At times of such massive confusion and pain, sometimes the perspective of a single gentle soul reveals great insights. This report is one of the most eye-opening accounts of how real Palestinians are responding to this tragedy. The author is Sandra Olewine, the laison of the United Methodists in Jerusalem. It is simply an extraordinary account by an extraordinary woman.

The Sorrow unseen, the Story unheard...

From: Sandra Olewine
Thursday, September 13, 2001 9:54 AM

Dear Friends,

In these days when much of the world reels from the heinous actions of hijackers using passenger jets as 'flying bombs' into major buildings in the US, likely killing thousands, certainly injuring 10s of thousands and leaving families the world over grief stricken and lost, words and images should be carefully chosen, particularly by those in leadership and in the media.

These acts raise the term 'terrorism' to an unprecedented level. Most acts ever given this designation pale in the face of the massive human lose and destruction. Never again will any of us step foot on a plane and not remember, at least for a fleeting moment, what happened in New York City, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. For many, and particularly for many Americans, the recognition of human vulnerability has never been as clear as it is in these days.

We humans often don't live well in the midst of such vulnerability. We try to create a sense of stability and security in our environment by whatever means necessary in order to cope with disruption, death and grief. Retreating to 'safe spaces' and finding someone to blame, someone towards whom to direct our anger and despair, is not difficult to understand. But, sometimes such 'retreating' can lead to a strong urge to 'protect ourselves against them' whomever 'them' might be.

As I watch the scenes which are displayed on television and listen to the words of some of the American leadership, I am dismayed by the careless and blanket statements concerning Muslims in particular and Arabs in general which are being expressed. The need to create 'security' by blaming evil deeds on an entire tradition of people does not do justice to the lives of those killed. The work of 20, 50, 100, or 1,000 should not lead us to make blanket assumptions or statements about over a billion people. In every country, in every tradition, in every race, there are people who act out of malice and hatred to destroy others. Surely we Americans have not forgotten that the last horrible terrorist act carried out in our country was by ourselves.

I've had numerous emails from people asking me to help interpret the scenes they have watched of Palestinians 'celebrating' after the event. Yes, there were some gatherings of people, particularly in Nablus, who were shown in the very early hours of the horrible attacks in the US on the street, dancing and cheering, and passing out chocolate. But, these expressions were few and certainly did not represent the feelings or mood of the general population. The deep shock and horror of the Palestinian people, the real sorrow for all the dead and wounded, was, and continues to be, unseen by the world, particularly in the USA. It is the story unheard.

Because those few scenes were disturbing, the easy response is to cast judgment on the participants, naming those 'celebrating' as inhuman, despots, or despicable. The more difficult response, though, particularly in the midst of grief, is to ask the questions about what might drive people, men, women and children, to such actions. One might remember that the people who were seen 'celebrating' are a people who for almost a year have been under a brutal siege, who due to the siege have been unable to feed their families and hover on the brink of poverty and despair, who have watched their children and their parents killed by bullets, tank shells and guided missiles, most of which are supplied to the Israeli Occupation Army by the USA. One might remember such things as one watches those images. Attempting to understand motivations doesn't discount our feelings of anguish at such scenes, but does allow us to keep humanity a bit more in tack in a time of such utter brokenness.

But, more importantly to me is what has mostly gone unseen by the American public. I have to ask why these scenes of a few Palestinians been shown again and again and again, as if they capture the 'truth' of Palestine. How few cameras have caught the spontaneous sorrow, despair, tears and heartache of the vast majority of the Palestinian people. As the news unfolded here on Tuesday afternoon about the extent of the attacks, people gathered, as people did everywhere, in front of television screens to learn as much as possible. My phone rang and rang as Palestinians from around the West Bank called to express their horror and their condolences.

Yesterday following a prayer service held at St. George's Anglican Cathedral, I talked briefly to the US Consul General in Jerusalem. We talked about the scenes from here which were most prevalent on the TV. He told me that his office had received a stack of faxes of condolences from Palestinians and Palestinian Organizations 'this high' (indicating a stack of about 12 inches). He asked his staff to fax a copy of every last one of them to CNN to give a different visual image from Palestine.

When we left the cathedral after the service, we drove by the American Consulate in East Jerusalem. Gathered there were about 30 Palestinian Muslim schoolgirls with their teachers. Looking grief-stricken, they held their bouquets of dark flowers and stood behind their row of candles. Silently, they kept vigil outside our Consulate. But no cameras captured their quiet sorrow.

When I got home, my neighbor explained that her son who is in 8th grade came home in the afternoon and talked to her about the students reactions at school. He told her that everyone was talking about what had happened. He said that many were asking "how could someone do that?" "Is someone human who can carry out such acts?" He went on to tell her that many of the girls were crying. Friends, then, began stopping by my home. Palestinian Christian and Muslim came together, visiting me to express their sorrow and to ask what they could do. Again, the phone rang incessantly with Palestinians asking if everyone I knew was okay and asking if they could do anything to help.

As we talked many went on to tell of stories of their loved ones who are in the States - relatives they were worried about having been injured or killed or who had been subject to harassment in the last couple of days. Others talked of having received emails from people who had been supporters of their work who wrote saying "I can never again support the Palestinian people," as if somehow Palestinians everywhere were suddenly responsible for the attacks in the States.

The remarkable thing to me, though, was that despite such messages, these same people still wrote letters of condolences, made phone calls to friends, and asked what they could do to help. Despite the world, and particularly the American world, not seeing them or seeing them only as 'terrorists', Palestinians continued to express their common humanity with people everywhere as they shared in the heartache and dismay.

In a separate message I will forward to you some of the condolences which have gone out. I pray you will share them widely in order to share the sorrow, in order that this part of the story also might be heard.

Lastly, I also want to express my gratitude to the many of you who have written notes of concern, expressing your prayers, for the people here, worrying about how this situation will impact the lives of all living in this region. In the midst of your own suffering and anxiety, your own horror what has happened, your heart was large enough, your vision wide enough, to still see the suffering and anxiety of others. This is no small gift and is a true mark of the grace of God.

Trusting in God's everlasting presence,

Sandra

Rev. Sandra Olewine
United Methodist Liaison - Jerusalem

 

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