The 2018 Edward Said Memorial Lecture with Dr. Sami AlBanna

Video & Transcript
Dr. Sami AlBanna
Transcript No. 508 (September 19, 2018)

Dr. Sami AlBanna:

I want to thank the Jerusalem Fund for bestowing on me the honor to give the Edward Said lecture 15 years after his death. For over 35 years until the end of his life, Edward and I were very close friends. A world towering intellectual, Edward always spoke truth to power, and to everyone, including his friends. Speaking the truth and being consistent in any moral position along with his exceptional scholarship is what enabled Edward to explore the role of the orientalist and to defend the rights of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, today where demagoguery, alternative realities, and bullies that are in power are rampant, the voice of the people that speaks the truth to power remains faint and limited. I, along with the progressives worldwide, missed Edward upon his death. I miss him even more today for the absence of his intellectual leadership in a very hard period in the history of the Arabs and the Palestinian peoples.

To understand the current struggle in the Middle East, allow me to frame the current situation by using a quotation from Edward Said from his speech at the University of Washington on May 8, 2003, a few months before his death, titled “Imperial Continuity, Palestine, Iraq, and US Policy”. And I quote,

     “Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.”

Our American empire – and its policies and machinations – is no different from all other empires in the Middle East particularly as applied to Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and other Arab countries. Like all other empires, the US empire manifests itself in its policies and behaviors in the Middle East– frames this knowledge base of subject people, in this case the Arabs, and of course recently Iranians and more it goes–by framing a set of assumptions about the subject, people, their history and their culture. Social science and public discourse are used to expand the imperial knowledge base with more detailed actionable knowledge against the subject peoples in order to control them, manipulate them, and to leverage them for the purposes of the empire. This vast pursuit of conceptual and actionable knowledge as far as the Arab East is concerned was elaborated in Edward Said’s Orientalism and his other works. Similarly, the same insights can be inferred from the extensive work on racism, imperialism, and empire of public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Wilkerson, Iqbal Ahmed, Christopher Hodges, Ralph Nader, Cornel West, France Fanon, Malcolm X, Isabel Wilkerson, W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King and numerous others. The body of that knowledge is vast.

The imperial assumptions on subject people can be summarized as [number] one, Otheration: Otheration of inferior people, such as the Arabs are backward people, albeit, inferior people as compared to the Western persons. These intellectual social and action-oriented processes are no different than what has happened to black Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Africans in Africa, etc. We just make them the Other. We then frame the Other inferior or superior as we want and that becomes allowable. Then the second thing is a frame of supremacy over the subject people, enabling genocide and mass killing such as has been happening to Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenis, and the list is too long to list here. [Number] three is sustaining intervention: pillage by manufacturing consent. This framework of supremacy and empire cannot be sustained without the consent of the citizenry, us in this case–  Noam Chomsky’s characterization of the press as an instrument of the manufacturing of such consent and hence ensuring continued popular support for these imperial policies. Any discussion on Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Arab, Middle East, etc., has to understand this imperial framework as it’s actually applied, hence the struggle for the future of Syria and the future of Palestine.

Let’s talk about Syria. First, I want to start with a point of clarification. The point of clarification is [that] critiques of methods of governance are not equal to calls for the forcible overthrow of these governments. We do that every day here [and] nobody thinks that we’re overthrowing Washington. Saying there are policies that are not acceptable or repressive is not the same as overthrowing the whole regime by force. There are many valid criticisms that one can have against the regime in any country in the Middle East, including Syria. The demand for equality of citizenship, human rights, and democracy are valid demands and must continue. No government however, can or will tolerate raising arms to overthrow the regime, let alone an armed revolt [that is] funded and subsidized by foreign powers.

The war in Syria has gone through, we’re in phase three in that war and phase four is coming soon. Syria has been in a state of war for over seven years approaching now seven and a half actually as we speak. This was a world war in every sense of the word. The war was financed by many regional and international powers like the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Turkey, France, England, the United States, plus several others to an estimate that is now placed at one trillion dollars. Think of that number, not billion, [but] trillion dollars. A thousand billion dollars were invested to arm these various terrorist groups. The war has ended in only one sense; the original objectives declared by the proponents of the war have now become unattainable. These were the objectives: the collapse of the Syrian governmental regime; the removal of President Bashar Al Assad from power; and see the establishment of a weak fragmented regime in Syria similar to the others in Iraq and Libya.

