“. . . we are allowed to criticise specific Israeli policies like attacks on Gaza etc but we are not allowed to criticise the ideology (Zionism) behind these policies.”
By Mazin Qumsiyeh
The conference in Stuttgart about Palestine was themed “Separated in the past, together in the future”, was sold-out, and had some high powered speakers and lots of energy . We listened, spoke, networked, bought each others’ books, ate, hugged, cried, and laughed. I mostly spent lots of time in thinking; maybe because of waiting at airports or because such conferences give us opportunity to reflect or whatever. Thoughts are a mixed blessing. In that labyrinth of neurons firing sometimes uncontrollably, we are transported to the past, to the present, to the future, whipsawed by40and stories and sounds and smells. The one minute I am thinking of my delay of three hours at the bridge to Jordan while Israeli Shin Bet agents scurry around trying to figure out what to do about me. I reflect on my angered indignation verbalised twice to a young white clean-cut guy (maybe Russian?). Did I challenge him too much or was it too little?
In visiting Germany one cannot help but reflect on history. The thoughts are transported to periods before I was born, periods in history and facts I have read and verified and contrast with myths that are taught daily to unsuspecting publics. Germany lives in the modern presence but the mist of a heavy and dark past moves all around, sometimes getting thick and blurring visions. Some people pump such smoke trying to convince Germans and themselves that this is that mist emanating from a relevant past. We think and speak of how best to explain to Germans that guilt feelings are misdirected. How do we explain the Nazi-Zionist collaborations and the horrors that happened because of a misunderstanding of what really happened nearly seven decades ago . But most of all I reflect on both how good people can be and how much evil they can do. After all, what makes an Ilan Pappe, brilliant professor, humanist who shed all his tribal borders and moved to touch his humanity? And what makes an Ehud Barak, a war criminal with blood of thousands on his hands?
Not in my name is the message that a brilliant Jewish German woman (Evelyn Hecht-Galinski) gave in her speech. Her clarion voice echoed those of prophets speaking to decadent kings of the past, articulating in passionate moral clarity what horror awaits if they stay their destructive course. As human beings, we cannot choose to stand on the sideline while a grave injustice is being committed. We cannot stand by and watch as Western governments succumb to lobbies and send weapons and money that are used to commit horrific crimes. As citizens of those countries we cannot be silent. I listen to Evelyn’s words (translated from German to English) and to the tone of her strong voice and determined looks that penetrate to the hearts of a mesmerised audience. I think this is what decency and courage look like.
I listen to Ilan Pappe brilliantly articulating in very simple and common language what the underpinning of this “issue” is about (that it is a simple colonialism and racism, nothing special other than the success of propaganda in drowning this fact with much mythologies, lies,and nonsense). He explains how we are allowed to criticise specific Israeli policies like attacks on Gaza, etc. but we are not allowed to criticise the ideology (Zionism) behind these policies. We must move from dealing with the symptoms rather to deal with the etiology. He mentioned how Zionists themselves for decades used terms like Hityakvut (to colonise) to describe their activities which amounted to creating a state by destroying a country (his book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” remains a classic). But my mind wanders back to olive trees being uprooted in Al-Walaja. My thoughts are wandering all over the map.Feelings of moral outrage, mix with memories of childhood playing in hills that were not yet infected with colonies.
I listen to my friend Dr Haidar Eid describe life in Gaza and could onlythink about the absurdity that he is less than a two-hour drive from where I am but that I could only get to meet him face-to-face for the first time thousands of kilometres away in Stuttgart, Germany of all places. It is not fair that he is imprisoned in the concentration camp with 1.5 million prisoners whose only crime is that they are not Jewish and as such were ethnically cleansed and occupied. Haidar’s years in South Africa gave him the ability to really understand similarities and differences of our “hafrada” (Hebrew for segregation) with “Apartheid” (Afrikaans for segregation). Ali Abunimah’s articulate description of where we are with the BDS movement and the media struggle in the US complements nicely our talks about life and struggle in Palestine. Felicia Langer was there. She served for decades as an Israeli lawyer trying to defend Palestinian political prisoners in kangaroo courts of colonial apartheid. I think that the image of her and me and Haidar on the stage is an image of what the future of an inclusive democratic state will be like.
I listen to my friend Lubna Masarwa, who verbalised better than any of us the moral indignation that is right and urgent. She says “we are struggling as Palestinians, we are tired and we want you to do more. . .it is urgent and the world keeps letting Israel commit massacres and continue its ethnic cleansing practices. . . why. . . enough is enough. ..we are fed up. . .” My thoughts here bounce across in a room full of dark walls trying to think of why the disease of apathy is so hard to cure among humans. Silence and indifference while injustice and war crimes are being committed is not just some distant historical episode but a brutal living reality. Children in Auschwitz seven decades ago andchildren of Gaza and Sabra and Shatila today are, after all, still children. Their eyes and their suffering may be ignored by most of humanity but their truth will penetrate deeper than any fog of mythology. It can no longer be said by anyone in the age of the internetthat “we did not know.”
I talked about Popular Resistance in Palestine (the subject of my just published book) and explained in as simple a language as I could what itmeans to live here and struggle here and love. I explain that we are inthis all together (humanity) and that this is not just a struggle by and for Palestinians. Summarising 130 years of resistance is not easy. At the conference there is really little time, everyone wants to talk tous, to get a book signed, to exchange cards, to hug.
The organisers did a masterful job. I stayed with a wonderful Palestinian host (Anton). Two of the key organisers also spoke about theplight of the Bedouin communities in the Negev. Attia and Verena Rajab (and their young son who also volunteered) epitomise kindness and hard work but also of love that should be the model for all of us. More can be said about this conference but, ultimately, Lubna said it well: “enough talk, time for action.” And all who attended this conference have rolled-up their sleeves and got to work. Onward.
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