[News] The two narratives of Palestine: The people are united, the factions are not

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 7 13:16:23 EDT 2019


  The two narratives of Palestine: The people are united, the factions
  are not

Ramzy Baroud - May 7, 2019

The International Conference on Palestine 
held in Istanbul between April 27-29 brought together many speakers and 
hundreds of academics, journalists, activists and students from Turkey 
and all over the world.

The Conference was a rare opportunity aimed at articulating a discourse 
of international solidarity that is both inclusive and forward thinking.

There was a near consensus that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions 
(BDS) movement must be supported, that Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of 
the Century’ must be defeated and that normalisation must be shunned.

When it came to articulating the objectives of the Palestinian struggle, 
however, the narrative became indecisive and unclear. Although none of 
the speakers made a case for a two-state solution, our call for one 
democratic state from Istanbul – or any other place outside Palestine – 
seemed partially irrelevant. For the one-state solution to become the 
overriding objective of the pro-Palestine movement worldwide, the call 
has to come from a Palestinian leadership that reflects the genuine 
aspirations of the Palestinian people.

One speaker after the other called for Palestinian unity, imploring 
Palestinians for guidance and for articulating a national discourse. 
Many in the audience concurred with that assessment as well. One 
audience member even blurted out the cliched question: “Where is the 
Palestinian Mandela?” Luckily, the grandson of Nelson Mandela 
Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, was himself a speaker. He answered 
forcefully that Mandela was only the face of the movement, which 
encompassed millions of ordinary men and women, whose struggles and 
sacrifices ultimately defeated apartheid.

Following my speech at the Conference, I met with several freed 
Palestinian prisoners as part of my research for my forthcoming book on 
the subject.

Some of the freed prisoners identified themselves as Hamas, others as 
Fatah. Their narrative seemed mostly free from the disgraced factional 
language we are bombarded with in the media, but also liberated from the 
dry and detached narratives of politics and academia.

“When Israel placed Gaza under siege and denied us family visitations, 
our Fatah brothers always came to our help,” a freed Hamas prisoner told 
me. “And whenever Israeli prison authorities mistreated any of our 
brothers from any factions, including Fatah, we all resisted together.”

A freed Fatah prisoner told me that when Hamas and Fatah 
<https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22902880> fought in Gaza in 
the summer of 2007, the prisoners suffered most. “We suffered because we 
felt that the people who should be fighting for our freedom, were 
fighting each other. We felt betrayed by everyone.”

To effectuate disunity, Israeli authorities relocated Hamas and Fatah 
prisoners into separate wards and prisons. They wanted to sever any 
communication between the prisoners’ leadership and to block any 
attempts at finding common ground for national unity.

The Israeli decision was not random. A year earlier, in May 2006, the 
leadership of the prisoners met in a prison cell to discuss the conflict 
between Hamas, which had won the legislative elections in the Occupied 
Territories, and the PA’s main party, Fatah.

These leaders included Marwan Barghouthi 
of Fatah, Abdel Khaleq al-Natshe from Hamas and representatives from 
other major Palestinian groups. The outcome was the National 
Conciliation Document 
arguably the most important Palestinian initiative in decades.

What became known as the Prisoner’s Document was significant because it 
was not some self-serving political compromise achieved in a luxurious 
hotel in some Arab capital, but a genuine articulation of Palestinian 
national priorities, presented by the most respected and honoured sector 
in Palestinian society.

Israel immediately denounced 
the document.

Instead of engaging all factions in a national dialogue around the 
document, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, gave rival factions an ultimatum 
to either accept or reject the document in full. Abbas and the warring 
factions betrayed the spirit of the unity in the prisoners’ initiative. 
Eventually, Fatah and Hamas fought their tragic war in Gaza the 
following year.

On speaking to the prisoners after listening to the discourse of 
academics, politicians and activists, I was able to decipher a 
disconnection between the Palestinian narrative on the ground and our 
perception of this narrative from outside.

The prisoners display unity in their narrative, a clear sense of 
purpose, and determination to carry on with their resistance. While it 
is true that they all identified as members in one political group or 
another, I am yet to interview a single prisoner who placed factional 
interests above national interest. This should not come as a surprise. 
Indeed, these men and women have been detained, tortured and have 
endured many years in prison for being Palestinian resisters, regardless 
of their ideological and factional leanings.

The myth of the disunited and dysfunctional Palestinian is very much an 
Israeli invention that precedes the inception of Hamas, and even Fatah. 
This Zionist notion, which has been embraced by the current Israeli 
Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that ‘Israel has no peace 
Despite the haemorrhaging concessions by the Palestinian Authority in 
Ramallah, this claim has remained a fixture in Israeli politics to this day.

Political unity aside, the Palestinian people perceive ‘unity’ in a 
whole different political context than that of Israel and, frankly, many 
of us outside Palestine.

‘Al-Wihda al-Wataniya’ or national unity is a generational quest around 
a set of principles, including resistance, as a strategy for the 
liberation of Palestine, Right of Return for refugees, and 
self-determination for the Palestinian people as the ultimate goals. It 
is around this idea of unity that the leadership of Palestinian 
prisoners drafted their document in 2006, in the hope of averting a 
factional clash and keeping the struggle centred on resistance against 
Israeli occupation.

The ongoing Great March of Return <http://www.arabnews.com/node/1475956> 
in Gaza is another daily example of the kind of unity for which the 
Palestinian people are striving. Despite heavy losses, thousands of 
protesters insist on their unity while demanding their freedom, Right of 
Return and an end to the Israeli siege.

For us to claim that Palestinians are not united because Fatah and Hamas 
cannot find common ground is utterly unjustified. National unity and 
political unity between factions are two different issues.

It is essential that we do not make the mistake of confusing the 
Palestinian people with factions, national unity around resistance and 
rights with political arrangements between political groups.

As far as vision and strategy are concerned, perhaps it is time to read 
the prisoners’ National Conciliation Document’. The Nelson Mandelas of 
Palestine wrote it, thousands of whom remain in Israeli prisons to this day.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not 
necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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