Monday, September 7, 2009

An Open Letter of Welcome to Jane Fonda

Sept. 5, 2009

Dear Jane,

Welcome aboard to the rank and file of those working for peace and justice in the Middle East. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that the day will come when I would be a step ahead of you in another effort to save humanity from itself. In the heady days of the nineteen sixties I marched against the war in Vietnam because you did. You were then, and you still are today, an idol of worship and adulation to me and my generation. To read now of your joining ‘my’ struggle for justice for the Palestinians, another different people in another faraway land, is as fantastic, refreshing and inspiring as reading the news of Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter fasting with the people of Gaza. Imagine how stirring such news to a people on the verge of losing hope in all of humanity for the way it has abandoned them.

As I read the news of your joining the group of more than 50 prominent international filmmakers, writers, artists and academics who have signed a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s spotlighting of Israel in its forthcoming season I am tempted to embark on a range of grandiose schemes: I want to write the signatories to invite all of them to join the Palestinian Friday Bil’in villager’s demonstration against the apartheid wall that had separated them from their olive fields and farmland just as the group of The Elders did recently. But then Bil’in is in another land illegal for me to enter and its people are another people illegal for me to contact; on occasion I sneak illegally there and join the demonstration. But should I one day fall in love with a fellow Palestinian from Bil’in she can never join me in my home in Galilee. My Jewish neighbor not only can fall in love and marry across borders but is actively encouraged to do so provided the bride is another Jew who would help buttress Israel’s Jewishness. Can you comprehend the underlying racism!

So let us leave Bil’in alone for now. I am dreaming instead of hosting you in my neck of the woods, in Galilee, the stomping ground of the youthful Jesus. It would be indeed an honor to serve as your guide on your pilgrimage here. I am not a Christian but I do revere Jesus and know well his hometown of Nazareth where I attended high school a few years before we ‘met’ on those anti-war marches in California and DC. And if you want a more faith-based tour then Dolores, my wife and fellow marcher from the 1960s could do the honor of guiding you to all the holy sights of Nazareth. Incidentally, did you know that as a Muslim and a Christian we couldn’t have married across the denominational boundary in Israel? Be that as it may, we both would love to accompany you on your tour of Galilee and could take you to the homes of some of our Jewish friends.

And in Nazareth I would like to introduce you to my friend, Taha Muhammad Ali, acclaimed as “probably the most accessible and delightful poet alive today.” And while you chose some of the souvenirs on display in his shop I will impose on him to read us in his own hesitant and raspy septuagenarian voice from his “Revenge’ poem. Here for your perusal is how Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin translate it from the Arabic original
At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.


Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.


But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

And if the spirit moves you, you may want to accompany Taha on a brief tear-jerking visit to the ruins of his village Saffuriyya, from which he and his family were violently expelled to make place for Jewish immigrants in turn unwanted in their place of residence in Christian Europe. We all share a measure of guilt for what happened to Jews in Europe, if for nothing else then at least for belonging to the same species as those Nazi monsters. But then again, you also share your cultural roots with them while Taha and I wound up paying up the guilt money for ‘your’ crime. Sorry to bring this up but every once in a while one needs to state the obvious just for the record.

Let me make that up to you, Jane! I will invite you to a cup of coffee, my special brew of hazelnut flavored Kona coffee (my wife is from Hawaii and we are kept in good supply of the world famous bean by friends and relatives in the islands) sipped in the afternoon Mediterranean breeze in the shade of the multi-millennia-old Roman olive tree in my front yard. You see, in the 1948 Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), for reasons beyond our comprehension, we were spared the same fate as Taha’s and I still live on land that has been in my family for so many generations I have lost count. Apparently my folks came from the original stock of this area, Canaanites (for that is where my family name derives from) who may have intermixed with another Semitic group, the Jews and possibly adopted their faith converting later to Christianity and then, later yet, to Islam with all the attendant admixture of genes from all the conquerors who crisscrossed the region: Hyksos, Egyption, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Persian, crusaders, … and the list goes on. I can hardly prove any of this to you, but neither can those who subscribe to the biblical myths of King David et. al. and of the Hebraic ethnic identity of all of Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews prove any of their claims.

But I digress. Back to my invitation: You have to come for your visit soon. A bully, recently arrived from Moldova, plans to take my home, garden and olive tree away from me and to send me packing across the border I don’t exactly know to where. And the man is no small fry; he is the foreign minister of the most powerful country and the only nuclear power in the Middle East, sustained, aided and abetted by your country. And his plan is acceptable to the clear majority of my fellow citizens of Israel. Perhaps if you come to visit me I can explain more. But do come because your visit may well give another glimpse of hope for all of the desperate peaceniks here, Arabs and Jews alike.

I am vain enough to think that you, Joan Baez and I stopped the Vietnam War. Perhaps we can change the course of history here as well.
By the way, whatever happened to Joan?

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