Archive for May, 2006

israel and palestine: the new apartheid

Apartheid was a violent system.  It wasn't just the overt violence of the militarisation of the townships, the assassinations, the arbitrary arrests and torture – it was the daily attacks on the humanity, freedom of movement, rights to association, expression, education and normal family life from the system that shaped everyday Black existence.  Systems, in other words can be violent.  It's a violence you don't see because it's how life is.  The point, however, is that in a violent system, overt violence is neither surprising nor exceptional.  It is the endemic violence breaking out into the open.

That's not how it "plays" to the outside world, of course.  The news reports used to be full of "outbreaks" of Black violence – acts of terrorism, rioting, communist subversion etc.  The implication was clear: this had nothing to do with people responding to violence inflicted on them, but was an instance of unjustified and ungrateful unruliness and general inclination to violent disorder!  Yet it was nothing of the kind.  It was the response of people who found themselves under daily attack.  When a political system is predicated upon a group within that society being less than fully human, less deserving of the normal human rights, is grudgingly tolerated and accorded the minimum of respect and space, the system is effectively a constant attack and exercise of force over that group to keep them in subjugation.  If the default mode is that they have no right to be there, then every concession towards what everyone else would take for granted is regarded by the state as a generous gift, and every protest or demand for equality an instance of outrageous selfishness and ingratitude.  If the oppressed group's response becomes violent in answer to the violence being inflicted on them – if, in other words, the oppressed group dares to fight back – they are characterised as terrorists.

Tragically, ruling groups – states – find a ready audience for this sort of Orwellian rhetoric in the international community.  States are generally regarded as legitimate (if occassionally a little oppressive or flawed).  It is appallingly easy for any state to brand protest and violent response as "terrorism", and notoriously difficult for people to recognise that states themselves can be terrorist.  We talk about Libya and Syria as "terrorist states" in connection with "state-sponsored terrorism".  The notion of a state as a "terror organisation" is far more difficult to comprehend – emotionally, as well as intellectually.  The presence of the trappings of legitimacy – the police, the army, the judiciary, the organs of government – means that states can pass and enforce laws which are in fact attacks on its citizens.  They can deploy their armed forces to carry out policies that in any other context would be deemed acts of war, or terrorism.  That is what happened in South Africa under Apartheid.  It is what is happening now in Israel.

 According to Lenin, "The purpose of terror is to terrify".  Terror is not some sort of playground bullying writ large, nor is it sadism and evil on a grand scale (though of course, all those elements can be present in individuals).  It is a deliberate strategy.  I learned this interrogating many Zimbabwean guerillas during the Independence Struggle.  I had always thought that "terrorists" were simply bad people – bullies with guns.  Crucially, for me, they lost any claim to being "liberators" because the principal victims of terror were their own people.  I came to realise that this wasn't the case.  The argument I heard went something like this: "You accuse us of terror and war-mongering.  Yet our people live in daily terror because of your laws.  We are not safe in our own houses.  You see yourselves as peaceful, reasonable people – but that is only because you are insulated against the fear and daily violence that you are committing against us.  You do not have to be violent – although you will be ruthlesslessly violent as soon as it seems necessary.  You are safe because we are weak.  You think that when our people smile and fawn, that we are grateful?  Not so.  We are cowed and terrified!  The people are very scared.  They fear you.  If we soldiers come to free them, they will betray us – even though they agree with us – because they are so scared of what you might do to them.  So we want to make them more afriad of us than of you.  Then they will help us and join the struggle."  I used to respond, "But then they are acting out of fear.  Surely you want to win their trust and support?  You cannot win hearts and minds through terror!"  The response I got was this: "When you have a man by the balls, his heart and mind will follow!  This is what we have learned from you".

The relevance to the Palestinian situation is this: Palestinian violence is the violence of response to attack.  Palestinian terror is a response to the terror inflicted on the people by Israel.  Its cause doesn't lie in some Palestinian propensity to lawlessness, violence and barbarism, but in the daily violence inflicted on the community by the Israeli state.  Prior to the current Intafada, it was inconceivable that Hamas could have won a Palestinian election.  Yet the violence of the Israeli state has radicalised the whole community.  The Palestinains see the Hamas fighters as liberators – as protectors who are resisting in their name.  They support Hamas because they see it as the only credible response to the war being waged against that community. 

