When I saw some of the images coming out of the infighting in Gaza last week, I suppressed my anguish and steaming anger, recalling the wise, almost prophetic, words of the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, who wrote:
“The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be ‘hosts’ of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible. The pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization.”
Apparently, neither of the two warring factions succeeded in transcending the being “like the oppressor” part.
The lightening success of Hamas in forcefully taking over the supposed symbols of Palestinian power in Gaza cannot and ought not obscure the fact that, given the overbearing presence of Israel’s military occupation, the bloody clash between the Islamist group and its secular counterpart, Fatah, and irrespective of motives, has descended into a feud between two slaves fighting over the crumbs thrown to them, whenever they behave, by their common colonial master.
There is no doubt that a faction within Fatah — overtly funded, trained and steered by the US and Israel — is the primary suspect behind the flare-up of this bloody internecine strife, which many observers view as a thinly veiled attempt to destabilize Hamas’s democratically-elected government, coercing it into accepting Israeli dictates that it had so far balked from. Furthermore, any decent legal expert will readily admit that the so-called “emergency government,” declared by the Palestinian Authority chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, in response to Hamas’s take-over in Gaza, violates several articles in the Basic Law, the equivalent of the PA’s constitution.
While the corruption, lawlessness, profiteering and even betrayal of sections of Fatah have been known and well documented for some time now, the brutal, reckless and in some cases criminal tactics used by armed groups within Hamas were fresh reminders to neutral bystanders who were willing to give the group the benefit of the doubt that it, too, contains a strong, power-hungry faction that is eager to sacrifice principles and human rights to reach its political objectives. Hamas cannot be exonerated from the accusation that, by participating in the legislative and municipal elections according to laws and parameters set by the Oslo agreements, it has already contributed to legitimizing the products of those agreements and forsaken its claim to being a resistance movement that is primarily dedicated to realizing the main tenets of the Palestinian national program of liberation and self-determination. On top of that, and unlike the far more sophisticated and responsible Hizballah in Lebanon, Hamas, in the last year and a half of ruling at various levels, has revealed its inherent tendency, like all Islamist movements, to impose its exclusionary ideological and social order, and to dismiss and whenever possible suppress diverse views and cultural outlooks that conflict with that order.
In the short term, the political vacuum that will inevitably result from the growing rift between Ramallah and Gaza and the steady collapse of the PA structures and remaining authority on the ground is most likely to be filled by an all-out Israeli reoccupation of the entire West Bank and Gaza. This would announce the official death of the so-called Oslo peace process, which actually collapsed long ago under the weight of Israel’s incessantly expanding colonies, apartheid wall — declared illegal by the International Court of Justice — and intricate apparatus of oppression and humiliation of the Palestinians under its control.
Such a scenario may either lead to threatening the very survival of the Palestinian national movement and the completion of the well-underway disintegration of Palestinian society or trigger a renaissance of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. For the latter to occur, however, two difficult but realistic conditions must be met: first, Palestinian structural democratization and political reform and resetting Palestinian national priorities; and second, a critical review and revamping of the Palestinian resistance strategy, both from moral and pragmatic perspectives. Both are urgently called for, to realign the Palestinian struggle with the international social movement and to put the question of Palestine back on the world’s agenda as essentially a morally and politically justifiable and viable liberation struggle that can — again — capture the imagination and support of progressives and freedom lovers the world over.
In order to counter Israel’s dual strategy of, on the one hand, fragmenting, ghettoizing, and dispossessing Palestinians, and, on the other hand, reducing the conflict to a dispute over a partial set of Palestinian rights, the PLO must be resuscitated and remodeled to embody the claims, creative energies, and national frameworks of the three main segments of the Palestinian people: Palestinians in the OPT, Palestinian refugees, and Palestinian citizens of Israel. The PLO’s grassroots organizations need to be rebuilt from the bottom up with mass participation, and they must be ruled by unfettered democracy and proportional representation. This process must entail a well-planned transfer of power from the withering PA back to a rejuvenated PLO, including the entire spectrum of the Palestinian political movement.
