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Defining Terms in the Age of Imperialism: Challenging Alleged “Strategic Solidarity”

By: 
various
Date Published: 
August 01, 2007

A statement to U.S based social justice movements from Palestinian liberation and Palestine solidarity activists Background MADRE, an international women's human rights organization based in the United States, recently released commentary about what solidarity should look like for U.S. progressives committed to the Palestinian struggle (http://www.commondreams.org/news2007/0711-02.htm). “Palestine in the Age of Hamas: The Challenge of Progressive Solidarity,” is not a proactive call for solidarity. On the contrary, this call for progressives to engage in ‘strategic solidarity’ was issued in defense of the position taken by the organization’s Communications Director, Yifat Susskind, a white Israeli woman, at a plenary on imperialism held at the United States Social Forum less than two weeks prior. At the plenary, Susskind explicitly equated the armed resistance of some people in occupied Palestine with the forces of imperialism led by George Bush. Susskind and MADRE’s subsequent statement further call for particular opposition to Hamas based on the Islamaphobic assumption that all movements that incorporate Islam into their politics are reactionary and repressive. There was critical response to the position Susskind presented at the Social Forum, especially because proposed Palestinian speakers had been denied an opportunity to speak at that same plenary. As a result, the Social Forum’s National Planning Committee publicly apologized for having an Israeli on the panel speaking about Palestinian resistance movements, rather than a Palestinian, as originally proposed. The apology recognized the importance of social justice movements creating spaces for those most impacted by imperialism to articulate and critique their own struggles rather than defer to the often privileged voices of those located within the power made possible by racism and imperialism. The apology was then followed by a Palestinian American woman reading a statement prepared by Palestinian, other Arab, and solidarity activists to specifically respond to Susskind’s damaging comments. We agree with Susskind that it is vitally important to have a clear sense of what solidarity means and to discuss the matter publicly. Given that Susskind’s position has been restated and defended by MADRE in a wider forum, we are also taking the opportunity to respond more broadly. ‘Strategic Solidarity’ Recreates Oppressive Power Dynamics Rather than use her time on stage at the Social Forum to demand an end to US imperialism in Palestine and the Middle East, Susskind chose to focus on criticizing political Islam and Palestinian resistance leadership. At a moment when a central project of US imperialism is the dominance of the Middle East/West Asia and, by extension, the generalized repression and suppression of Islam, Arab people and Arab states, this myopic concentration on ill-defined and inaccurately generalized political Islam recreates and fuels anti-Arab racism and anti-Muslim repression. Ironically, in MADRE’s follow-up defense statement calling for a “strategic solidarity that accounts for the complexity of the crisis,” they continue Susskind’s simplistic characterization of Hamas as “reactionary,” thereby failing to heed their own organizational call to pay attention to complexity. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common occurrence in progressive circles in the U.S., as Lebanese activist Bilal Elamine notes:

    Many people on the left in the US make the mistake that any time they see a movement that has Islam as part of the way it expresses its politics, they immediately put it into one category that some go as far as calling Islamic fascism and others call reactionary....There has to be a deeper understanding and we have to lift the prejudice that just because there’s religious expression in the politics it does not immediately mean that it’s a reactionary movement or a movement that we have to be wary of...We have to {snip} see the real content—what the movement represents, what its goals are, what its tactics are—and judge it on that basis.

In an article published in The L.A Times on the same day as MADRE’s statement (7.10.2007), the deputy of the political bureau of Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzook indeed speaks to the specificity of Hamas’ politics, stating that “…our movement is continually linked by President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to ideologies that they know full well we do not follow, such as the agenda of Al Qaeda and its adherents. But we are not part of a broader war. Our resistance struggle is no one's proxy, although we welcome the support of people everywhere for justice in Palestine.” By calling for a “position” on political Islam, Susskind and MADRE fall into the Bush/Olmert trap described above of collapsing all Islamic movements into one entity, obscuring the specific root cause of the anti-oppression struggles of the Palestinians. The root cause of Palestinian resistance – that Hamas is clear in articulating, much to the chagrin of the US and Israeli governments – is the creation of a Jewish State through the colonization of Palestinian land and dispossession of Palestinian people, with the imperial backing by the British and then the US governments. This colonization did not begin in 1967 as the MADRE statement misleadingly suggests; it is rooted in the decades leading up to the 1948 founding of the State of Israel. True Liberatory Solidarity: “Stand Behind Me, Don’t Divide Me, and Don’t Decide for Me” Throughout the last several decades of this colonialism, there have always been various forms of indigenous Palestinian anti-colonial resistance, and repeated calls for international attention to and solidarity with this resistance. Immediately following Susskind’s presentation at the Social Forum, a long-time Palestinian activist from the West Bank of Palestine, explained that he was deeply upset by Susskind’s plenary remarks and felt inclined to share his understanding of solidarity. His impassioned description included three fundamental principles: stand behind me, don’t divide me, and don’t decide for me. These are not principles of a simplistic, “reflexive solidarity” that fails to take into account the complexity of a situation. These are principles that help to keep our steps toward solidarity sure-footed throughout the inherent complexity and contradiction of being based in the U.S. while supporting a decades-long resistance struggle that is targeted and divided with the direct support of the U.S. government. Standing behind and in solidarity with a movement is about listening to and supporting the needs of the movement, in the various and complex ways those needs are articulated, while taking care not to use the privileges of our location to speak on behalf of those movements. U.S.-based solidarity with the Palestinian people means resisting U.S. imperialism in the region and U.S. support of the apartheid state of Israel – one of the primary sources of the oppression of all Palestinians, including women. We are not promoting the “afterwards” strategy described by MADRE to end imperialism first, and end sexism, homophobia and every other oppression later. We recognize that struggles to end imperialism are intimately connected to the struggles to end all oppressions. However, while there is a need for progressives across the globe to create shared visions of liberation and justice, those located at and most impacted by the intersection of imperialism, racism, and patriarchy ought to be forging and leading the articulation of those inter-connections and the movement and leadership critiques they inspire. Solidarity with Palestinian women means insisting on movement spaces in which they can articulate their own experiences and organizing efforts in response to the intersections of occupation, colonization and gender oppression. Speaking on behalf of Palestinians, rather than in solidarity with Palestinians, maintains the West as the definers and arbiters of what is valuable, acceptable, civilized, and just. Palestine solidarity work is about listening to progressives in Palestine and in the Diaspora and hearing what they need from us in order to hold their ground and advance their struggles as best as they can, on their own terms. As U.S. based anti-imperialist activists, we need to seek ways to listen, learn and support, rather than engage in dividing, deciding or speaking on others’ behalf. Signing organizations and networks

:

  • Arab American Union Members Council
  • Arab Resource & Organizing Center
  • Break the Siege
  • Break the Silence Mural Project
  • Freedom Archives
  • International Jewish Solidarity Network
  • Left Turn
  • Palestine Education Project
  • Youth Solidarity Network

To view this statement online, visit: http://www.araborganizing.org/solidarity To sign on to this statement as an individual or organization, email: justice(at)araborganizing.org Please forward to your networks, post on your website, or create your own message defining solidarity needs for your own communities’ liberation struggles.