When Illusions become Traps

On September 29, 2012, the Palestinian leadership went to the United Nations and overwhelmingly received a “non-member observing state status” in the General Assembly. I was sitting with friends who were glued to TV screens watching intensely, even with tears of joy rolling down their eyes as the green lights flicked on in the General Assembly floor with one state after the other saying “yes” to state #194. It was as if my friends were watching the lottery numbers for the biggest jackpot in history being announced and they were holding on to the winning ticket.


My arguments as to why I thought this was not the best of ideas and how the energy of the Palestinians and its leadership should be utilized for something more focused on ending the occupation and oppression fell on deaf ears. I heard things like “You don’t understand the significance of this;” “this is a new phase of the struggle,” “now we can do things we never were able to do in the past” (in reference to legal claims at the International Court of Justice), and of course the most common “This is a great symbolic victory!!!” Yes, symbolically winning the lottery is a great thing indeed…

Nothing of any significance happened this past year to change the reality of the Israeli military occupation and Israeli government policy of building more settlements and restricting more the lives of Palestinians. The change that has taken place has been within the Palestinian community, and I feel it is more dangerous to the Palestinians than the occupation itself.

– Redefining Occupation: For a great number of Palestinians the illusion of statehood has become so conditioned and established that the occupation itself is no longer the top priority in everyday thinking. Yes, every once in a while you hear someone complain about it, but that is mostly in reference to the inconvenience it creates. A while back, I started a little personal experiment in a coffee shop we go to almost daily where we sit and talk about everything. I wanted to see how long it would take someone to talk about or mention the occupation; I stopped the experiment after one week having no results.  Yes, demonstrations and protests against the occupation continue in many areas, but sadly, the numbers of committed protestors is low and is in continuous decline.

Looking deeper into it, even the word “occupation” itself has fallen into this illusionary trap where many now define it in a limited political understanding of one state occupying another state and just by ending that, freedom for Palestinians and peace with Israelis will come. Many have forgotten that the occupation is not political but a systemic oppression and suppression of a people group because of their ethnic, religious, national, or cultural affiliation. It is the lack of even recognizing equal rights, equal historical claims, and equal opportunity in and for the land itself. The struggle to end the occupation is deeper than a political process or even an agreement, it is the struggle to change the mindset of how the occupier relates to the occupied, from “superiority over” or “fear of” to “equal to” and “trust in.” This is what needs to end and no UN resolution will change that.

– Individual Capitalism: Most Palestinians, living in the “non-member observing state status ” today are more concerned about their financial situation, seeking a good standard of living, buying the latest of whatever is on the electronics market, becoming members of the global capitalistic system,  joining the elite and the privileged, and of course, falling deeper in debts in order to do so. They seek to make the illusion sustainable and workable for them. They seek this because they see others doing so, especially those in leadership position; political, economic and even the NGO community.

Such seeking of illusions are not new, it started with the Oslo Peace Accords when a temporary transitional situation from occupation to statehood became within itself the status quo to be maintained because some people actually made it big, politically and economically. Instead of returning to square one when Oslo failed (not an easy decision but the right one), most Palestinians (as a result of leadership decision) simply adapted to what was created. The danger is that now even more than Oslo, the illusion has become firmly entrenched in the global community as well, and many countries have began to engage in economic (business) activities with the new “non-member observing state status” in complete disregard to the occupation. Why not? Are they not following what Palestinians see as a priority?

– Losing Community: More damaging than the seeking of richness and privilege has been losing one of the most honored, sustaining and precious Palestinian values and traditions, the sense of belonging to community. This sadly is not an illusion, it is reality. In general, the inherited tendency to live in and be in full trust with your fellow neighbors and friends is lost; the not judging of others in terms of who and what they identify with is lost; the ability to share freely what you have with those who are less privileged is lost; the simple acts of compassion and sharing of grief with those who have lost loved ones or when homes and property have been destroyed is lost; the being able to have a conversation with someone and not wonder what is their ulterior motive is lost, and the ability to truly say “we are one” in the face of the challenges is lost; you are now defined by the grouping you belong to and are treated as such. This new consciousness  of state over community may have started as far back as Oslo but it hit a major milestone with the “non-member observing state status.”It became official…

The Palestinian reality of a people living under occupation and needing to struggle to end it, and the history of a culture that honors community and unity has now been replaced by an illusion of “statehood” and an illusion of “individualism” as a means and maybe even an end.  The illusion of having an internationally recognized political “state status” has not been a stepping stone in the Palestinian struggle to end the occupation but a hurdling block;  in fact, looking at history, it has not been a  strategy used by any nation or group of people seeking liberation.

If in the global community there is a lesson to be learned from a group of people that went through a similar stage in their struggle it is the one of South Africa. When the Bantustans were offered full statehood and recognition by the Afrikaners government during Apartheid, they said no (as economically and politically tempting as it was), they refused to fall in such traps. This is the challenge that stands in the face of the Palestinan society today and I believe there is time to turn the clock back on the illusion that has been created before we wake up to the grimmest of realities and the most confining of traps that we are even signatory to.

5 thoughts on “When Illusions become Traps

  1. Sami,

    I think this is spot on. Cold comfort indeed, in which symptoms not causes are distractingly addressed.

    Acutely important to the Palestinian people, the concept of which this comforting distracting strikes most subtly, yet most hard, this is yet another step in what is happening globally, in which statehood is supplanting human community, and capitalism as a credo is attacking real value.

    This is part of why the fate of the Palestinian people is so vitally important, to us all, all people, globally; what happens in Palestine is a reflection of all humanity, and we cannot, must not, let the virtue and passion in our heart stop beating.

    In peace,


  2. richardarmbach

    Brilliantly expressed. The ” State ” carrot is indeed a trap and one set by ” the sole representatives of the Palestinian people ” for the Palestinian people, and a trap the Israelis are happy to see them slide into. A non violent civil rights movement is so obviously the most beneficial way forward. Doubt it can happen as the Palestinian ” leaders ” are addicted to and can’t give up the dream of their own little fiefdom and their determination to make it as fancy as possible, as fit as possible for peacocks to strut around in.

  3. Your comments are more in-depth and ‘hardcore’ honest than any I have recently read.

    In mentioning South Africa … and given that the issue of ‘statehood’ isn’t going to go away anytime soon … do you then promote a one-state (two-nation) solution? Akin to Switzerland or Belgium?

  4. Karen Nakamura

    Yes and no. No, because things take longer to unfold on the world stage. After Netanyahu’s fall from power in the UN last week, things took one more step to obtaining freedom for the Palestinian people. Did you think you’d ever see American Jews truly questioning the goals of the Zionists? No. But did you watch the Pro-Israeli, Jewish Charlie Rose tangle with Netanyahu during his interview last week? And Netanyahu throwing up a smoke of words so he didn’t have to answer Rose’s questions about decency and humanity? We have to just keep educating and pushing. Each action is a step not a done deal. And yes, I cried too.

  5. This brought out some questions and thoughts that I had not been quite able to articulate since I arrived here in Bethlehem. I’ve read this a few times and still thinking about the issues you raised here. Thank you for helping me go deeper.

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