Hazem Saghieh

Following the “Al-Aqsa Flood,” many voices, mostly Israeli and Western, compared Hamas’s operation to the 9/11 attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda in the United States. Some went even further, considering them to be exactly the same and the operation to be Israel’s 9/11.

On the other hand, however, other voices were less concerned with attributes and more interested in proposals drawn from experience. To them, if they truly do resemble one another, it is more true that a response like that which followed the attacks of September 11, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, must be avoided. The reasoning underlying this conviction is that violence and killing cannot be stopped through even greater violence and more killing, which ultimately creates a zero-sum outcome.

This is precisely the outcome that Israel avoided when it retaliated with violence of even greater scale and magnitude, repeatedly targeting far more innocent civilians that Al-Aqsa Flood had. In doing so, the Jewish state adopted a vengeful and brutal approach that it continues to follow, and criticizing it has become a necessary requisite for any sense of humanism and civilization in the world.

This behavior was accompanied, and continues to be, by Israeli and Western actions that are as lacking in precision as they are in justice. In the media, as in other non-military spheres, their behavior has the same effect as the military operations inflicting collective punishment. Examples of this can be seen in countries like Germany, where any criticism of the Jewish state and its policies is seen as anti-Semitic, which is detrimental to the German democratic experience itself and could produce reactions that are indeed undemocratic and anti-Semitic.

This unjust behavior, be it military or otherwise, raises a burning question: at what point does the response to injustice and atrocious actions cease to be a response, becoming a source of wrongdoing that leads to self-harm before harming others?

The American response to September 11, which failed to further the interests it was meant to serve or strengthen the values it claimed to uphold, led to a broad surge in the tendency to glorify tyrants and dictators fighting the US or seen as doing so. As a result, broad segments of the population in the Arab and Islamic worlds extolled Osama bin Laden and then Saddam Hussein, elevating them to the status of noble heroes. In the meantime, romantic poems, both chaste and erotic, were preserved for Taliban chief Mullah Omar.

A similar phenomenon can be seen today in a few Arab cities, where Hamas leaders like Yahya al-Sinwar, Mohammed al-Deif, to say nothing about Abu Ubaida, are being idolized and celebrated. While it is understandable for Israel’s brutality to make those confronting it look better, it is not understandable for positions on Israel, or anything else, to become the single criterion by which to judge individuals, leaders, developments, and history.

In such trials, the judges hide many of the frustrations that the contemporary Arab experience is riddled with. Confronting and addressing those frustrations and what lies beneath them would be preferable to contenting ourselves with choosing new saviors to spare us experiments and lead us to disaster. However, these judges themselves demonstrate that we are one-dimensional and that we have built our world and our perceptions of it on a particular issue or contradiction. One-dimensional beings are vulnerable to being toyed with by anyone who chooses to toy with them, as is clear from the long history of the Palestinian cause, which has been exploited by many beneficiaries, be they rulers or aspiring rulers.

Despite its significance, one’s stance on the conflict with Israel should not obscure the long list of other criteria upon which our position on a particular party or individual should be built. Among them are questions about the person’s character and their stance on other social, economic, educational, and ethical causes that are no less important than the struggle against Israel.

The Lebanese have undergone something similar, and the scars it left continue to burn. As we all know, Hezbollah kidnapped two soldiers in 2006, leading to the famous July War. Afterward, the party declared victory, which was elevated to an official “divine victory” soon after. It thereby triggered a wave of adulation and idolization of those who had “humiliated Israel” and achieved this “divine victory.”

Those who did not join in the celebrations and refrained from sharing this idolization swallowed their reservations about this party that holds views divergent to their own regarding almost everything, simply because this party had fought Israel and, according to the narrative that became popular among some of us, emerged victorious.

Because the pursuit of a single cause repels all others, we failed to notice that this victory laid the groundwork for the dire situation on all fronts that we in Lebanon are confronted with today.

The theory of a single cause has stung us many times, and the scorpions were not only those fighting Israel. We also have those who claim they will fight Israel one day, after deciding on the appropriate place and time, which never comes.

Nothing pushes back against Israel’s behavior and threatens it more than enriching the Palestinian cause by making it coexist alongside other struggles and meanings. Allowing Israel to deny us a rich definition of ourselves by reducing ourselves to being “anti-Israelis,” would be to grant it a crucial victory bigger than its destruction of Gaza.