There is an Arabic word you come across a lot when Palestinians talk about their future. Sumud means steadfastness and it has turned into a strategy: When the imbalance of power is so pronounced, the most important thing to do is to stay put.
Staying put against overwhelming odds is regarded as a victory.
However, it is more than just a word. It is the look in Rifqua al-Kurd’s eyes as she fights eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. She lives out of boxes because when the police throw her out and the settlers move in she does not want the clothes thrown into the street.
Sumud is the tenacity with which Mohammed Hussein Jibor, a farmer, clings to a rock-strewn patch of land in the South Hebron hills in 38?C heat. His water cistern has been destroyed three times this year because he does not have a permit for it, even though the court acknowledges it is his land.
Sumud sums up the attitude of the Bedouins struggling to stay in 45 unrecognized villages in the Negev, without a supply of water, electricity or schools. Once the entire Negev was theirs, now only 6 percent is. Israel wants to put the Bedouins in townships while establishing 130 Jewish villages and agricultural settlements on the land.
“They want Jews to be Bedouin and Bedouins to be Ashkenaz [European Jews],” the Bedouin’s M ember of the Knesset Talab al-Sana said.
Sumud crops up in some unexpected places — not only East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza, but in Jaffa, Lod and in Arab communities all throughout Israel. As next month looms and with it the attempt by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to get a declaration of statehood from the UN, the spotlight has swiveled on to these.
This is not a casual shift, as it could affect outcomes. If Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank and allows it to join with Gaza, the result could be two states — a Palestinian one alongside an Israeli one.
However, if you accompany that with a civil rights movement inside Israel, the goal could be very different — a secular, democratic state “for all its citizens,” where Jew, Christian and Muslim are equal.
A one-state solution in which Jewish citizens lose an inbuilt majority. The end of Zionism, no less.
More than 100,000 Arabs stayed on after 1948 and today number more than 1.5 million, roughly a fifth of the population of Israel. The ’48 Arabs, as they are known, are no longer seen as separate, exclusive or privileged. After so many years, their fight for civil rights within Israel is a struggle most Palestinians under occupation can identify with. It was not always thus.
They were known pejoratively as “insiders,” according to the dissident Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, who has written a book about them.
Trying to be “good Arabs” in Jewish eyes was tantamount to collaboration in Arab ones. However, much has changed.
“The people in the West Bank understood what the minorities inside Israel felt like, after years of deriding them for being lesser Palestinians, and that when the main impulse of the power that controls everything in your daily life is expulsionist, staying put is quite an achievement,” Pappe said.
Another historian, Sami Abu Shehadeh, is doing his doctoral thesis on Jaffa as the major Arab cultural and economic center during the Palestine Mandate period. It had its own Arabic press, eight cinemas, five hospitals and about 120,000 people. After the 1948 war, 3,900 were left.