Monday, June 25, 2007

The Justice of Power, Until We Say So

June 9

Left: Ayham (left) and Suhail playing outside their house.

Abu Nidal and I had another one of our conversations: “I want to live in peace,” he started, I forget why, “but land and your home is so precious, really. I went to Mecca, and it is wonderful, really. But it was not as important to me as my village. Just we have a small mountain [meaning a hill] and I sit with my family. This is the most important thing.” (Note that he understands full well what American commentators pretend not to: the choice for a Palestinian is between living in "peace" - meaning without random violence visited on you - and continuing to exist on land that you own but that Israel wants.)

Abu Nidal went on to tell me a story about when he was younger. He and some young people were discussing politics, and one of their older uncles walked by, stopped them, and decided to tell them a story about a rich man with a cow and a poor man with a horse. I won’t put quotes around the story because I can’t remember it verbatim, but I’ve got the essentials:

In a village somewhere there was a very wealthy man who owned a cow, and a very poor man who owned a prize-winning horse. Every time there was a horse race, no matter where people came from, this man’s horse always won (I guess jockeying didn't pay much back then). So the wealthy man decided he wanted a horse like this. He went to the poor man and said he would pay any price for the horse. The poor man said no, his horse was not an issue of money to him, and he had no interest in parting with it.

A few years went by and the rich man’s cow had a calf at about the same time the poor man’s horse had a foal. The rich man saw his chance to finally have an amazing horse like the poor man's. The rich man went to the guards who watch his house and said, “take this baby cow and replace it with the poor man’s horse; leave the cow there.” So they did, and brought the poor man’s foal back to the rich man’s house.

The poor man woke up the next day and went to check on the foal. When he noticed that the baby horse had been replaced by the rich man’s cow, he took the cow to the rich man’s house, knocked on the door and said “I’m sorry, your baby cow and my baby horse must have decided to switch places.” The rich man said he didn’t understand what the poor man was talking about. “What do you mean?" he said. "Your horse gave birth to this baby cow a few days ago, just at the same time my cow gave birth to the foal."

“But cows don’t give birth to horses, and horses don’t give birth to cows!” the poor man protested. “Please, the horse belongs to me, and I want it back.” Still, the rich man refused. So the poor man went to the oldest man in the village, who was always counted on to be fair and to settle disputes between people.

The old man agreed to hear the case, and so called the rich man and the poor man before him. The rich man came with fifty of his guards, all well dressed and well spoken. The poor man came dressed in a farmer’s clothes and with his son. One after the other the guards went to testify that yes, indeed, the cow had given birth to the baby horse. Only the farmer’s son testified that the horse had given birth to the foal.

The old man sent everyone away and thought about the case for a little while. When he called the two men back in, he announced that he had decided in favor of the rich man.

“What!" the poor man exclaimed. "How can that be? You've always been so wise and fair to everyone, so how can you believe that a cow would give birth to a horse?”

The old man looked at the poor man with sad eyes, and explained things to him. “Do you see how many men that man brought to my home? Can you imagine the power he has? Can you show me so much power as well?”

“No sir, but what does how much power I can show you have to do with whether or not a cow can give birth to a horse?”

“If you could show me this kind of power," said the old man, "if you were equals, then I would agree with you that a cow cannot give birth to a horse. But if you do not have the same power as this man, then I disagree with you. A cow can indeed give birth to a horse.”

Abu Nidal continued: “There is a difference between the power of justice and the justice of power, really. This is why I can't deal with politics now, there is no justice in this world, really.

“Look at Iraq. I was against Saddam in Iraq, any abuse of power I am against. So when Colin Powell said he had the evidence against Iraq [meaning Colin Powell's speech at the UN regarding Iraq's WMD programs] I wanted to see it, really. I watched, and I thought we would see amazing things. But anybody could photograph these pictures [meaning take pictures] and say it's a, yani, mobile weapons laboratory. Really! But the world accepted it and the whole world invaded Iraq, just like this.

“And just two weeks ago I saw a documentary [on al-Jazeera] about a company that a man went to work for in Iraq. This man died, his wife said he wasn't given enough protection. He went because he needed money. So I don't excuse this man's actions, just like I don't excuse the man who goes to Tel Aviv to take a bomb [a suicide bomber]. But why to blame these people? We should blame the situation. Who planned the situation? Even the man who went to Iraq and to Tel Aviv wants peace.

“It’s like if a man comes in here [the ER] in cardiopulmonary arrest [meaning he’s not breathing and his heart isn’t beating]. And everybody starts to work on him, to do CPR, all of these things, and then someone runs in and says ‘hey, that man has a bump on his neck!’ Who would listen? But with peace [meaning when discussing what Israel and the US do in the world], it is different.”

Another incredibly old lady came in today, with her colorful traditional dress and sun-worn leather farmer's skin she struck me as being nothing more than Native American (she wasn’t, of course). She was having serious chest pains and just kept putting her hand in the air for someone to take. Nobody would (it’s dangerous for the doctors, the family could become upset because of the cultural norms, but she really wanted someone to take her hand...), so I took it and just let her hold it while the doctor was talking to her family. She kept looking at me and telling me that she had chest pains, how old she was, where she was from, etc. I kept telling her I don’t speak Arabic, she kept acknowledging this fact, and then kept telling me about her life anyway. It was endearing.

A 17-year-old man came in after he attempted suicide by overdosing on an anti-depressant. We did a gastric lavage and he was fine; he was admitted for observation.

When I got home Musa told me he had gone to a nearby wooded area where some teenagers were hunting for small birds with pellet guns in the afternoon. The Israelis shot one of them dead and put another one in the hospital. Musa went to speak to those who weren’t shot about what happened. They took him to the place and described what happened, and Musa filmed it. We watched the video Musa had shot. The kids' blood was still splattered all over the ground where they were shot.

Musa picked up some of the kids' pellets that were left from the night before and brought them home. Somehow he also got some of the bullets the soldiers use in their assault rifles. He passed both to me, emphasizing how different they are, as if I wouldn’t have noticed that one is from a toy and the other from an deadly weapon.

Musa passed the pellets and bullets to me, and I passed them to Afaf; we weren’t looking for anything, but when someone says “here are some bullets” it’s hard to tell them there’s no reason to look at them.

Eventually the samples got around to Suhail, Musa’s 11-year-old son. He looked at the pellets only for an instant but then looked at the bullets curiously. He held them between his fingers and turned them around for a minute, examining them. I got the impression that he was trying to understand what they actually do to a human's body, but he obviously couldn’t. It seemed like he was trying to reconcile what he’s seen, especially on TV, about guns and bullets with the idea that these things kill real people, like those whose friends he had just seen and whom he knew his father had met that morning. Eventually he put them down and walked out of the room.