Saturday, August 1, 2015

Giving Thanks Where It Is Due:

It is not everyday that one wakes up to his name being strung along with a veritable rosary of literary luminaries that starts with Kafka, Balzac and Chekov. That was my good fortune this week when I was advised by a mutual friend, Dr. Rita Giacaman, of Professor Graham Watt’s academic review of my collection of short stories, (‘vignettes’ is a more accurate descriptive,) Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor’s Tales of Life in Galilee (Just World Books, 2015.) The review appears in the August 2015 issue of the British Journal of General Practice. And indeed it is a worthy read for it gives a panoramic view of published works by and about country doctors.

My pleasant surprise was redoubled when I discovered that my reviewer and I share another mutual friend, Dr. Runa Mackay, who was forced by circumstances to become the grand old dame of gynecology and obstetrics in Nazareth’s environs throughout most of the second half of the twentieth century, though at heart she remained always a dedicated pediatrician. Runa also was a staunch convert to public health and a cofounder of the Galilee Society for Health Research and Services, my single most significant professional contribution to my official field of specialization. With the dearth of recognition in Israel of all things Palestinian it is no small compliment to have my book favorably reviewed by a friend of such a local pillar of our profession in Galilee as Dr. Mackay. And the review is made doubly credible by avoiding the morass of the interminable Israel-Palestine conflict. It lays the bare facts relevant to my discourse leaving it up to the reader to reach his/her conclusion.
Thank you Prof. Graham Watt for your unbiased academic insight and analysis and for involving Kafka, Balzac, Chekov, James Harriet and all the others.
Here it is:
Chief Complaint
A Country Doctor’s Tales of Life in Galilee Hatim Kanaaneh

Just World Books, 2015, PB, 256pp, $21.00, 978-1935982340

The ‘Country Doctor’ is one of the most iconic figures in medicine. Kafka and Balzac wrote novels about him (most examples are male), and Chekov based many of his short stories on his experiences and insights as a country doctor.1 John Berger wrote The Fortunate Man, with photographs by Jean Mohr, based on John Sassal, a GP in remote and rural Gloucestershire.2 W Eugene Smith produced a famous photographic and text essay on a country doctor in Kremmling, Colorado, for Life magazine.3 John Bain and Rosie Donovan in Scotland,4 and Tom O’Dowd and Fionn McCann in Ireland,5 recorded many country doctors in photographs. There is a substantial literature of potboilers, doing for country doctors what James Herriot did for country vets in All Creatures Great & Small.
More than any other figure in medicine, country doctors exemplify what Trish Greenhalgh described as:
‘... the internalised, embodied knowledge that comes from years of listening to stories, building relationships, touching the flesh, responding to real or perceived crises, and witnessing the suffering, healing, coping and dying of ordinary folk’.6
Or as Julian Tudor Hart wrote of his patients:
From many direct and indirect contacts, many non-medical through shared activities, schools, shops and gossip, I have come to understand how ignorant I would be if I only knew them as a doctor seeing them when they were ill. It is a compact world, in which integrity and a sense of proportion are more easily retained than in cities, provided that one accepts the multiple faces one must wear in an intimate communal life. There is immense friendliness, much bravery and generosity, a good deal of petty meanness, treachery and servile cowardice — but never indifference.’ 7
The latest addition to this rich strand of medical literature comes from an unexpected source, Dr Hatim Kanaaneh, a Harvard-trained physician who returned to his home village of Arrabah in Galilee. Although over 500 Palestinian villages have been demolished, built on, or covered with pine forest since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Arrabah has survived, in the heart of northern Israel, situated west of Galilee, east of Haifa, north of Nazareth, and south of Lebanon.
About 20% of the population of Israel comprises ‘Israeli Arabs’ as they are officially called, but in the north of the country the figure is near to 50%. In the same way that Raja Shehadeh used a series of Palestinian Walks,8 to describe aspects of living under military occupation in the West Bank, Kanaaneh uses a series of presenting, or chief medical complaints in general practice to tell tales of Palestinian lives inside the State of Israel.
Drawing on stories of family, friends, neighbours, and patients, Kanaaneh describes Palestinian society, based largely on family, religion, and working the land. A major recurring theme is how people have adapted to the loss of land and people in 1948 and to the gradual but systematic loss of land since then. Although Kanaaneh returned to Arrabah in 1970, his stories and memories span a longer period, covering Ottoman, British, and now Israeli, rule. Much of the culture will be unfamiliar to western readers but Kanaaneh is a helpful guide, sprinkling the text with definitions and explanations of Arabic words, phrases, sayings and customs.
Kanaaneh’s previous book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel, recounted his frustrating experiences as the only Arab doctor working in Israel’s Ministry of Health.9 His new book is less angry and more pastoral, letting stories speak for themselves. All human life is here: pregnancies, weddings, and funerals; involving husbands and wives, daughters and sons, relatives and neighbours, at home, or in exile abroad. Conversation, coffee, and cuisine are the staple fare of ordinary life, with music and dance for special events. Many of the themes are familiar, involving the loss of the old ways, the scattering of families, improved health care, new ways of making a living, and so on, but the circumstances are extraordinary, having citizenship but not nationality, in a place where they have always lived. One of the subjects of the stories reflects:
Every Palestinian has a story worth telling. You scratch the surface and there is a treasure trove in every life.
By drawing on a lifetime’s practice as a country doctor, Kanaaneh brings the story of his people to our attention.
1. Coope J. Dr Chekhov. A study in literature and medicine. Isle of Wight: Cross Publishing, 1997.
2. Berger J. A fortunate man. London: Penguin, 1969.
3. Smith WE. Country doctor. New York, NY: Life Magazine, 1948.
4. Donovan R, Bain J. Single-handed: general practitioners in remote and rural areas. Caithness: Whittles Publishing, 2011.
5. Trinity College Dublin. Gallery. General Practice Exhibition May 2012. http://www.medicine. exhibition2012.php (accessed 4 Jul 2015).
6. Greenhalgh, T. Thirty years on from Alma-Ata: Where have we come from? Where are we going?BrJGenPract 2008;58(556):798–804.
7. Hart JT. The Lancet career guide for medical students. London: Lancet Publications, 1973.
8. Shehadeh R. Palestinian walks: notes on a vanishing landscape. London: Profile Books, 2008.
9. Kanaaneh H. A doctor in Galilee: the life and struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. London: Pluto Press, 2008.
Graham Watt,
Norie Miller Professor of General Practice, University of Glasgow, Glasgow.
Graham Watt
General Practice & Primary Care,
1 Horselethill Road, Glasgow G12 9LX, UK.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Plastering Over Some Striking Figures

Arrabeh, better known by attribution to its fertile valley as Arrabet-el-Battouf to distinguish it from Arrabet-Jenin or Arrabet-Jabal Nablus, excels in a wide range of things. Among those for example is the high number of professional plasterers. Our subcontractors and their professional teams of plasterers leave their mark on homes and offices across the country. In the old days before the Nakbah Arrabeh exported its hardworking young men, its wheat reapers or hassadin, to all the neighboring and better-landed villages such as Lubya and Saffourya. Another distinctive product of Arrabeh is its watermelons. The product is in such great demand that over ten fold of its Battouf Valley’s productive capacity is sold annually under the label of “Battouf watermelons.” Also, we in Arrabeh are famous for our high consumption of the seasonal gourmet dish of Akkoub, a wild thistle especially plentiful in the Golan Heights. Sadly, a few members of our community have been killed or maimed by landmines in the area. But we still have the decency to make light of this culinary addiction, some even reported to vocally oppose the return of the area to Syria without guaranteeing our free access to its Akkoub in any peace treaty.

And we have a striking number of university graduates in our village. Some fifteen years ago when Dr. Ali Badarni and I did a rough survey of manpower supply in preparation for the establishment of Elrazi – The Center for Child Rehabilitation we discovered that over two thirds of the licensed Arab psychologists in Israel at the time were from Arrabeh. Ali knew the field well of course because he was a founder and the first head of the Association of Arab Psychologists. Our neighbors in Sakhnin thought that obviously we needed all of those psychologists. We in Arrabeh agreed with the explanation except that we blamed it all on the fact that the breeze we breathed daily blew from the west right over Sakhnin, which was enough to drive us mad.

