On the Destruction of Meaning in Palestine

The place where Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16 was burnt to death by settlers last year. Plaque in his memory was destroyed and replaced by a rubbish bin. (MEMO)

By Samah Jabr

An apple a day keeps the occupation away. That appears to be the message from a new Palestinian Authority TV commercial. The apple here is not the famous fruit that hit Isaac Newton on the head, leading to the discovery of gravity, nor the contemporary Apple of Steve Jobs. What we have now is an apple in a song accompanying images of the PA president planting a tree to the words, “Plant olives, plant lemons, plant apples; our legitimate resistance is with no arms.”

Palestine is not famous for its apples, but the image was invoked to create a rhyme in Arabic. The TV station broadcasts this song repeatedly, hoping to make it into the Palestinian national anthem with new meanings and values.

Since its inception, the national movement in Palestine has defended through its songs and literature the right to use armed resistance in the face of the Israeli military occupation. Grenades were among the few “logos” that this movement had to offer. Now, though, the “apple” song symbolises a new dogma imposed upon Palestinians and the destruction of meanings that have developed over the years. This new dogma is not about nonviolent resistance, it is about delegitimising armed resistance. It is about permitting repressive measures for those who oppose the occupation in spite of the complete failure on the part of Palestine’s officials to provide security to Palestinians and to protect their interests.

One day after the Israeli settlers’ homicidal burning of the Dawabsheh family from Duma in the northern West Bank, I took a walk in the Jerusalem forest to the place where 16-year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was also burnt to death by settlers last year. It looked as though nothing had happened in that place; the plaque in his memory had been destroyed and replaced by a rubbish bin. His killers have not yet been sentenced.

Israeli officials have condemned the Duma crime and made efforts to blame a few unidentified “extremists”, implying that the vast majority of “good” settlers are wholly innocent, but such crimes are nothing new; they are systematic acts of terror committed by the settlers with the protection and support of the Israeli authorities. The occupation seizes Palestinian property by force; these criminal attacks are intended to frighten Palestinian villagers, inducing them to part easily with their lands and their homes. Such crimes will never end until the occupation ends.

Crimes by settlers are escalating with the crushing of the backbone of Palestinian resistance and the weakening of our immunity in the occupied West Bank. Settler atrocities across the territory are rampant and so are Palestinian cries of outrage, but the huge Palestinian security structure in the West Bank has never arrested a single settler who set fire to our land or homes. On the contrary, the Palestinian security agencies have been praised by the Israelis for finding “lost Israeli citizens” in the West Bank and returning them to the protection of the army. The recent politically-motivated arrests and persecution of hundreds of opposition activists, students, academics and journalists in the West Bank has undermined the characteristic steadfastness of the Palestinians and opened the door for confusion and helplessness in the face of settlers’ attacks.

“These are human beings like us. It is our responsibility to search for them and to return them to their families. We will hold their kidnappers accountable, whoever they are.” These were the words of the Palestinian Authority; not with regards to the four Palestinians kidnapped by gunmen in Sinai, but the three Israelis kidnapped from a settlement near Hebron last summer. The four kidnapped from Gaza elicit no such response from the PA; there is complete official and media apathy. Indeed, the official Palestinian news agency, Ma’an, adopted the Egyptian version of the story that the four Palestinians who were kidnapped after crossing at Rafah were members of Hamas who had been kidnapped by ISIS affiliates in the Sinai.

However, a letter dated 15 August leaked from the Palestinian General Intelligence Office, which administers external security and international relations, was addressed to Majed Faraj, the PGIO head. It explained the coordination between Palestinian General Intelligence and Egyptian, American and British partners in “kidnapping these people urgently and in any way to obtain information about the excavation of tunnels and submarine capacities of Hamas.” Amos Gilad, the Director of Political-Military Affairs of Israel and Robert Stephen Beecroft, the United States’ Ambassador to Egypt, were to be informed about the results of the interrogation, according to this letter. Although there has been no official Palestinian confirmation or denial of this leak, there continues to be a deafening silence regarding the four young Palestinians from Gaza who were taken in Sinai by unidentified gunmen. Such incidents destroy the trust that Palestinians have in their leaders and in one another.

The heart-wrenching news of Arab refugees drowning in the Mediterranean triggers traumatic memories of Palestinians drowned in Haifa during the 1948 Nakba and creates fear among Palestinian refugees. As Ghassan Kanafani described in his novel, “Men in the Sun”, a few Palestinian men trying to cross the border between Iraq and Kuwait in search of work hid themselves in a water tanker, and died there for lack of permission to cross the border. “Why didn’t they knock on the wall of the tanker?” Kanafani asks. The answer is that they feared that they would be shot by border police; they feared that they would be denied integration into the host society for the rest of their lives; they feared being put into refugee camps. Perhaps they did knock, but were ignored. Perhaps they grew too tired to knock and gave up hope that anyone would hear them. This is a story of learned helplessness; a novel which reveals what people dare not say. And Palestinian authorities now talk about the right of return as an item of folklore, without making use of the international attention now focused on the Syrian refugee crisis as a lever for the Palestinian right of return, and without attempting to bring the Palestinian refugees in Syria back home.

Gaza is both drowning and suffocating at the same time. Who has not heard the voices and cries from Gaza? But who is moving forward to open the doors of Gaza? A United Nations Conference on Trade and Development identified the eight-year economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars within the past six years, and concluded that Gaza will be “uninhabitable” by 2020. Is Gaza supposed to plant apple trees until then?

Palestinians are faced with Israeli plans to demolish up to 13,000 structures serving the community in the West Bank, in addition to the gradual Israeli takeover of occupied Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Sanctuary. The team that administers the West Bank politically, militarily and economically is inhibiting all effective Palestinian reaction to such Israeli tactics. Instead, the official media turns our predicaments into false triumphs and hypnotises the population with overdone festivities over false achievements, such as the flying of the Palestinian flag at the UN headquarters in New York.

There is a huge gap between official declarations and policies in Palestine. It is true that the Palestinian Authority has joined the UN Convention Against Torture, but human rights organisations increasingly report inhuman treatment and torture of detained West Bank activists held by PA security agencies. Politicians pay lip service in opposition to Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, but at the same time crush any effort to stand up to them. These inconsistencies and unpredictable policies are characteristic of official Palestinian political conduct; tools for confusing the people and deconstructing their systems of meaning.

Things that were accepted over many years in the past are now a pretext for retaliation: asking people to demonstrate at times, and arresting them at other demonstrations at other times; going after collaborators with Israel and then declaring that, “Security coordination with Israel is sacred”; criminalising the potential ceasefire arrangements in Gaza after spending 20 years in “peace” negotiations in the West Bank; praising political prisoners arrested by the Israelis and devaluing them when the very same individuals are arrested and humiliated by Palestinians; promoting officials when they are allied with the authorities, such as Muhammad Dahlan, Salam Fayyad and Yasser Abed Robbo, then smearing their reputations through the same apparatus that had previously promoted them.

All of this leads to confusion, mistrust, helplessness and loss of motivation. Statehood is not about flying a flag; it is not about deceptive symbols, empty clichés and tired rhetoric. It is about sovereignty, a sense of belonging for everyone and security in one’s homeland. It is about a genuine, coherent system of meaning that influences action. Meanings can evolve and be transformed with reason and purpose, not arbitrarily by dogma or indoctrination or oppression.

– Samah Jabr is a Jerusalemite psychiatrist and psychotherapist who cares about the wellbeing of her community – beyond issues of mental illness. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published in Middle East Monitor)

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