Phase two of the war was to try to promote new groups to fragment Syria. I must point out that phase one effectively ended with the liberation of Aleppo so when Aleppo was liberated, phase one, to all practical degrees the objectives became untenable. So, we went to phase two of the war [which] was to try to promote new groups to fragment Syria, hence the rise of the Kurdish led democratic Syria force which is directly supported by the US and coalition forces as part of this phase. The Tanf base was established and grew into a major operational force to support US forces in Iraq and Syria: the establishment of the southern effort to separate parts of Syria near Israeli forces on the occupied lowlands and in the city of Daraa. At the same time, after the liberation of Aleppo, the forces concentrated in Al Ghouta, close to Damascus, which was being bombed regularly, daily from Al Ghouta. This is a map showing where al Tanf is. The reason the location is very important, please note, [is because] it’s in a point where the intersection of Iraq, Syria, and Jordan are, and it has a direct line into Jordan. This is how it’s supplied and it’s used as a base on Syria and on Iraq and that’s still operational. So, keep that in mind because we’re coming to it and there are some development this week that may be interesting.

After the end of phase two, which was ended with the liberation of Daraa and the Golan just about a month and a half ago actually, the Syrian regime now controls over 75 percent of the land. Eighty five percent of the population, all major cities and towns except Idlib and Al-Raqqah, are under government control. The areas outside the control of the government as we speak are the city and district of Idlib, which is in the north and surrounding areas in the north occupied by Turkey, large areas east of [the] Euphrates [river] and Al-Tanf US airbase.

David Ignatius writing in the Washington Post on August 30th 2018, defines the current US policy as, “Right now our job is to help create a quagmire for Russia and Syrian regime until we get what we want.”  Says one administration official explaining the effort to resist [the] Idlib onslaught, “This approach involves reassuring the three key US allies on Syria’s border, [which are] Israel, Turkey, and Jordan, of continued American involvement.” Phase three commenced after the liberation of Al Ghouta. This phase saw the expansion of the US presence in the east of the Euphrates and the expansion of the US bases attempts this expansion throughout 2018. The US has been sending troops and expanding a tenth airbase and expanding its presence in the east of Euphrates. The creation of a tenth and another estimated to be 20 bases in east Syria have all been done without the approval of the legitimate government of Syria, the knowledge of US citizens—I doubt many in here would have known about it—or the approval from the US Congress. Twenty US bases operational in the east, aside from Al Tanf. Al Tanf is a major base and these are field bases and so on.

The battle for Idlib is gaining momentum, it will likely start no later than the end of September, and probably will be continued in October of this year. This escalation we are witnessing if Idlib is liberated because the biggest losers are the terrorists, Turkey, the US and its allies. However as of September 17, two days ago, [there was] an agreement between Turkey and Russia. This is the Astana meeting between Erdogan and Putin. There might be no battle but an approach to return the Syrian state without war and that is why the drums of war have subsided at least this week. Now The Washington Institute, in a policy paper published on September 11 of this year provided the following estimates of the fighters in the area of Idlib, and I quote,

     “Evaluating the exact number in Idlib today is therefore difficult but it’s certainly much larger than the 30,000 figure generally quoted and probably double that.”

I must point few things. It’s actually, the majority of estimates in Europe and Russia is more like sixty to seventy thousand. It’s in the state that they are saying thirty thousand. Second, there are more than ten thousand trained fighters among these terrorist group that are from your (inaudible) speaking regions. That’s how the Russian announcement declared ten thousand with their families and everything and then there is another five thousand to eight thousand estimates that are from China. That is the real problem. What do we do with 25,000 plus families plus 50,000 more! Should Syria take over that! President Carter (?????) but more is needed to end the violence in Syria. That’s the end of quote from President Carter.

Now on the other hand, President Carter is calling for peace and for ways to reach arrangements to build Syria, yet the current US policy is tending to more war and more expansion of the mission of the illegal US forces in east Syria. Ignatius and the aforementioned opinion page elaborate the objectives of the current US policy, basically. I want to read this along with a quote. He says, “US goals in Syria have been sketched publicly by Pompeo and Mattis: withdrawal of all Iranian commanded forces from the country rather than just 50 miles buffer zone along the Syrian Israeli border as in the deal Russia arranged; and a political transition that can prevent Syria from becoming a terrorist base again and stabilizing enough, and so forth; and wants more involvement.”

