It’s been just over a week since my pro-Palestinian commentary was published in USA Today. I wasn’t sure what the readership reaction would be. Surely, the pro-Israeli forces would try to discredit me. A couple of the letters to the editor did just that. But the private e-mails and phone calls from total strangers said otherwise. Below is a taste of some of the memorable conversations and e-mails I’ve had.
There was Joe, the restaurant owner: “I’m proud to be Lebanese, I’m proud to be Christian, and I’m proud to be Arab. I’m sick of what the Israelis are doing to our people. You know, every time I try to get on the pro-Israeli Michael Savage show to talk about Palestinian rights, I get hung up on!” Joe went on to give me the phone number to see if my luck was any better.
There was Vince, the air force veteran and business owner: “I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a family to support. I might be jeopardizing my career just by calling you, but you need to know that a lot more of us support you than you think. People are too scared to say anything.” He then discussed the Israeli strike on the USS Liberty.
There was the Irish-American Catholic, Patrick, a retired fire officer who knew many of the firefighters killed at the World Trade Center: “Sherri, we all know what’s going on. Any one of us could have predicted 9/11 because of our foreign policy.” Patrick went on to discuss the follies of Zionism, as well as the inaccuracy of the famous slogan, “A Land Without People for a People Without a Land.”
There was the geologist and oil explorer, Lee: “In the 1970s, I worked in oil exploration in Indonesia. Americans were so welcome at that time. When I went back to Indonesia in the mid-80s, I met an Indonesian man who just glared at me. When I asked my friend why this man was glaring at me, he said, ‘It’s not you. He’s mad at your government for its policies in the Middle East.’
And there was Jack, the WWII veteran combatant who said, “I don’t know what the hell [pardon my vernacular] the Israelis are expecting the Palestinians to do when they have no army?!”
Jack went on to say, “They keep saying that Israel is our best ally in the Middle East. Well, we have fought in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War . . . I don’t recall Israel ever offering a squadron or any kind of medical assistance. But I do recall one Jonathon Pollard, who spied on our country!”
There were others like the ex-journalist of a prominent paper who is labeled by Jewish friends as “anti-Semitic” every time he criticizes Israeli policy, as well as the gentleman who thought that our policy makers could use more sobering information on the Middle East.
In each case, the person reiterated their support for Israel to exist, but that’s pretty much where it ended. Several voluntarily voiced their opposition to any strike on Iraq. Vince said, “Just who really benefits from any war on Iraq? Saddam isn’t doing anything to us. We’re just going to be doing Israel’s dirty work.”
What was particularly noteworthy to me was the fact that these individuals represented mainstream America. Republicans, Democrats, men, women, young, and old. They were good and patriotic Americans who were concerned for our government’s actions. And they defied the media coverage and polls that allege that Americans are homogenous in their thinking toward Israel and Palestine.
In fact, most articulated their distaste for Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights, as Jack pointed out, “There are a lot of us who see this issue as a matter of right and wrong. We see the wrongness of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.”
Yes, each one of these individuals was memorable in their own way. Some were even parent-like. When Patrick learned that I possessed seven rosaries, but did not pray the rosary as I should, he kindly advised, “Sherri, when you’re going through stress, just pray your beads. And watch your stress melt away.”
I looked up at my living room painting of “Our Lady of the Rosary” and smiled as he said this. It may be that the beads would help alleviate the stress. And yet, just knowing that there were so many who cared about my people melted away some of the anxiety from the last 22 months.
Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist and free lance journalist.