June 28, 2009 - Naomi and Me
OK. I don't normally name drop but here you'll see a picture of me with bestselling author and activist Naomi Klein. On Saturday Beth and I traveled to Ramallah for an unconventional book tour event and lecture sponsored by The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC). Naomi was promoting her book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism", which had just been translated into Hebrew and Arabic. More importantly, she was endorsing the call issued on July 9, 2005 by a broad spectrum of Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.
(Naomi will not receive any royalties from sales of the Hebrew version of her book. The proceeds will instead go to an activist group.) The event was beautiful and inspiring and packed!
The evening began with a quintet from the Edward Said Conservatory of Music providing the requisite cultural infusion for any Palestinian event. Then, Mustafa Barghouti made some introductory comments. Mustafa is a physician and activist. He founded the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees and helped establish the Palestinian National Initiative which is an attempt to build a reformist, inclusive alternative to both the PLO and Hamas. He supports nonviolent resistance as the most effective means of overcoming Israeli occupation. I almost cheered out loud when he brought up the point that the most egregious and unique aspects of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is the demand that the occupied provide security for the occupier. This was also brought up by one of the professors I met at An Najah University in Nablus who spoke angrily about the obscenity of "security cooperation". The example he gave was Israel forcing the Palestinian Authority to arrest the best students just before their final exams. They were arrested on trumped up charges of being affiliated with Hamas.
But I digress. Mustafa finished his comments with a quote from Nelson Mandela that went something like this: "The cause of Palestine today is the number one cause of humanity."
Then Omar Barghouti introduced Naomi. She began her lecture with an analysis of the Durbin Conference on Racism in 2001 and the boycott and smear campaign of the follow up conference in Geneva this year. Naomi thinks that what actually happened at the original Durbin Conference might have come out more fully and accurately if it had not ended two days before 9/11. Instead, a successful propaganda campaign ensued that cast the results as hate-filled and anti-semitic. But Naomi claims that what actually happened was to take a broader look the essence of racism. It is not just a mindset that values the white race as superior to others. It is an institutionalized system that allows for land and resource theft and access to free or cheap labor. This was very threatening to all states that had brutal colonial beginnings (U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and certainly a threat to Israel in its current colonial enterprise. In fact, it was at this Durbin conference that the parallels between Israel and South Africa were first articulated. Of course, the specifics of Israel and South Africa are very different, however, despite the differences, Israel fits the definition of Apartheid according to international standards.
Naomi went on to give two reasons why Israel has so little interest in pursuing peace. The first is that it is relatively easy to live a fun and fulfilling life in Israel. So pressure it not going to bubble up from its citizens.
The second reason Israel has so little interest in pursuing peace is that unlike most war-time economies, the Israeli economy actually benefits from being in a state of continual conflict. In fact, peace would be a threat to the Israeli economy. In the first week in the war on Gaza, the Israeli stock exchange went up 10 points, opposite to what usually happens when a country becomes embroiled in war. This paradox is due to the Israeli economy being heavily based on businesses that profit from the need for "homeland security". Israeli companies produce high-tech surveillance and communication equipment, as well as provide the knowledge and infrastructure for building walls. An Israeli company is even providing services for the wall being build on the U.S.-Mexican border. The Occupied Palestinian Territories provide a live test laboratory and the Palestinians are the guinea pigs for these various technologies. (They have long provided this for the military contractors in Israel. Israel is the 4th largest exporter of military equipment in the world.)
Naomi ended with an extremely moving apology to her Palestinian hosts. They had thanked her for her courage in supporting the call for BDS. She said that her courage paled in comparison to theirs and apologized that it took her three years to finally endorse their call.
P.S. About the photo shown here, I have to admit that I shamelessly ran up to the stage after the event was over and had my IWPS teammate Beth quickly snap it.