Friday, January 8, 2010

It's a long march to freedom



Just one year ago, Gaza and its people were subject to the ultimate crime, victims (both living and dead) of the genocide of the Palestinian people. It is a genocide that began 61 years ago, and it’s had moments of escalation, the peak of which was reached with the attempted destruction of part of Palestine; Gaza, although this is just the most macroscopic attack. The genocide began the moment that it was “decided” to take Palestine away from Palestinians. Responsible for this genocide is the State of Israel and its various lobbies, which is aided and abetted by the governments of the United States, the EU and most of the Arab countries as well as getting logistic coverage from the Nato and biased support from the mass media of most of the West.
None of that should surprise anyone who has been following, and unless someone only learned about this state of affairs recently, volumes have been written about it, and it would only be repetitive to discuss the reasons of this theft and the problems encountered in reversing it and obtaining justice in this brief article.
What instead seems to be a cause of wonder of many of us who have been “in activism” either because we were born Palestinian, or this cause has been our focus, is how no matter what happens to Palestinians, it’s always someone else getting the attention. What seemed like a dream come true to almost all of us, to stop “talking and analysing” and to “take action” instead deflected attention from Palestinians and onto the heroic “Westerner”. Far be it from the minds of any of us to criticise the fine men and women who left their homes and families for a trip into the unknown, to be part of a march, a convoy or a demonstration. The fine ideals of most of them is not put in doubt at all, indeed, it’s humbling that there are so many people moved so deeply by the pain of others that they put their bodies on the line.
However, what we have seen, and what saddens us, is that there are still layers of doubt surrounding these actions and that anyone who dares question them, because there are indeed some very dark corners that need investigation, is treated as if they do not hold the interests of the Palestinians at heart, or worse, that they are conniving with the enemy. We are not watching a film of Robin Hood, but we are witnessing deliberate focusing upon a certain set of actions, and the shift of attention from certain players to others, and deliberate misrepresentation of the expressions of people in order to promote a specific agenda.
Observing, as most of us are, from the outside, we can look for instance at the emails we get, the Facebook invitations and groups that spring up, the types of commentary we see, and one thing does stand out: the build up was fantastic! We were approaching the anniversary of the war against Gaza, and we were arranging to give it the maximum exposure. Some prepared films, conferences, protests in their towns. In the world of communication, so many of us participated along with thousands of others in a Twitter action to bring the word Gaza to the attention of the public, then we shifted to GFM (Gaza Freedom March), spending an entire day in an organised effort. Our sites carried the information of the activist events, stressing what priorities to hammer home (lift the siege, all of Palestine is occupied, push for justice for war crimes). It was a time of a lot of movement, in preparation for this crucial event. Of course, we knew our mainstream media wouldn’t carry much, so we were ready to bombard the alternative media and our streets. We had banners to hang from our windows, black arm bands to wear with our keffiyahs, and the holiday shoppers would also become aware by our presence and leafleting. Yes, it’s got to be admitted, it seemed that this might be a watershed moment to make Palestine present.
However, something happened. Rather than talk about the Gaza war and making Israel receive a quantity of publicity that it thought it might escape getting as it has thus far, the activists were protesting against Egypt. That seemed to be the shift in the focus that took many of us by surprise and shock. Not only, the great momentum of activists pointing out the Israeli crimes, especially in Gaza, but all throughout its history, was basically instructed to just stop full out and protest against Egypt. If that were not enough, activists were encouraged not only to make phone calls (we all made them, asking them to let the convoys in, protesting the Steel Wall and asking them to open the Rafah gate once and for all) to the Egyptian authorities in our countries, but we were asked to start to promote towards boycotting Egypt.
It must be admitted, we started to plan for that, although most of us have been doing BDS campaigning non-stop against Israel for years. It would require more than an emotional appeal to be able to decide if this was the effective solution to Palestine’s occupation.
Then, with all of the relentless phoning, messaging, emailing, communicating actions to do “now”, we realised we had no time to reflect on this strategy, and this is always a mistake. If one does not have a strategy, a goal that they are aware of the variables and players, things start to get complicated. We did ask ourselves a few questions: why the shift, so suddenly and the protagonists are Internationals, as if it was not necessary in the past to protest against the actions of any country that had penned in or in any way constricted or obstructed Palestinian rights. Why was it that the enemy, the MAJOR enemy, was shifted to Egypt and only NOW and not all during the siege? How did Israel get let off the hook in less than one day, and WHAT a day!? What is up with that, we asked one another. No one was even talking about US complicity, it seemed as if the whole problem was Egypt, and the whole solution was Egypt. And worse, that the only thing to be liberated was Gaza, and not all of Palestine. What a nightmare for a Palestinian, some of us thought, to have their struggle be co-opted into some other agenda.
Watching things unfold, we saw that there was a lack of basic organisational planning that was perhaps not entirely the fault of the organisers, but as a friend said, “If you go to the jungle, you play by the rules of the lion”, and it seemed as if the activists didn’t realise that they weren’t in Kansas anymore. But worse, there was almost a cavalier attitude that it was going to be “my way or the highway” between the activist convoy and the Egyptian government, up to this moment not able to be dealt with due to complicity in the crime. In this kind of issue, the activists have to remember that if the Palestinians could not change the events, the Westerners weren’t going to march in and save the day. They aren’t superior, even if they may have a lot of support behind them. They can’t achieve more than minimal results if their tactics are faulty at the core.
Was deciding to come to loggerheads with Egypt rather than with Israel the best tactic? Was there some kind of agenda behind that, which would in some way weaken Arab unity? Who really knows, but suspicion is legitimate and permitted. As well as the suspicions raised about safety. As it stands, one Egyptian soldier is dead and two Palestinians are “clinically dead” out of the clashes that broke out. Would it have not been far more effective to stand up to the Israelis, the activists themselves, if this was indeed who they were needing to protest the most. But for some reason, it was determined that Egypt was going to be the “front”.
When the issue of the lack of transparency, the “brand new vehicles”, the actual accounting of the funds raised during events but not fully accounted for (including things like photos with a politician/activist/media man for $20 a click), anyone who questioned all of that was not given answers, but was threatened that they would face legal action. For what? For questioning where funds go? That is absurd! Every organisation that organised for these convoys and caravans has the absolute right to complete exposure of how these funds were spent, to the last dime. When it was asked why there were divergent stories on the diplomatic permissions, rather than explain that it was part of a strategy, to accept a plan and then reject it “suddenly” upon arrival, rather than state, “this is our strategy”, those questioning were said to have been “on the side of Mubarak.
Nothing is further from the truth, indeed, we have said, no one should ever have agreed to conditions at all if they are going to do a mission like this. If you break the siege, you try to break the siege. There are ways to do it, and there are ways where all it will do is put lives in danger and not even bring about the expected result. If there are other priorities, even ones that are unspoken, they will come to the surface one day or another, so why not be upfront from the start?
If the result was publicity, there was more than enough of that. But for whom? And against whom? Gazans and Palestinians were bit players, indeed, their stories have had zero, absolutely zero attention, even in activist alternative circles. Yes, we all got calls to protest immediately at the Egyptian embassies in our countries. Where were calls to do this to Israeli ones? Any activist in some way critical of the handling of this, (well not all of them, mainly the Palestinians) were attacked fiercely for “daring” to question the methods and strategy. And they were painted as pro-Egypt regime, anti-Hamas and anti-resistance. As if all of that were programmed somehow, and… oddity of them all, not even the truth.
But truth doesn’t seem to have much way of making it to the light of day in the world of Palestinian activism engaged by Westerners. Everyone must march to the same drummer, and if you have your questions, you are the enemy. This is another reason the movement shall never be effective. It is all about activists! Palestinians are discounted as if they did not matter. And, naturally, the Egyptian people became the centre of the maelstrom.
A quite illuminating experience was what was going on in many pan-Arab pro-Palestinian milieus, which, contrary to what Western activists might think, are full of determined and loyal Arabs dedicated to the Palestinian cause and yet, not bowing down to “Western superiority” with its saviour mentality. We had been following some of the banter, and there was no lack of people thanking us for questioning what the point in shifting the focus was, as well as others recounting the experiences they had that were far from positive regarding some aspects of these campaigns. Some had feared that now there would be a world campaign against Egypt, and in a comment that was emblematic, an Egyptian supporter of Palestinians wrote on Facebook, “Anyone of you who pushes to get Egypt boycotted will be immediately taken off my friends list, and I am not joking about this. We have marched and protested at great risk many times, and look at how you pay us back.” The sentiments of feeling the pressure of an anti-Egypt campaign that would not bother the Government, but perhaps merely affect people who do not support the government actions was building and this comment expressed a growing frustration in the shift.
So, the name callers wilfully misread criticism of tactics, method, strategy and focus. Whose side are they on? When the dust settles, will Gaza or any other part of Palestine be freer by one millimetre? Will the world have woken up some more? Right now, we have Israel laughing itself silly at how wonderfully the mirrors shift in this activist circus.
We activists find ourselves, as we often do, misguided, disunited and randomly addressing the Palestinian cause without having the clear end goal in sight: the liberation of all of Palestine and justice for Palestinians. But this doesn’t seem to be a problem reserved to activists alone, it is endemic in the Arab/Muslim world where the actions are never coordinated, they sink or swim each one on an individual basis, and the failure to come up with something as effective as the media disinformation and PR by Israel and its supporters, which are always not one step, but 100 steps, ahead of whatever Anti-Zionist issue is currently “in the public eye”.
Many of us are in the process of developing our own ideas of how to really deal with the inability of at least keeping step with our enemies. We need direction, and we have to start being on the same page. To begin with, it is essential that we define the problem and the issue: Zionism, Western support of a Jewish State in Palestine, violence, ethnic cleansing and theft of Palestinian land and terrorism of Palestinian people.
Once we are clear that this is the force to fight, we have to be able to understand how this force has been able to get away with the violence, theft and terrorism. It has been quite simple, actually: the power of the enormous lies, myths, historical disinformation on the entire issue as well as the enormous power of the Pro-Israel lobbies in the West. This goes hand in hand with the money, media ownership and propaganda machines that Zionists possess.
The disunity of the Palestinians themselves is MANUFACTURED. The factionalism that exists is far more marginal than the unity of Palestinians, and the focus on the division deeply harms the cause both internally and externally. The ineffective Palestinian leaders are able to see only two camps: Pro-America/Israel or Rejectionist. They refuse to accept that Palestinians feel united against their common enemy, and if able to focus on that, and not on the power of the leadership, the resistance energies can all be channelled against the real enemy. The only way to beat the Zionists is all together.
The impotent, corrupt dictatorships of the Arab world have had one priority: holding onto power and wasting enormous wealth in Western institutions rather than in an Arab one, and the fighting they engage in against one another serves ONLY foreign agendas and not a united Pan Arab agenda. To overcome this, Arab activists should consider working towards campaigns leading to the dissolution of the Arab League and prioritising the interests of the people.
Strategy and Priority have to become unified for activists for Palestine and for Palestinians exactly the way they are for Zionists and Israelis. All issues can’t be tackled all at once and in a haphazard way if we hope that they are going to be effective. An issue should be defined, and this is incredibly easy, given the history of Palestine and the significant dates, and priority to the issue should be given, with the strategy of allowing it enough time to develop and receive the maximum exposure possible, then one moves onto the next issue. A coordinated effort with International Human Rights groups aware of the various ways to highlight the plight of human rights in Palestine, can have a resonance that will be capillary and able to be adapted to the languages, countries, cultures that are the targets of these campaigns. Each action must be adapted for its local uses, as the ability to carry it out will be dependent on many specific factors.
We have to develop a media strategy and winning public relations. Activists have to network, establish contacts, generate events in media, religious and political circles both locally and internationally. Development of media and educational resources should always have the same “theme”, not a divided Palestine, but the goal of a free and united Palestine. No one should forget the map. We need to abandon Zionist terminology and promote correct language.
Demonstrations and physical protests are effective only when they do not shift the focus. They may get maximum exposure if they coincide with important Zionist/Palestinian timelines. They should not create more problems than they resolve.
Money and transparency are of vital importance. Accountability and transparency are not optionals. This will ensure that the donations will increase as people are certain that their money is well spent. Any campaign that has shadows hanging over it endangers all future campaigns. As well, those collecting money must be aware of the laws in force in the countries where the money is collected. While donating to some political parties that are Blacklisted by the “international community” is not against the law in some States, in the United States and Europe, it is, and this will condition the donations as well as put the donors in a position where they are subject to Zionist abuse, harassment and will restrict their range of action (if they survive). It is indeed sad that a political leader/activist has to be on record that he “does not support Hamas”. Who one supports should not even matter, nor should it be an issue for an outsider. As long as there is division, these divisions should not be highlighted.
Unity. If we activists cannot be united on the cause, how can we expect unity where it is the most needed, in the Palestinian and Arab peoples who are suffering occupations and divisions.
8 January 2010
Yousef Abudayyeh
Mohamed Khodr
Mary Rizzo
Haitham Sabbah

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