"A murder shared with many others, which is not only safe and permitted, but indeed recommended, is irresistible to the great majority of men."
- Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power.
These words sum up the tragedy of the human condition. They remind us of the crucial role of the "small minority" when the herd goes on the rampage. Canetti warns us against tribal reasoning bent to suit our birthplace identities. Whether we are Israeli or Palestinian, Lebanese or Syrian, Jew or Muslim, Christian or atheist, French or American, we should never be too wary of resorting to "us versus them," which fatally leads to obscurantism and blindness. Yet the use of these three words is currently setting terrifying records across the planet. And it is spreading at such lightning speed that it is blowing away heads like houses in a hurricane. The barbaric slaughter of October 7 not only left thousands of Israeli civilians dead and wounded, it also set off a bomb in minds and hearts, stopping thought. It authorized the unleashing of passions against the lessons and evidence of history. This unleashing is understandable in those lacking the means of knowledge, on both sides, or in those crushed by pain. It is unacceptable among the powerful: those who declare wars, those who decide on the chances of peace.
What happened so that a young man who, in the 80s, threw stones to make himself heard by an all-powerful occupying army, became the father of another young man reduced to committing a massacre of civilians so as to exist? A process of sabotage and destruction of the Palestinian people has silently unfolded, decade after decade, out of sight and out of mind. With hindsight, this process has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing. And this collective murder, in which all those who allowed or encouraged it are complicit – including a majority of Arab regimes – gave birth to the horror we are witnessing today. We are not facing a beginning, but an end. The end of a long process of disintegration and dismemberment, which has torn apart the entire region and sealed the massive defeat of all concerned.
What is now widely perceived in the West as an attack by barbarism against civilization, bloc against bloc, is in reality the terrible venting of horror when all other avenues have been closed off. Who will tell us that a peace based on the upholding and extension of colonization is not a sham, a crime? Who will tell us that a people, first denied its existence, then crushed in order to survive, betrayed on all sides, including by the authority that is supposed to represent it, does not have some reason to lose its reason? Israel’s salvation depends on it reaching a hand to the people it has colonized. Let those who think Gazans are animals discover their humanity and their day-to-day life, as described by the Israeli journalist Amira Hass, daughter of two Holocaust survivors, in her 1996 book Drinking the Sea at Gaza. Let them read her address to Germany, published on October 16: "Germany is writing a blank cheque for a wounded, hurting Israel to pulverize and destroy and kill without restraint, and risks embroiling us all in a regional war, if not a third world war..."
Is jihadist Islamism a plague? That is the least that can be said. But how much longer are we going to pretend that the Taliban’s triumph has nothing to do with American policy, that the emergence of ISIL has nothing to do with the Gulf wars, one of which was built on a total lie? Barack Obama himself expressly acknowledged this: "ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaida in Iraq which grew out of our invasion." Who will say that Hezbollah has nothing to do with the Israeli invasion of 1982, when it was founded as a resistance movement? Who will say after close examination of the rise of Hamas that it was not co-created by the architects of the greater Israel of the post-Rabin era? Who will tell us what to say to the destitute, those robbed of everything, of their homes, expelled, when they have blind faith in the God sold to them cheaply? Israel’s survival and security can no longer be negotiated within the confines of unbridled capitalism, arrogance and military omnipotence. Neither money nor weapons will silence the defeated. Will they no longer have the means to respond? Oh yes they will, they’ll have the formidable weapon of the love of God without God. And this weapon will be wielded over all the territories it encounters in its path.
To ensure its long-term existence, Israel must abandon the annihilation of Gaza and the annexation of the West Bank. Its future cannot be assured by expulsion, extermination or conquest of the little territory that remains. It can only be secured by a radical change of policy. By casting off the belief that self-affirmation is achieved through military superiority and the denial of the other. Then, the ignorant or narrow-minded people of the Arab-Muslim world will better be able to grasp the utter horror of the Shoah. It will finally be taught and passed on to the new generations. We will learn, on both sides, that history does not begin with ourselves.
The radical Islamists will not be destroyed through declarations of war, they will be weakened by being stripped, one by one, of their reasons for existing and for instrumentalizing Islam. Will it take long? Yes, but how else can a fire without borders be extinguished? It is only by removing the "pretexts" for the general bad faith that we can perhaps bring about the peace so desperately desired by so many. Psychotherapists know what politicians fail to take into account: formulating the suffering of others, their humiliation, helping them to express their howls, their rage, their hatred, is to defuse them. It is a battle against hatred that is now required. That involves each and every one of us if we want to give future generations a chance. Let the Israeli leaders and those who give them their blind support relinquish their self-proclaimed, brutal and complete domination of this explosive place, which is not called the Holy Land for nothing. Let the Arabs, the Muslims, history’s vanquished, not forget that by falling into antisemitism, they are sullying themselves, they are falling into an evil that is not theirs, they are turning against themselves. Of course, they must speak out against the mass slaughter that is taking place, but they must not deprive the bereaved Israeli families of their compassion, nor confuse their revolt with the fantasy of Israel being wiped out.
Let us not forget that we Arabs have contributed massively to our misfortune. Let us not forget that, when it comes to horror, we have witnessed an abominable series of massacres on our soil since 1975. From Lebanon to Syria to Iraq, our prisoners have been thrown into jails in appalling conditions. Men and women have been tortured, without our being able to defend them. Our memories, our brains, our souls have been tortured. Our cultures. Our thousand-year history. None of these countries has been able to withstand external manipulation, the infernal pressure of the superpowers, the sinister alliance of corruption, contempt for the poor and the abuse of power. We can no longer boost our morale with slogans and grievances directed exclusively against Israel. The future lies not in claiming what we have lost, but in considering what remains to be saved. Israel exists. From what was an evil for many of us, a good for all can emerge. Let us not miss this terrible and final encounter. Let us remember that the words for life, death, day, night, pain, orphan, land and peace are the same in Arabic and Hebrew. It is time for each and every one of us to make a huge effort if we do not want barbarism to triumph at our gates, or worse: inside each and every one of us. Is that a huge ask? Yes, it implies a change of political actors. Yes. It is too soon? No. You must be dreaming. Yes, but is there any other scenario that is not a nightmare? In his conclusion to The Question of Palestine, Edward Said wrote: "Palestine is saturated with blood and violence … unhappily the question of Palestine will renew itself in all too well-known forms. But so too will the people of Palestine – Arabs and Jews – whose past and future ties them inexorably together. Their encounter has yet to occur, on any important scale. But it will occur, I know, and it will be to their mutual benefit." That was in 1980. Perhaps the time has come for each and every one of us to play our part, to help save the threatened train of humanity rather than trotting out the same old ideas. Let those who have the power to do so put pressure on Israel to put an immediate end to the ordeal its army is inflicting on the people of Gaza, to its savage and suicidal attack on a territory saturated with suffering, assaulted from all sides and with no way out.
The destinies of all the neighboring countries are linked. It is precisely this message that foreign powers pretend not to understand: the region needs to be treated as a single, gangrenous, mortally wounded body. By repeating the past instead of starting a new one, we are in grave danger of sacrificing the priority project of this 21st century: the survival of the human race.
This article was originally published in French by the French daily Le Monde.
Dominique Eddé is a Lebanese writer. Her most recent publication is Edward Said: His Thought as a Novel, Verso Books, 2019. Trans. Ros Schwartz
English translation © Ros Schwartz