Berkeley, CA – All weekend, as I attempted to submerge myself in the Network of Spiritual Progressives at Tikkun Magazine’s 25th Anniversary, the murder of the Fogel family was laying heavily on my mind. The shocking initial news reports, followed by the high turn out (20,000 people) to the Jerusalem funeral and then the incredibly disappointing “emergency” decision of the Israeli government to approve 500 more homes in settlements, all left me nauseous – to say the least.
But it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, when a facebook contact posted a Google Album of the murdered family on my wall that I started to write this entry. These images, while graphic and incredibly disturbing, will come to represent thousands of words people will write, say and think about this tragedy and the tragedies that are following.
That being said, it is the caption that my friend used when posting the link that inspired my response. He said:
X has hesitated, but decided to share the link exposing the corps of the Israeli family slaughtered by a terrorist this weekend. These are very disturbing images of what Israel’s enemies are capable of.
Firstly, these are the photographs of a family that was murdered this weekend. They are human beings, who were murdered by another human being — being a victim or murderer is a human experience that goes beyond national identity.
Calling this family an “Israeli family” and the person who murdered them a “terrorist” only furthers the type of violence that resulted in this murder. Arguing that these images are “of what Israel’s enemies are capable of” colludes an already dangerous, violent narrative of “us” vs. “them” with nationalism.
I understand, that in moments like these — where we are shocked into disgust and anger — that we feel the need to bunker up, to know who is “us” and who is “them”. In fact, I think that’s a part of human nature. But this part of our human nature does not serve our needs as human beings. Distinguishing between the “victim” and the “murderer” will not help us end the cycle of violence that inspired this act.
In the future, we will probably come to know the Fogel family more — we will see pictures and videos of their children and their family. We will hear from their neighbors, friends and maybe even their remaining children. Surely, official representatives of both the Israeli and Palestinian nations will use their names to make political statements and hopefully to try and call for an end to this violent cycle that we are trapped in.
But one voice that I think is most important for us to hear, a voice that will probably be silenced, is the voice of the murderer and his / her family. What led this person to commit such a terrible crime? What message were they trying to send to the majority of Palestinians and Israelis who are working to end this cycle of violence? And most importantly, but surely difficult to ask is how is this murderer a victim?
Both the Fogel family and the murderer were highly dedicated to their national causes. The Fogels felt so strongly about their either national or religious convictions that they became a part of the settler movement — a movement that’s central values deny others their basic human rights and are far from the values of most Israelis. The murderer felt so strongly that the situation in which he / she was living in was so unjust that he / she had to take justice into their own hands and break one of the most central commandments G-d gave to all people — something most Palestinians would never dream of doing.
So on this eve, of yet another tragedy in our Holyland, may we find the courage to move beyond “us” and “them,” may we come together now and in the future against murder — Israeli and Palestinian alike — and never forget, to look beyond the binary.
With The Palestine Papers on my mind, I start my journey “home” from “work” in al-Ram, on the other side of the separation wall. I climb on the Palestinian taxi and we drive along the road lined with grim realities on both side; to the left massive concrete blocks and agonizing graffiti block our view, on the right ghostly shops ravaged by the separation wall’s presence stand counting the days.
Qalandia checkpoint—I get off the bus, press past children selling black market goods for a quarter or two, squeeze between the metal human corrals and gates built by Jews, x-ray myself and my bags with Tel Aviv technology and prove that I’m a “legal” human being to teenagers with M16s.
Once validated, I escape to the safety of a Palestinian bus with Israeli license plates. I pay my ticket fare to the “Arab-Israeli” driver, slip on my headphones and try to disappear into Fairuz. We start making our way towards Jerusalem, past the same concrete blocks that cast shadows on the other side–on this side the wall is empty and silent. Passengers divert their gaze as we make our way past the Israeli checkpoint guarding the illegal Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, the new light rail cutting through occupied East Jerusalem, the demolished Shephard Hotel in Sheik Jarrah… until we reach Damascus gate.
Now at the junction, waiting for a green light at the cross walk where settlers and Palestinians freeze, up the hill across the former green line, huffing and puffing I make it to the Israeli Interrogation Center a block from my house. I pull out the keys to my tiny apartment on Yaffa Street kiss them unconsciously and drag them across the iron prison fence. Past the coffee shop packed with American-Jews drinking cocoa, into the alley lined with Jerusalem’s best bars and up the stairs to apartment 18.
Here, the road “home” is never easy.
Dozens of villagers and Israeli and international activists demonstrated in Nabi Saleh, many hiking through the mountains to join the villagers since the village and surrounding area was made into a ‘closed military zone’ by the Israeli military at 9 am and shut with the new gate (one of two) that was installed earlier this week.
This week the villagers decided to pray on the mountain facing the settlement (instead of in the village mosque) before the demonstration began. When they gathered to pray, the Israeli military descended and ordered them to go inside their houses arguing that it was illegal for them to be outside of their houses when the village was a closed military zone. The villagers refused and non-violently staged a sit-in on the mountain until clashes broke out in the center of the village between the Israeli military and the youth, who were throwing stones and the Israeli soldiers left the mountain top.
During the clashes, the Isreali military shot tear gas directly at the youth, who threw tear gas canisters the army dropped back at the soldiers and broke the window of one of Israeli military’s jeeps. Several non-violent demonstrators made attempts to speak to the Israeli military and were sprayed with pepper spray directly in their faces. Dozens suffered from tear gas inhalation and three people were taken to the hospital, including a pregnant woman who suffered from tear gas that was shot directly into her house.
The Israeli military also occupied several houses and the holy shrine of the Prophet Saleh during the course of the day, entering one house after a 17 year old boy who they said they saw throwing stones, beating him and terrorizing his family as they resisted their entrance. They also arrested a seventeen year old boy and tried to arrest a twelve year old boy, who they said they saw throwing stones, but villagers and solidarity activists resisted his arrested and the Israeli military let him go. The arrest and torture of youth has heightened in the past week, with three children under the age of thirteen being arrested and tortured in an attempt to make them into collaborators.
At the end of the day, the Israeli military beat Naji Tamimi, one of the leaders of the popular struggle in the village, punching him three times in the face as he tried to protect soldiers from entering his house. Before the Israeli army left the village, they surrounded it in a cloud of smoke shooting over 60 tear gas bombs on the village simultaniously.
There was no official press at the demonstration, making the situation incredibly dangerous for the demonstrators. The Israeli military repeatedly told activists and citizen journalists to not take pictures or video and threatened them with pepper spray for documenting their activities.
Its two days into the new year and my heart is aching–well perhaps screaming.
Saturday, after a demonstration of nearly a thousand people in Bi’lin, we lost Jawaher Abu Rahma, 36, who died from the inhalation of tear gas fired by IDF soldiers outside the Occupied Palestinian West Bank village of Bil’in. In response, hundreds of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv and a group of activists returned the American manufactured weapons used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the American embassador.
Then, this morning, Israel bombed Gaza and Israeli soldiers killed a 21 year old Palestinian in cold blood at a checkpoint outside of Nablus (no longer a story on the front page of Haaretz or Ynet). When I walked into work, this was the first thing my colleague mentioned–not happy new year. It didn’t leave my mind all day and now, in the evening, in Jerusalem, I’m distressed at how few Israelis are aware of this atrocity. I’m going to try to not take too much out on my neighbor, who last night told me that I shouldn’t be upset about the Gaza War because “Israel is the most moral army in the world.”
This is the post that I wrote about the Gaza War that I’m still waiting to be approved by Huffington Post and a call from Gaza Youth that I’m republishing in solidarity. If most of the human rights activists in Israel weren’t exahusted from the weekend or sitting in jail, I’d be looking for the nearest riot to attend.
A Former Supporter of the Gaza War Reflects, in Shame
It was two years ago, when Israel launched the Gaza War, or “Operation Cast Lead” as the Israeli military calls it, that I had an Israeli experience Birthright didn’t prepare me for–trauma. Even though I was a peace activist my whole life–organizing demonstrations against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at age sixteen–during the Gaza war, like many in the Israeli peace camp, I became pro-war.
Boxed up in my tiny Tel Aviv apartment, I struggled to understand how my life could go on as normal while blood was running through the streets of Gaza, just one hour away. For hours I glued myself to the news via television, radio and internet — looking for a way to touch the trauma, to become a victim of the war machine. The IDF warned, that for the first time ever, Hamas missiles could reach Tel Aviv — I cursed my south Tel Aviv apartment and wondered why I didn’t pay higher rent to live up north. At any moment, a missile could land on our house and we would be like the Israelis in Sderot, suffering from shock, shrapnel wounds and property loss — thank G-d I was renting.
A few days after the war started, I had to go out of the house. I had to go to this office and that office, pay this and that bill. I had to, as many of my Israeli friends said, “go on with my life.” But the war wouldn’t let me go — there was no normal life to be had. In every car and shop, the radio and television blared with images of army generals and angry journalists, who were locked out of Gaza and could only stand on hill tops overlooking plumbs of smoke. Every once in a while, we caught a glimpse of a mother lying over the body of her child. A father standing in front of his demolished house — the coffin of his family. In every office I visited, a distraught family member sat behind a desk on the telephone speaking to her or his loved one, who was putting on his uniform and heading to war. The city was suddenly filled with soldiers, carrying heavy bags on their backs and expressions on their faces. The Tel Aviv bubble had been penetrated.
