Opinion: Arabism’s greatest loss

Losing Palestine to foreign colonialism is the death knell for Arab nationalism.

Israeli Flag


David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, reads the Declaration of Independence on
May14, 1948 during the ceremony founding the State of Israel [GPO/GETTY]

What immediately stands out when reflecting on the plight of the Palestinians over the past 60 years is not only that they have been occupied and displaced, but that they are also being replaced by a totally different people brought to Palestine from the four corners of the globe.


Their land, their belongings and even their culture and history, are being usurped by a different population.


It is a painful repetition of the plight of native Americans we ignorantly refer to as ‘red Indians’.


The Israelis, who have become the new masters of the land, are Jewish immigrants that began populating Palestine in the early years of the last century.


The Jews born in Palestine are called Sabra, while the rest migrated in successive waves under the British mandate which lasted from 1918 to 1948.


Resounding victory?


The State of Israel came into existence after a resounding victory over seven Arab armies in 1948.


The IDF have become the most feared and
“respected” military in the Middle East [AFP]

With their victory intact, the Zionist brigades – the haganah – later united with the Irgun terrorist organisation to create the tzva haganah le Yisrael – the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).


The IDF have become the most feared and “respected” military in the Middle East. Western countries, especially the US, continue to make sure that Israel is equipped with the latest weapons.


Over the years, no country has had more access to US military technology and intelligence than Israel.


And no country has had greater influence with the US electorate than Israel.


The Jewish lobby in the US has influenced Americans with political aspirations to formulate the solid belief that their political successes are directly linked to winning the “fidelity to Israel” seal-of-approval from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.


In return, Israel – as a western geopolitical construct – has time and again proven its credentials as a true representative of the western world’s long arm in the region.


Even with Arab countries producing more than 40 per cent of the global supply of petroleum, the US has never treated the Arab countries en par with the way it treats Israel.


This policy of clear favouritism has alienated many an Arab country and created a realisation in the Arab psyche, that Israel and the US are one and the same.


Existential rejection


Despite many attempts by so-called moderate Arab governments with ties to Tel Aviv to gently introduce Israel to their masses, Arabs overwhelmingly hate the Jewish state.


Palestinians burn the Israeli flag during the
funeral of two Hamas fighters in Hebron [EPA]

It is not just a matter of political disagreement, or a temporary feeling associated with the progression of one political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict to another.


It is simply an existential rejection of the Zionist entity as a whole.


The Arabs have always found the idea of a colonialist entity, empowered by the west and enforced on the Arab world, as a particularly bitter pill to swallow.


But Israel is ironically the object of secret envy even among its Arab enemies. It is a well-to-do and vibrant society.


In addition to prosperity brought about by an outpouring of aid from Western countries, the founding fathers of Israel emphasised the role of scientific and technological advancement.


It has also turned its land into a real democracy – for the Jews – and built an egalitarian society that for its Jewish population is considered a paradise.


Bewildered Arabs


It was bewildering for the Arabs to watch the status of Palestinians living in pre-1967 Israel.


Most of those Palestinians had citizenship rights and reaped some of the benefits enjoyed by their Jewish counterparts, such as free medical care, education and political rights.


They were living better than many of their brethren in most sovereign Arab countries. Pro-Israeli Arabs would in later years try to make the argument that it is better for the Palestinians to be ruled by the “benevolent” state of Israel than “waste their lives fighting a Herculean army that is impossible to defeat”.


Pro-Israeli Arabs also use phrases like “resistance is futile” and that peace has achieved more than all the Arab-Israeli wars combined.


They deliberately ignore the fact that between 1978 and 2000 the Lebanese resistance effectively managed a war of attrition that eventually defeated Israel and forced it to withdraw its forces unconditionally.


The pro-Israeli Arabs would retort by saying that it was not a victory for the resistance; rather it was Israel’s political choice to pave the way for further deliberations between Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian president, and Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister at the time.


The same argument came about after Hezbollah’s resounding victory against the Israeli army in the summer of 2006.


A militia fighting alone with weapons so less advanced managed to put to shame the Israeli army with its state-of-the-art arsenal. But pro-Israeli Arabs instead called the confrontation between Israel – that still occupies a part of Lebanon in the Shibaa farms – and Hezbollah an “uncalculated and irresponsible adventure”.


But the critics had to swallow their pride when Hezbollah’s missiles started decking targets deep inside Israel.


They eventually reneged not in support of Hezbollah but to save face with the Arab masses.


Fidelity to Palestine




  Special report – A Question of Arab Unity
  Special report – 60 Years of Division
  Special report – Crisis in Gaza
  Israel: Rise of the Right
  PLO: History of a Revolution

It has become tradition to consider rejection of Israel as an integral part of what it means to be an Arab.


That rejection of Israel is equalled by a “fidelity to Palestine” – not a part of Palestine or a fraction of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip interspersed by the wall built by Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister, but the whole of Palestine. 


No Arab nationalist can forget the list of tragedies caused by the loss of Palestine and the creation of Israel: massacre upon massacre, wars and defeats and blood that is still being shed openly under the guise of fighting the so-called “Palestinian terrorists”.


However, what is equally painful for many Arabs is that the cause of Palestinian liberation has been used as an excuse by many an Arab dictator to justify the oppression and lack of accountability to their own people.


Every Arab government communiqué during the 1960’s and 70’s could not be considered credible unless Palestine was mentioned in the same context as the word ‘liberation’.


Even in this day and age, when catching up with the globalisation train has become the motto of most Arab governments you will find it very hard to convince their public that forsaking Palestine is an acceptable concept.


But without Palestine the notion of Arab nationalism becomes vacuous.


Hassan Ibrahim is an Al Jazeera political analyst who has covered the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war. 

Source: Al Jazeera