Rewards for Justice

June 2, 2004

By Samia Khoury
Wednesday, June 2, 2004

“Israelis are far more critical of Israeli policy than Americans are,” noted Edward Walker Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt. “If your good friends won’t tell you that something’s wrong, they’re not very good friends.”

A large advertisement placed by the U.S. embassy has appeared in our local papers more than once lately under the heading “In Search of Justice.” The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv is offering a reward of up to five million dollars to whoever can provide the embassy with information that will lead to the capture of those responsible for the killing of three Americans in a car blast in Gaza on October 10, 2003. “Rewards for Justice” was the address listed to contact the U.S. Embassy in response to the advertisement.

I could not but help reflect on the emphasis on Justice in this advertisement. The embassy is searching for justice and paying money for it. However, in our search for justice as Palestinians, we have been paying dearly for the last 56 years. Five million dollars has hardly any value compared with all those human lives that have been lost, and continue to be, in our search for justice. Of course, that is over and above the dispossession of our land, our personal property, our belongings, and our identity as a people.

It may seem ironic, but this ad appeared again during the recent period that the Israeli military occupation forces were committing atrocities against the Palestinian civilian population of Rafah.

If the U.S. government is really interested in searching for justice, it does not need to pay one penny to find out who the perpetrators are in this case. While there is no proof that those Americans were the intended targets in the first place, the killing of those Americans could have been avoided if the U.S. government was serious in its search for justice in the region.

The area is under a military occupation, and under such circumstances security cannot be guaranteed to anybody. In fact, those young Americans were victims of the policy of their own government for its support of a military occupation, and for blocking United Nations resolutions from redressing the grave injustices inflicted upon the Palestinians.

I do not justify the killings nor condone them, but justice cannot be bought. It is simply a moral value and a prerequisite for world peace, security, and stability. All those wars waged in the name of security and fighting “terrorism” have proved futile. They have only caused more suffering, and mostly to innocent people, because they have never addressed the basic issue of injustice, which is the root cause of “terrorism” and lack of security.

“Though seeing they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matthew 13:13).

If justice could be bought by money, I am sure the Palestinians could have raised enough money from the rich Arab countries to have purchased it. But a reward for justice can only be a moral reward when justice is applicable under all circumstances and to everybody equally.

Searching for Role Models

April 1, 2004

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, April 1, 2004

All moral values that children learn at home and at school seem to be turned upside down when they face the real world. All those role models — parents, teachers, community leaders, and religious leaders — seem completely different as a child grows up and tries to live by those values.

In our region, it is very easy to blame this brutal military occupation for the erosion of moral values. Actually there is a lot of truth in that: every aspect of our life has been disrupted, and every value has been trampled upon by the occupation. So it is one of the biggest challenges for parents, teachers, and community and religious leaders to continue being role models despite all that is going on.

Of course it is easier said than done, because under such circumstances the law of the jungle prevails. Children’s respect for their parents often gets shattered when they realize that their parents are deviating from the values they brought them up on. Children watch and listen for the sad examples of when their parents are not telling the truth or are cheating in business in order to survive.

For school children, the teacher is absolutely infallible. I remember how my daughter reacted in kindergarten as she was starting to learn how to write. I looked at her copy book, and commented that one of the words was spelled incorrectly. She insisted that the teacher had written it that way, so it must be correct. I explained that the teacher could have been mistaken. But I could not win the argument because she insisted that the teacher does not make mistakes. What a disappointment it is for children to discover that the teacher not only makes mistakes, but could be dishonest or unfair.

But for those devout believers, no matter their faith, the disappointment is even bigger, and it hurts more and shakes their faith when they realize that some of their religious leaders do not adhere to the moral values that they propagate. Of course, when those leaders are trapped in a situation they can always claim that they are human. We are all human, and we can all be tempted to deviate from honesty, truthfulness or justice. But when a religious leader assumes the spiritual leadership of his or her community, the responsibility is much greater than that of an ordinary lay person. More is expected from those leaders so that their congregations or constituencies can lean on them in times of difficulties. With their support and inspiration, the community will have courage and hope to face the challenges and evils of everyday life under this brutal occupation.

We have a saying in Arabic that rhymes, which translates as follows: “The artifice or malice of priests has superseded that of women.” I think this is an insult to both priests and women, and an unacceptable generalization. But like all proverbs or sayings, a certain reality is reflected.

I can understand how oppressed women sometimes need to resort to devious methods, although it is never justified, but I cannot understand why priests need to be malicious or conniving. After all, when they choose the path of serving God by being spiritual leaders in their communities, they need to adhere to basic values such as humility, honesty, justice, sacrifice and forgiveness. But then, who am I to tell the priests what values they need to adhere to? They are supposed to know that themselves, and act accordingly to be role models for their communities. But it has to be noted that even Christ was apprehensive when he warned the crowds, “Obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:3).

So as a concerned member of the community who looks up to religious leaders, irrespective of their faith, I worry when those leaders deviate from basic values. Once they cease to be role models, they may have no compunction to use the power that is invested in them in ways that could hurt the community and its reputation.

