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Less Symbolism, More Action: Towards Meaningful Solidarity with Palestine

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has designated the week, November 25 to December 3, as the ‘biggest-ever campaign’ aimed at boycotting Israeli products and those of companies that contribute to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine.

In a recently issued press release, the civil society-led group highlighted “99 actions that will take place across the world to highlight what they described as “HP companies’ complicity in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights abuses.”

BDS activities are expected to be staged across at least 18 countries, spanning 6 continents.

The sharp increase in the boycott campaign activism is a direct result of Israeli pressure – joined by western governments – to thwart the boycott movement. Even financial institutions, such as the Bank of Ireland, have joined in on these efforts, shutting solidarity groups’ accounts and simply trying to raise the price tag for those who dare to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

However, it seems that the harder Israel tries to impede BDS, the greater the attention and sympathy the BDS movement garners. In some way, Israel’s frantic reaction has helped BDS spread its influence and expand the parameters of debate on the conflict in Palestine. In such scenarios, it is most likely that civil societies, not government intimidation, will eventually prevail – as previous experiences, the anti-Apartheid South Africa movement notwithstanding, have shown.

It has also become clear that, while solidarity with Palestine has crossed many thresholds and overcome repeated obstacles in recent years, Palestinians themselves are reaching out to other marginalized groups, including African Americans, Native Americans and the Landless Movement in Brazil. This reflects a growing maturity, as the latter are the natural allies of the Palestinian people.

The week of November 25, however, was not chosen randomly, for November 29 is the ‘International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People’.

So what is the November 29 ‘Day of Solidarity’ all about? Interestingly, the history behind that specific date is quite an ominous one.

Palestine was partitioned, unjustly, on November 29, 1947. There was no moral or legal basis for that partition, as communicated in UN resolution 181 (II) into a ‘Jewish State’ and an ‘Arab State’. Jewish immigrants were granted 55 percent of the total size of historic Palestine and the ‘Arab State’, which never actualized, was accorded the rest. Jerusalem was to be given a special legal and political status, known in Latin as ‘corpus separatum’, and was to be governed through an international regime.

A few months after that unwarranted partition, well-trained Zionist militias moved from several fronts to ‘secure’ the borders of their promised state, only to take over half of what was designated for the future of the Palestinian state, leaving the indigenous Palestinian Arab population of that land with 22 percent of historic Palestine.

In June 1967, the Israeli army conquered whatever remained of Palestine. As a direct result of both military campaigns, millions of Palestinians became refugees.

The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was designated to be a day of solidarity almost exactly 30 years after the partition plan took place. It was announced in successive resolutions, firstly in December 1977 (Res. 32/40 B) and, secondly, more substance to that resolution was added in December 1979 (Res. 34/65 D).

These resolutions crowned thirty years of unmitigated failure on the part of the international community to aid in the establishment of a Palestinian state, which was even unsuccessful in imposing any form of punishment on the 30-year-old ‘Jewish State’ for repeatedly violating international law and every legal principle upon which it was established.

One cannot deny the role of the numerous friendly nations, mostly from the South, that stood by Palestine’s side at every turn and, at times, faced the wrath of the US and Western governments for their unfaltering solidarity. However, the nature and the timing of these resolutions were seen as mere tokens, a symbolic gestures at best, to show solidarity in words only and not action.

According to a UN document relevant to the day of solidarity, the purpose of November 29 is to provide the “opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine remained unresolved and that the Palestinian people are yet to attain their inalienable rights as defined by the General Assembly.”

Yet, little has been done in the last 39 years to implement any one of them, either partially or wholly. No practical mechanism has been set forth. No legal apparatus has been introduced to aid Palestinians in their efforts at achieving meaningful independence, or reprimand those who deny the Palestinian people their legal rights and political aspirations.

Any such recommendations for meaningful interference on behalf of occupied, oppressed Palestinians were thwarted, repeatedly: obstructed by United States’ vetoes at the UN, hindered in myriad ways by Israel and its western allies.

Unfortunately, since the original partition resolution passed in 1947, and to this today, the Palestinian cause has been feeding on symbolism – symbolic solidarity, symbolic victories and so on.

This is not meant to undermine the significance of that day. However, to live up to the meaning of its designated title, the day must be repossessed, taken away from guarded diplomats with carefully-worded language, and given back to the people. In fact, Palestinian solidarity is now a global phenomenon: this is the perfect opportunity to make November 29 a day of strategy and global action, led by civil societies across the world.

Civil society can use the day of solidarity as an opportunity to place pressure on their governments to move beyond symbolic gestures into meaningful action. This effort is most important in western societies, especially in the United States, that has served as a shield and benefactor for Israel for too many years.

The United Nations, and all relevant platforms within the world’s largest international institution, must be persuaded to produce a workable mechanism to bring an end to Israeli occupation and offer Palestinians a true political horizon.

Moreover, a day of solidarity that is based upon the political reality of nearly four decades ago and shaped by an understanding of the conflict from nearly seven decades ago, while admirable in principle, would have to be revised. A so-called ‘two-state solution’ is neither just, nor practical or feasible.

A new narrative must take hold, in which the ‘question of Palestine’ is not framed as if a ‘refugee problem’ or a ‘humanitarian crisis’ to be remedied with verbal solidarity and food aid, but as a pressing political crisis in which the injured party must be unconditionally supported.

Any solidarity that deviates from the current aspirations of Palestinians – as articulated by their fighting women and men, by their prisoners on hunger strikes, by their students fighting for the right to education, by these resilient, but often neglected voices – is not true solidarity.

For the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People to be truly meaningful, it must be reclaimed, by Palestinians and their friends all across the globe.

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Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

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