Palestine: The Hollowness of Public Sphere and the Absence of the Institution


Walid Salem – TRANSCEND Media Service

20 Feb 2018 – The philosophers of social sciences elaborated on the public sphere and its importance. The German philosopher Habermas defined it as the domain within which all interactions between citizens take place, based on the association of citizenship that brings them together.

According to this definition, public sphere comes after the family and the clan, which on the contrary represents a private space, built on the blood bond.

On the other hand, civil society, which is representing the total voluntary and volunteering initiatives of citizens to develop themselves and their society humanely, economically, socially and politically, is one of the major factors in the public sphere. The latter also includes other actors such as those in the political field such as state institutions and the political parties.  As the latter is part of civil society in addition to its membership in the political community.

In this brief  theoretical aspect, it should be added that the interactions in the public sphere reflect the development and dynamics of society. A society under tyranny suffers from narrow public space, scarcity of interactions within it, limited to interactions among elites, poverty in the quality of human capital, And the creation of a society of obedience and impotence, and following the “Order of the lord”, which eliminates reason and freedom, and produces subordinate adherents of hypocrites who seek to fulfill their own interests at the expense of the common right.

A free, democratic society free of shackles is the society of the broad public space, open to all trends and colorings without restrictions of charges of disbelief , treachery, intolerance or monopoly of truth. It is a society that accepts the other and respects diversity and tolerance. Is the society of institutions and beyond the control of the individual or the authoritarian group. It is also a society that opens individuals and groups and unleashes their intellectual, psychological and physical energies to develop the society’s well-being and economy and it’s self reliance, and in an atmosphere of enhancing critical thinking, creativity and accepting criticism without bad feeling or arrogance. Is a society that respects competencies in order to achieve development as an alternative to the society of “the society of the one man knowledgeable,” who decrees and decides in everything. Is the community of interaction between elites and the general citizens not the society of a gap between them. Is a society in which the qualitative human capital of all people and elites grows and develops continuously and dynamically.

Where are we from all this in Palestine? Where the occupation controls what we know, and we know what he is doing, but we also know the culture of justification that refers everything to the occupation. In this context, we must recognize that our internal situation is not good, as it raises dozens of questions about the Palestinian public space, which has become so narrow that it can no longer accommodate the existence of the other, especially in the relationship between the elites and the people, the former became fed up with criticism, punishes the free for His/ her opinions and actions, and punish the people for failing to bring about true development, and the resulting unemployment, hunger and poverty.

Our thinker Edward Said talked about Palestinian society as a moderate society and tolerance. Where are we from now?

Our thinker Ibrahim Abu Lughud spoke of our society as having historically distinguished by participation, pluralism and elections.

Where is the participation today ?, Why is the division continuing as an alternative to participation? Why do people in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West feel that they are separate areas, each with its own reality and different concerns, accompanied by bitter feelings of marginalization, particularly in Gaza and Jerusalem? Why do young men and women are marginalized, and the civil society is excluded? Why we see selfishness rise to the surface and pursue self-interest as an alternative to individualism responsible for itself and for its own country? Why, on the other hand, do young people sacrifice for the homeland without being given the care and support to make their struggle more effective? Why is participation for development absent from local communities and bottom-up?

What is the state of pluralism and its associated acceptance of the other and the rule of language of dialogue, and not the language of treachery and charges of treason and judgments based on audio information without scrutiny ?.

Where are the elections to take place in the last 12 years of the last elections for the Palestinian Authority? The PLO does not know the elections at all. Where are the elections in civil society institutions? And so on.

The absence of elections has led to the emergence of political authority (as well as institutions) that do not respect citizens, or members of institutions and their staff as a reference to them. They do not need their opinions and advice. They rule individually, marginalize the collective decision and do not care to listen to people’s opinion because they no longer need their votes to remain in office.

These are all not created by the occupation. They are our own creation, and its existence and persistence weaken our struggle against the occupation, as we will show evidence and evidence in a subsequent article.

The emptiness of the public space has become unbearable, with public issues being debated and brought up exclusively by elites. There are also taboos that prevent public discussion of issues such as secularism and religion, for example. This has resulted in restrictions on the freedom of expression that define what is permitted and what is forbidden. The security of the Authority has been given the power to arrest journalists and activists, as has happened many times. Members and groups appoint themselves, as rulers, govern what is being said and written, humiliating this and raising that person according to closed standards. Are we in our way to create and promote a culture of fear and. Shutting the mouths ?. Why do we also become fragmented in closed circles, each of which meets and debates on its own, knows nothing about the other circles, does not seek to know about it, but rather rules it based on prejudices, or based on what is said in the backbiting and slander sessions, or in the media . Why do we lack direct disclosure and dialogue as an alternative to arbitrarily and inexplicably issuing judgments? Why we know what will be issued for each of these circles before it is issued, where we have reached a stage of repetition without creativity, especially in the area of ​​”strategies” produced and then reproduced without scrutiny.

The public space cavity was associated with the absence of the institution, the government behind its back, or the rule of one person. It became known that the decisions of the institutions are issued for public consumption and not for implementation. We have a lesson in the decisions of the last two sessions of the PLO Central Council. We also have an example of the institutions that have become the institutions of one man, or “one man Shaw” , in exchange for collective decision and action.

The need to change all of this is very urgent and vital to our continued existence, survival and steadfastness, just as we need water and air. The first axioms of life are that the people who are subject to existential challenge must come together and find the formula to reach it. We must admit that we are not.

As steps on the way, we must reconsider the horizontal distribution of power in the Palestinian society by activating the Legislative Council, strengthening the independence of the judiciary, stopping the executive branch from going through the procedures and decrees, ending the division of our people by uniting in action together in the field as an alternative to the continuation of the useless dialogue meetings about reconciliation.

We must also distribute power vertically in the Palestinian society, so that civil society, local government bodies, civil liberties are restored and the participation of elites and people is active. As well as among people in the development process at the community level, thereby promoting self-reliance as an alternative to continued begging from donor countries.

This is to be accompanied by renewed rejuvenation of the culture of dialogue and presenting the serious issues to public debate. To re-energize political life and live debate between competing political programs, and to unleash the energies of individuals and groups in free critical thinking and creativity, and to promote this in schools and between Young women and young people, and all institutions of society. As well as launching reconciliation initiatives and closing the gaps between Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem from the bottom, and promoting the welfare and prosperity of society.

Thus we build a society of citizenship, not a society of arbitrariness and control in the name of citizenship. In this way, the officials also turn from the working formula of “officials who work for us”, to the formula of” working with us for us and for them”. The difference between these two formulas is the difference between the decision maker considering his/ her self  a top down caretaker, or as a participatory Democratic leader.


Dr. Walid Salem is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He was born in East Jerusalem in 1957 and teaches democracy and human rights at AlQuds University. He is a writer of thirty books and training manuals, and tens of research papers on Democracy, civil society, citizenship, refugees, and Jerusalem. He is also a consultant, evaluator, and trainer for several public and private bodies. Salem trained more than thirty thousand Palestinians on these issues since 1990, and, since 1993, he is the Director of The Centre for Democracy and Community Development, East Jerusalem. He is the Coordinator of Middle East Citizen Assembly as regional network of experts and activists on citizenship issues that include participants from 19 countries from the region since 2004. He has lectured at several international conferences and seminars about democracy, Jerusalem, refugees, and development in Palestine.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Feb 2018.

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