Lessons From Palestine

The aching heart of the Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, could be heard this week throughout the Middle East as his feelings on the situation were published on the front page of the Al Hayat newspaper, published in London.

The aching heart of the Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, could be heard this week throughout the Middle East as his feelings on the situation were published on the front page of the Al Hayat newspaper, published in London. "Did we have to fall from such lofty heights and did we have to see our blood dripping from our own hands so that we could know we are not the angels we thought we were?" he asked. "Did we have to expose our nudity in public so that our reality would not remain virginal? Oh, how we lied to ourselves when we said: We are something special. It is worse to believe yourself than to lie to your fellow man..."

"The month of June has inflamed us with the memory of 40 years of defeat. For if we did not find someone to defeat us a second time, we have managed to defeat ourselves by our own hands, let us not forget. It is not the religious zealots who anger me, because after all, they believe in their own special way. It is their secular supporters who anger me and the infidels among their supporters who do not believe in anything else but one religion - their pictures on television."

This deep soul-searching on the part of Darwish is the refined essence of the Palestinian national wailing that found expression in dozens of articles, forums, talkbacks and sermons in the mosques. It was reminiscent of some kind of tremendous Shi'ite self-flagellation - in memory of the Day of Ashura, the day of mourning that has its roots in the martyrdom of the Prophet's grandson in the seventh century. "Arab society has in the past been faced with difficult days," the eminent columnist Abdel Rahman Al-Rashed wrote in the popular newspaper Asharq Alawsat, "but this is the most difficult time it has faced."

The most difficult time? In the talkbacks, Al-Rashed got a dressing down from a reader who identified himself as Muhammad Abda and reminded him that Hamas was not an agent of Iran, as Al-Rashed had accused it of being, any more than Iraq is. The reader asked him: "Why do you merely see the hair that is in the eye of Hamas and not the beam that is in Iraq's eye? Beyond that, who said that Hamas and [deposed Palestinian] prime minister Ismail Haniyeh are the reason for the civil war? No way. The international siege and the Arab conspiracy were the sole reason for the failure of the unity government. After all, this is what the Palestinian minister of information, Mustafa Barghouti [an independent], said."

Well-mannered Hamas

That talkback is typical of the discourse about treason and treachery that started immediately after it became known that Gaza had been fallen into the hands of Hamas, but it serves mainly to spark a debate on the significance of the analogy: Is what is happening in Palestine similar to what is happening in Iraq? Is Hamas like the Iraqi government? And perhaps it is Lebanon in particular that should learn from the lesson of the Hamas and ask itself, "What would have happened if Beirut woke up to find itself like Gaza," as the headline of an article in the Lebanese paper Al-Nahar asked.

But perhaps the Arabs should make the comparison between Hamas and Hezbollah, as suggested by Abd al-Bari Atwan, the editor of Al Quds Al Arabi, in an editorial he wrote this week: "We would like to hope that Hamas would wrap itself in the cloak of culture of Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah. Following the most difficult campaign that it waged against Israel last summer, this organization did not kill even one of its opponents, nor did it loot a single house or break into any government office, and it did not remove the Lebanese flag or trample with its boots on the picture of an adversary. The source of such behavior lies in education toward lofty religious principles, something we had hoped to be able to see in Gaza."

Is Hezbollah well-mannered? And free of sin? Abd al-Bari Atwan could have read what was written by his colleague Zuheir Kseibati in a column in Al-Hayat, if he wanted to get a sense of just how fearful the Lebanese are about the Hamas phenomenon trickling into Lebanon and particularly via Hezbollah. "Lebanon is threatened by a second Gaza", Kseibati wrote. "People in Gaza are asking who blew up the Mecca agreement, and in Lebanon the question is whether the time has come for the disintegration of the Taif agreement [of 1989, which ended the civil war in Lebanon - Z.B.] ... Just as in Gaza, so in Lebanon the citizens are threatened by a struggle between two governments [that of Siniora and that which Hezbollah would like to see - Z.B.] and by the threat of the disintegration of national unity."

This is not concern for the fate of the Palestinians, as Al-Rashed would have it, but rather local Lebanese fear, from the shadow of Gaza, and the same pleasant and easygoing Hezbollah of Atwan. The question of what happened to the Palestinians is of interest to the writers only when it remains theoretical. What will happen to the Arabs, or more exactly to the "private" country of every one of the writers, and what lesson can Palestine teach every other country, are much more interesting questions.

Backwardness and primitiveness

Palestine may have turned into the producer of insights for the Arab world, but the Palestinian problem can go to hell. "We have had enough of cheating ourselves by marketing the Palestinian as if he is someone more learned and someone who knows more. After all, the Palestinian whom we see on the TV screens when he is attacking the flesh of one of his brethren, is a symbol of backwardness and primitiveness," wrote Egyptain intellectual Mamoun Fendi in Asharq Alawsat. In the article, he warns the Arabs in general, and not the Palestinians, about the implications of the developments in Gaza. The Palestinians themselves, so it seems according to Fendi, have been afflicted by leprosy. And if in Lebanon they're afraid of what will happen, how much more so in Egypt? Hamas, from the point of view of Abdullah Kamal, editor of the pro-government Egyptian newspaper Rose el-Youssef, is a Palestinian issue that affects Egypt only insofar as it insulted the Egyptian efforts to reach a Palestinian understanding. But the greatest importance of the Hamas movement is to serve as a tool that allows for an attack on the "real" Egyptain problem - the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent of Hamas. If Kamal can succeed in proving that Hamas is treacherous and untrustworthy, dangerous and evil, then it must follow that the Egyptian mother of the organization shares those qualities.

And how does one prove the treachery of Hamas? The rhetoric is somewhat new but the basics are the same: Tie Hamas to Israel and to Zionism in general.

"I wish to devote some space to the matter of Hamas' accusations against Fatah that it is part of the Zionist camp, considering that Hamas itself, as the historical facts have proven, is an Israeli creation," Kamal states. And the "facts" are well known: Israel attacked Yasser Arafat's regime, his status and his influence, and in the end put him under siege in the Muqata in Ramallah; Israel nurtured Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) at Arafat's expense and in this way created a double leadership. Israeli and American pressure on Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to push forward the date of the Palestinian elections last year assisted Hamas in securing its victory.

Rabin as benefactor

There are quite a few stories extant about the financial assistance Hamas received from Israel, but the greatest support for that movement came from Yitzhak Rabin, when he expelled some 400 Hamas activists from Israel to Lebanon in 1992. In this way, he bestowed on it the status of a national movement. But Kamal's proof is even more detailed. The unofficial tahadiya, a period of temporary calm, between Israel and Hamas was born out of Israel's desire to make it possible for the Islamist organization to gain control of Gaza. Later, the publication of information according to which Fatah had received American or Israeli arms, was intended to cause the revilement of Fatah and to improve the status once again of Hamas.

In short, Hamas serves the Zionist interests very well and it is therefore not surprising that the Israeli government has helped it to such an extent over the years, Kamal says, while making sure to add the title of the "brotherly stream" to Hamas - terminology meant to allude to its intimate linkage to the Muslim Brotherhood. Kamal is less interested in proving that Hamas was an Israeli creation than he is in establishing the link between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He lets the cat out of the bag when he suggests, in his article, that the Taliban are located not only on the border of Egypt but right inside the country, where they act as the emissaries of the Zionists.