Al-Ahram Weekly Online
11 - 17 April 2002
Issue No.581
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Osama Qassim

Peace, not victory

Sir- I dare not repeat words spoken by certain Jewish members of my family, lest I forget who I am. If we believe we must shed blood and cause such horror in order to secure our identity, then we never recognised our identity in the first place.

We cannot impose inhumane conditions on a people and expect them to remain humane -- it simply doesn't work.

There is a fine line between a collective memory of suffering, and a collective memory of victimisation. A consciousness of victimisation is destructive -- for self, and "the other."

The victim makes the rules.

Now, a journey back into the future: holocaust. The oppressed have become the oppressors.

Alas, absolutes do not work; change -- essential. An imagination for peace must be cultivated, information and visibility demanded.

As a Jew, I've got blood on my hands. As a human being, love: preach the word. Be the word. Peace (not victory).

Rebecca Mahboubi
Venice, California

Americans in peril

Sir- As an American, I am thoroughly outraged and disgusted by the conduct of the American government in the latest phase of the Palestinian Intifada. The Bush administration's failure to rein in the Sharon government as it systematically attempts to destroy not only the mechanisms of Palestinian self-government but the very fabric of Palestinian public life is legally, and more importantly, morally inexcusable.

President Bush, in his simplistic understanding of "terrorism," has squandered any residual morality retained by the US, for he has failed to distinguish between acts such as those of 11 September and those of an occupied, oppressed people fighting for their basic liberties and human rights.

Even as President Bush assures the American people that he is working to ensure their safety, it should be clear that, by sitting by silently as Israel decimates Palestinian society and humiliates the Palestinian people, he is doing exactly the opposite.

Charles Davidson
Washington, DC

Invest in Palestine

Sir- I am an American born and bred, living in Maryland, US. I just want the Egyptian and Middle Eastern people to know that many Americans (myself included) do not agree, condone or feel "allied" with Israel and their policies of discrimination, oppression, prejudice and outright murder against the Palestinian people.

I sincerely hope and pray that the bloodshed stops immediately and that the world powers (including the US) help Palestine become a free state. It has been their land for millennia and it should remain so and be acknowledged as such by the world.

And once Palestine is acknowledged as a country, businessmen and women the world over should invest heavily into making Palestine an industrious, self-sustaining and peaceful environment for Palestinians.

May God Bless us all. Praised be His name.

Scott Regner

Suffering from afar

Sir- I am a university professor in the United States. I am writing to let the Palestinian people know that there are thousands of sympathetic Americans who are horrified and outraged by the continued terrorist activities of the Israeli regime. And, sadly, we also are confused by our government's reluctance to bring those atrocities to an end.

Unfortunately, it is far too easy for many Americans to view your suffering from a distance; we have become much too comfortable, and take for granted the blessings we enjoy. We have narrowed our concerns to the point where there are far too few of us who are willing to stand up to injustice unless it directly affects our interests.

I wanted to say that there are many Americans who recognise their brothers and sisters around the world; that what affects any member of our world community affects us all. There are thousands like myself who are writing to our officials and speaking out against the suffering of the Palestinian people. We may not be there in person, but our thoughts and prayers are with you!

Andrew Ciccarello
Charleston, West Virginia

Talk to the West

Sir- by Amina Elbendary (Al- Ahram Weekly, 4-10 April) misses the point. It is not the differences in coverage between the two CNN Web sites that matter. In this day and age, the US is increasingly observing its worldwide isolation and frustration, and still seems puzzled by the causes. is clearly another attempt to "make up" its image rather than change its policies, by addressing Arabic speakers in the emotional tones they would like to hear, without really changing the symphony.

The Arabs would like to see real balanced CNN coverage directed at the West, not the East, which already knows the facts.

Ayman Ismail, PhD

A dangerous place

Sir- It is a sad day. In hindsight, it is clear that what is happening today on the West Bank and Gaza was always the Israeli end-game plan for the Oslo process. Israel was willing to string the Palestinians along, even allowing Arafat to return, knowing full well that the hard-liners in Israel would never accept a Palestinian state. The policymakers in the Israeli government always knew that their fallback position would be the re- occupation of the occupied territories. In the meantime, Israel's leaders knew they could extract land and resources and build settlements with impunity as long as the Palestinians were duped into believing a peace process was underway. Just as the majority of Palestinians began waking up to the fact that they were being duped (with a corresponding rise in Palestinian frustration and in human suicide bombers), the Israeli population endorsed Sharon with open arms.

The correlations are clear, and those of us who believed in the possibility of the peace process have been used brutally. Now the Sharon government is trying to paint all Palestinians as terrorists to justify his genocidal tendencies.

