Two Enemies in the Same Pit

Salman Masalha

Two Enemies in the Same Pit

One of the most difficult problems facing the Islam-based Arab societies is the absence of a culture of reckoning of conscience. In other societies reckoning of conscience is an established element of the culture and allows for self-correction, but in the Arab societies there are no such mechanisms. Religion does not provide these mechanisms, the corrupt regimes are not interested in such mechanisms and the Arab intellectuals, apart from a very few exceptions, do not provide these goods.

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish has passed away and will not be able to address the war in Gaza now. However, before his death Darwish published, in July of 2008, a poem entitled “Scenario Prepared in Advance,” a hypothetical scenario about two enemies who find themselves in a pit. The one is the poet himself and the other is “The Enemy,” with a capital “T,” without specifying his identity as the reader can easily figure this out for himself.

And now the pit of Gaza is gaping wide open and the two enemies have fallen into it. And now the Palestinian is once again finding himself impotent in face of his self-deception. In an article published in the Ramallah-based Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam (January 10, 2009), Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri protests that the reaction of the Palestinian public in the West Bank to the dimensions of the killing and destruction in Gaza appears wan. In his eyes, this reaction “looks more like solidarity actions that are organized elsewhere in the world and less like actions that should be coming from members of the same nation. Even the solidarity actions in other places have been larger than the solidarity that has been expressed by the public in the West Bank.”

Time after time the lament on the bitter Palestinian fate surfaces without any attempt to conduct a real reckoning of conscience. “We are weak, we are defeated … therefore forgive us our dead children,” writes Abdullah Awwad, firing the arrows of his criticism at the Palestinian leaders: “Why are Abbas and Mashal not going to Gaza?” inveighs Awwad. “A leader should be among his people. It is not the television screen that is the place for leaders … and up until now not a single one of the leaders has appeared among the fighters, among the people” (Al-Ayyam, January 8, 2009).

Palestinian author Ali al Khalili regrets that the Arabs and the Palestinians have entirely abandoned the role of the victim and have left this role to the murderer who has all the might. “The amazing thing,” writes al Khalili, is that “the world is accepting this Israel perception” (Al-Ayyam, January 8, 2009). Al-Khalili stresses that he wants to take advantage of the “Holocaust” of Gaza to restore the role of victim to the Palestinian, because in his opinion this is the role destined for the Palestinian in face of the Israeli murderers.

The only Palestinian intellectual who has written sharp criticism of Hamas is Hassan Khader. The aggressive attack on Gaza, he writes, has aims beyond one military achievement or another that Israel can obtain. Its aim is to carry out experiments with the fourth generation of weapons and to carry out experiments in new tactics of warfare. The Hamas has provided Israel with all the conditions for this attack. The Israelis know, says Khader, that God has given them the gift of ideal enemies, who produce a lot of noise and rhetoric. “The Hamas militia,” he adds, “has not kept any allies or friends, neither for the Palestinians nor for their cause. The Hamas organization has done everything possible in order to convince anyone who has not yet been convinced that in truth the Palestinians are Goliath and therefore they must be dealt with by force” (Al-Ayyam, January 6, 2009).

The poem that Darwish published before his death ends like this: “Here, in this place, murderer and dead man are in the same pit / and some other poet will have to continue this scenario / to its end.” And now, in the wake of the war in Gaza, another Palestinian poet, who is an Israeli citizen and an honorary candidate on the Hadash party list for the Knesset -- Samih al Qasim, a pretender to the title of national poet – has taken upon himself the job of finishing the scenario. In a poem entitled "Sermon for the Friday of Redemption," he writes: “I am the king of Jerusalem. Descendent of the Jebusite. Not you, Richard …/ From the Negev to the highest peaks of Galilee / Gather up your swords, gather up your shields, Richard / and start emigrating. / You are destined to wane, I am destined to wax … / The time has come to emigrate, Richard … I am the king of Jerusalem / leave me the cross / leave me the crescent / and the star of David … / If you wish, you will emigrate alive / and if you wish, you will emigrate dead” (from the Internet site of the Israeli Hadash party, January 10, 2009).

In contrast to this bogus rhetoric, Hassan Khader’s words shine like a lighthouse: “It is an irony of fate that the bogus Goliath is threatening the real Goliath … and declaring that Israel’s end is near while the real Goliath is battering the Palestinians, bombing them and weeping,” Khader summed up (Al-Ayyam, January 6, 2009).

In a poem that Darwish published following the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, he refers to Palestinian self-deception: “How we lied when we said that we are exceptional … Believing your own lies is worse than lying to others,” he wrote (Al-Hayyat, June 17, 2007).

