The following essay, entitled: “May 15: The Third Intifada, Maroun Ar-Ras/Palestine” was written after the Right of Return March to the border of Palestine took place in 2011. I was reminded of it while re-reading Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History which I have been turning to during the blackouts at night, reading by candlelight. I came across this quotation:
The dominant class of the capitalist era had never willingly done anything but rob the poor in the interests of the well-being of their own group…
I was struck by this phrase, written in 1940 because then, as now, we hear the most vulgar of accusations that have become the trademark of bourgeois counter-revolution: “rabble, thugs, troublemakers, etc.” now directed at the lowest rungs of Lebanese society. At the same time, the local bourgeoisie was delighting in what it deemed to be “accomplishments”: hashtags at the top of global retweets; mentions in the execrable New York Times. The colonized native speaks, and one can only wish he wouldn’t. I am grateful to Monthly Review Zine which originally published this piece [link to Monthly Review article].
In 2006, I found myself working with a variety of Palestinian groups who wanted to put together an educational teach-in center downtown, to enable a discussion of their valid grievances both in terms of the right of return to Palestine as well as their situation within Lebanon. The teaching center went up, yet then a few days later Israel started its 2006 July war that would last 33 days and which destroyed the infrastructure of the country, displaced over a quarter of the population, and killed more than 1400 civilians, a third of them children. The Lebanese army disallowed our presence downtown, and our collective energies were diverted to the various relief efforts that would be the recovery from the wholesale destruction rained down on the country that summer.
For the past few years we as a collective have been working on a variety of similar projects, most recently The Return to Palestine. I have also been working with the organizational committee of this march these past months. The march was designed from the very beginning to be peaceful; a demonstration of non-violent resistance. It involved dozens of civil society organizations, both Palestinian and Lebanese, from inside and outside the refugee camps, and similar to the meetings in 2006, was most inspiring during those moments when dozens and dozens of people, sitting around a large line of tables, focused energy on this one matter, putting differences aside. The various criticisms now appearing concerning the march–that it was staged for this or that political group or faction–need to be addressed. For they reveal in and of themselves the class distinctions that drive and divide this country, indeed this world. It is to those critics that I address this missive.
If you are able, from the privilege of your social status, from the luxury of your class position, to cast aspersions on this or any other group, then you are able to effectively remove yourself from any positive action for change. This is, of course, as you wish, and it is also as they wish; so know whose work you accomplish. This is, of course, an acknowledgment of the status quo, and as long as the groups so castigated act “true to form” as you would have it, then you can maintain your sense of superiority, your Western-ness, your conceptions of democracy, meanwhile using these very concepts to denigrate others seen as intrinsically incapable of manifesting them. This ignores, of course, the negative incentives that your divide-and-conquer strategy imposes on such groups, that are, in fact, a function of the First World’s life and lifestyle. This is the great Orientalist project, this is the mimicry of criminal buffoons such as Thomas Friedman and Bernard Lewis, this is the height of self-loathing when it comes from those on the local scene, this is what is referred to as the local comprador class of intellectuals. And, as usual, you have nothing worthwhile to add to this discussion, while the means of discussion are mostly within your control, your power structures, and your notions of discourse, analysis, and media. So even when saying nothing, things fall in your favor.
All the same, recent events in the Southwest Asian and North African regions speak to us of a different way, outside of your conforming will and control. Because the “rabble” as you would refer to them do act with purpose. The “zu‘ran” as you describe them do form councils, work with consensus, organize logistics. The “masses” do feed an ongoing demonstration, indeed, a revolution; they clean and keep orderly a public square full of demonstrators, prevent counter-revolution from being imposed by those who wish to eternally keep them down. Engaging with these discounted groups thus is a revolutionary act in and of itself, and in this regard, any remotely political or religious factions you see as compromising the integrity of this demonstration are miles away more progressive and revolutionary than the reactionary and conservative naysayers rushing in to present their correcting and stabilizing narratives. For unlike you, they are open to this dialogue. Their local reality is based in notions of collectivity, equality, a common good. I am saying this now because I witness it. And I am saying to you that we are not waiting for your permission, nor your approval, nor your ridiculously offensive taking of credit technologically speaking or otherwise for what is an intrinsically communal, local, unmediated, grassroots, broadbased, and wide-ranging coalition focused in the longterm on the difficult work of revolution. Are you still stuck in your neo-liberal Western concepts of individual liberties? This leaves you very, very alone in a rapidly changing world.
We understand that this threatens those who maintain their positions of power based on defining this differential otherwise. But ask me: Who would I rather speak to? An individual with so-called “socially progressive views and values” who also happens to love going to Starbucks, who hires domestic slave labor, and sends their children to elite private schools where they are shown Schindler’s List in history class? Or, on the other hand, would I rather engage with those who are seen, described, and denigrated as being the exact opposite in terms of said views and values, but who understand concepts such as “oppressed” and “oppressor”? Who believe in the dialectic as the basis of understanding? For these “socially progressive views” are, in fact, reactionary and stultified, reductive and static. And they bring not freedom, nor any semblance of freedom. You are not free until all are free based on common will, and not on, for example, an outdated French legal system, a relic of colonial times. And if you do not work toward this freedom for all, then you maintain the status quo; it is this maintainance of the how-things-just-are that is killing four-fifths of the planet. It bears stating aloud: There has always been more potential for revolution in the various liberation theologies that merge theory with reality on the street than in any latter-day “secular” theoretical framework that attempts to impose itself from a distance. And thus the baby boomers, the children of the ’60s, who have now proven to be more oppressive than those they feigned protesting against. And thus the heinous European left-wing intellectuals, taking up racist and oppressive discourses as readily as those who oppressed them during the two great wars of recent history. And thus the so-called social progressives whose press statements could have been typed up by the U.S. State Department. And thus the local compradors, providing fodder to slake the Western hunger for one-dimensional descriptions of the local Other. Divorce from the street is a remove from a reality that is now resulting in a rising up and shaking off. And thus Intifada.
Imagine the following as an exercise: You limit yourself to the places that are considered public to, say, a Syrian worker, or a Sri Lankan slave. You do not enter a restaurant where the staff inside cannot walk in themselves and get a table. You do not go to a beach that invokes racist entrance policies. You only avail yourself of what makes for public transportation. You live as most live, outside of security-guarded complexes, homes, and universities. You send your children to public schools. You no longer view neighborhoods as venues for your entertainment. You do not form false communities virtual or otherwise outside of your actual community and current place. You do not fall back on the security of your societal status. How long will you last at this exercise? Imagine your freedom and the luxury you enjoy to do as you please where you please, and then imagine, on the other hand, being forbidden to grow facial hair at your so-called secular workplace; or not being allowed to wear a veil in your so-called “Westernized” place of employ; or not having permission to walk as an ordinary worker in the downtown of Beirut; or being evicted from a public beach for being Filipina, all in the name of the so-called “modern” image that you just happen to fit into. How do you explain this, without resorting to the worst kinds of stereotypes, derogatory statements, vile epithets? How do you allow such a noxious stance? And how, then, do you make accusations against those who marched on Sunday, when, in fact and at long last, it is they who should be accusing you? Who exactly needs to change in order that most, indeed, all might live? Who exactly needs to change in order that all might find a semblance of freedom? And if you can understand this, can you then not understand young Palestinian men and women willingly putting themselves in harm’s way? Domestic workers throwing themselves from balconies to escape their oppression? Slave laborers literally working themselves to death because they don’t have the luxury otherwise? Indian farmers killing themselves in the tens of thousands? Welcome to Lebanon. Welcome to this world. It is all connected. And we are not in a place where “boutique causes” are remotely a possibility.
