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UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom:by Norman Finklestein

Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom graphic
Review for Amazon by Deborah H. Maccoby      March 15, 2018

During the massive demonstrations in London against Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, the question was often asked by Israel’s apologists: why was Israel singled out? Why didn’t people come out in such numbers to protest against the actions of the Syrian government or Islamic State that have killed far more people? For Israel’s apologists, the answer was simple: anti-Semitism.

But the real answer must surely lie in the reaction by Western governments to Operation Protective Edge. Israel was indeed singled out, as the one state in the world that could massacre defenceless civilians – as Norman Finkelstein conclusively proves in this book-- and yet be described by Western governments as acting in “self-defence”. During the onslaught, then-President Obama (as Finkelstein writes) “reaffirmed Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ day in, day out”. In July 2014, the European Union called on Hamas to “renounce violence” and recognised “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks”. It was left to civil society to express its outrage.

Similarly, as Finkelstein points out, Western governments only evinced some concern about Israel’s strangulating and illegal blockade over Gaza after the murder of activists on the Mavi Marmara (the civilian aid ship to Gaza)– a concern that led to some easing of the siege (even though in practice this relaxation amounted to very little).

Gaza’s only potentially effective answer to high-tech Israeli military attacks (in contrast to Hamas’s ineffective token resistance of improvised, home-made rockets) is the resilience of its people, the activism of international civil society and the reports put out by human rights organisations. These reports, Finkelstein writes in his preface, “even if mostly underutilised…are the most potent weapon in the arsenal of those who hope against hope to mobilize public opinion so as to salvage a modicum of justice”.

Finkelstein concentrates on the two most devastating recent onslaughts on Gaza: Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, together with the attack on the Mavi Marmara that occurred between these two massacres. He demonstrates that Israel’s alleged aims – to stop Hamas rockets and (in Protective Edge) to destroy Hamas tunnels – were only pretexts; Israel’s real goals were a) to restore its “deterrence capacity”, after its humiliation in Lebanon in 2006 and (before Operation Protective Edge) the 2010 Mavi Mamara debacle and what was widely perceived as the failed 2012 Operation Pillar of Defence; and b) to destroy the “peace offensives” of Hamas that threatened to force Israel to the negotiating table to give up land for peace. Israel’s twisted rationale was exposed by Finkelstein in his previous book Method and Madness.

Parts of that book (and of Finkelstein’s previous book about Gaza, “This Time We Went Too Far”) – updated, expanded and (in the case of the chapter about Operation Protective Edge) almost completely rewritten --are included in Gaza as a necessary historical and political background. But, as Finkelstein writes in the preface, “the primary subject-matter” of Gaza is the myriad but largely unread human rights reports. His objective, he writes, is to refute the ”Big Lie” -ie the “official consensus” that Israel acts in “self-defence” -- by “exposing each of the little lies”.

“In the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead” Finkelstein writes, “as many as three hundred human rights reports were issued”. These overwhelmingly gave the lie to Israeli hasbara (propaganda). For instance, in a chapter examining the often unthinkingly-accepted Israeli claim that Hamas used civilians as “human shields”, Finkelstein quotes Amnesty International’s categorical exoneration of Hamas and other Palestinian fighters on this charge:

“In the cases investigated by Amnesty International of civilians killed in Israeli attacks, the deaths could not be explained as resulting from the presence of fighters shielding among civilians, as the Israeli Army generally contends. In all of the cases investigated by Amnesty International of families killed when their homes were bombed from the air by Israeli forces, for example, none of the houses struck was being used by armed groups for military activities.”

Amnesty did, however, find ample evidence of the use of human shields by Israeli troops.

But the highest point reached by the international human rights community in relation to Operation Cast Lead was the Goldstone Report, the findings of the Fact-Finding Mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. This Report presented the stark, unvarnished truth in its conclusion that Operation Cast Lead was “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population”.

As Finkelstein stresses, Judge Richard Goldstone is a Zionist Jew who was forced to choose between tribal loyalty to Israel on the one hand and his universalist liberal conscience and international law on the other; his choice (which was not really a choice, because to have supported Israeli lies would have been to destroy his reputation) represented a sea-change among liberal Diaspora Jews. The Goldstone Report also, Finkelstein points out, put the findings of human rights organisations, including Israeli organisations such as B’Tselem, centre-stage; their reports became “charged…. with political consequences”.

