By Hatim Kanaaneh – Galilee
Friends and close associates, whether relatives or DNA-aliens, are an extension of one’s own being. At least that is how I seem to relate to the segment of humanity that I mingle with by choice. With that in mind and with my humanity severely tested by the atrocities committed in part in my name as a citizen of Israel and with my tax money, my mind and my senses have been acutely attuned to relevant signals coming from members of my immediate human circle of contacts.
At the airport, Ali, my nephew who drove my car over to meet us, couldn’t start it on the first try and cussed Israel’s leaders loudly; he needed to get a certain part from Karmiel but didn’t feel like venturing there. No specific incident or source of fear; just a general feeling of discomfort when in the midst of the inimical environment of a Jewish town. He, his son and his brother have not put a single day’s work since the Gaza invasion started. Mahmoud, his construction contractor friend, has stripped down his crew from a daily fleet of three car-fulls to just one with five workers. It is a combination, he thinks, of the war and the world economic slump.
Back in Arrabeh, my home town in Galilee, in shops while picking up milk and eggs, at the homes of relatives over meals, and in the yards of friends over coffee in the warm winter sun, people ask politely about my trip abroad and about the health and wellbeing of my children and grandchildren there. As I try to respond with specific information about my kin in America and our three-week trip to Morocco, the conversation keeps reverting back to Gaza. Every statement leads directly to the one and only topic worthy of discussing: “Yes, nice to know they are doing well! But how do Americans feel about the massacres? Do they watch Al-Jazeera there or does their media censor what they see like Israel’s media does?” Or: “Morocco! Oh yes; they had the largest demonstration anywhere in the whole world. It is a shame their government doesn’t lift a finger. I wonder how long they and Mubarak’s band of criminals can hold on to their chairs.”
I shift gears: “My Dutch colleague, a big-time psychiatrist specializing in mental trauma came especially to New York to spend the weekend with us. You may remember him; he came to Arrabeh to visit me a couple of times. He tells me that one third to one half of the soldiers who take part in such awful wars, even when they are the victors in the specific battle, wind up with severe mental disturbances needing psychiatric intervention,” I inform my circle of friends. An astute housewife opines: “That is true in America; they have a conscience there, even if Bush is the biggest criminal of all.”
I spin her pronouncement a little and give it scientific veneer: “My Dutch colleague shares your opinion. He says that in Israel, because of the solid stand of the Jewish population with war and the near total support it gives its armed forces, the fighters are likely to suffer less; only about a third of them may wind up going crazy.”
“How about the victims? What happened to the Vietnamese civilians who survived the massacre in that village? You know the one!” She meant My Lai of course.
I didn’t know the answer, so I changed the subject: “In Morocco we were in the desert near the Algerian borders. You know I am always looking for fossils and the place is full of them. You pick any rock and look closely at it and there are fossils in it. I brought a few large ones with me.”
“What is important is how heavy are the rocks and how sharp are the edges; are they good for throwing at soldiers?” a friend with a sense of humor responds.
“Those were the good old days of the first Intifada. Now Mahmoud Abbas and his boys are in charge and they are totally pacified. They didn’t even permit a peaceful demonstration in Ramallah to go on. Their day will come, that is for sure!” that is from another woman.
For some reason the women seem to be at greater liberty to speak out. The men only nod. Except for one young man who surprises everyone with his assertions: "The days of throwing stones are gone. Don’t you guys hear the shooting between gangs in the village at night? Youth have free access to all sorts of weapons on the black market, from handguns to hand grenades to automatic weapons. And the police know all about it."
"Not only do they know about it but they seem to encourage it. It is their boys that trade in it and in drugs. They intentionally corrupt our youth," the young man’s mother, a woman who never finished her studies in criminology, adds.
"It is worse than you think. The police keep a blind eye as long as it is within our communities. What is scary is what will happen if violence breaks out between Arabs and Jews in our area and young people use firearms. That is when we will learn the real plan behind all of this. What happened in Gaza is child’s play compared to what they will do to us. It will be our final solution," a female educator responds.
