Growing up, I didn’t know much about my own history. My father arrived in the United States in an attempt to escape war; he did not recollect or share with us.
Three years ago, I decided to return to Lebanon and to see for myself.
I learned that when Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982, they assisted in forming a repressive South Lebanon Army — a reactionary force that was known for its collaboration with occupiers and its brutal torture tactics. These tactics were used against Christians and Muslims alike.
The SLA was run by Christian leaders and populated by Christian troops who had been trained by the Israelis. There were Christians who resisted this movement; the consequences were sometimes extremely brutal.
This is where I began to understand both the repressive and resistant history of my own people.
I began to wonder: Where would I have stood?
* * *
While I didn’t learn my own history in school, I was taught about the Holocaust — the unjust and brutal suffering and genocide of millions of Jewish people at the hands of the Nazi regime. That story is told in movies, books, museums, radio shows, and TV series — always with a sense of past human shame, and rightfully so!
The Holocaust targeted Jewish people. Six million Jewish people were murdered. Of the 11 million people murdered in concentration camps, five million were not of Jewish descent but were persecuted because of their skin color, sexual orientation, or political ideas, or for other reasons.
The story of the Holocaust is told as a one-time, isolated event. Genocide is not a thing of the past. It’s happening today, and in our midst. The Holocaust should teach us to see the murder, exploitation, and deprivation of all people across the world.
Bombing in Syria. Rohingya Muslims being murdered and forcibly displaced by the Myanmar government. Walls being built between families. Money being cut from social programs. Black lives being taken by police daily.
The U.S. president touts sales to Saudi Arabia of missiles that surely will be used to kill Yemeni civilians. (At least half of reported deaths inside Yemen are civilian.)
Surely, we must build a better world for all our children.
* * *
Since the Holocaust, investment in weaponry has flourished. A flood of money is invested to develop highly technical, so-called smart bombs, to maim and kill innocent people. That’s where profit is made.
For companies like Academi (once known as Blackwater) and countless other mercenary groups across the world, killing people is profitable. Our government pays them to do this work.
In contrast, a trickle is spent on health, education and taking care of people. Medicare cut. SNAP cut. Education budget cut.
Yet the U.S. government, our government, spends trillions to build new weaponry and export it across the globe. With it comes the inevitable — blood, loss, and destruction. The constant stream of horrific, depressing news reflects this consequence.
The U.S. government invests in other foreign militaries as well: Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Ukraine, Honduras, Nicaragua — the list goes on. This year, the U.S. government will give approximately $4 billion — let’s be clear, our tax dollars — toward Israeli military spending for what is termed “defense.”
If we look closely at this year’s spending alone, Israeli “defense” is little more than incarceration of indigenous Palestinians (including 356 children since the beginning of 2018) and bombing and sniping of nonviolent, unarmed civilians on the Gaza border.
For example, Mohammed Ayoub, 15 years old, was shot in the head and killed by Israeli snipers on his own land while peacefully demonstrating for his right to move, to eat, to study, to simply exist. Exploding bullets and tanks are used against those who throw stones, all while Israeli snipers laugh after shooting down young Palestinians. Their ministers and politicians applaud them and publicly insist they receive medals of honor.
We must invest in life — not in death and killing.
* * *
The Palestinian people living inside the besieged Gaza Strip are marching to the border of their large prison camp by the sea. Peacefully — without weapons — they demand human dignity and the return of their land and livelihood, without which they are starving slowly on what might be called the “Gazan diet.”
In 2012, the Israel news source Haaretz revealed that in early 2008 Israeli authorities drew up a document calculating the minimum caloric intake necessary for Palestinians to avoid malnutrition, enabling Israel to limit the amount of foodstuffs allowed into Gaza without causing outright starvation.
Does Gaza remind us of the Warsaw Ghetto?
I say “remind,” because we cannot compare one suffering with another. Inside the Warsaw Ghetto, thousands of Jewish people starved, died from lack of medicine, were deprived of work, and were systematically and collectively punished.
Other details that draw parallels between the suffering of two peoples (both equally human): walls, starvation, land confiscation, and finally — resistance.
Those besieged inside Warsaw organized themselves and fought back, like the resilient and strong human beings they were. They fought until their last breath for their human dignity, for their human needs, for their children’s safety.
The resistance inside Warsaw is a testament to the Jewish people who have taught the world strength and human perseverance. The anniversary of the month-long uprising in Warsaw just recently passed on April 19.
* * *
In remembrance of the Holocaust and those brave Jewish people who fought for their own freedom in the face of fascism, I call our attention to the non-violent resistance of Palestinian people. Continued non-violent, peaceful marches recently took place, with May 15 marking the 70th commemoration of the confiscation of their land and continued resistance against occupation.
We must say “No!” to the brutal and deadly violence being used against the Palestinian people. We must not allow victims to become victimizers.
We must, however, reckon with history and use it to look deeply at the present in order to build a new and better world for all our children.
As the great writer Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived but if faced with courage need not be lived again.”