In George Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother, the symbol of tyranny, declares that “Black is white, and white is black.” This marks just one example of “doublethink,” which twists truth and falsehood. But doublespeak is more than fiction, as we learned in Gaza last week.
On Saturday, Palestinians celebrated Hamas’ twenty-fifth anniversary marked by the first-ever visit to Gaza by Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshaal. Doublespeak was the order of the day. Yet Meshaal also spoke quite plainly with no attempt at deceit.
Let’s go first with the blatant lie. Hamas claimed victory over Israel in their recent hostilities. Following the declaration of a truce, Gazans celebrated their triumph. How obvious was Hamas’ victory? As obvious as their unguided rockets killing six Israelis and doing some property damage. I’m not sure that any other nation or group has won a war by inflicting so few casualties—although every life lost is precious—and so little damage.
The fact that 170 and perhaps more Gazans were killed—and the civilian lives among them also are precious—in no way seemed to diminish Hamas’ triumph. Why would it? Those casualties represent martyrs sent directly to heaven by Israeli missiles, which were guided with considerable precision towards military targets, often located in civilian areas of densely populated Gaza. The upshot? Being on the high end of a 28–1 kill ratio with considerably more damage to infrastructure—victory photos show many Gaza buildings in ruins—defines winning.
But black also can be black. Meshaal made no attempt at subterfuge when he told an adoring crowd he would never recognize Israel and vowed to “free the land of Palestine inch by inch.” Perhaps some in Europe and in other regions of the world took that as a statement devoted to peace and brotherhood (other than the Islamic kind). But Meshaal left little room for doubt. “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land,” he said. And, “We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”
All this leaves the future a bit murky. Critics expect Israel to negotiate peace with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. I’d like that, too. But while Abbas says he wants a peaceful solution and vows no violence, he seeks unity with Hamas. And he never disavowed Meshaal’s remarks. On Monday, Meshaal repeated his own desire for Palestinian unity. Again Abbas, that seeker of peace, made no response.
So do me a favor. If you know how a united Palestinian people can negotiate a peaceful two-state solution while also seeking the destruction of Israel, let me know. For now, I can only conclude that in the Middle East—and among those in the West who would rather engage in fantasy than reality—black and white can be one and the same. Which leaves everything at least fifty shades of gray.
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