Dr. Bernard Sabella: What Palestinians Want

This week the Peace Doers blog is delighted to have Dr. Bernard Sabella, a PLC Member, contributing from Jerusalem on the topic of “What Palestinians Want”


The other day a friend of mine ‘Adel from Dheisheh Refugee camp, one of the three refugee camps in the Bethlehem area, called to tell me that his granddaughter had proudly excelled in her college career at the Nursing Faculty of Bethlehem University.

‘Adel was a student of mine at Bethlehem University in the Eighties. He had served by then a 10-year prison sentence because of his anti-occupation activities. At the time of his enrollment in my Sociology courses we used to argue about our hopes and future expectations. We wanted to be free from Israeli occupation but we also wanted to be liberated from the internal shackles that also prohibit us Palestinians from fulfilling our aspirations as a people. He always insisted like so many other men from Dheisheh that without the full and unhindered participation [of] Palestinian women in all spheres of society and its concerns, including ending occupation, Palestine cannot really be free.


I pointed to ‘Adel as we met for breakfast at the famed Aftim falafel and Hummus restaurant, off Manger Square, that the universal education of girls in our society together with the higher ratio of women to men at our universities reflect that one of the social shackles has been overcome. But ‘Adel was not satisfied as he wanted to see women participate more fully in the economy and he pointed out to me that less than 19%, quite a low rate, of Palestinian women are in the labor force and that women in Gaza are hardest hit with a participation rate much lower than that of the West Bank.

We concluded that we are a hardworking people and that Israeli occupation is making it impossible for us to develop economically so as not only women suffer from lack of job opportunities but also men. But is the improvement of economic conditions really what we desire for or is it the end and dismantlement of Israeli occupation? We both agreed that Israeli occupation was the cause to many of our economic, social and political ills. The denial of basic rights as represented by the Gaza blockade since 2005 and by the Separation Wall and its division of Palestinian families within and outside the Wall poses a major challenge not only to us Palestinians but to all those who value the respect of basic rights of human beings.

Both ‘Adel and I agreed that involving Palestinians refugees in finding a solution to the refugee problem is essential to the success of any negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This refugee problem since 1948 has been an open wound that has affected the more than 5 million refugees, now registered with UNRWA. Granted that many Palestinian refugees will not leave their current places of residence but it is essential that the International Community and Israel in particular would honor the obligations of UN Resolutions on the subject.

And so I asked my friend ‘Adel, “What do we want as Palestinians?” ‘Adel said that he, like so many other Palestinians has paid the price for wanting to be free and freedom from occupation is what we all seek. But ‘Adel was insistent that together with getting rid of occupation, we need to develop a vision for the future of our society. This vision, according to ‘Adel, should not only address politics but should also work on our educational, economic and social fabric so that we can become a society capable of living with itself in spite of our present political divisions, Gaza and Ramallah as example, and of becoming reconciled with the region in which we are living and is experiencing the tragedies of civil wars, the emergence of the likes of DAESH (ISIS) and the disintegration of states such as Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Both ‘Adel and I agreed that the tasks ahead are challenging and that ending Israeli occupation is a major task but that creating a vibrant and culturally awakened society, at peace with itself and with others, remains as much important as ending the occupation. Freedom is not only being successful at getting rid of the other’s oppression; it is also learning how to become liberated from one’s internal shackles and constraints. We agreed, ‘Adel and me, that we have formidable challenges but that our history, culture and endurance would enable us to overcome them!


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