From the other perspective

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Occupation Views: 890

It was 2:30 AM when my host in the Shatila refugee camp banged on my door. "Come quickly," she yelled. I had just showered and was ready to finish the night reading and writing. When I entered the living room, her husband and son were mesmerized in front of the television.

There was a problem in Gaza. An Israeli F-16 had demolished a residential building. From what we knew then, over ten people were killed, seven of them children. Concrete piles and rubble were everywhere. Some were draped with human flesh. Mothers frantically displayed photos of their children. One man stoically carried a moist red bone in each hand. He wanted to give the child a proper burial.

Every hour the body count rises. It is afternoon here in Shatila. The entire camp is depressed. Stores are closed. Everybody is in front of the television. What they see is gruesome.

These are the images we never see in America. Or maybe that's not entirely true. We see similar gruesome images of Israeli civilian victims killed by Palestinian violence. But we rarely see how Israeli terrorism destroys real people who feel pain like any other human. In America, after all, it might as well be anti-Semitic to suggest that Palestinians are human.

For if we construe them as human, we imply that they deserve human rights. If they deserve human rights, then nobody can accept their current living conditions. Israel is therefore implicated. And to implicate Israel, according to the new Zionist logic, is to admire Himmler. That's why it's easier for Israel and its cheerleaders simply to essentialize the Palestinian as terrorist or subhuman. There is only one type of humanity in most versions of Zionism.

I follow the news closely from here in Lebanon because as Palestinians like to say, they drink politics in their coffee. In Shatila, there is no need to beg for acceptance. There is no need to transmute into a slave and kiss someone's ass in order to receive his attention. Here, one can speak forthrightly.

I want Americans who support justice to also speak forthrightly. Israel is a violent colonial nation. Say it often. Say it loudly. Say it even if nobody listens. Say it so we can make Palestinians human. If Palestinians are human, Israel will dissolve beneath its inherent racism.

I've learned lots about the political situation during my two months in Shatila. I am stricken most by the extent to which pro-justice commentators in the United States alter their discourse in order to conform to dominant conventions and popular expectations. It's a huge problem because it indicates that the speakers are more interested in appeasement or self-promotion than independence and empowerment. People in Shatila often ask me why their friends in America stay silent or speak weakly. I'm never sure what to tell them. I'm writing this column in order to pose that question.

Why are Palestinians always made to justify their behavior? The world should justify itself to the Palestinians.

Why do we spend so much time begging Americans to hear our stories when the United States proudly bankrolls the ethnic cleansing that underlines our narratives? They should beg the Palestinians to forgive them.

Most important, we should all know that we are human. When we operate with this assumption, there is never reason to play slave to anybody's sensibilities. And there is no reason to apologize to Israel. Let's live with dignity and wait for them to grovel because they destroyed an entire society. Let's quit speaking from a position of powerlessness and learn to express the other perspective.

The possibilities are endless. We might begin by noting that Israel's behavior is brutal. It is unconscionable. It is unacceptable. It is illegal. Say it even if the newspaper rejects it. Say it even if your friends are disappointed. Say it even if it never makes you famous.

Somebody needs to say it, because while Palestine's American friends collect credentials for being responsible, Palestine stinks of dead children.

And the Palestinians on whose behalf they speak resent them for acquiescing to ethnic cleansing.

I have spent much of my adult life around Palestinians. I therefore want to set the record straight in contrast to stereotype and conventional wisdom: Palestinians want peace. They have suffered tremendously and desire a life free of poverty and warfare. They will happily accept peace as soon as Israel ceases to steal land, destroy homes, and murder children. They will offer their hands when Israel stops bulldozing crops and building settlements. They will act humane when they are considered human.

Israel's supporters can delude themselves with arguments about "terrorism" until the word replaces "Palestinian." Nothing will absolve their guilt but justice. They need their delusion. They deserve how history will perceive it. When we discuss the Middle East, it is important to remember that their neurosis is not our problem.

I finally went to sleep last night at 6:00 AM. Before I left I saw the corpse of a two-month-old baby. CNN won't ever air the footage. A man carried the baby by his wrists. His head bobbled lifelessly with each footstep. Streams of blood covered his body. I realized then that the child was the terrorist Israel fears: a boy who would have grown up Palestinian.

Steven Salaita is completing an English doctorate at the University of Oklahoma, with emphasis on Native, Palestinian, and Arab American literatures. A West Virginian with Palestinian and Jordanian parents, he splits his time between the United States and the Middle East. He encourages your comments: [email protected]


  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Occupation
Views: 890

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Older Comments:
Selamu aleykum,
This is a great article; I admire the writer's courage to tell the TRUTH when everyone else is afraid to say it!

Fair insights. Ultimately, the Muslims have to be on the side of right, not just this or that side. I see more and more nonMuslims seeking the side of right. Is it right for Israeli soldiers to shoot and kill children? Is it right to just bomb villages regardless of "collateral damage?"
I appreciate this author's insights, however I fear they bear no weight in the scheme of politics, only in the realm of what is right and what is wrong.

Today on one American television network, a reporter asked an Arab-American commentator if he had celebrated the recent bombing at Hebrew University. What an insult to ask such an ignorant and cruel question, and the Arab commentator responded likewise. Americans absolutely refuse to grant Palestinians the human qualities of compassion and pain. The only people celebrating this latest attack on innocent Jews are Hamas and the Likud party. The latter now having a pretext to reinvade the occupied territories and restore historic Judaiha, an subtle and absurd campaign based on a bogus claim written in a 3,000 year old book.