Raja Shehadeh: A Moderate or a Moderate Façade?
by Robert Harris (January 2014)
“Raja Shehadeh is Palestine’s leading writer. He is also a lawyer and the founder of the pioneering Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq.” - Mountains to the Sea Book Festival, 2013.
Since the millennium, Raja Shehadeh has become a common fixture at literary and cultural events throughout the West, and makes a frequent appearance in literary reviews etc. His books have earned him a substantial amount of praise and a number of awards, including the 2008 Orwell Prize, for which he again made the shortlist this year.
Raja Shehadeh works as a lawyer in Ramallah. He was educated in London, and his often semi-autobiographal works, all written in English, a mere two (as of 2011) translated into Arabic, are principally orientated toward Western audiences, although that is a view Shehadeh denies.
Shehadeh is quite a prolific writer, his books dealing essentially with a common theme: a highly personalised account of displacement in Palestine, often told in the form of a journey. They include themes of tragedy, misfortune, despondency, revelation, and some modest spiritual triumph against a brutish Israeli presence. Family features heavily, the drama of flawed relationships woven within an at times burdensome sense of history but one mitigated by a deep abiding love of the land and its history.
The books use substantive imagery as a central point of narrative. For example, the image of a bird’s song ending, or the tragic motif of Shehadeh’s father, Aziz, looking toward the city lights of Jaffa, which he left behind after moving to Ramallah in 1948, as featured in Strangers in the House (2001).
Raja Shehadeh stated in 2012:
“I saw writing as a way of serving the cause of justice and human rights. Human rights reports reach a limited sector of the population and so have limited impact, but if you write something that touches more people and is mass-distributed, the impact is that much stronger... If you’re affected by what you read, it becomes part of your experience and you take it in or feel it in a much stronger way.”
In the struggle for hearts and minds, feelings trump facts. Imagery and accusations, automatically triggering humane compassion, are incomparably more compelling than dry defensive argumentation.
It has often been observed that judgement is influenced more by emotion than by reason, and, therefore, those who suffer tend to obtain empathy and support. This fact has long been understood by the entertainment industry. For example, a victim wronged, is, from an audience’s perspective, the one who is best placed to seek justice. The individual, or group, destroyed ought to be in some way deserving, if the subject is especially cruel, malign, etc. If there could be a shadowy side to the humanitarian spirit, this characteristic would surely qualify.
Considering the highly politicised themes, a question may be asked of Shehadeh’s work: do the books constitute an authentic effort to tell personal stories which possess substantive political overtones, as is sometimes necessarily the case in certain contexts, or do they constitute a knowing propaganda, or perhaps possess elements of both? The impact of these books would seem to be quite significant politically, judging by his success. The stories relate to a serious conflict, which has been the cause of a substantive degree of suffering through the twentieth century, and will continue to cause much for the foreseeable future.
To question the more personal details of Shehadeh’s account of his life and family, which has been touched by tragedy, without good cause to do so, may constitute the needless crossing of a boundary. Yet it is nonetheless worth analysing the more general political claims of the author, due to the way in which they inevitably inform the broader narrative of his books.
This move should be especially pressing, given Shehadeh’s past political activism in al Haq, and the broad Arab-Palestinian move to utilise literature for propaganda’s sake, for example, the pro-boycott “Palfest” literary festival, of which he is a regular fixture.
Shehadeh’s work with al-Haq
Raja Shehadeh is a member of the English Bar, and the Palestinian Bar Association. The Palestinian Bar Association is apparently an affiliated member of the rather hateful Arab Lawyers Union of which it works closely – a telling feature of the conditions in which Arab-Palestinian lawyers work.
Outside of his literary career, Shehadeh is best known for his association with Al-Haq, which he co-founded in 1979, with another lawyer, one Jonathan Kuttab, who has been at the forefront of Israel’s delegitimisation, particularly in Christian circles.
First known as ‘Law in the Service of Man’, al Haq became a principle group upon which other NGOs and a significant segment of the Western media relied for information. Al-Haq, is described as an organisation affiliated to the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, although it is also described as the “Palestinian branch of International Commission of Jurists”. The NGO would soon become a leader in lawfare based international campaigns, motivated by a desire to delegitimise Israel’s right to exist.
