The Endless Baptism of Palestine

For the last few months, I’ve been working on a series of essays on Palestine. I’ve now written and erased my words until there is nothing left but the original title of the series. It could fit on a button: “Islamophobia is not the answer to Anti-Semitism.” —-Eventually, the title too had to be scratched. Because although anti-Muslim sentiment is fueled by and benefits US imperialism and Israel’s apartheid practices, Palestinian Christians suffer as well.

Each day I tried to work. I felt myself covered with dust.  I read of the erasure of Palestinian names from Israeli maps and how each erasure was attended by a massacre of innocents. I felt myself consumed in darkness while reading stories of Al-Dawayima where an entire village of Palestinian citizens was murdered, beaten, some raped, their bodies thrown down into the town well by Israeli soldiers. [i] I tried to write of the massacre of the people of Nasir al-din, Tantura, Eilabun, but the ghosts silenced me with their hunger.  If you don’t believe me, read and read.

These massacres are the seeds of Israel’s creation.  The occupation of Palestinian land and apartheid conditions for Palestinians continues to the present day. At the same time there is forced ignorance of the history of Israel and its current crimes. As a Muslim-raised New Yorker, I am baffled and horrified almost every day by how little people know about Palestine. I cannot read the New York Times without gagging. There is a creation of a fake history right before our eyes, the kind of history that hurts the most.

It is always difficult to find the words to say what I know and feel about Palestine and the ways in which we in the United States are complicit in Israel’s crimes because when I do, I hear cries of “Anti-Semite” thrown like dirt in my eyes. This is what is done when someone tries to tell the truth of Palestine, even though Zionism in current practice has been included in the African Union’s Charter on Human and People’s Rights on par with apartheid and neocolonialism. This Charter has been ratified by 53 African countries.

Before they were bullied into changing the definition, the UN General Assembly also defined Zionism as “a form of racism and racial discrimination” and added that “any doctrine of racial differentiation of superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust, and dangerous.” This was in 1975. Due to pressure from the United States and Israel, the UN had to change its tune.  At the UN Conference on Racism in 2001, the United States and Israel threatened to walk away from the conference if Zionism continued to be associated with racism.  Thus, Zionism wasn’t labeled as racism in the UN anymore.  However, an independent Human Rights Forum at the same conference did connect Zionism with racism and cited Israel’s racially inspired brutality, acts of genocide, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as obvious forms of racism.

And so I know I am not completely alone, but still the words stayed stifled in me whenever I sat down to write this series.  I could only begin writing this piece after John Murillo, a poet, teacher, and friend of friends, shared during a Cave Canem workshop, Lorca’s Theory and Play of the Duende.  Lorca spoke of the darkness.  The beauty of his words were branches I could grasp to see me to the other side.  In the end, my first response, before I could write any of what I wrote above, was a poem, a loose cento created from a patchwork of Gabriel Garcia Lorca’s words:

 

The Endless Baptism

 

I was covered in fine ash

peppery sneezes racked my body

from the soles of his feet, my father

diminutive as a green almond,

tired of lines and circles,

went down to the docks by himself

 

he came upon a drunken soldier

who laughed and passed roses

through his arms. A weeping prophet

my father grasped saltpetre flowers,

the verses of Jeremiah[iv],

broke them

under his tender rosy foot

 

broke the razor, the wheel of the cart,

the hut. The soldier

sobered up, shook wormy

pages of Testament in his fist,

dusted dried blood-pollen from their buds

his profile cut like the edge of a barber’s razor, but

 

my father with the prickly beard of shepherd

prophets, with the heads of his children

threaded with barbed wire, sleeping in dust,

with the minds of his children made ill

with limitation, hurled a pot of ink

at the talking monkey soldier

 

it missed, wounded the eaves and balconies

of the soldier’s ill-begotten city,

released the fragrance of bees

 

The soldier fearing the scent of violets

repeated in a voice of beaten tin, Hertzl[v]

warned, people will say we are butchers, but

let the blood of the poor and the thieves flow

 

with the fragrant cypress

of a barren butter moon, with nothing

left to lose, but a voice of scorched centuries,

my father spoke:  A country of death,

the vast night will press its waist against you

until your children, too, will sleep in the weeds

with the eyes of dead fish at dawn.

 

God forbid, all of this.

 

Bushra Rehman

www.bushrarehman.com


 

[i] The movie “Salt of the Sea” (written/directed by Annemarie Jacir) contains a poignant and necessary response to the Al-Dawayima massacre.

[iv] The verses of Jeremiah from the Hebrew Bible are used to justify the creation of the State of Israel.

[v] The drunken soldier quotes and misquotes the Hebrew Bible and Theodor Hertzl, the founder of Zionism.  Hertzl’s thoughts on the methods of creating the state of Israel are contradictory.  He wrote both about living peacefully with the original residents of the Jewish State (whether it was in Uganda or Palestine) and “spiriting” these same residents away across the border and not allowing them back in.  Hertzl wrote: “The process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly.” Based on how little most US citizens know of the brutal treatment of Palestinians, how even Israelis are fed a false history, this last line has come to pass.