“When we deal with each other, we should do so with the sense of awe that arises in the presence of something holy and sacred.” Genesis
“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry … ” Khalil Gibran
It is a curious thing that a scandalous crisis, for such is the Palestinian state, can remain suspended in crisis for over 60 years without resolution or authentic effort to resolve it. It’s especially curious when two points are considered. The first is the visibility of the crisis; the second is the scale of it. By definition a crisis is a situation of uncertainty, pain, and hardship so critical that action must be taken to resolve it in order to prevent complete disaster. It is a turning point that must move forward decisively to determine the future. The very thing that causes people to say of other crises, ‘It will work itself out.’
With Palestine, the visibility is as transparent as the world’s ability to see all things. Yet, with such a tragedy before such an audience the drama of the crisis remains stagnant and fatally critical; suspended at that turning point that never turns or moves in any forward direction. There is never Act II. Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air. As if bewitched, we seem stuck. Hovering in that desert of foggy, foul air we may not even care that we are stuck, or if the performance is staged. But Palestine is not a play; it’s the scene of heartbreaking drama which we watch play out miserably again and again, never moving forward, as if a sequence of events leading to the final act is of little consequence. How can such a devastation remain in constant replay before the eyes of a hyper-interventionist world that stages massive protests with the flickr of a tweet, and launches democracies-in-a-rocket quicker than a falling dictator can actually fall? And the scale of the crisis, in human terms alone, should cause us to shudder with fear at the barbarity of inhumanity chillingly unbridled. Once we did shudder. Once, when faced with human misery spawned by cruelty and injustice, our collective response was to be horrified. No longer is this true. Why? Why are we not horrified by human suffering and, instead, are horrified by the suggestion we ought to be horrified?
We can debate claims and territories, and we can engage in propaganda this way or that, but that’s not the point. Put aside opinions and positions and fanciful impressions. Suspend the indifference that dismisses the crisis as complicated. Instead, consider this question. Has the world lost a sense of its own humanity while pursuing super rights?
We are not, I think, who we say we are. Conventional wisdom portrays a world sophisticated, enlightened, tolerant, and sensible. We would never do the things they did. If this self-portrait is true why do we do the very things they did but mask it behind causes, justify it by necessity, and exalt it with legalities? Are we not seeing in a mirror dimly – intentionally? Why are we not awed in the presence of other human beings, and why do we not weep rivers at their suffering? This is the fallout of losing our ground; abandoning core recognition of humanity and replacing it with, in some ways, hysterical specialized human rights. Attempting to force equity we may have destroyed the principle foundations from whence equality is measured. At times, we are innocently misguided – trying to right every wrong by mandate. Other times, we are just sinister. Either way, it’s the right of being, the right of personhood that has been sold for a cause. There is something dishonest afoot when we insist on hyphenated rights while trampling upon mere human ones.
It is true, the world has always known cruelty. It is not true that the world had failed to recognize it as such. This failure, selective and irrational, is a lately embraced phenomenon. Barbarian hordes terrorized through cruelty because it was effective, not because they had no sense of it. When the ancients conquered, it wasn’t because the vanquished were perceived as subhuman; they conquered because they were human. Rome did not seek destruction of Carthage because it was an abyss of humanity; she sought to annihilate because it was shockingly dehumanizing, deeply offensive to Roman virtue. And it was not warmongering that excited Cato to end every speech with “Carthago delenda est!” It was Carthaginian human sacrifice.
One might argue that slavery betrays this idea the world was once more cognizant of humanity. On the contrary, though the concept of slavery is dehumanizing insofar as it views people as property, and post-enlightenment slave holders (especially in Britain and America) did dehumanize their slaves, the practice itself in the ancient world was not. It did not deny the right of personhood; it denied the right of freedom to persons. Its practice was universal and not at all controversial. Though it’s hard to fathom human bondage with present sensibilities it should be discerned that such bondage was degrading, not dehumanizing. Slavery was the cost of building civilizations and the vanquished and captives paid the price. It was understood, expected. It was the way it was. Absent any charters decreeing human liberty, world societies practiced subjugation as a means of economic prosperity rather routinely. And very openly. Slaves of Greece and Rome could purchase their freedom, a possibility clearly acknowledging personhood. Personhood was never in doubt.
So it was that Spanish Queen Isabella issued the decree on Indian labor, dismissed Columbus of his governorship for mistreatment of the Indian population, and initially declared the people “free and not subject to slavery.” So it was, also, that Friar Antonio de Montesinos denounced the “Spanish cruelties” and threatened to withhold the sacraments from the ruling class. Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas passionately campaigned for the rights and dignity of the Indians which led to possibly the earliest secular human rights declaration. Further, we have Pope Paul III issuing a papal bull, Sublimis Deus, establishing the rights of Indian peoples to liberty, property, and dominium as Church Law: “(The Indians) … are not to be deprived of their liberty or the right to their property. They are to have, to hold, to enjoy both liberty and dominion, freely, lawfully. They must not be enslaved. Should anything different be done, it is void, invalid, of no force, no worth.” But things were done differently. And are done differently still in Palestine.
A world that viewed slavery as a normal and necessary piece of fabric in the weaving of civilization, conquests, and empires did not hold a concept of nonpersons. Legal rights were restricted or even denied, but personhood was not. How is it then that supposedly backward societies never lost recognition of humanity, but contemporary progressive societies have? Who is being so positively medieval?
In this great age of social justice, there remain three distinct peoples presently suffering and dying under the indefensible denial of personhood. Palestinians, Dalits of India and preborn children. For Dalits the struggle for dignity as persons is rooted in Hinduism and, though officially there is no such discrimination, in reality, a Dalit is subject to every degree of hatred, abuse, poverty, hopelessness, and murder with impunity. They are viewed as ‘less’ – cast out from societal life. They’ve no human value in the eyes of others because their personhood is not recognized. Likewise, infants who are living, but not yet born, have been stripped of the fundamental right to go on living by denial of personhood status. Science, if not ethics, has debunked any primitive notion that such infants are not human. Everyone knows it is so. And still, it doesn’t matter. Their individual rights to life have been sacrificed for a higher concept called “privacy.” Such denials allow us to ignore the obvious (right of being) so we may permit a more favored group to hold super rights (right to deny life) over the very existence of the defined non-persons. This trumping of one supposed right over another’s life is triumphantly catalogued in the chapter we call human rights. This brings us back to Palestine.
For decades Israeli propaganda has by design dehumanized those they oppress. History has been rewritten. Villages have been renamed. Centuries old olive groves burned to make room for further illegal occupation by settlers, who then plant new groves and claim they’ve always done so. Mega-media campaigns are unceasingly launched claiming there are no historic Palestinians; there were no ancient peoples on the land renamed Israel. And this effrontery to the personhood of Palestinians is shamefully echoed in American presidential campaigns. “They are an invented people.” An astonishingly callous, dehumanizing cruel assertion. It further victimizes already shattered victims of atrocities in a highly visible public forum. It is no different from standing in a sex crimes unit to declare rape victims are really imported mannequins, therefore, pay them no mind. It is propaganda of the most hideous sort. The sort that is meant not to incite, but to produce apathy. And so it has. And so remains the still present crisis of the Palestinian state; the state of non being.
How has this war against hearts and minds worked? How has it marred our ability to properly react, as humans should, to horrific suffering before our eyes? Why are we not rightfully horrified by images of bulldozed homes, apartheid encampments, and dead children with bullet holes, blown-off heads, and phosphorous burned flesh?
If you are a super rights people (by way of past victimization) you protect that special status most effectively by claiming your victimhood to be unique and eternal and, therefore, demand another’s land and world assistance ever ready for your defense. Never mind you are armed to the teeth and the evicted are not. Never mind you receive billions in military and economic aid from a superpower, but the refugees must beg for water. Just reassert the obligation of others to ‘have your back’ no matter what you’ve done, or what you’ll do. You accuse any who question your occupation as anti-semitic, preying upon irrational guilt over a historic injustice against you, knowing this will provoke a defensive disengagement (ignore, shall we, that crimes against Palestinians, children of Abraham, are anti-semitic). To further your entrenchment you deny the history, the presence, the suffering, the oppression of the people whose land you took and, instead, manipulate all pretense of discourse to portray your victims as soulless terrorists who will surely, if liberated from their imprisonment, plunder your gardens and kill your children. You, with mercenaries of other nations, insist every conversation begin with an assertion of your right to exist and to defend yourself against stone throwing children. To cement your fallacies in such stone, you provoke wars as proof of your vulnerability and boldly remind other nations of your special friendship (which means allegiance to you, not to the nations themselves).
This entire scheme is built upon a mountain of deception, super rights mentality and the denial of personhood; the denial of right of being to Palestinians. It has worked for decades. But it will not always be so. People will grow weary of this tale and weary of the injustice. They will grow tired of the dog-wagging wars. They will one day wake up and recognize their own complicity when they begin to recognize anew their own humanity. Eventually, the Palestinian crisis will turn, and it will be resolved. For it is their birthright. Should anything different be done, it is void, invalid, of no force, no worth.
Meanwhile, keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry and the philosophy that does not bow before children.