Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Conjugating the future, Israel-Palestine this 2014

Conjugating the future, 
Israel-Palestine this 2014

 The Old Jewish quarter of Damascus, Syria, 2008, dating back thousands of years, taken before the 2012- Syrian conflict

'Yalla, don’t be scared about the future,' said my Arabic teacher, Sana, in out classroom in Beirut yesterday as we tried to wrap our head around conjugating verbs. 'The future is conjugated like the present.' 

Conjugation allows us to transform verbs from their basic form into verbs which take certain things into account: gender, first/second/third person, past/present/future tense, the number of people it applies to(singular masculine, singular feminine, plural), sometimes even mood. In essence, conjugation makes an action word, a verb, human. Like it's sister word conjure, it's like magic, it brings something to life. Like microbiological conjugation, the mechanism which allows bacteria to exchange genetic material through contact, grammatical conjugation enables us to have meaningful exchange and contact with others. 

Sana's wording stirred a few thoughts in my mind about the future, a word that seems to be on everyone's mind in the Middle East. Our languages are delicate creations that often work hard to ensure we communicate appropriately, respectfully, and sensitively, wherever possible. As the death toll hits six hundred in Gaza, just down the coast from us here in Lebanon,  I wonder how the countless rules of respect that survive and thrive in our human languages can be so absent in our human behaviour.

Arabic is a language of logic, or so people keep telling me. Most languages are. Languages were invented to be used, so we could talk to each other, exchange ideas, stories, increase trade, improve quality of life. It strikes me as painfully illogical that in a region soaked in dialects and languages, walls are constructed between nations and missiles are fired so easily from city to city. 

A friend of mine is very vocal about the conflict in Gaza. She shared something recently that moved me a lot, and gave me hope that what is happening now, in present tense, is not how things have to look in the future. She pulled together her thoughts on responsibility, care, and banishing myths. With my thanks to her for allowing me to share them on the blog, here they are.

"A week in which so much has vanished. Disappeared. Been un-made. Obliterated.
My own dreams are haunted by smiles that will never light up rooms, eyes that will never twinkle, and one particular image of a boy child's beautiful curls as he lay face-down and covered in dust. I was overcome then, as I am now, by an overwhelming desire to gather up the mangled, broken body, hold it close, and softly brush the beach sand from the dark curls - a final kindness to register bitter protest against the fact that the little body's ultimate experience in this world was of terror, hate and pain. I don't know which of the 4 little boys it was, so I recite all their names in the dark. Ahed Bakr, 10; Zakaria, 10; Mohammad Bakr, 11, and little Mohammad Bakr, 9. And then there are the names I will never know, and the images I will never see. And I know that those will go on to haunt incomplete homes and anguished hearts for years to come.

Like many, I feel like the frustration and despair of a powerless bystander. I question where my responsibility in the face of this evil lies, what my role to check it is. I try in some vain struggle to keep myself informed, to read the news, to try to find balanced accounts, to check my facts. I share the stories and analyses that I find useful, powerful, touching in a desparate attempt to scream that I care.

I don't know you, but I care that you are frightened. I am worried for you. I want to know that you'll be safe, to know that you'll be there in the morning. I don't want you to feel alone, or that the people who have the power to make a difference are the only ones that matter.

You matter. You matter so much to me. So I share, and I will keep sharing.
Recently, a friend, reacting to my posts, asked whether I had any suggestions for ways to stop the violence. My initial reaction was one of anger. Who am I, I thought, to find a way forward here when the mighty, the wise, the experts, have failed?
But that gave way to two twin realizations.
One, I've been abdicating my responsibilities to a certain extent, waiting for others to provide solutions, and not doing enough to try to come up with courses of action that could make a difference in my own sphere of influence. 
And two, those to whom I have been looking for change are, in many cases, not more or less intelligent, capable, or reliable than you or I. We hold the keys, but struggle to believe it. We are an alternative.
I now appreciate my friend's invitation to reflect a little more deeply on my individual responsibility in the face of this mindless violence. A few, young thoughts that I hope to nurture, prune and cultivate have sprung, and I share them here. This is personal. These are my answers, but I offer them in the hope that they may spark/guide/in some other way be useful for someone else's reflections.

1) Care

Gaza, Syria, CAR, Sudan, Iraq, North Korea, Guantanamo... There's so much bad in the world that it can numb the spirit. But we have to open our hearts to the wounds that come with caring too much. The world is crying out for more empathy, more open arms, rather than the fortress walls we are so good at building to make the false distinction between their problems - their floods, droughts and wars, their curly-haired children - and ours. Where even one is oppressed, no one can claim freedom. We must care, because our destinies are bound together.

2) Act

Do something. Anything. Read. Write. Get informed. Stay informed. Write a democratically elected official. Plant a tree. Meditate. Pray. Call someone. Tell someone you care. Re-invest your money. Smile. Whatever, just do it from a place of care. But do something. 

3) Call bullshit when you see it

Please. There's a lot of fear-mongering and hate-spreading happening. It's not helping. Call it out without contributing to the lies, name-calling and demonizing. This means you have to do your homework. It's not easy, but its so important, because distortions, deceit and decades of repeated myth are the fuel on which the fear and hate machines run.
This is, I'm afraid, as far as I've come in terms of guidelines for my own conduct. Other people/organizations have more useful suggestions that I'm going to be looking through in the next few days (links below), and I invite you to join me. If you have constructive ideas to share, to help me, please do so. We might as well start doing small things now, instead of continuing the decades-long wait for the emergence of enlightened leaders to illuminate a path to peace.
Meanwhile, tonight, I continue to mourn with those on both sides who have lost. I try to understand the horror of the numbers - almost 600 people who're just gone. Almost 600 futures extinguished?"

If you want to act or get informed, you can start here, with any of the following links:

1) Avaaz: They name 6 companies whose involvement in maintaining/sustaining illegal occupation should be cause for concern. They also give names and addresses of persons in those companies you could email/call: ABP, HP, Caterpillar, G4S, Veolia and Barclays

2) American Friends Service Committee (AFSC): A Quaker NGO that gives information on US companies complicit in attacks in Gaza. They also have links to other resources: 

3) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement:

4) Who Profits: All you ever wanted to know and more about who profits from the occupation of Palestinian and Syrian land

5) Jewish Voice for Peace: A US-based NGO with fact-sheets on the history of the situation, several interesting campaigns:



thanks for reading.

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