Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Art Milholland in hospital/Why Israeli Jew Uri Davis Joined Fatah to Save Palestine



A stalwart in the peace movement, Dr. Art Milholland, was admitted to the University of Maryland Hospital on Saturday, August 29 with a "lower brain stem stroke" or "cerebral accident."  He will remain there until at least Wednesday, and his wife Luanne, another active member of Maryland’s peace and justice movement, has been by his side.


Members of the Jonah House have visited Art, and he is staying strong despite being fed through the nose.  Let me know if you are interested in visiting with him.  If you do not know Art, please send good vibrations his way.






Why Israeli Jew Uri Davis Joined Fatah to Save Palestine


    The first Jewish member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah talks about a unique political journey


By Peter Beaumont

The Observer (UK)

August 23, 2009




Uri Davis is used to denunciations. A "traitor", "scum",

"mentally unstable": those are just some of the

condemnations that have been posted in the Israeli

blogosphere in recent days. As the first person of

Jewish origin to be elected to the Revolutionary Council

of the Palestinian Fatah movement, an organisation once

dominated by Yasser Arafat, Davis has tapped a deep

reserve of Israeli resentment. Some have even called for

him to be deported.


He has been here before, not least as the man who first

proposed the critique of Israel as an "apartheid state"

in the late 1980s. Davis's involvement in the first UN

World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001 was

condemned by the Anti-Defamation League. During a career

of protest he has been described - inevitably - as a

"self-hating Jew". He calls himself an "anti-Zionist".

And his personal history is a fascinating testimony to

the troubled history of the postwar Israeli left and

forgotten trajectories in the story of Israel itself.


The man elected to the Revolutionary Council in 31st

place from a field of 600 has been as much shaped by the

tidal forces of recent Jewish history - not least his

own family's sufferings in the Holocaust - as any fellow

citizen of Israel. But he disputes a largely

manufactured account of that experience that he believes

has been used deliberately "to camouflage" its

"apartheid programme". Now he enjoys an extraordinary

mandate to explain his own views. And he hopes, too,

that just as the small number of white members of the

ANC widened its legitimacy during the apartheid era in

South Africa, other Jews can be attracted to participate

in Fatah, transforming it into a broader-based movement

that stands for equal rights for both Arabs and Jews in

a federated state.


So what does Davis believe, and  why? His father was a

British Jew who met his mother, a Czech, in British

Mandatory Palestine in the mid-1930s, where they married

in 1939, four years before his birth. While his mother

escaped the transports to the gas chambers at Auschwitz,

many in her family did not. It is a familiar story in

Israel. But the lesson that Davis learnt from it was

different from the vast majority of Jews who concluded

that never again could Jews depend on others to

guarantee their security from persecution.


"An important part of the education that I received from

my parents," Davis recalled last week, "was never to

generalise. To beware of every sentence that begins with

'all'. It was not 'all' Germans who killed my mother's

family. It was some Nazis." Another distinction was

emphasised by his mother. "If she heard the suggestion

of vengeance, she would be horrified. She sought

justice. One of the biggest problems addressing a

Zionist audience is that the distinction between justice

and vengeance has collapsed."


He is 66 now, but that warning from his parents on the

risk of demonising the Other still resonates in Davis's

language. He is insistent that generalities should be

avoided, not least the "normative idea all Israelis are

exposed to: that all Arabs hate the Jews and all Arabs

want to drive the Jews into the sea".


His own self-description is a case in point, fine-tuned

over the decades. "It has gone through a number of

stages. In my autobiography in the mid-1990s I described

myself as a Palestinian Jew. That has now changed to a

Palestinian Hebrew of Jewish origins." How he frames his

own identity is part of his attempt to impose an

"alternative narrative" to the one that has dominated

Israel since its foundation in 1948 by what he describes

as "a settler-colonialist" strand of Zionism built on a

massive act of "ethnic cleansing". That moment - known

as the "Nakba", or the catastrophe to Arabs - saw the

flight of 650,000-750,000 Palestinians who fled or were

expelled from their homes by Jewish forces.


Davis is careful with his definitions of both "Zionism"

and his own "anti-Zionism". The Zionism that he opposes

is the "political Zionism" of Israel's founders, the

Zionism that amounts, he says, to land grab based on

ethnic cleansing.


Davis himself insists on reclaiming a wider meaning for

the word, not least because he was shaped, as he grew

up, by a different school: the "spiritual Zionism" of

thinkers such as Ahad Ha'am, religious philosopher

Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, co-founder of Jerusalem's

Hebrew University.


In contrast to political Zionism, which saw Jewish

statehood alone as a solution to the Jewish question,

these spiritual Zionists believed Palestine could not

accommodate a Jewish homeland but should become a

national spiritual centre that would support and

reinvigorate the Jewish diaspora.


Davis has written how his own "intellectual and moral

development was profoundly influenced by Buber's

writings" although he has fiercely condemned Buber's

later actions, not least Buber's appropriation of a

house in Jerusalem belonging to the family of the late

Palestinian activist and writer Edward Said.


Then there was Leon Roth, one of his father's relatives

and a fellow professor of Buber at the new Hebrew

University. Roth resigned his post after witnessing the

treatment of the Palestinian Arabs in the creation of

Israel and returned to Cambridge.


But if these were formative influences on Davis, it is

how he interpreted what he saw growing up in the young

state of Israel that marked him out as different.

Reading Gandhi and Martin Luther King led him to a

pacifist position that saw him refuse military service

in the 1960s, at a time when it was almost unheard of.

He was eventually assigned to "alternative" service

working on a kibbutz on the border with the Gaza Strip.


"I refused to participate in the armed patrols of the

kibbutz fence on the border and that led to daily

shouting matches. Then one of the members took me to the

periphery of the kibbutz where there was a cluster of

eucalyptus trees. He said: 'What can you see?' And I

said trees. Then he took me into the wood and showed me

a pile of stones. He asked me what I could see and I

said: 'A pile of stones.' He said: 'No. This is the

[Arab] village of Dirma. Its residents are refugees

while we cultivate their land. Now do you understand why

they hate us and want to drive us into the sea?


"And I said, 'But there is an alternative. We could

invite them back and share it with them.'" He pauses.

"If looks could kill. I saw that he saw me as a hopeless

case. And I'm proud to say I'm still that hopeless case."


Davis experienced a second moment of epiphany decades

later during the first Gulf war, when Iraq was firing

Scud missiles at Israel - a moment of insight related to

an unresolved question from his childhood. "I was born

in Jerusalem, but I grew up on a farm near Herziliya. I

would walk with my peers down to the beach and pass the

ruins of an Arab village under the shadow of a mosque

that was still intact. And the dominant narrative

deleted the reality. The elders of my community said

they had pleaded with the elders of the Arab village to

stay. And the elders of the Arab village refused. I had

no way to challenge this for decades.


"During the first Gulf war the penny dropped. The mayor

of Tel Aviv was abusing all those residents who had fled

under the threat from Scuds. After the war ended, the

families returned. They used their keys. Put their cash

cards in the ATMs. Re-opened their shops. What was

significant was that no one said to them: anyone who has

left has lost their property rights. That was my second crossroads."


Davis published Israel: An Apartheid State in 1987. He

distinguishes between racism and apartheid, which, he

argues, requires not simply an official value system

that distinguishes on a racial basis but a legal

reality. Indeed, Davis has written that it is wrong to

single out Israel on the grounds that it is more racist

than other states in the UN. Rather he believes it

should be singled out because, as he wrote in a letter

to Al-Ahram newspaper in 2003, "it applies the force of

law to compel its citizens to make racial choices, first

and foremost in all matters pertaining to access to

land, housing and freedom of residence".


Davis's lifetime of dissent has not been without

consequences. After joining Fatah, Davis began a long

period of "de facto exile" at the suggestion of his

lawyer to avoid a show trial. He taught during that time

at a number of British universities, including Bradford, Exeter and Durham.


Returning to Israel and the Occupied Territories in the

mid-1990s, following the Oslo Accords, Davis struggled

for years to secure an appointment at an Israeli

academic institution. " I kept my affiliation with

Exeter and Durham, which helped me with periodical

research that they farmed out to me. I also had an

inheritance." It was only recently that he was appointed

to teach a course at the Palestinian Al-Quds university

on critical Israeli studies.


His marriage in 2008 to a Palestinian woman has not made

life easier for him. She has been denied a permit to

live in Israel, while Davis is forbidden by Israeli law

to live in an area under Palestinian authority control

as an Israeli citizen. In consequence, he is vague both

about the circumstances of his conversion to Islam

shortly before the wedding and where he now lives,

describing those arrangements as "private".


What does he hope to achieve as a Palestinian Hebrew who

is a full member of the Revolutionary Council?


His core message, he explains, is "to suggest" to his

new colleagues that there is nothing to fear in

recognising the notion of a Jewish state. "The correct

response is that we will not recognise an Israel defined

by political Zionism." And perhaps just as importantly,

Davis believes that Fatah can expand its role from

representing only Palestinian Arabs to representing all

of those who oppose "settler-colonialism".


"It cannot win the struggle for equality that it has

waged for so long as long as it remains only

representative of Palestinians. To win the moral [high

ground] it has to project itself as a democratic

alternative for all. That is the message I first

delivered and that I have persevered with and has led to

my election to the Revolutionary Council after 25

years." It seems unlikely that condemnations on Israeli

websites will prevent Uri Davis from giving up on his

unique mission now.




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