Have you, while watching the news, ever wondered why protesters, regardless of their nationality, geographic location, linguistic affiliation or political inclination always carry signs in English?
Be they from Afghanistan, Belarus, Iraq, Iran, the Palestinian territories or elsewhere, inevitably, there will be people in the crowd carrying signs stating the reason for their protests and many of those signs will be in English. Some include spelling and grammatical errors but they will be in English. Why?
The answer is simple: They are there for the benefit of the international media — the CNN cameras, the BBC reporters and the France 24 correspondents. Protesters have learned over the years that they stand a far better chance at getting cameras focused on them, even if only for a few seconds, with signs in English and that they may get their message across. Convincing enough supporters in major Western capital cities, such as Washington, London, Paris or Rome, they hope can eventually put pressure on lawmakers to intervene on behalf of their cause.
Protesters around the world feel the need to communicate their plight to the international community. Whether they are protesting logging in the Amazon forest or the occupation of their lands, as in the case in the Palestinian territories, winning support of the world community is an advantage.
It gives the protesters a sense that perhaps they are not alone in the world, that somewhere there are people who support their cause.
A well-placed protester’s sign or a well-placed news photograph can have very marking effects.
For example, during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, supporters of the Palestinians’ plight in Western cities kept reminding people of the debacle in the region. Add to that a simple photograph of a Lebanese infant who was severely wounded during a raid by Israeli warplanes and published by the Washington Post, among others. It was seen by Nancy Reagan, then America’s first lady. She was moved by the power of that image and stormed into the Oval Office with the picture in hand and told her husband, US President Ronald Reagan, to stop the war.
It so happened that Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir was visiting Washington at the time, drumming up support for Israel as war raged in Lebanon. Reagan telephoned Shamir and, reports at the time said, “gave him a piece of his mind.”
Shamir called Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and relayed the series of events. Reagan insisted on a ceasefire, which was eventually reached, although it was short-lived. Nevertheless, it created a few precious hours of respite from the barrage of artillery, naval and air bombardment of Beirut and its surroundings.
Over the years it seems the plight of the Palestinians has lost its draw, whether the signs are in English or not. There has recently been an outburst of violence between the Palestinians in Gaza and the Israelis. Militant Palestinian Islamists who control the turbulent strip fired rockets into Israel, apparently in retaliation for some action Israeli troops took against Palestinians.
As could be expected, the Israelis retaliated with air strikes on several positions in Gaza, claiming those were strongholds of the militant group Hamas.
What is striking in this context is that, outside of the two sides concerned, there seems to be no interest in the events unfolding in the Palestinian territories.
The bombardment of Palestinian homes used to be front-page news in the not-too-distant past. Today, it passes by unnoticed as this tit-for-tat, cat-and-mouse game that Israelis and Palestinians play nearly 70 years after the founding of the state of Israel has reached a saturation point.
For the Israeli government, especially those very shortsighted leaders such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this impasse in the peacemaking process may be seen in a positive light, allowing him a firmer hand in dealing with the Palestinians.
In the region, there are also signs of fatigue. Netanyahu’s recent trip to Oman did not elicit the usual denunciations of normalisation with Israel.
For the Palestinians, this sets a dangerous precedent as their plight may be gradually ignored by the international community.
There may still be a few signs in English in the next demonstration in Oslo, Stockholm or Rome in support of the Palestinians but beyond that don’t expect much.
The Palestinians must take notice of the changes in the world. They must steer away from demagoguery and the temptation of radical rhetoric and empty threats.
Emotionally inflated outrage has become too predictable, not to add what it means to the risk that the Palestinian cause might be forgotten.
Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.