Saree Makdisi: Obama won’t solve the Middle East crisis

My following article appears in today’s Crikey:

After… Tuesday night’s Sydney Ideas lecture by Saree Makdisi, professor of English Literature at the University of California and nephew of the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, chief executive of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, asked a question. He wanted to know why Makdisi had ignored the extreme Hamas charter, Palestinian rejectionism and constant Israeli peace offers since 1948. “You’ve only told one side of the story,” Alhadeff claimed.

Makdisi responded with passion, claiming that Alhadeff and the Zionist position he represented only saw in Israel and Palestine what they wanted to see. Alhadeff started his question by saying that, “we all believe the occupation should have ended yesterday”, and yet Makdisi countered that Israel’s supposedly serious peace offerings were bogus as long as the occupation of the West Bank deepened every day.

It was a point he made on ABC Radio’s The World Today last week. Equality, justice and peace can never be achieved when fundamentalist, Jewish colonialists continue to control vital West Bank territory.

About 200 people packed into Sydney University’s Seymour Centre… on Tuesday… night (disclosure: I introduced Makdisi) and the crowd was diverse. Although there were few Jewish attendees… ”‰—”‰I knew maybe five… ”‰—”‰there were countless Palestinians, Arabs and concerned citizens of various ages. His talk in Melbourne last week (covered in The Age), was equally popular, I’m told, people drawn to the growing global consensus that apartheid is occurring in the occupied territories with total Western support (the audio is here).

Makdisi spoke principally about Jerusalem’s proposed Museum of Tolerance, to be built on a sacred Muslim cemetery. He explained how the Zionist backers of the project appear oblivious or uncaring towards the sensitivities of the Palestinian population and want to create a space where Jewish “unity” is celebrated rather than real reconciliation with the Arab population.

Makdisi argued that the only way to fairly solve the Middle East crisis… ”‰—”‰he had no faith in Barack Obama, despite having known him years ago in Chicago and saying he was a good politician… ”‰—”‰was a one-state solution with equal rights for all its citizens. A democracy like any other Western state, such as America or Australia, that theoretically thrives on its multicultural mix, rather than Israel that wants ethnic and racial purity.

Makdisi’s Edward Said Memorial Lecture, given last weekend at the University of Adelaide, is a catalogue of life for Palestinians under occupation, a reality rarely told in the Western media. An extract:

“According to a report published in July 2007 by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), almost 40 percent of the West Bank is now taken up by Israeli infrastructure (roads, colonies, army bases, etc) to which indigenous Palestinians are largely denied access. The pace of Jewish colonisation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem”‰—”‰colonisation that has taken place on the illegally expropriated private property of Palestinian families or, equally illegally, on land that was declared state property by the Israeli army”‰—”‰has not significantly slackened for one moment in the past four decades, even though Israel’s colonial enterprise has been repeatedly condemned as a violation of international law by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council as well as the International Court of Justice in the Hague.”

Makdisi’s solution to the conflict is not to wait for the Obama administration to move into gear… ”‰—”‰he told me that America had shown no indication of getting serious with the peace process… ”‰—”‰but a global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting complicit Israeli institutions. Such thoughts, gathering pace across the world, are making defenders of the occupation status quo here in Australia rightly uncomfortable.

I spoke to… several people on Tuesday night… who told me that such talks in Australia about occupation were happening with increasing frequency. “Twenty years ago.” one attendee told me, “you never heard about the Palestinians. Now you do, but they have no power.”

Antony Loewenstein is a journalist and author of My Israel Question.