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

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