In his 1882 play, Enemy of the People, the celebrated Norwegian playwright Henrich Ibsen, the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare, tells the story of a man who dares to speak an unpalatable truth and is punished for going too far in his zeal to tell it.
The pluck of the protagonist, we glean, stemmed from his idealistic conviction that, well, the truth will set you free.
The reason the Palestinian people are not free today is because their leaders could not and would not at any point, anywhere, anyhow, abide those who told it. Those who did so were seen as enemies of the people who stabbed the cause of Palestine in the back.
Bear with a Palestinian who has haunting memories of Palestinian social critics — custodians of criticism central to the health of the body politic — who have had their heads hit when they were lifted and their voices silenced when they were raised
The truth is that since 1968, after the PLO emerged on the scene in the wake of the Battle of Karameh, Palestinian leaders have succeeded only in taking the people they led from one military defeat to another, one diplomatic disaster to another and one act of grief to another.
Yet, propelled by their sense of entitlement, they continued to demand unquestioned obeisance from Palestinians and implicit support from the Arab world, no matter the malfeasance, the incompetence, the corruption they evinced.
Bear with me here, I write as an engaged Palestinian, an activist who had invested his entire adult life — and even before that, some of his teen years — promoting the Palestinian cause.
Look around you today, and you see Palestinians — some 3.8 million in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and 4.6 million in the diaspora — home alone, as it were, left to fend for themselves and wondering why, after three generations of struggle and sacrifice, of unspeakable suffering and destitution, history continues to waylay their dreams.
Make no mistake about it, Palestinians living under occupation are poised for yet another winter of their discontent.
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The crowd of 48
You’re a diaspora Palestinian (from “the crowd of 48”) and sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night, or maybe when the night is not yet day, which is a safe time, in your comfortable exile in America, to think about Palestine, about history, and you pity your people — their dashed hopes, their broken hearts, their stabbed dreams — and the thought of it gnaws at you like a raw wound.
You feel all that because in your mind’s eye you are still in your twenties, still up there, still imbued with the assabiyeh, or élan, of a young activist with a dream to dream, and a major part of you won’t come back down again, won’t redraw the geography of your soul and relocate yourself elsewhere in it.
Yet all these leaders, who caused all this havoc in all our lives are all still schlepping around, acting as if they still yielded clout and still spoke on behalf of Palestine and its people.
Consider this: In a delusional display of that posture, Saeb Erikat, the Palestinian chief peace negotiator, warned last week that the Palestinian National Authority will sever ties with any nation that opens an embassy in Jerusalem.
Now you can consider this warning laughable or lamentable — or both at once.
Before his play was staged, Ibsen reportedly wrote to his publisher that he was uncertain whether to call Enemy of the People a comedy or a tragedy, since it had elements of both. Yes, that’s where it’s all at nowadays.
Bear with me, I say, bear with a Palestinian who today is living and reliving haunting memories, stretching back half a century, of a motley group of leaders that have always failed to wrestle honestly with their failures, learn from them and move on so that the people they led could also move on.
Bear with a Palestinian who has haunting memories of Palestinian social critics — custodians of criticism central to the health of the body politic — who have had their heads hit when they were lifted and their voices silenced when they were raised.
The real enemy of the people, you see, at times can come disguised as their devoted leader.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.