Said Ghazali: There can be no more dancing on the dead

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'The only way we Palestinians can beat the Israelis is by seizing the moral high ground'

'The only way we Palestinians can beat the Israelis is by seizing the moral high ground'

The Palestinian lady with a sinister look brandishing her arms and almost dancing with delight in front of a CNN camera looks like a witch. There is venom in her heart and evil in her eyes. And yet that image, continuously projected worldwide by so many TV stations, in the aftermath of the worst terror attack of the modern age is not true and not fair.

The reality is far different, far more complex, and hard for the western mind to comprehend. The great majority of Palestinians are not sinister terrorists, savage, blood-drinking cannibals who glory in the massive slaughter of other people. We are human beings, who feel acutely sensitive to the suffering of others, and especially the brutality of Tuesday's events in America.

Yet this is so hard to get across to outsiders. And, in my view, this is the fault of both the Israelis and my own people. Israeli officials are far smarter than their Palestinian counterparts in the subtle arts of public relations. They write – often without the reader knowing who they are – in leading American newspapers and participate in the endless talk show circuit. Their English is better than ours; they are more articulate. They beat us hands down.

But it is also the fault of our own leadership and we – the Palestinian people – will now pay the price more heavily than ever before. Nothing can justify glorying in the massacre suffered in the United States. Those scenes of people – who, by the way, were few in number – dancing in the streets of the occupied territories made me feel sick. And many others like me felt the same way.

My wife, Sana, cried as she watched the ball of fire coming out of the collapsing World Trade Centre. "They are bastards." Who, I asked? "Those who are celebrating. This is the ugliest crime of the twenty-first century." But these people do not represent the Palestinian people. They do not represent those who have relatives in the United States or those who have businesses in the West Bank town of Ramallah and in New York. Nor do they have anything to do with those who came back – so hopefully – from abroad during the Oslo years to build hotels and McDonald restaurants, or those who built their own World Trade Centre – a tiny building in the Gaza Strip – or those Palestinian policemen who were trained by the CIA, no less, to combat terror.

In short, they are uneducated, the members of the generations lost to the last intifada, the intensely poor. They are the 13-year-olds who have come to admire gunmen as heroes, and the 21-year-old gunmen themselves who used to throw stones during the intifada of 1987-1993. You cannot defend what they did. But you try to understand what lies behind it – a task that TV pictures fail miserably to perform.

The TV coverage of the Palestinian reaction to Tuesday's horrors failed to mention that 50 per cent of the Palestinians now live under the poverty line – that's $2 a day. It failed to mention that most Palestinians live in separated enclaves – Bantustans now ringed by the Israeli military. My uncle in Hebron simply could not attend my cousin's wedding in east Jerusalem last week. The Israeli checkpoints made sure of that. I cannot begin to list the number of friends I have, in Gaza, Nablus, Hebron, Tulkarm, who are trapped in their own towns – people who used freely to come to see me in Jerusalem.

Many Palestinians have no food, no jobs, insufficient medicine. They have been bombarded time and again by Israeli Apaches and F-16s. And they have taken note that these weapons are manufactured in the United States.

No matter. There is no excuse for any kind of celebration over the deaths of thousands of innocents in America. And the time has come to stop celebrating our own dead too. If there is a way forward it is through peace. The only way we can beat the Israelis is by seizing the moral high ground. The last time Palestinians danced in the streets was at the start of the Oslo peace process. Now some – a pathetic rabble – dance over the bodies of dead Americans.

But do not allow those stupid demonstrations of mirth to act as a reason for setting aside the underlying causes for anti-American sentiment, or for paying no further heed to the Palestinian plight. Now we must do something tangible to change our damaged image and to condemn this horrible massacre, and not only in words. Oslo brought us unemployment, a new mafia – the Palestinian Authority, who sucked our economy dry, like Israel used to do – and now a new conflict. But now is a moment for reflection.

It is the job of our leadership dramatically to change its tactics and strategy. Our president, Yasser Arafat – who condemned it verbally – should take action now. He should tell every single Palestinian man, woman and child that the killing must stop. Stop the violence. Look for peaceful means. Talk with the Israelis. But stick to our rights. This will take time, but it is our only option. And no more – my brothers – dancing over the dead.

The author is a freelance Palestinian journalist

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