Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The AntiSemitism to Come? Hardly

(In addition to the Huffington Post, this essay was also published in el Pais in Spanish and Aftenposten in Norwegian)

Bernard-Henri Levy, the French pop star of philosophy and intellectual elitism, authored an essay that featured my novel, Mornings in Jenin, as one of three distressing developments that led him to ask "is there no end to the demonization of Israel?" It was titled: "The Antisemitism to Come." The other two happenings that concern him, he says, are the growing boycott of Israel and an acclaimed documentary film called Tears of Gaza.

First, a look at Mr Levy's targets:

1) Mornings in Jenin is a work of historic fiction, where fictional characters live through real history; and I encourage anyone to do their own research to verify the accuracy of the historic events that form the backdrop for the novel. 2) Tears of Gaza is a documentary film by Vibeke Lokkeberg, in which she reveals the horrific impact of Israel's bombing of Gaza in 2008 to 2009, especially on children and women. 3) The activists participating in and encouraging an economic boycott of Israel are ordinary citizens all over the world who are heeding the call of their conscience to take a moral stand against a grave injustice that has gone on far too long against the indigenous population of Israel and Palestine; namely, the Palestinian people.

Rather than offer an intelligent analysis of any one of these three things that trouble him, Levy essentially resorts to name-calling. He simply slaps on the word "antisemitism" to discredit any negative portrayal of Israel. This word -- with its profound gravity of marginalization, humiliation, dispossession, oppression, and ultimately, genocide of human beings for no other reason but their religion -- is so irresponsibly used by the likes of Levy that it truly besmirches the memory of those who were murdered in death camps solely for being Jewish. And I thank Kurt Brainin, a Holocaust survivor who wrote a touching letter expressing exactly that in response to Levy.

Nowhere in Levy's essay does he identify anything truly antisemitic in any of the three elements to which he refers. Because he cannot. If he could, I think he would. In fact, the people who today are being marginalized, humiliated, dispossessed, and oppressed for the sole reason of their religion are Palestinian Christians and Muslims. That is the real antisemitism of today.

Israel has been wiping Palestine off the map, expelling us and stealing everything we have. All that remains to us is less than 11 percent of our historic homeland, now in the form of isolated Bantustans, surrounded by menacing walls, snipers, checkpoints, settler-only roads and the ever-expanding Jewish-only settlements built on confiscated Palestinian property. We have no control over our own natural resources. The amount of water one receives is based on one's religion, such that Palestinians must share bathing water, while their Jewish neighbors water their lawns and enjoy private swimming pools. According to Defence for Children International, in Jerusalem alone, Israel has imprisoned 1,200 Palestinian children this year, who are routinely abused and forced to sign confessions in Hebrew, which they do not understand. Israel routinely targets Palestinian schools and has created a full generation of lost souls in Gaza, who are growing up knowing only fear, insecurity, and hunger. Documents pertaining to Israel's brutal siege of Gaza and its merciless attacks on that civilian population show the cold mathematical formulas designed intentionally to produce food shortages and hunger in Gaza. Christian Palestinians have all but been wholly removed from the place of Jesus' birth. And on goes the inhumanity -- the constant expulsions, home demolitions, systematic theft, destruction of livelihoods, uprooting of trees -- especially olive trees which are so precious to Palestinian culture -- curfews, closures, institutional discrimination, and on and on.

Instead of upholding the best of Jewish ideals that champion justice and the uplifting of the oppressed, Mr. Levy rushes to Israel's defense, repeating the tired mantra of "the only democracy in the Middle East." Apartheid South Africa, too, called itself a democracy, while it mowed down little boys in Soweto (with arms, incidentally, supplied by Israel). So did the United States, during a time when at least 20 percent of its population lived as slaves, bought and sold like cattle.

Equally outrageous is Mr. Levy's wholesale labeling of anyone who criticizes Israel as "antisemitic". For exposing Israel's extensive crimes, we must face the defamation that we are immoral, racist, and hateful. In the case of Vibeke Lokkeberg, Levy makes it a point to inform the reader that she is a former model, ignoring her accomplishments as an experienced filmmaker and author. Apparently, in addition to suggesting she is racist, he perhaps wants readers to think she is also not intellectually qualified to create anything of merit. This tactic of attacking and trying to discredit the messenger rather than address the actual message is an age-old propaganda method.

Mr. Levy accuses us of "demonizing Israel", when in fact, all we do is pull back the curtain, however slightly, to show a dark truth he wishes to keep hidden. I suspect that Mr Levy feels, as most Jewish supporters of Israel do, that he is more entitled to my grandfather's farms than I am. After all, that is really the foundation of Israel, isn't it? The question that should be asked is "why?" and "how?" Why should Jews from all over the world be entitled to enjoy dual citizenship, both in their own homeland and in mine, while we, the natives of Palestine, languish in refugee camps, a diaspora, or patrolled ghettos and bantustans? How is it that a country with one of the most powerful militaries in the world, that has been committing well-documented war crimes against a principally unarmed civilian native population for six decades now, is depicted as the victim? And worse, the real victims, who are trying to resist their own extinction, are depicted as the aggressors?

Nelson Mandela once said: "We know all too well, that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." Now, in addition to such notable personalities speaking out, people all over the world are slowly joining the struggle for justice and freedom for Palestinians; and it seems inevitable that Israel's systematic ethnic cleansing will at last be opposed by a critical mass of people that will compel Israel to abandon its institutional racism, such that the native non-Jewish population might at last live with the same legal and human rights as Jews in the Holy Land. This is clearly what really worries Mr. Levy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Encounter with a Zionist in Crisis with her Beliefs

By Susan Abulhawa

I received a lovely letter from a reader who identified herself as a Jewish American. To preserve her anonymity, I’ll call her 'Sally'. She wrote that she loved Mornings in Jenin, even though the historic backdrop of the narrative did not reconcile with what she learned about Israel growing up. It seemed a heartfelt letter and thus worthy of a similar response. I did not see Sally as a Zionist or even as a Jew. I saw her as a woman, a mother, and a fellow writer. So, I was delighted when she came to my panel debate with Alan Dershowitz at the Boston Book Festival, and when she asked if we could talk more after the event, I was happy to invite her to lunch with a group of friends. She was soft spoken, with a gentle demeanor and through the course of the table conversation, I realized that we also shared similar beliefs regarding some matters of spirituality.

Sally and I continued to correspond occasionally, both privately and with a group of people who were at lunch that day. Soon, she let me know that one of her friends was now questioning her own Zionist beliefs because of something she heard at her Temple. As a result, Sally’s friend had chosen a list of documentaries to watch. Naturally, I asked what those documentaries were and she sent a list of about 12 or so films that were made 1) to show how awful Arabs are, 2) to present rosy pictures of normalization of Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, 3) to show what Israel’s aggression against Lebanon was like from an Israeli paratrooper’s perspective!, or 4) to depict mixed Arab and Israeli towns as a paradise where everyone is equal.

I find that when people are truly searching to understand, they can find the right sources, especially in this information age. Likewise, when people are confronted with an uncomfortable reality that jars an existing belief, they can turn around and find what they need to prove that they were right all along. Reading the list that Sally sent to me, it was easy to see what category she fit into. Here is the response that I sent to Sally:

If I were trying to get a better view of something, i'd at least look for ones made by third party sources who don't have their own personal beef in the situation. Although with this list, she'll be able to put her head back in the sand and say she did her research and it all proved she was right before.

Sally’s response was immediate and indignant. I’ll spare you the full email, but suffice it to say that she was offended that I had “insulted” her dear friend, and she closed with this:

I know you are much, much more invested in all of this than I and therefore more passionate than I, but please give me the benefit of the doubt before writing words that insult my friend. You may not realize it, but we are two people who will spread our knowledge with others and that can only help you. I am also getting ideas for my next book that can include this message as well.

Let me start here: I know you are much, much more invested in all of this than I and therefore more passionate than I.

It is true that I am “much, much more invested” in “all of this” than she is. How much more? I’d say at least a few centuries more, several generations of grandparents more, many acres of family property more, and one shattered and dispossessed family more. And what is “all of this”? That would be my country. My history. My family. My countrymen. My only heritage and only inheritance. The place where I belong. The place to which I am not allowed to return because of my religion. “All of this” is a collection of refugee camps where people have lived their entire lives in destitution – honorable people, of nobility and peasantry alike, who have been stripped of everything for the sole crime of being born into their own skin.