So, there are two forces that are acting now, and one is, a bulk of opinions seems to [want to] expand because it’s all contingent on what happens in Iraq and…. I don’t want to go there because that’s another huge area to discuss. So, for that there is expansion of forces both in Iraq, in Tanf and in eastern Syria, and forces have been moving there, pouring as a matter of fact [in] the last few months. Second, there is another tendency to say, “Look, let’s call it quits. This is becoming too expensive,” and actually president Trump yesterday in a tweet—and then he had a press conference—said exactly that we should find a way to really withdraw from there. So, who is going to win there! I do not know.

Now the future of Syria: the end of the battle of Idlib will open the door of the following developments that will likely be addressed over the subsequent 18 months. The next battle is for the east of the Euphrates and for the ending of the separatist enclave, which is supported by the US. Ending US presence in Syria, ending Turkish occupation of territories in the north of Syria, return of millions of refugees, [which] the United Nations estimates is about nine million. That’s also in, you know, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan and a little bit in Iraq; and then there is refugees inside Syria too. I mean already over 1.5 million refugees have returned, so that is a good sign. Reconstruction of Syria which has already started in earnest. We are living through the start of an important political transformation for Syria to a more democratic and more inclusive regime. The future of Syria and the Syrian people is bright and will be important for the rest of the Arab world. The return of a unified free Syria as a significant geopolitical power in west Asia and the Arab world is an important factor in balancing forces against Israel and the US.

Here lies the connection why a unified Syria, free of civil war, is important to confront the Israeli expansion and aggression against Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, etc. Every day they bomb somewhere now, and actually, this morning Netanyahu says, “We have the right to bomb anywhere we feel it is.” So here we are, little kid learning from a bigger kid. That’s like the US. This is the link to the “Deal of the Century”: the US, Israel, and their allies are racing to establish new realities in the Middle East before the end of the Syrian war and its three emergences as a regional power.

Now let me go to the “Deal of the Century”, and, of course there’s massive amount of talk about this, and the first thing I want to [do is] just put some cornerstones here. First of all, it’s not really a deal. It’s in the sense that we have experienced over the past 25 years since the Oslo agreement, this weak 25 years Oslo agreement and 40 years [after] the Camp David—so these are decades, I’m not talking months. These deals were based on a long trail of international agreements, UN resolutions and stated policies by countries including the US, European countries, Russia, China, India and the Arab and African countries. These were all based on UN resolutions like 242, 194, etc., with elaborations and details to make the various proponents plausible. In reality, the “Deal of the Century” attempts to supersede that whole body of agreement dating back to 1948. Since 1948 the huge body of international agreements and resolutions has all failed for one reason only, in other details is just for secondary discussion. Israel’s rejection of the international body of these agreements and resolutions is [inaudible]; [this] rejection was sustained by US support in the name of refusal to pressure Israel. Actually, this morning there was an op-ed in [the] New York Times, in which the author basically says, “We have to stop thinking of the US as being supportive of Israel. It’s actually now supportive of the right-wing factions of the Israeli Likud [party].”

Now the “Deal of the Century” is a chain of decisions and impositions devised by the US, reflecting Israeli plans and desires to abrogate all these international agreements since 1948 and to impose a new reality on the Palestinians and the Arabs that may be called “imposing a solution” based on reality, as it is not [based] on right nor on basis of justice. This is a US-Israel imposed solution, not a negotiated solution. It’s devised to undermine the Palestinian rights. It’s a mechanism to establish a new political reality in the Middle East. All the steps that Israel has taken for the past 70 years are being legitimized by the unilateral US actions and decisions. Seventy years of agreement and resolutions supported by the US are to be abrogated. Allow me here to make a very small departure, the approach that we are experiencing now is exactly how North America was colonized and the indigenous populations were pushed into isolated settlements. The process is simple. First, you create realities on the ground; settlements as in Israel’s case. Second, [you] abrogate all previous agreements and declare the new reality as legitimate. We’ve seen this in the US repeated over a hundred and fifty years and Palestine 70. They’ve been doing exactly the same thing, by force if necessary. So, [for example] I declare it as legitimate; if you don’t like it I will use force to subjugate; offer new agreements to the natives, force the natives to accept the new agreements, repeat the process. That is the process that we are experiencing today. And that’s the “Deal of the Century”. 

