Saturday, July 12, 2008

Shatama - "You'll Never Understand"

In a recent TV interview Rashida Mughrabi (sister of Dalal Mughrabi) praised the Palestinian who recently killed three Israelis and wounded dozens of others while running his 20-ton bulldozer over cars and into buses in Jerusalem.

How can someone take pleasure in the senseless killing of others? It reminded me of the conversation I once had with a Palestinian friend. I asked her what the real meaning of the Arabic verb "shatama" was. The dictionary says it means to insult or demean someone, but I always sensed there was more to it.

Her surprising response was, "You'll never understand the meaning of that word. You're an American." When I asked what she meant, she continued, "Shatama means to really hope that something really bad happens to another person. You're an American, and you don't think that way. But we do."

She was right - that's not the way I think. Was she also right in the second part of her statement?

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Tale of Two Women

Two women have been in the news the last few days. I think their stories dramatically illustrate two opposing points of view.

The first is Ingrid Betancourt, recently rescued after being held hostage in Columbia for over six years. Even though her treatment was horrible and her suffering intense, she holds neither bitterness nor desire for revenge towards her former captives. When asked if she hated them, her reply was, “No, not at all. It’s a position I took many years ago that when I would be released I wouldn’t take out of the jungle any kind of bitterness or any eagerness to seek for revenge, anything like that…I pray to God to give them his blessing. I don’t want to forget, but I want to forgive.”

In another statement she said, “They closed the helicopter's doors and I saw the commander who for four years had been in charge of us, who had been cruel, humiliating and despotic so many times. I saw him on the floor, naked, blindfolded. I don't think I felt happiness, but rather pity, but I thanked God that I was with people who respect other people's lives, even when they are enemies.”

The second is Dalal Mughrabi, the young Palestinian woman who was killed in the Coastal Road Massacre over 30 years ago in Israel. Her remains are to be turned over by Israel in an upcoming prisoner exchange, and Al-Jazeera recently devoted an hour-long program to glorifying her. Notice the difference between the two accounts surrounding her death given in the program and what really happened.

Moderator One: Twelve men led by a woman named Dalal Mughrabi were able to establish the state of Palestine after the world refused to give them that right. They boarded a bus headed from Haifa to Tel Aviv and turned it into the temporary capital of an independent Palestine. They raised the white, red, and black flag of Palestine from the front of the bus and danced and sang as students do on a school trip. When the Zionist forces surrounded them and the helicopters hovered over them and armed soldiers forced their way unto the bus, they blew it up killing themselves as well. For the first time in the history of revolution, a bus became the capital of a country for four hours. What matters is not how long the state of Palestine lasted, what matters is that it was established and that its first President was Dalal Mughrabi. Heroism has no gender, and may all Arab men realize they do not hold the monopoly over the glory of life and the glory of death. A woman can love nobility more then they do, and can die a more glorious death then they.

Moderator Two (accompanied by stirring music): In her twentieth year she wrote her will. In the same year she determined to donate her life to Palestine. The fighter Dalal Mughrabi never even saw Palestine, but it lived in her heart and mind and that was enough to cause her to give her life for it. On March 11, 1978, with a group of 11 other fighters she was able to infiltrate Israel by sea from Lebanon and hijacked a bus to exchange its passengers for Palestinian prisoners. They called it the Kamal Adnan operation in memory of the commander who was killed by Israel in Beirut in 1973. The Israeli government ordered General Ehud Barak to take control of the bus. His unit entered the bus and killed Dalal Mughrabi. Killing her was not enough for Barak, who dragged her bullet-ridden body by the hair to display before the cameras of the media and photographers who were present.

The real story contains a few details Al-Jazeera failed to mention. Upon landing their boats north of Tel Aviv, Dalal and her associates asked an American photographer named Gail Rubin for directions. As soon as she told them, they killed her. The bus they hijacked was filled with families and children going on a picnic. When the Israeli Defense Forces stopped the bus, the gang started shooting passengers point-blank and then firebombed the bus trapping the passengers inside. At least 35 were killed, including 13 children.

Why would Al-Jazeera leave this out of its report? Could it be the same reason they failed to note that “the great hero” Samir Kantar, who will also be released in the prisoner exchange, was convicted not only of shooting an Israeli policeman but also of killing a man in front of his 4-year old daughter before beating her to death? Could it be the same reason the Iraqi insurgent leaders they interview always describe with great gusto the operations they undertake to kill American soldiers, but deny with equal vehemence any part in the car bombings and suicide operations (often involving female operatives) that target Iraqi civilians and children? Could it be the same reason that writers such as Riza Aslan and Ed Husayn deny that their prophet Muhammad actually married a nine-year-old girl when history clearly records that he did? Could it be a desire to get a point across rather then tell the truth because the truth does not represent the image they want to present?

I noted above that these two women represent two different ways of responding to reality, based upon the values of their respective traditions. In a most bizarre way, the Al-Jazeera reporter tries to merge these traditions by comparing Dalal Mughrabi to the Virgin Mary. He says, “When Dalal Mughrabi decided to carry out her true motherhood, she went to Palestine just as the Virgin Mary did. There on the ground that gives life to wheat and olives and the prophets, she leaned her back against the trunk of a palm tree and enjoyed its refreshment and ate and drank. She closed her eyes and dreamed that the birds of Hebron were flying above her while she was in the pains of giving birth. Five hundred years from now Palestinians will visit her grave, the grave of their mother, from which orange blossoms grow. A thousand years from now Arab children will read that on a March day in 1978 a woman named Dalal first established the state of Palestine inside a bus.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ziyarat al-Banat (The Girls' Visit)

My usual ordinary, routine-driven life was wonderfully turned upside down the last two weeks by the visit of my daughters. Visits to the Filipino souk, the antique souk, the gold markets, the camel markets, the mosque where the founder of the Saudi brand of Islam known as Wahhibism said his prayers, dirtbike riding in the desert, meals in French, Filipino, and Arab restaurants, elavator rides to the top of the city's highest towers including the cigar smoker's top floor of the Fasaliya, and trying to keep up with my eldest daughter on the treadmill were only some of the fun. If anyone ever tells you there's nothing to do in Riyadh, send them my way. And if anyone ever says young women can't look beautiful in an abaya, I have some photos for you (although my daughters insist that isn't a compliment).