Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Freedom and equality are at the core of the Palestinians’ struggle

Nelson Mandela is cited in the fight to achieve freedom from occupation and a society based on equality and the rule of law.

Writing recently in the New York Times, former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad cited Nelson Mandela as his personal inspiration and the embodiment of the essential attributes of the Palestinian cause. It was a perfect choice.

Mr Mandela, he wrote, has become a “universal symbol of the struggle for self-determination and human equality”. The essence of the Palestinian struggle is exactly that: a quest for establishing that Palestinians are equal human beings to all others. They are no better and no worse, but equal.

The only viable means for Palestinians to attain and assert this equality is through the establishment of a fully sovereign, independent Palestinian state. Through this state, Palestinians will be first-class citizens in a country of their own for the first time in their modern history. For the first time, they will be able to exercise self-determination. And, for the first time, they will be equal to Jewish Israelis, and all of their Arab neighbours, as citizens of equally sovereign, independent states that will have to coexist in peace and security.

Equality of the kind envisaged by Mr Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Mohandas K Gandhi, and invoked by Mr Fayyad, doesn’t involve a highly regimented, nihilistic vision of non-differentiation, such has been advocated by some radical Maoist and other extreme utopian groups. It understands that each individual is different, and that there will be many differences between societies as well. It doesn’t seek to smash everyone into a tiny cubbyhole of conformity and standardisation.

Instead, it seeks to free the creative and self-empowering energies of every individual and society. For a national collectivity like the Palestinians, this means freedom from occupation and for the equal right – along with all other peoples – to establish their own state and pursue their independence as they see fit.

It does not and it cannot in the real world mean perfect justice, which is, by definition, unattainable. But it does mean relieving an extreme form of injustice: the occupation that leaves over four million Palestinians stateless in their own land.

Mr Fayyad and other serious Palestinians understand that this means compromises with Israel. Israel, too, must rein in the overweening ambitions of its settler and annexationist movements and make serious compromises on politically difficult issues such as Jerusalem, which will have to be a shared city if the conflict is to end.

Mr Fayyad is absolutely right when he points to “the fundamental asymmetry in the balance of power between occupier and occupied” as the primary obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is simply too easy for the Israeli public to ignore the problem of the occupation and pretend, in effect, as it did in its last election, that it simply doesn’t exist.

But the world has a stake in resolving the conflict by ending the occupation, and the two-state solution is the stated policy of virtually every government in the world, the preference of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians in every survey and the only outcome explicitly endorsed by international law. The global consensus is practically unanimous: Palestinians deserve a state alongside Israel, which is already a United Nations member state.

Moreover, Israel has no other vision or real options for what to do with these millions of stateless people whom it cannot formally incorporate while remaining in any sense “Jewish”, nor can it continue to repress them indefinitely. Having successfully imposed a fait accompli on the Middle East and the world in 1948, some Israelis now feel they can do the same in the territories occupied since 1967.

They cannot.

The demographic realities, international standards and norms and the long-term repercussions of annexation, expulsion or the indefinite continuation of the status quo are untenable.

But, as Mr Fayyad points out, there is also a powerful moral dimension here. The cause of Palestinian independence is, more than anything, an ethical one, and a long-overdue expression of the principle of fundamental human equality.

This cuts both ways. Israel, he writes, should reciprocate the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s 1993 recognition of Israel by accepting “an internationally mandated date for ending its occupation, and a mutually agreed-upon path for getting there”. For their own part, Mr Fayyad has always insisted, especially as prime minister, that Palestinians must “build our state and deepen our readiness for statehood”. He rightly demands that Israel refrain from impeding these efforts.

Mr Fayyad cites Mr Mandela as being the exemplar of “resisting the entrapment of victimhood and overcoming the burdens of injustice”. His is a powerful double message: the Palestinian cause is a quest for justice, and the world must recognise its overwhelming moral authority.

At the same time, Palestinians must shake off the trap of a victimhood mentality and act purposefully, systematically and strategically to build their own society while non-violently resisting the occupation to achieve not merely independence but actual liberation.

A quick glance around the contemporary Arab world shows what independence without liberation can sometimes look like. Palestinians must have an independent state. And in that democratic, pluralistic and tolerant state, Palestinians must individually be equal citizens under the law.

These twin moral imperatives – freedom from Israeli occupation and a Palestinian society based on equality and the rule of law – are what Mr Fayyad is invoking Mr Mandela to advocate.

Mr Fayyad’s plea – and Mr Mandela, Dr King and Gandhi’s examples – all simply boil down to this: every individual and every people deserve the simple recognition of human equality.


Hussein Ibish is a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a columnist for Now Media and blogs at www.ibishblog.com

On Twitter: @ibishblog

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

On our sixth birthday, today’s news told visually

Today in print, we are doing something different: we use only photos, graphics, illustrations and headlines to capture the news in a one-off collector’s edition.

 Rolling out the structure for the set. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Star Wars: Episode VII evidence in Abu Dhabi desert

After more than a week of speculation, The National has what are believed to be the first photos of a Star Wars shoot in the Abu Dhabi desert.

 Amir Khan, during a workout at the Gloves Community Centre on March 24, 2014 in Bolton, England, says his fight will be the real main event in Las Vegas on May 3. Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Amir Khan says bout with Luis Collazo ‘will steal the show’ in Las Vegas on May 3

British-Pakistani boxer Amir Khan says his fight with Luis Collazo will be the main attraction on same fight card led by Floyd Mayweather Jr and Marcos Maidana, writes Omar Al Raisi.

 Hassan Abdullah, who goes by the name Abu Mahmoud, an Emirati fisherman, poses for a portrait at the Al Rughayalat Port. Abu Mahmoud was born and raised in Fujairah city and has been working as a fisherman since 1968. “I’m a shark man”, he says, “I was born in the sea.” Silvia Razgova / The National

In pictures: Fishing communities in the Northern Emirates

Fishermen in Fujairah and Umm Al Qaiwain worry that new regulations to protect fish stocks are harming their trade. We look at both communities through the lens of our photographers.

 The cast of Fast & Furious 7, including Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, centre, on set at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Fast & Furious 7 filming in full swing at Emirates Palace

Filming for Fast & Furious 7 has started and we have the first photos of the cast and crew on set at Emirates Palace hotel this morning. Visitors staying at Emirates Palace say they have been kept away from certain areas in the grounds.

 Al Maryah Island will host the 114-hectare Abu Dhabi Global Market free zone. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

In pictures: Al Maryah Island rises in Abu Dhabi

Al Maryah has been chosen as the site for Abu Dhabi’s first financial free zone, the Abu Dhabi Global Market, and construction activity in the island has been at a fast pace.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National