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July 1, 2016

Friday Films: ‘The Open Door,’ Based on a Novel by Latifa Zayyat

Arabic Literature (in English)

Every Friday, ArabLit suggests a new classic film-book combination — for you to watch and read — until we run out of steam about 20 weeks in:This week’s film is The Open Door, based on the 1960 novel by pioneering author-activist Latifa al-Zayyat. The Arab Writers Union listed this coming-of-age novel as one of the Top 105 books of the 20th century. Al-Zayyat was a political prisoner in 1949 and again in 1981, but then won Egypt’s highest state-sponsored literary prize a few months before her death in 1996. She was also co-winner of the inaugural Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for The Open Door.It’s set during al-Zayyat’s first political awakening, in the decade post-WWII, during the last fight against British colonial rule, and it centers aorund Layla and her brother Mahmud. In a retrospective on Al-Jadid, al-Zayyat’s debut novel was remembered by critic Farida al-Naqash as “an expression of a new wave in the Arabic novel, one that combines poetic realism with committed literature.”You can read an excerpt, trans. Marilyn Booth, online.The novel was adapted into a 1964 film by Henry Barakat starring megastar Faten Hamama.

Previous Friday films:

The Mountain, based on a novel by Fathi Ghanem

Miramarbased on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz

A Touch of Fear, based on a novella by Tharwat Abaza

The Impossible, based on a novel by Mostafa Mahmoud

The Sixth Daybased on a novel by Andrée Chedid

The Land, based on a novel by Abdel Rahman Al-Sharqawi, translated as Egyptian Earth

Al-Harambased on a novel by Yusuf Idris

I’m Free, based on a novel by Ihsan Abdel Quddous

A Beginning and an End, based on the novel by Naguib Mahfouz

For Bread Alone, based on the novel by Mohamed Choukri

Gate of the Sun, based on the novel by Elias Khoury

The Dupesbased on Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun

Diary of a Country Prosecutor, based on a novel by Tawfiq al-Hakim

Adrift on the Nile, based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz

A Nightingale’s Prayerbased on a novel by Taha Hussein

 Kit Katbased on the novel The Heron by Ibrahim Aslan, available in translation by Elliott Colla.

The Egyptian Citizen, based on Yusuf al-Qa’id’s award-winning novel War in the Land of Egypt

The Lamp of Umm Hashem, inspired by a novella by Yahia Haqqi

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Interview with Shir Hever

 

You went to Berlin to the Free University. Why?

I actually live in Heidelberg, although I’m writing my PhD at the Free University of Berlin. I followed my partner who found a job in Germany. The very large emigration from Israel of young and educated people has meant that much of my family and friends have already left Israel, and Berlin is actually a favorite destination, where I meet many of my old friends from Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.

What motivated you to research Israel’s military sector and to support BDS? Did your upbringing and family background have a role in this, or was it something you came to later in life?
I did grow up in a leftist and critical family, and was taught to ask questions from a young age. I went to a very militaristic school, so I was taught a Zionist perspective as well, but I didn’t want to take part in the occupation directly as a soldier. In order to try to be a non-combat soldier, I volunteered for a year of social service in the town of Sderot, and there I had time to think about politics, to hear from my friends who were drafted into the army, and to see aspects of Israeli society that I never knew existed. I decided not to do any military service. By pretending to be crazy I easily received an exemption, like thousands do every year.
Only in university, however, did I become aware of the Palestinian side of the story, when Palestinians were invited by a political group called “The Campus Will Not Stay Silent” to speak about their experiences during the Second Intifada. I started to become politically active and joined the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization.
Supporting BDS came naturally as I was part of the group of activists who were considering various strategies of combating the occupation. As an economist, I felt that BDS can have a very strong impact on the Israeli economy and society and was something that empowers Palestinians to use non-violent resistance.
Choosing my research topics was done in an activist environment, and I would usually write reports and studies on matters upon requests from activists. After writing my book on the political economy of Israel’s occupation, I realized that the Israeli military industry and Israeli arms exports are very important to complete the picture, to explain how Israel’s occupation fits into global interests, and so I chose this as a topic for my PhD.

It is said that the Israeli population is becoming more mentally and psychologically isolated from the rest of the world. Is that also your experience?
Absolutely not. Israelis strongly depend on a feeling of being part of the “west,” and part of Europe (even though Israel is not in Europe). The fascination of Israelis with the European Football Cup, with the Eurovision etc. is one aspect of this, but also the desire to travel in the world, to consume western culture, etc. I admit that when BDS started, I did not imagine that its most powerful impact would be precisely in the sphere of culture. Whenever a famous artist cancels a performance in Israel, the reactions are very powerful, because Israelis don’t want to feel isolated. The fact that Israelis are willing to pay double the prices for tickets to performances of artists who choose to violate BDS and perform in Israel is a testimony to that fact. Actually, this is the reason for BDS being a successful tactic; it targets a sensitive nerve of Israel’s culture, the need to be included.

Listening to Netanyahu and Lieberman, we get the impression here that the division between Jews and Palestinians in Israel itself is increasingly growing. Is that true?
On the political level, yes of course. The Israeli government is not ashamed to call for separation, and to demonize Palestinians as a group. On the local and personal level, there are also many cases of Palestinians and Jews working together, becoming friends, creating families together. Separation is never 100% successful. It is true that many Israeli Jews have little contact with Palestinians and know very little about them. Very few Israeli Jews bother to learn Arabic. But Palestinian Israelis, on the other hand, have frequent contact with Israeli Jews, speak good Hebrew and have a very good understanding of Jewish culture and politics.

How can you explain that an Israeli general has compared the situation in his country with Germany of the 1930s?
Major-General Yair Golan is well-known for being very direct and not too careful with what he says. In a lecture he gave in 2007 he admitted that the Wall of Separation’s main purpose is to separate populations, and security only comes as a second priority.
Currently Israel is witnessing a fierce struggle between two competing elite groups. The old military elite in Israel (to which Golan belongs) is in a state of crisis, losing much of its influence over the government and the business sector.
The military elite is not leftist, progressive or opposed to the occupation, but it believes in creating an “intelligent” occupation, a careful and planned use of force in order to keep the Palestinians under control. They are afraid of the populism of the Israeli government and how it encourages unbounded brutality of Israeli soldiers against Palestinians. Golan hinted that such populism and brutality are not signs of strength of Israel, but actually signs of weakness.
His statement was severely criticized, and gave the government the opportunity to make more populist statements. Minister of Defense Ya’alon (also a member of Israel’s military elite, and former commander of the army) was forced to resign and was replaced by Lieberman, who is not a member of the military elite.

Does militarism and war (also) serve to cover the tensions within Israeli Jewish society?
I wouldn’t say militarism and war, but rather an obsession with security. Israel hasn’t fought a real conventional war since 1973, instead it is constantly engaged in asymmetrical conflicts in civilian areas, where Israeli soldiers use heavy armaments in civilian areas. But the constant fear of retaliation, the threat of real and imagined terrorism, are exploited very cynically by the Israeli government to distract from the burning social issues in Israel.
A good example of this is the 2011 attack on an Israeli bus in the midst of large social protests in Israel. Netanyahu quickly announced that the attackers came from Gaza, and ordered a bombing against Gaza, killing five Palestinians. Even though the attackers did not come from Gaza, Palestinians chose not to react to the Israeli killing of innocent Palestinians, because such retaliation would serve the desire of Netanyahu to suppress the social protests. I think that we can learn from this example how well Palestinians understand Israeli society. Interestingly, the social protests ended eventually with very little effect, and the security issue continues to dominate Israeli political discourse.

