Posted by: Harold Knight | 11/06/2015

“. . . he whose land is stolen does not like the rain . . .” (Rashid Hussein)

 Photo: Jerusalem, November 4, 2015. Harold Knight.

On Wednesday, November 4, 2015, members of the Sabeel Fall Witness Visit approached the Lion’s Gate on the east side of the Old City of Jerusalem. As we waited for the stragglers to  catch up (the climb up from the Kidron Valley between the Mount of Olives–where we were coming from–and the city wall is moderately steep) we were chatting about what we had just seen when we noticed a young Palestinian man coming down the steps on the other side of the street. Two Israeli soldiers (about the same age as the young man) stopped him at the bottom of the stairs.

Immediately seemingly out of nowhere, three more young soldiers appeared. The five of them surrounded him and obviously ordered him to empty his pockets, take off his jacket, and stand spread-eagle leaning against the wall. They frisked him, and then kept him in that position apparently questioning him.

One of the members of our group walked across the street with his camera. One of the soldiers told him to stop taking pictures and rejoin us on the other side of the street. We were taking pictures as we watched the little scene.

After a few minutes the soldiers backed away from the young man and sent him on his way through the gate and into the Old City.

Later that day I posted a couple of my pictures of the soldiers and the young man on Facebook.

One of my friends commented on my posting that he couldn’t understand how one could tell (“one” being us and/or the soldiers) that the young man was Palestinian.

Americans can have no concept of the constant harrassment of the Palestinians by the Israeli military. There was no doubt that the young man was Palestinian – for several reasons. No Israeli youth would be walking in that area by himself. It is, after all, the Arab Quarter of the city. An Israeli would have no reason to be there. If an Israeli youth did happen by, the soldiers would have known instantly by his speaking Hebrew that he most likely was not Palestinian.

But the overriding reason the soldiers knew he was Palestinian was their purpose in being there: to keep the Palestinians on constant alert and to remind them 24/7 that they live in occupied territory, that they have no freedom except what the Israelis will grant them at any given moment, and that they are always under surveillance.

All of that is incomprehensible to Americans who have not seen it. Americans, for the most part, do not understand the possibility that the military might be deployed to keep civilians in line. Most Americans (I know I should not make generalizations, but this one is too obvious to need to take care) believe that this 20-something lone Palestian man somehow posed a threat to five soldiers in full battle dress and carrying M-16 rifles.
No one needed to ask the young man if he was Palestinian. The liberal “live-and-let-live” attitude of Americans makes us immune to the realities of life in much (most?) of the world. We can’t understand that Latin American kids would want to walk from Guatemala to Nuevo Laredo and hope to enter the US. We can’t understand why 2,000,000 people would leave homes in Syria and neighboring countries and risk their lives to cross the Aegean Sea in rubber dingys.

And we can’t believe that the State of Israel is not under seige by teen-age boys throwing rocks and needs to protect itself with full battle regalia, automatic weapons, and the full force of modern weapons of mass destruction.

Simply that Americans cannot understand does not make these things untrue.

Our egalitarian beliefs, our being taught in Sunday School and elsewhere that we should not judge a person by appearances, our mouthing the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and our conviction that the good guys are always right–without trying to discern who the good guys really are–none of these things change the reality of life for huge segments of the people of the world.

To ask the question, “How does one know he is a Palestinian,” is not only naive, it is symptomatic of a lack of empathy for the struggle for safety and human dignity that is the daily lot of billions of people.

I was born without a passport

I grew up

and saw my country

become prisons

without a passport
So I raised a country

a sun

and wheat

in every house

I tended to the trees therein

I learned how to write poetry

to make the people of my village happy

without a passport
I learned that he whose land is stolen

does not like the rain

If he were ever to return to it, he will

without a passport
But I am tired of minds

that have become hotels

for wishes that never give birth

except with a passport
Without a passport

I came to you

and revolted against you

so slaughter me

perhaps I will then feel that I am dying

without a passport

* Translated by Sinan Antoon. From Rashid Hussein, Al-A`mal al-Shi`riyya (al-Taybe: Markaz Ihya’ al-Turath al-`Arabi, 1990)


  1. Have fun, Harold. I love the poem.



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