All Writings
July 25, 2004

They Don’t Want To See, Hear, Or Know

Having been a witness for nearly three decades to the plight of the Arabs and Israelis and involved in one form or another in the ups and down of the conflict between them that has caused so much suffering and sacrifice, I sometimes wonder if the situation is simply hopeless. Only a few days ago, I almost succumbed to these feelings during a discussion I had on Iranian televison with three prominent Arabs: Hosni Ez el-Din, Hizbullah’s media spokesperson, Bsharah Marhuz, a member of the Lebanese Parliament, and Ahmed Ramadan, the Director of al-Quds Press.

The discussion began with the violence instigated by the assassination of a senior Hizbullah operative in Beirut, Lebanon. Mr. Ez el-Din insisted that Israeli agents were behind this atrocity and that Hizbullah will not limit its revenge to the two Israeli soldiers killed the following day. I said that Mr. Ez el-Din had no more evidence than I did as to the real perpetrator or perpetrators and, in any event, the tit-for-tat violence will result in only more killings. I underscored this point by referring to the past four years of the second Intifadah and the destructive consequences for both sides, especially for the Palestinians. But this argument fell on deaf ears: For Mr. Ez el-Din, Israel is the sole culprit, the sole aggressor; and the only language it understands is that of counter-violence. Israel would not have exited southern Lebanon, he stated, had it not been for Hizbullah’s constant attacks that killed nearly 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Similarly, Israel will be chased out of the occupied territories only through continuing violence. Unfortunately, in making this argument, Mr. Ez el-Din seems to ignore that there are no political, territorial, religious, or cultural comparisons between southern Lebanon then and the West Bank now. When I tried to explain that this equating of the two situations had destroyed the nascent Palestinian entity emerging in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, Ez el-Din remained unmoved. To him, violence is the reason-d’etre behind the Palestinian revolution; it will end not just the Israeli occupation: it will destroy Israel itself.

For Mr. Ahmed Ramadan, the wall Israel is building is the source of all evil. He sees the wall as both a violation of international law and the source of tremendous hardship for Palestinians. And he views it as another of Mr. Sharon’s schemes to grab Arab land in the name of Israel’s national security. Mr. Ramadan insisted that Israel must heed the call of the International Court of Justice and the UN General Assembly and tear down the wall immediately. Although I personally feel that the wall symbolizes both sides’ failure to resolve their conflict, it has also unfortunately become a necessary evil to end the carnage inflicted by the suicide bombings. That said, it is impossible to deny that the wall inflicts terrible hardship on many Palestinians, which is why Israel’s own Supreme Court instructed the government to reroute part of it and compensate those Palestinians that have been harmed by its existence. But that Israel has been building the wall to stop the suicide bombings seems never to have crossed Mr. Ramadan’s mind. That Mr. Sharon himself initially objected to the wall, fearing the isolation of Israeli settlements to its east, but then was forced to yield to public pressure, did not matter to Mr. Ramadan either. The truth is that the wall may have aggravated the conflict but it did not cause it. No wall existed in the Summer of 2000 when Israel offered the Palestinians 97 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza (under the Barak-Clinton plan at Camp David), an offer Mr. Arafat flatly rejected. Rather than continuing negotiations, he then green-lighted the unprecedented violence that subsequently shattered every vestige of civility between the two peoples. Mr. Ramadan’s amnesia had led him to view the tearing down of the wall as the sine-qua-non for any future relations between the two sides. Instead of removing the causes for the wall, Mr. Ramadan and his like-minded followers use it as an excuse to their doing absolutely nothing to end the senseless violence while even encouraging it.

Mr. Bshara’s argument against the Israeli occupation rang the same disingenuous old bells that many members of the Palestinian Authority, including Mr. Arafat, have sounded. According to these arguments, peace would require an Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and Gaza and the repatriation of all Palestinian refugees to their original homes in Israel proper. I told Mr. Bshara that I could understand the demand to end the occupation. Besides dehumanizing the occupier and the occupied, under any circumstance, Israel must end the occupation sooner than later. But ending the occupation is not Mr. Bshara’s or the Palestinian Authority’s real goal. When I asked Mr. Bshara and his colleagues if there is any circumstance that will make them accept the reality of Israel, they answered that Israel must first to withdraw from the territories and then repatriate the Palestinian refugees. Specifically, they first seek to end the Israeli occupation by whatever means, preferably violent ones, and then obliterate Israel “as a Jewish state” through demographic means, that is, via repatriation of the refugees. This is precisely what Arafat demanded at Camp David; and it remains the demand of most Palestinian leaders and their supporters throughout the Arab world. Finally, I asked Mr. Bshara and the other panelists if they really expect that Israel would ever voluntarily commit political suicide by accepting, even in principle, the repatriation of the refugees? If their answer was no, then wouldn’t such a requirement doom any prospect for peace? Caught up in the frenzy of their own rhetoric and in trying to outscore one other in the vehemence of their arguments, they seemed not concerned by these questions. At that moment, I realized how tragic it is that the Palestinian people must continue to pay so dearly for their misguided leaders and for the intellectuals who greatly impact public opinion.

After our hour-long discussion, I sadly concluded that the three gentlemen simply did not want to hear any truths, or see the reality on the ground. They preferred the comfort of their own delusional rhetoric and denial. I was able to find some solace, however, in recent events in Gaza, where the people are finally saying enough is enough and in the belief that this change in attitude will spread to the West Bank. The recent unrest and lawlessness in Gaza are the product of years of abuse by self-centered leaders who have betrayed them. The public’s rejection of the corruption of Arafat and his cronies and the demand for change and democratic reform may eventually strike a deep chord.

As Israel proceeds with its unilateral plans to withdraw from Gaza and part of the West Bank, we can expect a long, tough, and possibly bloody struggle. A struggle between hard-core extremists who want to preserve the status quo and those who seek to break free of the senseless violence that could rob them of their future as it has destroyed their past.