Wednesday, April 2, 2014

PASSAGE WORK: a path towards stillness?

 This is a slightly revised version of a short article I wrote for the Journal of Music in Ireland on the occasion of the first performance of my Passage Work for soprano, chamber ensemble and electronics which took place in the Project Arts Centre on 20th December 2001. The same musicians will be performing it again in the same venue on 17th April 2014 as part of the FreeState 8 concert that I have co-curated: Sylvia O'Brien (soprano) and the Crash Ensemble, conductor David Brophy.

Composed during the earliest phase of the second Palestinian intifada, my Passage Work begins with a cataclysmic tutti (soprano voice, seven instruments, tape). This echoes the opening of the finale of my Oboe Concerto (1993-4), composed shortly after my return from the Middle East where I had first-hand experience of the first intifada.  The first movement of the Concerto is echoed here in the falling and rising arpeggios which originally characterised the oboist’s “passage work”. In the classical/romantic concerto this term denotes a mere occasion of virtuosic display, but here such “display” forms an intrinsic part of the musical argument.

The process whereby details hitherto considered trivial are brought to the foreground of our attention typifies the thought of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). Towards the end of his life, Benjamin sought to encapsulate such an approach to historiography in his unfinished Passagen-Werk, for which the English is The Arcades Project (not Passage Work!), the arcades in question being those of Paris.

The story of Benjamin’s Calvary has often been told: his flight from the Gestapo across the Pyrenees bearing a mysterious manuscript in his briefcase, his suicide (by poisoning) in the Spanish Catalan village of Portbou, in the mistaken belief that he was to be returned by the authorities to Vichy France (the death of Benjamin, coincidentally, is the basis for Brian Ferneyhough’s first piece of music theatre).

In January 2000 I visited Portbou and was deeply moved by Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan’s memorial to Benjamin, entitled Passages, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1990, the fiftieth anniversary of his death. This monument consists of some 85 steps descending steeply within rust-coloured walls towards the sea, but stopping halfway at a sheet of glass “that may provide assurance against falling without, however, alleviating the feeling of insecurity” (Konrad Scheurmann in For Walter Benjamin, ed. Ingrid and Konrad Scheurmann, Bonn 1993). Nearby is the cemetery where the local community has erected a simple memorial to Benjamin. Both monuments bear inscriptions taken from Benjamin’s own works. The former: “It is more difficult to honour the memory of the nameless than that of the celebrated”; the latter: “There never exists a document of culture that is not simultaneously a document of barbarism”. Both of these citations are used in my Passage Work’s text-collage.

After my Portbou visit I fetched up in the spectacularly beautiful French Catalan town of Collioure. Being a fanatical visitor of cemeteries, I soon found the grave of Antonio Machado, who had fled here from fascist Spain with his family in 1939; worn-out and grief-stricken, he survived for only a month, dying in the same room as his mother (who died three days later). I was familiar with Machado’s work through settings by Dallapiccola and Nono, and was struck with his use of the imagery of paths and steps and the strange link between this and Karavan’s monument to Benjamin (“Caminantes, son tus huellas/el camino, y nada más;/ caminante, no hay camino,/ …Sino estelas en la mar.” [Traveller, your footsteps/are the path, and nothing more;/ traveller, there is no path,/…only tracks in the ocean]).

Alongside these texts (and a further excerpt from Benjamin’s Passagen-Werk: “to identify the sea upon which we are voyaging, and the shore from which we set out”), I chose a few fragments from other left-wing poet/exiles: Pablo Neruda (“where the militant sea / dashes its blue waves beneath the angry foam”), Paul Celan (“Where did the way lead when it led nowhere?”), and Mahmoud Darwish (“Where should we go after the last frontier, /where should the birds fly after the last sky?” – the last four words became the title of a book by Edward Said, the most famous international spokesman for the Palestinian cause). Whatever about the thematic links between all these excerpts, there are those who will probably find their juxtaposition provocative; I make no apology for this, but would nonetheless stress that a juxtaposition is not an equation.

The text-collage forms the basis both for the solo soprano part, and, broken into its phonetic constituents, for the vocal element of the tape part (which uses the voices of Francesca Martelli and Andrew Redmond). The recorded sound of footsteps, on iron and on asphalt, provides the remainder of the tape material, which was initially notated like an instrumental score. Armed with a commission from the Crash Ensemble, I started work on the piece in Collioure in November 2000 (I feel that the “ebb and flow” structure of the piece owes much to that locality with its three small harbours in each of which the sea sounds quite different) and finished it in nearby Céret the following March. The realisation of the tape part was entrusted to the indispensable Jürgen Simpson. The première took place in Dublin’s Project Arts Centre on December 20th 2001.

Passage Work bears the dedication … “das Gedächtnis der Namenlosen su ehren” (to honour the memory of the nameless), quoting the Benjamin inscription from Dani Karavan’s haunting memorial. Let me finish by quoting Karavan himself: “I think it is very dangerous to work on such a subject because you usually feel forced to do things very expressively – as a kind of loud scream…I would never be able to work in such a way. I believe in the power of stillness and a degree of reserve to awaken emotions. It’s impossible to represent aggression by aggression. The artistic means would never be capable of competing with the terrible reality…” (interview with Ingrid and Konrad Scheurmann, loc cit.) Perhaps, unlike sculpture or architecture, and with no thought of “competing”, music may allow itself the occasional loud scream. Although the many strands of Passage Work do ultimately converge on “the power of stillness and a degree of reserve”, there are times when such a scream is the only articulate response to the injustices of our world.
                                                                        Raymond Deane, copyright 2001.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Chris de Burgh Notes our Opinions – and Suppresses Them.

In 1979 Chris de Burgh chose to tour Apartheid South Africa, in violation of the boycott call from the African National Congress. In justification, he pleaded that “I’m not singing for the government… I hope to make a difference…”

It is arguable that by ignoring the boycott call from the democratic opposition to South Africa’s anti-democratic regime de Burgh was indeed “singing for the government”, and that, far from “making a difference”, he was in fact helping to reinforce the status quo more than a decade before the release of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island.

In 1984 “12 Dunnes [Stores] workers went on strike [in Dublin] for two and a half years for the right not to handle goods from Apartheid South Africa. The strikers were feted by Bishop Desmond Tutu and international human rights groups. Nelson Mandela said that their stand helped keep him going during his imprisonment.”

Almost exactly thirty years after this, Chris de Burgh announced that he would perform in Tel Aviv on 29th March 2014, ignoring the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of the Israeli state. The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign learned only two weeks before the event of de Burgh’s plan to cross the picket line, upon which the usual procedures were followed. A letter was posted via his website, followed by a telephone call to his management – or, more precisely, to an anonymous answering-machine in London. Neither approach having received a reply, the letter was made public. A Facebook page was set up and supporters of Palestinian rights posted pleas on de Burgh’s own Facebook page.

At this point, things turned nasty. It would appear that defenders of the Israeli state set particular store by de Burgh’s imminent visit, perhaps bearing in mind his 1979 performance in the other Apartheid state that was Israel’s most intimate ally. Veterans of internet campaigning reported that they had never encountered such an outpouring of Zionist propaganda as flooded de Burgh’s page, replete with the usual venomous and mendacious defamation of anyone with a track record of support for Palestinian rights. Abuse ranged from “hater” and “old fart” to “anti-Semite” and “Nazi”; in my own case, hoary canards about my visits to Hong Kong and Iran and my supposedly having “intimidated a cancer victim” (the latter rebutted here) were dredged up and recycled shamelessly.

An objective observer, perhaps from Mars or Venus, might compare the polite attempts to persuade de Burgh not to break the boycott to the incoherent and often obscene vitriol emanating from the other side, and draw obvious conclusions about the rights and wrongs of the case. De Burgh’s response was different. On 24th March he requested that “someone out there who has "The Storyman" CD could go to the booklet that comes with the CD, entitled "Stories," look up track 4,"My Father's Eyes," and post the whole thing, starting with "Palestine 2000...”  When numerous fans obliged, he wrote: “Thank you....for those with differing opinions to read...there are always two sides to every story.”

The song in question comes from 2006 and has the lyric “…I have seen it in my father’s eyes,/…I have heard it in my father’s voice,/ It’s been a hard life, a hard fight, and all of the things that he wanted/Are in his hand, but silver would not betray what’s written in the sand, /And a wall will not keep his people from the Promised Land.”

This might be read in a relatively progressive light: nothing could keep the Jews from the Promised Land, and no walls will keep the Palestinians from it. The message is reinforced by being repeated in Arabic by the Egyptian singer Hani Hussein.

However, the sections of the YouTube video featuring Hussein conspicuously fail to show the actual wall, illegal under international law, that Israel is building within the occupied Palestinian territories. This is the very same Apartheid Wall that will have made it impossible for de Burgh’s West Bank fans to attend the concert in Tel Aviv which, as a consequence, took place before an audience every bit as segregated as if it had happened in Apartheid South Africa or in the US southern states during the Jim Crow years.

If de Burgh were actually stating that Israel is “the Promised Land” for the Palestinians who were violently expelled from it in 1948 (and their descendants), then surely it would have been consistent of him to show respect for those same Palestinians by staying away from Tel Aviv in answer to their boycott call. In performing this song during his gig there, de Burgh may have felt that he was making a contribution towards “showing both sides”. In reality he was demonstrating the ethical and political bankruptcy of his entire stance.

Also on March 24th he wrote (and tweeted) All your opinions have been noted, thanks for your input” and “‘I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.’ Evelyn Beatrice Hall, author.” (Actually, Hall’s paraphrase of Voltaire.)

De Burgh, or whoever administers his Facebook site (the responsibility is still his), proceeded to delete most of the Facebook messages urging him to abide by BDS, while leaving in place those urging him to perform. These included many posts explicitly defaming specific BDS advocates, who were prevented from defending themselves by the simple expedient of being blocked. Only after complaints directly to Facebook was it was possible to have some of these posts removed. Nonetheless, Chris de Burgh’s site was transformed into a compendium of propaganda for the Israeli state, and of uncontested vilification of those who oppose its colonial and apartheid policies.

This procedure was entirely unprecedented; it remains to be seen whether it will provide a template for other artistes determined on crossing the Palestinian picket line in order to collect the astronomical fees offered by Israeli promoters, but incapable of thinking up a plausible excuse for doing so. The fact that de Burgh had recourse to the cliché that “there are always two sides to every story” (thus “balancing” oppressor and oppressed), while simultaneously ensuring that only one side saw the light of day, displayed a breath-taking level of hypocrisy.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is There Nothing Left for the Children of War? Open letter to Chris de Burgh

Dear Chris de Burgh,

In your song Lebanese Nights you wrote:
                                All over the world, the gift from before,
                                Nothing is left for the children of war…

Since the year 2000 more than 1400 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli soldiers and illegal colonial settlers. Defence for Children International estimates that “since the year 2000, around 8,000 Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted in the system…. The majority of these children are charged with throwing stones.”

In a report last month (February 2014), Amnesty International declared that Israeli forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity…”

These children are indeed “children of war”, but is there really nothing left for them except “the gift from before”? Do we not owe them our solidarity, particularly in view of the failure of the international community to end Israel’s “near total impunity”?

Almost a decade ago, in July 2004, dozens of Palestinian federations, associations, and civil society organizations "call[ed] upon our colleagues in the international community to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel's occupation, colonization and system of apartheid...", and in particular to "refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions" (note that this call is not directed against individuals).

One year later a more comprehensive call came from some 170 Palestinian civil society organisations for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli state "until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law." A year later again, over 100 Palestinian Filmmakers, Artists and Cultural Workers called for a cultural boycott in similar terms. These calls from the oppressed constitute a strong mandate.

Recently such famous musicians as Roger Waters (who declared his "solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine, but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government's racist and colonial policies, by joining a campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel...") and Elvis Costello ("there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent... ") have refused to perform in Israel.

Not least, at time of writing some 260 Irish creative and performing artists have signed a pledge undertaking not to accept invitations to Israel. Musicians constitute the largest single group of signatories, including Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Peadar Ó Riada, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Damien Dempsey, Sharon Shannon, and many others from the fields of popular, traditional, jazz and classical music.
In view of these manifestations of solidarity and concern, your decision to perform in Tel Aviv on 29th March has been noted with deep disappointment.

It is because our governments refuse to take action to curb Israel’s crimes, even when enjoined to do so by the International Criminal Court or indeed by their own statutes (e.g. article 2 of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement), that civil society is obliged to call for such harsh tactics as cultural, sporting and academic boycotts. Such tactics are aimed at bringing to an end the circumstances that called them into being – in this case, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, its siege of Gaza (declared illegal by an independent UN panel), and its policies of apartheid and colonisation.

You may argue that music is “above politics”, but this hardly stands up in view of a statement by Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, now Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, that Israel “see[s] culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and… do[es] not differentiate between propaganda and culture.” (Ha'aretz, 21/09/05). This means that any artist(e) visiting Israel will be exploited by that state’s very active propagandists to normalise it and to whitewash its crimes. By cancelling your projected concert in Tel Aviv you will be joining the likes of Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox, Roger Waters, Elvis Costello and other conscientious musicians in refusing to be “propaganda tools” for the Israeli state.

But most importantly, by not crossing the picket line you will be showing the persecuted Palestinians that something is indeed left for the children of war - hope.

Yours sincerely –

Dr Raymond Deane
Cultural Liaison

Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Friday, December 13, 2013

Belated Review (2): IT’S JUST ZIONISM

                       IT’S JUST ZIONISM

The Jordan Valley and the Zambezi Valley are alike frontiers today of the free world.”
South African Broadcasting Corporation, 1972.

Recessionary times being what they are, I ordered my second-hand copy of Sasha Polakov-Suransky’s The Unspoken AllianceIsrael’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa online from the USA. It arrived with a tag on the cover identifying its source as Timberland Regional Library, but with “OFFICIALLY WITHDRAWN FROM TIMBERLAND REGIONAL LIBRARY” stamped on the first fly-leaf. Presumably some local Zionist(s) in Washington State had complained so bitterly about the book that the library was terrorised into withdrawing it. If this interpretation is correct, it says a lot about the relentless attention to detail of the US Zionist lobby, and a great deal about its contempt for the free dissemination of information. (You can read a generous extract from the book here.)

The Unspoken Alliance disseminates a great deal of information about the mutual love-affair between apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel. This affair lingered long after even the United States had joined the sanctions campaign against apartheid, and was accompanied by the same barrage of official lies that has typified Israeli propaganda (hasbara) since the state’s foundation.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death the book has acquired fresh relevance, clarifying as it does in exhaustive detail just why Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might not have been welcome guests at the funeral of the same former “terrorist" who, according to  Israeli diplomat Elazar Granot as cited by Polakow-Suransky, asserted at a gathering of the Socialist International in 1993: “The people of South Africa will never forget the support of the state of Israel to the apartheid regime.” (p.219)

The former Israeli ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel threw cold water on the claim that “high travel costs” explained Netanyahu’s decision not to fly to the funeral. "Netanyahu is not a welcome guest in South Africa today. I think it was right of him not to go…" More doubtful is Liel’s thesis that Peres would have been more welcome: "Peres is a whole different story. Peres has an entire history and he represents a different policy. It's a shame he didn't go.” The “history” in question is marked by flagrant hypocrisy. Although Peres had the effrontery to state that “[a] Jew who accepts apartheid ceases to be a Jew” (Polakow-Suransky, p.188), he presided for thirty years over deepening economic and military links between Israel and apartheid South Africa that helped the latter hold out against international opprobrium. The dissident Israeli journalist Amira Hass has recently epitomised Peres’s historical role with great clarity: “Peres played a major role in the security and economic ties Israel established with the racist regime in South Africa and its pro-Nazi founders. As one of the founding fathers of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and the instigator of the ‘functional solution,’ he bears a large responsibility for the policies of ‘separate development’ that prevail [in Israel/Palestine].”

Polakow-Suransky rightly has a particular antipathy to “the ever sanctimonious”  Peres (pp. 233-4). Given the bizarrely idealised reputation Peres enjoys in the USA (and elsewhere in the West) this may be one explanation why The Unspoken Alliance disappeared from the shelves of Timberland Regional Library. However, he is almost equally critical of the less blatantly sanctimonious but long since canonised Yithzak Rabin, Peres’s rival and eventual accomplice in devising the Oslo Accord, a massive confidence trick perpetrated against Palestinian rights. Polakow-Suransky quotes Liel (p.197) on his, Liel’s, attempts to make a case for sanctions against South Africa in 1986: “[With] Rabin, we knew we could not go through the moral arguments, we had to go through the realpolitik” – i.e. Rabin, who opposed sanctions (p.193), was impervious to political morality. When in 1987 Israel bowed to international pressure and “unveiled a comprehensive sanctions package”, Rabin “assured the South Africans that the changes would be ‘mainly symbolic’ and would be announced publicly to ‘lessen the negative effects of contact with the RSA,’ which was damaging Israel’s image.” (p.204)
While I hope that the renewed focus on the Israel/Apartheid South Africa link will lead more people to read this book, I have some reservations about its political slant. Although Polakow-Suransky ruthlessly dismembers Israeli hasbara concerning the links with apartheid, he seems all too willing to take it at face value in other respects.

He believes that Israel was founded by “socialist idealists” (p.5) and refers to “the strong socialist leanings of Ben-Gurion’s government” (p.23): assessments that only make sense if you believe that ethnic cleansing is compatible with idealism and exclusivist nationalism with socialism.

He tells us that in the early 1960s “most Israeli government officials opposed apartheid on moral grounds” and quotes Ben-Gurion’s assertion that “[a] Jew can’t be for discrimination” (p.31), a slogan that Peres was clearly echoing with his cynical “[a] Jew who accepts apartheid ceases to be a Jew”. However, as I have pointed out in the preceding blog, “between 1948 and 1966 the Palestinian citizens of Israel lived under a gruelling system of de facto military dictatorship” which “allowed for the expulsion of population, the arbitrary summoning of any citizen to a police station at any time, arrest and detention without trial, the imposition of curfews, and curtailment of the freedom of the press and expression.” To have “opposed apartheid on moral grounds” while implementing such a system of de facto apartheid against Palestinian Israelis itself implies a racist double standard.

We read that prime minister Golda Meir, who apparently saw Africa through a “moral prism” (p.73), sought to “fulfil… a dream of Zionism’s founding father, Theodor Herzl, to assist in the redemption of the Africans” (p.28). In return, she “was… revered by the leaders of Africa’s anticolonial revolutions… as a foe of racism and colonialism” (p.32).

This is the same Golda Meir who proclaimed: “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” To “revere” someone with such views as “a foe of racism and colonialism” is a mockery.

In his Prologue, Polakow-Suransky assures us that “[t]his book does not equate Zionism with South African racism, as a 1975 United Nations resolution infamously did” (p.10). However, UNGA Resolution 3379, determining that “Zionism is a form of racism”, did nothing of the sort: it recalled resolution 3151 G (XXVIII) of 14 December 1973 which condemned “the unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism” (my emphasis) which is, after all, the theme of Polakow-Suransky’s book.

In the Epilogue we read that “the apartheid analogy is an imperfect one”, a claim Polakow-Suransky backs up by enumerating the differences between Israel and “white South Africa and many other colonial regimes” (pp.236-7). One might indeed counter this by listing developments since the book’s publication that make the analogy more apposite, but this would also be missing the point: apartheid is not an analogy, but a crime, and as such is condemned under international law – most notably the UN’s 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Professor John Dugard’s take on this is worth quoting at length:

Apartheid features as a crime in the Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind adopted by the International Law Commission on first reading in 1991 without any reference to South Africa and in 1996 the Draft Code adopted on second reading recognized institutionalized racial discrimination as species of crime against humanity in article 18 (f) and explained in its commentary that this “is in fact the crime of apartheid under a more general denomination”…  In 1998, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court included the “crime of apartheid” as a form of crime against humanity (art. 7). It may be concluded that the Apartheid Convention is dead as far as the original cause for its creation – apartheid in South Africa – is concerned, but that it lives on as a species of the crime against humanity, under both customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. (My emphasis)

Strangely enough, at no point does Polakow-Suransky refer to apartheid as a crime under international law, so when he claims that “[t]he apartheid analogy may be inexact today, but it won’t be forever” his argument, whether accurate or not, remains beside the point. Zionism is a political ideology that cannot be implemented without the perpetration of “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them” and the implementation of “measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group” (1973 Convention). In a word: Zionism is institutionalised racism, and hence a form of apartheid.

It is insufficient, therefore, for Polakow-Suransky to call upon Israel to “move soon to dismantle West Bank settlements on a large scale and create a viable Palestinian state” that would consign Palestinian Israelis to permanent second-class citizenship within a Jewish ethnocracy while denying the Palestinian right of return. Just as South Africa had to shed apartheid before it could become a democracy (with all its admitted imperfections), Israel must shed Zionism before it can be admitted, in the words of its so-called Declaration of Independence, “into the family of nations”.

Indeed ultimately it must become possible to cease “equating” or “comparing” Zionism with apartheid: the term “Zionism” must eventually be seen as sufficiently infamous in itself.
Do these flaws discredit The Unspoken Alliance? On the contrary. The very fact that Polakow-Suransky holds views that one might describe as “liberal Zionist” lends added weight to his meticulously documented critique of Israel’s behaviour (although not  in the eyes of the ultra-Zionist Commentary, in which James Kirchick denounces the author’s whole project as “manipulative, irresponsible, and offensive”. To be thus slated by Commentary is itself a badge of honour). The Unspoken Alliance is a mine of information and a brisk, compulsive read. The members of Timberland Public Library should protest against their deprivation.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Two Belated Book Reviews (1)

This is the first of two articles in which I wish belatedly to review two important books on the Palestine issue that I have only just got around to reading. Actually, such a delay may have its own advantages: after the rush of interest in a new book has subsided, it may be that the belated reviewer can help to revive it.

First published in hardback by Yale University Press in 2011, celebrated Israeli historian Ilan Pappé’s The Forgotten Palestinians has now been reissued in paperback.  This “history of the Palestinians in Israel” radiates Pappé’s dedication to the cause of justice for Palestinians, whether their dispossession and displacement took place outside or inside what is now the state of Israel.

The title is well chosen, because the “1948 Palestinians” tend to be left out of account by those for whom the Palestine issue is primarily defined by the 1967 Occupation. When they are mentioned, it tends to be in a tone that is at best guarded and at worst dismissive: they are non-participants in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, or even collaborators with the oppressive state that grants them inferior citizenship as long as they keep their heads down. Pappé’s sympathy with them is palpable and unconditional. Recalling that “[i]n years to come, a younger generation of Palestinians would look with disdain at their elders and accuse them of succumbing too easily to Israeli humiliation”, he counters by characterising “their steadfastness and stubborn determination not to fall prey to the Israeli policies” as “a chapter of heroism not defeatism…” (p.48).

“Our Palestinians”, as the Israeli state caricatures them, are “the citizens of the state who have no collective rights – apart from formal democratic rights such as voting. Unlike the Jewish majority, they have no right of land ownership, cannot identify in public with their national movement and cannot build autonomous educational or cultural systems. For most of the time this was sufficient for presenting Israel as the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’, but the apparition disappeared when… the Palestinians in Israel increasingly demanded collective rights. Then, in October 2000, the state reacted brutally and violently to drive its message home.” (p.268)

This refers to the beginning of the second Intifada (uprising, literally shaking off) when the Israeli police shot dead thirteen of their Palestinian citizens who were protesting against the then opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s deliberately provocative visit to the Haram Al-Sharif, the holiest Islamic site in Palestine. Indeed this book is dedicated to their memory. For Pappé this confrontation is seminally linked to other crises in Palestinian history such as the 1948 Nakbah (catastrophe) that saw the initial “ethnic cleansing of Palestine” (the title of another Pappé book) by Jewish forces, the 1976 “Day of the Land” when Israeli police and military shot dead six Palestinian citizens demonstrating against land expropriation, and the first Intifada (1987-92) which shook the Zionist establishment to the core and ultimately led to such pacifying measures as the Oslo Agreement and certain superficial improvements in the status of “our Palestinians”.

For me, the most important chapter of this book is the second – The Open Wound: Military Rule and Its Lasting Impact. It is remarkable how rarely commentators refer to the fact that between 1948 and 1966 the Palestinian citizens of Israel lived under a gruelling system of de facto military dictatorship. Indeed, writes Pappé, this period “is still repressed by the traumatized victims and the guilt-stricken victimizers” (p.46 – it’s debatable whether the victimisers are particularly “guilt-stricken”). The “elaborate system of control and oppression” (p.48) allowed for the expulsion of population, the arbitrary summoning of any citizen to a police station at any time, arrest and detention without trial, the imposition of curfews, and curtailment of the freedom of the press and expression. 

As Pappé points out, despite the blatancy of this heinous system of legalised discrimination imposed on its Palestinian minority Israel still justified itself in the world’s eyes as “the only democracy in the Middle East” because these second- or third-class citizens were allowed to vote.  This fact justifies utter scepticism regarding the continued use of that phrase by Zionists and their present-day fellow-travellers. Indeed “the vote” remains a more than usually useless privilege in the hands of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, by now 20% of the population, who have never been represented in any of the wild and woolly coalition governments running the Israeli state.

While military rule was officially suspended in 1966, it went underground (without entirely disappearing) within “sovereign” Israel only to resurface in the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war. In today’s Occupied Territories, the Palestinians live under a totalitarian military regime, and do not have even the limited influence over their own lives enjoyed by their sisters and brothers in Israel. Nonetheless Israel, as if mysteriously unconnected to this quasi-fascist system, continues to adduce its “democratic” character to differentiate it from those reviled Mukhabarat-run Arab and Persian neighbours to which Pappé nonetheless provocatively compares it (pp. 271-2 - the Mukhabarat are the secret police in Arab countries).

Pappé’s humane and passionate book provides a detailed historical context for the evolution of this profoundly anomalous and inhumane state of affairs. It is neither the first book of its kind (ground-breaking precursors by Elia Zureik and Ian Lustick are among those discussed in Pappé’s Appendix) nor the most recent (Ben White’s Palestinians in Israel came out in 2012, Shira Robinson’s Citizen Strangers in 2013). There is no excuse for “the forgotten Palestinians” to remain forgotten.

In the second of these articles I’ll be discussing The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa by Sasha Polakow-Suransky.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

This Green Paper should never become a White Paper

Alan Shatter, in his capacity as Minister for Defence, has produced a Green Paper in anticipation of a “White Paper on Defence [which] will be completed early in 2014 and will set out Ireland’s Defence policy framework for the next decade.”

The Green Paper explicitly claims to “give expression to an active vision of our neutrality” (section 1) entailing “a willingness to project Irish values and priorities including the promotion and preservation of peace, disarmament, human rights, and support for humanitarian operations through the development and deployment of the Defence Forces…” However, this unexceptionable statement is followed by a less reassuring one: “Ireland’s approach to security is underlined by its engagement in EU Common Security and Defence Policy…” The Paper never comes to grips with the contradiction between “neutrality” and commitment to an “EU Common Security and Defence Policy”.

