Critiquing the Critique of the March of Return

by Haidar Eid, Published on Mondoweiss, April 8, 2019

With the first anniversary of the Great March of Return, some disturbing questions have risen. Similar questions were raised in 2009, 2012, and 2014; in fact, this has been happening since 1948. It is becoming even more disturbing now to hear the same arguments being made by some of us who have internalized their subjugation by repeating the Israeli hasbara regarding our responsibility for our own death at the fence of the Gaza concentration camp! Victims blaming victims for their own death at the hands of Israeli snipers stationed on the other side of the eastern fence. Golda Meir, who unashamedly said that she would never forgive Palestinians for making Israeli soldiers kill them, would’ve been so delighted.

To Israel’s delight, we are being told by certain sectors that Hamas is behind the Great March of Return. That Hamas has been inciting people, who happen to be ignorant and passive, to demonstrate at the fence for one reason only: gaining more political power at the expense of Palestinian rights. Forget about the fact that almost all political organizations are represented on the Supreme High Committee of the March, that the Great March of Return is itself a civil society initiative. And forget about the fact that the majority of the demonstrators, including the writer of this piece, are not supporters of Hamas, that the main demand of the March is the implementation of UN resolution 194 which stipulates the right of return for all Palestinian refugees who happen to constitute more than 75% of the Palestinians of Gaza. And forget that the march is a form of non-violent, civil resistance that is part and parcel of the tradition of Palestinian, anti-colonial struggle, not unlike the South African anti-apartheid and American civil rights fights for justice. This is not to say that Hamas– being an opportunistic, right-wing organization– is not trying to hijack what it considers the “spoils” of the Great March of Return.

Resistance in all its forms, violent and otherwise, is considered, by these same people, “futile.” Typically, the defeatist Palestinian camp, simply uses the numbers of martyrs and disabled to condemn the Great March of Return. The question now being raised by some Palestinian intellectuals and political forces, after the (un)expected brutality of the Israeli military, is “is it worth it?

The Great March of Return, like the BDS Movement, has created a political upheaval  that has not only put an end to the fiction of the two-state solution and brought back liberation rather than independence on the agenda. It has also contributed to, if not expedited, a new consciousness, one that sees a link between all forms of popular resistance and the end of the fictional, racist two-state solution, and, hence, the necessity for a new political vision based on a complete break from the Oslo ideology and its defeatist logic.

Within the context of resistance, it is worth quoting Frantz Fanon’s definitions of the role played by the “native intellectual” during the anti-colonial struggle: these are intellectuals who, according to Fanon’s theorization, “give proof that [they] [have] assimilated the culture of the occupying power. [Their] writings correspond point by point with those of [their] opposite numbers in the mother country. [Their] inspiration is European [i.e. Western] …

” Hence the adoption of the Israeli narrative by some pro-Oslo and Palestinian Authority intellectuals, whereby Israel is exonerated of its crimes: “we are to blame for what happened”; “we were not consulted when Hamas started the so-called Great March of Return!” and “the people are paying the price, not the organizers;” “we cannot afford to lose so many lives; Hamas should have understood this;” and the worst one is that “mothers who send their children to the fence are to blame.”

(Most of the critique is on social media in Arabic, you can see some examples here and here.) By the same token, one would also condemn the Algerian, South Africa, French, Vietnamese, Lebanese and Indian resistance to occupation. The same logic was used by the Bantustan chiefs of South Africa against the anti-apartheid movement, by the Vichy government of France, and the North Vietnamese government.

Obviously, these intellectuals’ assimilation of the (neo) liberal mentality makes them look down upon the culture of resistance as useless, futile and hopeless. Resistance, broadly speaking, is not only the ability to fight back against a militarily more powerful enemy, but also an ability to creatively resist the occupation of one’s land. This defeatist ideology fails to appreciate people power or even to see that it exists. They are defeated because they want to fight the battle on Israel’s terms– through the adoption of an Israel-Hamas dichotomy, rather than apartheid Israel vs. the Palestinian people — instead of looking for what their strengths are: that they are the natives of the land, they have international law supporting their claims, they have the moral high ground, the support of the international civil society in the form of a growing, global BDS movement, etc. They are unable to acknowledge Palestinian agency because they refuse to respect the will of the people as expressed in the hundreds of thousands marching every Friday at the fence of what most of them consider a concentration camp.

This expression of a rising new consciousness is manifest in a rejection of the conditions imposed by the Israeli apartheid and its allies on the majority of Palestinians and even more crucially, a rejection of the crumbs that are offered as a reward for good behaviour to a select minority of Palestinians ala Oslo. What Palestinians are constantly told is, either accept Israeli occupation in its ugliest form, i.e. the ongoing presence of the apartheid wall, colonies, checkpoints, zigzag roads, color coded number plates, house demolitions and security, or have a genocidal, medieval siege imposed on them. Alas, the first option seems to be the favorite of some Palestinian intellectuals!

Palestinians, whether in Gaza or in the Diaspora, or in Israel, cannot forget the blood of those children, men and women who sacrificed their lives at the fence of the concentration camp, so that all Palestinians could live and continue to resist, not surrender. The message from the eastern fence is very clear: there can be no going back to fake solutions and negotiations; it is time for a final push to real freedom, justice and equality.

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University. He has written widely on the Arab-Israeli conflict, including articles published at Znet, Electronic Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, and Open Democracy. He has published papers on cultural studies and literature in a number of journals, including Nebula, Journal of American Studies in Turkey, Cultural Logic, and the Journal of Comparative Literature.

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