Ramzy Baroud is a well-known Palestinian writer, journalist, and columnist. He visited South Africa in September to promote his book The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story. The Daily Vox team set down with Baroud to check his book, Palestine, and more. This is part two of the interview. Check out the first part here.
It’s part of a series of several books that I have produced on the people’s history of Palestine. A people’s history views people as a central component on how history is made and shaped. By ignoring them, you ignore the most fundamental element of that history. In the case of Palestine in particular, I think we have neglected people’s history.
We have several types of history out there. One is the Zionist view of what happened. Then you have the counter Palestinian history. And in my opinion I think the outcome in the long run ended up being quite negative because it’s reactionary.
People’s history changes all of that. I’ve produced several books. The most successful of them was My Father Was A Freedom Fighter, which tries to tell the story of Gaza from the viewpoint of completely ordinary people not affiliated with any political parties.
This book was another attempt at that form of history. We interviewed many Palestinians. I did not question them based on the same kind of talking points. We just allowed them to tell us their own life stories. As individuals, it turned out there were many overlapping between individual Palestinian stories. You could be telling me the story about how you fell in love with your husband or the story of how you became a teacher. Somehow Israel, Zionism, occupation, Nakba, all of these things factored in greatly, but they were somewhat in the background.
They are not the central theme of our existence as Palestinians. We don’t wake up in the morning thinking of Zionism. We don’t go to sleep in the evening thinking of Zionism.
I wanted to highlight a human being that transcends all of these reductionist cliches on Palestine and the Palestinian people. So my book is precisely that: Palestine and its reality, as told by the Palestinians.
Literature and Resistance
I think what literature in general introduces is a different way of imagining a conflict that you think you’re familiar with. It helps you understand a reality in a way that you can relate to it as a human being.
When I tell you the story of a Palestinian mother, you are going to relate to it as a mother or as a father or as a son. The people who use humor as a way to survive under the harshest and most dehumanizing of circumstances. All of these things are things that we relate to it as human beings. Regardless of your race, your religion, your color, your gender, your background, your economic situation you relate to these situations.
This is a method that the Israelis have used successfully in the past. Zionism did not manage to succeed in America because of the work of the lobby groups but because of novels, movies, art and culture. So many Americans relate to Israel because of the movie they watched.
We, Palestinians hardly penetrated that collective psyche, neither in the West nor elsewhere. I think that ritual is an incredible way to connect with people. It’s important that we mobilise and show through our numbers that we are a force to be reckoned with. But you’re not going to change a lot of hearts and minds based on that kind of strategy alone.
You need the intellectual, poet, and novelist to communicate these ideas in a way that connect with people as a human beings beyond anything else. I would love to see a conference in Palestine that brings the best of our novelists, poets, artists to bring a new way of presenting Palestine to the world.
One thing as a Palestinian under no circumstances will I ever accept is that we are victims. The Israelis are victimising the Palestinians every second of every day. But Palestinians shouldn’t internalise that victimhood in any way.
We’re fighters in every sense of the world. We fight in our written word, we fight in our prisons, we fight in the streets. We’ll never surrender.
You know, how often you see Palestinians as that rebellious revolutionary person and I’m not talking about machine guns.
I’m talking about a mother who’s raising her kids in Gaza to be strong willed and proud. I am talking about a Palestinian prisoner who would rather die in prison than submit to his jailer. I’m talking about a Palestinian educator who goes every single day and crosses the checkpoints going to Ramallah to teach her students
These are the Palestinians I want to present to the world, because in reality, this is 99% of Palestine.
Way forward for the people of Palestine
I think Palestinians are now in a transition. It’s a transition that covers many aspects of life. There’s a political transition. We are going through a different kind of transition of Palestinians trying to find who we are as a people. We have suffered a great deal of isolation from one another. There’s Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. There’s Palestinians called the Israeli Arabs. And you have Palestinians who are throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.
I think we are in a transition because we know that ultimately we belong together. Gaza wants to break it siege. The West Bank wants to end its apartheid. Jerusalem wants to unify with the rest of Palestine. Palestinian Arabs living as second third fourth class citizens are trying to survive an oppressive and racist political system.
And I think the answer to your question is that the struggle for Palestine in the future is going to be a struggle for Palestinian identity within an apartheid state.
It’s not your everyday occupation struggle. I think we are beyond that at this point. We can’t be speaking of a siege, separate from occupation, separate of racism in Israel, separating Palestinians in diaspora. So we need to talk about the unity of the Palestinian identity, separate from political unity.
But it’s the identity of the Palestinian people and how they see themselves within the larger struggle that is shaping up in the future.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.