Yes, Arabs should forget about Palestine

Yes, Arabs should forget about Palestine
Palestinians don't want a state so the Arab League can hold hands as they enter al-Aqsa. Palestinians need a state for their security, stability and safety, writes Diana Alghoul.
7 min read
07 June, 2018
Justice remains in the hearts of Palestinians resisting Israel's brutality [Getty]

For decades, the collective Arab dream has been a "free Palestine". Since the 1950s, the Palestinian cause has been the pinnacle of Arab aspirations and the centre of the pan-Arab movement. Arabs and Palestinians identified with each other through a shared language, similarities in culture and perceived solidarity with Palestinians.

This is clear by the reaction Palestinians get when they introduce themselves to other Arabs. Sometimes, we're met with tears of joy, mixed with hurt, sympathy and a staple "God willing, we'll see a liberated Palestine and meet in Jerusalem".

But beyond the pan-Arab sentiments comes constant discrimination from many Arab countries that put Palestinians at an institutional disadvantage. Palestinians have long complained of being subject to deportations, deprivation of rights such as education, adequate housing, work and citizenship and being socially discriminated against.

In the case of Palestine's neighbouring Egypt, an Arab regime is helping Israel lay siege to nearly two million people, suffocating the Gazan enclave into inhabitability.

Yet, Palestinians are blackmailed into appreciating token gestures from our Arab brethren that romanticise the red, green, black and white flag flying freely over the streets of Jerusalem as the ultimate Arab prize.

Too often, Palestinians are called "ungrateful" or "traitors" for not "appreciating Arab support" when speaking out against mistreatment in Arab countries and when they speak out against Arab dictatorships that have exploited the Palestinian cause for their own gains. 

So, technically, with Palestinian solidarity in the Arab world being riddled with hypocrisy, Arabs expressing their support for Zionism is not as bad as it may seem.

Recently, an op-ed in Haaretz by an Emirati business tycoon claimed "the Arab world needs to move on from the liberation of Palestine". While a rich Arab writing for an Israeli publication saying the two-state solution is dead, and Palestinians should "put a lid on the past" may seem like a blow to the Palestinian cause, Khalaf al-Habtoor's words are actually liberating in themselves.

Palestine is not a romantic dream

In his piece, al-Habtoor referred to hanging on to Palestine as "simple, wishful thinking within our stubbornly romantic minds". This does nothing but prove how disconnected sections of the pan-Arab movement has become from Palestine and Palestinians.

For Arabs who support Palestine because it resonates with their identity rather than wanting to be a part of the struggle for justice, Palestine is just a romantic dream. They care more about the image of a liberated Palestine and the luxury that may come with it rather than Palestinians suffering under brutal occupation, apartheid and siege.

A liberated Palestine is not a romantic dream for Palestinians losing their lives on a daily basis as a result of seemingly endless Israeli violence. For us, a liberated Palestine is a necessity. 

Ahed al-Tamimi, a Palestinian child, did not strike an Israeli soldier because of her romanticised notion of what a liberated Palestine looks like. She slapped the soldier because Israel robbed her of her right to childhood - constantly targeting her family, all for the crime of being Palestinian.

Palestinians do not want their own state so they can see a human chain of Arab League leaders holding hands as they enter al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians need a state for their security, stability and safety.

Divorcing Palestine from pan-Arabism

There are many brands of pan-Arabism, and the concept of al-Aruba is defined in different ways to different people. While pan-Arabism in its modern sense was first coined in the early 1900s, the concept quickly penetrated the Middle East and North Africa in the 1950s as an anti-imperialist and anti-monarchic movement that sought to unite the Arab mass.

Ultra-nationalist Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser was seen as the movement's poster-boy.

Palestine was crucial for Nasser's cultivation of his brand of pan-Arabism. It united Arabs under a legitimate struggle and it fit in with existing anti-colonial sentiments upon which he built. Arab leaders began to follow suit in the following decades, centring their populism around Palestine. 

While this popularised the cause in the region, allowing Palestinians the luxury of knowing they had political backing from their Arab neighbours, it also came to Palestine's detriment.

Arab leaders began to justify their despotic actions by claiming they were for the greater good of the wider Arab world, and therefore good for Palestine. And when something is good for Palestine, how dare one argue against it? 

Nasser's strong pan-Arab rhetoric shielded him; it gave him immunity from regional condemnation when he used chemical weapons in Yemen after he intervened in the North Yemen Civil War. A nationalist movement arose which aimed to liberate North Yemen from the monarchy that turned the country into an isolated dystopia. Nasser's intervention was not seen through the lens of him advancing his self-perceived leadership over the Arab world at huge human cost, but as a brave decision that only strong leaders could take.

Palestine is not exclusively Arab, nor does it belong to the Arab world as a whole

One of the most extreme cases was when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, claiming one of the reasons behind his catastrophic operation was to support the liberation of Palestine. In 1991, he claimed his army would only leave Kuwait if Israel withdrew from the land it occupied in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.

Dictators also used Palestine to play victim, and put themselves on a moral high ground whenever it seemed fitting, then feeling betrayed by Palestine when Palestinian officials do not align their politics in gratitude.

In 2016, Yemen's then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh gave a speech to the nation, saying how betrayed he felt by Palestinians for not supporting him.

"We have unfortunately been betrayed by the Palestinians, to whom we were the primary sponsors of the Palestinian cause; and we still are supporting the Palestinian people in resisting the Israeli enemy," he said.

With the manufactured narrative of the most immediate perceived "threat" to Arab society being shifting away from Israel and focusing instead to Iran, Arab regimes simply no longer need to latch on to the Palestinian cause, making Palestine a liability instead of an opiate for the Arab masses.

Filesteen mish Arabiya - Palestine is not Arab

Filesteen Arabiya ["Palestine is Arab"] is a common phrase heard in the Arab world, emphasising that a free Palestine is an Arab Palestine. 

To respond simply, this is wrong. Palestine is not exclusively Arab, nor does it belong to the Arab world as a whole. Palestine has an Arab and a Jewish heritage and it belongs to its rightful inhabitants.

But rejecting the notion that a liberated Palestine will be exclusively Arab delegitimises the Palestinian cause in the eyes of those who support Palestine only because they believe it's their duty to do so as Arabs.

Palestinians should not be supported for being Arab. Palestinians should be supported for fearlessly standing in the face of oppression and facing injustice head on with absolute pride in their identity.

Al-Habtoor talks of finding a "logical" resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with this being Palestinians forgetting about the past. He asks Palestinians to move on, ignoring the fact the oppressive nature of the past remains ongoing in the present - and looks likely to be the future for Palestinians as well.

His opinion, completely disconnected from life on the ground inside Palestine, holds little relevance - his Arab identity does not give him the authority to speak for Palestine. His alleged sympathy for Palestinians and wish for us to "live in dignity" is not welcome, as long as he refuses to address the core injustice being imposed on Palestinians to this day.

It's easy to forget and pretend the political nature of the conflict should be left in the past when the connection to Palestine is through race rather than justice. So yes, Arabs should forget about the Palestinian cause for as long as that revolves around soothing the collective Arab ego instead of being centred on a true passion for freedom.

Follow Diana Alghoul on Twitter: @SuperKnafeh

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.