Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 15th

Empty slogans?

We're just about done wringing our hands. Thank you Egypt for uplifting us with your successful revolution, but the cynicism is back and worse than before.

We've already voiced our thoughts for today. We dared to dream, to hope that March 15th had the potential to become the biggest thing since Tahrir Square captivated the world a few weeks ago. We were aware of our naivety, but we hoped against all hope. Because Palestine is at the lowest point in its history, and it seems just plain criminal to just stand there idly by while the rest of the region is actively attempting and in some cases succeeding in reforming itself. Because the youth were driven with inspiration from the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen. Because if the people in Saudi Arabia braved the repercussions by going out to protest, then there really was no other excuse left for us. Because we want, we demand a better present, not a better future. We've been so guilty of living in the past, and so brusque about the future, that we completely forget that the present is what we're currently living through.

Foolishly, we expected thousands and thousands and thousands of people to come out today. The Facebook page "The Third Intifada" has over 170,000 group members. Were they all sympathetic foreigners, activists, refugees in the diaspora?

Yesterday night, a group of about ten young men went to the Manara square on a hunger strike. They planned to spend the night there. One of them is the son of one of my professors, and this morning in class he echoed what I felt when I first heard about their endeavor. It is admirable, yet foolish. We admire their resolve and their commitment, but this is not well thought out. Within our political society, these kinds of things do not serve as a heroic inspirational preemptive solution to ending the division between Fateh and Hamas nor to ending the occupation. If these youths are strong capable intellectuals, then we need them to stay healthy and not waste away in hunger.

Let us turn to Birzeit University for some general context. Yesterday, a rumor spread like wildfire around campus that the dean of the university had approved to host some Zionists and agreed to an exchange program between Israeli and Palestinian students. There was an uproar to say the least. Suspension of classes were once again announced by the student council, to protest against such shenanigans. Then they split themselves into gangs and went to each building, yelling out for the students to leave or the building will be locked. The student council is for the third year running, the Fateh youth group A-Shabiba. The gangs were all wearing the black and white kuffiyeh (their tattoo for membership) and seemed belligerent. We were shocked by the dean's actions. We were angry too. No to normalization, yes to academic boycott. But the information we had from repeated snippets of conversations from others were inadequate. Which Israeli universities? Who were the Zionists? When was this going to take place? Why would such a decision be undertaken, especially one this immoral? The student council had burned tires in front of the Administration building, and were shouting about something or the other with the loudspeakers blaring out nationalistic songs. With no classes, we went home.

This morning on campus I walked a little with a neighbor, who is involved with the student council. I asked her about yesterday, and she launched into an explanation, which filled out a lot of the dark spaces. Apparently, there was some guy (she told me his name, I forgot) who is well known for his extensive normalization with Israel. So much in fact, that Israel gave him citizenship. He spends weekends in Tel Aviv. Well, this guy wanted to study diplomacy for his masters' degree. Birzeit University agreed to including this new field of study in its masters program. The condition was that Zionists had to teach it. And that as the course progressed, for Israeli and Palestinian students to engage in some exchange business. It was only after I made it to my first class when I realized how silly this all sounded. My teachers that day each spoke about this case. When they had first heard the rumor, they went to the department head and in their fervor demanded that they be the first ones to strike. With fire in their eyes, they called up the administration office, got some clarification, rolled their eyes, and proceeded to give classes. Here's the truth: there is some institution backed by the university and sponsored by foreign aid. The sponsors said that they weren't going to fully finance it unless the institution participates in dialogue with Israel. The dean said no. End of story. [UPDATE: the dean put up this announcement on the student portal Ritaj to dispel the rumors officially.] Think of it this way--student elections (so politicized) are in two weeks. A-shabiba merely made up this baseless rumor as part of their campaign to attract more votes for the election. Last year, a total 40 percent of the student population voted, which reflects the disenfranchisement and annoyance with the student council who by the way don't do squat for the students.

Today, those little self-righteous gangs went from classroom to classroom, making a little speech at the beginning by saying how they represent ALL of us, how they are not just acting in the name of Fateh or Hamas or Jabha (PFLP) but are acting in our names. One guy even pointed us out, "You, and you, and YOU, and him, and her, and her, and YOU, and you!" We gave them the once-over in return. How dare they. They do NOT speak for us. They are NOT our representatives. March 15th was a day organized by youth groups, who warned that some political parties or individuals are going to attempt to hijack this day for their own interests, to suit their own agendas. If they were really serious about ending the division, instead of calling people out to congregate around the Manara chanting "No to Division" , they would right off the bat announce that the legislative elections due to happen in September are not to commence without the inclusion of Hamas. I don't buy for a second that these students, who become the big buff liberators of Palestine for the day, have pure intentions and are serious about ending the division. When the schism took place (2006), they and their ilk were the same ones chanting against Hamas and denouncing the so called oppressive tactics used by Hamas in Gaza. Their flaked sincerity is poorly masked blatant propaganda. They discovered they cannot go against the flow.

The gang came in, about 6 or 7 of them, some scrawny some brawny, all trying their best to look intimidating. They huddled in the doorway glaring at us, memorizing our faces, while one of them stepped in and politely called us out to join them at 11 am in front of the Administration building, and at noon a bus was going to come to drop them off at the Manara. He appealed to our sense of nationalism, "If you truly care about yourselves, if you truly want to see an end to division, please come out with us right now to show and strengthen our support for each other. We are not suspending classes so that the students can hang out in the cafeterias." The class looked back at him skeptically. The other guys from the doorway started shouting at us before a guard stepped in, indicating that they had made their point. We went on with our class, which was actually a discussion of these very same students who fail to use their minds critically. They expect us to be sheep, happily following their every lead. Suspending classes is such a stupid move. Right now, the most powerful tool we have in our hands is Education, something that is clearly lacking in our society. Lack of awareness about our history, our literary culture, BDS, other oppressed countries, resistance movements such as Otpor, etc. People need to engage in critical thinking, and not swallow up everything spoon fed to them. The Palestine cause is not black and white. Sure, you have the occupiers and the occupied, but in the middle there's a large vortex of so many grey areas. We are of course against the division. Every self-respecting Palestinian is. The lowest point in our history was when we brutally turned our guns against each other. No one gains from the division except for Israel and its proxies. However, we want to protest in our own way, not because someone is telling us that we must and the only way to do that is to schlepp along behind their questionable footsteps.

Another gang came by. Another nice little introductory speech, which was interrupted by one of the henchmen pointing to the teacher and pugnaciously disclosing to us all that "She can't stop you from leaving the class!" The speaker hushed him up and continued to babble on. "We come to you, in the name of Hamas, in the name of Fateh, in the name of Jabha and all other political factions and parties, in the name of the students, in the name of you all, to join us, right here right now, to end the division." One girl quipped, "You do not represent Hamas, since Hamas are excluded from the student body." He flustered a bit, then changed tacts. "If you really are Palestinian, you would join us." There was no doubt that we would be at the Manara today, but not pigeon-holed by any sort of group. It intensely grates us when the 'Prove You're a Palestinian' card is played, worryingly a lot these days. It is insulting, and demeaning, and highly unnecessary. It pertains to a sense of fascist desperation, which is the last thing we need.

We went to Ramallah, still encased with hope. A niggling thought that we had forcibly pushed to the back of our minds surfaced. How exactly are we going to end the division? A la Tahrir style? What about our own originality? Are we seriously expecting to end the division when there are different characters and groups who suffer not just from short-sightedness but from other crippling discrepancies? If we wanted to be united once again, we wouldn't have waited for five years. We wouldn't have needed the recent revolutions in the Arab world as a stimulus. We smelled some kind of farcical entity. Yet we dismissed all of that. We walked toward the Manara sqaure, our steps faltering a bit. Where was the massive crowd? We expected the streets leading to the Manara to be half clogged up at the very least. I was reminded by that line in one of the songs by the Arctic Monkeys, "Anticipation has a habit to set you up/ for disappointment in evening entertainment but..."

There were some three thousand people there. Three thousand. To end the division and to end the occupation. Inwardly we laughed scornfully, but our expressions were bleak. Is this the best we can do? The large banners certainly outdid themselves, hanging over the sides of buildings, a couple depicting Yasser Arafat and Sheik Ahmad Yasin (the people in the buildings cut out squares in the posters so that they could see). The problem, we quickly found out, was the loudspeakers. They kept playing songs over and over again, so that anyone chanting had little chance of being heard, and those small crowds who nevertheless resolutely chanted were drowned out. It was a washed out Arab version of Woodstock. The guys on the stage draped over the speakers were dancing and cheering the crowd on. Most of the people were just standing there, holding their Palestine flags. Foreigners darted through here and there snapping award winning pictures. Our hearts dropped somewhere below our toes. To one side, there was some jostling as a group of teenage boys formed a circle and dropped on their backsides for a "sit-in". One of their friends stood in the middle dancing inanely. We edged away, numb to it all. In front of us, more guys were starting to do dabke. Our insides squirmed and the space where our hearts were supposed to be cleaved itself into two. The loudspeakers encouraged them, belting out a couple of popular dabke songs. Was this a demonstration or a sahrah? Did we miss the cause for celebration? For this flippant atmosphere? We circumvented the Manara twice. It was mostly empty on the other side. We both wanted to go home, but we held on, hoping for a miracle to happen.

It never came.

The handful carrying their own posters. HANDFUL.
For something that was planned from weeks on end and organized on Facebook, this event was outstandingly anti-climatic. There was no element of seriousness about it at all. We saw more heart, passion, fortitude, and genuineness from the protests in solidarity with Egypt last month (February the 5th) than today. Abbas and Haniyeh are breathing more freely now. A colossal waste of time, a heart-rendering disappointment. We were shocked because we honestly had reason to believe that today, March 15th, was going to be a groundbreaking day. How silly of us.

So we had a bit of a moan and treated ourselves to some ice cream.

A sticker "Let Us End the Occupation" discarded on the street, trodden on

Now, to think critically. Reasons for the low turnout? Laziness, fatalistic attitudes, lack of faith, danger to one's health, ignorance, indifference, acceptance of present reality, realism, numbness to occupation (hey, we have food on the table every day), not being 'Palestinian' enough. etc. Where were all those people commenting on the Facebook page of Let Us End the Occupation? (Last I checked, busy bickering on cyberspace.) Where were the youth leaders? Where were their demands on this much toted 'seminal' day? Where is the communication between ourselves? What are the plans from now?

Is this a serious movement? By today's standards, the answer is a resounding hellllll to the no. Will anything happen tomorrow? Next week? WHAT IS GOING ON? Have we just demonstrated to ourselves and the world that nonviolent protesting definitely does not work with us? And that the fatuous campaign of writing on bank notes is definitely not the way to start our long process of liberation? Tunisia is not Egypt, and Palestine is not Egypt. What this protest succeeded in is to disorient many people, placing the thought that what was taken from us by force will only be reclaimed again by force. Is this what we're reduced to now?

Ramallah's finest brand of fafis

Are we going to end the occupation by procuring tents and settling indefinitely around the Manara square? That'll be a grand thing to do, as settlers expropriate more land, our yells and demands will get louder, all the while languidly sitting there. Or shall we turn rebel fighters and aided with the defected colonels of the PA's security forces, go forward in reclaiming each city one by one, until the mighty IDF bests us with their superior weaponry? So many questions. Too many questions. Call this a state of confusion.

One raging disgusted voice (which I'll leave anonymous), mostly mirroring our own, well expressed:

It's clear to me that we Palestinians are totally confused! El-Inkisam [Division] is probably the least of our problems right now! Personally I think we've lost our ability to create our unique way of resistance! so now we're just imitating and reproducing wotever is thrown upon us....we're not Egypt..Tunisia or Libya....we have Israel AND Qadhafi/Benali/Moubarak....we have one of the few left old forms of colonization in the world...peaceful demonstrations don't work to lift injustice (that's merely my opinion)
I think we should start over....wot is going on! wot has happened!where have we lost our path! wot have we lost and wot do we want now! I think we need to redefine US...who are Palestinians! In the Deffe [West Bank] they want the authority of the people....which people....what about the refugees.....why don't we reconnect with many of us know about Ein elHilwe, Bourj elBarajneh, elYarmook.....that's our identity.....that's the only clear path...we forgot the basics and the redlines have turned gray.....there is Israel, an needs to go.....there are red green and white/black political parties...their agendas are proven incapable...they need to authority stumbled in weakness and needs to go....another authority full of religious crap and needs to and candles DON'T WORK here.......only violence and power....physical power not verbal......don't go on food strike....STRIKE!
wot has been taken by force can only be restored by force.....indeed Israel has taken so much...but those who are in control have taken much more...our spirit to resist.....our path....Force is the only solution to Inkissam and to I7tilal [occupation]....(merely my opinion)....we need awareness and i don't think that could be found in the amounts needed....we're confused....i am :s
All i know now is that i don't blv in an peaceful protest here....Peace has done us alotta harm.

Peace has done us a lot of harm.

1 comment:

  1. "Tunisia is not Egypt, and Palestine is not Egypt."

    This post, along with Anon's quote, is really remarkable. Thank you for posting this.