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Palestinians are dying for relative calm

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Palestinians are dying for relative calm

9/27/2002 - Social Political - Article Ref: YT0209-1747

By: Steven Salaita

YellowTimes.org* -

The baby died, naked, on a wooden table. Her only exposure to the idyllic language of her ancestors arose from memories of prenatal calm. In life, she lived and died hearing only the peculiar vocabulary of her mother's unacknowledged screams.

The child was delivered into adulthood. She learned, before her mother cleaned the mucus from her mouth with a bloody pinky finger, that her appearance was unwanted. She was born a refugee. She was born in isolation. She was born poor. She was born placeless. She was born premature but proud: she was born Palestinian.

I will never forget when my friend recounted her baby's life story over acrid cups of Arabic coffee in the sultry heat of Shatila, Lebanon. My friend went into labor two months early. Her family, like most Palestinians in Lebanon, had no insurance. She was turned away at four hospitals before a public facility agreed to admit her. The agreement didn't extend to providing care, however.

My friend screamed all night for a doctor or nurse. She delivered her baby alone. She then pleaded for somebody to bring oxygen. Nobody came. The baby died after a few hours. Her marbled body was placed on an unadorned wooden table. Her mother stopped yelling. The hospital returned to its preferred atmosphere of relative calm.

I always remember this story when the phrase "relative calm" is used to describe the Middle East. Those of us in the United States who haven't succumbed to the racism and treachery that define modern Zionism know that "relative calm" means Palestinian civilians are being slaughtered in the absence of the suicide bombings that Israel invokes to justify its 36-year occupation.

The story, in its own tragic way, exemplifies the modern Palestinian condition, where those under occupation aspire to avoid relative calm and many in exile live without human rights because relative calm is an aspiration to which Palestinians will never succumb. Too many Palestinians have stories as dreadful as what I was told by my friend in Shatila. This is the price Palestinians must pay for the comfort of their oppressors.

Unfortunately, a period of "relative calm" recently predominated in the Middle East. From early August to mid-September there were no suicide bombings; there was therefore little coverage of events in Palestine. More unfortunate, though, is the fact that the relative calm so passively mentioned in the American media was in fact a fierce and destructive period. It simply wasn't newsworthy because Israel unleashed the fierceness and destruction (in addition, of course, to the horror that perpetually characterizes its illegal occupation).

Numerous assumptions can be drawn from this situation, none more disgusting than the glaring hypocrisy and racism that typify the process of selecting and presenting information in the American media. During the golden era of relative calm, over 70 Palestinians were murdered, all civilian, many children. Israeli soldiers detonated two bombs in a secondary school in Gaza. Settlers - as always, under the watchful eye of the IDF - burned crops and seized land belonging to Palestinian farmers. None of it provoked the breaking news coverage elicited by last week's suicide bomber. Most of it went unmentioned. It is clear whose lives and livelihoods are important to American editors. Their selectivity has long been the defining feature of Apartheid.

So next time you hear an American news agency explain that the Middle East is experiencing a period of relative calm, it is useful to know what is really happening: Israeli occupation soldiers are harassing, arresting, and murdering civilians; Israeli bulldozers are destroying houses; Israeli settlers are beating children with crowbars and rifle butts - all because Ariel Sharon is approving new settlement plans, the very cause of this miserable and seemingly endless conflict.

During the next stretch of relative calm, it is useful to know that Israel is engaging in the behavior that has rightfully earned it international condemnation: arbitrary curfew, forced starvation, economic strangulation, legalized torture, mass arrest, judicial deceit, land expropriation, settlement construction, crop demolition, and home destruction.

More than anything, it is useful to know that, in the interests of political expedience, the American media ignore a situation that meets all the criteria for segregation and ethnic cleansing. At times, it is not the actual reportage that merits condemnation, for a suicide bombing is certainly worth attention. It is what goes unreported that constitutes the shame of our nation.

When I hear about relative calm in the Middle East, I remember the four-year-old boy I met last year in the West Bank al-Khader Village. He stared at me calmly but not lifelessly, for he carried all the markings of war in his brown glass eye. His left eye had been punctured by a soldier's bullet while he stood on his balcony. His grandmother described to us the pulpous red liquid that dripped down his face after he was shot, the official Israeli inquiry that absolved the soldiers of wrongdoing, the tears covering her grandson's right cheek when doctors fitted him with a phony eye.

I left the child in relative calm that afternoon. He has known nothing else in his short life. He told me as much when I saw the glassy hue of his pupil reflect into a cloudless sky.

There are connections to be made between al-Khader and Shatila, just as there are connections to be made among Israel and Euro-American settlers, South African Apartheidists, and southern American segregationists. The most powerful connection is also the simplest: We should dispute the phrase "relative calm" not solely on a political and factual basis, although politics and factual suppression are certainly at play in its usage.

We should dispute it on a humanistic basis. Palestinians aren't relative. Their lives shouldn't be defined in relation to the well being of their oppressors. Palestinians are a hardworking and brilliant people, and anybody who has spent time in Palestine knows that their humanity stands on its own. They will exercise and experience calm only when they are offered real freedom.

They will contest the horror of relative calm until history castigates the purveyors of mass graves and murdered children.

There is a dead baby stretched out on a wooden table in Lebanon. There is a small child whose face was deformed by a soldier's bullet in al-Khader. Let us hope that she will provide him with her eyesight so he can cast his vision across our ignorance and condemn, with searing precision, the relative calm inherent in our reaction to ethnic cleansing.


Steven Salaita is completing an English doctorate at the University of Oklahoma, with emphasis on Native, Palestinian, and Arab American literatures. A West Virginian with Palestinian and Jordanian parents, he splits his time between the United States and the Middle East. This article appeared on YellowTimes.org.

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