People power & resisting the wall

We may differ among us over the repercussions or the morality of suicide bombings. But what we do agree on unanimously is that when an individual insists on deploying his or her own body, a power is released that might be called a part of the “flesh against iron” strategy.

The problem with the strategy of “flesh against iron” in this case is that it is based on actions of an individual and hence, remains inaccessible to the public and the nation as a whole. Indeed, the nation is forced to stand back and watch this solitary occurrence.

Observe the events of recent weeks in the world (which were not covered by the Arabic press, including al Jazeera satellite channel), in particular those in Bolivia where citizens of an entire nation bared their chests and thus forced their government to relinquish power and authority and flee the country. The same happened in Georgia, where continuing demonstrations resulted in the overthrow of the government and parliament, and obligated Edward Shevardnadze to resign in the wake of charges that he rigged the elections.

These examples are offered here merely to demonstrate that nations possess power, a power manifested in bodies tightly pressed together and directed at a singular goal. After close examination, it appears that we Palestinians are in dire need of this power. Some will say that there are already organizations that call demonstrations to resist and denounce the building of the Israeli wall and there are international solidarity groups that coordinate with local Palestinian movements and organize popular activities to confront the building of this racial separation wall. This is all well and good, I would argue, but it does not achieve the formula of “flesh against iron.”

What has happened in Latin America and Georgia is what social scientists and intellectuals call “people power.” What is taken into account here is persistence and numbers– numbers are decisive in implementing goals, rather than the particular action underway. Demonstrations that are rallied to resist the construction of the wall must include thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands persistently placing their bodies as a barrier in the path of this wall. To achieve these numbers, each Palestinian movement is responsible for organizing and mobilizing people as a way of demonstrating their active presence on the ground, rather than simply maintaining a popular base in society.

Some non-governmental organizations that do manage to organize activities play an important role in maintaining contact with international groups that stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. However, the structure of a non-governmental organization differs from the composition of a social or national movement, which is responsible for mobilizing and organizing the people. Some claim that, as a result, political organizations and parties currently play a very weak role in the public sphere–even being completely absent at times. Still, this does not relieve these groups’ responsibility for confronting this wall, and in invigorating and supporting the public, in particular those who have suffered with the wall’s construction.

Political movements that maintain a popular base must take responsibility and act; this means that they must fully bear the consequences on their shoulders, rather than acting as guests at activities hosted by non-governmental organizations. Some will argue that a bloodthirsty Israeli army and Israeli settlers will easily prevent public gatherings by using excessive force. But the point here is that the goal of these public gatherings is to prevent the excessive use of force, because Israelis cannot kill or attack thousands of people at once. True, this strategy demands a high level of consciousness, commitment, organization and support. It also requires the creation of organized political frameworks.

But right now, international advocacy is at its optimum: the companies hired by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to polish his public image have failed in their mission. That was clearly reflected in the latest European poll. Too, the United Nations is becoming more direct in its messages regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is already a network of international support for the Palestinian cause, and this will help in gearing a broad popular movement to prevent the building of the wall. It is also worth noting that most European countries and the United States of America do not support the building of this wall.

The “flesh against iron” formula should not only include the public and its organizations, parties, and civil institutions; it must also include the Palestinian National Authority itself. Many articles have been written about the fall of the government of Mahmoud Abbas; others are debating the future of the current administration. I, for one, believe that if the current government follows the lead of its predecessor in placing our destiny at the hands of “American and Israeli goodwill,” and finds no other path except “negotiations" and "peace processes,” it will be unable to shape a future out of the numerous sacrifices of its own people.

What prevents governments from following the "path of peace," while simultaneously organizing popular resistance? What explains the official failure to lead public demonstrations against the building of this wall or the spread of settlements?

The natural flow of life for all cross-sections of Palestinian society is already impaired. What prevents us then from specifying certain days or weeks for the public to gather around a settlement to prevent it from spreading or to halt the confiscation of Palestinian land? What prevents thousands from positioning themselves between the Israeli bulldozers and targeted Palestinian homes to prevent Israel from demolishing homes in Rafah, Jenin, or the Old City in Nablus? Yes, Israeli tanks and bulldozers can kill a single person (as they did to American activist Rachel Corrie), but Israel cannot kill thousands in one stroke.

What we need is goodwill, planning, organization and support. Israeli tanks may kill tens or hundreds, but they cannot murder an entire population. This is the value of pursuing the formula of “flesh against iron.”