Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Scope of Selfless Service

"The scope of selfless service is not limited to great gestures, heroic acts, and huge donations to public institutions. They also serve who exprss their love in little things. A word that gives courage to a broken heart or a smile that brings hope in the midst of gloom has as much claim to be regarded as service as difficult sacrifices and heroic self-denials. A glance that wipes out bitterness from the heart is also service, although there may be no thought of service in it. When taken by themselves, all these things seem to be small, but life is made up of such small things. If these small things were ignored, life would be not only unbeautiful but unbearable" Meher Baba

Palestinian houses are easily distinguished from Israeli houses by one non-variant feature: Palestinian houses have water storage tanks on top of them. Running water 24 hours a day is reserved for Israeli colonial settlers. A trickle is occasionally sent our way and we try to maximize its use. But storage tanks on top of roofs are increasingly not helpful as the water pressure is so low when it is on that water cannot reach that high. Those who can afford it, have started putting new tanks on the ground or buying supplemental water. Drilling and maintaining wells (as our ancestors did) has been forbidden by Israeli regulations for many decades. Our old house is an exception since we do have a well that collects rainwater. Occasionally after long stretches of no or barely running water, a relative asks if they could have a bath at our house. Water here also costs a lot more than it does to Israeli colonial settlers. Not coincidentally the water we are denied is our water. 80% of the water of the West Bank is used by Israeli Jews (illegally according to International law). Yesterday, tens of thousands of Palestinians waited at a checkpoint for hours but most were denied entrance to pray in the holiest site for Islam in Palestine on the first holy Friday of Ramadan. Their denial is also an illegal act by International law. All those people stood and sweated in the sun (36 C, nearly 100 F) for hours to be finally turned back and went to their modest homes with no running water to even take a simple bath before they break their dawn to dusk fast. Images flashed before my eyes of families separated as older members allowed to pass, children getting frustrated, a women fainted (Muslims are also fasting so it is hard to stand in the heat while not able to drink water).

I wished every world leader stood there in line in the face of the occupation, the face of oppression and colonization. I wished that people who are indifferent open their mind and hearts to the reality of what is going on. I talked to a women who had 8 children. Her husband brings in a meager wage that is not even enough to feed her family. Her eldest son (19 year old) had to leave the University because they could not afford the tuition ($700/semester). Her second son had a brain tumor and is unable to function well in school or work. Unemployment here is twice what it was in the US during the great Depression of the 1930s. Ofcourse Israel has no such economic woes; their economy is based on selling weapons and security related gear (much of it US and much of it funded by us, US taxpayers) and that business is booming thanks to Zionist inspired "war on terror".

I thought of this poem by a Palestinian Child.

The definition of occupation
By Abdelnasser Rashid, April 15, 2006, 11th Grade student, PALESTINE

Occupied, terrorized, genocide
while the whole world is hypnotized,
Sixty years, incessant tears
no day passes by without countless fears
For our lives, our wives, our children cry
yet the world turns away, and our spirits die.
For my land, I do stand
but I remain hopeless without a helping hand,
Oppression, suppression, depression
of every aspect of my life, you've taken possession,
Our weapons are stones, to protect our homes
but your bulldozers win and terror roams,
Yours are tanks, helicopters, and military jeeps
to kill the young man, as his mother weeps,
You control our electricity, you control our seas
you control our streets, and uproot our trees,
You close our schools, our children can't learn
you deny the refugees their right to return,
Suffering orphans, under your persecution
when they rise up, they face execution,
Families are separated, and farmers (merely) recall
the land they lost by your Apartheid Wall,
Through your diplomacy and your foreign relations
you attempt to justify and give credence to your occupations,
Palestine is my land, and I won't let you take it
and while you put the world to sleep, I try to wake it.

Yes, Abdelnasser, maybe we can wake some people.. but only if they want to be awakened. Some like to wallow in myths and lies. The truth can be painful. It is even painful to those of us awake to it. Images like Mahmoud Abbas embracing the war criminal Shimon Peres (father of Israel's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction including hundreds of nuclear bombs) and still deluding his people about "two states for two people".

But I promised you not to dwell on the negatives with so much positive around. Ramadan in Palestine is still "the good month". I am not just talking about the unique foods, sounds, and smells of the Iftars and its great evenings. I am talking about the spirit of giving and love that is awakened. Good people from all political persuasions, all backgrounds, all nationalities do marvelous work here every day but it seems Ramadan brings more of them. Many stand up to tyrrany. Muslims who were denied entry to the Aqsa mosque I believe are more at ease with themselves having tried than if they had thought "what is the use, I will be denied anyway" and stayed home. This despite the hardship while fasting. Those who demonstrated yesterday against the apartheid wall built on their lands in villages like Bil'in near Ramallah and AlMa3sara near Bethlehem knew they would not be treated with kid gloves by the army of colonizers. This despite the hardship while fasting. The old women who got embarrased that I saw her (accidentally) slip money to a needy family. The generosity of people with little giving to people with less (the spirit of Ramadan). The Internationals and the Gaza fishermen who got shot at for excercising a basic right of people to take boats in their own waters (see video here ). The Palestinians who are finally coming around to what we all have been saying: that endless "peace processes" is no substitute for peace (see Palestinians Calculating Next Move: Coexistence with Occupation Not an Option by Sam Bahour
the article was commenting on Palestinian working group exploration of strategic options ). The brave journalists who tackle difficult subjects (listen to this segment on WBAI on Mahmoud Darwish followed by an interview with Rich Siegel on why he left the myths of Zionism to become an advocate of truth: These are people who regularly challenge the system and speak truth to power. But even when they/we are not doing this, when they/we are living our lives in Palestine it is inspiring. In the past four days I attended many acts of normal life in an abnormal area: a Christian wedding, a celebration of a graduation from medical school, an intimate gathering of friends over dinner and tea, an Iftar, commercial transactions, a harvest of grapes and figs, a talk to visiting students from a Univesrity in California, a conversation with young people concerned about their future. There are also combination actions like boycotting Israeli goods and buying Palestinian products when possible (Israel destroyed much of the Palestinian economy and developed a captive market; so it is difficult but doable).

These and many many more are the actions for peace and the ordinary lives on the ground that give us the hope and indeed the certainty that life will get better, that we can together make a brighter future not just in this occupied/colonized land but elsewhere. So let us take action in the many ways we all know we can. As philosophers and psychologists alike tell us: we are more powerful and able to effect change than we usually think we are.

Action: Petition to The Arab League Secretary General about Gaza

"The secret of human freedom is to act well. without attachment to the results" Bhagavad Gita

Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD Find more at qumsiyeh dot org

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