By Tariq Shadid
When Stevie Wonder announced his withdrawal from a performance at the FIDF (“Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces”) fundraiser gala, many in the pro-Palestinian movement cheered. I was relieved too. Seeing one of the greatest musical geniuses of our age, whom I could safely call one of the biggest inspirations of my own musical development, planning a performance for the murderers of the Zionist army, had been a deep disappointment for me.
As a form of protest, I had quickly written and recorded a song criticizing his plans. As I published it, I promised my listeners to remove the song (named ‘Injudicious’ and based on Stevie’s own song ‘Superstitious’ if he would withdraw from the performance, and I kept my promise immediately when he did. I was not surprised that so many in the movement celebrated Stevie Wonder’s change of plans as a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) victory. In fact, I also believe it was. However, I disagreed that the musical legend was now deserving of gratitude, for which reason I neither propagated nor signed the ‘petition of gratitude’ that was being circulated by many.
The reasons why I feel this gratitude is unneeded, have been eloquently worded by Mouin Rabbani in a recent publication at Jadaliyya. When I read it, I felt relieved that there were others who were feeling the same way about it as I was. Perhaps the only difference between my view and his on this issue is that I can imagine BDS-activists wanting to carry a message of positive reinforcement to other artists who are faced with the choice of possibly discontinuing their performances for Israeli audiences, in order to encourage them to cancel their gigs. Apart from this, Stevie Wonder’s statement on the issue completely failed to satisfy me, for the same reasons that were mentioned by Mouin Rabbani in his article.
During the very same days as Stevie’s withdrawal from that wretched gig, Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority completed a successful bid at the United Nations for upgrading the Palestinian delegation’s status to ‘non-member state’. I didn’t jump for joy at this achievement, for reasons that will be made clear in the following. However, when I read Mouin Rabbani’s strong endorsement of this diplomatic move in that same article, and contrasted it with Ali Abunimah’s devastating criticism of the Palestinian UN bid, I felt that neither represented my exact feelings on the issue. This made me decide to present my own perspective on these events, which I will try to summarize here.
For the most part, I agree with Abunimah’s critical article. The bitter facts that he presents in his article can hardly be denied, and certainly expose the true role of the Palestinian Authority in a very concise and confronting way. The difference between his view and mine, is that I feel that he underestimates the psychological effect of the UN status change upon public perception. I don’t think that he is right to say that this is “no more significant than winning an international football match”. To the ordinary world citizen, who has been taught to have a high esteem for decisions made at the level of the United Nations, Palestine has now become a ‘state’, and this has the potential to strongly influence public response to the continuing Israeli violations of International Law.
By immediately announcing the building of 3,000 new housing units in an extremely strategic location that would effectively cut the West Bank into two separate entities, the Zionist state has only enhanced this effect, drawing outrage from all corners of the world at these flagrant violations of Palestinian sovereignty. Let us not forget that situations like these can help empower the BDS-campaign, because they encourage more people, especially in the West, to open their minds to the concept of justice for the Palestinians.
I feel that Joseph Massad’s analysis of the situation, which was published in the Guardian, rightfully voices our collective Palestinian concern for the effects of the UN status upgrade upon the right of return. However, some have adopted the view that this UN-move has effectively signed away the rights of diaspora Palestinians, while I argue that this can impossibly be the case. UN resolution 194, which affirms the inalienable right of our refugees to return to their homeland, has not been annulled. We should continue to keep raising our voices for this issue, which in essence is the heart of the Palestinian cause, and we should be cautious not to help create a self-fulfilling prophecy by stating that it has – literally – already passed the ‘point of no return’ on the basis of the status upgrade of the Palestinian representation at the United Nations. We must be careful not to inadvertently reward the attempts of the superpowers to reduce our cause to issues of ‘legal representation’, and realize that we have managed to remain identifiable as one people despite seven decades of expulsion, segregation and divide-and-rule politics.
Returning to the ending of Mouin Rabbani’s article, where he criticizes the BDS-movement and seems to be comparing the role of the PLO to that of the ANC, I find myself disagreeing with him significantly on this point. Originally, in the ‘pre-Oslo’ years, he might have had a case to make with this comparison. However, ever since the PLO took a huge step backwards and allowed many of its activities to be replaced by the newly created ‘Palestinian Authority’, it abandoned its original aims for a one-state solution, and replaced it by an envisaged two-state solution where a cantonized state on 22% (most of which has been colonized by ‘Israel’ in the meantime) of historic Palestine would be governed by the PA.
On this basis, there is much more to be said for comparing Abbas’ role to that of Buthelezi and his Inkatha-movement, instead of to Mandela and his ANC. Inkatha represented the movement that supported ‘self-determination’ for the South African Bantustans, and strongly opposed the one state solution that was the hallmark of ANC anti-Apartheid strategy. Their opposition to it was so fierce, that it often led to significant bloodshed, in tit-for-tat hostilities that often earned the description of an internal ‘civil war’ among the black population of the nation.
Therefore, when Rabbani says “the global solidarity movement would not have been nearly as effective without the strategic leadership provided by the ANC and the imprimatur of the United Nations”, he may well be right, but he seems to be forgetting that in our case, it is our own ‘Buthelezi’, not our Mandela, who is attempting to represent us at the United Nations. Our Mahmoud Abbas acts like a Buthelezi who does not call for an end to Zionist Apartheid, but sanctifies it by attempting to achieve statehood for a tiny piece of Palestine within its own collection of racially segregated, economically non-viable Palestinian Bantustans.
Let us also not confuse matters by painting the BDS-movement merely as a solidarity movement of concerned world citizens. It originates from Palestinian civil society, and has been able to mobilize a global solidarity movement in a way that no Palestinian Authority has ever been able to achieve. Its efforts must therefore not be minimized and cast aside, but should be celebrated and supported as a moral and strategic compass for the struggle of our people. If ANC indeed mobilized Western pop stars and activists as their ‘tactical arm’, as Rabbani says, we can only painfully observe that our PA has miserably failed in doing the same.
You won’t see me cheering for Stevie Wonder, because he doesn’t deserve it. You won’t see me cheering for the UN-bid, because it is much less significant than it is made out to be, but neither will you see me denying the few positive effects that it sorts. You have seen me scrutinizing it and cautioning about its possible implications for the right of return, without contending that it has already undermined these inalienable rights beyond salvage. But I cheer for the Palestinian people and their resilience and determination in the struggle. I cheer for the BDS-movement and its perseverance, and I cheer for all internationals who join us in our anti-Zionist struggle, and who wish to see an end to Apartheid, land theft and persecution.
– Tariq Shadid is a Palestinian surgeon living in the Middle East, and has written numerous essays about the Palestinian issue over the years. Most of these were published by the Palestine Chronicle and have been bundled in the book “Understanding Palestine“, which is available through Amazon.com. He also runs a website of internationally oriented music dedicated to the Palestinian cause, which can be found at www.docjazz.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.