Over the last five years, the Palestinian people have faced a host of obstacles in their fight for sovereignty, preventing them the opportunity to create a life those in the Western world brag about. A principal impediment facing the Palestinian struggle today is the constant reaffirmation that the Palestinian people–”deemed by Israel and the US–”are “terrorists,” “militants,” or animalistic beings lesser than those of the “civilized world.” In Ramzy Baroud’s new book, The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of People’s Struggle, this myth is shattered. The propaganda that has infiltrated Western discourse has proven counterfeit; misinformation that has framed US policy regarding Israel, leading to a multitude of double standards imposed upon Palestinians. These inconsistencies have exponentially magnified the suffering of the Palestinian people and hindered their efforts to gain control of the land in which they live.
Baroud poignantly describes the dilemma Palestinians face. The generalization that all Palestinians are “terrorists” or “militants,” allows the Israeli government to act with virtual impunity and equips Israeli forces with a moral endowment; they are acting in the name of “good” and challenging this policy is tantamount to collusion with the “forces of evil.” Baroud offers the reader this grim truth, “Being a Palestinian activist means you could be targeted in a taxicab, in your office, sipping coffee with your neighbors, or sitting in your home. When you live, you live in poverty, deprived of all freedoms and joys of life. And when you die, it’s a horrible death by a surface-to-surface missile, a car bomb, or a sniper’s bullet.”
The sincerity and passion in Baroud’s approach is remarkable and commendable. The reader is given the opportunity to feel the angst and heartfelt anger sparked inside Baroud, a Palestinian born in a Gazan refugee camp and a writer who searched Jenin in hopes of finding the truth and preserving the stories of those that had suffered. Baroud has worked tirelessly to shine light on the mischaracterized Palestinian; civilians and activists who have been and continue to be sacrificed as inconsequential variables in Israel’s fight for “the greater good.”
For more than five years, successive Israeli governments implemented policies that undermined the possibilities of freedom and democracy in Occupied Territories, the very principals the United States proclaimed it tried to spread throughout the region. Palestinians further saw their human rights and chances for sustenance and sustainability calculatedly stripped away by Israel’s supposed “moral” military. Time and again, Baroud debunks the falsehoods put forth by Israel and America, falsehoods consequently disseminated by Western media outlets. Israel’s objective is to reinforce the notion that it is the Palestinian people who are the aggressors, while Israel is the patient victim–”acting in self defense under only the most extreme cases. Baroud notes, “It’s the same dreadful scenario repeated incessantly. Israel murders many innocent civilians; the international community hears nothing, sees nothing, and does nothing…in anger and desperation, a Palestinian blows himself up in a crowd of Israeli…the Western world is utterly overcome with a wave of condemnations of “Palestinian terrorism,” “the enemies of peace.”
Baroud comes back to the issue of suicide bombings several times in his book. An erroneous claim presented in Western circles is that the Palestinian people are brought up to hate, kill, foment intolerance and engage in regressive thought and actions. This supposedly triggers the reason for a Palestinian to become a suicide bomber. Baroud aptly asserts, however, that Palestinians are not driven to end their lives because they are products of intolerance or consumed with hatred. Rather he gives a more practical motivation for one to commit such an act. Baroud states, “When a policy of starvation, assassination, and systematic killing is imposed, when people are brutalized in the streets, when schools are raided by Apache helicopters…when a whole nation is collectively abused and violated with almost no protection…for those victims…blowing oneself up might actually seem like a rational way out of a despairing situation.”
Baroud makes it clear that the way forward is to take the moral high ground, no matter how hard the struggle, and no matter what dividends one may think it yields, politically or personally. This is what has fundamentally separated the occupier and occupied for so long in this conflict; a clear cut victim existed, it was the Palestinians, suffering 39 years of occupation, with many still affected by the hardships of dispossession 58 years later. Baroud writes, “To maintain its moral edge, the Palestinian revolution should not depart from its all-encompassing, tolerant, and inclusive path, it should not be tainted by the fallacies of the occupier…These values must remain untainted, wholesome even, so that the will of the people might some day prevail over tyranny and oppression. And it will, of this I am certain.”
