© Jordan White
Dec. 7, 1999
“In those days they will not say again,
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
“But everyone will die for his own iniquity;
each man who eats the sour grapes,
his teeth will be set on edge.”
Jeremiah 31: 29-30 (NAS)
Anyone who has studied literature has heard the metaphor “sour grapes”. Often, the figure of speech is derived from one of Aesop’s fables, in which a fox keeps attempting to eat a delectable bunch of grapes hanging tantalizingly out of reach. Failing to reach the fruit, the fox rationalizes to himself that doubtless the grapes were sour, anyhow.
This passage of Scripture also is a story of “sour grapes”, but with a much different context. It doesn’t deal with something coveted and lost. It deals with responsibility. That is, when one meets with misfortune, he cannot blame his father or mother or anyone else. When ill befalls him, he must take responsibility for having “eaten the grapes” himself.
Lately, (Nov. 1999), twenty Palestinian intellectuals signed a public statement critical of PNA President Yasser Arafat and the role of the Palestinian leadership in carrying out the terms of the Oslo Accords, accusing the PNA of using the Accords for their own profit and ignoring the needs of the ordinary citizen.
Instead of agreeing to investigate these alleged abuses, and promising to clear up injustices and corruption, the PNA saw fit to arrest and detain its critics, thus attempting to silence them. This is particularly odd since Arafat has always made statements to the effect that the PNA embraces the principles of democracy. The question is: Whose democracy?
Unfortunately, this type of debate will go on, even if all twenty dissidents are freed and their records left unbesmirched. This type of debate will go on, even if the Petition of Twenty is posted on the walls of every building of the PNA. That is because the PNA is not operating as a democracy. Democracies leave room for change. They are not about a who (a personality), they are about a what (a set of principles). Democracies are founded upon a strong mission statement, with everyone buying into it, every bit of it. In the United States, it’s called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I am an American citizen, and, while some of the Amendments to the Constitution are not to my liking, I totally and uncategorically stand by the document itself, understanding that my freedom depends upon my accepting the Constitution as a mission statement, and living up to my responsibilities as a citizen.
I have heard it said that people such as myself do not understand that the Middle East is different from the US, that it is an oversimplification of realities to insist that Palestinians assert themselves as an independent, democratic nation. After all, they have Israel to contend with and any agreement that is worked out involves seeking the cooperation of the Israeli government. In addition, they say, Palestine has never been self-governing, and, as a result, its society has evolved independent of a true government, and its “laws” are based on Islamic Shariah and are carried out through a convoluted system run by powerful people whose authority is determined by membership in a particular hamoula (clan). I have no way of knowing whether this is the case or not. And to tell you the truth, I don’t really think it matters.
What does matter is the pattern I am seeing in Palestinian society.
The pattern I am calling “sour grapes”.
As long as there is someone to blame for the poor condition of Palestinian society, there has always been a measure of unity among its people.
The Romans. The Ottomans. Great Britain. The Hashemites. Israel-and-the-United States. Someone to blame. Someone else.
For a long time, this strategy worked not only to help unify the Palestinians, but to bring about a certain amount of sympathy and aid from nations, journalists, and human rights organizations.
But Oslo caused world opinion to change, and instead of seeing Palestinians as the young, heroic, odds-defying rebels of the Intifada, they’re coming to be seen as intransigent people with no real, workable plan, hopelessly clinging to their little patchwork “nation”, while Israel roars ahead with its successful settlements and sound economic and social structure.
And now we have a new scenario. Palestinians making bitter enemies of other Palestinians, and even at one low point, questioning whether or not some of these people should even be designated “Palestinians” at all!
Sour grapes. Blame whomever is handy. It works for a while, even a long while, sometimes. But it’s time for a new “covenant”, to further paraphrase Jeremiah. As long as national unity exists on pointing fingers of blame, instead of setting up a just and sure plan for the future, with a mission statement that all buy into and visualize, together, there is no hope for the Palestinian people. They will simply cease to exist, their culture snuffed out, their identity absorbed into the national identities of the surrounding region.
It’s happened many times before in the course of history, and every time it happens, it’s a tragedy of epic proportions.
It’s called “Divide and Conquer.” It has worked before, and it’ll work again.