February 13, 2011


Israel & Palestine: Breaking the Silence (David Shulman, 2/24/11, NY Review of Books)

A few weeks ago I was in al-Nabi Salih, a Palestinian village northwest of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. It wasn’t so easy to get there; the Israeli army had closed off the area on every side, and we literally had to crawl through the olive groves, just beneath one of the army’s roadblocks, before we managed to reach the village. Al-Nabi Salih is a troubled place. The large Israeli settlement of Halamish nearby has taken over nearly half of the village lands, including a precious freshwater spring. Most Fridays there are dramatic confrontations between the soldiers and the villagers protesting this land grab and the other difficulties of life under occupation.

Yet the first thing I saw in al-Nabi Salih was a huge sign in Arabic and English: “We Believe in Non-Violence. Do You?” It was World Peace Day, and speaker after speaker reaffirmed a commitment to peace and to nonviolent resistance to the occupation. Particularly eloquent was Ali Abu Awwad, a young activist who runs a new organization, the Palestinian Movement for Non-Violent Resistance, with its offices in Bethlehem and growing influence throughout the occupied territories. “Peace itself is the way to peace,” he said, “and there is no peace without freedom.” [...]

One of the leaders of the struggle in Bil’in is Abdallah Abu Rahmah, occasionally called the Palestinian Gandhi—an impressive, indeed charismatic man with a proven record of peaceful, courageous resistance to the occupation and the ongoing theft of land. I know him: I had the honor of being arrested together with him when I first came to take part in the Bil’in demonstrations in 2005. He has spent the last twelve months in prison after being arrested and accused by the army of “incitement” and “organizing and participating in illegal protests.”

Protesting the loss of Palestinian land, especially by the disenfranchised owners of the land in question, is, it seems, by definition illegal under the terms of the occupation. By any reasonable standard, the arrest and prosecution of Abu Rahmah, who has been acclaimed throughout the world as an exemplar of nonviolent struggle for human rights, should have set off a wave of outspoken public protest on the part of Israeli academics, artists, public intellectuals, and even ordinary citizens. Nothing like this has happened.5 Abdallah Abu Rahmah’s case was decided on January 11: the military judge accepted the prosecution’s appeal against the “leniency” of the punishment and extended the jail sentence from twelve to sixteen months, so he’s of course still incarcerated. The judgment is available on the Internet in Hebrew, and it’s quite a remarkable document, disheartening to read. On the face of it, the deafening silence about his case within Israel is a mystery.

Such eloquent silence raises the classic question applicable to many such situations of organized oppression imposed by a government from above. Why are ordinary Israelis apathetic to the fate of Abu Rahmah and many others like him? Why do they evince no interest in the daily suffering caused by the occupation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 13, 2011 6:07 AM
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