Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Blue Between Sky and Water

By Susan Abulhawa

Bloomsbury 2015

A review and an historical background

The story of the Israeli repression of the Palestinian people is one of the most frequently reported stories in the mainstream capitalist press.  In the beginning of the 20th century about 90% of the land of what is now Israel was the home of Palestinians.  Today, as a result of a series of wars, the Israeli government considers this same land as a homeland for Jewish people.

In the early 1990s Israel came to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority where Israel recognized partial Palestinian control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Many issues concerning the fate of the Palestinians were left to be resolved.

The government in Tel Aviv responded to these accords with a series of wars against Palestinians.  They built numerous Israeli settlements in the West Bank that were in clear violation of international law.  They built a wall on land they had agreed was to be Palestinian.  This wall makes it more difficult for Palestinians to enter Israel.  Recently, the Israeli government voted to allow their prison authorities to force-feed Palestinian prisoners who are on a hunger strike.  This is another violation of International law.

The Blue Between Sky and Water

However, we usually don’t see how these horror stories affect Palestinians in their day-to-day lives.  Susan Abulhawa has introduced many of us to the Palestinian people in her two books, Mornings in Jenin, and her new book The Blue Between Sky and Water.

Her new book begins in the Palestinian town of Beit Daras.  Here we see how a Palestinian family lives in an agricultural community. 

Then, we see how an Israeli army invades Beit Daras.  There is an armed resistance, but the highly mechanized Israeli forces overwhelm the inhabitants of this town and they are forced to leave their homes.  Then, there is a forced march to their new settlement in the Gaza Strip.

A striking aspect to this book is how the characters manage to reconstruct their lives after facing the most horrendous obstacles.  Reading this book, I questioned how people have the capacity to continue to live after their loosing their homes, their livelihoods, and seeing the murder of their loved ones.  Yet, this is the life story of Palestinians who live in the world today.

Then, we see the character of Nur Valdez.  Nur’s grandfather was born and raised in Palestine and moved to North Carolina.  There, he and his wife had a son who fathered Nur with her mother who’s family came from Spain.

Because of a combination of circumstances Nur winds up in a series of foster homes.  Throughout all of this, she recalls the fond memories of her grandfather.  Eventually, she becomes a therapist, learns the Arabic language, and travels to the Gaza Strip.

In Nur’s story we see the contrast between her life in the United States and her life in Gaza.  In the United States she manages to get an education, she has a place to live, a car, and even the right to travel.  However, after the death of her grandfather, those who were supposed to care for her treated her with indifference and abuse.

In Gaza, Nur found a family that had few material comforts, but welcomed her as one of their own.  This family was a part of the community of the Gaza Strip that appeared to be aware of everything that happened in their world.

Here we see how the drive for material comforts in this country often compromises our values for family and community.  In the Gaza Strip, there are few opportunities for material comfort, so family and community become immensely important.  Clearly these are generalizations, however anyone who lives in this country understands that material concerns are a large part of our lives.


Reading this story, I asked myself a basic question.  Susan Abulhawa wrote a wonderful book, but she doesn’t ask the basic question: Why is this happening?  Why would Jewish people, who saw or experienced the Nazi holocaust commit horrendous crimes against Palestinians?  The rest of this review will give an historical background that will attempt to answer this question.

The Trail of Tears

The original home of the people who are known as the Cherokee was in what is now the state of Georgia.  The Cherokee had supported the thirteen colonies in the revolution that created the United States.  As a reward, the government promised the Cherokee that they could live in their homeland of what is now Georgia. 

Then, in 1830 the U.S. government adopted the Indian Removal Act.  This law required all of the first nations of this country located east of the Mississippi River to move to the Indian Territory in what is now the state of Oklahoma.

The Cherokee appealed this law to the Supreme Court that ruled in their favor.  President Andrew Jackson, who’s portrait is on the $20 bill, ignored the Supreme Court ruling and forced the Cherokee off land they might have lived on for thousands of years. 

The Cherokee forced march to Oklahoma is known as the Trail of Tears.  About 2,000 Cherokee lost their lives in this forced march.

The Seminole were another of the first nations who experienced the effects of the Indian Removal Act.  Many of the Seminole had fled to the Spanish Territory in Florida escaping from invading settlers.  Escaped Black slaves also joined the Seminoles.

Some of the Seminoles refused to leave their homeland and went to war against the U.S. army.  The army may have lost about 1,500 soldiers in this war and were unable to defeat the Seminoles.  As a result, the Seminoles who remained in Florida became known as the unconquered ones.

The reason for these forced dislocations and war was clear.  In its early years, the primary income of the United States came from the theft of Indian lands and the cultivation of cotton by slave labor.  When we think of the enormous amount of wealth in this country, we need to consider that these were the two root sources of that wealth.

Rabbi Joachim Prinz and the beginnings of Zionism

In 1965 I had my Bar Mitzvah.  This is the Jewish ceremony that celebrates the thirteenth Birthday.  This is when, in the Jewish religion, a boy becomes a man.  This religious ceremony was officiated by the late Rabbi Joachim Prinz.

In 1963 Rabbi Prinz represented the American Jewish Congress at the Civil Rights March in Washington D.C. protesting against Jim Crow segregation.  He was a friend of Martin Luther King and was one of those who marched at the head of the demonstration.

He wrote an autobiography titled: Joachim Prinz Rebellious Rabbi – and autobiography – the German and early American years edited by Michael A. Meyer.

