Monday, October 22, 2012

What is autism among boys?

We are in Nabih Saleh on Friday, sitting in a little plaza, waiting for the demonstration at noon. Some boys are playing together, joking, touching each other. As James Turner, my friend from Cornell, points out to me, one of the boys is autistic.

It has to be pointed out. He is just one of the boys.


I had an older brother Peter who was called autistic (I am not sure what they knew of autism in the 1940s but he had little ability to move or respond). My mother tried very hard to raise him, but could not. He died shortly after I was born. She lived with this. She did not tell me about him. I found out about Peter only after many years.


Sometimes I have heard, for example, in large farm families, little boys and girls who are autistic live long and happy lives. Sometimes they can communicate strongly emotionally and intellectually. Sometimes, as my student Michael Neil has written, their contribution is mainly emotional, one of bringing out empathy, compassion, social connectedness or solidarity, and playfulness.

It is not a given for us to be or to become fully human. Different societies tend to bring out or place in shadow different aspects.

The qualities of compassion and playfulness are often undervalued in an empire, in a society which committed genocide against indigenous people, which practiced slavery and whose founders were mostly slave-owners, which has been repaired, to an extent, by movements from below over time.


The indigenous people of Palestine are hopeful. One American reporter asked one of these villagers how long they had been here. “See that valley. I saw Adam and Eve down there,” he joked (h/t Amira Hass).

In the villages, they are connected to the land, people of the land.


There is a hospitality here, a welcoming of visitors, an exchange of friendship. Many are embittered by Israel’s two transfers. But just as many, particularly in the villages if the Occupation is stopped, are open to friendship and living together.

Some of the villagers had been proud of violent struggle, of how one of the first woman in Fatah was from the village. But violent resistance also gives tools to the oppressor. They can use the threat of violence to suppress you with far more violence.

In contrast, mass nonviolent resistance surprises the opponent, throws him off his game. The world witnessed that in Arab Spring, in Occupy, in the indignados in Spain and the fighters in Athens. Some of this was stirred, too, by Palestinian intifadas.

These villagers spoke about how they are committed to nonviolence as a better way. They hate the Occupation but not jews.


5 boys in one family welcomed us into their homes for the night. They made sure we had blankets, tea, asked us about food, stayed up with some of us till midnight in their exuberance.

The sense of hospitality and kindness runs deep in Palestinian families,

Their parents welcomed us further in the morning.


The call to prayer sounds through the village.


At the plaza, here are boys, laughing, touching. There is no unwelcoming of one who is a little unlike the others. He is family.

It is a sign of a comfort in a society, of kindness.

I look at them. Tears roll down my cheeks.

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