Helen Thomas: The sin of silence

by Helen Thomas

Hats off to Richard Forer, who courageously and truthfully examines an alternate viewpoint in his book, Breakthrough: Transforming Fear Into Compassion — A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

Forer, who grew up in a secular, unaffiliated Jewish home, is the identical twin of a prominent member of an ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism, and was himself a member of AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby. He knew where his allegiances used to lie — anything Israel did was justifiable in his mind.

During summer 2006, Forer visited the Middle East and underwent a profound spiritual transformation. He saw destroyed villages, displacement, land confiscation, imprisonment without trial, torture and other inhuman treatment of the Palestinians and knew he needed to share his truth.

So many Americans of Hebrew heritage cannot face the truth of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians in the land they conquered and now occupy. Forer emerged from the struggle to realize that he could have been wrong. It takes brave people who are willing to abandon long-held beliefs that the Israelis could do no wrong. Somehow their victimhood justified their ruthless behavior toward the Palestinians.

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Some Shock, No Awe

By last Friday, if it hadn’t already done so, the Syrian regime effectively declared war on its own people, killing at least a hundred protestors. Throughout this week parts of Syria have fallen under outright siege. The tanks and infantry which haven’t peeped across the occupied Golan since 1973 entered the southern city of Dara’a, cutting roads, telephone and internet, water and electricity. Reports from the city speak of food shortages, generalised terror, and corpses stinking in the streets. Snipers are firing at pedestrians in the Damascus suburb of Douma. Tanks surround the coastal city of Banyas. Madaya, a mountain town on the Lebanese border, is also occupied. The regime may wish to stop weapons being smuggled across the border, or it may wish to stop Syrians fleeing via the smuggling routes. Thousands have crossed to Lebanon in recent days, and at least five hundred have been rounded into the regime’s torture chambers.

The violence has been massive, but also tactically applied. The sudden escalation is intended to shock the population into obedience. Yet live ammunition has not been used everywhere. Security forces have tried not to kill protesting Kurds in the north east, fearing that would trigger a genuine armed insurrection. Demonstrations in central Damascus have been dispersed with batons and tear gas rather than live fire. The regime doesn’t want to kill the sons of important businessmen, not yet at least.

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You People

My contribution to the Journal of Postcolonial Writing’s Pakistan Special.

Seventeen years ago, as a very young man, I arrived in Karachi. Apart from six months in Beirut in my babyhood, this was my first time outside Europe. I didn’t know what to expect, although I had stereotypes from my British experience of what a Pakistani was (a Mirpuri, with brown skin and eyes, probably a cab driver).

The airport was spacious and anonymous, until the exit. Here tens of faces squashed against the glass doors, most of them cab drivers trying to make a personal connection. I was offered hashish in the cab, taken to an expensive hotel – which I refused – then to a hotel for cockroaches, but very cheap and very friendly. The man at the desk had black skin and blue eyes.

I liked Karachi. It was bustling, lively and engaging. The food was spicy and the weather was pleasantly hot. There appeared to be no social restraint on spontaneous conversation with strangers. It wasn’t Britain. I was pleased to find a word or two of Arabic helped greatly.

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