Saturday, February 16, 2008

Palestinians should matter to everyone

Maybe it is because of an absence of two weeks that has seen me sick with a flu that left me rathe inoperable to anything remotely close to being effectual towards the conflict, or perhaps it is just the malaise that one feels when they reach a certain age and they are encountered by life riddles because they are subpar in comparison to their childhood dream, but lately I have felt lackadaisical on the whole subject and the effort that it requires of myself that justifies its presence on my life. Because of this (as well as other complications such as a cold that doesn't want to go away), I was missing from last week's demonstration at the Israeli consulate to demand the siege of Gaza end. Always not one to shy away from accountability, I do feel a little ashamed that I was unable to attend such a matter that I have felt so strongly about. I wanted to show my solidarity but was not present, even after I said that I would go.

After the no-show, as well as bitter winter, the draining feeling did not go away. Milling through the archives, sifting over and over of articles throughout the two weeks, attempting to find a topic that I could find something to write about; and it's not as if there isn't anything short of incidences that happens. In the end, I came around to the same dead end. I had nothing of total interest that provoked any real thought into the matter. Sure, we can all write about the Gaza strangulation; but better journalists with better knowledge and contacts do so already. Mind you, of course Gaza should be written about, but that doesn't mean that it would always be read, and if so, not by people who matter. What good is hearing another UN official talk about its "grim and miserable" situation? Is another EU official going to change the situation when he speaks of a Palestinian state and calls to "remove the blockade on Gaza because there must be movement for goods and people"? Could another diplomat talk of the bitter reality in Gaza and hope to make Israel relent its frustration?

There. I had had enough and toyed with the idea of slipping back into the numbness of simplicity that consisted of work, family, car troubles, awful television, and a Knicks team that doesn't win. After all, wouldn't the situation be the same even if I didn't write on this blog? It was the same before I read politics; things only gradually became worse for the Palestinians. What if I decided to just stop the studying in scholar, stop the research on alternative media and blogs, and cease devoting so much time to a conflict that has no real bearing on how my life turns out? Would it matter to those nuts who comment on Ha'aretz or the people marching in Bi'lin against the wall?

A few thoughts to myself and then I remembered an article I read by Bill Fletcher. A past president of TransAfrica Forum and the editor of The Black Commentator, he titled his piece "Palestine Matters". And it reinforced my assumptions that what I do really does matter, that what I read has an impact however small and insignificant it may seem to me. While there are many passages that I want to quote, here's one that struck the chord to an estranged activist feeling the pinch of debility:

"With each atrocity against the Palestinian people comes another battle cry from one or another part of the planet, not only against Israel, but against their unconditional backers in Washington, DC. And those battle cries should raise our concern."

Of course I read and hear the tired old cliches that having a stake in the issue will make the world a safer place. Yes, there are many valid points that support this notion; Osama talks of the occupation by foreigners on holy enshrines in the Muslim world; the many grievances that US policy afflicts on the Middle East, especially the poor, which only is more agitative when juxtaposed with the talk of "democracy" and "freedom"; the looting of resources that falls into the pockets of Western fatcats at the expense of the Third World poor, which then spirals into environmental concerns; and the one-sided "balance" that has Israel crushing the Palestinians all full view of their Arab brothers. All of this could be stopped if the Palestinians were given a viable state. Then again, we don't know that do we, as this world seems to work in vacuums: the issue of Palestine might be solved for a period, but there is still Iraq, South America, North Korea and Africa that is still falling under the rubric of US foreign policy and "free trade". Their grievances could tip over and create another struggle that has the truth miscontrued and another conflict that could last generations. And Osama could still be a thorn in our asses, yet a smaller one that might have him ineffectual. But what seems to be the most pressing security issue for most here is the one that is near their doorstep, not terrorism per se. The domestic always has more focus rather than the foreign.

Such doubts had me questioning whether it really was time to put it all to rest and be another robot like my fellow co-workers who just talk about the usual topics (cars, girls, sports). Then late Edward Said, who had written a post-article on Orientalism that appeared in The Palestine Chronicle really took me back to where the roots of the conflict began (that is revisiting Orientalism and The Question of Palestine), and reacquainted me with an intellectual that inspired me to really study further what consists of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I was reminded

"that every domain is linked to every other one, and that nothing that goes on in our world has ever been isolated and pure of any outside influence. We need to speak about issues of injustice and suffering within a context that is amply situated in history, culture, and socio-economic reality. Our role is to widen the field of discussion."

I believe if Edward were alive today he would still be just as explosive as he was back in the 70s and give no quarter to anyone who dared justify the actions in Gaza. He would have no mercy for Mahmoud Abbas who seems to be encouraging the rift between Fatah and Hamas, thus destroying what could have been a strong unified front against the occupier. Everyone knows that a fragmented Palestinian society can only paralyse their fight for self-determination, not enhance it. And having rereading Edward Said's most provoking work, it only made me realise moreso that the question of Palestine is something that does matter to everyone, more or less, anyone who prides themself as a human.

"The paramount thing is that the struggle for equality in Palestine/Israel should be directed toward a humane goal, that is, co-existence, and not further suppression and denial."

It echoes within me that it is not only for self-determination, identity and awareness that the Palestinians should be recognised and matter, but one of the most importance is of an egalitarian goal, that Palestinians and Israelis should "co-exist", that they are both of equal matter and both have equal rights as a human.

Now that isn't rocket science: it's all been instilled in all of us early on that we're all the same, we all bleed whether we're black, white, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Asian, Native, etc. So why is it so difficult to realise that Palestinians are only asking for what is their human right and that is to be seen as equal to their counterparts, the Jews? We can all state that there are certain politics at hand here, and that it's not as simple as that; but why not? Was not the South Africa model built upon the foundation that the blacks had the same rights as the whites and had no right to be treated that way? How about the Irish? The abolishment of slavery and segregation? The civil rights movement? It's not a case-by-case basis where we lessen the impact of the struggle because "Jews were persecuted" by the Holocaust and therefore they are bound to have their "Jewish state" which is their sanctuary from anti-Semitism, an affliction that is a world-wide disease since Jews are so oppressed. Those statements are made even without any scrutiny considering that Jews sit as CEOs and major stockholders, and even sit at important seats at the UN and in Washington and are seen on movies screens as leading actors and actresses. Anti-Semitism really outcasted them, didn't they?

It's a given that there are numerous boundaries as to why the issue is what it is. A plaintive media over the suffering of Israel's population against the propaganda that the Palestinians face (as terrorists and extremists and Islamofascists) does its job in vilifying Palestinians to no limit, and we are satured with phony scholars and experts who claim to know what is best to do in the conflict. We have talk upon talk about what to do with the Qassams, and yet no discussion as to why the Palestinians have any grievance at all in firing those rockets. Right now, we're on the brink of an invasion into the Gaza Strip just to help the residents of Sderot, meanwhile the Hamas offer for (ANOTHER) ceasefire is again ignored. Why would they cynically put their own citizens at risk just for their own political advancement? Is it worth it to destroy the Palestinians and endanger more Sderot residents just to have another "victory" moment?

Sure, there was a suicide bomber. But why do they become suicide bombers? Are we so immune to their situation that we simply ignore why the Palestinians are angry in the first place? Why would someone voluntarily take their own life just to make a hapless point against their occupier? Or have we simply forgotten that they are occupied? Because after forty years, we tend to assume that it has been like this forever and that there was no occupation to be begin with. Isn't that the way the coloniser is working here? Here we are, in the affluence of technology and free media, and we're still backward on who we're condemning? It's not the Palestinians who are building new houses in East Jerusalem, is it? Didn't Ehud Olmert already state Israel was not upholding its end of the bargain as proscribed by the Annapolis conference? So why are we not stopping this? Why are we still talking of Qassams and an extremist Hamas? Does East Jerusalem have no bearing on why Palestinians get mad? Does no letup on the roadblocks and checkpoints contribute to their hatred of Israel? Some might not be able to remove Israel from Jewish, especially since they are adamant that they be recognised as a Jewish state. This only contributes further to the dormant anti-Semitism, hence only exacerbating what is already a touchy subject. I have not even mentioned the settlements and their overzealous supporters that claim that they own this piece of land.

And the more you read into the conflict, and the more the truth escapes, the more you feel the need to write about it, to condemn it, and to say "that this is not right and that Palestine matters". Because weren't we in a position like this before, where the truth was so askewed that people did not want to listen and just go on with their day-to-day lives? No one is going to accuse anyone of being a little Eichmann, but being silent when we know that things are so bad for the Palestinians is like a green light for the people in power to do what they want. Sure, when it affects us personally then we want to stand up for our rights. But what about the ones whose rights are impinged on already? Where's our altruism? We care about the environment, the poor on our streets (well, some of us do) and our starving children. Here's a case where their starvation is all part of the game and we don't want to think about it.

And who's to stay that it doesn't affect us personally? We pay for it out of our pockets too, you know.

This may all seem a little confusing, even to myself I have run on and on and have no real point. But I figure that why I do this is because I believe I have an obligation to fight for justice whether and whomever it effects. And the Palestinians are the ones who I find to be the most persecuted in today's world. We have all heard the discussions, the one-state versus the two-state, whether they are their own victims or whether the world sees them the wrong way. But what should not be lost is this is a struggle that we can all identify with, whether we are affected by it personally or not (meaning Jewish, Muslim or even a minority). The world is being cast as the elite vs the poor, and sadly the majority of us is on the wrong side of it. That means me too. And it's this policy of usurpation, colonisation, removal and control that Israel uses over the Palestinians that also has some form in our own lives too. The people in power take land, money, and attempt to control our movement as well as our thinking by kowtowing the media. It's a little more extreme in the Palestinian case, and hence why we should all be more vocal to their demand to be recognised and have a viable state.

Right now, the media has it painted the wrong way and most of us are buying into it. And the longer this happens the longer justice will be put off, and that means more of the violence that only destroys more of Palestinian livelihood. I definitely fall very short of Edward Said, but our "humanism" will be lost if we let Israel completely remove the Palestnians from memory and from reality. They occupy not only the land, but also the important circles that only further Palestinian destruction. Why else do we have three people left in the US election that are trying to outflank each other on who is more pro-Israel? Why else do they attempt to strifle conversation on the Israel Lobby and aim to derail the Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer book? Why else do they try to apologise for Israel's transgressions against Palestinians or attempt to say that Israel owns the entire land because of their pious idiocy? Did we not read about a time long ago called Manifest Destiny where another sort of pious moron attempt to eradicate another sort of Native from their homeland because they felt it was their God-given right to do so? Does Benny Morris' words that the Nakba had to happen for another civilisation to thrive mean nothing to anyone anymore at the height of human rights advocacy and Hollywood drama for blood diamonds (or settlement diamonds to be more accurate)? Weren't the same conclusions met that such actions were a travesty to humanity, even something closely horrific as a Holocaust but only against another target? Aren't we meant to speak out against such actions that destroy a population?

Sitting here and typing this, I always question why I write about Palestine, and I always come to the same conclusion: that it is the truth as I believe it to be, and it is my job to try to air it to anyone who is interested. Debate about the topic? Bring it on. It's all a challenge and this is no easy feat as I'm not the most read of scholars just yet; I still need a few more years under my belt to even come close. Marching against Israeli atrocities? You bet. Signing petitions? Show me where.

I do feel now that I am a part of this issue that I must partake in the Palestinian struggle. Of course it is not just narrowed to their fight, as there are local issues to battle, as well as other foreign conflicts that I feel strongly about. But none more than the Palestinians. I know it's just a minor detail but most like to say that it is in Israel's interest to have a viable Palestinian state; well we can stop doing everything just for Israel's interest. In fact, we can even state that it's Israel's interest to continue with things the way they are because the Palestinians are backed against (three) walls with no one giving two shits about them. And I cannot sit here and let life go by while they endure their strangulation, knowing what I know now.

I can try to continue to relate how the Palestinian fight is one that resembles the blacks of South Africa, segregation, and other Third World struggles against imperialism. And that's all true, in a sense too; but many other more indepth studies have been written on such subjects and I could not do it justice here in my tiny little space. But Palestine is a question that is deep within myself that needs to be answered again and again; it's as if it's my conscious and talking about it is what really defines the "humanism" inside of me, the moral vicissitudes that I experience, and the voice that says that I am on the right track no matter how many obstacles are erected in front of me. In the end, Palestine is what defines the human struggle for equality for me, and how it can be so decontextualised and misinterpreted to fit into someone else's benefit, even at the greatest expense of someone right there next to them.

Yes, the fight for equality, the battle for truth, and the war for justice: the paradigm is Palestine. Nowhere is the playing field more uneven, nowhere is the debates more polemic, and nowhere is it where the people who matter are more silent about it than Palestine. It's all here people: settlements, Security Council, ICJ, Israel Supreme Court, torture, targeted assassinationas, checkpoints, terrorists, corruption, dissidents, collaborators, satraps, enclaves, Bantustans, apartheid, security walls, olive trees, beaches, fishery, airspace, weapons, army, settlers, protestors; it's all here and the battle for truth is being waged.

And we're on the tilting point right now. More and more speak out, which leads to more strongarm tactics to curb the criticism. Zionism is on the wane. Obama is seen as the candidate for a new Jewish crowd that criticises Israel's policy against the Palestinians. And Walt and Mearsheimer's book is a bestseller, as well as Jimmy Carter's. There was a giant call for Israeli Apartheid Week which still hits major cities across the globe. All of this does not bode well for the Jewish State, especially since a UN official stated that a "two-state solution has passed".

This follows the break at Rafah just over two weeks ago. The hold Israel has is slipping. We could all be cogs in the machine that ultimately brings down a state that discrimmates and champions Jews over Arabs. We could all be a part of history and witness another falling wall and another Soviet-like breakdown of empire, or perhaps another apartheid regime destroyed in favour of equality for all and justice to the Palestinians.

I cannot say that what I do does make a difference to those in Gaza and the Palestinians in the West Bank and the diaspora. I also cannot even say that it makes a difference to anyone here at the moment besides the few who I know. But living in such narrow parameters in not the way it works when you write about politics because it could only belittle what the truth is, whatever you believe it be. And that is not why we write on such matters. I do it because I feel it is of great importance that the world has to know what is going on; whether I get read or not is an afterthought as I know I can only do what I can do to the best of my ability as I have no output on other people's lives. Yet, the truth has a chain effect without pontificating: the more people know it, the more they feel compelled to spread the word. I feel that compulsion.

Just a few days ago, we had the Australian Prime Minister apologise to the Aborigines, whom they treated so abasively in years past, much similar to how other settler states dishonours its indigeous people. Who knows, maybe some activists also had doubts as to whether they actually made a difference to the Aboriginal struggle two to three decades ago. So it may not happen today, tomorrow, or even in my lifetime. But eventually, the Palestinians will see their reward for all of their struggle. And in the end, that's why I write, and that is why I have a stake on Israel-Palestine.

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