Can there be peace for a ‘Palestine in Pieces’?
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 23 November 2009
The American writer Kathleen Christison and her husband Bill have made long personal journeys over the past three decades in becoming outspoken critics of Israel and of US Middle East policy. In their youth they were political analysts in the CIA where, they recall, they failed to gain an adequate understanding of “Zionism’s true meaning or its inevitable impact on the Palestinians.” It was only after leaving the CIA and “the insular Washington bubble” in 1979 that they developed wider perspectives on US policy.
They started to question their earlier assumptions, and their views on the Palestine-Israel issue gradually changed. The latest manifestation of their concern for the Palestinians is their book “Palestine in Pieces: Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation”, published by Pluto Press of London and New York.
Kathleen is the author of two previous books. “Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on US Middle East Policy” (1999, updated 2001), and “The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story” (2002).
The latest book was launched in London a few days ago at an event at the Kensington Hotel hosted by The Cordoba Foundation (TCF) and Middle East Monitor (MEMO). Kathleen and Bill, who had traveled from their home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, appeared on a panel of speakers along with TCF’s founder and chief executive officer Anas Al-Tikriti, MEMO’s director Dr. Daud Abdullah, the chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, John McHugo, and the co-founder and director of Forward Thinking, Oliver McTernan.
Since 2003 the Christisons have made eight visits to the West Bank, staying three to four weeks each time. Bill said he and Kathleen wrote their book with two aims. “One was to give the best analysis we could of what was actually happening in the Israeli occupation. The other was to tell as many individual stories of people who live in the West Bank and Gaza as we could.”
The 212-page book includes 52 full-page black and white photographs with detailed captions, and a number of maps. The photographs present a generally grim picture of checkpoints, destruction, house demolitions (a form of “slow ethnic cleansing”), the ugly eight-meter high separation Wall, military harassment, suppression of demonstrations, economic deprivation and the humiliations of Palestinian daily life.
The few shots of the Palestinian countryside show the beauty of the terraces and olive trees – but a caption states that this landscape is fated to be the site of a segment of the separation Wall, and that sewage from Israeli settlements is being dumped on Palestinian farmers’ fields.
The maps show how from 1948 Israel has “squeezed Palestinians into ever smaller, more disconnected cantons with little possibility for political or economic viability and virtually no hope of true national independence and sovereignty.” The “Israeli-only” road network for Israeli settlers covers more than 1,000 miles.
The Christisons write: “You cannot, in fact, possibly come away from even a single trip to the West Bank without realizing that Zionism is no mere abstract political philosophy but is an aggressive, exclusivist movement of Jewish redemption intended from the beginning to sweep everything non-Jewish from its path.”
With the invaluable assistance of their driver and guide Ahmed, the Christisons travelled widely in the West Bank. One place they visited was the Bedouin village of Numan, cut off by the Wall from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Israel wants the land for the settlement of Har Homa and has declared the village’s houses illegal. Virtually every house has been demolished by Israeli bulldozers or issued with a demolition order.
“All Israeli actions against the village and its residents – the restrictions on entry to Jerusalem, the cutoff of water and electricity, the demolitions, the Wall and the system of closures, the land confiscations, the settlement construction – are illegal under international law,” the authors write. “Numan’s horror story represents the Israeli occupation in microcosm. Hundreds of other villages are experiencing similar fates.”
The Wall was built not only for Israeli security, but for political objectives too, and it is a sign that Israel always intended to retain control over almost all of the West Bank. The building of the wall has led to the confiscation of Palestinian fertile agricultural land and freshwater wells, and has had a disastrous effect on the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
There are photographs from the regular protests against the Wall in the village of Bil’in, against which the Israeli military retaliate. The Bil’in demonstrations are the most prominent and prolonged of the protests that have taken place in villages near the Green Line whose lands have been expropriated, or in some way separated, by the Wall.
The authors do not gloss over the split between Fatah and Hamas and the damaging divisions among the Palestinians. Many Palestinians are disillusioned with their leadership.
The conclusions of the book are not wholly pessimistic. The Christisons state: “The Palestinians know that justice is one their side.” Civil society has been gaining a voice: for example the Palestine Strategic Study Group paper of August 2008, published by 45 civil society activists and others, challenged not only the usual Israeli-US discourse but also the Palestinian leadership.
Bill says he and Kathleen believe that everything that happens in the Middle East is related to “almost everything else” in the region. “What goes on in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq – all of these things are related in some way, and all taken together are also related to the Palestine issue.”
As long as the US and Israel retain their “excessively close partnership” there will be no end to warfare and terror. “We are not going to have peace in any way, shape or manner in the Middle East or Central Asia until there are massive changes in US foreign policy in the entire area.”
The authors quote the prominent New York-based commentator and TIME.com journalist Tony Karon, who asked in an article written in February this year: “Will Obama, too, indulge Israeli rejectionism?” The need for an answer to this question becomes more urgent with each day that passes.