Now: but please give me the benefit of the doubt before writing words that insult my friend.

As if it is not insulting to me that an American woman, with absolutely no ancestral, historic, cultural, or biological ties to the land, should announce to me that she needs to do more research to determine whether or not I indeed have a right to inherit my grandfather’s farm, reserving, of course, her own right to my grandfather’s farm.

But the most egregious insult is this: You may not realize it, but we are two people who will spread our knowledge with others and that can only help you. I am also getting ideas for my next book that can include this message as well.

I suppose she misunderstood my intentions in corresponding with her in the first place. Perhaps she thought I was trying to win her over, to “help [me]” spread the word. So let me make one thing very clear, to her and to anyone who isn’t sure if they should maintain that they are entitled to keep Palestine as their summer home away from their own home. You are standing on the wrong side of history. That’s why the ground feels shaky beneath your support of Israel. You are standing on the side of a military occupation that daily strips people of their belongings, of their livelihoods, of their dignity and cuts off the very food they eat, the water they drink. You are on the other side of Nelson Mandela’s legacy. The other side of every native people’s struggle for self-determination, for human rights and for basic human dignity. It is not for me that you educate yourself. It is for your own soul. For your own conscience. I am comfortable on solid ground. It is physically defenseless, but morally impenetrable ground. Whatever research you chose to do and what you choose to learn is for you and only for you. My correspondence was with you, as a woman I thought I could be friends with. I was not asking for your help. But one day you will be asked for something else. Perhaps your children or grandchildren will want you to explain what you did when Palestinians were being wiped off the map so you and every Jew around the world could have dual citizenship, a summer home, if you will, on top of my grandparent’s graves.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Humanizing a Shrinking Nation

Writer Susan Abulhawa discusses Palestine and the power of the novel
by Rebecca Louder

On the morning of May 31st, mere hours after the Israeli flotilla attack, the Grapevine met with Palestinian-American writer Susan Abulhawa at her hotel. Susan was in Reykjavík on her way back from the Lillehammer Literature Festival in Norway. She held a small event at The Culture House to promote her latest book, Mornings In Jenin, a newly edited version of her first publication The Scar of David. The book follows the story of several generations of Palestinian characters and their personal struggles with location, identity, family and human rights. In America, her book has caused a controversial response for its pro-Palestinian stance, but she has continued to be outspoken on the topic despite the backlash. The writer seemed distraught as the charged events of the morning loomed over our interview.

How do you think fictional works can impact the global discourse on Palestinian-Israeli relations?

I think that writers, artists, musicians, poets and filmmakers in any society of conflict have a unique role to play in bringing the issues in the headlines to a human level. That’s the power of art and literature, in general—to remind us of our common humanity and that there are human beings who live the headlines and experience them in ways that are not abstract, in ways that a reader would experience them. You can take an individual through history through the lives of characters that they can get to know, that they can love or hate or what have you. Regardless, they get to know them and they can see conflict and the politics or the history through their eyes. That’s the beauty of a novel, as opposed to non-fiction or history textbooks that have more of a sterile, distant prose.

What is your personal experience in all of this?

My parents were refugees of the 1967 Six Day War. Neither of them can really return to their place of birth nor live in the homes where they were born, or even visit their parents’ graves. I lived in Jerusalem when I was a little girl. Actually there’s a chapter in the book based on that, it’s called ‘The Orphanage.’ That’s really the only part of the book that is autobiographical. The entire historic background is non-fictional. It was real important to me that the historic background and the historic characters, the locations, the seasons, the fruits, etcetera, that all be real. The characters are fictionalised.

Your work has been quite controversial in the past. Why do you think that is?

I think anything that humanises Palestinians or criticises what Israel is doing creates a fury, basically. People try to shut you up. It’s not just me; it’s anybody, whether it’s academics, intellectuals, artists, what have you. That’s kind of a trend. There’s always a campaign of character assassination in trying to marginalise people.

Pro-Palestine sentiments are often deemed as being terrorist-sympathetic or anti-Semitic. Have you had these accusations launched at you?

Precisely. I think everybody who expresses this has. I don’t accept it. I’m neither a terrorist nor an anti-Semite. There’s nothing in anything I do or say that would indicate that. I think readers are smarter than that. I think they’ll see that when they read the book.

How has the book been received?

In Norway, and other European countries it’s gotten really good reviews. In America it has gotten limited reviews, but what it has gotten has been very good. Most journalists and reviewers in the United States just don’t want to touch it.

It’s not the first time. There was this wonderful play called My Name Is Rachel, it was based on the life of Rachel Corrie [American activist with the International Solidarity Movement who was crushed to death by an IDF bulldozer in 2003]. They managed to shut that down. There’s all this art by Palestinians, beautiful stuff that just reflects what’s inside of them, what they see, what their lives are about. It gets shut down. There have been several instances in the United States where that has happened. It’s because there are very powerful forces in the United States that don’t want Palestinians to appear human, because then it becomes harder to justify killing them. It becomes hard to justify raining death on this civilian population that really has nowhere to go and nowhere to run.

What is your hope for the region?

Of course there is hope. To me the solution is, and always has been, very clear. It’s the simple application of international law and the application of the universality of human rights. The declaration that Palestinians are human beings who are worthy of human rights. We are the native people of that land. We’ve been there for centuries, if not millennia, and everything has been taken from us. When the international community has the will to give more than just words and say that yes, we deserve the same rights that are accorded to the rest of humanity. That’s where the solution lies.

The West claims to value certain principles of human decency and equality, that they apply in their own countries yet support something entirely different in Israel. For example, nowhere in the West would any country allow the construction of neighbourhoods and settlements where only a certain group of people were allowed to live. No one would accept a housing unit for whites-only or having a road where only whites could travel, and yet that’s what Israel does. It’s a situation where human worth is measured on ones religion.

Palestine had always been a place where people of various religions lived. It had been a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic place and that’s the ideal, isn’t it? It should not be a place of exclusivity. It’s important that my words not be interpreted that Israelis should be kicked out or anything like that, because I don’t advocate that. That’s their country now. People were born there and live there. That’s where they’re from.

Why do you think the international community allows these human rights violations?

You’ll have to ask them. I don’t know. It’s hypocritical, it’s outrageous, actually. Luckily, the people of these nations are not necessarily on board and people of various countries are taking matters into their own hands. They are boycotting Israel and Israeli goods, and this flotilla, the Free Gaza movement, these boats have been travelling to Gaza from Cyprus carrying people from all over the world. These are ordinary citizens who have made history because they refuse to be silent in the face of what’s happening in Gaza.

People are literally and intentionally being starved to death in Gaza. Food is not allowed in or out, the economy has completely collapsed, the education system has completely collapsed. Eighty percent of Gazan children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a crippling psychological disease and entire generations are being lost. The international community is doing nothing about it. Ordinary citizens are taking matters into their own hands and delivering boatloads of aid. Then today we find out that Israel in fact boarded that flotilla and killed a few people. So it remains to be seen whether the international community will yet again be silent.

Do you have any hope that they won’t be?

Well, they’re already condemning it, but they always do. They give lip service to it and then they do nothing. So I don’t place any hope or faith in any of these leaders or the so-called official international community, but I do place a lot of hope and faith in the international community that’s made up of world citizens and people of conscience to speak up and not to let this continue. People can’t really say “I didn’t know”. It’s everywhere. Israel has been held above the law. They have committed war crimes for over six decades and have done so with impunity.

This is where literature comes in, in my opinion. In the West when you say ‘Palestinian,’ people automatically conjure these really negative images and that is in large part due to this propaganda campaign over the years to paint Israel as this poor, vulnerable nation that’s just trying to defend itself when in fact it is the aggressor. Israel manages to paint Palestinians as these crazy, irrational aggressors, and that it’s just defending itself against this principally unarmed civilian population. Palestinians have nowhere to run. It has no navy, no army, no air force.

