Sunday, August 26, 2007

"The last taboo"-- Any public discussion of Palestine

Professor Edward Said, Columbia University.

The unspoken premise of this total blanketing of the mainstream press is that no Palestinian or Arab position on Israeli police terror, settler-colonialism, or military occupation is worth hearing from.

"In fine, American Zionism has made any serious public discussion of the past or future of Israel-by far the largest recipient ever of US foreign aid-a taboo. To call this quite literally the last taboo in American public life would not be an exaggeration."

--Edward Said, "America's Last Taboo", November 2000.

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"Striking back against the empire"

"Freedom Next Time: British journalist John Pilger tracks contemporary social justice struggles from Palestine to South Africa and the island of Diego Garcia"

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Tony Blair made us forget so very much. It was with breathtaking thoroughness that the late (politically speaking) British prime minister reshaped his Labour Party in the course of lining the UK up behind America's wars and relegating the party's traditional union base to the shadows.

So when the country's largest unions -- the 800,000-member British Transport and General Workers' Union and the 1.3-million-member public workers union, UNISON -- recently joined the smaller professors' and journalists' unions in calling for boycotts of Israel, of the sort once imposed on the settler government of South Africa, the events came as a total shock stateside.

The real problem, though, with these news items' reaching us as bolts from the blue is not how little the American news media tell us about British labor politics, but how little they tell us of Palestine, the cause for the boycott, and about the harsh daily existence of Palestinians throughout 40 years of occupation.

Fortunately, there are a handful of British journalists who present the English-speaking world with a decidedly different slant on Middle East events, notable among them Robert Fisk and John Pilger. The latter's latest collection of essays, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire, recently out in paperback, covers the struggle of ordinary people for justice around the world, from the giant subcontinent of India to the tiny Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, the battlefields of Afghanistan, occupied Palestine, and the disappointment of South Africa.

The Australian-born Pilger has certainly not become mainstream in his adopted UK home, but his views are widely circulated there (he has produced 50 films in addition to his print journalism), and as the chapter on Palestine in Freedom Next Time demonstrates, they have many adherents.

Writing in "The Last Taboo" that Israel has "defied 246 Security Council resolutions and more than twice that number of UN General Assembly resolutions," and that the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland "has been reaffirmed by the international community 135 times in the period 1948-2000," Pilger isn't reporting something never mentioned in the American press. It's just that these items are treated here like the question of whether or not scientists have found microbes on Mars: as news from another world, slightly interesting but unessential to daily life.

Pilger takes his chapter title from the late Palestinian author Edward Said, who wrote that even to talk of Palestine is to break "the last taboo." After all, Israeli prime minister Golda Meir once declared, "There was no such thing as Palestinians; they never existed." And even if there actually are such people, we're told they're quite an unreasonable bunch, pretty much terrorists who won't consider sensible proposals to settle the situation. Not so, says Pilger. Countering "the absurd claim that [former Israeli prime minister Ehud] Barak had offered '90 per cent' of the West Bank" in the Oslo talks, "reported without challenge across the Western world," he cites "one of the architects of the peace, [current Israeli president] Shimon Peres," reassuring the Israeli public: "'The deal kept the following in Israeli hands: 73 per cent of the lands of the territories, 97 per cent of the security, and 80 per cent of the water.'"

And as for the latest Palestinian "terrorist" organization, Hamas, whose popularity constitutes a current justification for treating Palestinians as nonentities, Pilger notes that "the Israelis themselves had actually helped to set up and fund Hamas" in " 'a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative,' in the words of a former Middle East CIA official.

All of this may go down a little rough in the United States, which maintains something of a Hollywood "Exodus" vision of an Israel heroically founded for survivors of the Holocaust. The reasons for this continued stance may include the political impact of the country's Jewish population, historic national guilt over not having accepted more European Jews during the Holocaust, and our leaders' desire for a Western ally in the oil-rich Middle East. But whatever the full explanation, the fact is that much of the rest of the world is now asking whether Israel's occupation of Palestine for the past 40 years has come to resemble the old South African concept of apartheid....


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