I've just read a review, Moving plea for peace, by Stella Clarke, of Izzeldin Abuelaish's just released book, I Shall Not Hate.
Abuelaish, you may remember, was the Palestinian doctor whose grief-stricken cries over the deaths of his 3 daughters during the murderous Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 were heard by phone-link on Israeli television and broadcast around the world.
I haven't yet read his book, but, in light of Clarke's uncritical review - "a brave, moving and important book" - it'll be so low down on my reading list that I'll probably never get around to it. As you'll see, I have problems with both Abuelaish and his reviewer. However, if anyone out there does read it (and I'm sure, given such reviews as Clarke's, it will sell), please feel free to use your inside knowledge to correct (or confirm) what I'm about to say about it:
"'My God, my god - they shelled my house. They killed my daughters. What have we done?' These few distraught words explain why Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish, now associate professor of public health at the University of Toronto, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is no scream of hate or blame. Even in extremis, Abuelaish affirms a collective responsibility for what The Guardian recently called 'the world's most intractable conflict'." (The Australian, 12/2/11)
So let me get this right: the Palestinian Arabs - who have been blown from pillar to post ever since the Zionist movement decided in earnest that their patch wasn't really their patch, and that, one way or another, they simply had to go - are equally (or even partly) responsible for the world's most intractable conflict? The ethnically cleansed and the occupied are just as responsible (or at least partly so) for the conflict as their ethnic cleansers and occupiers?
I don't think so.
Abuelaish's in extremis cry - What have we done? - really says it all.
All the Palestinians are guilty of is simply refusing to go quietly into the proverbial good night, as required by every Zionist mover and shaker from Herzl to Netanyahu. Nothing more, nothing less. If Clarke's reference to collective responsibility is in fact the core message of Abuelaish's book, it can hardly be taken seriously.
"An explosion sent him running to his daughter's bedroom, where he found their blasted body parts. Another was still walking, with one eye blown out of her head and her fingers severed."
Oh, I see, a causeless explosion, out of the blue, apropos nothing - certainly nothing whatever to do with the lovely folk who created the Gaza Ghetto and sealed it off from the world, and who, as the mood takes them, like to get back in, boots and all, and give it a real going over.
"Two years later, 'I Shall Not Hate' expresses Abuelaish's credo that it is only through an acknowledgement of shared humanity that the decades of antagonism between Jews and Palestinians can be halted."
So he who lobbed the shell, he who ordered the lobbing of the shell, he who decided that it was time to lob shells on Gaza yet again, and he who voted for him and cheered him on, are models of humanity?
I don't think so.
"This book traces Abuelaish's unrelenting efforts, from childhood, not only to survive but successfully to transcend oppression. His persistence is heroic. He tells of overcrowding, of grinding poverty and deprivation resulting from relentless blockades of essential resources, and diminishing space. He tells of homes bulldozed and lives repeatedly damaged. Yet it is a mistake to view his story as an indictment of Israel."
If, as the book's title suggests, Abuelaish's persistence lies in refusing to say a bad word about Israel and its enablers, and this is supposedly what makes him heroic, then surely his 'heroism' is more akin to that of a battered wife who, despite her regular beatings, is nevertheless determined to stand by her man?
And just why is it a mistake to view Abuelaish's story as an indictment of Israel? Poor Israel just can't help it? He goes a little crazy sometimes? Doesn't know his own strength? Really has a heart of gold? Puh-lease!
"Abuelaish was born in 1955 into a history of unstoppable violence and hatred, partly bought [sic] about by political mechanisms."
Political mechanisms, eh? Well, ain't that enlightening?
"However, he avoids the futility of dwelling on historical injustice."
Yeah, who cares who did what to who? History's irrelevant, injustice is history, and here & now is all that matters. Except that I have the feeling that Clarke wouldn't dare say this to the Zionists.
"Thousands of people have been maimed and killed on both sides."
But don't go into the numbers!
"As a doctor, his business is to heal."
Yes, we wouldn't want him going the way of Dr Habash now, would we?
"Abuelaish has treated people in the Gaza Strip and Israeli hospitals for infertility. He says there is no difference between newborns, before they are taught to hate."
But who better to teach the Palestinians to hate than those who savagely beat the shit out of them on a daily basis, and who have been doing so since 1948?
"He pleads for mutual human respect. How is this to be achieved? Beyond creating opportunities for dialogue and cooperation between inhabitants of Israel and Palestine, he has another idea, which must be understood in the context of the region's patriarchal traditions."
Look, if it's not abundantly clear to everyone by now that Israel doesn't do dialogue (except maybe to stuff around etc) or cooperation, even Abuelaish is now finding it hard to avoid seeing the Israeli finger when it's in his face:
"Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, who lost 3 daughters when the IDF fired shells at his home during Operation Cast Lead, will file on Sunday a massive damages claim against the State of Israel. I didn't want to file the lawsuit, and until now I didn't want to discuss it, he told Yedioth Ahronot in a phone interview from Toronto, Canada, where he immigrated following the tragedy. I tried to take every step that would allow me to close this with love and goodwill, but they didn't leave me a choice. According to the law, the statute of limitations will apply to this case within a few weeks - but there is no statue of limitations on the blood of my daughters. It will stay with me forever. It's a catastrophe that's impossible to forget... Abuelaish instructed his lawyer to avoid a law suit and reach a settlement with the security forces which would include recognition and compensation. But no such settlement was reached: the Defence Ministry's legal advisor, Ahaz Ben-Ari announced this week that Abuelaish does not deserve compensation." (Bereaved Gaza doctor to sue Israel, Uri Misgav, 23/12/10)
"He believes that giving women a voice is the best basis for optimism... Where you find a hundred angry men in favour of war, he is convinced you would find only a handful of women."
Ah yes, peacemakers all: Tzipi, Golda, Condie, Hillary etc.
A final word about reviewer Stella Clarke, footnoted as "a lecturer on cultural and literary studies in Britain and Australia" with a "PhD in English literature from the University of Warwick." In a review of Searching for the Secret River by Australian writer Kate Grenville, Clarke has shown she can write candidly about the dispossession of Australia's own indigenous population:
"For non-indigenous Australians, it is probably best to leave the family tree alone unless, like Grenville, you are prepared to face up to your ancestors' bad behaviour. Solomon Wiseman grabbed a slab of the Hawkesbury. Records might say he 'took it up', which is as cunningly neutral as the term terra nullius, but the reality is, Grenville sadly conceded, he 'took it from', which is quite another matter. Wiseman took it from under the noses of the local Aboriginal population, depriving them of land and larder." (Searching for the Secret River, The Australian, 7/10/06)
So why does her candour fail completely when writing about the dispossession of Palestine's indigenous population?