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Human shields

"Bell Way", One Palestine

July 22, 2006

My new neighborhood is on the western slope of a mountain. Unlike Qalqilya, where eighty percent of the people are refugees whose homes were taken by Israel and who now live piled on top of each other in cramped buildings, the families here have spacious gardens for their children; their wealth is in the form of olive trees, apricots, mulberries, peaches, lemons, almonds, askadunya, figs. Bougainvillea and many kinds of flowering bushes wander over stone walls into the streets. The streets are quiet, a car passes through only once in awhile. The sound of an aircraft turns the face of every child and adult to the sky because there are no commercial aircraft over the west bank, only a variety of killing machines. We watch them fly north to kill in Lebanon. My apartment is in a new extension of an ancient village. From my balcony I look across the valley to the next mountain, slashed with the white level wound of Israel's wall, and the sun or moon hangs in the valleys sinking one after the other to the west. If you follow one of the winding contour roads up the mountain, you pass a Bedouin kraal, families living with their cows and other animals inside a compound made of scrap metal, salvaged bits of trucks, and Israel's wall running next to their homes, imprisoning grazing lands on the other side. Climbing on up the mountain you can make your way through herds of sheep, pass old women plodding along in their traditional embroidered dresses, sometimes riding a donkey, and at the top of the mountain you reach the ancient old homes with their meter thick walls and arched doorways, many of them overgrown with their rooves turning into fields, some still in good repair. The streets get narrower and quieter, and eventually you reach the end of the mountain ridge, and there is the wall again, encircled the mountain on all sides. Israel's urban planning for this town is that it is not to grow to the north, west, south or east.

It was late last night when I finally came home from town with my groceries. I got off the bus on the road that runs along the ridge of the mountain and started walking down the mountain, under the stars. I was mulling over the irony that I've never lived anywhere where I felt so safe walking home alone late at night. The streets were quiet except for the heavy thumping bass of party music drifting over the valleys from several directions, probably wedding or engagement parties. Some guys were trying to smoke argillah as they walked down the street, cradling the pipe in their arms and trying to keep the coals from falling off. When I got home I found my neighbors standing outside, coughing and covering their faces with their sleeves. Suddenly our apartments were full of teargas, they said. We don't know where the soldiers are now. I went into my apartment and the smell was dissipating, my nose and eyes ran for awhile painlessly. It's the first night here I haven't had any trouble with mosquitoes.

It's strange how one can sleep so peacefully while human beings are being slaughtered not far away. This morning in Gaza a mother and father's children were sleeping peacefully on the roof where it is cool when Israel saw fit to drop a bomb on them. How is it that sometimes we can sense something so clearly, that a friend is in need or that something is going to happen, and yet we can sleep soundly through our own deaths. Or the deaths of our neighbors.

Along with so much tragedy, this was a week of serious partying in Palestine. I've been to eight towns this week, and everywhere explosions kept going off everywhere all the time. Fireworks, and shooting off rounds of ammunition to celebrate. It's nerve wracking because if you're not at the party yourself it's not always clear if it's partiers or soldiers doing the shooting. Not only is the engagement and marriage season in full swing, involving the community in an endless string of parties each lasting two or three days, but this week the results of the tawjihi, the high school final exams, were announced. In town the streets were jammed with people crowded together tensely waiting for the news. The minister of education, on Israel's wanted list, came out of hiding for a press conference to announce the results. Then the streets exploded with celebrating, drivers going crazy with their horns, families throwing sweets from car windows. A friend told me, with her eyes shining, did you know that the highest scores were in Gaza? They are living in such a situation, and yet they beat us here in the West Bank. It's just wonderful!

We went up to Qalqilya and celebrated with friends whose son passed his tawjihi. His normal clowning around was put aside and he was full of the awareness that it was one of the most important days of his life. A brand new grey business suit. In a couple months he will leave the little crowded neighborhood where he has lived since he was born, where he knows and is known in a way that is unimaginable to most of us, and head to a university in a far away country. Neither he nor his family can know if he will come back and if he does, what will be left to come back to. After a feast of grape leaves his mother took out the tabla and got everyone crazy with her rhythms. All the girls danced, big girls partnering with little girls in their mother's high heels, everyone using their hips to make a day that will not be forgotten.

