Tomorrow is a special day for the Palestinians, at least in the world of symbolism and tenacious hope. Tomorrow is November 15, the day in 1988 when late President Yasser Arafat declared a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.
Yes, we Palestinians –” perhaps out of sheer survival –” have learned to cling to symbols. We thrive on moral victories, on eloquent speeches and on support from countries that can make no real difference in the unbalanced corridors of power. And we celebrate, each year, on November 15, we take the day off, our children stay home from school and we remind them that one day, we will have a real independence day, but that until then, we cannot lose faith.
There is truth at the heart of this. We cannot lose faith in spite of all that has gone wrong. But there must be a balance between symbolism and reality. Each has its advantages and disadvantages equally and if we find that balance, we will not allow ourselves to get lost in the symbolism that merely lifts our spirits.
This is particularly true today, as the Palestinians face innumerable challenges, both diplomatically and on the ground. Earlier this week, the first blow was delivered to the Palestinians at the UN Security Council admissions committee which said it failed to reach an agreement over Palestine’s bid for full membership. The United States –” wanting to spare itself even the slightest bit of awkwardness –” seems to have been able to coerce France and Britain among others to either abstain or vote against the Palestinians should the latter decide to take it up in the Council so the US would not be singled out in its veto.
Naturally, the Palestinians are frustrated with the lack of justice and imbalance in powers that govern its diplomatic efforts to gain independence. But, like all these years of various tactics have proven to us, there is always one more way to go, one more idea to get us closer to our goal.
Officially, the leadership is not backing down on its option to turn to the United Nations to achieve statehood –” symbolic again, but with a measure of diplomatic clout that could make a difference in their ability to take Israel to court and to get Palestine recognized as an occupied state. That, obviously, goes beyond empty symbolism and is why the leadership insists on pursuing it.
But back to our Independence Day and what it means to us Palestinians living year after year under occupation. At the time when President Arafat proudly took the podium in Algeria during the historical Palestine National Council’s special session, we all believed it would be just a matter of time before the dream came true. Even Arafat told us so –” “We are in our last quarter hour,” he would say of the remaining duration of our long and hard struggle. “Jerusalem is just a stone’s throw away.”
That has not yet come to pass. Since then we have ridden the highs of our moral victories such as President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UN General Assembly and the more recent UNESCO vote to include Palestine as full members. But we are no closer to independence than we were back in 1988 and perhaps just that much more disenchanted.
However, all is not lost. Those moral victories and the symbols we desperately cling to are meaningful for a reason. If it were not for the pride we feel when the Palestinian flag is flown on rooftops in Jerusalem or when three-fourths of the General Assembly gave President Abbas a standing ovation after his speech, we may forget what we are fighting for. The symbols are important, but not in and of themselves. It is not enough that Abbas got a standing ovation or that we are members of UNESCO. But it is something. And it is something when countries and individuals speak in our defense or condemn Israel for its crimes on Palestine soil. These are all stepping stones to the higher cause.
So, tomorrow, on our virtual Independence Day, let us be fair. It is not an “illusion” like some fazed cynics might call it. Neither is it the final destination because we are obviously still under occupation. But it is an important day to remember what we are working towards, why we are such a proud people and why, no matter how many more “virtual” independence days we have to celebrate, one day it will be for real.