Photograph: Copyright Amos Trust / Mark Kensett

Some time ago I bonded with a woman on Twitter over a shared commitment to the struggle for Palestinian human rights and self determination. My memory is unreliable these days, but I’m quite sure we connected around the siege of Gaza in 2014, when more than 2,000 Palestinians were slaughtered during a 51-day Israeli blitz in which the most lethal and sophisticated weaponry in human history was unleashed on 1.8 million civilians trapped on the most densely populated piece of land on earth. She quit Twitter not long after, finding the atmosphere poisonous, but we’ve managed to keep in touch via email.

We’ve never met and she and I don’t swap much personal information, but from our exchanges I gather that she is an ordinary Brit, a regular churchgoer – earnest, compassionate and driven by a sense of moral clarity – with no personal connection to the region. Nonetheless, the dispossession of the Palestinians and their ongoing oppression, alongside the refusal of her own government to stand up for international law and condemn egregious human rights abuses, captured her attention and like me she is now a committed advocate.

We are only occasionally in touch but last week she made contact to share a video of the ‘Just Walk to Jerusalem’, a 147-day pilgrimage organised by the Amos Trust, in which she and dozens of others walked all the way from London to Jerusalem. (And yes, they really did walk.)

Readers of my blog might recall that the Amos Trust was the organisation that teamed up with Palmusic to present a concert I attended at St James’s Piccadilly, featuring a string quartet of Druze Palestinian siblings. Inspired by the event, I went on to support Palmusic by sponsoring two students in its Open Hebron music programme.

The ‘Just Walk’ was conceived to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and press the UK government to ‘change the record’ on Palestine. But this morning it seems to have taken on a new meaning thanks to Donald Trump’s wrecking ball Middle East foreign policy, which reached its nadir with yesterday’s announcement that the US will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. For those of you who don’t know, Jerusalem has been divided into (Arab) East and (Jewish) West since it was annexed by Israel in 1967, and its status has always been among the thorniest issues in already fraught ‘talks’.

I confess that while I woke up this morning still feeling the shock of Trump’s announcement, I remain uncertain what to think. Yesterday, many commentators – including those who should know better – performed last rites on the ‘Middle East peace process’ and the ‘two state solution’ both of which have in fact been sustained in a permanent vegetative state for decades. Indeed, this so-called process and its imagined solution exist now only in the minds of a few fantasists and the cynics who feed their delusion that some ‘status quo’ was being maintained. The briefest glance at a current map of the West Bank confirms the truth of the matter which is the aggressive daily expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, enabled by the bloated budget of Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry which is tasked with stalking and smearing anyone who objects. In short, the ‘status quo’ was not static at all.

Others claimed that it finally exposed America as a dishonest broker in the conflict. For those wilful naifs, apparently Barack Obama’s $38-billion top up in military aid to Israel, the requirement that Texans seeking hurricane relief funding sign declarations against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, the well-funded war on Palestinian advocacy on US university campuses (as well as those in Canada, the UK and elsewhere), and countless other displays of America’s ‘Israel first’ policy hadn’t provided enough evidence that US affections were already spoken for. Besides, it’s not clear why the “Potemkin peace process” which Hillary Clinton promised her pro Israel donors according to the Podesta email leaks, served the cause of Palestinian equality and human rights any better. Curiously, the US media were more interested in skewering Julian Assange over the leaks than pondering the implications of Clinton’s cynicism, dishonesty and admission of bias.

So yes, today we know where we stand and it’s where we’ve stood for a long time: silent witnesses to the erasure of the Palestinian people, the colonisation of their history and culture, the theft of their land and resources and collusion in the ugly pretence that the Palestinian thirst for justice is actually a thirst for blood. In short, the threadbare but familiar colonialist narrative dressed up as ‘different’ this time, with anyone who disagrees being ruthlessly silenced.

In that sense, I suppose, the ‘Just Walk to Jerusalem’ means as much today as it did yesterday, and will tomorrow. Here is their video:

Just Walk to Jerusalem 2017 from Amos Trust on Vimeo.

And here is a more in depth look at their journey. Just Walk to Jerusalem 2017


This powerful essay by the Ohio State University lecturer Pranav Jani appeared on the microsite of the Modern Language Association group, MLA Members for Justice in Palestine. In the essay Jani asks,

‘[W]hat sorts of rational arguments would it take to convince humanities scholars in the MLA membership, who often express a commitment to human rights and equality, to show solidarity with this anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle?’

The Members for Justice in Palestine group was set up in 2014 to campaign in favour of a resolution calling on the MLA to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The MLA, which boasts more than 26,000 members in 100 countries, will vote on the boycott resolution at its 2017 convention.

Here is an excerpt from Jani’s essay:

‘When you join the boycott of Israel you are responding to a call from Palestinian civil society and saying that no, we, as part of a global community that is committed to human rights, will not be silent while atrocities under a military colonial occupation go on month after month, year after year.

‘You may have questions about organizations, strategies, details, policies, and solutions – but you draw a line against colonialism and racism. If you refuse to see this line, you are also taking a stand: for the status quo.

‘You are free to do so, of course.’

But then please don’t speak to me about your anti-racism. For the image of the Palestinian as always already a terrorist fuels every justification of Israeli violence as “security.”

Please don’t toss around words like “empire” and “colonialism.” For the militarization of Israel (as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other allies) is central to US imperial ambitions today.’

Continue reading: Pranav Jani’s Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

This piece appeared in Guernica magazine in December 2015.

Ours is a country of words. Talk. Talk. Let me rest my road against a stone.

Ours is a country of words. Talk. Talk. Let me see an end to this journey.

Mahmoud Darwish, ‘We Travel Like All People’

Over the past few months, the amplification of the routine violence in which Palestinians have lived for decades has thrown up a new set of linguistic hot potatoes. I’ve been especially struck by claims of ‘incitement’, which my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines as ‘that which rouses to action; a stimulus, incentive, spur.’ This useful noun used to enjoy common ownership but lately appears to have been requisitioned for exclusive use by the Israeli cabinet and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Over the last two weeks alone, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has begun pressing Silicon Valley executives to pull online videos of Palestinians being shot by Israeli occupation forces, while her government shut down three Palestinian radio stations in Hebron and launched an Orwellian review of Tel Aviv’s Nakba film festival, lest any of the images or words presented in these outlets 'incite' Palestinian violence.

Although I remain perplexed by its mysterious precision of the 'I know it when I see it' variety, my own investigations have narrowed its definition down as follows: when uttered by a Palestinian leader, any noun, verb, adjective, punctuated by a pause, comma hyphen, animated by an underscore, exclamation mark, in any order whatsoever, constitutes the 'incitement' which propels young men and women to pick up stones or knives with which to assault Israeli settlers and heavily armed soldiers.

By contrast, I’ve noticed that neither the failure to prosecute the murders of Ali, Saad and Riham Dawabshe, nor forty-eight years of occupation of Palestinian land meet the rigors of this revised definition. This is also true of the epidemic of settler attacks on Palestinian olive farmers while Israeli occupation soldiers stand idly by or the incarceration of Palestinian children, not to mention the daily expansion of illegal settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Hebron buses intended only for Israelis

A few weeks ago, a six year-old Palestinian boy was detained by Israeli forces in Bethlehem, along with the ten children who were arrested in East Jerusalem the same day. Two of them were nine, the eldest fourteen. In 2011, half a dozen Palestinian 'Freedom Riders' were arrested for travelling on Hebron buses intended only for Israelis. In Old Hebron, 400 settlers are kept safe by 2,000 Israeli soldiers, and Palestinians are barred from Shuhada Street, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare. Those who live on the street have had their doors welded shut and access their homes via adjacent properties or alleyways.

In 2013, the writer and Hebrew University lecturer David Shulman wrote, 'a visit to Hebron eats into one’s soul'; just imagine what it does to the souls of the Palestinians who live there? Still, we’re told, the only permissible response to this Jim Crow-inspired ugliness is acceptance; anything else is ‘incitement.’ [Note: since this essay was published, Prof. Shulman was awarded the Israel Prize for his research into Indian languages and culture. He donated the prize to Ta’ayush, an organisation that seeks equality for Palestinians.]

The boundaries of permissible speech

This reformulation was formalized by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee which did AIPAC proud on November fifth, passing a resolution condemning Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s 'incitement' of Palestinian youth. The vote followed a committee hearing with the smugly un-ironic name 'Words Have Consequences.'

Questions such as these about the ownership of language and the boundaries of permissible speech, were already on my mind when I arrived at 'Rethinking Trauma and Resilience in the Context of Political Violence', a conference here in London in November about the psychosocial impact of Israel’s sustained aggression against the Palestinian people. The event was organized by the UK Palestine Mental Health Network, of which I’m a member, and other groups and it’s where I came across Brian Barber, founding director of the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence at the University of Tennessee.

A rather melancholy fellow, Dr. Barber described two key findings that emerged from his interviews with Palestinians who had been youths during the first Intifada, which began in 1987. First, he said, their chronicles routinely included accounts of Israel’s 'persistent, indignity-violating humiliation' of Palestinians, from random house searches to indiscriminate harassment at checkpoints. This 'brutal form of psychic violence' is often overlooked by experts on war and trauma, said Dr. Barber.

Who has been crushed by whom

Dr. Barber also told us that the Palestinians he interviewed repeatedly used the same handful of analogous words to describe their current feelings about life under occupation. 'Broken,' 'destroyed', 'shaken up' and 'crushed' appeared on a screen behind him. At that point, a Jungian psychoanalyst, Heba Zaphiriou-Zarifi, interjected that in Arabic the adjective 'crushed' doesn’t merely connote a state like bored, say, or hungry. Instead, she said, 'crushed' bears within it the notion of being acted upon; as such it invites the listener to contemplate just who has been crushed by whom.