Then came the bombshell of Goldstone’s recantation, which Finkelstein dissects in a devastating chapter that forms the turning-point of this book. Precisely because Goldstone is a Zionist Jew, the Israeli hasbara machine attacked him with particularly venomous force – though Finkelstein speculates that Goldstone’s capitulation could have been the result of blackmail. Finkelstein cites his own prophetic words written in an earlier version of this chapter, published in 2011: the recantation “most unforgivably.…increased the risk of another merciless IDF assault”. Finkelstein also, however, points out where he got it wrong in 2011; in his book “’This Time We Went Too Far’”, he considered Lebanon the most likely next target. However “in the end, defenceless Gaza remained Israel’s preferred punching-bag”.

Even before Goldstone’s recantation on April 1 2011, there had been, as Finkelstein points out,backpedalling among the human rights community, both Israeli and international (including Goldstone himself) in relation to Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report. The first casualties of this reversal were the murdered activists on the Mavi Marmara. Israel set up its own inquiry, the Turkel Commission, which completely exonerated the Israeli commandos. Finkelstein tears its Report to pieces, concluding by pointing to

“an odd paradox lodged in its conclusions: the shaheeds plotted and armed themselves to kill Israelis but didn’t even manage to kill those in their custody, whereas the Israelis took every precaution and exercised every restraint not to kill anyone, but ended up killing nine people”.

The then Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, taking his cue from the US, set up a UN Panel Report, which Finkelstein eviscerates with even greater force, demonstrating, in a complex logical unravelling of its hidden premises, that the UN Panel's dilemma between placating both the Israeli government and international opinion causes the Report’s authors to tie themselves up in knots, whereas the Israeli Turkel Report is more honest, because its writers don't have any concerns in relation to international opinion. But, despite Goldstone’s recantation and the UN Panel Report, a UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission produced an unbiased report, upon which Finkelstein bases many of his arguments in this chapter.

Yet, as Finkelstein points out, the pressure of Israeli hasbara and its Diaspora supporters – a pressure particularly virulent precisely because the Israeli government knows it has lost the battle for international public opinion – has continued to take its toll on the human rights community, both Israeli and international.

Operation Protective Edge was the most terrible result of Goldstone’s recantation and the backpedalling by the human rights community. In Cast Lead, up to 1,200 Gazan civilians were killed, including 350 children, and 6,000 homes were destroyed. In Protective Edge, 1,600 Gazan civilians were killed, including 550 children; 18,000 homes were destroyed. Yet there was a stark difference between the response of the international human rights groups to Cast Lead and their reaction to Protective Edge. Finkelstein points out that after Protective Edge there was “a muted response from human rights organizations”. Human Rights Watch, which had supported Amnesty after Cast Lead, was almost silent.

An exception was Amnesty, which produced a series of reports. Finkelstein devotes the first of his three final chapters to a complex, detailed, case-by -case analysis of two Amnesty reports that brings out the full horror of the human suffering behind the statistics. Finkelstein demonstrates that Amnesty’s findings are at odds with its legal analysis, which whitewashes Israel’s actions in order to avoid making the charge that Israel had a deliberate policy of targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

To take just one example: the case of four Gazan children killed while playing hide-and-seek on a beach. Finkelstein writes: “Amnesty noted that an Israeli investigation absolving the military of responsibility for the killings ‘did not explain why the army had not identified’ the children ‘as such’”. As Finkelstein points out, this begs the question: had the army indeed failed to identify the children “as such”? Amnesty, he writes, “couldn’t even conceive, or wouldn’t let itself conceive, that the IDF HAD identified the four children ‘as such’ – and then proceeded to murder them”. (Emphasis in original)

Finkelstein does not accuse Israel of a policy of systematic murder of Gazan civilians –ie genocide. His charge is the same as that set out in the Goldstone Report. The “strategic goal” of Protective Edge, as Finkelstein writes in the penultimate chapter, was the same as that of Cast Lead but on a larger scale: “to punish, humiliate and terrorize Gaza’s civilian population, part and parcel of which was the infliction of massive civilian casualties”.

The book reaches its climax in the penultimate chapter, which analyses the report on Protective Edge that was put out by the UN Human Rights Council, which had produced the Goldstone Report and a report on the Mavi Marmara that was based on the facts. In the book’s most searing indictment, Finkelstein makes it clear in case-by-case detail that after Operation Protective Edge the UN Human Rights Council "succumbed to the Israeli juggernaut". As in the Amnesty report, the UNHRC’s legal analysis contradicts its findings, in order to avoid accusing Israel of the deliberate targeting of civilians. In the case of the four children murdered on the beach, the UNHRC Report “found strong indications that the IDF failed in its obligations to take all feasible measures to avoid or at least minimise incidental harm to civilians”. Finkelstein sums up the UNHRC's betrayal of Gaza:

“The Report itself copiously documented that Israel fired tens of thousands of high-explosive artillery shells into, and dropped hundreds of one-ton bombs over, densely populated civilian neighbourhoods, targeted hospitals, ambulances, rescue teams, civilian vehicles and ‘groups of citizens’ and pursued a shoot-to-kill-anything-that-moves policy in pacified areas that still contained civilians. But nonetheless it was the finding of this cynical, craven document that of the 1,600 Gazan civilians killed by Israel during the 51-day terror onslaught, only two were killed deliberately.”

