Thorny issues

Israel/Palestine
on 12 Comments

There is too much to read. Every piece on the Internet I happen to come across, whether a literary review, a news analysis or a political commentary, is pregnant with potential for something I should write about.

Didi and I are on a flight, each reading from a different source: Didi is reading Carl Hoffman’s Savage Harvest, the account of his arduous look into the mysterious disappearance in 1961 of the Rockefeller scion, Michael, off of the coast of New Guinea.  She shares with me her surprise at the revelation that the Dutch government and perhaps the Rockefellers, seem to have known that Richard actually was cannibalized, a “fact that was common knowledge to the natives around the area where the savage act took place.” As if in response I share with my wife a segment from the Guardian’s obituary of Gunter Grass to the effect that he sank fast in the world’s media after his 2012 poem warning the world against Israel’s impending nuclear strike against Iran. We both rest our cases as if we understood each other.

Trouble is that we probably did. I close my eyes and ruminate the essence of the brief intellectual duel. Both stories have their base in the same truism: History is written by the powerful. I go back in my mind to another nugget in the obituary of the German literary giant: In his book Crabwalk he had tried to highlight a war crime that caused four times the loss of life in the accidental sinking of the Titanic. Except that in the Wilhelm Gustloff incident the lives lost were those of German civilians, mainly women and children fleeing the war. So he was swimming against the flow of history as narrated by the victors. The Nazis were German and so were the Gustloff’s nine thousands sunk in the Baltic Sea. That is explanation enough. But Grass doesn’t absolve the German masses of blame for tolerating if not nurturing the Nazis. Does that mean WWII was open season on Germans? That is why the carpet-bombing of German cities as well as the expulsion at gun point of millions of German civilians out of East European countries doesn’t figure in any accepted account of criminality in the mayhem of the war.

So Grass toyed with Israel’s nuclear fireworks and got singed. How about Jimmy Carter? Why did he lose relevance so fast? One and the same explanation: He violated Israel’s sanctity by pointing out the obvious in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Even when there is a world consensus that A is A, if the dominant media, the voice that speaks for the only remaining superpower, even if speaking occasionally against its formally declared wishes, decides it is B, then all those sticking to their A convictions are doomed to insignificance. Not because they are wrong but because right is not might; might is ‘we,’ owners and spokespeople of the world’s media and stars and directors of its movies. Is Obama on his way to the same sinkhole of insignificance? Mark my word: In the long run the first black USA president will figure only as a smudge in the margins of official history. And we all know why.

*****

That was on our way to Hawaii. On our way back I picked up a news report quoting Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, about a fresh decision by Israel’s Supreme Court. I am not a lawyer but I know Adalah well. In my memory the organization is stored under the visual label of the rough image of its founder and head, Hassan Jabareen, and the contrasting genteel image of his wife, Rina Rosenberg, the center’s PR arm and its sustaining fund-raising lifeline. By the time I finish reading the report the two materialize before my mind’s eye. Though I find the combined intellectual muscle of the two intimidating, still I proceed to simplify the multilayered and thoroughly bedraggled case for them to transmit to their less legally sophisticated readership:

You may well know the analogy I will use, Hassan. Or perhaps you are to young for all of this and were spared the rough and tumble of Palestinian village life of the old days. One of the most abundant summer fruits in Palestine was the prickly pear adorning the cactus hedges surrounding so many garden plots in the village. We could visually ascertain the ripeness and luscious sweetness of the fruit by the shade of its color. By mid July the first fruits loose their bright yellow crown of petals and their crinkly dull green skin assumes a shiny brightness whose lemony sweetness we children could taste visually. Slowly a yellowish tinge creeps into the skin to be gradually replaced by the promise of syrupy red sweetness. By September we start fighting for the fruits on the highest fronds that had escaped our casual daily raids. All through we acted on the assumption that the roadside of a cactus hedge was common village property and we helped ourselves to it at will.

As I tell you this, I am ashamed to admit to drooling. But there was a painful side to all of this that I intended to discuss when I started this discourse: The delicacy we so enjoyed gratis every morning of our summer vacation involved a thorny issue. The reason this form of cactus is used as a protective border around home vegetable gardens and land plots is that it is fast growing and has nail-solid needle-sharp thorns. What is worse is that the fruit is covered with clumps of fine hair like thorns with a propensity to sail on the slightest breeze and nestle in your hair, skin and clothes. That is why the right time for raiding cactus hedges for our daily delicacy was at sunrise while the fruit was still drenched with dew and its thorns too wet to ride the breeze. Some of us with thick enough skin would reach and pick our breakfast fruit using our bare hands. Others handled those thorny fist-size ice cream cones using double or triple-ply sheets of newspaper. What remained to be done was to clean the many clumps of thorns from the fruit’s surface before proceeding to peel the skin off and to enjoy the unmitigated bless of their flavored candy sweetness. And that, dear Rina and Hassan, is the point I have been trying to reach in my attempt to find an analogy to Israel’s Supreme Court decision to permit the ‘legal seizure’ (read: ‘the theft’ or in my cactus analogy ‘the swallowing’) of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

Here is how we managed to render the thorny fruit harmlessly edible: We put the pile of thorny fruit we picked, say one, two, three or four dozens, depending on how hungry we were which depended on whether we had had any food the night before or not, we put it on the ground, preferably in a freshly plowed field with loose soil. Then we collected some tall grass and clumped it together to form a broom-like bundle and proceeded to roll the thorny things on the ground this way and that way in all possible directions and at every possible angle, the longer the process the cleaner the outcome. That was when we could dig in, peel and swallow our fill of the candied summer delight.

Here is the very same process as adapted by the Israeli juridical authorities as per Haaretz of April 16:

Although in 1968, Meir Shamgar, then the attorney general and later a Supreme Court justice, ordered that the law not be applied to East Jerusalem, with the establishment of the Likud government in 1977, the law came back into force. The pendulum swung back again in 1992, under then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but in 1997, restrictions on the law’s application were once again loosened, and in 2004, under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the cabinet decided, against the position advocated by the Justice Ministry, to restore all the custodian’s powers with regard to property in Jerusalem.

In 2005, then-Attorney General and now Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz wrote a sharply worded letter as attorney general ordering that the law not be applied in Jerusalem. “The application of the powers of the Custodian of Absentee Property to properties in East Jerusalem raises many serious legal difficulties regarding the application of the law and the reasonableness of its decision, and … the obligations of the State of Israel toward the traditional principles of international law,” he said.

In 2006, then-District Court Judge Boaz Okun also ordered the law not be applied in Jerusalem, but at the end of that year, the state appealed Okun’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

In 2013, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein wrote in a legal opinion that the law could continue to be applied to Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

And now:

Only a day after the High Court of Justice upheld most of the sections of the “Anti-Boycott Law,” the justices of the Supreme Court approved the use of another controversial law: The application of the Absentee Property Law to assets in East Jerusalem.

It is tit for tat. See, it is all legal. Remember, this is the only democracy in the Middle East. And this is its Supreme Court of Justice. So, don’t be afraid! Don’t fuss! We won’t let it hurt. We may even do it to Jews.

The practical effect of the ruling is that it allows the state to take control of property in East Jerusalem whose owners live in the West Bank or Gaza. … (It) must be used in only the “rarest of rare cases.” Grunis even went as far as to say that the “literal” use of the law for Palestinians who reside in the West Bank could bring about its application to Jewish settlers who own property within Israel proper, enabling the state to take over their property as well.

“For example, that is how, according to this interpretation, a property located in Tel Aviv whose owner is a resident of Ariel or Beit El could be awarded to the Custodian,” wrote Grunis in the court’s decision. In an even more extreme example, Grunis noted the absurdity of the wording of the law and said that it could be read in such a way that even a soldier sent by the government to serve in the territories or into an enemy country could have his property declared as “absentee property.”

Hilarious, isn’t it? Which reminds me of the occasional bitch of all accidents in the cactus picking process. Every once in a while one of those fine thorns would lodge in one’s eye. Every time you blinked or looked to the side, the invisible thorn would poke your eye till it was amber red. Fortunately there was one young lady in the village who was an expert in locating and removing such thorns from an unfortunate child’s eye. The way she did it was by using her tongue to sense the exact location of the thorn in the eye. And her technique never failed. Trouble was that she was the Madame of the village and rumors flew ahead of you when you left her compound as to what pedophile transgressions went on after her intimate exploration of your eye.

Did you smell the Araq on her breath?! Or on Grunis’s?!

About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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12 Responses

  1. bintbiba
    April 24, 2015, 2:43 pm

    Dr. Kanaaneh,
    That story , those bushes of ‘Subbair’,certainly made me drool too !
    Thank you for your wonderful tales and depictions.

    Delightful, charming ending !!

    • just
      April 28, 2015, 2:31 pm

      Ditto, bintbiba.

      Hatim Kanaaneh, once again you grace MW with your wisdom and your brilliant writing! Thank you.

  2. pabelmont
    April 24, 2015, 3:27 pm

    Excellent analogy. Prickly!

    Definition of a very long time used to be “until Hell freezes over.” Now it can be redefined as “until Israel seizes Jewish property as ‘absentee property’ “.

  3. Hatim Kanaaneh
    April 24, 2015, 3:29 pm

    Just an update of my bio: My collection of short stories based on my medical practice in my home village entitled “Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor’s Tales of Life in Galilee” was already published by Just World Books. It was formally launched on February 24, 2015 at a celebratory book event at Columbia University Centre for Palestine Studies. Currently I am on book tour in the San Francisco Bay area to promote the same book. Details of scheduled appearances are available on

  4. Pamela Olson
    April 24, 2015, 4:05 pm

    You can learn more about his new book at this link:

    http://justworldbooks.com/chief-complaint

  5. Hatim Kanaaneh
    April 24, 2015, 8:14 pm

    Shukran Pamela for this. I don’t know what happened to the link I thought I inserted.

  6. gamal
    April 25, 2015, 9:04 pm

    Thank you,

    The rough and tumble of village life and the German connection put me in mind of Hans Alexander Winkler and his relationship with that village boy Abd al Radi recorded in this classic: “Ghost Riders of Upper Egypt”,

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Riders-Upper-Egypt-Possession-ebook/dp/B00GZN71VM/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1430009767&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=ghost+riders+winkler

  7. CDWard
    April 25, 2015, 10:30 pm

    Israel’s intent has always been to push the Palestinians out of their homes, their lands and history itself. See http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/24/talking-about-palestine/

    • MHughes976
      April 26, 2015, 9:50 am

      Yes, it seems that there can be no acceptance of a right for non-Jewish people to live in Palestine that is in any way comparable with Jewish ‘birthright’ as it is now generally called. Any acceptance along those lines would really make nonsense of Zionism. The Palestinians have to go, nothing else will do. Of course they must, except in extreme circumstances which it is hoped to avoid, go by agreement: the questions are putting exerting enough pressure to make them do something that can be called agreeing and then finding enough money. so far not available, to fund what would need to be called a ‘generous’ resettlement scheme, marking the whole outcome as in everyone’s long-term interest.
      There is a kind of exception: when the process of population transfer is well-advanced it will stop and a very small minority will be invited and encouraged to stay once there is no threat to security. This is because one of the natural manifestations of birthright, at least in a morally developed personality, is free-willed generosity to those less fortunate, which is why property and charity are so closely linked. There will be a great, award-winning Museum of Palestinian Culture – it will have the best relevant archive in the world – and melancholy reflection, perhaps by major writers with a good chance of a Nobel Prize, on how sad it was for the Palestinians to be born where they had no right to be.

      • bintbiba
        April 26, 2015, 10:42 am

        @MHughes976

        So aptly and appropriately put !

        But really , who says I ” had no right to be born where( I ) had no right to be” …and they who were born elsewhere had the right to snatch away my ‘birthright’ for one of their own. Show me the title deed. I have mine . Birth certificate, signed and stamped. Official, legal, terrestrial, actual, fair & square , No gods involved !!

        Go figure, as our American friends would say.

  8. Boo
    April 26, 2015, 8:08 pm

    I’m Hawaiian. In Hawaii we have those same prickly pears and the same delicious fruit. We also had our monarchy overthrown in 1893 at the hands of American businessmen to “make the kingdom safe for their investments.” We are now working to restore the sovereignty that was stolen from us — and from halfway around the world we, another dispossessed people, send our aloha and best wishes for victory in the Palestinian struggle!

    • just
      April 28, 2015, 2:26 pm

      Thank you for your post, Boo!

      So many stand in solidarity.

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