The Palestinian Perspective

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S1: Mariam Barghuti says normally this time of year in her hometown of Ramallah,

S2: I think it’s very joyous.

S1: It’s joyous because it’s the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It’s Eid in this West Bank city. The stores stay open late, the streets closed down so people can shop after one month of fasting. Everyone’s ready to celebrate.

S2: It’s mostly for the children I associate with childhood and me being a child and going to my grandparents as they give me money, kind of like Christmas. So Christmas is associated with gift, aid is associated with money. And as a little girl, I pretend to be shy and tell my grandfather or grandmother, no, I don’t want the money, but if you insist. But now I think it is about the hope to be able to celebrate. I mean, I’m looking outside my window right now, my love feels like it’s dead or dying and there is nothing to celebrate in that. What is to celebrate?

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S1: Mahram says this year, most of her neighbors are locked up inside watching TV, checking in on loved ones as conflict ramps up with Israel. And after taking it all that some are going out into the streets to protest.

S2: The protests have been ugly and it’s not something we haven’t seen before. But because there are more numbers right now in the streets, initially we’d be out maybe a couple of dozen, 50, 100. But right now it’s in the hundreds. The number of screams just that once ringing in your ear is very overwhelming. That’s a lot of

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S1: the battles taking place in Israel right now. They might seem like the same fights people have been having here for years, fights about who has the right to live where. And in many ways, that’s true. But Maryam says there’s an intensity to what’s going on at the moment, a desperation driven by a suspicion that the Israeli state is willing to do almost anything to clear families like hers out.

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S2: Because in the end, when when you’re you’re you find that you’re actually being driven completely out what is left to do except shout and scream. And I don’t think anyone understands that we really feel we’re at a final breath.

S1: Today on the show, the Palestinian perspective on what makes this week’s skirmishes different, a Mary Harris you’re listening to, what next? Stick around. From the outside, what’s been happening in Israel this week might appear sudden in just a couple of days, a dispute over land in Jerusalem seemed to snowball into a conflict that looks a lot like full scale war. Now, civil unrest is on the rise with reports that mobs of Jews and Palestinians have been attacking businesses and people. To understand some of what led to this week, I called up Yousef Munayyer of the Palestinian American. He spent most of his adult life advocating for Palestinian rights.

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S3: There’s a tremendous amount of factors that I think kind of came together in sort of a perfect storm to create the scale of the situation that we are witnessing today. Much of what we are seeing today in the immediate context of it was in a neighborhood in Jerusalem and Sheikh Zahraa where Palestinians live and are facing the impending forced expulsion orders at the hands of the Israeli state.

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S1: You might have heard of Sheikh Jarrah this week. It’s a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Palestinian families who’ve lived there for decades are facing forced removal pending an Israeli Supreme Court decision. Jewish settler groups say the land originally belonged to Jews before the creation of Israel in 1948. The Palestinians who call Sheikh Jarrah home, say Israeli laws make fighting these settlers off nearly impossible. But they’re trying to do it anyway in court and on social media.

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S3: Eviction is a legal process that tends to happen when, you know, people are unable to pay their rent and landlords make big claims to move that that process forward. That is a completely different situation than what we are talking about here. What we are talking about here is force forced expulsion of people because of their identity. So this amounts essentially to ethnic cleansing. And, you know, this is part of an ongoing process in the city of Jerusalem, where the Israelis have pursued a number of different steps to demographically reengineer the entire city so that the Jewish population grows and remains dominant over a Palestinian population that is under constant threat and harassment and forced removal.

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S1: I saw a video online this week. That showed. Palestinian people in Sheikh Cheraw confronting a man named Yakob

S2: Yakob, you know, this is not your house.

S4: Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Well, you’re yelling at me. I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this. But did you ask me to yell at me? But I didn’t do this. You are stealing my house. And if I don’t steal someone else going to steal it. No, no. No one is allowed to steal it. I mean, you

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S1: and I think that situation is pretty unimaginable to a lot of people in the United States. Someone would just come into your space and commandeer it. Can you describe that a little bit?

