The answer to the tragic frenzy of Jewish Israeli fear is nonviolent resistance

IDF
Israeli soldiers fire tear gas in a West Bank village in January 2013 (Photo: AFP)

Like many Penn students this summer, I, too, traveled to Palestine/Israel. I brought back a cardboard Israeli bullet canister (it looks like a toilet paper roll) that I picked up off the ground among many others and scattered teargas canisters in the West Bank community of Bil’in. The teargas canisters were manufactured in Jamestown, Pa. Bil’in residents have been nonviolently protesting the illegal Israeli apartheid wall being built through their community since 2005, but these protests have been met with extreme violence from the Israeli army.

We met with Emad Burnat, who filmed “5 Broken Cameras,” his family and other Bil’in residents and heard the stories of what they and their families have been through at the hands of the Israeli military. I also brought back countless publications, reports and maps from the fantastic Palestinian human rights organizations and NGOs that we met that are doing work on the ground and documenting their oppression — as well as from Israeli organizations working in solidarity with Palestinians to end the system of oppression and apartheid carried out in their names. There is no shortage of Palestinians and Israeli Jews working for a just peace.

The most important thing of all that I bring back with me, however, is a sense of hope and love in knowing that the Palestinian people every day are working for their liberation and lessening the tragic frenzy of irrational fear inoculated in the majority of Jewish Israelis. Palestinians are doing this by living, by existing, by loving, by joining in solidarity with Jewish Israelis of conscience and by asking the international community to stand in solidarity with them and their chosen form of nonviolent resistance against the system of apartheid imposed on them by the State of Israel. This form of nonviolent resistance is called the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movements.

A virtually unanimous Palestinian civil society has endorsed the BDS call, made in 2005. They ask the world to join them in solidarity until Israel does three things: end the occupation of the West and the Gaza Strip, grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel and uphold the internationally recognized Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. Palestinians are not asking for our pity. They are asking for our solidarity.

Our diverse delegation of 34 people, organized by Interfaith Peace-Builders, saw BDS stickers in unexpected places — in the best falafel place in Beit Lahm (Bethlehem), on a cleaning cart at our hotel in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians with whom we met told us that BDS was the most effective way that we could help them, and they wanted us to tell people this when we returned to the United States.

Our group included two other Penn alums, a larger group of Presbyterians from Atlanta, Jews, Muslims and secular folks, and one alumni of Birthright Israel — the program that organizes free trips to Israel for any young person of Jewish descent. Throughout the entire trip, I could not help but think of my fellow Penn students who have taken a Birthright tour of Israel or are there now on Birthright Excel. I know that they do not go where I went. I know that they are told nothing about what they are seeing outside their bus windows through Palestine/Israel. For example, although Israeli soldiers accompany Birthright groups to encourage the identification of young American Jews with the Israeli army, these groups do not visit the more than 600 military checkpoints, roadblocks and barriers that are symbols of Israel’s control over Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Our delegation, on the other hand, walked through Qalandia checkpoint, one of the largest checkpoints in Palestine/Israel. It is not on any border and serves to separate Palestinians in the West Bank from Palestinians in Jerusalem. It is imperative for Birthright’s aims that participants are kept from this reality.

Those of us who are U.S. citizens bear particular culpability, as our tax dollars help pay for the Palestinians’ oppression and our elected officials defend and allow Israel’s actions to continue. In order to start making a difference, we need to start listening to Palestinians. Consider taking a trip like I did or if you’re going to Palestine/Israel, talk to Palestinians. Travel around East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and ask the people that you meet what is going on and what is happening to them.

But you most certainly do not need to go yourself to begin to do this. Seek out alternative media that privileges Palestinian voices and experiences. Check out the work that Palestinian organizations and NGOs are doing. Feel free to reach out to me if you want any suggestions of good places to start. It’s time to start listening, and it is well past time to start doing something. We can make this system stop — without killing anyone and without invading anywhere. By standing in solidarity with Palestinians in supporting the BDS movement and the nonviolent work they do every day to make Palestine/Israel a safer and more just place for all who live there, we can help make it stop.

Editor’s note:This article originally appeared a week ago in The Daily Pennsylvanian, where it is among the most commented upon articles. We publish it with O’Conor’s permission. A former Birthright tour leader, MN Treiger, has responded angrily here. And among the hostile comments at the DP are statements about O’Conor’s physical appearance and this one: “‘Palestinians are not asking for our pity. They are asking for our solidarity.’ Our? Clarissa O’Conor doesn’t really sound like a Palestinian name to me.”

