by Amer Zahr
Simsim Publishing 2014
This past summer the world witnessed the horrendous Israeli government ordered bombing of the Gaza Strip. This bombing destroyed entire neighborhoods and over two-thousand people died as a result. So, we might ask why would Amer Zahr, a Palestinian, write a book titled, being Palestinian makes me Smile? This is how Zahr answers that question.
“As a Palestinian, it can be very easy to become consumed by depression and despair. But I have noticed that laughter and crying are not as different as they might seem. We have all seen people laugh so hard that they begin to cry. But have you ever seen people cry so hard that they begin to laugh? I have. See, not that different.”
Amer Zahr’s parents were both born in the land that was once called Palestine. His father and grandfather both lived as refugees in Jordan. His parents met while they were university students in California. Amer Zahr was raised by a loving family in a suburban community in Pennsylvania. His first language is Arabic, and, his story is about why Palestinians just can’t forget where they came from.
For many employers, Zahr’s resume would be impressive, but also a bit strange. He has a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies, and a law degree. He is also a comedian. Reading Zahr’s book demonstrates why this seemingly strange resume makes perfect sense.
I happen to be Jewish. My parents wanted me to understand a bit of our heritage, so they sent me to Hebrew school. I learned a very little bit of the Hebrew language, and the teachers routinely attempted to fill my head with images of how the state of Israel was a wonderful homeland for Jewish people. Along these lines, I remember donating one dollar to plant a tree in Israel.
While I must say that I was influenced by the Zionist arguments, I never embraced the idea of a homeland for Jews in Israel. I grew up in the Weekquahic section of Newark, New Jersey. At one time this neighborhood was almost exclusively Jewish. Then, there was the national phenomenon known as “white flight.” Black people moved into urban areas and white people moved out.
Growing up I saw how there was a stark difference between the neighborhoods in Newark and the suburban neighborhoods. While the inner city school I attended didn’t have a full sized gymnasium, suburban schools had tennis courts as well as swimming pools. I began to see that this immense disparity didn’t happen because of insensitivity or incompetence. No, the reason for this disparity had to do with something profoundly wrong with the political economic system in this country.
Upon reaching the age of thirteen, I celebrated the occasion with the typical Jewish ceremony called the Bar Mitzvah. The name of the Rabbi that officiated this service in Newark, New Jersey was Joachim Prinz.
Rabbi Prinz had quite a history and I remember my parents being impressed by who he was. Prinz was a Rabbi in Nazi controlled Germany for several years. After coming to this country, he became the President of the American Jewish Congress. He supported Martin Luther King’s struggle to do away with Jim Crow segregation in this country. In this capacity, Prinz marched with King at the head of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington.
However, the core belief of Rabbi Prinz throughout his life was support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Although Prinz could have settled in Israel, he, like most Jews, decided to live in the United States.
I wasn’t a very good student in high school, but liked to participate in sports. I also liked to watch the movies. I remember two films released in the 1960s that attempted to glorify the state of Israel. One was the film Exodus staring Paul Newman. The other was Cast a Giant Shadow staring Kirk Douglas, the so-called “Duke” John Wayne, and none other than Frank Sinatra.
These films portrayed the people who colonized Israel as heroes. In the few times these films portrayed Arabs, they were seen as mindless villains who had nothing better to do than get in the way of those heroes who attempted to create a wonderful Jewish homeland.
We might also think about the fact that during those years we also had numerous films of the Cowboys and Indians. I might have seen hundreds or even thousands of portrayals of Indians being murdered as if they were mere targets used for shooting practice.
The first time I recall seeing an Arab portrayed as a human being was in the film Lawrence of Arabia. This film portrayed a flawed, but basically heroic white man who came to the Middle East to rescue Arabic people by way of British colonialism.
In the course of this film I saw the Egyptian actor, Omar Sharif. Although the film glorified British colonialism, Sharif’s Arabic character, was portrayed as a genuine human being.
After graduating from high school, I got involved in the movement against the war in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people sustained a heroic resistance to the foreign occupation of their country. The U.S. government demanded that I, and every young man of my age, participate in the effort of effectively making Vietnam a U.S. colony. In those days, some of us made the argument that the United States became a nation because of a political revolution against colonialism.
During those years of the early 1970s, I began to question many of the ideas teachers attempted to instill in my head in high school. I became a communist. I also met a Palestinian woman who began to shatter my ideas of what the state of Israel is.