Since its inception, Al-Haq has presented distorted data to promote anti-Israel propaganda, often on the basis of pursuing heavily publicised lawsuits, which have little chance of success. Its mandate, to supposedly encourage the rule of law in a non-partisan fashion, suggests it would take an interest in any source of wrongdoing. However, al Haq’s conduct, with regard to addressing the many abuses Arab-Palestinian groups have visited upon their own people, have been extremely limited and only at times made public as a last resort. Self-censorship, with a failure to even catalogue abuses, is normative NGO behaviour for the region.
In 1990, Al Haq claimed that killings, within Arab-Palestinian society, by paramilitary factions, were in fact not human rights violations because these groups were responsible for keeping order. Apparently, the “network of informers” and “agents of the [Israeli] state” were killed spontaneously by an enraged Arab-Palestinian citizenry, which presumably mitigates blame. The hypocritical callousness of this position is reinforced by the fact that it was stated during the First Intifada, when close to a thousand Arab-Palestinians were murdered by their brethren.
Al Haq’s more recent links with terrorism, and its moral legitimisation of terrorism as “resistance”, are stark. Commentary Magazine notes the head of Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, is prohibited from travelling abroad by Jordan and Israel due to his substantive involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Shehadeh helped establish al Haq’s morally problematic template, and he remained a director of the organisation for a lengthy period of time. Shehadeh left al Haq in the 1990’s but his tenure at the organisation is something for which he is still likely proud, with mention of it in seemingly all of his numerous guest profiles in a variety of publications.
Shehadeh’s curious understanding of the conflict
Raja Shehadeh’s views of the Israel-Arab conflict have had a notable impact on certain left-wing Israelis. Gideon Levy, perhaps the most notorious anti-Israel propagandist living in Israel today, stated of his first interview with Shehadeh:
“That meeting was a deep impression on me; I was moved by him, his intellect”
The meeting, when Levy was a young journalist in the early 1980s, marked the development of his interest in the conflict. However, others like Meron Benvenisti, himself well known for intensely criticising the Jewish State’s actions over the years, saw Shehadeh differently. He described Shehedeh's attacks on Israel as marking a “...hatred that does not know any bounds, and that blinds the eyes...”
Indeed, Shehadeh has long made many remarkable assertions, such as claiming Israel is ethnically cleansing the Arab-Palestinian populace. This view contravenes the basic facts.
Claims of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem are fictitious. Jerusalem’s Muslim-Arab/Palestinian population has grown faster than its Jewish equivalent since 1967. The city had 68,000 Arab residents in 1967, which grew more than four-fold to 275,900 in 2009. During the same period, the Jewish populace rose at a much slower rate of 2.5 times.
Likewise, census figures demonstrate that the combined Arab-Palestinian populace of the West Bank and Gaza, was just under 955 thousand (including East Jerusalem) in 1967. The Palestinian Authority took over census collection responsibilities, under the Oslo Accords. The figures collected by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics have been deemed to be highly problematic but even allowing for dramatic over-estimation, for the purposes of political gain, the populace can still be understood as growing at a normatively satisfactory rate, one hardly compatible with ethnic cleansing.
Shehadeh has often charged that Israel conducted a “belligerent war” in 1967, from which it obtained the territories Arab-Palestinians now seek for a state of their own.
One would think that Egypt’s removal of United Nations peacekeeping troops from the Sinai, the blockading the Straits of Tiran (an international waterway) to Israeli shipping, bellicose threatening language directed at Jewish State, the sending of large forces into the Sinai in breach of UN Resolution 997, and continued Syrian sponsorship of terrorism reaching across Israel’s borders (condemned by UN Secretary General U Thant), was significant enough for Israel to mount a pre-emptive strike?
Of the Security Barrier, which marks a division between the West Bank and Israel, Shehadeh stated:
“Undoubtedly it has an element of a spectacle and has given some Israelis a sense of security, even though it was not the wall that stopped the dreaded suicide bombings. That happened largely because of a change in tactics on the part of Hamas, which launched them.”
It is remarkable to claim that the security barrier merely gives a sense of security, when it played a substantive role in bringing suicide attacks down to almost zero during the Second Intifada, a point which Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Shalah acknowledged.
Shehadeh claims Hamas’ tactics changed, which prompted an end to terrorist assaults. Whilst Arafat did indeed request that Hamas carry out suicide attacks, the majority of attacks against Israel appear to have been carried out by the well-armed security forces of the Palestinian Authority. To attribute a change in policy by Hamas is odd, when they vowed continued violence in Gaza soon after.
