May we never, ever become like them

This morning another mosque was burned. This time it was located in a Palestinian village inside Israel, a novelty for Jewish extremists who usually target Palestinian villages in the West Bank. The mosque burning is just the last in a chain of “price tag” measures taken by bitter settlers who are angry at their government and of course at the Palestinians who are always the perfect scapegoat for their fury.

Burning mosques and copies of the Quran and scrawling offensive graffiti across Palestinian university walls and Palestinian homes are a few of the ways Jewish settlers have been waging their own war of attrition on the Palestinians –” wearing them down bit by bit, pushing them out inch by inch until one day the very ground they stand on has been pulled from beneath them. That is what the “price tag” policy is all about –” settlers say it is a way of taking revenge on the government for even considering the evacuation of minor settlement outposts (major settlement blocs are not even in the picture) but the ultimate goal is to wreak havoc in the lives of the Palestinians on whose land these settlers squat and to eventually drive them out.

What is even worse than burning down a mosque –” although this is atrocious and highly offensive to Muslim sensitivities –” is the abhorrent act of burning down olive trees. Over the past few months several hundred olive trees have either been cut down or set afire by rampant settlers descending on Palestinian farmland, armed and rabid and set out to do as much harm as possible.

This cuts to the bone for every Palestinian. Burning olive trees is almost sacrilegious, an act tantamount to murder. Olive trees are the soul of Palestine, the livelihood of thousands of farmers and the symbol of our homeland. It takes decades for a single tree to bear fruit, years of careful tending and pruning. The condition of a farmer’s olive tree is evidence of his skill at farming and a source of immense pride. So, when settlers decide it is their right and perhaps even duty to hack at these precious trees it stabs at the very heart of all that is Palestinian.

Some may say it is difficult to stay human in a reality that is so insanely inhuman. In Syria, a grieving mother of a 15-year old boy who was tortured, mutilated and killed by Syrian secret security forces tearfully says they will never be like the monsters. “Don’t they have children too?” she asks. But that is our moral duty as Palestinians and as people, to stay human and to never copy their ways.

This can be a challenge, one which we may fail at times. It is very tempting to stoop to the level of our tormenters with the urge to have them “taste their own medicine.” But it is an urge we must resist at all times because our humanity is what will legitimize our existence.

Israel today is slowly eroding from the inside and it is partially because there are settlers who draw no moral lines and a government which allows them to do so because it serves their long term goals. The Palestinians today are demanding a state of their own, one they rightfully deserve. Israel’s settlers are expected to fight this state tooth and nail because of some twisted and racist logic that says this land is for Jews only.

In this battle for our precious land on which our precious olive trees have grown for thousands of years, we Palestinians must maintain our humanity even when we fight hard. Because in the end, when the settlers are gone and the Palestinian flag flies freely, we want to be proud of what we achieved and how we achieved it.