Palestine Visit – Combatants for Peace
By Irfan Engineer
There are very few Jews who oppose violations of human rights of Palestinians and oppose Israeli occupation – maybe just marginal numbers. Two of them were with us as part of a solidarity group during our visit to Palestine. Even though the number of Jews who support the Palestinian cause may be marginal, their role, nevertheless, is very important and crucial. When I asked Rabbi Jeremy Milgram (member of the solidarity group) about his citizenship, he was embarrassed. He told me that he was citizen of the US as well as of Israel, and the dual citizenship seemed to embarrass him. On the bus, the Rabbi gave us accounts of his encounters with his Arabic teacher, a Palestinian refugee and his family that helped him to become a peace activist.
During our solidarity peace pilgrimage, we met two activists of Combatants For Peace in Jerusalem. One of them was father of a 13 year old daughter who was killed at the check point by an Israeli Soldier while returning from her school. He has never been informed of any reason as to why his daughter was killed or what was her offence or mistake. That was by any count a colossal loss, very difficult for any parent to bear. While narrating the incident he broke down. But composed himself and said he did not have any urge to seek violent revenge. Reason – his association with Combatants For Peace. His anger was directed not at the soldier on the check point who pulled the trigger, but against the whole apartheid apparatus and the war machine that Israel is. He was aware that nothing would change by seeking a violent revenge from any individual soldier who might have pulled the trigger on his daughter without any rhyme or reason, perhaps out of malice. The cycle of violence would go on. As his revenge would be used as a justification for further violence against Palestinians, and the entire community would be brutalized. He thought the better way to take his revenge for his daughter’s death was to join hands with other peace loving citizens, including Jews, and harness their collective energies to transform the unjust and apartheid system to a system which respected human rights and which was based on equality and justice for all. Combatants For Peace was all for establishing a peaceful society which was based on justice and equality, and for peaceful co-habitation of Jews, Palestinians and followers of all religions.
The former Israel soldier and Jewish member of Combatants For Peace said he was as much pained as the father of the girl when he heard of the death of the young girl. He felt all the more urgently the need to transform the whole Israeli apartheid system. He was the first one to comfort the aggrieved father of the girl and felt as if he had lost his own daughter. The burden of the death of the teenage girl on the Jewish member was greater – the whole system was operated to privilege him and other Jews and in their name. They picket the checkpoint peacefully and shame the soldiers. It is tougher for the soldiers to fire on crowds having Jews amongst them lest there be Jewish casualties. Palestinian casualties don’t count at all, even if they were entirely non-violent. The Jewish soldier too broke down while describing how he used to play with the little girl.
The Combatants for peace organization was growing. They met regularly, held meetings to decide future courses of action, which included picketing house demolitions or violations of Human rights of Palestinians. Activities of Combatants For Peace was very inspiring. It helped sustain human compassion for the Palestinians among the Jewish members, and inspired the Palestinians to direct their anger not against individuals committing breaches of human rights but against the apartheid practiced by the Israeli State. More important, it sustained the hope that they together would be able transform the system and prepare them for a long term struggle rather than wearing out their energies with violent attacks and reprisals which change nothing and no one.
The role of peace loving Jews who are in solidarity with the Palestinians is very crucial for the Palestinian liberation movement, even though their numbers may be small. The urge to be violent and imitate one’s oppressors, to mould oneself in the image of the oppressor often works to the advantage of the oppressor. It is often easier to handle a violent native. Though a natural tendency, violence it is suicidal even as a strategy. The Israeli state commands infinitely superior forces, including nuclear weapons, air power and bombs of various descriptions. It is nearly impossible to win against such an enemy with small fire arms – even with suicide missions. Violence of the oppressed may be barely able to defend them during resistance and prevent their liquidation, as was the case during the recent war between Israel and Hizbollah. Even a few Jews in solidarity with the Palestinians provides a strong reason to resist the urge to resort to violence.
The struggle of people of Bil’in Village near Ramallah, against the Wall on their land is a case in point. Hundreds of them have assembled for peaceful protest and resisted the wall and faced the bullets and oppression of Israeli soldiers from February 2005 until now. They were joined by International and Israeli Peace activists. The Israeli High court was persuaded to declare the wall being built on the Palestinian land in the name of security to be illegal. Though a small victory, the people of Bil’in village continue their struggle against the wall, settlements, demolitions, apartheid and oppression of Palestinains.
The Bil’in villages victory inspired the residents of a number of villages in the Ramallah area as they organized a protest joined by a number of International and Israeli peace activists at Highway 443, on Friday after the noon prayer. For seven years in a row, Israel prohibits Palestinians from using this 200-mile road which is built on the land of Palestinian villages, and allows only Jewish settlers to use it.
Dozens of residents of al Me’sarah village near the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem were joined by a group of Israeli and International peace activists on Friday at noon to protest the confiscation of their land. The Israeli army installed road blocks to prevent the peace activists from reaching the village. The protestors marched to the lands that will be annexed for the expansion of a nearby settlement and the construction of the Separation Wall. After the Friday prayers some protestors delivered speeches in Arabic and English stressing the need to resist the land confiscation labeling it as “land theft.”
The role of the international community in dismantling apartheid in South Africa was very crucial. Instead of blaming Hamas for resorting to violent resistance, we all should ask, what have I done to inspire the Palestinian people to continue with their Non-violent resistance and why has the international community looked the other way encouraging Israeli apartheid?