And the beat goes on

By Monsieur d’Nalgar, Friday June 8, 2012

This rant emanates from a Facebook conversation today that followed Maha’s lament. Maha is a Palestinian woman who is frustrated with her Israeli friend. Seems that this friend is blind to historical realities of indigenous villages and peoples systematically erased from the ancient landscape by a new nation (or colonial outpost, depending on your perspective) intent on obscuring all traces of its violent past.

Now I don’t know if this Israeli friend’s ignorance and insensitivity is willfull, or if she is an innocent victim of decades of an official, fascist re-education campaign, but fellow conversant Duncan suggested (and rightly so) that this is a moment ripe with potential. He offered this advice:

I understand your anguish and anger about this but visiting a destroyed village and a non-existent house might just throw a switch in the mind of the ignorant. That Israeli woman might just pop out of the mindwash bubble and realise that you both have a fundamental shared quality – that of being a mother and there is a chance that yet another person will abandon the destructive ideology of Zionism, (just as the Germans abandoned Nazism when it failed), and feel some compunction for the crimes of the state of Israel.

Duncan was following my earlier retort to Ashiya, who casually suggested that Israelis living “next door” to Palestinians should be better informed. I was quick (perhaps too quick) to remind her that Israel may now exist “on, over, in” Palestine, but never “next” to her. I went on to explain:

…what you wrote obscures reality and reinforces Israel’s creation myth. Can you imagine the outrage if Germans systematically removed every trace that Jews existed, and did everything in their power to advance a national narrative that the Holocaust never happened?!

And so, with Duncan’s sage advice still on my mind, three generations of Baptist preachers welled up in me and I stepped up into my mind’s figmentary pulpit and began to preach…

Duncan, I like the sentiment, and the opportunity for change is very real, but let’s remember that Nazism didn’t just fade away because it was a “destructive ideology.” All of the isms of the last two centuries are deeply rooted in popular support and a wellspring of human arrogance that [rests in the confidence that] one side is right/better and another wrong/lesser.

I’ve been thinking a lot these last few days about those famous verses in the Christian and Jewish holy texts that speak of “beating swords in plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4 and Joel 3:10 and Micah 4:3). Two of those verses go on to say “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Lofty sentiments. They have inspired all manner of songs and art. But we seem to fixate on the before and after and forget the call to “beat” and “learn” — actions that are required to transform evil to good. Just as the world had to rally to defeat Nazism, we have to “beat” Zionism and its resultant apartheid. We have to “beat” fascism and tyranny in Israel and throughout the world (Syria and Saudi Arabia come to mind immediately). And we have to “learn” a better way, a way that refuses to propagate endless war.

I may have shared this dream before, a fantasy really, but I ache for a Levantine confederacy that stretches from southern Turkey to northern Egypt, from the Mediterranean to Persia, where people are free to travel and work [and live], where justice and egalitarianism (the only “ism” I can rally behind) reigns. Imagine how an idea (and ideal) like that could become a model for the rest of the world.

One of the first radicals in Palestine to be smeared and executed as a militant once said “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13: 31 & 32). We modern homo sapiens tend to forget (we suffer from acute historical and cultural myopia) that the mustard seed in first century occupied Palestine was [a nuisance weed for farmers,] the kudzu of [America’s] South today. [Like kudzu, that wee little mustard seed had the potential to] grow and spread and eventually transform the landscape.

We like to think of the mustard seed as a tiny, inconsequential thing, but I, for one, am more than ready to see tiny ideas like peace and brotherhood and stewardship “beat” back the malevolent, behemoth forces of [greed and] war and repression. I am so ready to “learn” a better way. [Yes, we can.] We CAN transform a harsh, brutal world into a paradise where “the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

OK, I’m done. I’ll get off my soapbox now…

Note: I’ve slightly amplified my original online “sermon” for the sake of clarity. Those additions are noted with [brackets].

Illustration by Khalil Rabah, from “BIPRODUCT,” 2010. or or

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