I shudder to hear Kerry pontificating about the right of people for self determination and peaceful existence (except, presumably, for Palestinians under occupation). I cringe to hear Hague lecturing the Russians about the rights of their neighbours to their territorial integrity and national sovereignty (except, as it were, for the Palestinians who should be pleased to be under Israeli occupation). I feel positively sick hearing Bush Senior lecturing that abominable man Saddam Hussein about the immorality of occupying Kuwait (but not a whisper to Israel about the immorality of occupying Palestinian lands). My stomach turns when I hear Obama lecture Egyptians on the need for restraint and on democratic values (not a hint of any such restraint when it comes to Israelis maltreating oppressed Palestinians). Cameron’s hypocrisy is dizzying when he prefaces his condemnation of Israel for abusing British passports used by those Israeli agents involved in murdering a Palestinian in Dubai by saying that he had always been a “friend of Israel” and always would be. The examples of such double standards are so many that alone they would fill several volumes just to list. Perhaps the most spectacular is the pretence of the Israeli Army’s “purity of arms” – tell that to Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila, in Gaza, in Jenin, in Deir Yassin, in Jordan, in the West Bank…etc…
Obama can not bring himself to lead by telling Israel to “pack it in”. Enough is enough. He feels that he has to mollify the Israelis by appealing to their better self.
Making a speech in occupied Jerusalem which is not recognised by any country in the world as the “capital of Israel”, he pleads with them:
“Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents, every single day…”
Acknowledging that Israel’s is “a foreign army” occupying Palestine, all he can do is try to make the occupier see sense. He can not get himself to have the moral courage to say, “Get out and get out now or else!” For a world leader of, allegedly, the most powerful nation on earth, he always appears to implore Israel in a staggeringly ignominious manner whilst presidentially directing and ordering everyone else including countries significantly more powerful than little Israel – e.g. Russia, China, India and other emerging powers. Some Palestinians are not surprised by this state of affairs, since, as Ariel Sharon asserted, “We, the Jewish people, control America”. It may be that AIPAC is politically very influential in Washington. It may even be that Jewish voters make or break a President. The real reason is more likely to be that President Obama is displaying amazing moral cowardice with no substantial legacy to be left behind after he departs his weak and ineffective Presidency.
Indeed, as I write this piece, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people suffering under their giant bully of a neighbour. I agree with NATO that Russia’s behaviour violates every principle of the United Nations. I agree with the British Government and the US President in condemning Russia.
What sickens me to the point of despair is the fact that Israel had done the same and infinitely worse to Palestinians without a murmur from those very same representatives of freedom, democracy, decency, compassion, Christianity… This conspiracy of silence is absolutely terrifying to us Palestinians. What have we done to deserve this?
It is ironic that the only people who remotely understand and acknowledge the injustice done to Palestinians are Israelis who, as Jews, know about suffering yet, ironically, choose to impose it on another people in the name of their own redemption.
The Holocaust was an indescribable crime. It happened partly because the rest of the world looked the other way. Neither I nor my ancestors were responsible for it. The Europeans perpetrated it and we Palestinians are paying for it. That is patently wrong and unjust.
Many Israelis recognise this but their voices are drowned by extremists and by an indifferent and hypocritical Western World.
An American Jew, Michelle Cohen Corasanti, author of The Almond Tree, wrote a response to President Obama’s patronising and rather sickening Jerusalem speech. She started off by telling Obama that many Jews had forgotten their history. They had forgotten that the Nazis had told them evil was in their blood before they proceeded to steal their property, arrest them, ghettoise and kill them. She suggested that in order to do what Obama wanted and put herself in Palestinian shoes, all that had to happen was to remember recent Jewish past:
“These are the lessons the Holocaust taught me: We must never be bystanders to human suffering. “Never again” means never again for any people ever again. When the horrors of the Holocaust were uncovered, there was a need to find a place for the survivors to go. The west, didn’t want us so they were happy to give us Palestine. And they were happy the buy the fallacy that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”, and that we made the desert bloom. Let’s be honest, Palestine already had people, the Palestinians, and the vast majority of whom were not Jewish. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Acre, Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa and many more cities were already well-developed. These cities were made of stone and contained universities, hospitals, schools, tea houses and hotels. There were trains, sea ports and international trade and travel.
The desert we brought to bloom was the land on which we built Tel Aviv in 1909, and that’s it.”
She goes on to ask Obama to be honest and see the truth for what it is, “The Palestinians have paid the price for the Holocaust”.
The main Jewish tenet is one of not doing to others that which is hateful to a Jew. Michelle Cohen Corasanti quotes Rabbi Hillel as asserting this overriding moral principle at the heart of Judaism. It is also at the heart of Christianity – although listening to those Christians who support Israel would lead one to believe that Christ never made The Sermon on Mount since what has happened to the Palestinians would make Him weep. But then, those Christians have abused the message of both Old and New Testaments deplorably to justify every evil committed in the name of the faith that they pretend to have.
Michelle Cohen Corasanti went further and put herself in the shoes of a Palestinian in writing The Almond Tree using a Palestinian voice. ‘The Almond Tree’ became a powerful project for peace which had wide repercussions and involved many prominent American, Israelis and Palestinians.
Even warlike Israelis who caused us Palestinians a great deal of suffering accept that we were dispossessed:
“Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either.
Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.” Moshe Dayan, Haaretz, 4 April 1969.
There are many other Jews who speak in a similarly brave manner from Miko Peled to Illan Pappe to Noam Chomsky to Noam
Chayut (The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust) and many others.
These are the courageous people who give me some hope despite my deeply rooted sense of despair and outrage. Their voices may be largely drowned by the roar of warmongers, expansionists and rejectionists in both Israel and Palestine. But their message is uncompromising. What happened to us Palestinians was an injustice that should be rectified forthwith.
I have written extensively on the potential for peace between us Palestinians and Israelis.
This has subjected me to the most pernicious responses from both Israelis and Palestinians. To the Palestinians I am, at best, naïve, and, at worst, a traitor willing to sleep with the enemy. To the Israelis, I am, at best, a genuine chap who really does want peace, to, at worst, a manipulator trying to undermine Israel by clever means – “playing us at our game” as one Israel commentator wrote:
“You forget that we are masters at this game of obfuscating, cover ups, hand wringing and other such superb ploys that the West so readily believes partly because they are stupid and partly because they love Israel because it has helped them get rid of the hated Jews.” (Letter to the poet).
There is a great deal of truth in this last statement. Winston Churchill considered himself a Zionist without specifically being able to pinpoint where such a development came from: “I am a Zionist, let me make that clear. I was one of the original ones after The Balfour Declaration and I have worked faithfully for it” (Churchill speaking at the Washington Press Club, 1954).
He also said, rather significantly in defence of Jewish right to settle in Palestine:
I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of
America, or the black people of Australia. I do not think the Red Indians had any right to say, ‘The American Continent belongs to us and we are not going to have any of these European settlers coming in here’. They had not the right, nor had they the power. (Churchill giving evidence before the Palestine Royal Commission known as The Peel Commission, 1937).
Churchill put such a rationale within an argument of the supremacy of the white races over the indigenous ones:
I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place” (Ibid).
Yet Churchill did go on to warn that the creation of Israel would lead to decades of confrontation in the Middle East – clearly accepting that an injustice had been done to the Palestinians:
The position of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs [Palestinians] driven from their homes and existing precariously in the no-man’s-land created round Israel’s frontiers is cruel and dangerous (Churchill, Winston, The Second World War, Epilogue, 1957).
Of course, such contradictory utterances by Churchill must be put side by side with his bizarre reasoning for supporting the creation of the State of Israel.
In his article in The Illustrated Sunday Herald, February 8, 1920 ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People’, Churchill places the responsibility for Bolshevism on the shoulders of Russian Jews:
Some people like Jews and some do not; but no thoughtful man can doubt the fact that they are beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world. And it may well be that this same astounding race may at the present time be in the actual process of producing another system of morals and philosophy, as malevolent as Christianity was benevolent, which, if not arrested would shatter irretrievably all that Christianity has rendered possible. It would almost seem as if the gospel of Christ and the gospel of Antichrist were destined to originate among the same people; and that this mystic and mysterious race had been chosen for the supreme manifestations, both of the divine and the diabolical.
In order to resolve what Churchill perceived as the destabilising influence of the Jews, he ends his outrageously anti-Semitic article by suggesting that a Jewish State would resolve this difficult conundrum of a great people causing such damage in Russia – giving credence to the argument that Western support for Israel emanated more from wishing to be rid of their Jewish communities than it did from any sense of decency, humanity or empathy for a long suffering people:
Zionism offers the third sphere to the political conceptions of the Jewish race. In violent contrast to international communism, Zionism has already become a factor in the political convulsions of Russia, as a powerful competing influence in Bolshevik circles with the international communistic system.
Nothing could be more significant than the fury with which Trotsky has attacked the Zionists generally, and Dr. Weissmann in particular. The cruel penetration of his mind leaves him in no doubt that his schemes of a world-wide communistic State under Jewish domination are directly thwarted and hindered by this new ideal, which directs the energies and the hopes of Jews in every land towards a simpler, a truer, and a far more attainable goal. The struggle which is now beginning between the Zionist and Bolshevik Jews is little less than a struggle for the soul of the Jewish people.
I, as a Palestinian, have long ago come to conclusion that we had no allies, no friends and no sympathisers. We are invisible to the majority of the world. The Arab world has abandoned us utterly as it continues full time in that which it is best at: Inept governance, oppression, suppression of personal freedoms, self-destruction and obscurantism tinged with greed and the unthinking aping of everything that the West does regardless of its merits or otherwise. Israel sees us as irrelevant – at best a nuisance to its grand plan (“One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.” Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, New York Times, February 28, 1994). The West prefers not to discuss our predicament – it salves its conscience by creating United Nations organisations that feed and clothe Palestinian refugees all over the Arab world. The United Nations throws out endless Resolutions in our favour (including the Right of Return to Palestine and condemnation of Israel’s occupation) (“If the General Assembly were to vote by 121 votes to 1 in favour of “!srael” returning to the armistice line [pre-June 1967]
“Israel” would refuse to comply with the decision.” Abba Eban,
Israeli diplomat, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister, New York Times, June, 19, 1967). These Resolutions have all been utterly ignored by the Israel (with blind American support in every single case). We as a people are fragmented, divided and suspicious of each other. We are easily manipulated by host countries or by allegedly humane donors. We lack democratic institutions and have made an absolute art of missing opportunities. We lack any worthwhile leadership. Sadly, the list of negative qualities associated with our recent history is so very long.
What we do have and always have had are two qualities: A strong abiding love of Palestine which, after sixty seven years of oppression, dispossession and persecution we have not given up on. We are deeply rooted in the Palestinian landscape and always will be whatever horrors are imposed on us and perpetrated by Israel as it “modernises” our backward existence and distorts our environment into its current ugly state and whatever may be the shortcomings that we display in our own daily national life. Secondly, we are lovers of the word, hence our love of books, of education, of reading and of writing. We are not fighters. We are not cynics. We are not planners. We are not civilised or even pretend to be or even wish to be if the West is an example of civilisation. We are story tellers, artists and poets. We have a lust for life.
We wish to live in peace on our lands as we have done for hundreds of years. We, the gullible and simple ‘savages’ so abused by the Arabs, the Ottomans, the British, the Israelis, wish to return to our homes and to be left alone…
Our only weapon is the pen – now the keyboard as we become more and more ICT literate.
And being almost naturally literate in more than one way, we can write.
As I said at the beginning of this essay:
I can not and will not bear a gun.
I can not and will not hurt a fellow human being whatever s/he is or chooses to believe.
I deplore all violence and all acts of injustice.
So I draw out of its scabbard, not my sword, but my pen and I create little worlds of anger, hurt, upset, betrayal, love, friendship, peace and – most of all – forgiveness for pasts beyond our control any longer and coexistence for futures in our hands if only we would.
These are such poems. They help me cope with my tragic personal Diaspora in a cruel and indifferent world. Their kaleidoscopic words are my very Palestinian days connected each to each with abiding hope.