Friday, December 15, 2006
Palestinians need support, not division (epilogue to a smeary gatekeeping campaign)
End of the year, it seems natural to try to sum up a few things, to try to draw up the balance sheet of what has been happening. Unfortunately, for Palestinian people and for the people of Lebanon, being on the wrong side of the Israeli stick has meant now (as much as ever) destruction, death, and suffering. Even as the world was witnessing the wanton demolition of civilian infrastructures, it seems as though Israel gets let off the hook again, as amazing as it seems to many of us. The propaganda is THAT intense that we turn a blind eye. It would have been an important opportunity for the people who consider the struggle for the extension of human rights to every person on our planet to not miss an opportunity to voice their horror for this outrageous and illegal violation of basic human rights, considering the situation that we are witnessing in Iraq; a total disaster. But, excepting isolated cases, that did not happen. There was little public outcry, and the echo of the dissent that was voiced has long since died out as Olmert gets embraced warmly by the political leaders of Europe and the Vatican.
Sometimes, we Internet warriors tend to forget that there are people in flesh and blood living in the Middle East who are in the real struggle. Despite immense pressure, despite the disaster that they are victims to, simply for living in a place that Israel thinks they shouldn’t be in for its own “security reasons”, they hold fast. They resist. To the brave men, women and children of Palestine and Lebanon, nothing but honour and esteem. Most of us should feel terribly sorry we haven’t been able to do enough for your just causes, for your defence against violence and aggression. But, we are so far behind, drowning in our self-righteous belief that we are the model that you should aspire to. This is a misconception. It is another of our colossal errors. Try to forgive us, and permit me to explain why I think things go wrong, using a few simple examples from the Internet battlefield.
I think there is a major problem here; it is inevitable that we are going to let you down because our means are very modest, and real service to Palestinians is deviated into side issues such as the virulent smear campaigns that wilfully mislead honest people. Since there are many more and better organised Zionist activists, they have specialised in attempting to pick off some of the most effective and popular Palestine activists. They hope that there will be capitulation to this kind of defamation, and they are glad that we lose time defending our good name and just cause. We are many voices, actually, but we are dispersed, totally disorganised and in conflict with one another. We are supposed to have a bottom line, the same one, and we can’t even agree to that. We are in a cyber world, it’s a different kind of war, and most of it is missing the target completely. Our major mistake is that it is all about Western Values, all about making the Middle East into something that suits our tastes to the greater part of activists in the West. It is about us, not about the cause we are supporting.
We live in societies where it is considered the maximum aspiration to encourage democracy through getting people to vote, (and in the case of the 25 January 2006 landslide victory of Hamas, only a small segment of Palestinians were permitted to vote, much to the general acceptance of most Western activists, some of whom called attempts by Italian activists to seek the registration of exiled Palestinian voters “naïve” and worse, which is sad, if the vote is supposed to mean so much to these cyber activists), and when the results are not what the “international community” wants, the democratic choice is undermined. “Progressive voices” call for the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, others beg for a government of “National Unity”, others simply charge ahead and claim that now is the time to convince the public opinion that the foreseen (and ethical) One State Solution has got to be Secular, to avoid any (Muslim) religious party ever again making a landslide victory even among those who are not Muslim. Rather than look at the vote and accept this as the democratic choice of the people who were permitted to vote (and actually went out and did just that), the tempo picks up for the campaigns to push forward the philosophy of secularism for the Palestinian people. Do these people stop to think about the message they send forth concerning “Western democracy”? To me, the message sent borders on Fascism or comes close to the Neocon theories proposed by those who claim to be Conservatives or even Leftists, which express the thoughts that there is only one particular model of democracy, and it must be a reflection of the societies those in the West have. Nevermind that the popular vote doesn’t get respected much even in States like the USA. We have not supported the Palestinians in their choice the way we should have done. We have failed them and stand by and watch as they are being punished for exercising their rights.
Activists are letting Palestinian people down all the time because they don’t really consider the gravity of their situation. Let me make another example: Just one month ago, a small group of friends brainstormed and asked ourselves what (if anything) we might be able to do that could push forward the envelope of Palestinian concerns. We thought about what we had to say that was in common, that should be the bottom line for anyone who claims to be concerned about justice for Palestinians and the pre-eminence of their rights, as human beings. We wrote a petition that expressed in a few short sentences the basic issues: it touched on the Right of Return, the condemnation of Zionist aggression, and stressed the importance of not shifting focus away from the atrocities that Israel commits by presenting Israel as a victim. It is fundamental to recognise that anti-Semitism is not a Palestinian creation and that this issue should not be the focus of activists and they should not use that as an excuse to shift the discourse. Most importantly, we agreed that service to the Palestinians was the reason that we work together to bring the issues to the table for discussion and resolution.
It is important to mention that this petition, diffused here and there (not nearly as widely as we might have wished, but this is the risk of cyber activating) got so far, in its brief existence, over 1120 signatures. The bulk of them were from Arabs. Compare this to another petition that had been circulating for over a year and a half, which was once on Sue Blackwell’s absurd “Nazi Watch” page http://www.sue.be/pal/nazis.html, which is just an extensive smear page, but now can be found as a delightful 404 here: http://www.sd-il.com/politics/statements/signLetter.php. Needless to say, floating around in Internet 20 times longer, this petition managed to get 170-something signatures. This should come as no surprise, as it was designed solely to insult and throw dirt on some activists who are not promoting the idea that anti-Semitism is the real issue in Palestine activism. It served no purpose beyond gatekeeping and maintaining the dominance of the discourse in the hands of a few isolated individuals. Those who signed labelled those who critique the efficiency of Jewish and Israeli power as being instrumental in the oppression of Arabs as “anti-Semites”. It seems that this is one more of the taboo topics, one of the many. Silencing these voices is to interrupt any kind of mutual discourse, even if it is in disagreement, and it plays into the game of the Zionists. I think that most people are quite sick of this sort of behaviour. It is popular in “old boys’ clubs” and various Internet forums, where any voice that challenges the majority is silenced by expulsion. I know, I’ve been kicked out of a primarily Jewish group (Just Peace UK) for distributing a paper by Gilad Atzmon. It seems absurd, since his many papers are published in at least 50 magazines and left-leaning online journals in several languages regularly, not to mention blogs, newspapers and email groups publishing and commenting his work. For this group, it was determined that discussing the ideas of Atzmon was another taboo. My membership in a One State forum was challenged following the Palestinian vote because I stated that we had to perhaps revise our tactics and to look with a less prejudiced eye at what the Palestinians were communicating with the choice they made at the polls. It seems to be the case that you have to tow the moderate line, you have to put Palestinians SECOND if you want to talk to many other activists.
The last example is similar to the precedent one. It concerns the smear campaign we have all witnessed unfolding in the past two months against Gilad Atzmon, which has moved from beyond the progressive Internet activist sphere and crossed over to the Board of Deputies (British group that claims to represent Jewish interests in the UK) and the “democratic Zionists” (pardon the oxymoron) in the person of a blogger at the Guardian. Atzmon writes and speaks in public constantly, he elaborates his ideas and develops them, and luckily for us, shares his insights with us. I believe that there is only a very small number of people who detest him, but they are noisy, and they keep repeating this litany. The major reason they seek to marginalize him is that he is an independent voice that cannot be controlled by this or that group. This is what gatekeepers hate, he is not pushing their agenda forward. He continually stresses that he is seeking discussion and debate, and then (standard tactic) rather than debate his ideas, half sentences are taken out of context basically to mislead those who have not read the articles themselves, and more seriously, he himself becomes the issue, the target.
It is curious that Mark Elf (an anti-Zionist) doesn’t have a problem with David Hirsh, the Zionist, when Elf is used in attempts to sling mud at Atzmon. For some reason, they probably feel their issues are harmonious, which is indicative of the usefulness of Elf for any Palestinian campaigning. But, he is not a Palestinian campaigner. He does however, allow his other friends who call themselves anti-Zionist Jews to publish their paper on his blog. Tony Greenstein and Roland Rance are upset that Counterpunch didn’t pick up their piece, even though they publish Atzmon quite regularly. Well, they shouldn’t feel too bad, their paper is also up at Ziopedia, and maybe they passed it along to their internet forums, so it is being read. To these people, there is an avoidance of the ideological questions raised, the issue is still who is entitled to speak and act. They can’t see that everyone should be entitled. If their argument is worthwhile, people will gain from it. If it is a throwaway piece of junk simply designed to settle some resentments, it will be apparent as well. The choice is totally up to the authors. We have seen too much smearing. There is too much trash. It is time that these smear campaigners decide to do something decent. If they want to protect their private interests, they should keep on as they are doing. If they care about the Palestinian people, about peace between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, about the end of Western imperialism all around the globe, the path they have to start walking down is clear. Maybe it’s not too late, New Year’s Resolutions are there to signal a new beginning.