At 4:17pm GMT on Sunday, I threw a shoe at my television screen, aimed at US President Barack Obama, precisely at the moment he began to explain that the reference in his Thursday speech at the State Department to the 1967 borders was in accordance with the Israeli interpretation of these borders.
Not that I was thrilled with that speech either but it was at least as meaningless as his previous speeches on the topic. But at 4:17 he said there will be “no return to the borders of June 4, 1967” and the thousands who attended the AIPAC convention cheered wildly. Annexation of Israeli settlement blocs built illegally in the occupied West Bank and the creation of a small Palestinian bantustan in the spaces in between was the essence of Obama’s real vision for peace.
It was a soft shoe and all it did was to bounce off the screen. Being such a harmless weapon it was also directed at my Palestinian friends who since Friday explained, publicly, how unusual and important was Obama’s speech at the State Department.
It is tough enough to know that in the White House sits someone who betrayed not only the Palestinians, but all the oppressed people in the world and in the US he promised to engage and represent.
But I have turned on my TV set and moved to Puerta del Sol in Madrid — there where thousands of young people were reformulating the powerful message that came from Tahrir Square in Cairo and which was also heard on the borders of Palestine on Nakba Day and in London’s Trafalgar Square during recent student demonstrations.
It was a call of defiance against such political discourse and its poisonous effects. Yes, they say in Madrid as they did on Palestine’s borders, our lives are ruled and affected by smug, cynical and indifferent Western politicians who hold immense power to maintain the unjust world for years to come, but we have had enough of this and will resist it.
Wherever one is affected by this political and economic Western elite, one faces two options. Either to accept fatalistically that the only thing one can do is retire to small, personal gardens of Eden and try to ignore them as much as one can and sustain oneself without them, within the limits of what is possible. Or if one does not possess this inclination or luxury, one can instead join all those who are unwilling to succumb and are telling this elite that its world and agenda is not theirs.
In some places the authorities shoot at massive demonstrations carrying such a message; in others they just ignore them. These are early days to judge the failure or success of such endeavours but it is clear that so far the protest is expanding. It defies the hegemonic political dictates of governments and it displays growing impatience with, and resentment toward, the manipulative corporate games and macro-economic ploys.
The people of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were a victim of such politics and economics under the guise of the so-called peace process. However, recently, in Palestine, the local politicians have at last heeded the popular demand for unity and assertiveness after years of ignoring it.
As a result, the support for the people’s effort in commencing a new phase in the popular resistance against the Israeli occupation is galvanizing the global Palestine solidarity movement with the similar energy generated before by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The regaining of the initiative by the common people in the Arab world and Europe should help us to avoid sinking too deeply into paralysis and inaction in the face of such cynicism. So much can still be done, in total disregard of the hegemonic discourse and inaction of western political elites on Palestine. So much has already been done in the continued resistance against the Israeli destruction of the land and its people.
One can continue to boycott Israeli goods and cultural representatives in France, even if there is a new law against it. If Palestinians in Israel can defy Israeli laws against Nakba commemoration, insidious European laws and regulations should be ignored as well. One can curb any academic institutional connection between British universities and Israel despite the embarrassed Foreign Office’s and official academia’s position on it. And finally, one can continue to spread through the alternative media the truthful and expanded picture despite the shameful way in which “liberal” American and European media is portraying the reality on the ground.
The world after Obama’s two speeches is a bizarre place. The gap between Obama, Berlusconi, Netanyahu, Cameron, Merkel and their ilk has disappeared. For a while there was a danger that one could count some Palestinian leaders within this undignified group of western leaders. But hopefully this danger has waned.
Very much as in the case of Israel, so it is in the case of the western political systems, the option of change from within the political systems is doubtful and vesting too much energy in it may be useless. But everything which is not there — churches, mosques, progressive synagogues, ashrams with a worldview, community centers, social networks and the world of nongovernmental organizations — indicate the existence of an alternative.
A relentless struggle against the ethnic cleansing of Palestine will continue outside the realm of the western corridors of power. What we learned from Egypt and Tunisia, even if we are not sure what would be the endgame there, is that struggles outside corridors of power do not wait for leaders, well-oiled organizations and people who speak in other people’s names.
If you are part of that struggle be counted today and do what you can regardless of the unfortunate Obamafication of our world.
Ilan Pappe is Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. His most recent book is Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel(Pluto Press, 2010).