From Desperation to Hope

By Samia Khoury
Friday, May 3, 2002

With all the devastation and suffering as a result of the reoccupation of the Palestinian Territores by the Israeli Military Forces, I was at a loss for words. I was not sure whether I was too angry or too sad to write. How could I be inspired under such circumstances, especially when I was so worried about all the family and friends in those territories?

The army had been in my sister’s home three times looking for “bad people,” the house of my best friend had been rampaged and left with filth that no humans could have possibly brought about. And the horror that my sister-in-law faced as the ambulance that was driving her to the bridge on her way to Amman was shot at. Thank heavens she was spared by a split second.

As I continued to worry, while trying at the same time to get over the disappointment of having to postpone our 50th anniversary celebrations at Rawdat El-Zuhur, I was feeling more and more at a loss for a specific focus for my monthly column. And then “Bingo”! Out of the blue, Mr. George W. Bush came to my rescue with his brilliant statement “Mr. Ariel Sharon is a man of peace.” This time I was not sure whether I wanted to laugh or cry. To start with, I thought that was the joke of the century, but on a second thought, that was no joke, and with the horror of the reoccupation, it certainly was no time for laughter.

On the contrary, it was a time of sorrow, for indeed it is a calamity when Mr. Bush thinks of Mr. Sharon as a man of peace. But Mr. Bush is the president of the USA, and his position as the president of the only superpower gives him the right to call all the shots and to say anything. And, of course, the blind support of the U.S. administration to Israel gives Israel, as well, the right to be above the law and to defy all UN resolutions. When I received a magazine last week addressed to my post office box at “Jerusalem, Israel, USA,” I could not help but wonder whether it was simply another joke, a stupid mistake, a Freudian slip, or a sign of the times.

The brutality, devastation and vengeful destruction caused by the Israeli Occupation Forces under the leadership of Sharon is not at all surprising, keeping in mind Sharon’s history. But for the international community to continue to allow Sharon to get away with all those crimes is no longer acceptable.

In fact, it is appalling that Mr. Colin Powell — who did not take time to visit the Jenin Refugee Camp during his recent visit to the area when news of a possible massacre was already out — should assert without compunction that there was no massacre in Jenin. How did he know that when he was not there? And when the UN factfinding commission had not arrived yet? As it seems now, it will never arrive. Israel claims it has nothing to hide, so why is there all this hassle about the UN commission? And why were human rights organizations and medical teams denied entry to the area at the time? Of course Mr. Powell was taken by a plane to check the Lebanese borders and to look over the scene of the suicide bombing in Jerusalem which had taken place shortly before his arrival. But the plane did not fly over Jenin for “Israel has nothing to hide,” and “Sharon is a man of Peace,” and “Arafat should do more to curb violence.”

If that is the logic and the voices that continue to come out of the White House then the whole Palestinian population might just turn into a time bomb. Yes, people feel helpless, desperate, worried and scared, but not hopeless. People who have justice on their side cannot lose hope, because God is a God of justice. How refreshing it was the other day during worship at Sabeel when we read and reflected on the first letter of Peter (2:19-25): “[W]hen they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” We the Palestinians continue to trust in God who judges justly, although I must admit we sometimes think he is taking his time regarding our region. But both Christians and Muslims have this trust based on a deeply rooted faith where God is revealed as a God of Justice not only in the Bible, but in the Koran as well, and in more than one Sura.

Yet amidst all this desperation, Jewish and Palestinian peace voices have been crying out: “The Occupation is Killing Us All.” Israeli reserve soldiers are spending time in jail for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. Will someone listen, and force Israel to end the Occupation? Or will the international community allow Mr. Sharon to lead the whole region, and possibly the world, into a devastating war?

During these past weeks, we have seen a sample of what Mr. Sharon is capable of doing. What a shame that even the UN had to succumb to Israel regarding the factfinding commission. What hope is left for justice when the UN has become redundant and void of its noble purpose? If the commission is unable to determine its own mandate, it might as well stay at home rather than become the laughing stock of Israel. This can only happen in Israel where the party on trial assumes the right to appoint the judge and determine his mandate. But then this is a paradoxical land, for “Sharon is a man of peace” and Israel “has nothing to hide”!

So why then all this fury about the statement of Terje Roed-Larsen? Was it because he said the scene was “horrific beyond belief,” or was it because he said it was “morally repugnant” to bar medical and humanitarian aid for eleven days? The Latin Patriarch was just as unpopular when he commented that the site was more like the site of an earthquake and not the work of humans.

It is the exposure of truth that Israel cannot cope with. I have lived long enough in this region to see how facts can be twisted with the support of power and the media, and how the state of Israel nurtured on false myths ever since it justified the creation of the state on Palestinian land as “a land without people for a people without land.” So it is no surprise that the Israeli Military Occupation Forces are known as Defense Forces; the Invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was “Peace for the Galilee”; Barak’s “generous offer” meant the exclusion of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the cantonization of the Palestinian Territories into four fragmented areas separated by Israeli checkpoints and by pass roads. The recent “Operation Defensive Shield” was actually an offensive attack to destroy the fabric of Palestine which both the Palestinian Authority and the civil society have been building since the Oslo Peace Agreement.

The list goes on and on, but as the real meaning of this doubletalk gets unfolded, Israel acts viciously against those who dare expose the truth. For it knows very well that the truth will set us free.

The dilemma for Israel is when the truth is revealed through Jewish voices. One of those voices is that of the famous Israeli singer Yaffa Yarkoni. Yaffa paid heavily for daring to criticize the army for their oppressive measures and humiliation of young Palestinians, like those with their hands tied behind their backs. “It is like what they did to us in the Holocaust,” she told a reporter in an interview on the occasion of Independence Day.

When non-Jews criticize Israel they are labeled “anti-Semitic”; when Jews in the United States critize Israel they are labeled “self-hating Jews”. But Yaffa, who has been singing for the Army ever since the state of Israel was established, does not fit that criteria. So how is Israel going to lash back at her? At the age of 77, she has already been made to feel like an outcast, as a performance honoring her was canceled, and the town of Kfar Yona canceled her performance at a Memorial Day event to honor Israeli soldiers who have fallen in battle. I am sure she is a very sad woman and really hurt, but at the same time because she cares for the image of Israel and for the spirit of those soldiers who have been dehumanized because of the Occupation, she could not stay silent.

It is those voices who will ultimately give us reason to hope and look forward to liberation, for us as well as for the Israelis. A liberation from an Occupation which is killing us all.

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