Besides the linguistic clarity it provided, Zaphiriou-Zarifi’s contribution was a reminder that while words themselves can be said to wield power, they nonetheless remain stand-ins for the dialectic between subject and object, the self and other. Of course, colonialism is always a lopsided affair, sustained by whatever works while it works, and abandoned when its utility is exhausted. In the case of Israel/Palestine, if historic entitlement loses its force, call it security or anti-Semitism, call them a 'cancer', call their children 'snakes' or 'cockroaches', call them an 'invented' people, desecrate the Holocaust.

These are the means by which words and the narratives they weave reconstitute the oppressed as the oppressor, and pave the way for all manner of savagery.

Steadfast perseverance

Against the backdrop of these perverse, inverted narratives, the recurrence of 'crushed' and similar states of destruction troubled me especially, for it exposed the depleted condition of sumud, a pivotal concept meaning ‘steadfast perseverance’ that has characterized and animated the Palestinian resistance since 1967. In fact, sumud has been reformulated many times over, shedding connotations and acquiring new ones as facts on the ground change. Here’s an interpretation from Abdelfattah Abusrour, founder of the Al Rowwad Cultural and Theater Training Center, which appeared in Jerusalem Quarterly:

Sumud is continuing living in Palestine, laughing, enjoying life, falling in love, getting married, having children. Sumud is also continuing your studies outside, to get a diploma, to come back here. Defending values is sumud. Building a house, a beautiful one and thinking that we are here to stay, even when the Israelis are demolishing this house, and then build a new and even more beautiful one than before—that is also sumud. That I am here is sumud. To reclaim that you are a human being and defending your humanity is sumud.

However defined, for Palestinians sumud is embodied in the olive tree whose cockled trunk and extensive root system represent the Palestinian love affair with the land, an ardor which undoubtedly explains the sadistic glee with which Israeli settlers destroy these centuries-old living emblems, symbolically crushing the steadfastness that has marked the Palestinian resistance.

‘I am the lover & the land is the beloved’

Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s poet laureate, brought his people’s love affair with the land to vivid life in much of his work, including his 1967 poem 'Diary of a Palestinian Wound' where he writes:

O brave-faced wound

my homeland isn’t a suitcase

& I’m not a traveller

I am the lover & the land is the beloved

Affecting metaphors aside, you needn’t dig deeply into Darwish’s oeuvre to find evidence of his ambivalence about the power of words, and even an explicit disavowal of that power. For instance, in 'On Poetry' he writes:

If only these poems were

a chisel in the hand of the proletariat

a grenade in the palm of the struggler

If only these poems were

If only these poems were

a plough in the hand of the peasant

or a shirt or a door or a key

If only these poems were

His conception of verse devoid of either utility or agency, illustrated here through a string of sturdy nouns and a clause that never ends, is captured more elliptically in 'State of Siege' when Darwish cautions:

To a reader: Do not trust the poem

The daughter of absence

It is neither intuition nor is it


But rather, the sense of the abyss

I spent much of the summer of 2006 reading Darwish as I researched and wrote 'Cultural Intifada', my Master’s dissertation about art and political resistance in Palestine, while Israel laid siege to Gaza in Operation 'Summer Rains'. I felt tremendous sorrow when he died unexpectedly in August 2008, four months before the next Israeli blitz of Gaza, Operation 'Cast Lead.' And thanks to J.K. Rowling, Darwish has been much on my mind again lately as I’ve watched the daily executions of Palestinian youth in the streets of Hebron and East Jerusalem, the weekly razing of Palestinian homes, and the detention of scores of Palestinian children.

Recently, the Harry Potter author fronted a clutch of public figures, including several British politicians, to denounce academic and cultural boycotts of Israeli institutions. Under the banner ‘Culture for Coexistence’ her group alleged that only ‘cultural bridges’ will build ‘peace’ between Israelis and Palestinians. When challenged on this flaccid claim, Rowling’s gambit was to invoke Darwish.

Banning poets from the Republic

The ploy struck me as artfully insolent, for Darwish was not blind to the limitations of his medium. Sure, he was a thorn in the side of the Israeli authorities who kept him under house arrest for years. Indeed, as we’ve just seen in Saudi Arabia, where the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh has been sentenced to death, those who wield power recognize the unruly force of words to 'disrupt the order and hierarchy of the soul' thereby disrupting 'the order and hierarchy of political authority as well', as the philosopher Judith Butler puts it. In the face of this force, she says, Plato wanted to ban poets from the Republic outright.

Still, as any student of his work can tell you, while Darwish acknowledged that acts of imagining can flout the reductiveness of the Palestinian identity, ('If I write love poems, I resist the conditions that don’t allow me to write love poems', he once said) he never conceived of them as the exclusive currency in some mythical 'negotiation' between his own exiled and occupied people and their swaggering, hyper-militarized occupier. For Darwish, poetry was a gesture not a debate, and the pen was neither mightier nor feebler than the sword. The pen was the pen, the poet the poet, and the soldier the soldier. If they were useful at all, words were metaphorical instruments, sometimes blunt and at others devastating, but neither weapons nor tools of a make-believe reconciliation.

