Mahmoud Jnaid recently doused himself in fuel and tried to set himself on fire before other Palestinian on-lookers overpowered him. “I am Mr. Nobody,” he said in an October 19th Reuters article. “When I poured the petrol on my body I felt life was the same as death,” the 25-year-old said while sitting next to his wife and children. Israel won’t approve ID papers for Jnaid and tens of thousands like him, effectively prohibiting them from traveling, getting driver’s licenses, or even opening bank accounts. Apparently, the denial of these daily basics makes Israel feel more secure. Go figure that one out.
It was just the latest heart-wrenching story to come out of Palestine and I couldn’t help but wonder if Palestinian politicians and activists had lost sight of the Jnaids of Palestine with all of the ridiculous factionalism and meaningless infighting. Sure, people are going to disagree on strategies and opinions. But there should be one sole driving force that unites people: Obtaining dignity and hope for the average Palestinian Joe. Some argue that implementing laws is the prerequisite to obtaining that dignity and hope . . . so, the infighting continues over principles. Well, most would consider that “living with dignity” is an honorable principle in itself. The reality is that complicated and warped dynamics make the implementation of international laws unlikely in the near future. So until then, improving the lives of Palestinians should be the priority. “What should move us to action is human dignity: the inalienable dignity of the oppressed, but also the dignity of each of us. We lose dignity if we tolerate the intolerable.”
Those wise words came from civil rights activist Dominique de Menil. It’s applicable to so many crises around the world and especially to the Palestinian tragedy. So why aren’t some Palestinians remembering this as they waste valuable energies on marginalizing each other? The infighting is nothing short of self-destructive. Also lost during the nasty disagreements are the civility and decency that signified our parents’ generation and the generations before them . . . but I digress. To a large degree, it is understandable that many everyday Palestinians are now harsher and more mistrustful in their lives. They are responding to nearly 60 years of dispossession and 40 years of a cruel Israeli occupation — they’ve learned to respond in kind in a tough world of survival. But the privileged in Palestine who’ve largely made their money through corruption and the activists who live in comfort here in the States? Please . . . Palestine has now become about factions and ideology. There’s HAMAS sitting on its “throne” in Gaza while the people’s suffering reaches epic proportions because of world isolation. And there’s Fatah jousting for a meaningless spotlight by meeting with Israel while Palestinians are murdered in Israeli raids. There are the non-productive activists who spend their time labeling other Palestinians in the most repulsive terms and there are those who wish to negotiate with a self-righteous opposition for the sake of negotiating. When exactly did self-respect and dignity go out of style? Sadly, every one of these behaviors illustrates a lack of self-respect. W’aman la yokarrem nafsaho la yokarram, which in Arabic means “he who doesn’t respect himself shall not be respected.” Does this still mean something? In a nutshell, there seems to be a huge disconnect between the politicians/ activists and the Palestinian people they claim to champion.
Yes, that was a simplistic generalization to make because a lot of us feel blessed to know some brilliant diamonds in the coal. But there could be so many more diamonds if Palestinians and pro-Palestinians weren’t so turned off by the infighting. Add to this the huge feeling of burn-out among those few diamonds who are expected to keep producing and carrying the load.
People are naturally starting to ask, “what’s the point?”
Well, there is a major point and that point is to give hope to family and friends in Palestine. When a person has reason to hope, it’s easier to hold one’s head up high in dignity.
What can lead to this hope? An abrupt stop to the new “us v. them” showdown is one important step. But no less important is the requirement of a different mindset so that progress is made. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that when a particular strategy hasn’t worked for decades, it’s time to re-visit it until you get something workable and effective. There is nothing honorable or smart about clinging to useless slogans and strategies. Furthermore, history has proven that good intentions alone don’t matter. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers but I’d like to suggest some new strategies:
— Build coalitions with mainstream organizations. There are so many issues that upset fellow Americans, especially paying taxes to support governments that don’t need it. Israel doesn’t need it. — Break down barriers and dispel popular stereotypes. Take advantage of our precious freedom of speech by writing letters to the editor.
— Don’t assume that others have the same knowledge about the issue. Most people don’t know and get their knowledge from biased sources or pop culture. Don’t get mad; take advantage of the opportunity to calmly correct the misinformation. Note the world “calmly.” The popular stereotype is that people of Palestinian descent cannot control their tempers. Destroy that myth by example. People are more convinced by someone who is rational and calm.
— Quit pursuing the support of every leftist who claims to love justice. By now, I’d like to think that most activists are aware of the many insincere activists whose focus is to distract and sabotage relationships between pro-Palestinian groups. Besides, the Palestine conflict is a human issue, not a leftist issue.
— Passion has its positives and negatives, but use it to rejuvenate yourself and others. Don’t use it to tear people down because they disagree with you.
— Do unto others as you would want others to do to you. This Golden Rule sounds simple and yet some of the most rabid and rude individuals are activists. What exactly do people hope to gain by creating more enemies? — Know the personal achievements of fellow Palestinians. There’s more to being Palestinian than just politics, and activists need to know these achievements. Celebrating the Palestinian identity is the single greatest thing activists can do. — Remember that we are Americans, first and foremost. Vocalizing dislike for various policies just like every other American does is natural. Make sure to clarify that! Don’t hate this wonderful land of freedom. This is a big distinction but it is a distinction that often gets blurred in all the rhetoric and anger. The opposition then manipulates the angry words for their dishonest PR efforts. — If a political strategy doesn’t bring about understanding among the target audience (fellow Americans), then why bother? Preaching to the choir feels good up to a point. What’s the final goal though?
By no means should this piece be interpreted as blaming the victims. Israel has somehow convinced our nation through its intimidating lobbying that depriving people of their basic rights is a good thing. It’s a shame that they don’t look into the mindset of the Jewish instigators of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The defiance of Mordechai Anielewicz and others in the face of utter misery was nothing short of remarkable and honorable.
In the end, perhaps it is the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum who said it best in his recent “Sixty Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft. They were discussing the unbelievably fast development in Dubai: KROFT: Why do you want everything to be the biggest, the tallest? SHEIK MOHAMMED: Steve, why not? Why not? If you can have it in New York, why can’t we have it here? KROFT: Why are you in such a hurry? Most people would try and do all of this in a lifetime, not in five years. SHEIKH MOHAMMED: I want — I want my people to live better life now, to go to high school now, to go to the good health care now. Not after 20 years.
Wanting a better life for one’s people now . . . It’s a refreshing message and a rare one in the Arab World. Our goal should be to improve the lives of Palestinians everywhere, especially those in the Occupied Territories and squalid refugee camps. This certainly doesn’t mean giving up on the principles of justice or not holding Israel responsible for its crimes, but it does mean realizing the principles of dignity and hope for every Palestinian individual now. It’s also a goal that should bring some unity and reason back into the current Palestinian atmosphere of infighting and insanity. We owe it to our families and friends in Palestine. g
Sherri Muzher is a writer/activist and director of Michigan MediaWatch.