Once upon a time, there was a little colony of beings living peacefully among themselves at the top of a rocky hill. Life at the summit was good, food and comfortable housing aplenty and few enemies. The population of this society was happy. They profited from being alone and all alike, each exactly like the other. Being sea anemones, this group had only nerve nets that allowed them to stretch and fetch, all the while clinging together. In their brainless state, all the sea anemones were “neophobians,” meaning they all feared change. This condition existed among the cloned citizens as it had for all time, being passed from one generation to the next via their DNA messenger cells. It was, evidently, a genetically-created means of protection.
Anemone neophobians were a bit like radically conservative folks today. They lived amidst their own past, present and future as if the progression of time had no power to influence them at all. But events were to prove them wrong. Not far away, another anemone society sprung up in the rocky cliff’s largest crevice. These beings were the progeny of the first group, children who had drifted away from home. They were still afraid of anything new and had clung together just as tightly as their parents had in the home they had left behind.
But after many years, the children of these anemone’s children vaguely began to be less afraid of change. And with that, some of those children left to seek more fertile territory. Oddly, unlike their forefathers, they grew eager to expand and to fill up the entire mountainside with their own selves, whom they now believed were superior. This group was warlike. They began to attack neighbouring colonies. As they did, they realized that some nations struck back immediately and with enough ferocity to keep them at bay. When this happened, the warriors moved on and peace resumed among those attacked. Other groups were more circumspect, pulling into themselves and sending out fighters only as needed. But against those who opposed them but did not manage to defeat them, the warriors kept pressing and pressing until they had totally destroyed all life in the area they desired. Then, they moved in and expanded their territory without restraint or opposition, until, that is, another warring group appeared.
On and on the wars went between those begotten by the many divisions. One group became more and more aggressive, another preemptive and a third ready and eager to fight back. A fourth integrated into the world of their conquerors, while another group became so powerful that its members attacked only when they were sure they could win. Truces occurred from time to time, but there was absolutely no possibility of peace among the colonies, all of whom (we must remember) had originally been born of the members of the first colony, once staunchly established peacefully at the top of the hill, but now completely gone.
The wars still continue among the brainless sea anemone societies. Sea anemones, bags of flesh and tentacles, act only through their nerves, a system that allows no possibility at all of intellect or thought. They reproduce by dividing themselves, which is not much fun, but does the job and fills the sea with identical members. And many anemones in the sea are able to sting another anemone to death.
Sea anemones, like human beings, send messages from one generation to another in a spiral notebook called DNA. The DNA, however, does not suggest carrying out complex systems of war on other colonies. It gives us the tools and instincts of defense, but we are not slaves to these. We also have reason to override the red lights and sirens that blare when we are threatened.
Sea anemones do not go to church, the synagogue or the mosque to find out how they should behave. They have no ideology or constitution to follow. They have no memory of history. They can only eat and replicate and sting each other to death. It’s not surprising, then, that instinct among sea anemones leads to warlike behaviour rather than acceptance and willingness to live together in peace. I am, however, surprised at our behaviour.
After experiencing a full year of war and violence between us Palestinians and colonizing Israelis (a war that is backed financially and emotionally by the world’s remaining superpower) and now at this very time watching America shiver in vain after the criminal attacks that targeted its economic and defense systems, and also now waiting apprehensively with everyone else for what is yet to come, I am thinking about those sea anemones.
I have to wonder if humanity has reverted to the brainlessness of the sea anemone and forgotten what we know of being human: happiness, productivity and our responsibility as stewards of a world that is changing as we watch. Sea anemones are only a mass of flesh and tentacles, neither of which has the capacity-as far as we know-to suggest to another of its kind that the population might find community and right-living without harming others. We wage our wars with full knowledge of what we are doing and why. We do have intellect, ideology, education, experience and religion to guide us. Still, in spite of all the moral and intellectual training presented to us century after century, we, like the anemones, choose war over peaceful coexistence.
I feel that disconnect acutely, as a Palestinian under occupation. Israel takes what is not hers to take; citing her own fear of prejudice for the reason the world must stand against us Palestinians. Israelis destroy our lives and then point the finger at those whom they destroyed. Israelis do not appear to consider our reasons for fear at all, let alone that we are fellow human beings, enmeshed with them through heritage and moral exactitude. And so we Palestinians resist, determined to hold onto earth we call our own, earth left behind by those who died in the struggle to protect our community, sacrificing themselves for the good of the group.
And now the United States government declares a war against an undefined enemy called “terrorism.” In a Godly manner, the leaders of the U.S. “will lead the world to victory.”
“You are either with us or with the terrorists”, they tell the rest of the world in elevated and imposed morality. And then they drop to the greatest depths in the language to say, “We want Osama dead or alive.”
From over here in Palestine, I think I can see a bit more clearly. After all, what is the difference between admitting that one wants to destroy the terrorists, even at the cost of innocent people, and the logic of those who wanted to punish the American government by killing thousands of innocent Americans? It’s as if we can only perpetuate violence if we remain as brainless as the anemone. Where has our sense of human responsibility taken flight? Never before in the history of mankind have we known as much as we do today. Once we were no more than hordes ranging about on horseback, uncivilized pillagers, acting without benefit of university and house of worship, let alone the mass media. Then, people followed their leaders thoughtlessly like lemmings to the sea. Perhaps, now, you can see why I am thinking of sea anemones. Even as recently as the Second World War, news took days, if not years, to reach the other side of the world and people didn’t know truth from fiction. Now, we see war, genocide and oppression as it happens. Even so, friends of Israel insist that it is we Palestinians who challenge them, denying what people can see for their own eyes.
There is no longer any possibility of saying, “We didn’t know.” We know. And it is inexcusable. I’ve been taught that a wrong does not make another wrong right. I think there are lots of people-Jewish, Christian and Muslim-who believe that, too. Unlike the thoughtless anemone, we know better. And that is the most disturbing factor of how I experience life a year into this current flare-up of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We know too much in this new millennium to be absolved of the crimes we allow to happen. That is true for us, the Palestinians who react to instigation, and for the Zionists who deny over and over again the racist undertones of their desires. And it is also true for the Americans, as they set out to decimate something (it is yet unclear what, nor how doing so will turn the world aright).
Watching the streams of thousands of Afghan refugees on television, I think I have a better idea. The Americans should bomb them with bread. And what a sweet victory it would be over those who charge the United States with being self-interested and bloated with revenge!
I cannot help but think of the deceptive vintage cigarette ad, promoting the poor health and browning teeth of smoking. It shows a beautiful woman inhaling deeply and smiling above the caption, “You’ve come a long way, Baby!” From where I sit, humankind hasn’t come very far at all. We seem just as brainless and amoral as sea anemones, killing ourselves through the haze of smokers’ denials.
On the anniversary of the Second Intifada, I’d like to run a notice that shows an Israeli with an Uzi, a Palestinian with a stone and an American waving a dollar and run the caption over it: “You’ve come nowhere at all, man!” Do you think anyone would get the point?
(Samah Jabr is a freelance writer and medical student in Jerusalem. This article was written with the assistance of Elizabeth Mayfield.)