It’s weird, isn’t it – how sometimes, events ‘out there’ coincide with and match stuff you’re doing in real life?
I’m writing my second novel at the moment. I don’t want to say too much about it at this stage but here’s a general outline.
The book is set in Scotland and Israel and the main character is a half-Jewish Scot whose mother was a holocaust survivor. Her soldier son has been killed in the war in Afghanistan.
The underlying themes are those of cultural heritage, homeland and the displacement caused by politics and war. And these are overlain by the more personal themes of dislocation caused by betrayal, bereavement, and the ageing process. The parallels between enforced Scottish migration, the Jewish diaspora and the plight of the Palestinians are all touched on – as are the parallels and contrasts between Scotland’s and Israel’s national status – but ultimately it’s a story about homecoming, recovery and the sustaining power of love.
Part of my inspiration came from the fact that I’m a Scot and had a Jewish great-grandmother. I have Jewish Israeli friends who daily risk their personal safety by taking a pro-Palestinian stance and I’ve been to Israel twice.
So there I am writing away and two published novels are brought to my attention.
First – the Man Booker winner for 2010 – The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. Main storylines in this book – what it means to be Jewish, bereavement and thwarted hopes. It’s a story of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and of growing older. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my list.
The second novel – I was attracted to it after reading several reviews in which it was highly praised – and I’ve just finished reading it. It’s called ‘To the End of the Land’ and it’s by David Grossman. It’s an anti-war novel. It’s set in Israel and is a story of family love, bereavement, and the reality and surreality of life in Israel. The main characters are Israeli Jews who are ambivalent about their nation’s status. It’s a wonderful book and I’ll be posting a review of it very soon.
Now, it’s gratifying to find that I’m inspired by the same themes that inspired two such revered authors but I also feel rather daunted.
However, I’m choosing to interpret this synchronicity as auspicious rather than ominous. I’m going to finish my book and can only hope it will be at least a zillionth as good as the two mentioned above.
Footnote: I had dinner at the Haifa home of the first Arab Israeli academic to get a post at an Israeli university and the question of land and nationhood was being discussed. The host mentioned this quote from Tolstoy – who said that the only land a man needs is a hole, six feet by two feet – his burial plot.
I was reminded of Chekov’s retort to Tolstoy – namely that a man needs the whole globe, all of nature, where he can display his free spirit.
The Scottish writer Neil Gunn said life’s about us getting along, understanding one another and the earth. He said that when we do that we get peace of mind and with luck a little delight.
I’m with Chekov and Gunn – always was – and now Jacobson and Goodman are at my shoulder too. Exalted company indeed.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor – Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
If you were interested in the issues raised in my last but one post, you may also be interested in these two organisations. Both have websites and both can be followed on Twitter.
But first a bit of background as to my involvement.
My own interest in the Middle East has its roots in my school days in Edinburgh where one of my class mates was an Israeli girl. She and her family lived in Edinburgh for two years while her father studied for a PhD at the university in the city. She and I have been friends now for almost forty years.
I first went to Israel when I was a student. As well as seeing the sights and spending time with my friend when she was on leave from national service, I spent time on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights. I made another visit in 1993 just after the signing of the Oslo accord – something that my friend’s husband Ilan (mentioned in my last but one post) was involved in. In fact I have a ‘conversation piece’ photograph on a shelf in my living-room of Ilan and Yasser Arafat. First time visitors to our house are often distracted from their tea and cake by this picture.
That visit in ‘93 was amazing. The optimism in Israel at the time was wonderful – the Palestinian flag was draped from balconies and flown from car windows – something that had been illegal before the accord. It seemed the trouble was over. But, sadly, it wasn’t. And now with the wall and the resulting intifada things are worse than ever.
But there are many good people – my friends included – who continue strive to win a just peace in this very troubled part of the world. And I commend the two organisations below to you.
Firstly – The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign started in autumn 2000 in response to the Palestinian second uprising against Israeli occupation (intifada). The SPSC has branches and groups of supporters in several Scottish cities and universities, as well as individual members across Scotland. We are all volunteers, independent of all political formations, and wholly dependent on donations to finance our activities. We are unaligned with any Palestinian factions and support the right of the Palestinian people as a whole to self-determination.
We work with a generally sympathetic Scottish public at every level from the Parliament to street publicity events.
In 2002, Mick Napier, the Chair of the Scottish PSC, received on behalf of the Campaign that year’s Muslim News Award for Excellence for championing a Muslim cause.
We detect a huge shift in popular support away from Israel and towards support for the human and national rights of the Palestinian people. We are committed to building effective solidarity with the people of Palestine – solidarity which can send a message of hope inside the ghettos Israel is now building across the whole of Palestine, and which will also send a message to people in Israel that they will face mounting world-wide opposition if they continue along their present path.
There is always a need to educate the public about the history of Palestine, its present day realities, and the real danger of Israel accelerating its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the future. We believe, however, despite general press and official UK Government positions of support for Israeli crimes, that a sufficient awareness has been reached among broad sectors of public opinion to sustain a successful campaign of active protest against Israeli crimes in Palestine and the wider region.
All the various activities of the SPSC are related in some way to the Palestinian appeal for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli companies and state-supported institutions. We have identified Israel’s Achilles’ Heel: while the regional super-power can kill lightly-armed Palestinians with virtual impunity, the Zionist State has become deeply unpopular around the world and vulnerable to boycott. Wherever we unearth institutional collaboration with Israel in Scottish society, whether in universities, city councils, and the Scottish Parliament, we are able to challenge it with every chance of succeeding. We are always working to solve the fundamental problem of how the many citizens already sympathetic to Palestine can make a real difference.
Working for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel:
The major part of our work, therefore, is responding to the appeal from the entirety of Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, as long as the Zionist State denies Palestinian human rights and violates international law. The SPSC focuses on specific targets where we can measure our successes and setbacks.
and secondly – The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee
The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee was formed by prominent activists in the popular committees from all over the Occupied Territories and across the Palestinian political spectrum. Popular committees present a unique form of community based organizing and resistance in the tradition of the first Palestinian Intifada. These diverse, non-partisan committees lead community resistance to Israeli occupation in various forms, such as marches, strikes, demonstrations, direct actions and legal campaigns, as well as supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions.
The Coordination Committee was formed to facilitate fruitful communication between the different popular committees: from the villages of Bil’in, Ni’ilin and alMaasara – known for their struggle against the wall – through the many villages of the Jordan Valley and South Mount Hebron – facing attempts of creeping ethnic cleansing to Tulkarem, Nablus, Qalqilya and West Ramallah – who all suffer and resist the various aspects of the Occupation. The committee aims to provide a base for strategic thinking on a wider scale, while retaining the independence and uniqueness of each popular committee.
Rooted in a stern belief in the power of the popular struggle to overthrow Israel’s occupation, the committee’s main objective is to encourage and strengthen the grassroots Palestinian resistance and accommodate its needs. Hoping to echo the ANC’s strategy of ungovernability, the Coordination Committee strives to encourage the emergence of new committees and initiatives and support them, regardless of their affiliation.
The success of the popular struggle also relies heavily on the support of the international community through BDS initiatives, financial aid, increased visibility and direct solidarity. The Coordination Committee aims at strengthening international support networks and their direct ties to the struggle for liberty in Palestine.
And here endeth the trio of human rights pieces. Thank you for reading. I hope you’ve at least found them informative and have maybe visited one or two of the websites.
What human rights issues are close to your heart? Share what you know about them. Support the front line. The written word can be mighty…
‘The world of books is a precious resource: books are not commodities to be marketed on the shelves alongside baked beans. The range of books we offer gives you fast track entrance to a world of publishing outwith the mainstream, a world where independent publishers, small presses, new writers with no prior sales history, individuals producing their own zines all have an equal voice and sit happily alongside Stupid White Men or No Logo on the shelves.’
Don’t worry if you don’t live in Edinburgh, you can access their stock online at the above link. Why bother? Well, as they say themselves:
‘Our world-wide online service is an alternative to corporate bookshops that refuse to allow their workers to join trade unions. Unlike Amazon, recipient of £1.6 million taxpayers’ money from the Scottish Executive (The Bookseller, 28 May 2004), we receive no state funding.
While our site offers you access to all books in print in the UK we remain committed to promoting literature outwith the mainstream thereby making it more accessible and helping to support small presses and new writers. We also provide Platform, a regular column for groups, campaigns or individuals to post articles and foster debate, and a Noticeboard where you can post information and details of events.’
If you can get to Edinburgh, then the following event, organised by Word Power books may well be of interest:
THE 14TH EDINBURGH INDEPENDENT RADICAL BOOK FAIR – THE ALTERNATIVE BOOK FESTIVAL
Taking place from Wednesday 27th to Sunday 31st October 2010 in Out of the Blue Drill Hall, 30-38 Dalmeny Street, Edinburgh, EH6 8RG, Scotland, UK.
There you can also seeStill Life: An Exhibition. This exhibition will be on throughout the 14th Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair.Still Life is an initiative by the inspirational Ombetja Yehinga Organisation (Red Ribbon Organisation) of Namibia, a youth arts organisation which seeks to use the performing and visual arts as a means to engage, inform and empower young people about HIV/AIDS and related social issues. Namibia has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world and OYO’s work with children and young people has received international acclaim. The exhibition has travelled throughout Namibia and been presented in schools, school hostels and community venues reaching over 35,000 people.
And here I must declare a personal interest in the book fair because a very dear friend of mine, Ilan Pappe, opens the Book Fair at 7.00pm on the 27th. He’ll discuss his new book Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel and Gazawhich is co -written with Noam Chomsky. Plus there will be an illustrated talk with William Parry on his book against the Wall: the Art of Resistance in Palestine.
Ilan is a Jewish Israeli and is one of the world’s leading historians of the Middle East, with a distinctive view of Arab-Israeli relations. He is a Professor in the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, the Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies in Exeter and the Co-Director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies. He was the academic head and founder of the Institute for Peace Studies in Givat Haviva, Israel (1992-2000) and the Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies in Haifa (2000-2008).
I was at school with Ilan’s wife, also an Israeli, and have visited them both in Israel. Taking the political stance that they do – i.e. pro-Palestinian – is not without risk and I so admire their courage. Ilan can no longer work freely in Israel and so took the chair at Exeter. I have learned a lot about the politics of the Middle East from these two wonderful people – and their message, and that of other brave people like them, needs to be heard.
If you are unsure about the ins and outs of the modern state of Israel, and you would like to learn more about the situation there, then consider reading Ilan’s book,A History of Modern Palestine
Ilan’s opener event will be followed at 8.30pm by a short illustrated talk by William Parrywho recently publishedAgainst the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestinewhich captures the graffiti and art that has transformed Israel’s wall into a living canvas of resistance and solidarity. It features the work of artists including Banksy as well as Palestinian artists and activists.
Whatever your views on the politics of the Middle East – do, please, at least, visit Word Power’s website and consider buying, at least some, of your books from them in future.