According to John McCarthy, whenever a British journalist’s conversation with a Palestinian runs into difficult territory there are two words guaranteed to break the ice: Tony Blair. The former British Prime Minister and current Middle East peace envoy’s name is now a joke among Palestinians, said the veteran.
McCarthy’s remark drew a round of applause from the 1,700 strong audience, who had come to see the veteran journalist and broadcaster read from his new book You Can’t Hide The Sun: A Journey Through Israel and Palestine. The book is McCarthy’s powerful indictment, told through the stories of individual Palestinians, of how the state of Israel has marginalised and impoverished a whole people.
To illustrate what McCarthy described as ‘a ruthless project to expropriate refugees’ land’ he read from a section of the book where he travelled to Acre. There he spoke to a Palestinian baker who remembered the Israeli takeover of Haifa in 1948 and described how his own family lost their land and property after escaping from the city.
Another of McCarthy’s readings saw him travel to the Negev desert, to document the ‘curious phenomenon’ of unrecognised villages. These are places that the Israeli government has declared illegal by rescinding planning permission on villages documented as having existed for decades or even centuries. McCarthy described Amrah, the village he visited, as ‘a Mad Max-style encampment at the end of the world’. Denied water, electricity and healthcare services, it is a stark contrast to the neat Israeli settlement it neighbours.
On Amrah’s outskirts, McCarthy meets Noori Eleckbi, a man in his sixties protesting Israel’s confiscation of his ancestral lands. A vulnerable but determined man living in the ‘smallest Bedouin encampment in the world’ Eleckbi resists constant police efforts to move him off the land and writes protest poems in Hebrew ‘to show the Jews how they hurt me’.
McCarthy closed his talk with some statistics and an anecdote indicating how marginalised the Palestinians have become. Sixty years since Israel’s foundation, hundreds of new Jewish settlements have been established. Only seven new Arab settlements have been founded in all that time, and they are all in the Negev. In that time the Palestinian population within Israel has risen from 170,000 to more than 1.7 million.
When questioned by an audience member at the end, McCarthy made an impassioned plea to the media and western governments to change the way they reported on conflict in the region.
‘Why do they always say that Israel has the right to be secure, but the Palestinian’s don’t?’ he asked.