A nursing student from the neighborhood, home for the weekend from her studies in Tel-Aviv, drops in for a chat. She usually comes to seek my advice when something is troubling her. I ask her about her studies.
“The usual” she says, “a little disturbing in the last few weeks, what with Gaza and all.”
“What exactly is disturbing you now?”
“Nothing at the personal level; it is the general atmosphere. The racial slurs are more open and more often. I am now in the obstetrics department. I am in the delivery room for Arab women.”
“What! They have separate delivery rooms for Arab women?”
“Yes, of course! You didn’t know that? The administration explains it with a worse case scenario of two multi-para (medical term for many deliveries) women, one a religious Jewish settler from the West Bank and the other a religious Muslim woman from the Triangle, being in labor at the same time and having their dozens of relatives drop in to visit. A clash would be unavoidable.”
“To me it sounds like they should get along well; both are religious!” I feign ignorance of the violence underpinnings of all fundamentalists.
“You know they would clash in no time; or at least that is what the administration expects. And one side is always with loaded automatic weapons on the ready.”
“Settlers are allowed into hospitals with their weapons?”
“You have forgotten uncle! You yourself told us that your Jewish nurses went out to immunize Arab children with handguns in their handbags.”
“Yes, but that was a long time ago.”
“What do you expect now with the national war mood? The venom boils over. When a new woman arrived in the department for delivery, the standard question whispered by the receiving staff used to be: ‘is she Arabic speaker?’ Now the head nurse barks out loudly with a pained grimace on her face: ‘Another Arab?’ usually with an expletive that sounds like it is aimed at me. And since the blitz on Gaza started I feel isolated by classmates; I get reprimanded by teachers for the slightest error.”
“Take a sick leave” was the only inane advice I could offer.
Two days later, over dinner with mixed company including a Jewish professor and two expatriate Americans, the same Gaza-centered discourse persists, albeit in Ramallah and with intellectual overtones. “The soldier at the checkpoint took one look at me and waved me on despite the big sign banning Israeli citizens from entering the West Bank. He must have figured I was an Arab and hence not likely to be in danger of being attacked. Or perhaps he thinks Arabs are dispensable.”
“Well, where do we go otherwise? The sense of estrangement among members of the Palestinian minority in Israel is quite pervasive. Even in the best of times the Jewish majority rejects us and we have little access to other Arab societies in the Middle East,” says a social scientist in the group.
“That is a recipe for disaster. It is even worse among the Jewish majority; we have ghettoized ourselves by choice. With one aggression after another against our neighbors we are actualizing the self-fulfilling prophecy of us against the whole world.”
These are dangerous grounds for non-Jews to tread. To break the silence the Jewish professor continues: “We have shifted far to the right in recent years. The massacre in Gaza is greater than that of Sabra and Shatilla. And this one is solely ours; no Maronite alibis. But where are the protesting crowds in Tel Aviv?”
“What next then?”
“More of the same, I am afraid! There will be international warrants of arrest for Israeli leaders, another confirmation that the whole world is against us. We will withdraw into our shell. Our intellectuals and their liberal supporters abroad will keep chewing and regurgitating the cud of the lack of precision and the inapplicability of human rights instruments to the heirs of the holocaust till the whole issue gets vulgarized and enveloped in a haze of a delegitimizing discourse and accusations of anti-Semitism. In the meanwhile Gaza and the West Bank would be fully pacified and colonized.”
“That is when our own turn comes,” I find the courage to opine. “We continue to sully the rightists’ dream of a pure Jewish state. Logically, if one accepts their premises we have to be transferred out. Israel’s leaders seem to agree. A small war with Syria or Lebanon and we can be massacred and driven across the border and the dream becomes reality.”
“And I thought only us, the Jews, have a persecution complex!”
– Hatim Kanaaneh, M.D. is the author of A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Isreal. He completed his medical and public health degrees at Harvard in 1970. He then returned to Galilee where, in 1973, he became the Public Health Doctor of the sub-district of Acre. He is the founder of the NGO, the Galilee Society (The Arab National Society for Health Research and Services). He has written extensively on human rights. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.