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 Those who give us hope
 Mustafa Barghouti, Palestine
 September 27, 2002
 
As the second Intifada continues, the plight of the Palestinians grows ever more hopeless. The seemingly endless closures and paralysing curfews imposed by the occupying forces and its government continue to punish our entire civilian population. The economy and the education system have been devastated, throwing hundreds of thousands of people into poverty. Additionally, the gradual reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has created an insidious combination of occupation and apartheid.

New settlements continue to be built on land stolen from Palestinians, and old settlements continue to expand. Palestinians remain unable to move freely from Palestinian town to city to village—the Israeli policy of "Bantustanisation" of the Palestinian areas is apparently succeeding.

On the surface little appears to have changed since the first Intifada. Palestinians have been killed with greater frequency, and the Israeli army has used more brutal methods and greater violence to punish and attempt to quell our uprising against the occupation. But this is not new.

However, there is one aspect in which this Intifada differs from the first. It has demonstrated the amazing power of people, foreigners, who come here to participate in the Palestinian struggle for justice and independence.

Since September 2000, approximately 3,200 people of different nationalities have made their way to Palestine, despite the Israeli immigration services turning scores of people away from border crossings and the airport, and numerous deportations.

Most of these activists arrived here directly from North America, Europe and Scandinavia, although the occasional South American and Antipodean have also made the journey.

The fact that they have come, in such numbers and at their own expense is, quite frankly, amazing. Even more amazing when one considers what they have come from.

Those from the United States are coming from a country that provides billions of dollars in support, aid and loans to Israel, and have an administration which believes "Sharon is a man of peace!" They are surrounded by a media that has, over the past two years, proved the most resistant to publishing anything but the official Israeli version of what is occurring in the occupied Palestinian territories, in addition to using the terminology provided by the Israeli government, without question. Yet still they learned and came.

Having a conversation with them is an eye-opening experience, especially when discussing the reasons for coming. Whether they are 18-year-old university students from Britain, a grandmother from France, or a 65-year-old priest from Belgium, they possess an understanding of the conflict that goes far beyond that of their elected representatives. The media bias felt by Palestinians everywhere is something that they too are painfully aware of. They have come to see what is really happening in Palestine. To see the truth for themselves.

They also make a tremendous contribution to Palestine and the Palestinian people because of the rest of the world's failure. The UN in particular has failed to provide the one thing that Palestinians have consistently called for —an international protection force.

Since the beginning of the Intifada, when Israeli troops responded to unarmed Palestinian demonstrations with excessive and disproportionate military force, Palestinians have called for protection. As the two years have passed, and the Israeli onslaught has continued, to the point that over 1,800 Palestinians have been killed and, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 41,000 have been injured, we have pleaded for international protection.

It was not UN troops in smart uniforms who took up positions in our villages and cities, nor was it American soldiers storming ashore, as in Somalia. It was individuals who responded to our calls, and small groups from trade unions and churches, anti-globalisation activists, committees from the world social forum, Jewish and Christian groups opposed to the occupation, governmental representatives, as well as those belonging to Palestinian solidarity groups.

These people came, even at the risk of injury, arrest and deportation, to stand up to the Israeli occupation, by the Palestinians' side. They have delivered food and medicine to the sick and hungry during curfew, torn down military road blocks, protested the draconian Israeli siege and closure, helped get the sick and wounded to hospitals or accompanied our medical teams to enable them to provide badly needed treatment.

And at the height of the Israeli violence, during the March and April invasions, they did what the Israeli army prevented the media, international aid agencies and international community from doing. They entered Jenin refugee camp and were witness to what occurred there, talked to the victims, wrote, took photos and told the world.

I think these people are examples of the world's new generation (irrespective of age), and the positive side of globalisation. News and information is accessible to people everywhere if they make the effort to find it. It may not be delivered to them on their doorstep every morning, but it is accessible through the Internet. People have learned the truth and they have come. Whether they came to break the siege, protect children going to school, or pick olives, they have come.

So despite the double standards of providing UN protection to some people and not others, and the double standards of expecting some countries to be accountable to UN resolutions and international law (Iraq), yet not enforcing the implementation of resolutions for other countries (Israel), we had our protection. We turned to the people and they responded.

Just as importantly, they have come to Palestine, met with the people and seen for themselves what is happening. They have contributed to the ability of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully, as the number of popular protests in the past few days has shown. Furthermore, after being here for a few weeks, or months, they return to their home countries with what they have seen, experienced and heard, richer for the experience, and motivated to continue to work for an independent Palestine.

These people have an amazing power that has revitalised international solidarity for the Palestinian people. They are responsible for making the Palestinian cause the number one liberation cause in the world. They are the ones that give us confidence that we will be victorious in the struggle for our freedom and independence from continuing Israeli occupation.

The writer is spokesman for the Palestinian National Initiative, a coalition for democratic change in the West Bank and Gaza.

From Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, September 26-October 2, 2002. © Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved.