Whereto?

Ammar Abdulhamid

Maaber.Org / March 2001

We need to determine exactly where we are going and what it is that we are seeking in order to be able to choose the right path.

 

It is quite simple to understand why a people, who have been living under the humiliating conditions of foreign occupation for decades now, would feel so much frustration, bitterness, anger and hate. It is also simple to understand the need for an emotional outlet in these circumstances. That violence should proceed from this situation is not at all surprising. 

But what is so surprising and so difficult to understand is the continuing inability, or unwillingness, of the people involved to see the futility of violence despite all these years of useless bloodshed. Is the entire point of the current situation in the Occupied Territories to let out some steam? Is it the desire for revenge? Or is it the search for justice? For these matters are not the same. Nor are they equal.

The search for justice requires more than a strategy, paramilitary or otherwise (for there are obvious signs that attacks by Palestinians on Israeli targets are taking place in accordance with a certain paramilitary strategy). The search for justice requires a deep understanding of the real issues involved, and a readiness to sacrifice pride more so than blood. When a Palestinian parent should become willing to sacrifice some pride in exchange for peace, he/she might be saved the heinous ordeal of having to sacrifice his/her children.

The “parents” of the current Intifada seem to have gotten it the other way around. They are all so willing, it seems, to sacrifice their children for the sake of this insatiable black-hole of a Cause. That ancient biblical proverb about parents, children and sour grapes cannot but make itself visible in these circumstances, denoting the occurrence of that age-old phenomenon when the young are sacrificed on the bonfire of their elders’ vanity. To me, no cause is worth such a price. In fact, no cause is winnable at such a price.

This is not to say, of course, that Palestinian youngsters are simply being brainwashed into facing Israeli tanks with their bare chests or blowing themselves up in Israeli settlements. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Young Palestinian men and women are doing what they are doing willingly, and out of their own sense of frustration and their own desire to get what they are so willing to perceive as justice.

But they are wrong. This is not the right way to get justice. What they are in effect pursuing might be interpreted as a search for vengeance and for an outlet for their frustration and despair.

Still, and while the causes behind this behavior are, as we said, simple to grasp, it remain, nonetheless, quite detrimental to the cause of justice. The Israelis can never be driven out of a land, that many of them also perceive as holy, by military means. The Occupied Territories are not South Lebanon. Israelis, in this case, have reasons to feel that they are fighting for their own existence as well, for the integrity of their own identity and for the sake of maintaining their social cohesion. The more vulnerable they are made to feel through suicide bombings, the more they are willing to unite behind the most radical and racist of their political, religious and social leaders.

Still, and to return to the issue of the current Intifada, one has to assert that its “parents” are also to blame, specifically for their passivity, i.e., their unwillingness to reexamine their priorities and principles. They are simply handing down their own frustration to the next generation, and passing on the Cause as an indivisible legacy as sanctified as religion itself. The “children” are not expected to question or analyze this legacy; they are simply expected to accept it as it is and die for it; else they are denounced as “traitors” and “agents for the enemy”—modern-day apostates and kafirs.

But, and at a risk of being denounced as a heretic myself (for if one cannot undo this new religion of ours, he cannot help but be a heretic and call for reexamining some of its basic statements of faith), let me venture here to outline what I believe to be the real issues involved in the current situation for the sake of those interested in justice, and not revenge. Let me first note that I make my point not with the certainty of an aspiring prophet, but with the audacity of a young idealist.

Facts:

–          Israel’s existence is a fact. Our intention is not to abolish it, or to “throw the Jews into the Sea.”

–          International interests are not exactly in harmony with Palestinian interests, which is why most countries are so willing to turn the blind eye on the current tragic developments in the Occupied Territories, or be less than forceful and outright in their denunciation of Israeli occupation and crackdown. In short, there are no honest international brokers for this conflict.

–          Arab leaders are too weak or unwilling to do anything substantive to support this New Faith of ours that is the Palestinian Cause.

–          Israel is the superior military power.

–          Much of our moral and legal condemnation of Israeli occupation is based on the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a sense, this puts us in a position where we are expected and required to be better representatives of the ideals encompassed by these documents.

