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CRUCIBLE: Let’s Embrace Humanity—Thank You, Palestine!

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(Welcome remarks, “Ahlan wa sahlan: Food Festival, Art Exhibit, and Filipino-Palestinian Stories,” held at GT-Asian Center Auditorium, UP Diliman, 30 June 2024.)

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 1 July)—Bismillaahir rahmaan nirraheem. Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatu l-llaahi wa barakaatuh.

Today, we are fortunate to gather in this hall with exceptional people. They are what I call the modern heirs of the Prophets. The prophets, as you know, are servants of God. They were sent in various periods of history to deliver the message of unity and brotherhood amongst mankind.

Starting from Nabi Adam into the series of prophets until the time of Nabi Ibrahim, Ishmael, Ishaq or Isaac, Jacob or Israel; and a few more to the time of Nabi Musa or Moses until the time of Nabi Eisa or Jesus and the time of the final messenger, Nabi Muhammad (saw). May peace and blessings be upon them all.

Let’s not make this affair a serious one. We’d already cried more than enough on this subject. We need to lighten up our mood as you seem to be too attentive with my talk even as that opening line is just preliminary.

Earlier, while we were coming inside this hall I saw the beautiful paintings of Ala Wadi. I was surprised that we have the same surname. My name is, as most of you know, Julkipli Wadi. My wife looked at me and asked: “You have not gone to Palestine. How come we have another Wadi here?”

Thanks for the light laughter with that friendly banter said in jest. This would show precisely the thread that connects us all—not only as shown in our names and our blood but, most importantly, our humanity including even our slightest jokes. This is a subject worth talking about. I’d like to lay down some points of this part later on.

First, allow me to extend our thanks and gratitude to the Philippine government for extending assistance to our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

We could not name the number of agencies and institutions that facilitated their journey from Gaza to Manila, including those people behind the processing of their papers; they’re simply too many to narrate.

Let me also mention. We’d like to extend our thanks particularly to our friend, the former Chancellor of UP Diliman, Fidel Nemenzo. Even as his term already ended a few weeks earlier, it was his friends in NGOs that actually went to the airport to receive our Palestinian brothers and sisters. And it was suggested that they should be brought here at the University of the Philippines in Diliman where they stayed in Kalayaan Dormitory and a few other places inside the campus.

A day after they arrived, Chancellor Carlo Vistan, the new chancellor of the University, called me up and asked: “What are we going to do?” After giving him some background that our former UP-IIS dean, Macrina Morados, has already engaged the first batch of Palestinians upon their arrival in UP, the Chancellor suggested that the UP-Institute of Islamic Studies should serve as the coordinator of UP Diliman in looking into their needs and wellbeing, particularly their relation with Muslim community in Manila.

From then on, I instructed Asst. Prof. Darwin Absari of UP-IIS to serve as the main coordinator in addressing the concern of our Palestinian brothers and sisters in coordination with various offices in the University, including other NGOs, institutions, groups, families, individuals in Metro Manila, including those from Mindanao and elsewhere.

We could only say thank you to all of you. At least, we have shown precisely our humanity in extending our succor and assistance to our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

And we have to also express that our assistance to Palestine did not start in the aftermath of October 7. In many instances in the University, we held many conferences and fora about Palestine in various units and departments before this recent genocide in Gaza.

In fact, I could still remember when the first major war in Gaza broke out in 2008 that was at the latter part of the term of President Bush, the Institute and other units in the University held a forum and continued to do so in succession for years. I’d also delivered Friday khutbah many times about Palestine and wrote about it in my writings.

This is to emphasize that we have been linked in terms of our intellectual and brotherly engagement with Palestine even before the coming of our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We could say that our thanks and assistance today and what the government provides now extends beyond what we’d shown them in recent years.

The diplomatic relation between the Philippines and Palestine has been quite but relatively extensive and our people to people contact has been going on for years. So, again thank you very much to all agencies, to all people, NGOs, friends, advocates, and many others.

Finally, let me thank Dean Jun Sevilla of the Asian Center for re-echoing the UP-IIS’s “Little Gaza Bazaar” with today’s “Ahlan wa Sahlan: Food Festival, Art Exhibit and Stories of Filipino-Palestinian Families” held today at GT-Asian Center Auditorium.

By the way, before I forget, the University Council of UP Diliman was one of the first faculty-wide academic bodies of a refutable educational institution around the world that released statement calling “genocide” the war in Gaza before it was declared so by the International Court of Justice.

