Which Norman Finkelstein turned up to Aljazeera Head to Head with Mehdi Hasan?

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I attended the recording of Aljazeera’s Head to Head with Professor Norman Finkelstein at the Oxford Union on the 30th of May.  Finkelstein is a well known supporter of an end to the occupation of Palestine.  He has been writing and speaking about this iussue for 30 years and believes that his anti-occupation stance has damaged his academic career.  This culminated in his resignation from DePaul Univeristy after his application for academic tenure was denied.  There are suspiscions this was due to external pressure.

I heard Finkelstein speak at the Univeristy of Birmingham, UK a few years ago and I remember being impressed by his understanding of the reality of the occupation and the ned for this to end.  He presented maps to explain this for the first time. At the time, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was developing but it was not disucssed.

I was rather surprised in 2012 when in an interview with Frank Barat in which Finkelstein slammed the BDS movement and called it a ‘cult’.  He also referred to the solidarity movement as a ghetto.  He claimed the solidarity movement and in particular propnents of BDS want the destruction of Israel.

He argued that the conclusion of the call for an end to the occupation, the right of return of the refugees and equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel with others, would be the end of Israel.

Suddenly, solidarity activists began to wonder about Finkelstein and about what he now stood for. A ‘darling’ of the solidarity movement had maybe lost his way or perhaps the pressure put on him by those that disagreed with his stance had started to tell. Indeed, some began to wonder whether he had moved from being pro Palestinian to pro Zionist. Indeed that accusation was posted on social media in the eve of the Aljazeera programme after he spoke at a meeting in Oxford.

I had not heard Finkelstein speak since the peace talks came and went and I was intrigued to hear how he now viewed the future of the conflict.

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Finkelstein would not be drawn in what his solution to the conflict is but rather referred to what is possible in the sphere of public opinion and what International Law has determined, i.e. Two states on the 67 border with a just resolution to the refugee issue. He defended his labelling of the BDS movement as a cult but emphasised that he supports b, d and s!

He rejected accusations of anti semitism. However, he said that he was troubled by Jews who thought some of his writings were anti Semitic. He was also troubled by the disappointment felt by Palestinians who misunderstood his position and accused him of turning into a Zionist. He said he tries to explain his position to both groups because he is hurt by the accusations.

While saying the only game in town is the two state solution, he said it had not been realised because of of a lack of will on the part of the international community to enforce it. He labelled the ‘peace process’ as an ‘annexation process’.

When asked about the problems with a binational state for Jews and Palestinians, he compared it to the US removing the border with Mexico. Mehdi pointed out that unlike Israel, the US does not occupy Mexico!

My conclusion is that it was the “I choose my words very carefully” Norman that turned up in Oxford. I can’t see what his new book on the ‘solution to the conflict’ can add, but I’m sure it will be eagerly anticipated!

The reality is that until Israelis have the will to acknowledge the Nakba and instruct their leaders to negotiate in good faith for a just peace, the conflict will continue. The current settler Government will not lead them to this. It is leading them to annexation of large areas of the West Bank, isolation and as secretary Kerry said, “BDS on steroids”.

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Update 2/6/2014

Here is a video link to the Oxford meeting on 29 May 2014 addressed by Norman Finkelstein and Mouin Rabbani.

Prof Finkelstein spoke again in London on 31 May. Jews Sans Frontieres has a blog about this here. He ended up “provoking a walkout by insisting on his two state position and denouncing those who didn’t support it as failing to understand him or it”.

It seems the Finkelstein saga goes on. Our focus should be on helping the Palestinains achieve their freedom rather than on debating one individual academic, interesting though he is!

The anniversary of the attack on the Mavi Marmara, and the Gaza siege

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I will always remember where I was when Israel attacked the peaceful Gaza siege breaking flotilla. I was watching live transmission of interviews with some of the passengers on the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara. I remember feeling excited but worried. Could the siege really be broken? Could this peaceful protest achieve what the Palestinians could not achieve on their own? What will Israel do? I never thought that a couple of hours later the shops would be attacked and a number of activists would lose their lives.

One of the last interviews I saw was with Sarah Colborne, Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The time was approaching midnight and I remember the reports talking of interference with the satellite transmission. Despite my best efforts, I could not stay awake and fell asleep.

I never thought that the events that unfolded would unfold. I woke up to the newsreel reporting there had been deaths on board and the numbers key rising. I remember how shocked I was. I simply could not believe that that the rogue state that Israel would kill peaceful protesters in International Waters. This act of piracy was unprecedented. I remember thinking that Israel had done some cruel and barbaric things to Palestinians and of course the Lebanese, but to International Solidarity activists? Surely not. It might try to sabotage the ships, rendering unusable. It might put its navy in between the flotilla and Gaza, but to kill nine innocent people?

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This anniversary is particularly poignant as a tenth activist that the Israeli security thugs injured succumbed to his wounds and died. But there is some hope that he and the other nine as well as the hundreds that were abducted and mistreated by Israel will have justice at some point.
A Turkish court recently ordered the arrest of former Israeli officers, including Ashkenazi, over Mavi Marmara.. Israel dismissed this as a political act. But if Interpol act, this could for the first time bring some Israeli officials in front of a court of Law to explain their conduct and to face justice. The floodgates could then open as many more than these four individuals should answer for their crimes including Olmert, Livni and others.

There will be demonstrations on this anniversary to commemorate the tragedy and to shout about this crime. But it is also distressing that the siege on Gaza, which the Flotilla and the brave activists tried to break to help end the collective punishment is still in place. In fact, it has got worse, as events in Egypt has led to a closure to the tunnels, the supply line for so many goods and fuel to Gaza, and the almost Permenant closure of the Rafah crossing.

The best way the World can honour the martyrs of the Mavi Marmara would be for International pressure on Israel to mount and for the siege on Gaza to be lifted.

Palestinian Unity Government, long overdue

Update: 2 June 2014

Unity Gov

The Palestinian Unity Government was finally sworn in on 2 June. Ministers from Gaza were barred from travelling to the West Bank to swear the oath of office.

Here is a link to my interview on Press TV about the Unity Government.

Original blog
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Archive photo

Thursday 29 May 2014 is a day Palestinians should mark in their anniversary calendar. Fatah and Hamas are set to announce the names of the ministers that will serve in the Unity Government. It is to be made up of technocrats rather than representatives of factions. The present Prime Minister in Ramallah, and former President if Alnajah University has been named as the Unity Government’s Prime Minister. Dr Hamdallah’s appointment is a surprise as the reconciliation agreement had named PA Presudent Abbas as Prime Minister.

Israel reacted as expected by rejecting any dealings with a Government ‘backed’ by Hamas. However, done Western Governments gave a less clear response, including the US. Their main condition was that the Government effectively recognises Israel and honours past agreements. Abbas reassured them by confirming this will be ‘his’ Government and will therefore meet these conditions.

It is unlikely that Palestinians will be dancing in the streets as there is a long way to go before full reconciliation between the two main rivals becomes deep and irreversible but after many false dharma this is a welcome start. Abbas us said to be planning a visit UK Gaza soon and it is expected that the Rafah crossing UK Egypt could soon reopen on a more Permenant basis.

There are still a number of tricky issues to resolve including the makeup and command of the soon to be joint security forces. There is also the absorption of Hamas aligned civil servants in Gaza into the PA’s payroll.

Let us assume that all proceeds smoothly. How should, rather than will Israel see this development? You would have thought that it should welcome it. After all, if the Palestinians are united a future peace deal would be with a united Palestinian people. Security cooperation, which Abbas has described as ‘sacred’ in the West Bank, will extend to Gaza. Arab countries will support this and put their weight behind any peace deal the Palestinians accept.

The reality is Israel does not intend to conclude a just peace deal with a united or divided Palestinian people. It will boycott the Unity Government and will accelerate the accusation ‘Abbas’ is not a partner for peace because he choose Hamas over Israel. It will continue to call the Arab Peace a Plan ‘interesting’ but will not grab it with both hands as it should. The calls and indeed draft Laws to be considered by the Knesset aim to annex, through imposing Israeli law on substantial parts of the West Bank. It will continue illegal settlement building and the Judaisation of Alquds, Jerusalem.

In short, Israel’s proverbial two fingers, rather than hand, will remain extended to peace. The payback will be increasing isolation and an accelerating BDS. People make choices in life as do states. Israel is making the wrong choice again, Apartheid. And Israeli officials will continue to dread travel abroad for fear of arrest.

Updated 29/5/2014

Amidst ongoing negotiations to finalise the names of Ministers to serve in the Palestinian Unity Government, Abbas announces it us yo be led by Dr Hamdallah.

Hamas spokesman, Sami Abuzuhri told reporters that two issues were holding the announcement of the new Government. One was the name of the Foreign Minister and the second, Abbas’s plan to replace the Ministry for Prisoners Affairs with an independent Commission. Zuhair predicts dealing with these issues requires ‘a number of days’.

Speaking on Aljazeera, Dr Mustafa Barghouti was optimistic that Fatah and Hamas would resolve the outstanding issues quickly as unity is more important than the outstanding issues.

Fatah says govt formed within hours, Hamas warns it could take days

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Salt and water, the symbol of support for Palestinian hunger striking prisoners

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Supporters of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike since 24 April to protest their Administrative Detention use the hashtag salt and water #مي_وملح. Hunger strikers drink water mixed with salt to help keep their bodies functioning. Palestinian singer Qasem Najjar has just released this video in solidarity with the prisoners.

