By Ray Hanania
It seems that every day marks the anniversary of some tragedy or suffering in Palestinian history. Suffering has become the substance of being Palestinian — it brings us together and defines us as a people.
I grew up with a daily calendar of events from Palestine’s past that influenced my being. Back in 1989, I even created a database called “Baladi,” which chronologically documented the tragedies and events of suffering, but the task was daunting and overwhelming because there was no end in sight to the entries I was recording.
There is the Nov. 29 anniversary of the 1947 partition vote at the UN — an action that codified the Nakba as an unmistakable scar on our lives. The worst anniversary, though, is that of the 1982 massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, which began on Sept. 16. During three days of slaughter, so many civilians were butchered that, even today, no one actually knows exactly how many men, women and children were murdered in cold blood.
But that is not a unique characteristic among the Palestinians’ days of tragedy. On April 9, 1948, two terrorist organizations — whose leaders would later become prime ministers of Israel — slaughtered the residents of a non-combatant farming village called Deir Yassin. How many were slaughtered there is not fully known. The initial reports were of 250, but later, after years of Israeli manipulation of the Western news media, the number of victims was reduced to about 100 (as if there is a moral difference between slaughtering 100 innocent people compared to slaughtering 250).
June 5, 1967, was the day the Arabs stumbled into a war with Israel. Ridiculous bombast from Egypt and collusion with Syria and Jordan gave Israel the excuse to launch a “pre-emptive” attack that shattered Arab pride in just six days. On June 8, Israeli forces attacked the USS Liberty while it was in international waters about 25 nautical miles from Arish, Egypt. The ship was monitoring the conflict, as Israel was invading Jordan and taking control of Arab East Jerusalem. In the attack on the Liberty, Israel killed 34 American servicemen and wounded 171 others. It is a miracle that the ship did not sink and kill every one of the 358 Americans on board.
Every year on Feb. 25, Palestinians mark the day in 1994 that an extremist with American and Israeli citizenship walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, wearing an Israeli military uniform and carrying an Israeli military machine gun, and killed 29 Muslims who were knelt in prayer, wounding 125 others. The perpetrator, Baruch Goldstein, who ironically was a doctor and had sworn to save lives rather than take them, was subsequently beaten to death by survivors.
Weeks later, on April 6, Palestinians retaliated with one of the first major suicide bombings, targeting a bus stop in Afula that was used by Israeli soldiers who were reporting to reserve duty. Eight Israelis were killed and 55 were injured.
On Wednesday, it was exactly 33 years since an Israeli military truck collided with a civilian car carrying four Palestinians, who were returning to their homes in the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, killing them all and provoking the First Intifada. Riots subsequently spread throughout Gaza and the West Bank and even Israel, too. They did not stop for more than four years, raising fears of a civil war against Israel’s apartheid government and military occupation. If the Intifada did one positive thing, it ignited a heightened sense of concern between the rivals of Fatah and Hamas about who would take control of the protests, resulting in Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat reaching out to discuss peace with Israel.
I was there when Arafat and Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — a general well known for ordering his soldiers to “break the bones” of Palestinian protesters — shook hands on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993. However, peace quickly died when an Israeli assassinated Rabin during a “peace rally” on Nov. 4, 1995.
These examples of anniversary dates of tragedy, suffering and of lost hope are the only thing uniting Palestinians, bringing them together across their political divides. They fuel anger, but even they have not been enough to fuel overall unity. The Palestinians have been defined by division, maybe even a sociopolitical form of partition that is far more destructive than the actual partition of 1947.
Some might look at this chronology as a way of reflecting the substance of the Palestinian tragedy. But, to me, the real tragedy is how easily Palestinians attack their own, gravitate to division and rivalry, and dilute their moral power.
Today, tragedies define the Palestinian struggle, which is commemorated on the worst of these dates. However, the real definition of the Palestinians’ tragedy is their inability to come together with one powerful and singular voice. That failure is marked every single day of every year.