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A letter to Israel from a sympathetic Palestinian

As Israel faces international isolation and an uncertain future, one Palestinian offers some empathy: ‘I know how you feel.’

By Amer Zahr

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israel, I know how you feel.

It’s been a tough year. And it’s only just started. Your world seems like it’s crumbling around you. Everything you knew is no longer true. The comfortable circumstances to which you have become accustomed are rapidly changing around you.  And worse yet, it seems you can do nothing about it.

I know how you feel.

Your so-called “friends” are turning on you. They said they would all always stand by you, no matter what. And now, just when it seems that you need them the most, they have forsaken you.

I know how you feel.

About a month ago, I attended a lecture in Ann Arbor, Michigan by one of the leaders of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). After the speaker completed his presentation, many audience members approached the microphones to ask questions, continuing the discussion. Among the many participants were a few pro-Israel attendees who challenged the speaker on his assertions and arguments. As I sat there watching them, I remembered how, many years ago, I used to attend events sponsored by pro-Israel groups on that same campus. They would invite ambassadors, generals, and academics to argue for you. A few other interested Palestinians and I would stride in that hostile sea, and we would plead our case. We would wonder if anyone was really listening.  We would doubt that anyone would ever see the world they way we do. We would sit there, looking around, feeling alone, as if no one understood us, and as if no one ever would. When I saw those students standing up for you last month, they had the same dejected look on their faces I bore over fifteen years ago. It must have felt terrible.

So, I know how you feel.

The position you currently find yourself in is full of uncertainty, discomfort, and doubt. It is as if no matter what you do or say, you just can’t get anyone to believe you. You don’t know where to turn. You can’t figure out what to do. You’re lost. Was everything you’ve ever told yourself just one big lie? Were you going about things the wrong way this whole time? You’re wondering, fearful and apprehensive, about what the future holds. You’re thinking, “what am I going to do now?”

At one time or another, I have asked myself all those same questions. Trust me, more anger is not the answer. I’ve tried it, and it just doesn’t work. Change is hard. But having everything you’ve ever known uprooted is not a death sentence. I got through it, and so can you.

Trust me, I know how you feel.

Recently, your days have been full of turmoil and chaos. The past several months for you have been bad. Really bad. But you’ve only had a bad few months. I’ve had a bad 65 years. I know I’m only 36, but I was born in 1948, just like the rest of us.

So you’ll survive. I promise. You just have to accept the fact that things are never going to be the same.

While I can sympathize, there is one major difference. Like you, I have always felt that the truth was on my side. But unlike you, it turns out that I was right.

Nevertheless, I’m here for you. And I promise you, I’m not going anywhere. We’ll get through this.

Sincerely,

A sympathetic Palestinian

Amer Zahr is a Palestinian-American residing in Dearborn, Michigan. He is a comedian and a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. This post first appeared on his website, The Civil Arab.

Related:
The boycott isn’t economic warfare, it’s psychological
Boycott goes on trial in Israel’s High Court

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    COMMENTS

    1. Vadim

      “I’ve had a bad 65 years. I know I’m only 36, but I was born in 1948, just like the rest of us.”

      “Like you, I have always felt that the truth was on my side. But unlike you, it turns out that I was right.”

      This kind of thinking is a major reason why this conflict exists for so long.

      To resolve this conflict, both sides need maturity and the ability to take responsibility for their actions. Maturity is needed to acknowledge that the truth is somewhere in between, that there is no good vs evil. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is needed to acknowledge that you’re an active member in a conflict, not only a bystander or a powerless victim.

      The author has neither and he should grow up.

