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America's Funniest
(& Smartest) Arab

To Jon Stewart… thanks, and no thanks
Amer Zahr
by Amer Zahr
July 23rd, 2014 (36 Comments)
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Dear Jon,

I, like many Americans, watch you just about every day.  You're welcome.  I'm not sure if you know this, and I'm not sure if you intended it, but you have become somewhat of a hero among us Palestinians.  Your analyses about Palestine/Israel are fair, levelheaded, and funny.  In fact, those are the exact words I used when I wrote you a letter back in November 2009.   Actually, your interview way back then with Mustafa Barghouti and Anna Baltzer was the subject of the very first post on "The Civil Arab." Yes, something you aired on The Daily Show inspired the birth of an Arab American blog.  Thanks.

A few days ago, my fellow Palestinian American comedian and political analyst Dean Obeidallah penned an article for the Daily Beast titled, "How Jon Stewart Made It Okay to Care About Palestinian Suffering."  In that piece, Dean detailed how you helped to humanize Palestinians, making it okay to not only care about us, but also to say it out loud.  He summed up your effect:

The seeds Stewart has planted over the years have taken root and are starting to blossom. And here’s why that’s a good thing for all. Stewart’s message is truly one of empathy—something often missing in discussions of this conflict. Too often, people view this contest as a zero sum game where even the slightest acknowledgment that the other side is suffering is an attack upon their own side.

You are an influential American voice.  And you are a Jew, so your words about our part of the world carry a certain sort of gravity that would never accompany Bill O'Reilly or his ilk.  Also, you seem to understand that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is chiefly characterized by a power dynamic.  And we all know you are not shy to challenge those in power to be more honest and fair.

So, in the name of all Palestinians living around the world (and trust me, we really do live around the world), thank you.  Without you, we would undoubtedly be portrayed in the media much more terribly than we already are.  As a sign of my thanks, I'd like to send you a copy of my book, "Being Palestinian Makes Me Smile."  Incidentally, I am available to come on your show and talk about it whenever you like.

But there's something else.  I'm a little worried.  Progressive liberals see you as their beacon, someone who speaks the truth in a media world where deception and misdirection are the norm.  And speaking the truth, funny enough, is a tough enterprise.  But is also something that cannot be done incompletely, piece by piece.

The Palestinian struggle is not simply characterized by the West Bank and Gaza.  It is not simply characterized by the deaths in Gaza over the past few weeks.  It is not simply about being seen as human beings who are worthy of the most basic of rights.  No, it is about justice, about equity.  We Palestinians do not just seek to stop being killed and dispossessed.  We ask for much more than that.

The roots of our grievances are quite elementary.  Basically, white Europeans came to Palestine, stole our lands, and kicked us out.  That's why I'm in America.  The people that did that to us could have been anybody.  They just happened to be Jews.  Then, they proceeded to create a society and set of laws characterized by ethnic supremacy, attempting to ensure that Palestinians never again have a claim to their ancestral homeland.  But we Palestinians are pesky.  We don't go away all that easily.  So we are still a thorn in their sides 66 years later.

That's it, simple as that.  It's a colonial enterprise.  I mean, the government spokesperson has an Australian accent.  You can hear it when he is speaking on behalf of the American-accented prime minister.

We ask for the right of return, the addressing of our grievances, and the telling of our story. Sounds pretty just, right?  Can you stand with us on those things too?  Can you say openly that Palestinians have as at least as much of a claim to all of Palestine/Israel as Jews do?  Can you say that we deserve to be treated as equal citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity?

See, we Palestinians all carry around a map of our homeland, whether it's embodied on a necklace, on a tattoo, or in our hearts.  And yes, it's from the "river to the sea."  And yes, we know that those borders were drawn by imperial powers from Europe.  But it is that recognizable triangular New Jersey-sized piece of land from which we form our political identity.  That's where we were driven from. That's where we fight for justice.  That's where we find our roots.  That map is why we call ourselves Palestinian.

And guess what? Israelis draw the same map.  In fact, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism publishes a map that does not delineate the border between Israel and the West Bank at all.  Funny, right?  That could be a segment on The Daily Show.  The fact that Palestinians and Israelis draw each other's countries into their own maps is easy fodder.

