Can only a Catastrophe unite us?

Every year Palestinians commemorate this tragic event. And every year, the hope that the injustice caused by this event will be rectified becomes slimmer and slimmer. Al Nakba or the Catastrophe is a wound all Palestinians bear, refugee or otherwise. Sixty-two years ago, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or lost their homes in fear for their lives from attacking Jewish gangs. Some were massacred in their homes, some died the fighting, some were forced out of their villages and towns and some fled in order to stay alive, only to be denied reentry after Israel was created. Today, many of the original refugees have perished, those who carried a few precious belongings on their backs, their children at their sides and the keys to their homes securely tied around their necks. The younger refugees may still be around, aging Palestinians, some of whom have never seen Palestine but who can recount the events of 1948 like it was yesterday, who can tell you the name and location of their lost village and the house in which they never set foot.

Perhaps it is the fact that this tragedy is so immense and so deep-cutting that Palestinians find themselves united in its commemoration. For whatever reason, Palestinians in the Diaspora, in refugee camps in Palestine and in neighboring countries, inside the Green Line in what is now Israel and here in Palestine have rallied around this painful memory as one voice and one force calling for one thing: the right of return.

For us beleaguered Palestinians who have witnessed the bitter internecine fighting for years between the various factions, this has been, ironically, a breath of fresh air. Factions banded together in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Strip to commemorate the loss of Palestine and the homes and villages of so many of its people.

Reminiscent of the days of the first Intifada in particular, Al Nakba commemoration this year transcended all factional lines. The right of refugees to return has always been a Palestinian demand and is an inalienable right enshrined in international law. Today, that right is no less of a demand than it was in the early days of the Palestinian exile. The turnout at Nakba commemorations and the unity the Palestinians projected is clear evidence of this fact.

However, what is most striking this year is not only the heart-wrenching pictures of refugees in exile but the heartwarming images of unified Palestinians. Such images also beg a very important question, which is, if the Palestinians are so resolved on an issue such as this, why can they not agree on other equally as important points? At the risk of coming across as simplistic, it seems that Palestinians have a bottomless reservoir of hope, determination and patience, which they tap into whenever they choose. Can they not dip into this eternal reserve and find the strength to overcome their political divisions? Nothing is impossible, especially this.

It is about time, too. The situation as its stands is lethal. Hamas in Gaza accuses the Abbas-run government in the West Bank of rounding up its men, interrogating them under difficult circumstances and blocking jobs to them because of their affiliation. Fateh and the government, on the other hand, say Hamas is smuggling arms into the West Bank as a means of contesting the PA’s authority and is persecuting the few remaining Fateh loyalists still in Gaza. Where rumor and truth coincide is hard to say but like the popular Arabic saying goes, "There is no smoke without fire."

For one, the thirst for power has blinded Palestine’s leaders to a point where the ultimate goal is often lost. Unfortunately, the power the sides are vying for is nothing but illusory given the fact that Palestinians are still very much under Israel’s occupation. In any case, the liberation of Palestine is the slogan all factions continue to uphold but the fact of the matter remains that seats of ‘false’ power are the immediate goal. Take for example, the failure of Hamas and Fateh to reconcile. “The message today is a message of national unity in facing the Israeli occupation," said one Fateh leader in Gaza. "”National unity is the way to preserve the right of return," a Hamas leader insisted. They are right, of course, at least in paying lip service. In reality, a Palestinian reconciliation at the political level seems like a bleak possibility. Until, of course, one sees the Nakba commemorations.

It is a shame the Palestinians have lost their way. Nothing pains us more than seeing our leaders so divided. We should take a leaf out of Israel’s book when it comes to showing a united front. Irrespective of the governments in office, Israel’s goal has always been unwavering: Expand Israeli territory including illegal settlements as fast as possible with as few Palestinians on the remaining areas. The status quo of Palestine today is witness to Israel’s resolve. Internal Israeli politics are wracked with dissent, corruption, backstabbing and strange bedfellows, just like in any other political system. But this does not deflect from their national goal, which they have forwarded steadily ever since Israel’s creation. Palestinians need to learn that valuable lesson and who better to learn it from than the root of the problem itself? We have the potential; the symbolic keys held up in unison in Gaza, the West Bank, the US, Europe and the Arab world all point to that bottomless reservoir of hope and promise. Let us take advantage of that so that legitimate Palestinian demands such as the right of return are not lost in the chaos of our egotistic hunger for power.