The Common Good

Politics, Gaffes, and Truth

“They have dug a pit in my path, but they have fallen into themselves."

Daniel in the Lion's Den, Nicku / Shutterstock.com
Daniel in the Lion's Den, Nicku / Shutterstock.com

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Presidential politics and world events often converge in a manner that pushes the media to elucidate the roots of crisis in a new light and with greater candor.

During the late 1990s in Jerusalem between the two Intifada uprisings by the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation it was rare for Western media representatives to report seeing the events that exacerbated the conflict.

One lovely and quiet May day while working in my office just off Salah Ed Din Street in the Palestinian business district of East Jerusalem, a colleague rushed in reporting that heavily armored Israeli soldiers and police on war horses covered with metal breastplates and steel hooves were blocking a march of junior high girls.  The girls had gathered to peacefully commemorate the Nakba (catastrophe), the day in 1948 when 800,000 of their Palestinian forebears were forcibly removed from their homes in traditional Palestine.   It was unusual to see such a large assemblage of Israeli military forces and police in East Jerusalem.  Status quo understandings usually held unless there was a violent confrontation or a clear security threat.  Even more rarely were battle-prepared forces lined up against school children. 

Through earlier social and professional opportunities the respected Jerusalem police chief had been introduced to me.  Rushing to Al Saladin Street with the mistaken notion that one could help defuse the situation the chief was the first person I encountered.  We both observed there was a problem with the huge disproportion between unarmed children carrying home made peace signs and excessively militarized troops and officers with Uzi machine guns, shields and the larges menacing horses. 

I offered to the police chief who was clearly having second thoughts that it might be a good idea to at least pull the menacing mounted police back and let the silent and respectful 11 to 14 year olds pass down through their own main shopping area.   He indicated agreement, but at that moment unfortunately a young man at the far end of the street threw a rock and the soldiers began to fire live ammo and rubber-coated bullets indiscriminately not only upon the culprit but at the gathering crowds and the marching children.  Without a command from the chief the warhorses charged into the parade running over the screaming children and viewers alike pushing people into shattering shop windows. In a word all hell broke loose. Ambulances and medics arrived while TV cameras were capturing the entire event.

I went from one correspondent and film crew to another to plead with them to not only record but also file the story. To a person, both foreign and local media, representatives said, “There really is no point because if I/we don’t self censor our editors will.  The truth will never be broadcast for the public to see.” 

I thought of the Psalmist’s cry (Ps. 57), attributed to shepherd boy David as he was fleeing King Saul’s death threats:  “I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts — men whose teeth are spears and arrows…they spread a net for my feet…they dug a pit in my path—but they have fallen into it themselves”.

David was probably not much older than these girls in their early teens who were suffering the slings and arrows of frightful force.  The officials in Saul’s day and in 1999 had dug an awful pit for children crying for justice.   That day in Jerusalem the troops and leaders themselves fell into a dark hole.  The respected police chief was soon relieved of his command, allegedly for mismanagement, and the relations between East Arab Jerusalem and West Jewish Jerusalem continued to deteriorate until that day but a year later when Prime Minister Sharon went to the Dome of the Rock/Temple Mount with hundreds of soldiers to declare Israeli hegemony in the Muslim quarter. Countless people were killed on both sides by the explosion of fear and anger and the Second Intifada exploded.

I have so often pondered what might have happened if the media had covered more honestly the stifling of protest that Nakba Day in 1999 and as a result the local officials and the world community had heard the cry?  Could the disaster have passed and peace with justice been advanced.

Today the media is much more candid. One wonders if we have received a rare gift of unaltered reality in this period of deepening crisis in the Holy Land and overheated atmosphere in the American presidential campaign. For this week it is being reported clearly that we have a presidential candidate, and probably millions of likeminded uninformed voters, who are apparently oblivious or uncaring about the explosive oppression of Palestinians.  

Maybe the silver lining is that social media, papers, and TV all over the world are declaring in uncensored fashion that the cruel invasive warhorse and now drone enforced occupation (not “cultural differences” between a lazy and an energetic people) is causing the Palestinians comparative disadvantage in the stark disparity of annual income of $1,500 per annum while Israelis enjoy $31,000 per annum.   

“A Moment of Truth” the Kairos Palestine document of 2009, written by Palestinian faith leaders, declares:  “Hope is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us."   See kairosusa.org for an appropriate American response of contrition and call to action. 

Isn’t it time for our leaders and our electorate to say to Israelis and Americans as well,  “beware for we are digging a pit that we ourselves are falling into?”  If people speak the truth perhaps a worse disaster can be averted. In the meantime we can be thankful for a gaffe that has sharpened attention on the problem of occupation in ways more effective than we ourselves could have devised.    

Tom Getman lived and worked in the Occupied Territories from 1986-2001.

Daniel in the Lion's Den, Nicku / Shutterstock.com

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