Friday was the "Day of Rage" in Palestine. After the Friday prayer on the Harem al-Sharif, the masses went out into the street to burn the Israeli flag and chant pro-Palestinian slogans. But our freedom fighters were not alone. Demonstrations were held in many Arab and Islamic countries around the world. Even in America and European countries, Christian Arabs, Muslims and human rights interest groups protested against the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians.
As grateful as I am for the spontaneous humanitarian reaction of those who took a stand behalf of Palestinians, I am saddened by the Arabic regimes that banned anti-Israeli demonstrations and used violence to oppress those who echoed our painful cries.
In Egypt, students, given approval to demonstrate by university administrators, were stopped by civic police. Tear gas chased the students away or to waiting police and arrest. In Syria, Syrian riot police opened fire at protesters to prevent them from storming the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. Many Palestinian sympathizers were wounded or arrested. Last but not least, our neighbors in Amman and the Palestinian refugee camp Al-Baqa'a Refugee Camp, people demonstrated on our behalf. The result: one Palestinian refugee killed and many injured. The lucky ones were savagely beaten and arrested. It is apparent Jordanian soldiers had surrounded Al-Baqa'a with tanks the night before in anticipation of violence.
In Palestine, when a person is killed resisting the Israelis, he or she is considered a martyr. The man killed in the Al-Baqa'a Refugee Camp was dismissed as an unruly ruffian and nothing more. His name was not mentioned in the press and nobody condemned his murder. He acted on our behalf, but was nothing more to the press or government of Jordan than another troublesome Palestinian. He, however, died of double oppression. First, he was expelled from his homeland in Palestine; next, those who would rather not have him there at all murdered him for expressing his feelings about his displacement.
Although I live amid violence, I do not condone it here or anywhere. Still, oppressed people with little to lose in terms of their futures, economically or politically, are often ready to gain honor through martyrdom. That's what happens here. Beyond our land, most Arab monarchs and dictators do speak in our support, but talk is just about all they do. When their people want to speak through demonstration, this is disallowed. A group of three people together is considered a potential threat to Arab monarchists and royalty. Control is more important to a king than people's freedom to speak. Like most of the issues I address, even expressions of emotion born of political and economic frustration, are not black and white, but full of shades of gray. Violence and oppression must be stopped before harm comes to the innocent and protest must be allowed if Israeli oppression of Palestinians is ever to end.
What we Palestinians need are not demonstrations where the faithful die, but the financial and moral support that Zionists and world Jewry provides for Israel. One of the few positive things I have seen about the Zionist culture is that when revolt occurs or things sway against virtually any Israeli demand, a seemingly monolithic Jewish group from all the corners of the world comes to the defense. They come not with impotent violence delivered in such a way as to simply produce "martyrs", but with rhetoric and reason delivered right to the top. Insistent demands are made of high government officials. Americans of other faiths who reject Zionist offers of money, needed for political success, or pleas for support of legislation that will help Israel, often find themselves "out of office." Former Congressman Paul Findley, a friend of Palestinians, writes about this in his book, "They Dare To Speak Out."
Even among the weak, pressure is brought about through shunning and loud criticism. My American friend, who supports my writing from a far off corner of America, is dismissed by her Jewish friends as anti-Semitic. A Jewish professor tells her not to share pro-Palestinian ideas with him again and refuses to speak to her. A victim of the Holocaust who claims to support Palestinians wrote a passionate letter saying that my friend is full of misunderstanding and evil prerogatives.
In most religious teachings, the lives of God's people have great value. While Zionists use rhetoric, power, politics and religious teaching to achieve their ends, they do something that really makes a difference to Israel. They make sure that Israelis have weapons, superb education and medical care, and the opportunities of economic development, which seem basic to fulfilling life in our era.
Israel enjoys support from Jews everywhere. In virtually every Jewish community, congregations give money and demand money of one and all.
In Arab monarchies, governments are not elected. Kings decide what's right for all the people and life is worthy only if it serves the interest of the ruler. Even in Arab countries with elected officials, political domination overrides the rights of individuals to speak as they wish. Oppression is a tool of the powerful within our Arab societies as well as in Palestine.
I do not condone violence or oppression because I know that freedom and liberation starts from within. I ask that we Arabs, too, unite behind our martyrs and fighters. I want our people to live and to use their talents so that Arabs receive the recognition due us for successes we create ourselves. I want us to stand proud and to back that pride with the proof of accomplishment. We need a monolithic solidarity, not in death, but in life. Kings, rulers, "elected" officials of the Arab World, I ask in all humility that you come to our defense. If the Haram al-Sharif belongs to all Muslims, then show the world that you want the shrine and that you want Arab presence around it. Honor those who call for our freedom, even as you still a restless crowd. Give us our daily bread and lead us into a future.
(Samah Jabr is a freelance journalist and medical student in Jerusalem. This article was written in collaboration with Betsy Mayfield, a friend and supporter of Palestinian causes.)