By Tariq Shadid
In the West, when advocating the Palestinian cause, we are often told that public perception of the conflict has ‘come a long way’ in the direction of the Palestinians. This usually refers to the shift people made from believing in the Zionist myth of ‘a land without people for a people without land’, to accepting the Oslo-doctrine of the two-state solution.
It is difficult to disagree with this, but what has really been achieved? Basically it only means that Westerners seem to have discovered that Palestine was, after all, not a land without a people. What now seems like a painfully overdue observation, must have been a real eye-opener for them somewhere in the recent past.
I can imagine that recovering any bit of eyesight after having been completely blind, must feel like an absolute revelation. But does it also mean the person who has partially recovered his eyesight is now fit to engage in the busy traffic of rush hour? Even if this person is convinced he can?
As a Palestinian living in the West, I can assure you that there are many here who believe their eyes are already open, while in reality they have deviated much less away from the ‘land without people’ formula than they think. They believe they are sufficiently informed in order to have an opinion. And there we have it: the invisible deadlock that permeates the societies of the West, when it comes to Palestine.
This deadlock is caused for the most part by the fact that people in the West have been conditioned on a large scale to feel deeply guilty about any criticism of Israel. And therein lies the main reason for the attractiveness to Westerners to take the position of blaming both sides equally. The fact that the Zionists are the actual invaders, land confiscators, oppressors and occupiers, is brushed aside, basically because it causes these conflicting loyalties. The media aids this by the skilful dosing of information, and by the use of language, branding all Palestinian violence as terrorism, and all Israeli violence as retaliation.
It is not so difficult anymore these days to convince people that Palestinians are suffering heavily, and unjustly. What seems to be the biggest problem, however, is for these same people to see Israel as the cause of this suffering, despite the overwhelming historical facts that prove this. This, of course, includes those facts provided by the Israeli New Historians in the nineties. They deny none of the 1948 crimes against the Palestinians, but simply assert that they should have been carried out more thoroughly (Benny Morris).
A mistake often made by those who advocate the Palestinian cause in the West, is to fail to exert pressure on these highly essential issues. Nakba-denial is one of the biggest problems that cause the failure of people to perceive the Zionist crime for what it really was, namely a vicious and well-planned act of ethnic cleansing, that displaced around 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and their country in 1948. Also, the over 400 villages they were expelled from, were destroyed, and wiped off the map. The majority of people in the West still don’t know these hard and brutal facts.
What’s the use of having a discussion, for instance about the Israeli Apartheid wall, with a Nakba-denier? The axiom of cause and effect is reversed in his brain. A Nakba-denier sees Israel as the beginning, and the Palestinians as the attackers, and no matter how historically ludicrous this formula is, in the mind of the Nakba-denier it is a reality. The only useful thing to talk to him about, is the Nakba - Arabic for ‘catastrophe’- in order to try and open his eyes, that obviously are ‘wide shut’.
Since the Oslo-period, we also have a new, but quite strong presence of so-called Palestinian rights defenders in the West, who nevertheless hit the brakes when one mentions Zionism. They often have similar ideas to those of many who were active in the Israeli ‘Peace Now’ movement, that rapidly diminished in adherence over the last years – which also says something in itself. As European or American self-proclaimed promoters of the Palestinian cause, these people are of no use to the Palestinians, in fact they even constitute a significant problem, if not one of the main problems faced in creating awareness in the West, since they act as barriers and gatekeepers against progress.
How can a supporter of the Palestinian cause regard anyone who defends Zionist ideology, which is national-socialist in origin (this should ring a bell), and infested with concepts of racial superiority, without suspicion? The presently very active Christian form of Zionism is at least as destructive - and I mean this in the most literal sense - and uncompromising to the Palestinian people as its Jewish counterpart.
It is of great importance, to keep Zionism at the center of the political discourse about Israel, and to mention it in any discussion about the subject. Oslo-style thinking has indeed weakened this practice on a large scale, but there is a simple way to reverse this very rapidly: talk about it. Always talk about the Nakba, and always talk about Zionism, when talking about Palestine in the West. Without these two issues on the table, what are we really talking about? And whose purposes are we serving, by being caught in those fruitless dialogues about the issues that are only symptoms of these other two?
One thing is certain: awareness of the Nakba is at a very low level in the West. Yet I firmly believe that as long as this does not change, the apathy of Westerners will remain exactly as it is, and they will look on while Israel continues to encroach upon Palestine acre by acre, and continues to turn life into a living hell for each and every Palestinian inhabitant, person by person. And all they will do, is shake their heads, and repeat the eternal ‘why on earth can’t these people stop fighting each other?’ A statement of despair, as much as it is one of ignorance.
If only these people knew about the Nakba of 1948, and that it never stopped but is still going on today … Nakba is not a difficult word to educate people about, so let us be wise and make people talk about it, before Israel gets a chance to complete it.
Tariq Shadid is a Dutch-Palestinian activist.