Thursday, March 24, 2005

Marda Farmers Refuse Compensation

Today the verdict arrived: the Israeli army has confirmed that the uprooting of Marda’s trees Tuesday night was unauthorized and illegal. The soldiers uprooted the trees on a whim. Will the perpetrators be prosecuted? Doubtful. It’s a lawless land for some.

I returned to Marda to interview the owners of the uprooted trees to give them the news and to find out if they wanted to try appealing for compensation. A young woman greeted me warmly when I came to the first family’s door. She said her father, Talad, would be delighted to meet me, but that I must talk loudly because he is almost deaf. The family welcomed me into the living room where we drank tea and ate cookies for breakfast. Talad was old, cross-eyed, and very kind. He kept interrupting the conversation to tell me to eat more cookies, even as I was eating them.

I asked Talad and his wife if they wanted to try to sue the army for compensation. They said they didn’t want money, they wanted their trees back (now firewood in the front yard after the army cut them up). I went to see the other owners, and they said the same thing: “You can’t put a price on trees. Trees are our past and our future. We would be ashamed to make any deal that might normalize or excuse Israel’s disregard for our human rights. We don’t want money, or anything that could be mistaken for what we really need—freedom.”

I was humbled by their answers. I had assumed they would be happy to get some money as a result of the army’s admission of guilt. But Palestinians don’t want compensation; they want their lives back. Unfortunately, like the thousands of uprooted trees and the hundreds of destroyed villages, many of those lives don’t exist anymore.

This month is the 2-year anniversary of both the current war on Iraq and the brutal killing of Rachel Corrie, an American activist my age who came to Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement. Two years ago, Rachel stood between an American-made Caterpillar bulldozer and the house that the Israeli military was about to demolish with it, in Rafah, Gaza. The threatened house was the home of a Palestinian doctor and his family. Rachel wore a neon vest and spoke with a bullhorn so that she would be seen and heard, but the bulldozer operators did not stop. The bulldozer ran over Rachel, then backed up, and then ran over her again.

Caterpillar continues to sell machinery to Israel, despite consistent proof that Israel uses these machines to violate international law and human rights. Caterpillar even custom-designs certain products according to the occupier’s needs, be they demolishing houses, uprooting trees, or building the Wall. Caterpillar is just one of many U.S. companies profiting off the Occupation.

Although she will never get to see the day when Palestinians will be free, Rachel remains an inspiration for many international activists and Palestinians here to continue the struggle.

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