The book’s Conclusion is realistically pessimistic about Gaza’s chances: on the brink of collapse, betrayed by the human rights organisations, its devastation dwarfed by other human rights catastrophes, particularly in Syria, with the international public becoming inured to the brutality of the Israeli army. Yet the Conclusion also puts forward the possibility of action to effect change. As well as a legal indictment, Gaza is a monument to the massacred people of Gaza that ensures that their agony will never be forgotten. But it is also an urgent wake-up call for the prevention of a still greater onslaught upon Gaza – a prevention that can only be achieved by ending Israel’s Occupation. Israel, Finkelstein writes in his penultimate chapter, has reached a state of moral collapse and “will not reform itself because it cannot reform itself”. So the Occupation can only be ended from without.

An Appendix that answers, in a complex, difficult but clear legal discussion, the question “Is the Occupation Legal?” also puts forward – in tandem with the Conclusion -- a concrete and achievable plan. The US will always exercise its Security Council veto with regard to Israel. But a UN General Assembly resolution and ICJ advisory opinion that would unequivocally declare the Occupation over could mobilise Palestinians into mass non-violent action that would be supported by international public opinion, galvanised and led by pro-Palestinian activists.

To conclude: this is not an easy book to read. Finkelstein writes in his Preface: “The reader’s forbearance must in advance be begged, as perusing this book will require infinite patience”. The reader who embarks on this demanding, often harrowing voyage is required to work his or her passage. Nonetheless, this is definitely a book for the general reader, who will bring back great rewards. No other scholar could make these reams of human rights reports so accessible to the general public or render complex logical and legal arguments so clear. Indeed, the book’s exposé of contradictions and absurdities would be entertaining if the subject-matter were not so appalling.

The sub-title of Gaza points to its two most striking qualities. As the word “inquest” indicates, the book is a meticulously detailed, logically-argued legal inquiry into the facts in order to come as close as possible to the truth. But the highly emotive word “martyrdom” points to Gaza’s other aspect: an impassioned anger at injustice and lies – a searing indignation reminiscent of the Hebrew Prophets. The unusual synthesis of these two qualities has always characterised Finkelstein’s work; but in Gaza each aspect reaches a higher level than ever before, because Palestinian martyrdom has never before reached such a peak of desperation nor has Israel ever before sunk into such an abyss of barbarism. Never before has Finkelstein deployed logical analysis and international law to such devastating effect; never before has his writing reached such heights of impassioned outrage. The combination means that the book is itself a precision-guided missile– brilliant, white-hot and accurately annihilating its intended targets.



White City Black City: Architecture & War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa: by Sharon Rotbard

tel aviv jaffa    Review by Rozie Saunders | 20 May 2015                      The Future Cities Project

Sharon Rotbard’s “White City Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa”  is much more than just an architectural history of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The author, an Israeli architect and writer born in Tel Aviv, explores its development, and its sister city Jaffa through the lens of someone who has lived there continuously for decades. A critical examination of the accepted history of the region, “White City Black City” is also a strongly worded condemnation of the relationship between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Sharon Rotbard has written a historiography of Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus world heritage site, deconstructing the myths of the city’s origins, showing the effect Tel Aviv had on Jaffa and the how the built environment can be used as a tool to wage war and achieve political aims.

The first English language edition of “White City Black City” could not have arrived at a more topical time. Britain, and its architectural community in particular, perhaps still holding on to some internalised guilt over its role in the creation of Israel and consequently the destruction of Jaffa, clamours so loudly to be pro-Palestine today that it sometimes sounds anti-Semitic in tone. After the recent July 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, 20,000 people marched in the streets of London to protest Israel’s actions. Earlier that year only 10,000 people turned out to protest increased tuition fees and cuts to education; an issue happening on their own soil. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) even passed a resolution in 2014 calling for the suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) from the International Union of Architects until they ‘act to resist projects on illegally occupied land’.

Although originally written a decade ago in Hebrew, the author admits that he made no significant changes to the text. That this book still reads as completely relevant and not at all dated shows how intractable the problems of the region are. Although Tel Aviv and Jaffa have a unique story, their relationship can be read as a microcosm of Israel and Palestine in< “White City Black City”.

