PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY HYPOCRISY: an excerpt from my letter to Holy Land Trust regarding its cancellation of visit by Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama
I feel deeply uncomfortable making such comparisons but quite frankly, the plight of Tibetans living under Chinese rule is more dire than that of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. The situation in Palestine -- the settlements, the military incursions, the checkpoints, the apartheid wall, the economic strangulation -- is abhorrent and demands the world's attention and solidarity. But the situation in Tibet is sadly even more desperate, as no nation or international institution has ever applied any meaningful pressure on China for an end to the ongoing injustice in Tibet.
Tibetans have absolutely no freedom of speech, assembly, press, or religion. In many cases, they are forbidden from receiving an education in their own language. They can be arrested and imprisoned for seven years for simply possessing a photo of their most beloved religious leader. Uttering the words "free Tibet" or being found in possession of political materials such as a Tibetan flag is illegal. Many Tibetans have suffered for years in prison for such nonviolent "transgressions." Reliable statistics suggest that since China's invasion began in 1949 (not ancient history but a year after Israel was declared), over one million Tibetans have died as a direct result of China's occupation.
Unlike in some Palestinian areas, Tibetans enjoy no autonomy or even semi-autonomy. In December, I attended the International Nonviolence Conference in Bethlehem, sponsored by your organization. It was excellent to see that it was attended by many Palestinians and a large number of activists from all over the world who came to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause (and some of whom actively work for the end of the Israeli occupation). The idea of such a conference being held in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa -- or anywhere else in occupied Tibet -- is laughable. Visas would not be granted. Travel would not be permitted. The Tibetans who launched the idea would be quickly rounded up, beaten, tortured and handed long prison sentences out of the view of the news media. The families of the arrested Tibetans would be threatened, maybe fired from their jobs. Anyone else associated with those suspected of political activities would be scrutinized and surveillance and security would be stepped up immediately.
I have traveled in both Tibet and Palestine and have known many Tibetans and Palestinians. While I have found a way to compare the relative plights of these two peoples, I believe both struggles for self-determination have equal and undeniable merit.
The Palestinian Authority's statement announcing the cancellation of the Dalai Lama's visit reads as if it was drafted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. I half hope it was as otherwise it would betray the PA's total ignorance of the Tibetan cause or the role of the Dalai Lama. As noted above, the statement cites his "separatist ambitions for Tibet." While most Tibetans want to see a return to Tibetan independence, the Dalai Lama has, since 1988, repeatedly expressed a desire only for "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet. He has candidly said that Tibet should "remain within the People's Republic of China." He has preached nonviolence and forgiveness to Tibetans frustrated at the ongoing repression they suffer. He has continued to attempt to engage the Chinese government in dialogue about how to resolve the Tibetan plight in a way that would simply offer Tibetans fundamental rights to practice and preserve their ancient culture, which is gravely endangered. Despite the fact that self-determination is also a fundamental right of all people guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Dalai Lama has given up on that basic right in the hope that he can simply find a way to end China's continued brutal repression of Tibetans.
The blatant hypocrisy of the Palestinian Authority's condemnation of the Tibetan struggle under occupation as "separatism" is unforgivable. It belies all of the PA's and its predecessor's bold declarations about liberty, inalienable rights, and the prerogative to fight occupation.
My support for the Palestinian people's struggle for an end to the Israeli occupation is unconditional. But the Palestinian Authority's particular struggle has been shown to be nothing more than a desire to play the field in the great geopolitical game and get what they think is theirs. Courting the authoritarian Chinese government may bring money and guns but such a short-sighted, hypocritical approach runs the risk of squandering the international solidarity that has been indispensable to the advancements the Palestinian cause has made over the years.
I wish you all the best.
Students for a Free Tibet*
*For affiliation/identification purposes. This letter represents my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the position of Students for a Free Tibet