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The Muslim Ummah and the Palestinian ‘Intifada’
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

The Palestinian uprising against the Israeli tyranny in the Occupied territory and Gaza has now entered a most sensitive and decisive phase, with Israel, under Ariel Sharon’s hectoring and pugnacious leadership, unleashing its deadliest weapons of war against unarmed and stone-throwing Palestinians.

In the nearly 9 months since last September, when Sharon triggered the latest phase of the Palestinian ‘Intifada’ with his calculated and provocative visit to Jerusalem’s Al-Harem-Alsharif (‘Temple Mount’ to the Jews), more than 600 innocent Palestinians have been brutally murdered by Israel’s superior military might. It has become a daily ‘routine’ for the Israeli armed forces, armed to the teeth with state-of-the -art hi-tech weapons (courtesy of its mentor, the United States of America), to gun down in cold blood at least two or three Palestinians. The justification for Israeli barbarity is, ad nauseam, ‘self-defence,’ or the excuse that Israeli lives were ‘threatened’ by the stone-pelting Palestinian youths. Since the election of Sharon as Prime Minister of Israel last March, added ferocity has been injected into the Israeli response to the Palestinian ‘terrorism.’ The Israeli army now has the freedom, and sanction, to move into the areas nominally under the control of the Palestinian Authority at will. Battle tanks and heavy artillery pieces—used daily to pound and pulverize the Palestinian areas with impunity—have been supplemented by missile-firing helicopter gunships and, in the latest instance, by F-16 fighter aircraft! Sharon apparently seems determined to make a horrible example of the Palestinians and even surpass his barbaric performance of 1982 when, as Defence Minister, he had unleashed a full scale invasion of Lebanon to drive the PLO out of there.

Not content with their diabolical decimation of the Palestinians—young and old alike, and not sparing children and even infants—the well-oiled Israeli news media juggernaut regularly and unfailingly refers to the Palestinian struggle for freedom and emancipation from the Israeli yoke as ‘terrorism’. This stereotyping of the Palestinian struggle, to regain their national rights from an oppressive and suffocating Israeli occupation of their land , as ‘terrorism’ has been picked with gusto, and avidly reverberated, in the western world from Berlin to London to Ottawa to Washington. Pick up any western publication, or listen to any of their news bulletin or tele-cast, and the success of the Israeli propaganda in having brainwashed its western mentors will not fail to impress you. The Palestinians are being caricatured as blood-thirsty predators that must be stopped or they would destroy Israel, ‘the only democracy ‘in the Middle East, and drive its Jewish inhabitants into the sea.

The well-heeled and amply-resourced Jewish lobbies have been working in overdrive since the beginning of the Intifada to lend their PR muscle to the Israeli military might against the Palestinians. They have obviously been eminently successful in their mission to paint the Palestinians as ‘terrorists.’ A proof of it is that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is no longer ‘kosher’ for the Bush administration and is not welcome in Washington where Sharon was received with open arms within days of coming to power in Israel. And Washington still claims that it is an ‘honest and non-partisan broker’ for peace in the Middle East!

What Israel and the Jewish lobbies in the western world are doing in tandem with each other is proof of their complete solidarity and accord in safeguarding the interest of Israel at the expense of the inalienable rights of the Palestinians. But what about the Islamic ‘ummah’ which is expected, by religious injunctions and the teachings of the Holy Prophet, pbuh, to act in unison whenever the interest of any one of its constituents is concerned ? Has the ummah lived up to the expectations reposed in it by the one billion plus Muslims around the world ? Have the leaders of the Islamic countries—and there are 56 sovereign Muslim states in the world, for that matter—made any serious effort, or attempts, to deliver on the expectations of their citizens and other Muslims looking up to them ? Has there been any organized effort, outside the truncated Palestinian land and in supplement to the heroic struggle of the ragtag, ill-equipped Palestinians, to counter the Israeli and Jewish offensive , on all fronts, as robustly as the challenge demands ?

It breaks the heart of any Muslim to reach the painful conclusion, in search of answers to the foregoing questions, that the Muslim ummah, and the Islamic states, en masse, have been pitifully, woefully, inadequate in their response to the gauntlet thrown to them by Israel and its well-heeled and well-focussed sponsors and backers. Not for the first time in our living memory, the Islamic world has failed—and as usual failed miserably—to come up with any credible or serious response to the mammoth task of stiffening the backbone of the Palestinian intifada with resolute and determined action.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the apex body representing the collective will of the ummah, has been most conspicuous by its total and utter inaction and lethargy on an issue of such monumental importance to Muslims all over the world. The mystifying silence of OIC looks more and more like the silence of lambs. There couldn’t be a more energizing issue to galvanize OIC into action and make it a fulcrum of the collective effort of the ummah to wrest for the oppressed Palestinians the rights usurped from them and denied to them for so long. The least one would have expected of this body, founded in 1969 in response to the first serious Israeli effort to claim Bait-ul-Maqdis as a Jewish heritage, was that it would summon an emergency Summit of Muslim leaders under its umbrella to zero in on the challenge before the ummah. Such a summit, if called, would have, at the very least, articulated from OIC platform a collective Muslim effort to buttress the Palestinian struggle for survival. But OIC has been so consumed by inertia that it failed to even perform as a debating club to manifest and epitomize the outrage felt throughout the Islamic world on Israel’s brutal crackdown on unarmed Palestinians.

