Sunday, July 11, 2010

Joseph Dana On "Pandelas"

Joseph Dana is the latest brand-new addition to the Huffington Post blogger stable, and completely unsurprisingly he is yet another critic of Israel. Clearly, the HP needed one more. Mr. Dana's debut article has the eye-catching title of "Another Palestinian Ghandi Crushed by Israel." He tells the story of a man named Adeeb Abu Rahma who is active in protesting the security barrier in Bi'lin (not exactly new ground for the Huffington Post). Rahma and quite a few other Palestinians are on trial in Israel for, according to Mr. Dana, no reason. According to Dana, the IDF forced a group of teenagers to implicate Rhama through interrogation. As it turns out, the teenagers changed their testimony and it looks like Rahma was in fact innocent after all. So it's pretty clearly an injustice for which Israel deserves the harshest criticism.

But I'm not so interested in this one particular story as I am in Mr. Dana's headline and conclusion, spelled out here:
"Commentators of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often complain that there has not yet been a legitimate Palestinian Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. to emerge from within Palestinian civil society. The reality is that there are many Palestinians engaged in popular unarmed resistance to the Israeli occupation, preferring organized demonstrations in the West Bank to suicide bombs in Tel Aviv. Common people like Adeeb Abu Rahma could become the non-violent leader everyone claims to be waiting for. However, the Israeli government seems to recognize how much damage such a figure could do to their international image and to the occupation they will defend at any cost. And so hundreds of Palestinian Gandhis are brought before draconian Israeli military tribunals each year, only to face long sentences that nearly ensure that the world will never learn their names."
 Let's not kid ourselves: Palestinian politics is far more complicated than that, and there is no evidence that Rahma would ever become a politician in any form, let alone the leader of the PA. That doesn't seem to stop Mr. Dana from elevating him to sainthood just because right now he isn't endorsing "violent resistance." Mr. Dana is on the ground in the territories so he can't not be aware of the threats hanging over the heads of every Palestinian leader since Arafat not to look too complacent in resisting Israel. Remember when Fatah got on Hamas' case about that? I haven't.

Ultimately, though, this is where the Palestinian strategy (which Dana is either falling for or complacent in) shows itself in regards to "Palestinian Ghandis" or "Palestinian Mandelas" or "Pandelas" as I like to call them. The Palestinians can produce them by the hundreds but every last one of them has an excuse why he can't be the Ghandi or Mandela he has the potential to be. Usually that excuse is to point the finger at Israel. Pandelas take two forms:

1. People like Rahma who are truly (we think) committed to non-violence. However, they don't hold any political power short of a hundred or so people. They are more like the leaders of Boy Scout troops or community organizers than Presidents or generals. It's likely that the higher-ups in the PA keep them around because they can hold them up as Palestinians who are non-violent but don't expect them to advance any further up the ladder. Whether or not Israel treats them unfairly is almost a non-issue, they aren't going to be making changes to the political landscape anyway.

2. People like Marwan Barghouti (the original Pandela) who are politicians and have popular support, but commit terrorist activities then face justice at Israel's hands. While they are in prison suddenly and miraculously they have a spiritual awakening that causes them to embrace non-violence. We know this because they told us so, very sincerely, from their prison cells. Once their awakening occurs they immediately start the propaganda machine up to rant and wail about how unfairly yet another Pandela has been treated at the hands of the cruel and oppressive Israel. Their terrorist past is swept under the rug or excused somehow.

In the end, here is what a Palestinian Mandela or Ghandi needs to be able to do: Unite the people, either through political connections or sheer charisma, have a desire for non-violence on both sides, not just one, and really be able to change people's minds. As it stands, it's great that the protesters in Bilin are non-violent, but that doesn't mean the potential for suicide bombers, shootings and rocket attacks are diminished in the least by their presence. That is why nothing is changing between the two sides. The conflict is larger than Rasha and his protests. That is why the Palestinians need someone larger than life. They don't have it. And maybe, given the unfree nature of the society they have made for themselves (let alone the one under the occupation) they never will. Maybe the best they can hope for is a Sadat or an Abdullah.

1 comment:

  1. The Palestinians refuse to recognize the Jews are human beings with equal moral and national rights.

    Until they do, the conflict between the two sides is not going to end for a long time to come. They lack a leader capable of forcing or leading their society to acknowledge this basic truth. Absent that, all the Palestinian peaceful protests are rightly regarded by almost all Israeli Jews as simply another political weapon in the war against the Jewish State's continued existence.