Given that these are issues of imperialism, and of colonialism, and of racism, and of the neo-liberal nightmare that the Anglo-Saxon capitalist project imposes on us all, including the imposition of the colonial settler outpost of the imposter entity of Israel that was the focus of the demonstrations on Sunday, then it stands to reason that the plight of the Palestinians is at the center of economic inequality, and that economic inequality is what underpins the surface symptoms that then tend to receive diversionary focus: Racism, sectarianism, various forms of individualized “rights”, etc. Jobless in Wisconsin? Stand up for Palestine. Homeless in Pasadena? Walk with the Palestinians. Evicted in New York? Fight for the right of return. Salary not commensurate with a man’s? Come walk. Corruption in government? Walk with us. No one is saying that these are not actual problems deserving of attention; we are simply saying that they need addressing at the core. Such that you might avoid, for example, during a meeting of the current anti-sectarian groups in Beirut, standing up and stating, without irony, that you are offended “as a capitalist” by the discussion taking place. For in this there is no hope; it is lost before you even begin. Or else you avoid, for example, after the popular demonstrations during the war on Gaza, the resultant “Hamra counterpart”, the “designer” version of a popular uprising, or the candlelight vigils during the Summer War of 2006, the mediated reality made consumable for Outsiders and Time Out magazine, with these separate groups not mixing or communicating in any way. For in this you have the recipe for a lost cause. And you are thereby doomed. When the reverse happens, and it is organized from the ground up, you will have to expect that it might not be according to your rules. This is your invitation to step down, and truly involve yourself, not to turn around and defame those you do not ascribe existence to in the first place. Otherwise you’ve lost before you’ve even started; for in this is a doomed exercise.
Have we forgotten so quickly those most-recent 33 days of war? Of bombs, of racist leaflets dropped from the sky, of displacement, of cluster bombs that still litter the lands of the south to such an extent that those down in the wadi last Sunday found a secondary and perhaps greater danger amongst them, and we were warned not to go off of the main path because of their presence five years after they were delivered from the sky, rained down in the millions? Have you forgotten? Or are you unable to remember because it didn’t happen directly to you? And have we forgotten the spectacle of the so-called “Cedar Revolution” in 2005 which in contrast to this past Sunday, was completely orchestrated by Saatchi&Saatchi and USAID monies, in concert with various media outlets. Why so few voices complaining then, and why so many now? What were you saying about sectarianism? About difference? What distance is this? How do you maintain it? How many different levels does it have, and when have you attempted to lessen it? Furthermore, who indeed is more capable of and should be more responsible for lessening it, for bridging this gap? Given the history of Palestinians in the south, what does it then say of those crossing this distance, working past it, coming together to form the nexus of a popular movement? Are you that cynical to dismiss this? Or does your reaction come from something else, from somewhere else? Which revolution would you rather be part of? Put it out on the table; We want to know where you see yourself in all of this. We want to know where you stand, and what you are capable of.
How can we not imagine the emotion of living life, generation after generation, in one kilometer square, and then finding oneself 500 meters from one’s homeland? In what way can it possibly be denied to people on this side of the border fence, on this, the land they currently live in with dubious status and standing, unarmed and peacefully marching, the right to make such a statement? And even if one from among them managed to cut the fence, or climb the fence, or scale this artificial border, why would you allow that border to be defined, entrenched, made permanent by your acknowledging its existence? Would you add the force of your voice to the bullet that stopped this one returning home dead in his tracks? Is this not a recognition of the Israeli entity? An acceptance of the power differential of this world? Are you willing to make that statement out loud? Are you willing to pick up that rifle and shoot? Do not dare call these martyrs puppets of parties or factions. Do not dare remove from them agency above and beyond the removal of agency that they daily suffer from. Do not dare attempt to deny that those organizing this event were likewise down in that valley protesting, or else were down in that valley exhorting protesters to return to safer ground, but who were down there nonetheless. Do not dare to create distance where there was none. Do not dare. For we know, we witnessed. And you do not get to impose your sterile remove on us. This is ignoble in its cynicism; a divisive tactic worthy only of the enemy.
You were not down in that valley. And you were not at the demonstration, 70,000+ strong. And you were not at the meetings. And you were not at the funerals. And you were not in the hospitals. And you do not go into the camps. And you do not know. And you are removed to your Twitter world, your Facebook realm, your Gemmayzeh bubble, all distancing you from reality. Your ivory tower, your private residence, your walls, your gates, your gaze from far afield. There is no revolution that comes from your stead. There is no revolution to be found in your post-modernism, your secularism, your rationality, your Enlightenment, your modernity, your Western nature, your Europe of decrepid monarchs and official churches. None. Not ever. This leaves a choice: critique if you must from the inside, join us on the inside and make your stance, take your stand, or else do us the favor of saying nothing at all. Because your silence nonetheless comes pre-packaged with the received wisdom, it is what is said, what is stated, what is mediated; it is a given. When saying nothing at all, when not even allowing a word to escape your lips, you already speak volumes for those already in power. And we are tired of it.
And before we fall into that particularly obnoxious trope of cultures of death, and martyrdom, and your cynical attribution of the blame for these cold-blooded murders on the very murdered themselves otherwise known as blaming the victim, before you bring this up as a condescendingly smug and self-satisfied “I told you so”, allow me to quote Huey P. Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party–another group equally targeted with a similarly racist and classist discourse, the “non-violent” version of which as represented by Martin Luther King, Jr. was all the same also dealt an equally deadly blow–who said, explaining his notion of “revolutionary suicide”:
“We have such a strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible.”
To remember is that this so-called “suicide” exists as a function of and in the face of the endlessly violent project that is capitalism, that is globalization, that is neo-liberalism. This violent response is in answer to a much greater and much more encompassing violence, one that is systemic, and, unfortunately, easy to remove oneself from, or dismiss wholesale. And thus the quest for human dignity as the basis for revolution in this part of the world; not the price of bread, or benzene, or a roof over one’s head. Here are those who love life for all, human dignity for all, freedom for all. This explains the endless waves of people heading down to that fence. If you cannot comprehend that, then there is no point in even hearing your side of the argument–your opinion is the given, the status quo, the quotidian. And it is a violent statement; it is in and of itself a great and cataclysmic violence. We know it. And at this point in time, we are bored to tears of it.
To understand the position of power you speak from, the violence of your words equivalent to the violence of the cowardly and murderous soldier-civilians who mowed down 11 (and counting) on this Bloody Sunday, you need only realize that your media, your academia, your associations, your NGOs, these middle-grounded enablers of power in your society all reflect, abet, sustain, and perpetuate this hegemonic discourse of death and destruction implicitly and explicitly. There is no gray area. And what is violence? A cast rock? Or the absence of health care? A thrown stone? Or the absence of electricity, of running water, of valid work, of proper housing, of education? To think or state that revolution is violence and that daily life as most know it isn’t; that the Internet controlled by few and the Western media controlled by few are in any way “democratic” and that our organizing committees aren’t; that there is validity in a “peace process” or an eventual “Palestinian state” that is not the entirety of Palestine while in our demonstrations that took place on May 15 there isn’t any–this is to twistedly play Orwellian with what has always been a life-and-death struggle. And you have chosen the side of death. And we are sick to the death of your choice.
I recorded a video with my phone; in it you can hear the Lebanese army emptying their weapons in an effort to clear the valley, only ending up masking the sound of enemy rifle fire that laid low the precious lives of those yearning for return. Smoke and soundscreens; the planned and strategic work of cowards, as documented in their PowerPoint presentations and their brochures and in their training manuals. Who runs this enterprise of death and destruction, pray tell me? Who supplies uniforms, and weapons, and prisons? Who lays waste to lives that requires survivors to play an endless game of memorializing those lost? Why do you prefer these numbers and statistics to the faces, the portraits of these, the defenseless, murdered in cold blood; these, the sons of Palestine, on this, the first day of the Third Intifada?
Saleh Hassan Bursheed. Mohamad Samir Saleh. Mohamad Abu Shulaih. Imad Abu Shakra. Mohamad Bakri. Hassan Mousa. Mahmud Mohamad Salem. Abdul Rahman Said Sobha. Mohamad Al-Mousa. Khalil Ahmad Mohammad.
Allah yriHamhun. God’s mercy upon them; and strength to their families and comrades.
And here’s the flag, a flag of international import, heading down toward Palestine. And it will return, as long as it takes. And Palestine will be free. And it is now obvious that revolution will come from below; counter-revolution is the only thing that can come from above. And thus there is a stand to take. And we are not pausing along the way to listen to what you might have to say. And you can join us; you are of course welcome to join us; we open our hearts and arms to those who choose to join us. And if you choose not to join us then please, please: Shut up and move out the way.