More Than Just Statistics: On the Future of the Palestinian Discourse

More Than Just Statistics: On the Future of the Palestinian Discourse |  SALAM ALQUDS ALAYKUM - سلام القدس عليكم

By Ramzy Baroud

Source

A single chart, or a thousand, can never truly describe the actual terror felt by a million children who feared for their lives during those horrific days; or transport us to a bedroom where a family of ten huddled in the dark, praying for God’s mercy as the earth shook, concrete collapsed and glass shattered all around them.

Palestine can never be truly understood through numbers, because numbers are dehumanizing, impersonal, and, when necessary, can also be contrived to mean something else entirely. Numbers are not meant to tell the story of the human condition, nor should they ever serve as a substitute for emotions.

Indeed, the stories of life, death – and everything in-between – cannot be truly and fully appreciated through charts, figures and numbers.  The latter, although useful for many purposes, is a mere numerical depository of data. Anguish, joy, aspirations, defiance, courage, loss, collective struggle, and so on, however, can only be genuinely expressed through the people who lived through these experiences.

Numbers, for example, tell us that over 2,200 Palestinians were killed during the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip between July 8 and August 27, 2014, over 500 of them being children. Over 17,000 homes were completely destroyed, and thousands of other buildings, including hospitals, schools and factories were either destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli strikes.

This is all true, the kind of truth that is summarized into a neat infographic, updated occasionally, in case, inevitably, some of the critically wounded eventually lose their lives.

But a single chart, or a thousand, can never truly describe the actual terror felt by a million children who feared for their lives during those horrific days; or transport us to a bedroom where a family of ten huddled in the dark, praying for God’s mercy as the earth shook, concrete collapsed and glass shattered all around them; or convey the anguish of a mother holding the lifeless body of her child.

It is easy – and justifiable – to hold the media accountable for the dehumanization of the Palestinians or, sometimes, ignoring them altogether. However, if blame must be apportioned, then others too, including those who consider themselves ‘pro-Palestine’, must reconsider their own position. We are all, to an extent, collectively guilty of seeing Palestinians as sheer victims, hapless, passive, intellectually stunted and ill-fated people, desperate to be ‘saved.’

When numbers monopolize the limelight in a people’s narrative, they do more damage than merely reduce complex human beings to data; they erase the living, too. Regarding Palestine, Palestinians are rarely engaged as equals; they persist at the receiving end of charity, political expectations and unsolicited instructions on what to say and how to resist. They are often the fodder for political bargains by factions or governments but, rarely, the initiative takers and the shapers of their own political discourse.

Under the shadow of the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, a shopkeeper visits with a girl and her mother where he sells snacks in the Old City of Jerusalem, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

The Palestinian political discourse has, for years, vacillated between one constructed around the subject of victimhood – which is often satisfied by numbers of dead and wounded – and another pertaining to the elusive Fatah-Hamas unity. The former only surfaces whenever Israel decides to bomb Gaza under any convenient pretext at the time, and the latter was a response to western accusations that Palestinian political elites are too fractured to constitute a potential ‘peace partner’ for Israeli rightwing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Many around the world can only understand – or relate to – Palestinians through their victimization or factional affiliation – which, themselves, carry subsidiary meanings relevant to ‘terrorism’, ‘radicalism’, among others.

The reality is, however, often different from reductionist political and media discourses. Palestinians are not just numbers. They are not spectators either, in a political game that insists on marginalizing them. Soon after the 2014 war, a group of Palestinian youth, together with supporters from around the world, launched an important initiative that aimed to liberate the Palestinian discourse, at least in Gaza, from the confines of numbers and other belittling interpretations.

‘We Are Not Numbers’ was launched in early 2015. The group’s ‘About Us’ page reads: “numbers don’t convey  … the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they would immediately resonate with virtually everyone.”

Recently, I spoke to several members of the group, including the Gaza Project Manager, Issam Adwan. It was, indeed, inspiring to hear young, articulate and profoundly resolute Palestinians speaking a language that transcends all the stereotypical discourses on Palestine. They were neither victims nor factional, and were hardly consumed by the pathological need to satisfy western demands and expectations.

“We have talents – we are writers, we are novelists, we are poets, and we have so much potential that the world knows little about,” Adwan told me.

Khalid Dader, one of the Organization’s nearly 60 active writers and bloggers in Gaza, contends with the designation that they are ‘storytellers.’ “We don’t tell stories, rather stories tell us  … stories make us,” he told me. For Dader, it is not about numbers or words, but the lives that are lived, and the legacies that often go untold.

Somaia Abu Nada wants the world to know her uncle, because “he was a person with a family and people who loved him.” He was killed in the 2008 Israeli war on Gaza, and his death has profoundly impacted his family and community. Over 1,300 people were also killed in that war. Each one of them was someone’s uncle, aunt, son, daughter, husband or wife. None of them was just a number.

“‘We Are Not Numbers’ made me realize how necessary our voices are,” Mohammed Rafik told me. This assertion cannot be overstated. So many speak on behalf of Palestinians but rarely do Palestinians speak for themselves. “These are unprecedented times of fear, when our land appears to be broken and sad,” Rafik said, “but we never abandon our sense of community.”

Adwan reminded us of Arundhati Roy’s famous quote, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

It was refreshing to talk to Palestinians who are taking the decisive step of declaring that they are not numbers, because it is only through this realization and resolve that Palestinian youth can challenge all of us and assert their own collective identity as a people.

Indeed, Palestinians do have a voice, and a strong, resonating one at that.

The inadequacy of ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ label

By Agha Hussain
Source

To treat the ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ as one in a long list of bilateral country disputes to be found in the modern age attaches to the real issue all the wrong dynamics, underlying realities and extremely ineffective ‘solutions’. The sheer inadequacy of looking at this particular ‘issue’ through the lens of Israel versus Palestine is striking and not as such something that requires a great effort and deep study to highlight prominently and forcefully enough to convince popular punditry to abandon it for the sake of strengthening and liberating the discourse.

The ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ label implies two coherent state entities with a balance between their ability to inflict harm upon each other – thus warranting the intention of multinational organizations and platforms for ‘conflict resolution’ – that isn’t completely one-sided. Demonstrating the inherent weakness of this framework is not difficult and does not even require a study of the ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’ during the 70-odd years it has existed subject to awkward attempts to shoehorn it into a ‘state versus state’ format.

All it really takes is a look at the feats and displays of political strength the “Zionist” movement pulled off prior to Israel’s physical creation in May of 1948 and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine itself, as argued by Historian Ilan Pappé in his book The ethnic cleansing of Palestine. A prompt realization follows that a relatively powerless, less-than-wealthy, beleaguered Palestinian populace living under the Ottomans and then the British were never a rival, competitor, threat or even serious factor for the Zionists do consider while carrying forth their aggressive, expansionist movement.

The Balfour Declaration

With the World War I effort not going well for Britain in 1916, British Zionists formally approached the British with the offer of drawing the US into the war on Britain’s side. In exchange, the Zionist demanded the British promise them a Jewish national home in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire, after the war was over.

Integral to this scheme, of course, was not only the Zionists possessing great influence over the US government but also the British acknowledging this fact and thus being sure that the Zionists could secure US intervention for the Allies. The Balfour Declaration took the form of a letter written by British Foreign Minister Lord Balfour in 1917 to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent British Zionist, promising a Jewish national home in Palestine.

As documented in the book ‘Against Our Better Judgement: The Hidden History of How the US was used to Create Israel’ by Alison Weir, the letter had been crafted and deliberated upon by both British and American Zionists for two years prior to being finalized and dispatched by Lord Balfour.

Using an array historical sources close to the Zionist political movement of the time, Weir’s book documents in detail how well-placed Zionists in the US and Britain coordinated with each other their efforts to make such a British-Zionist pact possible.

As early as 1915, Horace Kallen, the head of the ‘Parushim’ secret society of Zionists in the US revealed decades later to have included Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, had suggested such a pact to the British. Kallen and especially Brandeis were on close personal terms with President Woodrow Wilson. Brandeis, appointed by Wilson to his prestigious judicial position in 1916, had considerably privileged access to the president as a close personal affiliate despite the obligation of judges to avoid politics.

Brandeis had also been named the honourary president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) in 1918, as Weir’s seminal book also documents.

Chaim Weizmann, Russian-born Jewish chemist and leader of the British Zionist Federation, was in close contact with Brandeis as a means of reaching US President Wilson directly. In April 1917, a month before the US would enter the war, Weizmann contacted Brandeis and urged him to secure a supportive stance toward Zionist aspirations in Palestine from officials close to Wilson. This informal method of reaching Wilson’s ear was used in large part because the US State Department, staffed with officials familiar with socio-political dynamics in the Arab world, saw the catastrophe that backing the Zionist project would cause.

Reminiscent to this mode of interaction is also the modern day stove-piping at the White House, whereby President Donald Trump’s influential son-in-law Jared Kushner has often formulated foreign policy based on plans concocted with foreign heads of state through informal channels (even Whatsapp). The influence and ability of the Zionist lobby to bypass procedure, protocol and proper channels in the US government, evidently, has not changed in all the years since the likes of Brandeis acted as high profile messengers from Zionist lobbyists to the White House.

