Despite Israel’s disengagement in 2005, Israel remains the de facto ruler in Gaza. Some ten years after the beginning of the blockade – which limits access to basic supplies and movement – the people of Gaza face an increased crisis with the decision last week by the Israeli government to limit electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip. Gazans currently have access to only 2 hours of electricity a day, a decision which – Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations, and even the Israeli Energy Minister, argue – is entrenching an already existing humanitarian crisis. Hospitals and sewerage systems, amongst countless other aspects of everyday life, are in dire need of regular, reliable electricity, and the devastation caused by the inaccessibility of power is incalculable.
That this decision by the Israeli Government came at the request of the Palestinian Authority does not justify or excuse it. There are numerous requests from the PA that the Israeli government and army ignore: it is instructive that this request was met. And regardless of the internal reasons for the request, Israel should not be issuing this violent, collective punishment upon the people and land of Gaza. As well as being illegal under international law, it is shameful and unjust. As the occupying power currently controlling most of Gaza’s borders and economy, Israel has a responsibility to its people to provide for their welfare.
These actions by the current Israeli government, and the implicit and explicit support they receive from Israelis and Jewish communities and organisations internationally, are deplorable. It is incumbent upon us all to take a public stand challenging Israel’s actions and calling upon them to reverse their decision.
The AJDS calls on the Israeli Government to respect Palestinian claims for justice and self-determination, and to ensure the provision of services and freedom of movement. We call on the Australian Government to put pressure on the Israeli Government to urgently reverse their decisions. We urge our members to contact representatives of both governments to demand immediate change. And we call on other Jewish organisations and individuals in Australia and internationally to stand alongside Gazans in calling for an end to the humanitarian crisis they face. To be silent is to stand with the oppressor and enable injustice. Our community needs to be better than this.
Contact details for government representatives:
H.E. Mr. Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, Israeli Embassy, Canberra: email@example.com
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop MP: Julie.Bishop.MP@aph.gov.au
The following is a heavily redacted version of a lecture delivered by Dr. Micaela Sahhar at Monash University in April 2017 as a guest lecturer in a course titled ‘the Arab-Israeli Conflict’ coordinated by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation. The lecture delved into key issues in our understanding of Israel/Palestine, the so-called conflict and the significance of historical narration and (mis)representation. The lecture was accompanied by a powerpoint presentation of which we bring you a few slides. With the author’s permission, below are sections from the lecture that focused on the occupation of 1967, and critical issues in the discussion of two states:
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“…An idea prevalent in Israeli national narrative is that there is a significant and ultimately devastating shift between the creation of the State in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967. In many conventional narratives, 1967 is the date to which Occupation is attributed, and serves as the axiomatic moment in which it is said that Israel ‘lost its way’.
… I will talk about 1967, but with my qualifications in mind, I will in particular demonstrate why, although I am beginning with 1967, the extent to which it is arbitrary, both as a date for Occupation and as a date which marks fundamental shifts in the ideologies which have produced the seemingly intractable scenario of the Israel-Palestinian conflict today. I would say that for Palestinians, while there are material changes created by the Six Day War, and while it is the date at which an idea of Occupation commences, in fact this is a date that forms part of a continuum of processes that crystalise in the creation of the Israeli State in 1948. Subsequently, the borders (unstable and undeclared as they are) acquired in 1967 have been cited by a succession of Israeli statesmen as central to an idea of Israel’s secureability and defensibility. Israel’s New Historian Ilan Pappe notes that there is an irony to this rhetoric, as the apparent securability of the post-67 borders is based on a boundary with the Jordan River. Yet, as Pappé point out, even a frail old man could leap over the Jordan River in places. More critically even than this however, is I think the mythology around which 1967 stands in Israeli society as the moment at which Israel starts to lose its moral authority in terms of relations with the Palestinian population. That in 1967 Occupation commences and that this slowly undermines the character of relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the new dynamic that it creates of Occupier and Occupied. To the contrary, and again this is an argument that has been made by Ilan Pappe, it is of great significance to note that in 1963, four years before the actual Occupation, the Israeli military was ready with a judicial and administrative structure for ruling the lives of one million Palestinians. This is highly significant in so far as it indicates that the relations of Occupation created in 1967 were not only anticipated but that they were planned for. Moreover, that the Occupation that commences in 1967 was seen as a companion strategy to ensure certain needs of the Israeli State as envisaged in the Zionist plan enacted in 1948. In this regard, Pappe views 1948 as an incomplete project, which is more or less completed, albeit in a different form, in 1967. Pappe has argued for this reason as I do now that 1967 is hardly a central date but that the so called completion of the State project in respect to the Palestinian population might have been executed at an earlier time and particularly in the four years in which an infrastructure for Occupation had been established between 1963 and 1967. But of course, the plan does not take the same form as the earlier ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestine or even quite the same form in terms of land expropriation and dispossession that occurs at this earlier date either. Pappe explains why this is the case…”
“…So from a Palestinian view, and perhaps what I would describe in Pappe as the post-Zionist view of 1967, this date is just one part of the Zionist colonisation project, crystalised in a material sense in 1948 but for which the foundations are laid much earlier. They are certainly laid, although perhaps they seem unlikely at the time, long before the rise of Adolph Hitler between the World Wars, or his genocidal attempt to enact the ‘Final Solution’ by way of the Holocaust, which undoubtedly affected an enormous number of Jewish people. But in this account, what the Holocaust explains in terms of the contemporary Israel-Palestinian conflict is hardly why the creation of Israel was necessary or inevitable; rather it explains why the Western conscious found the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, their expropriation and dispossession from their home land, to be an acceptable exchange for Eurocentric guilt around the horrors of the Holocaust.”
“…1967 remains a date of considerable psychological significance to Israel. Indeed the Six Day War is considered to be a great military success for Israel; yet as a result of this, it seems it has created a particularly problematic and psychologically deforming legacy for subsequent generations of Jewish-Israelis. As Ghassan Hage has argued, Israel’s success in 1967 tragically heralded the birth of the kind of hyper-militarism on display in Operation Cast Lead (which I will come to later in this lecture), since Israelis started to believe ‘that omnipotence was not just a fantasy but an actual possibility’. He continues that the promise of omnipotence has since become ‘the standard that various Israeli governments use to legitimise themselves to their population’, which has led many Israelis to believe ‘that this is the very function of Israel’, and produced ‘an inability to live with another that constitutes even a minimum danger to me’.”
“…A particularly iconic image of what Israel has described as the liberation, recapturing or reunification of Jerusalem, portrays three paratroopers at the Western Wall. The photograph is considered a ‘defining image of the conflict’ and one of the ‘best known photographs in Israel’s history’, while the photographer, David Rubinger, was later anointed by former Israeli President Shimon Peres, ‘the photographer of the nation in the making’. The central figure in the image has removed his helmet, revealing his blond hair (truly a model Sabra!) and looks upwards in a pose reminiscent of religious artworks of the last millennia – a visual embodiment of what Hage describes as Israeli’s moment of omnipotence realised in the Six Day War. As in the photography of Capa, there is no trace of the enemy; rather, they must be inferred in the representation of IDF success. This photographic representation of 1967 is echoed in international headlines of the event. The New York Times, for example, ran a story entitled ‘Israel Rules Out Return to Frontiers’, in which Israel’s Minister for Information, Yisrael Gailille [sic] states that ‘Israel could not live with arrangements that were supposed to have served as a preliminary to peace, but that have been stretched out for two decades’.
So this is the beginning of Occupation, although as I am suggesting to you, a continuation of the effects of 1948 and the geopolitical machinations that make this possible, of which you are no doubt aware, notwithstanding that I may have narrated such events with a different inflection; but it also sets up a series of narratives for Israelis about Israel, and entrenches the Western amnesia or disinterest in the condition of Palestinians from the time of the Nakba.”
“…Since Oslo, there has been a vacuum of any decolonization agenda. Rather, the project of an ‘economy for peace’ has been paramount, in which Palestinians ‘still reside under the Israeli colonial project, yet at the same time are meant to feel liberated under the reign of the postcolonial Palestinian Authority (PA) “state” project’ (Toukan 2014, 225). Yet for all of this, it seems important to recognise that an ‘economy for peace’ and the limited social imaginary it has defined, occurs under the conditions of 227 separated cantons which comprise the West Bank Areas A and B as determined by Oslo. While these two Areas were designated as a kind of Archipelago of the PA, Israelis continue to control borders, economy and natural resources in both these Areas (in addition to their control of the West Bank Area C) which, as the sheer number of sections so defined suggests, create often insurmountable disruption to Palestinians, not only through discontiguity but the way in which Occupation itself prevents Palestinians from using or connecting space (Toukan 2014, 215-216, Handel 2009, “What, 181). This creates what Handel describes as a decreasing affinity by Palestinians to ‘“distant” areas’, notwithstanding that these may not be more than a few kilometres away (Handel 2009, 184). Thus at a purely practical level, as long as any section of Palestinian territory is not only permeable but controlled as it currently is by Israel, ‘Israel should still be considered sovereign in Palestinian territories, if only because it is Israel itself that can declare the exception that would allow it to annul the legal status of this ‘border’’ (Weizman 2007, 218).
Ariel Handel contends that in fact Israeli Occupation has been ‘refined to the point of maintaining [a] situation of continuous disaster’ (Handel 2009, 194). This generation of uncertainty, which creates a particular affinity with one’s own city and decreasing affinity with places nearby, shrinks the traversable horizon of a Palestinian in the West Bank, such that the restriction of a West Bank identity card does not secure face value access to the West Bank as a whole, but rather has a highly restricted ‘use value’. Taking use value into account, one may find it impossible to move from different sections designated as Area A, due to the role of Occupation in obstructing passage: the distance of a journey itself might become infinite when obstruction renders it impossible (Handel 2009, 188). It is clear that spatial control as it pertains to Palestinian movement, (an inadvertent but highly effective byproduct of the infrastructure of settlements) (Handel 2009, 209) entrenches both geographical and psychological dissonances.”
“…I should also draw attention here to my use of terminology as ‘the 48 territories’. This is what Palestinians often refer to Israel as. Whatever problem you may have with that language, what it does draw attention to, I think, is in the first place Palestinian connection to the entirety of the geography of historic Palestine, but secondly, it underlines the fact that when we are talking about the Israel-Palestinian conflict we are not simply talking about Palestinians in the West Bank and Jewish-Israelis in Israel. To the contrary, Palestinians who remain in 48, a group which Israel often refer to as the Arab-Israelis, now constitute around 20% of the population of Israel proper. I am not addressing you today about possible solutions for the conflict, although in many ways my research is very interested in how narratives are told and how we could tell them better in order to acknowledge the position of every stake holder in the conflict. But even so, I hope in problematizing the narratives attached to so called key historic events, that you can also see that, for example, a solution based on the West Bank and Gaza Strip would exclude not only the 48-ers but also the diaspora, such as myself. For anyone who is Jewish in the audience but does not hold an Israeli passport, you might like to consider that it is simpler for you to take up residence in Jerusalem, the city my grandparents and father are from, than it is for me. That might seem ok to you too – privilege is a wonderful thing for those who have it and privilege is hard to recognise, much less give up. But if nothing else, what I am trying to underline here is that we all do ourselves a disservice when we imagine the conflict can be compartmentalized. Compartmentalised for example by removing West Bank settlements or saying to Palestinians here, in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip you can establish your homeland, or in separating Palestinian issues between the West Bank or Gaza from the issues faced by Palestinians in the 48 territories or in refugee camps in Lebanon or in middle-class suburbs of Michigan.”
