Public Comment

Commentary: A Better Life for Palestinians and Israelis

By Tracie de Angelis Salim
Tuesday July 03, 2007

Desperation and imagination. A total sense of hopelessness. Some of us can only imagine the depths we would go to have this hopelessness crack the sound barriers. 

Let’s take the city of Manhattan. Manhattan is the most densely populated county in the country; there are approximately 1, 537,195 people packed into a land area of 22.96 square miles. There is controversy over which area in the world is the most densely populated; Gaza is definitely in the top three. Gaza is a narrow coastal strip, 25 miles long, six miles wide and a population estimated at 1,482,405. John Gertz states in his June 29 commentary, “Gaza is about to descend into a very dark night of the soul.” Here is a perspective that may leave you wondering if life in Gaza isn’t already lurking in the shadows. A very dark night of the soul is a place where most Gazans dwell, indeed. 

Visualize life in Manhattan with no sewage systems, a place where the citizens don’t control the air space, water, taxes or electricity. Close your eyes and pretend you could only go in and out of Manhattan with permission each time from the United States Government and they could determine that you were not “enough of a U.S. citizen” to leave Manhattan to go to the Bronx. You are a foreigner in your own land. Imagine the ocean being within walking distance, yet you are not allowed to fish or swim because you don’t have control over the water or you don’t have the luxury of movement; the government controls this, but you are not part of that authority. It is further deemed that you have no control of your airspace, your airport is closed and used as a military base by an occupying power. You cannot fly anywhere. You are caged in; you cannot find work. In fact, envision what it would be like if most people in your city lived on less than $2 a day and there was a 70 percent unemployment rate.  

Gaza is just like the picture I have painted of a make-believe Manhattan. Gaza has been under some form of occupation since the 16th century. Eighty percent of the population is extremely poor, living on less than $2 a day and a majority depends on food aid from international donors. Seventy percent of Gaza’s potential workforce is out of work or without pay. The Gaza Strip is almost entirely sealed off from the outside world with virtually no way for Palestinians to get in or out. Exports have been reduced to a trickle; imports are limited to essential humanitarian supplies and even those are determined by an occupying force. 

The last occupying force, the Israeli military, disengaged from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians now have self-determination, don’t they? Let’s delve deeper into this question. 

Following the disengagement in 2005 of the Israeli military from the Gaza strip, Israel continues to hold decisive control over central elements of life there. They continue to control the air space, water, who can enter and exit the area and the taxation system. This last example is important because this power enables Israel to punish the Palestinian Authority by stopping the transfer of the tax revenues, which impairs their ability to carry out basic functions of government such as paying salaries and providing humanitarian assistance. 

John Gertz says that Berkeley is complicit in a “Hamas takeover” in Gaza. He then spins that into several points. One can only surmise that his intent is an outright attempt to create distaste for all Palestinians, but specifically Muslim ones. He brings up issues of Female Genital Mutilation, honor killings, women being “required to take up the veil” and so forth. His rants expose his lack of knowledge of the region and unequivocally of the Muslim religion. If properly educated, he would learn that “forced genital mutilations” are strictly forbidden in Islam. Dr. Gamal Serour of Al-Azhar University in Egypt is considered the most authoritative voice on religion in the Islamic world, and recently issued a declaration against female genital mutilation. He states, “Female genital mutilation has no religious basis in either the Koran or the authentic Hadiths, the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed. It is therefore forbidden and should not be practiced by either traditional practitioners or paramedical staff.” 

Furthermore, when Mr. Gertz speaks about women “being required to take up the veil” he exposes his ignorance with regard to the hijab and further shows us that he considers his westernized beliefs superior to those of the Middle East. Additionally, he accuses only Palestinians of partaking in extreme behaviors. Both sides can be accused of this. One minor example is when Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University studied 124 Israeli textbooks on grammar, Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship. He concluded that Israeli textbooks present the view that Jews are involved in a justified, even humanitarian, war against an Arab enemy. He states, “The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were de-legitimized by the use of such labels as ‘robbers,’ ‘bloodthirsty,’ and ‘killers,’” said Professor Bar-Tal, adding “there has been little positive revision in the Israeli curriculum over the years.” This is a minor example of extremism, yet a powerful comparison of Mr. Gertz’s accusation that most of the “equipped fighters in Hamas have been indoctrinated in jihad and hate since early childhood.” Mr. Gertz rattles off several examples of what he believes are extreme behaviors by Palestinians. One can go to the Israeli website, Btselem ( and read about extreme behaviors such as house demolitions, road closures, checkpoints, curfews, settler violence and the illegal “security” wall perpetrated by the Israeli Occupation Forces. 

While Israeli bulldozers crush homes and dreams of Palestinians, extremists in Gaza of Arab descent also contribute to this cycle of violence. No one can refute that. 

If Mr. Gertz wants to talk about complicity in relation to this ancient conflict, he cannot forget the participation of the State of Israel. Surely, for there to be resolution, one has to look at an issue honestly from all sides. 

What is happening in Gaza is brutal. Hamas, Fatah, the IOF and both governments are complicit. One government is exponentially more powerful and this must be taken into account. Whether or not Berkeley is equally complicit is questionable. What cannot be denied is that when a human being becomes a shell of a person through repetitive violence and lack of self-determination, desperation replaces imagination. Beating hearts are replaced with stone, flowers are replaced with bullets and love is taken over with hatred. None of this happens without reason. No one is dehumanized through free will. People can only take so much before the humanity inside becomes that dark soul of the night. If Berkeley is complicit, so are we all. It is time to imagine a better life for Palestinians and Israelis. And with this imagination must come truth. And with this imagination, despair must be erased. Today is a good day for the war to end. 


Tracie de Angelis Salim is a Berkeley resident.