Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"MARTHA GELLHORN, novelist, journalist, and former war
correspondent, has recently returned from a journey to the Middle East, where
she went to see the "Palestinian Refugee Problem" in terms of real life, real
people. Here she reports how the Arab refugees and the Arab Israelis live, and
what they say about themselves, their past and their future."

Amazingly enough, this article was written in 1961!

"The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is
that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war….[T]oday, in the
Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian
refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang
around and be constantly useful as a goad."

"It is hard to sorrow for [the Palestinian refugees]
who only sorrow over themselves. It is difficult to pity the pitiless. To wring
the heart past all doubt…[they] cannot have wished for a victorious rewarding
war, blame everyone else for their defeat, and remain guiltless….
Arabs gorge on hate, they roll in it, they breathe it. Jews top the hate list, but any
foreigners are hateful enough. Arabs also hate each other, separately and, en
masse. Their politicians change the direction of their hate as they would change
their shirts. Their press is vulgarly base with hate-filled cartoons; their
reporting describes whatever hate is now uppermost and convenient. Their radio
is a long scream of hate, a call to hate. They teach their children hate in
school. They must love the taste of hate; it is their daily bread. And what good
has it done them?"

The validity and clairvoyance of this harsh criticism have only magnified exponentially in the intervening decades. Martha Nussbaum, who has written extensively and honestly about compassion and pity, once wrote that pity is not totally unconditional, that it is very hard to pity someone whose suffering was brought upon themselves not through some lapse of momentary judgment but through malevolent intent. Our pity towards others is triggered by the knowledge that their misery was caused by the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, that it was not mediated through their own agency or choices.

More than ever, I think, Palestinians are in limbo. They are waiting for some miracle to happen, like the disappearance of Israel. Their leaders are playing cruel mind games with their people's future and concept of normalization and encourage them to believe that a cult of death, self-mutilation and destruction will bring them closer to their past paradise, a past that never was.

I often wonder if anything can ever save the Palestinians from disappearing into the pit of their bottomless self-pity. Where are their bright and energetic young men and women? Why aren't they telling their leaders and their false Arab friends: enough!? Why aren't mothers reclaiming their life, their right to decide for a future of life for their children?


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