It is our business
Palestine has historically affected us
By Kamran D. Rastegar
August 17, 2001
I read Jahanshah's article on the conflict in Israel and Palestine with
wondering"] -- the issue of what is happening in that region is
one that has been entangled with the history of Iran and with my personal
politics, and I think it deserves greater critical discussion among Iranians
both inside and outside Iran.
Jahanshah's article, if I may summarize it, centered on two issues: First,
that Israel is often used as vehicle for propoganda in post-revolutionary
Iran, and second, that Iran is not intrinsically related to the concerns
of what happens in Palestine -- that even with the injustices of what is
happening there, it's none of "our" business. He cites many other
regional threats to Iran that he feels are of greater concern than Israel.
First, I think it's important to make a distinction between "us"
as people who are Iranians and "us" as the nation of Iran. The
issue of Palestine has different relationships to these very different ideas
- a community vs. a nation. In that sense, I agree that the national politics
of postrevolutionary Iran has certainly used and abused the issue of Palestine
for propogada reasons. However, I would say that this should not preclude
us -- as a community -- from identifying with what is happening there, showing
concern for it, and being active in opposing it.
We may easily forget that the issue of Palestine was a central one to
anti-colonial struggles around the world from the 50's through the 70's.
Fatigue and misinformation has made us forget the history of the mutual
outrage felt by all anti-Shah movements over his regime's military and economic
ties to Israel. This outrage was not the retrogressive outrage of "Muslims"
identifying agains invading Jews -- no, it was the outrage of anti-colonial
thinkers who saw in Israel a pernicious and dangerous model of settler colonialism,
even racism, that affected the stability and aspirations of the people of
the entire region.
No matter how we may feel about the legacy of Iranian revolutionaries
-- leftists, nationalists, or Islamists -- we must try to remember how the
issue of Palestine has historically affected us, much as the war of independence
in Algeria did, or the war in Vietnam. These were all inspirations to us,
as we struggled to emerge from the yolk of an oppressive regime and its
imperialist supporter. We should see in Palestine a continuing inspiration
as we fight to make Iran a more just and democratic place.
I still remember the banal chants my classmates and I were made to intone
in the school courtyard: "Marg bar Esraeel, Marg bar Amrika"...
we would often replace the name of whatever nation was the day's enemy with
"Agha Reza'i" (a notably mean teacher at the school) and laugh
under our breath. To us, the slogans were already, in those troubled days
in the early 1980's, empty and meaningless. Not that they didn't have their
power, but it would be naive to see the historical concern Iranians have
had for Palestine reduced to those hollow shows of national unity, which
was always a false unity in any case.
For me, what I remember even more clearly was the Sabra and Shatilla
massacres -- imprinted on my mind is the image of Palestinian women and
children savagely murdered on a roadside, at the conscious bequest of one
General Ariel Sharon. No matter how much the U.S. media present him as a
seasoned politican, I will still remember him as the monster that allowed,
even encouraged, the facist Phalangists to murder innocent and defenseless
Palestinians by the hundreds.
It is that kind of identification -- a boy growing up after a revolution,
during a war, in Iran, who sees pictures of children his own age massacred
en masse -- that kind of identification that matters. I began to see that
the injustices that I was seeing around me and which had been a part of
my consciousness for years were perpetuated, often more savagely, elsewhere.
They are ongoing -- and yet those images from Sabra and Shatilla remain.
The particular nationalist enmity that exists between Israel and Iran
is also a two-sided street. Not only does the Iranian regime view Israel
as a major threat, but also vice versa. And in the military actualities
of the situation, I find Israel's claims to be much more unfounded, and
potentially more dangerous. Israel clearly uses Iran as a bogeyman, particulary
when lobbying the U.S. congress for aid or support.
In the recent Iran-Libya sanctions act, the main lobbying in support
of the bill was done by AIPAC, the main Israeli lobbying group. They successfully
mananged to shut out testimonies by Iranian-American organizations that
wished to address the complexity of an issue such as sanctions against Iran.
Instead, the Israeli government circulated a rumor that Iran was building
missile bases in southern Lebanon -- something that was proven completely
unfounded within days. But the effect was as hoped -- the bill passed with
little real discussion, and with very few opponents.
