Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Folke Bernadotte: The 'Unrighteous' Dead

Dan McGowan has recently had an interesting article published on Veterans Today concerning "Righteous Gentiles" and "Righteous Jews." In it he talks about, among other things, people who didn't make Yad Vashem's list of "Righteous Gentiles" and why, describing the cases of Muhammed V of Morocco, Khalil al-Sakakini, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Hans von Dohnanyi.

One guy Dan didn't write about but who you might think would be a shoe-in for a list of non-Jews who helped save Jews during WWII is Folke Bernadotte. He is credited by Yad Vashem with helping to save no fewer than 2,400 Jews during WWII. The real number may be closer to 11,000.

But Bernadotte will probably never be recognized as a "Righteous Gentile" for the simple reason that while serving as a United Nations mediator he was assassinated during a ceasefire in Palestine in 1948 by Jewish terrorists of the LEHI a.k.a. the Stern Gang, who also participated in the Deir Yassin massacre. One of the terrorist leaders who authorized his assassination was future Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir once wrote:
Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: "Ye shall blot them out to the last man." We are particularly far from having any qualms with regard to the enemy, whose moral degradation is universally admitted here.
Another of Bernadotte's assassins, Natan Yellin-Mor, was elected to the Israeli Knesset shortly after the killing. No one was ever arrested for Bernadotte's assassination and the Israeli military honors LEHI veterans with a service ribbon. The quote below from Bernadotte helps illuminate the motives of the Jewish terrorists in killing Bernadotte. It is from a report submitted the day before his assassination.
It is ... undeniable that no settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged by the hazards and strategy of the armed conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. The majority of these refugees have come from territory which ... was to be included in the Jewish State. The exodus of Palestinian Arabs resulted from panic created by fighting in their communities, by rumours concerning real or alleged acts of terrorism, or expulsion. It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries.
See also:
Update: Hans von Dohnanyi was added by Yad Vashem to the list of "Righteous among the Nations" in 2003. It is interesting that 6,195 Poles are on the list. Poles, who died in their millions as a result of the actions of the Nazis, are the people represented as pigs in Maus by Art Spiegelman.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Update on Ajami

I started my post on the film Ajami the day before the Oscar ceremony and in my haste to get something in print I left out one aspect of why Zionists like Ajami that I had considered but failed to develop in the article. It will suffice for my purposes here to quote a a couple of excerpts from the Hollywood Jew blog of Danielle Berrin (March 8, 2010). In "For Israelis, both despair and delight at 'Ajami' Oscar loss," Berrin writes:
Mixed feelings about the already controversial film were intensified after "Ajami" co-director, Skandar Copti gave a polarizing interview to Israel's Channel 2 TV hours before the Oscar telecast. In the interview, he denounced his ties to the State of Israel.

"I am not the Israeli national team and I do not represent Israel," Copti said.

The fallout from Copti's remarks lingered throughout the evening and divided the mostly Arab-Israeli cast from the rest of the guests in attendance. The Israeli Consulate, who hosted the expensive party at X Bar in Century City, put their best face forward despite the awkward atmosphere, determined to celebrate Israel's growing inroads in Hollywood.

"Tomorrow no one will remember what [Copti] said," Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan said confidently. "They'll remember that this is an Israeli movie and that it will help make Israel a little stronger by reinforcing the relationship between Israel and Hollywood." ...

Copti, who is a Christian Arab, co-directed the film with Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew. But, according to Copti, the collaboration is not suggestive of any broader comity between the two groups. During his Channel 2 interview, Copti said the film is "technically" Israeli because it received state funding, but he denied its figurative connection to Israel.

"I cannot represent a country that does not represent me," he said.

Even though that statement angered the film's Israeli supporters – "Ajami" received approximately $500,000 of its budget from the Israel Film Fund and Copti is a graduate of Israel's Technion in Haifa – some felt the remark was affirming.

"The film represents Israel exactly," said Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall. "It touches on almost all of the issues we face in Israeli society and it shows how broad the public debate is; that someone who is from Israel can negate his very connection to the state shows how wonderfully strong and alive our political culture is."

For Dayan, art that reflects a dynamic Israeli society and its status as a pluralistic democracy is an essential strength of statehood. But on the other hand, the fact that almost every Israeli film of note eventually gets usurped by politics is frustrating. ...

