Finkelstein and me

Finkelstein and me
Khalid Amayreh
By Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank

Seeking to punish critics for communicating the truth about Israel to the world, Israel has barred an American scholar from entering the country and a Palestinian journalist from leaving the occupied territories for a brief trip to Germany.

Israel’s chief domestic intelligence agency, or Shin Beth, as it is known by its Hebrew acronym, has detained and deported Professor Norman Finkelstein, a prominent American Jewish historian and intellectual.

Finkelstein is a well-known critic of the apartheid Israeli state, especially its 41-year-old Nazi-like occupation of East Jerusalem, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

He is also the author of a famous book titled “the Holocaust Industry,” in which he accused Israel and allied Zionist circles of using the memory of holocaust victims for political ends.

Finkelstein arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport Friday, 23 May, for a visit to friends in the city of Hebron, where nearly 200,000 Palestinian citizens are effectively held hostage to the whims and moods of a few hundred fanatical Jewish settlers who believe that non-Jews in Israel/Palestine ought to be treated as water carriers and wood hewers, or expelled and/or exterminated.

However, upon his arrival at the airport, the 55-year-old professor was unceremoniously whisked away to a nearby Shin Beth office where he was interrogated for several hours on his views.

Shortly before he was put on a plane back to Amsterdam, his point of departure, the Jewish historian was told that he wouldn’t be able to visit Israel for ten years.

Finkelstein is the son of survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and concentration camps. He wrote in his book that “I do care about the memory of my family’s persecution. The current campaign of the Holocaust industry to extort money from Europe in the name of the needy Holocaust victims has shrunk the moral stature of their martyrdom to that of a Monte Carol casino.”

Predictably the powerful Zionist establishment, both in Israel and North America, couldn’t tolerate his daring and meticulously-documented criticisms. In 2007, he was forced to leave DePaul University following a virulent vilification campaign from powerful Zionist organizations, including Professor Alan Dershowitz, the stalwart supporter of apartheid in Israel.

And now my story: A few weeks ago, I received an invitation from the German Institute for External Relations to attend a conference on how journalists ought to reconcile patriotism with journalistic professionalism in wartime. I went to the German representative office in Ramallah where I was interviewed on my political orientation and whether I had any association with organizations the German government considers “terrorist.”

I have always been and continue to be an independent-minded journalist. I never belonged to nor was a member of any political organization or party. True, like everyone else, I do hold certain views with regard to the Israeli occupation of my country and oppression of my people. But so what? After all, no honest person under the sun would or should expect us to love our tormentors. Do Jews love their tormentors?

I have made laborious efforts and knocked on many doors to obtain a permit that would enable me to travel abroad for the two-day conference. Interestingly, I have not been allowed to travel abroad for 13 years, a part from a brief trip to Makkah and Madina with my late mother for the Haj pilgrimage in 1997.

Last week, I went to the local District Coordination Office (DCO) in Dura, my town, hoping that they would be able to help. The office forwarded my personal details to the Shin Beth office in Hebron. However, the next day, I was told rather tersely that I was “barred from traveling for security reasons.” No further details were given.

In the process, I discovered that painful truth the Palestinian Authority DCO officials were no more than insignificant middle-men between the Israeli occupation authorities and Palestinian citizens. They had absolutely no authority or influence, which generally epitomizes the overall status of the entire PA vis-à-vis Israel.

Last week, I was advised to go to the Israeli army Civil Administration headquarters in Hebron in an effort to obtain a security clearance or at least explain my case to officials there.

There I saw dozens of Palestinian permit-seekers stuffed like farm animals in a metal pen, waiting to be allowed to go in. I was told that some people there had been awaiting their turn for ten hours. Some of the people urgently needed a travel permit for medical purposes such as undergoing an urgent surgical operation at an East Jerusalem hospital.

I calculated that even if I had to experience the humiliation of languishing for 10 or 15 hours in that pen-like metal corridor, constantly monitored by trigger-happy soldiers in nearby military watchtowers, there was no guarantee that I would be allowed to get in and meet a security official to whom I would be able to explain my case.

In fact, it was abundantly clear that the soldiers enjoyed the indescribable humiliation and persecution Palestinian permit-seekers were going through on a daily basis at the notorious facility.

I really thought that the “civil administration office” was a stark misnomer and that a truly appropriate name for the hateful facility would be “the Central humiliation station” since there was absolutely nothing civilized about it.

A few days ago, I called Hussein Sheikh, head of the Civilian Affair Coordination Office in the West Bank, and explained to him my problem.

I informed him that I was never arrested or detained by the Israelis and that there was no real justification for barring me from traveling. He concurred and asked me to fax him my details.

However, after waiting several days, it was clear that the Israeli occupation authorities paid no attention to his “mediation” on my behalf.

Some people here have suggested that I ask some erstwhile collaborators for help. However, I know well that broaching an Israeli dog to intercede with the Israelis for me was asking me for too much. After all, I spent half of my life exposing these malignant outgrowths that enabled Israel to achieve many of their murderous goals in Palestine.

Fettering journalists
Needless to say, Israel, which classifies Palestinians into either terrorists who ought to be annihilated or quisling-like collaborators, has no right to deny Palestinian journalists freedom of movement, internally or externally. Indeed, without this freedom, a journalist can hardly carry out his job properly.

As Palestinian journalists, we can’t be expected to compromise our honesty and professionalism for the sake of getting a travel permit from an occupying power that calls itself the freest and most democratic state in the Middle East.

We cannot adopt the Israeli narratives, use the Israeli jargon and parrot the Israeli lies. Our responsibility is first and foremost is to our conscience.

Israel and her supporters in North America and Europe claim ad nauseam that it is a democratic state.

But truly democratic states don’t impose town-arrests on journalists because their writings are deemed non-conformist.

Indeed, a state that behaves this way must be hopelessly insecure to the hilt, otherwise one is prompted to wonder what security risks would result from allowing a journalist to travel to Germany, a state that embraces Israel and Zionism soul and heart?

Is Israel worried that people like Khalid Amayreh and Norman Finkelstein would expose its criminality more than it has already been exposed? Is this the reason why the Israeli authorities are trying fetter people’s freedom of movement?

Israel has no right to grossly violate people’s human and civil rights in the name of an amorphous and wantonly abused mantra called “security.”

Israel, which had left no stone unturned to get the government of the former Soviet Union to allow Nathan Sharansky and other so-called “Prisoners of Zion” to leave Russia is very much committing the same crime by denying thousands, or probably tens of thousands, of Palestinians their inalienable right to travel abroad for religious, professional, business, health or recreational reasons.

We are not Israeli citizens, and Israel has no sovereignty over us. Hence, the draconian repression is incompatible with international law.

Hence, I call on my colleagues around the world to strongly protest this violation of my natural and human rights to travel, first as a human being and second as a journalist.

Finally, a few words to the Palestinian Authority: You are maintaining a huge bureaucracy of thousands of officials and operatives whose main job is supposed to help Palestinian citizens bypass or overcome the stringent restrictions of the occupation.

However, it is obvious these people have failed to carry out their tasks.

It is really sad and embarrassing that while Israel allows certain VIPs to travel freely (probably in the hope that the preferential treatment would pernicious Israeli goals) the Israeli occupation regime continues to deny the vast bulk of the Palestinian people their basic rights, including the right to travel.

It is time that you insist that Israel refrain from interfering with Palestinian freedom of movement. If you can’t do it, then just pack up and leave.

This would be much better for your own dignity and the dignity of the Palestinian people.

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

© 2008 Khalid Amayreh



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