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Emergence of a Palestinian people

Posted By Obadiah Shoher On July 20, 2009 @ 9:28 am In History of Palestinians | 16 Comments

When foreigners think about Palestinians, the first image that comes to mind is not a cultural event, but the confrontation with Israel. Palestinian nationalism is actually a common sense of the Jewish threat. Palestinian nationalism developed as a protective attitude in the face of Jewish pressure. Jews, as rarely happens in the history of statehood, repressed the natives but didn’t annihilate them. Jews pushed the Arab natives into the incubator of the West Bank, where the Palestinian humiliation, real or imagined, is molded into nationalism—or rather, presented as nationalism. The incubator became a pressure cooker. In Israel proper, Palestinian nationalism was not allowed to emerge because Arab media was heavily censored, activists exiled, and teachers made to adhere to the Education Ministry’s guidelines. But Palestinian nationalism has developed in the West Bank since 1967, especially after the late 1980s, when Israel relaxed control and treated the West Bank as black box. We guarded the borders and sometimes punished terrorists, but otherwise steered clear of Arab affairs. History has seen too many “conjectures and refutations” for a new approach to succeed. This uniquely Jewish compassion for hostile natives precludes establishing a viable Jewish state. Swarmed by politically discontented Arabs from inside and besieged by economically discontented Arabs from the outside, Israel is doomed.

Crises diversify societies, and so the Palestinians are unusually stratified. Unlike in economically efficient societies, wealth is not trickling down. There are mega-rich Palestinians both in the territories and abroad, and there are paupers in refugee camps; social mobility is low. A tremendous social difference exists between the affluent downtown of Ramallah and the slums of Gaza. Class division is fixed, with little hope of advancement; Arafat was a Jerusalem mufti’s nephew, and Abbas rose to prominence only because Israelis propped up the ostensibly amenable Palestinian negotiator. The PLO veiled itself in traditionalism, down to the peasants’ kufiah headdress, but the group consisted of city lumpen, university dropouts, and jobless graduates. Israel may reach an understanding with moderate Palestinians who care more about welfare than nationalism, but such an agreement would hold no value for the desperate and hopeless dregs. It is enough for any nation to make one percent of its population into determined militants to perpetuate a terrorist war, and the Palestinians can produce much more than that number.

The simplest definition of an emerging nation is a common enemy, and Jews made for just such a thing. If not for the Jews, the Bedouin, peasants, urban throngs, Muslims, Christians, and scores of foreign migrants to Palestine could not form a nation—certainly not in a matter of decades. Hostility to Jews, therefore, will remain the defining feature of Palestinian nationalism for centuries. A good enemy makes one feel self-important, and Palestinian Arabs are curiously respectful of Jews. Palestinians are proud that they have engaged the Israeli enemy for decades while even Egypt sued for peace. Palestinian Arabs thus developed a love-hate relationship with Israel, vaguely similar to the Mexican attitude toward the United States. Palestinian radicals evolved to be more respectful of Israel than are the Israeli left. Arabs developed self-respect by respecting their Jewish enemies; the Israeli left maintain self-respect by denigrating Jewish values. Hamas’ propaganda disparages Israel. Organized propaganda efforts always disparage the enemy. Hamas propaganda presumes the Palestinian nation to be existing and self-important, and therefore doesn’t need to respect the Israeli enemy. A switch from respect to contempt for Israel, if it occurs, would signal a turning point in Palestinian-Israeli relations. A despised enemy is not feared and is not worth submitting to. Worse than breeding Palestinian guerrillas, anti-Israeli propaganda removes from the Arab popular mentality the safeguards which prevent an all-out insurrection.

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