On Land Day

Dear friends,

Today was Land Day in Palestine and around the world.  Hundreds of events were being held in honor of our Land that so many trespassers now live on.  The first land day in 1976 set a trend of defiance and resistance.  Different groups mark the day differently.  Demonstrators in Hebron were attacked by the IOF (Israeli occupation forces).  Here in Beit Sahour, I could not think of a better way to honor this day than participating in a workshop on activism for university students and enjoying my own small piece of land here in Palestine.  We are also pleased with the rapid fire spread of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) around the world which will bring a more rapid end to the nightmare and bring us closer to freedom.

Events and energy lift our spirits that otherwise could be dampened by surreal daily life here.  Things changed over time as colonization got older and Zionism strengthened politically while the Palestinian body politic was weakened with assaults from Israeli intelligence infiltration and from internal corruption.  The degree of transformation has been massive.  Today 7 million of the 10 million+ Palestinians in the world are refugees or displaced people.  Five million of us still live within the borders of historic Palestine.  But Israel has built a massive Western-styled society (albeit full of contradictions and strangeness) on top of the few places left for us.  Most Israelis today do not know the real history of the lands they live under.  Most do not have a conception of the massive injustice that they have built their society upon, and those that do delude themselves into accepting it for short-term privilege (not realizing the long-term harm).

It pained me to see that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) fired a highly competent diplomat (Afif Safieh) from his position as PLO Ambassador to Russia.  I knew Safieh from his good work in England and then when he came as representative to Washington and I was still living in the US (twice he visited Connecticut where I lived).  The previous representative in Washington before Safieh could not even speak intelligently about the plight or history of Palestine.  Safieh was such a vast improvement, but just as he got to understand the layout and challenges in America, he was transferred to Russia.  Less than a year later he was sacked completely.  The excuse was that he spoke at a rally during the brutal Israeli attack on Gaza and massacre of civilians.  The rally of course appeared to support resistance in Gaza and this was the excuse (if this was the reason, he should have been promoted not sacked for his attendance).  The rumor here in Palestine is that he was sacked for a more personal and mundane reason having to do with Mahmoud Abbas’s secretary being unhappy with Safieh for his stand against the appointment of her young son-in-law to an economic position he is not qualified for.  Whatever the real reason, it smells of poor decision making.  Meanwhile the PLO representative in Poland is in good shape since he organized a farewell party for his friend, the Israeli ambassador!  I wonder if the PLO paid for the food.

Millions of Palestinians have worked over 40 years to ensure that the world recognizes the PLO as representatives of all of us.  Some paid for this with their lives.  They must be turning in their graves to see how a very small number of people hijacked the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), cut the “Palestine” part to refer to less than 22% of Palestine (really giving up on the core of the injustice), dropped the “Liberation” part of its name completely (maybe changing it to a need for authority without authority and empty slogans), and changed “Organization” to become a close knit club of a handful of remaining tired elders (average age over 70).  On the other hand, we face a Hamas leadership that cannot seem to set a positive vision and program for how to get to liberate Palestine and give most people living here (Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, etc.) a good reason to support them, for example by articulating an inclusive pluralistic vision instead of a theocratic goal.

Alas, like in all human history, we the people must change our own circumstances (as one of the sayings in the 1960s civil rights struggle went, “free your mind and your ass will follow”).  We must believe that we can make a difference (we do) and that life changes and oppressors come and go (the crusader kingdoms here lasted 110 years).

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD is Chairman of the Board of the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement between Peoplewww.pcr.ps — and is a professor at Bethlehem University in the occupied West Bank.  Contact him through his website: qumsiyeh.org.