Monday, May 16, 2011
7.30am, Nada calls. “The buses are already full and they told us if we want to hitch a ride we’d have to stand the whole way down, is there space with you?” The buses are full? Big smile on my face. “Of course!” Quick change of plan, and I wait for Rana before we set off to pick up Nada and Lara and join Ahmad in Khalde.
After a stop for coffee, we began our journey down, with Ahmad leading our two-car convoy. It was very unlikely we would get lost though, because every kilometre or so we’d pass half a dozen buses decked out with Palestinian flags, clearly heading in the same direction we were. And if somehow we missed those, someone had kindly taken the time to signpost the entire journey down with directions to Palestine. I guess for future reference, you know, after we’ve liberated it and we can make plans to hang out in Haifa for the weekend. Forward planning; I like.
Adorned with keffiyehs, and draping flags out of the car window, we laughed at those who had predicted the worst for us that day, rather, exchanged ideas of how we would cross the border fence. “What did you hear?” “Someone said they’re going to shoot at us” “They wouldn’t dare!” “I wonder how many of us are going to show up?” “I wonder how many of THEM are going to show up?” “Look! More buses!” Nada told us she had promised her father that she won’t be the first person to break across the border, “but I will be the second!”. Ohh yay, I get to be the first.
Trying to be clever, Ahmad searched for an alternate route to beat the crowds to Maroun el Ras. Clearly the organisers, in conjunction with Hizbullah, had predicted there would be people with Ahmad’s mentality, and blocked all other roads leading to the hill top, ensuring complete control of the masses of people descending on the border from all corners of the country. And it was very well executed. Herding us like sheep into a pen, we got in line behind each other, slowly moving forward. Well, I say got in line, there were more than a few who thought the line didn’t apply to them- we are still in Lebanon after all.
Finally arriving at the foot of the hill, we debated staying in line behind the buses, or parking the car and trekking it up. Seeing as the traffic was at a standstill, we opted for the park’n’trek, trusting the army soldier who told us it’ll take us “15 minutes, easy!” to get to the top. 15 minutes later, and nowhere near the top, we stopped to collect our breaths (it was hot and none of us are avid mountain climbers), and watched as people ranging from our grand-parents age to babies slowly walked up passed us. Covered in Palestinian memorabilia, from flags, to scarves, to traditional dress, to keffiyehs, to self-designed t-shirts, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, and even a few Westerners, chanted and sang, while some played the tablah. There was a festive feeling, the atmosphere was almost electric with nationalism, solidarity, and hope. “The people want to free Palestine!” was chanted repetitively on the road towards Maroun al Ras.
On the final stretch of the hill, just behind the destination point, shots were heard. Young boys started running towards the sounds. Others stopped, confused. Rana and I? We started running (I say running; we were going uphill, walking at a brisk pace is more realistic) towards the sounds. They were so sporadic I thought that possibly they were fireworks. Or something.
Eventually we rounded the corner and arrived at our destination point; the garden donated by Iran following the 2006 war with Israel, which overlooks the border with Israel. An old ice-cream van was selling cones and playing slightly out of tune music, making it sound more creepy than friendly. Chairs were scattered across the ground, for those weary from walking to sit and listen to the speeches on revolution, on resistance, on remembrance, being aired over loud-speakers. Rana and I waited, as we had lost Nada and Lara on the way after they stopped to help an old lady walk the distance. While we waited, we watched as balloons, lots of pretty red, green and white balloons were released into the skies. Altogether people seemed content, occasionally rising to the bait with “Free Palestine!” when a particular speaker struck the right chord.
From the start we had taken the decision to go to the border fence, so once we found the others, we headed down towards the fence. Looking into the distance at the border, one could see a hail of stones being thrown over the fence, almost automatic, as if in time with some invisible beat. Some had even managed to throw a couple of flags onto the fence. People had gathered at different points on the descent, and the mood was quickly changing from one of festive to one of concern the further down we got. Ahmad called. We had lost each other before even getting to Maroun el Ras, but by this point we all had the same plan- head down the hill. As the shots continued to ring out, news quickly travelled up the hill, with people passing on unconfirmed statistics of the dead and wounded. “1 dead.” “4 dead.” “10 wounded.” The shots continued.
