Thursday, November 22

Holding our heads high – The Palestinian way

By:  Rana Abdulla  

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; 
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee 
Into ever-widening thought and action—
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

These words belong to Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote the same for his strife-stricken motherland, India, in light of its Independence struggle. Many Palestinians and Israelis, looking at these words, have shared the sentiments laid forth by the Indian poet. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has dragged on since the early 20th century, has claimed countless casualties in the name of self-defense, and only God knows how many more it will claim. Today there is talk about world peace, hunger alleviation, pollution control, etc., but is there no one who cares enough about the never-ending conflict and massacre of Palestinian people at the hands of Israel?

There are times when a patriot’s heart bleeds and eyes tear up due to sadness, when her motherland is under duress and nobody seems to care. A patriot can live with such a notion as she is the one who loves the nation. But what no patriot can stand is when people blame her motherland for this duress when the fault clearly lies with an aggressor who surprisingly is looked upon favorably by one and all. Yes, I am a patriotic Palestinian and my heart bleeds when my beloved Palestine is pounded to the pulp “while it resists the illegitimate,” and to top it all, blamed for it, too.

Did anyone ask why there is a Palestinian resistance in Gaza?  Frankly, because there are one and a half million refugees who have been living under Israeli siege for more than five years now in densely populated areas and almost inhuman conditions. For the uninformed, and, more importantly, for the misinformed, mass murders of these residents at the hands of Israeli forces is common. Should someone ask why they are refugees, there is a simple answer much rather a statistic for the uncaring world. Because their country, Palestine, was wiped off the map and illegally occupied, rendering the Palestinians stateless and hapless, albeit not hopeless. The Palestinians refuse to be “ex-people,” they refuse to live without a country, and they refuse to be rendered homeless. Palestinians continue to exist as nationals, although without their – now stolen – motherland. In spite of all this suffering, the Israeli deputy prime minister, Eli Yishai, wants to send them back to middle ages, which brings us to the present conflict that has now been going on for more than one week. For those who think that one week is a small time, do read on further to know the plight of my motherland and the apathy of the entire world.

The apartheid in South Africa started an international uproar, which ultimately forced that country’s government to abolish it in 1994. This was widely publicized in the world media and even celebrated in many parts of the world. The wars in Afghanistan were waged at the behest of the U.S. government just because of one terror attack which killed people. Iraq was attacked because of a mere suspicion of weapons of mass destruction. The media neutrally reported with journalists going to the war zones to enable the entire world to see both sides of the conflict. More recently, when Osama Bin Laden was assassinated in Pakistan, the entire world lauded the war on terrorism. The silent spectators of today have in the past spoken up instantly when it came to military action, be it the Libyan revolution, Rwanda and Yugoslavian genocides, and even the Indo Pak Kargil conflict. Today, I am forced to ask difficult questions, questions which have been avoided by the International media. Why is the world is silent when Palestinians are massacred in front of their loved ones when the same people were up in arms when 9/11 happened?  Where are those nations who speak of equality and condemn any sort of terrorist activity in every part of the world?

Such questions are but rhetorical, for the media is being influenced by politicians who seek naught, but political mileage from this endeavor, seeking to derive their own fortunes at the cost of innocent Palestinian lives. When Israel bombards the Palestinian civilian populace by carrying out air strikes, the U.S. president claims it to be self defense. Where, I ask, is the “self-defense” in mercilessly and incessantly bombarding the innocent? When Israel decided to interfere in Lebanon and killed Abbas Musawi, the world remained silent. When Israel did something similar in Palestine by killing Ahmed al-Ja’abari, the world still maintained silence. But when Hamas launched a few primitive rockets, nowhere in comparison to the might of the Israeli army, the world started pointing fingers towards the “terrorists.”

Just to mention some of the recent reports on the Palestine-Israel issue, there was a recent report in The Guardian quoting the Israeli prime minister, who elaborated on the pummeling of Palestine at the hands of the technologically superior Israeli army in the seven-day conflict that has claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives. Nestled somewhere in the middle was a single sentence, which had the U.S. urging for a diplomatic resolution, but reiterating Israel’s right to self-defense. The New York Times carried a similar report, dated November 16, stating the Israeli defense minister’s proposed plan for invading the Gaza Strip for the second time in four years. Reading each report thoroughly, and going through similar reports on almost every leading media website, the only mention I could find of Palestine was the number of casualties and injuries of civilians. The mention of U.S., E.U. and other major powers came only in statements supporting Israel’s attempt at committing acts of genocide against the Palestinians under the guise of self-defense.  Getting a bit more curious and researching some more reports over the past few years, I found an extremely disturbing fact that all these nations who were supporting Israel’s offensive had in the past shown little or no patience towards armed aggression and other forms of atrocities committed against humanity.

Reading such reports, I was dismayed to find that nobody had touched on the underlying causes of this conflict. Everyone seems to blindly accept Israel’s claims of being a “victim.” There is absolutely no mention of Gaza’s plight, its vulnerability to Israeli attack due to the bleak conditions present. The impoverishment of its residents, lack of emergency medical equipment in hospitals, no electricity and water for the residents for long hours – why does nobody, except expatriates, seem to care about all this? The disproportionate power is evident when one compares Israel’s state-of-the-art weapons with Gaza fighters who make do with anything they can lay their hands on, striking out, regretfully and ineffectively, at their tormentors. In spite of this valor exhibited by the brave Gaza fighters, they are still labeled “terrorists” by the world. If they stop firing rockets and retaliating, will they be able to live in peace with all the blockades lifted and ports opened to free trade?

On being questioned on this issue, the western leaders very easily sidestep the issue with remarks like “An eye for an eye makes the entire world blind.” Perhaps they aren’t aware of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall”, a devoted Zionist who tried to warn his radical cohorts about how tough it would be to subdue the Palestinians, or perhaps they agree with Israel’s illusion that the end of Hamas will come only with the annihilation of the entire Palestinian state. A destruction so complete that nothing – houses, schools, hospitals, vehicles, shelters and not even refugee camps – are spared in the wake of this onslaught. None of this is reported by the media which is content on focusing on the weak defense Hamas offers in retaliation, which begs one more question. Why is the media silent when Israel drops bombs on innocent civilians, but cries foul when U.S. carries out drone attacks on Al Qaeda hideouts?

World leaders talk about self-defense by Israel, but conveniently skip the grim situation of the Palestinian populace. The casualties are so many that physicians have been pulling 24-hour shifts and the backlog still increases. People with diseases like diabetes who need regular medication are turned away from hospitals that are overflowing with far more serious casualties. There have been times when doctors have had to decide between operating on a child with shrapnel in his head and a child with internal bleeding. And to top all this, the Israeli government ensures through its blockades and embargos that the supplies and medicines reaching Palestine are never enough to meet the needs of the population. As if this was not enough, Israel has even started cutting down on the meagre water supply that it used to provide Palestine with. Gaza, which has been under siege since 2006, is referred to as an open air prison. Yet, according to almost every western government, whether U.S. or Canada, or, for that matter, even the E.U., Hamas is the terrorist organization.

Is this what terrorism looks like? Is this what the global community seeks to oppose?
Last time I checked, the Oxford English Dictionary defined terrorism as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Just because this unjustified violence and intimidation of Palestine are officially supported by the U.S., the E.U., and other influential nations, and authorized by the Israeli government, are these not acts of terrorism?

But yes, the Israeli reaction, to me at least, looks like state-sponsored terrorism from every facet. Assassinations are carried out openly with the global community being a silent spectator. They used a missile to kill Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a paraplegic. Were they afraid that their shooters would miss the mark, or were they afraid that the sheikh would outrun their bullets on his wheelchair? The world kept silent when the missile was fired from an Israeli gunship. It remains silent now following the killing of Ahmed al-Ja’abari, a senior Hamas commander, along with at least 50 Palestinians. Even those outside Palestine, like Rachel Corrie, who try to support Palestine in the public domain, are eliminated.

As if these assassinations, blockades, and air strikes were not enough, Israel has continuously tried to downplay all its activities. Such is the hold on the media that Rachel Corrie’s murder was downplayed, even though it was an apparent assassination. That, too, when Rachel was an American citizen. Imagine what this propaganda war has been doing to the Palestinians. Just for the sake of numbers, more than 8,000 Palestinians have lost their lives compared to the 1,500 Israeli lives between 1987 and 2011. The number of injuries, since the Gaza occupation, has been around 7,000 for Palestine and only 1,200 for Israelis, and I am not even counting the 2012 statistics, including those from the recent ongoing offensive which has left 110 dead (and still rising), 30 of them are children in a span of just ten days.

Since 2006, Israel has exercised complete economic, political and military control over Gaza and the West Bank. To top it all off,  the Israeli cabinet issues a statement expressing its reservations on Palestine forming its own army. Needless to say, the Israeli plot to assassinate Palestinian leaders is not as effective a countermeasure as they want it to be. The Israeli government openly practices apartheid and racially discriminates against the Palestinians while the world clamors for equality in other parts of the world.

The Americans had their Vietnam, the Russians their Afghanistan, and the Israelis their Lebanon. While the former two learnt their lessons and did not try anything smart after that, Israel has other plans and tries to repeat history again and again. Perhaps the Israelis believe that the Palestinian spirit can be broken by persistent battering of the buildings. Palestinians are people with a resilient spirit. You can continue to bombard our homes and attack all the buildings, and we shall continue to resist these repeated attacks and rebuild our homes with what we have. Our needs are meagre, and we shall continue in our endeavor for a day when we shall go to sleep without the fear of losing our lives. Until then, we shall hold our heads high, for you can take our lives while the world is a silent spectator, but you cannot beat our spirit.

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