Reflections in Palestine

One constant here is my desire to read, this place inspires in me a voracious appetite to read and discuss the history of this place. This is perhaps unfortunate, maybe like “Midnight in Paris” I wander the streets of Ramallah thinking more of the Nakba, the Naksa, or the intifadas than of today. Of course, thinking of those difficult times makes the contemporary reality of the Dubai of the West Bank all the more striking. There are at least 3 malls here, possibly quite a few more. And although some are empty and remind me of the sad Chinatown malls in Toronto, many are full of stores and shoppers – there really is a lot of economic activity here. I learned a few days ago from some Palestinian friends that Ramallah is now the 4th most expensive city in the Arab world, and within the top ten most expensive cities internationally. Those rankings are made by comparing costs to average salaries, so because of the exchange rate it is still relatively cheap for tourists from first world countries to visit, even to stay in Ramallah – but for locals everything is very expensive. Many people travel to Nablus or Jenin to buy their vegetables and other necessities because they can be cost much less in those places. For me though, 4 shekel falafel (about 1$ Canadian) means this is a very cheap place to exist. 

The other night we drove by a hospital, or rather what was going to be a hospital, but has been converted into a palatial house for the president of the Palestinian Authority. This stands as a fitting symbol to the economic activity in this place – lots of money for the rich, a burgeoning upper-middle class, but the wealth is not distributed to the poorest and results in perhaps less solidarity ass the gap between rich and poor increase. There are new developments in the West Bank, very nice new neighbourhoods (Palestinians sometimes jokingly call them “settlements”), but they are very expensive – completely out of reach for families living in refugee camps. And those refugee camps remain poor, remain dirty, remain places of extremely high unemployment. And as such, they will remain security threats for Israel. The relation between poverty and resistance is perhaps not talked enough when discussing the Palestinian issue – in the West we tend to think of the Palestinian people as one people, but this is becoming a convenient lie as the current “peace” arrangements serve to benefit some Palestinians, at the expense of selling out the interests of others. It is no longer possible to say that the official representatives of the Palestinians support their general interest, or name and act on the general will. Oslo has become Palestine’s Sykes-Picot agreement. Sykes-Picot is essential when understanding the history of the Arab world, because the colonial division of Arabia into protectorates, then handed over to Arab elites, created a class of people in each newly formed country which benefited from the partitioning of Arabia, and which was willing to serve colonial interests to retain their privilege. Palestine is more universal than the other Arab states because Sykes-Picot did not benefit any of its ruling families, and its leadership after the Nakba for a long time did not have an interest in oppressing its people and acting against Arab unity for the sake of retaining a colonially granted privilege. But the universality, the sovereignty of the dispossessed people perhaps lasted only as long as their leaders remained dispossessed – remained outside the home land. The return of the leadership of the resistance at the end of the first intifada created a leadership elite which benefited enormously from its recognition by Israel. Government workers even had special license plates that gave them improved travel privileges over regular Palestinians. However, the Oslo agreement did not immediately lead to the leadership selling out their people – the PA took advantage of the first decade of its existence to strengthen the resistance in the ’67 territories – Arafat’s tactic had been for a long time to pursue the political and military options against Israel together as a combination. However, the failure of the 2nd intifada to secure a victory for Palestinian aspirations that could have settled the conflict (i.e. state on ’67 borders and return of the refugees to their villages) and the coming to power of Abu Mazen has led the PA to support only those goals which can be achieved through non-violent resistance, which conveniently are the same as those goals most desired by the new Palestinian elite which benefits from Israel’s recognition of PA control over portions of the West Bank. The lords of the bantustans now profit enormously from their bantustans and the enormous global funding which finances the new upper middle class that lives in them. The interests of the Palestinians have been split, and their dominant politics is no longer a politics of the oppressed, but the struggle of a group to whom Israel has contracted out the oppression of the Palestinians to achieve slightly better economic conditions. The struggle at the political level is really a joke – between the PA which wants better economic conditions by sovereignty over the West Bank and the departure of some of the extremist settlers from the deep west bank, against the interests of the extremists settlers who’s actions’ logical conclusion is the destruction of the Jewish character of their state.

I’m inclined to say Palestinians should be glad that the masada-Zionists in the territories are on a kamikaze mission to destroy the Jewish state. Of course, it is a bit awkward to tell them this, how can you tell a Palestinian that the most extreme form of his enemy is in fact the one who has the best chance of bringing about this liberation? But when the world can no longer deny Israel is an apartheid state, I think it is then that the world will no longer be able to condone either the Jewish character of the state, or the exclusion of the refugees from their homeland. The settlers will bring about a situation where the refugees, at least the refugees in the West Bank, are clearly internally-displaced persons, persons who’s homes and lands were stolen because of their ethnicity, and for whom the only just restitution is return of their lands and homes. On the other hand, so long as the PA is recognized as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, when in fact it represents only the small minority that benefits from the status quo, the world will remain under the illusion that the Jews and Arabs are in a historical-ideological conflict, rather a neo-colonial situation where the extremists are those who believe that their religion gives them a claim to exclude people from their homeland by force of arms.


I’m a thinker, so maybe my bias is that words matter and how we frame a problem is most of the work to solving it. But how a problem is framed isn’t an individual decision in this case – it’s a social question, which means it is a transcendental – something that belongs to no one individual person. And the things that effect it are not only cognitive, like arguments and discourses and books, but also emotional relations, physical experiences, the built geography, even the heat of this place. And not just in this place, but every place where this place remains contested, which for means eminently University Campuses across the West, and more importantly, electoral races that effect the policy of Western supporters for Israel, most importantly Canada and the United States. So the question for me is and remains, how to in some small way aid to the framing of the problem in the right way? For me this involves working within Palestinian activism and attempting to make it less hypocritical. I think the current stance of happy ignorance of Palestinian organizers towards the resistance is not helpful both because it leaves Palestinian activism open to the unchallenged charge of supporting terrorism, and because it ignores the relationship between oppression, resistance and freedom – or rather it promotes and explores it only in the limited context of “non violent resistance”. The problem with non-violent resistance in Palestine is that it is overly local – aimed only at the demands of specific farmers who are lucky enough to be separated from their farms by only a few hundred meters rather than a dozen kilometers – farmers lucky enough to own land stolen by the Zionists on the east side of the Green Line. We of course should support their struggle for a better life, but we should also be cognizant of the way the current PA’s support for exactly such resistance (now muted to the point of opposing rock throwing) serves to exclude the interests of the refugees – it is an alliance of interests between those who will benefit from statehood, and an organized exclusion of those who will not. What we should not do is exclude even from consideration those who stand against not only the occupation of the ’67 territories, but the exclusion of the refugees from their villages. And because it is in the end the armed presence of the Zionists that prevents their return, we should not pretend we can stand in solidarity with the Palestinians while a priori rejecting any of them who decide that the only way to liberate their land is by the same means that it was taken from them. The Palestinian solidarity movement should stop its hypocricy and discuss seriously the resistance.


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