Caracas, August 13, 2022 (OrinocoTribune.com)—On July 16, Orinoco Tribune held its latest Editorial Room Discussion (the 4th episode aired to date) with special guest Khaled Barakat, a Palestinian writer and activist currently based in Canada. Also taking part in the discussion were Saheli Chowdhury, acting as moderator; Jesús Rodriguez-Espinoza and Dana Nidal from Orinoco Tribune editorial team.
Barakat, being a leftist and revolutionary voice on Palestine, has been the target of numerous smear campaigns aimed at silencing (and criminalizing) him and others like him fighting for Palestinian rights in the diaspora. The targeted harassment started in June 2019 when he was living in Germany, when he was prevented by the police in Berlin from speaking at a community event and subsequently received a political ban. When Barakat filed an urgent appeal against it, he was threatened with up to a year in prison should he participate in any political or social events or activities, and he was finally deported in August 2019.
After the deportation Barakat was forced to relocate to Canada and now, less than three years later, the international Zionist lobby is back at it again with a new attack against him. On April 29, the conservative Canadian newspaper The National Post published an article describing him as being in “the upper echelons of the PFLP’s [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] chain of command,” once again demonizing the Palestinian struggle and falsely labeling any armed resistance against Israeli state violence as terrorism. This quickly became the subject of debate in the Canadian Senate, with a conservative senator going as far as asking the government to expel Barakat, a Canadian citizen.
The Orinoco Tribune episode was aimed at delving deeper than the average consciousness-raising talk about the Palestine question, by discussing the strategy for advancing the Palestinian Liberation movement, which has been experiencing a severe setback since the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 as it ultimately served to contain and weaken the Palestinian resistance.
The Palestinian cause: nature, smear campaigns, confrontations
According to Barakat, in order to resist the global Zionist propaganda machine, one first has to understand what the Palestinian cause is. The propaganda serves to “divert the discussion away from the real issues, that is, settler-colonialism, Israeli atrocities and crimes committed against the Palestinian people.” It also diverts attention from the forces that facilitate these crimes, such as the imperial powers like Britain, France and the United States, that are “responsible for actually creating the State of Israel in 1948,” and “the Arab subcontractors and Arab reactionary regimes that are only declaring their alliance these days, but were always complicit.”
Barakat also addressed the main Zionist smear attempt against the Palestinian resistance, which is calling Palestinians “terrorists.” It is the principal attempt to de-legitimize the Palestinian cause, because “the moment you call someone a terrorist, you strip them of their cause and their rights.” In this regard he mentioned the role of Zionist media as well as the Hollywood film industry in presenting Palestinians as “people who just like to fight Israel.”
However, Barakat considers that such smear campaigns have lost some of their strength especially over the past 20 years, as the Palestinian resistance both inside Palestine and in the diaspora has been gaining power, “and part of that power is media confronting Zionist distortions and smear campaigns.” With the spread of social media worldwide, Palestinians have been able to disseminate news of their daily lives to the world, despite the restrictions and blockades that most social media companies regularly impose on Palestinians.
In addition, the Palestinian people have been constant in their “commitment to clarify why Palestinians are fighting and what they are fighting for,” and thus have been able to confront Zionist propaganda. “We can provide the public with facts on the ground—facts that are not disputable, facts that are empirical and no one can argue with that,” stressed Barakat. “Colonizers in places like Canada, New Zealand, the United States and other places massacred the indigenous people 500 years ago. There were no cameras to record that… But the Palestinian case happened in 1948. So we have all the documents.”
Another way to confront Zionist propaganda is to expose local fascists all over the world, Barakat commented. “There are supporters of Israel in Venezuela,… in Bolivia, there are supporters of Israel everywhere… They are fighting locally against socialists, against the native people… so of course they will be with Israel. So our comrades and allies around the world are also involved in the struggle,” thus making the Palestinian cause a global cause.
In this regard Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza described the history of the Venezuelan support for the Palestinian cause. “Venezuelan solidarity for Palestine is the result of Hugo Chávez,” he said. “Before Hugo Chávez we in Venezuela believed that the bad guys in the movie were the Palestinians,” thanks to how media and popular culture are designed.
He made reference to Carlos “El Chacal” (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez), Venezuelan struggler for Palestine, who joined the Palestinian resistance in 1960s and has been imprisoned for this in France since 1994. He was demonized as a “terrorist” in Venezuela “until Hugo Chávez presented the other side of the story… that Palestinians are victims and are trying to defend themselves, their land and their culture that are being erased.”
International Palestinian Solidarity and the diaspora
Moving over to the topic of the International Solidarity Movement for Palestine, Dana Nidal pointed out that some splits have been occurring within the international movement itself, with some Pro-Palestinian groups demonizing Palestinian resistance, and others supporting it. She particularly referred to the BDS National Committee (BNC), which has condemned and distanced itself from any forms of resistance that it does not deem appropriate.
Nidal claimed that this represents a “co-optation of the BDS movement by the liberal Zionist agenda,” focusing less on the issue of national liberation to counteract settler-colonialism, and more on human rights and international law discourse. Added to this is the fact that BNC and some Pro-Palestine organizations are in close proximity to Zionist funding bodies, making reference to a report recently published by the Jisr Collective “A Tactic Not a Trademark: How the BDS National Committee Supports the Liberal Zionist Agenda.”
“If you listen to the BNC discourse, it is always that we want to go back to the borders of 1967,” she added. “It does not recognize ‘48 Palestine [the interior of occupied Palestine] as ‘occupied.’ This is problematic because it basically erases the Nakba—the most horrific ethnic cleansing that has happened in the Palestinian history,” which is still ongoing. She called this the “Oslo effect.”
With regards to this split Nidal reflected, “I see [it] as an almost positive thing since a lot of new things have come from it. I think it really goes to show how the struggle will continue. Even if you have these people who have the money, who have the resources, even with their salaried positions—and I’ve seen this first hand—are not able and are not even willing to mobilize people anymore, [for them] it all comes down to performative acts.”
Barakat went on to clarify that “we need to differentiate between debate and discussion, which are healthy things, and divisions… I think it’s important to look at the solidarity movement not just as one coherent unit, but as a diverse movement.” Within that movement, he outlined that there are solidarity groups that align themselves with local Palestinian political trends and reflect the national movement, while there are others that insist on maintaining a liberal discourse and end up advocating for a two-state solution.
The BNC, belonging to the latter of the two groups, according to Barakat is “just a committee in Ramallah, that does nothing except have a monopoly over the BDS movement.” Barakat stresses that “we need to differentiate between the BDS movement and this committee in Ramallah which is hijacking the position and manipulating the situation.” One of the most problematic things about this is the absence of dialogue.
On the topic of the Palestinian diaspora, Barakat pointed out that after the Nakba in 1948 every Palestinian liberation organization that was established was outside of Palestine, referring to the Palestinian revolution that was launched in the 1960s from the refugee camps in Lebanon, and the creation of the PFLP, Fatah, DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine), and PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization).
“All of the Palestinian organizations were established in the shatat, outside of Palestine,” he said, highlighting how Palestinians refugees and those in the diaspora have historically played a very significant role in the Palestinian Liberation Movement.
However, Barakat remarked how after the signing of the Oslo Agreements these political institutions moved into Palestine and headquartered themselves in Ramallah.
“This meant that the power and the political decisions got concentrated in the hands of the Palestinian capitalists, and the Palestinian refugees and the popular classes have nothing anymore,” he commented.
This came about as the Palestinian bourgeois leadership dissolved the militant Palestinian organizations, especially the General Union of Palestinian Students, the General Union of Palestinian Women, the General Union of Palestinian Workers, among others. “What the Oslo Agreements did was it stripped the Palestinian popular classes and the Palestinian working classes and refugees of their power and gave all the power to the Palestinian Authority—basically the Palestinian capitalists,” explained Barakat.
“The vast majority of our people today feel that their liberation project has been hijacked,” he continued. “So the immediate task for us as Palestinians, particular in the diaspora, is to regain that voice, to rebuild our institutions and our organizations by reactivating ourselves and unifying our people in the shatat. And that’s why we are calling for the March for Liberation and Return on October 29 of this year in Europe, Lebanon and elsewhere, because we want to send the message that the Palestinian people, 60% of whom are outside Palestine… are going to continue their struggle for return and liberation.”
Internal dynamics of the Palestinian Liberation Movement
According to Barakat, the contradictions within the Palestinian National Movement as well as within the Palestine solidarity movement originate from the contradictions within capitalism and colonialism. “The very first thing that settler-colonists do is establish a local authority of the people in the country—a puppet government,” he said. “The Palestinian Authority is nothing but a puppet government of the occupier; they act like a mediator between the people and the occupier… These people that form the puppet government are usually a capitalist or feudalistic class who benefit from this relationship with the occupier.” A Palestinian billionaire who benefits from this sort of relationship would never be against the Palestinian Authority, instead he would try to maintain this collaborationist system, Barakat explained.
