A Palestinian perspective on the Maxine Peake affair

Israeli police officer kneels on a Palestinian man’s head outside al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. March 12, 2019. (Credit. Reuters)

JVL Introduction

Ahmed Masoud, a Palestinian writer and director now living in the UK, is aghast at the reaction to Maxine Peake’s article.

“This is not about that single detail Maxine got wrong, which she’s immediately retracted and apologised for. Lest we forget, there’s plenty of documented research – by Channel 4, Amnesty International and others – on the extensive collaboration on ‘security’ training between the American and Israeli states.

“Rather, I am here to talk about injustice writ large, about how someone like Peake – a person who’s campaigned for equality, on all fronts, all her life – is slandered as an anti-Semite.”

“The UK media has been debating whether it is anti-Semitic to draw any links between US state violence against African-Americans and Israeli state violence against us. As a Palestinian, I apparently have no voice in any of this – no one has come to ask me why we consider Israel an Apartheid state. ”


This article was originally published by Ceasefire on Tue 30 Jun 2020. Read the original here.

Let’s Measure the Exact Angle: A Palestinian Perspective on the Maxine Peake controversy

“Why is nobody asking us, the Palestinians, what we think?” Author and playwright Ahmed Masoud offers his perspective on the Maxine Peake controversy.

We live in an age of stupid politics, of clownish right-wing politicians whose ignorance of the world and lack of empathy towards other cultures is beyond laughable. Yet they thrive, and in fact get elected President of the United States and UK Prime Minister, and may even go on to win other terms. When a renowned actor like Maxine Peake, however, writes an article in an established UK paper, and gets a detail wrong about the Israeli state’s very real training cooperation with US police forces, the world is up in arms, and a politician – Labour’s Rebecca Long Bailey – gets fired from a top job for retweeting that article. Is Israel so immune from scrutiny and criticism? More importantly, considering Peake’s point was the global nature of systemic racism and violence, why is nobody asking us, the Palestinians, what we think? And whether our necks too have been crushed under ruthless Israeli boots?

I am not a journalist nor a lawyer. I’m not here to debate whether the police officers who killed George Floyd had learned the precise technique of how to place their knees on someone’s neck from Israeli trainers. This is not about that single detail Maxine got wrong, which she’s immediately retracted and apologised for. Lest we forget, there’s plenty of documented research – by Channel 4, Amnesty International and others – on the extensive collaboration on ‘security’ training between the American and Israeli states. Rather, I am here to talk about injustice writ large, about how someone like Peake – a person who’s campaigned for equality, on all fronts, all her life – is slandered as an anti-Semite. I have known this amazing woman and worked with her on several occasions. If anyone believes in human rights, it is her. She has always been on the side of the oppressed anywhere in the world. She has always been on the side of justice, standing with those who struggle for dignity and equality. Peake made a statement about the state of Israel, and — whether she got a detail wrong or not — no state should be immune from criticism.

The UK media has been debating whether it is anti-Semitic to draw any links between US state violence against African-Americans and Israeli state violence against us. As a Palestinian, I apparently have no voice in any of this – no one has come to ask me why we consider Israel an Apartheid state. As it happens, I am tired of trying to prove my own suffering to the white man so that I can earn a measure of his empathy. Why do people not just go and see for themselves what Israel is doing to the Palestinians? Step into Hebron and see the Settlers-only roads, go see the Apartheid wall separating Palestinian communities from their own lands and each other, or the illegal settlements engulfing Palestinian cities. Oh, and by the way, in a few days Israel is planning to illegally annex large parts of Palestinian land, making it impossible for any future Palestinian state to exist.

But let’s not talk about that. Let’s not talk about Eyad El Hallaq, the 32-year-old autistic Palestinian who was shot dead by Israeli security last month, a few days after George Floyd was killed. Let’s not talk about Ahmed Erekat, shot dead last week while on his way to his sister’s wedding. Let’s not talk about the fact that Gaza’s civilian population was bombed all night (for the umpteenth time) only a couple of days ago. Let’s not talk about the fact that Gaza has 17 border points with the state of Israel, but only one of them is in operation – with severe restrictions. Let’s not talk about the fact Israel doesn’t allow Palestinians to have an airport or a sea-port. Let’s not talk about the fact Palestinians don’t have control over their own borders, that we are not allowed to have access to our own waters, that we can’t freely sign trade agreements, that the Israeli army can raid any Palestinian home at any moment. Yes, let’s focus on the exact angle of the knee and where it was learned.

Maybe someone will read this article and spot an inaccurate word, and will seek to turn that against me too, for standing with Maxine and for justice for my people. So be it, I can’t stay silent while the truth is being distorted. I cannot just watch as innocent people are being traduced as racists. My father once told me “you cannot argue with the white man, because he has already decided that you are not human enough to argue with. You cannot appeal to his humanity because he doesn’t see you as a fellow, equal human being”. Now I see this more than ever and understand what he means.

This is all a power game, the aim is to turn us – the oppressed and the people who defend them, into the guilty. Maxine the anti-racist actor is now the ‘anti-Semite’, the Palestinians under violent occupation for decades are the ‘terrorists’. It’s the narrative of the strong and paranoid. It’s another parallel with the US, where those in power decry the protesters as violent and wrong, rather than the police shooting at them.

So let me reiterate once again: Criticising Israel is not antisemitic. When we criticise Israel, we refer to a state – a concept that is itself quite recent – and its political system, not the people living within its borders. When someone criticises the actions of ‘Russia’ or ‘Australia’, one obviously does not mean every single Russian or Australian in the country or the world. Equally, when we criticise Israel, we are referring to a political system, one that has been committing crimes against the Palestinians under its occupation for decades; we obviously do not mean every single Israeli, let alone Jewish, person around the world.

I don’t know the new labour leader, Keir Starmer, but I have no doubt the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey was more about consolidating his authority and power and had little to do with antisemitism – an issue which is a real problem in the UK and something that really needs to be addressed head on. Labour’s new leader is clearly more motivated by the prospect of becoming PM in five years than any genuine concern for the victims of racism and prejudice. Unfortunately, this suggests the issue will be with us for a while longer. If anything, I worry that it will get even worse.

As a Palestinian writer, I stand firmly with Maxine and Rebecca. I thank them for all their work for human rights in general, and I urge them to continue their amazing work, and not let slander and character assassination break their resolve. I want them to know that my voice, and those of all the oppressed, are with them. I thank our partners in the struggle, the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK, for rejecting this twisting of the truth, and I hope everyone reading this will do the same.

Ahmed MasoudAhmed Masoud is the author of the acclaimed novel Vanished – The Mysterious Disappearance of Mustafa Ouda. Ahmed is a writer and director who grew up in Palestine and moved to the UK in 2002. Last year he worked with Maxine Peake on Obliterated, a theatrical experiment and artistic protest. Ahmed’s theatre credits include Application 39 (WDR Radio, Germany 2018) Camouflage (London 2017) The Shroud Maker (London 2015-2019), Walaa, Loyalty (London 2014, funded by Arts Council England), Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea (London and Edinburgh 2009) and Escape from Gaza (BBC Radio 4, 2011)  Ahmed is the founder of Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre (2005) where he wrote and directed several productions in London, with subsequent European Tours. After finishing his PhD research, Ahmed published many journals and articles including a chapter in Britain and the Muslim World: A historical Perspective (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011). An earlier version of Vanished won the Muslim Writers Awards (London 2011 supported by Penguin Books). For more information, please visit www.ahmedmasoud.co.uk.

Comments (12)

  • RC says:

    While annexation of large and important sections (at least) of the West Bank, and the possibility of sanctions, are starting up the agenda, we might recall some facts about the sanctions directed against Russia for liberating the Crimea, as comparisons with those sanctions are being made.
    Liberation is a suitable name for an area which had been part of Russia since 1783 the dictator Khrushchev ‘gave’ it to Ukraine in 1954. The only consultations on this issue for Crimea that have occurred have been two referendums before the liberation – both of which endorsed the status quo of continued membership of the Soviet Union as a whole, ie union with Russia, and one after the liberation, which of course endorsed continued union with Russia.
    In spite these manifestations of popular decision-taking, the “West” has imposed swingeing sanctions on Russia.
    As a start, let us see whether the JLM, BoD etc are prepared to discuss how the views of the long-settled population of the area – ie the Palestinians – are to be taken into account. Or is the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ going to extend its ‘sovereignty’ by its traditional gerrymander method, earlier put into effect in 1948: drive the ‘Untermenschen’ out and declare a ‘democratic’ racial majority (subjecting the remnants to military rule 1948-1966)?
    Drawing, in effect arbitrary, distinctions between Israeli decision-taking in pre 1967 Israel and in the occupied areas (which include the Gaza Strip), is missing the point. Sanctions should target the decision-takers and their compliant infrastructure; after all, do the imperialist alliance’s sanctions against Russia target only the Crimea?
    I suspect that any answers from the Zionist establishments (gentile or Jewish, it does not matter) will be equivocation and obfuscation at best. But let us put them to the test and see whether they remain the arrogant racists they have been in almost every other regard; and let us push Lisa Nandy to follow the logic set out above. At the last general election at least some of the British electorate showed they detested (imaginary) racism, portrayed as ‘antisemitism’. Let us do them the credit of seeing genuine anti-racism and democratic principle in our party’s propaganda and manifesto. Sanctions (and boycott and disinvestment) against all Israeli products in the event of any annexation, to continue until the right of return of the expelled and their descendants is granted, and until Israeli forces are withdrawn to the 1967 line (it is a tactical decision as to whether pressure should continue on the apartheid rules and practices, as was the case with South Africa ).

  • DJ says:

    Spot on. Solidarity with the Palestinians and all those willing to speak out about Apartheid Israel.

  • Kathryn Gannon says:

    Thank you Ahmed for this statement. It is truly sickening as a lowly PSC member watching as the world leaders watch this horror show decade after decade and do nothing. My prayers are always with the Palestinian people.

  • DJ says:

    The same old anti-Palestinians have come out to smear blm for offering their support to the Palestinian people. The struggle against racism is not antisemitic.

  • Harry Law says:

    The issue here is whether it is anti-Semitic to criticize the state of Israel and/or an official organ of that state, the security services, the The Labour party made this plain when agreeing to accept the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism by insisting on the caveat that, “this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians”. The Labour party said this caveat is intended to reassure members they can be critical of Israel without being anti-Semitic.
    Jon Lansman, Chair of Momentum and Labour NEC member, said:
    “Sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing an interview in the Independent with one of Britain’s most loved actors is a reckless overreaction.
    I’m a Jewish member of Labour’s National Executive Committee who has sat on countless panels adjudicating antisemitism complaints and has often been criticised for my tough approach to antisemitism on the left.
    I don’t believe there is anything antisemitic in the interview and sacking Rebecca is a reckless overreaction by Keir Starmer”. 
    Put another way Saudi Arabia and Iran are Muslim states officially 100% in SA and 99% in Iran would it be Islamophobic to criticize these states? Obviously not, a ludicrous proposition, yet Sir Kier Starmer seems to have rejected Labour party policy and is saying in effect it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israel and by extension Saudi Arabia and Iran, that is why the Labour party is in such a mess.

  • Sheldon Ranz says:

    We don’t know that Peake’s statement was mistaken. It could well be that the Israeli government did train Minneapolis police in this specific technique. That government should not be given the benefit of the doubt, given all that it has already done.

  • Please make sure this article arrives on Keir Starmer’s desk. It really is time that the support for the Palestinians came out of the shadows in the Labour Party

  • MAX COOK says:

    I along with many hundreds of thousands in the labour party are always praying and demonstrating for the Palestinians freedom and a homeland, the Israeli government and its murdering IDF must be held accountable for their actions and unlawful killing of innocent Palestinian men women and children.
    Solidarity FOREVER.

  • Martin Read says:

    Thank you so much, Ahmed. It seems seems that so many of my (Labour) Party’s staunch anti-racists have been crushed or otherwise suppressed that the party has lost a deal of its moral appeal. As Robin has commented, Keir Starmer should read these words, before he condemns his allies at the behest of those who would strip Labour of its voice.

  • DJ says:

    The point I was trying to make was this. As soon as the apologists for Israeli Apartheid saw Black Lives Matter make the link between their struggle and that of the Palestinians they felt the need to respond. They went to the Daily Mail a rag not with a good record on anti semitism historically to smear them.

  • Mark Francis says:

    According to Amnesty International hundreds of US police departments send officers for training in Israel – often paid for by US Zionist organisations. Why would they do that, if they are not learning anything? Is it for dee-escalation techniques or community policing – because that is not what most readily comes to mind. Evidently kneeling on people’s necks is a technique the US police & the IDF have in common. MAybe just a coincidence then.

  • Emma says:

    Good to read your view on the Maxine Peake controversy. I agree with you. I find it shocking that people who strive to highlight the human rights of others are attacked in this way. Why are those who are just trying to highlight injustice and promote freedom and peace, being smeared in such a way. It is wrong and we must stand by people who want to highlight the truth, the real truth and nothing but the truth.Thank you.

Comments are now closed.