By Ramzy Baroud
Thousands of people recently marched in London to commemorate Quds Day, an annual day of solidarity with the Palestinian people that emanated from Tehran some 26 years ago.
I neither wish to contend nor corroborate the sincerity of the call, made by Ayatollah Khomeini, in a time when the Palestinian people endure, unaided, the unbearable brunt of the Israeli occupation, international isolation and its subsequent economic boycott, and the burden of their leaderships’ own folly, that of factionalism and lack of political coherence.
However, the scene in London was too surreal, and brought into question the usefulness of such displays of solidarity with the Palestinians. As Hezbollah and Iranian flags and banners wavered in the cold London breeze, and posters of Iranian leaders sprung everywhere, I failed to spot one Palestinian flag, one positive message, one helpful chant. It was only when the black clad Neturei Karta rabbis made their entrance that the Palestinian flag was introduced into the march.
I grew partially irritated and utterly confused as marchers made their way through the city, eventually descending on the gates of the American embassy, where a small stage and a few microphones awaited fiery speakers; then, the cries of “down with the USA” and “we are all Hezbollah” rang across the city, as American security officers took position, preparing for what could become a showdown with the seemingly intoxicated protesters.
Befuddled at the spectacle, its lack of any true meaning or relevance to Palestine at all, at the unhappy, or alarmed faces of the passersby and the usefulness of affiliating Palestine with such militancy, and more, I retreated. Finding my way back to my apartment with utter difficulty through the ever expanding city, I contemplated: Have I right to question the motive of the organizers, however misguided their presentation might be? But is it not immoral to exploit the cause of Palestine as that of inclusive justice, as opposed to theocratic exclusiveness, for self-exultation and political ends?
But the debate can indeed be stretched much further into another, neglected by an utterly pertinent one, that of Palestine as a pressing tragedy seeking urgent remedy versus that of an postponed historic grievance without any realistic diameters, relevance to the real world, or needless, to say, a real plan of action.
Regardless of its many flaws and imperfections, no other national struggle in the world has assimilated itself, or has been inadvertently assimilated, to symbolize so many things to so many different people, as has the Palestinian struggle. And yet, despite the intricate layers of sense and understanding that have sought to encapsulate the Palestinian struggle, Palestine itself lingers in the world’s consciousness merely as a symbol.
Palestine is the last domicile for those seeking deliverance, and the ultimate place next to heaven for those in quest of salvation. There, it has been written that the tireless hunt for spiritual quintessence shall come to an end; the armies shall meet there, once more; they shall fight in the name of God, an Armageddon not like any other, of which victory has already been promised to the righteous.
Palestine has also been a rallying cry for the dispossessed and for the aspiring underdog. Its letters have been inscribed in blood on prison walls throughout Israel and the Arab world as a promise of victory or as a lamentation of defeat.
When anti-globalization activists take on neo-imperialist institutions, they raise a Palestinian flag, and when Venezuela’s poor brought Hugo Chavez back to power in April 2002, a Palestinian flag also wavered in the wind.
Palestine also had its fair share of political exploitation. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein fought his Iranian foes, in some of the cruelest and most costly wars, in the name of Palestine, and in the name of Palestine Iran fought back. Arab nations have long hidden behind liberation-of-Palestine slogans to excuse their ineptitude and to rationalize their oppression.
And in the United States, Palestine takes on a plethora of unique and often deadly meanings. It’s a prophecy waiting to be fulfilled and a market for politicians wishing to sell their will to the highest bidder. It’s a major and everlasting news headline that, despite its ominous presence, seems to teach and evoke nothing except the intentional misrepresentation of the facts.
As for Palestine the reality — the suffering, the loss, the hopelessness and hurt, the refugee camps, the checkpoints, the expanding settlements, the encroaching Israeli wall, the ruined lives, the packed prisons, the anger and prevailing sense of betrayal, the desperation and human bombs, the shattered economy, the bulldozed orchards, the more than 50 years-long fear of the future — it seems to be the least relevant point.
Symbolic Palestine — Palestine the dream — has for long hijacked Palestine the reality. Thus when Palestine is discussed, examined and scrutinized, the frame of reference is hardly the one invoked when any other similar conflict is discussed. Its resolution is rarely seen pertinent to international law or human rights edicts and is barely understood — as it should be — in terms of power and strategy. Rather it’s a subject of flared imaginations, religious fantasy and fictitious constructs.
One cannot and must not undermine the efforts of the inspiring activists whose awareness of the Palestinian reality on the ground is unmatched and whose sincere efforts to achieve peace with justice in Palestine translate to more than a few heart-rending words and phrases, but steady action and unequaled readiness to labor and even sacrifice for their beliefs. However, it’s this wrestle between the real as opposed to figurative and abstract awareness that shall define the course of action that is likely to follow.
If Palestine continues to be understood — or misunderstood — outside its proper frame as a national struggle for rights within the appropriately corresponding international context, then little can be expected from any attempts to remedy its ailments.
It is time to distance Palestine from further interpretations and understand it as it is. Otherwise, Palestine, its people and conflict shall be confined to the ever-augmented edifices of rhetoric with no connection to the real aspirations of a real people with real demands, awaiting justice and a moment of peace.
-Excerpts of this article appeared in Ramzy Baroud’s latest book: The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London), available on Amazon.com, Plutobooks.com and many bookshops.