Essentials of the deal. The essential part of the deal is rejection of the two-state solution, meaning rejection of Palestinian statehood or sovereignty. Second: rejection of the principle of sovereign default Palestinian on any land within historic Palestine. Third: ending the concept of occupation, hence there are no Occupied Territories nor are there refugees and the status known as refugees. And that’s hence the annul decisions and all the other decisions directly from that and transforming the problem from occupation and sovereign rights on the human and economic problem for native populations that are not citizens nor a national group. And incidentally, the Israelis are doing their part from their side which I’m going to talk about, which is what is the law – the Jewishness of the State Law which declares this to the world, saying that only Jews are citizens in Israel. Everybody else, they’re just inhabitants; we’ll find something for them to do. Cutting support for UNRWA and demanding that the UN redefine the meaning of refugees from one evicted by force from Palestine and their descendants to only those evicted by force with no descendants. And that’s the argument that took place in the UN. Literally, where the US said, “No, we want you to redefine this so anybody who left Palestine by force will be considered a refugee. Most of them are dead now, however the descendants have no rights anymore, accepting the principle that all Israeli settlements are part of Israel and hence they cannot be part of any settlement.”

Notice please that the US has rejected this position and policy statements and approval of the UN resolutions for the past 70 years. The last one which was in December 2016 before the Trump administration rejecting the principle that settlements are part of Israel. They are still part of Occupied Territories. Second, offer—and here is the summary actually of what’s being offered—expanded Gaza as an alternative to self-administered area but not a state for the Palestinians; in other words, a limited self-rule under Israeli sovereignty. Three, further fragment the West Bank, and you know if you’re following the news and you know what’s happening in Tal Al Ahmar east of Jerusalem, this is part of the beginning of that phase: link the small pockets to Gaza. Abu Dis as a capital of Palestine was a one-time offer to ease the blow and now you’re the capital of Palestine, says Trump.  Once the Palestinians accept these arrangements offer the Palestinians expanded Gaza, massive and social economic development in an independent state where Gaza is the core connected by few ghettos in the West Bank by fast trains. I actually read a full plan detailing where these trains will be built and how they will be linked so I’m sure many of you have seen it if you’re into that field. The economic component is to build a major airport, major seaport, major ceiling to Port Said. Major land links with trains and highways to lower Sinai and you will see why it’s important for lower Sinai. Economic investment in northern Sinai and Gaza. This component is very important for building a strategic foundation in the broader plan for the middle east which I’ll explain a few minutes later.

The security arrangements are simple: give Israel everything it wants and needs, all security will remain in the hand of Israel including land border control, airport control, seaport control. These include the borders of Israel and the Palestinian entity. Whatever it is now will be called the new Jewish State Law, promulgated a couple months ago as part of this. It makes all non-Jews inhabitants without equal rights. [If} Any other country on the face of this earth announces a law like this, you’d have seen banners go up on racism and so on and yet in the US at least, that’s not true, in Europe we heard nothing about it, very little. This solution, if one calls it that, is a bonanza for real estate investors, albeit Trump and his negotiating team. All of them are real estate developers, the whole negotiating team except one person in the four people that he has assigned. All of them are real estate developers. Most of the Middle East team are actually investors, developers, and lawyers for investments in the settlements in the West Bank.  So they’re not only linked to real estate, they are linked specifically to the settlements in the West Bank.

Now let’s look at the broader geopolitical picture and why is this being pushed here in Washington with some fervor. The proposed solution has a broader implication for the strategic geopolitics in the Middle East. Create a massive economic bloc [that] includes Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and UAE connected by fast land transport. Egypt will provide human resources, massive markets, Suez Canal, oil and gas resources; and Israel will provide military and technology resources, the core of a dynamic new mass industrial market. Jordan serving as a bridge, [to] Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its 2030 strategic plans and the development of the city of Neom in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia.

Now I have to go back to this map because there are many explanations. “The new Saudi Arabia,” and I am quoting here from an article, “The new Saudi Arabian government has come up with a project that could give its economy a boost, a 500 billion [dollar] mega city that will connect to Jordan and Egypt and be powered completely by renewable energy.” And I need to show you something [looks for slide].  If you remember for two years there was a lot of uproar about the islands here [points to projected map], which were traditionally Egyptian, that Egypt surrendered to Saudi Arabia and that was part of the deal because this development area, this is the 500 billion dollar area [that] will link to Sharm el Sheikh. And there will be fast rails to the north, and this is another economic development area. This is important for why this is the case. All these changes are to be paid for—and you’ll love this—by oil-producing Arab countries, not by the US. Hence, [it will] create a sustainable economy. That’s the dream of this plan: sustainable economy for the survival of Israel plus a bonanza for the American business community. This is the ultimate Zionist dream. I’ll call it Zionist Nirvana. Arab oil money plus Israeli military and technology and business, plus Arab markets in Egypt, plus other population centers are possible like Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan.

Fine: why is the US doing this? Is it really to end the Palestinian case? Is it just to find a way for a solution in the Middle East? This is partly yes. These are all factors, but the bigger part is the broader geopolitics. Here are the broader geopolitical factors, global [factors]: [the] US needs to lower its military profile in the Middle East in favor of increasing its profile in east Asia against China and against Russia. If you follow please the published documents from the DOD about 2011 and then there was another one in 2015 because that’s what’s called the “Strategic Outlook Plan”. Strategic Outlook Plan speaks about what? That the major challenge to [the] US is coming from China and the Pacific area and a resurgent Russia. So, I should conclude by saying [inaudible] and the second thing is therefore we need to increase our military posture in the east and lower it in …… this incidentally was the main conflict between the Obama administration and Israel. They wanted to lower the profile and they wanted Israel to stop settlements and reach an agreement. Come Trump and his planners, and so on, say, “Okay we give you anything you want, we’re going out.” And that’s exactly what we are witnessing now.

US planners see the emergence of a massive land and sea-based energy centric, imperial challenge from the Chinese plan called the New Silk Road.  And I have deliberately put this in red because the main concept of the Silk Road which they are building right now is a congregation, if you like, of the economy of Russia, the economy of China and east Siberia development plan, which they started actually just last month. They laid down this huge development project there and they started the land roads. The concept of the road is to connect Beijing, Moscow to Europe by massive rail energy pipeline and to develop the Chinese, Russian, east Siberia economic development region. Note that the red lines have already been upgraded to connect the land Beijing to Moscow to Paris. Actually there were several major celebrations in Moscow as well as in Paris of the first train arriving this toward the end of last year. The work has started on the two huge gas lines, pipelines projects. one is called the northern flow, which flows that way, and the Sothern flow which flows this way: Russia to Europe, Turkey and gas resources from Siberia.

And if you really want to understand the struggle over Ukraine, that, that is the struggle over Ukraine, in a nutshell, and the struggle over Turkey at the same time—because all pipelines today from Russia pass through Ukraine to Europe. And the Russians have decided to divert with these two pipelines. They are very advanced and the northern pipeline, the southern pipeline was delayed a year because of Turkey hitting Russian warplane in Syria, then the rise of the Silk Road and the BRICS countries. The BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and south Africa. BRICS countries economic bloc [pose a] challenge to the supremacy of the US dollars. Every economic forum that has been held in the last three years, in China, Europe, and Russia, many of them were big ones and many of them were openly, that is the key determined—and I should point out that it’s after the collapse of the invasion in Suez in 1956—the world decided that the British sterling pound will not be anymore the reserve currency of the world and the British empire collapsed.

That’s a very important turning point, that’s why this is a very important turning point. Iran particularly and Turkey are candidates for inclusion in the Silk Road if it emerges. It will create the largest sources of energy, oil, gas, and solar, human resources markets, technology industrial base and agricultural base in the history of the world. Ending the Palestinian rights and creation of the landmass economy both based on [inaudible]. KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], Egypt’s market and populations, Jordan, Gaza’s no sign of development, plus KSA and Gulf money and Israeli military technological and business leadership is conceived as a sustainable bloc against Iranian expansion and the Silk Road, especially the version of the Silk Road that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria, east Mediterranean and Russia, and Turkey of course. I don’t want to go through too much departure here but that’s the kind of struggle they are waging as we speak and that’s what is really siting hard in Washington on this. So that’s basically the strategic challenge to the United States and this is the Zionist Nirvana. The Zionist Nirvana: is [to] create this block, Israel becomes the center, [for the] Palestinians, basically give them an opioid and that’s the end of the story.

Let me talk a little bit about the struggle ahead because I think I’m reaching the end of my time. The Palestinian people have suffered a lot for the past century for no fault of their own. It’s really over a century if you really take the settlements at the end of the 19th century. Powers far greater than themselves lined up with the alien settlers to uproot them and deny them basic human civil and political rights. In spite of their small population and the far stronger adversaries, they continued to struggle and demand their right of self-determination on the land of their ancestors and the return to their homes. In this context their achievements are indeed outstanding.  

In our recent visit to Palestine, my wife and I were there last December 2017. It was incredible to witness that the Palestinians have created functioning instruments of state in spite of the ever-present intrusive occupation forces. You can’t turn there without a [Israeli settlement] bloc or military. Palestinian academics, intellectuals, and artists are flourishing, propelled by, forwarded by an unbelievable energy of the youth and civil society. A lot remains to be done and the struggle continues.