The book is divided into three parts, White City, Black City, and A Rainbow. The first part, White City, introduces Tel Aviv as a UNESCO World Heritage site, accepted by the academic and cultural community as a gem of both the Modern Movement and an unusually condensed example of the Bauhaus Style. The construction of a city, however, is not only physical but also cultural. A narrative must be created, and Tel Aviv’s story was told long before its actual birth. Taking us back to the earliest days of Zionism and the publication of Theodor Herzl’s novel“Altneuland”(old-new country) in 1902, Rotbard shows us how Tel Aviv’s history was written before it was ever built, and how the folktale of a Jewish homeland built on the dunes was recited until it was perceived to be true, despite the reality of the situation.

white cityRotbard calls this urban legend one of Tel Aviv’s “greatest deceits”. Unlike the local Palestinian sandstone constructions built directly on the region’s sandstone layer, Tel Aviv built its white city by first removing up to two meters of sandstone layer entirely, creating concrete foundations to replace the dunes. Although this criticism could be considered purely technical, Rotbard portrays it as a metaphor for Tel Aviv itself. Instead of building alongside the existing people of Jaffa using traditional methods and materials, Tel Aviv scraped away 4000 years of cultural heritage before constructing its White City. The main “urbicide” of Jaffa occurred in 1948 when at least 100,000 people, around 97% of the local population, fled the city as their homes were razed to the ground. The erasure of Jaffa’s original identity continued long after, as gradually all street names were changed and a completely new population moved in.

Rotbard is scornful of the legitimacy of the Bauhaus in Tel Aviv. Only four Bauhaus students ever emigrated to Palestine, and of those only Aryeh Sharon left a significant architectural legacy behind. Furthermore, the students of Bauhaus described it as more of an ethos and way of thinking than a coherent and identifiable style. Despite all this, Tel Aviv managed to turn Bauhaus into its brand, marketing the White City to the world as a marvel of Western European architecture and neglecting the historical and architectural heritage right under its feet.

The second part of the book, Black City, also delves into branding. If you believe Rotbard, everything Tel Aviv gained was at the expense of its sister city Jaffa. The epitome of this suggested zero sum game is the Jaffa orange. Once grown and exported by Palestine and seen as a symbol of national identity, the Jaffa orange was inherited by Israel after the mass evacuation of people from the city of Jaffa and its surrounding agricultural lands. Now Jaffa oranges are grown anywhere but Jaffa. By taking over key elements of Jaffa’s national identity, Tel Aviv effectively stripped away Jaffa’s narrative and exterminated the cultural construct of the city. This books argues effectively that architecture is a tool of war and oppression, and correctly wielded can influence culture, geography and history.

The final third of the book explores Modernism as a form of Western European colonialism. Tel Aviv is a city where colonialism won, and indeed never left. The occupiers are still controlling the land and its narrative from their defensive structures. Drawing on precedents who hold a condescending and at times downright racist attitude towards non-white non-Western-Europeans, Rotbard quotes Adolf Loos’s “Ornament and Crime”, shows Mies van de Rohe’s attempts to work with the Nazi regime and Le Corbusier’s cooperation with the colonial Vichy regime. Rotbard then implies that the attitudes of these founders of the International Style are similar to the attitude of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv arguably strives to be white architecturally and metaphorically, wisely dressing itself in the Western-European Bauhaus style. Tel Aviv strives to be better, purer than neighbouring Jaffa, yet the means of achieving this whiteness corrupt the end result.

Rotbard tackles the complex history and image perception of a region steeped in myth and propaganda with ease. This beautifully translated publication is an excellent insight to the history of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, told through their architecture. A poetic account of a centuries-long struggle to cohabit, “White City Black City”sometimes feels too personal, recounting the grievous crimes against Jaffa that Tel Aviv has committed and demonising architecture by association. While the Romulan tale of Tel Aviv’s ascendancy and Jaffa’s demise may feel too personal at times, the description of Modernism solely as a Western-European colonial moment seems too general. Furthermore, Rotbard’s disdain of Tel Aviv’s inauthentic building methods and materials, stemming from the perception that the city ignored its immediate context in preference to a more general cultural movement, would come across more persuasively with some descriptions of pre-Tel Avivan local architecture. An incredibly thorough book, this is the only area where the reader might want for precedents.

“White City Black City” is not just an architectural history. It is a reflective and academic analysis of a region so steeped in myth and personal grievances that citizens from all over the world feel compelled to pick a side. “White City Black City” tries to see through the fog of subjectivism, and draws on the wider themes of architectural and historical authenticity, the role of marketing on an urban scale, and the creation (or destruction) of national identity through culture. These themes speak to us all in our rapidly shrinking but increasingly diverse world.



The Idea of Israel and My Promised Land – review by Avi Shlaim

by Avi Shlaim       14 May 2014           The Guardian

The separation wall on the West Bank that divides Palestinians and Israelis

The separation wall on the West Bank that divides Palestinians and Israelis. Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty
Zionism achieved its greatest triumph with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The Zionist idea and its principal political progeny are the subject of deeply divergent interpretations, not least inside the Jewish state itself. No other aspect of Zionism, however, is more controversial than its attitude towards the indigenous population of the land of its dreams. Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the state of Israel, famously said that it is by its treatment of the Palestinians that his country will be judged. Yet, when judged by this criterion, Zionism is not just an unqualified failure but a tragedy of historic proportions. Zionism did achieve its central goal but at a terrible price: the displacement and dispossession of the Palestinians – what the Arabs call the Nakba, the catastrophe.

The authors of these two books are both Israelis, but they approach their subject from radically different ideological vantage points. Ilan Pappé is a scholar and a pro-Palestinian political activist. He is one of the most prominent Israeli political dissidents living in exile, having moved from the University of Haifa to the University of Exeter. He is also one of the few Israeli students of the conflict who write about the Palestinian side with real knowledge and empathy.

Pappé places Zionism under an uncompromising lens. In his reading it was not a national liberation movement but a settler colonial project imposed on the Palestinians by force with the support of the west. From this premise it follows that the state of Israel is not legitimate even in its original borders, much less so within its post-1967 borders. To correct the injustice, Pappé advocates a peaceful, humanist and socialist alternative to the Zionist idea in the form of a binational state with equal rights for all its citizens.

Ari Shavit is a member of the editorial board of the liberal Zionist paper Ha'aretz, and one of Israel's most influential columnists. He is an eloquent exponent of liberal Zionism, but he also exemplifies its ambiguities, inner contradictions and moral myopia.

Pappé has published a large number of books on the history of Arab-Israeli conflict of which the most widely read and most controversial isThe Ethnic Cleansing of PalestineThe Idea of Israel is not a history book but a close study of the role of Zionist ideology in the making of modern Israel and of the continuing relevance of this ideology today inpolitics, the education system, the media, the cinema and Ashkenazi-Sephardi relations. The book thus offers a broad survey of the main critical schools of thought on Israel. Two chapters deal directly with the Palestine question: the historiography of the first Arab-Israeli war, and the uses and misuses of the Holocaust.

History is usually written by the victors, and the Middle East is no exception. Pappé himself is a leading member of the group of "new" or revisionist Israeli historians that emerged in the late 1980s and included Simha Flapan, Benny Morris and myself. In our different ways we all challenged the dominant narrative, the narrative of the victors. Using recently released documents we debunked many of the myths that had come to surround the birth of the state of Israel and the 1948 war. Intentionally or otherwise, our work thus lent credibility to the Palestinian historical narrative about the war for Palestine.

In his new book, Pappé deals with recent developments in the historiographical sphere, especially on the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem. The big question has always been: did they leave of their own accord or were they forced out? Israeli governments have always denied that they drove the Palestinians out. In his ground-breaking 1989 book on the subject – The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 – Morris presented incontrovertible evidence of Israeli involvement in creating the refugee problem. Evidence subsequently gathered by Morris points to an even higher degree of Israeli responsibility. But following the outbreak of the second intifada, Morris veered to the right and radically changed his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He concluded it was a mistake not to expel all the Palestinians from the Jewish state in 1948. Pappé argues that the new documents prove that the expulsion of 730,000 Palestinians was more premeditated, systematic and extensive than Morris had ever acknowledged. In short, he claims that when war provided an opportunity, the Zionist idea was translated into the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

The role of the Holocaust in empowering the struggle for Jewish statehood is another sensitive issue in the debate about the past. Pappé denounces any political manipulation of the Holocaust as a means of moral blackmail designed to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. His sharpest comments are reserved for Israeli officials who have perfected such manipulation as a diplomatic tool in their struggle against the Palestinians. His deeper concern, however, is to understand the impact and significance of the Holocaust memory in constructing and marketing the idea of Israel. Israelis have harboured an exaggerated sense of themselves as victims, and this self-image, he argues, has prevented them from seeing the Palestinians in a more realistic light, and impeded a reasonable political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The argument that what happened to the Palestinians was just a small injustice to rectify a greater injustice (the destruction of European Jewry) is rejected with some vehemence. The only hope Pappé sees of making peace with the Arabs is for Israelis to free themselves of their Shoah mentality.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit is one of Israel's most influential columnists. Photograph: Sharon Bareket/Courtesy of Spiegel


Shavit's position is more conflicted and therefore more opaque. He is a passionate but not uncritical Zionist. His book is also not a history of Israel but a series of stories of individuals and significant events that shed a great deal of new light on the making of the Jewish state. Among the cast of characters on whom Shavit draws to construct his picture of Israel are Holocaust survivors; a youth leader who helped to turn Masada into a symbol and shrine of post-Holocaust Zionism; an enigmatic engineer who was instrumental in building the atomic bomb in Dimona to defend the Jews against the threat of a second genocide; the zealous religious Zionists who spearheaded the settler movement; leftwing academics in Jerusalem; and pedlars of sex and drugs in Tel Aviv nightclubs. But, above all, this is a personal story. As the author explains in the introduction: "This book is the personal odyssey of one Israeli who is bewildered by the historic drama engulfing his homeland. It is the journey in space and time of an Israeli-born individual exploring the wider narrative of his nation."

The most vivid illustration of Shavit's attitude to this wider narrative is his account of the expulsion by the nascent Israeli army of 50,000-70,000 of the Arab residents of Lydda and the massacre of 70 civilians in a small mosque in July 1948. The grisly story has been told many times before, but Shavit's reconstruction is riveting. His original contribution consists of interviews with the Jewish brigade commander and the military governor in which they speak frankly about their strategic and moral dilemmas. Shavit refers to this episode as "our black box" in which lies "the dark secret of Zionism". But he goes on to say that the conquest of Lydda and the expulsion of its inhabitants "were an inevitable phase of the Zionist revolution that laid the foundation for the Zionist state". "Lydda," he asserts, "is an integral and essential part of our story." Like Morris, Shavit evidently thinks that the end justifies the means; I don't. The massacre of innocent civilians can never be justified under any circumstances. It is a heinous war crime and it must be denounced as such even if the perpetrators are Jews and, yes, even if they are Holocaust survivors.

Both authors engage with the essence of Zionism as well as with its more problematic parts. While Pappé represents the cutting edge of radical anti-Zionism, Shavit exposes the dissonance, the double standards and intellectual incoherence of liberal Zionism. Shavit, by his own acronym, is a Wasp – a White Ashkenazi Supporter of Peace. His liberal credentials were burnished by serving as chair of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in the early 1990s. In addition, he enjoys the great advantage of writing like an angel. The smoothness and beauty of his prose is all the more remarkable given that English is his second language. But the brilliance of Shavit's style tends to conceal the ethnocentric character of his commentary and his inability to confront the moral consequences of the triumph of Zionism.

On one thing the two authors agree: the current status quo between Israel and the Palestinians is unsustainable. Both of them see the writing on the wall. The occupation, the relentless expansion of illegal settlements, the construction of the monstrous "security barrier" on the West Bank, the demolition of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem, the flagrant violations of international law, the systematic abuse of Palestinian human rights and the rampant racism – all are slowly but surely turning Israel into an international pariah. No sane Israeli relishes the prospect of living in a pariah state that maintains an apartheid regime. But few Israelis are ready for a truly honest historical reckoning with the people they have wronged and oppressed and whose land they continue to colonise. To blame the victims for their own misfortunes, as the people in power habitually do, is both disingenuous and despicable. This is no way for any nation to behave, especially one with such an acute historical memory of the bitter taste of victimhood.

• Avi Shlaim's Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutationsis published by Verso.

• Ari Shavit's book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, published by Scribe, is available from the Guardian bookshop.

The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge by Ilan Pappe
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"Nablus: an architectural history" by Nasser Arafat

It’s been very exciting to get my first look at the real, in-the-flesh version of my good friend Naseer Arafat’s architectural history of Nablus. It’s a huge and beautiful book, 300 pages long and in coffee-table format, and comes in both Arabic and English editions, packed with images of this wonderful, historical city (probably my favourite in Palestine). I’ve been helping Naseer with the English text for the book since 2009, and it’s been a fascinating journey, learning about Nablus itself but also the development of architecture in Palestine, its interrelationship with society, and details such as Arabic architectural terminology. At the moment the book is available via Naseer’s organisation in Nablus and is on sale at the Educational Bookshop and American Colony Hotel bookshopin East Jerusalem, but obviously we hope to find a way to distribute it more widely.

A particularly exciting aspect of the publication is that the book has been printed in Nablus itself, so as well as raising awareness about the history of the city, it helps to support its economy.



Nablus was "the center of everything": interview with architect Naseer Arafat

12 March 2013



Nablus was once a center for commerce and science.

 (Naseer Arafat)

Palestinian architect Naseer Arafat has dedicated much of his life and work to the restoration and preservation of buildings in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. Last year, his extensive research and work came to fruition as Nablus, City of Civilizations, an impressive and extensive architectural and historical survey of the ancient city.

Through twelve detailed units, the book describes Nablus’ long history, from the Canaanite era to the second intifada, when many of its historical buildings were demolished or damaged during the Israeli invasion. Historical photographs, maps and building plans describe the many architectural treasures of the city. Beyond this, through oral stories, Arafat includes a social history that breathes life into the city as it exists today.

Published in Nablus by the Cultural Heritage Enrichment Center, the book is available in Arabic and English. Arafat recently spoke to The Electronic Intifada contributor Daryl Meador.

Daryl Meador: Can you speak a little bit about your history and relationship with Nablus and architecture?

Naseer Arafat: It’s the city where I live; I was born here. The relationship with architecture was built by the stories I got from my parents. They lived in a big house, 675 square meters, three floors; it was demolished by the British in 1938. So not only my parents, but my aunts and uncles from both sides were all living together in that house. My aunt, whenever the house was mentioned, she would sadly remember the moment when, with her hair wet, she was tossed out of the house into the street, and the British blew it up.

Also, my father’s uncle all the time spoke about the visitors who would come to the house because he was selling costumes and clothes out of it. Visitors would stay in the guest part of the house for three days, fed and hosted.

So that memory of the place, of the building, made me always imagine the size of the house and the situation of my family in it. I sadly connected this with loss, especially because where I live now is in a house that is in the garden of the old house. The old house is partially now a garden and partially a street where I used to walk every day. I would imagine which part of the house I was walking on. So that was the passion towards an ancient house and what it meant to my family.

I studied architecture at Birzeit, and volunteered to bring visitors to the university on tours in Nablus. After that I worked as an architect responsible for the national register of historical buildings in Palestine. This enabled me to discover Nablus as a treasured place with an urban fabric, with monuments. This was not known to me before. The more I worked in the city, walked through the alleys and streets, I discovered the richness of it.

Then as I worked, I decided I would write something about the city. I started collecting data and photographs, maps — whatever I could collect on the city.

DM: What kind of resources did you use?

NA: At that time I went to the Rockefeller museum in Jerusalem and saw documents and old photos of Nablus. Later I went to study restoration at York University and I visited what is called the Palestine Exploration Fund, which is a small association off Oxford Street in London. There I found huge old photographs of Nablus printed on glass.

I managed to collect unique photographs from the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, which is the French antiquities school. I managed to collect photos from Istanbul, the archive of the Sultan Abd al-Hamid II, from Berlin, the antiquities department and the Mandate Museum in London. At all these places I could find old photos of Nablus and use some for the book.

I also collected family photos. From some families you have photos of their houses and there was an Austrian researcher who came to Nablus in ‘96, and took photos of all of the houses in Nablus. So I managed to find some photos of houses destroyed by the Israelis in 2002. This was very emotional for the people whose houses were lost.

Two soap factories which were demolished, I managed to find photos of these as well. And by chance I was able to survey one factory before it was demolished, so its plan and façade are in the book.

DM: Does the book discuss the Israeli invasion and destruction?

NA: Yes it does. What the Israelis are doing to Nablus and the old city has been continuous since the occupation started. So the book is not just architectural; it starts with an architectural description, but also has social, political, economical, cultural interpretations of the buildings described. This is, I think, what makes the book special. I am an architect, so the starting point of my research and writing was architecture. But architecture is just a building, and it is a rigid description to just talk about the look and materials of a building. I felt that the richness of the building is the social life of the building, maybe the economical life of the market, also the cultural livelihood of the fabric.

So whenever there was a linked story to a building, I never hesitated to write it.

DM: And how did you find the stories?

NA: From people. Especially elderly people, I interviewed many of them. And they told me real stories.

DM: What are some examples of the personal stories linked to buildings?

NA: There are so many — one of them is about a mufti, he had the highest seat in Islam, who was from Nablus, appointed by the Ottomans. The British commander in Nablus wanted to meet the community leaders in Nablus. This man made an appointment to meet the sheikh. The reception is always downstairs and the house is above, all the time. So he gathered community leaders of Nablus to meet the guy, and when they were waiting, the mufti was nervously walking and not relaxed. People were asking what was wrong with him. All of the sudden, he went upstairs to his house.

