Nakba-60 Palestinian Festival

San Francisco, May 10, 2008

The Palestinian community of the Bay Area "celebrated" Israel's 60th anniversary on May 10 by holding the "Nakba-60" festival, which mourned the founding of Israel as a "catastrophe" and called for the creation of a unified Palestinian state where Israel now stands -- in other words, demanding an end to Israel's existence. About 600 people attended the event in San Francisco's Civic Center Park.

The festival was sponsored by the Palestine Right of Return Coalition (Al-Awda), featuring as its logo an antique key superimposed on a map of Israel-as-Palestine -- their claim being that the millions of modern-day descendants of the comparatively small number of Arab villagers who fled into Jordanian or Egyptian territory for safety during the invasion of Israel in 1948 had the right to return to their forefathers' homes. This would presumably make Arabs the majority population inside Israel, and they would then use their majority status to dissolve the nation and create a new state of Palestine composed of the land now called Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

The day's entertainment consisted primarily of Arab hip-hop and rap performers singing revolutionary and political lyrics. In the photo above, Tru Bloo and Bennu of the group NaR, the world's only queer Arab rap group, sing about how Arabs are "the true Semites," and thus can't possibly be accused of anti-Semitism.

Thoughout the day, the 1948 war and the subsequent strife between Israel and Palestinian Arabs was described as "genocide," and this festival-goer made a direct equivalence between the creation of Israel and the Holocaust, accusing those who doubt these absurd claims (of genocide against Palestinian Arabs) of being "al Nakba deniers" (similar to "Holocaust deniers").

The festival organizers hosted a Nakba tent (the word "nakba" literally means "catastrophe" in Arabic, but when capitalized and called The Catastrophe [al-Nakba] it specifically refers to creation of the state of Israel). Inside the tent were reproductions of old photos from Ottoman-era and British Mandate-era Jerusalem.

In the center of the tent sat "Palestinian elders" recounting their memories of pre-Israel Palestine. Here, two "elders" in the foreground (neither of whom appeared to be over 60 years old) are interviewed by a journalist with a bizarre hair-do.

Though the vast majority of people at the festival appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, not everyone was -- a predictable assemblage of San Francisco radicals and conspiracy theorists showed up as well to strut their stuff in public.

Though there weren't many signs or protesters there per se, here was little doubt about what everyone was hoping for -- as this t-shirt indicates. (In case anyone reading this is not familiar with the phrase "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free": it is an overt call for the destruction of Israel. The "river" in the statement is the Jordan River, and the "sea" is the Mediterranean; thus, the slogan states that all the land between the Jordan and the Mediterrean [most of which is now the territory of Israel] should be included in the proposed nation of Palestine.)

Pro-Intifada sentiments were also fairly common at the festival.

Often, the whole philosophy was encapsulated simply by displaying a map that showed the West Bank, Gaza and Israel as a unified political entity -- Palestine.

The festival organizers also set up a "Destroyed Villages Tent," inscribed with the names of Arab villages that no longer exist -- though I haven't researched the veracity of each claim, nor do I know the cause of each village's disappearance. I think the viewer is supposed to assume that the Jews destroyed all the named villages, but taking some names from random off the tent, I see that Julis is a Druze village inside Israel that seems to still exist; the residents of Ijzim took up arms against the Jews and were defeated in 1948 and fled to nearby Arab-controlled areas; and so forth. Many of the named Gaza villages seem to have been occupied by the Egyptian army in 1948 and were destroyed in battles between Egypt and Israel. (If you have half an hour to spare, read this eye-opening article about the situation in Israel and British-controlled Palestine in 1948 and before, which describes the actual circumstances behind the abandonment and destruction of many of these villages.)

Notice the large map on the left showing the location of the villages in "Palestine."

Inside the tent was simulated debris and blood spatters, and large cardboard "al-Awda" keys with the names of yet more villages, including (suspiciously) Jenin.

Next door was the "Shabab Tent," which was the kids' activity area. Shabab literally means "young person" in Arabic, but within Palestinian territories it has also recently come to specifically designate the groups of boys who threw stones at and harrassed Israeli soldiers during the first and second Intifadas. I only mention this fact because...

...inside the shahab tent was a large banner glamorizing the Intifada, put up for the children's benefit.

The banner depicted a masked boy with a slingshot and other Palestinian boys throwing rocks at an Israeli tank. It's rather odd to American sensibilities that a culture would encourage its unarmed children to engage in military battles against an enemy. What other purpose could this possibly serve other than to use the children as human shields or to get them killed as martyrs, to make the Israelis look bad for fighting against children? (While behind the children, protected by their innocence, are actual adult fighters firing real weapons at the Israelis.)

Though the top of the children's banner flopped over, it was still possible to make out its slogan: "Victory to the Intifada!"

The P-Stine Ryders, one of nearly twenty hip-hop groups performing that day, waited their turn to go on stage. (Notice their logo -- a pair of crossed Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles.)

In fact, the entire festival was mostly in a Palestinian hip-hop theme.

In this video, one of the hip-hop groups (I forget which one) gives an interesting rap about the hypocrisy of fair-weather leftists. Here's a transcription of the lyrics, with the parts I find most noteworthy in bold:
'Cause ten percent of the evil people got the money
you should know this.
What's a black Republican?
What's a Latin Bush supporter?
If Bush loves the war
He should send his own daughters.
What's a liberal guy that supports women's rights
And on the very same day watches porn all night?

