At the demonstration today in Azzun Atma today one of the Palestinian organizers gave an impassioned speech that was translated into English by another Palestinian as he was speaking. He asked the soldiers why were they here? Why do they kill Palestinians? Why were they on his land? Preventing him from living a normal life? After all, they are both humans. They both want peace. He promised that they would continue their nonviolent and peaceful protests until there was peace.
The speech was very powerful and I can't help but think the soldier was moved. I know that I was. When he finished, before I even knew what I was doing, I found myself giving a spontaneous and I hope coherent speech. I asked the soldiers to answer the man's questions. He deserved answers. I told that I was a Jewish American and that I was ashamed of Israel. And that I needed the answers to the man’s questions. I told them that if they couldn't answer them now, while they were on duty, because they are under orders not to, that they should answer them at least to themselves, in front of a mirror, before they go to bed tonight.
At 1:30 am last Sunday morning the village of Azzun was invaded by 120 soldiers, looking for a “wanted” Palestinian. After entering and searching 3 homes (terrorizing the families inside) they entered a 4th where they found whom they were looking for. A 16 year old boy. He was taken in his underwear with no shoes. The parents pleaded that he be allowed to get dressed. The soldiers assured the parents that there was no need as they would only take him for a minute or two and then return him. His parents have not seen him since. Nor do they expect to for awhile.
The family expects that the boy will be taken to a jail near Nablus and interrogated. During this phase he will not be allowed to see anyone: no family, no lawyer, not even the Red Cross. They expect him to be frightened, intimidated, threatened, psychologically tortured and probably also physically beaten. He will be asked to sign confessions in Hebrew that he can’t read. The interrogators will attempt to coerce him into becoming a collaborator. After 12 days the Red Cross will be allowed to visit.
We asked the family if they knew why he was arrested. They shrugged and said they didn’t. Maybe for throwing stones, maybe for being involved in political parties. I had to wonder why being involved in a political party is a crime in the “only democracy in the Middle East?”
The family has been through this before. When their oldest son was 12, he was also taken by soldiers. At that time, the soldiers also promised that they would only take him for a minute or two. He was released 3 years later. Now he is 27 with a family. Upon meeting him one would never guess that his adolescent years were formed in an Israeli jail. Despite Israel being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the conditions in which Palestinian minors are incarcerated are far below these standards. Plus a 16 year old Palestinian is considered to be an adult by Israeli law and a 14 year old can be tried as an adult before a military court. (An Israeli is not considered an adult until the age of 18.)
Of course, one would never have guessed that all eight of the men in the room where my IWPS teammate and I were taking the report had been incarcerated. They are just ordinary men with families and if they are lucky, jobs. Palestinian boys and men are very family oriented in a manner far unlike Westerners. It is not uncommon to see boys and men joyfully playing with and caring for their younger siblings and children. Often men will bring their children to the various meetings I attend here. During the meetings the children will alternate between playing and sitting on their father’s laps, cuddling and resting contentedly. The father will absentmindedly kiss the child, stroke their arms, hug them. They obviously enjoy the physical contact as much as the children do.
Both parents of the arrested boy were playing and cuddling with their grandchildren during the meeting. They have six children, four of which are boys. The oldest boy is the one who spent his adolescent years in an Israeli prison. The third oldest boy was killed by soldiers six years ago when he was a senior in high school. The youngest boy was the one taken on Sunday morning. Despite this tragic circumstance, they were the typical gracious and generous hosts, offering endless rounds of tea, coffee and juice and then even serving us a scrumptious meal when the meeting was over.
We went to the meeting with a friend of IWPS, Abdullah. Before we left his house for the meeting we met his family and had tea in his living room. During this time his 8 year old daughter was playing with him and cuddling. She was obviously handicapped although I don’t think it shows in the pictures here. She can’t talk except to make low growling sounds. She didn’t walk until she was 4 years old. Her muscles are very weak. I’m not sure if she is mentally handicapped too. Abdullah explained to us why his daughter is handicapped. During his wife’s pregnancy in 2001, she had been exposed to tear gas twice. Once in the 4th month and again in the 7th. In the incident of the 7th month, she was running away from soldiers and fell on her stomach.
Did I ever mention that one of the major reasons the village of Jayous decided to stop their regular demonstrations was the health concerns regarding the amount of tear gas exposure to the entire village?
OK. I don't normally name drop but here you'll see a picture of me with bestselling author and activist Naomi Klein. On Saturday Beth and I traveled to Ramallah for an unconventional book tour event and lecture sponsored by The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC). Naomi was promoting her book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism", which had just been translated into Hebrew and Arabic. More importantly, she was endorsing the call issued on July 9, 2005 by a broad spectrum of Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.
(Naomi will not receive any royalties from sales of the Hebrew version of her book. The proceeds will instead go to an activist group.) The event was beautiful and inspiring and packed!
The evening began with a quintet from the Edward Said Conservatory of Music providing the requisite cultural infusion for any Palestinian event. Then, Mustafa Barghouti made some introductory comments. Mustafa is a physician and activist. He founded the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees and helped establish the Palestinian National Initiative which is an attempt to build a reformist, inclusive alternative to both the PLO and Hamas. He supports nonviolent resistance as the most effective means of overcoming Israeli occupation. I almost cheered out loud when he brought up the point that the most egregious and unique aspects of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is the demand that the occupied provide security for the occupier. This was also brought up by one of the professors I met at An Najah University in Nablus who spoke angrily about the obscenity of "security cooperation". The example he gave was Israel forcing the Palestinian Authority to arrest the best students just before their final exams. They were arrested on trumped up charges of being affiliated with Hamas.
But I digress. Mustafa finished his comments with a quote from Nelson Mandela that went something like this: "The cause of Palestine today is the number one cause of humanity."
Then Omar Barghouti introduced Naomi. She began her lecture with an analysis of the Durbin Conference on Racism in 2001 and the boycott and smear campaign of the follow up conference in Geneva this year. Naomi thinks that what actually happened at the original Durbin Conference might have come out more fully and accurately if it had not ended two days before 9/11. Instead, a successful propaganda campaign ensued that cast the results as hate-filled and anti-semitic. But Naomi claims that what actually happened was to take a broader look the essence of racism. It is not just a mindset that values the white race as superior to others. It is an institutionalized system that allows for land and resource theft and access to free or cheap labor. This was very threatening to all states that had brutal colonial beginnings (U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand) and certainly a threat to Israel in its current colonial enterprise. In fact, it was at this Durbin conference that the parallels between Israel and South Africa were first articulated. Of course, the specifics of Israel and South Africa are very different, however, despite the differences, Israel fits the definition of Apartheid according to international standards.
Naomi went on to give two reasons why Israel has so little interest in pursuing peace. The first is that it is relatively easy to live a fun and fulfilling life in Israel. So pressure it not going to bubble up from its citizens.
The second reason Israel has so little interest in pursuing peace is that unlike most war-time economies, the Israeli economy actually benefits from being in a state of continual conflict. In fact, peace would be a threat to the Israeli economy. In the first week in the war on Gaza, the Israeli stock exchange went up 10 points, opposite to what usually happens when a country becomes embroiled in war. This paradox is due to the Israeli economy being heavily based on businesses that profit from the need for "homeland security". Israeli companies produce high-tech surveillance and communication equipment, as well as provide the knowledge and infrastructure for building walls. An Israeli company is even providing services for the wall being build on the U.S.-Mexican border. The Occupied Palestinian Territories provide a live test laboratory and the Palestinians are the guinea pigs for these various technologies. (They have long provided this for the military contractors in Israel. Israel is the 4th largest exporter of military equipment in the world.)
Naomi ended with an extremely moving apology to her Palestinian hosts. They had thanked her for her courage in supporting the call for BDS. She said that her courage paled in comparison to theirs and apologized that it took her three years to finally endorse their call.
P.S. About the photo shown here, I have to admit that I shamelessly ran up to the stage after the event was over and had my IWPS teammate Beth quickly snap it.