At the same time, US apathy toward the peace process and current level of violence has made it abundantly clear that the US government has not an iota of concern for the lives of Palestinian and Arab civilians. The Arab and Islamic peoples of the world are supposed to be concerned only for American and Jewish lives lost, while turning a deaf ear to the pleas of the Palestinians under a brutal Israeli re-occupation.

What Mr Bush fails to understand is that apathy begets apathy. This fatal error in US policy has cost him the support of most of the "Third World" in his "war on terrorism."

The US can no longer claim a moral imperative in the "war on terrorism" under these conditions. An invasion or bombing of Iraq or future US incursions into Islamic or Arab countries, rightly or wrongly, will only appear to be a furtherance of Israeli aims.

It is a shame. The world is a much more dangerous place for everyone since Mr Bush gave Sharon the green light to abuse an entire people.

Rosina Hassoun, PhD

River of death

Sir- The Ancient Greeks had it right. Charon was the name of the ferryman of Death. He brought the dead across the river Styx for a fee, to Hades, the realm of eternal darkness.

Indeed, Sharon is the ferryman of Death: he will bring the nation of Israel to Hades for a high price. How many dead Israelis and how many thousand murdered Palestinians will have to pay with their lives before he is satisfied? When will the United States stop giving him the green light for his macabre work?

Gerd El-Naggar

Personal interests

Sir- The Arab world cannot defend the rights of the Palestinians. The regime of Ariel Sharon is killing more and more Palestinians. The people of the Arab world demand that their leaders take strong measures against Israel. Yet the leaders of the Arab world have not taken any serious measures against Ariel Sharon. Despite the brutal acts of the Israeli regime, the leaders of the Arab world have confined themselves to spoken condemnation of the violence.

The question is: How come more over 20 Arab countries together are not able to defend the rights of the Palestinians and do nothing but verbally condemn the brutal acts of Ariel Sharon?

The answer to this question is that the leaders of the Arab world are more interested in defending their own personal interests and keeping their power than defending the rights of the Palestinians.

In the present situation many of the regimes in the Arab world are too dependent on American political and economic support to be able to do anything more than verbally condemn Ariel Sharon. Therefore the ruling regimes of the Arab world have confined themselves to spoken condemnations of the violence, partly to calm the people of the Arab world and partly to avoid conflicts with the US.

Ariel Sharon is aware of this fact. He has therefore been able to act as he wishes without having to worry about the reactions of the Arab countries.

As long as the Arab world is ruled by people who are more interested in their own personal economic and political interest than in the interests of their people, and as long as the regimes of the Arab world do not respect the human rights of their own people, the Arab world will not be able to defend the rights of the Palestinians.

Salam Kamel
Uppsala University

Possible friends

Sir- Edward Said is on the mark when he says that, in America, "We [Palestinians] have friends and we have possible friends." An overwhelming majority of Americans would support a sovereign, viable Palestinian state, provided that state existed to provide for Palestinian dignity and self- determination, and was not simply a stage in Israel's elimination.

Unfortunately, that's not what we see here in the US. Instead, we see the bombing of a Passover celebration. Is Netanya under "occupation"? It seems many Palestinians believe it is. We hear of Palestinian textbooks in which "Palestine" is everything between Jordan and the Mediterranean. And we read that a state-run Saudi newspaper is running the crudest sort of anti- Semitic blood libel. Faith in peaceful Palestinian and Arab intentions here is nil, and is not based purely on myth.

Here are some suggestions for additions to Said's plan: drop the "no enemies" policy that condones, contextualises and excuses suicide bombings. Proclaim unequivocally that rejectionism was deeply wrong, and will be opposed and uprooted in Arab politics. And, most importantly, endorse the creation of an elected government in Palestine, one that can truly speak for the Palestinian people.

John Raley
San Francisco, California

Ignorant bigotry

Sir- I have felt for some months that Bush's lack of care for the Palestinian situation would result in a very bad state of affairs. His lack of understanding of international affairs has become painfully obvious.

I am sympathetic to the Palestinian cause of freedom, land return, and statehood. If an invader took my home and land and uprooted my people I hope that I would fight as hard and long as the Palestinian freedom fighters have. I truly hope that all Arab peoples can unite to support the Palestinians in this battle.

My country, the US, has long been intimately complicit in the rape of the Palestinian people. I am ashamed and sorry that this is so. I do not understand why Americans are so bigoted about Palestinians. I believe much of it is due to ignorance about how Israel came to be and how Israelis have treated Palestinians for over 50 years. I know there is bigotry because most people that I try to discuss the history with do not wish to hear it or talk about it. It would mean that the US was supporting yet another morally corrupt government.

I salute all the Palestinians and those who support them. This American believes in your cause.

Mike Sheets
Sun City, Arizona

A long wait

Sir- As an American citizen, listening to what the US government officials have to say about the war between Israel and the Palestinians, I feel they will not do anything to help the Palestinians. They seem to back Israel all the way. They call Arafat a terrorist and talk about Sharon as if he were a saint.

If the world is waiting for the US to stop Sharon, I'm afraid they will have a long wait.

Judy Mann

Dying for freedom

Sir- America history classes told us: "Give me death or give me liberty."

The brave Arabs in Palestine are doing what they have to do. They are going to the limit by giving up their life for their liberty.

Dina Jackson
New York, New York

No warning

Sir- I watch in horror the atrocities perpetrated in the Middle East from the safe and verdant lands of Madison, Wisconsin. Since my own president's advisers in Washington and nearly all the nation's press here are reluctant to deliver a warning message, I was glad President Mubarak sent two candid letters to him.

Increasingly, we in the US have to find news from sources outside of our own country in order to be free of the intense propaganda in the coverage of this crisis. I read your paper on-line in just such a search for truthful news and reporting.

I pray to the God of us all that our president heeds your president's advice.

Peter Herman
Madison, Wisconsin

British opposition

Sir- As British citizens, resident in Egypt, we are ashamed of our government's lack of effective action to halt the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and the consequent humanitarian disaster.

We are attaching a copy of a letter we sent to our Ambassador to Egypt today. We hope other readers of Al-Ahram Weekly will share any actions they have undertaken in an attempt to stop the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and the brutal acts currently being undertaken by the Israeli authorities against Palestinian civilians in flagrant disregard of international humanitarian law.

Dear Ambassador,

We are writing to you as British residents of Egypt, who are increasingly horrified by the catastrophic consequences of the Israeli government's illegal actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Palestinian national aspirations are based on internationally recognised legitimate rights. We are very concerned that the lack of any effective action on the part of our Government indicates its willingness to accept the awful consequences of the flouting of international law by the Israeli occupying power.

The Palestinians have not been permitted their own army and have repeatedly called for protection. Surely a heavy obligation rests on the international community to respond. Inactivity is now clearly leading to a humanitarian disaster. We are therefore calling on our Government to act immediately and effectively to protect lives, to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and to stop the violation of international humanitarian law.

Yours sincerely

Jan Amin and Elizabeth Taylor

Get real

Sir- May I answer Ms Margaret Harper's questions (Al-Ahram Weekly, 4-10 April) to help her to clarify matters?

Her first question: How can Mr Arafat put an end to the suicide bombers, assuming he wants to, when he is locked in a closet? My answer will be to quote a letter written by an unspecified writer to another newspaper, to the effect that these suicide bombers are members of organisations which generally have no loyalty to Mr Yasser Arafat's elected authority. So while they may claim to be operating on behalf of the Palestinian cause, their actions cannot be held against the majority of Palestinians, who do not support such actions.

Israel maintains that Mr Arafat is responsible for preventing suicide bombings, yet they fail to mention that these attacks are being carried out in Israeli territory -- which Mr Arafat and his security personnel can barely enter. Every crossing between Israeli and Palestinian areas is tightly monitored by Israeli soldiers. The Israeli police and military are present on practically every street corner in Jerusalem and the other cities. One can't even enter most shopping malls without being searched or passing through metal detectors. Israel maintains a virtual stranglehold on Palestinians entering its territories, so either the bombers are being allowed to pass through those stringent Israeli checkpoints, or else they are already in Israel. In that case, what on earth can Mr Arafat do about it? Ms Harper says that if someone in the Arab world can get the suicide squads to unstrap the bombs, even for just a month, and then claim responsibility for the lull in the carnage, the US will have an easier time convincing Israel it has no choice but to back off as well.

Well, the United States government had a chance for 35 years to tell the Israelis to evacuate all occupied territories but it did not, because it doesn't want to tell the Israelis that. Israel serves the interests of the United States government, at the expense of the Palestinians. The US government is supposed to be an honest broker but not once has it shown any honesty in dealing with this situation. It has supported Israel in its occupation of Arab land for more than 34 years. Each year the US government hands Israel free of charge more than $3 billion from your taxes while Israel occupies Palestinian land. The US government has vetoed every UN resolution condemning Israel for its actions against the Palestinians and for confiscating their land to build unlawful settlements for Jews from Brooklyn and Russia and elsewhere. Yet the US leads 30 nations to implement UN resolutions against Iraq.

Israel's occupation of the Palestinians since June 1967 has been brutal, to say the least, and yet the US has turned a blind eye to the brutalities of "small," "democratic" Israel. The US doesn't want to hold back the Israelis because Israel is an advantage for the US's purposes and interests in the Arab world. In other words, all is forgiven for Israel.

As for why is it such a shock that the US appears to favour Israel when the entire Arab world can only see the Palestinians view, my dear Ms Harper, whom do you expect the Arabs to support? Israel, for occupying Arab lands and brutalising their inhabitants for the last 35 years with no end in sight to occupation? Get real.

The US government can order Israel to pull out but it really doesn't want to. For further enlightenment, please read Fayza Hassan's Pot Pourri in Al-Ahram Weekly (4-10 April).

Zaki Najjar

Living in denial

Sir- This morning I woke up feeling ashamed -- ashamed of the choices I have made in recent months to avoid confronting what is happening in Palestine. I realised that I had unconsciously slipped into a state that I had always dreaded. I realised that I had spent years criticising the "Western world" for its selective understanding and its "turning a blind eye" mentality, and yet as a British Palestinian who experienced the previous Intifada first hand, I too had chosen to turn a blind eye. My selfish individualistic tendencies had prevailed, and I argued that watching the devastation was helping no one, whilst causing me great distress!

But how can I presume to understand the true nature of distress: have I ever experienced my home being demolished? Have I missed out on my education because a violent conflict caused schools to close down? Have I watched my friends die as I carry them to hospital on my shoulders? No. I am simply distressed at the sight of bloodshed. It upsets my stomach and troubles my mind.

I was ashamed of myself this morning because I became one of those people I thought I could never be: "What can I do; how are my tears going to help anyone? My tears will not bring lives back, they will not rebuild schools, homes and hospitals." On the other hand, my understanding and awareness can bring to light the suffering and injustice that have engulfed the Palestinians for over 50 years.

I believe in human rights. I do not condone suicide bombings or extremist movements, but if we want to talk of human rights and terrorism we must be fair. The suicide bombers, no matter how much we choose to condemn their actions, raise many questions. Is Islam enough of a reason to drive a person to suicide? I think not. It may allow them to believe that God supports them, that they will be "martyrs," but Islam alone cannot cause a young woman planning her wedding to strap ammunition to her body and detonate it in the middle of a supermarket.

The world must ask why these young people are willing to sacrifice their lives. Could it be because they have reached a state of insanity? I ask you, what would you do if your brother had been killed before your eyes, his face covered in blood, his organs spilling from his body (this is simply one example). What would you do?

I detest the notion of suicide bombing, but I do not believe that anyone who speaks of human rights (the hot topic across the world) can condone the Israeli reprisals. The Israeli army has destroyed Ramallah, a town I know and love. The Israeli forces are using various methods of collective punishment and they are violating every human rights law that ever existed. The Israeli government is the epitome of propaganda; ministers sit with smiles on their faces, claiming their soldiers are "moral" (of all things); yet they are fully aware of the murder and destruction that is taking place across the West Bank today.

The world urges Arafat to "stop the violence." This statement is almost comic -- the man is under siege, he has no contact with the outside world, and besides, it is not his army that is undertaking these bombings. He has no army; he is the "chairman" of a state that is incomplete and devoid of any power. I ask you, would the world be urging Sharon to do the same if the Palestinian "Authority" had him under siege? The very question is comical. It could never happen.

I feel helpless, as most Palestinians do, and I think it was this hopeless feeling that led me to look the other way. Living in denial buries the pain deeper, at least. But that is not the answer. The world need to understand that the Palestinians are fighting oppression, and the Israelis are the oppressors. This is not an equal battle: they are not "both as bad as each other." It is not tit-for-tat violence: it is a violation of both international law and universal human rights. If you want to turn a blind eye you can choose to do so; but it won't disappear, the violence will continue and the death toll will continue to rise. Don't address the two sides with the same breath. Open your eyes, world, both of them, see the whole picture, and ask yourselves why we don't see all the devastation on our televisions in the West!

Dalia El-Saleh

More than sympathy

Sir- In recent issues, an increasing number of letters are expressing sympathy and solidarity with the Palestinians. Why don't you give the writers the option to publish their e-mail to allow others to respond? Then they could feel the heat of their words warming others here. Perhaps that would charge their momentum and enthusiasm, prompting them to debate and explain the facts to their fellow citizens.

We have been losing the media war, leaving the international arena free for the Israelis for 50 years. I believe that your paper can help make changes. I suggest that you start placing a page titled "Palestine, a historical review" recounting the tragedy and how it all started. I feel this information could be transmitted to the thousands who are used to hearing only fabrications and lies.

Ayman Khalifa Ghozlan
Madinet Nasr

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