By Ty Joplin
The concept of Palestine has steadily evolved from one that demands recognition of land and the right of return, to one that has become a symbol of freedom for the marginalized everywhere. 'Free Palestine' is a slogan that is deeply connected to web of other oppressions around the globe, including that against the Rohingya and the people of Darfur in Sudan.
'Free Palestine' is then as much about a global consciousness as it is a specific claim to land, and support for Palestinians seems to be getting more popular in places like Europe. But inside the Palestinian territories of the West Bank ruled by the Palestinian Authority and Gaza ruled by Hamas, Palestinian governance is one defined by oppression, violence and intimidation.
Journalists are arrested, dissidents are tortured. Some are even killed. Critics are targeted, and the PA’s special security relationship with Israel means that Palestinians fear both the PA’s own security forces in addition to Israel’s.
In other words, the PA and Hamas don’t seem to govern with any of the values that make up the vision of a “Free Palestine” and regularly rank among the most corrupt in the world.
Why is this?
Why is the schism between Palestine as a symbol and Palestinian government so stark?
To try to answer this question, Al Bawaba spoke with Nadia Hijab who is the co-founder of Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian think tank that amplifies the voices of influential Palestinian thinkers to the rest of the world. Hijab is one of the most influential Palestinian analysts alive today, and she’s part of a embattled Palestinian civil society struggling to survive.
Nadia Hijab (Courtesy of Al-Shabaka)
“Basically what Israel has tragically succeeded in doing is turning the PA from what it was supposed to be, which is the nucleus of Palestinian state, into a collaborator. So the Palestinians pretty much occupy themselves so that Israel pays as minimum cost in terms of direct confrontation with Palestinians. The PA is doing it for them.”
One famous example of this collaborative approach is the 2017 killing of Basel al-Araj, a well-known Palestinian activist who was jailed and tortured by the PA only to be released and killed by Israeli security forces. The PA and Israeli security apparatuses reportedly worked together to find and kill al-Araj.
“It’s a very dangerous and risky situation for civil society organizations, for journalists under the PA. Increasingly rights are eroded,” she adds.
“Obviously this is not the government Palestinians are looking for.”
According to Hijab, Israel has slowly grinded down the PA’s ability and willingness to resist Israel since the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1994. “Israel has been very smart in using the Oslo Accords to transform the Palestinian rulers... into quislings,” that ultimately work for Israel.
On top of that, many officials in the Palestinian Authority, argues Hijab, are actually invested in the Israel’s occupation and are profiting off of it, which further diminishes Palestinians’ ability to pressure the PA to act as their representatives. There’s simply less money and power in store for those that politically resist the occupation.
“It would need a lot of courage and self-respect and decency [for the PA] to say ‘okay we failed, we’re going to step back from this [and] let Israel rule us directly as an occupying power. Enough of this farce.’ But they’re not going to do that.”
Hijab emphasizes the role Palestine's civil society organizations can have in resistance, but for precisely how they mobilize and towards what end, there is no easy answer. They appear to be choked from outside and from within, with a military occupation treating them as potential terrorists on one end, and a rapacious, restrictive provisional authority who sees them as a saboteurs to a fragile sense of order on the other.
To listen to the full conversation, click here:
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