Book review: Popular resistance, popular history


Intifada: a Palestinian uprising. National committees organizing popular resistance; boycotts and tax revolts against the occupier; mass demonstrations calling for an end to the occupation; a violent crackdown by the occupation forces — and an official Palestinian leadership caught off guard.

This may sound like a description of the first intifada of 1987-1991 but it’s also how the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt against British occupation operated. Mazin Qumsiyeh’s new book on the long history of Palestinian popular struggle, Popular Resistance in Palestine: a History of Hope and Empowerment is great for drawing out such parallels.

Qumsiyeh traces this vibrant history even further than the British Mandate, back to the days of Ottoman rule and uprisings against both the Turkish empire and the Egyptian occupation of the 1830s (36). Even readers familiar with the Great Revolt of the 1930s will find much to enlighten them here.

Qumsiyeh recounts the successes and failures, before the British occupation of Palestine in 1917, of Palestinian campaigns to resist dispossession of fellahin (peasant farmers) by Zionist land colonization organizations and militias (working in cooperation with the Ottoman state) (39-47).

A zoologist from Beit Sahour near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Qumsiyeh is also an activist, and takes a refreshingly practical approach to history. One of the book’s main strengths is that Qumsiyeh has a measured take on the issue of nonviolence verses violence. As he explains early on, he generally prefers the term “popular resistance” to “nonviolence” — mainly because that’s the term generally used in Palestine for this form of resistance (muqawama shabiya) (11).

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The World Turned Upside Down: Is Egypt Heading for a Social Revolution?

Written for and originally published by the New Left Project.

Note: this article was published before the fall of Mubarak. I think it holds up pretty well, especially considering the current wave of strikes in Egypt.

By Asa Winstanley

The massive popular uprising in Egypt is already the most important event in the modern history of the Middle East. It will have wide-reaching reverberations for decades to come. Arab tyrants around the region are already announcing pre-emptive “reforms” in the hope of staving off what US Senator John McCain has called the “virus” of resurgent pan-Arab nationalism.1

Algeria on Thursday said that a state of emergency in place for 19 years will end. Jordan’s King fired his (appointed) government, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen claimed that neither he nor his son would run for president elections in 2013.

The prospect of a democratic Egypt means the climate in Israel is now “bordering on hysteria” and the Israeli government is “freaking out” according to Dr Shmuel Bachar of the Israel Institute for Policy and Strategy.2

What started in Egypt on January 25th quickly escalated from a Tunisia-inspired intifada (uprising) into a massive nation-wide revolution against the 30-year dictatorship of key US/Israeli client President Hosni Mubarak. Tens of thousands demonstrated on the streets of Cairo and in cities across the country. This culminated in the “Friday of Rage” on the 28th which resulted in comprehensive defeat of the riot police, exemplified by the already legendary Battle of the Qasr al Nile Bridge:

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The last chance salon: why Ilan Pappe left Israel

Originally published by Ceasefire Magazine.

“Out of the Frame”
Ilan Pappe
Pluto Press, 2010

By Asa Winstanley

Of the small group of Israeli academics known as the “new historians” Ilan Pappe has been the most vocally critical of the founding ideology of Israel. Beginning in the late 1980s, professors such as Pappe, Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim examined newly-released Israeli archives and came to the conclusion that decades of Israeli history on the 1948 war was mostly propaganda, and that the Palestinian narrative was essentially correct.

The Palestinians did not “leave their homes” because of the orders of Arab governments as the standard Israeli line had had it. They were in fact driven out at gunpoint by Zionist militia groups such as Haganah, Irgun and Lehi (aka Stern Gang). Many of the 800,000 Palestinian refugees fled from fear of the many massacres the Zionists carried out, possibly the most notorious being at the village of Deir Yassin.

Thus these new historians documented the reality of the Palestinian Nakbah (Catastrophe) from Israel’s own internal sources. The basic facts no longer being under any serious dispute, Benny Morris eventually took another approach. In a now-infamous 2004 interview with Israeli broadsheet Ha’aretz, Morris clarified his commitment to Zionism, stating that yes, Israel had carried out ethnic cleansing, massacres (and even rapes) but that there are “circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing… A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them.”

Although, like Morris, Pappe started out as a leftist Zionist, the full reality of the facts he had uncovered about the Nakbah in his research started a chain of event that led towards anti-Zionism. In Out of the Frame, Pappe narrates this story for the first time.

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Book review: Rich definition of “What it Means to be Palestinian”

Published by The Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 2 February 2011

“This is what it means to be Palestinian, to care, because if you stop caring, then you let go. We cannot let go” (p. 110) explains Jerusalemite Samia Nasser Khoury in Dina Matar’s landmark new book, What it Means to be Palestinian. Matar is a lecturer in Arab media at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. In researching the book, Matar conducted countless interviews across the Arab world with fellow Palestinians, recording their experiences.

Matar grounds this fascinating collection in a series of brilliant historical summaries that open each chapter. From the Great Arab Revolt against the British occupation of the late 1930s until the first Palestinian intifada, this is a rich narrative woven together by expert hands. In all the historical phases presented here, the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine — what Palestinians call the 1948 Nakba — looms large: “Most of those I interviewed wanted to tell of personal experiences … not as past events, but as events that remain current because, to them, what happened in 1948 is not over” (p. 130).

Above all, the book aims to “ascribe agency to the Palestinians, not as helpless victims of forces beyond their control, as they have often been portrayed, but as actors at the center of critical phases of their modern history” (p. xii, emphasis in original). Indeed, Matar succeeds brilliantly in this aim. What comes through more than anything, are the many insights readers gain from the Palestinian narrators themselves.

Behind the success of this book are three main strengths: the well-balanced spectrum of Palestinian interviewees, Matar’s solid grasp of Palestinian history and the lively and interesting stories of the interviewees themselves. The footwork that went into Matar’s research is obvious, and has reaped great rewards. Matar traveled to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine to interview Palestinians in refugee camps, villages, towns and cities.

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My appearance on Epilogue, Ken Livingstone’s book review show

Me on Press TV’s book review show “Epilogue”. Ken Livingstone leads a discussion between Dr Salman Sayyid & myself about Raja Shehadeh‘s book “Strangers in the House”.

Part 1: (parts 2 and 3 after the break)

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