But when I think of Palestine, I think of a beautiful people. I think of a long suffering and enduring nation that despite everything gets up every morning and goes to those damn checkpoints, tries to get to work, tries to get to school and go about their daily lives. I think of a rich culture and good music and good food and stupid jokes and proverbs. I think of human beings, and that’s what I hope this book shows.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Reclaiming the Palestinian Story
To see oppression up close is different from reading about it. As a group of writers, artists, filmmakers and actors from various countries discovered recently at PalFest, the Palestinian Literature Festival

In the USA, the ‘Palestine-Israel conflict’ is principally told as a single story thread of a beleaguered Jewish state amidst irrational enemies. Palestinians are too often depicted as the aggressors or, when mentioning their suffering is unavoidable, they are described in the sterile prose of numbers and statistics. It is stunning how few Americans realize that for the past 60+ years, Israel has been systematically wiping Palestine off the map:

But perhaps that is changing.

I recently returned from PalFest, the Palestinian Literature Festival, where I had the privilege of seeing my country through the eyes of notable individuals who had never been there before. PalFest was to take place in the West Bank, an area significantly smaller than Connecticut; however, because Palestinians are not free to move about from one West Bank town to another, a centralized festival is untenable. So, PalFest travels to the audiences in each town instead.

For seven days and six nights, I was off an on a tour bus throughout Occupied Palestine with some 30 other writers, artists, filmmakers, and actors from the US, UK, Sweden, South Africa, Norway, Italy, and Spain. Although these were all well-read sophisticates, it seems none was prepared for the reality on the ground. Without exception, each participant was shocked by the system of apartheid that he or she witnessed. To see oppression up close is different from reading about it.

On our last bus ride, one PalFest participant asked me, “What was the moment for you?”

The first thing to mind was the most recent: a conference with Gazan teachers and students from three universities. It was a video-conference because we were denied entry into Gaza and Gazans surely are not allowed to leave their tiny sliver of land. They spoke to us about the inhuman siege since 2006, the barbaric month-long bombardment that one Israeli soldier described as putting “a magnifying glass looking at ants, burning them,” their polluted water, deteriorating general health, the unravelling of families, the tunnels that have been Gaza’s only lifeline for food and now the Egyptian underground wall that will seal off these tunnels. One young woman said she could live with the shortage of food, water and medicine, “but the intellectual siege” is intolerable, she said. For years, she hasn’t been able to get books to read, save what few can be smuggled in from tunnels.

Yet this was not the worse of what we heard or saw. There was the ghost town of Hebron, emptied of its native inhabitants, who have been terrorized by settlers into fleeing. The bypass, Jewish-only roads; the Jewish-only settlements on confiscated Palestinian property; the wall and system of checkpoints that surround, separate, and suffocate Palestinian towns; the tents housing families near the rubble remains of their demolished homes in Jerusalem; and the armed settlers and soldiers.

What seemed to surprise most, however, was that Palestinian society still teems with will and life and resolve and intellectual curiosity – that despite all the odds, they are not a broken people.

If I had to identify the moment now, it would be a comment made by my friend Dr. Rev. Mitri Raheb who took us on a tour of the place now best described as “The Little Ghetto of Bethlehem”. He articulated something I already knew but have never quite put into words. “They didn’t just steal our country, our homes and properties. They stole our story. We are the people of the Bible. The Bible is our story, but they have taken even that,” he said.

I have always understood that we are the descendants of the original inhabitants (including the Hebrew tribes) who converted between religions. But I’m not religious and our story springs from the native human narratives of the land. And now, as the first and second generations in the Diaspora can communicate in the languages of the West, our voice can be understood in ways it was not previously.

The world is at last listening, reading, watching, and sometimes taking action as we struggle to reclaim the things stolen from us. Through our own literature, art, poetry, activism, music, film, photography, and culture; through our humanity, we are reclaiming our home, our heritage, basic human rights, our dignity, and our story.

Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury 2010) and founder of Playgrounds for Palestine

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Interview in Frettabladid (Iceland)

Vonin er allt sem við eigum
Þeir sem eru löngu búnir að missa þráðinn í því sem kallast ástandið fyrir botni Miðjarðarhafs ættu að fá sér friðsæla göngu út í bókabúð og ná sér í skáldsöguna Morgnar í Jenín. Hún er þörf áminning um hryllinginn sem Palestínumenn hafa búið við, kynslóð fram af kynslóð. Hólmfríður Helga Sigurðardóttir hitti höfund bókarinnar, baráttukonuna Susan Abulhawa, í vikunni.
Bókmenntir eru mikilvægur hluti andstöðunnar við ríkjandi hugmyndir. Palestínumönnum er svo ranglega lýst í vestrænum fjölmiðlum að fólk er hætt að líta á þá sem manneskjur.

