In­sist­ing on their hu­man­ity: 'The plight of the Pales­tini­ans'

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Ramzy Baroud

When a copy of Wil­liam A. Cook's lat­est book, The Plight of the Pales­tini­ans ar­rived in my mail­box, I ini­tially felt a lit­tle wor­ried. The vol­ume, fea­tur­ing the work of over 30 ac­com­plished writ­ers, is the most ar­tic­u­late trea­tise on the col­lec­tive vic­tim­iza­tion of Pales­tini­ans to date. From Cook's own in­tro­duc­tion, ' The Un­told Story of the Zion­ist In­tent to Turn Pales­tine into a Jewish State' to Francis Boyle's sum­ma­tion of 'Is­rael's Crimes against the Pales­tini­ans', it takes the reader through an ex­haus­tive jour­ney, chart­ing the course of Pales­tinian his­tory prior to and since al-Nakba, the Catas­tro­phe of 1947-48.

Still, I feared that some­thing might be missing in this noble and mon­u­men­tal un­der­tak­ing: Pales­tinian peo­ple's own re­sponses to the cru­el­ties they've suf­fered. Would Pales­tini­ans be pre­sented yet again as merely poster-child vic­tims, ea­ger for hand­outs?

The pho­to­graph on the cover was telling: a kindly old man with a white beard, who could have been any Pales­tinian or Mid­dle-East­ern grandpa, is lov­ingly touch­ing the hair of a tod­dler. The two are crouch­ing be­fore a small, stained tent. AlNakba was still re­cent, and the two Pales­tini­ans, sep­a­rated by two gen­er­a­tions ap­pear tired and hag­gard as they are caught in this hope­less scene. Yet, some­how the grand­fa­ther in­sists on pre­serv­ing his right to love his grand­son. This in­sis­tence on one's hu­man­ity has been the key strength which has al­lowed the Pales­tinian peo­ple to pre­serve their strug­gle and re­sis­tance be­fore the wicked arm of oc­cu­pa­tion and op­pres­sion for nearly 63 years.

Do most aca­demics know this? Do they truly com­pre­hend what it is that makes an old man from a West Bank vil­lage face the bru­tal­ity of Jewish set­tlers, year af­ter year, as he re­turns to har­vest his few re­main­ing olive trees? Or a Pales­tinian woman from Gaza who keeps com­ing back to hold a vigil be­fore the Red Cross of­fice with a framed photo of her once-young son, now ail­ing in some Is­raeli jail?

What keeps them go­ing is some­thing that can­not be dis­sected sci­en­tif­i­cally or an­a­lyzed in­tel­lec­tu­ally. It can only be felt, ex­pe­ri­enced, and par­tially un­der­stood. This un­der­stand­ing is es­sen­tial, for with­out it much more time and ef­fort would be wasted, dis­count­ing the most im­por­tant com­po­nent in the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict: the Pales­tinian peo­ple.

Some in­tel­lec­tu­als, al­though well-in­ten­tioned, of­ten con­flate the un­der­stand­able weak­ness of the cur­rent Pales­tinian lead­er­ship and the stead­fast­ness of the Pales­tinian peo­ple. They write about both en­ti­ties as if they are one and the same. One of the best au­thors on Pales­tine rightly pointed at the huge dis­crep­an­cies of power be­tween Pales­tini­ans and Is­rael, not­ing that such an im­bal­ance could not pos­si­bly lead to an eq­ui­table plat­form for ne­go­ti­a­tion. To demon­strate the point, the author refers to Pales­tini­ans as "al­most to­tally pow­er­less peo­ple", ne­go­ti­at­ing with a "pow­er­ful oc­cu­pier."

But the Pales­tinian peo­ple are cur­rently ne­go­ti­at­ing with no one. Their rep­re­sen­ta­tives merely rep­re­sent them­selves and their own in­ter­ests. It is im­por­tant that we pre­serve that dis­tinc­tion - be­tween the Pales­tinian Author­ity in Ramallah and Pales­tinian peo­ple, who have held on to their rights for so many years, and un­leashed two of the great­est ex­pres­sions of peo­ple's power and re­solve: the First Up­ris­ing of 1987 and al-Aqsa In­tifada of 2000. A whole pop­u­la­tion tak­ing on the self-cel­e­brated "great­est army in the Mid­dle East" is hardly "pow­er­less". The Pales­tinian peo­ple have printed them­selves on the prac­ti­cal dis­course of this con­flict, and they have proved them­selves to be pow­er­ful play­ers in de­ter­min­ing their own fate.

Jeff Halper, the Di­rec­tor of the Is­raeli Com­mit­tee against House De­mo­li­tions, un­der­stands this fact well. The peace and jus­tice ac­tivist has spent decades work­ing for a just set­tle­ment to the con­flict, a jour­ney that's al­lowed him to work with nu­mer­ous Pales­tini­ans. He has thus grasped some­thing many politi­cians have in­ten­tion­ally or in­ad­ver­tently missed.

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