Balkanizing Palestine

Suliman Mustafa

It was a sight to behold on C-SPAN. An Israeli Likud MK bemoaning the alleged sorry conditions of Christian Palestinians under the "fundamentalist" reign of the Palestinian Authority in traditionally Christian Palestinian towns. A caller introducing himself as a Christian Palestinian informs the right-wing MK the only source of misery fueling any Christian Palestinian exodus from the Holy Lands is the brutal Israeli occupation. Before ending his sentence, the caller is cut off the air and the show continues as if no credible counter argument worthy of consideration was put forth.

What occurred during the C-SPAN interview was not atypical of the one-sided debate over an alleged institutionalized persecution of Christian Arabs in Palestine specifically and other Arab states in general including, of all Arab countries, Syria. Calls for sanctions against the offending regimes are growing louder by the month. But what is the real agenda?

So fraught with falsehood and so one-sided is this "debate" that not even Christian Palestinian leaders are asked to voice their views in "defense" of their rights. The so called debate is reminiscent of the early pseudo-discourse over Palestinian identity and existence. So cynical are the self-proclaimed guardians of Christian Palestinians – almost all of them belong to traditionally virulent anti-Arab organizations. Such organizations never drew lines in the past between Arabs of the Sunni, Shia, Greek Orthodox, Melkite, or any religious persuasion in the Arab World. Typically, they draw their support from extreme right-wing American Christian and Jewish groups. Such groups are associated with the fundamentalist Christian Coalition and the Israeli Likud or other Israeli fringe groups. But so far, and not so surprisingly, no Christian Palestinian of significance in the Arab World or anywhere else, credible or otherwise, has accepted the invitation for "protection." Why? Who wants to play the fool? No one.

Mission Jerusalem

The timing of this campaign is of course not a coincidence. The fate of Jerusalem is being determined in Washington and the US Media. The Jewish fundamentalists and ultra-nationalists who would like to see little Palestinian control over any part of the occupied territories, let alone Jerusalem, are maneuvering aggressively on two fronts: First, undermine the Palestinian Authority’s internationally recognized role as the representative of both Christian and Muslim interests in Palestine given its Muslim and Christian citizens. Second, position Israel as the substitute protector of Christian Palestinians and Christian interests in general to court the well-financed and media-strong fundamentalist Christian right to mobilize their followers and lobby for total Israeli control over Jerusalem. What a better way to demonstrate Israel’s "caring" for Christian Palestinians than to express concern over their flight from the Holy Land and to paint the PA as the culprit. The fundamentalist Christians, credulous or calculating, seem to have been persuaded.

But for that to occur, Israel needs a fig leaf to cover its historical mistreatment of Christians in Palestine. Without concealing its lackluster track record, Israel cannot claim to be the enlightened pro-Western democracy worthy of the holiest of all cities, Jerusalem. In the absence of a reasonable track record, Israel, as always, is busy rewriting history and fabricating the present. Who is the intended audience of this campaign of distortion? Not the Christian Palestinians (mere pawns to be used and disposed of when they have served their purpose just like their property and human rights) – but the fundamentalist Christians of America.

But if, in the process, Israel can split the ranks of Palestinians into Druze, Islamists, Fundamentalists, Secularists, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Russian Orthodox, et cetera, the better. Israel’s best case scenario, and Palestinian’s worst case scenario, is the Balkanization of Palestine and an Israeli orchestrated intervention reminiscent of Syria’s intervention and de facto control of Lebanon under the guise of controlling sectarian violence. Then, Israel can demonstrate to the world community that an unstable Palestinian entity is a real and present danger to Israel’s security and its neighbors. You can kiss goodbye for decades a Palestinian entity under UN Resolution 242. Even moderate Israelis would balk at the thought of a Bosnia in their midst that could spill over to their territory. By and large this scenario is very far-fetched, but the Israelis will go for it anyway. Never forget Israel’s role in propping up Hamas and how it backfired on the Israelis.

Old Dog Old Tricks

The strategy is simple and seems to have worked, for a while at least, in Palestine and other religiously and culturally diverse Arab states such as Lebanon and Iraq. And where irresponsible regimes and tribal cultures exist, the degree of success or near success seems to increase proportionally. This is not the first time Israel has pursued a policy of exploiting ethnicity and religion to divide-and-conquer. The Palestinian Druze, in sharp contrast to other Shami Druze, have disavowed their Palestinian heritage and pledged allegiance to the Jewish state effectively depriving the remaining Palestinians of a desperately needed base of popular support.

But Palestinians, both Christians of all sects as well as Muslims of all shades, do not have a history of deep-rooted animosity or sectarian strife. Even at the peak of Lebanon’s civil and religious conflagration, Palestinians have exhibited an immunity to such religious division which was always strengthened by a common cause and culture. Most of the recent intra-Palestinian conflict transpired along political and ideological lines but not religious ones. And this, we are aware, is much to Israel’s dismay. Better yet, even the Palestinian Islamists refuse to split the rank in spite of the PA’s constant harassment and jailing of its leaders to placate the US and Israel. How long will this national unity last? So far so good. And unless the PA or the Islamists act irresponsibly, it can withstand further Israeli and American bombardment.

As a result of decades of Palestinian anguish, a return to faith as an escape and the rising Islamists’ influence on Palestinian affairs both political and social can no longer be ignored. In many cases it may have had a positive influence on restraining Arafat’s policy, or its absence, of runaway concessions to the Israelis and alleged corruption or mismanagement. But with the increasing acceptance of Islamic orthodoxy comes a burden to be paid by all Palestinians without exception and a simple test of their individual priorities: Palestinian statehood or personal convenience. Stories of orthodox Muslim Palestinian youths tormenting pedestrians in Ramallah or Nablus for not adhering to strict Islamic dress codes or for eating in public during the holy month of Ramadan are common. But if any Palestinian finds such harassment grounds for breaking ranks, their exit should be welcomed. It is quality of cadres – we should seek not quantity.

The onus in the end is on the Palestinian mainstream and leadership to feverishly strive to deconstruct any artificial walls the Israelis are working franticly to erect in our midst. We must ensure no credulous Palestinian unwittingly works to cement these artificial barriers by reminding ourselves of who are the ultimate beneficiaries. The Israelis again.

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