When is Palestine’s Arab Revolution?

Although Palestine seems absent from the Arab Spring, the unjust occupation was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The resistance movement has been growing steadily in Palestine since the Second Intifada – especially in West Bank villages affected by the Separation Wall and illegal settlements [GALLO/GETTY]

‘Parity of esteem’ is the name of the game – and finding a way to overcome inter-communal conflict matters. It matters because the Arab state has failed three basic tests: provision of security, provision of welfare, and distribution of power.

However, as the literati carry on unpacking the still-unfolding Arab revolution, one dimension is missing from this ongoing investigation which must be highlighted: The Palestinian corollary.

The Arab revolution, the phenomenon, the puzzle

Observers have been hasty in dismissing Palestine from the Arab revolution. I argue here that it was one of many dynamics, definitely one of the final straws that broke the back of an already heavily weighed down camel.

Two betes noires of international politics loomed large, by negation and denial, in much of the early diagnosis of the Arab revolution.

Islamists and the Palestinian cause were written off as inconsequential in the Arab revolution. The first is of issue to secularists, Westernisers and many Westerners. The second is of concern for those concerned about the Arab revolution’s implications for Israel.

Yet many have wanted a place for Google and Facebook in the Arab revolution. Even Obama had to boast about (the modest and unassuming) Wael Ghonim’s Google lineage – by definition kudos for the US.

No matter how dismissive, the return of the Islamists to Egypt, especially, is unstoppable. Plus, the Muslim Brotherhood have put their weight behind the protest movement that ousted Mubarak, and the ‘Mubarak’ factor will never return as far as Egyptian-Israeli relations are concerned.

It was a one-time ‘golden opportunity’ (a trade-off: Palestine for Gamal) during which Gaza lived in Dante’s Inferno, hell and purgatory – siege, war, threatening SMS messaging from Israeli intelligence, and the devastating trauma for civilians from drones and fighter jets.

The Palestine corollary

The Palestinian cause dinted the credibility of Arab diplomacy, Arab war machines, Arab politicians, and above all else the whole post-colonial nation state system. They all met their Waterloo when Jerusalem fell in 1967, when Baghdad was sacked in March 2003, Beirut was pounded for 33 days in the summer of 2006, and when in December 2008 to January 2009 Gaza was indiscriminately bombed.

All of these events happened either with Arab states’ complicity, passivity, indifference, incompetence – or all of the above.

Passivity sank in when Palestine was turned into a type of soap opera – a series of dramas. Stone throwing, suicide bombing, Palestinian in-fighting, IDF incursions, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, etc. In one episode it is Dalal abu Aisha, in another, tragedy afflicts Ezzeddine Abu al Aish.

Whatever pride and esteem Arabs, especially the youth, had left was dissolved when a 350 million strong nation failed their fellow Arabs and (human beings) during Gaza’s hour of need.

Even worse, some Arab businessmen were allegedly making sandwiches for the IDF. Not even civil disobedience was being organised as a symbolic way to say ‘no’ to the extreme injustice on behalf of fellow Arabs who were being showered with bombs and white phosphorous.

‘The Palestinian war is not taking place’

Literally, Jean Baudrillard’s famous 1991 essays ‘the Gulf War is not really taking place’ or ‘the Gulf War did not take place’ hints at endless similarities with Palestine:

The one-sidedness of the Palestinian tragedy is illustrated by the fact that the Palestinian faces high-tech war from a formidable force neither with indigenous parity nor an Arab counter-balance. Like the Lebanese in 2006, Gazans were left on their own – helpless – and bombed mercilessly amidst Arab inertia and international silence and indecision.

To follow Baudrillard’s logic, the Israelis were more or less conducting a Star Trek-type war, and Hamas a traditional war. On top of the ‘virtual’ nature of the war was a visual feast for the passive viewers who were glued to their TV screens.

That was the last war Arab pride could take.

It is quite possible that the Arab world’s youth, whose elders seem to have endless appetite for passivity and suffering, have craved esteem parity with the rest of the world’s youth: to live under a state that can protect, provide and represent. Just as the Israelis, Americans, French or British do.

Perhaps, deep in the psyche of Arab youth a craving for parity with the rest of the world has been growing.

The erasure of Palestine

Those intent on erasure of Palestine must rethink. They may find it easier to erase it from topography or geography. Not so easy to delete it from the map of the brain or the atlas of emotions of most Arabs.

It is not only the keys from their homes in Haifa or Jerusalem many Palestinian families still hold onto that have outlived the systematic remapping of Palestine, the violence, and the attendant erasure of all things Palestinian.

So it is that thought and memory have been deeply etched in the Arab psyche. They have transformed into the real keys for unlocking the safe where Palestine has been deposited until liberation is achieved.

It has been a long wait. New nations came into the international political atlas; others left. Most recently Sudan made an exit, ceding two new republics – northern and southern. Palestine is still in the nation-statehood queue.

The wait is arduous, and there is no better metaphor for it than the painful journey returning Palestinians endure in transit between Cairo’s International Airport and Gaza. They are treated like animals, herded into police vehicles for the several-hour trip to the border, as persona non grata, not international passengers in transit.

Indeed, it was a long wait. It was punctuated by the many incursions, the massacres from Sabra (September 1982) to Jenin (April 2002), the drones, the bombings, and the spiral of hatred and counter-hatred, violence and counter-violence consuming Arab and Jew.
Much Arab esteem was lost over Palestine.

Palestine until statehood, until peace

The explosion of the Arab revolution has raised not only Arab esteem, but also given some hope back to Gazans and to the Palestinian cause.

I was in Tunis the night news of Mubarak’s ousting was received. Thousands danced and chanted for Palestine, pan-Arabism, and Arab revolution. The banners, the flags, the jubilation, the passion, the energy of youth said it all: A better Arab world – Palestine included.

But today, it is Palestinians who must deliver the ‘revolution’ which they have woven into their narratives.

They can do this first by uniting their own people. They do this by sweeping their own dictators into the proverbial bin of history. Only then is there hope for them to turn the tide against another ‘dictatorship’: colonial occupation – just as South Africans defeated apartheid in the not so distant past.

Esteem parity is warming Arab hearts, and warming Palestinians who have craved the solidarity of their fellow Arabs.

Israel’s biggest success in the past decade has not been neutralising most of the world vis-á-vis Palestine. Rather, it is its success in the Arab corridors of power, turning dictators into enemies of a just cause, starving it of the oxygen of legitimate representation and solidarity in the Arab world.

A chapter is being turned by popular revolution in Arab history. Those unpacking the Arab Spring should not wish for the banners of Islamism or of Palestine absence. Rather, they should wish for Islamists to be engaging through democratic channels, and they should wish that Israel concedes Palestinians the right to be in an independent Palestine.

Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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