Nakhwa Without Borders: Gaza and the End of 'Arab Gallantry'
21 October 2014
By Ramzy Baroud
On its own the Arabic word al-Nakhwa, means
"gallantry." Combined with the word "al-Arabiya" -
"Arab gallantry" - the term becomes loaded with
meanings, cultural and even political implications and
subtext. But what is one to make of "Arab gallantry"
during and after Israel's most brutal war on Gaza
between 8 July and 26 August which killed 2,163
Palestinians and wounded over 11,000 more?
Is this the end of Arab Nakhwa? Did it even ever
As a Palestinian Gaza refugee from a simple peasantry
background, I was raised to believe that al-Nakhwa was
an essential component of one's Arab identity.
Together with al-Rojoula - "manhood/fortitude/heroism"
- al-Karm - "generosity" - al-Karama - "dignity" - and
al-Sharaf - "honour" - were all indispensable tenants
in the character of any upright person. The
alternative is unthinkably shameful.
Thus, it is no wonder that Palestinian national songs,
and the slogans for successive rebellious generations
in Palestine have borrowed heavily from such
terminology. It was al-Nakhwa that compelled Gaza to
rise in solidarity with the victims of al-Aqsa Mosque
clashes in 2000, which ushered in the painful years of
the Second Palestinian Uprising (2000-2005). It was
al-Karama (dignity) that forced Gaza to the streets to
protest the killing of four Palestinian cheap
labourers by an Israeli truck driver, leading to the
First Palestinian Uprising (1987-1993). It was al-Sharaf
(honour) that made Gazans fight like warriors of
ancient legends to prevent Israeli troops from taking
over the impoverished and besieged Gaza Strip in the
most recent war.
But the lack of reactions on Arab streets, - Perhaps
Arab societies are too consumed fighting for their own
honour and dignity? - and the near complete silence by
many Arab governments as Israel savaged Gaza
civilians, forces one to question present Arab
Yet millions protested for Gaza across the world in a
collective global action unprecedented since the US
war in Iraq in 2003. South American countries led the
way, with some governments turning words into
unparalleled action, not fearing western media slander
or US government reprisals. Few Arab countries even
came close to what the majority Christian Latin
American countries like Ecuador have done to show
solidarity with Gaza.
And when a ceasefire was declared on 26 August, it
became impossible for Israeli or even western media to
argue in earnest that Israel had won "Operation
Protective Edge." They tried, but the closest they
managed to argue was that there were no winners.
Others acknowledged that Gaza had won the war by
defeating every war objective laid out by Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hardly shocking, although certainly dishonourable,
some Arab journalists who stayed largely quiet as the
Palestinian death toll in Gaza grew rapidly, went on a
well-organised crusade. While they shed crocodile
tears for Gaza's children, they insisted that Gaza
lost, strengthening Netanyahu's desperate narrative
that his war had achieved its objectives. The
Gaza-didn't-win line was repeated by many well-paid
journalists and commentators as to defeat the
prevailing notion that resistance was not futile. For
them, it seems that Palestinians need to accept their
role in the ongoing Arab drama of being perpetual
victims, and nothing more. A strong Palestinian,
practically and conceptually, is the antithesis to the
dominant line of the current Arab political script
that is predicated on strong rulers and weak nations.
Since the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe), the
Palestinian is only idealised as a hero in poetry and
official text, but an eternal casualty in everyday
Some of these pseudo-intellectuals didn't even muster
enough Nakhwa to extol Gaza on its resistance and the
sheer enormity of its sacrifices. Most of Gaza's
resistance fighters (who mostly come from Gaza's poor
refugee classes) reportedly fasted (no food or water
from dawn to dusk) as they fought throughout the month
of Ramadan. Many would break the fast on few dates, if
any. Compare this to the endless supplies of food, and
everything else that remained available in abundance
to invading Israeli troops. Even if these commentators
sincerely rejected the "Gaza victory" narrative,
wasn't the sheer fortitude of these men and women
deserving of a mere acknowledgement of a few words
written by the well-fed "intellectuals" operating from
faraway hotel lobbies in rich Arab capitals?
Since the introduction of pan-Arab satellite
television news networks, the term "Arab gallantry"
was brought into question endless times. In fact,
"Iyna al-Nakhwa al-Arabiay?" - where is the Arab
gallantry?' - was perhaps the most oft-repeated
question raised by ordinary Arab callers taking part
in television political debates. The question was
uttered mostly in the Palestinian context, but, in the
last decade also in the cases of Iraq and Syria.
There is no definite answer as of yet, but it is not
that Arab gallantry is in abundance within ruling
Palestinian classes either.
Just days following the ceasefire, the leaders of the
Ramallah political class unleashed verbal attacks
against the former Hamas government over money, salary
and phony coup attempts. For Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas, per the leaked protocol of
his meeting with Hamas' Khaled Meshaal in Doha, the
war in Gaza seemed a secondary matter, as the
80-year-old was overwhelmed by some paranoia that
everyone was conspiring against him. His Prime
Minister Rami Hamdallah, who behaved as if his
"premiership" didn't include Gaza during the war,
returned to action as soon as the ceasefire
announcement was made. His government didn't feel any
particular urgency to pay salaries of Gaza employees
who were hired by the previous Gaza government.
As if things couldn't get any worse, a leaked letter
provided to French lawyers by the deputy prosecutor of
the International Criminal Court (ICC) showed that
Abbas' government actually blocked a Palestinian
application to the ICC that is aimed at trying Israeli
government and military leaders for alleged war
crimes. Here the discussion over gallantry, dignity
and honour ends, and a whole different set of
The shameful factionalism has reached a point where
Fatah officials are accusing the former Gaza
government for being responsible for the loss of lives
among Gaza refugees as they make desperate attempts to
escape the strip towards Europe atop crowded boats.
Agenda-driven Arab commentators are joining in, some
blaming both sides equally, as if those who resisted
are equal to those who conspired.
Embattled Netanyahu is getting a badly needed break as
Palestinian officials in Ramallah and some Arab media
commentators are circuitously blaming Gaza for
Israel's own wars and war crimes. While Palestinians
continue to gaze at the rubble of their destroyed
lives in Gaza, they receive little support and
solidarity from their Arab neighbours, or from their
won "brethren" in Ramallah.
When Arab media commentators laud Netanyahu for
killing Palestinians in Gaza and a UN spokesman weeps
on the air, crying for Gaza's victims, one is forced
to question old beliefs about one's own supposed
exceptionalism. It has turned out that Nakhwa has no
borders, and can extend from Bolivia to Sir Lanka, and
from South Africa to Norway.
- Ramzy Baroud is a PhD scholar in People's History
at the University of Exeter. He is the Managing Editor
of Middle East Eye. Baroud is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media
consultant, an author and the founder of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father
Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto