There are numerous developments or discussions that have been playing out around the issue of Palestinians living under Israeli apartheid. To highlight some of them, I invited independent journalist Rania Khalek to have a discussion with me.
Khalek recently wrote an article titled, “Does The Nation have a problem with Palestinians?” It was published by Electronic Intifada.
This is the first part of our discussion. It covers the catastrophic effects of the winter storm on Gaza and the American Studies Association boycott resolution, which recently passed. Khalek also addresses talk that has played out since Nelson Mandela’s death on why there is no “Palestinian Mandela” or “Arab Mandela.”
Here’s the video of our discussion and a transcript is below:
KEVIN GOSZTOLA, Firedoglake.com: One of the reports that came out was that more than 5,000 have actually been evacuated from this disaster area. There’s been a few images that people may have seen, but for the most part the disaster area that Gaza turned into hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. So take some time to give people an update on the situation.
RANIA KHALEK, independent journalist: What’s happened in Gaza is there’s been a catastrophic fuel shortage over the last month because the border with Egypt, there’s tunnels through that border, and that’s what Gaza usually relies on because there’s a blockade that’s imposed by Israel and the US and Egypt. That’s usually where they get their fuel but Egypt with their military dictatorship has clamped down on those and destroyed a lot of them. Gaza’s been basically dealing with days with 12-18 hours of no electricity, just like ridiculous blackouts. And right now is the wintertime and it’s really cold and this huge storm came and flooded Gaza.
It’s one of the heart-breaking things we’re seeing in a lot of the videos and pictures is people shivering in these concrete shelters with no heat. You can imagine in the wintertime being without heat on top of the electricity, but on top of that because there’s been this fuel shortage Gaza’s water pump station has not been working. There’s been sewage openly just floating in the middle of the streets. It’s really just horrific to look at, like there’s just kids walking to school having to tread through sewage. It’s disgusting.
On top of that, you’ve got this flooding that’s taken place so now all these streets are flooded with rainwater and sewage and it’s really cold and there’s people having to be evacuated from their homes. There were some reports saying that there had been dams that Israel had opened in certain towns, which had flooded parts of Gaza, but I don’t know accurate that is but that’s happened in the past.
Basically, you’ve got this situation where there’s really bad flooding in Gaza. It’s strangled and paralyzed the entire place. You’ve also got no electricity. They’ve just gotten some fuel sent in there from the past week from Qatar so we’ll see how that goes, but there’s been mostly a blackout on it. Not many media outlets have reported on it. If they have, they’ve reported a short wire piece and that’s it and so it’s really sad because Gaza is basically this little area where 1.7 million or so people live and they’re under a blockade where they are cut off from everything by Israel. And that’s the collective punishment. The majority, half the population, is children.
There was also recently a doctor or psychiatrist that passed away, who lived in Gaza who is really well known for all the work he did there. And that’s really sad, but I just want to point out that a lot of work he did had to do with examining the trauma that a lot of Palestinians have to deal with. A lot of Palestinians have PTSD because they are constantly being bombed. Just last year they were being bombed heavily by Israel, the civilian population.
The war doesn’t ever stop in Gaza. It’s sad that the international community doesn’t pay attention if bombs aren’t exploding because it’s just another form of war.
GOSZTOLA: To be clear, I said crisis in Gaza. It’s not like this is a new thing. It’s constant. I just want to make sure I am not giving off that impression. I recognize that it goes back decades upon decades and it’s constant that there’s this crisis situation. But yet, where you have something remarkable like this happen, where if it was in Indonesia we might have gotten to see a drone fly over to get this vivid imagery, we just haven’t seen that on our news at all. I haven’t seen that on CNN.
KHALEK: It’s not really a natural disaster. Yeah, there’s been this horrible snowstorm that hit the Middle East but not far from Gaza is parts of the Israel and even the West Bank, not that from Gaza and Israel. And those areas don’t have the same kind of humanitarian catastrophe and it’s because they’re not under blockade.
GOSZTOLA: Now, in the news is this American Studies Association boycott and we’ve had a less but also important news around this boycott by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association—That they passed these measures or resolutions. Could you talk about the significance of this for Palestinians? Obviously, the academics involved are pleased that they were able to make this possible but what is this going to do for Palestinians?
KHALEK: This is a big deal because a few years back Palestinian civil society called for a boycott, the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement and the academic cultural boycott of Israel, because of their apartheid policies and the impact they have on Palestinians. And so there’s been a lot of university student activism on this front and lately it seems like they’re really starting to gain traction.
There’s been all these wins, all these like victories. This isn’t really going to change anything on the ground right now, but it’s a big deal that you’ve got academic associations that historically go back and are a big deal that are coming down on the side of Palestinians and say we support you. We’re in solidarity with you, and you know we’re going to boycott these academic institutions in Israel until their policies change.
It’s really important that this has taken place and I think it’s a really big moment in terms of the movement in the United States. It’s sort of like a turning point. It’s almost like a domino effect because there’s starting to be all these things happening at the same time like the ASA boycott, the Asian American studies association boycott and now you have the Native American or indigenous studies program so it’s sort of like a domino effect. And it’s important. We’re going to see that as it continues because I think it’s only going to continue to grow support for the BDS campaign.
I think that what’s been really interesting to see in the media is the backlash to it. You’ve got a lot of writers and journalists very much emotionally invested in the idea of Israel as a majority Jewish state, who don’t support BDS and who’ve been writing a lot of pieces condemning the ASA decision while also calling it insignificant at the same time. So I think that right there tells you a lot if you’ve got people saying this is insignificant, like totally dismissing it. This is just a bunch of lefty academics, but at the same time they’re really nervous because they realize this is a big deal. This is starting to get mainstream appeal and that scares them.
In terms of Palestinians, this is their form of nonviolent resistance, this boycott. Basically, the international community refuses to hold Israel accountable so this is sort of like the resistance of the oppressed. This is what happened during apartheid in South Africa and the divestment—It’s very similar to the divestment movement back then, where individuals in civil society in solidarity with the oppressed stand up and do something about it when their governments won’t.
GOSZTOLA: And this is a good way to transition because we had the death of Nelson Mandela and a lot of people have been talking about what this might mean for the Palestinians because they recognize there is a similarity with what they’re going through to what black Africans were going through under apartheid in South Africa. So, what are your thoughts on all of the discussion and the recognition among some people who are Jewish or have been supporters of Israel and even against Palestinians understanding they are going to have to give something up now, recognizing this shift?
KHALEK: In terms of Mandela, with his death there’s been a lot of sanitizing. We’ve seen that, and I think one of the biggest areas that have been sanitized is his solidarity with Palestinians. There’s been some talk in mainstream outlets that is like, oh yeah, he supported—He was friends with Yasser Arafat and like friends with Gaddafi. But that’s really all that’s been said.
No, Nelson Mandela, just like ANC—which he was a leader of—was very much in support of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, colonization. And they saw it as very similar to their own struggle and even the ANC now has taken a lot of moves against Israel and is probably one of the few government entities in the world that’s actually been vocal against Israel and called it apartheid.
There’s people who were colleagues in the ANC who have basically said that what they see happening in Israel to the Palestinians is worse than what happened under apartheid so I think it’s really important not to ignore the fact that Mandela was a huge supporter of Palestinians and very much saw them as the oppressed in their situation.
And then there’s always this idea of where’s the Palestinian Mandela? We kind of talked a little bit about that earlier. There’s always these articles I keep seeing, oh, where’s the Palestinian Mandela? Where’s the Arab Mandela? I think that’s kind of interesting. I think that also goes into sanitizing who Mandela was because he wasn’t a nonviolent resistor.
There’s always this idea that he was an icon for peace. No, he was the architect of the armed wing of the ANC against the white supremacist apartheid government in South Africa. He supported taking up arms against them. And I am not saying that’s something necessarily I support, but at the same time I am not going to condemn. I don’t think it’s fair to condemn people who are being oppressed for resisting violence with violence, especially if you are not going to call out that violence and I have seen a lot of that happening. And when it comes to asking where the Arab Mandela or specifically where the Palestinian Mandela—If you really want a Palestinian Mandela, he’s probably in Israeli prisons.
Israel has a lot of Palestinians in prisons for trumped up charges. A lot of Palestinians sit in prisons indefinitely without being charged with anything. They end up subjected to the military court system as opposed to like the settlers, who get arrested (if they do get arrested), who are subjected to Israeli civil law. That’s just one aspect of Israeli apartheid there.
When we ask where’s the Arab Mandela, it’s like, you want an Arab Mandela? But, let’s look at the various groups who are considered terrorist groups in the Arab world. Or, let’s look at who is in charge in the Arab world. In often cases, it’s lots of dictators who are supported by the United States and Israel and Europe, the UK, and I highly doubt that they want to see an Arab Mandela, if you can even call it that, and if they ever did see the one they would probably be quick to imprison him or drone strike him. Or her.
GOSZTOLA: The Palestinians, in many ways, there have been people they consider their Mandela. What you say is important about the fact that they would be imprisoned and maybe you want say some more on this. Nelson Mandela recognized if political demonstrations and peaceful protest was impossible they were going to have to escalate and move on to other tactics. Clearly, in the history of the Israeli occupation, that came a long time ago for the Palestinians.
KHALEK: That’s absolutely true. There was decades before the PLO took up arms. There was decades of that kind of resistance.
Also, I would like to point out there’s still nonviolent resistance, like all over Palestine. Especially in villages in the West Bank—I really recommend to anybody who is watching, if they haven’t already seen it, to see the film, 5 Broken Cameras, which is in one of those villages in the week that has weekly demonstrations against Israel which is building a wall that’s taking up their land, Palestinian lands.
So they have weekly demonstrations against what Israel is doing and the entire film is video documentation of these demonstration by one of the Palestinians that lives there. And you see every week it’s tear gas, rubber bullets, people get killed demonstrating. It’s really nonviolent and you see just how violent the every day nonviolent resistors are subjected in Israel. It’s similar to what Nelson Mandela said, when there’s no other avenue, he supports taking up arms, armed struggle.
I remember personally watching this video and seeing how much violence from the Israeli forces nonviolent forces were up against and thinking to myself if I were in that situation and watching Israelis raid my house and kidnapping my children and taking them to Israeli prisons and confiscating my land and controlling my life the way they do—I don’t know if I would be able to stick with nonviolent peaceful resistance. That’s not an endorsement of shooting at people, but at the same time it really puts things in perspective the way the conflict is portrayed to us.
GOSZTOLA: Well, it’s easy for us here in the United States to watch these violent conflicts—at least that’s what it looks like from afar—watch these violent conflicts unfold and then say that the people who are fighting the government should be peaceful. If you’re not living in that society, then you can’t know what actually goes into making that choice.
KHALEK: It’s a privilege that we have here to sit around and debate what’s a legitimate tactic for the oppressed. But I think in the case of Mandela and people talking about Mandela in relation to like the Arab world or the Muslim world or whatever you want to call it. I just think that’s what it is. It ‘s a bunch of privileged people who get to live in places—where they don’t necessarily have to contend with those kind of ideas sitting around talking about how people oppressed in a different part of the world largely by our government—how they should respond.
That kind of lecturing strikes me as part of the hashtag that I started the other day, which we’re going to talk about.
GOSZTOLA: One last thing – I’ve seen this discussion about the Arab Mandela or the Palestinian Mandela. And then people talk about maybe Israel needs a de Klerk, F.W. de Klerk, someone who would be willing to negotiate. But I’ve also seen Mahmoud Abbas equated to Nelson Mandela, which I think is kind of odd if you actually know Palestinian issues—Believing that those two individuals, Benjamin Netanyahu being de Klerk and Abbas being Mandela, somehow they need to be able to work out their differences.
Maybe, let’s take a moment here to make it clear that this honest broker process doesn’t exist especially with the US trying to be the main arbiter.
KHALEK: You can tell that from the past decades of the “peace process,” and I put peace process in big quotes. There’s been more settlement construction than ever before. The peace process has really been a cover for Israel to continue colonizing and dispossessing Palestinians, demolishing homes inside Israel and outside Israel. It’s just been systematic ethnic cleansing, a continuation of what Israel started in 1948, which I think some of their leaders campaign on that slogan, “Finish ’48.”
So I think it’s ridiculous to suggest we have to continue investing in this peace process that has only brought about more dispossession, colonization and more terror on Palestinians. That’s ridiculous and I think Mahmoud Abbas, to suggest that he represents in any way the views of all Palestinians is hilarious. He is a de facto autocratic dictator basically who maybe enjoys some support but also is a puppet of the United States and Israel. That’s the only reason he is allowed to be their leader.