A 1984 meeting of international NGOs, run by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), and the Division for Palestinian Rights, at the United Nations base in Geneva, entitled “on the Question of Palestine”, featured a by then typically one-sided diplomatic assault on Israel, with groups like the ‘Arab Lawyers Union’ in attendance. The ALU has produced anti-Semitic material for some of these events. At the meeting, Shehadeh proposed that the international community adopt the strategy proposed by the Soviet Union, and its socialist client states:
“While advancing its new proposals on the Middle East, the Soviet Union pursues the prime aim of peace in the region and, hence, resolution of the Palestinian problem. […] For my part, I would like to assure those present that the Soviet Union has no aggressive intentions whatsoever, either in the Middle East or all over the world. A graphic illustration of this are all the recent Soviet peace initiatives.”
The assurance of the Soviet Union’s good intentions would have come as news to anyone familiar with the USSR’s conduct in Afghanistan, which was causing immense suffering, along with the greatest refugee crisis at the time. After installing a puppet socialist regime, which the Afghan people rebelled against, the Soviets invaded in 1979. Figures are difficult to establish but it is thought one to two million Afghani people died.
Shehadeh would approve of a Soviet peace brokerage, since the USSR towed the Arab line almost completely since 1953/4, and were a principle party leading the 1975 Zionism as racism United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, and the attempt to get Israel removed from the UN itself.
In Strangers in the House, Shehadeh makes one of his most remarkably a-historical assertions:
“In the twenty-first century, the case of Palestine remains one of the last surviving examples of a country usurped by a colonial project exploiting religion to deprive Palestinians of their land.”
Religion is of course only one element of the Zionist project, which originated in a secular fashion. Zionism relates principally to a people, rather than a mere religion. Moreover, there has never been an independent nation in this region since the end of the Jewish Bar Kokhba Revolt, in 135 AD Judea.
There are still occupations today that have an overt or underlying religious component, for example, the Pakistani occupation of the Gilgit–Baltistan and Azad Kashmir regions, territories where older religious cultures are oppressed seemingly with some degree of state collusion. More broadly, many territorial disputes do indeed have a strong religious dimension.
Pro-peace or pro-conflict?
Ostensibly, Raja Shehadeh, who himself was a peace negotiator during the Oslo talks, supports a two state solution:
“I have been consistent in my view that the solution lies in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. […] There are two possible outcomes to this hundred-year-old struggle: one is that the land would be partitioned into two states: Israel and Palestine. The other is that the present situation would continue and the conflict would continue to fester.”
The above is a fair assessment. Yet Mr. Shehadeh has long been a powerful proponent of boycotting Israel academically and culturally, whilst laying little substantive moral responsibility at the collective feet of the Arab-Palestinian community. Neither will assist the influence of moderation.
In the opening chapter of A Rift in Time: Travels with my Ottoman Uncle (2003), Shehadeh notes his feelings of disappointment in 1996, with the Oslo Accords:
“Those first years of the transitional rule of the Palestinian Authority were strange times. It was the rude awakening at the end of a fascinating and hopeful period for me, during which I had devoted all my energies to bringing about change and a conclusion to the Israeli occupation… Prompted perhaps by disappointment over the false peace heralded by the signing of the Oslo Accords, and despite all the fanfare on the White House lawn, my thoughts had been turning to the past.”
It had only been a year since Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin initiated the Oslo II process. The initial 1993 phase of the process, Oslo I, was a preparatory stage offering a degree of self-rule. However, Shehadeh also opposed this initial phase since it did not constitute an explicit path to independence:
“I’m not saying that people should not be involved in politics and not try, but everyone should know their limits.”
However, Shehadeh would also oppose subsequent processes that did offer explicit provision for an independent state. Tellingly, Shehadeh reveals that:
“The outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987 gave me hope that things would finally change and I dismissed all thoughts of leaving Palestine.”
The First Intifada was a time of extreme violence, despite the superficial gloss smeared over such a tragic event today. Shehadeh must surely be aware that the original Intifada, to a significant extent, constituted a campaign of terror that Arafat, and various factions, waged against the Arab-Palestinian populace, in which almost a thousand of his own people were killed by paramilitaries for supposedly being traitors, although many were in fact killed due to their political stances as dissenters, moderates as well as in familial blood feuds. To a significant extent, the Intifada was a purge of Arab-Palestinian society. As such, it is quite remarkable to characterise it as somehow being a time of hope, a stance seemingly indicative of extremism.
“It is likely that my father's murderer was an Israeli collaborator. Israel nurtured and protected the collaborators however depraved they were.”
Whilst Shehadeh presents himself as a moderate who became disillusioned by the two-state peace process, he in fact appears to have been hostile to almost all solutions to the conflict since at least 1984.
At the aforementioned CEIRPP International NGO Meeting in Geneva, Shehadeh asserted:
“[T]he debate on Western Europe's stance on the Palestinian problem and Middle East settlement has been going on for many years. I want also to point to its somewhat moderate character.”
During the 1970’s the European Economic Community developed a distinctive hostility toward Israel. This was made manifest in the Bahrain and Venice Declarations, both of 1980. These declarations legitimised the PLO by recognising them as the representatives the Arab-Palestinian people, at a time when they were still vocally expressing their dedication to Israel’s absolute destruction. There was no criticism with regard to the violence of the PLO, and a focus on Israel returning all the Territories contested. If Shehadeh supported a two-state solution, how could the EEC stance be unduly moderate?
“...the process of forcing on the Arabs the Camp David policy which is capitulatory in its essence and which does not serve to achieve settlement of the Middle East crisis.”
It is peculiar to present the Sadat-Begin Camp David accords as capitulation. To abandon its aggressive policies, Egypt obtained the Sinai and substantial aid, in return for recognising Israel’s right to exist.
With such hostility toward the most important Middle-Eastern peace process in decades, Shehadeh’s intense advocacy of initiatives, to dramatically increase pressure on Israel, had clearly inferred goals:
“…it is imperative for Western Europe to take sides. On whose side is it? Is it on the side of Israel which is trying to impose Camp David on the Arabs with fire and sword? […] It is necessary… to launch a new intensive campaign to ensure that the Western European countries take sides.”
Shehadeh’s early statements cast doubt on the view that he lost faith in two-state solutions during Oslo.
More recently, Shehadeh characterised Israel and its neighbouring Arab dictators, such as Mubarak, as having been involved in a “deadly embrace”, which allowed Israel’s existence to continue unabated for the last three decades.
Shehadeh says he departed from the views of his father, who sought a two-state solution, due to the issue of Jewish settlement:
“…Israel began building settlements in the occupied territories. I grew up feeling we were in a race with time. Every year the chances of peace were being diminished and our land was being usurped before our eyes. Unless something was done the remaining part of Palestine beyond the 1967 borders of Israel would also be lost.”
Claims that Jewish settlements are swallowing up the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) can be disputed. In 2011, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s prime negotiator, asserted that settlements constitute 1.1% of the West Bank. Around the same time, a survey, commissioned by anti-Israel NGO B’Tselem, found that 0.99% of the West Bank features constructed settlements, with applicable roads taking further space.
Nonetheless, if it were true that settlements were taking over the West Bank, would it not behove Shehadeh to have advocated the solutions proposed at Camp David, Taba etc., which offered almost all of the West Bank and Gaza? Seemingly not. In the London Review of Books, Shehadeh characterised Yasser Arafat as “admirable” for not having “betrayed his people” in accepting the offer made at Camp David. Arafat was offered most territorial demands. His response was to initiate the bloody Second Intifada, which one may assume is deemed less of a betrayal than peace.
Shehadeh’s stance on the Oslo talks, in which he was involved, is somewhat contradictory. Broadly speaking, he has expressed strong disapproval against them. For example, in 2011, he charged that they were hopelessly fixed from the outset:
“[T]he Oslo Accords have only consolidated this system of occupation rather than broken away from it… I could see that the problem began from the terms of reference of the negotiations themselves, which were very restrictive.”
Yet it would seem the Accords were left intentionally vague, to allow a starting point for negotiations. Much of the challenging substance of a solution, for example the status of Jewish settlements, would be located in the final stage of negotiations.
Two years later, Shehadeh would seem to have a change of heart over Oslo, but only with respect to pushing the issue of the “right of return”, a legally dubious charge based on UN Resolution 194, which would intentionally bring about the demographic nullification of Israel as a principally Jewish State.
As Arafat himself stated, during a closed meeting in Oslo with Arab diplomats in 1996:
“We plan to eliminate the state of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. Jews will not want to live among Arabs. I have no use for Jews.”
Unfortunately, a tolerant pluralistic approach from Arab-Palestinian Muslims is less likely than ever. For example, a recent Pew poll demonstrates that 89% desire having Sharia law as “the official law of the land.”
