Middle East studies in the News
'I for Intifada' in Children's Book Provokes Predictable Response [on Golbarg Bashi]
P is for Palestine, a new children's book, has caused outrage among some for what they call its incitement to violence and promotion of anti-semitism.
But, others have countered, those claims display a deliberate misunderstanding of the text and reflect a wider campaign in Israel and further afield to erase Palestinian culture.
One line in particular is at the center of the controversy: "I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or grownup!"
Commenters online suggested: "We, of course, know what "rising up" means - destroying Israel." Praising intifada meant, it was claimed, "literally advocating for young children to violently attack Israelis."
Yet, the assumption that "intifada" equates to a call for violence has been called into question.
In Arabic, "intifada" literally means "shiver, shudder, tremor" according to Hans Wehr dictionary. It can also linguistically relate to awakening or "shaking off one's lethargy," and is often seen to refer to the shaking off of oppression.
The term, of course, gained prominence through its use to describe popular Palestinian uprisings in late 1980s and early 2000s.
The First and Second Intifadas, as well as the 2015 'Third Intifada', were expressions of resistance against Israel's ongoing occupation and its violation of Palestinian rights. Each one witnessed disproportionate Israeli state violence in response.
The largely unarmed First Intifada, which began in 1987, was characterized by mass civil disobedience and stone throwing. Israel launched a policy of "force, power and beatings" to crush the movement.
According to Israeli human rights NGO B'tselem, a total of 1,409 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in the First Intifada. In the same period, 271 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians.
Like jihad, intifada is a term that has been coopted for the use of violence, as by Hamas and other groups during the Second Intifada.
Many Muslims have reclaimed "jihad" in what they say is its true meaning of a personal "spiritual struggle." Similarly, for the majority of Palestinians, intifada continues to essentially refer to movements of resistance against Israeli oppression, which have for the most part taken a non-violent form.
"It is only in the mind of those determined to demonize Palestinians that this term is associated with violence," author Dr. Golbarg Bashi told Haaretz.
"I am against any and all kind of violence, against any human being."
In fact, contrary to the claims her book encourages violence against Israel, the book does not mention actually mention it. This, much to the chagrin of some who suggested "I is for Israel" would be more appropriate on social media.
By automatically conflating Palestinian uprisings and "terrorism," or attacks against Israelis, comments play on the incorrect assumption that Palestinians are only capable of violence.
Ignoring the fact that this is patently not true - as years of peaceful protests and the recent BDS campaign in particular show - such rhetoric serves to justify Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.
Emphasis on the need for security has been used as the rationale, for instance, for the West Bank separation wall. In 2005, the U.N. described that it is "difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the Barrier."
Meanwhile, suggesting the book is antisemitic is characteristic of the way charges of antisemitism have been used to shut down criticism of Israel.
In December 2016, for instance, the U.K introduced a definition of antisemitism, which included stating "that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor." Critics suggested this risked undermining legitimate criticism of illegal and unjust Israeli activities.
Again, the children's book, which has "A for Arabic" and "B for Bethlehem," does not reference Judaism.
"The charge of antisemitism is a very severe one and it is not something I take lightly," Bashi said.
"This is a book written from a place of love not a place of hatred. It is a book celebrating Palestinians and empowering their children without an iota of animus towards any other people—Israelis included."
A Jewish father, who took his daughter to a reading of the book by Bashi in New York, told the New York Post he did not find the book antisemitic.
"We wanted to be present and make sure that we can be mindful of what antisemitism truly is," he said
In fact, claims the book is antisemitic seem to be an attempt to shut down a valid cultural exercise. For the over six million Palestinians living in the diaspora, many of whom have never visited their homeland, tools like these can be invaluable for maintaining a link to their cultural heritage.
Iranian-born Bashi indicated that this was a main element of her motivation for writing the book, which is "the world's first English-language alphabet book about Palestine and Palestinian culture."
"Having grown up in Sweden as a refugee child, I remember vividly how upsetting it was not to find educational materials, toys or books about my part of the world," she told Haaretz.
Systematic Israeli attempts to erase Palestinian history and culture have been well documented, and claims that "Palestinians have no indigenous culture" used to justify their dispossession. In that context, books like these become a form of non-violent resistance in themselves.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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