After "Ajami" lost to Argentina's "El secreto de sus ojos" (The Secret in their Eyes), those who were embittered by Copti's remarks quietly delighted in the loss, secretly slapping high five's and sending exultant text messages. But those associated with the film were visibly disappointed.

"So we lost again," Dayan said, mildly deflated. "But the fact is, this is our third time in a row in this category and every time we're there. This helps us better our connection with Hollywood and we have to be there again and again."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

American Apparel Protest in Seattle Yesterday

For two hours yesterday fourteen people of conscience protested outside the American Apparel store in Seattle's University District. The protest was sponsored by Voices of Palestine and the Greater Seattle Chapter of Veterans for Peace in recognition of Israeli Apartheid Week and in response to the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for "broad boycotts ... against Israel". About two hundred handbills were distributed to passersby urging them to "Tell American Apparel to End its Links to Apartheid and Close its Stores in Israel." The handbills featured a photo of an American Apparel employee posing with two armed soldiers from North America serving in an Israeli combat unit. See video of the protest below.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

To Protest Screenings of Ajami or Why Do Zionists Like Ajami?

by Michelle J. Kinnucan

Ajami is an Israeli film that is in contention for an Academy Award this Sunday for Best Foreign Language Film. Whether it wins the Oscar or not, it has already gained a lot of international attention and accolades and it will probably be in American theaters soon. Clearly, as an Israeli film, it falls within the scope of Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS).

However, as Palestine solidarity activists our critics and some of our allies will object if we target Ajami for protests and boycott actions especially because the film is about life in a Palestinian neighborhood and features Palestinian actors and a Palestinian co-writer/director/editor, Scandar Copti. But consider these excerpts from an interview with Copti in al-Jazeera in September 2009:
The Israeli Film Academy just announced that you won five Ophir awards, including best picture and screenplay - a first for a Palestinian filmmaker - and now your film will go on to represent Israel at next year's Oscars. What are your feelings about this?

I am happy that I'm being recognised as a filmmaker, and I value my rights just like any other citizen. But as a Palestinian citizen of the Israeli state, I have no equal rights. The idea of the citizen is non-existent for Palestinians living inside the Israeli state.

I am aware that Israel has exploited and tokenised Palestinians for their branding campaign, to show the world that Israel is a multicultural place that gives everyone an equal opportunity, even Arabs. Yet they won't even use the word Palestinian because we're not allowed to be Palestinian. Palestine does not exist for them ...

Your celebration comes at a time when trilateral peace negotiations are stagnant. Do you feel this is a development for Palestinian cinema, or is Israel using this opportunity to expand its public image with its Brand Israel campaign, which is meant to make Israel more 'attractive'?

I think they chose the film because it is a good film. It is a film that didn't scare them. It's a film that's humanising. It's a very dramatic and powerful film.

People who go to see Ajami will have lots of room to interpret and think about the reality of the situation without feeling the message was forced, or someone saying "this is all your fault".

The film has a lot of self-criticism about the society I live in, but not from a director's perspective or manifesto.

But will Israel exploit it? I'm sure they will. They tried to do so in Toronto, but I pulled my film out of the City to City whose focus this year was Tel Aviv, and had them place it in the world cinema category. I also did not go to Toronto because I was really upset with their decision. They want people to believe Israel is a diverse society that is accepting, which is not true.
Now, consider some thoughts in a BBC review by Palestinian attorney Raja Shehadeh (segment starts at 8:05 or listen to the review only below). Shehadeh is an Orwell Prize winner and founder of Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, he says:
[The world of Ajami is] a city of drive-by shootings, drugs, and racketeering, where men, young and old, are shot or stabbed to death on the slightest provocation and shady sheikhs in Arab dress sort out the blood money in what is supposed to pass as tribal justice. ... the unrelieved blood-letting punctuated only by moments of love and loyalty to family and friends leaves us in no doubt that the Jewish citizens of Israel exist in a jungle infested by bloodthirsty, uncivilized Arabs who live inside and outside its borders exactly as Israeli propagandists claim. If Israel is to make it, the story goes, this tiny bastion of civilization has no choice but to remain militarized and on full alert. What the film fails to open our eyes to is why life in Jaffa has come to this. After one of the senseless murders by Arab assailants, the Israeli television commentator explains that poverty and unemployment often lead to crime. But are these the only reasons that explain why things have become so bad in Ajami? The film makes no reference to what Jaffa has been and what it has gone through or the present threat of eviction facing many in its Ajami quarter. Before most of its inhabitants were forced out by Israel in the 1948 Nakba--the catastrophe--it was a prosperous city of over one hundred thousand citizens that was described as the "Bride of the Sea." After the establishment of Israel the city was left to rot. Nor does the film give any hint of the host of economic and travel restrictions imposed on the territories Israel occupied in 1967, restrictions which force another of its characters, Malik, a one-time resident of Nablus, to seek illegal employment in Jaffa and there, enduring daily hardships, he becomes involved in drug dealing and dies as a result. ... surely a film that wants us to open our eyes to reality should not serve ideology by compromising truth. In July 1936, Ben-Gurion, one of the founders of Israel, wrote, in his diary: "I would welcome the destruction of Jaffa, port and city. Let it come. It would be for the better. If Jaffa went to hell, I would not count myself among the mourners." ...
The final excerpt for your consideration shows how Ajami, as Scandar Copti suggested, is being exploited by Zionists. This passage comes from an article in Ha'aretz entitled "The cowardice, the vanity, the sin of boycotting Israel." As you read it please recall that it was written after Scandar Copti had it pulled from the "City to City" program of the Toronto International Film Festival, which was a focused effort to celebrate Tel Aviv and rebrand Israel after its massacre in Gaza the winter before. Author Bradley Burston writes:
Live in this tainted Holy Land long enough, and you come to learn that there are two kinds of political activists, much as there are two kinds of artists.

The first kind, the kind who changes the world, points to something that has yet to have been seen, something that seriously needs to be seen, and cries out, "Look at this."

The second kind, the kind who changes nothing, barks in a voice every bit as insistent, "Look at me."

I was privileged this weekend to attend a marriage of art and activism of the first sort, the new film "Ajami." Jointly directed by an Israeli-born Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli, spoken mostly in an Arabic salted with Hebrew, Ajami is an overwhelming work, clenched, compassionate, violent, perplexing, complex beyond facile comprehension. It is a creature of this place. It rings true.

Given the depth and breadth of its lens, and the fact that the directors worked for seven years to fit their story into two hours, it is all the more galling that earlier this month, political activists very much of the second sort, bluntly caught Ajami in the collateral damage of a scattershot anti-Israel campaign.

Ajami was among a number of dark and critical Israeli films, among them "Lebanon" and "Jaffa," which were effectively sniffed at and dismissed by the strident, star power-chasing protest at the Toronto International Film Festival, a protest so shallow and so misplayed, that it has had the effect of doing the occupation a distinct favor.

There is something in Ajami's nuance that helps explain why the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, of which the Toronto protest was an ingenuously unacknowledged bastard cousin, has proven a wholesale failure.

What Ajami shows, in continually surprising revelations, is the essential core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: people on both sides trying to protect their loved ones and keep them alive, often with heartbreaking consequences.
In short, Zionists like Ajami for the reasons pointed to by Raja Shehadeh. The film reinforces negative stereotypes about Arabs-Palestinians and decontextualizes life in Ajami from the socio-political reality of Jewish apartheid and the historical realities of the Nakba and the ongoing occupation of Palestine.

Update: 7 March 2010 - This post was republished in the Palestine Chronicle today. An article in Ha'aretz today confirms that Ajami was produced with funds from the Israeli government and Scandar Copti has created a stir by reportedly saying, "I am not Israel's national team and do not represent her".

See also: "Update on Ajami"

Michelle J. Kinnucan's writing has previously appeared in CommonDreams.org, Critical Moment, Palestine Chronicle, Arab American News, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Think Tank and elsewhere. Her 2004 investigative report on the Global Intelligence Working Group was featured in Censored 2005: The Top 25 Censored Stories (Seven Stories Pr., 2004) and she contributed a chapter to Finding the Force of the Star Wars Franchise (Peter Lang, 2006). Click here for information on how to contact her.