International solidarity with Palestine: Personal observations by @MariamBarghouti at @docjazzmusic’s Musical Intifada

Musical Intifada | 19 April 2013 | by Dr. Tariq Shadid aka Doc Jazz

Mariam Barghouti

Mariam Barghouti

As regular readers of the Musical Intifada know, this website usually only published original material. Sometimes, however, a piece is written which is considered to be having such particular value, quality and importance, that an exception is made. Such is the case with this challenging piece by Palestinian activist Mariam Barghouti, which addresses some very important issues concerning international solidarity. Republished with the author’s permission. Click here to read this post in its original location on her blog. Follow her Twitter posts at @MariamBarghouti, unless you want to miss out on important updates from Palestine!


By Mariam Barghouti – After a recent discovery of a solidarity page on Facebook with the title of “International Community to save Palestine” which at this moment in time has over 8,000 likes, the problems with international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle must once again be addressed. Although those that liked this page may well have good intentions, the term “save” carries many dangerous connotations and should not be accepted whatsoever. Since the very beginning of international activism, there has always been a fine line between solidarity and victimisation, especially when it comes to the Palestinian cause.

When internationals begin to learn and understand more about the horrendous acts of colonial Israel, it may motivate several to mobilise in order to shine more light on these crimes against humanity; however that does not make any international a spokesperson for the Palestinians, nor does it mean they should continue to treat Palestinians as inferiors .As a Palestinian, it must be made clear: we have a voice of our own and we do not need people to speak on our behalf, we are not mute and we refuse to be silenced.  Therefore, it’s crucial to understand that by taking a position to speak on behalf of the Palestinians one is also committing the act of silencing Palestinians. If you want to show solidarity, then act as an echo rather than a voice for the call of liberation and justice.

As a Palestinian comrade once stated before, Palestine is not a charity case. The continuous act of the international community of behaving as spokespersons for the Palestinians is very similar to the colonial tactics to further inferiorize the Palestinians. Similar to Israel’s attempts to show the world that it knows what’s best for the Palestinians, it’s crucial for the international community to not follow in such colonial footsteps.

Holding the microphone

If you become one of the many internationals in solidarity with Palestine, it is vital to grasp an understanding of the various attempts made to speak for the Palestinians and what should be done in its place, to show appropriate camaraderie. If as an individual you do want to hold the microphone, then do so in your home country against the normalisation your governments partakes in with the apartheid state, or against the blind funding for Israel, be it by your government or companies that bare your nationality. If you want to hold the microphone, do so as an individual speaking out against colonialism, speaking out against apartheid and speaking out against the complicity of all those who remain silent. Conversely, do not do so through making the Palestinians seem like helpless victims in desperate need for international mobilization, as if the only way to liberate Palestine is when the international community does it. Hold the microphone because you’re against injustice, not as a representative of the Palestinians. By having a paternalistic outlook on an entire population and by disregarding its resistance movements by believing the road to liberation lie elsewhere, you are not expressing solidarity; you are expressing a white saviour mentality.

Proof of humanity

Furthermore, as an international in solidarity with Palestine, it is not your duty to prove the humanity of Palestinians. The urge to attest to the humanity of Palestinians is playing right into the hands of white-supremacist world view, as well as conforming to western ideals that demonise Palestinians on a daily basis. If you are in solidarity then do so by not viewing us as inferiors, moreover, even the various attempts made with good intentions to prove that Palestinians are not “the terrorists media makes them be, they actually bleed like everyone else” are making Palestinians seem like inferiors, our humanity doesn’t need validation . Instead of this being productive, it actually further dehumanizes the Palestinians. There should be no need to prove our humanity to anyone. We are Palestinian, not animals.

Selective support of resistance

Nabi Saleh (2011)

Nabi Saleh (2011)

The Palestinian people have had a long history of resisting colonialism that extends much further than Israel’s colonial aspirations of 1948. We have utilised all anti-colonial methods in our extensive struggle, including armed as well as unarmed resistance. If you are in solidarity with the Palestinian people and our right towards self-determination, then you are in solidarity with our rights to fight colonialism by all means, including armed resistance, there is no compromise. Not that an occupied people needs a law to take back its dignity, however, UN resolution 3070 by the general assembly even states that a colonized population has the right to liberate itself using armed resistance. The selective support for a single form of resistance (usually unarmed) is not genuine solidarity.

Criticism and dictation

As an international in solidarity with Palestine and the Palestinian cause, another issue that is vital to comprehend is the limits of your input towards the psychological and emotional expressions of the colonised. It is not the position of any solidarity activist to judge and or dictate how Palestinians should react when confronted with Israeli colonialism and apartheid. Additionally, having lived through numerous colonial regimes, it is the right of the Palestinian people to feel a plethora of emotions and if this includes anger, it should not be downplayed or belittled. Therefore, internationals should not attempt to tell Palestinians that being irate is not productive or any emotions they’re feeling are inappropriate to the struggle or they’re somehow relating a wrong message for the cause. The Palestinian people are indeed capable of deciding how to feel on their own. Lastly, candid solidarity indicates the support for the Palestinians methods of ending the Israeli colonialism rather than telling them how to end it. Not all, but many internationals come from a place of privilege and must not fall into the trap of becoming the supposed voice of the struggle; once again, it is crucial to understand that your position is to observe, and to be Palestinian-led rather than attempting to lead the Palestinians.

Cultural appropriation

Another misunderstanding that can take outside of history is culture. This confusion may be without malicious intent; however the various acts of cultural appropriation by the international community can be rectified when they themselves extensively become equipped with knowledge and respect of and for Palestinian culture. For instance, the kuffiyeh (checkered scarf) has been recently adopted by the west in the form of a fashion statement. The kuffieyeh in Palestine resembles a long history of resistance and existence. Therefore, disregarding its history and its cultural significance is not only a misrepresentation but an insult to Palestine’s cultural identity. An additional important aspect to be taken on board too, is to not view Palestinians as exotic people with an exotic culture. Such orientalist reactions are just reaffirming white-supremacy. Moreover, we are not objects to be admired.

Objectifying and romanticizing resistance

With the rapid increase of photojournalism and the constant personal documentation of Palestinian actions and resistance against colonialism, it is very easy to deviate into the path of objectifying and romanticizing resistance. Palestinian resistance is not happening so that people can undertake art projects, and the Palestinian resistors, are not models for the next art gallery. If you are in a non-compromising solidarity, your view of Palestinians should not be akin to a romantic, revolutionary novel. Romanticizing the resistance is a form of objectifying Palestinians. A grave example of this, is photographic close ups of women’s eyes, which has nothing to do with the action in which they are participating in, not only does this demean the resistance but the women of Palestine too. Idealisation takes away from the technical strategies and the actual, hard struggle towards liberation. It belittles the cause and devalues the significance of resistance against colonization. The Palestinian struggle towards liberation is not a poem; it’s an unforgiving reality of demanding justice and human rights.

Knowing the history

As a final point, one must be willing to ground themselves in knowledge by accurately learning about Palestinian history and that learning journey must be undertaken by one and oneself only, if you as internationals are to stand in solidarity with the colonised people of occupied Palestine. This is especially imperative for solidarity activists who wish to visit. Before you are on the ground in Palestine, it is key to not give blind support which is hollow in its meaning and Instead, as aforementioned, as much learning as possible should take place, through reading and use of media, whether that be mainstream or social et al. On top of this it is pivotal to not travel to Palestine with the mentality of visiting less fortunate people because that is when one begins to inferiorize us. And definitely do not visit with the mentality of being our saviour, or a hero, as this mind-set further deepens the white saviour complex. So when you do stay in Palestine, remember; solidarity is a huge undertaking, and history should not be forgotten.

*This post is aimed to present personal observations on the misinterpretations of the true meaning behind solidarity and the Palestinian cause. All internationals providing genuine solidarity know themselves.

*Edit credit to Lan Gley

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