More seriously, in the last couple of days a mini-tempest has been brewing on Facebook around an article that Ms. Makbula Nassar, a fellow Arrabeh villager and a respected media personality, wrote in Hebrew about the high number of physicians from our village. Later she went on to raise the same issue on a popular evening TV show in Hebrew as well. Responses have varied from gloating about the achievement to contesting the accuracy of the figures or belittling their significance given the unimpressive civic status of our village. Another prominent friend of mine, Adv. Jamil Dakwar, challenged me to respond to the debate. My own feeling is mixed: I feel proud, especially since Makbula credits me personally, as Arrabeh’s first native physician, with having something to do with the striking figures. Yet I feel a heavy sense of responsibility to act in a way to harness the positive promise of such a human resource. Makbula did allude to the need for and appropriateness of establishing a regional hospital. (Of course, concerned government officials would want such a facility to be established in Karmiel, if only those intransigent terrorist Bedouin squatters in Ramyeh would get off of their patch of land and let the state of the Jews develop the Galilee the right way for its rightful Jewish residents! But that is another issue.) Some 30 years ago, as the director of the Galilee Society for Health Research and Services, I proposed such a scheme to the three local authorities (Sakhnin, Arrabeh and Dier Hanna, then still fresh in people’s memory as the Land Day Triangle) and located potential funding resources in Europe. Faced with the inability to take the first step of securing the appropriate plot of land for the project, the plan was shelved. I agree that it is time to address this ambitious dream again. I know that the potential to lead such a project exists among the younger generation of physicians. That is the main source of my optimism on the matter.

The numbers that Makbula quotes are guarded. This summer our mayor participated in the graduation ceremonies of thirty Arrabeh physicians from medical schools in Romania and the Ukraine alone. There has to be more graduates from medical schools of other countries. And, of course, there are graduates in other fields as well. The accumulated number of university graduates in all fields is very impressive indeed. You can now have your new home plastered by a team of university graduates from Arrabeh. And, even if it were to leak or flake off, you can be sure that you will feel better about it because some of the plasterers will be psychologists, medical doctors and pharmacists.

But quite seriously, and speaking not of Arrabeh alone but of the Palestinian community in Israel at large, the numbers of new graduates in the health care field in recent years is strikingly high: There are programs in some East European universities and in Jordan that are tailor made specifically for our high school graduates. To understand the background to such developments let us go back in time to the mid 1980s: Dr. Anwar Awad (the first Arab medical graduate in Israel to have studied on a Communist Party scholarship) and I conducted a survey about the supply of Health manpower in our villages. The findings were presented at the First Health Conference in the Arab Community in Israel, held in Nazareth on April 12, 1986. Five years later in the Second Health Conference in 1991 I revisited the same subject of health manpower supply in our community. Here are some of the relevant observations on the subject based on the two papers:
1)   The number of physicians in our villages has increased at an exponential rate with the great majority of them graduating abroad. Two major hurdles facing our medical graduates were:
[i] The government exam that has been used as a valve to control the number of new graduates entering the medical care system and
[ii] Admission to specialty training in the various hospital departments.
My impression is that both of these roadblocks have been overcome to a large degree because of the system’s need for our foreign graduates to fill the growing demand for physicians in Israel at large. The competition from the Jewish majority seems to have diminished and hence the ease with which our medical graduates, mainly from overseas, can overcome the two mentioned hurdles. What lies behind this trend is not entirely clear to me. I suspect that many of the Jewish students in higher education opt for the more lucrative and relatively faster track of high tech thus decreasing the competition for entry to medical schools, to internships and to specialty training.
2)   Our medical graduates’ lack of emigration to first world countries, America being the prime destination of such brain drain, is an exception to the rule of the behavior of the educated class in third world communities. It is a fact that very little brain drain has occurred among our physicians. I hesitate to offer an explanation of this phenomenon but if I have to then my guess would be that our level of material comfort as medical practitioners is reasonable. After all, Israeli officials always point to medicine as a field that has the lowest level of discrimination. At the same time there is a high sense of belonging in our villages that borders on clannish attachment. Perhaps this combined with the acute awareness of the threat of ethnic cleansing from the creeping fascism of the settler colonialist political majority in Israel makes a decision to emigrate seem less attractive. Many seem to opt for sticking around and ‘plastering over’ all the rough spots.

To sum up I will draw on another ready source in responding to Ms. Nassar’s and Adv. Dakwar’s challenge: In the preface to my recently published collection of short stories from my medical practice in Arrabeh, Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor’s Tales of Life in Galilee (Just World Books, 2015,) I wrote:

“In the face of the current wave of distrust and enmity culminating in lynch mobs, I struggle to draw courage from my social surroundings: I ask a village neighbor about his family and he proudly announces that his firstborn is studying biochemical engineering in the USA. I wonder about the high expenses and he raises the electric saw high in his right arm and gives a proud buzz in response, his sweaty brow glistening in the light of the setting sun. I pay a visit to a younger colleague seeking his reassurance in the face of some compromised body functions of mine. He reminisces about his own father, a refugee who put his three boys, now a doctor, an architect and a physiotherapist, through university relying solely on the power of his biceps as a plasterer. My colleague flexes his arm in a proud show of sumud. A half dozen young doctors and nurses, all grand nephews and nieces, surround me for a photo at a relatives wedding and I feel proud beyond the fidelity and solidarity this implies: Yes, in the ‘state of the Jews’ education is the Palestinians’ strong card: We are proud sumud and education freaks. Entire families pool their combined labor wages to support a student through college. Young professionals are hard at work to guarantee their community a future and measure up to the high expectations of their hard slugging artisan fathers and mothers, descendants of land-stripped subsistence farmers. The practice and the tradition should be enough to sustain us in the face of the gathering storm.”

It is to Makbula’s credit to have raised this subject and especially to have rekindled interest in the dream scheme of a regional hospital, a dream that in a normal country should have already been a reality. Still, for the sake of accuracy I should point out before closing that to those among us who are familiar with the scientific use of statistics there is an obvious fallacy in taking our local numbers and comparing them to those from published international data. Our numbers relate to small data sets and comparisons to large data sets such as those for entire countries are misleading. Imagine me for example making a statement about my household where out of the two residents one is a physician. It is misleading, though factually accurate, to state that 50% of my reference population are physicians. The larger the numbers the more significant the conclusions one can draw.

Still, believe me, Arrabeh is the one and only.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Triple F

I am still readjusting to my summer routine at home in Galilee. I have no choice in subscribing to ‘Al-Ittihad,’ the only Arabic daily in the country. It is delivered to my front door whether I pay my subscription or not. And I do subscribe to the International New York Times mainly for the sophisticated four-dimensional Sudoku and the Jumble puzzle. With that comes the English Haaretz, selective and sanitized for English readers as I presume it is. I scan all three papers over a fresh cup of hazelnut drip coffee for a break from my morning writing routine. A constant supply of the scented delight is courtesy of dear friends in Hawaii. It usually works wonders in transforming one to the idyllic mood of vacationing in Hawaii.

But it is a bitch to read the news here; it is not about the surf on North Shore: “The people behind BDS are ‘the people responsible for 9/11, for the terror attacks in Madrid and London, and for the 250,000 people already killed in Syria,’ Yair Lapid, an Israeli ‘centrist’ opposition leader, tells a NY synagogue,” says one news item. I know I am innocent of all such accusations. Still, I add this one to the list of cautionary notes in the back of my mind; it is my responsibility to prove my innocence to my Jewish friend who will visit me later today. BDS sounds like Ebola. Would my sympathies with the movement cause him to die?

As if to confirm the guilt feeling gnawing at my subconscious another item speaks of the impending change in Israeli law that will do away with the need for prosecutors of Palestinian children accused of stone throwing to prove any intention to do harm to Israeli soldiers. Essentially, this will free the Israeli occupying forces from the standard procedure of extracting an admission of ill intent from Palestinian children. Everyone accused of such act will receive an automatic ten-year sentence. If you stop to think about it, this is a significant gesture of benevolence on Israel’s part. It frees the children, usually abducted from their beds at ungodly hours of the night, from the routine beatings to obtain those admissions of “intent to harm.” And the new law reduces the period from 20 to a mere 10 years in Israeli military prisons. Think of the benefits that accrue to the kids on the way, a free rounded education: you learn Hebrew from your jailors and the basic tenants of Islamic religion from jailed Hamas functionaries.

And there is the snippet I had already seen on Facebook: Israeli police train their dogs, usually German shepherds (I know every thing Germans is bad for Jews but these are mainly for use against Arabs) to attack the source of any cry of “Allahu akbar!”—God is great, one of the most commonly used phrases in the Arabic language. It is a compulsory part of a Moslem’s prayer routine. By my calculation, Moslems are required to repeat “Allahu akbar” 102 times a day at a minimum during their five prayer sessions. Just imagine an army division with their trained dogs passing by a mosque at prayer time. And you automatically blurt out the phrase anytime you are upset by something you see or hear. Here, for example, I find it hard to refrain from asking for God’s wrath to be poured on the infidels’ heads by shouting “Allahu akbar!” myself. One has to be very careful though. Not long ago a religious Jew with questionable mental faculties decided to test the system’s alertness by shouting the Islamic phrase at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall and was shot on the spot by a vigilant guard.

