Sunday, May 04, 2008
Palestine before and after
By Sherri Muzher
People are tired of hearing about it," a friend once told me matter-of-factly about the Middle East conflict. Tell me about it.
As a first-generation American of Palestinian descent, I can vouch that nobody is more tired of this conflict than Palestinians. But many of us don't have the luxury of flipping the channel or ignoring what is happening to our relatives and friends.
Palestinians with serious illnesses in Gaza are denied access to medical care. More than 150 have died and children are being stoned on their way to school by Jewish settlers.
We do what we can but it never feels sufficient. And though we're 100 percent Semitic, the usual tiring label of "anti-Semite" is thrown at us for speaking out against the injustices.
This month marks the 60th anniversary of Israel's creation and the dispossession of the Palestinians from their land. I'll save the history lessons because the realities have even been acknowledged by Israeli historians, most recently by Professor Ilan Pappe in 2006 with his book, "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine."
Instead, I'd like to focus on the Palestinian people. Denying their humanity has taken on many forms in the Israeli PR arsenal — from employing pop culture to paint Palestinians as terrorists at conception to the media's glorification of Israel's birth.
In recent years, pro-Israeli commentaries claim our parents don't love us. Apparently, my parents' years of love and sacrifice illustrate they never read the Palestinian manual for parents.
Sarcasm aside, it all makes strategic sense: Dehumanize Palestinians or deny their heritage long enough that any action against them doesn't seem so outrageous, even if they are expulsions at gunpoint.
Consider that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said in 1969 in an oft-repeated statement, "There is no such thing as a Palestinian." Too bad she didn't read up on history because there has been a collective consciousness of their unique identity for millennia. The ancient Canaanites weren't called Palestinians, but neither were the Mesopotamians called Iraqis or the Celts called Irish or British. Still, the roots are unquestionable and run eternally deep, from archeological finds to folktales.
Another example of whiting out the Palestinian heritage is using the term "Israeli Arab." I've never heard of a generic Arab race — every Arab has a specific heritage, be it Palestinian, Lebanese, Algerian, etc. Think of Latin America, where they all speak the same language (Spanish, except in Portuguese-speaking Brazil) and most share the same religion (Roman Catholic). In the Arab world, they all speak Arabic and most are Muslim. Nonetheless, each country has its own dialect, foods and customs. Mexicans and Argentines differ, as do Palestinians and Egyptians.
And within each Arab nation, there is even more diversity — from distinguishable dialects and expressions, to being able to identify the region a Palestinian woman came from by the intricate embroidery on her traditional dress. Palestinians have always had a rich and vibrant culture that is all their own, before and after Israel's creation.
There is no question that Palestinians have taken a bruising with poorly made leadership decisions and factional fighting in recent years. But what has remained steadfast is their fierce embrace of identity and their resilience. This is true not only of Palestinians in Palestine but those of Palestinian descent in the diaspora.
Whether it was the election of Tony Saca to the presidency in El Salvador or respected fiscal conservative U.S. Sen. John Sununu being singled out for praise by Time magazine or Dr. Motia Khaled Al-Asir being awarded the British Empire Medal by Queen Elizabeth II, those of Palestinian descent continue to make their mark around the world.
It is worth repeating that the Jewish Torah teaches us that man was created in God's image. The Palestinians have never been absent from this equation.
Sherri Muzher is director of the Michigan Media Watch in Woodhaven, Mich.