Book identifies pressure points for boycott actions

Published by the Electronic Intifada. Protected by copyright and republished with permission

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 17 February 2012

The idea of boycotting Israel has gained more and more currency in the West over the last ten years or so, and one of the most frequent requests from new recruits to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is for a “boycott list.” Just tell us the companies to avoid, they say.

Continue reading Book identifies pressure points for boycott actions

New Pappe book highlights plight of forgotten Palestinians

Published by the Electronic Intifada, 7 December.

Asa Winstanley| The Electronic Intifada | 7 December 2011

After the Nakba, Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing operations, only approximately 160,000 Palestinians were left within the borders of what became Israel. Their numbers grew to 600,000 by the mid-1980s (152), and to about 1.2 million today. They struggled for Israeli citizenship, and won the right to vote in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), but were kept under the thumb of strict military rule until 1966.

Thanks partly to the growing international notoriety of their representatives and activists (such as current and former members of the Knesset Haneen Zoabi and the exiled Azmi Bishara) in recent years there has been more attention paid to the situation of these Palestinians. But in the western solidarity movement, there is still a learning process to be had of understanding that “the Palestinians” includes more than the people of the West Bank and Gaza. As such The Forgotten Palestinians, Ilan Pappe’s latest work of popular history, is a welcome contribution.

Pappe contextualizes the book as almost a sequel to his most celebrated work: “this book continues my research on Palestine and Israel, which I began in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006). It is only through a history of the Palestinian minority in Israel that one can imagine the extent to which the long-lived Zionist and Israeli desire for ethnic supremacy and exclusivity has brought about the current reality on the ground” (11). This approach very much pays off. Through the prism of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, Pappe explores the general Palestinian condition.

The Forgotten Palestinians ably displays Pappe’s main strength: his ability to relate a strong historical narrative. He ties many threads together, giving some much-needed perspective.

The Nakba, continued

Pappe addresses the plight of Palestinians who remained in the new State of Israel following the Nakba. In urban areas, “cordoned off with wire and fences,” Pappe writes that there were Israeli “attempts to concentrate Palestinians who had lost their homes but remained within the boundaries of the hometown … supervised by Israeli officers, who called these confinement areas ‘ghettos.’” These “ghettos” would not disappear until 1950 (18).

Like the rest of the scattered Palestinian community at large, this was a deeply traumatized people. “If they lived in rural areas, they belonged to a hundred and so villages left intact out of more than five hundred whose inhabitants were evicted and in 1949 were wiped out by the Israeli tractors, turning them into either recreation parks or Jewish settlements,” Pappe states (19). The ethnic cleansing operations went on into the 1950s.

Characteristic of Pappe, there are plenty of challenges here to the idea of “left wing” Zionism, including: “the [Palestinian] people of Khirbet Jalami, who were evicted following a demand by the newly founded left-wing kibbutz of Lehavot Haviva in March 1950” (34).

In this early phase (1948-57), even the presence of the Palestinians in Israel was under threat: “the very existence of the community was in question. Their presence was regarded by important figures in the Israeli regime as ‘unfinished business,’ and quite a few of the politicians and heads of the security services still contemplated the removal of the Palestinian citizens from the Jewish state” (47).

This threat later receded somewhat, but it never truly went away, and has very much been revived during the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, arch-racist and current foreign minister of Israel, whose party Yisrael Beiteinu made electoral gains by calling for Palestinians citizens to be made to swear oaths committing to a Jewish state, with the slogan “no loyalty – no citizenship.”

In October 2010, Pappe records, “Israeli police simulated a scenario whereby parts of Israel in which Palestinians lived were appended to the West Bank — while the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank were incorporated into the Jewish state” (5).

Pappe says it was only in 1958 that the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion “conceded in an official document that the option of transfer was not applicable any more” (31).

By 1955, Ben-Gurion’s second “advisor on Arab affairs” Shemuel Divon would have to concede that “There is no way the Arabs of Israel will be loyal to the state. It would have been advantageous if the state could either expel them or convert them to Judaism, but these are not realistic options” (31). Ben-Gurion seemed to agree (33). It is very interesting that Zionist leaders still entertained the delusion that Palestinians could be converted to Judaism late into the 1950s. This is also quite a challenge to the narrative of “secular” Israel.

All this goes some way to explain why the community’s struggle in this first phase was not for national or cultural rights as Palestinians, but simply to stay in their homes and to win citizenship.

The struggle for citizenship

In its propaganda, Israel likes to boast that it benevolently gave its “Arab Israelis” citizenship. But something that comes across strongly in this book is the extent to which this is not true: many had to struggle for even this basic right.

In 1953, the new Israeli citizenship law cynically declared that only those registered in the November 1948 census would be automatically given citizenship. Partly because Israel did not yet have full military control, “out of 160,000 Palestinians, 100,000 were not registered by November 1948.”

This was a racist law, because it did not apply to Jews (from anywhere in the world) who are still automatically granted citizenship under the “Law of Return.” The upshot of this was that a majority of the “Arab Israelis” were not benevolently “granted” citizenship as Israel likes to claim, but in fact had to struggle for it, often in the courts (35-7).

The military regime in the 1948 areas

Another key challenge to the Israeli narrative of democracy is that, until 1966 it kept its Arab citizens under a military rule similar to that now in effect in the West Bank. This is still a traumatic memory for people in the community until this day.

Making use of British Mandate laws, “the [military] governor had the right to arrest people without a warrant and detain them without trial for long periods; he could ban their entrance to a place or expel them from their homes; he could also confine them under house arrest. He could close schools, businesses, newspapers and journals, and prohibit demonstrations or protests” (49).

Amazingly, many of these laws are still on the books, and the army still has the power to declare parts of the country “closed military zones.” Since 1996 a legal change has required an annual renewal of the laws (264).

In the 1950s, a special committee met to coordinate military rule. At its first meeting, the Palestinian citizens were defined as a “hostile community” that needed to be closely watched, a “fifth column.” Members of the committee included agents of the Shin Bet (Shabak), the Israeli General Security Service; the prime minister’s advisor on Arab affairs; officials from the military rule unit and, interestingly, representatives from the Histadrut — Israel’s general trade union (which until 1953 banned Arabs from membership (69). This committee met until the end of military rule in 1966 (48-9).

The Palestinian citizens of Israel today

The book spans the complete historical narrative of the Palestinians of 1948, bringing things right into the present day. Pappe concludes that, although the 1950s threat to expel the remaining Palestinians from Israel was later backed away from, this thinking has returned. The head of the regional council of lower Galilee, Motti Dotan (from the “left-wing” Zionist Labor party) in 2008 said, “If we lose the Jewish majority in the Galilee this is the end of the Jewish state … I would like to imagine a Galilee without Arabs: no thefts, no crimes … we will have a normal life” (257).

If the book has a weakness, it is something about which I have criticized Pappe’s work previously: sometimes there is lack of direct quotes. One is left to trust in the historian’s judgment. This does make for a more readable, flowing narrative, but I would have liked more specifics at times. For example, he says that the Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua “famously invited [Palestinian novelist Anton] Shammas to leave the country if he was unhappy with the Zionist regime and the success of Jews in dispossessing the Palestinians” (190). I would have liked to have read the exact words of Yehoshua here.

Apart from this and a few other very minor quibbles, I have no hesitation in recommending this book. It’s a great read, especially for those new to the topic. Those more familiar with the situation will still learn new things, and gain some important perspectives on the situation and history of this neglected, but key part of the Palestinian people.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who writes about Palestine. He edited the new book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation and regularly contributes to The Electronic Intifada, where he also has a blog. His general website is

Pappe reassesses legacy of Palestinian dynasty

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | Thursday, September 8, 2011 – 15:51

Ilan Pappe is an Israeli historian and dissident living in semi-voluntary exile in the UK. He is most famous for The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, a seminal work which, although based on his own research, was more original for the sweep of its historical narrative rather than any groundbreaking new findings. It was a widely influential work in that it convinced people around the world that “ethnic cleansing” is the phrase that most accurately describes what Zionist militias did to the Palestinians in the course of the 1947-48 Nakba (Catastrophe).

Pappe’s latest book The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty, only appeared in this English translation last year; it first appeared in Hebrew in 2002.

The Rise and Fall is a political biography of the Husaynis: an aristocratic Palestinian family that dominated the Palestinian political scene in both the Ottoman and British Mandate periods. While Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the leader of the Palestinian national movement during the Mandate period, is probably the most famous, there are a host of other interesting figures here. They include Jamal al-Husayni, foreign minister in the “All-Palestine Government,” the first ever declared “state of Palestine” in October 1948 (340); Musa Kazim al-Husayni, Ottoman functionary and mayor of Jerusalem from 1918-20; and Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, the famous Palestinian guerrilla warfare leader and son of Muza Kazim.

In explaining the renown of Abd al-Qadir in Palestinian collective memory, Pappe quotes the following highly poetic account of his birth from a work in Arabic titled The Mother Palestine and her Noble Son Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini: “The sun entered the alleys of Jerusalem and lighted its streets, and in that month in 1910, in the neighborhood of the Husaynis, was heard the cry of a newborn baby. It filled the air of the holy city and blended with the ringing of church bells and the muezzins’ musical call — it was the voice of the heroic warrior Abd al-Qadir Musa al-Husayni” (145).

A primary strength of the book is Pappe’s fluency in Arabic, which allows him to make wide use of original sources, along with Palestinian and other Arab historiography — especially from the Ottoman era. The sections on the various Palestinian peasant uprisings against the Ottoman Empire (1824) and later Egyptian rule (1834) make for highly enjoyable reading (pp 60-77).

Effects of Zionism go unexplained

The pace sags somewhat during the account of the Ottoman reform period. A bigger problem here is a lack of explanation as to what Zionism meant for Palestinian peasant farmers (the fellahin) in practice during the late 19th century.

Pappe does analyze the duplicity of some of the notable Palestinians, including some Husaynis, who sold land to the Zionist movement (e.g. Rabah al-Husayni, 118). But the reader learns nothing about the all-too-common reality of such transactions. As Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi has described, the fellahin often had “long-standing traditional rights of tenure.” Yet the Zionists would often remove them by force (Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, Columbia University Press, 1997, pp 98-9).

At the end of the 19th century, such Ottoman-Zionist collaboration led to the Palestinian fellahin embarking on the earliest protests and even armed uprisings against their displacement or disenfranchisement.

Pappe’s book is a history of the Husaynis, not a history of the Palestinians as a whole, but a passing mention of this reality would have improved the chapter. This lack of context diminishes later sections of the book. For example, Pappe writes of Palestinian demonstrations and armed resistance in the Mandate period: “Wherever young urban and country men were frustrated in their search for employment and housing, political bitterness came to the fore” (218). This begs the question of why they were unemployed in the first place. If he had pointed out the simple fact that many of the fellahin (in a predominantly agricultural society) were unemployed precisely because Zionism had displaced them from the land by force, this passage would have made a lot more sense.

Reconsidering Mufti’s legacy

The pace of Pappe’s narrative picks up significantly during the British Mandate period, reflecting the fast-moving regional events of the time. The Husayni notables, always primarily interested in maintaining their class interests, tried their best to cozy up to the new British occupier and to pacify the wider population. In contrast to the common Israeli demonology of the mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, Pappe makes this key point quite well: “The calm [of 1921-29] was achieved thanks mainly to the creation of the Supreme Muslim Council” (222). The British created the Supreme Muslim Council and co-opted Hajj Amin to lead it: “With an annual budget of 50,000 to 65,000 Palestine pounds (drawn mainly from the religious properties), al-Hajj Amin was able to increase his influence throughout Palestine” (223). It seems this was done partly to undermine the more nationalist Palestine Congress — based on the nationwide Muslim-Christian associations — to which 27 delegates were first sent in January 1919 (175).

Ultimately, the British were not enthusiastic about the old notables. As the late Palestinian writer and activist Ghassan Kanafani put it in his brilliant study of the 1936-39 uprising, the formal Palestinian leadership had in the past eulogized Ottoman imperialism and praised the way it had treated them as compared with British imperialism. They had been the bulwark of the Sultan, but British imperialism removed them as chief agent, because it found a more highly organized agent in the Zionist movement.” (“The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine”, Committee for a Democratic Palestine, New York, 1972).

The Rise and Fall in general naturally shows that its original target audience was Israelis — Pappe was clearly seeking to provoke his society and make them rethink certain things. Often, figures and groups that would be familiar to an informed Israeli audience are dropped into the narrative with little or no explanation for the less familiar leader. For example, key Zionist leader (and future first president of Israel) Chaim Weizmann appears claiming to Kamil al-Husayni in 1918 that “the Zionists had no intention of taking over the country … Weizmann later wrote in his diary that Kamil had been polite but disbelieving — and for good reason” (173). Even the Balfour Declaration, under which Britain promised to set up a “Jewish national home” in Palestine, is dropped into the story without explanation.

History from below?

The Rise and Fall also suffers from a severe lack of direct quotes. The most damning evidence against Zionism often comes from their own archives, and critical Israeli historians like Pappe have been central in bringing these to light. But, for some reason, this book often lacks direct quotes, tending to prefer reported speech. For example: “[Menahem] Ussishkin was the paragon of the new Zionist leader. Unlike some of his colleagues, he openly discussed Zionism as a colonialist project and declared on more than one occasion that any indigenous resistance to the Jewish colonization of Palestine would have to be met with force, coercion and even expulsion” (172). Here, the reader would benefit from an example of what Ussishkin said in his own words.

One final point must be made. Since this book was likely being completed at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, Pappe’s aim to publish in Hebrew a more realistic historical approach to the extensive (and often hostile) literature on Hajj Amin was admirable. And his approach of looking at the wider family rather than an undue focus on the mufti alone is highly successful. However, compared to leftist Palestinian studies like Kanafani’s, I couldn’t help but think that his analysis is a little optimistic in places. He concludes the final chapter saying that at one point in history, notable families such as the Husaynis had “enable[d] social transformation in a moderate fashion” (341). For me, the wider findings in the book itself do no show that. That’s not to say Pappe is uncritical, by any means: there is a decent section on Hajj Amin’s failed attempt to work with Nazi Germany during the 1940s, when he was in exile and marginalized from the Palestinian national movement.

I do recommend this book to those interested in the topic, but as supplementary reading, alongside other more basic outlines of Palestinian history of the periods in question. Despite Pappe’s characteristic effort to orient the book as much as possible to a “history from below” approach (7), this is ultimately the history of the predominant aristocratic family in Palestinian history up until 1948: those who Kanafani refers to as the “feudal religious” leadership of the national movement.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

New book exposes brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners

First published by the Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 5 August 2011

Shlomo Gazit, an Israeli general and the first “coordinator of government activities” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip apparently wrote a book in 1985 about Israel’s occupation policies there called The Carrot and the Stick. It is quite telling that such Israeli terminology relates to Palestinians as if they are animals. A new book about Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinians contains strong evidence that these policies have been a lot more about the “stick” of physical and psychological torture than about the “carrot” of persuasion.

Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel is a collection of essays from Pluto Press edited by Abeer Baker and Anat Matar. The contributors focus on different aspects of Israel’s system of political prisons. It is rare for such an anthology to be of such consistently high quality. Quite often essay collections can be a mixed bag but Threat is rarely less than interesting. Palestinian prisoners and the solidarity movements of their families and supporters have long been emblematic in the Palestinian liberation struggle. So the book is an important and welcome attempt to educate English-speakers on this neglected topic.

