An ethical Shame

Something inside me is still stirring about the trip to Anata. Something should get out in writing, and something about it is still refraining. Part of it, feeling the uselessness of talking about the same issues again and again. I remember eight or nine years ago when I participated in the rebuilding camp experience and the pouring of my writing on the experience that was multi-dimension. Somewhere in all this, some connections of the memory remain. In the last two days, my head was stirring on one word or a phrase I heard from my friend Terry (from New Zeeland), who has been obediently participating in the building camp for ten years at least. We were exchanging some conversation as I was leaving Beit Arabiya (the hosting house for the volunteers) and we started refreshing our memory on the house that we witnessed while being demolished, and our anticipation in helping the family to move their belongings amid the rubbles. The term Terry used was to my surprise somehow; “ I felt ashamed.” My surprise was in my very same feeling for what happened. That act of “us” who were rushing helplessly and aimlessly in helping them, not sure if it was a help or privacy invasion to what was just hours before home. I will never forget that instant when I was removing what should have been a teenager side of that little house and contained a diary and some personal belongings, that for sure she never expected to come back never to find. I was thinking of the mother who left the house with the dishes unwashed, not expecting unwanted visitors in the form of “helpers” to be inside with her removing every single detail of whatever was left from home.

It was a moment when good and evil mixed in the very same fiber of a profoundly unjust, inhumane situation. Between the invaders who came and demolished that house and those of us who witnessed helplessly with all the pain and the frustration unable to do or say anything in front of the massive system of war that was presenting itself in all formalities in front of that little house. The result in all cases was that those people were left homeless.

The feeling of “shame” that included us in an act that we witnessed helplessly and there was no way we can contribute to it differently, but yet, everyone among us was part of this collective responsibility on the general human level. This globe that consists of people, and watching it with your bare eyes falling apart helplessly. Like watching an earthquake or a volcano or a tornado and respond to the destruction that occurred in the aftermath. But yet this was not an act of nature against humans. It was an act in people against humans in a classification that goes so sharp in seeing a black and white form of how people could be treated. This time, it was the crime of being Palestinian trying to survive in your very own home on the only homeland you can have.

On the way back, my other friend Bruno (from France) experienced what seemed like an adventure in Tora Bora. The fact that he has been truly in Afghanistan minimized the accuracy of my description. The other fact that he thought he saw the worse in Gaza. I was feeling guilty for having the man enduring such an unexpected experience with his suit coming back from an official reception. My feelings were also in the same sense of shame. It was unlike my usual sense of criticism to the Palestinian situation that we Palestinians are hundred percent responsible for, that includes whatever I may describe on Qalandia checkpoint and the state of corruption that represents the government in all its forms and structure. The fragmentation of the society and the enmity that is stripping the fragmented Palestinian fortitude into a tragic deterioration. My shame was that shame of a human failure. How people are driven to become like this. The only miraculous thing in that scene remains the people themselves that continue to maintain their humanity. If there is a place for that humankind to stay.

To my surprise, Bruno used the very same word to express his feeling of that experience; guilt. The guilt of seeing a form of an Inferno right there in the heart of Jerusalem, while as donors, volunteers, activists, see and yet don’t do anything about.

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