The dust, as they say, has now settled. We already know what the cost of war has been to Gazans in irremediable human suffering and in massive damage to a vast inventory infrastructure in their tiny strip of land. But what of the unintended consequences of that war?
One of these was the highlighting of the cardinal fact — as if it needed highlighting — that last month’s hostilities were merely the latest manifestation of a long-festering wound yet to be healed, namely the century-old struggle by a people with a communal sense of national reference rooted in historic Palestine seeking to attain the right to live as free, independent men and women in their own ancestral patrimony.
Here’s the rub: in the wake of every confrontation with those who have denied them that right, Palestinians still soldiered on — bruised and dazed, an arrow still in their back, their place in the balance of power diminished and seemingly not knowing where to turn — fully convinced that they were never born with the germ of preordained failure, rather much in tune, as it were, with the Simon and Garfunkel song that has it, “I’m off to fight the foe ... / I’m proud to say/ I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way”.
Freedom addicts, with fire in their blood, are one-issue folks who will not rest while their drug high is coursing through their veins. Heavens, ask the Irish — the only people in Europe to experience classic, third-world-style colonialism and who, like the Palestinians, were steeped in history as they were beholden to it — how much they had to suffer and for how long before they wrested control of their destiny from English lordship and Cromwellian cruelty.
The other unseen outcome of the Gaza war was how the Palestinian street shifted in its perceptions of Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority (PA) during and in the wake of that war, which in turn tells us about the mindset of that street at this moment of immediacy in Palestinian history.
Though the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, including those in Gaza itself, are dismissive of Hamas, along with its authoritarian rule and rigid ideology, the group’s stand-your-ground posture during the war hit a chord with some. The Palestinian defiance, responsive as it was to the ‘assabiyah’ of the national mood, assabiyah being the term that the celebrated Arab historiographer Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) used to describe polities imbued with élan and a daredevil sense of self-confidence.
Conversely, the war in Gaza brought the PNA a lot of grief, highlighting the group’s irrelevance, not to mention its notoriously brazen subversion of the social contract, of checks and balances, of accountability.
Above all, Palestinians everywhere, in the homeground and in the diaspora alike, hold it against the PNA for the disorder it has brought with it to Palestinian political culture. And Palestinians, not unlike other ordinary folks in other societies, loathe disorder in their lives, even choosing injustice over it, asserting in that strange preference not support for reactionary political ideals but their conviction that injustice is a temporary act that can be done away with here and now, whereas disorder cripples a society, gnawing away at it like a raw wound and preventing it from thrusting itself beyond its fixed meaning.
In a Washington Post news report filed from the West Bank, Nasser al-Kidwa, an alienated Fatah official and former PLO representative at the United Nations, was quoted picking three adjectives to describe the PNA today: “Corrupt, ineffective, inept”. And, let’s face it, corruption, inefficiency and ineptitude are hardly part of political leaders’ job description.
At the end of the day, when it comes to Hamas and the PNA, for most Palestinians the choice is not either-or. Rather it is this; will you or will you not join that chorus of voices invoking Merculio’s line in Romeo and Juliet, “Plague on both your houses”?
The old guard is Palestine is not dead yet, but it’s getting there.
If you’ve been around the block a few times as a Palestinian activist over the last five decades, and are thus in touch with the geography of the Palestinian people’s national soul, you would know, as I do, yes, there’s a bright new chapter that a bright new generation of Palestinians, their spirits suffused with assabiyeah, can’t wait to start writing.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, academic and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile