Friday, April 17, 2009

Wrong and Wronger

In the last three weeks, there have been two incidents whereby authorities -- once Israeli and once Palestinian -- disrupted and suppressed peaceful cultural events (all by Palestinians). Both were wrong, but this is a good illustration of how Palestinians let themselves get caught in a corner. Israelis were wrong, but served their purpose, while Palestinians were wrong and hurt their cause.
1- First there was the cultural festival of "Jerusalem, Cultural Capital of the Arab World 2009," with dance, music, art exhibit all around the West Bank and Jerusalem. The teenage daughter of our landlord desperately hoped we would see her group dance the Dabka in their traditional dance costume. In a place that's too often bleak, it's wonderful to see kids and adults get excited about something creative and joyful.

Now, of course from the Israeli standpoint the entire premise of the expansion of Israel's territory and the 'indivisible Jerusalem' is to deny the very obvious reality of the Arab presence in Jerusalem. It takes walls, house demolitions, expulsions and subjugation to make that denial a reality--it's a very active policy. And letting Arabs celebrate Jerusalem as any kind of a capital is obviously not something "tolerable" to this ethno-political ideology.

For all those who question, "why don't the Palestinian do peaceful things rather than encourage suicide bombers?" here's a case in point. Hopelessness is not the inherent fruit of Arab culture - no matter what its flaws - it is a product of the occupation. So the Israeli government sent in the police and all events around Jerusalem were canceled. (Read here.) My landlord's daughter didn't get to dance with her group. She was reminded that she is a non-citizen of a non-state and thereby not entitled to the common rights of all people. Even though her parents, grand parents, great grand parents and so forth have been in this place through generations.

Israel is wrong. Dead wrong. But this wrong is serving its political ideology of crushing the Palestinians into submission, denying existence and expression. It's a wrong which serves a purpose -- even if it's an immoral one.

2- Next comes the Palestinian example of Wafa Younis, a violinist and peace activitist who gives lessons to children in Jenin. Not only that, but she goes back and forth between Jenin (West Bank) and Israel and uses music as a way to create a different reality than checkpoints, soldiers, freedom fighters and terrorists. She uses art to recognize the humanity of all and the value of all humans. Not to mention that these kind of activities are desperately needed by children and youth in the grey world of refugee camps (where she works) and West Bank cities.

Now as part of her efforts, Mrs. Younis performed for survivors of the Holocaust as well as for Palestinian families who lost a member of their family to war and occupation. What a statement: 'let us acknowledge our diverse losses and traumas, acknowledge our humanity, and use art to speak healing to all of us (rather than use our respective traumas and pains to invalidate the Other).' That's serious peace work and it's gutsy.

What happened (read here) is that the Palestinian security forces in Jenin ended up closing down her operation because she had played for Holocaust survivors (presumably because of concerns that it showed 'fraternizing with the occupier and normalizing relations while Jenin is very much still occupied and suffering).

The first thing of interest is the narrative of how this happened. If you trust the Haaretz article, it seems that the security personnel sent to interrupt her wasn't too happy about it and pulled some legalese (e.g. being an Israeli citizen she is not allowed in the West Bank by the Israelis--something which usually does not concern the Palestinians). Then it seems the orders came from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which itself has done a lot to show goodwill and cooperation with the Israelis (perhaps too much). So, it's unlikely that President Mahmoud Abbas or Prime Minister Fayyad were really personnally upset at these activities. No, it seems they decided to react because of the accusation put by Hamas that they are "normalizing relations" (aka collaborating) with the Israelis.* The bottomline motivation was internal politics and posturing.

End result: we see that a security forces officer did something he did not believe in, under orders from a government which did not believe in it either, to appease internal political posturing against a political group which has been excluded from government of the West Bank.

This is my point: the Palestinians were here just as wrong as the Israelis in the previous example. The only difference is that in the Israeli case, actions were taken from top to bottow (law enforcement) to pursue a clear and single agenda (essentially the judaization of Jerusalem** in this case). While, in the Palestinian case, each level of action was motivated by a different short-view agenda and the ultimate result did nothing to advance the overall Palestinian strategy. (What it did is reinforce anti-Palestinian propaganda on the lines of "the Palestinian Authority opposes playing music to Holocaust survivors and hence, perhaps, is still denying the Holocaust, even worst planning the new one, etc.")

My conclusions?
  • Short-sighted political idiocy abounds, but when the field is not even and you're losing the battle, you have to be smarter and better than the other team. Otherwise you keep losing.
  • People like Wafa Younis are the people who will create the change we need. Some of my friends see those with a gun as "realists" and those with a violin as "idealists." Well - feel free to call them what you want, they impress the heck out of me and I'm betting my life that the violin beats the gun in the end. That's what faith tells me.
Wafa - and others like her, Palestinian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Secular - are the ones telling a story for the people, all the people. Holocaust survivors and Nakba survivors. More importantly she is telling a story for today and tomorrow, one where we can all live in peace.

Idealists change the world.

Salaam - Shalom,


* This is happening in the context of national reconciliation discussions taking place in Cairo.
** For a glimpse of the personal significance of this to flesh and blood individuals, read Marlin's interesting vignette here.

Picture source:

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