This brought my mind back to a language laboratory at the University of Tripoli in Libya, circa the autumn of 1973 where I was teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) to Arab students, mostly Libyans but not exclusively so.
If you have ever been in a language lab you will know that it consists of a series of cubicles, each of which has a built-in tape machine, head phones and mic and an electronic link to the teacher.
This was my first session with this particular class and since I didn’t know what level of English they already had, my first task was to talk to each student individually to assess their ability. As I expected it was okayish – not great but a far better grasp, it should be said, of English than their Irish counterparts would have of French, or German or, heaven forbid, Arabic.
Until I came to a young girl sitting at the very back of the room. She spoke in perfect English, with what they call received pronunciation, i.e. BBC English.
I got to know her and her family quite well in the ensuing months. They were Palestinians, a small part of that unfortunate people’s diaspora, but not exactly on the same level as the Palestinians forced to eke out a living in squalid refugee camps.
As that girl’s mastery of English suggested, her family was well off by Palestinian standards. Her father had a job somewhere in the Libyan government and held a PhD from Oxbridge in philology. All her siblings were well educated and bright and showed it, but in all other respects however, they had suffered for being Palestinians under Israeli rule.
They had owned a olive farm in the southern part of Palestine but in 1948, after the establishment of the Jewish state and the successful war against Arab armies, the Israelis confiscated it, gave it away to fellow Israelis and left her parents and grandparents to fend for themselves.
Being affluent Palestinians they were more fortunate that their fellow citizens; they had property in Jerusalem, a house in the east of the city where they moved and set up a new home.
You can guess, I expect, what comes next. In the 1948 war Israel had captured and occupied West Jerusalem while Jordan occupied the old city and East Jerusalem.
But after the Six-Day war in 1967 Israel occupied East Jerusalem, threw out the Jordanians and my student’s family were quite literally tossed on to the street, their home confiscated and themselves suddenly made displaced people.
And that is how my Palestinian student, whose name I have decided not to use out of an abundance of caution, given the recent terrors visited on Libya, ended up sitting in my language laboratory in the University of Tripoli.
By the time, dear reader, you have digested this article we will know officially what is being reported widely, viz that Donald Trump has completed the process which caused my student’s family, and countless other Palestinians, so much misery by handing over Jerusalem in its entirety to the Netanyahu regime, thus legitimising decades of theft and larceny.
Trump is also allegedly working on what is grandly termed a peace plan for the Middle East. Given that it has been preceded by the legalising of the theft of an entire city, God only knows what it will look like.
Actually, we do have a clue of what is likely to come courtesy of the excellent Mondoweiss website. For the benefit of Irish readers unfamiliar with Mondoweiss, it is a website supported by young, or youngish, American Jews who are firmly anti-Zionist and who are both angry and ashamed at what has been done to the Palestinians.
It was founded by Philip Weiss, pound for pound one of the best and most ethical journalists in New York. Here is what he wrote recently by way of an astonishingly bleak curtain-raiser to the Trump peace plan for the Middle East.
Jared Kushner hugs Benjamin Netanyahu as Jason Greenblatt leaves the frame (r).
Donald Trump’s Middle East negotiating team is preparing a “serious” peace proposal, because the team is made up of observant Jews who understand Israel better than previous American negotiators, says Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“Frankly, forget about the president, but if you take simply the people who are involved in negotiations– know that these people understand Israel much better than the previous set of people,” Sharansky said. “And they definitely understand the concerns of Jews, because they are part of this… It’s really very interesting to see that when prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] sits with Ron Dermer, [Jared] Kushner, David Friedman, and [Jason] Greenblatt, the only one who does not have kippa [yarmulke] is prime minister. So you can expect more understanding.”
Jared Kushner’s family foundation has given tens of thousands of dollars to illegal Israeli settlements. In years past, Netanyahu stayed in the family’s house in New Jersey. David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, led an organization that raised money for a settlement.
Sharansky said that Israeli Prime Minister will come out with a peace proposal for a demilitarized Palestinian state, and the Palestinian leadership will reject the deal, but Arab countries will put pressure on the Palestinians to accept it. “They [Arab states] will not be automatically with the Palestinians. It’s a new situation.”
Sharansky spoke at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center on Tuesday night. He said he based his prediction on no inside information, though he had spent time with Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer and attended recent speeches by Netanyahu, in whose government he once served.
“If you simply careful, careful listen, it’s absolutely clear to you that something is preparing,” he said. “Simply listening to what he is saying to all the people in the world, I have a feeling, again it’s not official, unofficial, I have a feeling that something serious is prepared.”
As to the outlines of the deal, Sharansky said: “From the speeches of Bibi, I understand more or less what will be. The Palestinians probably will get, well, the state, but the security issues will not be in their hands… because in today’s middle east the competition will be between Hezbollah and Hamas– who will be controlled. So Israel cannot afford it.”
Sharansky said that President Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, never envisioned a Palestinian state without an army.
Netanyahu, he said, “knows how to give them [Palestinians] an opportunity to rule their life, how not to give them opportunity to control security in the Middle East.”
Overwhelmingly Israelis would support a peace plan, because they want hope, he continued. “I’m almost sure that… the Palestinian leadership will not accept it. And again I don’t know what is prepared. I’m sure that the reaction of the Arab world will be very different from the past.”
Sharansky said he had spent his entire life, including when he was imprisoned in the former Soviet Union, trying to build bridges between Jews and Israel. The organization he heads, the Jewish Agency, helped foster the creation of Israel in the last century and today works to build global Jewish support for the state.
Sharansky spoke with Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times and Amir Tibon of Haaretz. Listening to the speech, I was struck by the arrogance of the arrangement. Can you imagine a forum on sexual harassment issues today at which only men were invited to speak? Impossible. Yet over and over the peace process is debated in the United States– and negotiated too– and the less powerful party, Palestinians, are never invited as equals. The game is transparently rigged. And you wonder why the peace process has produced nothing in 25 years.