Omar Barghouti, from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) spoke to a meeting at the Marxism Festival recently. Below is a summary of his speech. Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights activist, former resident of Egypt, and author of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS): The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Haymarket Books, 2011).
"Besiege the besiegers, there is no other way". Palestinians saw the Arab Spring as the beginning of the end of western fetters on the region. Arabs had been seen as "outside history" by Thomas Friedman and others until the revolutions that spread across the region. There is talk of 'normalisation' but there can be no 'normalisation' with Israel all the while it is a Zionist state. Palestinians were inspired by the arab revolutions. Suddenly victory in their own struggle seemed possible again. The Nakba protests, when hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Syria crossed the Golan Heights, were a direct result of the arab revolutions. US President Obama said he stood with an arab peddler. Well yes he did, but only after he had already won.
I Wish You Egypt: An open letter to people of conscience in the West
by Omar Barghouti
I wish you Egypt!
I wish you empowerment to resist; to fight for social and economic justice; to win your real freedom and equal rights.
I wish you the will and skill to break out of your carefully concealed prison walls. See, in our part of the world, prison walls and thick inviolable doors are all too overt, obvious, over-bearing, choking; this is why we remain restive, rebellious, agitated, and always in preparation for our day of freedom, of light, when we gather a critical mass of people power enough to cross all the hitherto categorical red lines. We can then smash the thick, cold ugly, rusty chains that have incarcerated our minds and bodies for all our lives like the overpowering stench of a rotting corpse in our claustrophobic prison cell.
Your prison cells, however, are quite different. The walls are well hidden lest they evoke your will to resist. There is no door to your prison cell, you may roam about "freely," never recognizing the much larger prison you are still confined to.
I wish you Egypt so you can decolonize your minds, for only then can you envision real liberty, real justice, real equality, and real dignity.
I wish you Egypt so you can tear apart the sheet with the multiple-choice question, "what do you want?", for all the answers you are given are dead wrong. Your only choice there seems to be between evil and a lesser one.
I wish you Egypt so you can, like the Tunisians, the Egyptians, the Libyans, the Bahrainis, the Yemenis, and certainly the Palestinians, shout "No! We do not want to select the least wrong answer. We want another choice altogether that is not on your damned list." Given the choice between slavery and death, we unequivocally opt for freedom and dignified life, no slavery, and no death.
I wish you Egypt so you can collectively, democratically, and responsibly re-build your societies; to reset the rules so as to serve the people, not savage capital and its banking arm; to end racism and all sorts of discrimination; to look after and be in harmony with the environment; to cut wars and war crimes, not jobs, benefits and public services; to invest in education and healthcare, not in fossil fuel and weapons research; to overthrow the repressive, tyrannical rule of multinationals; and to get the hell out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and everywhere else where under the guise of "spreading democracy" your self-righteous crusades have spread social and cultural disintegration, abject poverty and utter hopelessness.
I wish you Egypt so you can fulfill your countries' legal and moral obligations to help rebuild the ravished, de-developed economies and societies of your former, or current, colonies, so that their young men can find their own homelands viable, livable and lovable again, instead of risking death, or worse, on the high seas to reach your mirage-washed shores, giving up loved ones and a place they once called home. You see, they're "here" because you were there... and we all know what you did there!
I wish you Egypt so you can rekindle the spirit of the South African anti-apartheid struggle by holding Israel accountable to international law and universal principles of human rights, by adopting boycott, divestment and sanctions, called for by an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society. There is no more effective, non-violent way to end Israel's occupation, racial discrimination and decades-old denial of the UN-sanctioned right of Palestinian refugees to return.
Our oppression and yours are deeply interrelated and intertwined, it is never a zero-sum game! Our joint struggle for universal rights and freedoms is not merely a self gratifying slogan that we raise; rather, it is a fight for true emancipation and self determination, an idea whose time has vociferously arrived.
After Egypt, it is our time. It is time for Palestinian freedom and justice. It is time for all the people of this world, particularly the most exploited and downtrodden, to reassert our common humanity and reclaim control over our common destiny.
I wish you Egypt!