Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Only Way is Civil

They’re rebuilding with mud now in Gaza. Humanitarian aid is still a droplet in the scorching sun. The tunnels built as lungs have become coffins. For Gazans, the toll of Operation Cast Lead stands last in a queue of open, infected wounds. For us, the numbers have become drab memoirs of days time has made less ugly: the left jaw of Gaza’s face smashed, 1,430 people killed, 4000 houses gone, 90,000 human beings made homeless, 179 schools throttled, eight demolished, one-fifth of greenhouses felled, 92 mosques without a prayer in hell… And that’s just for starters. There is a much thicker file lying somewhere about the death of Gaza long before the first bullet last December reached its target. It reads like a Dr.’s check list right before he pulls the plug.

They’ve been combing through Gaza the way detectives survey a crime scene. They want to know which label to attach to the innocent dead: deliberate or collateral damage. Funny...sifting through the charges and counter-charges and watching sobriety arm wrestle with outrage, you almost want to chide yourself for asking a fundamental question to which the answer is as obvious as it is tragic: when life itself collapses, in mad, asymmetrical war or from a slow, bloodless asphyxiation, on whose heads does it actually crumble?


Still, it’s good to debate intent when innocence is violence’s casualty. Good for morality. Good for the rule of law. Good for the color gray, for the record, for the next round.

It’s good to ask, as David Landau does: “When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?”

It’s good that shock and anger, no less than applause, are alighting all around Richard Goldstone, a prominent Jewish jurist and supporter of Israel for whom the case against the Jewish state is as clear as it is not simple. A harsh rebuke from a friend is another chip in the edifice of occupation, another badge of shame, another wakeup call, an appeal to the conscience that cannot be ignored.

What does it matter that, with the help of Obama and Abbass, the vote on Goldstone’s report in the UN Human Rights Council has just been delayed till March? The verdict, precisely because it is Goldstone’s, has already achieved its purpose.

As for Obama and Abbass, to which intelligent mind did their actions come as a surprise?


Dissent is good. It blurs us vs. them. It forces the matter of blame out of its dark, narrow chambers. It makes self-righteousness squirm. And what vision is more satisfying than that in these Arab and Israeli parts.

It’s been nine months since trigger–happy tempers were brought back down to a simmer in Gaza. Much looks the same. Much has changed. The way of the borders is still the whim of Egypt and Israel. Catastrophes still hover over this anguished land as clouds packing torrential rains and thunder. A bleak existence has become more barren still. Beggary abounds. The missiles are lurking in their hidden sites, but Godly extremists are out and about, as confounding today to Hamas as the Islamist movement itself was once to Fatah.

And yet, we are meant to believe that Hamas triumphs. It triumphs even though every orifice of Gaza is still corked up. It triumphs just to spite that toll. It triumphs without a single tank destroyed, nor a helicopter downed, nor a soldier kidnapped, nor a suicide bomber blitzed for maximum havoc. I paraphrase from an Israeli military source because nutshells don’t come any handier than that. Hamas triumphs because it is still in control even if what it is “securing is a graveyard” (I am borrowing again, this time from a Palestinian source).

Only days into Cast Lead, experts began to talk: Hezbollah will join the fight if Hamas’s position became “desperate.” Ominous predictions delivered in thick-set, think-tank papers and in Op-Eds and news articles. Not everyone bought. You could hear the sarcastic retorts ricochet, as bullets would, off of these reports: good thing for Hezbollah that Hamas, whatever the tally, was always sure to be the winner. I suppose it was hardly relevant to Hezbollah or Hamas—or those experts--that Gaza was pretty desperate from where every Gazan was crouching.

There were those hopelessly spastic missiles, of course, as self-defeating to the Cause as they are degrading to its principles. Sad to see cutting off your nose to spite your face pass for defiant resistance. Even sadder to witness a people’s struggle for liberation starved down to feckless payback. But so it has been between a pitiless occupation conducted by remote control and an obtuse movement for whom resistance is little more than a Pavlovian reflex.

“I can take it like a man.”

If Hamas’s missiles could talk, that’s what they would be saying.

And for quite a few of us Arabs, that somehow is more than enough said.


All this sorry business is more than vaguely familiar. It’s been déjà vu in those quarters for years now. Like Fatah, like Hamas. You can grow forests in that space between reality and pretense in Gaza as lush as those that are the legacy of Arafat. Which reminds me of that lamentation by a Palestinian taxi driver in Amman last February: “First we were resisting for the whole of Palestine, then for half of it, then for ‘67, then for the neighborhood, then for a quiet night? Now, we fight to keep the breadcrumbs coming. What the hell kind of resistance is that?”

An intensely focused one, it would appear. You know, the kind with a single-item agenda: to emerge every single time from the rubble and pretend that it has pulled off yet another win. Which reminds me of those words by the late Issam Sartawi, one of Arafat’s closest and dearest, after the 1982 evacuation of the PLO forces from Lebanon: “One more victory like this one and the PLO will find itself on the Fiji Islands.”

Like Arafat, Like Mish’al. It’s a sight, no doubt, Hamas’s Khalid Mish’al doing his own Arafat-like verbal acrobatics and harrumphs in search of a way out--or is it in? But then it was a sight watching Hamas in 2006, like Fatah since 1993, become a master under occupation much as a warden over a prison.

The edge of the cliff is where Palestine stands. To walk the road that took it there is to march through a wasteland bestrewn with mistakes and scarred by abuse. There truly never was much hope in Fatah or Hamas.

But there are faint murmurs, in more serious places by more serious people, about the wisdom of massive civil disobedience, about the humanity of it, the possibility of it as the only path to an exit. There are already glimpses of it by that Wall, on those fields in tiny villages. Incidents of it in the archives. Surely there should be all the space for it now in Palestinian thought.

Life is as hopeless in Palestine as it seems. But as Jeff Halper, the Director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, wrote in a recent piece for Middle East Report, “The Palestinians, exhausted and suffering as they may be, possess a trump card of their own. They are the gatekeepers. Until the majority of Palestinians, and not merely political leaders, declare that the conflict is over, the conflict is not over.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are able to make your point using the words of those who believe in the opposite cause of yours. And because of that, this article in its self became evidence to further back the claim made in the article.

Thank you so much. Beautifully written.