Since June 5, 1967, we have been left to sort out our lives in the
lengthening shadow of the defeat, the defeat that has not yet
ended. That is the one definite milestone for what followed and is
following until now. Yes, '67 has been stamped permanently on my
mind since I lived it in my early youth.
[…] Long struggles that take up tens of years of people's
lives leave shadows of courage and fortitude, but also leave
shadows of nihilism and a mockery of the available destinies. These
shadows are darkened by the repeated retreats that follow each
attempt to move forward. Mockery becomes one of the psychological
tools that enable us to continue.
Abu Tawfiq became accustomed to loss as the martyrs became
accustomed to the repetition of their sacrifice, and as we who
walked in their funerals became accustomed to seeing them off with
the same slogans and noise to their metaphorical destination -
Palestine - and their actual destination - the grave. Funerals were
an integral part of the lives of Palestinians wherever they were,
in their homeland or in exile, in the days of their calm and the
days of their Intifada, in the days of their wars and the days of
their peace, punctuated by massacres.
So, when Yitzhak Rabin spoke so eloquently of the tragedy of
Israelis as absolute victims, and the eyes of his listeners in the
White House garden and in the whole world grew wet, I knew that I
would not forget for a long time his words that day:
"We are the victims of war and violence. We have not known a year
or a month when mothers have not mourned their sons."
I felt that tremor that I know so well and which I feel when I know
that I have not done my best, that I have failed: Rabin has taken
everything, even the story of our death.
This leader knew how to demand that the world should respect
Israeli blood, the blood of every Israeli without exception. He
knew how to demand that the world should respect Israeli tears, and
he was able to present Israel as the victim of a crime perpetrated
by us. He changed the facts, he altered the order of things, he
presented us as the initiators of violence in the Middle East and
said what he said with eloquence, with clarity and conviction. I
remember every word Rabin said that day:
"We, the soldiers coming back from the war, smeared with blood, we
saw our brothers and our friends killed in front of us, we attended
their funerals unable to look into the eyes of their mothers. Today
we remember each one of them with eternal love."
It is easy to blur the truth with a simple linguistic trick: start
your story from "Secondly." Yes, this is what Rabin did. He simply
neglected to speak of what happened first. Start your story with
"Secondly," and the world will be turned upside-down. Start your
story with "Secondly," and the arrows of the Red Indians are the
original criminals and the guns of the white men are entirely the
victims. It is enough to start with "Secondly" for the anger of the
black man against the white to be barbarous. Start with "Secondly"
and Ghandi becomes responsible for the tragedies of the British.
You only need to start your story with "Secondly" and the burned
Vietnamese will have wounded the humanity of the napalm, and Victor
Jara's songs will be the shameful thing and not Pinochet's bullets,
which killed so many thousands in the Santiago stadium. It is
enough to start the story with "Secondly" for my grandmother, Umm
'Ata, to become the criminal and Ariel Sharon her victim.
[…] The Israelis occupy our homes as victims and present us
to the world as killers. Israel dazzles the world with its
generosity toward us. Rabin said:
"Signing the Declaration of Principles is not easy for me as a
fighter in the Israeli Army and in its wars. It is not easy for the
people of Israel or for the Jews of the Diaspora."
The houses built on top of ours gallantly declare their willingness
to understand our odd predilection toward living in camps scattered
in the Diaspora of gods and flies, as though we had begged them to
throw us out of our homes and to send their bulldozers to destroy
them in front of our eyes. Their generous guns in Deir Yassin
forgive us the fact that they piled our bodies high at the sunset
hour there one day. Their fighter jets forgive the graves of our
martyrs in Beirut. Their soldiers forgive the tendency of our
teenagers' bones to break. Israel the victim polishes its hot red
arms with the sheen of forgiveness.
Excerpts from I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti, translated
from the Arabic by Ahdaf Soueif. Cairo and New York: The American
University of Cairo Press, 2000.