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Thursday, February 17, 2011

'Palestine' an issue for Western liberals, not for Arabs

This sure goes a long way to explaining Barack Obama's 'Palestinian' obsession.
The power and allure of Palestine in Western radical circles is extraordinary. Palestine is the only issue they get excited about. But there is nothing progressive in their pro-Palestine fervour. It is not driven by future-oriented demands for economic development in a Palestinian homeland in the West Bank or Gaza. Instead it is driven by a view of Palestinians as the ultimate victims, the hapless and pathetic children of the new world order, who need kindly, wizened Westerners to protect them from Big Bad Israel.

Today's pro-Palestine leftism is more anthropological than political. It treats Palestinians less as a people who ought to have certain democratic rights and more as an intriguing tribe to be prodded and preserved. Some Western radicals have even adopted the fashions of their favourite tribe. Step on to any university campus in the West, or join any left-wing march, and you'll see concerned-looking youths wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf, a politically correct version of blacking up.

This is the politics of pity rather than solidarity. Groups of Western middle-class youth have taken Palestinian pity holidays in the West Bank and Gaza. They turn up and marvel at the dignity of this beautiful besieged people, like those wives of old Victorian colonialists who discovered they rather liked the African tribes they had been sent to Christianise. "I've never met people like the Palestinians. They're the strongest people I've ever met", gushed British peace activist Kate Burton, who hit the headlines in 2006 after being kidnapped by a Palestinian faction in Gaza.

Of course, Westerners have often gone on moral adventures overseas, whether as missionaries or revolutionaries. What's different about Palestinian pity tourism is that these Westerners seek neither to convert Palestinians to a religion nor to take up arms with them, but simply to empathise with them, to immerse themselves in what they consider to be the ultimate victimhood experience. One pity-tripper wrote in the New Statesman about her experience living "under siege" in Bethlehem. "I'm beginning to understand what it must be like to be a Palestinian," she said.

That is the ultimate aim of these empathy tours, to have an experience that makes real the politics of victimhood that so many of these Western activists subscribe to. Where some bored Western youth who feel their everyday lives lack zest go on bungee-jumping trips in Peru, Western leftists who feel politics at home has been zapped of urgency go on tank-stopping trips in Palestine.
Read the whole thing.

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