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Arab World Outraged By Bush Tepid Response To Rafah Attacks

by Jess Ghannam

What Happened In Rafah?

(PNS) RAFAH -- Um Tarik, an 84-year-old Palestinian woman living in a refugee camp in Rafah, wants to know what the word "troubling" means. She heard George Bush use it to describe a recent Israeli attack here.

Um Tarik has lived through many occupations of Palestine. She lives now in this extensive array of refugee encampments, made up mostly of cinder blocks with tin roofs. Rafah has an open sewage system, little access to potable water and is juxtaposed with modern Israeli settlements, checkpoints and military installations. Three generations of Palestinians have been born from Um Tarik's love -- 10 children, over 60 grandchildren, and close to 20 great grandchildren.

Palestine is also my ancestral home and where my family has lived, worked and died for over 800 years. I am of the first generation of Palestinians to be born outside of Palestine. Traveling frequently to Palestine is a complex experience for me, because it carries the weight of generations of memories, desires and dreams. That weight is especially heavy when I travel to Gaza, where I work in community clinics.

During the "Nakbeh" (or catastrophe) of 1948, when Jewish militia forces ethnically cleansed over 800,000 Palestinians from their villages, towns and homes, Um Tarik was giving birth to her children in a UN-issued tent. Um Tarik is living in a tent again, 56 years later. She has lost her home for the fourth time since 1948. When the Israeli occupation army destroyed it with an American-made Caterpillar bulldozer during the most recent assault, she was given the same kind of tent.

Still, Um Tarik wakes up every morning, does her morning prayer, bakes fresh bread for her family, takes breakfast and then proceeds to negotiate the daily humiliations of the Israeli colonization of her land. The day is punctuated with American-made F-16s and Apache helicopters buzzing overhead, the din of the Caterpillar bulldozers and machine gun fire and the pervasive smell of diesel fumes.

Um Tarik is every Palestinian's mother, grandmother, sister, and neighbor. She is steadfast, proud and resolute about her connection to Palestine.

Recently, 10 Palestinians were slaughtered by an Israeli tank that fired into a crowd of civilians, most of them children, during a non-violent protest against the Israeli Army. Um Tarik asked her son to translate the word "troubling" into Arabic. She heard George Bush's statement that the murder of those Palestinian children was "troubling" to him.

Palestine is a killing field for the Israelis. Close to 600 children have been killed by the Israelis since September 2000. During the month of May in Rafah, more than 43 Palestinians were murdered or assassinated by the "only democracy in the Middle East," and 1,500 more Palestinians have been made homeless yet again. It does not matter to Palestinians that Amnesty International has condemned the Israeli actions in Rafah as "war crimes," or that the United Nations has characterized them as "crimes against humanity." These are empty words and offer little comfort. The Rafah crimes are nothing new for Palestinians.

"Crimes against humanity" by various Israeli forces against Palestinians have a long history. They are part of a systematic attempt to dislocate, dismember and dispossess Palestinians from their homes, from their land, from their culture, from their history and from each other. This project is a deliberate attempt by Israel to remove any trace of Palestine and its people from their indigenous rooted-ness to the land. The "War on Terror" is simply the latest cover for this project.

There is little difference between the occupations of Iraq and Palestine. The aims are the same, the methods are the same and the devastation is the same. Palestinians, and the Arab and Muslim World in general, understand clearly that the problem is neither George Bush and the Republicans, nor John Kerry and the Democrats. The problem is not Ariel Sharon, or Likud, or the Labor Party. Imperial and colonizing projects that seek to redraw the political, economic, cultural, historical and psychological spaces of the Arab World and beyond are the basis for understanding the occupations of Palestine and Iraq. George Bush and Ariel Sharon's messianic visions of the New American/Israeli Century are simply the current manifestation of this project.

So why can George Bush only muster the word "troubling" when asked if he would condemn the Israeli atrocities in Rafah? For George Bush, Palestinians and their children are getting in the way of these imperial dreams and wishes; they are impediments to the New World Order. The word "troubling" is nothing more than the thinly veiled racism that exists in all colonizing projects and imperial methods of conquest. When Palestinian and Iraqi children die, it is only "troubling."

The depth of the moral depravity it took to use such a word to describe the death of Palestinian children left the Arab and Muslim world breathless. Palestinians now believe that their confrontation with extermination and existential crisis is not a human concern worthy of George Bush's Empire or his Israeli accomplices. I don't know how to translate "troubling" from Imperial English into Arabic. Perhaps the only translation that makes sense is, "We don't care."

Jess Ghannam is president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in San Francisco, and a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. He travels frequently to the Gaza Strip, where he teaches and works to establish community health clinics

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Albion Monitor June 16, 2004 (

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