There is never a good or right time to talk about Palestine. A cause, a dream, a responsibility, a defeat, a crime and a badge of shame on the world, which has affected, been used and abused, and shaped a considerable part of the Middle East’s contemporary history. As the situation in the occupied territories continues to evolve, or rather deteriorate, and with it the chances of a viable peace, keeping Palestine in the public discourse almost seems like a constant necessity to keep the cause alive.
The closest I’ve gotten to Palestine has been in my trips to Lebanon’s southern border, peeking into Israel beyond the fences, barbed wire and the obsessive military border patrols. I’ve visited through the eyes of those that can and have visited this land so far from my reach, an often romanticized land, filled with olive trees and shattered dreams. And I’ve tried to understand if only part of its people’s plight through some of its own and others, personal accounts and not so personal ones, historical novels and others, of an open injury that continues to bleed.
During my recent visit to Belfast, I wasn’t only shown the infamous “Peace Walls” separating Protestants and Catholics, but told that it was what inspired the other infamous Israeli West Bank wall. With that, and the random depictions of Palestinian solidarity I encountered in the Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast, I was thinking about Palestine again.
Thinking about Palestine, for many Lebanese, is as difficult as thinking about our own intricate history. But that’s because people tend to mix the Palestinian cause with Palestinians’ role in our own civil war, a war we still have not reconciled nor come to terms with. Palestinians took sides in our war, and when sides are taken, alliances are not only solidified, but adversaries are inherently made. At the time, Palestinian leadership wouldn’t hesitate at tearing Beirut apart to achieve its own goals. But how just a cause can you claim to stand for, when you are ready to destroy one country in order to reclaim your own? “I will destroy it,” Yasser Arafat was overheard as saying during a bombing campaign of Beirut in the early 1980s, “I will transform it into a second Stalingrad.” I have never been able to forget this.
Thinking about Palestine and Palestinians in a new light, however, isn’t made any easier with their continued presence in Lebanon, not as regular foreign residents but as refugees. Albeit living in the most challenging and unstable conditions, as they wait for the day to “return,” some have allowed themselves to be played by local Lebanese factions as scarecrows against others. Even as refugees, they have played out their internal struggles in Lebanon, their camps becoming safe havens for outlaws of all kinds. The existing negative and violent elements have surely overshadowed the more peaceful, non-violent ones, but focusing on the former is certainly easier and more convenient for all. Thus is human nature.
Poisoned or not, Yasser Arafat is now long gone. Palestine’s struggle goes on, while Lebanon continues to wage its own wars (hot and cold) and auto-destruction without him. Palestinians in Lebanon remain and shall do so for the foreseeable future. No reasonable solution seems to be in the works on Palestine, as the world continues to turn a blind eye on Israel’s crimes against them and actions that put a viable Palestinian state further beyond reach.
Yet we must start thinking about Palestine and Palestinians in a new light, recognize that theirs is a just cause. Separate our common past from our outlook into the future and recognize that mistakes have been made…on both sides. Reconciling with this part of history between our two people may even be a start to reconciling with our own internal history and realize that we Lebanese at least still have a country, something that an entire people are dying to have and that we so systemically work to destroy.
Maybe it’s time to let bygones be bygones.
Rethinking Lebanon’s relationship with the Palestinian cause and its people will not bring back the lost land, but help in alleviating their plight in Lebanon, and make us truly stand as one on the right side of history.
Just a thought, as I think of Palestine…
 In reference to World War II’s Battle of Stalingrad, considered as one of the bloodiest and most destructive battles in history.