About Clarissa O'Conor

Clarissa O'Conor grew up in Lititz, Pennsylvania. She is now an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, where she focuses on Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies and Modern Middle East Studies and recently started working as a birth and abortion doula. She will be traveling in Palestine/Israel in the fall, where she hopes to continue working in solidarity with Palestinians.
Posted in Activism, BDS, Israel/Palestine, On the ground reports, US Politics | Tagged

{ 28 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. American says:

    Something needs to be added to the I/P effort in addition to BDS.
    All the petitions and etc we see constantly floated on I/P need to be done at ‘district’ levels, directed at candidates and incumbents by ‘voter’ petitions from their own districts.
    Once again, until the politicians are targeted and threatened with losing voters in their own districts over Israel they will keep on serving AIPAC.

    • Daniel Rich says:

      @ American,

      Q: Once again, until the politicians are targeted and threatened with losing voters in their own districts over Israel they will keep on serving AIPAC.

      R: I fully agree. Period.

      However, as to the implementation of such a tricky endeavor, could the fact that 4 in 5 in US face near-poverty, no work hamper the blooming of this peaceful branch of non-violent resistance?

  2. RJL says:

    Not a word about the horrific anti-Jewish propaganda promoted almost daily in the PA media, let alone the sermons in the W.Bank and Gaza. Jews as descendents of apes and monkeys is the least, and the funniest, part of it. Glorifying “martyrs” who killed ordinary Israeli, Jewish, civilians is not just despicable, it represents a majority opinion of Palestinians. I truly believe there’s a sizable minority who are totally against this, and I can understand they can’t speak out about this while living in Palestinian territory. But you, an outsider, can and should. Otherwise, don’t promote yourself as a humanitarian. Or perhaps you too see little to no value in Jewish life if those Jews actually believe they’re entitled to a state of their own. Have you been brainwashed like many of the Mondo fans?

    • So you thought you would write a post to perfectly illustrate Clarissa’s eloquent point about “the tragic frenzy of irrational fear inoculated in the majority of Jewish Israelis”. And reinforced daily by hysterical rubbish like this, no doubt gleaned from rabidly pro-Zionist websites and books. Before denouncing people based on second-hand information, which you are so eager to believe, take a look in the mirror when it comes to promulgating ‘horrific propaganda’ and being subject to ‘brainwashing’. And reflect on why trying to divert attention with your ramblings, you have missed the entire point of the article, a useful way of demonstrating denial.

      • piotr says:

        I must confess that I live in central PA and references like yours are a bit confusing. The story starts from an article in “Daily Pennsylvanian” and then you complain about media in PA. Incidentally, when Mondoweiss complained about the lack of Ramadan receipies in American press, I googled and got two newspapers in PA that had such receipies, so for examples inhabitants of Lebanon County got advise how to break Ramadan fast with something more interesting than [I would need to search again to find out what the conventional boring dishes are] This is partly because google decided to localize the results of searches. I suspect that a lot of rural newspapers had that very same cooking column that was actually written in California.

        About “glorifying those who killed civilians”, we must also remember than it is not just martyrs who are glorified, some killers go for self-glorification. Find out who said: “I killed many Arabs and I have no problems with that.”

      • MHughes976 says:

        But surely the whole logic of oppression is that you set out to make others fear you: but if you make people fear you you must fear them.

    • American says:

      ”Or perhaps you too see little to no value in Jewish life if those Jews actually believe they’re entitled to a state of their own. Have you been brainwashed like many of the Mondo fans?”……RJL

      Tell me on what grounds I should speak up for a people who think they are ‘entitled’ to steal other people’s land and subjugate those people.

      I wouldnt have ‘spoken up’ for the Nazis and I wont speak up for you either.

    • john h says:

      As justicewillprevail says, “take a look in the mirror”, RJL.

      Only when you can accept and respond positively to what Mark Braverman observes in his Fatal Embrace video, will you have any credibility.

      link to markbraverman.org

    • Donald says:

      “Glorifying “martyrs” who killed ordinary Israeli, Jewish, civilians is not just despicable,”

      I’m not sure how much glorifying there is, but to the extent that it takes place it is unfortunate. I’m using a weaker word because people who’ve lost their homes and most of their homeland and are oppressed and treated with condescension and contempt by people who think they are morally superior–well, it’s likely to induce resentment. Now your turn. Is it “unfortunate”, to use my word, that someone like Sharon was elected Prime Minister? A mass murderer starting in 1953? Do Israelis and their supporters only notice the killing of civilians when they are Israeli Jews?

