Revolutionary Worker #1185, February 2, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org
Last summer I was part of a delegation to Palestine organized by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). In the months since our return from Palestine, I have watched the news and seen continued Israeli aggression against Palestinians. There hasn't been a day that I haven't thought about the people I met in Palestine and their struggle. Last summer the Revolutionary Worker ran an article on my experience in Occupied Palestine. And now, I'm writing to share another one of my experiences.
The ISM is made up of activists, medical students, independent journalists, and others from around the world. The ISM helps build an international movement to support the Palestinian people and to expose the Israeli government and the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF).
On August 7, 2002, nine activists from the ISM were detained by the Israeli Occupying Forces for standing with the Palestinian people. Five activists from France, one from Ireland, and three from the U.S. (Adam Shapiro, one of the ISM's main coordinators, an anti-globalization activist from Michigan, and me) were thrown into an Israeli prison.
I'm a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, and I joined the ISM to support the Palestinian Freedom Summer. I'm a 19-year-old Chicano and live in South Central Los Angeles. What compelled me to be involved in the struggle was my life experiences. I've known nothing but oppression. I'm a child of people who were forced to come to this country from Mexico because of imperialism. When I came to learn of the Palestinian people and their struggle, I was inspired by these rebellious people who refuse to back down and to be broken in the face of their enemy. I was eager to go to Palestine to learn from the people there, support them, and bring back their voices.
Resisting the Siege of Nablus
On August 2, most of the volunteers and activists staying in the West Bank were called to the city of Nablus because it was being invaded by the Israeli Army (150 tanks and close to 1,000 soldiers). During the invasion we confronted soldiers raiding homes and stayed with families whose houses were threatened with demolition. We also distributed diapers, milk, and food for families during the complete shutdown of the city.
After the week-long siege of the city, and home after home being destroyed, Palestinian after Palestinian being arrested or killed, the people started to organize themselves in popular resistance. The Palestinian people had resisted the invasion of Nablus, but this hadn't been on a massive scale. All this was about to change.
In the nearby village of Hawara, people called for a demonstration to break the curfew in their own village. They wanted to confront the unjust Israeli military checkpoint, cross into Nablus, and meet up with more resisters within the city to continue to march. And they also wanted to speak out against the occupation of Nablus.
Hawara, which is composed mainly of farmers, had been under curfew for an entire month before. Then the curfew was lifted for a week, but during the attack on Nablus the village was shut down again.
The Palestinian way of life is based on agriculture, and Israel terrorizes this way of life by uprooting whole orchards of olive trees and imprisoning the farmers. Think of what it means when the farmers are under virtual house imprisonment or curfew. That means that they can't cultivate their land.
The farmers of Hawara were not about to put up with being locked up in their own home, and they organized this march. They called on us to join in the march. This was the first direct action taken by the internationals (the ISM activists) since Israel began the siege of Nablus.
As we crossed the checkpoint between Nablus and Hawara, we met a woman trying to cross into Hawara from Nablus. She had been trying to cross for five days already, but every time the Israelis turned her back. Her family lives in Hawara, and she had been in Nablus to visit her relatives. When the Israeli soldiers denied her entry into her village, she broke down and cried. I heard that later in the day ISM activists helped the woman cross into Hawara by confronting the soldiers.
This is daily life for the Palestinian people. Women have given birth at these checkpoints in ambulances because they are not let through, or people have been shot dead by the IOF. These checkpoints are used to carry out the oppression of the Palestinian people and occupy their land.
One time we had to hike for three hours to find some way around a checkpoint. Palestinians have to hike around checkpoints all the time to travel into other cities, and they risk getting shot by Israeli settlers. These settlers reminded me of vigilante ranchers in Arizona and Texas. The vigilante ranchers, who have ties with INS and government agents, kill immigrants who are forced out of their own country by imperialism. These immigrants come to the U.S. to work, only to die in the desert of dehydration or to be shot dead by these vigilante ranchers while trying to cross the border.
When we reached Hawara, Palestinians were already marching and chanting in Arabic. We ran to meet up with them and join their march. There were people of all ages marching, but mainly Palestinian men. The 250 Palestinians were joined by 40 internationals as we headed to Nablus.
The IOF Attacks Marchers
We hadn't even reached the checkpoint into Nablus when the march got attacked by the IOF. They refused to let people pass, calling the road a "closed military zone." They shot tear gas, sound grenades, and rubber bullets, fired live ammunition in the air, and at one point shot into the crowd. They threw some sucker punches at some people. I inhaled some tear gas and couldn't breathe, but a Palestinian youth gave me some garlic to smell, which helped.
The IOF drove a jeep into the crowd, and the soldiers grabbed a Palestinian youth and threw him into the jeep. The soldiers were targeting the youth for arrest, but ISM activists were un-arresting them by pulling the youth away from the soldiers. Thirty Palestinians were arrested that day. An Israeli soldier later told one of the internationals, "We're attacking this march because we don't want this kind of stuff to spread throughout Palestine."