If we look at the big military companies such as the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit, do they account for a large share of the Israeli economy?
The arms sector is a large section of Israel’s industrial sector, and the two biggest arms companies are the government-owned IAI, and the private Elbit Systems. There are conflicting numbers from various sources, and I estimate that 11% of Israel’s total exports are security and military exports, to which these two companies contribute more than half. Of course this is very significant for the Israeli economy, and no other country in the world has arms as such a high proportion of its total exports (not even the U.S, the world’s largest arms exporter). Nevertheless, one must remember that the majority of Israel’s exports, and industrial companies and workforce are civilian.

How is the Netherlands (and the EU) most complicit in supporting the Israeli military industrial complex? Through its subsidies and financing, its scientific research, its global production facilities, its purchases of Israeli military products and services, or its provision of tax havens for the companies’ profits?

All of the above, but the complicity is not just in helping to fund the Israeli arms industry, but also by legitimizing it. When Dutch and European politicians promote security cooperation projects with Israel, they are fully aware that the Israeli arms industry is based on the Israeli military experience in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, technologies developed in the course of repression of Palestinian resistance and control over a large population denied its basic rights. Therefore, all these ties between European and Israeli arms companies send a message that Europe accepts Israel’s occupation and even seeks to learn from it. This was said by General Yoav Galant (currently Israel’s minister of housing), that “foreign governments are hypocritical. On the one hand they criticize our actions, but then they come to us to learn how we do it.”

BDS campaigns in Europe have the potential to be a powerful force given that the EU traditionally has been one of Israel’s largest markets. Is this where you think BDS efforts can be most effective – or rather in the US or elsewhere?
In the end, the most effective BDS campaigns are not necessarily the ones that have the biggest monetary effect, but those that get the attention of the Israeli public. U.S-based BDS was very effective in making Israelis feel that “even our closest ally is changing its opinion on us,” but so did BDS actions in Germany. Europe remains Israel’s largest target both for exports and for imports, but BDS doesn’t seek to change that. BDS is not a tool to harm the Israeli economy, but to achieve political change through pressure.
The Netherlands play a very important role because of the importance of the Rotterdam port to Israel’s exports to Europe, especially of agricultural produce, which is of great symbolic significance. If the Netherlands will impose more strict controls over that import, it has a direct impact on the Israeli illegal colonies in the Jordan Valley, which is the most fertile land in all of Palestine.

Is BDS a bigger threat for the economy of Israel or for its image?
BDS does not seek to harm the Israeli economy, but to convince Israelis that it is unsustainable to violate international law. I don’t believe that the Israeli government will continue with its policies of apartheid and occupation long enough for BDS to cause a long-term damage to the Israeli exports. When Israeli companies will start moving to other countries to avoid BDS, the Israeli government will either collapse, or change its policies. The majority of the Israeli public today (unlike the situation in the 1970s and 1980s) is no longer willing to make great sacrifices for the sake of Zionism.
The Israeli image, however, is already strongly affected by BDS. The strength of BDS is that it is a movement based on research and information, and that through BDS, activists are able to educate the public about the situation in Palestine, and disseminate materials. The image of Israel in the world is changing as a result, and this is something that has no less of an effect on Israeli decision makers than the economic impact.

What could be important focus points for organizations such as docP and Stop de Wapenhandel (Stop the Arms Trade)?
In my experience, it is a very bad idea for someone from Israel/Palestine to tell organizations what their focus should be. Surely you know better than me who is your audience, what kind of message will be more effective to reach them and what they can do and organize locally. Palestine solidarity groups work in a wide variety of contexts – from student groups to church groups, from labor unions to social justice and environmental movements. My only recommendation would be to choose projects that can have an impact inside Israel, projects that involve major and well-known Israeli companies, politicians, etc. And that each such project should be accompanied by research. Activists can only be successful if they have a lot of information that they can disseminate as part of their activity. It is never enough to say “let’s boycott this company because it is Israeli.” You must explain why.

