White shirt

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

MANY years ago, I spent two weeks in Israel for a research trip. It was to be the last time I ever used my passport for foreign travel and in hindsight, it was, I realize, the best destination that one could ever hope for if one were to leave one’s hometown and explore the world so to speak.

Many aspire to reach the Holy Land for religious reasons, but it was a different case for me. Instead of being bowled over by the overt importance of the place for the religion of my birth, I was there as a young sociologist eager to understand the place laden with so many historical contradictions. And I left with more questions than answers.

Me and my companions were given the privilege by our hosts from Tel Aviv University to go the whole pilgrimage route from Nazareth to Jerusalem; and then to Galilee and Jordan in between meetings for our research on international contract migration.


While it was fascinating to be in the historical places where the faithful believed Jesus to have walked on water, or stumbled in Via Dolorosa, these were not the enduring memories that stuck with me. Maybe it was because I was young then and reserved answering questions of faith for later on in life. I am old now and probably would have given greater importance to that once in a lifetime chance to bask in the historicity of the Christian religion at its birthplace if I’ve been there now instead of then. But life has a funny way of teaching us certain things at its own time.

There were two images that remained in my mind from that trip that I realized carried greater sociological significance then and now. The first is that of a child’s shoe and the second is of a cartoon scribbling printed on a plain white shirt.

The story of the Jewish people is one of centuries-old persecution, first at the hands of the Moors and then Christians. The holocaust, which stands to this day as one of the darkest moments in human history, where millions of their kind were rounded up and kept first in concentration camps all over Europe and then systemically mass murdered by the Nazis in gas chambers during the Second World War provided the motivation for the rise of Zionism as a political and military agenda.

The pink shoe of a child victim of the Holocaust that I encountered at the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem was a testament to this Jewish narrative. It was a poignant reminder of the horrors their people experienced and an eloquent statement that no longer will the Jewish people be forced to wander and for that matter, murdered at such a scale. Thus, since 1947, when the United Nation granted statehood for Israel, up to the present, the Jews have successfully driven Palestinians off almost 90% of their own land under the banner of Zionism.

The second image was one that was created by assassinated Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali. It depicted a picture of a craggy refugee boy with his back turned while on the foreground are barbed wires with one barb drawn as a stalk of wheat. The cartoon symbolized the artist's own story as a 10-year old Palestinian refugee who refuses to acknowledge outsider solutions to their exile as a people, thus Handala’s, the name of the famous character that the cartoonist created, back was turned. The barb wire and wheat symbolized the state of violence under Israel that is strangling their Palestinian way of life.

I was a happy tourist in historic Jaffa port careful about my incursions to unknown territory when a Palestinian activist approached me to share the story of the murdered Naji Al-Ali who was shot in London by Mossad agents supposedly for his biting cartoon commentaries about the plight of the Palestinian people. I knew I could get in trouble by entering the exhibit and talking to the activist but in solidarity to his people’s struggle, which at that time I could not help but compare with the suffering of our own Muslim brothers in Estrada’s all-out-war, I purchased a plain white shirt with the cartoonist’s drawing.

With the recent bombings and incursions of the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza, killing close to two hundred Palestinian civilians many of whom are women and children, I cannot help but once again ask the question which bothered me in that trip fifteen years ago: how could a people, who had endured so much historical persecution in the hands of others, do the same calibrated and incessant cruelty to their lesser neighbors?


(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 15, 2014.


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