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My interlocutor, who was coming from the land of Uncle Sam through Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan and then to Damascus, said to me, “I was amazed how small the area of conflict is; judging by the news space it occupies, I expected that it would cover oceans!” Why then have I, with millions of other people, been walking towards Jerusalem for the last forty years and yet failed to reach it? Why then, during the same forty years, has the number of Christians in Jerusalem decreased from 50,000 to 10,000 as a result of Israeli policy of moving Palestinian Christians and Muslims, and replacing them with extremist Jewish settlers? This takes place from Jerusalem to Safed, Hebron, Askalan and now to Acre, Haifa and Jaffa. No one in the world protests against it as they claim to protest against the fate of the Christians in Iraq’s Mosul. That is because those who are accused of implementing such policies in Palestine are not “Muslim extremists” but “Jewish extremists” and no one dare condemn the crimes perpetrated by Jewish extremists against Christians and Muslims in Palestine. The world media devotes pages and pages to someone’s right in China, or Russia, or Egypt, to write a column or give a speech but it devotes no space whatsoever to the rights of Palestinians to live free and dignified lives on their own lands. It is as if human rights do not include the right to live, move, travel, study and the right to have a passport and national and human identity. Despite the fact that over a million people were killed in Iraq, no one protested against squandering the basic right of these people to have lived. No one objects to the kidnapping and imprisonment of over 11,000 Palestinians and to the cruel depravation of their right to be free. Or do human rights only apply to the people of the West, while Arabs, Asians and Africans do not enjoy equal human rights?

Despite all that is happening, Arab media continues to say that danger is looming on Jerusalem and the Palestinians. Danger is already afflicting Jerusalem, Hebron, Acre and every other town and village in Palestine. Yet, no one in the world stops to object to crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians. If, for a moment, we can imagine the outcry if these measures had been taken against any Western society anywhere, we would realize the extent to which the treatment of the Palestinians is incomprehensible. It only becomes comprehensible if we remind ourselves of the racist stands uttered by many Israeli officials calling for the death of Palestinians, or demanding 6 bodies of Palestinians a day, or describing them as a cancer that has to be obliterated.

Israel is home to the youngest prisoner in the world; Yousef Al-Zeq, who is barely two years of age, and where the only elected parliament speaker and members of parliament were driven to prison immediately after they were elected in the most transparent elections that were monitored and praised by former US President Jimmy Carter. Besides taking their land and water, the Israelis are stealing Palestinian music, art, and even food by registering Arab traditional dishes as Jewish dishes. For those who think this is silly and insignificant, they should recall what happened to the Arab civilization in Andalusia and to the Maya and Inka civilizations and the Aborigines that are similar to our civilization in their spirituality.

The question is why don’t we write our stories and take them to the parliaments and universities of Western countries to make them wake up? We, the Arabs, who are the forefathers of storytelling, are not writing our own stories today. What are the Arab writers, Arab parliamentarians and Arab lawyers doing if they cannot take the cases of Palestinians and Iraqis to the rest of world?! The Palestinian issue is not an issue of donation and subsistence; it is an issue of politics and political rights that require political stands. The Arabs have to learn a very important lesson from Palestinian women. When a Palestinian woman covers the olive tree with her body to protect it from the Israeli bulldozer, that woman knows through intuition that the uprooting of the tree is the uprooting of her and her family, and that saving the tree means saving the Palestinians and their way of life.

My interlocutor asked me, “If you have this vision and know the way, then what are you waiting for?” I said we are waiting for the collective Arab will to take the initiative and tell our story to the world which, with no doubt, will support us to reclaim our rights and live in equal dignity.

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is political and media advisor to the Syrian presidency, and the former minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer, and has been a professor at Damascus University since 1985. She received her PhD in English Literature from Warwick University, London. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

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