By Yanis Iqbal
Palestine is currently facing a quadruple crisis consisting of Covid-19 pandemic, Zionism, imperialism and reactionary Arab regimes. With more than 50,000 Coronavirus cases, Palestine is finding it hard to combat the pandemic with a war-torn and fragmented healthcare system. The ruthlessness of Zionist ideology has invariably prevented the proper development of health infrastructures and what we have now is a severely under-resourced health architecture perforated by the wounds of settler colonialism. As a result of Israel’s 53-year occupation of West Bank and Gaza, the region has been converted into a donor-dependent system that has perennial shortages in equipment, medication and staff due to military raids and import restrictions. While the Palestinian Authority (PA) has tried to effectively operate within this restricted environment, the all-encompassing Israeli chokehold around the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) has greatly curtailed the administration’s ability to secure key supplies to counter the spread of infection. Not contented with the restriction of medical supplies, Israel has further hampered Palestine’s Covid-19 response by comprehensively destroying two Coronavirus testing centres.
If the systematic de-development of Palestine’s health sector was not enough, Israel has ratcheted up its dehumanization of Palestinians with the support of conservative Arab regimes and the US. On 15 September, 2020, UAE and Bahrain officially signed agreements in Washington to normalize relations with Israel. Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in signing the agreement. Unconcerned about Palestinian sentiments, Donald Trump, the president of USA, imperialistically declared: “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East. Congratulations to the people of Israel, the people of the United Arab Emirates, and the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain. God Bless You All!”
The Dehumanization of Palestinians
Trump’s “dawn of a new Middle East” has heralded an age for Palestinians where utter violence and unending humiliation are touted as “peace” and pure barbarity is accepted with a strong silence. This attempted erasure of Palestinians through silence and sustained propaganda has provided Israel with the carte blanche to unleash unrestricted colonial violence. Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes built without planning permits have increased sharply during the Covid-19 pandemic, posing major threats to the health of displaced Palestinians. According to the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Office (UNOCHA), “The period from March to August 2020 saw the demolition or confiscation of 389 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, on average, 65 per month, the highest average destruction rate in four years…Sadly, demolitions during the period March-August 2020 left 442 Palestinians homeless, further exposing many to risks associated with the pandemic. In August alone, 205 people were displaced, more than in any other single month since January 2017.” The US, Zionists and their Arab puppets are apparently unperturbed by these intensifying demolitions which heavily impact the existence of Palestinians.
In cases where the Israeli state has tried to postpone demolitions citing diplomatic and pandemic-related issues, other actors have intervened to expedite the process. In September of this year, Israel’s High Court of Justice denounced the government’s request for another postponement of the demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, which is obstructing the expansion of Jewish illegal settlements. Deeming the postponement request as “embarrassing”, the court ruled that it would delay the hearing by another two months, after which it is expected that Israeli bulldozers demolish Palestinian homes.
In his prose poem “The House Murdered”, Mahmoud Darwish had written: “The house, murdered, is the amputation of things from their relations and from the names of emotions… All these things are the memories of people who were emptied of things, and the memories of things that were emptied of people… all end in one minute.” From Darwish’s text, we can understand the immense and indescribable pain felt by Palestinians when they see their own house flattened by Zionist colonialists. In spite of the wide-ranging ramifications of house demolitions, Israel has not relented in its demolition efforts and has incorporated it as a vital component of crushing colonialism. From 2006 until 31 August 2020, Israel demolished 1,602 Palestinian residential units in the West Bank, displacing 6,970 people – including 3,501 minors. All these demolitions are filled with sheer indeterminacy and precarity. The Palestinian NGO “Holy Land Trust” states: “the Israeli military do it at a time and date that is not specified. The army demolition unit could come tomorrow, the week after, next year. There is no certainty in this place”.
In addition to house demolitions, Israel has increased its repression of Palestinians in the form of overt violence. In the week of 17-23 September, 2020, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) documented 166 violations of international human rights law by Israeli forces and settlers in the OTP. In only one week, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) killed one Palestinian, arrested 68 others, including 4 children and established 59 temporary military checkpoints; settlers razed 16 dunums, destroyed an entire farm and uprooted 1050 trees. These Zionist aggressions follow hard on the heels of the Israeli normalization agreements which have been peddled as a peaceful panacea for Palestinians.
On top of settler colonial brutality, Israel has used more subtle power strategies to tyrannize Palestinians. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Israel has silently implemented an intrusive surveillance strategy which commits mass violation of digital rights. On 14 March, 2020, the Israeli Attorney General approved the request of the Prime Minister of Israel to track the movement of people infected with the coronavirus, utilizing geo-locational tracking via advanced surveillance technologies. Through the establishment of this new security architecture, Zionists will be able to monitor Palestinians 24 hours a day, 7 days a week under the pretext of preventing the spread of infection.
The use of digital tactics by Israel is nothing new and it has repeatedly used it to silence the Palestinian struggle. Most recently, tech giants actively intervened to censor a San Francisco State University (SFSU) – sponsored online event titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice & Resistance”, featuring Palestinian freedom fighter Leila Khaled. The event was first cancelled by Zoom, a video conferencing platform, which cited concerns over Khaled’s affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), designated a terrorist organization by the US. Following Zoom’s decision, SFSU streamed the event on Facebook and YouTube both of which took their cue from Zoom and removed the footage from their respective platforms.
Leila Khaled is known for her connections to a series of hijackings in 1969 and 1970 which internationalized the Palestinian struggle and infused it with an emotional immediacy. As Khaled described in her autobiography, “Our minimum objective was the inscription of the name of Palestine on the memory of mankind and on the mind of every self-respecting libertarian who believes in the right of the subjugated to self determination. … We were out to strike at the heart of the oppressor.” Due to her selfless devotion to the Palestinian struggle, Khaled has become a revolutionary icon and enjoys immense support among Palestinians. For Zoom, Facebook and YouTube, Khaled’s important role in the liberation movement is absolutely insignificant and what matters most is the opinion of Zionists who have been diligently engaged in physically and culturally erasing Palestinians.
The overtly Zionist ideological leaning of tech giants comes as no surprise since many of them have a history of digitally smothering Palestinians. Facebook, for instance, has used the traditional narrative of “anti-Semitism” to facilitate the removal of anti-Zionist statements. While posts expressing the anguish and hope of Palestinians are removed with a remarkable alacrity, patently xenophobic statements are left untouched. The following are some examples of posts that were not found to violate community guidelines: “Death to Palestine”, “The people in Gaza should be exterminated with insecticides” and “Every Muslim is a dead terrorist”. All these posts are grotesquely saturated with sentiments of murderous violence, genocide and outright hatred. Nevertheless, Facebook does not find anything wrong with these posts and considers it morally correct to annihilate Palestinians.
The Future of Palestinian Struggle
Behind the bluster and brutality of the normalization agreements, one can get a whiff of desperation in the air. The use of normalization deals on the part of Israel is a tired attempt to exterminate Palestinians who have long resisted Zionists through their steadfastness. Commenting on this steadfastness, Darwish wrote: “They wait, and waiting is steadfastness and a stand.” Through this steadfastness, Palestinians have presented the colonial power with an active, pulsating and vibrant force which, despite getting soaked in blood and indignity, continually refuses to be beaten into submission. This steadfastness need not necessarily be equated with conspicuous resistance. It is found in the mere act of existence which troubles Israel and forecloses the possibility of complete colonization.
While the normalization will fail to fracture the steadfastness of Palestinians, it may additionally prove to be counter-productive. Bansidhar Pradhan, Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), told me: “In the long term, the normalization agreements may help the Palestinian cause. The Palestinians have now come to realize the façade of Arab unity in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This realization may force them to review their strategy vis-à-vis Israel and in the process, come up with innovative options to end Israeli occupation. In other words, the Palestinians would now feel the necessity of bridging their internal differences to forge a common front against Israel because reliance on the Arab countries has not helped the Palestinians ever since the Camp David Accord. One can very well see the emergence of the 1969 movement for the liberation of Palestine in a new form: dealing with Israel and the international community on their own and fighting for their rights through diplomacy and non-violence because the strategy of armed struggle may not be helpful now.”
A shift away from reliance on Arab countries can signal the resurgence of Global South solidarities where Palestine will be re-located in the wider panorama of anti-imperialism. The Palestinian struggle has a rich history of anti-imperialism and many activists have stressed the importance of situating the struggle in a revolutionary framework. Ghassan Kanafani, for example, stated: “The Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary, wherever he is, as a cause for the exploited and oppressed masses in our era.” The anti-imperialist construction of the Palestinian struggle has historically given a cosmopolitan character to the Arab political idiom and has re-configured conservative framings of the liberation movement. The introduction of Che Guevara on the Palestinian landscape, for instance, challenged “Orientalist constructions of the Arab militant as a backward, anti-Semitic, religious fanatic bent on driving the Jews into the sea and instead put forward a picture of the Palestinian as a liberation fighter, struggling for the cause of anti-imperialism and progressive revolution in the developing world.”
In the present-day conjuncture, we are witnessing the fusion of Palestinian steadfastness with anti-imperialism as the Israeli normalization agreements further foreground the futility of remaining within a sectarian ideology. The combination of anti-imperialism with steadfastness will not erase Arab identity. Rather, it would embed cultural identities in the matrix of revolutionary cosmopolitanism and maintain both of them in a dialectical balance. With the help of this combination, a new political force will be generated, capable of establishing Global South solidarity and harnessing the emotive force of cultural identities.