Prinz was born and raised as a Jew in Germany.  From an early age he became a Zionist and believed that Jewish people needed a homeland in, what was then Palestine.  In his early years, the Zionists represented only a tiny minority of the Jewish people.

While there was discrimination against Jews, most Jews lived relatively comfortable lives in Germany before the rise of the Nazis.  Why would anyone want to move their family to a foreign country and start all over again unless this was absolutely necessary?  Even the Rabbi who was Prinz’ mentor was strongly opposed to Zionism.

Prinz was of the opinion that Jews did not belong in Germany.  However, he also stated that he found the Jewish religious services to be boring.  He attended several services by the Seven Day Adventists who were largely working class and welcomed him to their services.  When he was older, Prinz became a Rabbi in Berlin and considered that city to be the most civilized in the world.

The Zionist movement started in the 19th century as a response to the pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe.  During those years European powers were in the business of colonizing the world.

Mike Davis wrote a book titled Late Victorian Holocausts where he documented how literally tens of millions of people starved to death in China, India, and Brazil as a result of British imperialism.  This horror story signaled the beginnings of a separation between the developed and underdeveloped areas of the world.

The Zionists believed that they could make a deal with the British to aid them in their colonization efforts of the Middle East.  In 1917 this idea became a reality with the signing of the Balfour Declaration.  This document gave a section of Palestine to the Jewish people.  Up until the First World War, Turkey ruled much of the Middle East and the British used the Balfour Declaration as a lever against Turkey. 

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was the central leader of the Russian Revolution.  He argued for a completely different political course from the Zionists.  Lenin argued that working people and farmers needed to ally ourselves with the colonized people of the world against those who hold power in the capitalist nations.  In his pamphlet, The State and Revolution, Lenin argued that the capitalist state is a “special repressive force” designed to rob working people of the fruits of our labor.                         

After the First World War most German people were thrown into a state of poverty.  The German Socialist and Communist parties could have taken power away from capitalists, but they didn’t.  Instead the fascist German National Socialist Party was formed and received massive financial support from capitalists.

When the Nazis won the German election by a minority vote in 1932, all democratic rights in Germany vanished.  Adolf Hitler used the Jewish people as a scapegoat for the problems of Germany.  German Jews lost their jobs and their businesses.  With all political opposition crushed, Hitler was able to cut the salaries of German workers in half.

Again, we see how capitalist support to the fascists was all about money.  By cutting the wages of German workers in half, Hitler created an economic environment that was conducive to capitalist investment.  Hitler protected the affluent while he created a nightmare for German workers.  

Rabbi Prinz remained in Germany from 1932 to 1937.  During those years opposition to the Nazis in Germany was almost impossible.  So, he supported the Zionist strategy of Jewish emigration to Palestine. 

During those years Jewish people around the world organized a boycott of Germany in opposition to the Nazis.  Many Zionists opposed this boycott because it compromised the Zionist deal with the Nazis for support of Jewish emigration to Palestine.

In fact, Joachim Prinz acknowledged that he had a friend in the Gestapo, (The secret police of the Nazis) who liked the Zionist idea of Jewish emigration.  This Gestapo agent, in effect, saved Prinz’ life by organizing his deportation from Germany in 1937.  By 1938 all Jews in Germany were sent to concentration camps.

Prinz could have emigrated to Palestine, the nation he felt would be the homeland for the Jewish people.  However, he, like most Jews, decided to emigrate to the United States.

In Susan Abulhawa’s books she wrote about the terrorist campaign of the Zionists designed to rob Palestinains of their homeland.  The terrorist organizations were called the Irgun and the Stern Gang.  In many ways, these organizations used similar tactics as the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.

Joachim Prinz opposed the terrorism of these organizations and favored a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.  However, he was also a lifelong supporter of the state of Israel and the government of that country has shown no intentions of serious negotiations with the Palestinians.

Why does the nation of Israel exist today?

The nation of Israel exists today because of massive financial and military support of the United States government.  In this country, no corporation will have even one dime’s worth of profit without a continuous supply of oil.  Without oil, workers wouldn’t be able to go to their jobs and corporations wouldn’t be able to deliver their commodities.

Israel is located in the middle of the region that has the largest supplies of oil on this planet.  Since 1948, most of the political officials of this region have been pushed aside.  However, the state of Israel continues to exist.  Oil from this region continues to allow the capitalist world to function.  However, most of the 200 million or more Arabic and Persian people who live in this region live in poverty.

The apartheid state of South Africa was also created in 1948.  While there were clear differences between South Africa and Israel, there were also many similarities.  Both South Africa and Israel had and have a system of legalized discrimination.  Both nations segregated the native inhabitants onto impoverished reservations.  Both nations utilized horrendous repressive measures to preserve their rule.  But the apartheid laws of South Africa were pushed aside in the early 1990s and Nelson Mandela became the President of that country.

The nation of Israel is becoming more and more isolated every year.  The cause of Palestinian liberation is winning more and more support.  While there clearly are racist attitudes against Palestinians in Israel, there is also a growing understanding that only when Palestinians are fully liberated will there be any chance of peace in the Middle East.

My opinion is that Lenin was right when he argued that the capitalist state is a “special repressive force.”  Ultimately this means that working people from all over the world have a common interest.  An injury to one is an injury to all.  I view the West Bank and Gaza Strip as neighborhoods where working people live.  An international movement pushed aside the apartheid government.  Sooner or later the state of Israel will become a homeland for everyone who lives in that region.         

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