A Palestinian’s Point of View: Reflection on Easter Sunday, 2001?

We live in the context of nature. But, we have at least two gifts that the other species do not have. One is the power of reason; the other is recognition that we can choose to love. Those two talents set us apart from other animals and make us who we are. Our DNA structure, the map that leads us to understand ourselves, is so similar to the genetic layout of other species, animals and even the plants, that we are chagrined to realize how very close to everything else in nature human beings are. We are uniquely human only through a very few twists in the coils of our genes.

Increasingly, as understanding of the world we live in is revealed to us, we realize our connection to everything and every being on our globe. We are here together, like it or not. And like it or not, we are not making a-very-good-go-of-it on God’s holy ground.

This story will go to print on Easter, the Christian day of redemption and hope. It may be read by those of us not filled with hope as we live in the turmoil of another catastrophe, as we say in Arabic, our “nakba.” The Zionists armed to bombard Palestine with another “nakba” may read what I have to say at the end of their Passover’s reverent prayer or during a dirge of despair about the holocaust visited upon the Jewish people in 1940s Germany.

Christians in America may see the article soon after they celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ over death. How will they react, I wonder? Will the sermons they hear on Easter Sunday speak only of the redemption of heaven and fail to acknowledge that redemption on earth is missing in the hell their so called Holy Land has become? My friend in America worries that many Christian preachers will shy away from mentioning what is happening to Palestinians in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in Nazareth, in The Galilee. If they choose not to speak out in defense of Palestinian Muslims or, even, their own Christian Palestinian sisters and brothers, it will be because they do not want to be labeled anti-Jewish. So, they will be silent. They will worry that any reference indicating pity for Palestinians will be construed as politically incorrect. They will fret about putting their jobs on the line or allowing their communities to question their “right thinking” and character. Like Peter, they may deny our pain saying, “Evil exists everywhere and genocide is not just in Palestine.” Like the disciples they will be asleep in their pulpits when we suffer yet another raid or attack. They will simply look the other way.

And, so, like animals who do not worry about their peers around the globe because they do not have the intellect to know, people who live far from the war around us will dismiss our suffering as not being their concern. Unfortunately, these people do have the intellect to know. They make the choice to ignore their own culpability in our horror, because they fail to understand the most basic of religious teachings everywhere and anywhere: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you?

There are many Americans who may read my story and lament that it is one-sided. It is! I only know what I experience. The Christian ministers are correct: violence and hate do penetrate places all over our globe. Does that make it right anywhere? Does it mean less because it’s happening in Palestine? Are we cut off from Christian love and Muslim reverence and Jewish moral values because we just happen to live in this corner of the globe? Readers may say, “No,” but it doesn’t feel that way to me and to those around me. All we feel is oppression and disregard and the stigma of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Intellectually, I know that we Palestinians are not alone. Where in the world is there peace today? Is it in America where African-Americans can still be dragged behind cars until dead or immigrants maligned as unwelcome talent, even in places where they are the only ones willing to do unpleasant work? Can one be safe in Ireland where the Catholics war against the Protestants and vice versa for some unremembered treason one side or the other committed before anyone living today was born? Dare we venture to Southeast Asia, where wars and rumors of wars seem endless? What about China or Russia– Africa or South America? Where in the world are we homo sapiens doing to each other as we would like others to do to us? How God must be weeping!

We are not animals. We do not eat each other for dinner out of necessity. We know what we’re doing and why? We live in an overpopulated world which we are told by generations of economists require pestilence and war to keep our numbers down. But, we know that we have the gifts of reason, the ability to choose love, and the knowledge to control ourselves today without murder, without hate, without tribalism that takes without giving. Why aren’t we using the intelligence God has given us? How do we blame God for the evil we do to each other? How dare we?

I write this because living amid war I see my fellow human beings turn into animals, fighting for life or fighting to take-away life. I see those who claim, regardless of their current family histories, to come from the Biblical lineage of Isaac with the right and purpose of crushing us into oblivion. I see my people being chased down, disparaged, misunderstood, hated and feared. I read the words of an important Jewish rabbi who told his flock in a Passover charge that “God will take deadly revenge against Arabs, will wipe out their seed, will annihilate them and defeat them and eliminate them from this world.” Why? Is it because we are not Jewish, but live in the place that Zionists, certainly not all Jewish peoples, have decided is their home? Is it because my people try to protect what is ours, the land and homes we’ve lived in for generations?

The other night, Americans were treated to a special showing of the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, “Jesus Christ Super Star.” To some of the Muslims watching, the show was blasphemous, disrespectful; to some Christians, the show as stunning in violence, fear and hate made no less acceptable when set to song. One of my friends lamented that amid all the generic costumes “none clearly Roman, Jewish, Christian” only Arabs were identifiable. When Jesus entered the temple to find people using the sanctuary for a display of sheer evil, these characters were dressed in costumes clearly recognizable as stereo-typical Palestinians, Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians–Arabs. Men wore current era red and black “khaffias” and women wore veils on their faces, but shamelessly little else. The design insults the Arab. How could the designer of those costumes take such care to make sure that no one watching could construe any of the evil people as being Christian or Jewish or Western? How could the actor playing Jesus be the only blond Nordic type in the cast? How could the most evil of evil be recognizably Arab? Was it to imply that the Arabs killed Jesus absolving Jew, Christian, Roman, the rest of humanity of the deed? My friend thought the show was powerful, the music alive to the reality of the suffering of God and man, but the suggestive costumes, glistening with beads of prejudice desiccated the goodness the show was meant to impart. It served to give Americans a reason to hate and to justify acceptance of the evil perpetuated against Palestinians, now.

