Palestine Across BordersDelegations as a Technology of Joint Struggle

The Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) is an organization that emerged in the wake of the political, geographical, and cultural fragmentation inflicted by the devastating Oslo Accords. While criticisms of the Oslo paradigm are becoming increasingly common to a wide variety of Palestine activist and advocacy contexts, PYM’s formation is unique and worth commenting upon for several reasons.[1] Firstly, as encapsulated in its name, PYM was founded with a special attentiveness to youth. But youth proved a mobile concept, and more literal figurations of youth as encompassing a specific age group were important for PYM from 2006–2011, because organizational founders felt youth were treated as props to be pitied by the parties, little more than naive children that could be told what to do rather than given the tools to cultivate and affirm their agency.

Following 2011, youth came to be figurative rather than literal; eventually, the descriptor was meant to encompass all generations of Palestinians who would be negatively impacted by the new era of neoliberal colonization that had been ushered in by the so-called “peace process”, regardless of present age. Deployment of this term was soon intended, above all, to provide a symbolic and figurative home for all Palestinians who had just been rendered psychically and nationally homeless yet again this time, by the Zionist colonial power wearing the garb of the native informant.[2] Youth was and remains—as much an ideal as a category, describing both those presently enfolded within the movement, and all towards whom the movement continues to strive to this day.

Secondly, PYM was historically transnational, having emerged out of a conference in Spain in 2006. This designation correlates with the third point of distinction: rejection of the Oslo Accords was never purely rhetorical. It was pronounced and taken up with the intent of revitalizing the same spirit of revolutionary interconnectedness that had previously linked Palestinians in struggle across borders for generations following the birth of the modern Palestinian resistance movement in the 1960s. Wherever you were, to be Palestinian was to be bound up in righteous struggle for the homeland. The formation of the PYM in 2006 was thus a direct flouting of the congenitally corrupt Palestinian Authority’s declaration that the Palestinian cause would shift from liberation achieved vis-à-vis resistance to bourgeois statecraft, and that refugees and exiles henceforth had no stake or claim to a Palestinian homeland.

This notion of the inability of borders to impede dedication to resistance also naturally fed into questions of joint struggle. To be sure, this has always been the case for the Palestinian resistance: waging struggle from forcible exile invariably led the PLO to consider—and contend with—the socio-political specificities of its locales. The PLO had trained other members of resistance movements as they waged their particular struggles against racial and colonial domination and oppression. The takeaway from this series of events is that revolution engenders generosity and empathy. To be selfish as a revolutionary is to be suicidal, because oppression breeds solidarity in both directions, as Angela Davis once astutely claimed.[3] Oppressive systems are often inherently comparative, inherently linked, and so the subjugated must in turn form bonds of resistance to realize comprehensive liberation.

To be sure, PYM is not the PLO. It is not a political party—and this was by choice, as the PYM was formed in a context within which many had been abandoned by the procedural rhythms of the party system and the factionalism and fragmentation it had produced. But this distinction in the PYM’s formation should not be registered as a disavowal of the PLO’s significance in shaping the contours and directions of the modern resistance struggle. Indeed, the principle of shared bonds of struggle, which defined the liberation movement from the 1960s until the “Peace Process” era, has always been a grounding ethos of the PYM. In 2015 (the year I joined the organization), PYM hosted its first US-based week-long summer school dedicated to recruitment and Palestinian/Arab youth empowerment. Following this date, the US-based membership boomed, with chapters emerging all over the country and still rapidly growing as of this writing. The rise of PYM-USA also signaled a new outgrowth of expression of revolutionary transnational solidarity. It is this development that I would like to focus on for the remainder of this article.

Simply put, PYM’s twinned dedication to community service and empowerment alongside advancement of the Palestinian liberation struggle, that is; seeing the two as mutually co-constitutive rather than antagonistic. This had always ensured that the formation of veritable institutions—both cultural and political—remained a primary focus of the organization. This became even more urgent following the Oslo Accords’ liquidation of all of the PLO unions previously dedicated to material, political, and cultural empowerment. But it also meant an enduring ethical attention to the particularities of overlaps of struggle even as new geographical contexts were broached, rather than a static and chauvinistic insistence on engaging Palestine within a narrowly political domain. This empathetic vigilance transcended national, ethnic, and cultural boundaries as PYM became increasingly attentive to how fighting Zionism globally and locally also entailed challenging a vast array of interlocked systems, structures, and logics of oppression.

For instance, several years of ongoing work with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition has witnessed PYM members participate in horizontally-situated research about the role of Zionism in racist policing and surveillance strategies such as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and affiliate programs, whose current role in the de facto reproduction of “cultural cops” via Islamophobic and anti-Arab surveillance entrapment needs to be exposed now more than ever in the era of the George Floyd uprisings.[4] Delegations have increasingly come to serve as an important technology in cementing this spirit of revolutionary reciprocity and commitment. For instance, in November 2018, PYM-USA launched a ten-day Native Delegation to Palestine, in which Indigenous activists from Turtle Island were taken on a guided tour to Palestine. And in April 2019, PYM-USA, in collaboration with the Afro-Middle East Center in Johannesburg, participated in an international delegation of Palestinians traveling to South Africa. Both events yielded crucial takeaways.[5]

PYM-USA’s Native Delegation was significant because it represented an ethical inversion of the application of the frameworks of settler-colonialism and Indigeneity to the Palestinian struggle. In place of Palestinians themselves simply making and re-making these connections, Indigenous resistors from other areas were invited to witness firsthand the violent machinery of Zionist colonization, extraction, and apartheid so that the labels could move from mere descriptors to actual instruments of collective struggle catalyzed by multidirectional resonance. The co-hosted delegation to South Africa saw PYM-USA moving amongst a transnational collective of Palestinians within the country whose own history of apartheid and resistance has become such a crucial touchstone for contemporary iterations of the Palestine solidarity movement, particularly following the ascendance of the BDS movement. The context thus allowed for a deepened engagement with the South African struggle against apartheid that did not overlook earlier histories of settler-colonization and weaponized ideological white-supremacy that preceded and fed into the modern apartheid state. This, coupled with the reconsideration of racial capitalism as a useful analytic for considering the prolongation of de facto apartheid in the face of its de jure collapse, allowed for a more robustly useful comparative lens for thinking through the past and present contours of the Palestinian struggle.

