Stop telling Palestinians to be ‘resilient’ – the rest of the world has failed them
Viewed from Palestine, it’s hard to disagree that we’ve perhaps seen one of the most inflammatory weeks in recent memory. In just a few days, several extremely sensitive events have coincided to devastating effect: the culmination of weekly protests in the Gaza Strip, the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the 70th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba (from the Arabic, “Immense Catastrophe”) and the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Throw in for good measure Israel and Iran’s recent clash over the occupied Golan Heights and it seems that more than ever, the region is something of a tinderbox.
As 800 guests arrived in Jerusalem to bear witness to the US embassy’s relocation – 33 of them representatives from foreign embassies – protesters in the Gaza Strip were being shot and killed. In what’s been dubbed the Great March of Return, Palestinians in Gaza (the vast majority of whom are refugees, or descended from refugees) have amassed at the edge of the territory to demand their right of return, a right that is protected under international law. So far, their demands have been met with a brutal show of force, with more than 50 Palestinians shot dead, including children, paramedics and journalists.
Much is being made of the US’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and perhaps rightly so. Undoubtedly, that change is symbolically resonant. But there is a risk that focusing too narrowly on that issue will obscure a far deeper issue: the continued destruction of the fabric of Palestinian society and ongoing attacks on Palestinian civil liberties.
As others have reported, the embassy move does little to change the actual reality of Palestinians living under occupation in the city. What it does do is remove any naive notion that the US is acting as an honest broker for peace.
Those who are calling the embassy move the death of the two-state solution would do well to look more critically at recent history. Israel has aggressively ramped up the construction of settlements; the Israeli military has killed scores of Palestinian protesters in Gaza (not just this week), and civilian infrastructure has been damaged and destroyed across the Occupied Territories. All the while, world governments have failed to hold Israel to account.
Instead, as Israel entrenches its occupation, the Palestinian National Authority continues its state-building efforts and the international development industry’s failures become clear, the Palestinians are being asked to develop a greater capacity for “resilience”.
The ‘resilience’ agenda
Resilience, it seems, is the buzzword of the day. It’s particularly popular in the field of international development, where it’s used to evoke a capacity to “bounce back”, survive, or more optimistically “thrive” in the face of extreme adversity. International organisations have turned their attention to promoting “resilience” both individually and at community level, to better equip people to cope and overcome adversity.
Looking at the state of Palestinian society and standards of living today, it’s abundantly clear that the international development sector has failed in its mission. And yet a “resilience industry” has taken hold in Palestine, and the discourse of resilience is everywhere. It has crept into the operational language of major international organisations, including the United Nations Development Programme, an organisation that recently hosted two major international conferences focusing on the development of Palestinian resilience.
This agenda is disingenuous on a number of levels, and as it becomes a driving force in the international development agenda in Palestine, it needs to be viewed more critically than it currently is. For a start, it’s not clear how its achievements are to be evaluated. But more than that, Palestinians don’t need lessons in resilience from an international community that has utterly failed in its stated mission.
By promoting Palestinian resilience instead of holding Israel accountable for its multiple breaches of international law, and its involvement in the destruction of Palestinian society, the international community is masking its own failures – and shamefully abdicating its responsibility to the people it claims to be helping.
Dr Emma Keelan contributed to this article. She is currently pursuing an MA in Global Health at the University of Manchester’s Humanitarian Conflict Response Institute. Her research involves conducting fieldwork on Palestine, resilience and international NGOs.