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