A few weeks back I was in Molde to talk about Saudi and what life is like for Saudi women. I enjoyed both the talk and the town. But what I found most fascinating is another person who was invited to speak there. His name is Yehuda Shaul. He came as a representative from an organization called Breaking the Silence. What they do at Breaking the Silence is educate people in Tel Aviv and the rest of the world about the horrific human rights violations that the Israeli military commits as it occupies the Palestinian people. The testimonials from veterans are in written and video interview formats. None of it is new to me or to most Arabs. The realities of the creation of the Israeli state on Palestinian land and the inevitable refugees and occupation that it incurred are common knowledge in the Middle East. Something that is unforgettable and undeniable. To bring it closer, it would be as if Germany had succeeded in taking over France, and the French would be excepted to accept it and melt into any of the neighboring European countries as refugees because “all Europeans(i.e. Arabs in our case) are the same.”
Initially when I heard Yehuda speak, I had mixed feelings. With my mind I knew he was doing the right thing. But to my heart he remained a soldier who probably stood by as settlers shot at and abused the Palestinians whose land they’ve stolen. His hands were hands that probably killed a few Palestinians. He represented the invader in the Palestinian struggle that my grandfather lost the use of his leg for and that I, like most Arabs, had grown up on and simply know as The Cause. As he talked about Breaking the Silence, it seemed like he was talking about an alternate reality where The Cause was little known and needed awareness raising. Then I remembered the Why do They Hate Us? rhetoric that caught fire after 9/11. I remembered how especially clueless and egotistic the Americans seemed as they went on and on about the Middle East “hating them for their freedom.” When the truth was Americans are hated in the Middle East for their hypocrisy and crudely selective morality. They are hated because they are the number one financial supporter of the violent Israeli occupation. And they are hated because they are the only ones in the UN that could be consistently counted on to veto any attempt of the Palestinians at dignity and a 1967 borders statehood. Yet, here I was listening to an Israeli veteran talk about the occupation and the Palestinians as though he was uncovering a little-known scandal! He talked about how hard it was for him and other soldiers to talk about the atrocities they committed. He talked about the social stigma that people in his organization suffer from. It was enlightening and vaguely familiar. Afterwards I asked him how he thought the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict would end and he said he couldn’t see it ending. Then he pointed out that most milestones in human history were unpredicted and happened just when things seemed hopelessly stagnant. And although it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been back, what he said and Breaking the Silence stayed with me.