The Palestine Solidarity Movement: Unity and Struggle
by Charlotte L. Kates
November 7, 2003
Just as the Palestinian people are facing a critical time in their history as a people and a nation, the Palestine solidarity movement in North America stands within a momentous period - when the Palestinian people are under brutal assault from all corners, as the government of the United States wages colonial war around the world and as the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people are under attack from external opponents and their internal appeasers, those of us in North America who stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle for justice, liberation, return and self-determination are faced with the urgent necessity to build and strengthen our movement in all sectors, to enhance our unity, reach out to our communities and present a clear focus for our activism and activity. We are called upon to present a perspective for justice, and organize others, with a steadfast commitment to our principles of justice, and to further anchor the Palestinian cause in its rightful central place in the antiwar movement and other movements for social justice.
As a movement, we are rooted in a long history, within the solidarity movement, within the Palestinian movement, and within the broader context of struggles for social justice and national liberation. The solidarity movement in North America is not a new movement; in the past three years, its influence and reach have moved in tandem with the developments in Palestine on the ground; with the beginning of the second Intifada, the solidarity movement was reinvigorated, and with the development of the broad anti-war/anti-occupation movement, the centrality of the question of Palestine has been raised and highlighted in major national demonstrations and in the discussions surrounding the war, both among antiwar activists and among the broader forces involved in opposition to the United States' imperialist war on the world. However, much as the second Intifada itself is part of a long historical chain of events and Palestinian resistance to occupation and oppression, and much as the war on Iraq is the continuation of an ongoing assault upon the Iraqi people, the Arab world, and all nations and peoples who pose resistance to globalization and US hegemony, the Palestine solidarity movement which we are today is a movement that is very much part of its past, in North America and in Palestine. We develop from the anti-Vietnam War and anti-racist movements in the United States who opposed the oppression of the Palestinian people as they opposed the oppression of the Vietnamese people and Blacks, Latinos and others within the US; we develop from the organizing against the invasion of Lebanon; we develop from the early calls to stop all US aid to Israel to today's calls, again reiterated; we develop from those who have, in North America, struggled, demonstrated, published, written, protested, acted, and spoken out for justice in Palestine, for the past 55 years, in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Palestine. From the General Union of Palestine Students, from the Palestine Solidarity Committees, from the November 29 Committee, to Students for Justice in Palestine, to all of our organizations, diverse groups, structures and entities that comprise our movement today - we have come from this rich past, with all of its accomplishments and all of its lessons, to our place today, and it is in the spirit of that history from which we now organize. This means that we have much to learn from what has come before us - there are many examples to emulate, victories to once more strive for, and alliances to reassert. We also, however, must understand the mistakes, defeats and contradictions of our past, in order so that we might better seek to resolve those contradictions as they become again reflected today. We also come from the legacy of the disorientation of the immediate post-Oslo period, of the disintegration of much of our structures of solidarity, of our failures to explain, account for and present alternatives to Oslo in the context of a solidarity movement. The historical circumstances of Oslo provided that, regardless of any illusions that may be harbored, the brutal apartheid and repression provided therein and the Bantustanization of Palestine would do nothing to resolve the Palestinian struggle for liberation - and thus, the struggle would continue, as would the solidarity of all committed to social justice. However, as we face a new onslaught of repression and justification of apartheid packaged in the faade of the "peace process," it is essential that our analyses, understandings and approaches to solidarity remain sharp, clear and firm - the better to dispel illusions, clarify contradictions, and set forward clear and understandable explanations for the continuing process of occupation, oppression and resistance in Palestine. The lessons of Oslo have been learned in Palestine, by the Palestinian people; we, too, must learn the lessons of Oslo - and the lessons of the pre-Oslo period. We must reinvigorate our institutions, reactivate our alliances, acknowledge and restore our history.
