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(& Smartest) Arab
July 23rd, 2014 (36 Comments)
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.