Saturday, August 18, 2007


State Censorship: Handala & Hasbara

Above is a mural proposed for one of the walls of the student union at San Francisco State University (SFSU). This image is of the uncensored version. You see, "only an hour and a half after" the Student Center Governing Board approved the General Union of Palestine Students' (GUPS) design, university president Robert A. Corrigan blocked the mural and "placed an indefinite moratorium on all future artwork" on the building. As GUPS explains:
You [Corrigan] claimed that the mural is "conflict centered", represents a "culture of violence", and that you "won't allow hatred towards Jews on these walls." You have given no evidence to justify these claims, only pointing to the mural's portrayal of Handala and a Palestinian house key with 'Al-Awda' (the return) written in Arabic calligraphy.
Of course, freedom of expression and the struggle against oppression are such core components of Jewish culture that the Jewish community rose up nearly as one in howls of protest over this blatant state censorship. Even though many Jews were disturbed by the imagery they realize that no one's freedom of expression is safe unless everyone's freedom of expression is safe and that freedom means nothing if it doesn't safeguard speech that some find offensive. NOT!

In fact, the mainstream Jewish community apparently backed this state censorship to the hilt and is likely responsible in no small measure for Corrigan's distorted, philo-Zionist reaction. Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, called the key and Handala (above Edward Said's left shoulder in the mural)--both well known symbols of the Palestinian right of return--"blatantly offensive symbols" and "praised Corrigan" for his censorship. San Francisco Hillel director Alon Shalev "was irked by the presence of Handala, a Palestinian cartoon character symbolizing violent resistance [sic] to Israel". Hasbara, dear readers, is about more than spreading pro-Zionist propaganda, it is also about suppressing and distorting anti-Zionist speech and ideas.

Now, after more than two years of struggle for simple freedom of expression, the SFSU GUPS chapter has apparently been beaten into submission and agreed to a version of the mural sans Handala and key. Shalev says, "We feel the moderates within the Palestinian movement are the ones who have won and that's a good sign for us." He's right about that "good sign for us" bit, suppressing the symbols and the very idea of the Palestinian right of return is a key Zionist goal and that is exactly why so many faux peace activists, especially Jews, will shed gallons of crocodile tears over "the occupation" (1967, but not 1948) but will barely, if at all, mention the Palestinian right of return. Millions of exiled Arabs returning to their homes and land in Israel would seriously disrupt the violent, racist project of Jewish supremacy--the primary goal of the phony and unjust "two-state solution."

Thanks to blogger Um Khalil for the tip on this story. Norman Finkelstein's site has a page that explains the symbolism of the imagery of the original mural (see bottom half of page here).

See also "Handala Banned Again"

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