|Rime Allaf | Chatham House||United Kingdom|
The time has come to rain on the love parade. Observing a 40th anniversary not of peace, but of war, reminds us that there is clearly one party which is a big winner and another a big loser, a victor and a victim, an aggressor and an aggressed. A wrong, and a right. A strong warmonger, and a weak prey. Israel, and Arabs.
But judging from the commemorations, it would be easy for a newly landed Martian to think it was actually the other way around, given the unbelievable propensity, spreading like a virus, to convince, reassure, persuade, sweet-talk and beseech Israel to give back some land so that we could please have some peace. In fact, with every so-called peace initiative, Israel‚??s victims are left asking for less and less.
Every statement tackling the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to begin, as if by default, with a disclaimer pledging recognition of Israel‚??s ‚??right to exist,‚?Ě a denunciation of ‚??terrorism‚?Ě and a sincere wish for ‚??all concerned parties‚?Ě to live ‚??side by side‚?Ě in peace. And that‚??s not even getting into the notion of a ‚??viable‚?Ě Palestinian state (not one, interestingly, which has the ‚??right to exist‚?Ě) which is supposed to see the light through the ‚??painful concessions‚?Ě that peace-loving Israel is willing to make in order for an overwhelmed IDF to be relieved of the burden of having to kill more people in self-defense, to grab more land in self-defense, and to build more ghettos in self-defense.
Only after the disclaimer can the arguments for Israel to give ‚??up‚?Ě (and not back) land begin, and can ‚??civilized‚?Ě lines of reasoning be presented to comfort Israelis with the many advantages to be had if they would only consider letting us share our own land. They weave fairy tales describing the wonderful life we could have shuttling between different old cities, playing backgammon by the various holy sites while sipping tea and digesting the falafel and hummous sandwiches we shouldn‚??t have eaten so late into the starry night. They practically make promises to love, to respect, to cherish, and even to obey ‚?¶ if only Israel would be so kind enough to believe us. We even pretend our grievances only go back 40 years, not to pressure our dear foe too much.
There are other approaches which seem to confuse our little Martian even more; in some cases, instead of extolling the virtues of a Pax Israeliana to reassure our kind neighbors, the victims proceed to analyze the ‚??defeat‚?Ě in a war we never really had a chance to fight. It‚??s all Nasser‚??s fault, apparently. Or Abdul Hakim Amer‚??s fault. No, wait, it‚??s a collective failure of all Arabs, their governments, their media, their lies. Actually, it‚??s not just the governments, it‚??s all the Arabs who are to blame, having allowed this to happen, and still wallowing in misery 40 years later while Israel has developed into a land of milk, honey and technology. It‚??s our fault, goes this strange argument, for having wished for war and having pushed Israel‚??s feelings of vulnerability; this nonsense, having already been put to rest by prominent historians, has even been countered by Israeli politicians and soldiers who admitted having provoked this war. The argument that Arab regimes are as much to blame for this situation is moot, anyway, as it in no way reduces Israel‚??s responsibility and criminality.
Some resort to romanticizing the visit of Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem; wouldn‚??t it be wonderful if Bashar Assad did the same? Or, even better, King Abdullah? Didn‚??t this gesture by Sadat bring long-lasting peace to Egypt, which even got back its entire Sinai? See how ready and willing Israel is to make peace, if only the Arabs would make the first step? Never mind that Sadat‚??s visit, a divide and rule example of the most basic level, caused more long-term damage to the Palestinian cause than any other action, that Camp David allowed the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and that most Egyptian people still don‚??t seem so enamored with Israel, nearly 30 years after they stopped making war. Why oh why has the love gone from this marriage? Go figure.
Nowhere does blame for Israel seem to take center stage, where it should be, showing how much we seem to be collectively losing track of reality. Israel has even managed to intellectually terrorize people into obedience, waving the anti-Semitism stick with every mild criticism of Israel, and passing the baton to a most acquiescent media to continue its dirty job. Naturally, opinions like the present one will be presented as ‚??proof‚?Ě that such ‚??hardline‚?Ě Syrians do not want peace, that they do not accept Israel, and that inbuilt ‚??hatred‚?Ě cannot be rewarded with negotiations, let alone land. As if our land and our rights had become rewards for which we must first perform to the satisfaction of the master. Luckily for Israel, the Syrian regime has not actually been that uncompromising of late, even considering a Golan ‚??peace park‚?Ě where we can visit and toast each other‚??s good health — that is if our partners agree to spare us some of the water that will have been ceded to them.
This is not about relative degrees of compromise, or about confidence-building measures, promises of everlasting love, nor even about dignity (which is certainly not more important than food for the hungry) or the tired Orientalist notions that Arabs are supposed to attach more importance to certain things like land. It is about legality, human and national rights, and all the other rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including, of course, the right of return.
That we should convince the Israeli public to give back the Golan, or indeed parts of Palestine, is a laughable concept, as is the notion that the Israeli people would convince their government to wage peace if they knew they stood no danger. The proverbial silent majority has certainly remained true to its name, responding with only deafening silence to its government‚??s brutality in Lebanon, in Palestine, and anywhere it pleases. The uproar about the army‚??s performance in Lebanon isn‚??t because of the massive civilian casualties it inflicted, the senseless destruction of Lebanese infrastructure, or the hundreds of thousands of inhumane cluster bombs left to maim and kill innocent civilians on a daily basis; the uproar is because the army didn‚??t win. This is what bothers most of the Israelis who supposedly control the fate of the Golan Heights; the others don‚??t seem to care. If they did, they would revolt against the shooting and killing of a seven-month foetus in his Palestinian mother‚??s womb, around the anniversary of Israel‚??s creation; or they would denounce the killing of an unarmed elderly Palestinian man in his own home, and the shooting of his wife and two sons in Hebron in a literal blood bath, on the sad anniversary of the vicious attack they so proudly name the Six Day War.
That it has become the duty of the victim to reassure the aggressor is scandalous. It must be the other way round: it is Israel which must begin to reassure its neighbors that it is worthy of the repeated peace overtures and the ever-increasing concessions made by Arab regimes in the name of the Palestinian and Arab people, without their permission. Israel must return land, pay compensation, and apologize profusely to all its victims, for all the hardship, misery and despair of the last 60 years of dispossession it forced on them. If anyone should be demanding its right to exist now, it is the Palestinian people, and it is up to Israel to prove that it is a worthy partner in peace, and that it deserves to be treated as the civilized equal it pretends to be.
Rime Allaf, writer and broadcaster.