I discovered that all the glorifications that I heard about the state of Israel were boldfaced lies. The British colony of Palestine had a population that was over 90% Palestinian. Palestinians lost their homeland due to British decrees, UN resolutions, Israeli racist terrorism, as well as laws designed to steal land from its original inhabitants.
Amer Zahr gives us a somewhat thorough analysis of how Israeli government officials, as well as the media in this country, routinely distorts the reality of Palestine. Even before the creation of the state of Israel, people who called themselves Zionists argued that the indigenous people who lived in that region would have to be displaced.
Golda Meir actually argued that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. Israeli government officials routinely talk about Palestinians as if they didn’t exist. When they acknowledge their existence, it is usually to justify Israeli genocide against Palestinians.
Israel hasn’t just stolen Palestinian land, they now say that Palestinian foods like falafel and humus are Israeli creations. While on a United Airlines flight, Amer Zahr was reading their magazine “Hemispheres.” The title of one of the articles in the magazine was:
“Meet The Rowdy Revolutionary Chefs Who Are Shaking Up Israeli Cuisine.”
The article argues that Israel is “a nation of immigrants.” This article misses the point that amongst the so-called nation of immigrants are Palestinians who can trace their ancestry to that land for over 12,000 years. The ancestors of these people were the ones who created the so-called “Israeli cuisine.”
We might also consider that many of the foods people eat in the world today were developed by Indians in North and South America. I’m talking about corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and chocolate. Clearly, there are many similarities in the way Palestinians and the Indians have been treated.
Obay Aboushi is a Palestinian-American who is a member of the New York Jets football teem. Yahoo Sports published an article by Adam Walkman who accused Aboushi of “anti-Semitic activism.” The so-called evidence of Aboushi’s so-called offense was that he attended a family get together at a hotel outside of Washington DC.
In the United States, Amer Zahr jokes that Palestinians don’t like to leave their homes for too long. He says the last time they did this they lost their homeland. Instead, Zahr’s mother took her children to New York and Washington DC, where they marched to protest the genocide against Palestinians.
A different perspective
While I support most of what Zahr says in his book, I look at the ideas he raises from a different perspective. He argues that the United States and Israel do not share the same values. This argument is based on Zahr’s point that the U.S. has a Constitution that claims to represent everyone in this country. Israel has no such constitution.
To counter this argument I will turn to another comedian by the name of Lenny Bruce. Bruce was arrested several times and prevented from performing because he was allegedly guilty of obscenity laws. In other words, he occasionally used profanity in his comedy.
In the very First Amendment to the Constitution it says that in this country people have the right to freedom of speech. If this were a nation of laws, Bruce could have answered all of his accusers by showing them the First Amendment to the Constitution. However, District Attorney’s as well as judges violated the Constitution by preventing Bruce from performing because he allegedly violated their obscenity laws.
Lenny Bruce responded to this situation with his definition of the word truth. “What is, is. What should be, is a terrible, terrible lie they told the people a long time ago.”
Do the governments of the United States and Israel have similar values? This is the record.
The origins of the state of Israel
Before the first and second world wars Britain was the world’s superpower. However, Britain’s empire was collapsing and the Brits had huge debts to U.S. bankers. The first and second world wars decided what nation would be the new superpower. Capitalists from the United States won that contest. Tens of millions of people lost their lives as a result of these two wars, but the capitalists in the United States became, in effect, the royalty of the world.
After the two world wars, in the year 1948, both Israel and apartheid South Africa became nations. At that time the United States had stolen immense areas of land from the Indians and placed them on reservations. The U.S. also had the Jim Crow laws that denied Black people citizenship rights in this country.
Both South Africa and Israel followed the U.S. example. South Africa instituted their apartheid laws that denied the first inhabitants of that land citizenship rights. The apartheid government also set up Bantustans that were reserved for Black people.
The Israeli government also stole the land from its original inhabitants. They set up laws that, in effect, discriminate against anyone who is not Jewish. They also set up the equivalent of the reservations or Bantustans. In Israel, these reservations were called the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Amer Zahr calls the U.S. government “enablers” of Israel. This is because the government in this country gives Israel about five billion dollars every year. Why does the government in this country give so much money to the relatively small nation of Israel?
