A Forgotten People

A Forgotten People
Lubna Hussain, forlubna@hotmail.com

They flash across our screens every now and then. An old man, his weather-beaten face streaked with tears, hopelessly clutching a set of ancient iron keys in his calloused hands. A widow in a head scarf perched on top of a pile of rubble, beating her chest, mourning the loss of what was once her home. A stone-throwing youth kneeling, blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back bashed ruthlessly and repeatedly in the head with the butt of a machine gun. A baby with blue lips swaddled in its blanket that doubles up as a shroud.

These are images of a forgotten people. Seconds of camera footage that prick our conscience momentarily. We immediately flick the channel to escape the misery from which they have no respite. Their crime? They were born Palestinian. Their punishment? Well, it really depends on who’s watching and what sort of a mood their Israeli tormentors are in.

“Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass explosions among the Arabs of the territories,” postulated Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, in 1989. But the irony of such a monstrous statement is that Israel didn’t need to rely on the diversion other global atrocities provided in order for it to conduct its own. After all, Israel is the proverbial spoilt child that the world consistently and unashamedly indulges.

Its penchant for ethnic cleansing, sponsoring state terror, practicing apartheid, bulldozing houses, and stealing Palestinian land barely merits the gentlest of admonitions. “Our darling golden child,” say its protractors, “we already kicked out those nasty Arabs from their ancestral homes, let you abuse and torture them without getting cross and even gave you billions of dollars in pocket money. Do you think you could give back a teeny-weeny bit of their most useless land?” But when that Israeli lip begins to quiver, its superpower parent benignly watches as yet another part of East Jerusalem is snatched away from its legitimate owners.

A modern-day equivalent would be to take the survivors of the Darfur genocide, relocate them to Texas, force the existing residents out of their homes, set up a few refugee camps to house them, designate the areas with oil fields to the immigrants and expect the Texans to be delighted about their newfound predicament. Those who complain are labeled agitators. Those who have the gall to fight back? Terrorists. That is how grossly absurd the whole conundrum is.

The Independent newspaper of Britain carried a disturbing report recently about the violent abuse of Arab civilians at the hands of Israeli soldiers in Hebron. A group of former conscripts calling themselves Shovrim Shtika, or “Breaking the Silence”, talked candidly about how they routinely “beat up Palestinian residents without provocation, looted homes and shops and opened fire on unarmed demonstrators.” In one account they “really beat the shit out of” a ten-year-old Palestinian boy who was then asked, “Is it here you want to die? Or there?”

They narrated incidents of “losing the human condition” in the occupied territories. When asked what that meant, a soldier clarified “to lose the human condition is to become an animal”. This is the level of dehumanization that the Palestinians have faced for 60 years. Need I say more? Or rather, can I say more?

For documenting facts can have you very conveniently labeled as being anti-Semitic, racist and insensitive. Speak up about the power of the Zionist lobby, talk about America’s role in unashamedly endorsing and funding Israel’s policy of genocide, draw attention to arbitrary executions, question why it is that a separation wall is built cordoning off 3.5 million people into a ghetto plagued by starvation, disease and death and guess what? Your career, your credibility, your friends, can all disappear overnight. That is the price you pay for exercising “freedom of speech” in the lands that proselytize to us in the Third World their lofty democratic ideals. But that doesn’t stop several Jewish writers, intellectuals, rabbis and groups like “Breaking the Silence” to “force Israeli society to address the reality which it created” where the “proper normative becomes despicable, the inconceivable becomes routine.” Even if it does put them on the SHIT (Self-Hating Israel Threatening) list.

“We don’t deal with terrorists,” Western leaders say with great aplomb. They forget to include the caveat “unless they are Israeli.” Menachem Begin, the former Israeli prime minister, headed the Irgun organization that was responsible for perpetrating the massacre of over 100 unarmed villagers, mostly elderly men, women and children in the village of Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. Ariel Sharon, more instantly recognizable in his role as The Butcher than Israeli prime minister was responsible for the deaths of 1800 men, women and children in Lebanon in 1983. “Israel may have the right to put others on trial,” he said famously in 2001, “but no one has the right to put the Jewish people and Israel on trial.”

Perhaps this is why Israel behaves with such flagrant impunity when it comes to disrespecting every single UN resolution that has ever been passed with regards to the Palestinian right to return.

Next Sunday US President George Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are all billed to attend Israel’s ostentatious 60th birthday celebrations. Whilst world leaders sit back and watch folk dancing, the dispossessed will be commemorating their genocide, humiliation and pure unadulterated misery. Words that once upon a time used to be synonymous with being Jewish now constitute the very essence of being Palestinian. There will be no celebration. Only reminiscences of a time when in order to repatriate victims of the Holocaust and assuage the conscience of a guilt-ridden Europe, an entire people became subject to a Holocaust itself.

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