Thoughts on stasis
Thoughts on stasis and individual responsibilities
Mazin Qumsiyeh Unpublished 3/6/05
On the way back our Royal Jordanian flight included two groups of Americans. One was a group of women returning from religious pilgrimage to the Holy Land (but not to visit its native people including Palestinian Christians). The other group was apparently US "tough guys" who were ?serving? in Iraq ("special" service or security). They were muscular and loud. One even brutishly unhinged the cabin luggage closet and carried it through the airplane forward towards the Stewardess. At one point, one of the tough guys was flirting with one of the Church ladies. As I listened to the conversations, I felt a sense of sadness which only dissipated when I was back in New Haven. Here in the past few days I conversed with surgeons who kindly operated on a Palestinian girl, with hardworking people making minimum wage, and with hardworking activists organizing for March 19th demonstrations and rallies against the war. The contrast was stark between how open-minded and self-reflecting those folks are compared to the folks on the airplane.
But a bit of self-reflection is also relevant among Palestinians and Israelis (and does happen). Like all Palestinians, we are barred by the Israeli military from meeting or interacting with ordinary Israelis; only occupation soldiers. But my interactions with Israelis over the decades have shown levels of complexity not often appreciated and analogous to that I found among Americans of various backgrounds (although perhaps Israeli racists are slightly more informed than American racists). As for Palestinians, I would say the contrasts and diversity of opinion are perhaps even greater. Americans of course have not lived under a ruthless military and colonial occupation for decades as Palestinians have. I listened to Palestinians in all walks of life as I did throughout decades of interactions. While I cannot make generalizations, I think it is safe to say that the Israeli occupation had exacted a fairly heavy price in terms of intellectual and physical growth of average Palestinians but has not succeeded in its goal of ?breaking? the collective will. Let me explain.
I remember as a child that uncles were discussing physics and math with us kids. I remember how we debated within our families how much intelligence is inherited or acquired. I remember us anxiously taking turns touching the first calculator. I even remember discussions of astronomy, possible inhabitants of other planets, and UFOs. Today, most discussions center on conditions of imprisonments in the large ghettos that are known as area A of the West Bank. This of course includes the ubiquitous political differences between various national factions (Fatah, PFLP, Hamas, DFLP etc) and of course corruption. Corruption is rampant indeed not only among the misnamed Palestinian "authority"
(which really has no authority) but also among civil sectors most especially many of the wealthy non-governmental organizations. Occasionally people do exaggerate how much corruption consumes from money intended for public purposes (I think it is significant but less than what most Palestinians believe). But focusing on the negatives of corruption, graft, and waste, we may not notice the positive gems. I am amazed that despite the incredible oppression and dispossession (which an Israeli professor dubbed "Politicide"), there are still large segments of Palestinian society who function well, do good work, and most importantly do not lose their belief in humanity and justice. I observed the same among fellow Americans.
There are indeed many lessons to be learned from fellow humans but few seem to learn them. Instead, we find various forms of blindness:
- Sheepish regurgitation of media distortions
- Paranoia and ugly racism manifest in notions of ideological or religious superiority (e.g. seen in Zionism and BinLadism).
- Some positive knowledge but misdirected effort to sloganism and rhetoric; witness the countless conventions and conferences issuing resolutions (escapism in many ways from taking serious positive actions).
- Simplified notions usually of the condemnatory type used to insulate their holders from any self-reflection or critical thought.
But also in all such struggles, it is possible to find people who act positively on their belief in humanity and truly advance the cause of peace with justice:
- Principled boycott and divestment work
- The wheels of justice (JusticeWheels.org)
- Students work for justice (e.g at Bir Zeit and Al-Najah Universities)
- Direct aid to victims
- The hard work of entering into uncharted waters and seeking support from those who are not automatically guaranteed to give support (this is very hard work but essential).
- Media work (both mainstream and alternative)
When I finished high school, my grandfather wrote a note to me that, in addition to the expected, stated that change is the norm in life and people need to modify their thinking; that doing so requires shedding the chains that come from upbringing and "cultural norms." The past 30 years since kept reinforcing that simple but powerful truth. Palestinians are reeling under occupation and colonization and yet many escape the corruption of ignorance and stasis. Of course many Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans don?t and merely continue in the old tired ways.
For those of us living in America (or Israel), it is nothing short of criminal to keep ignorant/acquiescent of how our taxes and political anesthesia are used to suppress and oppress others. I find it shameful that many participate in war crimes (such as those folks returning from Iraq or Israeli soldiers, settlers, and their government) and others give their money to support war and Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. While some of them pray for a return of Jesus, they violate his basic commands of seeking justice and totally rejecting violence. In the 21st century/the age of the internet, people do not have the luxury to say ?I didn't know? or even "couldn't have known." So if knowledge is available, the only excuse left is accepting the oppressors? lies that individual action will make no difference (?leave politics to us? and ?us vs them?). History shows that all good social change happened by individuals working together and challenging the myths of entrenched power (e.g. civil rights, right of women to vote, ending war on Vietnam). But it is also a moral issue, knowing of evil and not acting to stop it (especially when it is done with our taxes and in our name) is nothing short of a sin against God and humanity. Action indeed speaks louder than words and inaction is complicity.
Please take time to write letter to editors of newspapers, magazines, TV, and Radio stations; it is important and does make a difference e.g. today you can point out the hypocrisy of demanding 14,000 Syrian troops leave Lebanon while not demanding that tens of thousands of Israeli troops and hundreds of thousands of colonial settlers leave occupied Palestine.