|Posted on September 17, 2012 at 11:20 AM|
Or, Why I Do What I Do
Of all of the forces that make for a better world, none is so indispensable, none so powerful as hope. ~Charles Sawy
I can't know the hell you love ~ But I know you've had enough*
Do I have your attention? Yes, I hate Palestine. Or, more accurately I hate the other Palestine. Like the bad twin in a bad sci-fi thriller. The real Palestine still exists, but slowly the black plague of the occupation is swallowing everything good and true. There is a tendency among internationals to gloss over this fact and say things about the lovely and warm people persevering through enormous hardship (which is all true). However, this is a one-dimensional portrait and certainly not fair to the Palestinians and the multidimensional complexity that is Palestine today. But we want to only see those things that seem to make the struggle legitimate. But the truth is if our struggle is legitimate, then it doesn’t matter how good and pure the Palestinian heart is…if they were the worst people on earth (which of course is not true, they most defiantly are not bad people - just people like me and you, dealing with life) they still would not deserve this occupation.
Look into my eyes with all your hate and scorn ~ But don't you give me a reason to mourn
I admit I was one of those internationals. We come for a short time, leave, tell our stories and hope we have done some good. These are important things, I do not discount the necessity of those experiences in telling the world what is happening there. And I know the work is appreciated. But the undercurrent is there – it cannot be denied. We are only visitors, and there is a certain kind of resentment for the “drive by” nature of what we do, which comes from the belief that we can never truly understand and then we leave.
What has life done to you? ~ There's more to life then what makes you cry
Sure the passport gives some sort of Teflon coating to our time there and protects us some. But not as much as many think. Plus, it is a special torment to care so much and knowing at the same time I am somehow separate from their experience, like I cannot make a difference, like seeing a crying child you cannot reach...but I have to try every day. So many Palestinians are giving up and the only reason I can give to defy that urge is that it is the right thing to do. But then again, who am I to say?
Sometimes I have to admit to a deafening frustration, like howling at the wind. If they are not willing to stay and fight…why should I? Recently a Palestinian friend asked me “Why do you do what you do for the Palestinians, when my people, we eat each other?” I could only answer “because I have to”.
Living in Palestine for nine months last year (and preparing to return in a few days) showed me a Palestine I didn’t know before. Like at the end of my trip when I was "stolen" by two young men who only saw an easy way to make a buck, rather than a human being there to help. This place became my life. And the lives of the people I came to care about on a much deeper level became connected to mine. The man that was besieged by so many troubles I could not help but think of the story of Job in the Bible. I know if I cannot figure out an answer to his question “why is this happening to me”, the level of his despair is unfathomable. Can he be blamed for making poor choices and giving in to an easy answer handed to him by those that that think extremism is the only way out? No. Or the young man that chose to trust his life to someone he had known mere weeks for an easy way out of Palestine - A way that required him to lie, and cheat. Certainly understandable, but like all dark things do, it makes him see those things in others, and now he says he doesn’t trust anyone. I love these people and their pain weighs heavy on me. It is no longer a philosophical argument – it is real life and it breaks my heart.
I'll remove the crown of sorrow with which you have been adorned ~ But don't you give me a reason to mourn
But being understood does not make a thing less wrong. There are no easy answers, no shortcuts in this life. You have to do the work - there is no other way. As soon as you say yes to that shiny apple (the promise of an easy solution) that the occupation makes look so delicious, you lose a little of your soul; and the darkness that comes from that is like cancer...it creeps and creeps until it is all you are. How do you know it is the wrong way? Easy - if you have to sacrifice any of those values you know are right and true; if you have to lie, cheat, or hurt someone, it is time to STOP, rethink, regroup there is most definitely a better way. Maybe not as quick, but certainly better and more rewarding because you did it the right way. But in the Palestine that the occupation has wrought, reality is a fun house mirror…distorted and insane.
The good news - every moment is another chance to defy the cancer, to stand up, step back,, throw that apple away, do it over.
And by the way...I do still love Palestine.
All you ever wanted was someone to run to ~ I won’t say goodbye ~ But don't you give me a reason to mourn
* Lyrics adapted from "Reason to Mourn" by Ben Harper
**Editorial note: When I wrote this post i knew it I was writing something that could be controversial. I knew that some would not read it with the correct eye for understanding. I did not, however, anticipate how someone might use it. Perhaps I should have, but I tend to not see these things. Because of this, I will add some addtional commentary to what was always intended to be a two part series, rather than writng a separate post. I will also say that before posting this entry I did ask several Palestinian friends to review the post. They made a couple of suggestions, but did not find it objectionable (some even commented "I hate Palestione too!). Once I am settled back into life in Palestine, I will highlight the stories of some of the amazing people I know that do continue to challenge the occupation, inspite of incredible hardship - refusing to yield to the forces that would cleanse Palestine of it's soul, it's people.