It is a shame that nothing but a few stereotyped statements of condemnation of Israeli brutalities, and meaningless and meek support for the Palestinian rights, has flowed from the cloistered OIC headquarters in Jeddah in nearly 9 months that the Palestinian intifada was first launched.
The Arab world—the natural and historical bastion of the Palestinians—has done slightly better, in the sense that it went through the motions of organizing an emergency Summit of the Arab League in Amman to focus on the issue. The Arab conclave in Amman last October was the first Arab summit since 1990, and in that sense was a major achievement of sorts. However, true to the reputation that such Arab gatherings have earned in the world in the past half a century, it did not deviate from the usual. There was a lot of thunder, but very little rain. As usual, verbosity was aplenty, and there was a surfeit of long-winded statements condemning the Israeli barbarity and hailing the Palestinian heroics. But action was, as usual, missing mostly. The leaders looked up to the west in general, and to Washington in particular, to lend muscle to their pious hope that Israel would restrain itself and honour its commitments to give the Palestinians the rights they deserved. To sweeten an otherwise stale outcome, the rich Arab leaders showed munificence and announced a cash injection of $ one billion into the empty coffers of the Palestinians, to make up for Israel’s blatant hold-up of more than $ 200 million in Palestinian customs receipts, and to shore up the Palestinian intifada. However, to date, not even a pittance of this grandiose amount of money has trickled into the Palestinian coffers. Not only that they have been found wanting on action, but even in loosening their purse strings for their Palestinian ‘brethren’ , the Arab rulers, sitting over huge cache of resources, are behaving niggardly. This is simply pathetic.

What lesson, if any, could be drawn from such wanton apathy of the Islamic ummah, from one end of its rainbow to the other ? It cannot, by any means, be a heartening conclusion. It is obvious to all and sundry that the Islamic world, not for the first time and not for the last too, is rent by deep fissures in its vast domains. The fault lines run deep, and largely undetected, but the symptoms of the malaise are so glaring that one could only ignore or shun them at one’s own expense.
Deep and abiding suspicion of each other is still staple to the countries making up the Islamic mosaic. The distrust among the Muslim leaders of each other’s motives and ambitions is jarring. They cannot, simply, agree on anything without reading into it some ulterior motive of each other’s. It is distressing to a common man in any Muslim state to see how this deep division in the ranks of the Islami ummah is playing into the hands of their adversaries who are jubilant at it and exploiting it to the hilt for their own benefit.

How does it affect the Palestinian struggle for salvation from the Israeli colonialism ? It must be very distressing for the leadership of the Palestinians to see such a yawning gap between verbal and actual support from their fellow Muslim leaders. However, the man on the Palestinian street cannot be alarmed or too deeply dismayed by this yet another dashing of hopes as far as succour from the Islamic world is concerned. In the half century of their struggle against Israel, they have so often, and so regularly, been stabbed from the back that their element of surprise has virtually gone out of reckoning. They must have known from the time they cast the first stone against the Israeli occupiers that they will have to fight their battle largely, if not entirely, on their own, with whatever stones they could gather, or with their bare hands. The history of the Palestinian struggle of the past 50 years holds but few surprises. If anything, the inaction of the Muslim ummah to lend crutches to their epic struggle should only fuel their resolve to wage on their battle on their own. The example of David, armed with only a catapult, against a heavily armed Goliath should spur them on to fight their battle to the finish.

Is there hope for the redemption of the paralyzed Islamic ummah ? The question is largely academic at this stage, but hope must never be a lost commodity for the Islamic ummah whose faith in divine redemption is a cardinal creed. The primary cause of the ummah’s paralysis is the absence of democracy and basic human rights—amongst them free expression and free speech being most conspicuous by their absence—in most of the countries dotting the map of the ummah. Most rulers and ‘leaders’ of the Muslim states are non-elected interlopers who are there, in power, self-appointed and self-perpetuating. There is a vast chasm between their interest and the interest of their subjects. There is no communion, or rapport, between the ruler and the ruled. The institution of democracy would be answer to all these missing links; freedom of expression and speech would make the people conscious of their rights and obligations, as well as the call upon them of the ummah of which they are an inalienable and inseperable part. The Muslim world will have to emancipate itself, and purge its own vices and evils, before it can be expected to respond to the call of the oppressed Muslims in Palestine, in Kashmir, in Kosovo, or anywhere else in the world. Would that day, that age of emancipation dawn in our lifetime? Let us not despair, and keep hope alive that it would, although saying that is to hope against hope The Muslim world seems to have gone into a very deep slumber, and the sign outside its door says : ‘ Do not disturb.’
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