Buenos Aires – September 1993
Identity as the basis of independence (view)
By Suhail Hani Daher Akel *
The cultural, social and national identity of the Palestinian people was forged during centuries of love towards our land “Felestin” (Palestine in Aramaic), our rocks and our customs. Philistines and Canaanites were our ancestors and many foreign occupations tried to submit us. However, Greeks, Romans, Persians and Turks were not able to eliminate our culture which continue strengthening over the years and today it represents all Palestinians: the ones who practice Muslim religion, the ones who practice Christian religion and the ones who practice Jewish religion. All of them are an inseparable part of our people.
Under the English occupation and protectorate, which began in 1922, and under the partition of our land later on and the subsequent Israeli occupation in 1967, our identity became a more determinant factor. Little by little, the whole world got to know and distinguish specific features of our culture. Then our dances, which are Arab, have distinctive elements from other Arab people’s dances. Besides, the way we use mother-of-pearl and olive tree wood, the way our women cook and embroider their dresses, the shape and pattern of our scarves, the Hatta, which is worn by our farm-workers. Our guerilla fighters have worn them and even our President engineer Yasser Arafat wears it on his head. Everybody associates it with the Palestinian people. Commercially, it has reached many markets in the West and you can buy it in the best and most elegant stores.
Our “roots” were threatened with extinction throughout the several occupations, especially under the Israeli occupation because some Zionist leaders denied the existence of something called “Palestinian” in order to turn us into a small native community. However, our consolidated identity has allowed us to carry out our fight for liberation and reach the Israeli recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole and legitimate representative of our people. Besides, it has allowed us to sign a recent agreement of autonomy which, in a near future, is going to become an auto-determination and the re-establishment of an independent Palestinian State.
EDUCATION AND THE STATE
Our people’s concern about their education has been an issue of great importance in order for us to achieve these acknowledgements. We are living under an occupation which denies us our educational development; our schools and universities remain closed the majority of the year. They remain open around 30 or 35 days per year. However, our students have been able to attend lessons using private cars and houses as classrooms; many of our young people have attended universities in other Arab countries, in Europe and in America with surprising results. At present, 19 Palestinian university graduates out of 100 get a PhD. However, 14 Israeli university graduates out of 100 get a PhD. In Middle East, Palestine is in the first place with regard to education levels. Internationally, Palestine is in the third place together with France. As a result of this, many Arab and African countries have Palestinian professionals, technicians, scientists and teachers.
Many falsehoods have been leveled against the PLO. However, the truth is that when Yasser Arafat was democratically elected as our President in 1969, the PLO started becoming the structure of the Palestine State. The Palestine National Committee, which consists of 439 members, is a Parliament which passes legislative resolutions under democratic principles and a Parliament where a majority passes resolutions. We have an Executive Committee, a Central Committee and a Legislative Power. There are also trade unions, professional associations of women, students and artists. We also have our guerrilla sectors which are going to become political parties while we may start achieving our liberation.
During the following weeks, Israel is going to complete the demilitarization in Gaza and in the oldest city in the world, Jerico, where President Yasser Arafat is going to establish the first Palestinian autonomous government. Within the following nine months, Israelis will start giving autonomy to the cities located in the West Bank of the Jordan.
Following these procedures and within the next two years, issues concerning Jerusalem and refugees are going to be approached. In this manner, within the coming five years, the autonomy will cease and the Palestine State will begin to exist as a free and independent State with East Jerusalem as its capital city.
When the first autonomous government may establish in our “occupied” homeland, we will initiate our social and economic development. Norway together with three other European nations are willing to make contributions of 140 million dollars. There is an American-European “pool” which is willing to make contributions of 600 million dollars annually, during a ten-year period. There is a credit line of the World Bank consisting of 5,000 million dollars. European and Japanese corporations are ready to install themselves in the Palestinian territory. These programs and other ones will eradicate hunger and allow Palestinian workers to stop being cheap workers to start earning decent wages. Today, a Palestinian family consisting of 13 or 14 members earns 40 or 50 dollars a month and this barely helps it to survive.
TOWARDS A FEDERATION
In order to bear fruit, this economic development must not develop in our territory only. It has to take place within the framework of a Federation of States consisting of Palestine-Jordan-Israel. In Middle East, it will give place to the creation of another block similar to the European Economic Community. That is, a unified economy with only one currency and no frontiers which act as barriers.
This objective was put forward by the PLO and it was expressed by Shimon Peres and Israeli opposition sectors in different opportunities. There are no definite actions with regard to this. It requires time and its implementation depends on a permanent peace in the region, the establishment of an independent Palestine State and an equal development of the three countries. There is an over-developed country –Israel-, there is a country which has been constantly postponed –Palestine- and there is a country which has not been able to develop effectively –Jordan. While the occupied territories may start developing in the next five-year period of autonomy, while Jordan may start getting development and while a mutual aid system may be implemented, the first steps towards a “Federation” are going to be taken.
A WAY TO PEACE
Taking into account UN resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO adopted a way which had been decided by a majority. Naturally, as every democracy, we have our dissident minorities. However, we believe that these sectors will end up accepting a dialogue if the agreement signed in Washington bears fruit and Israel respects it.
There are also countries which exhort us to carry out violent acts. We urge them not to condemn us to experience a perpetual bloodshed because the past decades have proven that violence caused Palestinian and Israelis nothing but pain.
We face a clear reality: the Israeli population consists of three and a half million of human beings and we cannot destroy three and a half million of human beings. I believe that Israelis have also understood that they cannot destroy three million of Palestinians. Therefore, dialogue and mutual understanding are the only paths left.
* Suhail Hani Daher Akel is the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Argentina - PLO