The Gibberish of "Genuine Struggle"

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Saree Makdisi, a professor at UCLA and nephew of the late Edward Said, has heaved his way up to the barricades of Middle East disputation in the United States. Recently Makdisi began a blog, and his latest entry highlights a piece published in London's The Guardian by Hamas official Khaled Meshaal. What does Makdisi think?

No matter what one thinks of Hamas, and no matter whether one reads the piece as nothing more than a political polemic, it at least marks a sea-change from the previous rhetoric of the official Palestinian leadership. Here there is no pathetic bleating about "resuming the Peace Process" or "returning to the Road Map" which leaders like Ahmad Qureia or Mahmoud Abbas would utter from time to time, often under the most surreal circumstances … Meshaal revives the language of genuine struggle rather than that of hopelessness and defeat; he relies on the unapologetic rhetoric of national liberation, rather than the tired cliches and bureaucratic language ("performance," "interim status") borrowed from Israeli and American planners. And he puts the question to the world: why is it that the occupied, rather than the occupiers–the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of one of the most brutal military occupations of the modern era–are the ones who are constantly being asked to apologize, to renounce, to compromise, to offer, to atone, to beg for forgiveness? No matter what one thinks of Hamas, that surely is a question that deserves an answer.

Perhaps, but Makdisi reminds me of his uncle here, all stylish polemicist and innocent of a practical thought. Quite of what value is "the language of genuine struggle" remains a mystery; or, for that matter, the "unapologetic rhetoric of national liberation." Makdisi plays up the form but ignores the substance, as well as the fact that the revolutionary rhetoric of the 1970s took Palestinians absolutely nowhere. In dismissing the Oslo process that exchanged land for peace, Makdisi, but also Meshaal and Said, never offered a practical alternative; nor has Hamas done so today. The fact is that Israel can simply afford to ignore the Palestinians and build its separation wall, unilaterally delimiting its final borders, even as Palestinians devise new flourishes to enliven the language of national liberation.

It's not language that counts, nor the Palestinian refusal to apologize; it's what the Palestinians have in hand to forestall their further marginalization and impoverishment. The answer is desperately little. I have no problems with PhD Partisans, but if you're heaving rocks from Los Angeles, it would help to occasionally toss a doable solution to the people in the front lines, so they can resolve the conundrums you insist they address.

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  1. “And he puts the question to the world: why is it that the occupied, rather than the occupiers–the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of one of the most brutal military occupations of the modern era–are the ones who are constantly being asked to apologize, to renounce, to compromise, to offer, to atone, to beg for forgiveness? No matter what one thinks of Hamas, that surely is a question that deserves an answer.”

    Call me naive, but whenever I hear someone insists that Hamas renounce violence, I find myself wondering why no one insists that the state of Israel renounce violence.

    …and then it hits me. Hamas uses suicide bombers to target civilians. Some may argue that the state of Israel targets civilians too–I’m not saying they do or don’t. …but if Hamas would just renounce suicide bombings targeting civilians, wouldn’t that be helpful?

    Go ahead, keep the apologies, the compromises, the offers and the acts of atonement. I bet the world could do without Hamas begging for forgiveness for the moment. …but how ’bout a little renouncement of suicide bombings targeting civilians? That’s the big difference, isn’t it?

  2. It just reminds me of why I believe we shouldn’t be involved at all – neither side is worthy of our charity.

    Sometimes you have to choose between the lesser of two evils. Not for the U.S. on this issue: we have the choice of saying “none of the above” and letting both sides fully bear the consequences of their stupidity…

    Instead, we stick our nose into the hornet’s nest and wonder why we get stung…

  3. Phooey. When Hamas talks about occupation, they are talking about Tel Aviv, not Gaza or the West Bank. No matter how “wrong” Israelis may be, there is no way that they are going to abandon Israel. So, why even discuss it?

    Sharon was brilliant. Build a wall, let the Palestinians stew in their own ideology. It’s hard to claim “occupation” when Israel is trying its best to just stay away from you.

  4. quasibill – I wonder the same thing on a daily basis, almost (at least as often as I hear about Israel or Palestine, which is pretty much daily).

    The only thing I can figure is 1) collective guilt over The Holocaust and/or 2) most folks in power actually believing that Israel is really (HA!!) the land that God wants the Jewish people to have.

    Can anyone else offer me some more reasons, because both of those suck.

  5. I think what people are really asking Hamas to do is renounce illegitimate violence, which would include violence targeting Israeli civilians, the use of non-uniformed illegal combatants (which includes suicide bombers), and the use of violence as a tool to achieve and maintain political dominance in “Palestine.”

    That would leave Hamas the ability to use violence exactly as Israel does – violence targeting legitimate targets (albeit with some collateral damage) as a tool to preserve and defend the state and its citizens.

  6. I’m not a flattering person, but the last five comments blew me away by simply using logic and reasoned analysis. I’m guessing Lowdogs theory is spot on in guessing why the media, government and populace don’t quite get it.

    I wonder if there will ever be two minutes on cable news where the analysis is so clear. I doubt it…

  7. Can anyone else offer me some more reasons, because both of those suck.

    Because they are the ones with title and the guns to back it up? Were it not for the fact that one day a bunch of Bedouins parked their camels over a bunch of bubbling crude, would we spend any energy worrying about this?

  8. What I found interesting is what the Hamas official Khaled Meshaal had to say.

    “We have seen how others, including the peoples of Vietnam and South Africa, persisted in their struggle until their quest for freedom and justice was accomplished. We are no different; our cause is no less worthy; our determination is no less profound; our patience is no less abundant.”

    From what I know, religious fundamentalists weren’t involved in those national liberation struggles while godless communists played a large role in both.

    Also, South Africa wasn’t really comprised of two nations or peoples while Israel/Palestine is. There’s a slight category mistake here.

    It was interesting that last night Bush said the US should completely eliminate our dependance on Middle East Oil. If that’s realistic I don’t know.

  9. use violence exactly as Israel does – violence targeting legitimate targets

    who decides what constitute a legitimate target, you? Was this a legitmate target?

  10. “Also, South Africa wasn’t really comprised of two nations or peoples while Israel/Palestine is.”

    I’m sorry, did you just stop by from a parallel universe?

  11. More “collateral damage” and “legitimate” targets

    http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2005%5C10%5C07%5Cstory_7-10-2005_pg4_1

    Yes I know Hamas and Islamic Jihad et al do a lot of horrible stuff, but those guys are (or at least were) terrorists not necessarily representing the people. These acts, retribution against innocent civilians (i.e. collective punishment) are being pursued by the US backed Israeli army.

  12. But, guy, they’re only innocent until proven guilty.

    duh.

  13. re: the support of Israel by the United States even though both sides use rephrehsible means, I would make two points: First, even though God knows the Israelis have done some terrible things to the Palestinians, they are (if I can use the phrase) considerably less terrible than their Palestinian opponents. No, that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean I am excusing Israeli conduct, but when you don’t live in a perfect world, you make choices.

    Second, I think motivation counts. I simply don’t believe that the leadership of Hamas, and perhaps not most of the Palestinian people, only want an independent state. And doesn’t Israel have some pretty good reasons to not trust the rest of the Middle East? Let’s not forget how much land the Israelies have already given up that was occupied during defensive wars. American support allows the Israelis to do some bad things, but it also helps keep them alive.

  14. “American support allows the Israelis to do some bad things, but it also helps keep them alive.

    Ok Drinky, but why is that a good thing?

    Before anyone accuses me of anything that’s not true, I’m not a neo Nazi or anti Semitic or anything like that, but I can’t really see what good has come of the formation of Israel.

    Also, I know that I’ve made the point that I have no obligation to American Indians because that was long before my time, they lost, get over it, etc. The same could also apply to Israel/Palestine, although why they (Israel, natch) should get millions upon millions of dollars in aid from us to keep ahold of their “victory” is unknown to me. I would also point out that at least in the US, we conquered our territories, first through revolution, then “Manifest Destiny” or whatever other BS you’d like to call it, whereas Israel was largely handed to the current occupants by fiat.

    And finally, I’ll pre-emptively say that I’m not a fan of what the white man (possibly some of my ancestors) did to the red man.

  15. Actually, the Palestinians should hope that the USA stays engaged–we’re the only thing holding the Israelis back. And the reality is that Israel has a far greater degree of military superiority than it did in 1973 and is less dependent on the USA militarily or economically than it was back then–if they had to, they could go it without us for quite some time.

  16. “I have no problems with PhD Partisans, but if you’re heaving rocks from Los Angeles, it would help to occasionally toss a doable solution to the people in the front lines, so they can resolve the conundrums you insist they address.”

    True dat. I noticed the same thing about the New Jersey-New York contingent in the Student Association for Israel at GWU when I was there. Always urging the Israelis to take the hardest possible line agains the Arabs, always assuring Israelis that they were behind them…waaaaaaayyyyy behind them.

  17. Perhaps if Hamas organizes into to a legitimate army (they would be what, about 5000 strong?), then Israel and Palestine can negotiate as two sovereign nations with a territorial dispute. Two unequal nations as far as military strength is concerned, to be sure, but might not the weight of being responsible for the fate of a nation encourage them to seek more legitimate avenues to their goals?

  18. “I think what people are really asking Hamas to do is renounce illegitimate violence, which would include violence targeting Israeli civilians, the use of non-uniformed illegal combatants (which includes suicide bombers), and the use of violence as a tool to achieve and maintain political dominance in “Palestine.””

    Hamas and other terrorists target civilians because they can’t target the Israeli military, or any other moderately capable military. They are not well enough armed or trained. If they targeted only “legitimate” targets, then the fight would be finished in a matter of months and Hamas would be “No Mas”.

    You have to admit that trotting our a seemlingly endless stream of suicide bombers is quite effective from a psychological warfare perspective.

    Maybe an alternative would be for the Israelis to target only “illegitimate” targets in the future, e.g. Palestinian restaurants, wedding partys, preschools, etc. Then both sides would be commiting equally atrocious acts.

  19. “…why is it that the occupied, rather than the occupiers–the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of one of the most brutal military occupations of the modern era–are the ones who are constantly being asked to apologize, to renounce, to compromise, to offer, to atone, to beg for forgiveness?”

    Because believing that blowing up pizza parlors, shooting up weddings, hijacking planes and cruise ships are good military tactics is something that’s very worthy of apology, renunciation and atonement. So’s a strategic goal of wiping your opponent off the face of the earth. That’s the answer to Makdisi’s question. The Paletininians are in themselves perpetrators. Whatever legitimate greivances the Palestinians have against Israel, their leadership chose to do those things to the eternal disgrace of their cause. A sense of victimization does not excuse or absolve them of their crimes. A lot of what Israel has done to the Palestininians happened because organizations like Hamas have taught the Israelis they cannot trust the Palestinians to not murder Israelis.

  20. It was interesting that last night Bush said the US should completely eliminate our dependance on Middle East Oil. If that’s realistic I don’t know.

    From a symbolic perspective maybe it’s possible to eliminate our use of Middle East oil, but remember, world oil demand is near the limit of production. Mideast suppliers will sell as much oil as they want to, until its gone, with or without the US.

    What the world really needs is not so much for the US to reduce its use of Mideast oil, but for the Middle East to reduce its dependence on selling oil.

    And what the US really needs is to reduce its dependence on oil, period. If the US gets 20% of its oil from Mideast sources, as is often quoted, then the only way to affect the situation is to reduce ALL oil use by 20%. Merely shifting to other sources of crude is a mugs game. Repeat after me: oil is fungible.

  21. “Also, South Africa wasn’t really comprised of two nations or peoples while Israel/Palestine is.”

    I’m sorry, did you just stop by from a parallel universe?

    I should have said the creation of 2 states is more feasible in Israel/Palestine than in South Africa. According to the CIA world fact book the South African population of 44 million is: black African 79%, white 9.6%, colored 8.9%, Indian/Asian 2.5% (2001 census). Israel and the occupied territories is about 50/50 Israeli/Arab with ~6 million each.

    So you considered that white South African 9.6% an autonomous nation? I don’t understand what Hamas intends to do with the Jewish half of the population once its liberates its nation.

    The Hamas leader was pointing to the Vienamese and South African national liberation struggles as models. I was just pointing out how they were different.

  22. Palestinian leaders like Said have promoted
    a pragmatic solution by proposing a two-state
    solution in which Israel would withdraw to the
    ’67 borders. (I’m no expert, that’s my recollection of the state of affairs).

    The only reason it’s not more “pragmatic”
    is because Israel has never gone for it,
    and Israel is the party with all the power.

    In a struggle between two groups such as
    the Israelis and Palestinians in which one
    side has nuclear weapons, one of the world’s top armies, and the backing of the only superpower,
    and the other side has a few guns and some homemade bombs, it’s sort of ridiculous to
    criticize the weaker party for failing to put
    a more “pragmatic” proposal on the table.

  23. ” No, that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean I am excusing Israeli conduct, but when you don’t live in a perfect world, you make choices.”

    Once again, the choice we should make is c. none of the above. There is absolutely NO requirement that we support one or the other. Instead of having me subsidize their bad, expensive decisions, let them bear the costs fully themselves. And at the same time, remove the image that attacking us will have any effect on what happens there.

    It’s really not that hard of a concept, and yet people keep trotting out this false dichotomy…

  24. I note that the specifics above regarding Israeli ‘atrocities’ are (a) a ten year old shelling of a “refugee camp” being used as an operating base by terrorists and (b) a story about the Israeli Supreme Court upholding international human rights standards.

    As to what tactics should be used in pursuing an enemy who hides among a supportive civilian populace, well, views will differ.

  25. ?I would also point out that at least in the US, we conquered our territories, first through revolution, then “Manifest Destiny” or whatever other BS you’d like to call it, whereas Israel was largely handed to the current occupants by fiat.?

    Actually, Jews keep a small presence in Israel ever since they were kicked out by the Romans. Zionism is nothing new. For example, a large number of Spanish Jews migrated to Zefat around 1500 AD. The big modern push to move to Israel began in the mid-19th century. The 1967 boarder of Israel roughly outlines where Jews lived before the UN gave Israel its charter. They had already bought the land from previous owners. The UN just gave them the charter to form an independent government.

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