I woke up this morning and immediately got on with the business of ordinary life. Christmas had been quiet with a huge amount of reading of new books left by a kindly all knowing Father Christmas, who clearly knew that I had been very good all through last year.
As almost every day since time immemorial (that being the human time immemorial, i.e. since I became conscious of being) the day was, yet again, destroyed by the news of a murderous car bomb in Beirut.
I am a Palestinian. My family moved to Beirut after Israel was created because we were the “myth” that was Palestine. We were those people not in Palestine – “the land without a people for a people without a land” – the latter “people without a land” being from Russia, Poland, America, Central Europe and many other countries including Arab ones.
So, I was brought up in Beirut. I was injured in Beirut in a bomb explosion as a little boy of ten. I have vivid memories of the blood. My inability to understand was a mercy since it spared me the horror of understanding terror. I well remember the kind doctor whose piercing blue eyes were strangely comforting. I remember that other doctor stitching me without anaesthetic because they had run out of the wherewithal and there was a battle raging outside the operating theatre. I so well remember crying and being slapped several times. Maybe that was the cure for hysteria! If that is the case, I so wish someone would slap our wonderful Arab leaders – daily.
Beirut was – and still is – a spectacularly beautiful city. Indeed, Lebanon has a paradisiacal landscape of such variety despite its minute size of barely ten thousand square kilometres. When we were teenagers we enjoyed a joke which went something like this: “God created a most beautiful place and called it Lebanon. He called His angels who were mesmerised by its beauty. Gabriel explained that such beauty was not acceptable since it contained aspects of Heaven. God looked again and agreed. He decided that he needed to place aspects of Hell in Lebanon to balance things out. He created the Lebanese…” How we laughed at this joke – cruel youths that we were. Of course, whenever we retold the joke, we replaced the last bit with other possibilities than God creating “the Lebanese” – such as “the politicians”, “our teachers”, “our parents”… That last did not go down too well over one dinner which was instantly terminated as I was sent to my bedroom without much sustenance (or, at least, that was what my father thought – little knowing that our housekeeper passed me a most delectable meal through my window – bless her for she was probably the only truly mad person that I had ever met, well, almost, because, since then I have met headteachers, Local Authority officers, OfSTED inspectors, several in-laws and many others).
Today’s Beirut car bomb is another act of violence. The poor victims included youngsters enjoying a morning coffee on a pavement cafÃ© not far from the car containing the explosives. The poor Adviser and ex-Minister murdered was a father of two children just as I am. Nothing – but nothing – could justify such callously fortuitous violence.
But we Arabs take these things in our stride. Indeed, that is precisely the crux of our Arab tragedy (I wonder how many Lebanese are now reading this and screaming “We are not Arabs. We are Phoenicians! Phoenicians! Don’t you understand?”). We have become accustomed to violence. We have become used to death. We have come to expect our existence as a form of victimhood. Palestinians displaced. Egyptians crushed because they voted for a Muslim Government. Libyans dysfunctional because they died in their thousands to get rid of a tyrant. Iraqis still dying in their thousands because Americans brought them ‘democracy’. Tens of thousands of Syrians dead and destitute because they asked for freedom. The list is endless and applies to almost every single Arab State. The Lebanese insisting on being a Phoenician brings to mind a close Egyptian friend screeching, “I am not Arab. I am Egyptian. Different DNA. African actually…” And a Jordanian relation who argued, “I am not Arab. I am a Hashemite.” As well as a Dabawi sitting in a Dubai restaurant reprimanding me for calling him an Arab because he was not one; he was a Shargawi (from Ras Al Khaimah)… Oh dear. We are falling over each other to deny our Arab nationhood.
A rightwing Israeli friend of mine is utterly bemused by this phenomenon. He wanted me to know that Israel was truly grateful to us Arabs for doing such a good job on its behalf. Israel has constantly told the world that it was a helpless little nation in a sea of a hostile Arab world. Hostile? Maybe – but only to our own people. Only arrantly against our democratic aspirations (Did I say “democratic”?).
Yet again, if I were an Israeli bent on grabbing as much land as Ariel Sharon urged them to do before it was too late I would be celebrating as the Arabs disintegrate. (“Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours…Everything we don’t grab will go to them.” — Ariel Sharon, Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 1998. )
It brings to mind the United States slowly expanding over the years to become a huge and powerful nation. They bought Alaska. Will Israel ‘buy’ Sinai? They took New Mexico, California and Texas. Will Israel take the West Bank, Gaza and most of disintegrating Lebanon? They moved whole indigenous populations as they expanded towards the Wild West? Will Israel move whole Arab communities as it spreads into the Wild East and the Wild South?
Exaggerated scenario? as an Israeli colleague suggested to me. Is it? And what are the Jewish Settlements? What is the siege of Gaza? What is the continued occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights? What is Israel’s insistence on “maintaining a presence” in the Jordan Valley? Why has Israel no defined borders that are final and irrevocable? Whose is that beady little eye constantly ogling the Litani waters in South Lebanon? And who are those Bedouins who will not be forcibly moved when they had been precisely that for so long?
And what makes all of this possible – nay, probable?
Us the Arabs. We are much too busy being dysfunctional, fighting tribal wars, engaging in proxy shenanigans on behalf of so many who wish us nothing but ill…
Can it be stopped?
I do not know. I really no longer can see the future for the dust of battle and for the grief of the constant deaths of loved ones.
Let us extend the hand of friendship to each other. Let us live in peace with each other regardless of tribal affiliations or religious differences. Let us stop nurturing historical wrongs, real or imagined. Let us negotiate agreements that would give us peace and freedom. Let us forgive all wrongs – real or imagined. Let us accept others whatever their religion is. Let us stop killing Shi’ites, Sunnis, Christians and others just because they pray in ways different to ours.
Let us use our undoubted intelligence to seek forceful educations that question, that observe and learn, that respect the power of knowledge, that understand the great value of difference and that can live with the wealth of diversity.
Let us use words where we had used weapons. Let us use the ballot box where we had used meaningless traditions. Let us forgiveness where we had used vengeance. Let us be logical where we had been obscurantist. Let us use love where we had used internecine hatred.
Let us do business with each other and prosper together.
And, from that position of unity and of strength, let us invite our Israeli neighbours to work with us so that we may prosper together and live in peace with each other – symbiotically benefiting from each other’s ancient cultures and social strengths.
Peace through forgiveness and shared interests will make all our lives better.
And after today in Beirut, anything is better than the hurts that we have become masters in inflicting on each other.
It is infinitely more intelligent and more humane and more honourable to make peace than it is to make war. It is better for us and for our unborn children who have no choice about the legacy that we leave them. Let them, instead, inherit the peace that they so much need and for which we should strive, seek and ultimately find.
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This post was written by Faysal Mikdadi