I have been living in Hebron, Palestine for about a month now. About a week after receiving my B.A. from Boston University, I relocated here to teach English and experience firsthand everything that this land has to offer. The generosity of the people I live and work with is unmatched in any other place I have visited.
I have been to the old city of Hebron once so far, led by a student of mine. She took me to the house of an amazing woman who lives on Shuhada Street. The front door, like all the others on the now settler-only-road – the main thoroughfare of the old city – has been bolted shut by soldiers. She is lucky though, she says, to have a back stairwell, as others must go to and from their homes by climbing on rooftops and crawling through windows or makeshift doors. From the roof of her house is a view of the entire old city and Shuhada Street.
I have heard many heartrending stories in my month here. This is a group of people who have had their human dignity, a certain basic human decency, denied. This degradation has become almost banal, almost commonplace. Restricting the movement of a people, and forbidding them to enter their homes through the front door simply because of who they are, is not a matter of “security.” It is a policy of discrimination. It is the codification and legislation of a racist point of view. When soldiers can enter your home and squat there at any time, when they can prod you and make you disrobe in the middle of the street, without reason or you being able to ask why – this is unquestionably wrong. When you can only walk on the right hand side of the street, when you can only enter through the back door of the al-Ibrahim mosque, and when you can only go into the Palestinian section of the mosque; this is unmistakably wrong.
Looking out over Shuhada Street – a view that is from the ground blocked by barbed wire and enormous concrete blocks – is an intense reminder of what actually lies behind what we call the “situation,” or the “occupation,” or the “issue.” Each of these euphemisms represents something much greater, more real, and more precious than a single word can signify: human life.
Sometimes it is all too easy to forget what this is really about, to mentally streamline the situation that is the Palestinian cause. Maybe it is even a coping mechanism to forget the full scope of what we are dealing with, what we are fighting for.
The Palestinian cause is not, foremost, a political issue. Sure, politics do at times serve as a realm for open debate, and at their best provide a vehicle for change. But reducing the Palestinian “issue” to just that – an “issue” – fools us into thinking that it functions on a single plane. We end up thinking that this is a situation of politics, caused by politics, to be remedied by politics. We risk losing sight of the full issue at hand.
This is not about being right or left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. This transcends such superficial dichotomies because it deals with something much more real and much more relevant than partisan sentiments.
This is a moral issue. Anyone who can genuinely say that he values, observes, and respects the equality of men – whether by theism or some more humanistic mentality – does not have to look hard to know what should be done. Anyone who concedes to a basic understanding of human dignity as shared and deserved by all, understands what should be done.
This is foremost an issue of humanity.
As long as Zionists, Anti-Zionists, and everyone in between continues to fight this tired, cliché battle of political rhetoric, that is all that this will become – politically driven words, aimed at undoing whatever comment came before. All that such banter does is make people close their ears. They feel above it, and are usually unwilling to change what they feel to be an already informed mind. Propagating this discussion reduces the Palestinian cause to nothing more than empty words. These words aim at, mean, and accomplish very little. Don’t regulate this to politics, don’t subjugate this to the realm of the two dimensional. While the situation does penetrate the political sphere, it is by no means wholly defined by it.
Yes, there are all sorts of political reasons as to why the U.S. should support Palestine and revise its relationship with Israel, but at the end of the day that is not what this is really about. Don’t get too worked up over the idiocy of FOX News and narrow American media, Palin sporting the Star of David on her P.R. pilgrimage, or even Barack Obama breaking his old promises. Yes, in and of themselves these occurrences have meaning, but they have little bearing on the transcendent, overarching truth of the situation. Giving too much weight to such things trivializes the Palestinian cause to something as ludicrous as demanding a birth certificate of your president, or being suspicious of a middle name. This “issue” is bigger than any one media corporation, person, or Cairo campaign speech. For better or for worse, this is bigger than any one settlement, border crossing, or special interest lobby. (And indeed, to view yourself as confined or made impotent by AIPAC, to throw your hands up and say, “Well, AIPAC runs this town,” just means that you have let them win.)
The futility and daftness of politics are disheartening, but neither shocking nor novel. Politics, when it comes to the Palestinian cause, are secondary. They are not what is really at play, and they should not be where our main efforts lie. It is not until this is recognized as a moral issue that the crisis will receive all due urgency and attention. It is not until this is recognized as an issue of human rights for all that change will come. It is not until people in numbers start to understand what this is really about that BDS will become more than just a trend for urban lefties, that the U.S. might finally recognize a bid for statehood at the U.N. General Assembly. Political change follows as a secondary effect of something greater.
Do what you can to show others, so that they may see the situation for what it is. This is no insurmountable political stalemate. It is, if we will it to be, just a curve in the long road toward justice. If you feel yourself at an impasse, remember the weight and gravity of this situation in full. That is what you see when you look down over Shuhada Street – a huge, gross, profound brokenness of humanity. It is both daunting and empowering. Fuck politics. Who is going to attempt to piece humanity back together besides yourself? Small insignificant you? This might be bigger than us, bigger than any political institution, but we, ourselves, are the starting point. Real change begins in our minds and emanates from action.
Violante hopes to be in Hebron for at least six months. She is currently teaching English through a local organization, and plans to do some human rights advocacy and get involved with water resource distribution issues.