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Oslo made us strangers in our native land

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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The farcical downward slide continues.   

In hierarchical order: Mahmoud Abbas attempts to bury the Goldstone report on the Gaza massacre; Salam Fayyad speaks at the Herzliya Conference, truly earning Akiva Eldar’s munificent praise;  and a Fatah underling tries to make sleazy love in a sleazy video.  I could have made this all up, and you would have believed me, but no need to.  The party of Clinton and the clique of Obama never fails to hopelessly humiliate itself. 

We, the Palestinians, suffer from an overabundance of big men; pirates, gangsters.  They bark at you and insist that they know what’s what.  So you’d better listen.  There is always a female secretary, and a middle-aged refugee whose job is to serve tea and empty ashtrays (or sweep the floor if the ashtrays are out of reach).  He is necessarily obsequious. 

I don’t mean to reinforce stereotypes.  You see this kind of self-aggrandizing character everywhere.  In America, they tend to be pimps or Hollywood movie-star agents or government types, or, in the case of Thomas Friedman, world-renowned journalists.  In the developing or autocratic world, they tend to be government types only.   

Anyway, I had my own personal encounter with a member of the Palestinian vulture class – otherwise known as the Palestinian political class – several days ago.  It was that encounter that inspired this post.

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I spent this past week in Egypt researching several stories for The Electronic Intifada, one of which is about the status of Palestinian refugees in Egypt.  The Palestinian Authority (i.e., Fatah) maintains offices in Cairo – they call it an embassy – and I went there to hear the official line.  Objective journalism may not exist, but one can’t be faulted for making an honest effort.   My contact secured a meeting with a functionary whose last name is Al-Az’ar, loosely translated as “the hoodlum” (I told you, I could make this stuff up, but I don’t need to). 

I was led into a smoky office where Al-Az’ar was seated behind a dilapidated desk. 

“Ahmed, this is Dr. Al-Az’ar.”

“Who’s this?” the Dr. asked, casting his bloodshot eyes in my direction. 

“This is the journalist who wanted to interview you.”

“OK. What about?” 

I took a seat opposite Al-Az’ar, and started to explain why I was there.

“I’m not going to talk about this,” he interrupted.

“You’re not going to talk about the state of Palestinian refugees in Egypt?”

“No – I have nothing to say.”

“You have nothing to say about the Palestinian refugees in Egypt?”

And so on, until finally, “How did you get into the country?”

“On a tourist visa.”

“Well you’d better just go be a tourist. Don’t go fucking yourself and other people with you (Ma t-lubis halak wi naas ma’ak).”

The last phrase isn’t exactly a word-for-word translation, but I wanted to capture the essence of the exchange.  I reconstructed the conversation from memory but the transliterated line is verbatim.  In any case, it was good advice from someone who may know something about something, after all.

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I always struggle when I criticize Fatah or the Old Guard.  Is my tone too strident?  Is this line too cutting?  Who am I to judge these men?  And that’s the question that gets to the heart of the matter…  Maybe it’s time for a change of tone. 

Growing up, Abu Ammar [Arafat] was a heroic figure.  He carried a gun, risked everything, and suffered a great deal for the cause.  He embodied the PLO and the PLO taught us to that resistance was dignified.  In those days, the PLO was thematically consonant.  Things were clear to us.  Freedom!  Freedom!  Freedom!   

Some of our young men would go on to survive the fighting in Beirut, and the exile in Libya.  Many of those would return to Palestine as older men with high hopes.  Tragically, many of those would become fodder for the Oslo Meat-Grinder, the Soul-Shearer.  Oslo was the supreme alchemist’s trick.  Iron will and steely determination curdled into a foaming yellow-milky residue as you looked on.  It took years and years, but it happened.  We watched as blistering hope decayed, leaving that tungsten-cyanide alloy – cynicism (Incidentally, does hope have a half-life?  I wonder what Barack Obama thinks).   

But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe none of our best men survived the fighting.  Maybe the best of them dove headfirst into the Zionist’s Gaping Maw (they call it the IDF).  But I don’t think so.  I don’t think that Abu Mazen’s cupidity is congenital.  Or Salam Fayyad’s venality constitutional (I may be wrong about Fayyad – he avoided life in the trenches).  Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad are the very human product of life in a cesspit.  Maybe more extraordinary men could have resisted the structural pressures brought to bear by the Oslo gang, but not these men.  They are only human. 

Oslo changed Palestine.  Gone was our consonance.  “Maybe it isn’t freedom right now, but soon…,” and then, “We’re in charge here, and we’ll negotiate for some more,” and finally, “We’ll build institutions and sue for our state later.”  We allowed ourselves to be confused.  We gave everything up for empty promises and Slick Willy’s slick grin.  Oslo made us strangers in a native land – which is more like a strange land every day.  Oslo made us strangers to armed resistance. 

To be sure, Palestine has no need of arms today – the strategic and tactical environment has shifted – but we should have retained the right to use all forms of resistance as we saw fit.  This is our fight.  “We will abandon the armed struggle at a time of our choosing.”  That’s what they should have said.  The AK-47’s astronomical symbolic value inspired generations of Palestinians and others (when I was in Vietnam, people mimicked rifle-shooting when I told them I was from Palestine).  “They have Apaches and Merkavas but we resist!”  Think of how inspiring it would have been to see Arafat refuse the Nobel Peace Prize; “I am not a man of Peace!  I am a man of Justice!” 

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I could say something about how crucial the pre-Oslo resistance was for us today.  We stand on the shoulders of giants, etc…  But, it would be more accurate to say that we only see as far as we do by standing on the stacks of documented mistakes they’ve made.  So what have we learned?

1.  Never concede anything.  Freedom is all-or-nothing.  No half measures here, please. 

2.  Grassroots.  Grassroots.  Grassroots.  Discard the tangled extension cord and plug right into the crackling socket!

Maybe we too are in a position to teach them something; they are not beyond redemption. 

They can:

1.  Reconcile with Hamas at all costs.  Let’s get our house in order.  They asked the Begins and Reagans for forgiveness – they can ask their brothers for forgiveness. 

2.  Abandon America and Israel (and Tony Blair) and agitate for individual rights in Palestine/Israel. 

I didn’t write this as an assault on Fatah and the old PLO guard, but on their ossified hearts and rigid minds.  They committed to the erroneous track almost two decades ago and can’t seem to look left and right and jump off.  The interminable march of history is on, and Palestine will be free, just not in the way they thought it would.  It is up to them to cleave the past from the present to liberate the future.  Or they can stay behind while we do.  

Ahmed Moor
About Ahmed Moor

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American who was born in the Gaza Strip. He is a PD Soros Fellow, co-editor of After Zionism and co-founder and CEO of liwwa.com. Twitter: @ahmedmoor

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