Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Call for Apology to Angela Davis



On Friday, January 11, 2019, after writing the first draft of this angry opinion and while waiting for it to be posted on the internet, this exclusive interview with Angela Daviswas broadcast on Democracy Now. It is one hour long but it is worth seeing, every second of it. 

This altercation is major! You don’t mess with the likes of Professor Angela Davis lightly. I am not asking here only for the reinstatement of her award. I know that she and her local Alabama supporters will do that better than I ever can. What I find unbelievable is that one of the parties that objected to conferring the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award on her is no other than The Holocaust Education Center in the city of Birmingham. How more completely can a group abandon its moral responsibility or misunderstand it?! What I am compelled to do is to shout out my anger and disgust at the groups unbecoming behavior. I Join the likes of Prof. Norman Finkelstein in condemning the commercialization of the Holocaust memory. “Memory traders,” I call them. Such opportunistic groups have already devalued the concept of anti-Semitism to complete uselessness. I want the group in Birmingham to apologize for its ill-considered misstep. 

To me, the ethics of educating the world about the Holocaust obligates, prima facie, respecting the rights of all human beings, especially the rights of the downtrodden and the subjugated minorities who are targeted for displacement and genocide. Needless to say, the Holocaust’s logic of “never again” is universal and not the property of any specific ethnicity. It is not any group’s proprietary slogan. I hereby declare to the offending group that we, the Palestinian common folk, share in the rebellious outrage of “never again” as much as any other downtrodden human group. It is yours, ours and the Rohingya’s equally. From where I stand, we own and must defend its purity for us and for you. I hereby call you out for overstepping your bounds as the self-assigned guardian of the memory and of educating the world about the lessons of the Holocaust. You owe us as much as we owe you: If we do not rise and defend ourselves together, we are destined to suffer separately and to inflict accusations, insults and misery at each other. You must apologize to Professor Angela Davis and call for the reinstatement of her award. And let me see you stand up and demand from Israel to stop its crimes against humanity in Gaza. That should be your self-assigned duty as well.

When two million people, regardless of skin color, nationality or religion, are facing slow and systematic extermination as the Palestinians in Gaza are, logic dictates that respecting the memory of the Holocaust requires you to side with their right to life. As to all the rest of humanity, the Rev. Martin Luther King’s words come to mind: “In the end, what will hurt us the most is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” That is doubly true when those silent friends finally open their mouth and turn out to support the oppressor. “Hamas!” I can hear you shouting. It is the willful termination of a human life that is at stake again and again here. Civilized humans who take a stand against the capital punishment don’t make their objection conditional on the positive thoughts of the condemned. It is the barbarity of the act of execution that is objectionable, regardless of the outrage of the thoughts and actions of which the condemned are accused. In Gaza less than 3% of water resources are fit for human consumption and food supplies are allowed to trickle in at a rate calculated to approximate but no higher than human survival requirements. Even Gaza’s zoo-keeper has deported his wild animals because conditions are no longer suitable for them. Israeli state-licensed arms dealers advertise their deadly wares with the promotional slogan of “field-tested in Gaza.” Gazan mothers and fathers of terminally ill children at the border are forced to bargain with their honor and to turn informers on relatives and neighbors to access facilities that may save their children’s lives. Israeli snipers shoot to kill clearly identified medical personnel and target body parts of demonstrating civilian youth selectively to cause specific life-long disabilities. When all of that has becomes daily routine, it is your duty as much as it is mine to condemn such systematic atrocities, and not to disparage me and my supporter, Angela Davis, for doing it.

Show the world the courage of your convictions as the self-assigned guardian of the memory of the Holocaust. Let me see you sidestep the Zionists’ minefield of misappropriations. Give Professor Angela Davis the apology you owe her. Pick up the damned phone right now!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Mixed Blessing for Amos Oz

Note: This article appeared first on the Mondoweiss website where their are a few additional comments.

An oft-repeated adage in rural Palestine declares wishes of blessings as the only proper sentiment towards the dead. However, after offering the standard platitude, speakers often cleverly hedge their bets by following the positive statement with the reservation of “May God reward him/her in proportion to his/her good deeds.” Somehow, that seems an appropriate way to express my own sense of loss at receiving the news of the death of the star Israeli writer, Amos Oz. I have to admit to his superior literary skill but do have my reservations about his commitment to peace in our shared birth colony of mandatory Palestine.
Leading news media across the globe have eulogized Oz as a prizewinning writer and a fearless peace activist. In the first two days after the official announcement of his departure, Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily, published nearly a dozen glowing commentaries about his life, literary achievements and ‘enlightened’ political views. Some prominent Israelis felt the country is not the same without him, its star writer, academician and intellectual. And indeed, the man was a gifted narrator and a refined literary craftsman. Alas, throughout his public life he functioned as the literary equivalent of the oxymoronic Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace prize laureate who introduced nuclear weapons to the middle East. In similar fashion, Oz used his superior skill to apologize for Israel’s aggressions and war crimes, witness the following gem in which he eloquently shared his government’s talking points with the international media during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza:
“What would you do if your neighbour across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap & starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”
Every single word and every little brushstroke in the eloquent sentence are selected to maximize the impact of juxtaposing the peaceful Israeli with the terrorist Palestinian without ever using the specific terms. That is fiction writing skill at its best. The validity of the intended message is further fortified by its artful shades. Strangely, the image of the late 12-year-old Mohammad al-Durra cowering next to his father under a hail of bullets in Gaza in 2000 jumps at me from the paragraph. Which should give the reader pause about where Oz and I are coming from: liberal tribal Zionism versus pacifist international egalitarianism.
To the majority of the Israeli public, Amos Oz is known for his persistent campaign in support of the Israeli “peace movement” that advocates for a two-state solution to end the political morass of the Israeli occupation and of the defunct Oslo Accords. Soon after the 1967 war (in which he had fought) Oz started campaigning for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Yet, at the bottom of such peace sentiments lurked the less-than-innocent ethnic separation monstrosity that Zionists have planned and practiced in Israel from its first inception as a dream in the late nineteenth century. Regardless how he felt about the recently passed Jewish Nation State Law, such Apartheid practices were the inevitable culmination of those racial separation designs.
Oz lived, produced and prospered for a good part of his life in Kibbutz Hulda in our coastal plain. The fact that the original Palestinian farming community by the same name was erased and his kibbutz, along with other Israeli settlements, took over its space, its farming land and even its name, didn’t seem to impact his conscience in advocating for a peaceful ethnic separation of Palestinians from Jewish Israelis. The Nakba of 1948 was a done deed and the place for the Palestinian refugees, if they have to be considered at all, was among their kind on the other side of an agreed border. And till then we will put up a wall. Here then is our man’s argument:
“If there are not two states here, very soon, there will be one,” he wrote in [his 2017 book] Dear Zealots. “If there is one state, it will be an Arab one that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Jews and Arabs can and should live together, but I would find it absolutely unacceptable to be part of a Jewish minority under Arab rule, because almost all the Arab regimes in the Middle East oppress and humiliate their minorities. And more importantly, because I insist on the right of Israeli Jews, like any other people, to be a majority, if only on a tiny strip of land.”
Needless to say, to Mr. Oz, the internationally sanctioned Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return is null and void. No wonder the Joint [Arab] List Chairman, MK Ayman Odeh has said in eulogizing him:
“I met with Amos Oz several times … Even when we argued (quite a bit!), he was a man of partnership; he supported the end of the occupation. He was not afraid to say what was on his mind and did it with unusual talent.”
Amos Oz’s departure is a significant loss to the literary field and to the cause of Israeli liberal Zionism. To non-Zionist peace advocates, his light shined dimly at a distance. May other pure lights continue to shine in our skies.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Portraiture of the Nakba:

Here is the link to an abridged version of this review below. It appears in the Middle East Eye today, the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinians. The good people at MEE also added some photos and skipped few points that I consider particularly significant:

https://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/survivor-s-review-1948-creation-catastrophe-1036212750

What follows is my original full-length piece:
A Portraiture of the Nakba:
a survivor’s review of the documentary
“1948: Creation & Catastrophe.”
Let me open with a clarification: I am not neutral on the subject of this documentary; a Palestinian who survived the Nakba can never be. It is like asking Elie Wiesel to take a neutral stand on the Holocaust. Of course, there is a difference. But to one who, during much of the formative years of his childhood, had heard daily the first-person accounts of tens if not hundreds of premeditated massacres against his kin to drive them out of their homes and farms, the difference is mainly quantitative. Time and again, members of the Jewish militias who participated in the atrocities of the Palestinian Nakba, state in the documentary that even then they were aware of committing crimes similar to what had been perpetrated against them in Europe. Take a look, for example, at 00:55:10 of our documentary: Joseph Ben Eliezer (Haganah Veteran) describes searching Palestinians for valuables that he and his fellow soldiers purloined. Again and again, the Israeli veterans admit to being aware of their committing the same atrocities against the Palestinians that were committed against them in Europe. “We all were depressed. We simply remembered our own exile.” Such admissions are in the infamous typical “shooting and crying’” style of Israel’s humanitarian sensibility.
And a second admission of my complicity: I assisted minimally with some of the field work involved in producing the documentary. My name even appears in the credits. I share in the excitement of the producers in their recent announcement that “Our documentary is now available for streaming on Kanopy (the Netflix of schools and libraries).”

Unjustified Equivalency:
            In their one-and-a-half-hour documentary, 1948: Creation & Catastrophe, Andy Trimlet and Ahlam Muhtaseb offer a wealth of first-person accounts of survivors as well as of perpetrators of the Palestinian Nakba and of the establishment of the state of Israel. The documentary opens with a forced attempt at balance and at equating the two themes announced in the title: the Nakba and the establishment of the state of Israel, both culminating in 1948 but rooted in the earlier belligerent Zionist settler colonialism and the native Palestinians’ pushback against it. The assembled cover photo illustrates what that balance really looked like: An aggressive looking armed young Israeli man on one side with a traditionally attired old Palestinian protecting and guiding a child on the other. To take a balanced stand on the conflict, even the mere reference to a ‘conflict’ and not to an aggression is to favor the belligerent, of course. And that is my first gut-level reservation about the documentary even though it immediately allows the eloquent Palestinian Nakba witness, Samia Khoury, to state her conviction regarding the chronicity of neglect and injustice meted out to the Palestinians. That then is reinforced by the wish of a counterpart, Yakov Keller, not to be reminded of 1948.
An idealized portrait of Samia lodges in my memory as the elegant and savvy cosmopolitan Palestinian. The portrait gains relevance as I notice the paucity of women among witnesses in the documentary. Especially rural Palestinian women must have played a critical role in the survival of their families in their exile and diaspora. The social cohesion of rural Palestinian communities and the centrality of the woman in her household and family structure allow me to speculate that a richer patina can be woven around their accounts, had more of them been tapped for the project.
But again, the sham of balance returns when another contemporary of Samia’s explains the elation he and his fellow Israeli fighters felt at establishing a Jewish state. Now, step back with me to the present and consider what the current permutations of that creation of ‘a Jewish state’ has meant to a Palestinian citizen of Israel like me. As practiced by Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist settler ministers and all of their predecessors since 1948 and before, it has meant driving out my kin and erasing an entire nation and its culture. And it has meant the imposition of their superiority on me with apartheid legislation peaking most recently with the passage of the Israeli constitutional law of the Jewish Nation State. And that is the soft edge of implementing the Zionist plans, witness the daily abuse the Jewish State’s military rains on the Palestinians under its occupation in Jerusalem and the West Bank or, worse yet, in its open Gaza prison.
            Like it or not, the historical justification for a Jewish state had little to do with the Palestinians. The documentary marshals factual information and historical testimonies of the likes of Benny Morris to explain the compelling forces across Europe leading to the creation of the Zionist colonial movement, most notably the rampant anti-Semitism throughout Europe fueled by the church and by Europe’s xenophobia. 

The Belfour Declaration:
            Take a look, if you will, at the photo of Arthur Belfour in the first few minutes of the documentary. It is the one of that is commonly displayed in the media. Something about the photo, perhaps the man’s haughty self-assuredness, and the way he seems to look down on me, irritates me. What right did he, his government, and the British elite have to promise my homeland to the Zionists? Who the f…k did this colonialist miscreant think he was to reduce me and my people to mere “non-Jewish communities” of Palestine? Let him go to hill. Had I been already born and able to throw a stone in 1936, I would have joined the Great Revolt against him and his Zionist masters.
            Then, the photograph of Yusef Weitz follows soon after, looking bitter and determined. Except that his bitterness is born out of his kin’s suffering in Europe while his determination is to exile me and my people out of our homes forever. “The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth and old Jerusalem. Not a single village or a single tribe must be left,” he wrote in his memoirs in 1940 summing up the Zionist leadership’s collective plan. Mind you, as the Director of the Jewish National Fund’s Land Department, Weitz was in the best position to act on that decision. History, Europe, America and presumably God colluded with Weitz against me. Otherwise, why were Jews prevented from setting roots in the lands where they were driven by the Romans or whomever and had to shift to banking so that the likes of Edmond Rothchild could finance the purchase of my land from under my feet by paying an absentee landlord in Beirut? The longer I contemplate his problem, the more complicated mine gets. In the meantime, Zionist armed bands proceed to organize into a veritable military force in Palestine and to plan their takeover of the colony Belfour and his imperial army of rapists had started pacifying for them. (My late sister narrowly escaped a gang rape by British soldiers and needed daily incantations of holy verses from the Quran over a long period before returning to sanity.)
            Historians from both sides attest to the premeditated Zionist transfer plan of the native Palestinian population: At the start, Zionist leaders kept it to themselves. Then they discussed it openly as Weiss’s memoirs show. Then, in 1948, they proceeded to implement it to a T with all the required premeditated scores of massacres. A chunk of that plan was conveniently postponed to 1967. Of late, extending that loosely fitting design of a Jewish homeland to the parameters of the imagined Greater Israel is gaining popularity again with Netanyahu and his extremist settler ministers. Currently, it looks likely the entire land of Greater Israel will be purchased from the Saudis and the puppet heads of the UAE and the like in exchange for American and European smiles, handshakes, pats on the back and the occasional sword dance, all supplemented with Israeli and American arms deals, at a profit, of course.

Random Portraits:
            The number and expertise of the interviewed historians and analysts from both sides of the divide for the documentary is impressive. And they delve deep into historical records and relevant documents. Yet I find it more meaningful to concentrate on some of the silent portraits that abound in the eloquent documentary. Many of those are of anonymous individuals, most likely dead or, if alive, unaware of the role their silent photos play in illuminating my history.
            Take, for example, the haunting photo at 00:13:52. I presume the young creature is a Jewish man in a concentration camp: I focus on the eyes and am scared. The expression is several levels beyond cold, starved and scared. In fact, there is an edgy threat in the scared-fox way that he stares back at me, a contained animalistic outrage: ‘Don’t fuck with me or I’ll scratch your eyes out,’ he warns me. That was what Europe discharged to our Palestinian ports: the just but misplaced fury of the holocaust survivors. Fast forward to 00:57:00 where Yuram Kaniuk, a veteran of the Jewish Haganah militia forces, describes the night the Palestinians were driven out of Lydda and Ramla. In a meeting with Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, the officer in charge, had asked him what to do with the residents of the two Palestinian cities. Ben Gurion responded with a sweeping wave of his hand. Out of 50-70 thousand residents, only about 100 remained. That night, 10-15 truckloads of immigrants arrived from docking boats bringing concentration camp survivors. “Within minutes they took over the homes,” Kaniuk states. “It is not that we tried to harm, but it is just a fact.”
And there is the pitiable image of Hava Keller we first meet narrating Acre’s fall when, to her thinking, “the war got ugly.” That ugliness is symbolized by a child having left its shoes behind and Hava, then a young soldier, finding it as she enters the abandoned home. She now wants to know where the child had gone and how had she faired. Hava has a winning sincerity to her concern. I cannot but join her emotionally in the search for that child. We see such a child shortly afterwards in Lydda lost between the soldiers and the crowd of Palestinian civilians they were evicting. Then again, we and Hava are given a glimpse of that destitute child with a sibling, hungry and scared. The scared look on the children’s faces says it all. The film directors’ stringing these images shortly after Hava’s Acre segment is a media master’s stroke of effectiveness and brutality. Over a dozen different Palestinian children show up after that figuratively claiming ownership of the shoe in Acre.
It suddenly dawns on me that it is my late friend, Miriam Petrokowski of Naharyya, whom I see every time Hava shows up on the screen. A friendlier, milder-mannered and more sympathetic woman is hard to imagine. I remember Miriam in 1982 going door-to-door in her Jewish neighborhood to collect food and clothing items for Palestinian refugees in Israeli occupied South Lebanon. Of course, she and her husband had played a part in driving those refugees out in 1948. In fact, they lived off those refugees’ colonized fields. Like my friend Miriam, Hava obeys orders: In the current documentary, after helping evacuate Acre of its Arab residents, Hava moves on to Beersheba to help streamline the expulsion of its natives to Gaza. But her core of decency is persistent: At 1:18:13, she is back again. “Where are they? The Palestinians?” she asks. Apparently, she hadn’t forgotten the barefoot child of Acre. And Hava reflects on another Israeli imponderable, one the world usually forgets: “When the war started and the Arabs were thrown out of their villages, not one kibbutz said that they don’t want to take their land. Everybody was very happy to steal their land.” Obviously, Hava must be a Holocaust survivor, like my friend, Miriam. One can’t be that obedient to authority, to the point of piety it appears, except after having come back from the dead. Elie Wiesel toed the line as well. He followed and defended the Zionist colonialist logic to a T. 

Hunting Infiltrators:
Benny Morris is an Israeli historian and a hardened racist who had first documented much of Israel’s war crimes in 1948. He thinks that it was a fatal error to have left any Palestinians in Israel. In the documentary, at 1:06:50, we see the collective Portrait of four generations of Palestinian refugees. I look at the still photo and think: “There, but for the grace of God, goes my family.”  Benny Morris identifies such a group as “the Palestinians that have been fighting us.” He proceeds to justify Israel’s decision to exile Palestinians forever and to kill those among them who attempt to return to their homes. Many returned to steal their own blankets or food.
“The notion of having this state empty of Arabs was already part of my life,” says Israeli historian and veteran Haganah fighter, Mordechai Bar-On. He proceeds to casually relate an incident in which he shot pointblank with his revolver a Palestinian returning to reap the harvest in his field. Bar-On surprised the Palestinian so suddenly that the man embraced him. “I didn’t blame myself. I didn’t have any feeling of remorse,” he declares smiling. Bar-On does preface his account with the standard victorious Israeli explanation: “You wanted a war? OK. Now you run away. You’ll never come back.”
For example, the orders for such crimes are spelled out in a military document specific to the village of Magdal in the south of Palestine. Photos of the document are presented in the film. They include the following:
“a. Sweep the village …
 b. Expell the refugees…
 c. Burn the village and demolish any stone structures.
 d. Check [for] enemy scouts and arrest them.
 e. Check the refugees’ travel routs and mine those roads.”             
On this issue of principle, Uri Avnery, the famous Israeli peace activist and founder and head of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom, simply states that he obeyed orders and “that was that.” But he claims, rather apologetically, that he felt happy when a hunted Palestinian escaped alive across the hills. Seen from the Palestinian’s point of view, the difference between his timid acceptance and Morris’s impudent justification is academic. Throughout his later-life peace activism, Avnery drew a line under 1948. He apparently didn’t want to face up to some of the massacres, like Deir Yassin, in which he personally took part. Only 1967 was open for discussion with him and his fellow liberals. Still, to the day he died of natural causes, he was the recognized face of Israel’s left. To Palestinians with sound memory like Salman Abu-Sitta, Avnery’s left liberalism must have seemed of the same fabric as Shimon Peres’s nuclear-weapons-fraught world peace efforts.

Follow-up Plans:
Towards the end of the documentary there is a sense of the narrative being rushed through: The story of depopulating, erasing and hiding over 500 Palestinian villages with parks and new settlements is compressed into summary statements, even if powerful ones by the likes of Exeter historian Ilan Pappe. This forces the submersion of so many memorable accounts of cruelty, massacres and occasional heroism: Tantura, Lubya, Ezzeeb, Elbassa, Iqrith, … and scores more.
Then the documentary concludes with the present when Israel controls nearly all of historic Palestine.
“Here is the question,” Farid Abdel-Nur, a Palestinian American political scientist sums up: “Was the establishment of the state of Israel so important that, no matter what price the Palestinians had to pay for it, it was worth it? Or was there something fundamentally wrong with a project that can only be realized by displacing hundreds of thousands of people?”
I, of course, have an answer. But, in the documentary, the question is left hanging in midair.
The focus of 1948: Creation & Catastropheis more on the Nakba’s major events in urban Palestine: Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, lydda, Ramla, Nazareth, Beersheba, and more. Yet, in 1948, the majority of Palestinian refugees were driven out of rural communities. For years, the Haganah had gathered detailed intelligence on their demographic, social, geographic and military conditions. Despite their minimal fighting power, such villages resisted expulsion tenaciously. Consequently, they suffered a long list of massacres specifically designed to scare them out of their homes and across the border to neighboring countries. In Deir Yassin, one of the earliest and vilest, the Irgun and Haganah had set a precedent: the village even had a peace treaty with the adjacent Jewish community. Our elders repeated such accounts in whispers of fear, distrust and secrecy. In some such semi-secret tales, Palestinian women feature heroically. In his newly published Arabic-language book, Nakba Wabaqa’a, (Institute for Palestine Studies, 2016) the Palestinian historian Adel Manna exposes several such massacres committed in my home turf of Galilee, with excellent and thoroughly referenced oral historical accounts. In them he lists names, dates and geographic locations. For its ‘native’ eloquence, this scholarly treatise deserves translation to English for a wider readership.
It seems fitting to end with these tales. There is the eyewitness account of the execution of Aziza Shrida of Sufsaf, a heroin who resisted rape to the point of death. Her 17-year-old firstborn son and her husband were executed to prove the rapists’ seriousness of intent. She refused to surrender to rape before their eyes and the eyes of her brood of younger children. This is narrated by Aziza’s personal friend who went on to name her own daughter after her.
Or take the potential romance woven in our imagination around the miraculous survival of Sa’ad, one of the fourteen Mawasi tribesmen selected for execution outside of Eilaboun, shot and presumed dead. (This was a separate massacre from that of Eilaboun of the same number of victims.) Zhayya Elfawwaz, a Bedouin cowherd, hears Sa’ad groaning, discovers him alive with a shot through the head, steals him to a secret cave where, for weeks, she nurses him to health, enough to return him to his mother who smuggles him on horseback across the border to Syria, all while resisting the Haganah’s interrogations. Sa’ad remembers to send her fond messages from Syria every chance he has.
I have an even closer connection to this memorable tale: The Mawasi massacre took place at the edge of the Battouf Valley, the fertile agricultural lifeline of my village. Farmers from Arrabeh know the very spot where the massacre took place: For years, the wheat they planted grew exceptionally tall in a circle five-paces across.
More typical are the repeated accounts of treachery and willful murder of men that the Haganah considered the backbone of communal resistance and staying power, population eviction being the intended final outcome. In Sa’asa’a, (and the details are not in Manna’s book), a conveyer-belt execution style was practiced to expedite the disposal of bodies in a readymade mass grave, originally a rainwater cistern: One Haganah soldier stood astride the open pit and helped push the flailing bodies in as they were shot pointblank in the back of the head. The account was embellished with such details as the assertion that the Sa’asa’a villagers had reached a peace agreement with their Jewish neighbors. In fact, they had prepared a communal reception for them, a veritable feast with food and sweets. The inventive style of mass burial of fifty men or so was convincing enough to affect a total ethnic cleansing of that village leaving the stone homes unscathed. The liberal American new residents of Kibbutz Sa’asa’a are on record debating the ethical issues involved in their takeover of those intact homes. [See Noga Kadman’s Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948(Indiana University Press, 2015.)]

