Gaza Unsilenced – Refaat Alareer & Laila El-Haddad

GazaOn July 7, 2014, Israeli began a full scale assault on the Gaza Strip, a self-governing Palestinian territory.  the assault claimed the lives of more than 1,600 men, women and children.   The conflict was a culmination of long-simmering tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.  The Israeli government has made it clear that it wants Hamas to recognize its right to exist.  Hamas has called for a Palestinian state on the land it believes belongs to the Palestinian people.  Multiple foreign governments have made an attempt to mediate the dispute, most notably Egypt.  The role of the United States has generally been in support of its ally Israel.  The vicious assault  was captured and uploaded by Palestinians to such sites as Twitter and Facebook.   The images on social media only tell part of the story of the realities faced by the Palestinians who found themselves under siege and facing an opponent superior in both weapons and finances.  The full story of what was happening inside the Gaza Strip is a much darker and tragic story, revealed here as the Palestinians are given a platform to the break the silence surrounding their experiences under occupation.

Before reading this book, I do believe it is a good idea for readers to brush up on the conflict’s history.  One source that I can recommend is Ilan Pappe’s ‘A History of Modern Palestine ‘, which I have found to be an in-depth and thought provoking compendium on the Palestinian people, their home and the creation of the State of Israel.   A solid understanding of the conflict will undoubtedly highlight why this book is so important. It is a story that I am sure no reader will ever forget.

As a warning, the book contains graphic descriptions of bombings, shootings and other forms of military force.  The devastating results are tough to read at times and I found myself on more than one occasion wondering when the carnage would end.  Quite frankly, this book is not for the faint at heart. It is dark, gritty and without a happy ending. The damage to the Palestinian homeland and psyche is on full display and Israel flexes its military might.  The voices in the book are not soldiers or even leaders, but farmers, reporters, businessmen and others who find ways to survive in a system that resembles apartheid in South Africa and the ghettos of Poland in World War II.  Some of the deplorable conditions Palestinians live in, include a largely inoperative sewage system,  lack of water, restricted exports and woefully understaffed and under-equipped medical facilities.  Famine, disease and infection are the usual culprits aside from violence that have nearly broken the will of the Palestinian people.

I would like to point out that some of the tensions that do exist are not solely the cause of Israel. Hamas has been labeled a terrorist organization and its actions at times have not helped peace negotiations.  Whether its removal from Palestine will finally result in peace remains to be seen.  In December, 2016, the United Nations passed resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.  The United States abstained from voting.  The reacting by Israel was swift and denounced by the Israeli government. For Palestinians and the international community, it was seen as a first step towards truly achieving a legitimate two-State existence.

To understand why life in Gaza exist the way it does, we must first ask why does Israel keep the Palestinians in such conditions?  There are many answers here and some of what is revealed might surprise some readers.   Money plays a role in nearly every major conflict and certainly does here, but the anti-Arab propaganda and horrific acts of discrimination against Arabs are some of the most shocking parts of the book.  The xenophobic thoughts are not just from random common folk, but also espoused by members of government, in effect providing a license to kill to those who believe in extremism.  Readers who are sensitive to this type of subject matter might want to use discretion.

In spite of the many dark lessons to be learned here, there is a bright side.  Voices for change can be heard on both sides of the conflict.  Older Israelis angered by the actions of their government and the younger generation have become more vocal in voicing opposition to the conditions in the Gaza Strip. The social media platforms that unmasked the devastation have also been used to gather support for a new approach by those who wish to see the conflict end.  And there are many who believe that attitudes on all sides are slowly changing and that peace is a real possibility.  But before that can happen, the truth about the Palestinian experience and life in Gaza has to be told.

ASIN: B019136FE6

A History of Modern Palestine: Second Edition-Ilan Pappe

PappThe crisis that exists between Israel and the area that was once the nation of Palestine has evolved into one of the most tragic the world has seen.  Anger on both sides and the failure of mediation on more than one occasion has resulted in the continuation of the long feud.  Each side has its supporters and detractors refusing to abandon their beliefs and stance of the matter.  My interest in the conflict propelled me to acquire this high recommended book on the issue written by Israel historian and social activist, Ilan Pappe (1954-).  Pappe was born in Haifa and continues to educate millions about the true origins of the raging battle.   This phenomenal account of the history of Palestine and its current day status is a must read by anyone seeking to understand the origins of the matter.  To be fair, Pappe is not anti-Israel, but he does however, confront many facts about the history of Palestine that are often very uncomfortable.  But any good researcher should do just that and it is in this area that Pappe shines through.

The book begins in the early 1800s in Palestine before the appearance of large numbers of Europe’s Jews. This is a history that is often neglected and unknown by many.  The Palestine we see is far different from the one that exist today.   As a part of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine is protected by the ruling authorities in Istanbul intent on maintaining the empire’s domain at any costs.   Incredibly, even then, there existed smaller religious minorities freely allowed to practice their faiths.  But sadly at the 1900s approached,  the future of Palestine took a dark turn, one that is fully explored by Pappe and is sure to leave the reader speechless.  But his research and conclusions are critical to understanding the cause of the Palestinian people and the effects of Zionism on foreign territory and domestic policy.

The term Zionism and Judaism are sometimes believed to be the same thing. But as we learn throughout the book, they are in fact two different things and not necessarily operating in the same spectrum.   In the book, we are introduced to the founder of the Zionist cause, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) and his successors that carried the Zionist cause setting their sights on a Jewish homeland. Palestine became their choice and their mission created a conflict that continues to this day.   Pappe does a meticulous job of exploring all of these polarizing figures and their role in the affair.  But what is often left out of the conflict is the role of the British government, heavily complicit in the developments in the area and subsequently in the deadly aftermath.  The relationship between the British Government, Palestinian rulers and the new Zionist immigrants proved to be a power keg determined to detonate at any minute. Two world wars and three agreements later paved the way for the creation of Israel in 1948 and the loss of land by the native Palestinians.  It was the beginning of a war that has claimed thousands of lives and brought shame to those involved and resulted in the meddling by several foreign nations allied to the Israeli or Palestinian cause.

On December 23, 2016, the UN passed a resolution ordering Israel to stop building settlement east of Jerusalem in Palestinian territory.  The order has been ignored by Israel which continues to build settlements.  The abstinence of the United States in voting on the resolution strained the relationship between Israel and its American ally.  The decision by the White House to abstain is in direct contrast to the policy of the US for several decades which actively supported the Israel government.  America’s complicity in the conflict, as well as that of Great Britain, France and other Arab nations seeking to exploit the situation,  created a power vacuum which has no clear ending in sight and helped plunged the Middle East into a cycle of revolution, mayhem and death.  Today it remains to be seen if a two-state solution will ever truly work between the two battle nations.

Throughout the book, many figures make an appearance and their roles in the conflict are explored in-depth.  Forgotten name such as Menachem Begin (1913-1992), David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995), Gamal Abdel-Nasser (1918-1970), Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) and Fayṣal al-Awwal ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn (1883-1933)(Faisal I of Iraq) will jump out at some readers triggering an avalanche of dormant facts and others unknown.  But their names, actions and stories are beyond critical in understanding the evolution of the tragedy.  And like a jigsaw puzzle, the back door political deals, covert operations, overt discrimination, greed and betrayal help set the stage for the region as we know it today.   Right-wing and left-wing groups proliferate on each side of the conflict rendering a peaceful solution seemingly unattainable.  But regardless, the United States continues to condemn the Israeli occupation and has added allies from dozens of countries and even domestic groups in Israel in opposition to the government’s expansionist policies.  Pappe refers to it as the post-Zionist era in which literature and film seeks to tell the real story of the Zionist cause and its devastating effects on the people of Palestine. For them, their struggle continues but they too deal with domestic right-wing groups, the most famous of which are the PLO and Hamas.   Their objectives and those of the Likud, lead by Binyamin Netanyahu, serve as fuel to a towering inferno.

Perhaps in the next decade or two we will finally see peace between Israel and Palestine.  I certainly hope it occurs before more death and destruction of the land they both call home occurs.  Attempts to form a settlement have ultimately fell short time and time again but I and many in the world remain optimistic.  For those who are unsure of what really needs to be done or are unaware of the origins of the dispute, this book by Pappe, is the place to start.

ISBN-10: 0521683157
ISBN-13: 978-0521683159