Review: “Reporting from Ramallah” by Amria Hass

This is really disappointing. I’ve long respected Amira Hass’ reporting from the occupied West Bank and Gaza. And there’s is no question that, as the only Israeli reporting regularly from Palestine these are historically important news reports, taking us through some of the darkest moments of the second intifada.However, in retrospect, Hass frankly supports her “own side” too much here. The worst example of this is when she describes the second intifada as “the war the Palestinians have declared on us” and “Israel’s defensive war”, while her own reporting of events shows that it was the Israeli army who began shooting at unarmed demonstrators at the beginning of the intifada, escalating it into an armed conflict. Worse, there are moments that betray a frankly colonist mindset, the most egregious example of this being her description of Palestinians in a Hebrew class as having “lapsed” back into Arabic during discussions with her (a fluent Arabic speaker herself). It is possible that this is a bad choice of words by the translator, but somehow I doubt it. Instead of implicitly criticising the Palestinians for daring to speak their own native tongue, she should take a look at how many Israelis outside of the secret police take the time to learn Arabic. Again, she unambiguously describes the execution of Palestinian collaborators by Palestinian fighters as “murder” while at the same time describing in very neutral language “the shooting of children” by the Israeli army.

No doubt this is all typical Israeli terminology, but I thought Amira Hass was supposed to be “radical”? Maybe the selection of articles is bad (the editing of the volume is frankly pathetic with several amateurish typographical errors). But this still does not excuse the problems such as those described above.

On the plus side, her reporting has some very good moments. The best article here is probably the one in which she famously grills an Israeli sniper, extracting the news that they are told to shoot dead 12-year-old Palestinian children since they are considered adults: “he’s already had his bar mizvah”. Her reports on internal Palestinian issues are also very good, such as the interviews with unemployed workers and the families of those detained by the PA. Her report from Jenin is very good too. For moments such as these, the book gets three stars.

Reviewed 22 March 2008.

Review: “Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide” by Khaled Hroub

Hm. I’m in two minds about this one. Reading it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was rushed out in the wake of the January 2006 Hamas election victory — an attempt by Pluto Press to make a quick buck. It reads somewhat like a first draft in places, as if it were barely copy edited (there are several grammatical errors). However, in Pluto’s defence, they regularly publish extremely important books whose commercial value is probably less than “best seller”, so one can’t really blame them for wanting to make a bit of cash.All this is not to say that Hroub does not know what he talking about. Quite the contrary. It is clear he is extremely knowledgeable about the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement. But the book is frustratingly short on detail and, often, named sources. It is true that this is only meant to be a basic introduction, and insofar as that was the goal of the book it certainly succeeds. And if you are new to the conflict, it does a good job of dispelling the main Western myths about Hamas.

All, in all good, but it left me wanting to read Hroub’s more detailed book on Hamas.

Reviewed 3 March 2008.

Review: “V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore

It takes a little while to get going, and is a bit slow at the beginning, but it pays off in the end. The vision of home-grown British fascism (as opposed to a “what if” scenario where in the Nazi won WII) is all too convincing. Also, I love the way that the “surveillance society” aspects of the story just seem really tame to the Britain of 2008! Moore even got the propaganda on the CCTV cameras right: “for your protection”!The best aspect of “V for Vendetta”, though, is the well developed characters. It would have been all too easy for a lesser writer to make V an unambiguous super hero (and indeed, that’s apparently what the idiot Wachowski brothers set out to do in the Hollywood film — which I have no intention of watching and Alan Moore had his name removed from) and the fascists into Evil Nazi Baddies. But Moore is far too good an artist for that. That said, he still makes no apologies for fascism, and is obviously a supporter of V’s brand of philosophical “anarchy” (in contrast to the the socialism of the historical Anarchist movement). V’s actions and motivations are ambiguous at times, though — a fact that does credit to Moore and leads to a far more rounded and satisfying work.

Lloyd’s artwork is great, but the only thing stopping me giving this volume 5 stars is the colour work. To my mind, the whole thing would have worked 100% better in black and white, in which the original serialization of the first two books was apparently published in Warrior. The whole art style is made up of shadows and light. This may be just DC’s fault (and indeed, their reproduction here is pathetic — the pages are far too small as they are trying to squeeze the larger page size of British comics into the US format), but the authors apparently colourized it for the final volume when DC picked it up, allowing them to finish the story.

All in all, a political, noir classic, but I wish DC would issue a black and white version in the Absolute format. Because this work does indeed deserve the Absolute treatment. Read it, but I advise hold off buying it since they may well release an Absolute version (probably in colour though — bah).