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In Nablus on the Eve of War
I am writing from Nablus on the eve of war. Everyone
expects the war to start tonight, but no one is
sealing their windows here, or buying duct tape.
The Israeli government has not issued gas masks
to the Palestinians, nor to us, the internationals
who are here as witnesses and nonviolent interveners
between the Israeli forces and the Palestinian civilians.
Today was a day of rainstorms, cloudbursts, sudden
claps of thunder. My friend Jean, who has joined
me here, says they sound like explosions. She wonders
if they scare people.
I assure her that the people here know the sound
of explosions well, recognize the subtle differences
between live ammunition and rubber bullets being
fired, the thunder of shells and the shock of houses
being blown up.
In fact, the people here seem calm, though sad.
They are, perhaps, less anxious about the war because
they are already at war. They know well that the
U.S. attack on Iraq could trigger massive repression
here, or even transfer, but they don't seem to waste
energy in anxiety about it. Some stock up on food.
Tanks have already rolled into town tonight--people
avoid them and hurry home, but here in the Balata
refugee camp the shops stay open, the TVs on. "
Bush"-thumbs down, a shopkeeper smiles at me.
"War tonight--Bush bad!" we hear from
people on the street. Some, who speak English, offer
condolences on Rachel Corrie's death. They know
who we are: there are no tourists here.
Rachel was killed three nights ago, on the 16th
of March, standing in front of a bulldozer down
in Rafah, in Gaza. She was trying to prevent the
Israeli forces from destroying a home. The bulldozer
operator saw her: she had been talking to him earlier,
negotiating, trying to use the power of nonviolent
persuasion to get him to back off. Finally she simply
stood in front of him, on a mound of dirt, in a
red vest, talking through a bullhorn. She made the
same gamble we all make here or anywhere when we
choose nonviolent resistance: we bet our lives on
the possibility of some humanity in our opponents,
some spark of conscience that would prevent, say,
a soldier from running over a twenty-three-year-old
woman with a bulldozer.
Every bone in Rachel's body was broken. Her skull
was cracked open. Nevertheless she was conscious,
as her friends ran to hold her head, as the bulldozer
and tanks drove away, leaving the activists to call
an ambulance. A grim version of hit and run.
Rachel died, you could say, because six weeks in
the occupied territories had not erased some deep
belief she still held in the ultimate decency of
human beings. Perhaps she died because her parents
loved her enough that she never learned to imagine
such callousness could dwell in a human heart. Her
death was not an accident. She was deliberately
murdered, by a soldier who made a choice. That choice
seemed reasonable to him because a regime of repression
requires the oppressors to become callous, to dehumanize
the people they control, to refuse to see them,
acknowledge their suffering, respect their humanity.
Having practiced that callousness for so long on
the Palestinians, he apparently simply transferred
it to Rachel despite the fact that she was an American.
I find myself in the exquisitely painful position
of being a Jew and an American in the occupied territories,
here to offer support and solidarity to the nonviolent
resistance and the civilians of Palestine. Painful
because too many of the people who are my own, my
family, my culture, my heritage, have turned into
someone who could crush a young woman's body with
a bulldozer. Painful too because that machine was
paid for by my tax dollars to enforce policies promoted
by my government. Exquisite because I have found
much warmth and friendship and love coming from
those I was taught to see as my enemy. But painful
because I can't simply say, "Oh, now I'll just
shift allegiances--Palestinians all good, Israelis
all bad." I can't abandon my heritage as Jew
or as American. And I cannot dehumanize the Palestinians
by turning them into one monolithic image of noble
suffering any more than I want to see them as one
monolith of hate and terrorism. I have to open my
eyes and see them as full human beings, capable
of love and hate, creation and destruction, choice.
Above all, if I stand for justice for Palestine
or anywhere, I have to open my eyes and let The
Other become visible to me in all the fullness of
I am sitting in the home of the family of a suicide
bomber, which over here they call a martyr. We are
here because the Israeli policy of collective punishment
means that they arrest the families of suicide bombers
and blow up their homes. This policy has not prevented
suicide bombers: in fact, one could argue that is
has increased them, increased the pool of rage and
despair that leads to choices that have also taken
the lives of innocent young women and men and children,
spilled their blood and bodies on the streets. From
where I sit, I can't forget or overlook that. And
yet I also can't let it become an easy equation:
Israelis bad but Palestinians bad too equals all
accounts balanced. The accounts are not balanced.
In this Intifada, three Palestinians have died for
each Israeli. But it's not a matter of numbers,
it's a matter of policies that assault the possibility
of ordinary life and hope for an entire people.
It's children never knowing when they'll be able
to go to school, it's workers never knowing whether
their trip home through a checkpoint will be an
annoying ordeal or a few months of arrest and torture.
It's ambulances not allowed to get to patients or
families not allowed to cross a border to visit
each other. It's homes searched by soldiers breaking
through walls and smashing all your worldly goods
one night. It's daily, ongoing, relentless tension
and humiliation and despair.
The Titi brothers both fought for justice for Palestine.
One blew himself and innocent people up. The other
worked with the ISM, the International Solidarity
Movement, the group that Rachel and I are both part
of, that supports nonviolent resistance. He is now
in prison. Almost every Palestinian who has chosen
the path of nonviolent resistance is in prison or
dead or exiled. When good liberals ask, "Why
don't the Palestinians adopt the tactics of Martin
Luther King or Gandhi?" that's part of the
reason why. Another part is that some of them do,
in spite of facing an opponent daily growing more
The day after Rachel's death, the Israelis killed
nine Palestinians in Gaza, including a four-year-old
girl. Those deaths may have made the news briefly,
but they elicited no great public outcry. We expect
Palestinians to be killed, regularly. Rachel made
an heraic choice to risk her life. The four-year-old
girl, whose name is not splashed over the Internet,
had no choice.
Palestine is that girl, and this family whose house
I'm protecting, and both Titi brothers. To refuse
to see that complexity is to participate in the
murders that become thinkable when a whole people
is made invisible.
I am thinking about Rachel on the eve of war, as
my country prepares to make a murderous choice on
a vast scale. I and others have done everything
we possibly could to stop it. I have marched and
organized and written and called and emailed and
risked arrest for months. We have built the largest,
most unified, global peace movement that has ever
existed. Millions and tens of millions have stood
up for peace. Diplomats have resigned and country
music singers have risked their careers. Republicans
have broken ranks and even Democrats have registered
mild objections. It hasn't been enough. Against
my will, and in spite of all my efforts, I am about
to be made complicit in a mass murder of human beings
who have been rendered invisible to us by our government
and our media and our own discomfort with difference.
But I'm not angry tonight. I'm not sad or grieving.
I've gone into that territory which underlies the
stony ground and cracked cement streets here, that
place where you go when you've been angry so long
and seen so much and grieved until you're empty,
that place I think of as the zone of deadly calm.
That zone is a kind of a numb place, where nothing
scares you any more, and you can do just about anything.
It's very close to the place where you give up,
as Rachel never did, your faith in something basic
and good in human beings.
It's not a policy of security to push an entire
people into that place. It's a place that breeds
acts of desperation and revenge. And I have much
company here. It's quiet here, on the eve of war.
A few tanks: a few bursts of gunfire. Nothing to
get upset about yet.
Copyright (c) 2003 by Starhawk.
All rights reserved. This copyright protects Starhawk's right to future publication
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