On collaboration and resistance of the oppressed
Ziyaad Lunat, The Electronic Intifada, 3 January 2009
In 1835, Thomas Macaulay, a British colonial officer in India, decreed that “We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect.” European colonial powers often used political outsourcing through a network of native collaborators as a convenient way to subjugate the masses. These collaborators would tame the colonized on behalf of their masters who became sheltered in this way from popular uprisings. However, this process was not always predictable. In 1857, the sepoys, Indian soldiers allied to British rule, revolted against their colonial masters. Britain’s response was fierce. Over 100,000 sepoys and hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in cold blood. This became known as India’s first struggle for independence; which was finally realized in 1947.
A year later, European settler colonialists established the state of Israel through a pre-mediated campaign of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. Despite divisions amongst Arab governments and self-interested manipulation of the Palestinian plight, the response was that of opposition and generally in line with the feelings of the Arab masses. As a result, western governments have sought for decades to bully those governments into submission by forcing them to accept the premise of an inherently racist Jewish state in their midst.
As Israel massacres the Palestinians in Gaza once again, one may ask what has happened to this Arab voice. It is no surprise that the world’s super powers condone Israel’s genocidal acts in Gaza. Colonization, slavery, apartheid, genocide and ethnic cleansing have been constants in western colonialist adventures. What has now reached new levels is the open, vocal and active support of Arab governments to the massacre of the Palestinian people. As the Indian sepoys once did, new collaborators have joined the chorus of voices condoning the carnage.
The Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt is a case in point, symbolizing this painful new reality. Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt and the unelected Palestinian Authority in Ramallah have actively colluded with Israel, first to unsuccessfully overthrow Hamas from Gaza through force and then to choke the Palestinians in Gaza by denying them basics such as food, clean water, medical treatment and a decent education. While this “holocaust in the making” was occurring, as the UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk fittingly described it, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies were collaborating with Israel to deploy forces across the West Bank cities to suppress resistance to the occupation. As US general Keith Dayton put it, these forces were taught that they “are not here to learn how to fight against the Israeli occupation,” but instead to fight “the lawless elements within Palestinian society.”
Not surprisingly, Abbas blamed Hamas for the ongoing bloodshed, claiming that they have refused to renew the truce. The best he could come out with, in the face of growing popular discontent, was a “threat” to discontinue negotiations (read, collaboration) with Israel. Hamas has in fact shown willingness to extend the truce but under the condition of ending the illegal siege. This is tantamount to requesting basic human rights for Palestinians, something Abbas never conditioned in his dealings with Israel.
Israel’s other ally, Egypt, has accused Hamas of barring the wounded from escaping Israel’s attack, conveniently ignoring their own long-term refusal to allow any Palestinians to cross in and out of Rafah. According to the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi, the Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman deceived Hamas into believing that Israel would not launch an attack on the Gaza Strip while sending their forces to seal the border in preparation for an Israeli attack. Egyptian forces later opened fire against Palestinians wanting to escape the carnage.
This form of hypocrisy found expression all over the Arab world. In the United Arab Emirates for instance, protests in solidarity with the Palestinians were banned or tightly controlled. The Arab League with its usual incompetence has been remarkably slow in reacting, first delaying their meeting for days and then issuing an insignificant declaration for all parties to cease violence offering no solution to the desperate plight of the Palestinians under siege.
But a more important question is how the Arab masses and people of conscience around the world have reacted. What are their real democratic wishes? If the Arab governments surpassed their own low standards in usurping Palestinian rights, the Arab masses have conversely renewed their determination to reject foreign domination, for every time they are stripped off their dignity; their spirit of resistance to oppression is revitalized. Across the Arab world, there has been a renewed sense of revulsion and determination to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, uniting their causes with the occupied Iraqis and others suffering under oppressive regimes sponsored by the West.
In a very sober address to the Egyptian people, Secretary General of Hizballah Hassan Nasrallah, stated: “Let the Egyptian people take to the streets in their millions. Can the Egyptian police arrest millions of Egyptians? No!” These words sum up why today, Hamas and Hizballah, have gained more respect and legitimacy in the Arab popular opinion than any of the corrupt Arab regimes. The resistance organizations represent the aspirations of the ordinary people, who want their rights and freedom reinstated, not because they support terrorism or are subhuman, as much of the western media portrays them to be. Israel and its allies are sowing the seeds of more radicalism and greater instability in the Middle East. While powerlessly watching the massacres in Gaza, one cannot discern whether this instability is a means or an end in itself. As for the corrupt Arab regimes, they are left with two choices: either they listen to their citizens or they will have to face continuous revolt by the people. The pages of history have taught us that oppression never existed without provoking revolt for liberation and rights.
Abbas and his minions can learn much from the sepoy mutiny in India and the Ghandian nonviolent struggle for liberation that ensued. Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the 15 years of collaboration with Israel has yielded more settlements, thousands of house demolitions, kidnappings and massacres — the truth is that the leaders have nothing to show to the people in return. The time has come for the Palestinian factions to unite behind the popular masses, for active and passive legitimization of Israel’s actions to stop and for a return to basics. Resistance to Israel’s occupation can most effectively be done through a nonviolent struggle calling for equal rights to that of their Israeli occupiers under one secular state. It is time that we extend the basic premise the West has insisted upon for themselves: that freedom is non-negotiable.
Ziyaad Lunat is an honorary life member of the London School of Economics (LSE) and an activist for Palestine.