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Dear President Clinton: I recently read a piece by Thomas Friedman which would have been funny had it not been so pathetically biased. It was a supposed memo from you to Yasser Arafat, and I have no doubt that Friedman was well-placed to impersonate you, perfectly presenting each and every one of your positions on Middle East matters. Naturally, the memo placed all responsibility on Arafat’s shoulders. Although I am reluctant to come to Arafat’s personal defense, I find I have no choice but to take issue with most of Friedman’s statements. And consequently with yours, of course.
What I found humorous is the fact that Arafat has already given everything, and that you ask him to give more, to give what he hasn’t got. Simple mathematics: it’s not possible. Think about it Mr. President, it really is funny. I myself stopped laughing a long time ago, long before the tragic events that followed Ariel Sharon’s provocation at Al-Aqsa Mosque. But sometimes, in spite of my better judgment, I find myself cracking up at what I see on television and what I read in the papers.
You have to understand, Mr. President, it’s a thin line between laughing and crying. Just take the incredible statements made by your State Department as an example. Madeleine Albright looks stern, nearly scary when she talks about violence from both sides. I am certain she diascrt mean to be funny, but we all had to laugh bitterly when she presented her condolences to the families of two Israeli soldiers killed that day, when a fortnight had passed without such comments for the families of the dozens of Palestinians who had been murdered in cold blood. If only you could understand what years of injustice have done to us.
You see, dear President Clinton, most of us were actually traumatized by the Oslo Accords. Most of us knew that Arafat had just walked willingly into the den of wolves, and had committed himself to carrying out Israel’s dirty work in Gaza by turning himself on the very people who had fought for years for their rights. For the perverse pleasure of receiving red-carpet treatment wherever he went, Arafat sold the rights of his people. We tried to warn him, we tried to tell him that by breaking up the Arab front, he was making a big mistake that he would regret. To no avail. He bent over backward to accommodate every whim and ruthless demand dictated by Israel. And supported by you, of course.
And now, seven years later, light years away from getting the very little he was promised at Oslo, Arafat is flying around the main capitals of the world. And he is trying to gain the support of the Arab leaders again. I wish I could be gloating, snickering, laughing, but pain and anger are the only emotions coming out of me. Me, a common Arab, laughing out my frustration.
How we laughed and cried, Mr. President, when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Yitzhak Rabin, the notorious breaker of children’s bones (and that was the least of his crimes). How we laughed and shed tears of rage every time a Jewish settlement further added to the Zionist expansion into the land of our forefathers, while dispersed Palestinians slept in tents. How we laughed when peace-lovers welcomed Labor into the Israeli government: there never was a difference between Labor and Likud, Mr. President; one is just better at telling lies.
But I digress. Back to you Mr. President. For the past two weeks, I have hoped against hope that you would leave the White House in style, that you would for once do the decent thing. I hoped against hope that you would condemn the systematic murder of innocent, unarmed people. But you insist on implying no, on affirming, that two parties equally share the blame.
How dare anyone claim that Mohammed al-Durra (one of many innocent victims) was caught in a crossfire? How dare anyone make him a victim of circumstances? I beg to differ: this was a public execution, Mr. President. This was capital punishment for the crime of being Palestinian. How dare you and your precious ally accuse us of broadcasting inflammatory material? Let me get this straight: we should get beaten, persecuted, murdered, bombed, and not even tell anyone about it? Suffer in silence? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when you and your creative media equate guns with rocks. Let’s push this creativity further and try a little game a war game.
Let’s see what happens. Let’s disarm the Palestinians of their rocks and give them the same weapons, aircraft and other military equipment that you have been giving the Israelis for years. Simultaneously, let’s give the Israelis stones and rocks, and remove all their other equipment. Since you are so horrified by the rocks thrown at Israelis, well arm your ally give him rocks!
Do I detect a smirk, Mr. President? Would you dare? Are you that scared of the Zionist lobby and the Israelis, Mr. President? You ’re not much different from Arafat in that respect. Or your wife, for that matter, whose appearance at a pro-Israel demonstration just last week was very noticed.
Your creative media, and your government, have shown their skills repeatedly with regard to Arabs. From airport profiling, to the attempt to exclude Arab-Americans from exercising their constitutional rights, you maintain a war of nerves with our people. We don’t know why.
You and your media refer to the brave men and women who fight from inside their occupied country, who target the occupying army, as terrorists. In occupied France, such people used to be called heroes of the resistance. Make up your mind: aren’t the resistance and Hizbullah exactly the same? Or are Israelis above other human beings? Let’s face it: either Hassan Nasrallah is a national hero to be acclaimed all over the free world, or Charles De Gaulle was a terrorist.
Just what is it that you don’t understand about the Middle East? Just what part of the equation can’t you comprehend? Don’t you watch the news? A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, but I take it you have only been watching the campaign trail lately.
As you should, of course, for in a few weeks the American people will be voting. Has anyone made them understand that some 3 billion of their tax dollars are used yearly as aid to Israel, while many of them don’t even have access to the most basic of needs? I am sure the words Medicare and Social Security ring a bell in the ears of your people. Why don’t you tell them again why Israel gets billions and they get peanuts?
Did the American people watch Al Gore and George W. Bush fight over who would sound more loyal to Israel? Just between us, Mr. President, didn’t you laugh just a little when Gore said that if elected President he would put pressure on Arafat to put a stop to provocative acts of violence? Is this a metaphor for stone-throwing versus gunfire and helicopter raids?
Are the American people really convinced that it is in their national interest to support an occupying minority, while gaining by this the bitterness of the whole Arab people? Is it in your national interest to maintain your double standards so blatantly? Is it in your national interest to starve a nation? There aren’t too many UN inspectors searching Israel at your insistence; I wonder who decides that Israel has the right to nuclear weapons, and other countries don’t.
Another funny aspect of the problem, you have to admit, is that once again Arafat is powerless to do anything. He chose his camp years ago. He couldn’t convince anyone to throw a rock if his life depended on it. You see, real uprisings happen when people have nothing left to lose. They are incited when they lose the most human of feelings: dignity. They can’t be started by speeches. Arafat didn’t ask anyone to throw rocks, just as he didn’t in the first intifada several years ago. On both occasions, Arafat reacted and tried to make everyone believe that his people were behind him.
Palestinians are throwing rocks, Mr. President, because they have been robbed of everything. Land, homes, human rights, national rights, the right of return, the right to protest. They have been robbed of dignity.
Palestinians and Arabs continue to pay the price of the Machiavellian plans drawn up by a certain Sykes and a certain Picot, nearly 100 years ago. Palestinians and Arabs continue to pay the price for the declarations of a certain Balfour. Palestinians and Arabs continue to pay the price for crimes committed in Europe half-a-century ago. Palestinians and Arabs continue to suffer. But everything eventually comes to an end, and what cannot be achieved by words will eventually be achieved by other means.
My father was right, Mr. President. Even as he and his colleagues generously gave Israel the benefit of the doubt and settled to negotiate with them, since November 1991 in Madrid, my father always stated that the only way things would come back to normal would be after they exploded, after they were forced back into justice. History has shown that what is taken by force can only be regained by force. And a just and comprehensive peace will only come when oppression will end, and human rights for all prevail.
So now, Mr. President, in the spirit of globalization and of fair play, I take it upon myself to give you a gentle, yet stern warning. We are some 300 million Arabs, Mr. President. We have been subject to expropriation, occupation, mutilation, execution and humiliation for over half-a-century. We have bowed to your supremacy too many times, and we have accepted unjust UN Security Council resolutions, just to try to get back a part of what is rightfully ours. We accepted to sit at your table and discuss land for peace, which has always been a misleading equation that implied we were demanding something that wasn’t ours to begin with. As if we were the ones that were blackmailing the other party.
We accepted Resolutions 242, 338, 425 and so many other numbers. How high will those numbers climb? As high as the number of Arab victims? We have watched horrified as Israel time and time again has violated with impunity all the codes of international law and the limits of human decency. We have choked on our tears countless times, at each massacre perpetrated by your ally. We were asked to believe that Qana was a mistake, that Baruch Goldstein was just a maniac, and that Sharon was looking the other way when Sabra and Shatila residents were being liquidated. And we are asked to meekly stand by when the same butcher walks on our holy site, surrounded by 1,000 troops. We are asked to swallow that bullets (American bullets) are used in self-defense against rocks.
Children, teenagers have been executed, Mr. President. I’ll send you a video. Actual pictures! Proof. Don’t you have a law that stipulates that arms cannot be sold to a country that uses them on unarmed civilians? I wonder how your voters feel about that.
But back to us, back to the 300 million Arabs. We have not yet begun to fight, Mr. President. But fight we will. We will learn from you. We will use embargoes and we will use our own power of veto. We will ask our leaders to cut their oil supplies to all of Israel’s allies. We will ask our people to boycott products made by Israel’s allies. We will bombard the world with messages, we will turn to our pens and spread the word. If we set our minds to it, we too shall overcome.
I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking that my words are worthless, that some of our leaders haven’t reacted, that those who by all logic should have at the very least recalled their ambassadors from Israel (not to mention broken off diplomatic relations) have not acted. You’re right. But you won’t be right for long. Let me give you a hint that things are changing: count the landings at Baghdad Airport, Mr. President. Iraqi children will not continue to die, we will not tolerate it any longer.
UN resolutions are very convenient, aren’t they? It turns out that we too can ignore them. You taught us that adherence to UN resolutions is a very versatile sport. You showed us that for all your adamant support of these resolutions in respect to Iraq, you deign to even agree to an emergency session of the UN Security Council when Palestinian youth are falling like flies on occupied territory. You have repeatedly used your power of veto for the wrong reasons.
Ironically, for our newfound unity, for our newfound determination, we have to thank you. Your blind support of Israel has finally taken its toll on us, and we are now the better for it. We are now more sealed, clearer about our ultimate goals.
There is only so much injustice that people will tolerate. Even if the last decades have been hell for us, 50 years is a very short time in history, and even recent history has shown what determination can achieve with time. I don’t mean to rub it in, Mr. President, but remember Vietnam.
Should you need another figure to put things into context, remember that there are 1 billion Muslims, Mr. President. One in every six humans is Muslim; one in six will not stand by idly as the holy sites of Islam are provoked. I bet you’re not laughing now.
Be not mistaken: we are not the ones who turned this issue into a religious one. Israel did. For us Palestine always was, and always will be, Arab regardless of the religion of its nationals. But Israel insists on using God as its real-estate agent, deprives Palestinians of their land to give it to nationals of countries thousands of kilometers away. Muslim and Christian Palestinians have no choice but to react.
It is not, and it has never been, a question of religion but of human rights and of justice. The lands of the Palestinians, the Lebanese and the Syrians must be returned to their rightful owners.
Mr. President, you convened an 11th-hour summit so that you could dictate to the meek the conditions of the strong. The very meek who dare not ignore your call came running, but the rest of the Arab world does not see things your way, Mr. President. Were you trying to snap the rug from under our feet and pre-empt the Arab summit? This time it will not work. We are determined to keep a united front.
Remember, we the people, have not yet begun to fight. But fight we will, literally and symbolically. Those who can’t throw rocks in frustration will at the very least throw words in determination. I hope you and your ally are ready.
* Rime Allaf wrote this commentary in Damascus for The Daily Star
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