Here then is the place to recommend to the producers of this documentary a second and parallel project: There is a lot of remaining footage dealing with the Nakba’s rural events that merits a second documentary, perhaps with Adel Manna as advisor. The Galilee could be its focus and Palestinian rural women its protagonists. Samia Khoury should narrate, I insist.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Kafr-Qasem Massacre

Here is the link to a most revealing article from the weekend issue of Haaretz (English):

To summarize, there are two major revelations:
1 1.    The massacre was an integral part of Operation Mole (the IDF plan to drive the Triangle’s Palestinian residents out to Jordan under the cover of war with that country) which was to be executed as part of the 1956 war with Egypt as Jordan would get involved.
22.    The trial was a staged performance to protect the higher-ups: Tzur, Dayan and Ben Gurion.
Shadmi knew both facts in advance and expected to be exonerated and, later on, rewarded (with lucrative IDF contracts) for his cooperation and silence. Indirectly, Israeli ministers, especially Avigdor Lieberman, the current Minister of Defense, never stopped dreaming of implementing this ethnic cleansing plan even in peacetime, when it is replaced with the option of swapping the area with an empty area of the West Bank.

Operation Mole or its equivalent for the Galilee exists as a ‘drawer plan’—Tuchnit Migira in Hebrew—to be implemented in case of a major war with neighbors to the north. Very likely, this is part of the impetus for Netanyahu’s current warmongering fixation on Iran/Syria: Cleanse the entire Galilee of its Palestinian residents and blame Iran for starting the war. Guess who would agree to that? Probably the whole enlightened world.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sounding the Literary Alarm on Israel-Palestine

Note:
An abridged version of this book review appeared on Middle East Eye under the title: 

Salt Houses: Tackling Israel-Palestine with a poet's licence

Here is the link: 
https://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/salt-houses-tackling-israel-palestine-poet-s-license-1551716093



Background Noise:
Let me plunge into controversy right from the start. But allow me, please, to begin with something sparkling to help familiarize the uninitiated: A topmost model may yet bite the dust for speaking out against Israel. To cover the full range of what we, Palestinians, have to deal with as we attempt to say what is on our minds, here is the reality at home in a nutshell: Poetry is a crime and activists are kneecappedbut only if Palestinian. I hope that this combination of divergent examples of issues that impact our daily life will gain some sympathy for my less than kind thoughts about the American literary world. The interdependence and near full integration of the publishing industry into the corporate media in North America, and hence in much of the world, needs no proof. At least on the media side of such partnership, we are witnessing the lifting of all curtains and the end of claims of neutrality; newspaper editorials are on sale to mega-corporations. There is no doubt that what underlies such infractions of accepted public media ethics is the profit motive. By the same token, the following is widely accepted as well, a given:

“If profitability is the most important factor to determining which books to publish, politics is a close second,” this researcher concludes. “Publishers can produce books that express the corporation’s mission and political affiliation. Political motivation is a great force within the corporation and in certain cases, a political agenda trumps profitability. Often a book is published (or not published) based on its political message—with larger profits and strong market presence, the merger era helped to increase political sway. … Having considered many consequences, both positive and negative, of the corporate evolution within the media industry, it is clear that the mergers and acquisitions have undoubtedly changed the book publishing industry and the content that the public receives.”

Deserved Appreciation:
Now, let me see if I can ease into the crux of my intended discourse, my review of Hala Alyan’s Salt Houses(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) without alarming the concerned parties, especially the author herself. First to the politically neutral and personally uplifting: I read the book on Kindle without first checking the author’s bio. From her name I knew she was Arab, probably Palestinian, and from her diction I assumed she was American or, at least, American-educated.

As I progressed along I was struck by two features of Alyan’s writing: One charming characteristic was the author’s ability to sound the depths of her protagonists’ psyche. She shows an exceptional facility to delve into the intimate feelings, inner thoughts and hesitant ruminations of each character that she highlights. First, I thought this must’ve come from her living and battling out the same momentous struggles as some of her young adult characters. I imagined such sparks of enlightened awareness welling out of her own experience, even if I had to give her, the author, a deeper self-understanding than the average contemporary college grad. As I read along, I witnessed a repetition of the same touch of well-informed awareness as she ferreted the inner thoughts and feelings of children, youth, young as well as mature adults and the elderly, even a confused Alzheimer sufferer. Hence, it was no surprise, almost a disappointment, when I discovered towards the end that our author was a practicing psychologist. 

Another winning feature was stylistic in nature, her frequent zestful and snappy turn of phrase, an artful simile here and a hippy splash of color there, a new verb to me, forced out of a noun against its will, in short, a poet’s taking of license. Smokers “ash” their cigarettes and “anger [quiets] into a briny resentment” and the list is long. And there is the unique writerly skill of her frequent poetic allowing of inanimate objects to take on willful action, “voices tangle in greeting” and “[the] sound of rain surrounded them as they slept.”  It runs throughout the warp and weft of the novel to where it borders on the objectionable. And yet, throughout my total immersion in the Salt Houses, I caught myself anticipating such turns of phrase with excitement, enthusing and nearly cheering Alyan on at each of the surprises. Much as it reflects on my limited literary acumen, I discovered later on that Alyan is a recognized, published and prize-winning poet. No wonder!

To such creative originality, we have to add another artful skill, that of her narrative design. The overall structure of the novel is akin to a medical computerized tomogram (CT). Each slice through the body of the clan under study is centered around a meaningful moment in a family member’s life across four generations. The aligned and stacked images and the strung events congeal into a three-dimensional artwork. The interconnected whole is more, much more, than its constituent parts. Those parts are carefully cross-linked and fastened tight, as if, by the consistent and skillful artisan-like plastering-over and smoothing across of their unique oddities and identifying characteristics till they stand out as recognizable living individual protagonists while still merging into a uniquely informing and diagnostic whole. 

As to her deft skill of fine-tuning her narrative, here is one specific event that Alyan handles magnificently by avoiding the pitfall of being guided by the readers’ expectations: From the start of this specific seaside vendetta, one senses the direction in which the two streams of the author’s narrative are flowing: On one side is Riham, a shy teenage girl burdened with feelings of inadequacy, pious religiosity and befuddled thoughts regarding a boy she had briefly met. On the other is that same boy’s incidental presence at the beach and the two exchanging sly smiles. Then Riham runs in to swim and nearly drowns. It is too unimaginative, almost cheap, to have the boy save her, the expected default resolution to the mounting tension. Yet, with her gift of poetic imagining and diving— pardon the pun— into the depths of a drowning teen’s inner feelings, our author weaves a beautiful and touching segment, cleverly bypassing the boy for a bearded, clearly religious man who is, one wants to believe, sent by Allah, the only site of Riham's trust as she battles the waves in her near-death struggle.

At the risk of being repetitive, let me assert again: All along, Alyan continues to surprise: She is convincingly insightful whether she is delving into the fears of a child, the worries of a mother, the rheumatic disability of the aged granny or the frivolity of a teenage in Paris, always inventive and with that special handle on 'verbalizing' nouns and animating and personalizing the inanimate.

My Inherent Fears:
The dominance over the American publishing industry, like media in general, of liberal progressive-except-on-Palestine (PEP) Zionist interests is not in doubt. This assertion may well be branded by the same presumed neutral moguls of major publishing houses and literary agencies as anti-Semitic and seditious if not blasphemous. One needs look no further than the two most coveted and uncontested literary accreditation sites, the New Yorker and the New York Times, the dream venues of writers, aspiring as well as established, for recognition of their skills, to ascertain the veracity of my statement.  It is clear that the media and publishing field is ripe for its John-Mearsheimer-and-Stephen-Walt whistle-blowing moment. Sooner than one thinks, this volcano will erupt.

This assumed, I revert to my Palestinian modus operandi of conspiratorial theorizing: Certain of the identity of the author, I face the nagging question of how does a Palestinian author gain entry into the hostile world of publishing in America? I am cautious enough to assume that the give-and-take between author and publisher, mediated through an expert literary agent, must have been negotiated softly in genteel tones and civil exchanges of opinion. Still, what concessions did this poetic author with her gift of comprehension of human psychology had to make to gain acceptance into the openly partial and overtly pro-Israel field. Were many allowances made consciously or were they reached through the usual repetitive drafting and redrafting to where the right tones of critical phrases were reached and set in the final text? How did the wrestling match, with the unfairly set stage, proceed? I can’t but assume that this sensitive author was aware of such tug of war between her and the reps of her major publisher. Or could the more likely scenario be that she had already been sufficiently alienated from certain elements in her Palestinian subject population that her dark hues in portraying them were simply left in place? Simultaneously, anti-Israeli or anti-American shades were perhaps softened and smoother over into less striking or objectionable hues. All such changes could have been achieved in the guise of literary critiquing and suave writerly embellishments.

Allah, Saddam and Israel:
Here is a possible example of such undeclared meeting of minds (or, perhaps, it is the meeting of only the author’s and my minds): Through a scene of Alia, a central protagonist in the novel, chatting with Telar, a Kurd young woman she meets at the beach in Kuwait, the author spews out a load of venom against Saddam Hussain:

“We came a while back, my mama and siblings. Seven of us. Baba died, of course. All the men did. The army rounded them up, slit their stomachs in front of our houses, shot the knees of anyone who cried out. To the women—” The girl spits again, slitting her eyes toward the sea. “To the women they did awful things. They made husbands watch. They made little children watch.”

But then, it is well-deserved regardless of one’s stand on the Iraq War. And it brings back to the reader’s mind the earlier rape scene in Haifa of a friendly Palestinian woman by Israeli soldiers. So, it balances, if not tips the sympathy scale in favor of the Palestinian side. This is the place, perhaps, to allude to my discomfort at the vague sense of equivalency that seems to underlay Alyan’s novel, even if never addressed frontally, of the rarely glimpsed Israelis and the Palestinians dominating the narrative. No assumption of such balance between aggressor and aggrieved is acceptable to me. Hence, I hereby absolve the author of such intention.

Another frontal attack seems to build up early on as the author artfully conjures up a dark miasma of suggestive conspiratorial background to the mosque attendees in Nablus, a litany of hints that befit the western world’s imagined atmosphere of a Hamas cell, even though this segment predates the movement’s establishment. Connected to Mustafa, the central figure here, is a sense of foreboding and depravity that seems to emanate from the Palestinian essence. Take the following judgement, offered with little to substantiate it. “Even the men at the mosque, most of them educated and well off, would be taken aback; for all their talk of solidarity with the poor, they are repelled by them.” If casual readers don't approve of such Moslem-bashing, they have to stop and work at rationalizing the roots of such depravity beyond its being engrained in the Palestinian lifeblood, say in their refugee status, the unfair treatment the world has afforded them, etc. etc. You need to work at proving what historians have omitted. Alyan seems to try, but her attempt at explaining away such depravity ends up confirming it to the Western reader:

“These girls had their faith, but their lives were hard and bitter and full of death. The ones that weren’t married by their early twenties had a recklessness about them, giving their bodies with abandon. They hadn’t been raised on European summers and dinner parties; they had removed shrapnel from their brothers’ legs, had washed their sisters after rape. There was no chamber for love in their bodies, …”

What shows at the surface for the Western reader is that the whore receiving Mustafa, her religious activist client, at her camp is the typical Palestinian refugee. From here the distance is short to generalizing to all of Gaza and Palestine. Above all, the suggestive Islamic name of this prostitute, Aya—Koranic verse—reflects on Islam and Hamas, of course. To you and me, such glum interpretation may sound overwrought. But it is the reality of the Western media conceptions on the matter. The Palestinians sum up such situation with the analogy of someone calling you “brother of a whore.” Now, go prove that, in reality, you have no sisters.

But then, as I tally the author’s examples of religious men that one meets on her novel’s pages, all three prominent examples—the refugee Imam in Nablus, the pious physician husband of Riham in Amman and her rescuer from drowning as a teenager in Kuwait—all shine as gentle persona backed up by a benevolent and responsive Allah. Well, may He help me make up my mind: on which side do I credit Alyan’s religious allusions, so artfully jiggled in the mysterious air of her novel.  

Memories Count:
It was not an easy task for me, let me assure you, to steer through the minefield of presumed hidden agendas and shrewd undercurrents. With this a’priory alienation and dark conspiratorial assumption of mine, I proceeded to make a balance sheet of pro and anti-Palestinian commentary and allusions to come out at the end with the scale tipped, perhaps just so, in favor of the pro-Palestinian side. Admittedly, such sentiments are often indirect and less screaming-out-loud than usual for Palestinian writers. Most of those Palestinian strong points of Alyan’s come in flashbacks and memories, not in witnessed events in the reported life segments. Towards the end of the novel, we gain access to Atef’s after-the-fact secretive letters to his dead comrade, the clan’s martyred hero, Mustafa, whose burial site no one knows, and to Atef’s wife, Alia’s late life spotty and confused recollections. The fact that the couple’s life events, even if spotty and confused in recollection, constitute the backbone of the entire narrative, hints to this reader at the elided Palestinian culture, history, rights and realistic expectations. What sticks is their grief, anger and confusion. 

Grand Finale:
The stage is carefully set with the aged grandparents and their caring teenage grandchildren: Alia is secluded in her own confused world of vague memories, afraid of Saddam returning and angry with Israel. When asked what her grandchild should bring her back from Palestine, all she demands is “whatever they ask you, give them hell.” Atef is nearly as completely ensconced in the past: The grandchildren find him one evening after sunset, his hands covered with dirt and bleeding from pulling out wild flowers that his wife didn’t like in her garden: disturbed by his grandchildren spying retroactively on his secret of “singing Mustafa’s name” to the Israeli torturers, he repents with

“Your grandmother used to live in a house with a garden. In Palestine. With her brother.” Atef feels his breath catch. “I used to go there a lot.”

To my mind, such subdued undercurrents are of greater impact than the urge to shout out obscenities directly about the historical crime and mayhem of the Nakba. This is but an example of what I find painfully but charmingly tender in the novel, the soft-sell that I am happy to buy into in place of the shrill cries of foul play and screaming to high heavens about the destruction to Palestinian life and limb. It gains us valuable empathy.

And yet I am left with the sense of having been shortchanged with this indirect coverage of the Nakba: Here we have a third and fourth-generation bunch of descendants of Palestinian refugees who seem to have overcome their displacement disability and rootlessness complex. They are professionals and spouses of professionals whose children spend summers in Paris, study or settle in the USA and inherit property in Amman and Beirut. One of them even expresses his dreams of wanting “to build skyscrapers in Kuwait City, [not in his ancestral Jaffa or Nablus,] to make it like Paris or Manhattan.” Contrast that, if you will, with the earlier last words of a dying refugee matriarch:

“I saw the houses, I saw how they were lost. You cannot let yourself forget. … When it happens, you must find a way to remember.”

It neatly confirms Israel’s founding fathers’ dictum of “the old will die and the young will forget.” “Fair-weather Arabs,” one angry young family member calls his kin. Yet it all doesn’t seem that far-fetched and is probably realistic in the case of many Palestinians who adapted to their diaspora, the shatat. And, all through the narrative, the issue of the land, is hardly addressed at all, except perhaps for the few examples of unsettling memories to which I have already alluded. Yet land is the pivotal root cause of Israel-Palestine enmity, all theHasbaradiversion claims of historic, religious and cultural differences notwithstanding.

But then again, how do I fit this in? Does it all count for or against the author as partial to Palestine in my tally? Perhaps the edge of my original theory has to be whittled further. Perhaps my quandary can be resolved by stipulating a marriage of convenience between a major American literary concern, assumed to be partial to Israel, and a capable rising Palestinian star of letters, also admittedly partial but to Palestine and its people. Each of the two sticks to her convictions without imposing her views on the other. In such case, both parties stand to gain financially and prestige-wise. If we are to accept such a supposition, what remains to be clarified is the relative positions of the two sides on the power scale.

I continue to stoke the fire of my suspicions and Alyan provides all the required firewood. Sheshines in playful reversals of some plot details. Here is this simple statement about the choice the head of a Palestinian family had made early on in 1948: to stay. As if he had a choice in the matter! He loved his seaside life in Haifa. Had the author left her account at this point, it would have weighed clearly on the pro-Israel side. Palestinians left of their own free will, Israel wants the world to believe. But then comes ason’s flashback to the scene of Israeli soldiers raping his sister in the presence of her family and the ensuing fleeing of the family from their seaside home and city:

“The father salted everything after that. Even his water. He would cry out in his sleep for the sea.” The imam took a long breath. “He missed the fish,”he said simply. “When he died, he was buried beneath the hills he hated, far from the sea.” “What happened to his family?” The imam looked Mustafa square in the eye. “The daughter—” He swallowed. “Some say she lost her mind. She stopped talking, never married.” “And the son?” Mustafa asked, though he knew. The imam lifted the teacup to his lips. “The son found Allah.” This time the silence felt endless. “I try not to remember him like that,” the imam finally said. He narrowed his eyes. “My father. Not as that broken husk of a man, chewed up and spat out by the occupation, making a meager life of the remains. Unable to protect his daughter. Watching the soldiers . . . do the things they did.”

Let me play the devil’s advocate here: What if I were an Israeli who denies any wrongdoing? One can read in these and earlier pages a hint, perhaps, of a homosexual affair between the two men and hypothesize that the imam is fibbing for the benefit of his paramour. Clearly, this pushes the reader, and hence the position of the author, back across the line of neutrality. Much later in the novel, we witness the grandchild of refugees visiting her grandparent’s birth city, Jaffa. There is a modicum of nostalgia. But that is muted, much softer than I had expected. There is no Ghassan Kanafani’s Return to Haifameeting of refugee owner and immigrant settler. This descendent of refugees spends the night dancing at an Israeli beach party. Even more objectionable to a Palestinian, when visiting Jerusalem, out of the three iconic religious sites, she seems stirred only by the sight of the Wailing Wall, not by Al-Aqsa mosque nor by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Imagine a Martian landing in Jerusalem: Could that be his honest reaction? 

Conclusion:
Let me repeat: By the end of my painful but fascinating journey through Alyan’s Salt Houses, I am forced to abandon my simplistic original black and white conception of the duel between authorship and publishing interests with all the attendant negotiations, if not bargaining. I now settle for a more sophisticated, perhaps trickier, give-and-take process with rejected options and suggested inclusions fielded in the guise of literary finesse and with readers’ taste and interest held as reigning supreme in the matter. The author, for her side, in addition to the same set of ploys, can hedge her bet and disguise deeper feelings as arty snippets or even stick to some of them as deeply felt sentiments that have a personal value beyond what others sense.

Bless you, Hala, my child! You make me proud. I am ruling in your favor: Unaware of my presence in your creative arena, you have proven to me that you neither compromised knowingly on points of principle nor allowed any literary mogul to pull the wool of literary sparkle over your eyes. Now that you have proven your worth in this David and Goliath bout of author-versus-publishing-mega-concerns, let us see you really sock it to the American Zionists in your next prize-winning opus. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Get Up and Go

NOTE: Another overdue posting, the fourth in this series of pieces I wrote recently but did not publish here before. This one was actually published on Mondoweiss.

Get Up and Go

Collecting figs this morning I listened to the local Arabic Radio out of Nazareth. A major news item reported reactions from the field to the demolition of a newly constructed combined home of a father and his two married sons in neighboring Sakhnin. A near thousand-strong special police force accompanied the Bulldozers that snuck in and out of the area in late afternoon through a back road. It is a sign of the new tactics of the state authorities following the recent passage of the Nation-state Law, the commentator thought.

Then the news anchor interviewed Muhammad Barakeh, a senior Arab politician and communist leader in Israel who agreed with his analysis but pointed out that demolition of Palestinian homes in Israel has been on the increase for a while. It now has reached one home every four hours on average in the Negev alone. They then discussed two activities that the High Arab Committee, the public forum that Barakeh heads, had decided to take in response to the new law: a demonstration at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv next week and sending a delegation to raise the issue at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. After all, Barakeh explained, the law touches all Palestinians. He added that he had contacted a Palestinian representative in Geneva who expressed his readiness to make all the needed arrangements for the delegation. Thinking strategically, I wonder which is wiser: to keep quiet altogether or to call the world’s attention to what is happening to me through contacting a representative of the PNA?

Another equally frustrating dilemma was brought up on the air while I continued picking figs: Is it wiser for our 13 parliament members to keep playing along and agitating for equal rights for our Palestinian minority while our majority colleagues continue to pass Apartheid laws? Or should they all submit their collective resignation in protest and expose Israel’s racism to the world. The problem is that the world, whose moral conscience such resignation would target, is not interested as long as it is the heroic Israelis against the Palestinian villains.

First, I had made up my mind to attend the planned demonstration in Tel Aviv. Then I started to reconsider my snap decision. In the last major peaceful Arab demonstration in Israel the police kneecapped a friend of mine, Ja’afar Farah, while he was in their custody. Let us not act too brave then! I don’t trust the Israeli security services. Especially not on this occasion. The same extreme nationalist religious factions whose compatriot killed Rabin, have pushed for the new law for years. They are sure to send their armed thugs to the Rabin Square. They have gained greater following and influence. They now control Israel’s security forces. Who will stop them, both armed thugs and security officers, from attacking me? I have a few liberal Jewish friends who may attend the demonstrations. Should I encourage them to bring their guns just in case? But what if they were to get upset with me for something I say?

