Thursday,24 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)
Thursday,24 May, 2018
Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Defeat of the Palestinian dream?

The preoccupation of Arabs with domestic issues does not mean the Palestinian cause is dead. Far from it, writes Mohamed Salmawy

اقرأ باللغة العربية

What has become of the Palestinian cause? This had been the Arabs’ central cause and the rallying cry of their collective conscience for seven decades, ever since the establishment of Israel on Palestinian land and the expulsion and displacement of its inhabitants, the victims of massacres in Deir Yassin, Jaffa, Saasaa, Lod and elsewhere. Have the Arabs turned their attention to another cause after having despaired of reaching a just solution? A recent Newsweek cover story (29 August) proclaims, “How Israel Won The War And Defeated The Palestinian Dream.” Is this really true? Does the unending Israeli occupation of Arab territory mean that Israel has “won”? Does half a century since the occupation of the West Bank and Jerusalem (which the UN partition resolution stated should be internationalised) mean that the Palestinian dream has been “defeated”?

Arab concern for the Palestinian cause has dwindled considerably since the outbreak of the Arab revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011, the spread of anarchy in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia, and the partition of Sudan. The Arab peoples have grown more preoccupied than ever by their domestic concerns that threaten their sources of livelihood. Israel took advantage of this situation in order to expand construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, in violation of international law and resolutions. It accelerated the processes of the Judaicisation of Jerusalem which it seized from Jordan in 1967 and occupied. It notched up the blockade on Gaza, now in its 10th year, tightening the stranglehold on the two million inhabitants of strip.

But the Newsweek article didn’t discuss Arab concern for the cause. It focused on what it called the Palestinian “defeat”. It spoke of the leadership schism between the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) which governs the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas which controls Gaza, the schism which — according to the article — turned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a Palestinian-Palestinian one. Is this also true? Does the existence of a political conflict between two Palestinian wings mean that the struggle for existence against the Israeli military occupation is over?

It is ironic that the current Arab distraction from the Palestinian cause comes at a time when the world has begun to turn its attention to that cause, after having ignored it for so long. In the pro-Israeli West, public opinion is opposed to their governments’ policies in the Middle East. This applies even within Israel’s staunchest allies, such as the US and Britain. The Internet and social networking sites have liberated public opinion in those countries from the control of the conventional media over which the Jewish lobby has enormous influence. Now public opinion around the world can follow what is happening in the occupied Arab territories through independent media. They can watch live footage of the violence and brutality meted out by the occupation forces and the systematic racist discrimination against the Arabs. Whereas once the Israeli settlements, for example, were portrayed as places to resettle Jewish refugees without homes, public opinion in the West now understands how these settlements were built on occupied territory in direct violation of international law and can watch the racist violence and maltreatment that the settler peoples inflict on the original inhabitants. Moreover, as Western public awareness heightened, a campaign was launched to boycott products exported to the West from settlements in the occupied territories. The campaign gained such momentum as to drive some pro-Israeli US lawmakers to draft legislation to criminalise boycotting Israeli by individuals and commercial entities. The bill calls for up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. The US Civil Liberties Union condemned the bill on the grounds that it violated the principles of the First Amendment, which upholds the freedoms of opinion and expression.

The policy of boycotting foreign countries at the official and grassroots levels is not new in the US. Subsequent US administrations have practised it for years against certain countries such as Cuba. However, that recent Congressional bill was essentially a response to the growing support for Palestinian rights in the US. According to a Brookings Institution poll conducted in 2014, 38 per cent of Americans favoured imposing sanctions against Israel for persisting in its illegal construction of settlements on Palestinian occupied territory. Last year, the rate rose to 46 per cent. Within the Democratic Party, the rate rose from 48 to 60 per cent. Most members of that party also believe that Israel has far too much influence over US policy.

As for Israel’s other great Western ally, the UK, the grassroots movement to boycott Israel has expanded its focus behind illegal settlement construction to the questions of the protracted occupation of the territories and the racist persecution of the Palestinian inhabitants. Some years ago, in British academic circles, which are becoming increasingly outspoken and adamant in their criticisms of Israel and its apartheid policies, a powerful movement arose to boycott Israeli universities and university professors and to reject academic cooperation with Israel.

In addition, the play My Name is Rachel Corrie will soon be returning to London. First staged in 2005, the play is about a young American activist who was a member of the International Solidarity Movement that supported Palestinians who refused to leave their homes that were slated for demolition by the Israeli occupation authorities. Their peaceful action did not prevent the demolition operation from proceeding and the young American woman was crushed beneath an Israeli forces bulldozer.

In fact, since the beginning of this century, the British theatre has produced quite a few plays that demonstrate that British dramatists and intellectuals, in general, are thoroughly aware of the facts of the Palestinian cause and are not victims of the ubiquitous Zionist propaganda machine. The works are by some of the most highly reputed names in British theatre such as the playwrights David Hare and Caryl Churchill. While their plays took the stage, the Tricycle Theatre, for example, refused to host the Jewish film festival because it was funded by the Israeli Embassy in London. The famous British playwright Harold Pinter was a scathing critic of Israeli racist policies as was the late dramatist Arnold Wesker.

According to a recent Haaretz report, the EU boycott against products from Israeli settlements cost the Israeli economy around $6 billion in 2013 and 2014. The losses this year are expected to reach $9.5 billion.

Some major firms are feeling the tide of public opinion. The Norwegian KLB insurance company has moved out of Israel while two Germany building materials companies are coming under scrutiny for dealing with settlement construction operations in the West Bank.

The Palestinian cause is still very much alive. Its supporters around the world are growing more numerous by the day, even if the Arabs are currently preoccupied by domestic concerns.

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