The spirit of non-violent resistance has been alive since the birth of the Palestinian struggle. Most notably, the non-violent protests of the first Intifada, which were met by the iron fist of the Israeli state. This iron fist policy was a specialty of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during the second Intifada. Baroud writes, “They go to the streets to protest the killing of a child, and they return home carrying another shot while protesting.” Non-violent protests have been plentiful in the second Intifada, but through growing desperation, measures that were traditionally absent from the Palestinian struggle were taken up by individuals consumed with feelings of helplessness and anger, triggered by the wrongs inflicted upon their people by the Israeli state.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the “Butcher of Beirut,” the rogue military man who wasn’t afraid of controversy and saw diplomacy as a nuisance, wasn’t scared to put down resistance of any kind, whether the resistance came in the form of children throwing rocks or a group non-violently protesting against the Apartheid Wall. His bulldog tactics and ruthless policies were not only his modus operandi but his raison d’Ãªtre. It was in this context that his policies were carried out, without regard to “collateral damage.”
Baroud aptly asserts that the Palestinian response to Israeli aggression “should have been a wake-up call for the Israeli government, making it clear that violence begets nothing but violence and…that a solution to the conflict would only come through the implementation of international law, not Apache helicopters and missiles.” If the Israeli government wouldn’t pull back the reigns of Ariel Sharon, then surely the US, the UN, the EU or any country with the slightest backbone could have uttered words of condemnation against Israel. The status quo, however, continued: America rallied around Israel, the rest of the international community remained silent and the Palestinians suffered the consequences.
In deep rooted conflicts, it is important to note that intention matters much more than action. Take for example, the unilateral disengagement of the Gaza Strip; Sharon had no intention of giving the Palestinian people autonomy, nor did he have the intention of giving Gazans control of their resources, airspace, territorial water, or borders. Sharon saw the pullout as a necessary militaristic and political move, a shift in policy that benefited Israel, without any consideration for the lives of the 1.4 million Palestinians that would be left living in an open air prison, under de facto Israeli occupation. Without missing a beat, the international community and media applauded Sharon’s “gesture of peace.” This was the fundamental flaw of the unilateral disengagement of the Gaza Strip, it was predicated on the assertion that disengagement equated to peace, and it’s what makes the notion that Sharon had gone through a transformation such an egregious fallacy.
Throughout the conflict, the primary US excuses to support Israel has been that “Israel is our friend,” it is the “only democracy in the Middle East,” and “given the times we live in” (i.e. the post 9/11 world), it is more crucial than ever to support Israel’s struggle against “tyranny and Islamic fanaticism.” After that tragic morning, when nearly 2800 American citizens lost their lives, the people of the US have been constantly ingested with propaganda promoting policies suitable for the US government and its “friends”, but directly contradict the principals of humanity and any sensible definition of justice. Policy makers and government officials in the West have used this heartbreaking event to create an “us versus them” type of world, without educating us on who “them” is.
Baroud explains the new model, “Fighting terror is the new trend; whereby aggressive, powerful countries crush their weaker foes, deprive them of freedom, while continuing to blame them for all the woes of the world. And we, the people of this world who mean well but fail to act, are expected to believe everything we are told. Israel is defending itself as though it were the Palestinian who occupy Israeli territories, besiege the Israel people, blow up their homes, steal their land, and gun down their children.” At some point the light switch has to turn on in our heads that killing and creating “evil empires” when it serves interests, rather than when it serves logic, is a flaw that tears at the very fabric of truly democratic societies. Baroud writes, “When will we treasure the lives of people of all nations on an equal level, whether they be American, Afghani, Iraqi, Israeli, Palestinian, Turkish, Kurdish, Russian, Chechen, or any other? How long will we remain blinded by empty slogans, unexplained hatred, and pretentious condemnations?”
Baroud leaves no one untouched in The Second Palestinian Intifada. He does much to underscore the shortcomings of the late Yasser Arafat, the weakness and lack of credibility of Mahmood Abbas, and the many failures of US intervention (passed off as honest brokering). Baroud doesn’t pull punches when critiquing the Palestinian Authority (PA), particularly its corruptness and incompetence.
Baroud specifically uncovers the disingenuousness of “negotiations” led by Abbas and highlights the acquiescence and political posturing of Palestinian figures in times when strength and political purity was needed. Under the rule of the “old guard,” the PA lost sight of the Palestinian struggle. The PA’s duties were supposed to include preserving and fighting for the rights of its people, defending its citizens against the sordid policies of Israel, and demanding that the international community intervene. Yet, the leaders within the PA were so intent on keeping power and following defunct policies rooted in corruption and nepotism, that they failed to remember that they weren’t representing themselves, but a population of 3.8 million people, a people who were suffering the daily realities of occupation.
Palestinian ineptitude only strengthened Israel’s position and policy, which Israel had no intention of changing. Israel never had any desire, or pressure, to implement international law, nor did it intend to pursue a course of action that respected Palestinian human rights. Whether Labor, Likud, or Kadima, each Israeli administration knew that a change in policy would fly in the face of what it was trying to accomplish: the territorial control and expropriation of fertile Palestinian land in the West Bank, the annexation of East Jerusalem, the control of the Palestinian people’s water supply, and the suppression of the Palestinians inalienable right to autonomy and freedom from occupation in any form. This is why resolution 194 (calling for the right of return), and resolution 242 and 338 (calling on Israel to pull back to the June 1967 borders) have never been seriously discussed–”not after the signing of the Oslo Accords, not at Camp David in 2000 and surely not since.
It is not just the ruling Palestinian Authority that faced problems, but rather all factions, particularly in the lead up to the unilateral “disengagement” of the Gaza Strip. Baroud suggests, “By failing to take care of their own destiny in a unified fashion, Palestinians…were taking the risk of being marginalized and victimized by mandates and caretakers…A[n] internal dispute coupled with muscle-flexing would deeply harm all that the Palestinians had fought long and hard to achieve. The media was, as ever, willing to condemn and lambaste Palestinians, their incompetence and failures, retrospectively validating Israel’s policy”
Baroud’s glimpses of frustration, anger, and jarring sarcasm gives his story a distinct humanness, a tone that is refreshing, and one that the reader can identify with. After being inundated with death tallies and daily reports of carnage, readers many times become desensitized to the news, making one forget how horrible, tragic, and grueling occupied Palestinian life truly is.
At one point, Baroud seems fed up with the almost comical confines the Palestinian people are put in. Baroud asserts, “It [Israel] killed and wounded hundreds of civilians in its ‘targeted killing’ sprees. Yet, Palestinians were condemned if they showed the mere desire to respond. Even the targeting of occupation soldiers was taboo. So what were the Palestinians permitted to do in self-defense, in accordance with the twisted pro-Israeli Bush doctrine? How about marching in a peaceful demonstration? In, Rafah, that too was anathema and could not be tolerated. It was handled with resolute vigor, the same way a ‘terrorist’ threat deserved to be handled: A missile fired from a U.S.-supplied Apache helicopter was all that it took to eliminate that option of resistance.”
The Second Palestinian Intifada is not merely a tirade on the Palestinian people being subjected to Israeli policy and US support of that policy. The way forward is clear: the acceptance and instituting of international law, the end to the 39 year occupation, and the emergence of fair brokers, mainly the US, the UN, and the European Union.
The relevancy and necessity for Baroud’s analysis and critique in these pressing times cannot be overstated. The genuineness of Baroud’s approach is one to be admired and applauded. His insistence to uncover injustices carried out by Israel (with full support of the US administration) is unwavering, yet doesn’t cloud his judgment.
At his core, Baroud stays hopeful, “It has always been an old habit of mine to sign off messages in the days preceding the New year by expressing: ‘I pray that the coming year will bring peace and justice to our troubled world.’ Despite disappointing experiences, I persist in this, because hope is essential.”
The fight for Palestine, a vision to end the injustice imposed upon them, illustrates the common threat of injustice that plagues all oppressed people. This struggle is something to be cherished, to work for and to improve. Baroud explains, “In spite of dashed hopes and failed summits, peace and justice movements around the word, representing an array of struggles, continue to look to the Palestinian people as an icon of resistance.”
What is happening today in the Occupied Territories isn’t politics. It is an overwhelming nightmare that plagues 3.8 million people every day. Each person in the Occupied Territories has a story, a story that is equally significant and heartbreaking, whether revealing that a relative has been killed, land has been taken from them, their home has been bulldozed to the ground or the humiliating act of being stopped, restricted, or harassed by Israel forces, this is the reality with which they live. The human story Baroud puts forth is meant not only to educate and inform, but to encourage and inspire. The peoples of struggle mustn’t be forgotten, nor should they be silenced. Baroud does service to this cause and because of it, has left the flame of struggle burning brighter.