Civil rights and wrongs in the Palestinian struggle

By Khaled Diab

Young Palestinian activists are drawing inspiration from the movement, but are reluctant to redefine their struggle along similar line.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

A hip bar in Ramallah named after a famous cocktail where friends and lovers come to hang out and chill is probably not the most obvious place to meet a young Palestinian revolutionary. While around the world people do drink and drive for change, outsiders tend to view Palestinians as straight-laced teetotallers, especially since the rise of Hamas, but judging by the number of watering holes in Ramallah, the truth is another country.

, Palestine's only domestically produced beer, even once had as its motto, “Taste the revolution”. And armed with a large glass of Taybeh, I had come to get a taste of what a new generation of savvy young Palestinian activists were brewing.

Zaid Shuaibi couldn't be further from the traditional Western image of the wild-eyed Arab fanatic. He is soft-spoken, measured, understated and seems at harmony with the mellow, subdued ambiance of our meeting place. Though only 22, his maturity and depth cannot be measured in simple years.

Shuaibi, who I have met a number of times, spent the first half of his life in Saudi Arabia before his family returned to Ramallah, where he has lived ever since. Despite the hardships they‘ve endured, they have no regrets about having resettled in their native land.

Zaid discovered his passion for political activism at Birzeit university, though he emphasises that, despite his left-leaning, secular views, he is not aligned to any particular political party or current, partly as a demonstration of his independence and partly because he finds none of the established parties is fully satisfactory.

As a sign of his dedication to the Palestinian cause, he gave up the prospect of pursuing a career with an international agency in order to free himself up for his activism. He now works as an outreach coordinator for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and is closely involved with the Palestinian youth activist movement.

Speaking with this young activist is inspiring and encouraging on so many levels. He and his co-resistors belief in peaceful protest, and the creative new techniques they are employing, especially after the disaster of the second intifada, that non-violence is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the Palestinian arsenal. Their recognition of the need for major, internal Palestinian reform is also timely and necessary.

Nevertheless, the odds they are up against can seem depressingly insurmountable. The situation on the ground is changing rapidly and, in many ways, perhaps irreversibly, as 's settlement express train continues largely unhindered. This has caused a sense of inertia among Palestinians, to which even creative young activists can succumb. There is a widespread sense that the two-state option is dead, or at the very least comatosed in intensive care, and any possible Palestinian state will not only be small and lack territorial congruity, but will also not enjoy true sovereignty or independence.

But Shuaibi and many other activists, even though they believe in a single, democratic state for all and Palestinians, are reluctant or unwilling to act on this conviction now and fight for one now by transforming their struggle into a civil rights movement for full and equal , which I personally believe is the most effective way forward, at least for the foreseeable future. Of course, Palestinians deserve an independent state, but what they're likely to get, if anything, is a virtual state, a state on paper, or, worst of all, a continued state of denial of their rights.

I know that, after so many decades of struggle and their rapidly shrinking prospects of independent statehood, the idea of becoming “Israelis” sits uncomfortably with most Palestinians, but with full enfranchisement they will be able to leave their imprint on the Israeli system, change it from within and gradually transform it into a state for all its citizens.

But given the worsening situation since the Oslo years, when Palestinians and Israelis regularly met and co-operated, and in light of the traditional Arab discourse regarding “non-normalisation”, not only does the idea of becoming Israelis not appeal, but positions are hardening even towards the idea of dealing with Israelis. Although I admit I could be wrong, I feel this refusal is not only a case of meeting wrong with wrong but is also counterproductive.

Working with Israeli activists and challenging and courting Israeli public opinion is, in my view, crucial, because Israel holds most of the cards and, after decades of waiting, the idea that the international community will come galloping in on its white steed to deliver the Palestinians their rights looks, it is safe to say, highly improbable.

That said, Palestinian and Israeli activists are increasingly resisting the occupation together, as demonstrated in so many cases, such as the joint protests against the Israeli separation wall, and a sizeable minority do recognise the importance of co-activism. Moreover, today's young Palestinian activists are borrowing from the tactics of the American and South African civil rights movements. And the next logical step, once enough admit that the two-state solution is dead in the water, would be to adopt the objectives as well as the tactics of civil rights.

