“Let Them Starve in the Desert”
Words From the First Intifada
In 1987, after the First Intifada started, I remember sitting in a coffee shop in New York and overhearing words that stung and burned and never left me. I wrote down my thoughts in a sketchbook at the time, but never brought them forward; I forever regret not having said anything at the time. Last Sunday, two-and-a-half decades later, I took part in the debut of the Third Intifada in Maroun Ar-Ras at the border between Lebanon and Palestine. I recall these words now, updated as the occasion warrants.
“Let them starve!”, you said, slamming your coffee down; “let them starve in the desert!” you said, speaking, as you were, of a desert ancient as time, of a far away desert you never knew, that you never left for never having been and that nonetheless you claim, that now is left bereft of its bedouin, as the land your fellow gentry occupy is left cleansed of its people, abandoned of its owners now set adrift. The land grieves its diaspora, screams aloud their names, remembers each and every name writ in the spilt blood of the countless thousands you’ve disappeared and murdered in vengeful sprees ghastly in their forethought, stunning in their exactitude. “Let them starve!”, you said, defining in the negative your willed absence of a people from a place that yet denies this forgetting, this ground sodden with the tears of all lifetimes.
“Let them rot!” you said, your vague pronoun spat out; “let them starve in the desert!” you said, the fact that “they” exist apparently crime enough, the fact that “they” resist seemingly criminal enough for your judgment, your sentence, your execution; and thus you complete your discrete logic: the annihilation of those who, to you, never were; a double negative that sums up your false positive. And so is unleashed your displacement, your dispossession, your theft, your will to kill, and you, come unhinged. Of all people. And so fly unfettered your noisome epithets, your ghettos, your destruction, your murderous zeal. You, of all people.
You slammed your coffee down and spat out said menace, and I stopped, and I turned, and I caught your eye. I thought: What is so easily said is much more easily done. “Let them starve in the desert! Let them rot in the sun! “Let them riot in Gaza!” you said, and our eyes met, and I saw you, and I saw you seeing me, and I completed your thought, computed your equation; I arrived at your horrid calculus, infinitely revealed in your possessing, usurping, stealing, as well as in your means and ways and methods. And you coldly enacted your endeavor, and you plotted your task, with a bureaucrat’s precision, a mild surprise only that you stop not to collect the shoes, nor the watches, nor the spectacles, while you seem to so value the skin, and the bones, and the eyes. You, of all people.
And although many years have passed since hearing these words, I hereby hasten to inform you that there is no tiring the returnee; and there is no fatigue in these steps six decades after Catastrophe; there is no slowed pace of the generations who follow in their path and who spite the locks and their lockmasters, who despite your barbed wires and barricades are destined to see brethren delivered gleefully through your doors, are ordained to witness the dispersed masses come smiling across your borders, are primed and ready to overtake your gauntlets and gates; if need be receding to re-gather strength, a reclaiming, a repossession, a retaking, a return, and a recalling of your own very prescient warning: “A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily.” You are thus haunted by your very own words, henceforth made manifest.
“Let them riot in Gaza!” you said, and I saw you, and I saw you seeing me, and in that held gaze was a promise, and in my pause was a covenant, and I wrote those words down to forever remind me, I noted down your threat which is hereby reciprocated with interest accrued a hundred-thousand-fold. And now, 25 years later, I keep this promise by coming down to that border with those thousands upon thousands who would come down; by accompanying those who have left their square-kilometer meager allotment, who have decamped to this false demarcation, who have descended to this no-man’s-land falsely partitioned, to this bogus border; to return with those who will one day soon, the grace of God willing, come home.
And be further informed that we will riot in Gaza; we fully intend to riot in Gaza, and in Golan, in Maroon Ar-Ras and in Naqoora; in Rafah, Ramallah, and Karameh. And soon must come your avowal, your acknowledgment, your surrender. Then must come the dismantling, the demolishing, the unsettling. Then must come the great pause, and the gathering, and the Return. And I vow for those who elseways have traversed your hellish gates, who elsewise have suffered your deadly portals, an endless patience, a constant and determined descent, a third and final wave with no end, a divesting, a de-mining of obstacles, an end to the debacle, an existence in resistance. And your day is come. And you will bear the burden of your crimes.