Photos of the Sea

In September 2000, I decided to do my part to bring peace to the Middle East. As a Canadian attorney of Palestinian origin, I believed I could use my legal skills to help broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Naive? Perhaps.

I left my comfortable life in California and moved to the West Bank. Moving there was not easy: I did not know what life is like under military rule. My Western upbringing left me unprepared for life without freedom. Seven years later, I am still not used to it.

As a lawyer for the Palestinian peace negotiating team, I have met Presidents, Prime Ministers, Nobel Laureates, Secretaries of State and other important figures. But none of these individuals hit me with the same emotional wallop as a young woman named Majda.

Like me, Majda is in her thirties. Like me, she enjoys classical music, theatre and books. But unlike me, Majda has never lived a day as a free human being, for she was born Palestinian in the Israeli-dominated West Bank.

One day, Majda approached me saying: “Ms. Buttu, my son does not believe that Palestine is on the sea. He has never seen it and no matter how many times I tell him, he doesn’t believe me. You are allowed to travel. Please, take some pictures of the sea. I need my son to know that Palestine is bigger than just our town and a few checkpoints.” I took the camera in disbelief: Majda lived less than 10 miles from the sea.

“Have you been to the sea, Majda?” I asked.

“No. I have made requests to the Israeli authorities, but they have always been denied.”

I traveled that weekend to the sea with Majda’s camera. As I looked around, I tried to make sense of her life. How is it possible that a young woman has never been to the sea? How is it possible that I, a Canadian, can see Palestine and yet a Palestinian cannot?

As I took the photos, I faced a dilemma: Should the pictures include children? If they include children, will her son feel deprived? In the end, I took 30 photos. Most of them were out of focus as the tears streamed down my face. The next week I handed a smiling Majda her camera.

“Thanks, Ms. Buttu. My son will be so happy!”

My once-naivete has since been replaced by realism: Peace will never come to this region until the Palestinians are granted their freedom. It has been just more than 40 years since the start of Israel’s military rule over the Palestinians. Every day I wonder whether Majda and her son will ever enjoy a day of freedom — or even visit the sea.

I believe, deeply believe, that Palestinians and Jews ought to be equals in this holy land. I believe more Americans would act on behalf of Palestinians if they were aware of discriminatory Israeli policies. I believe the inability of Majda’s son to travel to the sea in his homeland smacks of Jim Crow and apartheid and that it is in everybody’s interest to right this wrong without further delay. This, I believe.

Diana Buttu is a former Palestinian negotiator. Read other articles by Diana, or visit Diana's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. D. R. Munro said on March 14th, 2008 at 5:59am #

    “I believe the inability of Majda’s son to travel to the sea in his homeland smacks of Jim Crow and apartheid and that it is in everybody’s interest to right this wrong without further delay.”

    Not everbody’s interest, and therein we see the problem.

  2. D. R. Munro said on March 14th, 2008 at 6:00am #


  3. Brian Koontz said on March 14th, 2008 at 12:46pm #

    It’s worse than apartheid. In apartheid South Africa the blacks were used as workers for the whites. They had value as workers and therefore were not mass-murdered as long as they “remained in their place”.

    The Israeli state wants one of two things for the Palestinians – expulsion or extermination. They don’t care which, but they do care somewhat about international opinion and they very much care about limiting their own costs and risks. Ideally they would clear out the Palestinians without bringing Arab nations into a conflict with them.

    The constant talk of apartheid is tragic because this is an absolutely crucial difference. The situation in Palestine is much more similar to the Nazi concentration camps. This shouldn’t really surprise anyone, as victims often become victimizers in the fashion in which they were victimized.

    Israel is the most racist nation on earth. It’s the second coming of Nazi Germany.

    Prior to the concentration camps in Germany the Nazis encouraged those who would later be killed to leave. Those who did not select voluntary expulsion were exterminated.

    Another area of blindness even among the educated class in the US is that the US and Israel share the same interests, or that Israel dominates US foreign policy. This is not the case. Israel is very vulnerable to military strikes due to their physical proximity to nations they oppose. The US, on the other hand, ultimately doesn’t mind if Israel is annihilated, as long as the process which creates that annihilation serves the US war machine. Israel’s racism and paranoia is fueling their own destruction, and the US is happy to oblige and facilitate that very process. But with all the books talking about how AIPAC controls US foreign policy and how the American elite are in bed with the Israeli elite, the truth about the crucial differences between the actual interests of the two states are being lost.

  4. opeluboy said on March 14th, 2008 at 4:19pm #

    Heartbreaking for the simplicity of the dream denied.

    I recall a piece by Naomi Shihab Nye, in which she explained that Palestinian artists were forbidden to paint with the colors of their flag, making it difficult to represent a flower.

    Sometimes the cruelty is even more monstrous and inhumane in the small things. The Israelis have mastered this.

    There must be no Hebrew word for “karma.”