"This is how I understand the struggle...To stand steadily like spears, and never give up." Naji Al-Ali

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winning Hearts and Minds for Palestine

In encounters with latent Zionists (those who view the current situation in Israel and Palestine as a battle between two equally entitled, equally faulted parties for which concessions and compromise on both sides are necessary to end the conflict) many Palestine solidarity activists find themselves dismissed as zealots. In my personal dealings with such people I have been instructed that the “Israel/Palestine conflict has no room for zealots on either side.” Having dwelt on this accusation for a period of weeks, I have finally settled upon what I think is an appropriate response –apart from various sound bites familiar to the solidarity community such as “I can’t help that the truth has an anti-Israel slant” etc.

While it might be instinctive to ignore these remarks, I firmly believe that doing so would constitute a missed opportunity. As the legal approach to solving the Palestinian question consistently fails and endless (some say pointless) negotiations drag on, building popular resistance offers activists a chance to influence governments that enable occupation and apartheid while simultaneously eroding private financial support for human rights violations. Unlike their entrenched cousins, latent Zionists can still be convinced; we should not dismiss them, but rather confront the misinformation they’ve been exposed to head on.

Latent Zionists use the term zealot pejoratively in the name of a particularly dangerous form of "moderation." This moderation seeks to frame Palestinian solidarity as a similarly destructive parallel to radical Zionism, equating the oppressor with the oppressed. My accuser defined zealotry as charging the other party in the conflict with all responsibility such that a zealot for Israel  is one who believes Palestinians are solely responsible for their position whereas a zealot for Palestine believes Israel is wholly at fault. 

By these parameters any findings that consistently point to Israeli responsibility, however factual, must be dismissed wholesale as biased or counterweighted with an Israeli perspective regardless of this perspective’s truthfulness. Current mainstream reporting on the subject exemplifies this view, e.g. including Israel’s charge that flotilla members killed by the Israeli Defense Force were “terrorists,” that all Palestinian activists are incarcerated for “inciting violence” or that protests broken up violently with rubber bullets and copious amounts of tear gas are always the result of “rock throwing.”

Because the truth of the matter is simply that objective evidence consistently results in the determination of Israel’s ultimate culpability, in order to escape zealot-labeling (consequently losing the chance to win hearts and minds) we must alter this paradigm.

Latent Zionists hold the views that they do about zealotry due to a very specific misunderstanding of Israel’s origins. To correct this misunderstanding and thus escape zealot-labeling, we must take ownership of certain inescapable facts, namely that the State of Israel built itself on a policy of settlement and ethnic cleansing. We cannot equivocate about these facts, but instead strive to internalize them as part of the commonly understood Palestinian narrative. Israel has controlled the history of Palestine unchallenged in Western discourse for far too long. It is high time for the findings of the New Historians (whether they agree ethnic cleansing was coordinated or not) to replace the commonly perpetuated ahistorical myth of Israel’s “War of Iindependence.”

In doing so, it then becomes evident that such a definition of zealotry fails at the onset. History itself is zealous!

If we are successful, we can then do what Israeli Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi asked of Palestine solidarity activists in her series of lectures to the American public (I attended one of her events, sponsored by the Palestinian American Women’s Association, in October of this year) –we can put the struggle for Palestinian self-determination and equality in its rightful place among other democratic struggles in popular discourse.

Today no one would suggest that those who advocated British withdrawal from occupied India were zealots. Today, no one would argue that those who advocated civic equality in 1960’s America or more aptly in 20th century South Africa were zealots. We have the opportunity and obligation to institutionalize the same attitudes about Palestinians both inside and outside Israel. This opens the door to resisting legitimate manifestations of zealotry when they are apparent in much the same way as taking control of charges of anti-Semitism gives us the chance to expose real racism.

Those who wish to erase Palestine and Palestinian identity are zealots. Those who wish to drive Israelis or Jews “into the sea” are zealots. Those who value justice, equality and respect for human rights are not.  While I do not believe activists should spend the majority of their time fighting every ridiculous insult thrown our way, it is not in our interests to be dismissed so easily. We must take the time to make ourselves understood, otherwise we can achieve nothing.

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