The partying did not stop all week. Mixed with it was the joy of Hezbollah's courageous answer to Israel. What I feel from people more than anything since Israel started this intensified campaign of slaughter is a deep, dull sense of shock. Everyone knew that the world speaks on the basis of ideals – human rights, international law, democracy, blah blah blah – but acts on the basis of its interests, which run in the opposite direction. Still, there is a deep, painful shock that the world has united in such a vicious way against Palestinian democracy, even though elections under occupation could only be a pitiful shadow of democracy. And now, as Israel slaughters and slaughters the nation's sons and daughters, there is a new degree of shock. All of the sleazy alliances and selfish interests of the states of the world aside, how is it possible, how can it possibly be, that brothers and sisters of the human race can watch, can see Israel's crimes committed boldly on camera, and do nothing, nothing, nothing. We have never been here before, so many people say. We thought we had reached the bottom, but we are now going deeper, we are in unknown territory that no body knows, perhaps it is unknown to humankind. All of the powerful armies of the world sit on their hands, and only one small force tries to fulfill its moral duty. What will all the people of the world say when they have to stand before God and account for what they did when Palestine was raped? It feels that something is being destroyed in people. Some degree of faith or hope in humanity which had somehow survived all these decades of betrayal. One can no longer say, if only the world knew, it would do something. A sense of utter aloneness.

I can only imagine that the western media is in a frenzy shrieking about the terrorist attacks in Haifa taking innocent Israeli lives. But who exactly are the civilians in Haifa? Israel wants to use the same dirty trick used by European settlers in America and whites in South Africa. First, you confiscate the homes of the native people by force and establish a military base on them. Then, you move your family onto the military base and start calling it a homestead, a neighborhood. You use your children as a human shield and declare the military base an illegitimate target and call the owners of the land terrorists when they use military action to regain their land. Israel is a big military base established on stolen land, any "right" the world has given it to exist is in violation of, not in compliance with, universal standards of justice. Haifa, Tel Aviv, and all the rest of it remains a military base full of soldiers and their human shields. It's too bad that Israelis consider their children to be expendable in order to maintain the twisted dream of Jewish supremacy, but all of Israel is a legitimate target and when children or others who have made no choice to participate in the theft of Palestine are killed, the crime is Israel's for using them as human shields. The people in Haifa have no right to safety.

We talked to an Israeli woman who spends time at checkpoints monitoring human rights violations by soldiers. She is trying to figure out how to live here justly, how to undo the Jewish state. I wonder why, I told her, there is so little incidence of Israelis joining the Palestinian resistance and taking up arms against Israel, as a small number of whites did in South Africa – a high percentage of them Jews – willing to face exile, suffering, prison and even death to destroy the illegitimate state based on the supremacy of their own people. Well, she said, here there have only been a couple Israelis who did that, and they have been totally vilified by Israeli society so it is difficult for a young person to connect with them as a role model. I asked another Israeli who defines herself as an anti-Zionist, why anti-Zionists aren't becoming Jewish Palestinians, as Jewish immigrants should have in the first place. Oh no, we don't want to become Palestinians! she said. (Apologizing for her lack of knowledge of Arabic she said, well I would learn it if I lived in a country where I had to use it, like I did with Hebrew). I asked the first Israeli if her kids share her views. Oh no, she said, one is a soldier in the army and the other is a teenager who can't wait to be in the army soon. What if you sent your kids to stay with a Palestinian family from time to time when they were growing up, I asked? Wouldn't that make it difficult for them to accept going into the army. In Israel, she said, from the moment your child is born, their life is focused on being a soldier. When my son didn't perform well in first grade, the teacher called me. She didn't say, what kind of man do you think your son will become, but, what kind of soldier do you think your son will become. There are really no civilians in Israel, she said. We are all preparing to be soldiers, serving as soldiers, or we're veterans. I asked her about the bizarrely crude behavior I've witnessed from soldiers. Are they trained to do these things, I asked, as a means of humiliating people? I don't think so, she said. I think they have dehumanized Palestinians in their minds so fully, that it doesn't occur to them that their behavior is inappropriate. Just like if you get up in the morning and no one is around except your dog and cat, you might walk around in your underwear and leave the door open when you use the toilet. In the minds of the soldiers, the only humans who are present at a checkpoint are the other soldiers. She said she has puzzled a lot about why, although there are some cases of Israeli soldiers raping Palestinian women, it is not widespread. There is nothing they won't do, she said, and rape is usually a prominent form of violence in situations where soldiers have no limits. She said she is sure it is not due to soldiers having any scrap of respect for Palestinian women, or because they are afraid of the consequences. The only conclusion I've been able to reach, she said, is that they really see Palestinians as animals, and the idea of raping them disgusts them in the same way that the idea of raping an animal disgusts them.