It is beyond my ability, intellectually and emotionally, to recount all the upsetting news I read at one sitting. But some have a unique flavor that causes one to drool were they not so stupid. Take for example the headline spread across the entire front page: Aida Touma Heads the Parliamentary Committee on the Status of Women. Then in smaller letters the clearly bragging statement that she is the first Arab ever to head a parliamentary committee. How many committees does the Knesset have? And how many sessions has the Israeli parliament had? We are talking of hundreds if not thousands of opportunities for such a precedent to be set. No one seems to have the intellectual courage or honesty to ask the question, not among the slighted 20% minority or among the aggressor majority. And this is the democracy stick with which Israel defenders hit us over the head every time we complain: Israel is a democracy and you have the right to vote.

At a lecture last night, my friend Gideon Levy expressed his support for the one-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. “It is already one state. What is left is to struggle for equal rights for all who reside between the river and the sea.” To illustrate the daunting nature of the challenging task facing all of us believers in the one-state cause he mentioned the fact that Mekurot, the Israeli water supply company, charges Palestinians in the occupied West Bank five times what it charges settlers there. The obvious solution is to end occupation and demand equality for occupied Palestinians by granting them citizenship. Except that now I read in the paper that on average the Ministry of the Interior grants Jewish citizens of Israel five fold what it grants Arab citizens in budgetary support to their respective local authorities.

Gideon, it is your ethnicity, not your citizenship that makes the difference.
We are talking not of Palestinians under occupation but of those of us who were “liberated” nearly seven decades ago to be among the first citizens of the state. But “our” state has defined us out of its Jewish essence. We are no longer even fit to be its “hewers of wood and carriers of water,” witness its continued importation of foreign labor while our unemployment rate sores in the double-digit range. The news from China is that it will not permit its citizens to be employed in the OTs. The commentators are outraged by this ‘political’ move. My own interpretation is that it is tit for tat. It is in response to the new rule that Israel is imposing on members of the imported Chinese labor force. They, almost exclusively men, are now required to sign a binding document, a pledge to abstain from sex while in Israel. Standard racial purity practices, you know! It must feel good to be a Palestinian laborer from the Occupied Territories in comparison, at least in consideration of quelling basic sexual urges even when there is little difference in terms of anatomical structures. At least you get to escape from the temporary shacks you construct as shelters at the construction sites and go home once a month to practice sex with your own kind, even at the risk of damaging the said tools, what with climbing across barbwire fences and jumping over high walls with glass shards.

It is enough to give one a case of mortal despair, this Israeli democracy. Recently, at a lecture I gave at a hospital in the USA I used the F-word in referring to the results of the recent Israeli elections. A gentleman objected sharply saying: “You can’t mean that. You can’t refer to anything in Israel as fascist.” I asked him what did he call a country where at football games and political rallies calls of “Death to Arabs’ ring out regularly and the system doesn’t bat an eyelash? He got up and left in anger at my impudence. I want the creep to come and read the paper with me right now. I want to rub his nose in it. Yes: F…! F…! F…!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Requited Obsession: Rachel Corrie and Light at the End of the Tunnel 

