Sunday 19 September 2010

In Your Name: The Inconvenient Politics Of Palestinian Handicrafts

On the face of it, the ‘Justice for Palestine’ flag laid out on a stall selling plants and handicrafts seemed out of place at the fourth annual Tottenham Flower and Produce Show, an urban ‘village’ show with big white tents, vegetable competitions for allotment holders, a home crafts section, a dog show and various ‘side shows.’ The plants were local but the handicrafts on this stall were made by Palestinian women from a town called Azaria, divided in two by the accursed Israeli wall. Embroidered, stitched and crocheted objects jostled for position with olive oil, fragrant seeds and herbs and hand made soap. They were being sold by Haringey Justice for Palestinians, (HJP), a small local charity which does income generating projects with the people of Azaria which is now twinned with Haringey. The purpose of the stall was both to raise consciousness and therefore more support in the area and also to raise money - desperately needed income for families living ‘behind the wall,’ cut off from their work and even from family members, under siege in effect, by the Israeli occupation.

So, what was it about this stall that was still producing a sense of doubt and discomfort chewing at the edges of the otherwise pleasant experience of looking at the pretty, embroidered objects set out before me? 

In the current political context, groups supporting the Palestinians, including this one, must deal with an additional, increasingly difficult and demanding problem. Put very simply, much of the Palestinian struggle is ‘supported’ by Lebanese Hezbollah, and by Hamas, both of whom are in hock to the current Iranian ruling regime. Like it or not, all of these  campaigns supporting the Palestinians, including eminently sensible, practical ones like HJP, have the territorial scent markings of Iran sprayed all over them. They are inextricably linked. The violent oppression of dissidents in Iran, the mass rapes of Iranian women and men in prisons, the torture, the executions and the shootings and beatings on the streets, are all done, in the name of the Islam and, in particular, in the name of the Qods and of Palestine. The Palestinian women stitching those small bags and crocheting the flowers didn’t ask for Iran's support and certainly not for their slaughter, but they’ve got it and now their supporters must deal with it.

The problem for the Palestinians is twofold. The first and, for them, the most urgent, is that the Iranian regime needs dead Palestinians, as many as possible, especially women and children, to prop up its ailing government. The only support it has left in Iran is the hard core of Iranian Hezbollah who will continue to support them as long as Palestinians are dying at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Hence the necessity to ensure that they do go on dying. Bluntly, a dead Palestinian is worth far more to the Iranian regime than a living one. A prosperous, cheerful, independent Palestinian is no help at all and a prosperous, independent Palestine would spell the end of the Islamic Republic in Iran.

Tehran 2009: Police attacking protesters after the 2009 election

The second problem is that much of the support structure, in Britain and elsewhere in the West, is cheerfully burying its collective head in the sand and ignoring what Iran is actually doing in Palestine and, even more, what the same regime is doing in Iran itself – namely murdering Iranians at a rate and with a degree of impunity which would make any Israeli government green with envy.

HJP is affiliated to Palestine Solidarity Campaign, both of which have laudable aims. While both organisations carefully state their affiliations, their links, their patrons and their sources of support and what they aim for and what they do not support, (the latter includes ‘all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia’), there is a howling silence on Iran.

Iranian Street Protester: Tehran 2009

They must now declare their independence and condemn, unequivocally, the atrocities meted out to Iranian dissidents by the ruling regime. This must be clearly stated on their websites and, wherever possible, on their publicity material. They can no longer ignore what is happening in Iran. No longer can they state that it may not really be so, that it is just an invention of the Western press, (or ‘Zionist’ as some prefer), they cannot afford to risk colluding with a hard-core proto-fascist regime which celebrates the deaths of Palestinians as much as it celebrates the rape and death of its own dissidents.

Tehran 2009: Police attacking protesters

It is time for all of these groups to adopt another ‘not in my name’ badge, a second one. This one might have an electric baton, an image of the Iranian basiji beating the life out of one of the women protesters or a crane with a dead Iranian protester hanging by the neck. They need to do this as a matter of urgency, because it is being done in their name.

The thought and care put into projects such as those of HJP is fatally undermined by this cavernous silence. Maintaining silence, in effect sacrificing one set of lives, (Iranian lives) in order protect Palestinian lives is manifestly absurd. And who wants to buy a lovingly embroidered oyster card-holder drenched in the blood of Iranian street protesters?