Can you put yourself in a Palestinian’s shoes for one brief, precious moment?
Turki Al Hamad
by Ramsis Amun
Dear President George W. Bush,
A beautiful American film with a sad plot inspired by a true story, relates how some white American youths in a small southern town kidnap a small black girl, just ten years old, while she is on her way home. She is raped, thrown off a small bridge over the town’s river, and left for dead. As fortune would have it, she survives, although she was thereafter rendered infertile as a result of the injuries she sustains, and the trauma of that incident is destined to remain with her for a lifetime. But what concerns us here is that the young men who committed this crime were not indicted as they denied they had anything to do with her and no one came forward to stand as witness in a town where racism was rife. The victim was, after all, black. The perpetrators of the crime were of ‘pristine’ white origin. It was inevitable that true justice could not be done under such circumstances. The child’s father, however, could not restrain himself, and killed one of the rapists as the latter was leaving the courtroom which had pronounced their innocence. The father of the child was arrested and charged with premeditated murder in view of the factual and circumstantial evidence and demonstrable proof. He did not deny the charges, but asked that a fuller investigation of the first crime, which had led him to perpetrate the second, be undertaken. The lawyers defending the father made no great effort to put his defence forward, and the case seemed to be heading towards an indictment of the father with maximal sentence, since both the attorney general and white public opinion in the town were of the view that the father should be indicted. Nobody wished to link the second crime with the first in a town plagued by abject racism. As fortune would have it, however, a young white attorney took up the case in earnest, sacrificing his reputation in the town, and exposing himself to death threats because he was seen to ‘let his own kind down’ and ‘defend a worthless ‘nigger’’. But the attorney did not give up the case in spite of the intimidation and threats, and ended up winning the case, with a verdict of not guilty passed on the father. The father returned to his family and to a daughter healing from her physical and psychological wounds.
The attorney did not win the case through using proof and circumstantial evidence, which was plentiful. He won through a different type of appeal. He asked members of the jury to close their eyes for a moment and imagine, just for that moment, that the girl who was raped was not a ‘dirty’ black, but of ‘pristine’ white origin: shining blonde hair like gold dust on a sunny spring day, eyes as blue as the sea at the height of summer, and rosy cheeks like ripened plums. He asked them to imagine the rapists abusing the body of this child mercilessly, getting away with it. If one of them was the father of this white child, what would he do? Justice had been done, and he, the father, sees those who have abused his child walking out of the courtroom, smiling. What would he feel? ….A silence descended upon the court room, and some amongst those present are moved to tears by the attorney’s plea. The jury, after deliberation, ruled that the defendant was not guilty.
Mr. President, all we ask is that, for just a moment, you do what that young attorney asked his jury to do. We do not seek impartial justice from you, because we gave up on that long ago, although we still live in hope that America may wake up from its moral slumber and go back to the founding principles of its fathers - those principles that the trappings of naked strength have buried under the mounds of time. We do not expect the daughters of a serving maid from the lineage of Abraham to be treated on equal terms with the daughters of the free. To expect such a thing would be to expect too much, particularly since the interpretation of old testament Judaism has been made, side by side with Christianity, one of the salient heritages of American culture. We do not ask you to look after America’s long-term interests in the region, since it seems to us that impartial logic in these matters has become a very remote possibility. We do not wish to point out, Mr. President, that you may be tarnishing America’s reputation throughout the world, in view of the fact that the principles of Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy seem to have become merely a memory, or merely facts for a history lesson unrelated to present or to future. All we ask is just a very precious moment of your time - not at the expense of your duties at the White House, but rather during a moment of real leisure at your Camp David retreat, or at your beautiful ranch in Texas, where there is a peaceful calm, between the greenery of ‘Bonny America’ in the words of Catherine Lee Bates, in the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ in the words of Francis Scott Guy and of your national anthem. We only seek a moment of your very precious time, and hope this is not too much to ask of you. You have stated repeatedly, Mr. President, in your eloquent speeches and your stimulating press conferences that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace, and that the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces in the occupied territories are taken in self-defence. You have said that Palestinian ‘terrorists’ are creating havoc and destruction in Israel, and that Arafat cannot be trusted. You have made other such statements, transforming everything and anything into kosher food for the Israelis, whilst accusing the Palestinians of everything and anything. You have turned a blind eye to the massacres of Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah, and to Bethlehem, where the earth received the body of the pure Christ for the first time, and been party to other acts some of which are public knowledge and some of which are not. You have the right to believe what you wish to believe, to love whom you will and hate whom you will. We do not ask to change anything in that respect. But, Mr. President, please close your eyes for just one moment, and imagine that you are a Palestinian, or even just an ordinary Arab or Muslim. Try to feel what a Palestinian, an Arab or a Muslim at this moment feels.
For over half a century, there have been a people almost totally uprooted from their land. They were robbed of their livelihood and sometimes slaughtered as sheep would be slaughtered in our homeland on special occasions, or as a turkey would be slaughtered for Christmas or Thanksgiving back at your ranch. They made concessions to the point beyond which it was impossible to make further concessions. All they sought was to live as everybody else lives, in a secure land within a state which represents them and contains them. Please imagine for just a moment, Mr. President, that you are such a Palestinian - a lost, dispossessed human being. What will you feel? And how will you think? You may feel, under such circumstances, that your inevitable fate, like all of us, is death, yet you will feel that the thought of death seems to be a not altogether unpleasant prospect in the midst of such desperate circumstances. You may even find yourself, one day, going towards your own suicidal end, hoping to take the lives of some of your oppressors, or some of those you perceive to be your oppressors, along with your own. We would pronounce our condemnation of you then, and call you a terrorist, from the comfortable homeliness of our armchairs. Mr. President, please put yourself in the shoes of that Palestinian for just this moment - a Palestinian who is looked upon as one of a bunch of terrorists, no matter what he does, to the point that he begins to adopt the mindset of Samson - that hero of the Old Testament - who destroys a whole temple upon his own head and the heads of his enemies while he cries, “O God, let the temple fall upon my enemies’ heads as well as upon my own.” That Palestinian is stigmatised as a terrorist for doing the same thing that Samson did when he reached a state of desperation which we have all contributed to.
Speaking for myself, I have always stood in opposition to violence and condemned terrorism in all its forms. The end does not justify the means if the means employed are unjust means. Blood-letting, whether that blood be Arab, American or Israeli blood, saddens me and fills me with despair. Death is always tragic. The cries of a mother who has lost her child are the selfsame cries of pain everywhere. Condemning violence, terrorism and blood-letting does not free us from the duty of seeking out the roots of terrorism, in order to stop it happening everywhere. But the problem, Mr. President, is that though you hear the cries of despair coming from an Israeli mother in Haifa who has lost her child, yet you are oblivious to the cries of a Palestinian mother in Nablus, whose pain is the selfsame pain. You are moved by the sight of blood spilt on the pavements in Netanya or Jerusalem, yet are unmoved by the colour of blood spilt upon the numerous pavements of Jenin and Ramallah - although that blood is human blood as well. You remember the Holocaust with sadness, but are untouched by the holocaust taking place before your very eyes today. The earlier Holocaust was a result of the world’s inability to heed the dangers of Hitler’s thinking in his early days of power. Will another holocaust unfold before your eyes because you are unwilling to heed the dangers of Sharon’s thinking today? What the Palestinians are going through today is similar to what was happening on the film set in that beautiful American town. A black man’s blood was not as precious as a white man’s blood. Please imagine for a moment, Mr. President, in your moments of relaxation after a meal, on your rocking chair at the ranch, what would have happened if the victims of the events in Jenin, Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah were Israelis, or even Americans, and had no connection whatsoever with Palestine, Arabs, or Islam. What would have happened? Please take just a moment to imagine….
We know, Mr. President, that what happened in September has made you abhor everything connected to Arabs or to Islam. What a man feels within himself, he feels. He cannot help that. All we hope is that your personal, private feelings will not lead you to condemn an entire nation and all the members of its population, as a result of an event that we condemned as you condemned, and which disturbed us as it disturbed you, with the exception of a misguided few who had lost their way and felt they had no path left on which to tread. Today we stand where that black child’s father stood in that courtroom, and sit with the jury. Please do not let your personal feelings, which have been naturally moved by what happened in September, lead you to condemn people of a certain colour and stock, then do what the jury did when they first passed sentence on the black father, before they were asked to imagine what would have happened had the child been white. All we ask, Mr. President, is that you look beyond the constraints of your official role, your nationality, and your Judaeo-Christian heritage for just a brief moment - to become like Adam in his innocence before the Fall, and look around you - then judge as you see fit. I know you will see what you could not see before - what your position, nationality and culture had veiled from you. All we implore is that you be that Adam for just a brief moment. Can you spare that brief moment for us, Mr. President?
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