Perhaps you're taking a step-by-step approach where you will eventually get to the larger issues around this "conflict."  If so, I would advise you to do so secretly.  If word gets out about that, you might not last too long on the air.

My point to you is this.  In a country where we are seen as generally unworthy of protection, we appreciate you telling the world that we Palestinians are, in fact, human beings who do not deserve to be indiscriminately killed.  But it is not enough. My worry is that your saying (or implying) as much will lead other liberal, progressive Americans of conscience to think it is enough as well.

Now, I'm not necessarily asking you to raise the "Zionism is racism" banner.  However, if you want to, I have many in my possession and will happily send you one. Let me know.  I'm just asking you to say that the current carnage in Gaza might be indicative of a larger problem where the "only democracy in the Middle East" sees us natives as a "demographic threat."

So, can you say any of these things?  If so, thanks.  If you can't bring yourself to do it, I am always available to come on and have a discussion.  I'll bring a map.

Sincerely,
Amer

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Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of “The Civil Arab.”

Comments (36)
  1. “Can you say openly that Palestinians have as much of a claim to all of Palestine/Israel as Jews do? ” Sorry only this line is inaccurate. Are you saying that ancient Jews who once had a kingdom in parts of historic Palestine can go back in time and claim sovereignty? If so, there have been many kingdoms in all or parts of historic Palestine, do they have a claim too? The Arabs/Muslims ruled over Spain for 800, surely they can lay claim to Spain today?!?!?!

    • i didn’t say “sovereignty” i said a “claim”… those are different.

      • Okay let’s try this again for our esteemed comic. “Can you say openly that Palestinians have as much of a claim to all of Palestine/Israel as Jews do?” Sorry only this line is inaccurate. Are you saying that ancient Jews who once had a kingdom in parts of historic Palestine can go back in time and lay a claim? If so, there have been many kingdoms in all or parts of historic Palestine, do they have a claim too? The Arabs/Muslims ruled over Spain for 800 years, surely they can lay claim to Spain today?!?!?!

    • self-hating jew ... July 31st, 2014 - 03:06

      Richard Sim, Tal, Mike Bonheim, et al: You should educate yourselves. Hamas took out the part of their charter where they said they are committed to the destruction of Israel, way back in 2006. Fatah has recognized the state of Israel, and Hamas has agreed to do so in negotiations. The Palestinians largely renounced their violence. They stopped the suicide attacks. Hamas held to the 2008 cease fire even though Israel took every opportunity to break it and still holds the Palestinians in occupation. Hamas stopped the rockets. Occasionally a more militant group would get a rocket out but Hamas has actually arrested and tried them in court. Yes, they are a civilized government and not dirty, brown terrorists as they are portrayed. Even though they would *like* all the land they know they can’t have it and have agreed to significantly less. It’s Israel that can’t hold up its end of the peace deal. They want the land but not the people on it so they will drive the Palestinians into the sea. It’s horrific. Also you think Syria is funding the Palestinians? I don’t know if you’re aware but the Syrians are quite occupied with their own troubles. In any case Assad would **never** fund Palestinians, as he is Alawite (a Shia sect) and they are Sunni. Now I don’t blame you for not knowing all these details, but why is it that everyone gives Israel the benefit of the doubt while assuming that Palestinians are the ones holding back peace? Believe me, Palestinians want peace more than Israel. In a recent poll of Israelis, over 30% said that they though the IDF was *not using enough* force. Can you even imagine? The only way to use more force would be complete ethnic cleansing. Which, by the way, numerous Israeli politicians publicly and explicitly support. And yet everyone thinks it’s Hamas who doesn’t want peace… it’s a sad world we live in. I really have no hope for the people in Gaza. Now they have no water and no electricity. It’s possible that soon they will be mostly dead. That is incredibly sad. I have very little faith in humanity at this time.

  2. Richard Sim ... July 24th, 2014 - 01:19

    I would like to agree with you that the humanitarian issues involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be addressed; however, could you not agree that Hamas and other Pro Palestinian group have given Israel the pretext for the wonton savagery that Israel currently employs? I am no great fan of the State of Israel but since its creation in 1947?, Arab nations and the PLO/Hamas have sworn the destruction of Israel as an entity, especially Iran and Syria, who no doubt support the Hamas with funding. I am not ignorant as to believe that all Palestinians are complicit in the complicated situation we find ourselves in, but can you not agree that for Palestine and Israel to agree to a peace on any terms that these violent factions must be destroyd and disavowed? And correct me if I’m wrong but will these factions stop at mere equality and recognition? Would they not want all lands that Palestinians held prior to the creation of Israel?

    • I don’t think the “Zionism is Racism” flag thing was helpful. Reham’s comment about the relationships of Hamas members to the greater society was very powerful. Living in Michigan, you should visit South Dakota and familiarize yourself with the history of The Great Sioux War. Americans may understand the plight of the Palestinians if you described it in terms of Crazy Horse and the tribes lashing out against Manifest Destiny.

      …though keep in mind, the Americans obviously won. Some feel guilty about what was done to the Natives, now. That’s what you could tap into to humanize the conflict.

      That said, there’s a difference between a proud Brave fighting on the battlefield and videos that advocate using children as human shields. You have to come out as strongly against the extremism of Hamas as the trampling by Israel. Abbas and the coalition government accepting the EU’s conditions is the right call.

  3. Dear Amer,
    I’m an israeli and I also like Jon Stewart. I understand your point about the need for justice beyond the humanitarian approach and that justice should include some form of “The right of return”.
    Can you also see our point of view as Israelis who want justice for Palestinians but at the same time worried that we would loose our nation state in this process of achieving justice? Can you also understand our fear of living in the same country with people like Hamas that their charter is evidently anti-Semitic? Could we agree to work for a solution that will address these fears even at the cost of not implementing a full return of refugees to what is now considered Israel proper?

  4. You are Amazing Amer..! thank you

  5. Hope he invites you on! That would be a great show…thanks again for a great piece :-)
    PS. why does your site need me to fill my name and email each time I post a comment…did it the first time….anyway to sort that out?

  6. Madian Al Jazerah ... July 24th, 2014 - 08:42

    Thank you!…and I’m going to sell your book in all my bookshops!

  7. Wafa Bazian ... July 24th, 2014 - 09:05

    Great letter Amer.. I wish he will invite you to his show, and if he does, please send me a note.. Good luck..

  8. Amer, do you have RSS feed?

    • Reham Hindi ... July 24th, 2014 - 16:35

      Mr. Tal,
      1- There is no way that Hamas or any Palestinian be anti-Semite, simply because we Palestinians are SEMITES !!! We are from this land since the beginning of time…
      2- Hamas is THE REACTION, israeli entity/zionism is the ACTION !!!
      3- Israel’s aggression and crimes are not limited to Hamas gorillas
      4- Hamas are members of the Palestinian people, they are our brothers, fathers, sons, mothers, sisters and wives… They are not aliens from outer space. I am not a Hamas member nor movement supporter, and I do have quite many differences with their believes/ideology , nevertheless, they are MY PEOPLE, striving for freedom, independence, justice and right to return to our homeland.
      5- Yes, we can live together, I mean JEWS and Palestinians, but it can’t work with zionists, the obstacle lies in the latter’s ideology. And this acceptance is not a recent invention, it was a fact back in the19th century till mid 20th century when zionism invaded Palestinian Jews and Palestine and corrupted the peaceful life both parties have lived together as neighbors, friends, fellow citizens.

