On the other hand, most normal people can find the time to laugh even during the worst tragedies. Because laughter is powerful medicine, it can rebuild faith, hope and inner strength. Hatred and anger can only make misery even more miserable.
In a lengthy interview on TV and radio recently, Pope Benedict XVI called for an end to the fighting between Israelis and Hizbullah, addressed a dozen more topics and then ended with a comment about, yes, humor.
Addressing a question about the role of humor in the life of a pope, the 79 year old Pontiff replied, "I'm not a man who constantly comes up with jokes. But I think it's very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension and not to take everything too tragically. I'd also say it's necessary for my ministry."
Of course the only Pope jokes I know have to do with large bosoms.
I know that my relatives in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nazareth all have a sense of humor, too, even though their situation is dire as the occupation roles on with no real end in sight.
Every day, someone is killed, someone can’t find work, someone is kicked out of his country, and an Israeli tells them they don’t exist and have no rights. They get upset, angry and mad. And I’ll bet they even say a few things that would make the Pope blush – out of emotion, of course, because we are all human, after all.
But at the end of the day, they sit around and they not only discuss the tragedy of their situation under the Israeli occupation, but they also share stories and they also share jokes.
Humor helps nourish the soul. It doesn’t feed their hunger from living in near poverty. It doesn’t educate their children who can’t always go to school. It won’t bring back the lands and homes that have been taken or destroyed, and it won’t bring back friends or relatives who have been killed.
But it does help them to survive another day.
The humor revenge
It also is a very subtle way to give the finger – an American expression of protest – to the religious fanatics who try to control their already miserable lives. The religo-facists don’t want you to dance. They don’t want you to sing. They don’t want you to enjoy life. They want you to not only suffer but to worship the suffering. If you can just suffer more than you are really suffering, they can control you easier.
But if you go home at night and sit around with your family and make jokes and try to bring smiles to everyone’s faces, than you betrayed their fanaticism.
It’s not just an Arab thing. I imagine there are many Israelis going through the same things that the Palestinians experience, maybe in different ways.
Let’s face it, Israel is not a dream come true, that’s for sure. Unless you consider living in a hell hole surrounded by conflict – some of it your own making – as heaven. Just ask the people who live up in Haifa, both Jews and Arabs.
I think most Israelis probably see through their own propaganda and the lies that drive both sides to extremism. Just as Palestinians and Arabs can also see through their own propaganda and lies – I mean, let’s face it, saying that Israel “lost big time” in its war with Hizbullah as all of the Arab World newspapers are claiming is more propaganda than fact.
They will all be laughing together
But I bet that even in their worst moments, Israelis can also come together and share a laugh. Humor is a powerful fuel, regardless of your human “make or model.” Laughing is a personal way to reject the fanaticism. We have to look past today’s tragedies to see tomorrow’s survival.
One day, sometime in the distant future, Israelis and Palestinians, and even former followers of Hizbullah I might imagine, will be sitting together around a table at a coffee shop sharing a beer or tea. And they’ll be reminiscing about the “old days,” trading anecdotes and even a few jokes.
One day, they will all be laughing together.
It’s a nice thing to think about. I mean, making the haters and the fanatics and religio-facists even more insane than they already are. They are definitely insane, and that’s no joke. But it is fun to see if we can make them just a little bit nuttier than they already are.
Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer based in Chicago