Shehadeh wants to go even further according to an interview conducted by one left-wing website:
‘He seemed disinterested in debating the contours of a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement or the feasibility of the so-called two-state solution […] “We should always be aware of what are dreams and what is reality. So my dream is not only one state, but one huge confederation in the entire eastern Mediterranean,” said Shehadeh, who envisions this to include both Israeli Jews and Arabs across the region.’
Thus, Shehadeh seems to be advocating a form of old fashioned pan-Arabism or even the re-emergence of the Islamic Caliphate! This is a remarkable assertion, considering the appalling way in which Jewish people have been treated throughout the Arab-Islamic world. In contrast to Martin Luther King’s noble vision of racial reconciliation, Shehadeh’s dream would perhaps be best left remaining just as it is.
Shehadeh’s stance on anti-Semitism
Several years ago Jewish Chronicle theatre critic John Nathan described as ‘anti-semitic’ the use of Holocaust imagery in a play about Gaza. The play in question, “Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea”, indicated that Israel is visiting a holocaust upon Gazan people, very much akin to the Jewish Holocaust or Shoah.
Raja Shehadeh disagreed with the claim, and although uninvolved with the Play’s production, he took the step of communicating with Nathan on the matter.
Nathan objected particularly to the set design, which strongly evoked Holocaust imagery. Shehadeh stated: “when I saw the brilliant set of the play, I found it compelling and moving, and inspiring many layers of associations.” He added:
“Many have made the analogy between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto… I was of the contrary opinion. Gaza is not a ghetto, I argued. It is a large prison. I found the insistence on resorting to terms usually associated with the Jewish experience of suffering disturbing. It sounded to me as though only by appropriating nomenclature related to the Jewish experience could we validate Palestinian suffering. As though our suffering cannot stand on its own.”
Shehadeh stated that he disliked analogies between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza etc., but, notably, not so much because it is offensive to Jews but rather because the Jewish experience should not be used to “validate Palestinian suffering”. The use of stronger language to describe Gaza is perhaps unintentional but, despite his objections to the application of descriptions relating to the Holocaust, he nonetheless appears to be drawing an equivalence of scale, dimension, or significance, between the two events.
Shehadeh went on to effectively imply that criticism of Israel is never anti-Semitic, when it is done in relation to addressing Arab-Palestinian issues. He wrote:
“Describing anyone challenging Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights, whether through literature or plays, as antisemitic is intellectually dishonest and censorious of legitimate criticism. But it is worse. It is self-defeating. It is often carried out by those who believe they are expressing loyalty to Israel.” [emphasis added]
Such stances clearly whitewash the fact that criticism of Israel is often anti-Semitic in tone. Moreover, it is absurd to suggest that those referring to “anti-Semitism” do so in an effort to be loyal to Israel, presumably to silence legitimate criticism. Anti-Semitism is a manifest reality in criticism of Israel. No nation should be above criticism, including Israel. However, a substantial amount of criticism, directed at Israel, does indeed possess distinctly anti-Semitic overtones.
An insensitivity toward this issue may be a significant factor. Shehadeh strongly advocated for the USSR’s involvement in resolving the Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict, at a time when the USSR had become an anti-Semitic state, which advocated world Jewish conspiracies and discriminated against Jews in an intense fashion, a fact that garnered headlines internationally during the 1980’s.
A tale of two peoples
Raja Shehadeh suggested in a recent interview that reconciliation is the truest way of finding peace:
“I have come to realize now that the political arrangement of two states is only part of the resolution of the conflict. Unless there is true reconciliation and acceptance by the one of the other the tension will continue to simmer and true peace will be thwarted.”
This is a worthy sentiment, the kind to which the international community should pay some heed. It is a shame however that Mr. Shehadeh does not appear to take his own advice seriously. Shehadeh noted:
“For years Israeli propaganda denied that such a people as the Palestinians existed. This battle has been won.”
It is true some commentators disputed the notion that the ‘Palestinians’ constituted a people in their own right. The Arabs of Palestine were known under Ottoman rule as “South Syrians”, who originally sought unification with a Greater Syria, during the British Mandate era. A desire, amongst Arab-Palestinians, for territorial independence, re-emerged after Israel’s territorial gains in the Six Day War. Israel accepted this demand in the 1970’s.
Shehadah wrote, in his book Strangers in the House:
“Rather than counting on peace as the best guarantee for its security, Israel continues to count exclusively on its military might refusing to recognize its Palestinian foe as a national group entitled, like all national groups, to self determination.”
