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A Cri de Coeur

Imagining Palestine

by KATHLEEN CHRISTISON

A Palestinian child died in my arms today. It was a young boy; it was a girl. It was an infant; it was a 13-year-old. She had been shot 20 times by an Israeli soldier firing U.S.-made bullets; he had been dismembered by a missile fired from a U.S.-manufactured Israeli helicopter gunship. I am a Palestinian, and these were my children.

I am a Palestinian. I say I am a Palestinian to express my solidarity and that of many silent Americans with a suffering people under Israeli domination. John Kennedy could stand up with honor and make his statement. I must bow my head in shame, for it is my government that pays for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, my government that is committing ethnocide against the Palestinians, my government that is killing Palestinian children. I am a Palestinian, and I reject my American government.

I comforted a woman today whose house was demolished by Israeli bulldozers, monsters of destruction made in America. I helped her pick through the rubble of her home to retrieve her children’s clothing and toys. I comforted her children, who will have no toys and no place to sleep tonight. I listened, thunderstruck, as her husband wailed aloud, standing in front of the pile of broken concrete that was his home. I will not be able to persuade his children that he has not failed them, not failed to provide the protection that any father must give his children. I imagined my own home in ruins, my own children bereft, and I wept. I am a Palestinian, and this woman, this man, these children are my countrymen.

I stood with a Palestinian farmer today whose agricultural land has been destroyed by Israelis. He is a middle-aged man whose olive orchard, his only means of livelihood, was burned and cut down by U.S.-subsidized Israeli settler thugs. The farmer is a young man whose greenhouses and prime agricultural land, left to him by his father and his grandfather, were leveled by Israeli soldiers driving U.S.-manufactured Caterpillar bulldozers, clearing land for a concrete separation wall meant to grab prime land for Israel. The farmer is an old man who watches daily as Israelis build new homes in settlements on land that belonged to him until it was stolen. I am a Palestinian, and these farmers once fed my now-impoverished people.

I stood in the hot sun at the notorious Huwara checkpoint south of Nablus with hundreds of Palestinians waiting for permission to go to work, to school, to medical appointments. I stood in the driving rain at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, waiting with hundreds of others who must pass here every day, waiting for hours to get to work and then hours more to return home. There is no sun more searing, no rain more cold and driving than in Palestine, yet we all stood like automatons, fearful of arousing the anger of the power-mad teenage Israeli soldiers who control our lives and our freedom, fearful that they would shoot us if we showed any evidence of emotion. In the middle of the night last night, I consoled a woman who gave birth on the ground at a checkpoint because an Israeli soldier in his teenage wisdom regarded her as a security risk, and later I rode in the ambulance as she bled and her baby turned blue and perished. I am a Palestinian, and I stoically endure the peculiar humiliation of these checkpoints with my countrymen.

I gave solace to a Palestinian political prisoner today and to his wife. I am a Palestinian, and this man is serving time for fighting for my freedom.

I picked a fig from a tree in my front yard today and ate it. It was the most delicious sweetness I had ever experienced. I believe this because I am a Palestinian, and the fig tree grows in Palestine.

Ordinary words fail. The horrific fate of Palestine cries out for the power of poetry. This is no powerful poem, or any poem at all, but it is a cry from the heart.

I care about murdered Israeli children too, but there are far fewer of them, and my government already embraces them. I embrace Palestinian children because so few others do, because my government cares nothing about them, because my government kills them.

I am a Palestinian. I live the daily lives of Palestinians. I cradled a dying Palestinian child in my arms today.

KATHLEEN CHRISTISON is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.