Very few causes or ideas, if any, have gained the support and license of so many disparate ideologies the way the Palestinian cause has. From the ideological projects of Islamism, Jihadism, Arab nationalism to third world liberation ideologies, Feminism, and wokeism, the Palestinian Cause serves as a rallying call to such disharmonious groups. Palestinian “refugees” are considered a different breed of displaced humans, utterly unique from the tens of millions who were displaced since WWII. The recent wave of protest against the oppressive rule of the Palestinian Authority was less of interest to Western supporters of the cause—many of whom hold slain Saudi journalist Khashoggi as a Christ-like figure—than the cause for democratic governance in the rest of the region. Palestinian exceptionalism remains the biggest obstacle to a better Palestinian future.
Since the onset of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinian Cause was thought to be inherently exceptional when it came to history, identity and political and economic questions. This had turned into orthodoxy in academia, media reporting and policymaking and resulted in an institutionalized tendency to avoid comparing Palestinian sociopolitical conditions to other similar cases, as if the Palestinians were not a part of a larger Arab regional and universal context.
Such tendency has posed the greatest obstacle toward meaningful inquiry and served only to reinforce political and ideological orientation, an exceptional status no identity or ideology could ever achieve. This perception of exceptionalism, aside from reinforcing Palestinian chauvinism, resulted in profound distortions of how the Palestinians and the entire Middle East are perceived.
It is entirely unclear why the Palestinians struggle toward modern national identity and statehood and yet is not considered a normal part of the struggles of the entire modern Middle East. In a tribal region where human masses are regularly engaged in bloody struggles over creating and maintaining modern national identities, the Palestinian identity is considered a set-in-stone reality akin to a biological truth. Even though Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and other Arab and non-Arab Middle Eastern peoples remain troubled by the question of national identity, somehow Palestinians got to be excluded from such discussions, despite the fact they too were constantly involved in infighting and conflicting loyalties, often to bloody and devastating ends.
The status of Palestinian refugees is cognitively, politically, culturally, and institutionally treated as an extraordinary refugee problem of which the world never knew its likes before. This is evidenced by the fact that the international community made a discrete body, the UNRWA, to deal with Palestinian refugees, an honor not granted to the most desolate, impoverished, and crushed refugees from significantly more destructive conflicts in, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, or South America.
When it comes to democracy and human rights, the Palestinians prove to be no less exceptional. Western righteousness seems to be deeply interested in democracy, freedom of speech and human rights violations in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as evidenced by the obsession over the Khashoggi affair, but disinterested in the same issues within Palestinian society.
Hamas makes the news only when it is resisting Israel, but not when it is repressing its people and training their children to become martyrs. The residents of the West Bank are iconized when they are telling of their encounters with Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints of the “occupation,” but not when they are oppressed, silenced, jailed, tortured, or murdered by the political authority for political dissent, as happened recently to the Palestinian journalist Nizar Banat whose death sparked large protests against the dictatorship of Mahmoud Abbas.
The magical exceptionalism of the Palestinians turns appalling acts of violence by chauvinistic and toxic Palestinian males from terrorism to “resistance.” It turns repurposes real estate disputes as smaller battles in the larger struggle for justice, Islam, Arabness, feminism, wokeism, socialism, etc. It turns the cowardice of Islamist terrorists into heroic acts of self-sacrifice. It turns the pagan endeavor of sacrificing the last drop of human blood for the sake of honor, land, justice and other obscure abstractions of narcissistic power claim to legitimate struggles of dispossessed and victimized people. And finally, it turns antisemitism, which is now proliferating from sea to shining sea, into a banner of self-righteousness and equity.
The reason the Palestinian Cause is waning among Arab nations, while ironically getting brighter in the West, is exactly because we don’t see the Palestinians as exceptional anymore. The story of the Palestinian is an Arab story through and through, and only a delusional and distorted individual could fail to see how it fits with the stories of people of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and other Arab countries. It is the story of an Arab society struggling through its transition to a modern society with modern political institutions with tribalism, factionalism, Arab despotism, chauvinism, and the lack of a social basis for democracy or modern notions of human rights, of a society whose most important struggles are within itself.
This is not to deny that the Palestinians live under unique conditions, yet those conditions do not profoundly alter the Palestinians’ problem to the extent of setting them apart from larger questions of stability, democracy, and human rights in the region. Until the holy aura of exceptionalism is lifted, the Palestinians will achieve nothing.
Such fictitious exceptionalism does nothing but reinforce the most regressive, oppressive, antisemitic, and chauvinistic human tendencies among the Palestinians. Ultimately, the biggest losers of Palestinian exceptionalism are none but Palestinians who seek only a better future for their people.
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