image of jerusalem 2016

So are Palestinians really hypocrites?
A few short weeks ago, I read a thought-provoking and somewhat trenchant Comment by the managing editor of the Lebanese NOW portal. So given the years I have toiled on the Palestinian issue as second-track negotiator on behalf of the thirteen traditional churches of Jerusalem, I wrestled with her challenging reflections.

14 May   |   2016   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

In fact, reading this article, three key indictments amongst others jumped out at me. The author suggests that ‘the Palestinians will not be forgiven for their apathy toward the suffering of the Syrian people.’ She further adds ‘that Palestinians are once again being used as fig leafs to cover regional political agendas, and they have nothing to say about it.’ And then she wraps it up in a rather forceful crescendo when she segues that ‘the Palestinians have to realise that they’ve lost the Arab depth, their credibility and their narrative. Today, they are hypocrites who demand everything and want to give nothing. Meanwhile their leadership and narrative are being used by Islamists, dictators and terrorists to launch the most atrocious wars. The Palestinians will not be forgiven.’

In another time, let alone in another context altogether, the piece would have reminded me of an Open Letter published on 13 January 1898 in the newspaper L’Aurore by the influential writer Émile Zola who addressed the then French president Félix Faure and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful gaoling of Alfred Dreyfus. In fact, the tone of the NOW piece equally reminded me of the infamous obiter by the then Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban who was posthumously quoted in The Jerusalem Post on 18 November 2002 that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. In fact, his statement is often misquoted as addressing Palestinians alone but it had in fact chastised all Arab countries following the Geneva Peace Conference of 21 December 1973.

Let me start off with areas of convergence. I agree that Palestinians have at times shown a skilful inability to get their political act together and have heretofore failed to unite their resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the violent split in 2007. The recent demonstrations in Gaza where the pictures of the Israeli prime minister were burnt alongside those of the Palestinian president and prime minister reminded me of the scorching sentiments harboured by many Palestinians against their foes as much as their own politicians. Palestinians have alas spent far too much time fighting amongst themselves and pursuing their own separate agendas rather than winning over their constituencies or the world public opinion. Despite the remarkable and disproportionate talents many Palestinian men and women possess in [virtual] Palestine as much as in the Diaspora, the situation has remained quite stagnant. It is unfortunate that civil society organisations have often been thwarted from pursuing their efforts at good governance, and it is at times equally true that some Palestinians have wallowed in self-pity for the sake of scoring political points.

However, and without sounding like an apologist who justifies inaction, Palestinians are not masters of their destiny but are beholden to other powers and principalities that use the Palestinian cause for their own agendas. After all, every single Arab ruler pretends to be an ally of Palestine and uses this just cause as a rallying point for their survival, popularity or obfuscation. However, this does not mean that the Palestinian people are to blame for such political usury by third parties. They are the weaker side, and it is an understandable self-protection for them to try and stay out of any partisanship - no matter their own innermost feelings - so that they do not exacerbate their own hardships. What would it do for them to shout from the rooftops opposing Syrian crimes against humanity when they will end up carrying the can and paying a price exacted by others for such outspokenness? After all, how many other Arab rulers have spoken out against the crimes in Aleppo or elsewhere? And for that matter, is Lebanon not trying to protect itself too by disassociating itself from both sides albeit unsuccessfully? Equally critically, how many demonstrations have we witnessed in any Arab country against the shocking barbarities committed in Syria, Iraq or elsewhere that have been cruelly doused by the security forces?

Yarmouk is also a valid case in point. The misery visited upon the refugees in this camp in southern Damascus (amongst others) is stark. But the refugees were themselves divided politically too. Besides, what would have been the reaction of the Syrian regime had they spoken out save for more attrition or abuse having been heaped against a helpless people?

Today, amidst the flare-ups in different parts of the MENA region, I agree that the Palestinian cause is no longer the only one par excellence. Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Libyans, Egyptians and others are struggling - at times desperately or erratically - for their own survival. They do not have the energy to rally round the Palestinian struggle for justice or for the restoration of inalienable rights. Palestine remains a hub because it remains an open sore that is the direct outcome of a festering and iniquitous occupation, but it is no longer the single hub in the geopolitics of a fractured MENA region.

Finally, I am conscious that many Lebanese have over the years suffered enormously, and paid a heavy price, for Palestinian excesses when the late Chairman Yasser Arafat chose Lebanon - supported, incidentally, by some Lebanese political factions - as his base against Israel. However, this surely should not smear our collective views but help us look westward in our indictments and assess how Arabs in general have been manipulated so fulsomely by other parties too?

Palestinians are both Muslim and Christian, so allow me as a fellow believer to remind readers of Jesus’ challenge to the Mosaic Law when he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her”. Or else more pointedly, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

This piece was first published by the NOW Lebanon portal on 5th May & has been edited for the purposes of epektasis.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2016   |   14 May


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