The HyperTexts

The NAKBA: the Holocaust of the Palestinians
First Annual Palestinian Freedom Walk: Nashville, Tennessee, October 10, 2009

Second Annual Palestinian Freedom Walk, Nashville, Tennessee, October 21, 2010

by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

Is the Palestinian child above a "terrorist"?

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.—Thomas Jefferson,

Should this beautiful Palestinian girl be exempted from "all"? Of course not!

Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.—Jesus Christ

If a religion fails to protect innocent women and children from suffering and death, how can it be a true religion? When I came to realize what the "people of the Book"—Jews and Christians—had really done to millions of Palestinian women and children, I became heartsick. Then I became resolved to do what I can to help them achieve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It were better [for a man] that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.—Jesus Christ

The United States has often been called a Christian nation. But according to the Bible, Jesus Christ never harmed a woman or a child. Nor did he ever say that anyone should be discriminated against because of race or creed. In his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus condemned men of one faith who fail to show compassion to a man of another faith, and he commended the compassion of a man of the "wrong" religion who came to the aid of a man of the "right" religion. So it seems obvious that Christians should put their prejudices aside, where matters of religion and race are concerned. If they do, the question becomes whether Palestinians have been treated justly, with compassion, or unjustly . . .

What about the lovely young Palestinian woman above? Should Americans exempt her from "all" and deny her the self-evident human rights we claim for ourselves? Of course not!

Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter for Palestine

As we step into the light and walk together, I will quote the Elders—men and women like Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mohandas Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Mairead Corrigan and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—on the subject of equal rights.

"Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history [the Holocaust] so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions?"—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

IMG_6011.jpg picture by eshaameena

Americans have a long, often-violent history of racial discrimination against people who don't fit the mold of whatever makes us feel comfortable.

Our government's international policies, particularly those of the United States of America, are taking us down a dangerous road.—Mairead Corrigan, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Pundits (demagogues) of all stripes constantly use our fears and biases against us. I believe demagogues have instilled irrational fears in Americans about Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular. So recently I decided to break my own "mold" (I am usually an activist only with my brain and pen); I joined a Freedom Walk for Palestinians, so that I could get to know living, breathing Palestinians and other Arabs "in the flesh." Here's the story, in words and pictures, of what happened when I did . . .

"As to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza . . . the so-called 'Palestinian autonomous areas' are bantustans. These are restricted entities within the power structure of the Israeli apartheid system."—Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

"I equated the ejection of Palestinians from their previous homes within the State of Israel to the forcing of Lower Creek Indians from the Georgia land where our family farm was now located; they had been moved west to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears to make room for our white ancestors."Jimmy Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate

 On Saturday, October 10, 2009, I and more than a hundred other Tennesseans, most of us Nashvillians, walked in silence from the Nashville Bicentennial Mall to the steps of the Tennessee State Capitol Building, in support of equal human rights for Palestinians. I believe the head count was 140 souls, give or take a head or two. Over 30 American cities have participated in such Freedom Walks to date, and Nashville had the largest turnout of any of them. Tennessee is famously known as the Volunteer state, and it was wonderful to see so many people donating their time to such a worthy cause. The resolute, determined-looking Palestinian boy above was one of the Freedom Walkers, and his American flag and Jerusalem tee-shirt make an interesting statement. Obviously they don't have to clash, incite a riot, or start a firefight.

On a Christmas visit to Jerusalem in 1989, Desmond Tutu said that if the colors and names were changed "a description of what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa." He also said that he was "very deeply distressed" by his visit to the Holy Land, because "it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa." He made similar comments in 2002, speaking of "the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about."

We assembled on the grounds of the Bicentennial Mall. As you can see above, our numbers included young and old, short and tall, and skin complexions ranging from pale white to black. We had one thing in common: we believe in equal rights and justice for all human beings, without exception. This Freedom Walk was sponsored by AAPER, the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights, with the goal of promoting equal rights for Palestinians and a better relationship between Palestinians and Americans.

"General [Yitzhak] Rabin [later the Prime Minister of Israel] described the close relationship that Israel had with South Africa in the diamond trade, but commented that the South African system of apartheid could not long survive."Jimmy Carter

There is a curious blindness on the part of many Israelis, who see the errors of racism and apartheid elsewhere, but not in themselves or in Israel. Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and other South Africans have often pointed out the terrible similarities between apartheidist South Africa and apartheidist Israel.

Do the smiling Palestinians girls above look like terrorists to you, or religious fanatics? Racism, intolerance and stereotypes fail to do them justice.

"If you follow the polls in Israel for the last 30 or 40 years, you clearly find a vulgar racism that includes a third of the population who openly declare themselves to be racist. This racism is of the nature of "I hate Arabs" and "I wish Arabs would be dead". If you also follow the judicial system in Israel you will see there is discrimination against Palestinians, and if you further consider the 1967 occupied territories you will find there are already two judicial systems in operation that represent two different approaches to human life: one for Palestinian life and the other for Jewish life. Additionally there are two different approaches to property and to land. Palestinian property is not recognised as private property because it can be confiscated.Nelson Mandela

This beautiful young woman doesn't strike me as a "terrorist" either. In fact, none of the Palestinians or other people from the Middle East that I've met have been anything but warm, gracious and kind. Of course many of them are not happy about the policies and actions of the American government in the Middle East. But then neither am I. Does that make me a "terrorist," because I want my government to stand for equal rights and justice for everyone, without exception?

Israel's racial discrimination is daily life of most Palestinians. Since Israel is a Jewish state, Israeli Jews are able to accrue special rights which non-Jews cannot do. Palestinian Arabs have no place in a "Jewish" state. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged war against a civilian population, in particular children.Nelson Mandela

The woman being interviewed above is Lynn Grassmeyer, the organizer of the Nashville Freedom Walk. She is a Palestinian American Christian who works for equal rights for all children, regardless of race or creed. Many Palestinians are Christians, but that shouldn't make any difference. Children are children. If you have to ask what race or creed they are before you decide if they deserve equal rights and justice, there is something terribly wrong with you. And yet thanks to the policies and actions of our government, millions of innocent Palestinian children are born and live (if we can call such an existence "living") without equal rights and justice.

"There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done us [the Holocaust], we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people ... Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs."Albert Einstein

"Israel should withdraw from all the areas which it won from the Arabs in 1967, and in particular Israel should withdraw completely from the Golan Heights, from south Lebanon and from the West Bank."Nelson Mandela

Israel must "strive for peace based on justice, based on withdrawal from all the occupied territories, and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on those territories side by side with Israel, both with secure borders."Desmond Tutu

Here is another lovely young woman who is also probably not a terrorist. My wife Beth is a jewelry enthusiast, and I'm sure she would love to have those earrings! Perhaps we are really not so different, after all.

"My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands."Nelson Mandela

We walked in silence to the steps of the Tennessee State Capitol Building. Tennessee is the Volunteer State. We had more Freedom Walkers than any other American city. I'm pretty sure this Freedom Walker was the cutest, best dressed and most enthusiastic of all of us. I'm also pretty sure he's not a "terrorist."

Desmond Tutu said Israel would "never get true security and safety through oppressing another people."

When we reached the Capitol Building, many of the younger, more limber Freedom Walkers found high perches, where they could watch the speakers without having their vision blocked.

"Today the world, black and white, recognise that apartheid has no future."Nelson Mandela

This was the first speaker. No, silly, not the smiling boy enthusiastically waving the Palestinian flag . . . the larger gentleman just behind him. (Gotcha!)

"And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs."Mohandas Gandhi

Here he is, speaking to the Freedom Walkers.

"In my opinion, we must endeavor above all that psychological understanding and an honorable will towards cooperation take the place of resentment towards the Arabs. The overcoming of this difficulty will, in my opinion, be the touchstone that our community has a right to existence in the higher sense. I must unfortunately openly acknowledge that the attitude of our [Zionist] officialdom, as well as the majority of public expressions in this connection, appear to me to leave much to be desired."Albert Einstein

Here is the second speaker. One of the original Freedom Riders, he mentioned that not so very long ago blacks were not allowed to use the restrooms inside the Tennessee State Capitol Building, but had to “find a tree.” Now he is free, but Palestinians are not, on their own native soil. I believe it is time to listen to the words of Martin Luther King Jr. again, and understand that equal rights are not an "American thing," but a "world thing." It is not good enough for Americans to practice equality at home and inequality abroad. We need to understand the "fierce urgency of Now" is for all the earth's children, not just American children, and that we cannot afford the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism" when the lives of children are at stake . . .

We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt ... We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children ... The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges ... No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream" ... And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I was the third speaker. Zainab Elberry was the final speaker. When it was her turn to speak, she declared: “I’m a grandmother and I want the children to come stand here with me!” She was soon surrounded by beautiful Palestinian children with shining faces who smiled as she spoke eloquently of her desire for peace and justice in the Middle East.

"The most important aspect of our policy must be our ever-present, manifest desire to institute complete equality for the Arab citizens living in our midst ... The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people ... What saddens me is less the fact that the Jews are not smart enough to understand this, but rather, that they are not just smart enough to want it."Albert Einstein

Here's a good shot of the some of the Freedom Walkers, sitting on the Capitols steps. Others formed a semi-circle around the speakers. Some of the children were dashing around, not really paying attention to the speeches.

"Palestinian human rights must be protected as generally recognized under international law, including self-determination, free speech, equal treatment of all persons, freedom from prolonged military domination and imprisonment without trial, the right of families to be reunited, the sanctity of ownership of property, and the right of non-belligerent people to live in peace."—Jimmy Carter

Here's a good shot of the speakers. The man immediately to the left of Zainab Elberry is a Palestinian gentleman who made the point that when Americans ask for a hamburger, they want to eat the whole hamburger, not settle for crumbs. Palestinians expect and deserve full freedom and full equality, not whatever crumbs Israel and the US deign to toss their way.

"When in 1977, the United Nations passed the resolution inaugurating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, it was asserting the recognition that injustice and gross human rights violations were being perpetrated in Palestine. In the same period, the UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."—Nelson Mandela

Here's a good shot of the Palestinian flag and the American flag, waving side-by-side.

Desmond Tutu has spoken of the political power of pro-Israel factions in the United States, saying: "People are scared in this country, to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust."

Here's a good shot of the Tennessee State Capitol Building, which now stands for equality and justice, after a shameful legacy of bigotry and injustice.

"The Unites States stands almost alone in its undeviating backing of Israel ... People of most other nations strongly condemn the excessive destruction and civilian casualties [caused by] Israel [just as] they deplore the deliberate provocation of Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah."—Jimmy Carter

Lynn Grassmeyer, the organizer of the Nashville Freedom Walk, is a third generation Palestinian-American Christian who stands for social justice not only on this issue, but for the rights of oppressed children all around the world. Here’s what she said about the experience: “Being an organizer was both exhilarating and exhausting. With no prior experience and with limited manpower, I was trying to pull off something that's never been done before in our city. Though many folks told me they just couldn't take a public stand with us yet, the ones who did set a precedent, and sent a message to the world that we will not be silenced on this issue any longer. I think the Freedom Walk brought a great sense of pride for many Arab Americans in particular. Our local Muslim community was very involved in the process. We also had people of other faiths and cultures. We walked in complete silence and carried our banner with a simple message at the front: that Palestinians are human beings and deserve fully equal human rights. American and Palestinian flags lined the street. WTVF (Channel 5) graciously covered our event on their newscasts that night and the following morning.”

I want to personally thank Lynn Grassmeyer for her wonderful heart and all her hard work. She not only attempted, but pulled off, something that had never been done before in Nashville, for these oppressed people. I had a chance to meet and talk to a number of them, and I can confirm that Americans have not been told the truth about the character of the Palestinians, as a people. The Palestinians I have met personally are invariably gracious, while understandably concerned about the plight of their loved ones and friends who remain in Palestine or in refugee camps in other countries. It is a terrible injustice when people are punished collectively for crimes they did not commit. This was the horror of the Holocaust: millions of innocents—many of them women and children—were denied freedom and access to fair laws and fair courts, meaning that ruthless men could and did take advantage of them, and even kill them without fear of justice. We once had similar problems in the United States, first with the dehumanization and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, then with the outrages of slavery, and until very recently with horrendously unjust Jim Crow laws and public lynchings. Unfortunately, something very similar is now happening to Palestinians, on their own native soil.

In closing,
I would like to tell you what you can do, if you are concerned that the United States has (or may have) unwittingly funded and supported a new, ongoing Holocaust. First, you can research and study the facts, and form an independent conclusion, rather than merely following the herd. Do you really understand what has happened to the Palestinians? Do you understand that the UN did not “give” any Palestinian land to Israel, but only drew up what was, essentially, a voting precinct where the Jews would have a slight voting majority in a new, democratic state? Do you understand that the Palestinians who owned land in Palestine were not supposed to forfeit any of that land, but become fully equal citizens of the new state of Israel? Do you know that the Palestinians who lived outside the borders of the new state of Israel had an overwhelming majority of the population there, and were also supposed to have an independent democratic state of their own? Do you understand that in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians—most of them farmers and their families—chose not to become combatants and merely fled before advancing armies? Do you know that these non-combatants were not allowed to return to their homes when the fighting was over, and that over 400 of their villages were bulldozed, so that they would have nothing left to return to? Do you know that the Nakba (“Catastrophe”) of the Palestinians in 1948 has led to millions of innocent women and children living inside walled ghettoes and refugee camps, where they abide to this day, living on the margins of existence, while Israel and the United States preach sermons on “democracy” to the rest of the world? Do you understand why Iranians and many other Muslims are deeply suspicious of Israel and the United States, and feel the need to procure atomic weapons, because they fear that what happened to the Palestinians might someday happen to them? Do you know that the men who planned 9-11 said themselves that the main reason for the attacks is that they identify with the suffering of the Palestinians? Is it possible that we could have avoided 9-11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, if only our government had practiced in the Middle East what it preaches to the rest of the world? Yes, I believe  it is not only possible, but likely, that we would have avoided 9-11 if only we had practiced what we  constantly preach: equal rights for all human beings, not just for ourselves and our allies. If we want peace with Muslims, we need to abandon hypocrisy, practice what we preach, and stop denying them their self-evident rights.

Here I am, again, looking intent on the second annual walk for Palestinian Freedom and Equality in Nashville, Tennessee. That’s me, second from the right on the front row. We had walkers of all races and creeds, and many people passing by in cars beeped us their support and flashed us peace signs. The walk took place on the 70th anniversary of John Lennon’s birth, and there was not a “terrorist” in sight, only people intent on human rights and freedom for everyone, without exceptions or excuses. Why would an editor of Holocaust poetry walk with Palestinians? Although you can’t see them because they’re too short or were having trouble keeping up, a number of the walkers were Palestinian children. I walked with the Palestinian children and their parents because if my loved ones were being denied basic human rights, freedom and equality, I would want other people to walk with me. And I walked with Palestinian children because I understand that the root cause of 9-11 was the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of the governments of Israel and the United States. If Americans don’t want our loved ones to suffer unjustly, we cannot cause other men’s loved ones to suffer unjustly. Peace begins with equality and justice. Americans have made tremendous progress on racial equality and justice here at home, but unfortunately our government has constantly violated our highest ideals in the Middle East, by creating a terrible double standard in which isolated acts of individual terrorism are condemned, while acts of daily, large-scale, systematic terrorism against millions of completely innocent women and children are being funded and supported by the United States. I love my country, but why are my tax dollars being used to fund and support this new Holocaust, the Nakba of the Palestinians? So I also walked to protest the misuse of my tax dollars. But mostly I walked because I believe in protecting women and children, not harming them. Time and again Muslim terrorists have clearly explained why they are attacking Americans. Not because they hate our “values.” Not because there is a war between Islam and Christianity. Not because they want to “take over the world.” But because the governments of Israel and the United States are causing Muslims, many of them women and children, to suffer and die unjustly. It is past time to stop willfully ignoring the real, very obvious problem, and do what we need to do, as a people who long for peace, to make peace possible. – Mike Burch

And here is a Palestinian Skywalker . . .

The HyperTexts