By: Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
(with a note and slight editing by Gulamhusein A. Abba)
Editor’s note: Israel spends millions of dollars on Public Relations. It hires top PR firms to project a favorable image of itself. In its relations with powerful European nations great emphasis is put on “shared values” between them and Israel! The aim is to make them feel that Israel is one of them (and, by implication suggest that the Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are quite different and therefore to be wary of!) This same tactic was employed even before Israel came into existence. When representatives of foreign governments visited on fact finding tours,they were met by English speaking Israelis with polished manners who banqueted them in the style they were accustomed to. This was in great contrast to what these representatives saw when they visited the Arabs. A subconscious leaning towards the Jews was assured. The Israelis now continue the same strategy. But in fact, though superficially there seems to be much in common, Israel and the European nations are poles apart. My friend Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian who lived in the States for a long time but has returned to Palestine,, brings this out clearly in the following strong and thought provoking message he recently sent from Italy.(The message as it appears here has been very slightly edited and the emphasis in it have been put in by this editor)
My wife and I are now in Italy to give a few talks and maybe get a break from the jail of Bethlehem under apartheid. Every time I visit Europe or other countries I wonder why can't we get to live a normal life in a normal country in Palestine. Israelis pretend they live in a normal country. Having removed most of the natives and confined the rest to ghettos and bantustans, the Israeli public by and large goes around pretending that everything is normal; that Israel is like any European country. It has a parliament (albeit it spends time deciding who is a Jew entitled to automatic citizenship and how to strip non-Jews of citizenship) , a military, a high tech industry, universities, bars, fancy restaurants, elites and poor people, religious and secular etc. But deep down Israelis know that this is all a mirage and an illusion. After all, here in Europe, there are no walls, no checkpoints, and no two systems of laws for people living in the same country.
As I was leaving the occupied areas through the only crossing allowed to us (into Jordan via King Hussain Bridge), a man on the bus commented as we reached the fifth checkpoint that the reason Israelis are so paranoid with all this security is because they know the country is not theirs.
Of course many Zionist Israelis were brainwashed to think that the reason they are paranoid is because the world is anti-Semitic; “they hate us for being Jews not for anything we have been doing to them”. The victimhood pathology started rather early with the myth of the exodus from Egypt (archeologists and historians have long shown that this notion of enslavement in Egypt and redemption is simply not consistent with the facts or the historical record). People who believed in certain ways indeed were persecuted for their beliefs or for who they were, but this is not unique for a particular group of people. Christians were historically persecuted (they were literally hunted down and fed to lions for the first 300 years) and Muslims and Armenians, and Gypsies and all others.
Perhaps no people on earth have suffered as much as Natives in North and South America. Estimates of 50-100 million people perished in the 100 years after the European invasion. What we are being told at schools in the West (under great pressure from Zionist lobby groups) is that Jewish suffering is somehow different than suffering by others (as if we are children of a lesser God or that God does have a chosen ppeople). While each atrocity in the world is unique, it is simply not valid to engage in comparative martyrology let alone determine a priori who has suffered historically the most. Just because someone is Jewish (or Christian or Muslim) today does not mean that they are related to those Jews (or Muslims or Christians) who lived in the Arab world hundreds of years ago, let alone have a continuity obligating them to get revenge for the atrocities from people who had nothing to do with it. It is simply not right or decent (or sustainable) to use injustice done hundreds of years ago to justify doing an injustice to someone else TODAY.
Today 11 million Palestinians live in the most deplorable conditions. 7 million are refugees or displaced people. The rest live in isolated ghettos, impoverished and marginalized. Israeli authorities come up with scheme after scheme to continue this process of marginalizing and hurting us. Using their leverage with great powers, they get puppet regimes in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world to do their bidding.
Egyptian government's lame attempts to justify sealing off 1.5 million people in Gaza (70% of them refugees) from the outside world simply does not hold water. More and more people see the injustice. Yet Israeli defenders and their puppets still cling to self-delusions. History will not be kind to them. But history will not be kind to Arabs also nor to other people who go about their daily life ignoring glaring injustice. Even in dictatorial regimes, governments do not get away with what they do unless they are able to get the consent and acquiescence of the people. People can believe the lies and the distortions or not believe them and still acquiesce because they have little self confidence.
People have more power than their governments want them to have and (more importantly) want them to believe they have.
Effecting change first of all requires education. The first is education to let people know that their governments lie to them all the time. Thus, when the Israeli government tells its people that building walls and oppressing others is for their security, this should be exposed as lies. When the Jordanian government uses the slogan "Jordan First" or the Egyptian government uses the slogan "Egypt above all" that these are lies. Egypt security and sovereignty for example, is not threatened by the starving Gazans but by the enslavement of its rulers to outside agendas (and two billion in conditional US aid that goes to support the elites).
People are first, and, people of this part of the world would all prosper if all these governments step aside and let people connect to other people.
Direct rail links and direct travel without restrictions, without borders would be good for people, for their economy and for their prosperity. Narrow nationalism (especially the fake varieties of it, like ethnocentric chauvinistic nationalism exemplified by Zionism) is not good for anyone. Does it make sense that I can travel between France, Germany, Spain and Italy without visas or checkpoints while traveling even within one and among several middle Eastern Countries is like traveling in Apartheid South Africa while being black? This when the total population of the five countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region does not add up to half the population of Italy or even the population of one city in China. Ironically, all these "countries" were created and supported by Europeans (who are now abandoning nationalism) .
Anyway, those of us who, like Arundhati Roy, believe "not only is another world possible, on a quiet day I can hear her breathing", those of us who believe in people, not governments, will continue to work to welcome this new world.
Action, as always, is required and is the antidote of despair. Boycotts, divestments and sanctions as well as reaching out with education to others.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD