(Not So) Happy Birthday To Me
It’s 6 am Sunday morning here. I’ve been home for a little more than 24 hours and still extremely jet-lagged; fell asleep at 7 or 8 o’clock last night and finding myself completely awake by 2 or 3 in the morning. I’ve been lying here since 3 am, in and out of light lucid dreams or reading with a flashlight while the rest of the house is dark, quiet and still fast asleep.
Re-integration back into what we call the normal world hasn’t been easy so far. I expected this but didn’t realize it would be so difficult. I can’t get the horrifying state of the Israeli-Palestinian situation out of my mind. In every way it’s a horror, from the heart aching and desperate occupation the Palestinian people live under to the big lie that Israelis are forced to constantly keep at bay from the rest of the world (not to mention what must be a terrifying fear of eventual retaliation…) It’s all I think about, all I’ve been able to think about since being there. It’s always simmering in my heart and mind. Front and center. All I’ve been able to think about is how soon I can return and in what capacity I can be of service when I do.
For some reason this trip was different. Different than all the others over the years. I spent an hour tonight between and 2 and 3 am reading one of the many socio-political books I’m in the middle of that analyze the history of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fell back asleep. Woke up an hour later, read a little more, and now here I sit writing in the cold and dark of night a few hours before the anniversary of the date and time of my birth.
Normally birthdays are a relatively celebratory event for me. Always have been. I’ve never been one to make a big deal of them one way or the other, as some people turn them into an easy opportunity to bitch about how much they detest getting older, I usually find them to be a pretty solid opportunity to take things easy and enjoy a day, recognizing that they really aren’t much but one more revolution around the sun. Another day has passed and that’s just about the most one can say about them. But this year is different. Truth be told I had completely forgotten that the anniversary of my birth was even near due to how intense and challenging this trip to Israel-Palestine was the last two weeks. There was barely time for food sleep rest or bathing, let alone the itinerant reading writing Hebrew studies and note taking. Birthdays were the furthest thing from my mind.
This morning at about 1:30 am I picked up my phone to take some notes in an attempt to relieve some of the maddening thoughts circling my conscious thoughts, hoping that perhaps that might make it easier to fall back asleep, when I noticed an inordinately large number of notifications from Facebook on my phone, most of them having something to do with birthday wishes. Europe and Asia must be awake now. It was a surreal feeling. I was half asleep. And had completely forgotten that my birthday was coming up. I had awoken in a heart pounding sad and tearful sweat, still shaken, angry and disturbed. The notice of birthday wishes appearing out of nowhere just made everything seem that much more surreal.
For the last two weeks I and the others on this latest trip to the Middle East had been living in a steaming cauldron of fast paced movement and action, of intense heat from the Mediterranean sun and the trauma of human suffering; of intense debate and a proximity to crisis and tragedy that even the most experienced among us were not used to. Refugee camps with hundreds of thousands of people living with little food and no water, an entire race of people living under an occupation that is at best unsympathetic to their suffering to say the least. Light hearted birthday wishes casually posted to social media in light of all this made for a disturbing return to what I had previously labeled as normalcy. I am not unappreciative. On the contrary. I am always and forever grateful to be the Ambassador, to have so many friends, to have so many good ones, and for the chance to forget if even for a moment why my heart feels so heavy and my head so achy.
If only I could shake the images from my memory. If only I could find within me a desire to. More than anything it is that: I find it challenging to believe that anyone cursed with seeing the plight of the modern Palestinian up close and in person in their own homeland could find within themselves a desire to feel anything but severe empathetic pain, an aching emptiness and an extreme anger. Birthdays be damned. What we witnessed is a crisis of staggering and historic proportions. Happening right now. In modern times. Right around the corner from our heavily glorious and material, cloistered, cynical and ironically perfect world. How could we all live and love so easily and not know about this suffering? How is it possible?
These were the thoughts that I fell asleep to every night for the last two weeks. And woke up with. The difference being that up until last night I was THERE, in the thick of it, still able to trick my mind into believing that being there I was somehow capable of doing something to help. Now that I am back in the States, being able to help feels like a far away notion. The relatively simple aspects of modern life in the US, even the problems, as severe as they may seem to some — joblessness, government shutdown, political gridlock — appear small and petty compared to what we saw on a daily basis in the ancient land of Canaan.
The idea that very soon I must force myself to awaken to a house full of smiles cheers and celebration, of sparkly balloons and glistening presents that I don’t really need, has my stomach in knots. I cannot blame anyone here for what I experienced nor for being unaware of how intense it was, nor for wanting to celebrate my birth. If anything I should be feeling thankful. And somewhere within me I am. Or at least I want to be.. They don’t know the extent of the Palestinian crisis any more than I did two weeks ago. Sure we hear about it now and then. But we hear about a lot of things. And that’s different than seeing any of it in person.
