“Sound of silence” was sung by simon & garfunkel back in 1964. Whenever the song fills the air, a sense of serene and tranquility is imparted upon its listener although its lyrics talk about sadness. this ‘silence’ sung by the nightingale duo, is far from the deafening silence that the world is displaying on the Israeli palestinian tit-for-tat following the recent murders of 3 Israeli boys and the revenge killing of a Palestinian boy.
Professor shulman’s account of the death of one of his students struck an involuntary memory in my own mind of another Arab boy, whom I had in one of my French classes. a straight-A student, whose name I will not easily forget, not because he was smart as a whip, but because of the sad story he told the class the day I asked him, and all the other students: “d’ou venez-vous?” (Where do you come from?) followed by “Pourquoi est-ce que vous etes venu aux etats unis?” ( why did you come to the US?).
This is how we marry new vocabulary of nationalities with new verb conjugations in class. Students are eager to use the French language to tell others about their country and identity. And since my class is always multi cultural with lots of students either first generation-whatever-their-nationality or born here, it is always fun learning about the origins. We don’t only learn about the French and francophone worlds, but often enough about countries we have never had to wonder about, like Palestine.
these lessons give students (and us, professors), a platform on which to use/speak french, and by the end of the semester we know a good deal more about human geographies than we’d know otherwise. But this day the sound of silence uttered by my Palestinian student had a weighty sadness compared to his camarades de classe, who laughingly told the class why they were here.
This 18 or 19 year old student had been immediately sent to the US a few years prior following his brother’s murder: the brother was gunned down by Israeli police on the streets for not having ID right before my student’s young eyes.
In restless dream he walked alone
narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘neath the halo of a street lamp,
he turned his collar to the cold and damp
when his eyes were stabbed by the flash of a bullet light
that split the day
and touched the sound of silence!
the other students gasped in loud disbelief as the sound of his words trapped in silence struggled to find their way out of his memory and into the classroom.
His story finds an echo in Joachim prinz’ words: “…the most important thing that I learned in my life is that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. the most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful, and the most tragic problem is silence.”
Not the student’s silence nor his parents’ who sent him here for a safe life. But the silence of the world while this kid and his brother’s silence (and others’) is punctuated by sirens, rockets, explosions, and death. The tragic problem is the silence of the world which has put blinders on. The world which has become deaf because it prefers not to hear about the reality of the situation; the world hearing without listening, and not daring to disturb the sound of silence. A world too heavily drugged by propaganda and news spreaded by the powerful with deep convictions that all Muslims are bad. This silence of the human herd which has become the drug that keeps them pacified while hatred rages on between Palestine and israel, like a cancerous cell. The growth of this silence by watchers-by whose minds continue to be detonators of xenophobia, bigotry and senseless killing on both sides of the strip.
And when I see this cancerous silence broken with “there won’t be peace in the region until the palestinian’s love for their children is greater than their hatred of israel” I then wonder which is preferable:
Silence or speech?
I wonder what such people would say if they learned that Palestinians do love their children as much as any other country, much like this family forced to send their young son so he may live to be loved longer by his parents who fear that he may be shot down because of his identity or because he isn’t able to tell adult police his name; whose story that day filled the air of my classroom with more silence.
The following is a report from the indefatigable Prof David Shulman, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prof Shulman works on the history of religion in South India and poetry and poetics in Tamil, Telegu and Sanskrit. David Shulman writes as protests inside Israel increase, as do right-wing attacks on the protestors. This report has been circulated by Prof Louise Bethlehem of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Jews demonstrate in New York Against Bombings
July 12, 2014 Umm al-Ara’is, Susya, Bi’r al-‘Id, Ma’asara
Business as usual in the South Hebron hills. There’s a war on in Gaza, but that too is business as usual, the meaningless biannual ritual in which both sides gleefully smash one another before reverting to the status quo ante. The Israeli media are drowning us in words, a vast and raucous flood, and the government is putting out its familiar, mendacious statements; perhaps in…
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