Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dear Neighbor from Hell

A 9 January letter from Israeli PR Central under the name of David Rosenblatt, Sarigim, Israel appeared today as a comment on my last post. It should come as no surprise then to learn that 'David' 's letter is popping up all over the blogosphere. Here is my Palestinian response:-

Dear Neighbor from Hell,

Thank you for your, er, shall we say, interesting letter. So happy you live in a "beautiful house by the woods" in my occupied homeland. And that "lovely view from the balcony" from which you can see your jets bombing us here in Gaza, that must really be something special. I imagine it's best at night, like watching fireworks, no? That white phosphorus, so beautiful - from a distance. And thanks so much for your kind offer of a cuppa at your place. I'm glad you said, "someday," because actually I'm rather busy now, what with the stumps that were my legs still awaiting prostheses, trying to scrounge a bite to eat every other day, and an amazing number of funerals to attend.

You say it's time I knew the truth. The Israeli version, you mean? No, I never actually had cause to wonder why my parents and I were born in a refugee camp in "poverty and filth" and "despair and hatred" as you put it. You see, I knew from my earliest days that my grandparents came from occupied Palestine (or 'Israel' as you prefer to call it). And no, don't believe that Zionist fairy tale you've been told, David. You know, the one about Palestinians lured from their homes in 1948 by siren calls from Cairo and Damascus. Codswallop. My grandparents were forced out of their village by the bombs and bullets of Jewish soldiers who wanted their land for a Jewish state. And since you've asked me if I'd ever wondered why I was living in a refugee camp, may I ask you if you've ever wondered about who once owned the land you're now living on in Sarigim? No? I thought not. Well, I'll tell you. Sarigim was built on the lands of the Palestinian village of 'Ajjur, the population of which was - surprise, surprise - driven out by Zionist forces in 1948. And where do you imagine those villagers and their descendents are now, David? They're probably in a refugee camp somewhere just like me.

Ah yes, the Holocaust! I knew it wouldn't be long before you invoked that. But, David, think - that happened in Europe, not in the Middle East. My grandparents weren't members of the SS, just Palestinian farmers with a few dunums on which they grew wheat. So please spare me your Holocaust, both the history lesson and the practical one we're presently getting here in Gaza. I was going to move on, David, but seeing you've raised the issue, have you heard about the Palestinian Holocaust? No, I thought not. It began 60 years ago with a Big Bang, the Nakba or Catastrophe as we call it, and it's been going on, sometimes cold, sometimes hot, sometimes very hot, like now in Gaza, but non-stop to this very day! Imagine if you can, generation after generation, and Palestine just gets smaller and smaller, its population more and more confined, walled in, choked. A Holocaust by degrees, if you will, a hundred deaths today, 2 or 3 tomorrow. A Holocaust that just keeps keeping on. OK, I just know your pale blue eyes are glazing over, so I'll move on. But remember what you wrote: "We will never forget what was done to our people and you better not either." It seems that you have forgotten that what was done to your people was done by fellow Europeans, not by us, and that what they did to you, you are doing to us. You are, as they say, very sick puppies indeed.

You say you do not hate us. Your F-16s drop love bombs on us, then? Your Merkava tanks fire love shells? Your Apache helicopters love missiles? Amusingly, you say you do not want our land. Well then, David, feel free to give it back. And you don't want to murder our children? Fine, then don't. You say you treat our "Arab brothers as equals." Our Arab brothers? You mean those of us who somehow managed to avoid being expelled in 1948? Why then, if you can treat our brothers in occupied Palestine, sorry, Israel, as brothers, you won't mind treating us as equals too. Would you be so kind as to send me a citizenship application, David? You say that your hand has been extended in peace to your Arab neighbors since day one? So the wars of 1956, 1967, 1978, 1982, and 2006 were just figments of my fevered Arab imagination then? You say that Israel's peaceful intentions are proven "time and time again through numerous negotiations and extensive compromise." Forgive me, but for a time in the 90s we Palestinians were motivated by the belief (how naive this sounds in retrospect) that if we conceded the 78% of Palestine you now call Israel, you'd withdraw your army of occupation from the remaining 22% and we'd form a Palestinian state, a whopping compromise if ever there was one. But guess what? Almost a decade on and that 22% is sinking under the weight of your settlements and related infrastructure.

You say you just want to be left in peace. What, so you can enjoy our Palestinian homeland while we rot in exile? We too were once a people who just wanted to be left in peace. But no, in flooding into our country uninvited and under the protection of British bayonets in the 20s, 30s and 40s, you disturbed our peace then, and you've gone on disturbing it ever since. Does the principle 'do unto others' mean anything to you? No, sorry to have to tell you this, but there is no peace, as they say, for the wicked, and we'll go on disturbing your peace until we win our just demands.

You say your soldiers are not "motivated by hate," just "determination." Funny, I must have misinterpreted that graffiti left behind in Zeitoun by your soldiers when they invaded Gaza: 'ARabs need 2 die', 'Arabs are pieces of shit' and '1 is DOWN 999,999 TO GO'. (Israel may face war-crimes case for alleged atrocities, Tim Butcher, Telegraph/SMH, 21/1/09). Love notes, obviously. Anyway, it's not their hatred or their love that worries me, it's really their determination - their determination to dispossess us, cage us, and when the fancy takes them, blow us away. You say you will "kill and die" to protect 'your' land and your way of life. By your land, you mean the land which was once ours, ethnically cleansed by you in '48. It may come as a revelation to you, but that's how we feel too.

You say a "terrorist is a terrorist." A "coward." Not a "hero." Then please explain how your terrorists and ethnic cleansers - Ben-Gurion, Begin, Shamir, Sharon & Co - became prime ministers of 'your' country. And while you're at it, please explain the coming choice in February between those two political heirs of Begin - Livni and Netanyahu. And if, as you say, our 'terrorists' should emulate your terrorists - those currently running amok here in Gaza - and die for our people rather than among them, kindly prevail upon your government to open the Gaza crossings so that we can acquire comparable terror weapons to yours.

You say "Israel exists and belongs to the Jewish people." So that means Jews everywhere, right? Jews living comfortably in the United States or Australia as citizens with every possible right and then some? But not to me, or to my stateless, disenfranchised people here in Gaza or the West Bank or Lebanon or Jordan? Is this your famous chutzpah, my friend? When I drop in for that cuppa one day, would you like me to prostrate myself, to kiss your hand? Do the dishes, perhaps? Sweep the floor? You complain about our school books. 'Israel' has been omitted from their maps you say. I'm sorry I don't have any to hand here in Gaza so I can check. You see, they've all been incinerated, along with the schools and the schoolkids. Maybe you could send me a map of 'Israel' that shows the fabled green line between 'Israel' and the West Bank - sorry, Judea and Samaria - if you're not too busy working on the old Zionist project of wiping Palestine (literally) off the map, that is.

"You are not getting [our beautiful country]. This was explained to you in 1948. You got your country and we got ours." And you're still explaining this to us as I write, aren't you? And with much the same teaching style as you used in 1948. Trouble is, beating the shit out of students if they fail to remember their lines or ask difficult questions doesn't really work anymore, if it ever did. You see, David, the world has moved on since the glory days of the British Empire when you could just swan into someone else's country and lord it over the natives. Your friends in South Africa got it, but you and yours, it seems, still don't. As I said earlier, very sick puppies indeed.

One day, David, when we refugees return to our homeland, 'your' land will be both yours and mine. Then maybe we can have that cuppa - at your place or mine - because, guess what, we're going to be real neighbors, as in right-next-door neighbors.

I'll leave you with this thought from one of your countrymen, a friend of mine actually, name of Oz Shelach: "Self-congratulatory conversation is part of Israeli decorum, and confirming that our beauty is in our problemacy is common about the dinner table. 'How beautiful a language is ours', said a linguist to his companion in an Arab restaurant. 'How open and accomodating it is' (read: we are so open and accomodating). 'We say this coffee is ya'ni 'ala kefak. 'Ala kefak, superb; ya'ni, that is to say. Arabic words, adopted by our ever-absorbant language'... Of course, many words remain, unadopted, with the people of this country, ya'ni Falastin. Try saying it." (Picnic Grounds)

Remember, we're going to be neighbors.

Just another Mohammed from Gaza, Palestine, January 21, 2009


Anonymous said...

You're a damned good writer. Brilliant response.


Marc said...

Yes, you are a good writer, but it seems you aren't too practical - you concentrate your effort on trouncing each sentence of "David's" letter. That may be pleasant for you to do, but it accomplishes very little. Perhaps at some point the Palestinians, after 60 years of blaming all of their problems on Israel, can start to understand that their extremist leaders non-acceptance of Israel has really cost them the chance to have a normal life.

I live in Ashkelon, have been living through several periods of Grad rocket fire into Ashkelon, running into the shelter room with the kids several times a day. So surely I'm biased, but I think I can still step back and try to think practically about what can really lead to betterment of the Palestinian's lives (and particularly I speak of Gaza).

I thought David's letter was quite condescending to the Palestinians, and I certainly didn't like the opening shot about watching the bombs from the balcony. But there was one sentence that really stuck with me - "we have millions of refugees, but not refugee camps".

This is really the answer. I read with dismay the following article, where it mentions that "UNRWA is able to take on the daunting task of rebuilding Gaza refugee camps".

This is the real problem. Why continue to perpetuate "refugee camps" after sixty years - you perpetuate a total welfare society, that does little except produce more children and produce more hate. What is needed is actual community building, so that people will slowly but surely be lifted up, and the whole society won't be based around the principle of maintaining the hate for Israel by keeping people in a refugee camp until that fabled day when they will go back and claim their great grandfather's plot of land somewhere 20 minutes from where they currently live. Instead, they need to take the donated funds, and use them for building and not for attaining more and better weapons to attack Israel another day. Its just counter productive, and gets them nowhere - it only brings more conflict and destruction. If a leadership would rise up in Gaza that would concentrate on building up normal communities in Gaza, instead of how to better and more efficiently attack Israel, Israel could be a true partner in that effort also. And the international community would respond with even more donations.

You can be as cynical as you want about the Israeli people, but they are in general a nation that wants peace - if they don't see a threat of suicide bombers or rockets coming any longer from Gaza, then moderate policies (and politicians) will also prevail in Israel.

I recognize that the hate from the Palestinian side is very real, however, its not productive, and its not a wise channeling of energy - it has not led to positive developments for the Palestinians. Its time to channel that energy into building up their people. If instead Hamas goes back to their standard approach, and channels everything into building a more significant military threat to Israel which they will at some point unleash, how can that lead to anything but more Palestinian catastrophe. The Palestinian people both here and overseas have to find among themselves an alternative to Hamas which can start making such a change.


Anonymous said...

I think the ony thing of real relevance in your comment, Marc, was the question about perpetuating the refugee camps. There should be no reugee camps, full stop. There should never have been refugee camps, full stop. Why are there 60-yr old refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan etc? Because it suits Israel's conception of itself as a Jewish state, that's why. Allow the refugees to return to their homes/lands and grant them Israeli citizenship, which is their absolute right under international law and long overdue, and Israel ceases to be a Jewish state. Until this "fabled day," as you put it Marc, you are living on stolen land, and will never know peace. And I'm not talking Palestinian terror tactics (aka wake-up calls) here, I'm talking about that nagging little voice in your heart or head called conscience that you're always trying to suppress. You know, the one which whispers to you that you and your fellow Israelis are complicit in the theft of a country and the exile of its people. There's an excellent organization in Tel Aviv called Zochrot which has a Nakba learning centre. If you really want peace/peace of mind, why not go and talk to them? Cheers, MERC