Perhaps I should take some good figs with me. It would be symbolic, brotherly sharing of the fruit of the land. But according to the accepted interpretation of the new law they get the bigger and riper fruit. Judging by their actions so far, my friends will protest loudly but will go ahead and devour the bigger and riper fruit. They won’t consider resigning whatever positions they occupy and leaving the now constitutionally apartheid state they support with their taxis.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

قراءة في مذكرات طبيب الأطفال الأول في الجليل

 NOTE: Here I continue my daily updating of my blog with another of the pieces that I have written in the last few months but neglected to publish here. This is another Arabic language
review of an Arabic book that I found fascinating. Enjoy if you read Arabic. Soon I will go back to English, my usual blog language. 

من ذكرياتي المهنية الأولى عندما بدأت امارس الطب سنة ١٩٧٠ في منطقة البطوف ان مدير مستشفى الناصرة، المرحوم الد. هانس برناث، كان يطري برسائلي الطبية عندما كنت احول أحد مرضاي اليه بقوله انها كانت تشبه رسائل الدكتور الياس سروجي في تفصيلها وسردها لانطباعاتي عن مرضاي. بيد ان انتظاري الطويل للقاء هذا الطبيب الفذ امتد ما يقارب ربع قرن كما سأورد لاحقا في هذه المراجعة لكتاب مذكراته.

ينهي المرحوم الدكتور الياس سروجي كتاب مذكراته (من مروج الجليل—مذكرات طبيب من الناصرة، مطبعة الحكيم، ٢٠١١) الغني بالأحداث بفصلين يلخصان وجهة نظره في صنفين من تلك الاحداث المرموقة التي تغلب على محتويات الكتاب، الأولى تخص التطورات التي عاصرها في مجال الطب، خصيصا طب الأطفال، والصحة الجماهيرية، والأخرى الاحداث السياسية والحروب التي عاصرها وعصفت به وباهله ومعاصريه من الفلسطينيين واللبنانيين. اليكم هذا الاقتباس بهدف الإشارة الى رؤية زميلنا الموقر السياسية والوطنية الثاقبة والتي تظهر وكأنه يكتبها في يومنا هذا معلقا على احداث البطش بفلسطينيي غزه:
"والان وبعد عشر سنوات لا يزال الاحتلال جاثما بكل ثقله على صدر هذا الشعب الصامد والصابر. احتلال يرقى الى درجة العبودية ظلما وشراسه في عصر المدنية والحضارة وهيئة الامم والشرائع المكتوبة والمدموغة بتواقيع منظمات حماية حقوق الانسان وحقوق الشعوب والاوطان. كل هذا لان القطب الاكبر في كل هذه المؤسسات الدولية والمهنين عليها واقع تحت تأثير المال والنفوذ والاعلام المحتكر من قبل هذا المحتل الغاشم.ان الوحشية التي يستخدمها الاسرائيليون في قمع الانتفاضة وكل اشكال المقاومة تلهب الاحقاد والكراهية  لدى الفلسطينيين والعرب والمسلمين لتصل حتى الى شرائح كبيرة من شعوب العالم. ويجدر بي هنا ان اذكر الشعب اليهودي بما جرى في القرون الغابرة عندما لم يجد الملجأ والحماية الا في كنف العرب والمسلمين هربا من الظلم والطغيان الاوروبي. ان الصراع القاتم سيطول امده الى الاجيال القادمة ان لم تتغير النوايا والاساليب وعلى الجميع ان يتذكر بأن التاريخ لم يسجل ابدا واقعة واحدة لشعب ظلم واحتلت ارضه وبقي على حالته. فهو اما انقرض او تحرر. ولا ارى اي دليل لانقراض الشعب الفلسطيني والعربي. لقد ثمل الاسرائيليون من انتصاراتهم العسكرية التي حققوها بفضل العطايا السخية من الولايات المتحده وفي غرورهم لا يرون ابعد من انوفهم ولا يرون الاشياء بوضوح."

بمثل هذه العجالة يعقب الدكتور سروجي على ما عاناه وعائلته من صعوبات وتنكيل. لنأخذ علي سبيل المثال محاولته العودة مع والده المريض سنة ١٩٤٨ الى مرابض سني دراسته وتخصصه المهني في ربوع الجامعة الامريكية في بيروت اذ يصادف مرورهما بقرية الرامة الجليلية مع احداث احتلالها من قبل القوات الإسرائيلية مما يضطرهما الى اللجوء هناك لبضعة أسابيع. وصف زميلنا لأحداث احتلال الرامة واعمال التنكيل والتشريد التي عاناها او شاهدها بنفسه من اصدق وأدق ما قرأته من سرد بهذا الخصوص. ولديه أيضا الكثير مما يسرده عن احداث الاحتلال الإسرائيلي لجنوب لبنان لاحقا وحصارها لبيروت.

اما عن الناحية المهنية المحضة فيكتفي المؤلف في ملاحظاته النهائية في الفصل قبل الأخير من المذكرات بسرد إنجازات عصره العلمية في مجالات الطب والصحة في لائحة موجزه وثم في لائحة أخرى، وبصورة مختزلة أيضا، فيعدد التحديات والإنجازات المتوقعة مستقبلا في نفس المجالات وفي سواها من حقول العلم والمعرفة.

ليسمح لي القارئ هنا ان أعلق من تجربتي الشخصية على احدى إشكالياتكتابة المذكرات بشكل تراجعي او انتقاء ما كان المؤلف قد دونه سابقا عبر سنوات حياته، الا وهي صعوبة اختيار ما يورده المؤلف وما يستثنيه. يكفينا بهذا الصدد الإشارةالى القول المألوف بان تدوين احداث حياة بكاملها، لولا خدعة الاختزال، لتطلبت زمن حياة أخرىبكاملها. خرجت من قراءتي لهذا الكتاب الشيق بشعور غامر عن مدى تواضع الدكتور الياس سروجي وعن ميله الى تقليص الناحية الثالثة من محتويات مذكراته المدونة، الا وهي الشؤون الشخصية والعائلية بحيث تقتصر تلك على بعض ذكريات طفولته وصباه في حي سوق الاثنين الشعبي في الناصرة وثم في قرية برناما في لبنان. بعد ذلك يندر الحديث التفصيلي عن الشؤون الشخصية ما عدى الإشارةالعابرة الى الاحداث المركزية من ولادات واحتفالات التخرج والقران وما اشبه.

