“We’ve awoken from our slumber as prisoners in army uniforms lead naked prisoners in front of victory cameras,” said Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, a day after the Hamas coup in Gaza. “And now, one nation has two states: two paddy wagons we won’t easily give up.”
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In the northern paddy wagon, it turns out the situation isn’t so bad. The media is reporting on the planned construction of a $13-million presidential palace near Ramallah.
In response to arguments that in Israel they are building a $288-million presidential complex, one might counter that police vans don’t usually have presidential palaces. Palaces are for the wardens, not the prisoners.
They’ll also tell you the money was donated by foreign countries. Here, too, one can respond that one needs to offer heartfelt thanks to the donors, but then ask them to convert their gift of caviar into loaves of bread, a bed, and a book for those inside the paddy wagon. And if they counter that this luxury is aimed at impressing honored guests who visit from overseas, I will respond that anyone visiting a prisoner ought to expect prisoner-level hospitality, not a warden-like welcome.
Otherwise, the visitor, who generally supports Palestinian rights, will say to himself, “What’s so bad here? The Palestinians have very nice living conditions.”
In light of the story about the palace, it’s time to find out how those residents of the paddy wagon accessible to visitors are doing.
How is Salam Fayyad, who as prime minister started to vigorously build the Palestinian state institutions, and who is now silent, after the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas closed the nonprofit association he headed? And what about Yasser Abed Rabbo, Abbas’ political rival, who also has a nonprofit called the Palestinian Peace Coalition – Geneva Initiative, which Abbas also wanted to shutter? This nonprofit was only saved after European intervention.
Seriously? Does this type of antidemocratic behavior augur well for the Palestinian state? From this will arise the Palestine that is the “revolutionary dream” that Palestinian poet Abdel Karim al-Karmi (Abu Salma) wrote of? “Palestine, the revolutionary dream! Palestine, the immortal homeland! The stars will sleep on your palms, and our wishes will rest on your forehead.”
As usual, the alibi is the rising number of fanatics. But it’s precisely this type of behavior that will present local rule to Hamas – and perhaps even to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) – on a silver platter.
Radical movements that champion violence spring up in oppressive regimes. Because only these movements, through their organizational abilities, can cope with tyranny.
And when Abbas, like other Arab rulers, suppresses civilian alternatives, the alternatives arise from the dark places of fanaticism, isolation and violence. The dream will slip through their fingers if they don’t wake up, and soon.
The Palestinians don’t want to go through what other Arab states went through when, after being liberated from colonialism, they found themselves under the yoke of “patriotic” dictatorships. They’ve had enough with Israeli oppression; they don’t have time for another dictatorship.
One can honestly call Abbas a courageous leader. He followed a path that almost no leader before him dared follow – saying to his people in public what he would also tell them in private. He insisted on a peaceful popular struggle and refused to enter the military arena, where Israel clearly has control.
But leadership is more than just courageous policies; it also requires sensitive behavior toward the people, most of whom live in very harsh conditions. From a man such as Abbas – who led his people through the scorched-earth policies of Ariel Sharon; who has won widespread support so we are in a situation where the entire world is backing the Palestinians and isolating Israel – one should expect constructive democratic behavior, not destructive seclusion.