At the bottom of the hill was a dirt road. By this time it was probably around 1pm, and the army had started to gather, forming a blockade to prevent protestors from crossing into the field which led to the fence. We had seen scores of people retreating from the fence following several shots from the Israelis, before returning, hurling stones with renewed anger. Attempting to pass the blockade, we were at first politely asked to back away, before being roughly pushed back by the army, who were shouting at us to back up. “But we want to be at the fence,” we pleaded with them. “What? You want to go over there are get shot? Are you not seeing the bodies they’re bringing back?” One soldier responded aggressively.
But we were. We were seeing the bodies alright. We were seeing them, boys as young as 15, critically wounded. We were seeing them, wrapped in make-shift blankets and stretchers made of keffiyehs and Palestinian flags tied together. We were seeing them, covered in blood from gunshot wounds to the head, chest, or abdomen. We were seeing them, lifted high for the crowds to see, who responded with chants of ‘Allah w akbar!’ until they reached fever pitch. Grown men were breaking down, crying, as friends were being carried away. Others screamed until they could no longer make a sound. And that’s why we wanted to be at the fence. The more bodies were pulled away from the fence, whether dead or wounded, the more we, as a crowd, wanted to be there. To help, to support, to get angry, to chant, to do whatever was necessary to defend.
At one point the army get tetchy with the crowd pushing and shoving, and fired warning shots in the air. Followed by another round. People ducked to the ground to avoid the spray of bullets, unsure of what just took place. This wasn’t supposed to happen; isn’t the army supposed to fire at the enemy? Wasn’t the enemy on the other side of the fence currently killing our protestors? The crowd reacted quickly, picking up whatever was around them and throwing them at the army; sticks, stones, bottles. A rain of objects fell on the soldiers, who retaliated with another round of shots. People started screaming at them; “Why??” “You should be firing at the Israelis not at us!” “Use your fire on the Israelis!” “You fire on your own people?!”
We rushed at the army again, trying to get through, but to no avail. “Please, Mademoiselle, don’t try and come through” one said. The crowd, once again infuriated because a fresh body was brought up, pushed and shoved, and I managed to wriggle my way through, even as one of the organisers tried to hold me back. Elated, I ran down, half afraid the army may start shooting at the few of us who got through. Spinning round, I checked to see if Rana or Nada had made it. Rana had. Thank God. There was a part of me that couldn’t do this alone.
As we stopped to catch our breath and pat each other on the back, the organiser who previously tried to stop me from breaking through the barrier jogged passed. “I’m so sorry, but I had to come down” I started to explain to him as he passed. “I know, I wanted to come too,” he responded with a smile.
We walked towards the fence, passing a dozen people who were kneeling on the floor, tying together keffiyehs for the stretchers. I had already passed over both my flag (actually it was Rana’s) and my keffiyeh when they had come to the crowd up by the army, asking for donations. As we were walking towards the fence, the few army that had remained were walking back, towards the hill. Looking at each other with concern, Rana and I wondered why they were leaving. Now it was just us and the Israeli army.
Minding our step, we got closer to the fence. The area immediately in front of the fence, where the remaining protesters had gathered, was essentially a minefield, littered with unexploded mines. In an attempt to prevent further casualties, the protestors had marked off the mines with (again) make-shift fences, as a warning to avoid that particular patch. At one point, several of the protestors unearthed the mines themselves, carefully lifting them and placing them together next to the fence. One protestor stated that at least 40 mines had been uprooted and put there. Not wanting to count them ourselves and tempt fate, we took his word for it.
It was a strangely beautiful sight. All around people were working together. They were either breaking rocks to make smaller stones and giving them to the throwers, or helping carry the wounded, or handing out what little water was left, or giving words of encouragement, or warning the freshly arrived of the landmines. Exhaustion was pushed to one side, replaced by a sense of determination and purpose. “The people want to free Palestine!” “The people want to return to Palestine!”