As I write these words, the bloody game is still being played. It appears that both the players and the audience here in this place are continuing to demand more action in the unfinished tragedy. Therefore, in order to finish the bad scenario that is being written by bad people here where we are, this place needs above all a wise and courageous director to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian blood wedding. And since there aren’t any wise playwrights and directors here where we are, the director must come from outside this place, in the form of heavy international pressure to end the Israeli occupation and to establish a Palestinian state on all the territories that have been occupied since 1967 and to push the Palestinian and Arab side to a genuine internalization of the recognition of the state of Israel. If not, almost certainly this tragic play will embark on another world tour of bloody performances.

Jerusalem, January 12, 2009


Published in German: 14. Januar 2009, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Published in: Middle East Transparent, English, Arabic

For the Arabic text, press here.

For the German text, press here.

For the Hebrew text, press here.


On the One Hand, on the Other Hand

Salman Masalha


These things must be said in an unvarnished way. The situation that has developed in this land that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River – call it the land of Israel if you like, or call it Palestine or any other name that crosses your lips – is above all a man-made tragedy, though the heavens have touched upon it.

On the one hand, the Hamas organization, sadly, is not fighting the Israeli occupation. Anyone who claims otherwise must first of all bring proofs from the mouths of spokesman for the Hamas organization itself. As long as the claimant does not define the boundaries of the occupation and reinforce his claim with quotations from the mouth of Hamas that it is fighting “this occupation,” anything he says will be tantamount to vanity of vanities, to put it mildly.

The Hamas organization in Palestine, like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban people who fought the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan with the encouragement and support of the United States, was born with the aid of the Israeli occupier and is tantamount to a Golem that has risen up and turned on its creator. For many years Hamas enjoyed the support of the leaders of the Israeli occupation, who wanted to create a counterweight to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was waging the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. This attempt was made following the attempt – the previous failure – by the leaders of the occupation who were nourished by a mistaken Orientalist conception that had several years earlier pushed for the creation of the Village Associations in the occupied territories to constitute a counterweight to the urban leadership, which had taken the PLO path.

The Hamas organization, in that it is deeply immersed in the Islamic ideology, first and foremost endangers Palestinian nationalism, and this for the simple reason that it entirely negates this nationalism, as it does any other Arab nationalism. From the perspective of Hamas and its Islamic ideology, Palestine is nothing but an occupied stretch of land that belongs to the Muslim nation that aspires to restore its ancient glory in the form of the great Islamic caliphate of which Palestine constitutes but a tiny province. The Hamas organization has drawn encouragement not only from the success of the Khomeinist revolution that has taken root in Iran, but also from the “Jewish Hamas” that has emerged in Israel in the wake of the deepening of the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories after the war of June, 1967.

On the other hand, all of the moves that Israel and its many governments have made here in the past decades have been aimed at continuing the Israeli occupation, deepening it and perpetuating it in order to thwart the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories. It should be noted that even the peace agreement that Israel was compelled to sign with Egypt was signed in the end with gritted teeth on the part of the Israeli right that believes in occupations. Even the peace agreement with Egypt was made, inter alia, in order to neutralize the largest Arab country for the sake of the continuation of the occupation of the Palestinian territories. “The Palestinian Autonomy” that was included in that agreement revealed Israel’s real intentions, for in the autonomy plan, as Menachem Begin made clear in 1979, the reference was to autonomy of persons and not to autonomy of territory. In other words, the Palestinian inhabitants would administer their own affairs but they would not have the right to administer the territory. For indeed, the territory, according to the “Jewish Hamas,” is sacred Jewish land that no government has the right to relinquish. And thus, the occupation grew deeper and the Jewish settlements expanded and multiplied.

And just as the Palestinian Hamas is inimical to the Palestinian “national” interest, so the “Jewish Hamas” is inimical to the Israeli “national” interest. And thus, in the context of the conflict the two emerging “new nations” have gradually sunk into national-religious quicksand. And the deeper they sink into the land of Israel quagmire and into the Palestine quagmire, the more those who claim exclusivity over the swamp, as well as those who are sinking in it, fight each other and drown more and more people under their trampling feet.

In order to rescue the dwellers in this swamp of quicksand from the fate that is known and expected for both sides, there is a need to move on to a process of drying out the swamp instead of one side passing its water on the other, and that at a time when both of them are splashing around in a swamp that is sodden with blood in any case. Although the drying process is not easy because it requires a change in consciousness, a change in the culture that created the swamp that is devouring its inhabitants, there is no other way of getting out of the mud in which both sides are floundering. Neither the graves of Jewish patriarchs nor the graves of Arab patriarchs should be the aspirations of Jews and Arabs, for whoever sanctifies graves of patriarchs will end up interring sons in them. Many sons, from both sides, have already been swallowed up by this swamp and the mouth is still gaping open.

I am not a believer in nationalism of any sort. To my mind, nationalism is a serious illness of the human race and when it is mixes with religion that sanctifies graves it becomes a malignant and contagious disease, and this is the reality that has developed in this land before our very eyes.

Therefore, this land of quicksand needs courageous leadership, both on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side. This land needs a courageous Israeli leadership that will act in a serious way, without stuttering or winking, to end the Israeli occupation in all the territories that were occupied in 1967. Yes, including Palestinian East Jerusalem. This land of quicksand equally needs a courageous Palestinian leadership that will also act seriously, without stuttering or winking, to end the occupation of 1967 and speak courageously and frankly to its people in order to bring about reciprocal recognition between Israel and Palestine as two independent states with all that this entails in international law. The moment each of the two peoples, in the two independent states, builds a secular and democratic state on its own side, in any case the border between them will be of no significance. Until then, we will be waiting for two “Messiahs,” an Israeli Ataturk and a Palestinian Ataturk. Until then, both sides will have to realize that there is no greater land of Israel and there is no greater Palestine. Period.

Everyone in whose heart the love of this entire land, with all its landscapes, sites and inhabitants, is deeply planted must partition it into a smaller Israel and a smaller Palestine. Precisely in this case, it is the splitting that will preserve the whole. For if not, this will not be a land of the living, neither for Jews nor for Arabs, neither for Israelis nor for Palestinians. For if not, only death will have a flourishing country here.

Jerusalem, January 5, 2009

Translated from the Hebrew by V. Eden

The article in Middle East Transparent.

For the Hebrew text, press here.
For the Spanish, press here.
For the Portuguese, press here.

  • Iran’s Messianic War

    The Islamic revolution, which brought the ayatollahs to power in Iran, awakened messianic demons from their sleep. The rulers dreamed of a greater Iran and acted to export the revolution beyond their borders.

    The decay in the Arab world

    With great sadness, it can be said that in the absence of a sane civil alternative, the Arab world will continue along this path.

    Read more

  • The Massacre of Arab Nationalism

    It must be admitted that the siege imposed on Gaza ever since Hamas took power there isn’t just an Israeli siege. It’s also an Arab one – because a single Egyptian decision would be enough to break the siege on Gaza’s border with Egypt.

    A Feeble Middle East

    The West learned on its own flesh that this region conducts itself by other codes. Iran has continued to entrench its standing by means of its religious ideology. The toppling of Saddam Hussein shattered the illusion of the existence of a unifying “Iraqi identity” .

    Read more

  • Neither Arab nor Spring

    The vicissitudes that have, for some reason, been collectively dubbed the "Arab Spring" are neither Arab nor Spring. One can say that they are actually living proof of the identity crisis and reverberating bankruptcy of Arab nationalism.

    Read more

  • Welcome Back to History

    Islam, like other imperialist ideologies, still needs enemies to flourish. Enemies have served Islam in the past as fuel for its wagons. Without enemies Islam declines and stagnates...

    Read more

  • The pit and the pendulum

    In those days, we did not drink four goblets of wine, because everything that gladdens the human heart is not a part of our custom.

    Read more

  • Solomon’s Mosque

    Religion, every religion, is the No. 1 enemy of nationalism. But under conditions of tension, such as tribal warfare, these polar opposites combine into a toxic soup that consumes all common sense.

    Read more

  • Never-ending tragedy

    The Israeli right, in all its forms, wants exclusively Jewish control over all of the Land of Israel. To the Palestinians who live in this space, it promises residency – temporary, of course, on condition that they keep their heads down, accept their designated status and behave accordingly.

    Read more
  • Hamas in the service of Israel

    Hamas rule isn’t the enemy of the Israeli right. Au contraire, it’s the loyal servant of all the right-wing governments. Since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War, all Israeli governments have devoted all their time and energy to fighting the Palestinian national movement


מיון החומרים


Selected Topics

  • Martin Niemöller

    First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the Socialist
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Read More

  • Salman Masalha

    Beyond my door which faces west
    Lives a woman who'll never rest.

    She likes to tease my nomad soul
    With words she keeps for gloomy fall.
  • Balkrishna Sama

    He who loves flowers, has a tender heart.
    he who cannot pluck their blooms,
    has a heart that's noble.

    Read more