Re-invention of Site and Self

Last spring the time to complete my PhD at York University ran out, and I de-registered. It’s still unclear if I can complete the work, re-register and defend, but at these points this is not my main concern. York was not an environment in which I was able to complete, or even really get going, with the work required to earn a PhD. I do think I’m capable of such work, but for various reasons, this was not the right time.

During the past year I’ve continued to live in Toronto, working several part time jobs, and I’ve applied and been accepted into a different Academic program which I will start in September. I’ve been a bit cagey about all of this, certainly my online presence has declined. This is partially a function of self-care – the constant exposure of oneself to the public sphere/agora/gladiatorial arena is not necessarily engendering of the forms of self-love and self-care which are required to maintain reasonably coherent identity across a tumultuous life-bridge. That said, at a point, self-narration becomes a form of confident self-assertion. My friend Tom tells me self-narration can actually be problematic, so this point might even be up for reconsideration. More on that later. Anyway, the point is – I’m still here, and I want this blog to have a future.

The blog’s future will not look exactly like it’s past. In the past, especially since 2011, I’ve written a lot about Palestine. Now, Palestine is a very interesting and important subject, but on the whole I’ve found that, as a while person living in Toronto, there is not much I can say about Palestine that folks will find useful. Generally, white solidarity activists only gain status in the Palestine solidarity community here by following implicit rules, rather than by creative thought and research on taboo subjects (i.e. the history of the PLO). What interests me about Palestine isn’t exactly what I’m “supposed” to be interested in, and this has brought me some very deep friendships, but on the whole it has brought alienation and distancing from that community. This can’t be disconnected from the fact that since 2012 I have not been able to visit Palestine. This is largely my own doing – if my PhD had been going better, I’m sure I could have found the money to go. But as it has gone, although I was able to continue travelling to Ireland yearly, Palestine was out of the question. I miss the friends I made there dearly, and I hope that someday soon I can go back. To be radically honest, I think a major gap in my experience of these issues is the un-talked about class barriers, such that when I spoke about Palestine with Palestinians and other Arabs in Toronto, it made many of them uncomfortable not only because, as a white person, I was in some way “appropriating” “their experience”, but because due to the extreme financial and social class difference between relatively (on the global scale, at least) wealthy Palestinians living in Toronto, and poor Palestinians living in refugee campus in Palestine. As a while person, I was able to cross social and class divisions in Palestine in the way that would be far more difficult for an indigenous person. This whole issue of the relationship between the indigenous vs foreign subject position in relation to the ability to cross local boundaries is actually really interesting, and it reminds me of something an undergraduate history professor of mine said about the best book written on 19th century New York was written by a recent immigrant who described what he saw in a way that wasn’t possible for folks who grew up in that context. But, in the current identity politics world of “you can’t write about my culture”, the possibilities of insight from the foreign position are dismissed in advance as Orientalist. So, and I apologize for my rambling here, it felt basically impossible to continue with the project of political phenomenology using Palestine as a case study.

My decision to apply for the Masters degree program at OISE came of two origins. The first is the fact that two of my housemates have been through the program, and though I never thought much of it from its title (Adult Education? I was more interested in the “prestige” disciplines like Philosophy, History, etc), I was always really impressed and interested in what they were studying in any given week. The other origin was a series of discussions with a senior figure in the student co-operative movement at the NASCO institute in Ann Arbour last November. From those talks, I learned the mind-bending fact that what I took for granted as the natural form of student co-operative governance was in fact highly specific to Ontario – and across the United States what we took as a given was in fact a rarity. I will speak more about these issues in upcoming posts, but for the meantime what I want to communicate is this sense of intellectual excitement in uncovering the specificity of something that I saw discursively inscribed as normal.

One really wonderful thing that happened this year is I was still able to attend and be part of the Economy and Society Summer School in Castletownroche, Ireland. This program, if we read it in continuity with the previous iteration (“Theory and Philosophy” summer school) is something I have now attended 6 times. Due to my academic catastrophe, I was not able to act as faculty this year (I had given a talk last year, and reading groups the two years before that), but it was actually amazing to be able to cross over between the student and staff sides of things. Also, I worked the bar for most of the evenings, which made me feel part of the staff in a meaningful way, and allowed me to interact with pretty much everyone. What was truly special to me this year were my discussions with Arpad Szakolczai, a professor of Sociology at University College Cork who has truly heterodox views on the Enlightenment, the history of Capitalism, Plato, and the correct form of Republican governance. Last year at the summer school he gave a talk entitled “Fairground Capitalism” which argued that Habermas got the notion of public and private backwards (and that the public sphere is a “gladiatorial arena”), and that capitalism emerged historically in Europe not from the market but from the Fairground. The talk was quite influential on me, and inspired me to read several of his books and articles – which formed the basis of deeper discussions at this year’s school. I hope to get more involved with his group (International Political Anthropology) over the next few years and possibly attend his summer school in Italy in 2016.

Currently I’m quite busy, working 6 days a week at various part time jobs as well as auditing 2 courses. I’ve also been developing a reading list for this summer to get a head start on my new program – especially the thesis research. I’m still a director at CCRI, and the CCRI representative to the Ontario Student Co-operative Association (OSCA) – as well as the newly elected president of OSCA which gives me responsibilities in relation to the organizing of the OSCA conference/retreat this fall. I ran for NASCO board this spring and was not elected, but I will run again this fall, as well as hopefully attend the NASCO institute, possibly as a presenter.

I will be in Toronto for the rest of June, and then I’m headed to Montreal to spend some time with my brother before I fly West to spend the bulk of July and August with my parents in British Columbia. It will be the first time in several years that I have spent more than a week or two in British Columbia, and I’m very much looking forward to thesis research at our summer cottage.

Moving forward, I hope to make this blog a public site of my ongoing research on co-operatives, as well as a place to discuss the relationship between the theoretical anthropology I’m beginning to read with the existential phenomenology with which I’m already quite familiar.


Statement on the rising situation in al Quds

When an abused, repressed and oppressed people fights back using means that cause genuine hurt to members of the oppressor group, even members who are not directly involved in oppression themselves, and even when the acts are even arguably “counter productive” with respect to the struggle for justice, these acts must not be equivocated with the acts of violence used to pacify their resistance and maintain an unjust status quo.

I disagree with acts of resistance that are not legal under international law. However as a matter of priority,  it is qualitatively more important to condemn and bring to a halt acts of pacification that suppress even these acts of resistance. Acts of resistance,  even those which are not morally justifiable, must be recognized in the context of oppression and reverse oppression, rather than the “terrorism”  discourse which only sees violence that challenges the status quo as a problem.

Political violence must come to an end through an agreement based on the recognition of Rights and real promises to dissolve institutions that sustain oppression, not through counter insurgency,  policing,  and military actions.

The Need for Honesty and Clarification for the Consumer Boycott against Israeli Apartheid

The BDS consumer boycott campaign feels hopelessly disorganized as soon as you try to step beyond the huge targeted campaigns, such as against Soda Stream or Hewlett-Packard. Unlike the Arab League Boycott, there are no simple set of self-consistent guidelines to determine what makes a product “boycottable”, and targets chosen by people often fail to reflect a sense of really having thought things through.

For example – McDonalds and Coca Cola. Are they boycottable? They both do business in Israel, but are they “complicit in Israeli violations of international law”? Paying taxes in Israel is to some extent complicity in these violations. Coca Cola goes farther and actually has a factory in an illegal settlement. However, McDonalds also in a sense “respects” a boycott against Israeli violations of international law by refusing to open locations in the occupied territories. Also, while Coca Cola is indeed involved in settlement factory activity, their main competitor – Pepsi – is a part owner of the Israeli company Sabra Hummus, which is itself a major target of BDS (due to being an Israeli export). So whether you support Pepsi instead of Coke, you are supporting Israel either way.

