- Mediterranean Fractures: Introduction
It is Wednesday, the 6th of December 2017. Many across the world are celebrating the feast of Nicholas, or Santa Claus, the early Christian saint and bishop of Myra, deliverer of gifts to the good and the god-fearing. The President of the United States is holding a press conference at the White House and, in what appears to be a bizarre take on the spirit of the season, is delivering his own gift to the world. Al-Quds, Jerusalem, the Holy City, shall be formally recognised by the United States as the capital of the State of Israel. One could almost hear the shivers of shock and disbelief rippling across the planet. The effect of such a zero-sum move, I thought straightaway, may well turn out to exceed the range of connotation afforded within the space of the word ‘fracture’. Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) member, scholar and activist Hanan Ashrawi rushed to point out that Trump’s stance ‘has totally ripped apart the very legal foundation for peace in the region’ (Ashrawi 2017). That the UN’s 21st December resolution (ES-10/L.22) to declare the US’s move ‘null and void’ received a strong backing in the General Assembly is significant — but the implications of Trump’s unilateral stance in both the shorter and longer terms have yet to be gauged.
This event invoked no ordinary fracture. Following hot on the heels of a devastating attack on the mosque of Al-Rawda in Egypt’s Northern Sinai, and ongoing reports of no-frills practices of slave trading just outside Libya’s Tripoli, Trump’s own gift reinforced a by-now widespread perception of what is and has for a long time been going on in the region. The East Mediterranean is today hemmed in by sharks, a level of backroom strategising without precedent, with various Arab states and Gulf potentates, Israel, the US, Iran and stakeholders further afield holding forth a menu of distractions that provides enough elbow space for the business of affluence and control to roll on ahead unhindered. Strong-arm tactics like Trump’s ‘gift of the season’ to the Palestinians is meant to afford more comfort and more arc of manoeuvre to this system. But whatever sense of omnipotence and associated interests may have driven the process that led to Trump’s and Israel’s move on the Holy City — the Abrahamic city — it has inflamed and galvanised wounded sentiment, and raised historic emotions that have never gone away, the way Edward W. Said himself used to insist that the Palestinians themselves have never gone away and will not go away (Said 1998).
Having their life and their future systematically determined behind closed doors, not knowing exactly who is the friend and who the enemy, and — worst of all, perhaps — having their voice written off without chance of appeal, is a story the Palestinians are very much acquainted with. It is one of those life processes that, as they themselves have learnt over more than a century of surviving backstabs and betrayals, takes a lot of resolve and must never go [End Page 1] unanswered. Echoing poet Robert Frost, memoirist and poet Mourid Barghouti has spoken of the ‘lump in the throat’ that he feels as he returns to occupied Palestine after thirty years of exile only to find an unrecognisably mangled homeland (Barghouti 2003: 43). The fracturing of consciousness induces the lump in the throat. The initial pain of losing the right to one’s homeland comes to be overshadowed by the affront to one’s dignity entailed in having to survive on the diet of historic loss, often in the absence of friends. It is a double bind and a historic anxiety that has, amongst other things, resulted in the corpus of poetry, with its sublime strength and earthy beauty — that Palestine possesses today. One requires a lot of strength to fight, in the same breath, towards the recovery of what has been lost, and for the sense of dignity violated in the process. The Palestinians know this feeling all too well.
The Mediterranean today is host to a number of contingencies and...