And the world listened
Chapter 2 in the novel, “Ten Days That Changed The World,” which is a sequel to “Stillpoint, a novel of war, peace, politics and Palestine,” by Colin Mallard.“Ten Days,” is in the process of being written. When a chapter is completed it is posted. I hope you find it of interest. Please feel free to share it with friends.
The following information is helpful for those who haven’t read “Stillpoint”. In it we come to know David Tremaine a former philosophy professor now president of the US. We learn also of Travis, a versatile general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and respected friend. Samara is a young Palestinian woman, friend of the sage Nasir. She helped in a daring rescue and is brought to the US for her safety. She now works as a Palestinian translator for Tremaine.
Chapter 2 And the world listened.
It was six in the evening in Gaza. An on shore wind had blown steadily all day, not strong but strong enough. The oppressive heat of the last four days had vanished. A harbinger of better things? The beach was already crowded at five o’clock and packed by six. The mood was one of nervous anticipation verging on hope. There was a sense of something momentous about to happen. The fact that the American President had come to Gaza the evening before was something they could hardly believe; and that he’d not returned to the destroyer anchored off the coast only served to fuel the hope that things might be different this time. For years they’d dreamed of freedom but over the past eight years hope had withered and the dream almost died. Hamas had won the election and the world cut Gaza off. The Israelis tightened the noose strangling Gaza, allowing just enough food and water for people to survive and suffer and never enough to be well.
Earlier in the morning Ashraf had made his way to the exposed foundations of a large concrete structure. To the north the beach curved inland forming a shallow bay filled with sand. To the south a small promontory jutted a mile into the Mediterranean.
Walking across the sand, Ashraf carried his sandals. The bay was familiar to him. As a child he’d played soccer in this very place. Soccer had been played here for as long as he could remember; pick up games, sometimes with enough players for a full game, sometimes enough for two games. A sea-wall followed the shoreline separating land from sea. Originally it formed foundations for buildings whose identity had long since been erased by repeated encounters with high explosives from Israeli war ships off the coast.
Looking toward the ocean he could see the destroyer anchored in deep water and close to the land the launch in which they’d arrived, a small American flag attached to the stern flapping in the onshore wind. Between the launch and the destroyer, Israeli gunboats moved up and down the coast, the sound of their powerful engines an ever present threat, ominous and disturbing.
Inland, the rubble had been pushed aside to form walls around a large square. In better days the square had bustled with small shops that sprang up along the perimeter built, quite literally, from the rubble. Farmers had sold produce there for years, but now it was used to unload large trucks bringing food from outside. For the last three days none had arrived. People would be hungry again today.
Ashraf, the leader of the PLO knew well the difficulties of living in a place surrounded by enemies. He’d lived in Gaza until he was twenty five, when he was accepted to the Masters program at Boston University. He’d wanted to study under the late Howard Zinn. He felt a great deal of respect for this old bomber pilot who became a peace activist after the war. Zinn and Noam Chomsky from MIT were friends. Both men were colorblind when it came to race. Both had opposed the War in Vietnam and both were eloquent champions of free speech. Boston University awarded Dr. Martin Luther King a doctorate for his study of Gandhi and his approach to overcoming oppression by non violent methods.
Ashraf graduated with a Masters degree in Political Science with a focus on political philosophy. Having lived with hatred and violence for so many years the idea of overcoming violence with softness seemed impossible. It was in Boston he’d first met Han-Shan and it was he who’d introduced him to the idea.
Living in the West had been difficult at first. He’d been fortunate to meet an elderly Palestinian Professor, a poet. Retired now, he still taught a course each semester, on the poetry of Hafiz and Rumi. He and his wife made Ashraf welcome; they were his home away from home in America.
When Ashraf entered the packed square the crowd opened quietly for him to pass. Along the perimeter people crowded the broken walls and the roofs of buildings, which had escaped the destruction — bright splashes of color and the somber tones of black obscured a devastated landscape. Where the square abutted the sea-wall a small platform made of packing crates had been erected. As he approached the platform he could see Hameed and Dr. Mandur, two senior Hamas leaders in Gaza, arriving with the US President, his assistant Samara and the Canadian mediator, his friend, Han-Shan.
