The Silence Is So Loud

By Samia Khoury
Monday, March 4, 2002

“You Can Hear the Silence; It Is So Loud!”

With these words my long time YWCA friend Elaine Steel wrote to inquire about all of us [in Palestine]. It is unbelievable how deafening that silence has been ever since Ariel Sharon allied himself with the USA in this “war against terrorism.” How many more need to lose their lives? How many more homes need to be demolished? How many more fields and groves need to be bulldozed? And how many more pregnant women need to deliver at checkpoints — or get shot on their way to delivery — before the international community raises its voice and takes action to put an end to this brutal occupation?

“The Occupation Is Killing Us All” has been the main slogan of the Israeli peace activists and women coalitions. Indeed it is taking Mr. Sharon a long time to realize that all this brutality will eventually boomerang and nobody will be spared. Indeed, during the last few days noone has been spared, for Palestinians were bound to retaliate to the brutal incursion of the Israeli military into the refugee camps. We were hoping that the voices of the Israeli conscientious objectors (known as the “Refuseniks”) would prompt the Israeli military to stop and think before bulldozing through those camps and inflicting so much suffering and devastation. On the contrary; it seems that the more coverage those “Refuseniks” get in the media, the more repressive the regime becomes. It is as if the Israeli government is trying to race with time for fear that the conscientious objectors movement will grow out of hand, and split the people of Israel and its government. According to the latest statistics every 53 minutes a new Refusenik is added to the growing list of conscientious objectors.

In his February 21, 2002 address to the nation, Mr. Sharon was very adamant about the need to stay united, and he referred to the Refuseniks as a “national weakness” and said he refuses to give them “a stage to express themselves.” He certainly did not sound like he was going to be tolerant with these conscientious objectors, for they are interrupting his agenda. It is amazing how, after all this silence, the voice of conscience could not be suppressed any longer. This voice is now being heard loud and clear. The Israeli people should be grateful to those men whose conscience is still alive and who will eventually help resuscitate the conscience of the whole nation, which seems to have been doped by the grandeur of power and the spoils of the Occupation.

Those brave men have mothers or wives with whom they were bound to share their dilemma, so I would imagine that many of these women must have had an influence on those soldiers one way or the other. In fact, it was the womens’ voices that were crying out much earlier, but nobody bothered to listen; their voices remained “voices in the wilderness.” But now along with these Refuseniks and all the peace movements, the Israeli government will have to reckon with the women and many others from inside Israel who are calling for the end of the Occupation. These “Jewish voices” are the first sign of hope for a breakthrough.

Not only must the Israeli government look at this phenomenon very seriously, the U.S. administration also needs to question its blind support to Israel, since the plea is coming from inside Israel — from Israelis themselves. How ironic that it is much easier to criticize Israel in Israel than in the USA. It would seem to me that the supporters of Israel in the USA are more “royal than the king.” No wonder U.S. senators and congressmen find it necessary to launch their election campaigns in Israel. If I did not know any better as I listened to Mrs. Hillary Clinton speak last week, I would have thought she was a member of the Israeli Knesset rather than the U.S. Senate.

I remember when I was young and my mother would rebuke me for something, she was always sure to let me know that she was doing that for my own good. It seems very logical that if one cares about someone else, one needs to be honest and frank enough to guide them into doing what is best for them. But when your vested interests lay with someone, you end up being a hypocrite in trying to please that person in order to achieve your ulterior motive. If the U.S. administration really cares about the welfare of Israel and its people, it will help them pull out of the swamp of occupation rather than supporting them as they sink further in the quicksand.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged the full participation of Palestinian women in the conflict resolution initiatives. The Palestinian women cannot handle this challenge alone. So it would be only natural and much more fruitful to form an axis of women — both Palestinians and Israelis — to work for justice, security and peace. Such an axis would be an axis of wisdom, rather than an axis of evil which will achieve nothing but devastation. Who else is more qualified to realize the importance of justice than women? A woman who gives birth to a new life truly appreciates the importance of justice to ensure the security of this precious life and to guarantee peace for her home and her community.

How very appropriate it is that Mother’s Day was initiated by women against war. This is a long forgotten fact due to the commercialization of this very meaningful day. It was first observed in Boston in 1873 when Julia Ward Howe organized a day for mothers and children to come together to speak out against war and to work for peace. March 21 is Mother’s Day in the Arab world. Could this be a beginning of a new dawn when both Palestinian and Israeli women can change the course of history and bring about justice, security and peace to the whole region, sparing its people further suffering? For, truly: The Occupation Is Killing Us All.

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