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« Grassroot Movements create charismatic leaders ! »

samedi 19 décembre 2015 - 03h:29

An interview with Mazin Qumsiyeh

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The questions which we wish to treat today relate to the situation of insurrection who crosses the Palestinian territories under occupation (TPO), but also the political and organisational forms adopted by this insurrection. We will tackle also the question of the place today, of the Palestinian national movement, at the regional and international level, the role of the movement of solidarity and for the Boycott, the Desinvestment and Sanctions campaign.

French version
النسخة العربية

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Mazin Qumsiyeh

Info-Palestine : Can you present yourself, as well as a scientist and a professor, as a Palestinian engaged in the fights of his people ? The same faith, the same commitment seem to animate these two aspects of your life. We consider that like a « transcendement » of the condition of oppressed, one is not satisfied « to suffer », one also saw and makes important things not only for Palestine but also for the Earth planet, for humanity. What can you tell us on this subject ?

Mazin Qumsiyeh : It is only an accident of birth that makes one be born in Palestine or any other area on earth. Of course being raised here makes our preferences to work in our own areas (locally) because of our cultural and other background and because we live in those areas. Hence the adage "think globally and act locally" applies. For I’m having gotten education and worked in a western country before I returned to Palestine adds more such need to thank and act. Being an university professor is a responsibility on us because our students look up to us and we need to set a good example. We cannot and must not isolate academia from society. Knowledge without action is sterile.

Further, we do not have the luxury of silence here. I am an academic living under Israeli brutal occupation and denied freedoms that are enjoyed by most people in the world. I was arrested by Israeli authorities for simply participating in peaceful demonstrations expressing objections to Israeli apartheid policies. Palestinian universities suffer from Israeli occupation policies including lack of freedom of movement and inability to get faculty and students from abroad (Israel regularly denies visas to them).

Dozens of military rules try to make education impossible including preventing import of basic educational material. Gaza is even worse as its universities are under siege. A Bethlehem University student was snatched at a checkpoint and sent to Gaza few months before her graduation. Where is academic freedom when Israel bombed universities including the science faculty in Gaza ? Where is freedom of speech with 7 million refugees, 60% of them under age 18 and some 20% are university-age, most of them denied normal life let alone ability to attend a university ? Israel even closed the two universities where I teach (Bethlehem and Birzeit) for extended periods of time repeatedly lasting in one case for years. My work is about creating an environment where young p[people can flourish and grow. That is why we also founded the Palestine Museum of Natural History and Institute of Biodiversity and sustainability (PalestineNature.org). Our motto is respect : respect for ourselves, respect for others, respect for nature.

IP : Without going into debate to name or not Intifada the current rising of Palestinian youth against the Israeli occupation, do you think that this revolt was foreseeable and registered in the whole of the mobilizations of these last years ?

MQ : No other people in the past 100 years endured as along a period of colonization and occupation and ethnic cleansing (it started in 1917 British occupation following the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement). Ethnic cleansing became large scale in 1948 and beyond. Today 7 million of us Palestinians are refugees or displaced people. In these 100 years we had about a dozen uprisings (waves of increased resistance or intifadas). This is natural (e.g. 14 such waves came under Apartheid in South Africa). Actually what is surprising is how patient, pacifist, and peaceful has the vast majority of Palestinians remained under horrific circumstances.

IP : In a regional and international context seemingly extremely unfavourable, the Palestinian fights, in particular in the occupied territories, do not lower intensity, quite to the opposite. Which challenges, which hopes and which visions animate them since, considering the issue of a solution in justice for the Palestinian question, we could’nt see a real perspective ?

