Palestine’s Martyrs, Liquidation, and the Power of the Dead

palestinian martyrs

The concept of martyrdom has sustained the Palestinian struggle for decades and continues to be the single most formidable obstacle in the path of the forces that would liquidate (in Arabic, تصفيهtassfiyah) the cause.

You don’t hear the term “liquidation” used in the English press in connection with the struggle. There, politically correct terms such as “negotiations” or, until recently, “peace process”, reign supreme. But you hear “tassfiyah” a lot in the Arabic press.

There, you also hear “cause” (قضيهqaddiyah) instead of “conflict” and you hear “struggle” in its positive connotation of resistance or combatting injustice. Many Palestinian children are given names such as (Kifahكفاح) or (Nidalنضال), synonyms with “struggle”.

In the Arabic media, you also hear the word martyr (شهيد Shaheed) a lot. A shaheed is one who has died in the course of struggle.

Early on in the Israeli occupation/colonization of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli censors understood the function of the construction of the concept of martyrdom in Palestinian society. In 1982, the censors submitted an affidavit to Israel’s High Court justifying the censorship of death notices in the West Bank press of Palestinians killed during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon by explaining that “the death announcements appear in a style and content which provide an example for inciting the population to active community and political mobilization … as a national example which should be imitated … ‘with pride’ and a feeling that one has been honored.” (Benvenisti)

What the Israeli censors missed is that Palestine martyrs teach life, not death. Who can forget the words of RafeefZiadah’s spoken-word poem — We Teach Life, Sir, in which she says,

And no sound-bite, no sound-bite I come up with, no matter how good my English gets, no sound-bite, no sound-bite, no sound-bite, no sound-bite will bring them back to life.

We teach life, sir.

We teach life, sir.

We Palestinians wake up every morning to teach the rest of the world life, sir.

Martyrs in Palestinian culture also have rights that are derived from holding us accountable for their sacrifice. A year ago, on May 6, 2018, Mustafa Barghouti (a Palestinian physician, activist, and politician who serves as General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), also known as al Mubadara) posted on Facebook:

From the National Initiative Movement addressed to the National Council:

We call for the immediate abolition of all measures taken against the population and the people of the Gaza Strip, especially the abolition of the cuts and the reduction of salaries of workers and the rights of prisoners and martyrs, including the martyrs of the recent aggression on the Gaza Strip and those who have not yet been adopted. It is necessary to emphasize the need to distinguish between the people, the sons and daughters of our people, our brothers and our people, on the one hand, and the political division and differences among political Factions. [Translated from Arabic]

Today, May 6, 2019, Barghouti posted:

Goodbye to Comrade Dr. Rabah Muhanna and our condolences to his family and to his comrades in the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). He lived as a valiant fighter, and his memory will remain immortal.

In writing about The Palestinian National Initiative and Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East say:

Most Western media depict a simplistic choice in the Palestinian political scene between caricatures of a “moderate, pro-Western” Fatah, and caricatures of a “violent, extremist” Hamas. This skewed two-choice perspective has been reinforced by Israeli and North American political discourse and has become increasingly institutionalized by the functional and political separation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories between the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, Palestinian political discourse is nuanced, dynamic and engaged — a fact illustrated by the emergence of sophisticated political alternatives despite the pressures of the occupation and international patronage.

We don’t need the meddling of Trump and his outrageous attempts at liquidating our cause by establishing a new political party (“Reform and Development Party”) headed by his “close Palestinian ally” Ashraf Jabari, 45, “from a prominent clan in Hebron”, who looks clean-cut and Western. Hebron’s premier problem is “not the economy, stupid”, but that it is overrun by vicious Jewish settlers. Palestinians know about liquidation from long experience. We have “heard this siren song before. It’s the same old tired refrain going nowhere and not intending to,” as Stephen Lendman says in Israel’s Kafkaesque “Matrix of Control.

And, as Jonathan Cook says, “With the PA close to collapse, it is hard to see how Trump’s deal of the century can do anything other than speed up the authority’s demise.”

Palestinian martyrs (shuhada) continue to transcend the false moral ambiguity Israel, with the aid of Western media, has succeeded in painting the Palestinian struggle. Even now, after all the inroads the Palestinian cause has made in American society as a result of the successes of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, after the spectacle of Israel’s brutality week after week against rallies in the Gaza Strip, the media deception of the American public continues unabated:

Every single headline that I’ve seen in the mainstream media has referred to Israel’s ‘response’ or ‘retaliation, to rockets from Gaza. Not one of them mentioned that those rockets might be in ‘response’ to or ‘retaliation’ for killings by Israel. The steady, monotonous bias of the media is unspeakable. [Raymond Deane’s post on Facebook]

Israel’s savage brutality in Gaza is on display again. The trolls are out in force on Twitter, on Quora and elsewhere. Palestinian martyrs, once again, are calling for international awareness the loudest. This is the only way left for Palestinians to engage the world in discourse. To echo al-Kateb’s words at the end of each Martyrs’ List the magazine published, we “bow in respect to the reverent martyrs and extend our sincere condolences to our Palestinian people and the families of the martyrs.”

Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank. She contributes stories/opinion to and other publications.


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