INTERVIEW: How to rekindle Arab interest in Palestine?

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 17 Sep 2015

The survival of the Palestinian cause depends firmly on an innovative and more holistic approach to the longest running Arab ordeal, media-history expert Nahawand Elkadry Eissa tells Ahram Online

Professor of Media Studies at the Lebanese University Nahawand Elkadry Eissa (Photo: Dina Ezzat)

It has become impossible to overlook the fact that Arab interest, both public and official, for the once central “Palestinian cause”, has dwindled. It has reached the point that it seems that the issue is almost off the agenda entirely, though there is still the possibility of this being reversed, according to Nahawand Elkadry Eissa.

A professor of Media Studies at the Lebanese University, Eissa is not just an academic. She is also an activist following the projection of the Palestinian issue in the media, before and after the IT revolution.

Eissa, who was in Cairo this week to take part in the “Oral History in Times of Change,” jointly organised by the Women and Memory Forum and the Supreme Council for Culture to run for three days, told Ahram Online that the first step towards rectifying the current state of disinterest in the Palestinian ordeal is to recognise the reasons for this.

“I think we are talking about several factors here – some Palestinian, some Arab and some related to the issue of globalisation,” Eissa said. “And collectively they forced a receding interest in the issue that was once really in the hearts of minds of the Arab peoples and certainly a top interest for Arab governments,” she added.

On the Palestinian front Eissa is convinced that the internal squabbles have been detrimental to the issue as it took the focus away from the real plight to the confrontation between two Palestinian groups.

“Then there was this incremental and very unfortunate stereotyping of the cause. This means that we kept talking on and on for decades about our relation with the enemy, which is perfectly legitimate and should be done but which is no longer capturing the minds of the people given that it is in a sense amounting to déjà-vu,” Eissa said.

This attitude, she added, inevitably means that the Palestinians for the most part decided to overlook all their mistakes and shortcomings.

“This caused a considerable decline in Palestinian strength living up to the fast-growing challenges that are facing their cause,” Eissa suggested.

On the Arab front, Eissa argued that most ruling regimes who had for decades used the Palestinian cause to justify their dictatorship under the pretext of ‘the Arab national security interest does not allow for any disagreements’ are now more worried by the opposition they are facing from their own people.

On the public Arab front, she said, the growing “deconstructing discourse offered by Arab satellite channels are redefining the peoples’ identity away from the collective Arab personality into an ethnic based entity – so we are no longer talking about the Arabs but about the Sunnis and Shias, the Kurds and Druze and so on”.

“This is creating new conflicts that are taking away the energy and interest of the people from what used to be the ‘Arab struggle’, Eissa argued. She added that the longer this ethnic-based discourse continues there would be a moment whereby the rational for a ‘Jewish state’ could be established in the Arab world.

“I think the pursuit of dividing the Arab world into religious and ethnic groups is precisely designed to serve this particular cause of justifying the need for a “Jewish state.” This was probably the reason that the civil war in Lebanon ignited and it was also probably the reason to project Iran as the new enemy of the Arabs,” Eissa said.

“Arab societies are firmly driven away from any sense of collectiveness into excessive individualism, this is not a mindset that could help the Palestinian cause which is based on collective consciousness,” Eissa argued.

She added that in this sense globalisation has not been at the service of the Palestinian cause.

This said, Eissa argues, it is still possible to reverse the current course. “For example, if we get better at using social media, which is one of the big advancements of globalisaton, we could remind the world of our ordeal and underline the continued suffering and the right to fairness.”

Eissa is particularly impressed with several blogs and websites that have been established to collect Palestinian history -- particularly the oral history of the last survivors of the Nakkba -- and to present them to the world through innovative modalities.

“There has been a great deal of archiving but what we need is to refresh our memory and to remind the world – this means that we should go beyond archiving the ordeal into discussing and remembering why it happened and to argue how unfairness could be undone,” she said.

According to Eissa there is a desperate need to re-conceptualise the Palestinian cause.

As such, she finds an urgent need to re-introduce the humanitarian -- and not just the political -- Palestinian story.

“Then we need to decide on the target audience - both in our own societies and in the world,” she argued.

Eissa is aware that it is a long process but she is also convinced that it is also already time to get started.

It is an open question, she argued, whether or not the Palestinian cause could fully regain its centrality but what is certain is that it could receive a much bigger space in the public agenda than it does now.


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