Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Insisting on Their Humanity:
The Plight of the Palestinians
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, January 10, 2011
When a copy of William A. Cook’s latest book, The Plight of the
Palestinians arrived in my mailbox, I initially felt a little worried. The
volume, featuring the work of over 30 accomplished writers, is the most
articulate treatise on the collective victimization of Palestinians to date.
From Cook’s own introduction, ‘The Untold Story of the Zionist Intent to
Turn Palestine into a Jewish State’ to Francis Boyle’s summation of
‘Israel’s Crimes against the Palestinians’, it takes the reader through an
exhaustive journey, charting the course of Palestinian history prior to and
since al-Nakba, the Catastrophe of 1947-48.
Still, I feared that
something might be missing in this noble and monumental undertaking:
Palestinian people’s own responses to the cruelties they’ve suffered. Would
Palestinians be presented yet again as merely poster-child victims, eager
The photograph on the cover was telling: a kindly old
man with a white beard, who could have been any Palestinian or
Middle-Eastern grandpa, is lovingly touching the hair of a toddler. The two
are crouching before a small, stained tent. Al-Nakba was still recent, and
the two Palestinians, separated by two generations appear tired and haggard
as they are caught in this hopeless scene. Yet, somehow the grandfather
insists on preserving his right to love his grandson. This insistence on
one’s humanity has been the key strength which has allowed the Palestinian
people to preserve their struggle and resistance before the wicked arm of
occupation and oppression for nearly 63 years.
Do most academics
know this? Do they truly comprehend what it is that makes an old man from a
West Bank village face the brutality of Jewish settlers, year after year, as
he returns to harvest his few remaining olive trees? Or a Palestinian woman
from Gaza who keeps coming back to hold a vigil before the Red Cross office
with a framed photo of her once-young son, now ailing in some Israeli jail?
What keeps them going is something that cannot be dissected
scientifically or analyzed intellectually. It can only be felt, experienced,
and partially understood. This understanding is essential, for without it
much more time and effort would be wasted, discounting the most important
component in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the Palestinian people.
Some intellectuals, although well-intentioned, often conflate the
understandable weakness of the current Palestinian leadership and the
steadfastness of the Palestinian people. They write about both entities as
if they are one and the same. One of the best authors on Palestine rightly
pointed at the huge discrepancies of power between Palestinians and Israel,
noting that such an imbalance could not possibly lead to an equitable
platform for negotiation. To demonstrate the point, the author refers to
Palestinians as “almost totally powerless people”, negotiating with a
But the Palestinian people are currently
negotiating with no one. Their representatives merely represent themselves
and their own interests. It is important that we preserve that distinction -
between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and Palestinian people, who
have held on to their rights for so many years, and unleashed two of the
greatest expressions of people’s power and resolve: the First Uprising of
1987 and al-Aqsa Intifada of 2000. A whole population taking on the
self-celebrated “greatest army in the Middle East” is hardly “powerless”.
The Palestinian people have printed themselves on the practical discourse of
this conflict, and they have proved themselves to be powerful players in
determining their own fate.
Jeff Halper, the Director of the
Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, understands this fact well. The
peace and justice activist has spent decades working for a just settlement
to the conflict, a journey that’s allowed him to work with numerous
Palestinians. He has thus grasped something many politicians have
intentionally or inadvertently missed. “Until they - the Palestinian people
as a whole, not the PA - say the conflict is over, it's not over.” He
further states, in a recent article entitled ‘Palestine 2011’, that “Israel
and its erstwhile allies have the ability to make life almost unbearable for
the Palestinians, but they cannot impose apartheid or warehousing.”
Halper is correct, and history has repeatedly validated his assertion. There
are limits to the power of the “powerful occupier”. It can kill, confiscate,
destroy and burn, but it can never force the other into submission. Thus to
speak of Palestinian victimization without discussing their collective
resistance presents an incomplete version of the story.
of the Palestinians turned out to be an essential read, and a full and
authoritative discourse. It offers a grim and detailed story of suffering
and the ‘slow motion genocide’, which is important in order to appreciate
the harshness of the Palestinian experience. Without this, one can never
understand the anger, resentment and pain that are shared by several
generations of Palestinians, in Palestine and in the Diaspora.
Human Tragedy’ is laid bare in Part I. Every paragraph confronts the reader
with gory details. But if such violence is the reality of the history of
this conflict, why do many people understand it differently? The answer lies
in Part 2: ‘Propaganda, Perception and Reality’. It starts with a quote, the
Israeli Mossad’s own pre-2007 slogan: “By way of deception, thou shalt do
war.” It seems that such a slogan has defined Israeli official conduct.
However, civil society cannot be misled forever, and the powerful
initiatives carried out by ordinary people around the world are what give
Part 3 its value. ‘Rule by Law or Defiance’ is an uplifting introduction to
activist efforts, with topics ranging from ‘The Russell Tribunal on
Palestine’ to the ‘Necessity of the Culture Boycott’.
The Plight of
the Palestinians is not just another chronicle of the history of a
defenseless nation. While it is an unhesitant acknowledgment of that
reality, it is far from being a celebration of victimhood. Rather, it
documents the logical evolution from suffering to resistance.
the essay, ‘Does It Matter What You Call It?’ two of my personal favorite
authors, Kathleen and (late) Bill Christison write: “Palestinian resistance
does figure in this dismal story. In the same small village where one is
uprooting his family, others are building...”
It is the very
balance between destruction and rebuilding, despair and hope, occupation and
perseverance that makes the Palestinian people powerful. Their power cannot
be demonstrated in numbers, but it can be felt, experienced, and understood.
The Plight of the Palestinians: A Long History of Destruction spreads the
seeds of understanding, which is so essential to any meaningful and lasting
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.