by Matthew J. Peters
I'm reading Naomi Shihab Nye's book Never in a Hurry late at night; the window glows with moon and street light.
A night breeze scratches along the walls, creating a dull silence filled only with the voice of her words rising into my head.
A friend gave me Never in a Hurry because she wanted me to read something about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that would give me a different perspective. Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian-American who wrote about the different people and places she had visited in her travels; particularly a visit to Israel where her father's Arab family is still living.
As I read her essay entitled "One Village," foreign shouts and sharp pounding break the tranquility of my night, drawing my attention to the front door of my reality. Curled up between clean sheets and beneath a heavy double layer of quilts, I watch my door convulse away from its hinges. The dead bolt lies on the floor, a toothpick. A herd of Mossad stormtroopers from Israel flow through the smoking doorway and into my mind, torrential and constant.
The warm comforters become a smothering net; I am Gullivered beneath the stormtroopers. Standing on the bed, the troopers have me pinned under boots and barrels. I question; I profess innocence and ignorance. I am silenced by the sole of a jack boot; rubber tread covered with dirt, blood, and dog shit seals my mouth. The stormtroopers ransack my room, looking for nothing, destroying everything, taking what catches their reptilian eyes. They kick and stomp at my mummified form to keep me squirming. Smashing pictures of family, friends and dead lovers. Computer disks of poetry confiscated, the writing utensil itself is stabbed and beaten with bayonets and rifle butts.
A cackling soldier fires his rifle into the closet, shredding my wardrobe with the technology of rapid fire. Plates smash into the tiled kitchen floor, glasses bounce and pop like corn. I hear more shattering chimes in the bathroom, the sound of water spilling. Some soldier, deciding to give me seven extra years of worse luck, smashes the bathroom mirror. I hear the television implode in the living room, its tube sucking in a last and only breath. Shelves karate-chopped from walls, their Precious Moments die under boot heals. The futon couch finally collapses under stomping boots. George cries; his last mew drowned out by human laughter.
The stormtroopers file out of my mind with the grace and noise of a locomotive, leaving me awed, headached, listening to the sound of puddling water. I sit for a moment wondering if I have not just woken from a bad dream, some surrealistic nightmare. Outside, one final Israeli gun shot answers my thought, its American-made bullet ripping through the face of a curious little girl who dared look out her window.
I lay there, blinking; my mind feels disconnected, unable to process this new possible reality. In the cold dank hours of morning, I slosh along the floor, searching for pieces that might fit together. I try to reform some sort of working reality, some concept of this West Bank situation into the middle of which I have just been thrown, but a workable picture will never reform; the pieces will never fit, they are from two different frames.
I always knew the truth was filtered through propaganda machines, that my mind was molded and directed around a certain subject in a particular way. I always thought that knowing about it would somehow help me defend my mind, protect my fragile concepts of reality. Before reading Nye, I never knew much or even cared much about Israeli-Palestinian affairs, so I bought into the picture the media painted for me. By not knowing a damn thing about the conflict, I was an easy target. Sure, I'd heard that the Jews had been persecuted during World War II and throughout history as well. I'd heard that Israel was established to finally give the Jews a home. And I'd heard that the neighboring Muslim Arabs did not like their new Jewish neighbors so they terrorized them. I believed that the Israelis were the victims and that the Palestinians were worthy of all our American ammunition. But the conflict was far away, just pictures on TV and words in the seldom read newspaper--of no concern to me. I didn't bother to doubt the unbiased media's account of the very real and human situation.
Nye's essays showed another side, one I hadn't bothered to even consider. I learned that the reason the Palestinians were so ticked off is because the new Jewish homeland had been their homeland for the previous four hundred years. I learned the Palestinians' country, their businesses, farms, and houses were forcibly taken right out from under them in 1948 and nationalized by Hebrew revolutionaries (something the US government is sanctioning the Cuban revolutionaries for). The media failed to show me Israeli tanks pointing sixty-millimeter guns at passing Palestinian pedestrians. It failed to show Mossad agents hauling Palestinians out of bed in the middle of the night to arrest them; failed to show Israeli soldiers denying heart attack victims access to Jerusalem's hospitals because they were Palestinian. The media failed to show me Israeli officers harassing American travelers, x-raying every garment, delaying them with questions just because they were Arab-American and not Jewish-American. All the pretty propaganda stories failed to tell of the scorched fields of now non-existent Palestinian towns, failed to show bullet riddled school houses, failed to tell of Israeli censors rejecting Palestinian poetry about the curious children with bullets for brains. My problem is that I never knew about this other side. I never heard about the way the Palestinians are being oppressed and terrorized by the Israelis. I only heard about the poor persecuted Israelis.
Nye sparked an interest in me to do a bit of research on the subject of who in the hell's homeland it actually was:
Both sides claim rights to the land of Palestine/Israel by way of god (which is a whole other essay itself). But the Hebrews claim "dibs" because Palestine/Israel was originally their homeland, given to them by God two thousand years before Islam existed and therefore rightfully theirs first. Going backwards in time, Israel proper was formed in 1948 after World War II when David Ben-Gurion led the drive for independent statehood from Britain much like George Washington in colonial America. Before Ben-Gurion and his revolutionaries, the displaced Hebrews of Europe were dropped off in the British colony of Palestine, when England decided to set up a homeland for the Jews after World War I (known as the Balfour Declaration of 1917. A nice gesture on England's part, but considering England colonized the area to begin with, they probably should have given it back to the Palestinians and put the Hebrews in Wales... ). The Turkish Ottoman Empire held the area for four-hundred years until becoming a British colony in the mid 1800s. Before the Turks, the Crusaders had established a Christian kingdom in 1099 to 1400, and before them an Islamic kingdom existed since 638 C.E., and the Byzantines before them. In fact, the Hebrews ceased to control the area in 500 B.C.E. when the Romans came to town. And the Hebrew kingdom didn't even have a homeland until 1000 B.C.E. when King David conquered the Canaanite city of Urusalim and renamed it Jerusalem. The whole of Israel had been part of the Canaanite homeland that existed from around 2000 B.C.E. (Why aren't the Canaanites pissed off also? Why aren't they blowing up busloads of people?) Before the Canaanites, the Ghassulian culture lived there around 4000 B.C.E., whoever they were. Hell, the Hebrew people trace lineage back to Abraham, well Abraham came from Ur and that is in Iraq. Why isn't the Jewish homeland Iraq? Why aren't the Jews fighting Saddam?
Now, I have no idea what to believe. I have no idea who is right, or who to support. I still don't have any real clue about Israeli-Palestinian relations, but now I care. And because I care, I'm angry. I can no longer say that the Israelis are right and good while the Palestinians are wrong and bad, nor can I say the opposite. I do know that fascism lives on, terrorizing, killing, destroying, again in the name of God and what is ultimately objectively right. I know that the Jews have their own stormtroopers now, the Mossad. I know that both sides are equally mutilating, molesting, and terrorizing each other.
At least I think I know this.
But do I have to condemn one and support the other? I think they're both wrong. I think they need to give it up and move out of the desert. I think we should relocate the Palestinians to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, force the Hebrews to fight Saddam for Iraq and then nuke Palestine/Israel to a molten green sea so the Christians can't turn it into some sort of Holy Land Amusement Park!
This intolerance of human diversity amongst humans, which is ordered by a selfish egotistical God of "love," and enforced by stormtroopers and terrorists, only strengthens my nihilism and solidifies my atheism. People wonder why I'm a nihilist; after learning shit like this, I wonder why more people aren't.
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