I shall not hate (Izzeldin Abuelaish) [2010]

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A Palestinian gynaecologist loses his wife to leukemia, and then three of his daughters to an Israeli bombing of their house during ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Israel’s at the time unprecedented massacre on Gaza (2008-09). This is his biography, and as indicated by the title he has assumed a forgiving attitude – not out of naïve pacifism, it would seem, but in order to avoid being consumed by hate. So far, so good. As a biography, I shall not hate paints a moving portrait of human strength and steadfastness.

Here comes the trouble. In Abuelaish’s description of the Israel-Palestine conflict as a huge misunderstanding, with distanced and unknowing politicians on both sides, the importance of respecting ”both Palestinian and Israeli right” and similar jargon of the kind – giving the impression that we are talking about a conflict between equal parts – and not one of the world’s mightiest colonial armies brutalizing a displaced and broken down native population.

Ask yourselves: if it were unthinkable to discuss ‘the equal rights of black and white South Africans’ rights’ after the Sharpeville massacre, or the need for ‘respecting the rights of American soldiers as well as those of Vietnamese civilians’, how come the same questions can be applied to Israel-Palestine as part of mainstream discourse without any objections? Naturally, to understand this, we must take into consideration that the conflict has a geo-political, ideological, economical context – something which seems inconceivable to Abuelaish.

In Abuelaish’s narrative, the Gordian knot is all the anger and resentment between the two peoples – so similar in appearance and in culture, yet somehow unable to bridge the gap between them. Accordingly, the solution must lie in people on both sides ”opening their hearts”, ”beginning to listen”, ”looking inside themselves”, ”immersing in dialogue” and other harmless platitudes that are bound to prolong status quo.

Our leaders bicker like children, breaking promises, behaving like bullies, keeping the kettle of trouble boiling. The people I talk to—patients, doctors, neighbours in Gaza, friends in israel—aren’t like our leaders. They worry about my family as I worry about their families. We all lament the lost decades, the uncertain future. And as amazing as it may sound to someone watching us from afar, we believe in each other, in our ability to share this Holy Land. 

Without specifying what ”believing in each other” actually entails, the overall spirit of the statement above runs contrary to public opinion polls in Israel, for instance available here regarding Israeli Arabs or here regarding the formation of a Palestinian state – far from the optimism Abuelaish implies. A more truthful description of Israeli attitudes toward the conflict would take into consideration their heavily indoctrinated and militarized society. Public and official opinion on Arabs especially, but also immigrants in general, are by all accounts racist, as documented by Max Blumenthal in his book Goliath.

Now, it would be presumptuous to insinuate that the author is unfamiliar with all these facets of the conflict – perhaps it is more likely that he has deliberately chosen, as tactic, this reconciliatory tone that can be appreciated by readers across national and political spectra. In any case, it is shocking to see him delve into pure nonsense such as:

Still, one man [in the audience] pointedly asked, ”You speak of dialogue between the two nations, but whom do we have to talk to—Hamas? You say we need to respect one another, but your elected leaders are not even willing to recognize the existence of the State of Israel. What kind of respect is that?” [My italics.]

First of all, this is simply not true. No sane Palestinian leader has failed to recognize the neighboring superpower. As for Hamas, it has long been a proponent of the two-state solution, negotiated ceasefires and hostage exchanges with the IDF – naturally they recognize the state of Israel. (A wholly different debate which often comes up, is the recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel – an alien concept in International politics.) But more to the point, no colonized people are obliged to recognize their occupants’ rights; on the contrary, they are entitled to forceful resistance to the occupation. These crocodile tears should not have any place in a truthful description of the conflict, just as no historian would take seriously settlers in the Wild West lamenting the Native Americans’ failure to recognize the occupying government.

Further, his description of the Goldstone report again emphasizes that both sides rejected its findings (however, only the reactions of one of the sides made Goldstone actually rescind his report) and the description, incredibly, includes the following:

…and he [Goldstone] accused them [IDF] of being systematically reckless with their use of white phosphorous while bombing Gaza City and the Jabalia refugee camp…

Surely, a physician must recognize that there are no ‘non-reckless’ ways to use white phosphorous, a substance banned by many international treaties, especially when it comes to bombing cities and refugee camps?

~~~~~~~

By all accounts, Abuelaish is a devout man, who shares his pledge with us in the firm belief that what he has endured has befallen him for a divine reason, and that his tragic experiences can ‘open the eyes of Israeli people’. In other words, he writes as one of the participants and victims in the conflict – not as a disinterested historian. And yet, since his book is lauded for its ‘moderate’ Palestinian stance, at all times focused on recognizing the equal rights of both sides, it can not be read outside of the context of the ongoing conflict. As such, it unfortunately adds to the already tilted narrative, championed by the colonial superpower, where the aggressor is portrayed as victim. While recognizing his grief and his incredible strength to endure not only the murder of his children, but also the daily oppression, one should not adhere to his description of the conflict.

 

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~ av bookplanet på oktober 3, 2015.

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