Six weeks ago, I learned of a Palestinian family when I was in Ramallah. Like all Palestinian families I know, this one, too, is fiercely loving and loyal to each other. From what I’ve learned, despite living under occupation, this family appears to be happy – especially in the blessings of their children.
For Muslims, today is the beginning of the New Year – Muharram 1, 1432. The mother of this family will be taking the children from Ramallah to Jerusalem to mark the New Year at Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims. Their father will not be joining them. He is prohibited from entering Jerusalem.
His crime? He is a Palestinian male in the prime of life. And for this, Israel refuses to grant him a travel permit to enter the holy city of Jerusalem. His family has lived in a village less than one hour from Jerusalem for centuries. They inhabited Palestine for hundreds of years before Theodor Herzl ever penned his seminal book Der Judenstaat in 1895 outlining the Zionist dream. His family lived in Palestine centuries before the first Zionist ever stepped foot in the Holy Land.
But Israel – fully supported by the United States – is turning Jerusalem into a gated community, one that Zionist leaders hope one day will be for Jews only. Without the travel permit, this Palestinian man in the prime of his life is prohibited from praying at Al Aqsa. One prayer offered in Al Aqsa is worth 5,000 prayers offered anywhere else, according to one hadith, or saying, of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Israel’s brutal Apartheid regime is robbing this man of these blessings.
But these unnatural, inhumane and illegal travel restrictions are doing something else less obvious – they are robbing this loving family from sharing together in the New Year’s event at Al Aqsa. This may seem like a trivial thing, but it is not. Familial bonds grow stronger with shared experiences – especially extraordinary events like spending New Year’s Day at Al Aqsa.
I spent a good deal of time at the Al Aqsa compound during my trip to Palestine. After praying in Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock, my favorite pleasure was just sitting in the plaza under a cypress tree watching squealing children play, listening to Qur’an recitation, watching women talking, men studying, families communing. Despite all the activity, a sense of peace and serenity prevailed. Watching this hubbub of activity was comforting.
But this loving family I just met will not share in this communal experience. The best they will be able to do is show their husband and father some pictures, tell him some anecdotes about how the day progressed.
One thing I admire most about the Palestinian people I’ve met over the years is their strong sense of family. The bonds are seemingly unbreakable and they extend for several generations. It’s a most noble state of being. And it’s one that I almost envy with my fractured family scattered across the United States.
These strong family ties frighten Zionist leaders and that’s why they desperately want to weaken them. Most sociologists will say the family structure is the backbone of a strong society. A strong society is equipped to resist almost anything peacefully. Palestinians’ pride in their families and their families’ centuries-long tie to the land keep them grounded, keep them resilient in the face of the most unfathomable and incomprehensible of circumstances arising from Israel’s choking occupation.
That the state of Israel has continued a codified, systematic plan of ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Palestine is no secret. From random arrests and detentions, the Apartheid Wall, checkpoints and the restriction on free movement to the siege on Gaza and Operation Cast Lead, Israel is trying to get rid of Palestinians for good. One way or another.
But don’t take my word for it. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who’s now lying in a vegetative state after suffering a massive stroke a few years ago, admitted that Israel is trying to make life so miserable for Palestinians they will leave on their own accord.
“You don’t simply bundle people onto trucks and drive them away … I prefer to advocate a more “positive” policy … to create, in effect, a condition that … will induce people to leave.” ~ former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, quoted in the article “Forcible Removal of Arabs gaining support in Israel” (The London Times, Aug. 24, 1988.
Please don’t wring your hands in pity over this family’s plight. Pity is the last thing they would want and absolutely the last thing they need. Pity is useless.
Action is what is needed. It is up to us – especially those of us whose tax dollars are paying for this occupation – to continue to badger our senators and representatives in Congress with the truth of what their foreign policy has wrought. Our elected officials, who are more concerned with pleasing their Zionist benefactors than they are with upholding the American values of liberty and justice, who are more concerned with providing for Israel’s security than they are with ours, do not deserve a peaceful night’s sleep until they begin to rectify the injustices of the policies for which they vote.
To find your elected official’s contact info, go to www.govtrack.us. Educate yourselves, then arm yourself with facts and the truth. Email or call your congressmen until they get to know you by name. Be relentless. Because until we do all we can to legally effect a change in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, we don’t deserve a peaceful night’s rest either.
To learn more or to get involved, visit American Muslims for Palestine at www.ampalestine.org.