Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The anniversary of the Nakba

What has happened to the Palestinian cause a few days before the 68th anniversary of the Nakba, asks Mohamed Salmawy

Al-Ahram Weekly

May 15, a few days from now, marks the 68th anniversary of the Palestine War, during which the nascent Jewish state invaded the territories that had been designated as Arab under the UN partition of Palestine. The Egyptian town of Umm Al-Rashrash was one of the many villages and towns that Israel wrongfully occupied, expelling its inhabitants. The Israelis renamed the town Eilat, as it has become known throughout the world, including the Arab world.

Since that day, the Arabs have had a cause that they have described as pivotal, and the Palestinian cause has epitomised the Arab condition in general. It has become its symbol. Progress in that cause has meant progress in that condition and vice versa. What has happened to that cause? Hardly anyone speaks of it today, just 70 years later.

Undoubtedly, the chain of revolutions in the Arab countries, a phenomenon termed the “Arab Spring” in the West, has been a chief reason for the general decline in concern for the Palestinian cause. However, the beginning of that decline set in well before that at the time that Hamas took centre stage in Palestinian affairs.

Before this happened, the Palestinian people had been a symbol of national resistance. Their struggle drew international attention to their cause and focussed concern on the tragedy of the hundreds of thousands of people who had been driven from their homes following the creation of the state of Israel.

For decades, from the 1960s onwards, the Palestinian resistance movement under the leadership of Yasser Arafat won the support and sympathy of international public opinion. This also applied to many countries with pro-Israeli governments, to the extent that it ultimately compelled these governments to recognise the Palestinian Authority (PA) and enabled the PA to obtain observer status at the UN.

True, in addition to the international recognition won by the Palestinian cause, there were the fedayeen operations that were classified as terrorist in some parts of the world. These, however, were the exceptions, and they did not diminish the justice of the cause or the legitimacy of the resistance. But when the resistance became intermingled with radical Islamism, the international image of the cause began to deteriorate. World sympathy declined, and the cause itself acquired an extremist taint that made it easy for its enemies to brand it in its entirety as “terrorist”.

It was against this backdrop that Hamas rose to power in Gaza and set itself against the legitimate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, thereby undermining the Palestinian cause as a whole and steering it from the realm of legitimate and internationally sanctioned national resistance to that of organised terrorism in the name of Islam, something which is regarded as the foremost threat to the peace and stability of societies around the world.

All this facilitated efforts to mar the Palestinian cause and to deny its essential nature as a national resistance movement that in Western public opinion would be reminiscent of the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation of Europe, a movement that gave rise to national heroes of the stature of Charles de Gaulle and Jean Moulin in France.

Whereas the Palestinian intifada was the vivid epitome of popular resistance, being unarmed apart from stones thrown in the streets, the pathetic missiles fired by Hamas into Israel, hitting no one, became the recurrent proof of the terrorism that opponents of the Palestinian cause have been determined to affix to the legitimate resistance of a people under occupation for 70 years.

These missiles only stopped when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt. It was this group’s way of reassuring the Americans that it could control the Islamist movements in the Arab world, all of which, Hamas included, emerged from under the Muslim Brotherhood umbrella. It is noteworthy that the missiles still remain silent in keeping with the Muslim Brotherhood’s pledge to the US.

But the greatest blow to the Palestinian cause came with the outbreak of the Arab revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, followed by uprisings in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Sudan. The West referred to this upheaval as the Arab Spring, despite the vast differences between the various cases, each of which merits separate study. At all events, the news of the Arab Spring dominated the international media, eclipsing all other news from the Middle East.

The first victim of this eclipse was the pivotal cause that had occupied the Arab conscience generation after generation since the 1948 Nakba and to the first decade of the 21st century. Indeed, the news of the Arab Spring even prevailed in the Arab region, where people were more concerned with the daily disturbances at home than with developments in Gaza or the West Bank.

Israel took advantage of this situation by increasing its land expropriations, expulsions and annexations as never before, in total violation of international conventions. It simultaneously accelerated its systematic violence against the Palestinian people, in reaction to which their resistance escalated from stone-throwing to stabbings.

In a recent keynote address to the National Press Club in Washington, the well-known Israeli journalist Gideon Levy did not mince his words when he described life for the Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. “Life in Palestine now is the cheapest ever. Never was it so cheap, never was it so easy to kill Palestinians,” he said.

He was referring to the relaxation in the laws that allow the Israeli police to shoot on sight on the grounds of uncorroborated suspicions of an intention to commit violence, a policy that has led to the brutal and cold-hearted killing of innocent children in Palestine. Levy stressed that indifference to the conditions of the Palestinians has induced Israel to perpetuate and intensify the injustices and brutalities it inflicts on them.

Life for the Palestinians under occupation had become intolerable, he said, likening the occupation to apartheid. “It looks like apartheid, it walks like apartheid, it behaves like apartheid. It is apartheid,” he said. This had not previously been the case, in spite of all the violence the occupation authorities had unleashed against the Palestinians since the occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967.

What is to become of the Palestinian cause today? Is it the tragedy of our neighbours on the other side of our border? Or is it still the central cause of all the Arab peoples, the cause in which defeat is a failure for all, while success is a sign that the Arabs are unifying and growing stronger in the face of those who benefit from Arab weaknesses and the preoccupation of Arab societies with momentary disturbances and purely domestic concerns?

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