Rashid at the UN (see also Under the Tree #23)

May 30, 2021

Briefing to the 8782nd session of the Security Council, May 27, 2021

Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University

Mr. President, distinguished members of the Security Council: 

I am deeply grateful to the Council and to the Chinese Presidency for the opportunity to brief you, particularly at what may be a new juncture in the evolution of the question of Palestine. Palestinians, wherever they are — in occupied Arab East Jerusalem, where the latest round of violence started a few weeks ago; in the occupied West Bank; in besieged Gaza; inside Israel; and in the vast Palestinian diaspora — have responded to the events of the past several weeks with an unprecedented degree of unity. These events, and this show of unity, have provoked a worldwide recognition of realities on the ground, realities of systemic discrimination, of oppression and of settler colonialism, that can no longer be brushed aside and hidden by stale clichés. Young people and people of conscience the world over have responded to the images that emerged from different parts of Palestine, and that were diffused by social media, and even by the mainstream media. Public discourse has begun to shift in consequence.

On June 9, 1967, at the height of the June 1967 war, as a college student, I sat in the Visitors’ Gallery of this very chamber watching as a permanent member ensured the impunity which allowed a member state to ignore Security Council cease fire resolutions and continue its offensive for another 24 hours. This action nearly 54 years ago exacerbated problems that this body is still wrestling with. The same pattern of guaranteeing impunity for violations of international law and Security Council resolutions has recurred repeatedly since then, most recently during this Council’s deliberations on events in Palestine earlier this month.

As you all know, since the founding of the United Nations, the Security Council has passed multiple resolutions on the Palestine problem and the Israeli-Arab conflict. These issues that have taken up more of the time and energy of this body than any other global problem. Most of these resolutions have not been implemented or respected. They are dead letters. This systematic disrespect for Security Council resolutions, encouraged by the impunity I have described, has left this Council, and the United Nations itself, in justifiable disrepute. More seriously, this impunity has been a major obstacle to establishing peace, justice and security for all who live in Palestine and Israel.

I have not been asked to brief on the failings of the past, however. Instead I hope to offer suggestions based on my understanding of the history of this issue, to reinforce the efforts of this body to achieve lasting peace and security in Palestine and Israel in the future.

It is clear to me that whatever their merits, a number of palliatives currently under consideration are not by themselves going to produce a lasting solution for the problems of Palestine and Israel. They include rebuilding the degraded infrastructure of Gaza with no guarantee that it will not be destroyed for a fifth time; stressing quality of life for Palestinians without providing them with a clear and fixed political horizon; and yet again launching a meaningless “peace process” that is structured by the most powerful actors to avoid all of the difficult core issues central to achieving a sustainable resolution of this issue. 

Any effort to achieve real peace and lasting security must belatedly grapple with these painful core issues, issues that go back to the first efforts of the General Assembly and this Council to deal with the question of Palestine in the earliest years after the establishment of the United Nations. 

What are these core issues? They are: 

  • The dispossession of the Palestinian people starting in 1948; 
  • The status of Jerusalem; 
  • The supposedly temporary military occupation that has endured since 1967; and 
  • Ensuring that any projected solution is grounded in international law, and in the resolutions of this Council, and is not based on what happens to be convenient for the most powerful actors that are involved in this issue.

I am a historian of the modern Middle East, and a longtime observer of the proceedings of this body. My father worked in this Council for nearly two decades as a member of the UN Secretariat. I understand perfectly that power relations structure what is possible and what is impossible. I understand perfectly how difficult it is to make national agendas coincide, such that collective action becomes possible. 

However, if ever there were moment to transcend these restraints, and for collective action to address a source of suffering that has endured for the better part of a century, this is it. The most recent upheaval in Palestine and Israel has sharpened contradictions, has aroused new passions, some of them ugly, and has awakened consciences. It has also pricked the bubble of cherished illusions, such as the illusion that no one in the Arab world or globally cares about Palestine. The solidarity marches, the social media explosion, the unprecedented nature of the mainstream media coverage of recent events, the unprecedented wave of solidarity with the Palestinians the world over, all of these phenomena together show that however much some might wish that this were not the case, Palestine is important, and cannot be ignored. They show as well that the Palestinians will not give up their struggle to achieve their inalienable rights as a people. A problem that for decades many have hoped would disappear, has reappeared, in an even more intense and troubling form.

