Posted by Guest on June 28, 2018 in Blog

By Allison Ulven

On Thursday,  June 28, the Foundation for Middle East Peace hosted a panel discussion titled “Complex Palestinian Narratives & Competing Political Visions.” The event addressed the problems and misconceptions Americans have about what the people of Palestine are seeking. Many tend to have a “single, monolithic viewpoint,” neglecting the full spectrum of views on the situation. The panel discussed different narratives and perspectives from the time of the Nakba in 1948 to the present.

The panelists included our Deputy Director Omar Baddar, ANERA’s Rula Bawardi, the Museum of Palestinian People’s Nizar Farsakh, with moderation by Al-Arabiya’s Muna Shikaki.

Shikaki began the discussion by giving a brief overview of the history of the Palestinian situation dating back to the 1930s, alluding to the crystallization of Palestinian identity into a nationalist movement during the period of British colonial rule. Following the establishment of the state of Israel, Palestinians turned to neighboring Arab governments for support. The late ‘50s brought about the Fatah nationalist movement, and the ‘60s gave rise to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which later came to lead advocacy on behalf of Palestinians.

There are varying visions for how to achieve Palestinians’ goals and how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, but much of the debate recently has centered around the one-state solution vs the two-state solution. You can see the varying levels of support these proposals have among Palestinians and others on this recent poll by Zogby Research Services.

But with the failure of all solution visions to materialize thus far, the question is: Where do Palestinians go from here?

Nizar Farsakh spoke first about the different perspectives of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in refugee camps, and how we make sense of the events that took place. Nizar was born and raised in Dubai, but also spend time living in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the United States. His father was from a town in the West Bank where they still had family living, and they would send money and support them. When he moved there in 1999, he said he was surprised that his family in Palestinian referred to “Israel,” instead of his then-preferred terminology while living in the diaspora, referring to the “1948 areas.” He also remembered when Palestinians declared statehood in Algiers in 1988 how some celebrated it as an accomplishment while others mourned it as a step that came at the expense of Nakba refugees. Another aspect to the narrative was the divide between the West Bank and Gaza and how neither leadership was certain that they wanted to help each other.

Rula Bawardi spoke next about the specific experiences of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Rula’s father was forced to leave a particular area in Jerusalem in 1948, but came to establish residency in East Jerusalem. Although they were refugees, they did not live in refugee camps. Her father was able to build a successful clothing design business, receive an education, and provide a good life for the family. Her father participated in boycotts with his business long before the BDS movement became a thing. When the peace process eventually began, Rula remembered Palestinian children handing over olive branches to Israeli soldiers, in what she recalls as a naive hope that Israel was about to end the occupation. However, Israel built more settlements, and Jewish settlers began occupying Palestinian homes. Israel would refuse Palestinians building permits inside the occupied territories, and would often demolish their homes, and revoke their residencies. Closures on the West Bank turned the vibrant Jerusalem into a “goth ghost town.” The physical separation between different parts of the occupied territories had also fragmented Palestinian identity. The main struggle facing Jerusalemites is how to remain there and keep their ID’s despite the oppressions and economic strangulation they face by Israel.

Finally, Omar Baddar spoke about the experiences of Palestinians in the diaspora and in the United States. Omar argued that the Palestinian people are diverse in their perspectives. He said the main political parties in Palestine, Fatah and Hamas, were losing public support because neither succeeded in producing a clear strategy for Palestinians to get behind. In the United States, most Palestinians don’t have a loyalty to either political group, Omar said. What divides Palestinians in the US are the different agendas and strategies to advocate and move forward with a solution. In terms of the debate over the one-state and two-state solutions, a huge part of the divide related to different assessments on which was more “pragmatic” and “realistic” to pursue. Right now, Omar argued that there is no clear political road map that can lead to either solution, which is why there has been a shift in advocacy that focuses on human rights, primarily seeking to end U.S. support for Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. And that effort is beginning to show signs of hope, as with the introduction of a bill by Betty McCollum to end any U.S. financial support for Israel’s detention of Palestinian children. Omar argued that diversity of views is a strength in the movement for Palestinian rights, so long as people acknowledge the basics: That Israel is oppressing the Palestinians, and that we need to bring about pressure to change Israel’s policies.

All of the panelists provided clear viewpoints to the many different narratives of the Palestinian people. It is important that we consider all of these perspectives and understand the complexities of the issues as we work for a solution. You can watch the full panel below.

Allison Ulven is a 2018 summer intern at the Arab American Institute.