William Ruhm (Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts)
We will return. That is not a threat, a wish, a hope, or a dream, but a promise.
– Remi Kanazi
Over the course of our travels these past two weeks, members of our delegation repeatedly questioned whether or not true change bringing justice to the Palestinian people is possible to achieve. Israel, after all, boasts one of the world's most powerful and well-funded political lobbies, not to mention their support on the international scene from (as Noam Chomsky once put it) the biggest thug on the geopolitical block, the USA. Is there anything Palestinians and international advocates can do to bring an end to Israel’s ongoing colonization of the West Bank, to abolish Israel’s apartheid legal and criminal justice systems, and to compel Israel to respect Palestinian human rights?
I noticed, however, that the Palestinian people we have had the opportunity to meet over the course of our delegation so far have not paused to raise such questions. For them, the struggle for justice, it appears, is one undertaken not as the result of a measured calculation of the likelihood of success but out of sheer necessity. Cynicism and doubt, it seems, are simply not a luxury they can afford.
As one example, when we had the opportunity to speak with prominent Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro, one delegate asked Issa, "What can people in the US do to support your struggle?" Issa responded, "Get your representatives speak to out on Israel’s abuses of Palestinian human rights." When I quietly mumbled, "that would be nice," Issa promptly turned to me and exclaimed: "No. You have to work at it."
Issa is not naïve. He knows as well as I do how challenging it is to get Palestinian human rights on the political agenda in the United States. But Issa cannot afford to resign to the belief that such challenges are insurmountable. Issa insists upon the efficacy of this struggle, regardless of what stands in the way, because his community and his homeland hang in the balance. And he expects nothing less from internationals like me.
Issa's resolve is not exceptional among Palestinians. From the 1,700 Palestinians prisoners recently on hunger strike for 40 days to demand the basic rights Israel's military court and prison systems deny them; to the Palestinian refugees living in the Dheisheh camp who have continued to believe, for 69 years, that they will return to the villages from which Israel forcibly expelled them in 1948; to the residents of occupied Hebron, who refuse to leave the city even in the face of daily harassment and violence from Israeli settlers and soldiers that is meant to make their lives so miserable that they abandon their homes.
The attitude and ethos of the Palestinian people is perhaps best encapsulated by the Arabic word sumud. In English, sumud means steadfastness. The Palestinian people we met over the past week embody sumud in their persistent refusal to give up and back down in the face of Israel's constant efforts to break their bodies and their spirits.
Israel and their allies abroad may outmatch the Palestinian people and those who struggle with them when it comes to lobbying power. Israel and their allies abroad may have the funding and resources to send countless internationals on free propaganda trips that promote a false and malicious narrative about Palestine/Israel.
But the Palestinian people have the sumud to continue fighting. And bearing witness to this sumud, internationals like me will continue to find new resolve to commit to the task of winning support for the struggle for justice in Palestine and in our respective communities. When I find myself doubting the efficacy of this struggle or fearing that change is impossible, I will remember Issa’s prompt and unflinching response to my expression of doubt two days ago: We have to do the work, with steadfastness, because too much is at stake