We may ask ourselves -- how can it be that Israel so often militates
against the Iranian nuclear program, when they themselves have dozens, if
not hundreds, of nuclear warheads already? I have little enthusiasm for
an Iranian nuclear military, but given the complete lack of attention given
to the Israeli nuclear capacity, it is hypocritical to pressure Iran while
ignoring Israel. And history gives us more to worry about: Israel has been
a "preemptive" striker (i.e. the aggressor) in every major war
it has fought.
Here in the U.S., the Iranian-American community seems fairly divided
over this issue. I find that those who are still politically engaged - mostly
old leftists - still exhibit the same old anti-colonial outrage over Palestine.
But many, especially those who have found success in their new home, businesspeople,
doctors, etc., do not find much to think about in the issue of Palestine.
The racism of many Iranians against Arabs often is crystallized in this
issue, and the class aspirations of many Iranian emigres disallows them
from identifying with the core concerns in this issue -- rather, they see
Israelis as a successful and modern society, oriented around high technology
and economic advancement. What this view misses is the fact that Israel
benefits from billions of dollars of U.S. aid every year -- this for a population
of six million or so, perhaps less than half of the population of Tehran
If we eliminate the 20% of the population that are Palestinian citizens
of Israel (who receive few services and are third class citizens in their
homeland) we can imagine how much Israel can use from our tax money on development
of the Israeli Jewish sectors of society, and moreso on its military. No
wonder, then, that it has one of the most advanced militaries in the world,
much of which is deployed against a civilian population and a few militias
with some machine guns and suicide bombers.
But why should Palestine matter to us? After all, injustice reigns across
the globe. I have two answers: First, for those of us who are U.S. taxpayers,
we have a special responsibility. We are directly funding the actions of
the State of Israel. When helicopter gunships attack Ramallah, it is we
who have paid for it. Israel, the cliche must be iterated, is the largest
recipient of American aid in the world. Much of this is military aid. While
other examples of military repression of civilians are easy to come by,
none enjoy the degree of impunity that Israel does. Even Turkey, who sometimes
rivals Israel in its brutality against Kurds, suffers more internationally
when it carries out campaigns against them.
The second and greater reason is an ethical and intellectual one. Presently,
Israel represents a form of ethnic/religious supremicist nationalism that
may well be a model for future forms of nationalism. In our own context,
even an Iranian religous theocracy may pale in comparision to the injustices
of a highly developed Persianist nationalism. Turkey, again, comes in a
distant second to Israel in presenting us with an example of ethnic-supremicist
politics, but Turkey does not boast the racist legal basis that Israel does.
This is a racism that is written into Israel's basic legal codes.
Every time someone says that Palestinian refugees cannot return to their
homes because it would affect "the Jewish character of Israel",
we should term it clearly: racism, ethnic and religious supremacy. The outcome
is widespead, and very easy to identify: there are areas in Israel where
Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot live, or cannot work, or cannot go.
There is a bar in West Jerusalem with a sign on the door: "NO ARABS!"
This ethic runs deep in Israeli civil and legal institutions as well.
The occupation of Palestinian land captured in 1967 is an even clearer
example of these racist ideals - there are roads that are reserved for settlers,
that run through Palestinian farmland. Palestinian homes are demolished
so as to accomodate settler expansion or construction. Palestinians are
shot while protesting the occupation and expropriation of their land.
In this sense, the Palestinian "shebab" are fighting a fight
that should be an inspiration to our "javanha" -- albiet within
very different contexts and histories. So, while the fight for Palestine
is repackaged to us as irrationalist terrorism, or Islamist fervor, we need
to read between the lines of what we are presented (much as we read between
the lines on everything we read about Iran).
The internet offers us many more sources for information -- I would encourage
everyone to read one of the many available Palestinian news sources. And
also, from time to time, Ha'aretz, the Israeli daily newspaper. I
think this kind of reading will go much further in addressing these issues
than my article here can. So I'll end by offering a list of websites for
further reading for those who are interested.
- Palestine Chronicle
(daily news in English)
- Electronic Intifada
(daily news and media analysis)
- Ha'aretz Newspaper (Israeli
newspaper in English)
- Independent Media Center, Israel
(media activism, news)
- Birzeit University Website (University
site, with lots of information and links)
- Palestine Media Watch (US based