Sunday, March 13, 2005

Conversation with Hamas Supporters

While wandering around the Hebron Old City a week ago I met a young boy who told me not to take pictures of his younger siblings. He seemed suspicious of me, so I put my camera away and smiled, turning to walk away. The boy’s father, a blacksmith, was working in his shop nearby with his brother and invited me to chat. When the son saw me interacting so comfortably with his father and uncle he came over and apologized. Soon he wanted me to meet the rest of his family. After the requisite three invitations, I climbed with him through the twisted stairs and alleys of the ancient city up to his home, where his mother and sisters welcomed me warmly and forced heaps of food upon me; luckily I was famished. I ate and the family asked me questions about my work and my family, and invited me to stay the night.

The 13-year-old boy who had led me in turned out to be quite a Casanova. Not long after we arrived he asked me to marry him. I referred him to Turkey, where he could find many beautiful women who, unlike me, could also cook. Then the subject turned to an incident a few weeks ago in which the army came in the middle of the night and handcuffed and blindfolded the 13-year-old boy’s older brother, terrifying their sister’s 15-day-old son in the process. The family said they didn’t know why the army had come. The mother asked me if I knew about Ahmed Yassin. I didn’t know what she was talking about until she took out a poster of a man I recognized as the spiritual leader of Hamas.

I asked if the family supported Hamas. They did. I told them I didn’t know very much about Hamas, but that I would like to learn from them. I said that in the United States, we are told that Hamas is dangerous because it supports armed Palestinian attacks on Israel. I asked the family if they supported such attacks and they said they did. They were not altogether surprised to hear that in mainstream American media, Palestinian armed attacks on Israelis are called “terrorism,” while Israeli armed attacks on Palestinian civilians are often called “defense” or are simply not covered by the media at all. I asked them what they would say to a person who condemns suicide bombs because they are meant to kill civilians. They said that Israel has killed more than four times more Palestinian civilians than Palestinians have killed Israeli civilians, but it’s easy to criticize guerilla warfare when you have the luxury of an army doing your fighting for you.

My colleague Hannah said something similar once: “If you’re a pacifist, you have every right to express objections to Palestinian violence against Israelis (although you’d be a hypocrite if you weren’t also equally or more concerned about Israeli violence against Palestinians). If, however, you do believe there is a place for armed struggle, it is unfair to refer only to the oppressed Palestinians targeting their oppressors as terrorists when their actions are no more fear-inducing, politically-motivated, or inhumane than those employed by almost any country at war.”

The family also reminded me that the first people to use terrorism in Palestine were the Zionists in their own struggle against the indigenous Palestinians and the British occupiers before 1948. Zionists were the first to plant bombs in crowded market places, such as the electrically timed mines used against Palestinians in Haifa in July 1938.[1] Zionists planted grenades in cafes and booby-trapped cars. They were the first to kill with letter bombs and parcel-post bombs. In July 1938 alone, Zionists murdered 76 Palestinians in terrorist attacks.[2] Zionists sanctioned the first plane highjacking[3] and not only took hostages but whipped and murdered them. Zionists blew up ships and government offices with civilians inside,[4] and introduced the political extra-judicial assassinations that continue today.[5] Not only did early Zionists use terrorism, but they lauded it as a moral imperative in their struggle; after all, violence is a standard feature of nationalist movements, and Israel’s was no exception.[6]

I asked the family if they hated the Zionists for what they’d done. The family said they did, not for what the Zionists had done but for what they continued to do. Then I asked if they would be willing to live in a Palestinian state with a Jewish state next door. The mother asked what kind of a Palestinian state it would be: “What about the settlers? What about the checkpoints, the roadblocks, the road permit system? What about the Wall?”

She pointed out the window to the house next door: “What about them?” Next door we could see a soldier occupying the neighbors’ house, using it to patrol the area. She shook her head. “We cannot allow a Jewish state that imprisons our own.”

I understood the mother’s hesitation. She—like most Palestinians—has learned to be cautious of tricky wording. “Palestinian state” can mean very different things. Israel’s various two-state proposals have always stipulated the continuation of many existing settlements, along with control over borders and most key water sources. Palestinians want a Palestine with viable borders, and a chance at real independence from Israel. No “peace” proposal has ever come close to that.
[7] I clarified what I had meant:

“No, I mean what if all that was gone. What if the settlers were gone, the political prisoners were freed, the checkpoints and roadblocks were dismantled, and the Wall was torn down? What if you never had to let another soldier into your house, or show them another permit?”

She continued, “And my family could work and study freely? We could go to our mosques and to our land and nobody would stop us?” I nodded. She looked at me with wariness and a little hope in her eyes: “That would be wonderful.” I asked if she would still support killing Israeli civilians in that case and she thought for a moment and answered, “No. I want my children to live in peace, not war.”

We all went up to the roof to gaze down at the beautiful abandoned Old City. I told the family that I had something to tell them, and they instantly became silent. I was scared, but I knew it was something I had to do, to make a point and to know the answer myself. I spoke:

“I’m Jewish. My mother’s Jewish, and her mother’s Jewish, and so on, and that makes me a Jew. But I don’t support the Israeli government and I hate what it’s doing to your people. I love your country and people deeply, but I’m afraid that now you will hate me. Everyone told me you would.”

