13 May 2009

The Green Intifada - Patronising the Noble Palestinian Savage

Tired of life in the materialist and consumerist West? Why not spend a few months in Palestine, away from it all, training the local population to keep their ambitions low and stay at the mercy of an agrarian mode of life? This is the vision that Green Intifada is promoting. A group of volunteers, mostly from the UK, "work in the community to implement initiatives for sustainable living and food production." For sustainable read pre-modern and backwards. These include "rainwater harvesting, vegetable gardens, tree planting, greywater reuse, composting systems and compost toilet building."

The days of solidarity with the Palestinian people based on a healthy notion of human solidarity and active human agency are long gone. Today, the Palestinians have been turned into our poor cousins that cannot fend for themselves and solidarity has been replaced with pity. Hannah Arendt pointed out that pity dehumanises its receivers, and this outlook towards the Palestinians is as dehumanising as Israeli aggression. The Green Intifada is an example of this patronising expression of the contemporary Western outlook towards the Palestinians. Rather than seeing the Palestinians as a people fighting for self-determination and national liberation, they are reduced to helpless peasants that need to be taught even the basics of a primitive agrarian way of life.

Time to start exposing these initiatives for what they really are: they are not motivated by concern for the Palestinian people but are an expression of western discontent with modernity. This is a form of escape from the demands of life in the west, a way of burying one's head in the sands of Palestine. In the process, the Palestinians are recast as pure, unspoiled peasants, the alternative to the modern corrupted western individual, the image of what could have been if modernity and industrialisation had not occurred.

In itself, the Green Intifada is not a sinister or dangerous operation, the Holy Land has always attracted all manner of lunatics to go and pursue their own brand of millinerianism. However, what it says about the state of politics and the outlook towards the Palestinians is quite revealing. The Palestinian struggle has been emptied of any meaning and completely de-contextualised. Instead of a cry for freedom and an aspiration for universal change, it is now treated as a parable for the wickedness of humanity. It is easy then to take sides not based on a genuine understanding of the political dynamics, but on the basis of cartoonish over-simplifications that are entirely wrong.

The Israelis are cast as the villains because they dared to spoil the virgin land with their western technology and intensive agriculture, while the Palestinians are the good guys because they retain the connection to the land. Aside from the fact that the relationship with the land is a Fascist invention that has its roots in Nazi ideology, it is also an extremely inaccurate depiction of Palestinian society. The Palestinian struggle for self-determination is the beginning of the process of by which the Palestinians can control their own destiny and build a modern nation. A modern nation, with modern infrastructure, not 'sustainable' compost toilets, there are plenty of those in the camps.

"People are being driven from the land, denied access to essential resources, closed into urban ghettoes and severed from their natural heritage". A process known otherwise as urbanization which every modern society goes through. The Green Intifada eco-imperialists are not resisting Israeli occupation, they are trying to resist the process of modernisation, a sentiment expressed clearly on their website. If their vision prevails, and I have to admit their is no real danger of this because the Palestinian people have not struggled for decades to end up in the 19th century, but if their vision prevails it would be entirely consistent with what Israel wants: a docile Palestinian population that is happy to live of the land with no aspirations.

Ain't gonna happen. Go look for your agrarian paradise somewhere else.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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