Moral ascendancy. I’m going to tell you a story here which has a bearing on today. It’s an old story though. In [the] early 1990s Edward and Maryam returned from an invitation to visit South Africa after the collapse of apartheid. It was the same period when Edward discovered that he had cancer. I went to New York to have dinner with them. Mariam was understandably upset about the news. Edward in his true self, described with precision the doctor’s findings and declared that he will continue to fight it. Indeed his battle with cancer was a lesson to all of us in the love of life and in dying with dignity. The conversation moved to the topic of the trip to South Africa. Edward reported that they met many political academic intellectual and community leaders. He gave a number of lectures and many more discussion sessions. He explained, “I kept asking people I met ‘How did you do it? Why is it that the South Africa struggle could succeed and the Palestinian has not yet triumphed?’” Finally, in a closed meeting with the chairperson of the African National Congress (ANC), Edward got an answer which remains true to our struggle today. The ANC person explained, “The reason for the success of our struggle is moral ascendancy. We struggled to establish the moral ascendancy of our cause and the moral [inaudible] of the apartheid regime. We leveraged our moral ascendency to lay an international siege to the apartheid regime until it collapsed.” Edward asked, “What about people mobilization? What about armed struggle? And what about strikes and protests?”  The ANC leader explained, “Yes, these are all important but only to the degree that they demonstrate the will of our people, the justice of our cause, and the moral ascendancy of our struggle.”

Today the world—except for the US and Israel, but with significant portions of public opinion inside these countries as well—supports a just solution for the Palestinian people. This is a dimension of moral ascendancy. Let us not forfeit this great achievement by the blood of Palestinian martyrs, by the persistence of the Palestinian people, by the works of Palestinian artists, writers, engineers, scientists, academics, farmers, refugees, innovators, civic organizations, BDS, and many more. The unequivocal rejection by all Palestinians of the “Deal of the Century” and the continued daily heroic struggle in Palestine, in the West Bank, in Gaza, inside Israel proper and in the diaspora is another demonstration of moral ascendancy. The laws like the Jewishness of the State and the actions of the US and Israel are indeed moral bankruptcy.

In the face of the darkness imposed on all of us by the Trump administration and the so-called deals, now more than ever, the Palestinians have to find the means to implement unity, unity, unity: political unity, national unity, and unity of purpose [so] that these sacrifices shall come to fruition and that the Palestinian people shall attain their rightful position among the peace-loving nations of the world, free democratic and actively working to build a vibrant economy.

Another urgent task to all Palestinians at home or in the diaspora is to safeguard the Palestinian heritage and memories. It’s time to regroup and to refocus all efforts to salvage and maintain Palestinian history, Palestinian culture, Palestinian traditions, and Palestinian affirmation of their rights to live in dignity, to exercise self-determination, to return to the homeland and the right to be free from mass killings, genocide and collective punishment.

The pursuit of Arab unity, any level of unity, remains valid and necessary. It, however, has to be based on principles of mutual respect, respectful life, open disclosure. Working together to solve societal and human problems is the surest way to reach convergence. The only way to overcome this unity is to accept diversity, respect all sides as equally valuable to the society and worth of love and collaboration, to reach solutions that are fair to all sides. The faulty sides of this unity, particularly those that are charged with historical memories, high emotions and a lot of bloodshed, are hard to overcome and are easy to leverage by sinister forces. The Arabs were divided by massive such forces.

The states that were formed after 1922, which we all decried in our youth, cannot be transcended except by the pursuit of unity and the preservation of the dignity of all concerned by avoiding civil wars and further fragmentation. We have to also focus Arab discourse on [the] emergence of mega world trends like the Silk Road. It’s going to affect us, it’s going to affect all of us [through] massive investments in the Arab countries and the rise of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics that are the pillars of the fourth industrial revolution.

And a final remark: let us build on success and hope, understand the failures of the past, study them, ponder them, extract the lessons learned but avoid falling into self-recrimination and blame. We very good at blame, too good for our own well-being. Avoid finger pointing at each other and understand that social and economic change is difficult and needs patience and a recursive process of self-reflection and learning. In the dialectics of the struggle, there are many losses and many gains. Obviously, the struggle for Palestine is undergoing massive challenges but remains valid and necessary for justice. The struggle for unity in Syria and the democratic system for all Syrians to enjoy citizenship under the law remains a noble pursuit. Thank you.