On 12 May, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte felt compelled to finally speak out about the escalating violence in the Middle East. It was not to announce that his government would relax Covid-related travel restrictions to ensure the International Criminal Court in The Hague could hold accountable those responsible for ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem’s Shaikh Jarrah and the wanton destruction in the Gaza Strip. Rather, he made the following points about Israel’s current rampage: “It is unacceptable that Hamas indiscriminately launches rockets at the [Israeli] civilian population. The Netherlands supports Israel’s right to defend itself.” He uttered not a word in support of any Palestinian right, nor voiced even the timidest reservation about any Israeli action.
Not to be outdone, Rutte’s Austrian and Slovenian colleagues ordered the Israeli flag raised above official buildings in solidarity with Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and pulverization of Palestinian lives. Across the pond in New York, the US mission to the United Nations worked feverishly to prevent the Security Council from convening to issue an utterly vacuous statement appealing for de-escalation and expressing “serious concern” about the planned expulsions from Shaikh Jarrah.
The logic animating such sentiments is simple and straightforward. As far as Western governments are concerned, Palestinians have no rights, only humanitarian needs that are subject to Israel’s approval. If we take up arms against our occupier, we are terrorists. If we call out Israel's racist character, we are anti-Semites. If we insist that peace negotiations incorporate our internationally recognized rights, we are intransigent. And if we attempt to hold Israel accountable in international institutions designed for this purpose, Western governments form a conga line in defence of Israeli impunity.
The past two decades have seen unprecedented campaigns – not only by Israel and its apologists, but by Western governments – to delegitimize and criminalize advocacy of our indisputably just cause. In Texas, it is permissible to call for the violent destruction of the United States, but the state fires employees who decline to sign a pledge they will not boycott Israel – a foreign state guilty of apartheid. The issue for Western governments is not and never has been our armed resistance. Like Texas, they reject, as a matter of principle, any Palestinian opposition, in any form, to any Israeli violation of any of our rights. To this day, government leaders calling for Palestinians to renounce violence have yet to identify a form of civil resistance they would publicly support without qualification, and in practice increasingly ban them. Their agenda remains, as it has always been, our passive capitulation.
The past several weeks have demonstrated a more effective approach to such governments than appealing to their self-interest, international law, the values they proclaim, or the political settlement they claim to support but have allowed to evaporate. That approach is to rebuild our unity, and transform it into agency. Give Rutte and his ilk all the space they need to draft their vapid statements, tweet their selective outrage, raise their Israeli flags, and condemn us yet again. Pay them no heed.
Our future will be decided by our actions, and the choices we make, on the ground in Palestine and the Arab world, not in workshops in Europe, negotiations in the United States, or resolutions adopted by the United Nations. Unless and until we manage to change the balance of power and transform the status quo into a liability for Israel and the West, negotiations will remain an instrument for its perpetuation.
Our fragmentation into disparate Palestinian communities, each concerned only with its local priorities, has been Oslo’s greatest achievement, and our mobilization as a unified people with a national agenda, often led by those who have known only Oslo, is today our singular success. Palestinians inside the Green Line and Gaza Strip have mobilized in defence of Jerusalem, the West Bank is now engulfed in demonstrations in defence of the Gaza Strip, and a general strike “from the Sea to the River” has been announced for 18 May in defence of Palestine.
As the doors to our prison’s isolation cells are forced open, one result is that Palestinians and Arabs preaching partnership with Netanyahu and normalization with Greater Israel have fallen silent, their defeatism drowned out by the tens of thousands demanding justice for Palestine from Rabat to Kuwait City, and indeed across the globe – including Europe and North America.
At this critical juncture, choices matter. From the Great Revolt of the 1930s to the Al-Aqsa Intifada at the beginning of this century, the conclusion of each rebellion has found us further removed from self-determination, and more divided, than at its onset. The enormous sacrifices of the 1987-1993 Intifada ultimately produced Oslo, a murderous blockade of the Gaza Strip now well into its second decade, and a US plan for West Bank annexation that came within an election of success. A further strategic failure may well be our last.
On account of the disintegration of the national movement in recent years the ongoing mobilization may prove difficult to sustain beyond the coming days and weeks. Yet the current moment is not about prolonging the confrontation. Rather, it is first and foremost about reclaiming our unity as a people and transforming it into agency once again. More broadly, we need to invest in alliances with those who would see us free, and refuse the blandishments of those wanting us back where we were.
There is no substitute to overcoming, once and for all, the divisions imposed upon us by others and by ourselves. Only then can we build the vibrant, inclusive, disciplined national movement we require to meet the enormous challenges of the moment, and develop a strategy that can bring about our liberation. If we succeed and manage to sufficiently raise the cost of occupation for Israel and its accomplices, Rutte will tweet about our rights, a different flag will fly in Vienna and Ljubljana, and Washington will hasten to convene the Security Council to be rid of this albatross around its neck.
The dustbin of history is littered with just causes. We can and must avoid Palestine becoming one of them.