The rioting in the West Bank and Gaza is what Middle East expert Clement Henry Moore has called the "Lebanonization" of Arab politics.
Arabs in the streets are revolting against an intellectual, economic and political order that is spent. The people are angry and the elite are out of touch. There is a rage at a longstanding political and social order that distracted, anesthetized and depoliticized the people in the oil and non-oil Arab countries alike. There is anger at valuable time lost during a nonpolitical era--the oil boom era.
That era's ethos was one of petrodollars, cost-effectiveness and pragmatism--the antithesis of political activism. Its role model was the businessman concluding a deal, not the man who stands up for his rights. Its religion was money, not martyrdom. Its legitimacy sprang from dollars and "Establishment" religion.
The rage and revolt erupting now is a reassertion of the indigenous politicized rejection of this order, a cultural declaration of war against occupation, the West and Westernized elites. The civic religion of cost-effectiveness, profit and pragmatism has lost a day to a new political religion, and the two cannot be reconciled. The elites have their foreign bank accounts and their "green cards." The masses have nothing to lose except their misery.
The kids in sneakers armed with rocks are not intimidated by the Israeli soldiers, their elders or those who caution restraint and patience. Their role models are those who stood up to the Israeli military machine in Lebanon in 1982. It is as if these kids have rendered impotent all the millions of dollars worth of arms, the armies and the generals in the Arab states and Israel alike; those who have counseled patience are irrelevant. The die is cast. The genie is out of the bottle.
The Palestinians will not go away. To the late Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, there was no such thing as a Palestinian. To the more recent former prime minister, Menachem Begin, the Palestinians were beasts and terrorists. Dehumanizing the Palestinians and wishing them away will not change the basic issue. Short of total obliteration, the Palestinians will continue to resist occupation and demand their right to self-determination. As a native Palestinian and a social scientist, my personal and professional experience tells me that the fundamental need and right of self-determination is at the crux of the conflict, and it will have to be addressed on all sides by honest, brave people with vision. Hapless and spineless politicians need not apply.
In an age when the right to self-determination was upheld for 1,800 Falklanders, who could really quarrel with the right to self-determination for the Palestinians? No human being should be discriminated against because of his religion, race or ethnic background. No one should be deported from his or her homeland. No human being should be deprived of his national identity or culture. This basic human right should apply equally to the Tibetans, the Soviet refuseniks and the Palestinians.
The Palestinians have fought "brother" and foe alike, and they have clung to their identity under occupation and in their ghurba (exile). Their attachment to Palestine has not diminished--a fact that is documented regularly by social scientists.
Tawfiq Zayyad, a Palestinian poet of Nazareth, says in "Baqun" ("We Shall Remain"):
Here we have a past
And a future
Our roots are entrenched
Deep in the earth
Like 20 impossibles
We shall remain.
Before his death Jacob Talmon, an eminent Israeli historian, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Begin. The danger of Palestinian self-determination, Talmon said, was a good deal less than the danger of Israeli domination of a hostile population. The chauvinism and the sectarianism, he warned, will not only hold the Jews of the world together but will alienate them from Judaism and Israel.
The cycle of violence seems to be contained for the moment. But no one has any illusions that the fire has burned itself out. Peace will break out only when the Palestinians are treated with dignity and their legitimate right to self-determination is recognized.