I’m sure that to some these thoughts will seem dubious, sacrilegious even. After all, we’re talking about the secular humanist scribe of Palestine’s hopes, its suffering and its rage, author of its 1988 Declaration of Independence. Nonetheless, for me Darwish’s poetic consciousness is a compelling prototype of the fraught battleground between art and political struggle. As he told the journalist Adam Shatz in a New York Times interview, his exalted status did little to palliate the frustration of being ‘read before I write’.

‘My readers expect something from me, but I write as a poet,' he said. 'So when I write love poetry, they think it’s about Palestine. That’s nice, but it’s just one aspect of my work.'

Fragments of the broken and brutalized self

If Darwish’s poetry is a stand-in for anything, then, it’s the refusal to submit to the denial of Palestinian humanity in all its facets. It is both a bridge uniting fragments of the broken and brutalized self, and a mirror with which to see them. It is sumud.

Still, the “cultural bridges” affair reminds us that language has always been wielded with savage ruthlessness in the relentless moral and political siege that enables and emboldens Israel’s expansionist project. After all, 'a land without a people for a people without a land' are eleven words that together sought to disappear indigenous Palestinians long before the first gun was fired or the first village razed during the Nakba.

Indeed, those who defend Israeli ambitions expend much energy denying even the basic terms of reference that might constitute the beginnings of a dialogue. There was no Palestine, there is no occupation, there are no war crimes, and the twenty-five feet high concrete separation wall is merely a 'fence'. They insist instead on their own lexicon of 'terrorists', 'security' and 'God’s will'.

On the other hand, I heard an Israeli remark at a lecture recently that it doesn’t matter whether we call the current eruption of violence in Israel/Palestine an 'intifada' or a 'banana'. Its name, he said, neither elucidates the sentiments or situation that propel it nor determines its contours or outcome. For now, then, let us call it 'the sense of the abyss' and leave Darwish to rest in peace.

Between a virtual epidemic of chicken pox, topsy turvy house renovations, my other work, and sundry additional ‘first world problems’, I haven’t posted much here over the past few weeks. But events in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel and Gaza continue at a frenzied pace, as do generously-funded, high level efforts to smear Palestine activists and silence critics of Israel in the UK and elsewhere.

Indeed, US election season – with most candidates’ promiscuous hunt for cash from any patron who will write a cheque – has proved the perfect opportunity for redoubled hasbara efforts, settlement expansion, Palestinian house demolitions, and demands for even more Israeli military aid than the bloated sums eagerly offered at the expense of American roads, schools and bridges.

I sometimes wonder about my anxiety at neglecting the Palestine issue during these busy times when I find myself unable to write or even think much. Besides my own private neuroses (plural!) I think it has to do with the particular dynamics of this question: the erasure of a people, the eagerness of politicians to swap Palestinian rights for political favours and – most critically, perhaps – the vicious campaign to smear anyone who dares to defend them.

We live in a world where a US presidential candidate’s statement that Palestinians are human beings entitled to rights and dignity is deeply controversial, a ‘political suicide note’ as the saying goes. Think about that for a moment. I live in a country where the government deems the conviction that Israel ought to abide by international law a form of ‘non-violent extremism,’ and teachers are obliged to report to counter-terrorism authorities students expressing sympathy for Palestinians, a people who have lived under brutal military occupation for almost half a century.

Even amongst so-called ‘progressives’, the phenomenon of the PEP (Progressive Except Palestine) is well-known: the tireless, lifelong defenders of the environment, civil liberties, the rights of women, gays, people of colour, animals in war; in short, the oppressed and brutalised both animate and inanimate around the world. Except for the Palestinians.

Last week, I attended a lecture at Parliament about non-violent resistance in Palestine by the University of Coventry lecturer Marwan Darweish. An energetic fellow with an easy smile, Darweish shared the findings of a survey into what motivates Palestinian resistance. It turns out that it’s reasonably pragmatic: the determination to bring the world’s attention to their plight, to resist erasure, to exhibit the sumud or steadfastness that has nourished 50 years of resistance to occupation. But no one – Israeli and Palestinian alike – who participated in Darweish’s research believed that Palestinians alone can stop the expansion of Israeli settlements, end the Gaza siege, stop construction of the 26ft high apartheid wall, built mostly on Palestinian land. On the contrary, participants all agreed that international pressure is the only mechanism that will change the status quo.

When the BDS movement came up, there were encouraging nods around the room as parallels were drawn with South Africa, where apartheid ended largely because of efforts to isolate the country through boycotts. As I’ve written here before, I’m old enough to remember apartheid and its collapse, and I have no memory whatsoever of the force and power lined up to sustain and defend it, and to demonise its opponents, as those currently faced by Palestine supporters. Sure there were debates about whether boycotts ‘work’, but those who supported them were not smeared as Nazis, racists, ‘non-violent terrorists.’ And I am pretty confident that the likes of Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Tories’ Zac Goldsmith would never have pledged a cultural celebration of Johannesburg or Cape Town on the banks of the River Thames as part of their mayoral campaigns, as both candidates have done about Tel Aviv.

For these reasons and many more, I feel a moral compulsion to keep my eyes wide open, to insist on the humanity I share with these people in the face of their relentless dehumanisation, and dogged efforts to whitewash the modus operandi of calculated brutality and systematic humiliation that saturate their daily lives. As the Jewish-American novelist Michael Chabon said last week in an interview with Forward after an eye-opening trip to the West Bank, ‘to dehumanize others dehumanizes you.’

In fact, the whitewash on Israel-Palestine is plain to see and hear.

On April 19, I was listening to Radio 4 in the car when I heard a news item about the murder conviction of Yishai Schlissel. You might recall that Schlissel is the man who stabbed to death a young woman at a Tel Aviv gay pride parade last July. The short piece – less than a minute long, I’m sure – was the first I’d heard from Israel/Palestine on the BBC in some time, and what did it tell us? That while Israel has its religious fanatics, it also has a reassuringly robust legal system to address their occasional criminal excesses.

On March 24, an Israeli soldier and medic, Elor Azaria, shot 21 year-old Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif in the head from a distance of three metres. When Azaria pulled his trigger, the Palestinian man had been lying incapacitated on the ground for 10 minutes since he’d been shot after stabbing a soldier at a settlement checkpoint in Hebron.

The BBC had not reported the murder, which came to light thanks to footage by a local man in possession of a camera from the besieged Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Instead, it reported Azaria’s indictment for manslaughter on its website on the same day it broadcast news of Schlissel’s conviction on the radio, underscoring the notion of a free and fair legal system.

Its news item on the indictment described Hebron as a city ‘which is divided between a Palestinian-ruled area and smaller Israeli enclave.’ What that means is that Hebron is a city of 200,000 Palestinians, whose main commercial thoroughfare is closed to Palestinian residents and businesses. The ‘smaller Israeli enclave’ they mention is an illegal settlement of 400 Israelis protected by some 2000 soldiers, riding their very own buses. Think Rosa Parks. As the Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy said recently, ‘I’ve never met an honest human being who went to Hebron and didn’t come back shocked.’ This inconvenient truth is precisely why US legislators (or Brits, or Canadians) are unlikely to take up Chabon’s call to visit Hebron before taking a proper view on the settlements.

What the BBC and others haven’t said is equally telling. The Guardian website turns up no search results on ‘Elor Azaria’, nor various other spellings. The BBC have made no mention of the threats to the life of the Palestinian man who shot the footage, nor can I find any reports about the ‘Death to the Arabs’ rally held last week in Tel Aviv in support of Azaria (see below), where attendees carried placards reading ‘Kill them All’ and ‘Neutralised = Dead.’ There’s not been a word about the fact that Azaria – a soldier filmed shooting dead a critically wounded man – was released from prison late last week so he can spend Passover with his family. The mainstream UK media has also neglected to mention another family reunion which occurred just two days after Azaria’s: that of a 12 year-old Palestinian girl who had been held in an Israeli prison for two and a half months for allegedly planning (but not attempting) a knife attack, an accusation she and her family deny.

I have worked in a 24/7 news room and spent hours scanning the wires on gruelling overnight shifts. There are countless stories, enough stories each day to fill a cavernous room or an empty heart. We chose the ones we ran.

Here are just a few items that have come across my wire over recent weeks, finishing with an excerpt from the ‘pretty good news story’ about Chabon:

Pregnant mother of two and teenage brother executed at Israeli checkpoint

Witnesses to an alleged stab attempt on Israeli border police at a military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank Wednesday said two siblings shot dead during the incident posed no threat at the time the Israeli officer killed them…

The witness accounts collected following the incident contradict Israeli police reports that the officer opened fire after Maram threw a knife in their direction.

Local sources said Maram was the mother of a six and four-year-old, and five months pregnant. She had reportedly obtained a permit from the Israeli authorities to enter Jerusalem for the first time when she was crossing on Wednesday.

‘Elor the Hero!’: Inside Tel Aviv’s ‘Death to the Arabs’ Rally

From across the country, Israelis descended upon Rabin Square, Tel Aviv’s premier venue for large public protests, to express their indignation over the army’s charges of manslaughter against the soldier, 19-year-old Sergeant Elor Azarya…

At another rally which we filmed in the soldier’s home town of Ramle, rally-goers voiced harsh criticism for those who do not support Azarya’s action and for those who helped expose his deed – especially the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Palestinian astrophysicist and researcher arrested and jailed for second time in 15 months

The 53-year-old professor of space physics at al-Quds University in East Jerusalem was arrested at an Israeli military checkpoint, near the village of Nabi Saleh in the central occupied West Bank…

Barghouti is a leading researcher, publishing frequently in academic astrophysics journals, and has previously worked for NASA.

Palestinians battle Israel to bury their sons

To quell the unrest engulfing Jerusalem and much of the occupied West Bank last October, the Israeli security cabinet approved a series of repressive measures, including punitive home demolitions of families of suspected Palestinian assailants and the withholding of their bodies…

“When Israel withholds the body of a slain Palestinian, it kind of kills him twice,” Salwa Hammad, coordinator of the Palestinian National Campaign to Retrieve Martyrs’ Bodies, told Al Jazeera. “It is impossible to overestimate the psychological impact this [has] on the families, who are deprived of bidding their loved ones a final goodbye.”

