By Beverly Brodsky
Letters from Palestine: Palestinians Speak out about Their Lives, Their Country, and the Power of Nonviolence. Kenneth Ring and Ghassan Abdullah.
“Papers, please!” This demand from a French official in the film Casablanca reminds us of the iconic Nazi means of control, that people were not free to travel, and that certain people, like the fictional Victor Laszlo , who was fighting for freedom, were singled out for oppression, arrest, and torture. There is a great need for the world, especially the Jewish Diaspora, to listen to Palestinians’ perspectives, and Letters provides an excellent opportunity to do so.
Your heart will be stirred and opened by the letters from young Palestinians living abroad, as well as those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. You will hear from people like journalist Mohammed Omer, who was honored in Sweden, but tortured in Israel for speaking the truth about Gaza. Palestinians are bewildered and outraged at the cruelty they suffer due to the Pass system, enforced by gun-toting soldiers who are trained to speak only three phrases in Arabic: “Forbidden! Stop or I’ll Shoot! and Go Back.” Then there’s the so-called Apartheid Wall (in the West Bank), a physical barrier between the two peoples. Palestinians have no rights to return to their former villages, many of which are unrecognizably altered by Israeli settlers. Mr. Omer says he believes that the underlying problem is that there is no Israeli constitution, and so no universal human rights. One exception to land confiscation is Daoud Nassar, who is still fighting for his family’s land in court, while opening it to other people from around the world, planting trees and building peace.
Much like the native peoples in other colonial lands, the Palestinians were herded into these two reservations or ghettos, where they are now being cut off from essentials, even their own future, with hundreds of education-hungry students not allowed to accept scholarships. The Gaza strip is like the world’s largest prison, with 1.5 million Gazans, and is blockaded, not just from weapons, but also from necessities like medicine. After its bombardment at the end of 2008, Mazin Qumsiyeh writes a poignant chapter from Bethlehem called: “Sometimes the dead are envied.”
There can be no peace in Israel, and indeed the world, unless people understand and honor the Palestinian position. The people in this book are not terrorists; rather, they must live with an occupier who insolently demands their papers, jails or kills them, destroys their homes (sometimes more than once), their security, even their future. Israel is hailed as the only democracy in the Middle East. But actually, to be a true democracy, a better one, it needs a constitution and to recognize all people as equals. Israel must acknowledge the injustice of displacing people from their homes during its birth. Only then can there be reconciliation, as coauthor Ghassan Abdullah states. After going through Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, he inquires whether history’s victims, like the Jews after the Holocaust, and Palestinians today, are doomed to become tomorrow’s criminals?
It is vital that you read these letters, which give voice to the powerless and often unjustly despised Palestinians. Open your mind to the many first-hand stories in this book, which will inspire, touch and sometimes sadden you. Once you hear and really listen to these voices, you will never be the same again.
– This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com with author’s permission.