|2 May 2002 @ 01:09, by Flemming Funch
This is an e-mail from today, from a friend of a friend who's with "Doctors Beyond Borders", who just spent 5 days in the West Bank in Palestine. A stream of consciousness letter about his experience. Very powerful stuff. There's still hope when there are people like that.
Richard Moscarello's JOURNAL from the West Bank
The color brown. This is the color of this land. The land they call the holy land. Brown. The ground. The buildings. The parched hillsides. The people. Brown. Everywhere. There is a sign on a building in English that says holy and holocaust share the same first four letters. Holocaust is misspelled - holycaust - but the meaning rings true. The hol(y)caust land. Brown. I am having trouble distinguishing between Jew and Arab. They all look brown. Or some shade of brown. Occasionally you see the western European looking Israeli but even they have been darken by this land - the land of brown.
Brown. It is beautiful in its own way. The color red. The trim on the Muslims headdresses. The trim on the doors of houses. The blood on the walls. The red in the eyes of the people. The red in our eyes from lack of sleep. The color red.
This is the holy land. Where men came and preached peace love. Where men came to protect their flock from the vicissitudes of anarchy. This is the place where the Romans hung preachers the waters were parted and now tanks and F-16's do their deadly work.
Red turning to brown. Blood on the pavement and the walls drying in the sun. Turning the ever present brown. Even the blood here becomes brown. Red. This is the color of the peoples spirits. The red of misunderstanding. The red of distrust. The red of hatred. The red of blood turning to brown as life turns to death. They hate us here. In the West Bank. We are lucky that we are with a contingent of French doctors and nurses. And we may still not get into the Jenin refugee camp. They would rather starve and bleed to death than take anything from Americans. We are the oppressors. We are the killers. We have sponsored this killing and degradation for 50 years. We are the monsters that support the Israeli monsters. Of course they are right in a way. And it isn't just the American government they hate - they hate us - Americans who have come to help them. A young man yelled at me in English - "You fucking pig, first you send the Israelis to kill us and now you come to bandage the fucking wounds they inflicted on us." "Do you want them to kill us twice." Of course he is right in a way.
The Israelis hate us also. "Don't help these killers -you are just bandaging another suicide bomber. Let them all go to their glory land. Let them all blow themselves up. The only good Arab is a dead Arab." People actually talk like this. Then there is all this talk about what this or that bible says. "The bible says" - "the bible says" -"the bible says." The bible is part of the problem. I wonder if the bible says that Arabs are a lower form of life. I wonder if the bible (or Koran) says that Jews should all be killed. Doesn't the bible change with changing times? My god - whatever god you want to talk about - these people are beyond the pale.I just want to scream and yell at all of them. Fools - fools o you hear me - you are all fools. There is no way out of this except to come to terms. But I am wrong. I am naive. I am an American who has come to help. I am hated.
We make it to the Jenin Refugee Camp:
I thought I was through with this when I got back from Vietnam, but I am Giving morphine to a dying man. Abdullah, Mohammed or whatever his name is has a gaping hole where his right ear use to be. He will not live. Jab the needle. Hard. In the arm. No motion from him. His eyes show the morphine. He is in peace. "Richard - god damn it - put gloves on - where the hell are you gloves!" I quickly wipe the blood off my arms and hands. A nurse squirts me with a disinfectant. Another nurse starts taking my clothes off. I am naked. I am clean. No cuts. Disinfected. And Standing over a dying man. A change of clothes. Diane comes by and slaps me on the butt. "Spoilsport - I liked you better naked . I need some cheap thrills?" Diane is 65 and 200 pounds of energy, laughter and fun. And standing over a dying man.
Chaos. This place is out of a nightmare. I have never seen so many people with bewilderment and fright on their faces. The hatred is thick. It is the hatred that scares me. The chaos is chaos. The guns are guns. The soldiers are soldiers. But the hatred is other worldly.
"Hey, we are just trying to help. Let us go by." The soldier stands his ground and begins to raise his gun at us. I am standing face to face with him and I stupidly put my hand on the muzzle of the rifle and push it down. "Don't point that damn thing at these people - you might be the next one who needs their help." He is straining to raise the rifle, but I am stronger. Quickly I regain my senses and the barrel of his rifle flips up and stops right at my head.
We walk by. I look at him and say " Be careful- it is dangerous out here." He glares at me and spits out something in Yiddish. I have been cursed in Yiddish. Again. Warren walks next to me laughing. "God you are a fool -you shouldn't be fussing with them. They are all more than willing to blow your head off and ours." "What - you told me this red cross on my chest would protect me - now it is a target!" "Big time - don't forget. All the women think you are nuts but they like having their own protector." "Yeah - thats me brother - opening doors, my number one job." We laugh. "The energizer bunny." "I guess you are!" "Thanks for coming." We stop walking and he hugs me. "I have a long way to go to be like you brother. Thanks for inviting me, well I guess thanks, asshole." "Doctor Asshole to you." Warren grins and throws his gloves at one of the nurses. Foolishness and laughter in hell.
What is going on here? It is hard to fathom. What are the Israelis trying to do? They may stop the violence in Israel for a while, but they have sowed the seeds of hate in thousands of young Arabs. And none of these people forget. There is racial graffiti all over the walls in both Yiddish and Arabic. I now know how to read " You are lower than pig shit" and "God fucked the Jews for a good reason." These of course are the polite ones. I am getting a crash course in hatred. Day one was hatred 101 but by day three I was in graduate school.
There is sporadic gunfire all the time and an occasional mortar round, rocket propelled bomb and tank fire. Paige says never mind the shooting. You get used to it and don't even hear it after a while. Paige just got back from Afghanistan. "Paige when you stop listening is when you get killed." And four days after holding my daughters hands and kissing her lips as she gave me a magical protective hug, I am explaining how to distinguish the different sounds of gunfire and what each sound means. Type of bullet or shell, distance, speed and flight. As I have always thought, you can take the boy out of Vietnam, but you can't take Vietnam out of the man. "That just makes me more nervous." "Paige - I hold her hand - it may keep you alive." "No, I thought that was your job - keeping us alive. Ok, your job." She unexpectedly kisses me. "Ok"
None of us has slept much for the past three days. There is too much to do. We get an hour here and an hour there. I am amazed at how devastated Jenin is. No wonder the Israelis don't want the UN in here. Cars are out and about but there are no policemen - no electricity and little running water for most of the residents. The Palestine authorities are either dead or waiting in hiding to shot a careless Israeli soldier. None of us has had time to think, but I have had a sleep deprived epiphany.
"In the throngs you will find peace. In the chaos you will find the stillness." I can hear my brother Matthew saying these words. And I did. was handing out medical supplies, bandages and ointments to a short line of crying, wailing, belligerent Palestinian men and women when the stillness overcame me. I began to hug everyone that I gave the supplies to. Not the thing to do. And they all accepted it. I heard god is great in Arabic. I just smiled and said - "you are great." I don't know how long this went on but the last woman in line was an old woman who when I hugged her said in English "thank you son."
I stood there as in a trance. Paige came up and said -"do you know what you just did?" "Yes, I finished giving out these supplies." I had been crying the entire time. My shirt was drenched with my tears. God is great. And so are people.
Soldiers come in all sizes but they all have the same look. And when they are wounded they all look like victims - young boys with torn body parts - young boys with missing limbs - young boys with a bruised psyche. Frankly I like the black outfits of the Palestinian gunmen - rather than the uniformed uniformity of the Israelis. However, I like the flake jackets the Israelis wear. I am talking to a wounded soldier who is from Cleveland, Ohio. We are talking baseball and I am glad to speak and think about something besides what is happening here. He thinks that the Cleveland Indians are in a tougher division than the Seattle Mariners. They are. But it doesn't matter to argue about that - they still have to win and the Mariners look like they might win as many games as they did in 2001. We are talking the universal language that men (I guess I should say American men because that is all I know) use to communicate - well - actually to say nothing but to at least get along. Sports talk. As we talk I am helping John ( a doctor) rebandage the soldiers leg. Which he may lose. Did he suspect that when he moved to Israel from Cleveland? Did he know the sacrafice that he might have to make? I ask him why he immigrated to Israel. He looks at me in disbelief as if that was the stupidest question he has heard in a long time. Of course he is right. This is where I belong. My people belong here - we have been chased from so many places for so long and now we finally have our own land. Dare I ask about the Palestinians. There are plenty of places for them to go. But this was also their land. No, the bible is right - this belongs to the Jews. That bible thing again.
Can't we share. I guess not. They will not stop until Israel no longer exists. Will that happen? We will all die before that happens. They feel the same way. They are wrong. They think you are wrong.
It can't be this simple. This hatred can't be distilled down to a few simple sentences. Fifteen hundred years of religious differences summed up in a few sentences. It can't be. I am naive. I am an American. I am hated.
All I can think of is a comment by the American Thomas Paine. The man who wrote "Common Sense." I like that title. "My country is the world and my religion is to do good." Nice thoughts Thomas Paine - but they seem to be out of place in todays world. Was Thomas Paine a thousand ears before his time and will the human race be around a thousand years from now to live Thomas Paines words. The odds aren't good.
My friends talk about the overwhelming spirit and feeling of love that is the reason that we are all here. They talk about people who have had near death experiences and the universal feeling of love they have. They talk about how love is the most powerful force in our world - how we are all god. I don't believe any of it. They haven't been to Jenin.
I want to write about what we are doing minute by minute - what we are experiencing - what the people around us are experiencing - what they think - if they will talk to us - but I can't. It is too painful. It reminds me of a comment that Miles Davis once made - in a completely different context. He was the master of the jazz ballad. He cried through his trumpet. He moaned and emoted so much emotion playing ballads. And then he stopped playing them - and when asked why he said - "because it hurts too much." I would love to describe the scene here but it hurts too much. It is easier to exist here by being detacted. Something I am not use to doing. I know that I am naive. I know that I haven't lived this existence. I know that I am a priveleged American. And I know that I am hated.
