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Palestine/Israel: Do you know your ABCs?
Tzaporah Ryter, USA
June 27, 2001
I just finished reading letters to the editor in response to Jennifer
Gulbrandson's cover story "Just Another Day Under Israeli Occupation." Like
some letter writers, "I am so upset I do not know where to start." But I will
try to be calm. Rather than escalate the debate, I mean to open it. I
challenge and support the editor to keep this discussion ongoing, despite
the backlash he is receiving.
I am a Jewish woman with family who lived in Haifa from 10 generations ago, prior to the Zionist project. I just returned from living in Ramallah, the
West Bank, Occupied Palestine for eight months. I was involved there in
nonviolent demonstrations and acts of grassroots international intervention
and solidarity. In the nonviolent demonstrations in which I participated—
such as dismantling with our bare hands the roadblocks that prevent
thousands of people from accessing vocation, trade, basic services and even
emergency medical treatment—I cannot tell you how many people I saw shot,
wounded and killed. I lost count.
After the first murder I witnessed of the man standing in front of me, I
grew numb. Then it was just a stream of bodies—the guy with his head
blown off, the little boys so small you don't even need a stretcher for them, and old women—carried off into ambulances which every single time were shot at by the Israelis directly on the driver's side of the windshield. Ambulances turned back at checkpoints.
Throughout this Intifada/Israeli Siege, what I witnessed was an
overwhelmingly nonviolent struggle within civil society for justice. Every
one of the endless demonstrations I attended began as marches with signs,
banners and chants. The Israelis shot first every single time before any
rocks were thrown. Rocks—thrown at armored jeeps' seldom hit fenders—
stones that are a symbolic way of saying, "We will resist our oppression,
even if you have a tank and I have a rock."
In fact, the Israeli soldiers even shot at some of our demonstrations when we were singing "we shall overcome" and no stones were thrown even after the Israeli soldiers began and continued to shoot us! Every night I went to sleep to the sound of shells falling on the nearby school for blind
children. I walked to do my shopping past 10-year-old boys with patches
over their eyes. How come all of them in the eye? Accident? That's quite a
The death toll for the Israelis is about 100, the death toll for the
Palestinians about 600. Numbers cannot reflect the losses. The
Palestinians also have about 20,000 wounded civilians, some in critical condition and many permanently disabled while hospitals are being attacked and medical clinics destroyed. I had to walk through streets of crippled people, through the human traffic of funerals, which become demonstrations, which become more funerals, just to get a can of soda.
And that's just Area A.
Area A is like a vacation. Don't know what that is? Learn your ABCs. I'll be happy to help you. Then maybe we can have a conversation. In Areas B and C—where the majority of people live in villages completely surrounded by clusters of Israeli settlements such as Ariel, which even within Barak's generous offer were set to remain permanently, in order to maintain permanent military bases—life is much worse. The children cannot breathe. The tear gas day and night being thrown at their windows has damaged their respiratory systems, maybe irrevocably at this point. I have even tried to scream at the soldiers pleading, "the children are being taken to the hospital." But then they shot at me so Iran inside the house I was visiting.
Night and day there are settlers attacking, backed up by soldiers, shooting into the villages and screaming "Death to the Arabs," burning down
property, even marching into schools in broad daylight and shooting the kids. The soldiers shot my friend in the middle of the day while he was standing
outside his house bringing the kids inside as the troops stomped through
the village. They threw a stun grenade into his brother's face and then pointed an M-16 at his head and threatened to shoot anyone who would try to bring my friend to an emergency medical vehicle. It took 30 minutes before he was permitted to be taken to a hospital. Now he is paralyzed.
This is only a partial list of what I have witnessed in the past eight
months. What is happening is called ethnic cleansing. The death toll in
baseball terms may be 100 to 600, but this isn't baseball. The figures do
not describe the conditions of life the Palestinians are living under,
which is a fabric torn from the seams of hell that you cannot imagine without
knowing it firsthand. One side goes out dancing in nightclubs when it gets
dark (a nightclub right next to the Russian compound where Palestinian
detainees are being interrogated and tortured while listening to people
laughing and drinking and dancing). The other side sits in fear inside
their homes or is under forced curfew. I have lived on both sides and I am not
sure the realities are in the same universe.
This is an army—one of the most powerful in the world—against a
civilian population. This Israeli army has an intact infrastructure and state and a government capable to give orders to kill—or not to kill. The
Palestinians do not have an intact infrastructure, state or government
capable of telling anyone anything in particular. I will let you in on a
little secret. Not even Chairman Arafat can stop suicide bombers. Only
justice can. And no, Mr. Baehr, of course it is not the collaborators that
are killing the Israelis.…
People who have come to understand that violence is the only language the Israelis reward are killing the Israelis. Thus far they are absolutely
correct. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the ceasefire after the suicide
bomber at the mall. The Israelis are rewarding violence. Otherwise, why do
they renew negotiations only after their own death toll is on the rise and
why do they shoot nonviolent protestors?
Violence is less of a threat to Israel's existence in its present racist
and fascist form than nonviolent public demonstrations and freedom of statement and the struggle for the exposure of truth, liberation and democracy and the to Zionist apartheid. Violence should not be rewarded. But
unfortunately it is—and it will be that way indefinitely until the international
community takes a stand and insists upon international protection for the
Palestinian people. Then, with the protection of the innocent, with freedom of statement, with the complete and total withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, can a discussion toward justice—toward what justice even means—begin.
I will let you in on another secret: the occupation is violence. There can
be no negotiations under violence. When and if we finally reach it, it will
be a long discussion—even prior to any successful or worthwhile
negotiations—since currently even Israeli researchers are censored and
taken to court for daring to publish their findings concerning what really
did occur in the Palestinian massacres of 1947 and 1948. There is a lot to
talk about before signing any deals or even bringing them to the table.
I hope that those who become defensive of Israel and upset can take a deep breath and consider, have they ever visited or lived in the West Bank or
Gaza? Jennifer Gulbrandson has. I have. Rather than condemning Gulbrandson, we should all thank her for bringing back the truth and taking the effort to inform us and encourage us to think about it. I am sorry if this hurts some of those who feel for the Jewish people and for their difficult history. They are my people, too.
My journey to the truth was very painful. But my people have no right to
kill the Palestinians, steal their land, destroy their communities and
culture and leave them refugees from their homeland. My people have no
right to disregard international law and U.N. resolutions. Our history is
not the fault of the Palestinians. But the Palestinian history of recent
generations is the fault of my people. After nearly 6,000 years of
experience and survival, I think that my people can find more creative and ultimately sustainable ways to survive than by becoming murderers and war criminals or by choosing to be those who defend or support them.
Tzaporah Ryter, an American Jewish woman, spent eight months in the Palestinian West Bank during the current Intifada. Her Letter to the Editor was written in response to angry letters that appeared after the publication of a May 23, 2001 story, "Terror and Resistance: Just Another Day Under Israeli Occupation," by Jennifer Gulbrandson.
From Pulse of the Twin Cities, the Minnesotan metro music and events magazine. See also, The Electric Intifada.