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Omar Barghouti in the Czech Republic

This is a guest post by Sarka

“The Palestinian right to equality is neither negotiable nor relative; it is the sine qua non of a just peace in Palestine and the region. As Edward Said once said, ‘Equality or nothing!'” (Omar Barghouti)

Probably Mr. Barghouti is an aimiable fellow. I would like to invite him here, to the Czech Republic. The countryside is very pretty and historic. He can jump in my car and I’ll take him on an excursion – if we drive for a couple of hours or so in any direction but east, we shall find some very attractive mainly mountainous regions. Picturesque, and since 1989 increasingly cheered up – with tourist attractions, lovely spa towns and a lot of more or less well-maintained old country cottages owned by Czechs from the cities. If he looks a little closer, though, he will see quite a lot of derelict houses, and in the forests we shall come across the almost vanished ruins of whole settlements. If Mr. Barghouti likes he can get out and read all the names on the monuments – they’re not Czech. If he’s not up on his modern European history, he may be inclined like my visiting mum to frown and say, “there’s a bit of a sad atmosphere here, like something terrible happened…” And I shall say, yes – three million people or thereabouts were expelled or fled from this country only a year or so before your Naqba. Several thousand at least – some say many many more – were killed in the process. They lost their houses, their farms, their orchards their workshops…communities centuries old….”

“But that’s disgusting!” Mr Barghouti will say, naturally enough. “Why haven’t they been fighting for their right to return, for their right to their homeland?”

“They did, for decades they did, but history was against them. They gave up in the end, their children’s children are citizens of neighbouring countries and have no more than a sentimental interest”.

“Ba! They were weak to give up. A people in such a position must hold fast to their rights, which are not negotiable or relative!”

“But what is the point of absolute claims if they conflict with the claims of others, Is it not best sometimes to accept less than you feel you are entitled to, even a lot less, than to end up with nothing because you cannot have everything?”

“I do not think so. If these people who were expelled from here had truly insisted on their non-negotiable, non-relative rights, they might be here today!”

“Alas no, Mr. Barghouti. I am afraid that they are gone precisely because they insisted on their non-negotiable, non-relative rights. Their nationalism collided with the nationalism of the Czechs; they hadn’t asked to be in a new Czech state in 1918, they didn’t want to be in it, and they didn’t really want a Czech state to exist at all. They were given civic rights in the new state but while some of them worked with that state and even held posts in it, they were never really reconciled. They were increasingly dominated by leaders (backed by foreign states) who never tired of talking about their absolute equal non-negotiable rights and persuading foreign liberals that these were utterly violated. This, though they fooled many and even themselves into thinking it was a matter of universal justice pure and simple, was also – and fatally – a code and tool for their attempt to destroy the new state and liquidate Czech rights – oh, and Jewish rights too. And they succeeded too, beyond their wildest dreams, when acting on their behalf their big brother Germany intervened and destroyed the Czech state – enabling most of them (there were honourable exceptions) to demonstrate just how little they cared for anyone’s universal individual and national non-relative and non-negotiable rights except their own. Unfortunately for them they were defeated: what the Czechs, backed by the Allies, did to them was of course not just individually, but it was the rough justice of history…the justice that runs not along the lines of “what are my universal entitlements?” and more along the lines of “what the hell did I expect to happen given the context?” The Czech Germans were expelled because the Czechs, understandably, simply did not trust them not to start agitating again for their non-negotiable rights as a way of destroying the rights and claims of the Czechs.

At this Barghouti will probably look very offended: “We are not Nazis, Ms Sarka. We are oppressed and dispossessed people who simply want equality and justice…”

“I didn’t say you were Nazis. I was trying to make a point about those non-relative rights of yours, and their dangers – to your people themselves.”

“Besides, there are so many differences. it’s not a real parallel at all…”

“Not at all? I disagree – I brought you here in the hope that this countryside would tell you something: its one-time inhabitants are gone not because they were prepared to settle for too little, but because they couldn’t bear to settle for anything short of absolute rights for themselves and not even relative rights for others.

Adapted from a comment in this thread, with permission.

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