Religion is very much a part of the political game of state in Palestine/Israel. Make no mistake. Religion provides us with our moral values and guides us into the richness of our being. Given, however, the freedom of thought God has graciously bestowed upon us, religion has the potential to be twisted every-which-way including an excuse for evil. God allows us to make our own definitions.

Christian children learn to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Really, I have to ask? Doesn’t Jesus love me, too? Our book, the Quran, says so. What’s missing here?

What about the Torah with their 613 Mitzvot? I got a list of those rules and there I saw it written, Mitzvot 1,2, 3 and 4. “Know there is God,” “Don’t believe in any other,” “Know that He is One,” “Love Him.” We Muslims and Christians believe this, too. Are we so very different, then?

There’s more. Mitzvot 15: “Don’t hate your brothers.” I wonder, does that include half-brothers, the sons of Abraham and Hagar or just the sons of Abraham and Sarah? Mitzvot 20: “don’t take revenge,” Mitzvot 18: “don’t oppress the weak.” I’ve heard this kind of moral reasoning spoken by Christian Palestinians and Western peoples of all kinds including many, many people of Jewish faith. Who are the weak? Upon whom is revenge to be taken?

Where do we fit in the message of these ancient moral guidelines?

Here’s the crux of the matter as I see it every time I experience Israeli injustice. Whenever one group or another decides to assert themselves as the only “right thinking” people on earth or set themselves apart from the rest of the human family because of race, religion, resources or sex, some very great wrongs result.

Consider these Mitzvot. Mitzvot 596: “Destroy seven Canaanite nations,” Mitzvot 597: “Don’t let any one of them live,” Mitzvot 598: “Blot out the seed of Amalek.” Is that the Palestinians? Is it I? Are we the Canaanites or the seed of Amalek? Is this the justification of what is happening to us? Do we see still ourselves as separate, as Hebrew or Canaanite; as the children of Abraham and Sarah or of Abraham and Hagar? Haven’t we come to realize the commonality of our genetic heritage?

Do you not see the discrepancies, my Jewish brothers and sisters? Do the Golden Rule ideas only apply to those in your perceived modern tribe? Do only the murderous rules apply to us?

This is the time of remembrance of the Nakba of 1948; it is the time of remembrance of the Holocaust of the early 1940s. It is the time of Christians’ vision of redemption. Does all this recalling mean nothing in terms of how we treat each other. When will humanity recognize their obligation to love, to care, to cease tribalism and obsession with the childish disposition of taking anything regardless of the harm such selfishness does to others? When will our Jewish fellow human beings come to the realization that if God chose them it was to be an example of goodness and not to be destructive agents of other peoples also made in God’s image and by his hand? I use the word Jewish here, not just the politically correct label Zionist. Is it not the friends of Israel–those of Jewish faith in America and those non-Jews who shamed by their lack of reaction to the holocaust–support Zionism and ignore how this idea ravages Palestinians?

Is it not the friends-of-Israel-lobby, now quietly influencing as many as 300 American representatives on America’s Capitol Hill, to ask the United States to budget $800 million in supplemental assistance for Israel so that Israel can continue to crush more “evil” Palestinians? Is it not the friends-of-Israel who have given Zionists their power? I do not write this in hatred or to stir hatred. I write it because I want to survive. I am only doing what is natural.

We are called “terrorists.” Why? AIPAC, the Jewish lobby in the United States, tells American friends of Israel that we “Palestinians have leveled 6,000 terrorist attacks against Israelis since October 2000.” What 6,000 attacks? Are they speaking of 12-year-old-boys throwing rocks at American made tanks? Did 6,000 suicide bombers blow things up? Where are the reality-checks our closely knit world should provide?

I think as a doctor and, so amid my nightmare of thoughts about my family and my people, return to a sense of reason learned through the study of modern medicine. Science is important to me. I enjoy the process of seeing that every question answered leads to another question asked. Religion is important to me, as well. In religion, too, I ask questions as I seek my own relationship to the entity so much greater than myself. Science and religion tell me that change is ongoing and inevitable. Yet, all I see around me is primitive reaction that seems reminiscent of ages past. I cannot help but wonder what is changing. We have science to give us understanding; religion to tell us how to behave. What are we doing with these disciplines, particularly with religion? Ask yourself, “What political entity on earth today behaves in a manner Moses, Jesus or Mohammad would find acceptable? What nation believes in doing unto others as it would have done to it? Instead, we use our religions to justify acts of violence and evil. We do not get the point that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed set before us: Do to each other what you would have done to you. That piece of information, advice, a moral pronouncement, see it as you will, seems lost in the mingling of greed and hatred born from fear of our differences. We are changing. We know how very much alike we really are. When are we going to connect through our sameness and change our morality to nurture our planet and each other and to simply do what we all say we believe? When will we begin to do unto each other what we wish done to us? Next Easter, maybe?

(Samah Jabr is a freelance writer and medical student in Jerusalem. This article was written with the assistance of Elizabeth Mayfield.)

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