He highlighted the responsibility that Palestinians have in order to confront this system, which consists of “establishing a united Palestinian national front. It is not there, it is absent. For example, if Venezuela wants to deal with the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, who can they go to? The PA doesn’t represent the Palestinians… but does Hamas or the Palestinian Resistance have a mandate from the Palestinian people?”
In Barakat’s opinion, there are only two options to build this front. “Either we rebuild the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which has been hijacked by Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies, or we establish another Palestinian National Front that gets its legitimacy from the people.” This legitimacy may be revolutionary, which Barakat supports, or it may come through elections. It is worth remembering here that Abbas has been the head of the PA and hence the “president” of Palestine for more than 16 years, and has never allowed any election to take place during this time.
Barakat went into great detail explaining how this hijacking happened, resulting especially from the crisis of the leftist forces within the PLO that came after the collapse of the USSR and the Arab states’ recognition of the “Two-state Solution.” At that time the PFLP, the principal leftist party of PLO, declared that it was in a comprehensive crisis encompassing theoretical, political, financial and military spheres. Over the last three decades the Front has faced several challenges, the most difficult being the Israeli harassment, targeting and smear campaigns. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority collaborates with the occupation to attack the PFLP.
However, in Barakat’s opinion, the main challenge for the organization is to “engage in real self-criticism.” “The Front needs to regain its relationship with national sovereignty movements around the world,” he pointed out. Similarly, “it needs to engage again in the Arab people’s struggles… the workers’ and peasants’ struggles, youth movements and union movements.”
He also lamented that on the question of women’s rights, the Palestinian left today is not much different from the Palestinian right wing. “Women have a central role in the struggle but you do not see that reflected in the policies of the organization, and that needs to change,” he said. However, he added that the PFLP appears to have dealt with a number of these issues, as could be discerned from its latest congress held in June this year.
Palestine’s place in global geopolitics
The speakers also commented on a number of recent interesting developments in Asia regarding Palestine. Hamas, the elected administrative authority in Gaza, and the government of Syria headed by President Assad had a mutual reconciliation earlier this year. A Hamas delegation also went to Russia, a country that does not officially recognize Hamas. Finally, US President Joe Biden visited Palestine and met PA head Abbas on his highly publicized Middle East tour. While Biden failed to consolidate the anti-Iran axis, Dana Nidal considered the Hamas-Syria reconciliation a step towards the strengthening of the Axis of Resistance. Referring to all these events, she stated, “I see the global forces shifting in a certain way that could be positive for Palestine.”
However, Barakat warned that while significant developments may take place on the world stage, if Palestinians are not ready, they would not be able to take any advantage of the situation. “There is a self-criticism that we have to practice as Palestinians,” he commented, regarding the necessity for Palestine to develop strong relations with countries that recognize only Palestinians as the indigenous people of Palestine and have no ties with the State of Israel. In this sense he gave the example of Bolivia that ended all relations with Israel. “But do you see Palestinians building bridges with Bolivia? We aren’t doing that.” One may also consider Venezuela-Palestine relations, as some Palestinian grassroots activists have questioned the Venezuelan government’s relation with the Palestinian Authority. However, Barakat pointed out that such countries that are allies of Palestine maintain ties with the PA out of intentions of solidarity, “and if we do not like the PA, we have to do something about it; we cannot just complain.” That something would be building an alternative to the PA, that would legitimately and concretely represent the Palestinian popular classes.
He also emphasized the need for Palestinians to intensify actions against all sanctions and embargoes, given that Palestinians themselves have been under siege for over seven decades and friendly countries express their outrage against this. According to him, Palestinians should act towards building broader and stronger relations with Cuba, which continues to remain under a brutal US blockade for more than 60 years, as well as with Venezuela and the three dozen other countries that are similarly under unilateral blockades imposed by the West. “Solidarity doesn’t go one way, it goes both ways,” he remarked.
Echoing the Palestinian revolutionary intellectual and martyr Ghassan Kanafani, Barakat said, “I believe that it is only one struggle. Any victory that the people of Venezuela achieve, that the people of the world achieve, is a victory for Palestine.”
Orinoco Tribune special by Dana Nidal and Saheli Chowdhury
Saheli Chowdhury is from West Bengal, India, studying physics for a profession, but with a passion for writing. She is interested in history and popular movements around the world, especially in the Global South. She is a contributor and works for Orinoco Tribune.