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Sunday, December 12, 2004

eqbal ahmad on the strategy for liberating palestine

in this passage, from the book "confronting empire: interviews with david barsamian" (2000, based on an interview conducted in 1996), eqbal describes a keynote address he gave at a conference organized by arab americans in 1968 on the topic of palestine liberation.

"eqbal: i argued that armed struggle was supremely unsuited to the palestinian condition, that it was a mistake to put so much emphasis on it. i argued that armed struggle is less about arms and more about organization, that a successful armed struggle proceeds to out-administer the adversary and not to out-fight him. and that the task of out-administration occurs when you identify the primary contradiction of your adversary and expose that contradiction not only to yourselves, which you don't need to do so much, but to the world at large, and more important, to the people of the adversarial country itself.

i argued that israel's fundamental contradiction was that it was founded as a symbol of the suffering of humanity... at the expense of another people who were innocent of guilt. it's this contradiction that you have to bring out. and you don't bring it out by armed struggle. in fact, you suppress this contradiction by armed struggle. the israeli zionist organizations continue to portray the jews as victims of arab violence.

barsamian: i'm interested that this was what you wanted to project in this conference, coming off your first-hand experience in algeria where one million algerians were killed in a revolutionary struggle.

eqbal: yes, but precisely because of that. if i hadn't gone through the algerian experience, i wouldn't have reached this conclusion. after seeing what i saw in algeria, i couldn't romanticize armed struggle. the costs to the people of algeria were very high. OK, they agreed to pay the cost, but it was high. also, i knew what many people would not recognize even today, which is that the algerians lost the war militarily, but won it politically. they were successful in isolating france morally. so the primary task of revolutionary struggle is to achieve the moral isolation of the adversary in its own eyes and in the eyes of the world...

for example, in 1968 i said, "this is a moment to fit ships in cyprus, fit boats in lebanon and say, 'we're not going to destroy israel. that is not our intent. we just want to go home.' reverse the symbols of the exodus. see if the israelis are in the mood to sink some ships. they probably will. let them do so. some of us will die. let us die."...

barsamian: to further pursue the argument that you were making at the 1968 conference to arab americans, liberation struggles need to morally isolate the adversary. i'll give you that, with a qualification: it has to be an adversary that subscribes, at least on a rhetorical level, to liberal democratic traditions.

eqbal: obviously, you couldn't morally isolate the regimes of hitler or stalin. a strategy of moral isolation assumes that the adversary has based its own legitimacy on moral grounds. gandhi understood this rather well with regard to british colonialism, which justified itself on liberal principles and was violating them. he stood british imperialism upside down on its head.

at the risk of offending some people, between 1967 and now, israeli society has in some way worsened. likud, a right-wing party that has fewer moral compunctions, has now become the major party and has organized a large right-wing constituency such as... the gush emunim and other settler movements. they are much less susceptible to moral arguments. centrist zionism's primary contradiction was its principles of legitimacy were moral and its practices were immoral. and it is that which had to be fully used. opportunities were lost in the 1970's, once the PLO had become a quasi-state in lebanon. an opportunity has returned now, but there are no takers... if yasir arafat would take on the role of a gandhi or a martin luther king and announce tomorrow, "i must stop these settlements. they violate the spirit of oslo. we are committed to peace. you are making war. we do not want to use violence against you. peacefully we will march against you. we will sit in. we will clog the roads, start a full-scale movement, and discipline the palestinians not even to throw stones, intifada-style, because israelis will use and justify bullets against stones. they will use soldiers against children. don't even give them that." israel will divide. it will divide as a society the way america divided. i would keep it divided until it makes peace.

my argument about what the palestinian struggle should be about has returned again. but if you don't have a leadership, then what do you do?"

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Yesh Gvul
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