      Reply to Comment
      • vadim,

        the way you have framed your comment is, in fact, the real issue here. there is no “conflict.”
        this is not a war. it is simply oppression, land theft, and violations.

        do i believe we palestinians are powerless victims? yes, of course we are. look at us. our best weapon is pleading to the world to stop buying stuff from israel.

        there is no parity. have palestinians acted badly? sure. there is no example of anyone in a situation of oppression in history who has not acted badly. but that does change the dynamic.

        what bad acts would you like me to acknowledge? i bet you i would be willing to acknowledge just about every single one? but it does not change the fact that israel lives in an alternate reality where it had no role in the creation of almost one million refugees (now about 4 million), or and responsibility for the palestinians in gaza and the west bank, whom israel simply sees as subhuman.

        opressed people can kick and scream all they like, but the real responsibility lies with those who wield power.

        Reply to Comment
        • Vadim

          Of course there is a conflict, the world didn’t start in 1967, nor did it start in 1948. Our national movements are in a conflict for more than 100 years, in half of which Jews were the weaker side. By denying any sort of compromise you and your Arab brethren have brought you to your current state.

          I am responsible for my children’s well-being. If the government mistreats me, if a power stronger than me causes me to lose my job, or increases the prices I have to pay for my living – it is still my responsibility to do whatever I can to provide them with what they need. I can complain that the world is unfair, I can shout that I’m powerless against powers far more stronger, none of it reduces my responsibility.

          Your leadership should have the same kind of responsibility to you. Solving the conflict with Israel is the first step towards improving your lives.

          “where it had no role in the creation of almost one million refugees (now about 4 million)”

          We had a role, we were part of the war. Others had a role as well and should take responsibility as well.

          The amount of refugees doesn’t increase with time. It’s about time you’ll stop with this nonsense.

          “whom Israel simply sees as subhuman”

          That’s simply projection.

          “oppressed people can kick and scream all they like, but the real responsibility lies with those who wield power.”

          Yes, they also explode in buses and restaurants. The real responsibility for what?! Hamas doesn’t even acknowledge us and Abu Mazzen can’t even agree to a have a treaty without the right of return.

          It’s the same no-compromise mentality that keeps you in the same place for decades. Grow up.

          Reply to Comment
          • Vadim, the only sort of state the Palestinians have been offered in the last 20 years, since the peace negotiations started, was a vassal state – no army, no control over borders, airspace or seacoast, which would remain under Israeli control; a chopped-up territory divided by settlements, with a very fractious connection between the hinterland and the capital in East Jerusalem (also chopped up). If the shoe were on the other foot, would the Israelis have ever accepted such a deal – a vassal state under the control of a Palestinian superpower? The answer is no, so why should the Palestinians? And here’s their thinking, as far as I can see: As bad as it is for them to live like they’re living, under Israeli rule, the one thing they have is their dignity, which they would lose if they agreed to live as a vassal state.

            Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            Larry, like I said Amer – the conflict didn’t start 20 years ago, or in 1967.

            They could have accepted the partition plan, then could have lived besides Israel after 1949 – they could have strived for a peaceful coexistence ever since. They didn’t.

            Israel is far from perfect in this matter. But the fact they didn’t even try or wish to try (even acknowledging that Israel is a Jewish state seems too much) – puts a part of the responsibility on their shoulders. That’s why I don’t like this “we’re just powerless victims” act.

            “If the shoe were on the other foot, would the Israelis have ever accepted such a deal?”

            Of course.

            “And here’s their thinking, as far as I can see: As bad as it is for them to live like they’re living, under Israeli rule, the one thing they have is their dignity, which they would lose if they agreed to live as a vassal state.”

            Sadly, there is no dignity here. Just a very bad set of priorities. The dignified thing to do would be to try and find a way to coexist in a peaceful manner. The dignified thing would be to set aside old enmities for a better future for one’s children.

            You could claim that this is also true for Israel and I would agree. But Israel is in a both a better situation and has done far more self criticism and attempts to understand the other side. Perhaps we have not done enough of that, but the other side has done nothing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            The answer is yes. Were Zionists offered what the Palestinians are being offered given the present circumstances were reversed the Zionists would have said yes. In fact they did say yes. They said yes to a state with indefensible borders and WITHOUT Jerusalem. So, your attempt to ‘turn this around’ really is a giant fail.

            Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        saying that you have the truth on your side doesn’t mean that you’re not actively participating in the conflict…

        Reply to Comment
      • ben

        Exactly. This Palestinian who lives in the United States is claiming a narrative that is his right to claim, but it won’t do him or any of us any good. If this conflict is about who is right, who is just, who is holier or better, this conflict will never end. Let’s talk about what’s practical, what’s the reality on the ground, what’s going to be not what was. An American Palestinian in Michigan claiming the nakba narrative will not help us. So he think’s his “side” is right. Great! Who cares? Let’s talk solutions. Let’s get real.

        A Palestinian who doesn’t even live in Israel/Palestine and who argues his people have an exclusive claim on being right and just, while forgetting Palestinian Jew-hatred, the 1929 riots, the 1936-38 riots, the Palestinian flirtation with Nazi Germany during WWII, the invading Arab armies, the second intifada, etc. offers nothing valuable to resolving this national conflict.

        Reply to Comment
    2. mcohen

      the author says

      “I know I’m only 36, but I was born in 1948, just like the rest of us.”

      in that case why stay in america,why not move back to palestine and join the millions of israelis who were “born in 1948”

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        Because he CAN’T. Because ISRAEL won’t ALLOW him to.

        Reply to Comment
      • Amer Zahr

        would you be willing to write your government in support of my citizenship to israel?

        Reply to Comment
        • mcohen

          amer zahr

          “would you be willing to write your government in support of my citizenship to israel?”

          it depends on where were you born… in america or the middle east

          for instance egyptian refugees from egypt living in israel are egyptian,but have israeli citizenship.they cannot return to egypt but maybe you could arrange to support there citizenship to egypt

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            Unlike Palestinians from abroad who want to visit Israel and are put through our famed security and categorized as shifty, Egyptian Jews can visit Egypt all they like though. Ask ’em.

            And hey, with a name like yours you could be born anywhere and have no problem getting Israeli citizenship.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Were Israeli Jews of Egyptian origin able to visit Egypt before a peace agreement was signed between the two states?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Jennifer

      This letter exemplifies why the Palestinians will never get anywhere–it’s not rooted in any sort of reality–things are just SO bad for Israel, like the record tourism in January, the flood of investments from non European countries, the observer status acceptance on th Pacific Bloc, oil and gas discoveries, a growing economy and celebs flocking to Israel for tour dates.

      Scarlett Johannson flips the anti Israel crowd the bird, SodaStream shares soar 24% in one day and somehow the BDS crowd hails it a victory for them. LOL

      I sure don’t envy the author ofthis letter, he’s in for a VERY rude awakening….

      Reply to Comment
    4. Anna Ruiz

      You’ve broken my heart.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Kolumn9

      Hahaha. You are funny. You are lost in a self-created mental bubble. I know the internet makes this easy. Just follow the right people on twitter, like the right groups on facebook, read the right blogs and suddenly everyone agrees with you. Sometimes there is even a meeting or two in real life that one can attend to feel like part of a growing wave. It is cute.

      What is funny to me is that the current round of emphatic back-slapping in the BDS movement is driven by domestic Israeli and internal American Jewish political considerations. Several prominent Israeli politicians and American Jewish journalists decided to make political capital out of an insignificant political/economic development and started trying to frighten Israelis into supporting Kerry’s initiatives. The BDS movement has predictably started beating its chest and articles like this, and others on the site, have declared the imminent collapse of the Israeli economy and of the status quo. Oh well, enjoy your couple of months before realizing the whole thing is smoke and mirrors and collapsing back into your usual despondency. Cheers.

      Reply to Comment
      • bob wisby

        Are you not being a tad cynical there, Kolumn9? What you write implies that Israel controls the whole game? You make it sound as though they’ve got it all sewn up, all angles covered. Surely you’re not suggesting something as deeply duplicitous as that?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I call it as I see it. All the noise about the fear of boycott and isolation comes from a bunch of Israeli leftists and it has for at least the past 20 years. A year ago Kerry got involved in the peace talks and in order to create a sense of urgency he and people like him started blowing the issue out of proportion. Articles by various Obama puppets like Beinart and Friedman were not far behind. In Israel their counterparts are Livni, Lapid and the editorial board of Haaretz. Several EU governments played along by issuing anti-settlement directives.

          All these measures are designed to create the sense that the Israeli government is under pressure in order to provide cover to the Palestinian leadership to make the required concessions. Were the peace talks to blow up (and regardless of who blows them up) there would be no particular interest on the part of any external bodies to carry through on the inflated and entirely unrealistic threats being bandied about right now. So we would go back to a situation where the threat of boycott and sanctions would go back to its natural dimensions which are rather limited in scope. It is thus entertaining to see the BDS people celebrating.

          The perception of Israeli isolation is entirely imaginary and is fed by the various left-wing internet-based thought bubbles. In real life Israel has free trade agreements with the biggest trading blocks and on its way to similar agreements with India and China. In real life there is a massive flood of cash being invested in Israel. In real life Israel has excellent relations with all countries of any significance in the world. In real life not a single country has significantly negatively impacted its trade relations with Israel in the past 10 years. That includes such less-than-friendly countries like South Africa and Turkey. In real life Israeli far right-wing ministers are globe-trotting and working with all prominent international actors and bodies. In real life Israel has massive support in the US, can count on significant and growing support in Europe, has excellent relations with Russia and growing and increasingly close relations with India, China, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time the Arabs are divided and collapsing, with Arab countries increasingly interested in working together with Israel.

          There is nothing of any substance to the claims made repeatedly on this site and on Haaretz that the Israeli economy and the Israeli diplomatic position are either suffering from or are on the verge of being significantly damaged by boycotts or sanctions. The same threats have been repeated again and again over at least the past 13 years (since Camp David) and in the meantime the size of the Israeli economy has doubled and Israel’s international standing has significantly strengthened.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Vadim

      Here’s some random preach.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEoCF0n9exI

      Now please –
      1. Say again you are not an active part of the conflict.
      2. Given there’s a wide range of opinions, please give a link to a speach\preach in Arabic calling for a reconciliation\normalization\peace or anything that implies such thoughts exist.

      Reply to Comment
    7. The Trespasser

      A “Palestinian”? What exactly is “a Palestinian”? Where was a “Palestinian” state? What does “Palestinian” language sound like? Any “Palestinian” rulers? Ancient cities? Major battles? Maybe a book on a important topic written by a medieval Palestinian scientist? Something? Anything?

      >Israel, I know how you feel.

      With all due respect, I’m afraid that you only think that you know.

      >It’s been a tough year.

      It’s been tough last 2500 years, kid.

      >And it’s only just started.

      What only just started? BDS? Antisemitism?

      >Your world seems like it’s crumbling around you.

      Sorry, haven’t noticed anything like that.

      >Everything you knew is no longer true.

      What exactly I knew which is no longer true?

      >The comfortable circumstances to which you have become accustomed…

      I wouldn’t say that I am too accustomed to much of these, taking in consideration an expulsion or two, 5 wars, 2 Intifadas and 65 years of forced military superiority which until now had cost my taxpayers hundreds of billions US dollars.

      >…are rapidly changing around you.

      I understand that for inert Arab society any changes are scary and unwelcome, however I’m pretty much accustomed to these.

      >And worse yet, it seems you can do nothing about it.

      Look, kid, projecting your own inferiority complexes onto others will make you no good.

      >I know how you feel.

      Nope. Sorry.

      >Your so-called “friends” are turning on you.

      What “friends”, for Musa’s sake? Look, kid, there is no such thing as “friends” in (geo)politics.

