Saturday, September 10, 2005

Romeo and Juliet: a Palestinian tragedy

For most of the past week, the news media have been so preoccupied with the catastrophe in New Orleans that many other newsworthy events have been brushed aside. One of these events happened earlier this week in a Palestinian town called Taybeh, located in the West Bank just north of Ramallah, about 20 miles from Jerusalem.

Taybeh is a wholly Christian village, which gives its name to a local brewery, Taybeh Brewing Company, that brews beer in accordance with the Bavarian purity laws of 1516. About half a mile up the road from Taybeh is a Muslim village called Deir Jarir. Earlier this week, an angry mob from Deir Jarir torched at least a dozen homes in Taybeh, angry at the "dishonoring" of a Muslim woman there.

A couple of weeks ago, a 23 year old woman named Hayem Ejerj died and was quickly buried by her family. The Palestinian Authority police, suspicious of the swift and undocumented burial, exhumed her body for an autopsy and revealed a couple of interesting details: she was pregnant, and she had been murdered. Her two brothers were arrested for her murder, apparently an "honor killing" related to her alleged relationship with Mahdi abu Houria, a Christian man from Taybeh and her subsequent pregancy from the relationship. Allegedly, after discovering her relationship and pregnancy, her family forced her to drink poison and quickly buried her body to hide their disgrace.

After the brothers' arrest, an angry mob of hundreds of people from Deir Jarir went to Taybeh with Molotov cocktails and torched over a dozen homes before being repelled by Palestinian security forces. Fortunately, nobody was killed, and Mahdi abu Houria is in protective custody with the Palestinian police.

Here are some links to news articles on this real-life Romeo and Juliet story from Haaretz, the Guardian newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, and the BBC.

The type of ignorance exposed by this attack is truly sickening. Getting pregnant out of wedlock may be haram, but it is not something worth murdering your sister over. These men murdered their sister and their unborn niece/nephew. That small child in her womb may have been conceived out of wedlock, but if that child's family loved him/her, that child could have grown up to be a good person. Instead, its small life was extinguished along with its mother at the hands of its two uncles.

Even more perplexing are the actions of the mob. Why their wrath would be targeted so harshly against their Christian neighbors and not against the brothers who murdered their sister is mindboggling to me.

Here in the West, we get our fill of anti-Muslim propaganda in the media, demonizing Muslims as terrorists and boors. But, this is a two-way street, and I think much of the anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, and anti-American vitriol spewed by some Arabic-language media is even worse than the crap we get fed here. Even recently, I have been amazed by some of the Arabic-language Internet-rumors I have heard - just yesterday, one of my Arab friends told me about an Internet-rumor that "Pepsi" was an acronym for "Pay Even a Pence to Save Israel" (amazing, since Pepsi Cola originated in the 1800s, almost 50 years before the current state of Israel). It is exactly this type of stereotypical demonization that causes Muslims to hate Christians and Westerners, and results in the type of violence that occurred in Taybeh.

I personally have a number of Muslim friends, most of whom are educated professionals (like myself) and all of whom share my disdain for the type of rhetoric that spawned this murder and subsequent attacks. Unfortunately, there are a lot of less worldly people out there, and this type of racist and sectarian violence is far more common than it should be.

Fortunately, the ending of this real-life Romeo and Juliet story was not as tragic as it could have been. Only two people were killed (Hayem Ejerj, the woman at the center of this controversy, and her unborn fetus), and while there were a dozen or more houses torched in Taybeh, nobody was killed there. Also, the Taybeh Brewing Company (the owner of which is related to the people whose houses were torched) may even see increased sales from the publicity surrounding their town. I only hope the people in Taybeh and Deir Jarir are able to calm their emotions and live side-by-side in peace again.