Mohammad Salah
Dar Al-Hayat
October 19, 2009 - 12:00am

You can close your eyes at will, without falling asleep or becoming unconscious, even if for the only reason that you do not want to see something in front of you. However, you cannot shut your ears at will, and as long as your hearing is unimpaired, and also as long as you are conscious, you can still hear, even if you did not want to. It has become customary to use the phrase “dialogue of the deaf”, to describe an instance where the viewpoints of two or more parties are not getting through to one another, or where one or more of them uses a language, a logic and certain excuses that are not understood, accepted or acknowledged by the others. The result is that none of them is listening to anyone else, which is why it will seem as if everyone is talking, and no one is listening, and subsequently comprehending; then the dialogue fails.

Does this expression apply to the dialogue among the Palestinian factions, which appears to take a step forward one day, only to move a few steps back the next? Can this expression be also used to refer to the relations among some Arab states, which leave one conflict only to enter a new one? Can this expression be used to describe them, despite all their attempts at reconciliation or dialogue, where there are many smiles in front of the cameras, but where the ears are shut tight and hear nothing, and thus, none of their positions or policies ever ends up changing?

What is remarkable is that the Palestinian factions have a strong sense of hearing, and are well aware that in the end, their continued rivalry and strife serve only the interests of Israel, and harms the entire Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause. Yet, these factions seem to be adamant about not listening, and so they willingly “shut their ears.”

The other day, the Palestinian dialogue received a blow because Hamas objected to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ (Abu Mazen) stance on the Goldstone report; before that, it was hurt by Hamas’ arrest of Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip. Tomorrow, this dialogue will again be harmed for other reasons or stupidities, committed by one side or the other. Again, it seems that no one wants to hear or understand, and that each side has an unbelievably powerful ability to close its ears at will.

The same goes for the rival Arab states, some of which support Fatah, while others lean toward Hamas, or Iran or America. Also, some support peace with Israel, while others are opposed to it. The ears have been closed and the only thing that is being currently heard is what is only in agreement with the policies of one country, despite the fact that this hurts the interest of all, at both the national and pan-Arab levels.

Furthermore, it is then only natural that a “dialogue of the deaf” might take place between an Arab side, or all of the Arabs combined on one hand, and on the other hand, any other party, as in the case of Israel, due to the different interests and language, or even with the east and the west, where political and economic calculations are influential. But what is striking that there is sometimes an astonishing harmony and unconditional accord between some Arab parties and foreign states, where their dialogue continues and does not stop, and which then arrives at results that are not subsequently sabotaged.

Also, the “dialogue of the deaf” is in full force within Arab societies themselves, and between the ruling elites and the opposition, or among opposition groups themselves which should otherwise listen to one another and engage in dialogue, in order to arrive at joint stances to confront the ruling parties. For instance, the problems and disputes among some opposition parties and political forces in Egypt are greater than those between them and the ruling National Democratic Party and its government. Everyone has closed their ears and stuck to their positions. When there was dialogue years ago between the NDP and other legal parties, we saw the usual smiles before the cameras. But in closed sessions, all of the parties spoke without hearing what was being said by the other groups, and the dialogue suffered, with no results having been ever attained.

As such, some might even suggest that the Arabs should engage in debate with each other using sign language, since they are closing their ears without being able to control their hearing. However, as long as they do not want to understand each other in the first place, it is certain that even if they used sign language, they probably would not see each other.


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