Muftah’s Book Club features interviews about books we love with the authors who have written them. In this installment, we interview Ben White* on his latest publication on Israel’s Palestinian population.
Q: What type of research did you conduct for your book, “Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy”?
Ben White (BW): For a while now, I have been visiting Palestine for different projects and purposes. I initially began by spending most of my time in the West Bank (such as in my first trip in 2003), but in recent years, I have also been spending time in places like the Galilee, Haifa, the Naqab (Negev). In addition, I began to read more about the kinds of historical and contemporary challenges faced by Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. When I came to focus on writing this book specifically, I was helped by a number of titles that are not so easy to find these days – indeed, one of my purposes was to be able to distill the vital information and insights of these books into an accessible format. So the book – like my first one – is the result of a combination of on the ground experiences, personal friendships, newspaper archives, and library visits.
Q: How does this book contribute to the existing scholarship on this issue?
BW: Well as I mentioned, I am indebted to the work done by those who, over the course of the last 60 years, took the time to describe the legal regime and day to day policies that Palestinians in Israel have experienced. I would be hesitant to claim any particular scholarly ‘breakthrough’, in the sense that what I hope to have done is provide a resource that makes accessible information that is already available, but perhaps hard to find. I suppose what the book contributes in terms of theoretical framework is an attempt to present the conditions of Palestinians in Israel as part of the ‘bigger picture’. It is an argument that the de facto one-state reality has to shape our conceptualization of the conflict and in particular, what is necessary to resolve it. By drawing attention to the fact that Israel’s ‘Jewish and democratic’ status is only possible through the forced displacement, exclusion and segregation of the Palestinians – something that you can see in the Galilee and Negev as much as Hebron’s hills and the Jordan Valley – I hope that greater clarity is possible with regards to the ‘question of Palestine’.
Q: In your opinion, how should the “de facto one state reality” guide negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel? Should negotiations be abandoned for a different approach to resolving the conflict?
BW: Certainly, the current way of ‘negotiating’ should be abandoned. The so-called peace process, shaped by the US and Quartet, does nothing to counter the power imbalance, propagates the false notion of two more or less equal sides who need to come to a reasonable compromise, and is part of what allows Israel to pursue colonisation and apartheid policies with impunity. The negotiations, as practiced for two decades now, have acted as a substitute for the implementation of international law and Palestinian basic rights, not as a means to accomplishing them.
This state of affairs, combined with the ‘de facto one state reality’, means there is an urgent need for different approaches, both in Palestine and internationally. This question also relates to other, significant issues – for example, Palestinian representation and leadership. But examples of what could make up an alternative way of realizing a just, sustainable solution include focusing on accountability for violations of international law and human rights, including war crimes; coordinated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions tactics; an end to Palestinian Authority co-operation with the Israeli military; an embrace of strategic popular resistance, etc. In terms of the bigger picture, the ‘Question of Palestine’ must be reintegrated to include Palestinians in the post-67 occupied territories, those with Israeli citizenship, and the refugees.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Arab Spring?
BW: Who can forget what it was like, over a year ago now, to see the Tunisian people rise up and eject a ruler who, in the early days of the revolt, stood, staring at the bedside of the bandaged Mohammed Boazizzi, as if facing a reality he had never imagined possible (and probably didn’t even then). Then came the Egyptians, with hundreds murdered by state forces and thugs, and others refusing to be cowed by the bullet and water hose and filling the factories, streets and squares with (as a song put it) ‘the voice of freedom’. That, in one sense, has been an invaluable element of the different uprisings; the way they enabled the culture of resistance, which had always been present in these different countries, to move from the periphery to the centre – with liberatory force and revolutionary potential. That last word is key of course; these are revolts, intifadas, and the direction they will go in (each country being dependent on common and unique dynamics) is yet to be determined. Using the word intifada itself can help us recall how the energy of that Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s was eventually stifled by secret talks and the creation of a ‘Palestinian Authority,’ which, twenty years later, has, as it was intended, been a disaster for the Palestinian struggle. Certainly the counter-revolutionary currents in the Middle East (internal and external) are hard at work, trying to subvert the real gains of the last year. Imperial meddling and intervention continues, and regimes bent on protecting power will not go down without a fight; or without seeking to safeguard key elements of privilege in the new arrangements.
Q: How has the Arab Spring impacted the Palestinian Territories?
BW: This is a complicated question. On the surface, not a lot – especially if you’re looking for mass protest. With the exception of attempts by youth movements, as well as the incredible events of Nakba Day in 2011, there has been little, superficially, by way of hints of revolution or a popular intifada. But there are things happening nonetheless, and this is a time of transition. On the political level, there are moves to reform the PLO, and you can see the way Hamas is responding to regional events. Ultimately, wider events in the Middle East will be significant for Palestine, since it has always been a struggle with regional implications. And Israel will not be looking forward to Arab governments whose policies reflect the will of the people.
Q: Are there any books that you are currently or have recently read that you would recommend
BW: Firstly, I would like to give special mention to ‘Atlas of the Conflict’ by Malkit Shoshan. This beautiful book has dozens of historical, topographical, and conceptual maps of Palestine/Israel, and I was thankful to her for allowing me to reproduce some of her work in my new book – with the help of Ahmad Barclay and Dena Qaddumi from arenaofspeculation. I am currently making my way through a book called ‘Revolution, Rebellion, Resistance: The Power of Story’, by Eric Selbin, which was published in 2010 and is providing, to my mind, fascinating insights into recent events in the Middle East, as well as phenomenon like ‘Occupy’. And finally, I’d like to mention a couple of books which I have to review – and am looking forward to do so – Belen Fernandez’ ‘The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work’, and Corporate Watch’s ‘Targeting Israeli Apartheid: A Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Handbook’.
*Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer specializing in Palestine/Israel. His article appeared in publications like the Guardian’s ‘Comment Is Free”, New Statesman, Electronic Intifada, Middle East International, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and others. “Palestinians in Israel” is his second book. His first book, Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, was published in 2009 by Pluto Press.