Remembering Fouzi El-Asmar
by Stephen Lendman
On September 19, distinguished Palestinian American academic, writer, author, poet and activist El-Asmar died at age 76. At his request, he was buried in his native Palestine.
On October 27, a memorial service will be held at Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church, 10620 River Road, Potomac, MD. His life and work will be commemorated.
In 1937, he was born in Haifa. It was during Britain’s Mandate period.
It denied political independence. It prepared Palestine for Jewish statehood. It marginalized Palestinian rights in the process.
El-Asmar was a recognized authority on harsh political, economic and social issues affecting Israeli Arab citizens.
His articles appeared regularly in Middle East and European Arabic publications. In 1958, he became an editorial board member for the literary monthly Al-Fajr.
In 1966, he became the Arabic magazine Hadha-al-Alam’s editor. In 1979, he became managing editor for the international Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
He grew up in Palestine. In 1971, he came to America to lecture. He explained how Israel treats Arabs.
He remained. He attended Central Connecticut State University. In 1975, he graduated with honors. He continued his studies. He completed his doctorate at Britain’s Exeter University.
He became a naturalized US citizen. For the first time, he could visit Arab countries freely. He could attend conferences, lecture and interface with other intellectuals.
He wrote numerous books. “To Be an Arab in Israel” is his best known.
It’s a searing account. It’s profoundly moving. It recounts his formative years after Israel’s creation. It explains how it impacted his life.
He endured ruthless Israeli state terror. He saw his native land destroyed. He witnessed mass dispossessions. He became a stranger in his own country.
He discussed systematic cruelty. Palestinians lost all rights. Diaspora ones couldn’t return. Others struggled daily to survive. They still do.
He experienced imprisonment firsthand. In 1969, he was administratively held uncharged. He remained so for over a year.
In 1971, he endured house arrest. His crime was supporting right over wrong. He passionately advocated Palestinian liberation. He remained committed until his death.
His writings recounted his passion. His book titled “Through the Hebrew Looking Glass: Arab Stereotypes in Children’s Literature” examines Zionist attitudes toward indigenous Palestinians.
It discusses racist Israeli textbooks. They teach young children to hate. They portray Arabs as foreigners, backward, systemic threats and terrorists. They pronounce them “guilty of everything that has happened or will happen.”
They justify Israeli ruthlessness. They defend occupation harshness. They call Arabs “devoid of conscience and cruel.” Young minds are manipulated irresponsibly.
El-Asmar considered himself most of all a poet. His volumes include “Poems from an Israeli Prison” and “The Wind-Driven Reed and Other Poems.”
On the birth of his twin grandsons, he wrote:
“YOU burst into the world at the autumn of my life,
But lo and behold: the autumn exploded into the Spring,
You opted to land on a frosty morning
Bringing back to life the chirping nightingales
With the flowing tears of bliss,
Two (blooming) flowers
Filling the deserts, wastelands, and pastures
With their sweet fragrance.”
In the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence, he said:
“After the first recovery from the 1948 defeat, the Arabs of Israel were left in a void.”
“They saw that a new situation had emerged….Arab lands were confiscated under many different laws, and many villagers were expelled and turned into refugees inside the country.”
Mandate Palestine became Israel. Native Palestinians became marginalized in their own land.
“Ever since the First Zionist Congress in 1897,” said El-Asmar, “the Zionist movement has set a goal (for) the possession of the land of Palestine at any price.”
“This movement realizes the significance of the bond between men and land.”
“It understands that the more a man is tied to his land, the more he is tied to the country in which he lives, and conversely, when this tie is loosened, so will the feelings of the man for his homeland become looser.”
El-Asmar joined El Ard (The Land). He did so to resist. It predated PLO activism. It uncompromisingly supported Palestinian liberation. It did what today’s collaborationist PA leaders spurn.
El-Asmar was a mensch in the best sense of the term. It means someone of special integrity and honor.
Unmensch is polar opposite. It reflects evil, cruel viciousness. It describes how Israel treats Arabs. It considers them subhuman. It acts accordingly.
El-Asmar passionately supported Palestinian liberation. His life and works reflected his commitment.
Professor Terri Ginsberg knew him. She called him “one of the most important public intellectuals of the Palestinian liberation struggle.” He focused mainly on Israeli Arab citizens.
He “(f)ollow(ed) in the footsteps of his mother, Najla. (She) was an activist long before Israel’s” 1948 creation.
Fouji “was one of the first post-Nakba intellectuals to break into the Anglophone public sphere,” said Ginsberg. He did so “with groundbreaking analyses of” everyday Palestinian life.
Despite failing health in recent years, he remained committed for right over wrong. Ginsberg worked with him at the International Council for Middle East Studies. It’s a Washington-based think tank.
“Fouzi was astutely aware of Zionist intransigence,” she said. He critiqued “the ideological myth of Jewish national identity.” He called doing so central to resolve longstanding Israeli/Palestinian conflict issues.
“(A)nything less would neglect the crux of the problem and thus enable the persistence of Israeli domination throughout the region,” said Ginsberg.
She felt “privileged to know” El-Asmar. In February 2012, she interviewed him.
“The Palestinian problem lies at the core of all movements now taking place in the Arab world, and in the thinking of the Arab people,” he said.
“The uprising revolves around the quality of life and future respect for the Arab people, and the Palestinian issue is at its core.”
“That’s what scares Israel and the West. The West doesn’t give a damn about the people.”
“Its allies are the governments that serve Western interests. So it needs to keep (them) in power.”
“The mistake here is that the West and its allies are ignoring the people. Even if they succeed right now, that will not last.”
“Palestinian people inside Israel, and in the Occupied Territories, know what they really want, and that’s the core of the matter.”
“(T)hat’s the most important thing. Will there be a third Intifada? There could be.”
“There is still an intifada going on today, not at the same level as the Second or First Intifada, not in the same manner, but it is an intifada.”
“As I see it, if a teacher can get to school to teach, that is a form of resistance.”
“If a doctor can make it to the hospital, or if a shopkeeper can open his store, that’s something under occupation – the fact that they are not giving up.”
“There is a Hebrew expression, “To redeem the land: We must redeem the land from the strangers and occupiers.”
“Can Palestinians take advantage of that?” It’s easier when “Israelis are embroiled in internal struggles. But that’s not enough.”
International boycotts and divestments are important. More is needed. “You might put it like this:
“We are going to stop all of our aid to Israel. We want to achieve peace in the region because of its global importance, its economic significance.”
(I)f Israel doesn’t stop what it’s doing to the Palestinians, we’re going to stop all of our aid. That’s what we need.”
Public opinion is important. It “conclu(des) that the Palestinian problem must be resolved or else there’s going to be a disaster.”
El-Asmer believed the only way to resolve longstanding Israeli/Palestinian conflict issues is through “a one state (democratic) solution.”
Israel won’t accept two states. Their “minority mentality prevents them from trusting a Palestinian state, however small it might be.”
Israel never established a national identity. Ashkenazis, Sephardis and others pray differently.
Zionists couldn’t create a one size fits all people. They couldn’t connect people to the land, “except through God. And that doesn’t work for human beings.”
“I’m here because I’m here? You have to have an organic connection. That’s what I’m talking about.”
“They don’t. So is it any wonder that increasing numbers of Israelis are starting also to consider a one-state solution?”
It’s “more conceivable, more practical than two states. After all, if you’ve stolen something from me, shouldn’t I be the one to decide whether or not I want it back?”
A separate Palestinian state doesn’t solve their longstanding problem. What’s needed is more than just statehood.
“I was there in 1948 when the state of Israel was declared. Within 24 hours, I went from being in the majority to being in the minority, (in) 24 hours!”
“A week or two later, I went downtown and saw empty stores, empty houses, all the goods were gone.”
“And what about the money that was in the banks? What about the gold that was there? What about all that property?”
“This wasn’t a land without people. It was a country with people living in it!”
“You cannot just say, as the Israelis do, ‘You ran away. You decided to leave. We won because we won.’ ”
“That will not solve the problem. One state, however, could solve it, or would be a good step toward” doing so.
Palestinians want statehood, separate or otherwise, because “(s)ome of them think that if this is all we can get, we should grab it.”
That’s how Arafat felt. Get what you can. Let later generations continue struggling for more.
“Continue what,” asked El-Asmar? “If you sign an agreement,” you’re bound by its terms. Oslo spurned Palestinian rights.
In return for renouncing armed struggle, they got virtually nothing. Liberation demands struggling for it.
El-Asmar did it through writing, teaching, lecturing and committed activism. It’s for Palestinians today to continue what he and others began.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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