Qumsiyeh: we’re reaching the ‘endgame’ of an anti-colonialist struggle

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The view from the West Bank:

"Looking out from my window," Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian professor and activist, said on a press call hosted by the Institute for Middle East Understanding yesterday, "I’m seeing the settlement of Har Homa, the largest Jewish settlement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. And I see the cranes and the construction continuing."

Meanwhile in the West:

Elvis is in the BDS building (or at least in its general vicinity). Andrew Sullivan, outing himself as a progressive on this score, won’t be cowed by unscrupulous accusations of anti-Semitism. In the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart says liberal Zionists in the U.S. are becoming, well, illiberal.

All around me, in New York and D.C., the mood, the conversations on Israel-Palestine are shifting.

So, too, are the conversations shifting in Israel. But they’re not shifting toward openness. Rather, things are closing, curling up on themselves in a defensive cocoon — a cocoon with sharp spikes, impaling all those who dare question it. Most of the time, it’s Palestinians who are on the nasty end of it.

The crackdown is against the robust movement for justice, embodied today in the popular resistance efforts of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line–not through the channels of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority, but through civil society.

"We’re reaching the endgame," said Qumsiyeh, the coordinator of the Popular Committee against the Apartheid Wall and Settlements in Beit Sahour, who was himself arrested earlier this month. "Lots of people know that this is a classic colonial-anti-colonial struggle. It has been opposed because it’s reaching an end. Israel is building walls."

The walls are keeping out even the likes of Noam Chomsky, the leftwing linguist and staunch supporter of the two-state solution, for having disagreeable views. "If someone like that is denied entry, what is one to say, when [Israel] reaches the level of Stalinist Russia or fascist Italy in terms of free speech?" asked Qumsiyeh.

But the walls also box a hell of a lot of Palestinians into Israel proper. For them, this is not the occupier versus the occupied, but the citizen against the very ethos of her state, said Nadim Rouhana, a Tufts professor who works on issues involving Palestinian Citizens of Israel.

"The efficacy of [Palestinian citizens of Israel] is limited by the state," Rouhana said during the same IMEU press-call. "They certainly feel they have very little impact on the political system."

And so their redress occurs in civil society. Then Israel clamps down, lumping in Palestinian civil society with its Israeli counterpart. The fear is that this mobilized community — collective Palestinians and individual Israelis — will make Israel look bad, and call the Jewish state into question.

"What has been happening in the last year or two, certainly in the last few months, is that the more objection there is to this idea of a Jewish state, the more the crackdown increases and the more the crackdown is on freedom of expression and civil society," Rouhana said. 

The comparison the Israeli right — the Israeli collective consciousness — most dreads is the South Africa one. This theme came up again and again in the IMEU call. Israelis are afraid of it; Palestinians draw hope from it. ‘Get behind us, like you got behind South Africa’s blacks.’ That’s what BDS is all about.

But there are other areas of comparison: Palestinians, according to Qumsiyeh’s calculations, control only 8.3 percent of the land in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The same was true in — you guessed it — South Africa, where whites had the land, and forced blacks into small portions, 8 to 9 percent, of the land.

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