The great Huwaida Arraf Speaks!

April 27, 2009

In News

By Huwaida Arraf

WE Palestinians are often asked where the Palestinian Gandhi is and urged to adopt nonviolent methods in our struggle for freedom from Israeli military rule. On April 17, an Israeli soldier killed my good friend Bassem Abu Rahme at a nonviolent demonstration against Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land. Bassem was one of many Palestinian Gandhis.

One month prior, at another demonstration against land confiscation, Israeli soldiers fired a tear-gas canister at the head of nonviolent American peace activist Tristan Anderson from California. Tristan underwent surgery to remove part of his frontal lobe and is still lying unconscious in an Israeli hospital. In 2003, the Israeli military plowed down American peace activist Rachel Corrie with a Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to protect a civilian home from demolition in Gaza. Shortly thereafter, an Israeli sniper shot British peace activist Tom Hurndall as he rescued Palestinian children from Israeli gunfire. He lay in a coma for nine months before he died.

Despite the killing of these unarmed civilians and documented evidence of systematic human-rights abuses, the U.S. continues to supply Israel with approximately $3 billion in military aid annually, allowing Israel to continue abusing Palestinians and preventing any meaningful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Israeli government orders the confiscation of Palestinian land for one of two main purposes: to build or expand illegal colonies or to construct the Wall that the International Court of Justice ruled illegal in 2004. In the case of Bassem’s village of Bil’in, even the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Israeli government to change the route of the Wall, though Israel has yet to comply. Consequently, Palestinian farmers cannot reach their crops and they are devastated economically. Israel’s policy is intended to force Palestinians to give up and leave in order to survive.

When village residents gather weekly to protest, they use various creative methods of nonviolent resistance, including carrying mirrors up to the soldiers to show them “the face of occupation” or dressing as various politicians and wearing blindfolds to symbolize the world’s blind eye to their struggle. The Israeli military meets them and their Israeli and international supporters with tear gas, grenades, and bullets.

Eyewitness accounts and a YouTube video of Bassem’s killing attest to the fact that Bassem was not engaged in any kind of violent action when a soldier decided to fire a high-velocity tear gas canister — designed to be shot in the air or from a great distance — directly at his chest, fatally wounding him. In fact, just before he was shot, Bassem is heard calling to soldiers to stop shooting as a woman had been injured. Far too often, Israel tries to silence dissent by using disproportionate and sometimes lethal force against demonstrators.

In February, I led a delegation of American lawyers to the Gaza Strip to investigate Israel’s conduct in its 22-day military offensive during which more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,300 injured, most of them civilians — a rate of more than 60 killed per day. We found disturbing evidence of willful killing of civilians, wanton damage to civilian property and deliberate blocking of humanitarian aid. These are violations of international law that may constitute war crimes. During the offensive, Israel attempted to avert international outrage by refusing to let foreign journalists enter Gaza.

The United Nations has appointed a team of experts, led by a renowned human-rights advocate — Richard Goldstone, a Jewish, South African judge — to investigate the conduct of both Israel and Hamas. Hamas has agreed to cooperate, but Israel has indicated an intention to block the investigation. Israel tries to silence the human-rights community by preventing access to the occupied territory and refusing to cooperate with U.N.-mandated inquiries.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed recently, “Believe me, America accepts all our decisions.” I do not believe, however, that the United States condones the killing of my friend Bassem. But if President Obama is serious about true peace in the Middle East, he must demonstrate that Lieberman is wrong, break the American silence, and heed the voices of those calling for justice.

Huwaida Arraf, J.D., specializes in international human rights and humanitarian law. In 2001 she co-founded the International Solidarity Movement.