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‘Palestinians hoisted by their own petard’

The idiom “hoisted by his own petard” has come to signify when a plan intended to hurt someone backfires and instead hurts the planner. 

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces at the Gaza border on May 11, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces at the Gaza border on May 11, 2018. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
A.J. Caschetta (Credit: Rochester Institute of Technology)
A.J. Caschetta
A.J. Caschetta is a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a fellow at Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, where he is a Ginsburg-Ingerman fellow.

Palestinians participating in the “March of Return” at the Gaza border were attacked by one of their own weapons recently when a fiery kite bomb intended to kill people on the Israel side of the border instead wildly menaced a crowd of people on the Gaza side.  The bizarre spectacle of Hamas kite jihadis “hoisted by their own petard” was both a spontaneous demonstration of the Palestinians hard at work being their own worst enemy and a fitting metaphor for the damage wrought by 70 years of their refusing to accept the reality of a Jewish state.

It happened on May 17 when a reporter from the Iranian TV channel Al-Alam was interviewing Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan.   Speaking to the reporter, Radwan is unaware that just over his shoulder in the background a Hamas weapon is turning on its handlers, erratically diving into groups of people, setting at least one ablaze.

The idiom “hoisted by his own petard” has come to signify when a plan intended to hurt someone backfires and instead hurts the planner.  The phrase is Shakespeare’s, and it comes from Hamlet’s remark about outwitting his assassins so that they suffer the very fate they had devised for him: “’tis the sport” he boasts, “to have the enginer/Hoist with his own petard.”

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that in Shakespeare’s English an “enginer” is “one who designs and constructs military works for attack or defense,” and a “petard” is a bomb.  To be “hoist” (or “hoised”) is to be lifted into the air, in this case by an explosion.  Hamlet meant the phrase metaphorically, as he had brought about the deaths of two of his enemies by subverting their stratagem and cleverly using it against them.  But Palestinians fighting kite jihad on May 17, fortuitously captured on camera, were literally attacked by their own weapon, with no manipulation by their intended victims.

Still, the metaphor works for Palestinians in Gaza and beyond.  For while individual Israelis have indeed been harmed and killed by terrorist petards, the state of Israel is doing just fine.  Meanwhile the Palestinians, according to their own narratives, are suffering and deprived.  But most of their suffering is the result of their own decisions.  There have been myriad opportunities for compromise offered them in the last 70 years.  There have been ways to secure their state and safety without killing themselves with petards, both literal and metaphorical.

Beginning in 1947, the Arabs who would soon become known as “Palestinians” could have accepted UN Resolution 181 which partitioned the Mandate territory into both Arab and Jewish states.  But they chose war instead, thinking it would be easy to “make Palestine the big graveyard of the Jews.”  Since then, there have been numerous chances for redemption, especially the Oslo Accords.  But each time the Palestinians chose war.  In 2000, US President Bill Clinton convinced Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to offer PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat a Palestinian state with everything he wanted except for the elimination of the Jewish state.  Arafat insisted on the “right of return” to Israeli territory millions of people he called “refugees.”  Barak was offering peace, not suicide.  In response Arafat stormed out of Camp David and declared the Second Intifada.  Soon thousands of Palestinians were volunteering to hoist themselves by their own petard belts.  The Palestinians in Gaza chose Hamas to lead them.

When Arafat died, another opportunity presented itself.  It too was squandered.  In spite of the early media glee over the Palestinians choosing an “intellectual” like Mahmoud Abbas to lead them, Abbas’ intellect (like Arafat’s) was focused on eliminating Israel.  Abbas’s position as president seems secure as he enters the 14th year of his 4-year term, but he appears to be reaching the end of his life.  This will provide the Palestinians another opportunity to change their lives.

In choosing Arafat, Abbas and Hamas, the Palestinian people have chosen weapons, and those weapons have done them far more damage than they have done to Israel.  The time is right to halt the momentum from seven decades of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, as the saying goes.

But that will require Palestinians to give up on the unrealistic “right of return” demand – something Arafat wouldn’t do, Abbas seems unwilling to do, and Hamas is incapable of doing.  Only leaders who accept the reality of Israel and who genuinely end hostilities against it can change course to a path that leads to a Palestinian state.  Alas, it seems far more likely that the Palestinian people will choose more petards, only to be hoisted by them yet again.

A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsburg-Ingerman fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

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