, the power whose brutal oppression of Palestinians has as its final goal and driving purpose to create the conditions that will compel them to leave Judea and Samaria- there is a deeper, more sinister reality, whereby Israel actually needs the Palestinians around as a second-class proletarian workforce, as an ostracized Other apart from which the Israelis can concretize and affirm their group identity as a superior people, and towards which the Knesset can constantly wield its sword, so as to distract the Israeli people away from concrete social problems.  In all modern instances of structural oppression, capitalism craves a culturally subservient proletariat that works hard and is paid little, that pays taxes and does not expect social services in return, that cleans the toilets of the bourgeoisie and stays silent, that accepts second-class citizenship, or no citizenship at all, without a struggle, that lives in the constant fear of unemployment or persecution, and so cleaves for protection to the very social system that dangles it over the abyss. To awaken this proletariat to the impossibility of its existence, and to the possibility of its liberation, is the task of revolutionary politics, whose audience is history and whose stage is the present.

Here is a video of ‘Drama Therapy’ at the Freedom Theatre, where group poesis brings out in the individual the traumas of the occupation, that they may be collectively expressed and healed-

http://www.youtube.com/user/thefreedomtheatre#p/u/18/jJJx0Sr5I_Y

At two thirty in the morning, I was the only one awake in the Nablus flat; everyone else, drained from the frenzy of last night’s 4 A.M. IDF invasion of Hebron, had passed out early. I, however, had sublimated my lack of sleep, through the aid of coffee and tea, into an even greater manic addiction to keeping watch on the Twitter feeds. For at midnight, the IDF had raided Hebron again, this time to surround a house, blow it up, and arrest a man inside for ties to Hamas. Local shebab rioted in reaction to this, and 30 were injured with rubber-coated steel bullets and high velocity tear gas canisters which, contrary to safety regulations, were fired not in the air but directly at the Palestinians. Like last night, I was assigned the task of watching Twitter feed after Twitter feed- ‘IDF invades Hebron, 30 injured’; ‘Zionist forces are in Hebron again! Anyone know what is happening?’; ‘while the world watches Tripoli, Israel bombs Gaza and invades Hebron’- and relaying any new info to the ISMers who were on the ground in Hebron, sneaking past the closed checkpoints, videotaping the soldiers. As this was unfolding, I had another Twitter page updating me on ‘al Aqsa’- a rally for Gaza which started around Damascus Gate had been suppressed by the IDF (after reports of a Palestinian stabbing a soldier), who were attacking Palestinian ambulances and medics and beating protesters; the situation climaxed when protesters made their way to Al Aqsa Mosque, and then were sealed inside by the IDF, who simultaneously closed several entrances to the Old city and flew Apache helicopters over the mosque. ISMers in Sheikh Jarrah went to the scene just as it was clearing up. Several Palestinians were detained and interrogated at a detention center west of Jerusalem.

At about 2:30 I got a call that the Freedom Theatre had been attacked. I woke up the rest of ISM at the flat, who rose like pissed off lions, stomped around on the telephone, smoked cigarettes, cursed the occupation and determined if we should take the hour-long taxi ride to Jenin. Then we got a Facebook message from a friend in Nablus, who (along with her family) had just heard gunfire and seen IDF jeeps in the city. Suddenly the air grew very tense. We walked out on the roof to listen very closely for sounds of the IDF in the city. We were all very sleep deprived, jumpy and paranoid. This was the second night in a row that the IDF had swept through the West Bank in the early hours of the morning, and we had been nervously expecting that they would come to Nablus. Eventually we determined that nothing was happening in Nablus, and we got a call that the IDF had driven away from Jenin with two detainees. I fell asleep as the sun was rising, with coffee in my veins.

As I said, this is the third arrest to strike the Jenin Freedom Theatre this month. A few members of the Theatre, due to be released later this week, have been held all month by the IDF on the absurd pretense that they are needed for questioning regarding the murder of  Juliano Mer Khamis.

Juliano Mer Khamis, born of an Israeli-Arab intellectual father and a Jewish Communist mother, spent his life championing Palestinian rights, in the belief that, as he said in 2009, “I am 100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish”. In the 1980s, his mother established a children’s camp in Jenin, and in 2006, he established the Freedom Theatre. On April 4, 2011, he was driving in his car outside the Theatre when he was shot and killed by masked gunmen. As of yet, nobody knows who killed him, but his memory will live on forever as an example of an Israeli who saw through Israeli aggression, and went into the heart of Jenin to inspire the populace, to actively make a better world. Shortly after his death, the Freedom Theatre nearly collapsed due to the loss of its founder and chief organizer, but through a renewed will and determination it lives on.

I have a feeling that something will happen tonight, somewhere in the West Bank. Nablus is a perfect target, and I hope that the city, and the rest of the West Bank, remains safe tonight.

(This was just told to us by a very cute 12 year old boy from Nablus named Majd, who runs the cash register at his father’s shop down below our apartment, who visits us every day, with whom we are about to go to the park- ‘At the end of Ramadan, every one in Nablus goes out to the shop to buy clothes; in Gaza, everyone goes out to buy sheets to bury the dead.’)

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Pre-Dawn Raids in Bethlehem and Hebron

At 3 AM this morning we were all sitting around, giddily awake from our indignation over the fact that the top story on the ISM website was a travelogue called ‘the absurdity of feeding kittens in palestine’, written by newcomers, which detailed, among other things, how absurd it was that they hitched a ride from an Israeli settler- something one is never to do in ISM, not only because A.S.A.B. (all settlers are bastards), but also because were a Palestinian to see you in the car with a settler, they may think you are a spy, and it would ruin the trust and solidarity between Palestinians and that region in the entire ISM. How worse, then, for a story advertising such a fact to be given front page status on the website, where Palestinians all over the region, not to mention internationals all over the world, can see it! And how even more absurd that this is the case, when Gaza is under siege! Gaza is under siege, and when the international community comes to our website to learn about what is going on or what is to be done, they see that we are feeding kittens in Palestine, watching a camel be abused by Palestinians and crying, and hitching a ride from Israeli settlers!

We had all just finished demanding that the article be removed, and writing an angry letter to the ISM core, when a twitter feed popped up on someone’s screen- 35 arrested in raids in Hebron, IDF soldiers storming the village. Instantly we called the Hebron ISM flat, woke them up and told them to get out there, though we heard the checkpoints were rapidly closing. The tension mounted- within minutes more feeds were popping up- 50 arrested, 60 arrested…when we heard, about half an hour later, that soldiers also appeared in Bethlehem, it dawned on us that we were witnessing a full-scale assault on the West Bank, and we called everyone in the ISM, woke them up, threw clothes on and got ready to leave to Hebron. If it was true that even 50 had been arrested in Hebron in the course of an hour before dawn, this would still be the largest such operation in 8 years.

Since I am going to get my visa renewed in a week, it was decided that I should stay behind and be the media man, keeping everyone on the ground updated, because an arrest or detention could compromise my chances of getting a new visa. My friend Kyle and I sipped coffee as the sun rose, neurotically refreshing the Twitter pages, translating obscure posts in Arabic with Google translator, texting every bit of information we found to the folks on the ground- ‘soldiers outside information and service offices’; ‘soldiers in the towns of Doura, Beit Ola, Nouba, Yatta, Surif and Al Sammoa’;…reports kept surfacing that ‘Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus’ were under siege, but we are in Nablus, and repeatedly walked out onto the roof to look on the ground for tanks or soldiers, and saw and heard nothing. Eventually the Nablus news was receded, probably a bit of gossip caused by collective hysteria and incessant re-tweeting.

