This piece appeared lately at Occupation Magazine:
Recently I went to an exhibit, Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism, at the Jewish Museum in New York City.
I was particularly struck by Nancy Spero’s canvas about Masha Bruskina, a 17 year old Communist partisan–a volunteer nurse and leader of the Minsk resistance movement–who was arrested by the German authorities and publicly hanged. Before her execution, she was paraded around the streets with a sign that said, “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers.” Despite being tortured, she never revealed the other members of her group and as she was about to be hung, refused to look at the crowd where the guards tried to force her gaze.
I was reading and looking at this piece when I got flashes of that morning’s news. The Jewish boat to Gaza had been intercepted by Israeli forces, but not before they made their voices heard along with the many other boats trying to contribute to the movement to break the siege of Gaza.
I was so moved by Masha Bruskina and challenged to think about the one life we live and how we live it. At seventeen years old, she chose to resist injustice at all costs. Tragically, she lost her life but never did she lose her integrity.
I read about Masha Bruskina and it makes me think more deeply about resistance. My thoughts go back to the news of the Jewish boat. I challenge myself about my own commitment.
I wonder what this young Jewish woman, an activist passionately committed to justice, would be doing if she were alive today. I think about this in the context of recent Israeli government actions–for example, the ongoing siege of Gaza, the loyalty oath, and the Judaization of East Jerusalem.
I imagine Masha Bruskina engaging with one or more of the many forms of resistance, reverberating within Palestine and without, responding to these and other Israeli government actions and demanding justice for the Palestinian people, the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement called for by Palestinian civil society; the Jewish boat and the flotillas of boats from around the world; the organizing on the ground opposing the Wall and the occupation; the cultural resistance through theatre and music and film; and the ongoing work of solidarity among communities everywhere.
Masha Bruskina got inside my soul. Her courage, her integrity. Maybe part of it is that when she was resisting fascism, she was the age of my daughter whom I see growing up with a tremendous commitment to pursuing justice.
As someone who draws inspiration from those parts of Jewish history where injustice was not tolerated, I want to keep the memory of Masha Bruskina alive; to me, that is one meaningful way I, as a Jew, can both remember our freedom fighters and re-commit myself to standing with the Palestinian people in the struggle for dignity and for justice.
Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a long time organizer on Palestine-Israel.