“We have in Arabic a story about Juha’s nail.”
This is how Issa began. Issa, one of my favorite people in Palestine, the person I go to when I’m feeling violent and angry because his presence is so powerfully actively peaceful. One of many nonviolent activists who have been severely affected by occupation, shot and paralyzed by the Israeli army five years ago while he was trying to help children in his village find safety in their homes.
We were discussing the current situation in Gaza and Lebanon, the future of Palestine/Israel, hopes and fears and dreams and solutions.
“We have in Arabic a story about Juha’s nail,” he told our group, and began with one of his many pearls of wisdom I’ve been privy to over the years:
Juha had a house. A man asked if he could buy the house, and Juha said, “Sure, I will sell you the entire house, except for one nail.” The man was a bit perplexed, but agreed. What difference could one nail make?
So the house was sold, Juha moved out, and the man and his family moved in. A few weeks went by, and the man heard a knock on his door. It was Juha, coming to visit his nail. This began to happen more and more, and when the man complained, Juha said, “This nail is mine, and I have the right to see it any time I want.” Juha came during the day, during the night, when the
family was out, and when the man was sleeping with his wife.
One day Juha came to see his nail, and the man and his family stormed out of the house in frustration, saying, “Take your nail and take your house! I don’t want it!”
The story ended, and Issa waited a moment before continuing. “We can’t have a partial solution,” he said. Israel cannot keep offering partial solutions to Palestinians, and in the meantime taking more and more from Palestinians.
The problem, as I see it, is even more insidious than this. The problem is that the “house” was not Israel’s to begin with. The house belonged to another family that was forcefully removed, mostly to the lawns of other houses. Those who remained in certain rooms of their house were beaten and broken so much that they agreed to let the new family keep the majority of the house. The new family agreed in theory but continued to knock down doors and build new ones, forcing the old family into tiny corners of their house. Every few years, the new family generously” offered back one half of one bedroom, and another half another bedroom.
All the hallways and doors will of course always be under the control of the new family, for security reasons. The new family has guns, the old family cannot. Security reasons. The new family eats all the food, uses all the water, and arrests or kills anyone who questions this. Security reasons. The old family members are allowed to leave and not come back. They are not allowed to have visitors or new inhabitants. Security reasons.
It is not surprising that some Palestinians are starting to say to Israel, “Take your nail and take your house!” and storming out. It is not surprising that some choose to stay, remembering the initial takeover of their house and vowing not to disappear altogether. It is not surprising
that some choose to defend themselves by force.
It is not surprising that some Palestinians responded to continuous Israeli attacks on civilians in Gaza by kidnapping a soldier. It is not surprising that Israel used this as an excuse to unleash a war against the Palestinian people and government. It is not surprising that the small amount of attention raised about Palestinian political prisoners inspired others to carry out similar actions, that Hizbollah is demanding the release of Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails the way Hamas is demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. It is not surprising that Israel is destroying the infrastructure of Lebanon and bombing civilians.
It is not surprising that they claim that Hizbollah missiles and rockets are manufactured in small villages and therefore the Lebanese population should carry the responsibility for the death of their people when Israel attacks indiscriminately.
It did surprise me, though it probably shouldn’t have, to hear that Israel dropped thousands of flyers on southern Lebanon warning people to leave their villages, and then fired directly on the trucks as they were fleeing north, killing entire families.
It did not surprise me to hear from a Palestinian friend in Haifa that she had to turn on Lebanese news to see any reports of Lebanese casualties, and that when she turned on CNN they were speaking only about Israel and from an Israeli perspective, ignoring the people of Gaza and Lebanon except when talking about the rockets and missiles that a few of them have responded to Israeli attacks with.
Racism is so entrenched in global policy and consciousness that many people don’t even question attacking an entire country as a response to the actions of a few people. When they try to question, to pass tame resolutions in the UN saying “Maybe Israel shouldn’t respond quite so drastically,” the US vetoes them. People here know this. They know that the United States and
Israel are the pariahs of the world community, and they know why. They know that one day it’s going to come back and bite these countries in the ass. I imagine the whole world knows this, that most people are waiting patiently and others may take active steps toward this eventuality.
I don’t know how to turn this course around, I don’t know if it’s too late to do so. I do know that I will continue this work, continue to support those whose voices are silenced, and trust that if the tables are ever turned, I will be given refuge here in Palestine.
And meanwhile, the US and Israel continue to try to sell the world and Palestinians the houses they stole from them, except for one or two nails.