Free Speech? Not When It Comes to State of Israel
By Robert Fisk
The Independent, March 12, 2006
You’ve got to fight. It’s the only conclusion I can draw as I see the
renewed erosion of our freedom to discuss the Middle East. The most
recent example — and the most shameful — is the cowardly decision of the
New York Theater Workshop to cancel the Royal Court’s splendid
production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie”.
It’s the story — in her own words and e-mails — of the brave young
American woman who traveled to Gaza to protect innocent Palestinians and
who stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer in an attempt to prevent the
driver from destroying a Palestinian home. The bulldozer drove over her
and then reversed and crushed her a second time.
An American heroine, Rachel earned no brownie points from the Bush
administration which bangs on about courage and freedom from oppression
every few minutes. Rachel’s was the wrong sort of courage and she was
defending the freedom of the wrong people. But when I read that James
Nicola, the New York Theater Workshop’s “artistic director” — his title
really should be in quotation marks — had decided to “postpone” the play
“indefinitely” because “in our pre-production planning and our talking
around and listening in our communities (sic) in New York, what we heard
was that after Ariel Sharon’s illness and the election of Hamas. ... we
had a very edgy situation”, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
So let’s confront this tomfoolery. Down in Australia, my old mate Antony
Loewenstein, a journalist and academic, is having an equally vile time.
He has completed a critical book on the Israel/Palestine conflict for
Melbourne University Publishing and Jewish communities in Australia are
trying to have it censored out of existence before it appears in August.
A one-off bit of skulduggery on Israel’s behalf? Alas, no. A letter
arrived for me last week from Israeli-American Barbara Goldscheider
whose novel “Naqba: The Catastrophe: The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict”
has just been published. She has been attacked, she told me, “merely
because I chose an Arabic title to my novel on the conflict... My
brother-in-law has broken his relationship with me before he even read
the book ... From members of my ‘Orthodox’ Jewish congregation in Bangor
(Maine), I received a phone call from an irate ‘friend’ sputtering ...
out: ‘Don’t you know the Arabs want to destroy Israel?’”
What do you do when a publisher — or an “artistic director” — caves in?
I found out for myself not long ago when the Military History Society of
Ireland asked permission to reprint a paper I had published some years
ago on a battle between the Irish Army’s UN battalion in southern
Lebanon and Israel’s proxy — and brutal — Lebanese militia, the
so-called “South Lebanon Army”, whose psychotic commander was a
cashiered Lebanese Army major called Saad Haddad.
In the paper, I mentioned how an Israeli major called Haim extorted
money from the inhabitants of the south Lebanese village of Haris and
gave the code name of an Israeli agent — “Abu Shawki” — who was present
at the murder of two Irish soldiers.
I had published these details many times, both in my own newspaper and
in my previous book on the Lebanon war, “Pity the Nation”. Maj. Haddad
died of cancer more than 10 years ago. I actually met Haim in the early
1980s as he emerged from a meeting with the mayor of Haris from whom he
demanded money to pay Israel’s cruel militiamen — the UN was also
present and recorded his threats — while “Abu Shawki”, whom the Irish
police would like to interview, later tried to arrest me in Tyre — and
immediately freed me — when I told him I knew that he was a witness to
the murder of the two Irish soldiers.
So what was I supposed to do when I received the following letter from
ex-Brig. Gen. Patrick Purcell of the Irish Army? “Unfortunately we have
been forced to withdraw (your) article in view of a letter from our
publisher Irish Academic Press. It is clear from our contract that (our)
society would be responsible in the event of a libel action.” The
enclosed letter from publisher Frank Cass advised that his lawyer had
“cautioned” him because I had described Haddad as “psychotic”, named the
blackmailing Israeli major and named the Israeli agent present at the
two murders. It’s interesting that Cass’s lawyer believes it is possible
to libel a man (Haddad) who has been dead for more than a decade. As for
Maj. Haim, he remains on UN files as the man who tried — and apparently
succeeded — in forcing the people of southern Lebanon to cough up the
cash to pay for their own oppressors.
I better remember what I wrote in my newspaper just over six years ago,
that “the degree of abuse and outright threats now being directed at
anyone ... who dares to criticize Israel ... is fast reaching
McCarthyite proportions. The attempt to force the media to obey Israel’s
rules is ... international”. And growing, I should now add.
The Rachel Corrie story.
Keywords: Israel, Palestine, Rachel Corrie, Robert Fisk