Telling the other side of the story – tribulations of an author


Washington Telling the Palestinian side of the story in the United States, if not the West, more than 50 years after the usurpation of their homeland and an ongoing headline-grabbing deadly uprising, remains an uphill fight even when the authors are Westerners.

The opposite is true for the Israelis and their cheering team of journalists, especially commentators who are all too eager to tout the Israeli line at the drop of a hat. This is not to say that the American press has not, from time to time, run reasonable commentaries that saw merit in one aspect or another of the Palestinian struggle, or even some Arab-authored op-ed articles which in most cases are dismissed as tokenism rather than a genuine bid at balance or evenhandedness.

Read what Kathleen Christison, a former analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency, had to endure for 12 years in seeking a commercial publisher for her just released and must read book titled `The Wound of Dispossession: Telling the Palestinian Story.’ She had to publish her book at her own expense, using a good portion of her retirement money.

Her other highly praised book published nearly two years ago, `Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on US Middle East Policy,’ has been an earthshaking, eye-opener and useful reference for all those seriously studying the complex world of US Middle East policy-making.

Nevertheless, she still considers it tragic that “despite nearly a decade of so-called peace-making, most Americans and most Israelis still know little about the Palestinians and have little depth of understanding about the Palestinian viewpoint or the Palestinian condition.”

In order to redress this amazing imbalance in American perceptions she interviewed some 120 Palestinian-Americans for valid insights into the Palestinian situation.

“Thanks to the countless Palestinians who freely told me their stories, I feel I know Palestine in its human aspect far better than I ever did during my years of government service,” she wrote last June in the preface to her 274-page book. “So many Palestinians welcomed me into their homes for this project without knowing who I was or what I wanted beyond the fact that I had an interest in their experiences. That was enough for most people.”

But she could not find a commercial publisher who would undertake to publish her insightful book. It was turned down because, as one said, the Palestinian perspective was not “the path to commercial success.”

In a footnote to her preface, she revealed that one major American university press on the East Coast, whose name she asked me to withhold, “came close to publishing it but allowed it to be suppressed by those who object to airing the Palestinian story.”

The details of this mind-boggling, nine-month review process, or better described as intellectual subterfuge, must come as a shock to free-thinking Americans.

Christison wrote: “This episode was instructive. After two peer reviewers and, on the basis of their advice, the editor-in-chief recommended publication, a faculty board that oversees the press cautioned that the reviewers might be perceived as `too pro-Palestinian’ and instructed that the book be reviewed by two pro-Israeli readers. These two readers both strongly condemned the book and urged that it not be published. When it was decided that their objections had no basis in scholarship, this book was given for review to a fifth reader, described to me as `pro-Israeli but more objective’ than the two previous readers. This final reader, claiming that the book as written simply rehashed old grievances previously covered `by many others … over the last forty-five years,” recommended a drastic alteration. Rather than describe a broad sampling of Palestinian-American political views, he recommended dropping almost all of the book’s 124 interview subjects, concentrating on only ten interviews, and writing in-depth and largely non-political profiles of their lives in the United States. Only in this way, the reader said, would the book be of any interest to American Jews.”

Christison rejected these suggestions and decided to go it alone, a gamble that she hopes will be rewarded by book sales through word of mouth.

The “pain and exile” experienced by Palestinians since 1948, when Israel was established, is still paramount in the Palestinian psyche and Christison sees “less prospect than ever of a peaceful settlement that would bring a viable independent state or a resolution of the refugee problems.”

The collapse of the process, for which the Palestinians are wrongly blamed, she wrote, “has again revived the belief among a majority of Americans, certainly among the overwhelming majority of commentators and pundits in the United States, that the Palestinians are incapable of living peaceably with Israel and want to see it destroyed.”

Her book “puts the lie to that ignorant assumption,” she believes and goes on to argue that the Palestinians are ready for “peace and coexistence” with Israel.

The failure of Christison to find commercial publishers for her book has coincided with the findings of a major Arab-American organisation that polled Americans about their attitudes on the situation in Palestine.

Dr Ziad Asali, the new president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), reported that a recent Zogby International poll of 1,007 likely American voters showed quite clearly that “the Palestinian narrative is neither known nor appreciated by a large sector of the American public.” For most Americans, the Israeli version still defines the conflict in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of Americans do support the Palestinian right to independent statehood and see the Palestinians as equally entitled to full rights as the Israelis, Asali noted. In fact, support for the Palestinians increases when the issue is presented in purely humanitarian rather than legal, religious or historical terms. As expected, the Palestinian National Authority and President Yasser Arafat were viewed quite negatively.

Asali’s conclusion is that there is an urgent need to “soften the image of the Palestinian,” something the ADC hopes to undertake in its coming efforts, much the same way as Christison has done marvellously in the first hand accounts of exile and dispossession richly related by Palestinian Americans.