By Cristina Paterno – Why a review now of a book that was published in 2007?
Because regardless of the publishing time, the moment I saw the title I immediately thought: this is the book for me. What I really need is a clear understanding of what is going on in Palestine. Something that would help me clarifying the historical journey of a country that since I was an adolescent I cannot recall out of turmoil.
As a collection of essays written between 2000 and 2007 on major historical events that took place in the Middle East and that affected the whole west, this book allows the reader to gain the background information necessary to understand the present situation and immediately experience the sincere passion of the author for issues that are undeniably issues of human rights.
The timeline of the events discussed in the book poses the mind of the reader an urgent question: how far have we moved on these issues so far?
Regardless of the fact that the book was published six years ago and it refers to past events, it is nevertheless still very contemporary and deserves a re-visitation in the light of the current political situation. I find Understanding Palestine a precious intellectual tool especially for western readers who are generally less interested in the on-going political complexity of the middle east and who, like me, have in the past tried to understand the political reasons but inevitably gave up out of frustration! A tool that could help us not only to get closer to Palestine but to re-think the whole set of values and concepts which populate our political and cultural discourse. Concepts and values, which, unfortunately, are misused by an unaware young generation.
It seems that the Israel-Palestine conflict is purposely kept in a complex mist in order to facilitate the disinterest of the rest of the world. The purpose is clear: our disinterest allows some political parties to act, undisturbed, in violating moral, ethical and international laws. One of the simplest realisations for the reader is that by ignoring the systematic policy of misinformation we are constantly deprived of the fundamental right to information. In other words our ‘inalienable ‘ rights are abused and violated every day thus giving the way to a violation of human rights on a much bigger scale elsewhere in the world.
In my view Understanding Palestine could easily be called ‘Understanding Political Thought’ and it is exactly for this reason that I passionately believe young people should try to stretch the boarders of their knowledge and understanding of the world by taking the contents of this book on board. Behind the author’s attempt to critically discuss specific political events, emerges the necessity to re-evaluate the etymological meaning of many political concepts such as freedom, war, occupation, tolerance, which populate our cultural world. Concepts that form and shape our interpretation of the world and for this simple reason need to be understood correctly. Surprisingly despite the enormous intellectual effort and commitment in order to clarify the political terminology, which is testimony to the huge and wide range of philosophical literature produced by western societies in the last few centuries, the misuse and misunderstanding of such concepts continues to proliferate.
By reading the book one cannot escape the worrying realisation that poor journalism in part and the ignorance and disinterest of the average reader in part contribute hugely to the loss of our fundamental right of objective information. Pointedly, the author drops a quotation from Abraham Lincoln the ‘father of democracy’: ‘you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time’. As soon as I read this I stopped and smiled. This is exactly why people, particularly the younger generation of voting age – able to exert political influence through the ballot box – must read a book like this! Governments and politicians are losing credibility not only at the national level but also amongst the international community.
Now more than ever an acute analysis and re-definition of terms such as the ones suggested by the book, is due. It is due not only for political, academic or moral reasons but for re-establishing a necessary sense of humanity around the world. While reading this book I found myself questioning the meaning and the aim of journalism itself .Young enthusiastic and intelligent students inspired to study journalism should perhaps take a second look at the way nowadays it is not anymore a lens through which identify and analyse obscure zones in a complex social structure but a lens that intentionally creates ‘definite distortion’ of our perception of reality as acutely well explained by the author.
The same distortion applies to the use of concepts dear to the empiricist tradition such as ‘justification’. Can the formula ‘preventive measure’ be used as a form of justification? Prevention implies anticipation of something that has not happened yet and we all know how misleading a tentative of forecasting could be in the political realm! The Kantian motto ‘Sapere aude’ (dare to know) which has marked the post- Enlightenment European culture, doesn’t seem to be anymore something that we are willing to aspire to. Reading Understanding Palestine is a challenge for the reader not only in terms of questioning her/his ability to objectively and honestly understand the Palestine-Israel issue but also in terms of objectively and honestly facing once and for all the real implications of the arms industry for which we have collective responsibility. It is also a challenge in terms of finally accepting the fact that our silence means tacit consent.
The author offers us an acute observation of our behaviour. Are we really ready to throw away all those centuries of critical investigation in the name of the once popular – particularly amongst the British tradition – ‘infallibility argument’? We justify occupation, invasion, military operations, violation of basic human rights, foreign intervention, to name only few, in the name of our infallibility. Or are we affected by what the author defines as ‘mass hypnosis’? Understanding Palestine could work as a wake-up call. How? Simply by bringing to the attention of the reader, especially the younger reader, a number of things:
- The continuous breach of international conventions and laws creates not only a sense of insecurity for all but mostly a sense of accepted injustice. More than ever political games of superpowers which dangle above our heads are a seriously risky situation for all of us.
- Self –defence has been turned into a pretext for offense.
- Tacit consent just allows atrocities to happen but doesn’t diminish our civil and moral responsibility.
- The role of the UN’s ‘security council’. The reader doesn’t need to be a specialist in Politics to understand that the ideal role of the UN drastically failed over the years and this failure not only doesn’t justify its existence anymore but doesn’t secure peace.
- The very much needed re-definition of global and national security.
- Drones’ surgical strikes justified by the concept of national security or self-defence.
- The fact that arbitrary use of double standards which, admittedly is often a distinctive aspect of politics, is becoming the predominant character of our policies with the distortion of the correctness of values like justice and democracy ‘per se’ as a result.
- Power and authority. The book surely encourages reflection upon the distinction between legitimised authority and abuse of authority.
Reading Understanding Palestine almost forces you to re-think the fictitious distinction between west and east, north and south which has been turned from a useful geographical indication into the most ridiculous indication of human diversity and disintegration. Above all the book inspires you to re-think the value of Humanity as a whole.
My hope is that reading this book won’t increase the feeling of distance and indifference towards other humans but instead would transform those ‘cultural’ gaps cleverly supported and sometimes conventionally created in order to divide us, into evidence of human richness from which everybody will gain. Greedy and immoral governments always benefit from sectarianism and fragmentation and this is the reason why they make us believe that we are not all part of the same ‘human species’. In the human realm races don’t exist, the only race that exists is the human one which by the way we all are part of!
Cristina Paterno lives in London. She has being teaching Philosophy, History and Italian for many years at Universities and A-level Colleges in Italy and the U.K. Follow her on Twitter: @Santippe1