Do we break our chains or polish them? PEDAL open discussion in Ramallah

Posted by on September 18, 2011

3rd August 2011 -  Having travelled up and down the West Bank for the previous two weeks, PEDAL hosted an open event in Darqandeel Social Centre in the Old Town of Ramallah.  Around 40 people from the city and beyond came to discuss their reflections and hopes for international solidarity.  Among the diverse group gathered in the stone courtyard were students, teachers, artists and activists representing many positions in the ideological spectrum of popular resistance in Palestine.

To begin the evening, the PEDAL collective gave a presentation on the aims and experiences of their journey. This was followed by three short speeches from members of the Boycott National Committee and the International Solidarity Movement as well as an independent political researcher from Ramallah. After hearing their opinions on the topic we broke fast together and spread ourselves into less formal group conversations on resistance, repression and the role of solidarity work.

The discussions produced a fire of passionate and critical reflections on the history of international solidarity and visions for the paths it should move down. In this short article I will briefly recount some of those criticisms and suggestions because they constitute a valuable challenge to many widespread assumptions about resistance in Palestine.

1. There is no such thing as the “new non-violent resistance movement”.

The much romanticized “New Palestinian Non-Violent Resistance Movement” does not exist.  This does not mean that Palestinians refuse non-violence in their resistance.  The range of tools and tactics employed through the long history of popular resistance is astonishing and inspiring.  The point is to challenge the assumption that it is a unified principle of the movement and the reject the ethical value with which it is ladened.

As many of the speakers pointed out, the binary between violence and non-violence is not used in Arabic and is rarely applied by Palestinian activists analyzing their struggles.  To insist on it as an analytical category is to import a frame of reference that bears to relation to how most Palestinians conceive of resistance. Of course, the vast majority of Palestinian resistance has been non-violent but it is called popular resistance and exists for most as an open spectrum of forms of struggle, non more legitimate than the other.

2. Palestine is not a humanitarian crisis.

A second point raised during the discussions was that this discourse of non-violent resistance finds a reflection in the multitude of international NGOs who constantly inscribe the Palestinian struggle as a humanitarian crisis rather than a political one.  As a condition and consequence of the aid money they pour into Palestine, these “humanitarian” donations impose certain forms of society and certain forms of legitimate struggle.  These are consistantly premised on the rejection of radical Islam, a commitment to non-violence and the embrace of neo-liberalism.

By viewing the situation in the framework of depoliticized humanitarianism, they read Palestinian resistance as acts of terrorism on a depoliticized background of poverty and Islam, rather than as an anti-colonial resistance movement with specific calls for land and rights.

gathering in the courtyard before the start of the event

3. We must fight for the right to resist.

The categorization of forms of resistance into non-violent and legitimate verses violent and illegitimate by international activists and NGOs both misreads the struggle and creates a hierarchy between forms of struggle. This binary presents “non-violent resistance” as the correct way to fight the occupation and a legitimate path to independence and equal rights.  As many voices at the discussion pointed out, to suggest that freedom and self-determination should be based on certain forms of resistance is fundamentally racist and implies that Palestinian rights are not respected because the Palestinian people have not demonstrated their worthiness of them.  As one speaker said:

“It must be made clear that our right to return and to end Israel`s occupation, colonialism and aparthide are guaranteed by international conventions and their fulfillment is an obligation, irrespective of the kinds of resistance we use or any other factors”.

4. We don’t need the peace industry here.

Closely related to the criticism of importing ideas about resistance and repression in Palestine was a critique of what many call the peace industry. As one of the speakers said

“The international urge to bring together oppressor and oppressed in a peace industry process is a get rich quick route for some Palestinians, but remains patronizing and colonial.”

The struggle is not for ‘peace’ but for a just peace.  This is an occupation to be opposed and dismantled, not a conflict between two equal sides to be resolved.  Twenty years of this “peace process” should by now have demonstrated that it is nothing but a farce.  Returning to it means giving more time for colonialism, the expansion of settlements and the ethnic cleansing enshrined in the segregation walls around Palestinaian ghettos, all of which further the distance between peace and justice.

Creating a more powerful solidarity movement

Stemming from these criticisms came a flow of ideas that were seen as contributing to building a more powerful international solidarity movement with the popular resistance in Palestine. The most powerful and repeated ideas were:

1. Challenge the dominant discourse that sets the 1967 borders and the boundaries of the debate.  As people acting in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle we must remember that Palestine is composed of people living as refugees in the Palestinian Diaspora, people living under apartheid as ‘Israeli-Arabs’, and people living in the West Bank and Gaza.  Solidarity should be with all of these groups of people, and must not prioritise certain forms of suffering over others by focusing on any one of these groups.

2. Connect struggles and link resistance movements. As many people pointed out, oppressors in Palestine are often oppressors elsewhere.  International activists coming to Palestine find a multiplicity of injustices here: whether from a trade union, anti-militarist or environmental perspectives.  Making connections between these different types of movement allows for greater scope for solidarity.   A good example can be found in this recent ‘Open Letter to the Environmental movement’ regarding the Jewish National Fund.

3. Do not judge forms of resistance, fight the oppressors for the rights of the Palestinians in Palestinian-led movements.

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