Archive for the ‘Palestinian nationalism’ Category

In March 2010 the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (a “political non-profit organization striving to promote democracy, civil society, equality and a healthy environment internationally,” linked to the German Green Party) held a conference on the Palestinian issue in Berlin.

The historic event of the formation of Israel had, however, far-reaching consequences not only for the Jewish people and the yishuv, the Jewish community in the British mandate territory of Palestine, but also for the Arab-Palestinian people. Around 800,000 Palestinians had to leave their home during the 1948-49 war either because they were driven out or forced to flee. 170,000 stayed in Israel, became citizens of Israel and, with approx. 1.3 million, have become a minority in the Jewish state over the last 60 years. Since then, the refugees of the Nakba (“catastrophe”) and their children have lived in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the Arab states of the Middle East and scattered throughout the entire world. Their numbers are estimated to be at least 4 to 5 million. Their day-to-day realities could hardly be more different. 2.4 million have lived for more than 40 years under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, 1.4 million under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip, millions more live in the countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria next to Israel. In 2008, the UNRWA counted a total of roughly 4.6 million Palestinian refugees (this figure was 914,000 in 1950). Only a small percentage has managed to integrate. Others have started new lives, most of them in the Arab Gulf states, in Europe and North and Latin America.

The geographic and social fragmentation of the Palestinian people is essentially a result of the conflict in the Middle East. But a wide variety of other change processes – economic, social, gender-specific, political – have affected the societal development of the Palestinians over the last few decades and shape the reality of their fragmented existence. Because the political-diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict are still dominated by the decades-long debate over a two-state solution which also finds its legitimacy under international law in the 1947 UN partition plan, it is time to take a closer look at the Palestinian people and their development, which is characterized by many contradictions, development over the last 60 years. Within the framework of a final status agreement, the goal will not just be to find a viable solution for the people living in the historic region of Palestine. The right of Palestinian refugees to return has been the subject of numerous UN resolutions. Thus, the extremely different realities of refugees will also be analyzed and their prospects for the future discussed.

Late last year the edited proceedings of that conference were published (in German). The volume contains contributions by leading experts on Palestinian and Middle East politics, and quite a few pieces on the Nakba, forced displacement, UNRWA and other refugee-related topics.

For those of you who read German, the full volume can be downloaded for free as a pdf here. For those who can’t, many of the original English-language conference papers can be found here.

h/t Michael Fischbach

In an interview with the Jewish Channel on December 9, would-be US Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich offered his views on the legitimacy of Palestinian national identity:

…remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940’s, and I think it’s tragic.

Gingrich may have a PhD in history, but it is pretty clear he knows nothing of the history or nature of nationalism. All nationalisms are, of course, based on a common sense of identity and experience—what political scientist Benedict Anderson famously referred to as “imagined communities.”  It is hardly surprising that Palestinian identity would emerge from the shared experience of colonial rule, enforced Jewish immigration, repression, war, and forced displacement (that latter being euphemistically described by Gingrich as “a chance to go many places”–as if ethnic cleansing and exile were a summer holiday).

Gingrich later defended his position, arguing that “Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists.” As the Washington Post commented, “the statement put Gingrich at odds not only with the international community but with all but an extremist fringe in Israel” (a point also echoed by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz).

Rather ironically, earlier in the same interview Gingrich draws upon the example of the American War of Independence to make a point, noting that the pin he wears on his lapel is the command flag of General Washington at Valley Forge. Yet American identity is perhaps the preeminent example of an “imagined community” (or an “invented people.”). No one had ever thought of themselves as “American” before the 17th century or so. European colonists were generally of British stock, and “American” nationalism didn’t become politically relevant until the latter half of the 18th century. In the years that followed, the American state deliberately sought to inculcate a sense of common citizenship among its diverse population, through national myths, symbols, and mass education. (“Canadian” nationalism evolved in somewhat similar ways, and since the 19th century has been very much defined in self-conscious distinction to Canada’s powerful neighbour to the south.)

In short, in finding fault with the supposedly artificial nature of the Palestinians’ deep-seated sense of national identity, Gingrich is showing a fundamental disregard for a core principle of freedom (the freedom to choose one’s social identity) and self-determination. His shallow blindness to the rights, hopes, and dreams of others neither does him credit as a political candidate, nor does it serve the search for Middle East peace. He also shows a striking lack of appreciation for the “invention” of his own diverse country—a country of overwhelmingly immigrant origins, once “part of the British Empire”—and its remarkable struggle to forge a common sense of political belonging through the pain of repression, revolution, and civil war.