[News] The two narratives of Palestine: The people are united, the factions are not
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 7 13:16:23 EDT 2019
The two narratives of Palestine: The people are united, the factions
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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