As to resistance strategies, one cannot and should not strictly separate means from ends. If the struggle for freedom in Algeria, Northern Ireland and South Africa taught us anything, it is this fact. Irrespective of the right of Palestinians to resist foreign occupation by all means, as granted in international law, we have a moral duty to avoid tactics that indiscriminately target innocent civilians and inevitably corrupt our own humanity. Concurrently, and with full deference to the first principle, we have a political obligation to select methods that maximize our gains. Given the ongoing nihilistic abuse and utter futility of Palestinian armed resistance, the uniquely harsh geo-political context of the Palestinian resistance movement, and the de facto fragmentation of the Palestinian people and isolation of its resistance core from potential sources of supply and logistical support, civil resistance that has the potential of engaging and mobilizing the Palestinian grassroots seems not only morally but also pragmatically preferable.
The young Palestinian campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, modeled after the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, has already shown ample evidence that it has the potential of unifying Palestinians and international solidarity movements in a resistance strategy that is moral, effective and sustainable. In the last few years alone, many mainstream and influential groups and institutions have heeded Palestinian boycott calls and started to consider or apply diverse forms of effective pressure on Israel. These include the British University and College Union (UCU); Aosdana, the Irish state-sponsored academy of artists; the Church of England; the Presbyterian Church (USA); top British architects led by Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine (APJP); the National Union of Journalists in the UK; the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); the South African Council of Churches; the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario; and dozens of celebrated authors, artists and intellectuals led by John Berger, among many others.
The intensification of Israel’s colonial and racist oppression of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, with unprecedented impunity was the main trigger for the spreading boycott. With its wanton destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, willful killing of civilians, particularly children, apartheid wall, Jews-only colonies and roads, incessant confiscation of land and water resources, and horrific denial of freedom of movement to millions under occupation, Israel has shown the international community its total disregard to international law and fundamental human rights.
This latest dose of American — Israeli-inspired — “constructive chaos” in the occupied Palestinian territory may well wreak havoc on US-Israeli policy in the region. With the imminent dissipation of the illusion that a national Palestinian sovereignty can be established under the overall colonial hegemony of Israel, many Palestinians are now seriously questioning the wisdom of the two-state mantra and considering to repose their plight as one for equal humanity and full emancipation, within the framework of a unitary, democratic state solution in historic Palestine. After almost three decades of “searing into the consciousness” of Palestinians that only a two-state solution can deliver any of their demands, the US and Israel are harvesting what they sowed: the collapse of any semblance of independence and integrity of the PA — which was all along charged with relieving Israel’s colonial burdens vs. the inhabitants of the occupied West Bank and Gaza — and the mounting Palestinian discontent with, if not yet revolt against, the game of unilateral Palestinian compromise leading only to insatiable Israeli demands for further compromise, with the simultaneous loss of land, resources, freedoms and the bleak — and real — prospects of social breakdown.
The demise of the two-state solution should not be mourned. Besides having passed its expiry date, it was never a moral solution to start with. In the best-case scenario, if UN Resolution 242 were meticulously implemented, it would have addressed most of the legitimate rights of less than a third of the Palestinian people over less than a fifth of their ancestral land. More than two thirds of the Palestinians, refugees plus the Palestinian citizens of Israel, have been maliciously and shortsightedly expunged out of the definition of the Palestinians.
It is now clearer than ever that the two-state solution — other than being only a disguise for continued Israeli occupation and a mechanism to permanently divide the people of Palestine into three disconnected segments — was primarily intended to induce Palestinians to give up the inalienable right of their refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were ethnically cleansed by Zionists during the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe).
A secular, democratic state solution is increasingly being perceived by Palestinians and people of conscience around the world as the moral alternative to Israeli apartheid and colonial rule. Such a solution, which promises unequivocal equality in citizenship, as well as individual and communal rights, both to Palestinians (refugees included) and to Israeli Jews, is the most appropriate for ethically reconciling the ostensibly irreconcilable: the inalienable, UN-sanctioned rights of the indigenous people of Palestine to self-determination, repatriation, and equality in accordance with international law and the acquired and internationally recognized rights of Israeli Jews to coexist in the land of Palestine — as equals, not colonial masters.
Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian political analyst.