Palestine and the US Peace Movement Telling it like it is!
A statement by the Free Palestine Alliance on the 40th anniversary of the 1967 war
In this statement, the Free Palestine Alliance (FPA) addresses political and organizational issues related to the Palestinian struggle in the United States as it evolved during the past 5 years. We discuss the political context of the two primary events defining the Palestinian history, the 1948 Nakba and the 1967 additional occupation; and place these events in the overall context of decolonization.
Of particular interest to the FPA is an evaluation of the role played by our community and allies in forging forward a just Palestinian discourse despite the long standing Zionist influence in the US. We reflect on the US justice movement, identify some of its key definitional events in the context of Palestine, and share first hand experiences as we focus on the leadership played primarily by the A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition, the National Council of Arab Americans (NCA), and Al-Awda the Palestine Right to Return Coalition.
In the Context of the US Justice Movement:
We believe that our collective hard-fought struggle, here and in Palestine, is gradually fracturing the anti-Palestinian hold on the US justice movement. We are encouraged that liberal forces that only yesterday stood squarely against the presence of Palestine in the anti-war movement today feel compelled to organize for Palestine to be vindicated and gain credibility among grassroots activists.
From the largest ever pro Palestine mobilization in the history of the United States (held simultaneously on April 20, 2002 on both coasts) to the thousands of organizations and activists who co-signed our historic Open Letter against those attempting to mute Palestinian voices, the shear weight of the Palestinian struggle broke the walls of political segregation.
The march in Washington on the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a case in point. Despite the serious political shortcomings and erroneous read of history by its key organizers, the Washington march indicates an improvement over the days of deafening silence, rejection, and active attempts to marginalize the Palestinian Arab struggle.
Now that we have broken the political and organizational grip on the 1967 occupation portion of the political discourse, through the struggle of our people and allies; we vow to also break the wall that excludes from the same discourse the Right of Return and the racist character of Zionism and its product Israel.
Hence, moving from the old and now won struggle between those who attempted to marginalize Palestine on the one hand and those who fought for its inclusion on the other, we are now approaching a new one. It is a dichotomy between those who wish to confine the Palestinian struggle to partial rights within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip hereby creating a new segregated Bantustan, and those, like us, who believe that the struggle must and will continue until full decolonization and return.
Therefore, supporting the Right of Return should be the overarching slogan of Palestine work today. This is an imperative indicator of where a given political action stands within the spectrum ranging between partial rights and servitude on the one hand and liberation and decolonization on the other.
We recognize that victory is never handed on a silver platter. It comes as a result of a bitter struggle between opposing forces. Such is the case of the Palestinian struggle. Our victories come in small steps, winning incremental accumulations over previous gains.
We are indeed encouraged that those who only yesterday equated Palestinian symbolism with terrorism and removed the Palestinian flag from the New York stage of the 2004 anti-war mobilization are today hoisting that very same flag, albeit due to fear of castigation and unprincipled embarrassment. The fact that numerous opportunists from within our community and the justice movement are now riding the Palestinian wave is also an indication of the impact we all have made collectively.
Even racist cynics in liberal garbs who in the near past taunted the anti-war movement on the pages of the likes of the Nation magazine for having too many Arabs are today scurrying to position themselves within the fold. Ironically, those who previously made statements to the press of how happy and proud they are that Israel was not mentioned in the protests at the Republican Convention in New York are today presumably championing Palestinian rights.
In fact, in June 1982, on the 15th anniversary of the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the 34th anniversary of the Nakba, and as Israel was launching its massive onslaught on Lebanon leading to the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, the same forces who have been fighting against Palestine during the past few years also shunned Palestine then. These same elements refused to criticize Israel during the largest anti-nuclear mobilization held in New York’s Central Park. They found it necessary to protest the accumulation of nuclear arms while simultaneously refusing to protest the ongoing slaughter of the Arab people that was taking place at that very moment. Those who are heading UFPJ today are the very same ones who headed the Central Park protest in 1982.
Through all the attacks, shunning, and attempts to mute our voices, our people persevered, joined principled anti-imperialist alliances and forged forward.
Like all decolonization movements, at every step the Palestinian national liberation movement has faced serious challenges. During this struggle, capturing and accumulating small victories has always been critical. This is one of those moments.
In the context of the struggle to break the chains of enslavement, we celebrate the heroic efforts to break the chains as opposed to weeping over the endless pain caused by their grip. And we recognize that the harder we push against the confining hold of colonial rule, the more profound the pain becomes. With that pain, however, liberation and return are inevitably achieved.
May 15, 1948 and June 5, 1967 are two inseparable cataclysmic events in the Palestinian Arab history. Equally, they are definitional moments for the decolonization movement and inextricable from its continuum.
In the context of the Palestinian Arab struggle for liberation, any attempt to de-link one event from the other is acquiescence to the Zionist strategy to pigeonhole Palestine into a post 1967 Bantustan. And the charade of focusing only on rescuing this Bantustan from Israeli occupation is morally and politically bankrupt. In reality, ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a right owed to the Palestinian people, not an upper ceiling of their struggle. It is part of the overall decolonization struggle leading to the indivisible duality of liberation and return.
For the past 59 years, May 15 has symbolized for the Palestinian Arab people a catastrophic moment in history Al-Nakba. It is the day the Zionist movement and Western colonialism announced the transformation of a settler colonial adventure into a state polity, right there on the ruins of the Palestinian land and people. In the continuum of Western colonialism, May 15 signifies a milestone, where a garrison entity is placed in a forward position to secure geostrategic dominance.
And for past 40 years, June 5 has become synonym with the completion of Israeli conquest of Palestine - the occupation of the areas that were not colonized in 1948 known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Along with the remainder of Palestine, Israel also occupied in 1967 the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.
During the period leading up to the conquest of Palestine, a colonial fest of sort took place as imperial exploits reeked havoc throughout the Southern hemisphere. In fact, when in 1948 Western colonialism danced to the “Birth of Israel” on the mass graves of the Palestinian people both literally and metaphorically, 78% of the land was robbed, 75% of the population was sent homeless, and more than 500 towns and villages were erased and depopulated. Simultaneously in 1948, the Nationalist Party in South Africa declared Apartheid as the law of the land, thus cementing racism openly into state policy just as Zionism formed the underpinnings of the Israeli polity.
Essentially, colonial Israel is Zionism materialized. And Zionism, the quintessential birth child of the colonial era like Apartheid, is racism repackaged and disguised.
The catastrophe of 59 years ago proved to be only the beginning of a systematic onslaught. Successive massacres followed as the policy of racialized institutional violence became a norm for the Zionist polity of Israel (for details, see FPA statement on the commemoration of the Deir Yassin Massacre).
Contextually, a dichotomy between two diametrically opposed forces was galvanized into a perpetual struggle definitional of the twentieth century: the colonists attempting to fortify their subjugation by any means necessary; while the Palestinian Arab people insisting on decolonization. In the balance of power, dying Western colonialism sees this struggle as its last stronghold in the Arab East.
Attempts to reduce the Palestinian struggle for liberation to that of a border dispute are underway. This is a dangerous process. It replaces the fundamental goal of liberation with an immediate partial relief from current Israeli policies. In that context, Palestine as a whole is re-configured politically and geographically to only equal areas within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. History is re-constituted to produce an alternative narrative written for the Palestinian people and not by them. And during a time when even politics is in the business of trend-setting, re-writers of history are actually setting new trends fashioned in Washington, DC, New York and London and peddled through Riyadh, Cairo, and Amman, at the hands of parasitic despots.
Ours, therefore, is also a battle of narratives and a struggle over the ownership of history. And as we set out to tell our story, we insist on fighting for every sentence and every word of that narrative, for it is a narrative formed at every turn by our pains and triumphs.
April 20, 2002 Revisited:
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, a new paradigm began to creep onto the political lexicon of movements and political institutions worldwide, particularly in the United States. The premise was that all people and rights are dispensable in the “war against terror”. This was the pretense used by US government and the Israeli polity in all of their murderous campaigns. In the United States, the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities were particularly victimized, as they were portrayed wholesale as terrorists.
On March 29, 2002, using that backdrop of intimidation and fear, Ariel Sharon launched a full murderous assault on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, besieging many towns and refugee camps, particularly Janine. This was Sharon’s futile attempt to repeat once more Israel’s campaign of wholesale terror 20 years earlier in Lebanon. The goal was to fully subjugate the Palestinian resistance movement.
At that time, two coalitions were mobilizing to protest the war on Afghanistan, the A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition and the United We March Coalition (the predecessor of UFPJ). Upon formation, A.N.S.W.E.R had already adopted a clear stance in support of the Palestinian people, including their right to return. Since inception, Palestinian Arab activists played a critical role in its leadership at all levels (as the case remains today). The United We March Coalition, which included liberal peace groups, would not take a position on Palestine citing Palestine as a “divisive issue.” As the two coalitions began the discussion on uniting their efforts for a unified mobilization at the White House on April 20, Palestine again became the definitional issue, indicative of the character of the US peace movement.
The A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition, which actively includes the FPA in its membership and leadership, insisted that supporting the resistance of the Palestinian people was critical without which any mobilization at that time would be unprincipled. A.N.S.W.E.R proposed having two co-chairs for the proposed unified rally, a Palestinian activist along with Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio. A.N.S.W.E.R also proposed slogans in support of Palestine, Palestinian and Arab speakers, and the prominence of Arab, Muslim and Asian peoples in the formation of the march.
Typical of liberal US groups, United We March argued that the inclusion of Palestine would dissuade many from participating, and at best, the co-chair could be symbolic (“say a few words then get off the stage”), hereby openly tokenizing Arabs. Repeatedly, we were told the movement will not turn out for Palestine, and that we would be “risking a low turnout.” A.N.S.W.E.R argued the contrary; that the movement must turn the corner and come out clearly in support of the Palestinian people. We stated there was no better time to stand strong given the extreme atmosphere of fear that had besieged the Arab, Muslim and Asian peoples as a result of the events of 9/11.
The discussion between the two sides was always heated and contentious the Palestinian Arab representation of the FPA supported by the entirety of the A.N.S.W.E.R coalition insisting on full partnership while leaders of presumed peace organizations always searching for a way to tokenize a muzzled Arab presence.
This continued for years until UFPJ (formerly, “United We March”) decided to declare once and for all its permanent divorce from the A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition and the issues for which it stands. Of course, only to find itself (UFPJ) obligated now (June, 2007) to hold a national rally on the very issue it always attempted to avoid, lest it loses whatever credibility is left for it in the movement.
Banking on A.N.S.W.E.R’s erroneously anticipated failure, while also succumbing to weight of the grassroots, United We March attempted to straddle the fence by accepting a final unified rally and two separate marches. United We March also accepted A.N.S.W.E.R’s non-negotiable demand for a Palestinian co-chair and keynote speakers. All the while, United We March assumed that the A.N.S.W.E.R march would be minor since it prominently featured Palestine.
To the surprise of the liberal movement and the establishment as a whole, on the day of the protest a sea of Palestinian flags joined the march, as our community, young and old, turned out in tens of thousands to an historic A.N.S.W.E.R march of 100,000 strong in Washington DC and 35,000 strong in San Francisco, by far the largest ever pro-Palestine mobilization in the history of the US. United We March announced a crowd of 15 thousand.
This was a defining moment. From then on, A.N.S.W.E.R, anchored by the FPA and in alliance with the NCA and Al-Awda, continued its organizational and political program to lead the anti-war movement on Palestine. United We March evolved into United for Peace and Justice, still to repeat the same objections on Palestine for subsequent years many times over.
Following the April 20 mobilization, writers and presumed leaders of what would become UFPJ wrote disparagingly about the number of Arab and Muslim participation in the mobilization, some stating that it was “too much,” others claiming it tainted the demonstrations and made “Americans” feel uncomfortable.
Our Community’s Open Letter:
In the aftermath of April 20, 2002, those “shocked” by the turnout and leadership of our community on April 20, argued that the movement in the US was not really anti-Palestinian and that what evolved to be UFPJ and other associated groups would welcome the presence of Palestine in the movement. In reality, these were only false claims made to appease the growing distrust of grassroots activists of groups and presumed leaders seeking to marginalize the Palestinian voice and struggle. These claims came to a full test leading up to the March 20 Mobilization on 2004.
Once again, Palestine became the issue, as various groups within the milieu of UFPJ fought as hard as possible to keep it out. Again, we were told the presence of Palestine would diminish the movement, that it was not the issue, and that we had to “wait our turn”. We refused, and fought back full force. Our challenge was to show that the movement in the US was not as exclusionary as many presumed leaders were, and that those leaders did not in any way reflect the popular sentiment of activists. We were challenged on 3 counts: (1) that the movement would not go on the record in support of the Palestinians and their right to return, (2) that the Palestinians did not have a wide base of support outside our own community, and (3) that our presence would diminish any projected protest. We accepted the challenge knowing too well that those making these claims were distant from the hearts and consciousness of activists.
In January 2004, our community prepared an “Open Letter from the Arab-American and Muslim Community to the US Anti-War Movement.” This historic letter was launched with 41 organizational signatories (http://arab-american.net/AboutUs/aboutusindex.html). It stated in part:
1. We do not accept delinking the struggle of the Palestinian people from the anti-war movement, and regard the struggle in Palestine, as it is viewed worldwide, to be central to any peace and justice mobilization.
2. We insist that the Palestinian right to return and to self-determination are the key anchors of the Palestinian struggle, and that organizations that attempt to diminish, sidetrack, or abrogate these rights, regardless of any other position they may take on Palestine, are acting contrary to the will and aspiration of the Palestinian people.
As we launched this Open Letter, the same presumed leaders argued that it would not gain any support, some even working hard to prevent groups form signing on. To their dismay and shock, our letter gained the support of hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals from the full political spectrum of the peace movement, all affirming their support. Groups held meetings to affirm their support, from coast to coast spanning Alaska and Hawaii. Thus the first two challenges were decisively settled and UFPJ had to accept the presence of Palestine, but still with great hesitation. They agreed to join in a united mobilization with us provided that during the time they occupy the stage their own banner would be set on the stage instead. The banner held by the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition and our community prominently supported Palestine. The banner raised by UFPJ excluded Palestine. Additionally, UFPJ set out to eliminate Palestinian symbolism from the stage area, including the Palestinian flag, because presumably it represented violence and terrorism. And lest it is forgotten, we remind all that the March 20 mobilizations were massive in every sense, hence once again disputing the broken record fallacy that Palestine divides.
Today, as some in the liberal peace camp feel the need to champion Palestine, they are doing so while constructing a colonial paradigm of sort. They feel compelled to equate the victim with the victimizer in order to receive a hall pass to carry the Palestinian flag. They still refuse to support the Palestinian Right of Return, and we are openly challenging them to do so. They refuse to question the racist and colonial nature of Zionism, and we are challenging them to do so. They refuse to unequivocally unite with our community and allies on clear anti-imperialist principles, and we call on them to do so.
We close with an excerpt from our community’s Open Letter of 2004:
“In confronting war, the people of Palestine and Iraq have paid dearly. They stand against the imperial project shoulder to shoulder with communities of color and the working class in the United States, along with great many subjugated peoples around the globe - from Afghanistan to Colombia, and from the Philippines to Vieques, and on. Without a doubt, the Palestinian and Iraqi people are both welded together in an inextricable unity at the forefront of the global anti-war movement, transforming themselves as a whole as its embodiment and paying in its defense with the dearest of all - their very existence. Yet, despite every home destroyed, child murdered, acre confiscated and tree uprooted, town colonized and ethnically cleansed, wall built, refugee remaining nation-less, and incremental robbery of their self-determination, they remain the very antithetical formulation of empire and with a vision of justice for all.
In the United States, we, Arab-Americans and Muslims have been maliciously targeted, stripped of our rights, and positioned outside the constitutional framework of this country. A new COINTELPRO has been unleashed against our homes and living rooms, as our fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are plucked away and thrown into unknown prison cells. Thus, in a continuum of history, we stand with African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and all others in the painful struggle for justice. From them all, we take our cue, for they are our predecessors and our partners in this long march.”
The Free Palestine Alliance, USA