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February 02, 2002
Palestinians Tired of Talking, Deserve ExpaIanation

By Steven Salaita


Palestinians Tired of Talking, Deserve Explanation
By Steven Salaita
Content Contributor

I spend much of my time justifying my own existence. My existence, you see, is tied intimately with Palestine and the Palestinians. I rise and sleep with Palestine on my mind.

It is impossible to forget the images to which one is subjected upon visiting the occupied territories. Images of toddlers with prosthetic legs and glass eyes. Images of sprawling tent cities in outdoor prisons. Images of emaciated children pockmarked with scars from rubber bullets. Images of concrete piles surrounded by bulldozer tracks and diffused shell casings. Images of blood, endless blood, staining the lives of civilians living under military occupation. Amid my comfortable life with food and heat in America, these images have become a part of me, defining my subjectivity in conjunction with (and in opposition to) images of relative opulence in the United States.

But when I try to tell these stories to Americans, I am met only with questions requiring justifications. Why do Palestinians hate us? Why did they all dance in the street after September 11? Why are they so violent? Why do they kill civilians? My existence is thus reduced to philosophical beggary. More important, the existence of Palestinians is delegitimated as something that can be expressed not in context of their own history of oppression, but in terms of how Americans wish to define and control it.

While these questions are important and, in the proper framework, merit serious attention, they cannot be articulated honestly without context, something visibly absent in the American imagination. So, for my American countrymen, I pose a different set of questions before approaching theirs: Why is Israel’s internationally-condemned violence subsidized by over $3 billion of annual American aid? Why did the American media focus relentlessly on the small group of celebratory Palestinians on September 11 and systematically ignore the hundreds of vigils expressing grief over the loss of innocent life? Why do we allow American-made weapons to disfigure and murder hundreds of children and coordinate an ideologically driven occupation the entire world outside our borders condemns?

Still more pressing questions arise:
Why are Palestinians relegated to defensive positions when it is Americans, as the proprietors of Israeli aggression, who need to justify themselves?

Why are Palestinians constantly misappropriated outside their own historical conditions and consigned to American sensibilities, while Americans demand that Palestinians understand those sensibilities?

Simply stated, as an American of Palestinian ancestry and a supporter of justice as defined by international principles (which would naturally lead me to support Palestinian liberation), I am weary of expressing myself in a vocabulary amenable to American sensibilities, as are all Palestinians. It is time for Americans to understand Palestinian voices, especially since so much energy is spent speaking condescendingly as their moral taskmasters with no understanding whatever of the miserable conditions within which they live.

It is a rule of modern history that those with access to power are able to speak on behalf of those with none; cultural and political interchange is therefore skewed in favor of the powerful, who institutionalize their knowledge of the powerless without necessarily understanding anything about them. The powerless, of course, are expected tacitly to accept this equation.

Many Americans, then, are able to offer "solutions" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without ever mentioning the dispossession of millions, the powerless refugees scattered throughout the Middle East, the extraordinary property destruction estimated to run into the billions, the daily indignities and humiliations, the pervasive hopelessness and anger as settlements quickly devour what little land remains.

These issues, not Palestinian resistance, require immediate justification. So, I ask you again: Why do we continue to support Israel, not only to the detriment of the Palestinians, but our own national interest? The Palestinians are eager, after 36 years of military occupation, to hear your answer.