This is therefore the time to call a spade a spade, and to abandon the cruel false equivalence that ignores casualty ratios of from four or ten or twenty to one, that places the occupier on the same footing as the occupied, and that puts a nuclear-armed regional superpower on the same footing as a people that has never been allowed to enjoy self-determination. If this false equivalence is maintained, and if the lopsided balance of power between the two peoples is allowed to dictate outcomes, there can never be an end to this bloodletting and oppression, and the Security Council will continue to issue empty resolutions with no force for the rest of the 21st century, as it has done for the past many decades.

Mr. President, Excellencies:

How can the impunity which enormous power grants to one side be overcome? 

What are needed are both small steps and big ones. Small ones can include this body urgently demanding – not requesting from the blockading powers but demanding – under penalty of sanctions, that the humanitarian and medical and dietary and other basic needs of the people of Gaza be freed of cruel political considerations, and that the collective punishment of 2 million people be ended. Surely this small step is within the power of the Security Council. I think all can see how doing this, which requires forceful action, would ameliorate the situation in Palestine.

Small steps include the Security Council working to help cement the unity of the Palestinian people on a democratic basis, a unity that the colonial power has worked ceaselessly to undermine. This could include United Nations-mandated and -supervised elections that can be obstructed neither by the occupying power, nor by outside powers that cultivate proxies and meddle in Palestinian affairs.  

Small steps include the demand that the status quo regarding the holy sites in Jerusalem, a status quo that has been systematically infringed upon, be strictly respected by all concerned. This status quo goes back not only to the many UN resolutions on Jerusalem, or to the British Mandate period: it is rooted in the era of Ottoman rule, and it was hammered out over many decades of war and diplomacy. As we have seen in recent weeks, it is playing with fire, an unholy fire, to allow this status quo to be trampled upon, as has been happening for all too many decades, in both the period of Jordanian rule of the eastern part of the city, and especially since the Israeli occupation and annexation of 1967.

Larger steps include reiterating forcefully the basic building blocks of the international order as far as Palestine is concerned, as these have been laid down in Security Council and other UN resolutions. These include the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force as laid out in UNSC 242, the illegality of the colonization of occupied territory by the occupier’s citizens as specified by the 4th Geneva Convention, the right of refugees to return and to compensation as conformed by UNGA 181, and the necessity of an international role in resolving the question of Jerusalem as specified in multiple UNSC resolutions. For the Council simply to reiterate clearly and explicitly that these building blocks, rooted all of them in international law and UN resolutions, are the only possible basis of a just and lasting solution would ameliorate the situation measurably, difficult though it may be to achieve unanimity today even on points every single one of which has been voted for unanimously or nearly unanimously by this Council or other UN bodies in the past.

Another larger step would be for the Council to assert its prerogatives and push forcefully for a more multilateral and less unilateral structure for resolution of the Palestine question. The unilateral approach, which has prevailed since the Gunnar Jarring mission was eclipsed toward the end of the 1960’s, a half century ago, has manifestly failed to bring peace to Palestine, and it is time for it to take a back seat to more multilateral and less biased efforts. Power has its prerogatives and cannot be ignored, but it is time to realize that a century of unmitigated failure should bring this body to search for a better, a more multilateral, way to structure a negotiation than the unilateral one that has been followed with no success until now.

A much bigger step, albeit one that should not be so hard for this body and the world community to accept, is the principle that in any projected solution in Palestine-Israel, all citizens of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, and both collectivities, must enjoy rights and security on a basis of complete equality. Whatever rights one enjoys, the other must enjoy as well. These rights include the right of self-determination, and political, civil, human and religious rights. 

This is not such a far-fetched notion. In November 1947, the UN General Assembly voted for the creation of two states in Palestine. One was eventually established, one was not. For all its many flaws, and the injustice to the overwhelming Arab majority of the population that it embodied, that resolution contained one kernel that we can look back on and build on: this is the indisputable principle that there are two peoples in Palestine/Israel. In whatever way these two peoples are to structure their relations in future – whether on a two state, or on some other basis – the weaker cannot be left to the mercies of the stronger, with its powerful ally putting its large thumb on the already tilted scales.  This is where the Security Council can and must play a role, by insisting that the principle of complete equality of rights and international law be the essential basis of any lasting solution.  

