Stand Still Like the Humming Bird: Towards a New Palestine

Henry Miller, the great American writer and lover of freedom once wrote, "When you find you can go neither backward nor forward, when you discover that you are no longer able to stand, sit or lie down, when your children have died of malnutrition and your aged parents have been sent to the poorhouse or the gas chamber, when you realize that you can neither write nor not write, when you are convinced that all the exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like the humming bird. The miracle is that the honey is always there, right under your nose, only you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it. The worst is not death but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous…The language of society is conformity; the language of the creative individual is freedom. Life will continue to be a hell as long as the people who make up the world shut their eyes to reality."

There are few places in the world today, where when you walk through a city that the tattered posters of intellectuals are plastered on the walls. It says something about a place – that ideas are valued. In the language of Occupation and resistance, this is the currency that matters because it offers at least the faint hope of opportunity to change one’s conditions so that one can be free to live one’s life.

In the end, maybe that’s what we’re all looking for.

Edward Said was never really the organic intellectual of Palestine – he was a tenured professor at Columbia after all. But he was the Palestinian who, better than anyone else, explained a complex situation to the Western world when few were listening.

Now that his black and white portrait is found on the wooden hoardings of Ramallah and East Jerusalem, he has become a kind of Rousseau of Palestine since his death. Maybe in a different world, he would have won the Jerusalem Prize.

The Israelis and Palestinians are neither a dumb nor quiet people. They are worldly, they have travelled, they know what normal looks like – they have an idea of how the rest of the world works where conflict does not exist. Negotiating through the complexity of one’s collective past while attempting to shape a future is a recipe for dysfunction and national disorder. The failure of today is the failure of the leadership’s inability to look at new approaches and solutions. The leadership have promoted a culture of detritus, misinformation and a jaundiced public discourse that does not serve the interests of both nations. As election day approaches in Palestine, it appears almost certain that Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas will be asked to serve in the shadow of Yasser Arafat’s sizeable footprint, but it will be Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi who will win the Palestinian street.

Today’s Palestine is the illegitimate fruit of Oslo, a dysfunctional society with little opportunity for self- determination administered by Occupation forces. Oslo, in the end, did more to put a structure to the Occupation and made it a point of negotiation rather than formally recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination. Oslo became a marketing and public relations strategy rather than change what was happening on the ground. Today, the architects of that failed plan stand under the banner of the Geneva Initiative ready to make amends.

Palestinians today live under a structure conceived of by bureacrats and elites more interested in closing the final deal than understanding the nuances of daily life. The 734 checkpoints make the military presence a daily humiliation and the movement restrictions and the uses of administrative detention, a daily psychological exercise in power relations.

Negotiating an "incremental betterness" does not serve the interest of the elite on either side although it would do much to alleviate some of the daily suffering. The end result has been further polarization in Israeli society and a climate where unilateralism is the modus operandi of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

It has also created a climate where the far right in Israel still has a sizeable political advantage. Just yesterday, supporters of the settlement movement took part in a candle light demonstration in front of Prime Minister Sharon’s office. Earlier in the day, Likud, Labor and United Torah Judaism had just inked a deal giving them control of 66 seats in the Knesset. The success of Israel and Palestine will be in finding a way to isolate the fanatics in both camps.

It used to be that people used to ask, what does Israel want?, what does Palestine want?, what do the Americans want? – and where the three would meet is where peace would be found.

Nobody today is talking about a wholesale change in approach and tactics to change the situation on the ground. With this upcoming change in leadership should come a wholesale change in how the peace process works. There must be a recognition and acknowledgement of the structural dysfunction that is driving much of the painful stalemate that exists today largely to the detriment of the Palestinian people.

This is a complicated situation, but many countries have gone through wars and built civil societies in their wake. Human rights and international law are not rocket science – they are actually fairly understandable concepts given that the Occupation has endured since 1967. If there was a willingness to be pragmatic on both sides, there could be a workable deal within five years but most are not optimistic that the climate and trust exist today to make that a reality.

The question should not be "can Israel be both Jewish and democratic?," the question should be "how can Israel be both Jewish and democratic?"

In the situation today, Israel is still the aggressor nation and the occupying power. The Palestinian leadership, on their side, have not been able to keep their more fanatic elements in check. And in the end, it is largely the Palestinian people who have suffered the daily humiliations of the Occupation and innocent Israelis who have been the needless victims of the suicide bombings.

So today, in 2005, 60 percent of Palestinians live on $2 a day with an economy that does not even have the opportunity to succeed because of the movement restrictions. Palestinian democracy has actually never really been tried before in a real way nor have the Palestinians been able to set up a genuine publicly controlled security apparatus with the kinds of systems and oversight mechanisms which that entails.

Too often, the story of Palestine today is about places like Jayyous where lands are being confiscated and thousands of trees uprooted to make way for the settlement of Nofei Zufim near the Separation Wall. Valuable water resources, olive and citrus groves, and greenhouses are isolated behind the Wall. What is happening there is Apartheid and the creation of a bantustan in direct violation of international law mere months after the International Court of Justice decision declaring the Separation Wall illegal. It is the extension of an Israeli ground war conducted in slow motion since 1967.

The Second Intifada has done no favours to either side, except to expand the infrastructure and further entrench the settlement lobby in the West Bank and the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The United States, especially the Bush administration, Britain, the European Union and the United Nations as the spear carriers of international law have much to answer for in helping to perpetuate the present climate of consent for Israel to continue on its shortsighted and destructive unilateral path.