Harry Hagopian

So do Palestinians need to be forgiven?

A response to the NOW commentary “The Palestinians' hypocrisy on Syria”

Arab Israelis wave Palestinian flags during a rally commemorating Land Day on March 30, 2014 in the northern Israeli town of Arrabe. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

This commentary is in reply to a recent piece published by NOW “The Palestinians’ hypocrisy on Syria” by Managing Editor Hanin Ghaddar



Two weeks ago, I came across a thought-provoking and rather trenchant Comment entitled The Palestinians’ hypocrisy on Syria by the managing editor of the Lebanese NOW portal. Hanin Ghaddar happens to be a friend of some years, but she is also a bold and proficient journalist in her own right. So given the years I have spent on the Palestinian issue as a second-track negotiator on behalf of the regional ecumenical churches, I wrestled with her challenging reflections.


In fact, reading her latest piece, three key indictments amongst others jumped out at me. Ms. Ghaddar suggests that ‘the Palestinians will not be forgiven for their apathy toward the suffering of the Syrian people.’ She further adds ‘that Palestinians are once again being used as fig leafs to cover regional political agendas, and they have nothing to say about it.’ And then she wraps it up in a rather forceful crescendo when she segues that ‘the Palestinians have to realize that they’ve lost the Arab depth, their credibility and their narrative. Today, they are hypocrites who demand everything and want to give nothing. Meanwhile their leadership and narrative are being used by Islamists, dictators and terrorists to launch the most atrocious wars. The Palestinians will not be forgiven.’


In another time, and certainly in another context altogether, the piece would have reminded me of an open letter published on 13 January 1898 in the newspaper L’Aurore by the influential writer Émile Zola who addressed the then French president Félix Faure and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful gaoling of Alfred Dreyfus. In fact, the tone of Ms Ghaddar’s piece equally reminded me of the now infamous obiter by the then Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban who was posthumously quoted in The Jerusalem Post on 18 November 2002 that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. In fact, his statement is often misquoted as addressing Palestinians alone but it had in fact chastised all Arab countries following the Geneva Peace Conference 21 December 1973.


Let me start off with areas of convergence. I agree with Ms. Ghaddar that Palestinians have shown a skillful inability to get their political act together and have heretofore failed to unite their resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the violent split in 2007. They have spent far too much time fighting amongst themselves and pursuing their own separate agendas rather than winning more world public opinion. Despite the remarkable talents many Palestinian men and women possess in [virtual] Palestine as much as in the Diaspora, the situation has remained quite stagnant. It is unfortunate that civil society organizations have often been hampered from pursuing their efforts at good governance, and it is at times also true that some Palestinians have wallowed in self-pity for the sake of scoring political points.


However, and without sounding like someone who is justifying inaction, Palestinians are not masters of their destiny but are beholden to other powers and principalities that use the Palestinian cause for their own agendas. In this, I have no qualms in agreeing with Ms. Ghaddar’s comments. After all, every single Arab ruler pretends to be an ally of Palestine and uses this cause as a rallying point for their own survival, popularity or prevarication. However, this does not mean that the Palestinian people are to blame for such political usury by third parties. They are the weaker side, and it is an understandable self-protection for them to try and stay out of any partisanship - no matter their feelings - so that they do not exacerbate their own hardships. What would it do for them to shout from the rooftops opposing Syrian crimes against humanity when they will end up carrying the can and paying a price exacted by others for such outspokenness? After all, how many other Arab rulers have spoken out against the crimes in Aleppo or elsewhere? And for that matter, is Lebanon not trying to keep mum by disassociating itself from both sides albeit unsuccessfully? Much more critically, how many demonstrations have we witnessed in any Arab country against the barbarities committed in Syria, Iraq or elsewhere?


Yarmouk is also a valid case in point. The misery visited upon the refugees in this camp in southern Damascus (amongst others) is stark. But the refugees were themselves divided politically too. Besides, what would have been the reaction of the Syrian regime had they spoken out save for more attrition or abuse being heaped against a helpless people?


Today, amidst the flare-ups in different parts of the MENA region, I agree with Ms. Ghaddar that the Palestinian cause is no longer the only one par excellence. Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Libyans, Egyptians and others are struggling - at times desperately - for their own survival. They do not have the energy to rally round the Palestinian struggle for justice or for the restoration of inalienable rights. Palestine remains a hub because it remains an open sore, but it is not the single hub.


Finally, I am conscious that Ms. Ghaddar lives in Lebanon, and the zesty let alone hospitable Lebanese people have over the years suffered enormously, and paid a heavy price, for Palestinian excesses when Yasser Arafat chose Lebanon - supported, incidentally, by some Lebanese political factions - as his base against Israel. However, this surely should not smear our collective views to the present and painful pan-Arab realities. Besides, we should perhaps also look westward in our indictments and assess how Palestinians or other Arabs have been manipulated so fulsomely by other parties too?


Palestinians are both Muslim and Christian, so allow me as a fellow believer to remind readers of Jesus’ challenge to the Mosaic Law when he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her”. Or else more cogently, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Arab Israelis wave Palestinian flags during a rally commemorating Land Day on March 30, 2014 in the northern Israeli town of Arrabe. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Every single Arab ruler pretends to be an ally of Palestine and uses this cause as a rallying point for their own survival, popularity or prevarication.

  • Kandaar

    The only time Arabs or Muslims care about any of them being killed is when it is done by Israel. That is why the Arab and Muslim world has remained mute in what is happening in Syria and that is why Palestinians don't have any reason to be more vocal than anybody else. And by the way, the number of Christian Palestinian has become negligible and insignificant, even Bethlehem is now a Christians minority city.

    May 8, 2016

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Thank you. Mr. Hagopian. I would like to re-post my own response to Ms. Ghaddar because her own piece reeks of the same cheap and ill-conceived retribution that many Arab rulers visit upon the Palestinians whenever the latter do not subscribe to the rulers' dictates. Here was Ms. Ghaddar attacking the Palestinians because they do not subscribe to her own side of the Syrian crisis, and for wisely choosing to dissociate themselves from a Syrian civil war. They did learn from the mistakes they made in Lebanon, but Ms. Ghaddar will never forgive them for not repeating the mistake in Syria. How pedestrian of her. Here is my response: "I am surprised that you, of all people, find fault with the Palestinians' position on Syria. They have actually adopted the same position of neutrality vis-a-vis Syria that you and all Hezbollah's Lebanese enemies have adopted, i.e. staying out of it النأي بالنفس. Shouldn't that make you a hypocrite too? In any event, we've seen this Arab, not just Palestinian, hypocrisy decades ago when "Palestine" was the commodity which Jumblatt, Lebanon Sunnis, Baathists, Syrian National Socialists and other Arab-Muslim hypocrites, cheats and bigots used to wreck Lebanon into the coma from which it never recovered. Today it is Hezbollah's turn to "milk" Palestine. Fact is, no one ever gave a damn about Palestine anyway. The Palestinians were, for many decades, used by Arab dictators and politicians, and they have finally understood the vacuity of all this Arab brotherhood and sisterhood incestuous nationalist BS, and have come to count only on themselves. The motto of the Palestinians should be ما حك جلدك مثل ظفرك (only your own nail can scratch your itchy skin)."

    May 5, 2016