The people were surprised because this is not the way you receive your guests, but they couldn’t have a word with him; he was upstairs in his house. The British commander came, they called upon the mufti and he came down and had a chat and the people left.

But the Nabulsis still didn’t understand, and they asked the mufti why he did that. He said, “Guys, if I was sitting and waiting for the guest, when he came I would have to stand up to respect and welcome him. But I went up, and when he came I came down to him, and he stood up for me. That’s how we should receive the occupier.”

Another story that is very nice is related to what we call in modern times, gender-sensitive issues. In one of the Turkish baths, if you look at the sides of the main hall there is a higher stage where people sit. When I surveyed this in 1992 — I was a student then — there used to be couches, fancy and relaxing seats, not like the stones on the other side. It indicated that this was a special place for people to sit.

The wife of the judge in Nablus, which was the highest position in town, she wanted to have a bath here. The lady who looks after the guests told her “Madam, you can’t sit there, this is only for VIPs, you are not allowed to sit there.” The wife of the judge left angry and didn’t have a bath.

She told her husband, and as the story goes he slapped the table, and he said “I will show them.” What can we expect from the most powerful person in town? He built a special bath for his wife. And he built a tunnel in between his house and the bath so that the bath is only reserved for her, and so that no one can see her when she leaves.

DM: Does the bath still exist?

NA: Yes, and it’s called al-Qadi; it means “the Judge” bath. It is used as a sweets factory now, not as a bath.


An inscription on the Ottoman clock tower in Nablus’ old city.

 (Naseer Arafat)

DM: The book features poems that are inscribed on buildings in Nablus. Are those common on all historical buildings?

NA: Every monument in Nablus, and some of the houses, have a written inscription which most of the time is a poem. This poem is the most honest documentation of the building date. So I managed to read some, [and] copy what others have read from what were lost.

From the poems I could calculate when the building was built. In Arabic, every letter has a corresponding number — alif is one,ba is two, etc. So if you take the letters of the last phrase of the poem, and you find the equivalent number of each letter and sum them up, you get the year that each building was built. It is a brilliant way of writing a poem.

DM: And they are included in the book?

NA: All of the poems are included with a photo and a copy of the text of the poem.

DM: Can you say one final thing about why Nablus is unique, historically and architecturally?

NA: There is a lot to say about Nablus. I would say that Nablus, at the time that it was built as an Islamic city, during the Mamluk Ottoman period, it was the center of everything. It was the capital of trade. The city was well known for its powerful economy that attracted not only the plans for making the olive oil soap from Jordan, but also the costumes that were exported to Europe and exhibited during the Ottoman period.

The fields of Nablus were where olive trees and cotton plants were planted, because we have four water springs and cotton needs a lot of water.

Also, it was the center of science. Students from Azhar [University] in Egypt would come study in Nablus. There were four schools in the old city of Nablus.

In modern history, before Israeli occupation, there were four buses leaving Nablus every morning — one to Beirut, one to Damascus, one to Jerusalem, and one toAmman. Every morning. My father used to say he would arrive in Damascus before shops opened. The Hijaz train, which took pilgrims from Palestine, Jordan and Syria to Saudi Arabia, started from Nablus. So I could say simply, Nablus was the center of everything for the neighboring countries. You could say it is a unique city.

Daryl Meador is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who is currently living and volunteering in Nablus.




Unfree in Palestine Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction  

by  Nadia Abu-ZahraAdah Kay

Based on first-hand accounts and extensive fieldwork, Unfree in Palestine reveals the role played by identity documents in Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians, from the red passes of the 1950s to the orange, green and blue passes of today.

The authors chronicle how millions of Palestinians have been denationalised through the bureaucratic tools of census, population registration, blacklisting and a discriminatory legal framework. They show how identity documents are used by Israel as a means of coercion, extortion, humiliation and informant recruitment. Movement restrictions tied to IDs and population registers threaten Palestinian livelihoods, freedom of movement and access to basic services such as health and education.

Unfree in Palestine is a masterful expose of the web of bureaucracy used by Israel to deprive the Palestinians of basic rights and freedoms, and calls for international justice and inclusive security in place of discrimination and division.

About The Authors

Nadia Abu-Zahra is Assistant Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Ottawa. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and has worked across the Middle East, Asia, and Central America. She is the author of 12 articles and book chapters on mobility in Palestine.

Adah Kay is Honorary Visiting Professor at Cass Business School, City University, London. An anthropologist and urban planner, she has worked in local government, universities and UK NGOs. During 2002-6 she lived and worked in the West Bank. She is the co-author of Stolen Youth: The Politics of Israel’s Detention of Palestinian Children (Pluto, 2004).