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Watching The Pianist in Gaza

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The Pianist is a movie that tells the disheartening story of a Jewish pianist,  Władysław Szpilman, who struggles to survive during the holocaust along with his family in Warsaw. Although it is primarily the story of one man, the movie instilled in me the notion of the universality of human suffering. Szpilman is Jewish, which especially leads me reflect on it. How did I feel watching it? I cannot really remember, but certainly an avalanche of conflicting feelings surged through my chest. I thought of every possible indictment that could be directed toward a Muslim who declared himself to be Jewish, even for brief moments. Thoughts like these invaded my mind especially as the movie drew near its end: a shabby racked Szpilman adeptly runs his feeble fingers over an abandoned piano playing before a Nazi officer who rescues his life later. I desperately wanted Szpilman to survive. For a moment, I was Jewish.

Szpilman’s father walks down the street when he has to pass by two Nazi officers they just harass him, punch him, and force him off the pavement. There is nothing that would have given me more pain than such harassment. For a moment, I was Szpilman’s father. I knew how it felt to be treated with disgust. To be humiliated. To be discriminated against as such. And later, the Jewish population of Warsaw is herded to be taken from the city and put in a concentration camp. Szpilman’s family has to wait amidst dirt and rubble having not the least slice of bread to eat. A Jewish woman carrying her baby comes over begging Szpilman for a drop of water for her child. Mournfully, he looks at her, apologizes and goes off. For a moment, I was Jewish. I recalled myself when an old woman has to sit on the rubble, her sick baby on her lap, waiting at a checkpoint for an entry access to get through. My mind wandered to where I passed through the debris of one area thoroughly razed to the ground on the wake of the last war; distress was everything I could see wherever I looked. Afflicted people were everywhere around me, and, not looking back, I only walked on.

When Szpilman’s family sits around the table, shocked by the callousness of their enemy, and discussing the last Nazi edict to wear a badge of the Star of David, Szpilman’s sister calmly declares, “I refuse to be branded.” Though calm, so powerful it was. It echoed in my ear time and again. There is nothing that could have given me more fervor than that. I knew what it meant to be branded, to be called “dirty Arab”, or thought of as “slum dog”. I will teach my sister how to stand against whoever tries to brand her. I will teach her how to say I-refuse-to-be-branded with such calmness.

The wall is erected, and the city is divided. Behind the wall are the Nazis, and, inside the ghetto, I live. That truly rings a bell. To be segregated is so painful, but to be segregated and taken away from your beloved people makes it doubly painful. I fought within myself whether to hate the Nazis for treating Jews with such cold inhumanity, or for putting this wall strategy before the world, for teaching some of them how to carry out the worst punishment of your enemy. The war is waged, and the ghetto is bombed. The Jews fight from inside the ghetto while a Cast Lead is mercilessly poured down upon the Jews. They fight the war alone and are murdered by the dozens. The war, between those who have the most deadly war machine fighting freely from every possible direction and the besieged whose chief concern is to have something at their supper, is a war I would relate to with all my experience. As I watch I side with the bombed, suppressed, and murdered, for I knew how their blood smells, no matter if they are Jewish, Hindus…

I could think of Szpilman’s father as none other but an old Palestinian man abused by two Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint, and his mother as none other but a Palestinian woman destined to bear the suffrage of losing her two sons, and his sister as none other but mine, harassed and mocked. I do not know whether Szpilman turned into Zionism later or not, and I do not even bother to know. I was him for a moment: the moment he and his family were done injustice very similar to that which is done to me and my people at the hands of some with whom I once sympathized. We would have made great friends had we lived at one time, but that now is unthinkable. One just led to the other. Things are mixed, but everything is similar. I feel like I lived through the two holocausts. I struggled to detach myself from the ongoing reality, but failed. One holocaust is bygone, and another is. I’d better feel sorry for myself and my people.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman, 21, is a student of English Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. He blogs at

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