Photo by Wassam Nassar
When I returned home, I closed the big medal door on my bedroom window, which doubled as a bomb shelter. I posted myself in front of the television, keyboard on my lap and started writing. Many of my posts (which I removed later) reached levels of deep distress and hysteria. A few of my Israeli and American friends tried to help me break through the fear and see how cruel and inhumane “Operation Cast Lead” was — I couldn’t hear a damn thing.
Months later, when I returned to the United States, I started to recognize how absurd my state of mind had become. When a military plane crossed over my college campus, I thought it was Iran. When students brought up the war, I accused them of being anti-Semitic. And most notably, at my graduation ceremony, in a crowded auditorium I heard someone speaking Arabic and I immediately thought I was going to be the next victim of a terrorist attack. I was traumatized.
Photo by Wassam Nassar
This mild experience of the war, for someone so new to Israel — at home, safe in Tel Aviv — just touches on how manipulative fear is. For Jews (Israeli and non-Israeli alike), whose identity is so deeply defined by fear of the “other” — from the stories of Purim and Chanukah warning against assimilation, to historical tragedies like the Spanish Inquisition, Pogroms and the Holocaust — our fear continues to serve as a justification for brutal retaliation. Rest assured, we were victims. But wake up, we aren’t any longer.
When I returned to Israel, I started looking for a way to keep my fear in check. I looked for a community that could weather the war storms and not let fear flood us with nationalistic tendencies where we forget what “nation” we’re really apart of, the human one. During the Gaza flotilla raid, an event which only posed danger to Israel’s reputation, I became critical of how quickly journalists picked provocative language and published round-ups and articles, like “‘Lynch,’ ‘Attack’ and ‘Massacre’ – Shooting Down Words in International Waters,” to try to de escalate the fear and nationalistic tendencies that were rising. These posts connected me to a group of thoughtful journalists, most notably two Israeli photojournalists and former soldiers, who travelled regularly to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). They invited me to join them in Nabi Saleh, and slowly I started a journey of recognizing and breaking down my fear of the “other.”
This journey included living in the OPT for six months. During this time, the people that I formerly only saw in the media as “terrorists” vanished. Not because Israel’s endless “security” measures have repressed them, because the security fence has stopped them or all terror cells have been cleaned out — but simply because today 99.9% of Palestinians do not believe that terrorism is the way to freedom.
Photo by Wassam Nassar
But what about that 0.01%? The dozens of families that I came to know from Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin all had one striking thing in common: at least one or more of their family members was killed or imprisoned by the IDF. There is strong evidence that most “terrorists” have a prior history of violent encounters with the IDF that resulted in an immediate family member being killed or in some cases the attacker her/himself being injured or arrested (see statistical analysis here). And yet, even though Israel continues to collectively punish the entire Palestinian population for the violence of a few, Palestinians recognize something the Israeli government and most American-Jews do not yet understand — violence breeds violence and war will never lead to peace and security.
Now, two years after I shamefully supported the War in Gaza, the murder of 1400 people who have every right to hate and desire revenge, I am sure that I know who the terrorists were and who supported them–it was my democratically elected government, it was my military and it was me. Gaza, I am so sorry. You should not forgive me, or us, but perhaps if I work for your freedom, one day we will be able to reconcile. Until then, all my love.
Gaza’s Youth Manifesto for Change
I was inspired by this post that I found on facebook today. Its inspiring, especially considering that Israel bombed Gaza again today, during the two year anniversary of the Gaza War.
Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community! We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16’s breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in; we are like lice between two nails living a nightmare inside a nightmare, no room for hope, no space for freedom. We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world.
There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope. The final drop that made our hearts tremble with frustration and hopelessness happened 30th November, when Hamas’ officers came to Sharek Youth Forum, a leading youth organization (www.sharek.ps) with their guns, lies and aggressiveness, throwing everybody outside, incarcerating some and prohibiting Sharek from working. A few days later, demonstrators in front of Sharek were beaten and some incarcerated. We are really living a nightmare inside a nightmare. It is difficult to find words for the pressure we are under. We barely survived the Operation Cast Lead, where Israel very effectively bombed the shit out of us, destroying thousands of homes and even more lives and dreams. They did not get rid of Hamas, as they intended, but they sure scared us forever and distributed post traumatic stress syndrome to everybody, as there was nowhere to run.
We are youth with heavy hearts. We carry in ourselves a heaviness so immense that it makes it difficult to us to enjoy the sunset. How to enjoy it when dark clouds paint the horizon and bleak memories run past our eyes every time we close them? We smile in order to hide the pain. We laugh in order to forget the war. We hope in order not to commit suicide here and now. During the war we got the unmistakable feeling that Israel wanted to erase us from the face of the earth. During the last years Hamas has been doing all they can to control our thoughts, behaviour and aspirations. We are a generation of young people used to face missiles, carrying what seems to be a impossible mission of living a normal and healthy life, and only barely tolerated by a massive organization that has spread in our society as a malicious cancer disease, causing mayhem and effectively killing all living cells, thoughts and dreams on its way as well as paralyzing people with its terror regime. Not to mention the prison we live in, a prison sustained by a so-called democratic country.
