[Written April 3rd, dictated over the phone April 4, 2002]
There are many myths about what is happening in the Middle East- urban legends, stereotyping and dangerously slanted information. This information has been spoon-fed to the American people. We lap it up unquestioningly. But these half truths, slants and outright lies do as much to perpetuate this blood bath as if we were sending guns and ammunition. Oh wait we are.
MYTH #1 is that this conflict is ‘”too far away” or ‘” none of our business”. Before I continue I want to make sure that every American is clear that the US sends six billion dollars in aid to the Israeli government. So for people who think this conflict is not their problem I would like to give an update on what their tax dollars are being used for- Tanks. Lots and lots and lots and lots of tanks. Automatic weapons and olive green uniform. Right now:
OUR TAX DOLLARS are blocking all the entrances to Bethlehem, not allowing anyone in or out.
OUR TAX DOLLARS have also surrounded manger square. Where little baby Jesus once laid in a manger, Palestinians are now lying wounded and dying or contracting gangrene.
OUR TAX DOLLARS keep ambulances from reaching them.
OUR TAX DOLLARS have also trapped 200 Palestinians inside the church of the Nativity, including the Governor of the Bethlehem District, where the wounded are without medical attention and the rest are without food.
The day of the invasion OUR TAX DOLLARS killed a priest and wounded nuns.
And when the Latin Patriarchy marched from Jerusalem in support of their endangered brothers and sisters, OUR TAX DOLLARS would not allow them through the Bethlehem checkpoint, turning them back to Jerusalem in the cold drizzle.
Near Manger Square OUR TAX DOLLARS killed a mother and her teenage son. Bodies are still lying in the house as we speak while the younger children scream. When some international press went to try and rescue the children they were shot at by OUR TAX DOLLARS, in the same way OUR TAX DOLLARS shot through the door of that same house without even a warning.
OUR TAX DOLLARS “sanitize” the Palestinian refugee camps. Two nights ago in Dehaisha refugee camp our dollars were demanding all the men aged 14-45 and all the women 15-25 come out of their houses and give themselves over. Pictures of the dead plaster all the walls of the camps like wallpaper.
Which brings me to MYTH #2–that all Palestinians are terrorists, raised to kill since childhood. Arafat, the fearless leader of the terrorist state. This biased, slanted information makes me ill and ill to think of all the people who have digested it. Remember when native Americans were ‘”savages”? Remember all the Anti-Semitic propaganda of WWII? It is of urgent importance that we brush up on history quickly because if we do not learn these lessons right now we are dooming ourselves to repeat them. Saying that every Palestinian is a terrorist is like saying that every New Yorker walks around with a knife waiting to mug people in dark alleyways. The information that is given to Americans is biased profiling.
I sat in a Palestinian living room watching TV with the family when we all heard the news of the suicide bomber in Tel Aviv. Their reactions were the same as mine, Oh no, how many were killed? Oh no, this is terrible. The Palestinians realize that they will all pay for the acts of one, the proof being the invasion of Bethlehem. The bomber in Jerusalem was from the Dehaisha Refugee Camp and not surprisingly the people living there, 11,000 of them plus internationals, prepared themselves for direct and merciless retaliation. It would be like attacking the home town of Timothy McVeigh and killing the innocent people living there.
These Palestinian people have been living under Marshall law for over 30 years in constant fear for their lives. They are not raising their children to become terrorists. They are trying to raise their children as best they can in desperate situations. Walking through Aida Refugee Camp I see the paintings of the children and the children”s cultural center that is the pride of the 3700 people living there. The doctor and poet who heads the center says, ‘”the world cannot say that we raise our children to fight”. He gestures to the wall ‘”the kids do not paint tanks or artilleries they are painting on the walls their dreams lakes, rivers, doves”. There is not green in the refugee camps these kids have never seen these things, they paint from their dreams.
Aida camp has been working with the children of the camp teaching them music, dancing, poetry, music, dancing sports, all the things that children should do. The adults feel that these skills are better weapons. They explain, and I agree, that the children ‘”need this kind of hope” and healthier ways to express the myriad feelings swimming inside their little minds.
Kareem tells me a story. Once when the children were learning music inside a relatively exposed building inside the camp the Israeli soldiers began shooting. The children became afraid so to help calm them he suggested they sing. The songs of the children were drowning out the sounds of the shooting and giving the children courage. And then a girl was injured.
There are many more myths from the Middle East but we should also feel responsible for the international silence regarding the dire situation of the Palestinian people. Addressing the 22 internationals staying in the Aida Camp the same doctor says ‘”we were beginning to lose hope that anyone cared, we appreciate what you do. It gives us a little light in the darkness that surrounds us”.
Nancy Stohlman is a member of the Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace, and one of four Coloradans currently in the West Bank in solidarity with Palestinians under siege by the Israeli military. You can read more about their experiences at: http://www.ccmep.org/palestine.html