Creating people's geographies
An excellent piece from Samar Jabr, a psychiatrist practicing in the West Bank and her native Jerusalem.
FOR MY RECENT article on the neurotic obsession with anti-Semitism and on using the fear of a “future holocaust” as camouflage for colonialism (see “Searching for the Elusive Israeli Partner,” December 2008 Washington Report, p. 26), I have paid a heavy price: the ending of a significant relationship which sustained me through several adversities over the past two years. I was informed that my words demonstrated that I “hate all Jews and don’t know enough or don’t empathize enough with the Jewish experience of man’s brutality to man.”
But learning about other people’s experience of injustice has been my own “neurotic obsession”: I read books, watch documentaries, visit museums, listen to people’s testimonies, and write frequently about oppressors and the oppressed throughout history. My “sin,” apparently, is that while I don’t exclude the Jews from my efforts to learn, I don’t believe in the special status of their experience. I reject the ranking of human suffering, and I certainly protest against the exploitation of that experience (what author and scholar Norman Finkelstein terms The Holocaust Industry) which has resulted in my own people’s experience of man’s brutality to man.
I was expected to apologize for my “poisonous” comment in order to save this dear relationship. But I could not—precisely because I treasured the relationship too much to contaminate it with deceit by saying I’m sorry when I’m not. I refrained from continuing to defend my words from the inferred conclusion because I could not tolerate having my thoughts and words constantly monitored as if I were at a checkpoint and had to show all kinds of documents to a suspicious soldier to prove that I’m not a dangerous person.
Like every other human tragedy, the European holocaust has its traumatized, its survivors, and its beneficiaries. I fell into the hands of the traumatized while talking about the beneficiaries—and for that I was punished.
I do indeed perceive much of the discussion about a “future holocaust” as camouflage intended to keep the present reality of Palestinians in the shade, hidden from the world’s knowledge or attention, and to provide a pre-emptive answer to anyone who would lament Israel’s occupation. Today, in effect, it is Palestine that has been erased from the map; many Palestinians, including myself, hold identity papers referring to us as unidentified. It is Palestinians who live under siege, in small ghettos created by the apartheid wall—which is twice the height of the Berlin wall. Palestinians’ daily lives are subject to the whim of the lowest ranking Israeli soldier, who has the ultimate power to prevent any Palestinian from going to work, home, hospital, school, to interfere with what items of food we can eat, with whom we can socialize or marry, and in many other brutal ways make life for many of us an option worse than death.
I could not tolerate having my thoughts and words constantly monitored.
When I think of how many times I have been strip-searched and interrogated at airports, how often my professional and identity cards have been taken away or thrown in my face because a checkpoint soldier deemed them false; when I listen every day to the heart-wrenching experiences of torture victims; when I have dinner every night against the background of bloody TV images from Iraq and Afghanistan; when I learn about the horrors of Abu Ghreib and Guantanamo, secret renditions of Arab- or Muslim-looking persons via special flights from the United States to countries where they will be tortured—and as I know that the world is silent about these routine experiences—is it at all strange that I diagnose the selective, repetitive discussion of anti-Semitism—while xenophobia, Islamophobia and other kinds of racism are ignored—as an obsessional neurosis?
There is something inept, at best, in expecting the Palestinians—the very ones who are living in the shade, away from the world’s awareness, who have their plate full of torment, who have been dancing with death throughout their lives—to show more empathy for Israeli pain and desire for safety.
Had I not been born a Palestinian I most probably would have spent my free time perusing a childhood interest in singing, painting and photography. But I am a Palestinian, and I have been dealing with the disadvantages associated with this identity since I woke up one day, at the age of six, and saw my parents weeping painfully for the massacres in Sabra and Shatila. At that age, of course, I could not understand what was going on, but I could feel the pain, which grew only deeper as I grew older and understood more. I have found an outlet for that pain in writing and in voicing my thoughts and feelings, trying to make a healthy contribution to the Palestinian resistance and deliver an honest testimony on this period of Palestinian history.
A Spiritual Obligation
For me, this is a spiritual obligation as well. The Arabic word for martyr is shaheed. It is not necessary to be killed to be a shaheed: the word literally means one who testifies honestly and courageously and pays the price for doing so. I believe it is the fear of death as the price for testimony that explains the popular meaning of the word martyr.
As I mourn another personal loss, however, I retain my insight: my call to the world is not the European holocaust, but the Palestinian fight for freedom. As I consider the history of the holocaust and other past human tragedies, I admire those who resisted and refused to be victims, as well as those who stood in opposition and fought against their own people to prevent collective tyranny—and who paid the price for doing so.
This most recent loss is not the first one in my life: for the past 30 months I have not been paid a salary; not long ago, I was denied a visa by the French Embassy. Other, more significant losses are still too emotional to mention now. Once again, however, I feel the occupation’s bite, and anger at its annihilation of important physical and metaphysical resources in my life. This only urges me on, however, to continue learning and seeking truth and to carry on my fight for liberation. My commitment never to testify falsely, no matter what the temptation or price, has not been weakened, but reinforced.