Leaders keep silent; let the people speak

4 February 2009

By Nasser Lahham on Maan News

Every few years, for the last sixty-one, another war is foisted on the Arabs, on the Palestinians. Beginning with Haifa and Akka in 1948, on the Palestinians alongside Egypt in 1956, with the Jordanians, Syrians and Egyptians in 1967, then again in 1973, 1981, 1983, 2002, 2006 and now in 2008-9 in Gaza.

Arab leaders approach every war without a unified defense or attack strategy. Civilians become victims of every war, rather than those it was ostensibly waged against, and during every war their suffering becomes more all-encompassing. The wars, beyond their occupation of Palestine, serve to divide and perpetuate disagreement and make life unbearable.

The same has been true for Gaza. Before the dead were buried, before many knew whether they even had homes to go back to, Palestinian leaders were fighting each other on live television; showing little respect for the Palestinian blood on Gaza soil, and the days of grief and mourning for Palestinians.

The eloquent analysts discussing the pros and cons of the different strategies make the massacre sound more like a poetry competition or election debate rather than the real assessment of what to do.

Forgetting the graves of children and women who bore the consequences of the war, resistance factions rushed to announce the number of their fighters killed in battle, and enumerated their victories citing the number of rockets they were responsible for launching. No one claimed the civilian dead, though.

Even the demonstrators, who took to the streets as Gaza was obliterated, chanted slogans condemning Arab leaders, cursing them. Now those same leaders pledge millions, even billions for the reconstruction after a war they would not stop. So the demonstrations will be silent, the leaders will smile and the victims will mourn alone; life will go on until the next war.

This time, perhaps, it will not be so easy. First, where will the billions go? Hamas is insisting that aid and reconstruction money go to the legitimately elected government, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) is advising donors to make the strategic decision and give them the money to administer.

When one television station interviewed “people on the street” about their feelings on the issue, one man told the reporter, “We do not want compensation money. We do not want it anymore. We demand the leadership stop bickering and unify.” The man was expressing the thoughts of many, many Palestinians.

Palestinian leaders have become a farce, if you happen to come across leaders of two different factions on the same channel at the same time, it is a cue – not for attentive listening for intense debate – but for one to lie down, eat nuts and watch a new round of wrestling.

What is shameful is that Israel is watching. The Palestinian spectacle is being announced in Tel Aviv and is having real consequences on the ‘Israeli street.’ Abbas, they say, is a weak leader who cannot defeat Hamas. We cannot then, they say, open the Gaza crossings because the terrorists will be the ones to benefit.

The Arabic expression, “they are fighting over the bear’s hide before setting out hunting” seems apt.

As parties argue over things intangible, Gazans wait, not for the billions of aid money they will never see, but for the Palestinian leadership to grow up. Gazans wait for their leaders to realize what it means to have those they lead die, and what it means to have civilian deaths when words have been put in their mouths by their leaders who ‘speak on their behalf’ by force.

Palestinian leaders are out of touch with public opinion. They forced war onto civilians just as they forced them to accept the Oslo accords in the 1990s. These leaders are smart people, they are PhDs and doctors and scientists. Perhaps they see their people as a flock of sheep lead by this party or that, given weapons and told to use them.

If we want Gaza to be any different from the past, we must ask our leaders to be silent. If they stop talking maybe they will listen. If they want to really listen, they must pay attention, for the voice of the people comes out only two ways; in revolution or at the ballot boxes.