The lessons of Oslo become particularly important to us now, as we are confronted with the "Geneva accords" - a new attack on Palestinian national rights under the guise of "peace." Contrary to any understanding of a peace with justice, the Geneva accords leave illegal settlements intact, provide for a demilitarized Palestine (beside an ultra-militarized Israel) without control over its water, airspace or borders, and centrally, demand that millions of Palestinian refugees - those forced from their homeland in 1948 and their descendants - relinquish their fundamental, national, individual, collective and human right to return to their homes and lands. Certain leading forces in the Palestinian Authority have voiced their approval for these drafted "accords," despite their clear negation of the fundamental principles of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. In this moment, it is essentially important that the solidarity movement seize the moment to stand with the Palestinian people, their fundamental rights and national demands and stand with their rejection of these "accords" as a sham designed to thwart the Palestinian national movement. The "Geneva accords" are the latest manifestation of a trend that began before Madrid and Oslo, stretch through the "peace process" of the 1990s, and trace through the recent attempts to enforce an unelected, unwanted government handpicked by the US and Israel upon the Palestinian people. As the Palestinian people hold fast to their historic and just national demands, the United States and its Zionist proxies attempt once again to find a Palestinian entity willing to abandon the interests of the Palestinian people, against the interests and opposition of the Palestinian people. It is imperative that the movement in solidarity with Palestine make its voice heard loudly and clearly against these machinations and maneuvers. We cannot sit aside and plead for "peace" that does not recognize the rights, interests or self-determination of the Palestinian people. Rather, it is our role to be unambiguously partisan - to link our interests to the interests of our brothers and sisters in Palestine, to struggle for their demands, rather than seeking the abrogation of their rights. The role of any solidarity movement must be to provide full and unconditional solidarity - a recognition of unity of interests and action, linking people around the world in international struggle against injustice and for justice. A solidarity movement with a national liberation movement can and must fully identify with the national demands of the movement with which it stands. The Palestinian people demand their right to return home, their right to self-determination, their right to resistance, their right to full equality, their right to liberation, to their land, and to their lives. These are rights that a solidarity movement must embrace in their totality, without apology or demurral, but with full support and common recognition of these national constants.
It is not our role, then, to pressure for false "peace accords" or settlements that do nothing to uphold the Palestinian people's national rights. It is not our role to pronounce ourselves outside or above "the conflict", or to redefine what may be "acceptable" to the Palestinian people, to declare that they must restrict their calls for self-determination and return to the West Bank and Gaza, or to denounce their national movement and its resistance. It is not our role to teach the Palestinian people how to resist- they have been resisting now for over fifty-five years; their very lives are resistance in defiance of a brutal occupation and apartheid. It is not our role to justify apartheid in some parts of Palestine while criticizing it elsewhere; it is our proper role to demand the dismantling of apartheid everywhere.
The demand for divestment from South African apartheid was a central feature of the solidarity movement with the African struggle for liberation and equality. This demand, calling on corporations, governments and institutions to break their ties with the apartheid regime in total, economically isolating the apartheid state through popular pressure internationally while the liberation movement in South Africa continued to wage its struggle for freedom, was central to the international movement of the day. In much the same way, the Palestine solidarity movement calls for divestment from Israeli apartheid and a complete end to US aid to Israel - economically isolating the Zionist regime and providing material aid to the Palestinian cause by stopping the flow of direct and indirect aid and assistance to the Zionist state that has funded and supported the past fifty-five years of apartheid, oppression and occupation in Palestine. This demand for divestment is not merely a call for reform, a call for the moderation of apartheid, or a plea for a milder, less militarized occupation. It is a demand that must be linked to the demands of the Palestinian people in their entirety - to return, to liberation and to justice. This demand, growing in popularity after the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001, is one that exposes the racist, apartheid nature of Zionism in Palestine. It is a demand for decolonization, for liberation and for return. The divestment movement is a movement not to provide "alternatives" for the Palestinian people, but to provide a concrete means and an anchor for the international movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people to show their support and work to institute Palestian national demands.
For far too long, the right of return of Palestinian refugees - the now over five million people who are of the generation expelled from their homes and lands in 1948 and their descendants - has been seen as peripheral or extraneous to the solidarity movement. The international right of return movement has made tremendous steps in ensuring the right of return is recognized in its importance by the solidarity movement; however, too often it is relegated to the sidelines, a mere mention in a long list of points of unity, or seen as somehow "negotiable" or subject to compromise. On the contrary, the right of return is at the essential core of the Palestinian struggle. The right to return to home and homeland is the right to reclaim, the right to liberate and the right to decolonize. Without the right of return, any so-called settlement or "peace" is merely a legitimization of apartheid and occupation, the institutionalization of racism, dispossession and ethnic cleansing. The right of return means the end of apartheid - it means fundamental democracy, centered around all of the people of Palestine, and not around a specious and racist notion of ethnic or religious supremacy or dominance. Without the right of return, full and uncompromised, without "reasonable adjustments", there can be no peace, no justice, and no liberation nor end to apartheid in Palestine. As a solidarity movement, therefore, we must not perceive the right of return as somehow "difficult", extraneous or unimportant. Instead, we must recognize that it is our role to serve as a means and mechanism for popularizing the essential justice of this fundamental demand and national and individual right, to place it at the center of all of our campaigns. The right of return has always been attacked by the false "peace process", by the apologists for apartheid and by the Zionist - US forces whose colonization is placed into question by the exercise of this right. The right is attacked for a reason - not because it is difficult to justify, explain or understand, but because it is precisely so fundamental to the liberation of Palestine. The return is justice, and the return is liberation - which is why it is precisely so dangerous to those few who wish to promote and preserve apartheid, racism, oppression and occupation. Anything less is the acceptance of apartheid - an acceptance that will not be granted by the Palestinian people and the Palestinian refugees.
