The Great Escape

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After a sleepless night watching TV news, he said to his wife in the morning as she poured him some coffee, “have a seat. I have some ideas that I want to share with you. I could not sleep because of them last night.”

She asked him calmly, “I wanted to ask you why men consider it a weakness to seek affection. But tell me about the ideas that kept you from sleep.”

“Before I say any thing, I want to ask you about the bombing of Iraq.” He said.

Her reply was, “Like everybody, I felt anger and painful helplessness as I listened to the news. I think this is only a prologue to what will happen to Iraq. The state of the people in Iraq is not different from other Arab countries. They all live in large or small prisons. Each prison has its guards, who are in reality guarding themselves. Each of these people has an outside enemy they are fighting over borders, land, or water resources. Every one in those countries is exposed twice. The first is the ruling regime; and the second is the external enemy, both can reach and kill. They are secure prisons. But no one feels secure behind bars. No one knows what the charge against himher is, except maybe being a citizen in that particular country. No one can flee these prisons because they are the dear homeland. There are further restrictions of movement imposed by the rulers or, as is in our case, by Israel’s blockade and closure.

Sighing, he said, “Oh God! It is the painful truth that raises feelings of pity, depression, and pessimism.” 

She replied, “It is a complex trap. We participated in laying it through our silence or ignorance. I don’t blame men only despite the fact that they have controlled the reigns of power and oppression throughout history. Let it rest; and let us talk about the ideas that you had.”

With a surprised tone, he asked, “what do you mean by a complex trap?”

“It is a historic trap that is related to hereditary culture. For example, Arab regimes are based on traditional tribal order and customs, who make the head or leader a father to all and to each and every citizen. This father holds all the guns in one hand and the money in the other. He gives his bounties to those that pledge allegiance to him, and renders punishment on those that criticize or object. He is the one that leads to victory, and is also responsible for defeats. Before all else, he is the symbol of the tribe that people cannot live without. A safe example is Jamal Abdel Nasser. It is safer to talk about the dead in our Arab world. He was the symbol of Arab nationalism, Arab unity, and the liberator of the slaves. When he was defeated in 1967, everyone felt the catastrophe, and anger and blame was directed at him. This only lasted for a few days before the masses asked him not to resign. They wanted the return of the father, without whom the tribe cannot move. No body wanted to become an orphan.” 

She stopped and looked fondly at him, then said, “won’t you tell me about last night’s ideas?”

He replied with anticipation, “please continue about the trap.”

She continued after eyeing him seriously, “There is the issue of the inherent violence in our culture. Throughout the years, we have fixed in our memory and conscience the picture of a man taking up arms ready to kill to avenge his honor, religion, or country. Our men don’t seem to understand that peaceful resistance proved its worth in contemporary history since Ghandi’s victory in India, or the civil rights movement in the US, or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. We still think that the gun is the only method. We fire bullets in expression of anger that is rooted in us. But we do not ask about the effectiveness of these bullets. There is evidence that the bullets we are firing are harming us. We know that the world will listen to us if we have a movement based on peaceful resistance rather than bullets and proclamations of vengeance.”

He interrupted her with a question, “What do you want men to do?”

Maintaining her calm, she said, “Did you men ever think of stopping to work in Israeli settlements, which were built by Palestinian labor? I’ve heard that some Palestinians working in settlements laid roadblocks and even participated in the demolition of Palestinian homes. Stopping these actions is much easier than shooting bullets; and it is more effective. Did you ever think of playing Palestinian music or prayer calls in loudspeakers over settlements? Or surrounding settlements with a human ring without throwing one stone? I’ll go even further and call upon men to organize a demonstration where all guns are gathered in front of peace activists and human rights advocates from all over the world. Let us throw away the guns and say to them, ‘we do not want guns. We want freedom.’ This will be more effective than killing.”

Shocked, he asked, “Do you mean stopping the Intifada?”

Her firm reply was, “I told you that we fell in a complex trap. I am certain that the Israeli military establishment is planning against us and knows beforehand our reaction, exactly as one expects his opponent’s next move in chess. Their goal was for us to shoot bullets to scare the Israeli people and destroy the peace process. Simultaneously, they tell the world that Palestinians are more violent. This way they will continue to control us. Sharon’s rise to power started with his visit to Al-Aqsa. It was precisely planned to kill the worshippers and raise feelings of anger. People woke up to more tanks and deaths to escalate feelings of rage. This pushed us to “emotionally” shoot bullets. These bullets unified Israelis in rejecting peace and electing Sharon, who is now their symbol of the father that will protect his children.”

“How can we escape out of this trap?” he asked.

“We have to get rid of the external enemy and the continuous threat to our existence by restarting the peace process. I think the peace process needs an Israeli Sadat or Palestinian Ghandi to penetrate the barriers of fear and to stop the violence. In absence of these two, the alternative is a popular peace movement that is fully aware of the dangers of the escalation of violence. Hand in hand people will win their rights of free expression, democracy, and the rule of law.”

She stopped for a few seconds then said, “you did not tell me about your ideas.”

As if coming out of a trance, he said, “ideas? Oh, I forgot.”

(Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj is Human rights activist & Chairman of the board of Gaza Community Mental Health Program.)

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