What's freedom of speech if there's censorship?
And how the hell you wearing Jordans if you root for the Knicks?
How come hip-hop got political around election day
yet any other time of year ain't got nothin' to say?
How many communists drive home in nice ol' cars
To their comfortable home with a stocked-up bar?

How's Chicago the Second City when we always in first?
And if you don't support Cuba
Take off your Che shirt.

This hip-hop duo features a Rastafarian rapper spewing all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theories ("this war on terror is U.S.-funded genocide," "four-headed dragon of Illuminati while nobody's askin', birthplace of the Euro is the Vatican," etc.), and also a Palestinian rapper saying things in Arabic about Israel, Muslims and Palestinians. (If you know Arabic, feel free to leave a translation of his lyrics in the comments section of the YouTube page for this video).

Dozens of groups were official endorsers of the Nakba-60 event, including my "favorite," Queers for Palestine.

Their table had anti-Israel and pro-queer paraphernalia. Their self-described justification is to draw a connection between the (purported) oppression of gays in straight American culture and the (purported) oppression of Palestinians in Israeli culture -- and that gays in America should stand in solidarity with their fellow victims in Palestine. Conveniently ignored in their worldview is a little detail: that Palestinian Arab culture views homosexuality as an abomination, that homosexuality is a death-penalty crime in Palestinian-controlled areas, and that many gays in the West Bank flee to Israel -- the hated, villainous Israel -- where they live in peace and security in the large gay community there. I'd like to see how well-received Queers for Palestine would be if they traveled to Gaza and set up the same table there.

No matter. Queers for Palestine (also known as QUIT -- Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) is doing everything it can to eradicate the only sanctuary for gays in the Middle East.

The San Francisco Women in Black (a left-wing anti-Israel group) had a nice propaganda banner on display.

And of course, as always, the ISM was on hand recruiting cannon fodder for the overseas brigades of the Palestinian military.

Interestingly, aside from the Middle Eastern and Arab groups sponsoring the festival, just about the only non-Arab groups there were communist political parties and/or extreme far-left organizations. The Party for Socialism and Liberation had a booth... did the Revolutionary Communist Party. (One wonders how observant Palestinian Muslims felt about the anti-God and anti-religion messages displayed by many of the communist groups. Talk about unstable coalitions....)

Richard Becker, one of the leaders of ANSWER, strolled through the crowd sipping a coffee.

The person at the Workers World Party wore an "Intifadah" t-shirt.

In general, the thrust was to re-frame the Palestinian/Israel dispute as some sort of Marxist "liberation struggle" -- when, to an outside observer, the general political atmosphere inside Israel itself is quite left-wing, whereas Palestinian groups like Hamas and Fatah are politically reactionary and are (or claim to be) based on traditional conservative religious values. So, if anything, the call to replace liberal Israel with a tribal/Islamic state of Palestine is more like a counter-revolution. But don't tell that to the communists. They're too invested in this topsy-turvy political fad (of hating Israel) to even think straight.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon, a group of pro-Israel demonstrators showed up. They did not enter the festival itself, but stayed across the street.

Most of their messages were of the "can't we all just get along?" variety.

A contingent of young Palestinians faced off against them on the other side of the intersection, parading back and forth with Palestinian flags.

One of the youths carried a flag in which the words "FREE PALESTINE" were dripping with blood.

He walso wore a Palestine shirt with a bloody fist.

Another teenager showed up with a "Dome of the Rock" Palestine flag, declaring that Jerusalem is a Muslim city.

Back on the stage, one of the few non-hip-hop groups performed Palestinian folk dances while an audience member waved his kaffiyeh in appreciation.

They received big applause, including from the guy we saw earlier with the Palestine-map shirt.

Similar shirts were commonplace throughout the festival.

One of the on-stage announcers (seen here taking a break) wore a low-cut t-shirt featuring the word "haram" -- meaning "forbidden" in Arabic -- an intentional flouting of conservative Muslim customs. (Update: Turns out her name is Maysoon Zayid, a fairly well-known Palestinian feminist comedienne who has cerebral palsy.]

Not everyone at the festival was pleased with this type of attitude. The woman seen here on the left in traditional Middle Eastern garb looked greatly distressed during the performance of an aggressively pro-queer rap by the group NaR mentioned earlier. There was a deep but unspoken rift apparent at the event, between the young radicalized Palestinians who wore American-style "urban" clothing and expressed in-your-face Palestinian nationalism that had little or nothing to do with religion or old-fashioned tribal culture; and the older, more conservative Palestinians who seemed quite uncomfortable with all the emphasis on sexuality and Westernized political ideologies.

As a contrast to the woman in the previous photo, several college-age Palestinian Arab girls wore tight jeans and t-shirts with the slogan "...because 60 years is a long ass time to be under occupation!" I was unsure what the green armbands meant. Support for Hamas, perhaps?

The festival's youngest fashionista wore a shirt announcing her identity as a "Future revolutionary."

More coverage of additional San Francisco Bay Area events marking Israel's 60th anniversary can be found here:

Palestinian Checkpoint on the U.C. Berkeley Campus
Protesters crash celebration at San Francisco Jewish Community Center
Israel in the Gardens 2008

More videos of the stage performances at the Nakba-60 festival can be viewed at these YouTube links:

NaR Promotes Anti-Semitism
Ras Ceylon & Triki say ALL of Israel is actually "occupied Palestine"
DAM argues against coexistence and for domination
Hostility to Pro-Israel group protesting Nakba-60
Bike messenger says he hopes they push the Jews into the sea

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