Shots rang out. Everyone scrambled to the ground, face down, while shouting “watch out for the mines!”, “Heads down! Keep your heads down!”. But within seconds, everyone was on their feet again, running towards the fence, with their arms cocked and ready to throw. It would take about a minute before you heard “ambulance!”, “injured!”, or “killed!” as a result of the latest barrage of bullets, causing the protesters to get riled up even further. This did not happen just once, or twice. This was happening all the time. It got to a point where some people stopped ducking the bullets.
We noticed the Lebanese army had decided to come back. Not wanting to be pushed back prematurely, Rana and I escaped to a pile of rocks to the far right of the stone-throwers. A couple of boys were sitting, taking a break. “Where are you girls from?” “Beirut. You?” “Rashadiyeh Camp.” Pointing to the trees located beyond the fence and on the Israeli border, they said, “If you look really carefully, you can see one or two of their soldiers.” And, after much squinting, you could. You could see a couple of soldiers moving between the trees, probably at the same distance from the fence on their side as we were on our side. “Cowards!” I shout. “You hide behind your trees and your fence hiding from kids with stones, and you shoot bullets? Are we that much of a threat to you?”
By now it was after 5pm, and the Lebanese army had clearly been given fresh orders; move the protestors away from the fence, using any means necessary. And they did. To the letter. People were being hit with sticks, others were being shoved with rifle butts. Very quickly a crowd had gathered around us. Possibly a little naively, I thought it was to protect us, as we seemed to be the only two girls in that particular corner. “Careful, careful, there are girls here! Watch out for the girls!” they shouted at the soldiers, who relented slightly.
The army started firing. And wouldn’t stop. Not even for a minute. They fired above our heads and marched forward, straight towards the protestors. Running back to the hill, we all seemed to forget about the Israelis, about the landmines, and focused only on protecting ourselves against the Lebanese army. We weren’t sure at this point whether they were real bullets or not. Later we were told they were blanks, created to make sound. Keeping our heads down, we looked like a crowd of hunchbacks, screaming at them to stop. At one point I turned around and started running back towards the army, yelling obscenities. I felt arms grabbing at me, pulling me back, telling me not to be scared. I wasn’t scared. I was angry, and ashamed. By now tears were streaming down my face, and my throat was hoarse. I had only two thoughts running through my head; why is my army protecting my enemy, and where the fuck is Rana?
Behind me. Phew. Some of the guys shoved us behind an ambulance where rescue workers had taken cover. “Calm down, don’t worry, it’s going to be fine,” they kept telling us. I’m not worried, I just don’t get it, I wanted to say, but the only thing that came out was “stop itttt!! Make them stop!!”
But they kept firing. They marched passed us, weapons in the air, still firing. It was so loud, and so many, the ground was vibrating. The rest of the crowd were already halfway up the hill, the army having succeeded in pushing them far away from the fence. We stood up, ready to make our way up the hill.
Hmmm. Dilemma. The crowd, now halfway up the hill, were facing the army, who had by now reached the dirt road. We were essentially behind the army. Our only option was to walk through the army (who was still firing). But by this point, the crowd, incensed by what had just happened, were now throwing stones, rocks, anything at the army. Downhill. With us behind. Awesome.
Eventually, by walking along the edge of the army positions, we managed to overtake them and get back to the ‘right side’ of the hill, only to be met with half a dozen tear gas canisters fired at the crowd by the army. Pleasant. There’s something quite unforgettable about the streaming of the eyes, the burning of the throat, and the feeling of fire on your face.
A tire was lit and rolled, burning, down the hill towards the army. Cheers went up within the crowd. Random question, but who carries a tyre with them? When I plan on liberating Palestine, I think ‘camera, ID, water’; who thinks ‘ahh, tire?
Finally we reached the top. The last of the people remained, clearly waiting for news from those who had been at the bottom. Rana and I ran into some friends; one of their friends had been shot while at the fence, by the Israelis. Quickly heading back to the car, tiredness was rapidly replaced by anger.
We head to the hospital in Bint Jbeil to see if we could find the guy. The first hospital we went to we left empty handed, except for the bizarre-conspiracy-laden ‘advice’ from one of the hospital workers that “in this area, you can’t name individuals and ask about them, because if information was revealed about them, you could be the enemy and use that information”. Yes, sir. Clearly, we look like the enemy. The keffiyehs, the flags, the tear-stained faces, and bedraggled hair were all just a decoy.
Munib Masri, an AUB student in his early twenties, was undergoing surgery when we pulled into Bint Jbeil Government Hospital. He had been shot twice in the back while at the border. He lost a kidney, his spleen, and half of his intestine. His friends and fellow students spent the rest of the night pacing outside the hospital, waiting for him to stabilise. One friend, Khalil, had managed to obtain the list of injured and dead, and spent the evening coordinating with Abu Wassim in Shatila camp, trying to figure out who these people were to alert their families. In Bint Jbeil Government Hospital alone, there were 3 dead, and 29 injured. Those killed were Mohammad Abu Shalha, 18 years old, Imad (last name unknown), and Hussein Youssef.
Just before we left the hospital, two men pulled up outside on a scooter. “Are there any injured here?” they asked. We responded to the affirmative, so one ran inside to talk to reception. In the meantime we asked the other where they were from. “Which camp are you from?” “We’re not from the camps, we’re from Syria.” “What are you doing here?” “We’ve come to donate blood.” At this point his friend came back, saying the hospital had enough blood, and asked for directions to the next nearest hospital, before speeding off to continue their mission.
The car journey home was quiet. One of the guys, Mohammed, kept asking how people could go back to their lives after what happened today. “You know, the majority of people will go home, shower, and wake up tomorrow as if today didn’t happen.” Unfortunately, he is right. What happened today, if it was in any other country, would be considered an act of war. For some reason here it’s chalked up as yet another Israeli violation, filed as yet another complaint to the UN, shoulders are shrugged, and people move on. So many things happened today that should not have been allowed to happen, but the most important one is no one should forget. No one should forget the names of those killed, no one should forget they were people, with lives, with families, with their entire future ahead of them. According to news reports, 10 people were killed and over 100 wounded. I have a feeling more died. I want to know who they were. They are not a news ticker, they are real.
"Careful where you step! There are landmines here!"
I look to where the young man is pointing, to see a metal disk embedded among the flowers in a grassy meadow in the village of Maroun El Ras on the Lebanese-Palestinian border. Some of the men had surrounded the mine with stones and stuck two wooden poles in the ground, calling demonstrators' attention to the innocently greenish device of death. But seeing that there were several mines, and more than 300 demonstrators in the area directly behind the border fence, volunteers stationed themselves around the mines, two volunteers for each mine, and were constantly making sure none of the other demonstrators stepped on one.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese, and others had made their way South today, to commemorate the 63rd year to the Nakba in a manner that befits that of a freshly awakened nation. No pre-prepared and ruminated speeches, no schoolchildren plays, no impotent rows of white plastic chairs. No, this year, it had to be a lot more direct: commemorate the Nakba by marching to Palestine - or to the closest possible point to her.
People from all over the country had crammed into buses and cars and made their way to Maroun El Ras with its beautiful green hills and meadows - and the hideous double fence plaguing the side of it that borders Palestine. We had come by car, taking a somewhat roundabout route to make the most of the stunning scenery of South Lebanon that we so seldom get the chance to see. Or arriving to the neighboring village of Bint Jbeil, we found that the Lebanese Army had blocked the way to Maroun El Ras, on the account that the Israelis were opening fire. On a whim, we ask two young men standing next to an ATV how to get there. With no hesitation whatsoever, one of them says: "The road is blocked from here, but we'll show you another way. Follow us, but don't bring other cars with you." We comply, and the three of us in the car give a strange mix of mixed signs to the man and woman in the car behind us, and who, as we had found out just a few minutes earlier, had been following us for the past hour or so, having themselves lost the way. "We saw the Palestinian flag on your car,(we had bought one from a street stand near Tyre), so we figured you're coming here." We felt a little bit guilty ditching them like that, but we were not about to risk our one-car-pass to our goal. The young man driving the ATV (whose name is Abdel Majeed as we later find out), proceeds to lead us through a small, winding road smack into the middle of the march in Maroun El Ras, on the way slickly negotiating our passing with two adjacent military checkpoint; one for the Lebanese Army, and another, more pragmatic and down-to-business-like, for Hizballah.
We thank Abdel Majeed and his friend, park the car, and join the thousands marching up the steep road to Maroun's Head, a bad joke I couldn't help but make. Halfway up, I manage to lose sight of my two friends, Ghadi and Ghida. Apparently I had thought they were up ahead, so had quickened my pace upwards, while they had thought that I was still behind them, so had stopped to wait for me.
I arrive at the top of the hill to find a few thousand people already there, stationed on the Plateau near a new-looking public park that I later find out was called 'The Garden of Iran'. I walk over towards the other side of the hill we had just climbed, and there it was, just like that: Palestine.
It had never felt closer.
A thousand or so people were in different stages of descending the steep grass-slippery slope to get to the border fence. I was tired from the long walk, so I decided to sit and rest for a few minutes, and take note of what was going on around me. The hillside stretched down some 300 meters from where I was sitting midway down. At the bottom of the hill was a meadow that stretched a few kilometers across. Running along the bottom was a narrow dirt road, on which I could see a few vehicles of the Lebanese Army. There were around 50 soldiers and officers standing near the bottom of the hill. The Israeli double trouble fence was erected almost 500 meters into the field, and one could see the military structures of the Israeli border units. A few hundred demonstrators were gathered right behind the fence on the Lebanese side, and I could faintly hear their shouts. I could also see the demonstrators were starting to throw small rocks across the fence, aiming at the ten or so Israeli soldiers crouching-hiding among a line of evergreens on the other side of the fence. As I watched, there came the sudden sound of bullet fire, and to it, increased commotion on our side of the fence. A few minutes later, the Lebanese soldiers at the bottom of the hill form a line across and make it clear that they weren't going to allow any more demonstrators to head to the fence.
But I wanted to get to the fence. It wasn't a premeditated decision on my side, but I had come here to get to Palestine or to the closest possible point to it. And that fence was the closest possible point. The meadow being quite large in width, and the Lebanese soldiers being too few, their line could not stretch very far. So I decide to walk far enough away from them along the hillside, and then, when they couldn't easily reach me, cut across the field to join the people at the fence. I make my way alongside the hill, and then, when I feel safe enough, start to walk across. I hear some shouts from the direction of the soldiers, but I innocently ignore it and walk on as calmly as possible. When I had gone far enough, I look back to see the Lebanese soldiers now roughing up some of young men who were trying to make it across. I turn and continue to walk towards the fence; all along stepping between young tobacco plants that some nearby farmers had planted and that were, by now, in various states of being trampled on by the passing demonstrators.
Back to where this jumbled piece of writing - that mirrors my currently jumbled state of mind - starts:
"Careful where you step! There are landmines here!"
I take out my phone and take a picture of the landmine lying at the center of a campfire-like circle of stones. More bullet shots, and a sudden scurrying of the demonstrators. Instinctively, I duck. And so does everyone else. Apparently the Israeli soldiers, who were, to start with, firing in the air, had now brought the nozzles of their American made automatic M16 rifles down by a few notches, and were firing over our heads. When the shots come to stop, the stone-throwers, especially those at the very front, resume their stone throwing with multiplied zeal. I pick up a stone and hurl it in the direction of the fence. It lands behind the first one but a few meters away from the second one. I try again, with similar results. My throw wasn't strong enough, especially that I was five or six rows away from the row of people closest to the fence.
I did not dare go any closer.
The area we were in, having always been agricultural land, was divided intermittently with low stone walls. So there was plenty of rock to be found, and instead of throwing the stones myself, I take to smashing the bigger ones and handing the pieces to nearby throwers who I deemed more suited than I was at the mission at hand. The bullets resume their volley, sounding closer to us.
Then: "Jaree7! Jaree7!" (a wounded person! a wounded person!)
I look to where the shouts came from to see a group of five men carrying the wounded individual, a teenager of perhaps 17 years. He was conscious, and there was blood on his trousers. The small troupe of improve paramedics carried him away. More shots, and again we crouch, and again we resume with the breaking and the throwing. The more time passed, the heavier the rocks rained down. The soldiers at the receiving end were in full battle posture. By now the shouts of 'Jaree7!' were becoming more frequent, and so were the ensuing rescue teams.
Right in the middle of this chaos of flying stones and zapping bullets and related reactions to these, I bump into a girl I know from yoga class. We have a record of meeting in unexpected places, but this was by far the least expected place we've ever met. We smile, almost shyly, and give each other a quick hug, and crouch down quickly because the bullets had resumed their single-direction flights. It was now very clear that the Israeli soldiers were successively shooting with aim, and the aim was not up in the air, but t he people down on the ground. The flurry of flying stones had now come to a new level of frenzy, and yet I noted how calm everyone seemed to me, how calm I felt. I had not yet registered how real everything was, perhaps, but under whatever layers of thoughts and emotions that were going through me, there was a faint and yet much felt sense of joy and fulfillment at being then and there, doing whatever it was that I was doing. Strangely enough, in that moment of clear self awareness, I was at peace.
A pause in the gunfire.
I stand up, and in turning around I fall down, stumbling at what I soon discover is a mass of crouching young men. Absurdly enough, I apologize. I stand up again and decide that it was time to head back. My friends must be worrying about me, I rationalize. Yes, it was time I headed back up the hill.
I start walking, stopping twice to offer water from my backpack to two wounded people lying on the ground. There were others who were not injured but who had fainted.
I see a small troupe of Lebanese soldiers making their way towards the fence. I stop a bit and watch. Their aim was apparently to force the demonstrators at the fence to turn back. A couple of quarrels start between the soldiers and a group of young men. The soldiers are shouting at the demonstrators closest by, and I see one of the soldiers beating at a young man with a wooden stick that he had picked up. It was probably a pole for one of the many Palestinian flags that fluttered into that meadow today. Upon request, before turning back, I had given the flag I was carrying to a random guy who asked if I needed it. I had given it to him, and he dutifully proceeded to tear the flag off its pole, wrap it around a rock the size of a human head, and hurled it 'Miqla3' style towards the fence. It landed on the fence itself, and stuck to the barbed wire. I thought that was a good place for our flag to end up.
I walk on, and by the time I reach halfway towards the hill, the gunfire starts again. I pause again and look back.
Comes the shout: "Shaheed! Shaheed ya shabab!" (A Martyr! A martyr, comrades!)
As the group comes closer, I could hear their shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" and "7ayyo el shaheed" (Salute the Martyr!), and could clearly see the body of a teenager bouncing on top of a dozen raised arms. I move closer. And again, I take out my phone, and take a picture.
In time, I make it up the hill. On the way up I encounter some people who tell me my friends were looking for me. I speed up my pace a little bit. Upon hearing the shouts of 'Shaheed!', the mood had become very somber among the thousands that were still on the hill, and the wailing of ambulance sirens filled the air.
Why was I throwing rocks?
What was that sense of calm joy fulfillment?
How could I explain that the armed soldiers on the other side of the fence were more scared of stone throwing demonstrators than the latter were of them?
I was throwing rocks not at the soldiers; as distasteful as it might feel to me, I still saw that they were human beings. I was throwing stones at the so called State of Israel.
The sense of calm-joy-fulfillment had several aspects to it. Mainly: throughout my 32 years here, this was the first time that I have directly confronted this rabid monster. And I was not alone, and I was not only me, but everyone who was there. At least everyone on this side of the fence.
The armed Israeli soldiers were scared not of the demonstrators' direct physical actions. How could a rock possibly do serious harm to a metal clad, fence protected person who to top it off was armed to the teeth with the killing equipment that the first world could produce? The fact of the matter is that what the soldiers were-are really scared of is not the rocks, but the very existence of those hurling them. Those who will hold them accountable for their state's wretched and bloody history. Those for whom She will always be Palestine. Those who, today in Maroun El Ras, made me see that their return is imminent.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TZM: Response to Media; Death of Osama bin Laden
On May 1, 2011 Pres. Barack Obama appeared on national television with the
spontaneous announcement that Osama bin Laden, the purported organizer of
the tragic events of September 11th 2001, was killed by military forces in
Within moments, a media blitz ran across virtually all television networks
in what could only be described as a grotesque celebratory display,
reflective of a level of emotional immaturity that borders on cultural
psychosis. Depictions of people running through the streets of New York and
Washington chanting jingoistic American slogans, waving their flags like
the members of some cult, praising the death of another human being,
reveals yet another layer of this sickness we call modern society.
It is not the scope of this response to address the political usage of such
an event or to illuminate the staged orchestration of how public perception
was to be controlled by the mainstream media and the United States
Government. Rather the point of this article is to express the gross
irrationality apparent and how our culture becomes so easily fixed and
emotionally charged with respect to surface symbology, rather than true
root problems, solutions or rational considerations of circumstance.
The first and most obvious point is that the death of Osama bin Laden means
nothing when it comes to the problem of international terrorism. His death
simply serves as a catharsis for a culture that has a neurotic fixation on
revenge and retribution. The very fact that the Government which, from a
psychological standpoint, has always served as a paternal figure for it
citizens, reinforces the idea that murdering people is a solution to
anything should be enough for most of us to take pause and consider the
quality of the values coming out of the zeitgeist itself.
However, beyond the emotional distortions and tragic, vindictive pattern of
rewarding the continuation of human division and violence comes a more
practical consideration regarding what the problem really is and the
importance of that problem with respect to priority.
The death of any human being is of an immeasurable consequence in society.
It is never just the death of the individual. It is the death of
relationships, companionship, support and the integrity of familial and
communal environments. The unnecessary deaths of 3000 people on September
11, 2001 is no more or no less important than the deaths of those during
the World Wars, via cancer and disease, accidents or anything else.
As a society, it is safe to say that we seek a world that strategically
limits all such unnecessary consequences through social approaches that
allow for the greatest safety our ingenuity can create. It is in this
context that the neurotic obsession with the events of September 11th, 2001
become gravely insulting and detrimental to progress. An environment has
now been created where outrageous amounts of money, resources and energy is
spent seeking and destroying very small subcultures of human beings that
pose ideological differences and act on those differences through violence.
Yet, in the United States alone each year, roughly 30,000 people die from
automobile accidents, the majority of which could be stopped by very simple
structural changes. That's ten 9/11's each year... yet no one seems to pine
over this epidemic. Likewise, over 1 million Americans die from heart
disease and cancer annually - causes of which are now easily linked to
environmental influences in the majority. Yet, regardless of the over 330
9/11's occurring each year in this context, the governmental budget
allocations for research on these illnesses is only a small fraction of the
money spent on "anti-terrorism" operations.
Such a list could go on and on with regard to the perversion of priority
when it comes to what it means to truly save and protect human life and I
hope many out there can recognize the severe imbalance we have at hand with
respect to our values.
So, coming back to the point of revenge and retribution, I will conclude
this response with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., likely the most
brilliant intuitive mind when it came to conflict and the power of
non-violence. On September 15, 1963 a Birmingham Alabama church was bombed,
killing four little girls attending Sunday school.
In a public address, Dr. King stated:
"What murdered these four girls? Look around. You will see that many
people that you never thought about participated in this evil act. So
tonight all of us must leave here with a new determination to struggle. God
has a job for us to do. Maybe our mission is to save the soul of America.
We can't save the soul of this nation throwing bricks. We can't save the
soul of this nation getting our ammunitions and going out shooting physical
weapons. We must know that we have something much more powerful. Just take
up the ammunition of love."
- Dr. Martin Luther King, 1963 -