[News] Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 29 11:22:15 EDT 2016
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes
and the Wider Society
by Ramzy Baroud <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/ramzy-baroud/>,
April 29, 2016
At the age of 21, I crossed Gaza into Egypt to pursue a degree in
political science. The timing could have not been worse. The Iraq
invasion of Kuwait in 1990 had resulted in a US-led international
coalition and a major war, which eventually paved the road for the US
invasion of Iraq in 2003. I became aware that Palestinians were suddenly
‘hated’ in Egypt because of Yasser Arafat’s stance in support of Iraq at
the time. I just did not know the extent of that alleged ‘hate.’
It was in a cheap hotel in Cairo, where I slowly ran out of the few
Egyptian pounds at my disposal, that I met Hajah Zainab, a kindly, old
custodian who treated me like a son. She looked unwell, wobbled as she
walked, and leaned against walls to catch her breath before carrying on
with her endless chores. The once carefully-designed tattoos on her
face, became a jumble of wrinkled ink that defaced her skin. Still, the
gentleness in her eyes prevailed, and whenever she saw me she hugged me
Hajah Zainab wept for two reasons: taking pity on me as I was fighting a
deportation order in Cairo – for no other reason than the fact that I
was a Palestinian at a time that Arafat endorsed Saddam Hussein while
Hosni Mubarak chose to ally with the US. I grew desperate and dreaded
the possibility of facing the Israeli intelligence, Shin Bet, who were
likely to summon me to their offices once I crossed the border back to
Gaza. The other reason is that Hajah Zainab’s only son, Ahmad, had died
fighting the Israelis in Sinai.
Zainab’s generation perceived Egypt’s wars with Israel, that of 1948,
1956 and 1967 as wars in which Palestine was a central cause. No amount
of self-serving politics and media conditioning could have changed that.
But the war of 1967 was that of unmitigated defeat. With direct, massive
support from the US and other western powers, Arab armies were soundly
beaten, routed at three different fronts. Gaza, East Jerusalem and the
West Bank were lost, along with the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley and
Sinai, as well.
It was then that some Arab countries’ relations with Palestine began
changing. Israel’s victory and the US-West’s unremitting support
convinced some Arab governments to downgrade their expectations, and
expected the Palestinians to do so, as well. Egypt, once the
torch-bearer of Arab nationalism, succumbed to a collective sense of
humiliation and, later, redefined its priorities to free its own land
from Israeli Occupation. Without the pivotal Egyptian leadership, Arab
countries were divided into camps, each government with its own agenda.
As Palestine, all of it, was then under Israeli control, Arabs slowly
walked away from a cause they once perceived to be the central cause of
the Arab nation.
The 1967 war also brought an end to the dilemma of independent
Palestinian action, which was almost entirely hijacked by various Arab
countries. Moreover, the war shifted the focus to the West Bank and
Gaza, and allowed the Palestinian faction, Fatah, to fortify its
position in light of Arab defeat and subsequent division.
That division was highlighted most starkly in the August 1967 Khartoum
summit, where Arab leaders clashed over priorities and definitions.
Should Israel’s territorial gains redefine the status quo? Should Arabs
focus on returning to a pre-1967 situation or that of pre-1948, when
historic Palestine was first occupied and Palestinians ethnically cleansed?
The United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 242, on November
22, 1967, reflecting the US Johnson Administration’s wish to capitalize
on the new status quo: Israeli withdrawal “from occupied territories” in
exchange for normalization with Israel. The new language of the
immediate post-1967 period alarmed Palestinians who realized that any
future political settlement was likely to ignore the situation that
existed prior to the war.
Eventually, Egypt fought and celebrated its victory of the 1973 war,
which allowed it to consolidate its control over most of its lost
territories. A few years later, the Camp David accords in 1979 divided
the ranks of the Arabs even more and ended Egypt’s official solidarity
with the Palestinians, while granting the most populous Arab state a
conditioned control over its own land in Sinai. The negative
repercussions of that agreement cannot be overstated. However, the
Egyptian people, despite the passing of time, have never truly
normalized with Israel.
In Egypt, a chasm still exists between the government, whose behavior is
based on political urgency and self-preservation, and a people who,
despite a decided anti-Palestinian campaign in various media, are as
ever determined to reject normalization with Israel until Palestine is
free. Unlike the well-financed media circus that has demonized Gaza in
recent years, the likes of Hajah Zainab have very few platforms where
they can openly express their solidarity with the Palestinians. In my
case, I was lucky enough to run into the aging custodian who cried for
Palestine and her only son all those years ago.
Nevertheless, that very character, Zainab, was reincarnated in my path
of travel, time and again. I met her in Iraq in 1999. She was an old
vegetable vendor living in Sadr City. I met her in Jordan in 2003. She
was a cabby, with a Palestinian flag hanging from his cracked rearview
mirror. She was also a retired Saudi journalist I met in Jeddah in 2010,
and a Moroccan student I met at a speaking tour in Paris in 2013. She
was in her early twenties. After my talk, she sobbed as she told me that
Palestine for her people is like a festering wound. “I pray for a free
Palestine every day,” she told me, “as my late parents did with every
Hajah Zainab is also Algeria, all of Algeria. When the Palestinian
national football team met their Algerian counterparts last February, a
strange, unprecedented phenomenon transpired that left many puzzled. The
Algerian fans, some of the most ardent lovers of football anywhere,
cheered for the Palestinians, non-stop. And when the Palestinian team
scored a goal, it was if the bleachers were lit on fire. The crowded
stadium exploded with a trancing chant for Palestine and Palestine alone.
So, did the Arabs betray Palestine? The question is heard often, and it
is often followed with the affirmative, ‘yes, they did.’ The Egyptian
media scapegoating of Palestinians in Gaza, the targeting and starving
of Palestinians in Yarmouk, Syria, the past civil war in Lebanon, the
mistreatment of Palestinians in Kuwait in 1991 and, later, in Iraq in
2003 are often cited as examples. Now some insist that the so-called
‘Arab Spring’ was the last nail in the coffin of Arab solidarity with
I beg to differ. The outcome of the ill-fated ‘Arab Spring’ was a
massive letdown, if not betrayal, not just of Palestinians but of most
Arabs. The Arab world has turned into a massive ground for dirty
politics between old and new rivals. While Palestinians were victimized,
Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis and others are being victimized, as
There has to be a clear political demarcation of the word ‘Arabs.’ Arabs
can be unelected governments as much as they can be a kindly old woman
earning two dollars a day in some dirty Cairo hotel. Arabs are
emboldened elites who care only about their own privilege and wealth
while neither Palestine nor their own nations matter, but also
multitudes of peoples, diverse, unique, empowered, oppressed, who happen
at this point in history to be consumed with their own survival and
fight for freedom.
The latter ‘Arabs’ never betrayed Palestine; they willingly fought and
died for it when they had the chance.
Most likely, Hajah Zainab is long dead now. But millions more like her
still exist and they, too, long for a free Palestine, as they continue
to seek their own freedom and salvation.
/*Dr. Ramzy Baroud* has been writing about the Middle East for over 20
years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media
consultant, an author of several books and the founder of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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