      >They said they would all always stand by you, no matter what. And now, just when it seems that you need them the most, they have forsaken you.

      Err… Do we really need them the most right now? Does not quite seems so to me…

      >I know how you feel.

      Nah.

      >When I saw those students standing up for you last month, they had the same dejected look on their faces I bore over fifteen years ago. It must have felt terrible.

      It is truth that Israel had lost some propaganda momentum. It is a rather complicated issue, however, and is a bit out of scope of this topic.

      >So, I know how you feel.

      Thank you so much for your concern, but I am doing fine.

      Actually, it is about time my people mobilize their lazy asses and a bit of antisemitism makes a rather nice stick.

      >The position you currently find yourself in is full of uncertainty, discomfort, and doubt.

      Where did you get this ideas from? Leftist blogs?

      >It is as if no matter what you do or say, you just can’t get anyone to believe you.

      “Anyone” is a bit of exaggeration.

      By the way, you’ve managed to make some people believe that “Palestinians” actually do exist and are entitled to special rights. But does that mean that such people exist indeed, or that only parts of relevant UN resolutions must be implemented? Of course not. You see, truth has very little to do with what some people believe or not.

      >You don’t know where to turn.

      Oh, I do, and so I turn. But you are not gonna like that. That I can promise.

      >You can’t figure out what to do.
      As a matter of fact, I can. You see, my people are very good at figuring out what to do.

      >You’re lost.

      What makes you think so?

      >Was everything you’ve ever told yourself just one big lie? …

      Well, yeah, you see, critical and self-critical thinking is one of features of Jewish culture. As a saying goes: Two Jews, three opinions.

      >At one time or another, I have asked myself all those same questions. Trust me, more anger is not the answer.

      You see, the difference between Judaism and Islam is that any non-Jew could come to the Westen Wall, in a loud voice proclaim that there is no Jegovah – and stay alive, while should a non-Muslim come nearby Kaaba and say that… oh, wait, I forgot that non-Muslim can’t even make it near Kaaba.

      >… having everything you’ve ever known uprooted is not a death sentence.

      Look, kid, keep your lectures for someone who has been around for as little as you are.

      >I got through it…

      You had to go through it because your parents would rather kill and main than coexist peacefully.

      >and so can you.

      Not only I can, but so I did. Many times. You are more than welcome to try and make me do that again, but do not complain that the outcome might be not as you had imagined.

      >Trust me, I know how you feel.

      You don’t know shit, kid.

      >Recently, your days have been full of turmoil and chaos.

      Nonsense. Just nonsense.

      >The past several months for you have been bad. Really bad.

      As a matter of fact, the past several months were good, remarkably good. Probably the best since 1999.

      >But you’ve only had a bad few months. I’ve had a bad 65 years.

      I’ve had a much worse 2000 years, kid.

      >I know I’m only 36, but I was born in 1948, just like the rest of us.

      Basically, you’ve just admitted that until 1948 no “Palestinian people” had existed on this planet.

      >So you’ll survive. I promise.

      With all due respect, you are no one to make such promises.

      >You just have to accept the fact that things are never going to be the same.

      Say, did you ever heard about Heraclitus? Oh, but of course not, who am I asking?

      >While I can sympathize, there is one major difference.

      Oh, there are much more extremely major differences.

      >Like you, I have always felt that the truth was on my side. But unlike you, it turns out that I was right.
      Had you invested some time into studying history and philosophy, kid, you’d knew that you are saying nothing but nonsense.

      >Nevertheless, I’m here for you. And I promise you, I’m not going anywhere.
      For the 2nd time – you are no-one to make ANY promises. Talk to me in a century or two, shall you be here by than.

      >We’ll get through this.
      Oh, we surely will. But it will have nothing whatsoever to do with what you want or don’t, kid.

      >Sincerely
      Something tells me that your sincerity is fake, as you sympathy is.

      Reply to Comment
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