Palestine caught between two fires

Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani

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I honestly do not know how our Arab memory could bear these tragic images that Israel is broadcasting of children being killed in Gaza and rescued from under the rubble, when we are still heartbroken over scenes of the atrocious war in Syria, the great Arab wound left by Bashar al-Assad’s vile barrel bombs, Iranian Hezbollah’s artillery fire, and the massacres by Turks in the north and Russians in the east. In Iraq as well, the daily suffering continues, so much that the news of killings and death tolls has become a staple of Iraq’s daily news bulletins. Now, despite not having the luxury of pointing fingers in the bloody confrontation that is taking the Palestinian territories by storm, the scenes we are seeing are heartwrenching and mindblowing. All I can say here is that just like Syrian blood is Bashar al-Assad’s unforgivable sin and Iraqi blood is on the hands of those Iraqis who opened their doors to Iran, the current conflict in Palestine is the sin of failed leaders in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The Palestinian cause is a decades-old Arab cause, and like many Arab issues, it has a special place in our collective consciousness. But as Arabs and Muslims, we are stunned by the internal Palestinian failure to manage the crisis. If the rightful owners of the land fail, no foreign attempts to reach settlements and control the situation can succeed, numerous as they may be. They will merely numb the pain. The least that should have been done is holding the Palestinian election on time instead of postponing it with empty excuses, which do no good to the situation in Palestine, but instead confirm that the management of the Palestinian cause is not in wise hands. In Gaza, where terror reigns and the smell of death and the wails of the bereaved fill the streets, Hamas, who controls the Strip, decided to take a terrifying approach by stockpiling weapons and launching missiles that it knows will elicit a response by Israel, and to the same launch sites even. Hours later, we see civilians falling one after the other under Israeli fire! What kind of thinking is that? It is but a ridiculous charade, and those paying the price are the children and innocent people whom Hamas did not consult or seek approval from on whether they’d like to be neighbors of weapon depots.

The Palestinian cause is heartwrenching because the priorities of Palestinian leaders are not the priorities of Palestinian citizens, as the former have political considerations with foreign parties and ambitions to see the crisis continue so they can keep benefiting from it. In form, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem sparked the war; this neighborhood that Palestinian families have been calling home for decades, but the debate remains on the ownership of these homes.

The Israeli right wing claim that they have owned the land starting two centuries ago, while Palestinians say they moved to this land under a UN arrangement five decades ago. This land dispute should have followed a legal track in the International Court instead of in Israeli courts, to judge the rightfulness of each party’s claims and settle the matter publicly before the international community. The Palestinian presidency should have shouldered responsibility for this casse and submitted it to the International Court. It should have presented this case to influential Arab and world powers to seek their support. However, that did not happen. Palestinian citizens were left to confront Israeli settlers on their own and claim justice from Israeli courts. In fact, the misery of the Palestinian cause stems primarily from the Palestinian leaders and their clear failure to manage the crisis for decades, shutting their ears to the views of major Arab states that took their cause as a headline of their foreign policies.

Israel has so far achieved two objectives: the first is hunting down Hamas leaders in Gaza, though it should be noted that the senior leaders live in resorts in Doha, Qatar. The second and more important objective is that it called The Associated Press and requested the evacuation of offices immediately due to its imminent bombing of the building. It also recorded the call between the operations room and the AP office, to tell the world through an international media outlet that it is indeed warning civilians and journalists in particular before bombing, and that Hamas’s rockets are being launched from buildings inhabited by civilians. As such, Israel has intelligently managed to gain the support of many politicians and journalists in the west, despite being in the wrong. Even Iran tricked and belittled Hamas by giving it weapons of poor accuracy that are enough to provoke an Israeli reaction without causing real damage to the Israelis, unlike the high quality weapons Iran smuggled to the Houthis in Yemen.

In the meantime, all Arab and international efforts are being made to reach an immediate cease-fire, and this should be the point of focus. Since the stronger party in this conflict is Israel and the balance of power is tipped in its favor, countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been trying since day one to pressure mediatory countries, especially the US, to push Israel to stop these daily massacres.

Palestinians deserve better leaders than the ones currently holding the reins of power both in Gaza and the West Bank. They deserve new blood with a different mentality that prioritizes the interests of Palestinians and strengthens relations with Arab governments and peoples.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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