Saturday, December 22, 2012

Who Serves the Drinks?

"Within colonial histories, the term 'bwana' demarcated racial and class distinctions: white men were 'bwana' and white women 'memsahib.' The implicit distinction was between colonizer men as rulers and colonized boys as servants, an ideological as opposed to chronological distinction." (Jambo Bwana: Obama as Tourist-Guest,, 22/4/09)

The converse of political Zionism's current efforts to portray its project in Palestine as a return of the native son to a homeland from which he was long ago driven, is its wholesale repudiation of the nation that Israel is a settler-colonial state founded by European Jewish colons. This particular facet of Zionism's flight from reality (let me count the ways) looms large in contemporary Zionist discourse these days.

It is no coincidence, for example, that such a prominent contemporary apologist for Israel as Alan Dershowitz should have begun his 2003 book, The Case for Israel, by attempting to rebut the charge. Is Israel a Colonial, Imperialist State? is the question-title of the first chapter of his book. As you'd expect, Dershowitz's answer is a resounding 'NO!': "Israel is a state comprising primarily refugees and their descendants exercising the right to self-determination... refugees escaping the oppressive anti-Semitism of colonial Europe and the Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa." (pp 13-14)

Sure, sure, Bwana, but it's not really that complicated. You see, there's a very simple test for what is and isn't a colonial state: Who serves the drinks?

"'You will have a coffee,' [Elisha] stated, snapping his fingers for the Arab waiter. He put me in mind of the racist post-'67 occupation joke: God calls the founders of the great faiths to his house and they sit around in armchairs - Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius. Suddenly they realise someone is missing. 'Where's Mohammed?' asks Buddha. God claps his hand to his forehead. 'Of course,' he says, 'I forgot. Mohammed! Bring 6 coffees right away!'" (The Death of Moishe-Ganef, Simon Louvish, 1986, p 116)

"There was some guy, I think his name was Muhammad, who became a friend of ours. What does that mean? He understood the game. He understood that the person who makes the decisions isn't... he got it that there's no reason to get the right permits and whatever, the way to do things is with the soldiers in the field. So that's how he got friendly with us. He'd ask, 'Hey, do you need cigarettes?' He would distribute gas in the area, so he'd always come and go, and if you needed something, then you give money to Muhammad and he'll bring it... or he wouldn't take the money. Food? Something to drink? Drinks, cigarettes, little things like that, sure. And in exchange, he'd cross more easily than other people." (Our Harsh Logic: Israeli soldiers' testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010, Breaking the Silence, 2010,p 278)

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