"Don't read about our defeated generation, children / We have disappointed hope / Marginal as a watermelon rind / Worn and beaten as soles." Renowned Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani wrote these words in 1967, following the Six-Day War defeat, the "Naksa," the 44th anniversary of which the Palestinians marked yesterday.
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If the Nakba "belongs" to the Palestinians, the Naksa belongs to the Arab countries, especially those against whom Israel fought - Egypt, Jordan and Syria. If the Nakba uprooted Palestinians, "the Naksa took from us the most precious thing of all. Not our land, our homes and our childrens' cradles. That June took from us our self-confidence for a few decades," Jordanian columnist Khairy Mansour lamented yesterday.
Why then, are Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese or Egyptian citizens not marching toward the border with Israel?
Apparently, it is a matter of historical convenience. Summing up the struggle between Israel and the Arabs in a local conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is the last drawing card. After Egypt got back all of its conquered territory, Jordan gave up the West Bank and Syria cannot get the Golan back by itself, what remains is to revamp the memory of the defeat.
And there is nothing like Palestinians to represent victims. The Arab Naksa will neither add nor detract from the burden of the Palestinian Nakba. It will only lift the burden of commemoration from those who are truly responsible for the disaster.
Then comes a Syrian killjoy and turns this claim upside down. "We must freely admit, there is no such thing as the Naksa. It is, very simply, a battle we lost during a long war... June 5 was the logical defeat for the opinions and policies that were cut off from reality," wrote Ahmed Hassan in the Syrian government newspaper, Al Baath.
True, he can write this because according to the Syrian narrative, it was not Hafez Assad who was responsible for the defeat, but rather Syria's president at the time, Nureddin Atassi, and strongman Salah Jadid. Both were imprisoned after the war by Assad.
These remarks are not new; acknowledgment of the defeat began during the war itself, and it became leverage to increase the magnitude of the victory in the Yom Kippur War.
What is new is the writer's unwillingness to let others, that is, the Palestinians, co-opt this memory. "This is not the 'Middle East conflict;' it is the Israeli-Arab conflict. It is not a border conflict... it is a struggle for survival... Neither we nor the entire region has a natural future in the shadow of Israeli existence, and there is no place for Israel in our natural future or that of the region."
Thus, there is no place for the Palestinians in this Naksa; it's an Arab matter, particularly Syrian, the last country to wave the banner of Arabism. And how is this vision to be realized? "Under the current circumstances the balance of power is not in our favor, and therefore our job now is to maintain the flame of the torch of the conflict."
So what are the Palestinians doing once again on the fence?