      • MHughes976 says:

        There is no doubt that Israeli military operations, like those of the UK and other countries, have resulted in civilian deaths and that those conducting those operations have by no means been repudiated.

        • lyn117 says:

          Israeli military operations “resulted in civilian deaths?” aren’t you leaving out the fact that the Israeli military operations were without exception performed in order to acquire territory by force of arms and ethnically cleanse, or keep it cleansed, it of non-Jews? “Resulted in civilian deaths” makes it sound like it was some accident of war. Akin to a robber claiming that the death of someone he was stealing from was accidental, if that person attempted to defend his property. First, they were wars of aggression, and secondly, many of the mass murders were no accidental byproduct.

        • Donald says:

          In Sharon’s case, in 1953 he led a “reprisal” operation against a Jordanian village named Kibya or Qibya after 3 Israeli civilians had been murdered by someone alleged to be a Palestinian infiltrator. 69 innocent civilians were murdered by Sharon’s unit.

          link to a decent wikipedia article

        • MHughes976 says:

          I wrote ‘result in civilian deaths’ because I was looking for the most neutral possible phrase. I just wanted to make the point that justifying and admiring people who kill ordinary civilians is very common. If the fact that ordinary civilians are killed is enough in itself to prove the injustice of the attack then that proof applies to Israeli (and British and other) military operations many times over. If you want to say that some such attacks may be justified then you’ve changed the basis of your argument.
          That Israeli operations resulting in civilian deaths are actually among the least justifiable, given all the points made by lyn and donald, I completely agree.

    • The trick of declaring war against the armed resistance and then attacking the resisters’ unarmed kin as well as the surrounding population with the most gruesome products of Death-Science — this trick is not new. American Pioneers were pioneers in this too; they made it standard practice to declare war on indigenous warriors and then to murder and burn villages with only women and children in them. This is already modern war, what we know as war against civilian populations; it has also been called, more candidly, mass murder or genocide.

      Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the perpetrators of a Pogrom portray themselves as the victims, in the present case as victims of the Holocaust.

      Herman Melville noticed over a century ago, in his analysis of the metaphysics of Indian-hating, that those who made a full-time profession of hunting and murdering indigenous people of this continent always made themselves appear, even in their own eyes, as the victims of manhunts.

      The use the Nazis made of the International Jewish Conspiracy is better known: during all the years of atrocities defying belief, the Nazis considered themselves the victimized.

      It’s as if the experience of being a victim gave exemption from human solidarity, as if it gave special powers, as if it gave a license to kill.

      ~ Fredy Perlman

    • Daniel Rich says:

      @ RJL,

      Rumor has it that the Warsaw Ghetto inhabitants wanted to kill all Germans… Why would they want to do such a horrible thing?

    • Talkback says:

      RJL says: “Or perhaps you too see little to no value in Jewish life if those Jews actually believe they’re entitled to a state of their own. ”

      Were the Palestinians in 1948 not entitled to a unitary state ‘of their own’? And are Jews entitled to keep Nonjews expelled?

  3. Citizen says:

    Israel First Americans gear up once again to defend their interests against BDS on USA’s college campuses: link to electronicintifada.net

  4. MHughes976 says:

    It’s encouraging that such a solid mainstream publication as the Daily Pennsylvanian should publish this eloquent but unorthodox stuff.

  5. just says:

    Oh well, I guess the Israeli government and her adherents can stop looking for the “Palestinian Gandhi”– they are everywhere in Occupied Palestine, the innumerable refugee camps, in Israeli jails, and in the Negev.

    BDS! 1P1S1V!

    Thanks, Clarissa and Mondoweiss.

  6. OlegR says:

    /have been met with extreme violence from the Israeli army./

    No, extreme violence from the Israeli army would have left everybody in that village dead in a span of a few minutes. What you have met was standard riot police violence.
    Living a sheltered life i can see how you got confused.

    /We met with Emad Burnat, who filmed “5 Broken Cameras,” his family and other Bil’in residents and heard the stories of what they and their families have been through at the hands of the Israeli military/

    Did he tell you what he went through in the hands of Israeli doctors that saved his life ?

    /lessening the tragic frenzy of irrational fear /
    Have been paying attention at all to this conflict ?

    /It is not on any border and serves to separate Palestinians in the West Bank from Palestinians in Jerusalem./
    No it serves to separate Palestinian suicide belts in the West Bank from reaching their Jewish targets in Jerusalem.

  7. W.Jones says:

    Excellent article, Clarissa.

    I have trouble finding anything to criticize. You wrote: “There is no shortage of Palestinians and Israeli Jews working for a just peace.”

    There are many Israeli groups working for this, with groups like B’Tselem and +972, but actually there is an overwhelming shortage too. There is in fact a need for many more people to work on this issue. This is true if you look at Israeli attitudes and the actions of the powers that be. The difference between the masses needed (hundreds of thousands?) to achieve a just peace and the many people working on it is the huge shortage.

    Thank you for being part of the actually meager supply!

  8. ziusudra says:

    …. there is no shortage of Israeli Jews working for a just peace…….
    This is heart warming & believable as i have heard of Israeli Women doing guard duty at the checkpoints for disabled Falesteeni.
    I’ve heard of retired Soldiers forming groups for support.
    I’ve watched Israeli Men in the WB protecting Falesteeni farmers against the vile squatter settlers coming for spoils being spit upon & called Nazis.
    As a non Jew/Muslim, i welcome any help, but it shows that citizens anywhere & anytime ne’er had the power to stop their Goverments, see Nazi Germany.
    Very warming artical, indeed.
    ziusudra

  9. German Lefty says:

    Good article!

    There is no shortage of Palestinians and Israeli Jews working for a just peace.
    This statement doesn’t make sense. If there actually were no shortage of Israeli Jews working for a just peace, a just peace would have been made already and we wouldn’t need BDS.

  10. Mayhem says:

    Palestinian advocates love their lawfare. Well one of their BDS supporters may be getting his comeuppance
    - refer link to theaustralian.com.au

    • amigo says:

      “Palestinian advocates love their lawfare. Well one of their BDS supporters may be getting his comeuppance”mayhem.

      mayhem, did you even read the article at that link???.Clearly not or you would not have posted the nonsense above.

      “The Shurat HaDin complaint is based on Section 9 of the 1975 Race Discrimination Act. It reads: “It is unlawful for a person to do any act involving a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of any human right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

      Gee, if that aint the best description of Zionism I ever heard.

      A little back ground from these so called protectors of Civil Rights.

      On February 1, 2011, Shurat HaDin and US attorney David Schoen, Esq. of Montgomery, Alabama filed suit against former president Jimmy Carter and publisher Simon and Schuster for the publication of Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.[13] According to the Center’s own information page, the book violated New York’s consumer protection law.

      The plaintiffs, who hope to have the case certified as a class action, are members of the reading public who purchased Carter’s book expecting that they were buying an accurate and factual record of historic events concerning Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. The lawsuit contends that Carter, who holds himself out as a Middle-East expert, and his publisher, intentionally presented untrue and inaccurate information and sought to capitalize on the author’s status as a former President to mislead unsuspecting members of the public. The complaint alleges that the defendants’ misrepresentations, all highly critical of Israel, violate New York consumer protection laws, specifically New York General Business Law § 349, which makes it unlawful to engage in deceptive acts in the course of conducting business. While acknowledging Carter’s right to publish his personal views, the plaintiffs assert that the defendants violated the law and, thus, harmed those who purchased the book.[14]

      The plaintiffs dropped the suit on May 3, 2011 with no money changing hands.[15]

      A real success story are these shurat hadin folks.

      Read all about it here,, link to en.wikipedia.org

      Best of luck with that Mayhem.

  11. German Lefty says:

    Perhaps Ms O’Conor could write an article in which she gives more detailed information on her trip to the region, e.g. her encounters with Palestinians and Zionists, what they told her, specific situations that demonstrate the everyday discrimination and oppression.

  12. No fear, except in rare cases, is 100% rational. Yet to label the fear of Israelis irrational and inoculated is surely a propaganda ploy, not an attempt to analyze. Yes, BDS is nonviolent, but that which came before BDS, the 2nd intifadeh, was by no means nonviolent and it would take something different than BDS to undo the residue of fear left by the 2nd intifadeh. BDS seems to be the best thing that can be done for Palestinians, but don’t pretend all fear is irrational and BDS will undo the lingering effects of the 2nd intifadeh.