History is repeating itself in its most cruel way and nobody seems to care. We are scared. Here in Gaza we are scared of being incarcerated, interrogated, hit, tortured, bombed, killed. We are afraid of living, because every single step we take has to be considered and well-thought, there are limitations everywhere, we cannot move as we want, say what we want, do what we want, sometimes we even cant think what we want because the occupation has occupied our brains and hearts so terrible that it hurts and it makes us want to shed endless tears of frustration and rage!
We do not want to hate, we do not want to feel all of this feelings, we do not want to be victims anymore. ENOUGH! Enough pain, enough tears, enough suffering, enough control, limitations, unjust justifications, terror, torture, excuses, bombings, sleepless nights, dead civilians, black memories, bleak future, heart aching present, disturbed politics, fanatic politicians, religious bullshit, enough incarceration! WE SAY STOP! This is not the future we want!
We want three things. We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask? We are a peace movement consistent of young people in Gaza and supporters elsewhere that will not rest until the truth about Gaza is known by everybody in this whole world and in such a degree that no more silent consent or loud indifference will be accepted.
This is the Gazan youth’s manifesto for change!
We will start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves, we will break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect. We will carry our heads high even though we will face resistance. We will work day and night in order to change these miserable conditions we are living under. We will build dreams where we meet walls.
We only hope that you – yes, you reading this statement right now! – can support us. In order to find out how, please write on our wall or contact us directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
We want to be free, we want to live, we want peace.
FREE GAZA YOUTH!
Last weekend I attended the one year celebration of the Popular Struggle in Nabi Saleh. Palestinians, Israelis and internationals joined together to celebrate one year of unarmed resistance by planting over 500 olive trees in the valley between the village and the settlement.
One year ago, the settlers, who already have built their homes on the villagers’ land, went outside of their settlement and stole one of two fresh water springs in the area by building around the spring and posting a sign dedicating it to a member of the settlement. In response, the villagers marched to the spring to reclaim it when a clash erupted between the villagers and the settlers. The settlers throwing stones at the Palestinians, and the Palestinians responding by burning part of the structure the settlers built around the spring (video here).
Since this initial incident, the villagers of Nabi Saleh, a tiny village outside of Ramallah, joined the Popular Struggle and started demonstrating weekly to try and reach the spring and reclaim their land. These weekly unarmed demonstrations have resulted in violent repression by the Israeli Army, dozens of people injured and imprisoned. There are weekly night raids by the Israeli Army in the village and several housing demolition orders have been issued over the course of the past year.
During the week, when the Palestinians can reach the spring by car, after five minutes of being at the spring, the Israeli Army comes from the base inside the Israeli settlement and forces them off the land. On the other hand, the Israeli Army consistently protects the settlers while they picnic and swim in the spring and has protected them as they expanded the settlement by planting trees on stolen land.
This week during the demonstration against the occupation in Nabi Saleh, six civilians were wounded and dozens of men, women and children suffered from the high quantities of tear gas, rubber and plastic coated steel bullets and large quantities of skunk water that the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) used against civilians.
Starting at 9:00 am IOF made Nabi Saleh into a closed military zone and denied Palestinians, internationals and journalists with government issued ID cards to enter the village.
During the demonstration, the IOF expelled the residents of a house and occupied it for the afternoon, using it as a barrack and point for shooting further tear gas (including long-range tear gas missiles) and bullets at unarmed civilians. More than half a dozen homes were damaged when skunk water and tear gas shot directly into the homes forcing women and children out onto the street. After the demonstration, several residents found that the windows of their cars had also been broken by steel bullets.
Young people in the village responded by throwing stones at the IOC and their bomb proof jeeps. No members of the IOC were injured.
Nabi Saleh, Occupied Palestinian Territories — This week the Israeli Army and the Border Police invaded Nabi Saleh and violently tried to repress Palestinian and international civilians who demonstrate weekly against the confiscation of their land by the nearby settlement, Halamish. According to Palestinian sources from the village, twenty-three people were injured, five members of the village taken to the hospital and three of them stayed in the hospital over night. Two soldiers were also injured when they were hit by stones (4:28).
The Israeli Army invaded the village before the afternoon prayer and demonstration began. While international supporters were gathering in Bassam Tamimi’s house, one of the leader’s of the Popular Struggle, the Israeli Army started to surround the house. ”I was outside hanging laundrey when the soldiers started surrounding my house. I started shouting at them to go away when one of them came up to me and sprayed pepper spray right in my face,” said Nariman Tamimi.
Since the Israeli Army was surrounding the house and had occupied the main intersection, the international supporters and several leaders of the Popular Struggle could not reach the tree at the top of the village where the rest of the demonstrators were gathering. As they left the house, the Israeli Army — joined by the Border Police — started firing tear gas, rubber coated steel bullets and plastic covered steel bullets directly at demontrators.
Once some of the demonstrators reached the road to the spring, Naji Tamimi sat down in the road to non-violently object to the Isreali Army. As you can see in this video, one of the soldiers thew tear gas directly at Naji (00:48). A few minutes later, after he attempts to speak with the soldiers and returns with a few supporters to sit peacefully in the road, a Border Police officer comes up and sprays him directly in the face with pepper spray (3:00).
Later in the demonstration, after demonstrators started throwing stones, a soldier was injured by a stone that hit his face (4:28). Like demonstrators, soldiers also were injured by tear gas inhilation (5:30) before they occupied a house (the same house that the occupied the week before) in order to shoot tear gas and bullets from a high point in the village (6:07).
This week the Tamimi Press continued to send out press releases and photographs from the demonstration. You can view the album that they published on facebook here.
On Saturday, we took our dream of a World Peace Day in Palestine from the sky to the ground and saw months of our hard work come to life in the Palestinian village, Nabi Saleh. It wasn’t easy, but in the end – we made it.
Even though the Israeli army attempted to break down the event by putting dozens of checkpoints on the roads to Nabi Saleh, closing all of Ramallah, every entry into the village, several Palestinian, Israeli and international supporters (who were told by Israeli soldiers that they were not allowed to enter the village) trekked through the mountains on foot to get to the Peace Day. One group, students from Birzeit University, were met by Israeli soldiers as they neared the village and detained in the school for most of the day (see photos here).
However, the villagers and Israeli and international activists didn’t let the army’s presence distract them from the Peace Day events and continued as planned to clean the streets of trash, gather under the Peace Tent we erected and demonstrate non-violently against the occupation and for their freedom.
In the opening ceremony, Bassam Tamimi, one of the local leaders from Nabi Saleh, read a call from a woman in the village who has lost half of her family to the Israeli occupation and whose son has been in prison for the past seventeen years. She called for the Palestinian prisoners and Gilad Shalit to be released. Several other leaders, including Ali Abu Awwad, a leader of the Palestinian Non-Violent Movement, gave speeches in the Peace Tent.
After the opening ceremony in the Peace Tent, we went to Nabi Saleh’s cultural center to view the exhibition of photographs from the past ten months of demonstrations in the village. Then we marched to the school where the students were being held and non-violently broke the army blockade by linking arms and slowly but surely marching forward. In response, the army released the students and started arresting Israeli activists. In solidarity several internationals and Palestinians piled on top of the Israeli activists protecting them from the army, even though the army threatened to arrest everyone present. In the end, five people were arrested and taken to the army’s base in Halamish, the nearby settlement, and held until ten o’clock at night.
Continuing on, we marched through the village to the junction where every Friday demonstrators are confronted with the Israeli army as they try to reach the spring. We faced several jeeps and armed soldiers, and holding the sign which we planned to erect at the spring, staged a sit-in and song songs of peace and freedom. After thirty minutes, we turned our backs on the army and returned to the Peace Tent where we resisted with pleasure and enjoyed an evening of inspirational music and Debka, traditional Palestinian dance, together.
Even though we attempted to get financial support prior to the event, we only received a small amount of money from a Palestinian organization and Israeli activists, who paid for their own transportation. However, this event cost much more and in order to make it happen, we took out a loan – “I have become a slave for my own dream,” Ali Abu Awwad said. If you are willing to support this day and make a donation, please contact us.
Currently, we are busy preparing for a trip to the United States and the UK in order to gain international support for the Palestinian Non-Violent Movement (October – November). If you are willing to organize an event in the United States or the UK, please contact us. We would be happy to come share our stories, strategy and vision for the future of Palestine and invite you to become part of our movement.
Lastly, at the bottom of this post is an incredibly sensitive and inspirational account from one of the Israeli activists who came to support us. We truly are so honored to have Israeli and international support in this struggle and know that we need your support to end the occupation and make our way to freedom.
Personal Account of World Peace Day in An-Nabi Salih
by David Shulman
Something new is happening in Palestine. I saw and heard things today that are relatively rare in my experience. I saw conflict erupt in the village between those who wanted to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers and generate more violence, as in the past, and the no less passionate people who intervened fiercely to prevent this from happening. I heard tough words of peace and hope. I saw the most dignified and brave demonstration I’ve ever seen. I also saw the army react with its usual foolishness,
which I’ll describe, and I saw the soldiers hold back when they could easily have started shooting. It wasn’t an easy day by any means, but it was good.
An-Nabi Salih is a hard place. When Ezra heard me say yesterday, in Sheikh Jarrah, that I was going to the village, he said, “Take a helmet. They’re violent there–all of them” (he meant: settlers, soldiers, and villagers). Yesterday, at the usual Friday demonstration in the village, the soldiers fired rounds of live ammunition along with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas and stun grenades. I was expecting more of the same today.
The village, north and west of Ramallah, has the great misfortune of having the hard-core settlement of Halamish as its unwanted neighbor. An-Nabi Salih lost its lands to the settlement along with access to a fresh-water spring, a precious thing in this arid, sun-scorched landscape; the settlers stole the spring, but the villagers were not prepared to surrender it, so there have been many violent clashes, spread over years. The settlers do whatever they can to make the villagers’ life miserable, with much success, and the soldiers, as always, back them up. All this is standard practice.
Today in honor of World Peace Day, Ali Abu Awwad one of the leaders of the Palestinian Movement of Non-Violent Resistance, and local leaders from Nabi Saleh planned a “Day of Social Action and Resistance to the Occupation” in Nabi Saleh. Hundreds of Palestinian activists were supposed to arrive from all over the West Bank—but the army turned all the buses away and closed all the roads connecting the village to the rest of the West Bank. We run into the same roadblocks at the main turn-off from Highway 60. The soldiers laugh at us when we tell them we’re going to Nabi Salih. No chance, they say, of getting through. But this is the West Bank, and there is always a way, maybe not an easy way, but some back road or goat track or dirt path that will get you where you’re going; so we wind our way for close to two hours, through Jiljiliya and other quite lovely villages close to Ramallah until we fetch up at Qarawat Bani Zeid, close to our goal. But there is, we know from Ali and Alison, an American-Israeli writer, another army roadblock at the entrance to the village. The Tel Aviv contingent tried to get past them by running a few hundred yards over the hills, and several of the activists were caught and arrested. Do we want to attempt the same tactic?
At least some of us may get through, but we hesitate: is it worth the hassle of the arrests and the violence? On the other hand, having come so far, how can we simply turn back? Seven of us are prepared to run the gauntlet. Finally, at high noon, Ali leads us down into the rocky terraces and olive groves underneath An-Nabi Salih. Leaping over the rocky ledges, we descend to a level that is hopefully beyond the soldiers’ range of vision, and for twenty minutes or so we creep stealthily from tree to tree and rock to rock, in near-total silence, playing hide-and-seek, outflanking them, crouching, holding our breath, hoping to emerge far enough past the roadblock to elude capture. It’s very hot, and I’m thirsty and, by the end, physically depleted; it’s been 33 years, I calculate, since I last engaged in such games, in my Basic Training in the army. So absorbed am I in the trek that I hardly take in the splendor of the hills rolling dizzily toward the horizon, but at one point I do see, just above my head, an olive branch laden with green fruit almost exploding with ripeness. Soon autumn will come, and the olive harvest; on the way in the minibus, bouncing over the back roads, there was even a sweet moment of rain, with the sharp smell, unlike all others, of wet dust settling to the ground.
There are eleven of us: seven Ta’ayush volunteers, two Palestinian women in modern dress, heads covered, from Beit Ummar, Alison and Ali himself, tall, graceful, careful, prescient. At one point we almost make a bad mistake, start climbing up too soon, too close to the soldiers; but Ali catches this in time and leads us back down through the trees and brambles. When we do move up to the road, we find ourselves very much inside the village, welcomed warmly by two elderly gentlemen, who come to shake my hand, and then by a contingent of teenagers. The first thing I see is a huge sign, in Arabic and English: “The children of this land deserve our struggle and sacrifices for peace.” Fifteen yards down the main street, another one: “We believe in non-violence, do you? We are making social change, are you?” A few yards further along: “La salam ma’a wujud al-ihtilal, Making peace means ending the occupation.” Biggest of all, draped over the entrance to the town meeting place: “Keeping our political prisoners behind the bars of tyranny and injustice is inexcusable on International Peace Day.”
Do I believe in non-violent struggle? Yes, with all my heart. And I see that I’m not alone—indeed, far from it. We sit at first, re-hydrating, under the enormous tree in the village square, just like in India. Our hosts serve us Turkish coffee and mineral water. We make some friends. One of the village elders says to me with irony (remember yesterday’s live ammunition): “Welcome to Eden.” Actually, though, he
just might be right. The heat intensifies. Eventually, inevitably, it is time for the speeches. Popular Arabic music is blaring at deafening volume from the loudspeakers as we take our seats under a wide canvas. It goes on and on, until, mercifully, a young poet takes the microphone and recites a poem. A passage from the Qur’an is sung. The poet introduces the speakers one by one. I’m weary and, at first, a bit bored.
