Ever since I was a child, I've heard a range of accounts of what happened to the Palestinians and Palestine. Everyone knows the Jewish version and the Arab version. But there is a third side, that of those who lived there and still do -- the Israeli Arabs.
Some Jews want us out of Israel, and some Arabs believe that we are an extension of the Zionists. Yet we Israeli Arabs keep our culture and traditions. Mahshy, or stuffed grape leaves, remains our favorite meal. We love Arabic music; we sing old folk songs, including "Wein aa Ramallah" about a famous Palestinian city, and songs from all over the Arab world. We are unique among the Arabs, though. We have vested interests on both sides -- and are angry at both sides.
Israeli Arabs have lived alongside Jews for as long as this generation can remember. We became Israeli citizens in 1948. Before that, the region wasn't quite as divided. Families lived in an area that includes the West Bank, Gaza, and Amman, and in other Arab cities in areas where borders were created later. We were divided by boundaries set by the Europeans, and those within the boundaries of Israel became "Israeli Arabs". Now, these Arabs are the unwanted, unloved, illegitimate, and have become the biracial step-child of the Middle East conflict. We have to apologize for our very existence.
Misinformation surrounds the story of 1948. Palestinians who fled their homes are angry, bitter and distraught. No one can blame them. Yet they seem to have been taught who they are supposed to hate, who is the guilty party and who should be punished for their problems. People's memories are so short. It is easier to focus on one enemy – especially an enemy who does not belong to the same "tribe" -- than to analyze a complex situation such as the Palestinian refugee disaster.
It is not my intent to discuss who belongs in that tiny region called Israel, but I will risk being shunned by my own community to set the record straight. The question is: why did Arabs flee the area that became Israel? After all, the ones who remained in their homes still live there today and prosper.
The fact is that the Arab world warned the Palestinians against staying with the Jews. They also warned them that Arabs were going in to fight the Zionists and that the Palestinians should leave to avoid getting hurt.
Many Palestinians trusted these Arab leaders and left as instructed. Those who had lived with Jews for a long time were not as easily convinced of the danger, and these Arabs stayed home. Among them was my family, which saw cars traveling the area. The cars contained Jews. They reassured Arabs that they would not be harmed. Thus, we had a situation where Jews begged Arabs to stay and live with them, while Arabs from foreign countries told them to leave right away.
Palestinians have gotten the short end of the stick in Arab society. It suits Arab leaders to keep this group in a state of poverty and conflict, and to channel all resentment toward the Jews. You don't believe me? Ask yourself why Jordan or Egypt or Syria never gave the Palestinians a country? If I hear another non-Palestinian, especially an American Muslim, repeat the phrase "over 50 years of the Zionist occupation," I'm going to burst. Can no one actually read history? It’s not ancient history, just 1948-1967. Who had that land? Even if Arabs want Palestinians to have "all" the land, this is no excuse for denying them an independent state. And yet, we blame Israel!
As a child, I watched a Syrian play about the war of October 1973. A famous Syrian comedian played a young man who fought in the war and was taken prisoner. After his release, he was detained by his own government. At one point, the guards slapped him and he started crying.
“Why are you crying?” asked a fellow prisoner, deeply puzzled. “That was only a slap. I've seen the enemies do much more to you, and you just laughed it off.”
The comedian replied, “The enemy is an enemy, and I expect that of them. Yes, a slap is only a slap -- but from a brother, it's a slap in the heart.”
Let's take this a step further. The Arab world pretends to care, watching a young Palestinian get killed by Israel on TV, justifying Jew-hatred right before they go to their cozy beds. This is the Arab world that has taught Palestinians to fight, and yet it will not give them citizenship. Where is that love -- or, for that matter, where is the passion used to justify the Palestinian issue?
Let's go to the refugees. Arab governments first used scare tactics, and then took whatever they could get from the United States and Israel. Finally, they stuck Palestinians in camps with deplorable living conditions. Why didn't they leave them alone in their homes? Why promise them refuge and reward them with nothing more than prison camps? And, most of all, why didn't they provide Palestinians with homes in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights when Arabs had control over them?
Please do not speak of money. Palestinian refugees receive aid from all over the world, and yet their living conditions don’t seem to improve. The "hosting" governments siphon off some money to line their pockets, and the Palestinian Authority -- or lack of it -- siphons off the rest … and the poor people get nothing.
As a Palestinian, I ask the world to please stop exploiting our issue. If you want a do a good deed, find your own. To the singers romanticizing Palestinian suffering, it is not romantic. There is nothing dreamy about it. Where’s the heroism in a small child throwing rocks at a tank? Either warn the child to stay away or just shut up! How dare you do this to our children? Does our suffering give you such good video footage and high ratings?
To the average Arab citizen, stop crying crocodile tears for us. We thank you for your kind feelings, but please, don’t offer us your pity. To the Arab and Islamic governments, fix your own problems. Do not use our misery to blind your subjects to domestic problems. Are you afraid that the people will wise up, and stop hating Israel, and turn on you? You, who have condoned so much hatred, may one day pay the price. You've created monsters, and you won't be able to handle them. Worry about creating jobs for your own poor people and educating the children, and leave us alone. In short, to all those invested in driving our children to die, please, stay away from us.