One of the most memorable faces which inhabit my conscience is the face of that Palestinian woman, Um Kamel, the owner of a house next to al-Aqsa mosque. The Zionists paid her $1 million per square meter of her house, but she refused to sell, although she knew very well that, as usual, they will destroy or occupy it without paying her a single dollar. They have done that for over sixty years to the houses of millions of Palestinians who have been sent to exile and to refugee camps inside and outside Palestine. They have done the same to hundreds of Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese villages, which they have erased to the ground. The Zionists destroyed Um Kamel’s home after they failed to persuade her to sell it. Then she sat on the debris refusing to leave lest this piece of the holy land gets judaized too.
Um Kamel, in this, is like the families of Hanoun and al-Ghawi and tens of other families, whose homes were destroyed by the Israeli government and who were forced by occupation forces to destroy their homes with their own hands. For the length of Ramadan, they took the naked earth as their bed and the sky as their cover, while foreign settlers coming from far away countries occupy the homes these Palestinians have inherited from their ancestors for centuries. Yet, they have not despaired despite the brutal oppression and despite the miserable condition of this nation which has done nothing in Ramadan to support their rights. The condition of Um Kamel, Hanoun and al-Ghawi families is similar to that of the Iraqi scientists who were faced by one of two options: either to immigrate to the countries which destroyed their land or die in al-Qaeda blasts. Yet, many of them refused to leave and were killed on the land they refused to leave an easy prey to the enemy. No one asks any more about the whereabouts of the scientist Rihab Taha and thousands of other scientists and intellectuals. The West nicknamed Rihab Taha ‘Dr Germ’, although she was a distinguished scientist who never killed or harmed any one; and by now the whole world knows the fact that Collin Powel’s accusation to Iraq of producing biological weapons was completely false.
The case of the Iraqi scientists is also similar to that of the Palestinian and foreign children, young people and women, who demonstrate on a daily basis in Bal’in and Na’lin against the racist separation barrier and are beaten up, arrested and tortured. They know that they are on their own, and that none of the leaders, politicians and journalists, who claim to defend peace and human rights, supports them. Nevertheless, they never tire of demonstrating. They are similar to those who go to prayer at al-Aqsa mosque. They suffer all kinds of hardship at the racist and humiliating checkpoints erected by occupation forces before the full gaze of the leaders of the ‘free’ world and its media.
These are the defenders of the holiness of al-Aqsa with their bodies, their faith and their will. They are the carriers of the torch of freedom of worship, the defenders of the dream of salvation from Zionist enslavement despite the betrayal and complicity of their brothers who are busy being lackeys to the enemy. The West claims to be promoting and spreading freedom, including the freedom of worship, but keeps silent when it comes to defending the right of the Palestinians to worship.
The second face is that of a person who sees nothing in the homeland except himself, his wealth and materialistic desires taking cover under superficial values. He loves his country only if his wealth and his companies proliferate and his bank accounts swell, albeit in the banks of others. With all of this, he goes begging at passport booths in Western countries imagining that a luxurious apartment in a Western capital can be turned into a homeland. My question to this second type is: haven’t they learned the lesson from those who enslave their will to the enemy for years, then end up on a suburban dumpsite near a far-away capital? Haven’t they learned from those who sold their homeland and served those conspiring against their countries and ended up on their own, humiliated and not owning a tent, a passport or a refuge? This second type pretends, when holding a position of power, to be patriotic and wise just in order to carry out the things he is asked to do by his masters. Don’t they see officials in other countries being turned into entertainers, clowns and lecturers just in return for a passport and an apartment? Haven’t they learned that the soil on which Um Kamel and the Hanoun and Ghawi families sit is the most precious thing a human being can own and that life far away from it is not worth living because it is a life without dignity?
The third face is the face of every child in Gaza whose suffering and the details of the massacre perpetrated against them the Arabs and the ‘free’ world have failed to document. I was surprised to discover that Betselem, the Israeli organization, which defends the rights of Palestinians against the crimes of the occupation, has compiled files for those and proved to the world that Israeli soldiers deliberately killed hundreds of civilians, including women and children. It proved once again that the Israeli government perpetrates crimes against Palestinian civilians not for fear for its security or as punishment for those who attack it. It has been waging an organized slaughter for over sixty years against Palestinian civilians for the purpose of occupying their land, displacing the population and replacing them. It is remarkable that all of this does not, particularly in Ramadan, stir the magnanimity and passions of the Muslims who are capable, had they the will, of providing the Palestinians with tremendous support and strengthening their steadfastness. So far the Palestinians are able to hold firm with their bodies, souls and children without any significant support from a world which confined itself to the role of spectator. These faces get mixed up in my mind; and I wonder every day how the line is blurred between those who defend the very meaning of their existence without any weapon or material capabilities except a will based on a strong belief in their right to freedom, and those who sell up everything with their silence and complicity, between those who sacrifice their blood for the freedom of their homeland and those who look at their homeland as a bounty because they are enslaved to money or to position or a false sense of peace and quiet.
The tragedy is that these faces exchange their shadows in the reality of Arab nations today. It is difficult for many people to distinguish them from each other because those who target us use the media in order to polish the images of their lackeys. When the distinction between the features of both sets of faces becomes clear in our mind and conscience, we can say the Arab renaissance has began.
BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached at email@example.com