Martin Luther King, Jr. at home
Art “Eclipse” by Huichol artist Jose Benitez Sanchez
Below is a recently published article by Richard Friedman of the Federation of Jews in Birmingham, Alabama that brings to mind Martin Luther King, Jr. whom he mentions. King wrote his famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail when he was imprisoned in Birmingham for political activities against American apartheid, known as racial segregation.
I am thoughtful, reading Friedman’s article, as I imagine how much hope, some sixty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. (and probably Bayard Rustin too) held for Israel, and contemplate their utter dismay, disappointment and disbelief today, were they alive, at the way things have turned out there. Many of us in the Sixties, during the movement to end the exploitation and humiliation that oppressed us, had high hopes for Israel. (Not members of SNCC, interestingly, (Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee), who seemed to grasp that nothing good could ultimately come from the way Zionist settlers and terrorists took by brutal force in 1947- 1948 (massacring people, demolishing homes, destroying crops, making hundreds of thousands of people refugees, among other atrocities) the Palestinian homeland.
And yes, the United States’ own “settlers” and U.S. Calvary terrorists inflicted almost identical “ethnic cleansing” on the Indigenous peoples of this continent, but this does not make it right.
The world is in an uproar, as the great Ray Charles sang, and the danger zone is everywhere. In such a world, created no doubt by the deeply “hinged” it is an honor to be seen as unhinged. But more to the point, it is an honor to have had the opportunity to travel to Gaza, shortly after the 22 days of Operation Cast Lead when bombs were dropped indiscriminately on a virtually defenseless population and in which 1400 humans, 300 of them children, were killed. And to visit the West Bank, where I witnessed the horrendous wall the Israelis have built that destroys Palestinian neighborhoods and farms, while stealing more and more of their land. An honor to have witnessed first hand the humiliating treatment meted out to Palestinians at every opportunity by some of the most clinically “unhinged” people, outside the South of 50 years ago, I have ever seen. The honor there was to stand beside Palestinians as we were all herded through the check-points; to witness small boys attempt to hold on to their dignity as the heavily armed Israeli check-point soldiers, out of our line of sight, obviously forced them to drop their pants. (No doubt every day.) They came into view again clutching their beltless pants and attempting to smile. I recognized that smile from white supremacist Georgia when I was growing up. It is one of the bravest in the world.
I was also honored to be on a Peace flotilla that attempted to get into Israeli blockaded Gaza, where the people are systematically degraded by the withholding of mobility, adequate food, water, and electricity, not to mention any form of autonomy.
I trust that Mr. Friedman will make the effort to place the behavior of Israel of today, not the imagined one of over half a century ago, squarely in his sights. It might unhinge him.
My true relationship to all younger artists and people in general is as teacher, elder, guide, voice. At almost seventy, I am not crushed if my advice is ignored. My response to Alicia Keys’ decision to sing in Israel despite the cultural boycott against its corporations and institutions can be viewed on my website. alicewalkersgarden.com. I support her right to do whatever her conscience demands, as much as I myself support BDS, i.e. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It is the only viable and non-violent option for changing and making more humane what is happening in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Not just to Palestinians, but to Jews. Speaking generally of the deafening silence of so many of its citizens, Israel appears to have lost those things Martin Luther King, Jr. thought so highly of in the Jews who stood beside us in the Southern Freedom Movement: a love of justice, compassion, a moral compass, truthfulness.
That a black acquaintance of Friedman’s is quoted as saying Keys made the right decision to go to Israel reminds me of how easy it can be to be used in an article of this kind. This same person probably thinks Israel truly honors Africans and Ethiopian Jews because it crowns one young black Ethiopian woman it’s national beauty queen. I am sure there has been much laughter in Israel about this ploy. It must have cost next to nothing to pull off because it is unusual for people who have very little to immediately recognize when even that is being taken from them. I can only assume this former basket ball player has never been to the Occupied Territories, Gaza and the West Bank. I would gladly help sponsor a trip there for him, should he be interested. It would be an honor to help gain for our people in the South a clearer vision of the intense struggle that is underway, and has been for many years, by some of the bravest and most decent people on the planet, not a few of them Jews and many of them Israelis, to comprehend and change what is happening in both Israel and Palestine.
