Young Palestinian intellectuals on the state of the liberation movement today

Palestinian protesters tear down an Israeli army barrier in al-Walaja, near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, 3 October.

Issam Rimawi APA images

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:


Nour Joudah:

I mean I think right now because of the fact that there is a political vacuum, I spoke a bit about youth living in the diaspora, youth living in the West Bank and Gaza, or inside Palestine in the ‘48 territories, and I think to some degree, because of the political vacuum and the lack of leadership, the one thing that these different locales of this generation have in common is actually an understanding that none of us have leadership and that all of us are lacking any sort of cohesive vision. And that’s relatively new; it’s relatively new for Palestinian youth in our grand scheme of our narrative to have that in common: to have in common that there is a lack of a cohesive vision.

And so they, I think, are not so self-righteous or naive to think that they’re going to, out of thin air, create a cohesive vision on their own, that everyone is going to magically agree on, but I think the hope here is that through some of these coordinated initiates and work and increased communication between the diaspora and Palestinians living inside Palestine, that those processes will lead to building a foundation, that eventually, when greater mobilization occurs, can be built upon. And so there there is importance placed on the conversation, regardless whether or not every initiative leads to some sort of big success or some spark. I personally don’t believe, that whatever next phase, whether it’s an intifada, or whatever we want to call it, some sort of next part of the struggle is going to be set off by some spark. I think it’s going to look different than anything that we’ve had before.

The Electronic Intifada: Are you saying that it will be more of a cumulative process?

Nour Joudah: I think that it will be a cumulative process and I think that — I do think that there does always tend to be some sort of dramatic thing that happens, but those things are very rarely the reason that something launches. If we look at Egypt for example, I mean OK: January 25th was very much influenced by what happened in Tunis and that sort of momentum that built there —

EI: The root causes were there.

NJ: Well not just the root causes, but the people who mobilized — many people maybe weren’t active before or organizing before, but many were. There was lots of labor organizing and lots of youth organizing for years prior. And that foundation was there to build on. Now whether or not that foundation was sufficient to fight counter-revolutionary forces now is sort of another conversation, but whatever ends up sparking or not sparking anything in Palestine, that’s not going to be sort of the single thing: it is going to be built on a larger historical process that I think a lot of the youth now see themselves as a part of.

EI: Could you just outline for our listeners your methodology: how you went and did the research that you did for your paper that you’ve already mentioned in your talk?

NJ: Sure. Initially, the paper consisted of three or four individual interviews in Ramallah, a focus group in Nablus, a focus group in Gaza, a focus group in Beit Sahour, near the Bethlehem area, a double interview in the Deheisah camp outside of Bethlehem. And then multiple individual interviews in the United States which later expanded to follow-up interviews, follow-up interviews in Ramallah and Nablus, and then finally some additional interviews that were added from youth in the Shatila camp in Beirut. I tried my best to sort of spread out geographically. Obviously to anyone listening the biggest sort of gaping hole here are Palestinian citizens of Israel.

I completely acknowledge that limitation, and It was mostly for two reasons: one just being that it was too expansive, I needed to narrow focus. I couldn’t conduct that many interviews, I didn’t have the time. I’d love to do it in the future. But the other aspect of it was that there was a real focus for me regarding the Palestinians in the Middle East that I interviewed. Within Palestine, I really wanted to focus on Palestinians who grew up under the Palestinian Authority. And Palestinian citizens of Israel, while having numerous sort of challenges — that were talked about in the panel by Nimer Sultany and Mazen Masri — did not live under the Palestinian Authority. They definitely were definitely affected by the Palestinian Authority and the signing of Oslo but they weren’t living directly under those institutions, and so I sort of chose to make that decision.

I chose focus groups because I found that they really show a dynamic between the participants that is missing from individual interviews — individual interviews have plenty of value, but the focus groups were also very interesting because sort of spontaneous conversations would arise between the participants and a lot of sort of very interesting things that one doesn’t even think of to ask sort of come up. And so that was a decision there for me. And then finally it was participant observation. So I was involved in activism and awareness work in the United States, in the Palestinian community and the solidarity community and then participant observation in the West Bank and Gaza and definitely a huge part of my ability to even think about conducting this research was the fortune that I had of being a young Palestinian, active, young woman because that also allowed a certain level of trust and a certain level of access that I would definitely not have had otherwise to a lot of the Palestinian youth that I spoke to.

But I think to maybe tie together the talk and and the topic with what happened with me, is that for any privilege that a US passport might afford, at the end of the day it does not strip you of being a refugee and it does not strip you of your exile. And if anything the increased number of entry denials for me are very much so a reaffirmation of exile, and a very sort of long struggle and personal process of having to understand and cope with what it actually means to be in exile. That sort of talking yourself into believing that these visits back home can tide you over, I mean it’s a bit of a wake-up call. I mean it’s a heart-breaking one, and I have friends that’ll say, that’s not fair you’re being to hard on yourself, it’s not like you ever forgot.

EI: I read your more personal blog about the Eucharist. I really liked it. Was that sort of inspired by your exile?

NJ: I mean yes and no, right? I think it’s inspired by just this simple sense of amazement that I have in how much hope and strength we’ve managed to hold on to for so many years, and particularly in the refugee camps. I mean I am one of the first people in the world to sort of immediately admit a position of privilege to a certain degree, and distance affords you a lot of privilege, I think, even if you are poor and have no right to build a home, or whatever. Distance affords you a certain amount of privilege, but at the same time, it also makes you really stop to have a lot of patience for people who think that the only people that are really going through the Palestinian experience are living under occupation — it’s just so silly, and the Palestinian experience is so diverse and so wide, that to flatten it and to really sort of debase the complexity and the heartbreak involved in it to the occupation within the Green Line — I find it offensive at this point.

EI: Ok well, Nour Joudah, thank you very much.

NJ: Thank you Asa.

Ala Al-Azzeh:

The Electronic Intifada: An interesting headline I found from your talk was — I wasn’t totally surprised to hear it but I didn’t know it was that many — you just said that since 2007 alone, there’s been 13 books about Palestine with the words “nonviolence” and “peace-building” [in the titles].

Ala Al-Azzeh: Yes. How I think about it is — I think about it in terms of an assemblage of elements where you have this kind of global discourse on the question of violence and nonviolence and then you have the Palestinian Authority being re-fashioned in a way to have a monopoly of the use of violence against Palestinians, not necessarily to engage in a liberation war, but actually as a security apparatus against the society itself.

At the same time, we have the NGOs and what I call the production of knowledge — and basically re-signifying the history of Palestinians to fit a particular line within the prism of the binary violence and nonviolence. As such, the books that are being written — and this is the interesting thing — they’re not necessarily about the contemporary stuff, but they’re written lately to reflect about the past. So talking about the first intifada as non-violent, or through that prism. Talking about the ’30s as such — it’s not necessarily about today’s form of action, but actually it’s re-historicizing Palestine through that prism.

For me, that’s a problematic imposition of history of a complex struggle over a hundred years or more being reduced into this binary. Some of the books are by Palestinian scholars, others by international scholars, others are edited volumes. For me, I’m questioning here the process of formation of the category, but not necessarily dismissing the claim of possibility of nonviolence as such. So for me, it’s an intellectual exercise to re-think — how Palestinians should think outside of this hegemony of terminology that’s been dominating the discourse on Palestine today.

Nimer Sultany:

I think a better understanding of our condition in the post-Oslo phase is to try to overcome the compartmentalized legal and political thinking in which we are engaged, in which we think of the de facto political and territorial divisions of the Palestinians as legal and political divisions.

We talk about Palestinians inside Israel separately, we talk about Palestinians inside the West Bank and Gaza separately, and so on. So my talk was trying to draw analogies and try to highlight the commonalities between certain dynamics inside the Palestinian minority in Israel, and inside the West Bank and Gaza. And I claim that there is a struggle between two views of the body politic, two views of the national identity that are reflected into two views of representation. And this dynamic struggle is similar in both arenas, inside Israel and outside Israel. And that the protagonists of this struggle have formed green line alliances.