Shir Hever

DocP |  source

 

Israeli MPs try to assault Haneen Zoabi

 

This 9-minute video, showing Israeli Jewish MPs’ reaction to a speech by Haneen Zoabi today, offers a very revealing insight into how Israel’s tribal democracy works. And it isn’t pretty.

Even in the British parliament, which is imploding at the moment, it is impossible to imagine scenes like these.

Zoabi made the speech after Israel agreed this week very belatedly to pay compensation to the families of nine humanitarian activists killed by Israeli commandos in 2010 on the Mavi Marmara, as it plied international waters on its way to deliver aid to Gaza. In fact, it would be more accurate to say Israel assassinated the activists, as a way to deter others from following in their wake.

The Marmara was a Turkish vessel and the compensation was part of Israel’s reconciliation deal with Turkey.

Zoabi was the only Israeli MP on the ship, and was accused of treason by Knesset members for participating in the aid flotilla. She became public enemy number one and received many death threats at the time, including some barely veiled ones from Jewish MPs.

All the exchanges in this video are in Hebrew, but that doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to understand the language to understand what is going on. One Jewish MP, Oren Hazan, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, heckles Zoabi non-stop for more than four minutes, with the Speaker doing nothing more than politely asking him to calm down and refrain from interrupting.

Remember that Palestinians MPs are regularly ejected from the Knesset for far less than this kind of barracking and violation of parliamentary protocol. Notice also that the Knesset TV spends as much time, if not more, focusing on the heckler than Zoabi, implicitly legitimising his anti-democratic behaviour.

But when Zoabi accuses the soldiers of “murder” at about 4.30-min into the video, all hell breaks loose. A dozen or more Jewish MPs rush to the podium and start circling Zoabi like a pack of baying hyenas. By this stage, when Zoabi is being physically threatened by a number of MPs in the parliament chamber, you might think it would be time for some of them to be forcefully ejected, if only to indicate that this subversion of the democratic process will not be tolerated. But not a bit of it. They are treated with kid gloves.

The Knesset guards simply try to block the violent Jewish MPs from reaching the single Palestinian MP in their sights, presumably fearful that were she to be physically assaulted that might make headline news and make Israel look bad.

Paradoxically, the only MP you can see on the film being pushed out of the Knesset chamber is Zoabi’s party leader, Jamal Zahalka, who from the look of things is interceding because he’s worried she is in danger. Hazan was finally removed, though after more than eight minutes of heckling, threats and belligerence.

Another paradox: Zoabi and her fellow party MPs have only recently been allowed to speak in the Knesset again, after the ethics committee (dominated by Jewish MPs) suspended them for several months because of their “unacceptable” political views.

I doubt very much that any of these Jewish MPs, even though they have threatened and tried to physically harm another MP, one from the wrong tribe, will suffer any consequences at all for their behaviour.

Zoabi said in her speech: “I stood here six years ago, some of you remember the hatred and hostility toward me, and look where we got to. Apologies to the families of those who were called terrorists. The nine that were killed, it turns out that their families need to be compensated. I demand an apology to all the political activists who were on the Marmara and an apology to MK Haneen Zoabi, who you’ve incited against for six years. I demand compensation and I will donate it to the next flotilla. As long as there’s a siege, more flotillas need to be organized.”

In addition to the violent reception from MPs visible on film, there was widespread incitement from other MPs. Michael Oren, who a while back was Israel’s ambassador to the US, sounded like Avigdor Lieberman as he said Zoabi’s speech proved she was not loyal and should be permanently stripped of her parliamentary status, under a soon-to-be-passed Suspension Law.

In true colonial style, the government’s chief whip, David Bitan, was reported to have told Palestinian voters in Israel after Zoabi’s speech: “We need to make sure she doesn’t stay in the Knesset. We’ve had enough of this and she doesn’t even represent you properly.”

 

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