Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Who Owns the Palestine Solidarity Movement?


A few years ago, after I spoke at a conference in South Africa, Ronnie Kasrils, then the country’s Minister for Intelligence Services, leaned towards me and said, “I agree with everything you said, but in order for the boycott of Israel to become adopted by world governments, the call has to be initiated by those who represent the Palestinian people in Palestine, not outside groups.”

I was not actually purporting to represent any group, inside or outside Palestine. A few days later I received more counsel from a leading South African official. “A representative from Mahmoud Abbas’s office was here few days ago,” he said. “He seemed to have different priorities from yours. He asked me to ensure that the South African government continues to isolate Hamas, not Israel.”

Kasrils, a legendary member of the African National Congress (ANC), was, of course, right. It was the decisive call of academic boycott made by the ANC in the 1960s which started a process that eventually succeeded in isolating the apartheid regime and speeding up its demise.

Alas, those who are recognised as the representatives of the Palestinians stand on the wrong side of history. Their political fate is now intrinsically linked to that of the very Israeli occupation that continues to torment Palestinians. Ensuring dominion over an occupied nation has proved to be more urgent to them than isolating Israel for its crimes.

The leadership vacuum goes back even prior to the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Since then millions of Palestinians have been left alone to fend against Israel’s violent occupation. In fact, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has itself become a liability in the mission of obtaining freedom for Palestinians.

In the Occupied Territories, Hamas grew in its political significance as a viable alternative to the PNA’s failings. This led to further US-Israeli punishment of Palestinians. It also challenged the traditional gatekeepers of Palestinian rights, culminating in a destructive conflict which continues to this day.

Palestinian communities in the diaspora are also struggling with the new reality. When Iraq-based Palestinian refugees became an easy target for militias after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, hardly anyone spoke on their behalf. The Palestinian leadership had obviously more pressing matters than tending to hurting refugees — some of whom were hauled away from their dismal refugee camps at the Jordan and Syrian borders to start new lives in South America.

The political vacuum created by the self-seeking ‘leadership’ has indeed devastated Palestinians, both politically and intellectually. The physical fragmentation of the Palestinian collective has never been more urgent an issue than it is today. Previously there had been a cohesive narrative and a shared sense of political identify.

In its heyday, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had succeeded in galvanising a degree of political and cultural unity. Although camaraderie among Palestinians will still survive despite all the hurdles, there is now an undoubted feeling of loss.

One of the strongest retorts to the PNA’s tragic failures was the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Its unquestionable success is a testament to the growing global consensus that Israeli practices are unacceptable. The BDS opened up a channel where solidarity with Palestinians could be translated into action.

Not a political organisation per se, the BDS is rather a manifestation of numerous collectives in uncountable cities and towns around the world. The decentralisation of the BDS is one of its greatest assets and also challenges. On the one hand, it cannot be easily thwarted. On the other hand, the efforts of a movement of this scope cannot be summoned into action through a single call by one or a small group of individuals. Its unity is not based on any political treatise or ideological framework. In a way, it is a parliament for world solidarity based on universally recognised principles of justice, peace and human rights.

The BDS cannot be controlled, nor, in my opinion, should it be. It is not a political platform as such, but a reservoir of multitudes of energies. It is obliged to no one but the growing community of justice activists who work to convey the harsh reality in Palestine, along with the message of the Palestinians.

Its success is embedded in the model itself: democratic, yet decentralised, global, yet responsive to local reality. Most importantly, it operates as a basis of solidarity, not a hub for political dictation — for that right and responsibility is completely reserved for the Palestinian people. It is their land, their struggle, and their future on the line.

Unfortunately, it is easy to overlook such facts. The sense of dejection caused by disunity, and the action of the quisling Palestinian ‘leadership’ might inspire some to overstep their boundaries. They speak on behalf of Palestinians and the ‘solidarity movement’ as a whole and liberally theorise in a way that could actually divide the movement.

In a recent interview with Haaretz, long-time pro-Palestinian rights author and intellectual, Norman Finkelstein claimed he had decided to “switch … hats from a critic of Israel to a diplomat who wants to resolve the conflict”.

Intellectuals may switch hats as they find suitable, but they should not do so at the expense of a global movement whose messages need to be guarded. The solidarity movement cannot afford to be used as a vehicle for individuals’ intellectual realisations. It belongs to no one, though is inspired by the suffering and heroism of the Palestinians people.

In the case of Palestine, a movement of this nature is even more indispensable than it would have been in South Africa in the 1960s, due to the political and moral bankruptcy of the PNA. And it should remain united around the principles of humanity and human rights set clearly by the Palestinian people themselves.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London). 

(This article was first published in Gulf News)

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017