Sacrificial Palestine and Arab Identity

By Yaseen Noorani
Submitted to Session P4214 (Palestine Letters: Exile, Resistance, Solidarity, 2015 Annual Meeting
Arab Studies;
Due to its particular status as an object of colonial rule and expropriation, Palestine has since the Mandatory period played a significant role in the articulation of Arab identity. I focus in this paper on the shift in modes of solidarity with Palestine as a result of the 1967 war and its aftermath. The widely articulated Arab “self-critique” engendered by the loss of this war has been much commented upon and is not my immediate interest. The focus here is on the shift in depiction of Palestinians primarily as dispossessed refugees who have lost their homeland, in the post-1948 period, to depictions of the Palestinian situation through the idolized figure of the fida’i, the heroic Palestinian commando, in the post-1967 period. I argue that in both cases, solidarity attaches to Palestine as a figure of sacrifice for the regeneration of Arab identity. The Palestinian refugee of post-1948 is a passive sacrificial victim that displays the fallen condition of the Arab nation and must find redemption in the rebirth of this nation. The pity elicited by the wretched figure of the refugee should be the catalyst for the rejection and destruction of the status-quo. The post-1967 Palestinian fida’i, on the other hand, whose very appellation signifies sacrifice, is the active agent of self-sacrifice who enacts the potential of the Arab nation to achieve agency and come into being. The death of the fida’i is to engender Arab resurrection. In both cases, Palestine is the redemptive sacrifice required for the birth or rebirth of the Arab nation. In these forms of representation, it is seen that Arab solidarity with Palestine hinges on the function that Palestine can be made to bear in the constitution of Arab identity. To make this argument, I will draw primarily on poetry, and focus particularly on poems of Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri, Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati, Nizar Qabbani, and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. The works of these poets enable an analysis of the shift in the depiction of Palestine before and after 1967 while revealing the underlying continuity of symbolic function.