Talking Palestine to Power

Today, there is no excuse for not knowing the truth about Palestine, especially what is happening in Gaza. Even taking into account the disinformation spread in mainstream media, there are enough glimpses one gets of a ravaged Gaza and a  brutalized people that should compel us to ask questions. There are enough websites and blogs easily available for anyone to learn more, even if it requires sifting through and evaluating the available information. Certainly, the alarm bells should be ringing when our political leaders declare undying fealty to Israel or cavalierly wear it as a badge of honour, despite the documented reports of Israel’s war crimes by human rights groups and official enquiries.

But the world lacks courage from government leaders, acquiescent mainstream media, non-governmental organizations dependent on government support, academics looking for tenure, and populations too long fed on a diet of Zionist myths.  People are terrified of being labelled anti-Semitic, a mendacious charge against anyone criticizing Israel.  Palestinians too, afraid of being further shunned and disadvantaged in countries that give them refuge, so often remain silent. Not only do people fear repercussions, but speaking the truth or even just hearing  it has a way of taking people out of their comfort zones. They fear their troubled consciences may require them to act and so they bury their heads deeper into the sand where they hope even the sounds of silence might be extinguished.

This, then, is the challenge for advocates the world over. How does one talk Palestine to power if one cannot even talk Palestine to the people who are in fear of the powerful?

In the face of media saturation with Zionist viewpoints and the new “Brand Israel” campaigns, many wanting to advocate for Palestine might feel defeated, but time and again we see that the power of one can be enormously effective.

The great scholar and public intellectual, Edward Said, showed more than anyone else that individuals can make a difference in the public defence  of Palestine. He particularly saw the intellectual’s voice as having ”resonance.”

But one does not need to be an intellectual. Said’s words can just as aptly apply to any one of us. He said avoidance was “reprehensible” and  in his 1994 book, Representations of the Intellectual, described it as “that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled  position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming too controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is … to remain within the responsible mainstream … .”

In 1993 when almost everyone else thought the handshakes at the White House steps would seal the negotiated Oslo accords and at long last give the Palestinians their freedom and bring peace to the region, Edward Said, saw that these accords would merely provide the cover for Israel to pursue its colonial expansionism and consolidate its occupation of Palestine. However, he knew to criticize Oslo meant, in effect, taking a position against “hope” and “peace.” His decision to do so flew in the face of the Palestinian revolutionary leadership that had bartered for statehood.

Although Said was denounced for his views, he was not prepared to buy into the deception that he knew would leave the Palestinians with neither hope nor peace. And just as he predicted, each fruitless year of peacemaking finally exposed the horrible reality of Oslo as Palestinians found themselves the victims of Israel’s matrix of control, a term first used to describe the situation by Israeli professor, Jeff Halper, in 1999. And this domination of one people over another without any intention of addressing the injustices against the Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homeland, has undeniably reduced Israel to an apartheid state.

The Palestinians have nothing left worth calling a state and they are facing an existential threat on all fronts. Yet, some intellectuals are still talking about a two-state solution in lock step with politicians, a mantra that is repeated uncritically, even mendaciously, in the mainstream media.

This pandering to an idea for decades has been undermined by the furious sounds of drills and hammers reverberating in illegal settlements throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the catastrophic societal ruptures engineered in Gaza. Now those sounds are muffled by the rhetoric of “economic peace,” “institution-building,” “democracy,” ”internal security” and “statehood.” They are words that must be challenged at every opportunity, for they are not mere words, but dangerous concepts when isolated from truth on the ground.

It is no use talking about “economic peace” when industrial estates built for Palestinian workers are intended to provide Israel with slave labour and cheap goods. It is useless to support “institution building” when Israel continues to undermine and obstruct those programs already struggling to service Palestinian society. It is a lie to speak of  ”democracy” when fair elections in 2006 had Israel and the ”international community” denying Hamas the right to govern. It is a charade to accept “internal security” when arming and training  Palestinians to police their own people covers for Israel’s and America’s divide-and-conquer scheme. It is hollow to speak of  ”statehood” when Israel keeps stealing land and building illegal settlements that deprive the Palestinians of their homes and livelihoods while herding them into isolated and walled-in ghettoes.

Edward Said was proven right. Now it is our turn to speak the truth and act fearlessly, regardless of the censure we are likely to encounter. The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, is believed to have said that truth passes through three stages: “first, it is ridiculed; second, it is violently opposed; third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”  Today, we are at the third stage: the 11 million Palestinians living under occupation, apartheid, and as stateless refugees are the living truth. That is Israel’s Achilles’ heel.

The Palestinians are no longer the humble shepherds and farmers that Zionist forces terrorized into fleeing to make way for the Jewish State of Israel. A new generation wants justice, and it is demanding it eloquently, nonviolently, and strategically. Their message: no normal relations with Israel while it oppresses Palestinians, denies their rights and violates international law. And boycott, divestment and sanctions have to be legitimate tools for challenging a state that claims exceptionalism no matter how extreme and criminal its actions.

The temptation, of course, is always to opt for the path of least resistance. Therefore, we must appeal to the individual, not even to sacrifice for others, but to recognize that no matter where we live in this global village, we are all vulnerable if we do not stand up for universal human rights and uphold the principles and application of international law.

Despite his own Zionist affiliations and loyalty to Israel, Justice Richard Goldstone saw the danger of tailoring his UN-backed report on war crimes in Gaza to exonerate Israel. He had the decency and courage to put the rule of law and humanity ahead of the savage condemnation he knew would come from talking truth to power.

The same can be said of Richard Falk, the Jewish professor emeritus from Princeton University and UN special rapporteur in the occupied Palestinian territories, who was denied entry into Israel because he described Israel’s siege on Gaza as a “Holocaust in the making” (“Israel deports American academic,” Guardian, 15 December 2008).  Israel’s treatment was insulting enough, but now shamefully, the Palestinian Authority has asked the Human Rights Council to “postpone”  his report on Gaza and, as Nadia Hijab reported, is asking him to resign  (“PA’s  betrayal of human rights defenders the unkindest cut ” by Nadia Hijab,  14 March 2010).

These are honourable men, but we too can stand on principle in smaller ways, whether that is refusing to buy Israeli goods at our local store, boycotting an Israeli-government sponsored event or exposing and protesting the collusion between governments and corporations with Israel. That is what it means to become part of a worldwide civil movement that will do what our leaders will not: pressure Israel to dismantle the matrix of control on Palestine and make reparations for the decades of injustices it has perpetrated against its people. It is, indeed, possible for all of us to “squeeze out of reality some of  its potentialities,” the reality that University of Melbourne Professor, Ghassan Hage, has said is found in those utopic moments that come from challenging our own thoughts, fears and biases. In that space lies the untapped power we seek, to speak the truth without fear or favour. In that space lies the potential for political change. In that space, there will always be hope for Palestine.

Sonja Karkar is the founder and president of Women for Palestine in Melbourne, Australia. Read other articles by Sonja, or visit Sonja's website.