Ramzy Baroud: Book Review "Live from Palestine"
Live from Palestine: A Reflective Examination of the Role of Internationals in the Palestinian Struggle
Book Review By Ramzy Baroud
Internationals and Palestinian Direct Action against the Israeli Occupation
Edited by Nancy
Stohlman, Laurieann Aladin
Preface by Noam Chomsky
Foreword by Dr. Mustafa Barghouth
224 pp, South End Press
Much has been written about the Middle East and its primary conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. With the passing of time, the uniqueness of what has be written, and likely what's yet to be, is thinning. Academically, most writers tend to borrow and built on each other's observations and endlessly theorize on the conflict and its long-sought solution, while bearing little knowledge of its human face and value. Journalistically, misconception, therefore, misconstruction of reality has greatly tainted the Middle East conflicts' discourse altogether.
"Live from Palestine: International and Palestinian Direct Action against the Israeli Occupation," hardly falls into any of the above categories. It's unique, not in its nifty presentation and arrangement of essays, but due to the exceptionality of the events that brought about its composition. Much of what the book contains is the outcome of gallant experiences, of individuals who placed their lives at the range of Israeli army bullets, literally, all with the hope, among other hopes, to humanize a conflict that was unfairly dehumanized for decades.
Nancy Stohlman and Laurieann Aladin, the book's editors, have done a remarkable job of reducing the seemingly fantastic job -that of fairly representing what has been intently mischaracterized, to 224 pages. Yet the value of the book exceeds the number of pages, or the mere sharing of experiences, although powerful in every stretch of the imagination. The swath of intellectual accountability, which this book opens up, however, for those truly troubled by war and injustice is what's worth counting.
"Live from Palestine" offers two correlated narrations; one of Palestinians, like that of Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, who believes that the action displayed voluntarily by thousands of internationals with the aim of providing, even if sometimes symbolic protection for the largely undefended Palestinian population, separates the current Palestinian uprising from its predecessor in 1987. Such action, he says, in his Forward to the book, "Has demonstrated the amazing power of the people."
The other narration that the book presents is that of the internationals themselves, mostly members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), among other groups.
Unlike my initial impression, "Live from Palestine" was not another round of intellectual persuasion of why Palestinians ought to follow Gandhi's nonviolence dogma and abandon theirs. In fact, non-violence as a means of resistance has been an intertwined value of the Palestinian long march for freedom, which sprung decades before the first Palestinian suicide bombing was ever recorded, a value that was clearly highlighted throughout the book. But what this document attempted to achieve to a great extent is a self-examination by those who took on the task of solidifying with the Palestinian people, not in mere utterances, but in direct, tangible involvement. "Direct action is a rejection of the idea that common people are powerless and must follow orders," Mark Schneider, an activist from Colorado stresses in his essay, connecting the solidarity movement's work in Palestine to that of the droves of volunteers who came in aid of the Spanish revolution in 1936. Despite the dissimilarity of some of the tactics employed by the two groups, both actions stemmed from the same trench, embodied in the prevailing human spirit.
In his essay, "New Current in Palestine," the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, says, "since when does a military occupied people have a responsibility for a peace movement?" The question was, of course, rhetorical, directed at "US and Israeli liberals", who are "so quick to condemn violence, while saying nothing about the criminal and disgraceful occupation itself." Professor Noam Chomsky complements Said's point. Those who would "advice the victims to adopt nonviolence strategy," must adhere to the familiar principal of advocacy of nonviolence: "If you want to be taken seriously, stand beside those who will bear the consequences of following your advice."
"Live from Palestine" in indeed central to the ongoing debate, yet it refrains from tossing judgment at a besieged nation, offering insight, a sense of accountability, personal responsibility even. One of the essayists, Rachel Corrie is a prime example. "I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop," she wrote in a letter to her mother from Rafah in the Gaza Strip. "I don't think it's an extremist thing to do any more. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the reality of our world, and that we, in fact, participate in it."
Corrie's resolve on changing the horrifying reality she witnesses provoked an Israeli army bulldozer driver who crushed her repeatedly under the wheels of his heavy machine, a US-supplied Caterpillar, as she tried in vain to prevent the demolishing of a Palestinian home. Corrie's blood adorned the humanity that united all of these volunteers under a common, upright cause. Equally important, it further highlighted the irreplaceable role internationals play, a role now crucial for the Palestinian Intifada to override the media bias and blockade.
There is a growing solidarity movement streaming from all over the world into the Occupied Territories; individuals who congregate in Palestine, motivated, not only by the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, but also by their own strong belief in the value of the individual in the long grinding struggle. Often malnourished, exhausted and sleep-deprived they return home with a message and plenty of experiences to share, stories to tell, and truth to unveil. "Live from Palestine," is the first comprehensive account of these experiences. It's by no means an end of a journey, but a pause of reflection in a continued expedition, of self-discovery, examination and sacrifice. Al-Aqsa Intifada can hardly be understood without the examination of the evolving role, played by the internationals in the ongoing Palestinian struggle, and the latter is unfathomable without reading this unrivaled document, live from Palestine.
- Ramzy Baroud is an American-Arab journalist and author. He is the editor-in-chief of Palestine Chronicle and a researcher for the Qatar-based Aljazeera Net English.