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Must Palestinian Nationalism And Zionism Change For A Lasting Middle East Peace?

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Must Palestinian Nationalism And Zionism Change For A Lasting Middle East Peace?

By Sai'da Nusseibeh

[ London-UK- 1992]

Good evening, my lords, ladies and gentlemen.

Voltaire said " I believe in my liberty, till it start to encroach on the liberty of my neighbour'

When I was first asked to speak on 'Must Palestinians nationalism & Zionism change for a lasting peace in the Middle East' and if I do believe that is it the root of the problem in the Middle East- and by changing it, might we have a lasting peace in the Middle East?' My answer to that was to try and define and understand 'nationalism'

What is nationalism? The positive and the negative side of it.

And what does Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism mean?

Both Palestinians Nationalism and Zionism as concepts, embody the same principle, namely both are nationalist movements based on a requirement of a homeland for their own people.

The positive side is that nationalism per se is not necessarily bad at all.

The will of a nation to survive, to preserve its language and culture, and to exercise self-determination: all these are perfectly honorable. And the individual's dedication to these values, otherwise known as patriotism has commonly been regarded as positively praise-worthy. It is sentiment we all feel, I am sure.

The negative side is: for that I would like to quote some of what gave me an insight about negative nationalism.

Sir Cecil Spring-Rice wrote a poem around the Second World War, which became extremely popular in Britain.

Let me quote:

"I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above, Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love; The love that asks no question, the love that stand the test, That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best; The love that never falters, the love that pays the price, The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice" and so on.

Beautiful, inspiring words, that drove the British Nation to sign up so as to go to war- and when I read the poem what came to my mind, is Montezuma and the sacrifices of children for a god, the sacrifice of the children on the altar of nationalism for the nation. 'The love that asks no question', 'pays the price' and 'undaunted sacrifice'- all too scary - children/zombies all walking to be sacrificed with asking no question if what is going on is right or wrong-

Why? Because the inspiring words of Sir Cecil are dangerously close to the point at which the nation has become a myth and nationalism a mythology; and nationalism as a mythology degenerates all too easily into chauvinism. And Chauvinism is far cry from being a virtue. It is one of the ugliest of all evils.

The evil of chauvinistic nationalism or negative patriotism is that, it becomes like any idolatry, which, like all worshipping of idols can only lead to disaster. First the nation is idealized and the fact that there are good and bad part in the nation where it becomes that the bad is conventionally forgotten. Everything in the national garden is said to be lovely. Then the nation is selfishly and egoistically elevated to the level of the highest good, so that its interests overrides on one hand, the interest of its own individual citizen and, on the other, the interests of every other nation.

What happens then, that if a foreign national seeks asylum in that elevated chauvinist nation? They are refused, lest they swamp the nation with alien culture. And if the foreign nationals live amongst the people of that nation as minorities, they may be roughshod over their rights. And if their presence is inconvenient, they are gotten rid off, calling the process 'repatriation' or 'population transfer' or 'ethnic cleansing'.

And if the foreigner nationals' aspirations conflict with the aspiration of the chauvinistic state, a war is wage against them. (This also applies to conflict between Iraq and the Kurds, Russia & Chechnya, and the conflict clashes of the Serbs, Croats and Muslims).

Not since the Nazi era has it been so urgent to denounce chauvinistic nationalism, or negative patriotism for the evil that it actually is.

Dr Johnson said: "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel"

It is not that nations should suppress or neglect their distinctive traditions, rather which they should affirm and cultivate them, with a sensitivity and understanding towards the other nations. It is not necessary that they should unite politically; there may even be situations in which it is best for them to separate, but by mutual agreement and in a civilized manner, as they did in former Czechoslovakia.

It is ideal that nations, while maintaining their individuality and if necessary their separateness, should nevertheless transcend it, in mutual respect and co-operation, and in a common endeavor to establish a united global society.

For both sides to treat each other as equals is the only way for the good of both nations and their continued survival.

So must the Palestinian Nationalism and Zionism change for a lasting peace? Yes, both must change if their ideals have become dogmatic and endanger the continuity of both nations. For the good of one nation is the good and protection for the other, and their continuity depends on retaining the goodwill of both.

Martin Luther King said; "It is not what happens to them if we protest, it is what will happen to us if we don't"

Thank you

Saida Nusseibeh is a member of a prominent Palestinian family. She lives in Amman. Formerly, she lived in London, where she was active in refugee aid work and in dialog. She has helped to found dialog groups including MidEastWeb for Coexistence and has served on the board of directors of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).


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