Movie review: The Passion of Christ Truth and fiction
By MAZIN QUMSIYEH*
(29/2/04) NEW HAVEN --Both Mel Gibson and his critics are burdened with mental chains. That is what I thought about as I watched his latest movie. Jesus (Yeso') did walk this earth but what he spoke of or exactly what happened to him may or may not be faithfully recorded in the Gospels we use today let alone in Gibson's film. Jesus spoke using a language that is a predecessor of both Arabic and Hebrew. Aramaic is actually closer to modern day Arabic than modern day Hebrew. I understand some Aramaic because I know Arabic and Hebrew and hence I can decipher words common to their ancestral language but dropped from one or the other.
I come from a small village in Palestine called Beit Sahur (literally meaning the house of those who stay up at night). This is the biblical Shepherds' Field where we are told Shepherds watching over their flocks saw the star and walked up to Bethlehem to visit the new born Jesus.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is about 700 yards from the house in Beit Sahour where I was born. My ancestors likely spoke Aramaic and some Palestinian Christians still speak a modified version of that language and some at least use it in liturgy.
Most Palestinians adopted Islam during the rapid spread of Islam fourteen hundred years ago. A suppressed truth is that there are many Palestinians, including my family, with other religions (Christian, Jewish, Bahai etc). Despite the usual problems between minorities and majorities, we all coexisted in a land truly "of milk and honey. "
That is until a European colonial idea called Zionism came about in the 19th century (first articulated by the British in 1845 in the concept of colonial Zionism). With massive resources and support from imperial powers (Turkish, then British, then American), a whole society was transformed.
In 1850, Palestine had eighty per cent Muslims, fifteen per cent Christian, and five per cent Jews and others.
Today five million of the nine million Palestinians are refugees or displaced people. In parallel, millions of Jews from some 60 countries came to Palestine under the banner of Zionism. They were given "rights" and privileges to settle on Palestinian land and rule and subjugate the remaining natives. The displaced natives live in refugee camps or in "unrecognized towns" or in large open-air prisons being surrounded by walls and barriers. In the last 57 years, Palestinians suffered ethnic cleansing, massacres (over 33 just between 1947-1948), societal destruction, land confiscations, and grave violations of basic human rights. All of this was well documented by human rights groups and is ruled illegal by dozens of yet-to-be enforced UN resolutions.
This large-scale theft of land did occur elsewhere (e.g. European colonization of the Americas). What is unique here is that this is still happening in the 21st century. Just in the last year, Israeli colonial forces demolished hundreds of houses, confiscated thousands of properties, rendering thousands homeless and jobless all while the world watched. The apartheid walls are slowly encircling five separate Palestinian cantons remaining on 10 per cent of historical Palestine. Walls separate remaining Palestinians from their lands, from work, from schools, from hospitals, from their urban centers, and from each other.
With unemployment at 70 per cent and rising while all access to humanitarian aid is controlled, Israel hopes to suffocate them to total oblivion. Meanwhile the 1.3 million Palestinians (Christians and Muslims) with Israeli "citizenship" are considered at best strangers in the "Jewish state" and at worst as a "demographic threat" to be dealt with.
Most Palestinian Christian families have been ethnically cleansed from the previously thriving Galilee and Jerusalem areas (like Ein Karam and Al-Katamon). Now hundreds of Christian families are being choked out of areas like Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Beit Sahur. It would be a shame if Christian sites in the Holy Land will be reduced to tourist attractions that help finance Israeli tour companies while a 2000-year-old community of Christians slowly dissipates. For our Muslim co- nationals, the situation is not any better.
Meanwhile Zionists keep playing the victim card while finishing the destruction of a whole society and culture. The son of victims of Nazi concentration camps, Norman Finkelstein, wrote a book about this "Holocaust industry" used to advance Zionist projects but not help victims of Nazism.
It is really sad how Zionists suppressed non-Ashkenazi Jewish culture (Sephardic and Mizrachi), how they discarded Yiddish to develop Hebrew, how they discarded International law to develop chauvinistic violence and territorial expansion, and how they discarded Jewish morality and justice to develop Jewish supremacist power. To sustain this, they developed the mythology that a "Jewish state" is an answer to discrimination and violence against Jews. That this is inherently unstable structure built on lies is now documented from opened historical archives, published Zionist sources, and declassified government archives. Many Jews now wonder: Is Israel offering safety or violence to Jews by oppressing another people? Does Zionism combat anti-Semitism or are they faces of the same coin?
Unrelated and diverse events are used as opportunities to advance Zionist agendas while brandishing the historical victim card as a shield from criticism one more time. These events range from Mel Gibson's movie, to Palestinian resistance to colonizers, to the critique of the Jewish neo-cons around Bush, and to UN resolutions adopted by 140 countries (against Israel, the US, Micronesia, and the Marshal Islands). Instead of being used as opportunities for thoughtful self- reflections and real work against all forms of racism and bigotry, Zionists try to convince other Jews that somehow all these things are connected with one thread: non-Jews hate Jews. Zionism thrives on building fear.
By contrast, racism against other groups is dismissed as somehow inferior and in some cases even encouraged. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League, not only spied on anti-Apartheid, Arabs, and Muslims (in the 1980s), but continue to vilify these groups while defending the bigotry inherent in Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Thus, they lose their credibility when they speak even about the real discrimination against Jews.
Hollywood churns out several movies a year that vilify Muslims and Arabs.
While we worry about the ramifications of this movie (and enrich Mel Gibson), the US Army is busy in a dozen countries in the Arab/Muslim world supporting puppet brutal regimes, while enriching multinational corporations and impoverishing people at home and abroad. Meanwhile, a state claiming to represent Jews around the world daily kills Palestinians, takes their land, imprisons and starves them... all with US tax money and diplomatic support. Why would anyone be surprised that 59 per cent of Europeans and 43 per cent of Americans think Israel is one of the most dangerous countries on earth?
Israel can and must evolve into a post-Zionist state for all its citizens. The US can and must evolve into a post-imperial era in which we advance democracy and human rights instead of oppression and injustice. As we in the peace movement call for: end the occupation of Iraq and Palestine and bring justice at home and abroad.
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*Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, a researcher in medical genetics at Yale Medical College, is a founding member of the Palestine Right of Return Coalition Al-Awda.org
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