Our grandparents lost our real world 52 years ago. Now our dream world is being negotiated. The international community looks at this as a political dilemma, a historical and moral problem. To most of us Palestinians, it is our life and future in one single word.
Some of us departed in exile, and others had no other choice but to remain refugees. In so doing, all of us became sensitive to any action that might imply resettlement or change. For two generations, Palestinians have lived in misery, adhering to that required of one still seeking refuge.
For many Palestinians, refugee status is far more important than living a good standard of life. This is because being a refugee sustains a candle of hope-a hope that one day justice will be done. Those who have not lived in the West Bank or Gaza Strip cannot know what our days and nights are like. Americans and Europeans who come here are horrified when they see us pushed around or harassed at checkpoints, our homes demolished, our children killed. We lament that we see a power like the United States speaking for us-as if we don’t even exist-or hear a Zionist say he will never back down and that this land is all his because his God says so.
We marvel at the Zionists’ arrogant misperceptions that lead to “other destructive” behavior that kills and maims. But there are also some Palestinian leaders trying to take credit for and to invest in our victimization. They associate our continuation of our struggle with grants given from the Arab countries floating on the lakes of oil. They expose our painful wounds and our very private emotions to the media that keeps playing the tapes of violence and victimization on and on. It is one thing to raise the awareness to what is happening on the ground and it is another to brainwash your people and feed the conflict in order to catch up with the rights our leaders willingly gave away on the negotiating table. How can any of us survive that? Don’t we as a people realize what pawns we are in a game of States who care little about us as a nation? Do we not realize that in Silicone Valley or on the ski slopes at Vale or on the flowered streets of Lucerne or in the British parliament few are those who care about us? We ourselves are our only hope.
Betsy, my American friend, sent me this quote: “The 90 to 95 percent of humanity no longer living have made us who we are, but we may, and in some ways we must, ignore them if we are to find a way to make peace among all of us who share the planet now.” This is from The Life of the Cosmos, by Lee Smolin, a man whom she suggests has nothing whatsoever to do with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. His words caught my attention. I want to shake my people in Palestine. I want to say, “Get up and get going.” We have had enough already! Finally, the Israeli public-with its doves and hawks-made their choice and brought to their government the man who they believe “will bring stability to the region.” The Israeli democracy brought the hero of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres to the Prime Minister’s chair possibly because of his bloody history. One cannot help but wonder: “What about the Palestinian democracy?” The people who were “elected” 5 years ago are still in place in spite of all the dramatic changes in the political climes that required concomitant changes in our representation.
Instead of giving a chance for a change and asking for the participation of different people with different views, our leaders push for an immature peace deal whenever they find the ground shaking beneath them. What if a peace deal is finally signed? Will the Palestinians have a suddenly new and happy life? I don’t think so. First, our Palestinian government-to-be, in conjunction with the Israelis, will forget and dismiss all our shuhada’a (our national martyrs). Our kids with stones will be renamed as troublemakers and punished for their acts. Everyone will be shoved back into his or her place, and the deal will require the “cooperation” of the two partners in the eradication of “terrorism” to achieve “peace.”
Few will care that our martyrs and children were brought up believing that they could save Palestine with their lives and their stones. We will have peace for a time, but more than likely-as happens to most countries coming out of a war-it will be a corrupt peace that will crush the euphoria of freedom between the hammer of occupation and the anvil of autocracy. We will not be free, and to soothe our souls, we will again hark back to the past, to our pain, to our wrenching poverty, and to our anger. The Zionists have not been kind. How can a conqueror be kind? But what about our own leaders?
Why is it that we are expected to work without pay and eke out our lives with nothing but misery? Why is it that our children are brought up to be angry and at a moment’s notice be ready to fight for their rights and then, when the peace papers are once again in place, be punished because they did what was expected of them? Why is it that we Palestinians talk about development but put little or nothing into the education of our people? Instead, we go against all that is holy and moral and build a gambling casino in Jericho, ignoring the desperate needs of our developing nation.
How many Palestinian laborers are impatiently waiting for the political situation to settle down so that they can go work in 1948 Palestine-so-called Israel today-for their killers and conquerors? Where are the alternative Palestinian factories and institutions that are supposed to spare our laborers that kind of slavery and grant all of us a genuine feeling of independence? My questions are many, but the answers pale over the ugliness of the reality.
I lament that the world dismisses our refugees as not worthy of help. But in any case, we Palestinians should not mire ourselves into our own ruts. When I see problems within our struggling government, trying to survive under inhuman pressure with a great deal of the world watching and judging us, I am not alone in becoming critical and angry. Perhaps, I think, it is not our enemies alone who have put us where we are today, but some of us as well.
We’re dealing here with humanity, not destiny alone. We have to cope with those who conquer, those who steal, those who urge others on while watching from the safety of wealth and power. I’m sorry to be so negative, but I’m looking for the hope behind all the wrong and all that I see is that liberation starts from within. We carry emotional genes and we cannot live in this war-like atmosphere and not feel the pain of all those around us, but I know so many young Palestinians who try to leave the mourning behind and keep going. It is time that we Palestinians incorporate the take-charge-of-yourself spirit that freedom requires. It is time to stop wallowing and allowing actions that affected our grandparents and parents and are affecting us today to suppress us, rather than deciding to focus on our own lives and to move on in a reality of our own making.
Our challenge is to get up and to make life count for us in spite of everything. I will start with myself and work at it. I will do what I can to dispel the onus of patriarchy and racism and intolerable circumstances. I will work to rid ourselves of occupation and injustice, regardless of where it comes from. There is a use for anger, but it is not rage or self-pity. It is a channel that can bring forth the energy within that gives each of us an incentive for living. Such determination may cost estrangement from tradition, the loss of family or even a life, but, as we all know, the prize of freedom is worth it.
(Samah Jabr is a freelance writer and medical student in Jerusalem. This article was written with the assistance of Elizabeth Mayfield.)