By Heather Gray
I wrote the first version of the article below regarding a Palestinian “sense of place” for
Counterpunch in 2006 and sent it out also in a 2016 Justice Initiative posting. Yet, given the intensity of struggles and the ongoing Israeli violence against the Palestinians, I am sending out an edited version. Land and the struggles for indigenous integrity are hugely important all over the world. Those of us of European descent (which includes many Israelis) have much to atone for over the centuries regarding grabbing land from others as well as grabbing people to enslave them and the struggles and reverberations of it all are on-going. The impact of abusive and arrogant behavior is seemingly endless particularly when the efforts for reconciliation, reparations, justice and peace are not taken seriously.
Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Conflict and some solutions by the Peled family
Now the contemporary impact of this is becoming all the more intense in the Middle East given the increased Israeli and American arrogance – as with Trump’s outrageous plans to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and the recent and on-going killings by Israelis of Palestinians and all this is coupled with the huge US military support of Israel.
The Israelis might grab the Palestinian land and claim it as their own but they are wrong in assuming that it will be “their” land. It is not theirs and it never will be. It’s way past time for peace, justice and reconciliation. As Israeli Miko Peled has recently stated – “Israel is an illegitimate state and the area should be called Palestine!” Below is his quote in a recent interview:
The United States is a top supporter of the occupation through funding of the Israeli military and providing cover for Israeli violations of international law in the United Nations. Peled emphasizes that activists in the US have a responsibility to take action to end the occupation of Palestine and outlines many ways to do this, including an aggressive BDS campaign and support for legislation in Congress. Peled says “Israel” is an illegitimate state and the area should be called Palestine.
(Miko Peled – Popular Resistance – March 30, 2018)
Over the years I have been fortunate to interview both the father and son – Matti and Miko Peled.
Once retired from the Israeli military in 1969 as a Major General, Matti Peled (1923-1995) received his PhD in Arabic literature from the University of California and he then went back to Israel to, in fact, teach Arabic literature.
In 1992, I interviewed the Matti Peled who was visiting the United States to encourage a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Click here for the PDF of the transcribed interview with him, entitled “Predictions of the Present Day Turmoil in the Middle East.”
Below is a summary of some of Matti Peled’s comments:
As it can be noted, much of what Matti Peled stated in 1992 is still, unfortunately, relevant to today’s situation in the Middle East. As mentioned, I was also fortunate to interview Matti Peled’s son, Miko Peled, who was visiting Atlanta in 2014. Click here for the link to his 2014 Atlanta speech.
A Palestinian “Sense of Place”
Israel’s bombing and reckless destabilization of Palestinian communities is ongoing.
Yet, given the past century and the consistent abuse by Israelis, it has become clear that Israel can attempt to diminish the Palestinian claims on Palestine or weaken their resolve, but it’s highly unlikely it will succeed. No matter the strength of bombs, missiles and Caterpillar bulldozers or whatever the Israelis use, can never destroy the ancestral stories and culture that are rooted in the Palestinians themselves.
Probably no one says this better than Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:
I Come From There
I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.
I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…..
The land holds the stories, the history. The land holds the roots. The land embraces the ancestry of thousands of years. The Palestinian people will preserve this no matter what. This is the most powerful weapon of all. You cannot bomb it away. Middle Eastern Jews also have this history, but it’s a shared history with Palestinians.
The Israelis have tried to erase the Palestinian history in any number of ways. Destruction of records is one example. Years ago, in bombings in the city of Nablas, the Israelis decimated an administration building holding thousands of Palestinian documents, some more than 100 years old, of deeds and family histories connected with land. In Gale Courey Toesing’s article “First Destroy the Archives: 9/11 Nablas” (Counterpunch July 27, 2006), she quotes Abed Al Illah Ateereh, the director of the Ministry of the Interior in Nablus:
“There is 100 percent damage,” Ateereh said. “They destroyed the building completely, but that wasn’t enough for the Israelis. They then used their Caterpillar bulldozers to churn up everything and mix all the documents with the soil so that nothing is able to be preserved,” Ateereh said.
The ministry had at least 175,000 individual case files each containing multiple documents. It will be impossible to recover an entire case file, Ateereh said. Some of the newer documents are backed up on a computer, but the old historical records are priceless and irreplaceable.
In David Barsamian’s “Culture and Resistance: Conversations with Edward W. Said” (2003) Barsamian writes that in one of the 1982 incursions into Beirut, Lebanon led by Ariel Sharon the Israelis destroyed offices holding Palestinian archives. Then 20 years later in another Sharon led invasion, the Israelis “ransacked” the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah.
The late Edward Said noted that the Center was named after Khalil Sakakini who was a friend of his family.
“He was famous for a school that he ran (prior to 1948) it was a national school. It was non-sectarian. And it taught young Palestinian men the understanding of their cultural and political heritage. So the Center in Ramallah, which is named for him, is a symbol of Palestinian national, intellectual, and cultural life, and therefore a target for the Israelis.”
Regarding Palestinians, Edward Said says,
“There’s a whole assembly of cultural expression that has become part of the consolidation and persistence of Palestinian identity. There’s a Palestinian cinema, a Palestinian theater, a Palestinian poetry, and literature in general. Culture is a way of fighting against extinction and obliteration. Culture is a form of memory against effacement.” (Edward Said)
And while longing to return to Palestine, the refugees maintain their culture. Said also notes that,
“The inflection of Palestinian colloquial speech are preserved into the third and fourth generation. My son, for example, grew up in New York, subsequently learned Arabic. When you hear him speak, you can hear the accents of his grandfather. He obviously heard it from me and he heard it from other Palestinians when we speak together. So speech itself is the great tablet of memory.” (Edward Said)
A sense of place? What is it? It’s hard to say. Yet, Mahmoud Darwish says it best in his poem above. In most instances it appears that the “place” of a people is associated with history and culture that is usually land-based. Both Palestinians and Middle Eastern Jews have this. And land ownership? It’s a very complex issue. Further, grabbing land unjustly never totally succeeds. There is almost always a backlash. There’s almost always the threat of violence and retribution. People will not allow injustice against their own to continue indefinitely. If anything, this abuse strengthens their resolve.
The stories, history and culture associated with land are profound. They are always there, always in the hearts and minds, regardless of attempts to destroy them. In fact, they are far stronger than any bomb. For the safety of us all, the Israelis and Americans should attempt to learn this and give up their reliance on bombs, aggression and desire for empire and instead work toward peace, justice and reconciliation.
And, for one, as Peled says, calling the area Palestine instead of Israel seems like an excellent idea. Hopefully this would include more reconciliation initiatives, as well, with both Arabs and Jews perhaps even living together in peace….finally! And, if so, it could possibly serve as a significant way to begin other reconciliation processes throughout the world. Palestinians – now both Arabs and Jews – could take the lead in world reconciliation efforts. Wouldn’t that be nice!
HEATHER GRAY produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. This is an update of the original article posted on Countepunch in 2006. She can be reached at email@example.com.