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‘Sorry’: The Starting Point For Politics in the Mideast?

Friday December 19, 2003

Elton John wrote a song called Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, He, of course, was referring to human relationships. The quagmire in the Middle-East, though certainly not romantic in nature, surely could benefit from the application of such a maxim. There is plenty of “sorry” to go around there, and it cannot be confined to the Israelis, despite George Bishrat’s implications to the contrary, in his recent commentary for the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

If Professor Bishrat is serious about the “untapped reservoir of Palestinian magnanimity” then the apologies can extend to the chronic misinformation campaigns that have permeated Palestinian text books and education for the last half century. Ignoring and denying the holocaust, dismissing the Jews’ historical connection to the “holy land,” and inciting “wrath toward the alien” has contributed as much to perpetuating the truly murderous environment muddling this conflict, as any Israeli transgressions. 

Wherever the responsibility lies in this miserable ‘condition inhumane,’ it is in the genesis of history itself. Palestinian scholars can cite Israeli leaders, such as Bishrati does, alluding to Ben Gurion’s admission that “the Palestinians only see one thing. We have come here and stolen their country.” Meanwhile, Israelis can cite remarks such as Arab League Secretary-General Azzam Pasha, on September 16, 1947 to Jewish Agency representatives David Horowitz and Abba Eban: 

“The Arab world is not in a compromising mood. It's likely, Mr. Horowitz, that your plan is rational and logical, but the fate of nations is not decided by rational logic. Nations never concede; they fight. You won't get anything by peaceful means or compromise. You can, perhaps, get something, but only by the force of your arms. We shall try to defeat you. I am not sure we'll succeed, but we'll try. We were able to drive out the Crusaders, but on the other hand we lost Spain and Persia. It may be that we shall lose Palestine. But it's too late to talk of peaceful solutions.” 

Indeed, we can go on, ad nauseam, assigning blame here. Perhaps, “sorry” is as good as it can get for now, given the utter complexity of the problem and the generations of incriminating energy that are possible here. A ‘sorry state of affairs,’ for sure, but a ‘sorry start’ is better than the continuing, monotonous, futility of failure that has defined this abomination of humanity for far too long. 


Marc Winokur is a Berkeley resident.