'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, May 16, 2011

Palestine: From Utopia to Reality? 

UPDATE 3: Here comes your non-violent resistance:

In any case, if you're among those who have made the argument that Israelis would give Palestinians a state if only the Palestinians would learn to employ Ghandhian tactics of non-violent protest, it appears your moment of truth has arrived. As my colleague writes, what happened on Nakba Day was Israel's nightmare scenario: masses of Palestinians marching, unarmed, towards the borders of the Jewish state, demanding the redress of their decades-old national grievance. Peter Beinart writes that this represents Israel's Palestinian Arab Spring: the tactics of mass non-violent protest that brought down the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and are threatening to bring down those of Libya, Yemen and Syria, are now being used in the Palestinian cause.

So now we have an opportunity to see how Americans will react. We've asked the Palestinians to lay down their arms. We've told them their lack of a state is their own fault; if only they would embrace non-violence, a reasonable and unprejudiced world would see the merit of their claims. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of them did just that, and it seems likely to continue. If crowds of tens of thousands of non-violent Palestinian protestors continue to march, and if Israel continues to shoot at them, what will we do? Will we make good on our rhetoric, and press Israel to give them their state? Or will it turn out that our paeans to non-violence were just cynical tactics in an amoral international power contest staged by militaristic Israeli and American right-wing groups whose elective affinities lead them to shape a common narrative of the alien Arab/Muslim threat? Will we even bother to acknowledge that the Palestinians are protesting non-violently? Or will we soldier on with the same empty decades-old rhetoric, now drained of any truth or meaning, because it protects established relationships of power? What will it take to make Americans recognise that the real Martin Luther King-style non-violent Palestinian protestors have arrived, and that Israeli soldiers are shooting them with real bullets?

UPDATE 2: J Street responds to the right of return protests on Sunday:

J Street is deeply alarmed by the serious outbreaks of violence in and around Israel today.

We call on Palestinian leaders and the Israeli government to work to minimize further violence and casualties, and to prevent further escalation. We urge governments and communal leaders in surrounding states to similarly avoid escalation.

The violence comes at the start of an important week, during which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the United States, meet President Barack Obama, and deliver several speeches outlining his government’s thinking about the state of the political process with the Palestinians. President Obama too has scheduled an important address Thursday in which he may lay out his ideas for reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

This weekend’s violence only reinforces J Street’s concern that the absence of a credible diplomatic route to achieving a two-state solution sows the seeds of hopelessness that lead to conflict and violence.

J Street’s goal is to promote the security and survival of the state of Israel and its future as a democracy and a Jewish homeland. We fear that the failure of either leader to lay out bold steps toward a two-state solution this week and then to follow through on them in the months ahead condemns Israel, the Palestinians and their neighbors to more dark days of violence and bloodshed and puts Israel’s future and security at risk.

If you had a residual belief that J Street possessed some promise of protecting the Palestinians from the predations of Israel, this should dispel any remaining doubt. Indeed, the language of President Jeremy Ben-Ami's statement is eerily reminiscent of Tony Kushner's defense against the criticisms of Jeffrey Wiesenfeld.

Hat tip to Max Ajl at Jewbonics.

UPDATE 1: Syrian Revolution: It is all about Israel's security.

INITIAL POST: It is difficult to put into words, especially for someone who is not Palestinian like myself, but I believe that the yesterday's events in Palestine, where many Palestinians sought to exercise their right of return by forcing their way past Israeli checkpoints in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, are momentous, a foreshadowing of major changes in the Middle East, and perhaps, even the rest of the world.

Consider this account by Matthew Cassel:

Climbing up the mountain to reach the Palestinian right-of-return protest in Maroun al-Ras in south Lebanon on Sunday felt a bit like being back in Tahrir Square.

The thousands of mostly Palestinian refugees were smiling as they joked about the strenuous climb, and helped each other up the mountain to reach the site where they were going to stage their demonstration. Some knew it could even be dangerous, but that didn't matter as much as the rare opportunity to join together and call for their rights.

The small elevated Lebanese village just overlooking the border with Israel became a massive parking lot as buses carrying Palestinian refugees and Lebanese from across Lebanon converged for a protest commemorating what Israeli historian Ilan Pappé calls the ethnic cleansing by Zionist militias of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes in 1948 – what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe. Large buses had difficulties reaching the top of the mountain, and rather than wait, protesters chose to make the half-mile climb by foot.

Men and women, young and old, secular and religious, were all present. This was the first time in 63 years that Palestinian refugees would go to the border in their tens of thousands and call for their right to return home. For most, it was their first time even seeing the land that they've grown up hearing described in precise detail through the popular stories of elders old enough to remember life in what is today considered Israel.

Or, consider this one about Maroun al-Ras as well, sent to As'ad Abukhalil, the Angry Arab:

I saw courage and heroism today in front of my eyes. The sight was unbelievable. 10 death and dozens injured and the Palestinian guys would not stop. It is mind boggling. I was 200 meters behind the fence. The Lebanese army at the end attached us and was shooting like crazy up in the air. They chased us up the whole mountain. A day I won't forget in my life. Thousands of bullets wire fired above us to drive us back. Friends were literally at the fence and saw the guys falling. I will upload pics and videos later on FB. I will email you my thoughts later. We are still under shock. We were literally taking cover behind rocks, I really don't know what to say.i swear if only these Palestinians are trained, given arms and support, Israel will not last a week. Every shot Asad from Israelis, a wounded or a killed from our side, dozens of ambulances leaving the scene.. and the guys would not stop. Showers of rocks were going the other way, and the damn Israelis snipers were shooting them down one by one.

Perhaps, I exaggerate. Perhaps, with the passage of a week, a month, a year, yesterday's protests and the typically violent Israeli response to them, will be incorporated into the lethargic flow of history as the grinding brutality of the occupation persists unabated. But I don't think so. For those of us unable to perceive the subtle changes in the current, yesterday was, in the words of Fredric Jameson and others, a rupture, one that, paradoxically, did not constitute an actual, violent departure from the continuity of the past, but, rather, exposed our reflexive embrace of something that no longer existed. After all, a rupture is in the eye of the beholder, a subjective perspective incapable of keeping pace with the dynamism of social transformation.

And, what, precisely, was it that we embraced, that many of us considered so inexorable? It was, quite simply, the permanence of Zionism, and, more specifically, the impregnability of the state of Israel. And, beyond that, and, even more important, the invisibility of the Palestinians themselves, their lack of a historical agency that would enable them to ascend the stage and challenge the interrelated historical processes of capitalism and imperialism that had reduced them to marginality. Much as Marxists and anarchists have challenged capitalism, while considering its demise generations, if not centuries, into the future, anti-Zionists, with exceptions like As'ad Abukhalil and Hossam el-Hamalawy, characterized the dissolution of Israel as a Zionist state in utopian terms, something for which we should aspire to achieve without any expectation that we should expect to live to see it. Of course, I speak as someone at the intersection of engaged people and activists and the bourgeois world, so I am willing to concede that I may have possessed a pessimism that activists like Max Ajl and others, such as those involved in the International Solidarity Movement, have already overcome.

Certainly, the Palestinians have done so. And their Egyptian allies sense the historical opportunity as well, as it was necessary for Egyptian security forces to disperse Egyptians who attempted to storm the Israeli embassy in Cairo last night with tear gas and projectiles. Hossam el-Hamalawy has several posts, with video, about the confrontation. Naturally, as with any political movement in which the masses become engaged, those in power, regardless of their purported ideological identity, act to contain it. Hence, the efforts of the Egyptian security forces, the militaries of Lebanon and Syria and the political functionaires of Hamas, to suppress it, to insist that the participants act within the boundaries imposed by established authority. March to the border, but no further. Chant, hold up some signs and throw a few stones, but no more. Stand in front of the embassy and chant slogans, but don't try to breach the compound. In other words, stay within the acceptable confines of innocuous, non-violent, stage managed protest so adored by American liberals, thus the enabling existing regimes to perpetuate the social order while appearing as if they oppose it. Predictably, US and European media, such as the New York Times and the Guardian, looked for the usual suspects behind the protests, Hizbullah, Hamas and the Syrian government, as the alternative, acknowledging the mass base of the effort was too frightening to contemplate.

But, as they used to say long ago, the jig is up, and, if the movement is successful, it may result in the overthrow of other governments in the region, mostly American client states, in addition to the defeat of Zionism. Accordingly, a substantial escalation of violence, including a military conflict on the scale of the 2003 invasion of Iraq or greater, is not out of the question. Of course, as to the movement itself, we shouldn't romanticize. As in any such situation, there are many fissures amongst the Palestinians and those who support them around the world. The Palestinians live in conditions of severe poverty and state repression, represented by governments in the West Bank and Gaza insistent upon brokering away their revolutionary potential in return for the preservation of a dominant position in society. But, yesterday, the Palestinians refused to let any of that deter them, as they have been doing to a lesser, unpublicized degree for quite awhile. For those of us who advocated for them from the safe distance of utopianism, we will have to accept that they are likely to succeed much sooner than we ever anticipated, if we ever believed that they would at all. And, for some of us, this will be discomforting, as we will now have to address the future of Palestine as a real world transformation, with all of the messiness that it will invariably entail. Just as there were civil rights advocates who championed the rights of African Americans, but subsequently had problems when African Americans subsequently exercised their independent power and judgment, we can expect something similar here.

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