In the United States no corporation will make even one dime’s worth of profit without a continuous flow of oil. Without oil, workers will not be able to travel. Without oil, corporations will not be able to send their commodities to market.
The nation of Israel sits in the middle of the region where most of the oil on this planet is located. While the Israeli government may have occasional disagreements with Washington, Israel has been the most dependable of all the U.S. government allies in that region. This is why Washington gives Israel about five billion dollars every year.
Is Israel a failed state?
Amer Zahr argues, in effect, that Israel is a failed state. He also clearly has a point when he says that Israel is not a democracy. However, I look at these questions from a different point of view.
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a central leader of the Russian Revolution. He was arrested, sent into exile, and then led the Bolsheviks to take state power. The Bolsheviks promised the people of that part of the world three basic things. These were: peace, bread, and land.
Unlike politicians who say one thing, then do something else, Lenin was willing to risk everything in order to deliver on these promises. The horrors that took place in the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin came about because of betrayals by the government headed by Joseph Stalin.
Lenin wrote two pamphlets that I believe are relevant to this discussion. One is State and Revolution. There is a basic fact of life the universities and the media would like to ignore. This is that the most affluent people of the world never produce the wealth they own. There are two sources to all wealth. These are human labor and the land.
Lenin argued that the state, as we know it, is a “special repressive force” that was invented to be used to extract wealth from working people, and transfer that wealth to a tiny minority. Lenin’s idea of democracy was a democratic dictatorship of workers and farmers.
This meant that the new workers government would make the human needs of all their top priority. Because profits would no longer be a priority, the new government would use the “special repressive force” of the state to repress the interests of the former capitalists as well as their government.
Many people have difficulty with the idea that the government in this country, that pretends to represent “democracy,” is in fact a “special repressive force.” However, the facts speak for themselves.
Amer Zahr argues that when Palestinians saw the horrendous bombing of their homeland this summer, they were enraged but not surprised. They had seen all this before and have come to expect this kind of horror from the state of Israel.
The question is: Why would we think that the government of the United States is different? While the Israeli government has murdered thousands in their genocidal wars, the U.S. government has murdered millions in places like, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Before the Civil War, there was a law in this country called The Fugitive Slave Act. This law required state governments in the North to apprehend escaped slaves and return them to bondage.
Today, most immigrants in this country come from Mexico where they might have had wages of $2 per day. In the United States many immigrants have jobs in the food industry, working the fields, or in food processing plants, or preparing food in restaurants. These are jobs many people in this country don’t want to do. If all of the 12 million immigrants in this country were deported, the economy would clearly fall apart.
President Obama has been deporting immigrants at a rate of close to 1,000 every day. The thousands of people who President Obama deports aren’t returned to the system of chattel slavery. However, the similarities between Obama’s deportations and the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act are striking.
Lenin also wrote a pamphlet titled, Imperialism The Highest Stage Of Capitalism. Here he argued that the ultimate goal of capitalist powers is to dominate the politics as well as the economies of nations throughout the world. In other words, President Obama shares responsibility for all the deaths and destruction we saw in the Gaza Strip this past summer.
So, the problem with Israel isn’t that it is a failed state. As a nation that is a colonial settler capitalist state, it can only be a special force of repression. Clearly, giving Palestinians the same rights as Palestinians living in the United States would be a clear advance. However, I would think that the ultimate goal would be to have a government in that region dedicated to preventing the crimes of the Israeli government from ever happening again.
The laws of capital and the opportunities for revolution
In the year 1929 the capitalist economy of the world fell apart. In the year 2008 the most powerful banks in the world nearly closed their doors. Why would this happen when there are resources in the world to eliminate poverty?
Capitalism has certain laws that no one ever votes for. This means that corporations are always obsessed with selling more and more commodities. At the same time they are also obsessed with cutting costs.
Sooner or later there are more commodities on the market than people are purchasing. This is when recessions and depressions occur. We might consider that economic crisis under capitalism is created by overproduction and not because of shortages.
Politicians and corporate officers will not be able to prevent the economic collapse that will happen. In fact, the first theoreticians of capitalism, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, both understood that the total collapse of the capitalist system is inevitable.
Understanding these facts, we can see how workers and farmers will have an opportunity to put in place a government that places a priority on human needs above profits. These will be the kinds of governments that will begin the liberation of humanity all over the world.