So those whom I call integrationists inside Israel have allied with the integrationists inside the West Bank and Gaza. And the nation-builders are closer to the nation-builders in the West Bank and Gaza. So the integrationists are those who are committed to advancing Palestinian rights within existing political structures, without challenging the asymmetrical nature of these structures and the power relations. And inside Israel, this takes the form of integrating into existing social, economical and political institutions that the Israeli state provides, without challenging these institutions or trying to go beyond them, and therefore accepting the de facto separation between the Palestinians inside Israel and the the West Bank and Gaza — which is the major consequences of Oslo, being that the PLO has abandoned formally any claim to combining or making the Palestinians inside Israel as part of the body politic and claiming to represent them.

On the other hand, integrationists inside the West Bank and Gaza, mainly the West Bank, are those who are committed to — even though they speak the language of national identity, and that’s why they’re standing their claim to independence, rhetorically — functionally, what they’re doing is rejecting those institutional practices that would pour content, would materialize, thick ideas of national identity, and wider understandings of the body politic and a real understanding of sovereignty and freedom for the Palestinians. So they have been engaged in security arrangements, economic arrangements, et cetera, with the Israeli state.

Also if you look at the kind of tactics that both camps have engaged with — the integrationists inside Israel have been committed to the political process, they are against boycotting the elections, mainly the communist party, they are against what sounds like — what is perceived by them are radical positions by declaring a general strike on the anniversary of Land Day, or the October 2000 protests. And similarly on the other side, the integrationists — that is the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank — are committed to negotiations, are against violent resistance in the form of a third intifada, and they pay only lip service to nonviolent resistance.

And they are committed to this process, and they are prioritizing in recent years, economic institution-building in a way that does not challenge the structure of the occupation that has been entrenched by the Oslo process. What we see now is the unfolding of the dynamics of the struggle between these two camps, and the question is which one will prevail over time.

Now, I think that the integrationist camp is likely to fail — given what I said that the obvious failure of the integrationist camp is that Israel is not willing to offer an integration that is based on equality and full recognition of Palestinian rights. So the ghettoization of the Palestinians inside Israel, and the Bantustanization of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is basically undermining the integrationist approach and showing its bankruptcy.




My thesis is that the Palestinian movement is a subsidiary of the Israel movement which is in turn a subsidiary of the WASP movement. To borrow some imagery from the three speakers, and keeping in mind the venue ("oriental", etc.: presumably the purpose of this school is to enable and enhance English imperialism), and to fill in the missing element--the WASP movement-- the Israel movement was allowed to come into existence in the UK and UK in order to prosecute US/UK imperial pretensions in the region via the extirpation/extermination of Arabs. As Obama likes to say, this was an attempt to "disrupt, dismantle, and destroy" the local society, leaving behind such caricatures as the kings of today's Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and Gilbert and Sullivan's new musical-comedy, The Six Emirs (Or Is It Seven?). The Israel movement is in plain sight. The Palestinian movement is visible only in ways and forms of accomodationism, but there is what I'll call, perhaps with the first speaker's approval, an invisible Palestinian movement steadily churning away to undermine Israel's "security and legitimacy". When you survive a lynch mob, you undermine it. The WASP movement seems entirely invisible, on the other hand, but when you are at the top, you have money and influence to do your "presence mission" for you. Like that school in London. I wish Asa had asked the three students if they felt like they were in enemy territory. But again, I'd also like to know if they all feel, as perhaps the first speaker feels, that the WASP enterprise is disrupting, dismantling, and destroying itself, simply because racism does not work, has never worked, and cannot work. Arbitrary distinctions have a shattering effect on the quality of argument, and bring the downfall of the rule of law, and with it, the efficacy of markets. Europe as an idea will survive to the extent it repudiates racism. To the extent it embraces fascism, it will hasten its own disruption, dismantlement, and so on.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).