Despite all the rhetorical descriptions that the Palestinian cause is “the main Arab issue,” the central, pivotal and crucial case and the reason behind revolutions, coups and massive military spending, we as Arabs have not been fighting Israel for more than 70 years in a serious manner.
Our wars against Israel have been brief. We wage them enthusiastically at the media and rhetorical levels without enough military planning, preparation or readiness for the patience and perseverance they require. Most of the wars against Israel were wars against us and not waged by us. Even the1948 and the 1973 wars, which were waged by Arabs, were brief wars tormented by limited political targets more than being decisive wars of liberation.
In order to have a clearer image, we will compare the Bosnian war (1992-95) with all the Arab-Israeli wars. Bosnians entered the war with the determination of a “war of independence,” i.e., either to win or suffer complete defeat. They sacrificed their men and women, and deployed all their efforts in their war. They disregarded the balance of power and did not take into consideration the international and regional circumstances facing them. They went through the worst and faced both abandonment and conspiracy. They benefited from all that was available, whether small or big, and cooperated with all who were willing to help, regardless of their motives and intentions.
Many parties that rarely gathered around one issue rallied around Bosnians, from Saudis to Turks, Iranians, and even Malaysians who were far off at the other end of the world. What mattered to them was victory; had they showed reluctance or accepted the “wisdom” of those telling them to accept whatever came from their Serb rivals and negotiated with them, they would be a vulnerable minority today negotiating with a racist Serb entity that hates them.
Freedom has its price and costs
This year, God is favoring the people who are seeking their “absolute freedom” like Algeria, Vietnam, Ireland and Europe under the Nazis. Freedom has its price and costs, at the top of which are bloodshed and death. This is not speech-making or overstatement but rather a recurrent historical and political analysis.
Until the current Gaza war, the Palestinian people are alone in not having fought a long war for freedom since their almost decisive and historical revolution in 1936. Palestinians have always relied on Arabs but the latter have their own calculations and rulers who also have their own calculations and priorities. Then they lose a war against Israel, leave Palestine and its people to their fate and return to their homelands to restore what was damaged and protect what was left. They then content themselves with promises, speeches and poems addressed to the Palestinians. What matters to them is the party, the ruler and what remains of the country to govern.
The Ramadan 1435 (2014) war is different. It is an unprecedented, genuine Palestinian war from start to finish. The Arabs have completely distanced themselves from it. In fact, most of them have denied it and criticized those who initiated it.
However, the Palestinian has imposed his decision on everyone. Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh are displaying pride and enthusiasm, talking with confidence, imposing conditions and a new reality on everyone. They have restored life to the Palestinian cause.
Everything about this war is new; how were weapons smuggled into Gaza? Despite the blockade, thousands of rockets have entered a small country that is surrounded from all sides. This fact alone is a miracle. Some thought the tunnels were only used to transfer rice, sugar, fuel oil and a few machineguns and explosives. They were destroyed and flooded with water as a result. But tons of explosives, hundreds of missiles, 7-meter Grad rockets miraculously passed through these tunnels. How did this occur? Were they transferred through tunnels or by sea?Hamas now possesses hundreds of them so how did they get them?
No one can believe that Hamas took advantage of the year during which isolated Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood reigned and during which Egypt turned a blind eye to all these rockets. Everyone knows that Mursi did not have absolute power at the military and intelligence levels. There is no doubt that Israel and its intelligence services are now busy trying to solve this puzzle in order to prevent its continuation. If “Hamas” was able to bring in all these weapons despite the blockade (and this is what late President Arafat failed to do and was held accountable simply because he tried to do so even though he had presided over an international organization that had extensive connections and capabilities), it is then able to do it repeatedly.
Hamas did not waste its time when governing Gaza
The distinctive combat performance of Hamas’s men, the enormous network of tunnels that stretches over many miles beneath the Gaza Strip and from there to Israel and Egypt that have been employed brilliantly have inflicted unprecedented injuries to their enemy. They will use them again and again whenever the enemy tries to enter any of their neighborhoods. This reveals that Hamas did not waste its time when governing Gaza. The Israelis acknowledge and are concerned about this performance. It will be the biggest deterrent to Israel's invasion and occupation of Gaza but maybe Hamas wanted that in order to enter in a long-term liberation war with the Israelis. The war must be extended to the other bank that is also burning so that it might change all that was settled there after Oslo.
The national unity, which demonstrated the Gazans’ will to put forward sacrifices, even their lives, so that they can prevent a return to the humiliating life under siege, is another achievement for the determined Palestinian fighters. The only solution for the Israelis is to entirely destroy Gaza but who can eradicate two million Palestinians?
Another important issue that has become apparent is that the Palestinians are now imposing cease-fire conditions, in a departure from all previous Arab wars. They have nothing to lose. Israel’s threats to bomb Cairo, Amman or Damascus do not worry the Palestinian anymore and neither does its occupation. That was once the weakness of the Arab armies when they were defeated alongside the diehard Palestinian combatants. Israel has lost this power. Israel is freely roaming in the West Bank but the direct occupation is not in Israel’s interests and the Palestinians are using this fact against it; this is another new fact.
What is even more important is that the Palestinians are ready to fight a long-term battle and this is a strategic shift. If they sustain this solid combat principle, they will change all the rules of the “Arab-Israeli conflict.” They will be stronger negotiators and will be respected by the whole world, which historically respects the strong and disdains the weak.
If the late Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic had given up at an early stage, after being severely wounded and seeing thousands of his people killed in massacres under the eyes of the world (even under the official protection of the Europeans), U.S. President Bill Clinton would not have taken a step in August 1995 against Europe’s wishes and led NATO to bomb the Serbs and force them to negotiate and accept the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
No one will bomb Israel but if the Palestinians withstand this time, the peace negotiations that failed a few months ago, despite the attention and optimism of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will be more serious. They will include the real reasons behind the war against Gaza, which are the occupation and the siege, and not only in Gaza alone but in the West Bank as well. Arabs will have then to catch up with the diehard Palestinian combatants to support them and forget all that was said and done at the time of the great Arab deterioration.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on July 26, 2014.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.SHOW MORE