      Peace can not be achieved where injustice prevails

      Amer, well said brother (y).. Keep it up

  9. The Jewish Law of Return allows all Jews around the world automatic Israeli citizenship, regardless of where they were born. It even grants citizenship to their non-Jewish children, grandchildren and spouses. My father and his family were expelled from a small village outside of Hebron in 1948; his home was destroyed and many members of his family were killed. They eventually found refuge in Jordan and then the U.S. My father returned to Palestine in his 70’s. He was strip searched, down to his underwear, upon entering the occupied territory. My father has more rights to claim that land as his own than the transplanted citizens who came from Europe.
    If it’s possible that any good can come out of the carnage that is occurring in Gaza, it is that the world is opening it’s eyes to what has been happening to the Palestinian people for 66 years. Social media has opened the gates of truth. It is impossible to hide the suffering and rage of an imprisoned people.
    Amer–thank you for all your great work. I just finished reading your book and I enjoyed it immensely. :)

  10. You make me smile and proud!

  11. It is every human’s obligation to speak up for Gaza, whether you’re a celebrity or not.

  12. I was thinking of the future ….. to cover you action and unify people you need a enemy …IRAN is getting out of the picture …isis is the next enemy to Isreal and every body for that matter.. people from every country specially arabs should ask for UN resolution and countries to attack ISIS and eliminate them. snowden released a document talking about ISIS origin …I think for a change we should remove the threat to isreal … other wise the same scenario will happen again and again. … just an idea

  13. translation:
    right, so thanks for humanizing us and making us seem like reasonable people, but… here’s the unreasonable, racist, distorted and partisan lie that I really wish you *would* be pushing instead…
    and, can you say a bunch of very reasonable things that you already say routinely? By stating this question I am implying you don’t say those things, and trying to make myself sound more reasonable again after that sharp right turn into crazy I took during part 2 of this blog post.
    aaand… now back into crazy… death to Israel! (stated in nicer sounding words).

  14. Nidal Sharaan ... July 25th, 2014 - 12:55

    Well said …

  15. Mike Bonheim ... July 25th, 2014 - 14:19

    If you want to be taken seriously, stop plugging your book and song for appearances.

    If you want equality, stop initiating violence. I agree that Palestinians deserve the right to life, liberty, and happiness, but you must acknowledge that the sworn mission of destroying Israel and statements like “we love death as much as the Israelis love life” hurt your cause. Stop electing terrorists as your leaders. Stop glorifying violence. Work within the system, not against it. Any group that acted as the Palestinians do in the United States would not have been allowed existence for 66 years, they would been eliminated long ago.

  16. Mike Bonheim ... July 25th, 2014 - 16:13

    *asking, not “song”

    • Mike Bonheim.. have you heard of projection? it is easier to address what you do not like about others, than to address what you do not like about yourself/country.I say take your own advise (seemed more like a lecture) and address it to yourself and see how much of it applies to you and others around you. Good luck

  17. Very well said, we are proud of you

  18. so let me get this straight. white europeans came, stole and kicked you out of your land. so you’ve come to america where white europeans came, stole and kicked native americans out of their land?

  19. Amer, I admire your moral clarity, perceptive insights and the personal courage you demonstrated putting it all out there. But I am also impressed that most of the people who have commented had something thoughtful to contribute and didn’t just vent. I think that is because you set a tone that inspires civility in what is too often a thoughtlessly heated debate. So thank you too for setting a personal standard we all should emulate.

    If you make it to the SF Bay Area to perform, I’d like to know so that I can be there. If you come for any other reason, it would be a privilege to meet you. Stay the course. I hope Jon reads and responds to your comments.

  20. Amer, you completely misunderstood what Amal was saying. She was simply saying that we have a much larger claim than that of the Zionist movement, since we lived there longer and more recently. This what Edward Said also said. So when you said “as much of claim as” you insinuating that the claims are equal.

    • you could have just said “misunderstood” instead of “completely misunderstood.” that kind of hurt my feelings.

      i understand your point. i meant to say “at least as much of a claim,” so i have modified the post to reflect that.

  21. Your comment that the occupation of Palestine “could have been done by anybody” and that essentially Jews are just like any “white Europeans” is extremely ignorant and racialist. Noting that you’ve been ‘educated’ in “progressive” America I suppose I should nt be surprised: but I nearly always am when ‘progressives’ fail to understand the blatant hypocrisy of their anti-white ideologies..

