Jul. 20, 2014________

“They do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand.”— Isaiah 44:18.

The Holy Land is our sacred place where humans embraced monotheism, where, “Those who have attained to faith (in this divine writ), as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Sabians, and the Christians — all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds” first lived alongside each other. (Qur’an 2:62)

This land called Holy is again scarred by war, governed by men who cannot see and who in their overweening arrogance rend the earth asunder through their petty vanities. Today, the land bleeds and the righteous do fear, grieve and despair.

We must recognize that there are legitimate parallel narratives vital to the cultural, religious and sovereign identities of both peoples.

We must recognize that a truth often ignored is that Palestinian rights to dignity, resistance, sovereignty and freedom trumps Israel’s military occupation, trumps Hamas’ corrupt Islamist identity, trumps colonization and terrorism — that Israel’s legitimate right to security and peace must coexist alongside Palestinian aspirations, not at the expense of them.

“Now to understand all this is not to condone it,” Columbia professor, Palestinian and my friend, the late Edward Said once said. “What terrifies me is that we’re entering a phase here (America) where speaking about this, as something that can be understood historically, without any sympathy or condoning of it, is going to be forbidden and thought of as unpatriotic. It’s very dangerous. It’s precisely incumbent on every citizen to understand the world we’re living in and the history.”

Let’s understand that this conflict is not about Hamas. Neither is it about kidnappings and murders and retribution and vengeance nor about war crimes being committed and innocent civilians being used as human shields. Those are, however perverse and criminal, just strategies and tactics.

No, it’s about power and privilege. It’s about confrontation between a mighty sovereign occupying power, supported by the world’s leading superpower, with the most modern and lethal of weapons in confrontation with an impoverished, dispossessed, occupied people desperate for dignity and sovereignty.

Jesus said, “Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?” Mark 8:18.

It’s about dominion, domination and delegitimization.

It’s about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cynical manipulation of tragedy and truth to deny dignity, legitimacy and statehood for the Palestinians. It’s about Netanyahu’s denial of Palestinian attempts to try and form a unity government that perhaps can negotiate with one voice with the government of Israel.

Before the rise of today’s militant exceptionalist Israel there was a philosophical, humanistic Zionist vision of a secular Israel that could coexist alongside Palestinians. Before Hamas and Islamic Jihad there was The Stern Gang and Irgun. Before three teenagers were kidnapped and murdered there were two Palestinians shot dead by Israelis, one though his back, whose deaths were never fully investigated.

Before the kidnapped teens were found near Hebron, the New York Times reported, “Most Israelis see the missing teenagers as innocent civilians captured on their way home from school, and the Palestinians who were killed as having provoked soldiers. Palestinians, though, see the very act of attending yeshiva in a West Bank settlement as provocation, and complain that the crackdown is collective punishment against a people under illegal occupation.”

Before every reaction there’s an action.

It’s about Hamas’ vile and desperate attempts to sustain its own diminished legitimacy through ever more desperate actions. It’s about a disenfranchised, desperate people seemingly abandoned by its leaders, oppressed by its occupiers. It’s about the callous manipulation of Palestinian and Israeli memory and desire by extremists on both sides that must be condemned.

It’s about understanding that no matter how successful the military submission of a people appears to be, the rights of a people to resist and sustain their culture and identity will prevail.

Witness the terror and military repression that once racked Northern Ireland.

Witness the terror and military repression that once racked South Africa.

Witness that a people yearning to be free will ultimately triumph.

I’m not present today to give you answers: I’m present to challenge you to question how this conflict is framed — to break away from the binary posturing that informs American arguments about Palestinians and Israelis — to wonder how easy it is to be dismissive of the humanity of the Other — how easy it is to justify demonizing, using the criminal, terrorist actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all Palestinians, all Arabs, all Muslims.

Consider how easy it is to adopt racist arguments that somehow the Other doesn’t feel as the West does, that the Other lacks empathy, doesn’t love their children and love peace as we do and therefore isn’t worthy of justice, dignity and freedom.

“We destined for hell many of the invisible beings and men who have hearts with which they fail to grasp the truth, and eyes with which they fail to see, and ears with which they fail to hear…” Qur’an 7:179.

Consider this an invitation to a conversation — between yourselves, between yourselves and the Other, between the haves and have-nots, between the powerful and the weak.

Consider this an invitation to choose whether to try and overcome evil with war — or to try and overcome evil by embracing the good.We must learn to distinguish between justice and the law.

We must learn to honor both legitimate Israeli rights and legitimate Palestinian rights — and learn to reject the illegitimate acts of terrorists acting in their name. To fail to grasp such truths is to be complicit with the warmongers.

Finally, consider that we all long to go back home — to be alongside the Beloved.”Listen to the story told by the reed, of being separated.

‘Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.
Anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what I say.
Anyone pulled from a source longs to go back…’
Rumi: “Song of the Reed”