A Lost Opportunity?
The Palestinian Left
By RAMZY BAROUD
July 9, 2007
When Hamas members were elected as the majority bloc of the
Palestinian Legislative Council, and as it became apparent that a
US-led international embargo would be an adjoining price to that
victory, I contacted many intellectuals and writers in Palestine,
mostly those who often positioned themselves as part of the
Palestinian Left. I asked them to solidify behind the collective
choice of the Palestinian people and to shield Palestinian democracy
at any cost.
An exact paragraph in my appeal was the following: "This is the first
time in our history that a leadership is chosen from our midst to lead
the way forward, chosen by our downtrodden, poor and dispossessed. I
have no illusions that the current Parliament is not an expression of
a truly democratic experience since no true democracy can take roots
under occupation, and I am equally clear on the fact that the Council
doesn't represent but a minority of our people, but there is no denial
in the fact that there is a great hope in seeing refugees, members of
humble families, elementary school teachers and the working class
claiming their rightful position as community leaders. Regardless of
how the US wishes to interpret such a collective act, it is important
that we defend it by articulating the realities in Palestine as they
are, not as the mainstream media so readily misrepresents it."
This was in response to my initial reading that the Hamas government
was losing the battle at the media front. The reason was simple: they
possessed neither the experience nor the even-handed platform to reach
out to international media to articulate their position in any
convincing shape or form. Knowing this, and also aware of the
political polarization in Palestine, I feared that the battle of
articulation would be formulated around the theme of Hamas vs. Fatah,
or Islamic government vs secularism, which indeed proved to be the case.
As someone who defines himself as a secular humanist, I didn't
interpret the debate in Palestine as such, and I believe the bulk of
Palestinian intellectuals in Diaspora--something I am very proud
of--also used a similar line of logic: the debate for me was that of
genuine democracy facing early abortion as a result of a most sinister
union that brought together many world governments, Israel and corrupt
Nonetheless, the irate response was comprehensible. The Palestinian
vote was a collective act of epic proportions that eradicated, almost
instantly, the Bush administration's charade of the Great Middle East
Democracy Project, itself an extension of the old New Middle East
Project of the late 1990's. The US government tailored a specific
project, which included a pretence democracy which would serve its
long-term interests in the region and position itself as the protector
of the people's will for many years to come, now that its declared
aims in Iraq completely faltered.
Internally, the elections also meant that Palestinians - terrorized
for six decades by the Israeli army, and as of late, by the
Israel-backed Palestinian 'security' branches and their warlord-like
bosses--still possessed the strength to fight back and insist on their
right to defy the status quo. It was one of the most potent
non-violent victories achieved by the Palestinian people, compared
only to their First Uprising of 1987.
Following the elections, the movement's leadership insisted on
governing in accordance to the norms of democracy and civil society,
and quickly issued calls for all Palestinian groups to join in forming
a unity government.
Fatah refused. No surprises there. But why did the so-called
Palestinian Left refuse to take part in the government as
well--despite their insignificant popularity among Palestinians - an
act that could've served Palestinian democracy in more ways than one?
In the early weeks and months, following Hamas lonely ascent to power
in March 2006, we began seeing respected Palestinian intellectuals
making some disturbing statements to the media, attacking Hamas as if
it's some alien body, shipped from Tehran, and thus, affectively,
validating the international embargo. I had, at times, shared stage
with many of those people, proudly, at international forums; some even
posed as socialists and spoke fervently of the collective fight
against international imperialism and the need to activate civil
society in the fight against injustice and so forth. The Hamas victory
had indeed exposed the chasm between words and actions, between
national priorities and ideological and even individual rigidity and
limitations. When Hamas entered into rounds of talks with Palestinian
'socialist' groups, I was most certain that the latter would
appreciate the intensity of the challenge and would take part in a
unity government even if a union with a religious grouping stands at
odds with its overall principals. I thought, the situation is too
grave for superficial manifestos and party programs to stand in the
way. I was wrong.
Following the armed resistance of the 1970's in Gaza, led, partly, by
various socialist groups, there was no truly popular left that
appealed to a large segment of the Palestinian popular imagination.
Although some of these groups held on truly principled stances
opposing Oslo, for example, they remained largely confined to
university campuses, spotted in urban centres as artists, academics
and middle class--and sometimes upper class--intellectuals.
The bizarre twist is that Hamas, by a practical definition, is much
closer to socialist principals than the urban 'socialist' intellectuals.
By defending Hamas and the democratic will of Palestinians, I've
hardly felt as if I was deviating from of my own principles. My letter
to the Palestinian Left hardly generated any response - my
communications with progressives in the West generated much greater
enthusiasm. Now that the split between Hamas and Fatah has elevated to
almost a geographic split as well--a complete departure from the
Palestinian national objectives, many in the Left are still parroting
old mantras, still fighting for irrelevant appearances on BBC, making
demands on Hamas and using such terms as a 'coup against Palestinian
There was hardly a Palestinian Left to begin with; they lost the only
opportunity that could've made them relevant, and now they continue to
pander to the status quo, yet posing as the wise ones in an ocean of
dim-witted multitudes: the precise definition of intellectual elitism.
Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communication at Curtin University of
Technology and is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A
Chronicle of a People's Struggle. He is also the editor-in-chief of
He can be contacted at: editor @ palestinechronicle.com
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