It is largely up to Palestinians and Israelis to come to some sort of accommodation on their own, and this requires direct engagement. And, as the weaker party, the most powerful weapon the Palestinians possess is people power.

And inspired by the popular mass movements that have emerged across the region, Palestinian activists are rediscovering the spirit of the largely peaceful first intifada which succeeded in changing so much (yet so little). But can they heal the internal rifts within Palestinian ranks, agree on a reinvented effective strategy and inspire the masses to take action?

Khaled Diab: How do you feel, as a Palestinian, about all the restrictions on your movement?

Zaid Shuaibi: When I head from Ramallah to another town, I'm struck by a strange sensation. Sometimes I am close to tears when I think that I have to make a two-hour detour because I'm not allowed to take a certain road or to pass through Jerusalem. You feel confined; you're on your land and you can't wander freely. This is terrible. You always feel deficient or incapable. To live in this land, you need to be super-human, you can't just be an ordinary person.

I can sympathise. Here I am, a foreigner, and I can visit you from Jerusalem but you can't come to visit me in Jerusalem. I have the freedom to travel all over the land, but you have trouble travelling both domestically and abroad.

Indeed, it's our country and we can't move around it, but any foreigner has the freedom to travel around.

While we're on the subject of freedom of movement, there were the Freedom Riders which you were involved in. How successful would you say the initiative was?

The Freedom Riders had several objectives. It was a movement to link between the civil rights movement in America and the , or part of it, because our struggle is not a civil rights movement. Our conflict is multifaceted.

At the same time, it was a movement against Egged buses because it acquired a contract in Holland. A movement has emerged in Holland to try to cancel this contract as part of the divestment drive.

We thought that we should highlight how the racial that was prevalent in America 60 years ago is present here.

I think that we succeeded abroad. We managed to convey the picture to the outside world of how our freedom of movement is restricted and how we are not free to visit Jerusalem. However, domestically, we confronted some difficulties.

Within Palestinian society?

Yes, in Palestinian society.

In what way?

We sometimes face the difficulty of persuading people to adopt new ideas, especially those coming from abroad. There are those who feel we are blindly emulating others. But we do not feel that what we did was blind copying.

When it comes to boycotting, people think, for example, that we're imitating South Africa. It's true there are similarities with South Africa but the boycott movement has been around for a very long time in Palestine – from the 1930s or even before. General strikes and public disobedience, and boycotting the occupation and the settlements, have long been a part of the Palestinian struggle.

Can you explain a little about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement? There are those who are not familiar with it, so can you tell us what your objectives are and how it works?

In 2004, a group of intellectuals and academics began calling for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel. Then, in 2005, the call for a wider BDS campaign was launched by a coalition of Palestinian civil society which urged the international community to boycott Israel because it is a racist and apartheid country.

The approach was similar to that pursued in South Africa. Just like the world boycotted South Africa because it infringed on the rights of the Africans there, we, as Palestinians, are calling for the same thing.

This was the starting point of the campaign, and the momentum has grown year after year.

We have witnessed numerous successes, such as the Freedom Rides which, through small movements on the ground, linked the BDS with the youth movement.

What other successes has the BDS campaign achieved?

A major success we scored in the Arab context was when Saudi Arabia excluded the French company Veolia from a tender for the Haramain railway link which was worth $10 billion because of the company's involvement in the Jerusalem light rail project which passes through East Jerusalem. This is in violation of international law because it was operating in occupied territory.

This is just one of many recent achievements. Others include artists. For instance, a singer called Lara Fabian was going to perform in Lebanon but Lebanese activists called for a boycott against her because she had sung a song in Hebrew on Israel's 60th anniversary and expressed her love of Israel… and she decided not to come.

We feel that people who do not acknowledge our rights as Palestinians and support Israel should be boycotted and isolated.

You describe the situation here as “apartheid”. But there are those who say that, despite similarities, the system here is different to South Africa.

The way I see it is that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is complex and multifaceted. It is not only an apartheid system in the South African mould nor is it simply an Israeli occupation or military presence. It is a mixture of imperialism, colonialism and apartheid.

Here, there is a system of racial segregation imposed on us in the West Bank. There is segregation on the roads in the shape of the Israeli bypass roads and the roads set aside for Palestinians. That's one.

Palestinians within Israel, the Arabs of 1948, are discriminated against and treated as third-class or fourth-class citizens.

But legally they have more or less equal rights.

Yes, but there are discriminatory laws.

What do you say to those Israelis who claim that Palestinians in Israel have more rights than Arab citizens in most Arab countries?

That has nothing to do with it. You can't compare a Palestinian in Israel with an Arab living under the tyranny of a dictator: one has had his land stolen and the other is living under the repression of a dictator. Both are wrong.

Just because their situation is better than that of people in other Arab states that does not mean they should be told to shut up. They have rights.

If they consider themselves to be the only in the Middle East, then they must believe in full equality between citizens regardless of their national background or beliefs, origin or ethnicity. And this does not happen in Israel.

Is the boycott you're calling for a general one or a targeted one.

They are different boycott campaigns. First of all, we don't call for the boycotting of individuals. We call for the boycotting of institutions – that's in respect to the outside world. Internally, we call for the boycotting of Israeli products and the boycotting of normalisation encounters, under the so-called umbrella of the “peace process”. Encounters like this create a sense of equality between the oppressor and the victim.

Most people oppose the blockade of Gaza because it constitutes collective punishment. How do you ensure that your boycott is not collective punishment?

Here, there is a big difference. We cannot draw equivalence between the victim and the tormentor. I always start with this principle. Israel is the tormentor and the occupier, so it has to be punished, as an apartheid nation, a nation that practises racial discrimination and as an occupier, and as a country that does not recognise the rights of Palestinians.

Now if we look at the question in terms of effectiveness. You said that Palestinians have, since the 1920s or 1930s, been engaging in boycotts and, of course, the Arab world as a whole has boycotted Israel for decades, although this has lessened in recent years. In terms of results, what has all this achieved?

You can't just look at it as a weapon. It is also a question of principle. You don't want to deal with the state of the occupier. Moreover, a boycott is only one part of the process. You also need international pressure against the country you are boycotting.

Look at the example of South Africa, the boycott campaign and international pressure showed the apartheid regime that the world was opposed to it and it also led to South Africa's isolation.

But there are those who suggest that the boycott played only a marginal role and that civil disobedience and the mass protest movement spearheaded by the ANC, as well as the inherent faults and unsustainability of the system, were the main factors in the collapse of apartheid.

In my view, the BDS campaign is, in itself, not enough, but it is a crucial component of the struggle. Of course, popular resistance also has to be a part of the struggle. International pressure is part of the struggle. International law is part of the struggle. It's all connected. Getting our house in order as Palestinians is also part of the struggle.

Every struggle has its own character. There are different factors at play. But what's certain is that a boycott does have an impact, and Israel sees it as a strategic threat because they know if the boycott movement grows, it will lead to Israel's international isolation.

In your personal view, do you see a difference between an economic and a cultural boycott?  Personally, before coming here, I didn't buy any Israeli products, and here I limit my purchases so as not to aid the occupation. But what I don't really understand is the rationale for a blanket cultural boycott. For example, if there are people in Israeli civil society who are willing to enter into dialogue with Palestinians, why boycott them?

I'll tell you my personal view, because I'm only involved in the BDS and not the cultural and academic boycott. So I prefer not to comment on it.

I just want to hear your personal view. For example, in a column you wrote in al-Masry al-Youm, you praised the success of protesters in cancelling a meeting between Palestinian and Israeli activists in Jerusalem.

There are plenty of Israelis who are partners in our struggle and who recognise our rights as Palestinians. They recognise, for example, the right of return. They recognise that we have rights as Palestinians living under occupation. They also believe in equality and the existence of the Palestinian people. People like that who come to struggle alongside us are not the target of the boycott. Debates are also not the subject of boycott, because this does not count as normalisation.

The aim of most of these so-called dialogues is to give the impression that there is an exchange going on, but this happens without the recognition of our rights, without the acknowledgement that there is a people being oppressed. They try to suggest that the conflict can be resolved through dialogue, but the issue is much larger than this. I don't see that dialogue has resolved anything.

Let's look at it from another perspective. In the absence of dialogue, what is the alternative? Do you think that you can reach peace without the Israeli side? Do you believe that you can achieve your rights as a Palestinian without Israeli involvement?

If we want to reach peace through negotiations, this will not happen with the current balance of power, with the Palestinians the weak side and the Israelis the powerful one.

I'm not talking about the political systems. I mean a dialogue between the two peoples, not the leadership. Do you think it would be useless?

Personally, I find that our 20-year experiment with negotiations and dialogue did not bring about any results. All the dialogues that took place did not result in anything. On the contrary, our situation has actually deteriorated.

But the dialogue you're talking about was between the leadership and not between the people.

No, there was lots of normalisation and there were a lot of civil society organisations involved. It happened at many levels, and no single level achieved any of our demands as Palestinians.  These exchanges only succeeded in providing cover for Israel.

So what you're trying to say is that this BDS movement is based on bitter experience.

Through experience, we've learnt that dialogue does not lead anywhere. On the contrary, it gave an impression to the world that Palestinians and Israelis are talking so relations between them must be normal and they can achieve peace. But ultimately what has happened is that the occupation has deepened its grip and the settlements have grown over the 20 years of negotiations, as has the stealing of water and the killing of Palestinians, as well as the creation of realities on the ground. There is no hope in dialogue.   

What does the youth movement see as the solution? What strategy have you got? You criticise the Palestinian leadership for not having a strategic vision. How do you intend to change the situation and what is your strategy?

Personally, this is how I see the situation. In the coming period, Palestinians need to focus on a number of issues. Firstly, the PLO must be restructured on the basis of Palestinian National Council elections, which represents all Palestinians everywhere in the world. This will restore the PLO's legitimacy, and it will also restore the voice of the refugees, who represent 60-70% of the Palestinian people. At the moment, all the Palestinian leadership is illegitimate and unelected.

Secondly, there is popular resistance. We are going through an important period in our national history similar to the first intifada, which showed that popular resistance has a huge impact. The peaceful Arab revolutions have given momentum to peaceful Palestinian resistance.

Thirdly, there is the boycott campaign. Fourthly, there is the Arab dimension to the Palestinian cause. Our cause is not just Palestinian-Israeli, it is also Arab-Israeli. We must restore the Arab dimension of the struggle. If it remains defined as Palestinian-Israeli, then the balance of power will always be against us because Israel is far more powerful.

You just mentioned the refugees. I have noticed in recent months that Palestinian discourse has begun to focus a lot on the right of return. What does the “right of return” mean to you and how can it be achieved?

We call for the return of the refugees according to UN resolution 194. We do not ask for more.

And how old is this resolution?

It's from 1948.

And we're now in 2012. Many of these homes have disappeared. You have a lot of Palestinian villages and towns from 1948 that are no longer on the map. So, I'd like to know what does “return to their homes” mean? 

In my opinion, “return”, according to the resolution and how I see justice, means that those who were forced out of their villages have the right to return to the village from which they were displaced.

And if this village no longer exists?

The features may have changed but the land is still there. The place where the village or town stood is still there. The refugee has the right to choose: he can return to the original spot or not. Or he can choose to return to another spot or even to stay away – that's each refugee's individual choice. This is an individual right, not a collective one, and it does not become void with time.

Do you mean just the people who were displaced, or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

Yes, and great-great-grandchildren. The way I see it is, if the Jews say that our right to the land goes back 3,000 years and based on that we can return, that means that our right to return is sacred.

Let's say the Jews gave up what they call the Law of Return would you be willing to give up the right of return?

I don't believe in this Law of Return.

I'm not asking you whether you believe in it. I'm asking you if the Israelis said from now on this land is for all the people who live on it, whether Palestinian or Israeli Jew, or others, those who are actually on the ground.

You mean a single state for all?


I am for the one-state solution in which everyone lives without discrimination and in equality. But there are rights for the Palestinians who have been wronged. Before we move towards the one-state solution, these rights must be restored. These are the right of return, the ending of the occupation, the dismantling of the settlements. Afterwards, we can live together in a single state.

You say the right of return is timeless. Let's assume that this conflict carries on for another 500 years, would the distant descendants of those who were expelled still have a right of return?


So how would this differ from Zionist ideology?

I don't wish to philosophise about the situation. We didn't invent our right of return. In addition, there is clear precedence in international law. I'm not demanding anything outside the law.

Ok, let's look at it from another angle. Arabs accuse Israel of picking and choosing the elements of international law that suit it. There are Israelis too who accuse the Arabs of picking and choosing. They say that the Palestinians and Arabs rejected the UN partition plan of 1947 and declared war. So, they argue, why do Arabs insist of implementing resolution 194 when they rejected resolution 181?

They also didn't accept the partition plan.

Why? They agreed to it?

But they occupied all of Palestine.

But they agreed to it before the war. They say we accepted it but the Arabs went to war.

The 1947 partition plan was unjust to the Palestinians. It allocated more than half the land to the Jews, even though the Arabs were the majority and the land was originally theirs.

That's my point. UN resolutions are not sacred or set in stone. They need to be analysed to see how realistic, just and practical they are.

Yes, UN resolutions need to be analysed. There are resolutions which are taken to champion the wronged, like resolution 194. Despite its noble aim of helping the wronged, it was never implemented. But just resolutions like this must be implemented and we should not abandon them just because the balance of power is against us.

And what do you think of compensation?

It is up to the individual refugee to choose whether they want compensation or to return wherever they want to in historic Palestine.

In the context of the two-state solution, if Israel said the refugees can have the right to return to pre-1967 Palestine with a compensation package, would that be acceptable?

I can't give you an opinion on this because I am not a refugee and so I can't speak on their behalf.

On a pragmatic level, do you think the right of return is achievable in the foreseeable future?

Everything is possible. There were those who believed that Mubarak would rule indefinitely. Even with all that's happened to us since 1948, we have not forgotten our rights, and we are ready to defend our rights. Another 10 or 20 years can pass but we will remain steadfast.

You say that you believe in the one-state solution. But you say that you must gain all your rights first before. So, that means you don't believe in a gradual solution?

What do you mean?

For example, if you believe in a one-state solution, why don't you transform the Palestinian struggle into a civil rights movement? Why don't you start demanding Israeli citizenship? Why don't you demand full and equal rights with Israelis? Won't that lead to a single state?

I'll tell you my personal opinion. Currently, we are at a stage of struggle. Personally, I believe in the one-state solution. But for the moment, the issue isn't whether we should have one or two states. The situation at the moment is not conducive for that solution.

Personally, I think, on the contrary, now is the time to make that choice. You have to decide: do you want a piece of land to call your own or do you want your rights as people.

Personally, I don't want to live under Israeli rule. Why should I live in an Israeli state?

Well, Israelis also fear that, in the one-state scenario, they will end up as second-class citizens under Palestinian or even Islamic rule. What will guarantee their rights in a single state?

What I believe in is a single state built on equal rights, where the constitution guarantees each people its rights.

So what's to stop you from demanding citizenship and full and equal rights?

Personally, as Zaid, I don't believe I'd be able to live under Israeli rule.

Is it because of the name of the state?

It's not just the name of the state. It all needs to be approached gradually. It's not just whether the state should be called Israel or Palestine. In my view, it's important that I live in a country that is Palestine. I don't want to be a dreamer but I do have a dream of living in my own land where I can go where I like.

But if you demand full and equal rights, you'll be able to go where you like, and you'll be able to vote in elections, and you'll be able to choose your representative, and you'll be able to help determine the direction of the state.

Under which system should I demand my equal rights? Under the current Israeli system?


You mean the current unjust system.

Well, you did your own Freedom Rides. In the days when the original Freedom Riders were campaigning in America, the system there was unjust, but when they entered the system, they were able to make it fairer.

But there's a difference. As I said before, we shouldn't confuse the civil rights movement in America with our struggle. There, it was a question of civil rights. Here, it is not just civil rights. Here, there is more. There is a military occupation. Here, there is land theft.

But what's the most powerful way to confront this occupation? If you're an enfranchised member of society, won't you be better positioned to end the occupation?

No, not in this way.

I'm not saying this will happen in a year or two. It will take many long years. But nothing can be built in a day or two.

When I look at the situation, the first thing I see is that Israelis don't even accept your presence on the land. I mean, you're not welcome here, so how do you expect them to give you full citizenship? They keep on evicting you and pushing you off the land, and you tell me that if I demand citizenship, I'll be able to end the occupation? Their project, the Zionist project, wants us off the land, how do you then expect them to accept our presence here as equals? They believe that they are better than us. They believe that this is their land.

