Some years ago, Ehud Barak said: “If I were a young Palestinian, I would have joined one of the terrorist organizations.” An interesting statement. It proves that Barak was once capable of putting himself into the shoes of somebody else.
It’s easier for me. Since I did indeed join one of the terrorist organizations when I was young, I can clearly remember the feelings and thought that caused me to do so. Nowadays, when I want to predict what the Arabs will do tomorrow, I use the same method. I try to enter into the shoes of a young Arab, as an actor enters the persona he is supposed to play. I try to feel what he feels, think what he thinks.
Last week I chose the persona of Ahmed, an 18-year old student at Irbid University, Jordan. His grandfather fled from Jaffa in 1948, settled down in the Hashemite Kingdom and got rich. The young man studies physics. What does he feel, what does he think, after the bomb in Gaza?
Like everybody else, Ahmed saw the gruesome pictures on al-Jazeera television. Over and over again. He will probably never be able to forget the 3-year old child dying on camera, with a cluster of doctors around him trying to save his life with all kind of instruments. The trembling of the little limbs, the jerking of the head, the sudden stillness.
Ahmed saw the wrecked houses, the mothers, the bodies on the stretchers, the faces of the shocked neighbors, numb and helpless. His heart went out to them. Then a consuming hatred took hold of him, and all his feelings coalesced into one burning desire: Revenge! He is not particularly religious, but now he prays to Allah to send a Palestinian hero to take revenge on the Jewish murderers, a big and terrible revenge!
He has read in the newspapers that the day before the bombing the Tanzim, the biggest Palestinian fighting organization, had decided to declare a unilateral cease-fire and tried to convince the Hamas to do the same. He shakes his head in astonishment: What, won’t they ever learn? Don’t they know that Sharon does not want peace, that he wants to drive all the Palestinians out?
And America. Ahmed is full of anger against America. Bush did not even condemn the outrage. He just let a minor spokesman rebuke Sharon for his “heavy-handed” means. He did not pick up the phone to call Sharon and read him the Riot Act, as President Reagan had did to Begin after the savage bombing of Beirut by Sharon in 1982. He did not call President Arafat to extend his condolences. His real message to Sharon was: OK, go on, but use smaller bombs.
Ahmed tells himself: Maybe Bin-Laden was right, after all. The Americans do really hate the Arabs. Only a fool would pin any hopes on them.
And so, too, only a fool can hope for anything from the Europeans. Look at them, a bunch of hypocrites, mouthing moral disapproval and doing nothing. They were silent when the Germans mistreated the Jews, and they are silent now, when the Jews mistreat the Palestinians.
But most of all Ahmed is furious with the Arab world. Conferences are convened, resolutions adopted, some crumbs thrown to the starving Palestinians in their besieged towns. He feels a searing humiliation. Don’t we feel the shame? Is this the mighty Arab nation? Is this how we look, the heirs of Caliph Omar and Saladin? Somebody must raise a flag, arouse the masses, give us back our courage and pride!
In spite of the fact that he does not grow a beard or go to the mosque, he does not mind if the Muslim Brothers or some other Islamic group do it. The main thing is that somebody, anybody, will avenge the humiliation. This cannot go on! A big revolution must come!
— Here I leave Ahmed and come back to myself. I am afraid. I am afraid of the millions of Ahmeds in Cairo and Riyadh, Damascus and Doha, Rabat and Baghdad, who feel exactly like him, who will one of these days, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in another ten or twenty years, arise and change the region we live in.
[The author has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades. Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation.]