Recently, I received a message from Walaa Alghussein, a wonderful journalist from Gaza, about unfolding events in Palestine. In few, but very prescient words, she summed up the on-going explosive resistance on the ground: “cheers to the 90’s generation . . . it’s proving that this generation of Oslo was just being underestimated.” Walaa, an activist member of this generation herself, got me to thinking- she always does; this time about defiant resistance, our youthful rebels and our collective future.
Decades ago in the nascent stage of my own militant activism I had read “The Rebel” by the French journalist/philosopher Albert Camus- it was difficult to say the least. Very much a remarkable but dense journey down the historical and hysterical intellectual pathways of defining and understanding nihilism, it left me almost pained with anticipation whether his prediction of insurrections to come would pan out. Years later, while the established obedient oligarchic world is very much aflame with youthful defiance in full bloom, I’ve just reread it. As I closed the book on my prison desk and considered it’s conflicted message, I smiled, not so much because Camus was mistaken or confused, but because history has outpaced him with the march of resistance- the natural instinct and healthy drive of each generation to be free; free to create and craft its own rules, roles, and priorities. With this determination, and its often costly pursuit of freedom, life can be very beautiful and exciting at that.
Fortunately, all these years later, militant resistance –be it rebellion or revolution– remains a breathing necessity, very much a healthy core tenet of our collective future. For that, we should be thankful. Today, when I look out across the world, I see young women and men of principle and courage everywhere refusing to surrender to the demands of those who came before them. Willing to sacrifice much, even all if necessary, this generation of egalitarian social and political engineers fights on, often against impossible odds and explosive state repression, to ensure that there is not only a better today for us all, but also a tomorrow for those yet to come with the freedom to correct the missteps they surely will inherit.
Sorry Mr. Camus, you can dispatch all those tired European “isms” and their petty party lines to the bedpan of ancient history as the youth of today, connected by their shared thirst for freedom and justice and social media are alive and well as the vanguard of necessary defiance throughout our world. While their ever changing revolt may wear different colors — at times very dramatic and violent, at others, bland and written, but no less militant– it remains nonetheless a powerful reminder that if we are to do more than just survive as a passing and ineffective apparition, we must be determined to play a defiant role in the events that shape our world today and the one to come tomorrow. It’s a lesson obviously well learned by many of today’s rising generation. Across the globe, tomorrow’s leaders are fighting in diverse and creative ways to ensure that our 21st century family derives its strength and direction not from the greed of genetic corporate or military power and privilege, but from fierce puissant resistance to long held terminally ill policies that otherwise seek to exploit and reduce us to voiceless cheerleaders, marking time from the cradle to the grave.
Interestingly, in his historical analysis, Camus, himself a veteran of a costly, but successful, home grown uprising against French colonialism in Algeria, failed to perceive the often violent tension that was to come between neocolonial tyranny and indigenous resistance that lights up the world stage today. This is particularly evident in the Middle East, Africa and Gulf states. Rich with resources ripe for the taking, for the longest, these regions have been Western comfort zones, obedient surrogate states. Opting instead to dissect and debate the time worn heave between European monarchies and so-called native “terrorists,” the Camus crystal ball was just not clear enough to foresee today’s intrepid youth who have taken to the streets in record numbers with courageous resolve fighting to defend every inch of their grand shout-out, at times tragically sacrificing their freedom and their lives.
During the so-called Arab Spring, millions of youthful activists took to the streets to challenge totalitarian regimes that had long controlled every significant aspect of their lives. In battles that rage on today, they took control of their own destiny through militant insurgencies- many lost their lives, many more are now homeless refugees. At the same time, Anonymous and Occupy Wall Street announced through a series of widespread street and cyberspace actions that they too had joined the fight to rid the world of corporate and military exploitation and secrecy in search of a color and class blind world community which rejects privilege as the benchmark of success or social and political power. While “Black Lives Matter” challenges police brutality through militant actions across the United States, the Organization of African Youth serves as a revolutionary youth empowerment movement across the continent of Africa. These battles and many others have signaled a new dawn of sorts in which our young have announced with fierce determination that they will not sit idly on the side lines as their lives and world passes them by. Nowhere is this more evident or explosive than in the defiant streets and alleys of the Holy Land where the fearless “children of Oslo” have once again told their elders to go home and rest-up while they fight for dignity and human rights in a dangerous, deadly confrontation with the evil that is the Apartheid state of Israel.
The children of Oslo are the great-grand children of the Nakba- the now almost seven decade’s old catastrophe that drove a million Palestinians from their ancestral homeland as it was stolen by the first wave of European Zionist “settlers” who arrived there before 1948. They’ve watched talks come and go and agreements broken by Israel even before the ink had dried. They are not schooled where they wish, travel as they should, work as they must, or live as fully empowered equals in the walled-off Bantustans that they are forced to call home, let alone in the Israel that was carved out of the fields, villages and groves that have been Palestinian for the millennium.