Bókmenntir eru mikilvægur hluti andstöðunnar við ríkjandi hugmyndir. Palestínumönnum er svo ranglega lýst í vestrænum fjölmiðlum að fólk er hætt að líta á þá sem manneskjur. Ímynd fólks af Palestínumönnum er að þeir séu brjálaðir og ofstækisfullir. Bókmenntir búa yfir þeim töfrum að geta dregið hið mannlega fram í fólki. Með þeim er hægt að sýna fegurð fólks og menningar þess. Það er vegna þessa að bókmenntir eru öflugt mótstöðuafl. Það er erfiðara fyrir fólk að láta sér standa á sama um þig ef það skilur að þú ert manneskja." Þannig lýsir hin palestínska Susan Abulhawa, höfundur bókarinnar Morgnar í Jenín sem nýverið kom út í íslenskri þýðingu, ástæðu þess að hún hefur pennann að vopni.

Í Morgnum í Jenín rekur hver tragedían aðra. Atburðirnir sem lýst er í bókinni hafa allir átt sér stað og fjöldi fjölskyldna hefur mætt sömu skelfilegu örlögunum og sögupersónur hennar. Við lesturinn er erfitt að ímynda sér að Palestínumenn geti enn þá borið von í brjósti um betra líf. "Þetta er bara raunveruleikinn sem þetta fólk býr við. En bókin er líka full af ást og að lokum er það ástin sem bjargar aðalpersónum hennar. Ástin og vonin er það sem hefur hjálpað þeim að þola við. Vonin er eina leiðin til að halda lífi við svona aðstæður. Ef fólk missir vonina veslast það upp og deyr."

Berst fyrir betra lífi

Undanfarin ár hefur Susan helgað lífi sínu baráttunni fyrir Palestínu. Hún er meðal annars ein af upphafsmönnum verkefnisins Play-grounds for Palestine, sem byggir leikvelli fyrir börn á Vesturbakkanum, á Gasa og í flóttamannabúðum. Hún fer reglulega til Palestínu og þekkir vel þær aðstæður sem fólkið býr við. "Ég get ekki nægilega vel lýst því hvað aðstæður þarna eru hryllilegar. Enginn ætti að þurfa að lifa svona. Fólk þarf að fara í gegnum eftirlitsstöðvar oft á dag til að komast ferða sinna og er fullkomlega upp á náð og miskunn átján ára hermanns komið, sem er ef til vill ekki í góðu skapi. Ég mun aldrei skilja viðbrögð alþjóðasamfélagsins og leiðtoga sem enn eru að rökræða þessi mál fram og aftur. Þetta er svo sáraeinfalt. Ísrael hefur engan rétt á að neita fólki um mat, að ganga í skóla, byggja spítala eða veiða í hafinu. Eini tilgangur Ísraelsmanna með þessu er að tortíma palestínsku samfélagi."

Byggt á eigin lífi

Morgnar í Jenín er skáldsaga en vissir hlutar hennar vísa í líf Susan sjálfrar. Sem barn dvaldi hún á munaðarleysingjaheimili í Jerúsalem, alveg eins og ein af aðalsöguhetjum bókarinnar. Foreldrar hennar voru flóttamenn frá því í stríðinu árið 1967 en hún fæddist í fátækt í Kúveit. Hún bjó ekki hjá foreldrum sínum sem barn, vegna erfiðra aðstæðna hjá þeim, heldur hjá fjölskyldumeðlimum. Þegar hún var þrettán ára flutti hún til Bandaríkjanna en þangað var faðir hennar kominn. Faðir hennar staldraði ekki lengi við í Bandaríkjunum og frændi hennar, eini ættingi hennar þar, féll frá skömmu síðar. Hún var því alein í Bandaríkjunum strax á unglingsárum og var í fóstri þar til hún var nógu gömul til að sjá um sig sjálf.

