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Slow violence, cold violence: Assessment of situation of Palestinians

Not all violence is hot. There’s cold violence too, which takes its time and finally gets its way.

Children going to school and coming home are exposed to it.

Fathers and mothers listen to politicians on television calling for their extermination.

Grandmothers have no expectation that even their aged bodies are safe: any young man may lay a hand on them with no consequence.

The police could arrive at night and drag a family out into the street. Putting a people into deep uncertainty about the fundamentals of life, over years and decades, is a form of cold violence.

Through an accumulation of laws rather than by military means, a particular misery is intensified and entrenched.

This slow violence, this cold violence, no less than the other kind, ought to be looked at and understood.

Near the slopes of Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem is the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Most of the people who live here are Palestinian Arabs, and the area itself has an ancient history that features both Jews and Arabs. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are in a special legal category under modern Israeli law. Most of them are not Israeli citizens, nor are they classified the same way as people in Gaza or the West Bank; they are permanent residents.

There are old Palestinian families here, but in a neighbourhood like Sheikh Jarrah many of the people are refugees who were settled here after the nakba (“catastrophe”) of 1948. They left their original homes behind, fleeing places such as Haifa and Sarafand al-Amar, and they came to Sheikh Jarrah, which then became their home.

Many of them were given houses constructed on a previously uninhabited parcel of land by the Jordanian government and by the UN Relief and Works Agency. East Jerusalem came under Israeli control in 1967, and since then, but at an increasing tempo in recent years, these families are being rendered homeless a second or third time.

There are many things about Palestine that are not easily seen from a distance. The beauty of the land, for instance, is not at all obvious. Scripture and travellers’ reports describe a harsh terrain of stone and rocks, a place in which it is difficult to find water or to shelter from the sun.

Why would anyone want this land?

But then you visit and you understand the attenuated intensity of what you see. You get the sense that there are no wasted gestures, that this is an economical landscape, and that there is great beauty in this economy. The sky is full of clouds that are like flecks of white paint. The olive trees, the leaves of which have silvered undersides, are like an apparition. And even the stones and rocks speak of history, of deep time, and of the consolation that comes with all old places.

This is a land of tombs, mountains and mysterious valleys. All this one can only really see at close range.

Another thing one sees, obscured by distance but vivid up close, is that the Israeli oppression of Palestinian people is not necessarily – or at least not always – as crude as western media can make it seem.

It is in fact extremely refined, and involves a dizzying assemblage of laws and bylaws, contracts, ancient documents, force, amendments, customs, religion, conventions and sudden irrational moves, all mixed together and imposed with the greatest care.

The impression this insistence on legality confers, from the Israeli side, is of an infinitely patient due process that will eventually pacify the enemy and guarantee security.

The reality, from the Palestinian side, is of a suffocating viciousness. The fate of Palestinians since the nakba has been to be scattered and oppressed by different means: in the West Bank, in Gaza, inside the 1948 borders, in Jerusalem, in refugee camps abroad, in Jordan, in the distant diaspora.

In all these places, Palestinians experience restrictions on their freedom and on their movement. To be Palestinian is to be hemmed in. Much of this is done by brute military force from the Israeli Defence Forces – killing for which no later accounting is possible – or on an individual basis in the secret chambers of the Shin Bet.

But a lot of it is done according to Israeli law, argued in and approved by Israeli courts, and technically legal, even when the laws in question are bad laws and in clear contravention of international standards and conventions.

The reality is that, as a Palestinian, in order to defend yourself against the persecution you face, not only do you have to be an expert in Israeli law, you also have to be a Jewish Israeli and have the force of the Israeli state as your guarantor. You have to be what you are not, what it is not possible for you to be, in order not to be slowly strangled by the laws arrayed against you.

In Israel, there is no pretence that the opposing parties in these cases are equal before the law; or, rather, such a pretence exists, but no one on either side takes it seriously. This has certainly been the reality for the Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah whose homes, built mostly in 1956, inhabited by three or four generations of people, are being taken from them by legal means.

As in other neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem – Har Homa, the Old City, Mount Scopus, Jaffa Gate – there is a policy at work in Sheikh Jarrah. This policy is two-fold. The first is the systematic removal of Palestinians, either by banishing individuals on the basis of paperwork, or by taking over or destroying their homes by court order.

Thousands of people have had their residency revoked on a variety of flimsy pretexts: time spent living abroad, time spent living elsewhere in occupied Palestine, and so on. The permanent residency of a Palestinian in East Jerusalem is anything but permanent, and once it is revoked, is almost impossible to recover.

The second aspect of the policy is the systematic increase of the Jewish populations of these neighbourhoods. This latter goal is driven both by national and municipal legislation (under the official rubric of “demographic balance”) and is sponsored in part by wealthy Zionist activists who, unlike some of their defenders in the western world, are proud to embrace the word “Zionist”.

However, it is not the wealthy Zionists who move into these homes or claim these lands: it is ideologically and religiously extreme Israeli Jews, some of whom are poor Jewish immigrants to the state of Israel. And when they move in – when they raise the Israeli flag over a house that, until yesterday, was someone else’s ancestral home, or when they begin new constructions on the rubble of other people’s homes – they act as anyone would who was above the law: callously, unfeelingly, unconcerned about the humiliation of their neighbours.

This two-fold policy, of pushing out Palestinians and filling the land with Israeli Jews, is recognised by all the parties involved. And for such a policy, the term “ethnic cleansing” is not too strong: it is in fact the only accurate description.

Each Palestinian family that is evicted in Sheikh Jarrah is evicted for different reasons. But the fundamental principle at work is usually similar: an activist Jewish organisation makes a claim that the land on which the house was built was in Jewish hands before 1948. There is sometimes paperwork that supports this claim (there is a lot of citation of 19th-century Ottoman land law), and sometimes the paperwork is forged, but the court will hear and, through eccentric interpretations of these old laws, often agree to the claim.

The violence this legality contains is precisely that no Israeli court will hear a corresponding claim from a Palestinian family. What Israeli law supports, de facto, is the right of return for Jews into East Jerusalem.

What it cannot countenance is the right of return of Palestinians into the innumerable towns, villages and neighbourhoods all over Palestine, from which war, violence and law have expelled them.

History moves at great speed, as does politics, and Zionists understand this. The pressure to continue the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem is already met with pressure from the other side to stop this clear violation of international norms.

So Zionist lawyers and lawmakers move with corresponding speed, making new laws, pushing through new interpretations, all in order to ethnically cleanse the land of Palestinian presence. And though Palestinians make their own case and though many young Jews, beginning to wake up to the crimes of their nation, have marched in support of the families evicted or under threat in Sheikh Jarrah – the law and its innovative interpretations evolve at a speed that makes self-defence all but impossible.

This cannot go on. The example of Sheikh Jarrah, the cold violence of it, is echoed all over Palestine. Side by side with this cold violence is, of course, the hot violence that dominates the news: Israel’s periodic wars on Gaza, its blockades on places such as Nablus, the random unanswerable acts of murder in places such as Hebron.

In no sane future of humanity should the deaths of hundreds of children continue to be accounted collateral damage, as Israel did in the summer of 2014.

In the world’s assessment of the situation in Palestine, in coming to understand why the Palestinian situation is urgent, the viciousness of law must be taken as seriously as the cruelties of war. As in other instances in which world opinion forced a large-scale systemic oppression to come to an end, we must begin by calling things by their proper names.

Israel uses an extremely complex legal and bureaucratic apparatus to dispossess Palestinians of their land, hoping perhaps to forestall accusations of a brutal land grab.

No one is fooled by this. Nor is anyone fooled by the accusation, common to many of Israel’s defenders, that any criticism of Israeli policies amounts to antisemitism. The historical suffering of Jewish people is real, but it is no less real than, and does not in any way justify, the present oppression of Palestinians by Israeli Jews.

A neighbourhood like Sheikh Jarrah is an x-ray of Israel at the present moment: a limited view showing a single set of features, but significant to the entire body politic. The case that is being made, and that must continue to be made to all people of conscience, is that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is criminal.

This case should also include the argument that the proliferation of bad laws by the legislature and courts of Israel is itself antisemitic in effect, to the extent that they fuel the ancient calumnies against Jewish people.

Nothing can justify either antisemitism or the racist persecution of Arabs, and the current use of the law in Israel is a part of the grave ongoing offence to the human dignity of both Palestinians and Jews.

Teju Cole’s books include Open City. He is a contributor to Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation, edited by Vijay Prashad (Verso

Andrew Bossone shared this link on FB

“In the world’s assessment of the situation in Palestine, in coming to understand why the Palestinian situation is urgent, the viciousness of law must be taken as seriously as the cruelties of war.

As in other instances in which world opinion forced a large-scale systemic oppression to come to an end, we must begin by calling things by their proper names.

Israel uses an extremely complex legal and bureaucratic apparatus to dispossess Palestinians of their land, hoping perhaps to forestall accusations of a brutal land grab.

No one is fooled by this. Nor is anyone fooled by the accusation, common to many of Israel’s defenders, that any criticism of Israeli policies amounts to antisemitism.

The historical suffering of Jewish people is real, but it is no less real than, and does not in any way justify, the present oppression of Palestinians by Israeli Jews.”
http://www.theguardian.com/…/bad-law-east-jerusalem-ethnic-…

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Why the viciousness of modern Israeli law directed against Palestinians must be taken as seriously as the cruelties of war
theguardian.com|By Teju Cole

Storytellers need to humanize life: Has Barak Obama stopped reading good fables?

On Obama and literature.  And on why so many with a tad of conscience are bothered by Obama’s presidency:

What makes certain Somali, Pakistani, Yemeni, and American people of so little account? Why that even after killing them, the United States disavows all knowledge of their deaths? How much furious despair is generated from so much collateral damage?”

Teju Cole posted this Feb. 11, 2013 in The New Yorker “On Reader’s War”

“Thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, the desires and longings it inspires…civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables.” Mario Vargas Llosa

This defense by Vargas Llosa as he received the Nobel Prize in Literature two years ago, could have come from any other writer.

Fact is, cliché originates in some truth.

Vargas Llosa reiterated the point: “Without fictions, we would be less aware of the importance of freedom for life to be livable, the hell it turns into when it is trampled underfoot by a tyrant, an ideology, or a religion.”

Toni Morrison, in her Nobel lecture in 1993, said, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” This sense of literature’s fortifying and essential quality has been evoked by cou

When Marilynne Robinson described fiction as “an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification” she was stating something almost everyone would agree with.

We praise literature in self-evident terms: it is better to read than not to read, for reading civilizes us, makes us less cruel, and brings the imaginations of others into ours and vice versa.

We persist in this belief regardless of what we know to the contrary: that the Nazis’ affection for high culture did not prevent their crimes.

There was a feeling during the years of George W. Bush’s Presidency that his gracelessness as well as his appetite for war were linked to his impatience with complexity. He acted “from the gut,” and was economical with the truth until it disappeared.

Under Bush Jr. command, the United States launched a needless and unjust war in Iraq that resulted in terrible loss of life; at the same time, an unknown number of people were confined in secret prisons and tortured.

That Bush was anti-intellectual, and often guilty of malapropisms and mispronunciations (“nucular”), formed part of the liberal aversion to him: he didn’t know much much about the wider world, and did not much care to learn.

His successor couldn’t have been more different.

Barack Obama is an elegant and literate man with a cosmopolitan sense of the world. He is widely read in philosophy, literature, and history—as befits a former law professor—and he has shown time and again a surprising interest in contemporary fiction.

The books a President buys might be as influenced by political calculation as his “enjoyment” of lunch at a small town diner or a round of skeet shooting. Nevertheless, a man who names among his favorite books Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” Robinson’s “Gilead,” and Melville’s “Moby Dick” is playing the game pretty seriously.

Obama own feel for language in his two books, his praise for authors as various as Philip Roth and Ward Just, as well as the circumstantial evidence of the books he’s been seen holding (the “Collected Poems” of Derek W Walcott, most strikingly), add up to a picture of a man for whom an imaginative engagement with literature is inseparable from life.

It thrilled me, when Obama was elected, to think of the President’s nightstand looking rather similar to mine. We had, once again, a reader in chief, a man in the line of Jefferson and Lincoln.

Any President’s gravest responsibilities are defending the Constitution and keeping the country safe.

President Obama recognized that the image of the United States had been marred by the policies of the Bush years. By drawing down the troops in Iraq, banning torture, and directly and respectfully addressing the countries of Europe and the Middle East, Obama signaled that those of us on the left had not hoped in vain for change.

When, in 2009, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, we noted the absurdity of such premature plaudits, but also saw the occasion as encouragement for the difficult work to come. From the optimistic perspective of those early days, Obama’s foreign policy has lurched from disappointing to disastrous.

Iraq endures a shaky peace and Afghanistan remains a mire, but these situations might have been the same regardless of who was President. More troubling has been his conduct in the other arenas of the Global War on Terror.

The United States is now at war in all but name in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. In pursuit of Al Qaeda, their allies, and a number of barely related militias, the President and his national-security team now make extraordinarily frequent use of assassinations.

The White House, the C.I.A., and the Joint Special Operations Command have so far killed large numbers of people. Because of the secret nature of the strikes, the precise number is unknown, but estimates range from a several hundred to over three thousand. These killings have happened without any attempt to arrest or detain their targets, and beyond the reach of any legal oversight.

Many of the dead are women and children.

Among the men, it is impossible to say how many are terrorists, how many are militants, and how many are simply, to use the administration’s obscene designation, “young men of military age.” The dependence on unmanned aerial vehicles—also called drones—for these killings, which began in 2002 and have increased under the Obama Administration, is finally coming to wider attention.

We now have firsthand testimony from the pilots who remotely operate the drones, many of whom have suffered post-traumatic stress reactions to the work. There is also the testimony of the survivors of drone attacks: heartbreaking stories of mistaken identity, grisly tales of sudden death from a machine in the sky.

In one such story reported by The New YorkTimes, the relatives of a pair of dead cousins said, “We found eyes, but there were no faces left.” The recently leaked Department of Justice white paper indicating guidelines for the President’s assassination of his fellow Americans has shone a spotlight on these “dirty wars” (as the journalist Jeremy Scahill rightly calls them in his documentary film and book of the same title). The plain fact is that our leaders have been killing at will.

How on earth did this happen to the reader in chief?

What became of literature’s vaunted power to inspire empathy?

Why was the candidate Obama, in word and in deed, so radically different from the President he became?

In Andrei Tarkovsky’s eerie 1979 masterpiece, “Stalker,” the landscape called the Zona has the power to grant people’s deepest wishes, but it can also derange those who traverse it. I wonder if the Presidency is like that: a psychoactive landscape that can madden whomever walks into it, be he inarticulate and incurious, or literary and cosmopolitan.

According to a report in the New York Times, the targets of drone strikes are selected for death at weekly meetings in the White House; no name is added to the list without the President’s approval.

Where land mines are indiscrimate, cheap, and brutal, drones are discriminate, expensi expensive, and brutal. And yet they are insufficiently discriminate: the assassination of the Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in Pakistan in 2009 succeeded only on the seventeenth attempt.

The sixteen near misses of the preceding year killed between 280 and 410  other people. Literature fails us here.

What makes certain Somali, Pakistani, Yemeni, and American people of so little account that even after killing them, the United States disavows all knowledge of their deaths? How much furious despair is generated from so much collateral damage?

Of late, riding the subway in Brooklyn, I have been having a waking dream, or rather a daytime nightmare, in which the subway car ahead of mine explodes. My fellow riders and I look at one another, then look again at the burning car ahead, certain of our deaths. The fire comes closer, and what I feel is bitterness and sorrow that it’s all ending so soon: no more books, no more love, no more jokes, no more Schubert, no more Black Star.

All this spins through my mind on tranquil mornings as the D train trundles between 36th Street and Atlantic Avenue and bored commuters check their phones. They just want to get to work. I sit rigid in my seat, thinking, I don’t want to die, not here, not yet.

I imagine those in northwest Pakistan or just outside Sana’a who go about their day thinking the same. The difference for some of them is that the plane is already hovering in the air, ready to strike.

I know language is unreliable, that it is not a vending machine of the desires, but the law seems to be getting us nowhere.

And so I take helpless refuge in literature again, rewriting the opening lines of 7 well-known books:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. Pity. A signature strike leveled the florist’s.

Call me Ishmael. I was a young man of military age. I was immolated at my wedding. My parents are inconsolable.

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather. A bomb whistled in. Blood on the walls. Fire from heaven.

I am an invisible man. My name is unknown. My loves are a mystery. But an unmanned aerial vehicle from a secret location has come for me.

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was killed by a Predator drone.

Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His torso was found, not his head.

Mother died today. The program saves American lives.

I was in New York City on 9/11. Grief remains from that awful day, but not only grief. There is fear, too, a fear informed by the knowledge that whatever my worst nightmare is, there is someone out there embittered enough to carry it out. I know that something has to be done to secure the airports, waterways, infrastructure, and embassies of our country.

I don’t like war; no one does. But I also know that the world is exceedingly complex, and that our enemies are not all imaginary. I am not naïve about the incessant and unseen (by most of us) military activity that undergirds our ability to read, go to concerts, earn a living, and criticize the government in relative safety. I am grateful to those whose bravery keeps us safe.

This ominous, discomfiting, illegal, and immoral use of weaponized drones against defenseless strangers is done for our sakes. But more and more we are seeing a gap between the intention behind the President’s clandestine brand of justice and the real-world effect of those killings.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words against the Vietnam War in 1967 remain resonant today: “What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them?” We do know what they think: many of them have the normal human reaction to grief and injustice, and some of them take that reaction to a vengeful and murderous extreme.

In the Arabian peninsula, East Africa, and Pakistan, thanks to the policies of Obama and Biden, we are acquiring more of the angriest young enemies money can buy. As a New York Times report put it last year, “Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.”

Assassinations should never have happened in our name. But now we see that they endanger us physically, endanger our democracy, and endanger our Constitution. I believe that when President Obama personally selects the next name to add to his “kill list,” he does it in the belief that he is protecting the country.

I trust that Obama makes the selections with great seriousness, bringing his rich sense of history, literature, and the lives of others to bear on his decisions. And yet we have been drawn into a war without end, and into cruelties that persist in the psychic atmosphere like ritual pollution.

Teju Cole is a photographer and writer. His novel “Open City” was published last year.


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