I just finished one of the most moving books I’ve read recently: The Way to The Spring: Life and Death in Palestine, by Ben Ehrenreich.
I almost missed it. I’ve read a lot on Israel-Palestine and thought I was reaching the point of diminishing returns. But The Way to the Spring is unique. Ehrenreich spent several years on the ground in the West Bank. Although he went as a writer, he became enmeshed in the lives of Palestinians. So much so that the book reads as if he’s writing about family members. In no way was that contrived. I felt a little bit of this in The General’s Son, by Miko Peled, but not nearly as much.
The bottom line is that more than any other book I’ve read on Israel-Palestine, The Way to the Spring allows you to see the Israeli occupation through Palestinian eyes.
Sort of like if a few of your close friends were Palestinian.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
I once was giving a talk on Israel-Palestine when someone from the audience launched into a diatribe about what pieces of garbage Palestinians were. I responded with a simple question: How many Palestinians do you know? Silence.
I wonder: How many pro-Israel zealots out there also would respond to that question in silence?
I’ve had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of perhaps a dozen or so Palestinian-Americans over the years. I don’t know them well enough to consider any of them close friends, but easily well enough to confirm the assessment I apply to any ethnic group: “They’re just people.”
Which I hope inoculates me against ever again condoning or in any way accepting or tolerating, as I did for too many years, the atrocity that is Israel’s occupation of Palestine. One can’t simultaneously accept oppression and feel the humanity of the oppressed. If you feel the humanity of Palestinians, you can’t accept the collective punishment, the torture, the beatings, the theft of land and water, the atrocities committed by Israeli settlers that go unpunished, or the periodic bombing of densely populated areas into oblivion, characterized so inhumanely and so barbarically by Israelis as “mowing the lawn.”
Israel’s supporters in Washington don’t want Americans to feel Palestinian humanity. When Bernie Sanders confronted Hillary Clinton with this at a debate, her response, cleverly scripted, was to dehumanize Hamas, then conflate Palestinians generally with Hamas.
But on this front Hillary’s sleight of hand doesn’t hold a candle to a stunt from Barbara Boxer (yeah, that’s right, the one Democrat loyalists refer to fawningly as “B-Box”) two years ago. At the time, a 15 year-old Palestinian American, Tariq Abu Khdeir, who had been brutalized for no reason by Israeli police while visiting family in the West Bank, was on a speaking tour and being filmed by C-Span. His story was compelling. A viewer would feel his humanity instantly. So, “B-Box,” concerned about the adverse impact this might have on American opinion on Israel, went to the well of an empty Senate, knowing that C-Span was duty bound to cut to her aimless babbling, and away from the young Palestinian.
I’ll get blowback on this post to be sure. At least one commenter will light his or her hair on fire and scream “What about Hamas!!!” That’s understandable. Whether justified or not (I’d say no), dehumanizing Hamas is relatively easy, as compared to dehumanizing everyday Palestinians. If Hamas is dehumanized in a loud enough voice, it trickles down to Palestinians writ large. Which allows a pro-Israel zealot to avoid reckoning with Palestinian humanity. Essentially, the blowback is a defense mechanism and nothing more.
But that’s okay. Because maybe I’ll reach one reader who wants to follow the path I’ve taken over the past decade.
If so, here’s my recommendation: If you’re not in the position to befriend a Palestinian-American, read The Way to the Spring. It’s the next best thing. You’ll come away with the feeling that Ehrenreich’s friends are your friends. You’ll feel their pain. And you’ll see Israel-Palestine through different eyes. Sane eyes. Human eyes.