Quite an evening today: got to attend a talk given by Ramzy Baroud, the Palestinian-American journalist, writer and human rights activist from Gaza, whose book, “My father was a freedom figher” I’m reading these days. A fantastic communicator, yet very soft-spoken and down to earth, Mr. Baroud is accompanied on his tour of French-speaking Europe (this bit of Switzerland plus Belgium, Luxembourg and France) by the translator of his books, M. Claude Zurbach.
Just jotting down some things worth remembering:
- as solidarity activists, it’s very important to go beyond the comfortable stereotypes (“noble freedom fighters”, “most oppressed people”, “victims of humanitarian crises”) and really get to know the people and their individual histories, if we are to have any chance of providing the kind of effective support that Palestinians need
- he talked about his father and how his life and personality is mirrored in that of Gaza: his father lived and struggled for freedom, as does Gaza, his father died in exile from his beloved village, as have so many Gazans, refugees and descendants of refugees from 513 villages in historical Palestine, his father was complex just as Gaza can sometimes be a very strange place.
- His father believed himself to be a communist, though Baroud doesn’t believe he was one. He prayed five times a day and talked about the proletariat and “modes of production” – whereas Gaza has no production, what to talk of “modes”! If he saw a Fatah demonstration passing in the street, he’d put on the black-and-white Fatah keffiyeh and go join them. If the PFLP organised a counter-demo, he’d change his keffiyeh and join them! And in 2006, he voted for Hamas. It is this complexity and seeming inconsistency that we need to get in touch with and understand, and he sees his work as providing a platform for voices of individual, otherwise anonymous Palestinians who have made the history of his people, from where they might be heard, making it hard for the mass media to assimilate them into any of the convenient stereotypes.
- the factionalism among Palestinians cannot be denied but, neither is it unique among liberation movements: even the powerful resistance to apartheid in South Africa had its share of divisions which also spilled over into violence in the form of assassinations of members of rival factions, but once Mandela came out of prison, a decision was taken to put that all behind, to join forces and to project the image of a united front, both to be able to effectively negotiate with the apartheid regime and also in the hope that it would act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. He reminded us that the Makkah cooperation agreement between Fatah and Hamas was done in by Condoleeza Rice’s threat to Mahmoud Abbas that it would mean an end to the aid money flowing in to the PA (largely dominated by Fatah) – and not by any imagined impossibility on the part of the Palestinians to work together in their clear, national interest.
- there was a discussion on the absurdity of the PA’s demands for negotiations with the occupying power, on which it depends. Baroud stated clearly that, being a Palestinian himself, he had no qualms about criticising the various Palestinian leaders and cliques. And while one could always question to what extent Hamas followed or continues to follow an Iranian script as opposed to serving the interests of the Palestinian people, there was simply no comparison with the wholesale collaboration and complicity in the occupation of the corrupt, shameless Fatah-led PA. He cited the recent case of the fuel shortage in Gaza where Hamas appealed to Abbas for help, and instead the PA doubled the price of fuel it supplies to Gaza!
- the Israeli siege of Gaza should actually be called the Israeli-Egyptian siege of Gaza, simply to recognise that the siege could not possibly work without the criminal complicity of the Egyptian establishment in accordance with the Camp David agreement. This is not to say that the Egyptian people, at least those sections not swayed by Zionist propaganda and narrow sectional interests (such as the media, politicians and the military), do not stand with Gaza, or support the Palestinians. The proof lies in the short “honeymoon period” after the first wave of the Egyptian revolution when a whole wave of Egyptian solidarity activists and medical personnel flooded into Gaza to help out. Of course, now with General el-Sisi in power, the Egyptian enforcement of the siege is harsher than ever.
- the real problem goes beyond Hamas vs Fatah, even beyond Israel’s strategies. It lies in the un-questioned and continued support given to Israel by the USA and the EU and their allies. And that’s the arena in which solidarity activists need to weigh in and demand, for the BDS campaign to be effective, a moral boycott of Israel – city by city, village by village, commune by commune. People here – he included himself – have to wake up to their collaboration with Israel, their culpability in the crimes committed by the occupation regime and have to decide, as moral beings, that they want to have nothing to do with it. In his view, the PA could not survive more than a few days without the massive funding pumped into it by the EU. And if the PA collapses….
- related to this, when someone wondered if there was any hope of Palestinians in the West Bank revolting, he cautioned against easy judgements or trying to casually predict the behaviour of collectivities: a similar situation existed in 1987 when lots of Palestinians were working in Israel and in the Gulf countries and sending back lots of money with which people all over were re-building their houses and buying TVs and VCRs. Most observers thought that the resistance was over, the Palestinians were satisfied, content with these material gains. And then the magnificent First Intifada erupted!
La traduction en français du dernier livre de M. Baroud est disponible chez les Editions Demi-Lune sous le titre « Résistant en Palestine – une vraie histoire de Gaza ».
The talk was organised, quite naturally, by the Vaud section of the Collectif Urgence Palestine.