Adam Shapiro was arrested while filming the attacks by the soldiers. The IOF broke his camera when they tried to confiscate the video of the march. Members of the ISM tried to get him released by sitting and linking arms in front of the Israeli military jeep. Again the soldiers attacked the march, and the protesters moved back.
I found myself surrounded by the IOF. They grabbed me and pulled me towards a jeep; they thought that I was Palestinian. When they found out that I was an international, they told me I was going to be deported back to the U.S. They grabbed me and threw me into a jeep with my hands bonded. I was joined by Salah, an activist from Ireland, and Pierre, from France. Pierre got arrested when he tried to defend a woman from the U.S., also in the RCYB. When the Israeli soldiers tried to arrest her, Pierre jumped on top of her, and the soldiers arrested him instead.
We were shackled and chained, put in a military truck, and taken to a police station in a settlement called Arion. There we were interrogated for hours.
We found out later that when internationals were trying to fight for our release, sitting in front of the jeeps where we were held, they got attacked by some settlers. Huwaida Arraf, one of the main ISM coordinators and Adam Shapiro's wife, got pushed to the ground by a settler. These settlers are racist Zionists who are paid by the Israeli government to settle on Palestinian territory, and I was told most of these settlers are from Brooklyn. Palestinian cities are surrounded by these settlements, which are part of how Israel colonizes Palestine. Our orientation was that soldiers might hesitate to shoot internationals because that would expose their whole brutal program of Israeli occupation--but a settler would shoot you if he knew you're there to support Palestinians in any way. They feel they have the right to, since they're from the U.S.
We were then taken to the Ben-Gurion Airport to meet up with a representative of the Israeli Ministry of Interior, to be interrogated some more. We were made to sign a paper in Hebrew which was not translated for us. They said our visas were cancelled, and that made us "illegal aliens." From there we were taken to Ariel prison (located in one of the biggest Israeli settlements in the West Bank), where we spent the night. By this time the women were separated from the men.
Inside Ramle Prison
The next day we were taken to Ramle Prison in Tel Aviv, where we would stay for our last five days in occupied Palestine. The conditions in our prison were better than the prisons where Palestinians are held.
During our stay in Nablus, a Palestinian described to us his and others' experience of being arrested by the Israelis. He told us that the first day the Israelis sit you down in a small chair in an awkward angle, blindfolded and handcuffed. The next day they put you in a box that is smaller than a coffin. He said that all throughout they beat you, and if they wanted to they can just kill you. They do this for the long-term effects that this torture has on people, mentally and physically. At a house where some activists stayed, there was an old man whose mind wasn't right and who could not walk straight because of the torture he suffered at the hands of the IOF.
In our prison there were six guys to a room, and we could walk around to different rooms. We were allowed to go outside twice a day, and to buy drinks from the soda machine. Only about three times a day were we locked up in our room for about 15 minutes while the Israeli guards did a head count. The rest of the day, the rooms were open. Like prisons everywhere, there was unsanitary conditions and bad food. Most of the activists were separated in different rooms, but we visited each other throughout the day. Every room was mixed with different people from different parts of the world.
Ramle was full of people who had been caught up in the Israeli government's roundup and deportation of 50,000 "illegal" workers. Palestinians used to do all the low-paid, backbreaking work in Israel. But now that they're locked down in their own homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli government had to get immigrants from other oppressed countries to come in and do the work. Then the Israeli government decided there were too many immigrant workers and began deporting them. Just like the U.S., which gets people from Mexico and Central America to come in and work in the fields and sweatshop factories--but when the workers are no longer needed, the U.S. sends them back to their countries.
On the prison walls and chairs there were pictures of a pig, which was crossed out, with a visa in his hand--a symbol of the hatred these workers felt towards the Israeli oppressors. There were also graffiti on the walls that said "Fuck Israel!" These workers came from countries like the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Romania, Ghana, and Somalia. They told me that they had been invited to come and work by Israel, but now they were going to be put in a boat and sent back to their homes.
I met a brother from Liberia. In his country there is a civil war and he couldn't go back, but he couldn't stay in Israel because that government didn't want him. I met another brother from the Philippines, who couldn't wait to return to his home. His daughter had been writing to him that she missed him. She was scared because her mother had remarried and her husband harasses her. Then I met a Romanian, who said he was a communist and started singing the "Internationale" in his language.
I felt that I had a lot in common with the brothers in that prison, like I felt with the Palestinian people. There I was, as an "illegal," with workers from around the world who were considered "illegal" by the settler-colonial state. I thought of my parents who came from Mexico to work in the U.S. and were called "illegals," and I thought of the Palestinian people who are considered "illegal" in their own homeland. I realized that we are the international proletariat, and I saw how much in common we all had.
Talking to the Internationals
Being locked up for six days gave me the chance to interview some of the activists that were also arrested. Salah Afifi is half Irish and half Palestinian. He lives in Ireland and has family in Ramallah (West Bank). I asked him what he wanted the people in the U.S. to know about him, and he boldly responded, "It's not what I want them to think about me--but I'll tell you what I think about their government. The U.S. government is waging a war against the world and innocent civilian populations as a means to maintain a privileged lifestyle that 90% of the people of the world only dream of."
Salah talked about his experiences in Palestine: "I came to Palestine to support Palestinian civilian populations facing the brunt of Israeli might. As an Irish citizen, I have rights Palestinians do not have--at times walking their own streets. I was aware of these facts in Ireland and wanted to experience it first-hand to make people aware of the true situation. In my experiences so far, living in Nablus with Palestinian families whose house was under threat of demolition was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I saw them day by day live through a horrific way of life. Not knowing whether they'll have a home the next day or not... The senseless destruction of homes within the Old City of Nablus was purely an act of collective punishment without a doubt. As I followed soldiers about their daily work, I was aware of the pride and enjoyment they took in their work. I would describe them as rabid dogs let loose on defenseless people."
I also interviewed Adam Shapiro, one of the founding members of the International Solidarity Movement. He has lived in Jerusalem and Ramallah for the past three years with his wife Huwaida Arraf, the other main coordinator of the ISM. When I first met Adam I did not know that he was the Jewish student from Brooklyn. I didn't know that twice he had broken through the IOF troops surrounding Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah to stand with the Palestinians inside--or that his family was getting death threats from reactionary Zionist organizations in the U.S.
Adam told me, "I grew up in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, across from the housing projects at a time when there was a lot of ethnic tensions around the Bernhard Goetz vigilante case [Goetz, a white man, killed a black youth in the New York City subway-- RW ]. My parents taught me to treat everyone equally. I had friends from all backgrounds and we didn't see each other as being different. Since I was young in the '80s, my mother would take us to rallies for freedom in the Soviet Union, anti-nuclear war, and anti-apartheid in South Africa. I remember we wouldn't purchase Nestle because it was big in South Africa...
"I first got interested in the Middle East when I was a student in 1990. I first learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by what the mainstream media would report. After I learned from classes in school and meeting Palestinians, I found out these were all lies. During the Gulf War was when we really started to question what the U.S. was doing in the Middle East. We attended anti-war rallies and peace rallies."
The ISM is a diverse gathering of people from around the world who have many different views. Adam Shapiro explained to me what the ISM delegations have been able to accomplish: "First, it breaks the feeling of isolation that Palestinians feel and shows them that there are people who are with them and who are willing to stand up with them. Second, it shows our own governments, even though they are not taking action, that we the people will stand up for what is right and what is just and try to pressure our governments into action. Third, the people who come to Palestine take their knowledge and experience, and return home to educate others from a first-hand perspective. Fourth, in educating others about Palestine and especially because of our diversity, we can link the Palestinian struggle to other struggles. Fifth, it opens the possibilities for partnership between Palestinians and international peoples."
From Palestine to the Belly of the Beast
Everybody knows that when people are arrested during political upheavals, they are excited and they're wrangling with ideas that they have. The prison is full of talk. It was no different for us. We would stay up late, play cards, and debate about different things. One of the questions that was debated was what we believe the solution to the conflict in Palestine is.
Some people believed that Israel had the right to exist. Some people said that they hoped there was a peaceful solution, but they also thought that the Palestinian people had the right to defend themselves and supported armed struggle. At first some of the activists thought I was coming from a nationalist tip, but I told them I was a revolutionary internationalist. As a Maoist, I believe in people's war. I'm inspired by the people's wars in places like Nepal, Peru, and Turkey. I think a similar struggle is needed in Palestine. I believe the people in Palestine need to make a new democratic revolution in order to be free. I don't believe Israel has the right to exist because Israel stole the land from the Palestinian people, and with the aid of the imperialists they established the state of Israel. The Palestinians are fighting for their existence and liberation with stones, slingshots, molotovs, and some guns, while Israel is backed by the U.S. with $3 billion every year plus all this military aid. The U.S. is not neutral in this conflict--its money is on Israel. They need to supply Israel, because it's like an imperialist base in the Middle East.
I was in Palestine for two and a half weeks. I was in jail for six days. Our arrest was clearly an attempt by Israeli occupiers to scare international activists from going to Palestine and supporting the Palestinian people. The IOF thought they could break the ISM. They want to have Palestinians cornered and isolated, making it easier for them to terrorize them and occupy their land. But even if they imprison or deport activists, they cannot silence the truth. They cannot stop the people of the world from standing with the Palestinian people. We are now more determined to expose the brutality of the Israeli Occupying Forces.
When I returned to Los Angeles, to my neighborhood in South Central, it was a big culture shock for me, having seen first hand what the U.S. is doing around the world. I came back more determined to take on this government. I came back more determined to make revolution in the belly of the beast, for the people in Palestine, for the oppressed people around the world, and for the oppressed inside the U.S.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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