When I am asked about Palestinian identity, one idea keeps coming to mind. I was told it would be translated into English as “steadfastness.” I looked up what a steadfast person would be like and the dictionary says, “One marked by firm determination or resolution–not shakable–of firm convictions and strong resolve. A man of unbendable perseverance and unwavering loyalty.”
That’s pretty close to what I had in mind, but somewhat incomplete–it is hard to capture an entire people in a word. Steadfastness refers to our Palestinian character of never giving in. It refers to our standing up to overwhelming odds time and again, without a friend in our corner. It is about our being beaten and abused in every way known to man, only to get back up with our heads held high.
This is impressive, but if it is understood only in this way steadfastness could easily be exchanged for a different, less appealing word: stubbornness. In itself, refusing to give up is not an admirable quality. After all, the rather unsavory and racist group of settlers in Hebron could also be described as steadfast. They too display “unwavering loyalty” and “firm convictions,” and they too seemingly never give in.
What makes our steadfastness admired around the world is not only our perseverance but the justice of our cause, which is freedom, democracy and plurality. It is important to remember this broader definition of our character and our steadfastness. It is even more important for us to more loudly trumpet this, our true identity, throughout the world.
The reason is simple: Israel has dedicated an enormous amount of resources to perverting our identity and the character of our struggle. It has gained a significant degree of influence over the media, especially in the West, and has used this strength to transform and manipulate reality to its own ends. Thus despite our being slaughtered in the streets of Gaza, we are told that we are not only to blame but that the siege we are enduring is unworthy of international intervention.
Despite having thousands of our civilian brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, mothers and daughters in Israeli prisons routinely subjected to torture, we are told to immediately release a single captured Israeli soldier–or face another wave of high-tech brutality.
Despite the fact that we have international and human rights law on our side, it is said that we are “stubborn” because of our refusal to surrender the remainder of our historic birthright to Israeli occupation. We Palestinians are depicted in much of the media as steadfast only in our savagery, irrationality and propensity for violence.
From the 1920s onward, Palestinian resistance has been overwhelmingly 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 occupation of our land and the constant abuse of our dignity and security.
The international media do not focus on this, of course; instead they choose to emphasize 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 slaughter of our brothers and sisters in the Gaza Strip.