Building the Palestinian International

The eight meter high Apartheid Wall bordering the Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem features a tattered and faded replica of Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting “Guernica.” The painting famously commemorates the bombing and massacre of nearly 1,600 civilians by Nazi German and Italian warplanes during the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Hand-painted barbed wire and a Palestinian flag frame the Wall’s reproduction. The caption above reads:
Gernika 1936
Palestina 1948 — ?
Inside Aida, nearly 5,000 Palestinians from more than 20 villages live as exiles within their homeland. The camp is administered by the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which serves as a legally sanctioned de facto global occupying force with limited resolve and authority for protecting Palestinian lives. During the second intifada, Israeli security forces destroyed 29 housing units in the camp. According to the UNWRA, unemployment in the camp is 43 percent. Chronic water and sewage problems degrade daily life. Children and young people constitute a disproportionate percentage of Aida Camp residents: nearly 2 in 5 residents are under 14.
The commemorative tagging of the Aida Apartheid Wall became for me a powerful index to the dialectics of oppression and resistance in Occupied Palestine.  Narrating the history of an ongoing genocide on its most notorious symbol is one of hundreds of ways Palestinians daily subvert the intentions and practices of Israeli Occupation. The mural’s linkage of lived ethnic cleansing to earlier epochs of authoritarian rule, state violence and every day resistance also bespeaks a deeply rooted strategy among Palestinians we met seeking to dismantle apartheid by forging an international consensus as to the scope of its terrors. Repeatedly on our visit, we were impressed with this appeal from Palestinian activists: the Israeli Occupation and Apartheid may end, but only if international solidarity with its destruction can be achieved. This message was often delivered as an endnote to declarations that the “two-state” solution largely championed by the U.S. and Israel was a dead-end mirage providing political cover for Israel’s continued expansion of settlements and increasing militarization of Occupied Palestine. Thus forging an international consensus — the very heart of the BDS campaign that had brought us to Occupied Palestine — was a centerpiece of activist efforts linked directly or indirectly to it. Learning the scope, political acuity and organizational brilliance of these collateral activities was the most bracing and inspiring aspect of my delegation visit.
On the first day of our work, for example, we met with Jamal Juma, Coordinator of Stop the Wall, a grassroots activist campaign conceived to bring pressure to destroy the Apartheid Wall. Stop the Wall was formed in 2002, the year Israel began its construction of the projected 400-mile wall separating the West Bank from Occupied Palestine (or what many Palestinians defiantly call “48”). Stop the Wall holds four simple political objectives:
1.The immediate cessation of the building of the Wall.
2.The dismantling of all parts of the Wall and its related zones already built.
3.The return of lands confiscated for the path of the Wall.
4.The compensation of damages and lost income due to the destruction of land and property in addition to the restitution of land.
Stop the Wall predicates its resistance against the violence of Palestinian dispossession and displacement. Juma shared with us that the Wall has already destroyed Palestinian farmland and usurped water supplies, including the biggest aquifer in the West Bank. When completed, the Wall will isolate more than 260,000 members of seventy-eight Palestinian villages and threaten more than 6,000 more with expulsion.  Stop the Wall has organized twelve member organizations in affected communities to publicize and create direct actions against the Wall’s ongoing construction. In our meeting with him, Juma also stressed Stop the Wall’s support for groups like Herak Shebabi, the Independent Palestinian Youth Movement formed in the wake of the Arab Spring. Looking outward from local struggle is integral to Stop the Wall’s mission: in January, during the time of our visit, Stop the Wall announced a collaboration with the Palestinian National Committee of BDS and the Brazilian National preparatory committee to hold the first World Social Forum Free Palestine in November 2012 in Porto Alegre (Brazil). The forum is described as a “global encounter of broad-based popular and civil society mobilizations from around the world” and endeavors to link Palestinian struggle to fights across the global south against neoliberalism and colonialism.
A global approach to countering Israeli apartheid’s ruinous effects on Palestinian schools, students, faculty and educational institutions is the remarkable centerpiece of right2education. In Ramallah we met with Anan Quzmar from Birzeit University, home to the right2education campaign. Right2education takes as starting point the 2004 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights pronouncing education a “fundamental human right and basic to human freedom.” The campaign’s “International Call to Action” brings attention to school closures, roadblocks, arrests and detentions of Palestinian students and harassment and intimidation by Israeli police and soldiers. Right2education also provides a clearinghouse for publication and dissemination of Israeli atrocities directed against Palestinians primary schools and universities. Quzmar described for us countless cases of Israeli soldiers intimidating Palestinian school children, many of whom are forced to bus or walk exceptional distances due to fences, walls and checkpoints across Occupied Palestine. Right2education also serves as a solidarity network to student struggles against Israeli apartheid in the U.S.; in 2010, for example, it published an urgent appeal for the “Irvine 11” students arrested at UC Irvine for demonstrating at the appearance by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. Right2education also has an organizational link to the U.S.-based Campus Action Network dedicated to social justice for Palestine. The global link underscores solidarity among students standing up for Palestine on increasingly militarized and repressive college campuses that have targeted SJP chapters and Palestinian support groups.
Indeed a crucial theme and purpose of our delegation visit was the need to smash through the real and ideological apartheid wall imposed by Israeli occupation on collaboration between Palestinian students and academics and their global counterparts. At Birzeit, for example, we met a distinguished group of faculty taking part in this work, including Eileen Kuttab, Associate Professor of Sociology at Birzeit, and Professor of Sociology Lisa Taraki. Both are co-founders of the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit, the first program of its kind in West Asia, and co-founders of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel, or PACBI. The Institute has become a centerpoint of global political and academic activism aimed at bringing down Israel’s apartheid regime. Kuttab described her work in part as “exposing” neoliberal practices and policies of the Palestinian Authority under Occupation as detrimental to Palestinian sovereignty in general, and Palestinian women in particular. Kuttab referred to the PA’s creation of “industrial zones” of business development and the imposition of heavy taxes on middle and lower classes as a debilitating strategy for creating political independence and economic autonomy for Palestinians. “We don’t want the Arab Spring to end up not with a real democratic state here” she said. Kuttab’s was one of the few direct references we heard linking Palestinian struggles to regional battles for democracy, though many people we met said the Arab Spring constituted a new opportunity for solidarity with Palestinian self-determination to widen. Kuttab has in her own scholarship advanced analysis of the place of Arab women in regional political struggles, contributing the article “Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World” to the UN’s 2005 Arab Human Development Report.
Lisa Taraki was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. She moved to the U.S. where she received her Ph.D. In 1976, she took a faculty position at Birzeit University. In 2004, in the wake of the Second Intifada, she co-founded the Palestinian Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement. Along with Omar Barghouti, she is perhaps the best known international advocate for the BDS campaign. She has traveled as far as Delhi in 2010 to speak in favor of BDS at a “Just Peace for Palestine” conference, and routinely lectures across Europe and the Middle East. In the Fall of 2010, USACBI helped to host Taraki’s tour of the U.S. to speak on behalf of the BDS campaign. At Birzeit, Taraki described to us two of the major challenges of the BDS campaign as international expansion and combatting efforts by what she called “left Zionists” to highjack the movement. She is currently writing a book on Ramallah, birthplace of the Palestinian BDS campaign. Her singular efforts to both create and extend attention to Israeli apartheid are as much cause as any for the campaign’s increasing effectiveness and success.
It was during our delegation visit that we also began to receive daily updates on the hunger strike by Khader Adnan, the Palestinian human rights activist arrested in his home village of Arraba on December 17th, just weeks before we arrived. We couldn’t know that nearly a month after our return his near death — and agreement for release — would so significantly galvanize international attention and support. Yet during our visit we came to see firsthand the growing wave of organized dissent among Palestinian political prisoners through our meeting with Janan Abdu, a research associate at the Mada al-Carmel Research Center in Haifa. Abdu is a feminist activist and author of The Crime of Family Honor in the Community of the 1948 Arabs in Palestine. Her partner, Ameer Makhoul, was arrested in May 10, 2010 during a raid on their home, tortured, and sentenced to six years in prison for spying. Makhoul leads Ittijah, the umbrella organization for Palestinian NGOs in Israel, as well as the Arab Follow-up Committee for the Defense of Civil Liberties. Well before Adnan’s hunger strike began, Makhoul’s arrest had been seized upon by international organizations as a symbol of Israel’s repressive regime: the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Front Line, International Commission of Jurists and a wide network of Arab feminist organizations have called for his release. Mireille Fanon-Mendes, daughter of Frantz Fanon, head of the French Frantz Fanon Foundation and Makhoul’s collaborator in the World Social Forum, testified at his trial. Earlier this year, in an article for Electronic Intifada entitled “Waging Liberation In and Outside Israel’s Prison Walls,” Makhoul wrote from prison, “The success of internationalization can be gauged by the extent to which the issue or question concerned becomes a global concern. It means creating a situation on the ground which makes it impossible for the international system to continue shirking responsibility, or colluding with a dominant or powerful party in usurping the rights of a weaker victim.”
Makhoul’s words aptly characterize two urgent aspects of contemporary Palestinian struggle we witnessed under Occupation: first, that all local disruptions of Israeli Occupation are likewise an effort to constitute an international community opposed to Israeli apartheid. Second, that the success or failure of efforts to dismantle Israeli apartheid “can be gauged by the extent to which the issue or question concerned becomes a global concern.” In tandem, these notions suggest that if a real “South Africa moment” is to be achieved in Palestine, it will require a steadfast, patient and relentless internationalism from below.  Our delegation visit made clear that Palestinian activists have already prepared and defined this stage of their historic struggle. Our task is to respond immediately and forcibly to their call.
Top image: Photograph by the author.

bill v. mullen