Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Assassination in Bizarro World

Several days ago while attending an embroidery workshop for local
women, we received a frantic call from the north about a killing. We
called around to see if any other human rights groups had
internationals in Jenin, but it seemed everyone had headed south to
document settler violence around Hebron. The next day, we traveled
to Rumani, a village on the northwestern edge of the West Bank. We
brought along our friend Ashraf translate for us, a soft-spoken
Palestinian nonviolent activist studying at the American University
in Jenin. When we arrived in the village, we were told that the
family we'd be visiting was very religious, so Ashraf would have to
stay with the men while we took the report from the victim's wife,
the only adult witness. My colleagues and I were guided into a room
full of women from the village, sitting with somber faces around the
victim's mother and wife. I realized this was the Palestinian
equivalent of "sitting Shiva" in the Jewish tradition, when family
and friends gather right after a death to mourn and comfort the next
of kin.

The mother was expecting us and made room on both sides of her for
us to sit down, spreading her blanket across us when we did. Not
knowing what to do, I whispered "thank you" and sat with the women
in silence for a while. Eventually I cleared my throat and explained
who we were and why we'd come. Several women smiled weakly and
thanked us. One who was holding a baby stood up and brought the baby over to me to hold. It was a tiny 30-day-old girl who breathed
deeply as she slept in my arms. The victim's brother Saber, who had
just arrived to translate, motioned to his brother's wife before
speaking up: "This is their first, and last, child."

Saber invited us to move next door to get the report from his sister-
in-law in private. There she began to tell her story, which Saber

"Three nights ago William and I were walking home from this house
after visiting with family. Since there is no electricity in the
village, we could not see that there were people hiding in the
bushes outside our home. When we got to our door, three men in
civilian clothes jumped out and demanded to see William's ID. They were speaking to each other in Hebrew. William showed them his ID and they took out a gun and shot him in the chest. He fell to the ground and then they shot him twice more in the head.

"Then they took our child from my arms and lay her next to William's
body. They took off my headscarf and pulled me by my hair away from my child. They told me that if I cried out they would kill me and my baby too. Then they walked away and I could see the Army jeeps on the main road turn on their headlights to light the way through the forest that surrounds our house. I was so scared that I did not scream."

I asked Saber if they knew why William was targeted. Saber explained
that their brother, Ra'ad, had been arrested exactly one year before
for his support of Islamic Jihad. William had been accused of having
hid his brother when the Israeli Army came to capture him. They had
tried everything—undercove r salespeople, women visitors in civilian
clothes, etc—and blamed William for making Ra'ad's capture so
difficult. Saber said there could be only one explanation for his
brother's assassination: "Revenge."

We asked the family if they had contacted a lawyer and they said
they were afraid it would only make things worse. Ra'ad had a
lawyer, and felt that the more publicity his case received, the
worse his treatment became in jail. He was tortured until he
couldn't see straight, and has continued to suffer from health
problems after spending more than four months in interrogation.
Saber said they move Ra'ad around to different jails constantly so
he's unable to develop or maintain friendships.

Since stories like Ra'ad's are so common I hardly took note. My
colleagues and I call this the "Bizarro World Syndrome," where
outrageous policies suddenly become perfectly acceptable. How has
anyone come to see as normal assassinating a man accused of
protecting his brother? Even if he were guilty of harboring a
threat, or even if he were a threat himself, since when is it
acceptable to hunt a suspect down and murder him in cold blood? If a
suspect in the US were planning an attack against civilians, would
we advocate someone going to his home and shooting him dead? Or
should he be arrested, and put on trial to determine whether or not
he's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? But "innocent until proven
guilty" does not exist for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories
under Israeli law. Even if spared assassination, Palestinian
prisoners are rarely given a trial, and even more rarely a fair one.
(Sound like somewhere south of Florida you know?)

Israeli-occupied Palestine is a bizarro world indeed. Since when—
outside of Guantanamo, lest we forget—is it normal to torture
prisoners, many of them never even told what they are being held
for? How can the world stand by as a foreign Army kidnaps a third of
the democratically- elected parliament? What would we do if Iran's
army came in and captured a third of our government, claiming—
rightfully, perhaps—that our representatives were a threat to their
safety? (Don't say celebrate, lefties—that' s not how democracy
works!) The parallel of course assumes that Hamas is in the midst of
plotting an attack on Israelis, hard to argue given that the party
has held to an almost unwavering unilateral ceasefire for two years.
Let us also not forget that according to the Israeli military orders
that govern the West Bank and Gaza, it's actually illegal to be a
member of ANY political party, including Hamas, Fatah, the PFLP (the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party), and others. So really anyone who adopts an opinion on the political issues that govern their lives can be a target for assassination, arrest, or even home demolition.. .

This morning we received a call from the Israeli Committee Against
House Demolitions (ICAHD) that two Palestinian homes were being
destroyed in East Jerusalem. We were too far to make it in time, but
it's not hard to guess the reason—either the family did not have a
building permit (permits are given out freely to Jewish families but
almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain), or the demolition was
punitive. Two years ago the Army declared it would halt punitive
demolitions since they are ineffective at deterring attacks (other
good reasons could have included that they are illegal and a form of
collective punishment), but they continue in Gaza so I can only
assume that goes for the West Bank as well.

One such demolition attempt in Gaza recently received widespread
media attention: a man, after hearing that the Army would demolish
his home in ten minutes, ran and gathered friends and family to
flood his home so that demolishing the home would mean running over hundreds of people as well. Their organized direct action was successful and the bulldozers eventually retreated—who says nonviolent resistance is not alive and thriving in Palestine?

Hearing the story, some people sympathized with Israel. Apparently,
the man was involved in shooting Qassam rockets at Israeli towns,
threatening Israeli civilians. Bizarro World Syndrome. Yes, any
country has a right to defend its own citizens. But since when does
this right extend to bulldozing people's homes? Israel's punitive
demolitions aren't just the homes of suspects or confirmed criminals
themselves; it's also the homes of their families. After the
Oklahoma City bombing, did the FBI bulldoze Timothy McVeigh's home? Did they bulldoze the home of his parents, and his siblings, and his cousins? Should they have? It's astounding the way Israeli security hysteria—some, but not all, of it justified, in my opinion—has warped many people's sense of what is okay and what isn't. It doesn't take more than switching the names and ethnicities around to expose the underlying inconsistencies.

The settlements complete the bizarro world. I think my colleague Amy articulated it best in her blog (www.travelingamy. blogspot. com):

"Pretend are Canadian and you went to Sweden. Maybe you bought some land there and built some houses and sold them to your other
Canadian friends. Maybe you even built a little fence around your
compound. But is it okay to raise the Canadian flag, impose
immigrant restrictions, have the Canadian military protect you, and
announce it to be part of Canada? The same thing is happening here
and some people think it's just fine."

The parallel assumes that settlers are even buying land in the West
Bank and Gaza, which they are not, at least not from the land's
rightful owners. They are stealing it, or more accurately, their
government is stealing it and encouraging citizens to move onto it.
The irony is that although Israeli flags, soldiers, and families are
ubiquitous in the West Bank, Israel is careful not to officially
claim the West Bank to be a part of Israel, because then it would
have to extend rights to the people living there. Giving
Palestinians in the coveted West Bank equal rights to the people who
live all around them in Jewish-only towns and cities would
eventually render Palestinians a majority in Israel, and Jews a
minority. If it wanted to be a democracy, Israel would have to
evolve from being the state only of the Jews to being a state of its
citizens and occupants. But this remains a radical idea for many.

Occupation is not transitional stage; it's a strategic limbo between
annexation and withdrawel in which the occupier reaps the benefits
of controlling territory (in this case land, water, and other
resources) without having to grant inhabitants equal rights and
freedoms. But although the economics of the Occupation are
sustainable, the injustice is not; oppressed people will always
resist. Territorially, it is not in Israel's interest to end the
Occupation, but for security and basic decency, I believe, it is.
Time will tell which interest will prevail.

In struggle,


No comments: