From the Fish’s Mouth to Palestine’s Heart
by Sarah Whalen
September 13, 2003
A fish spoke in Brooklyn. Half a year ago. Do you not remember?
Was it God?
An Ecuadorian fish cutter in New York, ready to slice up a 20-pound live carp for appetizers, swears the fish on his chopping block flapped at him for attention and spoke Hebrew, a language he doesn't speak but recognizes because he works for Hassidic Jew fish wholesalers. Jewish witnesses confirm the fish warned listeners to repent and account for themselves because the end is near.
Some Hassidic Jews think the carp's voice is a reincarnated customer. Or a joke. Or, like the burning bush, the cloud, and the pillar of fire, God has spoken to men.
In the language of Jews.
From the mouth of a fish.
What can this mean? In wartime, wooden crucifixes and stone Virgin Marys weep tears for the ravaged and the dead. But the fish story speaks to all Believers, Muslims, Christians, and Jews. And if the voice is indeed from God, nothing is without meaning.
God first addressed the fish cutter, a Christian. The fish is an instantly-recognized Christian symbol that transcends spoken language. In pagan Rome, Christians used fish drawings to secretly identify themselves. Many of Jesus' first disciples were fishermen and miraculously, Jesus fed hungry multitudes with a handful of fish.
For Muslims, the Qur'an says Moses followed a fish that "took its course through the sea (straight) as in a tunnel" to a place of Divine instruction reached only when the fish disappeared from sight. But Moses soon tired and forgot about the fish. And Satan made Moses’ servant, who was traveling with him, forget that the fish had taken "its course through the sea in a marvelous way" before disappearing. This indicates that spiritual knowledge, beginning where worldly knowledge departs, is often missed in distraction. Or lost in translation between the secular and esoteric.
That the talking carp directly spoke to Hassidic Jews is also meaningful. Hassidim are persons of profound belief. Traditionally, many were against the creation of the state of Israel. Today, they struggle to maintain their religious law against the growing secular nature of the Israeli state.
But more important than the fish is the voice. The poet William Blake claimed: "The voice of honest indignation is the voice of God." Blake, who regularly had Divine visions, readily admitted they were imagined. But he vigorously denied they were self-created. For Blake, imagination was the highest faculty and sole means of perceiving truth. God spoke regularly, Blake assured friends. He could hear the voice of honest indignation in his heart and in his mind.
Who is the voice of the fish? Let us ask, who has the voice of honest indignation today? Go back half a year ago. Think of Rachel Corrie, the girl who died with a megaphone in her hand, stepping up to the blade of a giant bulldozer, trying to persuade the Israeli in it from killing Palestinians and destroying Palestinian homes. Western news photos shows a girl defiant, indignant and still alive, standing tall in the dirt, defying a harbinger of death, a bulldozer driver, a wrecker of family homes. Challenging him to quell his angry blade and be human again.
Photos of Rachel in the Middle Eastern papers spare us nothing. Unmercifully frame by frame, we see how the bulldozer buried her in sand, then crushed her. Despairing friends embraced her in her last throes, helpless to do more. If ever any person looked like the suffering Jesus to a Christian, it is Rachel, bent and bloodied, dying in the arms of her companions.
Muslims, too can find meaning in Rachel’s life and death from the mouth of the fish that declared the end is near. But is it the end of the world that the fish portends, or the end of the Israeli state as we know it today?
Muslims may see Rachel, buried alive by the Israeli bulldozer, not only as a martyr (which she is surely for Palestinians), but as "the female, buried alive" in the Qur’an. This apocalyptic chapter, the "Folding Up" of life on earth, says that "when the souls are sorted out, and the female buried alive, is questioned—for what crime was she killed?" then will the end of the world begin.
This historically refers to female infanticide practiced by the heathen Qur’aish before the advent of Islam. But something about Rachel Corrie’s death transcends historic time. The Qur’an’s voice is eternal, and valid for all generations. Its meaning today may be closer to us than we think.
Buried alive? One need not be a baby for it to happen.
The Qur’an’s key is not the girl-child’s age, but her innocence of any action that would justify her murderer. On the last day, the Qur’an declares, will an innocent girl, speechless as a baby, speechless as was Rachel, whom witnesses declared was mute with horror in the last few moments of her earthly life, finally be able to speak for herself and confront her murderer. On this day "shall each soul know what it has put forward."
"Go straight," the Qur’an warns the very planets in the sky, "or hide."
"For what crime" did the Israelis kill Rachel? The crime of standing up. The crime of trying to save a family’s home. If Rachel had lived in some quiet American town and done the same, she’d be elected mayor. But she went to a dangerous place, and died.
We Americans must acknowledge our accountability in Rachel’s murder. We raise our children to have courage and convictions. We sacrifice generations of soldiers and hoards of treasure so that, in the words of our American Revolutionary war heroes, they can stand up.
Road maps don’t come from Bush or Blair. Our children, born of all nations and peoples, are our road maps. Politicians and pundits can lecture us forever on the intricacies of foreign policy, but we all raise our children to reach out fundamentally beyond politics, and beyond apology, to truth and honor. Children are our promises to one another that our world will not end, but continue. We send them off to a future that we will never see but in which we trust, and in doing this we prove that we love God and the world He has created more than we love ourselves. Without them, the road map means nothing.
Rachel Corrie was no terrorist or terrorist sympathizer. She was the child of caring parents who raised her to stand up and reach out to others, even to the man who murdered her. She was the anti-suicide bomber. She sought a way out of that hell. An American way.
We failed to take Israel seriously. This is our mistake. Now we must stand up and refuse to sacrifice of yet one more child, whether American or Palestinian or Iraqi. U.S. soldiers may well be in the Middle East to stay, but if they police anyone after the great pacification of Iraq, should it not be from the Palestinian side of the border?
Not likely. Palestinians kill children, too, the Israelis say. True enough. But the acts of the typical Palestinian suicide bomber are different in an important way. This Palestinian kills targets of opportunity, including himself, so great is his despair, so unrequited is his rage, so persistent and expert are his torturers. The Israeli cuts off such a Palestinian from any kind of succor or relief, so that death of the self and of nearby others becomes a mechanism through which the shame of helplessness, of forced lassitude, of being able to do absolutely nothing to set things right, seems alleviated. Punish the Palestinians? It’s hard—in many ways they are already dead. The murder of Rachel Corrie, champion of Palestine, is nothing less than an example of this cold, calculated cruelty. This is why the fighting will never end until people like Rachel and those she stood for are allowed to stand up, without fear, and live.
Live as we do in the America of our dreams. Without fear and within our rights.
Think about Rachel, the brave girl buried alive by the bulldozer, who cried out in her honest indignation. Although you were not there, hear the voice of God all the same, in your heart and in your mind, coming from the border of Israel and Palestine.
Sarah Whalen teaches at Loyola Law School in New Orleans, LA, and has taught Islamic law at Temple University Law School. She has written articles on Islamic law for Arab News and Palestine Chronicle as well as law review journals. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org