June 8, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 728

Satirist Ali Salem to Arab League: There's Light at the End of the Tunnel

June 8, 2004
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 728

In advance of the May 22-23 Arab League summit held in Tunis, the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat published an open letter by renowned Egyptian playwright and satirist Ali Salem to the participants. The following are excerpts from his letter: [1]

'In the Past 30 Years, the Train of History has Stopped Twice at the Station of Peace in the Arab Region'

"I am writing to you as the representative of tens of millions of weary residents of the Arab region, those simple people who want to live in peace. I admit that, due to technical difficulties, they have not chosen me as their spokesman, so I chose … to speak in their name. I thought that it would help them if I myself present before your Excellencies what I think, what I think they think, and what can make their lives tolerable and useful – something which in my opinion you too think of and are interested in.

"In the past 30 years, the train of history has stopped twice at the station of peace in the Arab region. The first time was at Camp David [in 1979]. As a result, the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement [was signed], following which [Egyptian president Anwar] Al-Sadat, and also Egypt, was harshly punished because of his so-called separate solution…

"As a result of the 'comprehensive, full, and just' hostility toward Egypt and toward peace, the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord became a mere ceasefire agreement, and the aim of the peace – that is, removing the bitterness in the region – was lost. [2]

"In late 1993, the train of history stopped again in our region, to declare that it was on its way to the station of peace. [This was] the Oslo Accords – the first time in history that both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, recognized each other. It was also the first time in history that the Palestinians had a government. Some, myself among them, thought that the agreement was a political miracle and a strong foundation upon which it would be possible to build."

'Comprehensive, Full, and Just Hostility' Toward Peace Agreements

"[But] this agreement was received with 'comprehensive, full, and just' hostility. Thus, whenever any agreement or any peace was reached with the sponsorship of Europe or America with the agreement or cooperation of the Arab elements, explosives and bombs made sure to destroy the opportunity for peace – so that reciprocal fear and more blood and killed would replace [peace]. We were very preoccupied with the extent of the land we were to get, and did not address the depth of the peace that we would actualize, and its direct influence on the daily lives of the people.

"Permit me to explain myself: Day to day reality is a most crucial factor in people's lives. If I were a Palestinian citizen and could get a certain percentage of my land, [I would do it] and immediately would move from it to other, more extensive territory [by means] of rights [due to] proximity – among them [the right] to work. I would have the right to work anywhere in Israel and in Palestine. Who in the world would refuse the Palestinian's becoming a partner to the Israeli in industry, agriculture, and commerce?"

'The Hebrew State will Remain the Neighbor of the Palestinian State for Eternity'

"Whether we want it or not, [the proximity between Israel and the Palestinians] is an eternal proximity. After we kill as many as we have and will kill from among them, and they kill as many as they have and will kill from among us, the essential fact, that cannot be denied or ignored, will remain, and it is: The Hebrew state will remain the neighbor of the Palestinian state for eternity.

"Even if we set out from the starting point – which is in my view correct – that we hate them and they hate us, we must ask [ourselves] how both of us will be able to hate the other in a civilized framework that will enable us to live, keep the horror of destruction distant from us, and halt the region's fall into the quagmire of terrorism, poverty, ignorance, extremism, and loss.

"You certainly will say, 'He is equating Israelis with Palestinians, the hangman with the victim. He has deviated from the accepted norms in the Arab [world], and has not cursed Sharon or Bush.' Yes, I admit that I have done just that, because I don't think that the mountains of curses against America and Israel on which we have wasted our time have brought us a single inch closer to peace.

"I do not want to think, and I don't want you to think, in despair, anger, or bitterness, that it is impossible to do anything to stop this deterioration, to prevent additional bloodshed, and to [prevent] the destruction of people's lives, homes, and livelihoods… There is always something to be done, if you thoroughly understand the problem."

'The Palestinian People Need Political Leaders … Who Yearn for Life More than They Yearn for Death'

"Right now there are no Palestinian leaders ruling and acting in a political framework. The revolutionary leaders have not managed to turn into politicians. [Then] other idealistic leaders emerged, who turned the political problem into a religious war. Religious wars usually continue until the strong side manages to vanquish the weak side and impose its conditions for peace, that most surely oppress the defeated side… The nature of religious wars is that they recognize no borders, act according to no practice or law, and are not based upon an idea that can be argued with logically, [because this idea] is a sweeping current of blazing emotions that are the result of an amalgamation of ignorance, pain, loss, and misery…

"The Palestinian people now need political leaders – ordinary men and women who yearn for life more than they yearn for death. Political leaders who do not send a child to blow himself up for the sake of Allah, but send him – for the sake of life, the life of their people – to school, in hope that in another few years he will become a person who is useful to his family and his people. The time has come to live, not die, for the sake of our land and our family.

"Look at our current image; I do not mean the beautiful picture we photographed for ourselves, but the other picture, that people across the land know us by. The Palestinian resistance is integrated [into the framework] of world terrorism; whether it true or not, whether it is justly or unjustly, is of no importance. What is important is that this is our true picture in the eyes of the world, and it requires us to turn to the invention man arrived at after a journey that lasted 1,000 years. [This invention is] politics, with all its components – a constitution, laws, state institutions, and civil society institutions."

'It is Clear that They [the Palestinians] are More Concerned About Their Own Revolution than About the Palestinian People'

"I am asking you to persuade the revolutionary organizations in Palestine to move from the legitimate revolutionary stage to which the world no longer pays attention, to the legitimate constitutional stage. Egypt has tried – even if separately [from Arab countries] – to do this by means of [organizing] some meetings between the [Palestinian] sides in Cairo. But it is clear that they [i.e. the Palestinians] were more concerned about their own revolution than about the Palestinian people…

"The Sharon government published a decision to eliminate all the revolutionary Palestinian leaders. This decision is known to all, and [the Israeli government] makes sure to declare it every time. The Israelis' expertise in assassination operations surpasses that of any [other] element in the region. There was a phase when the Palestinian leaders imagined that there were red lines that Israel would not cross. Many seasoned politicians said in amazement, shock, and surprise, after the assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, that Israel had crossed all the red lines…

"The reality is that there never were red lines. Those who imagine that on his last visit to the U.S. Sharon got a green light to kill the Palestinian leaders know nothing about the nature of secret operations in a modern country. [In modern countries] a decision [to carry out a particular operation] is made after an in-depth examination of all possible reactions [to it]. Then the decision passes to the secret operation apparatuses, which do not discuss it, rather execute it out when it becomes possible, which can be minutes later or years later. There is no previous [discussion] in any of these cases.

"In armed struggles of this kind, one side leaves the leaders of the other side [alive], even though it is easy to eliminate them. This is for a single purpose – negotiating with them when the stage of negotiations necessarily arrives. It will assassinate them only when it cannot tolerate the losses they have caused it. Thus, it seems unreasonable to me for Israel to assassinate President Arafat, because he is not causing it losses – in addition to his expertise at remaining alive…"

'Those Who Have Been Misled Think They have Murdered and Been Murdered for the Sake of Allah'

"I imagine that the Arab League will assemble a delegation to direct public negotiations with Israel and the Palestinian leaders, with the aim of reaching a six-month ceasefire – a delegation that will go to Israel and Palestine and declare before the entire world that we are serious about peace and recognize the existence of Israel in the region.

"During this time, Israel will be obligated to stop the assassinations in exchange for the revolutionary leadership's acting on the political level, in preparation for elections [in the Palestinian Authority] which must be based on the idea of defending the Palestinian people's life, not its death.

"Of course, afterwards there will arise a Palestinian government that will negotiate for peace between the two peoples, while taking care that the Palestinian negotiator does not embarrass himself with the word 'final' – because nothing is final in a conflict of this kind.

"I imagine that the situation right now indicates great chances for the success of this idea. And it is well known that someone with a revolutionary idea begins to think logically when he discovers that his deeds have caused only loss and destruction to himself and his family, and accomplishments to his enemies…

"Those who have been misled, the murderers and the murdered, think this was for the sake of Allah. There is no escape from [adopting] a different culture, that you, [leaders participating in the Arab League summit,] can spread, in order to defend us and yourselves – a culture that will explain to and teach the people that respecting human life and preserving it from all evil is the only way to Paradise. Nothing justifies turning people's lives into hell…"

'I Can See Now the Train of History Stopping in Our Region, at the Station of Peace, and Waiting for Us to Get On Board'

"Today, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can see now the train of history stopping in our region, at the station of peace, and waiting for us to get on board. If anyone does not see it, it is because the smoke of the gunpowder and explosives separates him from this sight. Likewise, the sounds of the bullets and the cries of the killed and the bereaved in Iraq, in Palestine, and in some of the Arab capitals prevent us from hearing its whistle.

"I have written in enough time prior to the convening of your summit. I am [filled with] hope that my idea will win your attention…"

[1] Al-Hayat (London), May 4, 2004.

[2] With "a comprehensive, full, and just hostility," the author echoes the formula "a comprehensive, just, and viable peace."

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