Menachem Begin recognised the aspirations of Arab-Palestinian people in 1978 when he signed the Begin-Sadat Camp David Accords. The “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” include the granting of autonomy and self-governance. This declaration occurred despite a lack of any Arab-Palestinian group or faction offering the promise of recognition for Israel.
However, even if there had been no recognition forthcoming from the Israeli State, it would still constitute a deeply one-sided view of the matter. Recently, Abbas has restated his absolute refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently commented:
“[There] hasn’t been, since the dawn of Zionism, a leadership that is prepared to recognize our right to exist as a nationstate for the Jewish nation and to recognize an agreement as the end of the conflict and the end to demands.”
Shehadeh is clearly a man who loves to roam. A lot of his work is pre-occupied with this act. Of course, amongst the idyllic scenery is the dreaded Zionist, the ugly mark of “the occupation”, of which the Jewish Settler is the most malign presence clashing with nature itself, an entity seemingly filled with “greed, bitterness and spite”.
To take one account as an example, amongst all of Shehadeh’s walks, where he comes upon Byzantine tombs, Ottoman olive presses, Roman fortifications and the like, there is nothing of note from Jewish history, other than to complain about an exhibit of Herod’s possessions in Jerusalem. The exhibit took artefacts from a site of Herod’s in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). He fails however to mention that these artefacts are of course culturally Jewish, rather than Arab or “Palestinian”. Where does the Jew fit amongst Shehadeh’s landscape?
Unfortunately little is said of the desire of Arab-Palestinian society to re-write history. In 2011 Hamdan Taha, director of the PA’s Department of Antiquities, said their digs would assist in “rewriting the history of Palestine.” An inability to recognise the rights of an opponent is a root cause of conflict. This component is a sticking point in Arab-Palestinian society, which Shehadeh seems reluctant to address.
For Shehadeh to state, with regard to Israel’s understandable reluctance to accept a ‘right of return’, that:
“...it lies in a profound unwillingness to accept the very existence of the Palestinians as a people… there was once a nation living in the territory where Israel was established.”
Such statements demonstrate sufficiently that Shehadeh is only interested in one perspective on the conflict. Even if we are to accept that the Arab-Palestinian populace is a distinctive people, rather than part of a broader culturally Syrian grouping, what of the much older race, which in regional terms is more culturally distinctive, and more closely tied to the history of the region? Apparently, it is now popular amongst anti-Israel campaigners to deny that Jewish people even have any genetic linkage to the region.
Raja Shehadeh presents a moderate dovish image. For example, reciting Martin Luther King's “I Have A Dream” on the BBC, to mark the 50th anniversary of the famous speech, and his recent “Is there a language of peace?” lectures, delivered in international venues, such as the British Museum, for some apparent reason.
“I was astonished to find there not a portrait of an idyllic past clashing with an unpleasant present reality but a blatant rehearsal of anti-Jewish canards that go so far as to find even the Hebrew language an oppressor of his people. When it comes to Shehadeh, people of good will can become fools.”
There is a notable trend, as with many other Arab-Palestinian activists, of failing to pay heed to the possibility that Mr. Shehadeh possesses politically extremist positions, and, as such, whether his work may have a corrosive influence on international narratives of the conflict. Mr. Shehadeh is of course entitled to forward any position he so desires, however extreme. Nonetheless, the moral legitimacy of political narratives should be analysed in a balanced discussion of all contentious topics. Unfortunately, when it comes to Arab-Palestinian matters, this almost never occurs in the present political climate.
At the aforementioned CEIRPP International NGO Meeting, at the United Nations in Geneva, Shehadeh stated:
“It is necessary… to launch a new intensive campaign to ensure that the Western European countries take sides.”
For Shehadeh, the Western European community wasn’t nearly pro-Palestinian enough. He advocated a leading role for the anti-Israel USSR. Thus, for Shehadeh, the international brokerage of a peace deal should be hostile to Israel. Moderation, the adoption of a balanced approach, would seem to be wrong.
With regard to Shehadeh’s slanted views on the issue, perhaps his efforts at legalistic campaigning in international forums, and later forays in literature, can be understood as having a similar intent. Rather than an attempt to advance understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, his work, despite his protestations to the contrary, can be understood as part of a broader effort for the people of the world to “take sides”.
Robert Harris contributes articles to several websites on contentious political issues (not to be confused with the popular English novelist (1957-) of the same name). He also blogs at eirael.blogspot.com and lives in Ireland.
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