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Fanon in Palestine Part 2: From Sumud to Surrender

ast week, the life, times and writings of Frantz Fanon were examined, with specific focus on his concept of recognition. Fanon, with literary deftness and intellectual mastery, managed to save Hegel from his racialised self and utilise his master/slave dialect in a conceptual apparatus that explicates the pitfalls of the neocolonised mindset.

Fanon asserted that colonised populations tend to internalise the sneering images imposed on them, and thus as a result these images, along with structural relations, come to be recognised as natural. Settler colonialism operates through the elimination of indigenous people’s existence on the land. Without this reducible element, settler colonialism cannot operate. Settler colonialism it not interested in exploitating the natives, rather it attempts a totality though eradicating its negation, the existence of indigenous people, and reducing them to an invisible, a persona non grata. This is why the Palestinian-Israeli impasse should not be seen from the angle of a particular event, rather as a structure that operates on the elimination of indigenous Palestinians as an entity. The desire for recognition on its own terms of the overarching colonial structure can be seen as a form of misrecognition as it reinforces the dominance of the oppressor, seeking its legitimacy from the very source of the dilemma, making the coloniser appear to be the final redeemer: ‘’that is, I will compel the white man to acknowledge that I am human.”

In the second part of this essay series, I will trace the socio-historical development of the Palestinian National Movement and its quest for recognition. By picking apart various tactics for recognition, I expose the source of the symbolic capital of the current intifada, and where the failure of the current Palestinian leadership has presented more obstacles to the fundamentals of Palestinian recognition.

Sumud

In English, sumud can refer to steadfastness, but it can be manifested as different practices and ideas. For instance, many refugees refer to their existence as “resistance”, or a manifestation of sumud when discussing their forced exile after 1948. Tracing Sumud within the PLO’s discourse help demonstrate how the change in political strategy from resistance to the recognition of Israel affected the discourse from within the PLO, which in turn has affected the whole of the PNM. Such a framework highlights the ways Palestinians were involved in anticolonial struggle how they were able to construct a Palestinian political history through speech, and how it was constrained after recognising Israel and seeking recognition of statehood from Israel and the international community.

Sumud: The 60s and 70s

The grassroots nature of the Palestinian movement that emerged in 1959 gained traction after the successive failures of pan-Arabism and the emergence of a distinct national Palestinian agenda which centred around the concept of armed struggle. The national struggle was formulated around being exiled in the diaspora and the life of the Fedayeen in the refugee camps, who were represented as the archetypal Palestinian. The idea of the militant-fedai as a national and a cultural hero was utilised by Fatah to galvanize support in the refugee camps. Where previously there was no unified and collective Palestinian struggle, this represented a rupture and change in Palestinian discourse and identity, profoundly demonstrated in Ghassan-Kanafani’s novels.

Arafat seized on such imagery, mirroring it in his discourse, most notably In his speech to the United Nations in 1974. Appearing at the UN general assembly, dressed in the garb of the Fedayeen, Arafat emphasised the right to armed resistance, placing the Palestinian struggle within a wider global struggle against racism, imperialism and colonialism. This speech would serve to gain much legitimacy and recognition for his cause. Although the PLO, of which Fatah was the dominant faction, was eventually recognised as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestine people by the international community, it failed to achieve any results on the ground. This, coupled with the exile of the PLO from Jordan and Lebanon, created a sense of disillusionment in the OPT, leading to the rise of grassroots activism which surprised a detached leadership.

The Intifada: Shaking off the occupation

Palestinian resistance in the OPT’s reached a zenith during the first intifada through large-scale confrontation with the Israeli army, mass demonstrations and civil disobedience such as strikes and refusal to pay taxes – a direct attempt to extract Palestinians from the structures of colonialism. The Intifada differed from Fatah’s operations as it was led by community councils and a united national leadership of the uprising (UNLU) with very limited control from Fatah and the PLO. The uprising was eventually steered by Fatah, leading to the Madrid peace conference of 1991, in effect paving the way for the Oslo process and the establishment of the Palestinian National Aassembly (PNA) in 1994. With the intifada and the influence of the PLO, there was a change in the discourse from the liberation of mandate Palestine to one of state building which marked recognition and diplomacy as a new political strategy.

