Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Real Mr. Palestine

The Real "Mr. Palestine": Palestinian National Initiative Secretary General, President and Founder of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, Palestine Legislative Council member Dr. Mustafa Barghouti.

A Palestinian with similar motivations, sense of purpose, and passions as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Barghouti was recently published in the New York Times, urging immediate action in the face of catastrophic consequences concerning the failure of creating a Palestinian state.

The full, masterfully written call to action can be read here. A few spectacular quotes:

Javier Solana, just prior to completing his stint as European Union foreign policy chief, claimed Palestinian moves toward statehood “have to be done with time, with calm, in an appropriate moment.” He adds: “I don’t think today is the moment to talk about that.” When, precisely, is a good time for Palestinian freedom?

If Israel insists on hewing to antiquated notions of determining the date of another people’s freedom then it is incumbent on Palestinians to organize ourselves and highlight the moral repugnance of such an outlook.

In the face of European and American inaction, it is crucial that we continue to revive our culture of collective activism by vigorously and nonviolently resisting Israel’s domination over us.

A new generation of Palestinian leaders is attempting to speak to the world in the language of a nonviolent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, precisely as Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of African-Americans did with the Montgomery bus boycott in the mid-1950s. We are equally right to use the tactic to advance our rights. The same world that rejects all use of Palestinian violence, even clear self-defense, surely ought not begrudge us the nonviolence employed by men such as King and Gandhi.

The demise of the two-state solution will only lead to a new struggle for equal rights, within one state. Israel, which tragically favors supremacy rather than integration with its Palestinian neighbors, will have brought the new struggle on itself by relentlessly pushing the settlement enterprise. No one can say it was not warned.


And of course, reiterating what everyone already knows:

There comes a time when people cannot take injustice any more, and this time has come to Palestine.
Here, an article I wrote several months ago on Dr. Barghouti:

Civil society development and the path to democratization requires a careful planning, nuanced response to endlessly changing factors, societal determination, luck, and the innovation of brilliant, motivated individuals. In the Palestinian case, a stateless society attempting to achieve both the dominant national goal of statehood and the underlying political goal of stable democracy, the stakes are decidedly higher. Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, an economic and humanitarian blockade of the Gaza Strip, an autocratic and corrupt political regime, and the rise of religious extremism and violence has made the situation extremely difficult for those attempting to bring about needed political and social reforms and humanitarian relief. For over 60 years, a handful of individuals have realized this need for reform and have put the Palestinian people first, determined to bring real relief to the individuals suffering the most – Palestinian civilians. One man above many others has brought about lasting, sustainable change in the area of health and civil society development, Dr. Mustafa al-Barghouti.

His approach has required tenacity in the face of an iron-fisted occupation, determination to circumvent both Palestinian and Israeli government opposition, and innovation to deliver top-notch medical services to a downtrodden, impoverished, stateless society. His innovations extend far beyond the health sector where he established the highly effective Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, reaching into civil society development through his founding of the political coalition Al-Mubadara (The Palestinian National Initiative) and HDIP (Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute) and even causing a stir in the largely autocratic realm of Palestinian politics through his participation in Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections (running as an independent candidate and under Al-Mubadara). Dr. Barghouti has achieved a great deal in the last three decades of civil society, international solidarity, and political activism and much can be attributed to his innovative views of how best to serve the Palestinian populace, his internal drive, and the societal and educational opportunities he has reaped to benefit from.

Dr. Barghouti was trained as a medical doctor in Moscow in the early 1970s, studying internal medicine and cardiology. Upon return to the West Bank in 1978 he took a position practicing emergency care and medicine at one of Jerusalem’s best Arab medical facilities, Maqased Hospital. In 1979, Mustafa founded the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, a non-governmental organization which provides health care, training, and emergency services in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A decade later Dr. Barghouti co-founded the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute (HDIP) – a health sector think tank representing an alliance of over 90 Palestinian community organizations and publisher of the Palestine Monitor, a collaborative effort to raise awareness about the health, humanitarian, and political situation for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Although he had been an active member of Palestinian student organizations during his study in Moscow and a standing member of the Palestine People’s Party (a Marxist-leftist political organization) since his return, most of his work had been non-political and concentrated on health and humanitarian needs of refugees and civilians in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 1991 however, Dr. Barghouti became intimately involved in the Palestinian politics when he served as a delegate to the Madrid Peace Conference aimed at finally bringing a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After the Oslo peace process and the establishment of a Palestinian government in Ramallah, Mustafa al-Barghouti realized the next real place for change required him to enter the political arena in full. He ran unsuccessfully for the Palestinian legislature in the first governmental elections in 1996 as a member of the People’s Party (PPP). Undeterred from politics, but skeptical of the Marxist leanings of his former PPP, Barghouti took his innovative political style and experience with successes in civil society development and left his former party to establish the Palestinian National Initiative (Al-Mubadara) with longtime associate and Palestinian scholar Edward Said. The two intended to build a reformist, inclusive alternative to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the corrupt and autocratic ruling Fatah party, and Islamic militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He continues to serve as the party’s general secretary today. In 2005 Mustafa al-Barghouti ran for president of the Palestinian National Authority promising, “I will demand total and complete reform, fight any form of corruption, mismanagement, and consolidate the rule of law.” He finished in second to Fatah rival Mahmoud Abbas, garnering 20% of the vote. Although he was unsuccessful in his first electoral bids, his candidacy and high standing among the majority of Palestinians raised a great deal of awareness regarding the flaws in both the major parties – Hamas and Fatah, bringing about piecemeal reforms in both of their electoral platforms. In 2006 Dr. Barghouti was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council on the Independent Palestine List – a coalition of independent parties hoping to provide, “a truly democratic and independent ‘third way’ for the large majority of silent and unrepresented Palestinian voters, who favor neither the autocracy and corruption of the governing Fatah party, nor the fundamentalism of Hamas.” Following his electoral success he served as Minister of Information in the short-lived Palestinian unity government. He continues to be an outspoken critic of the PLO and PA for corruption, terrorism, and authoritarianism and supports non-violent resistance as the most effective means of overcoming Israeli occupation. He sees a peaceful resolution possible based on two states with Palestine in the 1967 territories, its capital in Arab East Jerusalem, and a compromised solution to the refugee crisis. Dr. Mustafa al-Barghouti, a Ramallah-based doctor and activist, has been a constant voice of political innovation and reform in a situation where developments have been sorely needed.

Mustafa al-Barghouti was born into near-perfect conditions which allowed him to become the innovative, driven, successful politician and activist he has been for over 30 years, similar in many ways to the business “outliers” Malcolm Gladwell describes in his recent book, “Outliers” on success. His opportunities spurn from timing (including when he was born and the events of his early life), his socioeconomic status, and his professional pursuits. Dr. Barghouti was born in 1954 (13 years prior to the Israeli invasion and occupation of the West Bank) in Jerusalem and grew up in a small village outside Ramallah. Mustafa was born into a large, well-known, socially and politically connected family, the al-Barghouti clan, which includes many notable figures in business and politics. He was exposed to politics almost from the moment of birth. In the 1950s, his village Deir Ghassaneh was part of the leftist opposition to Jordanian rule over the West Bank. Dr. Barghouti remarked on his early influences, “I grew up surrounded by internationalist, progressive literature – our family’s viewpoint was always shaped by opposition to social justice, rather than by nationalism.” At the age of 14, the 6-day War commenced, which began the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Mustafa claims this as a formative time in the development of his political and social views. “Those few days reshaped me,” he explained, “I felt a huge amount of responsibility. My childhood ended then. We were now under occupation. It was the beginning of a life mission: how do we become free?” As a child and into his adolescent years, Mustafa al-Barghouti took part in waves of mass protests and demonstrations and visited his uncles, jailed for political reasons, in Israeli prisons. During the early and mid-70s, Barghouti studied abroad to achieve his doctorate at a Moscow medical university, which influenced his views on Marxism and social justice, but which also placed him outside of the Palestinian territories at a time when Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization was becoming increasingly popular in both the territories and the diaspora. For this reason Dr. Barghouti never became captivated by the PLO, but instead was greatly skeptical of its leaders and desires, preferring to develop the internal democratic and social movement inside Palestine outside of PLO institutions and structures. Dr. Mustafa al-Barghouti’s influences, early upbringing, and situation of birth caused him to be exposed to the Israeli occupation during his formative, adolescent years. Had he been born earlier, it is quite likely he would have been abroad during the start of the occupation and not had the same influences to become deeply involved in the Palestinian movement. Any later, and he might have been too young to understand the implications of the start of the occupation. His upbringing spurned him to become heavily involved in humanitarian struggles.

No comments:

Post a Comment