Lost cause?

A ONCE profound and widely read commentator recently claimed he no longer writes about the Palestine-Israel conflict because “Palestinians are killing each other”. Feeling his words have ceased to carry weight, he has decided simply not “to take sides”.

By Ramzy Baroud

Published: Tue 27 Nov 2007, 9:11 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:31 AM

What is one to make of such a reaction? Granted, what has transpired in Palestine in recent years is utterly disheartening, understandably demoralising and partly confusing.

The disheartenment stems from the belief that a long-victimised nation, still undergoing a most intense and ever-growing colonial project should deploy all its energies into fighting its enemy’s long-term goal: an ethnically cleansed Palestine, ie a Palestine without Palestinians. Infighting hardly seems an appropriate response to colonialism.

Demoralisation is also understandable in that Palestinians should, naturally, be the inspirers of a global movement aimed at sending a clear message to Israel: that racism, colonialism and apartheid no longer have a place in a world that should be seeking equality, peace and harmony; a divided nation cannot present a unified message, needless to say a unifying leadership.

And indeed, the happenings in Palestine are partly confusing to some of those who have long sided with the Palestinian struggle for freedom. This struggle has been manipulated to suit the aims of various groups, each spurred on by ideological, religious or other motives. In some places, the fight in Palestine is conducted on behalf of Islam, while in others it’s seen as a product of racism. In yet others it is a class warfare, and the list goes on. I once even read that the war between Israel and Palestinians is a “civil war”.

Palestine has thus spun out of its true meaning —the proper context of the conflict as that between a nation denied its land and basic freedoms and a state with immense wealth and power, able to defy international law on a daily basis, thanks in part to its unwarranted backing by the world’s only superpower, the United States. The lack of this context gives substitute meanings to help others understand —or misunderstand —what is in fact transpiring. In some instances, it has led to the over-romanticising of the conflict, thus explaining the now bewildered response of those who have long stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The Hamas takeover of Gaza in June last year, and the factionalism and bloodshed associated with it would hardly come as a surprise if it was analysed properly. The conflict in Palestine, like any other conflict, is rational; it should serve as a classic example of a regional conflict with international boundaries, representing the opportunity for an important analysis that does in fact matter to Americans (the role of their country in the conflict, and the power of the Israeli lobby in their midst), Europeans (who wish to see a truly independent Europe playing a less injurious role in a region whose stability matters a great deal to them for many reasons), the United Nations (whose credibility has been damaged too often by the belligerent US-Israeli alliance) and others.

Many questions should be asked and debated. Should solidarity with the people of Palestine wane because Palestinians chose a religious grouping to represent them in unquestionably democratic elections (thus hurting the secular sensibility of many of their supporters)? Should Palestinians be held entirely and collectively responsible for the few amongst them who choose to line their interests with those with power and capital? Is what Mahmoud Abbas did —working with the coloniser to isolate a large segment of his people —unprecedented in other conflicts, past and present? Has any nation that fought for its freedom actually managed to avoid the peril of infighting?

Again one can understand the sense of demoralisation that struck many pro-Palestinian circles around the world in response to the unfortunate events unfolding in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. However, it is also important to warn that if demoralisation is caused by the fact that Palestinians have failed to live up to ideological, religious or any other expectations placed upon them, then perhaps it is time for some serious introspection. What we need to reflect on is not Palestinians, but why we wished to support their struggle in the first place.

I believe that one has to side with that that is just and morally upright at the risk of creating ideological inconsistencies, or dare I say, disturbing religious mantras.

The conflict in Palestine doesn’t have to be a straightforward clash between haves and have-nots, blacks and whites, Muslims and Jews.

The responsibility of deciphering the recent additions to a seemingly mystifying conflict is the responsibility of the intellectual, the one who is capable of research, analysis and articulation.

The intellectual is not a cheerleader, nor a poet, and should, no matter where his sympathies lie, remain capable of dispassionately approaching the subject at hand; the responsibility is not merely intellectual, it is also moral.

Over thirty years ago, Noam Chomsky wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyse actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression.”

No one should make the claim that the question of Palestine is effortless to understand. True, it’s a classic colonial case that should not have been allowed to perpetuate for so long unhindered; however, to grasp an event as recent as the Palestinian infighting, one must examine and juxtapose various layers of analyses: local, regional and international. One must ask question about ‘causes, motives and hidden intentions’. If done properly, this will show that as disheartening, demoralising and confusing as they may seem from the outside, the recent developments in Palestine are very much rational, very much predictable and very much consistent with the history of past national struggles. If we do not wish not to shirk from our moral, intellectual and historic responsibility, then we cannot make Palestine the exception.

Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London)

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