FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

“Morbid Symptoms” in Palestine

A few nights ago, in the West Bank city of Nablus, I was awakened by sustained volleys of gunfire near the hotel where I was staying. The Hotel al-Yasmeen, is located in the town’s old al-Qasaba market district  –  yes, it’s the “Casbah” — whose narrow streets and alleys had been the scene of frequent armed clashes between various Palestinian resistance groups and Israeli security forces over the years, including other times that I had been visiting.

Disregarding the warnings of the hotel staff, I ventured out into the market to visit with several friends who were shopkeepers in the Qasaba.  Everywhere, almost all the food stores, workshops and market stalls were closed and sealed behind the ubiquitous steel shutters that protected them during the night. The market remained nearly deserted as shots continued to ring out sporadically from various directions.

My friends were embarrassed when I asked them what was going on.  They assured me , somewhat wearily, that this was not a clash with the Israeli army, but instead the fighting was between two extended Palestinian family networks, the Halawe and the Hamame, who were struggling for influence in the city and competing over “protection money” exacted from the city’s merchant classes.  It was an internal bid for power, which was mildly opposed only by a few Palestinian security units.  Three Palestinian policemen were said to be wounded in the fighting.

However, the Israeli army, which did not hesitate to invade Nablus at night, in violation of the Oslo Agreement, to confront or arrest Palestinian activists or to seize illegal weapons, stayed out of it entirely.  Apparently they regarded armed clashes between Palestinians with benign tolerance.

This sad state of affairs was on my mind at a meeting later that evening with a group of visiting Italian solidarity activists. They were mostly students from formerly “Red” Bologna, but one of the young women proudly introduced herself as coming from Sardinia, birthplace of the famous revolutionary and theorist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci, who spent the last 11 years of his life in Mussolini’s prisons, died in 1937 at the age of only 46. His ashes were later interred in Rome’s non-Catholic (“Protestant”) Cemetery, not far from the graves of the British poets Keats and Shelley.

In prison, Gramsci wrote voluminously, though out of necessity in somewhat veiled “Aesopian” language, and became a source of inspiration to postwar radicals when his Prison Notebooks were posthumously published in the 1950’s.

Among Gramsci’s well-known observations about his own time, which saw the rise of Fascism, is this one:

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Nothing can better describe the internal situation in Palestine today.  (And not just Palestine, of course!)

The political situation is bleak these days on both sides of the former “Green Line.”  The old project for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza has reached a dead end. The Oslo process that began with high hopes more than twenty years ago is thoroughly discredited, along with the Palestinian Authority that was its creation. It is obvious now, as critics like Edward Said wrote at the time of the Oslo Agreement, that no Israeli Zionist parties of the “Left” or the Right were ever prepared to grant true statehood to any Palestinian territory within the Land of Israel.  Everyone now understands this, apart from cynical Israeli propagandists and wishful-thinking US politicians.

As a result, the old leadership and the Palestinian political parties in the Occupied Territories have mostly lost their legitimacy.  The activists of the First Intifada generation of the 1980s are exhausted after spending years in Israeli prisons and seeing their hopes for a Palestinian state fade. And despite determined resistance on a local level in some West Bank villages, most of the population – apart from a minority who profit from connections to the Palestinian Authority or the well-funded NGOs — is hunkered down in the hard daily struggle for survival.

In the largely Arab populated “Triangle” area of central Israel (“1948” as it is referred to by most Palestinians) where I am staying  now, crime is also widespread and largely ignored, if not actually encouraged, by the Israeli authorities. The crowded ghetto city of Taibe, with its mean streets and depressed economy, is sometimes jokingly referred to here as Tshikago (“Chicago”) for its high instance of violence and gang murder.

Despite some hopes raised by the joining of the various Palestinian parties in Israel under the United Arab List in the last Knesset elections, Israel’s minority is facing growing repression from the increasingly rightwing Zionist society and government.

Not surprisingly, here as in the rest of the Arab world many are turning to religion in response to the failure of the various liberation and nationalist or socialist projects.  More women are covered now, even in the urban centers that were formerly much more secular.  Many of the population practice a religious-inspired political quietism or wait for some apocalyptic solution for the existing impasse.

In the Israeli-Palestinian town of Qalansuwe, where I have many friends, the leftist Democratic Front (Hadash in Hebrew, Jabha in Arabic) has lost much of its influence.  The mayor of the town is now from the Muslim religious party – and the defiant statue of Salahaddin that once dominated the town square has been taken down as against religion and replaced by an Arabic text: Udhkuru Allah (“Mention God”).

It is from this context of paralysis and despair that the wave of individual suicidal attacks by Palestinian youth has risen.  Some have called it the “Knife Intifada.”  Israel and its supporters abroad refer to this phenomenon as a new wave of “terror” – even though the targets are overwhelmingly military or police forces of the occupation.

The courage and self-sacrifice of the mostly teenaged attackers, who are frequently executed on the spot by Israeli security forces, is universally recognized by Palestinian society, even if most also mourn the loss of life without any discernible political purpose. Rather than responding to “incitement” by the Palestinian leadership, as Israel charges, the PA is doing its best to frustrate these attacks.  In fact, the youthful knife wielders are acting out of individual despair and their sacrifice expresses a rebuke to the ineffective leadership of their elders as much as anything else.

Nevertheless, in this moment of failure and “morbid symptoms” it is also true that nearly every Palestinian expresses a sure confidence in their eventual success, even if the time frame may be vague or long-delayed.  It is hard to find anyone here who accepts that the Zionist project is permanent, at least in its present form —  or that the liberation struggle will ultimately fail.

Here, it’s worth remembering another of Gramsci’s famous aphorisms:

“The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned … [what is required, despite] pessimism of the intellect, [is] optimism of the will.”

More articles by:

Jeff Klein is a writer and speaker on Middle East issues who travels frequently to the region.  An earlier version of this piece, with illustrations, can be found in his occasional blog: “At a Slight Angle to the Universe.” He can be reached at jjk123@comcast.net.

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Negin Owliaei
Toys R Us May be Gone, But Its Workers’ Struggle Continues
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail