Talking About Hope in a Bloodbath
This past weekend I addressed a mostly Muslim audience in Washington DC. They gathered in a conference, aimed at empowering Muslim communities around the United States, in the wake of the anti-Muslim backlash in US media and government policies, internally and abroad.
My panel also included a former CIA expert and two activists, and the discussion was dealing with contemporary Middle East politics. I spoke at length about the Road Map, reiterated the similarities between the newest US peace initiative and the no-longer applicable Oslo accords. I recalled the fact that Israel used the temporary calm generated by the Oslo agreement of 1993 to expand the illegal settlements and double the number of settlers in the Occupied Territories. I contested that only Palestinians are expected to implement the uneven-handed conditions enforced by the Road Map, while Israel's part of the deal is exclusively dependent on Israel's satisfaction with the Palestinian Authority's performance, in cracking down on Palestinian resistance and suffocating the uprising.
While I welcomed the release of a few Palestinian prisoners as a sign of good will by Israel, I protested the fact that the gesture was only aimed at convincing the media that Israel is living up to its part of the deal, while on the ground Israel has given every needed signal to show that it was little interested in addressing legitimate Palestinian concerns. Some of these concerns including the full withdrawal of the Israeli army to the pre-1967 war border, complete removal of illegal settlements, flagrant violations of the Forth Geneva Convention, in addition to the Palestinian refugees right of return, sovereignty and full-fledged economic and political independence.
I concluded with two assurances, one: the Palestinian people will not fall for the Road Map the same way they fell for Oslo. The factor of trust that once existed has been completely eradicated. There is undeniable mistrust evoked by the daily reminders made by the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that every right Palestinians have struggled for will not be respected. Second, I stressed that those aware of Sharon's simple minded political tactic, know that the Prime Minister must be plotting to assassinate the Road Map, which, despite its failure to meet Palestinian aspirations, harms Sharon's expansionist policy. Without, Sharon is likely to lose his most dedicated constituencies, the settlers and religious communities in Israel.
It pained me to see the looks on the faces of my audience. Although most American Muslims have no illusions about the prospect of peace with Sharon, they appeared to be stunned by the details, and grew utterly discouraged. My attempts to conclude with a few uplifting remakes, reaped no fruits. Of course, it was of no help spotting two women crying in the back of the room, or the gentle request made by a young man, who approached me in the end of the talk, and very politely asked if I could, next time, end on a more hopeful note.
I always believed that the Palestinian people should be strongly commended for their courage in the face of the Israelis, unconditionally supported by the US. This small nation's amazing ability to assert its rights, despite the giant effort to undermine them, needs not mere words or applause to validate it. But despite all of that, things are still tragic. I was fully aware of how costly an Israeli attempt to undermine the Road Map would be, in terms of human loss from both sides. I couldn't escape that fear, look beyond it, or pretend that things are going to be okay soon.
I spent much of my time on the airplane, back from the conference reflecting on the young man's advice. I couldn't help but feel guilty recalling the two crying women. I scolded myself all the way back to Seattle.
The day after my arrival, Sharon carried out the first phase of my speech, by trying to assassinate the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi. Rantisi survived, but a woman and her child were killed instead and several others were wounded. On the same day, June 10, ten Palestinians were killed, at the hands of the Israeli army throughout the West Bank and Gaza, a day Palestinians now call "Black Tuesday." Hamas vowed revenge and delivered, killing up to sixteen Israelis in a Jerusalem bombing the next day. Israel, now recognized by the media as the aggressed upon, rather than the aggressor, retaliated, killing two top Hamas leaders in Gaza and nearly 8 others, while wounding over seventy more.
When I spoke in Washington DC, I didn't realize that Sharon opted to deliver so soon. Now Palestinians are calling on their Prime Minister Abu Mazen to resign, while Sharon's primitive political tactics worked so well that most Israelis are supportive of the attacks on Gaza.
This is just phase one in ending the Road Map. The coming phases are as bloody, but they also involve the US media and the dedicated work of the pro-Israeli US congress and lobby groups, all ready to blame Palestinians for the disastrous rout that Sharon has chosen. It has all been done before, time and time again.
Thinking of all of these innocent people that are being quickly buried, just so that Sharon can botch the Road Map, makes the issue of hope of little relevance, at least for now. It is hard to deliver hope when the body count is not yet over.
Ramzy Baroud is the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and the editor of the anthology entitled "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion," now available at: www.palestinebooks.com
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