Civil society and community leaders have just as much of a responsibility towards their communities. The credibility of their work all depends on how much they adhere to moral values, and how transparent their performance is. They need to be role models so as to maintain the reputation of civil society organizations and guarantee the continuity of their services.

I am not going to refer to political leaders as role models. Politicians are a category of their own, and no matter where they are, their vested interests always seem to supersede all moral values. From my experience in living in this troubled land, hardly any of the leaders and politicians who have influenced the course of events in our region can be considered role models — whether they are Arab, Palestinian, Israeli, European, or American. In fact, when any country or government is blessed with a decent and honest leader who speaks out for our rights and for the justice of our cause, it comes as a big surprise and a fresh, soothing breeze of courage and honesty, but unfortunately whoever has that courage to speak out pays a heavy price.

We have watched the damage of the Israeli occupation on both the Palestinian and Israeli societies. It is an evil system that has dehumanized both peoples, the oppressor and the oppressed. Who will be our role models to get us out of this mess? The logical answer would have been the United Nations, which was established for the sole reason of setting values, standards and norms to solve world issues peacefully. Unfortunately, like the rest of the leadership involved in our region, it has also failed the test, and has lost all its credibility.

Maybe we should start looking at the potential of Israeli dissidents — who have had the courage to refuse serving a military occupation — and the younger generation of Palestinians who refuse to be silenced by the brutality of the occupation or intimidated by the disorder and lawlessness in the Palestinian Territories.

The Earthquake

March 4, 2004

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, March 4, 2004

The day the earthquake hit our area, I was sitting with my husband in the oncology department at the hospital. The telephones did not stop ringing; I was grateful I do not carry a cellular phone. The doctor’s phone was the first to ring. Very calmly he set the mind of a petrified wife at ease.

Immediately, someone turned on the television so that we could all find out what was happening. There was an alert from the ministry of education to get all the children out of their classrooms and to have them wait in the school playgrounds until the fear of another tremor was over. I could imagine the panic of the parents, and as a former school administrator, how the responsibility must have drained the school principals.

Amidst all the tension, I was wondering, “What if a real disaster had happened, and we all ended up under the rubble?” Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians and Muslims; doctors, nurses and patients. Even visitors who happened to be there by chance would not have been spared. Natural disasters, as well as diseases, are not discriminatory, and we would all have been equally victimized. In a split-second, severe earthquake could destroy a whole region and its population.

How ironic it is, I thought, that for so many people living in such a troubled land, the end would not have come as a result of an Israeli air raid on a Palestinian refugee camp or a suicide bomber on an Israeli bus. It would have been the result of a tremor of earth which nobody can control. Not even the most sophisticated Israeli security measures, including the so-called security fence – which is actually a concrete wall – could control this.

The earthquake would have been the ultimate solution for both the oppressors and the oppressed. It would have certainly put an end to all the disproportionate suffering and inhumanity, and would have solved a problem that has prevailed for over half a century.

Since the United Nations has not been able to get Israel to abide by any of its resolutions, and none of the peace initiatives have gone through, I thought that maybe a divine intervention was necessary to get a fresh start. A new beginning would have emerged with the survivors. They probably would appreciate the miracle of surviving such a natural disaster and would cherish whatever remains of the land and respect whoever is on it as equal survivors. No master or slave. No walls, or barriers. No soldiers at checkpoints. Simply caretakers of the land whose privilege as survivors would be to till the land and enjoy its produce. An earthquake would probably be a good lesson for humans to remember “to do justice and walk humbly with the Lord,” instead of all the oppression and the suffering imposed by humans on each other.

I suddenly woke up from my surrealistic reflection to realize that life under occupation is even more surrealistic. Every time a new reality is established on the ground and Israel gets away with it, we feel it cannot get worse. But again and again it does get worse. And the Wall is showing that once again Israel is getting away with a new reality, even if it is in violation of international law or in defiance of United Nations resolutions. The pattern has become too familiar whereby we hear voices of objection that get silenced as soon as the reality is established. The “Wall” is the test now for the international community.

What can be worse than the “Wall” which is snaking through the Palestinian Territories? Like a hurricane, it is destroying and uprooting all that is in its way, and making life almost impossible. It remains to be seen, but maybe an earthquake will spare us.

Do Not Worry

January 28, 2004

By Samia Khoury
Wednesday, January 28, 2004

When we read that scriptural passage during one of our recent worship services at the Sabeel Centre, I could not help but reflect closely on those lines and the lines that followed. Christ assures us that we are much more valuable than the birds that the heavenly Father feeds, and the lilies of the field that he clothes.

Indeed we might be more valuable, but certainly not under this brutal military occupation where life has no value whatsoever. People get killed by the dozens and the oppression stifles every aspect of our life. So how are we supposed not to worry?

Indeed, if any being is privileged these days it is a bird. Every time I am stopped at a checkpoint, I wish I could trade places with those birds flying over so freely beyond barriers and walls, and without any identification papers. The ants are even better off than we are, for they manage to crawl their way in between the boots of the soldiers, reaching whichever destination they choose. What a challenge these creatures must be to the military forces.

Sometimes my imagination goes beyond logic as I recall the films we used to watch about the “invisible man.” Would it not be great to experience a crossing at one of those infamous checkpoints as an invisible person?

The beautiful lilies of the field that sway with the pleasant breezes in the air are not likely to be there these days. They have probably been stifled like the lives of those people who cannot tend to their fields anymore. This occurs either because those fields have been separated from their owners by a wall, or because they were confiscated for the building of Jewish settlements and bypass roads. So most likely those lilies have been uprooted along with the crops of those fields.

With all these acts done in the name of security, is it really possible to “not worry”? It is probably easier said than done. What a privilege it would be to go to bed and sleep like a child without any worries. But even children have their worries these days. In fact, the military occupation exacerbates our worries as it turns them into a daily reality while we try hard to go about our lives as normally as possible against all odds. The joy of an expectant mother ends up being a nightmare as she gets near her time to deliver. She is constantly worried about how to reach the hospital or clinic with the reality of passing all the checkpoints and roadblocks. Stories about women delivering at checkpoints are horrific, yet they continue to occur. The woman who lost her twin girls this past month — because the army did not allow the ambulance to get her to the hospital — will haunt many expectant mothers.

The families whose children have to go to school past barriers and checkpoints have every reason to worry when the shooting of Palestinian children has become a daily routine, and does not even hit the media. It was due to this constant worry that Naim from Balata refugee camp near Nablus kept his six-year old child at home recently. Nablus had been exposed to very brutal measures of curfews, shootings, devastation, and the demolishing of homes in historical neighborhoods.

Little did Naim realize that under a military occupation even a home is not safe anymore. The child was shot dead as he sat eating his sandwich on his doorstep.

Sitting by the child’s grave, the father commented, “No child, Jewish or Arab, deserves a life like this or a death like this.” This heartbreaking story was reported by Gideon Levy.

The barbaric act of the Israeli bulldozers demolishing around fifty homes in Rafah this past week left scores of people homeless. The families had very little time to rescue any belongings, so their immediate worry was to decide what to salvage in such a short time. Petrified women and their children were running in circles, and most of them were grabbing mattresses and blankets. The face of a scared young girl pulling a blanket from under the rubble was absolutely tragic. Cooking pots seemed to be another salvaged item. Nothing else mattered at that moment. The priority was to find something to lay one’s head on at the end of the day, and a pot in which a hot meal for the family could be cooked (camping style, of course).

While those dispossessed and oppressed people worry about their survival and about the basic needs and safety of their families, we find comfortable people in free countries in a constant state of worry. Ironically though, they worry about the stock market, they worry about making more money, acquiring more material possessions, obtaining more power. Maybe it is to those people that Christ was addressing his message “Do not worry.” For those dispossessed and oppressed he gave them hope as he read from the book of Isaiah in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

It is for that reason that we cannot lose hope. For it is our trust in a just God and our firm belief in the justice of our cause that have sustained us throughout these long years of military occupation. The support and commitment of all those who believe in this justice have given us more reason not to lose hope in our quest for liberation, justice and peace.

The Hoopla in Geneva

December 17, 2003

By Samia Khoury
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

For the last couple of months, we have been reading details of the Geneva Initiative, and listening to opinions for and against this initiative. So, finally the signing of this document took place in Geneva. But why all the fanfare? Listening to the music and singing, one would think we are really celebrating Palestinian independence. It is bad enough that we commemorate November 15th — the day of the announcement of the declaration of independence — as Independence Day, when in reality we are still under military occupation. So was the hoopla in Geneva another overture for another date to add to our long list of commemorations?

It would be naive to think that people who have been dispossessed for over half a century and living under military occupation for the last 36 years are not anxious to live in peace. But it would be just as naive to think that the signing of this “unofficial document” in Geneva is really a “breakthrough in peace negotiations.”

One would think that the region has learnt enough lessons from the various peace initiatives since the Madrid conference (1991), which was based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. These are initiatives that have been doomed to failure, basically because those UN resolutions — and all previous ones, including the right of return — have been defied by Israel all along. What was so magical about this initiative to make its fate any different? Did the occasion really warrant a celebration? It seems that all those dignitaries were getting together to endorse the redundancy of the United Nations and its resolutions, since the stipulations of this initiative, if implemented, are supposed to supersede all previous UN resolutions. So in reality Israel is being rewarded for its intransigence and for defying the United Nations.

To contemplate making compromises on the right of return requires a clear mandate from the Palestinian refugees themselves. Those who continue to live in refugee camps in Arab countries, and those who have been dispersed all over the world, are the only ones who are entitled to speak on behalf of the refugees. We have heard people say that “we need to be pragmatic since many, or most, of the refugees might not want to return.” To start with that is not an accurate assumption. Moreoever, there is a difference between one’s basic right and one’s choice of how to deal with that right. If some of the refugees do not want to return, it should be by their own choice, and not because somebody has made a deal on their behalf to deprive them of that right.

Palestinians have a historical narrative that asserts their rights, and there is no way peace negotiations can move ahead without the recognition of those rights. Unfortunately, Israel refuses to recognize its responsibility for our dispossession and for creating the refugee problem. Yet the Palestinians are demanded to make more concessions of their rights — simply because, strategically, they are powerless, they do not have the privilege of choice. Does this mean it is acceptable to trample over the powerless? In this century when the law of the jungle has been replaced by the United Nations, it would seem an unacceptable justification for the Palestinians to forfeit their rights simply because they are powerless.

It is indeed very sad that Palestinians are helping Israel to nullify the right of return. “Come on,” they say; “do you really believe this can work out?” Why not? Or is it because Israel is involved, and it has become the norm that no power challenges Israel for its violations of international law? No injustice can be acceptable. Even if it is the norm, it remains immoral and illegal. So why should the Palestinians succumb to this logic and forfeit their rights, especially when justice is on their side?

The widow in Luke (18:1-8) was powerless, but she kept taking her case to the judge who “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” Yet she was persistent in pleading for “justice against her opponent” until he came to the conclusion that he needed to grant her justice so that she would stop bothering him, or else she would eventually wear him out. I do not think as Palestinians we have bothered the world’s conscience enough. We are the ones who have been worn out and victimized. And to add insult to injury we have been labeled “terrorists.” It is high time we are granted justice against our adversary.

The partition scheme in 1948 never worked out because it lacked justice and was based on creating a Jewish state on land that was meant to be for all its citizens. With the present inequity, how do we envisage that a much smaller percentage of Palestine, surrounded by an Apartheid Wall, could be acceptable and will guarantee a viable and comprehensive peace? At the same time, if Israel is to be an exclusively Jewish state, how can it survive as a democratic and Jewish state when over 20% of its citizens are not Jewish? In the long run, Israel will have to face this dilemma. Will an apartheid Jewish state guarantee its peace and security?

I was hoping that those experienced diplomats involved in the Geneva Initiative would have come up with an innovative solution to respond to the needs of both peoples. Maybe they should have thought of the one-state solution, which could help Israel in solving its dilemma, and it would help the Palestinians in realizing their right of return.

The effort that was put in the details of the Geneva Initiative seems to have been a very serious effort, but likewise a similar effort could have been put into finding an inclusive and just structure for a binational democratic state that could be the solution for a comprehensive and viable peace amongst all the people who are destined to share this Holy Land, without barriers or walls.

P.S. In this Advent season, I want to send my readers my warmest greetings and best wishes for a blessed Christmas and a peaceful New Year. I think of all the mothers, wives and children of those young men fighting in Iraq, and wonder, “Whose war are they fighting and why are they being seperated from their families in this special ftime of family gatherings?”

Thank you to all of the readers who have supported our Rawdat school in Jerusalem during this 50th anniversary year. Our latest newsletter has just been posted on our website, which I commend to you during this holiday season. In love and peace, Samia.

Retiring in Grace

November 12, 2003

By Samia Khoury
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I have chosen a different angle of liberation and justice for my article this month. The liberation from work, from the routine of waking up every morning to get to work, and very often without even having enough time to get a hot drink. No wonder there are so many extra gadgets in new cars these days where one can fit a mug to drink coffee or tea en route.

Personally I would rather do away with my cup of tea than to have to sip it while I drive. Driving is crazy in our area these days, and one certainly needs both hands and both eyes to arrive safely. The all-too familiar Ford shuttle minibuses have become as much of a menace on the roads as the Israeli roadblocks themselves are, and the Occupation military forces that guard them.

For me there is a ritual for preparing a teapot, and it is much more enjoyable to drink tea with company or while reading or simply relaxing. But everything comes instant and fast these days, and is tasteless like a teabag. No wonder life itself has become just as tasteless, since human lives and moral values don’t matter anymore.

I look at retirement as a form of liberation. Liberation from the daily routine and from responsibility. It is an acquired freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, when there was never enough time for those hobbies or for reading all those books waiting on the shelf. So much was left undone. But many people cannot cope with retirement. In fact, in many societies and countries the laws regarding retirement age are being reconsidered. But will they be doing justice to the younger generation if the retirement laws are completely eliminated?

I had an eternal argument with the late Sameeha Khalil, founder and president of In’ash El-Usra; a good friend and a great leader and activist who had challenged Mr. Arafat in the first Palestinian elections. She could never absorb the principle that we followed at the YWCA, where I had served in different capacities on the local and national level. “When someone is doing a good job, why do you change her?” she continuously asked. I always tried to explain to her that it was important as a women’s movement to empower women and train young leaders. If there was no mechanism for change then our younger members would not be encouraged to run for elections, and the older ones would find it difficult to admit that it is time to go.

Of course I am not an expert on the subject, and my work experience in life was always as a volunteer, even when I was working professionally at Birzeit University in its early years of development from a junior college to a university. But my father, the late Musa Nasir, who was president of the college and one of the founders of Birzeit, was a lovely role model for me. He graciously started relieving himself from responsibilities, encouraging the younger generation to run the institution. His sister, my aunt Lizzy, who had founded Rawdat El-Zuhur, also saw the potential in the young members of the board and surprised us with the announcement of her retirement in 1986. I had the honor of being chosen by the board to head the organization, until last month when we had new elections. 17 years were more than I had expected to serve as president, and I did not realize how privileged I was to have been able to carry on the legacy of dear Aunt Lizzy until it was time to say goodbye. But I said it with pride, dignity; love, and the determination to bless a healthy and positive change.

Working with the children was the most rewarding part of my long years of volunteer work. All through the different stages of the development of Rawdat El-Zuhur, we continued to have big dreams for this small educational institution so that we could bring up a new generation with a commitment to moral values, discipline and public welfare. I continue to feel very strongly that no change can be brought about in our society if there are no radical changes in our educational system.

I remember when we were preparing for our 50th anniversary celebrations in April 2002, I got sick and as I was being rushed to the hospital I kept praying for a grace of time to see us through those celebrations. Indeed the Lord was gracious. And despite all the obstacles, we managed to have the special musical with the graduation at the end of that year. So what more can I ask for but to retire in grace, and watch over the school and its new leadership and say: “That is good.”

A Tribute to Edward Said

October 8, 2003

By Samia Khoury
Wednesday, October 8, 2003

The only thing I could see myself writing about this month is a tribute to Edward Said. My memories of Edward go back to 1947 when we were both attending the wedding of his cousin to my cousin at St. Paul’s Church in Jerusalem.

The next time we met was in 1993 when he visited Birzeit University and was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humanities, the first honorary degree ever awarded by the university. It was Edward’s great contribution to humanity — as an intellectual, writer and critic — that inspired the university to start the tradition of honorary degrees. Since education and the Palestinian cause were among his greatest concerns, that honorary degree was especially meaningful to Edward because it was awarded by a Palestinian university inside Palestine.

It was at that time that so many of us Palestinians in the Occupied Territories got to meet Edward personally, after we had known him through his great books and articles. Music was another of Edward’s passions that added to his greatness as a human being. But his most striking characteristic, one that will remain alive, was his unwavering courage to speak out for truth and justice. He spoke so strongly against Israeli military occupation and its colonial policies and oppressive measures. He was also critical of the U.S. administration for its blind support of Israel, and for the double standards with which it dealt with Israel and the Palestinians. He was just as critical of the Palestinian Authority.

Another of his special visits was to the Sabeel International Conference in Bethlehem in 1998. The crowd that showed up that evening was beyond our expectation. People from all over Palestine, including the pre-1948 borders, came to see and hear him, and he was so happy to introduce his son Wadi to his audience that evening. Listening to his keynote address, we could not believe our ears when he spoke so fiercely against the Palestinian Authority and its performance. This kind of honesty and courage is rare amongst our people, irrespective of the different regimes ruling the region. The norm is to remain silent in order to be able to maintain one’s status and self-interest. Public interest has a long way to go to become a priority.

We have an Arabic proverb: “If words are of silver, then silence is of gold.” This never applied to Edward. Silence meant weakness and capitulation. He strongly criticized the Oslo Accords, not because he was against peace but because he could not keep silent while so many concessions were being made concerning Palestinians’ inalienable rights, including the right of return.

He always alluded to the fact that the negotiating team headed by Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi in Washington was about to get a far better deal for the Palestinians than the Oslo Accords. Moreover, he could not tolerate the lack of professionalism and secrecy with which the Oslo Accords were handled, without clear maps and without the consultation of experts.

He was a very thorough and maticulous man. The letters of Lord Chesterfield to his son might have had some influence on him: “Approfondissez; go to the bottom of things. Anthing half done, or half known, is, in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay, worse, for it often misleads.”

He also strongly felt that the Authority should have engaged the Palestinian people and kept them informed rather than simply have them reap the consequences.

Only Edward Said, this great man with unquestionable integrity, had the stature to stand up against all those concessions, supposedly made for the sake of peace. Many Palestinians thought he was too harsh on the Palestinian Authority, but the way things turned out after Oslo, and the deterioration in the general situation, made those same people realize how right Edward was. And they all agreed that Edward always spoke out of love, and concern for his people; for their welfare, their dignity and from his firm conviction in the just cause of the Palestinians; a cause worthy of struggling for relentlessly, even if it meant aggravating others and creating enemies for himself.

His being an American citizen did not make him any less Palestinian. We are honored to be able to claim him as one of us, but we cannot have this privilege to ourselves because Edward belonged to all. Even his immediate family, Mariam Wadi and Najla have come to terms with this fact. His writings will continue to inspire and touch many people all over the world. How privileged his students must feel now that he is gone.

Indeed the world has lost a great champion of humanity, love, truth and justice. For Palestinians his memory will always stay alive and his legacy will illuminate our path for the future. May he rest in peace.

Who is the Obstacle?

September 16, 2003

Who is the Obstacle?
By Samia Khoury
Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The first time the expression “an obstacle to peace” was mentioned, it was in reference to the Israeli settlements, and it was expressed by the U.S. administration.

It’s amazing that there was no serious effort on the part of the U.S. administration to remove that obstacle. On the contrary, the statements of the administration got softer as Israel continued to build more settlements and to create new realities on the ground. More Palestinian land has been confiscated to make room for the expansion of settlements. Settlers have been terrorizing the Palestinian population living around the settlements and preventing them from reaching their farms and groves. Not only have Palestinians been deprived of the produce of their land, but thousands of trees have been uprooted. As if that was not enough, the separation wall has started to actually separate Palestinians from their land. This is a process that cannot be anything but an obstacle to peace.

How ironic it is that Mr. Arafat should be considered an obstacle to peace when he was the one to make so many concessions for the sake of peace. And Israel knows that they could have never struck a better deal than the one they had with Mr. Arafat as chairman of the PLO. He gave Israel legitimacy in spite of the grave injustice that was inflicted upon the Palestinians by the creation of Israel. He called a mini-Palestinian National Council to amend the PLO charter in the presence of President Clinton, and accepted the offer to create a Palestinian state on only 22% of historic Palestine. All for the sake of peace.

Did Israel ever dream it would be accepted in the Middle East that easily without having to make one concession? Nor even did it have to admit responsibility or apologize for the dispossession of the Palestinians. Truly it was Egypt and Jordan that rushed to sign treaties with Israel. But the Palestinians got the worse deal of all, because the Oslo Accords — supposedly a peace process — turned into an endless process of concessions.

If Israel was genuinely interested in peace it would have jumped at the idea and implemented the Accords without any further delay. But the policy of stalling may have been to our advantage, since Israel did not have either our inalienable right of return or the issue of Jerusalem on its agenda.

Again we now hear that the resignation of Mr. Abbas — who was supposed to help implement the Road Map — is going to be problematic and will affect the efforts toward peace. It suggests that peace was simply around the corner. However, Israel had only accepted the stages of the Road Map after unilaterally appending to it a list of 14 reservations and conditions, while the Palestinians accepted it “as is.”

Mr. Abbas was even committed to implement the Road Map by clamping down on “the terrorists.” Well, he did try in his own diplomatic way to strike a hudna (cease-fire) with Hamas. So if Israel was concerned about peace, it would have seized the great opportunity of that calm period, which lasted for fifty days, to lift some of the restrictions on the Palestinians. Such a gesture would have helped Mr. Abbas in his mission, and would have encouraged Hamas to continue their dialogue with him.

But it has almost become a pattern that whenever there has been a period of calm, Israel breaks this calm with a targeted killing. And that is exactly what it accomplished by killing the Hamas activist in Hebron, knowing very well that doing so would provoke Palestinians to react. So the cycle of violence goes on — to the satisfaction of Israel because it absolves it from any commitment to the peace process.

Again, one cannot but wonder who is really the obstacle to peace. On the day when two suicide bombings took place in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem in retaliation to the attack on Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen, three apartment buildings had earlier been demolished in Hebron, Nablus and Gaza leaving scores of people homeless. Is the terrorizing and killing of civilians by regular military forces considered legitimate, whereas the killing of civilians by a resistance force a “terrorist act”? Or are Palestinian civilians subhuman, to the extent that killing them is justified in the name of security; whereas the spilling of Jewish blood becomes a human and world tragedy. Not that I condone either. But one must stop and pose these questions, and reflect on the double standards by which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been handled.

Did the international community really believe that the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister was going to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and like a magic wand bring peace to the region? We did not need the pressure of the USA and Israel to appoint a prime minister. The interference with Palestinian internal affairs simply made things worse and more difficult for the prime minister. We were very well aware that we needed reforms and new elections. If there were genuine efforts to help the Palestinian Authority, Israel would have lifted all the barriers and road blocks and allowed the Palestinians to have the long overdue elections. It is the elections that will determine who is redundant and who our next leadership would be. Maybe we do not have the leadership that we deserve after all those long years of dispossession, or a legislative council that is capable of bringing about the necessary changes, but it is the Palestinians who should have the say on the matter.

In its latest decision to remove Mr. Arafat, Israel has in fact helped boost his popularity, which had dropped sharply due to the deteriorating situation on all fronts; politically, economically and socially. Palestinian hope for liberation and prosperity has dwindled away. And the poor performance of the Palestinian Authority, the lack of democratic procedures, and the latest squabble with Mr. Abbas left both men unpopular.

We do not need any new initiatives to salvage the region. And I do not know why the Palestinians keep falling in the same trap, and end up being accused of obstructing the peace process that was never able to take off in the first place. What good is the Road Map when all the roads are blocked and the map of the land has been disfigured?

There are certainly enough United Nations resolutions to help redress the injustice and bring about peace. Israel’s record of defying the United Nations resolutions (over 69 Security Council resolutions, and over 300 General Assembly resolutions) will continue to be a disgrace to the international community. So let us hope the United Nations will rise to its responsibility and force Israel to implement the United Nations resolutions and put an end to this brutal occupation, which is the real obstacle to peace.

Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets

August 7, 2003

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, August 7, 2003

“Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that . . . I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.” (Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, October 3, 2001, to Shimon Peres, as reported on Kol Yisrael.)

Every time there is a meeting between the leadership of Israel and the USA, a lot of rhetoric is heard regarding easing restrictions or releasing prisoners. A removal of a couple of roadblocks from amongst hundreds is certainly not going to change the ugly reality of the occupation.

Neither is the release of a few hundred prisoners, whose terms are about to end anyway, from amongst thousands who should have been released a long time ago. In fact, with the Oslo Accords all political prisoners should have been released, so there is nothing new about Israel not abiding by agreements, or United Nations resolutions. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority did not press the issue of the prisoners in the context of the Oslo Accords hard enough. It kept dragging its feet on the issue until the Oslo Accords themselves were dragged into the grave. The way things are going, the Road Map will probably face the same fate.

I might sound skeptical about the fate of the Road Map because there are no signs or guarantees that Israel will not continue creating new realities on the ground. That is why I think the Palestinian Authority is naïve for thinking that the U.S. is really going to offer us a Palestinian state on a silver platter when Israel has its grip over the political system of the U.S. administration.

The first impression one gets is that Mr. Bush is upset about Sharon’s determination to continue building the security fence which has become known as the “Apartheid Wall.” But it does not take long for Mr. Bush to express his understanding for Israel’s point of view since “the fence is a sensitive issue.” So once again the gimmick of “Israel’s security” is easily bought with the understanding and blessing of the USA.

Recently, however, Israel thought of a new gimmick that sounds just as ridiculous. Because Israel is the “only democracy in the region,” it does not need to have a constitution. And because it does not have a constitution it is continuously introducing laws and bills to be passed by its Knesset to fit its “security” needs and its “greedy” demands, which are basically tailored to deprive Palestinians of their land and their rights. So the latest Israeli law, which passed its first reading with a vast majority, contends that the territories are not “Occupied Territories.”

Did you hear that? What were UN resolutions 242 and 338 about? And why are the military forces all over the territories? Why the road blocks, and why the seperation wall? Why the different colors of identity cards and license plate numbers, and why the long queues at the Ministry of Interior? The Arab world did not look at this law seriously. In fact many thought that the issue is ridiculous, because the whole world knows that these are occupied territories. But that is exactly the issue; Israel always gets its way in spite of the wishes of the whole world.

Despite the glaring injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians 1948, we have been struggling for over fifty years to regain our rights, our country, and our identity. We were so sure in 1948 that the whole world knew that the land Israel usurped was Palestinian, that we did not think there was a need to even raise our voice, especially since the United Nations General Assembly had already passed resolution 194 for our return. When you own a house you do not go crying out in the street that this is your house. But when you steal a house, you have to create and forge so many documents to prove that the house is yours. Likewise, Israel created a narrative by twisting facts and distorting history to an extent that the Israelis themselves started believing them, and eventually these facts became a reality which the whole world accepted.

So if Israel starts claiming that the territories are not occupied, the claim will gradually become a fact. We have seen the international community, and basically the U.S. administration, watering down such realities like the settlements. They were considered illegal at the beginning, and then they became “an obstacle to peace,” and later on they became just “unhelpful.” Nowadays there is an understanding for their expansion “to accommodate natural growth.”

In the fifties there was a popular song “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.” That is exactly the way Israel has been behaving since the inception of the its state. In Fateful Triangle, Noam Chomsky writes “In internal discussion in 1938, [David Ben-Gurion] stated that ‘after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine. . . The state will only be a stage in the realization of Zionism and its task is to prepare the ground for our expansion into the whole of Palestine.'”

So this new law should not be taken lightly. If the territories are not “occupied,” then Israel will not feel obliged to abide by United Nations resolutions, the Geneva Convention, or any international law. Furthermore, it will get away with confiscating more land and building more settlements.

Israel faces a dilemma. If these are not occupied territories, then all the inhabitants of the territories have to be equal citizens — or else it will become an apartheid state. It is already heading towards that situation with the new law that was passed in the Knesset just recently. I will probably need to write a whole article on that law on its own. The law basically deprives spouses of Israeli Arabs, who are from the Palestinian Territories, from their right to acquire Israeli citizenship or even to reside in Israel. For us in the Occupied Territories we have faced a similar procedure for years, whereas a Palestinian from Jerusalem is not allowed to have his or her spouse from the West Bank come live with his or her spouse in Jerusalem under the reunification of the family scheme.

If, however, the territories are occupied, then Israel cannot continue to defy United Nations resolutions, the Geneva Convention and international law. Maybe eventually that will lead to the option of a binational one-state solution.

In spite of this paradox, I continue to believe in a God of Justice and in the human being. The Palestinian who is determined to be liberated and to live in dignity. And the Israeli soldier, mother and professor who want to regain the humanity of the nation lost in the process of this brutal occupation.

In the Shadow of a Military Pillbox

May 29, 2003

By Samia Khoury
Thursday, May 29, 2003

The weather in our area is just as hot these days as the political situation. We simply jumped out of winter clothes into summer clothes. But that suits me very well since I am not a winter person at all, and very often I used to contemplate hibernating during the winter season. Then I would feel ashamed of myself thinking of all the people who have been living in refugee camps for the last 55 years, or those people whose homes have been demolished.

But I must admit, the early mornings in summer are beautiful. I am able to enjoy a good book out on the terrace or a nice walk around the garden picking mint leaves for my morning cup of tea.Yet the sight of the military pillbox overlooking our street always makes me feel uneasy and reminds me that I am not as free as I want to be enjoying my terrace and garden.That monstrosity is so much out of place and does not at all fit with the landscape of our area. But then all the landscape of Palestine has been raped and this imposing pillbox is but one more sign that these are not normal times.

Almost every time I look at that pillbox I imagine a scenario with the faceless guard cooped up inside it. Bet he would love to be with his family in those early hours of the morning sipping his coffee and cuddling with his children. And I am sure he misses them most of all in the lonely winter and on cold days. I often hear myself asking him why he was there, and who was he really guarding? In our culture a neighbor has a special status and we are supposed to be cordial and hospitable to our neighbors. But then I remind myself that this is no regular neighbor. This is a military occupation, and his presence there is supposedly for security reasons. Under a military occupation, even a flying bird in the air is a threat to the security of the military machine.Yet I cannot help but think that those young men serving in the army are human beings to start with, and the occupation has probably turned them into hard, bitter and brutal stormtroopers. No wonder the number of refuseniks is increasing.They would rather serve sentences in jail than lose their humanity.

What choice do we Palestinians have for not losing our humanity when so much brutality is imposed on us? Everywhere we turn around to go about our business we are faced with the occupation machine either blocking our ways, grabbing more of our land and groves, demolishing our homes, shelling residential areas and killing young and old, while thousands are held in jail. The humiliation along with those brutal measures is part of the occupation policy — to make life difficult in an effort to break the people and make them lose hope or turn them into violent time bombs.

So really the big challenge for us Palestinians is how to maintain our humanity and how to derive hope out of a hopeless situation.That is not an easy task after all those long years of dispossession and occupation. And unfortunately I do not think the Road Map is the answer. I am not dealing with the Road Map in this article because a lot has been written about it, and professional politicians and writers have analysed it. But I can envisage one thing at least: Unless Israel offers a genuine gesture for peace, the Road Map will be doomed to failure like its predecessor, the Oslo Accords, and all the agreements and plans that followed it.

Mr. Sharon claims he has no problem with the Palestinian people. His problem is with the Palestinian leadership. Maybe it is also our problem, because we think our leadership was too accommodating to Israel. With good faith and a yearning for peace, the Palestinian leadership made too many concessions and agreed to establish a state on only 22 percent of historic Palestine before guaranteeing the withdrawal of Israel from the Occupied Territories. What has Israel offered as a peace gesture? A separation wall?

Israel has a problem admitting that it has done the Palestinians a grave injustice. Its noncompliance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 regarding the right of return of refugees, and Security Council Resolution 242 regarding the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, certainly confirm that Israel has offered the Palestinians absolutely nothing to give them hope for justice, liberation and peace.

In the meantime we continue to draw on our resources for hope. This past week, alongside the traditional rallies and seminars commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Nakba [the dispossession of the Palestinian people for the establishment of the state of Israel], a number of civil society organizations were working diligently and relentlessly in innovative ways with the young people and the community.

The National Conservatory of Music (NCM) held its concert in Jerusalem for the winners of the Marcel Khalifeh award. Marcel Khalifeh is a Lebanese musician who forfeited his award from the Palestinian Ministry of Culture for the benefit of the young musicians at the NCM. Twenty-nine young musicians, girls and boys from Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem ranging from ages 7 to 20 performed on the piano, violin, flute, clarinet, lute (oud) and zither (qanoun). In spite of the roadblocks they and their teachers showed up at the Palestinian National Theatre (known as the Hakawati). They brightened our hearts and assured us that nobody can crush our spirits as long as we have a way of expressing our feelings through music. At the same time El-Funoun Dance Troupe gave a new performance in Ramallah. With colorful outfits they danced and swayed to music, feeling a taste of freedom as they moved elegantly from one scene to another asserting the presence of Palestinian culture and folklore in spite of the siege and curfews.

At Rawdat El-Zuhur we finally had our open house and the jubilee photo exhibit which was postponed from last year. The pride the children took in showing their guests their art work, science experiments, computer skills, sports, drama, folk dancing and music assured us that those children are the source of our hope. Later in the afternoon I watched the Helen Keller schoolchildren doing gymnastics. I was absolutely amazed by the excellence of the performance of those visually impaired children who seemed so determined to overcome all obstacles to make life as normal as possible.

As much as we derive hope from those young people, they should be our incentive to keep working for justice, peace and liberation so as to give them hope in turn and raison d’etre.