75th year of Nakba – In solidarity with the Palestinian struggle

Yesterday, May 15, 2023 marked the 75th anniversary of Nakba or the dispossession of the people of Palestine by the Zionist state of Israel. This is the text of a talk delivered at an event organized by India Palestine Friendship Forum.

Stamp issued in 1981

In September 2012,  I had the incredible good fortune to visit Palestine. We stayed in Ramallah, visited and interacted with colleagues at Birzeit University and spoke at a conference organized by Muwatin, a research institute based in Ramallah. We met  a large number of inspiring people who pushed the frontiers of our minds, and we came away humbled and moved by the dignity of a people living through the brutal occupation of their lands by the  Zionist state of Israel, with limitless courage and bubbling sense of humour intact.

Later my university, JNU and Birzeit University signed an MOU under which two batches of Palestinian students visited us, and some faculty members visited Birzeit. The excitement and support for our Palestinian visitors in JNU, among both faculty and students, was overwhelming. Even today, when the Indian government has taken a different path, choosing to support the Zionist programme of exterminating Palestine and its people, the older political traditions in India, of support to people’s resistance against authoritarianism continue to flower.

May 15th is the day of Nakba or Catastrophe for the people of Palestine. It is a day of mourning, but also of resolve. It is a day on which the Right to Return is asserted and reasserted by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in exile and in refugee camps world-wide.

Image courtesy The Palestinian Chronicle May 15, 2023

As we know, and as we must remember on this anniversary of the Nakba, from 1948 until today, this migration of Jews from all over the world into Israel has resulted in the  steady swallowing of Palestinian lands by Jewish settlements and the herding of Palestinian people into the continually shrinking little slivers of West Bank and Gaza. How is Palestinian land taken over? By a variety of strategies. By military force, with guns and bombs, primarily from noncombatant farm families. By demolishing Palestinian homes on flimsy legal grounds, or punitively, and since Palestinians cannot obtain building permits from Israel, many suddenly homeless Palestinians have to vacate their land, which is then taken over for Jewish families. The Knesset passed a draft law in 2011 that would require Palestinians to pay for the demolition costs of their own homes, and now the strategy is to make Palestinians actually self  demolish their own homes, as Israeli authorities did in a neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem early last year.

Neve Gordon points out a revealing contradiction in Israeli state policy – Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists have repeatedly rejected the term Nakba, calling it an “Arab lie” and a “justification for terrorism”.  In 2009, the Israeli Education Ministry banned the use of this word in textbooks for Palestinian children. In 2011, the Knesset adopted a law prohibiting institutions from holding any events commemorating the Nakba. But at the same time, these daily acts of violence ensure that Palestinians remain haunted by the Nakba. The Nakba is not a one-time dispossession, it is ongoing.

In the face of this relentless aggression by a powerful, highly militarized state well funded by Western powers, what the Palestinians teach us is sumoud. Sumoud is steadfastness, refusal to budge, to give in. Sumoud is to lay claim to what is one’s own, one’s home, one’s land, it is resilience.

Sumoud expresses both a state of mind and an orientation to action.

I cannot do better than quote an anonymous Palestinian voice on this:

Sumoud then is not just the capacity for survival or the ability to bounce back, to cope and adapt to stress and adversity. Sumoud is accomplishing these things in addition to maintaining a steadfast defiance to subjugation and occupation. Sumoud is not an inborn trait or the consequence of a single life event, but a system of skills and habits that are learned and can be developed. It forms the basis of a lifestyle of endurance; holding onto the land like a deeply rooted olive tree, preserving one’s identity, pursuing autonomy and agency, preserving the Palestinian narrative and its culture in the face of elimination.

It is about the self-sufficiency of farmers who subsist on their own limited production while refraining from consuming Israeli products; it is reflected in the labor of construction workers who reject the temptation to build Israeli settlements and accept the reduced income available from providing construction for Palestinians; it is seen in the generative capacity of parents whose commitment starts with the birth of a child, but continues by caring for and educating the child to be a decent Palestinian in the face of the threatened annihilation of the Palestinian nation.

When the occupation uproots our olive trees, we plant many others; when they demolish our homes, we reconstruct new ones; when they close our schools, we create makeshift schools; when they obscure our history, we engage in witnessing, remembering and documenting. When they fragment us with stratifying colors of identity papers, car plates, and conflicting political parties, we act to build ties of solidarity through collective action that maintains the coherence of the community.

This is sumoud.

Another set of Palestinian voices can be heard in a recent book based on a collaborative research project, titled The Untold Story of the Golan Heights which studies indigenous Arab—that is, ‘Jawlani’—politics and culture in the occupied Golan Heights. The articles in this book (edited by my friend Munir Fakher Eldin who teaches at Birzeit, and his colleagues Muna Dajani and Michael Mason) outline two elements of life in the Golan Heights – everyday colonization and the politics of the governed – and traces Jawlani resistance, including solidarity networks with Palestinians, covering also the politics of Jawlani art and a Jawlani political ecology.

From this, emerges the idea of the Jawlan as a counter-geography, by which the editors mean “the material and imaginative construction of an ethno-geographic community that contests the current regime of Israeli rule. As they put it – “the Jawlani counter-geography marks out or remaps an inclusive and just future, disrupting the oppressive gridlines of Zionist settler colonization.”

In the emerging political configurations what is the solution? The conventional one-state solution has been rendered impossible by Israel (Israel has, by its own settlement policies, knocked out the basis for a sovereign Israeli state clearly separated from Palestine).

The two-state solution is by now unsustainable. As Edward Said put it in 1999, “short of ethnic cleansing or ‘mass transfer’, as in 1948, there is no way for Israel to get rid of the Palestinians or for Palestinians to wish Israelis away.”

In this scenario, some voices in the Palestinian resistance to the Zionist occupation advocate a binational state of Palestine-Israel or Israel-Palestine. Similar views are held by some anti-Occupation Israelis, too. This would mean one state for Israelis and Palestinians, with equal citizenship rights for all, including the generations who have been forced to leave, based on as Ilan Pappe puts it, “the principles of justice, reconciliation and coexistence.”

As I conclude, I need not remind ourselves in India that the parallels with the authoritarian, violent, majoritarian, occupationist state of Israel are starkly clear, and I need not outline them. But we have gained also from the striking intellectual resources that the Palestinian scholar activists give us – sumoud and counter geographies among these.

Let us all salute today the powerful, inspiring Palestinian struggle against 75 years of occupation – Azad Philistine Zindabad!

Here are links to three posts that Aditya Nigam and I wrote on Kafila after our visit in 2012:

Israeli Apartheid And Palestinian Resistance I – Nakba And Sumoud

Israeli Apartheid And Palestinian Resistance Ii – Living The Occupation

Imagining Post Zionist Futures

One thought on “75th year of Nakba – In solidarity with the Palestinian struggle”

  1. Love it
    Thank you for sharing the inspiring resilience and steadfastness of the Palestinian people in the face of ongoing dispossession and occupation. The concept of sumoud is a powerful reminder of the importance of holding onto one’s identity and land in the face of oppression.
    Eamon O’Keeffe
    Live Free Offgrid


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