Slight of hand

Truth and reality are difficult concepts to confront. On the one hand, the simple dignity of life demands that we not corrupt or cheapen our existence with delusion and chicanery. On the other, the often corrosive and depressing nature of our immediate and extended environment causes us to engage in theatrics if only to survive the ‘reality and truth’ under which we suffer. And so to cope, deception is willingly ingested in the form of a treat (known as self-deception) or administered forcibly as a drug (media/entertainment/education). This tool is successfully employed on many levels and for many purposes. To the individual for example, it’s useful in denying the panhandler even a sympathetic smile: “That’s not my problem. If he/she wasn’t so lazy. They’re probably going to drink it all away.” We have made, and will make, such condemnations without knowing the slightest about the person crouched or strewn in front of us. To the collective, it’s practical in relieving any sense of responsibility for acts of our government whether it be an oppressive war or a pork-belly budget. The feeling of genuine disempowerment is commonly followed by comforting modesty where we acknowledge our relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things. To the state, it has proven most profitable in concealing everything from public duty to democratic accountability, and most audacious in avoiding citizen initiatives and concrete history. The earlier feeling of modesty is, through implicit and outright coercion, transformed into a sense of shame for having dissented from the patriotic consensus and doubted the integrity of one’s government.

We have witnessed the abominable application of this tactic repeatedly with regards to Palestine. Palestine is pompously denied by remorseless individuals and reckless governments who have convinced themselves that vulgar dismissal is sufficient to erase from the memories and hearts of millions a land, a home, and a consciousness é and é that denying history will somehow succeed in changing it. Like Houdini with a bigger bag of tricks, these masters of illusion would have us believe that Palestine does not exist and that Palestinians have not lived on their land for some two thousand years. They speak reductively of the West Bank and Gaza and not of Palestine, of Arab-Israelis and not of Palestinian-Israelis, of disputed territories and not of occupied territories, and in the end, they speak of compromise and not of justice. This deception, this slight of hand has worked, not because of their talent or their finesse, but because we are not willing to believe what our own! eyes see. Out of fear or greed or tradition or training, we have relinquished our ability to critically think and assess and judge. And because of our unwillingness to confront the truth, manicured newscasters and corporate newspapers provide our opinions for us é we now only see what they want us to see (and I’m not speaking of television images).

Let me tell about three illusions being perpetrated upon us right now as I write and as you read this essay. First, the discussion concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has deteriorated into a debate about the collective Palestinian duty to safeguard Israelis from suicide-bombers. Perhaps someone can explain to me why the occupied must protect the invader from anything, least of all resistance? This statement is not meant to condone suicide bombing é it is certainly a plight for both sides. Rather, it’s an attempt to re-direct the discussion towards the genuine problem instead of an administrative side effect. How can we expect Palestinian youths, burning with rage and frustration, not to turn themselves into walking death-traps while they watch their parents’ dignity playfully defecated on at Israeli checkpoints by teenage soldiers benign with bigotry? While the Israeli army continues to assassinate scores of political and military resistance fighters impetuously killing a great number of bystanders including young children in the process (as though tomahawk missiles and tank shells are somehow more forgivable than flack-jackets imbedded with nails)? While armed and violent settlers routinely participate in the psychological and physical anarchy that is Palestinian life? And while one country, Israel, is permitted to arrogantly defy thirty-seven Security Council resolutions without even a drop of pressure being exerted by this three-legged beast known as the international community and another, Iraq, obliterated twice, first in 1991, ironically enough for invading another country, and then in 2003, with the same irony, for flouting the UN and oppressing its people?

There’s the illusion é with slight of hand, they tactfully substitute important facts for unimportant ones. They tell us that what we think matters, i.e. history, justice, and freedom, actually do not. And because we are innocent, trusting, respecting of authority, or because of the pain that truth causes, or maybe because we need to see leadership where none exists, we believe them. And in a moment, we can no longer tell the difference between truth and illusion. This perversion is so persuasive that even that gaggle of incoherence known as the Palestinian authority é remember the organization that supposedly represents Palestinians é has fallen victim (though their fall, I would argue, was entirely of their own making with incompetent brinkmanship not being a valid excuse for latent treachery).

As the days and bodies add up, the PA continues to plead for American intervention. They fervently awaited Bush’s precious roadmap, incompetently, though I suspect sincerely, expecting something new, something different from every other supposed ‘peace’ offering rotating American presidents conceive of while golfing at Camp David with the likes of Wolfowitz and Abrams as caddies. No less than three of the highest-ranking members of the PA, including the messianic Arafat, had placed their unconditional support behind a document they did not even have the opportunity to review. And, if only to demonstrate that ignoble smugness knows no limit, Bush and Sharon demanded that Arafat appoint Mahmoud Abbas to the leadership of the unpopular autocracy as a pre-condition to the dubious honour of having an unknown, undetailed, unenforceable peace plan submitted to thine enemy by thine enemy’s protector. And so the self-mutilating governor of Gaza obeyed his Great White Father and appointed Abbas. The man both Israel and the US wanted to lead the misleaders, the man that made a fortune following the Gaza-Jericho accord (not unlike other members of Arafat’s patriarchal and decadent clique), the man that once said that recognition for the PLO from the Zionist movement was crucial enough to trounce all other Palestinian interests is now prime minister. We must give the entire lot credit for audacity.

The second illusion is that the roadmap actually matters. Mainstream reporters and editorialists, PA officials and Knesset members cover and discuss the roadmap as if it has meaning, as if its purpose is more than just distortion and deception. They would have us believe that this farcical apparatus will somehow end thirty-six years of senseless bloodshed. A closer look at the document allows us to see that it really isn’t about peace or justice or parity, it’s about little more than false hope. First, the authors (I purposely disregard three parties of the Quartet as this recycled plan shimmers and shimmies with one party’s pestilence). Even the most flippant republicans (Gingrich excluded) understand that their president, with his vacuous smile and opaque stride, is not the paragon of worldliness his parental entourage has tried to convince us of. Whether he could even locate Palestine and Israel on a map is questionable at best. More importantly though, irrespective of Bush’s personal knowledge or feelings towards the Middle East and his gangster buddy ‘the man of peace’, since the days of Eisenhower (or arguably Kissinger), American foreign policy has not been of any one person’s exclusive jurisdiction, rather it’s directed by an alliance of political, corporate, and religious interests to which the American president, any American president, is beholden. Thus, we must ask ourselves whether the economic and racial motivations underpinning the American position have been altered in such a way as to warrant a shift in their traditional attitude of absolute acquiescence to anything Israeli. Second, the map. A state without freedom of movement is not unlike a home without doors é a prison under any other name is still a prison. Does this new plan call for independence and self-determination for the Palestinian people, or does it echo every other American/Israeli plan of subservience and self-rule? Does it address the issue of closure, a precious euphemism for captivity and collective punishment, that has brought the Palestinian economy (though not its people) to its knees? Does it solve the issue of water? Of the repatriation of 4 million refugees? Of compensation for land taken in 48? Of those Trojan horses known as settlements? Of hundreds of kilometers of Jews-only roads that mock semi-universal notions of religious equality and racial desegregation, brutally paved over Palestinian olive trees and Palestinian souls for the purpose of preventing any territorial and psychological contiguity within the Palestinian mind? And what about Jerusalem? Has this American administration, practiced and skilled in Orwellian doublespeak, doubletalked their way around (or through) Jerusalem?

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been hijacked by three entities. In the dominant position we have the American administration that for decades has provided Israel with the incessant financial, military, diplomatic, and now theological support necessary for it to maintain its garroting grip over the Palestinians, to the ignorance of most Americans I suspect. In almost equal footing, as the only nuclear totting Leviathan in the Levant, we find the Israeli government. One need only peruse briefly through Israeli newspapers to discover that the state’s dominant norm is far from monolithic among its people. And in a distant third, we discern the Palestinian authority, incapable of doing little more than provide order and continuity to the present state of chaos and catastrophe. To say that the PA has failed to represent all Palestinians, including residents of Palestine, Palestinian-Israelis, and the millions of refugees scattered throughout the Middle East and the world is misleading for it leaves the impression that it has acted for the benefit of some Palestinians. To the detriment of its abandoned constituency, the PA’s record of legendary short-sightedness and maniacal megalomania has done absolutely nothing to further the Palestinian cause, to the contrary it has left the people isolated and out of touch with their ever-expanding support network.

Which brings us to the third illusion é what mandate do these assemblies of misleaders have? What legitimacy do they negotiate with? The illusion is that because of the alleged similarities between their agendas and the agendas of the people they claim to embody, they are better suited to make representations on our behalf. The illusion is that we actually need them. Let’s look at this rationally. Would Americans prefer to have their billions in tax dollars subsidize an illegal and immoral occupation or would they prefer to see that money spent towards reducing ballooning healthcare and decelerating a decaying educational system? Would Israelis choose to maintain that same occupation at the cost of their downward spiraling economy and the maelstrom of fear they now live in, or would they choose to relinquish land they never have any intention of using (when we consider that 80% of the Israeli population resides on less than 20% of their actual territory)? And most importantly, does anyone sincerely believe that Palestinians, a traditionally modest and compassionate people, would not welcome a swift and peaceful conclusion to the Luciferian lives they have been cursed with?

Every question I have put forward today is of course debatable. In a roundabout way, this is the very point I’ve been trying to make. We should be debating these issues. We should be dialoguing towards a solution. And by we, I mean us, the people é scholars, artists, students, workers, and exiles. Not the governments, not the interest groups, and certainly not the corporate industries that have been puppeteering the entire fiasco. These bourgeois agencies live in a peripheral world from that of ordinary people. The security of their imperial sanctuaries and the sanity of their largely amorphous lives have eroded their ability to even conceptualize the festering cesspools of pain and misery they have cultivated. Further, because of the disjunctive nature of their persons, we would be foolish to expect them to voluntarily produce anything helpful without civil society impressing upon them the need for change. To resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict we must re-focus the blame that we clumsily award to the ‘other’ side towards the very entities that profit from its perpetuation. Arafat, Bush, and Sharon are but three men. Though it is true that they answer to a larger band of warmongers and profiteers content to drown us in a flood of confusing and nonsensical rhetoric, our side, the side of justice and peace is larger, more powerful, and more articulate, with its supporters numbering the millions. We must transcend these men and the apocalyptic clans they speak for. This can be accomplished by acknowledging that our conventional approach of fighting policy has failed, for as we have seen fighting policy without fighting power changes the guard but does not bring down the castle.

This movement is not new nor is it revolutionary. Said and Ashrawi, Shahak and Pappe have been, to borrow from one of the authors, speaking “the truth to power” for years. Despite what the polls may tell us, this movement is finally picking up momentum. Perhaps because of the emerging urgency of the demographic reality and the knowledge that even walls can not prevent the capricious tide of occupational hazards from trickling over, or perhaps because of the Pyrrhic nature of land acquired by genocide, a large number of people within and outside the Israeli territories are finally beginning to understand the occupation as a cultural calamity for the occupier as well as the world. We must reach out to these people. We must co-ordinate the resistance é intellectual, economic, and physical. If enough people work towards it, the territorial rearrangements can be reversed. If enough people will it, the gangster’s plan of annihilation can be defeated. Concepts of pessimism ! and optimism are irrelevant to this discussion. What we need are rational people willing to take meaningful steps towards pragmatic action. In the end, South Africa was saved through effective co-operation. In the end, Palestine can be too.

The writer is an intellectual property and criminal law attorney licensed in Canada and the State of California. Currently on sabbatical in Sweden where he is doing research and graduate studies in European intellectual property law at Stockholm University. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Sweden.