Reality imitates the dream in the Rachel Corrie case in Haifa

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The stage was set for the strangest of dreams but my dreams revolved around what was actually happening: I had arrived back on a night flight from a two-week pleasure tour of Andalucía and taken the train to arrive in Haifa at six in the morning. I got off at the central train station by the port and proceeded to walk around aimlessly till the district court opened its gates. I hadn’t wandered around these parts since my high school days when I used to tour the racy port area of Haifa with some local friends. At the time our inexperience and lack of funds limited the extent of our engagement in the area’s burgeoning sex enterprises to ogling the skimpily dressed professionals out on their hunt. Sadly, all that is but a vague memory now. Not a single hooker accosted me on this occasion. I wondered if it was my age, the hour of the day or the area’s dismal failure in terms of business, all thriving shops having moved up to the fancier sections of the Carmel Mount in recent times. I stopped at the one café that was open at this early hour. The host welcomed me in the best of local Galilee Arabic dialects but was equally proficient in Hebrew, English and German with other customers; he seemed to figure out people’s language preference by their looks. I sipped my coffee slowly over the next hour, paid my bill, answered the host’s questions about where I was from and what I did, and headed to the court just as the guards were setting up their security check apparatus and opening the doors. I directed my steps to the coffee shop for a second cup of coffee in the hope of keeping awake in court.

The Corries arrived and then their lawyers and the regular small crowd of correspondents, translators, American embassy staff and sundry Israeli leftists. As I chatted with Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, I discovered to my absolute surprise that not everyone in the world is fully aware of the glorious history of the Arab rule in Spain. Who in the world but Arabs is to be credited with the original contribution of the Arabesque designs one finds in all kinds of Spanish-made tiles I wondered. In another millennium or two, when the whole Middle East is awash with the Star of David, will it be credited to Saudi Arabia for instance and not to Israel? Or would Saudi young women dancing the Hora take full credit for it? Why then doesn’t the world credit the Arabs with evolving the Flamenco? I was on the verge of launching an exposé of the Arabs’ salubrious contributions to Europe’s renaissance and enlightenment for Cindy’s benefit. Alas, others arrived and interrupted our conversation. It occurred to me that, with a little stretch of the imagination, I could personally lay claim to having contributed, through my ancestors in Andalucía, to so many valued underpinnings of science, the arts and American culture from the invention of the zero and the introduction of the guitar all the way to the very name of such familiar landmarks as Guadalajara in neighboring Mexico. And what did we get in return through this incontrovertible romantic chain of historic events? The tobacco weed and Israel!

In the courtroom at the top floor of the modern building, the setting was dreamlike: The morning sunrays shone through the tall windows on either side of the judge’s elevated platform rendering his seat not unlike what I imagined King Solomon’s throne would have looked like. The session started with a faux pas by the Corrie’s lawyer that left its damaging effect on the entire uninterrupted four-and-a-half-hour session: When the judge was finished with a minor procedural issue in an unrelated case he called for Hussein Abu-Hussein but was informed that the lawyer had gone to answer the call of nature. The Judge was visibly upset and stormed out to his adjacent private quarters. When he came back, the stenographer, who with the advent of the electronic recording equipment apparently has taken on the added task of modulating the judge’s mood, seemed to attempt to assuage his anger with one teacup after another till he returned to his usual level of tense normality. The session then proceeded with repeated angry outbursts at Abu-Hussein for not comprehending the witness’s answers the right way. I was not fully convinced that this all was because of the faulty start and theorized to myself between nodding in and out of light sleep about an alternative explanation. The judge had a ruddy tan and I hit on the explanation that he must have spent his Passover vacation in some resort on the Red Sea and was aggravated by the Egyptians’ new-found sense of dignity after their Spring uprising. The judge missed Mubarak, I figured.

The witness was none other than the spokeswoman of the IDF at the time of the Rachel Corrie ‘incident.’ I was disappointed. I had imagined such a high-ranking officer, the woman once charged with justifying the nation’s entire struggle to implement the dream of greater Israel on grounds of security needs, to be armed to the teeth. And I imagined her to be a big fierce hussy of Germanic stock, trained in martial arts, dressed in military uniform, and ready to shoot me at first sight, plant the extra handgun she always carries on my corpse and issue a statement to the press regarding her action in self-defense. None of this! In fact the woman was a diminutive but spry middle-aged run-of-the-mill oriental civilian with salt-and-pepper shoulder-length hair ending in a breezy curl. The magic morning sunlight streaming from the windows framed her in profile from where I sat rendering her rather attractive. I was impressed by her apparent charm and self-confidence. She fit my mental image of queen Sheba of old.

Alas, the changing play of natural light and the constant chipping of Abu-Hussein at her display of self-confidence blemished her image despite the judge repeatedly coming to her aid. By noon she was diminished in my eyes to a mere shadow of her former charming self. The midday sun now emphasized her actual features revealing a dour menopausal white-haired damsel in considerable distress under the focused questioning of the bullying Palestinian lawyer trying to cast doubt on her former role and current credibility. Amazingly, in the process of dragging her through the mud of the IDF record of human rights violations, Abu-Hussein caused even the cute upturn at the neck of her initially fancily styled hair to slacken to a frizzle. He kept quoting to her from various press resources, managing in the process to call her ‘a liar,’ ‘Israel’s Goebbels,’ and more. The poor woman had to resort to some terrible means of verbal self-defense despite the judge’s obvious sympathy. At one point, when her opinion was asked regarding a statement to the effect that the IDF has a tradition of lying and manufacturing misleading information, she spit out the same venomous charges against the Palestinians.

By this time I had nodded off again to the domain of light sleep. In my dream I saw the women entertaining the troops battling at the borders of Greater Israel. She danced a wild Flamenco while holding a tray with Mahmud Abbass’s head on it over her head. I woke from the hilarious dream to find the woman still talking away at a-mile-a-minute speed about the antics of the Palestinian National Authority. A couple of times she stuck out her tongue in midsentence with a ghastly effect. As I dozed off again the image I visualized changed from a crow to a snake. I ran away in panic and the person next to me found it necessary to wake me up with a jab in the ribs. The judge was at it again admonishing the translators to lower their voices. “I am not sure in the USA they would extend the privilege of translating for the audience like I do for you,” he scolded. At this stage I dozed off again but this time into deeper sleep. My friend was there. She kept sticking her tongue at me. Except that it was definitely forked. It must come with the job description, I figured.

This post originally appeared yesterday on Hatim Kanaaneh’s blog, a Doctor in Galilee.

About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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