Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A People United Will Not Fall

As I'm sure you've heard, less than 60 hours ago at least 9 people carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on a six-ship flotilla were killed by the Israeli army when it attacked one of the ships. Dozens were badly injured. The ships were in international waters and had stopped overnight, expecting to continue transporting more than 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza the next morning. Most of those killed and injured were Turkish.

I am chilled knowing that I was meant to be on the Mavi Marmara boat had I not already committed to this delegation, and I wonder if I could have been as brave as the others on board. I feel a great kinship with Turkish Palestine solidarity activists with whom I worked during my years living in Ankara and although I am no nationalist, I was proud to carry a Turkish flag today.

We here in Palestine are stunned, not by Israel's immorality (Israel has committed far worse crimes), but by its arrogance. Israel assumes it can kill anyone it wants anywhere it wants with impunity. Israel is wrong. And this, like the 2008-2009 War on Gaza (Operation Cast Lead), should be a turning point in international opinion and, more importantly, international action.

Nine hours after the night-time killings, we went to Ramallah and joined with a crowd of hundreds demonstrating (see photos here) in solidarity with their Turkish brothers and sisters who fell for freedom in Gaza. It was a moving scene as people locked their stores to take to the streets waving Turkish flags alongside Palestinian ones, chanting that the profound sacrifice of these martyrs for them would never be forgotten. The crowd's enthusiasm never wavered as it moved through the bustling city of Ramallah, eventually ending at a Turkish International Center.

One of our delegates speaks Hebrew and happened to be at the end of the crowd when she recognized Israeli News Channel 2 cameras setting up pointed away from the crowd (I didn't think Israeli TV went into Ramallah but she's lived in Israel and was 100% sure of what she saw). She translated to us the words spoken in Hebrew by the reporter: "Here in Ramallah, life is going on as usual. People here seem apathetic to what happened at sea, showing that it's really not that big of a deal."

In Ramallah we heard news of a similar protest near Qalandia checkpoint where an American young woman named Emily lost her left eye when she was shot in the face with a tear-gas canister. The story felt all the more real when we met that night with representatives from the popular committee of the nearby village of Ni'lin where a young man from California named Tristan Anderson was shot in the head with a tear gas canister at a peaceful demonstration. For a long time it was assumed he would be brain-dead for life, but it seems he's making progress and has finally begun to speak.

Our meeting was held in Bil'in, where we spent the evening with one of the leaders of the popular committee on resistance in the small village that has lost more than half of its land to the Wall. The last time I was at a demonstration in Bil'in, we were hosed with water cannons. Now I learn that the Army has started hosing people with chemicals or pepper spray in the water, stuff that won't rub off and smells terrible.

Since my last visit, Bassem Abu-Rahme, a warm and energetic friend to many who have marched in Bil'in, died from being shot in the heart with a tear gas canister as he yelled at soldiers that his Israeli activist friend was hurt. We watched a movie about Bassem and I remembered how enthusiastic and glowing he was. No more, although his memory lives on through pictures on every family's wall, and in the minds of the thousands who have come from around the world to confront Israeli Apartheid in this small village.

The resistance in Bil'in has continued every Friday for more than half a decade. I am reminded each time I come of the extraordinary resilience of the people. More than 85 of 1,800 inhabitants have been imprisoned, with many more beaten, gassed, and shot at. The house in which we were staying has been raided eight times in the middle of the night. Our host is wanted by Israel for his leadership in this village known for its nonviolence. He dined with us and left, saying it was too dangerous for him to stay.

Usually when I come to Bil'in, the first place I go is to the home of my friends Abdallah and Majida, and their beautiful girls, Luma and Layan. This time, there was a third child -- Laith, their first boy -- but someone was missing. Abdallah Abu-Rahme, one of the leaders of Bil'in's popular nonviolent resistance against the Wall, was abducted by soldiers in the middle of the night, with Majida and the rest of the family unable to stop it. His crime: Abdallah has been charged for possession of weapons because he gathered empty tear gas canisters that were shot into his village and put them together to form an enormous peace sign (click on the link for the photo... you have to see it to believe it).

In the morning our friend from Jerusalem was late to pick us up. He said they couldn't buy amenities because a general strike was called in East Jerusalem. Later we visited Sakhnin, a Palestinian town in the Galilee. The entire town had been on strike and people were out at night demonstrating and singing "Biladi, Biladi" (My Country, My Country). Our host told us about Israeli efforts to separate Palestinian society, calling Palestinians in Israel "Arab Israelis" and claiming they are separate from the Druze, Bedouins, Jerusalemites, and Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territory and the Diaspora. These classifications serve to undermine the unity of the Palestinian people but, my host smiled, they have not succeeded, as evidenced by so many protests and strikes around Palestine for the people of Gaza and their supporters.

Yesterday, Egypt finally opened Gaza's Rafah crossing to allow Palestinians, food, water, medical supplies, and more in and out. It seems even Egypt has a breaking point. In the United Nations, representatives from multiple countries (including the UK, but not the U.S.) issued harsher words than I have heard from them in the past (albeit not harsh enough). Sadly, ten Palestinian deaths have never prompted an emergency meeting in the UN; Palestinians' lives are considered cheaper than those in other countries. Who knows how long Rafah will stay open or what will come of the UN lip-service, but it shows the power of international solidarity to wake up the world and force people to talk about this issue. Those who fell on the Mavi Marmara were people of conscience with the courage to do what our government and others have not: end the siege of Gaza. Their deaths will not be in vain.


Unknown said...

Dear Anna,

I've been following your news for a while now. I'm deeply impressed and grateful for all you've done for the Palestinian cause.

I've always believed in the will and might of the American people. If only they knew.

I've been scanning the American media in the wake of this latest atrocity at sea to find the mainstream media is defending Israel's right as always. The facts, circumstances and victims are irrelevant. Even if an American life is lost! More work needs to be done in the US itself to sway the public opinion. Being the only side defending Israel always, and a strong side at that; the American people need to know the truth for things to change. Israel will only stop committing its atrocities when it is held accountable for its crimes.

Finally, I am Syrian, living in Dubai. However, I really wish I could help in any way. You being an activist might be of help to direct me. This is not about politics or flags. Not about religion or ethnicity. This is about humanity.

Thank you so much for everything you've done and for speaking up.

Anonymous said...

We feel for you and are proud for what you are fighting for...

Remain strong, there are millions out there giving you the support!!