Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Redefining the victim as the topic of study: A Palestinian critique of Eva Illouz's "47 Years A Slave"

Dear friends,
the other day I posted up a lengthy critique of Israeli sociologist, Eva Illouz's lengthy article on Israel's occupation called "47 Years A Slave" which was published by Haaretz on Friday, 7 February 2014.  

My critique of Illouz's article primarily centred around her attempt to redefine Israel's occupation as a question of Jewish morality, stripping Israel's occupation of its political and ideological content.  In particular, I criticised Illouz for absenting Palestinian voices and for ignoring Israel's settler-colonialism, both historically and today.  

You can read my critique and the full text of Illouz's article here.

Palestinian-Canadian writer, activist and community organiser, Khaled Barakat has made a similar critique of Illouz's article.    In addition, Barakat makes a number other very important and salient criticisms. In particular, Barakat notes that Illouz seeks to redefine the occupation on behalf ot the occupiers and does not allow the victim of Israel's occupation and oppression to define their circumstances.  By absenting Palestinian voices, Barakat notes that Illouz reduces Palestinians to an topic of study.

I am including below an english translation of Barakat's article which first appeared in Arabic.

In solidarity, Kim


Khaled Barakat (centre) speaking at the 
Right to Exist, Right to Resist conference in Toronto in 2012

Redefining the victim as the topic of study 

by Khaled Barakat 

9 February 2014

I read a lengthy article by Israeli writer Eva Illouz published in Haaretz on Friday, February 7, in which the author compared the system of slavery in the United States prior to the Civil War in the mid-18th century with the Israeli occupation regime and its denial of Palestinian rights (in the land occupied in 1967).

The writer says that "Israel" does not belong to the present day, and continues to live according to the laws of other times. The writer recognizes that "Israel" was established by force, and its unjust laws were imposed by force as well. She warns of the spread of a racist settlement discourse that "was marginal in the past" and limited to settler groups, but today has become the dominant Israeli discourse towards Palestinians prevalent in Israeli society - in which Palestinians are perceived in a manner akin to slaves.

Some Zionist writers, including the author of this article, attempt to develop a "progressive," "humanitarian," or "objective" presentation, which promises a "new" look but in fact remain within the same narrow space of critique and leave aside the fundamental problems of the state. That is, they examine the form of the problem, but not its substance and full content. They arrive at the gate of truth, but do not enter, do not approach, and do not recognize it.

It is true that the article is from beginning to end an attack on the "Israeli law and practices in the occupied territories" and this is important, but it intentionally minimizes the issue and the conflict, and remains above a surface level of examination.

The writer seeks to redefine the cause, on behalf of the owners of the cause. The author claims to carry a "new vision of the occupation" within the title of her article, but leaves aside that if a comparison is to be made, the closest and most appropriate, is a comparison between the struggle of indigenous people against settler colonialism, from North America to South Africa, and the struggle of the Palestinian people, the indigenous people of the land.

The core of the issue lies in the nature of the Zionist entity, which was established in Palestine on the devastation of its indigenous people, and not simply the problem of the laws applied by the state in the 'territories'. The writer evades the essence of the Israeli regime and its history because this requires recognition of the provenance of the land, its rightful owners, and the rights of those expelled and displaced by force from their homes. It also requires to confront the reality of this state called "Israel," and its nature and role in the region, as a whole which is far deeper than a damaging practice against a minority in the 'terrotiries'. Further, it requires confronting the real questions about the settlement entity which occupied Palestinian land in 1947 and expelled the indigenous people - and that the people who remained in the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem were not slaves trafficked in ships by the colonizer who then suffered the misfortune of being placed under occupation.

The comparison being made is specifically between slavery in America and the occupation which took place in 1967. It is assumed in advance that the Palestinian people living in occupied Palestine '48 experience complete freedom: there are no racist laws aimed at this sector, their land is not being stolen in the Naqab, and Galilee, and the Triangle, which is part of the state! Also, to restrict the comparison to the population of the 1967 occupied territories also leaves aside the fact that the Zionist regime is responsible for the 55% of today's Palestinian population who were uprooted from their homeland by armed force.

It is axiomatic to note that engaging in comparison between two phenomena are not precisely equal or bear contrary characteristics, and do not match each other entirely, so the question is asked, how can they be compared? The author admits this issue, noting that explaining a tiger for the first time in one's life, no doubt one would say that the animal is "like a lion, only with stripes," even though it is inexact. The author wants to tell us that she has found a comparison in substance betweeen the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and America in the time of slavery, not that the occupation of Palestine is best equated to the occupation of the White settler colonists in America.

The author does not wish to allow the victim of the occupation to define their circumstances themselves; the writer makes comparisons between American laws repressing Blacks and similar laws of "Israel" in dealing with the people of the occupied territories. The victims are expected to rejoice when the occupier recognizes a portion of their rights, but the conscious victim knows that those rights are united and indivisible.

For the supporters of "peace," we have become a topic of study and academic research and debate among the occupier, being displaced twice - once by the hands of the Zionist right who does not recognize Palestinian rights, and once at the hands of the Zionist left who wants to redefine us, who we are, what is our problem, and what is our cause.

In a nutshell, the occupation which took place in 1967 - the only occupation - is regarded as the real origin of the problem, while omitting the real history of the conflict, is in fact the problem. The recognition of 20% of the presence of the victim, and 20% of their rights, is in fact to deny the existence of the victim, their identity, their narrative, and all of their rights.

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