At one of the dozens of checkpoints I went through this week, you had to walk through a corral like an animal and then through a metal carousel. The mechanism locks shut, hitting you in the face and trapping you inside while you wait for the soldiers to pick their nose, flirt with each other. The woman ahead of me let her little boy go ahead of her, then when her turn came, the soldiers locked the carousel with her trapped inside it. It was a good long time until she could continue out of it, during which her little boy was alone in front of the soldiers. I came next and a mother behind me squeezed one of her children into the divider with me, trying to keep her family together as much as possible. He was carrying a bag, which got stuck in the mechanism because we were squeezed together into the small space. The soldiers locked us in the mechanism where we waited for a long time. It was a panicky feeling, being trapped in a metal machine. What if it broke and they couldn't get me out, or didn't want to? What if I was a woman in labor? When it finally opened there was something wrong and we couldn't get it all the way open, we had to squeeze our bodies painfully through a narrow opening. (Unbelievable but true, a Palestinian man and an Israeli soldier kept meeting at this checkpoint, she with the gun, he with the identity card. They fell in love. Now they are married and live in his village. A soldier at the Qalqilya checkpoint asked the human rights monitors if she could volunteer with them after she finished the army. And she did. Two years violating human rights. Then two years documenting human rights violations. I am beginning to think documenting, as an end in itself, is a human rights violation.)

As I have heard so many people say, this is all aimed to destroy our dignity; if they can destroy our dignity we will lose our ability to resist them. Another main aim, added one person, is to try to make us hate them so much that we will leave rather than live with them in the future. But the thing is, after all these decades, we don't really hate them. We don't want them to suffer, or die… we don't want all of the terrible things that have happened to us to happen to them.. all we want is to live in our homes in peace and if they will accept the same we have no further issue with them. But of course, this is not what they want. They do not want us to live in our homes in peace, and they in theirs. They want to live in our homes, and they want us gone. God be with Hezbollah.

While some in the world hunt obsessively for anti-semitism, it has not found welcoming soil in Palestine. Those concerned about dangerous mischaracterizations gaining ground about Jews can rest assured that every person in Palestine is being educated personally by Jews themselves about who the Jews are. And not educated by just any Jewish person, but by the formal representatives of the Jewish state, or, as many Jews would say, of the Jewish people. And what are these Jewish representatives of the Jewish people teaching the folks here about Jews? That a Jew is someone who will drive a bulldozer over your house and crush your grandfather to death inside, because he didn't feel like giving him time to get out. That a Jew is someone who believes that because he is a Jew he should live in your house and you should live in a refugee camp. That a Jew is someone who will let your mother die in front of his eyes when she is in labor with your baby brother, because it makes two less Arabs in the world. That a Jew is someone who shoots little kids for fun. That Jewish teenage girls get off on attacking attacking old men in their fields for sport. That American Jewish mothers spit on non-Jewish women and throw garbage and rotten food at them from their windows for laughs. That Jews are people who buy pigs and release them in people's crops to destroy them. I wonder how this compares with an education you would receive by neo-Nazis about Jews? In the face of this is the thundering absence of hatred or violence from the millions who have been violated. One woman told us, I don't believe in negotiations at all, only resistance. And I won't accept that they keep one inch of historical Palestine. About the future? Well, they can live with us, once Palestine is liberated. They will be a minority, and according Islam, we must take good care of them.

Dignity is being destroyed in this land. But not the dignity of the Palestinians.


:: Article nr. 25106 sent on 27-jul-2006 12:46 ECT

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Link: www.onepalestine.org/resources/articles/Human_shields.html



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