So in the interest of clarity, I want to say that this post is not intended to cast Palestinians as inherently bad. Nor are they inherently good. They are human...just like the rest of the world, there is good and bad . To caste them as either saint or villian, is way too simplistic. My observations and experiences that inspired this post are that the occupation has created a false reality - a parrellel universe where people make choices, understandable choices, for immediate needs. In the process they lose sight of the long-term goal - a free Palestine. Again, understandable. They have been betrayed by Palestine - as represented by the Palestinian Authority, over and over again.
Of course many lose hope, but many do not. I do not begin to know what makes one go this direction and the other go that direction; why one simply wants to leave no matter the price (and that is the issue, not leaving in of itself), when another will stay in the face of equally high stakes,
"No freedom ,Checkpoints,Walls ,Settlements ,Occupation everywhere ,No water ,No work ,But i still love Palestine and you the most beautiful place i have seen ever, my life for you ." ~ A.H. [a young Palestinian who makes his life's work documenting through photos, the occupation and his village's resistance to it.]
Last year, many times, I was told by Palestinians "do not trust my people". Some went even farther. So when a Palestinan man is struggling to make sense of the misery he sees as his life, and he sees the people that are suposed to be his champions, betraying his ideals for personal gain, it is understandable that he would say, why not me? And if the opportunity comes along to change that lot, why not? But, I grew up to believe that you can never triumph over the evil in this world, by surrendering to it's power. And that is why I go. That is why I stay. That is why I do what I do.
|Posted on July 26, 2012 at 2:05 PM|
When was the last time you thought those words….even maybe said them aloud? Perhaps you were on a beach somewhere enjoying a cold one while the warm breeze ruffled through your hair. Or maybe you were at the wedding of a dear friend or relative, witnessing a partnership's new beginning. Was it during your last escape to the “cottage up-north”? Even if you do not have those memories, we all know and aspire to them – the “Good Life”. And everyone associates those words “this is the life”, with that feeling of peace, and freedom that we are supposed to feel when we have arrived at “the good life”. Everyone knows what those words mean. Even if you live in poverty and struggle for your daily bread, when you hear those words, you understand.
But what if you not only did not experience the good life yourself, but you never saw it around you either? What if your daily struggle was not only your struggle, and not just the struggle of your relatives and your neighbors? What if, all around you, all you saw was hardship? Maybe in some distant place you dreamed of a different life. Maybe occasionally you see glimpses “over there” and know things are different someplace else. But you understand this is your life, the life of your grandparents, and the life that will be for your children? What would the words “this is the life” mean to you then?
In Palestine I heard these words many times; usually in response to my questioning of some (in my American perspective) systemic craziness. In my time there I came to know and care about many people. All of them have unique stories, but they are all united by a theme of struggle. Often the struggle, to me, seemed beyond comprehension. “What do you mean there is no help from the government to fix the water pipes?!” [said by me after watching my neighbor tear up the road to fix a pipe himself]. “Ahhh, this is the life”, was the response.
There is a very American trait to want to make sense of the nonsensical. For people in general this is a facility of the mind – we fill in the pieces to “see” the whole picture. Many optical illusions are based on this truth. However, the degree to which we will go in our mental perceptions of events to create “sense” of them, I think, is uniquely American. Perhaps it is a product of our history, but Americans cannot tolerate nonsense. There must be a reasonable explanation for everything, even the unreasonable.
Sometimes I think it would be easier for Americans to understand the struggle in Palestine if it were simply a matter of poverty. Everyone knows what to feel when they see pictures from Africa illustrating the devastation created by a conspiracy of poverty and natural (and man-made) disasters. It makes sense. There is no question of the response demanded by seeing those photos. But how do you illustrate the degradation of spirit created by occupation? How can you understand “why” an Israeli settler would beat up a young Palestinian shepherd who was just tending his flock? You can’t make sense of it, so we create context where there is none – he must have thrown rocks at the settler – yes. that must be it – there has to be a reason for the unreasonable.
But while we try to make sense of it all, to put Palestine and Palestinians into boxes of reasonableness, they go on with their lives. If the government doesn’t fix the water pipes, you fix them yourself. If the checkpoint is closed, you find a path around it to get to school. If you want to pray in the mosque, you don’t wear a belt so you can get through the metal detector easier (which was set up at the entrance to the mosque after an American Jew took in an automatic weapon killed 29 people and wounded 125 at prayer - how do you make that make sense?). You continue to live your life the only way you know how. This is “semud”, steadfastness – This is the life.