Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Missing Mahatma

The Missing Mahatma

The following story is a "What if" and a possible way to solve the problem of Israel and Palestine. The analysis of why this has not happened is a fascinating introspection on how peace movements succeed or fail.

"They marched southward from Ramallah one windy morning in March 2012. Sheikh Nasser a-Din al-Masri led them--a slim man with a short black beard that half-hid a puckered scar on his neck. They filled the road to Jerusalem, a long procession of men, women, and children wearing white robes to show they were on a pilgrimage and that they had no pockets in which to hide weapons. They carried their flat bread in clear plastic bags for the same reason. A Reuters reporter said they numbered 20,000. They chanted as they walked.

When the sheikh saw the Israeli troops massed across the road in the distance, he turned and spoke into a megaphone. "Remember the two brothers, the sons of Adam," he said, and then quoted the Koran. "One said, 'I will surely kill you.' The other answered, 'If you stretch out your hand to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against you to slay you. For I fear Allah, the Lord of the worlds.' "

The river of marchers streamed forward. From the troops came the voice of another megaphone, proclaiming "Halt!" in Arabic and Hebrew. Al-Masri answered, "We come in peace to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, as is our sacred right." Soldiers lifted their guns.

The sound of the first volley was dull thuds. Tear gas canisters fell on the asphalt. The wind scattered the white plumes. Gasping, the marchers kept advancing. Again came thuds, and rubber bullets showered the marchers. The sheikh groaned, put his
hands on his shoulder, and kept walking. "Halt! Halt!" roared the Israeli megaphone.

Afterward, an army inquiry panel would examine whether anyone had actually given orders to switch ammunition. With the first sharp cracks of live fire, a red splotch appeared low on the sheikh's robe; he grimaced and kneeled. People near him fell. A boy crumpled on the road. Screaming mixed with the chanting. The Reuters woman was shouting, pouring words into her cell phone. The guns stopped. No one could understand what the Israeli commander was yelling at his men. A marcher carrying medical gear in a clear plastic bag rushed up to al-Masri; another hurried to the boy.

Lying on the road, the sheikh whispered to a follower, who spoke through the megaphone. "We will fast here," he said, "until we are allowed to go on. We will testify to our faith." People tossed their bags of bread to the roadside and sat down.

Prostrate, pale, al-Masri spoke to television crews. He told about his studies at Al-Azhar University, his years in Hamas preaching armed jihad, and the bullet that grazed his neck when Israeli special forces arrested him. He talked about the Path of Adam's Son, the book by Syrian dissident Jawdat Said that he'd read in prison and that converted him to nonviolent struggle, about his release in a prisoner exchange two years before, and about the swelling support for his new movement. "

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