Apartheid in Palestine did not begin with the construction of the wall that is currently rapaciously tearing through Palestinian land; it is merely another brutal expression of the continuing apartheid of the past 55 years. As we demand the wall be torn down, in alliance with the Palestinian people, we must refuse to accept this as anything other than a pure right - the Palestinian people have a right to tear down the wall; the Palestinian people have a right to end the occupation; the Palestinian people have a right to return. None of these rights need be "compromised" or "negotiated" as a basis for peace, nor should their exercise be seen as anything other than what it is - a simple effectuation of justice. It is not upon us to appeal to the colonizer to "accept" some modified version of the rights of the colonized people; it is to us to struggle hand in hand with those who will see their rights, their humanity and their freedom recognized. These rights are often recognized in international law and the documents underlying such - from the Geneva Conventions to the International Declaration of Human Rights to United Nations resolutions. This international law reflects the fundamental reality that these rights are not extreme demands but basic principles of justice; the rights do not flow from international law, but are recognized therein. The Palestinian people do not have a right of return because the United Nations has recognized it - that right to return is embraced in international law, but transcends international law as an individual, collective, human and popular right. International law and the institutions of the United Nations are often a popular resort in argument and discussion around Palestine; they are an indication of the centrality of Palestinian rights internationally. However, the recognition of these rights by the United Nations is a reflection of the strength and steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their international partners, in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the countries of the once-socialist bloc; should the United Nations continue upon its path of following in the footsteps of United States foreign policy, such as legitimizing the occupation of Iraq, and abrogate its prior decisions, this should have no bearing on our positions and places of solidarity with the Palestinian people. We must not condition our solidarity on international law, but rather upon the international community of struggle for justice; we must not use international law as a means of restraining how the Palestinian people may struggle and for what ends they may struggle, but only as a means of explaining and promoting the justice of the Palestinian cause. Too often, as we rely on international law, we become less a movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people than with the dictates of the United Nations, placing ourselves as "neutral observers." There is no shame in partisanship; rather, it is required of us.
If we are to truly popularize the Palestinian struggle as a solidarity movement, we will not find our supporters in the boardrooms of corporate media outlets or in the halls of government offices; we will find those supporters and ties of solidarity with the indigenous people of this land who were dispossessed, expropriated and oppressed by a racist, brutal colonialism hundreds of years before the same was done to the Palestinian people - and who continue to resist today. We will find those ties of solidarity with movements of people of color, with women's movements, with workers' movements. We will find those ties of solidarity with national liberation movements around the world, struggling against colonialism and imperialism. We will find those ties of solidarity across the Arab world with people struggling for justice in the face of corruption, US exploitation and control and now, US colonialism in Iraq. We will find those ties of solidarity where we find the oppressed and exploited, the occupied and repressed - the victims of colonialism, imperialism and apartheid in North America and around the world who continue to organize and resist with the same steadfastness, dignity and passion that has long characterized the Palestinian struggle. We will not find those ties with the oppressing parties, or those who professionally justify that oppression via corporate mass media. This is our message, and what we must portray - to the corporate media and to independent media, which we can and must support to carry the voices of the Palestinian people directly to the people of North America - a message of unity in struggle against oppression, occupation and colonialism, a demand for the end of racism and apartheid, and an uncompromising commitment to full and unconditional solidarity with struggle to end those systems and establish justice. It is a message that is quite easy to understand, strong in its clarity and hated in its truth. The Palestinian people are not slandered daily in the media because of a misunderstanding of their message; they are slandered precisely because their message is clear - a message of justice, of liberation, of equality and of freedom, and a message that challenges imperialism everywhere. We have nothing to gain as a solidarity movement by modifying or minimizing Palestinian rights when speaking publicly or to the press; rather, we have everything to lose, as we abandon the forces with whom we strive to provide solidarity. The strength of a solidarity movement is in its ability to provide support to the liberation movement with which it stands; we can only provide such support when we convey its message and its demands without shame or apologia, but rather with clarity, strength and commitment to principled unity.