“…In November 2012, the United Nations General Assembly put a bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood to the vote. The only material right which attached to that recognition as far as I can see, was that it would entitle the Palestinians to membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This would afford them legal recourse against Israel in future military operations such as Operation Cast Lead or Operation Pillar of Cloud, an operation that had been concluded in Gaza not eight days earlier. At the time, and even though the US and Israel were not going to support that bid, both states nevertheless tried to insist that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, agree to waive the right to become a signatory to the ICC. At the very least, this says a great deal about how current Palestinian leadership is an entity easily intimidated. At the very least it speaks to the great disparity in negotiating parties, which is increasingly acknowledged, although in practical terms a fact difficult to adequately redress.
Similarly, after Protective Edge, first Sweden and then the British Parliament indicated that they were prepared to throw their weight behind the principle of recognizing a Palestinian state – moves that were received as something momentous. But once we consider what recognition of a Palestinian state signifies symbolically, that is, a magnification of Palestinian struggle in the international imaginary, we should be careful to consider substantively and not just symbolically, what such recognition actually means. Beyond the victory of awareness, recognition of a Palestinian state seems to me an unfortunate continuation of the dead-end thinking that poses the inevitability of a two state solution. It is a recognition that acts as a white wash, circumventing the fundamental issues of Palestinian rights and grievances, which can never be accommodated within this framework of two states. To bring into focus the reasons why I think we should be wary of state recognition let me pose some additional questions. What difference does this recognition make? What does recognition of a Palestinian state actually avail the Palestinians of? And why now?
Discussing this with Palestinian friends in 2014 I was somewhat astonished to find that they were more buoyant about the news than I. Explaining why he welcomed the move, one friend suggested that in the case of Britain (a non-binding motion), it drew attention to Israeli racism, and could act as an important conceptual signal in isolating that. He also felt that in the case of Sweden, we would increasingly see an effect in how states relate to Israel’s clear breaches of international law within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Palestinians know, if nothing else, that ours is a long road to justice, and so perhaps these are shifts in which we should take heart.
But it was the comments of an Israeli friend who declared ‘it feels like a lot of rhetoric’, that I found I could relate to most. Over the last few years commentators and negotiators have increasingly declared that a two-state solution is dead. So in this respect, it seems like a peculiar moment to try and revive that model through recognition of Palestinian statehood. She expressed concern about the lack of cohesion to a Palestinian state – a Palestine without access to water resources; carved up by Israel’s separation wall – which recognition such as this simply can’t address. She also noted that recognition could have the effect of absolving Israel of its responsibility to the non-Jewish citizens of Israel (predominately Palestinians) whose citizenship is widely documented to be of a second-class kind. But most of all, she felt that recognition was complicit in a politics of deflection, one that replaces substantive issues with trivialities, the proverbial band aid to remedy a shark bite. Is this the best you can do? She asked. She argued this initiative seemed to be a disengagement from the Boycott Divestment and Sanction movement which has applied real pressure on Israel to date in a way that state recognition cannot. Finally, she made the connection, which is one I think we should all be making, between Operation Protective Edge and this initiative – as if recognition was a rhetorical reward to Palestinians still reeling in the aftermath of such horror – deeming it a truly inadequate response.”
“…While these all these developments have positively influenced conceptualisation of the conflict, they engage in kinds of thinking that have an intermediate value only. This is in part due to their function as strategies, rather than ends in themselves, but additionally because, if viewed as ends, they will circumscribe the kinds of change which are both necessary and possible, for example, by de-politicising Palestinian claims in the case of legal approaches, which reduces the Palestinian issue to a humanitarian problem. Without insistence on progress beyond these strategies, they will become complicit in perpetuating a technique of conservative governance by which the ongoing dynamic of the conflict is treated as ‘a state of permanent crisis’ and utilised to ensure that the stasis of the situation is perpetually reproduced (Hage 2015, 34-6).
But ultimately I think we need to ask what could we replace a system of repression – concrete and psychological, legal and narrative – with, to enable us to think about productive future relations between Israelis and Palestinians, less invested in denial and more invested in a whole network of acknowledgements. Change will be inevitably slow because it requires the conversation to be entirely re-routed. To strip back assumptions and make space for listening to perspectives that have not been visible and more than that have been actively undermined, discredited and ignored. [Rashid] Khalidi, in thinking about the pathway to change says: ‘it took generations to establish the myths Israel was built on, and it will take years to deconstruct them, as well as for the generations who believe in them to lose their influence’. To conclude I want to mention the work of Israeli political scientist Marcelo Svirsky who argues that ‘Israel’s nationalist and militarist projects should not be taken at face value but as productions concomitant with the evolution of specific Israeli subjectivities and modes of being’. Much as Edward Said urged us to peel back the facts of colonialism to imagine new futures, Svirsky argues that nothing short of cultural transformation is required. I think in conclusion this is the point worth asserting. That nothing less than the struggle to transform our subjectivities, both as an internal struggle and an ‘external struggle to defy social institutions’, will do.”
Hage, G., & Gaita, R. (2010). “On Narcissistic Victimhood” in Gaza: Morality Law and Politics, Perth: UWA,101.
Hage, Ghassan (2015) Alter-Politics: Critical Anthropology and the Radical Imagination, Melbourne: MUP.
Handel, Ariel (2009) “Where, Where to and Where in the Occupied Territories: An Introduction to Geography of Disaster” in A. Ophir, M. Givoni and S. Hanafi (eds) The Power of Inclusive Exclusion, Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, New York: Zone Books, 179-222.
Khalidi, R. (2011) Palestinian Dispossession and the US Public Sphere. The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict, London: Nation Books, 376.
Pappe, I. (2013). “Revisiting 1967: the false paradigm of peace, partition and parity”, Settler Colonial Studies, 3(3-4), 341-351.
Svirsky, M. (2014). After Israel: Towards Cultural Transformation. London: Zed Books Ltd..
Toukan, Hanan. (2014) “On Delusion, Art, and Urban Desires in Palestine Today: An Interview with Yazid Anani.” Arab Studies Journal 22(1) (2014): 208-229.
Weizman, Eyal (2007) Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, New York: Verso.
The following excerpts have been reproduced with permission from the author. They appeared in Gaza Mom (2012), a book based on the blog written by El-Hadddad since 2004.
(Excerpts taken from pages 213, 219-20, 254-5)
The Story of the Year
Gaza City, Palestine, December 18 2006
The Middle East has made its fair share of headlines this year – from the stunning victory of Hamas in January’s Palestinian elections to the sudden death of Ariel “the butcher” Sharon to Israel’s blitzkrieg of Lebanon.
But perhaps the most harrowing – and sidelined – story of the year has been the story of Gaza and its gradual abandonment.
During the past nine months, Israel, backed by the United States and Europe, has methodically laid waste to a society of 1.5 million people, hermetically seeling in its residents, impoverishing it to unprecedented levels on par with Africa, besieging its land and people like never before – punishing them where no crime existed.
Is it the first time in history, according to John Dugard at the United Nations, that an occupied people have been subject to international sanctions, especially sanctions of this magnitude and rigor.
Before our very eyes, local powers have clouded together to create a strip of land more isolated than North Korea itself, sentencing Gaza’s residents to a living death in the world’s largest internment camp, largely to the acquiescence of lobal powers.
The result has been Gaza’s gradual decline into anarchy and the unravelling of its entire social, political, and economic fabric.
The moral of the story is: Beware of whom you vote for.
And it will serve as potent reminder from here on in of the consequences of elect in the wrong party.
And that, to me, is the story of the year.
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The Honey’s Just Better over There
Gaza City, Palestine, May 6, 2007
We went to my father’s farm on Friday. Spring is here. The flowers are in full bloom. Gaza ha a little more colour to it, and, for just a few weeks, the gritty, grey horizon of unfinished cinderblocks is disrupted. Purple Jacaranda flowers burst into full blossom on the city streets, and the Jundi Park’s hibiscus bushes are enflamed in vibrant reds.
It’s also the best time to get some local honey – the good stuff, not the ones where the bees’ diet is supplemented with sugar. As things go here, honey is expensive – at least 50 to 70 shekels per kilo ($12 to $17 per pound), depending on quality.
So my mother’s friend and I strike up a conversation about honey. She tells me about her friend who lost everything and is now in debt after her bees gathered pollen from their neighbour’s farm, newly treated with pesticides for the spring.
They dropped like, well, bees, and half her hive was gone, just like that. “The poor thing was crying on the phone. It was a project she’d started with a microloan from the Ministry of Agriculture.
“But anyway, the honey is better near the border,” she adds.
“Near the border?” I inquire.
“Yes, you know the Imsaddar household. Their farms are near the border with Israel in eastern Gaza… Their bees fly across the border and gather pollen from the eucalyptus trees and orange groves in their farms. So the honey is just better.”
How is it that honey from bees gathering pollen from trees across the border is better? Is it because the flowers are freer? Less empty, or trapped, or sad? Less occupied, perhaps?
“I think they just have more trees and flowers there. After all, most of our groves were razed during the Intifada,” another friend explained.
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There is No “Safe”
Durham, North Carolina, December 31, 2008
My father just called. I have learned to expect that the 9pm call is not a jovial one: It is usually to alert me of some awful thing transpiring around them. It helps, in whatever way, to broadcast this event that has yet to be broadcast to the world, to whomever you can. In this case, that person is me.
I see the number on my caller identification; my heart races. I answer my cell phone.
“We… are under… heavy bombardment. Heavy bombardment,” says my father in terrified, articulated syllables.
“They are bombing the Legislative Council building next to our house. They are bombing just down our street.”
“Baba… are you safe, are you both safe?” I ask, not knowing what else to say.
“I have to go now… I have to go… I just wanted to tell you that… but I have to go,” he stammers. And the line goes dead.
We have figured out a system. When the electricity is back o in Gaza – which has happened for house hour during the past 48 – my parents get on Skype immediately. If I am not around, they give me a quick call from their landline to let me know they are back online; they have two to three hours of back-up generator time after this. They stocked up on fuel during the past few weeks.
Then, it is dark again.
When the bombs are dropped around them, they send me a quick note to inform me of what happened before running to safety. I am still not sure where “safety” is; neither, I think, do they. I tis perhaps more a mental state and place than a physical one. In any other situation, people flee to what they perceive as safer locations. In Gaza, there is no “safe”. And there is nowhere to flee to, with the borders closed and the sky and sea under siege.
