Palestinians plan protests for their right of return

by Andrew Pollack
As the imperialists began their war against Libya, their Zionist junior partners were stepping up attacks on Gaza and openly threatening to launch an assault exceeding the murderous onslaughts of 2008 and 2009. In the most criminal episode of the current wave, on March 22, Israeli missiles killed eight Palestinians, including three children and their grandfather who were playing soccer outside their home.
These attacks occur in a context of stepped-up theft of land and building of settlements, destruction of farms and orchards, eviction from homes, detentions, beatings by soldiers and settlers, and assassinations. At the end of March Israel’s parliament passed laws criminalizing commemoration of the Nakba (the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and establishment of the colonial-settler state of Israel), and legalizing refusal of towns to admit Palestinians as residents.
On March 21, Haaretz reported that Israeli Military Intelligence is spying on U.S. activists in the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement, on coalitions trying to break the siege of Gaza, and on other peaceful solidarity efforts. USPCN noted that the U.S. government had maintained complete silence on this outrageous violation of its own citizens’ civil liberties by a foreign government. U.S. silence is no surprise, of course, since the main targets of the current FBI and grand jury persecutions are Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists. This pattern is only the most visible example of a decades-long policy of repression, and has been demonstrated once again by the criminal prosecution of 11 Muslim students at UC Irvine for yelling during a Zionist official’s speech.
But Palestinians continue organizing and mobilizing in the face of these attacks, and in fact have taken several crucial new initiatives.
On Feb. 28, activists delivered a “Notice of Termination” to Palestine Authority officials in New York and Washington, DC. Noting that the PA had failed to keep its oath to represent the wishes of the Palestinian people, the notices demanded termination of the Oslo Accords, dissolution of the PA and the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas, an end to the blockade of Gaza, an end to all security arrangements with Israel, release of all Palestinian political prisoners from Palestinian jails, and unification of the resistance by building “a national platform upon which to coalesce Palestinian political parties and formations in their resistance to apartheid, colonialism, and ethnic cleansing.”
The latter demand is the continuation of a campaign launched by USPCN after Al Jazeera’s publication of the “Palestine Papers,” which revealed the PA’s complete and repeated capitulation in negotiations with Israel to all the latter’s demands, and to its insistence that the PA help stamp out all forms of resistance. The activists noted that this surrender was only possible because of the lack of democratic representation for Palestinians—because of the exclusion of refugees and those within pre-1967 Israel, the cancellation or postponement of elections, and the undemocratic nature of the PA and its existence as a creature of the Oslo accord.
The group called for new elections to the Palestinian National Council in which all Palestinians around the world could participate. They also demanded the resignation of all members of the current PNC and of the Executive Committee of the PLO, and the establishment of a transitional national leadership body composed of representatives of all segments of the Palestinian people.
The significance of such elections was detailed in a March 29 column in the British Guardian by longtime Palestinian activist and author Karma Nabulsi. Referring to the uprising throughout the region, she wrote, “Since January Palestinians in the refugee camps and under military occupation have all been asking the same question: is this not our moment too?
“The solution to this fierce dilemma lies in a single claim now uniting all Palestinians: the quest for national unity. Although the main parties might remain irreconciled, the Palestinian people most certainly are not. Their division is not political but geographic: the majority are refugees outside Palestine, while the rest inside it are forcibly separated into three distinct locations. The demand is the same universal claim to democratic representation that citizens across the Arab world are calling for with such force and beauty: each Palestinian voice counts.”
This is far different from the new elections—for the PA and/or legislative councils in the West Bank and Gaza, not the PNC—promised by Abbas after demonstrations for Palestinian unity took place in Gaza and the West Bank on March 15. In contrast, the PNC, as Nabulsi writes, “is the institutional body that gives both legitimacy and a mandate to the PLO, which is still recognized internationally as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
“The PNC, as the parliament of the PLO itself, was once the heart of the Palestinian national movement; made up of the resistance parties, unions and independents, it could claim the legitimacy of a national liberation movement. But there have not been proper elections to it for decades: most of the seats are quotas, reserved for the factions; members have died of old age; there is not even a definitive list showing who the current members are.
“This crumbling hollowed-out mausoleum once housed a vibrant and well directed Palestinian struggle for freedom, full of dynamism and debate. Now only the mobilizing power of direct elections can make it the representative institution Palestinians demand.
“The call for PNC elections … is also the single revolutionary principle that can overturn Palestinians’ current political imprisonment, because it reassures them that each voice contributes to determining national platforms, policies and strategies. Organizing around this demand takes the decision-making out of the hands of the few and puts it back into the hands of the people themselves—Islamist and secular, one-state or two-state supporters, conservative or radical.”
Nabulsi also noted that a reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas, which some pro-“unity” protesters fixate on, would not solve the problem of representation and revitalization of the liberation movement.
On March 15, youth in the West Bank and Gaza tried to replicate the mass sit-ins spreading throughout the Arab world, with their sole demand being the call for “unity”—that is, unity among all political groups to better fight the occupation. Turnouts were modest but spirited. Participants were brutalized by the security forces of both the PA and Hamas. In addition, although organizers had called on participants to only bring Palestinian flags, and not flags or signs for any political parties, Fateh activists came with their group’s flags and tried to outshout organizers with their own slogans.
We must note for future reference that the call for no flags raises longer-term strategic questions. As a tactic to reinforce the theme of unity, it was a useful call for the March 15 action. But grassroots Palestinian organizers and groups are confronting the inevitable need for political formations of their own, rooted in the working masses of Palestinians around the world.
It is too soon to say whether this is more likely to happen through revitalization and radicalization of existing left groups or the forming of new ones (and certainly the formation and activities of the USPCN are an encouraging sign of the potential). But it will certainly be the product of the gathering together of the best of those who are right now organizing at the base in the face of the PA’s capitulation and the quiescence and repression of Hamas.
Development of a political alternative will also come through clarification of what unity is for—i.e. what concrete goals and long-term vision can best unify the masses. Again, the demands of the USPCN for dissolution of undemocratic, collaborating structures and the enfranchisement of all Palestinians, all in the service of genuine liberation, including the right of return, are a good example.
The right of return is the central plank of upcoming activities on May 15. Through “Third Intifada” Facebook pages and other means, organizers are calling for Palestinians and their allies around the world to mobilize on that date, the anniversary of the Nakba. As we go to press it appears there will be efforts to organize actual attempts at return—i.e., attempts by refugees to actually cross borders and return to the homes from which they were evicted.
If refugees turn out in numbers giving the actions only symbolic meaning, that would still represent a turning point in global awareness of the right of Palestinians to return. And if on May 15, or subsequently, large numbers try to exercise this right in practice, it would represent a qualitative advance in the struggle, perhaps taking it to a level not seen since the first Intifada (1987-1993) or the Great Revolt of 1936.
> This article was originally published in the April 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.