As the sun was rising, I went out to the roof, every little sound I heard made me jump; insecurity hung over the air, that this beautiful, peaceful mountain town would suddenly be pierced by screams or explosions. Just then, the call to prayer began to blare out of the loudspeaker below my roof, and its cry echoed through the mountains. I was overcome by what I heard in the singing- ‘do not worry; god will protect; this too has come already, this too shall pass, and we shall resist, and bear witness to the terror and the atrocities that are committed on this earth. though we are under siege, our people’s spirit is strong; fear not tanks, nor guns, nor war, remain strong through sorrow, firm your footsteps in this sorrowful world’. my bones shivered to hear such an emotion ring so palpably in the singer’s voice, and echo through the canyons.

here is the report I wrote for the ISM website-

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Just before dawn today, Sunday August 21, IDF forces raided the towns of Hebron and Bethlehem in the West Bank. So far, 120 people have been arrested in Hebron, including at least 70 Hamas leaders.

According to the International Middle East Media Center, after midnight over 100 military vehicles and jeeps entered Hebron from 4 entrances, and raided 6 villages in addition to Hebron City, breaking into homes and occupying the streets, from which Palestinian security services were conspicuously absent. Israeli forces assaulted and detained a Palestinian man during a raid on the home of the Mufti of Bethlehem, in the refugee camp of Duheisha. So far, 2 Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli gunfire in Bethlehem.
Though no statement has been released by Israel concerning the reason for the raids and arrests, they appear to be targeting Hamas leaders, presumably in retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks coming from Gaza in the last two days.A group of ISM activists stationed in Hebron have rushed to the scene, as have ISM activists in Nablus. As of now, mobile checkpoints have been set up around Ramallah and Jerusalem. Gaza was surprisingly quiet tonight, given that it is has been under seige for the last 3 days; apparently, the occupation forces spent the night gearing up to sweep through the West Bank.

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So far, Democracy Now and Al Jazeera have not reported these raids; the only major news outlet seems to be the small Ma’an News Agency.

Needless to say, it is very, very exciting to be caught up in this whirlwind! It seems grim, however, as things look to be getting worse. As I said, an operation this large has not occurred in 8 years, and it has happened overnight, and still continues, and could accelerate in any direction throughout the West Bank. Israel is obviously showing off its might and cracking down, as a reaction against Thursday’s attacks, as a distraction from the social protests that threaten to turn the country upside down, and as a disturbing call to arms and national unity in the face of the UN Palestinian resolution set for late September.

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Einstein and Zionism

Einstein and Zionism

Einstein was a very strong cultural Zionist, who believed that the creation of a national homeland for Jews (read homeland, not state) could awaken a revitalization of Jewish culture in the face of anti-Semitism. However, he, like many other Jewish intellectuals of his era, was careful to maintain the absolute primacy of moral and social equality with Arabs- the universalistic, humanistic ethos- over any kind of fanatical belief in the moral superiority of the Jewish people. His Zionist legacy is much contested right now, because he did publicly support Zionist efforts on several occasions, traveling to America in the 1930s to raise money for the cause.

(Einstein and his wife, Zionist and future president of Israel Chaim Weizmann and his wife, Menachem Ussishkin and Ben-Zion Mossinson, NYC, 1921)

“I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain—especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state. … If external necessity should after all compel us to assume this burden, let us bear it with tact and patience.”

– Albert Einstein, 1938 speech ‘Our Debt to Zionism’

“[the Zionist] movement [must] avoid the danger of degenerating into a blind nationalism. In my opinion, we must endeavor above all that psychological understanding and an honorable will towards cooperation take the place of resentment towards the Arabs. The overcoming of this difficulty will, in my opinion, be the touchstone that our community has a right to existence in the higher sense. I must unfortunately openly acknowledge that the attitude of our [Zionist] officialdom, as well as the majority of public expressions in this connection, appear to me to leave much to be desired.

– letter to Heinrich York-Steiner, November 19 1929

‘The most important aspect of our [Israel’s] policy must be our ever-present, manifest desire to institute complete equality for the Arab citizens living in our midst … The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people.”

– letter to Zvi Lurie, January 5, 1955

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Freud and Zionism

In February 1930 Freud was asked, as a distinguished Jew, to contribute to a petition condemning Arab riots of 1929, in which over a hundred Jewish settlers were killed. This was his reply:

Letter to the Keren Hajessod (Dr. Chaim Koffler)

Vienna: 26 February 1930

Dear Sir,

I cannot do as you wish. I am unable to overcome my aversion to burdening the public with my name, and even the present critical time does not seem to me to warrant it. Whoever wants to influence the masses must give them something rousing and inflammatory and my sober judgement of Zionism does not permit this. I certainly sympathise with its goals, am proud of our University in Jerusalem and am delighted with our settlement’s prosperity. But, on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state, nor that the Christian and Islamic worlds would ever be prepared to have their holy places under Jewish care. It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land. But I know that such a rational viewpoint would never have gained the enthusiasm of the masses and the financial support of the wealthy. I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives.

Now judge for yourself whether I, with such a critical point of view, am the right person to come forward as the solace of a people deluded by unjustified hope.

Your obediant servant,

Freud

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Occupation in the Jordan Valley

In the last month ISM has joined up with Jordan Valley Solidarity and a slew of other international activists to make mud bricks for a new house and football field in the small Bedouin village of Fasayil, in the Jordan Valley. Fasayil is made up of many scattered islets of Bedouin homes, animal pens and makeshift structures, spread out over a swath of desert. In the daytime, children run around in the stifling heat yelling at each other; men walk around in short sleeves busy with the day’s tasks, or sit in the shade together talking and staring off toward the mountains; women, wrapped in shawls, peek out of their houses briefly to walk across the encampments, and can sometimes be seen sitting on their porches, but otherwise seem embarrassed to appear before the eyes of Westerners (and pretty much anyone, given the conservative social structure here). There are many scattered encampments, of five or six houses each, that gradually lead up to the center of the village, where the structures are more permanent, and there is a little shop that sells cold cans of Coke, warm pita, and all the other amenities.

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Right now, though the Jordan Valley is one of the regions of the West Bank hardest hit by the Occupation, Jordan Valley Solidarity is one of the only NGOs working on the ground. This is because, in Israel’s tripartite structure of apartheid, most of the Jordan Valley falls under Area C zoning regulations, where it is under full Israeli military and civil control as a ‘closed military zone’. This means, among other things, that it is illegal for the Palestinians, most of whom are Bedouin, to build any permanent structures without a permit, which is almost impossible to obtain. Therefore, most NGOs will not work in the Jordan Valley, not so much because any structure they build will be demolished (which is largely true), but because building is illegal in the first place.

Fasayil is a unique example because the center of town falls under Area B regulations- Israeli military control, but Palestinian civil control- while the outskirts of town are completely Area C. The structures at the center of Fasayil are larger and more permanent, therefore, because, due to zoning laws, this is the only part of town that is not regularly demolished. After demolitions in Fasayil 2 months ago, 134 people, including 64 children, were left sitting under the blazing sun, surrounded by their possessions, with nowhere to go.

Because the land is designated as an Area C Closed Military Zone, the Bedouin, who have either lived semi-nomadic lives in the region for centuries or who have moved there as refugees after 1948, not only are not allowed to build structures of any significant permanency, but they also cannot dig water wells of any significant depth, and because of Israeli military checkpoints and road closures they can scarcely export goods of any significant quantity or quality. The not-yet-published Jordan Valley Solidarity factbook ‘To Exist is To Resist’ describes the difference between the two areas in Fasayil-

“Because it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain construction permits in Area C, the difference between the two sides of town is stark. Indeed, when crossing from Area B to C the demarcation is not a checkpoint or a sign, but rather the end of paved roads and the drastic change from houses to shacks. Animal shelters mix with residences, electricity is scarce and water must be bought and brought in at exorbitant prices from Israeli companies.”