Jun 4 2015 / 1:13 pm 
The Corries are so faithful to Rachel’s vision of peace and justice that they let it take over their lives.
The Corries are so faithful to Rachel’s vision of peace and justice that they let it take over their lives. 
By Hatim Kanaaneh
April 5, 2015
My romance with Americans began on October 15, 1960 when I disembarked from my trans-Atlantic flight in pursuit of higher education. It has continued to grow and accumulate ever since to where it now regularly overflows my reality and floods my dreams.
Last night I received notice that the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice will host a book function for me in Olympia. I had read Rachel’s posthumous book, “My Name is Rachel Corrie” and it shines in my soul with the effect of a bright sunrise. I fall asleep after listening on the Real News Network to Paul Jay interviewing Cindy and Craig Corrie. This dawn, upon arising, I listen to all three parts again. Then, on the nippy early spring morning, I accompany my eight-year old granddaughter to her school. As we walk at the edge of the park, I muss Laiali’s silky mane to call her attention to a flock of pigeons flying overhead in formation. She gives me a sleepy-eyed smile and I shiver: She is neither green-eyed nor blonde. But I clearly caress Rachel Corrie’s head as I stroke Laiali’s hair. On the bus we sit on opposite seats. She pulls out her Kindle to read. That girl will get ahead, I tell myself, pride brimming in my heart; she will go places. Malaika, her ninth-grade sister is closer to the finish line, studying French, Chinese and Arabic and engaging in school projects addressing world-level issues. How much pride, pleasure and, yes, pain will we all reap from her ambitious insistence on making the world a better place? A young woman in shoulder-length blonde hair shakes her head in apparent disgust as she drops the New York Times on her seat. “It is a troubled world,” she wants to say. “And our media is of no help.” She exits the bus at the back door beaming a smile at me. Did she wave? How could two women look so much alike! But no, this one wears an Afro hairdo. She is an African Rachel Corrie! How can that be?!
As Laiali and I hold hands and walk sideways to slice into the breeze off the Hudson we hear a loud “Shalom!” It is another parent we had seen only a day earlier at a friend’s home where we were invited for Passover Seder.
“Salam!” I respond. “She is learning Arabic from her friend, one of the Nasrallah boys in Gaza,” I blurt confused.
Laiali looks askance at me and hides in my coat from the chill wind.
“Are you ok Sidi?” she asks.
Heading back alone, I hurry diagonally across Washington Square Park toward my apartment building. I halt midway. Green-eyed blonde young women enter the park from all its eight entrances. They converge at me from every direction. I resist the urge to call 9-11. Instead I resort to a gentle plea:
“Please Rachel, leave me alone. I have a function to attend, a reading from my new book.”
“Am I in it? Did you address issues of concern to me?”
“Yes, indeed, my friend. It is all about you and your issues, about our common humanity.”
“And Gaza?”
“Yes, Gaza, and Iraq and Vietnam before it and about the International Court of Justice.”
“Ok, then you can go!”
A warm feeling spreads like a tsunami from my belly to my chest and out to my head and extremities. Hot flashes? For a man? At my age?
Like the prophet Mohammad was reported to have done when he first received his holy mission, I crash in my bed shivering. Shortly, I wake up from a vivid dream in which I speak at the Rachelle Corrie Foundation for Justice and Freedom in Olympia, her hometown in Washington State. I see myself addressing a crowd with Cindy and Craig Corrie sitting in the first row:
“Moslems, the world over, are required to pay a visit to their holiest of holies in Mecca. In the new faith that I hereby decree, Palestinians everywhere are commanded at pain of God’s wrath to ascend to your Olympian shrine a minimum of once in a lifetime ‘liman istata’a ‘ilayhe sabila.’ Here I am, your humble servant, fulfilling my faith’s command, for I am ‘able to make the way’ to your shrine. As for all of you sinners, Palestinian and otherwise, the Rachel Corrie Foundation is the site to seek salvation. Come one; come all; confess and be saved. Come all ye sinners and be purified of the arrogance of militarism, of the violent racism of the occupier and of the bent-up anger and vengeful thoughts of the occupied. Admit your sins and be forgiven: The captain who killed little Iman Darwish Al-Hams and then “went out and emptied his gun into this girl, saying that he was confirming the kill of a 13-year-old child;” the commanders who are proud to consider themselves above the law; Supreme Court judges who put Israeli soldiers above accountability and the international law; and soldiers who would claim that they were following orders if only Nuremberg had not already found them to be still culpable. Come and learn from the example of Rachel, our high priestess, how to be human. Then you will be able to deal with your nightmares and to survive your urge to commit suicide. Come to New York for Rachel’s birthday on April 10 and be enlightened by her example as she presents her play ‘My Name Is Rachel Corrie.’
“You never knew, Rachel, that in a distant village in Galilee, where Jesus, the son of Mary, once trod, another native son held your hand in friendship across time and space. I had no way of discovering it then but, yes, I always knew you in my dream of a better world brimming with justice and concern for the other. In the cold winter nights of my deprived childhood I snuggled to my mother and you warmed my body and heart. In the loneliness of my exile from my home and native culture in search of a better future, your image kept me company and inspired me with tenderness, love and friendship. And when I cuddled my children to sleep, you smiled at me through their eyes reassuring us all of a better future. How can I pay you back, Rachel?
“Most of us have five senses. Few lucky ones have extra sensory perception. You, Rachel, had a well-developed facility for detecting human suffering. You glowed with justice and equality. Rays emanated from your inner being to circumvent the globe and pick up messages of distress from its four corners. Scanning the globe you knew that, for humanity at large, the litmus test for compassion was the individual’s level of sympathy with the Palestinian people, the pain he or she felt for them “because Gaza is one of the most forsaken places in the world.” That challenged you. The International Solidarity Movement gave the answer. You left the world of ample opportunity and crossed the privilege divide choosing to come to our side. Physically and emotionally you connected the disenfranchised in Rafah and Olympia. You chose to educate America about the facts filtered out by their reporters’ mikes and the TV screens in the comfort of their living rooms, about the meaningful things in life: the dignity of the powerless and how they hold on to hope. Armed with your compassion and convictions and a luminescent orange vest you travelled to Gaza to practice your nonviolent direct action against belligerence. And to stop the dehumanization of Palestinians. You gave Palestinians in Gaza an audible voice and a visible image. And you stood there in contrast to the violence that the mere presence of armed soldiers, tanks and bulldozers in an otherwise normal neighborhood constituted. By your insistent presence you resisted the occupiers’ inherent racism and their dehumanizing of us, Palestinians. You “refused to look away from marginalized people” or to blink facing aggression. And you won. For all of us. For all humanity.
“When the powerful wouldn’t allow the UN to send observers to Gaza you decided to shoulder the world’s responsibility of protecting its weak from the wrath of their oppressors. There is the emblematic Palestinian child confronting a tank with a fistful of stones. And there is you holding your blow horn against the weaponized D-9 Caterpillar.
‘She was a brilliant, bright and amazing person, immensely brave and committed,’ Tom Dale, your British fellow ISM volunteer declares.
‘As the bulldozer approached [Rachel] stood her ground. Rachel was wearing an orange fluorescent jacket,’ Greg Schnabel, another US ISM volunteer says.
‘We thought this might happen eventually. We often spoke in the abstract that eventually one of us would get killed, but we always figured they’d shoot us, or it’d be an “accident”, like in a house that is missiled or a stray bullet gets an unlucky activist. I never dreamed it’d be like this, the intentional crushing of a human being,’ Joe Smith, a third ISM volunteer says.
‘I think my back is broken,’ were your last words gasped to your friend Alice. But it was only the human tissues that yielded. Your spirit still stands its ground against the injustice in Rafah, against the dictates that ‘Each time there’s any resistance, we need to take another row of houses.’
‘How far?’ we, humans, ask.
‘Up to the next row of houses,’ the Israeli zombie commander answers.
“Cindy, your mother, relates an experience of regaining her joy of life through a mystical experience on a moon-lit night in a mountain wilderness. Suddenly, ‘all the color came back into my life,’ she says. Thanks for shining those lights for her and for all of us. Craig, your father, says that he inherited some friends and a cause from you. Thank you for introducing us. You proved George W Bush wrong. You knew I didn’t hate your parents for their freedom.
“Standing here before you, Rachel, I am reminded of the awe that overwhelmed me when I first viewed the Himalayas from the shores of Lake Pokara. You bring home to me my utter insignificance. And yet you reassure me of the power of my human love and creativity. I salute you from the bottom of my heart with all my feelings, intellect and physical being. As Mahmoud Darwish sang to his mother I sing to you, Rachel:
‘Take me as a veil to your eyelashes
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps
Bind us together
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails from the back of your dress
So I might become immortal
Become a God.’”
May 23, 2015
We have been guests of Olympia for two days and the reality outshines the dream. The peacefulness of the place and its people drives one sane. We ask to visit three sites. Cindy and Craig gracefully accompany us and answer our questions. At the modest offices of the Rachel Corrie Foundation quiet energy overflows the space. Dedicated volunteers sit with Cindy around a table peering in their laptops, recording in notebooks, opening envelopes, sealing others and keeping the outside world at bay with the pleasant smiles on their faces. Rachel oversees the quiet buzz from her panoramic perch in Jerusalem’s sky in the portrait hanging on the wall by the entrance, a personal gift from Arafat to the bereaved parents before he joined Rachel as another Shaheed of the cause. Did the same arrogant claimants to the exclusive right to holiness pluck them both off? I attended Rachel’s court case and have no doubt who and why she was martyred. I don’t know much about Arafat’s case.
