By Benay Blend
To mark the end of the decade much has been written to sum up Palestine’s past year in review. Much of the news was not good, and as Ramzy Baroud notes in an article for Arab News, 2019 was both a “defining” year for Palestine/Israel, as well as a year of challenges. Trump continued assaulting the rights of Palestinians, and power struggles resumed in Israel among the major political factions. Both trends are likely to continue into 2020.
One thing is certain, though, Palestine will endure, and with it the sumoud (steadfastness) and resilience of its people.
As expressed in the above painting by Gazan artist Heba Zagout, the art here preserves memory and guards life with its beauty.
In Zagout’s words:
“My new painting is between the grim reality of wishful thinking to return to my ancestral land between vines and tree.”
Without a crystal ball, it is impossible to know when (not if, because that is a certainty) Zagout’s wish will come true, but in the realm of speculative writing, anything is possible. Indeed, in the translator’s notes to Ibtisam’s Azem’s The Book of Disappearance (2019), Sinan Antoon observes that “the ghosts will continue to haunt,” referring to the ongoing trauma of the Nakba, but by their very presence they will demand “justice and recognition” so that the “living [will continue to] write and remember” the past.
Judging from a quick preview of the future, there is much to inspire hope for the coming year. Perhaps signaling a truce between Israel and Hamas, Middle East Eye reports that the Great March of Return protests would be scaled back from weekly to once a month events, and also on national occasions such as Land Day on March 30, which will mark the second anniversary of the demonstrations.
Palestinians organized the March around two central demands: a call for the internationally recognized right of return of refugees and an end to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt which has caused so much suffering and deaths.
Since the beginning of the protests, Israeli snipers have murdered at least 256 Palestinians in these peaceful protests, and more than 29,000 have been wounded. While Western media labeled the ongoing protests a riot, Fadi Al-Naji, reporting for We are Not Numbers, called the occasions a “theater of resistance,” family-oriented “cultural celebrations” which witnessed women cooking Bedouin bread, young men dancing dabka, and children flying kites.
Nevertheless, there is a call to endorse an international week of action to support the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege (March 24-30). Samidoun (Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network) organizers explain that:
“Palestinians have never paused our legitimate struggles for return, self-determination, and national liberation, from the armed Resistance, to general strikes, to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns, to the Great Return March.”
In this vein, Marco Carnelos writes that grassroots protests, more than political elites, could have additional sway over outcomes in the coming year. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party is allegedly undergoing a major shift in its unilateral support for Israel.
In the event that the leading hopeful in that regard wins the nomination, Ali Abunimah asks:
“What could a Bernie Sanders victory mean for Palestine?” During the November 18th debates, Sanders responded to a question: “It is no longer good enough for us simply to be pro-Israel. I am pro-Israel, but we must treat the Palestinian people as well with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”
It was not the first time that Sanders has tried to straddle “both sides” by expressing support for Israel but couching it with recognizing the humanity of Palestinians. On the one hand, my first reaction was much the same as Abunimah’s; how can a candidate who clearly supports the Occupier, but at the same time throws a bone to the Occupied, be trusted to end the Occupation?
On the other, “if we see Sanders’ comments not as a reflection of how Good or Bad the man is,” writes Abunimah, “but as the product of a growing movement pressing for change then there is some reason for hope.”
I would press farther. If Sanders’ supporters can encourage him not to back down in the face of false charges of antisemitism, his candidacy has a chance to go forward, particularly if he refuses to apologize for something that he didn’t do. Given the recent attack on Orthodox Jewish people in Monsey, New York, this will be no mean feat.
If Sanders can focus on rising racism against many groups of people, and relate that to the ongoing Nakba endured by Palestinians, then perhaps there can be more supporters willing to join in global solidarity against all forms of discriminatory behavior. Indeed, Sanders expressed his support for Evo Morales after he was overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup, so perhaps he does engender hope.
Moving to global developments, there is even more cause for optimism. In December the International Criminal Court finally reached a landmark decision to call for an investigation of Israel for war crimes.
A statement issued by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, declared that her office “has concluded with the determination that all the statutory criteria under the Rome statute for the opening of an investigation have been met.”
While Netanyahu hit back with predictable charges of antisemitism, Jonathan Ofir correctly notes that the upcoming investigation strikes at one of Israel’s biggest fears—accountability. So far, the answer as to why Israel can carry on the way it does has been: “Because it can.” Given potential publicity surrounding the investigations, perhaps those days will be over in the coming year.
On a busy street in Jerusalem, there is a sign for the Educational Bookshop, described by its manager Mahmoud Muna as the “first bookstore that sold books in English by Palestinians and about the Palestinian viewpoint.” As such it plays a larger role in promoting “cultural resistance” as well as “reinforcing Palestinian culture and identity.”
“The Palestinians have been stripped of their rights, political representation, and freedom,” Muna explains. “
The last thing we have is our culture – the last wall of resistance, which Israel will find very hard to break down. The mission of the bookshop is to reinforce Palestinian culture and identity.”
Begun as an idea in the mind of its organizers, Susan Abulhawa, Nada Elia, Remi Kanazi, to name a few, planners hope that the Palestine Literature Festival will serve the same purpose. It will bring together from March 27-29 in New York City writers from all over the world.
An intersectional event, it features Palestinian writers whose work is not well known in the West due to censorship, but it features an intersectional array of writers, too: the Lakota historian and activist Nick Estes and Angela Davis, a long-time supporter of Palestine, to name only a few.
All of the above and more give hope that 2020 will be the year marked by successful liberation struggles, from Palestine to Turtle Island and beyond.
Finally, to end on a note that this commentary began, interviewed by Ben East in The National, Ibtisam Azem explains: “Hope, for people who are discriminated against, isn’t a privilege. It’s a necessity.”
– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.