This clarity and commitment is essential both when speaking to the public and when working within broader movements. The antiwar movement that has developed over the past year, and which, after October 25, 2003, it is quite clear, continues to develop, is at its core based on a rejection of colonialism and imperialism, on a rejection of attempts to link the interests of the broad masses of people of North America to the interests of imperialism, and on a fundamental recognition of the Iraqi people's right to self-determination. It is a movement for justice of which the struggle for Palestine is at its center. There can be no antiwar activism that does not, in some way, address the question of Palestine, as it addresses the bloody history of the United States and as it addresses colonialism and occupation in the Arab World. The Palestinian people and their continuing resistance and utter refusal to be driven from their land are an inspiration to those everywhere who struggle against war, occupation and oppression - and the Palestinian struggle is central to all of those struggles. The Palestinian resistance to occupation and oppression is a continuing example of courage, strength, dignity, dedication and the drive toward eventual victory. Any attempts to remove the question of Palestine from the antiwar movement are akin to the attempts to divert the movement toward picking a proper Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2004, or toward calls for a United Nations, rather than a United States occupation, and attempts to remove from the movement its anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-imperialist core. It is not an "extreme" demand for the antiwar movement to recognize the centrality of the Palestinian struggle - rather, it is a basic demand, a point of unity, a starting point from where we can begin to address the ongoing crimes of the US government, in Palestine, Iraq, the Arab World, and globally. It is central to the campaign for global economic justice and against "globalization." It is fundamental to the principles of self-determination that must be at the core of our movement. These demands are popular, are broad, and are wide-ranging - the people of North America are more than capable of recognizing their commonalities with and mutual interests in the struggle of the Palestinian people. They are not popular among those who would apologize for apartheid, or who would have the movement call for half-measures, lighter control and a gentler imperialism - but those voices are not representative of the people and are not representative of the movement. Therefore, it is imperative that we place the Palestinian struggle where it belongs - at the fundamental, central core of the antiwar movement, in its entirety - the struggle for liberation, return and full self-determination; and that Palestinian voices and voices in solidarity with Palestine are just as central and just as featured in our actions, demonstrations and mobilizations as the Palestinian people and their struggle are central to the movement as a whole.
The mobilization of this movement requires our commitment and our dedication. The US government is committed to repressing the North American movement in solidarity with Palestine. Immigrant communities, especially Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities, have been battered by detentions, investigations and relentless repression and attempts to instill fear and disorganization among the community. Palestinian activists such as Sami Al-Arian, Amer Jubran and Michel Shehadeh have been targeted - whether under immigration laws or political repressive legislation - for their activism, and charged in precedential cases that seek to destroy immigrants' rights and political freedoms, in order to shatter and silence the movement in North America. It is imperative that we recognize the centrality of these attacks upon our communities and our movement and unite to oppose them, organizing for immigrants' rights, against the systemic oppression of the borders, against the targeting of our communities and for an end to politically repressive legislation. The solidarity movement must, once again, become part and parcel of the movement of the Palestinian community in North America, providing support both against repression and for community organization - for meeting space, community space, community efforts and initiatives, arts programs, youth projects and community activities. The solidarity movement must not distance itself from the community but instead, actively seek its support and seek to provide support to community self-organization, collective action and the building of community institutions and centers. The creation of community institutions becomes both a shelter against repression and a powerful instrument for organization, justice and action; the power of space in the hands of a people can never be underestimated or denied. As a solidarity movement, we must also stand in solidarity in North America and fight with all of our power to tear apart repressive structures, and provide support to community-based attempts to organize and institute community alternative structures for organization and movement. Through mutual support between the solidarity movement and Palestinian and Arab community organizing, the movement in North America can and will be strengthened and truly international in its scope and focus. The Palestinian people are part of a diaspora community, and that community also requires solidarity and support, as it is a fundamental part of the Palestinian people and its struggle for liberation and self-determination.
