A few months ago, a columnist at Asharq al-Awsat mentioned an interesting Arab myth:
"Back in the old days, the Arabs used to believe that the spirit of a murdered man continues to wail and weep until his death is avenged. They believed that a bird that they called “al Sada” [or the death-owl] would continue to hoot over the grave of a slain man whose death had not been avenged. The bird would continue to hoot endlessly until the slain man’s death was avenged."
The honor/shame dynamics that are so active in the region are driving forces behind the conflict on the Arab side - driving forces that even many Israelis, and certainly most westerners, fail to understand.
These dynamics are certainly the driving forces behind the most pointlessly sadistic, irrational and self-destructive attacks on Israelis. They also contribute, albeit as one set of factors among many, to the treatment of Palestinians in various Arab countries, and they contribute very heavily to the vicious anti-Semitism that blights the region and which motivates some of its emigrants.
These dynamics are not always conscious. When they are subconscious, they are even more dangerous for everyone involved.
The core Palestinian objection is not the occupation of some land in the WB. The basic Palestinian objection is that Israel exists, period. Palestinians, and Arabs in the Middle East in general, have been taught for decades that the presence of Jews in an Israeli state (not just Israel's presence in the WB) is a deliberate and malicious humiliation of all Arabs, an injustice that cries out endlessly for redress. To understand what that means, and the obligation that many Arabs feel that this places upon the Palestinians in particular and on the Arab world in general, you need to understand the culture in more depth.
Obviously, the situation is more complex than we can deal with in a small space. But the story of the Death Owl illustrates the obligation that many Palestinians feel. It is not the obligation to build a state that shows the world how successful they can be. And it is not an obligation to make peace so that their children's children are not sitting in the same figurative place, making the same stupid mistakes and being used by the grandsons of today's foreign dictators. The obligation that they feel, and the obligation to which much of the Arab world tries desperately to hold them, is the obligation to take revenge on the Jews.
Hamas distinguishes itself by the obsessive zeal with which it pursues this revenge - regardless of the stupidity and waste, the destruction of civilian lives and hopes, the warping of generations of young people and the degree to which its pursuit destroys the dreams of those Palestinians who actually do understand what an independent state means and want it. Fatah, over the years, has been little better; it has only been more circumspect.
The impact of this imposed obligation is also one of the factors driving the treatment of 3rd-generation Palestinian "refugees" in Arab countries. They are thrown against Israel again and again by every demagogue who wants to influence the Arab street. They are denigrated as weaklings if they compromise, they are locked in camps when they remain in the only homes they have ever known, and they are feted as heroes when they blow themselves up and kill Jews. The 3rd-generation "refugees" are despised not only because their leaders have always been incompetent, corrupt and violent idiots who know how to pick the losing side in every conflict, large or small, but also because they are not playing the role that they are supposed to play. They are not supposed to be causing problems for people in other Arab countries. They are supposed to be taking revenge on the Jews. And no revenge is ever enough, because the Arab world has been convinced through propaganda that Israel has committed a Holocaust. Until the Palestinians do the same thing, there is always an Arab demagogue or dictator who will impose the obligation for revenge - and the promise of aid in that quest - to draw them into his orbit. And he will get some more of them killed, and extend the misery of the rest.
The left-wing demagogues in the West will follow along, taken in or not caring at all, because the Jews represent the privileged class, and the Palestinians the underprivileged workers, even those who live in mansions. And the far left sees revenge as a motive that it can use.
Until the West understands the real problem, it will continue to make foolish mistakes in the Middle East, mistakes that will get thousands of people killed.
The Arab world needs to come to grips with the fact that Israel is not the Great Humilation of the Arabs, but simply a country among countries - like Egypt, and Morocco, and Iran, and Pakistan, and Japan. It needs to come to grips with the reality that there is, in fact, no humiliation at all other than the humiliation that they themselves create by insisting that it must exist. Until this happens, the sorry, bloody, stupid, pointless and tragic situation will not change, and the hopes of peace-wishers will be violently destroyed again and again.
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