And that’s the problem really. That’s the BIG problem. When it comes to Israel/Palestine, we don’t hear about what’s really going on, not even a little bit. We hear a LOT about Israelis and their fear of Iran’s nuclear program, along with our mandatory obligation to assuage their fears with our unbridled support and sympathy. But we hear absolutely nothing about the real story on the ground in Israel: the millions of native people living under near apartheid circumstances in abject poverty under police state conditions constantly afraid for their lives and lacking in almost every basic human need like food water housing and electricity, let alone freedom and liberty. THIS is the story of Israel. And this is something we never hear about. At least not in America and certainly not in the mainstream press.
The real horror in Israel is that there is a massive coverup regarding how bad things are for the native population there, what the world calls the Palestinians; and the fact that decades are going by and nothing ever gets done on their behalf. In fact most people don’t even realize that there’s a problem. If anything, the majority of Americans assume the problem “over there” is “terrorism”, when that’s the least of the real problem. (In fact that’s a symptom of the problem, a logical effect of it, backlash from it…) What’s happening in Israel is nothing short of a slow systematic genocide of an entire people. A native people who have been there for thousands of years. Ironically being perpetrated by another people who know genocide better than most. That part only adds to the disturbing nature of the whole mess.
Unlike other places I’ve traveled to research or try to help, there is no UN or Red Cross or Red Crescent there working on things to make them better. In Colombia and Africa things were bad, yes, but one walks away with hope because the world community is fully awake regarding the tragedies of these places and doing their best to try to help. Hell, we helped while there, building houses or hospitals and community centers. Israel is different. Millions of people flock to the land as if it’s Asia’s Disney World due to the so-called scared sites there associated with the three major religions of the world and that’s what you see: mobs of tourists rushing in and out of tourist sites, bringing in a ton of money for the official government there, and in the meantime the West Bank and Gaza where the majority of the Palestinians live look like abandoned deserts filled with garbage and disease, poverty and despair; surrounded by giant concrete walls with a gun tower at every ten to twenty feet housing an armed Israeli guard inside of it casually aiming a machine gun down at the village people below.
There is no UN or Red Cross presence. No feeling of hope or encouragement that we are slowly improving their plight as in other areas if the world. It’s a terror zone filled with a forgotten and desperate people being controlled by another group of people who are living the good life thanks to billions of dollars in annual aid and military support by the United States and other major nations around the world. I can’t shake the sick twisted-in-knots feeling from my stomach. And I can’t seem to feel any desire at all to focus on anything small or meaningless here at home. Problem is, everything seems small and meaningless here compared to there. I’ve spoken to a few of the others who were also on the trip and they’re experiencing similar feelings. It’s not as if we haven’t seen poverty disease and despair before. We have. It’s our chosen lot in life so to speak. It’s a charge that we’ve deliberately answered with a resounding “YES we will help! It’s our duty to stand up and do our best to help and we will.”
But Israel-Palestine is completely different. I would never have said this before we went there. But there is a deliberate conspiracy on the part of the Israeli and American government to NOT recognize or inform the general public about what is happening there to the native Palestinian people. That’s the difference. In that respect it is similar to Arabia, where the United States claims to only support freedom and democracy around the world but is deliberately supporting a fascist monarchy — the Saudi family, who viciously controls the entire country calling itself “a royal family” — to the point where the entire world calls the damn place “Saudi Arabia” not knowing that the “Saudi” part refers to the fascist monarch family who is in control of the whole people and does whatever it wants to with them, all with the support of the United States government in return for access to cheap oil. This is one of those conspiracies that 99% of Americans know absolutely nothing about. The same is true of Israel-Palestine. I just didn’t know it.
Ever since I’ve been on American soil I haven’t been able to feel “good”. I just keep thinking of the refugee camps, filthy and rotten smelling, crammed with hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families displaced from their homes for decades now and no access to water for days or weeks at a time. All the while the Israeli government has 100% control of and access to the water and knowingly dishes it out first to the Israelis, then to the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian land, and then last to the Palestinian people in the two designated plots of land left for them, less than 25% of the land they once roamed freely in for 3,000 years. A lack of access to basic needs like water is just one of the things you hear time and time again from every person you meet there… It’s hard to believe. You keep thinking that someone must have something wrong…. How can one group of people be so cruel to another…? And knowingly? But the more you study and learn and talk with people the more you realize that it’s just how things are there… It’s a savage set up. But it’s been that way for decades now. People have grown up with it. They’re grown accustomed to it.
