‘Pessoptimism’ on Palestine

Bakir Oweida

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Happy Eid? I have to admit that I borrowed the word “pessoptimism” from the title of the tragicomic novel The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist (1974) by the late Palestinian novelist Emile Habibi. Were the author alive, he would immediately ask me to be optimistic. I can imagine him asking me with a smile on his sad face: “Come on! We have to be optimists.”

Am I in fact justified in being torn between pessimism and optimism on the day of Eid? Or am I the only one torn between these two feelings, while other people are extremely happy? It is nothing new, at least for me.

My mother used to complain that ever since she was a child, she has never had a happy Eid. But she used to also say: “C’est la vie. May God help those in worse conditions.” When I inquired about who she meant, she would reply: “Thank God, son. We are in a better condition than many other people.” By “we” my mother, who was a refugee in the Gaza Strip, refers to all Palestinian refugees. As for “ever since I was a child,” my mother means her life when she was young in Acre in the Palestinian Mandate, before her family members were scattered across Sidon and Tripoli in Lebanon, as well as Damascus and Aleppo in Syria following the declaration of the State of Israel.

Were she alive today, would my mother be surprised that Arabs inside and outside their countries are in a much worse condition than the Palestinians in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza Strip and the West Bank?

Expelled by fellow Arabs

The bitter reality of this Eid lies in the fact that tens of thousands of mothers across the Arab world are much sadder than my mother’s generation were, though for different reasons. Yet the difference in reasons is what makes the reality more painful. While the Palestinians were dislocated by foreign invaders, Arabs now are being expelled from their countries at the hands of their compatriots. I wonder how painful it feels.

It is true that change always has an exorbitant price, but the Arab blood that has been shed at the hands of fellow Arabs over the past 50 years—not only in the last couple of years—has caused unbearable grief. Is the blood spilled so far in Arab civil wars a part of the price being paid for a change for the better?

Is the blood spilled so far in Arab civil wars a part of the price being paid for a change for the better?

Bakir Oweida

In 2008, I was invited to talk at the Arab Cultural Forum in London on the 60th anniversary of the 1948 Palestinian exodus. On that day, I started my speech by saying that I am one year older than Israel. I concluded by saying that my granddaughter has just turned 10 and wished that in 2048, when she turns 40 and Israel 100, the Palestinians would be in a better condition.

I remember that a young man in his mid-twenties rebuked me for being frustrated and said that he and his generation have not got tired or hopeless yet, and that this is just the beginning of the road and the revolution will continue.

When I asked him where he was from he said, “Gaza.” I explained to him that I did not mean to impose my view on him, nor did I ask him to despair. In fact, all I wanted was for my granddaughter’s generation to be in a better condition than mine. I told him that when we were his age, my friends and I shared the same view and that those who offered any compromises regarding the Palestinian issue used to be stoned by schoolboys, if not worse.

In that speech, I touched upon the main junctures of the Palestinian tragedy. I did not conceal my wish for the Palestinians to have participated in the peace process since Oslo accord by trying to establish a state to be recognized by the entire international community. Despite the contrary attempts by senior Israeli officials such as Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who turned 90 a few days ago, the Palestinians would have moved Palestine forward with the least possible means. Such a step would have strengthened Palestine, particularly in the fields of education and technology, as well as stepped up its active presence across the globe. In fact, a nation that boosts the intellectual capabilities of its citizens will not be defeated no matter what the usurpers do. Unfortunately, such line of thought is hardly praised.

Sharing the blame

Almost 20 years after signing the Oslo Accords on September 13, 1993, in the White House’s garden, I wonder what the situation of the Palestinian issue is. Has it changed for the better, the worse or has nothing happened?

Is it fair to hold the Palestinian leaders, despite the variety of figures and different political programs among them, solely responsible?

Logically speaking, the primary responsibility falls on the Israelis, simply because they are the strongest link. Had Israeli politicians been serious in their efforts to reach peace with the majority of the Palestinians who accepted coexistence, they would have offered more compromises.

Part of the responsibility rests with the U.S., and to some extent the Europeans, for their negligence. Both were unfair and often unjustly blamed the Palestinians, the weaker side.

This is not to deny that the Palestinians share part of the responsibility. In fact, the Palestinians have missed some significant opportunities, the most important of which was during the last days of President Bill Clinton’s term, when he visited Gaza. I can recall the Moroccan politician Dr. Abdulhadi Butalib saying that according to trusted sources the U.S. president intended to accompany Yasser Arafat to the United Nations General Assembly to introduce him as the president of the independent state of Palestine, a full member state in the UN. Is it too much to recall such an incident?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 9, 2013.


Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for Op-Ed section, until December 2003. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com

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