Criminals vs cowards
The current uproar in Arab streets might not be of any direct help to Gazans but it draws battle lines between the masses and their regimes, notes Sherine Bahaa
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Clockwise from top left: Egyptians protest in support of Gaza outside the Press Syndicate building in Cairo; Jordanians and Palestinians demonstrate in Amman against the continuing Israeli attacks on Gaza; Lebanese demonstrators listen to the speech of Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah during a rally organised by his supporters in the southern suburbs of Beirut against the Israeli air strikes on Gaza
"Arabs are a vocal phenomenon," said former Israeli minister of defence Moshe Dayan disdainfully shortly after the Arab defeat in 1967.
Five consecutive days of round-the-clock raids on densely populated Gaza, which has been under tough sanctions for the past 18 months, pushed the number of martyrs approximately 400 and two thousand wounded. But are these figures high enough to trigger a real reaction?
"How many shaheed are enough for Arab rulers to retaliate to the Israeli massacres," a Syrian young man was shouting during a demonstration beside Al-Yarmouk refugee camp.
A Yemeni protester who rushed into one of the demonstrations that filled the streets of Sanaa less than two hours after the first raid said, "this is not just an invasion of Gaza; it is an invasion of all Arab states and a direct result of the defeat of Arab conscience."
Furious words that express bitterness and a desire for vengeance -- but that is all. The Arab League, where the pro-American governments are dominant, has already postponed a ministerial meeting called to take a common position on the crisis in Gaza and a proposal to hold an Arab summit is meeting some resistance, diplomats said.
Judging by past summits, Arab heads of state are unlikely to fulfil popular aspirations, especially if that would put them in conflict with Israel and Washington.
Arab popular demands sound simple: opening the border with Egypt to relieve the siege; closing the embassy; expelling the ambassador; and withdrawing the generous 2002 Saudi peace initiative agreed by the Arab League. But they are all but impossible given the present political alignment, and they fall on deaf ears.
It appears nothing will really change. The pro-US Arab regimes will continue to play the role of loyal allies, and the "radical extremist regimes" as the West refers to Syria and its non-Arab ally Iran will score more points for their continuing support of resistance groups. In short, Hizbullah and Hamas will be symbols of dignity and victory in the Arab world.
Not long ago, in 2006, during the Israeli- Hizbullah war, the moderate regimes initially hoped that the conflict would damage Hizbullah, but soon changed tack when the Israeli army failed to deliver a quick victory and Hizbullah proved it could survive.
This week, pan-Arab satellite channels have been broadcasting nearly non-stop images of bloodied Palestinian bodies, ambulances screaming and women wailing in hospital corridors. But US President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice justified Israel's slaughter with the usual mantra that Israel has the right to "retaliate and defend itself".
"Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said. According to Barak, "the game" is the whole Arab-Israeli conflict, but "the score" was much higher than he actually anticipated before launching the current attack.
It was 40 years ago, on 28 December 1968, that Israeli commandos raided Beirut airport and destroyed 13 Lebanese civilian aircraft, in retaliation for a Palestinian attack against an Israeli airliner in Athens. Israel aimed to inflict a revenge so severe to shock the Arabs into preventing the Palestinians from fighting Israel.
Today, 40 years and numerous attacks and wars later, Israel is again using massive retaliatory and punitive force to cow the Palestinians of Gaza into submission.
Arabs, and above all Palestinians, knew by grim experience that the death of one Israeli citizen justifies the indiscriminate murder of a hundred Palestinians. "This is an attempt to uproot the Palestinian resistance like what they tried to do in 2006 with Hizbullah," said Hizbullah representative Hussein Rahal in Beirut.
But this is harder said than done. The Arab and Muslim communities cannot be judged this way. "These are communities that cherish their martyrs; where violent death reinforces social cohesion and unity," said an Arab analyst.
"What has happened in the past few hours is simply an expression of what has been going on for days and months and years: the death and fear that Gaza's gunmen and rocket teams and bombers have inflicted upon Israel have been returned 10, 20, 30 times over once again," the analyst added.
Israel's crimes against the Palestinians provide the rallying point to vent anger not only against Zionist atrocities but against what the public widely call "the collaboration of their regimes" with their supreme foe for already two generations, a rogue state which opponents rightly dismiss as "the Zionist entity".
According to one Israeli commentator in Haaretz, judging by Arab leaders' statements and slogans shouted by demonstrators in several Arab capitals, one might have thought that Egypt, not Israel, was the one waging war on Gaza.
But to be fair, it is not only Egypt but all Arab regimes that are being condemned by the Arabs.
"This is something to be ranked with Deir Yassin. With the Sabra and Shatila massacres," the Arab analyst quoted above reiterated.
In Yemen, tens of thousands of people gathered in and around a stadium in the capital, Sanaa, chanting anti-Israeli slogans and criticising Arab leaders for failing to act. "How long will the silence last? Arabs wake up!" read one banner.
In Lebanon, Al-Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, said that people were demanding more decisive action from their leaders. "We have heard very critical remarks, not only against Israel, but also against Arab governments. Many were angry at the Egyptian government, they feel they needed to do more," she said.
Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, who likes to play the role of conscience of the Arab nation, joined in the criticism of Arab leaders on Sunday. "These characters should be ashamed of themselves. They are trading on the name of the Palestinian cause with their cowardly, weak and defeatist stands," he said.
At a protest in Baghdad, Palestinian Ambassador Galil Al-Qasus said: "We were waiting for action from the Arab leaders, but now we do not want anything from them. We have appealed to Arab leaders for almost 60 years, but all these efforts were in vain."