Receiving the Call - Solidarity in Palestine
Inspiration from the International Solidarity Movement. Thank you, Trevor, and all of you brave souls who have put yourselves on the front lines.
Receiving the Call, Part I
by trevor baumgartner
Ramallah's May Day rally (about one thousand strong) had just
dissipated when the call came. "Tommorow we're going to the Church.
There's a meeting tonight in Jerusalem. If you can't make it, be at Jaffa Gate at 2.00." I headed to an internet café, shot out a quick email saying I
may be out of touch for a couple days and punched in my bitter
recollections of the Jenin Massacre (yes, it was a massacre) before
cutting through the streets to Hurriya's house.
Hurriya is 12 years old, and we had set aside time over the next few
days to work on the outline of her book. Thus far we had done a
little art therapy with the other young folks from her apartment
building, and she had interviewed them all multiple times. So our
task then (and, sadly still today) was to map out a coherent story
line. To that end, Hurriya had already thought up an opening,
which goes something like this:
<What is the meaning of this life? Is it to live with bullets breaking
through your bedroom window? Is it to watch soldiers blindfold and
beat and kidnap your father and brother? Is it to sit locked in your
house without food, without electricity, without water? What is the
meaning of this life?>
Her questions, indictments, really, peel away garments of comfort and
privilege and expose the full beating heart of the matter. For, it's
next to impossible to "live," which is to say fully develop our human
and loving capacities, while surrounded by such comprehensive levels
of barbarism. Furthermore, to accept this barbarism, to turn away
from these "facts on the ground," is to bludgeon one's own developing
humanity. Thus Hurriya, this 12 year old light unto the world, issues
her challenge to all of us, to act. To move forward with purpose. To
"declare our commitment to all the living without deceit, and without
fear, and without reservation", as June Jordan says and to build that
declaration into affirmative action.
The following morning I made my way through Jerusalem's Old City, to
Jaffa Gate, and eventually to the little town of Bethlehem with
Hurriya's challenge in my bones, and bags of lentils, rice, salt and
other basic food supplies under my arms.
<And that is what you... say to all Americans... Fear of reprisals stops here
with my body. Tyrannical rule and tyrannical force stop here with my body.
Reprisals may come. Tyranny may continue. But tyrannical rule and
tyrannical force will have to deal with me, with my body, with my open and
speaking big mouth as long as I am alive.>
--June Jordan, "An Address to the Students of Columbia University
During Their Anti-Apartheid Sit-In" (April, 1985)
The taxi, stuck with duct tape reading "TV", ferried us to the Beit
Jala hospital, where the other 19 internationalists lay in wait. We
assembled ourselves and made our way, discreetly, to the parking lot outside the Alternative Information Center (www.alternativenews.org) office. It was
the first and last time we'd all be in the same place at the same time.
After scattering introductions around we all hovered over a hand-drawn map
detailing the area around the Church of the Nativity, and the plan was revealed.
"We need to divide into three groups," Georgina Reeves elaborated. "Two
decoy groups and one group of men who'll be entering the Church." We composed
ourselves, then bagged and distributed the food--salt, dry lentils, dry
rice, sugar, tea, and water--among us. We were 23 men and women, young and
old. We were nervous. And excited. Scared and defiant.
For the better part of a month we'd been witnessing Israel, a nuclear
power, saturate entire Palestinian cities with atrocities, war crimes and
unspeakable brutality. Some of us had been shot at while accompanying the sick and wounded in ambulances. Some of us had been beaten while trying to carry food into Nablus. Some of us had been to Jenin. Jenin.
And after following the "developments", the "negotiations" between the
Israeli government, the CIA and the Palestinian negotiating team (stuck inside
the Church of the Nativity), we had reached the point where we simply could
no longer witness these people--friends of our friends--being starved on
international television. All signatories to the Geneva Conventions are
bound by solemn oath to assure civilians access to food, water and medical
supplies in a time of war. And if the governments and institutions of the
so-called international community refuse to fulfill their responsibilities, then it is incumbent on us, the people, to take affirmative actions in the service of human living. To that end, when a starved man from inside the Church
requested that the International Solidarity Movement make an effort to break
curfew and bring food, water and a small body of international observers, we
determined ourselves to honor that request in spite of the criminal silence of our governments.
The streets sat still. We snaked through the narrow limestone
corridors, past all the scorched and pancaked cars until it came time to split into our groups. We veered off in our appropriate directions, and reemerged at the ribbon of concertina wire stretched across the edge of Manger Square. With a Merkava tank to our left ("guarding" the Peace Center, occupied by Israeli
soldiers), we steadied ourselves and made tracks toward the Church door, each step quicker, more urgent than the last. With a fury at our backs, we all braced for gunfire, tear gas, concussion grenades, while maintaining focus on the door. And then the door swung open.
"Ya'allah!" a man, outfitted in camouflage, beckoned me forward and
held out his hands. I handed him the bag, and someone handed me another one,
which I also passed in. And after that another. And another. And then the
observer group ducked in. The door slammed shut and a glorious cheering
rebounded off the thick stone walls.
We had inserted ourselves smack in the middle of a standoff between the
fourth most powerful military machine on the planet, on the one hand, and a
random smattering of clergy, refugees and freedom fighters on the other. There
were, to be sure, immediate consequences of our actions. We were subjected to
hours of interrogation, weeks of incarceration and eventual deportation at
the hands of the Israeli government (which has absolutely no legal jurisdiction
in Bethlehem), for following the principles of international law. We
struck against hunger, against inhuman brutality. Directly after they locked
us into Masiyahu Prison, the Israeli Government declared us "collaborators with
the enemy", and warned that they are gearing up to deport any and all
people who show support for Palestinians. And since Israel controls all the
borders to Palestine, there is every reason to believe that they are quite
serious. The implications are, needless to say, grave. And it is in this context that we aimed to draw attention, not to our individual situations, but to the "purification" ritual that the Israeli government is performing.
Our acts were small, though committed with great conviction. And if,
through our actions any of you have turned your eyes toward, and/or deepened
your engagement with the breathing struggle for justice in Palestine, Israel
and the world over, then the honor is all mine. For now we can all answer
Hurriya's questions: No The meaning of this life is not to sit at home and await brutality. Our purpose is not to witness suffering and horror on the
nightly news, remote control in hand. We, every one of us, is here to make
ourselves vulnerable, to push ourselves forward, to act in the service of all
peoples who bloom despite calculated efforts to eliminate them--their culture,
their history, their identity as a people.
Once again, I am honored to have been a part of this process. To
consider myself, with you, a part of this world, as opposed to apart from it.
Keep loving. Keep learning.
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