x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Won't you tell me how to preserve Palestinian identity?

At every turn, the idea of a Palestinian identity is being systematically delegitimised, deconstructed, destroyed. And Israel's friends are lending a hand.

Words. A bully's greatest enemy. Not sticks. Not stones. Not bullets.

Fear of knowledge, of intellect, is what defines a bully. Oppression, physical and mental, is the only way to silence those who dare to stand up for themselves.

Iraqis knew this for decades. Egyptians and Tunisians know this. Syrians know it, too. And the Palestinians have certainly known it for six decades. Now, like Arab protesters across the region, Palestinian activists have chosen the path of peaceful resistance. Hamas is considering joining the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

For Israel and its supporters, namely the United States, this represents a new existential challenge. And a new target: Palestinian intellectualism.

Last week, the Palestinian version of the children's television programme Sesame Street, or Sharaa Simsim in Arabic, was suspended for the 2012 season because of a funding freeze by the US Congress. The freeze prevented the transfer of $200 million (Dh734million) to the US Agency for International Development in October, affecting the production of Sharaa Simsim and many other shows as a way of punishing Palestinians for appealing to the United Nations for statehood, and for becoming a member of Unesco, the world science and culture organisation.

This affects far more than just television shows: hospitals, schools, and government ministries all suffer. But the symbolism of shutting down a children's educational programme speaks volumes.

What type of reaction does Israel expect when even the most progressive of organisations is silenced? More resentment.

In fairness, some Israelis objected to this "unfortunate" funding ban. Solidarity was on Sesame Street.

"Young children, whether Israeli or Palestinian, who are in need of educational tools to foster diversity appreciation and to prepare for life in a pluralistic society, should not be penalised or held accountable to the politics and political leadership, over which they have no control," said Danny Labin, an executive at the Israeli TV channel that co-produces Israeli Sesame Street.

Unfortunately, such views do not win the day in Israeli politics.

In many ways Israel welcomes the military threat that Hamas, or any other Palestinian group, has to offer. Its military superiority dwarfs any Palestinian threat. Security threats to Israeli borders also give hardliners a chance to stay in office. Israel may trot out the usual mantras about the "right to defend itself", but in reality, that threat - and it's a limited threat - is one that Israel positively welcomes.

In the fields of education, art, culture and peaceful activism, however, it's a different story.

At every turn, the idea of a Palestinian identity is being systematically delegitimised, deconstructed, destroyed. Israel's friends are also lending a hand.

Take the case of Larissa Sansour, a Palestinian artist who in November was nominated for a prestigious art competition, the Elysee Prize, sponsored by Lacoste and awarded by Switzerland's Musee de l'Elysee.

By December, Lacoste was demanding that the Jerusalem-born artist's nomination be revoked because her work was deemed "too Palestinian". Would Lacoste ever call a work of art "too Israeli"? The competition was ultimately cancelled. This is certainly not the last attack on Palestinian identity now that many countries have recognised Palestine's right to exist as an independent state.

For now, in the Occupied Territories, the eradication of Palestinian culture continues. Uproot olive trees; demolish Palestinian homes; build settlements. Business as usual.

Yesterday, in the latest peaceful protest, Palestinians attempted to drive their cars on Israeli "settlers-only" roads from Jericho to Ramallah. Yes, "settlers-only" roads.

There's a name for such restrictions. On a daily basis, Palestinians continue to be subjected to geographical and cultural apartheid.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

Follow on Twitter: @AliKhaled_