The Liberation of a Movement’s Death: Hazem Saghieh Discusses New Possibilities

Hazem Saghieh discusses how the death of the sacred cow of Palestinian liberation can liberate the Arabs from being held in thrall to that scapegoating narrative. But no sooner does he acknowledge the past problem, than he gets very obscure. Keeping their eye on this profoundly disturbing ball is not going to be easy for the Arab world, so long steeped in their scapegoating conspiracy narrative. (Hat tip: Frédéric Gandus)

The Palestinian Cause and the Cause of Palestinians
Hazem Saghieh Al-Hayat – 24/06/07//

Perhaps the gravest thing that happened in Gaza, as many observers noticed, is that the “sacred cause” and the “primary Arab cause” is no longer a concern.

This result exceeds the impacts of the 1967 defeat, raising substantial questions about our minds, societies and peoples, and even about our individuals and their daily lives. Since 1948, we have shaded ourselves with that cause; judged the world on the grounds of its stances on it, and judged our regimes and thoughts on its standards. Our rulers practice despotism under its name, and aspirants reach their political, prestigious, cultural or financial ambitions by climbing its ladder. Civil wars and epical collapses find their justifications in it, and sinners are forgiven merely because they show an inclination to it.

Scientific and technical revolutions have blown from behind our heads, and there have been economic shifts to which we paid no attention because we were so preoccupied with the “cause.”

However, that was a big lie. Let us imagine a historian who decided – after a while – to write about the stage we live in today, and let us borrow from him a paragraph which he can’t escape writing: “After less than a year from what the Lebanese Hezbollah considered a victory over Israel and a victory for the Palestinian cause, this cause is dying in Gaza. It is now required – after scores of years of calling for Arab unity – to unite the two parts of Palestine, as well as uniting Iraqis and the Lebanese.”

This means that a certain approach is responsible for what happened and happens, pointing out the limits of absurdity and rashness which are costly not only to peoples and communities but also to mind and meaning. Perhaps, we may say – in this context – that our life without a “sacred cause” has a liberating effect, just as people are liberated when an unchangeable, undoubted, unaccountable state of things collapses. Moreover, this may lead to a certain emancipation from our “mother” cause and our entrance in the realm of maturity where children – after becoming adults – can run their own affairs without firm, binding and predetermined references.

From here on, the article deteriorates.

It was wished that the Palestinian cause would have withered away after being resolved justly. Nevertheless, such a solution has been impossible because of the Americans and Israelis; yes, and also because of us, Palestinians and Arabs alike. Now we are before a potential opportunity although it has been produced by a terrible and bloody context.

I guess it’s an improvement to get “even-handed” about this, and the “yes, and also because of us” signals a willingness to take some of the responsibility. It would be nice to reconsider a bit more profoundly just how much the use of the Palestinian cause as an excuse for so many Arab sins, has skewed their view of Israel and the US. But I guess that’s still not on the agenda.

However, we know that this opportunity – in this situation we are witnessing – is very theoretical, and that fragmentation in Gaza and Iraq turns all the gold we hold in our grip into dust. This may turn the atrophy of the Palestinian cause into promoting hostility against the Palestinians, especially because of the Syrian exploitation of some of them and others as well, not to mention the ethnic conflicts in the region.

If this happens, things will be very grave and appalling. The end of the Palestinian cause which – in other circumstances – would have created opportunities for the concerned communities does not mean the end of the cause of Palestinians, the victims of Israel, the victims of us, Arabs, and the victims of the Palestinian cause in particular.

Exclusion of the revenge-related, retaliatory and racial logic toward them, as well as the exclusion of converting them into more impoverished and marginalized categories is an indisputable humane and moral condition. It is also an element of stability of Arab nation-states; this is only if supposing that such stability would emerge.

If I understand — I’m assuming that the lack of clarity is a function of the translation at least as much as of the original text, just to be even handed — he’s saying we shouldn’t turn on the Palestinians and start making them our scapegoat. Agreed. The really sad thing here is, were the Palestinians not used by the Arabs as their sacrificial offering on the altar of a scapegoating narrative that targeted Israel — i.e., were they allowed to pursue positive-sum solutions with the Israelis — these folks would be not marginalized and impoverished, but the most sophisticated and well-off Arabs in the world.

