It seems commonplace to observe that socio-political struggles ought not be generalized to the point that their particular parameters are wholly elided. Indeed, a rigorously ethical attention to various forms of struggle often necessitates dynamically balancing the specifics of oppression with their wider relevance. And yet, while it is certainly true that one ought to be wary of overly generalizing causes to unactionable abstraction, there is also a point at which hyper-focusing on immediate context can foreclose access to the larger, collective factors that drive, facilitate, and/or exacerbate specific forms of oppression. Therefore, the task of ethically minded activists, organizers, and all others agitating for social change is to ensure that we balance a sophisticated awareness of the unique character of the plights of various groups and sub-groups with an understanding of how larger mechanisms and structures of oppression operate and influence these issues in varying degrees.
The Palestinian struggle is a case in point. This past summer has seen examples of protest from some of the most marginalized groups within Palestinian society, but to isolate these forms and causes of resistance from the wider colonial context that frames Palestinian dispossesion and suffering would sacrifice a layered understanding of how multiple axes of oppression can operate in tandem in favor of a more essentializing focus on the immediate causes of dissent. Such an approach, however well-intentioned it might seem, is dangerous in that it overlooks the ultimate cause of these Palestinians’ suffering, oppression, and dispossession: the ongoing colonization of Palestine.
The Oslo Accords fractured Palestinian collectivity in multiple senses: geographically and politically, certainly; but in addition, they ushered in a new international paradigm for framing the Palestinian struggle, which more often than not buried the anti-colonial rhetoric and vision of the fight for Palestinian freedom and liberation. As Edward Said notes in his moving “Tribute to Abu Omar,” the close of World War II marked a new phase, rather than the end, of colonization for Palestinians. Unlike with other anti-colonial causes, the Oslo Accords saw Palestinian leadership preemptively surrender the liberation struggle before their colonizers had been forced to withdraw. The Oslo Accords introduced a new paradigm under the “peace process” framework that downplayed, ignored, and perpetuated Palesintian suffering and dispossession via its euphemisms of “compromise” and “progress”—invariably referring to the surrender of Palestinian land and rights claims. (It is for this reason I have often felt that a more accurate terminology for the Oslo framework would be the “piece process,” for Palestinian freedom continues to be abrogated and ignored as more and more land is colonized, piece by piece.)
For our purposes, such a state of affairs had even more abstract ripples, transforming Palestine and the Palestinians into hollowed-out signifiers who exist in a decontextualized state of perpetual crisis. The loss of colonization as a kind of political cement for accessing the Palestinian struggle resulted in a situation whereby one observes Palestinians in a temporal and ethical vacuum; supposedly, one can completely understand Palestinians on an immediate and case-by-case basis since the political history of their cause has been blanked from collective conception.
This is precisely the outlook that needs to be challenged if Palestinians are to realize veritable justice and freedom. And the first step in effecting such a challenge is to revive the notion that all Palestinians are victims of settler-colonization. As such, to fight for the end of Zionist settler-colonization is to fight for justice for all Palestinians, no matter how differentially oppressed they may otherwise be.
According to the website of alQaws, a grassroots civil society organization working for freedom and equality for LGBTQ Palestinians, on July 26, 2019, a Palestinian teen from Tamra was stabbed by his brother due to his perceived gender and sexual identity. The site also states that the incident took place near an LGBT youth center in Tel Aviv, and that the victim fortunately survived. Additionally, while the assault was met with much verbal abuse and victim-blaming on social media, it also marked the first time that prominent Palestinian civil society organizations mounted a public outcry against anti-LGBTQ violence in Palestinian communities. According to alQaws, following the incident, “the Palestinian queer movement called upon civil society to join arms and release a statement assertively and collectively calling for an end to violence against the LGBTQ people in Palestine. Thirty-seven Palestinian organizations across historical Palestine signed the statement.”
The website further notes that the successful proliferation of the statement on various forms of media inspired alQaws to organize a demonstration along with seven other civil society organizations in opposition to violence against Palestinian LGBTQ people. On August 1, the demonstration saw more than 200 individuals come out in support. In a video jointly released by alQaws and Adalah (The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel), Nidaa Nassar, a political activist, observed that the struggles and violence connecting LGBTQ people in Palestine are the same that affect Palestinian women who face gendered violence and Palestinians more broadly who defend their land and communities against the onslaught of uninterrupted colonization.
Nassar’s articulation provides the perfect lens for understanding how the alQaws-initiated demonstration in July is in fact inextricably connected to the grassroots tal3at¹ demonstrations that took place September 26 from Ramallah to Beirut in support of women’s rights and in opposition to femicide and other forms of gendered violence. Isleen Attalah, an 18-year-old activist, noted that a melange of progressive organizations had orchestrated the demonstrations in Ramallah, and that (Palestinian) political party involvement was relatively downplayed in comparison.
In both cases, demonstrators were faced with repression. Attalah stated that tal3at demonstrators in Jerusalem were repressed by the Israeli army verbally and physically once they raised Palestinian flags. And, according to a further statement by alQaws, on August 17, Louai Irzeqat, chief of the Palestinian Authority (PA) police, released a chilling statement condemning alQaws’s “activities” and declaring that the PA police would prohibit any further actions undertaken by alQaws. The statement further called on Palestinians to report any “suspicious” activity and accused alQaws activists of being “foreign agents” whose acts offend “traditional Palestinian values.”
Each instance demands comprehensive analysis. In the case of the tal3at demonstrations, Attalah observes that demonstrators only met with resistance in Jerusalem from Israeli occupation forces after demonstrators raised a flag indicating support for and belief in a Palestinian nation. By contrast, the PA police demeaned and flagged alQaws as outside the norms of that which constitutes “traditional” Palestinian identity and culture; in other words, alQaws was insufficiently Palestinian.
It would be easy enough to read these incidents as isolated, denying any relationship between the actions of the PA police and those of Israeli occupation forces. After all, aren’t these specific segments of Palestinian society demonstrating in response to particular, internal manifestations of oppression? Wouldn’t the most logical approach, then, be to consider these demonstrations case by case, rather than trying to discern a larger, binding thread? In fact, for all of its putative nuance, such a disarticulation of these examples of Palestinian suffering and resistance from a broader, political context would in truth only further feed the reservoir of Israeli colonization, which relies upon the fragmentation of Palestinian society and exceptionalization of its actions as key discursive strategies.
On this note, while there will obviously (and understandably) be no shortage of condemnations of the PA’s actions, one should not exceptionalize the PA such that they appear as an autonomously corrupt and repressive blight upon Palestinian society. For the fact is that the PA grew out from Zionist colonization of Palestine. Their very formation was inscribed in the devastating Oslo Accords, which effectively shattered Palestinian political resistance by defanging the armed liberation movement and establishing a cruel calculus of who is and isn’t “Palestinian enough” for inclusion in a future Palestinian state (essentially concluding that only Palestinians in the occupied territories would factor into their negotiations, not Palestinian citizens of Israel, or refugees, or exiles). These decisions foreclosed the viability of statehood for Palestinian refugees and exiles, in contrast to the political grammar of the liberation struggle preceding the early ‘90s, which stated that all Palestinians, regardless of present locations, had a stake in and duty to fight for a liberated homeland.
The PA’s actions and words against alQaws, therefore, are symptomatic of the greater logic of invisibilized colonialism in the era of what Andy Clarno has termed “neoliberal apartheid,” a process by which projects of economic (de-)regulation obfuscate the state-sanctioned separation and deprivation of an entire class of people. Clarno’s paradigm shows how racial capitalism remains a vital component of Palestinian colonization in the post-“peace process” era; the ghettoization, segregation, denial of rights, and ongoing siege inflicted upon Palestinians in the occupied territories make clear that the Israeli colonial economy is fortified by Palestinian abjection and precarity. What this model reveals, therefore, is that Palestinian separation is crucial to the Israeli settler-colonial project in multiple ways: in the standard “divide and conquer” sense by which Palestinians are divided from and played against one another, but also in the sense that Palestinians are separated and/or segregated from the colonial power, which continues to refine and enhance its technologies of segregation, crowd control, and abjection as a means of turning a profit.
As odious as the PA may be, it is merely an obstacle set up by the colonizer to continue fomenting Palestinian fragmentation by exacerbating political and class disparities and tensions (and it is for this reason the PA ought not be termed a “rentier class,” for while they certainly live off of the surplus of the masses and enable a wider force-field of bourgeois families at the direct expense of the masses, the PA, as an outgrowth of the settler-colonial designs of the Israeli state, does not operate in crass, capitalist isolation).
It is incumbent upon all of us who believe in true and comprehensive justice for Palestinians not to treat specific forms of oppression within Palestinian society as detached from the wider colonial context that frames Palestinian life, suffering, and resistance. We need to reorient our ethical language, our political tongue (the ensemble of symbolic and categorical tropes that form actionable conceptualizations of socio-political struggle and possibilities for resistance), to treat Palestine as a fight against settler-colonialism first and foremost. Any insistence to the contrary would only serve to foment the geographical and identitarian fractures across Palestinian communities, upon which colonizers and their collaborationists rely. In spite of this, we Palestinians will continue resisting and supporting one another’s struggles wherever we are, despite the various boundaries that work to divide us. We will do this because we know in our hearts that, whatever the colonial-collaborationist PA or United States propaganda (what some call “news”) says, the colonial state will fall, and
Palestine will be free.
Special thanks to May Darwaza and NS for help with translation and political contextualization.
Correction: The original essay incorrectly stated that the PA police were notified in advance by tal3at demonstrators. Tal3at did not (and as a policy does not) notify the PA in advance of the demonstration. The essay has been edited to reflect this correction.
- “(Women) coming out.”