I talked to an Israeli soldier who lost his mother three weeks ago to a suicide bomber. I talked to an Arab boy of no more than 15 who lost his father two weeks ago. I have talked to an Israeli soldier who lives in a west bank settlement. I have talked to Palestinians who use to cross the border into Israel to work everyday and now have no money. The Palestinians hate the rich Arab states for not helping enough - for being hypocrits - for being American pawns - The Israelis hate any American who doesn't forcefully support Israel - and call anyone who is a Jew who has any feelings for the Palestinians a traitor - I am still trying to figure out - what is a Jew - what is an Arab - Palestinian gunmen dress as Israeli soldiers and kill sleeping children. Israeli soldiers dress as Palestinians and kill Palestinian men. And I am still trying to figure out - what is a Jew - what is an Arab. I look at their faces. I look at their bodies. I look in their eyes. I can't see any difference. They are all one. Just like we are all one. I feel detached here.
I have always wanted to surround myself with people that looked and thought differently than I do. Here - I am not so sure about that. The 42 of us that are here from the doctors without borders group have formed our own little tribe. There is much talk among us about the leaders: Sharon, Arafat and Bush. But I think that it is all beside the point. Yes, this crisis of 1500 years is also one of leadership - but can any leadership change the harden feelings of these people. But there is a history here. I remember being fascinated learning about the crusaders. They were fired by a surprising passion to reclaim the holy land from the Muslims. And it was the crusaders who introduced the first blood and guts war approach to the conquered Muslims. hroughout these 1500 years it seems that only the Muslim leader Saladin was wise enough to be a humanita-rian. Saladin - where are you - the world needs you. Where are the Gandhi's and Martin Luther King's. Where is Jesus?
My young passionate friend Vernon from LA sent me an e-mail about evil. It was a statement from someone who said that if you believe that their is evil - then you also believe that there is good - the matter - anti-matter cycle. I want very much to believe that - here - in this place - in this time. And if evil is represented by some entity - the devil or whatever you wish to call it - then there must be a god - something to represent the opposite of evil - good. I feel very detached here in the west bank.
Being here has soften my views. The Israelis are living among people who seem to be so set in their ways that they will never accept the reality of Israel. It is the children. The seeds of hate are so strong in them. How can a 10 year old boy spew out epitahs of hatred that would make people blush. Does he actually understand what he is saying. I don't know what to think. When I talk to the Israeli soldiers their passionate defense of their right to live in peace is impossible to argue with. When I talk to the Palestinians their passionate defense of their right to return to their ancestral homeland is impossible to argue with.
Ancestral homeland. I am confused and keep coming back to the idea that no one can win this war - it is only in accepting the fact that these two groups of people are here to stay and live next to each other and among each other that a solution can be found - but whether it is the young Israeli soldiers or young Palestinians - there seems to be no hope in reconciliation with them. It seems like it will take a different generation to resolve this - but will this problem allow that much time to evolve?
I am naive. I am an American . I am hated.
I have come here to dispense bandages and food and to listen to the voices. Can I possibly do anything worthwhile. My good friend Celia told me before I left - "You can't save the world, but if you can make one person satisfied or content or safe for even an hour you have accomplished something." Thank you Celia, because that is all I have done. Barely.
Back in Jerusalem:
We spent five days in Jenin. I think none of us had more than 12 hours of sleep in those five days. Exhausted is not the correct word. I am the most energized of the group - that damn ticker still hasn't slowed down. Until now. Drained. Emotionally drained.
As far as we know we have been the only group allowed into Jenin. I am not sure if the UN has gotten in yet. We dispensed medicine, drinking water, food, clothes, treated over 2000 people for medical or war related problems and didn't kiss any babies. We were cursed at, had things thrown at us, Israeli soldiers taunt us, had Palestinians tell us to leave, had people thank us. Did we do any good. There is a 12 year old Palestinian boy who now is wearing my Seattle Mariners tee shirt - his uncle lives in Seattle and I am going to look him up when I return. Their is the old man who asked me to mail four letters to his grandchildren who live in the US and Canada. Others like this. Yes, I guess we did some good. I guess.
Had the first decent meal - no make that the first meal - we have been eating on the run - in six days. Sitting in a hospital wondering if the soldier I was just talking to will live. Wondering what my daughter is doing. Wondering what the woman with the blessed smile that I keep thinking about is doing. Wondering about my mother who said I am proud of you son. Then asked me why I hadn't been doing these sorts of things before.
There is a piano in a cafe that I begin to play. The cafe is empty except for us. My Funny Valentine. The things that you think about at times like this. Paige gets up and starts singing. We break out into song - American folk songs, Beatle songs. Ludwig sings a German drinking song and we are. Drinking. Warren announces to the group that we are going to return in two weeks - and he assumes that we will all return with him. He looks over at me and smiles - you'll be here. We get quiet and I play an old Bob Dylan song:Blowing in The Wind.
The moon is waning and I am tired and peaceful. I hear gunshots in the distance. The city looks beautiful. Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to make it right. Tomorrow.