Rejoicing in our Little Victories

The Palestinians, including myself, are often guilty of always focusing on the negative. Not that this is totally unjustified given our conditions, but it also means that we paint a pretty bleak picture for ourselves, which can be a real downer, if you know what I mean. Like I said, I am just as guilty as any other Palestinian who has the opportunity to voice their opinion. Most of the time I find myself ticking off the obstacles to achieving a lasting peace, or enumerating the different ways in which the international community has duped us. Or I look inward and expose the ills of my own society. Not that these things are unimportant –” people have a right to know why we are still in such a dire condition –” but I have come to realize that it is equally as important to bask in our own achievements. We deserve to take pride in what we have done right and the changes we were able to make.

I am saying these things just as pamphlets are being handed out door-to-door to Palestinians everywhere with a list of settlement products we all must boycott. I personally cannot wait to receive a copy. The pamphlets, part of the Palestinian Authority’s newest campaign to boycott settlements, were produced and distributed by Karama (The National Dignity Fund) and include lists of companies and products along with ways consumers can spot settlement products through the labels. PA customs officials have been turning back truckloads of produce from settlements such as watermelon and cantaloupe and merchants now face fines and even prison sentences if caught selling settlement products. Instead, the campaign urges, Palestinians should turn to locally made products, encourage the economy and support their own. For those products that have no Palestinian alternative, foreign made or even products made in Israel proper are still permissible.

There is something to be said for this endeavor. There are too many Palestinians who either don’t know they are buying settlement products or just don’t care. The latter group is obviously worse. The settlement supermarket chain Rami Levy popped up in the news the other day when a Palestinian official warned Palestinians to stop shopping there. It is a disgrace, to say the least. I know more than one person who admits to shopping at that supermarket, located near the Palestinian villages of Jaba’ and Mukhmas, justifying it by saying the prices are lower than Palestinian shops. The market is part of the Shaar Benyamin settlement between Ramallah and Jerusalem where Palestinians have easy access to it because it is on the main road, technically still in the West Bank. But really, there is no excuse for Palestinians to shop at Rami Levy. Not one.

Anyway, you know when the Palestinians are doing something right when it gets the settlers are riled up. The boycott has set off alarm bells with the umbrella settler organization, the Yesha Council which called the boycott “an act of terrorism and ill will”, saying Israel should close Israeli ports to Palestinian products in response.

The boycott campaign is not the only positive outcome of Palestinian efforts, though. Yesterday, May 18, renowned British signer Elvis Costello announced he would cancel his summer concerts in Israel, citing "conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security." Costello’s cancellation comes at the heels of other western artists such as Carlos Santana and Gil Scott-Heron who cancelled their concerts in Israel for similar reasons. One can only deduce that movements such as the Palestine Solidarity Movement and the BDS –” the Boycott and Divestment and Sanctions Campaign had something to do with urging Costello to cancel his concerts in Israel. Still, the real credit can only be given to this artist, who surmised that his decision was “a matter of instinct and conscience.”

We have had other achievements too. Last week, three girls from the Nablus-area Askar refugee camp made history when they won a “special award in applied electronics" at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, California. The teenage girls, who attend an UNRWA-run school in the camp, competed against 1,500 other students from around the world for the most ingenuous and creative invention. Aseel Abu Aleil, Aseel Alshaar and Noor Alarada won the prestigious award for their “electronic sensor cane” for the blind, which not only picks up on incoming objects but also on holes in the ground, the first of its kind.

While the invention is amazing enough for any 14-year old girls, it is doubly amazing when you consider the environment in which they operated. In general, West Bank refugee camps are poor, underdeveloped and overcrowded. The girls probably do not have their own room or a reasonably sized workspace to cultivate their genius. They went to a school run by UNRWA, the UN body set up after the catastrophe of 1948 to cater to the immediate needs of Palestinian refugees who suddenly found themselves homeless. While UNRWA schools are widely respected, it is a given fact that these girls were not privileged children. But what they lacked in money, they obviously compensated for in talent, creativity and motivation.

Let’s not forget the perseverance of those who protest at Bilin every week against the separation wall there along with international and Israeli peace activists. The Bilin movement has become known worldwide and has become the symbol of Palestinian popular resistance. The movement has held five international conferences so far, has thousands of supporters here in Palestine and abroad and has an iron-willed dedication worthy of comparison to those greats of our time such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Bilin is an inspiration to all Palestinians regardless of affiliation or political inclinations because unlike so many other haphazard and sporadic shows of resistance among the Palestinians that ineffectively stop and go, the Bilin movement has been a steady show of resistance for five years running. It has become a household name here in Palestine and everyone across the board have nothing but respect and admiration for those who brave the hostile Israeli army every week, an army that is less than appreciative of the nonviolent protest against the injustice of the wall.

So, there are little victories to rejoice in, achievements that have been accomplished against all odds. The Palestinians are not and never will be without hope and should never be written off as a people without a future. Just look at our award winning girls in Askar. Now that is a future worth fighting for.