It’s actually similar to Native American “indian reservations” in early America — except the Palestinians DO pay taxes and they are constantly bothered harassed and policed by the Israeli military. Besides the fact that their land is always slowly being encroached on and their homes slowly being taken away. I guess it’s more similar to the OLD way that indian reservations used to operate. Before the new US settlers nearly wiped them all out. But more than anything the real problem is that the “problem” is being deliberately hidden from the world. Americans hear about the safety and security of the state of Israel constantly. It’s one of the major talking points of American politicians. And for good reason: the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby in America is THE LARGEST lobby in America. Bigger than big oil. Bigger than pharmaceutical companies. Bigger than defense and weapons manufacturers. This means they donate more money to American politicians than any other industry in America. And money in America is how things get accomplished. No money = no attention or action for your cause. Big money = you’ll hear about the cause everywhere, from the side of cereal boxes to TV morning news shows. And that’s how America treats “the safety of the state of Israel”.
The only problem is that their safety is being promoted and protected at the expense of and on the backs of a native population there that is being highly discriminated against, abused and taken advantage of. To the point where I have serious concerns that if something is not done soon to help these people there might not be a Palestinian people around in another twenty years. I was always hesitant to jump on this particular bandwagon throughout my life as a human rights activist. I wanted to see and hear it first hand. Not just read about it. Sure I’ve read the same things everyone else has. The conspiracy about the Israeli lobby in America. The 3 billion dollars a year in aid and weapons we give them. The “inhuman genocide of the Palestinians at the hands of the wicked Israelis”… But when people talk all angry and conspiratorial and passionate like that it turns me off. Maybe they’re just being Chicken Llittles…? Looking for a cause instead of fighting for a real cause…. This is what I usually assumed.
Well now I’ve been there. Seen it with my own eyes. Smelled it. Touched it. Soiled myself in their fancy hotels while others just down the block go without basic needs for weeks at a time. It’s a sick set up. And it’s made all the sicker because of how secret and hidden it is. The activists who speak for the Palestinian people aren’t exaggerating. I can honestly vouch for that now. They’re not making it up. It has nothing to do with anti-semitism or terrorism. It’s just a very scared greedy and selfish people totally taking advantage of a weaker less supported and resourced people to the point where they may extinguish the very life out of them in our lifetime. As long as the rest of the world doesn’t become aware of how poorly Israel is treating the Palestinians, I honesty don’t think they are going to do anything to change it.
So perhaps that’s step one: get the word out. Birthday or no birthday, regardless of what happens to be going on in the moment, we need to be constantly reminding people that there is a problem. One that hopefully we can help resolve. Every time we met with a Palestinian family or a leader of some displaced group or activist group trying to make a difference — whether Jewish or Palestinian (yes there is a small but remarkable faction of Jews in the activist community in Israel working on behalf of the Palestinians and that IS hopeful…) we asked them “what can WE do? What would you like us to do when we get home?” The answer was always the same: tell people. Don’t let our story go untold. Time and time again we promised we would. Hugs would ensue as we said goodbye, off to another meeting, and we promised we would tell their story and not let it die out in our memory as so many experiences tend to do.
Today is hard. In every way. Hard because of the sudden reintegration into such a clean and healthy society primarily ignorant of most of the horrors of the world around us. It always takes a few days to get used to that. But I dare say that’s one of the greatest aspects of being American. As selfish as that may sound — we’ve worked hard to achieve the lifestyle we have and the freedoms we enjoy here. I am NOT one who believes that just because one part of the world is suffering that everyone should be. There’s no need for that. But it is important that we acknowledge what an incredible life we have here. And in addition that we do our best to help pull others up to their highest ideals. With the Palestinian people step one is just letting people know that there’s a problem. Just like South Africa pre-1990s or Darfur or Rwanda, mission control we’ve got a problem. A serious one.
Luckily in the age that we live in, learning about it and helping is just a few clicks away. The primary benefit of the Personal Expression Age is not just the increased ability to express ones self and the increased interest in the personal expression of others; surely these are big. But more than anything I still assert that the biggest advantage the world will take away from this age is it’s ability to produce rapid revolutionary change. On national and international levels the likes of which the world has only begun to see. We need one of those big revolutionary changes right now in the land we presently call Israel-Palestine.
Today it’s difficult to feel celebratory. Birthday or not. But I knew that months ago when I planned this trip. I knew I was sacrificing a birthday for something bigger. The greatest gift I can give to myself is to know that I followed through on my promises to all those people I met and interacted with, Jewish, Christian and Palestinian, that I wasn’t just talking or acting. I took a ton of notes each day to post, along with photos and videos. I don’t believe that there is any one thing that I can do myself to relieve anyone’s suffering there. The problem is just too big and out of hand. But I can certainly throw in with the others around the world who are also trying to help. And maybe together we can help slowly push this cause forward to a more peaceful and equitable place, to a more prominent position in the world’s consciousness. Today is a start.
As always, more later.
– Posted by The Ambassador using BlogPress on an iPhone