Normally, I have no patience with political speeches in the villages (how many hours of rhetorical Arabic have I sat through?), but today’s surprise me, shake me awake: “We are against violence, we condemn it, we want to be free, the occupation with its hatred is destroying hope but we persevere for the sake of our children, we will win.” More poems, dramatically sung or recited, punctuate these orations. Now Ali rises to speak—in English, so that all the Israelis and the foreign volunteers can understand: “I bow my head to all the volunteers who came to An-Nabi Salih today, who struggled past the soldiers and the roadblocks and didn’t turn back. Our struggle is complicated and hard, a struggle that we all share—local leaders of the villages, women, children, families—the first large-scale Palestinian non-violent movement on the ground, aimed at building a just peace with Israel. When I see Israeli activists coming here to the village, my heart cries with happiness; I am honored to have these people with us. To all the Jews I say: you are not my enemy.
The occupation is your enemy, as it is ours. The Israeli state is a state that eats its children by sending them with weapons to kill and be killed. When you hurt us to the point where we lose our fear of dying, all of us together lose our love of living. They closed off An-Nabi Salih today to keep us out; they know how to put up checkpoints, but they do not know how to fight the feeling of freedom we hold in our hearts. We say to you today, on the Day of Peace: Peace itself is the way to peace, and there is no peace without freedom. I am proud to be in An-Nabi Salih, and I promise you: we’re gonna make it.”
As if on cue, soldiers roll into the village in their jeeps; they do what soldiers do, that is, they threaten, they bully, they make arrests, they take their hostages to an olive grove on the other side of the houses, facing Halamish. Our hosts ask us if we would be prepared to take water to the new arrestees (they don’t want to approach the soldiers themselves), so of course we set off through the village streets and down the hill until we find them. Some ten to fifteen soldiers, weighed down by what looks like tons of equipment, green camouflage netting on their helmets and rifles in their arms, are guarding a group of twenty-some students from Bireit university who came to join today’s festivities. We bring water, we chat with the captives, and suddenly it transpires that we’ve been added to their number; the soldiers won’t allow us back into the village. They don’t want outsiders in there, they’re glad they’ve thinned the ranks. (The presence of foreigners, especially Israelis, makes it harder for them to shoot.) After a few minutes we tire of this and strike out uphill, dodging the soldiers, who are clumsy, weighed down by their guns and all the rest, as they join hands to create a wall and hold us back, and skirmishes develop, and then the first stun grenade, and it ends with four activists, including Sahar and Lihi, caught, handcuffed and forced to the ground. I am too quick for them, as often, and escape their clutches by following Jonathan farther into the trees.
By the time I regain the village, the main procession—the ritual dénouement of the day– is already forming. Originally the idea was to reach the stolen spring, but the soldiers, waiting for us in force at the turn in the road, put an end to this dream. Tear-gas canisters and cartridges of rubber-coated bullets are loaded on to the rifles pointed at the crowd of women, children, men, young and old, many carrying in their arms green olive tree saplings to plant around the spring. We apply non-violent resistance by sitting on the pavement with the soldiers almost close enough to touch, they’re aiming at us, and I’m a little afraid they might open fire like yesterday, and even more afraid that one of the kids will throw a rock and all hell will break loose, but not one person throws a stone and there’s suddenly no end to the happiness that is washing over me in this crazy late-afternoon moment that I am lucky enough to witness as the light softens to a golden glow and a blessed wind gusts through the trees. People are singing: freedom songs. They swell to a sweet and strident chorus. Thirty minutes later, we turn our back on the army and go back to the Peace Tent to listen to music and see a performance of Debka, traditional Palestinian dance.
If the Israeli army had a brain, which it apparently doesn’t; if the government of Israel had even an iota of generosity of spirit, which it doesn’t; if the people of Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world could open their ears and hear the voices I heard today, in Arabic and English, but they can’t; if the world weren’t all upside down and crooked and cruel, but it is—if all these ifs could only stop being ifs, then they, whoever gave the orders, wouldn’t have tried to stop us from coming to An-Nabi Salih today, in fact they would have welcomed the arrival of this new generation
of proud peace activists from Hebron and Ramallah and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Movement of Non-Violent Resistance wouldn’t be pushing the heavy rock uphill, day after day. I guess it’s in the nature of such movements to struggle with the rock. Human hearts are heavy as stone.
Something new is happening in Palestine.