While guidelines exist, not only do they fail to give a definitive answer to the question of what qualifies a business to be boycott-able, it self-consciously avoids the question. The BDS movement website reads “Trying to boycott the products of every single company that participates in Israeli apartheid is a daunting task that has a slim chance of having a concrete impact.” However, to boycott companies (and countries!) that economically co-operate with Israel was the strategy adopted by the Arab league boycott against the Zionist movement which in 1946. According to the Israeli chamber of commerce and cited from a 1994 New York Times article, “the boycott has cost Israel $20 billion in export opportunities and $16 to $32 billion in lost investment”. Compare this with the cost to Israel’s economy from BDS, which is measured in the millions, rather than billions. While the current policy of many Arab League states is not to observe this boycott, this is not evidence that the boycott tactic itself is ineffective, rather it is evidence that American power has effectively neutralized Arab resistance against Israel.

“Trying to boycott the products of every single company that participates in Israeli apartheid” was in fact the policy of the Arab league boycott, which included a primary boycott (boycotting Israel and Israeli exports), a secondary boycott (boycotting companies that do business with Israel) and a tertiary boycott (boycotting companies that do business with boycotted companies). The BDS movement includes a version of the primary boycott (although it does not target individuals), and the secondary boycott (but only insofar as the companies “are complicit in Israeli violations of international law), and might include some version of the tertiary boycott when the engagement between companies concerns matters that sustain Israeli power.

BDS activists should clarify the Boycott of Israeli products in relation to the question of the secondary boycott. The notion of an “effective” or “strategic” target is a dangerous ground for hypocricy because it suggests the possibility of a situation where two companies which are equally supportive of Israeli crimes, but only one would be considered a “target” for boycott. The basis of a products boycott ability should be some standard of their degree of support to the Israeli apartheid system. Personally, I can’t see how we can draw any qualitative boundary between companies who participate directly in the occupation and security apparatus, and companies who merely help support and sustain the Israeli economy. The Israeli economy and the Israeli military-occupation machine are one and the same power system.

In my view, we should recognize that internal consistency is a part of the nature of activist solidarity – we shouldn’t make fun of people’s desire to be consistent. We should learn about the Arab league boycott in detail, and consider taking from it this sense of consistency in refraining from economic activity that strengthens the power systems that sustain Israeli crimes. Because…

In Gaza, I can hear the rumble of victory

Since 1982, Israel has responded to every Palestinian “peace offensive”, i.e. any suggestion that the Palestinian leadership was prepared to resolve the political conflict on the basis of international law, in the same way: provoke, create a pretext, go to war, destroy the political institution with which they otherwise would have to negotiate. Hamas’ unity with Fatah is, like the 1981 ceasefire agreement between the PLO and Israel, an implicit granting of recognition of Israel’s existence. More importantly, it is an implicit recognition of the existing political framework between the PA and Israel, and therefore of the “peace process”, at least from the Palestinian perspective. From the Palestinian point of view, the political logic in the peace process, the Oslo Accords, the 1988 statehood declaration, all the way back to Breshnev’s “September Plan” in 1982, is not “land for peace”, but “law rather than war”; it is explicitly about resolving the conflict not on the basis of the balance of military force, where Israel enjoys a clear advantage, but through recourse to international law.

Since Israel enjoys such a superiority over the Palestinians in force but not in law, we should perhaps not be surprised that Israel uses war not as a continuation of politics, but as a means of avoiding politics. Rather than engage in politics, Israel inflicts pain, today they even use “pain maps”, that map the “pain that the enemy sees, we create a lot of pain so that he will have to think first to stop the conflict”.  Using this tactic, Israelis have many times achieved military victories that leave Palestinians physically and politically weakened. The expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon, and the Abbas-Dahlah coup at the end of the al-Aqsa intifada were both important Israeli victories, which took pressure off Israel and allowed it to continue settlement construction while preventing Palestinians from achieving an independent, unified, and internationally recognized political representation committed to their rights under international law. Every day the Palestinians do not go to the ICC, similarly, is one day longer Israel enjoys immunity from the law on the basis of its domineering power relationship against the Palestinians.

This time the resistance is strong, however, much stronger than for instance in ’82, or in 2008-2009.  Israel is responding to the success of the Palestinian resistance with brutal shelling of people in their homes while ambulances can’t move, and many ambulances have been hit directly (I see these reports constantly on my facebook feed, from activists who are on the ground in Gaza). But by all accounts the people of Gaza are fed up, they will not life on their knees but would rather die on their feet, or as Israel prefers, in their homes. Moreover, and perhaps just as importantly. Hanan Ashrawi has announced that the decision has been made to go to the ICC. So this time it may not only be “allegations” of Israeli war crimes, there may be real political pressure for Israeli politicians to stand trial for the crimes they have committed over the past weeks.

When people tell the story of the liberation of Palestine, perhaps the steadfastness of the people of Gaza and the heroism of the resistance in Gaza in 2014 will be story of the decisive blow. It feels like it could be the key moment, when time stood still, and resistance forces both on the ground by arms and around the world’s airwaves finally forced ideas to change and political forces to re-aligned and make Palestinian rights a reality. Inshallah Palestine will soon be free, and Israel in defeat will be forced to re-interpret itself, so that it can become something other than what it has been for the first 67 years. Maybe one day, a day long after decolonization, something called “Israel” could become something like a light among nations. In that Israel, perhaps Israelis would respect and salute the martyrdom of Palestinian heroes.

In Gaza, the Palestinian Revolution is alive. In Gaza, they are still holding down to the ground.

Identity and Community as Interpretive Limits

“You end up creating your identity by defending the thing people think you are.”

“People still think I’m Jewish….I look and act like a person they know, but deep inside I’m the person they hate.”

“In the end, well, people say it’s just because I’m Edward Said’s daughter.”

-comments by Najla Said, left out of context

This essay is not a normative critique of anyone’s identity. Rather, I want to bracket the questions we ask about identity: questions about details, dynamics, relationships with discourse and power, about our own identities and those of others. Placing these (questions about identity) in a bracket, I want to ask: what is signified by these questions? Why is ‘identity’, even a specific person’s identity, considered a legitimate object of interest, of discussion, of questioning? Following along this line of thinking I will question the implicit effects of framing questions in terms of identity rather than community in relation to a recent presentation by Najla Said and Spivak’s essay on the subaltern.

If we de-familiarize ourselves from the normalcy, the average-everydayness of such questions in the humanities, we might notice that there is a slight feeling of taboo that accompanies these questions. Perhaps feeling that we are straying a little too close to something private, perhaps also a sense of vanity – why, after all, is this ‘identity’ so important?  Continue reading “Identity and Community as Interpretive Limits”

Jian Ghomeshi and the Dangerous spectre of “Authentic Feelings”

On May 6th in Toronto, Jian Ghomeshi hosted an event honouring Morgan Freeman in which he received a cultural prize from Hebrew University. Because such events wash Israel’s image, and because Hebrew U colonizes palestinian land in East Jerusalem, PACBI (Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) asked both Freeman and Ghomeshi to withdraw from the event. There has been a concerted social media campaign attempting to pressure the figures to not participate in this event, which is a normalization of Israel’s apartheid practices in East Jerusalem. To quote in part the letter sent by PACBI to Jian and Morgan Freeman, 

The intention of the award is to honor your work in ‘combating racism and promoting knowledge and education worldwide.’ Given that Israel practices forms of racism through its system of colonialism, occupation and apartheid, and violates the rights of Palestinians to education and life, it is cynical, and nothing short of a dishonor to your lifelong achievements to be accepting an award from a group that is in deep support of an Israeli University complicit in Israel’s systematic violations of human rights and international law.


The Hebrew University is specifically implicated in serious violations in a number of ways. The University illegally acquired a significant portion of the land on which its Mount Scopus campus and dormitories are built. On 1 September 1968, about one year after Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli authorities confiscated 3345 dunums of Palestinian land. Part of this land was then used to build the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University.

On Monday, Jian responded to the concerns:

In simple terms, this event is not political for me. I am not doing this as a product of political affiliation or to make a statement. I am doing this to honour a great man and to advance dialogue around global education. That is what I signed on for.

Jian’s reference to his own internal motivations as a response to the claim that his event legitimates and normalizes the daily crimes against the Palestinians satisfies a little less than half of those who responded by commenting on the post (it was put up on Facebook). What is interesting about the comments is that not one of them is explicitly pro-Israeli, those who Jian has convinced agree with the non-political nature of the event, and applaud him for sticking to his convictions in the face of criticism. They perceive in Jian an authenticity for sticking to his beliefs.

What is strange about all this is that normally we applaud others for sticking to their beliefs when they are challenged because we agree with their beliefs. But Jian’s beliefs here are not self-understood or represented as political, so instead of a political conflict between two sides we have a conflict between one side that denies its political nature, and another side that declares the political implications of the event.

This is special because while we are used to politics presenting itself as a-political, I can’t think of many examples where the a-political represents itself as a-political and becomes a politics of anti-politics. To be fair to Jian, he is not against ever being political, rather he is arguing for a suspension of politics. In the case of participating in the Hebrew U event, his justification is the assertion that there “will not be an easy resolution soon” to what is “a longstanding political debate”, and that he “will speak out when [he believes] the timing is appropriate”.

So, Jian, when will the timing be appropriate?

Perhaps we can take a clue from his reference to Margret Atwood, which appears at the end of his piece. After all, he said “She articulates what is in my heart…” However, upon opening the piece, we find that Atwood is making a distinction between a cultural prize that comes from a private Israeli foundation, and a prize that would come from the Israeli state or a state university:

the Dan David Prize is a cultural item It is not, as has been erroneously stated, an “Israeli” prize from the State of Israel, nor is it a prize “from Tel Aviv University,” but one founded and funded by an individual and his foundation, just as the Griffin Prizes in Canada are. To boycott an individual simply because of the country he or she lives in would set a very dangerous precedent.

Margret Atwood’s distinction between the boycott of Institutions and individuals is not a hack job, in fact, it echos PACBI’s own language on the boycott of individuals:

In its 2005 BDS Call, Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott of Israel, its complicit institutions, international corporations that sustain its occupation, colonization and apartheid, and official representatives of the state of Israel and its complicit institutions. BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views.

Jian has no right to use Atwood’s piece to defend his own complicity in Apartheid. Atwood argues against cultural boycotts, but at least she argues rather than appealing to unstructured inner motivation. An argument can be responded to, can be part of a reflexive process of mutual growth and understanding. But a statement that culture is not political is not an argument, and thus what is disturbing about Jian’s remarks is not simply that he choses to stand on the right side of history, but that he chooses not to stand at all but simply hunch and shrug his shoulders, appealing to his own feelings and ignoring those who believe that when it comes to speaking out against human rights violations, there is no need to wait until “the timing is appropriate”.

Remembering Rachel Corrie

Today is the 10th anniversary of the murder of Rachel Corrie by the Israeli occupation forces in southern Gaza. Last night I attended a screening of the 2009 film “Rachel” at Beit Zatoun, which also served as a commemoration, and as an opportunity to reflect on her life, her dreams and aspirations, her sacrifice, and her legacy.

Rachel Corrie Martyr Poster

Continue reading “Remembering Rachel Corrie”

The end of Palestinian Statehood is a beginning for Decolonization

The basic opposition at this point to the two state solution is not world opinion or america or geo-strategic considerations or the Arab world or the Palestinians, but Israeli public opinion and the Israeli leadership. Since Oslo, Israeli politiciens have used the “peace offensive” of the Palestinians to lower the cost of the occupation and speed up colonization in the West Bank.

The political difference between Israel/USA and the rest of the world rests on a disagreement about the basic principle at the basis of the negotiations. Even since before Oslo, the Palestinians and the global consensus have pushed for negotiations on the basis of international law, whereas Israel/USA have pushed for negotiations on the basis of “direct talks”, which means on the basis of the political power imbalance between a state and a resistance group politically tied to the commitment of ending resistance. Within the “direct negotiations” framework, the power imbalance is simply too extreme to come to a settlement which is acceptable to the Palestinian people – most would rather return to resistance rather than live in a non-viable state with no part of Jerusalem as its capital.

It’s easy to say that the the problem with the idea of compromise is it assumes that the stronger party is rational enough to give up some of its privilege to come to a settlement acceptable to both sides. Israeli society has been choosing against peace for years by electing governments more committed to counter-terrorism and colonization than to recognition of Palestinian rights and working towards creating a viable Palestinian state. The more difficult thing is to recognize the dishonesty in continuing to affirm a politics based on the lies told by entrenched elites, which no longer have the function of moving towards a two state settlement but are now mostly part of a game of maintaining their power.

The radical position to take today is to recognize that the Palestinian people are no longer represented by the leadership of the Palestinian Revolution – Oslo has gutted the PLO and has disenfranchised most Palestinians. Any two state solution based on the current elites will merely be an entrenchment and humanization of the occupation, with nothing for the refugees and nothing for the million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship. However, the radical insight is not this but the recognition that Israeli society can no longer be considered a potential party in peace negotiations, but a racist, colonial people who have overwhelmingly chosen apartheid over peace by ramping up settlements and destroying the viability of a Palestinian state.

I think a more productive role that solidarity activists can take today is to ally not with the corrupt Palestinian leadership who continues to be committed to a solution systematically undermined by Israeli unilateral actions, but with the Palestinian diaspora against the intransigence, corruption and the lack of genuine political leadership on both sides. Rather than striving to create another Lebanon in Palestine, the time has come for the youth to embrace a future free of the quick equivocation between religion and nationality, but instead to recognize nationality as something only of worth insofar as it is liberating, and once national freedom is achieved to move forward to the next liberation. As a Palestinian poet I recently saw declared, “I would burn this flag and my keffiyeh if my people were not burning”.

Such a political program based on liberation rather than essentialized communities already has a historical figuration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: it was taken up by Fatah and the Marxist factions in the late 60s and early 70s as they created alliances with anti-colonial third world liberation movements all around the world. And they developed quite a sophisticated analysis of how to persuade Israeli jews to join them in their struggle against the ethnic nationalism of the Israeli state. This program can be read about in this early 70s publication by the General Union of Palestinian Students in Kuwait.

Unfortunately, the PLO never lived up to its highest ideals and over time resentment and eventually religious nationalism won the day. This doesn’t mean a return to anti-racist politics is impossible, however, especially if led by the youth on both sides. Equality, religious freedom, and indigenous rights have a lot to offer to Palestinians. And all that Israelis are asked to give up is religious and colonial privilege. The principle of de-colonization, led by the youth, and supported by a non-violent resistance campaign around the world can give force to ideals worth fighting for in Israel/Palestine today. And while Israel has hardly been a light unto the nations, its decolonization could serve as a shining example of historical justice that could help open the way for the decolonization of other places around the world where European settlers continue to deny their role in the disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples.

Mustafa Barghouti speaks in Toronto

Dr. Barghouti spoke tonight in Toronto, presented by CJPME. Mustafa is the leader of the Palestine National Initiative, one of the 3rd parties in Palestinian politics. He has played the role of a mediator between Hamas and Fatah, and he is a champion of the Non-Violent resistance movement.

CJPME is a bind by bringing him on a speaking tour, because as much as Mustafa speaks about Unity, his promotion of BDS is actually not in line with CJPME’s politics. In most ways Mustafa supports at least for now the kind of settlement CJPME desires – the two state solution. But he is careful to point out that the situation in Palestine (all of Palestine) is one of apartheid, and an apartheid which maybe can not be overcome by a two-state solution. Maybe soon, such as after 1 year, the Palestinians will need to shift towards a 1 state solution.

I appreciate Mustafa coming here and telling CJPME to endorse BDS and to cooperate with campus groups which are promoting BDS. He said “you need unity here just as we need unity in Palestine”, and this is true.

However, Mustafa’s political analysis is not up to his principles. He might endorse the right of return, but says nothing about what force can bring about the return. For him I think the return is a dream, a dream which you say to keep people happy, but what does he do to fulfill this dream? BDS? Ok yes, BDS, but how BDS? What are the tensions in BDS, what are the difficult arguments, why is CJPME not already endorsing BDS?

And although Mustafa might affirm the right of the Palestinians to armed resistance, what is the relationship of the BDS to armed resistance? With the great powers like America, they use boycotts and sanctions, and if these don’t work, military force. Should the Palestinians employ a similar tactic to the one America is pursuing with Iran? Why not? But no, only simple affirmations, no analysis, no talking about the hard questions.

Finally, what about BDS within the Palestinian national liberation movement? If his party supports BDS, and he thinks BDS is absolutely essential to the achievement of the Palestinian National demands, is he promoting BDS to Hamas and Fatah? Could BDS be something they could maybe agree on, to push Fatah away from Oslo compromise, and draw Hamas away from focussing only on armed resistance?

As for his focus on non-violence, I am unswayed. Israelis treat Palestinians who resist with “non violence” with the same brutality as those who resist with violence. So what is the point? The difference is, if you resist non-violently it is very easy for the Israelis to shoot you, no one is even shooting back at them! You can argue that people in America will see the pictures and see how horrible the Israelis are and work to stop supporting them and maybe this is true, but the problem with this is it makes the Palestinian weapon against American/Israel Palestinian suffering itself, and then Israel can quite rightly say that Palestinians are using their own suffering as a political tool. Non-violent resistance for the sake of propaganda does not have the inner purity essential to non-violent resistance movements, and the evidence of this is that it does not mobilize large segments of the population to resist.

We must take Mustafa Barghouti’s talk and his declarations and move forward to make stronger our solidarity movement to support BDS in all the north american pro-Palestine groups.

Statehood and Decolonization

There are two different ways to think about the bid for Palestinian statehood, which correspond to two different ways to think about the project of Palestinian national self-determination. One is the way the statehood project has historically been presented to Palestinians, and the other is the way that same project has been presented to Israel and to the rest of the world. Only one of these ways pursues goals of decolonization and return.

When speaking to Israelis and the international community, Palestinian leaders speak of their desire to stand side by side in “peace and security” with the Israelis. Palestinian leaders tell Israelis that by accepting a solution based on the ’67 borders, the Palestinians will end all of their claims to the ’48 lands, and respect Israeli sovereignty within its pre 1967 borders. Behind closed doors at Taba, and sometimes more recently in public on Israeli TV, Palestinian leaders cede the Right of Return and recognize that any return of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel is subject to Israeli approval.

However, when speaking to their own people, and especially to the party faithful, the settlement based on the ’67 border is separated from the issue of the refugees. The right of return is called a “sacred” right, a right which can not be negotiated away. This return would end the Jewish majority in a democratic Israel, enabling Palestinian self-determination on all of their traditional lands not by revolution but election. Founding member of Fatah and Palestinian intellectual Sakher Habash confirmed this view in a lecture given at Al-Najah University in Nablus in 1998 when he called the refugee issue the “the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state”.

It is not easy to tell which of these two ways is actually being pursued at any one time. In fact, since actions of groups can’t be reduced to subjective intentionalities, there is probably no answer as to which is the “real” program.

If we take sides on the Palestinian-Zionist conflict, then we will prefer one of these interpretations to the other, we might even undertake political actions to support one interpretation becoming true. For example, solidarity action and support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions program against Israeli Apartheid supports the second interpretation, by creating an international movement supporting the rights of individual Palestinian refugees to return. For example, prominent activist in the BDS movement, Ali Abunimah, has taken sides on the question of whether the PLO has a right to negotiate away the right of return.

The domestic Palestinian interpretation of statehood should not be dismissed quickly as internal propaganda. It is based on an interpretation of Zionism as a constant tension, as gaining strength from its conflict with the Arab states and the Palestinian people. This interpretation is similar to Daoist thinking which states that the best way to fight your enemy is to stop treating them as your enemy. The idea in its simplest form is simply this: that if Israel gains peace it will lose its national mind, its racist colonial ideology, and will not be able to resist in the long term the return of the refugees once the issue of the refugees no longer presents it with a threat to its existence as a state.

However, we should not uncritically accept the interpretation of Zionism as a tension. Zionism is after all not only a program for racist ideas but a racist construction – the building of settlements all over historic Palestine is an architectural way to institute the domination of Jewish Israelis in every place of the land. The fact that barely a single Arab town has been founded inside the state of Israel since 1948, while hundreds of new Jewish towns have been created, speaks to the reality that the idea of Zionism is not only existing in people’s heads. Zionism, for Israelis, is not only in their fears, in their ideas, but also in their streets and walls and monuments. Peace with Israel does not mean necessarily the end of Zionism anymore than peace with the indigenous people of Canada means the end of racist Canadian nationalism.

Another reason to critique the view of Zionism as a tension is the material benefit that the so called “Peace Process” brings to the Palestinian political elites who perpetuate it. It is absolutely in the financial interest of the Palestinian national bourgeoisie to cede the right of return and create good economic relations with Israel. They do not need to worry about the refugees – to them the refugees remain a cheap labour pool who guarantee the large size of the reserve army of the unemployed which ensures that wages will remain low.

In the end, which version of the statehood comes true depends on work done by Palestinians and Palestinian solidarity activists around the world. It also depends on the UNRWA and whether the Palestinian “state” will mean the dismantling of Palestinian refugee camps across the region. Perhaps most importantly it depends on the establishment of an anti-colonial discourse which allows us to talk about Palestine not as a problem of competing nationalisms but as a settler-colonial problem.

Even if a Palestinian state is created, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip will most likely continue, except in the nearly unimaginable scenario of Palestinians gaining rights over borders, airspace, and the right to militarize. Without an effective military deterrent, Israel will effectively be able to bomb Palestinians into submission every time any conflict erupts between them. And given the number of radical Israeli settlers and the intensity of their motivation, it would be very foolish to assume that border skirmishes between Israel and a newly formed “Palestinian State” could only be started by Palestinian militants.

This means that even after the creation of the Palestinian state, a struggle for equal rights for all Palestinians under the occupying power could continue. But it is hard to imagine this taking place unless the Palestinian citizens of ’48 and the Palestinian Refugees come together with citizens of the new Palestinian state in a new or renewed organization that sees their liberation as its ultimate goal.

But we should be honest – the struggle does not always continue, especially if the institutions that embody it are co-opted or disbanded. To pursue the goal of decolonization, the ongoing strategy must be to strengthen the liberators and weaken the oppressor, and this means to work on all levels to strengthen the anti-colonial strategy of the Palestinian nationalist movement, while at the same time working to undermine the racist ideology of the state of Israel.