MQ : It has been 22 years since the launch of the failed Oslo process pf pacification due to geopolitical forces arrayed against human rights and in line of imperial and zionist interests. Some would tell us our choices are or were limited. Professor Edward Said once wrote : "Who is now asking the existential questions about our future as a people ? The task cannot be left to a cacophony of religious fanatics and submissive, fatalistic sheep ... We are that close to a kind of upheaval that will leave very little standing and perilously little left even to record, except for the last injunction that begs for extinction. Hasn’t the time come for us collectively to demand and formulate a genuinely Arab alternative to the wreckage about to engulf our world ?". This was 13 years ago and the wreckage indeed engulfed the world (incuding the lands of Western Countries).

It is tempting for some people to lose faith in the possibility of liberation and justice after 132 years since the first Zionist colony and 65 years after the 1948 Nakba. There was a phrase in the 1960s civil rights struggle, "free your mind and your ass will follow." Surely when we free our minds we will see there are many options, despite the attempt of our oppressors to convince us that our options are gone, save for surrendering or issuing empty slogans. Surely, we as a people can and do chart a path forward. What are our options outside of sloganism or defeatism ? That is to say, outside of current policies of endless talk or endless negotiations while weak ?

The other options are not magical nor new ; many have already articulated them in clear visions in countless studies. Why not revive the original charter of PLO to liberate all of Palestine ? Why not democratize the PLO to really represent the 12 million Palestinians around the world ? Why not refuse to suppress resistance and instead engage in massive popular resistance throughout historic Palestine ? Why not engage in resistance in areas outside of Palestine ? Why not target Zionist companies and interests world wide by economic boycotts and even sabotage ? Why not expose and confront the network of Zionist lobbyists that support war crimes and support Zionist control ? Why not engage in educational campaigns and media campaigns and lobbying around the world ? Why not build alliances with powerful states that could provide protection or support, like China, Russia or Brazil ? Why not promote boycotts, divestment, and sanctions ? Why not work through international agencies including the International Court of Justice to bring Israeli war criminals to justice and challenge membership of Israel in the UN and all its agencies ? Why not do all the above and even more ?

There only two roads ahead for us : the road of resistance and pushing for justice which brings peace or the known road of "might makes rights" that only brought us repeated cycles conflicts, vengeance, and extremism. All conflicts are about greed of the few at the expense of the many (a military industrial complex). But when you add religion and modern technologies including weapons of mass extinction, it could become an existential issue for our species.

IP : Is there rupture between the youth of Palestine and the "traditional" political organizations, whether these last are in the PLO or in-outside OLP ? Is it required a new political and organisational framework, and led by new representatives and leaders ?

MQ : Yes. The rupture is because the self-declared leaders abandoned the youth and abandoned the national project in teh past 20 years. This was a deliberate outcome of Oslo process. And yes, new leadership is emerging among youth and women of Palestine. I am very otimistic.

IP : This movement is deeply "grassroot". But isn’t this force in same time its weakness ? What could indeed bring a popular movement without a political leadership, and consequently a clear strategic vision ?

MQ : I discuss in my book "Popular Resistance in Palestine : A history of hope and empowerment" (available in many languages) the fallacy of thinking that "leaders" lead movements. Grassroot Movements create charismatic leaders and not the other way around.

IP : Is the existence of the Palestinian Authority, which is a survival of the process of Oslo, in contradiction with the development of the popular resistance in Palestine ? Which would be the consequences of a collapse of the AP, in your opinion, whether it is by popular rejection or by decision of the occupant ?

MQ : Israel and the US will not allow collapse of the PA since it is now a subcontractor for the occupation.

IP : Do you think that the so-called "Palestinians of 1948" play a more important part today in the fight of the Palestinians for the recognition of their national rights ? Is there the premise of a unification in fact of the Palestinians living in Palestine of 48 (Israel) with those living in the Occupied territories (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) and in the Diaspora ?

MQ : I actually think the next uprising will be led by Palestinians inside the 1948 areas.

IP : Taking account the context terribly upset of the Middle East, with the appearance of fractures of sectarian type directly encouraged and maintained by the Western intervention and which will spend years to be reabsorbed, which is according to you the place of the Palestinian question ? Does it remains central ?

MQ : History is dynamic and not static nor is it to the liking of status quo politicians. We saw changing policies in the Ottoman Empire from support of Zionism to rejection. We saw changes in British policies in response to the Palestinian revolution of 1936 and continuing pressures even recently when the British parliament voted against attacking Syria on behest of Israel. And we saw the power of resistance in 1987-1991 in challenging both the complacency of leaders in Tel Aviv and Tunisia. Surely we can also learn lessons from the limitations of military might whether in Vietnam in the 1960s or in Iraq in 2003, or Lebanon in 2006, or Gaza in 2008.

More recently we can see dramatic shifts and retreats in issues dealing with Syria and Iran. The original Zionist project was for control of the area between the Euphrates and the Nile. Here we are 130 years later and even the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is roughly at parity between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. When Balfour declaration was issued in 1917, there were 650,000 Palestinians in Palestine ; today there are nearly 6 million. Surely this is not a hopeless scenario. After denying our existence, the Palestinian flag now flies around Palestine even inside the Green line.

Surely this should not be at the expense of Palestinian flags on security uniforms preventing Palestinians from engaging in resistance or as backdrops with Israeli and American flags in endless negotiations. Martin Luther King, Jr posed the question : "Cowardice asks the question - is it safe ? Expediency asks the question - is it politic ? Vanity asks the question - is it popular ? But conscience asks the question - is it right ? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular ; but one must take it because it is right."

IP : What do you expect from the international movement of solidarity with Palestine, particularly in this period ? Which should be its priorities and in particular, what about the place of the campaign for the Boycott, Desinvestment and Sanctions ?

MQ : In response to a self-declared colonial project and starting in 1880, Palestinians engaged with hundreds of forms of resistance, the vast majority of them not armed. Within the vast array of popular (non-armed) resistance, there were always moves for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS). BDS started because colonizers normally do not associate with natives and distance themselves from them. The movement accelerated under British rule 1918-1948 especially in the great revolt of 1936-39.

Between 1948 to 1967, resistance including BDS activities decreased as the Palestine struggle was left to inept politicians including the Arab League leaders who started sanctions which were mostly verbal after 194. The 1960s witnessed a revival of popular movements including for BDS concomitant with the establishment of the PLO and the Arab regimes’ failure in 1967. BDS picked up even more energy after the uprising of 1987-91. The movement suffered significant set-back with the Oslo process that normalized Israel both locally and globally to a significant degree.

The uprising of 2000-2005 changed the landscape and this was followed by the civil society call to action in July 2005 and the Kairos document in December 2009. Over the last ten years in particular significant milestones and successful BDS campaigns were launched and implemented. Trends suggest that BDS here as in South Africa will have a significant impact in helping end segregation (Israeli hafrada, apartheid). While boycott and divestment actions are accelerating, sanctions lie on the horizon.

The same kind of International solidarity helped in removing the formal apartheid in South Africa (though much work remains to be done there too). There is no utopia and peace is not a destination but is the road we chose in life. Many activists around the world are choosing this road. We travel together.


* Mazin Qumsiyeh est l’auteur de « Sharing the Land of Canaan » et de « Une histoire populaire de la Résistance palestinienne ». Il enseigne au sein de l’université de Bethléem et dirige le Musée Palestine d’Histoire Naturelle et l’Institut palestinien de biodiversité et durabilité : http://palestinenature.org

Du même auteur :

- Les Israéliens tuent les civils palestiniens dans une totale impunité - 8 décembre 2015
- 29 novembre, Journée Internationale de Solidarité avec la Palestine - 30 novembre 2015
- Chronique palestinienne - 28 novembre 2014
- La Palestine de 2015 en quelques chiffres - 27 juin 2015
- John Kerry organise un théâtre de l’absurde à Amman - 23 novembre 2014
- Une histoire populaire de la Résistance palestinienne - 21 avril 2014

December 13th, 2015

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