Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sloth, Pride and Palestine: What Is In Us That Keeps Us From Seeing Reality?

"'I did this', says my Memory. 'I cannot have done this', says my Pride and remains inexorable. In the end, Memory yields."

Last week, President-elect Obama stated again that "the United States does not torture." We know that is not a factually true statement, but it is one we would like to believe and certainly expresses the hope many of us have that we will BECOME a country that does not torture. While the Bush administration has without doubt trampled on our illusions (and disillusioned many the world over) with its ruthless abuse of others and self-righteous rationalizations of this abuse, the truth is we have a long history of harming civilians, of torturing and training others to torture. And while the mainstream media has had a hand in stifling the truth, the hands we use to cover our own eyes have participated as well. Nietzshe's quote above applies to most of us: it is very hard to stay mindful of things we don't like about ourselves. When Obama says we don't torture and we know that isn't true, we look beneath the statement to what we hope for: that we will soon NOT BE a country that tortures. But in looking underneath, we ignore reality. We HAVE tortured, we DO torture and saying we don't is a lie. Pride wins over Memory, again.

So what's that got to do with the title of this thing? Why am I invoking two deadly sins and Palestine in the same breath?

I've been thinking a great deal about what is happening in Gaza right now, and about the strange silence around the blockade. 1.5 million people are being denied food, electricity, water, a working sewage system and medical supplies. Access to medical treatment in Israel (most cancer treatments and other medical specialties are not available in Gaza) is also being blocked. Foreign journalists are being prevented access to Gaza, as are European diplomats. Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency said Friday that the situation "will be a catastrophe if it persists." Ban Ki-moon has called for the blockade's end. But where are we? Why aren't we standing up, as a nation, and as individuals?

I suspect our lack of response, our failure of compassion has to do with our pride and, under that, our shame. As a nation, we have not yet confronted our bigotry sufficiently that we can be mindful in the present moment. We don't acknowledge what we do to abet prejudice, as we wish to be seen as unprejudiced. We do not intervene when allies are abusive, because we don't wish to admit that we abuse and that we associate with those who do. Our history of anti-Semitism clouds the issue as does our fear of Islam and our prejudice against Arabs. Our pride defeats our memory; our intellectual laziness completes the job. We don't inform ourselves, or share what we know, or demand that our press do a better job.

Tomorrow, 11/24, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel are holding a solidarity gathering for the people of Gaza. I suggest we join their gathering, at least in spirit, by speaking out. Talk to someone about the Gaza blockade. Write a letter to the editor, send a fax to your rep. You can send an email to the Israeli DC embassy here.

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