Palestinian bus attacked by Israeli settlers near Qalqiliya

The driver of the bus Nasir Abu Taha told Ma’an a group of settlers standing on a hill threw rocks at the bus as it passed by, shattering the bus window, and causing panic among children who were riding the bus…

Israeli settlers living illegally in the occupied Palestinian territory frequently carry out attacks on Palestinians and their property, with the UN documenting over 200 such attacks last year.

Israel rabbi to paramedics: ‘Leave Palestinians to die’

In December the leaders of United Hatzalah, a settler ambulance service implicated in several cases in which Palestinians have been refused treatment, visited a leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Chaim Kanievsky, to receive instructions on what to do with Palestinians injured during attacks.

According to a report on the settlers’ website Israel National News, Kanievsky told them that if the injured Palestinian “was in a life-threatening condition, they should leave him or her to die”. Other rabbis have made similar calls.

Israel to Confiscate 1,250 Acres of Palestinian Land for Illegal Outposts

Israel’s High Court of Justice last year declared its intention to retroactively formalize the string of outposts, established in violation of both Israeli and international law, according to the UN.

Jalud officials told Ma’an that the notice delivered to the Nablus-area village was signed by Israeli army’s head of Central Command Roni Numa, who said he believed “certain steps are needed to prevent terror attacks” and he as a result gave orders to confiscate the land “for security reasons.”

Palestinian family demolishes part of own apartment in Jerusalem

A Palestinian family tore down part of its own apartment in the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina on Wednesday to avoid paying the Jerusalem municipality’s demolition costs.

Brother of Riham Dawabsheh, killed with husband and son by settler firebomb, arrested by Israeli occupation forces

Five military jeeps entered Duma at 1:30 am early Monday, 4 April, and occupation soldiers raided the family home, taking Wissam with them. No explanation was given for his arrest by the occupation forces.

Israeli forces level Palestinian playground in ongoing Silwan demolitions

The Bedouin village about to be destroyed to make way for Jewish community

‘If implemented, the Supreme Court decision will result in the mass destruction of the entire village of Umm al-Hiran and the forced displacement of 500 people. Having been expelled from their ancestral lands in 1948 and moved to their current location in 1956, this would be the third time the Abu al-Qi’an tribe has been displaced from its homeland.

The absurdity of the situation is reinforced by the seemingly boundless, uninhabited desert landscape surrounding the village.

“They could build not only one Hiran, but [dozens] of Hirans in the vast, empty space surrounding our village,” said Raed Abu al-Qi’an, a resident of Umm al-Hiran and one of the leaders of the popular struggle to save the village.

Q&A – Michael Chabon Talks Occupation, Injustice and Literature After Visit to West Bank

Q: You have a large Jewish readership. Are you concerned about alienating them?

A: I’m not so worried about that. All I’m really doing is going to try to see for myself. Once you see for yourself, it is pretty obvious, I think, to any human being with a heart and a mind, it is pretty clear what to feel about it. It is the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life. I have seen bad things in my own country in America. There is plenty of horrifying injustice in the U.S. prison system, the “second Jim Crow” it is often called. Our drug laws in the United States are grotesquely unjust. I know to some degree what I am talking about. This is the worst thing I have ever seen, just purely in terms of injustice. If saying that is going to lose me readers, I don’t want those readers. They can go away and never come back.

With highly aggressive and lavishly-funded opposition to Palestinian rights and Israeli accountability gaining pace here’s an uplifting piece that came across my Twitter feed today, from students at the University of Chicago. Besides the generally hostile environment of America during an election year, these students’ commitment to the Palestinian cause needs to be viewed through the lens of especially virulent attacks on Palestine supporters in Illinois, where the legislature passed a resolution a few months ago blacklisting those who boycott companies that profit from Israel’s illegal settlements on land stolen from Palestinians. Here’s a snippet:

UofC Divest Launches Campaign

‘Unfortunately, the University of Chicago has a long history of both failing to take socially responsible stances and actively perpetuating systems of oppression. Our university failed to divest from South Africa and Darfur even though many of our peer institutions did. The school also failed to divest from fossil fuels or to form a socially responsible investment committee, even though both initiatives were supported by an overwhelming majority (70-80%) of the student body. It has played a major role both locally and nationally in perpetuating segregation and gentrification…

Because of our powerful belief in justice and equity for all people, we are proud to bring our resolution calling for divestment from companies complicit in Israeli apartheid before College Council this spring quarter. We urge other members of the university community, including students, former students, faculty, and alumni, to support us as well by signing our petition and checking out other ways to get involved!’

Read the rest here: Press Release

Thanks to my Twitter friend Annie Levy who tipped me off to another forceful and thought-provoking piece by the American scholar and Palestine supporter David Lloyd. Annie writes a wonderful blog called Kitchen Counter Culture about food and the way we live, and while we’ve never met (she lives in Wales and I’m in London) our exchanges invariably leave me with the sense of being on the road with a fellow traveller.

