Apologies for the sparse blogging as of late, I’ve been terribly busy with thesis work, grading, Israeli Apartheid week volunteering, and other personal commitments. I feel exceedingly busy, somewhat stressed, and above all over-committed. Luckily my volunteering duties with IAW and with the co-op will be at a lower level in the coming weeks than in the last one.
I will get around to writing a review of my overall impressions of Israeli apartheid week, and what changes need to be made moving forward to improve the chances of success for the struggle for the rights of the Palestinian people. In short, I think the BDS message is very good, and the quality of the talks has been very good – but the outreach has been poor, and the number of people at the talks who are genuinely new to the topic is marginal. Ironically, I think the branding of IAW is much more aggressive than the actual message or talks, and this probably puts people off.
Tonight I attended an excellent (although not terribly well attended event) opening event of this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week. I will post later with some notes and summaries on the talks. But first I want to post an example of how events like Israeli Apartheid week shift the discourse on critiques of Israel, and specifically on anti-zionism.
An article in The Economist published this January reveals the extent that state forces will go to destabilize the peace and order on which they rely. The context is Northern Ireland post-Troubles, and the situation is a set of secret interviews which might implicate Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in a murder and send him to jail.
The interviews are secret because they were part of an academic inquiry into the history of the IRA which involved interviews with 26 former IRA members given on the condition of secrecy. The American Justice department is acting on behalf of the Northern Irish police by pressuring the university (Boston College) into handing over the materials.
If the interviews are turned over, it will be a desecration of academic freedom and will hamper future academics in their endeavours to understand political conflicts. Academic analysis of political struggles makes us all safer by improving our understanding of complicated and highly concealed reality of conflicts between state and non-state actors – so this police attempt to breach academic freedom makes us less safe.
Worse, if Adams were jailed because of implication in a crime committed during the troubles by the IRA it may put the Good Friday agreement in jeapordy. Adams is the IRA’s great peacemaker – he maintained a spotless record during the troubles so that he could bring the republican cause away from the armalite and into mainstream politics. Luckily, Britain has no intentions of charging him – at least they are more politically savvy than the Northern Irish Police service.
What makes the police service’s actions so absurd is that we all know Adams is implicated in violence – if we had full disclosure of IRA activity he would certainly be accessory to many armed attacks. But peace depends on us not knowing this – it depends on forgiveness both of explicitly committed crimes, and on our decision, sometimes implicit, to turn the other cheek and concentrate on the good will moving forward rather than digging up the crimes of the past. More fundamentally still, conflicts end when both sides recognize that they and the other side have been fighting a war, and that the individual violent actions can not be fully understood under the simple name “crime”. Recognizing what appear to be “crimes” as actions in a war serves a higher purpose than punishing individuals for their choices; it serves the purpose of bringing to a possible site of reconciliation not only individuals but groups, movements, institutions. Recognizing the real existence of social entities and the normative role they play in a conflict is not optional if your interest is ending a conflict and maintaining that end.
When Israelis and North Americans think of Palestinians, they often think of those Palestinians who grab news headlines – people engaged in some form of resistance, probably armed, against Israel. In contrast, we tend to think of Israelis as citizens – as simply people like us (i.e. like rich north americans) who are trying to live their lives – lives made difficult by the constant threat of “terrorist attack”.
But these perceptions are the result of an instituted distortion, a partisan reality, where we see predominantly one side of Palestinians, and a different side of the Israelis. When Israel kills Palestinians, we are told that all those who were killed have a connection to terror. But when Israeli civilians are killed, this is never justified in our media by the fact that most Israelis are in the military, and virtually are Israelis are associated with people in the military. If we think ourselves neutral on the conflict, then why do we think it more objectionable that Palestinians would join an armed group than Israelis would join their military?
The reality is that both sides see military action against the other as a matter of duty – both sides have extremists, and both have moderates which are caught up in the program of those extremists. I’d say that currently the Palestinians are far more moderate in their leadership than the Israelis – the PA has abandoned armed struggle, but the Israelis have not abandoned the occupation, or even the right to make daily raids and kidnappings in areas purportedly under control of Palestinian security forces.
We wonder why some Palestinians believe that suicide bombings are justified, or why any terror attack against civilians could be a legitimate military action in their struggle for self determination? Largely, the reason is the same as the reason Israelis commonly believe their own treatment of the Palestinians is acceptable – because they define the other in terms of the other they see, the most extreme other. Which Israelis do Palestinians see? For those in the occupied Palestinian territories, they only see soldiers and settlers. Soldiers come into their houses in the night and take away their parents, or their children. Settlers walk around carrying assault rifles and live on hilltop fortresses armed to the hilt and with enough food and water to last for years. Settlers are supported by most Israelis, and by their government and army. They are the face of Israel to the Palestinians. And even their snowmen are armed.