Remembering the Nakba as ‘the power of individuals to push back against colonization’

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 14 May 2024

World-acknowledged rights and development activist Anurdha Mittal talked about “the moral imperative to join the struggle” for freedom in Palestine.



Speaking Monday at a talk hosted by Alternative Policy Solutions, a research centre affiliated with the American University in Cairo, she argued that civil society can have a big impact supporting Palestinian rights.

“The horrors against humanity that have been unleashed against the people in Gaza [over the past seven months] by the industrial military companies that get rich every time a child dies [in Gaza]” have to be stopped – sooner rather than later,” Mittal said to the applause of the audience who attended her talk with APS chair Rabab El-Mahdi.

The world, Mittal said, has to act to put pressure to end the war and if governments fail then it is up for civil society to take the lead fast and forward.

“As individuals, we have a lot of power…it is our moral imperative to join the struggle,” she added.

Mittal, who is of Indian origin but currently lives in the US, is the founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, an action-oriented think-tank that works on social, economic and environmental issues. She is also a member of the independent board of the famous American ice cream company Ben & Jerry's.

Throughout decades of activism, Mittal has worked considerably with indigenous communities in many parts of the world to help them stop or cope with the “colonial” land grabs.

For indigenous communities, Mittal said, land is not just a piece of territory but rather an essence of personhood. For indigenous communities, she stated, there is a particular relationship with the land in a “social, ecological and spiritual way.”

“Lands do not just belong to the living but also to the ancestors,” she stated.

For a long time, she added, colonization has been based on grabbing the land by force not just to take control of the land but also to negate the culture and identity. This, she said, applies to the people of Palestine whose land was grabbed by force as it applies to other peoples in Africa and Asia.

According to Mittal, the forms and patterns of colonization today might have changed in some ways compared to those of the 19th and 20th centuries, but in essence they remain the same. She argued that colonization, and consequently land-grabbing, is still being exercised through the “coming together of capitalism.”

It is up to civil society to make sure that these agents of harsh capitalism are denied access to investment of all sorts, she added.

Leading academic bodies worldwide must refrain from or pull out their investments in such companies that are working to facilitate colonization in its new form, she said. The past few months, she noted, saw a lot of push in this direction with the upscale lobbying for leading American and European universities to stop all investments of their endowments in companies or countries accomplices to all forms of colonization.

This, she said, is about exercising boycott and introducing sanctions.

“This is what Palestinians have been asking of the world for a very long time, and unfortunately at this moment in time, it is practically impossible for any country to introduce new games.

For example, she said, the ice cream company that she is associated with has closed business in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a statement the company issued a couple of years ago, Ben & Jerry's said: “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

According to Mittal, other examples of non-governmental work include the pulling out of investments of university endowments from companies working in or with colonial contexts, in the occupied Palestinian territories or elsewhere.

“I have always been told that boycotts do not work; but we have the example of South Africa,” she said. If boycott campaigns, including the famous BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), were as futile as claimed to be by some, Mittal said, it would not have been necessary for over half of the American states to pass laws that prohibit any association with this movement.

“It is a myth [that boycott] doesn’t work; it works and this is why they work against it,” she stated. She added that in the absence of an efficient international law system that stands up in the face of the killing of tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, the total deprivation of access to education for the whole students of Gaza and the shocking destruction of all Gaza cities, it is the people who have to act to make sure that such horrors are stopped and that the culprits do not continue to enjoy impunity.

“We have to do it ourselves – not just for Palestinians but for ourselves and for humanity,” Mittal stated. “For as long as we have breath in our bodies we need to continue speaking up,” she added.

Mitall’s talk was the second discussion that APS held this week to mark 75 years of Palestinian Nakba – as the ordeal continues to unfold in many ways, not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank.

The first talk took place on Sunday, also at the American University in Cairo, with Atef Abou Seif. The Palestinian writer and minister of culture addressed the war of narratives on pre-Nakba Palestine by Israel and its Western allies on the one hand and the Palestinians on the other hand.

On Tuesday afternoon, Fadwa Barghouti, the spouse of prominent Fattah figure Marwan Barghouti who was arrested by Israel in April 2002, spoke at the AUC campus in Tahrir Square.


Revisit Al-Ahram Weekly's special files on Nakba.

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