- Published on Monday, 18 June 2012 12:50
By Mosab Qashoo
Anyone paying attention to what is going on in the Palestinian struggle will have heard about Mahmoud Sarsak, the Palestinian footballer exceeding three months on hunger strike. Meanwhile, the PA and PLO been publicizing their upcoming meeting with the head of the Israeli Kadima party, Shaul Mofaz, leaving a striking absence of any official comment on Sarsak's situation.
It seems very bizarre that the PA and PLO ignore one of their national heroes, a rising star in the society's most popular sport, who is on the brink of death. He is the easiest person to defend. He has never been involved in politics, is not a member of a political party, he had all the necessary Israel-issued permits and was one of the youngest people to be on the Palestinian National soccer team.
Above all, he has not been convicted by Israel of any wrongdoing despite them having three years to pin a charge on him. Even if we consider the PA and the PLO more cynically, any politician would see such a man in such a situation as a gift from the political gods. Imagine the affirmation they would receive if they negotiated his release. Imagine the photo-ops of officials visiting the soccer team Sarsak was on his way to joining when he was seized by Israel. They could even organize children's soccer games in his honor. Yet they do not take advantage of this opportunity either for selfless nor for self-serving gains.
While all this might seem odd, it is actually quite a cunning move on their part. The Palestinian Authority maintains its power by channeling Palestinian energy into creating a picture of normalcy.
They provide the Palestinians in the West Bank with the symbolic functions that a real sovereign state would have, while behind the scenes, everything is controlled by Israel. For example, the Palestinian passport, seen as one of the most important symbols of national identity, is still inscribed with the Israeli-issued military ID number assigned to that person. These celebrated symbols of statehood do have Palestinian colors and symbols on them but they are still functionally Israeli documents. While Palestinian officials are pretending they are making real changes, such changes are impossible to make while Israel still occupies the territories and prevents the refugees from returning.
The empty symbolic gestures of the PA and the PLO serve to obscure the occupation from view as much as possible, especially within their "Ramallah bubble".
The brave activism demonstrated by the various waves of hunger strikers is a direct threat to their scheme. They want Palestinians to forget the occupation and its brutality. The hunger strikers bring it front and center. They represent a decentralized and informal "people power" that cannot be easily contained and controlled, at degrees unseen since the 1st intifada. The Palestinian Authority fear an intifada perhaps more than Israel, as it would erase their final remaining excuse to stay in existence, the symbolic formation of a normalized Palestinian state with formal negotiators, armies and ambassadors.
The PA has an official minister for Prisoners, which makes the presence of political prisoners permanent by normalizing the current system. In an intifada, the people speak and act directly for themselves. For Sarsak, each person could be his/her own prisoners minister. Most importantly, an intifada would be a direct confrontation with the occupation that the P.A. so desperately tries to imagine away.
Thus the PA and the PLO have been silent for fear of awakening the people from their collective daydream of non-occupied life. The narrative of Mahmoud Sarsak, heroic soccer star taking on the occupation armed only with an empty stomach, would have the ability to bring the intifada back, and the P.A. knows it.