Sunday, 28 February 2010

British imperialism and Palestine

I am currently reading Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, which i bought from the bookshop in the American Colony hotel in east Jerusalem.

Apparently this is the hotel where Tony Blair stays when he is here as middle east 'peace' envoy (laugh, cry, or be sick? i can't decide....)

I can't think what he makes of the bookshop, as most of the books put forward well researched and cogent arguments which are the opposite of everything he stands for.

It is interesting to read in the first chapters of Pappe's book the role played by the British before Israel was created. Zionists often portray themselves as a plucky independence movement, fighting not only 'threatening Arabs' and but also the might of the British empire, which occupied Palestine up to the 1940s.

As Pappe shows, whilst it is true that there were tensions between the Zionists and the British (culminating most famously in the bombing of the King David hotel in Jerusalem), overall the British strengthened and emboldened the Zionist movement. This goes right back to Lloyd George who, as Pappe writes, "supplied his government...with a host of 'strategic' considerations for why Palestine should be colonised by the Zionist movement, which were mostly infused by his own overriding distrust of, and disdain for, 'Arabs' and 'Mohammedans', as he called the Palestinians".

The British repression of the Palestinian revolt in 1936 severely damaged the fighting capacity of the Palestinian national movement, leaving them unable to resist the attacks by Zionist militias in 1947-48 which drove Palestinians from their homes. Pappe records instances in the 1930s of Zionist militia units working with British troops to attack 'rebellious' Palestinian villages, and being taught by them how to use weapons effectively against villagers.

Lastly, Pappe records that in response to Zionist bombings of bridges, military bases and the King David Hotel, "the British reacted mildly - especially in comparison with the brutal treatment they had meted out to the Palestinian rebels in the 1930s". The response was partial disarmament and arrests, not executions and use of military force.

Some believe that Israel today has become the ultimate 'rogue state', escaping the control even of the United States. But i think the relationship between Israel and the world's biggest imperialist power (then the British, now the US) remains generally the same. Despite some tensions, Israel acts within limits laid down by its paymasters. The function of those limits is to ensure that Israel is an effective and obedient watchdog for imperialist interests.

Friday, 26 February 2010

O rainy town of Bethlehem....

I had a day off today, and decided to visit Bethlehem despite torrential rain and storms.

I had arranged to meet a friend outside the church of the nativity (birthplace of a famous person i believe), and waited outside in the inclement weather before retreating to a horrible tourist cafe.

I then had lunch (not in the horrible tourist cafe) with my friend. She is French and living in Bethlehem for 5 months working for the Alternative Tourism Group.

The fact it was the day of rest, as well as the horrendous weather, meant the streets were largely deserted. Most shops were closed, save for some fruit and veg sellers, and the amusingly titled 'Stars and Bucks cafe' (with the same logo...).

However it was quite nice to wander the beautiful streets of Bethlehem with hardly a soul around.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Protests grow in Hebron

There was a major protest today in Hebron, which comes after a couple of days of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in the city. Many of my students in Abu Dis have gone to the protests and teachers in the Arab Institute who live in Hebron went home early because of increased checkpoints.

The immediate cause of the protests is the decision by the Israeli government to annex the Ibrahimi mosque and designate it an 'Israeli heritage site'.

The fact that they announced this days before the annual protests to remember the 1994 massacre of 26 Palestinians in the Ibrahimi mosque by an Israeli settler, makes it even more inflammatory.

As an aside, i notice an advert on the website of the Israeli paper Haaretz advertising 'Israel's favourite charity - make more Jewish babies'. For which read: If we slack off we might be overrun by those pesky, uncivilised Arabs. Don't we normally call that racism?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Reflections on teaching

My teaching timetable is now in full swing, and is quite varied. I teach university students, older women, and children aged from 8-16 at the community center, teenage boys at the Arab Institute and girls aged from 13-15 at the UNRWA school.

I have always been a careful planner when it comes to teaching and it is no different now. I like to have thought through and planned every lesson fully before i teach it. This can, however, become slightly time consuming!

When it comes to teaching english language, i am dealing with the fact that i see language primarily as about communication between people. I am fairly weak when it comes to the formal 'rules' of language. I have taken the approach to my lessons that language can be learned by it being a vehicle for other activities i.e. reading literature, discussing issues and doing role plays.

There are very few problems with 'discipline' here. My approach to any students who do cause problems is to say 'If you really don't want to be here i don't mind, go and play football in the sun', or something similar.

Finally, it is impossible to detach education from the realities of the occupation. I am told that during the last intifada, many schools were taken over or destroyed by the Israelis, so there is a problem with finding good school buildings and a lack of resources for new ones. Teachers and students struggle everyday to work hard and deal with all the ways the occupation interferes in their lives, from queing at checkpoints to being seperated from family members who are in prison or stuck on the other side of the separation wall.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Reflections after a month in Palestine

I have now been in Abu Dis for a month, and i wanted to make some very general observations about the politics of the situation here, based on conversations with Palestinians. I will also be making some reflections on my teaching, culture and general life in the next couple of days.

The occupation remains an overwhelming, crushing pressure on people's lives. The checkpoints, the settlements, the abuses of human rights by Israeli soldiers, seem overall to have got worse, and now there is the separation wall cutting off East Jerusalem from the West Bank. The economic situation seems to have deteriorated, with fewer jobs, and fewer jobs which are decently paid.

Compounded with this is a general feeling of opposition or cynicism towards the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority for their failure to effectively challenge Israel.

The oppression is combined with a sense of powerlessness. One effect of this seems to have been the strengthening of religion as the main vehicle for social cohesion and identity. Religion can be, as Karl Marx put it, "the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering....the soul of soulless conditions". The other effect is the search for a strong figurehead who embodies defiance and liberation - the three most popular political images here are of Che Guevara, Yasser Arafat, and Saddam Hussein (often of him during his US-run trial in Iraq).

Monday, 22 February 2010

Full report of Bil'in protest

You can read a full report of the protest in Bil'in here on the Socialist Worker website.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Protesting at Bil'in village

Today i went to a protest in Bil'in village, which has had nearly half it's land seized by Israel for a planned settlement. There has been some really impressive popular mobilization in Bil'in against this in the last few years.

The protest was eventful and it was a day i will never forget. I will be writing up a full report with pictures in the next couple of days.

I made my way to Ramallah in the morning and then bumped into some activists from Spain and France who were also going to the protest. We took a shared taxi out to Bil'in which drove through some stunningly beautiful hills.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Back to normal

Have not felt well the last few days, hence the lack of blog posts. As a dedicated hypochondriac i immediately thought the end was nigh, life flashed before my eyes etc..... Turns out it was probably just a dodgy falafel.

Feeling much better now, and will be resuming normal blogging service.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Through the valley

I have found a new route from my flat to the community center where i teach. It takes about the same time and goes through the valley which sits parallel to the main road in Abu Dis. Many families live on the hills of the valley and i wave to a few people i know on the way past.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Teaching at the UNRWA school

This morning i did three lessons at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Abu Dis. I will be doing this every saturday alongside my teaching at the community center and the Arab Institute.

I started off by getting the students to write down, and then present to the class, 'Five things i want to do in my life'. The most common answers were: to be a teacher, to be a doctor, to see the Aqsa mosque and go to Jerusalem, to travel the world, to free Palestine, and to get married.

Like the Arab Institute, the UNRWA school is a good school. But it made me realise that the best schools in Abu Dis rely on external funding. Of what i have heard, the Palestinian Authority schools are generally overcrowded and under resourced.

What does this say about the 'peace process'? The fact is that after 16 years of agreements, negotiations, accords and so on, Palestinian children still cannot go to a well resourced comprehensive school.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Attitudes towards the Palestinian Authority

It seems from talking to people that any new movement against the occupation in the West Bank will involve a reckoning with the Palestinian Authority.

In western mainstream commentary the issue is presented as one of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians as 'represented' by the 'moderate' Palestinian Authority.

But there is widespread cynicism and hostility towards the PA here. I have heard personal testimony of serious breaches of human rights as the PA imprisons those who criticise it's collaboration with Israel, and of important development projects going unfunded as money is wasted through corruption.

Tariq Ali writes here that, "incapable of achieving even token independence, the PLO leadership in the West Bank settled down to make money, leaving the bulk of the Palestinian people helpless: mired in poverty and regularly subjected to settler violence". Robert Fisk writes here of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as, "An obedient man....someone with whom the Israelis could 'do business'". And of Mohamed Dahlan, "the hated PLO security boss".

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The spectre of Darwish

If you look carefully at this picture of the separation wall in Abu Dis you can make out the faded stencil drawing of a man. The man is Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian poet (1941-2008).

when the sky is grey and i see a rose sprouting through the cracks in a wall

i don't say 'the sky is grey' but keep my eye on the rose
and tell it, 'its quite a day, quite a day'

Just as at nightfall i say to my two friends, "if there has to be a dream let it be like us and simple"

For example,

after two days the three of us will dine
to vet our dreams premonition

that after two days not one of us will have been lost

so lets celebrate in the moon's sonata
and make a toast to the lenience of death

who saw the three of us happy together and decided to look the other way

i don't say, 'far away life is real with its imaginary places'

i say, 'life, here, is possible'

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Knafeh....and other delights

cheese + honey + cream + sugar + pistachio nuts = knafeh = pure delight

Follow with baklava and shisha for a good night's sleep and sweet dreams.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Teaching with 'Journey to Jo'Burg'

I had a great lesson today with the women's class. We read through the first chapter of Beverley Naidoo's 'Journey to Jo'Burg'. As it is a children's book the language is at just the right level for people with basic english. Using a story also brings language alive and puts it in a context with real people and situations. Much better than learning a list of 'verbs', 'adjectives' and so on. As the book is set in South Africa during Apartheid it also has resonance for people's lives in Palestine.

It was a sunny day, so we sat on the steps of the community center. The students seemed to really enjoy the chapter and the lesson just flowed. The world of rigid lesson plans and stultifying curriculum seemed far away.

At the end of reading the chapter we discussed whether the characters had made the right decision, and as extension work i asked the students to write their own version for the beginning of chapter 2.

Helping at the prisoners museum

This morning i went to the prisoners museum in Abu Dis to help them translate their publicity into english.

The museum is dedicated to the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Since 1967 hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been arrested for resisting the occupation. This includes everything from joining or being near a peaceful protest, joining a political party, throwing stones at Israeli soldiers or taking up armed resistance. The sentences are usually punitive and the conditions in jail very harsh.

There are currently 3,100 Palestinians imprisoned under 'administrative detention' - arrested without a judicial decision, never given a list of charges or a date for a trial. Israel is also the only state in the world that has formally legalised the torture of it's own prisoners.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

More pictures from Abu Dis

Pictures above: the separation wall in Abu Dis as seen from Al-Quds university, the fountain in Al-Quds university campus, the view of the hills from Abu Dis, one of the main streets in Abu Dis.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Snow stopped at checkpoint

There was anticipation of snow in Abu Dis yesterday, but it failed to materialise - just wind and rain. This prompted some jokes in a local cafe - that the snow was stopped at a checkpoint, and was asked "where are you going?", "what is your business here?"

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Israeli occupation - force and fraud

Two personal stories i have heard in Abu Dis seem to sum up the nature of the occupation. These stories are not aberrations or 'bad apple' cases, they are in fact quite typical. A mix of physical violence and bureaucratic restriction is the nature of the occupation. For these things to end, the occupation must end and there must be justice for the Palestinians.

Personal story 1 - Hammam is a 17 year old resident of Abu Dis. Last year he joined a peaceful protest in Abu Dis against the Israeli assault on Gaza. During the protest an Israeli soldier came out from an alleyway near to where Hammam was standing and shot him three times in the head. He was then beaten and left to die. Thankfully, he survived, but some of his capacities for speech and movement have been seriously impaired. No Israeli soldiers have been arrested in relation to this case, and there is little possibility that they ever will be.

Personal story 2 - An english teacher at the Arab Institute is married to a woman from East Jerusalem. After Israel built its separation wall, Palestinians in East Jerusalem were issued with a blue ID card, and most of those in the West Bank a green ID card. A green card means you cannot travel to East Jerusalem, a blue card means you cannot live or work in the West Bank. Therefore the teacher has been living apart from his wife and children for 5 years. They see each other through clandestine arrangements. One time they went somewhere together by car. They were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and the teacher was forced to leave the car on account of his green ID. People with blue ID cards cannot travel in the same car as people with green ID cards.

Monday, 1 February 2010

A day in the life

It was moderately hot when i got up today, so in response i immediately coated myself in a thick layer of factor 20.

Today i went to the Arab Institute, a private boys school, to arrange my teaching timetable there. I will be teaching three groups, aged from 12 up to 17. The school is pretty well resourced, although still below the level of a British comprehensive, and it also houses local orphans.

I then headed to the community center where i met Ahmed, a music teacher, who is very good on the Oud. He played for about half an hour and i then had a go, finding my guitar skills at least partly transferable. Ahmed thinks that Israel and the US are planning an attack on Iran in the summer. Perhaps more credible after Blair's comments at the Chilcot enquiry?

The evening was spent in a local Cafe, were local men gather to smoke shisha, play cards, and socialise. The only female presence was a performance on the TV by Umm Kulthum, the legendary Egyptian singer (see picture). The cafes are in contrast to the university campus where women and men mix more freely.