. Let’s Measure the Exact Angle: A Palestinian Perspective on the Maxine Peake controversy | Ceasefire Magazine

Comment | Let’s Measure the Exact Angle: A Palestinian Perspective on the Maxine Peake controversy

"Why is nobody asking us, the Palestinians, what we think?" Author and playwright Ahmed Masoud offers his perspective on the Maxine Peake controversy.

New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 15:27 - 6 Comments

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Israeli police officer kneels on a Palestinian man’s head outside al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. March 12, 2019. (Credit. Reuters)

We live in an age of stupid politics, of clownish right-wing politicians whose ignorance of the world and lack of empathy towards other cultures is beyond laughable. Yet they thrive, and in fact get elected President of the United States and UK Prime Minister, and may even go on to win other terms. When a renowned actor like Maxine Peake, however, writes an article in an established UK paper, and gets a detail wrong about the Israeli state’s very real training cooperation with US police forces, the world is up in arms, and a politician – Labour’s Rebecca Long Bailey – gets fired from a top job for retweeting that article. Is Israel so immune from scrutiny and criticism? More importantly, considering Peake’s point was the global nature of systemic racism and violence, why is nobody asking us, the Palestinians, what we think? And whether our necks too have been crushed under ruthless Israeli boots?

I am not a journalist nor a lawyer. I’m not here to debate whether the police officers who killed George Floyd had learned the precise technique of how to place their knees on someone’s neck from Israeli trainers. This is not about that single detail Maxine got wrong, which she’s immediately retracted and apologised for. Lest we forget, there’s plenty of documented research – by Channel 4, Amnesty International and others – on the extensive collaboration on ‘security’ training between the American and Israeli states. Rather, I am here to talk about injustice writ large, about how someone like Peake – a person who’s campaigned for equality, on all fronts, all her life – is slandered as an anti-Semite. I have known this amazing woman and worked with her on several occasions. If anyone believes in human rights, it is her. She has always been on the side of the oppressed anywhere in the world. She has always been on the side of justice, standing with those who struggle for dignity and equality. Peake made a statement about the state of Israel, and — whether she got a detail wrong or not — no state should be immune from criticism.

The UK media has been debating whether it is anti-Semitic to draw any links between US state violence against African-Americans and Israeli state violence against us. As a Palestinian, I apparently have no voice in any of this – no one has come to ask me why we consider Israel an Apartheid state. As it happens, I am tired of trying to prove my own suffering to the white man so that I can earn a measure of his empathy. Why do people not just go and see for themselves what Israel is doing to the Palestinians? Step into Hebron and see the Settlers-only roads, go see the Apartheid wall separating Palestinian communities from their own lands and each other, or the illegal settlements engulfing Palestinian cities.

Oh, and by the way, in a few days Israel is planning to illegally annex large parts of Palestinian land, making it impossible for any future Palestinian state to exist. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s not talk about Eyad El Hallaq, the 32-year-old autistic Palestinian who was shot dead by Israeli security last month, a few days after George Floyd was killed. Let’s not talk about Ahmed Erekat, shot dead last week while on his way to his sister’s wedding. Let’s not talk about the fact that Gaza’s civilian population was bombed all night (for the umpteenth time) only a couple of days ago. Let’s not talk about the fact that Gaza has 17 border points with the state of Israel, but only one of them is in operation – with severe restrictions. Let’s not talk about the fact Israel doesn’t allow Palestinians to have an airport or a sea-port. Let’s not talk about the fact Palestinians don’t have control over their own borders, that we are not allowed to have access to our own waters, that we can’t freely sign trade agreements, that the Israeli army can raid any Palestinian home at any moment. Yes, let’s focus on the exact angle of the knee and where it was learned.

Maybe someone will read this article and spot an inaccurate word, and will seek to turn that against me too, for standing with Maxine and for justice for my people. So be it, I can’t stay silent while the truth is being distorted. I cannot just watch as innocent people are being traduced as racists. My father once told me “you cannot argue with the white man, because he has already decided that you are not human enough to argue with. You cannot appeal to his humanity because he doesn’t see you as a fellow, equal human being”. Now I see this more than ever and understand what he means.

This is all a power game, the aim is to turn us – the oppressed and the people who defend them, into the guilty. Maxine the anti-racist actor is now the ‘anti-Semite’, the Palestinians under violent occupation for decades are the ‘terrorists’. It’s the narrative of the strong and paranoid. It’s another parallel with the US, where those in power decry the protesters as violent and wrong, rather than the police shooting at them.

So let me reiterate once again: Criticising Israel is not antisemitic. When we criticise Israel, we refer to a state – a concept that is itself quite recent – and its political system, not the people living within its borders. When someone criticises the actions of ‘Russia’ or ‘Australia’, one obviously does not mean every single Russian or Australian in the country or the world. Equally, when we criticise Israel, we are referring to a political system, one that has been committing crimes against the Palestinians under its occupation for decades; we obviously do not mean every single Israeli, let alone Jewish, person around the world.

I don’t know the new labour leader, Keir Starmer, but I have no doubt the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey was more about consolidating his authority and power and had little to do with antisemitism – an issue which is a real problem in the UK and something that really needs to be addressed head on. Labour’s new leader is clearly more motivated by the prospect of becoming PM in five years than any genuine concern for the victims of racism and prejudice. Unfortunately, this suggests the issue will be with us for a while longer. If anything, I worry that it will get even worse.

As a Palestinian writer, I stand firmly with Maxine and Rebecca. I thank them for all their work for human rights in general, and I urge them to continue their amazing work, and not let slander and character assassination break their resolve. I want them to know that my voice, and those of all the oppressed, are with them. I thank our partners in the struggle, the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK, for rejecting this twisting of the truth, and I hope everyone reading this will do the same.

Ahmed Masoud

Ahmed Masoud is the author of the acclaimed novel Vanished - The Mysterious Disappearance of Mustafa Ouda. Ahmed is a writer and director who grew up in Palestine and moved to the UK in 2002. Last year he worked with Maxine Peake on Obliterated, a theatrical experiment and artistic protest. Ahmed's theatre credits include Application 39 (WDR Radio, Germany 2018) Camouflage (London 2017) The Shroud Maker (London 2015-2019), Walaa, Loyalty (London 2014, funded by Arts Council England), Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea (London and Edinburgh 2009) and Escape from Gaza (BBC Radio 4, 2011)  Ahmed is the founder of Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre (2005) where he wrote and directed several productions in London, with subsequent European Tours. After finishing his PhD research, Ahmed published many journals and articles including a chapter in Britain and the Muslim World: A historical Perspective (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011). An earlier version of Vanished won the Muslim Writers Awards (London 2011 supported by Penguin Books). For more information, please visit www.ahmedmasoud.co.uk.

6 Comments

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Prof Bob Brecher
Jul 1, 2020 11:15

Dear Ahmed Masoud

Thank you so much for this thoughtful, measured and rightly angry piece. If anyone genuinely believes that Rebecca Long-Bailey’s re-tweet was antisemitic in enacting a conspiracy theory this should — rationally — put them right. Though of course I doubt they will actually read it or bother to think further, however telling your analysis.

Best wishes.

Bob Brecher
Professor of Moral Philosophy
University of Brighton

Ahmed Masoud
Jul 1, 2020 13:58

Thank you for the comment Bob, very much appreciated. I don’t know if they are going to read it or not but I suppose it is here in case they ever wander into this space. Thank you for reading it.

Andrew Benjamin
Jul 1, 2020 14:22

Dear Ahmed Masoud,

As a Jew and as a philosopher I stand with you. This entire affair is absurd – tragically so. A critique of any state is precisely that. There are many Jews who are incensed that the Israeli government insists on speaking in ‘our’ name. It does not. It is about time more Jews spoke in the name of Judaism and its openness to the other. Israeli should not silence Jewish dissent.

Best
Andrew Benjamin

Naomi Wayne
Jul 1, 2020 23:08

Dear Ahmed, it is a stunning piece. I have been toiling away trying to draft something that shows from a legal perspective how disgraceful was Keir Starmer’s behaviour (I used to be in charge of enforcing the sex discrimination legislation in Northern Ireland). But it’s going to take time for me to get back to my efforts. Because you have reminded us exactly who is being forgotten in the phone antisemitism wars.

Your article deserves massive dissemination. I am going to do my little bit by posting it on the Facebook page for Jews for Justice for Palestinians, which I jointly moderate. I hope others pick it up and spread it far and wide. Thank you.

Awad Sharar
Jul 3, 2020 9:01

The whole world gives the Palestinians the right to carry firearms and fight against the oppressors, the occupiers, the colonialists; THE SETTLERS. If they do, that same world will call them terrorists. Yet, that world adviced Palestinians to follow the peace route and they, the world, will guarantee the Palestinian right to build their independent state. The world promised, and broke its promise for the US pressure. What option is remaining to the Palestinians? It isn’t a shout out for killing and hate, it’s a call for the world to keep their word. Otherwise, it will soon be worthless, and incredible, and sadiy, a wave of killing and destruction will be ever the worst .

Ahmed Masoud
Jul 3, 2020 14:01

Thank Naomi and Andrew for your kind words and please feel free to share of course. Jawad, I don’t agree with your analysis. I hope that things will change for all of us and that we won’t be having this debate soon. I hope that everyone in the world would have their human rights respected and to live in a just society. This isn’t an idealistic dream, it’s an inspiration that I would like to continue to call for. Once again, thank you all for your support.

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