The Privilege of Choice

By Samia Khoury
Wednesday, February 6, 2002

After my January article was posted on The Witness, I was talking to my friend Cedar and expressing my worries about finding an issue to write about every month. She assured me that with the deteriorating situation in Palestine, I should not have any problem. How right she was. Now, my problem is one of choice. So much has happened this past month, starting with the shooting of our neighbor Shihadeh on the way to Nablus, and ending with the State of the Union speech by Mr. Bush. I have found myself having the problem of choice. But then: what about choice, I thought. “Choice” itself seems to be an issue. So many rallies and demonstrations are demanding the right of choice; a privilege so many people or groups of people are deprived of. How much justice is there in choice itself?

Rich countries and rich people have more choices than poor countries and poor people. Powerful countries and powerful people have more choices than oppressed countries and helpless people. I often wonder how much these privileged people really appreciate what they have, and appreciate the privilege of choice. As far as they are concerned, waking up in the morning and choosing between running a bath in their tub or taking a shower is a normal fact of life, taken for granted. Whereas in so many countries the choice is not even there, when there is no running water in the tap.

Privileged people can choose whether they will enjoy the comforts of life — never mind those who are less privileged — or whether they will do something about it so that all can share in the good things in this world. There are many genuinely good people around the world, and many of them have made very good choices. They have helped support the oppressed and the underprivileged, and have spoken up against social, economic and political injustice wherever it happens to be.

Sometimes people make the wrong choices, consciously on unconsciously, and it can hurt them or cost them their lives. Our neighbor Shihadeh took a great risk by going to Nablus on duty with a pharmaceutical company to deliver much needed medicines to an area that has been under siege. His mother — who had been widowed ten years ago — begged him not to go, realizing how dangerous those roads have become. He made his choice and was shot dead by unknown assailants on that death journey. How do you console such a mother who had already given one of her sons to the church as a Franciscan priest? Father George, in his eulogy, said that she was a blessed woman, for she offered one son to the world, and the other one to the heavens. Bless his soul.

In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush very conspicuously made a choice to avoid referring to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Maybe he was wiser than we all have assumed, for he did not want to say the wrong thing and get another standing ovation. When the powerful make choices that affect other peoples and their destinies, the criteria for these choices are crucial. Unless a choice is based on justice and morality, it will never bring peace or security for anyone.

So often we Palestinians have been blamed for not taking advantage of the choices that we have been offered: “Missed Opportunities,” as Israel and the U.S. administration call them. They were simply part of the Israeli disinformation plan to discredit the Palestinians as peace partners. The reality is that the only choices we ever had were between a bad offer and a worse offer. This started with the partition scheme of Palestine in 1948, which was a glaring injustice. It allocated 56% of the land to a Jewish minority who were only 32.5% of the population and who owned only 5.6% of the land by purchase. And it ends up with Ehud Barak’s “generous offer at Camp David,” whereby Israel would return only 88% of the Occupied Territories of 1967 (which are themselves only 22% of historic Palestine). It would also have annexed big chunks of the West Bank and Jerusalem, fragmented the country into four cantons, and denied the right of return of Palestinian refugees. That in no way was a generous offer; it ultimately led us to make a choice between acquiescing to the Occupation or rebelling against it.

Like other oppressed peoples throughout history, our choice was made loud and clear with the Intifada: “End the Occupation.” But desperate people are not privileged people. They do not have many choices. When all is lost — homes, businesses, land, children, livelihood, and all means of normal living — when they are provoked time and again into violent reactions and driven to desperation, they are faced with one scary choice, that of losing their humanity.

The Israeli leaders, however, have the power and the army, so they have the privilege of making a choice. Why do they not learn the lessons of history, and listen to the voices of dissent? These include the young Israeli soldiers who are serving in Israeli jails for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli peace and women’s groups who are demanding the “End to the Occupation,” and brave journalists and writers like Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and Uri Avnery. It is time for Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East,” to make the right choice: whether it wants to continue to be an oppressive regime, or to end the Occupation and grant the Palestinians their liberation, thus sparing both peoples further suffering. The U.S. administration has to make a choice as well: whether it wants to continue supporting an oppressive regime and letting the “war on terrorism” blind it from the reality on the ground and from the root causes of terrorism, or whether it wants to support justice and freedom for all. This is a moral issue.

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