All that I owe (to the 70 years of the Palestinian struggle to return)*


I want to talk about a continuing process that anyone who wants to get free goes through. Nowadays, we hear a lot of people demanding for accuracy against fake news. As though there was ever a time when corporate media spoke the truth about people’s lives and aspirations. Mass media would make it appear that all we want is transparency and the freedom of information. Yet, and as one Marxist thinker clarifies, “[i]t is not information that wants to be free, it’s us.” **

How to get free was rarely a question I had asked myself. Not until I met people working together for specific projects: solicitation drives for disaster stricken communities, literacy programs for urban and rural poor communities, educational discussions on imperialist wars and peoples resistance. At some point, it became clear to me that freedom is the practice and prerogative of the collective. It is always through others that one gets to struggle to be free.

I first learned about the Intifada in a class in Political Sociology in the mid-90s at the University of the Philippines. One of the class requirements was to participate in a team that will debate on this statement, “Resolve that Palestine be free from the occupation of Israel.” One gets to choose her position through a lottery. The days that followed were dedicated to research on an argument that I needed to defend as part of a debate team: Free occupied Palestine. And this was by accident, not by choice.

A batchmate from an organization that advocates for justice and peace volunteered to provide me some pertinent reading materials. He was a student assistant of a Marxist professor who was abroad and had entrusted his office to the same student. I got all the materials I needed. In fact, it was more than I can digest.

The debate happened. The winning team was decided by the audience through a vote. The pro-Israel team had it. Their main argument was that Palestinian freedom was a utopian ideal. The status quo, which was Israeli occupation, may continue until Israel and Palestine reached a two-state solution. I was furious. I told my friends soon after that this strategy of learning is absurd. There is nothing debatable about Palestinian freedom.

Panel on Recognizing Our Struggles As One during the First Conference on Palestine

For the first time in my life, I was gripped by something that is larger than myself. I learned about the Intifada in a systematic way before I learned about the people’s protracted war waged by my very own people —the communist New People’s Army (NPA). Of course, I’ve heard about them when I was a kid during Martial Law years under Marcos. Our household referred to the NPA as “Nice People Around.” But after Marcos was toppled down by People Power 1986 everyone, save for that one history teacher back in senior high school, was talking about democratic space and reform. So I grew up thinking we were okay.

We were not. And to this day, we are not. But my people are fighting. In a society so stratified like the Philippines, the poor are getting poorer as the rich get richer by the hour. There is a very tiny portion of the “middle class” who might learn anything about the Philippine revolution in ways that are biased to the interest of the local oligarchs and their imperialist master. So if we ever learn about the Filipino national democrats-socialists, it is almost always that they are evil, terrorist, stupid, and all that legacy that a semi-colony inherits from McCarthy.

The ways in which I know that my people are fighting I owe to my encounter with Palestine. It was the Palestinian struggle, the Intifada, that made me open to understanding our very own struggle. That Sociology professor who included Palestine in our syllabus and that Political Science professor who hired a student research assistant who played the part of Robinhood by redistributing a collection of literature on the Palestinian struggle — all that convergence of chance encounters— made it possible for me to come to an understanding of Palestine and the Philippines.

But none of those conditions were accidental. Having academics including Palestine in their class discussion and reading collection is a symptom of an organized effort that emanates from an organized force. And this is none other than the Palestinian people and their fight against occupation. It is the It the revolutionary struggle of the Palestinian people that prepared me to learn about other revolutionary struggles. I owe the the Palestinian people so much. And it is one of those debts that I mean to pay. All the rest I am ready to cancel.

Poster of the First Annual Conference of Palestine Lives held on May 12, 2018 at the Hunter College-City University of New York.
What I owe to Palestinian freedom is an understanding of the social relations that reproduce conditions of unfreedom. Apartheid is not just a condition that takes place in any occupied land like Palestine. Apartheid is also a social relation between colonizer and colonized. What mainly clouds a sober understanding of this relation is none other than the current blackmail that also functions as a prohibition to think about dominant and purist claims to identity. Zionism associates itself with an ethnic identity as it denies the plurality of Jewish lives so that it can portray the resistance to occupation as anti-Semitism.

To say that Palestine is in a “state of war” or “at war” is to obscure the fact that it has been occupied. The occupation of Palestine by Israel since 1948 is a state of war that breeds resistance. The terrorist tagging of Palestinians, the racism against the Arab people and the demonization of Islam are crucial to maintaining the architecture of a settler colonial state that now rides on western imperialist logic of accumulation of wealth by mass murder.

What started out as luck in a lottery has now become a necessity. Here, we see how revolutionary movements inspire us into new ways of thinking and living in ways that are practically attuned to social realities. Here, we see how revolutionary movements shape academic debates and endeavors in meaningful and fruitful ways. Here, we see how the problem and practice of academic freedom is ultimately the problem and practice of revolutionary politics.


Sarah Raymundo teaches at the University of the Philippine Diliman-Center for International Studies. She is the Chairperson of the Philippines-Venezuela Bolivarian Friendship Association. She also chairs the International Committee of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). She is also the External Vice Chair of the Philippine Anti-Imperialist Studies (PAIS) and a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.

Postcript: The largest and the oldest refugee population in the world are the Palestinians. Their suffering is a grave assault to our humanity. To support their right of return is a duty we owe humanity. Those of us who are not in Palestine have the opportunity to to this by peaceful means. One way to do this is to understand and support the BDS campaign. It is a peaceful instrument for historical and political understanding. While BDS is not the ceiling, it culminates a particular moment in our struggle for international solidarity. Its success is a win for every neo-colony and oppressed and exploited groups worldwide. Read more on BDS here:

*This article was read in a panel on Philippine-Palestine Solidarity at the First Annual Conference of Palestine Lives on May 12, 2018, Hunter College-City University of New York.

**Beller, J. 2017. The Message is Murder: Substrates of Computational Capital. London: Pluto Press

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