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Palestine: what kind of solidarity?
More political action outside Palestine!

This year, the Jewish state of Israel celebrated its 60 years of existence. An existence built on the theft of Arab lands, massacres and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians which started in 1948 and are continuing till now.
On this sad and humiliating anniversary, the Palestinian people find itself in the most dramatic situation of its dark history.

26 December 2008 | - : Gaza Israel Palestine

In Gaza - where the Hamas Movement came to power through a completely democratic election and continues to be the target of the Israeli army that threatens to eliminate it - the population, who gave it its trust, is subject to a ruthless blockade and collective punishment to which the so called "international community" closes its eyes. And in the other part of the occupied Palestine, the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority linked to the Fatah party, supported by the European Union and the United States, is openly collaborating with the occupier and joining with him to hunt for resistance fighters.

As for the international solidarity movement, it has good reasons to wonder about its inability to influence the United States and the European Governments policy regarding Israel and about how relevant is the support it has given to the Palestinians.

In such a situation, if this solidarity movement wants "to really exist, not as the auxiliary of an alleged "peace process" but as a player that can contribute to change the power balance and to really help the Palestinians through sustainable and effective actions that could isolate the State of Israel", it must act "in the unambiguous assertion of a total solidarity with the Palestinian people’s constant demands in its resistance against colonial conquest and ethnic cleansing." [1]

Being in solidarity with the Palestinians is, first of all, to begin to listen to what they have to say about the kind of action to be made, instead of talking in their place as has generally been the case so far. It is also to remember that, the call for a boycott against Israel launched by 170 Palestinian organisations in July 2005, remained virtually unanswered outside English-speaking countries.

A Palestinian opinion in the occupied Jerusalem

We asked Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian political and cultural analyst, what kind of support the Palestinians expect and most need from the international solidarity movement. He answered without any hesitation:
“I published recently an article regarding what we need [2]. In short, my main point is: charitable assistance is good and needed, if, and only if it is accompanied by persistent political action to end Israel’s occupation and apartheid.

What we need more than anything else right now is to hold Israel accountable for its grave and systematic violation of international law and to end its nauseating impunity, particularly in the West. Israel is committing in occupied Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, crimes against humanity and war crimes in a very gradual, sophisticated and under-the-radar method, to get away with its piecemeal ethnic cleansing. This is what is most urgent to expose and to effectively oppose right now, mainly through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) [3]. If not now for applying BDS, then when?”

In his article Omar Barghouti wrote:

Projects supporting Palestinian steadfastness under occupation, whether in the health, education, social or even political domains, are crucial and always needed. Many Palestinians, particularly the most vulnerable, cannot survive the cruelty of occupation without them.

We appreciate the support for these projects tremendously – at least those of them that are not corrupt or corrupting, as many are.

But this does not mean that we are for a moment convinced that such projects alone, plus token support for some abstract notion of “peace,” can advance our struggle for freedom and justice.

Only by ending the occupation and apartheid can we get there. And, experience tells us, the most reliable, morally justifiable way to do that is by treating Israel as apartheid South Africa was, by applying various, context-sensitive and evolving measures of BDS against it. There is no better way to achieve just peace in Palestine and the entire region.”

We also asked a 36 year old Palestinian political scientist [4] resident in Gaza to express his point of view. His answer is not different from the answer given by Omar Barghouti. In the opinion of this young generation of Palestinians, the best kind of solidarity that international activists can provide is political; and this political work has to be done outside Palestine, in their respective countries.

The opinion of a Palestinian in Gaza

“Whether we agree or not with the action and attitude that those internationals who come to Palestine show towards us, we should be kind with all of them. We are just helpless people; it is logical to welcome and deal with all the people who come in solidarity for us. People who are suffering, and are in a weak position, are like this.

But the presence of the international activists is not necessarily what we need here in Gaza. We need from the solidarity people they take action outside Palestine, not here in Palestine. Here, it is the matter of the Palestinians.

After so many years, we are a bit fed up with these “international campaigners”, or these so called “civil missions” coming from time to time to show their support. It is something which is repeating and doing nothing good for the ordinary people and having no useful impact for us.
The impact of these solidarity campaigners would be much more effective if they would put the decision makers under pressure in order to push them to take their responsibilities in lifting the sufferings inflicted on our whole nation which is victimized by an unjustified occupation of its land.

The real Palestinian cause is political; it is not humanitarian. It is not a “natural” humanitarian crisis! It is a humanitarian crisis politically organised by Israel and its allies!

The campaigners have to address it politically. Many associations give help, build projects as they like. You should go and see what is the life of the people in a refugee camp! The refugees are not a humanitarian case that the internationals activists need to help. No, they are a political case. That is why the solidarity movement should act politically; not as humanitarian or human rights assistance.

It would let them save much useless efforts if they would work actively, out of Palestine, to make pressure on the decisions of their governments in order to bring about a change here. That is what is needed.

The solidarity and human rights campaigners who want honestly to support the Palestinian cause need to do more than this; they need to address their governments, to their politicians, about the real roots of the Palestinian conflict and about the Palestinian people who are being victimized by Israel continuously. That is what needs to be done.
Officials within the solidarity movement should encourage their members to fight and to use their influence with any political personality in their governments, in order to address the real sufferings of the Palestinians under the Israeli occupation.
What it is really needed is to get very clearly their message to the authorities who, in their respective countries, can influence what happens in this part of the world. What is needed is that they address in an efficient way their governments; and that they ask them why they are always sidelining with some groups in Palestine (the Fatah Palestinian Authority and the PLO) and are refusing to support the Hamas elected authorities of Gaza at the expense of its 1,6 million inhabitants, who were the victims of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and who are today more and more victimized by the occupiers who exhaust them daily, psychologically, socially, and politically.

There are so many UN resolutions in favour of the Palestinians. The international activists have first to reconsider these Resolutions in order to arrive at solving the problem. That is what we need.

The occupation of the Palestinian land by the Israelis is very well known to the politicians and decision makers at the United Nations level, at the European Union level, and at the United State level. But none of them will act until they will be subjected to enormous pressure by their citizens. When solidarity groups urge their members to do so, to act in this political perspective, their action will be very useful for the Palestinian people.

There should have been some sort of intervention by one or another European government. If they stay watching on the sideline and let the United States only to be exclusively involved in the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, when you know very well that the US has never, so far, helped to resolve the Palestinian cause, they are de facto helping Israel to crush us.

Worst: if yours governments and the solidarity groups work with this Palestinian Authority in Ramallah -and its diplomats and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) representatives- that is oppressing its people and pushing Egypt and Israel to close Gaza and to starve us, what is this?

Westerners look to the Palestinians as represented by Hamas or Fatah and PLO. We deplore this tendency of the western governments, and even of some leaders of the solidarity movement, to look at our situation in terms of a group of “radicals” and a group of “moderates”, and to give help to one of them and not to the other. Palestinians are not represented either by Fatah or Hamas. Palestine is Palestine; it is not something that you can divide.

The solidarity movement, the political actors, should consider the Palestinian issue as one body, as one voice. They should require from all the international bodies a kind of an overall reconsideration of the Palestinian cause. They should not, as they do, present problems related to the Palestinian question, from 1967, but from 1948.”

Question : Are you thus sceptical about the usefulness of these international activists who, since last summer, are arriving in Gaza by boat to break the siege and who are calling for volunteers to come and stay in Gaza? Are they not addressing a political message for the human rights of the Gaza residents and their rights over their territorial waters?

“People like the Palestinians in Gaza who have been under siege for one and a half year, have no other way but to welcome on their land such solidarity from abroad. They can not refuse it; they need to see that there is, outside, some support and concern for them.

But, very honestly, I think that, actually, the first Free Gaza activists that entered in Gaza in August with the first ship were enough. Their action completed its target; it gave a message to the outside world that there are in Gaza people that need to be relieved. They succeeded; they were received very well by the Hamas government. That was enough.

We fear that if these activists are back here periodically and remain on site, they will, over time, fatigue or annoy the residents. People will say: “What sort of thing are they doing? What these people are really doing for us?”

These international activists who are coming right now under the banner of FGM (Free Gaza Movement) are a sort of extension of the historical solidarity campaigners we had already seen throughout the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for the past decades. They are not known for many Palestinians. They are just known and appreciated by some institutions, political parties and NGOs in link with the outside world; this is really alarming.

Most of these actions made by international campaigners inside Palestine are a waste of time and money.

Palestinians can manage to take care of their life; they can deal with their difficulties. This is the life of the Palestinians: for 60 years they have been refugees [5] and they can cope with this tragic situation. Regarding the boats carrying goods, they are welcome, but as far as they are not exploited.

After 60 years, and things going from bad to worst, what it is needed now is to act to end the occupation in the most effective way. There should be a sort of decisive action from outside towards the Palestinian sufferings and the Palestinian cause; political actions which would oblige the decision-makers to respond.

I say it again: the biggest problem for the Palestinians is the inaction of policy makers within the "international community" and their bias in favour of the forces that collaborate with the illegal occupiers. This inaction is possible because the solidarity campaigners do not answer in a proper way to what we need and have been asking for so many years. Solidarity activists must address their authorities and go to protest in front of their governments’ buildings, to harass them.

We expect all those who say they want to help us to dedicate their efforts and time to do the lobbying work abroad in their own countries, not here. Only that strong and tireless political pressure on governments and public opinion in the West can help us find a solution that puts an end to the colonial occupation; this is the most important thing to do now.”

Question : Were you surprised by the fact that the Israeli navy has so far let go through the boats of the Free Gaza Movement, but barred the vessel carrying humanitarian aid sent by Libya and refused a request from Qatar
 [6]?

“You know very well that, if the Israeli Navy does not want a boat to come, none can enter the territorial waters of Gaza.

Israel is controlling every single part of the Palestinian life, land, see, and space. Do you think that, if the Israelis do not want to allow them to enter, the boats of the “Free Gaza Movement” can enter and say “We break the siege”? So, what these « Free Gaza » organisers are talking about? Did they break the siege? It is the Israeli occupation power who is controlling everything; even the Free Gaza boats.

An Israeli official had come to say, regarding Free Gaza, that Israel was allowing such a humanitarian ship to reach Gaza. But, when a Libyan humanitarian boat wanted to do the same, Israel banned him from approaching Gaza. The Israeli foreign ministry has declared that this Libyan ship was blocked because the siege of Gaza is a part of a political oppression being practised against the rulers of Gaza, that means Hamas.

This justification given by illegal occupiers has some sort of acceptance by those international players who are just standing on the sideline and watching at things without any kind of action. But this complicity with the Israelis is not only from these international players who do not like the representative rulers of Gaza; but also, unfortunately from some Arab governments; and from Palestinian political parties and groups.

Question : Depending on how they are conducted, can solidarity actions be counter-productive, and even help to further divide you by supporting one party and not another?

“The solution out of all these problems is to help the Palestinians to unite and sit at the negotiating table to find a solution to their divisions and to solve the problems that have arisen more than one and a half year ago.

The solidarity must not come and put more trouble to that sort of horribly complicated situation. ”.

Silvia Cattori



[1See: “Palestine, 60 ans après : le partage ou la paix”, by Pierre-Yves Salingue, mondialisation.ca, May 14, 2008.

[2See: “The Boycott and Palestinian Groups”, by Omar Barghouti, Counterpunch, October 21, 2008.

French version

[4We greatly appreciate the frankness with which this Palestinian political scientist talks here. We do not want to expose him to any trouble; that is why we decided not to give his name.

[570% of the Gaza residents are refugees. They live in very miserable conditions. They have a strong spirit of resistance. It is for that reason that Israel makes a so terrifying and bloody war against them. When the Israelis say that they fight against Hamas, it is in fact against the refugees that they make war, with the objective of suppressing any resistance.

[6Israel has banned the ship Libyan “Al Marwa” to enter the territorial waters of Gaza. The ship loaded with 3 tons of humanitarian aid and medicines – and which should have been the first of a series of Arab boats – was intended to reach the port of Gaza early December.
A few days later, Israel has also refused that Qatar send medicines to Gaza. The Qataris could send their medicines only through the boat of the Free Gaza Movement.