Mr. President:

I know a little bit about the difficulties that your Excellencies, and the states you represent, must confront in dealing with this intractable issue, one that often has profound resonance within the internal politics of your countries, and provokes intense passions on all sides. This is the moment to grasp that sharp nettle, to bring concepts of right, principle, justice and equality to bear, in order to overcome the decades of expediency that have given us the hollow shell of a “process” but have manifestly not brought peace to Palestine or to the two peoples who live there. As I have recently written, rather than bringing lasting peace, the efforts of the United Nations and outside parties in Palestine have all too often failed to prevent further war, displacement and misery. May the opportunity presented by the most recent crisis in Palestine and Israel lead this Council to efforts that will break this pattern, and set their two peoples on the path towards a just, lasting and sustainable peace and real, equal security.

 Thank you.

Under the Tree # 33

May 28, 2021

33) What’s the Problem? What’s the Vision? What’s the Next Step Forward?

We’re excited to be joined in conversation with Ash-Lee Woodard-Henderson, an activist and organizer, extraordinarily innovative educator, an intensely forward thinker and a powerful doer, and for several years now, co-executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, one of the most storied social justice and activist centers in the country. The pedagogy employed at Highlander is the classic Freedom School approach: problem-posing and question-asking, from the people and to the people.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

May 27, 2021

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine and creator of the award winning “1619 Project,” as well as winner of a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, three National Magazine Awards, a Peabody Award, and two Polk Awards, was denied tenure at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill by the UNC Board of Trustees. She was recommended for tenure by the journalism school’s tenure committee and Dean, as well as the university’s Chancellor. Ignoring and canceling  layers of faculty governance and university authority, the Board declined to vote on Professor Hannah-Jones’s tenure, with one Board member saying she did not come from a “traditional academic-type background.” Note: none of the Board members comes from a “traditional academic-type background” or even holds an advanced academic degree—a collection of lawyers, bankers, real estate millionaires, and one young, wealthy “life coach.” 

The “1619 Project” is must reading: it challenges us to rethink the story of America, positing a start date of 1619 when the first kidnapped Africans arrived in chains; it invites us to foreground the role of race and slavery in the formation of the American economy; it upends the heroic and triumphant reading of history. And its publication ignited a predictable response: frantic denial, frenzied attacks, and mindless condemnation among right-wing ideologues, defenders of white supremacy, and reactionaries. 

Of course, there’s space to disagree and debate, but the attacks are not encouraging thoughtful discussion, a deeper search for evidence, or a clarity of perspective. No. Twenty-three Republican Senators and nineteen state Attorneys General have signed letters denouncing the “1619 Project.” They want to cancel Nikole Hannah-Jones and bury free thought.

The target of the attacks is, of course, Nikole Hannah-Jones herself and the writing she’s done for years, including her ground-breaking research and reporting on the impact of race and racism on education. Everyone of conscience, regardless of political orientation, should rally in her defense, raising the banner of free speech and academic freedom. 

But there’s something much more dangerous and insidious going on here. Imagine the high school teacher in Iowa City watching this spectacle, or the young journalist starting out in Tulsa, or the community college instructor in Florida—that’s the larger and truer audience for the assault. “If they can make this mess for Nikole Hannah-Jones given her list of accolades and accomplishments,” they must be thinking. “What chance do I have?”

That’s the larger motive of the twenty-three Republican Senators, the  nineteen state Attorneys General, the noisy pundits and the panicky talking heads: shut everyone up.

We resist. We rise up.

Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself

May 26, 2021

“Israel has a right to defend itself!”The stuttering cliche—always deployed to cover aggression, asymmetrical violence, and ethnic cleansing—sounds more desperate and phony with each repetition.”Israel has a right to defend itself!”Yes, and the US marines had a right to defend themselves at Khe Sahn after invading Viet Nam. “Israel has a right to defend itself!”Yes, and the Nazi occupiers had a right to defend themselves in Rome on March 24, 1944, killing 335 unarmed civilians, after suffering a partisan attack on their barracks a day earlier.”Israel has a right to defend itself!”Yes, and the Virginia planter class had a right to defend itself against Nat Turner and his rising rebels.”Israel has a right to defend itself!””Israel has a right to defend itself!””Israel has a right to defend itself!”


May 24, 2021

Why I’m Still an Activist

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, The Hollywood Reporter

22 May 21

The NBA Hall of Famer and Hollywood Reporter columnist looks back at his career on the heels of the NBA’s creation of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, which will honor one player annually.

 have often said that I will truly have achieved my full legacy when I have helped or inspired people who never knew I was an athlete. That will mean that I was able to use my fame from sports to improve the lives of people who never heard of me, never saw me slamdunk. I will have defined myself as someone more than the guy with the skyhook. Of course, I didn’t first pick up a basketball with the thoughts of creating a legacy. I just wanted to prove myself by beating the next guy or team who stepped onto the court. My court.

In high school, I was able to achieve my young boy’s goal of “proving myself” by defeating all comers on the court and on the playground. I had the trophies and college scholarship offers to prove it. At UCLA, things changed. Under Coach John Wooden, I was able to perfect my basketball skills to become part of a championship team. But my definition of “proving myself” evolved into something different. Coach Wooden wanted us to be great athletes, sure, but he also wanted us to be good people. To him that meant having high moral character as well as a well-rounded education because he was as concerned about what we would do when we left his tutelage as he was about what we did on the court. Basketball was a means to an end, not the end itself. Like any other college course, it prepared you — through discipline, hard work, and introspection — for life beyond school.

For Coach Wooden, part of being great athletes was to focus less on winning and more on pushing ourselves to perform at the top of our capabilities. Instead of “proving myself” to others, I learned to prove myself to myself by constantly pushing the limits of what I thought I was able to do. Yes, I wanted to please the crowds, excite the fans, win pennants, but mostly I wanted to do better in the next game than I had done in the last. To discover where my limit was. Like an explorer forging a roiling river in search of its source.

Athletes are entertainers. Like writers, actors, dancers, and musicians we get paid to thrill the audience. But there is a shimmering threshold that some cross over that transforms them from entertainers to artists: when they are able to not merely delight the audience, but also stir something dormant deep within them. It is when the artist becomes a tuning fork that triggers a similar tonal frequency within another person inspiring them to also try harder to reach whatever potential is inside. When they think: If that person can do that — make an impossible shot, write an elegant phrase, sing a haunting tune — maybe I’m also capable of more.

I realized it was gratifying to be able to inspire others as an athlete, but I also realized that wasn’t enough. If I pushed myself to become the best basketball player I could be, I should also push myself to become the best person I could be. That epiphany came when I was a sophomore at UCLA and NFL legend Jim Brown asked me to join the Cleveland Summit, a group of Black athletes meeting to decide whether to denounce or defend Muhammad Ali’s refusal to register with Selective Service because he claimed he was a conscientious objector. I was only 20, the youngest member of the group, and nervous that maybe I hadn’t yet paid my dues enough to be part of this accomplished gathering.

We debated heatedly. Some were military veterans and questioned Ali’s sincerity. But after hours of questioning Ali, we were all convinced. Ali would be stripped of his heavyweight title, banned from boxing which would cost him millions, face years in prison, and become hated among millions of white people as a draft dodger. The government even offered him a deal that would allow him to keep everything and he wouldn’t have to fight in Vietnam. He refused. His commitment was unbendable and we admired at his self-sacrifice.

The next year I boycotted the 1968 Olympics, not wanting to represent a country that was actively suppressing Black people’s civil rights, while beating, imprisoning, and killing those who fought for them. Dr. King had just been killed and I wasn’t in a particularly patriotic mood. Avery Brundage was The Olympic Commissioner. He had stopped Jewish athletes from competing in the ’36 Olympics so as not to offend Hitler. That was the origin story of my life as an athlete-activist — when I realized I didn’t want my legacy to be just a bunch of sports statistics that fans would argue about over beer and nuts. Oh, I still wanted to achieve those stats by setting records, but I also wanted to change lives.