This afternoon, I received these instant messages from them on Skype:[1:56:04 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: F-16 and Apaches are in the sky of Gaza now. [1:56:16 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: Five new explosions. [1:57:58 PM] moussa.elhaddad says: One near Al-Nasr hospital, two behind our house. Money exchangers (Al-Bar’asy and Hirzallah); two other explosions a little bit far away.
Yesterday, my uncle’s neighbour’s home was levelled. Luckily, no one was hurt. But all 50 occupants were made homeless. They were out on the streets with nothing but the clothes on their backs Each had to find shelter with a different relative.
This morning, my father and I appeared together on NPR-WUBR’s Here and Now. There was a surreal quality to it. And for a few moments, we were in that “safe” place together, on some distat, sterile airwaves. It is windy and cold today in Durham. I shier when the shutters shake. And I think of Gaza. I think of home.
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To read about Laila El-Haddad’s visit to Melbourne in April 2017, go here.
Last week Palestinian writer, cook and activist Laila El-Haddad appeared in Melbourne, hosted on her Australian tour by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS). El-Haddad delivered a talk at the Wheeler Centre, a cooking demonstration at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (MFWF), and a talk about Culinary Resistance at the Moroccan Deli-cacy. Her cooking demonstration for the MFWF, held at the Raw Ingredient in Footscray, melded insightful and nuanced reflections on the place of food in Gaza with ancient traditions and techniques that bring out the best in the region’s produce.
All footage was filmed as part of the 2017 @eatdrinkwestside program. #eatdrinkwestside #mwfw.
Laila gave a final talk at the Side Door Social Justice Hub, at 567 Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick, on Saturday, 15 April 2017. Her books The Gaza Kitchen and Gaza Unsilenced (co-edited), was available for sale. Watch the talk along with Q&A.
AJDS Community Organiser, Yael Winikoff, was recently interviewed by Veronica Matheson on J-Air about Laila El-Haddad’s imminent Australian tour and why the AJDS decided to bring her out here.
The AJDS is committed to broadening and invigorating the dialog between Jews and Palestinians, said Yael, educating people about the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, and examining one thing we can all relate to, which is how our food culture represents us. Gaza has a unique history, given its geographical position, on the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East, astride the Mediterranean sea. It is one of the most overpopulated regions on earth, and its inhabitants have been living under conditions of war and military siege for years. Yet chef and writer Laila El-Haddad has been active curating and sharing with the world the food traditions and practices that have successfully sustained people there despite these harsh conditions. We are very excited to learn more from her about life, food, motherhood, and politics in Gaza.
Over April 2017 El-Haddad will be giving cooking demonstrations, talks, as well as speaking to local media, about her lifelong passion for Palestinian food and her intimate knowledge of Gazan cuisine. She’ll be visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, so check out this page for more details on events near you. Tickets to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event in Footscray on April 6th are almost sold out – be quick!
Click here to listen to the interview on J-Air.
Since we are proudly hosting acclaimed Gazan chef, Laila el-Haddad, for her Australian tour in April 2017, it is timely to consider Palestinian food traditions and their plight since the Nakba. This is of course the catastrophe of 1948, brought on primarily by Zionist colonisation of Palestine. With continuing military occupation, ensuing separation and atomisation of communities, and the difficulties experienced by Palestinians in every aspect of their lives, whether in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Gaza, or within Israel, cooking and eating Palestinian foods have remained essential to maintaining the collective and individual identities of Palestinians worldwide.
Yet around the world the origin of such cuisine is often blurred: Palestinian food is just called Middle Eastern, or is even labelled ‘Israeli’ on popular cooking shows and magazines, reflecting the cultural appropriation that has come with colonialism – such was the case of maftoul (‘Israeli couscous’). Hummus and falafel too are touted by many as iconic Israeli foods, and are used to promote tourism to Israel. As Middle Eastern food continues to rise in popularity around the world, the ways we talk about this food can misinform newcomers to the cuisine as to the Palestinian origins of many Middle Eastern dishes. And while Israeli chefs serve and promote the region’s cuisine in the world’s capitals, Palestinian history and current reality continue to be misrepresented.
Whether called Palestinian, Arab, Middle Eastern or Israeli food, this varied cuisine is undoubtedly rising in popularity not only around the world, but also in Jewish Israel. And yet, “most Israelis continue to see Palestinian cuisine as simple street food”, says Osama Dalal, a chef from Acre (quoted in In Israel, a New Passion for Palestinian Cuisine). When he opened his modern Palestinian restaurant in his home town, he found that most patrons were Jewish Israelis hailing from Tel Aviv. It is difficult for Palestinian chefs to find commercial success while asserting their politics and speaking out about the conditions that underlie life for Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and so, many, like Dalal, choose to avoid mixing food and politics.
This is not so for Palestinian chefs such as Laila el-Haddad, Joudie Kalla and Dima al Sharif, as well as countless others, who have chosen to unequivocally combine food and politics, reaffirming the origins of Palestinian cuisine and using their commercial popularity to raise awareness as to the history and ongoing human rights abuses that take place every day under Israeli occupation. They are supported by other international food celebrities, such as Anthony Bourdain, whose visit to Palestine in Parts Unknown revealed what a fearless visit to Palestine can yield (read Maysoon Zayid’s account of Watching Anthony Bourdain in Palestine).
