By George Polley
Kenneth Ring, PhD and Ghassan Abdullah, editors: Letters from Palestine: Palestinians Speak Out about Their Lives, Their Country, and the Power of Nonviolence. Paperback, $26.95. Wheatmark, Tucson, Arizona, 2010. Website: www.wheatmark.com.
For Palestinians, 1948 was a catastrophe. When Israel was born, between 700,000 and 800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their ancestral homes, farms, villages and towns and became permanent refugees. For them this murderous ethnic cleansing was their Holocaust. Sixty-two years later, it continues. For those who live in what was Palestine, the experience is one of contempt, persecution and eradication.
The following quote from professor and peace activist David Shulman’s book Dark Hope is a description of what it is like on the ground. “What we are fighting in the South Hebron Hills is pure, rarefied, unadulterated, uncontainable human evil. Nothing but malice drives this campaign to uproot” people from their homes. … “They led peaceful, if somewhat impoverished lives, until the settlers came. Since then, there has been no peace. They are tormented, terrified, incredulous, as am I. What black greed, what unwitting hatred, has turned Israeli Jews into the torturers of the innocent?”
The stories in Letters from Palestine are by people who live this reality on a daily basis. Some are refugees who cannot return. Most live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. In reading their stories, two things are clear: no human being should have to endure what they have endured, on a daily basis, for sixty-two years. It is immoral to allow it to continue.
What is it like to be Palestinian? The last five lines of writer and filmmaker Hind Shoufani’s masterful poem “Pick me up” tell us from her experience –
you were born a refugee,
and this is what it is to be
Palestinian. This is what it is to be Palestinian.
This is what it is to be, and be and be,
and not be.
You live in a village. Your small daughter catches a virus that brings with it a high fever, diarrhea and vomiting. Because your small West Bank village is under curfew, you not allowed to take her to a doctor. When the curfew is lifted, Israeli soldiers refuse permission to take her for medical care. They offer no explanation. Eventually she suffers renal failure. Permission to seek needed medical care is again denied. Imagine her being your child or grandchild.
Though your family has farmed the same West Bank land for generations, and though Jewish settlements are illegal, one is established near your farm. Though illegal, it soon encroaches on your land with the blessing of the Israeli government. Though you spend thousands of dollars fighting it, the settlers neither give up nor give in. They are backed by the IDF and the government; you are backed by your determination and a lawyer.
You are twenty-four, a journalist, and you have won a prestigious award in London. Returning from the presentation, you are accompanied by a representative of the Dutch Embassy. You are stopped by agents of Israel’s Secret Police (the Shin Bet), questioned and viciously tortured. You suffer severe physical injuries, a nervous breakdown and PTSD. Though your injuries require surgery for which you must travel to Europe, it doesn’t happen until the Dutch Embassy put enough pressure on the Israeli government to permit it. Reading the story I experience a flashback to a point in history: the Shin Bet agents remind me of the Gestapo. When you behave the way the Gestapo behaved, you come to resemble them.
Move the scene to Gaza. More people are crowded into this tiny strip of land than lived in the whole Palestine before Israel became a state. Unemployment is at 80%. During Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s murderous, all-out three week military assault in late December 2008 and early January 2009, no one can escape because the borders are sealed. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. You think you are in Hell. Most of the casualties are women and children. Many are killed when their homes are turned to rubble by bombs and bulldozers. Israel’s government justifies the operation. They are backed in this by their principle benefactor, the US government, my government. I feel an overwhelming sense of disgust and shame.
In spite of mind-numbing odds and sixty-two years of unbelievable persecution, the Palestinian people continue their struggle to build meaningful, productive lives. Letters from Palestine is a testimony to that struggle. It is also a call to action. To do nothing is to join the persecutors.
“We used to be a calm and gentle people” writes 14 year old Dominic Buoni in his poem on page vii, “But have turned furious and outraged / For what has become of our land.” “Palestine isn’t just my home, / Palestine is me.”
Kenneth Ring and each of his thirty-one contributors are heroes. I bow to each of them.
– George Polley contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.