Sunday, December 9, 2012

FINALLY (without exclamation mark) the State

I awoke with anticipation on the humid May morning of 1996 in the home of my host family in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. Election results would have been tallied by then and I was hoping that Shimon Peres, who had taken over as Prime Minister of Israel upon Itzhak Rabin's assasination by a right-wing Jewish settler a few months earlier, had won the election for Prime Minister of Israel. My disappointment at discovering that morning that he had lost - to Benjamin Netanyahu of all people - was overshadowed even by the startling reaction to the election result that Fuad, my host father, expressed. How could he possibly be pleased that Netanyahu had won?? My befuddlement betrayed a premature confidence that I was coming to understand the plight of these people that I had committed to come to know, and with whom I was living.
By all (Western press) accounts, Peres would be the clear favorite of Palestinians, coming as he did from the (seemingly) more progressive Labor party, who - so the outside story went - would surely be more just and open minded about ceding autonomy and self-determination to Palestinians. Netanyahu, in contrast, came from the Likud party and was brazenly open about the constraints he would mount on Palestinians. The choice couldn't be clearer.

"Why, Fuad, would you be pleased that Netanyahu would now lead Israel?" I was excercized and truly confused."With Netanyahu, we know exactly what we will get", said Fuad matter of factly, "Labor is full of words and fancy promises, but then they hit us just as badly."

That was a watershed moment for me, teaching me solidly that what may seem utterly logical to an outsider, may in fact be fully discordant with the perspectives of those on the ground.
That I had learned that lesson well was evidenced recently as I greeted a Palestinian friend the morning after the UN General Assembly vote to upgrade the status of Palestine to include the word "state." Rather than expectant of any jubilation, my question was tinged with cynicism. As she wondered for a half second what I was referring to, she said "Oh, yes, finally." As expected, hers was not an exuberant endorsement, but rather a muted acknowledgement; as if her unquestionable embrace was buried, stifled under layers of weight.
From the outside, many expected that of all things this achievement would have infused Palestinians with excitement. In fact, only some 2,000 people gathered in Ramallah to celebrate - a relatively small number, but large enough to fill the scope of most camera lenses, thus providing the illusion of masses.
In Jerusalem, there was no blip in the daily current of activity that I could notice. No parades, no demonstrations, no flags being foisted. At dinner that night, it was only midway through the lively social conversation that the host said, "Oh, we should celebrate that we are a State now." Cynical chuckles followed, and soon enough the conversation was back to the mundane. After resorting to the parlor for tea and fruit, the host put on the TV and panned over the numerous stations that were discussing the state event. None were captivated by it, but shifted attention now and then from unrelated conversations to the pundits' non-stop barrage of commentary.
Do Palestinians welcome this "pivotal" moment? Certainly yes. But the lived experience is such that the acknowledgment of what in other times would have been welcomed as a grand event competes automatically with a host of other experiences that discount its glamour. One can imagine any one of several sentiments that qualify the exuberance, but the most salient would be: "This will change nothing on the ground."
In short, decades of experience have taught that the vice of the occupation doesn't expand to release its grip, but only contracts, and that won't change "state" or no state. Indeed, it seems worst of all in Jerusalem (and Hebron) where our fresh research results are showing that it is there where Palestinians feel the worst of the demeaning crunch of the occupation.
All that said . . . as I was making my way down from Mt. Scopus through the valley of Sheikh Jarrah the next day, I looked up for some reason at the bent and rusting sign that in a different day had advertised the grand hotel that would be built there (only to have the land rezoned, leaving it as an empty lot between the main Nablus road and the Jewish settlement ensconced just lower in the valley).
At first I thought the yellow placard affixed to the crumbling sign was original, until I read it. Zeal or not, the political machinery was already in the works.


1 comment:

  1. amazing report, dear Brian, hope see you soonest..i need your voice and toughtful ésprit to make my work stronger! Bear Hug,