The repression that visits itself upon immigrant communities, through deportations, prosecutions and detentions, visits itself differently upon the solidarity movement. Campaigns of intimidation, attempts to single out individuals for special vituperation and targeting, attacks on campus groups, prohibitions on organizing, restrictions on freedom of speech, labeling of organizing as "dangerous" or "anti-Semitic" and overt discrimination in access and ability to speak pervade our campuses and our communities. From the students facing trial at Concordia and suffering with suspensions and banning for their desire to protest a war criminal at their university, to the attempts to vilify and ban the General Union of Palestine Students at San Francisco State University, to the repeated attempts to isolate, destroy and ban the national conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement that took place at Rutgers University on October 10-12, 2003, to the demands to ban an art show about Palestine in Vancouver, to the continual assaults, threats and repression brought to bear upon individuals and organizations who speak in solidarity with Palestine, repression and discrimination have become a repeated weapon against Palestine organizing in North America. These have been nothing less than attempts to criminalize the movement, and attempts to shatter the movement by causing it to look internally to find "causes" for the repression in our own uncompromising language, actions and commitments. This repression endangers all of our ability to organize and speak freely. During the process of organizing for the conference at Rutgers University, organizers were called upon by everyone from the President of the University to the governor of the State of New Jersey to renounce their commitment to unconditional solidarity with the Palestinian people; their rooms and venues were taken from them; and they were investigated by the state department of counter-terrorism. All of these attempts to criminalize Palestine solidarity organizing at Rutgers University were not simply directed at this small group of students and community members in New Jersey. The forces brought to bear by the government, the university and the national and international Zionist movement involved themselves in an attempt to destroy the Palestine solidarity movement, to shatter its ability to organize, and to force it to renounce its fundamental and principled positions in solidarity with the Palestinian people in the interests of seeming less controversial, easing the repression, or appearing more acceptable to the government and the media. These attempts, relentless as they were, failed miserably, and the North American Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, attended by over three hundred people, was held successfully and confirmed its commitment and adherence to its guiding principles and points of unity:
- The PSM is committed to a core set of principles.
- The PSM believes that the Palestinian people must ultimately be able to decide their future in Palestine. Certain key principles, grounded in, but not limited to, international law, human rights, and basic standards of justice, will be fundamental to a just resolution to the plight of the Palestinians. These include:
- the full decolonization of all Palestinian land, including settlements, which are illegal under international law;
- the end of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem and all Arab lands;
- the recognition and implementation of the right of return and repatriation for all Palestinian refugees to
their original homes and properties; and
- an end to the Israeli system of Apartheid and discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian population.
- Just as the PSM condemns the racism and discrimination inherent in Zionism underlying the policies and laws
of the state of Israel, the PSM rejects any form of hatred or discrimination against any group based on
race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
- The PSM's strength is in the great diversity of its membership. The PSM welcomes individuals of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to join in solidarity with the struggle for justice in Palestine.
- As a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the
Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation.
- The PSM seeks to promote the following campaigns:
- divestment from Israel
- ending U.S. aid to Israel;
- Right of Return;
Using tactics which may include:
- public demonstrations and rallies
- civil disobedience or direct action
- The PSM does not endorse activities
that contradict the guiding principles as stated above.
- Individuals or groups acting as members, representatives, or sponsors of the PSM agree to abide by
the code of conduct and promote its guiding principles.
- In the interest of building a more unified and expanding solidarity movement for justice and human rights
in Palestine, individuals or groups may endorse and sign on the the above guiding principles.
It is these guiding principles, these fundamental points of unity guiding our work, that have been under attack, and will remain under attack, as they are fundamentally and principally contradictory to the forces of colonialism, repression, occupation, Zionism and apartheid. It is essential that we, in the face of all attacks, uphold our principles and our commitment to solidarity, to the Palestinian people, and to defiance of any and all attempts to dictate proper resistance, proper demands or proper commitment to "peace" to the Palestinian people, who have been demanding and resisting to live in peace for over fifty-five years against the fourth-largest military power in the world- itself a proxy of the US, the largest military power in the world, on their own land, refusing to leave or be expelled. They need no lessons in resistance, and no lessons in media communication. Rather, it is imperative that we, as a solidarity movement, embrace and unconditionally support their demands, their movement and their struggle.
A critical moment is before us as a Palestine solidarity movement in North America. It is a time of tremendous attacks, profound responsibilities and exceptional opportunities to organize, build and strengthen our movement here in order to better provide support to the movement in Palestine. It is the time to learn from our history, to position ourselves within the history of the liberation struggle in Palestine and the liberation struggles of people around the world. It is the time to move forward with clear principles, taking our leadership, strength and vision from the Palestinian people's continually articulated national demands and national rights to self-determination, equality, liberation and return, without compromise, apology or shame. Imperialism continues its war on the world, and it is to us, in North America, to build our resistance here as we support the Palestinian people in their resistance, the Iraqi people in theirs, and the international forces for justice and liberation in all of ours. We can and must unite our communities in our struggles for justice, against repression and for unity, while preserving and emphasizing the clarity of our principles. The Palestinian people are fighting for all of us - and we owe them nothing less.