Where are the glorious Arabs?
Dear Brother and friend AbdelBari Atwan,
Editor of Al-Quds
An Open Letter on the Murder of Palestine, from George Galloway MP
It has been said that you, Sir, are the “last Arab”. We both know that is not true, there are still others, but millions of us know why it was said of you.
You are a Knight of the Arabs that’s for sure. Born in a Gazan refugee camp, you are a Prince among men. I have known you for thirty years; back then you still had some of the dust of the camp about you. Now you are an ever-present commentator in the media, publish the Arab world’s only independent newspaper, and are highly respected by all who know you.
Together we have fought in the land of Balfour and Sykes, of Anthony Eden and Anthony Blair, many great political battles. Many tears and much blood has flown over those years, and before, and it s not going to stop now.
I am moved to write having seen yet another of your heart-piercing interviews on television. You leave the interrogator speechless when you tell them that you were born there, and in the very camp we are all watching being destroyed by fire and red-hot steel. How could you, this man of
letters, this sophisticated commentator, have come from…that?
Of course we know that it was….that…which made you, and that you will never lose your burning sense of indignation, your cry, no, roar on behalf of those you left behind.
But it was not your voice which moved me most tonight it s 5 in the morning and I am still fitfully flicking across the channels not so much looking FOR but away refugee the unrelenting, hypocritical, downright mendacity of most of them.
It was the voice of Amal, a young mother who appeared late last night in a package on Al-Jazeera English, interviewed in a school in the southern Gaza Strip.
This young woman, a girl really, was with her baby one of 61 members of the same family of refugees hiding out in this school in the hope that it would not be attacked by the Israeli invaders. Her baby had not been changed in three days, she was feeding her the last bottle of milk and in a dirty bottle, there was no electricity and very little running water. What there was, was being drunk and cooked with, washed in and washed with. And the people in this school were the lucky ones.
Elsewhere in the Strip at that very moment, children like Amal’s were being carried, stiff and dead, from the hospitals by their fathers.
Women wailed, bled, died in Jabalia, the Beach Camp, Rafah, Gaza City. Young boys recited the Shahada as they were carried into intensive care units operating in near darkness, running out of medicines, even bandages, and being staffed by doctors and nurses close to madness
International journalists – banned by the invaders from seeing for themselves – nonetheless continue to accept the terms of reference imposed by those who have banned them. Every bulletin incants the same falsehood: that Israel is attacking “Hamas militant…targets” (by the way why are Palestinian fighters always described as “militants”? But how can a baby be Hamas? A Mosque? A school? An Ambulance? A family? A whole apartment block? Or, as I heard you explain, the parliament building. Oh what an irony is that destruction of the parliament building, housing that rarity in the Arab
world, a freely elected assembly. In a way I suppose it s a variant on Bertolt Brecht, when he wrote of the old East Germany that the Communist Party, if disappointed in the people, could always abolish them and elect a new one.
I was never a supporter of Hamas myself. I spent the best years of my life as a partisan of Abu Amar, how we miss the late president now more than ever. And to his memory I remain loyal.
But Hamas are the freely elected government of the Palestinian people living under occupation. Neither jailing or killing its MPs and supporters, nor besieging the voters to punish them for their free choice, nor destroying the parliament in which they can no longer sit will change that.
“The terrorist group Hamas” is the usual mantra in the western media discourse. These commentators clearly can’t remember back as far as the last Palestinian elections. Which means of course they cannot possibly know that Israel itself came into being on a wave of terror.
From the assassination of the United Nations’ Special Envoy through the hanging by wire of British soldiers, the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing almost a hundred people, including British civil servants, to the massacre of whole villages of Palestinians like Deir Yasin.
The first and last of these crimes of course were carried out by two subsequent prime ministers of Israel.
And, of course, as Israel came into being your own country of Palestine necessarily disappeared. They were after all mutually exclusive. Palestine was wiped off the map. Its people scattered to the four winds as refugees and, generation after generation, of squalor, pogrom, a people lost in the wilderness. As your book has it, citizens of a country of words.
And of course, returning to the western coverage, there is no “targtting” in any case. How could there be? If you bomb a seven story apartment building to kill one man (and his four wives and several of his children) in what sense is that “targeted”? You have in fact targeted every single person in that block and given the density of Gaza, adjacent blocks too. That’s
hundreds of people you have “targeted”, in which case you have not targeted at all.
Neither are the weapons capable of “targeting”. When tanks and artillery pieces fire shells into refugee camps, as is happening right now in Jabalia, they are not targeting anyone specifically, how could they?
A gun barrel barks and a heavy piece of metal and explosives hurtles forth in a general direction. Anyone with the misfortune to be in its firing line will end up limbless, eyeless in Gaza; or just plain dead.
How can a warship off the coast be said to be “targeting” anyone when their cannons boom and their death and destruction are delivered onto the beach and beyond? The F16’s and the Apache helicopters show the gullible their “video-footage” of targets. Over and over the same video-nasty is played. But the vast majority of their bombing raids are never filmed, or at least
film is never released. How could it be?
The bombing of civilians began when the Italians attempted to suppress a revolt in Libya in 1911. Its full horror came to Europe at Guernica in 1937, when the Nazis backing Franco helped drown the elected Spanish republic in blood. Picasso immortalised the moment and his painting now adorns the United Nations building in New York. That’s the building inhabited by
empty suits and raincoats where George W Bush can paralyse the entire “international community” with his threat of veto, supported by Gordon Brown.
But the reason the Al-Jazeera package which contained the interview with Amal broke my heart is nothing to do with diplomacy or international politics. Really it was just a simple question she repeatedly asked, in a torrent of heartfelt words, spoken through the tears running down her face and onto the baby she held.
“Where is everybody?” she kept asking.
“Where is the great Arab world they taught us about at school?”
“Why have they left us alone?”
“What have we done wrong to deserve to be left to face this alone. We have nothing.”
After the interview, my own children turned to me and asked what were the answers to Amal’s questions. I had no answer to their questions.
I could not explain why 300 million Arabs cannot affect this suffering; cannot even land a box of tissues to dry Amal’s tears, a clean bottle for her baby to drink from, a clean nappy.
I couldn’t say why the Arab armies, so huge and bristling with weapons, could not even threaten to fire a single shot in defence of a Palestine being murdered before their eyes.
I couldn’t explain to my own children, never mind Amal’s, why the oil and the gas which turns the wheels of the countries arming, financing, and protecting the murderers was still flowing.
Or why the casinos and the bordellos were full of the potentates of Arabia while the Palestinians eat from the garbage heaps.
Why some Arabs are buying second rate English football clubs for hundreds of millions while Amal’s baby drinks from a dirty bottle, while hiding from the bombs and praying just to see tomorrow.
I don’t know the answer to these questions.
Why Rafah for example, a border with an Arab country, where the flag of the great Egypt flies, is sealed shut for almost two years trapping a million and a half Palestinian Arabs at the mercy of those who wish to murder them, quietly if they can but in a blaze of publicity if they must.
As I say, despite more than 30 years with the Arabs, I cannot answer these questions.
The cheap and easy line is that the puppet presidents and the corrupt kings are to blame. But that’s too easy isn’t it.
The world has seen many tyrants. But when their tyranny becomes simply intolerable, when their incompetence has become so tragically apparent that even the blind can see it, when their systems have become so bankrupt that their leaders cannot even risk meeting with each other well, then normally their people pour onto the streets, out of the factories, mills, fields
and barracks, and tear down their oppressor.
Or at least a patriotic officer steps forward and removes the national embarrassment from the scene.
The peacock shah, Mobuto, Suharto, the Ceausescus are no more.
When will this happen for the Arabs, dear Abdelbari? You are one of the very “last Arabs”; do you know the answer to Amal’s essential question. “Where is the great Arab world they taught us about in school…why have they left us all alone?”
I remain, of course,
George Galloway MP
House of Commons
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