September 10, 2009
Dear President Carter,
In Arrabeh, my Palestinian hometown in Galilee I also am considered an elder. Hardly a day passes by that I don’t receive gifts of food and when I speak a good number of people take what I say seriously. Like you and Rosalyn I have dedicated my life to improving people’s health and advocating for peace. Except that I had decided to act locally starting with my own people. This was not out of any lack of choices. I had finished my studies of Medicine and Public Health at Harvard and put aside my American dream of material comforts to return to my village and serve nonstop for close to four decades. I say all of this to gain some credibility with you, hopefully enough to encourage you to read the rest of what I have to say.
Let me start at a personal level by thanking you and Rosalyn for fasting with the people of Gaza and for praying for their deliverance from their merciless imprisonment. I am extremely moved by this sincere gesture; it nearly brings tears to my eyes because spending a day of prayer and fasting was what my late mother, a simple illiterate Palestinian peasant woman, did whenever she lost a child. I am tempted to call on all decent people in the world to fast for one day every time a child dies unnecessarily in Palestine or in Israel. But that may mean spending a lifetime of prayer and fasting.
Seeing your piece on behalf of The Elders in Sunday’s Washington Post resurrected in me the faint hope that the world will finally come to understand that the two-state solution for Israel/Palestine is actually dead and gone. Despite your diplomatic hesitance to announce its final demise your assertion that “a more likely alternative to the present debacle is one state …” should now shift the goal of all peace-loving people of the world to the struggle for equality and to end the apartheid practiced in all of historical Palestine west of the Jordan River. Let me right away share with you a personal secret: I have never felt superior to any other human being and have always successfully overcome any sense of inferiority even when in the presence of such bullies as the top echelon of the current Israeli government. And mind you, I have nothing to face their consistent threats of ethnic cleansing against me except for my reliance on the goodwill of people like you and your fellow Elders and, for a fleeting moment there, of President Obama. So, you understand, I am secure in the knowledge that the exclusionary claims of one race to my home will not stand the scrutiny of the world, elemental justice, or the common sense that will ultimately overcome all else. You see, Mr. President, I can make a more valid claim to ancient roots in this land, whither Canaanite or Jewish, than all those bullies combined. And all I am asking for is to be their equal as a citizen.
And let me thank you, Mr. President, on behalf of all Palestinians for your courage in ‘opening Pandora’s box’ a while back as well by recognizing in your book what is happening in the Palestinian Occupied Territories as apartheid. As a result now only few diehard Zionists deny it. I realize, of course, that for diplomatic and pragmatic considerations you chose to limit that accurate characterization to Israel’s practices beyond the Green Line. As one who has experienced it on my own skin for six out of my seven decades of life, I can testify to the accuracy of the characterization as applied within that imaginary line, whatever hue it has since taken, as well. For reasons of space limitation and so as not to overstay my welcome in this attempt to hold your attention I will refrain from venturing into any details to support my claim. Suffice it to say that a fellow Jewish activist, Uri Davis, and I have talked about it nearly two decades ago and he went on to document it in some detail.
Should this arouse your curiosity I would be delighted to invite you to hear the full details of what befell the Palestinian near 20% minority in ‘Israel proper’ at the time of al-Nakba and ever since. A small group of Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel is struggling with the task of holding a session of the International Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Palestine here in Nazareth. Our chosen topic is the war crimes committed in 1948 with a sharp focus on one single community, possibly the ancient village of Saffuriyya. We envision this as the first step toward our “Truth and Reconciliation” process. I am sure my colleagues on the BRTP National Committee would be honored to invite you and/or Rosalyn to sit as judges in this peoples’ court. Should you accept this invitation, and apropos of Saffuriyya, I would be happy to arrange an alternative tour of Galilee for you which I guarantee will be no less interesting and enlightening than The Elders day in Bil’in. Perhaps it will be guided by the ‘present absentee’ Suffouriyyan Poet, my friend Taha Muhammad Ali. He has been acclaimed as “perhaps the most accessible and delightful poet alive today”. To give you just a taste of his stuff, here is how he describes his community’s experience of violent expulsion from their homes(as translated from Arabic by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin in “So What: New & Selected Poems”):
We did not weep
when we were leaving –
for we had neither time nor tears,
and there was no farewell.
We did not know
at the moment of parting
that it was a parting, so where would our weeping
have come from?
And if such a tour pans out, then I will insist on hosting you in my home in the best tradition of Palestinian hospitality as depicted in another of Taha’s poems:
In his life
didn’t raise his voice to a soul
except in his saying:
“Come in, please,
by God, you can’t refuse.”
And I can assure you,
were he to encounter
the entire crew
of the aircraft carrier Enterprise,
he’d serve them eggs
fresh from the bag.
And yet I do have a special offer to make. On your visit to my home I will treat you to a magic moment in the shade of the multi-millennia olive tree in my front yard. But I will stop here. If you are really interested you can check the link to another unsolicited letter I just wrote to another contemporary human rights fighter of mine, Jane Fonda:
http://a-doctor-in-galilee.blogspot.com/2009/09/open-letter-of-welcome-to-jane-fonda.html Or you can read about my tree and my roots in the last chapter of my book, “A Doctor in Galilee”.
Till we meet and with highest regards,
Hatim Kanaaneh, MD, MPH
Author of 'A Doctor in Galilee: the Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel', Pluto Press, 2008
Active Blog: http://a-doctor-in-galilee.blogspot.com/