Surrender

The Madrid Conference, which was the marking point for the initiation of the peace process, failed to bring about any real outcomes apart from ending the Intifada. This was due to Palestinian refusal to postpone key issues, and the efforts by Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir to delay the negotiations. This tactic of delay, whilst altering the facts on the ground through the entrenchment of the occupation, has been a central theme of all Israeli–Palestinian negotiations within the peace process framework. The Madrid process failed to consider the central issues of refugees and land loss that was insisted upon by the Palestinian delegation, it was the marking point for the beginning of the end, setting the precedent of future peace negotiations to come. Oslo would serve to provide the institutions to sustain this “differed agreement”, with the establishment of structure bent on constructing a state within the international legal sovereign model. However for the first time there was a tangent narrative of the PNM, that of the institutionalisation of Zionist-ideology and practices, hence the postponement of core issues.

Institutionalisation of the status quo

Through seeking recognition, the PLO had to engage in the language of the international community and the colonial power – Israel – therefore ensuring the maintenance of the status quo, i.e. not challenging the colonial structure of violence. Throughout the Oslo peace process the PLO de-facto acknowledged two Zionist-practices and ideas which characterise the discourse in Palestinian-Israeli relations; ethnic cleansing and land maximisation. The Oslo agreements make no reference to the exile of Palestinians during 1948, something that continues to govern the rules of negotiation in the Palestinian-Israeli relations. Although-the refugees were referenced, there was no explicit responsibility placed on Israel that acknowledged the forced exile of Palestinians. Alongside transfer was land maximisation, a strategy employed since Zionism’s inception. Today similar practices can be seen in Jerusalem, and the West Bank – the Naqba’s constant land maximisation is ongoing.

The sacrificing of key components If the Palestinian struggle on the alter of recognition and according to the terms of the coloniser was done in pursuit of of the hegemonic Eurocentric ideal of statehood. As Azmi Bishara predicted in 1999, if the PNA declares a Palestinian state, the issue will shift to recognition of such state, while there will be talks on settlements and refugees, the real focus and political strategy will turn toward seeking recognition for that state. Thus the PNA’s internal strategy becomes reducing any possibility of confrontation as Palestinians are forced to direct their energy on securing recognition and the survival of the pseudo state. The pursuit of recognition for this state has resulted in a whole range of PA actions, such as cooperative security with the Israelis, entrenchment within the international finance system, and the bureacratisation of occupation management. These very neocolonial practices will be scrutinised in more detail in the third party of this series, “The Economics of Capitulation”.

The development from sumud to surrender, which has characterised the PLO’s attitude towards Israel, demonstrates what Fanon called the “racist epidermalisaton of the oppressed”, where the PNA has became a product of the internalisation of what the oppressor thinks they must become. Through negating its own history and accomplishments, the PNA attempted to present a new image of the Palestinians as peaceful and civilised, and therefore worthy of their own state. Thus, as a result of seeking recognition overall, the focus of struggling and resisting shifted towards recognition of this new Palestinian image rather than addressing the overall structure of settler colonialism which created the need for such recognition in the first place. As Fanon found, the-colonised become obsessed with attention from the white man, where there is a strong desire to demonstrate to the white man that he is wrong about the black man.

Fanon wrote feverishly that it was the masses who “stormed the heavens” and in the process overcame their inferiority complex in the face of the colonial oppressor. What has occurred during the era of “Sumud” was a leadership and people who understood the transformative possibilities of engaging in a revolutionary process that creates “a new man”. Fanon was not a slave to nationalism, but understood that the particularities of race and nationness are indispensible in mobilising the people. The crude reduction of the Palestinian Authority’s claims that they are acting in the national interest is symbolic of the collapse of the revolutionary components of Palestinian nationalism. In the next part of these essays, the institutions which have emerged out of the neocolonial capitulation, will be scrutinised.

Nick Rodrigo is a research associate at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg; his writing has appeared in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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