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S3: I mean, I think it’s unfortunately unimaginable for people in the United States, although in many ways it should be. You know, this country here in the United States was erected after a very similar process of removing people from their lands, pushing them ever further over frontiers and claiming that it was all justified by laws that they instituted and some sort of divine providence or manifest destiny. This is sort of the reality of settler colonialism. And, you know, Palestinians are too often at the mercy of this of this process where they have limited or no rights at all with which to challenge the massive force of a powerful state that wants to change the realities on the ground. Hmm.

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S1: What’s happening in Sheikhupura is happening to, I think, six Palestinian families, but you’ve alluded to the fact that watching this play out has impacted Palestinians all over because it feels so familiar. And I’m wondering if you could explain that a little bit.

S3: Sure. I mean, look, the whole process of settler colonialism, the the introduction of the Zionist movement into Palestine is relatively new. It’s a relatively modern process. And 100 hundred years ago, the vast majority of this territory was populated by Palestinian Arabs. And over time, that changed through a very sort of deliberate set of policies that were used to acquire land, deny people access to it, force people off of their land and deny them the ability to return to their homes and then move freely within the spaces where they lived. First, it started inside what is now today, Israel, but then it extended into East Jerusalem, into the remainder of the West Bank and Gaza. And it continues to this day.

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S1: This ongoing tension evolved into rocket strikes this week because of what happened at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, when protests over Sheikh Jarrah began at the mosque after Friday prayers. Israeli forces moved in aggressively and worshipers pushed back.

S3: And we saw Israeli forces firing stun grenades, tear gas inside the mosque itself on one of the holiest nights of the year for Muslims. So with all of that going on, I think it led to a degree of anger and mobilization. This is the kind of thing that has the potential to enrage, of course, not just Palestinians and people of conscience all over the world, but a billion and a half followers of a religion inside of Palestine and out.

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S1: Yeah, I feel like part of what stands out to me about the images I’m seeing is just how desperate the protest and the violence is. It’s not just rockets to Gaza. It’s more than that. There’s things going on in individual communities. And to me, that seems new.

S3: You’re absolutely right about this. I mean, I think one of we have seen numerous situations where there has been Israeli bombardment of Gaza, rocket fire from Gaza and so on. We’ve we’ve seen, sadly, that episode play out time and again. And overwhelmingly, it results in massive Palestinian casualties, which are mostly civilian casualties at the hands of of of Israeli bombardment. But what is fundamentally different about this moment is the scale and scope of of mobilization and the participation in it. It’s all over the land. And I think that is an indicator of a new direction in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. You know, for a very long time, there’s been this sort of conversation around a vision of of two states where Israelis and Palestinians were supposed to resolve this issue by expressing their national aspirations in two separate states. But what we are seeing today is a binational reality, where Palestinians are rising up against a system of discrimination which which can’t be divided geographically because it extends across the entire geography. And so I think this suggests a new path for Palestinian mobilisation and a new path for thinking about what the problem is and potential ways to resolve it.

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S1: I can’t tell if talking about this new path. If it makes you. Like a little bit anxious about what’s about to happen or hopeful because there’s been some kind of breakthrough,

S3: you know, I think I think both of those feelings are real and valid in this moment. There’s a tremendous amount of pain being inflicted on Palestinians. Now, again, there’s a lot of sorrow. There’s a lot of despair, anger, sadness. People’s lives are being irreparably damaged. There’s no denying that reality. At the same time, I look at the mobilizations in the streets, the scale of the participation, and I see something new. I see a younger generation that is breaking away from the shackles of of old frameworks that have limited their involvement and are genuinely agitating for something different, for something new. There’s hope to be had there.

S1: When we come back, how this moment may force a reckoning with Israel’s most important ally, the United States. Yousef Munayyer says this latest protest movement is different because of the way this generation of Palestinians have organized themselves politically in the past, groups of protesters might have formally tied themselves to political factions like Fatah, the secular party in control of the West Bank, committed to negotiations with Israel or Hamas, the Islamist party committed to armed resistance against Israel. Now, Yousef says there’s a growing sense of Palestinian unity, recognizing those older institutions aren’t working.

