about land

on 17 Comments

Last night I went to a Shakespeare play with my wife. On the way we talked about a trip we’re planning to Jordan in the fall. It got me thinking about the last time we went to the Middle East together, in 2005.  

We’d gone to visit her cousin who was then in Damascus. The cousin lived with a few Americans and one of the Americans’ boyfriends was a Palestinian refugee who was politically active. I was a little afraid of him, but he was cheerful. The roommates said that when they were walking around Damascus they referred to Israel as "Disneyland," so that people wouldn’t wonder if they were Zionists. I saw all the demonic references to Zionism in the English-language Syrian paper, and I found it somewhat scary. But as we traveled through Damascus and Aleppo and the Syrian desert, I was completely open with people that I’m Jewish, and people said that was fine with them. It added to my confusion. A few weeks before the trip the publisher of the newspaper I worked for had said to me about the Palestinians, "Of course they’re pissed, we kicked them out of their houses." Well I had never understood that about Israel. And so now I was in the Syrian desert and the Arabs were completely hospitable and I had an emotional realization. I turned to my wife and said, "It was a landgrab, Israel’s just a landgrab."

The Shakespeare play was interpreted farcically, 70s. At one point the characters sang, "This land is your land!" and encouraged everyone in the audience to sing along. I did too. It really is an American anthem, it brings tears to the eyes. Again my mind went to the Middle East.

I thought about the last time I was in Palestine, in January, and went to the Ofer prison for a protest against the detention of activist Jamal Juma. Mustapha Barghouthi was there and so was Omar Barghouthi. These men are bespectacled intellectuals. But another man in a keffiyeh led them all in a chant. I can still hear it ringing in my ears. They kept repeating the words "El-hurriye." I wondered if it was some call to violent struggle. But no, afterward Omar Barghouthi explained that hurriya meant freedom, and the chant was about land.

We love this land, we will never leave this land, he said. Some feelings really are universal.

17 Responses

  1. Pamela Olson
    August 16, 2010, 1:35 pm

    Have you seen Salt of This Sea yet? It’s whole theme is “Israel was just a landgrab.” In a punch-you-in-the-gut kind of way.

    The fact that most Palestinians are willing to have some kind of peace that allows most or all Israelis to stay in the Holy Land — some even in the settlements if they’ll pay reparations for the properties they stole — represents a largeness of spirit that’s very difficult for Westerners to grasp.

    And yes, there are all kinds of stupid or poisonous things Arabs say about Israel and even Jews that are born of frustration and horror that’s also difficult for Westerners to grasp. (Just look at the photos of that Israeli girl soldier mocking Palestinian detainees on Facebook for the tiniest taste of what they are forced to bear and bear witness to.)

    But when an Israeli or Jew comes in peace, all that melts away, and it’s just human to human, as you saw in Syria and as I’ve seen time and time again in the Palestinian territories. Another miracle of human nature expressed by the vast majority of Arabs that the vast majority of Westerners chooses not to see.

    • Psychopathic god
      August 18, 2010, 7:49 am

      re Pamela’s statement, “a largeness of spirit that’s very difficult for Westerners to grasp.”

      this poem represents something essential about the “largeness of spirit” of Iran that years of western propaganda have attempted to distort:

      The Guest House
      This being human is a guest house.
      Every morning a new arrival.

      A joy, a depression, a meanness,
      some momentary awareness comes
      as an unexpected visitor.

      Welcome and entertain them all!
      Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
      who violently sweep your house
      empty of its furniture,
      still, treat each guest honorably.
      He may be clearing you out
      for some new delight.

      The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
      meet them at the door laughing,
      and invite them in.

      Be grateful for whoever comes,
      because each has been sent
      as a guide from beyond.

      ~ Rumi ~

      be aware of several things:
      1. for an Iranian, poetry is the lingua franca. Iranian thinking patterns are inflected by their national poetry; Iranians “revere their poets higher than their kings.”
      Let me make an even more pointed comparison: for many Americans, biblical themes form the substrate of their thinking: banishment from the garden, sin, redemption, ‘substitutionary atonement,’ choseness, deliverance by g_d’s favor . . . Iran was never deeply ‘evangelized’ with these themes.
      2. Rumi was a Sufi
      3. The imam of the proposed mosque in NYC is a Sufi.

  2. MHughes976
    August 16, 2010, 2:34 pm

    ‘Salt’ opens, so they say, in the UK on Oct.15. I am determined to see it but I wonder what sort of fantastic trek to an obscure location I’ll need to make. I’m wondering which Shakespeare play calls for a chorus of ‘This land is your land’? The Tempest, Prospero’s island? King John, ‘if England to herself do rest but true’?

  3. Richard Witty
    August 16, 2010, 2:58 pm

    You do know that the many, maybe most, of the Israelis that live there also bear a STRONG bond with the land, the place, and they as well are not leaving.

    And, I assume that you are also aware that in 1948, there was a MUTUAL land grab, in which Egypt sought large portions of the mandate, Jordan sought large portions of the mandate, Syria sought large portions of the mandate.

    If people desire to live there, then it is NOT colonial as in the British in India.

    If people have no home, and need one, that is need, not greed.

    Enjoy your trip to Jordan.

    The only question implied is HOW the people will co-exist. Other than that, you could only propose ethnic cleansing of one or the other.

    I also travelled in the Arab world, and did not disguise that I was Jewish. I encountered a great deal of surprising acceptance, and I did experience some severe bitterness.

    • Richard Witty
      August 16, 2010, 3:02 pm

      I hope that you are aware that between 1900 and 1948, there was really enormous social change in the Ottoman empire, and in Palestine at the time.

      There was in fact large immigration to the region from other Arab areas. There was great displacement of fellahin with the more frequent assertions of absentee landlords that the fellahin leave, great confusion on the part of the English whether and which version of sharia, Ottoman, and civil English law to apply in courts.

      In talking about land claims, you are also talking about getting in the middle of an intra-Arab, intra-Palestinian land grab.

      I assume that you knew that, say from reading Kimmerling, or Khalidi.

      • RoHa
        August 16, 2010, 8:53 pm

        And this justifies a bunch of European Jews plotting to drive out the Arabs and take over the land?

      • Sumud
        August 17, 2010, 10:29 pm

        “There was in fact large immigration to the region from other Arab areas.”

        Hello Joan Peters/Alan Dershowitz.

        Regard: the only Peters interview on YT is w/ Zola Levitt. See how Peters nearly chokes when she tries to say “Palestinian” (1:30):

    • RoHa
      August 16, 2010, 8:56 pm

      “The only question implied is HOW the people will co-exist.”

      The Arabs were always prepared to co-exist with even the Jewish immigrants. But not as subjects of the Jews.

      “Other than that, you could only propose ethnic cleansing of one or the other.”

      It was the European Jews who actually proposed and started the ethnic cleansing.

      • Psychopathic god
        August 18, 2010, 7:13 am

        Mooser argues in many of his comments that zionism is alien to Judaism.

        What needs to be spotlighted with equal force, persistence, (and humor, if possible) is the deep divide between European Jews and almost all other Jewish people in Israel. Mizrahi Jews — that is, Jews who are native Arabs, Iranians, or Palestinians, are profoundly threatening to Ashkenazi (European) Jews.
        I’m still trying to figure out the pecking order to know where Russian Jews fit. Russian Jews comprise a significant portion of Jewish Israeli demographic, they migrated to Israel in a ‘lump’ in the 1990 and are responsible for much of the technological wealth and brain power of Israel — intellectual capital that Russian Jews acquired at the expense of USSR and that Israel has benefited from.

        In the late 1800s German Jews in the US were disdainful of Russian Jewish immigrants to the US; German Jews did very little to aid their co-religionists to settle into American life — quite the contrary. I have not researched whether that same attitude extends to the relationship between German Jews and Russian Jews in Israel. It is documented that Russian Jews in Israel feel a divided loyalty: they consider Israel a backwater and long for the cultural refinement of the homes they left behind.

        In short: there are simmering intra-Jewish tensions in Israel. Surely Israel’s leaders are aware of these tensions, and, like all good demagogues, have selected one or two scapegoats — Palestinians and Iran — and present them as threats to ALL Jewish Israelis, in a bid to unite Jewish Israelis across their intra-confessional divides.

      • Psychopathic god
        August 18, 2010, 7:33 am

        PS. re Russian Jews: Dennis Loh said something very significant the other day:

        Finally, did you wonder why an Israeli helicopter crashed recently during a joint military exercise in Romania? Or why Romania just last week declared support for Israel in case of war? Here are some clues: Romanian Jews, on the whole, did better than other European Jews during WW II; and 90,000 Romanian Jews emigrated to Israel at the founding of Israel. Did you know that the first ever female foreign minister in the world was Ana Pauker, a Jewish Romanian born in what is now Moldava? The current Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was born in Chishinau, Moldova, and his mother tongue is Romanian. It is no coincidence that Romania is pro-Israel and its influence will be felt more as a member of the EU. History continues to haunt us.

        As I commented to Dennis’s article, Romania is adjacent to the territory that was the ancient kingdom of Khazaria, and Khazaria is contiguous with the territory of the Scythians, homeland of the even more ancient Aryans, origin of the Iranians. One people?

        In Der Judenstaat, Theodore Herzl makes the point several times that Jews “are one people; we are one people.”
        But the Jewish people of Israel do not feel like “one people,” and are seemingly unwilling to share choseness with the great unchosen.

        Herzl was a troubled man, haunted by the death of his sister, whom he adored, and whose death at a tender age caused disruptions in the Herzl family unit. Perhaps young Theodore’s grief prevented him from understanding that ALL people are one people.

    • Koshiro
      August 17, 2010, 3:04 am

      Oh, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! If I suddenly decide that I have a “strong bond” to your house, and proceed to kick you out of it, that’s cool with you, too?

      “If people desire to live there, then it is NOT colonial as in the British in India.”
      Right. It’s colonial as the Europeans in North America.

      “Other than that, you could only propose ethnic cleansing of one or the other.”
      Strange how you are the one to consistently defend the party who has actually engaged in ethnic cleansing on an enormous scale and deny all efforts to reverse said ethnic cleansing.

    • Sumud
      August 17, 2010, 10:25 pm

      “And, I assume that you are also aware that in 1948, there was a MUTUAL land grab, in which Egypt sought large portions of the mandate, Jordan sought large portions of the mandate, Syria sought large portions of the mandate.”

      Well at least you agree it was a land grab. Syria weren’t interested in holding land in 1948 – the other arab state armies entered to (in no particular order):

      1. protect Palestinians who were being murdered and driven from their homes and land
      2. prevent Jordan (who had a secret agreement w/ the zionists to occupy the West Bank/East Jerusalem – Golda Meir making secret trips to Amman disguised as an arab) from occupying the West Bank.

      On what basis does “desire to live there” transform xenophobic violent settlers into something non-colonial? The Balfour Declaration and later British support (though it dwindled) was simply one colonial power handing control to another, with the rights of the indigenous population totally ignored. Nakba.

      I’m not surprised you encountered acceptance in the MIddle East, neither am I surprised you encountered bitterness. Given your professed supremacist ideology I wonder to what extent that bitterness arose after you opened your mouth.

      • Miss Dee Mena
        August 18, 2010, 3:01 am

        Talking of the new posting rules and Hasbara attention whores and trolls such as the individual above whose posts I ignore but can’t fail to see taking up lots of posting space:

        I will take bad language and cursing any day from a sincere individual who can simultaneously argue logically and contributes to a debate over the polite, pretentious and phony morality of individuals with hidden agendas who disrupt real and logical debate with their long-winded non-sequiturs and efforts to be the centre of attention.

        Sort of like the British keeping a stiff upper lip and being ultra-polite at a tea party while they were massacring the natives. “At least we were civil about it.”

        I find the obsession by Americans over a bit of bad language rather anal. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water by making it appearances over substance.

  4. Mooser
    August 17, 2010, 8:55 am

    “and I had an emotional realization. I turned to my wife and said, “It was a landgrab, Israel’s just a landgrab”

    And it only took til 2005! Oh well, if nothing has ever been taken from you, it’s hard to know what it’s like.

    • Sumud
      August 17, 2010, 10:33 pm

      Better late than never Mooser.

      Do you not think Phil has gone out of his way to correct that?

      Palestine was totally off my radar (Israel also, I’m not jewish) until I worked a few years in the ME – and that was several years after 2005.

    • RoHa
      August 17, 2010, 11:36 pm

      Hey, he got there in the end, Mooser. Plenty still haven’t.

  5. annie
    August 17, 2010, 11:41 pm

    thanks phil, wonderful writing

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