I recently met an inspiring young Palestinian woman just months away from becoming a certified physician. She did not speak of her accomplishments but it was very obvious that she had worked hard to excel in college, in medical school, on her national board exams, and in her life outside of being a model student. Even so, she expressed guilt at having been too busy with school to follow the news and the politics as much as she would have liked.
This raised a very interesting question: Must you be outwardly or actively political to contribute to the struggle for Palestinian rights?
My initial answer was no. It wouldn’t be fair otherwise. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became in that answer.
Merely existing as a Palestinian is a political statement. The early Zionist slogan, “a land without people for a people without land”, was used to characterize Palestinians as nobodies, as figments of the world’s imagination. Well over a century after Zionism’s inception, Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called Palestinians an “invented” people who could have lived anywhere else in the Arab world. As self-contradictory as his comments were, they are part of a long history of racist political agendas designed to sweep Palestinians under a rug never to be seen or heard from again. But these bigoted projects are easily broken into pieces anytime someone self-identifies as Palestinian, and this in and of itself is a tremendous contribution.
Additionally, not all contributions to the cause have to fall within the sphere of politics just like not everyone is expected to be a political pundit. Representing Palestine at the top of your class, as a captain of your varsity soccer team, or by performing well at work are each very valuable ways of drawing attention to the Palestinian identity and all that surrounds it. The medical student I met may not have acknowledged this but her success in school and her eminent success as a righteous and upstanding healthcare practitioner likely provides many people with positive impressions of Palestine and Palestinians. Excel in the workplace, in the classroom, or intrapersonally and you are bound to make a positive contribution.
One of the many reasons why Israel’s human rights violations against the Palestinian people go unpunished is because Palestinians are systematically dehumanized and presented as a series of statistics and tally marks without names or faces for decades now. Human rights theorists and historians argue that it is much easier to accept a crime against an unnamed, ambiguous thing than against a person with a name and a clear attachment to the world he or she is leaving behind. So logically, forcing the public to acknowledge and understand the human face of Palestinians by celebrating Palestine’s rich culture, cuisine, customs, and traditions is yet another way to contribute to the struggle.
There are so many more ways to valuably play your part in advancing the campaign to end the occupation. The possibilities are truly endless. Each and every day, Palestinians and solidarity activists come up with creative ways to challenge the status quo, to help restore Palestinian rights, to put an end to anti-Palestinian Zionist projects inside and outside of the political sphere.
But I stress that political consciousness is necessary. This doesn’t mean that the news needs to be checked every hour or that Rashid Khalidi’s books need to be memorized line by line. Political consciousness can exist in many forms and at many levels with the most basic (and at times the most powerful) being awareness of your identity as a Palestinian belonging to a land stolen and occupied and a people incarcerated and besieged. It may be simplistic but it certainly sets you up to contribute more to the movement for Palestinian rights in your own way.