Monthly Archives: August 2011

Palestinian youth in Gaza skeptical about PA’s UN bid

My recent publication on Electronic Intifada

Young Palestinians are skeptical of any political “solution” that doesn’t address the refugees’ right of return. (Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

Along with several other bloggers and activists in the Gaza Strip, I was recently invited to take part in a short video about young Palestinians’ reaction to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) bid to have the United Nations admit a Palestinian “state” as a full member of the international body this September.

As each participant was being assigned a role in the video, an argument erupted among the four of us over who should speak in favor of the Palestinian Authority’s move. We discovered, to the producer’s amazement, we were all flatly against it.

This might have just been a coincidence. Only a few days earlier, however, I was awoken up by my new wild ringtone. As I answered my phone, I was asked by a journalist from Germany’s Deutsche Welle television to give an interview on the same issue. As I arrived at the arranged meeting place, another blogger was already giving her answers to the interviewer. She was unequivocally critical of the PA’s “disastrous history” and its “unending series of flops.” She argued that UN recognition of a Palestinian state would be just one more chapter in that sad history.

Of course it is hard to generalize from two incidents but they do offer some insight that a large segment of Palestinians believe they have been entirely and overtly marginalized by the PA’s unconcealed monopoly of Palestinian political decision-making.

Still, this does not mean that the PA’s move does not have any support in Gaza — there are Palestinians who support the PA and they are numerous.

Critics of the PA’s UN bid would say that none of these supporters is truly able to appreciate that their unrealized dreams of living in a long-awaited free and independent Palestinian state are not being advanced by the PA’s little-debated UN move. Some Palestinians may be convinced by the rhetoric of PA officials and believe that potential UN admission is a highly symbolic move and a step forward on the road toward independence. But some younger observers in Gaza are much more skeptical.

Fed up with ignored UN votes

Fidaa Abu Assi, a 22-year-old blogger and English literature graduate in Gaza, believes there is nothing symbolic in going to the UN and securing recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. She is “fed up” with the unimplemented UN resolutions and symbolic moves taken by the PA on her behalf.

“Some Palestinians would rejoice at the thought of finally having a recognized Palestinian state,” she argues in a blog post. “In essence, however, the whole initiative seems pointless, or rather, insidiously dangerous.” Bewildered, she asks, “How could they [the UN] recognize a state that doesn’t even exist? And, wait, hadn’t the PLO already proclaimed a Palestinian state in 1988 on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 181?” (“‘No’ to UN Recognition, ‘Yes’ to US Veto,” 22 July 2011).

Abu Assi’s view reflects the sentiments of a generation that does not seek more UN resolutions and international declarations. Not even a declaration of a state. A state itself is rather what we desire. A state that we can touch, see and live in. We long for the reunification of the more than 11 million Palestinians living in the world. We want to see facts on the ground and tangible results. We crave for the land which has been relentlessly ripped apart in flagrant violation of dozens of resolutions already passed — and then promptly ignored — by the very same UN to which the PA now turns.

“We would forget, wouldn’t we?”

In an open letter to a refugee living in the Palestinian diaspora, Sameeha Elwan, a 23-year-old blogger and English teaching assistant at the Islamic University of Gaza, pours out her scorn on the PA, and any declaration of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders that excludes the right of Palestinian refugees to return (“To My Dear Stateless Palestinian,” 6 August 2011).

“My mother would no longer be a refugee,” Elwan writes. “She would have to give up every dream of going back to Aqer [a large Palestinian village nine kilometers to the south east of Ramla in present-day Israel]. My grandmother would stop telling us of her tales of the lost village near Gaza from which they fled in 1948. She would forget this history. It is no longer hers. She would have to stop telling the story every now and then. She’d eventually die; we would eventually forget, wouldn’t we?”

Some bloggers have displayed a deep understanding of the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and of its implications for the future of the Palestinians not only in Gaza and the West Bank, but also those living inside Israel.

One state: the only real solution

Rana Baker, a 19-year-old blogger and student of business administration also at the Islamic University of Gaza, argues that to be able to comprehend the risk of the UN declaration of a Palestinian state, this issue should be placed in its rightful context: the debate over a two-state solution. “In fact, the Palestinian street is divided into two: those who are for one state and those for the UN September recognition of two states,” Baker writes, adding “I’m for one state” (“I Turn On the Fan and Sit to Write,” 8 August 2011).

Baker too warns that the PA “statehood” bid may be most threatening to Palestinians in the diaspora. “What about more than 5 million Palestinian refugees who dream to return to their lands?” she asks, “The Palestinian Authority does not have the right to take decisions on their behalf. If they were given the right to vote, they would have voted against this bid. This is definite.”

Behind these criticisms lie doubts that many Palestinians have about the upcoming move to declare a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. Some tend to question the functionality of a state in the besieged Gaza Strip and the heavily colonized West Bank, a state totally dependent on foreign aid.

Others reasonably cast doubt on the credibility of the UN to secure the viability of this state, if recognized, and safeguard it against Israel’s expansionist policy. Some call it a blatant concession that terminates the right of return of Palestinian refugees all over the world. And some view it as yet one more act of treason by the PA — a move that would involve turning our backs on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in dire conditions and facing constant discrimination inside the apartheid State of Israel.

As varied as the reasons might be to oppose the PA bid, they all stem from a firm belief that universal rights, real liberation and return, not “statehood” at any price, must be at the heart of our demands and struggle. Any solution must fully restore the rights of all segments of the Palestinian people — those living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, those inside Israel, and the refugees waiting to return.

And its also clear that increasingly, many young Palestinians believe that these rights can only be achieved in a one-state solution that puts an end to Israeli apartheid and guarantees equality and justice for all.

One Night in the Dark

Illustration by: Bissan Rafe Alhussien (Qasrawi)

I always believed to write is to “make less the dept of grief.” But it’s been long since I wrote down anything, and indeed I spent long and hard time attempting to convince myself that this latest recurring experience of mine isn’t any different and, like many other episodes in my life, can be recorded well.

There is no phrase in regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that I hate as much as that of “the suffering of both peoples”, “the fear both peoples have to go through”, “the trauma both peoples experience” and the like, usually made in places like the U.N. general assembly’s podiums, the International Court’s or even in the White House. Not that I care whether those neatly-suited, shiny-black-shoed politicians are neutral or one-sided— meaning pro-Israel because there are definitely no such politicians who are on the side of the Palestinians—  or whether they have the sort of genuine interest needed to solve this seemingly insoluble conflict. But considering the fact that I sometimes tend to be a little bit selfish, I hate that my personal suffering, let alone the suffering of 1.6 million Palestinians living in Gaza, be seriously sabotaged by such phrases once analogized, and hence diminished, to the state of fear felt by a few Israelis in the aftermath of firing often-homemade missiles onto Israel, occasionally not mistaking their target and falling into a huge deserted land in Israel and, once fallen, absolutely resulting in no casualties whatsoever except on very rare occasions.

However, the other day I was sitting in the heart of my pitch dark room, immersed in sweat and hemmed in by the wild hems of a few frenzied generators drifting through space and time and forcing their way into my head to crowd themselves into some little unengaged space of my racked brains meant to absorb the words neatly seated before my eyes onto the pages of The Diary of Anne Frank. I wiped sweat off my brows and continued reading. The unnerving hems of the generators swarmed into my brain like the throngs of mostly pale-faced short-tempered passengers with whom I was packed the other day in some little stuffy room, some puffing on their cigarettes, some fanning themselves with their official documents, all of us, however, waiting for our names to be called out to get a stamped ticket. Not that we were crossing into Egypt on that day but rather we were trying to ensure that, at least two months from that date, the time when our travelling has been scheduled, when we  go to travel through the Rafah crossing, we won’t be turned back, having already reserved a place to travel two months in advance. Anyway, my pains paid off, and I got my ticket. That experience is past.

In my room, meanwhile, I was engaged in my life-time struggle against the unforgiving oppression I had always failed to familiarize myself with. I was being normally punished for a misdemeanor I have never committed in the first place.

It seemed then all the suffering in the world combined into one I was bound to endure. I was the center of the world’s unfortunate beings. The Wretched of the Earth. I was a starving child in Somalia, a Syrian demonstrator shot in the neck in the streets of Hama, a pregnant mother dying at a checkpoint in Palestine, a besieged Palestinian schoolboy in Gaza helplessly sinking into the depths of despair. “But I can’t be that selfish,” I would think, “here is a guiltless Anne Frank in a wardrobe hiding from her imminent death at the hands of a Nazi officer. And she wouldn’t complain!”

But while Anna hid in her wardrobe, and Iona confided in his mare, I had neither a wardrobe nor a mare. Darkness is the only place where one can hide from the dark. I had nowhere to hide, and I had no one “to whom I can tell my grief”.

I always told myself, “had it not been for these eight cursed hours when power was cut off, I would have never complained.” But now my wrath had grown so immense to be curbed. My chest is now brimming with pent-up ages-old anger the causes for which, unlike their united implications on me, vary disparagingly. I was stifled. I was half-way through my desperate endeavors to stop myself from cursing the place where I have grown and become a man whose tongue can strikingly respond to the most abominable of curses— having already learned them in the aisles of the camp and furnished myself with a remarkable arsenal of phrases and swear words.

I picked up the candle and looked at the clock as it ticked time away. 10:15 pm. I guessed, “I still have two more hours ahead before the power is turned back on,”

I had to think of some way to while away these two hours. “I can do anything but leave myself to my besetting thoughts,” I murmured trying to break the had-it-not-been-for-the-generators silence. I knew if I did, I would be eventually be left with nothing but a pathetic state of gloom and hopelessness. I couldn’t afford a new strike of despair; it would take me ages to recover from it. Not even the beautifully resuscitating spectacle of our neon bulbs flickering back into life would relieve me this time.

I wanted to escape this gruesomely fiendish place. I was exhausted. My breaths grew fast and short. Sweat started to flood down my body. I didn’t want to think anymore. I desperately attempted to shut the omnipresent scene of the dark out of my mind. One more moment contemplation of the flowing endless succession of the generators’ revs would cast me straight into an abysmal void where all I could do then is but scream at the top of my lungs.

Putting out the candlelight, I groped my way through the dark as fast as my feet could carry me, straight and out of the room, rushing down the stairs until I was out in the street. I leaned against a wall, drew a deep breath, and uttered a vile curse.

In a display of utter disregard to the generators all around me, I walked on and on curiously exploring the street lamps and flashing car lights. My thoughts immediately wandered to the several “foreigners” I had met and their naive remarks  on living in Gaza. I thought wryly, “They don’t know a god damn thing about living in Gaza! Gaza is such an awful place to live in!”

No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than I ducked at the sound of a missile being fired from a neighboring area. I instantly cursed. I needed to get back home as quickly as I could, for I had no doubt what would follow. And in no time, possibly before the fired missile had even reached its target, a deafeningly F-16 bomb hit the area and shook the ground from below my feet. My heart skipped a beat; I cursed and longed for home.

Back home, still teetering on the edge of despair, I lied on my bed, and, indifferent to the dark, the generators’ noise, the clock’s ticking and the Apache’s hovering, I kept on cursing knowing that somehow I would eventually fall asleep and that this misery of mine will come to an end. Somehow.