I am attaching, after Friedman’s article, a piece about Palestine, Israel and the Occupation by a white Jewish woman, Cynthia Franklin, that arrived in my mailbox this morning. It is called: Sight-Seeing in the Apartheid State; from Ben Gurion to the West Bank. There are comments before and after her insightful experience from former Israeli soldiers, some of them women, whose duty was to enforce dehumanization and destruction of the Palestinian people. Of particular concern, recently, is the deliberate running down of small children by settlers. One man, having run down a first grader, merely speeded off.
Such behavior is not sane and must be condemned, and stopped, for the safety of everyone. To say that anyone who criticizes this kind of violence is “anti-Semitic” is truly warped. Besides, it turns out that the Arabs, the Palestinians, are Semites, and that perhaps 94 per cent of Jews, the Askenazi who hail from ancient Kharzaria in the Caucusus, are not.
As for Father Fidel and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama: like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Che Guevara, both have chosen paths based on service to and love of the people. These paths are quite different but their foundation (regardless of the propaganda) is the same. I honor them for their amazing intelligence, courage, and stamina, and their unstoppable love.
Alicia Keys, Israel and Civil Rights
The analogy between African-Americans in the era of segregation and Palestinians today is a false one.
By RICHARD FRIEDMAN
Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, has lately garnered more attention for her unhinged political views than for her writing. She has compared Fidel Castro to the Dalai Lama. She refused to allow her book “The Color Purple” to be translated into Hebrew. But perhaps nothing was more off-base—at least morally speaking—than the open letter Ms. Walker wrote in late May to singer-songwriter Alicia Keys. Ms. Walker, writing at the website of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, urged Ms. Keys to cancel a July 4 performance in Israel.
Ms. Walker wrote: “you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country.” The writer then compared the plight of the Palestinians to that of blacks in the American South prior to the civil-rights movement. “You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the U.S. South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people.”
The analogy is false: “Apartheid” is a more apt description for the systemic discrimination against women across the Arab world than the only democracy in the Middle East. But this comparison is also an insult to the courageous civil-rights activists who risked their lives in Birmingham, Montgomery and elsewhere in the South to attain full rights for black Americans.
What characterized the civil-rights movement was its strict adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence. Even when attacked with fire hoses and police dogs, civil-rights demonstrators courageously refused to retaliate.
The Palestinian leadership, by contrast, for decades has used violence whenever missile attacks or suicide bombers suit its aims. It is Israel that has shown an inclination to absorb punishment, though the country’s tolerance stretches only so far before it responds militarily to attacks.
The comparison that Ms. Walker and her comrades in the boycott-Israel movement make to the civil-rights movement is false in other ways. Unlike the American South decades ago, when local governments enacted laws and policies to prevent U.S. citizens from attaining full rights, Israel has tried repeatedly to reach an agreement with the Palestinians in the West Bank that would grant them sovereignty. In 2005, Israel even withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. We all know how that turned out.
Those civil-rights activists who participated in the movement of the 1950s and 1960s—as well as others who remember the era—owe it to that noble cause to speak out when Ms. Walker and others distort and misuse this period in American history to advance an anti-Israel agenda.
It also wouldn’t hurt to remind people like Ms. Walker that no less a civil-rights leader than Martin Luther King Jr. was a fierce supporter of Israel. Days before his assassination in 1968, he said that “Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.”
Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington in 1963, also believed in Israel’s cause. In the late 1960s, when some black activists began denouncing Zionism and Jews generally, Rustin cautioned against joining “in history’s oldest and most shameful witch hunt, anti-Semitism.”
Perhaps Alicia Keys is more familiar than Alice Walker with the true history of the relationship between the civil-rights movement and Israel. After the writer’s open letter to Ms. Keys appeared, the Grammy Award-winning musician publicly rebuffed Ms. Walker: “I look forward to my first visit to Israel,” she told the New York Times. “Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.”