It’s a new year, and in preparation I’ve made many changes in my life in order to further witness how we (Israelis) treat our Palestinian neighbors — a population that we have occupied for the past 43 years. One of these changes included giving up my apartment and moving to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
In the beginning, over two months ago, I lived somewhat like a refugee — as my Palestinian friends joked — going from house to house, village to village accepting endless invitations to witness Palestinians’ daily lives and enjoy the warmth and hospitality of many homes and families. Most of my time was spent in Nabi Saleh, with the Tamimi family, and in Beit Ummar, a village outside of Hebron, with the Abu Awwad family, a refugee family from a village that no longer exists in Israel.
While bearing witness is certainly one of my main objectives, I also have become a participant in Palestinian society and taken a position as grantwriter and organizer for the growing non-violent movement to end the Occupation. While the Popular Struggle has been gaining momentum for some time (see the most recent film “Budrus“), my Palestinian partners and I are seeking to expand the definition of non-violent resistance beyond direct action at Friday demonstrations (like the one’s in Bilin, Ni’lin and Nabi Saleh amongst others) to include social action and community development that Palestinians and Israelis can engage in daily.
Since there are thousands of peace organizations, our role is to act as the connectors between local leaders and existing organizations with resources that can be used for non-violent resistance. Using these resources, our goal is to build a Palestinian village free of occupation in Nabi Saleh.
An impossible goal? We think not. We know that the occupation is much more than walls and checkpoints, soldiers and settlements — the occupation seeks to breed hatred and violence into Palestinian society by making daily life so unbearable that it is impossible to build a vision for the future. But by strengthening Palestinian communities and lives we can struggle against the occupation in the best way possible, and with humanity and dignity bring an end the occupation.
In honor of World Peace Day (September 21st) we will be holding a ”Day of Social Action & Non-Violent Resistance” in Nabi Saleh that both Palestinians and their Israeli and international supporters will join in together. Together we will clean the streets of litter, paint walls in preparation for a mural project, plant trees and erect a sign after the checkpoint at the entrance to the village which reads “Welcome to Nabi Saleh — All Human Beings Are Welcome” in Arabic, Hebrew and English among other activities.
Over the next two years, we will be working to connect the village to the international community in order raise the funds and obtain the resources we need to take several of the sustainable, community development projects that the villagers have dreamt of taking from the sky to the ground. In light of this, in October, one of my Palestinian partners, Ali Abu Awwad (see video below), and I will be coming to the United States to do a speaking tour to raise funds for the non-violent movement and Nabi Saleh. If you are willing to organize an event in Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles please contact us. We would be happy to come and share our peacebuilding work and the growing strength of the non-violent movement.
I am continuing to write, but with the intention of compiling a book about the struggle for non-violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. For the past two months, I have been carefully documenting my experience as I transition from being submerged in the culture of the occupiers to the culture of the occupied by writing down my experiences and conversations nightly.
As I have made this transition, I have received tremendous support from my new Palestinian partners, Israeli friends and international supporters. I can’t tell you how many messages I get offering connections well wishes–it truly makes all the difference and I sincerely thank everyone. And always, there is more that you can do — we need funds for the World Peace Day event and for building the movement. If you are willing to donate, please contact us. For every hundred dollars that you donate, we will be planting a tree in your name at the event. If someone is willing to donate $500 we can turn the street lights back on in the village — this is how big of an impact a small amount of money can make in Palestine.
It may not be this year, or next year that we see the end of the Occupation, but we know that there is no other way for the Jewish or Palestinian people to continue living. In the end, “we’re going to make it — yes we can!” as we say daily. Thank you for your support until now and I hope that this year, we can work together to make a greater change.
I’m excited to announce that in addition to blogging here, at my home base, I’m now going to be blogging for The Huffington Post. Early this morning (Israel time) my first article for Huff Post was published, “Do International Activists Help or Hinder The Palestinian Struggle?“.
I’ve been working on the article for several weeks and really, it took a village. In addition to my interviewees, I specifically wanted to thank the following people Michael Gould-Wartofsky, Sara Sorcher, Mati Milstein and Ronnie Gross for their expertise, input and encouragement.
While the subject matter of this article won’t surprise most of my readers (at least that’s what I think), my next article might. It was a challenging article for me to write, requiring me to dig back into Jewish Studies knowledge and to learn more about orthodox Judaism in Israel. I won’t spoil the surprise, but I’m excited to write about a new subject and will be making some big moves in the coming weeks that will give me the ability to further grapple with and engage this religion and Judaism (hint, hint).
To my surprise, it has been difficult to find a home for the article outside of my blog. Even though I pitched the article to several traditional news organizations that I thought would be receptive to the piece, the subject matter was deemed “too religious” by more than one editor. All frustrations that journalists are wrought with due to change in media aside, luckily in today’s Web 2.0 world every article can find a home.
Alison Avigayil Ramer is a writer, independent journalist and new media consultant who specializes in using the internet to engage people in peaceful political dialogue. If you would like to hire Alison for consulting or donate to her efforts you can send a donation to her through paypal.