Consider, for example, this astonishing statistic: “almost half of all the prisoners held by the Israeli prison system are Palestinians who have been sent to prison by the military courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)” (68). Furthermore, this share seems to have been consistently high over a long period: the figure stood between 45 and 60 percent during the first two decades after the 1967 occupation (72).

The contributors to this book are from a mix of Israeli, Palestinian and other backgrounds but most are lawyers, academics and professional activists for human rights groups in Israel such as Adalah (with whom Baker works as a lawyer) or B’Tselem. We can also read the words of Palestinian prisoners, recalling their own experiences.

We learn from Alon Harel and Yael Berda about what exactly “security prisoners” are. They are “deprived of many of the rights granted to non-security prisoners” (37). Yet the definition of “security prisoners” is not just those who engage in armed struggle — Palestinian political activists who do not use violence are also classified as such. Berda notes, “It is actually surprising how, under the harsh classification regimes of the security threat, many Palestinians have chosen nonviolent political and social action, even though it carries with it similar consequences to the violent actions” (54).

In reality, the Israeli secret police — the Shin Bet — decides who is a “security prisoner”. Known by its formal title the General Security Services (GSS), the Shin Bet runs a system that is “constructed and applied administratively by the GSS alone” (52). We also learn, in information relevant to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, that the closeness of Israeli universities to the Shin Bet has meant “merging the security apparatuses with bases of academic power” (52).

Apartheid behind bars

The prisoners are emblematic of the whole Palestinian struggle for many reasons, not least of which is the system of apartheid that they are fighting against. It is striking that this applied to the whole of historic Palestine, not just the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It applies to Palestinians living in Israel, too: “In January 2009, there were about 370 Israeli Arab citizens classified as security prisoners. A small number of Jewish prisoners are classified by the IPS [Israel Prison Service] as security prisoners but they are not subjected to the harsh conditions reserved for the Palestinians” (80).

Sharon Weill’s essay is a strong contender for best essay in the book. She proves that because of the separate and unequal legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians there — civil courts for Israeli Jews but military courts for Palestinians — the occupation of the West Bank is best understood as a system of apartheid. I was amazed to learn that “until 2004 the [Israeli military] judges did not need to have any legal background; they were just regular officers, usually very young” (147). She also includes a strong example of how Israeli apartheid applies to even its own (supposedly equal) Palestinian citizens: “While Israeli Jews have been excluded from the military courts’ jurisdiction as a matter of policy, Palestinians carrying Israeli IDs (especially those from East Jerusalem), committing an offense within the OPT, have always been tried there” (141).

Disturbing studies on torture and rape

There is a wide range of rich topics addressed. Palestinian sociology professor Nahla Abdo has a devastating critique of colonial feminism and the “Western Orientalist literature [that has since 2002] emerged to deal with the female military resistance” (59). Abdo shows how Western academics have tried to analyze female Palestinians fighters as a response to a supposed endemic misogyny in Palestinian society — to “wipe away the stigma of being female” as one has put it (59). She proceeds to convincingly dismantle this crude framework of assumptions. Abdo then moves on to sexism and racism in the Israel Prison Service and recounts disturbing case studies — from her own research and interviews with women prisoners — of sexual torture and rape by Israeli personnel.

If I have one reservation about the book it is its inevitable (considering the authors’ professional backgrounds) bias towards the “human rights” narrative, rather than the resistance narrative. For example, the failed case by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din against the practice of transferring Palestinians to prisons outside the West Bank cited by Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard seemed in effect to be arguing for Israeli prisons to be rebuilt in the West Bank (197-198). The Israeli high court rejected the Yesh Din petition on patronizing and spurious grounds. But the fact that a liberal Israeli human rights organization was not instead arguing for all the political prisons to be emptied exposes the contradictions and limits of such legal activism within the system of apartheid Zionism.

The editors — and some of the authors — seem to be aware of this to an extent, and Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka’s essay concluding the book is a good antidote in this regard, since it critiques this tendency. Daka sees the Palestinian Authority as key to this transformation: “the ‘Palestinian Revolution’ was replaced by the ‘Palestinian Authority,’ the mobilization of these young people [in the PA armed forces] signals the replacement of struggle with the ‘rule of law’ and ‘resistance’ with the ‘prevention of armed chaos’ … These new slogans do not belong to a discourse of a liberation movement; they were invoked to make the movement disappear” (238-239).

I would have liked to read more from Palestinian prisoners in their own words: 8 out of the 22 contributions in the book are by Palestinians (including Palestinian citizens of Israel) who are often former or current prisoners. But to be fair, those included offer deep and insightful historical analysis as well as important and troubling eyewitness accounts of torture and ill-treatment in Israeli prisons.

Overall, there is a wealth of history, analysis, documentation and plenty of legal details in this book. And fortunately, the legal details rarely lead into dry or unreadable territory. Threat comes highly recommended.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

Endemic pro-Israel bias in UK TV coverage, new book finds

Originally published by Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 25 June 2011

Glasgow University Media Group’s ambitious new study of British TV’s coverage of Israel and the Palestinians, More Bad News from Israel, is the second edition of 2004’s Bad News From Israel. Led by academics Greg Philo and Mike Berry, this work is precise, fair-minded and detailed. It constitutes irrefutable evidence of endemic pro-Israel bias.

Those of us regularly subjected to BBC and ITV news won’t exactly find this conclusion surprising but the importance of detailed documentary evidence like this book provides cannot be overstated.

The team had originally analyzed approximately 200 bulletins and questioned more than 800 persons. This new edition examines coverage from the past few years (369). Samples of coverage were taken from the main news bulletins on BBC and ITV (the most popular TV news programs in the UK). The authors identify key themes, such as coverage of casualties on “either side,” justifications for violence and “peace conferences” and international diplomacy. Audiences from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds were asked to complete a series of questionnaires and take part in focus groups. The vast majority reported that TV news was their primary source of information on Israel and the Palestinians.

The samples, taken from key moments in recent history, are well chosen. The focus of the initial study was coverage of the second Palestinian intifada’s outbreak in 2000 (in the first two weeks of which, Israel, by its own soldiers’ accounts, fired a million bullets at unarmed protesters). The next samples are taken from one year later (by which time Palestinian groups had started retaliatory bombings within Israel), and from coverage of the March and April 2002 Israeli re-invasions of the occupied West Bank.

The new chapters look at coverage of Israel’s 2008-09 winter assault on Gaza and the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla a year ago (which was breaking news at the time the book was due to go to print).

Systematic preference for Israeli points of view

By fastidiously counting lines of transcript text, the authors identify a systematic preference for Israeli points of view. Israeli speakers were given twice as much space as Palestinians during the first few weeks of the intifada (215). Israeli casualties were disproportionately reported, accounting for approximately a third of the coverage, despite the actual ratio of 13 Palestinian deaths to one Israeli at that stage (223). After the Palestinian retaliatory bombing campaign began, this phenomenon worsened: “from October to December 2001 we found that there was significantly more coverage of Israeli casualties than Palestinian” even though the reality was actually still the opposite (259-60).

The study’s most telling findings concern the dominant explanatory framework and the lack of background or historical context in coverage. Even when individual journalists manage to make implicit criticisms of Israeli actions, such as on the killing of civilians, Israeli rationales were always reported — or even adopted by journalists themselves. “The journalists do not always sound happy about the Israeli rationales” but they were still included and “there is no comparable inclusion or discussion of the reasons for Palestinian action” (254).

The authors give many examples of this, including an ITV report from March 2002 that described Israeli collective punishment destroying civilian infrastructure around Bethlehem as “the ongoing fight against terror.” But there are “no commentaries such as ‘the Israeli attacks have reinforced the determination of Palestinian fighters to defend their land against Israeli terror’ [and] … we do not hear of Palestinian attacks as sending ‘a tough message to Israelis to end military rule’” (265). Such statements are unimaginable on British TV.

“All bang bang stuff”

One BBC journalist was told by his editor he wasn’t interested in “explainers” since “it’s all bang bang stuff” (180-1). But the audience studies here reveal “a strong feeling in the [focus] groups that the news should explain origins and causes” (315). This is unsurprising, considering that audiences questioned here often did not even know what nationality “settlers” were, or that there was a military occupation of the West Bank (400-1).

The two key historical events missing from the narrative of TV news are the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”), what Palestinians call the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of their homeland in 1947-48, and the military occupation that started in 1967 (333). One student in a focus group said: “I didn’t realize they [Palestinians] had actually been driven out” (292). As the authors put it: “these absences in public knowledge very closely parallel the absence of such information on the TV news” (294).

The new audience studies for this second edition looked at whether anything has changed since 2004. The answer for the most part seems to be no. Coverage of Palestinian casualties seems to have increased, but Israeli casualties are still over-represented proportionate to the level of Palestinian deaths (363). Overall, the “most striking feature” of the new samples was “the dominance of the Israeli perspective” (340).

Has the tide turned on perceptions of Palestine?

Many of us who follow Western perceptions of Palestine have gained optimism by detecting a slow but positive shift in public opinion in support of Palestinians over the last couple of years. Perhaps that is still true, but the new findings here give pause for thought. The framework of assumptions is still overwhelmingly influenced by the Israeli version of events. In other words, Palestinian actions are always assumed to lead to Israeli “responses.”

The original study revealed that the “Israeli response to Palestinian violence” formula was so all-pervasive that the infamous Israeli killing of Gaza schoolboy Muhammad al-Dura in the first days of the intifada was understood by many as as “response” to a killing of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah — even though the latter event actually took place afterwards (305). The updated audience studies here suggest that this malign phenomenon has not changed.

Palestinian rockets from Gaza were still seen by many as the main reason for Palestinian civilian deaths: “Palestinians are seen as initiating the violence … [so] it follows that Israel is ‘retaliating’” (378). On the BBC during the sample period 27 December 2008 to 17 January 2009, Israel’s November 2008 violation of the ceasefire with Hamas was mentioned in only 4.25 lines of transcript, compared with 249 lines of text that emphasized the firing of Palestinian rockets into southern Israel (419).

The weakest part of the book is the chapter “Why does it happen?” which offers some tentative explanations for the problematic patterns in the studied coverage. The influence of the Israel lobby is over-emphasized here and there is little analysis of real shared values between the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel, such as imperialism, military hegemony, Orientalist assumptions and racism. There are revealing statements by some in the focus groups that I would have liked to have seen pursued. One person thought Palestinians and Israelis fight “because that’s what their ancestors did and that’s what they know how to do” (374).

Despite this flaw, More Bad News from Israel is a valuable tool in understanding mass media coverage and popular opinion on Israel and the Palestinians. If journalists are to present the Palestinian perspective to people in the West, these are important issues to understand.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book, Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation, will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

Review: “Shifting Sands” anthology a hit and miss


In the preface to the new anthology Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation, dissident Israeli journalist Amira Hass brings attention to “part of this ‘other’ Jewish tradition, the tradition of those who tell jokes and break down walls” (xi).

Published by Whole World Press and edited by Osie Gabriel Adelfang, Shifting Sands is a collection of essays, prose and one poem by Jewish activists and writers. The anthology opens with Linda Dittmar’s account of her Israeli upbringing in pre- and post-Nakba Palestine. She works with Zochrot, the Israeli organization documenting the Nakba — the 1948 catastrophe in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland by Zionist militias.

Dittmar’s story gives clues as to why she would want to get involved. Soon after 1948, the neighboring Palestinian villages were no longer full of the signs of life she was used to seeing as a child: the felaha (villager) women selling produce door-to-door, the lights shining from domestic windows. As a child she could not understand why or how this happened, and her essay is a revealing account of “the silence in which everyone around … [me] colluded” (8).

Continue reading Review: “Shifting Sands” anthology a hit and miss

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).

Continue reading Book review: Popular resistance, popular history

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.

Continue reading The last chance salon: why Ilan Pappe left Israel

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.

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

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)

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

Book review: Humanity and warmth in “Letters from Palestine”

Written for and originally published on The Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 15 December 2010

Western publishers have too often neglected the perspective of Palestinians and other Arabs when it comes to books on Israel and the Palestinians. Letters from Palestine, a new collection of Palestinian writing edited by Kenneth Ring and Ghassan Abdullah, is thus a welcome initiative. As writer Anna Baltzer says in the foreword: “Palestinians themselves are the experts on their own plight and liberation struggle, and their voices are the ones that most need to be heard.” It’s a simple but effective idea — allowing Palestinians to explain in their own words what their lives are like.

Ring explains in the introduction that his interest in the plight of the Palestinian people is relatively recent. The book takes the form of a selection of letters to Ring from Palestinian correspondents, many of whom he was put in touch with by his co-editor Ghassan Abdullah, who himself writes one of the best, and most humorous, chapters of the book. Most of the pieces were written especially for this volume, but others were originally sent out as emails or blog posts addressed to American friends. There are even two poems, including the transcendent and brilliant “Pick Me Up” by Hind Shoufani.

There is a decent selection of the Palestinian experience in all its variety represented in the book; all contributors are Palestinians from the diaspora, from the West Bank and from Gaza — plus one account of contemporary Palestinian life in Haifa. The international scope of the Palestinian reality is well conveyed. Unfortunately omitted for the most part, is the particular plight of refugees in the camps in Arab states (although there is a good selection of stories from West Bank and Gaza refugees). The subjective and personal nature of most of the pieces also means the work as a whole suffers a little from lack of context and detail at times.

The kind of subjects that constitute “everyday life” for Palestinians varies greatly, even within this selection. But some common themes do emerge: personal and collective identity; return and dispersal from the homeland; racism, freedom and family life are some of the most identifiable. The final part of the book brings things up-to-date with tales from the most recent major Israeli assault on the population of Gaza in winter 2008-09.

Continue reading Book review: Humanity and warmth in “Letters from Palestine”

Book review: understanding the economics of occupation

Originally published on Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 1 November 2010

Economist Shir Hever has served as the main author behind a series of pamphlets entitled “The Economy of the Occupation” published by the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem during the past five years. The pamphlets serve as the basis for Hever’s debut book, The Political Economy of the Occupation. Although the work as a whole is still a little disjointed at times, there are enough flashes of brilliance to make this new book more than worth your while.

Hever has an impressive grasp of the literature and has trawled through a slew of primary and secondary sources and raw data to synthesize a solid analysis of the economic factors behind the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Indeed, The Political Economy of the Occupation abounds with fascinating and original insights.

Hever outlines three distinct periods: the early occupation, the late occupation (or the years of resistance) and the privatized occupation (the last two periods overlapping). While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a policy toward the Palestinians of “economic peace” during the 2009 elections, the origins of this idea can be found at the beginning of the occupation in 1967 — of course, it failed.

Hever recounts that soon after occupying the West Bank in June 1967, the military authorities implemented policies such as the “open bridge” to Jordan (an “enemy state” at the time) which allowed Palestinians to continue trading with the Hashemite Kingdom. But this was only one element in a carrot and stick approach. Palestinians were required to obtain permits from the military regime for “nearly any economic activity, from going to work inside Israel to setting up a shop.” Such permits were often revoked in cases where the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, made accusations of “dissenting political activity” (p. 9).

Such economic suppression forced Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to cease working on independent farms, as they became unprofitable. Many then sought jobs within Israel or in the newly booming oil economies of the Gulf states.

Continue reading Book review: understanding the economics of occupation