Defeated, Humiliated, Pleading

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Billboard in Tel Aviv reading 'Peace is made only with defeated enemies.'
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

“Peace is made only with defeated enemies.” That was the message of giant billboards that were hung around Tel Aviv last week. The ads showed images of two leaders of the Palestinian people, Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas, kneeling and blindfolded. One had his hands raised in a gesture of surrender, while the other waved a white flag. In the background was a scene of complete destruction, with fighter jets – presumably Israeli – flying above it.

This is shocking. It’s enough to keep people awake at night – both those on the losing side and normal people on the winning one. But it’s the practical expression of the slogan that has been popular here for generations: The Arabs only understand the language of force.

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Yes, that’s the essence of Israel’s policy of force against the Palestinians – forcing them to hold a white flag and kneel, with eyes blindfolded. And if the hands aren’t tied, then they are raised in surrender.

During both the first and second intifadas, at checkpoints and even outside Palestinian homes after the routine nighttime raids, it was common to see handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinians, sometimes with their faces against a fence. Even though this sight was so common, it didn’t rouse any anger, or even any second thoughts like, “Guys, they’re still human beings.”

It’s hard for me to forget the arrest by the Israel Defense Forces of Ahmed Sa’adat, the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, along with other Palestinians jailed in the Palestinian Authority’s prison in Jericho. They were led out in their underwear, in full view of the television cameras and media photographers who had been invited in advance to commemorate this ceremony of humiliation.

The essence of this humiliating treatment of Arabs goes back a long way. After the great Arab defeat in the war of June 1967, Moshe Dayan, the Jewish people’s greatest military leader, announced that he was waiting by the phone for Arab leaders to call and surrender.

And indeed, the main motto was not just to win, but to humiliate, and in general to break the spirit of the Arab nation, which had only just gotten back on its feet and experienced a revival after centuries of colonialism by the Ottomans, the English, the French, the Italians and even the Spanish.

This breaking of the Arab nation’s spirit was evident after 1948, and even more so after 1967, when gloom spread through the Arab world due to the slogan that 3 million Jews had defeated 100 million Arabs. Moreover, the masses lost faith in their ability to effect change, and a mood of suspicion spread – suspicion by the people of their leaders, for fear that they might be traitors, and even by neighbor against neighbor.

Meanwhile, instead of a surrender call, Dayan got the Arab Summit in Khartoum, with its three “nos” – no reconciliation, no recognition and no negotiations with Israel. In Israel, as usual, this was interpreted as “Arab rejectionism.” Somehow, Israelis had forgotten the adage that “man does not live by bread alone.” There’s also something called self-respect, even for a defeated people.

Today, humiliation has landed on us in the form of the American “deal of the century.” Its essence is that the Palestinians must accept the existing situation, which Israel has shaped through force of arms, and if not, they’ll lose everything. The problem with this humiliation is that its shrapnel also hits the Jewish public, which looks in the mirror and no longer recognizes itself.

“This picture, which incites to violence, is reminiscent of the Islamic State and the Nazis, whom we don’t want to be counted among,” Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai wrote in his order to remove these appalling ads. But the ads are just a symptom of the rot that has been developing for generations. And if it continues, the state will continue its mad dash to places where even some of the winners will feel like aliens.

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