must must refuse to be enemies
Thursday, August 23, 2001
AS AN American Jew, I am heartsick at the bombings of
Israeli families in West Jerusalem and Haifa. And I am
horrified at the escalation in assassinations of
Palestinians by the Israeli military, including the killing
of two young brothers in Nablus, and a 7-year-old girl,
Sabreen, who was killed in her Hebron home when it was
shelled by the army. Upon seeing her granddaughter die,
Sabreen's grandmother died of a heart attack.
I am also outraged at the Israeli tanks rolling into
West Bank towns, at the army's seizure of the
Palestinian epicenter in East Jerusalem, Orient House, and
of reports of soldiers' kicking nonviolent Palestinian
protesters in the face, chest and groin.
I just returned from a trip to Israel and Palestine. I
went to support actions by the Israeli peace movement, and
I wanted to let my Palestinian friends know that neither I
nor the American people had forgotten them. I had not been
there since 1993, and I needed to see for myself the
changing face of the occupation.
The faces of those I saw will not leave my mind.I
remember the bright spirit of Manal, 27, who spent four
years as a Palestinian political prisoner. Though she is
now "free," she said Gaza feels like one large prison. For
three hours in the boiling sun,she kept me laughing as we
waited in an endless line of cars trying to get through an
In Rafah refugee camp, Manal showed me where,only
hours before, Israeli tanks and bulldozers had demolished
18 Palestinian homes, leaving more than 100 people homeless
in the middle of the night.In one remaining house, I saw
eight fist-sized holes where artillery shells had ripped
through the children's bedroom. When I left, Manal slipped a
bracelet off her wrist and pressed it into my
hand,asking me not to forget her.
I think of my friend, Terry, who directs the Israeli
women's peace organization, Bat Shalom. Recently,she went
with other women to monitor any human rights abuses by
Israeli soldiers interrogating Palestinians at a checkpoint
"I was scared," she admitted. But she explained that
she wanted "to be able to look our children in the eyes,
without shame, and tell them that injustice was committed
in our name, and we did our best to stop it."
I remember Wafa, a woman in Dheisheh refugee camp near
Bethlehem, where 10, 000 people lived together; their camp
was shelled last week by the Israeli military and is
surrounded by Israeli settlements. She said: "I don't want
to push the Jews into the sea. All I want is a safe place
for my children to live. "
I think of Hava, a 70-year-old Polish Holocaust
survivor who advocates for Palestinian women prisoners, who
has been beaten by Israeli counterdemonstrators at peace
vigils; and of Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director of Rabbis for
Human Rights, who lies down in front of Israeli bulldozers
to try to stop them from demolishing Palestinian homes. A
Zionist, he said he has moved "from protest to resistance."
I also remember the open, inquisitive faces of the
children I met at the Palestinian Counseling Center,where
therapists help them process the emotional trauma of losing
a brother or father to Israeli bullets. When I asked them
what they wanted, they chorused: "Peace!," "To not be
occupied," "No violence from Israel or America" and "To
make a new future for the children."
And I think of 29-year-old Israeli activist Netta
Golan, whose open- heartedness deeply touched me. She has
been chaining herself to Palestinian farmers' olive trees
in an effort to keep the Israeli army from uprooting them.
These trees are like family to Palestinians and were
planted by their grandparents; the trees take 50 years to
mature and provide desperately needed income.
The Israeli army and settlers have destroyed more
than 150,000 of these trees, and now 50 percent of
Palestinians live below the poverty line. When I met
Netta, her arm was in a cast after being broken by
Israeli police during a nonviolent demonstration. As
we walked home one night, after interrupting Ariel
Sharon's speech at the Maccabia Games to protest his
policies, we confided how scared we had felt.
"It's so good that you can feel the fear," she said,
"and then not let it stop you from doing what you think is
I also spoke with the highly respected Dr.Hayder Abd
al-Shafi, chief Palestinian negotiator in Madrid in 1993.
He opposes the bombings inside Israel,and wants
an "equitable" peace.
"The American people are fair-minded," he told me.
"They have a natural readiness to support what's right, but
they don't know."
As Americans, I believe we must stop turning our faces
away. Like the open hearts of both Israeli activists who
put their bodies on the line, trying to stop their
government's human rights abuses --and of Palestinians who
hold a vision of peace despite the brutality, terror and
daily humiliation of occupation -- we also need to move from
discomfort to protest to resistance, and in the words
of Dr. al-Shafi, to "support what's right."
We must call on our government to bring an
international peacekeeping force into this region
immediately, to end the occupation, and to pressure for
peace that gives both peoples the land,resources, security
and dignity they deserve.
Penny Rosenwasser is a peace activist in Oakland. She is
the author of ''Voices from a 'Promised Land': Palestinian
and Israeli Peace Activists Speak Their Hearts'' (Curbstone