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Cultural Activism for the Right to Return

by Nader Abuljebain
Third Annual International Convention
UCLA, Los Angeles, California
April 15-17, 2005

As we all know, there are various modes of resistance. Today, I will focus on cultural resistance, the significance of which is usually underestimated if not entirely overlooked.

Cultural resistance is inclusive of everybody, even those who are not actively involved. Since many people within this current environment are scared of direct political activism, but still they want to work on Palestinian rights, so they will find in Cultural resistance a way to show their points without being labeled. Cultural resistance resembles passive involvement instead of radicalism. While in the same sense, to the activists cultural resistance is also political resistance, and this shows clearly in the anti-colonial struggles.

History showed that colonialists used to maintain their control by repressing the cultural life of the colonized. In Palestine, it was done in different shapes and forms, such as censuring of the educational curriculum, closure and harassment of institutions of civil society, stealing cultural elements, launching failing archeological campaigns to prove Hebraic existence in different Palestinian localities, changing names and creating names for different areas in Palestine as illustrated in the excellent book by Keith Whitman “The Invention of Ancient Israel, The Silencing of Palestinian History”, and mostly the suppression of artistic expressions.

All the liberation movements, including the Palestinian, knew only well that culture plays a significant role in struggles against the colonizers, Zionism and otherwise. As the Guinean Bissau revolutionary leader, Amilcar Cabral, said that culture is one of the most important weapons in the hands of the colonized, but we have to emphasize that cultural resistance, must be an integral part of the political struggle.

Israel and its allies had realized that the only way to break the Palestinian entity is by changing its Culture, which is conglomerated of all forms of resistance.

We see that Israel and its allies are working adamantly on changing the school curriculums, and also the history books, we see how they impose economical agreements that force the Arab countries to include Israeli products in their trades to prevail into the so called “world markets”, we see how they force the change in the spoken language of the Palestinians to eliminate the Anti-Zionist expressions. In the U.S. we see the continuous efforts to falsely equate Anti-Zionism and exposing the Israeli crimes to Anti-Semitism. Also we see how the U.S. is categorizing all the legitimate resistance organizations as terrorist organizations to give the authorities the free hand in persecuting their supporters under the so-called “Anti Terrorism Laws”. We see how U.S. is trying to dry up all the humanitarian support from the local communities to make our people to have to go only through the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) so those organizations can control who the aid should be given to, and what the aid should be, and accordingly enforce those NGO’s questionable politics, policies, and rules.

As a continuation on the Arab governmental level, we see the Arab Governmental leadership in general, and the Palestinian leadership in particular, is not only giving-in to such means but rather giving aid and support to them. That is why we see now, that any leader has to follow the U.S. orders to the most specific and minute detail; crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, because if they do not; the master will order their replacement, and those leaders had worked hard to lose the support of their masses, so accordingly they won’t be able to resist or even question the arrogance and the aggression of the master.

The most current example is and was the Palestinian Authority (PA); although the PA executed all the US and Israeli orders, but when Arafat was ordered and refused to give-in further capitulations that dealt mainly with the Palestinian Basics, he was isolated, besieged, and accused of terrorism and later on poisoned. So we have now a tailored Palestinian leadership that is willing to give-in those Palestinian Basics under the claim of the disparity and the fatigue of the people in the West Bank and Gaza. On the other hand we see the NGO’s working hard in changing the culture of the resistance among the people, as a condition for giving those people the promised aids.

Another dangerous phenomena is that the PA is deceiving the people by highlighting the PLO’s acceptance of U.N.S.C. resolutions 242 and 338, and claiming the success, in that those two resolutions are not considering the Palestinians as refugees, while in fact that was an intentional attempt by the super powers to mention the refugees without identifying the Palestinian refugees, which enabled Israel to consider the Jews from the Arab world are those refugees, in addition to limiting the U.N.G.A resolution 194 into the settling of the Palestinians at their places of residence and the monetary compensation, rather than the implementation of the Right of Return and its inalienability.

In face of all of this, we have to as activists to elevate as a vanguard to the responsibility of exposing those schemes and attempts and maintain the Arab and Palestinian basics, and to appreciate our Arab-hood vs. the narrow Palestinian-hood and to strengthen our alliances.

The Palestinian Narrative is another task that must be protected, preserved, and spread, as a reminder, as to what the Palestinian issue resembles, and as an inspiration to the future generations to continue the struggle till the establishment of the free secular democratic state in Palestine, with “One Person One Vote”.

Maintaining the Arab face and culture is another responsibility that has to be kept alive, and highlighted in all the chances possible, showing all fields of the Arab Palestinian life, Art, Music, Poetry, Pottery, Embroidery, Folklore, Dancing, Acting, Singing, Costumes, Coloured glass industry, Fables and Popular tales, Coins, Stamps, Engagement and Wedding traditions, Birth celebration, and Death mourning, Religious and Social seasons, Industry and Agriculture, Food and Deserts, Handcrafts and Art crafts, Fossils and Scrolls, Architecture and Archeology, Geography and History. All forms and aspects of the Palestinian daily and historical life has to be not only preserved, but also maintained and publicized through the Radio, TV, Seminars, Lectures, Conferences and Conventions.

This is a fierce battle to confront the theft of our culture and heritage, we see the Zionists stole our homes then our arts, our food, our costumes and claimed them as their own, not only that when they invaded Lebanon in 1982, they destroyed the Palestinian Research Center, and lately they did the same to the Sakakini Cultural Center in Bier Zeit. The enemy had realized its failure, because despite the massive genocidal military campaigns, and the ethnic cleansing operations and the apartheid practices performed against the Palestinians now and during the past decades and the last Century; the Palestinians stayed alive, reproducing and flourishing, and maintaining their heritage and culture. This process had maid the newer generations proud of their ancestry and heritage and gave them the momentum and strength to resist inside Palestine and in the exile.

We have to continue to commemorate on a regular basis Palestinian national occasions through holding seminars, art exhibitions, and public gatherings.

Another type of organized cultural activism is the collection, recording and publicizing of personal testimonies and orally transmitted memories of the Nakba period as remembered by its survivors who reside in our areas. Collecting testimonials, at least at the earliest stages of the process, does not require a lot of training and could be carried out by activists from all age groups. Some studies put the number of surviving Palestinians who experienced the Nakba at 11 percent of the Palestinian people. In short, we are now in the very last years when recording the experiences of people who lived in Palestine before 1948 is still possible. Oral testimonies help create solidarity among Palestinian refugees and individuals and groups. That solidarity could lead to further political action in support of the refugees and their rights, the personal testimonials by refugees could be utilized in various information and advocacy campaigns as first-hand, as primary resource. The recording of the testimonies by the Latin American refugees to the US were effectively used in advocacy campaigns is support of the peoples of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Another point is the refugees’ support, we all know the conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Palestine, the Palestinian community in Lebanon is being politically, economically and socially smothered and outright devastated. The living situation in the refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank is an eyesore that needs our financial and moral support, and political situation of the refugees allover the world needs to be solved, the only solution of these issues the return of those refugees to their homes in Palestine.

Also I feel that the community-based groups, must assume a larger role in activism and focus on the Right of Return, and convincing the world, that Israel was not established on an empty piece of land but rather its inception was based on genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian Arabs, and the extortion of the Arab Palestinian land; also we need to emphasize that anywhere in the world, people live on the land, but for the Palestinians their land lives in them, and they are inextricably and intimately linked to that space and that land; and that there will be no lasting peace in the region UNLESS that link, that organic unity between the exiled Palestinian and their homeland is restored, and that is the core of the Palestinian problem, especially at a time we see Palestinian officials willing to surrender such inalienable right.

Our struggle is a long-term, generational one. Therefore, one of our main tasks as communities in exile is the preservation and bequeathing of our heritage to the younger generations. We need to develop institutions to carry on such a monumental task. This is why we need to establish and develop Arab and Palestinian community centers.

There are many cultural projects related to the issue of Return and refugee support that those centers could undertake, such as Arabic lessons for adults and children that utilize educational material derived from the history of Palestine; establishing Arab and Palestinian literature library; organize children written and artistic contests around Palestinian themes, including the subject of Return; if your child has a book report for his or her social studies or composition classes, encourage them to do it on a subject related to Arab Palestinian history and heritage.

I also would encourage each community of A village, town, and/or city to form their own cultural society, to preserve the heritage of that locality, and make branches of the same society, wherever similar communities exist, so they can build the network that can be transferred to the future generations and by that they will be enriching the Palestinian narrative.

The last point I would like to address is to clean our vocabulary from certain words and terms that had been implanted in our thoughts and language, such as:

FIRST & SECOND ITIFADA: These are wrong names, since the1987 Intifada, and Al Aqsa Intifada, are not the First and Second. The Palestinians had many Intifadas since the 18th century within and outside Palestine against the Turks, British, Zionists, and also against Arab Governments, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. So accordingly we cannot decimate the struggle to make start only in 1987, so the proper identifying is 1987 INTIFADA and AL_AQSA INTIFADA , as we used to call Intifada AL BURAQ INTIFADA of 1929, or 1936 revolt, or Daher Al Omar rebellion of the 18th century, or the anti-Mohamad Ali campaign in the 19th Century.

DIASPORA: This is a term the Zionists use to label their spread in the world per their own choice, and without any ethnic cleansing, while to us the situation forced expulsion under the threat of the gun, and the massacres, so although the word Diaspora is being used by many activists and academics, it is a wrong use, and the word for us to use is EXILE.

ROR AND RTR: Whenever we talk about THE RIGHT OF RETURN, we should stress also on the RIGHT TO RETURN, so it is not only a RIGHT but it needs also to be implemented.

ISRAELI ARABS: Those people are our brothers and sisters who are living under the 1948 occupation, so we should call them so as OUR PEOPLE OF THE 1948 AREAS.

PALESTINE-ISRAEL: When some visit our country, they tell you we went to Palestine, you ask did you visit Jaffa, they say no, we visited Palestine only, we went to Ramallah, as if Jaffa now is not Palestine, and the only Palestine is what’s left of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

JEWISH/ARAB OR JEWISH/PALESTINIAN: Our conflict is not with the Jews, but with the Zionists and Israel. So it should be stated as ARAB/ZIONIST CONFLICT or PALESTINIAN/ISRAELI CONFLICT.

OCCUPIED TERRITORIES & DISPUTED TERRITORIES: These areas should be identified as THE 1948 OCCUPATION and/or 1967 OCCUPATION, and should never use the term DISPUTED because the territories are not disputed, but occupied in 1948, and/or 1967.

SETTLEMENTS: Mostly settlements are used when you have empty area and you settle people in it, which is not the case in our situation, because those are COLONIES and not SETTLEMENTS.

MAHSOM: This is a word I had been lately hearing it from our brothers and sisters of 1967 areas, which mean Road Block in Hebrew, we should never use the Israeli terminology, so as not to legitimize the occupation translation.

MIDDLE EAST: This a very wrong old colonial term, since the colonies of the world according to their distance to the colonizers, Britain and France, so they were either Near East, Middle East, Far East. On another point that term includes non-Arab countries in it (Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Israel), and excludes 2/3 of the Arab world, which is in Africa. So to be politically correct we should use the ARAB WORLD, or if want to talk geographically, we should say WESTERN ASIA, NORTHERN AND EASTERN AFRICA.

ARAB NATIONS: We are not different nations but one nation in different countries, so it should be said ARAB COUNTRIES.

On another note, let us all be aware of the difference between the MOSQUE of DOME of the ROCK, which is being used mistakenly as AL AQSA MOSQUE.



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