BDS and the Palestinian Political Movements

I had the honour today of being asked to moderate a talk at Ryerson entitled “Canada and the Palestine Question‘, by Dan Freeman Maloy. The talk covered the history of Canada’s relationship to Zionism within the context of Western imperial politics in the middle east shifting from British to American control. We should recognize, according to Dan, that Canada is hack second-rate client state, and what we think as citizens of such a state about Palestine is really not so important unless we create bilateral actions with other second rate client states. Dan’s knowledge of the history of imperial international relations and how the zionist movement has constantly navigated within imperial nationalisms is really astounding – but probably more impressive is how fluent he is on the history of organized Jewish politics in Canada, and over the whole 20th century. But those things, they don’t interest me for their own sake – so, I’m not going to comment on the bulk of the talk.

What I found interesting is what Dan had to say about the question of Palestinian political representation – an issue I think is important because I think the Palestinian struggle is fundamentally about the self-assertion of an anti-colonial people, I think it’s important not simply that Palestinian rights are restored, but that Palestinians lead their own struggle, and that solidarity work does not turn into a politics of charity. The key issue for Palestinian political representation in Palestine, according to Dan, is Israel’s assassination policy. Any political groups that Israel doesn’t like, it simply assassinates the leaders. And since the group is labelled “terrorist”, no one bats an eyelid. We’re all familiar with the case of Hamas, but also Palestinian political parties in the West Bank can be labelled terrorist as well – even if they co-operate with the PA. The PFLP, for example, is listed as a terrorist organization even though its members co-operate with the Fatah leadership and even went along with the statehood bid. And yet, on the Canadian government website, you fill find them listed as a terrorist organization:

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Also known as
Al-Jibha al-Sha’biya lil-Tahrir Filistin

Formed in 1967, the goals of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) are the destruction of the State of Israel and the establishment of a communist government in Palestine. During the 1970s, the group took part in some of the boldest terrorist attacks of the period, such as hijacking three civilian airliners in one day and storming the Vienna headquarters of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Since 2000, the PFLP has turned increasingly to the use of suicide bombers, guerilla tactics, car bombings, and mortar strikes. The PFLP was also responsible for the first assassination of a cabinet minister in Israel’s history, killing Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.

Date listed
13 November, 2003

Date reviewed
22 December, 2010

The fact that PFLP is labelled terrorist is not merely formal, it means that if Israel assassinates or imprisons its leadership (as is currently the case), the Canadian government needn’t say anything – after all, killing “terrorists” is just business as usual.

If we’re serious, we should recognize that this makes a big problem for Palestinian political movements – a problem which might be deeper than the problems that divide the existing movements. To be clear – the PFLP is really not at this stage a “terrorist” organization – it hasn’t attacked any Israeli targets any more recently than has a Fatah-associated brigade. At least according to wikipedia, which identifies the most recent PFLP attack as november 2004, where as the Fatah-associated al-aqsa martyrs brigades claim to have carried out an attack in october 2005.  So why is PFLP called “terrorist” rather than Fatah? The reason is simple – Fatah is willing to play ball with the “peace process”, whereas PFLP still in principle leads the rejectionist front and advocates for the full restoration of Palestinian rights, not a pragmatic solution which will mean making the Nakba and the occupation permanent. In other words – because Canada disagrees with their politics.

If we want the Palestinians to resolve their internal political disputes and lead their own revolution, the least we can do is change the situation so that we don’t criminalize and legitimize Israel’s criminalization of all the Palestinian political parties which do not fit into Israel’s plan for the Palestinians.


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