These insights also gestured toward new conceptual pathways for resistance. For instance, the Indigenous delegation helped illustrate how the potential political utility of Indigeneity, as a framework for the Palestinian struggle, stems from its denotation of a particular type of land-based belonging, identity, and attachment, one which, as Steven Salaita rightly notes, is different from the generalized connection used by Zionism as a false analogue for Indigenous identity.[6] Secondly, rejecting an overly truncated understanding of the racial underpinnings of South African apartheid can foment new mainlines for historically situated, contemporary manifestations of joint struggle that look towards authentically decolonized horizons rather than newly disguised, continually oppressive regimes of so-called “inclusion” and “equality”.

In conclusion to the South Africa Delegation report back, PYM organizers wrote: “Now, more than ever, the time is ripe for a revived anti-colonial framing of the Palestinian cause, and we believe that the various lessons learned, and connections made throughout the delegation can help bolster such an understanding of our struggle”. Learning about another’s struggle thus becomes the surest means of deepening understanding of our own, thus fortifying the bonds of comprehensive resistance.

[1] For the increasing prevalence of foundational critiques of the Oslo Accords within Palestine-focused academic works, see: Toufic Haddad, Palestine Ltd.: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory (London: Bloomsbury, 2016); Sunaina Maira, Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017); Andy Clarno, Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa After 1994 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).

[2] Some scattered optics notwithstanding, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has never wavered from its foundational anti-Palestinianism. Abbas’ so-called “rejection” of annexation, including the feeble threat of stopping all security coordination, should be taken as little more than a petulant temper tantrum. The very existence of the PA is predicated upon the Zionist state’s ability to outsource its policing, incarceration, and torture of Palestinians to the Palestinians themselves. The PA is therefore structurally incapable of treating security coordination as a matter of whim. Additionally, the PA, with Abbas as the Zionist state’s glorified puppet, has been handing Palestine and the rights and autonomy of Palestinians over on a silver platter since the very commencement of the Oslo Accords. For them to now feign surprise at a development like the fascist Likud party’s annexation grab is an affront to Palestinian intelligence. Unless the PA were to vote to dissolve itself, end its shameful oppression of its own people, and instead redirect political energy and momentum towards a veritable revitalization of a PLO dedicated to true liberation once again, colonization of all of Palestine is not merely possible—it is inevitable.

[3] I first heard Davis express this specific point at her Regents’ Lecture at UCLA on May 11, 2014, but Davis has spent years arguing about how solidarity among the oppressed is imperative.

[4] Mustafa Bayoumi’s recent writing on the use of “nuisance laws” as a means of forcing Arab shop owners in areas such as Detroit to indiscriminately call police to prevent losing their livelihoods to vindictive state lawfare is a good broader introduction to this dynamic. See: Mustafa Bayoumi, “Why Did Cup Foods Call the Cops on George Floyd?,” The New York Times, 17/6/2020, accessed on 23/2/2021, at:

However, more intentional and comprehensive work on the function of the overlap between racialized policing and surveillance programs in reproducing the racial-police state in apparently copless community dynamics remains wanting.

[5] See: “From Turtle Island to Palestine: Indigenous Delegation Blog,” Palestinian Youth Movement, 30/8/2018, accessed on 23/2/2021, at:; “What Can South Africa Teach Palestinians?” Palestinian Youth Movement, 29/5/2019, accessed on 23/2/2021, at:; Loubna Qutami, “Moving Beyond the Apartheid Analogy in South Africa,” Middle East Research and Information Project, 3/22/2020, accessed on 23/2/21021, at:

[6] Steven Salaita disentangles the particularity of Indigeneity from socio-religious affinity. The latter is not devalued outright as a mode of attachment to the “Holy Land”. Instead, Salaita challenges its use as a smokescreen to justify colonization and dispossession of the Indigenous inhabitants—Palestinians. This sense of “potential political utility” is also effectively captured by Ahmad Amara and Yara Hawari, who write the following regarding important distinctions between settler-colonial as opposed to Indigenous frameworks for Palestine: “While settler colonialism speaks to the Israeli state’s ongoing structure of violence and describes a situation of continuous replacement, indigeneity speaks to life before this structure, resistance during it, and visions for the future.” See:

Steven Salaita, The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2006,); Ahmad Amara & Yara Hawari, “Using Indigeneity in the Struggle for Palestinian Liberation,” Al-Shabaka, 8/8/2019, accessed on 23/2/2021, at:

While PYM has not, as of this writing, formally adopted an explicit Indigenous lens, the delegation and more local Indigenous solidarity actions have continuously pushed PYM to consider Indigenous analytics in relation to the Palestinian struggle. See, for example: Aida Najar, “Palestinians join Standing Rock Sioux to protest Dakota Access Pipeline,” Mondoweiss, 24/10/2016, accessed on 23/2/2021, at:; Nadya Raja Tannous & Omar Zahzah, “The Scarred Land: Settler Imprints and Indigenous Futures,” The Funambulist, no. 20 (November-December 2018).

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