After converging at a hotel in Amman, Jordan, over 10 and 11 January, we had our first meeting in the evening of the 11th. We introduced ourselves to one another, reviewed the program and logistics, and discussed our personal and collective goals for the delegation. Afterwards, we had two meetings with Palestinians living in Amman.
The first was Leila Khaled, a former prominent member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
On August 29, 1969, Khaled was part of a group that hijacked a commercial jet from Rome to Athens and diverted it to Damascus. No one was injured but they blew up the plane after releasing their hostages. Khaled had six plastic surgeries to conceal her identity. On September 6, 1970, she participated in hijacking a commercial jet from Amsterdam to New York City as part of a coordinated effort by the PFLP known as the “Dawson’s Field hijackings.” The attempt was stopped by Israeli sky-marshals and the plane diverted to Heathrow Airport in London. Khaled was arrested but later released as part of a prisoner exchange between England and the PFLP.
Khaled is unable to return to Palestine (she is from Haifa) and now resides in Jordan and works as a member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC).
Khaled discussed the international history of political solidarity within the Palestinian struggle (“events are not enough”), the aim of Israel at the genocide of Palestinians, the disappointment and despair that characterizes Israel’s campaigns against Palestine, the futility of the “peace negotiations” (currently represented by Kerry’s Plan), and the complicity of the United States in Israel’s occupation. She addressed the political creation of Israel in 1948 as a religious state and Israel’s creation of the Jewish-only settlements in Palestine.
Khaled defined solidarity as a strategy of connecting the struggles of the people in the U.S. against U.S. imperialism and colonialism to the struggles of Palestinians against Israel. This point has stayed with me everyday on and since the delegation, as I have listened and thought about the historical connections of Native peoples in the U.S. to the indigenous people of Palestine. The core of political solidarity is epistemological and pedagogical—not demonstrative. It is about how we understand our experiences in relationship to one another, how we honor and respect those relationships, and how we work to change our shared conditions of oppression.
Khaled then emphasized the importance of historical context and difference in what “human rights” means for Palestinians. She asserted that the core definition of Palestinian human rights is the “right of return”—as an aim of the struggle and as an identity of the struggle.
Khaled also addressed at some length Palestine’s fraught relationships to various struggles at different historical moments with(in) Arab regimes—in Egypt, Syria, Algeria. She talked about the struggles of Palestinian refugee camps (in Lebanon and in Jordan) for survival against the realities of starvation and the ongoing assassination of those who argue for the right of return—who insist on their identities as “refugees” and not as minorities within who ought to be integrated.
Khaled said that “Israel is a project for imperialists, not just for Jews.” She suggested that many Arab countries benefit from Israel’s imperialism.
She also talked about the role of Palestinians in progressive movements within the Arab region against imperialist states—as a core part of labor (worker) rights efforts against the capitalist dictatorships that have emerged in alliance with the west.
Khaled said that the role of the intifadas was to bring international recognition to the need for Palestinian independence from Israel. She said that Palestine’s leadership lost the gains of the intifadas in their negotiations for “peace.” She found the Oslo Accord ultimately to be aimed at neutralizing Palestinian resistance in the name of Israel’s “security”—that the accord was for Israel and not for Palestine (as would any agreement be that is mediated by the United States and not by the United Nations). That one of the results of the accord was that Israel was able to take water and other resources from Palestine with impunity (we would hear many more times about “water apartheid”).
Khaled discussed the “demographic threat” of Palestinians to Israel. (I wondered what forms of population control were used against Palestine and what kinds of reproductive rights defined Palestinian struggles.)
Khaled said that Israel was the promise of a religious state dealt with by the international community as a nationality. She repeated this point at several moments of our discussion, drawing parallels between the religious persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany and the religious-based persecution of Muslims by Israel.
Khaled asserted that the U.N. must “implement its own resolutions” and that the current negotiations (The Kerry Plan) will not result in peace (that the negotiations are, in fact, not about peace at all). “Israel has copied Nazism and (other) apartheid regimes.” A democratic state for/of Palestine is the other answer.
When and how to “negotiate” is the ongoing issue.
We concluded our discussion by talking about the difference between the “intellectuals of the authorities” and the “intellectuals of the people.” Khaled asserted that the difference is in how you educate with your heart, about the issues you care about. Not for the state and its power.
The second meeting we had was with two representatives from Amman’s chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), Sakar (from Jordan) and Miriam (from Italy).
According to The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, Jordan has the largest population of Palestinian refugees in the Arab region, with almost 2 million people registered and living in ten different camps (almost twenty percent of Jordan’s total population).
The PYM was founded in 2006, out of a coalitional meeting in Barcelona. The PYM addresses the political platform and framing of Palestine independence in relation to the history of Palestinian struggles against the occupation. It is fundamentally anti-colonial, defined in relation to recent Arab revolutions (like the “Arab Spring”) and regional politics. It accounts for differences in Palestinian societies throughout the Arab region, including confusions on the goal of independence (one state, two states, et cetera) and how to reach it (strategies).
Sakar and Miriam talked about the difficult history of Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, which has worked hard at differentiating and othering Palestinian identity.
They believe that there are fundamental capitalist issues at the heart of Palestinian political struggles, which they see as fueling political revolutions throughout the region. Workers who had once aligned with Arab regimes against Palestinians (as racialized others) are now seeing a similarity of exploitation and oppression under those regimes as capitalist. Arab countries like Egypt are responding to the resistance by withdrawing infrastructures (electricity, etc.) and punishing dissenting voices. Arab countries biggest fear is of an alliance between the Arab working class and Palestinian refugees, even as wealthy Palestinians outside of Palestine distance themselves from the political agendas and concerns of the Arab working class. One of the ways Sakar and Miriam believe this is happening is by the use of the “right of return” discourse by the wealthy to keep Palestinians from aligning themselves with public revolts (do not focus on your working conditions here, look back to Palestine). They believe that Arab party
politics are too often addressed to U.S. and E.U. agendas and not to regional realities.
PYM has aligned itself with popular revolts against Arab state capitalism.
Sakar discussed the normalization of Israel occupation in the refugee camps of Jordan through agricultural products from Israel.
One of the questions I asked of Sakar was how he would define colonization. He talked at length about the politics of knowledge and the need for people in the US and Palestinian refugees in the Arab region to break out of their colonial ways of thinking (accepting the terms of their oppression from oppressive states) and think critically about issues of race and class struggle and the potential for solidarity.
Our meetings in Amman were incredibly powerful. So many issues came up in our discussions with Khaled, Sakar, and Miriam that remained with me for the entire delegation. I will focus here on two.
1) Homelands.The Lenape are the nation—more a decentralized set of polities based on the matrilineal values of shared governance than a mirror of their European counterparts at the time—indigenous to a territory they called Lenapehoking (“Lenape country”). Lenapehoking included parts of what are now New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
As a consequence of European and U.S. imperialism and colonialism, enacted through seventeen treaties between 1778 and 1867, the Lenape reside today in multiple locations in the United States and Canada. No recognized group of Lenape have retained territorial rights in their traditional homelands, they are all now located on lands removed from other indigenous nations.
I am a descendent of families forcibly removed out of Kansas (lands traditionally belonging to the Wichita and Kansa nations) and into the lands of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (lands traditionally belonging to the Wichita and Osage nations).
In my lifetime, the Lenape have gone through several cycles of recognition and termination. Currently, they are federally recognized as the Delaware Tribe of Indians. They are seeking to reestablish collective land holdings in Kansas based on the boundaries of a 1866 treaty with the United States.
There are so many historical and social connections between Lenape and other indigenous peoples in the U.S. and the indigenous peoples of Palestine. The majority of indigenous peoples in North America have never lived on their traditional homelands as a direct result of European and U.S. imperialism and colonialism—historically and in their most current forms of articulation (such as energy and other corporate developments). Neither have many Palestinians, who live in exile as refugees or criminals throughout the Arab world.
The current formation of U.S. imperialism likewise connects indigenous groups of North America and Palestine through the financing of Israel’s military, security, and energy and so apartheid regime by the United States. Federal tax monies used as foreign aid to Israel—to the tune of $3 billion annually—in addition to U.S. corporate and banking investments in the billions link the consequences of U.S. imperialism “at home” to those in Palestine. This is represented most profoundly by the fact that Israel’s apartheid wall around and inside the occupied territories of the West Bank is built and maintained by the same set of construction, technology, and security firms and subcontractors as the wall along the U.S. and Mexican border (www.stopthewall.org/downloads/pdf/companiesbuildingwall.pdf)
Indigenous peoples in the U.S. also know the powerful force of religious ideologies and narratives in state discourses rationalizing indigenous genocide and dispossession, disguising hateful and violent racism as an evolved democracy. The Zionist arguments regarding Israel as the promised land, given by God to His Chosen People, smacks of the same kind of religiosity used by the “founding fathers” of the United States to justify land theft, genocide, and slavery.
“I felt my humanity in armed struggle. Now I feel humiliated.”
– Leila Khaled (January 11, 2014)
2) Non-violence. Since I can remember, I have always been committed to a non-violent ethics of dissent consistent with my pro-choice, anti-death penalty, and anti-second amendment argument politics. I have always had a difficult time with writers like Franz Fanon and his many intellectual followers within the United States, who seemed to me to embrace and even romanticize the notion of an armed, violent mode of resistance as a universal truth. As a strategy of the truly radical revolutionary, applicable in all times and places of oppression.
Khaled’s remarks made me think about the potential orientalism of a non-violent ethics within the United States as a different kind of universalism. What I heard her say, and I heard from many others over the course of our delegation, was that Palestinian armed resistance against Israeli occupation has been too quickly dissed and dismissed by non-violent activists in the U.S. in ways that perpetuate orientalist ideologies and representations of Palestinians and other Arabs as an inherently violent and irrational people. And that such representations fail in profound ways to understand the relentless legal, economic, and cultural forms of apartheid and discrimination that Palestinians have to live with everyday of their lives under Israeli occupation.
I am not saying that I am ready to reread Fanon or buy a gun, only that I have a lot more thinking to do. How much does an anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, or Zionist project rely on an orientalist notion of non-violence? Or, how deeply does orientalism–anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian–(in)form non-violent arguments in the United States?
- “Leila Khaled:Hijacker” (2006)
- PalestinianYouth Movement
- The United Nations Relief andWorks Agency for Palestine Refugees