The Palestinian human rights monitoring organization, Al-Haq/Law in the Service of Man, the West Bank affiliate of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, marked the first anniversary of the intifada with a comprehensive report on Israel’s violations of human rights in its effort to quell the Palestinian uprising. Punishing a Nation: Human Rights Violations During the Palestinian Uprising, December 1987-December 1988 (Ramallah, PO Box 1413, West Bank, via Israel: Al-Haq, 1988; 355 pages) is a meticulously documented compendium based mostly on sworn affidavits collected by al-Haq’s field workers, five of whom were under administrative detention at the time of publication.
Al-Haq’s mission, since its establishment in 1979, has been to expose and document that Israel’s actions as an occupying power violate international law and internationally ratified human rights declarations. The introduction to Punishing a Nation succinctly summarizes Israel’s response to the intifada: “ more of the same, but much more. Few of the repressive measures undertaken by the military authorities since December 1987 were without precedent” (p. 5). Consequently, al-Haq has shifted its focus from simply documenting human rights violations — the Israeli authorities not only freely admit that they occur but have announced that they are official policy (e.g., “force, might and beatings”) — to assessing their scope and implications. Anyone seeking a reliable first-hand account of what Israel’s repressive tactics have meant to ordinary people in the West Bank should begin here.
On the other side of the Green Line, the International Center for Peace in the Middle East — the body that sponsored the December 1988 Stockholm meeting of American Jews with Yasir Arafat — has published the results of a comprehensive research project, directed by Haifa University anthropologist Henry Rosenfeld and funded by the Ford Foundation, on The Condition and Status of the Arabs in Israel (Tel Aviv: ICPME, June 1988). The abstract and five individual monographs cover: 1) class-national relations (by Henry Rosenfeld and Shulamit Carmi); 2) local authorities (by Henry Rosenfeld and Majid al-Haj; 3) legal status (by David Kretzmer); 4) health services (by Nira Reiss) and 5) social welfare services (by Aziz Haidar). The abstract is still available at no charge, but only the volume on local authorities is still in print at $20; The International Center is seeking an American publisher to reprint them. Rosenfeld and Carmi’s monograph contains some unnecessary Zionist apologetics, but on the whole these studies are carefully researched and reliable. They make a mockery of official Israeli claims that Palestinian Arab citizens enjoy equal rights in the Jewish state in any but the most formalistic sense.
Ford Foundation funding of this study indicates a change in thinking about the Palestine-Israel conflict among wealthy and influential circles with access to US foreign policy decision makers well before the Reagan administration decided to join the rest of the world in recognizing the PLO. Another such indicator is the Council on Foreign Relations imprimatur on Ian Lustick’s For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (New York: CFR, 1988; $19.95 hb, $11.95 pb). An earlier manifestation of a more critical view of Israel emerging at the CFR was Peter Grosse’s A Changing Israel (New York: CFR, 1985; $4.95 pb).
Lustick paints an ominous picture of the growing power of Jewish religious-national chauvinism, particularly as embodied by Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), spearhead of the Jewish settlement movement in the West Bank during the 1970s. The 10-20,000 members and supporters of Gush Emunim who animate the messianic, redemptionist and politically activist Jewish fundamentalist movement do not, it should be emphasized, belong to the traditionalist ultra-orthodox political parties, Agudat Yisrael, SHAS and Degel Hatorah. (These were the main forces agitating for a change in the definition of “Who is a Jew?” in Israel’s Law of Return.) Their different ideology is shaped by a “land and blood” conception of the Jewish people, their agenda committed to annexation of the territories occupied in 1967. They scorn any secular political authority — international or Israeli — that opposes their Jewish supremacist worldview. Lustick carefully examines the ideas of the fundamentalists, taking them seriously on their own terms and explaining the sociological basis for their influence and the divisions within the movement. His suggestion that the United States should intervene to save Israel from its fundamentalists may fit the policy-oriented perspective of the CFR, but the implicit assumption that Washington has been a force for reasoned moderation in Israel, especially during the Reagan years, has no basis in fact.
The newest film by the Palestinian-Lebanese director-producer couple, Mai Masri and Jean Chamoun, War Generation: Beirut (Arabic with English subtitles, 1988,16 mm, 50 min., color; distributed by Save Lebanon, Washington, DC) had its American premiere at the Middle East Studies Association last November. This poignant portrayal of the impact of the Lebanese civil war on the people who have lived through it is a product of the unique combination of the directors’ artistic sensitivity and political commitment demonstrated previously in Zahrat al-Qandul/Women of South Lebanon (Arabic with English subtitles, 1986, 16 mm, 70 min., color; distributed by the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, Chicago, IL). In contrast to the self-consciously romantic Women of South Lebanon, War Generation: Beirut deploys a stark but disarming realism to explore the psychological effects of the war on three generations of Lebanese — those who remember a Beirut and a Lebanon before the war, those whose childhoods were interrupted and remolded by the war, and those born during the war who know no other social reality. These films give priority to the needs and cultural traditions of their subjects, not abstract ideologies. They are more mature and artistically sophisticated than the traditional social-realist style of political film making.