Amira Hass’ dispatches from Palestine for Haaretz do not usually invoke hope. In the past few months, Hass has chronicled the Israeli military’s point-blank execution of Muataz Washaha; Israel’s confiscation of playground equipment for Bedouin children near Jerusalem; and Israel’s theft of vital water resources that Palestinians need.
Given that Hass is the only Israeli correspondent who witnesses day in and day out the grind of occupation and dispossession in Palestine, it makes perfect sense that her columns and news reports spark despair and anger in readers. But on Wednesday night, at Columbia University, she gave the audience some reason for hope.
Speaking to a packed room of at least 120 people, Hass, who Professor Rashid Khalidi called the “best journalist” covering the region, laid out why Palestinians are not losing the battle with Israel. Yes, the daily reports are dispiriting, and the mainstream Israeli and U.S. media don’t often convey this reality. In fact, Hass said she panicked when preparing her talk, titled “Palestinian Strengths.” For every positive attribute the Palestinians can claim, there are many more negatives due to a corrupt Palestinian leadership and a cruel and brutally effective Israeli army and bureaucracy.
But, as Hass outlined, the Palestinians are still on the land, continuing the fight against one of the only colonial powers still pursuing policies of expulsion and occupation.
She marvels at collective Palestinian resilience–sumud in Arabic. That spirit of resilience, by no means unique to Palestinians, is a “universal reminder of the limitations of power,” said Hass. Palestinian society’s sense of collectivity means there is a “basic confidence that injustice cannot last forever.” And she said that while the Palestinian Authority does its best to crack down on dissent, Palestinian society remains self-critical. They are sober about their leaders, and criticism of the PA percolates up the power ladder, providing a check on Mahmoud Abbas and others. (That is perhaps why Abbas has not given in on the “Jewish state” demand.)
The Palestinians, she says, have in fact been generous to Israel, offering to settle the conflict for 22 percent of their historical land–an insight that U.S. media rarely reports. The fact that Israel continues to toy with Palestinian land and life despite the offer for peace is the state’s biggest weakness, she said, seemingly suggesting that it sows the seeds for continued conflict. On that note, she relayed the story of how, in one week, two separate Palestinians–one a villager, the other negotiator Saeb Erakat–asked her: “Don’t Israelis think of their grandchildren?”
In response to a question from the audience on whether, with the two-state solution collapsing, Israelis think about their future, Hass said that “many of us feel Israel is suicidal,” and that Israeli officials have not seriously offered a Palestinian state. “There is enormous blindness” among Israelis, she added.
I asked about whether she thought the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was another source of Palestinian strength. “Of course,” she responded, saying that internet-savvy, English speaking Palestinians have succeeded in starting a global movement. On the other hand, she said it was distressing to witness Palestinians shopping at malls in settlements, and said BDS needs to spread within Palestine for it to bite.
In a remark that punctuated her tempered hope, she predicted that “in the end, the colonial project will fail.” But at what cost is the question. Will further bloodshed have to come first? Or will the Arab world, or Western states, realign in such a way to force Israel to end its project? Hass had no ready-made predictions for those questions.
Similar to her New America Foundation talk last week (covered by Jefferson Morley here), Hass did not mention Secretary of State John Kerry. His efforts, designed to stave off Israel’s isolation, are about adjusting Israel’s colonial project just enough to forge a peace deal while ignoring the root of the conflict–ethnocracy.
But if you take Hass’ words to heart, Palestinian society is not going to accept a simple rejiggering of Zionism if a deal doesn’t address fundamental inequality. And given that it is the Palestinians who have the last card to play–you can’t end the conflict without their consent–perhaps Hass is right. The Palestinians can win. The only question is how long it will take.