I am a Palestinian and I am an American. But today, the title I
cherish most is that of a human being. Yesterday, I was supposed to
be in NY for a meeting. Instead, I sat red-eyed in front of my TV
screen in disbelieving horror. Treachery was engulfing innocent and
unsuspecting mothers, fathers, sons and daughters before my eyes.
Menacing clouds hovered above screaming souls desperately reaching
out of the windows of the World Trade Center. Some jumped.
It was too much to bear. I didn't even realize that my
four-year-old daughter was behind me watching a symbol of our
privilege collapse upon itself. "Why did that building fall down?"
she asked. Then the phone rang. Six hang ups in a row. Another
one: "die" said the voice at the other end. Shortly after, the local
newspaper called for a "reaction," the reporter wanted to know whom
did I think did it.
Reactions on TV from people across the country were similar. Many
echoed the sentiment of graffiti written in dust on a NY street:
"Kill Arabs." One C-SPAN caller recommended that we seek out Arabs
and Muslims wherever they are and bomb them. The outcry is for
vengeance. That is normal. I have seen and heard similar
sentiments from Palestinians whose sons and daughters are shelled,
shot or caught inside their homes while Israeli bulldozer rip
through them. And I have heard it from Israelis whose loved ones
were killed in acts of violence by Palestinians.
I have read calls to vengeance from Iraqis who have watched millions
of their children die of starvation, diseases of the dark ages and
strange cancers from radiation of bullet cases. The lifeless
people, airports and malls with which we are now faced have lasted
ten years in Iraq. These feelings of rage, despair, vulnerability,
I think, are the very feelings that helped create the rancid act we
I was appalled to see Palestinian children celebrating in the
streets, but I also know how deep and enduring has been their
suffering at the hands of Israel, the chief recipient of our money
and arms. I remember Qana, and how the world fell silent to protect
Israel and left them to sort through body parts for their loved
Yet despite the escalating aggression against them and the fingers
wagging in their faces, hundreds of Palestinians crammed into Gaza
hospital to donate blood for American victims. It seems cynical
that CNN did not show those images. Most of those people are
refugees and all of them have at one point or another been the
victims of aggression from weapons made in and supplied by the USA.
Most Palestinians interviewed reached through their pain to condemn
the act and expressed sorrow for the victims. "We know how they
feel," said one Palestinian, "we bury our dead day by day."
Today we are suffering the fear, insecurity and bloodshed that many
nations have been experiencing for decades. We can lash out indeed.
We can destroy Afghanistan. We can round up all Arabs and Muslims
in this country. We can follow Israel's example of extrajudicial
killings, as my local TV announcer hinted, or collective
imprisonment and aerial bombardment.
Perhaps we can step outside of our labels and pull together as human
beings, all of us, for the victims, whom I'm sure are as diverse as
America. Awful gut-wrenching stories are emerging. The little girl
who hasn't heard from either of her parents yet. The man who lost
his brother but isn't sure on which plane. The woman sifting
through rubble and tears looking for her fiancé. The wife who
pledged her love to her husband on a cellphone moments before
crashing into the Pentagon. The valiant firefighters who gave their
lives to save others. We are all touched, indeed shaken. We are
all horrified by our collective nightmare that came true.
Perhaps we can use our pain to understand the suffering of the world
around us, be it in Palestine, Rowanda, Vieques, Puerto Rico, Iraq
or Bosnia. I pray that we will reach beyond the pain to find the
stuff that will make us stronger and wiser. I pray that our leaders
will find the courage to reexamine our foreign policies and the use
of our weapons that shed innocent blood all over the world, in
corners where there are no cameras to capture the horror, which we
As I look to answer my daughter, I know we can make no sense of
this. But I pray that we can breathe reason through ominous clouds
of rage. "Something bad has happened," I say to her. "But you
needn't worry because you're perfectly safe." I pray that I am
correct and I pray for the parents and children who lost each other
yesterday. This day of endless grief will live until eternity. May
God touch all of humanity with his infinite Grace to come together
and not turn on one another.