The Battle for Justice in Palestine

2014 winner
The Battle for Justice in Palestine
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Published Date : 06 May 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1608463244

Book Author(s):

Ali Abunimah

Review by:

Ben White

In 'The Battle for Justice in Palestine', Ali Abunimah writes: "we don't need to allow our vision of justice to be constrained only by what seems realistic from the perspective of today, and especially not by what powerful and privileged groups deem acceptable or pragmatic".

This concisely encapsulates the essence of the new book by The Electronic Intifada's co-founder and director, his first since 2006's 'One Country'. Abunimah begins with the claim that "the Palestinians are winning the argument and Zionists are losing it". Though he never loses sight of the grim reality on the ground, Abunimah's writing is infused with a sense of optimism about the possibility of realising "decolonization and a just future for all who live in historic Palestine".

The themes of 'The Battle for Justice in Palestine' reflect some of The Electronic Intifada's key strengths: documentation of Israel's propaganda initiatives, an emphasis on solidarity activism, and the inter-connectedness of struggles in Palestine and those of oppressed communities around the world.

The book opens with an illuminating if grim look at ways in which "Palestinians under Israeli rule and people of colour in the United States increasingly find themselves facing similar racist ideologies" - an ironic spin on the "shared values" trumpeted by U.S. and Israeli leaders. Abunimah relates how, post-9/11, Israel became the world's "shopping mall for homeland security technologies", citing the work done by Naomi Klein, particularly in her work 'The Shock Doctrine'.

Abunimah covers Israeli-American cooperation in policing, and how the Israeli government is "directly invested in promoting relations with US law enforcement agencies in order to boost Israel's lucrative 'homeland security' export industry". One example is the role played by CIA agent Larry Sanchez, seconded to the NYPD to help create the "Demographics Unit" that targeted the city's Muslim population. Sanchez told colleagues "he had borrowed the idea from Israeli methods of controlling the military-occupied West Bank".

Abunimah reaches for Klein's analysis again in Chapter 4, when discussing the policies of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - whose premiership is usefully contextualised by an account of the undermining of the democratically elected Hamas government that preceded it. From Rawabi to industrial zones, Abunimah details how "key decisions affecting the entire economy have already been set in stone with no public input or democratic oversight".

A key part of the book is the way it breaks down arguments about self-determination and Israel's claim to have a right to exist as a 'Jewish state', the main topics of the second and seventh chapters. Abunimah details ways in which Palestinian citizens face systematic discrimination, from the Basic Laws to the crude racism of elected officials at a national and local level.

As Abunimah puts it in typically pithy style: "there is no right to be racist". He observes how "ideas that are appropriately deemed repugnant in any other situation are often perfectly acceptable to liberal intellectuals as long as the goal is the preservation, legitimization, or concealment of Israeli Jewish supremacy over Palestinians". One example is Peter Beinart, Jewish-American author and Haaretz columnist, quoted here as he admits how he is "pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status as a Jewish state".

And it is quite the compromise, as Abunimah makes clear.

Israel was created as a 'Jewish state' by expelling Palestinians and preventing their return. It can only survive in this form by maintaining current and committing future violations of the rights of Palestinians.

Addressing the rhetorical trap of asking if Israel has a 'right to exist' at all, Abunimah points out that "states either exist or do not exist and other states either recognize them or do not, but no other state has claimed an abstract 'right to exist'". Would anyone claim that East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and South Vietnam's 'right to exist' was violated?

There is vital material here on the issue of self-determination, which Abunimah writes "remains at the heart of the Palestinian struggle", thus providing essential reading for the "new territory" onto which "the battle for justice in Palestine is now decisively shifting".

Ali Abunimah is well-known as a supporter of a one-state solution, and he addresses the topic in his new book with a focus on democratic transitions in South Africa and Northern Ireland that, he argues, "offer instructive experiences". Achieving "ethical decolonization", he writes, requires big decisions related to issues like "transitional jusitice, social reform, restitution, land reform, [and] affirmative action".

Abunimah notes how in the case of South Africa, political apartheid has been followed by deep economic divisions. In a section titled 'Beyond Constitutionalism and Liberal Rights', he suggests that the question "is not whether an economic disaster like South Africa's could happen after a political settlement in Palestine, but how to stop and reverse the disaster already under way in which a Palestinian elite flourishes, comfortably aligned with its Israeli economic and political counterparts".

The historical precedents, also including the 1995 Dayton Agreement with regards to refugee return, provide valuable food for thought for those thinking through how a one-state would be realised, including how "legitimate concerns of ordinary Israeli Jews can be addressed". Abunimah also encourages Palestinians to "think about their struggle not only in local terms, but in the context of a global struggle to win back economic sovereignty for people and communities from democracy-crushing transnational markets and local economic elites."

Abunimah is keenly aware of the importance of diaspora activism and solidarity campaigns in isolating Apartheid Israel and helping to bring about the decolonisation required to realise Palestinian rights. Thus there are also chapters on the recent history of various Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) initiatives - and the pushback from the Israeli government and Zionist lobby groups. There is a particular focus on a topic extensively-covered by The Electronic Intifada, namely the work done by students on North American campuses to advance Palestine solidarity work in the face of pro-Israel advocates' tactics of intimidation, ill-fated legal attacks, and cynical tokenising.

Abunimah claims that "the possibilities of fundamental transformation in the next few years" are "promising and exciting". If this is true - and this book makes a convincing case - it will be in part due to the clarity of analysis and commitment of moral vision exhibited by Abunimah and others, in their tireless scholarly work and activism.

The 2018 Shortlist

  • In the Land of My Birth: A Palestinian Boyhood
  • Brothers Apart: Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Arab world
  •  The Great War and the Remaking of Palestine
  • Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance
  • Enclosure: Palestinian landscapes in a historical mirror
  • Balfour in the Dock: J.M.N. Jeffries & the Case for the Prosecution

Recommended Reading

  • Jerusalem stands alone
  • P is for Palestine
  • The Palestinian Table
  • Employing the enemy: The Story of Palestinian labourers on Israeli settlements
  • The Palestinian Table