What is Steadfastness?
When I was asked about Palestinian identity, one idea kept coming to mind. I wondered how this idea would translate into English, and I was told that it would be steadfastness.” I looked up "steadfast" in the dictionary: “Marked by firm determination or resolution - not shakeable - of firm convictions and strong resolve; of unbendable perseverance and unwavering loyalty.”
It is pretty close to what I had in mind, but somewhat incomplete - it is hard to capture an entire people in a word. Steadfastness refers only to our Palestinian character of never - ever - giving in. It refers to our standing up to overwhelming odds time and again without a single friend in our corner. It is about our being beaten and abused in every way known to humanity, only to get back up with our heads held high.
This is impressive; but if steadfastness were understood only in this way, it could easily be exchanged for a different, less appealing word: stubbornness.
Not giving up, in and of itself, is not an admirable quality. After all, the rather unsavoury and racist group of Hebron’s Tel Rumeidan settlers could also be described as steadfast. After all, they too display “unwavering loyalty” or “firm convictions,” and they seemingly “never give up.”
What makes our steadfastness admired and mythologized around the world is the combination of not only our perseverance, but the justice of our cause and the methods by which we have chosen to pursue it.
Our cause is freedom, democracy, and plurality, and our methods are overwhelmingly nonviolent in the face of our “all-powerful” adversary and its brutal occupation of our land.
The Perception of our Character
It is important for us to remember this broader definition of our character and our steadfastness. It is even more important for us to loudly trumpet this - our true identity - throughout the world.
The reason is simple: Israel has worked very hard and has dedicated an enormous number of resources to perverting our identity and the character of our struggle. Its strength ensures its near-total control of the media and message that the world receives about this conflict and about us as Palestinians.
The Israelis have used this strength to transform and manipulate reality to their own ends. They have so perverted the truth that - despite our being slaughtered in the streets of Gaza - we are not only to blame but as yet “unworthy of intervention.”
Despite the fact that thousands of our civilian brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, mothers, and daughters are routinely subjected to torture in Israeli prisons, we are expected to immediately release a single Israeli soldier - or face another wave of high-tech brutality.
Despite the fact that we have every international and human rights law on our side, we are “stubborn” in our refusal to surrender to the occupation the remainder of our historic birthright.
Through the lies of Israel and the lens of the media it controls, we Palestinians are perceived as “steadfast” only in our savagery, irrationality, and propensity for violence.
Perception versus Reality
Ninety-nine percent of Palestinian resistance from the 1920s onward has been nonviolent. The number of peaceful-unarmed Palestinian martyrs of this conflict far outweighs those of us who have fought the enemy on its own violent terms.
From boycotts to business and hunger strikes; from demonstrations to diplomacy, we Palestinians are engaged daily in nonviolent struggle against the Israeli occupation of our land and the constant abuse of our dignity and security.
The international media does not focus on this of course; instead journalists choose to emphasise the rare instances of Palestinian violence to such a degree that in the eyes of the international community, they appear to be comparable to the massive crimes of our occupier. There is no better example of this than the international coverage of the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters in the Gaza Strip.
The world is told, and thus believes, that there is a “war” being waged between two equals, rather than an asymmetric massacre being carried out by the world’s fifth-largest military industrial complex upon one of the world’s last remaining stateless peoples.
Their bombs have killed hundreds of children, women, and civilian men while they systematically destroy the economy and infrastructure of the tiny coastal Strip. They have employed illegal incendiary weapons against heavily populated civilian areas and munitions that burn through our skin and straight to the bone. They have killed doctors, journalists, and aid workers alike in their “war against Hamas and Terror” - and they remain brazenly unapologetic.
Our death toll has climbed into the thousands while the aggressor mourns the loss of little more than a dozen - most of them soldiers - many of whom have died as a result of Israel’s “friendly fire.” Yet people around the world are still made to believe that they are watching a “war” unfold rather than a genocide.
Why Israel Distorts the Truth
So much effort is put into distorting the character of Palestinians for one reason: if the world were to really know what is going on here, its collective emotion would shift from apathy toward our struggle to one of anger at our oppressor.
Israel knows that if the peoples of the world were able to see Palestine, they would be forced to draw conclusions and make comparisons.
If Americans were allowed to watch the daily brutality committed against peaceful protesters, they would immediately connect our plight to that of the African American Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If Africans were allowed to see the conditions of occupation in the West Bank, they would be unable to disassociate this from the anti-Apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s - the triumph of Mandela.
But the world is not allowed to see these truths. It is instead fed a daily dose of rhetoric that is taken out of context or images from the occasional backlash of a Palestinian with “nothing left to lose.”
Despite the fact that our nonviolence goes completely unnoticed by a world made biased toward our oppressor - We continue unabated.
We continue, not because nonviolence, resilience, and the steadfast pursuit of justice is a “strategy” that we hope will one day turn the tide of public opinion in our favour. We continue because this is who we are.
It is our integrity that guides our struggle - not the constant humiliation and provocation of our oppressor.
This integrity, the justice of our cause, and the means by which we pursue it, are the gravest threat to Israel and the Zionist Agenda for our land - far graver than other methods. Israel understands this and thus works very hard to pervert this reality in the minds of Israelis and the international community.
The fear is evident in the means by which Israel suppresses popular nonviolence throughout the West Bank. In Nihlin over the last six months, four nonviolent youth have been turned into martyrs by the IDF. Countless others have sustained serious injuries from gas asphyxiation, beatings, and bullets - the “live” kind and the rubber-coated steel sort.
Recently in Bil’in, protesters donned the striped garb of Jews incarcerated at the Warsaw Ghetto to remind Israel how their actions are mere reflections of the crimes committed against their own people. This statement so incensed the Israeli soldiers that they abandoned their positions and chased the protesters right into the heart of the village. A number of them were beaten - presumably for reminding Israelis of their past and injuring their contemporary sensibilities.
On a regular basis, peace activists are humiliated, blindfolded, shot in the kneecaps, sprayed with sewage and chemicals, deafened, imprisoned, tortured, and “micro-waved” by newer and even more sadistic methods of crowd control. These peace activists engage in protests over and over again; usually on Fridays but often throughout the week. They engage the military more often than any or all of the militias in Palestine, and they go unarmed - or at most with stones - to fight Goliath again and again.
The reason that Israel is so harsh on these young men and women is clear. Every day that nonviolence is used in pursuit of justice, the image of Palestinians that they have worked so hard to manufacture is undermined by truth. Out of fear and in retaliation, they resort to the only weapon available to those who neither possess integrity nor follow a just cause: violence.
They do so with the hope that we will respond “in kind.” That we will fight on their terms instead of our own. They do so in hopes that they can change what it is to be a Palestinian: Steadfast in our pursuit of justice. Their efforts have failed and will continue to fail. Our character and our steadfastness are unshakeable - and we will have the justice we deserve in this life or the next…
Israel’s most recent crime against our people in the Gaza Strip is only another attempt in its quest to undermine our identity and pervert our methods.
The occupiers scream from their watchtowers and F-16s, “We only understand violence! Fight! Fight! Fight!” They plead with us to take the bait and dehumanise them as they have done so completely to us.
They are like drug addicts who cannot bear to use their poison alone. Their drug is violence and destruction, and the side effects of their addiction are occupation and hatred. They hate and they kill; and they want us to hate and kill so that they do not feel lonely - so that they feel justified. They are steadfast only in their addiction, and they are rotting from the inside.
We are steadfast in our cause and in our methods. We are armed with truth, justice, signs, flags, and sometimes stones - nothing more.
We will be marching again on Friday throughout the West Bank, and again the Friday after that, and again, and again… Until we defeat Goliath.