To be young and Palestinian is to be stateless and voiceless in a cold indifferent world that only sees your face when you wear a mask and carry a slingshot, or when you roar out from behind the flame of burning tires or are covered by a funeral shroud as you are laid to rest to the weep of your family, but the pride of your Nation. To be young and Palestinian is to struggle daily against impossible odds and impediments, none of your own making: to succeed as a writer, educator, artist or human right’s advocate while the world does not care what you do or that you even exist. To be young and Palestinian is to hear from mostly compromised and passive political leaders mumbling over and over that better days will soon be yours while the walls of despair and disillusionment grow ever so high and painful around your existence day in and day out. To be young and Palestinian is to sense the pain in your parents’ face as they stand powerless to stanch the abuse and degradation your family must endure whenever it passes thru endless Israeli manned checkpoints that control with an iron fist and thirst for violence the West Bank and Erez crossings at Gaza. And, yes, finally, to be young and Palestinian is, at times, to find comfort under blankets of dark denial.
Yet, mourn not for the youth of Palestine who refuse to become passive observers of history as it’s “winds of change” blow through the Holy Land changing nothing. Nor, will they surrender to any future that requires the loss of dignity, hope or pursuit of justice. Ultimately, age is no guarantor of wisdom for those whose journey has long been underway; nor is it a bar to a life of pride, beauty or bravery, for those for whom it’s just begun. The children of Oslo are very much the inheritor’s of a proud and vibrant tradition of resistance, a birthright left them by insurgent generations who have fought for almost 70 years to reclaim their homeland. Ultimately, to be young and Palestinian is to be strong, determined, defiant. To be young and Palestinian is to wear the legacy of your Nation’s past, present and future in every step you take, no matter where that walk may take you.
You can beat, batter and arrest the children of Oslo but they simply will not bend, break or back away. The youthful hand that throws the stone at the occupying force that is Israel is not that of a masked 15 year old boy, but the more powerful than ever hand of 11 million Palestinians who, though stripped of their homeland, have not lost their dignity or determination to prevail. Many young Palestinians have died, many more to follow in this life and death struggle against Israeli state lawlessness; unfortunately, some will kill, as they join an arc of resistance that began long ago in Der Yassin and the hundred other peaceful Palestinian villages laid to waste by Zionist terrorists that make those of today’s age blush with envy. These youthful freedom fighters are not the first to challenge hatred and ruthless authority with little more than their spirit and bodies, and they will certainly not be the last. For those too young or old to remember, Mandela was a sage leader who followed the daring of the young of Soweto, hundreds of restive children of the Bantustan injured or slaughtered while demonstrating against South African apartheid. It signaled the beginning of the end of racist colonial rule in South Africa. It is a lesson of history that Israel has failed to recall.
There is nothing grand or romantic at all about youthful death, be it at the hands of poverty and disease, through a nihilist thirst for blind violence, or even in the defense of one’s nation. Yet world history is replete with the martyrs of valiant struggles to obtain justice and freedom; battles by no means unique to one period, religion or race. The earthen dam in Mississippi that served as a tomb for youthful civil rights workers murdered in the deep South of the United States, the “desaparecidos,” or student and trade union activists and revolutionaries, murdered by the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, in Latin America for their opposition to totalitarian military regimes and those young activists slaughtered in Soweto and Palestine have all shared one common bond besides their early deaths- a powerful personal commitment to resist, to fight back, to challenge vectors of hatred and ignorance whatever the risk or personal price ultimately paid.
None of our community’s young should willingly or foolishly surrender to death or become a witting party to the senseless killing of others- just for the sake of it. Yet, because death is so much a part of life’s natural rhythm, and resistance such a core component of that journey, they are fellow travelers, very much inexorably connected almost ordained to intersect sooner or later, all the more so likely when one confronts crushing tyrannical oppression.
Long ago a legendary African American writer penned a remarkable memorial for all those bound to eternity by hatred, ignorance or greed in their pursuit of justice. Although written at an historic crossroads of controversy and confrontation in U.S. history, it’s power is no less compelling or applicable to our brothers and sisters in struggle throughout the world today who refuse to be silent in the face of deadly repression. It applies with equal force to those of us who throw caution to the wind in the intractable but necessary age-old battle between those who resist oppression and do so with every breath that is theirs to breathe, and those who impose it.
To the children of Oslo and all our sons and daughters of rebellion no matter where they fight, or have, the epic words of Langston Hughes are eternal and stand for all of us as a proud beacon of hope:
FOR KIDS WHO DIE
This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.
Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.
Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together
Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies will be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.
Hughes wrote powerfully of young people as different as day and night, but yet the same. With a thirst to seize their own destinies and to reshape the world about them, the rebels of today are no different than those that have marched down the hallways of history from time immemorial. Though the tactics of resistance are necessarily as different as the nature and extent of the oppression which they confront, our rebels have chosen to follow the difficult, selfless and time beaten path of those in whose tradition they rage on.
Up the Rebels.