Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 Let the Palestinian Story Have Its Day in the Sun
 Susan J Abulhawa, Palestine/USA
 November 15, 2001
I recently found myself surrounded by a handful of angry people who wanted to "talk" to me. Their questions and comments were rapid and merged into my mind as a cacophony of hostility. I deciphered a man's whisper over my shoulder, "you're a terrorist." Before me, another man declared that he was sure I was "dancing behind closed doors on September 11th."

This scene came after I attempted to question US foreign policy pertaining to the Palestinian tragedy. Our Congressman, James Greenwood, was an invited speaker at a three-day forum hosted by the local community college. His speech consisted of the usual rhetoric and simplistic sound bites that exonerate our foreign policy and divide the whole mess around this war into good versus evil. But he was kind enough to let me express disagreement and defended my right to do so, despite booing, hissing and audible accusations of anti-Semitism from that group in the audience that later converged upon me.

I began by pointing to the Senate's approval of a $2.7 billion aid package to Israel only days after Israel crushed its way through the town of Bethlehem and left in its wake millions of dollars of destruction, thousands of terrorized children, and forty dead civilians, including the symbolic death of the altar boy, gunned down in Manger Square before the Church of the Nativity. I listed some of Israel's many violations of international laws and treatises as well as its abysmal human rights record. Before I could question the wisdom in financing this kind of terrorism, I was called an "anti-Semite."

The following day, I was the scheduled speaker. I had pictures of Barak's "generous offer" to the Palestinians. With actual maps of the peace proposals, it is easy to see that the "far reaching concessions" made by Israel were a blueprint for eternal subjugation and apartheid, not for an autonomous Palestine. The West Bank was divided such that Palestine's borders, and hence ITS commerce, would be controlled entirely by Israel.

The water resources and air space would also belong to Israel. The land itself would remain punctuated by over 150 Jewish-only settlements and divided by a network of Jewish-only roads. In the final analysis, the wonderful offer of 96% of less than 22% of our ancestral homeland would have amounted to isolated villages, which, in another time and another place, were called ghettos.

Because we refused that fate, we were blamed for the failure of peace and villainized across US media and government officials. Our story remained largely untold so I proceeded to tell the story of my people. I spoke of dispossession, squalid refugee camps and occupation; of home demolitions, forced poverty and humiliation; of children without childhoods, without school and with shot out eyes and knees; of a historic injustice, unrecognized and of our humanity, unredeemed.

I spoke of my own experience under occupation and in exile. I showed the audience images of brutality against Palestinians they could not believe. I let it be known that I affirm Israel's right to exist within secure borders and that no human being deserves to get blown to pieces in a pizza parlor. I hold this fundamental principle of life's value consistent with my conviction that Palestinians do not deserve to be treated like cattle, herded into bantustans, murdered for throwing stones or dispossessed and oppressed for being anything other than Jewish.

When the floor opened for questions, a woman in the audience accused me of being biased. I told her she was right, "I am biased." I see the struggle through the eyes of people who have endured decades of deprivation, humiliation, and death with no end to their tragedy in sight. I am a product of a shattered family, a proud people who have become pariahs of the 20th century, almost universally rejected even in other Arab nations. This repudiation, I added, is something we share only with the Jewish people.

So, take my message with a grain of skepticism if you must, but let the Palestinian story be told in its fullness and make it a part of mainstream discourse in America. The time for a deeper understanding is long overdue.

One of the men who booed the day before apologized to me after my talk and a rabbi who previously berated me in a local newspaper letter shook my hand. I don't think either of them necessarily liked everything I said, but they heard me acknowledge Jewish humanity and I got to speak without being silenced.

Herein lie the possibilities of inclusive and honest discourse. Herein lies the wisdom of mutual recognition of the other's perspective and hence the other's humanity. Herein lies one of the keys to peace.

Susan J Abulhawa is a freelance writer born to Palestinian refugees. She is Media Coordinator for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, Philadelphia Chapter, and serves on several lobbying and human rights advocacy committees.

From the Palestine Chronicle, November 15, 2001.
2001 Susan J Abulhawa. This news item is distributed via Middle East News Online. For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact our syndication department.