Lost In Translation: Abbas Threat To Israel

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas made a very militant anti-Israel speech this week, but most of its violent message was lost in translation, because Abbas used a somewhat obscure wording in Arabic.

Dr. Michael Widlanski

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PA leader Mahmoud Abbas made a very militant anti-Israel speech this week, but most of its violent message was lost in translation, because Abbas used a somewhat obscure wording in Arabic.

"Let a thousand flowers bloom, and let our rifles, all our rifles, all our rifles, be aimed at the Occupation," declared Abbas using an apparent reference to the old oratory of Communist leader Mao Tse Tung.

Even non-Arabs well-schooled in Arabic had trouble figuring out the strange verb from "da'a" used by Dr. Abbas, but it is a command form that means "let us" or "leave us begin to" from the weak Arabic verbal root Wa-da-'a (Waw, Dal 'Ayin). [See Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, p.1058]

The phrase is important in many ways, because it shows
  • That Dr. Abbas, who studied at the KGB's Patrice Lumumba University for Third World leaders, continues to heed Communist revolutionary rhetoric and tactics;
  • That Dr. Abbas is committed to the "revolutionary path" of Yasser Arafat, who also saluted those using violence against Israel;
  • And that Abbas believes that the Arab revolution requires continued violence against Israel, and that this violence can actually be a unifying factor among PA Arabs, though Abbas has said that the timing of the violence is of critical.

"I say to the master of the martyrs," declared Abbas, saluting Arafat, "your sons will continue your march. I say to you, your lion cubs will continue this struggle (nidal), this battle (kifaah) until a Palestinian state is established on the land of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital."

Abbas, who spoke for more than 30 minutes on Jan. 11 in Ramallah, made it clear that he was distinguishing between the "struggle" or "battle" against Israel and the "fighting" among internal Arab factions.

"Firing weapons at my brother, my friend, my neighbor," declared Arafat's successor, "is forbidden, forbidden, forbidden," repeating his words and waving his left hand strongly.

But Abbas said the struggle would continue despite setbacks.

"They have killed us everywhere, but this revolution, by virtue of the determination of its people, by virtue of the determination of its youth - this revolution has continued and it will continue until we fulfill the Palestinian dream."

Abbas was speaking at the forty-second anniversary of the founding of the Fatah organization - a day commemorating the first Fatah attack on Israel's national water carrier on January 1, 1965, and Abbas was trying to use the occasion to unify the divisiveness in the Palestinian Authority, perhaps by using Israel as a common enemy.

The Fatah Day speech was delayed by ten days of massive in-fighting between Fatah and Hamas, both of which are wrestling for leadership of the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Yasser Arafat's death in November 2004.

Frequently throughout his speech, Abbas referred to Arafat as martyr, similarly describing those Fatah gunmen who died while carrying out attacks against Israel.

Abbas's comments were interpreted by his constituents as a clear reference to attacking Israel - a badge of honor rather than something to condemn.

As if to remove any doubt about the militancy of Abbas's words and the place to aim their rifles, minutes after Abbas's own speech, PA television's senior announcer, described Israel's establishment as the beginning of "occupation."

"No one [here] is a criminal," declared Abbas. Not once in his speech did he condemn or even disapprove of continuing rocket attacks and attempted suicide assaults by Hamas and by his own Fatah movement.

"Condemning and preventing internal fighting," was his goal, asserted Abbas, referring to the internal PA blood-letting in which about 300 Arabs died last year. Stopping this "falatan"-anarchy in Arabic- was his regime's first priority, said Abbas, but his words did not seem to convince the crowd.

"Hamas is a bunch of Shiites," cried members of the crowd, using the term "Shiite" as a kind of curse, and Abbas again rebuked his own Fatah members, saying, "This [kind of talk] too is forbidden," as he tried to strike nationalistic and Islamic themes of unity, departing slightly from his prepared speech.

"No one is outside our society," yelled Abbas. waving his hands at the noisy crowd. He specifically saluted the late Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, one of the founders of Hamas, which developed the human bomb attacks that ravaged Israel from 1994-2004, after Israel signed several agreements with the Palestinian Authority.

"No one is a traitor. No one is a collaborator [with Israel]. No one is an infidel," Abbas continued, strongly suggesting that anyone who has used arms against Israel, even if he vied with Fatah for leadership, was still not beyond the pale.

[Almost all PA residents are Sunni Muslims and the term "Shi'a" in Arabic, which means faction or faction member, refers to those Muslims who broke away from the majority community after the death of Islam's leader, Muhammad, and supported Ali, Muhammad's nephew. -MW]

In what was in many ways one of the most militant speeches against Israel from a PA official normally touted as a moderate, Dr. Abbas also stretched out his hand to the Hamas terror organization that has never even pretended it does not want to destroy Israel.

Dr. Abbas seemed to reject all possibilities of territorial compromise or anything less than full repatriation of Palestinian refugees. "Today more than any other day, we must hold fast to our Palestinian principles, and we will not accept a state with temporary borders" said Abbas, adding, "We will not give up one grain [of land] in Jerusalem."