They have been gassed. They have been shot and beaten and arrested. They live under constant psychological and physical intimidation. Even when they sleep, their dreams are interrupted by soldiers who come in the middle of the night and make arrests.
The Budrus village in the area of West Ramallah continues in its non-violent resistance against the destruction of village land, including olive tree groves that have occupied this area long before an Occupation ever existed. The government of Israel continues to consistently represent itself to these villagers in strategies and policies purposefully meant to bully and confiscate more land. The future looms over Budrus and causes its villagers to have even more apprehension but no less determination to hold onto what is properly belonging to them. This is a town fighting for its sustainability and as such, its very existence. This is a town further threatened by limits of time, people and cement walls.
The International Court of Justice hearing on the Apartheid Wall in the Hague is scheduled to convene some time late in February. Between now and then, the bulldozers will attempt to take 90% of the village land of Nihilin for the cementing of more Apartheid Wall. How ironical that the focus of the International Court of Justice in the Hague is the hope of Budrus and other villages like Budrus. But with the time period between now and its event, there is also greater motivation for Israel to become more aggressive in its house demolitions and the taking of other people's land.
IWPS- The International Womens Peace Service is a team of 16 women based in Hares, a village in the Salfit Governorate of Palestine's West Bank. IWPS has, for the last three years, been equally as determined as the villagers to help them protect their land and environment. They also have carefully documented human rights abuses inflicted upon civilians living in this area. Besides witnessing and recording daily offenses against village inhabitants and general poplice, IWPS non-violently intervenes at roadblocks, accompanies ambulances and watches over people farming their own fields. When following the IWPS updates and reports, one frequently gets a sense of very busy and determined folk, hard at work for social justice. While some readers would like to believe there is room in these reports for exaggeration, further testament from other activists prove IWPS is more expedient than profuse. One also senses the great energy of empathy among these women who are the watchers, the angels and the guardians. They are committed to the cause of non-violence and they are inspiring other activists to come forward and join them.
On December 31, team member Kate Raphael was arrested along with three other internationals, at a nonviolent protest against the preliminary destruction of the olive tree groves in the Ramallah District. Kate was arrested and jailed for 9 days . She resisted her deportation orders. Kate is presently attempting to remain in Israel in order to establish residency under Israel's ``Law of Return,'' which guarantees all Jews the right to live in Israel. IWPS reports that the Ministry of Interior and the judge are trying to deny Kate's right to live in Israel/Palestine because she does not support the apartheid policies of the state of Israel:
``This is part of the campaign to isolate Palestinian activists from the outside world and crush their resistance. However, we maintain that Jews who stand against injustice must have equal rights with Jews who support it.''
At this time, ten men from the village, who helped organize the non-violent resistance were arrested and may have disappeared into the Israeli military prison system. The military made arrests in the middle of the night. One man was awakened and arrested for ``allowing internationals into his home''. As absurd as that sounds, there is very serious concern that these men will remain lost in administrative detentions.
Administrative detentions are used illegally. Administrative detentions keep Palestinian civilian populations, including children ages 12 and up in a kind of fascist limbo away from due processing of laws and normal legal procedures.
This sends a rather disturbing insinuation about the practice of non-violent protest in the Occupied Territories:That Israel can not only be accused of inflicting harm upon a civilian population and be found guilty of such actions, but it also appears that there has been and is, a concerted effort to attempt to punish and squash all forms of non-violent resistance and dissidence.
Non-violent Palestinians defending their village land, homes, trees and their right to farm their own lands have never been of much interest to the United States media. But Budrus is a revelation! Not only about how our tax dollars help inflict a crushing oppression and what this might represent to the rest of the world, but also it is a revelation and an important message for all Jews, in America and elsewhere around the world about what happens when non-violent Jews are in dissidence of the ``Jewish State''. With or without return and Israeli citizenship, Jews in overt criticism of the present government of Israel are all lumped together as undesirables and/or self haters and as such are often targeted and singled out for concentrated forms of harassment. How does this reflect upon the Jewish State?
Budrus is about a chronically oppressed people who flatly refuse to surrender to their oppressors. Budrus is about the way in which the people have responded to the violence enacted against them. And Budrus is also the story of international peace keepers, especially and including Jews from Israel and elsewhere, who will not allow other people to suffer via the ways and means of a bellicose Jewish nationalism.
For the past three months people of all ages have been defending the first line of olive trees slated for bull dozing. On December 30th 2003, IWPS described in one of their reports that all of the villagers including school children and elderly came running from all directions in defense of their olive trees! Even after they were shot at and gassed, young school girls continued to march towards the bull dozers. Many rounds of shots were fired and many people were taken to the ambulances. But no one stopped the children from pressing forward, Brave Spirits of Palestine! Shining Stars of Non-Violent Resistence!
Who are these special children of Budrus? TV cameras were reportedly in the area. Reportedly, for three hours they faced off with the soldiers while chanting, ``Free Free Palestine''. The army came back with 200 soldiers in order to force the people back to their village. It was declared a military zone. They fired live ammunition. They entered homes and beat women and children.
Still the children came forward.