Craig takes us to the Olympia-Rafah mural, a 400-square-meter rough wall covered by the image of an ancient olive tree, not unlike the one in my front yard back in Arrabeh. Except that each of its stylized leaves carries an image, a message from an artist or a group in one of 120 countries. Craig explains what messages some of the artwork carries. Two images nest in my head and explode to fill my consciousness: One is a photo of some children in Gaza, one of them cuddling a rabbit. The distraught child needed consolation and the psychologist recommended getting her an animal friend. On the wall she worships that rabbit in a physical and touching way. Another is of salmon fish swimming, jumping and dancing their way upriver to their spawning grounds, the same waters where they hatched, a local self-evident analogy of the right of return of Palestinians exiled from their homes and native land. And of the Israelis fishing them thin.
At the spacious yard fronting the hall housing Rachel’s memorial at her alma mater, Evergreen State College, Cindy recalls another anecdote that carries meaning beyond its simple narrative: Khalid Nasrallah, one of the Palestinian ‘terrorists’ whose house Rachel died defending, visited the spacious campus and stood where we now did. He looked around at the lush evergreen vegetation and said: “This is paradise! And Rachel left it and came to Gaza to help us!” Yes ISM volunteers leave beautiful lives and promising careers and follow the dictates of their conscience. And yes, Palestinians defined by Israel as terrorists, whether Fulbright scholars or sulfur-bomb amputees, are regularly found fit to obtain American visas. But Israel has succeeded to paint us all as the enemies of civilization, irredeemable ‘terrorists’ by birth.
I stand by the indoor memorial still contemplating my culpability. I stare at the metallic pyramid mounted at comfortable viewing height and am struck how the reflection of the title from the glass casing “Rachel Corrie 1979-2003” fits exactly under the peace dove perched atop the apex of the pyramid. Even more subtly, facing the shiny triangular surface, I view my own reflection in it and I get the message: We all are Rachel Corrie. Indeed, as we say our goodbyes, I fight my tears feeling diminished as I face the two stoic Corrie giants. For a moment I am back to my helpless childhood years, dependent on the loving care of others. I want these ideal parents to take me under their wing, to adopt me. As the infantile core I am reduced to grows again to my present old self I find reassurance in the commonality of goodwill. There is nothing in this average American couple to make them so special except the circumstances that demanded from them to stand up and be counted. And they have withstood the test of proving their humanity. They took a stand on the most flagrant ongoing human rights abuses on the face of the earth. Gaza lives in the conscience of the world in a great part thanks to them and to their, our, daughter Rachel.
That night the thought of the Corries’ example assaults my somnolent mind. It needs explaining. Math was once my strong point and this equation is simple: The Corries are so faithful to Rachel’s vision of peace and justice that they let it take over their lives. Rachel is their daughter. Others are related to her as well but to varying degrees: as siblings, friends, fellow Evergreen College alumni or citizens of Olympia. All these categories have born their relative share in sustaining Rachel’s legacy. Let us extend that equation out further and do the calculus. What about all the residents of Washington State? They can bear their share of commitment in proportion to their diminished connection to Rachel. In similar fashion and with relatively more miniscule degrees, so will citizens of the USA, sisters across the world and every member of the human race, each with his kernel of Rachel Corrie humanity. You see why I have hope! All we have to do is to spread the new faith.
As the Holy Quran promised us, “And its seal is musk”: With their acquired Palestinian sensibility, the Corries accede to the wishes of local Palestinian friends. We are hosted at the beautiful home of the Bushnaqs, fellow countrymen of nearly the same age as we are. Reminiscing over what is sure to be the best cardamom-scented sweet Arabic coffee this side of the Mississippi, we discover multiple layers of friendship and interrelated connections going all the way back to birthplaces less than 50 miles apart. As we enjoy the waterfront verdant ambiance we plot our future get-togethers. And we leave Olympia to link up to two other friends in the environs of Seattle one after the other. The one was an intern at the Galilee Society over two decades ago and the other a volunteer at the organization at its inception a decade before that.
Mahmoud Darwish said it before me: “There are things in this life worth living for.” The world is full of goodwill. Ariel Sharon and the drivers of his weaponized Caterpillars did not taint the whole of humanity in the eyes of the Corries or of the Palestinians. Netanyahu and his ilk will fail at the attempt as well. For me, the example of the Corries will keep the light at the end of the tunnel lambent.