It should have been a special Saturday in Ramallah. Thanks to Facebook and gmail, I was invited to three different events in Ramallah for Saturday, 21/1/2012. “Palestinians for dignity” were demonstrating in front of the Mukata’ah against the fruitless negotiations that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is holding with occupiers. Others held a picket line in the central Manarah square against the brutal repression of the Syrian revolution. Yet, what I most wanted to attend was the Muharajan in commemoration of 10 years since the detention of Ahmad Sa’adat and his comrades in the Ramallah cultural palace.
Facebook makes the invitation easy, but it doesn’t help very much with the 8 meter high separation wall and with the line of military checkpoints that separate elQuds from Ramallah. The Israeli authorities care very much for the safety of peace loving Jews, so while it allows right wing extremists and religious fanatics to put their lives daily in danger by building provocative settlements on Palestinian land or in the middle of Palestinian towns, it strictly forbids Jews from going to visit friends in Ramallah. And if we forgot about these stupid laws, we received a fresh harsh reminder from the police officer on a provisory checkpoint just before the Kalandia checkpoint – which saved us even the bother of waiting in the long line for the main checkpoint. He signed our names and warned the Arab comrade that was driving the car that if the Jews that are with him will enter Ramallah he will be the first to be arrested. There was no sense of arguing with the officer that we are not Jewish – as Judaism is a religion and we are not following it in any way – they don’t believe in the right of self determination to other people, so they will surely not give up control of those they regard to be their own.
All this is not important, and it is not important also if we made it to Ramallah in some other way or were lost in the labyrinth of walls and checkpoints. What is important, and what I wanted to tell you about, is the Muharajan itself…
The cultural palace is pretty big, and it was almost full with more than 500 people that came to the event, more than in similar commemorations in the last years. Even more significant, the vast majority of the participants were young, and the mood was the rebellious enthusiasm of the new Arab revolution. Many of the participants took part in the other demonstrations that were held before. It was not a coincidence that the muharajan reached its climax when the “Dar Qandil” musical group performed, to the audience insistence, their popular song “liars” with direct and franc criticism of all the opportunistic leaderships that commercialized the Palestinian struggle for their self interests. The song promises “tomorrow the people will know you”, and the Shabab were standing, singing with the group and clapping their hands.
To hear the song in Arabic, you can follow the link:
At this period of the Arab revolution, the situation in Palestine is different from any other Arab country by some essential aspects. First, of course, there is the Zionist occupation. The logic of mass, mostly peaceful, movement against a regime that holds all the means of oppression that the a modern state holds, is that there is a limit to the amount of violence and bloodshed that the regime can inflict on its people before the army itself dissociate itself from the regime or breaks along the same lines that split the rest of the society. This is not true for colonial armies and specifically not true for the Israeli army, which can inflict any amount of violence against the Arab population without major cracks in its internal coherence.
But there are important differences also in the internal dynamics of Palestinian politics. In the rest of the Arab world the majority of the people were totally alienated by totalitarian regimes. Social changes and popular demands found no expression for decades. The pressure accumulated beyond the dams of oppression until it was too high and went down like a flood in the revolutionary eruption. In Palestine all the powers of the people were mobilized for the struggle against the occupation. The level of political awareness and involvement of ordinary people is unequaled in most normal countries. There is no Vacuum to be filled.
All this explains why Palestine is not ripe for revolution like some other countries in the region. But it doesn’t explain the relative immobility and sometimes disintegration of many local political forces while the Arab Spring is changing the regional relationship of forces against Zionism. The revolution topples regimes that were serving imperialism and the status quo, of which Palestinians were the utmost victims. For the first time the Arab masses are a major player on the regional political scene. They are the Genie that comes out of the bottle, and they can drive the liberation of Palestine.
Here the answer may go deeper, to the price that Palestinians paid for being the symbol of the revolution in a totally reactionary period. In order to continue the struggle against their main tormentor, and to preserve themselves, some tools of the Palestinian revolution gave up the “extremism” of trying to topple the Arab reactionary regimes and became part of the regional order.
Now, when times have changed, there is a hard choice to do, between the methods that let them continue to exist through the hard times, and between the reasons that made this revolution start, and which are the only justification of its continued existence.
The Palestinian left is not free of these constrains, which influence other organs of the revolution. It is nowhere like the Fatah leadership, which maintains security coordination with the occupation and which, as the main party of government, is the vehicle of much self-interest, much like other Arab regimes. But cooperation with the Fatah leadership in the PA and the PLO, as well as institutionalization in the civil society, limits it freedom to pose an alternative as times are changing.
The story of Ahmad Sa’adat is a symbol of another narrative for the Palestinian left. Being a prisoner, sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role as secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, he is a live reminder to the fact the revolutionary leadership under the occupation is concentrated around the struggle for liberty and not about building institutions. Commemorating 10 years to his detention is a live reminder that he and his comrades were arrested by the security apparatus of the PA. It is an evidence how the security cooperation with the occupation is undermining the Palestinian struggle. Remembering the Israeli attack on the Jericho prison, in March 2006, where Ahmad Sa’adat and his comrades were held under international agreement with British guards, is another proof to the futility of imperialist “mediation” and “guarantees” to the Palestinian rights.
In commemorating the detention of Ahmad Sa’adat, the truly revolutionary spirit of the Palestinian left reunited with the new revolutionary spirit that comes from Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. It is the old dream and the new hope: Freedom for the Palestinian people.