Pan-Palestinianism and the crime of forgetting the West Bank and ’48

Whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, most of us have fallen into a trap — myself included. We are proud of our people, our towns and villages and neighborhoods, but we too often trace our roots just to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, or ’48 rather than to greater Palestine. And if this doesn’t change, we unconsciously benefit the racist colonialist ideology that seeks to erase our identity, our culture, and our history.

We must learn to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the word ‘Palestine’, particularly in terms of it’s physical presence and political weight. Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008-2009 meant that the term ‘Gaza Strip’ dominated headlines for days. But days became weeks and weeks became months and it was almost as if the West Bank and the global diaspora no longer mattered. In all fairness, the Gaza Strip had experienced the unimaginable, and the attention directed towards the thousands of families living within the besieged territory provided many of us with great comfort. But this should not make it acceptable to forget the West Bank and ’48 or to leave millions of other oppressed Palestinians out of the picture.

Unknowingly for some and deliberately for others, the divide-and-conquer strategy has become ingrained in the way people address the occupation of Palestine. Mainstream media identifies Palestinians by their territory of residence and analysts seem more concerned with fabricating a division between the politics of West Bank citizens and Gaza Strip citizens as if they themselves represent the opposing ends of the Palestinian Authority-Hamas divide. Israeli news sources generally avoid use of the word ‘Palestine’ and prefer to use the word Arab, especially when referring to Palestinians living in the remnants of villages annexed or destroyed between 1947 to 1949.

It is important to understand that this tactic serves only one purpose: to undermine the Palestinian national and global identity. The hope is that by eliminating the word ‘Palestine’, its history, rich culture, people, and drive for self-sovereignty will disappear just as rapidly. This is why it is absolutely crucial to defeat this strategy with a healthy dose of pan-Palestinianism in which Palestine as a whole takes precedence over Palestine-by-territory.

Of special importance is the West Bank and the territories of ’48. With so much attention focused on just the Gaza Strip, it is no wonder some people are under the false impression that Palestine is, essentially, the Gaza Strip and nothing else. This makes it easy to forget that Palestinians in the West Bank face the very same occupation that Palestinians in Gaza face, albeit a different aspect of it. Similarly, it becomes easy to overlook the ’48-ers who, although typically defined as Arabs, carry the keys and the deeds to their Palestinian homes.

In a little over one month, the world will engage in a commemoration for the lives lost in Israel’s inhumane invasion of the Gaza Strip. I hope that we all participate and take advantage of the resources necessary to educate and raise awareness — our two biggest assets. But let us not fall into the trap of narrowing the occupation to the Gaza Strip only. Operation Cast Lead is but one component of Israel’s six-and-a-half decade-long assault on greater Palestine and all of its people. It is a crime to think otherwise.

Sami Kishawi

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