‘Man shall not live on bread alone’
The Palestinian elections of 2006 displeased Western powers. In the aftermath of the ensuing economic boycott of Palestine, our president told us that “if we have to choose between bread and democracy, we choose bread.” However, the baker Khader Adnan thinks and behaves otherwise, exemplifying the principle that “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Adnan has endured two long and perilous hunger strikes in Israeli detention since 2013. The first was triggered by torture and humiliating mistreatments; the interrogators made sexual innuendos about his wife, mocked his faith and his physique, ripped out his beard, and put dirt from their shoes on his moustache. Adnan prevailed in both hunger strikes, leading to his liberation from prison and bringing world attention to the plight of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli administrative detention who are held without charge or trial for six-month periods that can be renewed indefinitely.
Israel did not triumph and Gaza was not broken
Despite the siege and neglect, the Gaza strip remains a center of innovation; recently, gluten-free flour for patients suffering with celiac disease – an item which has not been available in Gaza due to the siege – has been developed and made available there by two researchers at Al Israa University. Young people have constructed machines to assist persons who have been paralysed as well as designed engines and tools for the detection of land mines. The many years of closure and the increasing levels of violence brought against the population during the last three wars have failed to break the will of the people there. Today, one year on from the destructive 51-day war that left over 100,000 people homeless, Gaza is still patiently waiting for reconstruction; but waiting in steadfastness.
Jerusalemites: Citizens of nowhere
Living well in Jerusalem is a challenge, since the occupation not only denies us citizenship, assigns us a fragile status as temporary residents, and imposes regulations that threaten our residency, homes, and income, but also imposes fines and taxes that have the goal of driving us from our home town. Laws make marriage to a “non-Jerusalemite” a pretext for eventual loss of residency Nevertheless, during the month of Ramadan and the Eid holiday, when Jerusalem was visited by many Palestinians both from the West Bank and holding Israeli citizenship, we were able to enjoy moments of delight and celebration that emphasises the Palestinian essence of this hijacked city. Social media were filled with selfies people who managed to arrive in Jerusalem, some though hidden tunnels and by climbing ladders over the separation wall. People posed with banners carrying the names of friends and family members who had been denied access to the city. These images transcend the trendy superficiality of the typical selfie photo and symbolise our sense of rootedness and belonging. Although Jerusalemites are citizens of nowhere, few of us would trade our home town for anywhere in the world.
On the meaning of sumoud
Such are the experiences associated with the Palestinian concept of “sumoud.” While it is difficult to come up with an inclusive, all-encompassing definition of this term, there are countless distinctive examples of it as an individual and collective attitude in extreme situations as well as in everyday life. While terms like “resilience” and “adversity-advanced development” are currently popular in positive psychology, Palestinians have used the term sumoud since the time of their defiance of the British mandate. The term has taken on varied meanings at different states of the Palestinian struggle and in response to complex events: massive displacement, life under occupation, life as a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, imprisonment, and exile. While resilience is a concept oriented towards a state of mind, sumoud expresses both a state of mind and an orientation to action.
Sumoud then is not just the capacity for survival or the ability to bounce back to cope and adapt to stress and adversity. Samoud 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.
Sumoud is not accepting the status quo, tolerating corruption, and enjoying handouts. For many years, in the name of supporting the sumoud of the Palestinians living on occupied land, five per cent of the salaries of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers in the Gulf was deducted every month by the Aid Fund of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation; some of that money was misused as handouts without development planning and distributed with the purpose of promoting political polarisation. Much of that money was wasted by corruption. When the political winds moved against Palestinians in the Gulf, many lost their jobs and homes. The workers suffered due to the misbehavior of the Palestinian leadership and there was no sumoud money to support them during that predicament.
A government of sumoud: Beyond the antagonism of armed resistance and security coordination
Over the last few months, the Palestinian security forces have arrested hundreds of university students, syndicalists, and journalists from opposition parties – all for “security reasons.” While Khader Adnan prevailed in his hunger strike against the Israeli authorities, Islam Hammad has not yet won his 100 day hunger strike in Palestinian prisons. The Palestinian government creates real obstacles for the people in achieving sumoud and disturbs their capacity to remain focused on the
Israeli occupation. While the Oslo accords have created a glass ceiling for Palestinian resistance, there is still some space for the Palestinian government to become a sumoud government, rather than of a government of subcontractors who spare the occupation from facing its responsibilities and do their dirty work at a cheaper price.
All talks about unity government are meaningless without re-conceptualising and reforming the role of the government as genuinely transformative – proceeding according to an inclusive national agenda for liberation without favorism, nepotism and corruption.
It is the responsibility of the a national unity government to promote the sumoud of the people in the face of occupation, polarisation, corruption and moral degradation. It is the job of the government to enhance the survival of Palestinians on their occupied lands and to preserve the Palestinian identity of the exiled; it must advance the human rights and national objectives of the Palestinian people; it must promote economic survival for all in the face of de-development, consumerism and the growing economic gap between a tiny elite class and an impoverished majority. A sumoud government can preserve our national dignity, in spite of deliberate efforts to bring degradation and humiliation upon Palestinians; it can impact international solidarity with Palestine, because sumoud and solidarity are synergetic values that augment one another’s momentum and impact.
The choice of sumoud is not easy or pain-free and does not mean the absence of negative emotions in the face of loss. Rather, sumoud means maintaining optimism, moral and social solidarity while dealing with grim realities and oppressive structures. It is, in effect, like the experience of Khader, Islam and many others; that painful position of searching for our lost freedom with the hope that we will find it one day.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.