The image is stark, but there you have it: When you look, Palestinians under occupation appear to be on their own, left to fend for themselves. Thus powerless, you imagine, they will soon be down for the count as a people, as a movement, as a cause.
The image is reinforced by how, to Arab officialdom, the ordeal of lobbying on behalf of Palestinian rights these days is the foreign policy equivalent of enduring root canal work without an anaesthetic. And reinforced further still by ordinary Arabs, who for a whole millennium had viewed the question of Palestine as the most existentially pressing issue in their modern history — an issue that gnawed away at their national sensibility like a raw wound — and have today come to suffer from Palestine-fatigue.
That at least is the image we hold at first blush. The image is blurred, however, when not seen as part of the wider picture. The Palestinian struggle has in fact neither been impeded nor foiled, let alone defeated. It has simply shifted gears, propelled by the energies of a new generation of Palestinians — the second to come of age since the occupation swaggered into the Palestinian territories half a century ago — and their supporters around the world, who are possessed of a particular rhetoric of vivid presentation and a large range of ideals and teleological resources that Israel sees as more deadly to its power profile than any conventional weapon it hitherto had to contend with.
And it is non-violent resistance. Non-violent resistance as an instrument of battle, whose aim is to shame the enemy and expose to the entire world that enemy’s obsession with the will-to-power. And Israel, so intent on projecting itself as a liberal, democratic entity imbued with an abundance of moral rectitude, fears the fallout from a confrontation more than, for example, those pathetic rockets fired at it from Gaza.
The slap heard worldwide
Consider, in this regard, the case of Ahed Tamimi, the fearless 16-year-old Palestinian girl with blond curls, from a small village in the West Bank, who was caught on camera last month slapping a heavily armed occupation soldier and hollering at him, “Get off our land”. It was the slap that was seen, and the outcry that was heard, around the world, as the image went viral or was splashed on pages all over the print media.
It did not take long for the midnight knock on the door and for Tamimi to be dragged to a military court, where she was indicted on 12 counts, including “the hindering a soldier’s performance of his duties”. (The schmucks on the bench were unaware that it was the duty of every Palestinian to interfere in all occupation soldiers’ performance of their duties). Tamimi has been a well-known figure since the time she turned 12, when she clenched her fist at an Israeli soldier and threatened to punch him, an image, also caught on camera, that earned her an invitation to visit the prime minister of Turkey and receive a reward for bravery. That she is now well-known around the world — look out for life-size posters of her at bus-stops in London, proclaiming ‘Free Ahed Tamimi’ and has been called the Joan of Arc of Palestine is not the point. It is not the point that in a way she speaks something of innermost meaning. It is not even the point that this charismatic teenager has shown us that there lurks in each of us the thought of mocking death, of mocking Israel’s occupation soldiers — soldiers who have pushed their way into your homeland, into your village, into your front yard, into your house, into you bedroom, and then into the essential repertoire of your human being — and showing them to be mere importunate midgets with heavy weapons.
Plight of incarcerated kids
The point, rather, is that by her heroic stance, Tamimi has highlighted, among other criminal activities practised by the occupation, the plight of Palestinian children incarcerated in Israeli jails (some as young as 9) and the fact that Israel is the only entity in the world that systematically arrests, detains, prosecutes and convicts children through military courts — courts that lack any semblance of due process. Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are convicted annually — the conviction rate in these so-called courts is an obscene 99.7 per cent — and since 2012 an average of 200 children are held in detention at any given time.
That is what Israel dreads most — the fact that Palestinians nowadays command the moral high ground, possessed of a compelling narrative that not only elevates them as the injured party in this dispute, but accents Israel’s status as an apartheid state.
Consider, in this context, Israel’s extreme, indeed pathological, dread of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement. Since its inception, this movement has not really left a major dent on Israel’s economy, nor was that a serious expectation of the movement’s leaders, but it has left a serious dent in its reputation.
And, for Israel’s leaders, that hurts. It hurts badly. Last Sunday, for example, Israel published a blacklist of 20 BDS organisations, including a Jewish group in the US — a group with 70 chapters and 15,000 dues-paying members — from countries as diverse as Chile, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and South Africa, that it has barred from entering the country.
As the New York Times reported last Monday, quoting Dhalia Scheindlin, a liberal Israeli pollster: “So far it’s not so much the boycott itself that feels like an existential threat but what [BDS activists] are demanding and who they are”.
And ‘they’ are folks who side with the oppressed, with people like Ahed Tamimi. And ‘they’, together with all the Tamimis in Palestine, will make a difference when it is the critical time for that difference to project itself.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.