An American writer sees the Occupation for the first time

on 4 Comments

I went to the demonstration against Netanyahu in a police pen near the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City last Thursday and talked with Nancy Kricorian of Code Pink about the Palestine Festival of Literature this spring, where she read from a novel she had written about the Armenian genocide.

Kricorian said that as she read she got very emotional. She’d spent the previous week seeing the West Bank for the first time. She met a girl who showed her a deep bruise on her thigh from a soldier slamming his rifle butt into her leg when she refused to remove her clothes in order to be searched at a checkpoint. She went through the Qalandiya checkpoint several times, she went through the Bethlehem checkpoint, which she had heard described as the "Lambs to the Slaughter,” and whose steel chutes had made her feel like livestock. The mood of her novel was so charged with the overwhelming violence of the occupation that she kind of lost it.

Later an American who lives in Israel came up to her and said, "You seemed to be getting pretty emotional up there." "Yes," she said, "well after what we’ve seen this last week, it’s extremely upsetting." The American said, "When you live out here you get used to it." Kricorian stared at him with her jaw open. And he said, “I was joking.”

Kricorian told me she didn’t know which was worse, to get used to it or to make a joke about it.

She said the Palestinians also get used to it, to the downright ongoing thievery of the situation, and the oppressive bureaucracy of the checkpoints, and then certain things shock them and are widely discussed. A ten-year-old girl had been stopped at a metal detector because she had an artificial leg. The soldiers had made her take her leg off in front of them, and they further insisted that she disrobe. The girl was thoroughly humiliated, and the story was flying around among Palestinians, with horror and anger.

At the same time as the Palestine Festival of Literature there was a Jerusalem literature festival with David Grossman reading and Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss. Ethan Bronner, who wrote a piece for the Times about the two festivals, suggested that they should all get together. But PalFest organizer Ahdaf Soueif explained to him that the Palestinian writers on the festival bus wouldn’t be allowed entry to West Jerusalem.

Some of the most pitiable stories Kricorian had heard involved the denial of basic rights, the rights to travel and speak and even to think, to Palestinians. A scholar in Bethlehem said that her dissertation had come to an end because it was about 19th Century Christian missionaries’ travel narratives of the Holy Land and for some reason she got put on a blacklist and so she wasn’t allowed into Jerusalem. All the books she needed for her research were in a restricted library in Jerusalem only four miles from her house, but she couldn’t read them. Then a young man with literary ambition told Kricorian that all his friends just want to write about the occupation, that’s their material after all, their donne, but he’s afraid to write, because Israeli soldiers have come into his house and thrown his papers and books up in the air, and what if they come in and find he is writing about the occupation, he could go to jail or get on a list so that he can’t travel?? 

Then Kricorian talked about the apartheid analogy. A PalFest participant from South Africa had been stunned while visiting the West Bank because she said it was far worse than what South Africa had been like under apartheid. Another South African PalFest writer had said the current level of violence by Israel’s government was reminiscent of the last days of apartheid.

And this is the part that gives Kricorian hope. The current Palestine solidarity movement is a lot like the 80s during the anti-South Africa divestment movement that she took part in. I asked Kricorian about the power politics– the hasbara, and the Jewish community organizations. Kricorian said this scene too is changing. The Beinart piece was huge, and even the New York Times/Bronner takeout on tax-deductible gifts to settlements showed a sea change beginning in the mainstream coverage of the issues.

Kricorian blogged about the festival here.

4 Responses

  1. potsherd
    July 13, 2010, 11:07 am

    The capacity for outrage is selective.

    A rather notorious Holocaust denier has just died. Great is the outrage at his memory. How many of those expressing this outrage have ever condemned the cruelties of the occupation, the suffering ongoing at this moment, rather than 65 years ago?

  2. Psychopathic god
    July 13, 2010, 11:23 am

    Some of the most pitiable stories Kricorian had heard involved the denial of basic rights, the rights to travel and speak and even to think, to Palestinians.

    Bibi told Council on Foreign Relations that he’s not prepared to settle with Palestinians until their right to WISH is directed at wishing ONLY for the perpetual existence of Palestine as the national homeland of the Jewish people.

    listen for yourselves: Richard Haass even questions Bibi on the maximalist nature of this demand:

  3. LanceThruster
    July 13, 2010, 11:27 am

    When I was about 20 (sometime in ’77), I remember asking my friend’s older brother if he killed any people while he was stationed in Vietnam. He replied rather flippantly, “We didn’t kill ‘people’, we killed ‘gooks'”

    Now I’ve written about this elsewhere where I had to defend the Army infantryman, because that’s not how he felt. He was the type of guy who’d throw a curve at you to get you to think. He explained that’s how his training was geared towards dehumanizing the enemy, supposedly making them easier to kill (though he was instantly aware of bonding with those same ‘gooks’ who were friendlies).

    His words have stuck with me to this day. Time and again I see instances where the very terminology is meant to erase whatever common humanity one might share with the supposed foreign and dangerous ‘other’. I think to give into that mindset does more to dehumanize the person who can so callously discount another human being’s worth and personhood.

    I know some Israelis have come to that conclusion and are to be lauded for going against teir own indoctrination. Many of my chickenhawk acquaintances still speak the language of the expendable subhuman threat, because they wear permanent blinders as far as the good guy/bad guy dichotomy goes.

    An Egyptian Xian co-worker could not be made to care that Palestinian children were being horrifically burned with white phosphorus because he felt that was all on the shoulders of Hamas who brought it on themselves. His Xian-Zionist blinders could excuse any brutality because Israel was forced to act in such a manner. My dad and sister have virtually drank the right wing Zionist kool aid. In my experience, those who do see the truth tend to keep their mouths shut for the most part. My Lebanese co-worker is grateful to be able to talk to someone who sees past the official narrative, but still gets dejected. My Iranian co-worker knows of the abuses of the Iranian leadership, and distrusts many of the statements coming from Iranian authorities, but he also sees the extent of Zionist lying.

    I am glad to be able to openly and honestly discuss all issues with my friends, because I tell them that doing so is a sign of respect. I respect their ability to take my view for what it’s worth, as one gained from my own background and preconceived notions. Furthermore, it allows them to make counter-arguments, sometimes very effectively. If I ‘pretended’ to have a particular view, I might not get the chance to update my thinking.

    I hope more people willing to dismiss Palestinian suffering as deserved take a good hard look at what they’re justifying. They pretend that Israel has done no wrong, and that the Palestinians just compound the problem with their stubborness (I guess in their mind they need to pretend it is ALL the fault of Palestinians).

    The arc of the moral universe is long,
    But it bends toward justice.
    -Abolitionist Theodore Parker, c. 1850’s

  4. Red
    July 14, 2010, 3:34 am

    Regarding Kricorian comment that she didn’t know which was worse, to get used to it or to make a joke about it. Having lived in the Occupied West Bank for a year and spent months there on other occassions, my experience is that people (both Palestinians or internationals) don’t necessarily “get use to it” it in the sense that they become complacent or loss their outrage. Instead, they learn to cope with it (as horrid as this sounds) because if they don’t they would just go crazy. Most Palestinians in Palestine have a wicked black sense of humour. The occupation forces you to develop a sense of the absurd and ridiculous in order to cope (Elia Sulieman’s movies, especially Divine Intervention, captures this perfectly). This, however, doesn’t mean you loss your anger and your horror but when you experience (as is the case for the Palestinians) or witness (as is the case for Internationals) the every day horrors of the occupation you need to be able to cope with it and one way of doing that is by making jokes about it.

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