Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair

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Recent US media coverage of the Israeli bombing and occupation of Gaza is a clear indication of how the media is biased in favor of Israel. This biased coverage has tremendous impact on public perception about the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Quite often the public sentiment towards the conflict is either pro-Israeli or promotes the idea that the conflict is centuries old and will never be resolved. This attitude places the Israelis and Palestinians on equal footing in the conflict and portrays the US as an outside party trying to broker the peace between the two groups.

Jonathan Cook has written a new book that helps to dispel the idea that the conflict in the Middle East is between two feuding peoples. Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair is an important text that seeks to reframe the discussion on Israel/Palestine by looking not only at the historical record, but recent events.

Cook is the only Western journalist that is based in city of Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel. The author has his own blog with current articles (http://www.jkcook.net/) and his writings have appeared in newspapers worldwide. This is Cook’s third book on Israel and comes at an important time in the public debate about Israel’s motives for the recent bombing and occupation of Gaza.

Disappearing Palestine is divided into two sections, with the first section devoted to a review of the historical record of Israel’s acquisition of Palestinian land. Cook chronicles the evolution of Zionism as it relates to the creation of Israel and provides plenty of documentation to reflect the fundamental idea that Israel has always been about the business of “dispossessing Palestinians of their land.” Israel became a state in 1948 and from then on has been committed to expanding its territory at the expense of Palestinians. Even the United Nations was supportive of Israel’s claim of 55% of Palestinian land, but by 1949 Israel had already controlled roughly 78% of Palestine according to Cook.

For Israel, it was not enough to simply displace Palestinians from their land, the land had to be “reclaimed.” Israel made it a practice of changing the names of Palestinian towns, which included the changing of maps. Quite often Palestinian lands were taken for “nationalization projects” such as roads, settlements or military bases and outposts. This certainly the motive for the 1967 war, which saw Israel occupy the West Bank and the Gaza.

Ever since 1967, the international community, minus the US, has been calling for Israel to return to the pre-1967 territories. However, Israel would have nothing to do with giving back land and eventually was able to get support for their occupation with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. This agreement in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was generally viewed as creating two autonomous states. The reality, however, as Cook documents was just another brilliant move by the Israelis to acquire more land and further marginalize the Palestinian people. Cook, and others, refer to the post-1993 land occupations as a form of apartheid, where Israel controls the roads, the water and has left Palestinians in isolated communities with no freedom to move about. This ongoing policy of land occupation is reflected in the Israeli blockade of Gaza that began in 2006 and is what motivates the current Israeli incursions into that area.

The rest of the book is a collection of essays that the author has written in recent years that deal with topics ranging from the use of anti-Semitism, life under occupation, reporting from Israel, and an interesting critique of Israeli writers who have been critical of Israel’s policies. Disappearing Palestine is essential reading for anyone seeking to place the current conflict within a well documented historical context.

Jonathan Cook, Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair, (Zed Books, 2008).

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The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power

In his third book on Pakistan, Tariq Ali does the monumental job of providing us with an important study of the historical relationship between the US and a country that has only experienced sovereignty since 1948.

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

As the US government makes the transition from the Bush to the Obama administration what will this mean for foreign policy? Media pundits have been and will be speculating on this question for months to come, but it is important to seek out independent analysis, particularly the kind of analysis that provides a solid historical context.

In his third book on Pakistan, Tariq Ali does the monumental job of providing us with an important study of the historical relationship between the US and a country that has only experienced sovereignty since 1948.

The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power covers a sixty year period from the birth of a nation to a US ally in the “war on terror.” Ali, with a keen sense of history and a personal commitment to the quest for justice in his home country of Pakistan, has provided us with an important framework for how to understand the role of his country in US foreign policy.

The book begins with the tensions that existed between India and Pakistan after the British turned over rule of the region. As Ali reminds readers throughout the book, the US was very interested in having Pakistan as an ally considering its strategic location. Pakistan borders India, Iran, Afghanistan and China. Pakistan was an important ally in the “Cold War” especially during the Reagan years and the US support for the Afghani resistance to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.

However, before their role in the first “war on terror,” Pakistan became one of the first nations to develop a highly political vision of Islam. It was during the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq that the reality of Pakistan being a predominantly Islamic state came into fruition. General Zia-ul-Haq promoted a Sharia (Islamic) law and developed the notorious intelligence agency known as the ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. The ISI was notorious for its repression of dissent and played a valuable role in supporting the US financed mujahideens in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

The Duel also provides important insight into the post Zia-ul-Haq years and the legacy of the Bhutto family in Pakistani politics. Despite the US media canonization of Benazir Bhutto after her assassination last year, Bhutto was not a strong advocate for democracy in Pakistan. Her death had more to do with factionalism than her being a champion for democracy. Bhutto’s death opened the door for Pervez Musharraf to take complete control of power in Pakistan, an outcome the US government was quite pleased with.

Musharraf has continued to be an important ally for the US, particularly in the current “war on terror.” Ali underscores that point by devoting the last part of the book to the role that Pakistan has played in the current US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan has played such an important role in the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan that the war has now spilled over into Pakistan. The Duel does not provide great details on the US military incursions into Pakistan, a topic Ali has written on since the book was published, but it does provide an important framework for why Pakistan will be critical in the US/NATO campaign in Afghanistan.

Just before the November, election Tariq Ali made a video plea to Barack Obama, asking him to reconsider his public position in support of increasing US troops in Afghanistan. Continuing in that spirit, The Duel will provide anyone with an important perspective, especially if you want to push the new administration to break with a long history of using Pakistan as a tool to further imperialist policies in that region of the world.

Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, (Scribner, 2008).