Anyhow, when I transferred from that corner of the hall, from the paintings of Ala Wadi to another corner of the paintings of Muhammad, I met Brother Zaid, a Palestinian, and told him that my Facebook banner is actually the cartography of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh standing as the Statue of Liberty while holding the land of Palestine. As some of you probably knew, Shireen was assassinated a year ago before October 7.

Even much earlier, the picture of Ahed Tamimi and her parents was a banner on my Facebook until Shireen was killed. It stayed there for many years. Ahed was that brave little girl who grew up standing against oppression in the early days of resistance of the Tamimi family. According to Brother Zaid, Ahed went to London for her studies.

One day, one of my daughters asked me: Amah, why are you bannering other families on Facebook rather than your family?

I did not respond to my daughter. As she heard more about my talk and khutbah and read more of my writings about Palestine, she eventually found the answer. This is to show that, indeed, our attachment to the Palestinian cause as a people and as an individual has been engraved in our soul.

Hence, when I met Brother Zaid, I expressed the same thing—“thank you!” “No,” he said, “we should be the one who should thank you because you received us here in the Philippines.”

“No,” I said, “we should be the ones thankful to you.” And he looked at me with teary eyes because he knew what I meant.

This is to say that the Palestinians being the heirs of the Prophets are the ones given the task to become what is known in the Qur’an as the mustad’afeen, the oppressed people in our time.

As most of you know, the Holy Qur’an points out how the oppressed are highly favored as they are “exceptional in faith.” We consider them so because they are the descendants of Prophet Abraham, of Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus, and other prophets. In other words, they are playing the same role standing against oppression like what the previous prophets did.

Moreover, when I told Brother Zaid “thank you” it is because the Palestinians carry the heavy burden of being subject to tremendous tests. The Qur’an speaks of labluwannakum—“We shall surely test you”—with fear, with hunger, with famine, loss of lives and properties. And they are praised in the Qur’an with their patience.

The “test” carried by Palestinians is exceptional. We have not seen this episode in the history of modern warfare as gory and as destructive as what we see now in the genocide in Gaza.

With the presence of our Palestinian brothers and sisters here in the University, they remind us of our humanity. As genocide is going on, it is a shame that the world is silent with no one standing up in their cause, in their name—not even the United Nations and other Big powers. In other words, the world has seemingly lost its humanity. The world has lost its heart. International law is now thrown into the dustbin.

Now that our Palestinian brothers are here, they are, in a sense, telling us to wake up—reminding us every day we are here the representatives of world’s humanity.

At times, we could be fossilized; we could hardly move with what we thought that what is happening in Gaza is only an ordinary happenstance of geopolitics. It’s not. It is a message to us that we all have to search for our own humanity because what is happening to them reverberates the world over and amongst us.

In Tagalog, we say: magkakabit ang ating mga bituka bilang tao at bilang mga mamamayan ng mundo. Kung ano ang nararanasan nilang hirap bilang mga Palestino ganun din dapat ang ating nararamdaman bilang Pilipino at Bangsamoro. Kaya tayo dapat ang magpasalamat sa kanila. Na pinadala sila rito para tayo’y pagsabihan: “Nandito kami”—to make our sense of humanity alive, universal and meaningful.

In fact, to a degree we have the same stories. The Palestinian story is our own story. Their narrative is as our narrative. The fluctuations of our hearts, the dynamics of our soul—that can be partly good and be partly bad—is happening within ourselves. It is our universal struggle as human beings. In other words, there is in ourselves a Bibi Nethanyahu; there is in us a Palestinian child that is so helpless. We have to resolve that contradiction first in ourselves so that we can find higher meaning and elevate ourselves as a collective and embrace our own humanity.

So, I say again thank you to our Palestinian friends, our Palestinian brothers and sisters. Of all the countries that you were sent to, you chose the Philippines so that we will be reminded that, indeed, we have to be consistent with our ideals and be ready to embrace the other whoever they are—Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Chinese and so on.

If we will not address this contradiction, there could possibly be other wars ala Gaza in other parts of the Middle East, in India, in Burma, in Africa and elsewhere even as the world now reels hard with the war in Ukraine, the tension between China and Taiwan, including our own struggle in the West Philippine Sea.

Finally, to conclude our Welcome Address—and my apology for these rather long and serious remarks—we would like to say once again to our Palestinian brethren: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines.]

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