One day, perhaps, unimaginable generations hence, we will evolve into the knowledge that human beings are more important than real estate... I will go to my grave believing that we can build Jerusalem, if we will.
—James Baldwin, Nothing Personal
In January 2006, I moved to Washington, DC, dusted myself off, bought an Ann Taylor suit on credit, and put together a quasi-fictitious résumé. I landed on a job at the Institute for Defense Analyses, a think tank funded by Congress. I started out hopeful, aiming to “change things from the inside,” or at least learn about the culture that trickled bombs down on so many innocent people. I did learn a great deal. For example, being funded by Congress means Congress only keeps the money coming if they hear what they want to hear. And that too often means what powerful lobbies want to hear (including weapons manufacturer lobbies and the Israel lobby).
When “celebrities” like Dennis Ross came to give a talk, I got nothing but disbelief and dirty looks when I dared to ask an even mildly confrontational question.
When I found like-minded people, and we wanted to speak our minds freely, we had to go off by ourselves in the cafeteria and speak softly. And when two of us tried to set up a conference between high-level government officials and prominent American Muslims with an aim toward mutual understanding, the US government officials all canceled at the last minute, leaving us and the Muslim leaders humiliated.
As far as changing things? Not so much. But at least I didn’t dance with the devil long enough for it to change me. After about a year, feeling deeply depressed, I traveled back to Palestine to revive my soul and decided to write this book, a labor of deep love for Palestine and for peace and justice. Inshallah.
Rania is still in Tulkarem with her husband and beautiful children, who are excelling in school. Life is far from easy, but they are surviving. Nearly every other major Palestinian character in the book, including Qais, Muzna, Yasmine, and Ali, has moved away from Palestine to find jobs and raise children. Most are in Europe and the UAE. They all hope to return to beautiful Palestine one day.
Sadly, the conflict has not gotten better since I wrote the book. Settlements continue to grow. The Wall continues to be built. Gaza is still under siege and threatened with bombs. The world still urgently needs to know, and care, about this conflict and pressure the US government to stop giving the Israeli government a blank check, and pressure the Israeli government to cease its ongoing theft of land and resources and other human rights violations.
As of late summer 2023, the Israeli government, headed by right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu (who has corruption charges pending), and with the collaboration of an even more far-right-wing coalition in the Knesset, has taken a deeply alarming turn by passing a law that limits the power of the Israeli court system. The law basically dismantles the fragile system of checks and balances that kept Israeli’s democracy somewhat functional. There have been massive protests in the streets of Israel, and thousands of reservists in the Israeli army have threatened to refuse to serve.
Obviously, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza laugh at the idea of “Israeli democracy,” given that they are ruled by Israel yet have no vote in Israel’s government. Even Palestinian citizens of Israel are routinely discriminated against. Israel’s democracy was far from perfect before. Now even this veneer of democracy has been pulled away and more power has been concentrated in the executive branch, with virtually no oversight. Netanyahu is another corrupt strong-man wannabe, and his right-wing allies are jumping at the chance for more sectarian authoritarianism.
I had a vision in a dream about the entire span of the conflict and how there is a cosmic purpose to it all, though I could not quite grasp it. In the dream, I felt deep affinity for both sides and compassion for the trauma that both sides have endured. It remains true that we are all human and that enough people of good will can find a way to live together in peace. I fear it won’t happen before the Israeli population begins to deal with its trauma (from the Holocaust and other atrocities) and reckon with the trauma it has inflicted on others.
There’s much more to say, and I will expand on this as I have time. I’m currently raising two small kids (3 and 5) and writing a novel, among other projects.
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