Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer reading on Palestine

What books should a Palestine solidarity activist bring on vacation?

Well, I’ve nothing against any campaigner who tries to switch off completely from his or her cause during a badly-needed break by only packing novels or glossy magazines. But I find that summer can be a good time to tackle tomes that I wouldn’t otherwise get around to reading. So in between long walks, cycling, bowling, guzzling chocolate and gazing at West of Ireland sunsets, I checked out these five titles recently:

Extreme Rambling by Mark Thomas (Ebury Press, 2011): An English comic, Thomas has proven on three occasions that it’s possible to write page-turners about international politics. Having previously explored the trade in torture instruments (As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela) and human rights abuses linked to Coca Cola (Belching Out the Devil), his new book has him walking all 415 kilometers of the wall Israel has built in the West Bank, as well as part of the unfinished route. Incensed by how families in East Jerusalem have been forced out of their homes to make way for illegal settlers, how mothers have died in childbirth because they have been blocked from reaching maternity wards and how unemployment has shot up because Palestinians are stopped from going to work, Thomas explodes the myth that the wall enhances Israel’s security.

Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel by David Landy (Zed Books, 2011): A friend and one-time flatmate of mine, Landy is an Irish sociologist who has studied how a network of Jewish groups critical of Israel has developed since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. Although I struggled with the theoretical analysis that dominates its early chapters, the core findings of Landy’s research are fascinating. I was particularly struck by how he explains that rejecting Zionism can be just as agonizing for many Jews as “coming out” is for homosexuals. It’s also striking that while Landy appears broadly sympathetic to groups such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians, he doesn’t balk at berating them for being overly influenced by the Israeli left.

The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation by Shir Hever (Pluto Press, 2010): True, the aforementioned Israeli left is generally wishy-washy and patronizing towards Palestinians. Yet Israeli economist Shir Hever provides a refreshing exception to this exceptionalism. In this mostly accessible 226-page work, he underscores how Israel has rigged the economy of the occupation so that it benefits a corporate clique.

Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement by Beverly Milton-Edwards and Stephen Farrell (Polity, 2010): I have serious reservations about this book. The authors often act as stenographers to the powerful by, among other things, describing Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority “prime minister” (by diktat, not election) as “internationally respected”, without addressing how he is a puppet of the International Monetary Fund, an institution controlled by the US and Europe. That said, they offer an informative account of how Hamas unexpectedly became the most trusted political party in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006.

Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel, edited by Abeer Baker and Anat Matar (Pluto Press, 2011): This is a suburb collection of essays on how Israel has sought to criminalize an entire people. The statistic that 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since it occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 may leave the reader unmoved but the detailing of individual prisoners’ experiences surely won’t. One of the most troubling facts I learned is that the Israeli authorities have decided to replicate methods with which they suppress street protests by Palestinians in the more confined space of prisons. It is hard to single out the most cruel thing Ariel Sharon did in his political and military career. Approving the use of tear gas behind bars was certainly one of them.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada, 2 August 2011.

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