Saturday, January 26, 2008

Comparing Suffering

"I think that foreigners tend to show all too comparable pity towards people who have suffered misfortunes not at all comparable, as if the pity were more important than the misfortune." -- Marie Louise Kagoyire. Genocide survivor. Nyamata, Rwanda. Quoted from Jean Hatzfeld's "Into the Quick of Life, The Rwandan Genocide: The Survivors Speak"

Ms. Kagoyire was referring to foreigners who saw the Hutu refugees fleeing to the camps of Goma following the genocide and had lots of pity and provided lots of aid for them, but who didn't seem to have much pity and certainly very little aid to the surviving victims of the genocide. There were innocents among the Hutus certainly, and there was horrible suffering in the camps, but the camps were run by genocidaires, much of the aid went to the genocidaires in one fashion or another, and the world seemed to think that somehow aiding those whom the perpetrators had pushed into camps (and in many instances the perpetrators themselves!) absolved them of guilt towards the actual victims.

The same imbalance of pity applies to Palestinians and Israelis and Americans and Iraqis. Palestinians suffer far more, yet the west's pity goes overwhelmingly to the Israelis. Westerners act like at best these are two equal sides with equal suffering when the reality is that while there is suffering on both sides, Palestinians suffer 100 fold or more worse. Likewise Americans worry about their loved ones in the US military in Iraq and yet somehow fail to care 1/100th as much about the 100 times or more number of Iraqi victims they have created. At best there is token acknowledgement of Iraqi suffering, but where billions are spent to protect Americans sent to occupy Iraq or to aid injured soldiers, Americans fail to even acknowledge our overwhelming responsibility for the mass graves of Iraqis we have filled (more than Saddam now - think of that) and we don't pour hundreds of billions into aiding Iraqi victims of the violence we brought them. Don't get me wrong, I don't want Israelis or Americans to suffer, all human beings are equal - but that's the point, 1 Israeli is of equal value as 1 Palestinian, but somehow westerners fail to acknowledge that the suffering of 100 Palestinians IS greater suffering (simple math folks) than the suffering of 1 Israeli. Americans and Israelis overwhelmingly refuse to acknowledge the vastly greater suffering they create on the other side of the fence and they most certainly refuse to expend the same amount of resources to ease the suffering they have created (they're usually too busy spending resources to cause more suffering). This is why those suffering turn to increasingly desperate measures, they know no one cares about them, so they grasp at straws for anything to try and pull them out of the hole they've been thrust down into.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Palestinian Voices: Five year olds and Israel's security

I recently asked a Palestinian friend if there were any stories folks in their community would like to share with the outside world. I have no illusions of getting more than the occasional hit and read here, but I figure why not, the more places information like this is posted, the better to educate. So, I have a collection of them and will be posting them from time to time. These aren't all stories of torture and assassination and starvation. Those stories are real and serious. But it is also important to understand that occupation, like slavery, works as an institution by creating everyday humiliation of the oppressed by the oppressor. Ask yourself as you read not the silly questions news commentators or political ideologues tend to go for, but the very simple and humane question of "what if I had to go through this every day, with no end ever in sight except that the humiliation will almost certainly get worse?"

So without further commentary, here is a first such story. More to come in the future, this is from a woman who wishes to be identified only as "Rana", thank you to her.


May 8th, 2006

This morning, as I reached the fourth stage of inspection on my daily terminal crossing to get to Jerusalem from Bethlehem, I saw a little boy (about 5 years old) with his school bag on his back, standing behind the closed door, and in tears. He was denied entry to Jerusalem to get to his school by the Israeli soldier in charge of ID check this morning! I tried to understand what the problem was, and the soldier told me -in Hebrew—which I barely understood- that he was sending him back home because he wasn't carrying his birth certificate with him!!

I might understand, if it was a 15 year old, who needed a birth certificate to prove that he is not yet 16 (the age at which you get an ID and you would need a permit to cross over to Jerusalem), but he wasn't even 6, I swear! I told the soldier in English that he was "Just a baby!" but he wouldn't listen. Some of the people crossing started pleading with the soldier too, saying that he is missing his school and that he is too young to go back home by himself, his mom must have dropped him off at the checkpoint and left, but to no avail. The boy's eyes were filled with tears, and he kept repeating one sentence over and over again "mom didn't give it to me" (referring to his birth certificate). I told him to try and use the other lane, as the female soldier at that lane might have a kinder heart than this soldier and would let him pass, but he was terrified. He kept looking at the soldier with deep fear in his eyes, scared to not abide by his orders to go back. Unfortunately, I had to get going, so I left while still encouraging him to go to the other lane. A few minutes later, the boy came out. I asked him how he finally made it, he said he took my advice and used the other lane. One has to really wonder, how this five-year old might be a threat to the security of the mighty state of Israel.

We will keep working for a future that is "traumatize-free" for everyone in this troubled country.

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