chapter  9
‘The crescent and the cross are the marks on my hands’: the performance of Palestinian unity amid political fragmentation
Pages 15

With this rhetorical flourish the Palestinian Roman (Latin) Catholic priest, Manuel Musallam, began a speech on 8 September 1993 before an overwhelmingly Muslim and male crowd of thousands of Palestinians gathered in the outdoor courtyard of the United Nations-run school in the Jenin refugee camp. A long-time activist within Fatah, Musallam had been tapped by Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leaders in the Jenin district to give the closing speech at a rally aimed to consolidate Palestinian support for the just-announced Declaration of Principles between the PLO and the State of Israel. Musallam was preceded by two speakers at the rally. First up was Sari Nusseibeh, an Oxfordtrained philosopher from one of Jerusalem’s most prominent families; his dry, analytical discourse on the necessity of peace received scattered, polite applause. Next came a leader of the Jenin shabiba (Fatah youth), who gave a short, passionate defence of the Declaration of Principles, arguing that gaining a foothold in Gaza and Jericho would be but an initial step in an eventual reclamation of all of Mandate Palestine and the return of all refugees: the crowd received his speech more enthusiastically than Nusseibeh’s, but the mood in the audience was nevertheless somewhat restless. Finally, Musallam, dressed in the black overcoat he wore only on special occasions, ascended to the podium amid chants of ‘al-Ab Manuel, al-Ab Manuel!’ (Father Manuel, Father Manuel!). The audience, led by the shabiba, interrupted almost every other sentence of Musallam’s speech with loud and sustained applause, culminating in an ovation lasting several minutes at the end, as Musallam concluded his oration as dramatically as he had begun: ‘If I forget thee, O Palestinian Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning’. In this study, I analyse public performances of Palestinian nationalist identity by Musallam, with particular focus on this 1993 Jenin speech and on public

letters written from Gaza in 2009. Through this speech and these letters one can chart a trajectory stretching from an optimistic embrace by mainstream Palestinian nationalism of the Oslo Accords with Israel to a growing pessimism about the viability of a two-state solution characteristic of contemporary Palestinian politics, a trajectory which has run parallel to the increased territorial and political fragmentation of the Palestinian national body. Musallam continues constructively to perform Palestinian national unity during the post-Oslo period, but that unity has become increasingly aspirational as the bifurcating movements of Israeli settlements, road networks, walls and fences contribute to the disintegration of traditional forms of Palestinian nationalism.