The Palestinians' Warnings Keep on Falling on Deaf Ears

The more Israeli society closes its ears, the more the Palestinians search for 'noisier' ways to convey their message of suffering both as a nation and individuals.

Amira Hass
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A Palestinian protester directs firecrackers toward Israeli police in Shoafat, East Jerusalem, July 2, 2014.Credit: AFP
Amira Hass

A joke is making the rounds between Ramallah and Jerusalem. A bride tells her new husband on her wedding night that she’s a virgin. The man looks at her and says, “What did you say? But you’ve been married before.” She replies, “True, but he was a Fatah member. For a year he would talk all evening about how we were going to have sex, and by the time he got to bed he fell asleep.”

Full disclosure: I heard that joke this week from a supporter of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose members – as Fatah supporters would say contemptuously – wouldn’t fill a car.

But both Fatah and the PFLP would do better to join forces and use their sarcasm for jokes about Israelis who pay attention to statements but not to the message behind them, and who pay attention to the Palestinians only when a few carry out stabbing or vehicular attacks, or when their demonstrations manage to disrupt Israelis’ routines.

The teller of the above joke also discussed Nur al-Din al-Hashiya, the teenager from the Askar refugee camp in Nablus who stabbed soldier Almog Shilony to death on Monday. The PFLP supporter, having watched a video showing Hashiya’s capture, said he saw despair in the 17-year-old’s eyes.

“That young man didn’t care if he was killed, wounded or caught,” said my Palestinian interlocutor, who remembers himself at the same age. That was some 15 years ago; he had already sobered up from the delusion that a Palestinian state was on the way. But at least he still had a chance to support himself respectably.

The World Bank has repeatedly warned about the link between two things. On the one hand, there are the restrictions Israel places on Palestinian movement and Israel’s full control over the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C. On the other, there’s the chronic weakness of the Palestinian economy and the potential for unrest among young people. Important here is the implicit connection between repression on the national level and the fact that many people lack professional and personal horizons.

Warnings are also statements, backed by data and facts. Yet they continue to fall on deaf ears – not just those of the Israeli government, but also those of Israeli society. The more Israeli society closes its ears, the more the Palestinians search for “noisier” ways to convey the message.

When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas complained on Tuesday that Israel was dragging both sides into a religious war, he was speaking from his knowledge of the dynamics of Palestinian society, as well as, of course, his knowledge of Israel’s actions that are changing the status quo on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. To label Abbas’ statements as “fanning the flames” is to miss his desperate call for Israelis to come to their senses, restrain themselves and return the conflict to its “normal,” political dimensions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s renewed efforts to delegitimize Abbas in recent days are apparently linked to the PA president’s vow to continue the application process to the United Nations and join UN-affiliated agencies like the International Criminal Court.

These promises-cum-warnings by Abbas and his circle sound to many Palestinians like the promises by that Fatah guy in the joke. The tactic is losing momentum because of the long stretch between each stage of the march to the United Nations.

The value or lack thereof of political statements changes according to the circumstances; the only way to measure them is to compare them to actual actions.

Israel has attacked Abbas over his condolence letter to the family of the Palestinian who tried to assassinate right-wing activist Yehuda Glick. But all the actions his PA has been taking on the ground — continuing the security coordination, preserving the quiet despite the army’s escalation, concentrating construction efforts inside Palestinian enclaves — show that the Palestinian self-governing authority isn’t keen on being dismantled or dismantling itself. The leaders of this self-rule government see it as an achievement and a Palestinian asset, not a burden.

Self-rule in these enclaves is still in the interests of the Palestinian ruling class. And whether by accident or design, the reality of these Palestinian enclaves also suits the Israeli government’s full-speed-ahead plan – both declared and undeclared – to annex Area C. It’s hard to believe Netanyahu doesn’t know this.

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