وجه مميز اخر من انجازات الدكتور سروجي في كتاب مذكراته الشيقة هذا هو أسلوبه السردي الخلاق والذي شدني الى الاستمرار في قراءته بشكل حثيث، إضافة الى تواصلنا المهني والفكري غير المبرمج عبر هذه الصفحات وعبر رحيله الى جوار ربه قبل قراءتي لمذكراته هذه. على الرغم من الترتيب الزمني العام لمحتويات الكتاب فإن مؤلفنا اذ يبدأ سرده لحدث معين يستمر في متابعة مجرى هذا الحدث الى نهايته عبر الفترة الزمنية المتعلقة به حتى ولو اقتضى الامر اختراق الإطار الزمني العام مؤقتا والعودة اليه لاحقا. هذا الأسلوب الروائي المميز يعطي بعض احداث هذه المذكرات خاصية وبروزا استثنائيا يرسخها في ذاكرة القارئ. كما وان المؤلف يحتال أحيانا على قارئه بذكاء وخفة تضيء بعض جوانب سرده بشكل مفاجئ ليزرعها في الذاكرة الى الابد: خذ على سبيل المثال صورة الجنرال ديغول وهو يتمشى متنزها في الناصرة بقرب بيت المؤلف في سني شبابه. او خذ مثلا الصورة شبه الفوتوغرافية التالية: مؤلفنا الطبيب الشاب، اول طبيب أطفال مختص من أبناء الجليل، وهو يقف منفردا فوق صخرة بجوار حرم شنلر ليشرف من بعد على مسيرة جنازة جده انطون، كل ذلك نتيجة لقراره بلزوم حجره القسري وامتناعه عن مخالطة وملامسة الاخرين بحكم عمله كمدير المستشفى الذي أنشئ على عجل لإيواء الأطفال من قرى الجليل المجاورة للناصرة والمصابين بعدوى الجدري المشوه ان لم يكن المميت. ليتصور القارئ مدى رسوخ هذه الصورةفي ذهني خصوصا وانني، انا طبيب الصحة الجماهيرية والوقاية، والذي تسنى له بفضل أبحاث وجهود الاف الأطباء والعاملين الاخرين في حقل الصحة ان يحتفل مع عاملي مكتب الصحة في الناصرة، وثم من على أمواج الاثير في مقابلة في الراديو سنة ١٩٧٧ بالقضاء على هذا الداء الفتاك الى الابد. تصور، أيها القارئ العزيز، مدى دهشتي عندما قرات ما يذكره الد. الياس سروجي في مذكراته حول البحث الاحصائي البسيط والمميز الذي اجراه هو حول تأثير المصل الواقي في شفاء الأطفال حسب فترة مرضهم. مثل هذا البحث المتواضع وهذا التفادي النير في الخدمة الطبية هو الذي أدى الى الخلاص من هذا الداء نهائيا. 

هذا ومما سرني من محتويات هذا الكتاب هو تطرق مؤلفنا الكريم الى ذكر العديد من شخصيات الناصرة، عاصمة جليلنا العربي، والذين أسعدني التعرف عليهم شخصيا او مصادقتهم، من أمثال الد. هانس برناث، الد. سامي جرايسي والسيد فوزي الحكيم على سبيل المثال لا الحصر. كما ويسعدني أيضا ما يتردد من على صفحات هذا الكتاب من ذكر العديد من مشاهد الناصرة العامة وحتى من امثلة تراثها الشعبي الاصيل. خذ مثلا هذا المشهد العريق الذي يرويه طبيبنا مستذكرا سني عمله الاولى في مسقط راسه:

"حول صلابة صلة القربى في مجتمعنا الشرقي عبر عنها اخوان كهلان بأبلغ أسلوب:لم يكن حنا غريب، وهو اخ لالياس قد زار اخاه او كلمه منذ خمسة وعشرين سنه نتيجة نزاع دب بينهما. وفيما كنت اجلس على الديوان احدق في الشارع المقابل بانتظار ميشيل, رأيت حنا وهو رجل بدين يعتمر الحطة ويلبس القمباز, يخطو بتثاقل نحو المنزل.   شاهدت اضطرابا في الغرفة عندما لمحت احدى الفتيات عمها قادما وهمست في اذن امها.  دخل حنا وجلس بقربي على الديوان دون ان ينبس ببنت شفة, كان ينظر الى اخيه وهو يلهث بنفسه بصعوبة ويئن بصوت عال.  ساد الصمت لبعض الوقت وكنت في قرارتي اسائل نفسي عما يمكنني ان اتفوه به علني اتمكن من ازالة الحرج المخيم, فجاه قطع حنا هذا الصمت بهمهمة خافته صعد منها تدريجيا الى عتابا بطلعة يطلب فيها من اخيه الصفح والمغفرة.  ما كاد حنا ينهي وصلته حتى حصل ما ادهشنا وعقد السنتنا اذ فتح الياس عينيه وحولهما باتجاه اخيه ورد عليه بمقطوعة من العتابا تذكره بأيام صباهما معا وبالاهل والجذور, واستمرت العتابا سجالا بينهما.  اخذت عيون الاولاد تغرورق بالدموع, الام التي احمر وجهها انفعالا اخذت تسرع في تهوئتها لزوجها وترطيب جبينه وشفتيه, اما انا الطبيب الشاب حاولت جهدي ان احافظ على رابطة جأشي واحبس دموعي.  لم اخبر زميلي كونتزر ابدا بهذا الجزء من القصه عندما جاء في اليوم التالي ليزور الياس ويعالجه لبضعة ايام."

بمثل هذا الوميض من الاصالة والانتماء يشدني زميلي الد. الياس سروجي اليه أينما اخذه ترحاله الدراسي والمهني من فلسطين الى لبنان وعودة الى الناصرة ثم ثانية الى لبنان فأمريكا فالبحرين دون ان ينقطع عطاؤه كطبيب ومحاضر ومعلم ومرشد لأطباء اخرين. لا يتوقف اعجابي بهذا الزميل وبأدائه المهني، بالرغم من فارق الجيل بعقدين تقريبا، بل ويتعدى ذلك الى محاولتي الواعية في نظرتي التراجعية هذه والتي تأتي متأخرة، لان اتمثل به وان اجد القواعد المشتركة بيننا والسلوك المتشابه، فكلانا، او كذا اود انا ان اصدق، مارس مهنة الطب مستجيبا لاحتياجات الساعة والمجتمع .كما وتعاملنا مع متطلبات اوضاعنا الطارئة دون ان نهمل تطلعاتنا الاكاديمية، حتى ولو انعدمت مثل تلك الإمكانيات عمليا، ومحاولتنا  تدوين الاحصائيات واستخلاص العبر مما كنا نشاهده حولنا في الحقل وتعميم تلك العبر على الزملاء من خلال محاضرات او مقالات علميه. كذلك الامر نتشارك في رؤيتنا الاوسع للتوفيق بين العمل الطبي تحت شروط عير مواتيه وواجبنا تجاه مجتمعنا من ممارسة الوقاية واسس الصحة العامة على مستوى نشاطنا الجماهيري.  حتى وأجدني اتشبث بأمور واهية لكسب مشاركتي مع زميلي هذا في المبادئ والسلوكيات متل زواجنا الاثنين من نساء عبر الحواجز الدينية مثلا. وبهذا الخصوص، لا بد لي ان  اذكر علاقتي الودية مع زميلي  الدكتور عزيز سروجي، اخ الدكتور الياس، ومع زميلتي الدكتورة سوزي سروجي، والقائمة تطول وتتشعب، وللحديث شجون.

ليتصور القارئ الفاضل كم كانت مفاجأتي سارة عندما قرأت في صفحة ٣٣٣ من هذه المذكرات ما يلي:

"في خريف عام 1994 وبرفقة صديقي وزميلي الدكتور نبيه ابو العسل الاستاذ في كلية الصحة العامة في جامعة اوكلاهوما حضرنا المؤتمر السنوي للجمعية الامريكية للصحة العامة في واشنطن, وهناك التقينا وتعرفت الى الدكتور حاتم كناعنه ابن الجليل وخريج كليتي الطب والصحة العامة في جامعة هارفرد وتبادلنا الآراء في امور الاحوال في الجليل وخاصة الصحية منها واطلعنا من الدكتور كناعنه عن "جمعية الجليل" التي تقوم ضمن اهدافها بدراسة الظروف والاحتياجات الصحية لعرب اسرائيل وخصوصا الجليل."

بقي لي في هذه العجالة ان اوصي الجيل الصاعد من أهلنا أيا كانوا، وخصوصا أصحاب مهنة الطب والمهن الصحية الأخرى وطلابها، وعددهم يتزايد اضطراديا لحسن الحظ، بقراءة هذا الكتاب القيم ليس لكسب المعرفة وللاطلاع على احداث حياة هذه القدوة الصالحة فقط، كما وليس اجلالا لذلك الطلائعي الفذ فقط، بل وأيضا للمتعة بنتاج ادبى جذاب.