December 12, 1999
© Jordan White Enterprises
“The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.”
Thus states a sign posted on the wall of some mythical workplace-from-hell. This oft-repeated joke came to my mind recently as I pondered upon the reaction from the PNA to the now-famous “Petition of Twenty”.
The idea is, of course, that a manager (or a political leader) cannot force good morale or a unified plan of shared goals upon others. It is up to him to create an atmosphere where each individual has a chance to contribute to the cause and live up to his or her potential. Unfortunately, it appears that President Arafat has, in effect, posted a similar “sign” on the walls of the PNA, indicating that criticism and democratic procedures are unwelcome.
This is nothing new. Arafat has been attempting to silence his critics for years. For example, there is every indication that the Palestinian cartoonist and editorialist, Naji al-Ali (the creator of “Handela”, the refugee child), was assassinated in London by operatives for the PLO. It seems that some of Ali’s cartoons had caused a certain amount of embarrassment to the PLO chief, and the order was given to have him removed. Oh, I know. I’ve read the convoluted and confusing explanations about spydom and all that fed to the press, but I remain unconvinced.
The question really is: what will it accomplish to free those people now being detained? Suppose Arafat agrees to free them tomorrow? Will world opinion change, will Arafat change his operating procedures, will the detainees and their sympathizers suddenly find themselves enjoying a never-seen-before credibility? If it were only that simple!
Unfortunately, it would seem that “the beatings will continue until morale improves”. That is because the PNA, since it has failed to forge a plan of action based on a shared vision common to the Palestinian people, based on their needs for justice, equal representation, and the free expression of ideas, is resulting to the very tactics of tyranny that it was founded to fight against. Only instead of continuing to fight against the Occupation and its very real wrongs, it has created another pocket of injustice inside the larger one.
What does this mean to the average Palestinian, he or she who counted upon the PNA to begin the much-hoped-for process of democracy? He or she who longed for justice? What it means is, that the detainment of these courageous people is an opportunity for change. If they are merely freed, or perhaps given some sort of trial which will basically be just another miscarriage of justice, nothing will be accomplished to help the Palestinian cause, in the long run.
But what if, like Mandela, the detainees decide that only free men can negotiate? This great patriot, certainly one of the finest human beings to ever grace this planet, flatly refused all negotiations to win his release. That is because he recognized that his imprisonment was his work. Over the nearly three decades of his life behind bars, he proved that, by his sacrifice, he was able to unite the African people in loyalty to the cause in a way he could never have done if he were free, and especially if he were freed by compromising his ideals. That is what real leaders do. They provide their followers with an object lesson, a mission statement, and ideal to follow that captures the imagination of even the most weary, the most cynical, the most wounded of all.
These Palestinian leaders have been given such a forum in which to demonstrate some of this type of courage, resolve, and dedication to the Palestinian cause. Instead of begging for their release, they should recognizing the opportunity that their imprisonment gives them; an opportunity to fight against domination by anyone, Arab, Jew, or outside imperialistic force. Their detainment creates a natural forum to focus attention on the deprivations suffered by the Palestinian people, their daily injustices and oppression, as well as an opportunity for the people to rally behind a cause, a chance for them to find a meaningful, true mission statement, that is, ridding themselves once and for all from those who would keep them forever in a state of domination.
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem to lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”
Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, December 23, 1776.