August 13, 2010
Very often, among activists for Palestine who are not Palestinians themselves, a sort of fraternity develops. Our love of Palestine is our primary common denominator, but how frequent it is (and how joyful and satisfying) when we find other affinities that create a strong bond after we’ve had such an important factor bring us together in the first place.
More often than not, the Palestinian issue is central, since most of our energies and social lives rotate around the words "Free Palestine" and many of our communications with others dwell in a range of arguments about the struggle. Yet, one thing is common between activists, we have long since abandoned abstractions such as "the Middle East Conflict" and delusions of seeing ourselves as some kind of messenger or even a sort of bridge. We come to the awareness that we are only as good at what we are doing when we are totally devoted to Palestine and listen to Palestinians more than to anyone else and when we try (hard as it is!) to let our own egos go, because they do not matter a whit in this struggle. It is also frequent that we focus our advocacy on specific places, Jenin, Gaza, Bethlehem, Bil’in, Hebron, Jerusalem, etc. and for many of us, we reach a point where we relate to the Palestinian issue as something that concerns us personally. The map of Palestine is far from the reductive one that severs the land into fragments, and the geography extends into the refugee camps dislocated in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq. All of these places are places we may not have seen, but often cherish. That’s because they are the homes of our friends and their loved ones. There is almost no place in Palestine that hasn’t been described to us, often in a tearful testimony of someone who grieves over never again seeing his or her home and land. There is practically no city or even village where we have not been invited to come as a welcome guest, part of the legendary Palestinian hospitality and kindness, but probably also a desire that we can spread the word about these places and keep them alive as part of Palestine once we know them with our hearts as well as from words.
That is why the goal of Kenneth Ring’s book, (written with Ghassan Abdullah) Letters From Palestine (http://www.wheatmark.com/merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&
Product_Code=9781604944167&Category_Code=) ... is so noble and appropriate, to present the western public with a range of voices who are not representatives of something abstract, but who are Palestinians who desire to share their points of view by means of telling a story, be it their own personal history or a moment in their lives. This is how we activists started to learn more about the urgency of their situation, through their personal testimony.
The book is a compilation of letters to the author, arranged in such a way that the reader is able to grasp what is an extremely complex situation, but one that needs untangling from stereotypes. It is a fact that there is a great variety in the Palestinian population. Palestinians have many things in common, but also many differences. The Palestinians have been scattered around the world, and even those who were not forced to leave their homes (a small portion of the entirety) were robbed of their identity and are almost officially considered as merely "a fifth column", a foreign body that should be knocked down, in the Jewish state of Israel. Many thousands of Palestinians live as refugees either within the so-called Occupied Palestinian Territories (Gaza and West Bank) or in other countries. Many thousands of others are citizens of another country. A book like this is helpful in giving a human geography to the Palestinian people.
Just like some others who have contributed to the creation of this book, my only contact with Kenneth Ring is through Internet. Several years ago he contacted me, as he was working very hard to spread the information regarding the torture of a mutual friend, Mohammed Omer. As I quickly learned, he was not only competent and sympathetic to the cause, but his strategy is one of "action" (good deeds), and this is the strategy that is worth a million valid words. I soon got to know a man who is extremely generous, warm, genuine and interesting. The profile of the "activist" that I think is the most effective too, because they are serious about the issue and not in it because they find it "fun", but they never neglect that they are communicating with other persons, and they have extra sensitivity to the human element. In the subsequent months after our first contact, we ended up discussing activism and the issues, but never "politics", since it was clear from the start that Kenneth’s inclination was on human rights and individuals. But it was not infrequent for us to discuss a mutual passion, music. While I never did get him to declare unbridled passion for my favourite composer, I did find in Kenneth a reliable and beloved friend with a vibrant mind to add to his other fine qualities.
I was eagerly awaiting the project he outlined, which is a variant of what has become my activist focus, amplifying the variety of Palestinian voices calling for their freedom and offering us their insight and ideas so that we could do our part in whatever area we live in to bring about the goal of a free Palestine.
What is very interesting in this book, reflecting the reality, is the variety of persons he presents to us. While it is clear that a deliberate choice was made to give as much space to women as to men, to Christians as to Muslims, to those who live on the land and those in exile, there was another deliberate choice that I believe may be the most effective part of the book for a public that seeks information but is deluded by ideology: the choice to focus on young persons – students, activists who practice non-violent resistance in the fact of brutal military occupation. It is quite illuminating to notice that there is a common belief in "building" their own society, assuming the responsibility for it and working towards that. There are no hidden agendas to oppress others like one will find in Zionists who use a codeword such as "security" to mean tyranny. It would benefit many readers to hear these views.
The words of these writers describe their actions which reflect their values and show clearly that while every kind of resistance (including violent resistance) to a military occupation is legitimate, there is an ideal for the future based on the power of fighting for a better, a more just world, not just obtaining the necessary end of over six decades of enormously inhumane, violent, racist occupation of their land and destruction of the pre-existing social structure. The true Palestinian values of the family, of honestly earning one’s own keep, of taking care of the land are alive and well, despite having been dealt a death blow on so many occasions. Their words could help many who refuse to see "who’s the terrorist" and who is fighting for survival, security and peace. It is not who the mainstream media tell us it is.
What is another very useful aspect of the book is the great amount of information it gives on specific areas. I am encouraged by the focus of the book on the big picture. We are reminded that Gaza is suffering the unspeakable violence of the aftermath of an all-out massacre that would have exterminated every man, woman, child and animal if only allowed to continue, that the destruction has reached levels that go beyond all imagining, adding to that the vastly inhumane and evil siege, designed to tear down the resilience and cause an unlikely internal rebellion against Hamas. But we are also informed of conditions in the West Bank, smothered under the Israeli boot and the PA clampdown, which serves the occupation forces in exchange for crumbs. The torment of the checkpoints and constant harassment of Palestinians ONLY because they are Palestinians is shocking, especially because it is the norm. Any American or European who reads of the level of harassment and oppression that is the daily bread of Palestinians can only feel outrage if they care about humans. None of that would be tolerated if the victims of such brutal racism were Israelis. Just being able to understand the depth of it is almost an impossible thing to do. One can hear these personal stories many times over, and they never cease to cause intense distress.
I believe that this book can provide valuable information for anyone who is interested in knowing the actual situation of Palestinians and how their lives are affected by the advent of Zionism. It offers a window into the souls of many people, and the intensity of some of these accounts is palpable. I found myself crying on so many occasions, and smiling too. I was touched by the sweetness of so many of these people, their humanity and interesting personalities. Kenneth Ring did a fine job in creating a momentum in their stories, and his project is a worthwhile contribution to the most important task any activist can do: to empower the voices of Palestinians so that they are able to unite and vanquish the racism that they are victims of. I highly recommend this book to novices and to veterans of the Palestinian struggle alike. It will inform and move everyone.