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About the Dead
By Rami Elhanan
Translated into English from Hebrew by staff members of The Other Israel
The devil's dance of the media around Yasser Arafat's deathbed was characterized by curious arrogance, intentional(?) blindness and an ongoing, relentless demonization of the other. The right-wing propagandists, here in Israel and all around the globe, have marked out their one and only target – the ultimate scapegoat who bears the total responsibility for every single trouble in our lives – and the public followed them like a herd. The monotonous repetition of the grand lie, the lie of Arafat being responsible for every stone hurled in the Middle East, has more and more become an indisputable truth.
Yasser Arafat was a politician, not a saint. He was not free of mistakes, on the contrary. Still, this is a far cry from including him in the exclusive club of the worst twentieth century tyrants and monsters, together with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Bin Laden; describing him as an “arch-murderer,” isolating him in his Ramallah headquarters, humiliating him in front of his people and the whole world; spreading all these eagerly-embraced false myths such as “The exposure of Arafat's true face” or the genius formulation that “We have nobody to talk to” and therefore “We have nothing to talk about” from which it logically follows that we need make no concessions. . . It was all aimed at proving that we have no partner, that it was not possible to rely on him and much better to wait for his much-worse successor (then again there would be no partner, and nobody to talk to, and the political conflict would become a religious one, and then the threat of peace and concessions would really recede forever – since everybody knows that religions don't compromise with each other. . .).
[T]here was only one man who may have convinced his people to give up their claim for 78% of the land which they fully believe is rightfully theirs, the 78% on which Israel was erected in 1948. Only one man, that devil and monster who went around with the flags of Israel and Palestine displayed side by side on his uniform. . .
There is some system in this madness, from the point of view of these propagandists. Because there was only one man who may have convinced his people to give up their claim for 78% of the land which they fully believe is rightfully theirs, the 78% on which Israel was erected in 1948. Only one man, that devil and monster who went around with the flags of Israel and Palestine displayed side by side on his uniform, the same “two-legged beast” who personally instructed the Palestinian schools to admit the teaching delegations of lecturers from the Israeli-Palestinian Circle of Bereaved Families , bearing a message of dialogue and coexistence. . .
It was a major propaganda coup, highly successful in both the domestic Israeli public and worldwide. Arafat was presented as the monster who rejected generous offers and implemented instead the violent plans which he had hatched long in advance. A satanic plot aimed at replacing the tottering Oslo process with the “stages plan” whose final stage is the destruction of Israel and the creation of a great Palestinian state in its place.
How come nobody asks the obvious question: If all that were true, why didn't Arafat sign the generous offers which were presented to him? If he was really hatching the monstrous plots attributed to him, if he was such a shameless liar, what was there to stop him from taking up the territory offered, create a state (with the support of most of the international community) and make himself much stronger before undertaking to confront a nuclear power, “The strongest and most moral (so they say) army in the world”? Why, if he was really so eager for the military confrontation, if he had indeed been preparing for it long in advance, why did he start it on such bad terms, which brought over his people closures, sieges, hunger and death and also “targeted killings,” and which exposed himself to being imprisoned, isolated and humiliated in his office, cut off from the pleasures of life. . .
The above words come from the pen of a man who paid to the full the price of the “no-peace.” Smadari, my daughter, was a beautiful and vivid 14-year old girl, who was walking idly with her friends on a city street where she was murdered by a suicidal Palestinian, Shaheed, a man driven to madness by anger, humiliation and hopelessness. On the morrow, with my home full of mourners and well-wishers, the phone rang. It was a representative of the Palestinian Authority, offering their President's condolences and very timidly and gingerly asking if they could take part in the funeral. I did not hesitate, I said I would be honored by their participation. And so she was buried, the granddaughter of the peace activist and former general Matti Peled, buried near her grandfather on the hill at Kibutz Nachshon on the way to Jerusalem, accompanied on her last route by thousands of people – Muslims and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, religious and secularists. Just as he was buried in the same place two years previously, his coffin carried by six generals, accompanied by friends from the army and friends from the peace movement and Palestinian partners and interlocutors, Prime Minister Rabin and Ariel Sharon and Uri Avnery and Naomi Shemer and Nadia Sartawi and Muhammad Miari and Ahmad Tibi and Aziz Shehadeh (who read out the greetings from Arafat. . .) in the surrealistic atmosphere which characterizes the complexity of life in this beautiful and astonishing country.
Since the war started, and especially in the past four years, there have been many thousands of people killed in the Territories and in Israel, Palestinians and Israelis (many of them completely innocent, hundreds of them, on both sides, small children!). The cup of sorrows and pain is overfilled. Therefore, we must start creating new definitions, today! Because the war is now being waged between the peace-seekers and the war-mongers. The divide goes across the conventional ethnic/national lines of division, which separate Israelis from Arabs or Jews from Muslims. The one camp are those on both sides who say “It's all mine,” who see life as being lived by the sword, fought until death, totally, as an unchangeable fate – while the other camp are those who seek a respectable compromise, where each people can go on living quietly on its own soil. Those who try to smash down the wall of fear and hatred which is blocking the way to hope, to reconciliation, to a better future for the two peoples whose fate has placed them in this harsh country. Those who know that the alternative in mutual destruction...
[A]fter all the rivers of blood, after all the mutual suffering, it seems that the overwhelming majority in both peoples is beginning to come to terms with the dictate of reality – that we must live side by side with each other. Inside our hearts we all know, each in his own way, what is the one and only solution . . . And indeed, there IS an agreement already!
True, the Arabs who lived in this country for hundreds of years did not want us here. It is not likely that in their place we would have welcomed the influx of people whom we perceived as coming to take away our land. But after all the rivers of blood, after all the mutual suffering, it seems that the overwhelming majority in both peoples is beginning to come to terms with the dictate of reality – that we must live side by side with each other. Inside our hearts we all know, each in his own way, what is the one and only solution, and we have never been as close. . . And indeed, there IS an agreement already! This agreement has many variegated names: UN Resolution 242, the Beilin-Abu Mazen Understandings, the Camp David Draft and the Taba Draft, the Clinton Proposals and the Saudi Plan, The Nusseibeh-Ayalon Document and the Geneva Accords.
It is the one and only solution for which there is a wide international support: the country will be divided between the two peoples who live in it; there will be a mutual giving up of dreams and sacred principles (Temple Mount and the Right of Return). There will be two states for the two peoples! The one side gives up 78% of the land which they regard as rightfully theirs, the other the 22% which contains the cradle of their culture. The one gives up a sacred right, and the other an eternal claim.
This agreement exists. It is hanging in the air. It is lying on the table, waiting for signatures which will come. . . It will happen in one year, or two, or five, or perhaps five hundred (like between the Irish). It will happen when the price of no-peace will become measurably higher than the price of peace, after such-and-such a number of fallen, after dread and nightmare, when there will be tears in every house and the outcry of both peoples will go up to heaven. Only then will the two sides crawl, in total exhaustion, of their own will or at the prompting of a strong mediator, back to the negotiating table – and start from the very point they stopped at, to the very same solution.
Rami Elhanan is among the founders of the Israeli-Palestinian Circle of Bereaved Families, an organization in Israel/Palestine of people who have lost family members to the violence of the conflict. He lives in Jerusalem, and may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .