I had the privilege of attending a book launch today in Ramallah for Sarah Irving‘s new book on Leila Khaled. While we got lost and I missed the first part of the event, what discussion we did hear was interesting and confronted the problem of the relation between women’s liberation and national liberation. According to Irving, women’s rights come as an almost natural consequence to the material involvement of women in struggle – for example the need for childcare for revolutionaries means childcare is organized. Khaled was skyped in and she gave clear and straight forward answers to the question about the relationship between feminism, leftism, and national liberation – in short, she said that you can’t differentiate between the rights of women and the rights fought for in national liberation because women’s rights are first and foremost people’s rights. Leila also spoke on the topic of the current situation in Palestine, the role of non-violent resistance, and the relation between non-violent resistance and solidarity work outside Palestine to Palestinian liberation. Her view is the opposition in the PLC today, and it is the classic Palestinian position – non-violent resistance is an asset to the mainstream but it is not the mainstream, and that non-violent protesting alone will not bring freedom for Palestinians because it doesn’t pose a problem for Israel. Armed struggle, in her opinion, is legal under international law and required by pragmatic circumstances to achieve Palestinian rights including foremost the right of return as well as the right to an independent state.
After the talk I bought the book and spoke with Irving for a little while about the current state of anti-capitalist and anti-globalization struggles. She said that her beginning in these movements was in the UK in the 90s, and at that time there was a greater sense that although different people are working with different priorities, that there was some larger unity, some common project that they were all working towards. That seems absent today, and there is much more bickering between different activist movements. I think in the context of this a book on Leila Khaled, a book to confront – in Irving’s words (paraphrasing), the idea that “any woman involved in national liberation has sold out to men and must be internally colonized”. Leila Khaled emphasized the importance of national fronts, of unity, of a common project and common goals agreed on and practiced between groups that do not and will not agree on everything. This need for common front is always difficult due to divisions between people on what is right, illustrated by the continued division between the two major Leftist parties in Palestine – the PLFP and DFLP, and one could say that this is illustrated by their failure to put forward a Leftist unity candidate in the last PLC elections.
It seems to me that the problem of unity and the problem of violent versus non-violent resistance are, in Palestine today, in fact the same problem. Because of Oslo, the PLO is seemingly inextricably tied to Israel, which means anyone controlling the PLO must agree to basic Israeli demands which is, at minimum, denouncing armed struggle and usually includes active police participation in the prevention of armed struggle. The unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, if successful, will be successful only because Hamas does not possess a credible program for armed struggle nor is Israel truly threatened by the largely symbolic armed resistance it does offer from time to time. This is a problem if non-violent resistance and negotiations with an ongoing colonizer are not sufficient to attain minimum Palestinian aspirations, because it means that unity under Oslo conditions is really only a program for differently dividing up the power and authority that Palestinians already possess, rather than a step in advancing the cause.
The talk made me depressed at the future of the Revolution, not only because of the fraudulent “peace process”, but because of the seemingly increasing likely hood that we will soon see the end of the conflict, not on the basis of Justice but rather on a basis of a defeat. If Khaled is right, then in a sense things are even worse because while it is easy to argue that non-violent resistance is not the mainstream and is fundamentally inadequate on its own to achieve Palestinian rights, then the real problem is that few Palestinians are interested in engaging in the form of resistance that could produce a just resolution to the conflict. The inundation of the West Bank by rich Palestinian Americans means many people are pressuring the PA to negotiate with Israel even while Israel builds settlements – unbelievably there is resistance to Abu Mazen today from the right wing, from moneyed interests that would profit from any final solution even one terribly inadequate to Palestinian rights and aspirations. Also, there is the problem of the incredibly efficient Israeli security which seems to arrest anyone even thinking about resistance (and of course, many others who were not, picked up by a justice system based on rumours rather than evidence and the rule of law). Who today wants to engage in what locals call “patriot work”, who even wants to learn about it – since even that is enough to land you in jail? It’s easy for internationals to criticize, to speak from a god’s eye view about the situation, but what’s harder is to be honest about what is possible in a place where all the money in the world is aimed squarely against the Palestinian Nationalist movement.
Of course it is true that since ’93, and especially since 2000 the eyes of the world have been on Palestine, and of course this potentially weakens US support for Israel. But at the same time, since 93 by laying the groundwork and especially since the end of the 2nd intifada, Israel has succeeded in controlling and weakening the Palestinian Nationalist movement from the inside out – by creating an elite which benefits from the current situation, and by linking the main organ of the armed struggle – Fateh – to the IDF through security collaboration. International focus on Palestine has for the most part sidestepped the question of armed struggle, and bought into a fraudulent story about the 2nd intifada which believes it was unplanned, spontaneous, and not connected with the Palestinian leadership especially Arafat. Their belief in this story is underpinned by a conception of the world in which they are the centre, their deception and enlightenment is the key to Palestinian liberation. Their belief is in fact the polar opposite of the mainstream traditional Palestinian belief – that only a war of national liberation can liberate their land and regain their rights. So long as international solidarity activists do not confront the question of armed struggle they will leave themselves open to attack by zionist organizations on the charge that events like Israeli Apartheid week do not confront the problem of terrorism, but perhaps worse the effect of international focus on non-violent resistance as in Nabi Saleh and Bel’in is to support the current PA’s policy of demonstrations against the occupation, extremely weak forms of resistance that don’t bother Israel at all, and which will not elicit settlement withdrawal or Israel to grant equal rights to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, let alone refugees the right to return.