Palestinian demo 88.
(photo credit: )
'We Arabs have a long tradition of turning defeat into victory, and even of boasting about it publicly," a prominent Palestinian historian in Jerusalem commented this week, when he heard that many Palestinians and Hizbullah supporters in the Arab world had begun celebrating the "defeat" of the Israeli army in Lebanon.
In 1948, he said, "We justified the defeat of the Arab armies by claiming that they had been given primitive weapons and that some Arab leaders had betrayed their people. In 1967, we fought another war, during which we suffered a humiliating defeat and even lost a lot of land to Israel.
"Until today, many Arabs celebrate the 'victory' of the 1973 war, though it resulted in yet another stunning and catastrophic defeat for the Arab armies. In 1991, Saddam Hussein's army was driven out of Kuwait in a humiliating manner, but that did not prevent him and his regime from celebrating annually their alleged victory over the US-led coalition forces."
The scenes on the streets of Ramallah, Nablus and Gaza City this week were reminiscent of the pro-Saddam rallies that swept the West Bank and Gaza Strip when the Scud missiles were fired at Israel more than 15 years ago.
Afterwards, similar rallies were held each time Saddam threatened to fire more Scuds. At those rallies, which often turned into protests against Israel and the US, the demonstrators' main slogan was: "O' beloved Saddam, bomb, bomb Tel Aviv."
The Iraqi flag - which used to be more popular than the Palestinian flag - has now made way for the yellow Hizbullah flag, just as Saddam's portraits have been replaced with those of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The flags and portraits are the two main symbols that decorate every rally organized by Hizbullah supporters throughout the Arab world. And now the demonstrators are hoping that Nasrallah will succeed where Saddam failed. Their main slogan is: "O' beloved Nasrallah, bomb, bomb Tel Aviv."
After more than three weeks of fighting, the feeling among many Palestinians and Arabs is that regardless of how the war ends, Hizbullah has already emerged victorious. The fact that Hizbullah managed to drag Israel into three weeks of fighting is in itself regarded as a victory. Moreover, the fact that Nasrallah and his top officials have thus far survived the massive air raids on Beirut is also seen as some kind of an achievement.
When Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV - which, these days, is as popular as Al-Jazeera among Arab viewers - announced that a long-range missile had hit the Israeli city of Afula, some Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate, shooting into the air and distributing sweets. The same thing happened when Hizbullah announced that it had hit an Israeli war ship off the Lebanese coast.
HOWEVER, WHILE the Arab masses are celebrating Nasrallah's alleged victory and the defeat of the "invincible" Israeli army, a growing number of writers, politicians and academics are viewing matters completely differently. A series of articles and TV interviews in the Arab world over the past week show that those who agree with the Palestinian historian are more than a handful of lone voices - though, of course, most of the material published in the Arab world media remains supportive of Hizbullah.
Arab writers and journalists based in Washington, Paris and London, however, enjoy a larger degree of freedom than their counterparts in Arab countries, and are thus able to present a different perspective without fear.
Zuheir Aboud, for example, feels free to mock Hizbullah and the Arabs for repeatedly indulging in self-deception when it comes to war. Writing in the London-based Elaph online magazine, he asked: "Why do the Arabs always boast of their defeats?"
To this day, he added, "we haven't heard the Arabs admitting to a single defeat. On the contrary, they always celebrate these defeats as if they were victories. "
Aboud recalled how the famous Egyptian propagandist, Ahmed Said, portrayed the bitter defeat of the Arabs in 1967 as smashing victories. "He continued broadcasting false reports even after the Arab armies lost the war," he said. "The same applies to Saddam Hussein's information minister, Said Sahhaf, who continued to talk about victory even after Baghdad fell. Today, some politicians' media representatives are continuing with the same demagogic approach by deceiving the Arabs through exaggeration."
Another columnist, Majdi Khalil, is one of the few Arab writers who openly criticize Hizbullah.
"With the help of an active network of journalists, Hizbullah is trying to convince the Lebanese people and the Arab street that it has won the war," he said. "Hizbullah has taken Lebanon hostage on behalf of non-Lebanese elements, denying the Lebanese people the chance of celebrating real independence. Many in Lebanon are afraid of Hizbullah's terrorist threats. This is how fascists behave, and surrendering to their extortion means the loss of Lebanon. In its present form, Hizbullah does not pose a real threat to Israel, which has enough power to deter it. Hizbullah constitutes a threat to the internal situation in Lebanon. Last week, some Lebanese groups held Hizbullah responsible for the Kafr Kana massacre, because its members are firing rockets from populated areas. They described Hizbullah as a terrorist organization that has destroyed Lebanon."
Referring to Hizbullah's claim that it has so far emerged triumphant in the war with Israel, Khairi Khairallah remarked: "What kind of a victory is this where every reasonable Lebanese citizen feels humiliated and beaten? What kind of a victory is this when more than 800,000 Lebanese have been forced to flee their homes and villages?"
Echoing the same theme, Dr. Ibrahim al-Khair wrote on one Arab Web site: "Hassan Nasrallah is no different from [former Egyptian president] Gamal Abdul Nasser, who remained in power despite his country's defeat in 1967; Saddam Hussein, who 'defeated' Israel by destroying Iran, Kuwait and Iraq; and Osama bin Laden, who 'defeated' the US by destroying Afghanistan and distorting the image of Islam. Nasrallah, who last week announced his victory in the war with Israel, is just like the others. He remained steadfast in his bunker until he destroyed Lebanon and killed hundreds of its citizens. Now he wants to present his victory as a gift to the Lebanese people and no one is supposed to challenge this victory, which has cost Lebanon billions of dollars."