Ashraf was nervous. What he was about to say was momentous. What happened in the days to come would determine if they, the Palestinians, would again roam the earth as free men. Stepping onto the improvised stage he shook hands and greeted his guests warmly, spending extra moments with the President while cameras clicked and whirred sending photos and footage to a surprised world — The leader of the PLO smiling and shaking hands not only with the President but with leaders of Hamas as well — It was hard to believe. Ashraf looked at the crowd, taking his time, seeing the people, being with them.
Hameed had wanted him to speak in Arabic, “Why not?” he’d asked angrily. Ashraf had turned and placed a hand on Hameed’s arm. “The people I want to talk with, the people we need to talk with, are the people of the Western world. The language most familiar to them is English. I want to speak with them directly, to be sure they understand what we’re doing and why.”
Ashraf stood quietly in the unusual silence. Then he began to speak. “What I have to say is addressed to the people of the world; so my Palestinian brothers and sisters, forgive me for speaking of things you already know far too well.
“Almost two million of us call Gaza home. This land is not quite all that’s left of what was once Palestine. Imagine a strip of land five miles wide and twenty five in length. Imagine living there under the conditions we must live. To our guests and those who join us through the magic of modern technology, welcome to our home, the largest open air concentration camp in the world, ringed by guns, steel and a world largely unaware of the crimes committed against us. Let me describe some of them for you.
“To go in and out of Gaza is almost impossible for most Palestinians. Israel controls everything that comes in and out. Our sewage treatment system was destroyed years ago by repeated military strikes. Supplies to rebuild it are forbidden. Untreated sewage, organic and chemical fertilizers, and the toxins of war have poisoned our soil and reduced our ability to feed ourselves. For those who do not live here it is hard to understand the magnitude of what I’m talking about. Imagine if you lived in a city the size of Vancouver, or Seattle, Paris, Birmingham, Budapest, Warsaw or Riyad. Imagine being confined in it for eight years, unable to leave and unable to treat the sewage of so many people.
“The United Nations just published a report on water in Gaza. The scientists are telling us that if we don’t act at once the aquifer under Gaza will be beyond recovery by 2020. But, how can we act?
“The power plant is a target Israelis frequently bomb and so we have little or no dependable power. Water pumps and pipes are damaged and destroyed. We’re forced to import electricity, food and water from or through Israel. Sometimes it arrives, often not. A deliberate policy of withholding food has been used against us since the blockade first started. Gaza needs 170 truck loads of food a day, the bare minimum to avoid malnutrition. The average number that arrive each day is 67 and for the last three days, none. Large quantities of food are spoiled by delays at the border. The ‘Red Lines’ document drafted in 2008 — which Israel was forced to make public — shows that the starvation diet is in fact a deliberate policy. Our people are malnourished. One fifth of our children are deficient in Iodine and suffer the inevitable illness and disease that accompany raw sewage, contaminated water and malnutrition.
“It is hatred that deprives us of what we need and keeps us suspended in the netherland between life and death. Ask yourself how would you feel, if you were under siege for all these years on this small strip of land and the world closed its eyes?” Ashraf paused. Waves brushing the shore accentuated the unusual silence. Off shore the American destroyer swung at anchor while Israeli gunboats patrolled the shore.
“Palestinians living in the West Bank are subject to indiscriminate searches and seizures, beaten and imprisoned without cause, their homes destroyed by bulldozers to make way for Israeli business ventures, settlements, municipal expansion and parks. All of it serves the ongoing policy of “de-arabization” first implemented in 1947–1948 and still in effect today.
“The Palestinian people have had enough! We have lost our hope. Our people are treated worse than second class citizens, like vermin, ‘cockroaches,’ to be exterminated. It is called “Ethnic cleansing,” it is illegal, it is immoral and it is ongoing! We are being driven from the land of our ancestors.
“You find this hard to believe?” Ashraf paused for a moment. “How do we know this? By the facts, the numbers themselves. In 1948 the UN, without the consent of the Palestinian people, ceded to the new Jewish State 52% of our land and left 48% for us. As of 2013 Israel controls 82% of the land, Palestinians 18%. Settlements continue to spread over the hills. These, so called settlers, hostile and aggressive people, either pretend we don’t exist or try to kill us. They claim the land as their own — a right, conferred on them by God. This cannot be true. God does not play favorites, God does not take sides, God does not choose one people over another. This is man’s behavior, not God’s!
“When people are powerless and desperate, when the joy of life gives way to sorrow and suffering is everywhere, life is not worth living. When we arrive at this place it is one of great danger for an oppressor. The Chinese poet sage, Lao Tzu wrote about this some 2500 years ago. When life becomes intolerable death is welcomed and he who has embraced his death lives without fear. A man like this makes a formidable enemy. Lao Tzu’s observation is our reality. This is why Israel cannot defeat us, this is why we can live in ways they cannot. We consider our death imminent and under the conditions we are forced to live, death has become our friend, we are no longer afraid of it.
“It is hard for those who’ve not walked in our shoes and lived in our world to fully comprehend the scale of violence directed at us. It is considered impossible and brushed off as an aberration, an exaggeration on our part — a lie even. There are some who shrug their shoulders: ‘Don’t know much about it, to be honest,’ they say stating the most glaringly obvious fact.
“The violence of Hamas and the desperation of our people is seen as the cause of Israel’s attacks, not the result. If Israel targeted ambulances, hospitals and schools in Western nations as they do in Gaza and the West Bank, there would be an uproar. They would put a stop to it. But in our case the West is silent.
“How can the ‘right of return’ exist for the Jews and not the Palestinians? There are still people alive who remember those terrible days when 800,000 Palestinians were driven from their villages by Jewish gangs and paramilitaries. Settlers moved into their homes sometimes when coffee was still warm in the cups. It took place just before the state of Israel was formed and there are some Palestinians who still possess the legal deeds to homes stolen since 1948.
“The early Zionists wanted a state for Jews only. They used extreme violence against us. The policy was to terrorize us, make us so afraid we’d ‘never return’. To that end women and children were targeted. It was one of the methods that reached its height between 1947–1948 and is still in use today. For every 50 Israelis killed, most of whom are soldiers, a thousand Palestinians die, over a third of them women and children.
“This beautiful land, our home for thousands of years, this Gaza, filled with the laughter and tears of our children, this ancient center of learning, this land and this once great city are dying. We need the help of the European countries, of Britain and the US. If these democratic nations of the world truly understood the importance of justice they would remember she is blind. She treats all human beings as equals.” Ashraf paused and took a drink aware that these silent people around him had put their trust in him. He continued. “Before the European Jews arrived, Arabs, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together in relative harmony. Perhaps over time…someday it will be possible again.
“Palestinians die in darkness and horror. Now when we die it will be openly, in the sunlight for all to see, for all to bear witness to what is happening to us. We will die if we must, for justice and for the right of those who come after us — Palestinians and Israelis alike. This poison that kills Palestinians eats away at the soul of Israelis as well. What we want for ourselves we want for all people. The right to live in peace.”
Ashraf stopped for a moment. He turned briefly and looked to the sea again. Gunboats had moved closer their powerful motors now ominous in the silence, a threat but no longer threatening.
“Palestine, all of Palestine,” he said slowly, “declares war on Israel.”
And still the silence held. In seconds his words flashed round the world. Programs were interrupted and people looked at each other in stunned silence. The whole world had tuned in, the whole world listened.
In the entrance hall to the Trump Centre on 5th Avenue people crowded in front of a large screen and stared in disbelief. They saw before them the slight elegant form of Ashraf, dressed in gray pants and a white shirt. A trim man in his early forties, his skin was dark and his close cropped hair was white. He was not someone most Westerners knew much about. In flawless English he’d addressed the world, a translator simultaneously conveying his words in Arabic.
If you missed Chapter 1, here is the link where you can find it. Going to Gaza: