When I lived in Jerusalem I had a friend who confided in me that as a college student in the United States she attended events like these, wrote up reports and submitted them to the Israel consulate for money. It would be naive to assume this Israeli practice has ended. So, I want first tonight to address that person, or those persons, who may have come to this event for the purpose of reporting on it to the Israeli government.
I would like to remind them that it is they who hide in darkness. It is we who stand in the light. It is they who deceive. It is we who openly proclaim our compassion and demand justice for those who suffer in Gaza. We are not afraid to name our names. We are not afraid to name our beliefs. And we know something you perhaps sense with a kind of dread. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, and that arc is descending with a righteous fury that is thundering down upon the Israeli government.
You may have the bulldozers, planes and helicopters that smash houses to rubble, the commandos who descend from ropes on ships and kill unarmed civilians on the high seas as well as in Gaza, the vast power of the state behind you. We have only our hands and our hearts and our voices. But note this. Note this well. It is you who are afraid of us. We are not afraid of you. We will keep working and praying, keep protesting and denouncing, keep pushing up against your navy and your army, with nothing but our bodies, until we prove that the force of morality and justice is greater than hate and violence. And then, when there is freedom in Gaza, we will forgive ... you. We will ask you to break bread with us. We will bless your children even if you did not find it in your heart to bless the children of those you occupied. And maybe it is this forgiveness, maybe it is the final, insurmountable power of love, which unsettles you the most.
And so tonight, a night when some seek to name names and others seek to hide names, let me do some naming. Let me call things by their proper names. Let me cut through the jargon, the euphemisms we use to mask human suffering and war crimes. “Closures” mean heavily armed soldiers who ring Palestinian ghettos, deny those trapped inside food or basic amenities—including toys, razors, chocolate, fishing rods and musical instruments—and carry out a brutal policy of collective punishment, which is a crime under international law. “Disputed land” means land stolen from the Palestinians. “Clashes” mean, almost always, the killing or wounding of unarmed Palestinians, including children. “Jewish neighborhoods in the West Bank” mean fortress-like compounds that serve as military outposts in the campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. “Targeted assassinations” mean extrajudicial murder. “Air strikes on militant bomb-making posts” mean the dropping of huge iron fragmentation bombs from fighter jets on densely crowded neighborhoods that always leaves scores of dead and wounded, whose only contact with a bomb was the one manufactured in the United States and given to the Israeli Air Force as part of our complicity in the occupation. “The peace process” means the cynical, one-way route to the crushing of the Palestinians as a people.
These are some names. There are others. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish in the late afternoon of Jan. 16, 2009, had a pair of Israeli tank shells rip through a bedroom in his Gaza apartment, killing three of his daughters—Bessan, Mayar and Aya—along with a niece, Noor.
“I have the right to feel angry,” says Abuelaish. “But I ask, ‘Is this the right way?’ So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate.”
“Whom to hate?” asks the 55-year-old gynecologist, who was born a Palestinian refugee and raised in poverty. “My Israeli friends? My Israeli colleagues? The Israeli babies I have delivered?”
The Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali wrote this in his poem “Revenge”:
At times ... I wishAnd if these words are what it means to be a Muslim, and I believe it does, name me too a Muslim, a follower of the prophet, peace be upon him.
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!
But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.
Likewise ... I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.
But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.
The boat to Gaza will be named “The Audacity of Hope.” But these are not Barack Obama’s words. These are the words of my friend the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. They are borrowed words. And Jerry Wright is not afraid to speak the truth, not afraid to tell us to stop confusing God with America. “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands [killed] in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Rev. Wright said. “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
Or the words of Edward Said:
Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.
For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.And some of the last words of Rachel Corrie to her parents:
I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me. This is not what I meant when I looked at Capital Lake and said: “This is the wide world and I’m coming to it.” I did not mean that I was coming into a world where I could live a comfortable life and possibly, with no effort at all, exist in complete unawareness of my participation in genocide. More big explosions somewhere in the distance outside. When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.
And if this is what it means to be a Christian, and I believe it does, to speak in the voice of Jeremiah Wright, Edward Said or Rachel Corrie, to remember and take upon us the pain and injustice of others, then name me a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.
And what of the long line of Jewish prophets that run from Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos to Hannah Arendt, who reminded the world when the state of Israel was founded that the injustice meted out to the Jews could not be rectified by an injustice meted out to the Palestinians, what of our own prophets, Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein, outcasts like all prophets, what of Uri Avnery or the Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai, who writes in his poem “Rypin,” the Polish town his father escaped from during the Holocaust, these words:
These creatures in helmets and khakis,And if to be Jew means this, and I believe it does, name me a Jew. Name us all Muslims and Christians and Jews. Name us as human beings who believe that when one of us suffers all of us suffer, that we never have to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us all, that the tears of the mother in Gaza are our tears, that the wails of the bloodied children in Al Shifa Hospital are the wails of our own children.
I say to myself, aren’t Jews,
In the truest sense of the word. A Jew
Doesn’t dress himself up with weapons like jewelry,
Doesn’t believe in the barrel of a gun aimed at a target,
But in the thumb of the child who was shot at—
In the house through which he comes and goes,
Not in the charge that blows it apart.
The coarse soul and iron first
He scorns by nature.
He lifts his eyes not to the officer, or the soldier
With his finger on the trigger—but to justice,
And he cries out for compassion.
Therefore, he won’t steal land from its people
And will not starve them in camps.
The voice calling for expulsion
Is heard from the hoarse throat of the oppressor—
A sure sign that the Jew has entered a foreign country
And, like Umberto Saba, gone into hiding within his own city.
Because of voices like these, father
At age sixteen, with your family, you fled Rypin;
Now here Rypin is your son.
Let me close tonight with one last name. Let me name those who send these tanks and fighter jets to bomb the concrete hovels in Gaza with families crouching, helpless, inside, let me name those who deny children the right to a childhood and the sick a right to care, those who torture, those who carry out assassinations in hotel rooms in Dubai and on the streets of Gaza City, those who deny the hungry food, the oppressed justice and foul the truth with official propaganda and state lies. Let me call them, not by their honorific titles and positions of power, but by the name they have earned for themselves by draining the blood of the innocent into the sands of Gaza. Let me name them for who they are: terrorists.
An Israeli border policeman watches tear gas disperse in front of Palestinian supporters of Hamas after the 2009 election.
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