In the same sense, we can say that only the establishment of such stable and confident nation-states can meet the conditions of thinking of a just solution for the Palestinians and their causes. We should notice here that the question of Palestinians, as well as Kurds, labor market, water and security… etc. is of the kind that crosses national borders, which naturally allows for large-scale overlapping between wills and interests of neighboring countries, and raises countless sensitivities and fears.

Does this include such sensitive things as recognizing that one of the cross-border entities is Israel, and that their “wills and interests” might need to be honored rather than vilified?

All this is an additional reason for the consolidation of Arab nation-states which are motivated by self-confidence and satisfaction about the future, with which these states will solve the issues that must be solved.

The cause of Palestinians tops these issues, especially after the sun of the Palestinian cause has set.

I’m not sure what the author meant, nor what his readers derive from this. On one level (my hopeful projection?) this is a call to get on with life and start dealing with things like Israelis and Kurds in a positive-sum way. The obscure and allusive language may reflect the inability of Arabs to say such things explicitly… yet, and this excursion in exploring the Arab world when it’s free of the standard excuse for not growing up, is already huge. Sophisticated Arab readers, accustomed to reading between the lines, may well see this; while others, accustomed to screaming bloody murder when they are offended, may not have enough to seize upon here so that they can take it to “the street.”

Who knows what this all means?

One Response to The Liberation of a Movement’s Death: Hazem Saghieh Discusses New Possibilities

  1. Sophia says:

    I believe this paper is published in Beirut, and the article should probably be seen against the backdrop of the violence at Najr al-Bared “refugee camp,” where the Lebanese Army has been battling “militants” led by a group called “Fatah al-Islam,” which includes Palestinians but also Islamists from around the region including Saudi Arabia.

    The damage has been terrible, with many soldiers, militants and civilians killed. The “camp” has been severely damaged. It had been home to about 30,000 “refugees,” most of whom have been forced to flee. The other day some tried to return, and two I believe were killed by the army and fistfights broke out between the Palestinians and Lebanese civilians.

    There have also been bombings, one of which killed a noted antiSyrian MP and several other people. Hezbollah of course is attempting to overthrow the elected Lebanese government and seeks a bigger piece of the pie. Lebanon can’t yet get free of Syria; anti-Syrian legislators are said to be fleeing to escape assassination.

    The Cairo Accords of 1969 stripped Lebanon of her sovereignty over the Palestinian “refugee camps”, and this left her vulnerable to terrorism against Lebanese civilians as well as retaliatory raids from Israel, as Lebanon was used as a staging ground for attacks against Israelis. The Lebanese Civil War was largely sparked by PLO and atrocities, particularly against the Christian communities, were appalling. There are many would-be allies of the West and even of Israel among the Lebanese yet other factions of course have started wars against her.

    There are some 400,000 Palestinians living in “camps” in Lebanon. They have few rights and by the same token are heavily armed and beyond the jurisdiction of Lebanon although the latest incidents seem to have signaled a desire on the part of the Lebanese to assert sovereignty over their own soil. Yet because the Palestinians are forbidden to hold most lucrative jobs and exist because of UN and international support, and are poor, marginalized and potential prey for radicalism, some Lebanese have begun discussing the idea of assimilating them into the Lebanese population. Others, including the pro-Syrian Lahoud and at least one notable Maronite religious leader, regard the Palestinians as a “demographic time-bomb” and want only to be rid of them.

    In this context, I see the article as reflecting a desire to help the Palestinians as people yet breathing a sign of relief that the holy cause of Palestinian nationalism may have been fatally tarnished. No other state has been so badly damaged by it as Lebanon and the reference to Syria is also apt, as a great deal of the radicalization within the camps came via Syria as well as the oppression of Lebanon herself.

    I try to keep track of these matters here:


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