S3: It’s hard to tell. I mean, I think we are seeing things that suggest that that’s the case. The flags that you are seeing being raised all over are not factional flags, but Palestinian flags, including by Palestinian citizens in Israel and by by folks in Jerusalem and the West Bank and elsewhere. Right. So there is a clear sort of unison that is that is driving people within that framework. But at the same time, it’s hard to tell if that is because. That’s been adopted or that’s because of a fundamental failure of leadership to provide any direction, we are seeing mobilization that’s being led from the bottom, not from the top. And that can be a truly wonderful, inspiring, hopeful thing. It’s also something that can dissipate if it is not built upon. And so I think that’s the open question that this leaves. Where does this go? How do we build on this? How does it lead to change?

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S1: Yeah, I’m thinking of an analog here in the U.S., which is Black Lives Matter. And what I think is interesting is that you saw a lot of people struggle with the idea of there’s no one leader here, this is going to just keep going and. I wondered if your family or people you knew in Israel, in the occupied territories, whether there was any of that anxiety happening of in the past, we used to protest in one way and now it looks a little bit different.

S3: I think that there is a widespread anxiety among Palestinians and realization that an absence of leadership is a major problem. And this is, I think, one of the unfortunate byproducts of the peace process that has been going on for the last 30 years. It’s led to a fragmentation among Palestinians, separating Palestinians politically from each other into ever smaller factions. And, you know, one of the immediate precedents in to this moment is the fact that Palestinian elections, which were scheduled to take place for the first time in 15 years in the West Bank and Gaza were postponed or delayed and effectively canceled. And so, you know, even that long awaited opportunity to voice some displeasure, some new direction was denied to Palestinians immediately before this moment by a leadership that. Doesn’t have any answers, and so I think that contributes a lot to, you know, what what Palestinians are seeing and feeling right now.

S1: And of course, this is taking place at a politically sensitive time for Benjamin Netanyahu, too, who’s clinging to power in a military operation is something of a distraction, one could say. Do you think about the political expediency in Israel?

S3: I think that’s something you can’t ignore. Netanyahu is right now in the political fight of his life and has been for a number of years. And, you know, Israeli politics has now, you know, seen its fourth election in two years precisely because there’s divided coalitions. Only Netanyahu has been able to cobble together governments and remain as prime minister. And when he has failed to do so, they’ve gone to another election. Most recently, he was handed the mandate to try to put together a government. He was unable to do so. And his political opponents, which, by the way, are also right wingers, have an opportunity now to try to displace him. They’re on the clock. When that clock runs out, there’s a question of another election that comes down the pipe, buying Netanyahu a stay of execution for his for his political life.

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S1: But it sounds like no matter what way that election goes, there’s no change for the Palestinian people.

S3: If it changes, it only gets worse. The people who are going to be running the next Israeli government are going to be as far right wing as Netanyahu or more to the right than Netanyahu. The number of seats in the Israeli parliament that are dominated by right wing ideologues today is greater than it’s ever been. And, you know, one of the reasons for this is that the the the the primary question defining Israeli elections in recent cycles has been whether Netanyahu should stay or whether he should go. And the greatest efforts to replace him have come from people who are also attacking him from the right. So Netanyahu might be replaced, but right wing politics in Israel are increasingly moving in a religious nationalist direction, and that certainly will not change in the short term.

S1: Can we talk a bit about how protesters, Palestinians? Want to see the United States get involved in what’s happening right now if they want the United States to get involved at all?

S3: You know, I think we have to understand that the United States is involved. It is constantly involved, deeply involved as the main backer of Israel on the international stage, providing it consistent diplomatic cover and also, frankly, a direct supporter of the Israeli military. Through billions of dollars of financing every year, Americans are paying for the bombs that are falling on Gaza right now. They are financing the military that is driving Palestinians out of their homes. Whether there is a peace process going on or an ambassador named to Israel or whatever else, that’s constant. We are a constant participant in the violence against Palestinians. We need to recognize that I don’t necessarily want the United States to get involved. I want them to get less involved in doing harm to Palestinians through their support of Israeli policies and their complicity in these violations. That’s the starting point. Let’s begin there. I’m glad to see a growing conversation around that taking place among lawmakers and elected officials. And, you know, recognizing our complicity in doing something about it, I think is the first step that needs to happen before we can talk about what real effective engagement looks like.

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S1: Yeah, there’s this clip of a State Department spokesman that made the rounds this week where he was asked to articulate the American position on what was happening in Israel. And he talks about the Israeli right to defend themselves. And the reporter asks,

S5: does that in any way apply to the Palestinians? Do they have a right to self-defense? Do Palestinians have a right to self-defense?

S6: I’m in. Broadly speaking said we believe in the concept of self-defense. We believe it applies to any state. I don’t think that I said I certainly wouldn’t want my words to be construed as I understand.

S5: I want to assure you I don’t want to harp on this either. But, you know, the Israelis killed 30 people just now, you know, including maybe five or six children. Do you condemn that? You can condemn the killing of children,

S6: said

S5: I’m asking. Do you condemn the killing of Palestinian children?

S6: Obviously, these reports are just emerging. And I understand I was just speaking to the team. I understand we don’t have independent confirmation of facts on the ground yet. So I’m very hesitant to get into reports that are just emerging.

S1: And it was a very uncomfortable moment. But what was interesting to me. Is that it felt like one of the first times I’d seen that kind of uncomfortable moment for someone in the State Department where they were really being pressed and I was like, huh, that that seems like a difference.

S3: Yeah. I mean, I think, look, one of the reasons why it was so awkward and so obviously uncomfortable is because the Biden administration is constantly talking about the importance of centering human rights in its foreign policy and the importance of a rules-based international order. At the same time, it can’t simply condemn the killing of children. It can’t say the word occupation when put on the spot. So if if they are going to pretend that these things matter, they actually have to matter across the board. And there can’t be this ongoing Palestine exception for the previous administration. These things not only didn’t matter, they had open contempt towards them. And that’s fine. They were consistent. We can oppose that, but they were consistent. This administration is tying their tongue in knots because they’re inconsistent. And I think that’s going to that’s going to continue to be exposed until they understand that you can’t talk about human rights unless they extend to all humans and Palestinians are among them. You can’t talk about international law unless you condemn all international law violations, including the ones perpetrated by Israelis. And so, you know, I don’t think that that will be the last awkward moment that you’ll see until there’s an adjustment in policy.

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S1: Yeah, you’ve used some pretty precise and damning language in this conversation. You’ve talked about settler colonialism. You’ve talked about ethnic cleansing. And as you just said, those are words. That I think. It’s been very difficult for any American administration to wrap its mind around when it comes to Israel and its relationship with Palestinians. Do you expect the Biden administration will change that will say any of the things that you’re saying right now?

S3: I don’t think the Biden administration is going to make any immediate change, but I think one of the things that Palestinians in the streets have showed us is that transformational change starts at the bottom and grows from there. And I am seeing in the United States the change in a conversation that is starting from the bottom and bubbling its way up through American government. I’m seeing more and more elected officials speaking out, including using the word apartheid for the first time. But again, these are changes that take time and can be catalyzed in ways that we don’t we don’t always expect. Look, the first legislation that was put forward to put sanctions on apartheid South Africa entered Congress in the early 1970s. It had a few co-sponsors. It took 20 years to get a veto proof majority on that. And even then, there were some Republicans that were willing to go down with the apartheid ship all the way to the very bottom of the ocean. These things take time, but they become more and more possible as people speak out. And the people who are speaking out today are creating the kind of political space necessary, the kind of political courage necessary to bring more and more people in. That change is possible tomorrow because of the actions that people are taking today.

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S1: Yousef Munayyer, thank you so much for joining me.

S3: It’s been great to be with you. Thanks.

S1: Yousef Munayyer is a writer and political analyst based in Washington, D.C.. And that is or Show What Next is produced by Kamal Dilshad Davis Land, Daniel Hewitt, Elena Schwartz and Mary Wilson were led by Allison Benedict and Alicia Montgomery. I’m Mary Harris. You can go find me on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s Desk. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned to this feed because tomorrow our Friday show will be here. That’s what next TBD with Lizzie O’Leary. And I’ll catch you back here on Monday.