Hazem Saghieh

Detonating Borders and the Interior: A Burden on Gaza Under the Guise of Supporting it

There is a story (that is not universally accepted) of a cheeky exchange between Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Prime Minister of China, Zhou Enlai, during the Bandung Conference in 1955 in which the "Non-Aligned Movement" was founded.

The latter, who was the most sensible diplomatic figure of the regime that had been established six years prior, posed a question to the Egyptian leader: “You Arabs number in the tens of millions, while Israel has a population of less than two million; so why don't you all march towards it, on foot, carrying whatever weapons and equipment you have at your disposal, and wipe it out without giving a thought to the number of casualties you incur? Indeed, your numerical superiority makes it impossible for Israel to kill you all and ensures that millions of you manage to liberate Palestine."

Those who tell this story might be nodding to the significance of numerical superiority in the consciousness of Chinese communists, or the strength of the impression left by "Long March" and the vast distances traversed in it according to the state’s narrative of the Chinese revolution.

Regardless of whether this incident actually happened and Nasser's response if it did, this kind of rhetoric was not alien to the 1950s and 1960s. It was commonplace for political speeches, poems, and caricatures in magazines to flirt with this idea: mighty masses attacking and "sweeping" a handful of "pariahs."

However, this rhetoric began to recede after 1967, and it then faded away, becoming limited to extremely narrow Islamist circles. Nonetheless, we have recently begun hearing something of this sort in a discourse that presents the actions of societies as though they were irrepressible natural events, with the former depicted as storming, shaking, and exploding like volcanoes...

Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, addressed "our people in Jordan and Lebanon, in Egypt, Algeria, and the Maghreb, in Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia" along these lines in a recent audio recording. He called on them to "start marching now, not tomorrow, toward Palestine, and do not let borders, regimes, and restrictions deprive you of the honor of waging jihad and taking part in the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque."

At the same time, Hamas political bureau member Khaled Meshaal addressed the people of Jordan, calling on them to support his movement so that their "blood blends with the blood of the Palestinian people." If, as Haniyeh put it, blending blood is the reward for those marching to liberate Al-Aqsa, as per Deif, many of the faithful prefer to pray in liberated mosques closer to their homes.

Beyond this, as Israel's genocide continues, with its killing, expulsion, and starvation on display for all to see, the response proposed by Deif and Haniyeh seems totally unrelated to the challenge imposed by the Israelis. Transnational armed retaliation ("rise as one man") is a recipe for civil war in every Arab country, and we have seen disconcerting indications to this effect in Jordan, where calls for direct engagement in the conflict are growing louder.

Growing concern for Jordan is mirrored by similar concerns for Lebanon, as Israeli political and military officials announce that "a strike is imminent" on a near-daily basis.

What are we to expect then, if Iran, following the latest slap in the face it received on foreign soil, in its Syrian "farm," decided to retaliate from foreign soil, from its Lebanese "farm"? It is not a question of regimes being "spineless" or "regressive," but of already fragmented societies being pushed from differing to total civil war.

The fact is that this essentially sums up the recent history of the Levant: amid the climate of Nasserist incitement that emerged after 1956, Syria splintered and a broad segment of Syrian society (the People's Party, Syrian nationalists, minorities, etc.) was suppressed, there was a coup in Iraq, a civil war erupted in Lebanon, and Jordan was threatened with a military coup and civil war.

Amid the climate of Palestinian incitement, a small-scale civil war shook Jordan and a large-scale civil war devastated Lebanon. Today, amid the environment of Khomeinist incitement, the countries of the Levant, as well as others outside it, are swinging between overt and latent civil conflict.

Neither this nor that is retaliation against Israel. Rather, it is retaliation against our wicked selves, in which the unleashing of sharpening kinship loyalties combines with the equally comprehensive vigor with which expressing these loyalties is repressed. With this release and suppression, we find ourselves oscillating between a state of fear-induced paralysis that prevents us from taking any initiative for fear that it could blow everything up, and taking initiatives that blow everything up and become paralyzed, paralyzing us with them.

This state of affairs allows us to say that our societies have no interior, that our interior is dysfunctional, or at best, pending. That is now becoming obvious, and nothing speaks to this state of affairs more eloquently than the astonishing silence of initiatives. There is no one to tell us what to do based on the existing balance of power, nor have we heard anything from Hamas to indicate that it will take any decision other than waiting for a ceasefire to be imposed on Israel so that the movement can then say: we have achieved victory.

We have similarly not heard anything from Hezbollah to suggest that it will take any decision other than tying the fate of South Lebanon to that of Gaza, which, in turn, is tied to the decision Israel takes.

Meanwhile, if voices are heard crying out in opposition to the war, from under the rubble in Gaza or the South, they are met with demands for restraint in an illusory resilient interior.

This immense misery encourages nothing as much as it does myths and anticipation for a savior. Victory emerges from the mouth of magic, accompanied by the burdens of our fragmented and conflict-ridden societies; we place these burdens on the shoulders of Gaza, which has enough of its own, while shouting: We are a single united nation.