Amnesty for the Soul

by Susan Abulhawa

Dissident Voice
March 4, 2003


I’ve taken to writing a book—a story from forgotten history, pulled from the sylvan hills of Palestine.  Without much income, the burdens of a convenient life fall hard on me and it has been difficult.  Still, for now, it does beat the corporate price for my soul. 


The daily outrages, barely hitting the mainstream radar, get cursory reactions from me, tempered by the focus I need to write, to research.


A Congress of Jewish American organizations got together last week to decide the fate of my homeland.  By what right?  Arrogant and rich imperialists gathering for a foreign project in the name of God to decide whether Israel should continue building settlements.  They are votaries of zionism,  immorality, who roll out the ‘master plan’ of ‘Judaising’ a land that does not belong to them.  Never mentioned there, are the victims, Israel’s compulsory condiment of native lives.


I can’t remember the number or names of all the children killed and maimed this week in Palestine.  I swear I would remember them all if I could.   But there are so many and I am so inadequate.  A pregnant woman in her ninth month fell today when a sniper put her in his scope and watched her fall with the twitch of his trigger finger. None, but those of us who care, knows.  The “separation wall,” Israel’s latest pretext for its insatiable thievery, is displacing whole villages, cutting family member from one another. 


Israel, rogue and rising from the darkness of racism, destroys and rapes and loots with impunity.  Its bulldozers strip the hills of their ancient green coats.  Then it builds ugly settlements, for Jews only, like art deco cancers metastasizing down the bare hills, no hint of celadon or the graceful old stone homes left to cradle.  They siphon the water, changing the land to pieces of another world and making the hill’s kin barren and wasted.


I note these daily atrocities and move on, because I must. There is work to be done.  A book to be written.  A child to nurture.  I haven’t the steadfastness of my people, like the Gazan grandmother, thrice a refugee, who sits in a tent over her demolished shack, vulnerable to the elements and sings to her grandchildren the ballads of old.


For the sake of truth in this book, I read of that grandmother’s life.  Book after book, nameless ghosts scream from the pages.  Gnarled corpses of women, their unborn babies protruding from their slashed bellies, stare at me from the accounts reported by Robert Fisk, the most courageous Western journalist of our time.  My God, how does he sleep with all the crass inhumanity he has witnessed.


But the greater courage is in the every day, where Palestinians go on with their wretched lives, not knowing what humiliation, what death, what despair their Zionists masters will bring.  Hungry and destitute, they toil on.  The elders sing and the children throw rocks.  Their suffering pains me, but mine is a craven ache, always hiding from itself.  It seeks the respite of understanding, meanders in a weakness for life, and chokes on a bitter want of belonging and love.  It is a genuine pain, but it is coiled in cowardice and the thin veil of intellectual pretense.  It cannot bear the reality and sends the conscience on the easy path of deliverance through words. 


But no words I write can find measure near the courage of those who trudge the merciless terrain of imperialism, who live in its rancid entrails, and whose thirst grinds with the hunger of children.  They yank at the chains round their hands and feet, undaunted and untamed spirits, they are.


Theirs is a suffering that writes verses with its pain and plants the winds with songs and chants.  The melody of their love and the tenor of their rage takes flight to the hearts of the pure hearted.  Their pain is strength.  It is defiance and gratitude at once.  It releases life to death with grief subdued by humility, by deference to God and God’s kingdom.  


Someday the world will look back in shameful horror at what it allowed to happen to these people, and how long callous eyes averted their plight.  Someday world Jewry will see how Israel so despoiled the memory of six million of their brethren. 


I’ll finish this book as a prayer for amnesty because I am not as brave as they and I don’t know what else to do. 


Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian living in Pennsylvania. She is the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, a non-profit organization dedicated to building playgrounds and recreation areas for Palestinian children living under military occupation. Email:  



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