75 years of sumud

Nadia Elia

Mondoweiss  /  May 13, 2023

As we commemorate 75 years of catastrophe, we also recognize 75 years of sumud, the Arabic word for “steadfastness” that captures Palestinians defiant resilience.

Looking at developments on the ground in Palestine, from Sheikh Jarrah to Masafer Yatta to the Bedouin villages in al Naqab, and the violent rampages in Nablus and Huwara, it is impossible to deny that the Nakba is ongoing.

Just as they were 75 years ago, Palestinians are today being murdered by violent and heavily armed settlers while the West watches on. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, since the beginning of 2023, Jewish settler-related violence has reached an average of three incidents per day, compared with two incidents per day in 2022 and one incident per day in 2021. All the while, swathes of Palestine are still being ethnically cleansed as leaders of the Global North congratulate Israel on the 75th anniversary of its founding. Meanwhile, we have to acknowledge that our own (official) “political leaders” have absolutely no vision, no strategy, or roadmap for liberation.

Yet as we look at Palestinian popular organizing on this gruesome anniversary, it is also impossible to deny that what we are noting — it is indeed hard to say “celebrating” — as we commemorate 75 years of catastrophe, is 75 years of sumud (Arabic for “steadfastness”). This, then, is a sober but not a somber assessment. And with that comes the belief, no longer just a wishful aspiration, that liberation is near.

This belief hinges on two separate issues. One is the Palestinian people’s uncompromising insistence on achieving our human, political, and civil rights, at any cost. We have seen this most recently with the martyrdom of Khader Adnan on the 86th day of his hunger strike to protest his administrative detention without charge. Adnan’s death should be understood as an act of defiance until the very end, inspiring us to carry on the battle for liberation until no more Palestinians are imprisoned for resisting their oppression. The other is the very significant change in the Western perception of Israel. 

Both issues which ground our belief that liberation is near are taking place at the grassroots level rather than at the level of elected politicians and government officers. This is actually encouraging, as history has shown us many times that social progress rises from the grassroots up rather than trickling down from the leadership to the people. 

The primary factor that brings hope in these otherwise gruesome days is the defiant Palestinian sumud, which only grows stronger by the day. Faced with the daunting might of Israel’s military, which buoys the unbridled violence of its settlers, Palestinians are more determined than ever to stand up proud and demand their rights. The many events being organized for the 75th anniversary of the Palestinian Catastrophe tend not to commemorate the losses we all are aware of but to foreground the resistance and aspirations of our people: Return and Liberation “Within our Lifetime,” as one activist group is named. These are the words we are rallying around and planning for. And what we are celebrating is our people’s unbridled creativity against the monstrous odds — artistic creativity in innovative writing, painting, engineering, cooking, and everything else more, that has kept our culture thriving —even as we preserved our traditions, from tatreez to the joyful dabke. Truly, the Palestinian spirit is indomitable.

It is also clear that a change in the perception of Israel is happening at the grassroots level internationally.  A recent Gallup poll shows that Democrats are now more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis by a 15-point margin, a significant change from only seven years ago when their sympathies for Israelis were 30 percent greater than for Palestinians.

Moreover, young Jewish Americans are more alienated from Zionism than their parents and grandparents, and there is a rising number of Jews, both young and old, denouncing not just Israel’s fascist politicians but all of Zionism  This change in the popular worldview is reflected in the number of politicians who express anti-Zionist views — still a small number, but one that is growing with every election.  And as the dispossession of the Palestinian people is enabled by Western complicity and complacency, the growing global awareness of the inherently oppressive nature of Zionism is a welcome sign of the weakening of this buttress. 

Yes, there is still much work to be done. But there is also every indication that the end of Israeli apartheid is near, and that our liberation is not a dream — it is a commitment from a people whose sumud has become legendary. We know we will return, we will be free, and as our cultural warriors are young, and include many powerful women, queers, and environmentally-conscious organizers, we also know we will have a transformed society where all can feel included and thrive.

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer