Saturday, 13 February 2010

Empowering the Palestinian popular voice: the first step towards unity and liberation

Via Silver Lining

Posted on February 12, 2010 by realistic bird

by Tariq Shadid, source

Don’t kill our independence before it is even born

The struggle for Palestinian liberation has reached one of its most difficult phases so far. The current complex situation is showing positive changes as well as negative ones, which should all be weighed on their own merit. One thing, however, has not changed: the absence of a clear and unambiguous recognition for the Palestinian popular voice. Unfortunately this is not only the case at the level of governments, official media, and international politics – but seems to be a stubborn phenomenon that continues to affect all levels of involvement, from the grassroots up to the higher echelons.

On the positive side, we have seen an increased involvement in recent years of international supporters with the Palestinian issue. Ever since the genocidal wave of aggression that was poured over Gaza in the winter of 2008/2009 on top of an already suffocating siege, we have heard an increase in volume of the sounds of protest from the international community, most notably at non-governmental levels. International aid convoys such as Galloway’s Viva Palestina and the Code Pink convoy made headlines in doing their best to provide humanitarian relief to the ravished Palestinians of Gaza. The global BDS movement has booked significant successes in the area of boycott and divestment against Israel, and continues to empower voices calling for sanctions against the zionist entity. On the political level, the Goldstone report dealt a serious blow to Israeli credibility and to its artificial image as a benevolent island of progress and democracy in the Middle East.
However, these positive changes are taking place within an environment that continues to promise less and less hopes for Palestinian self-determination. The Israeli occupation has not ended since the Oslo agreements, but has intensified. The Palestinian political scenery has not strengthened itself, but has fallen prey to unprecedented internal division. Israeli aggression against Palestinian civilians in the form of assassination, imprisonment, home demolition and confiscation of farm land and property has not softened under pressure from the international community, but has grown ever more relentless. Support from Arab governments has decreased and has even been transformed in some instances into a tight-knit collaboration with the goals of the Israeli-American-European axis of colonization and domination.

Variety and diversity

In this increasingly confusing jungle of political entanglement, we are seeing a wide variety of responses from the Palestinian side. Some voices are calling for a complete abolition of the two-state-solution, and a radical return to the original ideal of the single unified state for all of its citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. A good example of this is the direction that is propagated among others by Ali Abunimah, spearhead of the Electronic Intifada, who has no qualms about calling for a one-state solution as the only viable option to reach peace. On the political level, Hamas is increasingly finding itself physically and politically isolated within the Gazan territory, which is scoffingly called an ‘emirate’ by their adversaries. The ‘two-staters’, most visibly represented by the ilk of Mahmoud Abbas, are finding it increasingly difficult to make it clear to their followers how they will turn the romantic ideal of a two-state-solution into a reality – against all odds – and which level of Palestinian independence it would provide if it were to be realized at all.
On top of this most visible political division, there are several individual alternatives sprouting up in the field. A shocking example is the opinion expressed recently in an interview with Le Figaro on January 6th by Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University, who answered the question ‘what is the perspective for the Palestinian people?’ with the following words: “My next proposal will be to ask Israel to annex us, accepting us as third class citizens. The Palestinians would enjoy basic rights, movement, work, health, education, but would have no political rights. We would not be citizens, only subjects.”

It can safely be assumed that such an extremist statement, which violates even the most fundamental principles of the Palestinian struggle, is a lone voice that does not represent the opinions that exist among the Palestinian people. It baffles the mind how someone who is at the head of one of the largest educational institutes in the Palestinian civil community, would be prepared to offer such a complete capitulation of the Palestinian struggle to the zionist entity. The answer may be found in lack of principle, lack of vision, or simply in despair. It may very well be that such a destructive opinion would not have been voiced, if the arena was dominated by the sound of a collective Palestinian popular voice.

The diversity presented above illustrates how difficult it seems to have become to speak of a unified political Palestinian stance. Of course, exceptions such as Sari Nusseibeh should be simply brushed aside, but even then we are still left with a wide variety of Palestinian views and solutions. Unity, as always in times of trouble, is difficult to be found at the level of solutions, but is often still present at the level of common principles. Since none of those who propose a solution possess the actual tools for achieving them, it is there that unity should be sought, and found.

There are universal Palestinian principles that are connected to the physical and political history of the Palestinians, which are upheld by an overwhelming majority among them, across the entirety of the Palestinian spectrum. It is true that there are voices who aim to exclude the millions of Palestinian expats and refugees, in order to consolidate their own local or personal power and influence. Still, apart from this small number of agitators of Palestinian division and disunity, it is hard to find Palestinians who disagree that the most central issues of the Palestinian cause are the retreat of the zionists from all occupied territories including East Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, and the right of return of the refugees.

The voice of the people

It is in the interest of Israel to perplex both the Palestinians and the international community on these issues, which has been its sole objective for participating in the Oslo negations from their very beginning. From the Israeli point of view, it was a shrewd ‘pacification process’, providing them with the time for creating facts on the ground, and trying to make these irreversible. It is in the demographic and political interest of the Israelis to exclude expatriate Palestinians from the equation, not only in their physical absence but also in their right of opinion and representation as an inalienable part of the Palestinian people.

Sadly, the zionist entity has proved to have been able to groom a handful of Palestinians into a willingness to support this divisive direction. However, this thin layer of aspiring ‘leaders’ can only be seen as representative of the collective Palestinian identity in the wishful thinking of some egotistic power-mongers, and of course in the fantasies of the zionists who aim to conquer and subdue the entirety of historical Palestine. The truth is that the majority of Palestinians are very well aware who they are and where they come from, through family ties and histories, and cannot simply be separated artificially to suit the personal goals of ambitious politicians.

So there definitely is a unified popular Palestinian voice, that transgresses all the boundaries of geographical and political separation – but are we hearing it?

In the political void that is left open by the lack of Palestinian political unity, and in the absence of a clear platform for the non-politicized Palestinian voice, we also see an increasing number of Jewish and Israeli speakers, who are willing to speak up for Palestinian rights. This phenomenon can be viewed in a variety of ways, and has positive as well as negative sides.

It can be advantageous to the Palestinian cause that certain political statements in favor of Palestinian rights and independence are made by Jews or Israelis, as they are perceived as being more credible to a Western audience, coming ‘from the horse’s mouth’, so to speak. Another advantage is that it is inspiring to see that not all those who are born into the zionist entity are racist, and on a personal level, are representing a moral victory of true human values over bigoted hatred and greed. From a more pragmatic point of view, just like Palestinian political disunity serves the interests of the Israeli occupier, political disunity within Israel should be beneficial for the struggle for Palestinian independence.

However, unbridled enthusiasm makes it easy to overlook a quite crucial downside to these developments. First of all, it runs contrary to the goal of Palestinian independence to be in need of non-Palestinians to do the talking, let alone to achieve the envisaged endpoint of Palestinian liberation. An increased dependence on these conscientious Jews would result in creating the impression that Palestinians are a helpless, unqualified and immature people who are unable to run their own affairs and organize their own struggle, and are depending on the mercy of their occupier for any possible beneficial developments.

It is of the utmost importance to realize how little of the mainstream Israeli public view is represented by these admirable activists. There was rarely a time when the absence of a true Israeli peace movement was so evident, as during the ‘Cast Lead’ Israeli massacre on Gaza. However, unfortunate as it may sound, it would be very misleading to say that the presence of Israeli activists among anti-wall activists and in the Sheikh Jarrah protests represents a voice among Israelis that has a numerically significant body of support within their society. To make a bold comparison: for the overwhelming majority of Israelis, the position of these activists in Israeli society is considered as aberrant as the above-mentioned view of Sari Nusseibeh’s is among Palestinians. It is dangerous to fool oneself with romanticized perceptions.

Regaining our voice

In view of the above, it should never be taken lightly when an Israeli is appointed as a spokesman in a Palestinian grassroots movement, or given another key role. Regardless of that person’s qualifications and intentions, it is a strategic error of judgment on the part of such a movement to make that choice. It would be an example of genuine foolishness for the Palestinians to allow themselves to enter into a situation where Israelis are their occupiers, as well as their liberators.

A serious change of mentality is also required at the level of the international supporters of Palestinian rights. If they are genuine about their wish for Palestinian independence, they should support it on every level. This means that they should start doing their best to clear the stage for Palestinian popular voices, and to give a high priority to Palestinian speakers, writers, artists and activists. There is a strong tendency to fall into a romantic admiration of courageous Israelis who speak up against Israeli human rights violations, while giving little credit to Palestinians who express their views.

It is up to these international supporters to choose their Palestinian heroes, if they really mean business. If all the people they admire are Jewish or Israeli, it will be difficult to believe in the genuineness of their intentions. There are at least hundreds of Palestinian activist writers and journalists worldwide such as Ramzy Baroud, Mohammed Omer, Haitham Sabbah, Ali Abunimah and Khaled Amayreh (Google their names when you finish reading this) to mention only a tiny selection of those available. They are excellent speakers and writers in perfect English, who are able to present a balanced narrative of their cause, their aspirations, and the justness of their struggle.

If those who support Palestinians in the West find themselves always hanging only at the lips of Jewish and Israeli writers and speakers, they should seriously question their belief in the true Palestinian cause. Are they supporters of Palestinian liberation, or are they simply propagators of a ‘more moral Israel’? In order to start helping to liberate Palestine, the most primary and crucial step that would make a difference would be to help remove the unnecessary muzzle, and let the Palestinian popular voice ring out loudly and clearly.

As all colonized people, the Palestinians have fallen prey to the old adage of ‘divide and conquer’. In this sense, nothing is new. Therefore, the first step towards their liberation is to resolve this division, which is more important to the continuation of the existence of the Palestinian national identity than securing political guarantees from any superpower in the world. And since these political divisions are not easily conquered, because they are at least partly caused and maintained by outside influences, there is a primary move that is easy to make, and does not require anything except personal conviction and vision. I am talking about a simple move, that everyone is able to make.

This move is simply to reclaim the struggle as our own, by regaining our Palestinian popular voice, making sure it gets heard, and speaking up loudly and clearly for Palestinian unity and liberation. We also should always give priority to Palestinian speakers and writers, instead of rushing only to forward the articles of Amira Hass and Gideon Levy to our mailing lists, and barely giving any interest to the writings of our own people. Have you caught yourself doing this? Let us change it. We are not in a position to compete against each other – we should empower each other. Our own Palestinian voice is irreplaceable – if we let others speak in our name, we have already killed our independence before it is even born.

Tariq Shadid is a Palestinian surgeon living in the Middle East, and has written numerous essays about the Palestinian issue over the years.
River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

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