Next month, OR books will publish Midnight on the Mavi Marmara, a collection of essays about Israel's recent raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. The book will be edited by Moustafa Bayoumi, an associate professor of English at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College. Bayoumi is the author of How Does it Feel to be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America (Penguin Press, 2008).
I caught up with Bayoumi, who is currently in Seoul, and he answered my questions by e-mail.
Q. How did the idea for this book come together? Did OR Books approach you?
A. Colin Robinson, the publisher of OR Books, sent me an e-mail a few days after the attack on the Mavi Marmara asking me if I would edit the book, and I agreed. We both felt that this event had shocked the conscience of much of the world and that it needed to be understood with testimony, context, and analysis, things a book can provide perhaps better than any other medium.
From the beginning, Colin had a very quick turnaround in mind, particularly since that model of publishing had worked out well for OR Books in the past. Their first publication was Going Rouge, a debunking look at Sarah Palin from the left that reached The New York Times Bestseller list. Since OR Books publishes e-books exclusively and only through their website (www.orbooks.com), publication can be very quick, and Colin really wants to take advantage of this feature to have his list speak immediately to current events. A paperback version is planned to come out with Haymarket Books in September.
Q. What will be included in the book? Will it be all original material? Who will be some of the contributors?
A. We decided early on that the book would be a mix of the best of the published material about the event and new material that I would solicit. We wanted the first part of the book to be testimonials and the latter part to be analysis, history, and context. I reached out to several volunteers who were on the boats–such as Lubna Masarwa and Haneen Zuabi—to ask them for contributions and they gladly agreed to participate. Some volunteers, like the activist Ken O'Keefe and Swedish writer Henning Mankell, had already put out powerful pieces, so we're in the process of getting the rights to those. Other contributors to the book include Glenn Greenwald, Rashid Khalidi, Stephen Kinzer, Raja Shehadeh, Amira Hass, Ahdaf Soueif, Gideon Levy, Max Blumenthal, Ali Abunimah, Juan Cole, Sara Roy, Noam Chomsky, and others. I think it's a very vibrant list of writers. Alice Walker has written a very moving essay which I'm also very glad to have in the book.
Q. The working title, Murder on the Mavi Marmara, suggests that the book will present a clear argument. What is that argument?
A. We changed the title to Midnight on the Mavi Marmara almost immediately after announcing the book. Colin wanted something that would catch people's attention and wanted to put out a press release about the book quickly. But we decided just after issuing the press release that Midnight on the Mavi Marmara was better. That title would appeal more to mainstream readers, which is one of my hopes for the book. After all, many of the people we have in the book are establishment figures—we have decorated academics, celebrated novelists, world-renowned journalists, and a poet who is a Guggenheim Fellow lined up for the book. Unfortunately, the Israel/Palestine conflict generates such emotion and vitriol that one must prepare oneself for the ad hominem attacks.
The book is less about a single argument and more about offering a view of the events that night and of the conflict in general that is less common in the mainstream (although it is certainly more common now than it used to be). The events of that night—where, we shouldn't forget, nine people lost their lives—are significant in a number of ways. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla showed how more and more ordinary people from around the world are joining the call for an end to the occupation and a just resolution to the conflict. It illustrates how the Israeli political class, in thrall to military power, is increasing its own isolation in the world by launching a series of wildly disproportionate and punishingly cruel actions over the last years. The response to the attack illustrates, in many ways, what Peter Beinart calls the crisis in the American liberal Jewish establishment, as many no longer support Israel's actions reflexively and are often actively critical of the state. And the book will also discuss the growing grassroots, mostly non-violent, resistance strategies employed by the Palestinians and their allies today. In many ways, the book is trying to show the trends and trajectory of the struggle as it now stands.
Q. What are your hopes for this book?
A. Is an end to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict based on the principles of justice and true equality for everyone too much to ask? Barring that, what I'd like to come out of the book is a challenge to the Israeli narrative of the events of that night, which frankly speaking much of the world (outside of the United States and Israel) doesn't believe. The testimonies in the book offer a place to read what happened that night by those who survived it. (The New York Times, for their part, has published at least two op-eds supporting Israel's position, including one from its ambassador, but not a single one from the more than 600 participants in the flotilla.) It would also be wonderful to see the book generate more interest in how the Palestinian struggle continues to adopt more non-violent strategies of resistance.
Q. What are you working on next?
A. I've started a project on globalization and immigration, but events in the world keep pulling me away from it. I hope I will soon find the time I need to devote to it.—Evan R. Goldstein