The Right to Return

During the horror that faces us daily on the West Bank, these are some of the interviews heard on television. 

Said one Israeli settler when asked how he felt about the death of 12-year-old Muhammad Al-Durra, a Palestinian boy in Gaza.  “Our kids are the kids of God; theirs are the kids of Satan.” 

“They [Palestinians] are not humans…they are animals,” said another Jewish settler reflecting on Muhammad Al-Durra’s death. “In a way, those Palestinians aren’t even animals. Animals care for their offspring. Palestinians send their children out to kill or be killed.” 

Evidently, she did not know that Muhammad’s father had come to usher him away from violence and to take him as far away from war as possible. It was Israeli soldiers who turned their guns toward the man and boy, neither of which had stones or any weapon at all. Perhaps, this settler had not heard that ambulance driver who came to help the injured was killed too. These medics did not have stones to throw, but they all had mothers just like Israeli soldiers and every man, woman or child killed in this endless catastrophe of ours. 

“Palestinians are fatalists. They are poor and have too many children. They lack democracy and peace education. They are willing to send their children out to riot just to get international attention and pressure the government of Israel. It is sad that they get killed, but this is what it takes to stop violence against Israelis,” said a more moderate, so-called secular Jewish Israeli on television. 

Can you imagine how most Jewish people in New York City would react if anyone publicly or even privately said such things about them? Even non-Jews in the U.S.  who welcome those of Jewish faith, but do not agree with Zionist principles are harshly labeled anti-Semitic. Should a non-Jewish American dare speak out against the behavior of Israeli Jews, Jewish rebuttal is swift and harsh. Jobs can be lost, positions in a community degraded, political careers demolished-all for a suggestion, a word, or a story that implies a negative about an Israeli or the State of Israel. 

So, most Americans look away and choose not to see how Israel treats the Palestinians. Most Americans know little about the Muslim faith anyway. It’s easier to dismiss the Arabs than to search out the truth and possibly face Jewish reaction. Many Americans do not even know that there are Christian Arabs or that ‘Jihad’ more often than not means struggle within oneself and that both Jews and Arabs are Semitic peoples. 

It should be stated clearly that as Palestinians, we do not send our children out to die. Like every parent around the world, Palestinians want the best life for their children. 

I was a child during the years of Intifada, 1987 to 1994. I remember how romantic the idea of running along throwing stone seemed to me then. When I’d see my friends getting together to demonstrate, I’d have a spontaneous rush of desire to join in the “fun.” Kids everywhere think they are immortal. At that time, so did we Palestinian kids. None of us could quite believe that anything would happen to us.  But, our parents knew. 

My parents used everything they could think of to keep me and the other youngsters in our family inside. They kept us busy studying and doing chores so that we couldn’t go out to throw stones. 

Sometimes things get out of a parent’s control. The majority of the children raised in Gaza or the West Bank after 1948 were denied a decent life by the Israelis. Many were brought up in poverty with no hope of better opportunities ahead. Most of our “camp” children’s fathers hung their heads and trudged off to work for substandard wages paid by the Israelis. These same Israelis made it impossible for the Palestinians to develop their own professional careers that might have bolstered the Palestinian economy along with that of Israel. They kept the Palestinians, even those within Israel, in severe poverty. They took our water so we could not plant; they closed our schools, so we could not learn. They made our people slaves and second-class citizens. 

The boys of the Intifada saw their parents’ humiliation and they became rebellious. They began to feel that if they had to live as their parents lived, they’d rather die.  The fight against our catastrophe took precedence over the idea that children should honor their parents and go with their will. The world should know by now that the most dangerous people in the world are those who have nothing to live for. Many young Palestinians fit that category. 

For many young Palestinians, facing down fully armed Israeli soldiers guarantees a feeling of freedom and power. “If we cannot be equal in life,” someone said to me, “we will be in death. Whether it’s us or them, the dead leave behind a shell and, then, our faith will bring us a new life.” 

People from the Mediterranean area, particularly Arabs, are famous for their sense of passion and emotion. We are romantic souls with plenty of sentimental poetry to prove it. We are less prone to wait before we act, but we are not stupid or violent.  We have a strong appreciation democracy and peace. 

Maturity does bring with it hesitation and suppression of unseemly feeling. We have waited since 1948 for the Israelis and the world to see what good they have to offer. 

Sadly, nations seem blind to what has happened and readily turn away from the reality of our plight. 

Our kids are angry from the very depths of their beings. Intellectually and emotionally, they know very little beyond oppression. They’ve grown up in refugee camps, had their homes demolished, seen their fathers and older brothers taken to jail, some returning so badly beaten, they cannot walk or speak. Almost every family living in Palestine knows what it means to work without pay. All the Palestinians have become living martyrs, and there is no denying it. 

No, our stones are not very effective against Israelis’ military might, but our peaceful, pleading words, prayers, or efforts have not been effective either. 

A couple of days ago, I knelt beside injured people in the hospital and tried to learn their stories, their histories. 

I asked one middle-aged woman who was shot in the stomach, “How did this happen? Why were you on the street?” 

“I was protecting my son,” she answered. “Then, you gave birth to your child twice,” I said, “for he is going to live.”

I am a Palestinian, and I’ve seen that we are faithful believers. We believe in our right to live on our own land. We want to live and let live, but we will not lie down or wait in line to be killed. We have waited long enough. And, by now, I know that Israelis kill our kids deliberately to break our hearts and bring our nation to its knees. I do not want to mourn over the body of another Palestinian youth. But, if I must, I know these children will unite with the earth of Palestine, providing hydrocarbons and nutrition to our red soil. Our lemon trees will grow, our gnarled olive trees will bend as mothers over our dead and our bonds with the place where we were born will live on forever. As my American friend tells me, “It will swing back, Samah. It always has and it always will until there is no earth for any of us.” 

(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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