Pope Francis means well but the proposed Peres / Abbas meeting provides continued cover for the occupation

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Image from @ynet

Pope Francis is making a historic trip to the Middle East. He was made very welcome in Jordan. He deliberately landed in Bethlehem for his trip to Palestine and at the time of writing had landed in Israel. This is a tricky trip as he manoeuvres around tricky issues including the logistics. Each state wanted him to formally land in their patch and he has gone this. This did necessitate a 60 km detour from Bethlehem to TelAviv by helicopter before returning to Jerusalem. The distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is about 10 km.

He only spent a few hours in Palestine but this was hugely symbolic. The Israelis will be furious about his stopover at the Apartheid wall.

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He was welcomed at Tel Aviv airport by President Peres. Whatever thoughts he had the picture with Peres does not show a happy Pope. Perhaps he was thinking, “this man was part of the leadership that built that ugly wall”. Of course he was also sitting next a nan the Palestinians and the Lebanese believe to be a war criminal.

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The Pope will make the essential visit to stash Vadim but also to Theodore Hertzel’s grave. He will hold a meeting in the room where Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper. He will be aware that extremist settlers object to his visits that room and to negotiations between the Vatican and the occupying state, Israel about ownership of that site.

Another controversial meeting will be with the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch of Antioch. Lebanese citizens do not normally visit Israel but the Patriarch shrugged off criticism and went.

When it comes to the Palestine Israel conflict, the Pope has called the current stalemate ‘unacceptable‘. His response was to invite the Presidents of Israel and Palestine, Abbas and Peres to the Vatican.

On the face of it, this is helpful and the sort of initiative only someone like the Pope can take. Sadly though, I believe it to be counterproductive. Peres is not part of the Israeli Government. His position is ceremonial. It is Netanyahu and his extremist settler Government that has scuppered any chances of peace and has effectively rendered a two state solution dead. Netanyahu recently reprimanded his Chief Negotiator, Levni for meeting Abbas on London, so is hardly likely to use the Presidents’ meeting as a launch pad for peace and reconciliation.

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My message to the Pope is first to thank him for visiting Palestine and to hope he saw what the Israeli occupation is really like. But on the Presidents’ invitation, Peres can pray at the Buraq Wall but Abbas cannot pray at Alaqsa mosque. Your holiness, make the invitation conditional on a free Palestine and when both Presidents can pray at their holy place.

Update 25/6/2014

True to form, Israel announced the addition of new houses to the illegal settlement built on the stolen land of Javal Abu Ghnaim, overlooking Bethlehem, while the Pipe was still visiting hostori Palestine. Could this be a ‘Price Tag’ attack by the settler Israeli Government in response to his prayer at the Apartheid Wall?

This rogue state doesn’t even show courtesy to its Holy visitor or to friends like Byden or Kerry.

On Palestine TV, Former Palestinian negotiating team member, Mohammed Shtayyeh said Pope not inviting Netanyahu to Vatican is slap in the face and a message to him that he is not a man if peace.

Update 6/6/2014

Abbas, Peres to plant olive tree at Vatican ceremony. This is a bit like an individual receiving a Nobel Peace a Prize before bringing peace to a conflict zone!

To Palestinians, Israel is a colonialist, racist, ethnic cleansing, occupying, Apartheid state

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Not a day passes without Israel doing something or planning something that angers me. The most recent revelation was reported by Amira Hass in Haaretz yesterday, 21 May. IDF uses live-fire zones to expel Palestinians from areas of West Bank, officer admits. I sat back and wondered what kind of a state does this to a peaceful, proud people.

The answer is a colonialist, racist, ethnic cleansing, occupying, Apartheid state. The above story covers all these bases.

While I remain astonished that the so called western powers cannot see Israel for what it is, I am heartened that ordinary citizens do. BDS is a peaceful, legitimate means of applying pressure to effect change. Israel is facing increasing isolation, which it brings on itself.

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At the end of May we commemorate Israel’s attack on the Flotilla which sailed to break the siege on Gaza. This is a reminder of the kind of thuggery the Palestinian people face on a daily basis. If it isn’t physical violent force in the West Bank or house evictions in Jerusalem then it is racist Laws directed at Palestinian citizens if Israel. The Palestinian leadership should be actively seeking all legal means to end Israel’s impunity. When Israeli leaders fear they could be held personally responsible for their crimes they will begin to hesitate before acting in a criminal manner.

To anyone reading this who thinks it is too strong, I say, why not invite Israel to occupy your homeland and after 66 years let us compare notes.