Where are the Palestinians?

Have international solidarity mobilizations drowned out Palestinian voices?

Anne Paq ActiveStills

Over the last few weeks, media in this region was filled with images of people from all over the Western world holding up Palestinian flags and chanting “Free Palestine.” We’ve heard from the likes of Americans, like prize-winning author Alice Walker and former CIA official Ray McGovern (both passengers on the US boat to Gaza) about the importance of standing up for Palestinians in Gaza; we’ve heard about hunger strikes by Spanish and American citizens stuck in Greece after their boats were not allowed to sail; and we’ve seen videos of activists landing in Ben Gurion airport, declaring their intention to visit the occupied West Bank, being accosted by an Israeli mob and then detained and deported, all while chanting “Free Palestine.”

All these events have enormous significance as symbolic acts. They demonstrate to the world, through mass-coordinated events, the de facto command Israel has over the entire territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and all its points of access, whether by land, air or sea. They also demonstrate the lengths to which Israel will go to maintain its control and the hysteria it generates on the home front in order to disguise its own political calculations as matters of security.

But amid all the sensational scenes of confrontation between Israeli authorities and Western “pro-Palestinian” activists (including Israelis), what became apparent was that Palestinians themselves could not be seen or heard. Even though the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign was organized by Palestinian civil society organizations that invited foreigners to come, the media spectacle was focused on the Western activists and their confrontation with Israel. The Palestinians were largely unseen.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, professor at Bethlehem University, author of a book on popular resistance, and the international coordinator of the Palestine Justice Network, is one of the leading organizers of the campaign. Why did the mainstream media outlets not interview him about the campaign? The only place one could find his views was here on The Electronic Intifada, an independent news site that focuses on Palestine.

Moving the focus of media spectacles away from Palestinians to Westerners is a smart strategy. Seeing images of people from France, Belgium and the US being detained at Israel’s national airport makes much more of an international media storm than any Palestinian account of suffering, whether it be Jawaher Abu Rahmah dying from tear gas inhalation in Bilin or a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem being shot and killed by a private Israeli security guard in Silwan.

Even tragic stories about Americans in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, like the story of Rachel Corrie (an American activist killed in Gaza in 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer whose death seemed to draw little sympathy from many who believe she imprudently entered a war zone), does not get as much media attention and sympathy as seeing Israel in hysterics over middle-aged Europeans wanting to visit Palestinians in the West Bank. Activists know this and are using it to their advantage.

Making the media effort to expose Israel more focused on how its policies affect foreigners, not Palestinians, highlights an increasingly popular trend where images of Westerners getting a taste of what Palestinians suffer by experiencing political discrimination and restriction on freedom of movement are enthusiastically displayed in front of the world’s cameras.

While this approach is clearly effective, as evident from the volume of media invested in the stories and the plethora of images released, it is also reflective of a “colonialist,” patronizing perspective espoused by the media, whereby the subject itself, the Palestinians, are no longer even needed in the story. Instead, it is sufficient for a bunch of unknown Westerners to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle in order to make it to the headlines.

Considering how effective a media strategy this is, regardless of what it says about how global media treats the Palestinians, we can expect this trend to only increase and become more popular, as activists continue to seek ways to expose Israeli wrongdoings in the face of immutable policies.

Mairav Zonszein is an Israeli-American independent journalist based in Tel Aviv and writer and editor for 972mag.com.




I think a major flaw of this strategy is that western audiences - to whom these campaigns are aimed - can easily dismiss these as self-indulgent stunts by people with the time and disposable incomes to be able to afford short-notice airfares to tel aviv in the middle of the summer. These guys already wield power and a platform in their wealthy and democratic nations of origin. Palestinians do not. It does seem patronising to these audiences, as the author notes, and not acts which will tangibly improve the human rights of palestinians because they do nothing to force israel back to negotiations, which is the only way peace and the granting of human rights to palestinians can be realised.


Is that solidarity activists are being given the sole role of defining the Palestinian agenda, and become interlocutors for "what Palestinians really want." This really limits the discourse amongst Palestinians, especially because IMHO, I often feel that Palestinians are just telling solidarity activists what they came to hear out of a sense of hospitality. Palestinians who lie at the borders of the discussion, who may be espousing out of the box--but nevertheless well thought out strategies--are left out of the discussion in favor of "authentic" voices translated by the solidarity movement.


I do like the article, and I love the activists, especially Henning Mankell, my favorite author. The interviews were all wonderful, it really raised awareness. But, this is all about Palestine, and the voices I really want heard, are the ones most silenced, the ones Israel has suppressed to the awful point of just being a soft soft muffle, the voices of the Palestinian people...they are the ones I strain to hear, they are the voices we ALL think matter the most. Will Israel ever listen? They may just have to with all the nonstop night and day humanitarians who volunteer their time and money and lives... when we all know they COULD have spent their money on new toys and beach trips....


Thank you for this. This is a phenomenon I have been thinking about for a while. This is the same with Rachel Corrie. Her sacrifice was, of course, incredible, and using her story is an effective tactic of the movement to free Palestine. But the fact that even in death her life is given more significance than the countless thousands of Palestinians who have also been murderd by Israel Is clearly a colonial dynamic. How can international solidarity activists best work to end Israeli apartheid while also keeping the focus on Palestinians themselves?

There is always a problem of representation, especially for a community as marginalized and silenced as Palestinians, and especially when solidarity movements have a global reach. Who gets to represent the desire of Palestinians— as if a group of millions of people can be represented as a singular, homogenous group. This also means that the Palestinians with the most privilege also get their voices heard the most. Omar Barghouti and Mazin Qumsiyeh-- God bless the work they do-- cannot represent all Palestinians either. What of the differences of class, gender, sexuality, in Palestinian society? (Not to mention the differences between 48 Palestinians, West Bank, Gaza, refugees and the diaspora.)

Would love to have more conversations such as these within the movement.


Any action is of help, even the Internationalists who wave flags and try to get their boats out of Greek Ports.
The obvious problem is that the Flotilla committee, people, supporters didn't calculate that the Greek government (ready to abuse their own citizens with IMF rollbacks) would also agree to the Israeli interference with the ships. Can't trust the Israelis or the US to not damage, disrupt detain, imprison, distort, oppose and trick.. One needs cleverer people to outsmart the barbarians. Where were the Greek supporters of the Palestinians?
And did anyone not expect that the Israelis would sabotage the boats? They kill people in Iran, in Jordan, in Pakistan... Editorials in the WSJ USA explain by notable Journalists - the way for Israel to stop the boats, the others is to sabotage their nuclear plants, and of course as we know, sabotage is acceptable under the UN Charter. yes? No? Si? Did anyone on the boats remember who they are dealing with? Next time and there will be a next time --think carefully and expect that spies, lies, and distortions will be tried again.
Open the Raffa gates, that would be a great achievement. The Egyptians are likely to do more for Gaza then the Greeks. (socialists? now really how bizarre). The Egyptians have direct family connections with the Gazan's that is a strong connection, and the new forces in Egypt are willing to push back Israel... how about that.. get those boats on land and
get them thru the Rafa Gates. A festival of boats - carried by thousands... an Egyptian spectacle.


The article and comments raise a very crucial issue. But I'm surprised that, unless I missed it, none of the authors mentioned the Nakba or Naksa marches to the borders by Palestinians!
The political significance of these marches -- and, hopefully, many more of the same -- cannot be overestimated!
See my http://socialistaction.blogspo...
... but also of course EI's coverage of both events.
PS: Where else will Palestinians be? At the UN on September 15th, demanding:
Sovereignty Now! Enforce the Right of Return! Full Equality for All!
End All U.S. Aid to Israel! End the Occupation! Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions!
For more information, email palestineun@gmail.com


While my experience here in Palestine is limited to two summers of teaching in the Bethlehem area (and I have not yet learned Arabic) I've found that many Palestinians are reluctant to talk about politics and/or the hardships they suffer. Perhaps it's their resentment of Americans like me, or their simple wish to live their lives without questions from outsiders like me, or their understandable reluctance to think that talking would change anything. And I confess that learning Arabic has not been my first priority. Nonetheless, I've found it difficult to hear Palestinians (even those who speak English fluently) when they are mostly silent. Any suggestions?


For the July 8th event, "Welcome to Palestine," we did in the media work, also from Europe, try to pitch interviews with the Palestinian leadership of the event such as Lubna Masarwa and Mazin Qumsiyeh. The obstacle was not so much within the media work of the campaign. All of the central press releases were written by or else approved by the Palestinian leadership and were sent worldwide to media via Bethlehem Media Center. For example, here in Germany where I live, I did not send press releases directly to the press here but instead sent my press lists to Bethlehem Media Center to send from Palestine to the German press (in English, which the German press can handle quite well). Here are some useful links with material:
Visual presentation by Mazin for closing press conference with Lubna at Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem -

In solidarity, Elsa Rassbach International Media Coordination "Welcome to Palestine"


While you are generally correct in regard to the mainstream media, I think it was an oversight not to give credit to Democracy Now! I was listening on the radio the day they interviewed The Electronic Intifada's own Ali Abunimah regarding the outlandish claims of Iaraeli officials that the flotilla was somehow threatening Israel. The interview is archived at http://www.democracynow.org/20...


Here in the United States, American Zionists are active everywhere, in every economic and political area with money and influence to spare. Palestinians are very thin on the ground and have essentially no political or economic power here. Though the activities of the Palestinians in Palestine and worldwide are important, it is the political action of American citizens, only a tiny fraction of which are Palestinian, that is the single most important source of opposition to the unquestioning, robotic U.S. support for everything Israel does. We know well that the U.S. will thumb its nose at the entire world for one tiny foreign country because it is politically captured and intimidated at home. The occupation would end tomorrow if the U.S. demanded it, accompanied by a withholding of economic and military support. For all the suffering of those living in Gaza and the West Bank, they will be resolutely ignored unless U.S. citizens can make their case to Americans. Even this offers little hope of success but for the biggest thing going for justice in Palestine: the unstoppable movement of Israel to the fanatical right. At some point Israel will do something atrocious that even inattentive Americans will find so odious to the idea of individual liberty and human rights that support will become questionable. Once underway, when has religious extremism been defused? Shocking things are yet to come in Israel, done by the Israeli government all by itself to the shock and disgust of worldwide Jewry and Americans in general. The Palestinians have only to hold on for the inevitable to come to pass. Samud is the key.