Moving forward

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Palestinian Blinders

We all wear blinders sometimes. They filter out what you don't want to see or hear. I am on a number of Palestinian listserves and organize in Chicago. I see the blinders and watch the effects cripple us.

When I engage in dialogue with fellow Palestinians, I am attacked verbally. I am accused of being a spy or conspirator of of some kind becasue I express myself and the reasons for my views. Peace, coexistence, compensation, reconciliation... those are my views. I have to "prove myself a real Palestinian" upon being attacked. I seem to create total shock expressing my view. After explaining why I feel the way I do, and my vision of what the end to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would look like, the attacks diminish. I am, however, more dismissed and tolerated than accepted.

The young people have embraced me and look to me for direction. They share my views but see no place to express themselves in a way that can flourish in order to really advocate for Palestinian rights. So I continue to organize and argue... for them. I feel the weight of being a role model and I feel like I'm winning on some levels but failing on others. People are still dying back home, children are still dying.

I observe the hatemongering that goes on. The lack of real discussion, real conclusions. Just a game of points on who responded to what article in the paper. It's so futile sometimes to even try to have discussion. It's all about being a media critic... that wins points... at least so far as I can see. It's about how loud you can scream for Palestine... like so many groups out there funded in social justice do. Are they really there to help Palestinians and their just cause or scream and collect money for it?

And thus you have it, no real healing, helping or looking to move forward in the Palestinian diaspora.

I recently saw a quote at the end of someone's post on a Palestinian listserve. Some people put quotes and other sayings in their closings. This one really struck me... especially because Palestinians in the diaspora are so angry that they justify suicide bombing--including the person that uses the quote. When they denounce it they still justify it. I can denounce it but I can't justify it. I can explain why it happens... but I can't justify it. They can. The quote is:

“The ink of the scholar is holier more than the blood of the martyr"- Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

Does anyone really pay attention to what that means. When I spoke out against suicide bombing, I was attacked. When I speak out against people who think that it's a legitimate way to defend a just cause, I'm attacked. When I dismantled a group in Chicago claiming to be a "Coalition of Justice for Palestine" (the umbrella organization for all Palestinian groups) because the spokesperson glorfies the leaders of the suicide bombing movement, they are puzzled. Do they not see or know what Jesus and Mohammed taught?

The Palestinians in the diaspora are missing the boat. They are continually on the defense and can't see a way out. Their blinders are focused on defense and they have no room for the future. They cry about the past and the present... that's it. Any new vision or methods used by up&coming leaders here and back home are dissected and analyzed with a predetermination to denounce them.

They denounce any new ways of opening the doors for a better life for the people on the land--the ones that are really living a nightmare. They can't see it because they are so afraid of change and compromise. They feel belittled enough. There is a sense of holding out--all or nothing--that keeps them going. Even though they are not suffering in refugee camps and in Arab countries that don't allow them to vote or become citizens with basic human rights.

Sometimes just watching this becomes too much. It's generational and the Arabs have suffered and continue to suffer from these types of blinders. We, the Arabs, used to be the innovators, the cradle of civilization, as it's said, started in our world... why do we hold ourselves back.

I try to understand the "why." I think it has to do with a lack of role models, lack of democracy, interpretation of religion, cultural gender bias and other ills. Other communities suffer from the same. Some have found a way to prosper and some completely languish in it.

There are those that can make a difference and lead the Palestinians in the diaspora, but they don't. They are the Palestinians sick and tired of our people's inability to remove the blinders. What they're not understanding is that, perhaps, a real possiblity to create a grassroots network that is second to none is missed. Unfortunatley, they just don't want to deal with the likes of what is out there in the coffee houses, the lecture halls, the demonstrations, listserves, etc. They find it hard to channel all that negativity into proactivity. I don't blame them but I implore them to try as I do.

I spend my days writing and reaching out to some of the most influential Arab and Palestinian leaders. Some are not Arab or Palestinian. I do it because I know they understand that it takes resources, time, dedication and a few close confidants to move ahead. I understand why they hesitate, but, more now than ever, we need to tackle this monster. We, the people that want peace based on justice, based on compromise, based on reality, need each other to do this.

Because we don't have a grassroots effort to make 100 phone calls in one hour from people nationally, or 25,000 letters to a Congressperson in a week, we will not be able to create real change from our elected officials. Real success will come when the blinders come off and leadership emerges to offer focus, instructions and direction to the Palestinians in the diaspora.

I hope I succeed in convincing those that can make a difference do so... for the young people that don't want to cry for Palestine another 50 plus years. I know I'll keep organizing and speaking out.