This is what can be done when people engage their public officials in peaceful but active protest. Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Moor, a Palestinian freelance journalist, argues that Palestinians have a lot to learn from the Egyptian revolutionaries.
Global attention is rightly focused on Egypt at the moment. Weeks after Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali withdrew his proboscis and fled to Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian tyrant and American strongman Hosni Mubarak has similarly fallen. For more than two weeks now rage has seized the streets of Egyptian cities and towns. Decades of political suffocation, petty and grand corruption, economic struggle and injustice have galvanised the people. Now, they demand a total regime purge.
Yemen, Algeria and Jordan also appear ready for change either through revolution or reform. The leaders of these countries are facing mass protests over the same corruption and lack of democratic representation issues that Egypt has. In those countries too, I am optimistic that emboldened publics will force change.
Palestine is a special case, however. The race-based Israeli apartheid system and the virtual Palestinian Authority (PA) police statelet work in tandem to pummel the Palestinians into submission. The binational repression apparatus spawned by the Israelis and venal Palestinians is especially difficult to overcome. That is because while the Israelis are perpetrating what Professor Juan Cole calls the “slow genocide” of the Palestinian people, PA functionaries insulate the occupation from legitimate resistance.
The Palestine Papers provided observers with a raw view of the inner workings of the so-called peace process. It became clear that where a people’s national aspirations should have been, a pervasive rot had taken root and metastasised throughout the Palestinian body politic.
Predictably, the PA’s response to the leaks showcased Mahmoud Abbas’ gangster credentials. Shortly after the release of the documents, the PA regime’s secret police and thugs vandalised the Al Jazeera network’s offices. That embarrassingly transparent act of hooliganism turned out to be portentous of Mubarak’s own attacks against the network. Here in Cairo, the regime’s henchmen torched the network’s offices and began to attack and arrest journalists.
There are more similarities. When Palestinian youths congregated to demonstrate in solidarity with Tunisians several weeks ago they were jackbooted by Abbas’ thugs. And it happened a second time when they organised to demonstrate in solidarity with Egyptians. Likewise, Mubarak’s own baltageya (goons) massed to injure and kill peaceful protesters in one street battle that lasted 15 hours. Hundreds of demonstrators were injured and at least nine were murdered – some by snipers.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to kill Palestinians at a remarkably constant rate of one person per day in 2011. And the Israelis kill with impunity; they know that Abbas’ security forces are their subordinates. And they know that the PA exists to protect them from Palestinian resistance – an example of which was the PA’s burying of the Goldstone Report on war crimes perpetrated by Israel and Hamas during Operation Cast Lead.
The grand arc from Cairo to Tel Aviv to Ramallah – the primary propulsion force behind the despots – is American patronage. Americans provide Israel with billions of dollars every year to build settlements – money is fungible, after all. And they provide Mubarak with billions and Abbas with hundreds of millions of dollars to secure the Jewish apartheid state.
This formula guarantees that the Israelis get security, PA apparatchiks get rich and ordinary Palestinians get savaged – by everybody. It is a formula that permitted Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, to offer the Israelis the biggest “Yerushalayim in Jewish history”. It enabled Ahmed Qurei, the PA’s former prime minister, to exclaim obsequiously to Tzipi Livni, the then Israeli foreign minister, that he would “vote for [her]”. And it allowed Mahmoud Abbas to make a solidarity call to Hosni Mubarak at the outset of the Egyptian revolution. It is a formula that has enabled Israel to colonise Palestine out of existence, undermining the ostensible reason for the PA’s creation.
There are signs that the American street is awakening to the abuses marshalled by American government “aid” in the region. The revolution has ignited discussion in online chat forums and op-eds about why Americans are providing billions to a brutally despotic regime.
Similarly, the discussion around Palestinian financial aid and authoritarianism is already beginning. Human Rights Watch issued the following statement in response to the crackdowns against protesters: “The US and the EU should suspend aid to Palestinian Authority security forces unless the Palestinian authorities take appropriate measures to end such abuses and allow Palestinians to enjoy their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.”
But the Palestinians cannot wait for the American and European publics to pressure their governments into withholding funds from the PA and Israeli apartheid. Nor are they willing to wait. On February 5, several thousand Palestinians succeeded in overcoming Abbas’ squad of thugs and protesting against the regime, and in solidarity with Egyptians. But much more needs to be done to overcome the double-stacked challenge they confront. The Palestinian people need a strategy for dismantling the colonially corrupted PA. Human Rights Watch provides a workable template for how to do that.
The parallel challenge of defeating Israeli apartheid and calling for equal rights in Palestine/Israel will become that much easier in the absence of apartheid’s insulation authority. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement can operate more efficiently against an apartheid regime that does not hide behind a native enforcement regime. The efforts of the Palestinian people must be directed at both.