Pants, Poems And Israel’s Problem With The Truth – OpEd

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By Joharah Baker

Thanks to my multi-zippered slacks, I had the ‘pleasure’ of being ordered into the small inspection room at the Qalandiya checkpoint. My nine-year old daughter was with me as I took off earrings, wristwatch and even shoes trying to make it through the metal detector without ‘buzzing’. She stood by patiently as I tried to convey though the bullet-proof (and apparently sound proof) glass, to the irate Israeli soldiers that there was nothing left I could possibly take off. “Go back,” they said, with a stern point of the finger and a look of contempt on each of their faces.

Finally, after at least five or six times of this, I started to lose my patience. “There’s nothing left on me!’ I yelled through the glass, showing them the wayward zippers that had clearly got me in this bind. Finally, a female soldier ordered me into the little room to inspect me and make sure I wasn’t carrying a bomb, a gun or a knife under my clothes. Just as I was about to give her a “piece of my mind” I looked over at my daughter who said very calmly in Arabic. “Mom, just don’t say anything so we can go.”

That obviously shut me up and we were eventually released after the soldiers were convinced that the zippers were the culprit. Later, I thought about her statement. It was not so much out of fear that she said it, but out of a knowledge way beyond her young years that with Israelis, if you say something they don’t like, you could be in pretty hot water.

She is right of course. And Gunter Grass is perfect evidence. The 84-year old Nobel Literature Laureate has been declared persona non grata in Israel and has been depicted by Israeli politicians and journalists as the devil incarnate. He just needs a pitchfork and horns to complete the picture. And why? One would think that this [regretful] former Nazi officer was still espousing Hitler’s philosophy, ranting against Jews and calling for their extermination. That is not the case though – the man already said he joined the SS at 17 “without having a say” and obviously is uncomfortable with what he calls a “painful lesson.” Actually, it is a poem which has made Grass one of the most hated men in Israel.

The poem, which is pretty famous by now because of all the negative press it has gotten in Israel basically does one thing: tells the truth. In “What Must be Said” Grass dubs Israel as a threat to world peace because of its secret nuclear program. Of course he says other things, but the fact that he called Israel out, charging that one strike on Iran could annihilate an entire nation, was more than enough for Israel. Of course now, Grass is anti-Semitic, he is a Nazi and he is an enemy of the Jewish state. And he is banned from entering the country.

My daughter was right. You cannot criticize Israel. Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk and Norman Finkelstein to name a few all know this well. They too have been denied entry. They are no former Nazis; in fact, they are Jewish. But Israel is not interested in which religion or to which nationality you belong. If you criticize Israel, not only will you be denied entry into the country, you will be branded anti-Semitic, you will be vilified and you will be shunned. That, obviously, is what Israeli ‘democracy’ is all about.

Lucky for me, I am Palestinian, so by default I am already “blacklisted”. That gives me some margin of freedom to criticize as I like and as Grass put it: “I will not remain silent.” But when it comes to crossing Qalandiya, I have learned two things: to keep my mouth shut, so I can actually get home; and never, ever wear those blasted pants again.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]

Established in Jerusalem in December 1998, with Hanan Ashrawi as its Secretary-General, MIFTAH seeks to promote the principles of democracy and good governance within various components of Palestinian society; it further seeks to engage local and international public opinion and official circles on the Palestinian cause.

To that end, MIFTAH adopts the mechanisms of an active and in-depth dialogue, the free flow of information and ideas, as well as local and international networking.

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