Friday, December 15, 2006

Scratch that itch
10 Days to Christmas

Joseph and Mary had no place to stay the night Jesus was born. An innkeeper's stable proved to be the Messiah's makeshift maternity clinic. Hardly the place one would expect a divine being would choose to make His presence on Earth. And as unlikely places go, Palestine seemed to be quite an odd venue for such a celestial event because it has certainly maintained - to this day - this tragic image as a stomping ground for the persecuted, marginalised, demoralised and the enforced homeless.

And talking about the homeless, it is so very easy to slip into sentimental balderdash, and to talk and talk till the cows come home and our throats wear out after croaking some rhetoric or the other. We can only grasp at its fringes because we cannot fully understand what it is like to live one's entire life out on the sidewalks.

All we can do is feel the best we can because that's the only way we can get some idea of what this thing - or anything, for that matter - is all about. Feeling is good because that, I think, is the only way we can be motivated towards some action. Loads of data and head-knowledge are important but they lack that crucial X factor that's necessary for inspiring people. Being knowledgeable is nice, but it won't drag us to the ends of the earth. It will only make us cosy in our armchairs.

The Christmas story, for instance, provides one example of a roofless situation that we conveniently forget because the nativity pictures look rather cute, almost ethereal or nearly divine. The artists simply airbrush away the reality of a dirty and smelly and mucky stable. Like we do with most uncomfortable realities. Like the homeless we see in big cities. Like the marginalised we tend to ignore sometimes. Like some facts we cannot forget. That we must not forget. That we should not ever... forget.

B'TSELEM - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, for example, has some facts and statistics on Palestine that should nudge us towards some kind of feeling. Or at least, start an itch that wants to be scratched. Mere data is just a bunch of numbers, but what we do with it makes all the difference.

Over the years, more than 130 settlements have been constructed in the West Bank, and as of October 2005, the total population of these settlements comes to about 235,845 compared to 140,684 in December 1996.

The statistics on punitive house demolitions shows another interesting trend. In October 2001, the Ministry of Defence had resumed the practice of house demolitions as punishment after a gap of four years, and was continued till February 2005. A total of 668 homes were demolished, leaving residents homeless.

From the beginning of the Israeli occupation, in 1967, to 1992, when Israel ceased deportations, 1,522 Palestinians were deported from the Occupied Territories. None of the deportees had been charged with a criminal offense, nor tried and convicted. By law, they must therefore be considered innocent of any offense.

As far as the data on injured persons is concerned, it would be best to compare available statistics provided by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the Israeli Defense Force.

I could go on and on with more data, but then again, they'd be just data and nothing else. Question is, what do they tell us about people who have lost their homes and their lifestyle? What do they inform us about a situation that's not going in the right direction? Question is, are we willing to take the high road or just wander by the wayside?

Whatever we do, we cannot - and cannot allow anyone else - to be a statistic.

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