Most people who know me probably wonder what in the world I am doing with my life. They’re probably wondering because most people who know me – including my own family – haven’t asked. And I haven’t gone out of my way to enlighten them, either. This awkwardness is probably a byproduct of my conversion to Islam; we’re still trying to learn how to negotiate each other on the new playing field I’ve unexpectedly thrust upon those who love me.
For some, my conversion from Christianity is difficult enough to grasp. But my decision to leave a stable job (as stable was can be in this economy) as a newspaper editor to work full-time on the Palestinian cause is unfathomable to them. To my mostly Republican-leaning, quasi-pro-Israel family and friends, I must seem like I’ve gone off the deep end and am swimming toward an irrevocable island of no return.
Sometimes I try to explain myself but get nowhere, or I find that an emotional and irrational argument will erupt where I tried to bring clarity and understanding.
C’est la vie!
It’s all just part and parcel of the new life I’m carving out for myself. Perhaps those closest to me are the most resistant because they know me best. They are my bell weather. If I can help them see the truth, then I can help others, inshaAllah.
My mission in life now is to educate the American public about the horrors and injustice of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. I am living proof that education works. Ten years ago, I may have questioned some of Israel’s decisions – such as announcing new settlement construction the day the Oslo Peace Accords were signed – but I kept it all hidden. I, too, had been afraid of being labelled an anti-Semite for questioning Israeli policy.
But as I covered the Chicago-area Arabs and Muslims for the newspaper I worked for at the time, my eyes were slowly opened. I started to listen to the message I heard over and over from the Palestinian community here. I looked to verify their words in neutral academic research and international news articles. You know – it’s all there. The truth is there for anyone willing to look.
The truth is irrefutable. The conflict is not thousands of years old and therefore impossible to understand as Zionists say and Americans accept. The formation of political Zionism in the late 1800s, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the United Nations partition of Palestine in 1947 are all logical starting points. The Jews are not returning to the historic homeland of the Biblical Hebrews. Most Jews in Israel are descended from European and Slavic peoples who converted to Judaism. And Palestinians are not hell-bent on violence, intent on sending their children off to die. I haven’t met more family-oriented, generous, loving people anywhere. What human being doesn’t want to live in peace?
Eventually, I accepted that the American government and media don’t tell us the truth about the Middle East, Palestinians or the pro-Israel lobby that has 75 percent of our congressmen and congresswomen in their back pocket. I also had to accept that the country I hold so dear, the country founded upon the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness behaves as if these rights are only inherent to Americans. I had to accept the cold, hard fact that we send billions of dollars every year in military aid to a country that uses weapons manufactured in the United States or are paid for with U.S. tax dollars against innocent, unarmed civilians – including children,
It is a lonely place to be.
But, I would rather be here than anywhere else. Silence in complicity. Ignorance is deplorable. Fear of being labelled anti-Semitic is not a valid excuse – especially since so many Jews and Israelis also work to bring justice to Palestine.
Though my work is all about education – a few months ago we became involved in helping to resettle Palestinian refugees from Iraq. The families coming to the United States, in many cases, are being made refugees twice over. The older members fled to Iraq in 1948 during the Nakba. Now they and their offspring – who were rounded up and stuffed into UN camps outside of Baghdad after the United States invaded in 2003 – have become refugees again. They are starting all over again – with nothing but their belief in God and a few small suitcases of personal items.
Today, I helped register three young children into the public school system. We arrived during recess, which was a joyous scene to the newest pupils traipsing up the sidewalk with me. Their happy smiles of anticipation never left their beaming faces for the nearly 90 minutes it took to complete all the paperwork. At one point, one of the little girls – an 8-year-old with long lashes framing her dancing eyes – reached around my neck and said in English, “I love you.”
And this is exactly why I am so blessed and honored to work for this cause.
~ Kristin Szremski 04/30/2010