``The most moral army in the world'' :
When one reads about the military activities in Budrus, one may begin to understand the seriousness of the reasons why there are resisters and refusers and why men who were once proud to serve their country now find it impossible to do so under the present policies enforced by the government and military in the Occupied Territories. These shameful actions have been recognized by some former soldiers as ``disservice'' to the State of Israel and Jewish nationalism. The high school movement of conscientious objectors called shimmitism is presently growing. Organizations like New Profile (www.NewProfile.org) have come forward to support the conscientious objectors and to work towards changing the dynamic of military service to Israel.
If the world pays little attention to the heroics of school girls who do not blow themselves up, will it also pay as little attention to the fighter pilots or to the young men and women of good conscience who refuse to serve? Theirs' is a most powerful message that is sent to any government. And it has come not only from self determined pacifists but from within a military core force and leadership. Other nations and other world leaders comparatively as proud of their military should stop and take notice of what motivates the action of the refusing and why.
The UN General Assembly made its decision last month to ask the ICJ to rule on behalf of the ``legal implications of the construction of a wall on conquered Palestinian land.''
One might wonder how US responsibility for its tax dollars in foreign aid to Israel passes so quickly before the eyes of our representatives but seems to linger, even hide behind our Veto Power at the United Nations. This summer Democrats and Republicans alike were given a highly selective tour of Israel. Did any ask about the Occupied Territories? Did any ask about the peace keepers who are US citizens? Did any of the representatives visit and speak to our citizens about conditions in the Occupied Territories? Did any ask after Rachel Corrie? Rachel's mother and father were there in Israel as well, asking the questions that our representatives did not.
All over the Occupied Territories bull dozers made in the USA and paid for in some part by USA foreign aid to Israel will run non stop for the next few weeks. Will they also hurry to pull down illegal settlements? Or are Palestinian homes so much easier to push down? If Israel is not afraid of the illegal settlers, why are the illegal settlements still standing?
This has always been the existing question of the hour and as the clock ticks away to the Hague. The moment is now! it has always been excused and explained away any which way:
``When the treaty is signed...''
``When terrorism stops....''
``When the militants leave...''
And the question still remains. When WILL all the illegal settlements be removed?
While the international community looks at collective punishment as wrongful and illegal, Aahron Barak, President of Israel's Supreme Court has used the term ``democracy'' in the same breath as house demolitions, and as a policy and a weapon in the war against terrorists and suicide bombers. He most recently ruled against giving any warning to family members of ``accused'' terrorists that their houses will be demolished without contest.
Israel has a democracy! And as a democracy, a vote was taken that makes demolishing the homes of family members of mentally ill suicide bombers perfectly legal, as it is lawful. Except: this same justice was never applied to Baruch Goldstein's home in Hebron or any other homes of any other settler who acts out violently. He was a fundamentalist who entered a holy mosque in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and killed 29 Muslims bent in prayer. His immediate family and relatives seem not to have suffered from Israeli policy concerning house demolitions as a punishment and detriment to terrorism. Apparently, Goldstein was in agreement with his government at the time and therefore he is less punishable for his criminal insanity and terrorism. Other settlers more recently violent do not generally risk jail for either protest or crimes committed against the existing population of Bedouins or Palestinians. Is Israel afraid of the settlers? and therefore hesitates to enforce laws against them?
The world begins to understand Israel's meaning of ``democracy'' as it applies to this one terrorist and not another; as it does not allow for non-violent protest; as it tries to punish and deter peace activists; as it hunts out critics, even critics who are Jews; especially critics who are Jews.
Having been shamed as an American by Amnesty International's most recent letter to Jeb Bush concerning police brutality usd against non-violent demonstrators in Miami (Amnesty) and especially with regards to the use of rubber bullets, I am equally shamed and horrified by the significance of reliable foreign press reporting that that US military was relying upon Israeli Special Forces to teach it the ways and means of an occupation. (The Guardian)
Why isn't there greater effort and detail spent in learning Arabic? or learning how to communicate ``respectfully'' through the various cultural differences not likely to be known by some American soldiers? Instead, US Army Lt General William Boykin, an evangelical Christian, is quoted saying Muslims worship an idol and not ``a real god'' (Washington Post) Other Americans, including American Muslims, who practice different or no religions, must be made to have to suffer embarrassment because our present administration did not see fit to quickly relieve this US military commander of his duties. Those duties include upholding American freedoms.
This is NOT a good showcase for Democracy, anywhere in the world. And it is not a good reflection upon American ideals. Those ideals are proper and worth upholding. There was the opportunity to uphold American ideals against prejudice and racism but there was simply not the leadership to do so. I am sad that little school girls can face off against oppressors, but not adult elected officials.
I am hopeful however and will always have hope as long as places like Budrus exist with men, women and children, especially children like those brave little girls whose names are not in our news. And as long as there are Americans like Kate Raphael and Israelis who know better the difference between honor and disservice to their country; democracy and a lasting peace still has hope as well.
I am hoping that the new leadership required to bring Israel and Palestine into a lasting peace will grow out of these hopes and efforts. I am hopeful that a new leadership in the United States will do the same with regards to our present occupation of Iraq. This present government needs to address questions concerning self determination, rather than the economic profits from its war and occupation of another country. I am hoping that the new leadership required to bring Israel and Palestine into a lasting peace will grow out of the continuous non-violent struggle for human rights. I hope it will not be too late for all the children who suffer from oppression and the threat of terrorism. I am hoping that new leadership in the United States will evolve in the same way, through non-violent inspiration and struggle.