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.

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