I’ve had numerous emails from people asking me to help interpret the
scenes they have watched of Palestinians “celebrating”
after the event. Yes, there were some gatherings of people, particularly in Nablus, who were shown in the very early hours of the
horrible attacks in the US, on the street, dancing and cheering, and passing out chocolate. But these expressions were few and
certainly did not represent the feelings or mood of the general population. The deep shock and horror of the Palestinian people, the
real sorrow for all the dead and wounded, was, and continues to be, unseen by the world, particularly in the USA. It is the story
Because those few scenes were disturbing, the easy response is to cast
judgment on the participants, naming those “celebrating”
as inhuman, despots, or despicable. The more difficult response, though, particularly in the midst of grief, is to ask the questions
about what might drive people, men, women and children, to such actions. One might remember that the people who were seen
“celebrating” are a people who for almost a year have been under a brutal siege, who due to the siege have been unable to feed
their families and hover on the brink of poverty and despair, who have watched their children and their parents killed by bullets,
tank shells and guided missiles, most which are supplied to the Israeli Occupation Army by the USA. One might remember such
things as one watches those images. Attempting to understand motivations doesn’t discount our feelings of anguish at such scenes,
but does allow us to keep humanity a bit more intact in a time of such utter brokenness.
But more important to me is what has mostly gone unseen by the American
public. I have to ask why these scenes of a few
Palestinians have been shown again and again and again, as if they capture the “truth” of Palestine. How few cameras have caught
the spontaneous sorrow, despair, tears and heartache of the vast majority of the Palestinian people. As the news unfolded here on
Tuesday afternoon about the extent of the attacks, people gathered as people did everywhere, in front of television screens to learn
as much as possible. My phone rang and rang as Palestinians from around the West Bank called to express their horror and their
Yesterday following a prayer service held at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral,
I talked briefly to the US Consul General in
Jerusalem. We talked about the scenes from here which were most prevalent on the TV. He told me that his office had received a
stack of faxes of condolences from Palestinians and Palestinian organizations “this high” (indicating a stack of about 12 inches).
He asked his staff to fax copy of every last one of them to CNN to give a different visual image from Palestine.
When we left the cathedral after the service, we drove by the American
Consulate in East Jerusalem. Gathered there were about 30
Palestinian Muslim schoolgirls with their teachers. Looking grief-stricken, they held their bouquets of dark flowers and stood
behind their row of candles. Silently, they kept their vigil outside our Consulate. But no cameras captured their quiet sorrow.
When I got home, my neighbor explained that her son, who is in 8th grade,
came home in the afternoon and talked to her about the
students’ reactions at school. He told her that everyone was talking about what had happened. He said that many were asking,
“How could someone do that?” “Is someone human who carry out such acts?” He went on to tell her that many of the girls were
crying. Friends, then, began stopping by my home. Palestinian Christian and Muslim came together, visiting me to express their
sorrow and ask what they could do. Again, the phone rang incessantly with Palestinians asking if everyone I knew was okay and
asking if they could do anything to help.
As we talked, many went on to tell of stories of their loved ones who
are in the States—relatives they were worried about having
been injured or killed or who had been subject to harassment in the last couple of days. Others talked of having received emails
from people who had been supporters of their work who wrote saying “I can never again support the Palestinian people,” as if
somehow Palestinians everywhere were suddenly responsible for the attacks in the States.
The remarkable thing to me, though, was that despite such message these
same people still wrote letters of condolences, made
phone calls to friends, and asked what they could do to help. Despite the world, and particularly the American world, not seeing
them or seeing them only as “terrorists,” Palestinians continued to express their common humanity with people everywhere as
they shared in the heartache and dismay.
Trusting in God’s everlasting presence,
Rev. Sandra Olewine
United Methodist Liaison Jerusalem