16 August 2009
There was this story about a farmer who went to the judge and complained that he and his family of 8 live in a two-room crowded place. The wise judge said I will make it nicer for you but you have to do exactly as I say. Upon agreement, he asked him to bring the chickens in the house that night. The next day complaining about the noise and the smell, he was told to add in the two goats. And when on the third day he complained about all the problems, he was told to add in the cow. Finally, with the situation out of control the judge told him he can take all the animals out and the farmer came back the next day to tell the judge how pleased he is because he now had so much space and the place is so clean and comfortable! I was thinking about this story (of relativity) this week for three reasons:
- The Wall Street Journal had an article from the Israeli official explaining how removing checkpoints in the west bank made the economy booming (RELATIVE to Gaza!). We are told that behaving Palestinians are better off than those who cling to hopes and dreams that do not fit with colonial designs.
- The departure of the 2500 Fateh delegates and their cars, their families and security details (total nearly 8000 people) from the Bethlehem district gave it the appearance of a relative emptiness.
- What is the balance between being content with what you have and struggtling to achieve better life (as individuals or populations)?
This theory of relativity is rather interesting. The Bethlehem district lost more than 85% of its land to the Israeli colonial settlements and the apartheid wall that snakes around us and captures most of the good natural resources, the agricultural lands, the water and more. More than half of the residents in this shrinking ghetto of Bethlehem are refugees or displaced people. Nearly 35,000 are the refugees from the original frenzy of ethnic cleansing that happened between 1947-1949 and their descendents. Another 30,000 represent displaced people who moved into the remaining shrinking enclave when their lands were stolen by colonial settlements since 1967 or are the security and other PLO people that came to Palestine after the Oslo accords. At a population density in this area of over 1300 per square kilometer, this is still better than Gaza (4000 per square kilometer) but certainly not viable long term. Unemployment is at 30% (also better than Gaza). But again one asks about relativity. Indeed we are relatively better than Gaza but certainly far worse off than if we had not been subjected to colonial occupation that robbed us of the best lands and water resources and prevents us from development economically. Israel’s strategy is to prevent any sustainable development for the Palestinians and ensure we are dependent on foreign aid which Israel profits from since we are a captive market under its thumbs. Israel gets about 40% of all humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
This week dozens of US congressmen made their obligatory trip to Israel and met with Israeli officials (they also met with Salam Fayyad and Saeb Erekat). Only one took the positive initiative (we are grateful) to meet with Palestinian researchers and tour the wall from this side of the concentration camp. To my knowledge the rest were not shown maps or facts and figures about what is happening in the occupied territories let alone a simple tour of a refugee camp next to a wall. Thus, they are told of road maps and Oslo’s and Geneva initiatives and countless other things but not what an average Palestinian (without a VIP card or fancy cars or body guards) experiences.
We congratulate those elected to the Fateh movement central committee and revolutionary council (Jewish author Uri Davis being one of them). With so many new members, we can only hope that they will take seriously their responsibility to the movement as a revolutionary movement. It would be nice to see them review the books and bring those profiteering elites to task (including some who ended up in the central committee) for a revolutionary movement cannot be a movement of positions and privilege let alone corruption. A good beginning was a decision taken to prevent any member of the decision making bodies of Fateh from taking positions in the Palestinian authority as minister etc (the only exception for Prime Minister or President). And those Palestinians in other smaller factions or outside of factions need to get far more involved and energized. Complaining about Fateh should not be a substitute for positive action. I am dismayed sometimes (like many decent people both within and out of Fateh) by those Palestinians and outsiders who do very little for Palestine other than issue statements and analysis and make speeches and complaints. Change is not easy.
But relativity also plays a role here as to what we are comparing. The next few months will be very critical here and I anticipate a build-up of pressure on Palestinian leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank as well as on the international community. By the end of this year, the two-state scenario will be buried for good (the settlements Israel has been building in the past two years finish cutting off the West Bank and the population growth exceeding 500,000 colonial settlers ensures the impossibility of a sovereign Palestinian state). This fulfils the refined and updated Alon plan of 1968 which the strengthened and empowered Zionist state has pursued relentlessly. It is articulated well in the statement “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do is run around like drugged roaches in a bottle.”
Palestinians in leading positions will have to decide if they accept this characterization or if they will begin the very hard process of mobilizing the population for the needed struggle of liberation to roll back the colonial project. The words liberation and revolution should not be just a slogan. And if indeed our elected (and unelected) leadership supports popular struggles like in Bilin and Alma’sara (here in Bethlehem), then they are invited to join and bring all their entourage, relatives and friends. The five senses are all stimulated with tear gas, adrenalin, bullets, concussion grenades, handcuffs, and smug looks of occupation soldiers. It gives new meaning to words and thoughts.
In Gaza, Hamas police battled fanatic violent Al-Qaeda supporters and in the process killed the leader of this fringe extremist group. Hamas has always indicated acceptance of the borders of 1967 with a long term truce. Israeli elite leaders would do well to rethink their strategy and reflect on relativity. No Palestinian leader will ever dare accept what Arafat was not willing to accept no matter how privileged their position becomes. My recommendation is that Palestinians who support two states (I am not one of them) should insist on the borders of the partition resolution 181 as their opening negotiating positions not the 1967 artificial border that leaves the natives with 22% of their original lands. But negotiations can’t be done with an imbalance of power. I believe Palestinians can build their power if/when: a) their factions work together (resolve the petty differences on nonexistent “authorities”), b) we mobilize and unleash the tremendous energy among our people (instead of frustrating the population with negative talk), and c) we mobilize the international community for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions and other acts of solidarity (including media work). The choice is liberation or oblivion (there are no guarantees that native people succeed in defeating colonial schemes). It is that stark a choice. Those elites who believe their positions ultimately protect them would do well to remember the fates of people from Saddam Hussain to officers of the South Lebanon Army. And the people on the street who think they are powerless would do well to remember that no liberation comes from above and that you “can’t be neutral on a moving train”.