From 2013 to 2016, academic and activist Karma Chávez hosted a radio programme which gave voice to people supporting the Palestinian struggle for their rights and justice. Palestine on the Air (University of Illinois Press, 2019) brings together a collection of eleven transcribed radio interviews that highlight America’s role in colonial Israel and disappearing Palestine.
In her introduction to the book, Chávez notes that the global struggle and international solidarity as regards Palestinian rights stands in contrast to the US government’s position, which is a conglomeration of backing Israel’s colonial policies while relying on Israel on security matters. US support for Israeli colonialism, therefore, needs to be communicated to a US audience. This provides the opportunity to challenge mainstream narratives, especially when it comes to recognising the role that the US plays in relation to Israel within the international community.
The interviews in the book discuss life under Israel’s colonial occupation and how Palestinians are coerced into living in proximity with settlers; the trauma of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge military offensive; the US academic and cultural campaign to boycott Israel; censorship of pro-Palestine voices; and the impunity awarded to Israel by the US and the international community.
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Chávez writes about the “need to create conceptual and activist connections against state violence across the globe.” This collection of interviews gives ample examples of state violence, including the arson attack in Duma committed by Jewish settlers as an extension of Israeli state violence. Neighbour and relative of the Dawabsheh family, Haitham Salawdeh, explains the link in his interview: “The settlers were brought there by government sponsorship…” State violence is also a form of intimidation to coerce Palestinians into displacing themselves.
In terms of policy and decision-making, state violence follows a similar trajectory. Ghadir Shafie, a Palestinian BDS activist, describes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement as “the only effort that acknowledges and emphasises the need to recognise our rights as Palestinians” for Palestinians living in Israel. Shafie goes on to describe Israeli tactics — notably education and pink washing — to illustrate the deliberate deception that portrays Israel as liberal and thus desirable due to its harbouring of Western concepts. Pink washing, in particular, is one strategy which Israel uses to deflect attention away from its military occupation, as Sarah Schulman explains in her interview.
Just as Israel applies double standards when it comes to education, thus marginalising Palestinians, the same occurs in terms of displacement. Again, the Western capitalist concept is applied by Israel to shift attention away from the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle and the activism to preserve Palestinian homes. Johayna Saifi echoes Salawdeh’s statements about how Israel influences Palestinians to leave through aggressive legislation that allows dispossession. By treating each city differently, Israel uses divisive techniques that hinder collective Palestinian action. Saifi notes that the current divisions are built upon the earlier fragmentation in 1948 and notes that there is less awareness regarding Palestinians in Israel. The capitalist process implemented by Israel in Akka, she says, “is linked or connected to a political interest of killing or expelling all the Palestinians who live here.”
In terms of awareness regarding Israel’s colonial violence, it is Charlotte Silver who focuses upon the importance of Palestinian narratives and personal observation and insists, “I can’t emphasise enough how after looking at Palestine, reading about Palestine, thinking about Palestine for so many years, but not being in Palestine, how dramatically your understanding of what is at stake and what the conflict consists of changes when you see it.” In her discussion of Operation Protective Edge, Silver describes the terror narrative promoted by Israel to destroy Palestinian homes, while also noting the diplomatic discrepancy when it comes to discussing Palestine through the one-state or two-state paradigms which, she points out, “are still abstractions from the more acute needs that every Palestinian faces.”
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At the opposite end of such political abstractions, the boycott movement allows for Palestinian demands and international solidarity to form an alliance. In the US, this is particularly important, given the government’s support for Israel and the way that it emulates the settler-colonial state when it comes to discrimination and surveillance. The book discusses the firing of academic and author Steven Salaita from Illinois University over a tweet which criticised Israel. Salaita is described as a victim of a “political campaign being waged on university campuses in the US, but not only, where there is an effort to purge the academy of scholars or scholarship that take a particular critical stance toward political Zionism.” Salaita himself makes an important observation on how Israel and the US share common “values” that are in direct violation with the shared experience and memory of the indigenous Americans and Palestinians.
Jeff Halper raises a particular question that shifts focus onto the US: why does a country that prides itself upon democracy refuse the possibility of democracy for Palestinians? Halper describes himself as a cultural Zionist and speaks of a “binational country” which does not completely exclude colonialism. In his intervention, he speaks about the Israeli erasure of Palestinians: “The denial of Palestinian existence, let alone national rights, goes on today.” To make Palestinians visible, decolonisation is necessary, a fact which the US and Israel will refute in order to sustain the security narrative, now part of mainstream global language. “The language of security and terrorism is the language which is applied, partly to delegitimise, of course, any form of resistance,” he notes.
The book is an exercise in pointing out the political bias promoted by Israel and the US, veering away from the neutral stance that is prioritised by the international community in order to focus on specific themes and political discussion. There are possibilities to challenge US influence and support for Israel if efforts to deconstruct oblivion and normalisation are taken seriously.