Monday, September 2, 2013

Who Am I Really Mad At?

Note: I originally wrote this on Saturday, August 31, but due to Internet issues, was not able to post it until today.

Four of the five previous days' work has involved monitoring clashes.  Today is my day off.  If there are clashes in Hebron, I remain blissfully unaware.  I'm in Bethlehem.  For these 24 hours I hope to see no soldiers and hear no firecrackers, sound bombs, or gunshots.  I hope not to ingest the noxious fumes of teargas. So far, so good.

I spent my first few hours here reading a novel in my air-conditioned hotel room.  As I begin writing this, I am sitting at a restaurant, drinking a mint lemonade, and waiting for eggplant parmigiana to be placed in front of me.

Over the last week, within the range of emotions I've experienced, the one that particularly rattles me is anger.  In occupied Palestine, there are plenty of reasons to be angry.  However, several of the times that sentiment has struck me, I've wondered if my anger is misplaced.

At certain times I felt angry watching young men and boys gather in the streets to throw stones and firecrackers.  On Monday, the first day of clashes, the day of the deaths in Qalandia, I understood the outburst of fury.  As a proponent of nonviolence, I didn't necessarily like the actions, but I knew where they came from.

On the second day... on the third day... and then yesterday (after a quiet fourth day), the crowd got younger and younger.  They looked to me a lot like kids taking advantage of a situation to make some trouble. They didn't seem outraged.  They seemed bored.  "Bored" can lead to trouble.  To me, it looked like boredom did lead to trouble. And so, as I watched young men and boys throw stones and firecrackers, as I watched them set fire to boxes and whatever other flammable things they found, as I felt some of them a little too close to me saying things that, by their tone, I was pretty sure were not nice, I got angry.  As I watched Palestinian adults stand or walk by the clashes, I got angry.

The "What are you doing?" echoing in my head was not the same sorrowful "What are you doing?" that I felt when I looked into the eyes of soldiers during a settler tour.  Instead it was an exasperated "What are you doing?"

The scenes I witnessed seemed to reinforce the stereotypes many people have of Palestinians- violent and uncontrollable.  That reinforcement made me mad.

Then I looked at the scene again.

No Palestinian had a gun.  This was in contrast to Israeli settlers watching the clashes from the settlement roofs, some with semi-automatic weapons slung over their shoulders.  This was in contrast to the heavily armed soldiers towards whom the Palestinians threw stones.

No Palestinian wore any more protection than a scarf around his face. They looked no different than any other civilian on the street. This was in contrast to helmets with face shields of soldiers.

The level of the boys' actual violence or potential violence was nothing compared to that of Israeli soldiers and settlers.

In response to one of CPT's Facebook updates about the clashes, someone wrote: "Simple solution: Stop throwing rocks." A part of me agreed with her.  But I also felt a gnawing from within.

While a cessation of rock-throwing stops clashes, it doesn't change the larger picture.  It doesn't change the random ID checks that occur.  It doesn't make checkpoints go away. It doesn't end home demolitions or settlement expansions.  It doesn't change the laws that defend the humanity of Israelis and deny the humanity of Palestinians. An end to rock-throwing will not end the occupation.

Rock-throwing is one way to relieve the tension of living under occupation.  It is a form of expression.  It is a form of resistance.

Does this mean I am happy about young men and boys throwing rocks?  No.  But as I reflect on all of the above, as I acknowledge the anger that I feel, I must also recognize that the source of my aggravation is not actually rock-throwing.

Writing this is my way of digging in the dirt until I find the source of my anger. I am shoveling, throwing the dirt over my shoulder, exposing roots.

The boys are not the problem.  Saying they are is like blaming an abuse victim for acting out against the abuser.  Rock-throwing is a symptom of a sick organism.  It is a physical expression of emotional and spiritual pain.  Both the symptoms and the sickness must be tended.

When I put myself in the shoes of the boys in this moment, my anger turns to compassion.  My exasperation turns to sorrow.

Who am I really mad at?  I am not mad at any "who."  I am mad at a system.  I am mad at the system that makes it difficult for Israelis to see Palestinians as regular people and for Palestinians to see Israelis as regular people.  I am mad at a system that demands that I choose a side - Israeli or Palestinian.  I choose neither.  I choose both.  I choose the human side.

And after writing what I have written, after acknowledging my anger, I will try to release it, to fill the space I've dug out with rich soil that will nourish the roots of an ailing manifestation of creation. Feeding off the love of friends and family who nurture me, I know I have spiritual nutrients to share.  But I also know this is a process I will have to repeat. And repeat. It is a process I need help with.  I don't have enough within me to fill the hole, to give the roots the sustenance they need to produce a vibrant outpouring of life. It will take many people releasing anger and offering love to change things here. 


  1. You bring back memories of moments in 1969 in my life as I sat in the Hollywood Bowl listening to Peter, Paul and Mary sing "The Great Mandela" the verses sound so much like your or loose not, you must choose now...and if you loose, you're only loosing your life.

    I pray for you and love, and people...the people you watch...may your eyes, heart bring some peace.

    Steve Rose

    1. Thanks, Steve. All prayers are gratefully received and shared!!