Weizzman had also been in touch with the British government, notably Lord Balfour, since over a decade prior to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration. As narrated in a 2005 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs articles, Lord Walter Rothschild’s niece mentioned in her book ‘Dear Lord Rothschild’ that Weizmann had met Balfour several times between 1905 and 1915. Weizman also maintained frequent audience with the British War Cabinet, which included Balfour and the then-Prime Minister Lloyd George (both Zionists for religious reasons), in the months leading up to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration.

After apparent stalling by Wilson upon British requests in September 2017 for a draft declaration, Weizmann again contacted Brandeis and impressed upon him the need for his and Wilson’s support for the text being prepared. In October, a draft sent by the British to Wilson was handed over by the President to Brandeis for his approval, with the latter then adding the key phrase ‘Jewish race’ instead of ‘Jewish people’. By October 13, Wilson had approved the text, prepared by British Zionists and with vital input from Brandeis.

The Balfour Declaration was issued by Britain on 2 November 1917 and signified immense Zionist political depth inside major Western powers as well as the recognition afforded to this fact by major Allied powers as they sought US entry into World War I.

Nominally stateless yet geopolitical active

Weizmann, rewarded with his role in procuring the Balfour Declaration for the Zionists with presidency of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and who would become the first president of Israel, attended along with David Ben Gurioun, who would become the first Prime Minister of Israel, the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 as a Zionist delegation. Demands were put forth for the Litani River to be included in the proposed borders for the Jewish state, albeit it was allotted to (French-controlled) Lebanon as per the terms of the 1915 Sykes-Picot treaty which had remained secret till then.

Sidon city and Mount Hermon in Lebanon along with huge chunks of land from Transjordan and a corridor across the Sinai from the port city of Aqaba to the Egyptian port city al Arish (thus extending the Jewish state’s access to the Mediterranean coastline) were also demanded by Weizmann at Paris in 1919.

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine and creation of Israel: a one-sided affair

As the late veteran historian on the issue of Israel and Palestine, Donald Neff, narrated in a 1998 article, Palestine’s Arabs could not put up much of a resistance to the Jewish armed groups violently expelling them from their homes and turning two-thirds of Palestine’s 1.2 million Arabs into displaced refugees. By May 14 when David Ben Gurion announced Israel’s creation, 77.4 percent of Palestine had been captured by the Jews and largely cleansed of its Arab inhabitants.

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ points out that the British dismantlement of Palestinian military capabilities via the suppression of the Arab Revolt (1936-39) had allowed the Zionists to begin actively planning the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the early 1940s. The Arabs had turned into increasingly soft targets, and this was exploited by Zionist terrorist groups such as the Stern Gang which even plotted terrorist bombings in Europe and the famous Irgun Zvei Lumi, which had carried out bombings and massacres of Arabs since as early as 1938.

Future premiers of Israel such as Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin were among the ranks of such terror groups. These groups would also, despite political differences with the Jewish Agency, cooperate fully with the Haganah in its ethnic cleansing campaign in Palestine.

The Jewish Agency – Israel’s government in waiting – tasked academics to draw up extensive maps and detailed reports on the Arabs’ villages, towns and lifestyles which would later help the armed wing of the Zionists in Palestine, the Haganah, in the ethnic cleansing effort.

Unlike the hapless Palestinians, however, the Jews had ample weapon supplies for both the one-dimensional capture of much of Palestine and the brief skirmishes that would follow with neighbouring Arab states in 1948. The Jewish Agency had active arms smuggling networks in the US bringing explosives, munitions, combat aircraft and other supplies from the US War Assets Administration. This made the clashes between the Arabs and Jews a one-sided affair indeed and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine an easy task to accomplish.

Is there truly an ‘Israel-Palestine conflict’?

History and current affairs both testify to the fact that Palestinians act as merely the most physically proximate victims to Israel’s atrocities, oppression and occupation and that to treat and not as a competitor in any major way to Israel past stiff resistance offered by some armed factions to Israel in Gaza.

That a movement so powerful and influential would struggle or be constrained in its ambitions to any extent by the brave yet outmatched Palestinians has always been unlikely. Zionism’s power waxed and grew incrementally in the years leading up to the creation of Israel in May 1948 just as the power of the traditional colonialist states waned and the founding fathers of Israel evidently planned a lot further than just subjugating Palestinian self-determination.

%d bloggers like this: