Academia and politics: More Nakba profiteering cliques

Academia and politics: More Nakba profiteering cliques
5 min read
31 Aug, 2015
Comment: The second part of Samer Jaber's study of the people who win big from the continuing fall-out from the Nakba focuses on academia and the Palestinian political leadership.
Palestinian leaders must deliver coherent strategies, not exploit crises for political gain [Anadolu]

Since the beginning of the Palestinian refugee crisis, academics have approached the camps as training sites.

Graduate students come for internships and to gain experience, write their research, produce dissertations on topics relevant to refugees' lives -all reporting to no one except their supervisors.

Academics' work stretches from documentation of the daily lives and quotidian struggle of camp dwellers to individual and collective memories of the refugees. Accordingly, Palestinian refugee camps have become laboratories and the refugees have become the subjects.

There are cults of academics, pundits and think tanks who carry out different kinds of academic work studying the Palestinian refugees' communities for the sake of academic work alone.
     [Academics'] work does not mitigate the harsh conditions resident refugees face, nor provide solutions to their plight


They establish their careers and bolster their resumes. Their work does not mitigate the harsh conditions resident refugees face, nor provide solutions to their plight.

These academics, local and international, distinguish between activism and academic work. Thus the produced "knowledge" does not raise the consciousness of the subaltern classes who live in the refugee camps to enable them to change their living conditions.

Palestinian factional leadership

Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, both at local and national levels, tend to use demagogic rhetoric when it comes to critical issues such as refugees - without proposing concerted actions towards a strategy for struggle or outlining a clear political programme.

They merely make promises of action without a timeframe and devoid of any reasonable strategy. They are parasitic and privileged groups who live off the Palestinian cause.

The mass of refugees in the camps and other subaltern groups describe this opportunistic leadership as "Nakba profiteering".

Such profiteers exploit the passion of the masses and the collective good for their own ends. The Palestinian leadership has turned to more lucrative and profitable activities for their own petty ambitions, thereby compromising the interests of an entire social stratum.
     Palestine needs an organic radical leadership


Ambitious politicians call for the right of return of refugees to their homeland - but in reality, behind closed doors, they sell out and compromise.

At different political levels they use dogmatic rhetoric which resonates with many Palestinians, in order to gain status without having to take any concrete action towards realising Palestinians' shared goals. Concrete tangible action means strategising, organising people and harnessing resources that are needed in the struggle for return.

The common denominator among membership in these groups is that they are opportunists who have vested interests in maintaining the situation as it is - so their business can continue to blossom. The critical difference between them and the Israeli colonial power is that Israel wants to terminate the right of return, while these elites need the dream in order to pay token lip-service and harvest their populist rewards.

What is needed is a grassroots leadership that represents the interest of both the majority of the Palestinian people in Palestine, and the shatat, or diaspora Palestinians, who see in the right of return a basic human right that represents the core character of the Palestinian cause.

A leadership is needed which sees the return as an urgent need of the subaltern classes who live in refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon Jordan and inside Palestine. These refugees  have been struggling on two fronts, the socio-economic front in which they have wrestled with poverty, and the socio-political to realise the right of return to their homes.

Palestine therefore needs an organic radical leadership.

Read the first part of Samer Jaber's commentary here: The Nakba profiteering cliques


The relationship between profiteering and NGO-isation

The failure of Palestinian political parties to carry out their role effectively in internal politics, combined with the NGO-isation has moved the struggle from grassroots popular actions into offices, the virtual world and closed halls. This does not include many Nakba commemoration activities that moved from public squares to private areas.

This failure has brought about the situation where the focus of the struggle is around legal representation of the Palestinian refugee question in front of the international agencies as part of an NGO-isation strategy.

Thus the right of return has become a debate referenced by international law - and instead of the developing of a holistic dynamic political strategy, of which international law would be a part, the NGOs compartmentalise the struggle in ways which meet their and their donors' mandates. 

The situation on the ground

There is no social class called "refugee". Palestinian refugee communities have a fluid social formation. The class structure is amorphous, composed as it is of different kinds of subaltern classes - working class, lumpen-proletariat, petty bourgeoisie and lower middle class. It not given an opportunity to develop and evolve as a united organic community.

The majority of refugees are forced to live on the margins of society, on the edge of productive structures, though they have the capability and skills for work.

These people were forced from their homeland, and, as a consequence, lost their indigenous economic base and their normal community structure fundamental for their development.

The treatment of the Palestinian refugee issue as purely humanitarian and in need of relief - rather than political and in need of justice - over the past 67 years has restricted the development of Palestinian groups and has stalled their future as an organic community with a sustainable socio- economic and socio-political life.

It has also failed by design to provide civil rights for Palestinian refugees in host countries such as Lebanon, or to preserve their human rights and dignity.


Samer Jaber is a Palestinian analyst and activist. The first part of his two-part series can be read here: The Nakba profiteering cliques


Opinions stated in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.