The Ikhras awards committee is pleased to announce the winner of the Muntadhar Zaidi Ikhras Shoe of the Month for March, 2013 is Lebanese journalist Octavia Nasr. Nasr is receiving this coveted award for an article she wrote titled “What the city of Haifa taught me.” The article first appeared in Arabic in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar, and the English version appeared the next day on the website of the Saudi family news channel Al-Arabiya.
Nasr begins her article reminiscing about the “countless stories about Haifa’s golden days pre-1948.” The reader can almost detect a mocking undertone, as if life in pre-Nakba Haifa was not quite as “Golden” as relayed by the Palestinian refugees she encountered growing up in Lebanon, or was at least only part of the story of Haifa. Sure enough Nasr then goes on to share her awakening:
“Then the awakening came at my first meeting with a current Haifa resident more than twenty years ago…I listed all the locations that grew dear to my heart over the years: Saint Elias Church, Mount Carmel, College Des Freres school, Selizian School, Wadi al-Nasnas… To my surprise, they were all still there and flourishing with fresh new generations of Palestinians. I later met a Jewish family from Haifa and got to know a different side of the story of the majestic city. I learned about the Hadar area, Hertzel Street and Ben Gurion Boulevard. From the Druze of Haifa I learned about Isifya and Daliya village on Mount Carmel. Not to forget the Muslim community of Haifa which can be found everywhere in the Arab sections and the very prominent Baha’I faith with its majestic gardens and Abbas Dome, one of the most beautiful gardens and architectural structure in the world.”
Nasr, does refer to the “atrocities committed and the complete takeover of the land and displacement of its original people”, but only in passing. What goes unmentioned, however, is that the perpetrators of the ethnic cleansing that paved the way for the establishment of the racist, colonial entity remain there today as occupiers and continue to deny the original inhabitants of Haifa the right of return to their homes, land, and city. It’s as if the Nakba was a passing event in the distant past rather than an ongoing crime against the vast majority of the original inhabitants of the majestic seaside city that gets its name from the ancient Canaanite Arabic word al-Hayfah. The Canaanites emerged from the shores of the Arabian Peninsula to become the first group of people to settle Haifa in what originally came to be known as the Land of Canaan.
The very recent history of Haifa and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population of Palestine in order to establish a Jewish-exclusivist, colonial-settler entity have been well documented by Palestinians, Arabs, Westerners, and Israel’s own “New Historians.” Only a select few Zionist fanatics continue to cling to the myth of a “Land without a people…” or the lie that the Palestinian Arabs, after inhabiting this land since the beginning of time, in 1948 suddenly decided to pick-up and leave voluntarily.
Between the partition plan adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 29, 1947 and the 1949 ceasefire between the newly established Zionist entity and the Arab states that ended the war, the vast majority of the indigenous population of Palestine became victims of a pre-meditated expulsion plan by foreign invaders backed by the most powerful empire at the time. It was a deliberate and systematic political-military strategy carried out through mass violence, terrorism, and massacres in order to lay the groundwork for the establishment of the modern state of Israel as envisioned by the Jewish exclusivist ideology of Zionism
As for Haifa, the attack began on April 21, 1948 when 5000 heavily armed fighters from the Zionist terrorist militia known as the Haganah descended upon the city which was poorly defended by 300-400 Palestinian volunteers. Of the 61,000 Palestinian Arabs that inhabited Haifa only 3500 were allowed to stay. The rest of the Arab population was literally pushed into the sea and forced to flee by boat to Acre, Tyre, Sidon, and Beirut, Lebanon. Some of the Palestinians that ended up in Acre were ethnically cleansed again a few weeks later and forced to flee to Lebanon.
Almost 65 years later the people of Haifa continue to be denied their basic right of return, a fact to which Nasr appears oblivious when she writes:
“For some reason, Haifa was always a common denominator and it kept creeping up into my world, as the example of how integrated living between — not just Arabs and Israelis would look like — but also how the harmony among Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Baha’is and Jews can be exemplified. During a recent visit to this great city, I learned that indeed Haifa is a symbol of tolerance and co-existence.” (Emphasis ikhras editors).
The questions that immediately jump out to the reader are, first, how does a city ethnically cleansed of an indigenous population that has not yet been allowed to return become a “symbol of tolerance and co-existence”? And how can a city ruled by a colonial regime as part of a racist, exclusivist entity be described as an example of “integrated living” and “harmony”?
It’s not surprising to read such pro-Zionist bile from a militant supporter of the fascistic, Lebanese right-wing that has always been allied with Israel. Nasr began her journalism career in Lebanon at the LBC network, the propaganda arm of the Lebanese Forces established by Bashir Gemayel with the help and support of Israel. This right-wing, sectarian Christian militia was responsible for some of the ugliest massacres and crimes during the Lebanese civil war including the Sabra and Shatila massacres. This fringe element within Lebanon has always been openly hostile and racist towards Lebanese Muslims, Palestinians, Syrians, and Arabs in general and very sympathetic to Zionism and Western colonial powers. With her background in journalism and an extremist, right-wing political orientation Nasr was well prepared to move on and spend 20 years at CNN as the token Arab carefully following the script of mainstream US media before her career-ending tweet hastened her exit.
In her short piece Nasr, like many of her colleagues in the Western media, found the space to lecture the Palestinians on the virtues of non-violence.
“People who still believe in the military struggle as the only way to Palestine should learn a lesson from Haifa. Peaceful Palestinians have found a way to protect the land and safeguard it despite all the pressures and abuses.”
She seems to forget that it’s only through the continuing inherent violence of the occupation that the people of Haifa have yet to return to their city. Nasr also fails to mention that for 20 years after the start of the Nakba the Palestinian refugees did not engage in any armed resistance, and whenever those “peaceful Palestinians” attempted to visit their homes unarmed during that period they were shot and killed by the same Israeli army the right-wing sectarian militias she supported in Lebanon considered a natural ally and friend.
Nasr concludes her piece with the following obscene passage:
“I know a little boy who was baptized in the Saint Elias Maronite Church in Carmel some seventy years ago. He might never see that church again, but it must be comforting for him to know that it is still standing and brings together Muslims, Christians, Jews and Druze for worship and for lessons in co-existence only Haifa can offer!”
Yes, you read that correctly. Nasr is actually saying that a Palestinian refugee forced to flee his own city can, nevertheless, find “comforting” in knowing an Israeli-occupied Haifa to which he is denied the right to return or even visit remains a place that offers lessons in “co-existence.” Haifa’s history does indeed offer lessons in co-existence, but Haifa’s present can only serve as a blatant illustration of racism, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, exclusivism, and intolerance. Haifa under Israeli occupation is not the city of co-existence and tolerance it was prior to the advent of Zionism. Haifa will inevitably return to its tolerant, cosmopolitan past, but only after the liberation of Palestine and the return of her indigenous population and rightful owners to her.
What is most disturbing about Nasr’s article may not have been what she wrote which amounts to boilerplate Zionist propaganda, but rather its glaring omission. Not once does Nasr remind her readers that the original inhabitants of Haifa living in refugee camps less than a 90-minute drive from their homes would not have been allowed to accompany her on what appears to have been a lovely vacation. Nasr, in all likelihood, traveled to Israel on a Business class seat and went through customs at Ben-Gurion airport with a Western passport as it is illegal for any Lebanese citizen to travel to the usurping Zionist entity.*
After her recent visit to Israel in blatant disregard of the anti-normalization campaign in Arab world, and for then sharing her vacation experience in an article that reads like a travel brochure put out by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and on behalf of all Palestinians in the diaspora, the ikhras awards committee is pleased to present Octavia Nasr with the March, 2013 Ikhras Shoe of the Month.
*As of the date of this writing Nasr has not been detained or questioned by the Lebanese authorities regarding her recent trip to Israel.
Every month Ikhras awards the Muntadhar Zaidi “Shoe of the month” to the House Arab or Muslim individual or organization whose behavior that month best exemplifies the behavior of what Malcolm X described, in the language of his own time, as the “house negro” (see video). The award is named in honor of the brave Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Zaidi who threw his shoes at the war criminal George W. Bush at a time House Arabs and Muslims were dining with him at the White House and inviting him to their mosques. Arab dictators and puppets of the empire are also qualified to enter the shoe of the month competition based on their own subservience to U.S.-led global imperialism. Contest guidelines prohibit any one individual or organization from winning the award more than 3 times a year.