What we hold dear …

“But it’s too easy to take sides in the Middle East conflict. Few other parts of the world inspire such passion or leave such little room for doubt. For many, choosing sides is just an afterthought to their birthright: If you’re an Arab, go join the Free Palestine demonstrations; and if you’re Jewish, go join the Save Israel marches.

Don’t forget, you can always throw God into the mix. Lay claim to your holy sites and you’ll have religiously sanctioned wrath to fuel your rage.” – Mona El-Tahawy.

I remember recalling this bit of Mona El-Tahawy’s recent piece while I was taking a tour of some 16th century artwork in London’s Royal National Gallery a few days ago. Heavily exhibiting Christian themes, several of the masterpieces naturally featured Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – just a passing mention or vision of the city was like a cue for my mind to dwell, yet again, on the Gaza carnage – dragging on for 20 days now- and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general, the loss of land and the humiliation of a people.

The trail of thoughts took me back to the horrors of the Holocaust, and I quickly questioned whether it provided enough justification for what is happening now. But I couldn’t even stay there for long. I could never stomach the reason why an oppressed or victimized group of people would almost always go on to inflict pain and misery on others, perhaps in the same way they were affected. I remembered studying something of the sort in school, in a psychology class, but the details escaped me. I concluded that it’s a vicious cycle, and didn’t elaborate on it in my head. Another thought left undeveloped.

And releasing it, I jumped to another: why is what’s happening in Palestine all so important – more important, more significant than other (war) crimes happening across the world? My mind has brought me full circle to Mona and another of her articles which bore the same question.

Perhaps because it was ongoing for 60 years? Or perhaps because the Israeli government has stripped the Palestinians of even the privilege of being pitied and has painted even their children as potential terrorists and their elderly as barbaric and inhuman. Perhaps, because it was so close to home and unfair and ugly and all too familiar. The reasons why -which formed the core of my disagreement with Mona about how this is not just another tragedy- went on. Because it is a just cause that the Palestinians are fighting and like Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto -a comparison that British MP George Galloway struck in a recent protest- they only had either choice: to die on their knees or to live forever.

Perhaps because it was the Holy Land they’re fighting over. Stop. Now, this was interesting. When I came to that, I looked back at the artwork, marvelled at how men could rise, fall and die bitterly for what they consider sacred … I instantly remembered Orlando Bloom in Ridley Scott’s flawed Kingdom of Heaven portraying a Crusader knight vowing to burn every church, mosque and synagogue before surrendering Jerusalem to Salaheddin so that people would stop fighting over them. I wondered if this would really be the solution; to just burn everything to the ground, so that the dust of the Holy Land, becomes that, dust — and not a cause to live and die for. But we all know, this is not going to happen. And it shouldn’t. And despite myself, I felt a longing for Jerusalem, to walk through its cobbled roads, to smell its air and finally pray in al-Aqsa — which I can’t help but feel eternal love for even though I’ve only seen it in pictures. I guess it’s another dream that I inherited and not developed, but refuse to let go of. It’s mysterious really how certain things can transcend their own natures and become powerful and moving symbols of identity, piety, resilience and courage. It reassures me on some level to find this love and respect inside of me for such symbols. But on another, and to be honest, it scares me.

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