Perverse though it may seem at first blush, Israel and the people of Gaza — indeed, Palestinians in general — are actually thick as thieves, given the dialectic of their relationship as oppressor and oppressed, the one imbued with the will-to-power and the other with the will-to-meaning. And the dynamic of that relationship has been thoughtfully documented, by thinkers stretching all the way back from Sun Tzu in ancient China to Viktor Frankl in the Western intellectual tradition.
Just as that struggle between oppressor and oppressed has its own unique dynamic, we are told, it also has its own pre-ordained terminus — it always ends on a note of grace for the latter. Sweeping observation? Then re-read Arnold Toynbee, whose monumental, 12-volume A Study of History, that spanned several civilisations East and West, will attest to that.
But beyond the secular, there are the workings of the divine, where we climb the same mountain, though from a different side, to arrive at the same truth: In the struggle between good and evil, there can be no doubt, over time, that the ways of God are just. The order of the universe and of man’s estate in it are, at the end of the day, rational. For everything that happens in His realm, we are told in our own holy texts, God has an intended, though assuredly a benign reason. The people of Palestine “know” that God will make good on the havoc wrought upon them and that their demand for justice — the pride and burden of their struggle this last century — will be compensated.
Palestinians appear convinced of that, albeit viscerally, and so they soldier on, exposing themselves — like Homeric figures from a latter-day Iliad, where men are less afraid of the terrors of combat than the torpor of hearth — to the caprice and blood-thirstiness of their enemies.
Last Saturday, they gathered in the tens of thousands at different points along the Gaza-Israel border to mark the first anniversary of the Great March of Return, where countless people had been killed and maimed. But why do they keep coming back, mocking death, as it were? Sure, they are making a statement — an eloquent one at that, as they confront the enemy with slingshots, thus appearing as little moths to his burning flame — but are they making a difference? Why have they not embraced any of John Lee Hooker’s blues lyrics that go “Bin [sic] down so long that down don’t bother me”? In short why haven’t they caved in or at least backed down?
Look closer at the last 52 Fridays, that span the Great March of Return gatherings over the last year, and you will see that the weekly events drew their tone from a weld of philosophical values, yet ones perceived teleologically. And teleological values are, without a doubt, among the subtlest and the most direct languages of experience.
Recent history has shown that oppressed people, all the away from Ireland to Vietnam, could handle marginalisation, pauperisation and even dehumanisation, but they would have no truck with persecutors who deny them freedom. In pursuit of that poetry of selfhood — for that is what freedom is — they will endure daily privation, face extreme risk, accept permanent injury and yes, welcome sudden death. Pursuit of freedom is part of the “rational nature” of human beings, according to Immanuel Kant [philosopher], as is our struggle against those who want us to be servile to them. Simply put, opting not to resist servility, that is acquiescing to oppression, is morally objectionable. Oppressed people sense that force in them.
Trust me on this one: Next Friday, on the Palestinian side of the border in Gaza — where is located the planet’s most entrapped society and most traumatised people — Palestinians will gather, and on the Israeli side of the border, snipers will perch, using high-velocity bullets with sophisticated optical scopes to kill and proclaim their will-to-power. As the one grows strong, in spirit and will, the other will grow weak and diminished. It is so envisioned in secular as in divine texts.
So what is the takeaway from this column?
This: A long news report in the Washington Post last Saturday, covering the March of Great Return, filed from Gaza City, was accompanied by a photo of a youngster holding himself up on a crutch with one hand, and with the other, over his head, deploying his weapon of choice — a slingshot. The caption said: “Muhammed Bourdaini, 18, has been injured four times in the weekly demonstrations at the Gaza border. Still, he continues to protest”. I hear the kid. I hear him loud and clear.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.