A few weeks ago, I shared Lloyd’s essay ‘Racism in the Defense of a Racist State‘ in which he describes the ‘moral eviction of the Palestinians’ and advocates an academic boycott of Israeli institutions by the Modern Languages Association.

Here Lloyd tells us about ‘Walter Benjamin in Palestine: On the Place and Non-Place of Radical Thought’, a workshop and conference he attended last December in Ramallah.

Lloyd’s comments constitute the most morally and intellectually coherent case for academic boycott I’ve yet come across. They are also the most persuasive response to the the sneering imperialist dismissal of the London Mayor Boris Johnson, not to mention the cynicism masquerading as idealism of the ‘culture for coexistence coterie’, as Omar Robert Hamilton has called them. These are the writers, performers and politicians who came out last Autumn against boycotts of Israel and in favour of ‘dialogue’, whilst remaining predictably silent on the de facto boycott of Palestinian artists, athletes, academics and other professionals over whose every movement Israel wields absolute power.

Like last time, Lloyd’s piece is scholarly in tone and style without straying into abstraction or purism. Instead, his rigorous scholarship works in the service of a profound humanity that enables Lloyd to shine a sometimes unforgiving light on the tensions and contradictions between academic study, political struggle and the life of the mind.

‘Some mornings the smell of tear gas still hung in the air as people gathered for the workshops, the only trace of the night’s violent invasions of Palestinian space that the IDF conducted in its hunt for student or political leaders,’ he writes. ‘Under such conditions, what could it mean to devote hours to reading a few pages of Benjamin’s most esoteric writings?’

And make no mistake: those of us who care deeply about Israeli colonialism and Palestinian dispossession and dehumanisation need people like Lloyd now more than ever.

Despite claims last summer in the Financial Times and elsewhere that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is negligible, fighting it has swiftly become a key policy in many Western nations.

In the US last week, three members of Congress tabled the ‘Combating BDS Act of 2016’, while five state legislatures are currently considering legislation to blacklist companies and individuals who boycott Israeli products and businesses.

Here in the UK, despite the government’s own position that Israeli settlements are illegal, it is aggressively attempting to prohibit public bodies, including local councils, from divesting from Israeli settlement and weapons companies. The Independent reports that next week the Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock will seize the opportunity to curry favour with Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week called Palestinians ‘wild beasts’, by announcing on a trip to Israel proposals to criminalise opposition to Israel’s contraventions of international law and the Geneva Conventions.

As Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign put it, ‘As if it is not enough that the UK Government has failed to act when the Israeli government has bombed and killed thousands of Palestinian civilians and stolen their homes and land, the Government is now trying to impose its inaction on all other public bodies.’

Meanwhile, leaked documents show that school teachers have been advised to regard concern for the Palestinians as a ‘warning’ sign about radicalisation. In case you think fears about where these McCarthyite attacks on free speech will lead are paranoid, consider that a 15 year-old Luton school boy was questioned by anti-terror police for wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ badge just like the ones sold at rallies against the Israeli massacre of more than 550 children in Gaza in 2014, of which I possess at least half a dozen.

When my family and I were in Canada last Christmas, we all had lunch one day at my mother’s smart flat. An entrepreneur and well-known arts patron, she runs a market-leading small business in the stringed instrument sector. At Grammy’s, my four year-old son spotted a small flag which he began waving around and took with him when we left. In fact, it was a Palestinian flag which my mother – who is well past retirement age – had picked up at a protest against the 2014 Gaza siege. I recall a sea of such flags at the Hyde Park protest I attended, along with 50,000 other people. The Palestinian flag now flies at the United Nations.

We left the flag behind in our rented car (God forbid we take it into an airport), and I checked in for our flight wondering what the staff at Budget would make of it. What’s certain is that in David Cameron’s Britain, my son’s nursery would be required to report us if they’d spotted him with it.

In short, as the stakes get higher we are increasingly beholden to people like David Lloyd, who give force and meaning to the urgency of justice.

Here’s an excerpt from Lloyd’s essay:

The very common space that study under such conditions [of occupation and oppression] created, conditions extraordinary not least for the numbers that gathered consistently each morning to read two or three pages of difficult philosophical prose, was testimony to the belief that intellectual and cultural life matters, not in the way that “culture” enhances the vacuous conversation of the financiers and professionals, but with the urgency and excitement of survival itself. That is precisely what Israel has targeted, with steady consistency and unrelenting callousness, from the theft of Palestinian libraries and archives in 1948 to the ongoing invasions or bombings of university campuses and facilities that seem like a constant of its assaults on Palestinian life, whether in Gaza or Tulkarm. The attempt to destroy Palestinian intellectual life is as unstinting as the uprooting and burning of the ancient olive trees of the Holy Land, some 800,000 of which have been destroyed in the course of Israel’s occupation.

Read more here: Walter Benjamin in Palestine

As those of you who follow my blog regularly might recall, last November I attended a conference at London’s Kingston University called ‘Rethinking Trauma and Resilience in the Context of Political Violence’ about the psychosocial impact of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. (That conference informed one of the themes of Crushed, my essay on the language of occupation which was published in December on Guernica.)

The weekend-long event had been organised by a handful of groups including the Palestine Trauma Centre and the UK Palestine Mental Health Network (UKPMHN). Defense for Children International Palestine were represented by Riad Arar, Director of Child Protection and Social Mobilisation. I recall him vividly: a dapper man of middle age, Arar sat with his legs uncrossed throughout, his heels off the ground and the balls of his feet set behind him under the chair, leaning forward slightly. My impression was of a man ready to spring into action at a second’s notice.

In fact, the conference had been delayed early that day by the inevitable technical complication of trying to reach colleagues in Gaza who’d been denied visas to attend by the UK embassy in Jordan, and were presenting remotely by phone or Skype instead. Consequently, Arar had been forced to rattle off his mid-afternoon paper at speed, and I could see him struggling mightily to balance a natural expansiveness and compulsion to expound that made me think of my father, Lafi, with the need for brevity in a jam-packed and overrunning conference schedule.

A few days ago I received an email from the UKPMHN informing members that Riad’s 15 year-old son Amro was arrested in January in a night raid on their home in Hebron. Amro is currently being held at Israel’s Ofer Prison where he confessed to throwing stones. He told his father that he only made the confession after being physically abused and told that the rest of his family would also be arrested if he did not confess. The UKPMHN have appealed to members like me to send postcards to Amro. Nothing political, mind you. Just notes to let both Amro and his captors know that he will not be forgotten.

Here’s an excerpt from that email:

Riad described the scene when Amro was remanded in custody, in the military court at Ofer: “I saw him in the cage with other 4 children … (he seems too young and small a child) when he saw me in the beginning he smiled but when I tried to leave after 5 minutes, his tears so hard and hot”.

I probably needn’t draw your attention to the ironic connection between Riad’s work and Amro’s hellish predicament, but it’s a point worth underscoring. After all, it was Riad’s organisation, DCI – Palestine, that had gathered information about the appalling conditions at Givon Prison, a part of which was sectioned off last year to house the overflow of Palestinian children in detention. I’ve read that it was closed down at the end of last year, but I don’t know for certain. Last April, DCI – Palestine also produced ‘Operation Protective Edge: A war waged on Gaza’s children’, a 100-page report documenting the impact on Palestinian children of Israel’s 2014 blitz of Gaza.

My card to Amro is sitting next to me, right here on the desk, but it remains blank, for words of reassurance won’t come easily to me just now. You see, notwithstanding its frequency news of this kind invariably kicks the air from my lungs, all the more so in this instance when I sat just a few feet away from the boy’s energetic and committed father three months ago. But on the weight of the evidence, what confidence do I have in telling Amro that his nightmare will warrant more than a comforting grimace or a reference to ‘Hamas rockets’ outside the circle of Palestinian supporters I know who tirelessly enquire about the meaning of ‘never again’. “‘Never again’ for whom?” we ask, again and again. Still nothing.

This question troubles me now especially, as we find ourselves mired in the ugly swamp of electioneering. Here in London, the Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan confirmed that his diminutive stature houses a correspondingly puny character by making closer bonds with Israel part of his platform should he occupy City Hall. To my knowledge, no other nation has been singled out for a playdate with Khan. In the US, Hillary Clinton has conspicuously plugged her ears to the clamour of unease about Israel’s behaviour among the grassroots of her party, instead reaffirming her pledge to combat by any means necessary non-violent protest against Israel’s repeated contraventions of international law.

In case you missed it, this week the Israeli Prime Minister called Palestinians ‘wild beasts’ and his Labor counterpart Isaac Herzog announced his party’s new plan to ‘separate from as many Palestinians as possible, as quickly as possible’ by erecting a wall between the two people.

In the meantime, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has been doing the media rounds with the single talking point that Ban Ki-moon is wrong: Palestinians don’t actually mind living under military occupation and blockade. It’s ISIS that is driving their anger, says Hotovely, not hopelessness or a desire for freedom and human rights.

But these outrages are incidental by now, for I don’t believe Sadiq Khan and Hillary Clinton and their ilk give two hoots about Israel, whether it’s Hotovely’s risible claims or Herzog finally coming clean. Unwavering support for Israel’s military fundamentalist leadership is merely the currency of exchange in these politicians’ domestic political villages. For Khan, eagerly selling Palestinians up the river is a childishly malignant way of telling voters he isn’t a Corbynista. Clinton’s ardour means her patron Haim Saban will keep writing the cheques that pay for attack ads against Bernie Sanders. In these cynical exercises in political horse trading, the lives of Amro Arar and more than 400 other children in Israeli prisons are mere pocket change, barely enough to tip the doorman and still look him in the eye.

So what to say to Amro in a card that probably won’t reach him? After all, given Bibi’s boast at Davos that despair is a strategic weapon in Israel’s campaign against the Palestinian people, I doubt messages of hope will get past the jailhouse censors. Still, I will take a deep breath or two and write, if only to count myself among those who insist, ‘never again.’

If you would like details of how to reach Amro, let me know.