If any of these facts mean anything, it is that we cannot get justice in that ultimate sense for which we, occasionally, aspire. In other words: the wrong done cannot be righted in any ultimate sense. A state has been created in our midst and at the expense of our dreams (and all too many lives). We have to accept this situation and live with it. The aspirations of others had conflicted with our own at a certain point in time, and, at least in a material sense, we lost. This is another fact that we have to accept.

But, and here is where our hopes lie, as we cannot get justice in an ultimate sense, we did not lose in an ultimate sense either. After all, we still exist, many of us still live in the Occupied Territories, and we have not been so broken by our “defeat” so as not to aspire to improve our lot and to strive to get something better, much better, than what we have, something more commensurate with our dreams and human dignity.

And, simply put, that thing is: a deal that can put an end to the current blood bath and that can afford our children, if not ourselves, an opportunity to live and grow in peace. It is indeed our duty to sacrifice some parts of our dream (and illusions) and to swallow our pride in favor of a realistic solution that is, admittedly, far less than the one we dreamt of long ago (or perhaps not so long ago), but that can lead to a peaceful future for the coming generations.

In other words, and while we cannot get the homeland we once dreamt of, we can still get a homeland where we can live in peace.

And if the desired end is peace, the means cannot be violent.

For, has anyone paused to think what sort of society all these fighting adolescents, who have come to accept violence as a natural way of life and as a legitimate means towards a perceived just end, would be able to build once the war is over?

If the history of the Twentieth Century, and the African experience in particular, has taught anything, it is that the graduates of the Paramilitary School, especially those who have joined it while still adolescents, are incapable of building a stable and peaceful society.

So, will the Palestinians be contended with a situation where the Israeli enemy is replaced by a fellow Palestinian? What is the purpose of this entire Intifada, anyway, if all that it could accomplish is to substitute one enemy for another, and one kind of war (a war of national liberation) for another (namely: civil war)? The questions cry for answers before we proceed any further along this traitorous path of actions and reaction, strikes and counter-strikes.

For their part, the Israelis too have important issues that they need to address if the interests of justice are to be served and stability and security realized.

The most important issue is the need for them to face the fact that they have created their dream (i.e., their state) at the expense of other people’s aspirations and lives. The Palestinians were not responsible for the way Jews were treated in Europe, and the Palestinian opposition to the Zionist plans was a natural reaction of people seeking to protect their freedom, their land, and their identity.

The Israelis cannot continue to dismiss the Palestinians as terrorists and pariahs. The Israelis need to accept that the Palestinians have very legitimate claims and complaints, and they should realize that, morally, they do indeed need to do all they can to make sure that the Palestinians are getting the best possible deal. The Israelis cannot keep on treating the situation with the mentality of getting as many concessions as they can simply because they are more powerful. This strategy has been backfiring for decades now anyway, and has only served to radicalize the Palestinian people and the Israeli society itself in the process.

The Israelis, as they continue to live in a state of denial with regard to what they have done to the Palestinians, as they persist in pursuing a policy of condescension and oppression vis-à-vis the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories, and as they try to justify to themselves, and the world, what is, in effect, unjustifiable (i.e., denying the basic human rights of the Palestinians), are finding themselves more and more in the grip of racist and fundamentalist forces that are putting the entire Israeli society on the verge of involvement in a virtual genocidal venture for the second time in the history of their young state. After all, who can forget 1948?

In other words, lacking the wisdom and the courage to admit that they were wrong (i.e., with regard to the way they looked at and treated the Palestinians from the very onset of the Zionist venture, and not with regard to their attempt to find a solution for the problem of persecution in Europe), and to attempt to rectify their mistake by complying with the well-known international resolutions with regard to the Occupied Territories, the Israelis have turned their country into a large and expansive prison camp for themselves and the Palestinians. Their dreams of a secular and secure society have all but vanished now, as the region is set for another lapse into bloodshed and terror.

Can the Israelis live with this state of affairs? I doubt it. And do they really want to? Are they really willing to take part in the killing of their very own dream? Because once radicals and fundamentalists, on both sides, are exploiting the situation, that is exactly what’s going to happen (in fact, Sharon and Hamas are the greatest beneficiaries of the current cycle of violence). These are the questions that the Israelis need to answer.

At a time when both sides seem to have lost their sense of direction, “Whereto?” is probably the most important question that needs to be asked.