When I was young, I used to ask my mother why foreigners leave their countries to a “very boring” place like Gaza. “Work,” my mother used to say, unable to resist a frown that quickly turned into a half-smile; “they have work to accomplish, plus Gaza is a very beautiful place to live in, habibti.”
Noticing her irritation and slight grit of her teeth as she pronounced “habibti,” a feeling of shame would entice me to pinch her hand until she demanded I stop.
Many years later, inconsolable contempt seemed to replace my naivety as my eyes took in TV-released images of the second Palestinian intifada. I sat on the edge of the living room’s table and peeked at my parent’s alarmed expressions. Young boys were throwing barrages of stones at armored military jeeps and the Israelis responded to them with open fire.
“Cowards,” my dad suddenly roared, his expressions set ablaze; “look at our boys! They are fighting with bare chests but the dogs are hunting them as if they were mice! Get out of your jeeps if you dare, bastards!”
I would listen attentively only to recall my father’s words each time an intifada-like confrontation erupts in the many years to follow. The cowards who hunt down our boys from armored military jeeps are the same cowards who destroyed Jenin back in 2002. The same ones who felt nothing but “a light bump to the plane” as they ruthlessly dropped all kinds of bombs on Gaza’s civilian neighborhoods in 2008-2009. And you tell me if they are any different from the uniformed thugs who mercilessly attack peaceful demonstrations in Nabi Saleh and Beit Hanoun in the West Bank and Gaza respectively.
My contempt reached its peak as I watched pretentious imperialist heroes in posh outfits and shining shoes unreluctantly reducing death to alluring euphemisms. They made everything of death but death itself. A death dried-out of its natural horror, gravity and enchanting drama. Our charred flesh is nowhere to be found but in cheap categories like “collateral damage” or the “unintentional drifts” of rogue, drunk, deranged, or mad soldiers –it doesn’t really make a difference to those slaughtered and to their families- carrying out the “legitimate” mission of “surgical killings.” And if a child is murdered, excuse the murderers, but the kid fell prey to the horridness of some carefully-planned “human shield.”
Are they not invading our lands to modernize us? Are they not harassing our women in the name of liberty? Are we, the uncivilized people of color, not in need for development? And they, the wealth-loving businessmen, exploit our resources for whose sake but ours?
The anonymity of the sixteen slain Afghan civilians, nine of whom were playful children a few days ago stirred up every remaining tranquility I have ever possessed. I know Arye, Gabriel, and Miriam, the innocent Jewish children who wrongfully paid in blood for the crimes of Israel — so their merciless murderer claimed. Their ages I have repeatedly read everywhere; six, three and eight, respectively. The Afghans remain the unseen shadows of an oppressive life. I know all about Mohammed Merah, the terrorist, who executed their breaths in France. But how different is Mohammed Merah from Robert Bales, the madman, who set fire to the beds of young, nameless Afghans, in their sleep?
Even death has been deformed into ethnocentric classifications. And death, unable to digest the crushed of the world, drops them into lesser classifications. As if the flames that seared Afghan flesh never existed, as if their flesh were trash, Bales is felt for and cared about. World Empires, we are told, would have held him accountable but alas, the man, on a humane mission to modernize the Afghans, who spend their lives in cloaks and use their fingers to eat, did not know he was committing an atrocity. Merah’s first name, unlike Bales, is Mohammed; he is an Arab, a Muslim, a perfect candidate to be designated and then marketed in the same Orientalist outfit as a terrorist.
I, a Palestinian, identify with the miseries of the people of Afghanistan and see myself in their “backwardness.” For every slaughtered Afghan child of any age, a Palestinian version is easily found. Every sexually harassed Palestinian woman, finds a similar victim in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Pakistan. It is a world that follows abhorrent ideologies wherein industrial interests and ethnoreligious convictions rule.
Israel is not different when compared to the US and Nato troops in Afghanistan. Both commit ugly crimes and both invest extensively to manufacture subservient puppets to accomplish what they cannot do otherwise. Hamid Karazi, the Afghan president, together with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, are American and Israeli productions respectively. Both are excellent when it comes to condemnations and “serious” ultimatums and demands that usually go unmet.
The eyes through which I have come to see the world were not an option. I live in a country where refugee camps are packed with human throngs as if they were sardines. The indignities saunter with scorn before my eyes. And as I walk, drooped with the grief of the night, massacred Palestinian fighters grin at me from huge posters. Anger shakes tears out of my body; I was spared again. I selfishly think of myself, being unable to set foot in Jerusalem; lacking the courage to knock on the iron gate of the buffer zone, slap a blue-eyed soldier of my age, force him out of my way, and make it, on foot, to Jerusalem.
I look at death as if it were my brother. It breathes down my neck, and I breathe in its face. I have seen it in Israel’s crimes. I see it now as darkness encrusts Gaza every single night. There is no one to console or temper the humiliation of mothers giving birth publicly at checkpoints. And of course, nobody to pacify the anger of a man, clinging to a dented radio in a refugee camp, as if the morning broadcaster is always about to announce that the long-awaited return is no longer a taboo.