But changing any discriminatory system needs time and effort. For example, in South Africa…

I'll tell you what.

Let me just finish what I have to say. You often compare the situation here to South Africa during the Apartheid era. Well, let's complete the analogy. In South Africa, you also had a group of outsiders, white Europeans, who came and occupied and colonised the land, segregated the people, and placed themselves as the rulers. The black Africans, the original inhabitants of the land, during their struggle for their rights did not demand a separate country, they demanded equality. So, if you say there is apartheid here like there was in South Africa, and you're following the South African boycott model, why not go all the way and also demand your civil rights.

I'll reiterate my point. We were pushed off our land. Yes, there are elements in common between Apartheid South Africa and here, but that does not mean that the two situations are identical. Every struggle has its own characteristics. We have 1.5 million Arabs in Israel. Let them give that 1.5 million equal rights first, so that I, as a Palestinian, can be convinced that there is room for us to ask for equality.

But you can look at it from another angle. If you, as West Bank Palestinians, demanded citizenship like the Palestinians within Israel, and you added your voices to theirs, you'll have enough clout in the system to be able to make it fair and equal.

And do you think Israel will allow you to become a majority and change the entire system?

I'm not saying change the entire system. I'm saying make it a fair system.

You need to realise that here we have two peoples with enormous differences between them and a longstanding conflict. It's not easy to just come and say we'll demand citizenship, become the majority and then change the system.

You don't need to be the majority. Even as a sizeable minority, you'll have a far better position than this disenfranchisement. You'll also have constitutional rights that cannot be violated by others.

Well, I have a suggestion: why can't a new system that is fair to all be built from scratch.

But this fair, new system won't just fall out of the sky and say “Here I am, take me.”  You can only reach this new system gradually.

The way I see it is that activism and the boycott are part of the process of building this fair system. That way, you isolate Israel and force it to take action.

So, you don't think that, if you were an Israeli citizen, you would be able to play a more effective role as an activist than if you stay outside the system?

You're talking to me as if Israel is ready to give us citizenship.

I'm not saying Israel is ready. I'm saying you should demand these civil rights.

Let me say that, at this juncture, the situation is not conducive to demanding civil rights. Before civil rights, there are other rights that must be acquired, the rights of the people who were wronged. I don't see that becoming part of Israel's racist system is the solution for overturning the racist system. In fact, you would be giving it legitimacy by enabling them to say that it is a democratic system. It could enable them to remain in control because they are the stronger side which dominates the economy and the other centres of power in the country. If you enter the system, you will enter it as the weaker party.

Ok, you say that you believe in the one-state solution. So how do we reach it?

There is no clear vision for how this should be done. I can tell you that as an individual I believe in equal rights, but the details of how to achieve it is not at all easy. It is a very complicated matter. And we haven't reached the point yet where the one-state solution is feasible. Most people still support the two-state option.

I can say, speaking as Zaid, that I would rather live in a Palestinian state built on 22% of the land than in a hegemonic Israeli state where we are excluded from all the centres of power.

On the subject of equal rights, there are a lot of Israelis who are terrified of the one-state “monster”. They are afraid, like has occurred with Jews before in history, that they would become an oppressed group or minority within this state.  Do you think these fears are exaggerated?

If there is a decent legal system that respects all, everyone will be equal. The PLO, when it was first established, called for a single state of equal citizens. This is something that the Palestinians have called for historically.

As for Israeli fears, naturally everyone wants to protect their own, but Israel tends to inflate matters. Take, for example, the fear of Iran, or Islamism.

I think we need to make a distinction between the state and the people. The Israeli state may exploit fears to advance its goals but the Israeli people are afraid. I've spoken to Israelis and their fear is genuine.

When they overcome this fear, we can then move towards the one-state solution.

And are there Palestinian fears regarding the one-state solution?

A lot of Palestinians fear that they will become second or third-class citizens. But the way I see it, we have either the two-state or the one-state option, that is if the leadership adopts it. In the two-state scenario, the Palestinians will remain weak. In a single state, if Palestinians are not granted equal rights, it will become an apartheid state. But you can then fight for your rights. I believe that achieving our rights requires activism. And activism in a single state might be preferable to having a separate state which is hobbled by agreements that strip it off the right to have a military and permit an Israeli military presence on our land – which is what is being proposed at present.

I don't see this solution as being better than a single state. Palestinians have to overcome their fears and be courageous in the pursuit of the one-state solution.

Palestinians abroad are in favour of the one-state solution. They often try to push us in that direction and tell us “It's the time”. But they are living far away. For me, here on the ground, I don't see that it's the time.

Well, that's another important point. Your movement speaks of the importance of the Palestinian but, at the same time, it is you who are living the reality on the ground. They have their circumstances and you have yours. Like what happened after the first intifada, though it was led by Palestinians here, the exiled leadership came and took everything over. Why, then, shouldn't part of your strategy be that every Palestinian community fight for its rights where it is and let the future bring what it brings?

When I believe in the rights of Palestinian citizens, then I also believe they have to be treated humanely wherever they are. Just because they were expelled from their land that does not mean they should be discriminated against. At the same time, there is the fear that assimilation within the societies where they live will lose them their identity.

But there is another fear: if this conflict goes on for another hundred years, then it would be unfair for them to stay like this.

I'm with you. I believe that they have to live a decent life of equality. Refugees must enjoy equal rights but they must not become, say, Lebanese citizens and lose their Palestinian identity. That is what I'm against.

Also, it is not just up to the Palestinians here to decide the fate of the struggle. After all, the majority of Palestinians live in exile. I can't make the decision for them whether they should return or not. I don't have the right to say that I don't want the refugee in, say, Lebanon to come back.

So, in your view, in the absence of full recognition of the right of return, the conflict will not be resolved?

It won't be resolved in a fair and just manner.

But Israel is likely to continue rejecting this. Does that mean the conflict will go on forever?

No. I believe that continued activism, including the BDS campaign, will force Israel to give us our rights. When Israel feels that it is losing, when it pays the price for its occupation and racism, and the price for expelling the Palestinians, then things will be different.

But couldn't it be that if Israel feels cornered, it will become more violent and oppressive and more persistent in the course it is following? If we look at other regimes that were isolated as pariahs, like North Korea or Iraq, the system there became more oppressive under siege.

Israel gains its legitimacy and strength from the countries it deals with and the United Nations. International isolation would hit Israel where it hurts. It may become more oppressive for a while, but this can't last. Israelis are always afraid of delegitimisation. Israel was a country established by an international resolution, so it needs international political support, otherwise its existence will be perceived as illegitimate.


  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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2 thoughts on “Civil rights and wrongs in the Palestinian struggle

  • I lost interest midway. In short, fresh-thinking young Saudi Arabian immigrants to Ramallah, want what Arabs have always wanted. The Jews must be subordinated and punished for their arrogance in thinking that the system of nation-states would protect them, the way that it protects Arabs et al. Arab violence and boycotts are matters of great honor. Israeli violence and boycotts are “apartheid.” Israeli relative decency toward people who call for the elimination of Jews, and who have eliminated Jews from the territories in which they are dominant, count for nothing. Arab anger, which can only be satisfied with blood, is all that there is.

    In a just world, packs of Arab beggers are stabbing one another on the streets of Cairo and Damascus, while the Jews build another school, hospital, or symphany hall. Oh wait, that’s our world.

  • Clearly this activist is confused about the aims of Palestinian leadership  as well as the reason for the travel restrictions, or just is refusing to acknowledge the truth. Further confusion about the identity question — especially the avoidance and denial of the whole issue of Arab hegemony in the area. The surrounding countries do not want to see a Jewish State existing in the Middle East. He says he favors a one state solution, which is the only real rational approach considering the geography and size of the country involved, and yet refuses to contemplate the possibility of being an Israeli citizen — obviously projecting his anti-Semitism or Jew hatred onto Israelis, as if they would never provide equal rights. Proof of that irrational hatred is his ludicrous minimizing of the fact that Arabs living in Israel have more freedom and political power than anywhere in the Arab world. They vote, hold political office, serve in the Supreme Court of Israel. Clearly Israel is more willing to accept Arab equality than Arabs are willing Jewish equality. The very thought drives Arabs crazy. Face it, it’s part of their culture, derived from Quranic teachings. When they deal with all that they might be able to face facts and live in peace. Otherwise, all the gestures of wanting peace are phony posturing, which they quickly contradict by violence and denial of Israel’s right to exist. 


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