While still in the NBA I started writing books that celebrated Black people in history who had made a huge impact on our country, but whom I’d never heard about in school. The attempt to literally whitewash history as if Black people had never done anything but be slaves and riot perpetuated the belief in generation after generation of white and Black children that Black people were of no worth. Even after retiring from the NBA, I continued to write books, articles, and documentaries extolling the achievements of inventors, scientists, patriots, writers, artists, and other Black people in order to educate Americans on their true history, and to inspire Black children to see they had many more career options than they realized. The further that goal even more, I started the Skyhook Foundation to promote STEM education among inner-city kids in Los Angeles.

During my 50 years as an activist, I’ve always heard the same complaint from some whites: Just be patient. Things are getting better all the time. True, but it’s not real progress just because you’re getting beaten with a smaller stick. People who aren’t marginalized are giddy about the progress because it makes them feel better: look, things aren’t as bad as they were. They see the glass as half full. But Black people see it as half empty knowing that the first half was probably drunk by someone white before the glass was passed down to us. What we see in that half-empty murky glass is the Black man choked to death while going to the convenience store, the Black woman shot to death while in her apartment, the Black 13-year-old shot to death with his hands in the air. That water tastes bitter.

By the way, that glass of water is more than a metaphor. Several reports over the last few years have concluded that in America there is unequal access to safe drinking water based on race. So, even if it is half full, what’s it full of?

My answer to people who ask why I’m still an activist when I could just be resting on my laurels as an athlete is that the work is not done. We’re being murdered in the streets and in our homes. States across the country are trying to suppress our access to voting. How could I not be an activist for my community?

Athletes have a unique standing in society. Unlike some other instant social media or reality TV celebrities, athletes have earned their fame through years of dedication, discipline, physical injuries, and failures. They are role models for perseverance and fair play. To not extend this opportunity as a role model to help improve the world seems like a betrayal of the values of athletics. But there are different types of activism: some are public, some are private, some are national or even international in scope, others are more community based. Each athlete must find what they are comfortable with and pursue that. For some, the type of activism evolves, as it did with me. Which is why over the years my participation with diverse groups dedicated to equity increased. I started with civil rights for Blacks and expanded to include immigrants, different religions and ethnic origins, LGBTQ+, etc., embracing Dr. King’s belief, “No one is free until everyone is free.”

The past few years have seen more and more athletes speak out and that has prompted sports leagues to join them in seeking social justice. As a result, the NBA has created the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award to honor those NBA players who have made the pursuit of social justice a major priority. I can’t help but admire the NBA’s courage and long-term commitment to the cause of equity for all people. More than just joining the bandwagon they have chosen to be leaders. I am confident that this award will bring more satisfaction to the recipients than any records they break, any championships they win. Having my name associated with the award and with all the good that will be recognized because of it means my legacy has been fulfilled.

And I have finally proven myself to myself.

WOW!! A must-see tv

May 24, 2021

HO CHI MINH—Happy Birthday, May 19

May 21, 2021


Dima Khalidi

May 18, 2021


May 16, 2021

Even as one branch of Asian American culture goes corporate & representational, another branch follows Edward Said’s insights and connects East/Southeast Asian “Orientals” to Arab “Orientals.” Hence, to be Asian American is also to decolonize & align with the Palestinian cause.Said himself, in ORIENTALISM’s conclusion, connects the Vietnam War to American Orientalism & dissects western media’s representations of Muslims in a way that shows a complete parallel to how the Vietnamese are represented. Gooks then, Muslims now, fulfilling the same function.Impossible to watch the IDF bombing and shelling Gaza and not think about American war strategies in Viet Nam, carried out in utter disregard of Vietnamese life and not caring to distinguish between combatants and civilians.And blaming the Vietnamese for the conditions that the Americans created, as Israel is blaming the Palestinians for making the IDF bomb and shell them, a ludicrous argument that a lot of western media is just repeating.In sum, one cannot be anti-racist without being anti-colonial and decolonizing. For Asian Americans not to see our common cause with other oppressed peoples means that we are not genuinely anti-racist. We’re just self-interested.

Israeli Terror Unleashed on Palestinians

May 13, 2021

Rashid Khalidi (see EPISODE #23 of Under the Tree) clarifies the hundred year war against Palestine, and explains the Israeli terror unleashed against Palestinians:https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/13/what-were-seeing-now-is-just-latest-chapter-israels-dispossession-palestinians/