Restraint

Israel/Palestine
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“The Palestinian response to the establishment and expansion of Israel can be summed up in one word, restraint.”

Years ago James North said that to me, and I was surprised. But he said, “If you consider what they have lost and what we would do under similar circumstances, losing our land and homes — you would have to say they have shown great restraint.”

The other night I went to a talk on divestment in Westchester county, N.Y. Johnny Barber, who was in Gaza recently, showed some of his pictures.

Woman struck by Israeli shot
Palestinian woman struck by Israeli shot as she was harvesting wheat

He’d gone to Khuza’a in eastern Gaza for the wheat harvest. He showed us this picture of the family of a young woman who was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers as she gathered wheat.

“The bullet just scraped her forehead. She was very lucky. To get a flesh wound from an M16 bullet.”

The woman’s mother is upset in the photograph. And you can understand why. Farmers are afraid to approach their fields along the border, but they have no choice but to get their wheat. Barber showed us a video of a dozen people harvesting wheat by hand as Israeli soldiers on a hillock at a fence 300 yards away fire guns in the harvesters’ direction, harassing them.

A brave international volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement wearing a red fluorescent vest rises above the stands of wheat and uses a microphone to say over and over, “These are farmers on their own land. They are only harvesting their wheat.”

I thought, I’d never do what that international volunteer is doing. I’d rather be here, living my comfortable life and writing about the struggle.

Of course the villagers have no choice; they were born into this. And the shots kept whizzing across the field.

Why are the Palestinians harvesting by hand? Because when they bring tractors, they get shot up. So they use machetes.

And meantime cropdusters fly over the Israeli farms, just over the border. The wheat is being harvested there with fully mechanized equipment.

Then Barber showed us photographs of fishermen. Under Oslo, Gaza fishermen were to have 20 miles to fish. But they have been limited to three miles by Israeli warships that harass them with fire.

Angry fisherman Gaza 2
Angry fisherman, Gaza

This captain is upset. His friend holds out bullets. Barber said:

“The Israelis shot up his boat engine, destroying it. He is saying that the 5 men on his boat were fishing with handlines at 2-and-a-half miles when they were attacked and the engine was destroyed. He is saying it will cost 20,000 shekels ($5,000) to replace the engine. But these men make 5 to 10 shekels a day fishing. So now he can’t go out. And a total of 50 people depend on the men who go fishing in his boat.”

I’ve been in Gaza and on the beach meeting fishermen. But to see this picture in the United States, in Westchester County, on a lush spring day, and reflect that all of our political structures deny the reality of this man’s experience, and all leading Jewish organizations will say that this man and the wounded wheat-harvester had it coming — and there are just the handful of the people in that room, fighting back — I found myself weeping. I looked up and noticed the other Jews, Lynn Gottlieb, Rebecca Vilkomerson, a couple others, and felt grateful that they were there.

Of course, there is a long history of violent Palestinian resistance, to immigration, colonization and expansion, the Arab revolt and the intifadas to start with, the suicide bombers. Johnny Barber made a point of saying that there is resistance in Khuza’a. When the Israeli tanks come into the village fields, Palestinian fighters come into Khuza’a.

But would we do any differently? Yes: we would have done more. We would have guerrillas up in the hills, we would have international resistance support. We would be blowing people up right and left.

And still these people are denied the most basic right: to sustain themselves off their lands.

“The Palestinian response to the establishment and expansion of Israel can be summed up in one word, restraint.”

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