Special Broadcast: Ceasefire in Gaza

Ceasefire in Gaza

We reconvene the roundtable to discuss the ceasefire in Gaza. Nora Barrows-Friedman is an editor at the Electronic Intifada, Jon Elmer is a journalist who lived for years in Gaza, Justin Podur is the author of Siegebreakers, and Tarek Loubani is an emergency room doctor, often at Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital.

This broadcast is a co-production of The Brief Podcast and The Anti-Empire Project. Production by Pierre Loiselle and music by Greg Wilson.

Episode: Ceasefire in Palestine (special broadcast)
Date: 26 May 2021 | Length: 51:12

Monsters in our Midst 2: Anti-Black and Anti-Palestinian Racism are Connected

Anti-Black and Anti-Palestinian Racism are Connected

Episode 2 of a mini-series on Israel/Palestine by Dan Freeman-Maloy.

Sometimes the connections are obvious. The American-Israeli Meir Kahane, for example, worked as a white-backlash activist in the United States, targeting Black-led social movements, before moving to Palestine and coaching settlers to kill Palestinians, with what Jewish organizations across the world then denounced as racist hate and violence. 

More generally, the Scramble for Africa — that is, the classical period of white colonization of the African continent — was part and parcel of the same imperial expansion that swept across Palestine during World War I. It was then that Britain extended its reach across Palestine and that the road to Israeli statehood was paved. Theme by theme, European settler colonial politics that had been crafted in the Americas and in Africa were applied to Palestine. The association of the Zionist movement with British settler polities (the “Dominions”) was once proud.

The connections are manifold. European colonization in Africa and West Asia (or the Middle East) shared key patterns and was shaped by some of the same personnel, just as national liberation movements in both areas have a rich history of exchanges. In this episode, we focus on some of the shared patterns of deception that empire developed as it told moralizing tales about its righteousness in different parts of the world.

As Malcolm X phrased it: “if you study how they do it here, then you’ll know how they do it over here. It’s the same game going all the time.”

Special Broadcast: War in Palestine 2021

War in Palestine 2021

Recorded on Day 7 of the war in Palestine, this roundtable brings together decades of experience working in Palestine. Nora Barrows-Friedman is an editor at the Electronic Intifada, Jon Elmer is a journalist who lived for years in Gaza, Justin Podur is the author of Siegebreakers, and Tarek Loubani is an emergency room doctor, often at Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital.

This broadcast is a co-production of The Brief Podcast and The Anti-Empire Project. Production by Pierre Loiselle and music by Greg Wilson.

Episode: War in Palestine (special broadcast)
Date: 17 May 2021 | Length: 60:17

Anti-Empire Project Episode 36: Siegebreakers at York University

The Anti-Empire Project Episode 36: Siegebreakers at York University

On November 19, 2019, York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies hosted a panel called “The Art and Politics in Imagining a Free Gaza: A Discussion of Justin Podur’s new novel, Siegebreakers.” It featured poet, theatre worker, and Associate Professor Honor Ford-Smith; writer and Professor Catriona Sandilands; and Lebanese-Palestinian activist and Executive Director of Canadian Friends of Sabeel, Yara Shoufani. The event began with me reading Chapter 1 of Siegebreakers, and interventions by the panelists followed.

So, if you still haven’t read Siegebreakers, you can let me read the first chapter to you!

Getting in and out of Gaza in Siegebreakers

In Siegebreakers, all of the main characters face a serious, and very concrete, problem: getting in and out of Gaza.

Some are trying to get out, and to do that, they have to go through Israel – through Erez Crossing, which is a scene out of a dystopian future. A few years ago I interviewed a doctor who had made the crossing. He talked a bit about what it was like coming and going from Israel, but I also put a description together (for the book) from that and a few other interviews of what it is like to go through Erez (I went through Erez myself in 2002, but that was before it was rebuilt into its current form):

Laila made the long walk through the wire-encaged sidewalk, like an enclosure at a zoo, to the first turnstile. Israel modified these turnstiles to reduce the space between the arms, to press harder against Palestinian bodies. Remote-controlled, of course, by the occupier’s security who watched her progress through the tunnel from above. Through the turnstile — if the invisible occupier chose to open it, by remote control — then, a big steel door. Also, remote-controlled. Once it opened, there was another long, outdoor passageway to the terminal. She rolled her bag along behind her, her shoulders slouching when she forgot herself, but when she remembered, with her back arched and her chin up. She faced the sliding steel doors at the entrance to the terminal, waited in suspense for the occupier’s decision to open or close it. They opened it for her, so she could go through the metal detector and the next set of turnstiles. She put her luggage on the carousel and it disappeared into another room, where someone working for the occupier went through her every possession. Then, the occupier used a scanner to create a three-dimensional model of every centimetre of her body… More remote-controlled doors. More modified metal turnstiles. Laila claimed her bag and went to face the occupier’s passport inspectors, who sat in blast-proof booths. She handed the inspector her documents...

I won’t spoil what happens next, but let’s continue on the problem of getting in and out of Gaza. Anyone trying to get goods in or out of Gaza has to use a different high-tech remote-controlled crossing, Kerem Abu Salem. The description of how that crossing works is assembled from the organization Gisha.org. Play a round of Safe Passage, if you’re up for the frustration.

And then there’s Rafah, the crossing to and from Egypt. Taking a look at Rafah is where you see how much a participant Egypt’s dictatorship is in the siege of Gaza.

Sea and air? Not happening. I wouldn’t even have my fictional characters try. Some years ago I was asked why people don’t just fly into Gaza through Yasser Arafat International Airport. Grand opening: November 1998. Grand closing (via Israeli bombs): October 2000.

The Great March of Return, which has shaped Gaza’s politics for over a year now and which is one event I didn’t anticipate in Siegebreakers, is about all of the rights that are denied to Palestinians, but it is deeply about the fundamental right to come and go, the right to not be born and live one’s whole life in a prison, which is Israel’s (and Egypt’s, and the US, and Canada, and all of the allies collaborating in the siege) design for every single person in Gaza (children included). Abby Martin’s new film, Gaza Fights for Freedom, filmed in large part by Palestinian journalists from Gaza, can show you what it looks like.

Those people marching to the fence every week? They’re the real-life Siegebreakers.

The idea of military stalemate in Siegebreakers

The oppressed in my novel Siegebreakers spend their entire page counts trying to resolve the military problem that seems to hold in several of today’s seemingly endless conflicts – whether it’s Israel’s wars on Gaza, in which the book is set, or it’s the Saudi dictatorship’s war on Yemen. In both cases, the more powerful side (Israel and Saudi Arabia), with all the backing and blessing that the US can provide, cannot seem to militarily defeat their outnumbered, outgunned opponents (the Palestinian resistance in Gaza – referred to simply as “Hamas” in the West, and the so-called “Houthis” in Yemen). So, the stronger side reverts to aerial bombing, destruction of civilian infrastructure, killing large numbers of civilians from the air, siege, blockade, and deliberate, genocidal destruction of the economy.

Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon had a similar character: As it had decades before, Israel bombed the cities and invaded on the ground. Israel’s ground forces were defeated by their Lebanese opponents, Hizbollah. So they withdrew their ground forces and bombed the country for several weeks. In Israeli media there is frequent talk about the next war with Hizbollah, which is supposedly ‘inevitable’ (as is the next war with Gaza, as is war with Iran, etc.) In this hypothetical next war, Israeli leaders have pledged much more thorough bombing of Lebanon, including the usual promises to send it back into the stone age (the idea that these are war crimes seems no longer relevant: it may become relevant again). For their part, Hizbollah has warned that the next war won’t take place in Lebanon alone.

Returning to Gaza, the battle scenes in Siegebreakers are based on Israel’s 2014 war in the territory, and are portrayed, as the saying goes, from both sides. Ari’s experience as a soldier in the Israeli Army is drawn from various sources, but I highly recommend the report This is How We Fought in Gaza, by the group Breaking the Silence. If you find what Ari sees in Gaza shocking, read that report and you’ll see that, as I wrote in the Afterword, the most outrageous things in Siegebreakers are the true things. On the other side, Nasser’s experience fighting the invaders in Gaza draws from, among many other sources, Max Blumenthal’s book, the 51 Day War. Blumenthal traveled to Gaza shortly after the assault, while memories were still fresh, and documented what the war looked like on the Palestinian side. I got the chance to praise him for the book in a podcast in May 2019.

In Siegebreakers, the impasse gets broken in a particular way. I can’t tell you how, despite my love of everything to do with spoilers.

In a slightly better world, one with a powerful anti-war and anti-imperialist bloc within the US, these military impasses would lead to more energetic diplomatic initiatives. But in our world, there’s no need for diplomacy if you have America on your side (which apparently is cheaper and cheaper to attain). The fictional Siegebreakers rely on a few American dissident super-sleuths. The real-life Siegebreakers are part of a multi-decade slog to build an peace movement strong enough to change the current equation.