Omar Barghouti: ‘They can colonize our lands, but they can never colonize our minds’

on 15 Comments
omar barghouti
(Photo: Bud Korotzer/NLN)

Last Saturday, Omar Barghouti stopped in Oakland, CA as part of his current West Coast tour. The lecture was billed as “Occupy Wall St., not Palestine,” and Barghouti made the case that it makes “perfect sense to think of Israel as part of the global one-percent in War Inc.” He touched on the relationship between U.S. and Israeli weapons manufactures, suggesting that Israel’s behavior as a “garrison state” enables more customers for U.S. produced weapons.

Weapons are used by Israel on Palestinians and then the U.S. manufactures sell the “field tested” weapons to other countries, and at times also to “Israel’s enemies.” Barghouti finds the Israeli occupation functions as a training ground for what amounts to an estimated $4 trillion spent by the U.S. government on occupation wars, in the past 10 years.

However, Barghouti’s remarks on Israel as part of the “global one-percent” were brief, and the most captivating part of his lecture was his recounting of the first Intifada.

In the first few weeks of the Intifada, Israel shut down all Palestinian universities. Barghouti explained that only a few months after the university closures, all 1,194 Palestinian schools in the West Bank and Gaza were also shut down. Next came the kindergartens, until every educational institution in the occupied Palestinian territories were forcibly closed. This prompted Palestinians to build an “illegal network” of schools. These underground classes were described as a popular mode of resistance, where everyone participated, because everyone was affected.

But the closures of Palestinian schools, Barghouti told us, were not the first major assault on Palestinian education. Referencing an Israel researcher’s dissertation, Barghouti said during Nakba, Israeli paramilitary groups “pillaged all of our books.” Over 10,000 books were destroyed, and thousands of others are now held in Israeli universities. Granted, targeting a people’s history is not unique to the Palestinians. The 1992 Serb bombing of besieged Sarajevo’s municipal library and the Oriental Institute destroyed over 50,000 books and as well as a major Ottoman archive with over 200,000 documents. Libraries are historical records of existence, and like the books in Sarajevo, those destroyed by the Israelis constituted an attempt to erase knowledge of history. However, Palestinians have found ways to build new archives, often collecting archival photographs and oral histories. Barghouti contends, “they can colonize our lands, but they can never colonize our minds.”

Recounting this particular event during the Nakba ended up being useful during the question and answer period where one audience member asked about Barghouti attending Tel Aviv University, and others felt queasy about the boycott of academic and cultural institutions. Barghouti explained that though he received a Masters degree from Tel Aviv University, it does not negate Israel as an Apartheid state. He referenced South Africa, where black South Africans under Apartheid also attended university. Barghouti noted that it is the structures of discrimination that denote an apartheid system. In Israel’s case he pointed to access to education and the role of academic institutions in furthering the two-tiered system of citizenship. He was adamant that there is no contradiction between Palestinian citizens of Israel seeking services that they pay taxes for while advocating for an end of the Apartheid system in the universities they attend.

Barghouti concluded that the power of the BDS movement is that the Israeli military is incapable of responding, as it was similarly incapable of responding to underground schools during the Intifada. In a surprising deviation from his serious demeanor, Barghouti asked “what do you do with Oakland supporters of BDS, nuke them?”

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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15 Responses

  1. Winnica
    January 10, 2012, 1:44 pm

    Fascinating. I’d never heard the story of Israel shutting down all Palestinian schools and the Palestinian response of setting up a clandestine network. Where did the clandestine network operate? In private homes? Garages? How did the Palestinians manage to keep more than a thousand institutions with, one assumes, more than 100,000 children, secret from the prying eyes of the Israelis? Were the educators the same people from the shut down system, and if so, were the Israelis blind to the fact that the teachers weren’t sitting idle at home, as was the Israeli intention, but rather… teaching, in those garages? Who paid their salaries? How long did all this go on?

    It’s even more intriguing given that the report Ms. Deger links to only says the schools were shut down for one week. Was the clandestine system set up that fast? And was it disbanded at the end of the week? And if it was, what is the ultimate point of the story?

    • Allison Deger
      January 10, 2012, 11:30 pm

      The universities were closed for two years via military order, some for longer, and the closures to elementary, prepatory and high schools effected approx. 300,000 students, not 100,000. Read page 9 and 10 of the B’tselem report from 1990, titled “Closure of Schools and Other Setbacks to the Education System in the Occupied Territories.”

      • Winnica
        January 11, 2012, 1:07 am

        The link doesn’t work for me, but I’ll take your word for it. Still, may I ask that you walk me thru this, Allison? Because the story doesn’t seem to add up.

        Israel conquered the WB in 1967 – and so far as I know, there were no universities there at all (I could be wrong about this, if so correct me). More than 20 years later, a time came when the Israelis shut down the universities which had been set up during its rule, and also shut down lots of schools, I don’t know for how long. Some time later – days? months? two years? – it allowed them to be reopened, and if I’m following you correctly, they’ve been open ever since, meaning another 20-some years. Which would seem to indicate that closing schools was the exception, not the norm. It doens’t sound like an exception Israel has anything to be proud about, but if it’s an exception one does wonder what caused it and why it ended.

        Another point I need your help on, Allison, is how this fits into the BDS discussion today. When I first read your report on Bargouti’s talk, I thought he (and you) were saying that Israel needs to be boycotted now because it shuts down Palestinian schools (among other things). That certainly seems to be the understanding of my fellow commentors, who talk about all this in present tense and as typical Israeli policy. Yet if I’m following you correctly, it isn’t. It happened once in two generations, and that once was a generation ago.

      • Allison Deger
        January 11, 2012, 6:25 am

        -Try this link:
        You’ll need to search a bit. Use the tool on the right to select the year 1990. Search, then open the document for “Closure of Schools and Other Setbacks to the Education System in the Occupied Territories.”

        I would recommend to read the report in full. Schools were closed during the Intifada so excessively that it became a normalized practice. It was a punitive measure placed on Palestinians as an attempt to curtail the uprising. Or, collective punishment–if you will.

        -Also, universities in the occupied Palestinian Territories pre-date the Israeli occupation. As an example see Bir Zeit’s history (likewise, some Israeli universities pre-dates statehood):

        -More on freedom of movement, see a Mondo article about some of the current challenges imposed by checkpoints:

        -For more specific information re: on-going school closures, administrative detention of students and freedom of movement see the Right 2 Education campaign:

    • libra
      January 11, 2012, 6:53 pm

      Winnica, I know you’re a new voice here at Mondoweiss and, at least for me, a very welcome one. I loved the vignette you wrote about passing through Tel Aviv airport and I look forward to more.

      But perhaps it’s the very quality of your writing that makes me think you are feigning ignorance here. And I ask myself why? It’s not that we are lacking ignorant Zionists here at Mondoweiss. We have those aplenty. Not just those who lack the rhetorical skills to do anything more than act like a petulant child, oscillating between vainglorious boasting and pitiful whining. But those who actually are genuinely ignorant of Israel. For instance, it’s over 20 years since Richard Witty last visited Israel. Yet he seems completely oblivious of this sad fact as he blithely lectures us.

      No, what we need at Mondoweiss is an intelligent Zionist who can write well, who knows Israel and explain what it is up to. Where it is going. How it can find its rightful place in a fast changing Middle East. May be write an interesting post or two. I’m hoping it could be you. Are you up for it?

  2. Dan Crowther
    January 10, 2012, 2:21 pm

    What’s that saying, “your nobody, until… destroy books”?

    It’s as if the Israeli’s have a checklist of the inhuman things other “conquerors” have done to the “conquered” – and they need to go down and cross them all off before they can become “normal.” Good luck with that…..

    • seafoid
      January 10, 2012, 3:47 pm

      Pauperisation is a key Israeli strategy. It’s pure colonialism. Drive the Palestinians into ever deeper poverty and assume they will leave. Except they don’t. Israel doesn’t understand the Palestinians.

      • irena
        January 10, 2012, 8:36 pm

        Just like Americans do not understand the Pashtun

  3. justicewillprevail
    January 10, 2012, 3:27 pm

    Bookburners, child kidnappers, segregationists, house and land thieves, warmongers – and they think putting up a statue of Ghandi papers over the crimes. LOL

  4. Avi_G.
    January 10, 2012, 6:45 pm

    Well, the entire colonial enterprise in Palestine was aimed at destroying all the human and cultural capital of the indigenous population, erasing one culture, one history, one people and replacing it with a different one. To do so, Israel undertook a project of great propositions, destroying entire libraries, destroying historical sites or building over them, changing street names, cleansing entire towns and villages and getting rid of the Palestinian intelligentsia. Palestinian scientists, philosophers, poets, doctors and novelists were targeted and were either murdered, imprisoned or expelled.