Laila el-Haddad’s The Gaza Kitchen (2013), co-authored with Maggie Schmitt, is a masterpiece of Palestinian food writing, combining stories of life in the besieged Gaza strip with traditional knowledge of cultivating and preparing the basics and the more elaborate of this regional, age old cuisine. It was not until reading this book that many readers, including myself, became aware of the significant regional variance, demonstrating the complex and often misunderstood history of Palestinian life. The differences result from lifestyle: some communities were nomadic, others urbane and sophisticated. Those who migrated into urban centres such as Jaffa, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, brought with them global culinary influences and in turn affected local traditions. Such is the wonderful and unmitigated symbiosis of food culture. But there is no attempt in The Gaza Kitchen to avoid the unbearable cost of living under military siege. El-Haddad and Schmitt quote Um Ibraim, an 86 year old woman who is one of few who still remember life before 1948:
“I am telling you about how we would cook and eat in the past, but here everything is unwholesome. It is bad food. In the past, we ate very heartily and were very healthy.” Her eyes gleam as she describes the wild greens and handsome squashes of Beit Tima, her home village, where her father had been mayor before they were driven out in 1948. (from Gaza’s Food Heritage).
Palestinian food is all about sharing, says Kalla, author of Palestine on a Plate (2016), describing the style of preparation, service and presentation of foods in Palestinian communities around the world:
It means a lot to me to write this book, as I am Palestinian, and if I can help give a voice to a beautiful country and its food and people, then that is what I would like to do. The fact that it has Palestine on the front cover is so important for me and many people, because we are embracing where we come from and what our land has to offer. It is an ode to our history. (From An ode to the cuisine of Palestine, Al Jazeera)
Further educating the world about Palestinian foodways are non professional cooks such as the entrepreneurs of Noor Women’s Empowerment Group, which runs regular cooking classes in the Aida refugee camp. There you can learn about more than the cuisine’s main staples: olives and olive oil, yogurt and clarified butter, legumes, grains, lamb and vegetables, particularly eggplant, tomatoes, cauliflower and zucchini. Now let us read more about, cook, and eat the inspiring dishes prepared with these regional ingredients.
Why sahlab (and hummus) still aren’t Israeli by Ali Abunimah
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On October 5th 2016 13 pro-Palestine activists on board the ship Zaytouna-Oliva of the Women’s Boat to Gaza were stopped by the Israeli army in international waters and then detained and deported. We send our support and solidarity to the women who sailed on the ship for their courage and commitment to bring attention to the dire situation in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli led blockade since 2007.
While the women on board the ship have now been released, the blockade of Gaza remains, leaving 1.9 million Palestinians effectively imprisoned. Due to Israeli military measures, about one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible (Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur). Last year, a United Nations report predicted that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020. More than 70% of the population relies on humanitarian aid, 47% of the population suffer from food insecurity, and 95% of the tap water is unsafe for drinking. The legality of the blockade has been disputed, with independent UN panels asserting it to be unlawful under international law as it constitutes collective punishment.
The captain of the Women’s Boat to Gaza was a woman from Hobart, Madeleine Habib. Speaking on her involvement in the ship to Gaza, Ms Habib said: “Once you’ve been there and you understand the suffering and humiliation and the slow wasting away of a culture and of the people, it’s only then that you realise it’s something we need to stand together to stop.”
We call on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn Israel’s policies of occupation and to support steps to lifting the blockade on Gaza in recognising the principles of Palestinian self-determination. We also call for measures to be taken to ensure that all parties adhere to ceasefire conditions and that the easing of the blockade on Gaza is met with the cessation of rockets fired into Israel. There can be no peaceful solution while Israel and Egypt maintain their blockades leading to the siege of Gaza which is producing unlivable conditions for Palestinians in Gaza.
This statement was issued by the AJDS Executive Committee October 17, 2016
By the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
Originally published at acri.org.il/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/49years2016-en.pdf
At first glance, it may seem that the condition of the Palestinians who live in the territories occupied by Israel in June 1967 has changed little, despite the passing decades. Yesterday’s headlines are the same as today’s: confrontations, arrests, military rule, terror attacks, house demolitions, land confiscation. It’s easy to gain the impression that there is nothing new under the scorching sun of the Middle East.
However, closer scrutiny reveals new paths and markings on the familiar map. New headlines have been added throughout the years: Settlements and outposts. The Palestinian Authority. The Disengagement from Gaza. Prohibited roads. Walls and fences. Checkpoints and permits.
Israeli control of the Territories changes over time, assuming and abandoning new forms. After almost three decades of exclusive Israeli rule, the Palestinian Authority was established. A decade later, Hamas consolidated its control of the Gaza Strip. Yet for all these changes, Israeli rule over the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean remains the most influential force shaping the everyday lives of all those who live in this area. Israel’s power imposes a heavy responsibility.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) is publishing this document at the beginning of the 50th year of occupation. The paper outlines the changes that have transformed the Territories into a divided and dissected area. The different degrees and forms of Israeli control that apply in this area create systemic violation of the basic human rights of millions of people. Control without human rights – for 49 years.
The Fragmentation of the Territories
We tend to think of the “Territories” as a distinct area or entity. However, over the five decades since 1967, a dramatic process of division has occurred in the area, causing grave damage to Palestinian residents on the individual, community, and national levels:
East Jerusalem was annexed officially by Israel in June 1967, in violation of international law and without granting full rights to the residents of the city. The Israeli policy that developed isolated and devastated East Jerusalem, which had previously functioned as an economic, political, social, and religious power base.
In addition to the annexation, which created a legal separation between East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the two areas were physically divided a decade ago with the construction of the Separation Barrier. The route of the concrete wall divides communities and disrupts the natural connection between the Palestinian population in and around Jerusalem.
The gradual expansion of the settlements, together with the roads leading to settlements and outposts, have over the years created new and large areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in which Palestinian movement or residence is limited, restricted or prohibited, while Israeli citizens enjoy access to the same areas. This too is carried out in violation of international law.
Closed areas in the West Bank and Jerusalem from which Palestinians are excluded have also been created by declaring areas firing zones for training exercises, closed military zones, archaeological sites, and national parks. These measures force Palestinian communities to live under a regime of prohibitions that prevents normal life and leads to the forced or coercive eviction of families and communities.
The Oslo Agreements led to a significant change with the division of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C, and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The division was made along artificial geographical lines that separate areas that are actually closely connected, such as between the major cities and their satellite villages. Its negative ramifications are strongly evident in the city of Hebron, where part of the city is under Palestinian control and the other part under Israeli control. Residents of the Jordan Valley also suffer from the serious consequences of Israel’s policy of separating the area from the remainder of the West Bank. The most extreme form of separation exists in the Gaza Strip. (The unique situation that was created in Gaza is briefly addressed at the end of this document.)
The establishment of the Palestinian Authority changed the scope and nature of the powers exercised by the Israeli authorities, and particularly by the military. However, the Palestinian Authority’s power is limited, and even in the areas where it operates, a great degree of control continues to rest with the Israeli military commander.
The construction of the Separation Barrier inside the Territories, which began in the early 2000s, led to additional dissection of the area. The barrier created isolated Palestinian enclaves and facilitated the expansion of the settlements in the name of security. While Israelis are allowed to cross through it freely, the checkpoints and gates established along the barrier/fence restrict or prohibit passage for Palestinians, despite the fact that they are travelling within the Territories (rather than entering into Israel). A “seam zone” has been created to the west of the barrier and to the east of the Green Line in which Israelis and foreign citizens can move freely, whereas access by Palestinians for the purpose of residency or farming is restricted and complicated. Even Palestinians who have lived in this area all their lives are forced to cope with a complex bureaucracy of permits and to face humiliation and violence.
The regimenting of movement of Palestinians across the seam lines between these different areas is a key preoccupation of the military, the Israel Security Agency, the police, the Interior Ministry, and additional authorities. Technological advances have created “sophisticated” tools for policing that are implemented inside the West Bank, at the entrances to settlements, between the barrier and the Green Line, along the dividing line between East and West Jerusalem, between Jerusalem and the West Bank, and between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and Israel. Over the years, the sanctions and periods of imprisonment imposed on those found without the appropriate permits have grown stricter, as have the penalties imposed on those who transport, house or provide them with accommodation.
This regimentation is intensified during periods of escalation. In some cases, new steps introduced during such periods remain in force even after the situation has calmed. An example of this is the temporary order amending the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. Adopted at the height of the second intifada with the goal of reducing the scope of family unification across the Green Line, this order has since been renewed on an annual basis. The result is that thousands of Palestinians living in Israel and in East Jerusalem have been transformed into illegal aliens or have become dependent on permits from Israel in order to move and to reside in their homes.
The fragmentation of the Territories and the accompanying regimentation have serious ramifications for the freedom of movement of Palestinians and for a long series of rights that depend on the ability to move, including the right to family life, health, and education. The Palestinian economy and trade are dependent on daily decisions by military commanders who determine when and how goods and people are permitted to pass, whether restrictions will be imposed on the development of entire industrial sectors, and so forth. The various prohibitions imposed by the military have expanded the circle of poverty and deprivation in the Territories.
Full Israeli military rule in Area C, which accounts for some 60 percent of the West Bank, together with the imposition of Israeli law in East Jerusalem, have created distinct areas in which Palestinians and Israelis live under direct Israeli rule. Over the years, diverse policy tools have been developed in order to intensify Israeli control of these areas, thereby facilitating the pushing out of Palestinians from areas in which Israel is interested and into areas that Israel does not wish to rule or annex.
The pushing out of Palestinians from various parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem has been achieved mainly by means of a policy based on a stubborn refusal to promote planning and development; to connect Palestinian communities and neighbourhoods to the water grid; to permit access to farmland, develop industrial zones, and so forth. The restrictions are accompanied by harassment: demolition of homes built without a permit, confiscation of equipment, sealing of wells, blocking of roads, and heightened military and police presence.
The military regime in the West Bank has developed a legal construction of one rule, two legal systems – one system for Palestinians and the other for settlers – which enable the actions outlined above. In East Jerusalem, Israeli law imposed on the area permits similar measures that limit and harm Palestinians. At the same time, these same authorities apply planning laws in Area C and in East Jerusalem that facilitate the development and flourishing of settlements, neighbourhoods, and agricultural areas for the benefit of the Israeli population.
Over the past decade, efforts to reinforce Israeli control of Area C and the affinity between the area and Israel have intensified. The steps taken to this end are often referred to as creeping annexation, de facto annexation, or “legal annexation.” A committee established on the government’s initiative and headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy, determined that the West Bank is not an occupied area, and accordingly the settlements are legal. The committee recommended policies for approving and regulating construction in the Israeli settlements and outposts. In addition, the Knesset and government have discussed several proposals to impose Israeli law directly on settlers, and the justice minister recently announced the formation of a joint team of the Justice Ministry and the Defence Ministry to discuss this issue. Members of Knesset have tabled bills applying specific laws that do not currently apply fully beyond the Green Line, including the planning and building laws, the youth labour law, and the Women’s Employment Law.
These steps toward annexation are sometimes facilitated by Israeli bodies established in the West Bank to mirror Israeli institutions. Although they are theoretically under the authority of the military commander, these institutions effectively function independently. For example, the declaration of Ariel College as a university was made contrary to the opinion in of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, by means of the “Council for Higher Education – Judea and Samaria,” a body that is formally subject to the authority of the military commander. In most cases, such steps are justified in terms of a desire to improve the settlers’ lives and ensure their rights, supposedly without any connection to the Palestinian population and with no implications over their lives. In reality, there is an unbreakable connection between the two. The realization of Israel’s interests in areas earmarked for annexation inevitably causes grave damage to the human rights of Palestinians. The establishment of a new settlement or the expansion of an existing one may lead to the confiscation of land through an official proceeding or to the effective denial of access by Palestinians to farmland and local natural resources; the closure of the main entrance to a Palestinian village, forcing residents to use side roads; intensified military presence, frequent clashes with the army and an increase in military raids and detentions; acts of violence by settlers against Palestinians and their property; and so forth.
In some instances, steps taken to strengthen Israeli law beyond the Green Line have led to an improvement in Palestinians’ rights. A key example of this is the ruling granted by an extended bench of the High Court of Justice establishing that Israeli labour laws that apply to the settlements also apply to Palestinian workers employed on the settlements, who are entitled to claim their rights from Israeli employers. The number of examples of this kind is limited, since changes to Israeli policy do not seek to narrow the gap between the two legal systems.
Occupation and Annexation – Without Human Rights
On the formal level, Israel operates in the West Bank in accordance with international humanitarian law applying to an area occupied in wartime. These rules are defined as “temporary belligerent occupation,” and seek to ensure that the residents of the occupied area can continue their routine lives while under temporary military occupation, and to grant them the protection of basic human rights given the absence of such protection under state law.
The Israeli authorities responsible for implementing these rules have failed to do so. They do not observe many of the basic obligations established in the laws of occupation, and violate the prohibition in the law against the transfer of residents of the occupying power to the occupied area. Israel uses the force granted to it in accordance with the laws of occupation in order to extend its ostensibly temporary control, and to create hardships for Palestinian living in areas it wishes to annex – now or in the future.
Israel also exploits the natural resources of the occupied areas to the benefit of the Israeli population on both sides of the Green Line. Once again, this is prohibited in accordance with international humanitarian law. It does so while restricting the Palestinians’ use of the same resources. For example, Israeli companies operate quarries in the Territories and gain profits therefrom, whereas the military closes quarries operated by Palestinians. Palestinian access to water sources, such as cisterns, wells, and the mountain aquifer, is limited, whereas Israel exploits these sources both for the settlements and for communities inside Israel.
In summary, Israel exploits the legal framework of the rules of occupation in the West Bank in order to exercise control over the population and the area. It does so without accepting the responsibility inherent in these laws and while systematically violating human rights.
Similarly, in East Jerusalem the framework of Israeli law is used to exercise control over the population and the area, without accepting the responsibility inherent in law, and while systematically violating human rights.
In theory, the application of Israeli law in East Jerusalem and the granting of Israeli identity cards to Palestinian residents might have ensured that they enjoy rights and liberties guaranteed by the laws of the State of Israel that are not included in the laws of occupation. However, the policy that has developed toward East Jerusalem is similar, though not identical, to the treatment of the Palestinians who live under military occupation in the West Bank. The Palestinians neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem are neglected in every aspect of life and suffer from poor infrastructures, a failing education system, and a lack of development. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are forced to confront an often-hostile bureaucracy and severe police violence.
The Jerusalem neighbourhoods that have been left on the other side of the Separation Barrier, on the seam line between Jerusalem and the West Bank, provide the most extreme example of the failure of annexation. Although these areas are ostensibly subject to full Israeli sovereignty, the Israeli authorities have abandoned any responsibility for their residents and created a new no man’s land in which there is no municipality, police, or any other authority.
The Territories are currently subject to a hybrid condition of “occunexation” – a combination of occupation and annexation. Despite the differences between the various types of control in different areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli control – in all its forms and variants – is not accompanied by the responsibility incumbent on those who hold power. For 49 years, this control has prevented the Palestinian residents, as individuals and as a collective, from realizing their basic rights.
The Gaza Strip
The scope and depth of Israel’s control of the Gaza Strip have changed over the years. Since the Disengagement in 2005, Israel no longer maintains physical control inside the Gaza Strip. However, it continues to exercise control in various areas, particularly through the control of the passage of people and goods; airspace and maritime space; the Population Registry; and the customs system.
Israel’s control of the borders of the Gaza Strip causes extreme harm to the basic human rights and liberties of over one million residents of the area, and has a significant impact on the economic situation and the poverty levels suffered in Gaza.
While the legal status of the Gaza Strip is the subject of impassioned debate, no-one disagrees that Israel’s control has a broad-based impact on the area. This control creates responsibility – a responsibility that Israel is currently shirking by imposing a policy based on the extreme isolation of the Gaza Strip.
‘Tales of a City by the Sea’ is a play about Gaza, which tells of a love story set amid war and siege, remains on the VCE curriculum despite accusations it spreads anti-semitism. “It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art” wrote Samah Sabawi in the Age, adding, “This is wrong on so many levels.”
“What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.”
Read the rest of “Vision of everyday life in Palestine too bleak for some” by Sabawi.
Read an earlier post about the vicious accusations and call for withdrawal of the play from the VCE curriculum.
The Anti-Defamation Commission’s chair will be speaking at Limmud Oz this month, about the subject of bigotry.