Norm Geras was a kindred spirit and a true friend. He embodied the liberal values and commitments of the social democratic left that have always given me my political bearings. His courage in defending these values against apologists for extremism and bigotry, posing as prophets of an “anti-imperialism” of fools, was an inspiration to all of us. The patience and rigour with which he systematically dismantled unsound arguments for misconceived views offered a model of civilized discourse. He effortlessly cut through the noise of partisan rhetoric and polemical hyperbole to penetrate to the core of the most complex issues of the day. He combined a deep loyalty to his Jewish roots with a strongly universalist view of moral obligation and cultural engagement. He was above all a person of decency and moderation, who embraced friends with affection, while sustaining respectful dialogue with adversaries. The world is a better place for his having been in it. I will miss him deeply.
What your language sutsegs is that the occupation has become so normalised within our discourse that we cease even to mention it. Those of us with a longer historical memory know that the Palestinian national movement, for all its faults, has been led since the 1970’d by the seculat left. In fact, as Zizek suggests in his debate, it was Israel who initially provided support for Hamas in the 1980’s as a way to undercut the national movement,as they were seen as less of a threat than Hamas. The bloodshed in Gaza raises broader strategic questions for both sides, issues related to recent history. One fact that needs to be recognised is that there is no Palestinian Authority. There never was one. The Oslo Accords were an unmitigated disaster for the Palestinians, creating a set of disconnected and shrivelled Palestinian ghettoes under the permanent watch of a brutal enforcer.The PLO, once the repository of Palestinian hope, became little more than a supplicant for EU money. Western enthusiasm for democracy stops when those opposed to its policies are elected to office. The West and Israel tried everything to secure a Fatah victory: Palestinian voters rebuffed the concerted threats and bribes of the ‘international community’ in a campaign that saw Hamas members and other oppositionists routinely detained or assaulted by the IDF, their posters confiscated or destroyed, us and EU funds channelled into the Fatah campaign, and US Congressmen announcing that Hamas should not be allowed to run. Even the timing of the election was set by the determination to rig the outcome. Scheduled for the summer of 2005, it was delayed till January 2006 to give Abbas time to distribute assets in Gaza—in the words of an Egyptian intelligence officer: ‘the public will then support the Authority against Hamas’. Popular desire for a clean broom after ten years of corruption, bullying and bluster under Fatah proved stronger than all of this.Hamas’s electoral triumph was treated as an ominous sign of rising fundamentalism, and a fearsome blow to the prospects of peace with Israel, by rulers and journalists across the Atlantic world. Immediate financial and diplomatic pressures were applied to force Hamas to adopt the same policies as those whom it defeated at the polls.Uncompromised by the Palestinian Authority’s combination of greed and dependency, the self-enrichment of its servile spokesmen and policemen, and their acquiescence in a ‘peace process’ that has brought only further expropriation and misery to the population under them, Hamas offered the alternative of a simple example. Without any of the resources of its rival, it set up clinics, schools, hospitals, vocational training and welfare programmes for the poor. Its leaders and cadres lived frugally, within reach of ordinary people. It is this response to everyday needs that has won Hamas the broad basis of its support, not daily recitation of verses from the KoranI’ve always argued that if the West wants to strike a real blow for Arab freedom they would exert the kind of diplomatic pressure needed to end the occupation, which crushes every aspect of Palestinian life.