Jenín breytti lífinu

Susan lærði líffærði og var við störf hjá lyfjafyrirtæki í Bandaríkjunum þegar fréttir bárust af fjöldamorðum í Jenín árið 2002. Þá fann hún sig knúna til að fara til Palestínu. "Það sem ég varð vitni að þar breytti lífi mínu. Þegar ég sneri aftur í lyfjafyrirtækið, eftir að hafa verið að grafa lík upp úr rústum, sló það mig svo sterkt að aðaláhyggjuefni hálaunaðra samstarfsmanna minna var að það stæði til að minnka við þá bónusgreiðslurnar. Þá sá ég að ég gat ekki verið þarna lengur. Guð var mér góður því stuttu seinna missti ég vinnuna," rifjar Susan upp og hlær. "Það var gott fyrir mig því ég var einstæð móðir og hefði ekki haft hugrekki til að hætta sjálf í vinnunni. Næsta dag lá ég í rúminu, grét allan daginn, og byrjaði að skrifa fyrsta kaflann í bókinni."

Það gekk ekki þrautalaust fyrir sig að fá útgefanda að bókinni. Susan var óþekktur höfundur og ekki hjálpaði þjóðernið eða umfjöllunarefnið til. Að lokum fann hún lítið útgáfufélag en vissi ekki að það var í fjárhagserfiðleikum. Þegar tíminn var kominn til að gefa bókina út var fyrirtækið farið á hausinn. Í millitíðinni hafði bókin hins vegar verið gefin út á frönsku. Í gegnum útgáfufélagið þar komst Susan á mála hjá breska útgáfufélaginu Bloomsbury og bókin var í kjölfarið gefin út á tuttugu tungumálum, þar á meðal íslensku. Í gegnum Bloomsbury í Bretlandi var bókin svo gefin út hjá Bloomsbury í Bandaríkjunum.

Ópólitísk í fyrstu

Á fyrstu fullorðinsárum sínum lét Susan sig pólitík lítið varða og féll ágætlega að bandarísku samfélagi. Það var ekki fyrr en hún fór að skrifa pólitískar greinar í blöð, komin á fertugsaldur, að hún fór að finna fyrir því að sumir litu hana tortryggnisaugum. "Þegar ég varð pólitískari og fór að láta í mér heyra fóru margir að líta mig hornauga. Og eftir 11. september hættu margir að tala við mig - það varð til bylgja af hatri á öllu arabísku. En það voru líka mótviðbrögð við þessu frá öðrum Bandaríkjamönnum. Yfirleitt eru Bandaríkjamenn góðar manneskjur, en þeir eru mjög barnalegir og hafa lítinn skilning á umheiminum. Í Evrópu finnst mér meiri skilningur - að minnsta kosti skilningur á því að Evrópa sé ekki endilega miðpunktur alheimsins."

Von um frið

Susan ber þá von í brjósti að einhvern tímann muni ríkja friður á milli Ísraelsmanna og Palestínumanna. "Hvort sem útkoman verður eitt, tvö eða tíu aðskilin ríki er mikilvægt að undir engum kringumstæðum verði mannslífið mælt eftir húðlit eða þjóðerni. Palestínumenn eiga að búa við grundvallarmannréttindi. Heimurinn þarf á að horfast í augu við það óréttlæti sem hefur verið látið ganga yfir Palestínumenn og biðjast afsökunar á því."

En hefur hún raunverulega trú á að Ísraelsmenn og Palestínumenn geti lifað friðsamlega á sama landi? "Sögulega er Palestína land margra þjóðerna og trúarbragða. Þannig á það að vera. Sagan sýnir að það er hægt að koma réttlæti á, án þess að þeir kúguðu snúi sér strax við og reyni að útrýma fyrrum kúgurum sínum, eins og margir virðast óttast. Sjáðu bara Suður-Afríku og réttindabarátta svartra í Bandaríkjunum. Það er engin ástæða til að ætla að þetta verði öðruvísi í Palestínu. Það var ekki byggt á neinu jafnræði, þegar fólkið sem lifði af helförina sneri sér við og fór sjálft fremja hræðilega glæpi á fólkinu sem fyrir var. Með því að veita Palestínumönnum sömu réttindi og Ísraelsmönnum er ekki verið að veita þeim nein völd yfir þeim. Palestínumenn vilja ekki lifa í hefnd eða við stöðugt ofbeldi. Þeir eru bara fólk sem vill fá að lifa sínu lífi með reisn."

Friday, June 4, 2010

A call to conscience, in the name of humanity

I was on my way back from Norway and Iceland in the immediate aftermath of yet another of Israel’s “operations” against unarmed civilians. Its navy went at least 50 miles into international waters and boarded a global humanitarian flotilla from the Free Gaza Movement, which was carrying food, medicine, school supplies, and building material to the besieged and hungry people of Gaza. The boat had been inspected in Turkey by an independent sources as well as the Turkish authorities. Israel knew this. The human toll thus far is 9 unarmed civilians, murdered. Israel has refused to release their names and over 680 have been taken to unknown locations. By holding the only witnesses to this crime, Israel is stealing precious time to disseminate its propaganda and spin the story to its advantage.

Before anyone had a chance to react, Israeli PR and spokespeople were busy feeding stories and giving interviews. Their claim amounts to this: “Rioters” from all over the world left their lives to gather on a boat to lure Israeli commandos into international waters and proceeded to attack them with sticks and kitchen knives. These highly trained Israeli special unit soldiers with the most advanced and technological weapons known to man had no choice but to kill unarmed civilians on this boat. Thus, Israel acted in “self defense” against “terrorists” and organizations with “links to Hamas and Al Qaeda” – A mendacious mantra that has become tiresome.

The abuse of language does not stop there. Israel goes on to claim that its barbaric devastation of Gaza is an “embargo” and therefore legal – as if the intentional starvation and devastation of an entire people were legitimate!

The Free Gaza Movement was started by friends of mine – ordinary citizens of the world who refuse to hide behind “I didn’t know” or “What could I do?” as Israel has slowly turned Gaza into a death camp, where food and medicine are disallowed in sufficient quantities. The consequences are clear in reports from the World Health Organization – rampant malnutrition, with at least 10% of Gaza’s children having stunted growth for lack of food; where the education system has all but collapsed not least because Israel has bombed hundreds of Gaza’s schools and continues to prevent the import of books and school supplies; where Israel rains death from the sky onto this captive civilian population with no place to run or take refuge, leaving thousands dead and wounded and 80% of Gaza’s children suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, a crippling disorder that may well produce generations of lost children; where employment (not unemployment) hovers around 20%; where the sewage system cannot be repaired after Israel’s assault and clean water is a luxury few have; where fishermen are fired upon by the Israeli navy dare they try to catch a day’s food in their own waters; and where diabetics, asthmatics, dialysis and cancer patients must die because they lack the most basic medicines and cannot leave to get help in other countries.

So, as Gazans have been left by Israel and by the “international community” to trod in their own excrement, drink toxic water, beg for food, die of treatable diseases, wet their pants at night and quiver with fear in the arms of their equally bewildered parents, unable to work, to fish, or to get an education; unable to breath or to find hope in this tiny sliver of a prison land, world leaders meet to decipher the “competing narratives,” issue their impotent “statements” and summon their Israeli ambassadors for a slight smack on the hand.

Incidentally, these so called “rioters” and “terrorists” with international “terrorist links” include Hedy Epstein, an 85-year old Holocaust survivor, Mairead McGuire, an Irish Nobel Laureate, Henning Mankell, an renowned Swedish author, a baby whose name I do not know, a journalist for Al-Jazeera, and many other known and unknown extraordinary individuals from all walks of from a multitude of nations. They are my heroes. They are doing what leaders have failed to do, namely to stand up to extreme racism, tyranny and oppression. Not for one moment do I believe Israel’s lie that these individuals were carrying and firing guns.

What do you believe?

More importantly, what will you do?

My trip to Norway and to Iceland was my first in each country. I fell in love with both. The beauties of the lands were matched only by the warmth, humor and hospitality of their people. And so it is in the name of this first impression and new friendships, in the name of humanity, I call you to conscience – to ask yourselves what have Palestinians done to deserve such a fate? What have we done to deserve the world’s silence as Israel slowly and cruelly wipes us off the map and destroys our society, then kills those righteous individuals who try to show a minimal recognition of our humanity? And I call you to action – to take a principled stand, somehow, some way, even if your leaders don’t.

susan abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin and the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine