IN MY INTRODUCTIONS to issues 172 and 173 of the Journal of Palestine Studies, I suggested that some type of fundamental shift is underway insofar as the Palestine question is concerned. Events in 2014 supporting that view included Israel’s summer assault on Gaza; less dramatic political conjunctures such as the prisoners’ strike in spring and the latest, albeit still fruitless, attempts at Palestinian unity; the apparent demise of the decades-old U.S.-led negotiations farce; and year-end Palestinian diplomatic moves at the United Nations, most notably the failed Security Council resolution on ending the Israeli occupation by 2017 and Palestine’s applications to join the International Criminal Court and other international bodies.
Real paradigm shifts usually reveal themselves only well after the fact, and it is still too early to discern the impact of recent events, including Israeli elections being held as this issue of the Journal goes to press. But whether or not such shifts are in fact taking place in the real world, it is certainly apparent that an ongoing discursive shift around the issue of Palestine has begun to gain momentum. This shift has not yet affected the U.S. political system, which remains locked into its habitual posture of reflexive obeisance to cues from Israel, and it has barely affected the corporate American mass media. But major changes are already apparent on the European political scene, as was shown by resolutions supporting Palestinian statehood passed by the parliaments of the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, and Spain, and a similar stand taken by the government of Sweden. It is apparent as well at some levels of American public discourse, and notably across the world of respectable scholarship. In many academic quarters, striking new interpretations are becoming more commonplace, and the old shibboleths informed solely by a largely false Zionist narrative that has long passed for rational analysis are being rapidly discarded.
This issue of the Journal provides two striking examples of these new approaches, in articles by noted political scientist Ian S. Lustick and historian Matthew Kraig Kelly. Lustick analyzes the shifts that have taken place in global discourse around the events of 1948 in Palestine, whose real nature is becoming better known even among Zionist supporters of the status quo in Israel/ Palestine. Lustick argues provocatively but persuasively that Zionist liberals in both Israel and the United States “emphasize and even exaggerate the crimes of 1967 and its aftermath to prevent memories of the crimes of 1948 and its aftermath from occupying center stage on national, regional, and international agendas. To protect the legitimacy of Israel on one side of the 1949 Armistice Line, they must delegitimize Israeli policies on the other side.” Lustick shows that this is the central strategy adopted by Ari Shavit, author of the international best seller, My Promised Land, who attempts to create a twenty-first-century version of the once highly successful depiction of Israel as permanently existentially endangered—a depiction widely used to exculpate any and all Israeli actions. Thus, Lustick argues: “When survival itself is threatened . . . no action deemed necessary or even relevant to self-preservation can be questioned and no price, in moral coin, is too high to pay.” Lustick’s cold analysis of what have long been sacrosanct tropes, usually framed in terms of “security,” and utilized to justify Zionist actions, is a notable example of the breakdown of the tropes themselves and of the justifications for the atrocious acts they long upheld.
Kelly, meanwhile, approaches the narrower task of revising versions of the history of Palestine that have long been accepted almost universally. He delves into the historiography of the crucially important 1936–39 Arab Revolt to show that reliance on subtly biased British and Zionist archival sources has caused every major elucidation of the Arab resort to violence to downplay the central role of massive British violence throughout. Kelly convincingly contends that it was this violence that was the main driver of the Palestinian uprising and not the “criminality” to which these sources attribute it. Kelly’s article represents another stinging rebuttal to long-standing approaches to the conflict, which are simply no longer sustainable for any self-respecting scholar, although they still retain currency in American and Israeli political and public discussions of the question of Palestine.
This issue of the Journal also includes part one of an interview with Ramadan Shallah, the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (in a translation from the original published by our Arabic Language sister journal, Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya). The interview speaks directly to some of the widespread misrepresentations of Palestine, specifically the deeply ingrained and institutionalized demonization of Palestinian resistance to occupation as “terrorism.” A careful reading of Shallah’s wide-ranging interview reveals how resistance groups see their actions while shedding light on other important elements of the Palestinian internal scene such as persistent efforts to achieve national unity. It also reveals the utter vapidity of claims by Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and others that Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas are no different than the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and al-Qa‘ida. After pointedly placing some of the responsibility for the depredations of ISIS and other such groups on those states which supported them to begin with, Shallah concludes the interview by explicitly calling for political solidarity to be based on the idea of all-inclusive citizenships, which is a far cry from the approach of ISIS, al-Qa‘ida, and the other perverse takfiri deviations from what have long been universally accepted Islamic ideas.
The issue finally includes a personal and literary tribute to the eminent Palestinian poet, Samih al-Qasim, who passed away in the latter half of 2014. Penned by his contemporary and compadre, Shawqi Kassis, the essay examines some of al-Qasim’s poetry and lifelong political commitments. Like the other three emblematic authors of Palestine’s poetry of resistance—Mahmud Darwish, Tawfiq Zayyad, and Taha Muhammad ‘Ali—as well as the acclaimed novelist, Emile Habibi, who between them have produced an outsized share of modern Palestinian literary output, al-Qasim grew up and lived in areas of Palestine that were occupied and incorporated into Israel in 1948. This is a reminder that despite their second-class citizenship in a state that proclaims ever more stridently that it is not theirs, the Arab population of those areas constitutes a vital segment of the entire Palestinian people.
Rashid I. Khalidi