On February 10, the Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS) and the Arab Center inaugurated the Second Annual Palestine Forum in Doha, Qatar. The event, scheduled to last three days, attracted numerous Palestinian, Arab, and international researchers and academics. The opening session featured speeches by Tarek Mitri, Chairman of the IPS Board of Trustees, and Azmi Bishara, Director of the Arab Center.
Ayat Hamdan, a researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, opened the Forum. She highlighted that this assembly occurs at a pivotal moment. The seminars focus on various aspects related to the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip and the challenges confronting the Palestinian national project. Hamdan noted that the Forum provides a platform for presenting academic research and discussions that directly address developments and pressing issues concerning Palestine and Palestinians. Out of 520 submissions, approximately 70 papers were selected for this year’s conference.
Tarek Mitri expressed that the collaboration with the Arab Center aims to study Palestine’s past, present, and future. He stated, “We convene amidst the immense suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza, their resilience on their land despite all atrocities, and attempts to eradicate their presence or displace them.” He quoted Mahmoud Darwish, saying, “‘Gaza was born from fire,’” to underscore that the people of Gaza are victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Mitri added, “In conjunction with the widespread and unprecedented violence descending on Gaza, the Palestinians of the West Bank are facing escalating attacks by settlers backed by the Israeli military and security services. It has become evident that displacing the people of Gaza is impossible, despite all that has been inflicted on them, due to their determination to remain on their land, remembering previous displacement massacres and the bitterness of refuge.”
Azmi Bishara echoed Mitri’s sentiments, acknowledging the significant progress made in the field of Palestine studies, particularly its acceptance in prestigious academic institutions. However, he warned of the threats facing those achievements. He pointed out that right-wing groups have aligned themselves with Israeli lobby groups, intimidating many academics fearful of being accused of antisemitism and of the imposed new form of McCarthyism on Western university campuses.
Bishara said, “Palestinian and Arab researchers are countering recurring attempts to infiltrate Zionist ideas into the public’s perception of Palestine’s history and the occupation of its land that distort the values of liberation and resistance to colonialism in Arab culture. Such ideas are accompanied by policies of normalizing relations with Israel without a just solution to the Palestinian issue. It falls within the framework of preparing the necessary requirements to receive these policies at the level of public morals and culture by projecting them onto history and distorting it. This happened after education about the Palestine cause was removed from the primary and secondary teaching curricula in most Arab countries. Distorting awareness in the media and on social media has become easier than ever, especially since Israeli activity at the last two levels does not cease.”
Bishara discussed the challenges related to the Palestinian cause on various levels, including international and regional relations and the overlapping political, cultural, and legal dimensions. He highlighted the settler-colonial nature of Israel, which this war has exposed more than ever. Israeli society, he noted, behaved like a unified, fanatical tribe that rejected any opposing opinion. The instinct for revenge dominated its thinking, leading to the belief that the indigenous people must collectively pay the price for the events of October 7, as they only understand the language of force. This inevitably leads to genocide.
Bishara also spoke about the stance Arab countries hold towards the Palestinian cause. He pointed out that it is the central Arab issue when there is a unified Arab project, not separate countries. However, currently, there is no entity that can be called an Arab regime except formally. What exists in reality are Arab regimes with internal and external agendas. Without the concept of Arab national security, Israel has been able to repeat its claim that the Palestinian issue is not the core of the dispute with Arab countries. It is possible to normalize relations with Israel by ignoring this issue, something that Arab countries have proven to be true in every wave of normalization with Israel. On the other hand, Bishara believes that Arab emotions, expecting a different official Arab action, come from the stubbornness of the Arab identity that unites us and its insistence on vibrant life, despite international and regional transformations, and because of Arab public opinion in solidarity with Palestine and resistance. He also rejects any normalization with Israel.
Internationally, Bishara considered that the October 7 operation and the Israeli war of annihilation launched against Gaza brought the Palestinian issue back to the forefront and on the regional and international agenda. However, Bishara warned that Israel is racing against time aiming to eliminate organized Palestinian armed resistance in the Gaza Strip, and to persuade Arab countries to continue normalization with it, without a just solution to the Palestinian cause. On the other hand, the aggression against Gaza revealed that the relationship between Israel and the forces allied with it in the West, especially the United States of America, is based on interests but is not limited to them; we have witnessed the double standards displayed by major media institutions not only with political issues but even with humanitarian matters.
Bishara stressed that the Palestinians stand at a crossroads. The issue of Palestine has returned to the forefront, and we can come close to achieving a just solution or move away from it. On one hand, Israel and its allies will attempt to impose “new political arrangements” that will further distance the Palestinian people from exercising their national rights than the Oslo Accords did. On the other hand, the international and regional system cannot ignore the heavy price that the Palestinian people are paying in the Gaza Strip, and therefore the moral value is significant and cannot be overlooked regionally and internationally.
Bishara explained that if the Palestinian Authority wants to thwart Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan and establish a single authority to govern the West Bank and Gaza, it must realize that this is only possible through one of two options: either through a national understanding with the resistance factions on the path to sovereignty and independence, or on the back of an Israeli tank on the path to consolidating an authority that lacks sovereignty. If the resistance factions want to participate in determining the future of the Palestinian people and the occupied territories and translate their struggle and sacrifices into political achievements, they must join the Palestine Liberation Organization, the official legitimate body representing the Palestinian people, and the parties must agree on the conditions for that.
Bishara concluded his keynote lecture by commenting on the debate surrounding the October 7 operation and the responsibility of the resistance and the Israeli army for cases of civilian casualties. The Israeli propaganda machine has invested all its resources to perpetuate the dominance of this issue. In media dialogues, the atrocities of the comprehensive war, consisting of hundreds of operations and massacres launched on the Gaza Strip, are overshadowed by what was exposed as a result of a single resistance operation. He emphasized three points:
First, the Occupation and its practices led to this operation, followed by a campaign of collective punishments, retaliation, and retaliation that amounts to crimes of genocide.
Second, it is necessary to distinguish between the moral level and the analytical level in these discussions and between supporting steadfastness and weaving illusions that harm the cause of justice and hinder people from taking positions and carrying out actions that would contribute to the steadfastness of the Palestinian people in the face of what they are exposed to, and achieving political achievements for the Palestinian cause. These sacrifices should not be in vain.
Third, the efforts of Palestinian intellectuals in national and humanitarian solidarity should be intensified to alleviate the suffering of people in Gaza; there must be work to confront the Israeli propaganda, and pressure must be exerted on the central Palestinian political forces to come together in a unified leadership within the framework of the Liberation Organization. This way, the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people can be translated into political achievements.