Pondering on our problems in the Holy Land, my thoughts were broken off when I heard news that America had bombed Iraq for what seemed to be a trumped-up excuse. The sounds of missiles and the odor of smoke from building-hitting shells filled my memory when I read the news. Why is the American government doing this now, I thought, right at time when they talk day and night about helping make peace in the Middle East? I glanced again at the newspaper. “Americans bomb Iraq to make the world a more peaceful place” was the statement credited to President Bush as a rationale for this preemptive strike against Iraq. I sighed when I read that civilians were killed and injured.
Far away in Iowa, my American friend, Betsy, lazed her way to the door to get the morning’s newspaper. On first glance she saw a bottom of the page announcement, not a bold headline, sneaking in news to tell Americans that their country and ally Great Britain had once again preemptively bombed Iraq. Betsy tells me that she shook her head as she was once again reminded how her country has acted vindictively.
Our politics of power win over the strength of our moral beliefs, said Betsy. What if instead of bombs that destroy more of a world ruled by a man we do not like, we lifted the sanctions that kill Iraqi people who are in no real way our enemies? Wouldn’t that make the world a more peaceful place, indeed? But, no, instead the American government does the expected. Instead, their actions reflected a decision to once again stir the pot of hat. As a Palestinian advocate, Betsy often faces rebuff when she talks about Arab peoples or Palestinians or Islam. She has been labeled as a well-known disseminator of anti-Jewish propaganda and other forms of hate speech, because she tries to share our perspective with people who do not know us. Like the words above, her willingness to speak about the “other” people like me, and to put her point-of-view in the context of morality, leaves her an easy mark for those who truly would like to fuel hatred and create enemies where they may very well be none at all.
“There will always be war as long as there are Palestinians,” one woman told her. Where is Christian love in such a statement? “I can’t be like you and feel comfortable with people who do not share my religious views,” said another. “If Muslims cannot accept Jesus as the son of God and as a personal savior, they are just evil.” Where is humanistic reason in a remark like this?
“Arabs are just terrorists, terrorists, terrorists,” a man shouted in her face after a lecture at Iowa State University by Zionist speaker, Shlomo Gazit. “Don’t you remember the Holocaust, Holocaust, Holocaust?” The man continued to repeat the phrase until a security man took him by the arm and said, “That’s enough.” Where is the moral responsiveness of Nuremberg? How can memory of the great wrong of the Holocaust justify the oppression done to us? A wrong for a wrong- where does that come from, the Torah, Bible or Quran? Is that the overlying single message our religions teach? Yet, here again welcoming Betsy was news of U.S. actions, which was not what Jesus or those at Nuremberg who condemned the Holocaust would suggest. Preemptive strikes by Americans and Brits told her as well as the rest of us, that military might makes rights and that the way to a peaceful world is to kill and kill and kill.
In Jerusalem, the famous shining city on the hill of peace and love is a focus of world attention and concern. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli leader who designed and implemented the massacres of approximately 2000 Palestinian refugees, some Christian and some Muslim in Sabra and Shatilla, now looks at us with the scorn of a bully. He knows who will back him when he says that all Jerusalem belongs to his people and that no Arab may return to his or her home. If Zion is America, then the shining city must be Washington or is it the reverse? The connection is that strong. Imagine how it feels to me, especially as I sit in my home, because of the siege imposed on us, unable to have any kind of life made rich by work and freedom to be all I can be. I have to ask, however, people of America, how do you expect young people in the Middle East, like me to feel and to react? When we defend our homeland from attack from the West, we are terrorists, not warriors, not freedom fighters, not democrats, but evil infidels. Our efforts to counteract destruction of our culture and our homeland and to stop violence against us are referred to in the Western press as “terrorist attacks”. Do you fault us for trying to hold our own? Is our story a new one or a reenactment of the history of war and oppression? Do we really need to kill each other to spread the wealth of our various civilizations? After all, have we not evolved beyond that through education, travel and the Internet with its fast and far reaching spread of information?
During the sad events of blood shedding in my region a Palestinian from Gaza drove his bus at a bunch of Israeli soldiers. 6 members of Israeli military were killed along with one civilian unfortunate enough to be with these men of war. The news that we evil Palestinians have again used violence circles the globe. Few in America get daily reports, even on page 10 of their newspapers and never on page one, about the nightly bombings from low flying Apache helicopters that rain missiles down on Gaza, Ramallah, and Nablus. Few news reports mention that this night’s shelling demolished homes of ordinary citizens, killing them as they slept in their beds. Few understand the meaning of Israeli imposed closure during which medical support is halted, schools are closed and starvation creeps in for the thousands who are unable to get to the market.
We become ill, we cannot use our time productively, and we begin to starve. This is the gift of democracy to Palestinian people in the Middle East. This is the reward of having American supported Westernization on our doorsteps. How would you react, my American friends? Are you so uniquely satisfied with your own peace that you cannot wish us ours? Instead, you enable the Israelis to kill our people while you watch from the safety across an ocean. You encourage assassination of leaders like Masoud Aiiad. Your news reports justify murder as ultimate justice leveled on a Hizbullah terrorist and drug dealer. Unfortunately, there is no trial. There is no Nuremberg. I am a Palestinian medical student committed to saving life and sparing bloodshed, no matter whose life or blood is at stake. I come from a family of academics with roots in the now destroyed olive groves of Palestine. My family and I are not unique in our world. Most of the Palestinians are like us, we work hard, we love our families, and we want to go to work, to come home to a fine dinner and to enjoy the company of our beloved ones and to be cozy in our houses. We want a life, not death. We are not warriors or advocates of violence. But, as we struggle to survive in the place where we were born with little chance of leaving even if we want to, we know only violence that comes from you and your Israeli allies to us. We know the horror of invasion and the suffering of oppression. Still, you bomb Iraq to warn us with the rest of the Arab world, your enemies, and to display once again your power over us. Then, you encourage your people to call us “terrorists”, and your portray our religion, Islam, as a “great evil” in the world today, “the new Communism”, never mind that our moral premises are mostly the same as those of our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters.
You have the military might, you have your General Sharon looking us in the eye, and you know enough of fear to issue preemptive strikes. But, wait, Americans, what if you did unto us what you would have us do unto you. Do you fear the outcome of simply following in the footsteps of the morality that our monotheistic religions teach? This may seem like a rambling article full of anger; instead, it’s a passionate plea for understanding. Tell me, American public, can you tell the difference? And if you do understand, can you take your reason to the gates of your shining city on the hill and make your voices heard?
(Samah Jabr is a freelance writer and medical student in Jerusalem. This article was written with the assistance of Elizabeth Mayfield.)