The Culture of Blame Will Get Us Nowhere
Sat 5th Oct 2013
The more Palestinian, Israeli and Arab friends I talk to, the more I realise how ineffably stupid we all have been for the last sixty five years. We Palestinians blame Israel for dispossessing us. The Israelis blame us for making what they see as unreasonable demands. The Arabs use the perceived Israeli threat to waylay opposition and maintain largely dictatorial and inhuman regimes. Meanwhile, the suffering goes on...
First, as a Palestinian, I wish to have the culture of blame put aside. In fact, it would be best if we pretended it never existed. It is an artificial construct given that both the Palestinians and the Israelis have grievances against each other. But when we seek to change behaviours, we have to adopt some artificial modes of thinking and behaving. In time, the artificiality becomes a habit and the habit becomes a new character. So, let us make a start - now.
The majority of Israeli citizens are not the original outsiders arriving on Palestinian beaches and evicting the indigenous population so that they could replace them. They are people who know no other country but where they live. They are not going anywhere. They are not giving it up.
So let us stop shouting about the injustice done us. This victimhood attitude has harmed us in so many ways so that, as a people, we are now dispersed all over the world dreaming of going back home. Sounds familiar? LIke Jews for two thousand years? And when shall we start greeting each day with a "Next year in Jerusalem"...?
Am I advocating that we Palestinians should give up?
Unequivocally and resoundingly "No!". I am advocating that we should begin to think differently. By we, I mean Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Russians and many other stakeholders.
We should seek to have the courage to do the following:
Firstly, Palestinians in Arab countries should be given full citizenships wherever they have settled down. This does not mean that they will be giving up their Palestinian nationality or Palestinian identity. They would simply be giving up living in squalor, in camps, in poverty, in segregated ghettoes. They would be giving up being denied basic rights such as freedom, health and education. They would be giving up a history of suffering and displacement. They would be gaining a sense of belonging no matter how artificial. And when Israelis and Palestinians have reached a peace deal, those Palestinian who have been naturalised Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Emirati, Saudi, Bahraini, Qatari...etc... can be dual nationals eligible to return to Palestine - or to a binational state if that ends up being the ultimate settlement. Only one Arab country has done this much to its credit. This country is Jordan where a majority of the population is, in fact, Palestinian. Of course, as I write this, I am assailed by an overwhelming feeling that I am betraying Palestine. That is the result of sixty five years of victimhood and political manipulation. It is an angst that I have to carry with me. Just as a Jewish Israeli friend of mine suffers pangs of guilt for disapproving of what his government is doing to the Palestinians by allowing Jewish Settlements in the Occupied Territories. As a Palestinian refugee, I have been granted British citizenship with all its rights and responsibilities. I carry my citizenship with considerable pride but I do not forget my Palestinian antecedents which run in my very veins.
I work in schools. I, therefore, have to have a Criminal Records Bureau check on a regular basis. It galls me that my place of birth is given on the form as "Nablus Palestinian - Territory Occupied". In the Twenty First Century? I hardly think it appropriate.
Many Palestinians and Israelis are reasonable and pragmatic people who know that the way to peace is through compromise, coexistence and mutual forgiveness. It is not difficult. The only obstacle has been greed, cowardice and bigotry by fewer people than there are decent peace loving ones ("In order for evil to prevail, all that need happen is for good people to do nothing" - Edmund Burke)..
Thirdly, Israelis and their friends should stop rewriting history as if Palestine never existed and as if Palestinians are a figment of some fevered imagination. This bizarre behaviour even extends to archaeological digs where the Islamic Era in Palestine is constantly deleted by Israeli officials. Maybe it is not that bizarre given what we know about the USA where apart from a few names like Chicago, the existence of the Native Americans has disappeared into rather badly made Hollywood cowboy movies! As if there were not millions who lived there and were kindly informed by Mr Columbus one fine morning that they had just been discovered before he and his successors proceeded to exterminate their nations and their cultures to replace them with greedy land grabbing settlers. I look forward to squares in Israel / Palestine / whatever agreed entity / entities emerge, where there will be statues of Ben Gurion and Yasser Arafat standing facing each other outside a democratic Parliamentary House - and we can then all see history for what it was and dislike both men equally - or admire them both equally (I vote for 'dislike' myself but then our democracy would allow such political stances without being threatened).
Fourthly, we Palestinians in the Diaspora are highly educated and mostly very successful wealth generators. Let us put our national genius to building a future just as the Israelis have done to building their future. We can do this as one state or we can do it as two states - it really does not matter. What matters most is living in peace.
As Palestinians, we are also Arabs. Indeed Israel calls us precisely that so that it can tell the world that as Arabs why don't other Arabs take us in into their huge area of land and let the Jews have that minute virtually indiscernible dot...etc... A tired argument, I know. But we are Arabs, if Arabs are people who are largely Muslim and who speak Arabic. So, as an Arab, I am sick to my heart of the harm that we have done each other over the years: Lebanon's turmoil, Syria's civil war, Egypt mockery of so-called democracy, Saudi oligarchical rule, Libyan chaos, Iraqi bombings... the list is endless. We Arabs have not covered ourselves in glory. Before the advent of organisations such as OfSTED, Teachers' Standards and structures such as National Curriculum, all of which stultify imagination and crush creativity, we teachers were able to write such witty remarks as, "Little Johnny consistently sets himself very low expectations which he invariably succeeds in achieving...". Such cutting sarcasm would be fitting of recent Arab history where we have persistently set ourselves abominably low expectations and always failed even in achieving them...
We Palestinians wish to live in peace. We wish to do business with all. We wish to be free to choose. We wish to be happy. We wish to be treated fairly by all, just as we would treat them fairly.
We Palestinians, like the Syrians and many other Arabs, just wish to live...