Sunday, March 07, 2010

Stand up for the Palestinian middle class!

"What Palestinian middle class?" you might ask. "Does Palestine even HAVE a middle class?" My point exactly.

60 years ago, there was a thriving middle class in Palestine, but now almost everyone in Palestine is economic toast. Their homes have been foreclosed on. Their jobs have been eliminated or outsourced. Their schools are all shabby. Their universities are downsized, expensive and hard to get into. Fuel prices there are sky-rocketing. And they are also being told what to say and what to think.

And if Palestinians dare to take up arms in protest or to demonstrate non-violently against this rising tide of oppression, they are accused of "going rogue".

Palestine no longer has hardly any middle class left at all. And I find this situation to be sad, unjust, unfair and not right. And I object to its disappearance. "But, Jane," you might ask, "why should you take the risk of standing up for something that doesn't even barely exist any more?"

Why? Because Palestinians remember the old days -- when there WAS a Palestinian middle class. And 60 years from now, after the same U.S. corporatists and weapons manufacturers who have turned Israel into one of the major weapons manufacturing countries in the world and one of the largest military machines on the planet and have finished destroying Palestine's middle class, they will more than likely have finished destroying America's middle class too.

"Good grief, Jane," you might say next, "what in the world has brought on this latest attack of the glooms?" It's because I recently went to a "Friends of Sabeel" conference.

Sabeel is the name of an organization of Palestinian Christians -- but much to my surprise, most of the people at the conference weren't Palestinians at all. They were mostly middle-class, middle-aged Americans. The conference took place in Marin County for crying out loud. And there wasn't a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer in the lot.

So. Why are approximately 500 middle-aged, middle-class Americans all so concerned about the plight of poverty-stricken Palestinians that these Americans are willing to give up an entire weekend in order to learn more about the different kinds of shenanigans that U.S. and Israeli corporatists are up to in the Occupied Territories? "See above."

At the conference, a local college professor gave a slide show presentation regarding the huge cement Wall fencing in Palestinians, and which showed us overlays of how The Wall would look if it were used to fence in elite parts of cities like San Francisco or Washington DC or Dallas -- protecting corporatist bullies and creating concentration camps for its victims. (Link:

Jeff Halper, an Israeli university professor, then gave us a talk regarding how we must re-frame the Israel-Palestine debate. "You can't keep letting Israel frame itself as a victim," he told us. "It just isn't." Not when Israel possesses the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world and has one of the world's largest armies. "Israel is the second-largest weapons manufacturer in the world as well, even larger than China." The word "bully" comes to mind here -- much more easily than the word "victim".

And then Norman Solomon spoke and he told us that it was inaccurate when people label Israeli aggressors simply as Jews. "We need to call them by their correct name -- Israelis." But since not all Israelis are aggressors either, I suggested that Solomon might call them "Israeli neo-cons" instead.

"But Bill Clinton wasn't a neo-con," Solomon replied. Yeah he was. If you define a "neo-con" as any corporatist who has gotten religion and come to believe that war is the ultimate consumer and therefore "War is a good thing!" then every American president since Truman has been a neo-con by definition -- with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter and the definite exception of John Kennedy (not that it did Kennedy any good).

Then Solomon talked about the loss of freedom of speech -- but he wasn't referring to its loss in the Occupied Territories. He was referring to the loss of freedom of speech right here at home.

Stephen Zunes talked next -- about how the last 60 years of Israel's systematic oppression of Palestinians has created a whole bunch of terrorists and extremists that never existed before. "Without the brutal Israeli Occupation, there would have been no suicide bombers, no Al Qaeda and no problems with Iran. Occupation leads to the kind of anger and desperation that creates suicide bombers."

Then Zunes talked about anti-Semitism. "Historically, rulers got Jews to do their dirty work for them -- such as collecting taxes and charging high interest rates. And then if things went wrong, they could point at the Jews and say, 'It's their fault'. And that is still going on today."

According to Zunes, having Israel as DC's bulldog in the Middle East is the same sort of set-up. "Washington can simply claim that anything going wrong in the Middle East is Israel's fault. For instance, it was pressure from Washington that started Israel's invasion of Lebanon, not the two captured Israeli soldiers. So in the long term, the U.S. alliance with Israel is disastrous. Keeping Israel armed and belligerent is more in Washington's interest than in Israel's. And it's working. Even now Arab states are saying, 'We understand that Israel runs the cabal -- it's not the fault of Western imperialism'." Yeah right.

Next George Bisharat spoke. "Israel now calls the Occupation an 'Armed Conflict' situation. They have switched to the 'Armed Conflict' model re-framing in order to justify killings. But 'Occupation' is defined by 'Total Control' of the country being occupied, and Israel is still in total control of Gaza. However, if you do something long enough, it becomes permitted -- and now even the 'Targeted Assassination' rule initially invented by the U.S. is being accepted by international law; allowing Israel to state that police cadets, government secretaries, housing authority workers and local court clerks are now valid targets for assassination simply because Hamas was elected."

To make an analogy between this kind of action in Israel-Palestine and this kind of action in America, it would be as if a group radical Republicans seized and occupied Washington -- and then killed off as many people who were working for the elected government as they could. Yuck!

"Cruelty has become unremarkable."

Next former CIA operative Bill Christison spoke. "What happens next in Iran, in the next three months, is most important. An invasion of Iran would create a massive distraction from what is going on in Palestine. And Israel's right-wing government will be allowed and encouraged to do whatever it wants in Palestine. There WILL be another Gaza. We MUST prevent any widening of hostilities in Iran."

Hmmm. That would be like how the 9-11 tragedy and the fake war on Iraq "justified" the shut-down of all too many American civil rights. I can identify with that. And so could all the middle-class, middle-aged Americans here at the conference as well. And so should you.

And while the conference was going on, I also manned a table, sold beautiful hand-crafted jewelry for my friend Katie Miranda ( and flogged my two books, "Mecca & the Hajj: Lessons From the Islamic School of Hard Knocks" and "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips for Touring Today's Middle East". Hey, I sold three copies! Plus during the down time I re-read parts of both books. Totally funny! I guess I must have written them back when I still had a sense of humor.