By Pat Bernstein – France
Painful, horrific, appalling, infuriating. Appropriate adjectives elude me to describe what I feel. Honest people around the world, I am sure share the same feelings. My friends ask me, “How is this any different from what Haggana, Irgun and Stern did in 1947 and 1948. What about 1967; Sabra and Shatila, or Lebanon in 2006?” Sadly, I have no answer. Can we just sit by and watch another sad chapter in the total demise of the Palestinian people, the loss of all hope for a Palestinian State, and the end of hope for the more than 5 million Palestinian refugees who would like the right to return? The weapons change and the complicity of the media seems to worsen, but that may just be an illusion.
In moments of complete despair, the germ of hope comes from an item on Aljazeera. The recent demonstrations in India opposing the invasion of Gaza get me thinking. Many people carried placards saying, ‘We are all Palestinians now’. After seeing this, I could not stop thinking about it, and the striking colours of the Palestine flag. If only Palestinians could unite under a single common goal that overrides all other considerations, then perhaps, the international community could be mobilised as well. Crazy? Perhaps. However, history says otherwise. In this impossible dream there seems to me to be a valuable lesson for Palestinian leaders.
There have been many conflicts in history, where the stronger party won many battles however; the war was eventually won the weak and oppressed. In using strong and weak here, I am referring to physical strength, size of army, sophistication of weapons, number of people engaged in the battle. Usually, the weak had the cause of justice on their side. Often in these conflicts, some examples of which I will give below, the stronger party used methods and tactics, which outraged and disgusted the informed and impartial. Yet despite their superiority, their reckless disregard for human suffering, their success in silencing or distorting media coverage, their ability to commit war crimes without accountability, they eventually lost their war.
What was it that allowed the Bolsheviks in Russia, Ghandi in India, and the Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa to turn the tables on their oppressors? In the process, they lost many battles, sometimes even appearing to have been completely defeated. Yet they won the war. Are there any lessons for Palestinians and their supporters? Are there any common themes in these circumstances?
In 2004 and 2005 in the Ukraine, the overthrow of the communist regime, although orchestrated by the CIA, the opposition was united by use of good marketing. The marketing strategy was simple. Call the opposition the Orange Revolution, give them all T-shirts and banners coloured bright orange, and suddenly every meeting, or protest march appears to be a single unified mass of people. Clearly, there was more to it than just that. However, even independent media coverage could not fail to notice the opposition. Every camera picture told a story, of a single unified mass ‘all opposing the regime’. People like to be part of something, and if that something is identifiable, then they are more likely to join. The overthrow became a success of marketing. The marketing success was fuelled by controlled media releases, exactly as the Israeli’s are doing today.
In South Africa, according to most historians, the answer lay in mass mobilisation. That mass mobilisation was both national and international. After all the leaders were imprisoned in 1964, many thought the war was lost, and indeed, it looked like it until 1976. Schoolchildren became the catalyst for mass mobilisation of the oppressed, facing a well-armed, well-prepared enemy, who had shown scant disregard for indiscriminate killing. What does this have to do with Gaza? The parallels to Gaza today are striking.
In the first day of repression during the ‘Soweto Uprising’, the police killed 172 unarmed people, and injured more than 400. The uprising’s was about nothing more than the language they were to be taught in. However, the courage of schoolchildren and their defiance in the face of massive forces ranged against them became a rallying cry for others. The important lesson for Palestinians is this. Although the uprising was now suddenly schoolchildren and about an issue never previously prominent, the mobilisation of opposition both inside and outside South Africa was still around a single simple issue. The end of Apartheid. The international boycotts and opposition to South Africa, were all built around the ‘end of apartheid’. Eventually, as we know, they won the war.
In South Africa, nationally the mobilisation was started with the co-operation and co-ordination of struggle by many disparate groups, but all with a single common aim. The aim was the end of apartheid. The major objective overrode all other considerations. The South African Communist Party subordinated their political agenda in favour of this single goal. The ANC subordinated all other demands and the Indian Peoples Congress and others too, put aside all their own objectives. A single overriding political objective was used to unite and mobilise all the parties opposed to apartheid. Once all the non-represented or banned parties in South Africa became recognisable as a single entity, with a clear goal, international support could be mobilised. Again, this was without a complex agenda. It was a simple ‘end apartheid now’.
To many, to talk about PR and marketing, when peoples homes, lives and environments are being systematically destroyed, may be distasteful in the extreme. However, where the goal is one of peace, justice, reparation or return for exiles, I believe it to be worthwhile.
In the case of Palestine, where is the mass mobilisation? There has been little worthy of mention. Some demonstrations took place in the UK, Canada, India, and some parts of the Middle East. However, these were small, and more importantly fragmented. If anything, they were united by a call for a ceasefire. Media coverage, (Aljazeera excepted) biased heavily in favour of Israel. Well they have good spokespeople, well versed, and a single message. The message is, ‘When the Hamas rockets stop …’. Now we all know that to be a gross fabrication but by this single message from all Israeli and US media, that is what the West sees. Once a ceasefire comes about, the weak and fragmented international mobilisation on behalf of Gaza will be likely to evaporate completely.
Few Palestinians, if any, will tell you that what Gaza needs long-term is a ceasefire. However, a call for an end to the indiscriminate killing, an end to the blockade, an end to occupation, and a return to the ’67 borders before negotiations can begin, is hardly a slogan that will ignite the imagination of potential supporters.
There are, in my opinion, several pre-conditions for any mass mobilisation in support of Palestinians. The first is the recognition that after Gaza, the West Bank will be next (as I write, there are reports that Israel is going to ‘lock down’ the West Bank on Friday). If you accept this, then the second precondition is that Fatah and Hamas have a single common goal. That is a free and independent Palestine. The final precondition for mass mobilisation is this. A single unifying objective overrides all other goals. This requires tremendous introspection by leaders, and guts and determination by all Palestinian groups. Most importantly, it will need all political considerations to be put aside, in favour of a single overriding objective that must inevitably revolve around a free Palestine. It may even mean that corrupt leaders must be ousted. It will definitely need some hard work and pride swallowing by various factions. Finally, enemies must unite, despite grievances, hatred, and animosities and religious differences.
If Palestinian leaders really want to live to see a free Palestine, there are many around the world who will support you and act to help you achieve this goal. However, first, you must accept that the modern world requires simple ideas, a sound-bite, a slogan, and above all a single, common, clearly identifiable, easily paraphrased goal. Give us this and you may be surprised at the international support you can win.
– Pat Bernstein’s family political credentials are traceable to Bolshevik activism in 1900. Both parents were committed activists in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and the family became exiles from their homeland. He has started to write about Palestine because the parallels between South Africa, Apartheid and Palestine, are irrefutable. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.