Reflections on SJP National: Neutrality in the Palestinian Solidarity Movement

A conversation which I think is important, and which I raised several times at this weekend’s SJP National conference is the question of our neutrality as Palestine solidarity activists with respect to the Palestinian political spectrum. From my experience doing this work I feel that I can say with confidence that as Palestinian solidarity activists, we generally are extremely fearful of appearing to take sides on any internal Palestinian political question. 


But on the other hand, our commitment to the 2005 BDS call and its three demands gives us a certain politics, and we generally feel free to criticize those Palestinian leaders who appear to be acting against or selling out the three demands. A simple example of this is the criticism that we commonly see against “Fateh”, which we generally hold to be equivalent with the Palestian Authority under the Abbas/Fayyad/Dahlan leadership. An instance of this are Abbas’ recent comments to Israeli channel 2 news during which Abbas revealed that he did not believe he has the right to return to his village – he was condemned not only by Palestinians who insist they have the right to return to the place from which they or their family were made refugees, but also by solidarity activists who commit their solidarity to the three demands and view concessions as part of the project of normalizing oppression.


However, while Solidarity activists feel comfortable criticizing Abbas or the PA, they do not feel the same level of comfort in supporting any Palestinian groups which institutionalize criticism or opposition to Abbas or the PA. Solidarity is often expressed with Palestinian dissident factions, but not as factions but rather only as individuals, and only insofar as the discourse of those individuals remains consistent with a human rights discourse. An example of this is the solidarity expressed by many activists towards Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi. Khader Adnan actually was recorded giving a statement of support to Students for Justice in Palestine and this was played at the National conference. It was a moving moment, a moment which could perhaps be built upon, but for now this solidarity as well as the solidarity expressed with Hana Shalabi remains almost conditioned on ignoring the fact that these activists are part of dissident Palestinian political groups – groups that oppose the sellout of Oslo, who oppose security collaboration without the Israelis, who oppose the Abbas leadership.


It is understandable that solidarity activists do not want to associate themselves with Palestinian political groups – especially dissident groups which are criminalized under US law, because so called “material” or “coordinated” support for such groups could be considered illegal under US “material support” laws. However, while we may want to ensure our actions to comply with the law, we should also consider whether our actions are morally consistent. Is it morally consistent to be against things you think are bad, but not in favour of real existent movements which oppose those things? Is it morally consistent to, rather than evaluate the political lines of different organizations, simply show solidarity with individuals from those organizations insofar as they effectively pretend not to have an organization at all? Is it dishonest to talk about freedom and dignity and the three demands, without talking about what those concepts mean for different political parties?


It is my belief that the existence of a Palestinian political leadership that is more concerned with maintaining its “peace process” which makes no pretensions even of moving towards what we who have adopted the BDS demands believe to be a just outcome, is an obstacle on the way to liberation in the same way that was the black south african puppet leadership of the bantustans. It is also my belief that the Palestinian political process is internally complex – because the political parties are also political movements and have dissident voices inside of them, that it is irresponsible for non-Palestinians to take sides with any political parties. However, I do not see it as inconsistent to specifically express solidarity for those portions of political movements which pressure their leadership to endorse and promote BDS and the three demands as the solution to the Palestinian question. Neither do I see it as inconsistent to work with such activists, insofar as such work is not in violation of any law, even if this means that this sort of work can only be done with activists in political parties which are not criminalized under US law. This hypocricy is not of our own making, and it should not stop us from working effectively for the three demands, both in our own countries and inside Palestine itself. The hypocricy which is our own is the one that says “we are only against politicians, and never in favour of any”.


2 thoughts on “Reflections on SJP National: Neutrality in the Palestinian Solidarity Movement

  1. I like a lot of what you say here, but can’t resist adding a couple of additional wrinkles:

    1. Efforts like SJP don’t consist entirely of solidarity activists, but also include many Palestinian activists. Bringing both together in a single organization to collaborate on join projects complicates things in a way that I’m not sure anyone has considered, or at least addressed.

    2. The “insofar as such work is not in violation of any law, even if this means that this sort of work can only be done with activists in political parties which are not criminalized under US law” part kind of nullifies the rest of this thought. What does that leave us in ’67 – Al-Mubadara, the DFLP, Fatah, the PPP, the Third Way, and a few others so small I’m forgetting them?

  2. Jo, thanks for your comments. I completely agree with (1), see the post that follows this one for a discussion of exactly this issue! As for (2), I believe this is a big problem for Palestinians who have the human right to belong to whatever political organization they choose, but I think it is less of a problem for non-Palestinian solidarity activists. I believe that as a solidarity activist my job is to pursue Palestinian rights, not align myself with a particular faction which is pursuing those rights even though I may have private opinions about which political line I think is most effective. I think that within the spectrum which is not criminalized there are plenty of opportunities to support political activists who are fighting for the three demands, especially if we recognize that the parties as not unitary entities but as internally differentiated movements where you will find some willing to sell-out the demands, and others demanding fidelity to the full spectrum of Palestinian rights.

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