By Jamal Saad
‘The only way forward is as people, with all of us challenging the Israeli occupation and those have given away in a fit of distraction.’ — Edward Said.
How far can we, the Palestinian people, take our struggle for freedom? The obvious answer is as far as it takes to achieve our self-determination and our liberation. But this is dependent on us all—the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, in Israel and the diaspora—to unite in our objective and follow a collective strategy to challenge and overcome and defeat Israel’s military occupation.
The Palestinians’ history is one of a people striving for justice, peace and freedom. Since the creation of the state of Israel in the aftermath of the 1948 war, most Palestinians’ dream and objective has been the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. For us, 1948 is al Nakba—the catastrophe—when over 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. Since then, the refugees and all their descendants are considered stateless by the international community.
Since the early 90s, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has represented the Palestinians people in the regional and international arena. While Hamas has gained political and administrative control over Gaza, it has not been recognised by any of world’s major states or international organisations as a legitimate authority to represent the Palestinian people.
The point of my essay is to propose an initiative to my fellow Palestinians throughout the world: one that is not to create division between us as a people and our political representatives, but rather looks at the reality we are faced with and to take a pragmatic approach to achieving our goals. By mobilising together and presenting the Palestinian cause as a united front, something our political leadership has consistently failed to do, we can reignite our common will as a people determined to achieve recognition and justice.
Our dream of self-determination and liberation from a brutal military occupation has always had the ability to unite us as a nation. With all the obstacles we’ve faced through our history: ethnic cleansing and the deliberate destruction of hundreds of villages and towns; the constant presence of war and violence; a military occupation that restricts and controls our every move; the division of our home land, checkpoints and the “separation wall”; the imprisonment and brutalisation of our men, women and children; and the assassination of our intellectuals, public figures and political leadership. These factors and many others too numerous to list are obstacles that we face, challenge and overcome daily. They help us to maintain our belief in our right to justice, peace, freedom and for a state of Palestine where we can exercise our full rights as people in this world.
Palestinians’ success in remaining absolutely committed to our goal of freedom comes purely from within ourselves, it is our sumoud: our unity against a powerful and unjust occupation. The need to maintain our strength—our sumoud—is now greater than ever. For decades we have struggled against the brutal Israeli military occupation of our homeland. The world’s powerful nations have supported Israel while ignoring the appalling plight of Palestinians under occupation, in the squalid camps across the region, and far beyond. The peace negotiations that we were so regularly accused of undermining have been proven to be nothing more than obscuration. And we have to bear the humiliation of having a political leadership that has not achieved even the most basic of human rights for its people.
But we have also become distracted by the reality of daily life, where the stark divisions between cities and villages, poor public health, limited public services, access to employment or education, corruption and lack of opportunity have completely overwhelmed us. This situation controls the way we think and the way we act. Is it the occupation, Oslo, corrupt leaders or the US that has caused this? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. But what does matter is how we consider ourselves as all being a part of the struggle against our oppression: civil leaders, teachers, workers, students, house wives, farmers, young and old, male and female—each and every single one of us, no matter where we are.
To be Palestinian is not to be Fatah and it is not to be Hamas. All of us—from Lebanon to America, from Nablus to Madrid, from Dehesihe to Damascus—to be Palestinian is to be part of something bigger, to be part of the demand for self-determination. We must now give our full commitment to the struggle for Palestine’s future. If we want change then it must come from all of us, collectively.
Edward Said summed it up perfectly: “the only way forward is as a people.” We must be united with a clear vision and strategy to achieve freedom and liberty. The desire for liberation can only be achieved with our unity. The leader of the Irish resistance against the British occupation of Ireland, Michael Collins, always said that their ultimate strength in dealing with the British was their people and their power of refusal. We, too, must use our strength wisely.
Over the last two years, a political plan has been underway. The objective is for the Palestinian Authority to stand before the United Nations to ask for world recognition for the state of Palestine. So far this project has been purely under the auspices of the PA alone. This is not surprising as the PA conforms to the traditional and rotten political structures of the wider Middle East where rule and power is exercised from the top down; the people are eliminated from power-sharing entities. But this is changing rapidly. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other Arab nations are no longer waiting for change: they are demanding it for themselves. As civil resistance broadens the people will take their natural role in the sharing of power and the decision-making process of Arab nations.
As a Palestinian, I say it is the time for us to do the same. We must take our struggle back into our own hands as a people, but not in opposition to any authority or political party. Rather, we must pressure them all to join our march and remind them that this is about Palestine, our martyrs, our prisoners and our people throughout the world; it is not about their political and religious ideology. Now is the time for us to unite as a people and lead the project of state recognition, backed by the PA and all other political parties.
We must work together in unity, as Palestinians, with the aim of achieving our goal of liberation no matter where we are in the world. It is time to support our resistance and expand it to include everyone. The first step is state recognition and full membership of the UN. Our status will finally be recognised. What applies to any state will therefore apply to us. Being recognised as a state will give us sovereignty, which must be respected and protected by all nation states and the UN. But more importantly it will be a potent challenge to the Israeli military occupation and its supporters.
Achieving our state is in no way the end of our struggle, but it is the means to an end. It provides a solid foundation for our continued struggle, which in turn will support us in achieving our rights. A state will not end the refugees’ demand for their rights but rather it will strengthen it as they will be represented by an official state that sits within the same systems of administration and regulation as any other nation state.
To achieve this will not be easy and it requires the efforts of us all. Our resistance needs to be cultural and based on the reality of our rich and unique identity, one that applauds both our diversity and our common background. Now is the time to show the world that Palestinians are here to stay, and that we will gain our freedom. Prior to the vote at the United Nations, all Palestinians, no matter where we are, should go out en masse on to the streets to show the world who we are and what we want. In particular, across the occupied territories, those voices need to be strongest and loudest, leading us all towards the dawn of a new age for Palestinians and Palestine.
By coming out on to the street, united by our identity, our culture and our ambitions as human beings, shows that we are no different to anyone else. We are simply demanding the same recognition and rights enjoyed by others in this world. The diversity of our cultural achievements, from dabke to hip hop, from literature to documentary, from music to story telling, from traditional to contemporary, we will show the international community that we must be recognised and acknowledged by all the world’s states. Festivals celebrating who we are and what we’ve achieved are far more powerful than political rhetoric.
In 1948, the Zionists tried to erase us from our land. They did not succeed. For over sixty years the Zionists have tried to remove us, to force us, to control us and to prevent us from achieving our liberation. They have not succeeded. Israel is undertaking a massive diplomatic effort to prevent us from receiving recognition as a state and thus as a people. It must not succeed.
Our state will be the foundation for Palestine’s future and provide us with the means to build our nation as a united people. Sitting around waiting for a saviour in the US or the EU to pressure Israel to lift checkpoints or transferring money to our leadership will never bring dignity, freedom and justice. Only we can achieve that goal, together, as one united people. Now is our time, we must not miss this opportunity.
– Jamal Saad grew up in Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem, and is currently studying a post graduate degree in Middle East politics at the University of London. He is a co-founding trustee of Ahdaf, an organisation supporting education in Palestine. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.