Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 August 2006
Issue No. 806
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Here & Now: Turn not the other cheek

By Assem El-Kersh

It would be impetuous for a print journalist to predict an end to a complicated crisis like the war in Lebanon. Yet, in the context of the Arab-Israeli struggle, such prophecy is not wholly groundless. So consistent have been the signs of Israeli brutality and the notion of a fictional peace -- a peace far worse than war -- that the writing on the wall can be read without the aid of a strategic expert. No one doubts the lengths to which Israel will go to embark on a vendetta, demonstrate its own notions of coexistence or impose its unilateral agenda.

Certainly, from the Arab viewpoint, prior experience of Israel -- the ten years since the last Qana massacre, in which 100 Lebanese were killed -- leaves no room for doubt. With a death toll of 59, including 37 children, the second Qana massacre of last Sunday just goes to show. (Never mind civilian casualties: both were undertaken with Israeli "smart" bombs.) Missiles, statements, confrontations: all reinforce the sense that nothing about Israel's attitude will change; so much so that this struggle, which refuses to end, resembles a scene edited out of the nightly TV film playing in Arab homes -- the same film, shown every night, and no option not to see it.

The Sunday massacre is neither worse nor more horrible than all that has gone before: another bloodied chapter in the ongoing saga of stolen homelands -- violence and injustice -- elaborating new nuances of pain; a further drop in the balance of power and a speeding up of the rate at which the Arab sand clock eats up time, reducing Arab lives by years and challenging the very remnants of Arab dignity.

What has changed in ten years? Everything and nothing: Everything in that the wounded body still throbs; resistance missiles glint in the pitch-black night. And nothing in that blood-curdling failure and impotence persist, accompanied by a frustration so intense it amounts to a collective heart attack. The dust that smothers Arab dreams is the same as that which prevents children from growing up; only dolls survive their owners, while non-people literally evaporate in their bedrooms -- whether the target is Iraqi, Palestinian or Lebanese.

And, in response to the latest tragedy: screeching protests and commentaries that could have been written following the first Qana massacre, 123 months ago, lamenting Arab misfortune .

Deja-vu abounds: the cruelty that maddens hundreds of thousands spread across the Arab map; unthinking killing for its own sake; unprecedented savagery. Equally, there is the infuriating tendency to regard Arabs as insects to be crushed or lambs to the slaughter, whether the butcher is Israeli or from Washington -- not to mention the latter's bias for the former which, as well as complicity and incitement, offers up a license to mess about with impunity, spoils Tel Aviv to distraction, regardless of who happens to be US President at the time, and induces in Arabs the same crippled fury, as humiliation tops suffering and not a finger is raised against the blows.

In the last ten years -- in many tens of years preceding -- we have learned nothing from the trials we have been through, the tests we took, which passed without a trace, as if they were but a tired mixture of nightmares and daydreams.

Ten years have reassured Israel that it can get away with what crime it cares to commit, that it has every right to assume a standpoint of power, and that there is never any retribution. Likewise Washington: no loss is incurred by belittling Arab interests and sensitivities alike, stepping over necks and turning lives to hell.

There is no end to examples of such tendencies through the duration of the decade at stake: how the world perspective on Arabs changed; and how Arabs themselves willingly handed down their status and their role while Israel has continued on its forward march to a brisk rhythm, respecting the value of time in which to gain ground and allies every day, and to go ahead with its purpose.

Arabs have been captive to anger -- an anger that negates the mind, makes no impact whatever, and lifts only to be renewed with the shock of another tragedy in the waiting. Anger as it should be: together with pain, it is the very least Arabs should do. Still, it would pay to be angry in the right way -- less at the corpses emerging from the rubble or the feeling of humiliation incumbent on a slap across the face than at the fact that this is happening for the tenth, the thousandth time. Angry July -- along with all the countless months of Arab bloodshed -- must turn to energy, not frustration.

Until Arabs open up the space for self-confrontation and a dialogue that leaves no stone unturned; until they concede their faults and the weight they now carry in world politics; and until they rediscover a way to deploy their squandered assets -- a strength enabling them to field the blows they receive -- the other Arab cheek will not be spared a smite. A strength that calls for respect in a world that makes no concessions to the weak and the frighetened, a world that no longer weeps for children dying in the arms of their mothers -- before they have had a chance to see the end of a hard midsummer night's dream in Qana.

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