Dyab Abou Jahjah
Why do we Arabs and Muslims seem to be more moved and mobilised by Palestine than any other conflict or cause? A question that is often asked by friends and by foes of the Palestinian cause, and that I will answer in this short essay.
But first of all let me rub this one in the face of the Zionists and their fan-club: you really thought that we forgot about Palestine? You really thought that you got us right where you wanted us killing one another over sectarian strives in an array of civil wars and unrest and therefore you can now slaughter our people in Palestine silently? I think by now you do realize that making us forget Palestine is a hopeless endeavour, and that normalizing your crimes will never happen. You will always be unmasked as the criminal, colonial, racist entity you are as awareness is growing everyday among other peoples all across the planet.
It is indeed very true that in one single day in Syria, or in Waziristan, more people die than the amount that was killed by the Israeli army so far in this last outbreak. So why are we Arabs and Muslims so much more mobilised and emotional about Palestine? I will try to explain.
During the first two years of the Arab revolution, Palestine became somewhat less actual in the Arab street. The fight against the dictators was the priority for the majority under us. We all wanted to topple “the regime”. We considered all Arab dictatorships as one and the same regime of corruption and oppression. The "Arab regime" is like Hydra, One serpent, with many heads. We all cheered when Ben Ali was toppled, we all cheered more when Moubarak was toppled, and the unity of all Arab peoples was translated in these two moments like never before. Left and right, religious and secular, Christian and Muslim and non-religious, we all formed one revolutionary fist against the regimes and for change. Also in Palestine, the people there, despite their daily hardship, were watching these events with enthusiasm and they were demonstrating in solidarity with the Egyptians and the Tunisians and, later on, the Libyans and the Syrians.
In Libya, some friction started to appear in the Arab revolutionary dynamic with the intervention of the international community due to the use of the army against the people by the Qadafi regime. Nevertheless, it was still not serious to talk of real division. Apart of a small group of extremists, the majority still supported the Libyan revolution, while being critical to the military intervention of foreign powers. Hamas, Hezbollah, the left, the nationalist main stream, they were all on the side of the Libyan people against Qadafi.
When the revolution reached Syria, two very legitimate currents in the Arab street, that so far walked hand in hand, came to stand face to face. On the one hand the revolutionary current and on the other hand the resistance current. Both currents adhere to each other’s views but differ in the setting of priorities. The revolutionary current also wants to liberate Palestine but believes that this only can be done when we clean our internal mess and create regimes that are in tune with the aspirations of the people. The resistance current believed in change and supported the revolution so far but believed also that we do need some regimes who are anti-imperialists like that of Assad in Syria and that these can only be toppled after liberation. So for them the revolution had to be supported only in countries where the dictators are agents of the west.
The clash in Syria was militarised also when the regime used military violence against the people. The people had to defend itself and fight back, and so it did. What started as a peaceful, national, not sectarian revolution soon turned into a violent, destructive and very sectarian civil war. The sectarian card was pulled first by the regime, through its own sectarian nature, and its claim to be the defendant of the minorities. The international Jihadists who then poured into Syria brought with them a sectarian fanatic narrative that is strange to the nature of the Syrian people. Better organised, more experienced, more fanatic and better financed, the Jihadists dominated the scene militarily and the people who started the revolution, the young patriotic activists, were pushed to the background. The regime could now fight the battle according to its own rules: sectarian and violent. When ISIS arrived at the scene, it decimated fear in the hearts of everybody including the revolutionary forces and even the other Jihadist groups. Division became a fact and the Syrian regime all of a sudden seemed like a lesser evil for many Syrians who before supported the revolution.
Supported by Hezbollah, Iraqi Shia militias and Iranian revolutionary guards, and with the ISIS fanatics and the other groups fighting among each other, the Syrian regime started having the upper hand in the battlefield, but also in the hearts and minds of the Syrian people.
The sectarian discourse became dominant, with young people, Sunni and Shi’a coming to Syria in order to fight a religious war against each other. A war that is according to them linked to a whole tradition of messianic thinking and apocalyptic prophecies.
At the same time, the Arab “ancien regime”, proved that it is not only a serpent with many heads, but also, just like Hydra, when you cut off one of these heads another grows in its place. In Egypt the counter revolution took the power back and installed General Sissi as the new dictator, in a more radical edition of the Mobarak regime. Sissi clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of the democratically elected president Morsi. Massacres took place in Egypt against demonstrators. In Gaza, the people demonstrated again in support of the Egyptian people and against the coup and the repression.
Hamas, who is in power in Gaza and who is also part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, had originally good ties with the Syrian regime and Iran, and also Hezbollah. After the Arab revolution, Hamas supported the peoples against the regimes, and was very critical of Assad. At the same time Hamas is a resistance movement. It was the only movement that united within its ranks the two currents that were clashing in Syria. This can create internal tension at moments, but mainly provides it with a lot of credibility in the Arab street. In 2012 when Israel attacked Gaza, Hamas fought back ferociously together with Islamic Jihad, a smaller resistance group who is more pro-Iranian. Egyptian diplomacy under Morsi served the resistance well, and a cease fire was brokered with terms that are more or less in favour of the Palestinians.
After the Sissi coup, Egypt was once more in the hands of the same lot who always conspired together with the Israelis against Palestine. Add to that the feud that Sissi has with the Muslim brotherhood, and the propaganda accusing Hamas of supporting the brotherhood in Egypt, and you understand the picture.
Suffocated by the Israelis and the Egyptian Junta on the one hand, and not supported by Iran and Hezbollah anymore on the other, Hamas felt more isolated than ever and started seeking a rapprochement with Fatah, and Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas who is also frustrated because of the attitude of the Netanyahu government, that is repressive even towards his collaborating entity in the west-bank, met Hamas half way, and an agreement was reached to unite the two Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West-bank. This development would give more credibility to Palestinian diplomacy and increase the pressure upon Israel and unmask its continuous policy of colonization and ethnic-cleansing even more. Israel needed to sabotage this at all costs. And then came the story of the three Israeli teenagers, conveniently enough, well timed. The rest we all know.
This background is maybe useful, but actually redundant if you know the essence of the conflict.
Palestine was colonized by European settlers, who happen to be Jews, under the British occupation and protection mandate. The British wanted a colonial state at the heart of the Arab world to disrupt any Arab or Muslim unity plans and to use it as a proxy an outpost defending its colonial interests. The Zionists wanted their own state and they needed the help of the British to start colonizing Palestine, so the deal was struck with the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The Zionist settlers started using violence and building militarised settlements under the protection of the British army as soon as in 1920, and this sparked Palestinian anger and resistance. Mahatma Ghandi wrote on the issue on November 20 ,1938
“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs... Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home…There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they (the Jews) will only discard the help of the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-shares with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them…I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”
When the Nazis massacred the Jews in Europe, during the Holocaust, the Zionist project in Palestine gained momentum with tens of thousands of Jews fleeing European racism and Nazi massacres. The Arabs were willing to receive them as refugees, but The Zionists saw in them fuel to their military and colonial machine.
In 1948, The Zionists declared their state, Israel, on Palestinian ground. They launched an attack against the rest of Palestine committing more massacres, and ethnically cleansing the Palestinians out of their homes. Because of the Holocaust guilt in Europe and the west that state was recognized. The Europeans exported to Palestine a problem that they have created in Europe. They should have granted the Zionists a part of Germany if they believed a Jewish state was the solution for anti-semitism and a compensation for their crimes against Jews. Instead they have chosen to support a racist ideology called Zionism, that is itself founded on Antisemitism and thriving on it. An ideology that will soon after do to the Palestinians what the Nazis have done to the Jews.
On this read the work of the Israeli historian Illan Pappe “ The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ethnic_Cleansing_of_Palestine
So here you do not have a conflict between two people. You do not have two normal countries disputing over land. You do not have a misunderstanding. What you have is a crime against humanity that is on-going. It is still unfolding today as we speak. You cannot see the latest events separately from this historic process of ethnic cleansing, and massacres, and oppression, and racism, and colonialism that is still happening at this very same moment.
Palestine is not just this attack on Gaza, or the next one or the one before. It is not an issue of two peoples who should get along but don’t. It is not only a question of an oppressed people resisting occupation by a military superpower that possesses nuclear weapons. It is not just a place where the slaughter and abduction of children is a policy and a choice of a government. It is not just a place where apartheid is happening, where walls are built to suffocate communities, where calling for genocide is main-stream public opinion. Palestine is much more than that. It is a crime against humanity that is unfolding for almost a hundred years now and still is. It is an ethnic cleansing that created seven million refugees living in camps, in poverty, disease and oppression at this very moment, and who cannot return to their villages and cities because settlers, including those who just arrived today from Europe are confiscating them. Sure our heart bleeds for Syria and for every place on this earth where war or civil war wages and causes death and suffering, but nothing is more tormenting for the Arab and Muslim soul than Palestine, and nothing will ever be. Some will pretend this is not the case, but be sure that even under the bombs in Syria, people are boiling inside for Palestine today.
What is the solution? Just like in South Africa, and Just like in Nazi Germany, the solution is that the racist regime responsible for the conflict, and the crimes, is defeated and ceases to exist. Just like the Apartheid regime was toppled by a combination of armed resistance, boycott campaign, and civil disobedience, the Zionist regime should be dealt with in a similar manner. And also, just like the Nazi regime was toppled by the military power of an international coalition, the Zionist regime in Palestine, called Israel, should be the enemy of all free countries and justice loving people.
When justice is served, and when the Arabs and the Jews fight against Zionism together and defeat it together. When they dismantle the racist ghetto state “Israel” together and found one democratic state where all citizens are equal, and expel all those who still adhere to the murderous and racist Zionist ideology, and after the restitution of the rights of the refugees, only then, and not before, true peace will come. Is this unrealistic? People said the same about South Africa, and about Nazi Germany. People said also that peace was possible with the Nazis and with the apartheid regime, and that resistance fighters are criminals and terrorists. But history showed us otherwise. The struggle for one democratic state in Palestine where Arabs and Jews, coexist peacefully, will continue, as long as Zionism is in power.
What is surely unrealistic, and will never happen, is that Zionists will ever want peace or any solution that is fair. This will never happen because their ideology and their inherent racism makes it impossible for them to accept a just solution. But they should also know, that they will never succeed in breaking the determination of a free people and its friends to achieve justice, and with it true peace.