When the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addresses both houses of Congress, therefore, and insists that any precondition to negotiation with the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is that the Palestinians “renounce terrorism, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, accept previous agreements and commitments, and recognize the right of Israel to exist", we need to recognise this for the cant and subterfuge it really is.  In effect, it's like the school bully sitting astride his victim, hitting him and rubbing his face into the dirt, and saying, "I'll only think of stopping this when you stop resisting and crying and objecting!"  It's saying to the Palestinians, "We're at war with you.  And we'll only even think of stopping when you first surrender!"  There is no real negotiation envisaged.  There is no intention to withdraw from the settlements.  The Wall is to form the permament border between Israel and the Palestinian territories – a border which has already been extended to annexe 10% of the Palestinian land – crucially, the 10% holding all the water supplies!  There is no offer of a viable Palestinian state – simply a patchwork of small, isolated "outcrops" of Palestinian land which are cut off from one another.

Israel, with the active support of the United States, is thumbing its nose at UN resolutions demanding an end to the oppression of the people there.  Instead, what Israel envisages is succeeding where South Africa failed – in the project of Apartheid.  Apartheid (significantly pronounced "apart-hate" in Afrikaans!) was always translated as "separate development".  This is a literal enough translation of the term – but it carefully omits and disguises what Steve Biko spotted only too clearly and lost his life for: it is a means of oppressing and subjugating the people it excludes.  It is an act of war on its own citizens; system of violent terror.  In our Reformed theological tradition, a government which is the enemy of the people is a tyrant, and needs to be removed.  Israel is a terrorist state as far as the Palestinian question is concerned.  It is a tragic and often-noted irony that the people whose national identity was formed by the Holocaust should act as they do to the Palestinians.  It is ironic that Olmert's address was drafted with the help of the Holocaust author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.  Wiesel knows better than most that the Holocaust was made possible only by the silence of the wider international community over Germany's actions.  The Nazis mounted an active campaign of terror against its population and the world kept silent.  Now Olmert wants – and is getting – the same silence over his own terror policies against the Palestinians. 


30 May, 2006 at 11:49 am 4 comments

forever young – bob now and then

dylan ... now  dylan ... then  The man turned 65 yesterday.  That's when normal people are retiring, or when people normally retire.  But Dylan is neither normal, nor does he show any signs of retiring.  "You should be able to go on for as long as you want to go on", he once told an interviewer.  Bob clearly wants to go on going on.  This is the man who wrote Forever Young – his prayer for a generation that cared.  "May you build a ladder to the stars/and climb on ever'y rung/and may you stay/forever young!"  Bob wasn't into everlasting life for just anybody.  It's a prayer for people who thought the world ought to be changed and could be changed.  It's his prayer for the generation that set out to make a difference on behalf of others.  Listen to the words!  "May God bless and keep you always/may your wishes all come true/may you always do for others/and let others do for you …"  Not for Bob the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) self-obssession of post-Thatcher western life and culture!  If you're not up for changing the world, this ain't a prayer for you!  Bob the Ruthless: "…the order is rapidly changin'/so get out of the new road if you can't lend a hand/for the times, they are a-changin'!"

When he wrote those words (bob … then), the train of the new world was just around the corner.  He could hear the whistle and the tracks were humming.  Some years later, newly converted to Christianity, Bob realised the train was perhaps a little further away than he'd anticipated.  It was a Slow Train – but it was "comin' down the tracks".  Only now, the Train was Jesus.  You see, sadly, Bob found Jesus … and lost the world!  If only he'd found the Jesus of the gospels, rather than the Jesus of right-wing American fundamentalism!  I reckon Bob and Jesus have a lot in common when it comes to the state of the world.  Both of them get highly pissed off with injustice, war and prejudice.  Jesus is far more likely to listen to All Along the Watchtower than All Things Bright and Beautiful.   He's got to like Ring Them Bells more than The Old Rugged Cross!  And John Brown vs Onward Christian Soldiers?  I mean, are you seriously suggesting there's a competition here???  Dylan "gets" Jesus on the world far better than most Christians.  He just falls apart when he goes into "Christian" mode!  Bob's at his most Christian when he's at his angriest and saddest with the way the world is.

And bob … now?  He's given up neither on Jesus nor the world.  Still hasn't got the necessary connection between the two, mind, but he's definitely on the side of the angels!  Everyone's allowed some blindspots – especially when you're young!  And Dylan's forever young – which suits me fine!  Way to go, Bob!  Happy 65th birthday!

25 May, 2006 at 12:41 pm Leave a comment

touching down on word press!

I've ported over my blog from Blogger.  That was good platform from which to begin, and I'm grateful to them.  But I got to the point where I was being put off by the appearance of the blog!  I wanted a template that looked clean, clear, inviting and contemporary.  That's the problem with the blogoshpere – you start coveting your neighbour's blog layout!  Very bad for the sanctification!  WordPress gives me what I need.  But now it's the grind of reconnecting with all my favourite spots and slowly building up circulation and readership again.  My fault for neglecting this. 

22 May, 2006 at 3:50 pm 3 comments

Time to move …

... to my own hosted site on See you there.

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