It took a moment to sink in. The family didn’t understand at first how I could be Jewish but not support Israel or believe in the religion. I tried to explain, and they tried to understand. I think they did, and they began talking amongst themselves too quickly for me to interpret. I interrupted (jokingly, but also a tad serious), “You don’t want to kill me, do you?” The mother broke into a smile and threw her arms around me. “Of course not! We were just discussing in whose room you will sleep tonight. You’ll stay, won’t you?”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay the night, and Casanova walked me back to the CPT house, where I was staying. On the way we passed the abandoned shops in the Old City and I asked him if he remembered the time when they were open. He began to tell me what it used to be like, with lots of people crowding by, children playing next to stands heaped with vegetables. I asked him what happened. He said the soldiers came and took everything away.

Now the old shops are covered with settler graffiti, spray-painted stars of David and the words, “Get out!” I peered into one shop whose windows were smashed, and a man’s voice behind me said, “I used to sell clothes there.” I turned to see a man pointing opposite the alley. “And my brother used to sell groceries over there. The settlers would parade through and take stuff from his shop without paying, just to show their power. Now they’ve taken everything.”

The young man’s name was Zafer. He showed me around the neighborhood and we snuck up to where we could see the bulldozers working to expand a new settlement next door to his house. He told me that the place where we were standing used to be a mechanic’s shop, but now it’s too close to the settler “security fence” to be safe. There was a run-over kid’s backpack on the ground and I wondered who had carried it, and what had happened to him or her. Just then Zafer’s brother, a toddler, ran up and hugged Zafer around the leg. Zafer picked him up and held him in the air above his head. The child squealed with joy. Zafer brought the boy close against his chest and declared to the world, “This kid makes me sooo happy!!” They both glowed. The settlers and soldiers have taken a lot, but I guess there are some joys that persist in spite of just about anything.

[1] Bombs in crowded marketplaces cited in Sefer Toldat Ha Haganah, Tel Aviv; Zionist Library and Marakot, 1954-1972; Grenades in cafes cited in Colonial 146, HM Stationary Office, London, 1938; Booby-trapped cars cited in R.D. Wilson, Cordon and Search (Aldershot: Gale and Polden, 1949), p. 259; Letter bombs cited in The Times (June 5-7 & 10, 1947); Parcel-post bombs cited also in The Sunday Times of London (September 24, 1972); As cited in materials provided by the Interfaith Coalition for Palestinian Rights (ICPR) in Austin, TX;

[2] Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977), ch. 2; As cited in Qumsiyeh, 101.

[3] Qumsiyeh, p. 101.

[4] Wilson, pp. 55, 87, & 132; see also Nicholas Bethel, The Palestine Triangle (London: Andre Deutsch, 1979), pp. 191 & 338; Blowing up government offices also described in Thurston Clarke, By Blood and Fire (London: Hutchinson, 1981); As cited in materials provided by ICPR, Austin, TX.

[5] One of the first Zionist assassination victims was Count Folke Bernadotte, appointed Special UN Mediator to the Middle East after he successfully challenged Nazi plans to deport 20,000 Swedish Jews to concentration camps during World War II. Bernadotte said that “it would be an offense against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict [the Palestinian refugees] were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine. Zionists assassinated Bernadotte 4 months after the State of Israel was declared; Qumsiyeh, pp. 44-45 & 101.

[6] Chomsky, Fateful, pp. 485-6; See Appendix V for quotations from early Zionist terrorists.***

[7] For details on Camp David II, which many believe produced the most “generous” peace proposal to the Palestinians, see Appendix IV. ***


Anonymous said...

Wow. That was a great article. I am a big fan of your work, great job. Keep up the awesome work.

Anonymous said...

What can I say? Passively reading posts like these and others, reaching deep into my heart, and then on to the next one.
What can one person do to publicize this atrocity going on in Gaza and elsewhere?
take a leaf from Anna's work and do something yourself or if it is not possible, publicize work like this far and wide.
I'm gong to try to get it published on OEN now, even though they will probably say its too old.

Anonymous said...

Israel's stranglehold on the media regarding the Palestinians would be broken if we could get past the labels we use. Hamas, 'terrorists' Hezbollah, the 'West', foreign policy decisions - all are labels used by people. People who take decisions about these 'facts on the ground' and spin them for their own agendas.
An article like this dealing with real people in real situations speaks louder than any 'policy statement' even by the savior of the American dream, Barak Obama.
The oxygen of publicity would starve the opinion makers of credibility for their policies.

Power to the people requires people to participate in that power - with real information and not slogans of 'change we can believe in.


Anonymous said...

In a fair society Anna's work would be on the front page of the New York Times alongside the likes of William Kristal poisonous rants, so people could compare the abstract politics with real people in real situations.

Politics of sound bites and slogans with no substance is the norm especially in America but prevalent everywhere.
It reminds me (as a Brit) of people in Britain complaining of too much immigration who have never met a foreigner seeking asylum, economic or otherwise.

I see no change until the people suffering from this coming depression wake up and demand answers from the politicians and become less afraid of the government - striking fear into them when people wont put up with it any more.