It goes without saying that the most flagrant violation of Ireland’s traditional military neutrality – the de facto delivery of Shannon Airport to the US Air Force as a transit hub for its troops flying to wars in the Middle East and elsewhere – merits not a single mention in the Green Paper; this is probably its most eloquent omission.

In 2.6 we learn that “Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality has its origins in the country’s declared neutrality during the Second World War. Against this background… a decision was taken in 1949 not to join the newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)”. Nonetheless, Ireland is now a part of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace”, to which former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern committed us in 1999 despite having campaigned for election on the rejection of “Irish participation in… NATO-led organisations such as Partnership for Peace”, particularly without a referendum. The fact that full NATO membership, unattainable without a referendum, was avoided suggests a conviction that “Irish values and priorities” were incompatible with such membership; the fact that Minister Shatter is not openly moving in that direction suggests that nothing has changed in the interim.

In 4.2.4, The EU and NATO, we read that “[a]s both organisations cooperate on issues of common interest and are working side by side in crisis-management operations, the NATO Strategic Concept underlines the importance of improving the NATO-EU strategic partnership.” All in all, the Green Paper gives the impression that Minister Shatter is eager to blur the (already purely notional) distinction between membership of PfP and full membership of NATO, evoking the suspicion that it is merely a matter of time until the latter is presented to us as a necessity.
Section 2.1 tells us that “security… has demands that differ from those of the past” in that “threats to national security are much broader than those of interstate conflict…” This is elaborated as follows (2.2):
“Globally and regionally, the last decade has seen an increased emphasis on collective security, which reflects the evolution of threats in the defence and security environment… These threats include: terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure, organised crime, cyber security, energy security, climate change and piracy. Ireland has proactively engaged in the collective security response through the UN, the EU and NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP). The development of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and its Common Security and Defence Policy (CDSP) [sic] both underscore the Union’s emphasis on a comprehensive approach…Ireland continues to play a full role in both the CFSP and CSDP.”

This is followed by the worrying assertion (2.3) that “[t]he boundaries between the internal and external aspects of security are becoming increasingly blurred.” Perhaps an example of such “blurring” was the Criminal Justice Act 2013grant[ing] the Minister for Justice and Equality [i.e. Alan Shatter again!] the power to temporarily shut down a mobile phone network in a given area, if it is thought that a mobile phone service could be used in the mechanics of a terrorist event.” Prompted by the G8 Summit in Fermanagh in June 2013, the signature of this liberticidal act was fast-tracked by President Higgins.

Section 2.7 deals with the so-called “Triple Lock” whereby overseas operations by the Permanent Defence Force are conditional on “the authorisation of the operation by the Security Council or General Assembly of the United Nations…(,) a formal Government decision(,) and…  the approval of Dáil Éireann.”

Traditionally – and after all, the Green Paper purports “to project Irish values and priorities” – the Irish people have, rightly or wrongly, looked to the UN as a guarantor of international law. For the Paper, however, “[t]he benefits of a formal legislative requirement for UN authorisation must be weighed against the possibility that this constraint may lead to an inability to act on occasions where there is a pressing moral or security imperative and overwhelming international support to do so, but where UN sanction is not forthcoming, in circumstances where a veto is exercised by a permanent member of the Security Council acting in its own national interests.”

Since Minister Shatter has always displayed an eagerness to align Ireland with the United States, we can be clear that the hypothetical permanent member in question is not the one that most frequently uses its veto, i.e. the USA. In a 2012 article, Stephen Zunes pointed out that “[s]ince 1970, China has used its veto power eight times, and Russia (and the former Soviet Union) has used its veto power 13 times. However, the United States has used its veto power 83 times, primarily in defense of allies accused of violating international humanitarian law. Forty-two of these US vetoes were to protect Israel from criticism for illegal activities, including suspected war crimes.” 

The Green Paper, therefore, is proposing that the Triple Lock – specifically, the “UN authorisation” component – should be abandoned if and when the USA identifies “a pressing moral or security imperative” to do so. The “overwhelming international support”, as we know, can amount to a few vassal regimes within the US sphere of influence. The deployment of the adjective “moral” (much favoured but selectively used by Minister Shatter) for a hypothetical by-passing of the Security Council should be seen in this context.

So when the Paper concludes that “[o]n balance, the advantages of retaining the [Triple Lock] mechanism can be seen as outweighing the disadvantages” but deems it “an issue worthy of discussion in advance of the adoption of a new White Paper”, we can be pretty sure which side of this discussion the Minister will be backing.
A series of “Policy Questions” (2.8) ends with the following query: “How can Defence further contribute to economic recovery e.g. options for increased engagement with Irish Industry?”

Section 2.5 had already cited the NATO buzz-word “interoperability”, i.e. the requirement that Ireland’s defence forces should be equipped according to standards – very costly ones – established by NATO. We are told that “[t]he percentage of Government expenditure allocated to Defence in Ireland is one of the lowest in the EU”, something that many of us might celebrate, although lamenting that the money thus saved is not more productively expended on social infrastructure. Instead, the Paper’s reflection that “[i]n the short term funding constraints may prevent us from making commitments or carrying out activities which might be otherwise considered desirable when the Exchequer finances have been put on a more sustainable footing” suggests that “in the long term” Minister Shatter may indeed have plans to waste more of our financial resources on military hardware.

However, the implications of the “policy question” are more far-reaching. Section, European Defence Agency, tells us (in sickening jargon) that “Ireland’s participation in the Agency is focused on the development of military capabilities for UN-led or UN mandated peace support operations and leveraging the contribution which the Irish Defence Forces in partnership with Irish Enterprise can make in delivering high end research and technology in support of such capabilities.” Section 5, Defence support to economic development, merits more extensive quotation:

“In July 2011, Government approval was received, pursuant to s. 8(5) of the Science and Technology Act, 1987 whereby Enterprise Ireland would support Defence by raising the awareness of and engaging with, Irish-based enterprise and research institutes, including third level colleges that are engaged in relevant activities related to Defence Forces capability development. The primary objective is to support Defence Forces capability development and also to support innovation, growth and jobs in Irish based industry, particularly in the security and defence (dual use) sector, which can contribute to Ireland’s economic development and recovery. In addition, the Government agreed that Enterprise Ireland could also support Irish based enterprise and research institutes, the Department of Defence and Defence Forces Capability Development, where appropriate in relation to European Defence Agency ongoing activities.”

Complete clarity is required here: the European Defence Agency (EDA) is a front for the international arms trade. The Green Paper is in fact proposing the doctrine of military Keynesianism, i.e. “ the position that the government should increase military spending in order to increase economic growth” (Wikipedia) or, according to the late Professor Chalmers Johnson, “[t]he economic disaster that is military Keynesianism.” This also clarifies the repeated, almost obsessive references in the Green Paper to “cyber-terrorism”, seen as a potential spur to deepened involvement of the military in the lucrative sphere of internet research and development. The reference to “third level colleges” hints darkly at the kind of military engagement in academia that has so compromised academic independence in Minister Shatter’s favourite countries, Israel and the USA. This is a potential development that should be viewed with the deepest suspicion, particularly at a time when cutbacks in education at all levels are biting.
Finally, section 6 of the Green Paper muses on “possible future trends”, and suggests some general reflections on its own presuppositions. While the Paper accepts that “the risk of a conventional military attack on Ireland’s territory from another State will remain very low”, it fails to ask why this is the case and whether indeed a perception of Ireland, however inaccurate, as a neutral state uninvolved in US military adventures might have contributed to such a low risk. If “[t]hreats to the EU, to European interests and to wider security are now threats to Ireland”, as the Paper asserts, could this not be a result of successive Irish governments’ decisions to soften up our neutrality and subject ourselves to an “EU Common Security and Defence Policy”? 

But of course the new bogey is no longer exclusively this or that state, but supposedly free-floating “terrorism”. The paper cites the UN Panel of High Level threats, “Terrorism attacks the values that lie at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations: respect for human rights; the rule of law; rules of war that protect civilians; tolerance among peoples and nations; and the peaceful resolution of conflict”. However, these words could equally be applied to the USA and its satellites, most notably Israel, which are quick “to use unlimited violence to cause massive casualties”, a phrase applied exclusively to terrorists by the Paper. If “Spain, France, Sweden, Germany and the UK have been targeted by credible terrorist plots”, could this not be traced back to the involvement of these states in neo-imperial adventures outside their borders?

Yet even in relation to international terrorism, the Paper concludes that “the direct threat to Ireland… is currently assessed as low. However, the State shares the common risk that arises for western democracies generally.” But why does it arise? Is it because “they hate our freedoms”, as George W. Bush claimed, or because they hate the resurgence of western imperialism, which all too frequently leads to brutal military intervention and/or to drone warfare against their civilians? If the latter, then surely a meaningful policy of military neutrality would be a more rational and indeed more moral strategy? Instead, Shatter’s Green Paper, while disingenuously proclaiming its allegiance to neutrality, proposes to align this country unambiguously with western imperialism. This should be vigorously opposed.