Israeli journalist Amira Hass visits Dunedin
by Fiona Bowker
When Amira Hass started writing about Palestinian people, she thought her words would encourage Israeli people to “wake up – and do something”. But, she says, she was quickly disappointed.
Haas was speaking to a capacity audience at Otago University in Dunedin, as a guest of the Otago Branch of the Tertiary Education Union (OUTEU), supported by the Department of Media, Film and Communications. Her visit was an ‘add-on’ to a speaking engagement at Marxism 2015 in Melbourne.
A Jewish Israeli journalist, Haas is based in the West Bank and writes about Palestine for Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The decision to approach Hass to come and speak in Dunedin was made by the OUTEU after the success of the 2014 visit by political rapper Boots Riley they supported last year.
“We recognised that we have a role to play in exposing our community to a broad range of political views and to people who were walking the walk through their work.” Brett Nicholls, co-president of OUTEU says. “People like Amira Hass, and Boots Riley last year, remind us of the ongoing importance of solidarity in the face of adversity.”
Talking to the students, staff and wider community at Otago University on a bracing autumn evening, Hass prefaced her talk by advising supporters not to use the terms ‘violence’ and ‘non-violence’. Attaching ‘violence’ to Palestinian activity, she said, put the onus of ‘violence’ onto the victim in the struggle, not on the perpetrator. She noted that Israeli media coverage of violence was selective: any act of Palestinian violence is reported as Israeli casualties, but everyday Israeli violence (where there are no casualties) is not noticed because it has become the norm. She described just one day of Israeli activities against Palestinians (from the website www.nad-plo.org/daily.php) which included checkpoint killings, shootings at farmers (with a 14 year old killed in crossfire), night raids which could result in the unlawful detention of family members, including children).
Additionally, there was a “bureaucratic violence” where permits are denied (for travel, work, building), buildings destroyed, access to water restricted. She also described ‘unquantifiable violence’ – such as the everyday existence of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, where they hold the same non-citizen residency status as non-Jewish foreigners.
Hass did not act as an apologist violence on the part of Palestinians either – she talked about some of the Palestinian responses – such as throwing stones, launching missiles, suicide attacks, running over Israelis, stabbing (mostly) soldiers and police.
“This happens, there is no reason to deny it.”
The question, she says, is not “how come” it happens but “how come so few Palestinians let their anger lead them to such acts of violence?”
“Those are questions not only asked by me as a journalist, but every Palestinian asks himself or herself.”
She offers a number of reasons she believes there is no mass Palestinian uprising – no third intifada. The most cogent is that Palestinians still believe their suffering will eventually end, that it is not logical for it to continue forever.
Additionally, she says, “people know Israeli retaliatory measures are very heavy” – even against non-violent demonstrations. The two previous intifadas resulted in big failures, which only gave Israel new tactics to quell resistance. The rivalry between Fatah – stronger in the West Bank (the party of Yassar Arafat) – and Hamas – stronger in the Gaza – with their opposing strategies and treatment of each other’s supporters mean people shy off supporting a political process. The system of enclaves in the West Bank, where pockets of communities comprising 40% of the population, are governed by a Palestinian Authority, giving them “three to five square kilometres of some sort of normality”. They don’t see the military checkpoints three kilometres away, or the settlements. The existence of the Palestine Authority has also given rise to a growing middle class whose standard of living is attuned to retaining the current status quo.
Then there is the energy it takes for most Palestinians to attain a normality – which involves regularly breaking the law to work in Israel without a permit, erect housing, and carrying on with the everyday activities of daily living.
“It requires so much energy – how can you find the energy for the uprising?”
Hass now believes that change can only come from Palestine itself. There would need to be a “change in politics” which would then start to bring the world on side.
She is not well liked by Hamas. She has not shied from identifying them as agents in the war on Gaza, in which, she says, Hamas “channelled its behaviour toward the war for internal reasons, because it improved its position in Gaza.” In an evocative literal translation she describes this use of arms as “playing in the Israeli field” – giving Israel the “opportunity to excel where it is excellent”.
Nevertheless, she says the two opposing parties – Hamas and Fatah – need to come together over key strategies to work towards a political solution.
While Amira Hass began to write to bring Palestinian suffering to Israeli attention, now she writes because she cannot stop.
“If people are annoyed, it means I’m doing my job.”