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My Scarf Is A Silent Protest

"My Scars is a Silent Protest" with a painted cloudy sky in the background and the Charter for Compassion Logo on top.

If you’re not paying attention to the news out of the Middle East these days, you won’t notice that the scarf I am wearing today is a Keffiyeh. It’s not a fashion statement. The black and white scarf is an iconic symbol of Palestine nationalism. It’s worn by men as a self-fashioned turban and by Arab women as a hijab—the headscarf that defines a Muslim woman or Middle East native. Some define the Keffiyeh as a Palestinian military scarf. I am also wearing a Peace pin.

I’ve worn this scarf before, multiple Sundays, to my  Unitarian Universalist Church and only once has someone come up to me and mentioned that they understood the symbolism in my attire and they sympathized. They "got" the statement I was making quietly in my own way. My Keffiyeh is a silent protest against what is taking place in Gaza. The war there has evolved from a justified armed conflict answer to a terrorist group that invaded and slaughtered Israeli youth innocently attending a music festival to—an indiscriminate war killing more than 35 thousand civilians. By all appearances, the Israeli Defense Forces have devolved into a genocide machine.


Make no mistake, there is no forgiveness or excusing the atrocities heaped upon peaceful Israeli people enjoying a holiday atmosphere at a music festival. There were also numerous incursions into Israel by these Hamas terrorists. The attack was savage and deliberately barbaric and carried out by soldiers who can only be described as soulless brutes. The attacks on Israeli women in the civilian population evidences a carefully laid out plan to savage, rape, and kill Israeli women rendering them less than human and disposable. The details are ugly and evil but to look away is to deny the brutality of warring soldiers and the nations behind them. It is important to acknowledge and remember so as to reflect, evaluate and prevent a similar future. Many raped women were shot in the groin and then in the head as their legs lay naked and spread eagle after their assaults. Babies and children were beheaded and blood ran everywhere through civilian houses. When not attacked by bullets, rockets or drones, whole families were burned alive in their homes because they could not flee. The carnage was complete and ghastly inhumane and the landscape that was left cannot be properly imagined. “Hell-scape” doesn’t begin to describe it. Not since the Holocaust has this depraved brand of premeditated, perverted and precise horror visited the Israeli people. The intent and message was not just dehumanization but humiliation and clearly-- demoralization.

Sometimes we must bear witness to depravity. It is a duty thrust upon us by a future that hopes for a different path to conciliation and peace instead of war. War is obsolete. We are a bloody lot, a sadistic species and we need to remember what we are capable of. You cannot change what you will not acknowledge. And in addition to bearing witness, we must engage our sovereignty as human beings and our voices to denounce a future with any savage and warring humans. There is much at stake and it is larger than petty differences and war against peoples who may think, act and believe differently than you. They are not your enemies, they are your comrades on a global ship hurling through space and in danger of self-extinction. We can no longer afford these adolescent wars perpetrated by humans that can’t think past narcissistic infancy yet we know are capable of thinking creatively to find brilliant solutions to human problems. We need to put our big-boy, big-girl pants on and embrace neighbors and “them” not as “other” but as companions on this journey of survival. There is no time for otherizing and the nonsense of war-making. 

The attack on Israel was obscene. Anger and retribution are logical emotions in response to such heinous action. But the response must be human and humane and measured carefully, especially with civilians who have no power to affect the conflict. It must live beyond the mindless anger allowed to burn freely without boundaries even in legitimately wronged people. For when the mindlessness moves beyond that invisible line of humanity, we are in deep trouble. It means we have lost what poet Mary Oliver calls “the soft animal of our body” and become hardened puppets of our darkest shadow selves.

Lots of grievances are justified. But occupation and colonialization have never worked out well, and are outdated and infantile responses in “discovering” a land, assimilating a people, or claiming a piece of the globe. The Earth does not belong to us and her resources are finite and not up for grabs to the first explorers to come upon them. Or the next, or the next. We must grow ourselves up and learn to share. 

My scarf is a silent scream against a war that has crossed a line and careened into genocide. When civilians are deliberately targeted, hospitals rocket-lampooned, neighborhoods gutted, homesteads destroyed, cities burned and people shot dead while fleeing—those are not defense tactics no matter who is defending. That’s barbaric and inexcusably fiendish. Yet that is what is happening. The unexploded ordinance and booby traps left in Gaza will last far beyond the war and will kill people who try to go home and rebuild. 

As a writer, I’m sickened that a hundred Palestinian journalists have been killed. The reporters who are embedded certainly cannot criticize their benefactors and dispassionate neutral media is not allowed in “sensitive” areas. A law is hijacked to preempt truthful coverage by Al Jazeera now locked out of the territory. And an entire population forced to retreat to areas to escape the carnage is now in the crosshairs of warring factions so focused on retribution as to have lost all reason. Former balanced minds are concretely polarized, indiscriminate to life and hardened into a mindset where life and breath don’t matter. The “soft animal” is lost. 

I couldn’t remain complicit. Though my scream is silent, I am broadcasting:“No!” And “not in my name!” Being sympathetic to the Palestinians' plight does not mean I have lost sympathy for Israelis who have special tenderness when it comes to their history and its repetition, or that I am anti-Semitic. Being anti-genocide does not equate to anti-Semitic. Protesting on behalf of the people of Palestine doesn’t translate to hating Jews. But not everyone understands that. Youth in the U.S. have been constructing encampments to protest financial and other support for the war in Gaza. They oppose the war and complicity or support in its continuation and they are exercising their constitutional right to free speech and to air grievances. They are not proclaiming anti-Semitism, hate or racism; they are against more killing, especially of innocent civilians—mostly children, who happen to be in the way.

When people are tender, and emotions run high, otherwise rational people can become hypersensitive and monstrous. Road rage, as an example, isn’t a planned or measured response. So I am obligated to be careful to remove my message when leaving the church for lunch with my friends. While out in the general public, it wouldn’t be prudent to leave the scarf on and put my friends in danger because maybe, just maybe, someone will recognize the message and disagree with me with violence. And that, itself, is a sorry testament to how we humans react to people who disagree with us. As long as violence and guns continue to be a culturally habitual reaction to deviations in personal beliefs none of us is actually safe or “free.” It is beliefs that have put this entire planet in jeopardy and we forget that they’re psychic, not physical, mind constructs that we lean on to define us, and yes to exclude others. Often these constructs that we label “beliefs” come out of holy books and religions that in their interior recruit us to compassion and love. How did we get this so wrong? My Keffiyeh message is all of that. I don’t have the perfect answer but I do know that when we demonstrate more compassion than separation, fewer people lose their precious lives. Until we can find our way beyond that, I will carry on a silent scream. This Keffiyeh is an emblem. And the Peace planet is my dream."


© B. Kaufmann 2024