Losing Reason (a story from Palestine)


I have read many articles on alternative media websites. Frequently, I see words like anti war, anti poverty, anti corporate control and anti BC liberal. Article after article is condemning the American war machine and the corrupt capitalist system. Something feels missing. There is a lack of agenda in the whole thing. Rarely do I read “ and here is what we are going to do about it”. Here are the steps we will take to improve on it. I can’t just define myself as being anti this or anti that, I have to be pro something. A better alternative, a vision that people can rally behind and support.

I lived in Israel/Palestine for 4 years starting in 1996. Living there was difficult for me but it taught me many valuable lessons. I met with many crazy fanatics on both sides of the conflict that believe God is on their side and anybody who doesn’t agree with them deserves to die. On the other hand, I met with lots of so called intellectuals, so called moderate people. Many of them are intelligent, well educated and each one had his or her own philosophy and complex analysis of the situation. People that claim they want peace and that they are against the use of violence. What struck me most is the relative inaction of this group. I would go to a meeting and people would go on and on about the brutality of the Israeli army, the historical context of the conflict, the shrinking map of Palestine the unfairness of the whole situation …etc. Very rarely did I hear somebody say and here is what I suggest we do about it.

I don’t blame the Israeli army, they are doing their job (killing people). I don’t blame Hamas, in their mind they are doing what God wants them to do. How can you say no to God? I blame myself, my husband and all the millions of so called intellectuals, so called reasonable people who watch, we shake our heads, talk about how bad things are and then do nothing. Today for a Palestinian, on one hand there is the Palestinian authority that is completely corrupt and lacks all credibility, on the other hand, there are fanatics who use mental terrorism as well as physical terrorism to further their goals, but at least they are doing something to combat the Israeli occupation. It is us, the so called left wing, reasonable people who failed to create, verbalize a third alternative, a third vision. I went to a political meeting in Nazareth where all these very smart people started discussing if Trotsky was right or not. I wanted to shout at them, “People are starving to death in the Gaza strip in Palestine, what are you talking about!” I sat politely in the meeting and said nothing.

Two weeks after my second daughter was born in Jerusalem, I left her with my mom and decided to go for a little walk. I ended up walking around the Hebrew University to a part that looks over Essawiya (a Palestinian village). There was a gathering of Israeli army and police. They were about to demolish a house inside the village. Women were shouting, children were crying. A young Palestinian man was standing on the side watching. He was just standing there with his arms tied in front of him. Then, for no reason, an Israeli soldier shot him in the chest. No reason at all. Later I found out that this young man wasn’t even one of the inhabitants of the demolished house, he wasn’t even related to the family. On the news it was reported that he was throwing rocks. Do you know what I did? Nothing. I just stood there watching, it is not a pretty sight seeing somebody shot in the chest. I kept thinking, if I do something crazy I might get shot too. I am a mother, I don’t want my children to grow up motherless. I went back home, It was a nice day in my affluent Jewish neighborhood “French Hill”. People were walking around, children were playing. When I told my husband about what happened he told me “Elen, be reasonable”. My neighbor and close friend told me to be reasonable. Don’t be crazy you did the right thing. I heard that about 100 times. If I did the right thing, then how come I feel so rotten about it. Yes, I can blame the army, the Palestinian authority, Hitler the Ottoman Empire and a whole bunch of other parties. I blame myself. I failed that man, I watched him get killed in his homeland Palestine and I did nothing. I am a coward. A very intelligent, well educated, very reasonable coward.

When I came back to Vancouver Canada, I simply wanted to forget about the Middle East. I avoided listening to the news, didn’t want to meet anybody from there, not Israeli nor Arab. When my husband wanted to hang some embroidery from Palestine on the wall I told him that looking at it is simply too painful, it reminded me of Jerusalem. I insisted that he takes it down. I simply wanted to forget about what happened in Palestine and put it behind me. I felt very bitter and upset. Upset at myself for wasting 4 years out of my life. I was talking to a friend of mine who happens to be a therapist and she told me that I sound like a traumatized person. I realized that she is right; I have witnessed great injustice and inhumanity in Palestine. The memories were haunting me. I felt like such a coward, here I was in the middle of it all, witnessing the occupation first hand and what did I do about it? Did I raise a voice? Did I scream this is wrong? No, I was busy adjusting to it, looking the other way, pretending it was going to be ok.

Most of the Israelis I met where just regular people, just like me. The families I socialized with were not different from my own family. On the other hand, I was shocked by the horrible atrocities and inhumanity that I saw in the west bank. Who are these monsters? Why doesn’t anybody care? Am I any different? Am I capable of committing such acts? Would I be able to shoot somebody? I asked myself these questions a thousand times, It was driving me crazy. I think the problem was rooted in my perception of the world. I remember watching Czech and Russian movies about WWII, the Nazis were depicted as pure evil. They had evil smiles, faces carved from stone, showed absolutely no empathy, complete psychopaths. In most movies the super evil guy looks super evil. That is a big lie. The pure psychopaths do exist but they are very rare. Average people just like me commit the real evil, not complete psychopaths but then not complete saints either. I realized that the problem is not Hitler, Sharon or Saddam Hussein. It is all the millions of people who follow blindly like sheep, or if they question, do so quietly. We are enabling and empowering these mad men to get away with it, because we lack conviction in the alternative. I also realized that the reason I was feeling rotten about my whole experience in Israel and Palestine, was not because of anything that Israel Defense Forces did, rather it was my feeling of guilt about how I reacted to it. My lack of action and conviction is why I felt so much pain. The only way to deal with all these emotions was to do something positive and constructive with it. I have been active with a local grass root organization. I avoid people who whine and complain, yet do nothing. I am not afraid of the Ariel Sharon or Osama bin Laden, at least their agenda is clear and they do as they say, I am afraid of all people who shake their heads and do nothing. We need to verbalize and create an alternative viable vision; if our leadership won’t do it for us then people like you and me need to do it ourselves. I am still Elen, but I am no longer reasonable.

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This article was made into a radio documentry titled A Very Reasonable Moment ; it was broadcast on CBC Radio 1.

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