  22. I am a supporter of the rights of Palestinians; to have their lands free from Zionist occupation. Zionist Jews may be European to you – but I can assure you they are not European either amongst Europeans or amongst Jews. They have decidely different cultures and values and the evidence for this is enormous. Nor is there anything neccesarily wrong with this. There is something seriously wrong with Judaism itself – something many “progressives” are ignorant of because they’ve been indoctrinated to believe investigating what Jews believe and value is…..”antisemitic”..

  23. I think Zionism is racism, and I am both saddened and angry that the United States hands over so much money and resources to the Israeli government. That is shameful.

    However, I am somewhat confused by Palestinian claims to ownership of land – just as I am confused by Jewish ownership. The Canaanites displaced people to settle the land between the river and the sea. The Canaanites were displaced by the Hebrews. The Hebrews were displaced by the Babylonians. The Babylonians were displaced by the Persians. The Persians were displaced by the Greeks. The Greeks were displaced by the Romans. The Romans were displaced by the Arabs. The Arabs were displaced by the Turks. The Turks were displaced by the British.

    It seems to me that Jon Stewart is limited in his ability morally to address Palestinian ownership of land because he himself is a beneficiary of a country that was created out of the displacement of already settled peoples.

    Perhaps Jon Stewart might be persuaded to go farther if the Palestinians aligned themselves with the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, or the Navajo in Arizona, or Nunavut in northern Canada rather than with Saudi Arabia.

    • Thanks for the inspiring message, Amer, and I find that your comment, Rob is one of the most cogent and descriptive I have seen in a while. Hamas – to my knowledge – has not had a constitutional overhaul repealing its desire to wipe out Jews, Christians, and seculars, as stated clearly in its 1988 Charter. When Maachal makes more diplomatic sounding comments, that does not mean that this Charter has been declared inoperative. It means that Hamas is just wanting to appear more palatable. There are some interesting essays in the Jewish media on the possibility of developing dual nationalism within the whole territory. With reasonable people like you seem, Amer, this line of pursuit could be achievable. With the amount of very rough and barren land in the Transjordan region, if Jews, Arabs, seculars and all the various minorities are able to put their collective resources together, it could be possible to revive the whole land mass as a viable home for all who wish to claim it as their home. A princess in Jordan is also very supportive of the Greening the Deserts program and it would be very sensible for a bioregion program to be set up so that this ecological revival project could be a multi-stakeholder effort.

      During the 1800s a lot of the Zionist groups bought up a lot of the western Transjordan from Ottoman authorities and Arab land owners. The British and the League of Nations in 1922 thought that the fair formula for independence would be a division 23% to the Jews and 77% of the land to the Arabs. The problem that prevented reasonable and workable resolution to the final independence plan was a total rejection of any recognition of any Jewish sovereignty in the whole Transjordan region, by the Arab Palestinian leadership.

      From my observations, in order for democracy and full equality for Arab Palestinians to be achievable, an essential component is acceptance of Jewish administrative control in the original 23% of the land area, during this phase. If the PA can comprehend that in order for it to succeed, it has to understand that Israel needs to be acknowledged as having a historical presence in the Transjordan. The fact that the PA has not had the good faith to comprehend that Hebrew culture is part of the area, makes it impossible to develop a unified political pact between the Arab and Jewish ethnicities.

      Amer, I don’t know if you were involved with the International Year for the Culture of Peace, the year 2000. This created a UNESCO project called the World Movement for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World. It could be a useful platform to get the tools together to move from war and violence toward a culture of peace. I am hoping that the PA and Israel can become seriously involved with reviving this project. It was derailed by the major powers choosing to not fund the program, and to just have a symbolic, ceremonial International Year.

      This problem of keeping Palestinians marginalized is a solvable problem, but it will require a lot of pursuit of channels that have been neglected.

  24. Rob
    I guess to make it simple. Palestine is a country to all three religions ,Jews, Christians, and Muslims . Israel never existed until 1948. Now we all mix religion with nationality. Before 1948 we use to say ” I am Palestine by nationality and Jew by religion or Christian or Muslin by religion”. This is how I like and wish to see my country. Peace and justice for all. Any radical groups should be wiped out. No more Zionisms ,no more Evangelisms and no more Muslims brotherhood. An independent state separated from religion.


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