    Later, that is, after 1948, Israeli authorities focused their attention on the Palestinians who remained in Israel. Thus, school textbooks for the so-called Arab sector were not allowed to include information about Palestinian history or culture. Instead, Palestinian students had to learn about the glorious days of Israel’s founding, about Israel’s democratic tenants and its democratic character, all the while, said minority was prohibited from celebrating its own culture and heritage. Anything that was remotely considered by Israeli authorities to be of Palestinian national character, was prohibited. Poems, songs, historical figures etc., were all erased from the public domain in an attempt to erase that collective consciousness that unites a nation, that makes a people unique — their culture, their customs, their human capital.

    Israel did the same in the occupied West Bank after 1967. So what Barghouthi described is actually a microcosm of the entire enterprise.

    As an aside, to this day, for example, Arab teachers who wish to teach in the schools of their cities or towns, must be vetted by the Shaback, not the police. In other words, whereas in most countries a teacher would have to undergo a routine background check, Palestinian teachers in Israel must undergo a different kind of background check. If the Shaback suspects that they were ever politically active, if they so much as uttered a word during a conversation where a Shaback informant was present, a word that did not sit well with Israeli authorities, then that person’s career as a teacher was going nowhere.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    January 10, 2012, 7:10 pm

    RE: ‘They can colonize our lands, but they can never colonize our minds’ – Omar Barghouti

    MY QUESTION: What about the subconscious?

    EXCERPTS: ‘Kings of the Road’ (1976), focuses on the relationship that develops between two men – movie projector repairman Bruno and suicidal Robert – as they travel in a truck on the dusty roads along the border between East and West Germany…
    …In its intricate allusions and resonant implications, it evokes [Wim] Wenders’s favorite themes: the difficulties of communication, the Americanization of German life (“The Yanks have colonized our subconscious,” one of the characters says) and the fate of German cinema, which is done by showing the number of movie theaters that have either closed down or resorted to showing X-rated films.
    SOURCE –

    THE FILM: Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road) [in 18 parts] –

  6. gingershot
    January 10, 2012, 7:49 pm

    The Israelis have been deliberately psychologically traumatizing Palestinian children and the rest of their culture for several generations now.

    These guys are worse than Nazis – if and when there is One State there should be millions of dollars directed to psychological services as well as all the other services the Palestinians need after having been brutalized by the Israelis for so many years

    It makes me sick that Jewish Americans still support the deliberate Israeli policies designed to traumatize and beat down generation after generation of Palestinian children until they submit to their lords

    I disagree here with Barghouti – the Israelis have psychologically damaged 100,000’s of Palestinians already

  7. ToivoS
    January 10, 2012, 10:52 pm

    Avi, as usual good comment. I was at a debate where Omar Barghouti presented the case for the Palestinians about two years back. He is one very impressive man. His opponent was a progressive Zionist who I happen to respect (Zeev Moaz, a political science prof that supports the removal of nuclear weapons from the Israeli wars against the Arabs, including those held by Israel). To hear Omar talk almost brought tears to my eyes. His position was so clear. Without mentioning the PA he completely reduced their positions with respect to the “Peace Process” as a totally corrupt sham that has only two goals: 1) enrich those PA officials that receive hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the West and 2) allow Israel to absorb more Palestinian territory into the Zionist experiment in Palestine called Israel. Omar forcefully argued that the only road for the Palestinians was resistance while poor Zeev was reduced to threatening that Israel was still in the position to crush any Palestinian resistance.

    It reminded me when Edward Said warned the Palestinians that the “Peace Process” would lead to this in 1992. At the time I dismissed Said as an extremist; boy was he right and was I wrong.

  8. ErsatzYisrael
    January 11, 2012, 4:26 am

    Omar, I think you’ll find that the only “minds” those brutal warriors of Zion believe they’ll ever need to “colonize” are the ones belonging to high ranking members of the American government – oh, and key people working in the American MSM, and the American Jewry.

  9. Matthew Graber
    January 13, 2012, 10:35 am

    The project called “The Great Book Robbery” (link: is doing a spectacular job of documenting and retrieving the books stolen from Palestinian libraries in 1948.

    I had the pleasure of speaking with Karina Goulordava, the communications manager of the project, and Susan Abulhawa, about orientalism and the power of Palestinian literature.

    The podcast of that conversation is available here:

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