So the concert in Tel Aviv will go on. Here in Birmingham, meanwhile, the Jewish Federation is seeking to educate the black community and others about Israel, and it is urging community leaders to speak out against distortions made by Ms. Walker and others who boycott Israel. One local black leader who stepped forward immediately was State Rep. Oliver Robinson, a Democrat and a former All-American basketball player at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Commenting on a Facebook FB -1.37% post commending Ms. Keys for saying no to Ms. Walker, Mr. Robinson wrote: “She made an excellent decision.”
This year, Birmingham is commemorating the 50th anniversary of a pivotal year for the civil-rights movement and for the history of our city. Those of us who live here are particularly obligated to combat the bogus analogy linking the Palestinians and the civil-rights movement—and to continually remind people that Israel remains America’s best friend in the Middle East.
Mr. Friedman is executive director of the Jewish Federation in Birmingham, Ala.
A version of this article appeared June 10, 2013, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Alicia Keys, Israel and Civil Rights.
Before getting to Cynthia Franklin’s SIGHTSEEING IN THE APARTHEID STATE, I am inserting this year old statement via Amnesty International. It struck me, as it often struck me during the Sixties about black voices, that Palestinian voices are rarely given exposure in the global conversation about their lives. This imprisoned peace activist even has the same number of children as Martin Luther King, Jr. AW
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC STATEMENT
2 March 2012
AI Index: MDE 15/008/2012
Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: Israel must release Palestinian detained for organising peaceful protests against expanding Israeli settlement
Palestinian human rights defender Bassem Tamimi is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his role in organizing peaceful protests against the encroachment onto Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers, and should be released immediately and unconditionally, Amnesty International said today.
Bassem Tamimi was arrested on 24 March 2011 and charged days later with “incitement and support of a hostile organization, organizing and participating in unauthorized processions, incitement to throwing objects against a person or property” and other offences. Bassem Tamimi denies the charges. He is currently detained in Ofer prison while his trial continues.
Bassem Tamimi, aged 44, is married with four young children. He has repeatedly affirmed non- violent principles in his defence of villagers against the construction of settlements on occupied territories which violates international law. In a statement in court on 16 November 2011, Bassem Tamimi said:
“International law guarantees the right of occupied people to resist Occupation. In practicing my right, I have called for and organized peaceful popular demonstrations against the Occupation, settler attacks and the theft of more than half of the land of my village… I organized these peaceful demonstrations in order to defend our land and our people… The military prosecutor accuses me of inciting the protesters to throw stones at the soldiers. This is not true. What incites protesters to throw stones is the sound of bullets, the Occupation’s bulldozers as they destroy the land, the smell of teargas and the smoke coming from burnt houses. I did not incite anyone to throw stones, but I am not responsible for the security of your soldiers who invade my village and attack my people with all the weapons of death and the equipment of terror.”
Before his arrest, Bassem Tamimi had been organising weekly protests against the encroachment onto village lands of al-Nabi Saleh near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank by a neighbouring Israeli settlement, Halamish – Neve Tzuf. The protests began in December 2009 – a few months after the settlement began to expand rapidly despite a temporary settlement construction freeze announced by Israel following US pressure – and have been largely peaceful.
The Israeli army has repeatedly used excessive force in countering these demonstrations, as a result of which the organizers reiterate instructions for Palestinian demonstrators to adhere to non- violent methods. Occasionally, individual protestors have engaged in throwing stones at soldiers. One such protestor, Mustafa Tamimi, was shot in al-Nabi Saleh on 10 December 2011 by a high- velocity tear gas projectile fired at his head at close range from an Israeli military jeep. He died the next day in hospital.
At another hearing on 19 February 2012, Bassem Tamimi said:
“International law gives us the right to peaceful protest, to demonstrate our refusal of the policies that hurt us, our daily life and the future of our children… I do not know and do not care if they [the settlements] are permitted by your law, as it was enacted by an authority I do not recognize…True justice would not have me stand here before this court at all, let alone while I am imprisoned and shackled. This case is baseless and made up with the sole goal of putting me behind bars.”
Amnesty International has previously documented the torture of Bassem Tamimi by the General Security Service, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, in 1993. After his arrest on 9 November 1993, he was subjected to violent shaking during interrogation. He suffered a subdural haematoma, as a result of which he lost consciousness for six days, during which he underwent life-saving surgery. He was subsequently released without charge on 6 December 1993 (see Amnesty International, “Under constant medical supervision”: Torture, ill-treatment and the health professionals in Israel and the Occupied Territories, Index: MDE 15/037/1996, August 1996, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE15/037/1996/en).
Some 490,000 Israeli citizens live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a result of years of government-sponsored settlement construction. The establishment and retention of civilian settlements in occupied territory violates international humanitarian law. The “transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” is considered a war crime under Article 8(2) of the Rome Statute of the ICC, “when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.” Israel’s settlement policy is also inherently discriminatory and results in continuing violations of the rights to adequate housing, water and livelihoods for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli authorities continue to construct new housing and plan entire new neighbourhoods in settlements in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, adding to over 230 already existing localities.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities to put an immediate end to the construction or expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to take measures to evacuate Israeli civilians living in settlements in the West Bank. All Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip were removed by the government in 2005. The establishment of settlements not only violates international humanitarian law, but also constitutes a serious violation of the prohibition on discrimination, as laid out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Israel is a state party. The International Court of Justice found in July 2004 that the ICESCR is applicable in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The presence of Israeli-only settlements has led to mass violations of human rights of the local Palestinian population.
Public Document ****************************************
For more information please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: [email protected]
International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK
Sightseeing in the Apartheid State: From Ben Gurion to the West Bank <http://portside.org/2013-06-13/sightseeing-apartheid-state-ben-gurion-west-bank>
June 13, 2013
Eyewitness to the still-unfolding history of ethnic cleansing and Occupation. Report from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. this land, together with Gaza, is referred to by the United Nations and other international bodies as the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or oPt – Palestinian land under Israeli Occupation. We met with students and faculty members from five different Palestinian universities, toured towns and refugee camps in the West Bank.
My name is Gil Hellel and I was an Israeli soldier. Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories (http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/testimonies/videos/29577), Breaking the Silence <https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=142974905897200&set=a.116419295219428.1073741828.116415985219759&type=1&relevant_count=1> ,
This May, I traveled with nine other U.S. faculty members to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Part of a region where every millimeter comprises contested space, this land, together with Gaza, is referred to by the United Nations and other international bodies as the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or oPt – Palestinian land under Israeli Occupation. Over the course of our eleven days in the oPt, we met with students and faculty members from five different Palestinian universities, toured towns and refugee camps in the West Bank, visited various organizations, and attended cultural events. On our last morning, Ben Gurion Airport and its “security” system on our minds, our talk over breakfast turned to the impact of the Israeli Occupation on the ability to travel inside and outside of borders that are ever-expanding for Israelis, and constricting for Palestinians.
On the one hand, such talk had been stitched into almost every conversation during our entire time in the oPt. We had met with many Palestinians – students, faculty members, administrators, mayors, directors of research institutes, artists, musicians, writers, bus drivers, activists, teachers, hotel managers, store-keepers. Not a single one of them was without a story of violation experienced if not at Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv (Israel denies most Palestinians living in the West Bank access to this airport, as well as to Jerusalem), then at checkpoints that some of them crossed daily as they took hours to travel – or found themselves unable to move across – distances that should have been traversable in minutes. The West Bank contains <http://www.btselem.org/freedom_of_movement/checkpoints_and_forbidden_roads> 98 fixed military checkpoints, 58 of them internal, and several hundred more “flying” or ad-hoc checkpoints and obstructions at any given time
As a result, every person had stories of crossings that involved humiliation, and, often, physical violence. These stories, central to daily life under Israeli Occupation, permeated every conversation, even as the Separation Wall that winds for hundreds of kilometers in a crazy cement serpentine stranglehold around and through Palestinian agricultural lands, towns, villages and homes, was rarely out of sight. At Al-Quds University, located in Abu Dis, a short distance from our hotel in East Jerusalem, the Separation Wall presses right up against the University at points. While there, I told a fellow English professor about a hip-hop concert we had attended the night before at the French Consulate in East Jerusalem (it took the French government’s intervention to get the artist MC Gaza a special permit to travel from Gaza to East Jerusalem for the day).
This Al-Quds professor commented that, though he would love to attend cultural events in East Jerusalem, like most West Bankers, Israel does not allow him entry into Jerusalem, and although Abu Dis is technically in Jerusalem, the Wall has cut off his access to much of the city. Upon returning to Honolulu, I read <http://maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=601696> of a home demolition in Abu Dis that had prevented the students we met from entering the campus to take their final exams
Students and faculty at Birzeit University told us of how they have to leave for campus hours ahead of time to travel distances of only a few miles because they are regularly unable to cross or are held-up at checkpoints. In Hebron, we witnessed how Palestinian residents cannot cross from one side of the street to the other to enter their homes. Instead, they must follow circuitous routes to arrive home while remaining within the yellow or white lines that demarcate the parts of the street upon which they are allowed to walk. Once home, they must enter through back doors to minimize contact with the Jewish settlers.
In our brief time in the oPt, we did our best to grasp the byzantine structures that, despite their seeming incomprehensibility, systematically make movement impossible or extraordinarily difficult for Palestinians. We learned about Palestinian identity papers that trump US passports and make travel even within the oPt extremely limited, and about color-coded license plates that prohibit Palestinians movement through checkpoints. Mile after mile, we traversed roads running in tandem with the massive, often barb-wired, Wall that separates Palestinians from their lands, homes and family members. We also witnessed, on the Wall itself, resistance to it in the form of beautiful murals (a tractor denting but not breaking a big red heart); spray-painted words of protest (“With Love and Kisses – Nothing lasts forever,” “Stop funding this wall!”); posters of true stories (one of a man getting to work by moving through a drain pipe); all variously-expressed iterations of the reality that for Palestinians, “to exist is to resist.”
Meanwhile, our group traveled freely. Carrying American passports aboard a bus with Israeli plates, we moved fairly quickly through checkpoints in a separate lane. Unlike Palestinians passing through the checkpoints, as full US citizens we could stay inside our bus rather than wait and walk our way through iron gates and locking turnstiles, undergoing interrogation by Israeli soldiers who, with their machine guns, looked frighteningly young. Even from our privileged vantage point, the violence was palpable, whether ideological (Israeli signs in Hebrew and English warning Israeli Jews that to enter the West Bank was to risk their lives), or physical. At a checkpoint leaving Nablus, we witnessed a small girl lying on the ground, attended to by a group of Palestinians, some of whom rushed our bus, with its Israeli plates, and pounded on its sides, as we were stopped. As we pulled quickly out of the checkpoint, we saw a settler in a black top hat and long black coat get into his car and speed off – an all-too-real apparition, and one that returns to me when I read <http://www.imemc.org/article/65555> , as I did a few days later, accounts of settlers running down Palestinian children on the roads .
I had my own, small, checkpoint experience. On my way back to East Jerusalem from Ramallah, where I had travelled by bus to meet with a friend, I snapped photos as the bus approached the Qalandia checkpoint. An Israeli soldier stopped our bus, boarded it, and approached me, asking for my camera. After looking through my photos (comprised of shots of my friend’s beautiful garden green with vegetables and herbs, as well as the grim grey checkpoint), he demanded that I delete my photos of Qalandia. The sun was slanting down as I took the photos, and, given the glare of the bus window and the fading light, they had not captured the menace of the scene, peopled with Israeli soldiers with machine guns. Indeed, this scene remains more vivid in my memory than when captured by my camera.
I was tempted to ask the soldier why he felt the need to delete the photos, but I was scared, and kept quiet. My compliance itself was part of why this experience so unsettled me, and the dilemma I experienced gave me the smallest window into the kinds of choices Palestinians must make every day, and with far higher stakes. Given the protections of being a white woman holding an American passport, I did not fear getting physically abused or imprisoned if I spoke out against this tactic of intimidation – consequences that our Palestinian hosts, many of whom had themselves spent time in prison, told us result regularly from acts of resistance, including those as small as my imagined confrontation. As the soldier exited the bus, the elderly man behind me leaned forward and said, “Welcome to our democracy.”
So, on our last day in Palestine, our breakfast conversation as we uneasily anticipated entering Ben Gurion was nothing new – the hazards of movement had been much on our minds. The airport stories we had been hearing, however, filled us with dread. Even as we recognized our extreme privilege as US citizens – at worst, we realized, we would be strip-searched and interrogated, probably not long enough to miss our flights – anxiety hung over the breakfast table, as we exchanged stories we had heard. One concerned a Palestinian woman who, when strip-searched at the airport, not only had to remove her tampon, but was then not allowed to replace it. When she boarded her plane, blood-stained, she met with insults over her “dirtiness” as an Arab.
Another story concerned a man who, when his shoes were held for a prolonged time after they were x-rayed, told the airport security if they were going to keep holding onto them, then he didn’t want them. They took him at his word, and he boarded his plane with his feet wrapped in plastic bags. I told my breakfast companions of my discussion at dinner the night before with a US scholar who now, taking an extra two days of travel, enters through Jordan to conduct her archival research on the Israeli prisons. She had told me of her computer being seized for two weeks, and of hours spent naked in the airport, undergoing endless and repetitive interrogation. We knew anything we were likely to experience would be mild in comparison, and the gap between our relative freedom and the daily assaults to freedom and basic human rights that our new friends underwent was at once humbling, incomprehensible, and a source of outrage.
Following advice from US scholars from previous years who had experienced difficulties at the airport, we uploaded our photos into dropbox and wiped our cameras. Due to the computer stories we had heard, we had not brought our laptops, though a few of us had tablets. We disabled our mail accounts, and made sure our facebook profile pictures could not identify us. We also took a trip to the Educational Bookshop’s stationary store on Salah Eddin street (right across the street from the bookshop itself, with its wonderful collection of books on Palestine). There, we purchased supplies to mail home materials we could not have bought in Jerusalem. The man behind the counter told us how the store formerly belonged to Edward Said’s uncle. Explaining that the store used to be three times as big, he cut cardboard circles to lengthen the tubes we had bought from him, so we wouldn’t have to squish the large maps detailing the oPt settlements and Separation Wall that we had acquired from the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ), or our prison posters. These posters, featuring the words “Peace on you” written above a shackled hand holding an olive branch, had been gifted to us by our guide Mohammad Jamous, himself a former political prisoner, at the end of our tour of the Abu Jihad Museum for Prisoners, located at Al-Quds University.
In the envelopes we bought, we put our personal notes; brochures from the universities of Birzeit, Al-Quds, Bethlehem, An-Najah, and Hebron; cds and fliers we had bought from Ramzi Abu Redwan, director of the Al-Kamandjati Music School; literature from the Women’s and Children’s Center located in the Al-Amari Refugee Camp in Ramallah; faculty bios and research notes; cds from power points documenting the architecture of Occupation. As it turned out, this protective measure was not enough for one of my colleagues, a cultural anthropologist, whose package arrived minus her field notes and a cd of classical Palestinian music.
That night, with four colleagues on the same flight to JFK, I took the hour-long drive to Tel Aviv, and arrived at Ben Gurion the requisite 3.5 hours early to allow for the security measures. Upon arrival, we fanned out in accordance with our agreement to pretend not to know each other, and to say we had been visiting Jerusalem as tourists. The other white woman in our group and I sailed through the various levels of security with minimal questioning.
As I waited in the check-in line at Delta, I nervously observed the two black women in our group standing while their suitcases were swabbed for explosive residue and explored in minute detail, and then, for mysterious reasons, retained until the check-in process started. A friendly man with an East Coast accent kept catching my eye as I myself tried unobtrusively to keep an eye on my friends, then tried to strike up conversation with me, wanting to know if I was on a heritage trip – if I had been in Israel to reclaim my roots. As I passed through the various x-ray and passport checks, all the security personnel were pleasant to me.
The ease of my experience as a white Jewish woman in what was a site of terror for everyone I had met during the past eleven days was itself disturbing, along with the erasure, in the airport itself, of Palestinian existence. As I walked through shops and restaurants, killing time, I was struck by the total absence of Arabic language or Palestinian presence, by the packaging of foods and goods as Jewish and Israeli (lots of Stars of David and Hebrew). My walk, earlier that day, into West Jerusalem served as preparation for the Ben Gurion airport. It took my companion and me less than ten minutes to walk from our East Jerusalem accommodation, the Christian-Palestinian run Golden Walls hotel near Damascus Gate, to the light rail tracks, which we followed up Jaffa Road into West Jerusalem. Within minutes, we entered an entirely other world, one with no visible signs of Palestine, Palestinians, or Israeli occupation. We walked along broad, pristine, tree-lined streets that featured sidewalk cafes, Hebrew bookstores, shops featuring expensive jewelry advertising “birthright” sales, frozen yogurt and coffee chains (Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf), and cafes advertising Israeli hummus and falafel.
Our brief expedition dramatically conveyed to us the extreme separateness of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian lives. The only rule-proving exception was the tagging we spotted on an alley wall: “They say Apartheid. We say fight back!” In West Jerusalem and in the airport, I understood in a new way the structures of Apartheid that govern what is seen and unseen (including Palestinians still living inside the green line), and why every Palestinian we met supported the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.
I have been home a week, and each night, still jet-lagged, I awake multiple times, often to take myself out of dreams of Hebron, and our tour of the Old City, given by the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). Armed Israeli soldiers stationed above us, we walked under the protection of several TIPH volunteers from Norway. As we made our way through the Old City, we walked beneath netted metal overhangs that protect Palestinians from the rocks, dirty diapers, and garbage – but not the acid and sewage and insults – that settlers, living in houses that butt right up against the shops beneath them, rain down upon Palestinians as they do their best to live their lives. In particular, I am haunted by the red words we saw spray-painted onto the wall of a residential neighborhood: “Shalom, Arabs! Gas the Arabs. – JDL.”
Although, unlike the residents of Hebron, I can awaken from these nightmarish images, they are part of the still-unfolding history of ethnic cleansing and Occupation, which often takes less dramatic and more bureaucratic forms. To resist, in whatever ways we can, this multi-faceted Occupation and the many forms of support for it in which we are implicated (for US citizens, to the tune of eleven million dollars a day) is something each of us can and should do. For me, such a position, far from being anti-Jewish, is one to take in the name of our own humanity (and with this “our” I include the humanity of Jews), as well as in solidarity with Palestinians whose every step is taken within as well as against Israeli Occupation.
[Prof. Cynthia Franklin, Department of English, University of Hawai`i, is the author of Academic Lives: Memoir, Cultural Theory and the University Today (2009) and Writing Women’s Communities: The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary Multi-Genre Anthologies (1997). Essays and review articles appear in the journals American Quarterly, Biography, Hitting Critical Mass, Life Writing, LIT, MELUS, The Contemporary Pacific.
She is co-editor of Navigating Islands and Continents: Conversations and Contestations in and around the Pacific, and Re-Placing American Literature: Conversations and Contestations. With my colleague Laura Lyons, I co-edited a special issue of Biography, “Personal Effects: The Testimonial Uses of Life Writing,” and is currently at work on a project tentatively entitled “Eichmann’s Ghosts and Uncivil Professors in an Age of Empire.”]
About the photo:
Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the routine situations of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.
The organization endeavors to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.
Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still explained as extreme and unique cases.
Our testimonies portray a different, and much grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of security. While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that which happens in its name. Discharged soldiers who return to civilian life discover the gap between the reality which they encountered in the Territories, and the silence which they encounter at home.
In order to become civilians again, soldiers are forced to ignore what they have seen and done.
Breaking the Silence <http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/> voices the experiences of these soldiers, forcing Israeli society to address the reality which it has helped to create.
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