Kim Hill: Progressive Except for Palestine?

Kim Hill offers his reflections on Noura Erakat’s visit to Cleveland and Oberlin, March 3 and 4, 2019. The video of her complete remarks in Cleveland, produced by Jeff Kassouf, can be viewed here.

After speaking at Cleveland Peace Action’s Annual Meeting on Sunday, Noura Erakat made a presentation at Oberlin College as a guest of Students for a Free Palestine and the students in Jewish Voice for Peace. In Cleveland she stressed that we need, and lack, “an analytical framework” with which to understand the complex issues surrounding the roles of the U.S., Israel and Palestinians in the Middle East.   

The issues are nothing if not complex. In Oberlin, she provided this framework, drawing from her new book, Justice for Some. The book is organized historically, with five turning points which she ties to potential issues of law. But ultimately, existing law and international politics render both law and politics tragically impotent to address the obvious human rights outrages. These outrages have been normalized. In 1948 Jews conquered and ethnically cleansed Palestine, and in 1967 Israel occupied the remnants left to the survivors, leaving no real avenue for justice or peace.

Oslo, Erakat said, was from the beginning, destined to fail. The ugly legacy of dozens of U.S.vetoes of U.N. resolutions in support of  international law for Palestine, passed by the General Assembly in the U.N., is notorious. Yet, Palestinians have never given up their struggle for their basic human rights, despite dozens of continuing atrocities committed by the Israeli military. The Israel Lobby, the U.S. media, and U.S. elected officials have all stood shoulder to shoulder, as an Iron Wall, against the Palestinian struggle for their birthright.

This Iron Wall best explains how the injustice has lived on so long. The  term was coined in 1923 by the arch-Zionist, Zeev Jabotinksky who observed: “Arabs are not fools. Every native population regards its lands as its national home, of which it is the sole master, and wants to retain that mastery always; it will refuse to admit new masters but even new partners or collaborators.” Noura mentioned the cynical Golda Meir, who was so much less honest than Jobotinsky, when she declared: “Palestine is a land without people for a people without land.” Americans believed it. In 2011, Mark Braverman, speaking in Cleveland, described this as The Fatal Embrace. It explains how liberals and progressives remained true to Israel, with the ideology and shameful hypocrisy of Progressive Except for Palestine–PEP.

Everyone from Sherrod Brown, to Hillary, to Obama still side withIsrael against Palestine as PEPs!  Noura pointed out, though, that there is hope! In Congress Betty McCullough (D-Minnesota) has labeled Israel an apartheid state, just like Jimmy Carter did in his book, Palestine Peace or Apartheid in 2006. Thus we welcome the breath of fresh air represented by the new women of color in Congress, Reps. Tlaib, Ocascia-Cortez and Ihlan Omar, who speak out defiantly for Palestine despite being labeled as “anti-semites.”

The analytical framework, Erakat maintains, derives from 20th Century 3rd World national liberation struggles. Gandhi in India, Allende in Latin American, Mandela in South Africa. The added new twist, according to Noura, is how we must  bring in the yet to be validated struggles for basic human rights in the U.S. At our meeting in Cleveland, she delved into Black-Palestinian Solidarity, and the denial of basic human rights for African Americans, despite their “victories” in the Civil Rights Movement. Michelle Alexander raises the specter of “mass incarceration” and the prison-industrial complex, in her book,  The New Jim Crow.  It is a chilling structural reality not  just in Israel but also in our extremely flawed U.S. “democracy.”

In Oberlin, the student who introduced Noura prefaced his remarksby stating that we stand on ground sacred to the native Americanswho preceded us. Thus he said, we are all  “settler-colonialists.” Noura expanded on the theme. She explained how native Americans, as indigenous peoples just like Palestinians, have basic human rights which have also been “erased,” along with much of their original population.  She added that the struggle for Palestine is equivalent to the struggle for a new and better America.

One Palestinian questioned Noura’s point that we overestimate thestrength of the Israel Lobby.  The Lobby, he feared, seems invincible. But in Oberlin and Cleveland she replied with optimism. Israel would not seem so strong if we Americans – that is we “European, settler-colonialist Americans,” – made peace with our own history, based as it is on killing off and ethnically cleansing our native American population.  They are not gone as evidenced by their magnificent resistance,with white allies, as water protectors against the pipeline in North Dakota.

There’s also a history based on our enslavement, brutality and lynching, during Jim Crow, of past generations of African Americans. Their present mass incarceration is now initiated by our militarized U.S. police, who are often trained in Israel by the IDF.  We know all about this from JVP’s program, The Deadly Exchange, educating us on how U.S. police officials travel to Israel to study the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The IDF has its methods.  We could see this in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 when the Black Lives Matter movement declared its solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza who were enduring their second, massive Gaza massacre (the first was in 2009 when the Jewish expert on international law, Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of “war crimes“). 

Noura raised the “R” word–Reparations for Racism, as did presidentialcandidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren recently. For Noura’s program, CPA used the ambitious word, “Solidarity.” Thus it is incumbent on us to struggle with racism and it’s remedy, if hope to create a future where children can grow up and live in racial co-existence and harmony. To heal the disease of racism we might first follow the medical maxim, “Physician, Heal Thyself.” Some introspection, about our national history of racism, along with implicit bias in our present, would provide a foundation for our collective struggle going forward. 

Thanks to Noura for helping.
P.S. Thanks to Genevieve and Faten for your excellent introductions of Noura, and to Chance for moderating the at times tumultuous Q&A.

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