Response to Mike Odatella: Do You Really Mean This? Or are you a Demopath?

Mike Odetalla, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina, who writes a great deal about his and his people’s suffering has a poem he wrote in 2000 (before or after the “Al Aqsa Intifada”?) in which asks a number of questions. I give Here are some of my answers. I give you the poem in its entirety first so you can savor his work, then I fisk it.

Give me Justice

Peace in the Holyland
By Mike Odetalla

Give me Justice and judge me by a jury my peers
who’ve experienced oppression, loss, and fears

Is it my lot in life to wallow in misery and sorrow
all that is offered are promises that are hollow

My people seek only justice no less no more
and for that you unleash on us the dogs of war

Cast away the rhetoric and leaders of old
their visions offer nothing to us and cannot sold

Freedom, justice, and happiness in our life
will surely put a final ending to this strife

Oh people of peace help us make a final stand
we don’t want your pity, just a helping hand

May peace reign forever in the Holy Land
because this is after all what God intended in his command…

Mike Odetalla 2000

In what follows, I have Odetalla’s poem in bold with my remarks interspersed.

Give me Justice; judge me by a jury of my peers
Who’ve experienced oppression, loss, and fears

That would make the Jews good judges.

Is it my lot in life to wallow in pain and sorrow?
All that is offered are promises that are hollow…

It will be your lot to wallow in self-pity as long as you listen to the hollow promises of people who pretend to care about you but really hate the Jews so much more than they care about you that they love your pain and sorrow because it gives them occasion to attack the Jews. Actually, you have to ask yourself whether you are not one of them.

Imprisonment, cruelty, and starvation
For refusing to be complicit to our domination

That’s not why you are imprisoned by the Israelis. Your people are imprisoned by the Israelis because they hate and try and kill without measure. As for the cruelty, that is primarily the work of your own people, not only those with power who steal your money and make the rest of you daily victims of terror, but even your villagers who drive mothers to kill their daughters for the sake of “honor.” Ask some of your people who prefer Israeli jails to living among their fellow Palestinians whence the cruelty?

The notion that by dealing peacefully with the Israelis that you are “complicit to your domination” is the classic dilemma of the “honor-shame” culture confronted with modernity. You become an oreo (or a coconut), brown on the outside, white on the inside, if you should go the path of peace and negotiations rather than war and “honor.” That’s why I’m interested in when you wrote the poem. If it’s after the outbreak of the violence, then it is a classic expression of self-destructive pride.

My people seek justice; no less no more
And for that you unleash on us the dogs of war

I’m trying to figure out if you are saying this with a straight face or not. Justice is one of those words that means different things depending on which side of the Moebius Strip of cognitive egocentrism you are on. For those in the zero-sum world of honor-shame and rule or be ruled, Justice is vengeance, Justice is my dominion and your subjection, Justice is “Palestine from river to sea.” Here is a quote — one of many — that illustrates the notions of hatred, vengeance and genocide that your beloved Palestinians wallow in daily.

“The Prophet said: the Resurrection will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims kill them. The Muslims will kill the Jews, rejoice [in it], rejoice in Allah’s Victory. The Muslims will kill the Jews, and he will hide… “The Prophet said: the Jews will hide behind the rock and tree, and the rock and tree will say: oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim this is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!. Why is there this malice? Because there are none who love the Jews on the face of the earth: not man, not rock, and not tree – everything hates them. They destroy everything, they destroy the trees and destroy the houses. Everything wants vengeance on the Jews, on these pigs on the face of the earth, and the day of our victory, Allah willing, will come.” (Sheikh Ibrahim Mudayris, PA TV, September 10, 2004)

That kind of justice embraces war, and only demopaths or profoundly naive observers could then show astonishment that that unleashes the dogs of war from the “other” side. What do you expect: That the Israelis should offer their throats to your knives?

But your poem is written in language that seeks to appeal to the other side of the Moebius strip, those liberal and progressive sentiments that believe that vengeance should be abandoned, and that peace comes from forgiveness. And my question to you is, are you aware that your people’s definition of justice has little or nothing to do with the pacifist ramblings of your “allies”? Given your constant dwelling on Israeli crimes and loud silence on Palestinian terrorism, I’d say self-criticism is not your forte, demonization of the other is.

Cast away the rhetoric and leaders of old
Their visions offer nothing to us and cannot be sold

Ah, would that you would cast off that rhetoric. The problem is, you are steeped in that rhetoric, in the victim narrative of Palestinian innocence and Israeli barbarity, of the final victory over an evil enemy. And while it offers you limitless self-pity as long as you’re frustrated in your desires and limitless dreams of “justice” while you wait, it gives you little that will help you out of your suffering. And — alas — it can be sold.

Freedom, justice, and happiness in our life
Will surely put a final ending to this strife

It surely will. But I see so little evidence that your people — you included — are ready for freedom. That would mean respecting the right of others to freedom, that would mean learning self-control, that would mean understanding that nothing justifies the kind of hatred and violence that your people nurse daily, morning and evening… with help from people who should know better like you. As for happiness, if this is how you define it, heaven help us all.

Oh people of peace help us make a final stand
We don’t want your pity, just a helping hand

I assume it’s your commitment to rhyme that had you chose “final stand,” but it is an unfortunate choice. It has uncomfortable echoes of Sheikh Mudayris’ comment: “Everything wants vengeance on the Jews, on these pigs on the face of the earth, and the day of our victory, Allah willing, will come.”

Peace is not a simple zero-sum solution — with one victory we will have what we want. Ominous evidence suggests that whether Israel existed or not, the Arab people — Palestinians among them — would continue to suffer from the oppression and belligerence of their own “leaders. And that doesn’t even begin to address the disastrous shape any Palestinian polity will find itself in with its own wars of religion and power.

As for pity, that’s primarily what you seek (although you call it sympathy). Your people were chosen by the Arabs as sacrificial victims on the altar of a hatred born of humiliation, and chosen again by the “left” as a way to demean Israel. You, Mike, play the role of victim constantly; you never once try to understand the Israeli “other”; you constantly parade your pain in front of the world. If you don’t want the world’s pity, start behaving like you respect yourselves instead of crying “Foul!” every time your people are hurt and “Justifiable!” every time your people do the hurting.

May peace and justice reign in the Holy Land
Because this, after all, is what God intended in his command…

Amen to that… it’s just I have this terribly uneasy feeling that your notion of peace and justice is either so unrealistic (in the context of an Arab culture that, having been in the US for too long, you’ve lost touch with despite your visits home) or so foreign to the notions of justice and peace among those whose pity — I mean sympathy and support — you seek, that it’s “advent” would prove catastrophic to everyone — you, your family, your dear village of Beit Hanina, included.

And just what command are you speaking of? “Those who bless you will be blessed; and those who curse you will be cursed”? or “Kill the Jews wherever you see them“?

Mike Odetalla…”A seed in the eternal fruit of Palestine”

Mike, I know the things I’ve written here, and the links I’ve provided, some to further of my writings, will not please you. But if you are not a demopath — that is, if you really do care about peace and justice, freedom and happiness — then please take them as a sincere effort to engage in a difficult but crucial exchange with you — vital to everyone who cares about justice and peace.

You are one of the most eloquent spokesmen for Palestinian suffering; you would do your people much more good if you could become as eloquent a spokesman for Palestinian self-criticism. Redemption does not come from self-pity; it comes from the courage to move on. I know plenty of Israelis who would love to help you and your people precisely because they love neither oppressing you nor pitying you. But as long as you bristle at the thought of help from the Israelis (unless it’s to demonize the Israelis), and until you can step out of the world as you see it, things will only get worse… much worse.

One Response to Response to Mike Odatella: Do You Really Mean This? Or are you a Demopath?

  1. [...] ve and unbearable and work against the terrorism as a way to get rid of the checkpoints, or they work on demonizing Israel t [...]

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