The web site of PEDAL (www.100daystopalestine.org), one of the international groups that work with us here, gives a great summary of the history of the Valley-

“After the 1948 Nakba (when over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled) many refugees arrived here and in 1967, in a deal between Jordan and Israe,l they had their refugee status revoked in exchange for small plots of land. Following this, many inhabited refugee camps were demolished while the UN turned a blind eye. Since 1967 Israel has taken nearly all the remaining land, leaving just 5% Palestinian (area a+b) consisting of Jericho and 5 villages: Lower Fasaiel, Bardala, Al Uja, Zubeidat, and Ein Al Beida. The rest of the valley (95%) is now area c and subject to military control. Of the 320,000 Palestinians that lived in the valley before 1967 only 56,000 remain (75% of which live in Jericho), the rest have been displaced.”

The stated purpose of Israel’s vise-like grip on ownership and control of the Valley is to hold a security buffer space between Israel and Jordan, necessary to defend the country; in reality, however, Israel covets the Valley because (1) the West Bank, which could serve as a future Palestinian state, is thereby surrounded on all sides by Israel; (2) the West Bank is thereby cut off from economic interaction and communication with Jordan, and the rest of the Middle East; and (3) in the words of Jordan Valley Solidarity, the Jordan Valley’s “abundance of water resources, fertile soil and natural minerals offer competitive economic advantages in agriculture, industry and tourism. It also constitutes a geographical “reservoir” of land where the Palestinians could establish housing projects and public facilities.”

Every day, at about five in the afternoon, after a long day of sitting around eating pita with hummus and talking politics (or hitch-hiking to Jericho), the internationals (usually anywhere from twelve to five of us, depending on the day) walk out to the desert beside the village to begin work. At this time, the sun has sunk down to touch the top of the mountains, it is no longer unbearably hot outside, and a strong breeze begins to kick up through the valley, sweeping sand up in its path, as the hot air rises and cool air rushes in to fill the vacuum underneath. As we walk in between the houses and animal pens of Area C Fasayil, mothers smile at us from their windows, children look up into our eyes and look away, fathers nod their heads and say ‘salaam aleikum’, the smell of Ramadan break-fast wafts out of open doors, donkeys stand and neigh, goats shift their feet, dogs bask in the afternoon heat; the enchantment of this beautiful community mingles with the haunting recognition that each of these structures has received final demolition orders, and thus could be bulldozed to the ground at any time. This entire village could disappear from existence in the blink of an eye, at 6 in the morning, with the Bedouin families standing beside the rubble of their homes screaming and sobbing, and international activists arriving just in time to offer their condolences, take pictures, and write a report for the news media.

 

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At the site of work, a water tank drives up to the large pit we dug in the earth; somebody turns the faucet, and water pours out into the pit, mixing with the sand to create a thick, wet mud. Excitedly we pull up our trousers, dig our feet into the mud and begin working the sand in with the water, spreading the mixture evenly to make a consistent mushy, gooey mud which envelops everything it touches. Five mud-caked, wide-eyed, primarily European 20-somethings dancing around in the mud, surrounded by ten or so Palestinian shebab (young men) looking amused, is certainly a sight to see! We dump a bag full of ‘kash’ (straw) into the mix, and once that becomes suffused throughout the goop it is proper mud, perfect to make bricks. Some of us scoop the stuff into buckets, others carry the buckets to the third group, who stand hunched over in a line, shaping the mud into bricks, and leaving the mud bricks out to dry.

 

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Recently, the IDF has begun to crack down on our activities. In the words of an international, who would prefer to go by the name Francis Taylor,  “the soldiers came every night the last five nights. The first night they just asked us what we were doing, the second night they said ‘you know you’re building illegal houses and you could be arrested today or tomorrow’. The third night we anticipated them coming, and we left before they raided the site. When they came they stole the tools and destroyed the equipment and smashed the bricks. Since then we have made new tools and are working harder.”

We work into the night, taking various tea and hookah breaks, and then come 11 p.m. we stumble back to our single collective room, with weary bones and muddy skin, and sit down to an amazing meal, cooked by a Bedouin woman behind the closed doors of her home and served to us by her husband, who gets all the thanks.

Here is the brief article about our project, on the Jordan Valley Solidarity website-

http://jordanvalleysolidarity.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=320:working-side-by-side-with-the-community-in-fasayal&catid=15:2010&Itemid=21

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