Let’s be clear: the engineered omerta against the Palestinian fight for liberation exists in many places and continues to do a lot of damage. But in the specific context of this introspection, we ought to speak about Palestine’s centrality in the global anti-colonial struggle and the problems this raises in terms of solidarity. In this text, Karim Kattan provides a sharp yet generous reflection on these problems and the emotions we need to summon to address them.
In activist groups and in some progressive circles in many places of the world, we often look to Palestinian steadfastness as an inspiration, an ideal, or a culmination; or, to the ongoing Israeli occupation as a dire warning concerning the durability and ever-growing solidity of systems of colonization. The reasons for Palestine’s centrality in the global architecture of contemporary struggles are numerous and well-known. They include, of course, the length, depth, and breadth of its predicament. The Israeli occupation provides a useful mirror for other situations: inspired as it is by historic European colonization, it is an effective summary of 20th century history, and as a pioneer in the fields of armaments, populations management, and more, acts as a blueprint for future technologies of oppression. The particularly stark type of injustice enacted in Palestine, with its visible forms such as checkpoints, the wall, or the brutal and regular bombardments of Gaza, makes for an easily identifiable struggle to connect with. Palestinian lives are made entirely disposable by the sophisticated design of the occupation; we face daily subjugation, threat of maiming, and worse. We live in visibly fragmented geographies, are disconnected, isolated, and faced with an onslaught of physical, administrative, and symbolic violence. The length of the occupation, and the fast-paced and seemingly unstoppable nature of colonization, also have identified Palestine as a crisis; paradoxically locating us both in the long history of the 20th century and in the short history of emergencies. This has made Palestine into one of the most focussed upon issues of our time in activist circles, with a quantity of information produced around it that has few equivalents in terms of speed, comprehensiveness, and interest.
Beyond that, Palestine is also a crux historically: as the center of various religious and imperial appetites throughout the centuries from the East or the West, it necessarily speaks to many people’s imaginations. Thus, Palestine also acts as a linchpin for activist movements, a convenient shared struggle that gels into a cohesive whole. As a country, as a region, as a reality both political, social, and cultural, and as an object of speech and knowledge, Palestine arguably concentrates more than many other places a significant number of people’s projections and fantasies. Much more than it, or we, can even hold without breaking under their weight. People throughout Europe, North America, across the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, and sometimes even beyond these regions, have opinions about Palestine, which they believe to be the truth, and that they are often eager to share or see enacted as policy. These opinions, often, are shaped by their own fantasies of Palestine as a political reality, as a religious space, and as a real or symbolic struggle against real or symbolic imperialism. Palestine can provide a heady mixture of folklore, histories, fantasies, as well as personal and collective histories. Consequently, solidarity with Palestine has had a long history throughout the 20th century. It is, in fact, so prevalent in some circles that we joke it has lost its meaning—uttering the word “solidarity” at home today without irony might elicit rolled eyes and exasperated sighs.
In return, Palestinian solidarity with other global struggles can sometimes be witnessed. Indeed, the Palestinian struggle is historically an international one: Palestinian activists have taken inspiration from and pay tribute to the South African struggle against apartheid or the civil rights movement in the United States. Some recent shows of alleged solidarity, however, have left me wondering about the way we Palestinians engage with other struggles, the space we give to them, and how we construe our role within them. It’s an uncomfortable discussion to have, especially since it can easily be weaponized against us, or used in ways we do not mean it to.
This is not to discount actual solidarities that are enacted from Palestinians to the world, but to invite ourselves to consider why we are less likely to reach out or have knowledge about other colonial realities in the world, or ones that do not necessarily connect to Palestine.