[The following letter was written as response to Elie Wiesel and his decision to author and publish an advertisement in August 2014 which ran in the New York Times and other major medial outlets. The ad claimed that “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,000 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn.”]
Let me begin by saying that we have met, although you may not remember. In 1980, I was a young actor in a theatrical adaptation of your novel Dawn, produced by the Cambridge Ensemble of Cambridge, Mass., which opened in a small off-Broadway theater in New York City. I played your character Gad, a Jewish terrorist charged with training Joshua, a young German-Jewish holocaust survivor, to fight the British in Palestine. You attended the opening, we met, and you wanted to know how come I, a Palestinian Arab, would want to play the part of a Jewish fighter in Palestine. The answer seemed simple to my youthful thinking at the time: that because I was Palestinian, I knew very well what oppression and dispossession meant, and felt that what motivated Gad was what was motivating the PLO in the 1970s. I understood him, I thought. I don’t think you liked my answer very much.
I was naive to think that by simply stating in the program notes that I was Palestinian, the audience would somehow come to understand current events in 1980 the way I understood them then. I focused on the glimpses of humanity in Dawn: Joshua being heartsick about executing a captive soldier in cold blood, or conflicted about seeing the British “running like rabbits” under fire, just as he himself ran like a rabbit not long before. I now see that I was wrong. The more important message of Dawn was what I, playing your character Gad, had to tell poor Joshua: that the days of being victims are over, that “we must be like everybody else.”
I was fooled by your eloquence to believe that Dawn was about conflicted humanity. Rereading it now, it’s clearly much more an apologia for Israel, as have been most of your writings since. But I believed for a time that what happened in Palestine was the result of a European earthquake that sent a tsunami to our shores like a force of nature—but this time the worst of human nature. I blamed Nazi racism, not its victims. And, I wanted to understand how those victims could find it in themselves to drive me out of my home in Palestine—to become the oppressors.
I thought that by delving deeply into a “Jewish” experience, as Dawn purports to represent, I would begin to understand why Zionism has done what it has done to me and my family: the dispossession, the ethnic cleansing, our alienation from our land, our history, and now even our humanity. This alienation continues to this very day. I read your work and that of others, and yes, Mr. Wiesel, I went to Auschwitz too, and saw the crematoria, imagined the screams of men, women, and children in the “showers,” and shuddered and wept at the sight of the rolls of cloth made from human hair and the piles of prostheses, eyeglasses, and suitcases. I understood what “never again” means. Never again should this be allowed to happen; never again should any human being be so dehumanized and brutalized.
I thought that you shared those same thoughts about humanity and suffering, but you clearly do not. You appear to still be trapped in a tribal paradigm motivated by the view that never again should this happen to Jews only. This view insists that the Holocaust belongs to Jews alone and not to the black pages of all of humanity’s history.
But what about a holocaust by installments, Mr. Wiesel, which is what the Palestinians have been experiencing since 1947? Can you not look beyond these tribal politics to feel for the uprooting of our people, the many documented massacres where nearly all the victims were families and innocent men, women, and children, from Deir Yassin to Kufr Qassem to Sabra and Shatila to Gaza? Isn’t this a holocaust by installments? And what about the daily demolition of family homes, confiscation of land, and destruction of tens of thousands of olive trees and livelihoods? Denial of our right to return is most painful for us, and Palestinians in Jerusalem continue to experience it through the daily withdrawal of their right to permanent residence there—eight thousand last year. Can you possibly imagine those experiences with any kind of empathy Mr. Weisel? Can you take a moment to see beyond your Jewishness to share some humanity with the Palestinians?
But how naive of me to even ask. I should have remembered that there were no Palestinians in Dawn, only the British “occupiers.” You do not recognize my humanity as a Palestinian because Palestinians never existed for you except as a threat to your exclusive brand of Judaism. It seems that for you, we do not exist as fathers and mothers, or as children of so many families annihilated by Israeli bombs in Gaza. We are sub-humans who do not love our children but cynically use them as “human shields,” according to your paid advertisement in the Guardian.
We cannot be human for you because, then, we would be insurmountable obstacles to the Jewish Zionism of your state, to the deep tribalism of your being, and to the consummate and self-consuming Jewish victimhood that justifies heinous and inhuman acts.
Gad trains the young Joshua to forego his humanity and execute that hapless British soldier. He hammers into his head your words: “we must be like everybody else.” Well congratulations, Mr. Wiesel. You are like everybody else who, in my view, is on the wrong side of the moral compass. Fortunately, there are growing alternative Jewish voices to yours with whom I’m proud to stand in defense of our common humanity.
15 September 2014