Anyone who followed international soccer news might have come across the story of Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian player who went on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison. The Israelis were holding him without charge or due process.
Sarsak has been held for three years on suspicion of being involved with Islamic Jihad, a charge he denies, and had been on hunger strike for three months. Now Israel has agreed to release him this summer, and Sarsak has begun eating again.
To many Americans, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a tedious and frustrating affair to which there seems to be no solution.
Unfortunately, Sarsak's story is part of a Palestinian narrative that is all but completely ignored in U.S. media, which is unfair to Americans since they are heavily invested in the conflict with billions of tax dollars in addition to American military and diplomatic efforts in the region. So I'd like to describe what goes through a Palestinian person's mind when thinking about the Palestine problem.
May 14th marked the anniversary of Israel's establishment as a state in 1948. For Israel's supporters, it was a day to celebrate. However, for the many millions of Palestinians and Arabs worldwide, the feeling is far from celebratory. In Arabic-speaking countries, it's called the day of Nakbah, which means calamity, tragedy or travesty.
Imagine how you'd feel if one day someone forcefully removed you from your house and farm and turned you and your family into penniless refugees because that person's ancestors, 3,000 years ago, used to live on your land. To Palestinians, that's the whole crux of the matter: An entire population was removed from its home country and its homes and farms were simply confiscated. To them, it is particularly outrageous that in the modern world one population can simply replace another.
Contrary to what many in the West believe, the root of the Palestinian side of the struggle is not a religious one. Palestinians would be just as unhappy if their occupiers were Russian Jews or Moroccan Muslims. The conflict, to Palestinians, is about land and justice, first and foremost.
Some would feel comfortable believing that Palestinians were like Bedouins or wandering tribes with no attachment to their land, but the truth is far from that. The land between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean sea was robust with cities, factories and farmland owned and registered to Palestinian Arab owners. I know this first hand, because both of my parents' families still hold onto their land ownership certificates.
My father's family grew crops in a village called Um Khalid, now part of the Israeli city of Natanya. My mother's family grew fruit trees in the village of Salamah. Hundreds of oil presses, brick factories, soap factories, jewelry workshops, printing presses, flour mills and fabric factories, to name a few, burgeoned in Palestine, mostly owned and operated by Palestinian Arabs.
If you talk to an elderly Palestinian in the refugee camps of Jordan or Lebanon, you're sure to hear stories about where they grew up in Palestine, where they went to school, about the cinema in the city, the farms and groves, and how it's all gone now.
That land was a beacon of knowledge. Palestinian refugees, well educated in Palestinian schools before exile, were instrumental in the building of young countries like Kuwait and Jordan after their independence. As far back as the 10th century, Palestine gave birth to prominent Arab scholars, intellectuals, poets and politicians.
You might say that Jews were there before anyone else, so they deserve to reclaim their historical homeland. Palestinians, however, have a broader historical perspective. They know that even before prophet Abraham, Palestine was ruled at various times by the Babylonians, the Phoenicians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans, all of whom left their cultural and genetic marks on Palestine. To Palestinians, Palestine never belonged to a single race, as Palestinians themselves are a genetic hodgepodge collectively called "Arabs" for simplicity and because they speak Arabic. The argument that Jews own Palestine because their ancestors ruled it for a period of time is like saying that England belongs to the Vikings.
Unfortunately, like many political issues in the United States, the Palestinian problem was incorporated into the liberal/conservative chasm — historical facts have become irrelevant. Liberals view the issue as an oppressed people living under racial and religious discrimination, while conservatives go as far as dismissing the existence of Palestinians altogether. To Palestinians, the issue is much simpler: a grave, brazen injustice that has yet to be corrected.
Again, my goal is not to influence anyone's political views as much as to provide the Palestinian point of view, to let the reader see where Palestinians come from. People deserve to be informed of all perspectives.