Avi Shamir

If I were a Palestinian

If I were a Palestinian I would – whoa, wait a minute, let’s back up a step. How can I tell what I would do or say if I were one of those stateless folks who seemingly lack sense of direction or control over their own destiny? Is that just the way I perceive them, or is that the way they see themselves too? What makes me think I could step out of my relatively structured life and put myself in their shoes?
I suppose the only way I could take a stab at this out of the ordinary exercise is to just be myself, however relocated in a Palestinian setting. I’m not so sure that’s even possible. After all, I’m a modern, secular, liberal-minded, free-thinking American-Israeli who, though law-abiding, is by nature suspicious of authority. Is it asking too much to transplant all or at least some of these attributes – which I consider principled, but that’s just me – into one of my contentious cousins on the other side of our shaky borders? Would it be condescending to say that it isn’t worth the effort? Okay, I’ll give it a try:
So, if I were a Palestinian I would probably prefer to live in the West Bank over Gaza. But wait, what makes me think that as a Palestinian I would even have a choice? To keep things in a wartime context, let’s just say that I’m from Gaza. In that case, I would probably choose to live in a small fishing village and not in the overcrowded city centers. That way I could steer clear of the maniacal Jihadists and the huddled masses who always get caught in-between or right on top of their stored weapons, rockets and terror tunnels. Yes, as a Gazan I would chose to keep a safe distance from those hell holes along our border with Israel, and as far as possible from the reach of Hamas.
But what makes me think that, if I were a Palestinian, I would dare to think or even have the state of mind to come up with such thoughts? After all, wouldn’t I be brainwashed from the age of five that Israel is my eternal enemy, the archetype of evil, Satan himself? Or does that part of me that is suspicious of authority, i.e. Hamas, and stands up for freedom of thought empower me to suppose that maybe just maybe there was something wrong with my upbringing?
With faith in the human spirit even under extremely harsh and abnormal conditions, the answer to that question is a decisive Yes.
And so, if I were a Palestinian who had the misfortune of being born and raised in Gaza but still had the presence of mind to think for myself, I would be disgraced by a culture that values death over life, by religious fanatic clerics who preach intolerance of infidels, and by terrorists who crawl through tunnels like rats to spread fear and death. I would be ashamed that the only choices I have for political leadership are Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, or worse, while the somewhat better alternative, the Palestinian Authority, is the option my fellow Gazans voted against. I would live in constant fear, do all I can to keep my wife and kids out of harm’s way, and dread the day when my sons are approached by Hamas.
If I were a Palestinian in Gaza I would dig a tunnel for my family, but it wouldn’t reach Israel. I would fill it with canned goods, pitot, olives, and enough water to survive; I would put a white flag in the entrance, so that when the fighting reaches my village and the Israeli soldiers come they’ll understand that I am only hiding my family. Or maybe I’ll just hang that white flag on the mast of my boat and sail past the fishing zone to the Israeli patrols. I’ll appeal to them for safe passage, beg them to let me move my small fishing enterprise to Ashkelon. And I’ll surely ask them, how come if they’re so high and mighty and clever they can’t ever win the peace?
But since I’m not a Palestinian, I’ll stop this experiment and briefly explain its merit from an American-Israeli perspective. Back in 1998 when Ehud Barak was running for Prime Minister, he was asked what he would do if he were a Palestinian. His quick and unimaginative reply was that he would be a terrorist. No one questioned his response, neither his detractors nor supporters, not even those who, like me, saw in him our biggest hopes for ending the conflict. How disappointed we were when Barak and his ill-conceived government let our opportunity go to waste, and the terror that was left on a low backburner blew up in our faces. We saw it coming and waited for it to happen, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If there is one thing certain to come out of Operation Protective Edge it’s the horrifying proof that there are not one but two types of Palestinians, terrorists and victims. The victims far outnumber the terrorists, and most of them are afraid to talk. And we, victims of radical Islam as well as our very own narrow point of view, have bridges to build with the victims on the other side.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.
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